The boos that hailed down on Dilma Rousseff last month at the Confederations Cup are growing louder. Approval for the Brazilian president fell 26 percentage points in the last month, from 71 percent in June to 45 percent in July, according to a July 9–12 poll conducted by Instituto Brasileiro de Opinião Pública e Estatística (Public Opinion Research Institute—IBOPE).
But rather than taking a turn toward higher public spending, analysts and economists expect the Brazilian president to instead recalibrate toward more investor-friendly policies that will encourage private infrastructure spending, reverse a trend of rising unemployment, and spur GDP growth.
For observers of Brazil and other emerging economies, today’s social unrest may be the necessary step backward before the market can take two steps forward.
“If there’s one unifying theme that has held together the emerging market economies over the past 10 years, it is that incumbents have been strong and riding this economic cycle,” said Christopher Garman, the Latin America director of Eurasia Group, on July 17 during the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce’s mid-year political and economic outlook in New York City. That cycle contributed to today’s average length of incumbency being 7.4 years, he said—twice as long as in 2002.
“What we’re witnessing in Brazil is the end of a political supercycle and the return of economic constraints on politicians,” continued Garman. “As these constraints rise, we’re going to have a return of more constructive policies, both in terms of working more aggressively with the private sector in order to find more ways of boosting investment, and also on a macroeconomic framework.”
The leaders of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas—ALBA) are meeting today in Guayaquil, Ecuador, to discuss ways to further integrate the regional bloc and widen the scope of its work on social and economic issues.
This is the first ALBA summit since the March 5 death of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez—who launched the regional alliance with Fidel Castro in 2004. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa are attending the meeting. The heads of state are joined by official delegations from the bloc’s member countries, including Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, Ecuador, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Lucia. Representatives from Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Suriname, Guyana and Haiti are participating as special guests.
Today’s agenda includes a discussion on the bloc’s institutional strength, the implementation of a regional currency known as the Sistema Único de Compensación Regional (Unified System for Regional Compensation—SUCRE), the Common Reserve Fund, and strategies to expand social programs. According to the Ecuadorian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the focus will be on achieving regional integration centered on values such as the respect for human dignity and economic development, the right to self-determination, and the defense of each member’s sovereignty.
The ALBA Social Movements Council Summit—a two-day meeting of social organizations—is also taking place this week and will conclude in Guayaquil today. In preparation for the Presidential Summit, more than 200 delegates from member countries participated in the meeting where the focus centered on social issues such as the role of women, natural resource extraction and the agrarian revolution, among other topics.
In the midst of a deepening political crisis, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala gave his second Independence Day speech on Sunday. But for the first time since the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori, widespread protests and mobilizations against the government are gaining national momentum.
On Saturday, thousands of citizens gathered in the historical center of Lima. Protest organizers planned to march to Congress, but were blocked by the police, who repelled the crowds with tear gas and water cannons. It was the third massive mobilization in Lima in two weeks.
Public indignation broke out after the media outlet Perú21 published audio transcripts of under-the-table arrangements by congressmen from different parties to divvy up political appointments to the Constitutional Court and the Central Bank as well as the position of Human Rights Ombudsman.
Although the officials resigned and Congress annulled the appointments, public anger has not subsided. The scandal provided a spark for dissatisfaction with the Humala administration, who was elected in 2011 with promises of economic growth, social inclusion and “la gran transformación”—a great transformation of politics in Peru.
With two years in office complete, many of Humala’s promises have fallen short.
“The elections scandal was the straw that broke the camel's back,” said Carlos Gastelumendi, from the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (National Coordinator of Human Rights—CNDDHH). “Today we are not all protesting for the same reasons, but the elections made us all reflect.”
“There are several topics that are causing the youth to organize and protest,” said Sigrid Bazan, a former president of the student federation at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP). According to Bazan, protesters oppose the new Ley Universitaria (University Law) and the passage of a new code that puts the onus of sex education on parents, rather than schools and the state.
Likely top stories this week: demonstrators protest in Peru; a Chilean lawyer investigates the death of Michelle Bachelet’s father; FARC–Colombian government peace talks resume; a new report faults the UN for Haiti’s cholera outbreak; and assailants kill a Mexican vice-admiral.
Protesters and Police Clash in Peru: Thousands of demonstrators clashed with hundreds of riot police and plainclothes officers in Lima, Peru, on Saturday as protesters marched toward Congress on the eve of Peruvian Independence Day. In the midst of a national doctors' and nurses' strike, the demonstrators are protesting proposed education reforms, the continued poverty of many Peruvians, and the political appointment of 10 public officials (which the government eventually revoked last week following public outcry). Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, who completed his second year in office this weekend, is registering a 33 percent approval rating—his lowest since taking office. He addressed Peruvians on Sunday, defending his government’s economic policies and commitment to social programs.
Bachelet and Matthei Face Questions Over Fathers' Pasts: A Chilean lawyer is seeking to charge General Fernando Matthei, presidential candidate Evelyn Matthei’s father, with the death of General Alberto Bachelet, the father of former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. Matthei and Bachelet are both candidates in the November 17 presidential election. Human rights lawyers Eduardo Contreras says that Gen. Matthei knew that Gen. Bachelet was being held at the Air War Academy, where he was tortured in 1974 during Chile's military dictatorship. Gen. Bachelet eventually died in prison of his wounds. Gen. Matthei, who is 88, has not spoken in public about the case, but his daughter claims that the two generals were friends and that the charges against her father are politically motivated. Former President Bachelet said that she has not asked Contreras to represent her in the investigation of her father's death.
FARC and Colombian Government Resume Peace Talks: The Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) reopened peace talks in Havana on Sunday, just over a week after 19 Colombian soldiers were killed in two separate attacks reportedly carried out by FARC guerrillas. Government peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle said that the government would hold the guerrillas accountable for the latest violence, and added that the Colombian government would continue military operations against the FARC until a peace agreement is reached.
Haitian Cholera Victims' Charges Bolstered by Report: A new report released by an international group of scientists found that UN peacekeepers from Nepal are responsible for causing a 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti that has killed over 8,000 people. Citing new microbiological evidence, the report concludes "that personnel associated with the [...] MINUSTAH facility were the most likely source of introduction of cholera into Haiti.” The scientists first produced a report in 2011 that found no specific cause for the cholera outbreak, leading the UN to reject a 2011 compensation claim by cholera victims' families. With the new evidence, the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti is preparing to file more lawsuits against the UN in U.S. and Haitian courts.
Gunmen Murder Mexican Vice-Admiral: Assailants attacked and murdered Vice Adm. Carlos Miguel Salazar and Ricardo Fernández Hernández, an officer accompanying the admiral as a bodyguard, on Sunday in the Mexican state of Michoacán. Salazar was one of Mexico's highest-ranking naval officials, and the highest-ranking officer killed by gunmen since Mexico's government offensive against cartels began in 2006. He and Fernández were shot as they took a detour on a dirt road near the town of Churintzio. Worsening drug war violence in Michoacán caused Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to send thousands of federal troops and police to the area two months ago to improve security.
Last year when Argentina expropriated most of Repsol’s majority stake in YPF, the country’s flagship oil and gas company, the Spanish government and the European Union howled in anger, leading calls to sanction Argentina and restrict trade in retaliation. The high drama in April 2012 culminated in a few months of frosty relations between Spain and Argentina, but an embargo failed to materialize. It did not take even six months before Argentine energy companies returned to Spain to do business with Madrid’s blessing.
Now, Argentina seems to be poised to develop one of the largest unconventional oil and gas plays in the Western Hemisphere. Countering Europe’s whimper that the rule of law would always prevail over nationalism, a steady stream of suitors have been sidling up to the country’s formidable oil and gas resources. These suitors are not just national oil companies from the Middle East and Asia. Instead, they have included ExxonMobil, Apache, Statoil, and now Chevron, which recently signed an $1.5 billion deal to drill up to 1,500 wells that could raise production to 50,000 barrels of oil and 3 million cubic meters of natural gas a day.
Even in the face of a tough political climate and the geological difficulty of shale extraction, investors are lining up.
And they like what they see. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that Argentina has 774 trillion cubic feet of recoverable shale gas, making the country’s reserves the third largest in the world (after China and the United States). A significant amount of petroleum sits alongside the shale gas.
Investors are focusing on the country’s Vaca Muerta shale oil field, and are banking on the potential to double Argentina’s output within a decade. If the Vaca Muerta formation reaches anything close to its full potential, Argentina could also become a regional gas powerhouse, capturing a greater share of exports to Brazil and Chile or filling liquefied natural gas (LNG) ships bound for Europe and Asia. This would reverse Argentina's need to import. It would also be a major victory for a country that has quickly gone from being a net exporter of LNG to requiring massive LNG imports, imposing a major challenge on fiscal resources and its balance of payments.
Pope Francis I marks the end of his seven-day visit to Brazil this weekend—the first to Latin America as Pontiff—with a Sunday Mass marking the 28th World Youth Day, a worldwide event for young people started by Pope John Paul II in 1985.
His visit has sought to re-energize Catholicism in Brazil, which is home to the world’s largest Catholic population. Still, while 90 percent of Brazilians identified as Catholic in 1970, Datafolha polling shows that has dropped to 57 percent of the population today.
On Thursday the Pope travelled to Manguinhos, a favela in the municipality of Serra in the state of Espírito Santo, where he denounced the widening gap between the rich and the poor. The favela —home to about 35,000 people—is known locally as the “Gaza Strip” for its frequent gunfire. Condemning growing inequality in Brazil and responding to the recent protests, the Pope urged youth to remain alert to injustices and be catalysts in the struggle against corruption.
Despite 30,000 soldiers and police on-hand, the Pope’s visit has been marred by logistical challenges. On Monday, his motorcade got stuck on a crowded street, exposing the Pope to a mob of onlookers. On Tuesday, Rio’s subway system broke down for two hours, leaving thousands of passengers scrambling to reach a seaside Mass in the city of Aparecida—known for its massive shrine to Brazil’s patron saint.
On Wednesday, the Pope visited a drug rehabilitation hospital in Rio, where he called traffickers “merchants of death.” Brazilians consume the largest amount of crack cocaine in Latin America and, according to a recent study by the Universidade Federal de São Paulo (Federal University of São Paulo), Brazil has 1 million addicted users. The Pope emphasized the need to “confront the problems underlying the use of drugs, by promoting greater justice, educating young people in the values that build up life in society, accompanying those in difficulty and giving them hope for the future.”
The Pope is next scheduled to visit Brazil in 2017.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala swore in three new female Cabinet ministers on Wednesday, giving the Cabinet an equal number of male and female ministers for the first time in Peru’s history. Peru’s Cabinet now comprises nine female ministers out of a total of 18.
The three new ministers include Mónica Rubio, a former social protection specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), who replaced Carolina Trivelli as minister of development and social inclusion; Magali Silva, the former vice minister of production, who replaced José Luis Silva as minister of foreign commerce and trade; and Diana Alvarez Calderón, an advisor in the municipality of Miraflores and a former secretary general at the Ministry of Justice, who replaced Luis Peirano as minster of culture. All three of the ministers who were replaced cited personal reasons for stepping down.
Humala made these new appointments just days before he will mark the completion of his second year in office on July 28. In Peru’s 2011 presidential election, Humala ran on a platform of economic growth coupled with social inclusion and, among other issues, pledged to support greater equality for women.
The Cabinet’s other female ministers are Minister of Justice Eda Adriana Rivas, Minister of Education Patricia Salas, Minister of Health Midori de Habich, Minister of Labor and Employment Teresa Laos, Minister of Production Gladys Triveño, and Minister of Women and Human Development Ana Jara.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos denounced the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) on Tuesday for what he described as a “flagrant violation” of the group’s commitment to end kidnappings prior to its peace negotiations with the Colombian government in Havana.
Santos’ comments, delivered at the opening of Colombiamoda (Colombian Fashion Week) in Medellín, marks the second time in the span of a week that the Colombian leader has spoken out strongly against the guerilla group. Last weekend, FARC soldiers ambushed and killed 19 Colombian soldiers in separate attacks in Arauca and Caqueta departments, putting increased pressure on those around the negotiating table in Havana. In response, Santos vowed to use decisive military force against the rebel group if necessary.
The president’s most recent statement comes just days after the FARC offered to release former U.S. Marine Kevin Scott Sutay, who was abducted on June 20, as a gesture of goodwill in light of the ongoing peace negotiations. Santos responded to the announcement by saying that the FARC “did not abduct him before [the peace talks], they recently kidnapped him, without any justification,” thereby violating a statute of the negotiations.
As part of the release, the FARC requested that a humanitarian commission composed of the International Committee of the Red Cross, former Senator Piedad Córdoba and a delegate from the community of San Egidio be sent to retrieve Sutay. Santos refused to allow anyone but the Red Cross to be involved in the handover, saying that he would not allow Sutay’s release to become a media circus.
Pope Francis—the first Latin American to head the Catholic Church—arrived in Brazil on Monday to celebrate World Youth Day, a week-long international gathering of young Catholics initiated by Pope John Paul II in 1985. While millions of Catholics have traveled to Rio de Janeiro to greet the Pope, he was also met on Monday night by a group of 1,500 demonstrators outside of Rio’s Guanabara Palace, where Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and hundreds of dignitaries greeted the Pope in the official welcome ceremony.
Brazil is still shaken by social unrest that saw hundreds of thousands of protesters demand an end to corruption and better public services last month, and many demonstrators are now criticizing the estimated $53 million that will be spent on security during the Pope’s visit. In anticipation of more protests this week, the Defense Ministry boosted the number of army, air force and navy personnel and rolled out what state officials called “the biggest police operation in (Rio de Janeiro’s) history.” Even so, security might be problematic as the Pope plans to ride through the center of the city in an open-air vehicle, instead of the traditional bulletproof popemobile.
Pope Francis’ visit also comes at a delicate time for the Catholic Church in Brazil. Though Brazil is home to the world’s largest Catholic community—an estimated 123 million—Catholicism has been challenged by the country’s surging Evangelical population in the past three decades. Today, about 65 percent of the total population—compared with 92 percent in 1970—identifies as Catholic. In contrast, the number of evangelicals has risen from 5 percent of the population in 1970 to 22 percent in 2010. Rio de Janeiro is the country’s least Catholic state, with 45 percent of the population identifying as Catholic, according to the newspaper O Globo.
The Pope's weeklong visit has drawn over one million young Catholics to Rio de Janeiro. The pontiff will visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida— Brazil’s top pilgrimage site. He will also tour the Varginha favela in Rio, meet young inmates and hold three public Masses. The theme of the July 23-28 World Youth Day is “Go and make disciples of all nations,” a saying that summarizes the Pope’s mission to reinvigorate Brazil’s Catholic community.
Durante años, ejercer periodismo o entrar en la arena política venezolana implicaba aceptar el hecho de que, al tocar las cuerdas erradas, conversaciones telefónicas o trechos de la rutina diaria podían ser expuestos en televisión nacional—en loop o cámara lenta, estudiados con marcas y detalles como una jugada de fútbol—para delirio de adversarios.
Fue así como los programas más famosos de la estatal Venezolana de Televisión ganaron una audiencia sólida de espectadores que ansiaban ver a oponentes “pillados” en situaciones vulnerables. Mario Silva, un personaje desconocido hasta mediados de la década pasada, hizo de su incipiente programa, La Hojilla, una especie de big brother bolivariano que atemorizaba a periodistas y políticos contrarios a la “revolución bonita”. Con el aval del fallecido presidente, Hugo Chávez, Silva exhibía extractos de grabaciones obtenidas en edificios de Gobierno, así como pedazos de conversaciones telefónicas para exponer o ridiculizar a toda aquella figura pública que no comulgara con la doctrina socialista.
De forma irónica, La Hojilla y Mario Silva salieron del aire gracias a una grabación hecha por él, en la cual cuestionaba corrupción y tramas palaciegas dentro de la esfera más alta del chavismo. La cinta fue divulgada por la dirigencia opositora, y su legitimidad no fue investigada.
Paradójicamente, ésa es la administración que ofrece amparo a Edward Snowden, el ex analista de la Agencia de Seguridad Nacional de Estados Unidos, que puso su vida en vilo al denunciar el espionaje sistemático como política nacional e internacional de la Casa Blanca. “Decidí ofrecer asilo humanitario al joven americano Edward Snowden, para que, así, en la tierra natal de Bolívar y de Chávez, él pueda venir y verse libre de la persecución del imperio norteamericano,” anunció el presidente venezolano, Nicolás Maduro a comienzos de mes.
Unos días después, Snowden, desde el aeropuerto Sheremetyevo en Moscú, incluyó unas palabras de agradecimiento a Maduro en un comunicado oficial, y ensalzó la decisión de países como Venezuela que “fueron los primeros en hacer frente a las violaciones de derechos humanos ejecutadas por los poderosos contra quienes no detentan poder. Por no comprometer sus principios frente a la intimidación, ellos han ganado respeto mundial.”
Lo cierto es que mientras los titulares anunciaban la solidaridad y empatía de Maduro con el ex analista, las informaciones domésticas pasaban por debajo de la mesa. Reportes como el del Banco Central de Venezuela, que calculó en cerca de 40 por ciento el aumento de precios en el último año, o el asesinato de una madre y dos hijas a manos de efectivos de la Guardia Nacional durante un operativo, fueron apenas dos de las noticias—en economía y seguridad, los rubros más críticos del país—que no tuvieron la repercusión del asilo ofrecido por el presidente venezolano.
Como todo en Venezuela, en las últimas semanas se han invertido horas y kilos de papel para analizar y opinar sobre “el caso Snowden”. En cuanto eso, los venezolanos siguen haciendo colas para comprar papel higiénico, y se preguntan cuándo vendrá la devaluación que inevitablemente deberá intentar sincerar, por lo menos de forma leve, la moneda nacional.
Ahora que Snowden decidió solicitar un asilo temporal en Rusia, alegando problemas logísticos para llegar a la nación bolivariana, como era de esperarse, Miraflores ha centrado su mira en otro tema internacional: las relaciones con Washington. Declaraciones de Samantha Power, la embajadora nominada de Estados Unidos a la Organización de las Naciones Unidas, en las que señaló que desde su cargo luchará “contra la represión en Venezuela y Cuba,” fueron suficientes para levantar la indignación revolucionaria y dar fin al proceso de diálogo abierto a comienzos de año entre las cancillerías de ambos países.
El Ejecutivo venezolano respondió con fuerza y altivez a lo que consideran una afronta por parte de la funcionaria. Fuerza y altivez que falta para enfrentar la deteriorada situación económica nacional o combatir la inseguridad que tiene a la población rehén del miedo. No es novedad pues, durante años, Hugo Chávez buscó enemigos externos para llenar con discursos patrióticos los vacíos reales del país.
“Pero tenemos patria,” la nueva consigna del Ejecutivo, es la coletilla predilecta de quienes adversan al Gobierno para ironizar con los problemas básicos de Venezuela. “No hay papel higiénico, pero tenemos patria”, “Cuatro heridos deja tiroteo en cárcel de Vista Hermosa, pero tenemos patria”, “Sólo en Caracas: 392 personas ingresaron a la Morgue de Bello Monte en marzo, 422 en abril y 478 en mayo, pero tenemos patria”.
Mientras algunos venezolanos se inflan de orgullo al ver a su Presidente recordarle a la Casa Blanca que Venezuela es un país soberano, muchos otros se preguntan porque Snowden agradece el apoyo de un país que vulnera los ideales por los cuales él lucha. Ambos grupos podrán discutir a voluntad sus inquietudes: los temas están en la palestra. Para quienes tengan cuestiones más domésticas sobre cuándo serán sincerados problemas como la crisis carcelaria, control de precios, inflación, tasa de homicidios, robo y desabastecimiento, por los momentos no hay respuestas ni condiciones para el debate, pero tenemos patria.
Likely top stories this week: Evelyn Matthei will be the UDI’s new candidate in Chile’s presidential election; Pope Francis I arrives in Brazil; Colombian government sends troops to Arauca; U.S. lawmakers debate the KIDS Act; Venezuela ends its attempt to normalize relations with the U.S.
Chile's New Presidential Candidate: The Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union—UDI), has chosen Labor Minister Evelyn Matthei to run for president as the candidate for the incumbent Alianza por Chile coalition after Pablo Longueira unexpectly quit the race on Wednesday. Longueira was running against former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet in the lead-up to the country's November 17 election, but he announced last week that he was stepping aside due to depression. So far, Bachelet is expected to win the presidential election. In a March 2013 poll by Adimark, Matthei enjoyed a 56 percent approval rating.
Pope Francis in Brazil: Pope Francis I arrives in Brazil on Monday for a seven-day trip, marking his first international visit since the beginning of his papacy. On Thursday, he is expected to visit Varginha, a favela in Rio that was recently pacified and will travel the beach of Copacabana without the bullet-proof popemobile favored by his predecessors. The Pope's visit comes amid protests that have convulsed Brazil for more than a month, and more protests are expected during the Pope's visit, which is expected to cost Brazil $52 million for security and logistics.
Colombian Government Vows Crackdown after Ambush: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered troops to the eastern Arauca department this weekend after suspected FARC guerrillas killed 15 Colombian soldiers in an ambush on Saturday. Santos told troops "not to stop shooting until the conflict is over," but also said that peace talks between the government and FARC rebels in Havana should proceed normally. The government hopes to sign a peace accord by November, and FARC lead negotiator Ivan Márquez said last week that the half-century long conflict was reaching an end.
Republicans Propose Kids Act: The House Judiciary Committee is expected to hold a hearing this week on a bill that would address the legal status of undocumented immigrant youth and provide a Republican alternative to comprehensive immigration reform. The sponsors of the bill, Republican congressmen Eric Cantor and Bob Goodlatte, are calling the proposed bill the KIDS Act. A number of DREAM activists have criticized the bill, which has not yet been introduced: Edgar Morelos of the California Dream Network said that the KIDS Act was an attempt “to pit DREAMers against their families,” because it would not offer all undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship.
Venezuela Angered By U.S. Diplomat's Comment: Venezuela's foreign ministry said in a statement Friday that Venezuela has ended its process of normalizing diplomatic relations with the U.S. in light of "disrespectful" comments by the nominee for U.S. envoy to the UN, Samantha Power. In a Senate confirmation hearing last week, Power referred to Venezuela—along with Cuba, Iran, and Russia—as "repressive regimes" and said she would seek to address their "crackdown on civil society." Since the OAS General Assembly in early June, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua had made overtures to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to improve relations between the two countries, which have long been strained.
Former Economy Minister Pablo Longueira of the Independent Democratic Union (Unión Demócrata Independiente—UDI) withdrew from the Chilean presidential campaign on Wednesday just weeks after winning the June 30 primary of the incumbent Alliance for Chile (Alianza por Chile) coalition. His son, Juan Pablo Longueira, informed the press that his father had been suffering from severe depression and could no longer be a part of the race. The election will be held on November 17, 2013.
The Alianza coalition must now overcome any internal divisions to choose a new candidate to run against former President Michelle Bachelet, the Nueva Mayoría pact’s candidate.
According to a survey released on July 12 by El Diario La Segunda and Universidad del Desarrollo Ms. Bachelet has a 39 percent approval rate among likely voters.
Possible Alianza candidates include Labor Minister Evelyn Matthei of the UDI and former Defense minister Andrés Allamand of the National Renewal (Renovación Nacional—RN). According to Carlos Huneeus, director of Centro de Estudios de la Realidad Contemporánea, “the task is daunting for those who want to run against Bachelet.” Longueira entered the race just three months ago after the center-right candidate and businessman, Laurence Golborne, dropped out due to a financial scandal.
Cuando se considera a una persona como posible responsable de un delito en un procedimiento judicial, el fiscal puede solicitar su detención provisional, esto es, que vaya a prisión hasta que se le juzgue y decida que es culpable—o que no lo es. Ni el señalamiento que haga la policía, ni siquiera la acusación que formule el fiscal hace culpable a una persona. Sólo es culpable cuando una sentencia judicial lo declare.
Excepcionalmente, el juez puede enviar a prisión a quien todavía no ha sido declarado culpable cuando haya peligro de que se fugue o cuando, al estar en libertad, pueda interferir en el proceso, destruyendo pruebas o amenazando testigos. Pero el juez puede dictar otras medidas: obligarlo a comparecer periódicamente ante el juzgado, cumplir detención domiciliaria, usar un grillete electrónico o impedirle que cambie de domicilio o salga del país.
Las normas internacionales así lo establecen y la mayoría de las leyes de procedimiento latinoamericanas así lo disponen. Pero, en los hechos, las cosas no son así y, en parte debido a esto, nuestras prisiones están superpobladas y amenazadas permanentemente por motines sangrientos a punto de estallar.
Lo que ocurre en nuestros países es que se envía a prisión a toda persona a quien la policía y el fiscal señalan como responsable de un delito por el que, de ser condenada, sufrirá pena de prisión efectiva. El monto de la pena por la que se debe ir ineludiblemente a la cárcel usualmente consiste en tres o cuatro años. Si al encausado se le procesa por robo con violencia—que tiene como mínimo de pena seis años de prisión—es probable que, apenas se inicie el procedimiento, el fiscal pida prisión preventiva (PP) para él y el juez así lo decrete. Si al final del juicio se le declara o no culpable sólo preocupa a quien estará detenido durante años, en espera del juicio, sabiendo que no es culpable.
En nuestros aparatos de justicia se ha hecho costumbre enviar a prisión a gente que, en la investigación previa al juicio, son señaladas como culpables. ¿Por qué fiscales y jueces han convertido la PP en una pena anticipada que se impone incluso a quien no es culpable? La Fundación para el Debido Proceso acaba de concluir un estudio en cuatro países (Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador y Perú) para responder a esa pregunta. El hallazgo de estos trabajos es que, en un alto número de casos, la PP se impone en respuesta a presiones actuantes sobre fiscal y juez, las cuales les impiden actuar imparcialmente, en uso de la independencia propia del cargo.
De un lado, un clima alienta la utilización amplia de la PP. De otro lado, diversas prácticas operan como formas de discriminación en perjuicio de los más vulnerables y como privilegio a favor de quienes tienen acceso a buenos abogados y contactos eficientes.
Una atmósfera ciudadana estima “natural” que quien es señalado como culpable por la policía, lo es realmente. En esa atmósfera actúan los políticos que, desde gobierno u oposición, descargan en la justicia su propia responsabilidad en el incremento del delito y exigen a los jueces “mano dura” para castigar a quien caiga en manos de la maquinaria judicial.
Las cúpulas de las instituciones del sistema de justicia participan en generar y mantener ese clima. Declaraciones del presidente de la corte suprema, el fiscal general o sus voceros participan frecuentemente de los reclamos de una “aplicación estricta” de la ley en la que parece no haber lugar para algo distinto a la imposición de la PP.
Por su parte, los medios de comunicación cumplen un doble papel. Primero, reproducen y multiplican el discurso de las autoridades que proclaman la necesidad de una aplicación vasta de la PP. Segundo, generan, tanto en el manejo de la información como mediante artículos de opinión, elementos para alimentar la misma postulación.
Jueces y fiscales son sensibles a este clima que en América Latina alienta un uso amplio de la PP. Es un clima que recorta la independencia de los operadores, al generarles temor a ser señalados y cuestionados públicamente debido al uso de una medida alternativa a la de PP, especialmente en los procesos de repercusión pública. Pueden encontrar que lo más aconsejable—para sus propios intereses—es hacer lo que se espera de ellos, aunque nadie se los haya pedido expresamente. En el estudio hecho en cuatro países se comprobó la existencia de cierto número de procesos disciplinarios abiertos contra jueces debido a no haber aplicado la PP. En cambio no se halló un solo proceso abierto por haberla aplicado indebida o arbitrariamente.
Un uso extendido de la PP—contrario a aquello que tanto las normas internas como los instrumentos internacionales de derechos humanos establecen—es pues promovido desde el nivel de las autoridades, propagado por los medios de comunicación y recibido con cierta complacencia por una porción de los propios operadores del sistema. Además, tal uso recibe cierto respaldo popular debido a que en la percepción social el sistema de justicia está bajo sospecha; se sabe que los juicios son largos, que su transcurso es azaroso y su resultado, incierto.
La PP es vista entonces como una pena aplicada a cuenta. Ante el riesgo de que finalmente no se condene a nadie, parece consolar que por lo menos alguien reciba ese adelanto de sanción. En definitiva, que esa persona no sea culpable es algo que se anticipa difícil de determinar, dadas las limitaciones, sesgos e ineficiencias del sistema.
Estos factores hacen del uso amplio de la PP una política pública no explícita según la cual los operadores del sistema de justicia trabajan dentro de un clima falto de independencia, que desaconseja utilizarla como medida excepcional o último recurso, y están sujetos a presiones, en casos específicos, que conducen a un manejo arbitrario de esta medida. El resultado incluye no sólo una población carcelaria que desborda las prisiones haciéndolas cada vez más inestables y peligrosas, sino también contribuye a que dentro de esa masa de presos sin condena que habitan nuestras cárceles hay un número indeterminado de inocentes.
On Wednesday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff reiterated her proposal for a plebiscite on reforms to address citizen discontent over corruption and public spending that have fueled massive protests since June.
Rousseff first proposed a plebiscite on June 24. According to her plan, voters would select from a menu of options to overhaul the nation’s political system and address corruption. The plebiscite would precede any congressional deliberations and Congress would then legislate based on the plebiscite’s results. However, Congress quickly rejected the proposal. Instead, some members of Congress favored first drawing up a package of political reforms that would then be put to voters for approval in a national referendum.
During a meeting to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Consejo de Desarrollo Económico y Social (Economic and Social development Council—CDES), Rousseff defended the plebiscite, noting that recent protests have demonstrated a deep desire among citizens to have greater and more direct say in their government’s policies. A plebiscite, she maintained, would offer a chance for greater citizen participation than a referendum and help guide the government’s plans for reform.
While Rousseff’s popularity has suffered since the start of the protests—a MDA Pesquisa poll showed a drop in her approval ratings to 31 percent this week, from 54 percent in June, support for the plebiscite is strong. According to a Datafolha poll, 68 percent of Brazilians favor holding a plebiscite. The Brazilian Constitution stipulates that any changes to electoral rules must be in force a year before elections. Rousseff had originally hoped to hold the plebiscite before October 5—a year in advance of 2014 elections—but congressional opposition will make that timetable unlikely.
A little more than a year after Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner seized control of Argentine oil company YPF from Spain’s Grupo Repsol, Argentina has enlisted Chevron to develop its massive Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas field. The deal, inked Tuesday evening in Buenos Aires, confirms the California-based Chevron Corporation will invest an initial $1.5 billion over the next 12 months, drilling more than 100 wells to develop the country's shale oil deposits.
Oil companies and investors who have been waiting to tap into Argentina’s huge reserves are cheering the deal. But many who remember Fernández de Kirchner’s 2012 promise to return Argentina “to energy sovereignty” are left scratching their heads, and environmental activists say extraction of these unconventional hydrocarbons is a dangerous move.
The deal is the first major foreign oil investment in the country since the seizure of Repsol’s majority stake in YPF after the country’s energy deficit hit a record low in 2011. Last year, the Argentine government was forced to import energy for the first time in 17 years. Already this year, Argentina has imported $4.6 billion of fuel.
Now, officials say developing Vaca Muerta is the solution the country needs to fix its energy deficit. Vaca Muerta (“Dead Cow”), discovered in 2011, is said to be the world’s second-largest shale gas reserve and fourth-largest shale oil deposit.
Shale gas is found between rocks composed of mud and other minerals, far below the Earth’s surface (up to 10,000 feet underground). Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” uses millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals at high pressure to break through the shale to free natural gas and oil.
On Monday, Fernández de Kirchner also initiated an incentives plan for foreign investment, answering the cries of analysts and industry executives who have said the production of the fields will require billions of dollars of investment. According to a presidential decree, companies will receive incentives—such as the ability to export 20 percent of production tax-free—if they invest $1 billion or more over a five-year period.
"Vaca Muerta is a world-class share and fits perfectly within our solid portfolio of non-conventional resources," said Chevron CEO John Watson, who signed the decree on Tuesday with YPF CEO Miguel Galuccio.
Yet there has been fierce opposition to the deal among environmentalists, local leaders and Indigenous groups. On Tuesday, hundreds of leftist activists protested outside YPF’s headquarters in Buenos Aires.
The Vaca Muerta region is widely uninhabited, but is home to the largest concentration of Indigenous Mapuche people in Argentina.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel spoke out in opposition, and criticized the Argentine Supreme Court for overturning a November decision to embargo Chevron's assets in Argentina. A judge had declared the embargo because of a $19 billion judgment against the company in Ecuador for environmental damage and injuries to the health of Indigenous residents in the Amazon rainforest.
“Through this agreement with Chevron, Argentines are handing over our resources to the U.S.,” Pérez Esquivel said, “and turning YPF into a contamination-producing fracking company.”
On Tuesday, Mapuche groups protested in Neuquén issuing an online statement that declared: “We are tired of you failing to consult us about what is happening inside our own communities, when we will be the most affected.”
But the reality is that the world is in search of new energy sources in the never-ending quest to satisfy our insatiable energy demand. As Shefa Siegel points out in a recent AQ article, “extraction is inevitable.” But he also raises another important question around the Canadian oil sands that also pertains to the Vaca Muerta region. While extraction is going to happen, what can be done to control how we extract?
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to Cali on Tuesday for the largest demobilization of members of the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional—ELN) in Colombian history. A 30-member unit of the guerilla group, which included three pregnant women, surrendered in the southwestern city.
The ELN, with its estimated 3,000 members, has shown interest in convening peace negotiations with the government, but has thus far been rebuffed by officials who insist that they must demobilize and release all of their hostages before beginning negotiations. President Santos welcomed the unit’s surrender and encouraged all of Colombia’s guerrillas to fight for their ideals, “but without violence and without arms.” Integration into the political system has been a key point in the ongoing negotiations between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—FARC) in Cuba.
While the 30-member unit’s demobilization is seen as a positive step toward the end of armed conflict in the region, it remains to be seen whether the ELN, which has been operating in Colombia for nearly 50 years, will agree to the conditions for negotiations set forward by government officials.
The Argentine government announced on Monday that it would allow oil companies that invest at least $1 billion over five years to explore the Vaca Muerta oil field and to export, tax free, up to 20 percent of the crude and natural gas they produce in the country.
The move is part of a growing effort by the Argentine government to attract foreign investment in Argentina’s shale formations in Patagonia, which, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, may hold more than 770 trillion cubic feet of recoverable shale gas.
The Vaca Muerta oil field, located in southern Patagonia, is of special importance as it holds 22.8 billion barrels of unconventional oil and gas, considered the second largest reservoir in the world by U.S. oil giant Chevron. However, Chevron has thus far been the only major international firm to pledge a significant amount ($1.5 billion) to develop the basin since it was discovered in 2011. The company is expected to sign an exploration deal with the government today.
Despite Argentina’s vast energy resources, foreign investment firms have been deterred by Argentina’s runaway inflation, stringent regulations and the threat of nationalization. In mid-2012, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner forcibly nationalized YPF, the country’s largest oil producer, and left the prior owner, Spanish oil company Repsol, without compensation. Ever since, the government has been struggling to find companies that are willing to invest in the country.
The Argentine government also announced that companies that operate in Vaca Muerta will be allowed to renew their concessions for a 25-year period, with a possible 10-year renovation. Oil companies will also be exempt from foreign exchange and price controls, currently established in all other industries to prevent capital flight.
Likely top stories this week: Mercosur leaders pledge to withdraw envoys from Europe; Mexican opposition demands electoral reforms; some Guantánamo prisoners break their hunger strike; Peruvian legislator Nancy Obregón to be investigated for Shining Path ties; four are arrested after Guatemalan police station massacre.
Mercosur Countries to Withdraw European Ambassadors: At the Mercosur summit in Montevideo on Friday, leaders from Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela pledged to withdraw their envoys from France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain after a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was grounded in Austria on July 2. European authorities suspected that the plane was carrying U.S. National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden from Russia. The governments of Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela have all offered asylum to Snowden. Morales withdrew his ambassadors in protest to his plane being grounded last week.
Mexican Opposition Threatens to Walk Away from Pact for Mexico: Members of Mexico's political opposition said Sunday that they will withdraw their support for the Pacto por Mexico (Pact for Mexico)—through which Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto hopes to promote a series of energy and tax reforms—unless the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) supports an overhaul of the country's electoral system. Leaders of the PAN and PRD asked for the administration to investigate charges of electoral fraud during the July 7 elections in the states of Aguascalientes, Coahuila, Durango, Quintana Roo, Veracruz, Tlaxcala, and Zacatecas. The opposition parties also propose reforms that would permit direct run-offs between presidential candidates, consecutive re-election, and tougher penalties for electoral crimes. A special session of Mexico’s lower house of Congress is expected to meet this week to discuss the potential reforms.
Some Hunger Strikers in Guantánamo Resume Eating: The U.S. military said Sunday that a number of hunger-striking prisoners at the Guantánamo detention center in Cuba recently resumed eating to mark the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which began on July 8. The military said that 25 of the 106 striking prisoners had eaten an evening meal since Thursday, though it was unclear whether they would resume their strike at a later date. Prison authorities said that they have instituted a new policy that will permit prisoners to eat and pray in groups if they break their hunger strike, but forty-five of the prisoners are still being force-fed through nasal tubes. Many of the prisoners have been hunger-striking since March.
Former Peruvian Legislator Detained for Alleged Ties to Shining Path: Former Peruvian congresswoman Nancy Obregón and 29 other people were arrested by Peruvian authorities on Sunday for alleged ties to drug trafficking and the Shining Path rebels. Obregón, a legislator from Peruvian President Ollanta Humala's Partido Nacionalista (Nationalist Party), was a leader of peasant coca farmers in Peru's northeast and gave testimony during the trial of Shining Path guerrilla leader "Comrade Artemio," who was sentenced to life in prison in June. Police entered Obregón’s home in the early hours of the morning and inspected her house in search of arms and drugs, which they apparently did not find. Peruvian authorities will conduct a 15-day investigation of Obregón and the other people arrested.
Four Arrested in Guatemalan Police Station Massacre: On Sunday, Guatemalan security forces arrested four men—including two police officers—who are suspected of carrying out an attack on June 13 against a remote police station in Salcajá in Guatemala's Quetzaltenango department. Heavily-armed assailants shot and killed eight police officers on duty and kidnapped the commander, who is presumed dead. The Guatemalan government has sent 100 troops to make further arrests near the Mexican border, where police are seeking at least another ten people for involvement in the attack.
Yes, you read that title correctly. The small municipality of San Agustín Amatengo in the Mexican state of Oaxaca has recently attracted national attention due to what is likely the strangest story in electoral politics in the country.
On July 7, Lenin Carballido, the candidate from a Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN)-Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD)-Partido del Trabajo (Labor Party—PT) coalition, raised his arms in victory after winning the race for municipal president (mayor).
But this should have been impossible: an official death certificate announced Carballido’s demise in 2010 from a diabetic coma.
As national newspaper REFORMA reports, the story is even more complex because investigations suggest that Carballido faked his own death to avoid facing charges of gang-raping a 30-year-old woman in the capital city of Oaxaca in March 2004.
On October 12, 2010, a judge issued a warrant for Carballido’s arrest based on “unequivocal proof that the subject at hand [Carballido], using physical violence, assisted by others and against her will, raped [the woman, whose name was withdrawn].” However, the charges were dropped when a public defender informed the judge that Carballido had died that September and thus, could not be apprehended.
Less than three years later, Carballido was healthy enough to run an effective political campaign and narrowly beat his opponent, Alfredo Jiménez Ordaz, a candidate supported by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) and Partido Verde Ecologista de México (Green Ecologist Party of Mexico—PVEM). Granted, Carballido only beat Jiménez by 11 votes—but it was an impressive result for a guy who had supposedly died three years earlier.
Paraguay has just 6.5 million inhabitants who consume 27,000 barrels per day of refined petroleum products. To put that into perspective, Argentina consumes 698,000 barrels per day, Chile 347,000 and Bolivia 62,000. This makes Paraguay’s needs for hydrocarbons very small when compared to its neighbors.
Yet Paraguay is currently importing all of its oil, as it does not have any domestic production. In recent years, the country depended on Venezuela for a good portion of its energy needs, importing close to 8,500 barrels per day in 2011, through a preferential payment program called the Acuerdo de Cooperación Energética de Caracas (Caracas Energy Agreement—ACEC). The program was interrupted by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in 2012 after Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo was deposed, leaving Paraguay reeling and awash in $260 million in debt.
Oil in Paraguay has a complex history. The Chaco region is believed to have massive oil reserves, with estimates of some 4 billion barrels—just less than half of the estimated reserves of Brazil’s famed Libra pre-salt field. Because of these resources, Paraguay and Bolivia went to war in 1928 over claims to part of the region, where oil had been discovered by Standard Oil of New Jersey. The Chaco War, which raged until 1935, resulted in 100,000 casualties and, despite winning the war, Paraguay was never able to develop the region’s potential, while Bolivia went on to become a major producer.
Subsequent to the end of the war, numerous exploration and production companies came to Paraguay, but there were never any significant finds. Between 1947 and 2005, 49 wells were drilled without major production. A hydrocarbons law attractive to foreign investors was passed after the end of the Alfred Stroessner dictatorship (1954-1989), which provided favorable terms for companies wishing to develop projects in the country. Yet nothing to date has yielded tangible results.
Thousands of protestors—with estimates as high as 150,000 people—marched through the streets of Santiago yesterday to voice their frustrations over social inequality, living wages and the country’s pension system. The demonstration was part of a nationwide strike organized by Chile’s largest labor union, the Central Union of Workers (Central Sindical Unitaria de Trabajadores - CUT) demanding a raise in the monthly minimum wage from $380 to $490, improved labor conditions, tax reform, and a replacement of the privately managed pension system with a state-run one.
The protestors halted traffic during the morning rush hour, causing major delays in Santiago, and set a public bus on fire after the bus driver and passengers disembarked. Sixty-seven people were arrested. Miners also joined in the protests, and blocked the entrance to the world’s largest copper mine, National Copper Corporation of Chile (Corporación Nacional del Cobre de Chile – Codelco). Approximately 15,000 plant workers and another 30,000 contractors were called to participate in the strike. The company estimated a $41 million loss as a result.
The president of the National Association of Public Employees (Asociación Nacional de Empleados Fiscales - ANEF), Raúl de la Puente, asserted that 90 percent of the 100,000 public-sector employees took to the streets, in contrast to the government’s figures that only 6.4 percent (10,200) of public sector workers joined the strike.
These labor strikes took place amid ongoing and escalating social tensions surrounding Chile’s education system, with students demanding free, quality higher education.
A summit of Mercosur countries—a regional bloc that includes Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela as full members with Paraguay suspended from the group—will convene tomorrow in Montevideo to discuss Paraguay’s possible re-admission to the group as Venezuela takes the helm of the South American trade bloc.
Venezuela, which became a full member of Mercosur in July 2012, will assume pro tempore presidency of the bloc for the first time on Friday, taking over from Uruguay. Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay admitted Venezuela to the group last year, despite vehement opposition from Paraguay—an obstacle that disappeared when Paraguay was suspended from Mercosur after the controversial impeachment of former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo in June 2012.
The Paraguayan government’s relationship with Venezuela cooled further when Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan president who was foreign minister at the time, reportedly called for troops to enter the streets of Asunción to prevent Lugo’s impeachment.
Last week, Maduro said that his country would make every effort to re-admit Paraguay to Mercosur once his country had assumed leadership of the trade bloc. However, Paraguayan Foreign Minister José Félix Fernández said on Tuesday that Paraguay was not interested in rejoining Mercosur if Venezuela took over as chair of the group. “If international law is not complied [with], if the rule of law and Paraguay’s institutions and dignity are not recognized and respected, we can’t continue in Mercosur,” said Fernández.
For his part, Paraguayan President-elect Horacio Cartes said on June 25 that he would not accept Venezuela’s leadership of Mercosur. Cartes will be sworn in as president of Paraguay on August 15. At that point, Paraguay will be eligible to return to the group.
Other matters to be discussed at the summit include Bolivia’s possible incorporation into Mercosur, Ecuador’s request to join the bloc, and the expected entry of Guyana and Suriname as associate members.
The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—FARC) concluded their eleventh, and shortest, round of peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba, on Tuesday. This round of talks focused on whether to allow the guerillas to hold political office—one of the most contentious points in the five-point peace agenda.
This round of negotiations lasted only eight days and focused on guaranteeing the right of political opposition, particularly after a peace agreement is ultimately signed. And while the talks, which were launched in Oslo in October 2012, have yet to reach a consensus on the FARC’s participation in the political system, both sides did reach a partial agreement on the critical issue of agrarian reform in May.
President Juan Manuel Santos hopes to wrap up peace talks by November. Negotiators will also tackle the illicit drug trade, demilitarization and reparations for the victims of the nearly half-century armed conflict, which has claimed over 600,000 lives and displaced millions of civilians since the 1960s. The Colombian government and FARC will return to the table for the twelfth round of negotiations on July 22.
The spectacle of certain Latin American countries lining up to offer asylum to National Security Administration (NSA) contractor and leaker Edward Snowden has become a sad reminder of the lack of diplomatic maturity of those countries and a red herring to the whole issue that they want to highlight.
Whatever you may think of the man’s motives (and believe his future should be), Snowden’s revelations that the U.S. NSA was surreptitiously collecting data on U.S. and foreign phone calls and Internet communications should give us all pause and are a legitimate point for domestic and diplomatic debate.
But that’s not what we’re getting when the presidents of Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua line up to offer the 29-year-old asylum and the president of Argentina calls a poorly-attended summit to denounce the unfortunate detention of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane in Austria after he glibly offered Snowden asylum when he was in Russia. Those reactions have been a sharp reminder of the divisions in the hemisphere, between the rhetorically/ideologically oriented countries of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America—ALBA) and the rest.
Leaving aside the issue of how Snowden—without a passport—could leave the Moscow transit lounge, set foot on an airplane whose company will surely be banned from landing in U.S. airports in the future, and cross the airspace of countries opposed to seeing him leave, there is the question of “Why make the offer?” What is the practical benefit of giving the guy safe haven?
In the past few days, U.S. media networks have been reporting on the tragic events in Lac Mégantic, Québec, where a runaway, unmanned train carrying crude oil from North Dakota (73 wagons) barreled through a quiet tourist village of 6,000 inhabitants, derailed and exploded, leaving devastation in its trail. At the time of this writing, the entire downtown area had been decimated—15 people are reported dead and close to 40 missing. This will surely rank among the most heartbreaking tragedies in Canadian history. The events have since galvanized Canadians from coast to coast to offer heartfelt encouragement to the tiny village of Lac Mégantic and its inhabitants who are coping with this unspeakable horror.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited the site over the weekend and described it as a “war zone.” The Québec government under Premier Pauline Marois is on the scene and has pledged its full government support in providing assistance to the local population. Other politicians from across the political spectrum have visited the village and the Red Cross shelter to offer comfort and to demonstrate support. What led to the derailment will now be the subject of extensive investigations by authorities, and will surely continue over the coming months. There remain many unanswered questions about why this tragedy occurred.
Only a couple of weeks earlier, the city of Calgary, Alberta, also suffered tragic events, as extensive flooding—some of the most serious in Canadian history—resulted in tens of thousands being left homeless, with irreparable damage to property, personal belongings and infrastructure. Again, politicians and other dignitaries were quick to respond with offers of assistance and support. Canadians across the country have also reacted with the proper mix of compassion and assistance.
Both tragedies are still playing out and the affected communities will feel their impact for years to come. There is not much of a silver lining when tragedy hits so suddenly and affects so many lives. This is why, as Canadians observe the resilience of the citizens affected, it is encouraging to see how some local leaders can rise to the occasion, confront adversity, and become a source of comfort and inspiration in facing the ordeal. This is the case of Lac Mégantic Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.
Former President Michelle Bachelet, the Nueva Mayoría pact’s candidate for Chile’s November presidential election, expressed her support on Monday for legalizing abortion in cases of medical emergency and rape. Her opponent, former Economy Minister Pablo Longueira and candidate for the incumbent Alianza por Chile coalition, has vowed to maintain the current policy of prohibition.
Reproductive rights has risen to national attention in the midst of outrage following news last week that a pregnant 11-year old Chilean girl—raped by her mother’s partner in the southern city of Puerto Montt—faces life-threatening complications from her pregnancy. The girl, identified only as Belén, has few legal options since abortion is banned in Chile under all circumstances.
Chile is one of the most socially-conservative countries in Latin America and has one of the most restrictive abortion policies in the world. Abortions for medical reasons were allowed until 1973, but then outlawed under Augusto Pinochet’s military rule. Despite the restriction, reports from the Ministry of Health estimate that around 150,000 abortions take place in Chile each year. However, President Sebastián Piñera has opposed loosening the prohibition. In 2012, the Senate rejected three bills that would have ended the absolute ban.
A novel political endeavor took place earlier last month in Lima, as just over 17,000 citizens participated in the city’s first consulta ciudadana virtual (virtual citizen consultation) as part of the municipality’s participatory budgeting (PB) process. Across the city, residents used a new online system to vote in the consulta. Although those who participated represent a tiny proportion of the sprawling capital’s population, the consulta is still an impressive innovation with the potential to strengthen public accountability.
Last month’s exercise also highlights the progress achieved by the administration of center-left Mayor Susana Villarán as well as the patchy state of public participation across the country.
Peru has an extensive legal framework for participatory budgeting. The country saw a wave of decentralization reforms enacted in 2002 and 2003, including a mandate that all subnational governments develop their capital investment budget in consultation with civil society. Representatives of NGOs and civic associations are invited to take part in planning meetings as “participating agents” to propose and vote on capital investment projects of social interest.
By inviting individual citizens to vote, Lima’s consulta virtual represents a bold step toward expanding participation beyond the relatively closed sphere of participating agents. The process encourages even greater participation than the legal mandate specifies, leveraging information technologies to reach individual “vecinos desorganizados,” and considering their votes (along with technical evaluations and the votes of participating agents) in determining which projects to fund.
“Lima is much more advanced than anywhere else in the country,” said Stephanie McNulty, a political scientist who has studied participatory reforms in Peru. “The mayor’s office has really embraced this process.”
Outside the capital, however, PB is not moving forward so swiftly. Low administrative capacity at the subnational level means that many proposals approved by the PB process have yet to be executed. If this gap between participatory process and concrete accomplishments persists, it will significantly undercut participatory budgeting. Already, policy analysts in Lima are already warning of “participation fatigue.”
Likely top stories this week: results in the race for governor of Baja California; protests over legislation in Peru; Costa Rica approves same-sex civil unions; Brazil responds to surveillance reports; and UNASUR divided over Evo Morales’ flight interruptions.
Baja California’s Next Governor
On Sunday, nearly half of Mexico's 31 states held elections for mayors and local legislatures, but the most watched contest is the unfolding results in the governor’s race in the state of Baja California—the only gubernatorial election on Sunday—where the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) has held the governorship for the last 24 years. Significantly, in 1989, the PAN’s electoral win in Baja California was the first state loss for the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI), and a victory that is often seen as eventually leading to the PAN winning the presidency in 2000.
On Sunday, shortly after polls closed, both Francisco "Kiko" Vega de Lamadrid of the Unidos por Baja California alliance (which includes the PAN and Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD) and Fernando Castro Trenti of the Compromiso por Baja California alliance (which includes the PRI) claimed victory. With 92.5 percent of the votes counted as part of the Preliminary Electoral Results Program (PREP), Kiko Vega held a slight advantage (47.19 percent versus 44.09 percent) over Castro Trenti.
A dispute in the electoral results could result in new tension in the Pact for Mexico—an agreement of 95 loosely defined proposals signed by the three main political parties and unveiled on President Enrique Peña Nieto’s first day in office last December.
Peruvian Students and Civil Servants Protest Reforms
On Thursday and Friday, Peruvian police clashed violently with protesters, when hundreds of students and civil servants in Lima marched toward Congress to protest reforms that would impose tougher standards on universities and public employees. According to the protesters the reforms would force many students from their jobs and would compromise the autonomy of the country’s universities. President Ollanta Humala, who proposed the law, says it aims to improve the quality of government services and bolster a higher education system that lags behind many in the region. Humala signed the Civil Service Law, which imposes strict annual evaluations for government employees, on Thursday. A separate bill to reform universities and tighten standards for professors is pending in Congress.
Costa Rica’s Congress Inadvertently Approves Same-Sex Civil Unions
On Friday, Costa Rica’s Congress was shocked to learn that it had inadvertently legalized same-sex civil unions after President Laura Chinchilla signed a bill late Thursday governing social services and marriage regulations for young people. Earlier versions of the bill had defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman, but the bill that the mostly conservative Congress approved included revised language that "confers social rights and benefits of a civil union, free from discrimination." Jose Villalta of the Broad Front Party had inserted the new language that was unanimously approved.
When lawmakers noticed the new language—after having approved the bill—they asked Chinchilla to veto the new law, but she refused. A group of conservative congressman from the Christian Costa Rican Renovation Party has pledged to launch a legal challenge to the new law.
Brazil Demands Explanations about Reports of U.S. Surveillance
On Sunday, Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota expressed deep concern over a report that the United States has collected data on billions of telephone and email conversations in Brazil. Over the weekend, O Globo newspaper reported that information released by National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden shows that the NSA had logged nearly the same number of telephone and email messages in Brazil as it had in the United States. The article was written by Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian reporter who originally broke the Snowden leak story. The Brazilian government demanded clarifications from the U.S. embassy in Brasilia and pledged to approach the UN to set ground rules for international espionage to protect citizens’ privacy and to preserve national sovereignty.
UNASUR Holds Emergency Meeting
On Thursday, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) held an emergency meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to discuss the bloc’s response after several European countries closed their airspace to Bolivian President Evo Morales on Wednesday over concerns that his plane, which left from Moscow, was carrying Edward Snowden. President Rafael Correa of Ecuador called for the meeting, which was attended by Morales, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina, and José Mujica of Uruguay. The Colombian, Chilean and Peruvian presidents—all of whom maintain strong relationships with the United States—did not attend. During the meeting, regional leaders called for apologies from Italy, Portugal, France, and Spain for violating Bolivia’s sovereignty and condemned the U.S. for violating human rights through their surveillance programs. The lack of participation among key UNASUR members highlights the bloc’s divide on the issue.
On Wednesday, Guatemalan Vice President Roxanna Baldetti submitted a petition to Petrocaribe, an oil trading alliance among Caribbean nations and Venezuela, threatening that her country will leave the block unless the Venezuelan government agrees to maintain originally established interest rates.
Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez created Petrocaribe in 2005 to sell crude oil to neighboring countries at preferential prices and low interest rates—below 2 percent.The idea was to bolster regional cooperation, to supply oil cheaply to Venezuela’s’ neighbors and to help finance Venezuela’s oil infrastructure.
In May, Guatemala officially joined Petrocaribe, and Honduras was re-incorporated into the group, which now includes 18 Caribbean and Central American nation. Honduras joined Petrocaribe in 2008, under then-President Manuel Zelaya, but Chávez revoked the country’s membership in 2009, when the military ousted Zelaya.
However, potential interest rate hikes have raised concern in Guatemala.
In June, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Petrocaribe’s leader, suggested that interest rates might more than double to 4 percent to account for a global increases in oil prices. In response, Guatemala submitted to Maduro a petition to cap interest rates, noting that it joined the block to avoid the effects of rising world oil prices.
During the block’s VII annual summit in June, member nations drew up a framework to make membership more attractive by expanding economic cooperation among members, including preferential prices for other goods such as sugar and rice, as well as cooperation on tourism, communications and transport. Still, Baldetti claims that higher interest rates would render the agreement unattractive to Guatemala.
Correction: This post was originally worded so that it appeared as if Manuel Zelaya was the president of Guatemala in 2008. He was president of Honduras.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s plan to reform state-owned Petroléos Mexicanos (PEMEX) has attracted the attention of many analysts. Since President Lázaro Cárdenas nationalized the oil sector in 1938, no president has been able to push for reform to allow for foreign ownership of petroleum assets.
Peña Nieto sees allowing foreign investment to be critical to turning around PEMEX, which has suffered from declining production in recent years. PEMEX was producing 3.4 million barrels per day in 2003 and production slipped to 2.5 million barrels per day in 2012.
While the debate for energy reform continues, an oil auction for six blocks in the Chicontepec basin is set to take place on July 11, with multinational oil companies such as Repsol, Schlumberger and Halliburton set to make bids.
This is possible due to a 2008 reform that allows for limited private investment in the sector through incentive-based contracts. When it passed, then-President Felipé Calderón was quick to accompany the reform with a firm disclaimer: “I want to make clear that oil is and will continue to be exclusively Mexican property. PEMEX is not being privatized. Oil is a symbol of the nation’s sovereignty.”
Protesters blocked off a highway lane in Rio de Janeiro’s North Zone yesterday to hear speeches, three eulogies and a funk music performance, just days after the end of the Confederations Cup—nicknamed the “Demonstrations Cup” —on Sunday. Over 2,000 demonstrators from across the city showed that the spirit of protest is still strong in Rio, and that protesters’ grievances go beyond irresponsible public spending.
The crowds gathered yesterday mourned the deaths of 10 people—including a police officer—killed last week in a police operation in the favela of Maré.
Even as Rio presents a safer image to the outside world—heralded by the much-publicized arrival of Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora (Pacifying Police Units—UPPs) in Rio's favelas—violence between police and favela residents is still common. In the last decade, over 9,500 people in the state of Rio have been killed by police in shootouts labeled "resistance killings," according to the Instituto de Segurança Pública (Public Security Institute). These numbers have gone down in recent years, but they remain high.
Maré resident Timo, 35, said that deadly police encounters are “not extraordinary” in his neighborhood, but the events of June 24 caused particular terror, with an almost 24-hour police chase through the community that caused a power outage and involved police entering private homes.
The events in Maré, which is about to be pacified, throw into question how committed to peace the pacification process is and brings the issue of police violence to the forefront of Brazilian protesters’ concerns. The night after the killings, the story of the dragnet caused particular outrage when Maré resident and newspaper editor Gizele Martins, 27, related the events at a planning meeting for the next citywide protest.
“I just came from Maré,” she announced shakily to a crowd of thousands—mostly students—sitting in front of the downtown campus of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro—UFRJ). Martins said that a group of 500 residents marching through the streets of the community had just been able to pressure the last police tank to leave.
After chants of “Maré, Maré,” the group voted to add a new demand to their message for the next protest: the demilitarization of Rio’s police force. Coalitions from Maré and various favelas marched in the citywide protests in the following few days.
Not since Mexico’s transition to democracy in the late 1980s has the country witnessed the high levels of political violence that have characterized the build-up to the July 7 local elections.
Local politicians across the country have been the target of death threats, arson attacks and shootings. Although organized crime and drug-related violence in Mexico and the government’s efforts to curb it have garnered recent global headlines, political violence is nothing new in the Mexican political arena. The intimidation of rival party candidates and their retinues has been a feature of the electoral process in Mexico for time immemorial. What is new is the increasingly influential role organized crime groups are playing and the potential for them to undermine the democratic process.
Organized criminal groups across the 14 states where the elections are taking place are bribing, threatening and attacking candidates, whether because they do not want them to run—presumably because they have already successfully co-opted a rival—or to intimidate them into turning a blind eye should they get elected.
Those who ignore such threats are often kidnapped or—in the worst case—killed. This was more than likely the case with Jaime Orozco, the national ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional—PRI ) candidate for the mayoral elections in the remote municipality of Guadalupe y Calvo (Chihuahua), whose body was found dumped on the side of the road on June 12. Orozco had allegedly been kidnapped by a group of armed men two days earlier.
Candidates from across the political spectrum have withdrawn from mayoral elections in droves, citing alleged death threats and a lack of guarantees of their safety. The majority have hailed from the so-called “Golden Triangle,” an important region for drug cultivation and trafficking, which spans the states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Durango.
It’s now been nearly a month since the HKND Group (HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co.) and the Nicaraguan government signed an agreement to build an inter-oceanic canal that would cut through the Nicaraguan heartland.
The megaproject, with a tentative price tag of $40 billion, is set to include an oil pipeline, two deep-water ports, two airports, a railroad through Nicaragua, and two free-trade zones.
According to HKND’s website, the canal would measure 286 kilometers long, by 20 meters wide and 24 meters deep—twice as long as the Panama Canal and possibly the largest infrastructure project in Latin American history.
If the project goes through, Nicaraguan Public Policy Secretary Paul Oquist said that it could double Nicaragua’s GDP and triple employment by 2018, significantly reducing poverty and improving a number of economic and health-related indicators in which Nicaragua consistently ranks toward the bottom.
But at what cost? Each of the proposed inter-oceanic canal routes impacts Lake Nicaragua (or Lago Cocibolca, as it is referred to by Nicaraguans), essentially destroying the nation’s access to clean freshwater. This factor alone could have devastating environmental impacts for generations to come.
Further, this megaproject assumes that Nicaragua’s canal can compete with Panama’s existing canal and actually return a profit. Thirty percent of the Western Hemisphere’s cargo passes through the Panama Canal, which is undergoing a $5 billion expansion project. The remaining cargo travels through U.S.-based ports. Economically and environmentally speaking, the Nicaraguan canal faces great challenges.
Responding to weeks of protests in over 100 Brazilian cities against corruption and government spending, President Dilma Rousseff sent Congress a proposal package on Tuesday, which included a referendum to make the country’s political system more representative.
Even if it passes Congress, the non-binding plebiscite is not expected to take place before September. It would determine Brazilians’ opinions on the current structure of political party funding, the practice of using unelected Senate substitutes, the legislature’s current practice of anonymous voting, and the possibility of moving from a proportional to a representative system in the legislature.
Opposition leaders have cast the move as an attempt to regain popular support ahead of President Rousseff’s re-election campaign, given that her approval rating has dropped 27 percentage points since the protests began in June. Still, 68 percent of Brazilians support holding a plebiscite according to a Datafolha poll released on July 1 that was conducted from June 27 to June 28.
While the protests have ebbed following the end of the Confederations Cup on Sunday, dissatisfaction with health care, education and public transportation systems, as well as high inflation and a stagnated economy, could bring Brazilians back out into the streets.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said Monday that Ecuador will not grant asylum to Edward Snowden, the former contractor wanted by the United States for leaking National Security Agency information, unless he reaches Ecuadorian territory.
Correa maintained his support for Snowden, whose actions he said were a brave act against tyranny—in defense of universal freedoms and human rights. Yet, without dismissing the dangers that the U.S. government’s surveillance program poses to freedom worldwide, the Snowden affair has only cast a light again on Correa’s own failure to promote freedom of expression in Ecuador.
Indeed, Rafael Correa may have been recently re-elected with over 57 percent of the vote, but Ecuador is an increasingly repressive society. The republican principle that the majority should consent to and abide by its obligations to protect the rights of minorities is evermore elusive.
Dissent is not tolerated and political decisions, big or small, rest in the hands of the very few. Since Correa came to power in 2007, Ecuador’s political parties have disappeared. Correa successfully dissolved an opposition Congress and instituted a plebiscite to draft a new constitution that greatly expanded executive powers. Members of Correa’s political movement, Alianza PAIS (Alliance of the Proud and Sovereign Fatherland), now hold 100 of the 137 seats in the National Assembly. Municipalities, ministries and the judiciary exhibit a similar homogeneity.
This homogeneity, itself a product of Ecuadorian democracy, would not be so alarming if the state responded well to criticism. But, as evidenced by the new communications law enacted in June, the state is dangerously close to having a monopoly on criticism.