The middle of September is always a tumultuous time of year in New York City, where traffic comes to a standstill as heads of state arrive to promote their views at the United Nations General Assembly. This year, long-term issues and complex debates such as those concerning Palestine and Israel dominated the media coverage, leaving the impression that speeches—not results—emanate from UN deliberations.
The UN has its detractors. This was most evident during the buildup to the war in Iraq last decade. For many, there has also been a credibility gap. Who can forget that Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya was actually elected to chair the UN Human Rights Council in 2003—and continued to hold a seat in the commission until quite recently? As a result, the UN is often portrayed as a forum for political posturing where national interests will always supersede the legitimate concerns of the wider international community.
In Canada, the view on the UN has also been complex. Canada was an original founder and has played an important role in numerous peacekeeping ventures. In 1957, former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, a strong advocate of Canadian involvement in UN stabilization missions, won a Nobel Peace Prize for his groundbreaking work on the Suez Canal Crisis.
Today the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) at Vanderbilt University honored Leslie Schwindt-Bayer with its Best Paper Award for her work, “Gender Quotas and Women’s Political Participation in Latin America.” Dr. Schwindt-Bayer is an associate professor of political science at the University of Missouri. Her paper explores whether legislative quotas for women affect levels of political engagement among citizens, particularly women.
This is the inaugural year of the Best Paper Award, which acknowledges outstanding work by a recipient of a 2011 Small Grant or Data Award. The Small Grants and Data competition provided funding for researchers studying discrimination, marginalization, political opinion, and democracy, and whose work would draw on AmericasBarometer and/or LAPOP data. In announcing the award, the selection committee said it was “impressed by this paper’s strong theoretical framework…and sophisticated cross-national analysis.”
In her paper Dr. Schwindt-Bayer takes the position that gender quotas represent a more inclusive, legitimate political system and can mobilize women, theoretically increasing their political participation and reducing gender gaps in this area. She concludes, however, that though gender quotas have expanded representation at the national level, they have had little effect on the masses with regard to political interest and other forms of participation.
Dr. Schwindt-Bayer will present her research and formally receive the Best Paper Award on October 27 at the conference, “Marginalization in the Americas: A Perspective from the AmericasBarometer,” which will take place at the University of Miami.
Yesterday, Bolivian police forces defused a popular month-long march by Indigenous groups who had protested the construction of a highway through a national, resource-rich park. The preserve, known as Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro-Sécure (TIPNIS), is protected Indigenous territory located in the center of Bolivia.
The march was sparked over Indigenous frustrations regarding their inability to stop the highway project. The constitution requires that the government consult with Indigenous groups—through the Ley de Consulta—prior to authorizing a project that may affect their interests. But still, Indigenous peoples do not have the power to veto any decision.
President Evo Morales and his government decided earlier this year, aided by $415 million in Brazilian financing, to build the transnational highway through Bolivia to link Brazil to Pacific ports in Peru and Chile. Local Indigenous groups vehemently objected when they learned that the highway would be routed through TIPNIS, effectively demolishing part of the preserve. In response, in mid-August about 1,500 protestors began a 600-kilometer (375-mile) march from Trinidad to La Paz to call attention to their cause. Prominent activists like former Bolivian Ambassador to the U.S. Gustavo Guzman joined the protest last week in the town of Yucumo near La Paz, where police had been gathering to prevent the group from reaching the Bolivian capital.
Police used tear gas and clubs yesterday to break up the march on its 41st day, and arrested the organizers. Critics in the Bolivian media have classified this police action as “violent repression” and as an excessive use of force. Still, the protestors managed to prompt Morales to agree to submit the highway proposal to a local referendum.
On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting this week, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) held a panel discussion about “sports for development:” using sports as a catalyst for social development. Featuring 8-time All-star baseball pitcher Pedro Martínez, NBA defensive star Dikembe Motumbo, and speed-skating Olympian Johann Koss, the panel touched on the ways sports contribute to development. Among them were: facilitating social inclusion, building youth leadership skills, connecting youth to job training programs, and empowering women and girls.
One particularly interesting component of sports for development—especially in light of the discussions this week at the UN General Assembly— is the role sports can play in peace-building. One theme echoed among participants at Tuesday’s event was the universality of sports. Longtime ESPN reporter Jeremy Schapp said sports aren’t just about elite athletes competing at the highest levels, but rather the millions of children “who play in playgrounds and ball fields everywhere [and share] a passion to play.” Johann Koss, CEO of Right to Play, a Canada-based sport-for-development organization, said his organization was founded on the principle that “all children have a fundamental right to play.” Donald Steinberg, deputy administrator of USAID, told the story of kids he met at a refugee camp in Ethiopia who so craved the experience of play that they made soccer balls out of rags and used what little energy they had to score goals.
The universal quality of sports lends them a unique power to bridge social, political, economic and cultural divides, and to foster peace between individuals and groups in conflict. Sports promote shared identity and humanization of the “other”; individuals and groups who might otherwise approach one another with a lack of trust, hostility and/or violence learn about what they have in common and build relationships as they work toward a shared goal.
For young people across the globe, having at least a basic level of financial literacy is indispensible whether they are are looking for a job or just managing their own expenses. Unfortunately, the importance of having a savings account or building credit are lessons that rarely make their way into school curricula. As a result, millions of youth in the region must learn these life lessons the hard way—through trial and error.
With youngsters’ interests and attention-span in mind, VISA, Inc. developed a series of sports-themed videogames that double as a learning tool about financial literacy. VISA released the first edition, titled Financial Soccer (Financial Football for audiences outside the United States and Canada) in 2009. Made in partnership with FIFA and based on the World Cup, Financial Soccer is a free, online video game that combines the world's most popular sport with VISA’s Practical Money Skills for Life financial literacy curriculum.
As general debate of the United Nations General Assembly’s (UNGA) 66th Session got underway this week, the issue of UN structural reform was again brought into focus—with Brazil leading the charge. A thriving democracy and one of the largest emerging economies in the world, Brazil has powerful ammunition in making its demand—especially paired with the collective declining influence of deficit-ridden, developed nations.
The desired trophy for Brazil comes in the form of a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). This elite organ has retained the same numerical composition—15 seats: 5 with permanent tenures (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and 10 with temporary, two-year terms—since its formation in 1946.
Critics of the status quo argue that this small size does not accurately reflect the global developments of the last 55 years. Brazil, as it vocally carries the banner of emerging nations that feel underrepresented in the UN, has chosen to act on reform. The most notable way of doing so has been through the Group of 4 (G4), an alliance formed in 2004 composed of Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan. Each of the G4 nations mutually supports the other members’ bids.
The G4 seeks to expand the size of the UNSC by two-thirds, from 15 members to 25, through the addition of 6 permanent and 4 non-permanent seats. The permanent seats would be comprised of the G4 plus two nations from Africa. However, discord within the African Union has stifled compromise on this issue; Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa are all vying for the two proposed seats and cannot arrive at an agreement.
The G4 is also facing competition from a larger but less influential faction of UN members: Uniting for Consensus (UfC). Members of the UfC, some 40 in number, also favor expanding the UNSC to 25 seats—but by adding 10 temporary seats and keeping the same 5 permanent, veto-carrying members. This makes sense, considering that many of the UfC’s core members are regional rivals of the G4—including Argentina, Mexico, Pakistan, Turkey, Italy, and South Korea—who have a vested interest in thwarting any sort of growing regional influence among the individual G4 members.
Bolivian social activist Oscar Olivera and former Bolivian Ambassador to the United States, Gustavo Guzman, on Wednesday joined hundreds of indigenous demonstrators opposed to the construction of a 185-mile long highway that would transect protected park land in the Amazon rainforest. Olivera, who rose to prominence for his role in Bolivia’s so-called water wars in 2000, remarked: "We want the government to govern for Bolivians, not for the big corporate interests.”
Although protests against the $420 million project, which is being financed largely by Brazil, have been ongoing for weeks, the presence of former Morales administration officials in recent weeks has further raised the public profile of demonstrations.
For more than four weeks, a column of demonstrators has been walking toward La Paz from Bolivia's eastern lowlands more than 300 miles away. Although there have been numerous attempts by the government to initiate talks with protest leaders, the march has advanced to the town of Yucumo, Bolivia—about half the distance to La Paz. Local sources report that hundreds of police and government supporters have since assembled in Yucumo with the goal of halting the protestors march to the capital.
Brazil’s House of Representatives approved on Wednesday the creation of a Truth Commission to investigate the human rights violations during the country’s military dictatorship (1964-1985). The bill to create the commission was first introduced during the presidency of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. President Dilma Rousseff—an ex-guerilla who was tortured and imprisoned during the 21-year dictatorship—is now urging the Senate to also approve the bill.
The Truth Commission will be comprised of seven members appointed by President Rousseff to examine instances of forced disappearance and other human rights abuses between 1946 and 1988. Regardless of the Commission’s conclusions, however, military personnel and guerillas found guilty of human rights abuses cannot be tried due to the Amnesty Law passed by the military junta itself in 1979. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights declared the 1979 Amnesty Law judicially null and void in 2010, but the Brazilian Supreme Court confirmed its legality the same year.
According to the Brazilian government, 400 people were killed or disappeared during the dictatorship, compared to over 30,000 in Argentina and 3,200 in Chile.
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.
Dilma First Woman Ever to Open UNGA
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff became the first woman in history to open the UN General Assembly. “It is with personal humility, but with my justified pride as a woman, that I meet this historic moment,” said Rousseff as she opened the general debate. “I share this feeling with over half of the human beings on this planet who, like myself, were born women and who, with tenacity, are occupying the place they deserve in the world. I am certain that this will be the century of women.” Rousseff can also be found on the cover of this week’s Newsweek, with a profile by Mac Margolis.
In conjunction with the opening of the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly, Americas Society and Council of the Americas are hosting multiple Latin American heads of state. Go to AS/COA Online for livestreams and a schedule of events.
LatAm Countries to Join U.S.-Brazilian Governance Partnership
Presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Barack Obama of the United States officially launched the Open Government Partnership (OGP) while in New York on Tuesday. The OGP’s goal is to give citizens tools to monitor elected leaders and achieve more transparent governance. Mexico is one of the six founding members and other Latin American countries that have pledged to sign on to the partnership are: Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, and Uruguay. “This is a smart program for U.S. policy in the hemisphere and a great leadership role for Brazil to play,” reports Bloggings by Boz, who links to commitments and plans from Brazil, Mexico, and the United States.
Palestine Can Expect Heavy LatAm Support at UN
Nearly every country in Latin America is set to support a vote for Palestinian statehood, which is anticipated at this week’s UN General Assembly. The only holdouts appear to be Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Panama. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas toured Latin America in 2009.
Please find the original text below, submitted in Spanish.
Some good news out of Mexico. Here, as in other countries around the world, people are increasingly standing up against discriminatory rhetoric that further alienates traditionally excluded groups.
One example of this is the establishment back in 2003 of the Consejo Nacional para Prevenir la Discriminación (National Council to Prevent Discrimination, or Conapred). Conapred—created by federal law—is a government institution committed to strengthening democracy by encouraging civic participation and working to counter discrimination.
Though a welcome and important government entity, Conapred has a limited reach. For example, in 2010 it opened a complaint against Esteban Arce of Televisa for his statements that compared homosexuality to dementia. However, the institution did not have the legal authority to silence him while carrying out their investigation.
Still, Mexicans are increasingly confronting discrimination. Broad-based movements are taking center stage, highlighting the need for all of society to get behind the notion that the language used in debate must change. In June of this year, the Marcha de las Putas (“Slutwalk”) was organized in Mexico City after mimicking a similar protest in Toronto, Canada. That demonstration came about in response to the sexist, stigmatizing language used by Canadian policeman Michael Sanguinetti in February.
The debate against discrimination and stigmatization concentrates on the use of inclusive language. The feminist movement has defended respect for women’s expression. This begins when a woman say “no” to sexual harassment and assault—an important first step since weak responses to chauvinism have proven to often lead to femicide and other hate crimes against women.
The sixty-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly’s (UNGA) general debate began this morning in New York. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon opened the debate session followed by Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, president of the 66th UNGA and Qatar’s permanent representative to the UN.
This year, the first head of state to speak was Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, followed by U.S. President Barack Obama. President Rousseff’s prominent speaking slot at the UNGA is not only significant for Brazil, but also for women: Rousseff was the first female president in the UN’s 66-year history to open the General Assembly—a fact she highlighted at the opening of her remarks.
Rouseff began her visit to New York at a special meeting on Monday regarding non-communicable diseases, which was chaired by the former president of Chile—and current executive director of UN Women—Michelle Bachelet. Rousseff also co-chaired a meeting yesterday with Obama on open government partnership.
Additional Latin American heads of state that will deliver their opening speeches today to the morning session of the UNGA include: Mexican President Felipe Calderón; Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner; and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. In today’s afternoon session, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom, and Bolivian President Evo Morales will deliver their remarks.
Samuel Moreno Rojas—Bogotá’s mayor suspended by the Procuraduría in early May—was charged on Monday of fraudulent contracting, embezzlement and extortion in connection to corruption around public works projects. Prosecutor Ricardo Gonzalez asked the judge to keep Moreno in jail until trial out of fear that he may try to go to the United States (he was born in Miami) to avoid appearing in court. If indicted, Moreno could face at least six years in prison.
"I have not been an author, participant or decision maker in any criminal behavior," Moreno said during the hearing in response to evidence alleging that he promised millions of dollars in public contracts to businessmen in exchange for supporting his political campaign in 2007. The so-called carrusel de la contratación (contracting carrousel) makes reference to a corruption scandal over infrastructure works in the city that were mostly given to the Nule brothers.
The carrousel involves key actors from different sectors, including former Senator Iván Moreno Rojas, Samuel’s brother, who was arrested in April this year after the Supreme Court started an investigation into his connections with the embezzlement. In February, Attorney General Viviane Morales charged Bogotá Comptroller Miguel Ángel Moralesrussi, former Director of the Urban Development Institute (IDU) Liliana Pardo and former Congressman Germán Olano with embezzlement, misappropriation and bribery.
This is the most expensive corruption scandal in the history of Bogotá. The attorney general estimates, for example, that transferring the Transmilenio contract from Transvial to Vías Bogotá, which was done under the authorization of the IDU and benefited the Nule brothers, cost the city approximately $119 million. Among other things, this has resulted in delays in expected road maintenance and other transportation improvement projects scheduled for 2009 have yet to start.
One month after Moreno was suspended, Clara López Obregón—president of the Democratic Pole party—was appointed to fill the vacancy by President Juan Manuel Santos.
Chaco Governor Jorge Capitanich of the Partido Justicialista (PJ) was re-elected on Sunday by a margin of approximately 35 percentage points over his opponent, Roy Nikisch of the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR). With only 46 percent of the 2,654 polling stations counted, Capitanich claimed victory with 65.7 percent of the vote. The Governor was elected along with his running mate, Vice-Governor Juan Carlos Bacileff Ivanoff.
Capitanich—also called Coqui—left the UCR after he married Deputy Sandra Mendoza, a former provincial health minister from the Peronist Frente para la Victoria (FPV). Capitanich defeated Nikisch in 2007 in the campaign for governor as well, but in 2003, the Radicalist defeated Coqui for the governorship.
Jorge Capitanich announced his victory in a press conference surrounded by his family, his campaign team, Minister of Interior Florencio Randazzo, and Minister of Economy Amado Boudou—the running mate for President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK) in the presidential election on October 23. Capitanich dedicated his victory to CFK: “Chaqueños are supporting us for the future” and highlighting that “Chaco is part of the national political project.”
Chaco, located in northern Argentina, provides 60 percent of the country’s cotton production and is an important amount of wood, but it is one of poorest regions in Argentina. With 1,05 million inhabitants, more than half of the population—mainly indigenous—lives under the poverty line and more than a quarter lacks minimum conditions for survival.
On the day that the United States reflected over the 10-year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Guatemala went to the polls to elect its next president. The contest pitted three leading candidates against each other: Otto Pérez Molina, a former army general, of Partido Patriota (Patriotic Party, or PP); Manuel Baldizón, business tycoon, of Libertad Democrática Renovada (Renewed Democratic Freedom, or LIDER); and academic Eduardo Suger, of Compromiso, Renovación y Orden (Commitment, Renewal and Order, or CREO).
Pérez Molina had a comfortable lead in the polls in the lead-up to the election; if he had earned more than half the vote he would have made history by being the first national candidate since the 1980s to avoid a runoff vote. But, having secured only 35 percent of votes from more than 7 million tallies, he won the first round but not by enough to avoid a second round. Meeting him in the runoff, scheduled for November 6, is Baldizón, who received 23 percent of votes. Suger finished a distant third with 16 percent.
"Several sectors of the dominant [Guatemalan] forces expected Otto Pérez Molina to win in the first round to save costs,” said Álvaro Velásquez, 42, professor of social sciences and political analyst at Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales in Guatemala City. “Now the people have spoken to contradict this. That's good news for the power of the vote.”
But Pérez Molina can still make history in November; given his extensive military background and Guatemala’s history under decades of military rule, he can be the first ex-soldier to be democratically elected in Guatemala. Baldizón, a successful businessman with alleged ties to narcotraffickers, hails from the northern region of Péten—a department that borders Mexico.
President Mauricio Funes yesterday announced his support for changes to El Salvador’s electoral laws that would allow Salvadorans living abroad to vote in national elections. At an event in celebration of El Salvador’s national Independence Day, Funes emphasized: "I do not exaggerate when I say that the institutionalization of absentee voting is a historical necessity... we are not a true democracy until the one-third of Salvadorans living outside the country have a voice in our elections.”
According to Funes, his government has requested technical advice from the United Nations and will strive to make all necessary changes before national elections in 2014. One component of the effort will be the modernization of El Salvador’s national identity card, Documento Único de Identidad (DUI), which Salvadorans living in the United States will be able to acquire at their closest consulate.
In the first eight months of 2011, Salvadorans living abroad sent home $2.4 billion in remittances to friends and families in El Salvador—a 4.8 percent increase over the same period in 2010. This makes the overseas community a vital part of the national economy. If the proposed reforms are successful, El Salvador will join the growing number of countries in the hemisphere that allow citizens residing abroad to participate in the political process through absentee voting.
Mexico received some excellent news recently when the World Economic Forum (WEF) published its Global Competitiveness Report, calling attention to the fact that the country has made significant progress in improving its relative position in the world competitiveness rankings.
From last year to the 2011-2012 ranking, Mexico moved from 66to 58 place, an eight-spot improvement. Only seven other countries had a larger jump in the list. As competitiveness expert Beñat Bilbao explains, “(this variation) is very relevant. Fluctuations from year to year tend to be very low.”
Besides drops suffered by other countries closely competing with Mexico, such as the Russian Federation, Jordan and the Slovak Republic, Mexico’s improvement in the ranking results from progress made in efforts to boost competition and facilitate entrepreneurship by reducing the number of procedures and the time it takes to start a business. The report also mentions Mexico’s large internal market size, sound macroeconomic policies, technological adoption, and a decent transport infrastructure as helping it to move up in the WEF Report.
This is no doubt a great triumph for President Calderón. He has continuously boasted over TV messages and radio spots that his administration has invested more resources than previous governments into improving federal bridges and highways in Mexico. Calderón has also been vocal about an open market economy and sound financial policies as key ways to face the global economic crisis. According to WEF, he’s on the right track.
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela announced on Wednesday that he is expecting a visit from his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this month. He told reporters, “Ahmadinejad is coming here, at last, after New York,” referring to the latter’s attendance at the UN General Assembly next week.
President Chávez, who himself will not be traveling to New York to attend the General Assembly, did not provide specific details about the date or content of his meeting with Ahmadinejad. In recent years the two leaders have become close political and commercial allies, bound also by rocky relations with the United States. They last met in Tehran in October 2010, and before that in Caracas in November 2009. This latest visit could aggravate tensions with the United States; earlier this year the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil giant PDVSA for doing business in Iran, which it considered a violation of international sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.
Chávez is currently recovering from the removal of a cancerous tumor and may receive a fourth round of chemotherapy next week. Though he will not attend the General Assembly, he has said he expects the meetings there to be “lively” and plans to follow them closely. In particular Chávez expressed his support for the Palestinians’ bid for statehood.
With the tragic death last month of Jack Layton, Canada’s charismatic leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP), Conservative Party Prime Minister Stephen Harper now holds all the cards in the House of Commons.
Harper is now dealing with three weakened parties in the House of Commons, which will begin its fall session on Monday, September 19. The prime minister is leading his first-ever majority government since taking power in 2006. The NDP is the official opposition in the House of Commons, but the party finds its voice waning after Layton died at age 61 after a short battle with cancer. The Liberal Party of Canada is now down to 34 seats after losing more than half its seats in the May 2 election referendum. With a mere four seats, the separatist Bloc québécois party, which only runs candidates in the province of Québec, has been effectively wiped out.
All three opposition parties are looking to hold a leadership convention in 2012—leaving Harper a lot of room to maneuver. Up until the May election campaign, the Bloc québécois, the Liberal Party and the NDP made life difficult for Harper’s minority government. Now, with a comfortable majority, he can easily push through his “tough-on-crime agenda” as well as the Conservative Party’s economic policies and deficit-fighting plan. Now all three parties are vulnerable.
Layton’s temporary, hand-picked successor, the 68-year-old Nycole Turmel is the first to admit that it will be difficult to fill Layton’s “big shoes.”
Layton made a historic breakthrough in Québec in May, collecting 59 of the province’s 75 seats and guided the NDP through its best national showing ever—winning 103 of the 308 seats in the Commons.
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.
Guatemala Heads to Runoff after Ex-General Wins First Round
Otto Pérez Molina won the first round of Guatemala’s September 11 election by a wide margin, but well short of the 50 percent plus one vote need to avoid a runoff. With almost all ballots counted, the Patriotic Party (PP) candidate captured 36 percent of the vote compared to 23 percent for second-place finisher Manuel Baldizón of the Renewed Democratic Freedom (Líder) party. Pérez, who served as a general during the country’s civil war, campaigned on a platform that he would confront the country’s high violent crime rates with an “iron fist.” He is heavily favored to win against wealthy businessman Baldizón when they face each other in the second round on November 6. However, Pérez also faces a challenge over campaign spending; the country’s electoral agency says he already surpassed the legal limit while he contends that he can still spend $1 million between now and the runoff.
The website of Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre carries multimedia content exploring the electoral results, including graphs, video, and a timeline.
Read an AS/COA News Analysis about the Guatemalan election.
Congress up for Grabs in Guatemala
Guatemalans voted for legislators as well as presidential candidates on Sunday. Central American Politics blog looks at how the election reshaped the country’s Congress, with no party winning an outright majority. The governing National Unity of Hope and the Grand National Alliance (UNE-GANA) coalition, which previously accounted for the block that held the largest number of seats in the 158 unicameral Congress, will likely be outnumbered by members of the Patriotic Party. The lack of presidential candidate likely hurt the coalition’s candidates at the polls. UNE-GANA was left without a contender after the Constitutional Court banned former First Lady Sandra Torres from the race on the grounds that close relatives of a sitting president cannot run for the presidency.
Venezuela’s electoral body, the Consejo Nacional Electoral, affirmed that the next presidential election will be held on Sunday, October 7, 2012. This announcement came as a surprise to many who had expected the election date to remain in the traditional month of December.
President Hugo Chávez, despite admitting in June that he is battling cancer and having undergone multiple rounds of chemotherapy in recent months, will represent his party—Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV)—next year. Last night, Chávez tweeted: “7 October 2012: your destiny is written! We will write another revolutionary victory on your page! We will live and we will conquer!” Some have criticized Chávez for moving up the date since it will reduce the campaign period for his challengers.
On the opposing end, María Corina Machado, a representative for the state of Miranda in the unicameral National Assembly, met with voters today in the state of Zulia to solicit support for her already-declared bid. Machado belongs to the Primero Justicia (Justice First) party, which falls within the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Coalition for Democratic Unity, or MUD) opposition bloc. In Zulia, Machado said, “We have to react now with the closer date—389 days remain—to mobilize ourselves and act. Together we work for democracy, security for our family and prosperity for all Venezuelans. We have the will.”
Other declared MUD candidates include: Henrique Capriles, governor of Miranda; Pablo Pérez, governor of Zulia; César Pérez, governor of the state of Táchira; and Antonio Ledezma, mayor of the Caracas metropolitan district. MUD will hold its primary on February 12, 2012, to select a challenger to Chávez.
Please find the original text below, submitted in Spanish.
An often overlooked policy challenge for Colombia is how to safeguard the country’s informal workforce. Some of these workers do not have health security or pension funding, and they earn less than the monthly legal minimum wage (“Smml” in Spanish).
But it is also a challenge to officially identify this group within the bounds of Colombia’s labor system. And attention is long overdue. In the first of two posts on this topic, I share some troubling statistics on this stunningly large segment of workers: about 63 percent of all employees, or roughly 12.2 million Colombian citizens in total.
The term “informal employment” is often used wrongly in Colombia. As labor economist Juan Carlos Guataquí notes, “informal” often refers to a business that employs fewer than five people. The term does not take in to account the quality or conditions of employment—which matter more to workers.
Guataquí adds: “The possibility exists that workers in small businesses, in spite of being fully covered by the benefits of social security and job stability, turn out to be classified as ‘informal workers.’” For this reason, Colombia’s labor system is ripe with a shockingly large number of unprotected employees who go entirely unrecognized.
In a setback to Brazil’s preparations for the 2014 World Cup, Federal Judge Louise Vilela Filgueiras Borer ordered an immediate halt to the construction of a third terminal at São Paulo’s main international airport. São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport, which was recently ranked the worst in Latin America, was undergoing a renovation to double the airport’s capacity in advance of the World Cup as well as the 2016 Olympic Games.
Judge Filgueiras said the state airport authority Empresa Brasileira de Infraestrutura Aeroportuária, or Infraero, jettisoned a formal bidding process for the project and awarded the contract to Delta Constructions. In her ruling, Filgueiras wrote that the move represented a worrying precedent in Brazil—one which ignored regulations in the interest of finishing a project as soon as possible. The project was estimated to cost 1.2 billion reais ($700 million).
An April 2011 report from the Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada (Institute for Applied Economic Research, or Ipea) warned that 10 of the 13 Brazilian airport terminals being upgraded throughout the country were not on track for completion by the start of the World Cup in June 2014. President Dilma Rousseff is now evaluating an option to rely on temporary, warehouse-like modules to accommodate the expected passenger influx for the Cup.
This is not the first setback for Brazil’s transportation authorities. In July, Alfredo Nascimento, former minister of transportation, resigned on allegations of corruption for so-called “irregularities” in the granting of contracts.
Preliminary results following yesterday’s presidential election in Guatemala indicate that no single candidate won over 50 percent of the vote, meaning that a runoff election will be held on November 6. With 92 percent of ballots counted by the Tribunal Supremo Electoral, Guatemala’s election supervision body, Otto Pérez Molina, a former army general, obtained 36.16 percent of the vote despite polling as high as 49 percent shortly before the election. Pérez Molina will face the second-place candidate, Manuel Baldizón, an attorney, businessman and congressman, who collected 23.40 percent.
The central issue for both campaigns is how to effectively combat Guatemala’s rampant crime and insecurity. Guatemala has one of the highest murder rates in the hemisphere, according to the World Bank: 45 murders per 100,000 citizens. Guatemala, as with its Northern Triangle counterparts Honduras and El Salvador, is a key transit route in drug trafficking between South America and the United States. The amount of illegal drugs seized in Guatemala doubled between 2008 and 2009.
Pérez Molina has pledged to fight crime with a mano dura, or iron fist. He proposes beefing up Guatemala’s security force—hiring 10,000 police officers and 2500 soldiers. Baldizón supports the death penalty and has suggested creating a national guard. Both candidates have also pledged to continue anti-poverty programs in the interest of promoting social inclusion across Guatemala.
Pérez Molina is the leader of the Partido Patriota (Patriotic Party—PP), while Baldizón is the founder of the more moderate Libertad Democrática Renovada (Renewed Democratic Freedom—LIDER) party. Regardless of the runoff election result, November’s election will usher in Guatemala’s first-ever female vice president. Pérez Molina’s running mate is Roxana Baldetti, a congresswoman, while former First Lady Raquel Blandón is on Baldizón’s ticket.
Three of Guatemala’s ten presidential candidates in separate campaign events yesterday promised to leave untouched many of the anti-poverty programs established by outgoing President Álvaro Colom. The programs, which have been overseen by Mr. Colom’s wife, Sandra Torres, are extremely popular among Guatemala’s poor and were the basis of Ms. Torres’ recently abandoned run for the presidency.
The top contender in Sunday’s first-round election, former-General and Partido Patriota candidate Otto Pérez Molina, vowed that his top priority in office will be to crack down on crime and gang-related violence “with an iron fist.” But Molina also proposed expanding programs that promote greater social inclusion and creating a new government ministry that will focus on social development. Líder party candidate Manuel Baldizón, currently second in polls, delivered a similar message to supporters in Guatemala’s northern city Santa Elena, saying he is the only candidate “truly committed” to the fight against poverty.
In polls released yesterday, Baldizón trailed Perez by a hefty 16 percentage-point margin. However Guatemala’s electoral system requires a runoff in the event that no candidate receives a majority of first-round votes—given a second-place finisher eight more weeks to catch up to Molina before second-round voting on November 6.
September 11, 2001, is remembered as the day the United States received a dramatic call to lead the world in defeating terrorism. It is also the day the U.S., along with 33 nations of the Americas, signed the Inter-American Democratic Charter (IADC) committing to the collective promotion and protection of democracy. Through ten years of costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. has failed to lead the implementation of the IADC and has stood in the sidelines as democracy has eroded in the Americas. It is time to take action—a peaceful one.
Just minutes after New York City and Washington DC were hit, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell gave this moving speech in Lima, Peru, at the Organization of American States’ (OAS) General Assembly:
"A terrible, terrible tragedy has befallen my nation, but it has also befallen all of the nations of this region, all the nations of the world, and all those who believe in democracy. [Terrorists] can destroy buildings and kill people—and we will be saddened by this tragedy—but they will never be allowed to kill the spirit of democracy. They cannot destroy our society, nor our belief in the democratic way.
It is important that I remain here for a bit longer in order to be part of the consensus on this new Inter-American Democratic Charter. That is the most important thing I can do before returning to Washington DC.
I hope we can move forward in the order of business to the adoption of the Charter, because I very much want to be here to express the commitment of the United States to democracy in this hemisphere."
Powell’s word on the importance of the IADC and the U.S. commitment to democracy in the face of a massive terrorist attack is not an overstatement. Terrorist organizations are exclusively harbored and sponsored by non-democratic states that deny basic human rights to their citizens. As with the Third Reich’s Germany or the Taliban’s Afghanistan, it is no coincidence that the U.S. has never had to wage war on a democratic nation. In a world where territories and populations are governed by states, the struggle for peace is first and foremost a struggle for a democratic world comprised of a community of democratic nations.
Here’s where the IADC has a purpose. The IADC is the most ambitious pro-democracy document yet to be approved at an international level. It is the cornerstone of an emerging international law on democracy and represents a groundbreaking step toward the consolidation of democracy and human rights around the world.
Mexico suffered the criminal attack with the highest number of civilian casualties in its near history recently as a group of 10 to 12 armed men entered the two-story Casino Royale in the city of Monterrey, doused it with a flammable liquid and threw Molotov cocktails in the first floor. The exact details are still sketchy and the real death toll might never be established (there are inconsistencies in numbers reported by authorities, witness accounts and morgue registries) but unofficially the number is above 50, most of them women. The full motive behind the attack will probably never be determined, but the local media’s investigative reports point toward non-compliance with a criminal gang that had demanded a cut of the business’ profits in exchange for “protection.”
Gruesome as the attack was, the reason for the elevated number of victims sadly has more to do with institutionalized corruption than with the criminal act itself. Survivors to this tragedy have testified that other than the main entrance to the establishment (which was blocked by the attackers), four non-labelled service doors were locked and the only supposed emergency exit to the place was fake and had a concrete wall behind it. The amount of suffering and emotions the victims must have felt when they thought they would be able to escape the fire and faced a wall in front of them, is horribly unimaginable.
Casino Royale received its license to operate as a restaurant and betting house in 2007, during the administration of Mayor Adalberto Madero, who in 2011 was officially kicked out of the PAN party for corruption charges and tainting the party’s image (he was later reinstated due to a technicality). Ironically enough, Rodrigo, José Francisco and Ramón Agustín Madero (Adalberto’s cousins) are members of the administrative board of the company that owns Casino Royale.
The matter becomes worse when we learn that during 2011 the establishment had already been subject to two other criminal attacks; the venue was not shut down permanently after the follow-up investigations even though it was not up to code. As if that wasn’t enough, videos showing Monterrey Mayor Fernando Larrazabal’s brother going into the Casino and suspiciously receiving wads of cash in cell phone boxes were leaked by the local and national media, furthering social outrage.
Today, a city and a whole country continues to mourn. Frustration is at an all-time high and is manifesting itself in different ways. On Twitter users heightened their continued demands for both Larrazabal and Governor Rodrigo Medina to resign. The local soccer teams held minutes of silence before their recent games. Masses honoring the victims have been held and peace rallies are the current talk of the town, though actual turnout has been surprisingly low.
Republican frontrunners took to their podiums last night for the second televised debate, where a discussion on immigration reform and border security featured prominently. Texas Governor Rick Perry’s debut in the GOP race was rare opportunity for guest-moderator and Telemundo anchor Jose Diaz-Balart to press candidates on their views on immigration, with a focus on the undocumented population.
Gov. Perry, who currently leads the race despite announcing his candidacy for president less than a month ago, stirred things up with his criticism of President Barack Obama’s immigration speech in May. "For the President of the United States to go to El Paso, Texas, and say the border is safer than it’s ever been,” said Gov. Perry, “either he has some of the poorest intel in the history of this country or he was an abject liar to the American people."
Gov. Perry’s calls for more border agents were echoed by many of the other candidates, including Herman Cain and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, currently second place in the polls, pushed for continued construction of the fence along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. Romney also stressed the need to minimize the economic incentive, what he calls the “magnet,” that attracts undocumented immigrants to the United States.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, focused instead on legal immigrants’ contribution to the economy and American competitiveness. “Immigration has made this country the dynamic country it continues to be,” said Santorum, whose parent emigrated from Italy, “so we should not have a debate on how we don’t want people to come to this country.
The West Indian Day Parade and its pre-dawn “J’ouvert” revelries have taken place every year on Labor Day in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn since the 1960s. Modeled on the traditional Carnival festivities of the Caribbean islands, the parade includes revelers painted black and red to evoke the devil, mas bands dancing to soca, calypso and steel drums, masqueraders dressed in elaborate feather and sequined costumes, and plenty of Caribbean food. Monday's event concluded a series of activities over the Labor Day weekend this year celebrating West Indian culture.
As an annual attendee myself, I was deeply saddened to hear of the violence that took place near and around the parade routes, both during and after it—not to mention the spate of shootings across New York City during the holiday weekend. All in all, from Friday through Monday, 52 shootings claimed the lives of 13 and wounded 54 others, according to police data. In a particularly devastating incident, a shootout on Park Place and Franklin Avenue around 9 p.m. on Monday left two men and an innocent bystander dead, in addition to wounding two officers. Fifty-six-year-old Denise Gay was sitting on her stoop with her daughter when she was struck by a stray bullet in a dispute between Leroy Webster and Eusi Johnson, both former convicts who lived nearby.
In processing this violence, I was disheartened to hear people blaming the West Indian parade, which I and many others experienced as a celebration that brought together the neighborhood’s diverse communities—with roots in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Guyana, and Haiti, to name just a few—to recreate a Caribbean tradition in New York.
I also tried to come up with an explanation—and perhaps more naively, a solution. What caused these acts of violence? Why were my neighbors and peers caught in crossfire and engaged in violence when I led a life of comparative security and ease? What could be done to prevent similar incidents in the future?
On May 22, 2009 in St. Ann, Jamaica, seven girls died in a fire at the Armadale facility, which was a state-run juvenile center that housed girls exposed to crime and violence. Those that made it out of Armadale alive suffered severe injuries as a result of the blaze.
While the fire has long been put out in St. Ann, the apathy surrounding the protection and promotion of children’s rights in Jamaica is not yet extinguished. In fact, it has been burning for decades. The underlying problems continue: weak governing policies, lack of accountability for responsible adults, inherent flaws in the child protection system, and lack of training and capacity building for those in charge of children in juvenile facilities.
The Armadale tragedy is testament to the pervasiveness of these problems, which impede important steps in appreciating and fulfilling human rights as we seek to build a more advanced country in Jamaica. The roadmap for Vision 2030, the National Development Plan, seems clear and exhaustive. But the rights of our children are not adequately taken into account; if they are not addressed, Vision 2030 will be a useless blueprint and will fail to take Jamaica forward.
Jamaica ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1991 and has legislated the obligations of this international treaty into the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA) of 2004. But arguably, there have been few changes on this front since the CCPA. Teachers still practice capital punishment, parents continue to neglect their child rearing responsibilities, older men and women continue to use power and influence to engage in human trafficking, and even religious leaders sexually exploit our children while pretending to offer guidance and emotional support. Additionally, those who must take action and make a difference ignore the immediate and long-term implications until these situations escalate and draw the attention of the media.
In the course of human history, few events come along that are so indelible that people remember where they were, what they were doing, and how they felt at one exact moment. For many of my contemporaries, the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 brings back vivid memories of the day when the United States’ Camelot came to an abrupt end. The tragedy of 9/11 is one such event.
The unspeakable terror of the events of September 11, 2001, will remain as the singular, horrific day that transformed the world and America in particular—and the way the world has evolved since that day. The politics surrounding 9/11 remain, and historians will surely debate its ramifications for decades to come: two wars that directly resulted from the attacks continue in their distinctive forms; the Patriot Act remains fundamentally in force; and Guantánamo Bay is still open.
The human tragedies woven around the 2001 attacks will be commemorated in the coming days. Nearly 3000 people lost their lives on 9/11 and it has been estimated that possibly over 10,000 lost a relative in the World Trade Center. Twenty-four Canadians also perished that day. Some remains have never been found, and for all who were involved in some capacity, the wounds have not healed. Last year’s controversy over a mosque and community center near Ground Zero is clear evidence that time is moving ever so slowly.
Loyda Rodriguez finally received a long-awaited Guatemalan court order on July 29, 2011, which found her daughter’s intercountry adoption to the U.S. to be illegal. The court order gives a 60-day window for return of the child.
In the ruling, the courts determined that the adoption was processed with fraudulent paperwork (including an illegal passport) and require repatriation of the young girl, now a U.S. citizen. This comes after five years of searching for the child, engaging high-profile human rights defenders and staging hunger protests to demand justice. Still, her daughter’s return home remains up in the air.
The ruling is a watershed moment for Rodriguez and at least two other women seeking to have their daughters returned from the United States. All three of these children now live with U.S. families after coming to the country through what initially appeared to be legitimate adoptions—any initial wrongdoing by the families is not clear. But when all three U.S. families were informed that the adoptions were a result of alleged abductions, the children were not returned to Guatemala. The U.S. families remained silent and may have even worked to block concerted efforts for DNA testing and desperate pleas from the mothers for justice.
And with this recent court ruling, the U.S. Department of State remains silent while deferring all questions to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Will DOJ require the foreign court order to be enforced? That is unlikely given DOJ’s decision to decline formal requests from the Government of Guatemala for DNA tests in each of the three cases. But there is a glimmer of hope. At the end of last month, Senator Mary Landrieu (LA) visited Guatemala and met with the mothers; hopefully Senator Landrieu will attempt to influence U.S. legal collaboration.
Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino has expressed optimism that the ongoing talks to restore U.S.-Ecuadorian diplomatic relations will be resolved before the end of this year. Relations were downgraded five months ago to the charge d’affaires level but, in an encouraging sign, both countries recently nominated ambassadors for their respective embassies. U.S. President Barack Obama named career diplomat Adam Namm yesterday to be the ambassador in Quito, while Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa tapped Nathalie Cely, minister of coordination and production, over the weekend for the ambassadorship in Washington.
Patino revealed that Namm will have the consent of the Ecuadorian government to assume his post, although Namm still requires approval from the U.S. Senate. Cely’s nomination is still pending approval from Washington. During a press conference, Patino said, “We have maintained contact with the State Department and gradually advanced to this level of recovery.”
Bilateral relations hit a low point in April when a WikiLeaks cable from 2009 was published in the Ecuadorian newspaper El País, which revealed U.S. concerns of corruption among high-level national police officials and knowledge of such by President Correa. Shortly thereafter, U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges was expelled from Ecuador, and in response Ecuadorian Ambassador Luis Gallegos was declared persona non grata in Washington, resulting in the formal downgrading of relations.
Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli announced yesterday that he will hold a referendum in 2012 on a constitutional modification to reform the country’s electoral system. The initiative was already introduced by the executive branch in March as a law and is currently being discussed in Congress. A controversial point is that the proposed changes would include presidential re-election and the possibility of runoff starting 2014 if no candidate obtains an absolute majority of the vote.
Last week a dispute over the referendum during a debate in Congress led to the demise of the Alianza por el Cambio, a national political coalition initiated in 2009 between Martinelli’s Cambio Democrático (Democratic Change) party and the opposition (Partido Panameñista, the Unión Patriótica and the Movimiento Liberal Republicano Nacionalista). By the end of last week, Martinelli dismissed Juan Carlos Varela from his post as foreign minister (Varela remains Vice President) due to their differing positions on the proposals.
Martinelli, who according to a recent poll by Dichter & Neira (D&N) has lost 20.5 percentage points of popular support since last month and is blamed for the political rupture, said “there’s nothing more democratic than re-election.” He added, “The ones who oppose a second round are against democracy or have personal or party interests.” Before Martinelli’s announcement, Vice President Juan Carlos Varela—and leader of the Partido Panameñista—had already said that re-election must be approved by Panamanians: “Let the people decide,” he told a local newspaper last week.
Varela’s stance throughout the crisis has increased his appeal among voters. The D&N survey showed that the percentage of Panamanians who would vote for him in 2014 increased by 7.6 percentage points up to 24.8 percent during the last month; the percentage of Panamanians who would vote for Martinelli decreased by 6.6 points.
Citing concerns about slowed global as well as domestic growth, Brazil’s central bank cut its key interest rate from 12.5 percent to 12 percent on Wednesday. The move, which follows five rate increases this year, surprised many and worried investors concerned about inflation. It also raised questions about government influence on monetary policy, as a number of politicians, including President Dilma Rousseff, had recently called for a rate cut.
The Banco Central do Brasil’s monetary policy committee, Comitê de Política Monetária (Copom), voted five to two on Wednesday to cut the Selic rate by 50 basis points, translating to an interest rate decrease of 0.5 percentage points. A Reuters poll of 20 economists showed that they all expected the central bank to maintain the rate at 12.5 percent; investors expected at most a decrease of 25 basis points.
In a statement accompanying the news, Copom said that in “reevaluating the international scenario, [it saw] a generalized reduction of great magnitude in the growth projections” for the U.S. and European economies. The committee was concerned that this dip would affect the domestic economy through reductions in trade, weaker investment flows, tighter credit, and pessimism among consumers and businesses. The statement said effects were already being felt in declining growth projections for the Brazilian economy.
Signs of an overheated economy and unsustainable growth have lately begun to manifest themselves in Brazil. The real has appreciated more than 40 percent against the dollar since the end of 2008, hurting the manufacturing sector through less competitive exports and cheaper imports. As of mid-August 2011, annual inflation stood well above the central bank’s target 6.5 percent upper limit—at 7.1 percent. Throughout this year, Brazil has been taking steps to tighten its economy, not only raising the key interest rate multiple times, but also cutting spending and requiring banks to increase their reserves. Nonetheless, Copom said that at this time it considered the balance of risks against inflation to be “more favorable.”
Though government officials say that the central bank maintains independence in setting interest rates, Rousseff’s administration said earlier this week it was increasing its 2011 surplus target to pave the way for looser monetary policy, and central bank president Alexandre Tombini has in the past advocated for greater policy coordination with finance ministry officials.
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.
Mexico Mourns, Makes Arrests after Casino Royale Tragedy
Police in Mexico arrested five men thought to be members of the Zetas drug gang and responsible for arson that killed 52 people in a Monterrey casino on August 25. Authorities believe gang members carried out the brutal attack, which led to three days of national mourning, after the casino’s owners failed to pay protection money. Despite the arrests, questions persist about who is at fault. President Felipe Calderón, who labeled the attack terrorism, placed blame on the United States for its role in the violence due to drug consumption—a move that Malcom Beith critiques in ForeignPolicy.com. In The Los Angeles Times’ La Plaza blog, Daniel Hernandez explores the blame game; he writes that some place responsibility in the hands of Calderón’s National Action Party (PAN), given that casinos—“seen as magnets for organized crime”—have proliferated since the PAN came to power a decade ago. Poor safety measures are at least partly to blame, writes James Bosworth for The Christian Science Monitor; blocked emergency exits prevented victims from escaping the fire.
In the days since the Casino Royale tragedy, a debate between Calderón and his predecessor, Vicente Fox, picked up steam. Fox supports negotiating with drug trafficking organizations to reach a pact to end the drug war—an idea Calderón has firmly rejected, as Mexican daily El Universal reports.
ATF Head Transferred after Botched Mexican Gun Operation
In the wake of the Operation Fast and Furious scandal, Kenneth Melson—head of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)—will be transferred to another position at the U.S. Department of Justice. The ATF operation, which intended to gain intelligence on gun trafficking, allowed thousands of weapons to “walk” in southwestern states and across the Mexican border. The guns have been linked to at least 12 violent crimes in the United States and an unknown number of crimes in Mexico.
U.S. Grants Asylum to Second Mexican Reporter
Cameraman for Televisa Alejandro Hernández Pacheco became the second Mexican journalist to receive asylum in the United States because of Mexico’s drug war violence, news agencies reported Monday. Hernández, who was kidnapped by the Zetas cartel in July 2010 and later fled to El Paso, Texas, is expected to confirm the report in a press conference in the next few days.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.