Pope Benedict’s resignation on Monday took the world by surprise, and brought hope to Latin America—home of 42 percent of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics—that the next leader of the Catholic Church could be the first to come from outside of Europe.
According to two senior Vatican officials, Latin America’s time has come. Archbishop Gerhard Muellet told Düsseldorf’s Rheinische Post newspaper that ”Christianity isn't centered on Europe,” and on a similar statement, Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch stated that the Church's future is no longer in Europe. For others, however, the higher number of European Cardinals may shift the odds against a Latin American Pope.
All Cardinals less than 80 years old are candidates and can vote to choose the new Pope at a conclave, a closed-door election process that takes place in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. The leading Latin American candidates in the next conclave are Odilo Scherer, 63, archbishop of Sao Paolo, and the Italian-Argentine Leonardo Sandri, 69, who announced to the world the death of Pope John Paul II on April 2005.
Despite Latin America’s long Catholic tradition, a pontiff’s first visit to the region didn’t take place until 1968 when Pope Paul VI visited Bogota, Colombia. The most recent visit was in 2012, when Pope Benedict XVI visited Mexico and made a historic appearance in Cuba, at a time when, according to Cuba Study Group’s Tomas Bilbao, the country “has openly recognized the failure of its current economic model, has encouraged its citizens to openly debate the need for change, and has even recognized the legitimate role of Cubans living abroad in Cuba’s future.”
Pope Benedict XVI, 85, will step down for health reasons on February 28, becoming the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to give up his post. The new pontiff’s first visit to the region could take place in July 2013 during World Youth Day celebrations in Brazil.
En los últimos sexenios los políticos mexicanos han hablado constantemente de las “reformas estructurales” que el país necesita para modernizarse y progresar y que, por supuesto, casi nunca concretan. Hablan de la reforma política, la reforma educativa, la reforma laboral, la reforma electoral, la reforma energética y otras más igual de importantes. Y en efecto, el país está urgido de esas reformas, aunque éstas sean un poco distintas a las que plantean los miembros de la clase política. A continuación señalo algunas de las más importantes:
Top stories this week are likely to include: President Obama discusses immigration reform in the State of the Union; Ecuador prepares for presidential and congressional elections; Colombia and FARC make progress in peace negotiations, Venezuela’s currency devaluation goes into effect; and Mexican farmers begin to release suspected criminals in negotiations with Guerrero state.
President Obama to Discuss Immigration, Guns in State of the Union Address: U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to renew his demand for comprehensive immigration reform, gun control and climate change in this Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, according to senior officials. Obama has called for a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. and told House Democrats that immigration reform will be a “top priority and an early priority” of his second term. Meanwhile, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Cuban American and one of eight U.S. Senators in a bipartisan effort to overhaul the U.S. immigration system, will deliver the Republican response—a signal that the GOP is seeking to overcome its poor standing with Latino voters in the last election. “The president and Senate negotiators have laid out two different visions with respect to a path to authorized status for undocumented immigrants. The principles to be laid out in Tuesday’s speech will set a marker of just how much the president is willing to negotiate,” said AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak. Tuesday’s speech will be the 100th State of the Union address.
Ecuador Prepares for Elections Next Sunday: Ecuador's presidential race will enter its final week as voters at home and abroad prepare to elect the country's next president and members of the national assembly on February 17. President Rafael Correa is heavily favored to win re-election to a third term. A survey last week by polling agency Perfiles de Opinion showed that 62 percent of expected voters support Correa, while only 9 percent of voters say they support his nearest rival, Guillermo Lasso. Correa has held office since 2007, and if he wins Sunday’s elections, he will serve a four-year term that will end in 2017.
Colombia and FARC say they are Nearing an Agreement on Land Reform: The Colombian government and FARC leaders said Sunday that they are making progress in the latest round of peace negotiations in Havana, which included an "exhaustive analysis" of land reform. During a press conference on Sunday, the FARC said that they are prepared to free two police officers and one soldier captured by the rebel group in January, fulfilling demands by the Colombian government to release the hostages at once. FARC negotiator Rodrigo Granda said Sunday that the negotiations were on track and advancing at “the speed of a bullet train.” The sixth round of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC will start on February 18.
Venezuelan Currency Devaluation Takes Effect Wednesday: The Venezuelan government's long-expected currency devaluation, announced last Friday, will officially go into effect on Wednesday. The official exchange rate will change from 4.3 bolivars to the dollar to 6.3 bolivars to the dollar, the fifth time the country’s currency has been devalued in a decade. Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolás Maduro, currently leading the country in the absence of the ailing President Hugo Chávez, said that the devaluation was needed to fund the country’s social programs, and was also a response to attacks on the bolivar by capitalist “speculators.” The impending devaluation has already caused a rush of panicked last-minute shoppers to buy domestic appliances and other goods over Carnival weekend.
Mexican Farmers Begin Turning over Hostages: Mexican farmers in the township of Ayutla who detained 53 suspected criminals in January released 11 of their hostages last Friday after negotiations with the Guerrero state government. The farmers, fed up with recent drug-related violence and kidnappings in their community, have formed so-called “self-defense” forces to set up checkpoints, capture and imprison suspected criminals before trying them before an ad-hoc town assembly. The vigilante justice has been criticized by human rights groups, but the farmers say they are acting to protect themselves in the absence of the state, which has so far tolerated the movement. The Guerrero state government said the farmers agreed to turn over "the first 20" detainees, though it's not clear whether more will be released. The farmers have said they will not back down until the government proves it is capable of protecting them and establishing peace in the region.
Employees of Colombia’s largest coal mine, Cerrejón, went on strike yesterday after the company and its 4,500 union members failed to reach an agreement on wages and benefits for the first time in 22 years.
Orlando Cuello, manager of the National Union of Coal workers (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadroes de la Industria del Carbón – Sintracarbón) confirmed that 3:00 pm (COT) Thursday was the cutoff time for the negotiations. The union’s grievances center on the lack of appropriate compensation for the high-risk nature of the job, with an estimate that miners in other parts of the world earn three times more than Cerrejón employees. Other factors in the negotiations include recognition of health and occupational hazards, dignity of employees, equity with contract workers, environmental protection of the department of La Guajira where the mine operates, and respect of local communities.
Cerrejón, the subject of a new AQ documentary, is a joint venture between BHP Billiton, Anglo American and Xstrata. It produced 34.6 million tons of coal and exported 32.8 million tons globally in 2012. The strike threatens the company’s potential production targets for 2013 and may damage the local and regional economy by up to $5.4 million a day.
Chile’s Mapuche population has long struggled for greater rights. So many warmly greeted President Sebastián Piñera’s recent promise to give “top priority and urgency” to finding a constitutional solution that will recognize Chile’s Indigenous Mapuche people, a 700,000-person strong minority group that constitutes 6 percent of Chile’s population. His reaction comes after a month of increased tension in the southern Araucanía region, where the majority of the Mapuche live.
After a mid-January summit was held in Temuco, Araucanía’s main city, Piñera has promised to set up a council for Indigenous peoples that is “truly representative of the community’s history, tradition and culture.” This is a positive first step in trying to integrate the Mapuche into the political process since they currently do not have any representation in Congress. At the same time, demands by the Mapuche for an independent state were ignored. The Indigenous group’s main struggle is for the return of what its members claim are their ancestral lands.
It is a positive sign that Piñera and the Chilean government seem to be trying hard to quell violence within the Araucanía region and are beginning to open up dialogue and negotiations with the Mapuche.
But efforts toward reconciliation are being viewed in an increasingly cynical manner by both sides.
The dismissal of Walter Ramirez, a policeman who killed Mapuche leader Matias Catrileo in January 2008, has been called tactical by Ramirez’ lawyer Gaspar Calderon. Calderon told CNN Chile that his client is a victim of "popular justice” and suggested that the decision was made merely to give Chilean Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick something to offer the Mapuche ahead of the Temuco summit.
Leaders of the Primero Justicia (Justice First—PJ) opposition party in Venezuela vigorously rejected claims of corruption yesterday, after National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello accused three of its members of such on Tuesday and the Assembly summarily agreed to open an investigation to look into the charges. Cabello, a loyalist of President Hugo Chávez, accuses PJ of illegally accepting campaign donations.
Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles, who was PJ’s presidential candidate in last year’s election and chosen in a February 2012 primary to represent an opposition coalition united against Chávez, dismissed the allegations and referred to Cabello as mafia leader Al Capone over Twitter. In a speech yesterday, Capriles told supporters that the ruling party wants “to come after me [and] demoralize you all.”
The opposition fears that chavista politicians are raising these threats in order to scare away private businesspeople from making future campaign donations. Given the lingering uncertainty surrounding Chávez’ health—he has not been seen in public for almost two months, and missed his own inauguration in January—Venezuelan political analyst José Vicente Carrasquero believes that Chávez loyalists are seeking to damage the opposition politically ahead of a possible upcoming election, according to the Associated Press. The Venezuelan Constitution calls for elections within 30 days if Chávez dies or steps down from office.
Due to relaxed Cuban travel restrictions that eliminated the exit visa, Brazilian film director Dado Galvo announced Tuesday that prominent dissident and blogger Yoani Sánchez will travel to Recife, Brazil, for a screening of the 2009 documentary Conexión Cuba Honduras (Connection Cuba Honduras), in which she is featured. Sánchez was granted a travel visa and will be arriving in Brazil on February 18, thanks in part to an online initiative led by Galvo, the director of the documentary, who raised funds to purchase her ticket.
Sánchez is best known for her prize-winning blog, Generación Y, which she named after the generation of Cubans born in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when names beginning with “Y” were popular. Her blog is openly critical of life under the Castro regime, and notably contains the only interview that President Obama has granted to a blogger. She has been able to avoid Cuban censorship having her friends abroad post entries that she emails to them. As one of the best-known dissidents in Cuba, many doubted that Sánchez would be able to take advantage of the January 15 exit visa law that allowed Cubans to apply for a passport without a government permit and an invitation letter from abroad. After 20 failed attempts, Sánchez announced via Twitter that she had been granted a passport just 15 days after the law went into effect.
While other notable dissidents, such as Ángel Moya, have been denied the right to travel abroad, this latest development represents a dramatic shift in Cuban policy. The change in travel laws on the island is expected to help spur the economy, and while restrictions are still in place for certain professionals such as athletes and party leaders, the change will allow some of Cuba’s most vocal critics to spread their message abroad.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced today that six members of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) and two policemen were killed in an attack near the Venezuelan border. The announcement comes only days after the president requested that the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army—ELN) set free two German citizens who were seized last week in the northern Catatumbo region. These events have raised concern about the viability of the peace talks in Havana, but both the government and the FARC remain optimistic about progress.
Iván Márquez, head of the FARC’s negotiating team, believes there are many reasons for his side to be optimistic about the peace process. “Destroying the road towards peace over claims of armed conflict would be unreasonable,” he stated. But since the group’s two-month ceasefire came to an end on January 20, kidnappings and violence have resumed in the country.
Smaller but more politically motivated than the FARC, the ELN has also expressed its interest in engaging in peace talks with the government, but the group refuses to stop its attacks on civilian and military targets as a precondition to begin the negotiations. The peace-building process held in Cuba recently concluded its third phase, with no major progress made toward ending the longstanding conflict. Land reform is currently the main focus of the negotiations.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Cubans re-elect President Raúl Castro in one-party elections; Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman travels to London; Paraguay investigates the death of Lino Oviedo; Argentina reacts to the IMF after being censured; Mexican authorities conclude rescue efforts after PEMEX explosion.
Parliamentary Elections Begin in Cuba: Cuba’s nearly 8.5 million voters went to the polls yesterday to elect 612 national assembly members and members of the country’s 15 provincial assemblies in the country’s one-party elections. Eighty-six year-old revolutionary leader Fidel Castro—who had not been seen in public since October—made a surprise appearance at the polls on Sunday to cast his vote in Havana’s El Vedado neighborhood. His brother, Cuban President Raúl Castro, was re-elected for a second five-year term—his last, if the president’s decision last year to introduce two term limits is upheld. "This parliament will be in place at an important time in the history of the revolution; though they likely will not have the power or diversity to positively affect the course of reforms or leadership changes," says Christopher Sabatini, Editor-in-Chief of Americas Quarterly.
Argentine Foreign Minister Declines to Meet with Falkland Islanders: With little over a month before Falkland/Malvinas Islanders vote in a March 10 referendum on their island's political status, Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman has arrived in London to make the case that the disputed islands belong to Argentina. Timerman will make a presentation at the Argentine Embassy in London to discredit the upcoming referendum, in which the islanders are expected to affirm that they are British. Timerman had originally planned to meet with British Foreign Secretary William Hague in a bilateral meeting, but he declined the invitation after Britain insisted that representatives of the island’s government also be present.
Paraguay Investigates Death of Presidential Candidate Lino Oviedo: Paraguayan President Federico Franco has declared three days of national mourning after third-party candidate Lino Oviedo was killed along with his pilot and bodyguard in a helicopter crash late on Saturday. The cause of the crash, which witnesses say was accompanied by an explosion, has not yet been determined, but authorities have called the death an accident. However, members of Oviedo’s Unión Nacional de Colorados Éticos (National Union of Ethical Citizens—UNACE) party have demanded an investigation into whether the politician was assassinated. Oviedo was a retired general who helped overthrow Paraguayan dictator General Alfredo Stroessner, and was also charged with organizing a failed coup in 1996 against former Paraguayan President Juan Carlos Wasmosy, for which Oviedo served time in prison.
Argentina's Next Steps After IMF Censure: Last Friday, Argentina became the first nation to be censured by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for its widely-disputed inflation data, which the national statistics agency reports at 10.8 percent. Argentine Minister of the Economy Hernán Lorenzo reacted to the fund’s decision by saying that his country is being punished for “protecting national industry and jobs, financing itself without the markets, and saying ‘no’ to vulture funds.” According to the IMF, Argentina must address "inaccurate data" by Sept. 29, 2013 to avoid suspension. If the country fails to comply with the IMF by implementing remedial measures such as creation of a new consumer price index, Argentina faces further sanctions, which could include suspension of voting rights or expulsion.
Investigation of Thursday's Pemex Blast Continues: Mexican authorities will continue to investigate the cause of the blast that killed at least 36 workers at a Pemex office complex in Mexico City on Thursday. The death toll rose on Sunday as rescue workers found three more bodies over the weekend, but it now appears that rescuers are concluding their efforts to search for survivors—though one woman who worked as a secretary at the office remains missing. Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam declined to say on Friday whether the explosion was an accident, due to negligence, or part of an attack, but he added that there should be more information available in the coming days.
As Canadians, we tend to watch the Inaugural activities with interest. Sometimes, as in 1961 or in 2009, we marvel at the significance and the majesty of the event. Many times, we are indifferent and see it merely as a news story in the heart of winter every four years.
We do not pretend to understand the subtleties of the words of a U.S. President, but we cannot deny their scope in terms of the years to come. John F. Kennedy asked his fellow citizens to become engaged: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” This time around, Barack Obama said that “America was made for this moment.” He outlined the vision of the Founding Fathers, and laid out a progressive vision of where America must go, which he linked with the basic values of the U.S. constitution.
Many on this side of the border are familiar with the call for an activist government, and an effort to reduce inequalities in society. Much of our social fabric is based on this approach. What was attractive in the speech had to do with the JFK-like call for greater citizen engagement on issues like gun control , and the presentation of a vision of a changing country largely defined by new demographics. It was clear Obama understood his victory coalition, and addressed its inherent and emerging values and hopes. Republicans, take note! Obama2.0 seems more determined to press his agenda this time around.
John Kerry, the longtime Democratic U.S. senator representing Massachusetts from 1985 until this week, was confirmed on Tuesday as the next secretary of state. He assumes the post today, and has some pretty big shoes, or heels, to fill after Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure.
What does this mean for Latin American affairs? What change awaits U.S. foreign policy?
Based on observations from well-placed State Department sources and Kerry’s nearly four-hour confirmation hearing, however, there are a few hints of what’s to come.
First, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson will stay on, according to my sources. This is good news, given her masterful dexterity in bureaucratic and congressional machinations and cross-agency management—notably regarding counternarcotic efforts—in addition to her regional expertise. However, her office could become savvier with using U.S. media to present policy positions to American audiences. Not only does the United States need to win the hearts and minds of those abroad, it needs to bolster support for policies at home.
Brazilian authorities inspected and closed doors on nightclubs throughout the country yesterday as part of an agreement between São Paulo’s governor, Geraldo Alckmin, and Mayor Fernando Haddad in response to Sunday’s deadly nightclub fire that claimed 235 lives and injured 143 in the southern city of Santa Maria. Alckmin stated that the joint response from the government, firefighters and inspectors is an effective method for ensuring nightclubs are complying with regulations. According to Erick Hoelz Colla, the acting commander of the Fire Department, the joint action will affect 230 businesses in the city. This initiative comes a week before Brazil’s annual Carnaval celebrations welcome thousands more nightclub goers and tourists to the city.
Leading police investigators have identified a series of potential code violations that seem to have exacerbated the impact of the fire. Investigators said that the band, Gurizada Fandangueira, used pyrotechnics meant for outdoor use only, that permits had expired, and the club only had one exit and no sprinkler system. Band members claim that pyrotechnics didn't cause the fire, but rather the club's faulty wiring was the catalyst. Mayor of Santa Maria Cezar Schirmer—who has been under attack for failing to enforce building codes—said the club met standards when it was last reviewed.
President Dilma Rousseff has advised mayors across the country to assume greater responsibility for code enforcement and to crack down on avoidable accidents.
A new commission known as the Comisión Asesora de Política de Drogas (Drug Policy Advisory Commission) convened on Tuesday for the first time, tasked with reviewing Colombia’s drug policy and issuing recommendations for a new National Drug Statute. Colombian Justice Minister Ruth Stella Correa leads the commission—composed of former President César Gaviria, academics and topical experts—and announced on Tuesday evening that they would weigh a new proposal to decriminalize the personal consumption of synthetic drugs such as ecstasy.
While current Colombian law bans cocaine and marijuana, the country’s Constitutional Court has spoken out against the criminalization of their usage. Correa noted that the new National Drug Statute, which will be presented to Congress upon its completion, “will make the [Constitutional Court’s] authorization concrete, but broaden it to include synthetic drugs into what is defined as the personal dose.”
This legislative push has been a priority of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who sparked controversy over a year ago in calling on the world’s governments to reassess its global drug enforcement policies, and reiterated this stance during last April’s Summit of the Americas in Cartagena and again at last week’s Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States—CELAC) meeting in Santiago, Chile. An increasing number of Colombians have been calling for this policy shift as a measure to combat drug trafficking and illicit use. But critics believe that decriminalization will complicate the debate on drug policy even further.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) voiced concern on Tuesday over the increasing trend in violence within Venezuela’s prisons. The office called for an investigation into a clash between inmates and National Guard troops at Uribana prison in Barquisimeto last Friday that left 61 inmates dead and 120 injured. OHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville attributed the violence to poor prison conditions including overcrowding, lack of basic services and widespread access to firearms that were “exacerbated by judicial delays and excessive resort to pre-trial detention.”
One of the contributing factors to this overcrowding is the number of pretrial detainees. In an article published yesterday in the Winter 2013 issue of Americas Quarterly, Richard Aborn notes that in the Americas, “pretrial detention is being employed at rates two to five times greater than the international average.” In addition to contributing to the overcrowding in prisons throughout the Americas, pretrial detention exposes prisoners who have not been convicted of a crime to violence, sexual assault, and even torture. Venezuela ranks seventh in the Americas in the number of pretrial detentions, with an average of 29,000 individuals detained at any given time.
Colville expressed that states are responsible for ensuring that “conditions of detention are compatible with the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Addressing the state’s role in mitigating violence, Aborn recommends that they accelerate the process to bring the accused to trial, plan for reintegration of prisoners into society early and improve the conditions of confinement by physically expanding prisons to reduce overcrowding—action items which would help detention-prone nations like Venezuela move closer to meeting international human rights standards.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, inaugurated to a new sexenio last month, is doing everything in his administration’s power to abate a problem that affects close to 52 million poverty-stricken Mexicans: hunger.
Well before becoming president, Peña Nieto promised mothers, children and the poorest of communities that he would work to end poverty, inequality and hunger. During his inaugural speech on December 2, he issued an executive order directing his new social development secretary to implement a program to eradicate hunger across the country. Some 50 days later, he traveled to Las Margaritas, Chiapas, to unveil an ambitious national plan known as La Cruzada Nacional contra el Hambre (National Crusade against Hunger).
The program coordinates the ministries for social development, education and defense to work in 400 of the poorest municipalities across Mexico to provide wholesome nutrition, eradicate childhood malnutrition, educate farmers, minimize post-harvest losses, and implement community hunger eradication programs.
Peña Nieto’s order also creates the Sistema Nacional contra el Hambre (National System against Hunger), which serves as the legal, administrative and bureaucratic manual for dialogue, agreements and action between government agencies, states and municipalities. The program and executive order, however, are not the first to appear in a country which has historically tolerated hunger amongst the ranks. Progressive programs from different presidents and land reforms have given Indigenous and disadvantaged groups crops and food, but a large portion of the population remains unimpacted by such efforts.
Natural resource extraction is a key contributor to economic growth in various parts of the Western Hemisphere, but governments, businesses and civil society are faced with how to improve extractive activity and its effects on broad-based socioeconomic development in respective communities. A special section in the Winter 2013 issue of Americas Quarterly, released today, includes photo essays and analysis to look at these challenges and compare the potentials and pitfalls for the natural resource industry in Chile, Colombia and Peru in four critical areas: community relations and consulta previa (prior consultation); value-added economic development; the nature of governance and public management; and the environment.
In the case of consulta previa, although Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization—on the right of Indigenous and tribal peoples to prior consultation—has been ratified by 20 countries, most of which are Latin American nations, the accord is still subject to competing interpretations by community leaders and governments.To maximize success and mitigate conflict, the AQ special section urges all stakeholders to view consulta previa as a regular process throughout the life of the exploration or exploitation project, and for businesses to broaden the scope of consultative mechanisms beyond extraction’s original impact zone.
The special section also suggests that governments and businesses work together to ensure a positive impact of extractive industry over national economies. By leveraging tax and royalty resources, governments can attract investment and promote local innovation. It cites Chile as a model in terms of its Fondo de Innovación para la Competitividad (Innovation Fund for Competitiveness). However, clear priorities for social policy and investment must be in place to ensure an equitable resource distribution.
In addition, despite some progress in economic and community development over the life of extractive industry in the three countries, governments and businesses still lag behind in protecting the environment from the negative effects of mining exploration. The AQ section asks governments to boost the capacity and strengthen the authority of federal environment ministries and for businesses to monitor energy consumption levels and seek creative ways to reduce them.
In addition to the photo essays and analysis, an exclusive AQ documentary looks at a proposed project by the coal mining company Cerrejón to move an entire river 16 miles (26 kilometers) and the effects that would have on the Wayúu Indigenous community that lives alongside it .
Top stories this week are likely to include: Cuba takes over the chairmanship of CELAC on Monday as the summit wraps up in Santiago; a bipartisan group of U.S. senators release a plan for comprehensive immigration reform a day before Obama lays out his proposals; violence in Colombia increases following the end to the FARC’s unilateral ceasefire; Argentina and Iran seek approval for an international truth commission to investigate the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires; mining protesters blockade a highway in Peru.
Bipartisan Senate Group, Obama Release Plans for Immigration Reform
A bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators will announce at 2:30pm (EST) a plan for comprehensive immigration reform, which includes providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that is contingent upon first ensuring that new border security measures and an exit system are in place. The agreement comes a day before U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to announce his proposals for comprehensive immigration reform. The bipartisan group includes Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined the discussions more recently. They met over the weekend to finalize the draft of a principles agreement that also outlines a path to citizenship for undocumented youth, known as DREAMers, and other principles for reforming the immigration system. “Today’s release of bipartisan principles for immigration reform legislation will put down a marker of what will be possible in a potential comprehensive package this spring. This, combined with the president’s speech in Las Vegas tomorrow and the significant weight that is expected to be placed on reform in the State of the Union on February 12, illustrates that if reform is to happen now is the year,” notes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.
Cuba takes over Chairmanship of CELAC as Summit Concludes
The two-day Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States—CELAC) summit concludes today in Santiago, as Cuba formally assumes chairmanship of the regional body today. CELAC—which includes 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations and excludes the U.S. and Canada—hosted leaders from the European Union, who pledged to deepen ties with Latin America while meeting with regional trade blocs like Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance for trade discussions. As the summit wraps up today, Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolás Maduro is expected to deliver a message from Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez—still in Cuba recovering from surgery—who was noticeably absent from the summit. Also absent were Paraguayan President Federico Franco (Paraguay was not invited), Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who left early to deal with the aftermath of the nightclub fire that killed over 230 people in Rio Grande do Sul.
Violent Attacks Increase in Colombia After Ceasefire
In the first week since the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) ended a unilateral ceasefire it had announced in November, the guerrillas have reportedly carried out 32 violent attacks between January 20 and 26, surpassing the number of attacks before the peace talks were announced. The Colombian government warned that the increased violence, including the FARC’s kidnapping of two policemen last Friday, could undermine the rebels’ peace talks with the government in Havana. The third round of talks concluded last Thursday, with no major progress toward ending the conflict between the rebels and the government.
Argentina and Iran Agree to Create a Commission to Investigate Bombing
The foreign ministers of Argentina and Iran agreed Sunday to create an international truth commission that would investigate the 1994 car bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. Argentine prosecutors have said that the attack was orchestrated by Iran’s current defense minister and carried out by Hezbollah. Formation of the truth commission will require legislative approval in both Iran and Argentina to move forward, and would consist of five independent judges from other countries that would analyze documentation investigating the attack. Jewish groups in Argentina have said the agreement will strengthen Argentine-Iranian ties at the expense of the victims of the attack, and expressed doubt that any suspects would be brought to trial.
Hundreds of Protestors Protest Mining Project in Peru
Hundreds of protestors in northern Peru are continuing a week-long highway blockade near Cañaris after 31 people were injured Friday in a confrontation with police over the nearby Cañarico Norte copper project. The protesters say that Canadian mining company Candente Copper Corp. will divert water that locals rely on for farming, but Peru’s vice-minister of energy and mines says that the protesters have been misinformed about the project’s environmental risks. Despite the protests, a roundtable meeting will go forward as scheduled on February 2 to discuss the project. Meanwhile, Peru's Ministry of the Environment will publish a guide to reducing social conflict through "ecological and economical zoning."
El Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano de La Habana comenzó en 1979 y se repite cada diciembre. Es una oportunidad única para conocer a cineastas reconocidos y prometedores en América Latina. Es el lugar donde recién conocí al actor René Esquivel.
René Esquivel está “en la cresta del anonimato,” leo por ahí, intentando saber más de él. Efectivamente, parece ser un ilustre desconocido. Pero en el hotel Habana Libre, este hombre de cabello canoso es el botones más popular. Y como gran parte de los cubanos, aunque se gane la vida cargando maletas a los turistas, René es en verdad otra cosa. Es músico y también está vinculado al cine. O por lo menos eso es lo que desea.
Como buen caribeño, durante los días del Festival de La Habana, René me recibió con un piropo: “¡Usted debe ser una actriz…!” exclamó, ladeando la cabeza al tiempo que soltó una sonrisa que dejó ver sus dientes gastados. Este ha debido ser un hombre muy guapo. A sus sesenta y tantos años todavía lo es.
Yo le seguí la corriente, pero en el camino le conté que no voy al Festival sino que preparo una película. Sorprendido, inmediatamente me contó que él participó en un documental: When Castro Seized the Hilton (Cuando Castro tomó el Hilton) señaló, esta vez con seriedad. Y como no le entendía lo que decía, repitió un par de veces más el nombre de la película pero en voz baja. “Es un documental que cuenta el día aquel que Fidel tomó el hotel, el Hilton, éste… Bueno, aquí no lo pasaron… usted sabe, aquí… cuestiones políticas…” Y entonces lanzó una infinidad de datos que no alcancé a memorizar. El caso es que sí, René participó en el documental del noruego Bjarte Thoresen, producido por Bente Olav para Frameline Film, el año 2009.
Thursday marked the conclusion of the third round of peace talks between the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) and the Colombian government in Havana, Cuba, with no major progress made toward ending this long-standing conflict as the Colombian government continued to rule out a ceasefire with the FARC to gain greater peace.
Humberto de la Calle, head of the Colombian government’s peace negotiation team, declared in a press conference that he would rule out a ceasefire with the FARC until definitive peace agreements were set. "We want peace, but not at any cost. Not if as a result of the conversations the guerrillas are able to get stronger and continue to wage war." January 20 marked the end of the two-month-long unilateral ceasefire on behalf of the FARC.
He also cited that the round of discussions should be instrumental in avoiding further guerilla operations. "Once the conflict ends and the FARC are reintegrated into society, they are eligible to have physical and legal guarantees, but this will not happen prior to a solid partnership. Politics and weapons should not be combined.”
The FARC, however, are pushing for land reform and social development investments. During this latest round of negotiations, the FARC emphasized the need for greater support for food production to meet basic nutritional needs and proposed that 25 million hectares (62 million acres) of land, more than 20 percent of the country, be handed over to the country's poor.
Progress is likely to be made confidentially during negotiations to facilitate honest and impactful discussion, according to De la Calle. He stated said that peace processes do not come to fruition if facilitated through the media, and that the negotiating team will maintain periodic announcements of progress.
Brazil’s Truth Commission said yesterday that it planned to investigate the death of former Brazilian President Juscelino Kubitschek, a centrist politician popularly known as “JK,” who died in a car accident in 1976.
According to a report released late last year by the Minas Gerais chapter of the Ordem de Advogados do Brasil (OAB), a branch of the national bar association, Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime likely ordered Kubitschek’s death. In 2000, former Rio de Janeiro Governor Leonel Brizola alleged that the car crash that killed Kubitschek was arranged as part of Operation Condor, a secret hemispheric campaign of state terror responsible for the death and disappearance of thousands of people during a wave of Latin American dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s.
Kubitschek governed Brazil from 1956 to 1961, and was well known for his role in overseeing the creation of the city of Brasilia to develop the country’s interior. He opposed the military coup and had ambitions to run for president again. Both Kubitschek and his driver, Geraldo Ribeiro, died on August 22, 1976. The OAB says that Ribeiro was shot in the head by an unknown assailant and the car crashed into a truck on a highway between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, killing both men.
Brazil’s seven-member Truth Commission was approved in 2011 and began work last year to investigate the country’s dictatorship-era human rights abuses. The commission does not have the legal authority to put defendants on trial, due to Brazil’s 1979 amnesty law that shields civilians and military from prosecution for crimes against humanity. However, the commission may reveal the names of those responsible for Kubitschek and Ribeiro’s deaths and provide evidence that could be used in a criminal trial.
Thousands of members of both Hugo Chávez’ Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) and the opposition are marching in Caracas today in simultaneous demonstrations since January 23 marks the end of Venezuela’s 1945-1958 military dictatorship. However, this year the date has acquired a new meaning for each side of the political spectrum. For members of the PSUV, today’s demonstration is an opportunity to show their solidarity with Chávez, who is recovering from cancer surgery in Cuba. Meanwhile, the opposition plans to protest the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s January 8 resolution to delay the president’s inauguration, a decision they say is unconstitutional.
Venezuelan Communications and Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said yesterday that Hugo Chávez recently met in Cuba with Venezuela’s newly-appointed foreign minister, Elías Jaua. Still, great uncertainty surrounds the question of when Chávez will return to Venezuela. More than a month has passed since the president's last public appearance, which was prior to his cancer surgery in mid-December.
Vice President of the National Assembly and leader of the PSUV Darío Vivas said that Chavismo will march today “out of respect and solidarity” with Chávez and his delicate health situation. For Marino Gonzalez, adjunct secretary of the Venezuelan opposition umbrella group known as the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática—MUD,“this is an opportunity for Venezuelans to defend their Constitution and to open the door for democracy in the country.”
Beginning around 10:00 am local time (9:30 am EST), Chávez supporters assembled at three points in the city—Colegio de Ingenieros, Los Símbolos and Propatria—while the opposition congregated in Parque Miranda. Major streets in Caracas are closed for today’s demonstrations.
On January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court passed Roe vs. Wade, a landmark decision that guaranteed a woman’s right to legal abortion services. In the 40 years since its passage, the ruling has allowed thousands in this country to avoid the dire consequences of unsafe and illegal procedures, and has also catalyzed four decades of political action in the Americas—both in support of and in opposition to reproductive rights.
In Latin America most women do not have access to legally terminate a pregnancy—even one that has resulted from rape, incest or that may critically threaten her health. Each year over 4 million of the region’s women have abortions, with approximately 95 percent of the procedures taking place in unsafe conditions. The results contribute to abortion-related rates of mortality that rank among the world’s highest. And the evidence is clear: criminalizing abortions does not decrease its practice or the incidence of unwanted pregnancies, but it does jeopardize women’s lives in terms of health, safety and economic well-being.
Each year thousands of Latin American abortion rights proponents and opponents work tirelessly on the issue—from grassroots organizations to church groups, politicians, lobbyists, and nongovernmental organizations.
White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod said yesterday that immigration reform legislation is coming “early” in President Obama’s second-term agenda. Axelrod’s comments followed shortly after Obama’s inauguration address in Washington DC in which he only briefly touched on immigration. Axelrod went on to say that the president could push for reform as soon as the State of the Union speech in three weeks.
The near-record turnout by Latino voters in November favoring Obama over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney by a margin of 71 to 27 percent gave the president a new mandate to reform the U.S. immigration system. A number of immigrant reform groups organized events around the inauguration to make sure the issue of got the attention it deserved. For example, 120 members of advocacy group Casa de Maryland—many of whom worked on the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012—marched on the National Mall yesterday calling for sensible reform that goes beyond Deferred Action.
Legislation will likely include measures that seek to resolve the status of the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S.—especially for young arrivals and so-called “Dreamers”—while stepping up enforcement mechanisms like E-verify. Other components of immigration reform legislation will likely also address visas for high-skilled workers and entrepreneurs with agricultural visas a likely sticking point between the two parties. Immigration reform was expected to be the president’s first order of business in 2013, but the Newtown shooting and the consequent push for gun control legislation mean that introduction of a bill is now expected to occur in the spring.
Brazil is once again seeking to enhance its international profile. But this time, rather than engaging in close partnerships with its fellow BRICS club members—Russia, India, China, and South Africa—Brazil is collaborating with a smaller nation: Cuba.
Since assuming office in 2011, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has worked closely with Cuban President Raúl Castro to strengthen their partnership in the hopes of further bolstering Brazil's economic advantages and regional influence. She is achieving this by providing financial and technical assistance to help restructure Cuba's economy while at the same time advancing Brazil’s economic interests through strategic investments in port infrastructure. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez' quickly deteriorating health has created incentives for Dilma to fortify her ties with Castro, gradually replacing Venezuela—Cuba’s biggest benefactor—as Cuba's most important ally in the region.
But instead of bullying Cuba into following Brazil's lead, Dilma is also gaining something in return for her citizens: technical assistance from Cuba to address educational illiteracy, a long-time developmental challenge for Brazil. In so doing, Cuba benefits by displaying its impressive success in education reform, while highlighting its potential to be an amicable partner in hemispheric affairs.
A new financial transactions law, Ley de Dinero Electrónico, signed this week by President Ollanta Humala will make it easier for Peruvians to conduct financial transactions using their mobile phones. The law, which goes into effect this July, will help the estimated 65 percent of poor Peruvians who lack access to formal banking services or ATMs.
More than 32 million mobile phone users will be able to securely pay invoices, transfer money, purchase goods and deposit money to their phone from their checking and savings account, greatly increasing both their financial and social inclusion. The electronic funds will be offered by banks, savings and loans institutions, and new companies that specialize in mobile transactions, such as the Empresas Emisoras de Dinero Electrónico (EEDE).
Currently, only 28 percent of the adult population use formal bank accounts. The new law has the potential to reach 95 percent of the districts in Peru that have mobile coverage.
Humala also announced that this new strategy allows the Pensión 65 recipients (government stipend program for the marginalized, elderly population) receive their monthly stipend of 125 soles ($49) through mobile transactions.
According to Scotiabank’s innovation channels manager in Lima, Miguel Arce, “Approximately $15 billion moves in the retail business per year. About 6 percent of these transactions are done through banks, which means that $10 billion moves in cash through grocery stores, hardware stores and others, all of which use cell phones.”
More than 600 Mapuche representatives gathered in Chile’s conflict-torn La Araucanía region on Wednesday to discuss proposals for self-government and address the violent clashes between Indigenous activists and state authorities in southern Chile over land ownership and restitution.
Mapuche leaders organized a special summit at the cerro Ñielol (Ñielol hill) in the city of Temuco in an effort to assert Indigenous autonomy and protest the Chilean government’s response to the growing unrest in La Araucanía, including a special anti-terrorist group sent to combat violence in the region.
The latest tragedy in the long-running conflict between the Mapuche and the Chilean government occurred after an elderly couple, Werner Luchsinger and Vivian Mckay, died in an arson attack on January 4. Local Mapuche activists reportedly believed that the land-holding couple had usurped ancestral Mapuche territory and targeted their home.
Celestino Córdova Tránsito, a young Indigenous man, was detained near the scene of the crime and charged with the couple’s death last Friday under a controversial anti-terrorism law first enacted under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The law considers the destruction or illegal occupation of property an act of terrorism that can be tried in both civilian and military courts.
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Minority Rights Group International have criticized the anti-terrorism law being invoked against Mapuche activists, claiming that it has been used exclusively against the Mapuche since Chile returned to democratic rule.
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera declined an invitation to attend the Mapuche summit in Temuco, but Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick and Social Development Minister Joaquin Lavin planned to meet with local lawmakers and Indigenous leaders to discuss the ongoing conflict. The government said it would send a representative as an observer to the summit at cerro Ñielol.
The prevailing narrative since Barack Obama’s decisive re-election victory last November is that America is changing. His most reliable voting blocs included progressives, minorities, single women, and youths, and his campaign was supported by an impressive, technologically-inspired ground game. Even many Republican talking heads acknowledged America’s changing demographics in their post-election ruminations.
Canada may be on the verge of experiencing something similar in the coming months and years.
Back in the 1960s, and not long after John F. Kennedy’s presidential victory at the outset of the decade, the Canadian political class was transformed with the rise of a brilliant intellectual from Québec called Pierre Elliot Trudeau, then-leader of Canada’s Liberal Party. Fluent in both French and English, coupled with an impressive life story, Trudeau brought Canadian politics into the new media age. Justin Trudeau, the late Pierre’s son and a current member of parliament representing a district in Québec, is a serious contender for the leadership of the federal Liberals and already seems to be bringing Obama’s style to his leadership campaign. Are we about to have a transformation in how we conduct our politics in Canada?
In recent years, Liberals have fallen on hard times. Once called Canada’s “natural governing party,” Liberals now have a third-party status behind the ruling Conservatives and the official opposition New Democratic Party (NDP). The federal Liberal party will choose its new leader in April in the hopes of reviving its fortunes and once again become the leading progressive voice in Canadian politics.
In the meantime, both the Ontario and Québec Liberal parties will also be welcoming a new leader at the provincial level in the first quarter of this year. Each of these parties has a different reality; the Ontario Liberals are in power in a minority parliament and the Québec Liberals are the opposition party in a minority parliament. Can change in existing Liberal parties translate into change in the country as a whole?
A look at Canadian history shows that Canada has benefited from an orderly transfer of power between moderate conservative parties and moderate progressive parties, the latter usually under a Liberal label. In the past four decades, however, Canada’s political landscape has seen the emergence of more ideologically bent parties. To illustrate, the separatist Parti Québécois has been in office for 18 out of the last 36 years in Québec, and a more populist conservative movement—the incumbent Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper—has been a dominant force in federal politics since 1993. Liberals in the meantime have become instruments of power rather than advocates of progressive policy initiatives, leaving a greater left-right split in Canadian public discourse.
Canada’s parliament is dominated today by the Conservatives and the NDP, but new leadership among the Liberals could represent change in the political landscape. But it will not be without risks if the electorate across Canada responds better to the clarity of the current left-right continuum.
The Liberals generally tend to be more centrist in their approach. They believe in progressive social programs, which reduce the economic disparities in society and provide a safety net; they are not allergic to government-generated solutions; yet they have argued for fiscal restraint. It is fair to add that Liberals have never been closed to innovation and reforms to the status quo.
With the emerging debate regarding Canada’s First Nations peoples and their demands for reform, a sluggish economy with increasing pressures on the middle class, rising government debt, and the continuing presence of a separatist movement in Québec, Liberals under new leadership across the country could become a part of a changing Canada—and possibly lead the nation. But will there be a strong enough constituency in Canada to support it?
With the fate of peace talks between the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) and the Colombian government hanging in the balance, the FARC requested yesterday that Colombian Agriculture Minister Juan Camilo Restrepo participate in the negotiations in Havana, Cuba, to address the guerrilla group’s demand for agrarian reform.
The FARC’s proposal, presented on Monday, calls for a complete rural agrarian reform that includes property redistribution and the improvement of property conditions, among other elements. (See this document for more details.) Hours after the FARC’s request, Restrepo praised the group’s intentions but said that the proposal should be discussed by the members of the peace negotiation team, to which he does not belong. Besides land reform, the agenda for the peace talks includes the end of armed conflict, guarantees for the exercise of political opposition, drug trafficking and the rights of victims of the conflict.
On Monday, the FARC’s chief negotiator, Iván Márquez, said that the two-month ceasefire would come to an end on January 20. The rebel group’s intention to resume military operations—as well as the FARC’s allegedly increasing weapons acquisitions in Ecuador—may endanger the peace process that began in October.
The government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, stressed that Colombia is willing to extend guarantees to the rebels as long as the FARC agrees to end the fighting. Talks in this third phase of negotiation will go on for 11 days, followed by a three-day break. The deadline for the negotiations is set in November.
Muchos analistas políticos mencionan que el gobierno de Enrique Peña Nieto y el Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) deberán enfrentarse a una fuerte oposición política y que eso les obligará a negociar para concretar las reformas estructurales que proponen para el país.
Pero la realidad es muy distinta. Si la principal amenaza para la presidencia de Peña Nieto son los partidos políticos de oposición, ya puede dormir tranquilo.
Con la renuncia de Andrés Manuel López Obrador, el Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) tiene pocas esperanzas de mantener una votación aceptable en las elecciones legislativas de 2015, pues la mayor parte de sus votos desde las elecciones del año 2000 provenían del llamado “efecto Peje” (sobrenombre del político tabasqueño), y sus actuales dirigentes poco o nada podrán hacer para revertir los efectos negativos que la conversión de Morena (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional) en partido político traerá al suyo. Por otro lado, el enfrentamiento entre las llamadas “tribus” perredistas, especialmente los “chuchos” (dirigidos por Jesús Ortega y Jesús Zambrano) y los “bejaranos” (dirigidos por René Bejarano), ha mostrado claramente las debilidades de este partido político. Los votantes de izquierda difícilmente volverán a apoyarlos tras su clara alianza con los últimos gobiernos, lo que provocó la queja y la renuncia de muchos de sus militantes que ahora apuestan por Morena. Poca fuerza tendría así para oponerse al gobierno, aunque lo quisiera. Sólo le quedan dos caminos: recuperar la dignidad perdida convirtiéndose en oposición real aunque le cueste perder algunas prerrogativas, o continuar buscando el apoyo del gobierno en turno a cambio de sus votos en el Congreso.
A new law went into effect on Monday ending the requirement for Cuban citizens to have a government permit and an invitation letter from abroad when applying for a passport. With anticipation growing since the measure was first announced last October, thousands of Cubans formed lines at consulates throughout Havana, including the U.S. Interest Section, to apply for foreign visas.
The new law is not likely to result in a mass exodus of Cubans off of the island, however. The government can still deny passport requests by those deemed risks public safety or national defense. It can also limit travel by professionals considered vital to Cuba, including military officers, scientists and world-class athletes. Still, the end of the unpopular exit visa—in place since 1959—is a major reform of the regime’s stringent travel policy. "There is a palpable concern among some government officials about this process of reform getting a little out of control, that it's slipping out of their hands," says Christopher Sabatini.
Many foreign governments are watching Cuba closely, to see how the law will play out. "We will see if this is implemented in a very open way, and if it means that all Cubans can travel," said Roberta Jacobson, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. One of the first Cubans in line to apply for a visa on Monday morning was dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, who says she has been denied an exit visa 20 times in recent years.
In addition to doing away with the exit visa, the law also increases the amount of time Cubans can spend abroad without losing residency rights at home, from 11 months to two years. The move is believed to be an attempt to increase the flow of remittances, which have become a lifeline for Cuba’s ailing economy.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Cubans apply for foreign visas; Nicolás Maduro, Diosdado Cabello and Latin American leaders visit Chávez in Havana; Cristina Fernández de Kirchner travels to Asia; and Barack Obama begins his second presidential term.
Cuba Loosens Travel Restrictions: The directive announced last October to relax regulations on Cuban travel overseas goes into effect today. The measure eliminates the requirement for Cubans to have a government permit and an invitation letter from abroad when applying for a passport. However, the Cuban government still reserves the right to refuse passports “to those deemed risky to public security, national defense or for other reasons, and limit travel by professionals considered ‘vital’ to Cuba,” according to MercoPress. The Associated Press is reporting long lines forming outside travel agencies, migration offices and the U.S. Interests Section in Havana today in response to the policy.
Chávez Remains in Havana: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ health remains uncertain following his December 2012 surgery in Havana on an unspecified form of cancer—causing him to miss his own inauguration last week. Now that Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice has delayed Chávez’ swearing-in until an indefinite, ambiguous date when Chávez recovers, many Venezuelans are questioning who is in charge. Over the weekend, Vice President Nicolás Maduro and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello traveled to Havana to meet with Cuban President Raúl Castro. Former Vice President Elías Jaua has said that Chávez is “fighting for his life” while Information Minister Ernesto Villegas asserts that the Venezuelan leader is responding to treatment. Pay attention this week to see if more information is revealed about the state of Chávez’ health.
CFK in Asia: Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner departed Cuba yesterday, where she was meeting with Raúl and Fidel Castro, and continued to the Middle East and Asia for a three-country tour through next Monday. She arrived in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, yesterday to speak at the World Future Energy Summit and will leave tomorrow for Jakarta, Indonesia, for a visit that will focus on advancing bilateral cooperation with the world’s fourth most populous country. Fernández de Kirchner will depart Jakarta on Friday for Vietnam, where she will visit Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. The president’s visit follows a trade mission last October led by Secretary for International Trade Beatriz Paglieri.
Obama’s Inauguration: U.S. President Barack Obama begins his second term on Sunday. However, since the January 20 date falls on a Sunday, the public ceremony on the National Mall in Washington DC will be pushed back one day to Monday, January 21. Obama will be sworn in on Sunday at a small, private gathering.
Violence in the western department of Chocó has led to the forced displacement of approximately 680 Afro-Colombians since January 5. In response, Colombian Ombudsman Jorge Armando Otálora has called for a full-fledged state response to illegal groups.
The situation erupted as a result of heightened fighting between criminal bands and paramilitary groups over a territorial dispute in southern Chocó. The Ratrojos and Urabeños are fighting over control drug trafficking routes at the mouth of the San Juan River.
Members of the semi-nomadic Wounaan tribe are the main victims of the unstable situation, and continue to search for safe haven and food.
In a separate communication, the Unidad para la Atención y Reparación Integral a las Víctimas (Victims’ Attention and Comprehensive Reparation Unit) said that an estimated 7,200 refugees from Chocó have fled to the nearby department of Docordó.
Colombia is home to more than 3.7 million displaced people—among the top such figures in the world—as a result of the criminal gangs, leftist guerrillas, narcotrafficking and other armed actors affecting the country for half a century. Under Colombia’s August 2010 Victims and Land Restitution Bill, victims of forced displacement are eligible for reparations and land restitution.
Una versión resumida de este artículo fue publicada el 10 de enero de 2013 en La Tercera.
La decisión está tomada. Cuenta con el apoyo total del partido de gobierno, los militares, y las cortes. El 10 de enero, la República Bolivariana de Venezuela se convertirá oficialmente en la primera república bicéfala de América.
El presidente en ejercicio y re-electo Hugo Chávez convalece secretamente en la Habana, luchando contra “nuevas complicaciones” surgidas a raíz de su cuarta operación contra un cáncer que también es secreto. La constitución exige que el 10 de enero termine el mandato del gobierno actual (Chávez III), y tome posesión un nuevo gobierno (Chávez IV). Chávez no podrá presentarse a su gran ceremonia, y la idea de enviar al Tribunal Supremo a la Habana para juramentarlo por fin ha sido desechada por impráctica, aparte de vergonzosa para la soberanía de Venezuela y la dignidad del paciente que ni respirar puede.
La solución a este dilema de presidente-electo pero impresentable será no respetar la constitución. La juramentación que la constitución obliga será postergada. Con ello, un gobierno en ejercicio en las Américas ha declarado que tiene el poder de extender su tiempo en el poder, cosa que sólo los chavistas consideran un acto democrático. Para ellos, lo único democrático es respetar la soberanía del pueblo, que re-eligió a Chávez en octubre, cuando todavía decía que estaba sano. Vivo, muerto o enfermo, hay que respetar la “continuidad administrativa” de la revolución, dicen los chavistas. Lo demás es una “formalidad.”
Los chavistas están convencidos que con la decisión de no juramentar a nadie están garantizando la continuidad de la revolución, pero no ven el riesgo político al que se están exponiendo. Sin un presidente juramentado, quedarán dos figuras grandes dentro del chavismo disputándose el poder: el vicepresidente y canciller del (no-saliente) gobierno Nicolás Maduro y el presidente electo de la Asamblea Nacional Diosdado Cabello. Estas dos cabezas han querido dar muestra de unidad, pero quién sabe hasta cuándo. Por ahora, en lo único que han estado de acuerdo es que ninguno de ellos debe ser juramentado presidente—veto mutuo.
Maduro y Cabello representan dos corrientes no sólo diferentes sino casi antagónicas dentro del chavismo. Maduro es un comunista radical. Se le ve muy cercano a Cuba y muy lejano de Venezuela, ya que por los últimos 6 años, canciller al fin y al cabo, se ha pasado recorriendo el mundo pactando asociaciones estratégicas, a menudo con los regímenes más herméticos del momento como Cuba, Libia (de Qadaffi), Siria, e Irán. Cabello en cambio no tiene experiencia internacional, ni contactos con Cuba, ni contó con la bendición de Chávez para ser sucesor. Pero a diferencia de Maduro, a Cabello le sobran contactos con su pueblo. El problema es que no todos estos contactos son motivos de gloria revolucionaria. Cabello fue militar y gobernador del importante estado de Miranda (el mismo que ahora gobierna el opositor de Chávez, Henrique Capriles). Estos cargos le dieron a Cabello oportunidades de hacer negocios siniestros con sectores castrenses y boliburgueses.
Toda situación bicéfala trae conflictos. Es imposible imaginar coincidencia de pensamiento plena, y mucho menos cuando sabemos que cada una de estas cabezas se orienta hacia intereses contrapuestos. En una república, el poder unitario de un jefe de estado se inventó para resolver la propensidad hacia el conflicto dentro de las corrientes de un mismo grupo gobernante. En una república bicéfala, por definición, no hay dicho ente unitario.
¿Qué pasará cuándo Maduro y Cabello empiecen a diferir? Nadie sabe. Una cabeza hará consultas con los ideólogos radicales castrófilos del mundo; la otra se comunicará con élites legislativas, castrenses y empresariales. Con orientaciones contrapuestas y sin árbritro, parece difícil imaginarse que la nueva república bicéfala será capaz de garantizar la unidad revolucionaria que Chávez siempre quiso dejar como legado.
Though Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez will not be present, Uruguayan President José Mujica, Bolivian President Evo Morales, and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega will be in Caracas today for the Venezuelan leader’s intended—and now postponed—inauguration.
As the ailing Chávez remains in Cuba recovering from a respiratory infection that followed his December 11 cancer surgery, hemispheric well-wishers are arriving in Venezuela to express support for the president, who was re-elected to a third six-year term as president in October despite concerns that he could soon become too ill to rule the country.
Vice President Nicolás Maduro said yesterday that Venezuelan officials have planned an event in honor of Chávez, who has not been seen in public for about a month. Chávez’ Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV) said that it would convene a rally in front of the presidential palace. Meanwhile, Henrique Capriles, Chávez’ opponent in last year’s presidential elections, urged heads of state not to attend the proceedings.
Yesterday, the Venezuelan Supreme Court announced that Chávez’ absence from Venezuela on the date of his intended inauguration was legally permissible and would have no impact on his claim to the presidency. Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales rejected opposition claims that postponing the president’s swearing-in ceremony until after January 10—the inauguration date stipulated in the constitution—would violate Venezuelan law.
As Venezuela deals with a constitutional crisis, ordinary Venezuelans may be excused for not keeping up with the developments. They are too busy trying to find basic staples.
It has become increasingly difficult in Venezuela to find essential commodities such as sugar, cooking oil and milk. Corn flour, used to make traditional arepas, is easier to find in Miami than in Caracas. Even certain medicines are becoming hard to find.
The government has responded in typical fashion. It has blamed hoarders, and promised swift action to deal with them. At the same time, it denies scarcity exists, while it promises to continue “looking into the issue.”
The cause of scarcity lies with the government. After turning on the public spending spigot last year to ensure Hugo Chávez’ re-election, the fiscal deficit reached an astonishing 15 percent of GDP. With all that fresh money in the economy, imports soared, causing severe problems in the nation’s ports. In Venezuela, where even gasoline is imported, this is a huge deal.