Dicen los expertos que es más fácil robarse unas elecciones locales que unas presidenciales pues la cantidad de votos a comprar es a todas luces inferior. En Colombia, cuyos ciudadanos elegiremos el próximo 30 de octubre 23 mil funcionarios que ocuparán gobernaciones, alcaldías, asambleas, concejos y juntas de administración local, algunas curules se obtienen apenas con mil votos.
Para estas justas, organizaciones como la Misión de Observación Electoral (MOE) han advertido que es mayor la incidencia de fraude que la de violencia comparada con comicios anteriores, aunque a la fecha en que escribo este post ya van 36 candidatos asesinados. Se han determinado 69 municipios como críticos, pues ambas variables se cruzan: grupos armados influyendo en los comicios y campañas políticas comprando votos, jurados y hasta registradores.
Yesterday U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn did not stop several provisions of Alabama’s HB 56—signed by Governor Robert Bentley on June 9, 2011—in a court ruling following Department of Justice efforts to block the bill. Following Arizona’s SB 1070, Alabama is the fifth state to enact legislation targeting undocumented immigrants and is the first to be upheld. This year federal judges have blocked the implementation of copycat laws in Utah, Indiana, Georgia, and South Carolina.
In August, the Department of Justice filed a suit against HB 56 at the District Court of the Northern District of Alabama on the basis of its unconstitutionality. In announcing the suit, Attorney General Eric Holder highlighted that “that setting immigration policy and enforcing immigration laws is a national responsibility that cannot be addressed through a patchwork of state immigration laws.” The law was also challenged by countries like Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia, and civil rights organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
Alabama’s HB 56 provisions are more severe than those of other copycat laws and the bill that set off this most recent wave of anti-immigrant legislation, SB 1070. With yesterday’s ruling, state law enforcement officials can stop and detain any person suspected of being in the country without authorization and schools are now required to verify the immigration status of students. Judge Blackburn also considered constitutional the sections that nullify contracts signed with undocumented immigrants and that makes it a felony for unauthorized immigrants to apply for official documentation.
The sections that were struck down pertain to labor law including the provisions preventing unauthorized immigrants from seeking work as an employee or independent contractor and criminalizing those who assist the undocumented.
In a press release, Mary Bauer, from the SPLC, said yesterday the decision "not only places Alabama on the wrong side of history but also demonstrates that the rights and freedoms so fundamental to our nation and its history can be manipulated by hate and political agendas—at least for a time." The SPLC, ACLU, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), and the coalition of civil rights groups challenging the law announced they will appeal yesterday’s decision.
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.
Venezuelan Opposition Agrees to Back One Candidate
Members in the Venezuelan opposition umbrella group known as the Coalition for Democratic United (MUD) signed a pact Monday agreeing to present a united front against President Hugo Chávez in next year’s presidential election. The pact states they will recognize the winner of the February 12 primary as the sole candidate of the MUD. The MUD also asked the Venezuelan Electoral Council that international observers from the OAS, UN, EU, Mercosur, and Unasur be invited to monitor the vote.
Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the Venezuelan opposition’s decision to back one candidate.
Bolivian Ministers Resign over Rainforest Highway Controversy
As Bloggings by Boz notes, some 20 social movements in eight Bolivian departments aligned with indigenous protests against construction of a highway through the country’s rainforest. The Brazil-funded highway would connect the northeast of Bolivia with northern Chile and run through the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (known by its Spanish acronym TIPNIS). With the government of Evo Morales facing criticism over police action against the protesters, the interior and defense ministers are among officials to resign over the controversy. Morales suspended construction of the TIPNIS project; its fate will be decided in a referendum held in two Bolivian departments.
An AS/COA News Analysis offers background on the TIPNIS highway protests.
Bolivia in Focus
The Fall 2011 issue of Harvard’s ReVista focuses on Bolivia, taking a look in particular at changes in the country since current President Evo Morales took office. Topics explored include economics and development, education, political processes, natural resources, and different aspects of Bolivian identity.
Una red de mujeres indígenas que vela por la salud reproductiva en Guatemala denominada REDMISAR (Red de Organizaciones de Mujeres por la Salud Reproductiva) realizó en los días previos a las elecciones generales del 11 de septiembre, varios conversatorios con candidatos a distintos puestos de elección popular para firmar una carta de compromiso de atender el tema de salud de las mujeres indígenas si llegaran a ganar.
La mayoría de candidatos a diputados y alcaldes han manifestado su interés y compromiso de trabajar por la salud de las mujeres indígenas, lo curioso ha sido la evidencia del desconocimiento de leyes que respaldan este tema, por ejemplo a principios de este año fue aprobada la Ley de Maternidad Saludable, pero aun falta la aprobación de su reglamento con el cual cobra vigencia definitivamente, pero la mayoría de candidatos la desconocen por ello en estos conversatorios, se ha compartido el contenido de esta ley.
Estos conversatorios denominados "Hacia el cumplimiento de los derechos sexuales y reproductivos”, se realizaron recientemente en los municipios de Nebaj y Joyabaj en el departamento de Quiché, además de la Red de mujeres indígenas se han integrado otras organizaciones como el Observatorio en Salud Reproductiva (OSAR) y la Red de Hombres para la Salud Reproductiva (REDHOSAR)
Two of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ top cabinet officials have tendered their resignation after an aggressive national backlash resulted from Sunday’s police intervention of a protest by Indigenous groups. The crackdown by Bolivian riot police over the weekend, using tear gas and clubs, was classified as “violent repression” by witnesses and observers in the press.
On Monday, Defense Minister Cecilia Chacon stepped down from Morales’ cabinet because of her disagreement with the government’s decision to break up the protest—a 600-kilometer (375-mile) march from Trinidad to La Paz. Participants in the march protested a highway scheduled to be built through TIPNIS, the acronym for an Indigenous territory and protected nature reserve.
After the protest fallout on Sunday, a local referendum was called by the government where Amazonian groups could vote on the proposed highway. Still, dissatisfaction over the events was underscored when Sacha Llorenti, Bolivia’s interior minister and a fierce loyalist to the president, resigned yesterday. Llorenti denied that neither he nor Morales ordered the police action, despite originally defending it. Prior to leading the interior ministry, Llorenti had been the vice minister of coordination with social movements—Morales’ key liaison with Indigenous groups.
Wilfredo Chavez and Ruben Saavedra were sworn in yesterday at the government palace in La Paz to replace Llorenti and Chacon, respectively. Chavez was promoted from vice minister of government coordination, while Saavedra was the head of the Strategic Office of Maritime Access and a former defense minister.
Last month, La Ceiba, Honduras, hosted the first ever World Summit of Afro-Descendants—a gathering of over 1,000 people from 44 countries in the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia. The Organización de Desarrollo Étnico Comunitario and the International Civil Society Committee organized the event to commemorate the United Nations and Organization of American States’ International Year for People of African Descent.
Throughout the city, summit posters and signs were everywhere. It seemed as if the gathering was finally affording Afro-Hondurans overdue recognition. Opening ceremony speakers included Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom, government representatives, and the mayor of La Ceiba, among others. They spoke out against discrimination and stressed the need to work collaboratively to promote greater inclusion.
But a counter assembly outside of the summit grounds led by the Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña painted a different picture. Organizers argued that despite the rhetoric of inclusion, many members in the Afro-Honduran community felt excluded from the summit and that participation had been limited to international delegations and select Hondurans.
The summit raised a fundamental question: how can we bring together participants from the region to discuss issues of representation for Afro-Descendants, while at the same time fail to address the issues faced by local Garifuna communities, such as the impact of Model Cities? Were the organizers perpetuating the very problem they were seeking to tackle?
Hace poco más de un mes, una marcha iniciada por los nativos del Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Sécure (TIPNIS), en la región centro-oriental del país, ha desatado la mayor crisis del gobierno del presidente Morales, aunque ni siquiera hoy el propio gobierno –sordo y caprichoso- parece haberse dado cuenta de la dimensión de este hecho que lo ha desnudado no sólo frente al país sino a la comunidad internacional todavía enamorada de Evo en algún rincón. Para el resto de los ciudadanos, esa misma marcha ha puesto de una vez por todas las cartas sobre la mesa: ¿Qué busca verdaderamente el gobierno de Evo Morales?
El gobierno de Morales ha decidido construir una carretera que partiría en dos el TIPNIS (1.200.000 hectáreas). Las consecuencias de ello han sido ampliamente expuestas probando de manera irrefutable los múltiples daños que esto causaría. El TIPNIS es la mayor reserva de flora, fauna y agua dulce del país y la segunda de la región. Una carretera a través del bosque implicaría, para comenzar, el desmonte de 1.500 Kms2 y la tala de 600.000 árboles; la migración, alteración y probable extinción de más de 3.400 especies de fauna y flora y la intervención en el hábitat, costumbres y cultura de 64 comunidades originarias de chimanes, yuracarés y moxeños que allí habitan. Pero aquí viene un primer dato interesante: esa carretera daría carta blanca a los llamados “colonos” (migrantes de otras regiones del país, sobre todo cocaleros de la región vecina del Chapare) para que ingresen al parque como ya lo han venido haciendo, ampliando la frontera del cultivo ilegal de coca. De hecho, según datos oficiales, en el TIPNIS ya se produce coca destinada al narcotráfico.
Otros datos relevantes tienen que ver con la potencial riqueza de los recursos naturales del lugar y su explotación (anunciada por el gobierno de Morales): petróleo y madera de altísimo valor comercial. Por eso mi curiosidad no es gratuita: ¿Qué pensaría hacer la brasileña OAS (contratista de esa carretera) con los 600 mil árboles que tumbaría, valorados comercialmente en 10 mil dólares cada uno en el mercado internacional?
Bruce Golding, head of the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP), announced on Sunday his plans to resign from the position of prime minister. This will take place once the JLP elects a new leader, which is expected to happen at the party’s annual conference in early November. The leader of the party automatically becomes prime minster.
In a statement, Golding and the JLP said that “the challenges of the last four years have taken their toll and it [is] appropriate now to make way for new leadership.” Since the election of the JLP in 2007, Golding’s administration has been plagued by economic troubles, unemployment and corruption scandals—most notably, Golding’s handling of the Christopher “Dudus” Coke case. For nine months, Golding resisted the extradition of Coke to the United States. In May 2010 he consented to the extradition and admitted to previously hiring a law firm to lobby Washington on behalf of Coke. Last month Coke pleaded guilty in a New York court to racketeering and assault charges; he is due to be sentenced in December and faces up to 23 years in prison.
Following the Coke controversy, Golding offered his resignation last year, only to be rejected by his party. This time, senior members of the JLP again called for Golding to reconsider, but Information Minister Daryl Vaz confirmed the decision was final.
Analysts and critics said that Golding had lost most of his political capital and ability to govern. David Rowe, a south Florida Jamaican-born law professor, said, “He’s weak…He has not had a very coherent foreign policy and his government has been dominated by scandal.” Peter Bunting, general secretary and spokesman for the opposition People’s National Party said Golding “has lost the moral authority to govern” and called on him to convene general elections.
Golding was elected in 2007 by a thin margin, returning the JLP to power after 18 years. Last year he promised to crush street gangs and implement social programs for the poor, and though security forces have since cracked down on violent crimes, the poor remain largely marginalized.
The middle of September is always a tumultuous time of year in New York City, where traffic comes to a standstill as heads of state arrive to promote their views at the United Nations General Assembly. This year, long-term issues and complex debates such as those concerning Palestine and Israel dominated the media coverage, leaving the impression that speeches—not results—emanate from UN deliberations.
The UN has its detractors. This was most evident during the buildup to the war in Iraq last decade. For many, there has also been a credibility gap. Who can forget that Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya was actually elected to chair the UN Human Rights Council in 2003—and continued to hold a seat in the commission until quite recently? As a result, the UN is often portrayed as a forum for political posturing where national interests will always supersede the legitimate concerns of the wider international community.
In Canada, the view on the UN has also been complex. Canada was an original founder and has played an important role in numerous peacekeeping ventures. In 1957, former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, a strong advocate of Canadian involvement in UN stabilization missions, won a Nobel Peace Prize for his groundbreaking work on the Suez Canal Crisis.
Today the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) at Vanderbilt University honored Leslie Schwindt-Bayer with its Best Paper Award for her work, “Gender Quotas and Women’s Political Participation in Latin America.” Dr. Schwindt-Bayer is an associate professor of political science at the University of Missouri. Her paper explores whether legislative quotas for women affect levels of political engagement among citizens, particularly women.
This is the inaugural year of the Best Paper Award, which acknowledges outstanding work by a recipient of a 2011 Small Grant or Data Award. The Small Grants and Data competition provided funding for researchers studying discrimination, marginalization, political opinion, and democracy, and whose work would draw on AmericasBarometer and/or LAPOP data. In announcing the award, the selection committee said it was “impressed by this paper’s strong theoretical framework…and sophisticated cross-national analysis.”
In her paper Dr. Schwindt-Bayer takes the position that gender quotas represent a more inclusive, legitimate political system and can mobilize women, theoretically increasing their political participation and reducing gender gaps in this area. She concludes, however, that though gender quotas have expanded representation at the national level, they have had little effect on the masses with regard to political interest and other forms of participation.
Dr. Schwindt-Bayer will present her research and formally receive the Best Paper Award on October 27 at the conference, “Marginalization in the Americas: A Perspective from the AmericasBarometer,” which will take place at the University of Miami.
Yesterday, Bolivian police forces defused a popular month-long march by Indigenous groups who had protested the construction of a highway through a national, resource-rich park. The preserve, known as Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro-Sécure (TIPNIS), is protected Indigenous territory located in the center of Bolivia.
The march was sparked over Indigenous frustrations regarding their inability to stop the highway project. The constitution requires that the government consult with Indigenous groups—through the Ley de Consulta—prior to authorizing a project that may affect their interests. But still, Indigenous peoples do not have the power to veto any decision.
President Evo Morales and his government decided earlier this year, aided by $415 million in Brazilian financing, to build the transnational highway through Bolivia to link Brazil to Pacific ports in Peru and Chile. Local Indigenous groups vehemently objected when they learned that the highway would be routed through TIPNIS, effectively demolishing part of the preserve. In response, in mid-August about 1,500 protestors began a 600-kilometer (375-mile) march from Trinidad to La Paz to call attention to their cause. Prominent activists like former Bolivian Ambassador to the U.S. Gustavo Guzman joined the protest last week in the town of Yucumo near La Paz, where police had been gathering to prevent the group from reaching the Bolivian capital.
Police used tear gas and clubs yesterday to break up the march on its 41st day, and arrested the organizers. Critics in the Bolivian media have classified this police action as “violent repression” and as an excessive use of force. Still, the protestors managed to prompt Morales to agree to submit the highway proposal to a local referendum.
On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting this week, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) held a panel discussion about “sports for development:” using sports as a catalyst for social development. Featuring 8-time All-star baseball pitcher Pedro Martínez, NBA defensive star Dikembe Motumbo, and speed-skating Olympian Johann Koss, the panel touched on the ways sports contribute to development. Among them were: facilitating social inclusion, building youth leadership skills, connecting youth to job training programs, and empowering women and girls.
One particularly interesting component of sports for development—especially in light of the discussions this week at the UN General Assembly— is the role sports can play in peace-building. One theme echoed among participants at Tuesday’s event was the universality of sports. Longtime ESPN reporter Jeremy Schapp said sports aren’t just about elite athletes competing at the highest levels, but rather the millions of children “who play in playgrounds and ball fields everywhere [and share] a passion to play.” Johann Koss, CEO of Right to Play, a Canada-based sport-for-development organization, said his organization was founded on the principle that “all children have a fundamental right to play.” Donald Steinberg, deputy administrator of USAID, told the story of kids he met at a refugee camp in Ethiopia who so craved the experience of play that they made soccer balls out of rags and used what little energy they had to score goals.
The universal quality of sports lends them a unique power to bridge social, political, economic and cultural divides, and to foster peace between individuals and groups in conflict. Sports promote shared identity and humanization of the “other”; individuals and groups who might otherwise approach one another with a lack of trust, hostility and/or violence learn about what they have in common and build relationships as they work toward a shared goal.
For young people across the globe, having at least a basic level of financial literacy is indispensible whether they are are looking for a job or just managing their own expenses. Unfortunately, the importance of having a savings account or building credit are lessons that rarely make their way into school curricula. As a result, millions of youth in the region must learn these life lessons the hard way—through trial and error.
With youngsters’ interests and attention-span in mind, VISA, Inc. developed a series of sports-themed videogames that double as a learning tool about financial literacy. VISA released the first edition, titled Financial Soccer (Financial Football for audiences outside the United States and Canada) in 2009. Made in partnership with FIFA and based on the World Cup, Financial Soccer is a free, online video game that combines the world's most popular sport with VISA’s Practical Money Skills for Life financial literacy curriculum.
As general debate of the United Nations General Assembly’s (UNGA) 66th Session got underway this week, the issue of UN structural reform was again brought into focus—with Brazil leading the charge. A thriving democracy and one of the largest emerging economies in the world, Brazil has powerful ammunition in making its demand—especially paired with the collective declining influence of deficit-ridden, developed nations.
The desired trophy for Brazil comes in the form of a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). This elite organ has retained the same numerical composition—15 seats: 5 with permanent tenures (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and 10 with temporary, two-year terms—since its formation in 1946.
Critics of the status quo argue that this small size does not accurately reflect the global developments of the last 55 years. Brazil, as it vocally carries the banner of emerging nations that feel underrepresented in the UN, has chosen to act on reform. The most notable way of doing so has been through the Group of 4 (G4), an alliance formed in 2004 composed of Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan. Each of the G4 nations mutually supports the other members’ bids.
The G4 seeks to expand the size of the UNSC by two-thirds, from 15 members to 25, through the addition of 6 permanent and 4 non-permanent seats. The permanent seats would be comprised of the G4 plus two nations from Africa. However, discord within the African Union has stifled compromise on this issue; Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa are all vying for the two proposed seats and cannot arrive at an agreement.
The G4 is also facing competition from a larger but less influential faction of UN members: Uniting for Consensus (UfC). Members of the UfC, some 40 in number, also favor expanding the UNSC to 25 seats—but by adding 10 temporary seats and keeping the same 5 permanent, veto-carrying members. This makes sense, considering that many of the UfC’s core members are regional rivals of the G4—including Argentina, Mexico, Pakistan, Turkey, Italy, and South Korea—who have a vested interest in thwarting any sort of growing regional influence among the individual G4 members.
Bolivian social activist Oscar Olivera and former Bolivian Ambassador to the United States, Gustavo Guzman, on Wednesday joined hundreds of indigenous demonstrators opposed to the construction of a 185-mile long highway that would transect protected park land in the Amazon rainforest. Olivera, who rose to prominence for his role in Bolivia’s so-called water wars in 2000, remarked: "We want the government to govern for Bolivians, not for the big corporate interests.”
Although protests against the $420 million project, which is being financed largely by Brazil, have been ongoing for weeks, the presence of former Morales administration officials in recent weeks has further raised the public profile of demonstrations.
For more than four weeks, a column of demonstrators has been walking toward La Paz from Bolivia's eastern lowlands more than 300 miles away. Although there have been numerous attempts by the government to initiate talks with protest leaders, the march has advanced to the town of Yucumo, Bolivia—about half the distance to La Paz. Local sources report that hundreds of police and government supporters have since assembled in Yucumo with the goal of halting the protestors march to the capital.
Brazil’s House of Representatives approved on Wednesday the creation of a Truth Commission to investigate the human rights violations during the country’s military dictatorship (1964-1985). The bill to create the commission was first introduced during the presidency of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. President Dilma Rousseff—an ex-guerilla who was tortured and imprisoned during the 21-year dictatorship—is now urging the Senate to also approve the bill.
The Truth Commission will be comprised of seven members appointed by President Rousseff to examine instances of forced disappearance and other human rights abuses between 1946 and 1988. Regardless of the Commission’s conclusions, however, military personnel and guerillas found guilty of human rights abuses cannot be tried due to the Amnesty Law passed by the military junta itself in 1979. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights declared the 1979 Amnesty Law judicially null and void in 2010, but the Brazilian Supreme Court confirmed its legality the same year.
According to the Brazilian government, 400 people were killed or disappeared during the dictatorship, compared to over 30,000 in Argentina and 3,200 in Chile.
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.
Dilma First Woman Ever to Open UNGA
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff became the first woman in history to open the UN General Assembly. “It is with personal humility, but with my justified pride as a woman, that I meet this historic moment,” said Rousseff as she opened the general debate. “I share this feeling with over half of the human beings on this planet who, like myself, were born women and who, with tenacity, are occupying the place they deserve in the world. I am certain that this will be the century of women.” Rousseff can also be found on the cover of this week’s Newsweek, with a profile by Mac Margolis.
In conjunction with the opening of the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly, Americas Society and Council of the Americas are hosting multiple Latin American heads of state. Go to AS/COA Online for livestreams and a schedule of events.
LatAm Countries to Join U.S.-Brazilian Governance Partnership
Presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Barack Obama of the United States officially launched the Open Government Partnership (OGP) while in New York on Tuesday. The OGP’s goal is to give citizens tools to monitor elected leaders and achieve more transparent governance. Mexico is one of the six founding members and other Latin American countries that have pledged to sign on to the partnership are: Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, and Uruguay. “This is a smart program for U.S. policy in the hemisphere and a great leadership role for Brazil to play,” reports Bloggings by Boz, who links to commitments and plans from Brazil, Mexico, and the United States.
Palestine Can Expect Heavy LatAm Support at UN
Nearly every country in Latin America is set to support a vote for Palestinian statehood, which is anticipated at this week’s UN General Assembly. The only holdouts appear to be Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Panama. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas toured Latin America in 2009.
Please find the original text below, submitted in Spanish.
Some good news out of Mexico. Here, as in other countries around the world, people are increasingly standing up against discriminatory rhetoric that further alienates traditionally excluded groups.
One example of this is the establishment back in 2003 of the Consejo Nacional para Prevenir la Discriminación (National Council to Prevent Discrimination, or Conapred). Conapred—created by federal law—is a government institution committed to strengthening democracy by encouraging civic participation and working to counter discrimination.
Though a welcome and important government entity, Conapred has a limited reach. For example, in 2010 it opened a complaint against Esteban Arce of Televisa for his statements that compared homosexuality to dementia. However, the institution did not have the legal authority to silence him while carrying out their investigation.
Still, Mexicans are increasingly confronting discrimination. Broad-based movements are taking center stage, highlighting the need for all of society to get behind the notion that the language used in debate must change. In June of this year, the Marcha de las Putas (“Slutwalk”) was organized in Mexico City after mimicking a similar protest in Toronto, Canada. That demonstration came about in response to the sexist, stigmatizing language used by Canadian policeman Michael Sanguinetti in February.
The debate against discrimination and stigmatization concentrates on the use of inclusive language. The feminist movement has defended respect for women’s expression. This begins when a woman say “no” to sexual harassment and assault—an important first step since weak responses to chauvinism have proven to often lead to femicide and other hate crimes against women.
The sixty-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly’s (UNGA) general debate began this morning in New York. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon opened the debate session followed by Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, president of the 66th UNGA and Qatar’s permanent representative to the UN.
This year, the first head of state to speak was Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, followed by U.S. President Barack Obama. President Rousseff’s prominent speaking slot at the UNGA is not only significant for Brazil, but also for women: Rousseff was the first female president in the UN’s 66-year history to open the General Assembly—a fact she highlighted at the opening of her remarks.
Rouseff began her visit to New York at a special meeting on Monday regarding non-communicable diseases, which was chaired by the former president of Chile—and current executive director of UN Women—Michelle Bachelet. Rousseff also co-chaired a meeting yesterday with Obama on open government partnership.
Additional Latin American heads of state that will deliver their opening speeches today to the morning session of the UNGA include: Mexican President Felipe Calderón; Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner; and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. In today’s afternoon session, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom, and Bolivian President Evo Morales will deliver their remarks.
Samuel Moreno Rojas—Bogotá’s mayor suspended by the Procuraduría in early May—was charged on Monday of fraudulent contracting, embezzlement and extortion in connection to corruption around public works projects. Prosecutor Ricardo Gonzalez asked the judge to keep Moreno in jail until trial out of fear that he may try to go to the United States (he was born in Miami) to avoid appearing in court. If indicted, Moreno could face at least six years in prison.
"I have not been an author, participant or decision maker in any criminal behavior," Moreno said during the hearing in response to evidence alleging that he promised millions of dollars in public contracts to businessmen in exchange for supporting his political campaign in 2007. The so-called carrusel de la contratación (contracting carrousel) makes reference to a corruption scandal over infrastructure works in the city that were mostly given to the Nule brothers.
The carrousel involves key actors from different sectors, including former Senator Iván Moreno Rojas, Samuel’s brother, who was arrested in April this year after the Supreme Court started an investigation into his connections with the embezzlement. In February, Attorney General Viviane Morales charged Bogotá Comptroller Miguel Ángel Moralesrussi, former Director of the Urban Development Institute (IDU) Liliana Pardo and former Congressman Germán Olano with embezzlement, misappropriation and bribery.
This is the most expensive corruption scandal in the history of Bogotá. The attorney general estimates, for example, that transferring the Transmilenio contract from Transvial to Vías Bogotá, which was done under the authorization of the IDU and benefited the Nule brothers, cost the city approximately $119 million. Among other things, this has resulted in delays in expected road maintenance and other transportation improvement projects scheduled for 2009 have yet to start.
One month after Moreno was suspended, Clara López Obregón—president of the Democratic Pole party—was appointed to fill the vacancy by President Juan Manuel Santos.
Chaco Governor Jorge Capitanich of the Partido Justicialista (PJ) was re-elected on Sunday by a margin of approximately 35 percentage points over his opponent, Roy Nikisch of the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR). With only 46 percent of the 2,654 polling stations counted, Capitanich claimed victory with 65.7 percent of the vote. The Governor was elected along with his running mate, Vice-Governor Juan Carlos Bacileff Ivanoff.
Capitanich—also called Coqui—left the UCR after he married Deputy Sandra Mendoza, a former provincial health minister from the Peronist Frente para la Victoria (FPV). Capitanich defeated Nikisch in 2007 in the campaign for governor as well, but in 2003, the Radicalist defeated Coqui for the governorship.
Jorge Capitanich announced his victory in a press conference surrounded by his family, his campaign team, Minister of Interior Florencio Randazzo, and Minister of Economy Amado Boudou—the running mate for President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK) in the presidential election on October 23. Capitanich dedicated his victory to CFK: “Chaqueños are supporting us for the future” and highlighting that “Chaco is part of the national political project.”
Chaco, located in northern Argentina, provides 60 percent of the country’s cotton production and is an important amount of wood, but it is one of poorest regions in Argentina. With 1,05 million inhabitants, more than half of the population—mainly indigenous—lives under the poverty line and more than a quarter lacks minimum conditions for survival.
On the day that the United States reflected over the 10-year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Guatemala went to the polls to elect its next president. The contest pitted three leading candidates against each other: Otto Pérez Molina, a former army general, of Partido Patriota (Patriotic Party, or PP); Manuel Baldizón, business tycoon, of Libertad Democrática Renovada (Renewed Democratic Freedom, or LIDER); and academic Eduardo Suger, of Compromiso, Renovación y Orden (Commitment, Renewal and Order, or CREO).
Pérez Molina had a comfortable lead in the polls in the lead-up to the election; if he had earned more than half the vote he would have made history by being the first national candidate since the 1980s to avoid a runoff vote. But, having secured only 35 percent of votes from more than 7 million tallies, he won the first round but not by enough to avoid a second round. Meeting him in the runoff, scheduled for November 6, is Baldizón, who received 23 percent of votes. Suger finished a distant third with 16 percent.
"Several sectors of the dominant [Guatemalan] forces expected Otto Pérez Molina to win in the first round to save costs,” said Álvaro Velásquez, 42, professor of social sciences and political analyst at Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales in Guatemala City. “Now the people have spoken to contradict this. That's good news for the power of the vote.”
But Pérez Molina can still make history in November; given his extensive military background and Guatemala’s history under decades of military rule, he can be the first ex-soldier to be democratically elected in Guatemala. Baldizón, a successful businessman with alleged ties to narcotraffickers, hails from the northern region of Péten—a department that borders Mexico.
President Mauricio Funes yesterday announced his support for changes to El Salvador’s electoral laws that would allow Salvadorans living abroad to vote in national elections. At an event in celebration of El Salvador’s national Independence Day, Funes emphasized: "I do not exaggerate when I say that the institutionalization of absentee voting is a historical necessity... we are not a true democracy until the one-third of Salvadorans living outside the country have a voice in our elections.”
According to Funes, his government has requested technical advice from the United Nations and will strive to make all necessary changes before national elections in 2014. One component of the effort will be the modernization of El Salvador’s national identity card, Documento Único de Identidad (DUI), which Salvadorans living in the United States will be able to acquire at their closest consulate.
In the first eight months of 2011, Salvadorans living abroad sent home $2.4 billion in remittances to friends and families in El Salvador—a 4.8 percent increase over the same period in 2010. This makes the overseas community a vital part of the national economy. If the proposed reforms are successful, El Salvador will join the growing number of countries in the hemisphere that allow citizens residing abroad to participate in the political process through absentee voting.
Mexico received some excellent news recently when the World Economic Forum (WEF) published its Global Competitiveness Report, calling attention to the fact that the country has made significant progress in improving its relative position in the world competitiveness rankings.
From last year to the 2011-2012 ranking, Mexico moved from 66to 58 place, an eight-spot improvement. Only seven other countries had a larger jump in the list. As competitiveness expert Beñat Bilbao explains, “(this variation) is very relevant. Fluctuations from year to year tend to be very low.”
Besides drops suffered by other countries closely competing with Mexico, such as the Russian Federation, Jordan and the Slovak Republic, Mexico’s improvement in the ranking results from progress made in efforts to boost competition and facilitate entrepreneurship by reducing the number of procedures and the time it takes to start a business. The report also mentions Mexico’s large internal market size, sound macroeconomic policies, technological adoption, and a decent transport infrastructure as helping it to move up in the WEF Report.
This is no doubt a great triumph for President Calderón. He has continuously boasted over TV messages and radio spots that his administration has invested more resources than previous governments into improving federal bridges and highways in Mexico. Calderón has also been vocal about an open market economy and sound financial policies as key ways to face the global economic crisis. According to WEF, he’s on the right track.
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela announced on Wednesday that he is expecting a visit from his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this month. He told reporters, “Ahmadinejad is coming here, at last, after New York,” referring to the latter’s attendance at the UN General Assembly next week.
President Chávez, who himself will not be traveling to New York to attend the General Assembly, did not provide specific details about the date or content of his meeting with Ahmadinejad. In recent years the two leaders have become close political and commercial allies, bound also by rocky relations with the United States. They last met in Tehran in October 2010, and before that in Caracas in November 2009. This latest visit could aggravate tensions with the United States; earlier this year the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil giant PDVSA for doing business in Iran, which it considered a violation of international sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.
Chávez is currently recovering from the removal of a cancerous tumor and may receive a fourth round of chemotherapy next week. Though he will not attend the General Assembly, he has said he expects the meetings there to be “lively” and plans to follow them closely. In particular Chávez expressed his support for the Palestinians’ bid for statehood.
With the tragic death last month of Jack Layton, Canada’s charismatic leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP), Conservative Party Prime Minister Stephen Harper now holds all the cards in the House of Commons.
Harper is now dealing with three weakened parties in the House of Commons, which will begin its fall session on Monday, September 19. The prime minister is leading his first-ever majority government since taking power in 2006. The NDP is the official opposition in the House of Commons, but the party finds its voice waning after Layton died at age 61 after a short battle with cancer. The Liberal Party of Canada is now down to 34 seats after losing more than half its seats in the May 2 election referendum. With a mere four seats, the separatist Bloc québécois party, which only runs candidates in the province of Québec, has been effectively wiped out.
All three opposition parties are looking to hold a leadership convention in 2012—leaving Harper a lot of room to maneuver. Up until the May election campaign, the Bloc québécois, the Liberal Party and the NDP made life difficult for Harper’s minority government. Now, with a comfortable majority, he can easily push through his “tough-on-crime agenda” as well as the Conservative Party’s economic policies and deficit-fighting plan. Now all three parties are vulnerable.
Layton’s temporary, hand-picked successor, the 68-year-old Nycole Turmel is the first to admit that it will be difficult to fill Layton’s “big shoes.”
Layton made a historic breakthrough in Québec in May, collecting 59 of the province’s 75 seats and guided the NDP through its best national showing ever—winning 103 of the 308 seats in the Commons.
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.
Guatemala Heads to Runoff after Ex-General Wins First Round
Otto Pérez Molina won the first round of Guatemala’s September 11 election by a wide margin, but well short of the 50 percent plus one vote need to avoid a runoff. With almost all ballots counted, the Patriotic Party (PP) candidate captured 36 percent of the vote compared to 23 percent for second-place finisher Manuel Baldizón of the Renewed Democratic Freedom (Líder) party. Pérez, who served as a general during the country’s civil war, campaigned on a platform that he would confront the country’s high violent crime rates with an “iron fist.” He is heavily favored to win against wealthy businessman Baldizón when they face each other in the second round on November 6. However, Pérez also faces a challenge over campaign spending; the country’s electoral agency says he already surpassed the legal limit while he contends that he can still spend $1 million between now and the runoff.
The website of Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre carries multimedia content exploring the electoral results, including graphs, video, and a timeline.
Read an AS/COA News Analysis about the Guatemalan election.
Congress up for Grabs in Guatemala
Guatemalans voted for legislators as well as presidential candidates on Sunday. Central American Politics blog looks at how the election reshaped the country’s Congress, with no party winning an outright majority. The governing National Unity of Hope and the Grand National Alliance (UNE-GANA) coalition, which previously accounted for the block that held the largest number of seats in the 158 unicameral Congress, will likely be outnumbered by members of the Patriotic Party. The lack of presidential candidate likely hurt the coalition’s candidates at the polls. UNE-GANA was left without a contender after the Constitutional Court banned former First Lady Sandra Torres from the race on the grounds that close relatives of a sitting president cannot run for the presidency.
Venezuela’s electoral body, the Consejo Nacional Electoral, affirmed that the next presidential election will be held on Sunday, October 7, 2012. This announcement came as a surprise to many who had expected the election date to remain in the traditional month of December.
President Hugo Chávez, despite admitting in June that he is battling cancer and having undergone multiple rounds of chemotherapy in recent months, will represent his party—Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV)—next year. Last night, Chávez tweeted: “7 October 2012: your destiny is written! We will write another revolutionary victory on your page! We will live and we will conquer!” Some have criticized Chávez for moving up the date since it will reduce the campaign period for his challengers.
On the opposing end, María Corina Machado, a representative for the state of Miranda in the unicameral National Assembly, met with voters today in the state of Zulia to solicit support for her already-declared bid. Machado belongs to the Primero Justicia (Justice First) party, which falls within the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Coalition for Democratic Unity, or MUD) opposition bloc. In Zulia, Machado said, “We have to react now with the closer date—389 days remain—to mobilize ourselves and act. Together we work for democracy, security for our family and prosperity for all Venezuelans. We have the will.”
Other declared MUD candidates include: Henrique Capriles, governor of Miranda; Pablo Pérez, governor of Zulia; César Pérez, governor of the state of Táchira; and Antonio Ledezma, mayor of the Caracas metropolitan district. MUD will hold its primary on February 12, 2012, to select a challenger to Chávez.
Please find the original text below, submitted in Spanish.
An often overlooked policy challenge for Colombia is how to safeguard the country’s informal workforce. Some of these workers do not have health security or pension funding, and they earn less than the monthly legal minimum wage (“Smml” in Spanish).
But it is also a challenge to officially identify this group within the bounds of Colombia’s labor system. And attention is long overdue. In the first of two posts on this topic, I share some troubling statistics on this stunningly large segment of workers: about 63 percent of all employees, or roughly 12.2 million Colombian citizens in total.
The term “informal employment” is often used wrongly in Colombia. As labor economist Juan Carlos Guataquí notes, “informal” often refers to a business that employs fewer than five people. The term does not take in to account the quality or conditions of employment—which matter more to workers.
Guataquí adds: “The possibility exists that workers in small businesses, in spite of being fully covered by the benefits of social security and job stability, turn out to be classified as ‘informal workers.’” For this reason, Colombia’s labor system is ripe with a shockingly large number of unprotected employees who go entirely unrecognized.
In a setback to Brazil’s preparations for the 2014 World Cup, Federal Judge Louise Vilela Filgueiras Borer ordered an immediate halt to the construction of a third terminal at São Paulo’s main international airport. São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport, which was recently ranked the worst in Latin America, was undergoing a renovation to double the airport’s capacity in advance of the World Cup as well as the 2016 Olympic Games.
Judge Filgueiras said the state airport authority Empresa Brasileira de Infraestrutura Aeroportuária, or Infraero, jettisoned a formal bidding process for the project and awarded the contract to Delta Constructions. In her ruling, Filgueiras wrote that the move represented a worrying precedent in Brazil—one which ignored regulations in the interest of finishing a project as soon as possible. The project was estimated to cost 1.2 billion reais ($700 million).
An April 2011 report from the Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada (Institute for Applied Economic Research, or Ipea) warned that 10 of the 13 Brazilian airport terminals being upgraded throughout the country were not on track for completion by the start of the World Cup in June 2014. President Dilma Rousseff is now evaluating an option to rely on temporary, warehouse-like modules to accommodate the expected passenger influx for the Cup.
This is not the first setback for Brazil’s transportation authorities. In July, Alfredo Nascimento, former minister of transportation, resigned on allegations of corruption for so-called “irregularities” in the granting of contracts.
Preliminary results following yesterday’s presidential election in Guatemala indicate that no single candidate won over 50 percent of the vote, meaning that a runoff election will be held on November 6. With 92 percent of ballots counted by the Tribunal Supremo Electoral, Guatemala’s election supervision body, Otto Pérez Molina, a former army general, obtained 36.16 percent of the vote despite polling as high as 49 percent shortly before the election. Pérez Molina will face the second-place candidate, Manuel Baldizón, an attorney, businessman and congressman, who collected 23.40 percent.
The central issue for both campaigns is how to effectively combat Guatemala’s rampant crime and insecurity. Guatemala has one of the highest murder rates in the hemisphere, according to the World Bank: 45 murders per 100,000 citizens. Guatemala, as with its Northern Triangle counterparts Honduras and El Salvador, is a key transit route in drug trafficking between South America and the United States. The amount of illegal drugs seized in Guatemala doubled between 2008 and 2009.
Pérez Molina has pledged to fight crime with a mano dura, or iron fist. He proposes beefing up Guatemala’s security force—hiring 10,000 police officers and 2500 soldiers. Baldizón supports the death penalty and has suggested creating a national guard. Both candidates have also pledged to continue anti-poverty programs in the interest of promoting social inclusion across Guatemala.
Pérez Molina is the leader of the Partido Patriota (Patriotic Party—PP), while Baldizón is the founder of the more moderate Libertad Democrática Renovada (Renewed Democratic Freedom—LIDER) party. Regardless of the runoff election result, November’s election will usher in Guatemala’s first-ever female vice president. Pérez Molina’s running mate is Roxana Baldetti, a congresswoman, while former First Lady Raquel Blandón is on Baldizón’s ticket.
Three of Guatemala’s ten presidential candidates in separate campaign events yesterday promised to leave untouched many of the anti-poverty programs established by outgoing President Álvaro Colom. The programs, which have been overseen by Mr. Colom’s wife, Sandra Torres, are extremely popular among Guatemala’s poor and were the basis of Ms. Torres’ recently abandoned run for the presidency.
The top contender in Sunday’s first-round election, former-General and Partido Patriota candidate Otto Pérez Molina, vowed that his top priority in office will be to crack down on crime and gang-related violence “with an iron fist.” But Molina also proposed expanding programs that promote greater social inclusion and creating a new government ministry that will focus on social development. Líder party candidate Manuel Baldizón, currently second in polls, delivered a similar message to supporters in Guatemala’s northern city Santa Elena, saying he is the only candidate “truly committed” to the fight against poverty.
In polls released yesterday, Baldizón trailed Perez by a hefty 16 percentage-point margin. However Guatemala’s electoral system requires a runoff in the event that no candidate receives a majority of first-round votes—given a second-place finisher eight more weeks to catch up to Molina before second-round voting on November 6.
September 11, 2001, is remembered as the day the United States received a dramatic call to lead the world in defeating terrorism. It is also the day the U.S., along with 33 nations of the Americas, signed the Inter-American Democratic Charter (IADC) committing to the collective promotion and protection of democracy. Through ten years of costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. has failed to lead the implementation of the IADC and has stood in the sidelines as democracy has eroded in the Americas. It is time to take action—a peaceful one.
Just minutes after New York City and Washington DC were hit, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell gave this moving speech in Lima, Peru, at the Organization of American States’ (OAS) General Assembly:
"A terrible, terrible tragedy has befallen my nation, but it has also befallen all of the nations of this region, all the nations of the world, and all those who believe in democracy. [Terrorists] can destroy buildings and kill people—and we will be saddened by this tragedy—but they will never be allowed to kill the spirit of democracy. They cannot destroy our society, nor our belief in the democratic way.
It is important that I remain here for a bit longer in order to be part of the consensus on this new Inter-American Democratic Charter. That is the most important thing I can do before returning to Washington DC.
I hope we can move forward in the order of business to the adoption of the Charter, because I very much want to be here to express the commitment of the United States to democracy in this hemisphere."
Powell’s word on the importance of the IADC and the U.S. commitment to democracy in the face of a massive terrorist attack is not an overstatement. Terrorist organizations are exclusively harbored and sponsored by non-democratic states that deny basic human rights to their citizens. As with the Third Reich’s Germany or the Taliban’s Afghanistan, it is no coincidence that the U.S. has never had to wage war on a democratic nation. In a world where territories and populations are governed by states, the struggle for peace is first and foremost a struggle for a democratic world comprised of a community of democratic nations.
Here’s where the IADC has a purpose. The IADC is the most ambitious pro-democracy document yet to be approved at an international level. It is the cornerstone of an emerging international law on democracy and represents a groundbreaking step toward the consolidation of democracy and human rights around the world.
Mexico suffered the criminal attack with the highest number of civilian casualties in its near history recently as a group of 10 to 12 armed men entered the two-story Casino Royale in the city of Monterrey, doused it with a flammable liquid and threw Molotov cocktails in the first floor. The exact details are still sketchy and the real death toll might never be established (there are inconsistencies in numbers reported by authorities, witness accounts and morgue registries) but unofficially the number is above 50, most of them women. The full motive behind the attack will probably never be determined, but the local media’s investigative reports point toward non-compliance with a criminal gang that had demanded a cut of the business’ profits in exchange for “protection.”
Gruesome as the attack was, the reason for the elevated number of victims sadly has more to do with institutionalized corruption than with the criminal act itself. Survivors to this tragedy have testified that other than the main entrance to the establishment (which was blocked by the attackers), four non-labelled service doors were locked and the only supposed emergency exit to the place was fake and had a concrete wall behind it. The amount of suffering and emotions the victims must have felt when they thought they would be able to escape the fire and faced a wall in front of them, is horribly unimaginable.
Casino Royale received its license to operate as a restaurant and betting house in 2007, during the administration of Mayor Adalberto Madero, who in 2011 was officially kicked out of the PAN party for corruption charges and tainting the party’s image (he was later reinstated due to a technicality). Ironically enough, Rodrigo, José Francisco and Ramón Agustín Madero (Adalberto’s cousins) are members of the administrative board of the company that owns Casino Royale.
The matter becomes worse when we learn that during 2011 the establishment had already been subject to two other criminal attacks; the venue was not shut down permanently after the follow-up investigations even though it was not up to code. As if that wasn’t enough, videos showing Monterrey Mayor Fernando Larrazabal’s brother going into the Casino and suspiciously receiving wads of cash in cell phone boxes were leaked by the local and national media, furthering social outrage.
Today, a city and a whole country continues to mourn. Frustration is at an all-time high and is manifesting itself in different ways. On Twitter users heightened their continued demands for both Larrazabal and Governor Rodrigo Medina to resign. The local soccer teams held minutes of silence before their recent games. Masses honoring the victims have been held and peace rallies are the current talk of the town, though actual turnout has been surprisingly low.
Republican frontrunners took to their podiums last night for the second televised debate, where a discussion on immigration reform and border security featured prominently. Texas Governor Rick Perry’s debut in the GOP race was rare opportunity for guest-moderator and Telemundo anchor Jose Diaz-Balart to press candidates on their views on immigration, with a focus on the undocumented population.
Gov. Perry, who currently leads the race despite announcing his candidacy for president less than a month ago, stirred things up with his criticism of President Barack Obama’s immigration speech in May. "For the President of the United States to go to El Paso, Texas, and say the border is safer than it’s ever been,” said Gov. Perry, “either he has some of the poorest intel in the history of this country or he was an abject liar to the American people."
Gov. Perry’s calls for more border agents were echoed by many of the other candidates, including Herman Cain and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, currently second place in the polls, pushed for continued construction of the fence along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. Romney also stressed the need to minimize the economic incentive, what he calls the “magnet,” that attracts undocumented immigrants to the United States.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, focused instead on legal immigrants’ contribution to the economy and American competitiveness. “Immigration has made this country the dynamic country it continues to be,” said Santorum, whose parent emigrated from Italy, “so we should not have a debate on how we don’t want people to come to this country.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.