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  • Argentina Permits Abortions for Rape Victims

    March 14, 2012

    by AQ Online

    The Argentine Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday to decriminalize abortions in cases of rape. The landmark decision came out of a case where a 15-year-old girl was raped by her stepfather, a senior officer of the police force in the Argentine province of Chubut. In 2010, a Chubut court had ruled in favor of the adolescent having an abortion, which meant that yesterday’s decision formally backed the original ruling. The victim went forward with the abortion after the initial court decision.

    Prior to Tuesday’s ruling, abortions were only considered legal in cases where the woman was mentally ill or if her life is threatened by birth.  Doctors who performed illegal abortions could have faced between one and four years in prison. But the Supreme Court’s decision now permits doctors to perform abortions with the legal permission of the rape victim without having to seek court orders.

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    Tags: Human Rights, Argentina, Abortion, Womens rights, Decriminalization of Abortion

  • Questioning Drug Legalization in Central America

    March 13, 2012

    by Steve Mack

    Over the past weeks, an unprecedentedly open debate has arisen over the wisdom of prevailing anti-drug policy in the Western Hemisphere. The present U.S.- led  strategy, which relies heavily on aggressive interdiction and law enforcement, is being openly called a failure and even counterproductive by some Latin American leaders, who are asking for renewed discussion of other options, including, most notoriously from the U.S. perspective, the legalization of consumption. The heavy emphasis of anti-drug policy on repression, say these critics, has encouraged the domination of the drug trade by well-organized, heavily armed, ruthless and extremely violent cartels, with horrifying effects.

    Not coincidentally, the epicenter of the debate is Central America, a transshipment center for up to 80 percent of drugs headed for the U.S., where criminal gangs have overwhelmed weak governments and helped make some of these societies—especially Honduras and Guatemala—among the world’s most dangerous. One of the most interesting aspects of the debate is that the argument for legalization is being promoted most forcefully by Guatemala’s newly-elected president, Otto Pérez Molina, a right-leaning ex-general and former director of military intelligence during the country’s civil war: nobody’s idea of a naïve idealist.

    The U.S., whose treasure, power and prestige has been invested in the war on drugs (a term now officially abandoned) since the Nixon administration, has reacted defensively to criticism. The Obama administration sent Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on a tour of the region to attempt to tamp down opposition, while Vice President Joe Biden met with the regions’ presidents soon after. Biden said last week that while the U.S. was not opposed to discussing the merits of drug policy, there was no chance that the U.S. would change its position against legalization. In the end, Biden mentioned in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, last week only that the Obama administration was asking the U.S. Congress for $107 million in continuing security assistance for the region in the coming year.

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    Tags: Honduras, Guatemala, Joe Biden, illicit drugs, Otto Perez Molina

  • Morales Defends Right to Grow, Chew Coca

    March 13, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Bolivian President Evo Morales pushed for legalizing the chewing of coca leaves during a 53-country United Nations narcotics control meeting on Monday in Vienna. A former cocalero and coca grower’s union leader, Morales held up a coca leaf during his address and argued that growing and chewing the crop are staples of Bolivia’s Andean culture.

    In 1961, Bolivia’s military government ratified the U.N. Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs that declared the coca leaf an illegal narcotic, along with cocaine, heroin opium and others substances. The Morales administration withdrew from the convention last year and yesterday the president called its ratification a “historic error,” and said the “absurd prohibition of coca chewing” is not acceptable in Bolivia. “The coca leaf is not cocaine. We have to get rid of this misconception," he added.

    Bolivia is willing to rejoin the convention only if member nations approve an amendment allowing traditional cultivation and consumption of coca leaves. But Yuri Fedotov, chief of UNODC, responded to Morales’ appeal by warning that “such kinds of initiatives in the long run may undermine” international consensus on drug control and “have a domino effect.”

    Morales also used his time on the floor on Monday to call on developed nations to give Bolivia the tools to crack down on illegal cultivation intended for the manufacture of cocaine. Bolivia is the third-biggest cocaine producer after Peru and Colombia and the president asked for helicopters and other technology to combat drug-trafficking. The U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs said this month that Bolivia has “failed demonstrably to make sufficient efforts to meet its obligations under international counter-narcotics agreements" over the last year.

    Tags: Drug war, Drug Trafficking, President Evo Morales, Bolviia, UNODC

  • El colapso del transporte en Bogotá

    March 12, 2012

    by Jenny Manrique

    Hace tiempo que en la capital de Colombia, la gente viene quejándose del caos en que se ha convertido transportarse. Aunque el sistema de transporte masivo Transmilenio resultó desde su puesta en marcha una solución en términos de rapidez, en los últimos años el sistema colapsó. Colapsó porque el número de habitantes capitalinos que supera los ocho millones y que como toda ciudad industrializada, está compuesto por una mano de obra que vive en el sur y se mueve hacia el norte para trabajar, supera en creces la capacidad que tienen los buses articulados para transportarlos.

    Los reclamos son diversos. Tarifas altísimas de un dólar por trayecto, si se compara con la media latinoamericana que está por debajo de los 50 centavos de dólar, sobre todo en países donde el Estado subsidia el servicio. Falta de frecuencia en los buses, por lo cual aunque hayan servicios expresos que lo lleven a uno de un extremo al otro de la ciudad en tiempo récord, es imposible subirse en ellos sin obligar al cuerpo a acomodarse en minúsculos espacios o forzar el ingreso a los articulados a como dé lugar antes del cierre de puertas, el mejor estilo del metro de Tokio, aunque sin los conocidos “empujadores”.

    Rutas que si bien atraviesan las vías más importantes de Bogotá, dejan desconectadas  vías intermedias que comunican con los barrios más pobres de la ciudad, a donde ni los buses alimentadores (llamados así porque alimentan el sistema Transmilenio) llegan.  Monopolio de los buses articulados que pertenecen a una empresa privada en la que por supuesto el Estado no tiene participación. Concesiones a dedo de licitaciones públicas para construir las vías por donde circulan las rutas del sistema, que se encuentran a medio camino, o que han generado incontables sobrecostos y trancones por otros sectores de la ciudad.

    No es un dato menor que la discusión sobre medios de transporte alternativos como el tranvía o el metro, tenga un eje focal en qué vías de la ciudad atravesarán, y que la idea de que sea por la carrera 7a, contigua a los tradicionales cerros de la ciudad, choca por no mirar al occidente del país (Avenida Boyacá) donde por ahora no hay contemplado un sistema rápido de transporte masivo, y por donde también se mueven millones de pasajeros.

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    Tags: Colombia, Infrastructure

  • Monday Memo: AQ’s Top-Five Expected Stories for the Week of March 12-16

    March 12, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Top stories this week are likely to include: U.S. congressional interest in Iranian activity in Latin America; Brazil responds to low 2011 growth numbers; Hugo Chávez returns from Cuba; drug legalization to be a topic of debate at the Summit of the Americas; and Costa Rica and Nicaragua agree to cooperate on their shared border.

    Congress To Demand Iran Knowledge: The Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives last week passed H.R. 3783, also known as the “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act.” The bill, which will advance to consideration by the full House in the near future, requests that the State Department provide Congress with a detailed report of the activities that Iranian agents and proxy organizations Hezbollah and Hamas are undertaking in the Western Hemisphere. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini said in The Washington Times that the legislation “smacks of Cold War backyardism” because Iran’s presence in Latin America is the only Latin America-related issue that is being discussed in the 2012 presidential campaign rather than, say, the rise of Brazil.

    Brazil Adjusts to Low 2011 Growth: After the Instituto Brasileiro de Georgrafia e Estatística (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) reported a 2.7-percentage GDP growth in 2011, Brazil’s central bank cut the key Selic interest rate by 75 basis points last Thursday to 9.75 percent. What does this mean going forward? AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak observes: “Although economic growth in 2011 was 5 percentage points below that of 2010, this must be looked at in context with the global situation and the fact that 2010 growth was the highest in 25 years; plus, these latest numbers also show that Brazil overtook the United Kingdom to become the world’s sixth biggest economy. Still, expect the rolling out of various measures to boost growth before voters head to the polls in October’s municipal elections.”

    Chávez Returns Home: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez will return home this week after recovering from another surgery in Cuba to remove a malignant lesion. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed the news after traveling to Havana last week. Cubadebate reports that Chávez will immediately begin his electoral campaign for president ahead of the October elections. Expect the populist leader to be publicly energetic while the Venezuelan electorate remains highly skeptical over his long-term health.

    Drug Legalization at the Summit: The number-one topic of debate during U.S. Vice President’s visit to Mexico and Honduras last week, drug legalization will be an agenda item at the Sixth Summit of the Americas next month in Cartagena, Colombia. Marczak says: “U.S. willingness to discuss drug legalization shows that the Obama administration is listening to the frustrations of various countries that are seeing legalization as a possible way to reduce the violence inflicted by the narcotics trade. Still, opening it up to discussion does not mean that the U.S. has shifted in its rejection of legalization.”

    Nicaraguan–Costa Rican Coordination: The announcement last week that Nicaragua and Costa Rica would jointly coordinate on security matters related to their shared border is welcome news amid their longstanding border dispute over the island of Calero. The Calero incident “was a sharp reminder that border conflicts persist in the region. While this one looks fortunately to be resolved, there are at least a half-dozen others that could flare given the political differences in the region,” notes Sabatini.

    Tags: Summit of the Americas, Costa Rica, Cuba, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Hugo Chavez, Juan Manuel Santos, Iran

  • Finally, Fiscal Reform in Guatemala

    March 9, 2012

    by Kate Newman

    Guatemala’s recently passed fiscal reform, scheduled to take effect in 2013, raises taxes for upper-middle-class and wealthy earners.

    Fiscal reform is an issue of particular importance in Guatemala, a nation with one of the world’s greatest gaps in income distribution. While Guatemala’s annual GDP is the highest in Central America, tax rates have consistently hovered around 10 percent, the lowest in the entire region. The international community has long encouraged fiscal reform as an obvious step toward reducing debt and inequality. In a visit to the country in 2010, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed firm support for the measure.

    As part of the 1996 Peace Accords ending Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, the government agreed to raise tax revenues as a percentage of GDP from 8 percent to 12 percent by the year 2000. The previous administration, under President Álvaro Colóm, made repeated efforts to pass a fiscal reform only to be blocked by resistance from congress and the private sector.

    However, last month the fiscal reform package passed in expedited fashion as a matter of national urgency: with more than 105 of 158 representatives supporting it, Guatemala’s Congress was able to hold an immediate vote, bypassing a lengthy debate process. It passed in Congress with 102 votes, a near two-thirds majority.

    The reform will allow Guatemalans earning less than 48,000 quetzales (US $6,200) yearly to pay nothing in taxes; currently all earning above 36,000 quetzales (US $4,645) are obliged to pay. Those earning over 300,000 quetzales (US $38,709) annually will pay 7 percent income tax, up from 5 percent. Middle-class earners making between 48,000 and 300,000Q will pay 5 percent.

    Read More

    Tags: Guatemala, Álvaro Colom, Otto Perez Molina

  • Cuba Denied Invitation to Summit of the Americas

    March 9, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced yesterday that Cuba will not be invited to attend the Summit of the Americas, which he will host in Cartagena, Colombia, on April 14 and 15. The announcement came at the conclusion of a trip to Cuba where the Colombian president had met with Raúl Castro. Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, said that this verdict was not a new revelation, dryly calling it a “chronicle of an exclusion foretold.” He nonetheless also said that Cuba’s exclusion from these summits is unacceptable and unjustifiable. Meanwhile, he asserted that the U.S. was behind the agenda, and is following a policy of economic and political blockade that “violates the human rights of the citizens of Cuba.”

    On Wednesday Raúl Castro thanked Santos for his efforts to include Cuba in the Cartagena Aummit. Since the first Summit in 1994 the communist-led country has been excluded from participating in the hemispheric gathering. Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela have pushed in recent years for Cuba to be included in the meeting. Santos had previously said that Cuba’s participation in the Summit would require consensus; on Thursday he said he was “not able to find” that consensus. Some members of the leftist Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alternative to the Americas) had said they would boycott the Summit if Cuba was not invited. The status of their participation remains to be determined.

    Tags: Summit of the Americas, ALBA, Cartagena

  • International Women’s Day: Progress in the Caribbean

    March 8, 2012

    by Jaevion Nelson

    Today is the 101st observation of International Women’s Day, a time to shine the global spotlight on the economic, political and social achievements of women. From my perspective, although Caribbean women are still victims of sexism, machismo and other forms of discrimination—unfortunately as in every other region in the world—their successes have been remarkably profound. The right of a woman to education and political participation is hardly denied. A number of Caribbean women are parliamentarians and ministers; the current prime ministers of Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago are female.

    International media are beginning to notice. The Independent (UK), in a ranking of “The Best and Worst Place to Be a Woman,” announced that the Caribbean is the best place for women to be a journalist and that the region has the highest percentage of women—almost 60 percent—working in high-skilled jobs. The Bahamas is ranked the highest for economic participation and opportunity for women. This progress shows that more people are finally divorcing from their prejudices, stereotypes and misconceptions about the societal status of women. However, as we rejoice in this euphoria it is crucial to issue a clarion call for change in areas where basic female rights are still violated, the most glaring of which is reproductive health.

    Women and girls must have access to all options of modern contraception to make informed and responsible decisions about the size of their families. But this is not so. Women and girls in the Caribbean are still marginalized and negatively impacted by antiquated laws such as Sections 56 and 57 of Trinidad & Tobago’s Offences Against the Person Act, which fail to account for their sexual and reproductive rights. When I asked on Twitter about which reproductive rights matter most to women in the Caribbean, one follower noted the “need [for] access to affordable, safe and legal abortions for the pregnant poor teenagers as well as the 'successful' married women.”

    Tags: Caribbean, Social inclusion, Jamaica, Women's rights

  • Americas Society Releases White Paper on Political Participation and Social Inclusion

    March 8, 2012

    by AQ Inclusion

    At the end of February, Americas Society released a white paper titled Political Representation & Social Inclusion: A Comparative Study of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Guatemala as a part of its Social Inclusion Program.

    The white paper aims to answer the question: Does the increased presence of Indigenous and Afro-descendant representatives in national legislatures make a difference for these populations? The report presents the findings and conclusions of Americas Society’s Ford Foundation-funded research on political inclusion, with a goal to help bring greater attention to the gains and challenges of race- and/or ethnicity-based political representation in Latin America. It analyzes how political representation of traditionally marginalized populations has changed over time, from 1986 to 2012, and if it has affected policy in favor of these populations.

    The report draws on field research conducted in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Guatemala—four countries with sizable Indigenous and/or Afro-descendant populations. The comparative report and individual country case studies explore the unique political and social movements and constitutional reforms that paved the way for greater ethnic or racial representation and their effectiveness in representing and defending their communities’ demands once in office. In total, 12 congressional sessions and two constituent assemblies between 1986 and 2012 are observed.

    Access the full white paper: Political Representation & Social Inclusion: A Comparative Study of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Guatemala.

    Tags: Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Social inclusion, Ecuador, Political Participation

  • Americas Society Releases White Paper on Youth Market Access

    March 8, 2012

    by AQ Inclusion

    At the end of February, Americas Society released a white paper titled Bringing Youth into Labor Markets: Public-Private Efforts amid Insecurity and Migration as a part of its Social Inclusion Program. This white paper presents the findings of Americas Society’s Ford Foundation-funded research on innovative practices that foster youth access to formal labor markets. The report highlights innovative private-sector programs that promote youth employment as well as public policy efforts to foster opportunities for young workers in El Salvador and Mexico—countries grappling with youth unemployment along with security and migration challenges. The focus is on initiatives that further skills training, entrepreneurship, and support for at-risk youth.

    Recommendations include:

    •    Mechanisms should be established to subject private-sector led programs to rigorous evaluations with the goal of ensuring the continuity of successful initiatives.
    •    The private and public sectors should provide incentives, such as guaranteed internships/apprenticeships or education scholarships, for youth who study the skills that nationwide employment trend forecasts determine are in highest demand.
    •    Nationally recognized accreditation systems in technical and non-technical skills should be created so that young job-seekers and employers can verify employment preparedness.
    •    Employers must reverse the bias and discrimination that prevents the hiring of at-risk youth.

    Access the full white paper: Bringing Youth into Labor Markets: Public-Private Efforts amid Insecurity and Migration.

    Tags: El Salvador, Mexico, Social inclusion, Market Access

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    March 8, 2012

    by AS-COA Online

    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.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    VP Biden Meets with Mexican and CentAm Leaders

    U.S. Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Mexico and Honduras this week. In Mexico, Biden met with President Felipe Calderón, where the two discussed trade ties, illegal arms trafficking, and the decriminalization of drugs. Biden qualified that third topic as “worth discussing,” but added that “there is no possibility the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy.” Biden also met with the three main Mexican presidential candidates: Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Enrique Peña Nieto, and Josefina Vázquez Mota. Biden pledged that the Obama administration plans to work with whoever wins the July elections, a promise Bloggings by Boz’s James Bosworth calls “an important gesture in this political climate.” Shannon O’Neil writes for LatIntelligence that the meeting showed how far Mexico’s democracy has come: “A few decades ago a U.S. official meeting with opposition candidates would have caused great consternation and tension between the governments; today it is accepted and even expected.” On Tuesday, Biden traveled to Tegucigalpa to meet with the presidents of Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama. Biden addressed the challenges in confronting transnational crime and promised an additional $107 million for the Central American Regional Security Initiative. 

    Mexico to the United States: Let Us in to the TPP

    In an op-ed for Politico, Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Bruno Ferrari García de Alba urges the United States to let Mexico enter negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free-trade agreement involving nine countries bordering the Pacific Ocean. Writes Ferrari: “Mexico’s inclusion in the TPP would be of real value to Washington—not only because it could provide an immediate boost to U.S. exports but also because increased Mexican sales to TPP markets would translate into more U.S. exports, a virtuous cycle. It would result in more jobs on both sides of the border.”

    Mexico Hosts First Think-20 Research Summit

    Writing for World Politics Review, the Stanley Foundation’s David Shorr reflects on last week’s Think-20, a summit held in Mexico City that brought together 22 representatives from research institutions around the world to discuss this year’s G20 agenda. The February 27 and 28 meetings were the first of their kind held in conjunction with the G20. “[T]he essential function of think tanks is to provide strategic perspective and innovative policy frameworks,” writes Schorr. “Hitching those capabilities more closely to the G20 may indeed prove helpful.” 

    AS/COA Online covers the Think-20 on its Mexico City Conference blog. The annual AS/COA event held in Mexico’s capital takes place this year on March 13 and will explore Mexico’s global leadership role in the context of its G20 presidency. Visit www.as-coa.org/Mexico2012 for an agenda, analysis, and to tune into the live webcast on the day of the event.

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    Tags: Drug war, Mexico Elections, Pacific Alliance, Biden Trip, Latino Voters

  • Chile’s LAN Airlines Flies First Commercial Biofuel Flight

    March 8, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Chilean airline company LAN hit a landmark on Wednesday, flying its first-ever commercial flight using biofuel. An Airbus 320 flew 170 passengers from the capital of Santiago to the southern city of Concepción, powered by a biofuel made from refined vegetable oil.

    Ignacio Cueto, general manager of LAN, said the flight “represented a key step toward the future of the industry,” and that there is “high potential” for biofuel production in South America. As LAN expands its operations in Latin America—with the acquisition of Colombia’s Aires and the recent merger with Brazil’s TAM airlines—the company is looking to develop alternate and cleaner sources of fuel. This is consistent with the direction in which the global airline industry is headed; the International Air Transport Association has committed to increasing its use of renewable fuels to 1 percent by 2015 and 5 percent by 2020. At the same time, Cueto and others emphasize that “the strictest technical standards” will continue to be upheld, and that investment to expand the use of biofuels will not be prohibitively high.

    Cueto did not specify the cost of a ticket for Wednesday’s Santiago–Concepción flight, saying only that the costs of biofuel-powered flights are not yet competitive. Yet he also affirmed LAN’s future willingness to use biofuel in all its flights, and to work with any supplier that can offer competitive costs. Wednesday’s flight was accomplished as a part of a joint initiative with biofuel and forestry conglomerate Copec, with biofuel imported from the United States. Yet Copec general manager Lorenzo Guzmari expressed confidence that Chile could develop its own renewable fuels.

    Biofuels are commonly made from plants with high levels of sugar and some oils. The ones used for LAN’s flight can be made from plants such as algaes, jatropha and halophytes and organic wastes, which can then be processed into high-quality fuels. In its press release LAN clarified that none of the fuels used were destined for consumption as food. The release also noted that the amount of carbon dioxide emitted during combusion of these biofuels is about the same as the amount taken up by plants during their growth cycle, which means that it results in no net addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

    Tags: Chile, Climate change, Alternative energy and renewables, LAN

  • China and the Americas: Common Roots of Internal Migration

    March 7, 2012

    by Nnenna M. Ozobia

    Internal migration is a common trend around the globe, and China is no exception. It has one of the highest levels of migration, mostly from rural areas to urban centers. According to the National Bureau of Statistics of China, 271 million people did not live in their registered residence for more than six months last year. Some estimates project that number will hit 350 million by 2050.

    Rural-to-urban migration in particular continues to stimulate China’s economic development. The largest human migration in the world takes place during the Chinese New Year season, when millions of people travel from major cities to their hometowns to reunite with loved ones. There are many reports, books and documentaries that tell vivid stories of the incredible personal sacrifice migrants and their families make in pursuit of a better life. Those sacrifices can even become so unbearable that families ultimately go back to searching for work or business opportunities closer to home. After the holiday break this year, China experienced a shortage of workers as some failed to return to work.

    Not everyone, however, is eager to return home to the countryside. Dominated by the agricultural industry, the rural, Hunan province town in which I reside is home to residents who go to bed far earlier than urbanites and who perform demanding labor that reaps little financial wealth. Many young people in particular have no desire to perpetuate the status quo. It is pretty uncommon to see residents in the 20-plus and 30-plus age demographics.

    The Chinese government has started to offer certain incentives to make rural living more appealing (such as subsidies and machinery) and has even considered paying premiums for insurance against bad weather. The combination of such incentives with increasing rural development and family demands has been successful in drawing some residents back. But youth in particular still tend to prefer more urban lifestyles. 

    Read More

    Tags: Bolivia, China, Migration

  • UN Achieves Millennium Development Goal

    March 7, 2012

    by AQ Inclusion

    The United Nations has already met one of its Millennium Development Goals (MDG) ahead of the 2015 deadline: access to safe drinking water. This was one of the 21 sub-goals or “targets” folded into the eight larger goals: eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; achievement of universal primary education; promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women; reduction of child mortality rates; improvement of maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and undertaking a global partnership for development. The MDGs were agreed upon in the Millennium Declaration circa September 2000.

    The specific MDG target achieved is worded as follows in the Declaration, relative to the base year of 1990: “Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.” According to a report from the World Health Organization and the UN Children’s Fund, 89 percent of the world’s population had access to improved water sources at the conclusion of 2010, up from 76 percent in 1990—exceeding the goal of 88 percent. A BBC article also notes that although an estimated 800 million people worldwide still drink dirty and unsafe water, in the past 20 years two billion people have accessed improved drinking supplies—a feat that should be celebrated.

    The drinking water access, however, has improved unevenly: of the 11 percent in the world’s population without access to safe drinking water, 40 percent of them live in sub-Saharan Africa.

    Tags: United Nations, sustainability, Millennium Development Goal, Water

  • Santos Meets with Castro, Chávez in Cuba

    March 7, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to Cuba this morning to meet with Cuban President Raúl Castro and Hugo Chávez in a visit the Colombian government says has two objectives. The first is to discuss the questions of Cuba’s participation next month in the Organization of American States’ Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. The second is to formally sign an outstanding bilateral trade agreement with President Chávez who is in Cuba recovering from surgery since February 24th.

    Although the United States has thus far opposed any possible role for Cuba in the summit, other regional leaders, such as Ecuador President Rafael Correa, have supported inviting Cuba to attend, saying, “it is unheard of that in the twenty-first century, something is called the Summit of the Americas and for certain hegemonic countries some of us are Americans and some of us are not.” Correa further stated that the regional trade alliance, Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (ALBA), would boycott the event if Cuba was not somehow involved. As host of the Summit, Colombia will likely have ultimate say over the question of Cuba’s participation.

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    Tags: Summit of the Americas, Cuba, Free Trade Agreement, Colombia, Venezuela, Raul Castro, Hugo Chavez, Juan Manuel Santos

  • La inseguridad ciudadana en El Alto en Bolivia

    March 6, 2012

    by Cecilia Lanza

    Tenía que sucederle a un personaje público para que en El Alto—y en el país—se arme la grande. Y sucedió. Verónica Peñasco, jefa de prensa de radio San Gabriel en El Alto y su hermano Víctor Hugo, también periodista, fueron asesinados la semana pasada por los llamados “cogoteros”. Ladrones que estrangulan a sus víctimas en pequeños buses de transporte público ("minibuses") o taxis. Una práctica que en esa populosa ciudad boliviana ha llevado a conformar incluso una organización civil de “víctimas de los cogoteros”. Sólo el año pasado han muerto 80 personas de ese modo. Ahora la gente pide “¡Pena de muerte!”

    No es la primera vez que en El Alto los vecinos protestan furibundos ante la inseguridad ciudadana. Hace ya varios años que el debate se abrió a raíz de los linchamientos sucedidos en todo el país, pero sobre todo en El Alto, a nombre de la llamada “justicia comunitaria”. Era, claro, un pretexto para de alguna manera legitimar la “justicia por mano propia” que nada tiene que ver con la justicia comunitaria digamos “originaria” que tiene otra lógica y que no contempla la pena de muerte (aunque hay datos antropológicos excepcionales, muy antiguos)

    El caso es que los vecinos de El Alto están hartos de la delincuencia. Y no es para menos. Porque pobre que es robado multiplica el agravio y la protesta. Porque en El Alto cerca del 80 por ciento de la gente es pobre que vive con $2 al día. De hecho, según la “primera encuesta de victimización, prácticas y percepción sobre violencia y delito" realizada por un importante centro de investigación boliviano (PIEB) El Alto es donde más hogares pobres son atacados por la delincuencia: “la proporción de hogares pobres victimizados representa el 75 por ciento del total, mientras que los hogares de estratos altos víctimas de robo representan el 4 por ciento”. 

    Read More

    Tags: Bolivia, Crime and Security

  • Biden Discusses Arms Trade, Bilateral Ties in Mexico

    March 6, 2012

    by AQ Online

    During Vice President Joe Biden’s one-day visit to Mexico City on Monday, President Felipe Calderón asked that the United States do more to "strengthen actions against the trafficking of weapons into our country and money laundering,” according to a statement from the president's office. More than 60,000 of the weapons used by Mexican cartels have been identified as originating in the United States.

    Biden also met with the three presidential candidates participating in Mexico’s July 1 general election to discuss security and cooperation. The frontrunner, Enrique Peña Nieto, said after his meeting that his Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) party is committed to fighting organized crime. "The discussion is not whether we should or shouldn't fight against it, but what we can do to achieve better results, he told reporters. Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador said later that the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship should prioritize development, jobs and welfare to decrease the push of migration. Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) candidate Josefina Vásquez Mota, who is closing in on Peña Nieto’s lead in the polls, said that the candidates in the U.S. and Mexican presidential should avoid the contentious immigration issue in the lead up to their respective elections.

    Biden travels to Honduras today to meet with President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, as well as the presidents of El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. Over the past several months, the presidents of these Central American nations—including Guatemala's President Otto Pérez Molina—and Mexico have said they are open to the idea of legalizing drugs as a response to the U.S.’s inability to curb demand. But after Biden said "there is no possibility the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy."

    Tags: Immigration, Honduras, Drug war, Drug Cartels, Mexico Elections, Biden Trip

  • El tamaño reto de ser fiscal en Colombia

    March 5, 2012

    by Jenny Manrique

    El país jurídico y político se sacudió esta semana con el fallo del Consejo de Estado que dejó sin piso la elección de la primera mujer en ocupar el segundo cargo más importante del país: el de fiscal general de la Nación.

    Dos días después de conocerse la decisión, la propia Viviane Morales anunció su renuncia irrevocable rechazando así de tajo la posibilidad de ser ternada para un segundo periodo. Como su elección en suma se cayó por vicios de forma, era posible que volviera a ser incluida por el presidente Juan Manuel Santos, en el listado de candidatos a sucederla. Aunque jurídicamente algunos consideraban inviable su reelección, lo cierto es que Morales, después del que calificó como el más “año más duro,” de su vida, no va más en el ente acusador.

    Por lo menos eso se desprende de su discurso de despedida en el que salieron varias cosas a flote como una defensa férrea a su marido, Carlos Alonso Lucio, un personaje con un prontuario importante (ex guerrillero del m19, mediador de procesos de paz y supuesto colaborador de paramilitares), que se convirtió en el talón de aquiles de su gestión. Un sector de la sociedad incluyendo connotadas columnistas, sugirieron que Lucio estaba influyendo en sus decisiones y por eso a ellos les dedicó unas palabras. Dijo que afrontó una "escalada de ataques perversos inhumanos de algunos periodistas y algunos medios de comunicación en el intento desesperado por provocar mi renuncia. Ni Colombia creyó en sus mentiras ni yo cedí a sus presiones."

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    Tags: Colombia, justice

  • Monday Memo: AQ’s Top-Five Expected Stories for This Week

    March 5, 2012

    by AQ Online

    What does AQ Online expect to be the anticipated headline grabbers for the week of March 5-9, 2012? The top-five stories include: Joe Biden’s Latin America tour; FIFA’s criticism of Brazil; Hugo Chávez’ health recovery; new presidential polls in Mexico; and the UN making further preparations for Rio+20.

    1) Biden in Mexico and Honduras: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived yesterday in Mexico, where he holds meetings today in Mexico City with Mexican President Felipe Calderón and the three presidential candidates for the July 2012 election. According to Tony Blinken, national security advisor to the vice president, Biden and Calderón will discuss a wide range of bilateral issues “in the spirit of equal partnership, mutual respect and shared responsibility.” Tomorrow morning, Biden travels to Honduras to meet privately with President Porfirio Lobo, and then will have lunch with the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama. Much of Biden’s visit will center around the violence surrounding narcotics trafficking through Central America. 

    Although Blinken said that the meeting in Honduras “provides an opportunity to reaffirm the United States' strong support for the tremendous leadership President Lobo has displayed in advancing national reconciliation and democratic and constitutional order,” AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini posits, “almost three years after the coup, Honduras has deteriorated politically and socially—and the region has largely walked away from it.”

    2) Brazil-FIFA Row: After FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke criticized on Friday Brazil’s lack of preparedness for the 2014 World Cup, specifically its lack of infrastructure and delayed construction timetables, Brazilian Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo has refused to communicate directly with Valcke. Rebelo called Valcke’s remarks—specifically that Brazil needs a “kick in the backside”—offensive and unacceptable. Expect this contention to further increase as the June 2014 kickoff date approaches, but more recently as Valcke lands in Brazil in the coming days.

    3) Chávez in Recovery: The revelation by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez that the lesion he had surgically removed in Cuba was indeed a malignant tumor has fueled speculation about his long-term health outlook before and after the October 7 presidential contest against Henrique Capriles Radonski. According to Christopher Sabatini, “unfortunately, the president has refused to be transparent about his condition in the past” and that his admission of the malignant tumor “still raises a number of questions including the prognosis for his recovery, his treatment and some alternative plan should his condition take a turn for the worse.”

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    Tags: Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Honduras, Sustainable development, Felipe Calderon, United Nations, Climate change, Hugo Chavez, Joe Biden, 2014 World Cup, Porfirio Lobo, Enrique Peña Nieto, Josefina Vázquez Mota, Monday Memo

  • Guatemalan Judge Rejects Dictator's Amnesty Plea

    March 2, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Judge Miguel Angel Galvez denied former Guatemalan dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt's appeal for amnesty in a genocide case yesterday. The charges were originally filed by Judge Carol Patricia Flores Blanco in January and allege that General Ríos Montt was involved in the death of 1,771 individuals and the displacement of 29,000 Indigenous Guatemalans during the 36-year civil war. The January decision case marked the first time a Latin American president was charged with genocide.

    Ríos Montt appealed the January decision on the grounds that he is protected by a 1986 amnesty law. However, the ruling yesterday signaled that the international treaty against genocide, signed by Guatemala in 1973, discounts any amnesty protection. "There are crimes like genocide and crimes against humanity that have no statute of limitations, and for that reason there can be no amnesty decree," said Galvez. But Francisco Palomo, Ríos Montt's defense lawyer, said the Constitutional Court will be the one to ultimately decide the case.

    Ríos Montt took power in a 1982 coup and served as leader of the military junta until the following year. After an unsuccessful presidential run in 2003, the former general went on to win a congressional seat in 2007 as part of the Frente Republicano Guatemalteco (Guatemalan Republican Front). Guatemalan electoral laws protect congressional representatives from prosecution, and Ríoss Montt was untouchable until his term ended on January 14. Retired Generals Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez and Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes, who served under Ríos Montt in the 1980s, are also being charged.

    Tags: Guatemala civil war, genocide

  • Argentine Corn Exports to China in Peril

    March 1, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Argentine government sources confirmed yesterday that despite the recent signing of a much lauded treaty between Argentina and China to promote food exports—particularly maize (corn) to China, access to the Chinese market will still be restricted  due to inconsistencies in health and safety regulations between both countries.

    Argentina is the second-largest exporter of corn in the world, after the United States. At current market prices, the Argentine Ministry of Agriculture’s 2012 estimates for corn—between 20.5 and 22 million tons—could generate up to $6.2 billion in revenues for both the private sector and additional tax revenues for the government.

    Several Argentine firms have complained anonymously about the disputed health and safety clauses, including one senior executive who said, “No company will risk exporting maize to China because they have the power to reject the shipment once it arrives.” The Argentine Ministry of Agriculture quickly rebuked this claim, saying that “companies should not worry since [such clauses] are very common in bilateral treaties, and will probably not affect overall corn trade.”

    Tags: Agriculture, Argentina, China, Trade Argentina-China

  • UN Report Highlights Crime Problem in the Caribbean

    February 29, 2012

    by Jaevion Nelson

    Two regrettable constants throughout the Caribbean region are that insecurity threatens human development and that crime and violence stymie economic prosperity. Research has upheld the latter; violence discourages tourism, foreign direct investment and business expansion. Crime has negative impacts on people’s livelihoods, mental wellbeing, socioeconomic status, and political freedom.

    In 2010, the Caribbean had an intentional homicide rate of 21 percent per 100,000 people, a three-percentage-point increase from 2004. Barbados and Suriname have shown relatively low homicide rates over a 20-year timeframe, from 1990 to 2010. The World Bank reported in 2007 that crime is so costly, that if it were to be controlled in Jamaica alone, Jamaica’s gross domestic product would increase by 5.4 percent annually.

    The UN Development Program (UNDP) is doing a commendable job of highlighting these devastating effects, in part through its recent publication of “Caribbean Human Development Report 2012: Human Development and the Shift to Better Citizen Security.” This is the UNDP’s first-ever Caribbean-specific report on human development, and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark visited Trinidad & Tobago earlier this month to launch it. The report provides an assessment on the state of crime in Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad & Tobago—and gives space to the national and regional policies and programs that these countries are enacting to address it. It ultimately states: “the Caribbean cannot achieve sustainable well-being and enjoy the fruits of its efforts toward progress unless its people can be secure in their daily lives.”

    Tags: Barbados, Crime, violence, Jamaica, United Nations, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Lucia, Suriname

  • After Correa’s Pardon, Ecuador Should Forgive but Must Not Forget

    February 29, 2012

    by Lindsay Green-Barber

    Ecuador’s Corte Constitucional (Constitutional Court) has delivered numerous controversial verdicts in the past six months with regard to freedom of the press and freedom of expression. But in a strange twist of events, on Monday President Rafael Correa pardoned the convicted defendants of two cases in which he was the plaintiff.  It is a welcome change, but it is one nonetheless that is too little, too late. In fact, it presents a danger that the pressure from the international human rights community will lessen in Ecuador at this very crucial moment in which the proposed Ley de Comunicación (Communication Law) is being debated.

    In late 2011, Ecuador's highest court ruled on three landmark cases with regard to freedom of expression. First, the court found the opinion editor and two directors the El Universo newspaper guilty of libel, sentencing them to three years in jail and $40 million in damages.  The court also found the authors of the book El Gran Hermano, which was critical of Correa, guilty of libel and ordered each to pay a $1 million fine.  Finally, Indigenous activist Monica Chuji was found guilty of spreading libel about Minister Vinicio Alvarado in an interview published in the newspaper El Comercio; Chuji was sentenced to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine; Chuji’s appeal is still being considered.

    After much international pressure from human rights organizations, such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), President Correa pardoned the convicted defendants in the El Universo and El Gran Hermano cases, effectively archiving the cases and dismissing the penalties.  However, because the court already delivered their rulings for these aforementioned two cases, those decisions stand as precedent within the judicial system.  Similarly, in his pardon Correa declared that if anyone was to publish similarly libelous material, he would not hesitate to bring suit again.

    The strategic timing of these pardons reveals Correa’s true intent. First, the pardon aims to get the international spotlight off the Ecuadorian media and the debate surrounding the proposed Ley de Comunicación. A special commission of legislators presented the newly drafted communication law earlier this month; while it contains some important changes from the draft previously presented by President Correa in July 2009, it still remains ambiguous in key areas—leaving space for abuse by the executive and judicial branches. 

    Read More

    Tags: Ecuador, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Rafael Correa, Media, justice

  • President Hugo Chávez Reportedly in Good Condition after Surgery

    February 29, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is reportedly in satisfactory condition following surgery in Havana, Cuba to remove a cancerous lesion from his pelvic area, according to a statement delivered Tuesday afternoon by Vice President  Elías Jaua: “The surgery was carried out as planned, obtaining a satisfactory result. President Chávez is in good physical condition,” he said.

    This week’s procedure is the third surgery that President Chávez, 57, has undergone over the last year in his battle against an undisclosed variety of cancer. Prior to his disclosure last week that a new round of care was necessary, Chávez had proclaimed that his initial rounds of treatment were successful and that he was “cancer free.” News of the illness’ recurrence have raised new questions about the need for possible succession planning—should Chávez need to step down during his recovery—and Chávez’ ability to campaign for Venezuela’s October 7 presidential elections.

    There is little certainty about who would replace Chávez if he is forced to leave office, as he has denied that any of his political allies are qualified to succeed him. Venezuela’s opposition leader and presidential candidate Henrique Capriles-Radonski has repeatedly stated his hope that Chávez will make a full recovery, while also criticizing the administration’s secrecy regarding the president’s illness.

    Tags: Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, Henrique Capriles Radonski

  • En Guatemala, Una Mujer Maya Defiende los Derechos Humanos

    February 28, 2012

    by Hector Javier Tecum

    A través del hemisferio occidental, activistas ciudadanos fuera del sector público luchan cotidianamente por los derechos humanos y una sociedad más justa e igual; en la comunidad maya guatemalteca, Aura Lolita Chávez es una lideresa que defiende los derechos de los pueblos mayas, y recién la entrevisté.

    Ella fue nacida en Santa Cruz del Quiché—160 kilómetros al noroccidente de la capital guatemalteca. Lolita es la fundadora y coordinadora del Consejo de Pueblos K’ichés, una instancia integrada por lideres indígenas de distintas regiones del departamento de Quiché y que busca fomentar una mayor participación de los sectores marginados y discriminados de la sociedad guatemalteca.

    Su constante lucha a favor de los pueblos indígenas le ha costado una serie de acciones en su contra como denuncias en el Ministerio Público y en otras instancias judiciales porque constantemente lucha por la defensa de la vida, madre naturaleza, la tierra y el territorio. También, propugna mensajes de lucha y resistencia ante las políticas estatales que marginan o relegan a los indígenas a posiciones no deseadas, una de sus fuertes luchas es contra la explotación y exploración minera y la mala utilización de los recursos naturales, también es conocida por la organización de protestas y el bloqueo de carreteras para que las autoridades atiendan las peticiones de los pueblos indígenas.

    Entre sus principales metas está el lograr una mejor calidad de vida para los pueblos de Quiché—por ello en una actividad recientemente declaró que los pueblos indígenas están en contra de las mínimas regalías que las grandes empresas mineras dejan al Estado sin que las comunidades afectadas se vean beneficiadas. Por ello exclamó, “Decimos sí a la vida y no a las regalías, porque nuestra tierra no se vende, se recupera y se defiende.”

    Tags: Guatemala, Social inclusion, women, indigenous, Maya

  • ¿Volverán a la libertad todos los rehenes?

    February 28, 2012

    by Jenny Manrique

    Una maratón de 110 horas de mensajes radiales en favor de los secuestrados, tuvo lugar la semana pasada en Colombia en el marco de una jornada exitosa en términos de las palabras de solidaridad escuchadas, pero triste en términos de la presencia que hizo la sociedad civil en el lugar del encuentro.

    Una escalada de ataques de las FARC principalmente en sus bastiones tradicionales ubicados en los departamentos de Cauca y Nariño, que ha causado numerosas bajas de civiles y uniformados, terminó con el epílogo este lunes del desplazamiento de más de 1200 lugareños en Caldono, en una muestra retaliatoria al discurso aquel de que están acabadas.

    Este es el contexto en el que la guerrilla anuncia que que no serán seis sino 10 los rehenes que liberarían en las próximas semanas, superando los escollos de la mediación internacional de Brasil y poniendo a una figura tan respetada como Marleny Orjuela, miembro de Asfamipaz, a ser quien encabece la comisión de recibimiento de los secuestrados.

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    Tags: Colombia, FARC

  • Correa Pardons Journalist, Publishers over Libel

    February 28, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Ecuador President Rafael Correa announced yesterday that he would pardon the columnist and three publishers of the newspaper El Universo that were found guilty of libel against the government. The transgressors were facing three years in prison and were ordered to pay Correa $10 million each in damages—a decision upheld by the Ecuador's National Court of Justice in mid-February.

    Correa filed suit last year over an opinion column written by chief opinion editor, Emilio Palacio in 2011 and titled “No a las mentiras” (No more lies), which was published by brothers Carlos, César and Nicolás Perez. The column referred to the president as a “dictator” and accused him of ordering troops to “fire at will” on a hospital full of civilians during a September 2010 police revolt. The trial provoked a backlash from international media and human rights groups who accused the president of stifling free speech.

    Correa responded in yesterday’s televised address, saying the case was a fight for justice against the “dictatorship of the media.” The president dropped another libel case against two other journalists who wrote a book that said companies tied to his older brother had $600 million in contracts with the Ecuadorian state.

    But Correa’s address did little to placate his critics. Carlos Lauria of the Committee to Protect Journalists said that Correa is acting more like a king than a president, and is “using archaic and outdated laws to silence critical journalists.” Human Rights Watch’s director for Latin America, Jose Miguel Vivanco, said the case “will certainly contribute to an environment of self-censorship.”

    Tags: President Rafael Correa, Ecuadoran Media, Libel

  • AQ Slideshow: Salvador, the Afro-Brazilian Capital

    February 27, 2012

    by Paulo Rogério

    While most of the world knows about Brazil’s burgeoning economic strength, much fewer people are fully aware of the country’s multiethnic diversity. This celebration is on full display in the state of Bahia and its capital of Salvador: the nucleus of Afro-Brazilian culture. Here are some examples of Salvador’s unique qualities. All photos courtesy of Fafá Araújo. All captions courtesy of Paulo Rogério.

     

     

     

    Tags: Brazil, Social inclusion, Tourism, Afro-Latinos

  • Monday Memo: AQ’s Top-Five Expected Stories for the Week

    February 27, 2012

    by AQ Online

    AQ Online today launches its weekly Monday Memo that looks ahead to what it expects to be the top headline grabbers for the week. The top anticipated stories for the week of February 27 include: Hugo Chávez’ surgery; U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s current five-country Latin America tour; U.S. Vice President’s forthcoming visit to Mexico and Honduras; the search for a new prime minister in Haiti; and FARC suspending kidnappings in Colombia.

    Chávez' Cancer: As the Venezuelan president heads to Cuba for a second surgical operation, the rumor mill on his real health status will continue as will the discussion about what its implications will be for Venezuela's October presidential election. Christopher Sabatini, AQ editor-in-chief, observes: “While it may translate into sympathy support, President Chávez' lack of transparency about his illness and treatment will likely raise fears among some Venezuelans about their future and a potential successor—irrespective of what the president says upon his release.”

    Napolitano on Latin America Tour: U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano begins a five-country tour today through Wednesday in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama. According to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) press release, Secretary Napolitano will be accompanied by Acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection David Aguilar and DHS Assistant Secretary for International Affairs Alan Bersin. Her visit is likely intended to reiterate support for security measures like the Central America Regional Security Initiative and reinforce counter-trafficking efforts to interdict narcotics through key transit points.

    Biden to Mexico and Honduras: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will visit Mexico and Honduras on March 4-6, meeting with both Presidents Calderón and Lobo. Why is the Vice President going to Honduras?  While Mexico remains an important economic, diplomatic and strategic partner in the war on drugs, the trip to Honduras is a mystery. Since the 2009 coup, Honduras has become the murder capital of Central America. Two weeks ago, a fire at a Honduran prison left 350 inmates dead—an incident that Human Rights Watch blamed on poor and overcrowded conditions in Honduran prisons.

    Haiti Prime Minister Watch: The abrupt resignation of Haitian Prime Minister Gary Conille on Friday culminated weeks of disagreement between him and President Michel Martelly. The departure of the former UN diplomat and favorite of the international aid community is a blow for both political stability in Haiti and for donor nations that had great hopes in a government that included his technical skills. Jason Marczak, AQ senior editor, says: “Expect President Martelly to move quickly in naming a successor, with a candidate likely announced this week.” Foreign Minister Laurent Lamothe is one possibility as is Chief of Staff Ann-Valerie Milfort. However, both would face a tough confirmation by an opposition-controlled legislature. 

    FARC Hostage Release: Colombia's FARC announced on Sunday that it will suspend all kidnapping and free remaining prisoners. Is this a political ploy or a true change in tactics? Given the group's decentralized nature, it is unclear whether the FARC secretariat can actually enforce the order, if it chooses to do so. Expect renewed debate this week on whether this may help to clear the way for an eventual peace dialogue or if the current strategy should continue without talks.

    Tags: Costa Rica, Mexico, Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Felipe Calderon, FARC, Janet Napolitano, Haiti, Hugo Chavez, Joe Biden, Porfirio Lobo, Counternarcotics, Michel Martelly, Garry Conille

  • El Barrio Remembers Piri Thomas

    February 24, 2012

    by Wilda Escarfuller

    Piri Thomas, revered as an icon of New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood (El Barrio) and author of Down These Mean Streets, was honored last weekend by fans and fellow artists at the Museo del Barrio. Thomas passed away last year, and was known for infusing terms like cheverete! (fantastic) and punto! (period) into New York’s Spanglish lexicon, and for positioning East Harlem’s Nuyorican (New York/Puerto Rican) experience on the map. Down these Mean Streets and other works told a story of a community that is rich in cultural heritage but conflicted by an identity caught between New York and Puerto Rico. Prior to discovering his writing and story-telling talents, Thomas discovered another passion while incarcerated: uplifting at-risk youth through poetry and the written word.

    Spanning several generations and backgrounds, Thomas’ admirers lined up patiently to commemorate his life alongside poets, activists and authors including author Junot Díaz, poet Emmanuel Xavier, poet Lemon Anderson, fiction author Willie Perdomo, poet Martín Espada, former Young Lord Party activist Felipe Luciano, and former director of El Museo Marta Moreno Vega. Speakers recounted their experiences of meeting Thomas for the first time and discussed how Thomas’ style influenced their work. Some of the artists read from Thomas’ collected works while others delivered writings of their own that spoke to Thomas’ character. Lemon Anderson read excerpts from the script of his play, County of Kings, and Xavier read an adaptation of Down These Means Streets that described his experience as a gay man.

    After the artists delivered their heartfelt dedication to Thomas, a panel featuring Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, editor Marcela Landres and Felipe Luciano discussed contemporary challenges facing Latinos in the U.S. and Latin American ethno-cultural literature. Much of the discussion revolved around Tucson, Arizona, where HB 2281 (which went into effect in January 2011) prohibits schools from offering courses at any grade level that advocate ethnic solidarity or cater to specific ethnic groups. Much of the Latino literature canon has been banned from schools, including Martín Espada’s 17-book collection. The panel concluded that the exclusion of these books is a clear extension of the discriminatory immigration laws that have taken hold in Arizona, Georgia, Alabama, and elsewhere. Ultimately, laws like HB 2281 drive a wedge between American literature and Latino/Latin American literature, and call into question the concept of equality for all regardless of their nationality.

    It’s been 45 years since Thomas’ work injected the Nuyorican identity into mainstream literature and shed light on how issues of race and ethnicity play out in the United States post-World War II. The panel discussion concluded that half of a century later this country is still grappling with this same issue of what/who is or is not American.

    Though they may fall under the genre of Latino or Latin American literature, the works being banned and their authors represent the American experience in its fullest and should be recognized as such, punto! Achieving this would be the best way of honoring the memory of Piri Thomas.

    Tags: Piri Thomas, Down These Mean Streets

  • Peru’s Development Minister Wraps Up Washington Visit

    February 24, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Peruvian Minister of Development and Social Inclusion Carolina Trivelli yesterday concluded a three-day visit to Washington DC during which she met with Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Maria Otero, as well as other senior officials from the Departments of State, Education, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services. The purpose of Trivelli’s trip was to deepen the U.S.–Peru relationship on economic and social development issues. 

    According to State Department sources, Trivelli’s delegation discussed a range of topics including early childhood education, nutrition, women’s empowerment, and boosting social inclusion for Indigenous and other marginalized groups.

    An early outcome of Trivelli’s U.S. visit was the announcement of a $1 million commitment by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for a three-year pilot program on early childhood education. Since taking power in 2011, President Ollanta Humala’s government has stressed the need to accelerate and improve assistance to those still living in conditions of extreme poverty. As head of the government ministry charged with achieving poverty-reduction goals, Trivelli hopes to attract increased development assistance from bilateral aid agencies and multilateral donors alike.

    Tags: Peru, Development, Social inclusion, Inter-American Development Bank, poverty, Ollanta Humala

  • Guatemala and the U.S.: Priorities in the Bilateral Relationship

    February 23, 2012

    by Joshua Ryan Rosales

    With a visit this week to Washington by Guatemalan Foreign Minsiter Harold Caballeros, and an impending first-time visit to Guatemala City by U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Guatemala appears to have momentarily captured the attention of the United States. For Guatemala, the bilateral relationship is a top foreign policy priority. In addition, the over 1.2 million Guatemalans living in the U.S. are an economic lifeline to their native country, representing 10 percent of Guatemala’s GDP .

    Guatemala’s fate is invariably tied to its Northern Triangle neighbors; each face an uphill battle in increasing the protections for migrants, reducing rampant organized crime and strengthening incomplete security apparatuses. For the U.S., relations with Guatemala are largely viewed within a larger Central American context, particularly through the Sistema de Integración Centroamericana (Central American Integration System—SICA). Guatemala also is the beneficiary of USAID projects and the U.S. as well supports Guatemala’s UN-mandated Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala—CICIG). Still, funding increases for the Central American Regional Security Initiative is one area in which Guatemalans are lobbying for more support. 

    With democratic consolidation solidifying in Guatemala, the U.S. has the opportunity to address other Guatemala-specific issues that lie near the forefront of the bilateral relationship. One would be granting Temporary Protection Status for undocumented Guatemalans living in the U.S., the economic lifelines of Guatemala. Another would be for the U.S. to further boost investments in security and development to the levels that other regional and global partners receive from the United States. Lifting the current military cooperation embargo against Guatemala would further provide the country with the technology, know-how and equipment to fight organized crime within its territory, a problem that is severely crippling the central government. Considering that Guatemala shares a border with Mexico and is used as a “bridge” for most narcotics trafficked to the United States, Guatemala should be part of the solution to the violence plaguing the isthmus. 

    Read More

    Tags: Guatemala, migrants, Remittances, Drug Trafficking, Janet Napolitan

  • Vice President Biden to Travel to Mexico, Honduras in Early March

    February 23, 2012

    by AQ Online

    The White House announced yesterday that Joe Biden will travel to Mexico and Honduras on March 4–6. In Mexico City, he will meet with President Felipe Calderón to underscore the U.S. commitment to dialogue and collaboration on a range of issues important to both countries. Following that, Vice President Biden will travel to Tegucigalpa for a bilateral meeting with President Porfirio Lobo.  Further details about these meetings will be released at a later date.

    Biden will also participate in a meeting of Central American leaders organized by President Lobo, the president pro tempore of the Central American Integration System. It is expected that the topic of crime and security will figure heavily into that meeting—especially following Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina’s statement last week that his country and others should consider legalizing drugs to help reduce violence in the region.

    In both countries, Biden will also be discussing the agenda for the Summit of the Americas, which will be held in Cartagena, Colombia, in mid-April, and the official theme of which will be physical integration and regional cooperation within the Western hemisphere as mechanisms for development and increased prosperity.

    Biden last traveled to the region in March 2009, when he met with Latin American heads of state at the Summit of Progressive Leaders in Viña del Mar, Chile and a summit of Central American leaders in San José, Costa Rica.

    Tags: Mexico, Honduras, Joe Biden, U.S.-Latin America relations

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    February 22, 2012

    by AS-COA Online

    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.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    Venezuelan Election Outlook Complicated by Chávez Cancer News

    President of Venezuala Hugo Chávez confirmed the discovery of a new tumor in his pelvic region on February 21, and said he will undergo surgery in Cuba. Speaking to Venezuelan television, Chávez said the tumor could be malignant, and was found in the same location as a previous tumor he had removed last year. Chávez’s announcement comes after a weekend during which officials denied media rumors that Chávez went to Cuba to receive medical treatment, and months of Chávez repeatedly declaring he is cured of cancer. Foreign Policy’s Transitions Blog discusses the implications of Chávez’s new diagnosis, especially in an election year, asking in the headline “How do you campaign against a cancer victim?”

    Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis on Henrique Capriles Radonski's victory in the opposition primary.

    Read an AS/COA Hemispheric Update on what to expect from Venezuela's upcoming presidential election.

    Homeless in Venezuelan Election Spotlight

    NPR’s All Things Considered discussed Venezuela’s housing crisis, which Venezuela’s opposition sees as an election issue. Though the Chávez government promised housing for Venezuela’s homeless, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski points out that official data show fewer homes have been built by the Chávez government than any previous administration. More than 2 million Venezuelans are homeless out of a total population of 29 million.

    Venezuelan Regulator Shutters 35 Radio Stations in Three Months

    The Caracas Chronicles blog discusses a report in Venezuela's El Nacional on the Chávez government’s closure of 35 radio stations in the past three months. Though the reasons for the closures vary, the author believes it is part of a strategy to limit the opposition's media outreach. “With most TV off-limits, radio was the one remaining medium the Capriles campaign could count on to reach a mass audience.”

    Read an Americas Quarterly web exclusive by Caracas Chronicles author Juan Nagel on Capriles' vision for Venezuela.

    U.S. Vice President to Visit Honduras, Mexico in March

    The White House announced today that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Mexico and Honduras from March 4 to 6. In both countries he is expected to discuss April’s Summit of the Americas, to be held in Cartagena, Colombia. The Mexico stop will focus on bilateral cooperation while the Honduras visit will involve meetings with Central American leaders.

    Read More

    Tags: G20, Venezuelan Election, Chavez Cancer, Bidden Mexico Visit, Colombia Infrastructure, Mexico US Oil Exploration

  • Unidos de Vila Isabel Wins Best Samba School at Rio Carnival

    February 22, 2012

    by AQ Online

    On Tuesday, the Unidos de Vila Isabel school took this top honor at carnival with the theme “You semba there[…] I sambo here. The free song of Angola.”

    The announcement came as the Carnival celebration ended on Tuesday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after attracting what Brazilian authorities believe is a record total of 2.2 million revelers.  According to tourism officials, up to 850,000 foreign tourists had traveled to Rio de Janeiro to partake in the celebrations.

    The traditional Carnival festivities are held across Latin America every year 46 days before Easter. Brazil’s celebrations are among the world’s most famous, but there are distinct celebrations for every city and country in the region. Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival, Bola Preta, which officially dates back to 1918, is a five-day celebration and massive parade through the iconic sambodromo stadium.  Every year, seven different samba schools parade and compete for the title of the Estandarte de Ouro for the city’s best samba school. This year the Unidos de Vila Isabel school took the prize. Once a religious holiday, Carnival has taken a different focus and is seen as a celebration that brings everybody together, from all districts and neighboring towns. 

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    Tags: Brazil, Carnaval, Rio de Janeiro

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