President Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala said Monday that his country and others in Central America should consider legalizing drugs to help reduce violence in the region. Speaking at a press conference with President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador after a meeting on crime and security issues, Pérez Molina said, “We’re bringing the issue up for debate. If drug consumption isn’t reduced, the problem [of drug trafficking] will continue.” Funes, too, said he was “open to discussion” in his country on the matter.
Pérez first indicated his support for legalization in a radio interview on Sunday, saying his proposal would include legalization of consumption and transportation of drugs. He plans to bring the issue up at a summit of Central American leaders next month. The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala responded to the proposal with strong criticism, issuing a statement in which it said to legalize drugs would represent “a threat to public health and safety.” Pérez Molina said he considered the statement to be “premature” and that the U.S. should be a part of the debate.
Pérez Molina, a former general, was elected in November 2011 and took office last month promising to crack down on crime, including military action against drug cartels. In his first month in office, he has transformed himself into one of the strongest voices in favor of legalization. Anita Isaacs, a Guatemala expert and professor of political science at Haverford College, said the change could be a political calculation to pressure the U.S. into providing Guatemala with more military aid, while Pérez Molina’s backers say the change reflects a realization that, with continued U.S. demand for drugs, Guatemala will never have the resources to stem the flow of drugs north.
A growing number of Latin American leaders have expressed support for the legalization of drugs. President Santos has said it is a theme that “must be addressed,” and that he would be open to legalizing drugs if the entire world were. Former Presidents Vicente Fox, of Mexico, and Fernando Enrique Cardoso, of Brazil, have also expressed support.
El Salvador is heading toward another important electoral event within the next month. On March 11 Salvadorans will cast their votes to elect 262 mayors and 84 deputies to the Legislative Assembly. The results, especially for the legislative election, will shape the remaining two years of the Funes presidency.
The latest polls show a strong political opposition led by the conservative Alianza Republicana Nacionalista, ARENA, with higher voter preference over Funes’ governing, left of center, Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional, FMLN. President Mauricio Funes still maintains high approval ratings however it seems like his apparent likeability among voters isn’t translating into potential votes for his party. Some argue that this may be the result of Funes (and the FMLN) maintaining a complex relationship filled with public disagreements on some issues and coincidences on others.
If the polls remain the same for the next month the big looser may be the orthodox leadership of the FMLN. Pressure has been mounting on the traditional, hard line leadership of the FMLN, from their base to break away completely from Funes. These militants perceive Funes as too much to the right and not pushing for radical reform. However, if ARENA does well and the FMLN doesn’t perform as expected this would leave President Funes in an awkward position as he would effectively become a “presidente sin partido” (president with no party). Should this scenario occur Funes would most certainly look for refuge in one of the smaller political parties and face a difficult two years characterized by attacks from both the left and right of the political spectrum.
Yesterday evening, Miranda Governor and Primero Justicia (Justice First) candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski decisively earned the Venezuelan opposition presidential nomination, winning over 62 percent of votes in the primary contest. He will face incumbent President Hugo Chávez in the October 7 election. In his victory speech, Capriles Radonski proclaimed, “I say to all our people, without fail: we came to build a distinct future, we came to build a future for all Venezuelans. Now is not the hour of left nor right; it is the hour of Venezuela, of all Venezuelans.”
Unlike the 2006 election, Chávez, who is competing for a third consecutive term, now faces a united alliance of opposition parties: the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Coalition for Democratic Unity, or MUD). Over 2.9 million Venezuelans voted yesterday, a number that surpassed expectations. All MUD candidates signed a pledge in 2010 promising to respect the results of yesterday’s primary, and to rally behind the winner.
While yesterday’s MUD primary was open to any eligible Venezuelan voter, Chávez warned his supporters against participating, claiming that the social welfare programs enacted during his presidency would disappear were he to lose in the October general election.
At the conclusion of the Fifth Summit of the Americas in 2009, President Obama called for hemispheric partnership in place of “stale debates and old ideologies.” Three years later, the stalest of all debates is once again dividing the region. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa leads a threat to protest the absence of Cuba at the Sixth Summit by boycotting the entire event. While the political storm clouds will likely dissipate before April, the episode reveals the magnified symbolic importance of the lone outlier in the inter-American system.
Correa’s proposal immediately met with the avid support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and the other members of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) bloc gathered in Caracas last weekend. In response, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department appropriately pointed out that Cuba has not reached the threshold for participation—the essential elements of a representative democracy—as recognized at the Third Summit in Québec in 2001. The Secretary-General of the Organization of the American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, hastened to add that the Cuban government has not requested “the process of dialogue” necessary to participate in the OAS, as stipulated by the 2009 resolution that revoked its nearly five-decade-old suspension. Meanwhile, Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín has reiterated that an invitation does not depend on her government, which will host the Summit in Cartagena, but rather must result from a consensus decision among the member countries.
The notable lack of consensus is striking for what it says about the incentives and challenges faced by each of the actors involved. Policy toward Cuba has always generated controversy, less for the island itself than for larger principles; Cuba can represent either a litmus test for a government’s commitment to human rights and democracy or, as is so common in Latin America, a measure of a government’s independence from Washington. While this week’s debate does indeed spark a sense of déjà vu, it also demonstrates shifting dynamics in inter-American relations.
For Ecuador’s agent provocateur, Cuba fits neatly into a strategy of discrediting the OAS in favor of hemispheric organizations that exclude the United States, principally the new Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Correa is locked in a fight with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an autonomous branch of the OAS that has documented his abuse of press freedoms. Fellow firebrand Hugo Chávez is facing his own domestic problems, with rising inflation and crime endangering his electoral prospects in the October presidential contest while also contributing to a loss of regional influence for the ALBA bloc. In this context, Caracas and Quito have little to lose in promoting Havana’s participation in the Cartagena Summit, even knowing that the proposal will be a non-starter in Washington.
On Thursday, 1,000 activists arrived in Lima to demand the end of millions of mining operations that they claim are contaminating water and causing pollution. Their nine-day protest began last week in Peru’s northern region of Cajamarca but has now moved to Lima after a journey by bus and foot. Marco Arana, one of the leaders of the protest, said “we are demanding that all mining activities at the source of water basins be prohibited.”
Arana, leader of the left-wing movement Tierra y Libertad and who supported Humala during his electoral campaign, said that “we have to make a decision to choose between mining and water.”
Peru has 200 outstanding social conflicts, the majority of which relate to fears of environmental damage caused by the country’s mining industry--estimated to represent $50 million in investment in coming years. The anti-mining movement has united leaders from disparate mining regions who have distanced themselves from President Ollanta Humala in their “war for water.” Some protests have achieved their goals: in November protesters were able to paralyze the project in the Conga mine under the administration of Newmont, a U.S.-based company.
Analysts fear the eruption of violent protests, which could disrupt up to 60 percent of Peru’s mining exports. Protest leaders will meet members of Congress today to present a legislative initiative that seeks to suspend mining activity.
Please find the original text below, submitted in Portuguese.
As is the case across Latin America, diverse populations in Brazil have contributed much to the civic and cultural fabrics of society. Key influencers in Brazil span a range of ethnic origins—including Indigenous, European, African, and the immigrants who arrived in the twentieth century.
However, historically, contributions from Afro-Brazilians and Indigenous Brazilians have been minimized—if not distorted or outright erased—from the official historiography and from Brazilian classrooms. Curricular references in Brazil still reflect the colonial European viewpoint and it is not rare to have cases where discrimination against Afro-Brazilians is taught in elementary textbooks.
Some textbooks still depict Afro-Brazilians and the Indigenous as inferior groups who can only give limited societal contributions in areas like music and cooking. Outside of school, the Indigenous are perceived as wild and uncultured. But Brazil has tried to rectify this exclusive policy. In 2003 then-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva enacted Lei 10.639, which regulates the teaching of African and Afro-Brazilian history in public and private schools in Brazil. In 2008, this policy was extended to educating about Indigenous people, the history of their resistance, and their contributions to the formation of Brazilian identity. The idea was that once schools began discussing the history of pre-colonial Africa, Afro-Brazilians and the broader Diaspora would understand the rich and diverse contributions of Afro- and Indigenous Brazilian peoples.
A series of events, trainings and demonstrations have been held to maximize the effectiveness of Lei 10.639, but there still remains much to be done. After all, the structural problems of public schools in Brazil as well as continued scant governmental investment in diversity programs hinder substantive innovations in Brazilian education.
Police, government and UN officials watched yesterday as half a ton of ammunition blazed in a furnace in Kingston, Jamaica. This followed the 2,000 pistols and revolvers that were melted down on Tuesday, as part of an effort to combat gun trafficking and corruption and reduce violent crime. Many of the firearms had been seized during police operations; others were decommissioned and being destroyed to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.
Jamaica’s new minister of national security, Peter Bunting, said the destruction of the guns was an important first step toward reducing trafficking and the risk of theft. “The removal will help to reduce the risks of these weapons possibly being diverted back into the illicit trade,” he said at the Jamaica Constabulary Force armory.
Jamaica has one of the highest gun-crime rates in the world. Criminal gangs—whose turf wars and fatal shootings make up the bulk of Jamaica’s homicides—often possess as much firepower as police forces. Their weapons are in large part smuggled in from the U.S., although corrupt Jamaican police officers willing to sell weapons to criminal networks have also been a concern. A report released yesterday by the UN found that Jamaica has the Caribbean’s highest murder rate—even though the 1,124 murders reported in 2011 represented a seven-year low for the country—and the third-highest murder rate (60 murders per 100,000 inhabitants) in the world, after El Salvador and Honduras.
The Caribbean Human Development Report 2012 (the UN’s first-ever dedicated to the Caribbean) also found that gang-related crime costs Jamaica $529 million a year in lost income—much of it from the tourism industry. On the whole, the total cost on the regional economy was estimated to be between 2.8 and 4 percent of GDP.
The report was based on consultations with 450 experts and leaders and a survey of 11,555 citizens in seven countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.
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.
Cops and Soldiers Clash in Brazilian Police Strike
Soldiers clashed with police in the Brazilian city of Salvador da Bahia, where police are protesting in favor of a 30 percent wage increase. Soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at police occupying the state’s legislature. The BBC reports that crime has soared in Salvador since the start of the protests last week, with the murder rate more than doubling. Jornal do Brasil reported on February 8 that police strikes could inspire strikes in six other states this week, including Rio de Janeiro. The protests come two weeks before the country’s carnival celebrations, leading some to accuse the police of holding the government hostage.
In Peru and Argentina, Top U.S. Envoy Promotes Educational Exchange
Mercopress reports on U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta S. Jacobson’s travels to Peru and Argentina this week. Jacobson will introduce Obama’s "100,000 Strong in the Americas" plan to increase international study between the United States and Latin America, as well as tackle a number of economic and civil society issues with the Peruvian and Argentine leadership.
U.S. Leaves Diplomatic Posts Vacant in Latin America
An article in The Wall Street Journal explores the lag in appointing U.S. ambassadors to a number of Latin American diplomatic posts. The article observes that no other region in the world has as many U.S. ambassadorial vacancies. A meeting of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on February 7 decided to delay the decision on any pending nominations.
A DREAM Deferred? Looking at the ARMS Act
Feet in 2 Worlds blog questions the wisdom of the Adjusted Residency for Military Service (ARMS) act, introduced by Representative David Rivera (R-FL) on January 26. The ARMS Act is a revised version of the DREAM Act, which would grant citizenship to youths brought to the United States illegally as children if they completed college or served time in the military. The ARMS Act removes the education component. The blog asks if this might lead some to “sign up out of desperation” rather than an honest commitment to military service, and if it is wise to “deport trained professionals or students who have benefited from the public education system funded by the taxpayers.”
Learn more about opportunities and challenges for women in the CARICOM region, featuring Kerlin Charles from Grenada and Michelle Summer Williams from Guyana.
Two journalists were ordered on Tuesday by Judge Maria Mercedes Portilla of the province of Pichincha to pay a total of $ 2 million to President Rafael Correa, on the grounds that they had caused him “moral damage.” Judge Portilla issued the sentence to journalists Juan Carlos Calderón and Christian Zurita over their book El Gran Hermano, in which they expose the often-obscure circumstances in which the president’s brother, Federico Correa, acquired various government contracts.
Both journalists said in a press conference that they intend to appeal the decision, and that they see this as yet another limitation by the Ecuadorian government on an individual’s right to free speech as well as on the right to free press. According to Zurita, “This is yet another method of punishing the work of journalists; the amount is absurd and irrational.” For his part, Correa’s lawyer defended his client by stating that the sentence shows that both journalists fabricated the information in order to make money.
The journalists’ sentence follows approval of a law on Monday by the Ecuadorian legislature that will limit the press and other media from publishing anything favorable or unfavorable about a candidate 45 days before an election—at any level. These two events constitute a further development in the Ecuadorian government’s efforts to crack down on media, including a referendum last May that curtailed the media and a severe ruling last July against the directors and former opinion editor of El Universo newspaper.
"Plaza Sésamo" profiles a Mayan school in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, and teaches viewers how to count to 10 in the Mayan language. Video used with permission from Sesame Workshop.
Over 50 years of work have gone into facilitating and promoting regional integration in the Caribbean, but the 15-member regional bloc known as CARICOM (Caribbean Community) appears to be floundering.
Regional integration has long been seen as a response to protect the small, vulnerable economies of the Caribbean from the effects of globalization and the emergence of trade blocs. In 1989, regional heads of government adopted the Grand Anse Declaration, which was designed to facilitate the launch of a CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). The CSME was established in 2006 after 13 years of deliberation, and had several intentions: to enable free movement of goods, services, capital, and labor; to increase intra-regional, cross-border trade and investment; and to improve the region’s international competitiveness.
Yet, thinkers such as the University of West Indies’ Norman Girvan lament that very little progress has been demonstrably achieved since the CSME was launched; others cite a variety of other problems. For example, intra-regional travel is still very difficult for both business and leisure purposes; crime and violence as well as unfair trade competition continue to stymie progress; entrepreneurship continues to suffer; and exports are low despite much assistance from the U.S. through the Caribbean Basin Initiative.
Thousands of Brazilian federal troops surrounded the state legislature building in the northeastern city of Salvador on Monday as tensions mounted over a week-long strike by the city’s police force. Approximately 3,500 troops are currently being deployed to Salvador to deal with the 4,000 police officers and their families—including 300 children—that have been occupying the government building since last Tuesday. The police are demanding a 50 percent wage increase and better working conditions.
Crime has soared in Salvador since the strikes began, resulting in widespread looting and over 83 murders—up 129 percent from the previous week. Bahia Governer Jaques Wagner condemned the situation, saying "A group of police using reprehensible methods, spreading fear among the population, caused disturbances in some parts of the state.” But strike leader Marcos Prisco warned yesterday that "if the army storms the building there could be a catastrophe,” referring to the large number of civilians participating in the protest. One strike leader was arrested for taking control of more than a dozen police vehicles, and warrants have been issued for 11 other strike leaders.
Salvador is Brazil’s third largest city and home to one of the country’s largest Carnival celebrations that begin in just two weeks. The city will also host several games during the 2014 World Cup. In an effort to address concerns over transportation capacity surrounding the upcoming World Cup, the Brazilian government moved to privatize operations at three of its major airports yesterday. But the ongoing standoff in Salvador shows that violence and insecurity issues continue to loom over Brazil’s hosting duties.
Después de las elecciones generales realizadas en Guatemala en septiembre del año pasado y de la toma de posesión de esa autoridades electas el mes pasado, se ha constatado que la inclusión de más mujeres en puestos de toma de decisiones sigue siendo un reto tanto para las autoridades y una de las demandas del movimiento de mujeres en este país, pues los datos muestran nuevamente un estancamiento en el tema.
Para Dora Amalia Taracena—de la organización Convergencia Cívico Político de Mujeres—un hecho histórico en el país es que por primera vez asumió una mujer como Vicepresidenta de la República, Roxana Baldetti, lo que se considera un avance innegable y digno de reconocer.
Taracena señaló que en el Congreso de la República la situación hasta este momento es la misma, pues en esta nueva legislatura se reporta la presencia de 19 diputadas de 158, al igual que a nivel de alcandías donde de 333 puestos, sólo siete son ocupados por mujeres.
La profesional indicó que a nivel de ministerios, de 14 sólo tres están dirigidos por mujeres: educación; desarrollo social; y ambiente y recursos naturales. Se está a la espera de la oficialización de las secretarías para saber cuántas mujeres serán incluidas.
At a summit of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alternative to the Americas, or ALBA) this past weekend in Caracas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, ALBA’s founder, backed Argentina’s claims for sovereignty of the Malvinas (or Falklands) Islands. ALBA’s eight member countries—Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, and Venezuela—agreed to ban vessels flying the Falklands flag from docking at their ports, echoing a similar Mercosur decision last December.
The islands have been a British overseas territory since 1833, when Argentina claims the United Kingdom stole the land from them. Argentina attacked the islands in April 1982, sparking a two-month war that retained British control over the archipelago. The UK will commemorate the 30-year anniversary of the war later this year.
Over the weekend, Chávez pledged the support of the Venezuelan army if Argentina ever reignited the conflict militarily. Chávez added, “I’m speaking only for Venezuela, but if it occurs to the British Empire to attack Argentina, Argentina won’t be alone this time.” Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa opened up the possibility of stronger economic measures, noting, “We have to talk about sanctions.”
Also at the ALBA summit, Chávez proposed to offset the global economic crisis by accelerating the usage of the SUCRE currency that was established in 2009. Chávez wishes to use the SUCRE as a substitute for the dollar; Venezuela has already paid for food imports from fellow ALBA countries with the virtual currency.
As the global marketplace becomes increasingly competitive, the pressures of manufacturing costs have risen to the forefront. These challenges drive the locations of manufacturing, where products are transported and where investors look to spend their capital. It seems that the days of faulty, substandard major projects in Central America are over as individual governments take seriously the attractions for businesses to manufacture in other world regions.
From Guatemala to the end of the isthmus at Panama, Central American nations have all realized that the only way their countries can be competitive in the modern global economy is by building a first-class infrastructure. These outputs must offer sufficient capacity to handle the demands of the movement and delivery of goods, people and services in a cost-effective and efficient manner. Every country is pouring significant funds into infrastructure, with Panama, Guatemala and Costa Rica leading the pack.
Panama, which is often considered to be the “hub of the Americas” in terms of maritime and aviation, has spent over $3 billion in projects related to the widening of the Panama Canal, and another $3 billion in the construction of a metro-rail transportation system, among other initiatives. Meanwhile, Costa Rica has posted an impressive growth rate in recent years due primarily to tourism and producing high-value products. However, Costa Rica has been criticized for its lack of infrastructure and for the bureaucratic delays that surround the approval of any major project. With hopes of sustaining its current growth, Costa Rica has responded to this criticism by reforming its concessions law to further attract investment as well as signing a historic free-trade agreement with China, aimed at attracting heavy infrastructure-related foreign direct investment as it recently did.
Brazil’s Minister of Cities Mário Negromonte resigned on Thursday amid allegations of corruption published in the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo. Wednesday’s report alleged that the ministry’s executive director Roberto Munize held secret meetings with a lobbyist from Negromonte’s Partido Progressista (Progressive Party) and a businessman who was interested in bidding on a public works contract in Cuiaba that the ministry was in charge of granting.
The minister of cities coordinates urban development policies like Minha Casa, Minha Vida (My House, My Life), a federal program that builds low-cost housing for families making less than $1,600 reais ($930) per month. As a result of its booming economy, 80 percent of Brazilians now live in urban centers, giving increased importance to the ministry.
President Dilma Rousseff accepted Negromonte’s resignation and Aguinaldo Ribeiro, who is also a member of the Progressive Party, is expected to be inaugurated as the new minster of cities on Monday. Following a meeting with the president, Ribeiro said that his top priority will be “overcoming obstacles” in the ministry and that he would use the weekend to consider the “real outcomes” of the ministry’s actions.
Negromonte is the seventh member of President Rousseff’s cabinet to step down since June on unrelated corruption charges, along with the ministers of defense, transportation, labor, the chief of staff, and others.
The following is not yet another tirade against President Hugo Chávez. Instead, it is a warning: recent developments suggest that, in the case that Chávez does not manage to survive his illness, his successors could turn Venezuela into a narco-autocracy run by corrupt military officers who care more for money and riches than ideology or revolution. This would be of great concern for my country, Colombia.
When it was first announced that Chávez was suffering from cancer, conjectures started to arise as to who could succeed him in case he died, or he had to step aside. Two sides were identified. First, a group of high-ranking government officials, all civilians, who are very loyal to Chávez, apparently favored by the Cubans and strictly committed to the ideology of the revolution. The feisty Nicolás Maduro, minister of foreign affairs, and the left-wing intellectual and activist Elías Jaua, vice-president, were seen as the captains of such group. Initially, my own bet was that they would be picked by Chávez, with the blessing of the Castro brothers, given the likely potential that they would continue the revolution.
For the second day in a row, Indigenous groups protesting mineral resource extraction and hydroelectric projects in Panama shut down parts of the Pan-American Highway yesterday. Hundreds of Indigenous Panamanians from the Ngabe Buglé comarca in the country’s northwest placed tree branches and rocks at points along the highway in Chiriquí and Veraguas provinces, as well as on the highway between Chiriquí and Boca del Tora. All locations are part of the comarca, a type of reservation for the Ngabe and Buglé Indigenous groups with a high degree of administrative autonomy.
The demonstrators were protesting mining activities and the construction of hydroelectric projects in the region. Their leader, Toribio García, told local press that “we don’t want transnational companies to take over our natural resources and [cause people to] lose their lands.” Specifically, the Indigenous protesters were incensed over the approval last week by the National Assembly’s Commerce Committee of a bill, Ley 415, which addresses the protection of mineral, water and other natural resources in their region. They said they were not consulted during debate over the bill, and demanded that Article 5 of the original bill, which was dropped in the approved version, be reinstated. That article had called for an immediate suspension of all active concessions to national or foreign companies interested in mineral resource extraction or the development of hydroelectric plants within Ngabe Buglé and neighboring territories.
Representative Raúl Hernández, president of the Commerce Committee, said all groups had been invited to contribute, and the bill as it was endorsed “fulfills its obligations from all sides.” Before becoming law, the bill will go through two more rounds of debate and, possibly, further modifications.
In March 2011, faced with strong opposition and protests by Indigenous groups, the Panamanian government was forced to repeal a law that would have opened mining activities in Panama to private and foreign investment.
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.
Brazilian President Focuses on Investments in Cuba, Haiti
President Dilma Rousseff visited Cuba on January 30 and flew to Haiti on February 1 in a bid to expand economic ties with the two Caribbean countries. In Cuba, she discussed an $800 million renovation project of Havana’s Mariel port, largely funded by Brazil’s development bank and Brazilian company Odebrecht, as well as signing a number of science and technology agreements. Rousseff rejected invitations to meet with Cuban dissidents and human rights groups, despite requests that she address the issue, given international condemnation after the death of dissident hunger striker Wilman Villar last week. She did not meet with blogger Yoani Sánchez, who pleaded with Rousseff via a YouTube video to intervene on her behalf regarding an exit permit from Cuba. Sánchez received a visa to travel to Brazil but is still awaiting an exit permit from the Cuban government. While Rousseff did criticize the U.S. prison base at Guantanamo and the U.S. trade embargo against the island, she said human rights are a universal problem that need to be debated on a multilateral basis.
Hackers Attack Brazilian Banks' Websites
The Brazilian arm of international hacker group Anonymous brought down several banks’ websites this week, including those of Bank of Brazil, Bradesco, and Itaú Unibanco. Hackers say the weeklong cyberattacks intend to protest Brazil’s social inequality. On January 30, Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court announced a new round of public “hacking” in March to test the security of the country’s electronic voting system.
Rio’s Building Collapses Linked to Lax Inspections
Rio Real Blog looks at the collapse of a 20-storey building in Rio last week and reports on the surprising lack of building-code infrastructure in Brazil. The collapse of the building was apparently due to unreported renovations. The blog notes that while inspections are de rigueur in many countries, Brazil only inspects new constructions, placing responsibility for compliance during renovations with building owners and project engineers.
This year is already proving that it will be an exciting one for news. Take the U.S. elections, for starters. The presidential election, as it's been said by at least one GOP nominee, represents a battle for nothing less than America’s soul.
As for Latin America, what should we expect to make headlines?
Before ticking off possible headlines, it’s important to note the substantial—and frustrating—distinction between what should be covered and what will likely be covered. There are so many issues that never make it to (online) print or broadcast, given the tough competition for airtime and eyeballs.
Here are my top-10 most anticipated stories:
10) Health of Hugo Chávez: There will be many reports well-timed with Venezuela’s election cycle—Venezuelans go to the polls in October—that cite “well-placed, unnamed” sources claiming President Hugo Chávez is healthier than ever after his surgery last summer in Cuba to remove a cancerous abscess. These reports will appear within days of other stories that cite other unnamed sources professing to know the awful truth of just how horribly sick Chávez is and how he is trying to hide his fatal illness. Both stories will include hypotheticals (and wishful thinking) on the future direction of chavismo and bolivarianismo when Chávez ultimately leaves power, one way or another.
Beginning today, units of the Argentine Federal Police (also known as La Federal) will begin leaving their posts at subway stations across Buenos Aires and by mid-March will be removed from highway posts surrounding the city. The ongoing changes, announced over the last by the office of Minister for Public Safety Nilda Garré, are part of a larger reorganization that will involve the removal of police officers from hospitals, public buildings and certain parts of the city.
According to reports, the moves are part of an effort to reduce corruption and improve the public image of the federal police. Since taking office in 2010 Garré has fired dozens of police officials on suspicion of corruption and has begun removing the police force from crime and drug ridden neighborhoods in an effort to discourage corrupt behavior. According to Garré, “the police force should only be used to combat federal crimes,” and the removal of officers from subways, hospitals, and public buildings will strengthen its presence on the streets.
Critics of the measures believe that they are politically motivated and an attempt to undermine the policies of Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri (PRO.) Macri, a member of the opposition, Propuesta Republicana coalition has frequently clashed with the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Buenos Aires Minister of Justice and Safety Guillermo Montenegro says that the removal of the police force in critical locations of the city is hampering public safety: “It seems like they (La Federal) are retreating from their duties all together.”
In the last 5 years China’s military activities in Latin America and the Caribbean have grown at an unprecedented rate. Beijing now regularly hosts officers from Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay in its military academies, has expanded arms sales and technology transfers to countries like Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Venezuela, and in October last year even sent a navy ship to the Caribbean.
Is China—now Brazil and Chile’s number-one trade partner—buttressing its economic interests in the Western Hemisphere with military ties and alliances? Is this the Middle Kingdom’s equivalent of President Barack Obama’s Pacific pivot to balance China’s saber rattling in Asia?
There’s no doubt that China’s torrid economic growth rate and its arrival as an emerging—if not already emerged—global economic superpower has shifted the international system and brought a more muscular Chinese foreign policy. That policy—part of what the Chinese labeled its “Going Out” strategy—has come with a growing Chinese diplomatic, economic and even military presence in many of its closest trade partners. Given China’s need for raw materials to feed its manufacturing growth and urbanization—gobbling up everything from iron, to oil, to soybeans and frozen chicken—the country’s rise has been felt most obviously (at times with alarm) in the developing world, including Latin America.
First the economics. From 2000 to 2010 Latin America’s exports to China shot up 1,500% from 2000 to 2010. With increased commerce has come investment. In 2010 Chinese companies—most of them state-owned enterprises—invested $10.5 billion. While not a large amount relative to China’s other investments globally, it was a 180% jump from just two years earlier. In both cases, though, the focus has been on raw materials. Over 60% of Chinese imports from Latin America are primary products; for Argentina and Venezuela that percentage increases to 88% and 97% respectively. And China’s largest investment deals in the region have been from China’s state-owned enterprises snapping up energy and mining ventures, in Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador.
With China’s economic attention have come loans and grants. Recently the Financial Times estimated that in 2009-2010 the Chinese provided more loans globally (over $110 billion) than the World Bank (around $103 billion) in 2009–10. This included generous long-term concessionary loans to President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and President Rafael Correa of Ecuador guaranteed by both with cheap oil exports to China.
Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya announced yesterday that he would officially end his 30-year affiliation with the Partido Liberal (Liberal Party). Zelaya ran on the Partido Liberal ticket when he was elected president in 2006, but later accused the party’s leadership of having a hand in the military coup d’état that deposed him in 2009.
The coup was ordered to prevent Zelaya from seeking to change the constitution in order to run for another term as president. Still, Zelaya suspects his former party’s involvement. “We have renounced the party that committed the coup,” said the former president in an interview with Radio Globo referring to the Partido Liberal. In a press conference also on Monday, Zelaya went on to say that there will never be justice in Honduras over the coup and he called for the reform of the country’s two-party system, comprised of the Partido Liberal and the conservative Partido Nacional (National Party).
Last May, Zelaya signed an agreement brokered by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez that allowed him to legally return to Honduras for the first time since the coup. Following his return, Zelaya founded the Partido Libertad y Refundación (Liberty and Refounding Party – Libre) in August. Zelaya’s wife Xiomara Castro de Zelaya is likely to participate in Honduras’ primaries in November as Libre’s first presidential candidate.
Chinese President Hu Jintao made seven ambassadorial appointments yesterday, according to a statement from the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress—with Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Li Jinzhang filling the post of ambassador to Brazil. Jinzhang, who spoke with AQ for the Spring 2011 issue, said at the time that “the potential for growth in cooperation and trade is huge” with Latin America.
The choice of Li Jinzhang is significant to Brazil, China’s fellow BRIC country, as Jinzhang has occupied many diplomatic posts related to South America, and was also director of the Latin American Affairs Department at China’s foreign ministry. In his AQ interview, Jinzhang highlighted three policy goals for the People’s Republic in Latin America: promoting mutual respect and trust to expand common ground; deepening cooperation and achieving “win-win” results; and boosting common progress and intensifying exchanges.
The newest issue of Americas Quarterly shows that China has supplanted the United States as Brazil’s largest export destination. As ambassador, Li Jinzhang will oversee a growing Brazil–China relationship. In 2010, Chinese state-owned enterprises made significant investment in Brazilian firms, acquiring a 40 percent stake of oil giant Repsol YPF Brasil S.A. and a 100 percent stake of electricity company Expansión Transmissão Itumbiara.
Former president Efraín Rios Montt will stand trial for genocide and crimes against humanity, after he refused to testify in his defense during Thursday's investigation phase.
Rios Montt will remain free, on Q500000 bail ($64000) and live under house arrest until the trial date is set, which will be at least two months from now. He faces 20 to 30 years in prison per charge.
Firecrackers and cheers greeted the news outside the Palacio Justicia, where the proceedings were broadcast to a crowd that could not get into a packed courtroom. Inside, the handful of Ixil Mayans that had made the long journey to watch proceedings remained stoic, as their 29-year wait for accountability moved a step closer to ending.
A crowded courtroom on the 15th floor of the Torre de Tribunales started 30 minutes late as over 300 people packed into the Primera Corte de Alto Riesgo.
Prosecutors from the Ministerio Publico made their way through a wealth of evidence, including documents, expert analysis, military plans, witness testimonials, forensic anthropology and video in an attempt to prove their allegations.
News yesterday that the U.S. Department of Defense is poised to undertake force reductions and base closings in response to challenging national economic circumstances contrasts sharply with trends elsewhere in the hemisphere to ramp up defense spending and military purchases.
According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, army and Marine Corps. force reductions should save $487 billion over 10 years without compromising overall U.S. military readiness. Others called the proposed cuts dangerous; Arizona Republican Senator John McCain says Panetta’s plan “ignores the lessons of history,” and will result in a military “too small to respond effectively to events that may unfold over the next few years.”
While the U.S. is reducing defense spending our neighbors in the hemisphere are increasing theirs. In the most recent issue of Americas Quarterly, U.S. Army War College professor Gabriel Marcella argues that Latin America’s defense spending is projected to grow significantly by 2014—much of which is to finance arms purchases from China.
In recent years, China has sold $58 million worth of Karakorum jets to Bolivia, $150 million in air surveillance systems to Venezuela and has donated military equipment to Bolivia, Guyana, Colombia and Peru. The question of whether these activities threaten U.S. interests is open to debate, but according to Marcella, “U.S. officials are not publicly concerned about China’s military activities. Frank Mora, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs, stated in 2009 that while the U.S. stands for transparency, China’s arms and technology transfers are standard in the international community, and that some of the equipment can help Latin American governments improve security and counter drug trafficking.”
Research published in the Winter issue of Americas Quarterly, released today, shows that Chinese exports not only compete with Latin America in export markets, they also undermine manufactured goods domestically. Osvaldo Rosales of the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean writes in his article, “Trade Competition from China,” that China’s emergence on the global trading scene “has undoubtedly delivered benefits for Latin America—primarily by enhancing the value of its exports of natural resources and related products,” but also produced “a major competitor” in the markets of Latin America’s key trading partners.
A study conducted by Rosales and his colleagues empirically documents the effect of competition from Chinese goods on the products of four select Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico) in third markets and within countries. The study shows that, as China’s participation in the four countries’ key markets—the U.S. and Latin America—increased, their own market share was eroded, in both high- and low-tech products. Overall, the affected market share in 2010 for the four countries represented 25 percent of their total exports to the U.S. and 12 percent of their total intraregional exports.
In spite of the substantial inroads that Chinese imports have made in Latin America’s domestic industries and export markets, writes Rosales, “public policy can make a difference.” He notes that Latin American products’ competitiveness could be increased by reducing logistics costs to enable them to benefit from shorter travel distances to markets; increasing spending on research, development, design, and marketing of products that already have a higher probability of maintaining market share; and fostering innovation and improving quality control.
For more on China and Latin America, read the new Americas Quarterly.
It is no secret that China is now a major economic presence in Latin America. For countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, and Venezuela this has meant money to help keep their economies going, to build power plants, to provide loans to business, to increase the consumption and trade of agricultural goods, and to create new opportunities for both foreign and domestic investment. China also has overtaken the U.S. to become Brazil’s largest trading partner.
But China is not the only Eastern nation playing in Latin America’s sandbox. Japan has also amassed a great deal of assets, investment gains and trade opportunities—most notably in Brazil. Japanese foreign direct investment in Brazil totals just over $4 billion—well behind that of China ($17 billion) and the U.S. ($8.2 billion) but not insignificant. Brazil has just what Japan needs: commodities, natural resources and high-yielding interest rates on investment.
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.
López Bows Out, Supports Capriles ahead of Venezuelan Primary
Venezuela’s El Universal reports that pre-candidate Leopoldo López pulled out of the race for the opposition primary and gave his support to frontrunner Henrique Capriles Radonski. “Henrique, you will be the next president of Venezuela and I will dedicate all I have…and will not rest until we win on October 7,” said López upon announcing his decision. López’s renunciation leaves five candidates to compete in the upcoming primary on February 12.
Venezuelan Opposition Unveils Platform
The Venezuelan opposition coalition, known as the Democratic Unity Board (MUD), released a statement this week detailing how they plan to govern should they win the presidential election in October. The platform names “democratic reconstruction,” “a sustainable economic development model,” and a foreign policy based on “true commercial interests and a historic commitment to democracy” among its promises.
The Legacy of Venezuela’s Last Dictator
For Venezuelans, January 23 will mark the fifty-fourth anniversary of overthrowing the country’s last military dictatorship under Marcos Pérez Jiménez. Foreign Policy’s Transitions blog explores the significance of that date, which ushered in a 40-year period of democracy that “remains the only reference point Venezuelans really have for stable democratic governance.” The blog also makes reference to attempts by the Chávez government to redefine the date and Pérez Jiménez’s legacy.
Please find the original text below, submitted in Portuguese.
It may be one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse countries in the world, but Brazil has still not been awakened to its full tourism potential. As Brazil attempts to lure travelers ahead of the 2014 and 2016 “mega events”—the FIFA World Cup and Olympic Games, respectively—Brazil must devise a strategic vision for tourism. Here, authorities would be wise to look to the Afro-Brazilian population.
Brazil welcomed 5.4 million tourists last year. This is certainly laudable, but given that Paris attracted 5.2 million tourists in the same time period, it is clear that Brazil has room for improvement. Fortunately, Brazil’s tourism promotion authority, Empresa Brasileira de Turismo (Brazilian Tourism Company, or Embratur), is taking note.
Embratur began 2012 with a series of actions to bolster Brazil’s tourism image abroad—with the ultimate goal to receive 10 million visitors annually by 2020. According to organizers for the World Cup, Embratur will target 17 priority markets this year: Argentina, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom, United States, and Uruguay.
Increased promotional campaigns will yield some success, but these advertisements should also highlight the rich Afro-Brazilian culture and religions; otherwise this success will remain limited.
I find that tourists who come to Brazil have been encouraged most by word of mouth. There is not enough awareness among other black populations in the world about Brazil’s significant black population. The African-American community in the United States is one clear example. With purchasing power totaling roughly $1 trillion, this demographic can certainly bring much needed tourism dollars to Afro-Brazilian areas and businesses.
The truth is that there are numerous attractions in Brazil: music, gastronomy, history, fashion, festivals, concerts, and of course the people themselves. Highlighting all the diverse ethnicities in Brazil—including the Afro-Brazilian community—could pique global interest, and this message of ethnic tourism has the potential to also generate employment opportunities. The black community still suffers from high unemployment as we know, so any government action to incorporate input from the business sector and civil society organizations will go a long way toward generating income for thousands of people across the country.
There are many highlights of Afro-Brazilian culture: hundreds of quilombolas, samba groups, and afoxé-playing musicians. There could be religious tours completely designed around Afro-descendant religions, or perhaps ecotourism packages around Afro-Brazilians who live in nature reserves. These are just a few ideas—but Afro-Brazilians need the support of the public and private sectors.
Brazil is preparing intensely for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games; this will undoubtedly mean more contracts for Brazilian companies and more opportunities to attract foreign tourists and investors. But even in 2012, there is not enough integration of Afro-Brazilians in the effort, nor are there substantial investments in training workers or subsidizing businesses.
Brazil needs to wake up and tap into its tourism potential. This is a matter of cultivating a strategic vision and putting up the investment dollars to sustain it. If Brazil doesn’t do this, Afro-Brazilians will continue to remain excluded in society.
A segunda nação negra do mundo, e um dos países com maior diversidade cultural do mundo, ainda não despertou para o potencial turístico que possui. Por ano, o país deixa de arrecadar milhões e incluir um enorme número de pessoas por falta de visão estratégica e investimento na atração de pessoas interessadas na história e cultura afro-brasileira.
Que o Brasil é um país de cenários exuberantes, riqueza natural e gente hospitaleira todos sabem. Porém, os fatos comprovam que o Brasil não explora as suas possibilidade turísticas como deveria. Em 2011 o país comemorou a a marca 5,4 milhões de turistas. Porém, somente a Torre Eiffel, na França, recebe 5,2 milhões por ano, o deixa óbvio que o Brasil precisa promover melhor seus destinos no exterior.
A Empresa Brasiliera de Turismo (Embratur) iniciou o ano de 2012 com um pacote de ações para melhorar a imagem do Brasil como destino turístico no exterior e alcançar um aumento do turistas, visando a meta de dez milhões de visitantes em 2020. Segundo o Portal da Copa 2014, a Embratur focará suas ações em 17 mercados prioritários, em 2012, são eles: Argentina, Chile, Colômbia, Paraguai, Peru, Uruguai, Alemanha, Espanha, Estados Unidos, França, Reino Unido, Itália, Holanda, Portugal, Bolívia, Canadá e México.
Se o plano realmente for efetivado será um avanço, porém o que se vê até então é um desconhecimento sobre a cultura, religiosidade e situação social brasileira no exterior. Um exemplo é a comunidade afro-americana que movimenta aproximadamente 1 trilhão de dólares por ano e, em geral, desconhece a realidade dos negros brasileiros. Não se vê nos veículos de comunicação destinados a essa comunidade nos EUA nenhum tipo de publicidade ou ação, o mesmo acontece na Europa, África e outras partes do mundo. Os turistas que chegam ao Brasil seguem ainda motivados pelo marketing boca-a-boca e não dispõem de um cuidado especial e uma infraestrutura favorável a esse tipo de turismo voltado ao aspecto cultural e histórico.
Por outro lado, as atrações são inúmeras. Música, culinária, história, moda, festas populares, shows e o próprio povo são ativos que poderiam gerar um fluxo contínuo de turistas de todo o mundo interessados na história da comunidade negra brasileira.
Fomentar o turismo étnico é gerar oportunidades. A comunidade negra no Brasil, como se sabe, ainda sofre pelo alto indicie de desemprego e falta de oportunidades, portanto uma ação do governo envolvendo o setor empresarial e organizações sociais poderia certamente gerar emprego e renda para milhares de pessoas em todo o país. São centenas de comunidades quilombolas que podem receber turistas pelo país, grupos de samba, afoxé e blocos afros que podem aumentar o número festas, grupos afro-religiosos que podem falar sobre suas crenças, sem contar com as comunidades situadas em reservas naturais que podem oferecer pacotes de ecoturismo, com destinos únicos no mundo.
Os chamados Megaeventos, como a Copa do Mundo e Jogos Olímpicos, estão próximos e até agora não há uma ação clara do governo brasileiro face a inclusão de roteiros afros no leque de opções dos visitantes do exterior ao Brasil. Além disso, não há um investimento em qualificação profissional ou financiamento para negócios desse segmento.
O Brasil precisa acordar e explorar todo o seu potencial turístico para incluir sua população. É uma questão de estratégia e de investimento a longo prazo. Ou acordamos para isso, ou os afro-brasileiros perderão mais uma vez o bonde da história.
Venezuelan opposition candidate Leopoldo López of Voluntad Popular pulled out of the presidential primary race on Tuesday to form an alliance with current opposition frontrunner Henrique Capriles Radonski of Primero Justicia. According to Dataánalisis, a Venezuelan polling firm, Capriles leads López by 29 percentage points (45 to 16 percent) ahead of the February 12 primary elections.
One of the reasons Leopoldo López decided to pull out this late in the primary race was his precarious position as a candidate. He was barred from holding public office until 2014 over corruption charges; the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that this decision violated his political rights, but the Venezuelan Supreme Court dismissed this decision saying he could run for office but not hold office.
López decided to support Primero Justicia because of similarities in the electoral base. According to López: “We both have the same dream.”
President Hugo Chávez, who has been in office for 13 years and is seeking another six-year term in the October 7th presidential election responded to the news: “They are all the same. They are the candidates of the Yankee Empire.” Recent polls show he remains popular with a 50 percent approval rating.
In the Brazilian state of Tocantins, learn about how Bunge Foundation—through a program called Integrated Community—is spurring sustainable territorial development both socially and economically. Currently, the program exists in three cities in Tocantins: Pedro Afonso, Tupirama and Bom Jesus do Tocantins.
Bunge Foundation undertakes a three-pronged approach:
1) Forging relationships with the community, which then promotes awareness of the Bunge enterprise in the region and also helps the enterprise become part of the community.
2) Strengthening public institutions such as municipal councils and tax and budgetary authorities, in order to develop sustainable infrastructure.
3) Lending support for human and social development, which strives to promote community development through occupational training and development of suppliers, among other actions.
Learn more about Integrated Community on Fundação Bunge's official website.
Any piece of legislation that addresses the issue of sex is bound to be met with controversy. This is only magnified in countries that promote policies that run against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) members of their population. Stakeholders like the Church, for instance, police morality by prohibiting any form of same-sex intimacy.
Today, terms like “sex” and “rape” are only viewed in the heterosexual prism—that is, only men and women legally engage in sexual activity. When these definitions were conceptualized, our awareness of the many ways in which people exercise their sexual freedom was perhaps very limited. But in 2012, despite cultural awareness to the contrary, much legislation does not deviate from conventional paradigms.
Beginning in 1927 in the United States, rape was defined as the “carnal knowledge of a woman, forcibly and against her will.” The Obama administration, however, expanded that definition to include more forms of sexual assault such as rape of men and oral or anal sex. According to Vice President Biden, "this long-awaited change to the definition of rape is a victory for women and men across the country whose suffering has gone unaccounted for over 80 years."
The United Nations announced yesterday that it is investigating two cases of sexual exploitation of children allegedly committed by UN police personnel in Haiti. One case involves the UN Police (UNPOL) in Port-au-Prince, while the other implicates one or more members of the Formed Police Unit (FPU) in the northern city of Gonaives.
UN Spokesperson Martin Nesirky said that the Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) alerted UN headquarters of the allegations last week. “The United Nations is outraged by these allegations and takes its responsibility to deal with them extremely seriously,” said Nesirky in a statement. The UN has not disclosed the nationalities of the police officers in question, but confirmed that they have been removed from duty while under investigation.
Since peacekeepers first arrived in Haiti 2004 to restore order following the ouster of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the UN has had a sometimes tense relationship with the local population. Last September, five Uruguayan peacekeepers were recalled after being accused of sexually abusing a Haitian man at a UN base, while recording the incident on a cellphone. Four months earlier, an independent UN panel concluded that the Cholera epidemic that infected 344,000 Haitians and killed over 6,000 likely originated from poor sanitation by Nepalese peacekeepers stationed in Mirebalais. Both incidents resulted in protests and clashes between protesters and UN and Haitian police.
In an effort to ebb anti-UN sentiment in Haiti, the Security Council decided last October to withdraw 3,000 troops from the Caribbean nation, returning the force to pre-earthquake levels. Still, President Michel Martelly maintains that UN troops are a necessary presence in Haiti until the country’s police force—or a new military—can ensure security.