El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes yesterday announced a major series of media reforms that will transform state-owned radio and television by granting them unprecedented legal autonomy to broadcast independent content. The reforms, which were developed in collaboration with the World Bank, is designed to put an end to the historic role of state media as a campaign tool of incumbent governments and a mouthpiece for ruling administrations.
Salvadoran Minister of Communications of the Presidency, David Rivas, explained that "for many years state radio and television were subject to political whims or subjected to the interests of particular groups, but not the interests of society as a whole." Critics of state media in El Salvador say the state-owned Radio Nacional and Canal 10 were often used during the country’s brutal 1980s civil war to disseminate disinformation and distract Salvadorans from accurate war coverage.
World Bank representative Alberto Leyton lauded the announced reforms and emphasized that state media should further the “public good” by refraining from simply broadcasting the “situational interests” of a particular government.
The conversation on the need to tackle the U.S. deficit and debt issues as well as the debate on same-sex marriage that is recognized by some individual states, brings to the forefront the way the American federal system is functioning. Looking at how the model works here and elsewhere may actually help in finding solutions to current problems.
Federalism is the common trait within North American nations. While defined as the establishment of two or three levels of government—a central entity and subnational (or federated) state—the application of federalism differs from country to country.
The principal rationale for adopting the federal form of government is to reconcile diversity and identity with a desire for unity within a nation-state. While no one can claim that a federation is a superior form of government, it has shown in many instances to be flexible and innovative when associated with a strong democratic political culture. Some of the most prominent federal countries outside North America—Australia, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, India, and Brazil—have demonstrated a capacity for stability and growth.
This being said, many federations have had to undergo transformations to accommodate new realities. While some have been of the constitutional variety, most changes are of the administrative kind. The creative tensions inherent in a federal structure can best be dealt with when combined with healthy and intense political discourse and debate. A study of the Canada and Quebec model, while still very much perfectible, is a good case in point.
Early on June 14, the FARC attacked again, this time near the village of Puerto Rico in the Colombian department of Caquetá. Puerto Rico is very close to San Vicente del Caguán—one of the five municipalities that were demilitarized by President Pastrana in 1998 under peace talks with the FARC. Caquetá, a region of vast plains, located several hundred miles south of Bogotá, has been a FARC stronghold since the late 1960s. The FARC prospered there over four decades, under the cover of the jungle, and exploiting the lucrative business of cocaine that flourished in the region. Nonetheless, these types of guerrilla attacks had almost been eradicated during the administration of Álvaro Uribe. He had listed the FARC structures in Caquetá as main targets in his counteroffensive.
In principle, this single attack on June 14 would not justify wondering whether the FARC have successfully reactivated. But the FARC had executed more than five attacks in the past week alone, including the kidnapping of a number of Chinese oil workers in Caquetá and the virtual siege of the village of Caloto, in the department of Cauca. More attacks to police headquarters have taken place in villages of Cauca such as Argelia and Morales. Three weeks ago, in the coastal region of Chocó, the FARC kept a number of civilians under hostage for two days.
In the past seven years, after Uribe’s military offensive began to show results, guerrilla attacks occurred seldom; whenever they happened, reaction by the military was quick and effective. But reaction by the current government under Juan Manuel Santos has been slow, confusing, and often politically charged. For example, some observers perceive the minister of defense, Rodrigo Rivera, as being more concerned with image matters than actual results. Rivera has often downplayed the magnitude and the seriousness of the FARC facts.
Is the FARC undergoing a successful reactivation process? At this point, two things can be asserted. First, the FARC has decided to circle back to a guerilla-warfare model. Second, it has carefully chosen several areas of the country where such model can have a greater efficacy. Caquetá and Cauca are clearly two of them.
Guatemala’s first-ever public buses reserved exclusively for use by women began covering routes in Guatemala City yesterday during the peak rush hour times of 6:00 a.m.–7:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.–7:00 p.m. The special fleet, which exempts male conductors and children under 12 from the restrictions, can be easily identified by pink ribbons or pink-colored signs bearing the explicit instructions: “For Women Only.”
Of greater metropolitan Guatemala City’s 3.5 million inhabitants, about half use the public bus system on a daily basis. According to the local Association of Urban Buses, an average of a dozen vehicles per day are attacked by armed assailants who rob passengers and regularly assault female riders. Congresswoman Zury Ríos Sosa, who spearheaded the gender-segregated bus initiative, says the new system will protect women and enhance their safety on public transportation. Ríos has said she would also like to create a women-only taxi system similar to those already established in Mexico City and other Latin American cities.
The first day of service was met with a mix of enthusiasm and confusion. Hundreds of women lined up to board the pink-ribboned buses, but some were made visibly nervous by male riders in nearby lines who appeared to mock the new routine. The system also created difficulties for riders unaccustomed to traveling without their husbands or older sons. Some men, who mistakenly boarded the new buses, were ordered off.
Yet, the system seemed to win the approval of its primary beneficiaries. One female passenger remarked, “It’s much better on these buses, because one is more relaxed, without the filth” or fear of unwanted advances by men.
The election guessing game in Peru has ended and now the Humala guessing game has begun: Will Ollanta Humala be the Peruvian equivalent of Venezuela’s Chávez or Brazil’s Lula? The answer, on which may hang Peru’s torrid rates of economic growth—among the highest in the region—and web of free-trade agreements with everyone from China to the United States, has become a parlor game for investors and observers, as we all watch whom Humala nominates to his cabinet. More than the people he chooses to populate his first round of appointments, the answer may actually lie in his formation as a military officer.
When he first ran for president in 2006, Humala professed his admiration for Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez; he even campaigned in the trademark-Bolivarian red tee shirt. Only five years later, the one-time lieutenant colonel who led an uprising against former elected autocrat President Alberto Fujimori, claimed he was a moderate leftist in the mold of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who embraced markets and foreign investors and reduced poverty.
It’s not hard to understand why he shifted role models. In the intervening five years, President Chávez has gone from the leader of an anti-American bloc of countries during the years of President George W. Bush to the head of the most dysfunctional economy in the region, with rates of inflation this year likely topping 25 percent and an economy that, even with the spike in oil prices, will be one of the last to rise out of the region’s post-recession torpor. In contrast, President Lula, by hewing to a course of fiscal stability, appointing confidence-instilling technocrats and supporting both foreign investors and Brazilian companies, has both kept Brazil on a path of stable economic growth and—combined with innovative social policies—reduced the number of the Brazilian poor by up to 38 million. No mean feat.
The first round of elections in Peru shocked the country and the world. After what appeared to be enviable rates of economic growth and stability, a slim majority of voters rejected the center, aided in part by a three-way split between former Lima Mayor Luis Castañeda Lossio, former President Alejandro Toledo and former Prime Minister Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. In a vitiated party system, the center lost to two candidates on either side of the spectrum—Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of Alberto Fujimori who governed from 1990 to 2000 and is now jailed for corruption and human rights violations, and Humala.
The Colombian stock exchange (BVC) and Lima stock exchange (BVL) announced yesterday in a joint press release that they will delay their ownership merger until Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala has an opportunity to revise the agreement. Under the current proposal, announced in January, Colombia’s exchange would own 64 percent of the new company and Peru’s 36 percent.
The announcement does not affect the trading integration of the Colombian, Chilean and Peruvian stock markets that began under the framework of the Integrated Latin American Market (MILA) on May 30.
The statement released yesterday said that the decision referred only to a postponement of the merger and not a modification of any of its terms. Nonetheless, Kurt Buneo, Humala’s economic advisor, said that the integration of stock trading had been done “too quickly,” and the new government would need to renegotiate if “there is asymmetry in the distribution of benefits.”
Following the announcement, the BVL fell 11 percent and and the BVC dropped 2 percent.
In spite of the delay, officials from the two exchanges reiterated their support for the agreement, saying it would contribute to both countries’ economic growth, and a final deal could happen later this year. The merger would continue the process of diversification, expansion and improvement of the Colombian, Peruvian and Chilean exchange markets begun with the launch of MILA—the second-largest stock market in Latin America after Brazil’s—earlier this year. There is also the possibility that Mexico and Panama may join MILA.
President Barack Obama arrived in Puerto Rico today, marking the first time in 50 years that a current U.S. president has visited the island. The five-hour trip kicked off with a brief speech in San Juan where the president supported a referendum for Puerto Rico residents to decide their political status—the options being statehood, independence or remaining a commonwealth. He will deliver a longer address during a visit with Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño at the governor’s mansion where he is expected to discuss the $7 billion stimulus package granted to Puerto Rico and its effect on the island’s 16 percent unemployment rate.
According to the Cecilia Muñoz, White House director of intergovernmental affairs, the visit demonstrates that the Obama administration has prioritized Puerto Rico’s economic and political affairs. Shortly after taking office, Obama expanded a presidential task force on Puerto Rico’s political status created by former President Clinton in 2000 and chaired by Ms. Muñoz.
Following trips to North Carolina and Florida where jobs and the economy were the topics of interest, today’s trip to Puerto Rico is also a sign that the President is gearing up for the 2012 campaign. Though Puerto Ricans who live on the island cannot vote in the presidential election, frequent migration and strong ties between Puerto Rico and U.S. cities like New York and Florida give the president an audience that extends far beyond the residents of San Juan. 4.5 million Puerto Ricans live in the mainland United States.
Today’s visit is a chance for the president to address the booming Latino electorate on the mainland. He will no doubt remind his audience that he has appointed more Latinos to his presidential cabinet than any other president in American history, along with Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor.
As part of a four-country, seven-day official visit through South America, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon made his first stop in Colombia over the weekend. He joined Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to visit sites in the north of the country, near the Caribbean Sea, that have been subject to floods and mudslides. Altogether these natural disasters have killed 469 people since last year.
Ban ended his visit yesterday in the town of Soacha by visiting populations displaced by ongoing internal violence. He praised Colombia’s recently-ratified Victims’ Law, which awards territory and compensation to over four million internally-displaced Colombians. The secretary-general visited a school in the large settlement for uprooted civilians of Altos de la Florida, which was constructed with UN funds. Ban, the former South Korean foreign minister, recalled his own personal childhood—having been displaced as a result of the Korean War that bifurcated the Korean Peninsula.
Ban’s tour comes one week after he announced his intention to seek a second term as secretary-general. Colombia occupies one of the non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council, and Ban received Santos’ endorsement over the weekend.
The secretary-general continues to Argentina today, where he will be received by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. He will also travel to Uruguay and Brazil, wrapping up his Latin American tour on Friday, June 17.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón yesterday signed into law 11 articles that will reform the Mexican constitution to increase protections for human rights and bring Mexico into conformity with international human rights agreements. According to reports, the reform is designed to grant greater power to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) by broadening its authority to investigate reports of human rights violations. It will also allow any Mexican to challenge the constitutionality of federal and local laws that might violate the rights of any citizen. The signing ceremony included Juan Silva, president of the Supreme Court of Justice, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, president of the Senate and Raúl Plascencia, president of the National Commission on Human Rights.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay lauded Calderón’s decision in a press release saying, “This tangible and positive reform ought to take Mexico towards better and stronger recognition and implementation of the human rights contained in the constitution and international treaties.”
Reactions by human rights groups have been mixed. Some question whether the Calderón administration, whose security policies have led to an upsurge in drug-related violence in recent years, will permit stronger scrutiny of its actions. Other groups claim that ambiguities in the new law will make enforcement difficult.
The situation of widespread violence in our border states stemming from drug cartel wars and the federal government’s attempt to combat them is well known. But I would like to share a story of success that truly symbolizes the strength we can find in social unity when coping with the present state of instability.
The people of Monterrey (located in the northeastern part of Mexico) used to consider the southern part of Texas both their playground and their place for shopping. Even after NAFTA made most consumer products readily available within Mexico, the custom of taking a weekend trip to the Rio Grande Valley or destinations such as San Antonio, Austin or Corpus Christi remained.
That is, until people became too afraid to travel on the Mexican highways near the border. The past couple of years have seen a sharp decline in tourists willing to risk their lives to pass through towns like Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo, Río Bravo, and Matamoros—all overrun by the cartels. In Monterrey, too, people are less willing to be out on the town after hours. They are afraid of being caught in the middle of a fight between rivaling cartels or criminals and authorities.
However, due to the proliferation of new social media (specifically Twitter) people are now better equipped to cope with their fears. Local anonymous heroes have emerged and created accounts such as @TrackMty, @SPSeguro and @MAGS_SP that are used to warn people about risk zones and specific attacks in real time. Each citizen who follows these users becomes a non-official reporter. And with the widespread popular response to these new accounts, the result is eyes and ears everywhere of people willing to invest a couple of minutes to warn others of danger and lessen the possibilities of innocent people being caught in the crossfire.
Thousands of fervent fans will converge in Charlotte, North Carolina today for two games of the much anticipated CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer tournament, which gives national teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean an early chance to further their World Cup ambitions. Although Charlotte is not widely known as a Hispanic soccer hub and the city has never hosted such an important tournament, millions of viewers from across the hemisphere will tune in tonight as Costa Rica battles El Salvador, and Cuba takes on the Mexico’s national team.
Charlotte first attracted the attention of Gold Cup organizers in 2010 when nearly 65,000 fans packed Bank of America Stadium to watch an exhibition match between Mexico and Iceland. Although soccer has struggled to take hold in much of the United States, support for the sport in Charlotte has been buoyed by Latino immigrants. North Carolina is home to an estimated 410,000 Mexicans, and more than 50,000 Cubans, Costa Ricans and Salvadorans, according to the 2010 census.
Charlotte residents are optimistic that the Gold Cup will boost the local economy. According to the Charlotte Regional Visitor’s Authority, last year’s exhibition brought in $11.6 million, largely from tourists travelling from other states. For today’s games, local Spanish-language radio stations La Voz de Charlotte and La Raza have helped generate hype by giving away free tickets and jerseys and by taking countless calls from soccer enthusiasts.
Since the Gold Cup’s creation in 1991, Mexico has won the tournament five times and the United States, four. But history doesn’t temper the support of fans for underdogs like Costa Rica, El Salvador and Cuba, who have never won. This year’s champion will earn a place in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, a crucial stop on the long road to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2014.
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.
Victorious Humala Plans SouthAm Travels
The latest numbers from Peru’s electoral authority confirm that Ollanta Humala maintains his lead over Keiko Fujimori, who conceded defeat on Monday. Humala won 51.465 percent of the votes against Fujimori’s 48.535 percent, with 98 percent of the ballots counted. Several Latin American leaders congratulated Humala on his victory and invited him to visit their countries. Humala begins a tour of South America next Wednesday that will take him to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile, and then the rest of South America. The goal of the trip will be to strengthen bilateral relations with Peru’s regional neighbors and to push agreements aimed at promoting Peru’s development. Humala also says he hopes to visit the United States.
Humala gave his first sit-down interview since the election to CNN en Español on June 6, in which he proposed allowing recall elections for the president and legislators, as well as reforming the Peruvian Constitution to allow the state to invest public money. He also said that under his administration military figures will only occupy military positions and there will be “zero tolerance for drugs.” He noted that ex-President Alberto Fujimori, currently serving time for corruption and human rights abuses, will only be transferred to an ordinary jail cell if the courts decide to move him. “We don’t want more divergence. We want unity.”
Peru’s Stock Market Rebounds after Monday’s Steep Drop
The Peruvian stock market continued to recover Wednesday, after ratings agencies said that President-elect Ollanta Humala’s election would not affect the country’s investment-grade status. The Lima General Index plummeted 12.5 percent on Monday—the largest drop since it was created in 1981—and closed early, after conservative Keiko Fujimori conceded defeat to Humala. The Economist Intelligence Unit explores the meaning of the election for Peru’s economy.
Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about Humala’s electoral victory.
Ecuador, Venezuela Oppose OPEC Production Increase
The presidents of Ecuador and Venezuela met this week and released a statement arguing against an increase in oil production by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), of which both countries are members. Their statement came a day before a June 8 summit in Vienna, where OPEC failed to ratify a proposal by Saudi Arabia and three other Persian Gulf countries to raise output.
In a sign of tightening economic cooperation, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his Ecuadorian counterpart Rafael Correa signed 12 bilateral agreements yesterday in the Ecuadorian resort town of Salinas. Some of the agreements focused on creating joint ventures for housing and the production and sale of cocoa. Others covered the sectors of tourism, health, social security, and technology.
Furthermore, despite calls among Gulf Arab states of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to escalate daily outputs by its members, both presidents rejected such demands while in Salinas. Correa claimed that OPEC quotas should not increase given current global demand levels, noting that “production will have to increase when demand grows.” Ecuador and Venezuela are OPEC member nations.
The two leaders also celebrated the victory earlier this week of Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala. They noted that Humala’s victory and yesterday’s bilateral agreements are further signs of regional integration. Chávez added that this integration is intended to turn Latin America into “a zone of peace and democracy.”
As U.S. trade policy has returned to the headlines in 2011, much of the discussion is focused on packaging the three pending pacts (Colombia, Panama and South Korea) into one large bill or sequencing the consideration of each individual free-trade agreement (FTA). And more recently talk is centered on the impasse over Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). But less attention is on other components of the broader trade agenda awaiting congressional action, namely extension of trade preference programs.
Back in February, Republicans scrapped a House of Representatives vote on extension of the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA) to protest the lack of a firm timetable for moving the Colombia and Panama FTAs. The result: duty-free treatment expired for Colombian and Ecuadorian imports. Since then, the Obama administration has pressed for renewal, even as the future of this 20-year-old program remains in doubt. Could the next renewal of ATPA be its last?
Initial ATPA participants included Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. The goal was a noble one: to encourage a shift away from illegal drug production by expanding alternative export sectors and promoting economic growth. In 2008, Bolivia was suspended from the program when the Bush Administration deemed it incompliant with eligibility criteria related to counter-narcotics cooperation, and in 2010, Peru was dropped from the list of beneficiaries following approval of its FTA with the United States.
Now, only Colombia and Ecuador are left. In Colombia’s case, the argument for one more renewal is sound. Exporters are counting on a retroactive extension that will cover tariff costs since February, and they’ll continue to need the preferences until the FTA enters into force, assuming all goes well in Congress this summer. The bigger picture is that Colombia is a key U.S. ally that deserves better than the uncertainty created by short-term extensions. The most recent ATPA renewal, in December 2010, lasted only six weeks.
The Supreme Court ordered a federal appeals court on Monday to review a ban against anti-immigrant legislation in Hazelton, PA. Hazelton’s infamous Illegal Immigration Relief Act of 2006 was deemed unconstitutional by Federal Judge James Munley in 2007. Last September, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld most clauses of Judge Munley’s injunction, effectively shutting down the law.
The Supreme Court can order lower courts to reconsider a decision in light of a more recent high court decision. In this case, the higher court ruling to uphold key provisions of Arizona’s SB 1070—namely that employers would lose their business license if they knowingly employed undocumented immigrants—has led to a revision of the Hazelton law with similar penalties for employers. Ironically, the Illegal Immigration Relief Act is considered the impetus for punitive immigration laws in Arizona, Georgia and across the U.S. since 2006.
But local reaction in Hazleton is mixed. In the wake of this news, one resident commented: “elected officials should bury it [Hazleton's law] , be done with it and get to work on fixing real problems.” The law has also had far-reaching social and economic consequences. Roughly half of Hazelton’s 10,000 Latinos—including its documented population—reportedly left the city due to its immigration law. The town also saw an estimated 20 percent to 50 percent drop in business in the months following its implementation, even though it was eventually blocked.
The Supreme Court decision on Hazelton’s law in many ways exemplifies the current tension at the federal and state levels over progressive versus regressive immigration policy. On the one hand, the Supreme Court decided yesterday to allow California to grant in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. But last Thursday, the Alabama Legislature passed an Arizona-style immigration bill with a wide margin, and Georgia’s punitive immigration law goes into effect on July 1. The inconsistency of immigration law presents newfound urgency for, as well as clear challenges to, a comprehensive federal immigration policy.
With 89.2 percent of the ballots counted from yesterday’s presidential runoff election in Peru, first-round winner and Gana Perú candidate Ollanta Humala leads first-round runner-up and Fuerza 2011 candidate Keiko Fujimori by a less than 3 percent margin.
Shortly after midnight yesterday, Humala declared victory in downtown Lima and delivered a speech to supporters in which he pledged to fulfill his commitments to the Peruvian people. Fujimori has vowed not to concede until Peru’s official electoral body, Oficina Nacional de Procesos Electorales (ONPE), declares a winner. An ONPE interactive map shows Keiko winning in the capital Lima and surrounding areas as well as in northern coastal regions. Humala won by large margins in rural areas and in highland cities. Currently, Humala leads by nearly 375,000 votes out of roughly 14 million ballots counted.
If Humala’s lead holds, his victory would signify a rebuke of outgoing President Alan García’s economic policies, which are credited with sustaining high growth levels, but also criticized for doing little to combat poverty and economic inequality. A survey last month revealed that only 22 percent of Peruvians believed that the García model should be replicated by his successor.
Analysts say Humala’s success at the polls in some of Peru’s closest-ever elections is due to the excitement his campaign generated as opposed to Fujimori’s candidacy which some say “lacked feeling.” Also, Humala largely avoided talking last week about his controversial economic policies, choosing instead to focus on combatting poverty and corruption.
This morning, the Bolsa de Valores de Lima (Lima Stock Exchange) temporarily suspended operations after its value declined by 8.7 percent mere moments after opening for morning trades.
El Salvador President Mauricio Funes started his third year in office last week with a series of policy announcements primarily dealing with citizen security.
The proposed security policies would first institute compulsory military service for 5,000 at-risk youth between the ages of 14 and 16. These young men and women will be recruited if they reside in high-risk areas prone to gang violence as a deterrent and preventive measure but also as a mechanism for rehabilitation. The caveat is that these youth wouldn’t be trained in weapons use and military tactics. Instead, they would be exposed to military discipline and trained in civil protection measures at times of natural disaster. Recruited men and women would be paid for their service and would later constitute a sort of civil protection reserve—not a bad idea in a country frequently exposed to natural disasters. Other new security measures include the creation of a special committee composed of high-level security cabinet members that would closely follow-up on investigations of serious criminal investigations along with the addition of 1,000 new police officers.
How effective will these new policies be in a context of what seems like a spiraling plague of crime? This has yet to be seen. However, what’s true is that the compulsory military recruitment initiative is the first and perhaps most radical policy initiative made in the region since the Mano Dura programs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in the late 1990s and 2000s. Boosting the police force may seem like more of the same, but some experts suggest that increased levels of crime are a result of a lack of state presence. The presence of the police force, at the very least, represents state control of currently gang-ridden territories.
The next obvious question is how soon these measures will be taken. First, Funes has to overcome some legal limitations to the youth military service initiative, and reforms to the Military Career Law must go through the legislative assembly. Some government officials are already criticizing the measure, including the Human Rights Ombudsman, the National Institute for Children and Adolescents and a juvenile judge.
Peru will elect a new President on Sunday in a second-round election pitting Fuerza 2011 candidate Keiko Fujimori against Gana Perú candidate Ollanta Humala. Both candidates yesterday delivered their closing campaign speeches in which Humala focused on the fight against poverty and inequality, while Fujimori stressed pro-growth policies and pledged to honor all of Peru’s free trade agreements. The rallies took place less than 1 kilometer apart in downtown Lima. Fujimori, who has worked hard to win the support of centrist voters, also expressed her concerns about Humala’s formerly close ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez saying, “I would never allow another country to interfere with the affairs of our country."
The latest polls by polling firm Ipsos Apoyo show the candidates nearly neck and neck with Fujimori slightly ahead of Humala 51.1 percent to 48.9 percent.
For many, it seems, economic concerns will trump fears that a Fujimori administration could jeopardize Peru’s recent progress in protecting human rights and combatting corruption. ''The higher-income groups will vote for Fujimori because of her economic policies…they are worried about corruption and human rights abuses, but in the end they'll vote to protect their wallets,” said Andrea Stiglich, a Latin America specialist at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit.
In the final weeks of a bruising presidential campaign, human rights activists and democracy defenders in Peru have rallied around left-wing nationalist candidate Ollanta Humala—not because they are overly confident in his candidacy, but because they fear a return to the past.
“From Humala we have doubts, but with Keiko we have proof,” they say, referring to the candidacy of Congresswoman Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori, who is in jail on charges of corruption and human rights abuse.
Keiko has said she will not free her father if she is elected president, and that she suffered as a young woman watching the collapse of his regime—something she does not want her own two daughters to experience.
While most voters accept that Keiko, 36, is not her father—a fact of which she reminded them daily during the four weeks leading up to the run-off vote—they question why the young Fujimori has included many of her father’s advisors in his campaign, and why she has said he was the best president ever.
Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Congress, yesterday approved nationwide public smoking bans and strict advertising regulations for tobacco companies—by a vote of 181-0 with one abstention. The vote echoes a bill already ratified by the Argentine Senate in August 2010, and a similar law in the Buenos Aires municipality in effect since October 2006.
Going forward, smoking will be prohibited in enclosed public spaces such as bars, restaurants, theaters, nightclubs, and covered stadiums. Smoking, however, will still be permitted in parks, public squares and open-air stadiums. In addition, tobacco companies must include warning labels on their product packaging. They will also be banned from using deceptive marketing terms for their cigarettes such as “light” and “soft.”
The new law is expected to yield significant public health benefits. Government statistics indicate that 15 to 20 percent of Argentine pregnant women smoke throughout their pregnancy—one of the highest nationwide rates in the world. Roughly one-third of adults in Argentina smoke tobacco; Argentine government data shows that tobacco-related diseases lead to roughly 40,000 deaths annually.
Health minister Juan Manzur lauded the breakthrough, saying that “at last Argentina has a national law controlling tobacco, which puts limits on a habit that sadly many citizens have, and which is highly toxic.” Uruguay and Brazil passed similar nationwide bans, which Manzur claims have “shown excellent results.”
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.
Peru Runoff: Fujimori and Humala in a Tight Race to the Finish
Peru’s second-round vote is slated for Sunday, but who the winner will be is far from clear. The two candidates—conservative Keiko Fujimori and left-leaning Ollanta Humala—are running neck and neck, while polls show many voters remain undecided. Reuters Factbox summarizes a large portion of the last major polls from last week (Pollsters cannot publish surveys in Peru during the last week before the election). All list Fujimori leading, but, in some cases, her lead is less than 1 percent. An Imasen poll published May 29 shows Humala ahead by 1.3 percent. An Ipsos Apoyo survey measuring voter intention and published by El Comercio on May 29 shows Fujimori ahead by 2 percent. But the incidence of blank votes hit 12 percent while undecided votes hit 8 percent.
Access an AS/COA Online election guide to the Peruvian second-round vote, including links to coverage, candidate plans, and Sunday’s presidential debate.
IMF Candidates Seek Support from Brazil
Christine Lagarde arrived in Brazil Sunday to field support for her candidacy for the IMF director position left vacant after Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned over a sexual assault scandal. Mexican Central Bank Director Agustín Carstens followed Lagarde to Brazil on Wednesday, where he pitched his candidacy to Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega. Brazil has yet to throw its support behind either candidate.
Read an AS/COA Online analysis about Latin America and the call for a non-European IMF director.
Where Do Brazilian Taxes Go?
Though the average Brazilian must spend six months working just to pay taxes, says A Folha de São Paulo, few know where their money goes due to poor transparency laws. Greg Michener blogs in The Christian Science Monitor about a long-delayed proposal to make Brazilian taxation more transparent.
Brazil’s Enviro Agency Grants Dam-construction Licenses
The Brazilian environmental agency (known as Ibama) kicked off June by giving the green light to and issuing licenses for construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. The project, which has drawn criticism and legal action from environmentalists, will be built on a tributary of the Amazon River.
Read an AS/COA Online analysis of the legislative debate on reform of Brazil’s Forest Code.
For several weeks now, Keiko Fujimori has been ahead in most of the major polls. If she wins, she will be the first female president in Peru. While Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, who ran against Keiko’s father in 1990 has said the choice between Ollanta Humala and Keiko is like choosing between AIDS and cancer, no one has asked what it would mean to have a female president in Peru. At least some academic literature suggests there are differences between male and female heads of states.
Would Keiko Fujimori lead differently than a male counterpart? Would Keiko’s policies better benefit women?
There is a wide body of literature around women and corruption. Here, it has been suggested than women possess certain innate qualities that make them less corrupt than men. Given this assumption, would Keiko be less corrupt than her male counterpart? Keiko is the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for corruption and human rights abuses. While many argue that children are not necessarily replicas of their parents, she has surrounded herself with her father’s old advisors and there have been reports that her father is leading her election campaign from prison. Her top campaign advisor is Jaime Yoshiyama, who helped rewrite Peru's constitution after Alberto Fujimori shut down congress in 1992.
Amid a mix of praise and criticism, President Mauricio Funes today marks his second anniversary as the leader of El Salvador, with surveys showing that Salvadorans commend him for his progressive social policies but disapprove of the economy’s slow growth and rampant violence. In a national survey conducted by the Instituto Universitario de Opinión Pública at the Universidad Centroamericana from April 29 to May 7, 1,262 Salvadorans rated Funes' job performance at 6.16 on a scale of 1 to 10, down from 6.78 a year ago and 7.6 in August 2009.
A member of the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación (FMLN)—a leftist guerrilla organization that was converted into a political party in 1992—Funes assumed the presidency in the midst of the global economic recession and following 20 years of consecutive government by the right-wing Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA) party. He prioritized maintaining close relations with the United States, where more than 2 million Salvadorans live and work, contributing to the U.S. economy as well as to the Salvadoran economy through remittances. The President also has focused on implementing social policies to mitigate the effects of the recession on the Salvadoran poor. Among these is the provision of free lunches, school supplies, uniforms, and shoes to more than 377 million public school students; free medical services; and the Plan de Agricultura Familiar to assist small farmers with credit, insurance, technical assistance, and the procurement of seeds and fertilizer.
While survey results show that Salvadorans recognize the social achievements of the Funes government, they fault the President for failing to improve the economy and effectively combat widespread violence. El Salvador’s economy is projected to grow only 2.5 percent in 2011, although that number is up from 1.4 percent growth in 2010 and a 3.1 percent decline in 2009. Likewise, Funes’ government has succeeded in reducing the extortion rate by 28 percent and bringing down the daily average of homicides, but the latter still stands at 11 per day.
Today Funes will present the FMLN-led Legislative Assembly with an assessment of his past two years of government. The party has confirmed in a press release that it will continue to implement policies in favor of El Salvador’s most disadvantaged populations.
Despite efforts from various U.S. congressmen to convince their peers that Mexican drug cartels should be classified as terrorist organizations operating within the United States, the U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Homeland Security (DHS) recently decided against it. In doing so, the U.S. administration missed out on yet another opportunity to show resolve in the fight against binational drug-related crime and violence.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón continues a full frontal assault against the cartels, recently deploying a larger contingent of soldiers to border towns, but the U.S. government apparently has other priorities and/or larger problems to deal with.
The Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego writes in its most recent Justice in Mexico report that according to DHS Office of Anti-terrorism Director Grayling Williams, “the mechanisms and laws already in place in the U.S. to deal with drug trafficking are sufficient and the proposed terrorist classification would be unnecessary.”
Although there is no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition of terrorism, the key message behind this decision has less to do with defining the term and more to do with how the government agencies are willing to deal with this growing problem. Classifying Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations would set a clear agenda on fighting the drug trade. It would also open up a series of procurement processes for projects combating the issue both within Mexico and the United States.
With Peru’s presidential runoff only five days away, the last polls that can be legally published before the vote show that the race is neck-and-neck. The Peruvian polling firm Imasen reported on Sunday that Ollanta Humala of Gana Perú holds a slim 1.3 percent lead over his opponent, Keiko Fujimori of the Fuerza 2011 party. Ipsos Apoyo found a similarly tight race with 50.5 percent supporting Fujimori and 49.5 percent prefering Humala. Approximately 20 percent of Peru’s voters are still undecided.
With polls showing no clear frontrunner, the first and only televised debate on Sunday was seen as opportunity for one candidate to take the lead ahead of the June 5 runoff. However, neither presidential hopeful emerged as a clear winner. Rather than focus on wooing undecided voters, Humala and Fujimori exchanged political jabs.
Humala recalled the human rights abuses and corruption that plagued Peru under Keiko Fujimori’s father, former President Alberto Fujimori. Keiko Fujimori responded by asserting her political independence and casting doubt on her rival’s far-left policies—including taxing the rich and spending heavily on social programs—that she claimed would endanger Peru's strong economic growth rate and scare off foreign investors.
Peru’s elite appears as divided as the electorate. Former president Alejandro Toledo is backing Humala, while his ex-prime minister, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is supporting Fujimori.
Last week, President Barack Obama delivered a major foreign policy speech about the “Arab Spring” in the Middle East and North Africa. It was bold, insightful and comprehensive. He mentioned just about every country in those areas that has made headlines recently: Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen. Just about every country except for one very big and important one: Saudi Arabia. It turned out to be the elephant in the room, and its conspicuous absence from the speech spoke louder than most any other point.
Similarly, in recent major speeches about Latin America, President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and outgoing Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Valenzuela have also neglected to mention the oil-rich elephant in this hemisphere: Venezuela.
Why should we be silent on Venezuela? Is it a country—like Saudi Arabia—that we so often treat with kid gloves?
Late last year, it was officially stated that we know that the Venezuelan state has connections to narcotraffickers and terrorists (among other items). This came thanks to the Senate’s “questions for the record” answered with refreshing candor by then-ambassador nominee to Venezuela Larry Palmer.
When the truth is already “out there,” why should we still be passive with this South American country?
Several tell me that the great debate on Venezuela inside our government is still hot between the strategic engagement (or “appeasement”) camp and the proactive camp. But, the numbers in the strategic engagement side seem to be dwindling. This is good news. Nevertheless, to date, the tensions between these two camps and consequential apparent indecision and confusion about our policy direction continues to cost us internally and in the region.
Thousands of Indigenous protestors have mobilized in the highland city of Puno, Peru, this week over fears that a Canadian-led silver mining operation will contaminate water supplies in the area. The protests, which began on Thursday, have largely cut off the city of 120,000 from the rest of Peru, stranded hundreds of foreign tourists who use the town as a staging point for tours of Lake Titicaca, and shut down a nearby border crossing to Bolivia.
According to local reports, these latest protests, which come less than 10 days before Peru’s scheduled second-round presidential elections on June 5, have been accompanied by sporadic violence. "They've started to loot public and private institutions, banks and shopping centers," police officer William Anda said on local radio. In response, President Alan Garcia has authorized the army to prevent escalation, but it has thus far not acted to put down the protests by force.
In a statement, Andrew Swarthout, CEO of the mining firm Bear Creek, which holds the concessions over the areas in dispute, attributed the protests to pre-election political tension, "which have arisen from communities distant from and unaffected by the Santa Ana Project." Hernán Cauna, a protest leader, declared: "We will defend our land until the very end, even though the state is causing pressure by mobilizing their armed forces and police.”
Less than 10 days before Peru’s presidential run-off election, Keiko Fujimori of the Fuerza 2011 ticket is pulling ahead of Gana Perú candidate Ollanta Humala, according to the latest figures by polling firm Datum. Fujimori had the support of 52.9 percent of respondents, compared to 47.1 percent for Humala. This latest poll, which surveyed 1,214 people and was conducted on Sunday, indicates an increase in Fujimori’s lead of about one percentage point from the previous poll, conducted earlier this month.
Humala was scheduled to travel to Brazil today to meet with President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva—after whom Humala has tried to recast his public image. However, Humala decided to cancel the trip at the last minute, according to spokesman Javier Diez Canseco, so that he could focus on consolidating popular support during the final campaign stretch.
Humala is a former political mentee of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and appears to be struggling to convince voters that he has abandoned his radical-left past. Although he has vowed to govern as a moderate and has backed down on earlier proposals to increase taxes and take over private pension funds, the Datum poll showed that fully half of Peru’s voters believe Humala might govern as an authoritarian ruler. Only one-third of voters think he will honor the country’s international agreements, including free trade deals.
Fujimori, daughter of jailed former President Alberto Fujimori, enjoys strong backing by the business community, who believe she will continue the free-market economic reforms begun by her father in the 1990s. Critics feel she is too close to her father politically and over-reliant on his former aides and policy advisors.
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.
PDVSA Hit with U.S. Sanctions over Iran Ties
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro said Tuesday he could not guarantee the supply of oil to the United States after the Obama administration sanctioned Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA over its dealings with Iran's energy sector. Venezuela exports one million barrels of oil per day to the United States, which amounts to 10 percent of U.S. imports. The Chávez administration threatened to cut exports in the past, but did not do so.
Colombia’s Senate Passes Victims Law
The Victims Law, which would provide a system of state reparations and means to recover illegally usurped land to victims of the country’s civil conflict, passed Colombia’s Senate. The House and Senate versions must now be reconciled. La Silla Vacía outlines the main points that require clarification before the Colombian Congress decides to approve the legislation.
LatAm, Asia Still Leading the Way on Global Econ Recovery
The UN’s mid-year update to the World Economic Situation and Prospects Report found that Asia and Latin America continue to aid a global economy on the mend. “The strong recovery continues to be led by the large emerging economies in Asia and Latin America, particularly China, India, and Brazil,” according to the report. However, the survey also warns of potential bumps in the road for these growth economies: “[C]oncerns include persistently rising inflation and emerging domestic asset price bubbles, fuelled by large capital inflows and related upward pressure on their exchange rates.”
Latinos Like Mobile
In February, the Pew Hispanic Center released a report finding that Latinos were less likely than non-Hispanic whites to use the internet, have a home broadband connection, or own a cell phone. A new study by the Hispanic Institute, however, found that English-speaking Hispanics have “emerged as the most avid users of wireless services,” and that they are more likely than non-Hispanics to own a cell phone, send text messages, and use a greater variety of mobile features.
Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies voted yesterday in favor of a measure easing forest preservation requirements in the Amazon region. The vote comes only a week after Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira announced the creation of a high-level deforestation commission tasked with “suffocating deforestation.”
Under the new law, commercial farmers would be allowed to clear previously restricted areas such as hilltops and slopes, along with land only 50 feet away from rivers and streams. It would also make it easier for landholders to meet conservation quotas for their properties and offer amnesty to some who have illegally cleared land in the past.
Supporters of the amendments argue the changes are necessary in order to boost agricultural production and economic development. Critics and environmentalists contend that current laws are already too weak and poorly enforced. Production can be increased, they say, by increasing output in areas already cleared for farming.
The bill will now move to the senate, where it will likely be amended before reaching President Dilma Rousseff. Ms. Rousseff has said she will veto any legislation that includes amnesty for prior deforestation violations.
The United States announced new sanctions on Tuesday against Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA and six other foreign oil and shipping firms that trade with Iran. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said that sanctioned companies “engaged in activities related to the supply of refined petroleum products to Iran” in breach of an existing U.S. ban. PDVSA delivered at least two cargoes of refined petroleum products worth about $50 million to Iran between December 2010 and March 2011.
Sanctioned companies will not be allowed to access U.S. government contracts, import/export financing and export licenses for sensitive technology, but do not affect the companies’ sale of oil to the U.S. or the activities of its subsidiaries. According to the State Department, the sanctions are aimed at tightening Iran’s gasoline supplies, which will undoubtedly have a ripple effect on the energy sector in the Islamic Republic.
The other six sanctioned companies include Tanker Pacific of Singapore, Ofer Brothers Group of Israel, Associated Shipbroking of Monaco, Petrochemical Commercial Company International of Jersey and Iran, the Royal Oyster Group of the United Arab Emirates, and Speedy Ship of the United Arab Emirates and Iran.
The State Department announced a separate set of sanctions, also on Tuesday, directed at 16 companies and individuals in China, Iran, North Korea, and Syria involved in nuclear proliferation activities and development of weapons of mass destruction.
Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya signed an agreement yesterday in Cartagena, Colombia—brokered by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez—that allows him to legally return to Honduras for the first time since being overthrown in a June 2009 coup d’état. This accord was conceived at a meeting early last month between Santos, Chávez and current Honduran President Porfirio Lobo.
As part of the deal, Zelaya and his supporters will be allowed to participate in the Honduran political system. Corruption charges against Zelaya were dropped earlier this month. Lobo has pledged not to appeal them, meaning Zelaya can reenter Honduras without fear of prosecution Honduras is also expected to rejoin the Organization of American States as a full member, after being suspended one week after the coup took place.
At the Council of the Americas’ annual Washington Conference earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed support for this pact. Clinton noted that it will help reintegrate Honduras into the international community, calling this step “long overdue.”
The U.S. Congress is as relevant as the executive branch on many specific issues that affect U.S.-Latin American relations, from trade to immigration. Yet individual Members of Congress rarely pay sustained attention to policy toward the region as a whole. Instead, Capitol Hill’s focus tends to be narrow, reflecting the domestic sources of foreign policy and the constraints of lobbying interests in the exercise of its oversight responsibilities.
There are of course exceptions to this congressional trend, and among them, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) stand out. That's why both received the Council of the Americas Chairman’s Award for Leadership in the Americas last week.
Senators Menendez and Lugar are both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—Menendez is the Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee and Lugar is the Ranking Minority Member of the full Committee. It’s not easy to find bipartisan comity these days in Washington, but in fact these awards were richly deserved and widely praised.
Colombia is going through one of the most severe rainy seasons in decades. In twelve months of downpours, more than one million hectares (2.47 million acres) of productive land have been flooded, roads have been erased by mudslides, and big and small cities have been isolated and heavily damaged. So far, 428 people have died and 77 are reported missing, according to official figures. About 2.9 million people (6.4 percent of the total population) have been directly affected in 28 of the country’s 32 departments, according to the National Statistics Department.
“This is the worst natural tragedy in the history of the country, considering the number of people affected and the extension of the catastrophe,” said President Juan Manuel Santos. “It’s something like when Katrina hit New Orleans a few years ago, but this time we are talking about a whole country.”
The government estimates that this unprecedented rainy season, caused by the La Niña/El Niño weather phenomenon, could cost some 2.5 percent of the GDP. This is comparable to the destructive power of the country’s three most damaging natural disasters of the last 30 years: the earthquake in Armenia in 2001 (1.86 percent of GDP), the volcano eruption in Armero in 1985 (0.29 percent) and the earthquake in Popayan in 1983 (0.45 percent). But this time it’s all happening in one year.
Unpredictable forces of nature are in play in Colombia’s current disaster. No one can be blamed for that. But as national and local authorities wash their hands of responsibility, they persist in sponsoring policies and projects that alter (and sometimes destroy) the mechanisms that can both trigger or turn off such forces.
“Deforestation, the destruction of the páramos (high-mountain wetlands) and humedales (savanna wetlands) has profoundly altered the water cycle in our country and has led to the aggravation of floods, which have created favorable conditions for landslides,” wrote Manuel Rodriguez Becerra, a former environment minister. He is one of the most vocal critics of how the country is bartering its ecological assets for the short-term revenues of environmentally-unfriendly industries such as mining.
Almost two weeks after Ecuador held its sixth referendum in three years, the National Electoral Council (CNE) announced last night that nine of 10 referendum questions received majority votes in favor of President Rafael Correa’s proposals. Official results indicate that votes in favor of the proposals accounted for between 44.96 and 50.46 percent of votes cast, while votes opposed to the questions received between only 39.25 and 42.56 percent of votes. The results omit nullified votes or “blank” votes.
The final referendum question on whether to outlaw cock and bullfighting, a question to be addressed by individual districts, received approval in 127 of 221 districts. It will be implemented only in those districts where approved.
The referendum, viewed by many as a vote of confidence in the president himself, was largely expected to be approved. However, growing resentment of the president’s perceived reach into control of the media and his proposal to revamp the judiciary led many to believe that this would not be a landslide victory for Correa. The victory may bolster Correa’s chances for reelection in the next presidential elections, to be held in 2013, although its narrow margin suggests such an outcome may not be as easily achieved as was previously thought.
The results of the referendum now await final confirmation from the CNE, and opposition politicians may still contest the results by filing complaints with the electoral authorities.