Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Monday Memo: Peru-Chile Relations—Panama Hydroelectric Dam—Guatemala-Honduras Customs—São Paulo Drought—Venezuela Conspiracy Charges

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Allegations of Espionage Threaten Peru-Chile Relations: Chilean Minister of Foreign Affairs Heraldo Muñoz announced on Sunday that Chilean Ambassador Roberto Ibarra would not return to his post in Peru in light of the country’s espionage complaints against Chile. On Friday, Peruvian Ambassador Francisco Rojas Samanez was recalled to Lima after Peruvian prosecutors claimed that several Peruvian naval officers sold confidential information about their navy’s surveillance of fishing boats to Chilean navy officials.  Two of the naval officers implicated in the leaks have been placed in detention. Muñoz has stated that Ibarra is “in consultations” to craft a response to the allegations “with calmness and without harsh remarks.” Peruvian president Ollanta Humala called on Chilean president Michelle Bachelet to issue assurance “that such espionage activities will never be repeated.”

Panama to Mediate Conflict Regarding Hydroelectric Dam: The Panamanian government formally announced negotiations on Saturday to address growing conflict over the construction of the Barro Blanco hydroelectric plant on the Tabasará River, which is now 95 percent complete. A neighboring Indigenous community, the Ngäbe Buglé, is demanding cancellation of the $225 million project due to environmental concerns, and local protests stalled construction work on February 9. Negotiations over the dam are to be facilitated by the UN in the district of Tolé, 400 kilometers west of Panama City, and led by a high-level committee headed by the vice president and foreign minister of Panama, Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado. Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela expressed faith in the negotiations, saying, “we will do whatever we have to do in the negotiations to seek a solution. I have a lot of confidence and we will take the time that is required.” However, the president of the Regional Congress of the Traditional Ngäbe Buglé, Toribio García, said the community’s opposition to the dam is “not negotiable” and announced that they would not participate in the negotiations.

Guatemala to Eliminate Customs Duties with Honduras: Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina set a deadline of mid-December 2015 to eliminate customs duties between Guatemala and Honduras in an effort to improve both countries’ trade. Guatemalan Foreign Affairs Minister Carlos Raúl Morales also confirmed that three shared land border crossings between the two countries could also be phased out, and expressed hope that El Salvador and Nicaragua would eventually join the partnership. The plan is part of a coordinated response to the humanitarian crisis of thousands of migrants fleeing to the U.S. border in the summer of 2014. In September 2014, the three Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras formed the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, a joint development plan that included eliminating customs to promote peace and prosperity in the region. The Northern Triangle’s combined population is 29 million and has the highest poverty levels in Latin America. The plan has received support from the Obama administration.

São Paulo Endures Worst Drought in Over 80 Years: Brazil’s largest city continues to grapple with its worst drought in nearly a century as its citizens confront shortages brought on by a year-long drought. The Cantareira reservoir, which provides water to 30 percent of São Paulo’s population, is at less than 6 percent of its capacity. At least 93 cities have imposed water rationing, and Brazil began importing water from Argentina to cover the rain shortfall. Rainfall during the first three weeks of January 2015—the height of the rainy season—measured less than a quarter of the average rainfall for this period in previous years. Last November, São Paulo Governor Gerardo Alckmin presented a $1.4 billion plan to mitigate the state’s drought crisis through eight new infrastructure projects, though the effects of the measure would not alleviate the state’s immediate needs.

Detained Caracas Mayor to Appeal Conspiracy Charges: Lawyers for jailed opposition mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, called the Venezuelan government’s conspiracy charges against their client “totally unfounded,” and said on Saturday that they would appeal. Ledezma, Caracas mayor since 2008, was arrested without a warrant late Thursday by Venezuelan intelligence police and was indicted the next day “for crimes committed against the country’s peace and security,” according to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Ledezma is being held at the Ramo Verde military prison pending his trial, where opposition leader Leopoldo López has also been jailed for a year. Following Ledezma’s arrest, Maduro accused the opposition of conspiring with the U.S. to overthrow his government. The U.S. government called the accusations “baseless and false” and stated that the Venezuelan government “should stop attempting to distract attention from the country’s […] problems.” Maduro’s approval rating hit a new low of 22 percent in January.

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