On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report in which it denounced human rights violations at the hands of security forces in Mexico, as well as impunity for drug-related violence. In the Mexico chapter of its 200-page World Report 2011, the human rights organization says it found “strong evidence to suggest that members of Mexican security forces have participated in over 170 cases of torture, 39 disappearances, and 24 extrajudicial executions.” Moreover, noted José Miguel Vivanco, HRW director of the Americas, while there has been a surge in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderón took office, there has not been a comparable increase in criminal investigations. Only 997 of the 45,000 deaths related to drug violence have been formally investigated, and of those, a mere 22 have resulted in convictions. Vivanco also noted that, since the crimes are often attributed to disputes between drug cartels, the deaths of the victims are sometimes dismissed.
In the latest edition of Americas Quarterly, released yesterday, Alejandro Poiré, director of Mexico’s Center for Intelligence and National Security, and José Merino, professor of political science at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, debate the possibility of success in Mexico’s war on drugs. Poiré believes the war can be won, asserting, “Mexico has chalked up major victories—and will continue to do so, thanks to its multi-track approach that focuses not just on eliminating drug trafficking, but on building stronger law enforcement institutions and reinforcing our social fabric.” Merino, on the other hand, argues, “If winning means eliminating all drug production, trade and consumption, then the only honest answer is ‘no.’ The strategic lines drawn by the Mexican government rely on ‘containment and weakening’ criminal organizations, not ‘elimination,’” he says.
José Miguel Vivanco delivered the report in person to judicial authorities, military officials and President Calderón—noting that this last meeting was surprisingly constructive. The HRW report recommends a reform of the military justice code such that human rights violations committed by members of the armed forces be tried in civil rather than military courts. It also demands that the code prohibit admitting into court testimony obtained through torture.
¡Bang! ¡bang!. Viene un tipo, viene otro, luego serán más. Drogas, dólares y mucha sangre. Aquí todos matan a todos. ¡Bang! ¡bang! Una típica película hollywoodense del hampa chicana. Aunque esta vez el escenario es Panamá, la película es panameña y su autor es Panamalo.
Panamalo no cuenta su película. La actúa. Tiene ese idéntico gesto de matón de barrio turbio. Cambia la postura sacando un poco la panza, echando los hombros para atrás, abriendo los brazos, ostentando un par de pulseras y un reloj demasiado grande para su estatura. Tuerce los labios hacia abajo, burlón, y habla en un tono Caribe veloz, do mayor, casi ininteligible (por aquí diríamos que tiene una papa caliente en la boca). Los ojos le brillan. Casi, casi quisiera que eso que imagina fuese real. Pronto dirá, enfático: “Es real”. Es más, su protagonista, el malo, el corrupto, es—dice Panamalo—el vicepresidente. No se sabe si se refiere a la ficción o habla del gobierno actual de su país. Aunque al mismo tiempo, y a estas alturas, todos sabemos que Panamalo sabe lo que dice.
No fue difícil llamarlo Panamalo. Un joven panameño aspirante a director de cine. El caso es que Panamalo reniega y no se tapa la boca. Se sienta y me cuenta que allí donde estamos, en Ciudad del Saber, vivían los norteamericanos. Esos insoportables que ocuparon desde el siglo pasado 16 kilómetros de territorio panameño, ocho a cada lado del Canal de Panamá. Y que todo “su” territorio era inviolable y al que los panameños no podían entrar—¡en su propio país!, Panamalo alza la voz y sus ojos se inflan—, pero que los gringos podían, libremente, pasar y pisar la ciudad. Ellos tenían todo—relata Panamalo torciendo la boca, como cuando cuenta su película: sus supermercados, sus escuelas, sus centros médicos, sus cines, sus parques de diversión, sus viviendas, todo. Se llamaban y hasta ahora se llaman “zonians”. Es decir, nacidos en la zona—entonces norteamericana—del Canal. Ciertamente no eran panameños, no. Eran norteamericanos, aunque…tampoco. Eran “zonians”.
Y Panamalo pronuncia esta palabra como si hablase inglés. Habla. Es más, su esposa es norteamericana. Ajá.
Desde que los norteamericanos habitaron Panamá desde 1914 hasta 1999, los panameños tienen un conflicto de identidad. (Lo mismo que los “zonians” en los Estados Unidos quienes se reúnen anualmente en la Florida, “dominan los dos idiomas, bailan como panameños y actúan como gringos”. De hecho, John McCain es un “zonian”). Panamalo nos lleva a su bar preferido en el Casco Viejo de la ciudad cuyo dueño es un neoyorquino que dice no hablar español pero que cuando nadie lo oye, habla a la perfección. Allí está Felix que dice “hola” queriendo decir “hi”. Porque inmediatamente después comienza a hablar en inglés. Lo interpelo un poco bromeando y entonces saca del fondo de su memoria sus orígenes panameños—nació en Panamá—pero Felix tiene el corazón partido porque se crió en Puerto Rico. So, tú sabes. Y de ahí a Nueva York, no es nada. Entonces, Felix recupera la pose y dice “I am the boss, you know?” y mira a Panamalo pidiendo aprobación.
Panamalo tiene un país atorado en la garganta. Y cada que puede, escupe. Porque sólo él ha podido responderme ¿por qué en un país con 20 mil millones de dólares anuales de producto interno bruto para sólo 3 millones de habitantes, hay 37 por ciento de pobreza? La anécdota son aquellos hermosos edificios que se yerguen en la ciudad más promisoria de América Latina pero que están deshabitados porque—dicen las malas lenguas—son fruto del lavado de dólares del narcotráfico y la corrupción interna y la de los vecinos más próximos. El resto de la respuesta es casi previsible. ¡Bang! ¡bang! Panamalo.
Cecilia Lanza es una bloguera que contribuye a AQ Online y vive en La Paz, Bolivia.
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.
Former General Wins Guatemalan Election
Otto Pérez Molina, a former general who promised to take a mano dura (iron fist) to Guatemala’s rising crime problem, won Guatemala’s presidential election on November 6, capturing close to 54 percent of the vote. In an article for Time’s Global Spin blog, Tim Padgett says Guatemala needs a more effective police force, prosecuters, and judges rather than an iron fist. Writing for the Latin American Herald Tribune, COA’s Eric Farnsworth notes: “Guatemala’s task, along with others of its Latin American neighbors, is to develop effective democratic institutions that go beyond periodic elections.”
Ortega’s Rival Contests Nicaraguan Election Results
In Nicaragua’s November 6 election, current President Daniel Ortega coasted to reelection, capturing more than 60 percent of the vote—twice the percentage of his closest rival, Fabio Gadea. However, Gadea refuses to concede citing a "plague of irregularities." Among them, says Gadea, lies the questionable legality of Ortega’s second term. In an AQ web exclusive, James Bosworth puts Nicaragua’s electoral events in the context of other contested Latin American elections and explores what could come next.
Obama Signs Economic Development Agreement with El Salvador
In an interview with El Salvador’s El Diario de Hoy, U.S. President Barack Obama explained the Partnership for Growth Initiative. Signed on November 3, the plan was originally proposed during Obama’s visit to El Salvador in March. The plan aims to aid development and growth in El Salvador through increased investment, public-private partnerships, and technical support. Commenting on the plan, Obama said: “The success of this partnership will be seen through teamwork between the government of El Salvador, the private sector, international partners, and the Salvadoran people.”
Calderón’s Sister Vies For Governorship in Mexico
President Felipe Calderón’s older sister Luisa Maria Calderón is running for governor of Michoacán state on the National Action Party (PAN) ticket in the November 13 elections. If she wins, the victory could give a much-needed boost to Calderón’s beleaguered party before the 2012 presidential elections, reports Reuters.
The author also wrote “Dilma’s Education Dilemma” in the Fall 2011 issue of AQ.
When Dilma Rousseff assumed the Brazilian presidency in January 2011, she inherited perhaps Brazil’s most challenging socioeconomic issue to date: improving its education system. In recent years, Brazil has registered low rankings in international standardized assessments of topics like writing, reading comprehension and math. When coupled with other longstanding issues like inadequate federal funding as well as insufficient human and infrastructural resources, Brazil’s system is simply not able to keep up with the economy’s growing demands—especially in the high-tech sector.
Nevertheless, my article in the Fall 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly explains the delicacy of improving system: while increasing federal spending for education, Dilma must find ways to prune the budget, reduce fiscal deficits and keep foreign investors happy. By following in the footsteps of her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula), Dilma will turn to state-owned resources like oil to fund education policies—and maintain or increase the level of foreign investment.
Federal efforts to address the decline in educational performance began under Lula. While education reform was also important under the Cardoso administration (1994-2002), the Lula administration sought to expand and use its oil resources in order to fund education policy rather Cardoso’s approach which had been to pursue privatization and decentralization. In response to the discovery of new Pré-Sal (pre-salt) oil reserves off of the coast of Rio de Janeiro in 2007, before two years had passed Lula created a new federal agency for the national reserves and a “social fund” within the agency. This social fund uses approximately half of Pré-Sal’s earnings to fund education policy, signaling a clear break from Cardoso’s anti-statist approach to education policy—that is, to strategically expand and use state-owned resources in order to enhance the quality of education.
An article in the fall issue of Americas Quarterly, released today, explores the record of Chinese state-owned mining corporations on labor and the environment. In “Do Chinese Mining Companies Exploit More?” three researchers from the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) explore the impact of China’s foreign direct investment in natural resource extraction in Peru—underlining China’s increasing economic footprint in emerging regions like Latin America.
The article highlights an issue that is of growing concern. Just this month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a 122-page report outlining labor abuses by Chinese firms operating in copper mines in Zambia. The HRW paper states that the Chinese firms clamp down on union activity, promote low pay compared to the international average of copper mines, enforce 18-hour workdays, and operate mines with workplace safety concerns. The Chinese embassy in the Zambian capital of Lusaka has flatly denied HRW’s charges.
In comparing the practices of two OECD-owned companies to those of two Chinese companies, the PIIE scholars note some alarming differences in adherence to international labor and environmental standards. For example, the Shougang Corporation, which purchased the Hierro Perú mine in 1992, “angered the local population by cutting the Peruvian workforce in half and bringing in Chinese laborers. It reduced the quantity and quality of workers’ housing, while leaving blocks of homes once occupied by workers vacant in a town with an acute housing shortage.”
Nonetheless, Chinese firms may be treading a different path since the days of their earliest investments. According to the PIIE research, the Aluminum Corporation of China “appears to be working to avoid the behavior of Shougang.” It has not imported labor from China, has conducted public hearings with members of the local community, and has invested in infrastructure and community development.
Yesterday President Sebastián Piñera signed a bill to create the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones, an agency expected to supervise Chile’s $30 million-telecommunications industry. Accompanied by the Minister of Transporation and Telecommunications Pedro Errázuriz, Piñera said the goal of the bill—which will now be sent to Congress—is to “ensure a deeper control that allows the protection of consumers’ rights and the rapid resolution of conflicts between users and service providers.”
The size of the industry and the lack of a proper regulatory infrastructure to support it motivated the bill. According to official data from the Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas, Chile has more cellphones than people. In September 2010 the country showed 100 percent penetration with 17.6 million cellphones for a population of 17.1 million people. In addition, there are 3.5 million fixed lines and 2 million cable TV subscribers, accounting for 98 percent of households being provided the telecommunications service. “With this level of demand we must worry about the quality of the service,” said Minister Errázuriz.
The government expects the bill to be approved by the end of 2012 and the agency to be operational by 2013. Among the tasks that the new agency would have under its control are ensuring that service providers comply with the law, enforcing the regulation (with fines up to 1,000 per cent), issuing and terminating licenses, collecting and administering information about the sector, and regulating prices. Currently, the system is administered by the Subsecretaría de Telecomunicaciones (Subtel). In practice, once the Superintendencia starts working it will take charge of Subtel’s control and punitive attributions, while the Subsecretaría will keep promoting the industry’s development and growth.
The bill to create the regulatory agency is part of a comprehensive plan to reform the sector. During the last 20 months, other improvements have taken place such as unblocking cellphones, a neutral network, mobile number portability, and most recently the completion of the first phase of a plan to remove charges for domestic long-distance calls. So far, over six million customers have benefitted from this elimination.
Please find the original text below, submitted in Portuguese.
In Brazil, one name is synonymous with the digital culture movement: singer and songwriter Gilberto Gil. He has been referred to as a cyber-activist, warrior for free software and a “minister of hacking”—and he is considered the “ambassador” of this cause.
Gil has made a career out of challenging conventional wisdom and showing sufficient interest in the role that the Internet is playing in transforming the world. At a recent festival in São Paulo called youPIX, the singer, who turns 70 next year, was keen to stress the importance of how the Internet has challenged the status quo in politics, business and society.
It turns out Gil practices what he preaches. In June of this year, he provided all his discography to mobile platforms like Apple and Android. Gil is one of the great enthusiasts of the copyleft—a concept advocating openness and transparency by opposing the copyrighting of artistic works.
Known worldwide for his tropicalista songs—referring to the rhythm he invented with the Bahian Caetano Veloso—Gil was one of the two first musicians in Brazil to talk about the importance of digital culture. Even in the 1960s, he was a renegade in releasing a song called “Electronic Brain” which talked about robotics. By the 1990s, he unveiled “Through the Internet,” a song that predicted the potential unifying power of the Internet. The song became an anthem of sorts for Brazilian cyber-activists.
Guatemala and Nicaragua went to the polls yesterday to (re)elect their presidents; Otto Pérez Molina was declared the victor in Guatemala, while Nicaragua is still tabulating its votes. Pérez Molina, of the Partido Patriota (Patriot Party–PP) defeated Manuel Baldizón of the Libertad Democrática Renovada (Renewed Democratic Freedom–LIDER) party in Guatemala’s runoff election. Neither candidate had secured a majority vote in the September 11 primary.
Guatemala’s election authority, the Tribuno Supremo Electoral, notes that the PP got 53.8 percent of the vote and LIDER 46.2 percent. Pérez Molina, a former army general, has pledged to tackle Guatemala’s widespread crime and insecurity with a mano dura (firm hand), partly through hiring and training roughly 10,000 additional police officers and 2500 more soldiers.
This year’s election was historic for Guatemala because a woman—Roxana Baldetti—will assume the vice-presidency for the first time. Baldetti, a sitting congresswoman, has been a driving force in the PP calling for transparency in Guatemalan politics. She and Pérez Molina have campaigned on the promise to continue the inclusive, pro-poor programs of Sandra Torres, Guatemala’s first lady, which are highly popular.
In Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega and his Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (Sandinista Front of National Liberation—FSLN) are leading in the vote count. Nicaraguan daily La Prensa is reporting that, with 38.8 percent of ballots counted, the FSLN is winning with 63.95 percent, compared to 29.09 percent for its nearest rival, Fabio Gadea of the Partido Liberal Independiente (Liberal Independent Party–PLI). Ortega, who served as president from 1985-1990 and again from 2007 through the present, is widely expected to prevail and assume a third term. Yesterday Ortega’s wife and spokeswoman, Rosario Murillo, proclaimed, “This is the victory of Christianity, socialism and solidarity.”
What a difference a decade makes. The successful operation on Friday by Colombian armed forces that killed Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla kingpin Guillermo León Sáenz—known by his nom de guerre Alfonso Cano—represents another in a series of victories for President Juan Manuel Santos and his counterinsurgency strategy. Santos’s security policy, built on his predecessors’ Andrés Pastrana and Álvaro Uribe, has put the defeat of the FARC in sight—after the 1990s when the region’s longest running civil war appeared to have reached stalemate.
While Marxist-inspired guerrilla movements from Guatemala to Argentina put down their arms in the 1980s and 1990s—the result of peace negotiations and democratic transitions—the FARC rebels and the National Liberation Army (ELN), have plagued Colombia for nearly five decades. Both forces claim to represent Colombia’s peasants and at times have managed to control large swaths of territory in Colombia’s rugged rural areas. Though they continue to wrap themselves in the rhetoric of class struggle, both of the groups long ago became little more than armed criminal syndicates bankrolled by the drug trade in cocaine and other illicit narcotics, illicit commerce in gems, extortion, and kidnapping.
But the assassination of Cano, 63, referred to by Santos as “el número uno,” calls into question the long-term viability of the FARC. Shortly after it had happened, Santos’s press office released a statement vowing that the FARC had reached a “breaking point.”
Cano had assumed operational control of the FARC in March 2008 after one of its founders—Manuel Marulanda, also known as Tirofijo (Sure Shot)—died of natural causes. That same month, Colombian troops killed Raul Reyes, the chief FARC spokesman and member of its seven-person Secretariat. Then in July of that year, the Colombian army launched a successful mission that rescued Íngrid Betancourt, a senator and presidential candidate at the time of her capture in 2002, and 14 other hostages.
These successive events illustrated the army’s increasing infiltration into FARC operations. They were the result of Plan Colombia, the U.S.-backed program of financial aid, military training and intelligence cooperation.
Guatemalans head to the polls again tomorrow for the second round of their 2011 presidential elections that pits LIDER’s Manuel Baldizón against Patriot Party’s Otto Pérez Molina, a former army general during the height of the country’s civil war in the 1980s.
During the first round held on September 11, Pérez Molina secured a 13 percent lead over his rival, but not enough to ensure the 50 percent required by national law to claim victory.
In a surprisingly muted secondary phase of campaigning, Pérez Molina is still the favorite to win, with a 42 to 58 percent voter base according to a poll on Thursday in Prensa Libre, one of the leading national newspapers.
Iduvina Hernandez Batres, Director of Seguridad en Democracia paints a grim picture of the election. She said, “We are living in a state of risk in Guatemala. And with the chapina curse. That curse is that we have to choose between two criminals.”
Electoral campaigns for Sunday’s presidential and legislative elections closed on Wednesday night, with polls predicting that incumbent president Daniel Ortega will win another term. According to the latest Cid Gallup poll, Ortega, of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) party, leads with 48 percent of the voting intention. His nearest rival, 79-year-old Fabio Gadea of the Partido Liberal Independiente (PLI), trails at 30 percent. Former president Arnoldo Alemán (1997–2002) comes in third at 11 percent. According to Nicaraguan electoral law, a presidential candidate wins the election with a 40 percent plurality of votes, or 35 percent with a 5 percentage-point lead over the second-place candidate.
Ortega's high popularity at home is due in large part to an economy that has stabilized during his first term and is experiencing comparatively high growth for the region (next to Panama, it had the fastest growth in Central America in 2010). In addition, thanks to half a billion dollars a year in low-interest, long-term loans from Venezuela, Ortega’s government has given out generous subsidies for transport and electricity and increased spending on social programs, including an update of the land registry and anti-hunger measures.
Even as Ortega is poised to win, his running for office poses constitutional questions. Nicaragua’s constitution bans any president from serving more than two terms, or serving consecutive terms; Ortega, who served as president from 1979 – 1990 and returned to power in 2007, is barred on both accounts. Yet in 2009 Nicaragua’s Supreme Court, the Consejo Supremo Electoral (CSE), declared that the law did not apply to Ortega.
In addition, Sunday’s voting, which includes elections for legislative positions in addition to those of the president and vice president, has already been fraught with claims of wrongdoing. The government has been slow and selective in distributing cedulas, identity cards used for voting, and it is not allowing full international observation of the elections—only “accompaniment” by EU and Organization of American States delegates. The CSE has not accredited any domestic civil society organizations to monitor the elections, a move criticised by the EU and OAS.
On November 5, if the threats posted are real, Mexico could be witness to a new kind of civil resistance to the status quo and political system. Mexican and international members of the hacker group known as Anonymous, have published through different media (interviews to news papers, YouTube videos and twitter accounts) that although #OpCartel has been cancelled, a former member of the network and independent journalist will divulge information of ties between specific high-level government officials and the criminal organization Los Zetas, initially in the state of Veracruz but potentially in all of the country.
Anonymous officially backed down from unleashing #OpCartel allegedly due to the fact that their kidnapped member was released by the Zetas, but also due to threats from this group of a tenfold retaliation against the families of members in the hacker organization. Barrett Brown’s (@BarrettBrownLOL) decision to reveal information on the drug cartel on his own volition might just be a way to protect the Mexican Anonymous members while continuing to carry out the hackers' intended agenda. If the campaign is successful, the actions initiated by Anonymous and supposedly continued solely by Brown, could lead to a nationwide political scandal at incisively interesting pre-election times for the country.
In recent articles published here, I’ve posited that regardless of the people in power, Mexico’s core problems are systemic. The political structure in place not only allows, but even invites corrupt practices to take place. Collusion between politicians and criminals is widely suspected. Mexicans know the story all too well and the constant element present in each of the challenges we face as a country is lack of accountability and immense impunity, which is now being challenged by the actions of a rogue hacker group who could open up Pandora’s box and shed some light on the subject.
In 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke a lot about hope, and his book The Audacity of Hope became a best-seller. His campaign later was all about hopes and dreams. But times have changed. Today we have the Tea Party from the Right, active and influencing the mainstream GOP. The Occupy Wall Street movement from the Left is still very much in the news offering a different assessment of what ails America. This is a time where the outer edges of the political spectrum are dominating the news and affecting the mood of the country.
The 2008 recession continues to leave its mark on families and the social fabric of the nation. This goes a long way in explaining the emergence of populist movements: high unemployment, huge deficits, increasing debt, and income disparity make the general population more concerned about the direction of the country than at any time in recent memory. Is the country on an inevitable decline? Are hopes and dreams just part of the political rhetoric spewed by politicians on the hustings? Has America seen its best days?
The Peruvian Minister of Mines and Energy Carlos Herrera told Congress on Wednesday that the $4.8 billion Minas Conga mine project would not continue without the approval of the local community. “Projects should be approved by the people who will be affected by them," said Minister Herrera. Accompanied by the ministers of agriculture and the environment, Minister Herrera traveled to the project site in the northern Cajamarca region late Wednesday to negotiate an accord between the American mining company Newmont Mining and the local community.
Minas Conga is being developed in collaboration with Peruvian mining company Buenaventura and is expected to produce between 580,000 and 680,000 ounces of gold per year, starting in 2015. But local residents are concerned that the mine’s proximity to a water basin will cause pollution and sap vital water supplies. Responding to protests by local communities, some of which turned violent, Minister Herrera told Congress that "the position of the government is that it wants investment, but not at any price."
While it is unlikely that the project will be abandoned, Prime Minister Salomón Lerner Ghitis said on Wednesday that the government will carry out a "strict" evaluation of the mine’s environmental impact. On the other hand, the National Mining, Oil and Energy Society (SNMPE) said the government “cannot allow small, violent groups to impede inclusive development and private investment." An Americas Quarterly article to be released in the Fall issue on November 9 ("Do Chinese Mining Companies Exploit More?") looks at the labor rights and environmental records of Chinese mines in Peru.
As the world’s sixth largest gold producer, mines like Conga have fueled Peru’s stunning 7 percent annual growth rate. At the same time, President Ollanta Humala has made social inclusion a priority for his administration, promising to resolve the countless social and environmental conflicts plaguing Peru—many of them over mining and oil projects. President Humala will address the issue of responsible investment and social inclusion at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas Latin American Cities Conference in Lima tomorrow.
En los últimos seis años de gobierno panista bajo la dirección del Presidente Felipe Calderón, 16 estados de 32 entidades federativas que conforman México han cambiado sus constituciones locales para defender la vida humana desde el momento de la concepción.
La Constitución mexicana salvaguarda el derecho de las mujeres y de las parejas a decidir sobre el número y espaciamiento de las y los hijos, por lo que las recientes enmiendas de las constituciones locales devienen inconstitucionales, incluso ante la prohibición del uso de la píldora del día después y la fertilización in vitro.
La propuesta del ministro Fernando Franco de declarar fuera del marco de la Constitución general mexicana estas reformas estatales, ha despertado un gran debate en el que han tomado partido varias figuras públicas de alto nivel y defensores de derechos humanos como José Narro, rector de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, máxima casa de estudios en México o del ombudsman nacional, Raúl Plascencia.
Sin menospreciar las declaraciones del propio jefe de gobierno del Distrito Federal, Marcelo Ebrard, quien se ha manifestado –profusamente y en repetidas ocasiones—en favor del respeto a la libre decisión de las mujeres sobre su cuerpo, la arenga pública ha advertido que este tipo de prohibiciones pone en entredicho el Estado laico. Pocas naciones en el mundo pueden presumir de esta condición que a México le costó varias guerras y muertes entre los siglos diecinueve y veinte en aras de construir una nación fuerte y democrática.
Pero en este periodo aciago que México vive y la llegada de mentes conservadoras a puestos de poder han inclinado la balanza para que nuestro país se hunda más en el oscurantismo. Tras haber sido durante décadas una nación que mantenía un respetado liderazgo en América Latina, actualmente México—con niveles de desempleo superiores a los vistos en los periodos de crisis, con tasas de crecimiento a la baja durante los últimos 10 años, y en donde se ha recrudecido la violencia contra las mujeres (feminicidio)—se pone a la vanguardia en un afán irrevocable por volver a la ignorancia.
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.
Petro Wins Mayoralty of Bogota on Anti-Corruption Platform
Gustavo Petro, a former presidential candidate and leftist guerrilla, won the mayoralty of Bogota in highly contested elections on October 30. Petro, an independent candidate, won 32.2 percent of the vote, beating his closest runner-up, Enrique Peñalosa, by 7 points, or 150,000 votes. A former Socialist senator, Petro campaigned as an independent with a fierce anti-corruption platform in a city whose last mayor was suspended and jailed in connection with corruption scandals. However, El Tiempo reports that the election was marked by a high rate of abstention, with 52.64 percent of bogotanos not participating. Such a high rate of abstention has occurred previously in Colombia, as in the 2007 election.
Colombia Dissolves Controversial Intelligence Agency
On October 31, the Colombian government officially dissolved the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), an agency tainted by scandals, including allegations of espionage and ties to paramilitary groups. Latin American News Dispatch reports that the agency will be replaced with a department connected to the executive branch, called the National Intelligence Agency. The dismantling of the agency came after the largest intelligence leak in Colombian history in September 2011, when it came to light that DAS employees sold thousands of classified documents containing sensitive intelligence information.
Chinese Minister Expands Military Cooperation on LatAm Tour
China's Vice President of the Central Military Commission, Colonel General Guo Boxiong, is on a three-country tour of Latin America this week. In Cuba, he met with President Raúl Castro and military leaders, promising to deepen bilateral ties. In Colombia, he signed an agreement to donate $1.5 million to the Colombian government for defense and military investments. He arrived in Peru today, where he will sign bilateral military cooperation agreements. Bloomberg covers the recently signed U.S.-Colombia trade agreement, commenting that it may have been too little too late, pushing Colombia to look for other partners such as China. Says AS/COA’s Eric Farnsworth: “The delay in passing this called into question the United States’ reliability as a partner.”
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a man in a hurry. But the pace at which he’s pushing through controversial legislation and dismissing the views of the opposition parties has even surprised Tory supporters. And he’s not making any friends in the process.
Barely two months after the start of the September parliamentary session, Harper has managed to anger the province of Québec for vowing to destroy data compiled in the federal long-gun registry.
For years, the Conservatives have argued that the long-gun registry, which collects data on duck and big game hunters, was costly, ineffective and useless at preventing crime. Start-up costs ballooned to about $2 billion. Set up by the previous Liberal government in 1995, the registry was meant as a tool to help police officers check if there were guns in the house when responding to calls. The names of hunters and the types and number of hunting rifles and shotguns on their premises were compiled in a national databank.
Hunters objected furiously, saying it branded them as criminals. Gun owners had to register their guns for a fee and submit to a background check. (A registry for prohibited firearms and assault weapons remains in effect.)
Supporters of the gun registry argued it saved lives. In the province of Québec, the opposition to dismantling the registry was fierce. This is a result of the still-lingering emotional reaction to a killing spree at the Montréal Polytechnique School in 1989 that took the lives of 14 women—an event that prompted the establishment of the gun registry.
In efforts to combat an ongoing wave of narcotics-related violence, police forces in Honduras yesterday moved in on cities and neighborhoods dominated by criminal gangs. The mission, endorsed by President Porfirio Lobo and referred to as Operation Lightning, began in the large population centers of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. Lobo pledged to “do everything possible within the law to reduce the impunity that makes us all indignant.”
On Monday, the Associated Press reported that Honduras “has become a main transit route for South American cocaine” bound for the United States, and that Honduran authorities—in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and other partners—only intercept about 5 percent of the cargo.
According to the 2011 Global Study on Homicide, commissioned by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and released last month, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world last year: 82.1 homicides per 100,000 people. El Salvador, Honduras’ neighbor in the Northern Triangle, registered the second-highest homicide rate: 66 per 100,000 people.
Further, earlier this week Lobo fired his top police commanders in a measure to tackle corruption; four Honduran officers serving prison sentences for murder had been released from jail, inflaming public discontent.
On October 20, the day of Guatemala’s revolution, the country’s government formally apologized to the family of former President Juan Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, who was deposed in a coup in 57 years ago.
“I want to apologize to the family for the great crime committed on June 27, 1954,” said President Alvaro Colom at the National Palace in Guatemala City. “A crime committed against the former president, his wife, his family. It was a historic crime for Guatemala—that day changed Guatemala and we have not recuperated from it since.”
It was a small ceremony held on a national public holiday to celebrate Revolution Day and only a few weeks before the second round of the election this weekend. In attendance were Jacobo Arbenz Vilanova, son of the ex-president, the government's cabinet, diplomats, national institutions, and, the list of people presented by the family.
“There was no intentionality election-wise or because it's the end of the government,” said Dora Ruth del Valle Cóbar, president of Centro de Comunicación y Prensa Alternativa para el Desarrollo Humano (COPADEH). “It's our responsibility and since it's the first 20th of October that we have after signing the agreement with the victims.”
Ecuador confirmed on Monday that it had received $1.3 billion from the China Development Bank (CDB), the first installment of a $2 billion loan signed in Beijing in June. The Ecuadorian Ministry of Finance is free to use the loan for whatever purposes it deems appropriate. The remaining $700 million that is included in the loan will be delivered in the next months and will be used to finance priority projects in areas such as infrastructure, energy and agriculture. Chinese companies are active in Ecuador in these sectors.
The $2 billion loan—with an eight-year term and a 6.9 percent fixed annual interest rate—was signed by William Vasconez, Ecuador’s undersecretary of public credit. The loan helps the Ecuadorian government in its quest to come up with alternative financing sources after the country was shut out of international credit markets in 2008.
The receipt of the $1.3 billion adds to a growing financial relationship between the two countries. Since 2009, when Ecuador defaulted on $3.2 billion of bonds, the Andean country has received $6.68 billion from China to finance various projects. In June 2010, for example, the Export-Import Bank of China agreed to finance a $1.68 billion, 1,500-megawatt hydropower plant to be built by China’s state-owned Sinohydro Corporation in the Amazon region. This adds to the $1 billion-loan PetroChina Co., China’s largest oil producer, released in February 2011 in exchange for future oil sales.
One year ago, Gustavo Petro, a former senator and presidential candidate, called a press conference along with his friend Carlos Vicente de Roux (a member of Bogotá’s city Council) and Senator Luis Carlos Avellaneda. At this conference, Petro and his friends presented the results of an inquiry, conducted by themselves, on what by that time was already known as the “Cartel of Contracts,” a multi-million dollar racket involving the infamous Nule Group, a network of corporations that had been awarded important contracts in Bogotá. Gustavo Petro and his friends, all of them members of Polo Democrático, Colombia’s biggest left-leaning party, demanded the prosecution of two prominent members of their own party: Samuel Moreno, the mayor of Bogotá, and his brother Iván, a senator.
From the beginning, this request faced a hostile reaction from the ruling group in their party. Partly due to ideological paranoia, Senator Jorge Robledo, for example, labeled the accusations as a far-right conspiracy.
Gustavo Petro will be the next mayor of Bogotá after winning 32 percent of the vote in yesterday’s election. Elected to the Senate in 2006, Petro of the Movimiento Progresista (Progressive Movement) party ran on a platform of zero corruption. Enrique Peñalosa conceded after losing to Petro by 7 percentage points; he won 25 percent of total votes.
Peñalosa, mayor from 1998 to 2001, oversaw development of a rapid transit system during his mandate that has earned praise from urban planners and other Latin American mayors. Peñalosa also enjoyed the support during his campaign of former President Alvaro Uribe. Petro, an ex-guerrilla of the M-19 movement that disbanded in the 1980s, finished fourth in Colombia’s 2010 presidential election.
In a victory speech, Petro promised his governing attitude would embrace dialogue. He also told Colombian daily El Tiempo that his administration would transfer decision-making power “to the citizenry, by means of the budget and democratic participation.”
Petro’s message against corruption firmly resonates with bogotanos, particularly as Bogotá’s former mayor, Samuel Moreno, awaits a verdict after being indicted by Colombia’s inspector general last month on charges of fraudulent contracting, embezzlement and extortion regarding public works projects. Petro was instrumental in uncovering the scandal earlier this year.
Aside from voting in in the capital district, Colombians went to the polls yesterday to vote for 32 governorships and 1,100 mayoralties and municipal council seats. Petro takes office in January.
Hablar de política siempre ha sido una costumbre pasional del colombiano. Podría uno decir que de cualquier ciudadano del mundo. El tema es que en Colombia con la complejidad de la política, esa pasión a veces es violencia, a veces es calumnia, pero también muchas veces es una verdad incómoda.
Este domingo es el día de las elecciones regionales en Colombia. El portal que dirijo Votebien.com especializado en cobertura electoral, recibió en las últimas semanas decenas de denuncias sobre candidatos cuestionados en todo el país, quienes podrían representar un peligro para la democracia. Con nuestro músculo periodístico pero también con la seriedad que implica seguir una denuncia ciudadana, completamos una base de datos llamada Vote en Alerta, con 140 aspirantes cuyas candidaturas tienen algún grado de señalamiento. La corroboramos con informes de riesgo de autoridades, entes de control y sociedad civil, y el resultado no es menos que lamentable:
Colombia irá a las urnas teniendo como aspirantes a algunos sancionados por algún delito o que incluso han estado presos. Un buen número tiene el respaldo de personajes cuestionados, es decir que están en la cárcel o investigados. Y otros tienen ellos mismos el respaldo de grupos ilegales que les están haciendo campaña o están impidiendo que otros la hagan. Lo más grave es que varios de ellos son claros ganadores.
João Jorge of Salvador, Bahia, discusses the struggles of the Afro-Brazilian community by using tools of culture, music and technology
Just over a week before the second round of presidential elections in Guatemala, more than half the members of the executive committee of the governing Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE) party have resigned. Earlier this week, 13 of the committee’s 24 members publicly submitted their resignations, in what the committee’s leadership signaled as a renewal within the ranks of its organization and others suggested was a sign of internal division.
In a statement issued by the UNE, deputy secretary-general Roberto Díaz-Durán said the resignations were meant to open the doors for “new leaders and sectors” in the leadership of the organization. “This does not signify a rupture within the party,” he said, “since some members of the Executive Committee will be renamed to their posts.” The statement also said the UNE remains “united, strong and working for the country’s most needy classes through its 48 elected representatives and 136 elected mayors.”
Some analysts remain skeptical. The political analyst Mario Martínez points to the resignations as “evidence of a weakening of the [governing] party structure.” Others point out that the shake-up in the executive committee will clear the way for Sandra Torres, ex-wife of current president Álvaro Colóm, to be named secretary-general of the UNE execand from there mount a campaign for the 2015 elections. Torres’ candidacy in this year’s election was vetoed by the Guatemalan Supreme Court; the UNE has since thrown its support behind Manuel Baldizón, candidate of the Libertad Democrática Renovada (LIDER) party.
On Sunday, November 6, Baldizón will run for presidency in a second-round vote against retired general Otto Pérez Molina, of the right-wing Partido Patriota (PP), who got 36.1 percent of the votes in the first round.
Voters in Bogotá, Colombia, will elect a new mayor this weekend to take over for Clara López Obregón, the city's interim leader, who assumed office after Samuel Moreno was suspended by the inspector general of Colombia over irregularities in public works contracts earlier this year. According to recent polling, the top candidate in the race for Colombia’s second most powerful public office is center-left Movimiento Progresistas candidate Gustavo Petro, whose popularity among likely voters currently registers at 25.8 percent. Petro has a six-point lead over independent candidate Gina Parody and a 7.4 percent lead over Partido Verde Colombiano candidate Enrique Peñalosa.
The Bogotá frontrunner’s long political career began in the 1970s when he was active in Colombia’s Movimiento 19 de abril guerilla insurgency. He has since held numerous public posts, including a seat in the congress in the 1990s and made a run for president in 2010. Parody was a senator from 2006 to 2009 and a representative from 2002 to 2006. Peñalosa served as Bogotá mayor from 1998 ti 2001 and was a runner-up in the 2007 election.
The Bogotá election is one of over 1,000 regional and municipal elections that will take place on October 30. The campaign has seen a surge in election-related violence across Colombia that has included threats, murders, attempted murders and kidnappings. According to the European Union Election Observation Mission director Alejandra Barrios, "there were a total of 158 acts of political violence against candidates…of which 41 were murders and 22 attempted murders."
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.
CFK Wins Argentine Election by Huge Margin
As many predicted, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner won the election Sunday by the widest margin since the country's return to democracy. According to statistics from La Nación, the president won 54 percent of the national vote—almost forty points ahead of second-place candidate, Hermes Binner—and a majority of the vote in every state except San Luis. Fernández addressed joyous crowds in Buenos Aires’ Plaza de Mayo, vowing “Count on me to continue pursuing the project,” and adding “All I want is to keep collaborating ... to keep Argentina growing. I want to keep changing history.”
Read an AS/COA News Analysis on Fernández de Kirchner’s victory.
Hopes and Hurdles for Argentine Natural Gas
LatIntelligence covers the December discovery of major shale gas reserves in Argentina that could make the country the world’s third biggest provider of natural gas. The post points out that Argentina’s water shortage could hinder access to the reserves—given the large quantities of water needed for drilling—while the energy pricing regime serves as an obstacle to investment. But, should Argentina successfully exploit the reserves, “[t]he find has the potential to totally transform the country’s (and the region’s) energy future.”
Bolivia’s President Inks Law Forbidding Amazon Road
President of Bolivia Evo Morales signed a law that forbids highway construction of any kind in the TIPNIS indigenous territory. The move came following months of protests against a road planned to connect the Brazilian and Chilean coasts through Bolivian territory. Last week protesters from the Bolivian Amazon region arrived in La Paz following a two-month march to the capital to show their opposition to the project. But, while those demonstrators celebrated Morales’ decision to back down on the plan, the dust has yet to settle on the dispute. Indigenous groups and cocaleros supporting the highway’s construction now plan to protest the passage of the law, saying the highway would support efforts to widen coca cultivation and promote development.
Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court announced yesterday that it will investigate claims that Orlando Silva, Brazil’s sports minister, embezzled millions of dollars in public funds. The court has demanded that Silva and his ministry hand over relevant documents within 10 days.
The allegations took form when the influential Brazilian magazine Veja published a report earlier this month in which a former military office accused Silva of embezzlement from a government program that promotes sports for low-income youth. The kickbacks, in turn, were purportedly dumped into the coffers of Silva’s party, Partido Comunista Brasileiro (Brazilian Communist Party), which belongs to President Dilma Rousseff’s coalition.
This charge of corruption comes at a particularly sensitive time as Brazil steps up preparations for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The event kicks off in less than 1,000 days and the responsibilities for its smooth operation fall under Silva’s portfolio. This is not the first setback as Brazil plans for the mega-event; last month, a federal judge ordered a halt to construction of a new terminal at São Paulo-Guaralhos International Airport because Infraero, Brazil’s airport authority, did not institute a formal bidding process for the contract. Also, in July, Alfredo Nascimento, then-minister of transportation, resigned from office due to alleged corruption although he denied culpability.
Since Rousseff took office in January 2011, Nascimento and other cabinet officials—the chief of staff, minister of agriculture and minister of tourism—have been forced to resign. Nevertheless, Rouseff enjoys a 71 percent popularity rating.
Peter Smith’s classic text on U.S.-Latin American relations, Talons of the Eagle, posits a basic rule: the greater the perception of extra-hemispheric threat, the greater the attention to Latin America. This is particularly true in the U.S. Congress, where the region’s diversification of relations beyond the Western Hemisphere tends to arouse suspicion and competitive pressure.
China is the most obvious target, oft-mentioned in the debate over the free-trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. India has also become more active in the region, and even Russia is touting its renewed interest in Latin America. It is Iran, however, that is doing the most to raise congressional hackles—vividly so in a recent House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “Emerging Threats and Security in the Western Hemisphere.”
As Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen recognized in her opening statement, the hearing could not have been more timely, coming two days after U.S. officials announced an alleged attempt by the Iranian Quds Force to hire the Zetas, a Mexican criminal organization, to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington.
Colombian Foreign Affairs Minister María Angela Holguín and her Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolás Maduro, agreed on Monday to a three-month extension of bilateral trade preferences in the hope that a permanent agreement will be concluded by the end of January 2012.
During a joint press conference in Bogotá’s Palacio de San Carlos, the officials said the extension was approved so as not to impede trade flows while details for the broader deal are being worked out. "We agreed that we will extend the preferences while negotiating the deal, which is on track...we hope it will be ready this year," said Holguin. The ministers also announced that Presidents Juan Manuel Santos and Hugo Chávez will meet next month in Caracas.
Commerce between the two neighbors collapsed in 2009 when Venezuela froze trade relations to protest a military agreement between the United States and Colombia. The overall relationship has improved since President Santos took over for former President Alvaro Úribe in 2010.
This is the second time tariff preferences have been extended since they expired last April, following Venezuela’s withdrawal from the regional trade bloc Comunidad Andina de Naciones (CAN).
Learn about how Parceiros da Educação (Education Partners)—a public-private partnership in Brazil—enlists businesses and entrepreneurs to support and work with public schools to monitor educational progress.
Listen to a series of interviews with stakeholders in three countries of the CARICOM economic zone: Guyana, Jamaica and St. Kitts & Nevis.
Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was re-elected on Sunday with 53.2 percent of the vote, a larger share of votes won than any president since the restoration of Argentina’s democracy in 1983. She will be the fifth Argentine president to govern the country for more than one term. Thousands of people flooded the streets of Buenos Aires in celebration. The president went to the Casa Rosada—seat of the executive branch of the Argentine government—to speak, celebrate and dance.
Four years ago, she became the first elected female president of Argentina after her late husband, Nestor Kirchner, concluded his term. Yesterday’s landslide victory and her popularity in the polls reflect her ability to forge her own political alliances. It also makes her the first Latin American woman to be re-elected president.
In her first speech as re-elected president, Kirchner reflected on the importance of her late husband and looked to the future. “Without him, it would have been impossible to arrive at this point,” she told the crowd, and added, “Count on me to continue developing the national project.”
The closure of public universities during a nationwide strike against government reforms to Colombia’s higher education system is costing the country $5.6 million a day, Education Minister Maria Fernanda Campo said on Thursday. More than 550,000 public university students, led by Colombia's National Student Round Table (MANE), have joined the protests against the reforms proposed in Ley 30. While President Juan Manuel Santos said the law will provide needed funding and improve quality and access by introducing a for-profit scheme to the system, students fear that the reforms will undermine the autonomy of universities and raise the cost of education.
The protests are paralyzing university activities, shutting down major roads and requiring increasing police involvement, all of which are draining public resources that are “provided [to] all Colombians to finance the education of young people,” according to Campo. Given the minister’s estimate, the protests may have already cost the country $80 million in losses. On Thursday she urged protestors to dialogue with the government.
But the prospects of a short-term compromise between both parties seemed dim after Minister Campo said on Wednesday that there is no chance of revoking Ley 30. In response, Mane spokesperson Sergio Fernandez said, “We will not meet with the government until they meet three conditions: Revoke the project, provide guarantees that they will construct an alternative and provide guarantees for the exercising of democratic freedoms.” Mane and other Colombian university student organizations are receiving support from their Chilean counterparts, where protests demanding educational reforms have continued since last May.
Of the top universities in Latin America, five countries dominate the top 30 schools: Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia. Further, according to the recent survey by the University of Queensland in Australia Peru’s Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Peru came in 34th place. What are these five countries doing right that other countries in Latin America are not when it comes to higher education? Specifically, what is Peru doing wrong?
Looking at certain economic and education indicators, there is not a clear trend or relationship between the numbers of schools in the top 30 and the indicators. However, there does seem to be some relationship between the percentage of GDP allocated toward education and the top five countries. Each country in the top-30 spends 4 to 5 percent of its GDP on education; in Peru, it is only 2.7 percent. Brazil spends the most on education as a percentage of GDP and has the most number of schools (nine) in the top 30 ranking. Brazil’s Universidade de São Paulo also holds the number one spot.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.