Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi won the 2011 Balon d’Or (Golden Ball) yesterday during a ceremony in Zurich. The FC Barcelona striker and captain of the Argentine national team became the first player to win it three years in a row. The Balon d’Or is given to the best all-around player for club and country and is soccer’s top individual honor granted by the Féderation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the international governing body. Only former Frech captain Zinedine Zidane and Brazilian legend Ronaldo have won the award three times.
2011 was a record-setting year for 24-year-old Messi. He won the La Liga Player of the Year after scoring 55 goals for FC Barcelon, was deemed Man of the Match in the team’s Champions League victory over Manchester United and won the 2010-2011 UEFA Best Player in Europe award. The Argentine received 47.9 percent of the points in votes cast by national team coaches and captains as well as select reporters. Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo finished second with 21.6 percent and Spanish midfielder (and Messi’s teammate on Barcelona) Xavi got 9.2 percent to finish third for the third year in a row.
As Messi continues to rack up more awards in his young career, he also finds time to stay active off the field. In 2007, he founded the Leo Messi Foundation, which provides access to education and health care for at-risk children in Argentina and also serves as a UN Goodwill Ambassador. To learn more about how Messi and five other top athletes are giving back, check out the “Good Sports” feature in the Summer 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly.
After waiting over 10 years, a long-delayed bilateral security perimeter agreement is supposed to mitigate border delays and security fiascos at border crossings between Canada and the United States. Instead, Canadian critics of the Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness Action Plan announced last month in Washington DC contend that their personal data will be shared with U.S. officials and that Washington will dictate the harmonization of security rules and regulations.
At their December meeting, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama signed two action plans—one on security and economic competitiveness, the other on regulatory cooperation—under a “Beyond the Border” umbrella agreement designed to facilitate two-way trade and combat terrorism. The move was widely celebrated by Canadian manufacturers who complained about long delays at the border in the heightened, post-9/11 discussion of national security. Those delays have crippled trade with the U.S., Canada’s largest trading partner.
However, pressed by time and because of jurisdictional entanglements, both countries had to settle for a less ambitious accord. A global border deal is likely three years away. In the meantime, numerous pilot projects will test the will, patience and feasibility of integrating policies and procedures to speed the entry of goods, services and people at border crossings.
There are complications. The two legal systems don’t mesh perfectly; their approaches and priorities are different. For Canadians, a border deal is mostly for economic reasons, says Prof. Christian Leuprecht, an expert at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. For Americans, it’s about security.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Venezuela yesterday afternoon to kick off his four-country tour of Latin America that will also include stops in Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador. The Iranian head of state may also attend the January 14 inauguration of Guatemalan President-elect Otto Pérez Molina. Ahmadinejad is accompanied by several members of his cabinet, including the ministers of foreign affairs, economy, industry, and energy.
Ahmadinejad was greeted at the airport yesterday by Venezuelan Vice President Elías Jaua and will meet today with President Hugo Chávez—who was in the eastern city of Puerto La Cruz filming Aló Presidente yesterday. At a critical juncture when Iran faces global concern over its nuclear program, including tough UN sanctions and even tougher additional U.S.- and EU-led sanctions, Washington worries that Venezuela will undermine those restrictions by sending oil and money to Ahmadinejad’s embattled regime. The U.S. already placed sanctions on PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-run oil company, in May 2011 for doing business with Iran.
Over their years-long friendship, Chávez and Ahmadinejad have signed roughly 270 accords on issues like trade, construction, energy, and banking. In addition to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador make up part of the Chávez-inspired Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas—the so-called “anti-imperialist” bloc of eight Latin American and Caribbean nations. Guatemala also plays an important role in global governance; it was recently awarded a temporary, two-year seat on the UN Security Council.
Ahmadinejad originally planned to visit Venezuela last September after the UN General Assembly, but cancelled at the last minute due to Chávez’ chemotherapy treatments in his recovery from cancer. Both Ahmadinejad and Chávez will fly tomorrow to Nicaragua to attend Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s inauguration for a second consecutive term—an event that Chávez cites as the “central purpose” of Ahmadinejad’s Latin American tour.
View a video of Ahmadinejad's arrival in Caracas:
This was a historic week in Jamaica. On Thursday, Portia Simpson-Miller was sworn in as prime minister following the victory of her People’s National Party (PNP) in the December 2011 parliamentary election. If the campaign is any indication of the policies that are to come, the new prime minister may be a much-needed advocate for bringing greater equality to Jamaica’s advancing LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community.
During the campaign, PNP pushed back against homophobic sentiments and accusations doubting Simpson-Miller’s intellect. Many of these charges were levied by the outgoing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and its young-professional arm, Generation 2000 (G2K), which in the end lost the election by a two-to-one margin.
Some LGBT advocates feared that PNP’s pro-gay stance and openness to revisit the “anti-buggery law”—which criminalizes acts of homosexuality or bisexuality—would reduce its prospects for victory. In Jamaica, pro-gay support, although never uttered in a political campaign, has been seen as tantamount to political suicide, especially given Jamaica’s traditional exclusion of homosexuals. However, the PNP's victory could quite possibly silence this marginalization. In Jamaica’s criminal code, for example, Article 76—the Offences against the Person Act—equates homosexual sex with bestiality: “Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or with any animal, shall be liable to be imprisoned and kept to hard labour for a term not exceeding ten years.”
A Bolivian judge, Iván Córdova, on Thursday decided to postpone the planned arrest of opposition figure and Santa Cruz Governor Rubén Costas on contempt of court charges. Costas’ arrest warrant was issued after he failed to appear in court to face accusations brought earlier this year by Bolivian Vice President Alvaro García Linera that Costas has accepted illicit funding from drug trafficking groups while in office. In explaining his decision, Judge Córdova cited unspecified legal issues raised by Costas’ defense team.
Opponents of President Evo Morales claim that the charges against Costas are politically motivated and designed to prevent him from publicly denouncing Morales administration policies. They cite evidence of a similar strategy last year to unseat opposition governors in Tarija (southern Bolivia) and in the northeast region of Beni.
The government has denied accusations that the legal problems plaguing prominent opposition figures are politically motivated and are demanding that the case against Costas proceed.
After a seven-month hiatus, President Hugo Chávez is set to return to the Venezuelan airwaves. Yesterday, Minister of Communications and Information Andrés Izarra confirmed via his Twitter account that the president’s signature television address, Aló Presidente, would be back as of Sunday, January 8, though he did not specify the location from which the program would be re-launched.
This will be Chávez’ first broadcast since he was diagnosed with cancer last June. Following an operation for a pelvic abscess and several rounds of chemotherapy in Caracas and Havana that concluded last September, Chávez says he has fully recuperated and is ready for “a lot of work” in 2012—including the October presidential elections in which he will seek re-election to a fourth term.
Aló Presidente first aired in May 1999 in a radio broadcast recorded at the headquarters of Radio Nacional de Venezuela, after which it also began airing on state television. During the show, Chávez was known to improvise and often rambled as he unveiled new social policies, provided advice or broke into song; his longest broadcast clocked in at eight hours straight. He once made news by calling then-president George W. Bush a “donkey”; he has also hosted former Cuban President Fidel Castro on the program.
Aló Presidente is one component of the Chávez government’s broader media strategy. The government also owns a number of national television networks, community radio stations and newspapers, and has historically adopted a hostile attitude toward media it considers critical—including, for example, its 2007 decision not to renew the radio broadcast license of radio station and television network RCTV Internacional.
The peacekeeping mission in Haiti (UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti or MINUSTAH) is the only peacekeeping operation in the Western Hemisphere. It is the third largest mission and about 12.5 percent of the world’s peacekeepers are concentrated on the island. Several Western hemisphere countries contribute to the forces including Brazil, Uruguay, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Peru, El Salvador, Jamaica, Ecuador, Guatemala, and even the United States. Yet, over the past years MINUSTAH has received a lot of negative publicity.
Originally, the mission was established in 2004 after President Bertrand Aristide departed Haiti for exile in the aftermath of an armed conflict, which spread to several cities across the country. Then in 2010, the January earthquake struck the island, killing over 220,000 people including 96 UN peacekeepers. This led to a dramatic setback to the mission and the UN Security Council increased the overall force to support the immediate recovery, reconstruction and stability efforts in the country. Today, there are about 12,438 UN personnel in Haiti with 167 having been killed.
After last Thursday’s parliamentary elections in Jamaica produced decisive but unofficial results, the official tally released yesterday confirmed victory for Portia Simpson-Miller of the opposition People’s National Party (PNP). She unseated Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). In Jamaica’s 63-seat unicameral congress, PNP claimed victory by a two-to-one margin—winning 42 seats to JLP’s 21.
Simpson-Miller previously served as prime minister (March 2006 to September 2007), but handed over power to JLP in the 2007 parliamentary election, ending almost 20 years of consecutive PNP rule. When JLP gained power, it was led by MP Bruce Golding, who held the premiership until he left the post in October 2011 due to unpopularity and a desire for JLP to bring in new leadership before the December 2011 election.
Golding’s low poll rankings stemmed primarily from his decision to agree to extradite drug-lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke to the United States, after a public nine-month campaign appealing to the U.S. to drop the request.
When Golding left office, his education minister, Andrew Holness, became Jamaica’s ninth prime minister. He will now leave the post after only two months on the job—the shortest tenure ever in Jamaica.
On Thursday night, Simpson-Miller said to supporters, “We will be working to move this country forward to achieve growth and development and for job creation. As we move to balance the books, we will be moving to balance people’s lives.” Simpson-Miller will assume the premiership tomorrow afternoon.
En La Paz, la ciudad de El Alto incluye una cantidad impresionante de las mujeres empresariales. Pero es necesario explicar primero cómo es la ciudad de El Alto para entender sus logros; tal vez esta anécdota sirva.
Mi hermano mayor vive en Europa hace más de 25 años. De manera que Bolivia es para él un lugar ciertamente ajeno. Aunque de vez en cuando encuentre aquí algunas similitudes con otros países a los que por razones de trabajo viaja. Así, cuando alguna vez llegó a La Paz, como todo viajero lo hace, tuvo que atravesar primero la ciudad de El Alto que es la puerta de ingreso hacia La Paz.
En la primera esquina lo recibió un atolladero de automóviles vetustos, bocineando a cuál más fuerte. La gente cruzaba en medio de los autos, zigzageando, cargada de bultos. Vendedores ambulantes, con sus carritos de fruta y comida, hacían lo mismo. Más adelante un burro también. Y como espectáculo aparte, el chofer de un autobús viejísimo y grandote, se peleaba a puñetes con el dueño de otro automóvil, a vista y paciencia de un policía inerme. Entonces mi hermano, radiante, exclamó: “¡Igualito que en la India!”
Y bueno. Sí. Los mercados de la pobreza suelen tener la misma cara en todo el mundo. Pero también la contracara. Y El Alto, como gran parte de la India, es un gran mercado. Una de sus caras es sin duda la informalidad y el contrabando. Pero la otra es la iniciativa empresarial-industrial en pequeña escala cuyos resultados son exitosos y tienen además rostro femenino.
Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA, said yesterday that it will pay Exxon Mobil $255 million over 60 days in compensation for assets it nationalized in 2007. This comes after an arbitration panel at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) informed the parties on December 30 that it had reached a decision that Venezuela owed $908 million to Exxon Mobil. The company had originally sought $10 billion in compensation for the heavy crude upgrading project in Venezuela's oil-rich Orinoco belt.
PDVSA justified the lower amount by saying it would subtract the $300 million that Exxon had successfully frozen in PDVSA’s U.S. bank accounts and the $191 million debt for financing of the Cerro Negro project. "After four years of arbitration, the real amount determined by the ICC tribunal indeed represents less than the exorbitant sum initially demanded," PDVSA said in the statement. Exxon responded by claiming that it recognizes “Venezuela's legal right to expropriate assets subject to compensation at fair market value."
PDVSA’s dispute is one of many attribution cases under consideration following President Hugo Chávez’s move to nationalize assets of several oil companies like Exxon Mobil and Conoco Phillips. But while Venezuela’s nationalizations have deterred some foreign investors, Chevron and Spain's Repsol signed investment deals in 2010 to exploit heavy oil in the country's Orinoco belt.
The AQ team will be out of the office for the remainder of 2011, but please check back on Tuesday, January 3, 2012 for regular updates. We wish you season’s greetings and a happy new year.
Gay rights activist Colin Robinson, from the Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) in Trinidad & Tobago, talks about advocating for greater lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in the Caribbean.
Costa Ricans are a small population to begin with, but now there are even fewer of them than previously thought. At the current growth rate, their numbers could one day start to shrink.
For years, expert projections had put the population of this country—the size of West Virginia—at 4.5 million and higher. But the new national census—the first in 11 years—counted just 4,301,712 people, according to preliminary data released this week by Costa Rica’s Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos (National Institute of Statistics and Censuses, or INEC).
Annual population growth from 1984 to 2000—the last two census years—averaged 2.8 percent. But between 2000 and this year’s census, this rate plummeted to 1.1 percent.
In an interview, Costa Rica’s communications minister, Roberto Gallardo, said he was very surprised by the figure. Jorge Barquero, a leading demography expert at the Universidad de Costa Rica, said that, pending on the final results of the census, his team may have to rework years of projections and analysis that had been based on previous INEC studies.
A newly released report by Brazil’s Instituto Brasileiro de Geografía e Estadísticas (IBGE)—the state agency responsible for conducting the country’s census—found that the total number of Brazilians living in favelas has nearly doubled in the last five years to 11.4 million. The trend belies common perceptions that high GDP growth has alleviated widespread poverty in South America’s largest economy.
The report found that the 6,329 favelas nationwide in 2010 are home to approximately 6.0 percent of Brazil’s total population. Nearly half of the shantytowns are located in southeastern Brazil—a region responsible for generating the vast majority of the country’s total economic output.
Reducing poverty and increasing social inclusion in Brazil have been pillars of public policy over the course of the last three presidential administrations. From 1995 to 2005 federal social spending increased by 74 percent in real terms. The IBGE report confirms that despite progress, urban poverty persists even in Brazil’s biggest cities.
In addition, policies to combat violence in favelas through community policing initiatives and law enforcement operations are front-and-center in Brazil. These policies are seen as crucial to the success of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 summer Olympic Games.
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.
The Top Latin American News Stories of 2011
A number of regional and international news publications take a look back at the top news stories of 2011. Brazil’s Estado de São Paulo offers an overview of the top global news stories, with a large focus on Latin America. Highlighted are the Chilean student protests, Cuba’s economic reforms, elections in Peru and Argentina, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s and former Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva’s battles with cancer. The paper also looks at the ups and downs of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s first year in office, during which she served as the first woman to open the UN General Assembly and battled a number of corruption scandals at home. Colombia’s El Tiempo looks at the top scandals and captured criminals around the world, including the assassination of FARC leader Alfonso Cano in November. Foreign Policy published “The Stories You Missed in 2011;” Latin America-focused stories include the southward movement of Mexico’s drug war to Central America, the U.S. immigration crackdown, and the global growth of piracy.
For AS/COA Online’s take on what to expect next year, check out “Americas Update: Looking ahead to 2012.”
What Lies behind the Chávez-Obama Fight?
The Guardian looks at the row between Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and U.S. President Barack Obama, which erupted in the wake of an interview Obama gave to Venezuelan daily El Universal. In the interview, Obama criticized Chávez’s democratic record and ties with Iran and Cuba, prompting Chávez to respond that Obama is “a clown and an embarrassment.” The article claims the nasty remarks boil down to election pressures in both countries, given that Obama and Chávez are both expected to face tight races. “Chávez seizes every opportunity he can find to have a fight with the United States, but Obama’s motives for doing the interview were less predictable,” says Javier Corrales, a professor at Amherst College quoted in the article. It may, he claims, boil down to “increasing pressure by conservatives in the United States to sanction Venezuela.”
Arizona Sheriff under Fire from Department of Justice
Based on a three-year investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice alleges that Arizona’s Maricopa County Sherriff’s Office, led by Joe Arpaio, is guilty of systematic civil rights violations, including unlawful racial profiling of Latinos. Arpaio is influential in the GOP presidential race because of his anti-immigration stance and has endorsed Texas Governor Rick Perry. Arpaio has two months to reach a voluntary settlement with the Department, which should include reforms and training, and oversight by the Department. Arpaio rejected the offer, and claims the allegations are untrue and politically motivated.
The Guatemalan legal system has made significant improvements recently but is facing major obstacles in its attempts to bring criminals—past and present—to justice.
Impunity is an everyday event in Guatemala. From the most minor traffic offense being ignored or the less than 3 percent of murders that are investigated. However, with the trial and conviction of four former Special Forces soldiers for their roles in the Dos Erres massacre in 1982 and a steady flow of arrests of narcotraffickers wanted in the United States and corrupt police officers, things appear to be changing.
In November, the Federation of Forensic Anthropologists (FAFG) successfully identified two of the estimated 40,000-45,000 people that were forcibly disappeared during the country’s 36-year internal conflict. The use of DNA evidence is still in its infancy, although the success of FAFG is a boost to the fledgling Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Forenses (National Institute of Forensic Sciences, or INACIF).
“We have had more arrests in the last three months than the previous three decades,” said Fredy Pecerrelli, executive director of FAFG at a press conference to announce the identifications of Amancio Samuel Villatoro and Sergio Linares. “I think what feels most incredible is that it’s only the beginning.”
This cause for optimism was tempered by last week’s announcement of a denuncia against over 50 alleged terrorists by the Movimiento por la Dignificación de Militares y Especialistas del Ejército de Guatemala. A representative of the group, Theodore Michael Plocharski Rehbach, called on the Ministerio Público to investigate the deaths of a number of his “friends and acquaintances.”
Those killed included John Gordon Mein, the US ambassador to Guatemala in 1968, Colonels John D. Webber and Ernest Munro, murdered in the same year. As well as Count Karl Von Spreti the German ambassador to Guatemala and Edmundo Meneses Cantarero, the Nicaraguan ambassador to Guatemala. Mein was the first American ambassador to be assassinated while in office. He was forced from his car, kidnapped and shot by members of the Fuerzas Armadas Rebeldes (Rebel Armed Forces, or FAR). The same group was responsible for the deaths of Webber and Munro in a drive-by shooting.
A denuncia, which is required by law to open an investigation, named high-profile Guatemalans and foreigners, many with ties to the media and human rights organizations. They included Sandra Torres: former wife of outgoing President Alvaro Colom, who is accused of being a guerilla collaborator. Two respected journalists, Marielos Monzón and Iduvina Hernández—and in Hernández' case, a human rights activist—were also named.
Joining them on the list is Jean-Marie Simon, an American lawyer and teacher who documented many of the State’s abuses during the 1980s in her work for Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. She is joined by Jennifer K. Harbury, also a lawyer and human rights activist whose husband Efraín Bámaca Velásquez was killed extrajudicially in 1993.
“I am not a criminal, I have nothing to hide and I think our duty is to strengthen the justice system,” Hernández told reporters. "We must not accept or tolerate this wave of political persecution aimed by the real criminals responsible for genocide, forced disappearance, extrajudicial execution, and exile."
Reaction to the denuncia has seen many on the list point out they were not alive or were in school at the time of the killings. In addition, six people named in the denuncia are believed to have died.
The work of Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz has been lauded in many quarters in addition to concern that she would not be able to see out her four-year term as public prosectuor. President-elect Otto Pérez Molina has confirmed that her position is not in danger despite the electoral shift from the Center-Left to the Right.
However, also named in the denuncia are Juan José Hurtado Paz y Paz and Laura Hurtado Paz y Paz, both cousins of Claudia. Enrique Paz y Paz, Claudia’s father, was the leader of FAR, leading some onlookers to believe the denuncia is an attack on his daughter’s credibility.
This denuncia is mirrored by a similar one in November by Ricardo Méndez Ruiz, whose father was minister of the interior under former President Efrain Rios Montt (1982-1983). “Yes it is a political issue. It is against the Attorney General, for the love of God, I'm aiming for her,” Méndez Ruiz admitted to El Periodico, a national newspaper.
Both of the denuncias could be seen as an attempt to help investigations into the deaths or as stalling tactics to ensure less time is spent on investigating former soldiers. Independent reports on the Civil War suggested that the State was responsible for between 92 and 93 percent of the over 200,000 deaths.
Lawyers for ex-General Héctor Mario López Fuentes and former President Óscar Humberto Mejía Victores (1983-1986) have employed similar stalling tactics. Leaks allowed Mejía Victores to avoid capture in October when police simultaneously entered four addresses registered to him. He eventually gave himself up, was admitted to Guatemala City’s Military Hospital, and is currently seeking house arrest.
INACIF, like many governmental institutions, is hampered by a lack of funds. With Pérez Molina’s claims that his presidency will see the State spending “55-60 percent of its time on improving security,” this could change—with more emphasis and money placed in the laboratory’s work. That would certainly help but the biggest problem INACIF faces is its small profile in the criminal system. The use of DNA, ballistics and other forensic science techniques is still relatively rare in trials. Prosecutors and the police need to learn how to use the information, maintain crime scenes, and ultimately trust an institute that has only been in existence since July 2007.
At the end of 2011, the Guatemalan judicial system finds itself at a crossroads. However, it is backed by a tenacious Attorney General and with public opinion on its side that is sick of the daily violence—highlighted by the murder rate that remains constant at around 25 per day.
With a new president being inaugurated next month and an organized crime firmly entrenched and in control of a large percentage of the country and efforts to discredit its investigations, justice in Guatemala may not be blind but remains blinkered.
Nic Wirtz is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. A freelance journalist who has lived in Guatemala for the last six years, his work has been featured on the Christian Science Monitor and GlobalPost and he edits the website Vozz.
People living with disabilities represent one of the most marginalized groups in the world. Unknown to many, the Caribbean is home to a relatively large population with the disabled accounting for approximately 10 percent of the region’s population, according to the World Bank’s Disability in Latin America & the Caribbean fact sheet. Globally, the United Nations estimates that between 180 and 220 million disabled youth live across the world—with 80 percent of this population in developing countries.
The disabled live in extreme poverty and hunger and are often at serious risk of discrimination and violence.
Policymakers are taking action. In 1997, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) modified The Charter of Civil Society—the governing document adopted of the 15 member nations and dependencies—to address the issue of disability. This was done through Article XIV on the Rights of Disabled Persons. This article says:
“Every disabled person has, in particular, the right: (a) not to be discriminated against on the basis of his or her disability; (b) to equal opportunities in all fields of endeavor and to be allowed to develop his or her full potential; and (c) to respect his or her human dignity so as to enjoy a life as normal and full as possible.”
Yesterday, at Mercosur’s presidential summit in Montevideo, Uruguay, foreign ministers of the bloc’s four founding members—Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay—signed a free trade agreement (FTA) with the Palestinian Authority (PA). This trade deal is significant not only due to Mercosur’s strength as the world’s fourth-largest economic bloc, but also because this pact opens the Palestinian economy up to new South American markets. The PA had prior trade relations with Argentina, according to the Latin American Integration Association—importing over $1.7 billion of Argentine goods in 2010.
PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki was present in Montevideo on behalf of the Palestinian people and expressed his gratitude: “We are glad to know we have so many friends in the region.” All four founding Mercosur members endorsed a sovereign and independent Palestinian state over the course of the past 12 months, starting with Brazil in December 2010.
Mercosur also has an FTA fully in force with Israel; it was signed in December 2007 but needed ratification by the parliaments of each member state. Argentina’s congress became the last such nation to do so in March 2011.
Israel places strict controls on the flow of goods to and from the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank—and leaders like al-Maliki charge that Israel is stifling economic growth among the Palestinians. An Israeli representative from its Montevideo embassy said that while Israel would respect the Mercosur-PA FTA, it is “not the best way to promote peace” in the Middle East.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos made his first official visit to Ecuador on Monday, accompanied by Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguín and Minister of Transportation Germán Cardona Gutiérrez. President Santos met with his Ecuadorian counterpart, President Rafael Correa, to discuss ways to cooperate on trade, infrastructure and security.
One of the early outcomes of the visit was an agreement to consider flights between Quito and Bogotá as domestic travel, which President Santos said would avoid “red tape and cost overruns.” The leaders also pledged to agree on a maritime boundary and announced the construction of a bridge above the Mataje River that would join the coasts of both countries.
Minister Holguín also announced yesterday that both presidents seek to end the conflict involving truckers along the border. The Colombian Truckers Association began a protest in October, claiming that Ecuador’s truckers, by failing to comply with regulations established in the Community of Andean Nations regarding the transportation of cargo, created unfair competition.
President Santos’ visit comes almost four years after Colombian security forces conducted a deadly attack against a FARC camp on Ecuadorian territory in March 2008. President Correa pledged Ecuador’s commitment to cross-border security, saying “any criminal group that comes to Ecuador from Colombia will be sent back.”
This past weekend, 150 immigrant rights activists from around the country descended upon Montgomery, Alabama, to show solidarity with local leaders fighting against the state’s draconian immigration bill, HB 56, and plan a national strategy for 2012.
The two-day Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) Summit was perhaps most notable for its culmination, a front-page affair. On Saturday, the activists, who came from 35 organizations from roughly 30 states, participated in a 2,500-person rally and march in the state capital.
The rally began in front of the state legislature, where the notorious bill was passed. There, speakers ranging from undocumented Alabamian students to SEIU secretary-treasurer Eliseo Medina railed against the pain being caused by HB 56. Students told of losing friends, whose families had left the state in recent months for fear of being detained by the police and being separated from their families. Civil rights leaders, meanwhile, warned against the dangers of going back to the “dark days” of segregation in the state. Orator after orator insisted on the need to repeal the law and build a brighter, more inclusive, future for Alabama.
The protesters (this writer included) then marched to the mansion of Governor Bentley, who signed the law into effect and has been one of its staunchest supporters and has even traveled abroad to convince investors that Alabama is still “open for business.” The marchers hailed from all over Alabama—with a particularly strong contingent from the NAACP—and throughout the country, and their diversity was perhaps best encapsulated by a chant that pulsed through the streets of Montgomery:
Del norte al sur
Del este al oeste
Ganaremos esta lucha
Cueste lo que cueste
Ultimately, the rally and mobilization made one of the largest public statements against HB 56 since the law’s passage, but it was also important because it signaled the incipient organizing muscle that is being built in Alabama’s immigrant rights community. Several months ago there were virtually no full-time community organizers working with immigrants in Alabama. Now, the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice and its national supporters are working hard to build up that capacity, with the ultimate hope of building enough grassroots power to repeal HB 56. Over the next months, organizers will be coordinating house meetings to bring people together, as well as further public actions during the upcoming legislative session.
"Plaza Sésamo" reaches out to marginalized Nahuatl children, illustrating how to count to 11 in Nahuatl. Video used with permission from Sesame Workshop.
The forty-second summit of members of the Southern Common Market (Mercado Común del Sur, or Mercosur) begins today in Montevideo, where Uruguay will hand the six-month presidency of the trade bloc over to Argentina. The economy ministers of the four founding countries—Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay—will convene today, and their presidents will do so tomorrow.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, who has expressed interest in full membership in Mercosur, will also attend. Currently, Ecuador is an associate member of the bloc, along with Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela.
One of the top issues at the summit will be fast-tracking the upgrade of Venezuela’s membership to “full” status. The parliaments of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have already ratified Venezuela’s bid, but it remains stalled in Paraguay’s congress. Despite the bid having the imprimatur of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, many congressmen from the opposition Colorado party have concerns with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ indifference to Mercosur’s “democratic clause.”
Mercosur’s charter mandates that accession of new members requires unanimous approval from the presidents and legislatures of current members. Venezuela’s bid is already five years old.
Uruguayan President José Mujica has said he would propose amendments to membership rules at this semiannual summit. He elaborated by saying that Venezuela’s membership in Mercosur is “important because it would provide a direct link between Mercosur and ALBA [Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América, or Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas].”
The Mexican Senate on Thursday approved the free-trade agreement (FTA) between Mexico and Peru by a count of 55 votes in favor of the legislation and 47 against. The agreement was signed by the presidents of both countries in April of this year, but stalled in the Senate due to concerns over the potential impact on Mexico’s agricultural sector.
The FTA was praised by Mexican Economy Minister Bruno Ferrari, who said that Peru is growing rapidly and “is a natural option for Mexican producers who are looking to expand their business in Latin America.” Trade between Mexico and Peru has increased 13 percent annually, from $414 million to $1.46 billion between 2000 and 2010, according to the Peruvian Trade and Tourism Ministry. The agreement offered an opportunity for Mexico to diversify its trade agenda, as 80 percent of its exports currently go to the United States.
But opponents of the bill, including Heladio Ramirez Lopez, former head of the National Peasant Confederation and president of the Rural Development Commission, warned that the FTA would threaten Mexico’s ability to export at least 30 of its agricultural products, and may create health risks for the Mexican population. If the treaty had not passed, it could have jeopardized Mexico’s participation in the Pacific Alliance, a new regional trade agreement that includes Peru, Chile, Colombia and Panama- all of which signed an agreement on April 28 to integrate trade production.
Las fiestas de fin de año llegan a mediados de una época cuando nuestro país está convulsionando por el alto índice de violencia y con una realidad marcada por las injusticias sociales. También, hay alto nivel de exclusión y marginación de las poblaciones indígenas y Guatemala es uno de los países latinoamericanos con mayores desigualdades.
Mientras las clases media y alta celebran las fiestas de navidad con muchas actividades y el despilfarro de recursos, muchas familias pobres siguen su curso como cualquier otra época del año. Es decir, la navidad únicamente la ven o la escuchan a través de las canciones o las ofertas que presentan los comercios. Otros pobres en cambio aprovechan la época para buscar algún trabajo que les genere un poco más de ingresos, especialmente jóvenes indígenas de las áreas rurales quienes durante el fin de año se trasladan a la capital para vender juguetes o cualquier otro artículo navideño, para que al final de la época puedan regresar a sus comunidades con un poco de dinero para sus familias.
A pesar de estas desigualdades la mayoría de la población celebra la navidad, de distinta manera pero ese espíritu hace unir a las familias de los distintos estratos sociales. Las familias pobres celebran desde su condición esa fiesta con alguna cena, quema de juegos pirotécnicos y sobretodo la preparación de los tradicionales tamales hechas de masa de maíz o si tienen recursos con puré de papa, también se disfruta el delicioso “ponche” que es una bebida de frutas, en muchos hogares se sirve licor o vino.
Meeting yesterday in Quito, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño and his Colombian counterpart, María Ángela Holguín, reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen their countries’ bilateral relationship and to work together on issues of common concern.
Upon arriving in Quito on Wednesday morning, Minister Holguín greeted the Ecuadorian public, saying she felt “truly at home.”
During the meeting, which lasted nearly six hours and was also attended by other government officials, Holguín and Patiño focused largely on border issues, including deepening police and military controls to reduce the flow in gas and oil contraband, promoting development and tourism and facilitating free trade.
Criticizing the truce agreement reached two weeks ago by Colombia and Ecuador’s heavy transport associations—which ended a 60-day blockade of goods transport over claims by Colombian truckers of “unfair competition”—Holguín affirmed that “it is the governments of Ecuador and Colombia who establish transit norms.” Patiño agreed: “Transport organizations are not the ones who define the mechanisms, norms, or, worse, sanctions” on the transit of goods.
Ministers Holguín and Patiño also discussed infrastructure and energy, including expanding the Rumichaca Bridge (the principal passage between Ecuador and Colombia), developing a new point of connection at the International Bridge of San Miguel, and collaborating on a geothermal project. They confirmed that President Santos will meet with Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa next Monday, in addition to Ecuadorian business leaders. His visit will be the first by a Colombian head of state to Ecuador after the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries in November 2009. Relations had been severed in March 2008 after Colombian security forces conducted a deadly attack against a FARC camp on Ecuadorian territory.
Minister Holguín also brought to Quito Colombia’s ratification of the treaty establishing UNASUR, making it the last country to do so.
Citing an op-ed she wrote condemning violence against gays and lesbians, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) for weeks led the charge in the U.S. Senate to block the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte to be the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador. On Monday, the Senate voted 49 to 37 to block Aponte’s nomination, 11 votes short of the 60 needed to break a Republican-sponsored filibuster. Lost in the lead-up to the vote and the outcome was a key question: why is a position against violence targeting homosexuals and in defense of gay rights a valid reason to reject a nominee to an ambassadorship?
At issue for Senator DeMint and the 48 Republicans (and one Democrat, Senator Ben Nelson [NE]) was Aponte's op-ed titled “For the Elimination of Prejudices Wherever They Exist” in the El Salvadoran daily La Prensa Gráfica on July 28th this year. The offending op-ed declared that everyone has a responsibility to “inform our neighbors and friends about what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender” and praised El Salvador for signing—along with the U.S. and 80 other nations—a UN declaration for the elimination of violence against gays and lesbians.
Echoing the sentiments of a coalition of conservative El Salvadorans and Latin Americans who had objected to the essay, DeMint said this week that, “We should not risk…an ambassador who shows such a blatant disregard for [El Salvador’s] culture…” Never mind the fact that Ambassador Aponte—posted in El Salvador for the last 15 months on a recess appointment—was only implementing the administration's initiative in support of Gay Pride Month, which really means this is a policy issue better taken up with the President. The larger issue should be whether making locals uncomfortable on issues of human rights should be the way we gauge our policy and diplomats. Would we pursue the same course in other civil and political rights? Human rights in Syria? Voting rights in Russia? When did homophobia or violence against the LGBT community become a matter of local culture that deserves respect?
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.
Links Uncovered between LatAm Cartels and Hezbollah
ProPublica examines the links uncovered by U.S. authorities between Latin American drug traffickers, Lebanese banks, and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Connections have been uncovered concerning Latin American drug trafficking profits laundered through Lebanese banks with connections to Hezbollah, as well as in cocaine shipments from South America to the Middle East and Europe. The NPR blog takes a look at the banking connections, and Slate provides an explainer to answer the question: “Why would a Mexican drug cartel selling cocaine to North America want to launder its money through Lebanon?”
Supreme Court to Decide on Arizona Immigration Law
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will rule on the constitutionality of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB 1070, in mid-2012. After the law’s passage in April 2010, the Justice Department sued against the measure, and an April 2011 federal appeals court decision prevented parts of the law from taking effect. The Supreme Court will rule on these four blocked parts of the legislation, including a section that allows police to ask for the immigration status of anyone who they believe could be in the United States illegally.
U.S. and Canada Sign Border Accord
This week, Canadian and U.S. officials agreed to “Beyond the Border,” a non-binding plan intended to reduce red tape and speed up border crossings. It would expand the NEXUS program, a membership initiative which helps “trusted” travelers cross the border more easily. It would allow Canadians changing planes in the United States to avoid having their luggage rescreened, and eases rules for business travelers. The plan would also allow for more information sharing about travelers between the two countries, which could raise privacy concerns in Canada. The Economist’s Gulliver blog notes that those who oppose the new measures “can always take solace in the fact that, as with any other government program, it could take years to be realized, even though pilot projects are slated to start this April.”
Apple Inc. launched its iTunes digital multimedia store yesterday in 16 Latin American countries—a move that industry analysts believe will curb music piracy in the region. The primary regional market for the iTunes Store will be Brazil, and Apple will also begin providing the service to 15 Spanish-speaking countries in the hemisphere: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. iTunes has been in Mexico since 2009.
The entry of iTunes into the Latin American market is notable for a region with widespread piracy. Paulo Rosa, president of the Brazilian Association of Record Producers, said that “the more legal alternatives there are for the consumer, the better it is for the market. Unquestionably, this will help music sales at the expense of piracy.”
According to the 2011 Digital Music Report, published by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, 45 percent of Brazilian Internet users pirate music in a given month. The 2011 International Property Rights Index, commissioned by the Property Rights Alliance, notes that Venezuela ranked the worst among 129 countries in terms of piracy of intellectual property rights.
In a related story, Apple announced earlier this week that unlocked iPhones will be available for purchase in Brazil—directly from Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn—beginning Friday, December 16. Foxconn’s new assembly factory in the state of São Paulo is expected to open by year end.
From any objective point of view, Chandler Burr would have been rendered fit to be a father. A successful journalist and author, Burr has written for The New York Times since 2010. He is regarded as a decent man with no criminal record. Earlier this year, the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (Colombian Family Welfare Institute, or ICBF), Colombia’s social services bureau, had approved Burr’s request to adopt two neglected children, ages 10 and 13. Burr filed for parental guardianship because according to him, these children were “abandoned at birth [and] they were starving.”
Then the nightmare began.
Burr, now a happy adoptive father (as of yesterday), was preparing to travel to the United States with the children. But after casually mentioning to an ICBF official that he is gay, the ICBF suddenly decided to step in again. According to Burr, the children were interrogated separately by an official, who asked them if they know their new father was a homosexual. Both children responded that yes, they knew, but that they didn’t care. Still, the ICBF decided to prevent Burr from keeping the children as a “protective measure.”
The case became national news when Burr was interviewed on W Radio, one of Colombia’s most influential media outlets. Diego Molano, the ICBF’s new director who was unaware of the Burr case, had to rush to the media to explain a decision that he had not made. After some initial stumbling, Molano came up with an explanation that stuck: the ICBF decision was undertaken because Burr had “omitted information” during the adoption process. That is, Burr’s children were being returned to the orphanage because he had never revealed his sexual orientation.
Was this a case of discrimination? First, a working definition of the concept: discrimination exists when a person is deprived of a certain right granted by the Constitution or by the Law, only on the basis of particular personal features, such as race, religion or sexual orientation. If Burr was denied adoption solely because of his sexual orientation—after originally being granted parenthood in due legal process—discrimination is the only logical conclusion.
Brazilian government officials in the Amazonian state of Pará yesterday confirmed preliminary results showing that the referendum to divide the state into three parts was voted down. Pará is Brazil’s second-largest state, covering an area the size of Peru, and one of the most resource-rich. Spurred by economic growth, the referendum on Sunday represents the tension between the rural regions of the state and the capital city of Belém that is home to nearly half Pará’s population.
Nearly 4.6 million voters cast their ballots on whether they agree to the creation of one extra state, Tapajós, and then separately if they agree to the creation of the second, Carajás. Around 67 percent of voters rejected each proposal and the official results were announced by president of the Higher Electoral Tribunal, Ricardo Lewandowski, and the head of Pará's Regional Electoral Tribunal, Ricardo Nunes. Some 1,200 federal troops were deployed in 16 cities across Pará, joining 6,700 police officers to provide security for the vote.
Proponents of the split said that it would benefit marginalized populations in the rural areas of Pará, while opponents claimed that the creation of two additional states would be too costly. Under the breakup plan, a truncated Pará would include the state capital and be left with 17 percent of the territory but 64 percent of the population; Tapojós would have 59 percent of the territory, including large protected indigenous areas and forests, and only 15 percent of the population; and Carajás would consist of 24 percent of the territory and 21 percent of the population. Even if the referendum had passed, it would still require approval by both chambers of Congress and President Dilma Rousseff.
Cisco Systems, Inc., a computer networking firm with over 70,000 employees worldwide, is committed to not only selling its products to Latin American and Caribbean countries but also encouraging community development and promoting social inclusion within those markets. Accordingly, Cisco has partnered with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and public-sector institutions to maximize the impact of its technological expertise on local populations—which is a model that other corporations should consider.
Cisco's flagship corporate social responsibility (CSR) tool is its Cisco Networking Academy (CNA) initiative. Started in 1997, CNA delivers practical, hands-on training in information and communications technology (ICT) in the areas of designing, building, troubleshooting, and securing computer networks. The goal of CNA is for students to further their education, prepare for careers in ICT or even start their own businesses.
CNA is a public-private partnership; Cisco teams up with universities, NGOs and government agencies to develop the ICT courses and—leveraging those partnerships—maximize access for those in the lowest socioeconomic percentiles. There are over 10,000 CNAs across 165 countries; in Latin America its reach spans 22 countries via 1,200 partner organizations since the program's inception. 600,000 citizens of Latin America—including 174,000 this year alone—have enrolled in CNA courses . Worldwide, Cisco has trained 3.75 million people to date, 900,000 of them just in 2011, with women comprising nearly one-fourth of trainees.
From colonial times to the unfolding of democracy, the role of religion remained an important ingredient in how the U.S. and Canada chose to be governed and how the citizenry wanted its faith reflected in society. It is interesting to see how this has evolved in modern times.
In my home country of Canada, the original constitution—the British North America Act of 1867—had provisions related to religion and education. It was not until the late 1990s that a constitutional amendment eliminated the organization of Québec’s schools from kindergarten to high school along religious school boards. Yet, while religion played a part throughout Canadian history and politics in different ways and periods, no one expects religion to play much of a role in today’s electoral politics. Can the same be said about U.S. politics?
Here, in the U.S., there was an explicit amendment in the early stages of nationhood for the separation of church and state. Still, much to the bewilderment of observers north of the border, religion and a candidate’s religious beliefs are very much a part of the political discourse. It is conventional wisdom and standard practice to expect a presidential candidate to be questioned about his faith in the course of a campaign. In 2008, Barack Obama and John McCain actually had a debate just on faith and values. Lest no one forget that John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism was an issue back in 1960.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala presided yesterday over the swearing-in of a new cabinet after Prime Minister Salomón Lerner resigned on Saturday. Lerner’s abrupt resignation—less than one week after he began negotiations with Indigenous groups regarding the Conga mine project that had ignited mass protests—is the biggest crisis to date in Humala’s presidency, not yet five months old. The outcome of Conga, a $4.8 billion project in the Cajamarca department, is viewed as a bellwether in Peru for future mining investment, a large driver of capital which mainly funds Humala’s social welfare programs.
Peruvian law mandates that if the prime minister resigns, the entire cabinet must do so as well. Lerner’s successor is Oscar Valdés, the former interior minister and an ex-army officer who taught Humala during his days in military school. As prime minister, Valdés is expected to push a harder line against the protests; he advocated for the 60-day emergency declaration that went into effect last Monday, which suspends some civil liberties and allows police to issue arrests without warrants and limit the right of assembly.
Humala kept eight cabinet members, including the ministers of finance and foreign affairs, but replaced the other ten. The most notable among the replacements is Susana Baca in the culture portfolio; Baca is a world-renowned singer and was the first Afro-Peruvian minister in the history of the republic. The new culture minister is Luis Peirano, a theater director and sociologist.
Humala’s press secretary tweeted yesterday, “Valdés declared that the new cabinet ensures a policy of economic development with social inclusion that the President is carrying out.”
The Cuban government announced yesterday that it will allow small- and medium-size private businesses to advertise in the next edition of Cuba’s national phonebook. To list a business name, address and up to two phone numbers in the back of the book, the state telephone monopoly Etecsa will charge the equivalent of $10, a steep fee in a country where the average salary is $20 per month. The deadline for reserving ad space in the 2012 phonebook is December 23.
“The insertion of the services of the non-state sector into the Telephone Directory helps satisfy the demand for that information," reported Granma, Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper. The government's decision comes as a result of extensive economic reforms in the last two years that have created a space for private enterprise in Cuba. This was done to stimulate the island’s struggling economy after the government began laying off thousands of public-sector workers last fall. Since then, more than 346,000 private businesses have been created.
But a study published by the Center for Democracy in the Americas in November found that the Castro government’s reforms, particularly creating opportunities for a new private sector, will not be enough to address Cuba’s economic woes. Cuba's New Resolve: Economic Reform and its Implications for U.S. Policy finds that Cubans will require job training and skill development to operate their business’ successfully.
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.