With his decision on November 10 to review the route of the Keystone XL pipeline—and delay a final determination on whether to give the green light—President Obama had likely wished that the issue would not surface again until after the 2012 elections. But politics are not so easy, especially when it comes to this 1,700-mile long project that would carry 800,000 barrels per day of heavy crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast. To put it in perspective, that amount is about half of what the U.S. imports from the Middle East.
This week, the Keystone XL pipeline is yet again taking center stage. Republicans in the House of Representatives are threatening to hold hostage the president’s top legislative priority for December—extension of the payroll-tax cut and unemployment insurance—unless the package includes a provision that would move the decision making over the pipeline from the State Department to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and shorten the period in which a decision must be made. Obama’s response came yesterday after a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “Any effort to try to tie Keystone to the payroll-tax cut, I will reject.”
Get ready for a showdown. On Thursday, the House leadership announced that the vote will occur next week.
In October, Andrew Holness became the ninth prime minister of Jamaica, but also the youngest in its history and the first prime minister born post-1962 independence. Holness, a three-term member of parliament, was formerly the minister of education and the leader of government business in Jamaica’s House of Representatives.
Speculation about a change in leadership first emerged in late September when reports surfaced that Prime Minister Bruce Golding, Holness’ predecessor, had tendered his resignation. Many Jamaicans have offered their individual speculations for the move; while Golding hasn’t addressed any of these directly, he did say in an address to the nation that the challenges of the last four years had taken a toll on him.
The task of prime minister is a daunting one, especially in a nation like Jamaica—a developing country in a global recession. The premier must combat the unacceptable level of crime and violence, the increase in poverty, a high debt-to-GDP ratio, food insecurity, human rights issues—including extrajudicial matters and summary killings—and the state of the education system.
All of these issues are important, but education is a key concern. How will Prime Minister Holness strengthen the education system? Indeed, it is a cornerstone of Jamaica’s national development plan, known as Vision 2030.
The U.S. is donating $1.156 million in equipment and training to help Paraguay combat a small guerrilla army in the north of the country. In a news release on Wednesday, the U.S. embassy said the money would be directed toward police training for rural operations, vehicles, communications gear, and improvements to police facilities in the jungle region where the Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (Paraguayan People’s Army–EPP) operates.
The EPP has carried out bank robberies, ransom kidnappings and attacks on police and military posts in the San Pedro and Concepción departments in Paraguay’s north. Though rumored to have only about 20 armed members, it has been behind particularly high-profile crimes—including, in 2004, the kidnapping and murdering of Cecilia Cubas, the daughter of a former president. It is also thought by some officials to have ties to Colombia’s FARC.
Since the spring of 2010, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo has made defeating the EPP a priority. Congress granted him emergency powers for 30 days in April 2010, authorizing arrests without a warrant and army accompaniment of police in security operations in five departments. The crackdown met with mixed results and divided public opinion. Last October Lugo approved a congressional resolution to declare a 60-day military siege in the departments of Concepción and San Pedro. Though the siege officially expires on Saturday and has failed to produce the capture of any insurgents, Ministry of the Interior Carlos Filizzola reiterated that security forces would continue to work in the north “to capture the members of the EPP and completely dismantle this criminal organization.”
In 2009, the U.S. donated equipment to Paraguay to help an elite military force combat urban terrorism.
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.
Brazil’s Senate Passes Forest Code Bill as Amazon Deforestation Declines
On Monday, Brazil’s Senate passed a controversial forest code bill with overwhelming support. The bill alters an existing forestry law, and would increase the amount of forest farmers can legally cut down. It would also offer amnesty to those who illegally deforested land before 2008. The bill must pass the Chamber of Deputies before being submitted to President Dilma Rousseff, but still faces still opposition. Environmentalists have rallied support against the bill, and a Folha de São Paulo report today reveals that 50 congressmen received $8.3 million in campaign donations from agribusinesses that would receive amnesty under the new law.
Coincidentally, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research reported this week that deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in 2011 reached its lowest level ever recorded since 1988. Between August 2010 and July 2011, Brazil lost 6,238 square kilometers of rainforest, 11.7 percent less than the same period last year.
Brazilian Labor Minister Steps Down
Brazil’s embattled Minister of Labor Carlos Lupi resigned on December 4, becoming the seventh member of President Dilma Rousseff’s team to step down since she assumed office, and the sixth on account of corruption. Brazilian press accused Lupi of diverting taxpayer money to NGOs, an accusation he repeatedly denied. In his resignation, he stated: “I leave with the clear conscience of a duty fulfilled, of my confident, personal belief that the truth always prevails.” Hoping to avoid another political crisis, President Rousseff also called on Fernando Pimentel, minister of Development, Industry, and Foreign Trade, to discuss his time as a consultant between 2009 and 2010. Brazilian newspaper O Globo suggested he may be involved in influence peddling and non-payment of services rendered.
Read an AS/COA Online hemispheric update about the Rousseff administration’s attempts to rein in corruption.
State of Emergency Declared in Peru Amid Mining Protests
On Saturday, President Ollanta Humala announced a 60-day state of emergency following large-scale protests against Peru’s largest mining project in the Cajamarca province. Residents oppose the $4.8 billion Conga mine, operated by American company Newmont Mining, since they believe it will cause environmental damage and contaminate the water supply. The state of emergency permits arrests without warrants. On Tuesday, police arrested two protest leaders; Wilfredo Saavedra, head of the Environment Defense Front of Cajamaraca, and Milton Sanchez, the head of a civic association were questioned and detained for 10 hours.
I came to Durban, South Africa, as a journalist to cover the UN talks on climate change, the main point of which is to figure out how to reduce our carbon footprint. Carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases are the byproducts of our modern lifestyle and the principal cause of surging temperatures in the planet. So far, there hasn’t been much success.
I was born in Colombia; my tropical country is rich in forests, biodiversity and water sources—making us a key pillar in stopping global warming. Colombia has large tracts of carbon-capturing trees and our emissions are pretty low (0.31 percent of the world total). We are a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, and here in Durban, we support a second term of commitments.
In Durban I share a room with Jeff Lowenstein, a colleague from the U.S. He comes from the opposite corner of the world when it comes to emissions. The U.S. is the second largest emitter (after China) and the main polluter of CO2 per capita (17.7 tons annually). The rest of the world, excluding China, South Africa and the EU, emit less than 3.4 tons per year. The U.S. never signed the Kyoto Protocol and appears to be pushing for it to die quietly in Durban.
En los encuentros internacionales de activistas afrodescendientes parece olvidarse que el primer espacio de lucha de los ciudadanos negros son los proyectos de país a los que pertenecen. Siguen siendo los Estados nacionales los que determinan las condiciones de vida de las personas comunes y corrientes, por un lado. Ese es el espacio político fundamental.
De otro lado, en la casi totalidad de los habitantes negros de las Américas es más fuerte la identidad nacional que la identidad de la diáspora africana, de aspecto racial. Es el espacio cultural real. En realidad, la diáspora africana es una construcción intelectual de pequeños grupos educados. La mayoría vive con apego a la comarca donde nació y a su patria.
Hay una tensión entre nación y diáspora. Es necesario aumentar la legitimidad de las poblaciones negras en el ser de cada país. Esto es la base de una estrategia para reclamar y construir igualdad.
La diáspora lleva la imaginación política y social fuera de la nación, a un espacio difuso. Esta es la tensión. Al igual que el menosprecio de los ciudadanos negros en la historia nacional, el discurso de la diáspora socava el fortalecimiento de la legitimidad interna.
Yesterday evening, the Brazilian Senate voted 59 to 7 in support of reforming the Forest Code to reduce the amount of Brazil’s territory that requires environmental conservation. The code—agreed to over 45 years ago—mandates the protection of up to 80 percent of forests in Amazonian regions and 20 percent in other areas of the country. This loosening of restrictions has drawn the ire of environmentalists, who claim the measure gives license for accelerated deforestation. Just yesterday, Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research reported the lowest national deforestation rate in 23 years—a trend that many fear may reverse with yesterday’s changes.
However, the law has received wide praise from farmers and other agricultural stakeholders. Supporters of this bill argue that Brazil needs more land for food production. Brazil is the world’s second-largest agricultural producer behind the United States, and, if signed, the new legislation could vault Brazil to number-one status. Senator Kátia Abreu, also the president of Brazil’s National Agriculture and Livestock Federation, hailed last night’s passage as an end to “the environmental dictatorship.”
The bill now returns to Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies, which voted to overhaul the Forest Code last May. The Senate’s updated version has nearly 70 amendments, but the Chamber is expected to pass all the new provisions. The bill will likely arrive on President Dilma Rousseff’s desk in early 2012. Greenpeace Amazon has launched an advocacy campaign calling on her to veto the legislation.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel named Mexican-American activist Adolfo Hernandez the first director of Chicago’s new Office of New Americans on Monday. Hernandez is a Chicago-native and a long-time leader in the immigrant community; he previously served as board president of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, a grassroots organization based in Chicago’s northwest side.
The Office of New Americans, launched in July with the help of the New York Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, is “dedicated to improving services and engaging Chicago’s global immigrant communities through enhanced collaboration with community organizations, educational institutions and the private sector.” Hernandez will oversee several new initiatives to promote immigrant integration. These include workshops for small business owners on how to access local, state and federal resources, programs to increase parent engagement in Chicago public schools and free English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, among others.
Hernandez will also ensure the implementation of the Illinois Dream Act, which was signed into law by Governor Pat Quinn in May. Supported by Mayor Emanuel, the act created a private "DREAM Fund" to support immigrant students who want to go to college, regardless of their documentation status.
The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) released a press release yesterday congratulating Hernandez on his appointment. “Immigrants are the engine of our economy,” said ICIRR Deputy Director Lawrence Benito in a statement, “and we appreciate that the new Office of New Americans is particularly focused on promoting job creation and entrepreneurship.”
Sesame Workshop, the non-profit educational organization behind "Sesame Street," Plaza Sésamo, and so much more, was founded over 40 years ago as Children’s Television Workshop with the goal of helping prepare children from low-income families for school. As UNESCO’s 2010 Education for All Global Monitoring Report highlights, education “enables people to make choices in areas that matter.” It adds that those who lack “literacy and numeracy skills face a heightened risk of poverty, insecure employment, and ill health.” Social inclusion, therefore, is a topic that has always been at the heart of Sesame Workshop.
With its goal of closing the academic gap, the organization became inherently focused on promoting social inclusion. Since then, the Workshop has expanded its reach to over 150 countries all over the globe, addressing various issues from health and well-being, to mutual respect and understanding, and of course, early literacy and numeracy and school preparedness.
Sesame Workshop’s dedication to social inclusion can be summarized in its mission: “Sesame Workshop is committed to the principle that all children deserve a chance to learn and grow; to be prepared for school; to better understand the world and each other; to think, dream and discover; to reach their highest potential.”
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala today declared a state of emergency in the northern Peruvian department of Cajamarca in the wake of protests last week that led to the suspension of the multi-billion-dollar Conga gold-mining project. Humala’s press office tweeted last night that the measure would take effect at midnight today and last for 60 days. This decree will affect the provinces of Cajamarca, Celendín, Contumazá, and Hualgayoc.
Last week’s clashes were biggest challenge to date of Humala’s nascent presidency and saw the resignation of his vice-minister of the environment, José de Echave. Humala has blamed the impasse on local Indigenous leaders, stating, “Every possible means has been exhausted to establish dialogue and resolve the conflict democratically, but the intransigence of local and regional leaders has been exposed.”
According to government statements, the emergency declaration is designed to mitigate violence and allow the restoration of basic public services. Police will now have the authority to issue arrests without warrants as well as to limit the right of assembly. Cajamarca’s governor and protest leader, Gregorio Santos, referred to Humala’s pronouncement as an unnecessary provocation and pledged to “continue with our fight.”
Bogotá, 4 de febrero, 2008. La indignación de un ingeniero civil que veía como una burla los intentos frustrados de la liberación de las secuestradas Clara Rojas y Consuelo González (que se conoció como la Operación Emmanuel), fue el origen de la creación de un grupo en Facebook llamado Un millón de voces contra las Farc. De ahí una marcha multitudinaria en las calles de 193 ciudades del mundo. Histórica, se dijo. Polarizada, se vivió.
Bogotá, 6 de diciembre, 2011. El tiro de gracia que recibieron cuatro uniformados (el mayor Elkin Hernández, el sargento José Libio Martínez, el intendente Álvaro Moreno y el coronel Edgar Yesid Duarte), después de estar secuestrados hasta por 14 años en manos de las Farc, provocó que varias organizaciones no gubernamentales, convocaran de nuevo una marcha contra esa guerrilla. Se vivirá este 6 de diciembre en Colombia. Habrá otra vez gritos de no más Farc, no más secuestros. Y como en el pasado, también habrá polarización. Ya no será contra Chávez y Uribe, pues el presidente venezolano es el nuevo mejor amigo de Juan Manuel Santos, pero seguramente sí habrá diatribas contra Piedad Córdoba. No solo por ser el target favorito de la derecha del país; es ella la que está poniendo en duda la versión de la responsabilidad de la guerrilla en la muerte de los cuatro uniformados. Dice Medicina Legal que recibieron impactos de bala en la espalda a solo 1,5 metros de distancia. Cuestiona Piedad si no fue fruto de una operación de rescate que el Ejército inició unilateralmente, si hubo fuego cruzado, si hubo enfrentamientos. Más aún cuando dos días atrás la guerrilla había anunciado la liberación humanitaria de seis rehenes, con la intervención de Colombianos y Colombianas por la Paz, grupo liderado por la ex senadora.
When listening to often negative newscasts in Canada and the U.S., one would think that everything revolves around politics—whether the GOP primary in the U.S., the consistent debate on economic policy, or parliamentary tactics by the Harper government to end debate on controversial legislation. It’s as if all issues or solutions must have a political element.
But Canada and the U.S. have much more to talk about than dysfunctional political conflicts. Both countries have promising futures despite sluggish economic growth projections. Just recently, respected CNN host Fareed Zakaria of the GPS program, presented an interesting take by asserting convincingly that “America is not Greece, Italy, or Japan.” He explains why Greece and Italy are not competitive enough in world markets, and argues how the U.S. remains innovative—by far the strongest economy—in selling its products around the world.
In his editorial, Zakaria then referred to a recent address by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers who illustrated that the U.S.’ economic downturn was not as severe as Japan’s so-called lost decades (1990-2010). While U.S. housing values went down by 33 percent, those in Japan in the 1990s went down by 75 percent. Japan’s stock market value went down by 75 percent, while the U.S. stock market has regained much of the lost value of 2007-08. Zakaria concludes that the economic and demographic potential remains the greatest among the world’s rich nations—and if the politicians discover the will to take on the fiscal problems, the future remains bright.
In Canada, jobs lost in the last recession have been recovered. Canada has the best fiscal outlook of any G-8 countries. The country is resource-rich and has the most stable financial system among G-20 countries.
Ruling People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) candidate Donald Ramotar yesterday claimed victory in Monday’s presidential elections in Guyana, after the national Election Commission announced the he had captured 49 percent of the vote. Ramotar, who ran under the campaign slogan "Let Progress Continue," promised to maintain social policies and infrastructure development projects that he said were a staple of his predecessor Bharrat Jagdeo’s administration.
Tensions had risen in Guyana over the course of the week due to the delay in announcing the results from Monday’s election.
Opposition candidate David Granger’s coalition, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), won 41 percent of the vote to help seize an opposition-controlled parliamentary majority for the first time in 19 years. Race plays a heavy roll in Guyanese politics. The PPP/C—in power since 1992—is widely supported by the country’s ethnic majority of Indian descent, while the APNU—a coalition of the People’s National Congress (PNC) and other smaller parties—is dominated by Afro-Guyanese.
Outgoing President Jagdeo has been praised by supporters for his pro-business positions and his leadership in helping Guyana overcome severe economic hardship in the 1980s. Opposition parties and the country’s Afro-descendants, however, accuse the government of racial discrimination, close ties with drug traffickers and ignoring the country’s high crime rates.
President-elect Ramotar will be sworn into office on Saturday.
Meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderón yesterday, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde praised the Mexican government for its “strong fiscal, financial and monetary policies,” which have contributed to the country’s development in spite of the global economic downturn. She also lauded Mexico’s “solid” financial institutions just one day ahead of Mexico assuming leadership of the G-20 for the next 12 months.
Mexico was the second stop on Lagarde’s three-day tour of Latin America—her first since taking office in July. Prior to her meeting with Calderón, Lagarde also met with Mexican Secretary of Finance and Public Credit José Antonio Meade and Agustín Carstens, the country’s central bank chief. On Monday, Lagarde met with Peru’s president, finance minister, and Central Reserve Bank president in Lima. She traveled to Brazil this morning, where she will also meet with top officials, including President Dilma Rousseff.
The international debt crisis has figured prominently in Lagarde’s discussions, with analysts predicting ahead of her trip that she would seek support to help contain the European debt crisis. In a press release issued yesterday, Lagarde said, “I am confident that under Mexico’s leadership the G-20 will be effectively contributing to the global agenda, including putting a stop to the debt crisis in Europe.” Regarding the IMF’s own role, Lagarde told reporters that, while ready to help resolve the euro debt crisis, the IMF would also “be attentive and spare resources…for those countries that are bystanders of the crisis.”
For its part, Mexico “will be more than willing to collaborate,” said Carstens, although Calderón also noted that he believed the euro zone has adequate tools to resolve its current crisis.
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Peru’s Largest Mining Project Suspended Following Protests
In Peru’s Cajamarca province, American company Newmont Mining suspended operations on the Conga mine, the largest mining investment in the country, estimated at $4.8 billion. The shutdown came after a week of protests and a general strike, brought on by residents' worries the mine will contaminate the local water supply.
Read an AS/COA News Analysis about the Conga mine protests.
Brazil's Odebrecht Withdraws Plan for Peruvian Dam
On November 24, Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht announced it would discontinue the Tambo 40 project, a hydroelectric dam slated for construction in Peru. The dam is a part of a $20 billion bilateral agreement for six hydroelectric projects in Peru, signed by former President of Peru Alan García and former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The dam came under fire since it would displace up to 15,000 indigenous people and flood over 54,000 acres of jungle. Peruvian critics also said the proposed hydroelectric projects would unfairly benefit Brazil by sending the majority of electricity there.
Chávez Launches “Operation Gold”
The Economist’s Americas View blog discusses the recent efforts by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to repatriate his country’s gold reserves, dubbed “Operation Gold.” On November 25, Chávez began the repatriation of 160 tons of gold and $6.3 billion in foreign reserves from banks in Europe and the United States. The gold and reserves were moved to Brazil, China, Russia, and other emerging economies. The blog discusses rumors of his motives. While the official reason was to remove assets from possible exposure to U.S. and European economic woes, critics argue it also eliminates the risk of confiscation in case of a Venezuelan default on debt obligations.
Por primera vez en 26 años de incipiente democracia, llega un militar a la presidencia de Guatemala. La oferta política del General Otto Pérez Molina se enfocó en una mano dura hacia la delincuencia y narcotráfico. Curiosamente los estratos sociales y étnicos que sufrieron la mayor cantidad de abusos de derechos humanos durante el conflicto armado por parte del Ejército se decantaron por el General.
El mismo día el General Omar Halleslevens fue electo vice-presidente de la Republica de Nicaragua como compañero de fórmula del Presidente Daniel Ortega. Halleslevens habría sido instrumental en modernizar y profesionalizar las Fuerzas Armadas de Nicaragua después del conflicto armado.
Apenas unas semanas antes de que ambos militares en retiro fueran electos el General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, ex jefe castrense de Honduras durante la crisis política del vecino país en el 2009, se menciona como candidato a la presidencia hondureña. De lograr llegar a la silla presidencial sería el primer militar en hacerlo desde 1982.
¿Qué valoración se debe hacer a lo que pareciera una tendencia en la región? Está claro que hay algunas diferencias obvias entre los tres casos. Por ejemplo, en Guatemala Pérez Molina fue electo bajo un proceso de elecciones libres, justas y democráticas mientras que en Nicaragua el proceso electoral estuvo plagado de irregularidades, ilegalidades e incoherencias. Y en el tercero de los casos Vásquez Velásquez aun ni siquiera entra en la contienda electoral formalmente.
¿Debemos interpretar estos hechos como un síntoma o es una consecuencia de la situación de inseguridad en la región?
Please find the original text below, submitted in Spanish.
Two years ago the global community gathered in Copenhagen for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Expectations of significant climate progress are still high, but various challenges remain before achieving the extension of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012—and Indigenous communities in Peru are caught in the middle. The United Nations hopes a legally-binding agreement can be signed next year that would cap carbon emissions of developed countries and create a fund to finance these reforms.
The creation of a market to regulate carbon credits also is necessary, and here’s where Peru’s Indigenous community comes in. The world’s forests—areas inhabited in Peru by the Indigenous—play critical roles in the planet’s climate water cycles and whoever protects these forests has a huge responsibility. This is why the United Nations Collaborative initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (UN-REDD) proposes initiatives that will reduce carbon emissions.
Peru was accepted to the Fondo Cooperativo de Carbono de los Bosques (Forest Carbon Partnership Facility—FCPF) that designs and implements the UN-REDD schemes in developing countries. As a contingent of its membership, Peru must map out a Readiness Plan Idea Note (R-PIN, see example) that outlines the feasibility of how the state will implement UN-REDD initiatives.
The UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) released a report yesterday in Santiago which detailed the marked decline in poverty rates across Latin America since 1990. According to the report, “Social Panorama of Latin America 2011,” the region’s poverty rate fell from 48.4 percent in 1990 to 31.4 percent in 2010. Similarly, the indigence rate decreased in the same time period from 22.6 percent to 12.3 percent.
Despite these encouraging signs of growth, there were still 177 million poor people in Latin America at the end of 2010, 70 million of whom were living in extreme poverty. Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of ECLAC, commented, “This progress is threatened by the yawning gaps in the productive structure in the region and by the labor markets which generate employment in low-productivity sectors.”
The report noted that poverty increased during the 20-year span in Honduras and Mexico, at 1.7 percent and 1.5 percent respectively. The biggest declines were in Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Uruguay.
In ECLAC’s announcement of the report, the economic body projected that the region’s poverty rate would close at 30.4 percent at the end of 2011—meaning 3 million less people will be living in poverty at the start of 2012 than at the end of 2010. However, due to the increase in food prices, ECLAC expects the indigence rate will rise to 12.8 percent by year’s end.
Three weeks ago, breaking news announced the killing of Alfonso Cano, commander of the FARC, during a military operation in the department of Cauca in southwestern Colombia. Questions were raised about the effects this could have on the possibility of peace negotiations with the FARC, a scenario considered by some as the only possible way to end Colombia’s enduring conflict.
Then, a few days later, the FARC announced the appointment of Rodrigo Londoño Echeverry (a.k.a. “Timochenko”)—a somewhat gray personality—as successor of Cano in the FARC’s top command position. Analysts approached the news from many points of view: among these, they wondered what would be the effect of such designation in the possibility of peace negotiations with the FARC. Oddly enough, only a few days later we are forced to raise the question again; this time, however, due to horrific news.
On the morning of Saturday, November 27, news media reported that in Caquetá (in the southern region of Colombia) the FARC had shot and killed four members of the Army and the police who they had kidnapped more than 10 years ago. An army sergeant and three members of the police (a colonel, a major and an agent) were shot at close range—in the head and in the back—when the FARC members sensed the proximity of an Army patrol. The Colombian Army had been searching the area, trying to establish the precise place where the FARC kept hostages. Apparently, the purpose was to provide Special Forces with this information so that they could execute a commando raid similar to the one they performed on June 13, 2010, which resulted in the liberation of four hostages in a similar area.
Incredibly, one of the hostages in the group, Police Sergeant Luis Alberto Erazo, managed to escape the massacre. As soon as he heard the first shots, he instinctively ran into the jungle. According to Erazo, FARC members had told them to stick by their side in the case of combat, promising not to hurt them and to release them if they could no longer keep them. This turned out to be a cruel scam: had Erazo followed those directions―as his fellow hostages apparently did―he wouldn’t be alive today.
Salomón Lerner, President of the Council of Ministers, announced today that the government had accepted the resignation of Viceminister of Environment José de Echave, who left his position over differences on the handling of protests around the Conga mine project. Echave—an expert in environmental conflict management and the leader of environmental group CooperAccion—offered his resignation yesterday in noting that President Humala’s government “lacks an adequate strategy for dealing with social conflict.”
The viceminister leaves his post on the sixth day of strikes in the city of Cajamarca, which has seen blocked roads, food shortages, and cancelled flights.
Echave’s decision—which follows the removal of special presidential advisor Carlos Tapia, a left-wing activist who supported the protests against the mining project—comes in response to the government’s strategy toward the protests. The viceminister said publicly he disagrees with President Humala’s plans to create a special authority within the Council of Ministers in charge of studies on environmental impact and environmental audits. “I believe that won’t help build a strong environmental authority, even more in a country where environmental concerns are the main source of social conflict,” Echave added.
Local communities in Cajamarca raised attention to the environmental impacts of the Conga mine project a month ago. The Conga project—a $4.8 billion gold and copper mine in northern Peru that is part of the larger Yanacocha mine—is largely controlled by U.S.-based Newmont Mininc Corp. The protestors are concerned about plans to dry up four lakes in order to extract the gold under the water in a zone where economy depends on agriculture and livestock.
The project shows the challenges that Humala faces in trying to promote economic growth while maintaining social inclusion, with inclusion being the foundation of his campaign and a key component of his government.
No matter the outcome, Mexico’s next president will not have the needed credentials to effectively run this country and neither will the majority parties that compose Congress. Mexico’s political system has entered a credibility vacuum.
These first lines sound fatalist but the real intention here is to prepare and alert the Mexican citizenry of the ever-present need of their active involvement in placing the country on the right track. It has always been simplistic to leave this up to the government and now more than ever, it will be futile to think they would be able to at a federal level.
The 2012 presidential race in Mexico will have three relevant frontrunners: Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI), Andrés Manuel López Obrador (PRD) and if the most recent polls stay the same until February, Josefina Vázquez Mota for PAN.
Vázquez Mota is facing an upstream battle. Of the three, she is the candidate with the least experience, the least media exposure and she has never occupied a publicly-elected government position. Moreover, she carries with her allegiance to a party which in the eyes of many, has failed to capitalize on the democratic transition. The political cost of Vicente Fox’ dormant presidency and Felipe Calderón’s war on drugs-related fatalities puts her in the worst position to win the race. Recent state elections in Estado de México, Coahuila, Nayarit, and Michoacán where the PRI came out victorious, foreshadow PAN’s likely inability to maintain the presidency after 2012. On the off-chance that she could pull it off, Vázquez Mota would govern with a PRI-majority Congress, which most likely would hinder her ability to put forth any relevant changes (same as what happened to Vicente Fox). Vázquez Mota may be the right woman for the job, but she’s in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Though López Obrador’s abandoning of his divisive rhetoric from 2006 gained him a second attempt at the presidency from leftist parties (against my forecasting, I might add), today his flip-flopping positions make him the least credible candidate. His impeachment when he headed the Mexico City government, his irresponsible indebting of the city for his populist gains and his sketchy financing for the past five years make his track record and his current platform incompatible. Moreover, those with a bit of memory will not forgive his utter disregard for the rule of law during the last post-electoral period.
O diretor executivo do Fundo Baobá, Athayde Motta, fala sobre as ações a serem desenvolvidas pela organização no Brasil.
Former Estado de México Governor Enrique Peña Nieto is the only candidate on the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI) ballot for Mexico’s July 2012 presidential election, after the party’s internal filing deadline passed yesterday.
PRI is expected to formally certify Peña Nieto’s candidacy next month. Many believed that Peña Nieto would face intra-party competition for the nomination, but that hurdle was removed last Monday when Manlio Fabio Beltrones—the priísta former Senate president—bowed out of contention in the interest of party unity, clearing the path for Peña Nieto.
After becoming the sole PRI candidate yesterday, Peña Nieto said in Mexico City, “A wind of hope and change is blowing; the PRI will restore the greatness of Mexico because we believe in solutions, not illusions.” The number-one issue of the presidential campaign will center on President Felipe Calderón’s “war on drugs” and whether it is a success.
Calderón’s governing party, Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party), has not yet selected a candidate for 2012 and the president is term-limited from seeking re-election. The Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution) has selected former Mexico City Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador to run again; he narrowly lost the 2006 election to Calderón.
As part of President Raúl Castro’s stated aim to “modernize” Cuba’s socialist economy, the Cuban government plans to slim down its postal service, Empresa Correos de Cuba (Cuban Mail Company–ECC) and make it a decentralized state-owned enterprise by the middle of 2012. According to the official business weekly Opciones, ECC “will shed the old mega structure that impedes its development and install more modern systems of management, the guarantee of efficiency and quality.”
The ECC will undergo many reforms regarding the services it provides, its payroll and its physical distribution operations. The postal company currently has 13,600 employees, 1,015 offices, 16 processing centers, and 54 distribution centers—“an antiquated mega structure that blocks its own development,” according to Opciones.
The new corporate model includes consolidating the structure into 18 territorial subsidiaries and creating specialized offices in courier services, currency exchange and insurance. Raúl Marcial Cortina, director of strategy for ECC, said decentralization is key to the restructuring, as each subsidiary will be “organizing and directing its own services in its own territory.” Although there are no official numbers on layoffs, an official from the company said cutbacks have already begun, and the postal administration within the Ministry of Communications and Informatics will be dissolved.
Restructuring the postal service is part of a larger initiative by the Cuban government to reduce the size of the state since Raúl Castro, Fidel’s brother, assumed the presidency in 2008.
In Cuba—a country with 11 million inhabitants—over 4 million people work for the state and only 600,000 for the private sector. In September 2010, the government announced that it would shed 500,000 public-sector jobs over six months and authorize 250,000 new businesses. In September of this year, it eliminated the Sugar Ministry and replaced it with the Grupo Empresarial de la Agroindustria Azucarera (AZCUBA), a business conglomerate of 13 provincial sugar companies and nine support service agencies, two research institutes and a training center.
Venezuela froze prices on 18 key products as the Ley de Costos y Precios Justos (Law of Fair Costs and Prices) went into effect yesterday. The law was promoted by President Hugo Chávez as a necessary measure to “defend” the economy and curb the inflation rate, which was 26.9 percent last month and the highest figure in Latin America.
Some of the items with newly frozen prices are basic commodities such as toothpaste, diapers and soap. Vice President Elías Jaua said that several multinational firms such as Coca-Cola, GlaxoSmithKline and Unilever would have to reveal their production costs in order for the government to set prices accordingly. In a speech yesterday in Caracas, Chávez said, “This is a law to protect the people from capitalism.”
A conglomerate of Venezuelan chambers of commerce, known as Fedecámaras, has pledged to challenge the law in court. The president of Fedecámaras, Jorge Botti, said this law is “a quite obvious path to a centralized, planned economy.”
Indigenous leaders who represent the Comité Técnico de la Confederación de Pueblos Indígenas de Bolivia (CIDOB) will meet with the Bolivian government today to discuss implementation of the ley corta, which cancelled construction of the controversial Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos road in the Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Sécure (TIPNIS). In October, President Evo Morales signed the ley corta—which declares TIPNIS a protected zone where no economic project can take place—after protesters and a congressional commission failed to solve their disagreement over construction of the road.
At the meeting, it is expected that Indigenous leaders will express their fear that President Morales will modify the ley corta and not respect its original structure. Rafael Quispe, representative of the Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Marcas del Qollasuyo (Conamaq) said Indigenous leaders will demand that President Morales and Vicepresident Álvaro García Linera step down if the ley corta is not respected. Quispe and other leaders reacted after César Navarro, the viceminister for coordination of social movements, said last week that the national government will “consider every request to modify the ley corta,” which leaves the door open to change the law. Navarro added that TIPNIS inhabitants do not represent the demands of other social groups that support building the road between the departments of Beni and Cochabamba.
The local government of Beni has designed an alternative project that would allow the road to be built without undermining the Amazonian territory’s environmental and social integrity. “The proposal suggests building the road around the TIPNIS,” said Yanine Añez, senator of Convergencia Nacional.
The Brazilian government—the main financial source of the project—has argued through its Ambassador in La Paz, Marcel Biato, that “it is in our [Brazil’s] interest to find an alternative that accommodates political, developmental, and environmental concerns.”
Honduran President Porfirio Lobo said on Saturday that the surge of police and military personnel in cities highly affected by drug-related violence—part of a mission known as Operación Relámpago (Operation Lightning)—has been successful in reducing crime.
According to the president’s remarks on national television and radio, the operation, which began on November 1, has lowered the rate of violence by 90 percent in Tegucigalpa and 50 percent in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ two largest cities. Lobo added, “From the results that have been obtained in a few days, we are confident that as time passes by the entire population will restore its confidence in returning to the streets without having fear of being victims of criminals.”
Operation Lightning was launched to combat a spiraling wave of violence in Honduras, which has claimed 20 lives every day and earned the Central American nation the highest homicide rate in the world—82.1 murders per 100,000 people—according to the 2011 Global Study on Homicide, which was published by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Lobo has pledged a zero-tolerance attitude toward crime and corruption. He fired his top police chiefs in the end of October.
Carlos Lupi, Brazil’s minister of labor appeared before the Senate yesterday to defend himself against a series of corruption allegations that surfaced earlier this month in an exposé by news magazine Veja. According to reports, advisers to the minister demanded kickbacks on government contracts with nongovernmental groups. Also, reports allege that Lupi accepted travel on an airplane funded by the head of an organization that administers contracts for the Brazilian government.
Lupi fired key advisors to try to move forward from the allegations of wrongdoing. However, members from his Partido Democrático Laborista (PDT) have begun urging him to resign. Lupi’s response has been defiant: “No one can have their honor thrown in the garbage by an anonymous denunciation...I am not involved in any wrongdoing.”
Minister Lupi is the most recent of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s cabinet members to face possible resignation. Since taking office in January, Rousseff has let go several other ministers including Transportation Minister Alfredo Nascimento, Minister of Agriculture Wagner Rossi, Minister of Tourism Pedro Novais, Minister of Sports Orlando Silva, and Minister of Defense, Nelson Jobim.
El tsunami de noticias que sacude permanentemente a Colombia es una de las cosas por las que me gusta ser periodista en este país. No se acaba de reponer uno de una tremenda cobertura sobre las elecciones regionales cuando la agenda de la guerra, de la paz y de la protesta social, sigue moviendo las fichas del rompecabezas de esta nación sudamericana.
En principio, muchas cosas hay que decir sobre el acontecer poselectoral. En términos de ganadores cabe mencionar a la registraduría por la rápida entrega de resultados y la puesta en marcha de la huella biométrica que afina un camino exitoso contra el fraude en las elecciones de 2014, más aún si el mentado voto electrónico se materializa.
As part of a plan to improve the state of the country’s finances, the Argentine government announced yesterday that it will cut over $800 million in utility subsidies that homes and businesses receive. The subsidies for water, natural gas and electricity would be removed only for high-income families, and the natural gas and power subsidy reduction would only affect large companies that produce fuels and agrochemicals, according to Economy Minister Amado Boudou.
Two weeks ago officials made a similar decision to end 100 percent of government assistance to oil, gas and mining companies as well as banks and insurance entities. The government expects to save almost $1 billion. Before the October 23 presidential election, Argentina’s budget deficit doubled to $450 million as a result of government spending on public works and salary increases.
Households—accounting for 232,000 users—in Puerto Madero, Barrio Parque and other porteño neighborhoods will be the first utility customers to be affected by the measure, which will go into effect in January 2012. Users, nevertheless, will have the option to give up the subsidy voluntarily or request to keep it under an affidavit that will be crosschecked with the Administración Nacional de la Seguridad Social (ANSES), the Administración Federal de los Ingresos Públicos (AFIP) and other regulatory entities. This plan is expected to result in a personalized subsidy where the cost savings are reserved for those who truly need the extra assistance.
As part of a comprehensive budget deficit plan, the government will create a Subsidy Commission to analyze other changes to the subsidy regimen. In response to fears about inflation increases, Planning Minister Julio de Vido encouraged companies that have benefitted from reduced prices to not transfer their added costs on to consumers.
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.
Helicopter Crash Claims Mexico’s Second Most Powerful Official
Mexico’s Interior Minister Francisco Blake Mora died in a helicopter crash on Saturday en route from Mexico City to Cuernavaca. The accident, which killed seven other people, was ruled a weather-related accident. In 2008, then Interior Minister Juan Camila Mouriño died in similar circumstances: he perished in a plane crash in Mexico City nearly three years to the day from Saturday’s accident. Blake was a powerful force in President Felipe Calderón’s war on drug trafficking, and his loss was a blow to the president’s administration’s war on drugs. Blake was also the fourth interior minister under Calderón, so his death could be a setback for Calderón’s National Action Party (PAN) prior to next year’s presidential elections.
López Obrador to Lead PRD Ticket in Mexico
Mexico’s leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) chose Andrés Manuel López Obrador as their candidate for the 2012 presidential election. Known as AMLO, the former mayor of Mexico City narrowly lost the presidential election in 2006. James Bosworth of Bloggings by Boz writes that the nomination could actually help the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, since after AMLO’s 2006 loss, “bouncing back is going to be tough for him.” He also believes that current Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard would have been a more viable candidate for the PRD, with larger national appeal.
Security, Drug Trafficking Concerns Colored Michoacan Election
Sunday’s elections in the Mexican state of Michoacan resulted in a victory for the PRI, with the PRI candidate for governor, Fausto Vallejo, eking out a victory over PAN candidate Luis Maria Calderón (sister of the current president). The candidate from the PRD, which has ruled Michoacan for the past ten years, came in a distant third. A piece by Animal Politico evaluates the reasons behind this win, including very high voter concern for insecurity and drug trafficking. Michoacan has become one of the most violent states amid President Calderon’s war on drug trafficking. Those concerned with insecurity generally voted for the PRI, while those concerned with drug trafficking tended to support the PAN.
Please find the original text below, submitted in Portuguese.
In the next few years, Brazil will host two major world sporting events, the World Cup (2014) and the Olympic Games (2016).
Beyond putting the country on the international stage and increasing the number of tourists and investors, the big question is what will be the real impact of these events in improving the living conditions of the majority of Brazilians. With this in mind, the Special Secretariat for Policies to Promote Racial Equality (SEPPIR), with support from the U.S. Consulate in Brazil, organized a series of events inviting representatives of social organizations and governments to look at how best to include Afro-Brazilians in the preparations for the games.
One of the concerns of SEPPIR, a ministry of the federal government, is the fact that the Afro-Brazilian population has historically not been a part of the process of economic inclusion—the result of more than 300 years of slavery and a lack of economic inclusion policies. Social movement activists point out that it is very likely that most Afro-Brazilians will not benefit from the opportunities of the games, even though Brazil is attracting significant public and private investments.
On weekend evenings in Buenos Aires´ upscale Palermo neighbourhood, newly washed sedans and SUVs line up along the wide Libertador Avenue, creating a shimmering cascade of lights as their occupants eagerly await valet parking.
The restaurant of choice is a fashionable American-style bistro, aptly named Kansas. It has become a staple for well-heeled Porteños whose frequent trips to Miami and New York leave them craving burgers and good service. Known for remarkable consistency in a land of improvisation, the only thing that has changed since its opening six years ago is its clientele. It’s now packed with Chinese.
Chinatown apparently is unable to satisfy the increasingly sophisticated tastes of Argentina’s Chinese immigrants. At 120,000-strong, when including Taiwanese and temporary visa holders, the Chinese are the fastest growing non-Latin American immigrant population. Since 2004, Argentina has granted over 26,000 visas to the Chinese—a figure topped only by neighbouring Paraguayans, Bolivians and Peruvians, many of whom find work with the Chinese upon arrival.
A Chinese supermarket opens every two days in Buenos Aires. With over 10,000 in total, it’s rare to walk more than a few blocks without coming across one. Los chinos, as they are known, collectively generate a whopping $6 billion a year. Their secret to success? Location. Location. Location. They also manage to maintain competitive prices thanks to their broad wholesale distribution network; this is especially difficult with inflation topping 20 percent yearly since the 2003 economic recovery.
Ever evolving, this year the Chinese markets began branding their own products and offering a credit card financed with an initial $20 million by the Chamber of Chinese Supermarkets (CASRECH) and backed by the Chinese government.
A coalition of Mexico’s left-leaning political parties has chosen Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) stalwart Andrés Manuel López Obrador to run against near-certain Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto in the race to replace current Mexican President Felipe Calderón. The decision to nominate López Obrador—who also ran in the hotly contested 2006 presidential race—was made following the release of poll results showing strong support for another bid among leftist voters.
The other top opposition candidate, Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, said after the decision, “The left divided would just go to the precipice, and I won't be the one who divides it…I wish López Obrador the greatest of successes and he knows that he can count on my support and solidarity.”
Mexico watchers are quick to point out that López Obrador will likely face an uphill battle in the race against Peña Nieto. Many voters are still bitter about massive protests López Obrador staged across Mexico In the months after losing the 2006 race, including demonstrations that shut down Mexico City’s main thoroughfare, Paseo de la Reforma. López Obrador is also unlikely to win support from moderate supporters of Calderón’s conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) party, which will announce its presidential nominee in February 2012. According to one October poll by polling firm Mitofsky, Enrique Peña Nieto leads López Obrador by 23 points.
It is often said that the FARC is the oldest guerrilla group in the world. That may be true. It also may be true that, along with Hezbollah, the FARC exhibits the most sophisticated organizational design of any irregular armed group in the world. This is one of the reasons –a crucial one, though—why the group did not fall apart after the killing of its top commander, Alfonso Cano, on November 4, 2011.
The resilience of the FARC is indeed a fascinating fact for any social scientist. Not only has the group survived a number of military offensives, it also survived the fall of the Communist bloc and the disappearance of most Latin American guerilla organizations. It could even witness the eventual downfall of the Cuban regime.
The FARC were born under the most hostile of circumstances. Their “baptism of fire” came in 1964, with a huge military offensive against a region in the south of Colombia, where a number of small guerrilla groups had converged, initially seeking shelter from Conservative partisan persecution. This region was denounced as an “independent republic” by politicians who demanded military action. The group took heavy losses but was not annihilated, and its members, operating in “columns,” retreated to nearby regions where they would regroup and would declare the birth of the FARC.
More military setbacks were to come. In 1968, a failed venture by Ciro Trujillo, the FARC’s second in command, resulted in the loss of nearly 70 percent of the group’s manpower, including Trujillo himself. Between 1970 and 1983, the FARC would remain a low-profile rural organization, eclipsed by other groups such as the M19 and the ELN. They were, however, silently working in strengthening their forces. Between 1983 and 1987, taking advantage of a truce with President Betancur (1982-1986), the FARC tripled the number of their “fronts,” and got involved in the drug business.
In 1990, President César Gaviria ordered a massive surprise military operation, attacking the FARC command centers with the best units of the Army and the Air Force. Optimism, fed by the fall of communism, was fully in fashion. Gaviria declared the FARC to be “…a dinosaur in extinction.” Celebrations were nonetheless premature. Not only did the FARC manage to survive the offensive, they lost none of their commanders. They then took the initiative: the 1990s would witness a drastic military campaign by the FARC, reaching a climax between 1996 and 1998.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.