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  • Colombian Congress Approves Landmark Social Inclusion Law

    August 31, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Yesterday Colombia’s congress approved an anti-discrimination bill that levies prison sentences of one to three years for acts of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, political belief, or sexual orientation. The bill, Ley 08 in the Senate and Ley 165 in the House of Representatives, was authored by Senator Carlos Baena of the Partido Mira. It now awaits a signature from President Juan Manuel Santos.

    Passage of the bill is considered a landmark victory for Colombia’s minorities, including Afro-Colombians, Indigenous populations, and LGBT groups, and had the backing of many NGOs supporting greater rights for these traditionally excluded populations. According to the 2005 Colombian census, 10.5 percent of the Colombian population self-identifies as “black, mulatto, or of African descent.” The Comisión Intersectorial Afrocolombiana reports that 80 percent of Afro-Colombians live below the line of extreme poverty.

    During legislative consideration, observers debated whether jail time was the most effective form of punishment. Some, including the former Deputy Attorney General Francisco José Sintura, argued that prison sentences were excessive and opted for other means like education. The bill also received criticism—and its passage delayed—for not specifying what constitutes an act of discrimination. Before yesterday’s final vote, however, Partido Mira refined the bill’s language to define six circumstances that could be considered discriminatory under the law, including physical assault, employment discrimination and refusal of admittance to movie theaters, bars, etc.

    In a statement, Senator Baena said that the new law will “settle a historic debt with the Afro-Colombian population that continues to face racism.” Baena added that “the Afro-Colombian role is essential to the economic, social and political reality of our country.”

    Colombia is a focus country for the Americas Society Social Inclusion Program.

    Tags: Colombia, Social inclusion, Juan Manuel Santos, Afro-Latinos

  • Extradition of President Portillo Approved by Court in Guatemala

    August 30, 2011

    by AQ Online

    On Friday the Constitutional Court of Guatemala upheld a ruling authorizing the extradition of former president Alfonso Portillo to the U.S. to face charges of laundering $70 million. President Álvaro Colom must now decide whether to approve the Court’s ruling or pardon Portillo, who served as president of Guatemala from 2000 to 2004.

    In January of this year a federal grand jury in New York requested Portillo’s extradition under the claim that he embezzled Guatemalan public funds and hid the money in U.S. banks. There are also allegations that the former president laundered money through European accounts. Shortly after the U.S. indictment was made public, Portillo was captured by the Guatemalan police near the country’s Caribbean coast.

    Portillo’s lawyer, Gabriel Orellana, argues that the Constitutional Court has overstepped its power by ruling on an issue that falls under the purview of the sitting president. It is the role of the president to implement foreign policy and diplomacy with other nations, he says—a terrain the Constitutional Court is now meddling in. Reacting to the judgment, Orellana told a local newspaper that the ruling “imposes several requirements on the U.S. that only the president can solicit.”

    The Constitutional Court judges conditioned Portillo’s extradition on respect for his human rights and required that—in the event that he is found guilty—the former president fulfill his sentence in Guatemala.

    The U.S Embassy in Guatemala said, “We applaud the efforts made by the Constitutional Court, the Attorney General's Office and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala." Portillo is currently under house arrest and will remain so until President Colom decides on his future.

    Tags: Guatemala, President Alfonso Portillo

  • Argentina and Uruguay Inaugurate Trans-Border Train Line

    August 29, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK) will travel today to Salto, Uruguay, to meet with her Uruguayan counterpart José Mujica. Together they will preside over the opening of a new train line that will connect passengers in the two countries.

    In recent years only cargo has crossed the Argentina-Uruguay border by rail. Passenger train service was discontinued nearly 30 years ago due to frayed bilateral relations. In recent years disagreement has centered on the construction of a cellulose plant in Fray Bentos, Uruguay, that Argentina alleged would pollute the Río Uruguay on the border of both countries. For the last three years, Argentines in the city of Gualeguaychú, Entre Ríos (at times with the support of the federal government), staged numerous protests including a blockade of the bridge over the Río Uruguay.

    The new railway—and this afternoon’s inauguration ceremony, which hundreds of government officials from both countries are expected to attend—underscores the warming relations between the South American neighbors. CFK’s trip, replete with symbolism, will take her from across the Río Uruguay in Concordia, Entre Ríos, to Salto, as she and Mujica launch the rail line traversing the river border between their two countries.

    This transnational infrastructure is part of El Plan de Acción Binacional Argentino-Uruguayo (Argentine-Uruguayan Bi-National Action Plan), that was signed earlier this month by the two countries’ ministers of transport. Today’s symbolic journey from Concordia to Salto will expand on September 9 to a weekly, 813-kilometer (505-mile) journey from Pilar, Argentina to Paso de los Toros, Uruguay. Service will become daily by December.

    Tags: Argentina, Uruguay, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, José Mujica

  • I’m Colombiana. The Movie Is Not.

    August 25, 2011

    by Lina Salazar Ortegón

    When I heard about the controversy surrounding (yet another) movie in which Colombia is portrayed as a land of cocaine, crime and armed insurrection, I was disheartened. It is baffling how apparent ignorance in Hollywood has led to the continued dissemination of the notion that Colombia—my country—is still an unsafe, violent place where visitors and tourists are regularly kidnapped or killed.

    On August 26, 2011, Sony Pictures’ Colombiana will premiere at theaters across the United States. It may be titled Colombiana, but the movie’s official synopsis doesn’t even mention the country. According to the Internet Movie Database, the entire film was shot in Mexico, Chicago and France—producers never even set foot in South America. Even more disturbing: the movie won’t have the same name in every country. In Colombia its title will be Dulce Venganza (Sweet Revenge), and Chinese theatergoers will flock to see Black Beauty Evil.

    Colombiana’s title is a brazen attempt by Hollywood producers to capitalize on the decades-old reputation of a country that has made tremendous progress in recent years. It is a purely commercial strategy grounded in fantasy, not reality. And what producers don’t realize is that perpetuating the myth that Colombia is a violence-ridden failed state can have real costs for people living there, and that negative perceptions can have serious negative real world consequences, such as an impact on tourism.

    This is good reason to support organizations such as Por Colombia—a group of volunteer students and friends of Colombia in the U.S. and Canada—and initiatives like Colombia, the Other Side of the Coin—a pacifist campaign lead by Carlos Plaza, a Colombian community leader in New York. The latter is leading efforts to distribute materials on premiere night in theaters throughout New York City that shed a more positive (and realistic) light on Colombia.

    When they first saw the trailer early this summer, Por Colombia launched #ColombiaisBeautiful—a grassroots social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter designed to counteract overly negative depictions of Colombia in pop culture. The campaign’s banner is a digitally altered poster of the movie: instead of a gun, the “Colombiana” on the film’s poster holds a bunch of flowers, and the tagline "Vengeance is Beautiful" is replaced by "Colombia is Beautiful."  This simple campaign has attracted thousands of followers and received coverage from national and international media outlets, including Univision and Huffington Post.

    Bogotá-born Carlos Macías, the president of Por Colombia, argues that Sony Pictures is making a profit at Colombia’s expense. Colombians are not against talking about the conflict, says Macías. “If you’re going to talk about the Colombian armed conflict, go ahead, we’re the first to start the conversation," he points out. We don’t deny that violence remains a problem, but we demand balance. We want to provide people with actual facts, while at the same time remembering to include the country’s positive side—which is all too often left out.

    A few months ago a Russian student at Columbia University told me he had been everywhere in Latin America except Colombia. When asked why, he replied, “Because my dad can’t afford to pay the ransom.” Maybe it was a bad joke, but there is nonetheless some truth to it. It may have been slightly offensive, but it is good reason to stop and think.

    How can we expect people not to say such things when in July, policemen José Libardo Forero, Wilson Rojas, Carlos Duarte, Jorge Romero y Jorge Trujillo completed  12 years in captivity by guerillas? When in April, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) kidnapped two more unarmed soldiers in Medellín, Antioquia? And in July five Colombians were kidnapped in Arauca and that same month a money-laundering network caught in Spain with $30 million in Colombian cocaine money?

    Let’s face it: as long as these things keep happening, the rest of the world will keep making jokes about Colombian cocaine and kidnappings. It would be great if more people would keep an open mind, but that can’t be expected. So let’s focus on what we, as Colombians, can do. First, let’s avoid complaining about or denying our reality. Let’s not always answer, “We also have coffee and flowers.” (We do, but it goes beyond that.) We must be permanent promoters of our positive side by recognizing the improvements the country has achieved and delivering good, unbiased information about Colombia. 

    We can also cite some concrete facts. For example, security on our national road system is better today than anytime in recent history, and more Colombians and tourists are traveling by car throughout the country. From 1990 to 2009, 26,977 drug laboratories were destroyed, according to the Observatorio de Drogas of the Dirección de Antinarcóticos, and 92,772 hectares of illegal crops have been eradicated so far in 2011. In addition, there were 1,602 extradition requests from 2002 to 2010, 1,106 of which were approved.  These are real improvements. Further progress is a matter of time and consistent policy.

    Por Colombia and The Other Side of the Coin are great initiatives deserving of broad-based support. Let’s all join Por Colombia’s social media rally on August 26. It’s about becoming agents of “the other side of the coin”: the reality that Colombia is a fascinating country that has captured—rather than kidnapped—thousands of foreigners who have visited recently and simply fallen in love with our people.

    Lina Salazar is a guest blogger to AQ Online. She works with Americas Quarterly and in the policy department at Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

    Tags: Colombia, Colombiana, Por Colombia, Colombia The Other Side of the Coin

  • Unasur Unity Tested by Events in Libya

    August 25, 2011

    by AQ Online

    The foreign affairs ministers of Union of South American Nations (Unasur) member-countries gathered in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Wednesday for a meeting  on economic cooperation and diplomacy. The members agreed on plans to send Unasur monitors to upcoming regional elections but could not reach a consensus on the group’s position on recent developments in Libya.

    Members are divided between those—like Colombia and Brazil—who suggest formally recognizing Libya’s National Transition Council (NTC) and those, like Venezuela and Ecuador , who question the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) multilateral military intervention.

    Brazil’s Antonio Patriota added the Libya conflict to this year’s meeting agenda and proposed that the bloc recognize the NTC alongside Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain and others. In Latin America, only Colombia has officially recognized the governing body.

    “We exchanged our views and recognized that this is a situation in permanent evolution but we have not established a position about it”, said Carolyn Rodrigues-Bickett, Guyana’s Foreign Affairs minister and also president pro tempore of the Union.

    Members also agreed that Unasur will start working on the design of a multilateral payment system to reinforce the use of local currencies and the creation of a regional bank, Banco del Sur. The 12 countries also agreed on steps to coordinate the use of their reserves to quell economic volatility.

    Tags: UNASUR, Lybia

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    August 25, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

    Obama Administration to Halt 300,000 Deportations

    U.S. Department of Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano revealed August 18 that the United States will review 300,000 pending deportation cases for people living in the country for several years who have not committed serious crimes. The Houston Chronicle reports that Napolitano submitted a letter to 22 senators saying “it makes no sense to expend our enforcement resources on low-priority cases, such as individuals...who were brought into this country as young children and know no other home.” Given that the move will affect undocumented immigrant students, supporters of the long-stalled DREAM Act heralded the decision.

    The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog outlines who might qualify to remain in the United States under the new Obama immigration policy, with factors for staying deportation including an individual’s length of residence, age at the time of arrival, educational pursuit or military service, age, and role as primary caretaker.

    Learn more about immigration issues at AS/COA's Hispanic Integration Hub.

    Cancer Claims Canadian Opposition Leader

    Jack Layton, who led Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) to Official Opposition status for the first time in May’s federal vote, lost his battle with cancer this week. His passing came as a surprise, given his late-July announcement that he would step down from his position temporarily to seek treatment. In a letter penned in the final days before his death, Layton—known for his tendency to avoid political mudslinging—addressed Canadians by saying: “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.”

    Layton’s passing leaves Canada’s two main opposition parties, the NDP and the Liberal Party, with interim leaders at a time when the governing Conservative Party holds a parliamentary majority.

    Rousseff Ranked World’s Third-most Powerful Woman

    The Brazilian president took the number three spot in Forbes.com’s list of the 100 most powerful women in the world, behind German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner took spot number 17.

    Read More

    Tags: Weekly Roundup

  • Pobreza en El Salvador: Izquierdas y Derechas

    August 24, 2011

    by Julio Rank Wright

    La superación de la pobreza no es cuestión de izquierdas o derechas, es cuestión de voluntad. No comparto con quienes vociferan que en el mundo hay una gran conspiración de los ricos para explotar a los pobres. Tampoco me identifico con quienes sugieren que a las izquierdas les conviene mantener niveles de pobreza altos como caldo de cultivo para la sobrevivencia de sus postulados ideológicos. La pobreza en El Salvador es una realidad.

    La Dirección de Estadísticas y Censos de El Salvador (DIGESTYC) publicó recientemente los resultados de la Encuesta de Hogares de Propósitos Múltiples (EHPM) para el 2010. La EHPM arroja datos importantes que se supone deben orientar las políticas públicas, no sólo del gobierno de turno, sino de toda la clase política. ¿Qué nos dicen los últimos resultados? Primero, el 12.6 por ciento de los salvadoreños viven en pobreza extrema, es decir con un ingreso menor a $45.12, lo equivalente al costo de la canasta básica alimentaria. Segundo, el 25.3 por ciento de la población salvadoreña vive en condiciones de pobreza relativa, es decir hogares sin la capacidad de cubrir el equivalente a dos canastas básicas alimentarias. En síntesis, el nivel de pobreza general en El Salvador es del 36.5 por ciento. Los niveles más bajos ocurrieron en el 2006 y pues obviamente los efectos de la crisis financiera mundial del 2008 incrementaron de nuevo los niveles de pobreza.

    ¿Qué sentido tiene enumerar cifras que seguramente sabremos estimar? Leídas fríamente quizás sugieran que El Salvador es otro país más, que a pesar de haber logrado importantes avances democráticos y de desarrollo, seguirá destinado a la pobreza. Sin embargo, hay una lección más importante que se puede derivar de las cifras y su evolución con el tiempo: para poder superar la pobreza es necesario primero trascender la disputa entre  izquierdas y derechas.

    Es urgente encontrar puntos de coincidencia en políticas públicas específicas para reducir los niveles de pobreza. Las diferentes fuerzas vivas del país deben reconocer abiertamente que existen dos amenazas claras para la sostenibilidad democrática del país, y la región: la inseguridad ciudadana, incluyendo crimen organizado y la pobreza. En un escenario ideal no debería de existir retórica ideológica de izquierda y derecha al afrontar realidades que ponen en jaque la viabilidad nacional. La combinación de liderazgos anclados en el pasado, un aparato estatal lento e ineficaz y la ausencia de una visión compartida del futuro entre la clase política, sociedad civil y sector privado nos mantienen en medio de una batalla ideológica.

    El contexto electoral es la oportunidad perfecta para que los partidos políticos logren acercar posiciones, sin temor, en temas de trascendencia nacional. En pleno siglo veintiuno hay temas que no deberían ser víctimas de la polarización: acceso a servicios básicos, educación, salud, política energética, competitividad nacional, institucionalidad democrática y prevención de la violencia, entre otros.

    La reacción de la sociedad civil salvadoreña ante la crisis de choque de poderes entre los órganos legislativo y judicial unos meses atrás fue ejemplar. Sin embargo, así como se reaccionó apasionadamente ante un decreto legislativo, es preciso reaccionar más enérgicamente contra la pobreza que roba vidas y aplasta sueños.

    Julio Rank Wright is contributing blogger to AQ Online. He is from San Salvador, El Salvador, but temporarily living in Washington DC.

    Tags: El Salvador, poverty, political system

  • Bolivia Accuses U.S. of Stoking Unrest

    August 24, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Bolivian President Evo Morales this week accused the United States government of conspiring with local NGOs to incite the ongoing indigenous protest marches that began on August 16. The Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS) inhabitants, the Confederación de Pueblos Indígenas de Bolivia (Cidob) and the Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu (Conamaq) are marching in opposition to the construction of a highway that would cross a 9,997 square kilometer (2,470,400 acre) national park that has been a self-governing territory since 2009.

    “Capitalism and non-governmental organizations use indigenous leaders to promote a march whose objective is not the protection of natural resources of the madre tierra, but a conspiracy against Bolivia”, said Morales in El Pueblo es Noticia, a T.V. show of the state-run media agency. He added that Bolivia will have to “reconsider the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) presence in the country.”

    In a meeting with Minister of the Presidency Carlos Romero, U.S. deputy chief of mission William Mozdzierz rejected Morales’ claims and insisted that the United States’ only goal is to improve bilateral relations within a framework of mutual respect.

    Beyond President Morales’ statements, Romero also claims that the objective of protest groups isn’t to protect the environment or their cultural heritage: rather it is to defend illegal deforestation and illicit resource extraction interests.

    Tags: Bolivia, Indigenous rights, United States.

  • Dealing with Debt and Deficits, Canadian Style

    August 23, 2011

    by John Parisella

    In the wake of the debt ceiling debate in the U.S. and Euro zone summits about the precarious financial situation of some of its members, articles and editorials in The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post have referred to Canada as a potential model to emulate in order to eliminate deficits and reduce the debt. They refer to how deficits in Canada in the early 1990s were eliminated mostly through spending cuts, and how tax cuts were the source of the growth that put Canada’s fiscal house back in order.

    There is some truth to this narrative but it is highly incomplete and one needs to state that the overriding factor in Canada's success had more to do with a political class of different stripes working together, although not without debate or conflict.  In practical terms, a federal Liberal government in Ottawa, which was not allergic to an activist governmental agenda, decided to lead the way to a balanced budget. The message was clear: problem solving must take precedence over winning ideological and partisan battles. Even social democratic parties like the NDP in Manitoba and Parti Quebecois in Quebec were willing to put their ideology aside and exact serious spending cuts.

    Read More

    Tags: Canada, Debt.

  • Mexico and Costa Rica Sign Security Accord

    August 23, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla yesterday signed an agreement in Mexico City with her counterpart, President Felipe Calderón, which will expand bilateral cooperation on security issues, including anti-drug trafficking efforts. Chinchilla and her delegation will also hold talks on a wide range of bilateral issues including improvements in investment and trade between the two countries.

    The agreement signed yesterday includes a new extradition treaty to allow for criminals and suspects to be transferred more easily between the two countries and will create new mechanisms to share information on organized crime groups. “Collaboration on security matters is essential to strengthen the fight against crime,” said Chinchilla. “It's a problem that will get out of hand if we don't confront it now."

    Following the signing, President Calderón stressed the regional nature of the fight against organized crime: “All nations in the Americas share the common challenge of providing security to our citizens, even in the context of an increasingly intense and challenging fight against transnational organized crime.”

    Before meeting Calderón, President Chinchilla visited Mexican businesses organizations to promote trade and investment between the two countries. In 2010, trade between Mexico and Costa Rica topped $2.7 billion, up from $551 million in 2001.

    Tags: Costa Rica, Mexico, Felipe Calderon, Laura Chinchilla

  • Ortega Leads Polls as Nicaragua Campaign Kicks Off

    August 22, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is the frontrunner candidate in a nationwide presidential campaign that officially began on Saturday in Managua. Mr. Ortega is running for his second consecutive five-year term following a 2009 Supreme Court ruling that overturned a legal prohibition on consecutive reelection. He is facing a fragmented opposition represented by four presidential candidates.

    A recent CID-Gallup poll showed Ortega leading the field with 41 percent of voters voicing support for him, while Liberal Constitutional Party candidate Fabio Gadea got 34 percent and former president Arnoldo Aleman won 11 percent. To win the election outright in the first round, the winning candidate must win either 40 percent of the vote or at least 35 percent and a lead of 5 points over the runner up.

    Mr. Ortega’s candidacy in this year’s elections has been called unconstitutional by Nicaraguan legal scholars and opposition candidates. Ortega first held the presidency from 1984 to 1990 and began his second term in 2007. He was the only presidential candidate of the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (FSLN) party in national elections that took place in 1984, 1990, 1996, 2001, 2006, and now 2011. Nicaraguans will head to the polls on November 6 to determine their country’s future leadership.

    Tags: Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega

  • Women on the Losing End of Political Puppetry in Mexico’s Congress

    August 19, 2011

    by Yoloxóchitl Casas Chousal

    Please find the original text below, submitted in Spanish.

    Although supporters of female suffrage in Mexico got their wish nearly 60 years ago (in 1953), access to the Mexican political system for women has remained a difficult and complicated process. In the 1990s, women’s rights activists started a movement in favor of a gender quota system, using international treaties to bolster their argument. Notable examples cited at the time included the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Inter-American Convention to Prevent, Sanction and Eradicate Violence against Women, and the Beijing Declaration of 1995.

    Their work paid off. Article 219, paragraph 1 of Mexico’s federal electoral code, El Código Federal de Instituciones y Procedimientos Electorales, now reads: “From the total number of registration requests for deputies or senators done by political parties or coalitions before the Federal Electoral Institute, at least 40 percent of them must be for candidates of the same gender, aiming for parity.”

    This landmark development should have translated to a discernible increase of female legislators in the bicameral federal Mexican Congress. But in reality, all kinds of trickery have been employed to limit female presence in either house of Congress.

    Women have worked hard within Mexico’s political parties. But public complaints have been raised around the fact that women were listed in districts or electoral constituencies that strategists knew would go down in defeat. Women have appeared as substitutes for senators and deputies in party lists for districts where those parties didn’t have a sufficient base of support. In other words, women were included in the electoral process, but a confluence of unfavorable circumstances ultimately prevented them from entering Congress.

    Tags: Mexico, Gender Rights

  • DC Water Cooler: Vacant Slots at State Reflect Policy Shortcomings

    August 18, 2011

    by Liz Harper

    The tweeting Georgetown academic, former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela, announced his departure in early May. Four months later, the United States still does not have a nominee. 

    Of course, several well-qualified people have been bandied about as Valenzuela’s possible replacement. 

    Here’s a brief rundown of who’s been mentioned:

    First, there is Kristie Kenney, a highly regarded career Foreign Service officer, a former ambassador to Ecuador, and, as of January, ambassador to Thailand. She is well-known for her social media smarts. There is also William Brownfield who is Kenney’s husband and equally as charismatic and talented as his wife. He is a former ambassador to Colombia, Venezuela and Chile, and became assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs in January. And there is Anne Patterson, a career foreign service officer with extensive and varied experience in Latin America. She has proven herself adept at dealing with tough issues especially in her current post as the ambassador to Egypt.

    Read More

    Tags: Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador, State Department, Rafael Correa, Arturo Valenzuela

  • Ecuador Aims to Stamp Out Police Corruption

    August 18, 2011

    by AQ Online

    At a news conference yesterday, Ecuadorian Police Chief General Wilson Alulema announced the launch of an anti-corruption plan that will create an intelligence department to monitor corruption within the force. The new plan, which is to take effect “immediately,” will require each of the 42,000 officers, and all future agents, to take a lie detector test. Additionally, officers will have to declare their personal assets. This is intended to facilitate investigations of bribes, peddling and corruption.

    The anti-corruption measures are in part a response to the police mutiny of September 2010, in which protests by police and military groups against benefits cuts turned violent. President Rafael Correa was tear gassed and trapped in a military hospital in Quito for over 12 hours. Following the attacks, Correa’s administration took control over the force, and the president has called for its modernization.

    Despite the new initiatives, General Alulema lamented the judicial re-instatement of almost 300 officers who had been suspended over allegations of corruption. His new plan will create an incentive system to award officers demonstrating proper ethics and values and to denounce internal corruption.

    Tags: corruption, Ecuador, Rafael Correa

  • Announcing AQ Online's Social Inclusion Portal

    August 17, 2011

    by AQ Inclusion

    Many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have registered remarkable achievements in recent years, including prudent fiscal management throughout the Great Recession, the further institutionalization of democratic governance, improved health services, and more. Still, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report published last year named Latin America and the Caribbean as the “world’s most unequal region.” This not only harms those excluded but also stifles  the expansion of new markets and the competitiveness of local economies. Clearly, more progress is needed.

    This is why Americas Quarterly is launching this Social Inclusion portal. More attention must be focused on the “have-nots” of the hemisphere—those often excluded from the fruits of socioeconomic development or decision making processes. This makes business sense as well. Greater inclusion fosters econonomic growth and maximizes the overall productivity and consumption of a society. The great challenge for business, society and policymakers is to identify policies and practices that can reduce endemic exclusion of underserved populations such as the Indigenous, Afro-Latinos, urban and rural poor, and women.

    For many, the problems of exclusion stem from the historic lack of access and opportunities blocked by racism, feckless states, weak and imperfect markets, marginalization, and political and economic monopolies. Breaking these patterns will depend on innovations that recognize these connections, the risks of not addressing them, and involving and elevating fresh voices in the policy debate on social inclusion.

    We are dedicated to promoting debate of this critical issue. With the launch of this Social Inclusion portal, AQ Online is bringing together voices from across the hemisphere of those that represent traditionally marginalized groups to connect with business and policymakers. In doing so, we are starting a conversation about where good policies and programs are being created to foster greater inclusion while also generating debate about what must be done to create more equal and economically prosperous societies. We invite you to join this conversation.

    Read a post, watch a video, or view a slideshow, and then comment on it and add your voice to the discussion. And come back to our Inclusion page for continuous coverage of hemispheric news and developments related to inclusion. The bloggers covering these issues—four current bloggers and four more to be announced shortly—are recognized thought leaders and advocates for social inclusion, and will focus on issues such as market access, political participation, education, health care, representation, justice, digital divide, land rights, and other topics that arise.

    Daniel Mera Villamizar is the director of Fundación Color de Colombia (Colombia Color Foundation), an organization of Colombia’s black middle class. Jaevion Nelson is executive director at the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (J-YAN), a youth-led volunteer and advocacy organization based in Kingston, Jamaica. Paulo Rogério Nunes is executive director of the Instituto Mídia Étnica (Ethnic Media Institute) in Salvador, Brazil. Yoloxóchitl Casas Chousal is a journalist by profession and feminist by conviction who has appeared across written, radio, television, and internet platforms in Mexico City for more than 30 years.

    We welcome your suggestions of topics to be covered or any other recommendations. We also invite you to learn more about the Ford Foundation-funded project being implemented by Americas Society of which this page is a component.

    Tags: Social inclusion

  • Religious Intolerance in Brazil

    August 17, 2011

    by Paulo Rogério

    Please find the original text below, submitted in Portuguese.

    Prejudice against religions of African descent is a growing problem in Brazil. The most recent census, taken last year, notes that more than 70 percent of Brazilians self-identified as Catholic—making Brazil the largest country of Catholic worshippers in the world. However, religiously motivated conflict typically originates among smaller, more ideological faiths. For example, police have been called in to break up conflicts between Evangelical Brazilians, who represent 15 percent of the population, and religious Afro-Brazilians, 0.3 percent of the population. This is frequent in cities like Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and São Luiz. 

    The Mapa da Intolerância Religiosa: Violação ao Direito de Culto no Brasil (Map of Religious Intolerance: Violations of the Right to Worship in Brazil) was launched last May to monitor religious intolerance throughout the country. The Mapa aims to relay to the press and relevant authorities any instance of physical or symbolic aggression.

    Complaints to the police range from invasions of Afro-Brazilian churches by radical evangelicals to the iconic death of Mother Yalorixá Gilda. A famous name in my community, Mother Gilda was the leader of the Candomblé religion—the most traditional of the Afro-based religions in Brazil. She had her photo printed in a newspaper of the Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus (Universal Church of the Kingdom of God), the largest Pentecostal church of the country, with inscriptions incorrectly suggesting that she was a charlatan. Although the courts ruled in favor of Mother Gilda’s family, the conflicts between the two sects did not end.

    Brazil’s government has also violated the right to worship. Three years ago, the mayor of Salvador, João Henrique Carneiro, ordered the overthrow of a religious African temple in a critical area of the city. He alleged that the temple was built illegally. This act was seen as a serious crime against human rights, in addition to being unconstitutional and the social activist protests that followed made headlines in numerous newspapers. That caused even more dismay in Salvador being the city with the most number of Afro-Brazilian religions (1155).

    Tags: Brazil, Salvador, Bahia, Religion

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    August 17, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

    U.S. Envoy Travels to Mexico amid Debate over CIA’s Drug War Involvement

    Deputy Secretary Bill Burns—the U.S. State Department’s second in command—traveled to Mexico City this week to meet with Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa and continue talks on U.S.-Mexico cooperation. His visit comes amid controversy surrounding an article published in The New York Times earlier this month. The report stated that Washington has recently posted CIA operatives and retired military personnel at a Mexican military base to share information about and help combat cartel operations. The New York Times indicated that the United States is considering sending private-security contractors as well. Mexican daily El Universal reports on the visit by Burns, who said during a press conference that Washington respects Mexican sovereignty and does not carry out operations on Mexican soil. Mexican security spokesman Alejandro Poiré acknowledged last week that U.S. agents participate in information exchanges but do not participate in raids or arrests.

    Calderón Eliminates Pocket Veto

    On Tuesday, Mexican President Felipe Calderón inked a constitutional change ending the “pocket veto,” which allowed presidents to reject legislation by ignoring it, reports the Associated Press. Mexican heads of state will now be required to approve a bill or resubmit it to the country’s Congress within a 30-day period. 

    Merida Initiative Shifting Focus to Mexico’s North

    El Paso Times reports that the $1.5 billion Merida Initiative will move its focus to Mexico’s northern states in an effort to support state and local initiatives combating cartel activities. "This is where most of the cartels have focused their activities," said William R. Brownfield, assistant secretary of the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, on Tuesday at a border-security conference in El Paso.

    At a recent COA event, Ambassador Brownfield discussed Central American security issues, including their impact on Mexico’s drug war. Watch a video.

    UNASUR Ministers Meet to Confront Global Financial Volatility

    South American finance ministers and central bank heads convened in Argentina on Friday to discuss how to meet global financial instability head on. Unasur officials proposed boosting trade, creating a $10 billion to $20 billion fund to help countries facing capital flight, and strengthening an existing fund that helps Latin American countries facing balance of payment problems.

    Make Way for the Multilatinas

    In a guest post for the Financial Times beyondbrics blog, ESADE Professor Javier Santiso writes that “the rise of the Latin multinational cuts across many countries and sectors” as multilatinas—the term coined to describe international Latin American firms—become increasingly globalized. Of the 66 most globalized firms in the region, 53 run operations outside Latin America.

    Funes Discusses Talks about El Salvador’s Crime Fight

    In a 25-minute interview with Al Jazeera English, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes discusses how his government is working to reduce one of the highest murder rates in the world while also attempting to address the root causes of his country’s violence. “We are convinced that our problems—poverty, the lack of or slow economic growth, and climate change—can only be solved regionally,” Funes said.

    Sotomayor Visits El Salvador

    Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor arrived in El Salvador on August 15 for a week-long visit, in which she will meet with Mari Carmen Aponte, the U.S. ambassador to the Central American country. During her trip, Sotomayor will also meet with her Salvadoran counterparts in the Supreme Court as well as law students in the capital of San Salvador.

    Panama Canal Marks Anniversary with Ongoing Expansion

    A mile-long, 100-foot deep hole marks the beginning of the Panama Canal’s first expansion in its century-long history. The $5.25 billion project is expected to greatly expand trade between the Americas and Asia by allowing ships that are 965 feet long and 106 feet wide to pass through the canal’s locks. The expansion is scheduled for completion in 2014.

    U.S. Legislator Calls for Overhaul of Cuban Adjustment Act

    Congressman David Rivera (R-FL) this week called for a change to the Cuban Adjustment Act, a 1966 law that grants residency to most Cubans who arrive in the United States. Rivera wants to exclude emigrants who return to the island to visit their relatives, arguing that they should not qualify for a law enacted to provide political asylum. The initiative responds primarily to the desires of hardline elements from the generation of Cuban-Americans who left the island in the 1960s fleeing communism and who oppose President Obama’s loosening of travel restrictions, but Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute does not expect the bill to move forward.

    Peru’s Mining Firms Agree to Higher Royalties

    A Peruvian government source said this week that mining firms in that country have agreed to pay higher royalties, based on profits rather than sales. “The new system would be similar to one used in Chile,” reports Reuters. The new royalty rate has not yet been determined. President Ollanta Humala pledged renegotiation of royalty rates while campaigning for election.

    Humala Follows Colombian Model to Combat Shining Path

    In an effort to combat a resurgent Shining Path, Peru’s President Ollanta Humala appears to be following in Colombia’s footsteps to find a solution, reports The Christian Science Monitor. Humala is seeking to reshape Peru’s counterinsurgency strategy and “has studied the recent success of Colombia in beating back the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia” (FARC) with an eye to the intelligence work used in deadly attacks against FARC leaders Raul Reyes and Mono Jojoy, writes Geoffrey Ramsey. “Intelligence work was a key factor in both of these assassinations, and military sources told the newspaper that they are restructuring their intelligence organs to focus on taking out the Shining Path's leaders.”

    Growing Number of Colombian Municipalities at Risk for Electoral Fraud

    Colombia’s Electoral Observation Mission, an NGO, presented a report on August 17 finding that 544 municipalities are at risk for electoral fraud as the country prepares for regional elections in October. The figure marks an increase of 216 compared to 2007. The report highlighted that violence against political candidates had increased by 68 percent since 2007.

    Venezuela to Expropriate Gold Industry

    President Hugo Chávez said on August 17 he would nationalize the country’s gold industry, in order to boost international reserves. “We don’t only have oil wealth, we have here one of the largest reserves of gold in the world… Let’s convert it into our international reserves because gold is increasing in its value,” Chávez said, according to The Wall Street Journal.

    Morales Confronts Indigenous Protests in Bolivia

    Bolivian President Evo Morales faces protests in the Amazon from indigenous groups opposed to a joint project with the Brazilian government to build a road through the rainforest. Bloggings by Boz points out that reaching an agreement with protesters, who oppose the highway project over environmental concerns, could prove difficult for Morales, despite his hopes for developing the country’s infrastructure.

    Law Reins in Brazil’s Pretrial Detention Troubles

    Open Society Foundations’ blog reports on a Brazilian law passed in July that seeks to trim pretrial detention and, thereby, overcrowding in the country’s prisons. After telling the story of one man who spent a decade in pretrial detention before his name was cleared, the post explains that Brazil has the fourth largest prison population in the world—and almost half of those incarcerated await trial. The new law, ushered through with the help of civil society groups, offers nine options to pretrial detention, including bail and electronic monitoring. 

    Brazilian Companies among Hemisphere’s Most Valuable

    The consultancy Economatica reported that Petrobras and Vale—Brazil’s state-controlled oil company and private mining company—ranked as the fourth and fifth most valuable enterprises in the Americas, respectively, in the first trimester of 2011. Only Exxon Mobil, Chevron Texaco, and Apple topped Petrobras’ $7.01 billion in revenue, according to Economatica.

    Fernández de Kirchner on Track to Win a Second Term

    President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner performed better than expected in Argentina’s first national and obligatory primary election on Sunday, taking just over 50 percent of the vote and winning in all but one province. With no clear opposition figure emerging from the contest, it appears increasingly likely that Fernández de Kirchner will win the election in the first round.

    Read an AS/COA Online news analysis of Sunday’s primary election and check out an AS/COA hemispheric update, which explores Argentina’s electoral landscape.

    Argentine Agriculture Reshaped by Soy Crops

    The Los Angeles Times looks back over Argentina’s shift from farming livestock to soybeans. The total cattle herd in Argentina dropped from 58.3 million to 47.9 million since 2007 while soybean harvests are forecast to reach 50 million tons this year—up from 30 million tons a decade ago. 

    Chile Discusses Ending the Binomial System

    The Sebastián Piñera administration and opposition politicians in Chile's Congress have agreed to begin discussing a reform of the country's binomial system, an electoral system that encourages the formation of coalitions and reduces the possibility of competition from third parties. Changing the electoral laws may require amending the Constitution.

    Congressmen Urge Obama to Close School of the Americas

    Sixty-seven Democrats and two Republicans have signed a letter asking U.S. President Barack Obama to close the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly called the “School of the Americas.” The letter contends that closing the school, based in Georgia and used to train Latin American soldiers, would save the United States $180 million over the next decade. The school has long been a source of controversy, due to allegations that its alumni perpetrated human rights abuses in the past. 

    Sizing up Rick Perry’s Immigration Stance

    Despite his reputation as a Tea Party-backed hardliner, Texas Governor Rick Perry holds views on immigration that conservatives view as left-of-center. His positions, outlined by Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post’s Right Turn blog, include opposition to Arizona’s SB 1070 and support for Texas’ 2001 state-level DREAM Act. Perry has said in public statements that he wants the federal government to address national security threats at the border before passing comprehensive immigration reform legislation. But his position may not satisfy Hispanic voters either, some of whom criticize him for only supporting a limited federal DREAM Act, opposing a path to citizenship as part of comprehensive immigration reform, and submitting legislation in Texas to make it harder for undocumented immigrants to receive drivers licenses.

    Where Are the U.S. Cartels?

    Writing for InSight Crime, Nathan Jones asks why the United States does not appear to have the large drug cartels comparable to those found in neighboring Mexico. Jones posits that the United States is dominated by small drug gangs and decentralized networks of prison gangs that are kept in check by law enforcement.

    Competing in Colombia’s Cycling Mecca

    NPR reports on an area of central Colombia where locals train in rural mountains and compete to become some of the world’s best cyclists. “In the European racing circuit, Colombian cyclists are famous for withstanding pain,” writes Juan Forero.

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  • Venezuela Freezes Hospital Fees

    August 17, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Venezuelan Health Minister Eugenia Sader announced during a televised news conference yesterday that the country’s private hospitals will not raise fees for the next three weeks. The freeze is meant to give lawmakers and representatives of the private health care industry time to strategize on ways to keep hospital costs down. The measure is part of a multi-sector effort to curb Venezuela’s 25.1 percent annual inflation rate—the highest in Latin America. This has led to sharp increases in the fees for visits and treatments.

    President Hugo Chávez has long criticized the private health care industry for charging excessive fees and denying access for the poor and uninsured. But Hipolito Garcia of the Association of Private Clinics, who joined Minister Sader at the conference, said that hospital representatives also promised to guarantee care for patients needing emergency medical care even if they lack full insurance coverage.

    Throughout his presidency, President Chávez has sought to improve Venezuela’s public health system. Due to close ties with Cuba’s Fidel Castro—and in exchange for shipments of Venezuelan oil—thousands of Cuban doctors have come to the slums of Venezuela to provide health care to the poor. However, underfunding and a limited number of physicians in public hospitals means that many Venezuelans prefer private clinics despite the high costs.

    Tags: Venezuela, inflation, Healthcare, private clinic

  • Indigenous Protest Amazon Road in Bolivia

    August 16, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Representatives of three native groups in Bolivia started a 603-kilometer (375 mile) march yesterday from Trinidad to La Paz protesting against the construction of a highway through their Amazonian land.  The road between the highland city of Cochabamba and San Ignacio de Moxos in the Amazon lowlands would cross the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS), a 9,997 square kilometer (2,470,400 acre) national park and self-governing territory since 2009. It is held in common by the Yuracaré, Moxeño and Chimán people.

    The march—led by TIPNIS inhabitants, the Confederación de Pueblos Indígenas de Bolivia (Cidob) and the Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu (Conamaq)—challenges President Evo Morales’ plans to build the 305-kilometer (190 mile) road that would cut the TIPNIS territory in half. The two sections of the highway leading to and from the indigenous reserve are already under construction as a part of a $415 million-project mostly financed by the Brazilian government. The controversy surrounds the final stretch which has yet to undergo an environmental review and community consultation process. 

    The president of the Central de Pueblos Indígenas (CPIB), Pedro Vare, said the project was proposed ignoring the social and environmental costs it implies. “Evo Morales never visited the zone. He just got to the colonized area and he didn’t visit the forest where the indigenous people live,” Vare added. Native communities are worried the road will open access to the reserve to illegal loggers, cocaleros and narcotraffickers. The threat to biodiversity also undermines their survival as the inhabitants rely on hunting and fishing for food.

    The government has insisted on the economic benefits of the project, highlighting it will provide a commercial link between central Cochabamba and the Amazonian Beni region. President Morales said “we [the government] will do the consultations, but I want you to know they won’t be binding. We won’t stop the projects just because the indigenous say so.”

    Tags: Bolivia, Amazon Indigenous, Evo Morales, Indigenous Land Rights

  • Argentina Votes for Continuity

    August 15, 2011

    by Janie Hulse Najenson

    At a time of global uncertainty, Argentineans voted for continuity on August 14. More than anything else, Sunday´s presidential primary results revealed the country’s preference for President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Unlike in the U.S. where primaries mean the selection of a party´s candidate, in Argentina, the candidates had already been chosen and voters were free to vote for whomever they wished. In effect, Sunday´s election was a popularity contest and a dry run for the presidential contest on October 23.

    Cristina proved so popular that she blew the other contenders out of the water with over 50 percent of the national vote. She held a nearly 38 percentage point lead over runner-up candidates Ricardo Alfonsín (12.17 percent)—son of popular former President Raúl Alfonsín—and Eduardo Duhalde (12.16 percent), a transitional president after Argentina´s economic collapse in 2002-2003.

    Looking quite fabulous despite her black garb, Cristina Fernández appeared emotionally moved by the support at last night’s results rally. To say the least, she has recently weathered a few sentimental disturbances, the worst of which was the passing of her husband and political sidekick, former President Nestor Kirchner in late October 2010. And just this week, her son´s girlfriend suffered a late miscarriage, which made front page news and led to cancellations on the presidential agenda. These very human experiences seem to have bolstered Ms Fernández´s popularity and helped people overlook her administration’s deficiencies. 

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    Tags: Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Elections in Argentina

  • Canada-Colombia Free-Trade Agreement Enters into Force, U.S. Continues to Wait

    August 15, 2011

    by Kezia McKeague

    I’ve got a flag on my lapel, not a maple leaf,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk exclaimed at a Senate Finance Committee hearing in March.  Today, as Canada’s free-trade agreement (FTA) with Colombia enters into force, it is the maple leaf that represents competitive pressures on U.S. market share and the political influence that goes with it.

    Canada and Colombia are two of our closest friends in the Western Hemisphere, and their strengthened commercial ties clearly benefit their mutual interests as well as Washington’s broader goal of promoting open markets and economic development.  Yet U.S. businesses and their congressional advocates are keenly aware that Canada has beat us to the punch, leaving U.S. exporters to an important emerging market at a competitive disadvantage.

    The implications of delayed ratification of the U.S.-Colombia FTA are not lost on either Colombia or Canada.  As Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos bluntly put it in a recent interview with Americas Quarterly, “American products are being replaced in the Colombian market because other countries have free-trade agreements.  If the FTA is not approved shortly, the U.S. will continue losing market share.”  Those losses will be particularly acute in the agricultural sector, where duty-free Canadian wheat will likely replace U.S. imports.

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    Tags: Canada, Free Trade Agreement, Colombia

  • Fernández de Kirchner Wins Nationwide Primary in Landslide

    August 15, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner trounced opposition contenders on Sunday in the country’s first-ever nationwide primary election for presidential candidates. With more than 96 percent of votes counted, Fernández de Kirchner won slightly more than 50 percent of votes cast—38 percent more that the second-place candidate Ricardo Alfonsín of the centrist Radical Civic Union party. The third place finisher, Eduardo Duhalde, won 12 percent.

    Under the primary rule system, candidates receiving less than 1.5 percent of votes will not be eligible to run in October’s first-round election. For analysts, this weekend’s results mean that the president is in a good position to win re-election in the fall elections.

    For a candidate to win in the general elections, he/she must receive at least 45 percent of the total vote, or 40 percent of the vote with a 10-point lead over the second place finisher.

    Following yesterday’s victory, Fernández de Kirchner vowed to maintain the status quo, “This is a recognition of all the work, the effort, everything that has been accomplished in the past eight years, but also for what we still need to do…My only promise is to keep working for everything we still need.”

    Tags: Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, 2011 Argentina Elections

  • Humala’s Imprisoned Brother Requests Pardon

    August 11, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Peruvian President Ollanta Humala’s brother, Antauro Humala, yesterday requested a presidential pardon that would cut short a 25-year prison sentence. He is currently serving time for his role in a 2005 attack on a remote Andean police station that left four officers dead.

    Although President Humala has not publicly acknowledged that he is considering a pardon, speculation has grown following statements by Defense Minister Daniel Mora and Vice President Omar Chehade that downplayed Antauro Humala’s involvement in the attack. In a Monday interview with Peruvian daily El Comercio Mora said Antauro was "not directly involved.” Mr. Chehade on Tuesday supported this view, saying "from what I've been able to determine, Antauro Humala never grabbed and shot the gun, nor was he the person who issued an order to shoot the police.”

    President Humala’s relationship with his brother Antauro has long been strained and a move to alter his sentence would carry political costs—as did a trip his older sibling Alexis recently made to Russia. This sensitive political environment is looked at in further detail in the Summer issue of Americas Quarterly, with an article written from the perspective on a remote jungle town on the levels of political frustration that the Peruvian President now must face in office.

    Tags: Peru, Ollanta Humala

  • Latin American Mayors at the Forefront of Innovation

    August 10, 2011

    by Jason Marczak

    It’s not often that mayors from nine Latin American countries and even Jordan have the opportunity to come together for three days to learn from each other about how to deal with some of their cities’ most pressing issues: balancing budgets, increasing citizen participation, promoting public-private partnerships, fostering economic growth, improving security, and, of course, strengthening democracy. But that’s precisely what happened in Bogotá, Colombia, last week at a conference organized by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.

    The message was clear: these mayors are among those at the front line of creating new, creative policies and programs that respond to their communities’ most urgent challenges. And policymakers at the national level have much to learn from these local laboratories of innovation.

    Take Oscar Montes, mayor of the municipality of Tarija in Bolivia. He inherited a city drowning in debt and revived it through a participatory budgeting plan. Montes’ initiative is structured so that citizens and local interest groups submit their priorities for infrastructure projects and jointly decide with the municipality which projects should be financed. Involving local stakeholders in city planning is more time consuming than simply rolling out a budget—but the process has paid off. Tax collection is up because tarijeños now feel like they are part of the city’s development, and project beneficiaries are now willing to financially contribute to infrastructure development that is aimed at their particular interests or neighborhoods.

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    Tags: Local government, Carlos Ocariz, Carlos Montes, Oscar Ortiz, Jeaneth Ordoñez

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    August 10, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

    Students and Chilean Government Still Deadlocked

    Chilean students held another mass demonstration on Tuesday, drawing over 140,000 marchers throughout the country, as well as support from the copper miners union. The Chilean government says it will not submit a new education proposal, notwithstanding student organizations’ rejection of the August 1 reform outline issued by the Ministry of Education.

    The continuous protests since May have contributed to the sapping of Piñera’s popularity. A poll released August 4 by the Center for Political Studies found that Piñera’s approval rating dropped 26 percent—the lowest level of any president since the return to democracy in 1990.

    Piñera Initiates Gay Civil Union Law in Chile

    Fulfilling a campaign promise, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera introduced legislation to allow civil unions for same-sex couples during a ceremony on Tuesday. Prominent conservative members of the president’s coalition did not attend the ceremony, highlighting the proposal’s controversial nature. The bill was introduced to the Senate, but is not expected to pass quickly.

    LatAm Stock Markets Ride Global Economic Rollercoaster

    Latin America’s stock markets plummeted Monday, along with the rest of the world’s, experiencing their worst downslide since October 2008. Argentina’s Merval led the pack, with a 10.73 percent nosedive, followed by Brazil’s Bovespa with 8.08 percent and Peru’s Lima General Index with 7.09 percent. Stocks in the region bounced back on Tuesday, but the situation remains uncertain as the possibility of another recession in the United States and a looming European debt crisis keep markets nervous.

    Canada’s PM Tours Latin America

    Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper embarked Sunday on a six-day, four-country tour of Latin America in what The Vancouver Sun described “another sign Canada is looking beyond the U.S. to ensure its continued prosperity.” The leader inked a series of cooperation agreements with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff before heading on to Colombia, where a bilateral trade deal takes effect next week. Canada also has a free-trade agreement with Costa Rica and is considering starting trade negotiations with Honduras, which marks the last stop in Harper’s trip.

    Read an AS/COA news analysis about the prime minister’s trip through Latin America

    Argentina Holds Its First Primaries

    Argentina will hold its first official and obligatory primary elections, following a contentious political reform approved in 2009. Observers expect the vote to give an idea of how much support President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner enjoys ahead of the presidential election scheduled for October.

    Read an AS/COA hemispheric update covering Argentina’s election outlook.

    Rousseff Loses Third Cabinet Member

    Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff replaced her defense minister, Nelson Jobim, with former Foreign Relations Minister Celso Amorim this week. Jobim resigned last week after publicly criticizing Rousseff’s handling of the military. This marked Rousseff’s third cabinet change in seven months.

    Brazil’s DefMin Considers Haiti Peacekeeping Withdrawal

    Former Foreign Minister Celso Amorim has been in his post as the new defense minister for less than a week but is already proposing a potentially major change: withdrawal of peacekeepers from the UN Mission for the Stabilization of Haiti, better known as MINUSTAH. Amorim contends that Brazil’s slowing economy is one reason, but he also said that the country has a new president and greater prospects for stability. The minister did not set a deadline for troop withdrawal. 

    Federal Police Arrest 38 in Brazilian Corruption Operation

    Brazil’s federal police arrested 38 suspects, including the country’s vice minister of tourism, Federico Silva da Costa, and several other government functionaries in an operation targeting corruption linked to the World Cup and Olympic Games preparation. The Rousseff administration has already lost two cabinet heads, Antonio Palocci and Alfredo Nascimento, who lost credibility over corruption allegations. 

    Rio’s Crack Treatment Program Sparks Debate

    The Los Angeles Times reports on a drug-treatment program in Rio de Janeiro that involves police and social workers apprehending homeless, crack-addicted youths and requiring them to undergo rehabilitation. Some 1,000 people—hundreds of them minors—have been placed into confined treatment since the program commenced in May. “The experimental program is being watched by the rest of the country as a possible model for dealing with Brazil's persistent problem of child homelessness and drug addiction,” writes Vincent Bevins. “But critics say forcing minors into confinement against their will or the will of their families is unconstitutional. They contend that much of the program is about cleaning up the streets of Rio de Janeiro, which is preparing to host the World Cup soccer tournament and Olympic Games.” 

    Fears Grow that Gunmen Wiped out Amazon Tribe

    Brazilian officials have grown increasingly worried that armed men wiped out an “uncontacted” Amazon tribe living near the Peruvian border—and close to a drug-trafficking route. Armed men attacked a nearby Brazilian guard post last week and officials have found no signs of the tribe since then, with the exception of an arrowhead in a backpack deserted by one of the gunmen. “Arrows are like the identity card of uncontacted Indians,” said Carlos Lisboa Travassos, head of Brazil’s Isolated Indians Department. “This situation could be one of the biggest blows we have ever seen in the protection of uncontacted Indians in recent decades.”

    No New Prisoners in Venezuela

    As the first phase in a new plan to decongest the overcrowded and violent prison system, Venezuelan Minister of Penitentiary Services Iris Varela said the government will suspend the imprisonment of new offenders, with the exception of violent criminals. This latest announcement comes after Varela said July 31 that she intends to reduce the country’s prison population 40 percent by releasing nonviolent criminals. 

    New Immigration Report Highlights Asylum Seekers

    The Organization of American States, the UN Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently released a joint report analyzing changes in immigration patterns over recent years. The study highlighted the increasingly important immigration flows between Latin American countries, and noted a sharp uptick in asylum seekers entering Ecuador, largely from neighboring Colombia. Some 35,514 asylum seekers sought refuge in Ecuador in 2009—more than any country in the hemisphere other than the United States, with 38,080. (H/T Two Weeks Notice.)

    UN Expresses Concern over Bolivia’s Indigenous Poor

    With August 9 marking the UN’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, the agency expressed concern over the fact that more than a third of Bolivia’s indigenous population lives in extreme poverty. Roughly 62 percent of Bolivia’s ten million inhabitants are indigenous. 

    Peru’s Daniel Mora Talks Defense

    In an interview with Peruvian daily El Comercio, the new Defense Minister Daniel Mora discusses his thoughts on the military profession, Peru’s defense needs, and eradication of illicit coca crops. Mora said he does not oppose the release of either President Ollanta Humala’s brother or former dictator Alberto Fujimori, provided the releases are made for humanitarian reasons.

    Santos Finishes First Year on Top

    With an 85 percent approval rating and remarkable efficiency pushing his agenda through Congress, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had much to celebrate when marking his first year in office on Sunday. But he still faces serious challenges, including high unemployment, a health care crisis, the renewal of political violence, and recurring public squabbles with his ally and former President Álvaro Uribe. El Tiempo looks back at the issues that defined Santos’ first year in office, from the floods that required the Colombian president to unexpectedly commit scarce resources to reconstruction to the anti-corruption statute debate.

    Americas Quarterly offers a preview of an interview with Santos slated for publication in its Fall 2011 issue.

    Mexico’s Violence Doesn’t Scare Investors

    Notwithstanding its five-year-old drug war, Mexico continues to attract foreign investment. In fact, a recent government report found that the seven states with the highest incidence of drug-related murder take in a greater share of the country’s foreign direct investment than they did before President Felipe Calderón launched the drug war offensive in 2006.

    Alleged Gun Trafficker Bought 700 Guns with ATF’s Knowledge

    USA Today reports on the case of Uriel Patino, an Arizona resident who allegedly purchased roughly 700 guns, many of which ended up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels and turned up at crime scenes on both sides of the border. Despite Patino’s orders raising red flags with an Arizona gun dealer, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives requested the sales go through to track the purchases as part of a discontinued and discredited program known as “Operation Fast and Furious.”

    DHS to States: No Opting out of Secure Communities

    The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced August 5 that all states must participate in the immigration enforcement program known as Secure Communities, which will be deployed across the country come 2013. The Boston Globe reports that more than 40 governments signed memos to participate in the program, designed to apprehend undocumented immigrants with criminal records. Despite concerns about the program voiced by some governors, states have been informed that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is terminating all the agreements and that participation will instead be a federal requirement. As many as 28 percent of deportation proceedings initiated nationwide through the program involved immigrants with no criminal convictions.

    Sandra Torres Definitively Prohibited from Prez Elections

    Guatemala’s Constitutional Court voted unanimously to prohibit former First Lady Sandra Torres from running for president in elections scheduled for September 11. Torres divorced current President Álvaro Colom in March in an attempt to skirt a constitutional ban on electing close members of the sitting president.

    Salvadoran Soldiers Surrender for Civil War-era Jesuit Killings

    Nine Salvadoran soldiers turned themselves in for facing charges related to the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests, five of whom were Spanish. The ex-soldiers surrendered upon hearing that they faced arrest by Salvadoran police due to an order issued by Interpol. They have been indicted in Spain and El Salvador must now decide whether to extradite them.

    Former Salvadoran Officer Convicted of Arms Trafficking in U.S.

    A U.S. federal court in Alexandria sentenced former Salvadoran Captain Héctor Antonio Martínez Guillén to 31 years for selling automatic weapons and explosives to a person he believed belonged to Colombia’s FARC guerrillas. Martínez was arrested in November 2010 while transporting cocaine between Virginia and New York.

    Corruption at Cuba’s State Telecom Company

    The head of the state telecommunications company ETECSA and two deputy ministers were arrested in Cuba on charges of corruption, according to unnamed sources cited by Reuters. Cuban head of state Raúl Castro has vowed to crack down on corruption as he spearheads a modernization of the country’s Communist economic system.

    Crafting Food Policy in Haiti

    Canadian think tank FOCAL released a research paper this week noting that Caribbean countries, particularly Haiti, remain vulnerable to food price fluctuations due to heavy dependence on food imports and insufficient national production. The paper recommends the development of both regional and country-specific food policies that encourage investment in agriculture without distorting local food markets.

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  • Albert Pujols Raises Money for the Dominican Republic

    August 10, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Major League Baseball (MLB) all-star Albert Pujols hosted a celebrity golf tournament this week in Missouri to benefit his Pujols Family Foundation and its work in helping families in need in his native country, the Dominican Republic. The foundation and the baseball star are featured in the Summer 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly, released today and available in all Barnes & Noble bookstores on August 15.

    Established in 2005, the Pujols Family Foundation helps families and children with Down syndrome and other disabilities or life-threatening illnesses. It also alleviates poverty in the Dominican Republic.

    Pujols highlighted the importance of the tournament, noting that the money raised will enable his foundation to “do a lot of great things like going down to the Dominican Republic with doctors and dentists” through mission trips. The Pujols Family Foundation also helped build a baseball field and start a youth league in the Dominican Republic a couple of years ago. When speaking of his home country, Pujols reflected, “Every time I go down there I bring a different memory back. Even though I grew up down there and I know some of the area, it still touches me every time I go down there. Giving back, it’s pretty special.”

    Other star athletes featured in the new AQ include Mia Hamm, Lorena Ochoa, Lionel Messi, Tony Gonzalez, and Marta Vieira. Read exclusive interviews with them in Good Sports.

    Tags: Sports, Albert Pujols

  • Rogue Group Attacks Nanotechnology in Mexico

    August 9, 2011

    by Arjan Shahani

    The anarchist group known as ITS (Individualidades Tendiendo a lo Salvaje or “Individual actions bordering on being savage” as it would roughly translate in English) gained notoriety in Mexico on Monday (August 8) when they claimed responsibility for a home-made explosive device that detonated in the hands of Tec de Monterrey Estado de México professor Armando Herrera Corral on the first day of school of this semester. A second device was found in another university (Instituto Politécnico Nacional) the next day; luckily authorities were able to remove and defuse it.

    Through its blog “Liberación Total” ITS claims that it is an organization against all forms of domination. Radical language against the neoliberal model is of course included, with the usual blurb about the United States dominating the world, cultural and economic imperialism, etc. ITS states that nanotechnology will lead to the downfall of mankind and paints a fatalist picture of the future where artificial intelligence will take over and control mankind. Tempting as it may seem, we really shouldn’t blame Arnold Schwarzenegger and those Terminator movies for the existence of this group.

    In the communiqué where they claim responsibility for the attack at Tec de Monterrey, ITS denounces universities in Mexico, claiming they “aim to prepare minds that don’t only want a piece of paper that credits their studies, but to graduate people who truly contribute to scientific knowledge and development of nanobiotechnology, in order to obtain what the system ultimately wants: total domination of everything which is potentially free.” They go on to say that scientists who claim to be investigating benefits for all of mankind are lying to us and that their true intentions are purely based on self-indulgence. The cherry on top is an isolated line in between paragraphs : “No matter what they say, Ted Kaczynski was right.”

    Read More

    Tags: Mexico, Terrorism, Crime and Security

  • AQ Video: The Private Sector and Social Development in Latin America

    August 9, 2011

    by AQ Inclusion

    View how Microsoft has partnered with the Organization of American States to enhance social development in the Americas through the "Unlimited Potential Partnerships" program.

    Tags: Social inclusion, Microsoft, Organization of American States (OAS)

  • AQ Video: Business Stepping Up to Provide Health Care

    August 9, 2011

    by AQ Inclusion

    Lack of access to health care is pervasive in rural areas of Latin America. Watch GE address this challenge in Honduras through its "Developing Health Globally" initiative.

    Tags: Honduras, Social inclusion, General Electric

  • Latin American Markets React to Global Uncertainty

    August 9, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Latin American stock markets plunged on Monday registering the worst numbers since February 2010.  The Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) Latin America—an index to measure equity market performance in emerging markets in the region—dropped 5.52 percent partly over concerns of the financial situation in the United States and Europe.

    The downgrade from AAA to AA+ announced by Standard & Poor’s on Friday after the close of trading impacted the markets in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru—the countries covered by the MSCI Latin America. Brazil’s Bovespa, the most dynamic market, lost 8.08 percent, the lowest since October 2008, amid international concern as well as domestic uncertainty over inflation and interest rates and a possible slowdown in consumer credit. Companies such as Petrobras (oil) and Vale (iron ore), two Brazilian giants, lost market value for up to 42 billion real ($26.5 billion).

    Replying to suggestions that Brazil’s dominance as an emerging market is at stake, President Dilma Rousseff has said the country’s “fundamentals justified confidence in its prospects. Brazil’s foreign exchange reserves today are nearly $350 billion, up 80 percent since the global financial crisis in 2008.”

    The Bolsa de Valores de Lima (BVL) dropped 7.09 percent, followed by Chile’s IPSA with 6.92 percent and Mexico’s Bolsa Mexicana de Valores (MBV), which fell 5.88 percent. While Colombia’s Bolsa de Valores (BVC) registered a decrease of 4.11 percent—and the 35 largest companies faced a market value decrease of 19.5 billion pesos ($10.7 million)—Argentina’s Merval suffered the most, plummeting 10.73 percent.

    According to Nick Chamie, from RBC Capital Markets in Toronto, “Friday’s downgrade, along with recent weakness in the U.S. economic data and the ongoing European sovereign debt crisis, highlight the external risks currently facing emerging markets.”

    Tags: Chile, Peru, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, U.S., Stock markets, emerging markets

  • Canadian Prime Minister Kicks Off Latin America Tour

    August 8, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper today begins a weeklong tour through South and Central America with a focus on boosting trade ties. He will visit four countries: Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

    Harper’s arrival in Brazil last night marks his first official visit to the country in more than five years as prime minister. His bilateral meeting with President Dilma Rousseff today and speech to the São Paulo business, political and academic communities tomorrow underscore his goal to aggressively improve Canadian-Brazilian commercial relations. The rise of Brazil is a focus of the Spring 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly and of the AS/COA’s Latin American Cities Conference in São Paulo tomorrow.

    Canadian-Brazilian ties have become rocky in past years, especially amid disputes over government subsidies for Brazil’s Embraer aerospace conglomerate and Canada’s Bombardier, Inc. aircraft manufacturer. Brazil is Canada’s 10th-largest export destination and Jayson Myers, president of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, said that “of any major emerging economies, Brazil presents Canada with the most opportunity for export.”

    Harper will continue Wednesday to Bogotá to meet with President Juan Manuel Santos. The two countries enjoy close ties and the Canada-Colombia free-trade agreement (FTA) enters into force next week. President Santos—in an exclusive interview with AQ on Friday—emphasized the importance of a similar FTA with the United States. Harper finishes his trip in Central America, visiting Costa Rica and Honduras on Thursday and Friday. The Prime Minister’s Office in Ottawa notes that Harper will be the first foreign leader to visit Honduras after its readmission into the Organization of American States in June.

    Tags: Costa Rica, Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Stephen Harper, Juan Manuel Santos, Organization of American States (OAS), Dilma Rousseff

  • AQ Slideshow: Afro-Bolivian Culture

    August 8, 2011

    by AQ Inclusion

    Although they constitute a small fraction of South America’s only indigenous-majority country, Afro-Bolivians maintain a distinct identity all their own.

    Tags: Bolivia, Social inclusion

  • Militares a juicios civiles

    August 5, 2011

    by Yoloxóchitl Casas Chousal

    An English translation appears below this text, originally submitted in Spanish.

    Casos emblemáticos de violencia contra mujeres, perpetrados por elementos del Ejército Nacional Mexicano, hoy vislumbran un futuro esperanzador, y podrían tener un resultado distinto al que han vivido las víctimas desde el momento en que fueron agredidas.

    El fallo emitido por la Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación (SCJN) al determinar que los militares que cometan delitos que violen los derechos humanos de civiles no podrán ser juzgados por tribunales castrenses, sino por instancias del fuero común y federal, es un parte aguas que sienta profundos precedentes en la consecución de la justicia y el respeto a estos preceptos universales.

    Mujeres como las 14 triquis violadas por soldados en Oaxaca, en 1979; las hermanas Ana, Beatriz y Celia, violadas y golpeadas por militares tras ser detenidas en un retén militar de Altamirano, en el sureño estado de Chiapas, en 1994; las oaxaqueñas que sufrieron abuso y violación en Santa Catarina Loxicha en 1997; Inés y Valentina, indígenas tlapanecas violadas por elementos del Ejército en Guerrero, en 2002; y las 14 bailarinas y sexoservidoras golpeadas y violadas en 2006 por soldados que “cuidaban” las urnas electorales en Castaños, Coahuila, al norte del territorio nacional; de seguro van a obtener juicios con resultados más favorables para ellas.

    Tags:

  • Celso Amorim Takes Over as Brazil’s Minister of Defense

    August 5, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Thursday accepted the resignation of Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, following a series of derogatory statements made to the press in recent weeks. Shortly thereafter Former Minister of Foreign Relations (1993–1995, 2003–2011) and Americas Quarterly contributor Celso Amorim was selected as Jobim’s replacement and he officially took office yesterday. In the Spring 2011 issue of AQ, Minister Amorim reflects on Brazil’s global rise in the first article written after leaving his post as foreign minister.

    The controversy surrounding Jobim had been growing for several weeks. He was widely reported to have recently referred to his colleagues in the Rousseff administration as “idiots” and news surfaced in July that Jobim had claimed publicly that he voted for President Rousseff’s rival, José Serra, in the October 2010 elections. In his most recent comments Jobim was quoted as saying that Minister of Institutional Relations Ideli Salvatti “lacked power,” and that cabinet chief Gleisi Hoffmann "doesn't even know" Brasilia. Jobim issued a statement yesterday denying the quotes.

    Jobim is the third minister to resign since Rousseff took office in January. In June, cabinet chief Antonio Palocci resigned over corruption charges and Transportation Minister Alfredo Nascimento quit in July over alleged irregularities in the awarding of contracts within the ministry.

    Tags: Celso Amorim, Dilma Rousseff

  • Student Protests Grow in Chile

    August 4, 2011

    by AQ Online

    The leaders of widespread student and faculty protests in Chile yesterday announced plans to mount a national strike and an additional series of mass demonstrations to contest a far-reaching education reform bill supported by the government. In response, Chilean Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter indicated that his office would deny to students permission to demonstrate in downtown Santiago where prior confrontations with police have caused significant property damage: “The march will not be approved by our government due to the damage caused to property, bystanders and police. We will take all necessary measures to enforce the decision. It is time for the demonstrations to end.”

    According to student leaders, the government’s proposed education reforms would allow for excessive levels of privatization in the education sector and lead to higher levels of indebtedness among graduates. “We analyzed the ministry’s proposal and students considered it a setback because it allows profit in the education sector. We do not see any structural changes, but only further privatization and perpetuation of student debt," said Univeridad Católica de Valparaíso official Nataly Espinoza.

    Chile has long struggled with education reform initiatives and these latest demonstrations are the culmination of more than two months of smaller protests across Chile. Students are calling for a halt of the trend toward privatization in education and other basic services such as public transportation.

    Tags: Chile, Education, Sebastian Piñera

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