Top stories this week are likely to include: Senate Judiciary Committee begins mark-up of the U.S. immigration reform bill; Álvaro Uribe reacts to Nicolás Maduro; Ríos Montt genocide trial is briefly suspended; Barack Obama criticizes the imprisonment of an American filmmaker in Venezuela; and 100 prisoners participate in the Guantánamo hunger strike.
Immigration Reform in the Judiciary Committee: On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin to mark up the 844-page immigration reform bill drafted by the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" U.S. senators with amendments to be considered due by 5:00pm on Tuesday. Dozens of amendments are expected to be submitted by members of the Judiciary Committee, including the Uniting American Families Act—an amendment to be offered by Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that would allow U.S. citizens to sponsor their same-sex partners for green cards. On Friday, President Barack Obama said that he supported a proposal, calling it the “right thing to do.” If passed in committee, critics say the amendment could erode bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform. On Friday during his visit to Mexico, Obama said he was “optimistic” that Congress could pass immigration reform this year.
Venezuelan and Colombian Heads of State Face Off: Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe said Sunday that he would bring Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights for putting his life in danger after Maduro accused Uribe on Friday of plotting to kill him. Maduro also alleged that Uribe was involved in the murder of Jhonny González, a sports reporter who was shot to death last week. On Sunday, former Colombian President Andrés Pastrana criticized Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for not speaking out immediately against Maduro's accusations.
Guatemalan Constitutional Court Suspends Ríos Montt Trial: Guatemala's Constitutional Court announced on Saturday a "provisional" suspension of the genocide trial of former General Efraín Ríos Montt while it resolves an injunction request filed by Ríos Montt's attorney, Francisco García Gudiel. However, a definitive ruling on the genocide trial is expected this week after the Constitutional Court ruled on April 30 that the case could proceed. The presiding judge, Jazmín Barrios, granted a week’s recess so that García Gudiel could review the file against his client.
Obama Calls Imprisonment of American in Venezuela "Ridiculous": Venezuelan Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said on Sunday that American Timothy Tracy was posing as a documentary filmmaker to spy on the Venezuelan government. Tracy was arrested after Venezuela’s April 14 election as he was leaving the country and was charged with conspiracy late last month, saying he was plotting with opposition groups to destabilize the country. U.S. President Obama called the Venezuelan government’s claim "ridiculous” in an interview with Telemundo this weekend. Maduro responded on Saturday by calling Obama the “grand chief of devils.”
100 Prisoners on Strike in Guantánamo: An Afghan prisoner at the Guantánamo military prison in Cuba alleged in a sworn affidavit released Sunday that soldiers roughly searched prisoners' Qurans in February, triggering a hunger strike in which at least 100 prisoners have been participating for the ninth consecutive day. At least 23 prisoners are now being force-fed, though a prison spokesman said that no one is experiencing life-threatening conditions. Marine General John Kelly, head of U.S. Southern Command, told reporters that there was “absolutely no mishandling of the Quran” inside the prison.
Today, U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in Costa Rica as part of a trip to promote trade and business ties, discuss the implications of U.S. immigration reform for the region, and address security issues in Central America and Mexico. Compared with past visits of U.S. presidents to the country, which were major events, Obama’s trip is generating little excitement, despite his personal popularity in Costa Rica.
There are a number of possible reasons for this, including an uninspiring agenda, few opportunities for the public to see and hear Obama and Costa Ricans’ disgust with their own politicians. According to polls, President Laura Chinchilla is the least popular leader in the Western Hemisphere, which dampens Costa Ricans’ interest in politics, generally. However, the best explanation is that the relationship between Costa Rica and the U.S. has changed fundamentally over the past few decades, making a U.S. presidential visit seem less significant than it used to.
When U.S. President John F. Kennedy visited Costa Rica in March 1963, he arrived to promote the Alliance for Progress. During his visit, huge crowds turned out to hear him speak, with many following him from event to event. Even today, many Costa Ricans remember clearly and speak with excitement about the events of those two days. While Kennedy’s charisma played a role, the United States and its support for Costa Rica’s development also elicited enthusiasm.
Since 1942, when bilateral economic assistance to Costa Rica began, the U.S. government had implemented a low-key, relatively inexpensive but highly effective and popular technical assistance program. In partnership with the Costa Rican government, the project built most of the Inter-American Highway in Costa Rica, supported significant increases in agricultural production, and promoted improvements in public health—notably infrastructure to provide potable water and help build the National Children’s Hospital.
Mexico City residents rarely pay attention to visiting heads of state. Except for foreign flags on light posts along Reforma Avenue and inside Chapultepec Castle, no one really knows, cares or feels the presence of any visiting leader—except when the president of the United States visits.
On his third visit to Mexico, President Obama was courted by Mexico’s new president, Enrique Peña Nieto. On display was Peña Nieto’s desire to re-set the clock with the U.S. and his administration’s continued focus on the economy. Peña Nieto wants to reverse his predecessor’s policies, which allowed increased cross-border surveillance, and sanctioned an unprecedented increase in technical assistance in a number of important areas, including rule of law, money laundering, and intelligence-sharing. This assistance, I would argue, is valuable and necessary.
President Obama has never had a better partner in Mexico than Enrique Peña Nieto—for both good and bad reasons. Nieto comes from the party that founded Mexico’s institutions and set the country on the international course it’s on today. After 70 years in power, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party–PRI) lost the presidency to the Partido Accion Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) in 2000, and only recently re-took political reigns.
Peña Nieto is a good partner for Obama because Peña Nieto is willing to work across party lines. His first official act was to sign a political pact covering 95 points of interest with the main opposition parties, the PAN and the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD). Unlike his predecessor, Peña Nieto is thus far willing to work with all political constituencies on critical issues. This is a plus for the bilateral agenda.
U.S. President Barack Obama met with his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, in Mexico’s Palacio Nacional on Thursday to discuss trade and economic partnership between the two countries. This was Obama’s fourth trip to Mexico but his first under Peña Nieto’s tenure.
Both heads of state agreed to form a high-level working group to expand the countries’ trade agreements with Asia because of its fast-growing import and export market. “By working closely together to upgrade and revamp our trade relationship, we're also in a position to project outward and start selling more goods and services around the world,” Obama said. “And that means more jobs and more businesses that are successful in Mexico and in the United States.”
Both the U.S. and Mexico had estimated trade of up to $500 billion in 2012, are members of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada, and are participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations that Japan has recently joined.
Obama briefly mentioned the U.S.’ effort to overhaul its immigration system and said that he was “optimistic that we’re finally going to get comprehensive immigration reform passed.” Obama said that the bill contains elements that he approves of, but that the bill is likely to be amended before it is passed. Peña Nieto responded by saying that “Mexico understands this is a domestic affair for the United States.”
Today, before meeting with Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, Obama is scheduled to make a speech at the Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Anthropology Museum) in Mexico City and meet with young people to highlight the importance of the historical and cultural ties between the U.S. and Mexico. On Saturday, Obama will meet with other Latin American leaders from the Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana (Central American Integration System—SICA), including leaders from Nicaragua, Belize, Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic.
For further coverage of Obama’s visit to Latin America, visit AQ’s in-depth page.
En octubre de 2006, cuando el invierno comenzaba a despuntar en Alaska, los habitantes de Anchorage—ubicada a 8.600 kilómetros de Caracas—se debatían entre aceptar o no el combustible gratuito que el presidente de Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, había ofrecido para mitigar el impacto económico del cambio de estación en la localidad. Unos querían recibir el combustible debido a la crisis que azotaba a la región, en cuanto otros rechazaban al presidente venezolano por haber llamado “diablo” a su presidente, George W. Bush, durante una reunión de la Organización de las Naciones Unidas en ese año. Chávez nunca había visitado Alaska, pero había dividido a los esquimales.
Venezuela acumuló años de desigualdades sociales amparadas bajo la consigna mundialmente conocida de ser la “democracia más estable de Latinoamérica”. Caracas se convirtió en el ejemplo más claro de la debacle social: mientras los cerros se hinchaban de empobrecidos ranchos, la vida en el valle transcurría en una calma de golf, música y playas. La rabia de los marginados golpeó con la fuerza de un inesperado tsunami en febrero de 1989, amenazando a la adormecida ciudad. Las aguas volvieron a su cauce, pero Chávez, entonces un oficial, calculó el tamaño del rencor. Una década después, electo Presidente, confrontó al valle: lejos de contener las aguas, abriría las compuertas.
Los extensos discursos de Chávez carecían de improvisación. Palabras medidas, frases hechas e historias de impacto, que acentuaban la brecha—por años existente—entre ricos y pobres, fueron calando en el colectivo. Al poco tiempo, la base política del mandatario se fue limpiando de quienes apostaban por cambios en el país y se limitó a quienes exigían reconocimiento y poder después de años de olvido. No era poca cosa, los pobres en el país petrolero eran mayoría, sólo que no lo sabían.
Los defensores y adversarios del proceso revolucionario comenzaron a medir fuerzas, y Venezuela entendió el significado de la palabra “polarización”. El fenómeno que adquirió picos dramáticos entre 2002 y 2004, entró en aparente letargo luego de las aplastantes victorias electorales de un Chávez cada vez más fortalecido. Tras cada derrota, la desmoralizada clase media miraba al extranjero en busca de tiempos menos revolucionarios.
Today, as U.S. President Barack Obama kicks off his sixth visit to Latin America, Americas Quarterly releases its Spring issue, Latin America Goes Global, in which, among other articles on the region’s increasing role in global affairs, Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson reveals 10 generally unknown initiatives that are advancing U.S-Latin American relations.
In “10 Things You Didn’t Know about U.S.–Latin America Relations,” Jacobson looks at both long-standing and nascent efforts to promote many of the broader issues President Obama will discuss during his meetings with Latin American leaders in Mexico and Costa Rica. The president departs for Mexico this morning and will be visiting the two countries from May 2–4.
Economic and trade relations, security and cooperation will be top agenda items. And Jacobson points to local efforts already in place to connect small entrepreneurs and bolster education and opportunities in the region. From bicultural centers throughout the region that offer education in English and technology, among other subjects, to the Small Business Network of the Americas (SBNA), the hemispheric collaboration Obama seeks to expand has firm roots in place, Jacobson notes. On a larger scale, Jacobson notes multilateral alliances like the Tran-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—also explored in the Spring AQ—and its potential to deepen economic ties and opportunities.
President Obama has committed to discussing efforts to coordinate the hemispheric energy supply and demand and to launch new environmental partnerships, and Jacobson details existing efforts to collaborate on environment and energy issues. Local initiatives are raising environmental awareness and furthering initiatives to connect Latin America’s private sector entrepreneurs to U.S. clean energy companies.
The Spring AQ explores many other aspects of Latin America’s increasing global presence that will, in part, guide the issues Obama discusses and the initiatives he puts forth.
A few weeks ago, a member of the House of Representatives wrote to President Obama to urge him to delete Cuba from the list of countries supporting international terrorism. In her appeal, Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-FL) included text from a discredited report prepared by Ana Belén Montes, a confessed spy for Havana who was arrested in September 2001 and who is now serving a 25-year sentence in a federal penitentiary.
Several days ago, the Justice Department announced the indictment of another former American official charged with spying for Cuba, Marta Velázquez. Velázquez allegedly took Montes to Havana for spy training, but when Montes was reported to be cooperating with the authorities after confessing, Velázquez resigned from her job at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and fled the country. In 2004, a grand jury in Washington DC issued an indictment against Velázquez (also known by her aliases “Marta Rita Kviele” and “Barbara”), but it remained under court seal until a few days ago.
That few American policy makers are aware of the great harm done to the United States by Montes, Velázquez and other spies working for the Castro brothers can be explained by the fact that when both stories broke, more significant stories were being covered by the American press: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and last month’s terrorist attack in Boston.
Be that as it may, congresspeople are not supposed to send disinformation from the Cuban government to the U.S. president.
Some ignore the stories of Ms. Montes and Ms. Velázquez because they raise questions about an innocent, non-threatening narrative about Cuba. In order for that narrative to be credible, the Velázquez and Montes stories—as well as Cuba's current role in the Venezuelan electoral crisis and Havana's strong ties to Iran, Syria and North Korea—need to be discussed as little as possible.
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association’s (International Federation of Association Football—FIFA) Honorary President João Havelange resignation was made public Tuesday following the publication of an internal ethics committee repot that implicated him in a $155.4 million bribery scandal. The 96 year-old Brazilian national served as FIFA president from 1974 to 1988.
Havelange and his son-in-law, former Brazilian Football Confederation President Ricardo Teixeira, allegedly received bribes from the Swiss-based International Sport and Leisure (ISL) in exchange for exclusive rights to market the World Cup to some of the world’s biggest brands from 1992 to 2000. They were found guilty of "morally and ethically reproachable conduct" by FIFA ethics court judge Joachim Eckert. Although accepting the bribes at the time was not a crime given that FIFA’s ethics code came into force in 2012, Eckert found that they should not have accepted the money, and believes that they should pay it back as it was “in connection with the exploitation of media rights.”
FIFA has been plagued by controversy in recent years with corruption charges at every level. Most recently, FIFA’s leadership, including President Sepp Blatter, was accused of selling votes to Qatar’s bidding committee leading up to its successful bid for the 2022 World Cup. The international governing body has also taken steps to address widespread match-fixing scandals and rampant on-the-pitch-racism against players of color.
The impasse in the genocide trial of Guatemalan General Efraín Ríos Montt should be cleared this week, following a succession of rulings by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court. On Monday afternoon, the court turned the case back over to presiding Judge Yassmín Barrios, who looked to resume the trial on Tuesday morning.
However, the 8:30 am proceedings were halted when Rios Montt's attorneys failed to show up, leading Judge Barrios to suspend the trial for two more days. May 1 is a national holiday in Guatemala, and it remains to be seen whether there will be a defense team in place when the trial resumes on Thursday. If not, Ríos Montt will be assigned a public defender.
The historic genocide trial against Ríos Montt and his former intelligence chief, José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, has been on hold since April 19, pending a Constitutional Court decision on how and when to proceed after Ríos Montt’s defense counsel abruptly walked out of the trial on April 18 in protest. On April 19, Judge Carol Patricia Flores stopped the trial—which was then being presided over by Judge Barrios—after she was reinstated by the Constitutional Court.
The news comes against a backdrop of increasingly powerful demonstrations by survivors and human rights groups on the one side, and by Ríos Montt sympathizers and ex-military veterans on the other. On Friday, Guatemala commemorated the anniversary of the murder of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi, a co-author of a report by the Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado (Office of Human Rights of the Archbishopric—ODHA) that documented over 400 massacres by the army during Guatemala’s 36-year internal conflict. Gerardi was murdered two days after the report was published in 1998. As a convoy of buses made its way from Nebaj, at the centre of the Ixil triangle where Ríos Montt is accused of ordering the deaths of 1,771 people, many Ríos Montt sympathizers carried inflammatory banners such as, “Hairy Hippies and Foreigners, Stop Making Money off the Lie of Genocide!”
In anticipation of his May 2-4 trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, U.S. President Barack Obama laid out his perspectives on how regional cooperation can help to advance growth and prosperity in the Americas. In an exclusive interview for Americas Quarterly, Obama said that his sixth trip to the region will be an opportunity to consolidate joint efforts on citizen security, increase trade and investment, launch clean energy partnerships, and expand exchanges between citizens across the hemisphere.
On Thursday, Obama will travel to Mexico, where he will discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. “Building on Mexico’s presidency of the G20 last year, we’ll continue working to sustain the global economic recovery, promote global development and address climate change,” Obama told AQ. The president also highlighted Mexico’s “growing leadership in the region and on the world stage," and praised Mexico’s role in the negotiations around the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which he expects to be completed by the end of this year. He emphasized that TPP would bring “rewards [that] would be substantial for all our countries.”
On Friday, Obama will travel to Costa Rica, where he will meet President Laura Chinchilla and other Centro American leaders at the Central American Integration System (Sistema de Integración Centroamericana—SICA) summit in San José. During this meeting, Obama will draw attention to the importance of finding new ways to involve governments, the private sector and civil society in reducing crime and violence, as well as encourage regional partners to address citizen security from a more holistic perspective. Energy security and cooperation to provide clean and affordable energy also will be on the agenda.
Immigration will be a backdrop to the president’s discussions given the large number of Central American and Mexican migrants in the United States. Here, Obama reaffirmed his commitment to pass bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform as soon as possible to take advantage of the significant contributions that immigrants make to the U.S. economy. “We need to fix our broken immigration system to make sure that every business and every worker in the United States is playing by the same set of rules,” he said.
Read President Obama’s exclusive interview for Americas Quarterly here.
The last couple of weeks have shown that terrorism, or the threat of it, is not just something we read about in other parts of the world. Occasionally, we recall the events of 9-11, but soon it will be twelve years since that horrible day. However, the tragic ending of the Boston Marathon reminded us in vivid terms how vulnerable a free and open society is to the threat of terrorism, whether domestic or imported. Hence, the balance between freedom to exercise our rights in society and the need for security and safety from harm is once again at the center of public policy.
A few days after the two Boston bombers were apprehended (with one killed in the process), Canadian authorities arrested two alleged plotters in Montreal and Toronto—supposedly linked to an Al Qaeda cell in Iran—and accused them of planning to derail a Via Rail passenger train with an explosive device. Although the Boston bombings might appear, for the moment, to have been the work of a domestic “lone wolf” operation, the Canadian incident might have a direct international link. Meanwhile, the Canadian Parliament adopted a law giving authorities greater preventive powers in dealing with future threats of terrorism.
There is no doubt that we live in a dangerous and unpredictable world where different kinds of fanaticism continue to grow and lead to actions aimed at disrupting lives and destabilizing political regimes. Let us be clear: successive governments in North America have never been soft on terrorism, but our citizenry is especially strong on freedom. How can we ensure that this remains the course of action on both sides of the border? The answer to this question has repercussions on the economic, social and political life of North America.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Colombian civil society holds forum on political participation; Venezuela’s election audit begins on May 6; the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a lower court’s immigration ruling; Honduran police officials resign in the midst of a police crisis; and Brazil’s Maracanã stadium reopens after three years.
Colombian Civil Society Weighs in on Peace Negotiations: Hundreds of civil society groups convened in Bogotá on Sunday for a week-long forum on political participation in Colombia to discuss ways of integrating former FARC guerrillas into Colombian politics. The forum, organized by the UN and Universidad Nacional de Colombia, is the second to take place at the behest of the Colombian government and FARC negotiators after a forum on agrarian reform in December. Participants will send their suggestions to the peace negotiators in Havana on May 20. Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, who has been highly critical of the peace negotiations, said that his political movement would not participate in the forum this week.
Venezuelan Vote Audit to Begin on May 6: Venezuela's Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE) announced that an audit of ballots from the April 14 presidential election will begin on May 6 and last until June 4, but said that it was “unfeasible” to conduct a full recount of the vote. Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who lost the election by less than 2 percentage points to rival Nicolás Maduro, called the audit a "joke" and has alleged dozens of cases of voter fraud and voter coercion during the elections. He said on Sunday that he would use “all the available instances” to fight Maduro’s victory.
U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Decision to Block Portions of Alabama Immigration Law: The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal by the state of Alabama to enact portions of the state’s controversial immigration law that was blocked by a federal appeals court last year. The Supreme Court’s decision allows last year’s ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stand, meaning that Alabama cannot prosecute people who harbor or transport undocumented immigrants, but will still allow police to check people’s immigration papers if they are stopped by law enforcement. Justice Antonin Scalia was the only Supreme Court justice to dissent from the high court’s decision not to take the case.
Honduran Police Officials Resign: Following a strike of almost 2,000 police officers in Honduras this week, President Porfirio Lobo accepted the resignations of police officials Eduardo Villanueva and Mario Chinchilla, who led the country’s Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (Office of Investigation and Evaluation of Police Officers—DIECP). DICEP, the investigative body in charge of purging the Honduran police force of corruption, has been crippled by a lack of funds and by unrest among underpaid officers making only about $150 a month. Honduras’ Consejo Nacional de Seguridad Interior (National Internal Security Council—CONASIN) will convene Monday to propose candidates to take over the posts of Villanueva and Chinchilla.
Maracanã Reopens: Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracanã stadium reopened on Saturday after three years of renovations intended to prepare the stadium for Brazil’s upcoming international sporting events. Maracanã will host the 2014 World Cup final and the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics. However, media attending Saturday’s exhibition match reported that several parts of the stadium are still incomplete, even though the project was delayed by four months. Maracanã is the fourth of twelve World Cup stadiums to open. The stadium will be officially inaugurated on June 2 in a match between Brazil and England.
Leaders of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) responded on Thursday to a letter signed by members of the U.S. Congress in March in support of the Colombian peace negotiations, which resumed this week in Havana.
In a press conference on Thursday, FARC member Victoria Sandino Palmera read a letter from the FARC, which acknowledged the “altruistic gesture” of the 62 U.S. congressmen who signed the letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Signatories included: James P. McGovern (D – MA), Janice D. Schakowsky (D-IL), Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), John Lewis (D-GA), and Randy K. Weber (R-TX), among others.
The FARC response also asked the legislators for their support in pushing for the release of FARC rebel Simon Trinidad.
Trinidad, whose real name is Ricardo Palmera, is fulfilling a 60-year sentence in the U.S. for kidnapping three Americans in Colombia who were later released. The FARC delegation has requested Trinidad’s presence during the peace negotiations. "We have appointed Trinidad as the FARC’s spokesman and we expect the Colombian government to hold talks with the U.S. government to achieve his incorporation into the peace process," said Ivan Marquez, head of the guerrilla delegation.
In almost half a century, Colombia’s internal conflict has killed at least 600,000 people and displaced another 3 million.
With urbanization and population growth trending upward, Brazil has increased its demand for energy, especially in the areas of oil, natural gas and electricity. On the supply side, oil and gas production has increased and there have been several well-publicized, large deepwater finds that have generated much excitement. These include the pre-salt reserves off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state where the potential reserves total over 50 billion barrels of oil. Brazil has only approximately 14 billion barrels of proven reserves, making these finds quite significant.
However, without foreign investment, Brazil will be unable to effectively and efficiently extract the potential oil and gas because of the size and complexity of the untapped reserves. Shale gas and shale oil present an added layer of complexity for development. Because the extraction of shale relies on horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), only companies experienced in these sophisticated techniques are able to extract the shale gas.
To generate investment interest, the Ministéria de Minas e Energia (Ministry of Mines and Energy), in conjunction with the Agência Nacionaldo Petróleo, Gas Natural e Biocombustíveis (National Agency of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels—ANP), is publicizing the oil and gas bidding rounds that will take place this year. Interestingly, as part of its effort, the ANP has been looking to target small and medium-size oil producers with auctions either in mature basins or inactive fields where there still may be accumulations of oil and gas.
Shortly before the end of the Bush administration in January 2009, I met with a senior official covering hemispheric affairs who said point blank, “You’re going to miss us when we’re gone. We actually accomplished a lot more than anyone gives us credit for.” The opening of the George W. Bush Library in Dallas today offers an opportunity for an early assessment of the Bush administration in hemispheric affairs, now that there is a little distance in time since the administration left office.
In hindsight, there is a lot to give the administration credit for doing.
Those who routinely dismiss the Bush administration’s efforts in the region as counterproductive or worse cite an overwhelming focus on the effort against Al Qaeda and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the facility at Guantánamo, and region-specific issues—such as the inartful steps by the Treasury that arguably contributed to (but did not cause) Argentina’s financial collapse, vocal support for a failed coup in Venezuela in 2002 and a proclivity to view hemispheric affairs through the Cuba lens.
I worked in the Clinton White House and have a certain sympathy for several of these criticisms, but a focus on this narrative to the exclusion of anything else is a caricature that begs a more even-handed historical assessment. Most significantly, it would be ahistorical to try to disaggregate policy toward Latin America from the global effort against terrorism in the wake of 9/11; virtually any administration faced with a similarly significant attack on the U.S. homeland would seek to mobilize efforts globally against the attackers. Meanwhile, the continued operation of Guantánamo as a terrorist holding facility deep into the Obama administration, despite efforts to close it, shows the vexing nature of the issue—and gives license to question the motivation of those who condemn Guantánamo as a stain on the Bush administration’s hemispheric record but have little to say about the matter under the Obama administration.
On Wednesday, the Bolivian government filed a formal law suit against Chile in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague to recover territory and access to the Pacific Ocean it lost during the 19th century War of the Pacific.
Bolivia has been landlocked since 1904, when Bolivia and Chile signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship to end the war. The war began with a disagreement over mining rights and escalated into a five-year conflict that ended with Chile annexing all of Bolivia’s 250 miles of coastline and much of the land abutting it.
The suit is only the most recent action in a dispute that spans generations and administrations. Bolivia, which still maintains a small navy and celebrates the Day of the Sea each year to commemorate its lost maritime access, has repeatedly attempted to regain access to the Pacific. The suit demands that Chile negotiate in good faith with Bolivia to provide a sovereign outlet to the sea on land that now forms part of Chile’ s Atacama region. Bolivia also maintains that the 1904 agreement is invalid because it was signed under pressure from Chile.
But Chile has never veered from its position that Bolivia lawfully ceded the territory in the 1904 treaty, which remains in effect. Previous attempts to re-negotiate the border have failed, nourishing lingering hostility between Bolivia and Chile. The neighboring countries last broke diplomatic ties in 1978 and have never reestablished them.
In order for the ICJ to move forward on the case, both Bolivia and Chile must agree to engage in the proceedings. The court’s decision, once made, would be binding on both parties. However, it seems unlikely that the ICJ proceedings will move forward. Chilean officials denounced Bolivia’s claim again on Wednesday, saying that President Sebastián Piñera will continue to defend Chile’s sovereignty and that the suit has no legal basis.
Every so often, the media incites some outrage over sexual violence within the relatively apathetic Jamaican population. Regrettably, our outrage is too often confined to the comfort of conversations with friends and family and many of us shame and blame rape victims rather than cultivating a constructive conversation on how to end sexual violence.
Women and girls who are raped are often asked: What were you doing? What were you wearing? Did you provoke him? Many of us do not even realize that men can also be raped, and very few report and provide information to security forces about sexual violence. We know of cases of rape and abuse and do nothing about it. Many Jamaicans also know that unscrupulous men and women target sex workers and that adult women target underage boys. Still, cases are not reported and inadequate laws that limit the pursuit of justice are not challenged.
So hopeless is our situation that even people who are affected by sexual violence remain silent. There is a general hopelessness—justice is often too slow, and survivors are too often blamed and stigmatized with their lives becoming a public spectacle.
Recently, a lesbian couple was raped by a man who apparently wanted to “make them straight.” When they reported the incident, police allegedly told the women that they had gotten just what they deserved. Wide-spread and well-known homophobia in Jamaica breeds such prejudiced comments, but heterosexual victims of sexual violence also receive similar comments.
Tegucigalpa came to a halt on Tuesday morning as 1,800 officers of the policia preventiva (preventive police) striking for better wages and working conditions blocked the main streets with their police cruisers. The officers have announced that their strike will continue until their demands are met.
Officers complained of “living like animals” at police stations across the capital that lack proper equipment and “proper facilities to work or rest," including sanitary facilities. Fearing reprisal, the officers remained anonymous in issuing their complaints.
The preventive police only earn about $150 a month and have not been granted the pay raise that should have gone into effect last January. They are expected to purchase their own uniforms and ammunition and only receive one weekend off per month. Alex Villanueva, director of the preventive police, warned that officers who continued to strike would be punished and chastised them for inciting “indiscipline and delinquency.”
Crime rates have increased dramatically in Honduras since the 2009 coup that forced then-President Manuel Zelaya into exile in Costa Rica. The Central American country claims the highest murder rate in the world according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime—averaging 20 homicides per day—increasing the risks for police officers.
On Monday, after three days of severe disapproval, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ruled out his proposal to run for re-election in 2014 only to serve for two more years—half the usual term—and amend the constitution to extend the presidential term limit to six years. “Four years are not enough to finish the job, he said.
The Colombian constitution currently allows incumbents to seek re-election for a consecutive four-year period. The bill submitted on Friday would extend term limits to allow presidents to serve for six years—but with no possibility of re-election—to give leaders more time to accomplish their government plans. The bill also extended the six-year term limits for mayors, governors and legislators to align the ruling terms of all elected officials in Colombia.
Santos, who came to power in August 2010, expressed that under no circumstances he would present a bill to congress that would cause more divisions among the ruling political parties. He also clarified that his proposal has nothing to do with the ongoing peace process between his government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) which began in November 2012.
The president, however, did not rule out the possibility of running for re-election in May 2014, but faces decreasing popularity. According to a poll released on Monday by Colombian firm Ipsos Napoleón Franco, Santos’s popularity has plummeted to 47 percent and only 39 percent of Colombians favor the president’s re-election.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Horacio Cartes will be Paraguay’s new president; Guatemala’s Constitutional Court will decide whether Efraín Ríos Montt’s genocide trial can continue; Argentines protested Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government; Guantánamo prisoners’ hunger strike grows; the Venezuelan election audit process will take a month.
Horacio Cartes Wins Presidential Election in Paraguay: Tobacco magnate and soccer club president Horacio Cartes will be the next president of Paraguay after voters elected him with 46 percent of the vote on Sunday. Cartes’ main rival, Efraín Alegre of the Radical Liberal Party, captured 37 percent of the vote. Cartes’ victory marks the return of Paraguay’s Colorado Party to power and the likely normalization of Paraguay’s status with its Mercosur and UNASUR neighbors. The Colorados ruled Paraguay for 61 years before the election of former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo in 2008.
Guatemala Awaits Fate of Rios Montt Trial: Guatemala’s Constitutional Court will determine whether or not the genocide trial of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt will go forward. On Friday, Judge Yasmin Barrios declared that a decision to annul the trial by Judge Carol Patricia Flores was illegal. Judge Flores ruled on Thursday that all testimony since November 2011 had been invalid, a decision protested by human rights groups and victims of Guatemala’s internal conflict. Read more about the trial in an AQ blog post by Nic Wirtz.
Argentines Protest Government: Thousands of Argentines gathered in the streets on Friday in countrywide protests against a proposed judicial reform bill that would allow voters to elect magistrates that appoint and remove judges. Argentine legislators will vote on the judicial reform bill on Wednesday. Protesters, many from the political opposition and critical of Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, also expressed a general dissatisfaction with Argentina’s crime and high inflation.
Over Half of Guantánamo Prisoners on Hunger Strike: A U.S. military spokesperson said on Sunday that 84 prisoners being held at the Guantánamo Bay military prison are now on hunger strike, and that 17 are being force-fed through tubes. Some of the detainees have been striking since early February, protesting abuse and searches that the prisoners say are invasive. Many of the detainees have been in the prison for over a decade without any charges.
Audit of Venezuelan Elections will take a Month: Venezuela’s Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE) said it will take a month to carry out an audit of the April 14 presidential election results, and said that the results of the audit will not alter the election’s outcome. The CNE has said that president-elect Nicolás Maduro defeated rival candidate Henrique Capriles by 1.8 percentage points. Maduro was sworn in as president on Friday, but the U.S. government has not yet recognized him as Venezuela’s new president. Meanwhile, Maduro has begun to appoint his cabinet members.
The on-again, off-again genocide trial of Guatemala’s former president, Efrain Rios Montt, appears to have been temporarily suspended after an incredible 24 hours in Guatemala City.
With the trial winding to a conclusion on Thursday, Judge Yassmin Barrios reprimanded the defense for not having their witnesses ready. The defense lawyers responded by walking out in protest, claiming that the legal proceedings should be returned to the pre-trial phase and that the trial should be annulled.
The defense’s complaint was backed up by the original hearing lawyer, Judge Carol Patricia Flores, who ruled that the entire trial had been illegal. On Thursday, Judge Flores moved to invalidate all proceedings since November 2012, meaning that months of oral arguments against Rios Montt would have to start over. Judge Flores cited a ruling by the Constitutional Court, Guatemala's highest legal body, that the defense’s evidence had not been admitted as the basis for her ruling. Evidence and experts had not been admitted during the initial pretrial hearing, but were entered later.
Prosecutors and Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz immediately sought to appeal this verdict, saying that it was impossible to restart a part of the trial that was already concluded. On Friday, Judge Barrios read a statement saying that Judge Flores's orders to halt the trial on Thursday were themselves illegal.
It wasn’t supposed to go this way. When the Venezuelan government announced in March that it would hold elections on April 14 to replace the deceased former President Hugo Chávez everything seemed to favor Chávez’s handpicked replacement, Vice President Nicolás Maduro. Only six months earlier, Chávez – battling cancer at the time, though it was unknown to the voters – handily beat the same opposition candidate Hernique Capriles by 11 percent.
But despite the massive outpouring of public grief for Chávez, and the government’s near monopoly control over the media and public resources, Maduro managed to lose more than 1,000,000 votes between October’s contest and last Sunday’s. As a result, it was an unexpected squeaker of an election – 50.8 percent for Maduro and 49 percent for Capriles, with a mere 250,000 votes separating the two.
What had happened was that 14 years of economic and administrative mismanagement had finally caught up to Chávez’s political heir. Lacking the charisma of his predecessor, Maduro struggled during the campaign to evoke the image of the popular leader, even claiming that Chávez had appeared to him in the form of a little bird. But it wasn’t enough. With inflation close to 30 percent, food and electricity shortages throughout the country, and two recent devaluations that have lowered the value of the Venezuelan currency the bolivar by more than 30 percent, voters demonstrated that in the post-Chávez era they are going to be more issue-oriented.
In reality, it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise; when he was alive, President Chávez’s approval ratings always stood above popular assessments of his government’s performance in public opinion polls. But clearly, it caught the Chavista government by surprise, which thought that the warm and fuzzy memories of their founder would last longer than six weeks.
In an incident that may have escaped notice internationally, three taxi drivers were shot to death recently in Santana do Livramento, a small Brazilian town on the border with Rivera, Uruguay. The incident deeply frightened many in the region and drew heightened attention when, just 48 hours later, three more drivers were shot in Porto Alegre—a southern Brazilian city about 300 miles from the border.
Santana do Livramento and Rivera are both known for their tranquility, as well as the easy walk across the border with little risk of being stopped by authorities. The police quickly denied a connection to organized crime—a claim confirmed when 21-year-old Lucas Barcelos Silva, a disgruntled former member of the Brazilian army with a criminal record, confessed to all six killings, claiming that he was angry about his unemployment. In 2010, he was dismissed from the Brazilian Army due to “lack of discipline and erratic behavior,” and has several robberies on his record.
Although the homicides were unrelated to organized crime, they renewed concerns about border control in Brazil and Uruguay. According to the Civil Police of Rio Grande do Sul, Silva used a .22 pistol—a semi-automatic weapon banned in Brazil since 1997 that is common in Uruguay and Argentina. Silva testified that the pistol came from a 15-year-old friend in Santana do Livramento, who likely acquired it in Uruguay or Argentina and smuggled it across the border.
A lack of border security personnel makes Brazil’s approximately 10,625 miles of border especially porous to drug and weapons smuggling and human trafficking. The Brazilian Federal Police employs only 900 agents to monitor its border with eight countries. By comparison, the United States employs approximately 21,400 border patrol agents to control its 1,969-mile border with Mexico and 5,525-mile border with Canada. Making matters worse is the fact that officers on the Brazil-Uruguay border often pass over locals in searches to avoid holding up commuter traffic.
Paraguayans head to the polls this Sunday to elect their next president amid a tightening in the race between the two main candidates, Horacio Cartes of the Partido Colorado (The Colorado Party–PC) and Efraín Alegre of the Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico (The Liberal Party—PLRA). Cartes leads Alegre by nearly six percentage points (37.6 percent support versus 31.7 percent) in an April 5 public opinion survey conducted by First Análisis y Estudios. This is the last poll to be released prior to the election as election law prohibits voter surveys within 15 days of a vote.
Either candidate would inherit a country still trying to move past the impeachment last year of former President Fernando Lugo.
Cartes is a political newcomer and millionaire who is trying to put the Colorado Party back in power after its six decades of uninterrupted rule was broken by the 2008 election of former President Lugo. Despite having lost in 2008, the Colorado Party still maintains a strong grip on the three branches of government. Alegre is a long-time politician and attorney who served as Lugo’s public works minister.
Throughout the campaign both candidates have been accused of corruption, however no charges have been formally brought against them. Cartes faces accusations of tax evasion, money laundering and trafficking contraband, and Cartes claims that Alegre embezzled $25 million upon his departure from the ministry of public works and “handles public money as it were private.” Both deny the allegations.
Paraguay’s membership in Mercosur and Unasur was suspended last year after Lugo’s impeachment, saying there was a “rupture in the democratic process.” Both candidates would look to quickly rejoin both blocs. Although nearly 40 percent of Paraguayans live in poverty, the economy is projected to increase by 13 percent—due to record soybean production—after having contracted by 1.2 percent last year.
According to data from the Justicia Electoral (Electoral Justice), approximately 3.6 million Paraguayans are eligible to vote in the general elections this Sunday, of which 21,981 are enrolled abroad.
Los resultados electorales del pasado domingo en Venezuela no solo desafiaron todas las encuestas que apuntaban a una holgada victoria del oficialista Nicolás Maduro—heredero del fallecido Hugo Chávez—sobre el opositor Henrique Capriles, sino también atizaron la polarización en la nación con mayores reservas mundiales de crudo. Entre demandas de reconteo de votos, marchas fallidas, cacerolazos y cohetazos, todo parece indicar que mañana viernes, Maduro se posicionará como presidente para el período 2013-2019.
La pelea electoral puso a prueba a toda la región. Entre reconocer al gobierno del "hijo de Chávez"—todos los países a excepción de Estados Unidos y Paraguay lo hicieron—y llamar a un legítimo reconteo de votos, posición que matizó la Organización de Estados Americanos después de condenar duramente la violencia post-electoral que causó siete muertos, se convocó a una reunión en Unasur con carácter de urgencia. Los otros 10 países del bloque—Argentina, Brasil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Uruguay, Guyana, Surinam, y Perú—ya han sentado una posición al lado de la institucionalidad de Venezuela. La crisis política desatada por la supuesta falta de transparencia electoral preocupa al continente y Maduro aseguró que dejaba todo en manos del CNE (organismo electoral en su país), es poco probable que haya lugar para el reconteo de votos, que le dieron la victoria por solo 230.000 sufragios.
A saber: cuatro de los cinco rectores electorales son chavistas, y el Tribunal Supremo de Justicia ya sentó su posición al asegurar que la constitución y las leyes locales no prevén un conteo manual. Aunque esto es cierto, la auditoria ciudadana sí está reconocida pero sólo sobre el 54 por ciento de las urnas escogidas al azar. Esta vigilancia según Maduro ya se hizo, aunque en las denuncias el candidato opositor Henrique Capriles, muchos de sus testigos electorales fueron retirados a la fuerza en al menos 285 centros de votación.
In an effort to reform its country’s deeply troubled justice system, the Honduran Congress voted Tuesday evening to dismiss Attorney General Alberto Rubi, replacing him and his team with a temporary oversight committee. Rubi and his staff of prosecutors will step aside immediately to make way for a five-member commission—composed of three civic activists and two politicians—that will take over the prosecutor’s office for 60 days.
With one of the highest murder rates in the world and overcrowded, unruly prisons, Honduras has reason to take swift and drastic action. Impunity is rampant in Honduras’ prosecutorial system, and murders have only increased during the past three years. According to the prosecutor’s office, only 20 percent of all pending murder cases have been investigated and fewer of those have been prosecuted during the past four years.
The temporary commission appointed to replace the attorney general will audit the work of the prosecutor’s office to diagnose flaws and conduct a major institutional overhaul, ultimately replacing personnel and redesigning the office’s approach to tackling the country’s daunting crime rate.
Tuesday’s move toward reform, endorsed by 113 of Honduras’ 128 deputies, has met with some backlash from legislators and other government officials who claim that Congress has overstepped its constitutional authorities. The constitution stipulates that Congress can name special commissions to investigate issues of national interest, but is careful to preserve a separation of powers. Some have said that by appointing the 60-day commission, the legislature has gone too far in meddling with other branches of government.
Meanwhile, it is clear that justice reform in Honduras is long overdue. Honduras’ teeming prisons are at 143 percent capacity, according to a 2012 OAS report, and more than half of prisoners incarcerated in Honduras are still awaiting trial. Even after a fire killed 361 prisoners at a facility in Comayagua in 2012, little has been done to relieve or reform the burdened criminal justice system.
As the Harper majority government ends its second year in office, the Liberal party, with its third party status, has just chosen a new leader. Normally, the choice made by the third party in the House of Commons would barely make waves. However, the overwhelming victory of Justin Trudeau—the son of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau—at the end of a six-month campaign has already begun to change the political landscape in Canada.
Public opinion polls preceding and following Trudeau’s selection have demonstrated that the 41-year-old Trudeau is beginning to have an impact on how Canadians see their current government, what they are looking for in a prime minister and how important the theme of real change could be in the next election. Just prior to choosing Trudeau as leader, Liberals had either narrowed the gap in public approval with the governing Conservative party and the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), or taken the lead. A poll recently published in the National Post showed Trudeau actually widening his lead in approval ratings.
With the elections more than two years away, these polls should be taken with a grain of salt. But it is clear that the Liberals have gained a new energy that makes them, once again, a potential major player in the next electoral cycle. How Trudeau fares in the coming weeks could very well determine the outcome of the 2015 election. If he loses traction, he may quickly become a passing fad. Should he display aplomb and growth in his new role, he could become the prime minister-in-waiting.
From the moment he announced that former President Hugo Chávez had passed away, the April 14 presidential elections were Nicolas Maduro's to lose. And whatever the result of any proposed recount, Maduro's 50.7 percent vote against that of the opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonsky is a sign of weakness.
He had everything in his favor: unlimited access to public resources (money, vehicles, the armed forces), the state-owned oil company PDVSA, near total control over private media, and a huge outpouring of sympathy for the once-popular Chávez who on December 8th had personally named Maduro his successor.
And yet, despite all those advantages, Maduro—compared to the vote of the October 2012 elections that pitted Chávez against Capriles—managed to lose over a million votes to the young, governor of Miranda state, making the ballot on Sunday Venezuela's closest election since 1968.
Clearly, Maduro's failure to live up to his political “father's” image was not for lack of trying. He famously claimed that Chávez had spoken to him as a little bird, tried his best to summon the same emotion and combative rhetoric of the former lieutenant colonel and at last count had referred to him over 7,000 times during the campaign.
But far from this rhetoric, last Sunday 15 million Venezuelan voters proved a new pragmatism. Fourteen years of chavismo have left Venezuela with the highest inflation rates in the region, one of the highest murder rates in the world, electricity and food shortages, and unsustainable levels of public debt....all this despite the record high levels of oil prices globally. Public opinion surveys have constantly showed Venezuelans to be more pro-US and pro-market than many of their fellow citizens around the region—a fact that mystifies commentators who prefer to read Chávez as an organic outgrowth of Venezuelan political culture.
Un día después de las elecciones presidenciales de octubre de 2012, Venezuela abrazaba la idea de un diálogo: con 1,6 millones de votos encima, el presidente electo Hugo Chávez, pasó de la arrogancia y telefoneó a su contendor, Henrique Capriles Radonski, para homenajear su vocación demócrata reflejada al reconocer—en minutos—su derrota electoral.
Dos días después de las primeras elecciones presidenciales del chavismo sin Chávez, el escenario es otro. Con un margen reducido a 235 mil votos entre Nicolás Maduro y Henrique Capriles, la conciliación, entre una mayoría que no quiere dejar de ser poder y una minoría frustrada que casi pudo tocar con los dedos la silla presidencial, parece una quimera.
El domingo en la noche, Venezuela vivió momentos de tensión durante las cinco horas que corrieron entre el cierre de los centros de votación y el anuncio de los resultados.
Casi 19 millones de venezolanos fueron a las urnas el pasado domingo 14 de abril, convencidos de que se jugaban “el futuro de la patria.” El resultado fue una votación dividida en la cual Capriles consiguió superar el umbral de los 7 millones de votos, mientras que Maduro perdió 7,5 por ciento de la base que apoyó a Chávez en los últimos comicios. La primera conclusión que emergió del balance es que, con la salida del polémico líder, casi 700 mil votos abandonaron el autobús conducido por Maduro y abordaron el “del progreso” que impulsaba Capriles.
Apenas el Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) terminó su transmisión oficial, el presidente electo salió del Palacio de Gobierno para festejar el primer triunfo del chavismo sin Chávez, sólo que esta victoria sabía a derrota. Decenas de simpatizantes del llamado proceso revolucionario se fueron en desbandada sin terminar de escuchar el primer discurso de Maduro en calidad de presidente electo. La euforia que generó saberse ganadores se desvaneció al entender que los “escuálidos”—adjetivoque usaba Chávez para descalificar a la oposición haciéndola ver como débil—no sólo se multiplicaron, sino que casi alcanzaron las riendas del país.
After months of negotiations, the bipartisan Gang of Eight group of U.S. senators filed a long-awaited comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill early this morning. Hearings on the 844-page bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee are scheduled for Friday and Monday.
The proposed bill would allow undocumented immigrants who arrived to the U.S. on or before December 31, 2011 to apply for temporary legal status as long as they have been in the U.S. since their entry and have no felony convictions. Among many proposed reforms, the bill would allow undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to travel and work without fear of deportation while in this provisional status.
The bill outlines a path to citizenship that, for most undocumented immigrants, will take at least 13 years. After receiving provisional status, undocumented immigrants would have to wait at least 10 years, pay back taxes and at least $2,000 in fees, learn English, and maintain regular employment before becoming eligible to apply for a green card. After an additional 3 years they could apply for full naturalization.
However, immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and served in the military or attended college—also known as DREAMers—would go through a shorter process and be exempt from a $500 fee. DREAMers and agricultural workers, who are also in high demand, would be eligible to receive green cards within five years.
In an effort to gain bipartisan support, the CIR bill includes “trigger” measures that would ensure that any path to citizenship is dependent on increased border security and internal enforcement provisions, including a mandatory national employment verification system and electronic exit systems at air and seaports. The bill stipulates that $4.5 billion be spent on border security, including extending the U.S.-Mexico border fence, increasing patrols and using drones for surveillance. Additionally, border officers would have to apprehend 90 percent of those crossing into the U.S. in “high risk sectors.” The bill would also increase the number of H-1B, or high-skill visas, to 110,000 visas per year with the possibility of raising the cap to up to 180,000 in future years. The current cap of 65,000 visas was reached in just 5 days this year.
Overall, the bill also begins to shift the focus of the U.S. immigration system from family unification to work skills through a major new merit-based program for immigrants to become legal permanent residents—a recognition of the need for immigrants for U.S. economic competitiveness.
The framework of U.S.-Latin American relations, including relations with Cuba, has grown more complicated following the death of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Even if Nicolás Maduro remains the Venezuelan president after his controversial victory over Henrique Capriles, it is not likely that oil-rich Venezuela will continue subsidizing the economies of Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia and various Caribbean states. Chávez’ largesse helped buy friends for his government, but Venezuela now has its own pressing needs.
At the same time, Cuban President Raúl Castro is searching for U.S. dollars just to avoid economic reforms. For 30 years, the Castro brothers depended on the Soviet Union to keep their communist government afloat with an estimated $5 billion in annual subsidies. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Chávez became Cuba’s patron benefactor.
As U.S. National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper put it in testimony on March 12, 2013, to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “Cuba’s leaders are urgently trying to attract foreign investment” now that Chávez is gone.
For investors, Cuba is not a good bet. It has no oil or other significant natural resources—with the exception of nickel, which has been set aside for the Canadian Company Sherritt International. Moreover, “investing in Cuba” means dealing with the Castro government. There’s no such thing as private enterprise in Cuba. And if things turn sour between a foreign investor and the Cuban state, there’s no independent judiciary to which to appeal. On the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, Cuba ranks ahead of only North Korea, and is listed 176th of 177 countries.
Havana has waged a prolonged public relations effort to convince Washington to lift U.S. trade sanctions and to extend it credit despite the Castro regime’s history of unpaid bills. The campaign was predicated on Cuba’s expectation that off-shore drilling would strike oil, but the joint ventures between Havana and oil companies based in Venezuela, Malaysia, Spain, and Brazil have all come up dry.
Illiquidity makes things worse in Cuba today. Foreign investors operating on the island are not being allowed to withdraw their money from Cuba’s banks and some investors are being given vouchers that can only be spent in Cuban government-owned enterprises, such as the Tropicana nightclub in Havana.
Nicolás Maduro’s election victory was certified by the National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral—CNE) on Monday in the midst of claims by the Venezuelan opposition of electoral fraud during Sunday’s presidential election. Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles has refused to recognize the outcome of the election and thousands of opposition members are protesting the results.
CNE President Tibisay Lucena declared the outcome of Sunday’s election “irreversible,” but opposition leaders, led by Capriles, have called on their followers to protest peacefully and demand the electoral authority’s total recount of the votes. “This is the moment of reason, not of emotion,” Capriles said, after Maduro accused the opposition of trying to undo the will of the country’s democratic majority.
Sunday’s elections gave Maduro—Hugo Chávez’s handpicked successor—a victory by a slim margin of 234,935 votes. On Monday, the CNE released a second report which revealed a slight increase in the number of votes obtained by Maduro—from 7,505,338 to 7,559,349 votes. This raises his margin of victory to 262,473 votes.
The international community has also weighed in on the results of Sunday’s election, and several prominent public figures have called for a recount. Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General José Miguel Insulza expressed concern for the deep political polarization in Venezuela and offered the OAS’ institutional support to conduct a recount process. Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Garcia-Margallo also called on Venezuelan election officials to conduct a rapid recount
On Monday afternoon, thousands of young protesters clashed with National Guard troops, who blocked them from marching in the streets of Caracas. Protests are continuing today with rival rallies expected to take place in Caracas and other provincial cities. Tomorrow, Capriles’ followers are planning to march to the CNE headquarters in the capital to demand a recount.
A petition on whitehouse.gov was started on Monday to “call upon the International Community to urge that a full recount of votes be done in Venezuela’s presidential elections.” It has collected 72,000 signatures of the 100,000 required before the Obama administration is required to produce a formal response. Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Monday that a recount is "an important, prudent and necessary step.”
After narrowly defeating Henrique Capriles in a hotly-contested presidential election (Capriles is demanding a recount), Venezuelan President-elect Nicolás Maduro will soon have to turn to a more threatening foe: the nation’s economy.
In a time of high commodity prices, why is one of the world’s top oil exporters facing such dire straits?
A lot of it has to do with Hugo Chávez’s socialist legacy.
For years, Venezuela has had a fixed exchange-rate regime. The Chávez administration, eager to control every aspect of life in Venezuela, decided who got how many dollars, and at what prices. Currently, the fixed exchange rate is 6.3 bolívars (BsF) per dollar. A parallel “auction” system is selling dollars at BsF 12, and the black-market rate currently hovers around BsF 23 per dollar.
These deep distortions are the reason why Venezuelans are suffering some of their worst shortages in years. Long accustomed to subsidized greenbacks for importing nearly everything, Venezuelans now find dollars harder to come by. However, the government has other priorities: oil production is stuck or declining, and with the nation’s refineries in bad shape, Venezuela needs to import refined products such as gasoline, which the government practically gives away for free.
Importers lucky enough to access dollars at the BsF 6.3 rate find it very tempting to sell the same dollars at the black market rate instead of using them for their intended use—importing basic staples. That is one of the main reasons why Venezuelans´ shelves are empty.
Untangling this economic crisis will require the skills of a deft politician—something Maduro clearly is not. Likewise, doing away with the regressive gasoline subsidies that threaten to bring down the state’s finances will require a national consensus that seems impossible right now. Meanwhile, generating enough confidence to spruce up private investment is simply not in the cards for Venezuela.
Mr. Maduro is likely to find that Mr. Capriles and the pot-banging opposition are the least of his problems.
In Colombia, the country’s second edition of the “Slutwalk”—known in Spanish as “La Marcha de las Putas”—took place recently in several cities around the country. The Slutwalk originated in Toronto in 2011 to protest rape and sexual violence after a Canadian police officer suggested that women should avoid “dressing like sluts” to stay safe. The Slutwalks are public demonstrations where some participants dress provocatively to raise consciousness about sexual violence and respect for women’s right to dress and act as they choose.
The protest in Canada quickly spread around the world and Colombia held its first Marcha de las Putas last year. This year, however, the march stirred controversy from within Colombia’s feminist movement, leading many prominent feminists to refuse to participate.
The dispute started when the leader and spokesperson of Colombia’s Marcha de las Putas, Mar Candela, decided to register the name “Marcha de las Putas” as a nonprofit corporation dedicated to fighting violence against women. The corporation changed the word “putas” (Spanish for “whores”) to an acronym that stands for “for an authentic social transformation” (“por una transformación auténtica y social”—P.U.T.A.S.)
Some feminists have been critical of Candela’s decision, claiming that her action has privatized and monopolized decades of feminist efforts. They are concerned that the new nonprofit has appropriated the social movement that inspired it, turning a political struggle into a registered brand. Furthermore, they contend that Candela’s decision to change the word “putas” to “P.U.T.A.S.” strips the name of its controversial potential, replacing it with an acronym that says absolutely nothing.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Maduro narrowly wins Venezuela elections; U.S. Senators to release immigration legislation; Guantánamo prison standoff escalates; Mexican teachers plan more protests this week; Chile’s Michelle Bachelet begins her campaign.
Venezuela elections: Venezuelan voters narrowly elected Nicolás Maduro as president on Sunday in a highly contested election in which the results are currently being challenged by opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. Venezuela’s Consejo Electoral Nacional (National Electoral Council—CNE) reported that Maduro won 50.7 percent of the vote and Capriles won 49.1 percent. As the polls closed on Sunday amid violence, supporters of both Maduro and Capriles claimed electoral fraud. Maduro's lead in opinion polls before the elections suggested that he would win, but Capriles rapidly gained ground with Venezuelan voters in the last two weeks. Capriles has demanded a recount, but it is unclear whether this will take place.
Gang of Eight to release immigration plan: The bipartisan "gang of eight" group of U.S. Senators will unveil a proposal to overhaul the U.S. immigration system on Tuesday, according to Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). The proposal is expected to step up enforcement and border security, create a new guest worker program and provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), one of the authors of the proposal, strongly endorsed the bill on Sunday. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the bill on Wednesday.
Guantánamo prison protest escalates: Prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay prison clashed with prison guards on Saturday. At least 43 of 166 prisoners have continued a hunger strike to protest prison conditions that include separating inmates in communal housing and putting them in individual cells. The Pentagon reported that 11 inmates are now being force-fed after going on strike as a response to invasive searches and other controversial security measures. Some of the inmates have been imprisoned at Guantánamo for over a decade without being charged with a crime.
Mexican teacher protests continue: The Mexican government sent federal police to Guerrero state last week to confront teachers that have been protesting Enrique Peña Nieto's recently-introduced education reforms by creating roadblocks on the highway between Mexico City and Acapulco. The reforms include the implementation of a requirement that teachers pass a standardized test to teach, which many protesters fear will cause them to lose their jobs. The protesters have teamed up with local militias, such as the 1,200-member Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities, and say that they are planning more protests on Monday.
Michelle Bachelet hits campaign trail: Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet officially launched her presidential campaign on Saturday, promising education and tax reforms if she is re-elected president. Bachelet’s possible opponents in the upcoming election include Andrés Allemand, a former defense minister, and Laurence Golborne, a former public works minister who led the rescue of 33 trapped miners in 2010. Though Bachelet left office with an 84 percent approval rating, she faces challenges. Tens of thousands of students took to the streets on Thursday, demonstrating that education will likely play a major role in the country's November 17 elections.