Colombian Foreign Affairs Minister María Angela Holguín and her Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolás Maduro, agreed on Monday to a three-month extension of bilateral trade preferences in the hope that a permanent agreement will be concluded by the end of January 2012.
During a joint press conference in Bogotá’s Palacio de San Carlos, the officials said the extension was approved so as not to impede trade flows while details for the broader deal are being worked out. "We agreed that we will extend the preferences while negotiating the deal, which is on track...we hope it will be ready this year," said Holguin. The ministers also announced that Presidents Juan Manuel Santos and Hugo Chávez will meet next month in Caracas.
Commerce between the two neighbors collapsed in 2009 when Venezuela froze trade relations to protest a military agreement between the United States and Colombia. The overall relationship has improved since President Santos took over for former President Alvaro Úribe in 2010.
This is the second time tariff preferences have been extended since they expired last April, following Venezuela’s withdrawal from the regional trade bloc Comunidad Andina de Naciones (CAN).
Learn about how Parceiros da Educação (Education Partners)—a public-private partnership in Brazil—enlists businesses and entrepreneurs to support and work with public schools to monitor educational progress.
Listen to a series of interviews with stakeholders in three countries of the CARICOM economic zone: Guyana, Jamaica and St. Kitts & Nevis.
Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was re-elected on Sunday with 53.2 percent of the vote, a larger share of votes won than any president since the restoration of Argentina’s democracy in 1983. She will be the fifth Argentine president to govern the country for more than one term. Thousands of people flooded the streets of Buenos Aires in celebration. The president went to the Casa Rosada—seat of the executive branch of the Argentine government—to speak, celebrate and dance.
Four years ago, she became the first elected female president of Argentina after her late husband, Nestor Kirchner, concluded his term. Yesterday’s landslide victory and her popularity in the polls reflect her ability to forge her own political alliances. It also makes her the first Latin American woman to be re-elected president.
In her first speech as re-elected president, Kirchner reflected on the importance of her late husband and looked to the future. “Without him, it would have been impossible to arrive at this point,” she told the crowd, and added, “Count on me to continue developing the national project.”
The closure of public universities during a nationwide strike against government reforms to Colombia’s higher education system is costing the country $5.6 million a day, Education Minister Maria Fernanda Campo said on Thursday. More than 550,000 public university students, led by Colombia's National Student Round Table (MANE), have joined the protests against the reforms proposed in Ley 30. While President Juan Manuel Santos said the law will provide needed funding and improve quality and access by introducing a for-profit scheme to the system, students fear that the reforms will undermine the autonomy of universities and raise the cost of education.
The protests are paralyzing university activities, shutting down major roads and requiring increasing police involvement, all of which are draining public resources that are “provided [to] all Colombians to finance the education of young people,” according to Campo. Given the minister’s estimate, the protests may have already cost the country $80 million in losses. On Thursday she urged protestors to dialogue with the government.
But the prospects of a short-term compromise between both parties seemed dim after Minister Campo said on Wednesday that there is no chance of revoking Ley 30. In response, Mane spokesperson Sergio Fernandez said, “We will not meet with the government until they meet three conditions: Revoke the project, provide guarantees that they will construct an alternative and provide guarantees for the exercising of democratic freedoms.” Mane and other Colombian university student organizations are receiving support from their Chilean counterparts, where protests demanding educational reforms have continued since last May.
Of the top universities in Latin America, five countries dominate the top 30 schools: Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia. Further, according to the recent survey by the University of Queensland in Australia Peru’s Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Peru came in 34th place. What are these five countries doing right that other countries in Latin America are not when it comes to higher education? Specifically, what is Peru doing wrong?
Looking at certain economic and education indicators, there is not a clear trend or relationship between the numbers of schools in the top 30 and the indicators. However, there does seem to be some relationship between the percentage of GDP allocated toward education and the top five countries. Each country in the top-30 spends 4 to 5 percent of its GDP on education; in Peru, it is only 2.7 percent. Brazil spends the most on education as a percentage of GDP and has the most number of schools (nine) in the top 30 ranking. Brazil’s Universidade de São Paulo also holds the number one spot.
More than 1,500 Indigenous Bolivian protesters arrived in La Paz on Wednesday after a 603-kilometer (375 mile), 66-day march demanding that President Evo Morales renegotiate the construction of a 305-kilometer (190-mile) road that is slated to traverse the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS).
Hundreds of supporters in the Plaza San Francisco received the Amazonian demonstrators chanting, “The TIPNIS is untouchable, Bolivians own the TIPNIS,” while distributing food, water, flowers, and blankets. La Paz Mayor Luis Revilla, who supports the protestors, welcomed the marchers and presented them with symbolic keys to the city.
Organizers of the months-long protests are demanding that the government permanently abandon the joint Brazil–Bolivia project, at least along the proposed route. Morales today invited the protestors to discuss their grievances in the office of Vice President Álvaro García Linera, after earlier statements by Minister of Communications Iván Canelas indicated the presidential palace is under construction and not an appropriate place to receive the group.
Protest leaders in response have rejected such claims and insisted they won’t leave until they talk to the president. “The President has told us he waits for us in the presidential palace. We’re here and we won’t move until he sees us,” said Indigenous leader Fernando Vargas.
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Floods Hit Central America
Rainfall of as much as 47 inches fell in Central America this week, three times the average for this month. The rains caused heavy flooding and destruction of infrastructure, resulting in the displacement of 700,000 people and a death toll of more than 90. The governments of El Salvador and Nicaragua declared national states of emergency, and Honduras declared one in its southern region. Aid from Spain, Taiwan, the United States, and Venezuela poured into the region amid local pleas for humanitarian assistance.
Guatemalan Prez Declared Fugitive of Justice
A court in Guatemala declared former President Óscar Mejía a fugitive of justice after police failed to locate him in Guatemala City. Mejía is wanted for ordering massacres of indigenous peoples during his time as military chief (1982-83) under former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt. The trial of another general facing human rights abuse charges during the civil war (1960-1996), Hector Mario López, was delayed for the third time when the general arrived sedated. Central American Politics Blog questions if these are tactics to delay proceedings until after next month’s presidential election, when a former military official, Otto Pérez Molina, may win.
Obama to Sign FTAs on Friday
The White House announced that President Obama will sign the Colombia, South Korea, and Panama free trade deals this Friday. The signing will take place in the White House Rose Garden, where the president will be joined by workers, as well as business and labor leaders.
In a blog post for Americas Quarterly, COA Vice President Eric Farnsworth explores the roles played by members of the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress in passing the long-pending free trade deals.
An AS/COA Online Congressional Update covers the legislative process behind the trade pacts’ approval.
Although a Venezuelan Supreme Court ruling earlier this week barred him from holding elected office, Leopoldo López, a leading opposition candidate, pledged yesterday to continue his presidential campaign. The Supreme Court mandated that the verdict reached last month by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) was “unfeasible.” The IACHR verdict in question demanded that Venezuela overturn a six-year ban on López holding public office, the former mayor of the Chacao district in Caracas, issued in 2008.
The ban successfully disqualified López from running for mayor of Caracas in 2008, and it attempts to do the same for the upcoming presidential contest. López founded the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) political party, which is part of the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Coalition for Democratic Unity, or MUD) opposition bloc. Although the Supreme Court ruled that López could not hold public office, Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales did say that López “can freely sign up and participate in elections.”
One day after the Supreme Court issued its decision, López wrote in a blog post, “Today I affirm my presidential candidacy because I am qualified in justice and in right.” López continued his defiance in a speech yesterday to supporters where he said, “I can and I am going to be a candidate for the presidency.” He is currently placing third in the polls among opposition candidates.
In a February 12, 2012, primary, the MUD will select its candidate to contest President Hugo Chávez. The presidential election is scheduled for October 7, 2012.
Being a journalist in Mexico, especially one working in a volatile part of the country, is getting tougher by the day. Recent assassinations and kidnappings underscore this worrying trend, one of which was the disappearance of a 17-year-old journalist in Veracruz last month. Another was the murder of two communications professionals at the end of August in Mexico City.
Aggressions against journalists have spiked dramatically in recent years, according to a 2010 report written by the NGOs Artículo 19 and Cencos. The report, titled “Violencia en México y el derecho a la información: Análisis de las cifras” (Violence in Mexico and the right to information: a statistical analysis), reveals that there were 244 incidents against journalists in 2009—a jump of more than 300 percent from the 76 incidents reported in 2003.
The report claims that the most frequent aggressions against a journalistic outlet (whether a reporter or a media installation) are either a physical or material attack. However, there are varying degrees of severity—it can range from firing a gun to destroying media equipment. A troubling 6 percent of all incidents are murders.
Severe flooding has claimed the lives of more than 80 people and displaced thousands in the wake of some of the region’s heaviest rains since Hurricane Mitch ravaged Central America in 1998. After rainfall totals reached nearly 40 inches in 72 hours in the hardest-hit areas of El Salvador and Guatemala, officials in both countries declared states of emergency and issued mandatory evacuation orders to residents of low-lying areas.
According to Salvadoran emergency management office director Jorge Melendez, the downpours in El Salvador have left “27 people dead, the majority of them from mudslides that hit their dwellings.” A total of 13,874 people have been moved to 209 shelters, said Melendez. In neighboring Guatemala, 28 people have died and the death toll is expected to rise.
The immediate response of governments in the region has focused on search and rescue operations, particularly in rural areas. Already, however, analysts are predicting billions of dollars in economic losses as a result of the storm. Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes yesterday launched an appeal for international humanitarian aid. Thus far, Venezuela has pledged support and Spain has responded by sending 20 tons of supplies, including tents and hygiene kits.
Bolivians appear to have delivered a sharp rebuke to President Evo Morales, according to unofficial, partial results from Sunday’s election to choose 56 top judicial officials. A preliminary count by the opinion polling firm Ipsos Apoyo found that 46 to 48 percent of voters had cast null votes, and an estimated 20 percent of Bolivians abstained, though voting is compulsory. Full results are unlikely to be known for several days.
Bolivian voters went to the polls to choose 28 national judges and 28 other members of the judiciary in the vote yesterday. Many of the candidates were female and/or Indigenous. Until now, these judges were chosen directly by Congress. Morales’ government said the elections were meant to reform the judicial system and give greater power to Bolivia’s Indigenous majority. The opposition contended that the election would result in diminished independence of the judiciary, since the candidates on the ballot were chosen by a Congress dominated by Morales’ Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party.
Opposition politicians also urged voters to boycott the elections as a sign of their general discontent with Morales’ recent policies. If the preliminary results hold, they would represent the Indigenous president’s first electoral defeat in his presidency of six years. Morales was re-elected by a landslide in 2009 and plans to run for a third term in 2014. However, his popularity has decreased since then. Last year, he attempted to end gasoline subsidies but had to reverse his decision after spurring nationwide protests. This year, discontent has risen. Police recently broke up a protest march over plans to build a $420 million highway through Indigenous lands in the Amazon; even now, more than 1,000 protesters are headed toward La Paz.
At a press conference Monday night, Morales said he was pleased with turnout in the election and blamed the high number of null votes on missing information. “Those who tried to boycott these elections failed,” he said.
On Wednesday, October 12, just in time for the October 13 State Visit of South Korean leader Lee, both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed the pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. The agreements were too long delayed, but the overwhelming margin of victory for all agreements in both chambers gives credibility to the argument that the Administration frequently made: to build sustainability for the trade agenda, broad-based political support was required, and political support had to be developed over time, with careful and methodical coalition building. In the end, Panama received 300 votes in favor of the agreement in the House, passing by 171 votes. The most controversial agreement, Colombia, received 262 votes and passed by 95 votes. Compare that to the passage of the trade agreement with Central America in 2004, which won approval by exactly two votes. This new margin of victory lays the groundwork for renewal of a politically sustainable trade agenda, and is a bright spot for those of us who believe trade remains one of the best tools that the United States has to support our security and economic interests abroad.
The agreements still need to be signed by the President and there will be a period of time before implementation actually occurs. But the biggest battle has been won. As a result—this being Washington—claims of credit abound. Indeed, there is much credit to go around. But some are more equal than others in this department, and deserve to be singled out for special praise.
The first, of course, is President Obama himself. At a yet-to-be-determined political cost, and little potential direct political benefit, the President defied the roots of the Democratic party to advance the agreements as part of his “doubling exports in five years” initiative. Unquestionably, his views on trade have evolved since the 2008 campaign, and by moving the deals forward, he has effectively neutralized trade as a potential wedge issue for the 2012 presidential campaign, which, importantly, will provide greater political flexibility to the President on these issues after January 2013. He got the deals done and moved them forward. He won’t get appropriate credit for it, but that does not mean he does not deserve it.
Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who renegotiated the agreements, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who publicly set a deadline when she told the foreign minister of Colombia in June that the deals would be done by the end of 2011, and White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley did much of the political heavy lifting to lay the groundwork for submission to Congress. They are all on the heroes list.
Yesterday was a monumental moment for the future of reproductive rights in Colombia. Five years after Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled in favor of abortion under three specific circumstances—rape, risk to the mother's life or congenital malformation of the fetus—the fate of reproductive and sexual rights was on the cusp of change. This would have been a setback for all Colombians.
Instead, the Senate voted against a proposal to overrule the 2006 Constitutional Court decision allowing select abortions. If the Senate bill had passed, it would have prohibited all forms of abortion, and made the use of emergency contraceptives and in vitro fertilization illegal and subject to prosecution. Fortunately, with nine votes against the proposed bill and seven in favor, the status of abortion in Colombia remains the same. The bill did not have the support of Colombia’s inspector general, Alejandro Ordoñez, who despite efforts from the Liberal party, Polo Democratico and grassroots organizations to stop the voting, kept the pressure on.
In an effort to jumpstart preparations for hosting the 2014 World Cup, the government of Brazil yesterday announced a series of tough new rules for companies involved in civil aviation infrastructure projects. According to the executive secretary of the Department of Civil Aviation, Cleverson Aroeira, firms that do not meet their contractual deadlines for expanding airports, such as São Paulo’s Guarulhos and Viracopos airports, and Brasilia’s Presidente Juscelino Kubitschek aiport could face fines totaling up to $87 million.
Earlier this year, Brazil announced its intention to collaborate with the private sector to help modernize airports in time for 2014. But the state-owned airport company, Infraero, which currently runs most major airports, still intends to weigh in on strategic issues. Ifraero has faced growing pressure to meet construction deadlines.
Reports earlier this year that Brazil’s World Cup preparations are severely behind schedule led the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA)—soccer’s global governing body—to formally inquire about the status of all major infrastructure projects. The Brazilian government has over the past year repeatedly offered assurances that all necessary projects would be ready on time.
Dozens of artists, students, and creative types recently poured into the gray, windowless concrete building that houses Guatemala City’s Attorney General’s Office. Once inside, the scarf-wearing, tennis-shoe clad newcomers crowded the two small elevators where attorneys in suits hopped in and out of each floor, curiously touching shoulders with the visitors. On the fourth floor the doors opened onto an empty space where four rows of plastic chairs surrounded a stage with two overturned desks. The rows were soon filled by attorneys, many of them women, holding case files and pens in their hands while the visitors scampered over—many never having set foot in the building.
All were there to watch "The justice that dwells within me"—a play directed by Argentine Marco Canale and coordinated by the Spanish Cooperation in Guatemala, the Cultural Center of Spain in Guatemala and the Coordinator of the Modernization of the Justice.
The killing of a priest who spoke out against an open-pit gold mine project by a Canadian company is spraying unrest in the community.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) is pouring into Colombia. In the last six months FDI was $7 billion—equivalent to 91.4 percent more than in the same period last year, according to new figures released by the Central Bank. Most of the money (64 percent) is going to oil and mining exploitation.
Despite the unprecedented possibilities of development and the promises of a better life for the communities located in coal, gold or copper areas or places with millions of barrels of oil and gas, the sudden arrival of new and powerful actors has generated unrest, distrust and fear.
This is the case of Marmato, a small village in the department of Caldas located on top of a “Montaña de Oro,” or Gold Mountain. Home of indigenous, Afro and mestizo artisanal miners for centuries, the recent arrival of the Canadian company Medoro Resources (it merged in July with Gran Colombia Gold) has prompted social conflict. Medoro has been buying land and mining titles for a plan to develop large-scale, open-pit gold projects to extract its estimated 9.8 million ounces of gold and 59 million ounces of silver.
The White House on September 27 announced the nomination of Acting Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson. This is good news for the U.S. and the region; she is precisely the right person for the job. Her confirmation hearing is not yet scheduled, though she is not expected to face major difficulties (unlike several other recent nominees for Western Hemisphere positions).
As often happens with any change of leadership, goals and strategies will be reconsidered. This change-of-guard moment provides a great opportunity for the Obama administration to come forth with an idea, an initiative of its own—something that isn’t cribbed from the Bush administration—and to make its mark on the region. After all, it has been popular parlor talk that what is needed is a major initiative and a clear strategy for the region. Time is ticking.
One smart idea comes in a report issued by Sen. Richard Lugar’s office last week, Latin American Governments Need to ‘Friend’ Social Media and Technology. It outlines an innovative strategy to advance U.S. goals, namely through social media and technology. Because governments that embrace new media technology are shown to be more responsive to their citizens and more transparent, the report argues, the U.S. has an interest in Latin America’s technological development. And, “[a]t a time when U.S. political influence is waning in the region, it is clear that U.S. driven technological trends could redefine relationships with many countries in Latin America,” writes the report’s author, Carl Meacham, senior Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer. And a good way to regain some of that influence is by leveraging technology—in part because it’s an industry in which we lead, Meacham says.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos yesterday hailed the U.S. Congress’ passage of a long-stalled free-trade agreement (FTA), saying the decision was “historic for relations between Colombia and the United States, a historic day for Colombia's insertion to the world and a historic day for Colombian businessmen and workers.”
Negotiations over the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement began in 2004 and were concluded in 2006 when former President George W. Bush and then-Colombian President Álvaro Uribe signed off on the pact. However, pushing the bill through the U.S. Congress—a top priority of the Obama administration—took nearly five years of legislative wrangling.
The final tally on the treaty was decisive: the House of Representatives passed the measure 262–167, followed by a 66–33 vote in the Senate. Two other FTAs—including the U.S. agreement with Panama—also passed which proponents say will boost U.S. exports by $13 billion and support tens of thousands of jobs. Opponents of the deal included Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who voted against the measure over concerns about Colombian trade unionist rights and its possible impact on export-competing industries in the United States.
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Second Guessing Zetas’ Ties with Iranian Terrorism
Concerns about the potential connection between Middle East terrorism and Latin American organized crime were revived this week when news hit that Iranians had plotted with an individual who they thought was a member of Mexico’s Zetas gang to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. The presumed gangster turned out to be an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. In Washington, legislators differed over whether the news demonstrated such a threat. “The fact that elements of the Iranian government targeted a Mexican drug cartel to carry out a high-level assassination is further evidence that the cartels are perceived as terrorists willing to participate in a lucrative, violent scheme inside the United States,” said Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX). But Representative Henry Cuellar (D-TX) said: “If anything, the Mexicans were trying to help us.” A statement from Mexico’s Secretariat of Foreign Relations said: “In strict compliance with domestic and international law, Mexico was able to neutralize a significant risk to Mexico’s national security, while at the same time reinforcing bilateral and reciprocal cooperation with the United States.” Bloggings by Boz contends that the connection between Iranian terrorists and Zetas is unlikely, with Mexican drug cartels not wishing to disrupt their lucrative business. “I think the top leadership of the Zetas and others are very aware that any involvement in a bombing on U.S. soil or trafficking of [weapons of mass destruction] would bring a lot of additional focus and resources against them. They certainly wouldn't do it for the price of one truck of cocaine,” he writes.
Abbas on LatAm Tour to Bolster Palestine’s Statehood Bid
President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas took his fight for Palestinian statehood on the road this week with a Latin American tour that takes him to El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela. But he failed to reach his goal during his first stop in Colombia. Speaking on the prospect of an independent Palestine, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos stated: “It must be the product of negotiations [between Israelis and Palestinians] because this is the only way to achieve peace,”after meeting with Abbas. Colombia is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and Abbas sees Bogota’s support as crucial, given that he needs at least nine out of 15 votes from the Council to gain a recommendation in favor of Palestine gaining UN membership.
Mexico’s immigration commissioner announced yesterday that overall migration (based on figures around the unauthorized) from Central America bound for Mexico and the United States decreased by nearly 70 percent over the past five years. Commissioner Salvador Beltrán del Río of Mexico’s National Migration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migración, or INM) came to this conclusion by comparing the number of detained, undocumented Central American migrants in 2005 versus that in 2010—433,000 versus 140,000. He observed that the downward trend has continued thus far in 2011.
Commissioner Beltrán pointed out that Central Americans crossing into Mexico face grave risks of violence, kidnapping and extortion due to the increased association of organized crime with migrant trafficking. The International Organization for Migration’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Michele Klein Solomon, has concurred, adding that Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, or CNDH) estimates the number of annual migrant kidnappings to be around 22,000. Between April 2011 and September 2011, CNDH has placed that figure at 11,333.
However, some in Mexico dispute INM’s methodology. Rodolfo Casillas, a professor at the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, contends: “What’s dropping is the number of people detained by immigration agents, which is different from the Central American migration flow that goes through Mexico.”
Mexico’s government has taken action to address issues around the treatment of migrants. In May, President Felipe Calderón approved a new migration law that aims to better protect migrants through such measures as punishing migration authorities for any unlawful acts committed toward migrants.
In an unlikely stop in his pre-campaign trail, Andrés Manuel López Obrador made a quick visit to the industrial, private sector-intensive city of Monterrey last week. This is hostile territory for López, since the state of Nuevo León has not traditionally sympathized with the leftists parties with which he has associated (PRD, PT, Convergencia). His visit gathered around 1,200 middle- and upper-class listeners. Some were supporters, but most were just curious as I gathered from the low intensity of response to applause moments during the event.
His message was somewhat different from his usual populist rhetoric. The radio and TV spots, as well as his speech in Monterrey have all toned down. Wearing a slick suit and tie (as opposed to his usual more down to earth Guayaberas) and talking to the business community, López portrayed himself as a modern leftist, blaming the media for showcasing him as an “enemy of the wealthy.” One of his new soundbites states “I am not against businessmen. I am against wrongfully accumulated wealth.” López is not clear about what he means when he says that wealth is wrongfully accumulated, but he did mention a couple of specific targets as culprits: large media corporations Televisa, Telmex and TV Azteca and the PRI and PAN bureaucrats.
López accused Televisa and TV Azteca of controlling the news, limiting his exposure and pushing PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto as their candidate in order to maintain control of Mexico. In his words, Peña Nieto is “the candidate of the power monopoly.”
After negotiations with a legislative dialogue commission failed over the weekend, Indigenous protesters from the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS) restarted their march toward La Paz today. A month ago the Amazonian natives started a 603-kilometer (375-mile) march from Trinidad to protest the construction of a 305-kilometer (190-mile) highway that would cut the TIPNIS territory in half. The protests emerged in response to concerns over the lack of prior consultation regarding the potential environmental and social impacts resulting from the $415 million-road—a project mainly financed by the Brazilian government. The protesters now demand that the entire contract be nullified.
The dialogue commission was proposed after September 25, when President Morales tried to end the march. Following orders from the government, around 500 police officers used tear gas and truncheons against marchers who were in the city of Yucumo, 350 kilometers (217 mile) from La Paz. Interior Minister Sacha Llorenti and his deputy resigned as a result. Yoriko Yasukawa, the UN local representative, lamented the events and made a call to resolve the conflict through dialogue.
The meeting between Mendoza and TIPNIS protesters resulted in a four-article bill that will suspend the construction of the second stretch of the road until the native communities are consulted. Unsatisfied over the bill—which needs to go to the Senate for approval—Indigenous protesters rejected the proposal and now demand that the contract be nullified through a law. “We want all laws that gave way to this project to be abolished; we want to start all over again,” said Fernando Vargas, an Indigenous leader.
This happens at the same time that more than 2,000 people—mainly coca growers—march from Calamarca (60 kilometers south from La Paz) to La Paz in support of President Morales and against the TIPNIS communities. César Navarro—vice minister for the coordination of social movements and the person who mediates the relationship between the government and pro-government unions—said the march “will deepen the process of change and tell President Evo he’s not alone.” In an interview with TeleSur, Navarro insisted that “behind the TIPNIS demonstrations there are other political interests from people in and outside Bolivia.”
El fantasma de la parapolítica sigue rondando la campaña a las elecciones locales en Colombia. No solo por el hecho de que muchos de los investigados por haber establecido alianzas criminales con los paramilitares, sean hoy candidatos, sino porque quienes están condenados por estos pactos, tienen tanto o más poder desde la cárcel que los políticos que están en libertad.
El preso más famoso de Colombia, el ex senador del Valle Juan Carlos Martínez Sinisterra, lleva varios lustros manejando la política local de su departamento. Al llamado Negro Martínez se le condenó a pagar siete años de cárcel por sus nexos con el Bloque Calima y el paramilitar H.H, extraditado a Estados Unidos. Aunque se comprobó que su cercanía con los ilegales le sirvió para hacer campañas políticas y entregarles presupuesto y cargos del Estado, las rejas no han sido un impedimento para que su poder se extienda por todo el territorio nacional. Tiene un músculo proselitista tan imparable, que los medios dicen que maneja medio país.
For the first time ever, a Latin American institution placed among the world’s top universities in the London-based Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings. The annual list of colleges and universities, compiled using data collected by Thomson Reuters, is considered among the most reliable and accurate cross-country comparisons of higher education providers. This year’s 178th spot—anything under 200 is considered “gold standard”—went to the University of São Paulo.
Although the top-ranked schools are invariably U.S. or UK-based universities, institutions from Asia and Latin America have been moving up in recent years. Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea each has a school ranked in the top-100. Brazil’s State University of Campinas also received honorable mention, falling in the top-300 school category. No other Latin American institution made the list.
Chilean President Sebastian Piñera sent a bill to congress on Tuesday to reform Chile’s penal code and allow harsher sentences for certain forms of popular protest. According to the proposed legislation, protestors could receive prison sentences of up to three years for offenses such as occupying educational, religious or office buildings, impeding foot or vehicular traffic, and interrupting the delivery of public services.
The bill is a response to more than five months of student-led demonstrations to oppose greater privatization of secondary- and post-secondary schools—a process that began during the 17-year rule of former President Augusto Pinochet. Since May, protesters have occupied more than 200 educational institutions and drawn considerable international media attention. The ongoing demonstrations have also affected Piñera’s approval ratings, which dropped to 30 percent in September, down from 63 percent following the rescue of 33 miners one year ago, according to Santiago-based research group Adimark Gfk.
The bill has already drawn criticism from the opposition Concertación coalition as well as human rights groups. In a letter to the president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Associación Chilena de Organinismos No Gubernamentales (Chilean Association of Nongovernmental organizations-ACCIÓN) said the new penalties “violate the principles of rule of law that should govern in a democratic system.”
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Rousseff Urges against Austerity at EU-Brazil Summit
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff addressed the Fifth EU-Brazil Summit on Tuesday, where her agenda touched on the EU-Mercosur trade agreement and the eurozone debt crisis. Rousseff urged Europe to back away from recessive measures such as austerity plans to overcome the crisis, citing the need to pursue policies that create jobs and income. She assured the Europeans: “You can rely and count on us.”
Dilma and FIFA Chief Discuss World Cup in Brussels
In a meeting Monday in Brussels, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff assured FIFA President Jerôme Valcke that her country will meet all its obligations for the 2014 World Cup. The meeting comes after a series of public misunderstandings between FIFA and Brazil concerning issues such as concession prices and Brazil’s preparedness to host the event. Many of the infrastructure improvements necessary to host the 2014 World Cup are behind schedule.
The Summer 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly focuses on sports in the hemisphere and includes an article by Smith College’s Andrew Zimbalist covering Brazil’s preparedness for the World Cup and Olympics.
Brazil to Begin MINUSTAH Withdrawal in March
Brazil’s defense minister, Celso Amorim, announced that Brazilian troops will begin a gradual withdrawal from Haiti starting in March 2012. Brazilian troops have been stationed there since 2004, where Brazil leads the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH. The goal of the withdrawal is to hand local security control over to the Haitians and slowly reduce the number of troops to pre-earthquake levels.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos drew laughter and applause when he placed the U.S.-Colombia free-trade agreement (FTA) in the “hands of God” at an AS/COA program last month. But now that the White House has submitted the long-pending pact to Congress, its earthly fate lies just where it belongs.
House Speaker John Boehner has pledged quick consideration of the agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, in tandem with the Senate-passed legislation reauthorizing Trade Adjustment Assistance. This afternoon the Ways and Means Committee favorably reported out all three implementing bills, leaving supporters and opponents to gear up for a floor debate and vote expected as early as next Wednesday.
That debate will center on job creation on the one hand and labor concerns on the other—particularly in the case of Colombia, which remains the most controversial of the three countries. The Obama Administration has rightly emphasized the economic arguments that carry weight on Capitol Hill in the context of 9 percent unemployment. But it’s worth remembering that the FTAs are just as important to U.S. geopolitical interests.
Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño announced yesterday that he is submitting a bill to the island’s Legislative Assembly that—if approved—would call for a referendum next year to decide the island’s political status. Fortuño’s decision to move forward with a two-part referendum comes in response to President Barack Obama saying in mid-June that Puerto Rico would remain a commonwealth until the majority of islanders voted otherwise. “When the people of Puerto Rico make a clear decision, my administration will stand by you.”
In a 20-minute televised address, Governor Fortuño emphasized: “We must enable our citizens to resolve the most important and transcendental issue in Puerto Rico’s history, the island’s political status.” He added: “The island’s status is an issue that affects every aspect of our daily lives, including employment opportunities, health services, public safety, our children’s education, and our very rights as citizens.”
The bill—which Fortuño will file today—includes two phases. On August 12, 2012, Puerto Ricans would vote on whether they want to change the status of the island. If the majority of voters approve some type of change, Puerto Ricans would then decide on Election Day (November 6, 2012) among three non-territorial status alternatives: statehood, independence or sovereign free association. A free sovereign association would be an improved version of the current commonwealth status; similar to the territories of the United States of Palau or Marshall Islands.
Governor Fortuño and Puerto Rico’s representative in the U.S. Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, have already sought to change the island’s political status with the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009. It passed in the U.S. House of Representatives by a strong majority but did not succeed in the Senate.
On September 16, 2011, the foreign press in Argentina had the unprecedented opportunity to interview a Chinese government official. Mr. Yang Shidi, the Counsellor for Commercial and Business Affairs from the Chinese Embassy in Buenos Aires spoke to members of Argentina´s Foreign Correspondent Association (ACERA) and graciously accepted a round of questions from journalists representing international media. According to Dr. Ricardo Rivas, acting President of ACERA, this was the first time in 26 years that a Chinese government official in Argentina has agreed to a meeting with the foreign press.
Mr. Shidi gave his talk quite eloquently in Spanish, only stumbling when it came time to translate investment amounts. During his discourse, he highlighted the 40 years of an ongoing diplomatic relationship between China and Argentina and its important commercial and business dimensions. He explained that the bilateral relationship has been sustained over time despite geographic distance thanks to the development of activities based on mutual respect and mutual benefit. Within the framework of what he describes as a “strategic relationship,” the Chinese diplomat claimed that the economic and commercial activities have benefited both countries. China is now Argentina’s second most important trading partner with bilateral commerce reaching $12.9 billion in 2010, up 12 percent from the year prior. And Argentina is China´s fourth-largest trading partner in Latin America.
China is moving beyond trade and ramping up investments in Argentina. According to Argentinean government figures (albeit a bit questionable these days), Chinese investment in the country as of December 2010 was estimated at $15 billion over the prior three years. China has been focused on Argentina’s petrochemical and agricultural sectors but is also making significant investments in telecommunications, mining, finance, transport, energy, and manufacturing.
Far-reaching political declarations come by all too often. But witnessing the societal application of a specific public policy is an entirely different thing. A case in point is the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) of 2004, which came about as a result of Jamaican ratification of the 1991 Convention of the Rights of the Child.
Certain obligations of CCPA included: establishing new organizations like the Office of the Children’s Registry to monitor the care and protection of children; providing special help to children to children who need it; and protecting all children from abuse and neglect.
With little background knowledge of CCPA and other regulations on children’s state homes in Jamaica, I was grateful to receive a grant to work with empowering youth at a state-run home in the town of St. Elizabeth. The grant was awarded by the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ) and was given to the Caribbean Youth Summit Association (CYSA)—an organization where I served as chairman at the time. With 27 boys at this St. Elizabeth facility, the goal was to increase awareness of the unique circumstances that each boy faced within the state child protection system.
Witness a case study of how Parceiros da Educação (Education Partners), a public-private partnership in Brazil, trains teachers—featured on the Brazilian TV station Canal Futura.
Haitian President Michel Martelly announced yesterday that his administration plans to provide education subsidies for 772,000 children in an attempt to boost student enrollment. The announcement coincided with the opening of the school year in Haiti. Martelly’s National Fund for Education (FNE) will cover the tuition of 142,000 students who will attend school for the first time ever.
The Clinton Foundation donated $1.25 million to cover the registration fees of some students. FNE, the initiative that Martelly launched shortly after he took office in May, is funded by per-minute fees assessed to incoming international calls as well as a flat tariff on international wire transfers. Gaston George Merisier, Martelly’s advisor on education, announced last week that $28 million had been raised thus far from these taxes, and that much of the additional monies had been sent by Haitian expatriates abroad.
Martelly repeatedly called for free education during the 2010-2011 presidential campaign. Education is a much-needed social service in Haiti, which is still ravaged by the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake. Much of the donor money into Haiti thus far has been funneled into short-term delivery of education and health services in tent camps—and reconstruction of hospitals and schools over the long term.
In less than 11 hours, six earthquakes struck Guatemala starting at noon local time on September 19. The southeastern area of Santa Rosa was the most affected by earthquakes that ranged from 4.5 to 5.8 magnitude on the Richter scale. The size and frequency struck the same region unexpectedly. The results: almost 5,000 people have been affected and more than 1,200 houses damaged, and encampments now dot the area after many residents lost their homes and belongings.
The government entity in charge of emergency response, Coordinadora Nacional para la Reducción de Desastres (CONRED), set up nine refuge centers for 3,500 people, confirmed spokesman David de Leon. This disaster comes after the same area was flooded in August and the River San Juan burst its banks. INSIVUMEH (Instituto Nacional de Sismología, Vulcanología, Meteorología e Hidrología) reported that August’s rainfall was 40 percent above the monthly average and in September it was still above average—by about 12 percent. The amount of rain has created massive avalanches and cut off villages with landslides killing at least four people.
But event with a state of disaster being declared in Santa Rosa, Congress has been criticized for failing to release funds to emergency response and relief services. Finance Minister Rolando del Cid Pinillos told Emisoras Unidas, the largest national radio station, that “it would be difficult to fund CONRED in the result of a disaster in Guatemala.” This bureaucratic uncertainty makes recovery even more perilious.
Hubo foro en D.F. el julio sobre el tema "Después de la Ley de Migración... ¿Qué sigue?"
Fotos cortesía de Instituto de Estudios y Divulgación sobre Migración (INEDIM). Pies de foto cortesía de Yoloxóchitl Casas Chousal.
Aquí son unos puntos destacados sobre las discusiones:
En el Foro se dieron a conocer los resultados obtenidos de la consulta social sobre la Ley de Migración, realizada en los estados norteños de Baja California, Chihuahua, Sonora y Tamaulipas, los sureños Chiapas, Oaxaca y Veracruz, y el Distrito Federal. Ejecutada por un grupo de especialistas, en la consulta se identificaron divergencias y convergencias, y se recogieron propuestas desde la sociedad civil poniendo especial énfasis en la pluralidad para el respeto a la diversidad de opiniones.
En la mesa “Antecedentes y objetivos” se convocó a fomentar un debate público y plural dirigido al Congreso de la Unión, gobiernos federal y locales, con énfasis en la Secretaría de Gobernación en el en torno al tema migratorio para promover los derechos humanos de las y los migrantes, y lograr que se convierta en un tema de interés público.
Durante los años 2010 y 2011 se conformó un grupo de trabajo integrado por organizaciones de la sociedad civil, la academia y especialistas en migración, con el propósito de promover en México el desarrollo de normatividad y política pública en la materia con perspectiva de derechos humanos. Promulgada la ley, el grupo centró su objetivo en incidir para atender los vacíos legales en temas como seguridad, debido proceso, género, niñez y detenciones, entre otros, que han quedado pendientes.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.