Many people are discussing Brazil’s role in Africa’s development and the deepening of their bilateral commercial and political relationships over the past decade. For Brazil, Africa is seen as one of the best growth opportunities and a new frontier for investments. Many of Brazil’s largest infrastructure companies are currently operating in Africa and looking to expand their outreach in the vast African continent. For Africa, Brazil has made great strides in developing advanced technology in agriculture and tropical medicines, which, if shared, could be adapted in Africa.
But there is still much skepticism from African nations as to the real motivations for Brazil’s interest in the region. Is this is a case of market access advantage only? Or is it an imposition of soft power or even a case of reverse colonization?
The Council of the Americas hosted a panel in Washington DC earlier this year on the political and economic ties between Brazil and Africa and what may be next steps for the future. The Brazilian government strongly advocates that its relationship with African countries is different and friendlier than other countries’ (i.e., China) approaches toward Africa. Also, there are numerous commonalities between Brazil and the African countries including the language (in the case of Lusophone countries), historic background, and similar geological and climate conditions—all of which bring the two giants closer together as natural partners.
But it is also hard to ignore that the commercial relationship between Brazil and Africa at present consists largely of exploration of African natural resources by Brazilian companies and exports of Brazilian products to African countries. This is not so much a two-way partnership as it is one country with more know-how and expertise selling products to a group of countries without these advancements.
Yesterday afternoon, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) guerrilla group complained that the Colombian government’s usage of military force during peace talks threatened the harmony of the negotiations. Iván Márquez, chief negotiator for the FARC, stated that “in contrast with our act of humanity, President Santos announces that he will intensify the war on all national territory,” adding it was “nonsense.”
Although the FARC declared a two-month ceasefire last month, the move turned out to be unilateral as Santos made clear that the Colombian government would not reciprocate, and would continue a military offensive until a peace agreement is reached. The Colombian army has been largely successful in its effort, killing 20 FARC fighters earlier this month. In declaring its ceasefire, the FARC has petitioned for a bilateral ceasefire but to no avail. Márquez renewed the call yesterday: “[if the government] continues to be adamant in war, it should at least […] sign a treaty of regularization […] searching always to preserve the lives of the people and respect for their rights.”
The bilateral negotiations began ceremoniously in Oslo, Norway, this past October and intensified the following month in Havana, Cuba, where Cuban- and Norwegian-mediated talks—with Chilean and Venezuelan observation—have been taking place intermittently since the middle of November. The FARC was established in 1966, and its rebellion against the Colombian government marks Latin America’s longest running internal guerrilla conflict.
This week, Guatemala is proudly calling itself the heart of the Mayan world. On December 21, the thirteenth b’ak’tun will end, concluding a 90-year academic struggle about the destined outcome of this cosmological event. While new discoveries such as the finding of a new calendar in the Xultún ruins this past May continue to shine new light on the debate, the accepted view is that the world will not end—as some apocalyptic people have speculated.
To ancient Mayans the numbers 13 and 20 were extremely important due to their significance to crop farming. The Mayan calendar was split into kins (days), winals (20-day months), tuns (360 days), k'atuns (20 tuns), and b’ak'tuns (20 k'atuns). In other words, a b’ak’tun consists of 144,000 days, or over 394 years.
The linear Mayan count of days is referred to as the Long Count, and its start date is August 11, 3114 B.C. on the Gregorian calendar; 13 full b’ak’tun cycles will occur on December 21, when many believe the full Long Count will be complete.
As tuns are five days less in duration than a solar year (365 days), the five-day difference is known as Wayeb—nameless days that are considered the most dangerous. In Lynn V. Foster’s 2002 book Handbook to Life in the Ancient Maya World, the author wrote, “During Wayeb, portals between the mortal realm and the Underworld dissolved. No boundaries prevented the ill-intending deities from causing disasters." To counteract this, Mayans would try to avoid leaving the house; others would not wash or comb their hair during the period.
The Popol Vuh, one of the most important collections of Mayan documents, indicates that humans are currently living in the fourth world, as Mayan gods created three failed worlds before. This is seen as the zero date for the Long Count circa 3114 B.C.
How did the b’ak’tun 13 turn into a doomsday scenario that even Hollywood caught on to? One reason is a groundbreaking piece of literature by Michael D. Coe circa 1966, entitled The Maya, which said: “There is a suggestion […] that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the 13th [b'ak'tun]. Thus […] our present universe [would] be annihilated [in December 2012] when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion.”
Brazilian Attorney General Roberto Gugel announced Wednesday that his office will investigate a claim that former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva was aware of the massive 2005 vote-buying scheme known as the “mensalão,” in which members of Lula’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party—PT) and other politicians bribed Brazilian lawmakers to back PT initiatives in Congress.
Former businessman Marcos Valério, who was sentenced to more than 40 years in prison by the Supreme Court in October for his involvement in the scandal, alleged that the former president had authorized loans for the scheme and used some of the money to pay for his personal expenses. Valerio made the accusations in testimony before prosecutors at the Ministério Público Federal (Federal Public Ministry—MPF) in September after he was convicted, which were published in the Estado de São Paulo last week.
Speaking outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday, Gugel said that he was skeptical of Valério’s version of events, but said they merited investigation nonetheless. “Marcos Valério has frequently made statements that can be considered bombastic, and when we analyze them further, there’s nothing there. But we’ll see what there is in his testimony that could motivate a future investigation,” Gugel said.
Lula, who left office in 2010 with an 87 percent approval rating, has flatly denied the accusations. At a metalworkers’ union gathering in São Paulo on Wednesday, the former president alluded to Valério in his comments, saying that “what most harms my adversaries is my success.” Eight Brazilian state governors and a number of deputies visited Lula to express their support for him on Tuesday.
A Brazilian government spokesperson announced yesterday that President Dilma Rousseff will visit Mexico in early 2013, likely in March, to build on “the very good impression” made by President Enrique Peña Nieto when the then-president elect visited Brasilia in September. The visit will focus on further reversing the tensions sparked over Brazil’s imposition of quotas in early 2012 as well as on sharing the Petrobras model, Brazil’s state oil company, with Mexican counterparts who are looking at how to reform the Mexican state oil company Pemex.
Plans are already underway for a follow-up visit where Pemex executives will travel to Brazil to learn first-hand how Petrobras functions.
Relations soured between Latin America’s two largest economies when Brazil, in response to an escalating trade deficit with Mexico, imposed import quotas on Mexican vehicles. Brazilian government officials have more recently hinted at the possibility of opening up discussions around the current automobile quotas.
Rousseff’s visit to Mexico may be largely symbolic, but the Mexican business community is awaiting concrete actions. Luis de la Calle, the former undersecretary of international business negotiations at the Mexican Ministry of Economy who actively negotiated the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement said that it was “sensible to maintain a certain level of skepticism. At the end of the day, it comes down to interest and what is best for both Brazil and Mexico as a much more open trading relationship.”
A principios de mes, Enrique Peña Nieto tomó posesión de la Presidencia de México en medio de graves protestas callejeras que tuvieron su principal fuerza de choque en la capital. Diferentes grupos como Yosoy132, Morena, sindicatos independientes y otros colectivos campesinos y urbanos protagonizaron duros enfrentamientos contra la policía que duraron más de siete horas y se saldaron con más de 100 heridos. Un día antes, Enrique Peña Nieto hizo la presentación oficial de su gabinete y de un programa de gobierno de 13 puntos.
Por lo que respecta al gabinete, algunos nombres ya se esperaban. Tal es el caso de Miguel Ángel Osorio (Gobernación), Jesús Murillo (Procuraduría General de la República), Joaquín Codwell (Energía), Enrique Martínez (Agricultura), Emilio Chuayffet (Educación Pública), Alfonso Navarrete (Trabajo) y Jorge Carlos Ramírez (Reforma Agraria).
Otros nombres sorprenden pero no extrañan. Tal es el caso de Manuel Mondragón (subsecretario de Seguridad Pública) quien proviene del gobierno de la ciudad de México; Rosario Robles (Desarrollo Social), exgobernadora de la capital del país y expresidenta del Partido de la Revolución Democrática; y José Antonio Meade (Relaciones Exteriores), exsecretario de hacienda del gobierno de Felipe Calderón. Sin embargo, pocos son gente realmente cercana a él, como Luis Videgaray (Hacienda), Gerardo Ruiz (Comunicaciones) y Alfonso Navarrete, lo que nos indica el grado de subordinación que el nuevo presidente tiene respecto al grupo encabezado por Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Incluso una sobrina de éste figura como nueva secretaria de Turismo (Claudia Ruiz Massieu Salinas). Desaparecen también dos secretarías (Seguridad Pública y Función Pública), cuyas atribuciones regresan a la de Gobernación.
Se presentó también un Programa de 13 Puntos y se firmó el Pacto por México entre los principales partidos políticos, por los que se comprometen a diversas acciones de gobierno y reformas legislativas orientadas a cinco objetivos fundamentales: gobernabilidad democrática; crecimiento económico, empleo y competitividad; ejercicio pleno de derechos sociales y libertades; seguridad y justicia, así como transparencia, rendición de cuentas y combate a la corrupción. Lo que no se dijo es cómo se va a lograr, cuándo y de qué forma. Promesas fáciles de incumplir, tal y como lo hemos visto en los últimos cuarenta años.
La duda es si con el mismo modelo económico que ha hundido al país y con los personajes públicos y privados que lo motivaron, el nuevo inquilino de Los Pinos y su gabinete concretarán todo lo que han prometido. Para financiar los proyectos contenidos en ambos documentos, de acuerdo con Carlos Fernández Vega, harían falta 250 mil millones de pesos (casi 20 mil millones de dólares). Por otro lado, en el presupuesto del gobierno, 90 centavos de cada peso ya están comprometidos y no pueden tocarse (pago de deuda, de sueldos, etc.), por lo que sólo quedan 10 centavos por peso (de acuerdo a la Cámara de Diputados). El secretario de Hacienda, Videgaray, ya dijo que no habrá aumento de impuestos en 2013, pero de acuerdo con Carlos González Barragán, director del Centro de Investigación Económica y Presupuestaria, para solventar los compromisos ofrecidos hace falta una reforma fiscal y hacendaria. ¿De dónde sacarán el dinero entonces?
En otro tema, la seguridad pública, las cosas parece que no van a cambiar mucho, pues el nuevo presidente ya anunció que el ejército seguirá en las calles mientras se prepara un nuevo plan de seguridad. Y con el cambio de sexenio, las muertes no han cesado.
Como bien señala Guillermo Knochenhauer, Calderón deja el gobierno en tan malas condiciones que a Peña no le será difícil mejorar aunque sea un poco cualquiera de las políticas del gobierno anterior. Además, éste contará con un conjunto bien disciplinado de medios electrónicos e impresos que encubrirán cualquier fracaso y magnificarán cualquier éxito.
It is difficult to discuss Canada’s constitutional history without mentioning Pierre Trudeau, former Canadian prime minister. That his son Justin, member of parliament for Papineau, Québec, is running for the leadership of his father’s Liberal Party has once again brought the Trudeau constitutional legacy back in the public eye.
From the 1960s until the 1995 Québec referendum on separatism, politics in Canada and in Québec focused largely on constitutional reform relative to the status of the province. In 1867, Canada was created by the British North America Act (BNA), commonly referred to as Confederation. The BNA Act, which serves as our written constitution, created a federal system with the use of French and English in both the national and Québec parliaments.
From 1867 onward, tensions rose between those who preferred a more centralized federalism and those who wished for greater provincial autonomy (i.e., decentralized federalism) which was promoted by successive Québec governments. This characterized federal-provincial relations over the years, and came to a head in the 1960s. Just as Canada was nearing its centennial celebrations in 1967, it was clear that the country was heading toward an eventual constitutional showdown largely provoked by competing visions within Québec’s political class.
Essentially, three visions emerged to define the debate on Québec’s status north of the border. One approach was articulated by the elder Trudeau (1968–1979, 1980–1984), who argued for a strong central government, a Charter of Rights and Freedoms and a greater Francophone Canadian presence in national affairs. A second vision with emphasis on Québec’s identity was gradually developed by a former federalist who later became Québec’s premier, René Lévesque (1976–1985). He believed in full Québec autonomy and sovereignty with the possibility of an economic association with Canada. Finally, successive Québec premiers from Jean Lesage (1960–1966) to Daniel Johnson (1966–1968) to Robert Bourassa (1970–1976, 1985–1994) worked for the reform of the 1867 Canadian Constitution, pushing for greater powers for Québec within the federation. From the 1970s to the 1990s, elections were held in Québec, and federal elections in Canada reflected these differing views over the functioning of our federal state.
Various attempts to modify Québec’s status within Canada produced constitutional proposals but they failed to resolve the issue. In 1980, a Québec referendum on sovereignty was held with the federalists winning decisively. In 1982, the Canadian government led by Prime Minister Trudeau then decided to patriate the Canadian Constitution (the BNA Act, which had remained a British statute since 1867) and include a Constitutional Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Québec government under separatist René Levesque objected and withheld Québec’s consent. Trudeau’s action to patriate was ruled legal by Canada’s Supreme Court, but it had the effect of splitting the federalist forces in Québec.
By 1990, the Meech Lake Accord had been negotiated between the Canadian government and its 10 provinces to provide a rationale for Québec to finally consent to the 1982 patriation. It provided concessions to Québec to obtain its agreement. This attempt at reconciliation by Trudeau’s successor, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (1984–1993), and Québec Premier Robert Bourassa, however, failed ratification by two provinces (Manitoba and Newfoundland). Trudeau, then retired, opposed the Meech Lake Accord and strongly influenced the opposition forces within Canada to the Accord.
This is largely the constitutional legacy that Justin Trudeau, the son of Pierre Trudeau, is now carrying as he runs for the leadership of Canada’s Liberal Party. Sovereignists and some federalists in Québec continue to resent the elder Trudeau’s constitutional legacy. For many, it remains an open wound.
Some in the Québec media now believe that Justin Trudeau must address this issue with a position of his own. Will he complete the unfinished work of 1982? The junior Trudeau, in a recent television interview, skirted the issue by saying that Québec and Canada as a whole did not want to revisit old constitutional wounds and had moved on to other issues.
To some, the younger Trudeau’s view was seen as insensitive and to others, reminiscent of his father’s so-called legendary arrogance.
Having lived through some of the aforementioned constitutional battles, I agree that patriation must be addressed given that Québec is the only non-signatory province to the 1982 Canadian Constitutional Act (including the Charter of Rights). However, no one in the Canadian and Québec political class is held to the same standard as Justin Trudeau is, and none wish to revisit the issue in the near future. Outside of his family name, why should Justin Trudeau be held accountable for redressing his father’s actions?
Politics in this century have changed and the policy debates have moved in new directions. The issue of Québec and the Canadian constitution remains pertinent. But should we be settling our accounts with the elder Trudeau by using his son, who has a different agenda and is running in different times and for different reasons? I do not think so.
Argentina's government began the process of breaking up Grupo Clarín, the country's largest media conglomerate on Monday. The anti-media monopoly law being used against Grupo Clarín was found constitutional by a lower court on Friday and would require the media group to sell off broadcast licenses as well as its majority stake in Cablevision, the cable TV network that has become the company's top revenue driver. Clarín said it would appeal the decision.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has led the campaign against Grupo Clarín, accusing the group of coup mongering and reporting news biased against her government. But critics claim that by dismantling one of the country's few remaining independent media groups that doesn't rely on state advertising revenue, the government is limiting free speech in Argentina. Martin Sabbatella, the head of the government media regulation body, denied the accusation on Monday, saying free speech isn't at risk.
The government has been at odds with the media group since Clarín criticized President Fernández's handling of a tax on the key agricultural industry and a massive farmers strike in 2008. The case may eventually go before Argentina's Supreme Court.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Strong chavista performance in Venezuelan regional elections; Mayan peoples celebrate the thirteenth b’ak’tun; Argentina faces international fiscal isolation; and Peru and Chile sign a pact to remove mines from their shared border.
Impact of Venezuela Regional Elections: Although Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ health remains uncertain after a surgical operation in Cuba last week, his influence could not be ignored as Venezuelans went to the polls to elect state governors and legislators. Chávez-allied candidates dominated yesterday, winning 20 of 23 states; the opposition won only the states of Amazonas, Lara and Miranda. The Miranda victor was Henrique Capriles Radonski, who formerly held the governorship before resigning it to contest Chávez unsuccessfully during the 2012 presidential election in October. What will this mean for Venezuela? Observes AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini: “While Capriles’ win in Miranda reinforces his leadership of the opposition, this was clearly a victory at the state level for the chavista PSUV party—expanding their control over patronage and state offices which may come in handy if the country has to hold new presidential elections.”
Mayans Prepare for End of the Thirteenth B’ak’tun: Friday, December 21, marks the end of the current b’ak’tun in the Mayan calendar. Each b’ak’tun lasts approximately 394.3 solar years, but this Friday is especially noteworthy since it also marks the end of the Great Cycle—a period of 13 b’ak’tuns that began in 3114 BC. Given the importance of this date, some eschatologists believe the world will experience cataclysmic events; Mayas in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula are approaching the date with “calm and equanimity,” according to the Associated Press. Later this week, AQ contributing blogger Nic Wirtz will report from Guatemala on the preparations being undertaken there for the historic event.
Argentina Faces International Fiscal Isolation: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) will issue a report today on the failure of the Argentine government “to provide accurate data on inflation and growth to the Fund as members are required” within a three-month timeline, reports MercoPress. In September, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde warned that she would give the Argentine government a “red card” if it did not produce accurate inflation statistics. “Argentine officials report the country’s inflation rate at about 10 percent, but independent analysts have the number somewhere between 25 to 30 percent,” says Business Insider. If the IMF report is condemnatory, Argentina faces the prospect of expulsion from the Fund as well as the G-20 group of industrial nations.
Peru, Chile Demine Shared Border: The two Pacific countries are expected to announce on Thursday that approximately 300 anti-personnel and anti-tank mines have been cleared along their shared border. The mines date back to the contentious Peruvian-Chilean bilateral relations during their respective military dictatorships several decades ago. This action was agreed upon this past September by both foreign ministers at the UN General Assembly, and has been facilitated by the Norwegian People’s Aid.
Latin America’s prison system is in crisis. Human Rights Watch has called the Latin American penitentiary system “underfunded, overcrowded and often controlled by criminals inside their walls.” In March 2012, a prison fire killed over 350 inmates in Honduras. The same week, a series of prison riots in three Mexican penitentiaries resulted in 48 fatalities. Later in the year, images of black smoke and tanks moving through the streets of Caracas after a prison riot circled the world.
These tragedies have drawn renewed interest to the growing crisis facing the region’s prison system. Within the context of Central America, the Sistema de Integracion Centroamericano (Central American Integration System—SICA) has listed the improvement, expansion and modernization of the region’s prison system as a strategic objective of the Central American Security Strategy. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has already committed funds to update a diagnostic document detailing the state of the region’s penitentiary system.
El Salvador is no exception to the hemispheric trend of prison violence and overcrowding. Since the two main rival gangs announced a truce in March 2012, El Salvador has increased its awareness of the conditions and challenges that the penitentiary system faces. In June 2012, El Salvador’s Dirección de Centros Penales (Directorate of the Penitentiary System) confirmed that the prison system was operating at 317 percent of its capacity.
For many of us north of the border, we are watching the showdown emerging around the U.S. fiscal cliff discussions. Despite President Barack Obama’s rather convincing victory, it is clear that the divisions remain—and the role of government is central to the discussion. The 2011 debt ceiling stalemate resulted in a process where gridlock was essentially institutionalized with December 31, 2012 as the ultimate date to find a negotiated settlement or else. It is a collective “jump off the cliff.’.
Influential voices such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and International Monetary Fund President Christine Lagarde are warning about the decreasing role of the U.S. in global economic matters should it fail to get its debt and deficit problems under control. The increasing possibility that a deal will not be reached in time for automatic tax increases and spending cuts to kick in and threaten a second recession in four years has to preoccupy world economies.
The European Union is in recession, emerging markets are less robust and the U.S. economy has had a sluggish recovery since the middle of 2009. A U.S. recession could have catastrophic results, especially north of the border. In recent days, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney sent some ominous signals about the risks associated with failure to reach a deal on the fiscal cliff. We in Canada may have done better coming out of the Great Recession, but there is evidence that another U.S. slowdown will have a serious impact on a range of our exports and overall consumption leading possibly to a Canadian recession as well.
While Canada’s economic future is often dependent on how the U.S. economy fares, we did get some things right that could serve as a guide to U.S. policymakers. The balanced approach regarding revenue and spending cuts that Obama so often advances has been on our radar with successive governments—both Liberal and Conservative—since the mid-1990s. Deficit reduction, debt control, revisiting entitlement programs, modest stimulus programs, tax reductions, free-trade agreements, and reducing the size of government has been very much a part of Canada’s public policy agenda in the last 20 years. Fortunately, Republicans and Democrats have been sending some more encouraging signals in recent days.
It was Winston Churchill who once said that America will try all solutions until they find the right one. It is clear Obama has a mandate to tax the top two percent, whether he does it by raising tax rates or closing tax loopholes. But there is an indisputable reality: tax revenue will not be enough. Some tough decisions about spending cuts including the defense budget, Medicare, Medicaid, and possibly social security will have to be part of the eventual “grand bargain.”
To do this, it will take leadership and political courage on all sides of the partisan divide. It will also have to involve vision and audacity. Clearly, the eyes of the world are directed on the U.S. political class, and especially on President Obama. Having been decisively re-elected last month, it has been said that Obama has a rendezvous with history as he begins his final term. All are waiting to see how he pulls it off, including Canada.
This Sunday, Venezuelans voters will go to the polls one more time to elect 23 governors and 260 state representatives. For the opposition’s Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Coalition for Democratic Unity—MUD), the election is an opportunity to maintain its local bulwarks; for Chávez’s Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV), it is a chance to consolidate the victory achieved on October 7 when Chávez won the presidential elections in all but two states.
Last week, pollster Hinterlaces predicted PSUV victories in eight states, including Miranda and Carabobo—currently governed by the opposition. Poll results indicate that former Vice President Elías Jaua could obtain 48 percent of the votes in Miranda, and opposition candidate Henrique Capriles could obtain 44 percent. The poll predicts similar results in Carabobo, where PSUV candidate Francisco Ameliach is expected to win 54 percent versus 36 percent of the votes for opposition governor Henrique Salas Feo.
While the candidates closed their campaigns on Thursday, Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas announced that Chávez had suffered bleeding and complications after a six-hour cancer operation he had on Tuesday in Cuba. “The patient is in a progressive and favorable recovery of normal vital signs,” he added, while asking Venezuelans to vote out of “love” and to pray for the president’s recovery. Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles criticized PSUV’s “electoral use” of Chávez’s illness, and demanded that the president’s health be addressed separately because it has nothing to do with Sunday’s election.
Amid questions surrounding the president’s health, AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini highlighted six main points to watch in the news after Chávez named Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro his successor on December 8, ranging from currency devaluation to the effect a leadership transition could have on foreign relations.
The Honduran Congress voted Wednesday to dismiss four Supreme Court Justices accused of blocking police reforms sought by Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, escalating a standoff between the country’s judicial, legislative and executive branches.
On Tuesday, Congress voted to approve the president’s reforms, which would require police applicants to submit to polygraph tests and toxicology exams and provide their financial and psychological records before joining Honduras’ police force. The reforms are intended to purge the Honduran police of corrupt officers, and along with other measures, would be put to a public referendum before they become law.
Congress passed the reforms on Tuesday despite the fact that they had already been blocked by the courts. In late November, four justices on the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that the police reform measure was unconstitutional in a 4-1 vote. Since the decision was not unanimous, the full court must ratify the constitutional chamber’s ruling, but it has not yet done so.
In comments on Saturday, Lobo accused the dissenting judges of being “against police clean-up efforts” and said they were acting “in collusion to subvert the institutions” with Honduras’ business elite.
A legislative commission that investigated the judges’ ruling determined that they had broken established rules in the decision, and, on Wednesday just a day after approving the stalled reforms, Congress voted 97-31 to expel the four dissenting justices and name their replacements. As the voting stretched into the early morning Wednesday, police and soldiers surrounded the legislative building.
Later on, Honduran Attorney General Luis Rubí fiercely criticized the dismissal of the four judges and said that he, in turn, would look into whether the legislators could be prosecuted for violating the constitution and for violating the separation of powers.
The judges themselves released a statement on Wednesday that called their dismissal “illegitimate, illegal and unjust.” It is not yet clear whether they will make way for the four new judges that Congress chose to replace them.
Uruguay’s lower house passed the Ley de Matrimonio Igualitario (Marriage Equality Law) with a wide margin—81 votes in favor out of 87 total votes—last night, sending it to the Senate where it is expected to be approved. The law recognizes all marriages as legal and provides the same rights and responsibilities for both genders under a civil union.
The new law would also allow couples to decide which surname goes first when they name their children—breaking a tradition in Latin America that gives priority to the father’s name. This measure would replace Uruguay’s 1912 divorce law, which gives only women the right to break their vows without cause.
Legalizing same-sex marriage has been one of the main policy objectives of the ruling Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA), the same party that has promulgated laws decriminalizing abortion and allowing state-controlled sales of marijuana in an attempt to blunt drug-related crime.
If the bill is signed into law, Uruguay would become the second Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage; Argentina was the first in 2010.
Javier Corrales and Mario Pecheny, co-editors of The Politics of Sexuality in Latin America: A Reader in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, point to growing secularization and stronger activism as key factors in the advancement of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights. The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, and Denmark have marriage equality on the books.
There is a rising star in Latin America. And it is not the a member of the BRICs, but Mexico.
Mexico has received consisten attention regarding its security challenges, but things have started to change over the past few months. In August, Nomura published a report that forecast Mexico would become Latin America’s number-one economy by 2022, stating that “the recent relative outperformance of the Mexican economy to Brazil could prove to be long lasting."
That’s a controversial argument when considering Brazil’s explosive growth during the past years. While its recent economic performance has been weak, this does not imply that South America’s giant will not be able to recover. Or does it?
Brazil’s rapid economic growth was not only due to a favorable macroeconomic outlook and the timely implementation of much-needed reforms, but also, and more importantly, to China’s insatiable appetite for natural resources. The Chinese government has been progressively increasing its presence in foreign markets to guarantee a steady supply of resources, especially energy. This is critical for the Chinese Communist Party, as its legitimacy rests on providing good economic prospects to its population.
On a university campus in Montréal on December 6, 1989, a lone gunman deliberately targeted innocent victims, killing 14 young women and injuring another 14 before turning the weapon on himself. The horror of this tragedy led the Canadian government to institute a gun registry law in 1993, which became a source of controversy for many gun owners regarding the mandated registration of unrestricted guns and the larger bureaucracy to regulate it. The law was eventually modified by Canada’s ruling Conservatives in April 2012—abolishing the firearms registry that was established after the Montréal tragedy. The two Canadian opposition parties in Parliament—the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Liberals—opposed the Conservative initiative.
Since 1989, other tragedies have occurred in both Canada and the United States. Every time such an incident occurs, the initial instinct is to raise the issue of access to firearms and the proliferation of gun-related violence. Gun violence has no boundaries; while Canada has greater restrictions in terms of access, the fact remains that gun violence is still high in North America and the conversation must take place beyond the initial shock of the crime.
The U.S. Constitution provides an explicit right to bear arms. In itself, this has resulted in the reluctance by the political leadership to deal with the issue of gun violence and bring the conversation to a national level. To his credit, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has attempted to start a national conversation on the matter. Following the recent murder-suicide of an American football player, sportscaster Bob Costas tried to follow Bloomberg’s efforts—a comment that resulted in swift condemnation from the National Rifle Association of America (NRA) and its like-minded allies in the media—which put an end to the national conversation.
Thousands of Haitians have been forcibly evicted from tent camps in the nation’s capital, according to a survey by the international aid organization Oxfam on Monday. Three years after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated the Caribbean nation of 10 million, 357,000 Haitians are still living in 496 makeshift encampments scattered around the capital. The report, titled “Salt in the Wound: The urgent need to prevent forced evictions from camps in Haiti,” says that 86 percent of camp dwellers lack the financial resources to find alternate housing.
Since July 2010, an estimated 60,000 Haitians have been forcibly displaced from the camps, mostly by landowners who have grown impatient with the slow pace of relocation and are eager to reclaim their property. The report finds that government workers are often complicit in the process and that women, particularly those who are heads of their household, are overwhelmingly the victims of forced evictions.
While Oxfam applauds the government’s effort to relocate some displaced Haitians through the rental-subsidy program, known as 16/6, Haiti Country Director Andrew Pugh called on President Michel Martelly’s administration to do more to protect displaced peoples from violence, intimidation and unlawful threats to evict families. The report was rebuffed by an advisor to Martelly, Salim Saccar, who said, "The government is not engaged in a policy of eviction, but it has, through the 16/6 project, taken measures to safely and permanently relocate the people living in the camps to safe and permanent shelters.”
The Oxfam report was published the same day that President Martelly gave his “State of the Country” speech in North Miami Beach, Florida in an effort to rally support among the diaspora. The president has been the target of protests in Haiti for leaving without addressing the housing crisis, choosing instead to embark on an international tour with stops in Japan, Cuba and Europe.
For the past couple of years, people from all over the world have been asking me the same question: how bad are things in Monterrey, really? Obviously, they are referring to the drug-related violence and overall instability that have recently given the city unwanted international attention.
There’s a saying in Mexico: “cada quién cuenta como le fue en la feria,” which roughly translates to “how the tale is told depends on what the narrator has been through.” Therefore, my experience will not resonate equally among some others who live in Monterrey, but I do hope it will provide a relatively objective conclusion and answer to the above question.
Since the underlying interest behind the question is learning more about the situation of violence, I will not get into details about how Monterrey has a buoyant economy, entrepreneurial society, growing industrial sector, or is the birthplace of the most important higher education systems in Latin America and the home of hard-working, committed individuals. What I will focus on is how daily life has changed for middle-class citizens as a result of the violence and how societal interaction today is less regulated by a rule of law and more so by a rule of fear.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Chávez designates successor as he heads to Havana; Puerto Rico convenes legislature for statehood; Arab-Latin American Forum in Abu Dhabi; and impact of recent energy takeover deals in Canada.
Developments in Venezuela: This is the final week of campaigning in Venezuela’s regional elections, and the electorate will vote on Sunday for state governors and legislators. The most important contest is the gubernatorial race in Miranda, Venezuela’s second most populous state, where chavista loyalist and former Vice President Elías Jaua faces off against presidential runner-up Henrique Capriles Radonski. Furthermore, after President Hugo Chávez’ announcement last Saturday night that he is returning to Cuba for surgery today and having designated Vice President Nicolás Maduro as his heir should he not be able to lead, many in Venezuela will wonder about the severity of Chávez’ cancer and the future of his Bolivarian revolution. Notes AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini, “Now with President Chávez naming his successor, the gubernatorial election in Miranda is becoming a test of succession within the opposition over who could potentially have the legitimacy to lead in the post-Chávez era.”
Extra: Stay tuned for a Web Exclusive this morning from Javier Corrales, Amherst College professor of political science and AQ editorial board member, on Chávez’ announcement.
Puerto Rico Discusses Next Steps for Statehood: After Puerto Ricans rejected their present commonwealth status and 61 percent of respondents backed statehood in a referendum last month, Governor Luis Fortuño plans to call a special session of the legislature to discuss asking the U.S. federal government to honor Puerto Ricans’ request. However, although Puerto Rican voters supported statehood last month, they voted out Governor Fortuño and instead selected Alejandro García Padilla whose Partido Popular Democrático (Popular Democratic Party) wants to keep Puerto Rico as a commonwealth.
Arab-Latin American Forum: In recognition of the growing economic ties between Latin American and Arab countries (roughly $30 billion annually) Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) will host a forum this Saturday for representatives of the two regions. UAE Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan has stated that Arab states’ interest in Latin America goes beyond trade to other aspects of bilateral cooperation—such as food security, environment, education, and culture.
Impact of Canada Energy Deals: After Canada’s trade ministry rejected the takeover of Progress Energy Resources Corp. by a Malaysian state-owned enterprise in October to much disagreement, it seemed to have reversed course—approving the deal last Friday as well as the takeover bid of Canadian firm Nexen by the Chinese firm China National Offshore Oil Corporation on the same day. How will Canadians react to these deals: as necessary alliances for more capital inflow, or as strategic assets in the hands of foreign investors?
The numbers are almost too much to take in: 4,100 murdered this year. This figure does not refer to a war-torn country, but to São Paulo state: the biggest driver of Brazil’s economy.
As a report came out last week showing that Brazil had seen as many violent deaths—500,000—over the past 10 years as Somalia’s 20-year civil war, the death toll in São Paulo city continued to rise.
For a decade, violence in São Paulo had been steadily declining. But recent months have seen a bloody wave sweeping South America’s biggest city—driven by what experts says is a war between police and the Primeiro Comando da Capital (First Command of the Capital—PCC), a criminal gang based out of São Paulo’s prisons.
The PCC formed in 1993 to lobby for better prison conditions, and evolved into a wide-reaching gang involved in drug and arms trafficking throughout the state. Gang leaders use smuggled cell phones to give orders to members on the outside, while complicit guards switch off signal jammers. Clearly the system is working for them: according to police wiretaps heard by Folha de São Paulo, gang leaders recently held a 10-hour conference call to discuss business: buying and selling drugs in Paraguay and Bolivia; sending marijuana and cocaine to São Paulo; and setting up distribution to other states and potential investments with the inflows.
After a massive demonstration on November 8, Argentines planned to take to the streets again Thursday night to protest the enforcement of a new media law scheduled to go into full effect today. In the end, a subway strike, torrential rains and a toxic gas cloud significantly reduced enthusiasm and left the streets of Buenos Aires mostly empty, save for some small scores of pot-banging citizens.
Nevertheless, the day ended largely as a victory for those opposing the Kirchner government's controversial 2009 media law. A court ruled in favor of Grupo Clarín, the largest media conglomerate in Argentina, effectively protecting it from the forcible sale of an important part of its licenses.
The court ruling last night established that Grupo Clarín’s licenses cannot be sold until the Supreme Court can rule on the constitutionality of articles 45 and 161, which limit the amount of licenses companies can hold and establish a divestment procedure for companies who hold more than 24 cable television licenses and 10 open frequency radio or television licenses. The Argentine government claims Grupo Clarín has over 200 licenses; Grupo Clarín says the number is 158.
The government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner today filed an appeal to last night's ruling before the Supreme Court, making use of a special per saltum procedure to bypass the lower courts. Depending on the Supreme Court's acceptance of the appeal and subsequent ruling, Grupo Clarín and other media groups may still have to comply with the new media law before the court can rule on the constitutionality of articles 45 and 161. That judgment would also be open to appeal. Since neither side in the current conflict is expected to back down, the current legal battle will likely continue.
Heads of state of Mercosur member countries are meeting in the Brazilian capital today, marking the first time that Venezuela will participate as a full member in the South American trade bloc after Paraguay’s suspension in June paved the way for its membership. But health concerns are preventing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez from joining his counterparts from Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, with Minister of Petroleum and Mining Rafael Ramirez participating in his place.
The Venezuelan president arrived in Venezuela this morning after 10 days of medical treatment in Cuba. Chávez, 58, was diagnosed with cancer in mid-2011, and since then, has had three cancer surgeries on the island. His prolonged absences have triggered rumors around his health, and bonds have surged as a result of increased uncertainty over Venezuela’s future. When asked about his absence, Chávez explained that his departure from Cuba was delayed by a conversation with Fidel Castro, with whom he had been discussing poetry. He also asserted that Venezuela is “eight days away from the next victory,” referring to the upcoming regional elections that will take place on December 16.
Chávez has been absent from every regional meeting in the past year, including the Summit of the Americas held in Cartagena, Colombia, in April and the Ibero-American summit held in Cadiz, Spain, in November.
One of the central points on today’s agenda is Paraguay’s suspension from Mercosur, following the impeachment of former President Fernando Lugo in June. Paraguay’s suspension will likely continue after the meeting and will likely be extended until a newly-elected president takes office in August 2013.
In a historic gathering in Salvador, Bahia, nearly 100 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Afro-Brazilian activists participated last month in the country’s first-ever National Black LGBT Conference (Primeiro Seminário Nacional de Negras e Negros LGBT).
Given the rare opportunity to be recognized as a unique group that suffers from discrimination based on race, sexual orientation and gender identities, attendees provided passionate accounts of their daily struggles for survival and acceptance. Embodying a collective sentiment of fear, exhaustion and frustration, black lesbian activist Joelma Cezário said, "I’m not afraid of losing my job. I’m afraid of being killed." Her feelings were echoed by countless others.
Tragically, Joelma’s story is not an anomaly: LGBT Afro-Brazilians are frequently subject to violent hate crimes, police abuse, educational and health disparities, and above all, invisibility. Their needs are often ignored by leading Afro-Brazilian and LGBT advocates, who overlook the presence of LGBT Afro-Brazilians in both groups.
Absent from the collective conscience, almost no data has been collected to understand the hardships of LGBT Afro-Brazilians, and no efforts have been made to help them overcome the challenges they face. Upon presenting their demands to government representatives at the national conference—such as calling for racial indicators to be included in anti-LGBT violence data collection and for racial equality programs to account for the Afro-LGBT population—they were pushed back-and-forth between LGBT and racial discrimination experts who avoided answering their questions and directed responsibility to each other.
Meanwhile, the mounting violence against the Black LGBT population in Brazil isn’t even being counted in official statistics. A recent report found that the number of homicides against Afro-Brazilians increased by 5.6 percent in the last decade, compared to a 24.8-percent reduction in homicides among Whites. These figures did not distinguish which victims were killed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Similarly, a government report issued earlier this year recorded nearly 300 anti-LGBT hate crimes in 2011, more than half of which were targeted against the estimated 10 percent of LGBT Brazilians who identify as transgender. The report failed to provide any information regarding the victims’ racial identity.
Despite an increasingly evident correlation, public institutions continue to fail to take action against the pervasive violence and discrimination that is specific to the Afro-LGBT population.
Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs rebuked the possibility of a “unilateral” release of jailed USAID subcontractor Alan Gross on Wednesday amid growing concern by the United States over his health. Josefina Vidal, the top Cuban diplomat for North American affairs, said that the Cuban government has communicated the terms of Gross’ release to U.S. officials numerous times but did not receive a response. These terms would likely include concessions on the Americans’ part regarding the Cuban intelligence agents—known as the Cuban Five—who are currently serving treason and espionage charges in a Florida prison.
Wednesday’s heated exchange comes less than a month after Gross’ lawyer filed a petition with the United Nations Special Rapporteur claiming that his client has been denied adequate medical attention, “which constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” Since the filing, U.S. government officials and Gross’ relatives have stepped up pressure regarding his release, citing concerns over a mass that developed on Gross’ right shoulder earlier this year that, they claim, could be cancerous. Vidal denied the cancer rumors, saying that Cuban doctors conducted a biopsy that came out negative.
For the moment, Gross will continue to serve the 15-year prison sentence received in 2009 for handing out laptops in Cuba. At the time, he was on assignment as a subcontractor for USAID tasked with setting up wireless Internet connections for Cuba’s Jewish community as part of a $40 million-a-year program to promote democracy on the island.
No es poca cosa que Colombia haya perdido los derechos económicos sobre 80.000 km2 de mar territorial en el diferendo con Nicaragua que la Corte Internacional de Justicia (CIJ) falló a favor de este último país el 19 de noviembre. Lo llamativo es el impacto de la decisión del tribunal internacional en la política interna y exterior colombiana y la cadena de consecuencias que produjo, algunas previsibles, otras evitables, y unas más insospechadas.
El próximo 12 de diciembre, cinco expresidentes, Belisario Betancur, César Gaviria, Ernesto Samper, Andrés Pastrana y Álvaro Uribe tendrán que rendir cuentas ante la plenaria de la Cámara sobre la estrategia de defensa de la Nación en un litigio que terminó interpretando a favor de Nicaragua los límites que se habían trazado en el histórico tratado Esguerra-Bárcenas de 1928. Una jugada que pretende repartir responsabilidades frente a la decisión que exacerbó como nunca el nacionalismo colombiano, apuntando no solo al actual mandatario Juan Manuel Santos, sino a una cadena de errores en la estrategia de defensa que comenzó hace nueve años con el fin que ya todos conocemos.
A nivel interno el fallo despertó, según encuestas, el pesimismo de los colombianos, bajó la popularidad del presidente Santos, puso a la Canciller María Angela Holguín contra las cuerdas, y al Congreso en rebeldía pues desde allí saltaron voces llamando al desacato y a la negativa de modificar los nuevos límites que deben quedar consignados en la Constitución después de un trámite en el legislativo.
In a public hearing Tuesday before the Financial Supervisory Commission in the Chamber of Deputies, Brazilian Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo announced that the country will double the number of security personnel on its borders by 2014. The strategy will focus on increasing the police presence along the Bolivian, Colombian and Peruvian borders, with the exact number of federal police and military personnel to be confirmed.
The move represents an effort to stem the flow of illegal arms and drugs that have helped lead to increasing violence along Brazil’s 16,000-kilometer (9,942-mile) border, which is five times longer than the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
Even though Brazil is now the world's second largest cocaine consumer, many of the drugs entering the country are then smuggled beyond Brazil. According to the 2012 World Drug Report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, drugs from Brazil are commonly moved on to Africa (mostly western and southern Africa) and shipped to Europe.
Minister Cardozo also responded to concerns about a recent wave of violence in São Paulo’s favelas due to a growing conflict between the police and a gang known as the Primeiro Comando da Capital (First Command of the Capital—PCC), and stressed the importance of both federal and state governments working together.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa traveled to Argentina on Monday to receive an award from the Universidad de la Plata in La Plata, Argentina, recognizing his contributions to freedom of expression in Ecuador.
The U.S. government has long criticized Correa’s record on freedom of speech, and granted political asylum to the Ecuadorian journalist Emilio Palacio in August after he faced a three-year prison sentence and a $40 million fine for referring to Correa as a “dictator” in El Universo.
Facing pressure from press freedom groups, Correa eventually pardoned Palacio and other executives who had received prison sentences. The U.S. offered asylum to Palacio just 24 hours after Ecuador granted asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at its embassy in London, who published a series of classified U.S. government cables on his website.
Receipt of the award prompted the Ecuadorian president to again defend his record with the press. “It turns out that there’s such a lack of free expression in Ecuador that one of the most important universities in Latin America has awarded the president a prize for fighting for true freedom of expression and democratization of the media,” Correa said on Saturday.
The award, in the category “Presidente Latinoamericano por la Comunicación Popular” (Latin American President for Popular Communication), will be delivered Tuesday at the Facultad de Periodismo y Comunicación. It is not the first controversial prize that the Universidad de la Plata has awarded to a Latin American head of state: in 2011, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez collected the same award.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Mercosur convenes; first week of Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidency; FARC peace negotiations resume; Peru, Chile dispute their border at The Hague; and Rousseff’s oil royalties veto makes waves in Brazil.
Mercosur Considers Ecuador and Bolivia: When Mercosur’s member nations convene on Friday in Brasilia, they will consider upgrading Bolivia and Ecuador—currently associate members—to full membership. Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota cites a desire to deepen South American integration. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini notes that “with each new addition to Mercosur the original intent of the customs union is becoming diluted. The additions may be economic benefits to Brazil and serve a broader political end, but with Venezuela and now potentially Bolivia and Ecuador the task of coordinating a common external tariff and ensuring that monetary policy doesn't interfere with internal trade is nearly impossible.”
Peña Nieto in the Presidency: After announcing his cabinet on Friday and transitioning into power the following day, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto undergoes his first full week in Mexico’s highest office. Yesterday, the main domestic political parties announced the Pacto por México (Pact for Mexico) that outlines desired political reforms for Peña Nieto’s term. The reforms center on three areas: strengthening the state; economic and political modernization; and expansion of social rights. As AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak observes, “the show of unity with the joint signing of the Pacto por México is an important accomplishment for Peña Nieto but the specifics of how to implement these reforms will be the real challenge especially with PRD legislators already threatening to block them.”
Peru, Chile at The Hague: Beginning today, the International Court of Justice will hear a lawsuit by Peru brought against Chile over an unclear maritime border. In the lead-up, however, both Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and his Peruvian counterpart Ollanta Humala have discouraged their respective citizens from being belligerently nationalistic. Piñera wrote against “exacerbated nationalism, which poisons the soul of the people,” while Humala urged for both countries to consider the outcome of the lawsuit as “the end point of a dispute between brother countries.”
Colombia, FARC Continue Talks: Both sides will resume peace negotiations in Havana on Wednesday. The Colombian government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, has stressed “a stable and enduring peace” as the desired outcome of the talks; President Juan Manuel Santos recently announced that he has designated November 2013 as the deadline for an agreement.
Impact of Dilma’s Partial Veto: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was absent at last Friday’s Unasur meeting in Lima due to “domestic engagements.” The issue in question was whether she would sign into law a controversial law on oil royalties, which would spread the nation’s resource wealth to non-producing states. According to Reuters, Dilma’s veto “changes the bill so that producer states continue to receive royalties on output from existing oil concessions. She signed most of the rest of the bill passed [in early November] by Congress, redistributing royalties from all future oil concessions so that non-producing states get a greater share.” The oil-producing states had threatened to take their case to the Supreme Court, which would have dragged out the case amid Brazil’s preparations for the 2014 and 2016 sporting mega-events. Pay attention this week to see further reactions within Brazil to Dilma’s partial veto.
The road to the presidency for Enrique Peña Nieto started long before he won the Mexico State governorship in 2005. His uncle Arturo Montiel proceeded Nieto in the governor’s mansion (1999-2005) and cousin Alfredo del Mazo González ruled the state (1981-1986) and served as secretary of energy in the remaining years of President Miguel de la Madrid´s term (1982-1988). Politics always surrounded Nieto and ultimately, his relationships, friendships and extended family allowed for a thoughtful, long-term, strategy that culminated in his election to become Mexico´s 66th president.
After 12 years in hiatus, the the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party - PRI) returns to Los Pinos.
Protests, the Oath and Biden
Thousands of riot police protected the area surrounding the nation´s lower chamber where Nieto was due to take the oath before noon on Saturday. As noted in a previous article, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) and his newly-founded Morena movement promised protests throughout Mexico. They did not disappoint. Morena, along with youth movement #Yosoy132, started early, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails against security walls erected around the chamber to protect Enrique Peña Nieto and Felipe Calderón.
Near the National Palace where Nieto later delivered his inaugural speech, protestors hurled rocks at police and used metal and wooden sticks to break hotel and restaurant windows. A store was looted and public bus vandalized. Several youth protesters were arrested and more than two dozen police were treated for minor wounds and respiratory conditions related to smoke and tear gas inhalation.
On November 24, excited, flag-waving fans crowded Brooklyn’s recently-opened Barclay’s Center in anticipation of its first-ever Latino concert. “Is Brooklyn ready to sing?” Colombian rock star Juanes asked the crowd of 10,000 people.
Juanes opened the show for the Dominican multi-Latin Grammy recipient Juan Luis Guerra. It was not a coincidence that the acts were Colombian and Dominican—there are 800,000 Dominicans and 200,000 Colombians who live in New York City, which is now 30 percent Latino.
Juanes’ 12-member band played songs for both the older and younger generations, from the Bob Marley original “Could this be love?” to Inolvidable, a tune that your parents or grandparents probably danced to at their wedding. He also sang Cada vez, a duet with one of his backup singers from Puerto Rico, as well as the Grammy-winning Camisa Negra and the all-time salsa classic salsa, No Le Pegue a la Negra, a Colombian anthem describing the history of slavery in Cartagena—though Juanes added some electronic fusion sounds to the original version and tweaked the speed.
Photo: Courtesy of Errol Anderson / Barclays Center
Juan Luis Guerra joined Juanes midway through his performance and sang “Love and Hate,” a celebration of change and peace. Guerra caught the fans off guard—no one introduced him before he came onstage. The music took off—and so did the fans, who got on their feet and started to dance and shout requests for Como Tú, a contagious song off of his new album, A Son de Guerra. The album is Guerra’s eleventh studio album and was named 2010 Grammy album of the year. He also sang the beautiful ballad Bendiciones.
Guerra did not shy away from social themes during his performance: the classic Ójala que llueva café, was accompanied by images addressing poverty in the Dominican Republic. He also livened up the stage with El niagara en bicicleta, a poignant song that he wrote in the 1990s about the Dominican Republic’s poor infrastructure, the deteriorated conditions of its hospitals and the scarce government resources for healthcare.
President and CEO of Cardenas Marketing Network (CMN) Henry Cárdenas, who brought the duo to Brooklyn, called Barclays Center “absolutely breathtaking,” and said he would be back on February 16 with Marc Anthony in time for Valentine’s Day. “There’s no venue like it,” he said of the three-month-old concert and sports arena.
Also on display at Saturday’s concert was the growing economic strength of the Latino population. A report by the Selig Center for Economic Growth recently revealed that Hispanics have the greatest purchasing power of any U.S. ethnic group and will soon represent the world's ninth-largest economy, with $1.5 trillion in purchasing power. Meanwhile, the Hispanic advertising industry is outpacing all other sectors of advertising, increasing four times faster, and is now a more than $5 billion industry.
Proceeds from the concert will be donated to the Red Cross, providing relief for those who were affected by Hurricane Sandy after it swept through the Caribbean, mid-Atlantic and northeastern United States. As of press time, an estimated $160,000 was collected by Cardenas Marketing Network (CMN).
In the lead-up to tomorrow’s inauguration, Enrique Peña Nieto and his Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) have crafted a number of legislative proposals they hope will set the tone for his six years in Mexico’s highest office. Three key initiatives are now pending debate before the lower chamber.
First is an initiative to fold the nation’s Secretaría de Seguridad Pública (Public Security Secretariat—SSP) into the interior ministry. Second is a move to strengthen the nation’s Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información(Federal Institute for Access to Public Information—IFAI). And third is an initiative to create a national anti-corruption commission.
According to Peña Nieto’s transition team, national security and public safety need higher central authority. Analysts note that under Presidents Vicente Fox (2000-2006) and Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), SSP ran roughshod over the government, many times trampling over the attorney general and ignoring human and procedural rights. Examples often cited are the televised capture of French kidnapper Florence Cassez, which caused a deluge of human rights complains against the SSP and strained Mexico’s relationship with France, and the unexplained September shooting of two U.S. Central Intelligence Agency agents outside Mexico City by Mexican Federal Police.
As of Thursday, evening two appointments have been confirmed. The current executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena Ibarra, will head the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores-SRE), replacing Patricia Espinosa Cantellano. And Eduardo Medina Mora Thomas, former head of the Center for Investigation and National Security (Centro de Investigación y Seguridad Nacional -Cisen) and the Attorney General's Office (Procuraduría General de la República-PGR) and current Ambassador of Mexico to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, will occupy the Mexican embassy in Washington.
Currently, Mexico’s congress does not have a dominant political party, so Peña Nieto and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional—PRI) will have to seek consensus after gaining power for the first time in 12 years. A source close to Peña Nieto said that while addressing violence, kidnappings and extortion are demanding issues, the country faces other pressing concerns.
Mexico's incoming president will need to address the alarming unemployment figure of 8 million young adults that are out of the work, despite the fact that Mexico is the second-strongest economy in Latin America, behind Brazil. The pursuit of free-trade agreements between Mexico and the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) has been discussed for decades, but these initiatives have been stagnant. Mexico is the seventh-largest producer of crude oil in the world, but the country needs more private investors to take advantage of the Mexican economy’s projected 3 to 4 percent growth. Although it is fundamental to create incentives for private investors for the exploration and production of crude oil, there are limits, since most of the resources are state-owned.
Updated (November 30, 4:30p.m.): Enrique Peña Nieto's cabinet was introduced. Here is a complete list of the names with their government posts.
For weeks, Mexico’s Estado Mayor (Secret Service) and Secretaría de Seguridad Pública (Public Security Secretariat—SSP) have been laying the groundwork for a safe and peaceful transfer of power on December 1, when Enrique Peña Peña Nieto of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) takes the oath of office.
The ceremony is scheduled to begin at nine in the morning with the naming of a special committee to escort Peña Nieto to the chamber of deputies, where he will take the oath. Should the chatty bunch in the chamber decide to keep a tight schedule, Peña Nieto can expect to take the oath and deliver his first speech around 11am.
The new cabinet takes its oath on November 30 at midnight, hours before the president-elect takes his. Peña Nieto´s long-time friend, confidant and campaign manager Luis Videgaray will become treasury secretary, while another PRI party heavy-weight, national president Pedro Coldwell, will take over the Energy Ministry. Another important appointment includes the naming of seasoned político Miguel Osorio Chong to the Ministry of the Interior. The Interior Ministry, the strongest of all the ministries, will have additional powers as Congress moves to eliminate the SSP and place all federal police operations under the control of the interior minister.
Peña Nieto´s main nemesis, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), promises that the inauguration of the new president on December 1 will be no picnic for Peña Nieto or the PRI. López Obrador and his newly-founded MORENA movement will hold opposition rallies throughout Mexico´s zócalos to remind voters that Peña Nieto “did not win the presidential election.”
Both the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) and PRI are determined to prevent the kind of spectacle the nation witnessed in 2006, when Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD) deputies tried to prevent Calderón from taking the oath. That endeavor involveded deputies sleeping near the speaker´s rostrum and over entry points in the chamber of deputies to prevent Calderón from entering the chamber. This year, PAN deputies have publicly sworn to defend the outgoing president should any left-of-center deputies attempt any acts of violence during the ceremony.
Meanwhile, Peña Nieto concluded his first meeting with President Barack Obama, Department of Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano and congressional leaders from the Republican and Democratic parties in Washington DC. In the Oval Office, Peña Nieto asserted his interest in helping Obama craft and pass meaningful immigration reform, and reiterated his desire to continue forging stronger economic and commercial bonds with the U.S. and the region.
As the meeting took place, Republican senators John McCain, Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Jon Kyl introduced legislation to allow young illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. under certain criteria like serving in the military or attending a technical school or university.
Back in Mexico, PRI, PAN and PRD negotiators were haggling over a multi-party pact entitled Compromiso por Mexico (Agreement for Mexico), which seeks to set the legislative agenda for Peña Nieto´s presidency in five general areas. The agreement emulates the Spanish-style Moncloa Pact of 1977 to ensure democratic governance and transformational policies to make Mexico a first-rate nation.
The five main themes of the pact are: social justice; economic growth, employment and competition; justice and security; transparency and corruption; and governance and democracy. Sub-themes in the agreement include: human rights, security, education reform, sustainable development, poverty, penitentiary system reform, and fiscal reform.
PAN senators loyal to president Felipe Calderón oppose the pact, saying it will only strengthen the PRI. PAN deputies and national and local leaders, including party president Gustavo Madero, think otherwise. The pact will likely be signed as this piece posts.
On the main issue of organized crime, a recent El Universal Buen Dia/Laredo poll reveals 59 percent of Mexicans believe the incoming president should continue the fight against organized crime. Forty-nine percent believe Mexico´s organized crime problem began during PRI rule in the last century, and 33 percent believe drug traffickers are responsible for spilled blood in recent years, versus the 27 percent who fault Calderón for the violence.
As Peña Nieto takes the oath and Calderón leaves for Cambridge to lecture at Harvard´s Kennedy School, one thing is clear: Mexico´s democracy is functioning and moving at an acceptable pace. As President Enrique Peña Nieto takes the helm, we can only hope he takes his oath seriously, moving Mexico in the right direction and improving the lives of his countrymen.
On Wednesday, Argentina began the trial of 68 suspects accused of kidnapping, torture and murder at the notorious Buenos Aires Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada (Navy Mechanics School-ESMA) during the country’s 1976–1983 dictatorship. All but two of the suspects are former members of the Argentine military.
Some 5,000 political prisoners are estimated to have passed through ESMA, which was converted into a clandestine detention center during Argentina’s “Dirty War,” and the vast majority were never seen again. A number of the disappeared were later found washed up on the shores of the Rio de la Plata on the Argentine and Uruguayan coasts, leading to speculation that members of the military dumped living prisoners from navy planes to their deaths. In 1995, the former captain, Adolfo Scilingo, testified that he had thrown 30 people into the ocean in two of the so-called “death flights.”
Azucena Villaflor, one of the founders of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo), was disappeared in 1977 and is believed to have been murdered on the death flights, along with the disappeared French nuns Alice Domon and Léonie Duquet.
The trial that began this Wednesday will be the largest human rights trial involving ESMA thus far, and could clarify the fates of 789 disappeared political prisoners. Several prominent members of the former Argentine military government will be put on trial, including Juan Alemann, Argentina’s former treasury secretary, and eight former navy pilots. One of the pilots, Julio Poch, was working as a commercial pilot in Spain as recently as 2009.
Judge Daniel Obligado will preside over the trial in Argentine federal court, which is expected to take two years and involve at least 900 witnesses. Human rights groups estimate that some 30,000 people were disappeared during the Argentine dictatorship. Today, ESMA is a historical memory museum and cultural center.
The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) was criticized on Monday for violating the two-month, unilateral ceasefire that the rebel group announced in Cuba last week. In an interview with El Tiempo, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón accused the FARC of targeting energy infrastructure and the local police in the department of Antioquia despite the ceasefire having been in effect since midnight on November 20. The FARC denied intentionally violating the ceasefire and responded by saying that their forces on the ground had not received the order in time, blaming the media for not disseminating the news properly.
The Colombian government has resisted pressure to respond to the ceasefire. “Those who have an obligation to demonstrate credibility and commitment [to the peace process] are the FARC, who have historically lied to Colombia,” said Minister Pinzón referring to the 1987 ceasefire that the rebel group violated and the demilitarized zone that the FARC used to rebuild its numbers and capability during the last attempted peace negotiation (1999-2002). Instead, President Juan Manuel Santos and his negotiating team are focusing on long-term peace and the integration of the rebels’ leadership into the political system. Minister Pinzón emphasized the government’s hope that the negotiations succeed and that the FARC “once and for all declare a ceasefire for the rest of time.”
Despite the controversy surrounding the ceasefire, the Colombian government and the FARC will continue to negotiate the end of the 50-year conflict behind closed doors. The talks are being mediated by Norway and Cuba, while Chile and Venezuela—seen as sympathetic to the Colombian government and the FARC, respectively—provide diplomatic support.