Powerful Tropical Storm Manuel—which together with Tropical Storm Ingrid has already killed at least 81 people across 11 states in Mexico—was upgraded to a category one hurricane today. Hurricane Manuel has sustained winds of 75 mph (120km/hour) near Acapulco, with projections it will continue to travel northwest along the coast of Sinaloa state for the next several days.
Meteorologists called the weather “unusual,” noting that the hurricane is hitting Mexico at the same time that tropical storm Ingrid has made landfall on the opposing Gulf Coast. This is the first time the country has been affected by two tropical storms within less than 24 hours since 1958.
Fifty eight civilians are still missing after a massive landslide left by Hurricane Manuel in the remote village of La Pintada. Governor Angel Aguirre of the state of Guerrero said that it is “very likely that these […] people lost their lives.” Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong echoed the comments, saying rescue workers have not yet been able to search the area for survivors due to unsafe land conditions.
The civilian airport in Acapulco was flooded and lost electrical power, prompting cargo ships to make emergency food deliveries to the isolated area. Ten thousand tourists have since been removed from the area by emergency military airlifts, with an estimated 30,000 remaining stranded. Mexican Transportation Secretary Rodrigo Ramírez Reyes said authorities would not be able to reopen highways connecting Acapulco to other major roads before Friday.
Likely top stories this week: Colombian government and striking farmers reach a deal; Henrique Capriles takes Venezuela’s election results to the IACHR; Enrique Peña Nieto outlines his plans for reform; Brazilians protest again; and the Colombian government and FARC resume peace talks.
Colombian Government Strikes Deal with Farmers: The Colombian government announced on Sunday that it had reached an agreement with protesting farmers that have been striking since August 19. The strike aimed to draw attention to the economic difficulties they face in competing with cheap imports from abroad. The farmers agreed to lift all road blockades by Tuesday and will join the government in negotiations to address their demands and reach a final agreement. The government has already agreed to cut fertilizer prices and provide cheap credit to farmers.
Venezuela's Capriles to Challenge Maduro's Win Before IACHR: Former Venezuelan presidential candidate and opposition leader Henrique Capriles will bring a case challenging Venezuela's April 14 election results before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on Monday. Venezuela's Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE) confirmed in early June that President Nicolás Maduro had won the election by a slim 1.49 percent margin over Capriles, and the Venezuelan Supreme Court upheld the decision. The IACHR must first decide whether the case is admissible. This comes as Venezuela's withdrawal from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights is to become effective on Tuesday, September 10, a year after the government announced its withdrawal from the human rights body.1
Peña Nieto Champions Tax Reform: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto outlined his plans for tax reform on Sunday in a speech from the presidential residence. The tax plan is intended to generate billions of dollars for social programs by closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and create a new universal pension for Mexicans over age 65. Meanwhile, Mexican opposition politician Andrés Manuel López Obrador led a demonstration of about 30,000 Mexicans on Sunday to protest Peña Nieto's tax, energy and education reforms.
Brazilians Protest on Independence Day: Brazilians in 150 cities took part in protests on September 7 (Brazil's Independence Day), interrupting a military parade in Rio de Janeiro, chanting outside Congress in Brasília as President Dilma Rousseff gave a speech, and clashing outside a soccer match in Mane Garrincha stadium in Brasília. Police fired tear gas at demonstrators in both cities, and at least 50 people in Brasília and 50 people in Rio were arrested. The protesters are continuing to demonstrate against poor public services, political corruption and public spending on the 2014 World Cup.
Colombian Peace Talks Resume in Havana: The fourteenth round of peace talks between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) begin in Havana on Monday. The last cycle concluded on August 28, after nearly coming to a halt when the government proposed holding a public referendum on any peace accord. The rebels have said that they would like to incorporate the agreements into Colombia’s constitution, a demand that the government has rejected. However, the FARC confirmed that they are willing to restart the talks this week.
1Editor'sNote: Venezuela withdrew from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, not the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. See AQ's Daily Focus on Tuesdsay, September 10 for a complete explanation.
Mexican senators approved an education bill on Wednesday that will overhaul the country’s public education system, in a boost to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s goal of fixing a system many viewed as corrupt.
The vote—with 102 senators in favor and 22 opposed—follows Mexico’s lower house’s approval of the law on Sunday in a 390 to 69 vote.
The reform package establishes competency exams for teachers, promotions based on merit, and an evaluation system for hiring faculty. The Senate vote was the final step needed to move forward with Peña Nieto’s wider education bill, which was approved in December, although the secondary laws approved Wednesday remained pending for months.
On Monday, Peña Nieto gave his first State of the Union address, touting education reform as a means to attain greater academic achievement and allow Mexico to become more competitive. According to the OECD, only 47 percent of Mexican children graduate from the equivalent of high school.
Meanwhile, thousands of members of Mexico’s powerful teachers union have taken to the streets for weeks to protest Peña Nieto’s education reform package. The protesting teachers said that the reforms could cause them to lose their jobs and argued that the government should spend more money on underperforming schools. Teachers held strikes across Mexico in at least a dozen states and blocked traffic in Mexico City on Wednesday.
Peña Nieto is attempting a number of reforms that he says will help boost the Mexican economy, including a reform of the state oil company, Pemex, and a tax overhaul.
The first nine months of Peña’s administration have kept the press busy and all of the country’s eyes and ears focused on what will happen next. He’s been characterized as bold, action-oriented and dynamic but clearly, not a team player.
He was celebrated by many (yours truly included) in February when he presented an ambitious and much needed education reform but disappointed just as many after having this effort easily thwarted by militant and disgruntled unionized teachers from the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE), which has taken Mexico City hostage in the last week to avoid needed secondary laws to enact the reform passing through Congress.
The inability to prevent and the lack of resolve to disperse a non-justified blockage of Congress as well as a blockade of the city’s main arteries—including those giving access to the airport and the Zócalo—has proven once again that political leaders are making decisions not based on the greater good, the rule of law or the citizenry’s interests, but on a political agenda serviced by interest groups holding more power than they should and unable to cooperate with each other.
Mismanagement of this situation could soon spark violence and create a larger-than-ideological divide. The affected citizenry in Mexico City will only stand so much. In a recent poll by BCG-Excelsior, 52 percent of Mexicans stated that they are so fed up with the CNTE’s irrational resistance to the education reform and their militant actions that they would justify use of public force to disperse the picketers.
And while the teachers take to the streets, both Peña Nieto and the city’s government cower from taking necessary action because of the political cost it would imply. Mexico City is not the only thing that’s paralyzed because of this—a broken education system puts the nation’s future talent pool at risk.
The other current hot topic in the president’s agenda is energy reform. As recently described by Christian Gomez on AS/COA, “the proposal includes constitutional changes that would open up Pemex, the 75-year-old state oil monopoly, to profit-sharing contracts and foreign investment.”
This new notion of natural resources no longer belonging exclusively to the nation poses a huge shift in paradigm. Reactions from the nation’s Left include accusations related to autonomy, national patrimony and the role of government vs. private investors in extraction and having access to revenues from one of the nation’s most important sources of income. The opposition understands that PEMEX’s inefficiencies and the plague of corruption need to be addressed, but they propose that a problem should not be fixed by creating another one.
One of the most respected voices from the Left, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, has recently stated that both PEMEX and CFE (federal electricity company) can become highly productive without having to edit the Constitution and without allow foreign and/or private hands in the nation’s riches. If national patrimony is challenged due to reforms to articles 27 and 28 of the Mexican Constitution, Cárdenas has warned he would call for nationwide protests and he would even take to the streets along with López Obrador’s Morena (National Regeneration) movement.
Given its current party composition, Peña can easily get approval for the energy reform in Congress but he would be naïve to think that this is the only hurdle he needs to jump and he is doing a terrible job at trying to get public buy-in to this proposal through vague infographics on TV.
If there is a possibility for effective energy reform, an open and inclusive debate needs to take place. This topic is not one that his team should be discussing behind closed doors and the hard questions will require real answers, not 20-second TV spots.
Peña’s government has been characterized by a “my way or the highway” attitude, which is an easier temptation to fall into than trying to build consensus in a country as complex and fragmented as Mexico. This dictatorial style is only possible because of the fact that PRI has a stellar position both in Congress and in the State governments to push its agenda forward, something neither former Presidents Fox nor Calderón had. However, Peña would do well in understanding that his constituency is not limited to the political parties or even the power elites.
Organized teachers have already proven what they can do in Mexico City given enough motivation. Sparked by national patrimony rhetoric, larger, non-organized social mobilizations could easily flare up in different key cities in Mexico and cause larger havoc. As former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza recently wrote, “these red flags, so to speak, are especially relevant given the influence and disruptive potential of many of today's social movements. The eruption of mass street protests in Brazil is just one recent example of a government being forced to change direction on a policy initiative and find a way to rapidly and constructively respond to the desires, often inchoate, of a newly emboldened and empowered population. It's a cautionary tale that begins with frustration and finds expression in mass action.”
Even when theoretically, Peña could powerball his reforms forward, both him and the PRI need to wake up and understand that they cannot be the only voice to determine the nation’s destiny. Vargas Llosa sarcastically called the previous PRI era “the perfect dictatorship” but today’s Mexico will not stand for a return of that so-called “perfect” model. Peña needs to learn to play well with others.
Likely top stories this week: Six people die in “La Bestia” train accident in Mexico; Colombia-FARC peace talks resume in Havana; Venezuela and Palestine sign energy deal; Roberto Azevêdo will become the new WTO director; and public consultations on energy reform begin in Mexico.
Six Dead and 22 Injured in “La Bestia” Train Accident: On Sunday, at least six people were killed and 22 were injured in the derailment of the cargo train known as “La Bestia” (The Beast) in southern Mexico, a train that is notorious for transporting Central American migrants through Mexico and to the U.S. border. According to official sources, at least 16 of the passengers injured in the accident were nationals of Honduras between 20 and 30 years old. Public Security Minister for Tabasco State Audomaro Martinez Zapata said that thieves had stolen the nails and metal plaques from the tracks, which led to the accident. Migrants’ rights activists demanded immediate measures to put an end to the risks that undocumented migrants face when traveling across the country, and criticized the Mexican government for not taking this issue seriously. On Sunday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto lamented the accident via Twitter and expressed his solidarity with the victims’ families.
Colombia-FARC Talks Resume after Crisis: On Saturday, lead Colombian government negotiator Humberto de la Calle announced that the talks between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) would resume in Havana on Monday. This statement put an end to one of the biggest crises to afflict the peace process since it began in November 2012, which was prompted when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ proposal last week that any peace agreement must be put to a national referendum. On Friday, the FARC announced that it was putting the peace talks on hold to study the referendum proposal. In response, Santos stated that the FARC is not entitled to “dictate pauses and impose conditions” on the negotiations, and ordered his team of negotiators to return to Bogotá to evaluate the implications of a hiatus in the peace process. So far, the talks are advancing at a slow pace and negotiators have only been able to reach a partial deal on one of five points in the agenda. Still, both sides have remained at the negotiation table, raising hopes for an end to the five-decade-long armed conflict.
Venezuela and the Palestinian Authority Sign Energy Deal: On Saturday, Venezuela and the Palestinian Authority signed an energy agreement that will allow Venezuela to sell oil at a “fair price” with “flexible repayment terms” to Palestinians, as well as provide expert advice and training for the fuel management and handling. The deal was signed during a meeting between Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua and his Palestinian counterpart, Riyad al-Maliki, while al-Maliki is on a tour of Latin America. During his trip to the region, al-Maliki also met Ecuadorian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility Ricardo Patiño and Guyana’s president, Donald Ramotar. Venezuela, Ecuador and Guyana are among several countries from Latin America and the Caribbean that recognize Palestine as an independent state.
Roberto Azevêdo to Become New WTO Director: Next Sunday, Brazilian diplomat Roberto Azevêdo will become the new director general of the World Trade Organization. Azevêdo has served as Brazil’s ambassador to the WTO since 2008 and was selected in May to become the first Latin American to lead the WTO. In August, Azevêdo announced the appointment of four deputies, who will assume their posts in October: Yi Xiaozhun of China, Karl-Ernst Brauner of Germany, Yonov Frederick Agah of Nigeria and David Shark of the United States. One of Azevêdo’s main objectives in his new position is to revive the stalled Doha Round trade talks. In a recent statement, Azevêdo said that regional and bilateral trade accords obstructed efforts to revive global trade talks and “steal the attention a little from the multilateral system.”
Public Consultations on Energy Reform began in Mexico: On Sunday, Mexico’s Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolución Democrática—PRD) began the first phase of a citizen consultation on the country’s fiscal and energy reforms. The set of energy reforms presented by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on August 13 would open Mexico's energy sector to foreign investors. The fiscal reform seeks to increase Mexico’s tax take by about 4 percentage points of GDP as a means to channel more resources towards education, health and infrastructure projects at the federal, state and municipal levels. Jesús Zambrano, the president of the PRD, called citizens from all parties to participate in the consultation. Members of the PRD have different positions from President Peña Nieto on both the fiscal and energy reforms and hope the result of the consultations will be taken into account by the central government. The first phase of the consultation took place in almost 3,000 centers installed in parks, plazas and metro stations in Mexico City and in the states of Coahuila, Campeche, Guanajuato, Querétaro, Colima, Nuevo León, Sonora, Nayarit, and Tabasco. A second phase of consultations will begin next Sunday.
La violencia producto del narcotráfico—con todas sus vertientes como son la corrupción en el gobierno y en las fuerzas del orden, el enfrentamiento entre bandas y la apertura a otros negocios igual de ilícitos y rentables como extorsión, trata de blancas, lavado de dinero y un largo etcétera—ha propiciado un fenómeno que apenas en las últimas semanas ha comenzado a llamar la atención en México. Se trata del problema de los desplazados.
Con la reciente liberación del famoso “capo” de los 1980’s, Rafael Caro Quintero, recordé una noticia que en aquella época llamó la atención. El entonces jefe supremo del narco mexicano había invertido varios millones en su pueblo natal para dotarlo de la infraestructura pública que el gobierno le había negado, es decir, de luz, calles pavimentadas, drenaje, escuela pública y hasta una iglesia nueva. Sin justificar en lo más mínimo sus actividades ilegales, dicha conducta contrasta con lo que sucede en la actualidad.
La violencia ya no sólo se percibe como el producto de la lucha entre las bandas. Como si de una guerra real se tratara, los grupos delictivos asolan los pequeños pueblos. Muchas comunidades viven bajo la amenaza constante de ser agredidas por unos o por otros: por los narcos, por el ejército, e incluso por la policía.
En muchos lugares de Sinaloa, Michoacán, Guerrero, Tamaulipas y Coahuila los pobladores han optado por abandonar sus pequeñas comunidades y buscar refugio en las medianas o grandes ciudades, provocando un éxodo del medio rural al urbano que no se veía desde la época de la Revolución Mexicana. En ese entonces, los constantes enfrentamientos armados provocaban la zozobra en los pueblos pequeños, mientras que las ciudades—por su tamaño y por la presencia de autoridades de mayor nivel—proporcionaban un refugio más seguro. La diferencia es que ahora las grandes ciudades también viven amenazadas por la misma violencia que empujó a los campesinos a abandonar sus hogares.
El problema se agrava cuando las autoridades se niegan a reconocerlo como tal, a pesar de los múltiples testimonios, de la presencia de grupos de campesinos solicitando ayuda del gobierno para instalarse en otro lugar y del cada vez mayor número de poblados que lucen desiertos o semidesiertos; habitados tan sólo por algunos valientes que se niegan a abandonar el lugar donde nacieron ellos, sus padres y sus abuelos, así como sus pocas pertenencias, aun sabiendo que pueden morir en cualquier momento.
Al no encontrar apoyo oficial y ante la imposibilidad de regresar a sus lugares de origen, estos desplazados se ven en muchos casos obligados a mendigar por las calles o a encontrar la forma de cruzar la frontera en busca de otras oportunidades. Este es un problema que en cualquier momento se puede convertir en una severa crisis humanitaria, aunque el gobierno—para demostrar que su estrategia de lucha funciona correctamente—se empeñe en ocultar.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto revealed a set of reforms to the country’s energy sector on Monday which would open Mexico's energy sector to foreign investors and allow private firms to access profit-sharing contracts with state-run oil monopoly Pemex. The reform package will be presented to the Congress this week and—if enacted—it will mark the largest private sector opening of Mexico’s energy sector since the industry was nationalized in 1938.
Mexico is the world's 10th-biggest producer of crude oil, and has the third largest oil reserves in Latin America after Venezuela and Brazil. For the past 75 years, the industry has been dominated by state oil firm Pemex, which supports about one third of the government’s income. As a result, the industry’s capacity to invest in new exploration projects has been limited and domestic production has dropped from nearly 3.4 million barrels per day in 2004 to 2.5 million barrels per day in 2012. If new projects cannot be developed, Mexico might become an energy importer by 2020.
The reform plan proposed this week calls to amend two key articles in the constitution that make oil, gas, petrochemicals and electricity the sole preserve of the state. Though private companies can currently be awarded service contracts within the oil industry, the reform goes further by allowing them to take part on the risks and profits of developing new fields, and offering permits in association with Pemex to refine, transport and store hydrocarbons and petrochemicals.
According to experts, the liberalization of the Mexican oil industry could double foreign investment in the country and improve growth. However, the plan has faced severe political opposition, and a survey revealed that 65 percent of Mexicans oppose private investment in the sector. Peña Nieto has stressed that “Pemex is neither being sold nor privatized,” and the industry will remain under government control. Though able to appease some of the critics, this has raised concerns among investors as the bill does not allow for production-sharing concessions—a scheme that is possible in Colombia and Brazil.
Watch an interview with COA Vice President Eric Farnsworth on the significance of the reforms for the Mexican economy.
Likely top stories this week: Mercosur leaders pledge to withdraw envoys from Europe; Mexican opposition demands electoral reforms; some Guantánamo prisoners break their hunger strike; Peruvian legislator Nancy Obregón to be investigated for Shining Path ties; four are arrested after Guatemalan police station massacre.
Mercosur Countries to Withdraw European Ambassadors: At the Mercosur summit in Montevideo on Friday, leaders from Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela pledged to withdraw their envoys from France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain after a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was grounded in Austria on July 2. European authorities suspected that the plane was carrying U.S. National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden from Russia. The governments of Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela have all offered asylum to Snowden. Morales withdrew his ambassadors in protest to his plane being grounded last week.
Mexican Opposition Threatens to Walk Away from Pact for Mexico: Members of Mexico's political opposition said Sunday that they will withdraw their support for the Pacto por Mexico (Pact for Mexico)—through which Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto hopes to promote a series of energy and tax reforms—unless the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) supports an overhaul of the country's electoral system. Leaders of the PAN and PRD asked for the administration to investigate charges of electoral fraud during the July 7 elections in the states of Aguascalientes, Coahuila, Durango, Quintana Roo, Veracruz, Tlaxcala, and Zacatecas. The opposition parties also propose reforms that would permit direct run-offs between presidential candidates, consecutive re-election, and tougher penalties for electoral crimes. A special session of Mexico’s lower house of Congress is expected to meet this week to discuss the potential reforms.
Some Hunger Strikers in Guantánamo Resume Eating: The U.S. military said Sunday that a number of hunger-striking prisoners at the Guantánamo detention center in Cuba recently resumed eating to mark the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which began on July 8. The military said that 25 of the 106 striking prisoners had eaten an evening meal since Thursday, though it was unclear whether they would resume their strike at a later date. Prison authorities said that they have instituted a new policy that will permit prisoners to eat and pray in groups if they break their hunger strike, but forty-five of the prisoners are still being force-fed through nasal tubes. Many of the prisoners have been hunger-striking since March.
Former Peruvian Legislator Detained for Alleged Ties to Shining Path: Former Peruvian congresswoman Nancy Obregón and 29 other people were arrested by Peruvian authorities on Sunday for alleged ties to drug trafficking and the Shining Path rebels. Obregón, a legislator from Peruvian President Ollanta Humala's Partido Nacionalista (Nationalist Party), was a leader of peasant coca farmers in Peru's northeast and gave testimony during the trial of Shining Path guerrilla leader "Comrade Artemio," who was sentenced to life in prison in June. Police entered Obregón’s home in the early hours of the morning and inspected her house in search of arms and drugs, which they apparently did not find. Peruvian authorities will conduct a 15-day investigation of Obregón and the other people arrested.
Four Arrested in Guatemalan Police Station Massacre: On Sunday, Guatemalan security forces arrested four men—including two police officers—who are suspected of carrying out an attack on June 13 against a remote police station in Salcajá in Guatemala's Quetzaltenango department. Heavily-armed assailants shot and killed eight police officers on duty and kidnapped the commander, who is presumed dead. The Guatemalan government has sent 100 troops to make further arrests near the Mexican border, where police are seeking at least another ten people for involvement in the attack.
Yes, you read that title correctly. The small municipality of San Agustín Amatengo in the Mexican state of Oaxaca has recently attracted national attention due to what is likely the strangest story in electoral politics in the country.
On July 7, Lenin Carballido, the candidate from a Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN)-Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD)-Partido del Trabajo (Labor Party—PT) coalition, raised his arms in victory after winning the race for municipal president (mayor).
But this should have been impossible: an official death certificate announced Carballido’s demise in 2010 from a diabetic coma.
As national newspaper REFORMA reports, the story is even more complex because investigations suggest that Carballido faked his own death to avoid facing charges of gang-raping a 30-year-old woman in the capital city of Oaxaca in March 2004.
On October 12, 2010, a judge issued a warrant for Carballido’s arrest based on “unequivocal proof that the subject at hand [Carballido], using physical violence, assisted by others and against her will, raped [the woman, whose name was withdrawn].” However, the charges were dropped when a public defender informed the judge that Carballido had died that September and thus, could not be apprehended.
Less than three years later, Carballido was healthy enough to run an effective political campaign and narrowly beat his opponent, Alfredo Jiménez Ordaz, a candidate supported by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) and Partido Verde Ecologista de México (Green Ecologist Party of Mexico—PVEM). Granted, Carballido only beat Jiménez by 11 votes—but it was an impressive result for a guy who had supposedly died three years earlier.
Likely top stories this week: results in the race for governor of Baja California; protests over legislation in Peru; Costa Rica approves same-sex civil unions; Brazil responds to surveillance reports; and UNASUR divided over Evo Morales’ flight interruptions.
Baja California’s Next Governor
On Sunday, nearly half of Mexico's 31 states held elections for mayors and local legislatures, but the most watched contest is the unfolding results in the governor’s race in the state of Baja California—the only gubernatorial election on Sunday—where the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) has held the governorship for the last 24 years. Significantly, in 1989, the PAN’s electoral win in Baja California was the first state loss for the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI), and a victory that is often seen as eventually leading to the PAN winning the presidency in 2000.
On Sunday, shortly after polls closed, both Francisco "Kiko" Vega de Lamadrid of the Unidos por Baja California alliance (which includes the PAN and Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD) and Fernando Castro Trenti of the Compromiso por Baja California alliance (which includes the PRI) claimed victory. With 92.5 percent of the votes counted as part of the Preliminary Electoral Results Program (PREP), Kiko Vega held a slight advantage (47.19 percent versus 44.09 percent) over Castro Trenti.
A dispute in the electoral results could result in new tension in the Pact for Mexico—an agreement of 95 loosely defined proposals signed by the three main political parties and unveiled on President Enrique Peña Nieto’s first day in office last December.
Peruvian Students and Civil Servants Protest Reforms
On Thursday and Friday, Peruvian police clashed violently with protesters, when hundreds of students and civil servants in Lima marched toward Congress to protest reforms that would impose tougher standards on universities and public employees. According to the protesters the reforms would force many students from their jobs and would compromise the autonomy of the country’s universities. President Ollanta Humala, who proposed the law, says it aims to improve the quality of government services and bolster a higher education system that lags behind many in the region. Humala signed the Civil Service Law, which imposes strict annual evaluations for government employees, on Thursday. A separate bill to reform universities and tighten standards for professors is pending in Congress.
Costa Rica’s Congress Inadvertently Approves Same-Sex Civil Unions
On Friday, Costa Rica’s Congress was shocked to learn that it had inadvertently legalized same-sex civil unions after President Laura Chinchilla signed a bill late Thursday governing social services and marriage regulations for young people. Earlier versions of the bill had defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman, but the bill that the mostly conservative Congress approved included revised language that "confers social rights and benefits of a civil union, free from discrimination." Jose Villalta of the Broad Front Party had inserted the new language that was unanimously approved.
When lawmakers noticed the new language—after having approved the bill—they asked Chinchilla to veto the new law, but she refused. A group of conservative congressman from the Christian Costa Rican Renovation Party has pledged to launch a legal challenge to the new law.
Brazil Demands Explanations about Reports of U.S. Surveillance
On Sunday, Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota expressed deep concern over a report that the United States has collected data on billions of telephone and email conversations in Brazil. Over the weekend, O Globo newspaper reported that information released by National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden shows that the NSA had logged nearly the same number of telephone and email messages in Brazil as it had in the United States. The article was written by Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian reporter who originally broke the Snowden leak story. The Brazilian government demanded clarifications from the U.S. embassy in Brasilia and pledged to approach the UN to set ground rules for international espionage to protect citizens’ privacy and to preserve national sovereignty.
UNASUR Holds Emergency Meeting
On Thursday, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) held an emergency meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to discuss the bloc’s response after several European countries closed their airspace to Bolivian President Evo Morales on Wednesday over concerns that his plane, which left from Moscow, was carrying Edward Snowden. President Rafael Correa of Ecuador called for the meeting, which was attended by Morales, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina, and José Mujica of Uruguay. The Colombian, Chilean and Peruvian presidents—all of whom maintain strong relationships with the United States—did not attend. During the meeting, regional leaders called for apologies from Italy, Portugal, France, and Spain for violating Bolivia’s sovereignty and condemned the U.S. for violating human rights through their surveillance programs. The lack of participation among key UNASUR members highlights the bloc’s divide on the issue.