Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos yesterday hailed the U.S. Congress’ passage of a long-stalled free-trade agreement (FTA), saying the decision was “historic for relations between Colombia and the United States, a historic day for Colombia's insertion to the world and a historic day for Colombian businessmen and workers.”
Negotiations over the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement began in 2004 and were concluded in 2006 when former President George W. Bush and then-Colombian President Álvaro Uribe signed off on the pact. However, pushing the bill through the U.S. Congress—a top priority of the Obama administration—took nearly five years of legislative wrangling.
The final tally on the treaty was decisive: the House of Representatives passed the measure 262–167, followed by a 66–33 vote in the Senate. Two other FTAs—including the U.S. agreement with Panama—also passed which proponents say will boost U.S. exports by $13 billion and support tens of thousands of jobs. Opponents of the deal included Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who voted against the measure over concerns about Colombian trade unionist rights and its possible impact on export-competing industries in the United States.
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Second Guessing Zetas’ Ties with Iranian Terrorism
Concerns about the potential connection between Middle East terrorism and Latin American organized crime were revived this week when news hit that Iranians had plotted with an individual who they thought was a member of Mexico’s Zetas gang to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. The presumed gangster turned out to be an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. In Washington, legislators differed over whether the news demonstrated such a threat. “The fact that elements of the Iranian government targeted a Mexican drug cartel to carry out a high-level assassination is further evidence that the cartels are perceived as terrorists willing to participate in a lucrative, violent scheme inside the United States,” said Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX). But Representative Henry Cuellar (D-TX) said: “If anything, the Mexicans were trying to help us.” A statement from Mexico’s Secretariat of Foreign Relations said: “In strict compliance with domestic and international law, Mexico was able to neutralize a significant risk to Mexico’s national security, while at the same time reinforcing bilateral and reciprocal cooperation with the United States.” Bloggings by Boz contends that the connection between Iranian terrorists and Zetas is unlikely, with Mexican drug cartels not wishing to disrupt their lucrative business. “I think the top leadership of the Zetas and others are very aware that any involvement in a bombing on U.S. soil or trafficking of [weapons of mass destruction] would bring a lot of additional focus and resources against them. They certainly wouldn't do it for the price of one truck of cocaine,” he writes.
Abbas on LatAm Tour to Bolster Palestine’s Statehood Bid
President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas took his fight for Palestinian statehood on the road this week with a Latin American tour that takes him to El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela. But he failed to reach his goal during his first stop in Colombia. Speaking on the prospect of an independent Palestine, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos stated: “It must be the product of negotiations [between Israelis and Palestinians] because this is the only way to achieve peace,”after meeting with Abbas. Colombia is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and Abbas sees Bogota’s support as crucial, given that he needs at least nine out of 15 votes from the Council to gain a recommendation in favor of Palestine gaining UN membership.
Mexico’s immigration commissioner announced yesterday that overall migration (based on figures around the unauthorized) from Central America bound for Mexico and the United States decreased by nearly 70 percent over the past five years. Commissioner Salvador Beltrán del Río of Mexico’s National Migration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migración, or INM) came to this conclusion by comparing the number of detained, undocumented Central American migrants in 2005 versus that in 2010—433,000 versus 140,000. He observed that the downward trend has continued thus far in 2011.
Commissioner Beltrán pointed out that Central Americans crossing into Mexico face grave risks of violence, kidnapping and extortion due to the increased association of organized crime with migrant trafficking. The International Organization for Migration’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Michele Klein Solomon, has concurred, adding that Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, or CNDH) estimates the number of annual migrant kidnappings to be around 22,000. Between April 2011 and September 2011, CNDH has placed that figure at 11,333.
However, some in Mexico dispute INM’s methodology. Rodolfo Casillas, a professor at the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, contends: “What’s dropping is the number of people detained by immigration agents, which is different from the Central American migration flow that goes through Mexico.”
Mexico’s government has taken action to address issues around the treatment of migrants. In May, President Felipe Calderón approved a new migration law that aims to better protect migrants through such measures as punishing migration authorities for any unlawful acts committed toward migrants.
In an unlikely stop in his pre-campaign trail, Andrés Manuel López Obrador made a quick visit to the industrial, private sector-intensive city of Monterrey last week. This is hostile territory for López, since the state of Nuevo León has not traditionally sympathized with the leftists parties with which he has associated (PRD, PT, Convergencia). His visit gathered around 1,200 middle- and upper-class listeners. Some were supporters, but most were just curious as I gathered from the low intensity of response to applause moments during the event.
His message was somewhat different from his usual populist rhetoric. The radio and TV spots, as well as his speech in Monterrey have all toned down. Wearing a slick suit and tie (as opposed to his usual more down to earth Guayaberas) and talking to the business community, López portrayed himself as a modern leftist, blaming the media for showcasing him as an “enemy of the wealthy.” One of his new soundbites states “I am not against businessmen. I am against wrongfully accumulated wealth.” López is not clear about what he means when he says that wealth is wrongfully accumulated, but he did mention a couple of specific targets as culprits: large media corporations Televisa, Telmex and TV Azteca and the PRI and PAN bureaucrats.
López accused Televisa and TV Azteca of controlling the news, limiting his exposure and pushing PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto as their candidate in order to maintain control of Mexico. In his words, Peña Nieto is “the candidate of the power monopoly.”
After negotiations with a legislative dialogue commission failed over the weekend, Indigenous protesters from the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS) restarted their march toward La Paz today. A month ago the Amazonian natives started a 603-kilometer (375-mile) march from Trinidad to protest the construction of a 305-kilometer (190-mile) highway that would cut the TIPNIS territory in half. The protests emerged in response to concerns over the lack of prior consultation regarding the potential environmental and social impacts resulting from the $415 million-road—a project mainly financed by the Brazilian government. The protesters now demand that the entire contract be nullified.
The dialogue commission was proposed after September 25, when President Morales tried to end the march. Following orders from the government, around 500 police officers used tear gas and truncheons against marchers who were in the city of Yucumo, 350 kilometers (217 mile) from La Paz. Interior Minister Sacha Llorenti and his deputy resigned as a result. Yoriko Yasukawa, the UN local representative, lamented the events and made a call to resolve the conflict through dialogue.
The meeting between Mendoza and TIPNIS protesters resulted in a four-article bill that will suspend the construction of the second stretch of the road until the native communities are consulted. Unsatisfied over the bill—which needs to go to the Senate for approval—Indigenous protesters rejected the proposal and now demand that the contract be nullified through a law. “We want all laws that gave way to this project to be abolished; we want to start all over again,” said Fernando Vargas, an Indigenous leader.
This happens at the same time that more than 2,000 people—mainly coca growers—march from Calamarca (60 kilometers south from La Paz) to La Paz in support of President Morales and against the TIPNIS communities. César Navarro—vice minister for the coordination of social movements and the person who mediates the relationship between the government and pro-government unions—said the march “will deepen the process of change and tell President Evo he’s not alone.” In an interview with TeleSur, Navarro insisted that “behind the TIPNIS demonstrations there are other political interests from people in and outside Bolivia.”
El fantasma de la parapolítica sigue rondando la campaña a las elecciones locales en Colombia. No solo por el hecho de que muchos de los investigados por haber establecido alianzas criminales con los paramilitares, sean hoy candidatos, sino porque quienes están condenados por estos pactos, tienen tanto o más poder desde la cárcel que los políticos que están en libertad.
El preso más famoso de Colombia, el ex senador del Valle Juan Carlos Martínez Sinisterra, lleva varios lustros manejando la política local de su departamento. Al llamado Negro Martínez se le condenó a pagar siete años de cárcel por sus nexos con el Bloque Calima y el paramilitar H.H, extraditado a Estados Unidos. Aunque se comprobó que su cercanía con los ilegales le sirvió para hacer campañas políticas y entregarles presupuesto y cargos del Estado, las rejas no han sido un impedimento para que su poder se extienda por todo el territorio nacional. Tiene un músculo proselitista tan imparable, que los medios dicen que maneja medio país.
For the first time ever, a Latin American institution placed among the world’s top universities in the London-based Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings. The annual list of colleges and universities, compiled using data collected by Thomson Reuters, is considered among the most reliable and accurate cross-country comparisons of higher education providers. This year’s 178th spot—anything under 200 is considered “gold standard”—went to the University of São Paulo.
Although the top-ranked schools are invariably U.S. or UK-based universities, institutions from Asia and Latin America have been moving up in recent years. Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea each has a school ranked in the top-100. Brazil’s State University of Campinas also received honorable mention, falling in the top-300 school category. No other Latin American institution made the list.
Chilean President Sebastian Piñera sent a bill to congress on Tuesday to reform Chile’s penal code and allow harsher sentences for certain forms of popular protest. According to the proposed legislation, protestors could receive prison sentences of up to three years for offenses such as occupying educational, religious or office buildings, impeding foot or vehicular traffic, and interrupting the delivery of public services.
The bill is a response to more than five months of student-led demonstrations to oppose greater privatization of secondary- and post-secondary schools—a process that began during the 17-year rule of former President Augusto Pinochet. Since May, protesters have occupied more than 200 educational institutions and drawn considerable international media attention. The ongoing demonstrations have also affected Piñera’s approval ratings, which dropped to 30 percent in September, down from 63 percent following the rescue of 33 miners one year ago, according to Santiago-based research group Adimark Gfk.
The bill has already drawn criticism from the opposition Concertación coalition as well as human rights groups. In a letter to the president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Associación Chilena de Organinismos No Gubernamentales (Chilean Association of Nongovernmental organizations-ACCIÓN) said the new penalties “violate the principles of rule of law that should govern in a democratic system.”
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Rousseff Urges against Austerity at EU-Brazil Summit
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff addressed the Fifth EU-Brazil Summit on Tuesday, where her agenda touched on the EU-Mercosur trade agreement and the eurozone debt crisis. Rousseff urged Europe to back away from recessive measures such as austerity plans to overcome the crisis, citing the need to pursue policies that create jobs and income. She assured the Europeans: “You can rely and count on us.”
Dilma and FIFA Chief Discuss World Cup in Brussels
In a meeting Monday in Brussels, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff assured FIFA President Jerôme Valcke that her country will meet all its obligations for the 2014 World Cup. The meeting comes after a series of public misunderstandings between FIFA and Brazil concerning issues such as concession prices and Brazil’s preparedness to host the event. Many of the infrastructure improvements necessary to host the 2014 World Cup are behind schedule.
The Summer 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly focuses on sports in the hemisphere and includes an article by Smith College’s Andrew Zimbalist covering Brazil’s preparedness for the World Cup and Olympics.
Brazil to Begin MINUSTAH Withdrawal in March
Brazil’s defense minister, Celso Amorim, announced that Brazilian troops will begin a gradual withdrawal from Haiti starting in March 2012. Brazilian troops have been stationed there since 2004, where Brazil leads the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH. The goal of the withdrawal is to hand local security control over to the Haitians and slowly reduce the number of troops to pre-earthquake levels.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos drew laughter and applause when he placed the U.S.-Colombia free-trade agreement (FTA) in the “hands of God” at an AS/COA program last month. But now that the White House has submitted the long-pending pact to Congress, its earthly fate lies just where it belongs.
House Speaker John Boehner has pledged quick consideration of the agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, in tandem with the Senate-passed legislation reauthorizing Trade Adjustment Assistance. This afternoon the Ways and Means Committee favorably reported out all three implementing bills, leaving supporters and opponents to gear up for a floor debate and vote expected as early as next Wednesday.
That debate will center on job creation on the one hand and labor concerns on the other—particularly in the case of Colombia, which remains the most controversial of the three countries. The Obama Administration has rightly emphasized the economic arguments that carry weight on Capitol Hill in the context of 9 percent unemployment. But it’s worth remembering that the FTAs are just as important to U.S. geopolitical interests.
Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño announced yesterday that he is submitting a bill to the island’s Legislative Assembly that—if approved—would call for a referendum next year to decide the island’s political status. Fortuño’s decision to move forward with a two-part referendum comes in response to President Barack Obama saying in mid-June that Puerto Rico would remain a commonwealth until the majority of islanders voted otherwise. “When the people of Puerto Rico make a clear decision, my administration will stand by you.”
In a 20-minute televised address, Governor Fortuño emphasized: “We must enable our citizens to resolve the most important and transcendental issue in Puerto Rico’s history, the island’s political status.” He added: “The island’s status is an issue that affects every aspect of our daily lives, including employment opportunities, health services, public safety, our children’s education, and our very rights as citizens.”
The bill—which Fortuño will file today—includes two phases. On August 12, 2012, Puerto Ricans would vote on whether they want to change the status of the island. If the majority of voters approve some type of change, Puerto Ricans would then decide on Election Day (November 6, 2012) among three non-territorial status alternatives: statehood, independence or sovereign free association. A free sovereign association would be an improved version of the current commonwealth status; similar to the territories of the United States of Palau or Marshall Islands.
Governor Fortuño and Puerto Rico’s representative in the U.S. Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, have already sought to change the island’s political status with the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009. It passed in the U.S. House of Representatives by a strong majority but did not succeed in the Senate.
On September 16, 2011, the foreign press in Argentina had the unprecedented opportunity to interview a Chinese government official. Mr. Yang Shidi, the Counsellor for Commercial and Business Affairs from the Chinese Embassy in Buenos Aires spoke to members of Argentina´s Foreign Correspondent Association (ACERA) and graciously accepted a round of questions from journalists representing international media. According to Dr. Ricardo Rivas, acting President of ACERA, this was the first time in 26 years that a Chinese government official in Argentina has agreed to a meeting with the foreign press.
Mr. Shidi gave his talk quite eloquently in Spanish, only stumbling when it came time to translate investment amounts. During his discourse, he highlighted the 40 years of an ongoing diplomatic relationship between China and Argentina and its important commercial and business dimensions. He explained that the bilateral relationship has been sustained over time despite geographic distance thanks to the development of activities based on mutual respect and mutual benefit. Within the framework of what he describes as a “strategic relationship,” the Chinese diplomat claimed that the economic and commercial activities have benefited both countries. China is now Argentina’s second most important trading partner with bilateral commerce reaching $12.9 billion in 2010, up 12 percent from the year prior. And Argentina is China´s fourth-largest trading partner in Latin America.
China is moving beyond trade and ramping up investments in Argentina. According to Argentinean government figures (albeit a bit questionable these days), Chinese investment in the country as of December 2010 was estimated at $15 billion over the prior three years. China has been focused on Argentina’s petrochemical and agricultural sectors but is also making significant investments in telecommunications, mining, finance, transport, energy, and manufacturing.
Far-reaching political declarations come by all too often. But witnessing the societal application of a specific public policy is an entirely different thing. A case in point is the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) of 2004, which came about as a result of Jamaican ratification of the 1991 Convention of the Rights of the Child.
Certain obligations of CCPA included: establishing new organizations like the Office of the Children’s Registry to monitor the care and protection of children; providing special help to children to children who need it; and protecting all children from abuse and neglect.
With little background knowledge of CCPA and other regulations on children’s state homes in Jamaica, I was grateful to receive a grant to work with empowering youth at a state-run home in the town of St. Elizabeth. The grant was awarded by the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ) and was given to the Caribbean Youth Summit Association (CYSA)—an organization where I served as chairman at the time. With 27 boys at this St. Elizabeth facility, the goal was to increase awareness of the unique circumstances that each boy faced within the state child protection system.
Witness a case study of how Parceiros da Educação (Education Partners), a public-private partnership in Brazil, trains teachers—featured on the Brazilian TV station Canal Futura.
Haitian President Michel Martelly announced yesterday that his administration plans to provide education subsidies for 772,000 children in an attempt to boost student enrollment. The announcement coincided with the opening of the school year in Haiti. Martelly’s National Fund for Education (FNE) will cover the tuition of 142,000 students who will attend school for the first time ever.
The Clinton Foundation donated $1.25 million to cover the registration fees of some students. FNE, the initiative that Martelly launched shortly after he took office in May, is funded by per-minute fees assessed to incoming international calls as well as a flat tariff on international wire transfers. Gaston George Merisier, Martelly’s advisor on education, announced last week that $28 million had been raised thus far from these taxes, and that much of the additional monies had been sent by Haitian expatriates abroad.
Martelly repeatedly called for free education during the 2010-2011 presidential campaign. Education is a much-needed social service in Haiti, which is still ravaged by the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake. Much of the donor money into Haiti thus far has been funneled into short-term delivery of education and health services in tent camps—and reconstruction of hospitals and schools over the long term.
In less than 11 hours, six earthquakes struck Guatemala starting at noon local time on September 19. The southeastern area of Santa Rosa was the most affected by earthquakes that ranged from 4.5 to 5.8 magnitude on the Richter scale. The size and frequency struck the same region unexpectedly. The results: almost 5,000 people have been affected and more than 1,200 houses damaged, and encampments now dot the area after many residents lost their homes and belongings.
The government entity in charge of emergency response, Coordinadora Nacional para la Reducción de Desastres (CONRED), set up nine refuge centers for 3,500 people, confirmed spokesman David de Leon. This disaster comes after the same area was flooded in August and the River San Juan burst its banks. INSIVUMEH (Instituto Nacional de Sismología, Vulcanología, Meteorología e Hidrología) reported that August’s rainfall was 40 percent above the monthly average and in September it was still above average—by about 12 percent. The amount of rain has created massive avalanches and cut off villages with landslides killing at least four people.
But event with a state of disaster being declared in Santa Rosa, Congress has been criticized for failing to release funds to emergency response and relief services. Finance Minister Rolando del Cid Pinillos told Emisoras Unidas, the largest national radio station, that “it would be difficult to fund CONRED in the result of a disaster in Guatemala.” This bureaucratic uncertainty makes recovery even more perilious.
Hubo foro en D.F. el julio sobre el tema "Después de la Ley de Migración... ¿Qué sigue?"
Fotos cortesía de Instituto de Estudios y Divulgación sobre Migración (INEDIM). Pies de foto cortesía de Yoloxóchitl Casas Chousal.
Aquí son unos puntos destacados sobre las discusiones:
En el Foro se dieron a conocer los resultados obtenidos de la consulta social sobre la Ley de Migración, realizada en los estados norteños de Baja California, Chihuahua, Sonora y Tamaulipas, los sureños Chiapas, Oaxaca y Veracruz, y el Distrito Federal. Ejecutada por un grupo de especialistas, en la consulta se identificaron divergencias y convergencias, y se recogieron propuestas desde la sociedad civil poniendo especial énfasis en la pluralidad para el respeto a la diversidad de opiniones.
En la mesa “Antecedentes y objetivos” se convocó a fomentar un debate público y plural dirigido al Congreso de la Unión, gobiernos federal y locales, con énfasis en la Secretaría de Gobernación en el en torno al tema migratorio para promover los derechos humanos de las y los migrantes, y lograr que se convierta en un tema de interés público.
Durante los años 2010 y 2011 se conformó un grupo de trabajo integrado por organizaciones de la sociedad civil, la academia y especialistas en migración, con el propósito de promover en México el desarrollo de normatividad y política pública en la materia con perspectiva de derechos humanos. Promulgada la ley, el grupo centró su objetivo en incidir para atender los vacíos legales en temas como seguridad, debido proceso, género, niñez y detenciones, entre otros, que han quedado pendientes.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff kicks off a week-long European tour in Brussels today and tomorrow, where she will address the Fifth EU-Brazil Summit. Key items on the agenda are the Euro debt crisis and the EU-Mercosur free-trade agreement (FTA).
Specifically, Rousseff is expected to announce that Brazil will not be contributing to the European Financial Stability Facility, as was once discussed among the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) bloc of advanced emerging economies. Also, as she did in her opening address to the United Nations last month, Rousseff will make the case for greater inclusion among developing nations in global growth schemes, and her opposition to economic policies among groups of developed countries—like the EU—that she considers protectionist.
Rousseff also seeks to advance dialogue on the EU-Mercosur FTA, where negotiations had been stalled for years but have progressed quickly since being re-launched in 2010. However, key sticking points remain, including recent measures by Brazil to raise import tariffs on cars and European concerns of losing market share in its agricultural industry—given Brazil’s strong farming sector. A deal is anticipated to be signed in 2012.
Rousseff will also discuss Brazil’s preparations for the 2014 World Cup with FIFA President Sepp Blatter while in Brussels. She will then continue to Bulgaria to visit her father’s homeland, and then conclude her visit in Turkey, a key ally in the Muslim world.
The government of Cuba announced yesterday that it will permanently close the island’s Ministry of Sugar as part of larger-scale reforms designed to modernize Cuba’s economy and increase efficiency. According to a statement in the official state newspaper, Granma, the ministry “currently serves no state function” and will be replaced by a holding company called Grupo Empresarial de la Agroindustria Azucarera that will manage Cuba’s future sugar exports.
Sugarcane is one of Cuba’s most iconic products and the island was in the 1970s the world’s largest exporter. Years of inefficient management and declining production, however, have reduced the commodity’s importance to the overall economy. Still, the ministry’s closure is yet another symbolic change in a country that has recently begun overhauling its domestic economy. Earlier this week news surfaced that new and used car sales will soon be permitted across the island for the first time since 1959.
There is no word on who will run the new sugar industry management company or whether Cuba will seek any type of foreign investment in the sector. Despite limited details, the move is consistent with recent Cuban government statements stressing the need to decentralize decision-making in state owned enterprises and cut subsidies to inefficient industries.
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.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.