Brazil’s annual Carnaval had a new entrant this year: Brooklyn Brewery.
Days before the February festivities, Brooklyn Lager was the best-selling beer amid a selection of Brazilian and international craft beers at B33R CLUB in the southern capital of Curitiba. In one day, the specialty shop sold three boxes (72 bottles) of Brooklyn Lager to Brazilians stocking up for Carnaval—three times the store’s average monthly sales of the brew.
“It’s more and more popular; you can find Brooklyn Beer everywhere now,” said Marcio Mathias, the 31-year-old owner of B33R CLUB. “And Brazilians think everything imported is better than local products.”
Brooklyn Brewery has taken notice, and is increasing its presence in Latin America’s most populous nation. Since first entering Brazil in 2011, selling about 25,000 liters a month, sales have multiplied 12 times to an average of 300,000 liters a month last year, according to export manager Claire Moyle. She expects to see another 30 percent jump in sales this year, making Brooklyn Brewery one of the larger craft brewers in all Brazil.
“Brazil kind of surprised us with our success down there,” Moyle said in a telephone interview from the company’s Brooklyn headquarters. “This is real volume with a lot of potential.”
The success of Brooklyn Brewery highlights the growth of Brazil’s craft beer market and the opportunity for niche multinational companies, even at a time of economic hardship.
Cuba is the Groundhog Day of the twentieth century. That the United States’ policy of isolation and permanent embargo went on into the 21st century is testimony to the endurance of both Americans and Cubans in making a failed policy become a third rail in U.S. domestic policy.
Not that there weren’t attempts at reconciliation over the last five decades. Nevertheless, changes are taking place now that will finally help move the United States beyond the outdated Cold War posturing to the realpolitik that its policy toward Cuba deserves.
Roughly three months have passed since President Barack Obama announced his policy shift on Cuba. The December 17 announcement, which took many by surprise, was long in the making. It reflected a cautious diplomacy that ended fifty years of a failed policy.
Almost everyone connected with Obama’s simple logic that if something has not worked after fifty years, it was time to try something new! But creating something new after such a long period of propaganda and disinformation will take hard work on the part of both the U.S. and the Cuban government.
After 50 years of Cuba’s isolation, it will take time to build trust between the two governments.
On Monday, a lawyer for the Indigenous Rama people in Nicaragua told the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that there could be serious repercussions for the Rama if Nicaragua’s $50 billion canal project is allowed to continue.
Rama leader Becky McCray, the lawyer for the tribe, said that the Rama were likely to lose their language along with their land if the group is displaced by the canal. Currently, the Rama language is only spoken by several dozen people in the world. Fifty-two percent of the route of the Grand Canal passes through lands belonging to the Indigenous Rama and the nearby Afro-descendant Kriol community.
In December 2014, in Brito, Nicaragua, government officials and the Hong-Kong based HKND Group inaugurated the construction of a 186-mile-long (300-kilometer-long) canal that would connect the Pacific to the Caribbean, rivalling the Panama Canal. Despite the Nicaraguan government’s enthusiasm for the project and promises that it will lift more than 400,000 people out of poverty by 2018, the canal is the center of heated controversy.
Carmen Aristegui, perhaps Mexico’s most well-known journalist, was fired Sunday night after a brief but public spat with her broadcaster, MVS Noticias. The clash began last week, and is allegedly related to Aristegui and her team’s involvement in the launch of MéxicoLeaks, an online platform meant to facilitate anonymous leaks relating to government wrongdoing.
MVS has claimed that Aristegui and her team improperly used the MVS brand in connection to the site without “express authorization,” making it seem that the broadcaster was a sponsor of the platform. After running ads disavowing any connection to the site, MVS fired two members of Aristegui’s investigative unit, Daniel Lizárraga and Irving Huerta, on Thursday.
In her Friday broadcast, Aristegui condemned the move, saying, “Instead of firing them, they should be given prizes.” The journalists had unearthed some of the biggest stories in Mexico last year, such as the “casa blanca” scandal, which exposed an alleged conflict of interest involving a multimillion dollar mansion reportedly designed for Mexico’s presidential family, and owned by a contractor doing business with the government. Aristegui made Lizárraga’s and Huerta’s reinstatement a condition for her continued collaboration with MVS. By Sunday, the broadcaster had announced her removal. “MVS Radio does not accept Carmen Aristegui’s ultimatum,” the broadcaster said in a statement.
The move was met with dismay, both on social media and outside MVS headquarters in Mexico City, where over 500 people gathered to protest last night. There is widespread speculation that the firing was politically motivated. “This is as if the Washington Post fired [Bob] Woodward and [Carl] Bernstein in the 1970s,” Mexican political scientist Sergio Aguayo told the Los Angeles Times.
Appearing outside MVS headquarters on Monday, Aristegui vowed to fight the decision. “Our lawyers tell us that they don’t have the right to do what they are doing, our lawyers tell us that we are going to fight, that this is a blow to freedom of expression,” she said.
Three Guatemalan journalists were killed and another seriously injured last week, exposing the high price to pay for reporting in the nation’s provinces. All three were murdered in the department of Suchitepéquez about 96 miles from the capital, Guatemala City.
Danilo López, a 38-year-old correspondent for national newspaper Prensa Libre, and Federico Salazar, a reporter for Radio Nuevo Mundo, were killed just yards from police and government officials in the central park of Mazatenango. The two were covering an event commemorating International Women’s Day. The suspected gunmen escaped on a motorbike, but one of them, Sergio Waldemar Cardona Reyes, was captured hours later. Another suspected gunman, Artemio de Jesús Ramírez Torres, was apprehended last Friday in Champerico, an hour from Mazatenango.
According to local cable television presenter Marvin Israel Túnchez, who was taken to the hospital with gunshot wounds to his arm and leg, López was the target of the assassination. López’s investigations in 2013 into public works in the department of Suchitepéquez had revealed 2.8 million quetzales ($368,000) worth of non-existent work.
During a recent visit to Guatemala on March 2, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden praised the achievements made by the UN-sponsored Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala—CICIG). He also urged Honduran and Salvadoran leaders to follow the Guatemalan example by replicating the CICIG model in their own countries or to consider the creation of a regional CICIG.
However, Central American leaders do not share Biden’s enthusiastic support for CICIG, particularly Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina, who refuses to renew its mandate for the third time. Civil society groups that regard CICIG as the last remaining bulwark of judicial independence in Guatemala say this does not bode well for the country’s fight against organized crime and corruption.
During their recent meeting, Biden urged President Pérez Molina to renew CICIG’s mandate—which expires on September 3, absent another extension—and stressed that Central American leaders must cooperate with efforts to reduce levels of impunity in the region as a condition for receiving a $1 billion aid package from the U.S.
“The work of organizations like the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala are so important,” Biden wrote on his official Twitter account.
This week’s likely top stories: Opposition alarmed by President Maduro’s power of decree; U.S. and Cuba continue talks; Brazilian citizens protest corruption; Bolivia and Brazil to sign energy agreement; Cuba allows first public wi-fi center.
President Maduro Given Power to Rule by Decree: Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was given the power to rule by decree on issues of defense and public security after new legislation was passed by the National Assembly on Sunday. Maduro asserted that the Enabling Law gives him the power “to defend peace and sovereignty” in the country. The legislation was passed in response to new U.S. sanctions last week on Venezuelan officials. Maduro claimed that the decree, which lasts through December 31, 2015, will help him fight the threat posed by U.S. imperialism. The measure spurred new fears among the opposition about government abuses. On Saturday, UNASUR nations called on the U.S. to retract its recent measures against Venezuela.
U.S. and Cuba to Continue Negotiations: United States Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson traveled to Havana on Sunday to begin the third round of talks between Cuba and the U.S. to discuss the re-opening of embassies in the context of renewed diplomatic relations. Jacobson will meet with Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s lead negotiator on U.S. issues. Talks began on Monday and may continue through Wednesday. The U.S. hopes to come to an agreement before the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Panama on April 10-11. Despite progress, there are still difficult issues to work through, such as Cuba’s desire to be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and the U.S. request for unrestricted travel for diplomats on the island.
Mass Protests against President Rousseff in Brazil: Protests against President Dilma Rousseff erupted across Brazil on Sunday. In Rio de Janeiro, thousands of citizens participated in the demonstrations against Rousseff and the governing Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). Many protesters called for the president’s impeachment, claiming that she must have been aware of the corruption in the state oil company, Petrobras. Rousseff’s popularity has plunged recently, though she denies any involvement in the scandal. The largest demonstration took place in São Paulo, with over 200,000 participants, according to polling agency Datafolha. On Monday, the government sent a package of anti-corruption laws to Congress for consideration.
Bolivia and Brazil to Sign Memorandum on Hydroelectric Project: Bolivian Hydrocarbons and Energy Minister Luis Alberto Sánchez announced on Sunday that Brazil and Bolivia will soon sign a memorandum of understanding on two hydroelectric power projects, with the goal of increasing electricity generation as well as promoting energy exchanges between the two countries. Sánchez visited Brazil last week and held discussions with Eletrobras officials and Brazilian Mines and Energy Minister Eduardo Braga. The executives are expected to finish up negotiations in Bolivia this week. The planned agreement aims to strengthen the capabilities of the Rio Madera and Cachuela Esperanza hydroelectric projects.
Cuba Allows First Public Wi-fi Center in Havana: Etecsa, Cuba’s state telecommunications agency, has authorized Cuban sculptor Kcho to provide the island’s first public wireless Internet access at his cultural center in Havana. Kcho has strong connections to the Cuban government. Kcho is paying out of his own pocket to run the public Internet service, which is expected to cost him roughly $900 a month. Approximately 5 percent of Cubans currently have Internet access due to prohibitively high costs.
Cada vez que nuevos anuncios emergen de la mesa de conversaciones que el gobierno mantiene con las FARC en Cuba, el presidente Juan Manuel Santos califica el proceso de ‘irreversible’, ‘cerca del fin’ o de ingresar a ‘una etapa definitiva’. Cierto es que tras 33 rondas de conversaciones y pese al hermetismo de las primeras, mucho se ha avanzado en temas duros como el reconocimiento de las víctimas y las responsabilidades en el negocio del narcotráfico que alimenta el conflicto.
Ahora el cese de bombardeos por un mes contra los campamentos de las FARC, decidido unilateralmente por el presidente Juan Manuel Santos, ha levantado una polvareda de opiniones por cuanto para unos, como el procurador general, es un cese bilateral disfrazado y viola la constitución, y para el gobierno, es una respuesta al cese al fuego decretado por las FARC desde diciembre pasado.
No menos revelador resulta el hecho, como lo publicó la Revista Semana, de que el Ejército haya reducido sustancialmente sus actividades militares, pero no solo desde el comienzo de las negociaciones sino incluso desde los años en que el ex presidente Álvaro Uribe, enconado contradictor del proceso, dirigía el país con sus políticas de mano dura y seguridad democrática . En suma, es una realidad que el conflicto ha ido desescalando en el terreno militar, y que aunque mantener arriba la moral de las tropas, es una muletilla bastante popular en el cuerpo castrense, por lo cual sin su participación pacífica, no hay negociación que avance.
Es imposible hablar de un cese al fuego bilateral si no se hubieran sentado cinco generales activos y un almirante en la Subcomisión Técnica del Fin del Conflicto, a discutir el tema. Si soldados y guerrilleros no fueran parte del equipo que se conformó para la tarea titánica de desactivar las minas antipersonales regadas por la geografía de 688 municipios del país, no habría forma de aliviar a estas comunidades.
U.S.-based IDT Domestic Telecom, Inc. and the state-run telecommunications compnay Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba, S.A. (Cuban Telecommunications Enterprise, S.A.—ETECSA) have re-established a direct telephone link between the two countries. ETESCA announced the connection via a press release on Wednesday, but did not specify when the service went into effect. “The re-establishment of direct communications between the United States and Cuba will help offer greater ease and quality of communications between the people of both nations,” the statement said.
This marks the first commercial agreement between the two countries since the Obama administration announced in December 2014 that it would allow telecoms to operate in Cuba as part of its broader rapprochement with the island. However, IDT’s efforts to re-establish direct calls to Cuba precede these changes. “We had conversation for a period of years hoping there would be interest and nothing happened,” said Bill Ulrey, IDT’s Vice-President of Investor Relations, according to the Miami Herald. “But then we submitted it to them again last year and we began to negotiate it but it’s not clear whether their willingness was a part of the ongoing negotiations.”
Previously, calls between the U.S. and Cuba needed to be routed through a third country, elevating costs. IDT has not yet announced new rates for international calls.
After a nearly four hour debate, the Peruvian Comisión de Justicia y Derechos Humanos del Congreso (Congressional Committee on Justice and Human Rights) voted against a proposal for legalizing same-sex civil unions Tuesday night. The final vote count was four in favor, seven against, and two abstentions.
“Today, you have seen which lawmakers are backwards, those that want to deny the rights of others, who feel superior and consider that there are second-class Peruvians. We are on the right side of history, and we are sure this is going to be approved,” said Congressman Carlos Bruce, the leader of the same-sex civil union proposal.
The bill has been controversial across Peru. A march in Lima this weekend brought together 500 people advocating for approval of same-sex civil unions. However, many in the Catholic-dominated country have aggressively spoken out against the proposed bill, including Congressman Julio Rosas, who lauded the vote for “defending the natural family,” and Luis Bambarén, the Bishop emeritus of Chimbote, who publically used a derogatory, homophobic term to speak about Bruce, who is gay. Bambarén later issued a written apology.
Despite the outcome of the Peruvian vote, same-sex civil unions and same-sex marriage are becoming more of a norm in South America, and those in favor of the bill think it will eventually be passed in Congress’ next session. Mauricio Mulder, one of the four legislators who voted in favor of the civil union bill, has already submitted a request for reconsideration of the bill.
After a January 28 vote, Chile now allows same-sex civil unions, along with Colombia and Ecuador. Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay allow same-sex marriage.
El Salvador held legislative and municipal elections on March 1, 2015. Almost two weeks later, the country lacks electoral results. The debacle has signified a concerning setback for Salvadoran electoral institutions and their credibility.
Trouble started on Election Day, when the Supreme Electoral Tribunal announced its electoral results transmission system had failed. Since then, the scarcity of information and reluctance to provide full access to mainstream media—something which had been done in all previous electoral events—is increasing tension between political parties, citizens, and the electoral body.
It should come as no surprise that a lack of transparency and information inevitably leads to allegations of backdoor dealings and alleged attempts to privilege some political parties over others. As time passes, tensions rise. According to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s website on March 10, only about 50 percent of votes for the Central American Parliament had been counted, and the official election results for the Legislative Assembly and mayors hadn’t even started.
The current electoral impasse represents a true crisis for Salvadoran democratic institutions and the immediate future. The final results of the election will have a direct effect on the next three years of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén’s five-year term. Unofficial results suggest that the governing FMLN will come up short of a simple majority in the legislative branch, even when factoring in their recent alliance with the Gran Alianza Por La Unidad Nacional (Great Alliance for National Unity—GANA).
Last Friday, Judge Claudia Escobar announced in a statement that a number of Guatemalan judges are being harassed and persecuted after speaking out against corruption during the election of the new Supreme Court and Appellate Court magistrates in 2014. The retaliatory measures taken against them, she said, include being forcibly transferred to remote locations or unfairly dismissed.
On October 5, 2014, Judge Escobar, who had been re-elected as Appellate Court magistrate days earlier, resigned just before being sworn in for a second period, and handed over to the authorities an audiotape of Congressman Gudy Rivera seeking her support in a case implicating Vice President Roxana Baldetti in exchange for Rivera’s support during the nomination process. Judge Escobar’s resignation in protest against Congressman Rivera’s attempt to bribe her came after a highly contentious nomination process that was mired in corruption and influence peddling allegations against the members of the nomination committee in charge of assessing candidates and submitting a shortlist to Congress, which made the final choice.
More than 50 judges, as well as Human Rights Ombudsman Jorge de León Duque, supported Judge Escobar’s call for an annulment of the appointments and the initiation of a new nomination process.
Judge Escobar became an overnight heroine, and in the face of a huge public opinion backlash against the country’s judicial institutions, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court (CC) temporarily suspended all of the nominations. However, on November 20, the CC controversially endorsed the results after three out of five CC magistrates, including the CC’s president, Roberto Molina Barreto, voted against the annulment of the appointments, arguing that there was insufficient evidence of irregularities during the nomination process.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff signed a new law on Monday that sets harsher penalties for gender-based killings of women and girls. The new legislation gives a legal definition for femicide under Brazil’s criminal code as any murder that involves domestic violence, contempt or discrimination against women. Convicted offenders will now face jail sentences of 12 to 30 years, with even longer jail terms for crimes committed against pregnant women, girls under 14, women over 60, and people with disabilities.
The new legislation expands on a previous domestic violence law known as the Maria da Penha Law, enacted in 2006 by Rousseff’s predecessor, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Maria da Penha is a women’s rights activist who became paraplegic after her ex-husband beat her for 14 years and attempted to murder her twice. The 2006 legislation had three main components: it prevented aggressors from being punished with alternative sentences, increased the maximum sentence for domestic violence to three years, and mandated that abusers distance themselves from the women they had attacked.
After Rousseff signed the most recent law, she enumerated statistics about the violence women face in her country—15 women are killed daily in Brazil, many through domestic violence, and an estimated 500,000 Brazilian women and girls are raped annually, but only 10 percent of survivors report the crimes.
On the BBC radio show “World Have Your Say” on Tuesday, women’s rights activists lauded the new law as a victory for women’s rights, but also cautioned the audience not to overestimate the law’s potential to eradicate gender-based violence, due to the difficulty of convicting criminals in the first place. Julia Pá, a filmmaker based in Brasília and a guest on the program, remarked that misogyny “is so ingrained in Brazilian society, and even in the judicial system itself, that you’re going to need to instruct judges and[…] people working with this on women’s issues and the importance of protecting women.”
Back in February, at a conservative conference in Iowa, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush appeared on stage with other prospective Republican presidential candidates. He was the only one who received jeers from the crowd. This was somewhat surprising, as Bush has made steady gains in recent polls and on the campaign money trail. Could it be the fact that the Bush name has been on the Republican presidential ticket for six of the last nine presidential contests and people want someone new? Or he is too moderate for today’s GOP?
Just recently, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been mired in a controversy for using a private email address with a private server to conduct state business. Her adversaries alleged that it was a scheme to avoid divulging e-mails that would otherwise have been public information, in contravention of a 2009 State Department directive. Curiously, Clinton has taken to social media to indicate her willingness to make the emails on the private server available to the general public. Why not be ahead of the news curve and immediately call a press conference? She has since decided to hold a press conference. However, the damage is done.
Last Sunday, on ABC’s “This Week” program, reputed reporter Mark Helpern asserted that Clinton’s management of the controversy will do serious harm to an eventual presidential run. This was possibly an exaggeration, but indicative of a certain Clinton fatigue on the part of the media.
It is clear that both Bush and Clinton, while still officially undeclared, are the current frontrunners for their parties’ nominations in 2016. It’s fair that they would receive greater public scrutiny. In the case of Jeb Bush, it is obvious that the shadow of his brother George W. looms large, with two wars and the Great Recession in the background. As for Hillary Clinton, the notion of secrecy so often associated with the Clinton years in the White House seems to have once again surfaced.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) opened its 58th session on the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) on Monday in Vienna, Austria, with several Latin American countries—Mexico, Colombia, Uruguay and Bolivia—lobbying for a reform of global counternarcotic strategy. The CND special opening session will meet until March 13 to prepare for the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem, with the annual session continuing until March 17.
The last UNGASS on drugs was held in 1998 with the goal of creating “A Drug Free World” by eliminating the illicit production of coca, cannabis and opium and reducing large scale demand by 2008. In 2009, the new Political Declaration and Action Plan of Action largely echoed the 1998 document and set the next UNGASS for 2019. But in September 2012, the presidents of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico called for a conference on drug policy reform. With support from 95 other countries, the global drug policy summit meeting was set for 2016 to discuss drug use from a public health perspective.
Latin America is one of the most drug-stricken regions of the world. According to the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), Central America has seen an increase in the production and consumption of drugs since 2009. A UN study reported less 200 million drug users worldwide in 2005, but more than 250 million in 2012.
“[Current] drug policies are not producing the expected results and, as such, cannot continue without modifications,” said Yesid Reyes, Colombia’s minister of justice. He advocated for a thorough review of international policy to make it “more humane and efficient.” Mexican Under Secretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights Juan Manuel Gómez Robledo echoed the sentiment: “[The world cannot] repeat actions from the past and expect different results,” he said.
In June 2014, West Texas Intermediate, a benchmark crude oil grade, sold at $106 dollars per barrel. In early December, the price closed at $65 dollars per barrel, and is currently trading at just over $50 dollars per barrel. This precipitous decline has had an adverse effect on oil producers in Latin America—in particular, countries such as Mexico and Colombia that heavily rely on oil receipts to fund their national budgets.
On the other hand, consumers in Central America and the Caribbean are benefiting from low oil prices. Investors are looking at the region with a long-term view, and while some companies are cutting back on spending plans, the resources available in the region will continue to be attractive.
While formulating spending and investment plans for the year, energy companies will budget for a certain oil price in order to break even. For example, Venezuela’s break-even price in January 2015 was over $115 per barrel, making it extremely challenging to turn a profit. The drop in oil prices also impacts gas investment, because national and international oil companies often prospect the two at the same time—and thus must make appropriate spending decisions based on their relative prices. As such, the two markets are closely intertwined.
As investment levels are cut back, the oil price environment should be leveraged to encourage integration efforts in the region that would improve conditions for investment, even in a price-constrained environment. For example, the Pacific Alliance, which includes Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, should seek to create larger internal markets and stronger investment conditions to draw investment. Shale gas development is also priority for the Alliance, and the creation of a development bank to finance infrastructure projects is one recommendation for further development.
This week’s likely top stories: Colombia and FARC agree to clear landmines; Peru recalls ambassador to Chile; Citigroup to sell Central American entities; Puerto Rico debates possible VAT; Chilean officials charged with corruption.
Colombia and FARC to Remove Landmines: The Colombian and the FARC guerrilla group reached an agreement on Saturday to work together to clear the country of landmines and explosive devices. Their joint statement was read by Cuba and Norway, the two guarantor countries for the peace process, and the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) will assist in the de-mining efforts. This weekend’s agreement marked important progress in the negotiations; for the first time, high-level military commanders were present, and the removal of mines and explosives is a major step toward disarmament. Over 11,000 Colombians have been hurt or killed by landmines in the last 15 years.
Peru Recalls Ambassador to Chile: On Saturday, Peru recalled its ambassador to Chile over spying accusations. Last month, the Peruvian government announced that three Peruvian naval employees were being investigated for allegedly disclosing military information to Chile. On February 20, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala sent Chile a diplomatic note requesting an answer regarding the claims, although Peru has not yet received a response. Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz stated that Chile “does not promote or accept acts of espionage in other states or its own territory.” Peruvian Prime Minister Ana Jara claimed that Peru will not send its ambassador back to Chile until the issue is addressed. Chile and Peru have long harbored tensions over their borders.
Citigroup Inc. to Sell Central American Operations: Citigroup Inc. may soon sell its Central American retail units to Banco Popular Español S.A., which is based in Madrid, Spain. According to a source’s comments on Saturday, Citigroup aims to sell its retail operations in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama in an effort to leave markets yielding low revenues and to streamline operations. Citigroup hopes to sell for $1.5 billion. The deal is not yet finalized and is subject to change. Spokesmen for both banks declined comment on the matter.
Puerto Rico Proposes Plan to Combat Tax Evasion: Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro García Padilla is supporting a new plan to impose a 16 percent value-added tax (VAT), in an effort to reduce the territory’s $73 billion public debt. The plan, which is currently being considered by lawmakers, would replace Puerto Rico’s current tax rate of 7 percent and would curb tax evasion on the island. Pending approval, producers would pay the VAT on raw materials, and include it in the price given to retailers, and the VAT would eventually be paid by consumers. Charging the VAT at each stage in the sales process would ensure proper collection. Currently, Puerto Rico’s informal economy is estimated to be worth $16 billion, a figure representing approximately 25 percent of the GDP. García Padilla is expected to make an announcement regarding the plan today.
Chilean Corruption Scandal Racks Opposition Party: After court hearings last week, a tax auditor, a former government official and four executives from the Penta Group, one of Chile’s largest financial groups, were jailed on Saturday for tax fraud, bribery and money laundering. Ten defendants were implicated in the scandal, including two tax officials and two politicians from the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union—UDI) opposition party. In a public declaration on Monday, La Superintendencia de Bancos e Instituciones Financieras (Superintendency of Banks and Financial Institutions—SBIF) announced that the Penta executives, including owners Carlos Délano y Carlos Eugenio Lavín, would be unable to maintain their positions as shareholders in the company.
This year, International Women’s Day, which celebrated its 100th birthday on Sunday, also marked the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
In what is still considered the most comprehensive blueprint on advancing women’s rights, 189 governments adopted the 1995 Beijing roadmap.
Looking back at this high point in the advancement of women’s rights, the progress made in ending gender inequality is, at best, uneven. The persistence of violence against women remains a scourge across the globe.
According to the report prepared for the 54th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, “the leaders entrusted with the power to realize the promises made in Beijing have failed women and girls,” based on findings in the 167 countries surveyed.
But did we need a UN report to reach this conclusion?
On Thursday, for the first time since talks began in Havana in November 2012, a delegation of high-ranking military Colombian military officials joined ongoing peace talks between the government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC).
The delegation and FARC negotiators will meet as part of the talks’ End of the Conflict Subcommittee, and are scheduled to continue talks through Saturday. On Thursday, Colombian Foreign Minister Margia Angela Holguin said, “We’re looking at it, analyzing the possibility of a bilateral cease-fire. That’s why these generals are going to that subcommittee.”
The meetings, which an anonymous spokesperson for the Colombian government called “historic,” come at a time when Colombians appear to be warming to the talks. According to a recent Gallup poll, 72 percent of Colombians are in favor of the talks and 26 percent are opposed. As recently as December, only 62 percent were reported to be in favor, while 36 percent of Colombians were opposed. The same poll found that 53 percent of Colombians believe that the talks will lead to a peace accord.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the independent human rights body of the Organization of American States (OAS), experienced a period of intense political turmoil from 2011 to 2013. Criticism of the Commission by members of the OAS—most notably Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela—was echoed by Colombia, Peru and others in their vocal disapproval of concrete IACHR decisions.
The increasingly antagonistic diplomatic environment came to a head in April 2011, when the IACHR requested that Brazil halt its construction of the $17 billion Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff responded by withholding its dues payment, withdrawing Ruy Casaes, the Brazilian ambassador to the OAS, and temporarily withdrawing Paulo Vannuchi, Brazil’s candidate for a position on the Commission (although he was later elected to the Commission).
Two months after Rousseff’s sharp reaction to the Belo Monte matter, the OAS Permanent Council created a Working Group charged with preparing a set of recommendations on how to strengthen the Inter-American Human Rights System (IAHRS). On December 13, 2011, the Working Group approved a report containing 53 recommendations to the IACHR. The recommendations largely referred to operations, rules of procedure and institutional practices, but some attempted to limit the capacity of the Commission and weaken its mechanisms. In short, this process was a collective catharsis for critics of IACHR decisions, combined with a chance to air broader disdain for the OAS and any institution deemed to be spoiled by U.S. influence.
Luisa Ortega, the Venezuelan Attorney General, declared Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López ineligible to run for parliament as a candidate for the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable—MUD) until 2017. Ortega’s announcement followed a Uníon Radio interview with Jesús “Chúo” Torrealaba, executive secretary of MUD, who had received a letter from three imprisoned opposition leaders—López, former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and former San Cristóbal Mayor Daniel Ceballos—on Tuesday night requesting consideration of López’ candidacy for the election.
“It’s not that it’s a null candidacy, rather that he cannot run,” said Ortega, alluding to an earlier court ruling against López. As mayor of the Chacao municipality of Caracas in 2005, López was banned from running for any public office, after he was accused of receiving money from the state-run oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (Petroleum of Venezuela—PDVSA). Despite a hearing held by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that overturned the ruling in 2011, the Venezuelan Supreme Court upheld the original decision.
López has been imprisoned since February 18, 2014, accused of acts against the government, including damage to public property, public incitement and unlawful assembly. An investigation is still underway for Antonio Ledezma, the former mayor of Caracas, who has been imprisoned since last month for his connection to two young people accused of conspiracy against the government. In both the case of Ledezma as well as Ceballos, Ortega was unable to say whether the two would be eligible for the MUD elections.
Nearly 100 protesters rallied at a city council meeting in Grapevine, Texas on Tuesday night to demand justice for Rubén García Villalpando, a 31-year-old Mexican national who was killed by a police officer in Euless, Texas on February 20. Police officer Robert Clark shot García Villalpando after a brief car chase that started at a business where police were investigating a burglar alarm. Police contend that García Villalpando was unarmed, but did not follow officer Clark’s orders.
Also on Tuesday, the family of 27-year-old Ernesto Javier Canepa Díaz held a press conference in Santa Ana, California to addressDíaz’ death on February 27 after police shot him during a robbery investigation. Police have not released details of the incident, but said that Díaz was identified as a suspect in the robbery.
A third police shooting of a Mexican national occurred February 10 in Pasco, Washington, when three police officers gunned down 35-year-old Antonio Zambrano Montes. Police officers said that Zambrano Montes had thrown rocks at them. A video of the shootingshows Zambrano-Montes running from police officers before they fired seventeen shots at him.
Officers involved in all three shootings have been placed on administrative leave as local officials investigate the incidents.
Mexico’s consuls in California, Texas and Washington State have voiced concerns to local authorities about the excessive use of lethal force by police. On Monday, the Mexican government called for the United States Justice Department to monitor theinvestigations of the shootings.
“Because these incidents cannot be seen as isolated cases, the Mexican government has called the Justice Department of the United States to follow the investigations of these cases through its Civil Rights Division and provide assurances that they are conducted with transparency and if necessary, that civil and criminal responsibilities are established,” said the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs on Monday.
Former President Alfonso Portillo returned to Guatemala on February 25, 2015 after spending just nine months of a six-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Englewood, Colorado.
In May 2014, he was convicted of conspiring to use U.S. banks to launder a $2.5 million bribe he received from the Taiwanese government in exchange for
Guatemala’s diplomatic recognition of the island in its long-standing dispute with China.
A crowd of sympathizers gathered at La Aurora airport hours before his plane was due to land in Guatemala, carrying banners with messages of support. During his administration (2000-2004), Portillo imposed price controls on basic foodstuffs, subsidized electricity tariffs for the poor, increased the minimum wage and challenged monopolies. As a result, despite his tainted past, he still enjoys considerable support among disenfranchised rural and urban Guatemalans.
“Portillo is one of the few politicians who’ve understood that putting food on the table is the standard by which a politician is judged,” explains political analyst Christians Castillo, of the the University of San Carlos’ Instituto de Problemas Nacionales (Institute of National Problems—IPNUSAC). According to Castillo, Portillo is seen as “a Robin Hood figure who steals to defend the rights of the masses.”
A poll carried out by Borge y Asociados for Contrapoder magazine in August 2014 revealed that two out of three Guatemalans would re-elect Portillo out of all of the country’s former presidents since the peace agreements were signed in 1996 (the survey was hypothetical, as the Guatemalan Constitution forbids re-election). Guatemala’s general elections are scheduled for September 13, 2015.
On February 20, a day after Venezuelan security agents smashed into the office of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and arrested him on conspiracy charges, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff referred to the mayor’s detention as a Venezuelan “internal matter.” Later, the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released two bland statements in line with Rousseff’s comment, expressing concern and reaffirming Brazil’s commitment to act as a mediator.
This reaction was not dissimilar to the response of other important regional players, like Chile and México. Only Colombia’s tone was a bit harsher, perhaps because the country was mentioned in the accusations against Ledezma. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos denied his country’s involvement in the alleged conspiracy and made a plea that the rights of opposition members be respected.
But Ledezma’s rights had been violated even during his arrest. A group of armed officers stormed the mayor’s office and forcefully dragged him away without an arrest warrant. Ledezma was indicted the next day on charges of conspiracy to help plot an American-backed coup. Five days after the arrest, a police officer shot and killed a teenage boy during an anti-government protest in the city of San Cristóbal, the epicenter of nation-wide demonstrations last year that resulted in more than 40 deaths. The boy’s death spurred sporadic protests in different cities, ratcheting up tension in a country that, alongside political turmoil, is experiencing a severe economic crisis.
El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced on Monday that the preliminary count of votes in municipal and legislative elections would be skipped, due to system error.
On Sunday, Salvadoran citizens voted for all 84 seats in Congress, 262 mayors, approximately 3,000 municipal council members, and 20 representatives for the Central American Parliament. It was the first time that voters were allowed to choose individual candidates from different political parties instead of having to vote for one single party with a predetermined list of candidates.
The TSE confirmed yesterday that the initial count would not be disclosed, due to system failure experienced by the firm hired to digitize the results. They will instead continue straight to the final count, which will be conducted manually and could take 12 days. This election also marked the first time since the TSE was founded that the preliminary count is not made public.
Despite the fact that 60 observers from the OAS were present to monitor the elections, citizens are concerned about potential fraud. According to a representative from the Junta de Vigilancia Electoral (Electoral Vigilance Board—JVE), the situation “generates an atmosphere of unease, insecurity, of worry and distrust, not having a base that is showing us how the results of the election are developing.”
The legislative elections are highly divisive, with the Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (National Republican Alliance—ARENA) and the ruling Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberacion Nacional (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front—FMLN) fighting for congressional seats. With the elections, President Salvador Sánchez Cerén hopes to gain wider support in his endeavors to combat gang violence in the country.
This week’s likely top stories:U.S.-Cuba talks promising; New delegation for FARC peace talks; Dollar strengthens against Latin American currencies; Tabaré Vázquez takes office; Peruvian businesses to learn from Costa Rican ecotourism.
U.S.-Cuba Normalization Talks Promising: After two rounds of talks—one in Havana last month and the second in Washington DC on Friday—the U.S. and Cuba announced that the re-opening of a U.S. embassy in Havana before the April 10-11 Summit of the Americas is not out of the question. While U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson and her counterpart—Joséfina Vidal Ferreiro, the director for United States Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba—agreed that the talks were productive, Cuba remains on the State Departments Sponsors of Terrorism list and the Cuban Interests Section in Washington DC remains unbanked. While not a precondition for further normalization, Vidal emphasized that the removal of Cuba from the terrorism list was a top priority. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized that the terrorism list was an issue separate from the negotiations, and that the review of Cuba’s position on the list would go through Congress. In simultaneous addresses on December 17, U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced the re-establishment of relations after Cuba released 65-year-old former U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds and the U.S. released the three remaining “Cuban Five.”
Colombian President Announces New Delegation for FARC Peace Talks: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced on Monday that a new delegation of negotiators will be sent to Havana, Cuba on Tuesday to join the ongoing peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC). The emissaries—five active generals and one admiral of the Colombian Armed Forces—are joining the peace talks with the purpose of discussing a bilateral ceasefire. Santos also commented on the possibility of reaching a solution with the United States to not extradite FARC leaders, should an agreement ending the conflict be reached. Last week, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan attended the talks, declaring that any agreement must be just and meet international standards. “Transitional justice is an issue of concern and controversy,” he said. “However, I would like to emphasize that justice must fit the Colombian context—while respecting international minimum standards. No one shoe fits all.”
Dollar Strengthens Against Latin American Currencies: Several currencies in Latin America are at their lowest levels in years, due to the decline in commodity prices and the expansion of the U.S. economy. Higher U.S. interest rates are expected to drive funds out of riskier emerging markets, contributing to currency weakness in the region. This week, however, several currencies may make profits, with operators seeking to exchange them for dollars to avoid the risk of a currency relapse later in the year, in which the dollar may weaken. In Brazil, the real may decline to 3 reais per dollar this week, causing a further devaluation of the Brazilian currency as market players turn to the dollar. The Colombian peso may move from 2,480 to 2,600 pesos per dollar in the next few weeks. In Peru, the dollar is expected to continue strengthening against the Peruvian Nuevo Sol from 2.96 to between 3.090 and 3.105 Nuevos Soles per dollar. The Argentine peso will likely continue its slight decline to an official 8.77 pesos per dollar, but the informal market levels continue to stay at 13 pesos per dollar. Increased purchasing of dollars may continue the Latin American currency devaluation trend seen in the past five years.
Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez Takes Office: Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez was inaugurated on Sunday, taking over from 79-year old President José Mujica. Vázquez, a 75-year old oncologist who served as president from 2005-2010, represents the Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA), a leftist coalition party. In his inauguration speech, Vázquez called for national unity, particularly regarding public education, health and housing. Vázquez will inherit a growing economy and historically low unemployment rates. This transfer of power marks 30 years of uninterrupted democracy in Uruguay since President Julio María Sanguinetti‘s 1985 election ended the country’s 12-year dictatorship. “I would like to earnestly greet the 30 years of uninterrupted democracy we enjoy in Uruguay,” said Vázquez.
Peruvian Businesses to Learn from Costa Rican Ecotourism Best Practices: Sixteen Peruvian businesses are attending the Seminario Internacional de Desarrollo y Gestión de Productos y Servicios Turístico Sostenible (International Seminar for Development and Management of Sustainable Tourism Products and Services) in Costa Rica from March 1-8 to learn best practices regarding ecotourism. Participants in the week-long seminar, organized by La Asociación Costarricense de Profesionales en Turismo (Costa Rican Association of Tourism Professionals—Acoprot), will visit Costa Rican businesses that have successfully created sustainable products and business models. The Peruvian entrepreneurs will learn from tourist guides, sustainable companies and hotels, and will participate in site visits to parts of Costa Rica that have applied sustainable tourism methodologies—the Monteverde Cloud Forest and La Fortuna volcano. The seminar offers technical round tables, keynote speeches and workshops.
Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti’s insensitive recent comments about planned changes to the country’s minimum wage were answered by nationwide demonstrations on February 22, organized by Guatemala’s Coordinadora Nacional de Organizaciones Campesinas (National Coordination of Peasant Organizations—CNOC). In response to four accords approved at the end of 2014 to establish a lower monthly minimum wage of 1,500 quetzales ($196.6) in the municipalities of Estanzuela, Masagua, San Augustine and Guastatoya, protesters blocked at least 22 roads in various parts of the country, including border areas and major highways.
According to the government, a differentiated minimum wage would lower labor costs to encourage investment in the four municipalities. The new wages were set to go in effect in January, but the decision was suspended late that month after the Procurador de los Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Ombudsman—PDH) raised an injunction in the Constitutional Court, arguing that the measure violated labor rights of workers in those areas. The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Philip Alston, also criticized the decision. “Having an exploited labor force is not a viable way to foster economic and social development,” he affirmed.
Responding to the controversy in a press conference last weekend, Baldetti defended the wage differential in a way that many Guatemalans found offensive. Baldetti claimed that if she lived in Estanzuela and had five children, she would be “blessed by God” if she was offered a job in a factory, “whatever the laws say.” “It’s better to have 1,200 quetzales [$157] in your pocket [than to have] nothing and have to eat […] once a day, tortilla with salt,” she said.
Delegates from the U.S. and Cuba met at the State Department in Washington, DC today to continue negotiations to normalize diplomatic relations between the two countries. According to an unnamed U.S. State Department official, the current negotiations will focus on reopening the embassies. Speaking to whether the embassies will be opened before the Summit of Americas in April, a State Department official said, “Both sides have an interest in doing this as quickly as possible. I hope that we can be done in that kind of a time frame but I just can’t be sure.”
Cuba is likely to link the process to its removal from the U.S. government’s State Sponsors of Terrorism (SSOT) list. The country shares the SSOT designation with Iran, Sudan and Syria. Cuban President Raúl Castro has qualified Cuba’s presence on the SSOT list as “unjustifiable.”
U.S. President Barack Obama announced a review of the designation last December, but that process is still underway. Regarding the ongoing negotiations, a State Department official said, “It would be very easy to reestablish diplomatic relations if [the Cubans] didn’t link the two things.”
The Cuban delegation will reportedly also seek a solution to its banking problems in the United States. Cuba’s Special Interests Section in Washington DC has cited the difficulty of finding banks in the U.S. willing to work with it—and consequently, all consular services are being transacted in cash. The U.S. delegation will reportedly seek to hammer out bureaucratic details, such as the number of representatives allowed at the embassies and the elimination of restrictions on diplomatic pouches.
A vote to decriminalize marijuana passed through Jamaica’s parliament Tuesday night and is expected to be signed into law by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen later this week. The law, approved by Jamaica's Senate in February, will overturn the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1948, which punishes the possession, cultivation, selling, transporting, and smoking of “ganja,” the local term for the drug.
Under the new regulation, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana will no longer show up on an individual’s criminal record, but will be re-categorized as a low-level offense resulting in a small fine. Individuals will be permitted to cultivate up to five plants on their property. Additionally, the law permits the use of marijuana for medical purposes, as well as for Rastafarian religious ceremonies.
Marijuana regulation has been a hotly contested topic on the island, in large part due to Jamaica's close ties with the United States. However, Jamaica’s national security minister, Peter Bunting, assured the parliament that the new law would not affect international relations.
"The passage of this legislation does not create a free-for-all in the growing, transporting, dealing or exporting of ganja. The security forces will continue to rigorously enforce Jamaican law consistent with our international treaty obligations," said Bunting.
Earlier on Tuesday, Alaska passed legislation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, joining Colorado and Washington as the only U.S. states to do so. Elsewhere in the hemisphere, Uruguay permits the growth, sale and distribution of marijuana, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina have decriminalized possession of the drug, and Chile, Costa Rica and Guatemala are in the process of discussing new policies around marijuana.
The perception Korea once held of Latin America—of lazy workers and inefficient governments—has drastically changed today. From an entire floor dedicated to South Korean music, cuisine and clothes at a mall in Peru, to the first Korean Cultural Center in Argentina, to the United States Ambassador to Costa Rica singing and dancing to Psy’s Gangnam style, South Korea’s presence and influence in Latin America is growing. The small Asian nation has quietly but successfully flooded Latin American markets.
However, this engagement has not been mutual—Latin American governments have yet to realize that they could lose out if they do not reciprocate.
The question then is not how or when this happened, but rather why many Latin American countries have remained unenthusiastic about South Korea, a country that only 30 years ago was torn by civil war and poverty-stricken. A Korea Economic Institute of America report highlights what could attract Latin America to engage more proactively with the country, including South Korea’s capacity to counterbalance China’s hegemony. South Korea does not want to be the third Asian player in Latin America, after Xi and Abe.
The Paraguayan government’s Institution for Indigenous Affairs of Paraguay (INDI) expressed its hope on Tuesday that the Paraguayan Supreme Court will reject an appeal from two German ranching companies that have been required to return 14,404 hectares of land to an Indigenous community.
Roughly 500 members of the Sawhoyamaxa community of the Exnet nation have been living alongside a highway in the Chaco region since they were displaced from their ancestral lands by cattle ranchers 23 years ago. In 2006, The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) ruled that the Sawhoyamaxa’s rights had been violated and ordered the Paraguayan government to return the land to the community within three years of the ruling.
Paraguayan president Horacio Cartes ultimately signed an expropriation law to return the lands to the Sawhoyamaxa on June 11, 2014 after it passed through the House and Senate after months of protests by the Exnet nation that the IACHR order had remained unfulfilled.
Two months after the law was signed, Heribert Roedel, president of both the German ranching companies Roswell S.A. and Kansol & Company S.A., petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the law on grounds of unconstitutionality. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected Roedel’s claims, but recently accepted a second appeal from the company that focuses more specifically on article 3 of the new law. The argument put forward by the company states that the article is unconstitutional because the “constitutional provision does not provide an assessment of the amount of compensation carried out by the Ministry of Public Works and Communications.”
INDI has pointed out that the Paraguayan state would compensate the two companies with roughly $8 million and called the move by Roedel’s lawyers their “latest attempt to retain the property.”
Cue the House of Cards metaphors. On February 9, Netflix announced via Twitter its release of content in Cuba. It’s been two months since the resumption of U.S.-Cuban diplomacy and Frank Underwood’s journey to the White House can now be viewed within sight of the Plaza of the Revolution.
Of course, few on the island actually received Netflix’s tweet. Approximately five percent of Cubans have regular internet access, Cuban broadband is among the slowest in the world and Netflix’s $7.99 monthly fee is prohibitively expensive for a vast majority of Cubans. For the foreseeable future, Netflix’s Cuban clientele will consist of tourists, visiting businesspeople and journalists, government personnel, and private computer owners with access to foreign subscriptions and/or cash remittances from abroad.
It may be a small and symbolic investment, but Netflix’s expansion into Cuba is an investment nonetheless. The tech giant’s foray is adding to a growing sense of commercial momentum that is attracting the attention of investors, drawing the island closer to North American capital and eroding support for the half century-old embargo. This momentum will begin to disabuse many U.S. firms of their “wait and see” approach to assessing Cuban markets and devising investment strategies. It will also give elected officials cover to rethink their advocacy for an unsuccessful policy toward Cuba and the chance to garner support from the business community. Though the embargo remains in place with congressional backing, it now faces unprecedented opposition.
Last week’s international summit on terrorism at the White House showed how much the issue has become a central concern around the world. Evidently, the fear of a homegrown attack has understandably pushed many nations to enact more stringent laws and preventive measures. The recent spread of terrorist attacks in Western Europe and Canada has only heightened the urgency.
In Canada, the governing Conservative government has introduced legislation aimed at giving more powers to its intelligence gathering agency (CSIS) in order to diminish a repeat of the lone-wolf attacks of last autumn in Ottawa and St. Jean, Québec. The proposed legislation has received overwhelming support in a recent poll (according to a poll by IPSOS Reid, over 60 percent of respondents support it). The highest level of support actually comes from my own home province of Québec, usually more reluctant to enhance existing security measures.
The debate in the House of Commons in Ottawa is a foregone conclusion. The Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper have the majority in the House, and the third party Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has indicated his support, along with demands for greater parliamentary accountability and oversight. Official Opposition leader Tom Mulcair of the New Democratic Party (NDP) has led the charge against the bill, arguing that increased powers for the spy agency warrant serious concerns regarding the possibility that increased powers may violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Despite this, the bill will likely pass the House of Commons within in a few days.
Department of Justice lawyers filed a notice of appeal and a motion for a stay on Monday with Texas Judge Andrew S. Hanen in an attempt to postpone a hold on President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration.
U.S. District Judge Hanen filed a preliminary injunction on February 16 against a plan that Obama announced late last year to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. The first piece of the program—the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—was scheduled to begin on February 18. The other program, Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, was scheduled to begin in May. Together, around 4.7 million undocumented immigrants would be eligible for deferred deportation. Texas and 25 other states have filed a lawsuit arguing that executive action on immigration was unconstitutional, and claiming that it would obligate states to increase their funding for healthcare and education. Twelve states and Washington, D.C., along with 33 cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities have signed an amicus brief in support of Obama’s executive action on immigration.
Hanen’s ruling has already interrupted the federal government’s immigration action plans: on Friday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s lease on an office building in Virginia to process applications for the program was canceled. A hold on the stay would allow the program to continue throughout the government’s appeal process.
If Hanen rejects the motion, the U.S. government is likely to request a stay at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Hanen’s decision is expected by the close of business on Wednesday, February 25.
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.