August 27, 2014Tags: Peru, President Ollanta Humala
Following a week of debate, Peru’s Congress approved President Ollanta Humala’s new 20-person cabinet yesterday, which will be led by Prime Minister Ana Jara. The cabinet was voted on a third time after the first two votes had too many abstentions to be valid, and approval was ultimately granted by a minimal margin for victory: 55 in favor, 54 against, and 9 abstentions.
Opposition legislators had made various demands of the administration before the debate, including that Energy and Mines Minister Eleodoro Mayorga resign. President Humala refused to get rid of any of his ministers, but did make concessions to the opposition, including suspending a law that required independent workers to pay into a pension fund.
Reacting to the news, Mesías Guevara, secretary-general for the Acción Popular (Popular Action) centrist opposition party said that President Humala “practically lives in a bubble” if he believes that the newly-approved cabinet is a strong one. The vote by Congress bolsters the Humala Administration at a time when it has been involved in frequent disputes with the legislative branch and the president’s approval rating is a paltry 25.8 percent.
August 26, 2014Tags: United States, Barack Obama, U.S. Foreign Policy
Summer has never been an uneventful period for U.S. President Barack Obama, ever since becoming a candidate for the Presidency in 2007. His dip in political support and public approval often occurs during the sunny months of the summer. This year is no exception.
Events in Ferguson, Missouri, showed that the racial divide in America persists despite the twice-elected African American to the White House. It has been reported continuously in newscast that African Americans have the highest rate of unemployment, the greatest levels of incarceration, and are the most likely to be victims of police brutality. This did not end with Obama’s election and will unfortunately continue beyond. Hopefully, the lessons learned from Ferguson will lead to some improvements in the short to medium term.
Events beyond the borders of America, including the war in Gaza, the conflict in the Ukraine with Russian interference and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—a radical Sunni jihadists group intent on creating an Islamic state in the territory of Syria and Iraq—have also affected Obama’s current approval ratings (around 40 percent), as well as his presidency and likely, his legacy.
The war in Iraq, started under the Bush administration, has not resulted in stability as the ISIS has taken large portions of land and destabilized the Iraqi government. In Syria, the civil war has morphed into the rise of a self-declared caliphate by the ISIS terrorists with greater implications for security concerns in Europe and North America. Efforts by the U.S. government to achieve a two-state solution peace settlement between Israel and Palestine are now mired in war. And the crisis in the Ukraine remains unresolved as U.S.–Russia relations worsen.
As we approach the commemoration of the unspeakable tragedy of 9/11, is the world safer? Clearly, the answer is no. I was present in New York City at the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and I can attest to the lasting scar on the American psyche. With foreign recruits possibly involved with the ISIS, the Western world, and American security officials in particular, cannot believe that the worst has passed. The fact that the U.S. is now conducting multiple air attacks on ISIS targets in Iraq and in support of the Kurds is indicative that America is changing course in this volatile part of the world. The Obama Administration and the American people have every right to be worried about future homeland attacks or greater involvement in ground conflicts in the Middle East.
In the weeks ahead, it is likely that the Obama administration will ask for wider war powers. It is also possible that U.S. air raids will take place against the ISIS on Syrian soil. In short, we can anticipate an extension of the current conflict.
The savage death of American journalist James Foley has brought the potential horror of the ISIS closer to home. While the Republicans and even to some extent Democrats, Hilary Clinton included, have been critical of Obama’s approach to foreign policy in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, we can expect a closing of the ranks as the threat of the ISIS becomes more imminent to the security of the American homeland.
Events in the Middle East have received their share of coverage in Canada, but never to the same extent as in the United States. This, however, is about to change as Obama addresses the latest turning point—greater U.S. involvement. Certainly, all this could have negative implications for his presidency and his legacy. More important, however, it will also have more serious consequences for U.S. allies as the conflict will surely escalate.
August 26, 2014Tags: Puerto Rico Police Department, Corruption Charges
Sixteen former Puerto Rican police officers were convicted of using their position to run a criminal organization, the Department of Justice announced Monday. The charges include racketeering, robbery, extortion, and firearms charges for using their police-issued firearms to commit their crimes. The convicted officers will be sentenced in December.
The officers stole property, cash and narcotics from suspected criminals, planted evidence in order to extort victims in return for their release, and accepted bribes in return for giving false testimony or failing to appear in court at all, court documents revealed.
Puerto Rico has been subject to scrutiny since 2011 due to high rates of police corruption and drug trafficking-related violence. The federal government intervened by expanding Operation Caribbean Resilience, a joint initiative focused on dismantling criminal organizations in Puerto Rico led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with support from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Puerto Rican Police Department, in 2012. The previous year, the murder rate reached a record 1,117 per year, six times that of the U.S. mainland and by 2012 more than 70 percent of homicides on the island that year were related to drug trafficking.
Puerto Rico’s police department recently released its first report detailing changes to the department as mandated by the federal government after a 2011 report highlighted illegal killings, corruption and civil rights violations within its 17,000-person police force.
Monday Memo: Mexican Police - Peru's Slow Economy - Military Meets FARC - Argentine Debt - Brazil Prison Riot
August 25, 2014Tags: Mexican Police Force, Peruvian Economy, FARC, Argentine debt
This week’s likely top stories: Mexico launches a new civilian police force; Peru shows slow economic growth in key commodity sectors; the Colombian military held its first meeting with the FARC in Havana; a U.S. federal judge rejects Argentina’s local debt swap plan; Brazilian authorities are negotiating the release of hostages taken in a prison riot in Paraná state.
Mexico launches new elite police force: On Friday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced the inauguration of a new federal police force or gendarmerie—technically a military force tasked with police duties—aimed at quelling outbreaks of violent crime. The 5,000 new officers will function as a division of the 36,000-strong civilian federal police. National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido García said the gendarmerie will protect Mexico’s economic assets—like oil, mines, and farms—from organized crime, especially in rural areas where criminal activity has negatively impacted commerce or tourism. The new police force comes as a result of Peña Nieto’s 2012 campaign promise to reduce violence. Although homicides have been steadily decreasing since 2011, critics say that the relatively small police force will not significantly impact issues of insecurity, especially in Mexico’s urban centers where most of the violent crimes are occurring nationwide.
Peru shows slow second quarter growth: Peru’s GDP grew just 1.7 percent in the second quarter of this year, as compared to 6.2 percent this time last year. Meanwhile, domestic demand grew 2.2 percent, versus 7.1 percent in 2013. Peru’s commodity-driven economy experienced a boom over the last decade that saw average growth of 6.4 percent, but Colombia has now overtaken it as the fast-growing large economy in the region. The country’s halted growth comes as a result of weak performance from the mining, fishing and agriculture sectors. "Mining investments have decelerated, but that will be replaced by a cycle of investments in infrastructure projects," said Scotiabank economist Pablo Nano, who still expects 4.0 percent growth on the year.
Military leaders join FARC in Havana for first meeting: The first meeting between Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) leaders and the Colombian military occurred in Havana last Friday. General Javier Florez, head of Colombia's joint chiefs of staff and one of the FARC's strongest adversaries, represented the military, joining the Colombian government and FARC negotiators for the first time. Humberto de la Calle, the leader of the government's negotiating team, stressed that there is no current discussion to negotiate a cease-fire, but that the government has formed a subcommittee to determine the procedure for implementing a cease-fire once the two sides have reached a final agreement. Lead FARC negotiator Iván Márquez affirmed that the meeting showed just how much the peace talks have progressed since they began in 2012. Negotiators have already discussed land reform, political participation of the FARC and drug trafficking, while disarmament and the final peace deal have yet to be addressed.
U.S. rejects Argentina's proposal for local debt swap: U.S. Federal Judge Thomas Griesa ruled last week that Argentina's latest plan to avoid its default is illegal and “lawless.” The ruling comes in response to President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s proposal to allow defaulted bond holders the opportunity to swap out their debt for locally-issued debt. The plan was aimed at resuming interest payments to investors who accepted restructured bonds while evading payment to the hedge funds that are owed approximately $1.3 billion. Griesa had previously ruled that Argentina cannot make interest payments to bond holders that accepted restructuring until the Argentinean government paid the holdouts. Griesa strongly criticized the plan but did not hold the country in contempt, explaining that it would not inspire a willingness to cooperate, and instead pressed the two sides to negotiate an agreement.
Riot in Paraná prison leaves four dead: Four prisoners have been killed and several others injured during an inmate riot at a penitentiary in the southern state of Paraná, Brazil that began Sunday morning. The riot started when a group of inmates overpowered prison guards and in the ensuing chaos, as many as 1,000 prisoners took over several parts of the facility. The riot is said to be caused by prisoners' frustration regarding inadequacies in sanitation and diet at the prison, although many gangs are taking advantage of the chance to seek revenge on enemies. Two guards are currently being held hostage, and Brazilian authorities resumed negotiations today in an attempt to secure their release and end the riot.
August 21, 2014Tags: Chile, Education reform, Student Protests
Thousands of students marched in the streets of Santiago and other cities throughout Chile yesterday to express their impatience with the lack of progress made on education reform—a key promise made by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet after she was reelected in 2013. The Universidad de Chile’s (University of Chile) student organization Federación de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile (University of Chile Student Federation—FECh) estimated that 80,000 students marched in Santiago yesterday, while the government put the number at 25,000.
FECh President Melissa Sepúlveda addressed the protesters at the march, warning that, “This is a direct call to the Ministry of Education, so that the agreements from the Right [parties] are not included in the Education Reform [bill].” After Sepúlveda and other student leaders had finished speaking, dozens of mostly young encapuchados, hooded delinquents, destroyed traffic lights, burned dumpsters, threw sticks and rocks toward the Carabineros, the Chilean police force. The Carabineros responded by spraying the protestors with water, shooting tear gas at them, and removing those occupying the Faculty of Law at the Universidad de Chile. According to Observadores Derechos Humanos Chile (Human Rights Observers in Chile), there were 17 arrests.
Bachelet sent the first part of her education reform to congress in May, eliminating subsidies for for-profit schools and ending selective entrance policies, but the bill is still being debated in the lower house. Meanwhile, a second round of reforms that would make university education free will be sent to congress later this year. FECh leaders expressed their dissatisfaction with the exclusion of students from the deliberations, and voiced concern over “deals behind closed doors,” and “agreements that would benefit education businesses.”
August 21, 2014Tags: General Rudy Ortiz, Guatemala, Huehuetenango
General Rudy Israel Ortiz Ruiz was one of five military officials involved in a helicopter crash Wednesday morning. After the Fuerza Aérea Guatemalteca (Guatemalan Air Force—FAG) helicopter Bell 206 took off from Huehuetenango for a routine fly-over inspection of units along the Mexican border, the pilot rerouted from landing in Ixquisis to Las Palmas due to inclement weather before crashing into a mountainous forest area 1.2 miles from the El Aguacate village.
In the helicopter with Ortiz were Brigadier General Braulio Rene Mayen Garcia, Colonel Rony Adolfo Anleu Del Aguila, Major Selvin Ricardo Raymundo, and the pilot, Colonel Juan de Dios Lopez Gomez. According to Defense Minister Manuel Lopez, there were no survivors. Due to the terrain of the crash location, it took over four hours for soldiers and civilians to recover the bodies. Several helicopters were sent by the FAG and the Policía Nacional Civil (National Civil Police—PNC), but the bodies had to be transported by foot to an air base in Huehuetenango before they could be air-lifted to the capital.
Huehuetenango is known for being a drug trafficking route plagued by Mexican and Guatemalan drug cartels. However, the helicopter was reportedly in good condition and there is no reason to suspect foul play, although there is an investigation underway.
Ortiz, 51, had served in the armed forces for over 32 years and had been chief of the Estado Mayor de la Defensa Nacional (General Staff—EMDN) since July 2013. Many speculated that Ortiz was in line to become the next minister of defense. Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina gave his condolences to the families of Ortiz and the other officers, praising them for their service to the nation, and declared three days of mourning for the death of the five officials.
August 20, 2014Read More Tags: transportation policy, Canada, Quebec
Yesterday, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) concluded their investigation of the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec train derailment that occurred on July 5, 2013. According to the final report, the accident was caused by a runaway train carrying crude oil that was parked at the top of a hill for the evening, but upon its brakes failing, slid down the tracks and crashed near the center of town resulting in an explosion killing 47 people. The TSB determined that eighteen factors led to the catastrophe, but emphasized a “weak safety culture” as one of the major causes.
TSB found that the rail operator, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA), which has since filed for bankruptcy, had a weak safety management system and lacked effective training and maintenance procedures. Their report also criticized the transportation ministry, Transport Canada, for a lack of management and regulation. The investigation found that Transport Canada was aware that MMA carried a higher risk of accidents in recent years due to an increase in the transportation of crude oil, yet performed few audits and failed to follow up when it uncovered problems.
The report recommends more comprehensive audits and improved technology to prevent runaway trains caused by brake failure. In January, the safety boards of Canada and the U.S. collaborated on suggestions to improve safety, given that crude oil transportation by train has increased considerably in the last ten years due to advanced technology and the subsequent shale boom. New Democrat Member of Parliament Hoang Mai has attributed the accident to the fact that “conservatives have left companies to monitor themselves,” and other opposition politicians have also blamed the federal government for the disaster.
August 19, 2014Tags: Argentina, Pope Francis
Three members of Pope Francis’ family were killed on a provincial road between Rosario and Cordoba in Argentina this morning. Emanuel Bergoglio, the pontiff’s nephew, remains in the hospital in critical condition after surviving the traffic collision that claimed the lives of his wife and two small children.
The family was traveling to Buenos Aires when they were struck by a truck. Pope Francis just finished a five-day tour of South Korea where he appealed for unification of the Korean peninsula and humanitarian assistance for the economically beleaguered North Korea. The pope, who joked about his own mortality and tenure as the leader of the Catholic Church on Monday, was ”deeply pained” by the news of the crash and asked that believers join him in prayer when informed of the deaths, said Vatican spokesman Reverend Federico Lomabrdi.
Argentina registered 12.6 traffic deaths per 100,000 people in 2010, putting it slightly behind the Chile and United States in traffic safety.
August 18, 2014Read More Tags: Mexico, LGBT Rights
LGBT cyber-activists took to the web last week to publically denounce Mexico City’s 3rd International Lesbian Festival. Through a communiqué posted on Facebook, nearly 20 LGBT organizations and collectives and around 50 individual signatories condemned the festival as a vehicle for perpetuating misogyny and machismo. They also criticized a number of authorities for vouching for the festival and participating in its organization, including Mexico City Labor Secretary Patricia Mercado and Jacqueline L. Hoist Tapia, who is the president of the Consejo para Prevenir y Eliminar la Discriminación (Council to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination in Mexico City —COPRED).
It sounds counterintuitive that LGBT groups would oppose an event that claims to support their cause and promote equal rights—and which could not even be hosted in more conservative cities in the country today. So why are these groups opposing the festival?
There are a number of reasons: for one, the festival’s promotional materials include highly sexualized images of women clad in lingerie, and the festival’s agenda includes an event called “The Bunny Party,” sparking comparisons to the men’s magazine Playboy. Also drawing criticism is the festival’s “coronation ceremony” and a workshop on applying makeup.
In their communiqué, groups opposing the festival write that “while it is fundamental to have cultural, artistic, political and leisure space for lesbians, we find it appalling that these spaces are provided under the basis of gender stereotypes that are misogynistic and machista. Instead of contributing to the empowerment and freedom of lesbian women from the roles that have oppressed us for ages […] the festival reproduces them with singular joy.” According to the communiqué, the festival’s publicity “only represents white, thin women […]showing women as objects the way male adult magazines would.”
Monday Memo: Marina Silva – Colombian Peace Talks – Mexican Energy – Julian Assange – Toxic Spill in Mexico
August 18, 2014Tags: Marina Silva, Brazilian elections, Mexican Energy Reform
This week’s likely top stories: Marina Silva agrees to face Dilma Rousseff in Brazil’s presidential election; victims of Colombia's armed conflict speak to peace negotiators; Mexico will announce new energy projects; Julian Assange plans to leave Ecuador’s embassy “soon”; classes in Mexico are suspended due to a copper mine’s toxic spill.
Marina Silva agrees to run for president: Former Brazilian Environmental Minister Marina Silva has agreed to run for president in the place of the late Eduardo Campos, who died August 13 in a plane crash in the Brazilian city Santos. Silva’s entry into the race will raise new challenges for President Dilma Rousseff. Although Rousseff maintains her lead in the polls, Silva has quickly gained almost three times the support that Campos had–around 21 percent–and would defeat Rousseff in a hypothetical second-round contest, according to polling company Datafolha. Silva was Campos’ vice presidential running mate for the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party–PSB) before he was killed last week, and she also ran for president in Brazil’s 2010 election. Over 100,000 people attended Campos’ funeral in Recife on Sunday, including Rousseff, presidential candidate Aécio Neves from the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Brazilian Social Democracy Party–PSDB), and former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Victims of Colombia’s armed conflict address peace negotiators: Twelve victims of Colombia’s 50-year-old internal conflict met with members of the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) on Saturday to urge a peace agreement in Havana. The participants, whose loved ones are among the 220,000 people killed during the armed conflict, said that they were willing to forgive the killings by the FARC, paramilitary groups, and government security forces, as long as the negotiators reach an agreement. A total of 60 victims’ relatives chosen by the UN, Roman Catholic Church and National University are expected to speak to the peace negotiators in the coming weeks. The negotiators have already reached agreements on three points of the six-point peace agenda, but must still decide on victims’ rights, disarmament, and the implementation of a peace deal.
New Mexican energy projects to be announced: Mexico’s Comisión Federal de Electricidad (Federal Electricity Commission—CFE ) is expected to announce 16 new electricity projects today worth a total of nearly $4.9 billion, according to a report obtained by the daily newspaper El Financiero. The projects—which are expected to include four pipelines, three electricity plants, upgrades to an existing plant, and eight new transmission lines and substations—will be the first auctions under the energy sector reforms signed into law by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto last week. Those reforms opened Mexico’s oil, gas and electricity sectors to private investment.
Julian Assange to leave Ecuadorian embassy in London: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been seeking refuge at the Ecuadorean embassy in London for over two years, announced Monday that he will be leaving “soon” because of anticipated legal reforms in Britain that would help him avoid extradition to Sweden. Assange did not mention a specific date of departure from the embassy. In 2010, two women accused Assange of sexual assault and rape, and he faces questioning by prosecutors in Stockholm. Yesterday, Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, accused the British government of human rights abuses and questioned their commitment to finding a diplomatic solution. Assange denied that he will be leaving the embassy for health reasons, as the UK Press has reported.
First day of classes suspended because of toxic spill in Mexico: A toxic spill at a copper mine in northern Mexico has closed 88 schools in the Mexican state of Sonora due to concerns that contaminants have entered local drinking water. The spill occurred on August 6 at the Buenavista copper mine near the U.S.-Mexico border, reportedly after a poorly-designed holding area containing toxic materials overflowed due to heavy rains. The Sonora state government has distributed clean drinking water to between 80 and 90 percent of local residents, although those living in more isolated areas have not yet received potable water. Classes were supposed to start today in seven municipalities affected by the spill; they are expected to begin later this week.
August 15, 2014Read More Tags: Ferguson, Police Abuses, United States
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon traveled to St. Louis yesterday to address the tense situation developing in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, after Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, was killed by a white police officer on Saturday. Gov. Nixon faces criticism for his slow response to the crisis following four nights of protests that have resulted in police firing teargas and rubber bullets at protestors.
Journalists from Al Jazeera America were also targeted with tear gas on Wednesday night forcing them to abandon their cameras. Two other reporters, Ryann J. Reilly from the Huffington Post andWashington Post reporter Wesley Lowery, were arrested at a McDonald’s. A St. Louis City alderman, Antonio French, and the legislative aid to the president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen were also arrested.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama responded to the events unfolding in Ferguson by criticizing protestors who have taken advantage of the “tragedy” for vandalism and looting, but also said that “police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs.” Georgia Congressman John Lewis, himself a victim of police brutality in a 1965 march in Selma, Alabama, has called on the president to “declare martial law” and “federalize the Missouri National Guard to protect people as they protest.”
Ferguson police accused Michael Brown of being combative, but eyewitnesses say that Brown had his hands up and was unarmed before being shot several times. The Ferguson police department has not yet released the name of the officer responsible for the shooting. As the situation has escalated, Gov.Nixon removed the St. Louis County Police from Ferguson, placing Missouri Highway Police in charge of the situation instead.
The situation in Ferguson became calmer on Thursday night as the Missouri Highway Police took over, but vigils and demonstrations were carried out in several other cities including Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Baltimore, New York and Miami—where eight people were arrested.
August 14, 2014Tags: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), Havana, FARC peace negotiations
In a press release Wednesday, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) announced that it would create a special fund for reparations for victims of the armed conflict. The group also asked the Colombian government to take tangible actions to protect the rights of said victims.
The release came on the second day of the twenty-seventh convening of the peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC taking place in Havana. The topic of restitution for the victims of the conflict is the fourth point of a six point peace agenda, and by far the most controversial subject being negotiated. A total of 60 victims’ testimonies will be presented before two teams of negotiators, with the first 12 victims arriving in Havana to testify this Saturday.
In their statement, the FARC recognized that finding a solution to this issue will not be easy but emphasized the necessity of doing so. “This matter is very important because it is going to hand us the keys to clear the path toward the reconciliation of the Colombian family,” said Iván Márquez, the FARC’s chief negotiator. Land reform, political participation of the FARC and drug trafficking have already been discussed, while disarmament and the way in which the final peace deal will be incorporated are the final two topics that have yet to be addressed.
Colombia currently has the greatest number of displaced people in the world at over 5 million due to the armed conflict over the past 50 years. While peace talks have been ongoing since November 2012, both the FARC and the Colombian government continue to blame each other for the over 220,000 individuals killed and the millions more displaced.
August 13, 2014Tags: Brazilian elections, Eduardo Campos, Marina Silva
Brazilian presidential candidate Eduardo Campos and six other people were killed Wednesday morning when the plane they were traveling in crashed in the coastal city of Santos in São Paulo state. Brazilian television reports said that the plane, a Cessna 560XL, struggled in bad weather and hit a three-story building in the neighborhood of Boqueirao, killing all those aboard.
Campos, 49, the former governor of Pernambuco state, was the presidential candidate for the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party). The latest opinion polls showed him in third place behind Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party) and challenger Aécio Neves, of the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Social Democracy Party).
President Rousseff temporarily suspended her re-election campaign and declared three days of national mourning for Campos and the other victims of the crash. Meanwhile, the Partido Socialista Brasileiro must submit the name of a new presidential candidate within 10 days. Campos' running-mate, vice presidential candidate Marina Silva, previously ran for president in 2010 and may be a possible contender.
August 13, 2014Tags: Chile, Robbery, Santiago Airport
Eight masked gunmen disguised as airport workers robbed an armored money transportation truck at Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport in Santiago on Tuesday, stealing over 6 billion pesos ($10 million)—the largest robbery in Chile’s history. The truck belonged to the U.S. security firm Brinks, and the money was due to be a loaded onto a flight for delivery at various banks and mining sites in Copiapó and Antofagasta in the north of Chile.
The thieves fled the scene in two vans headed in opposite directors and scattered nails in their wake to thwart potential pursuers, prompting Chilean Vice President Rodrigo Peñailillo to say that the gang was “obviously well organized.” Meanwhile, Chilean Sub-Secretary of the Interior Mahmud Aleuy Peña y Lillo called the security at the airport, which is handled by civil aviation authorities, “an embarrassment.”
Tuesday’s robbery tops a 2006 heist where thieves stole $1.6 million from a similar Brinks truck at the same airport terminal. In that case, the assailants were apprehended by police and are currently serving time in prison.
August 12, 2014Tags: immigrants, unaccompanied minors, Northern Triangle
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Monday revealed that 51 percent of Americans oppose President Barack Obama's plan to fast track deportations for unaccompanied Central American children apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border. The online poll had a sample size of 1,566 people.
The poll showed a divide in public opinion over how long the children should be allowed to remain in the U.S. Thirty-eight percent of responders said that the children should be allowed to stay "until it was deemed safe for them to return home," while 13 percent supported an indefinite stay and 32 percent favored immediate removal. The results broke down along party lines, with 48 percent of Democrats, 30 percent of Republicans and 37 percent of independents supporting allowing the children to stay until conditions are safer.
The latest roadblock in addressing the border crisis has been the lack of legal representation available to the minors—many of whom are under the age of 14—during their immigration hearings. Vice President Joe Biden made an appeal to law firms to allow their lawyers to provide pro bono representation to these children after House Republicans stripped federal funding for the legal counsel of the unaccompanied minors on August 1.
The credibility interval of the Reuters/Ipsos poll was plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.
August 12, 2014Read More Tags: Mexico, Journalism, Freedom of expression
This June, Mexico’s Procudaría General de la República (Federal Prosecutor’s Office–PGR) issued a report that paints a gruesome picture of the country’s freedom of the press situation, releasing worrisome numbers on crimes and homicides committed against reporters and journalists for the past 14 and a half years.
Between January 2000 and June 2014, an average of one journalist has been reported assassinated in Mexico approximately every 52 days. In the 36 months between 2010 to 2012, 35 journalists were killed, and there were 71 homicides against journalists reported between 2006 and 2012, during the administration of former Mexican President Felipe Calderón.
Of the 102 murders cited in the report, which occurred in 20 out of 32 Mexican states, 61 percent of the crimes took place in Chihuahua (16 murders), Veracruz (15 murders), Tamaulipas (13 murders) Guerrero (11 murders) and Sinaloa (7 murders).These five states are no strangers to drug cartels and organized crime.
The report also mentions 27 other types of crimes continuously perpetuated against the press—not just by criminals, but also by the police. These crimes include deaths threats, murder attempts, abuse of power from authorities, illegal detainment, kidnapping, corporal violence, theft, intimidation, illegal wire-tapping, illegal seizure of property, and entering journalists’ homes without search warrants. Additionally, from 2010 through June 2014, 14 journalists have gone missing and today are presumed dead.
August 11, 2014Read More Tags: Argentina, Argentina Debt Default
El “default” de Argentina tiene tantas lecturas como tenedores de bonos argentinos hay en EEUU. La apreciación sobre si el país está o no en cesación de pagos ha extendido el debate económico al campo político, en donde el concepto “soberanía” se ha agitado de manera preponderante por el gobierno de Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Para las calificadoras de riesgo Standard & Poor’s, Fitch y Moody’s, Argentina entró en un default selectivo el 31 de julio tras no cumplir el pago a los llamados “fondos buitres,”ordenado por un fallo del juez norteamericano Thomas Griesa. Sin embargo, para la Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL), el país todavía se encuentra en un litigio inédito en la Corte Suprema de EEUU, y la Asociación Internacional de Derivados y Swaps (ISDA) revertió su apreciación inicial de default para decir que no hubo moratoria en el pago de la deuda–al fin y al cabo, el dinero del 93% de los bonistas está en las cuentas del Bank of New York Mellon.
Monday Memo: Santos’ Cabinet – Venezuela-Colombia Border – Codelco – Argentine Ex-Captain Deported – Pemex Fire
August 11, 2014Tags: Juan Manuel Santos, Codelco, Pemex, Argentine dictatorship
This week’s likely top stories: President Juan Manuel Santos announces new ministers; Venezuela and Colombia crack down on smuggling; Codelco’s CEO has new plans for Chuquicamata Mine; Bolivia deports an Argentine accused of crimes against humanity; a fire at a Pemex refinery kills at least four people.
President Santos to announce new Cabinet: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is expected to announce new Cabinet ministers today as he launches his second term in office. Of the 16 Cabinet positions, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón, Minister of Finance Mauricio Cárdenas, and Minister of Foreign Relations María Ángela Holguín will retain their titles, while former Minister of the Interior Aurelio Iragorri will now be Minister of Agriculture, and Juan Fernando Cristo, former president of the Senate, will take Iragorri’s place at the ministry of the interior. At his inauguration address last week, Santos said that in addition to signing a peace agreement with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), he will focus on education and equality as pillars of his 2014-2018 presidential term.
Venezuela to shut its border with Colombia at night: Effective today, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos have agreed to close the Colombia-Venezuela border between the hours of 10 pm and 5 am each night in an effort to reduce smuggling. Heavily subsidized Venezuelan goods—such as food and fuel—can be sold at much higher prices in Colombia, causing tax losses for the state and profits for drug gangs and guerrilla groups. So far this year, the Venezuelan government has seized 21,000 tons of food and 40 million liters of fuel that were destined for Colombia. Maduro and Santos agreed to the measures on August 1 at a summit in Colombia.
New Codelco CEO says open-pit mine must go underground: Nelson Pizarro, the new CEO of Chile’s state-owned copper mining company Codelco, said on Sunday that Chile’s open-pit Chuquicamata Mine should be transformed into a subterranean mine to make it profitable. Pizarro, who was named Codelco’s CEO at the end of July and will officially take over on September 1, faces opposition from the miners’ unions, who say that the plan to revamp the mine will cause many to lose their jobs because many are not trained to work underground. Pizarro replied that “if the unions don’t do their part, there will be no future for Codelco.” Codelco is currently the largest producer of copper in the world.
Bolivia deports Argentine accused of Dirty War crimes: Jorge Horacio Páez Senestrari, a former infantry captain during Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship, has been deported back to Argentina after he was captured on Friday in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Páez was accused of committing crimes against humanity in the Argentine province of Santa Cruz during the dictatorship. He had been temporarily released from prison in San Juan in 2011 to await his trial, but after he failed to attend his hearing, local police and Interpol issued an international alert for his arrest. Now that he has returned to Argentina, Páez’s trial is expected to resume.
Pemex refinery accident in Mexico: A fire that broke out on Friday at a Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) oil refinery in Ciudad Madero, Mexico, had killed at least four people as of Sunday night. Seven refinery workers were still hospitalized, according to Pemex officials. The latest explosion happened as workers performed maintenance on an empty petroleum coke tank, which was used to hold a solid carbon by-product of the oil refining process. On July 24, a different fire had broken out at the refinery, injuring 23 workers. Last week, the Mexican government passed secondary legislation to open its energy sector to private and foreign investment for the first time in over 70 years, in an effort to increase production and attract foreign expertise and technology.
August 8, 2014Read More Tags: United States, Religion, Comprehensive Immigration Reform, unaccompanied minors
Last Friday at 8:37 pm, 223 members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to expedite the deportation process for unaccompanied Central American children by revising the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, even though doing so would deport and endanger children, many of whom would otherwise be eligible for asylum. Shortly thereafter, at 9:55 pm, 216 House members voted to end President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and deport more than 700,000 current beneficiaries, known as DREAMers.
This ended—for the time being, at least—the saga that had been brewing for weeks over how Congress would address the surge of unaccompanied minors to the border, and the larger immigration reform debate that has been stalled since House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) refused to bring last year’s bipartisan Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill to the floor for a vote.
Now the House has left for summer recess, having passed legislation that the Senate would never approve, and President Obama is left to deal with the mess through executive action.
August 8, 2014Tags: Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia, FARC
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos began his second term yesterday after winning reelection in the second round in June, defeating Óscar Iván Zuluaga who was backed by former President Álvaro Uribe. Santos based his campaign on the promise of a peace, with the hope of coming to an agreement the left-wing guerrilla group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC).
When Santos initiated the process of peace talks with the FARC in 2012, he broke with Uribe, his former mentor, who had a military-based approach toward dealing with the guerrilla groups. In response, the FARC announced a cease-fire—though the group has engaged in some acts of violence since this announcement—and the Colombian government began peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba in November 2012.
The Corte Constitucional de Colombia (Constitutional Court of Colombia) decided on Wednesday that it will allow guerrillas who give up their arms to participate in politics, unless they have been accused of committing crimes against humanity or genocide. This is seen as another victory for Santos, as Rafael Guarín, a former vice minister of defense and uribista, had previously challenged Santos peace reform in court, attempting to block any future political participation of guerrillas in the Colombian government.
Santos will face an uphill battle, with 61 percent of Colombians skeptical that FARC is interested in peace, and 50 percent disapproving of Santos’ approach towards peace. He also has faces opposition from Uribe, who now serves as a senator, and his allies in congress, as well as a smaller guerrilla group, the Ejército de Liberación Nacional, (National Liberation Army—ELN), who have recently been stepping up attacks on infrastructure.
August 7, 2014Read More Tags: Cuba, USAID
For the past several years, with almost predictable regularity, The Associated Press (AP) has been producing a series of articles supposedly revealing the secret, unaccountable cloak-and-dagger misdeeds of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in its Cuba program. For all the implied sinister intentions, bureaucratic overreach and shades of John le Carré-like intrigue, though, all the AP has exposed are really just democracy programs—not that different from those that have been conducted in many other countries, often with the support of human rights organizations, local citizens and the international community. The problem is, this is Cuba, where nothing’s ever straightforward.
To be sure, there’s plenty to complain about and cloud U.S. policy toward Cuba even—or especially—when it comes to the work of the U.S.’ official development agency, USAID. First, there’s the odious, ridiculous policy of a 50-plus-year embargo on the island. Sadly, USAID’s democracy work was added to that failed policy in 1997, when Congress forced USAID to develop a democracy assistance program as a component of the Helms-Burton Law.
The law politicized USAID’s democracy work from its inception. Helms-Burton (or, as it is officially and unironically named, the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act) codified the U.S. embargo into law, and established an unprecedented set of human rights and democracy standards that would have to be met before the president could even ask Congress to lift the embargo, thereby unconstitutionally tying the president’s hands in conducting foreign affairs. It also explicitly tied USAID’s development policy to Congress’ political agenda and was (let’s just say) a unique law in U.S. foreign policy.
August 7, 2014Tags: Estela de Carlotto, Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, Guido Montoya Carlotto
After 36 years of searching, Estela de Carlotto, president and founder of the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo) was reunited with her grandson in a private meeting in La Plata on Wednesday evening. Ignacio Hurbán, named Guido Montoya Carlotto by his biological mother, discovered his true identity after taking a DNA test Tuesday resulting in a 99.9 percent match with the Carlotto family.
Guido met with his grandmother and his aunt and uncles, Claudia, Kibo and Remo Carlotto, in an undisclosed location from 3 pm to 9:30 pm Wednesday evening, catching up on the decades that had passed since Guido was taken from his 23 year-old mother Laura, who was being held prisoner of the state by the Argentine military dictatorship and had her baby stolen from her only five hours after giving birth.
While recuperated children's identities are carefully guarded to protect the individuals who may be suffering from shock, the news of Guido quickly spread to local and national news. The 36 year-old musician was brought up in Olavarría, a town just under 200 miles from Buenos Aires, by a family with no direct connection to the dictatorship.
During the Argentine military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983—during which time more than 30,000 people were taken prisoner, tortured and killed or disappeared—over 500 babies were stolen from prisoners as "botín de guerra" (spoils of war) and adopted by military and other families. Guido is the 114th grandchild to be recovered after the Abuelas started a DNA bank to help reunite stolen children with their biological families.
The impact of finding Guido has spread across the country. The Abuelas, which usually receive between 10 to 40 calls a day regarding identity, had to bring in additional help on Wednesday to attend to the 100 calls received. While the Abuelas are hopeful of reuniting all of the stolen children with their biological families, they are also cognizant of the difficulty of doing so.
“If it took us 36 years to find 114 grandchildren, calculate how much time will have to pass for us to find the rest of the 400 we’re missing,” said Rosa Roisinbilt, vice president of the Abuelas.
August 6, 2014Tags: Immigration, unaccompanied minors, Texas
Due to the high volume of unaccompanied minors coming from Central America, the Texas state government announced yesterday that it would relax the rules governing the required conditions in its shelters. The regulatory changes reduced the number of square feet required for each child, increased the number of children assigned to a single toilet, sink and shower, and allows the minors to sleep on cots when standard beds are unavailable.
The announcement comes one day after the U.S. Department of Health and Human services said that it would be closing three emergency shelters currently situated on military bases in California, Texas and Oklahoma. The shelter at Fort Sill in Oklahoma could close as early as Friday. More than 7,700 children have been housed at the three shelters since May, many of whom have since been reunited with family.
And in a last-minute vote on Friday—hours before the start of August recess—the Republican majority in the House of Representatives approved legislation that would modify a 2008 anti-human-trafficking law in order to make it easier to deport unaccompanied minors and block President Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The chamber also approved $694 million in emergency funding for federal agencies dealing with the crisis, far less than the $3.7 billion requested by President Obama. It is unlikely that these bills will pass the Democrat-controlled Senate.
August 6, 2014Read More Tags: Paraguay, Indonesia, Asia-Latin America
On November 29, 2014, Paraguay will celebrate the 33rd anniversary of its establishment of diplomatic relations with the Republic of Indonesia, the world’s fourth-largest nation with over 250 million people. Indonesia is one of the Next Eleven (N-11) Economies, and together with Paraguay, is also a member of the Group of Eleven (G11), whose efforts are focused towards reducing poverty. Both nations became members of the World Trade Organization in 1995.
Because there is great potential to strengthen the commercial, political and economic partnership between the two countries—and due to the deep interest of President Horacio Cartes and his Indonesian counterparts in strengthening the bilateral partnership—the two foreign ministries should take further action to discuss mutually beneficial issues such as bilateral trade, economic growth and cooperation in the industrial and logistical sectors.
In 2012, Paraguay exported more than $19.5 million in goods and services to Indonesia, and there was a significant increase of such imports in 2013, reaching over $121.8 million worth of goods and services. Yet despite the strategic importance of pursuing a Free Trade Agreement between Indonesia and Paraguay, Paraguay is still not a member of the Pacific Alliance, although it is an observer state.
August 5, 2014Tags: Honduras, Gang Violence in Central America, Social inclusion, unaccompanied minors
There were 600 fewer homicides in Honduras as compared to the same period last year, President Juan Orlando Hernández announced on Monday. In the first semester of 2014, there were 2,893 murders in the small Central American country, which is home to 8.2 million inhabitants.
Honduras averaged about 19 murders a day in 2013, but President Hernández remained hopeful that the drop in the rate would become a pattern for the embattled country. He blamed the complexities of organized crime and security issues for the elevated number of homicides, and emphasized that patterns and trends will not become apparent to the general populace for several years, as was the case in Colombia and Guatemala. An International Crisis Group report released in June identified the 2009 coup d’état that deposed former President Manuela Zelaya as a primary cause in the increase in drug-related crime in the country.
The high rates of violence contributed to Honduras’ low score in the 2014 Social Inclusion Index where it ranked sixteenth out of 17 countries, behind El Salvador and Paraguay. Social exclusion and the lack of citizen security have been highlighted as two of the primary drivers in the unaccompanied minor crisis at the border.
August 5, 2014Read More Tags: Brazil Infrastructure, Entrepreneurship
Lately, Brazil has been in the business of building things from the ground up. From stadiums that hold millions of people to entire market ecosystems, this is challenging work for a government. In anticipation of the World Cup, Brazil received heavy criticism for its infrastructure development. However, Brazil’s efforts at developing an entrepreneurship ecosystem have consistently been touted as a success by many policymakers and investors.
Yet while some Brazilian programs have been relatively successful at addressing superficial holes in the entrepreneurship ecosystem, such as access to financing, the government has yet to address the structural issues from which these problems stem.
Entrepreneurial capital in the form of micro-enterprises and self-run businesses has long been part of the economic fabric of Brazil. However, throughout Latin America in the last 20 years, there has been more focus on encouraging the “opportunity entrepreneur.” As highly skilled individuals eligible for salaried employment these people choose to start their own businesses out of opportunity rather than necessity. It is widely recognized that encouraging these individuals to start entrepreneurial and innovative enterprises creates productivity gains and economic growth within a country.
August 4, 2014Read More Tags: Mexican Energy Reform, Colombia, Brazil
In the early 2000s, Colombia’s oil industry was weakening. There had been a decrease in new discoveries, followed by a decline in production from a peak of 800,000 barrels per day (b/d) in 1999 to nearly 550,000 b/d in 2004. Exploration and production had moved to increasingly remote areas with higher security risks and risky geology, requiring more capital and technology. As such, the Colombian government remained dependent on Ecopetrol, the state oil company, which represented the entirety of the Colombian oil industry.
Today, Mexico’s oil industry stands in a similar state of decline, as described by a recently released Americas Society/Council of the Americas white paper, “Mexico: An Opening for Energy Reform.” Oil production in Mexico as a whole has fallen from 3.8 million b/d in 2004 to 2.5 million b/d in 2013. Production of the Cantarell oil field, the most lucrative of Mexico’s shallow water reserves, peaked in 2003 at 2.1 million b/d, and is now producing less than one quarter of that.
Just as in Colombia, the problem in Mexico does not lie in a lack of resources, but rather in a lack of capital and technology. Mexico in particular maintains extensive shale deposits that remain largely untapped. The roots that bind Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, and the Mexican government run even deeper than those that once bound Ecopetrol and the Colombian government. Mexico’s state oil enterprise pays for approximately 40 percent of the country’s budget—and since the government acts as both a regulator and an owner, transparency and accountability suffer.
Monday Memo: USAID and Cuba – Mexican Energy – U.S. Immigration – Argentine peso – Bridge in Colombia
August 4, 2014Tags: Immigration Reform, Mexican energy, USAID, Cuba
This week’s top stories: USAID is accused of running a secret program in Cuba; Mexican energy reform passes in the lower house; U.S. Republicans pass immigration bills before recess; the value of the Argentine peso drops over debt woes; a bridge in Montería, Colombia collapses.
USAID and Cuba: In a statement this morning, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has criticized an Associated Press report that alleges that the agency secretly sent non-Cuban Latin American youth to Cuba to recruit anti-government activists on the island. USAID states that their work “is not secret, it is not covert, nor is it undercover,” and that it was part of “democracy programming in Cuba.” The program, which the AP says was run by USAID and the Washington-based Creative Associates International, allegedly recruited a dozen young people from Venezuela, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico to “identify potential social-change actors” while running civic programs in Cuba, such as an HIV prevention workshop.
Mexico’s lower house passes energy reform: Mexico’s lower house passed secondary legislation to reform the Mexican energy sector on Saturday, making small modifications to proposals submitted by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and the Mexican Senate. The reforms, which must now be re-approved by the Senate, are expected to bring billions of dollars of investment in the production of Mexican oil and shale gas. The reforms will allow private companies to produce oil under production-sharing and profit-sharing contracts with the Mexican government for the first time in nearly seven decades. One of the most controversial components of the legislation is a requirement that the federal government, financed by Mexican taxpayers, pay a portion of Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE)’s pension liabilities.
Immigration bills: In last-minute votes on Friday before the August recess, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed two bills that would modify a 2008 anti-human-trafficking law in order to make it easier to deport unaccompanied minors from Central America, and also block the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which defers deportations for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. The Republican bills have come under criticism from Democrats and U.S. immigrants’ rights groups, who say that the legislation would return children to the violent situations in their home countries that they are trying to flee. Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the legislation “a low point for our country.” Those in favor of the bills say they will strengthen enforcement and reduce incentive for young immigrants to come to the United States. The legislation approved $694 million in funding for federal agencies to address the surge of migrants, far less than the $3.7 billion requested by President Barack Obama. Congress is on recess this month, and the measures are unlikely to become law due to strong opposition. President Obama said on Friday that he was “going to have to act alone” due to the lack of funding to respond to the surge of young migrants.
Argentine peso could drop 10 percent in value: After last month’s failed negotiations between Argentina and holdout creditors over Argentina’s debt, investors expect a 10 percent drop in the value of the Argentine peso over the next 90 days. Traders’ expectations for the peso hit a six-month low on August 1—at 9.15 per dollar—two days after the country missed its July 30 deadline to pay $539 million in interest to restructured bondholders. The Argentine government has argued that the country is not in default because it has continued to make deposits to its bondholders with the BNY Mellon, though the payments are being held back due to the court ruling by the U.S. district court judge Thomas Griesa, who ruled that holdout creditors must be paid first. Argentina has asked Judge Griesa to find a replacement for mediator Daniel Pollack as negotiations continue, saying that he has been biased in favor of the holdouts.
Collapse of bridge in Montería, Colombia leaves at least 27 wounded: A bridge being built to reduce traffic at Los Garzones airport in the city of Montería in northern Colombia collapsed around 9 p.m. on Sunday and left at least 27 workers wounded, while one worker remains trapped in the debris. It is unclear why the bridge collapsed, although some believe that it may have been an error in engineering in the construction’s wooden framework. Transport Minister Cecilia Álvarez will visit the zone today to make an inspection.
August 1, 2014Tags: Argentina Debt Default, Axel Kicillof, Paul Singer
Argentina’s stock market fell 8.4 percent on Thursday after the country slid into what Standard & Poor is calling a selective default. Despite emergency negotiations Wednesday night, holdout bondholders and Argentina’s Finance Minister Axel Kicillof were unable to reach a compromise.
The default crisis was sparked by lawsuits led by Paul Singer for $1.5 billion after the country defaulted on its bonds in 2001. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration foreshadowed the default in June after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling requiring Argentina to pay the full amount owed to hold-out bondholders.
This is the second default the country has seen in 13 years. While Argentina is bracing for higher inflation and increased cost of borrowing, the consequences are not predicted to be as dire as in 2001 when the banking system failed leading to an economic collapse.
July 31, 2014Read More Tags: housing, Affordable Housing, sustainable cities, Mexico
Miriam Rodríguez, 43, lives in Cañadas del Florido, a low-income neighborhood in Tijuana, Baja California, the northernmost state of Mexico. Three years ago, on any given day, Miriam and her three children would watch criminals, drug addicts, and vagrants frequent the empty house next door. Their streets were littered with garbage and dead animals.
This is not an uncommon situation in the Mexican neighborhoods, or fraccionamientos, where more than seven million houses were built by developers with mortgages from the government in the last decade. But thanks to the Mexican social impact enterprise Provive, Miriam’s life has since changed.
In the early 2000s, the Instituto del Fondo Nacional de la Vivienda para los Trabajadores (The National Fund for Workers’ Housing Institute—INFONAVIT)—a Mexican state agency funded through payroll contributions that offers affordable housing finance to formal workers—underwent a radical reorganization. The result was a complete transformation in the way housing was constructed and purchased throughout the country.
The restructuring of INFONAVIT stimulated a dynamic through which private developers built thousands of houses that were bought by low and lower middle-income formal employees through credit subsidies and mortgages from INFONAVIT, replacing the traditional incremental construction process. INFONAVIT became the largest mortgage lender in Latin America.
July 31, 2014Tags: Venezuela, Ramón Aveledo, Hugo Carvajal
The U.S. has issued a travel ban for a list of unnamed Venezuelan officials who are accused of involvement in human rights abuses after the Venezuelan military and police cracked down on anti-government protests earlier this year.
The ban affects 24 high-ranking officials from Venezuela, ranging from cabinet members and senior judiciary members to members of the military and the police. Venezuelan Foreign Minister and former Vice President Elías Jaua called the move “desperate” and a “reprisal… against the role that Venezuela plays in a new world, in an independent Latin America.”
Diplomatic tensions between the United States and Venezuela had already worsened after a former general and aid to Hugo Chávez, Hugo Carvajal—accused by the United States of drug trafficking and supporting left-wing guerrillas in Colombia—was released from Aruba on Monday. U.S. concerns that Caracas had pressured the Dutch government to release the formal general were confirmed by the chief prosecutor of Aruba, Peter Blanken, but Blanken emphasized that Carvajal was released because of “diplomatic immunity,” and not because of the “actions against Aruba from the Venezuelan government.”
Meanwhile, in Venezuela, the executive secretary of the opposition’s Mesa de la Unidad (Democratic Unity Roundtable–MUD), Ramón Aveledo, resigned from his post on Tuesday, citing the need to renew the opposition movement. Aveledo, who had lead MUD for five years, was responsible for uniting Venezuela’s fractious opposition. Earlier this year, at least 43 people were killed during protests led by students and the political opposition.
In the 2014 Summer issue of Americas Quarterly, Boris Muñoz examines the challenges that Venezuela is facing in his article, Venezuela: How Long Can This Go On?
July 30, 2014Read More Tags: Marina Silva, Amazonia, Brazil
From the age of 10, Marina Silva would wake up before dawn to prepare food for her father, so that he could set off through the dense jungle before the heat of the tropical sun made it impossible for him to keep working. In Silva’s community of rubber tappers in Brazil’s northwestern state of Acre, survival depended on the collection of natural latex that bleeds like sap from the Amazon’s seringueira tree.
Today, the vice-presidential candidate and former minister of environment draws upon her past experiences in Acre as a model of sustainable living, promoting a government policy of cooperation with forest-dwellers to develop Brazil.
“Gone is the logic of doing for the people,” Silva said last week during the 66th annual meeting of the Sociedade Brasileira para o Progresso da Ciência (Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science–SBPC). “It is [a logic of] doing with the people…a new vision for the development of Brazil…that takes into account sustainability in all of its dimensions: economic, social, environmental, cultural, political, even aesthetic.”
Silva presented her new vision at the conference, held at her alma mater, the Universidade Federal do Acre (Federal University of Acre–UFAC), in the state capital of Rio Branco. The meeting in the oft-forgotten state of Acre united some 5,400 national and international policymakers, rubber tappers, subsistence farmers, student activists, and individuals from over a dozen Indigenous ethnicities.
July 30, 2014Tags: Colombia, FARC, Juan Manuel Santos
Human Rights Watch released a report today that documents killings, disappearances and sexual violence against Afro-Colombian communities in Tumaco, a city in southwestern Nariño department. The abuses were reportedly committed by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–FARC).
José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said that “the FARC has a tight grip over the lives of many Tumaco residents, who are forced to keep silent as the guerrillas plant their fields with landmines, drive them from their homes, and kill their neighbors and loved ones with impunity.”
In addition to the crimes committed by FARC, the report highlights abuses by neo-paramilitaries and police, and the general atmosphere of crime in the state. Nevertheless, Human Rights Watch believes that of the 17 killings that took place in 2013 and 2014, 12 are likely to be attributed to FARC.
Despite the high levels of crime, an increase of 200 policemen in Tumaco has reduced the level of homicides by 41 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to El Espectador. The city has created a five-year plan from 2014-2019 that proposes infrastructure investments such as power plants, improving the port and airport, and building 200 interest-free housing units.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos threatened on Tuesday to halt peace negotiations with FARC after continuing attacks—including an attack on the Ariari aqueduct on Saturday, which left around 16,000 people without water in the Colombia state Meta, and an attack on an electrical tower in Buenaventura on Monday, leaving 450,000 without power. After the attack in Meta, Santos stated, “They are digging their own political grave because this is exactly what makes people reject them.”
Santos will begin his second term on August 7, after a competitive election that showcased many Colombians’ skepticism towards achieving peace with the FARC. Out of 17 countries in the hemisphere, Colombia ranked 11th overall in Americas Quarterly’s 2014 Social Inclusion Index, which was released on Tuesday.
July 29, 2014Tags: Chile, Michelle Bachelet, Venezuela, Mercosur
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet unexpectedly canceled her trip to Venezuela for today’s Mercosur Summit yesterday afternoon. Alvaro Elizalde, a spokesman for the Bachelet administration, confirmed that Heraldo Muñoz, Minister of Foreign Affairs, will represent the Chilean delegation at the summit in Caracas.
In addition to the Mercosur meetings, Muñoz will also meet with Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro’s administration and with the Venezuelan opposition coalition Mesa De Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Coalition–MUD), at their request.
Muñoz is expected to express Chile’s interest in restarting and facilitating the stalled peace negotiations between MUD and the Venezuelan government. It is unclear whether he will address the continued imprisonment of opposition leader and former mayor Leopoldo López of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party.
President Bachelet’s absence was attributed to a winter cold and emergency meetings regarding her signature tax, healthcare and education reform.
Monday Memo: Mercosur Summit – General Hugo Carvajal – Gov. Jerry Brown – Mexican Energy Reform – Argentine Debt
July 28, 2014Tags: Mercosur, Immigration, Hugo Carvajal, Argentine debt
This week’s likely top stories: Mercosur leaders meet in Caracas; former General Hugo Carvajal returns to Venezuela; California Governor Jerry Brown visits Mexico; Mexican Congress discusses energy reform; Argentina nears its debt deadline.
Mercosur leaders to address Israel at Mercosur summit: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is expected to lead Mercosur leaders in condemning Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip at Tuesday’s summit of Mercosur presidents in Caracas. Last Thursday, Israel referred to Brazil as a “diplomatic dwarf” after Rousseff recalled Brazil’s ambassador to Israel and the Brazilian Foreign Ministry cited Israel’s “disproportionate use of force” in Gaza. All five presidents of Mercosur’s full members—Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela—are expected to attend the summit, along with Bolivian President Evo Morales, whose country is in the process of joining the bloc. Argentine President Cristina Fernández is also expected to deliver a speech condemning “vulture funds” only one day before Argentine debt talks are set to expire.
Venezuelan ex-general freed in Aruba: Former Venezuelan General Hugo Carvajal received a hero’s welcome in Venezuela after he was released from detention by Aruban authorities on Sunday. U.S. officials have accused Carvajal of aiding in drug trafficking and supporting left-wing guerillas in Colombia. While Carvajal was waiting to be confirmed as Venezuela’s consul in Aruba, he was arrested last Wednesday at the request of the United States, but the Dutch government finally agreed that he “should have diplomatic immunity as nominated consul to Aruba.” The United States has accused the Venezuelan government of threatening the governments of Aruba and the Netherlands to release the former general.
California Gov. Jerry Brown trade mission to Mexico: California Governor Jerry Brown has arrived in Mexico to discuss immigration and trade with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and leaders from Central America. The governor will meet with Peña Nieto today and with Central American leaders on Tuesday to discuss the wave of undocumented minors arriving in the United States. The focus of the trip will be the economy and trade, and the governor will be joined by a delegation of more than 100 state government, business, economic development, investment and policy leaders to foster trade, educational exchanges, climate change, and tourism between California and Mexico.
Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies to discuss energy reform legislation: Members of Mexico’s lower house will begin discussion today on secondary legislation for Mexican energy reform. The reform will permit the participation of private national and foreign investment in Mexico’s oil and gas company PEMEX and the Comisón Federal de Electricidad (CFE–Federal Electricity Commission) for the first time in the country’s history. The Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) has promoted the creation of a Fondo Mexicano del Petróleo (Mexican Fund for Oil) with profits derived from the oil industry in order to invest in infrastructure and technology. The director of CFE, Enrique Ochoa Reza, emphasized the benefits of the reform, including generating cheaper and more environmentally friendly forms of energy.
Argentina at risk of default as debt deadline nears: Upon the news that the Argentine government will not meet with a debt mediator until tomorrow, Argentina’s government bonds dropped to a one-month low today. The Argentine government has met with court-appointed mediator Daniel Pollack on four occasions, and negotiations over $1.5 billion in unpaid debts remained deadlocked after no progress had been made with talks on Friday. If negotiations are not completed by July 30, or a court delay is not offered, Argentina will default for the second time in only 13 years.