This week's likely top stories: Juan Carlos Varela takes office as Panama's new president; Argentina negotiates a settlement with holdout creditors; the ELN attacks in Arauca; Costa Rica and Colombia advance to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time; Argentine Vice President Boudou faces charges.
Juan Carlos Varela inaugurated in Panama: Panamanian President-elect Juan Carlos Varela will be officially sworn into office on Tuesday with a number of regional leaders in attendance, including a U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State John Kerry. Varela, of the Partido Panameñista (Panameñista Party) was elected on May 4 over José Domingo Arias of the Cambio Democrático (Democratic Change) party, earning 39 percent of the vote over Arias’ 32 percent, though Varela’s party only won 11 seats in Panama’s 71-seat legislative assembly. Varela, Panama’s former vice president, has promised to fight corruption and improve government transparency while continuing to improve Panama’s infrastructure.
Argentina to negotiate as interest payment comes due: With a $539 million interest payment on bonds due today (Monday), Argentina has 30 days to make the payment to avoid its second default in 13 years. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Argentina’s appeal in a long-running battle with holdout creditors after it defaulted on its debt in 2001. The Supreme Court decision allowed a lower court ruling to stand, which requires Argentina to pay a group of holdout creditors some $1.3 billion before it can pay other bondholders. The country has one month to negotiate a settlement with the holdouts in U.S. District Court to avoid a default.
Attack on oil camp in Western Colombia leaves 13 injured: The Colombian government has accused the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army–ELN) of attacking on a camp in the Caño Limón oilfield in the Colombian state of Arauca in western Colombia, injuring 13 people as they were preparing to attend Sunday Mass. While the ELN has traditionally carried out attacks on oil pipelines themselves, Colombian Minister of Mining and Energy Amylkar Acosta said this was the first time they had attacked a camp for workers, and accused the ELN of cowardice. The ELN has agreed to engage in formal peace talks, but have yet to agree to a formal truce; they have been accused of three other attacks on the same oil pipeline in the last ten days.
Costa Rica and Colombia make World Cup history: Costa Rica and Colombia both advanced to their teams’ first-ever World Cup quarterfinals this weekend, after Colombia defeated Uruguay 2-0 on Saturday and Costa Rica beat Greece in a penalty shootout on Sunday after tying 1-1 in regulation time. Colombia—led by 22-year-old James Rodríguez, who has scored at least one goal in each of his first four World Cup games—will face host country Brazil in the quarterfinals on July 4. Costa Rica will face the Netherlands on July 5 after the Dutch defeated Mexico on Sunday with a controversial penalty kick.
Argentine vice president charged with bribery: An Argentine judge charged Vice President Amado Boudou with bribery and corruption on Friday. If he is found guilty, Boudou could face between one and six years in prison. Boudou is accused of using his position as economy minister to interfere in bankruptcy proceedings against a printing company—charges that he denies. He is the first sitting Argentine vice president since 1983 to face such charges.
June 28 is an important day for members of both the LGBTQ community and the Honduran working class. The first is the anniversary of the 1969 “Stonewall Riots” in New York City by the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). And the second is the anniversary of the 2009 military-led coup d'état that ousted populist Honduran President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales from office and led to protests by the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (National Popular Resistance Front—FNRP).
Zelaya, who came into office as a member of the center-right Partido Liberal (Liberal Party) in 2006 but moved closer to the Left throughout his tenure, was arrested by the military and forcibly exiled to Costa Rica on June 28, 2009 after proposing a referendum that would enable voters to approve a constitutional assembly.
Though these events may appear unrelated—apart from their shared anniversary—they have produced one common result: a greater awareness of human rights violations and the mobilization of grassroots protest movements.
And while LGBTQ groups in the United States have made a number of legislative gains since 1969, Honduran activists—and LGBTQ activists in particular—have just begun their fight for political, social and economic justice.
Chilean Minister of Health Helia Molina set out on Thursday to clarify the government’s position on legalizing therapeutic abortion—abortion only in cases of rape, putting the life of the mother at risk, and the inability of the fetus to live outside of the womb. Molina said that the government was not promoting a law that would allow the voluntary termination of pregnancy under any circumstance, and that the proposed legislation would be formally debated in congress.
The announcement comes a day after Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said in an interview in Spanish newspaper El País that she would send the legislation to congress in the second half of the year. President Bachelet’s spokesman, Álvaro Elizalde, has since referred to the headline as misleading.
The president the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union–UDI) opposition party, Ernesto Silva, expressed his disapproval at the president’s proposal on such a controversial topic, stating, “like the immense majority of Chileans, we are always advocates for the defense of life.”
In Chile, abortion was legal for medical reasons until 1989 when former President Augusto Pinochet’s military government instituted a total ban on the practice. Abortion has become a hot-button issue since the return of democracy. The Chilean right, including ex-President Sebastián Piñera, has been vigorously opposed to the practice of abortion in any form. In 2013, Piñera controversially praised an 11-year-old pregnant girl for keeping her baby after being raped, and has recently reiterated his position opposing therapeutic abortion legislation.
Bachelet has had a busy first 100 days, successfully passing a tax reform that would fund her sweeping reforms to make education free at all levels, and proposing policies towards reconciliation with the Mapuche–Chile’s largest indigenous minority–including increasing political representation and returning land to the Mapuche in Southern Chile. In total she has completed 91 percent of the 56 measures she intended to propose during her first 100 days.
As Team U.S.A. took the pitch today in Recife for what might be its final World Cup match, some other Brazilian cities were already turning off the lights on their newly built stadiums now that the tournament is halfway over.
Here in Manaus last night, the final crowds exited the still-shiny $300 million Arena da Amazônia after the Honduras-Switzerland match, bringing a close to the biggest event that ever has—and likely ever will—come to the Amazon rainforest. With no more matches scheduled here or in Cuiabá, Natal, and Curitiba, public scrutiny is now turning to what will become of these mega-investments.
“It’s not economical, it’s not good for the country,” said Kelson Eugenio, sitting inside the stadium yesterday with his eight-year-old son and suggesting the money could have been better spent on education. “At the same time, soccer is soccer. We’re taking advantage of the World Cup being here.”
Brazil’s government is still trying hard to sell the event to a skeptical public—and time is running out, with the final match scheduled for July 13. Some long-term benefits to the event’s $11.3 billion price tag are already visible, such as new infrastructure, a jump in tourism, and a boost to businesses. Others are less apparent, like the government’s claim that $6 billion in new investment has been promised by visiting businesspeople, or the specialized training for Brazilian security and police.
Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes finishes his trip to Japan today, after meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday. The heads of state discussed concerns with North Korea, nuclear missile development, and territorial and maritime coercion claims, but the primary focus of the meetings was to discuss transnational development between the two countries, including Japanese funding of Paraguayan infrastructure.
President Cartes affirmed his country’s stability, stating that it is a safe country to conduct business, with one of the best corporate climate’s due to tax benefits, available labor force, vast territory, and the low cost of energy. Currently, there are 10 Japanese companies based in Paraguay, but the president has plans for further investment. ”We’ve received cooperation from Japan for a wide range of development projects […] Japanese companies have created jobs for young people,” said Cartes.
On Tuesday, Akihito Tanaka, president of the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), awarded Paraguayan Finance Minister Germán Rojas a sum of approximately $176 million, which will be put toward the construction of an asphalted highway in the southern Paraguayan state of Alto Paraná, connecting Natalio, Itapúa and Cedrales. The area is where most of the country’s grain harvesting and production takes place. The money will also be used to aid the 200,000 individuals affected by recent torrential flooding in recent weeks.
Paraguay, recently the host country for the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly meeting on development and social inclusion, has been lauded for its economic growth of 13 percent, yet remains one of the most unequal and socially exclusive countries in the region.
The activities surrounding the 70th anniversary Normandy landing commemorations on June 6 displayed the tensions between western leaders and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper avoided meeting Putin altogether, while other leaders, including President Obama, participated in the minimum photo-ops to honor the sacrifice of those who liberated Europe.
Maybe it is a sign of the times, but I am perplexed by some of the western media’s treatment of Putin. Never mind that he violated international law by unilaterally annexing Crimea this past spring or that he systematically used his Security Council veto to avoid a possible alternative to the atrocious civil war in Syria in its early stages. Now we have a humanitarian crisis that is out of control.
Last September when it was discovered that the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, President Obama was faced with a real challenge to his “red line” ultimatum about the use of such weapons in the conflict. With Obama unable to get Congressional endorsement for air strikes to counter Assad’s regime and its tactics, Putin took the lead in the removal of chemical weapons operation, with backing from the UN. The result was interpreted as a successful outcome for Putin and an embarrassing moment for both the Obama administration and the western powers. The general consensus was that Putin put one over on Obama, but few questioned Putin’s real role in the conflict.
Last summer whistleblower Edward Snowden was making the headlines about the U.S. security apparatus’ illegal surveillance on American citizens. Not only did he divulge the National Security Agency (NSA) policy, but he may have revealed information considered damaging to national security. We know the rest. Snowden escaped to Hong Kong, was charged by the U.S. government under the Espionage Act, and eventually received refuge in Russia. An ironic twist, given the repressive nature of the Putin regime, that Russia is now harboring a U.S. charged criminal.
FIFA announced early Wednesday that it is launching an investigation to determine whether Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez bit an opposing player during Uruguay’s World Cup match against Italy on Tuesday. FIFA has given the Uruguayan national team until tomorrow afternoon to present evidence, and announced that it would issue a ruling before Uruguay plays Colombia in the Round of 16 on Saturday. Suárez could face a ban from international competition for up to 24 matches, or two years.
In the 80th minute of yesterday’s group stage match, Suárez got tangled up with Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini and appears to have bitten Chiellini in the shoulder before both players fell to the ground. No foul was called at the time, and Uruguay went on to win 1-0, sending the team through to the knockout stage of the Cup and eliminating Italy.
"These are things that happen on the pitch, we were both in the area, he thrust his shoulder into me," Suárez said in his defense in a press conference after the match. Chiellini said the no-call was “ridiculous” and insisted that he had teeth marks to prove the bite.
Suárez is no stranger to controversy on the field. In 2013, he was banned from 10 matches for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic, and in 2010, he served a seven-match ban for biting PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal. He also was banned from eight matches and fined $68,000 for using racial slurs against Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. But Suárez is perhaps best known for purposefully using his hands to prevent a Ghana goal in the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup, for which he received a red card.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Guatemala and U.S. President Barack Obama’s meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto this month highlighted the thousands of unaccompanied, undocumented Central American youth crossing the U.S. southwest border into the United States.
Although the numbers don’t approach the millions of Mexicans and other Latin Americans crossing the U.S. border in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the fact that many of these migrants are minors creates significant complications.
Traditional approaches to immigration control are not likely to be effective as long as the factors that cause youth migration remain unaddressed. A big one is the worrisome state of urban neighborhoods and rural municipalities in Central America, as well as in parts of Mexico.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reports that during the 6-month period from October 2013 to May 2014, some 47,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America and Mexico crossed into the United States in southern Texas as undocumented migrants—a 90 percent increase over the same time period the previous year.
The problem is complicated by the question of whether some young migrants could be placed with family members already residing in the United States, and humanitarian concerns that some do not have homes to return to in their native countries. The problem is bad enough that DHS has set up temporary holding facilities at military bases in Texas, Oklahoma and California.
Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, announced on Monday that the U.S. will move forward with the deportation of the estimated 60,000 to 80,000 undocumented unaccompanied minors who will enter the country illegally in 2014 alone.The announcement comes just days after the White House unveiled a multi-million dollar plan to help reintegrate Central American return migrants in their home countries and increase security assistance funding.
In addition to speeding up the deportation process, the White House emphasized that these children are not guaranteed asylum. Unlike Canadian and Mexican minors, Central American children—who make up the majority of the recent surge—cannot be repatriated immediately, and are instead put in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement until they can be placed with a parent or guardian while awaiting their deportation proceedings.
In addition to foreign aid, the Obama administration’s plan announced on Friday would increase immigration enforcement on the border, open facilities designed to detain families and increase the amount of immigration judges available to handle immigration court hearings to help ease the backlog that is partly responsible for keeping unaccompanied children in cramped quarters.
When a soccer match ends in a surprising or unpredictable way, Brazilians often use the popular expression “deu zebra” ("it was a zebra"). The term applies to games where supposedly weaker teams beat stronger ones, or when key players are outperformed on the field.
Like the animal, "zebras" are fairly rare. But in this World Cup, an incredible herd of surprises have come galloping in from the Americas to scare off the mighty lions during this group stage.
In Recife's Arena Pernambuco, Costa Rica defeated the 2006 World Cup champs, Italy, 1-0. Costa Rican captain Bryan Ruiz scored in the 44th minute with a header into Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon's arch. The ticos,who are ranked #28 in the world by FIFA, were considered underdogs in a "Group of Death" that also includes Uruguay and the now-eliminated England—but they lead the group and have secured a spot in the second round.
This week's likely top stories: Dilma Rousseff confirms she will run for re-election; workers go on strike in Puerto Rico; Argentina says it will negotiate with hedge funds; Chilean bus drivers fear soccer violence; Claudia Paz y Paz will receive an award.
Rousseff’s candidacy is official: Brazil’s ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers Party—PT) confirmed on Saturday that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will be the party’s candidate for the country’s October presidential elections. Despite declining popularity, protests surrounding the World Cup and Olympics, and meager economic growth rates, Rousseff still leads the field of presidential candidates in the polls. However, the Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro (Brazilian Labor Party—PTB) announced this weekend that it will support Rousseff’s competitor, Aécio Neves from the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Brazilian Social Democracy Party—PSDB), and end its alliance with the PT. Rousseff will campaign alongside current Vice President Michel Temer, who will also run for re-election on the ballot with Rousseff.
Workers strike in Puerto Rico: Medical services employees began a 24-hour strike Sunday in front of the Centro Médico de Río Piedras to protest measures by the government to confront the island’s fiscal crisis. The workers join other sectors across Puerto Rico, including metropolitan transit workers and bank employees, in opposing the Ley 66 de Sostenibilidad, which the Puerto Rican Senate passed on June 16 to declare a fiscal state of emergency. The law intends to stabilize the Puerto Rican economy within three years, but it will also freeze bonuses and benefits for public employees. Last Thursday, an assembly of public workers agreed to hold a general strike sometime this week.
Argentine government denounces court ruling: Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to let a $1.3 billion ruling against Argentina stand, the Argentine government published full-page advertisements in major U.S. newspapers this weekend, arguing that “paying the vulture funds is a path leading to default.” However, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said on Friday that she was willing to negotiate with the hedge funds. Argentine Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich said that Argentina will make a formal proposal on Monday to U.S. Federal Judge Thomas Griesa to pay back "100 percent of bondholders."
Chilean transit workers fear soccer riots: Chilean transit workers said they will suspend bus services in anticipation of riots and violence from soccer fans after Chile takes on the Netherlands in the World Cup today. After Chile’s victory over Spain last Wednesday, bus drivers were attacked and buses were taken over by out-of-control fans. Meanwhile, Chilean security forces have put a special traffic plan in place in the capital to avoid major congestion and keep order. So far, Chile’s transportation minister, Andrés Gómez-Lobo, has reported that bus services have been operating as scheduled.
Claudia Paz y Paz receives human rights prize: The Washington Office on Latin America announced today that it has awarded former Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz a Human Rights Award for her work combatting organized crime and corruption. Paz y Paz presided over the trial of former Guatemalan President Efraín Ríos Montt and convicted him of genocide and crimes against humanity before the verdict was overturned on a technicality. Paz y Paz’ tenure was cut short last month, and she was replaced by former Supreme Court judge Thelma Esperanza Aldana Hernández, who took office on May 17 and has close ties to Ríos Montt’s party.
On June 15, 15.8 million Colombians went to the polls and gave peace a chance—literally. With 51 percent of the vote, President Juan Manuel Santos won a second term against the Centro Democrático´s Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who won 45 percent.
In three weeks, Santos bounced back from his defeat in the first-round election on May 25 and secured four more years in the Casa de Nariño. The 2014 elections realigned political forces in Colombia and drew a new political map, with important future consequences.
Here are five takeaways from Santos' win:
1. Promises of peace
Santos ran his campaign for re-election on the promise to continue the current peace negotiations with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) in Havana, Cuba.
With low levels of public support for his administration, Santos owes his victory to voters’ leap of faith that it will be possible to sign a peace deal with guerrilleros. Between the first round and the runoff election, Santos’ campaign managed to obtain key endorsements from the left-wing opposition—the Polo Democrático Alternativo—and the center-left Alianza Verde. This support, based exclusively on the continuation of the peace process, ended up being crucial to Santos' victory.
In other words, Santos' re-election is, more than anything, a mandate to negotiate with the FARC.
A ley seca (dry law) announced by Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro on Wednesday was extended until 6 am this morning. Petro justified the implementation of the law citing the violence that erupted after Colombia’s opening World Cup game against Greece on June 14—the South American nation’s first tournament appearence in 16 years. Despite liquor sales ending at 6 pm, over 100 people were injured and nine people were killed in gunfights, stabbings and fistfights on the eve of the presidential runoff.
Asociación de bares de Colombia (Association of Colombian Bars–Asobares) criticized the law, claiming that it would create a black market in Bogotá similar to demilitarized zone of Caguán, which was a safe haven for the Fuerzas Armadad Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) during the presidency of Andrés Pastrana. Even though liquor sales were banned, bars were still able to open during and after the match yesterday.
Colombia has had a history of violence resulting from soccer celebrations, as exemplified by their resounding 5-0 victory over Argentina in the 1994 World Cup when 76 people were killed and 912 were injured in the celebrations. On Wednesday, fans of the soccer club Millonarios, who celebrated the club’s 68th anniversary, stole a bus by threatening the bus driver with a knife in a day that ended with 32 wounded.
So far, Colombia has performed brilliantly during the World Cup, shutting out Greece 3-0—when the initial violence erupted—and defeating Côte D'Ivoire 2-1 to book a ticket to the knockout stage of the cup. Their final match of the group stage is against Japan on Tuesday, June 24.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with recently re-elected Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Wednesday as part of his four-nation tour of the Americas. The primary focus of the meeting was to discuss the ongoing peace talks with the Colombian insurgent groups. For the past 18 months the Colombian government has been negotiating with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army—ELN)—the two groups that have been involved in the Colombia’s internal conflict over the last 50 years. The talks were central to Santos’ win over Centro Democrático (Democratic Center) challenger Óscar Iván Zuluaga on Sunday with 50.95 percent of the vote.
While the U.S. has provided more than $9 billion since 2000 to help fund Plan Colombia, which has been fighting the drug war and the FARC and ELN insurgents, its current assistance is at its lowest level since 1998, with only $300 million sent this year. Biden affirmed the U.S.’ support of Colombia during the peace negotiations, but gave no specifics as to how such backing would be carried out. “Just as the United States has supported Colombia’s leaders in the battlefield, so do we fully support you at the negotiation table,” Biden told reporters.
¿Cómo se gobierna con la izquierda y la derecha en la oposición? ¿Cómo se concilia a un país donde casi 7 millones de personas (los que votaron por Óscar Iván Zuluaga) creen que el camino es la guerra y que no se debería estar sentado en la Habana con terroristas? ¿Cómo se entiende que lo del domingo fue, más que un voto por Juan Manuel Santos, un plebiscito por la paz—y que no es un cheque en blanco para el presidente, sino el momento de firmar acuerdos y ejecutarlos?
Esa Colombia política, llena de sorpresas—que, en medio de la propaganda sucia (como no), puso a la opinión pública a debatir si quiere más sangre y muertos o algún escenario de perdón y reconciliación—comienza una nueva era en que la mentada palabra “paz” cobrará su verdadero valor.
Porque fue la esperanza de paz la que hizo que las fuerzas de izquierda fueran con “tapabocas” a votar por Santos, quien propone el modelo de desarrollo neoliberal que tanto combaten.
En su discurso de triunfo, Santos fue vitoreado entusiastamente por un público que gritaba paz y a quienes se refirió como los “millones de compatriotas” que “votaron por la ilusión de cambiar el miedo por la esperanza,” y les propuso “desterrar para siempre el odio y la violencia de nuestra democracia.” Incluso le habló a las víctimas al subrayar que “es el momento de reconocerlas, es el momento de reconstruir regiones azotadas por la violencia.”
Recently, in New York City, a group of public health professionals and crime experts came together at a conference to discuss how to apply public health concepts to the “epidemic” of mass incarceration in the United States. “Public health, incarceration and justice issues are inextricably linked, in both the causes of the incarceration rate, and in the solutions we need to put together,” Linda Fried, Dean of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, told the group.
It was another example of the profound change in attitudes towards crime and punishment now underway in the U.S. With the world’s largest prison population—some 2.2 million adults—increasing numbers of people from all political ideologies have begun to realize that the “tough on crime” policies of previous decades have been counter-productive. They’ve destroyed families, sent some of America’s poorest communities into a cycle of decay and neglect, and have had a disproportionate impact on African Americans and Latinos.
There were almost no journalists at the Columbia University conference. And that’s a problem.
While a number of U.S. reporters have begun to deepen their coverage of these issues, too many news outlets still feed the public a daily sensational diet of murder and scandal.
I suspect that the situation is much the same in Latin America. Pablo Bachelet, in his recent Sin Miedos blog, set out the problem very well: journalists have a hard time convincing their editors (and sometimes themselves) that it is worth the extra effort and expense to go beyond the headlines to uncover the deeper stories of violence prevention.
In a rare move on Wednesday, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office cancelled six trademark registrations owned by the Washington Redskins on the grounds that the National Football League (NFL) team’s name is offensive to Native Americans. The office’s independent Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled that the term “Redskins” was disparaging to "a substantial composite" of Native Americans when the trademarks were granted between 1967 and 1990.
The Redskins can appeal the decision and the team would retain its trademark rights during the appeal process. If the team eventually loses the trademark, it can still use the Redskins name and logo, but other organizations could as well. Redskins team owner Dan Snyder—who has repeatedly defended the franchise’s name and logo—said last year that the team would never change its name, even if it lost its trademark protections.
Over the past year, pressure has been mounting on the franchise to change its name and logo. In February, Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington State and chairwoman of the Indian Affairs Committee, and Representative Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma and member of the Native American Caucus, sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asking that the league change the name.
The National Congress of American Indians ran an anti-Redskins commercial called “Proud to Be” that aired during halftime of the ABC’s telecast of the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals last week.
In a victory for the New York-based hedge fund, Elliot Management Corp., the U.S. Supreme Court decided against hearing an appeal from Argentina on Monday, meaning that the South American nation will have to meet its debt obligations on defaulted notes from 2001 in full, despite having restructured its debt.
The Argentine government has until June 30 to reach a settlement before the payment is due to all creditors who refused to accept the country’s debt restructuring, including Elliot Management Corp., at a cost of $15 billion. The high court’s decision not to hear the case is the culmination of a series of restructurings and settlements that took place after Argentina defaulted on $81 billion of liabilities in 2001.
Argentina has 25 days to request a rehearing from the Supreme Court, an outcome that experts deem unlikely. As the Argentine stock market plummeted, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner addressed the nation Monday evening stating that the country would only make payments to holders of restructured debt, defying a lower U.S. court’s ruling.
The World Cup offers something of a free kick for soccer diplomacy, which some observers say U.S. President Barack Obama is failing to capitalize on.
While many nations, from Germany to Russia, are sending their leaders to Brazil to make a diplomatic appearance, Obama is staying home. So is First Lady Michelle Obama and their soccer-loving children, all three of whom attended the 2012 London Olympics.
“It’s a diminished opportunity,” says Derek Shearer, a former ambassador to Finland under President Bill Clinton and current director of the McKinnon Center for Global Affairs at Occidental University, where he teaches a class on sports diplomacy. “Obama could have made more of it than he seems to be doing.”
To be sure, Obama did send Vice President Joseph Biden to attend yesterday’s match in Natal between the U.S. and Ghana. Today, the vice president is meeting with President Dilma Rousseff in Brasília. Biden also represented the White House at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. But given that Brazil is the largest economy in South America and the U.S.’ neighbor, should Obama have made a bigger deal of the 2014 World Cup?
For Team U.S.A., a tie might as well be a loss in today's World Cup match against Ghana, who knocked the Yanks out of the 2010 World Cup during overtime in the Round of 16.
But today’s match is about more than payback. Ghana and the U.S., along with Portugal and Germany, are in Group G, considered this tournament's so-called “Group of Death” because it's stacked with powerhouse teams who all made it into the quarterfinals in 2010. Group G is one of the tournament’s eight groups, with only two teams from each group of four able to advance to the Round of 16. In that context, there’s no margin for mistakes.
U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has himself declared that “for us now, talking about winning a World Cup is just not realistic.” His remarks were chided as defeatist and un-American, but they weren’t very far off from the prediction of top American bank Goldman Sachs.
The U.S. is predicted to tie 1-1 against both Ghana and Portugal, and then lose to Germany 2-1, according to number crunchers at Goldman Sachs—who performed regression analysis and distribution models for the investment bank’s fifth edition of “World Cup and Economics.”
This week’s likely top stories: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos wins re-election; the U.S. Supreme Court rejects Argentina’s appeal; U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visits Latin America; Bolivia hosts the G77+China Summit; Aecio Neves will represent the PSDB in Brazil’s elections.
Santos Re-elected President in Colombia: Colombian voters re-elected incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos on Sunday, awarding him nearly 51 percent of the vote. Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who led in the first round election on May 25, gained only 45 percent of the vote in Sunday’s runoff election and delivered a concession speech on Sunday. Santos’ campaign focused on continuing his government’s peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) in Havana, and called his election a victory “of hope over fear.” Santos will be inaugurated on August 7 to serve another four-year term.
Argentine Appeal Rejected By U.S. Supreme Court: The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a major blow to the Argentine government on Monday, rejecting the country’s appeal in its case against holdout creditors Aurelius Capital Management and NML Capital Ltd. The court let a lower-court ruling stand without comment, upholding a decision that Argentina owes more than $1.3 billion in principal and interest. The Argentine government warned that the decision could have severe consequences and “trigger a renewed economic catastrophe.” Argentina defaulted on about $100 billion of its debt during its 2001 financial crisis.
Biden to visit Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala: Obama administration officials announced on Sunday that Vice President Joe Biden will add a stop to his tour of Latin America this week: Guatemala. The vice president will attend today’s soccer match between the U.S. and Ghana in Brazil, and then visit Colombia and the Dominican Republic before meeting with Central American leaders in Guatemala on Friday. The vice president is expected to discuss the soaring number of unaccompanied Central American minors who have crossed into the United States without papers. This year, 48,000 unaccompanied young immigrants were apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol.
Bolivia Hosts G77+China Summit: Bolivia hosted the G77+China Summit this weekend in Santa Cruz, marking the 50th anniversary of a group of 77 developing countries that has since expanded to 133 countries. China, while not a member of the G77, joined the summit to signal its increasing trade ties with the region. Bolivian President Evo Morales called for a new world order where “the peoples of the world can grow in peace and live well” and an end to the UN Security Council, which Morales said has only reinforced global hierarchies and no longer promotes peace. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the importance of the G77+ China for global development and added that countries must protect human rights to achieve sustainable development. The summit concluded with a call to end poverty by the year 2030.
Aecio Neves to Run Against Rousseff in October: The Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Brazilian Social Democracy Party—PSDB), nominated Senator Aecio Neves to run for president against incumbent President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil’s October 5 presidential elections. On Saturday, Neves, a former governor from the state of Minas Gerais, said that he would implement a more austere economic policy, reducing public spending to reign in the country’s inflation. However, Neves also said in a June 2 interview that his government would continue funding the popular Bolsa Familia cash transfer program. Current polls show that Rousseff holds an eight percentage point lead over Neves in the case of a runoff election, which would take place on October 26.
This year represented the twentieth edition of the Conference of Montreal, organized by the International Economic Forum of the Americas. Much like the Davos World Economic Conference held in Switzerland, the Conference of Montreal has become a “go-to” conference. The brain child of founder Gil Rémillard, it provides an opportunity for economic and political actors to discuss, debate and initiate policies and ideas designed to meet the economic challenges of tomorrow. It also sets economic trends and provides a forum for forward thinking.
This year, among numerous speakers and over 3,000 attendees, the conference hosted several featured guests, including International Monetary Fund director general Christine Lagarde, former Obama and Clinton economic advisor Lawrence Summers, and the secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Ángel Gurría.
The conference’s theme this year focused on dealing with what organizers call the “next era of growth.” With the Great Recession behind us, there remain concerns about whether the right conditions exist for sustained global growth. It is clear that the financial crisis of 2008-2009 left its scars, and growth patterns remain inconsistent in both developed and emerging economies.
En un verdadero pulso de poder se han convertido las últimas semanas de campaña a la presidencia en Colombia. Nunca en la historia reciente hubo tantas denuncias tan graves sobre financiación e infiltración de las campañas, y nunca tampoco el país había estado tan polarizado entre dos fuerzas de derecha. Nunca se agitaron con tal vehemencia dos fantasmas para asustar al electorado: el supuesto castro-chavismo que podría encarnar el presidente que busca su reelección, Juan Manuel Santos, y el regreso al autoritarismo de Álvaro Uribe que podría encarnar su candidato del Centro Democrático, Óscar Iván Zuluaga.
En el medio de esas extremas, cuñas publicitarias sobre la guerra buscan poner a los mismos militares contra el gobierno que se atrevió a negociar con las Farc, connotados columnistas y hasta empresarios piden rodear el proceso de paz, y una buena parte de la prensa nacional está a favor de Santos, mientras la regional coqueteándole a Zuluaga.
Encuestas que un día dan como ganador a Santos y otro a Zuluaga solo permiten concluir que habrá un empate técnico—y que el término “final de infarto” tan mentado en deportes y en política aplica perfectamente a lo que se vivirá este domingo en las urnas.
United States Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced yesterday that he is in discussions with several Latin American ambassadors about the increasing number of unaccompanied Central American children who are illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border into southern Texas, and considering ways to send them home. Through May, 47,000 such children have made their way to the U.S.—double the number from last year. Most come from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
Johnson’s announcement comes as a response to two public letters he received from attorney generals in the border states of Texas and Arizona about undocumented immigrants. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott requested $30 million from Homeland Security for an “overwhelmed” border patrol. He claims that the arrival of undocumented immigrants exposes the state to threat of “dangerous cartel activity, including narcotics smuggling and human trafficking.” In a separate letter, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said that federal immigration authorities must stop the practice of moving undocumented single parents with children to Arizona due to limited housing availability in Texas, and threatened to sue if it continues.
In his address, Johnson made clear that those entering the U.S. illegally would not qualify for the pathway to citizenship that is part of the comprehensive reform legislation pending in Congress.
On June 10, 2014, a ministerial commission in Chile rejected the HidroAysén project, an $8 billion joint venture of the Spanish company Endesa, S.A. (51 percent), which is a subsidiary of Italy’s Enel, and the Chilean company Colbún S.A. (49 percent).
Recently-inaugurated President Michelle Bachelet had stated that she would not support the project, and her ministers of agriculture, energy, mining, economy, and health agreed. Nevertheless, the country faces a challenge of energy poverty and high costs, which President Bachelet must address going forward.
The HidroAysén plan was to build five hydroelectric dams on the Baker and Pascua Rivers in the Patagonia region in the south of the country. The rivers–located in the Aysén region–are in an area of Patagonia that is virtually empty. The project developers viewed the plan as potentially very lucrative since the region receives steady rainfall.
HidroAysén was initially approved in 2011 during the administration of former President Sebastián Piñera, but popular protests derailed the environmental impact study. According to one estimate, more than 70 percent of Chileans opposed the project, and they took to the streets to express their disapproval.
Strikes loom over two of Brazil's largest cities on the eve of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which begins this afternoon. Airline workers in Rio de Janeiro started a partial strike on Wednesday night that continues today, and transit workers in São Paulo—the site of the opening match—had threatened to strike today but called decided not to late last night.
Airline union workers in Rio de Janeiro are demanding a pay raise as well as a bonus for working during the month of the World Cup. Only 20 percent of airline workers are expected be on strike in an effort to avoid a fine they would be required to pay if more than 80 percent of union workers failed to show up for work. Meanwhile, the flights for the 554,000 visitors headed to Rio are not expected to be affected.
In São Paulo, subway workers suspended a 48-hour strike for higher wages on Monday after being pressured by the government, but threatened to strike again on Thursday if the 42 workers who were fired for vandalism and misconduct on Monday were not hired back. And though a vote by 1,500 of the workers late last night called off today’s strike, a smaller march is still planned for those who were laid off. "We get the feeling that maybe we aren't as prepared for a full confrontation with police on the day the World Cup starts," said union president Altino Prazeres.
Meanwhile, in a statement during prime-time television Tuesday night, President Dilma Rousseff assured Brazilians that the country is ready to host the World Cup and defended the investment in the games—which totaled $11 billion—stating that between 2010 and 2013 the government invested 212 times more than that amount—$762 billion—in education and health care.
Brazil is scheduled to face off against Croatia in the Corinthians stadium in São Paulo today, and the first game in Rio de Janeiro will take place between Argentina and Bosnia and Herzegovina on Sunday.
Today, the eyes of the world will descend upon Brazil as the country hosts the opening match of the 2014 World Cup.
The Brazil v. Croatia match will be held in São Paulo's new Arena de Corinthians, known by its nickname "Itaquerão." The opening ceremony will include performances by Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull and local artist Claudia Leite.
As the country's star players warmed up in the Teresópolis compound in Rio this week, the atmosphere near the São Paulo stadium was heating up. Striking subway workers shut down many parts of this already congested city, leaving thousands stranded. Landless workers belonging to the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto (Homeless Workers Movement—MTST) camped out nearby, and groups opposed to government overspending vowed that "there won't be a Cup."
From the beginning, a dark cloud loomed over Itaquerão, the future home of São Paulo's popular Corinthians soccer club. In late 2013, a crane collapsed on part of the stadium, killing three workers and delaying construction. The multi-million dollar stadium was officially inaugurated last May, during a match between Corinthians and Figueirense of Florianópolis. The home team was defeated 0-1, and some hardcore fans claimed the grounds were cursed.
After a three hour meeting on Tuesday, a committee of five ministers in Michelle Bachelet’s cabinet has rejected the HidroAysén project–a hydroelectric plan to build five dams in two rivers in Patagonia that would have generated 2,750-megawatts of energy and increased power generation in Chile by 10 percent. The project, backed by the companies Endesa Chile and Colbún with an investment of $3.2 billion dollars, faced massive protests throughout the country soon after its approval on May 9, 2011 by the Comisión de Evaluación Ambiental (Commission of Environmental Evaluation—CEA). The two companies have 30 days to appeal to the Tercer Tribunal Ambiental de Valdivia (Third Environmental Tribunal of Valdivia), which will have the last word on the project.
Environment Minister Pablo Badenier, the head of the committee, stated that the decision was made after the committee accepted the demands of local communities and Chilean citizens as whole. In addition, Energy Minister Maximo Pacheco said the plan failed to take into account its impacts on the local ecology and populations, and did not sufficiently quantify damage to the environment and wildlife. CEO of HidroAysén, Daniel Fernandez, lamented the move as a “lost opportunity” for the Aysén region, one of the most isolated and poorest areas of Chile.
Former Environment Minister under Sebastián Piñera, María Ignacia Benítez, noted the political nature of the decision, and said that she “did not understand the reasons for the rejection.” Nevertheless, environmental groups celebrated the decision as a victory, and emphasized that this was just the first of many denials of projects that are damaging to the environment in Chile.
In a 5-4 decision on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that children of immigrants with pending visa applications will be sent to the back of the line once they turn 21. The decision will add more than nine years to the wait time of children who “age out” of the system.
The Supreme Court ruling reversed the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision, which ruled in favor of Rosalina Cuellar de Osorio, a Salvadoran immigrant whose son was moved to the back of the line after eight years of waiting for a green card. In the split decision, the Court sided with the Obama Administration in finding that the Child Status Protection Act passed in 2002 only offers relief to a small category of children who turn 21 while awaiting a green card with their family.
While the Supreme Court agreed with the U.S. government’s interpretation, a group of 26 bipartisan congressmen who were in office when the law was passed, including Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), argued against the government’s interpretation in a brief recently submitted to the court. They maintain that the intent of the law they passed was to promote family unity.
Like so many in Canada, the U.S., and Western Europe, I was moved by the commemorative events surrounding the Normandy landing that took place 70 years ago on June 6, 1944. It was a moment to remember the ultimate sacrifice of what journalist Tom Brokaw labeled “the Greatest Generation,” who struggled in the defense of freedom and the elimination of Nazi barbarism. We owe so much to those who fought and to the few veterans remaining. It was a fitting memorial.
In stark contrast to the events surrounding the Normandy landing, a growing controversy in about a prisoner-of-war swap soon became the news of the day. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. combatant who was held captive for five years by the Taliban in Afghanistan, was part of a deal that released five Taliban terrorists held at Guantánamo Bay detention camp since 2001.
While the news was greeted with elation in the early hours of its announcement, allegations soon began surfacing that Bergdahl may have actually been captured following a planned desertion. Some of his troop members, who went searching for him and allegedly suffered casualties, took to the airwaves criticizing the deal made by the Obama Administration and brokered by the Qatar government.
This week’s likely top stories: the FIFA World Cup kicks off in Brazil; Colombian voters return to the polls; Venezuelan protesters call for the release of Leopoldo López; President Enrique Peña Nieto defends Mexican reforms in Spain; Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou testifies in court.
World Cup Begins in Brazil Amid Subway Strike: The FIFA World Cup will officially open on Thursday, June 12, with the opening match between Brazil and Croatia at Arena Corinthians stadium in São Paulo. Meanwhile, protesters clashed with police in São Paulo as they supported a subway workers’ strike that began last Thursday when metro employees called for a 12.2 percent salary increase ahead of the tournament. On Sunday, the subway workers’ union voted to continue the strike indefinitely, which will inevitably affect transportation to the Arena Corinthians stadium 12 miles east of central São Paulo. A São Paulo labor court has fined the union $175,000 and said it will add $220,000 per day that the work stoppage continues.
Colombian Runoff Elections: Colombian voters will return to the polls on Sunday to choose between current President Juan Manuel Santos of the Partido de la U and challenger Óscar Iván Zuluaga of the Centro Democrático in what is expected to be a very tight race for president. The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), who have agreed on three points of a six point peace agenda with the Colombian government in Havana, announced a three-week ceasefire from June 9 to June 30 in recognition of the June 15 runoff election. The government and the FARC recently announced the creation of a truth commission to investigate the deaths of the estimated 220,000 people killed in the country’s 50 year-old internal conflict.
Venezuelan Opposition Calls for Release of Leopoldo López: Members of the Venezuelan opposition protested in Caracas on Sunday to call for the release of opposition leader Leopoldo López, who has been imprisoned since February 18—and are also demanding new presidential elections as soon as possible. López was formally charged in April by Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz of damaging property, arson and instigating violence in the February 12 protests that set off a wave of anti-government demonstrations across the country. Those charges were upheld last week by Judge Adriana López, who concluded that López must remain in custody. At least 42 people have died in protest-related violence.
Enrique Peña Nieto Defends Mexico’s Reforms: In a speech delivered at a meeting of business and political leaders in Madrid, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto defended the political and economic reforms he has passed during his time in office. In the conversation, the president signaled that the introduction of foreign capital into the energy sector would make Pemex a “productive industry of the state,” rather than just an “industry of the state.” He added that Mexico is attempting to deepen its relationship with its Latin American neighbors, citing Mexico’s participation in the Pacific Alliance alongside Chile, Colombia and Peru. Enrique Ochoa Reza, head of Mexico’s Comisión Federal de Electricidad (Federal Commission of Electricity—CFE), and Spanish energy company Iberdola also signed a collaborative agreement.
Argentine Vice President Boudou Appears in Court: Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou is expected to testify on Monday in a criminal corruption probe for his possible involvement in a corruption and influence-peddling scandal. Boudou is accused of using his position as economic minister of Argentina to illegally lift bankruptcy proceedings against the Ciccone Calcografica printing company in return for 70 percent ownership of the firm in 2010. Boudou will appear before prosecutor and federal judge Ariel Lijo in a closed court session. Bodou denies any wrongdoing and asked that Monday’s court session be broadcast before the Argentine public—but that request was denied.
Yesterday, Federal judge Ariel Lijo changed Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou’s court date from July 15 to June 9. Boudou will face charges of corruption, illegal negotiations as a public employee, and illegal profiteering related to his purchase of the Ciccone Calcográfica printing company with a partner in 2010. Boudou allegedly planned to use the company to print bank notes and official documentation. Given that he was economic minister at the time, the acquisition would have been illegal according to Argentine law.
The vice president maintains his innocence and has challenged the judge to have a televised trial. On Wednesday his defense team requested that the summons be annulled, claiming that the allegations were based on “false affirmations, lacking legal, factual and evidential substance.”
Once seen as a possible successor to President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Boudou met yesterday with the president, who after months of maintaining her distance, has expressed her support for the defendant and ordered him to accept the summons.
He has since cancelled a trip planned for next week to attend the Architecture Biennial in Venice, Italy. In a strange coincidence, the mayor of Venice, Giorgio Orsoni, was arrested yesterday along with 34 others on charges of bribery and corruption.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) released a report on Wednesday detailing the increase in drug-related violence on the Guatemala-Honduras border and calling for immediate action on the part of both national governments to combat the situation.
The large network of narco-trafficking gangs in the region have been competing over increasingly disputed drug routes that move substances through Central America, up to Mexico and eventually to the United States. According to the ICG report, since the 2009 coup d’état that unseated former President Manuel Zelaya, Honduras has become a primary entrance point for such drugs trafficked through Guatemala by smaller outfits with ties to Mexican cartels like the Zetas.
The report outlines eight recommendations of steps the Guatemalan and Honduran governments can take to improve the current situation, including implementing a long-term violence prevention strategy and working with countries that have pursued similar strategies like Colombia, Peru and Ecuador. The report also advises both governments to send health workers, educators, community organizers and other members of civil society to develop the border area and provide opportunities for the local population that has been impacted by violence.
“Tackling criminal violence requires sustained, concerted efforts to promote local development and guarantee rule of law,” said Mary Speck, project director for the ICG’s Mexico and Central American project.
The approach adopted by former President Mauricio Funes’ administration to combat crime is probably the least popular crime control strategy in Central America’s northern triangle. Salvadorans first learned details of the strategy in March 2012, when news reports suggested that the government of El Salvador had negotiated a drop in homicides with gang leaders who, as a result, were being relocated from the maximum security penitentiary in Zacatecoluca to different, less secure facilities.
Authorities have, since then, offered various explanations for the massive relocation of criminals to less restrictive correctional environments—sometimes accompanied by special concessions, like flat screen TVs and conjugal visits, or benefits to gang members’ families living on the outside.
Funes and his security cabinet deny that the state negotiated with gangs, and say that they merely facilitated a truce between gangs. However, Luis Martínez, El Salvador’s attorney general, recently revealed that a criminal investigation launched by his office indicates that the government paid gangs to reduce homicides. Moreover, recordings leaked to the press and opposition politicians by a hacker that allegedly feature prosecutors interrogating former public safety officials about government-gang negotiations, expose even more benefits provided to gangs by authorities as part of the negotiation—both inside and outside correctional institutions.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said on Wednesday that the host nation’s trouble with World Cup preparations are normal. “Everywhere in the world these big engineering projects always go down to the wire,” she told reporters at the presidential palace. Responding to criticism about unfinished stadiums and delayed infrastructure projects, including transport systems in Cuiabá, Salvador and Recife, Dilma said the delays reflected “the cost of our democracy.”
With eight days before the World Cup kicks off in São Paulo, the threat of a new round of anti-government protests loom over the tournament. More than a million Brazilians took to the streets during last summer’s Confederations Cup—a prelude to the World Cup—to protest corruption, fare hikes for public transport, and excessive public spending.
Anticipating renewed unrest that may once again turn violent, Dilma said that the government “fully guarantees people’s security,” and said that thousands of extra police and military forces would be deployed to ensure that protests do not affect World Cup matches.
Other members of Dilma’s administration do not share her optimism. Brazilian Public Minister Rodrigo Janot announced earlier this week that the government would create a “Crisis Cabinet” to monitor any future protests during the World Cup and address “excesses” on the part of either protesters or security forces during public protests.
For a debate on whether mega sports events like the World Cup contribute to the economic development of the countries that host them, click here.