This week’s likely top stories: Global leaders gather in Lima for the COP20 Climate Summit; Tabaré Vázquez wins the runoff presidential election in Uruguay; With FARC hostages released, Colombian peace talks are set to resume in Havana; Venezuela braces for impact as oil prices hit rock bottom; Cuba misses the mark on economic growth in 2014.
Global Leaders Gather for COP20 Climate Summit in Lima: Thousands of government officials and environmental advocates will gather in Lima this week and next for the annual UN Climate Change Conference. The 20th annual session of the Conference of the Parties, or COP20, opens today and will conclude on December 12, bringing together delegates from 195 countries to draft an international agreement on reducing carbon emissions and global warming. Last month in Beijing, both China and the U.S. agreed to cut emissions by 2030, which could help advance the talks. If the talks in Lima succeed, a climate change agreement could be signed in Paris in late 2015.
Tabaré Vázquez Wins Uruguayan Election: Former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez will return to the presidency after he easily defeated challenger Luis Lacalle Pou of the Partido Nacional (National Party—PN) in Sunday’s runoff election. Vázquez, of the governing Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA) earned 52.8 percent of the vote to Lacalle Pou’s 41 percent. Vázquez pledged to continue outgoing President José Mujica’s controversial marijuana legalization policy, and to focus on education reform and crime reduction, two major concerns of Uruguayan voters. The Frente Amplio has been in power since 2005, when Vázquez was elected to his first presidency; it won a narrow majority in Congress in October’s elections.
Hostages Safely Home and Delegation Returns to Havana: With three FARC hostages released on Sunday, the Colombian government delegation will return to Havana, Cuba to meet with delegates from the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) to discuss the resumption of peace talks. Pastor Alape, a FARC negotiator, traveled from Cuba to personally coordinate the release of General Ruben Dario Alzate Mora, as well as his two companions, who were kidnapped in mid-November. The release “contributed to restoring a climate conducive to continuing the talks” said Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos. A two-day meeting in Havana to evaluate recent events will begin Tuesday. Santos ordered the suspension of the peace talks on November 17, shortly after the kidnappings took place.
Oil Plummets to $65 Per Barrel, Rocking Caracas: The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) decision last week to maintain its current production ceiling of 30 million barrels per day caused oil prices to plummet to $65 per barrel—the lowest level since the global recession in 2008. Venezuela will be among those hit hardest by the recent price drop: according to an International Monetary Fund assessment, the country can only hope to break even with oil priced at about $120 per barrel. Already plagued by failing political and economic policies, Venezuela might be forced to avoid a default by pursuing any number of difficult choices: devaluing its currency, seeking a bailout from the Chinese, cutting imports, raising domestic energy prices, scaling back petroleum subsidies to PetroCaribe member nations, or even cutting the popular chavista social welfare programs. The decline in oil prices also dragged down other commodities, which sank to a five-year low as China’s demand for fuel and metals slows. The larger trend of stagnating commodity prices will cause stress on many national economies in Latin America which remain dependent on commodity exports.
Cuban Economy Hoping for Substantial Growth in 2015: In spite of the economic reforms instituted by President Raul Castro in 2014, the Cuban economy failed to reach its projected levels of growth this fiscal year. Before presenting Cuba’s budget and economic plan for 2015 at a cabinet meeting on Friday, Vice President and Minister of Economy Marino Murillo Jorge announced that the Cuban economy will grow by 1.3 percent instead of the state’s initial estimate of 2.2 percent. According to Murillo, the nation’s underperforming sugar and manufacturing sectors are responsible for the reduction in projected growth. By increasing capital investment in renewable energy production, infrastructure projects and food imports, and continuing to pave the way for expansion of its burgeoning non-state sector, the Cuban government is maintaining its optimistic estimate that GDP will grow 4 percent in 2015.