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Monday Memo: Chilean Primaries – Cuban Co-ops – Brazil Protests – U.S. Immigration – Edward Snowden

July 1, 2013

by AQ Online

Likely top stories this week: Michelle Bachelet wins Chile’s opposition primaries; Cuban state-run produce markets go private; President Rousseff’s popularity dips; U.S. immigration reform moves to the House of Representatives; Edward Snowden stuck in Moscow.

Bachelet Wins Chilean Opposition Primaries: Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet won a landslide victory on Sunday in Chile’s primary elections, paving her way to run as the Concertación candidate in the November presidential election. Bachelet received 73.8 percent of the vote, while her nearest rival, Andrés Velasco, earned only 12.5 percent of voter support. The ruling coalition's candidates were much closer, with Pablo Longueira getting 51.1 percent of the vote to Andrés Allemand's 48.9 percent. Longueira will face Bachelet on November 17.

Cuban State-Run Co-ops Go Private: One hundred state-run produce markets in Cuba are scheduled to become private cooperatives on Monday as the country moves ahead with economic reforms. The private co-ops will create an alternative to small and medium-sized state-run businesses, and will be able to set prices and divide profit as they see fit. The co-ops can also purchase produce from individual farmers as well as state farms and wholesale markets. According to the Cuban government, more than 430,000 people now work in the non-state sector, not counting agricultural cooperatives and small farmers.

Protests at Brazil's Confederations Cup Final: Several thousand Brazilian protesters marched outside Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracanã stadium on Sunday as Brazil's national soccer team won the Confederations Cup 3-0 over Spain. The protests for improved public transport and services that started over a month ago show no sign of abating, while President Dilma Rousseff's approval rating has plummeted from 57 percent to 30 percent during the month of June. More than 80 percent of the 4,717 respondents in the poll by Datafolha, conducted on the June 27 and 28, said that they supported the protests in Brazil.

Immigration Reform Moves to the U.S. House: U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer predicted on Sunday that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will pass the comprehensive immigration reform bill approved by the Senate last Thursday, despite resistance from House Republicans. Schumer said he believed the House would pass the bill "by the end of this year," due to concerns about the party's future in an increasingly diverse country. However, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said that the preference is to “examine each of these issues separately,” rather than take up the Senate legislation.

Edward Snowden Still Stuck in Moscow: Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said that former U.S. contractor Edward Snowden "is in the care of Russian authorities" and reprimanded an Ecuadorian government official who provided Snowden with a travel document that Correa said had been issued without consulting officials in Quito. Correa spoke to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on the phone on Saturday about Snowden, whose U.S. passport has been revoked. Correa said that Snowden’s asylum request would only be considered if he enters Ecuador or an Ecuadorian embassy.

Tags: Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Cuba, Immigration

Chile Holds Historic Presidential Debates

June 28, 2013

by Joseph Hinchliffe

Twenty-three years after the fall of Augusto Pinochet, on the surface at least, Chile’s democratic institutions appear strong. However, less than five months out from presidential elections, many Chileans feel more disillusioned with the political process now than at any point since the return to democracy.

In the lead up to the November 17 vote, the country will hold historic primary elections on Sunday. Accompanying them, over the last two weeks, were televised debates—the first to include candidates from the two major political coalitions.

Both the primaries and debates are being touted as a marked change from the vieja politica—“old school” politics which, for 23 years, has seen remarkably little policy difference between politicians who held positions under the dictatorship and those who took up arms against it, or in some cases were victims of its repression.

For those within the established political system and mainstream media, the changes herald a new era of inclusive politics and represent a response to the demands for profound change from social movements sweeping the country.

La Tercera—one of the country’s two largest newspapers—published an opinion piece on June 21 titled, “Primaries, an Important Political Step for Chile.”

Written by Juan Emilio Cheyre—commander-in-chief of the Chilean Army from 2002 to 2006, academic and member of Servicio Electoral (Electoral Service—Servel) board of directors—the article concluded:

“The primaries are important in and of themselves. However, we [Sevel] believe that, in addition, they represent a great step forward in areas as relevant as: trust, public confidence, transparency, depoliticization, autonomy and participation[…] All of these are factors have a direct impact on strengthening our democracy, a task to which, as a country, we have been called upon to undertake.”

But to read the polls, the nation’s political class has never been more distant from the general public since Chile famously voted “No” to military rule in 1989.

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Tags: Chile, Elections, Media

Los indignados de América Latina

June 27, 2013

by Jenny Manrique

¿Cómo quitar los ojos de Brasil que en las últimas semanas ha sido objeto de la toma de sus calles por parte de jóvenes apartidarios, indignados, cansados de las políticas del gobierno de Dilma Rousseff?

¿Cómo no asistir casi estupefacto al crecimiento de un movimiento que espontáneamente apareció en vísperas de la Copa Mundial en un país que no solo se enorgullece de tener uno de los mejores niveles futbolísticos, sino que hasta hace poco sólo aparecía en las noticias como el milagro económico, la potencia emergente, el gigante latinoamericano y otros calificativos bastante generosos que indicaban que por lo menos en términos de políticas financieras, seguía la senda correcta?

No es que los indignados brasileños en las calles estén puntualmente protestando por el modelo económico, pero no es poca cosa que los indicadores por los que se alzaron tengan nada menos que ver con las inversiones en salud y educación y que los índices de reducción de la pobreza y desigualdad no sean tan alentadores.

La salida de Dilma fue darle a eso que significa en griego la palabra democracia, y resume todo su valor: el poder del pueblo. En pocas semanas los indignados consiguieron que no se aumentara el precio del tiquete de autobús—demanda original del movimiento Passe Livre que busca reducir a cero la tarifa de transporte público—y que sus demandas alcanzaran esferas insospechadas. Esta semana, los congresistas brasileños aprobaron un proyecto de ley que define la corrupción como un "crimen atroz", otro que destina el 75 por ciento de las regalías petroleras a la educación y el 25 por ciento a la salud, y rechazaron uno más que le retiraba facultades investigativas a la fiscalía, una propuesta de enmienda constitucional conocida popularmente como PEC 37.

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Tags: Brasil, indignados, Chile, Colombia Nicaragua, Dilma Rousseff

Bolivian and Chilean Representatives Meet at The Hague

June 13, 2013

by AQ Online

On Wednesday, representatives of the Bolivian and Chilean governments met for the first time at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague for a preliminary meeting to establish the timetable and other details for a case around a long-standing disagreement over the countries’ maritime borders.

Bolivia filed a formal lawsuit against Chile with the ICJ in April, demanding that the court force Chile to negotiate in good faith to provide land-locked Bolivia a sovereign outlet to the Pacific Ocean.  Bolivia lost access to the sea in 1904, when it signed a treaty to end the War of the Pacific—a war sparked by conflict over mining rights.  Bolivia is seeking land that is currently part of Chile’s Atacama region.

During Wednesday’s meeting—the first step in a long process before the case actually comes before the court—former Bolivian President Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzé met behind closed doors with Chilean Ambassador to the United States Felipe Bulnes to discuss dates and other logistics for the proceedings.

After the meeting, Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno denounced the lawsuit as unfounded, upholding Chile’s decades-long dismissal of Bolivia’s territorial claim. Meanwhile, the Bolivian government maintains that the 1904 treaty was signed under pressure from Chile and is therefore invalid.

If the case goes forward, this will be the first internationally arbitrated attempt to solve the dispute. Previous negotiations have failed and the two countries have never re-established diplomatic ties since they lapsed after a previous failed negotiation in 1978.

Tags: International Court of Justice (ICJ), Bolivia, Chile

The Pacific Pumas

March 11, 2013

by Samuel George

As the world grapples with generating employment, growth and innovation, a new club of countries has emerged as an engine of regional growth. Through improved governance, liberalized trade and stable macroeconomics, the economies of Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Chile have rallied in recent years.

Rather than following the lead of the increasingly protectionist and interventionist Mercosur countries, these Pacific economies have taken their cues from the Asian tigers of the 1980s, quietly becoming economic overachievers. Given the rise of China and the American pivot to the East, the Puma countries are poised to play a significant role in the emerging Pacific century. 

Statistically, the Pumas are growing by leaps and bounds. They have averaged 4.69 percent annual growth since 2005. The Colombian, Chilean and Peruvian middle classes expanded more than 10 percent between 2000 and 2010, while some estimate that the Mexican middle class already accounts for more than half the population. Inflation, a great scourge of Latin American economies, has been held within central-bank bands across the Puma economies. Puma sovereigns are investment grade, and their issuances are hot.

On paper, the Pumas roar. But what is driving these figures, and are they sustainable?

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Tags: Pacific Pumas, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Colombia

Monday Memo: Raúl Castro to Retire in 2018 – Venezuela Awaits News on Chávez – Bolivian Soldiers Face Hearing in Chile – Oscar Arias visits Paraguay – Mining Strike Continues in Colombia

February 25, 2013

by AQ Online

Top stories this week are likely to include: Cuba prepares for political successors in 2018; Venezuela’s opposition protests lack of information on Chávez; Tensions between Chile and Bolivia rise over Bolivian soldiers’ arrest; Oscar Arias visits Paraguay for OAS elections observations; and Cerrejón strike continues after explosives destroy trucks.

Raúl Castro Says he'll Step Down in 2018: On Sunday, Cuban President Raúl Castro told the Cuban National Assembly that he will step down at the end of his upcoming five-year term as president in 2018. Revolutionary icon Fidel Castro, whose public appearances are now rare, was present when his brother made the announcement putting an official end-date on an era of Castro rule that began in 1959. Raúl Castro then named Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermúdez, 52, his first vice-president. The younger Castro had indicated on Friday that he was thinking of retiring and might name a successor from among the next generation of Cuban politicians.

Venezuelan Opposition Demands Information as Chávez' Health Remains Uncertain: Hundreds of government opponents marched in Caracas on Saturday as part of the opposition’s new political offensive to protest the current political stasis in Venezuela as President Hugo Chávez remains out of sight in a military hospital.  Since returning from Cuba on February 18, the Venezuelan government has shared limited information about the president’s cancer treatment and prognosis. On Friday, Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolás Maduro said that Chávez was “energetic” and had participated in a five-hour meeting with government leaders, though he acknowledged that the president can't speak because he is breathing through a tracheal tube. Meanwhile, Chávez supports held candlelit vigils outside the presidential palace to pray for the president’s recovery.

Hearing for Bolivian soldiers in Chile begins Monday: Three Bolivian soldiers arrested in Chile for crossing the border with weapons on January 25 will face a judicial hearing today in the northern Chilean city of Iquique to determine whether they'll remain in prison. The arrest of the soldiers has increased the diplomatic strain between Bolivia and Chile after Bolivia denounced Chile's actions via a letter to the UN on February 18. On Sunday, Bolivian President Evo Morales compared Chile’s imprisonment of the soldiers with Bolivia’s lost access to the Pacific Ocean since 1879, another source of recent tension. Chilean Minister of Foreign Affairs Alfredo Moreno said that Bolivia is blocking a swift resolution to the soldiers’ cases.

Oscar Arias Visits Paraguay to Prepare for April Elections: Former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias is visiting Asunción, Paraguay, until February 27 as head of the Electoral Observation and Political Accompaniment Mission of the Organization of American States (OAS).  The mission aims to facilitate and monitor Paraguay’s presidential elections on April 21 to ensure that they are free and fair. It will be setting up elections observers and meeting with members of the Paraguayan government for the next two months. A number of the country’s neighbors view Paraguayan President Federico Franco as illegitimate due to the controversial impeachment of his predecessor, former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, in June 2012. Members of Mercosur and Unasur elected to suspend Paraguay from regional membership until the elections are held.

Explosives Destroy Trucks at Cerrejón while Mining Strike Continues: Unknown assailants detonated explosives at the Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia on Sunday as a strike that began on February 7 continued into its seventeenth day. Both Cerrejón and the leader of Sintracarbon, the coal miners' union, denounced the attack, which damaged four trucks but reportedly did not result in casualties. Cerrejón workers initially demanded a 7 percent pay raise, but they have since decreased that amount to 5.8 percent. According to the World Coal Association, Cerrejón’s coal accounted for 80 percent of Colombia’s coal exports last year. Union leader Igor Diaz said that the workers will meet with Cerrejón today to restart wage negotiations despite the attack.

Watch a recent AQ documentary on Cerrejón. http://www.americasquarterly.org/rio-rancheria-documentary

Tags: Cuba, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Venezuela, Cerrejón

New AQ Special Section Offers Broad Recommendations for Extractive Activity

January 29, 2013

by AQ Online

Natural resource extraction is a key contributor to economic growth in various parts of the Western Hemisphere, but governments, businesses and civil society are faced with how to improve extractive activity and its effects on broad-based socioeconomic development in respective communities. A special section in the Winter 2013 issue of Americas Quarterly, released today, includes photo essays and analysis to look at these challenges and compare the potentials and pitfalls for the natural resource industry in Chile, Colombia and Peru in four critical areas: community relations and consulta previa (prior consultation); value-added economic development; the nature of governance and public management; and the environment.

In the case of consulta previa, although Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization—on the right of Indigenous and tribal peoples to prior consultation—has been ratified by 20 countries, most of which are Latin American nations, the accord is still subject to competing interpretations by community leaders and governments.To maximize success and mitigate conflict, the AQ special section urges all stakeholders to view consulta previa as a regular process throughout the life of the exploration or exploitation project, and for businesses to broaden the scope of consultative mechanisms beyond extraction’s original impact zone.

The special section also suggests that governments and businesses work together to ensure a positive impact of extractive industry over national economies. By leveraging tax and royalty resources, governments can attract investment and promote local innovation. It cites Chile as a model in terms of its Fondo de Innovación para la Competitividad (Innovation Fund for Competitiveness). However, clear priorities for social policy and investment must be in place to ensure an equitable resource distribution.

In addition, despite some progress in economic and community development over the life of extractive industry in the three countries, governments and businesses still lag behind in protecting the environment from the negative effects of mining exploration. The AQ section asks governments to boost the capacity and strengthen the authority of federal environment ministries and for businesses to monitor energy consumption levels and seek creative ways to reduce them. 

In addition to the photo essays and analysis, an exclusive AQ documentary looks at a proposed project by the coal mining company Cerrejón to move an entire river 16 miles (26 kilometers) and the effects that would have on the Wayúu Indigenous community that lives alongside it .

Tags: Natural resource extraction, mining, Peru, Chile, Colombia

Mapuche Leaders Meet in Southern Chile to Discuss Ongoing Conflict

January 17, 2013

by AQ Online

More than 600 Mapuche representatives gathered in Chile’s conflict-torn La Araucanía region on Wednesday to discuss proposals for self-government and address the violent clashes between Indigenous activists and state authorities in southern Chile over land ownership and restitution.

Mapuche leaders organized a special summit at the cerro Ñielol (Ñielol  hill) in the city of Temuco in an effort to assert Indigenous autonomy and protest the Chilean government’s response to the growing unrest in La Araucanía, including a special anti-terrorist group sent to combat violence in the region. 

The latest tragedy in the long-running conflict between the Mapuche and the Chilean government occurred after an elderly couple, Werner Luchsinger and Vivian Mckay, died in an arson attack on January 4. Local Mapuche activists reportedly believed that the land-holding couple had usurped ancestral Mapuche territory and targeted their home.

Celestino Córdova Tránsito, a young Indigenous man, was detained near the scene of the crime and charged with the couple’s death last Friday under a controversial anti-terrorism law first enacted under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The law considers the destruction or illegal occupation of property an act of terrorism that can be tried in both civilian and military courts.

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Minority Rights Group International have criticized the anti-terrorism law being invoked against Mapuche activists, claiming that it has been used exclusively against the Mapuche since Chile returned to democratic rule.

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera declined an invitation to attend the Mapuche summit in Temuco, but Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick and Social Development Minister Joaquin Lavin planned to meet with local lawmakers and Indigenous leaders to discuss the ongoing conflict. The government said it would send a representative as an observer to the summit at cerro Ñielol.

Tags: Chile, Mapuche, Indigenous Rights

Chile’s Lithium Reserves: The Nationalization-Privatization Battle

October 22, 2012

by Olivia Crellin

Chile has embraced extractive industries as a tool for sustained economic growth, but this relationship does not come without controversy. At the beginning of this month, only one week after the government had announced the winner of its lithium contract, the concession had been scrapped and Sub-Secretary of Mining Pablo Wagner had resigned.

Chile is the world’s biggest lithium producer, generating 30 percent of the world’s profits on the sale of raw lithium and sitting on an estimated 23 percent of global lithium reserves—second only to neighboring Bolivia.

The latest controversy began on September 24 when a 20-year Contrato Especial de Operación de Litio (Special Lithium Operation Contract—CEOL) was awarded to Chilean company Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile S.A. (SQM). SQM was one of three companies whose bids to explore Chile’s lithium potential had been accepted by the government.

SQM currently produces 24 percent of the world's lithium and is only one of two lithium producers operating in Chile. The concession, which was sold to SQM for around $40.6 million, would have allowed the company to begin mining a further 100,000 tons of lithium from the government-owned Salar salt flats in the northern Atacama Desert.

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Tags: Chile, extractive industries

Chile’s Tax Reform: An Answer to Education Woes?

September 13, 2012

by Olivia Crellin

Just like the cueca (Chile’s national dance that will be on full display during Independence Day celebrations this weekend) Chilean politicians were running round in circles last week over controversial tax reform legislation to overhaul its protested education system. 

The bill, which will increase education-allocated government revenue by $1.23 billion, originally did not clear the Senate—where it was rejected on August 28 by a vote of 6 yeas, 19 nays and 7 abstentions.

The legislation had included a welcomed increase of the top corporate tax rate to 20 percent. But it also included controversial measures, including a 2-to-5-percent tax decrease—compared to 2011—for the top income-earners in Chile as well as incentives for children in private subsidized schools.

Senator Ricardo Lagos Weber from the Partido para Democracia (Party for Democracy—PPD) opposed the hefty tax cuts for the country’s most wealthy—or about 81,000 Chileans that fall within the top two tax brackets, earning between $7,142 and $12,040 per month. 

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Tags: Chile, Education

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