Chilean Minister of Energy Jorge Bunster addressed concerns on Wednesday afternoon over the threat of rising energy prices and the risk of a power shortage in Chile after its Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday to halt the planned Central Castilla thermoelectric power plant and port project. While the $5 billion, 2,100-megawatt planned power plant would provide much needed energy for the growth of the mining industry, Minister Bunster made clear that there were alternative projects that will supply electricity in the medium and long term.
The Supreme Court ruling, coupled with setbacks on other power projects, has caused concern that copper production will slow or become too expensive. Increased costs of electricity also poses the threat of a reduction in mining investments—a major source of national revenue with roughly $20 billion inmining project investments planned over the next 10 years. According to some analysts, the concern is not about a shortage of electricity, but the risk of anincrease in price. Chile’s mining minister, Hernan de Solminihac, has called for a national development solution, so that the mining industry continues to be an engine of growth. Mining represents roughly 15 percent of its gross domestic product.
The Castilla project is a joint venture between Brazilian billionaire Eike Batista’s, MPX Energia SA and Germany’s E.ON. They will now have to go back to the drawing board to reevaluate their strategy in Chile. It remains to be seen whether they will resubmit their proposal with an environmental impact study. The ruling on the project brought cheers from local fisherman and artisan groups who expressed concern over potential environmental effects such asair and water quality.
Top stories this week are likely to include: student protests in Chile; Ecuador and the UK continue Assange standoff; newspaper kiosks close in Buenos Aires; Brazilian candidates start regular media appearances ahead of municipal elections.
Student Protests Persists in Chile: More than 130 activists were arrested last Thursday and Friday during protests at the University of Chile and other educational institutions. Gabriel Boric, president of the University of Chile’s student federation, responded via his Twitter account, “Secondary school students and university students are in the same fight and we are not going to take a step back on this.” The students demand free higher education for all. At the same time, a recent Harvard study found that Chile raised student learning more than three times the average in a 49-country survey; still, its PISA scores are in the bottom third of all countries. Expect more protests this week and a continued hardening stance from the government. Today, police used tear gas to clear student occupiers from the Instituto Nacional.
Ecuador and UK Continue Assange Standoff: Foreign ministers of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) expressed their solidarity with Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa for granting asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over the weekend. They rebuked Britain for "threatening" to storm the country's embassy in London. A seven-point declaration notes that Britain's threat to force its way into the embassy is counter to the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations as well as the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Correa’s decision was also backed by member nations of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), which issued a joint statement expressing "emphatic support.” AQ Editor-in-Chief, Christopher Sabatini, observes that “given all the other issues in the region—including challenges to freedom of expression in Venezuela and Ecuador themselves—it’s hard to believe that expressing support for Ecuador’s offering asylum to Julian Assange for unsubstantiated allegations of a U.S. witch hunt should rise to the level of a foreign ministers’ statement.”
Buenos Aires Newspaper Kiosks Threaten to Close Again: Kiosk vendors refused to sell newspapers in Buenos Aires and the surrounding urban zones this past weekend in protest over a decrease in fees collected from each newspaper sale. Distributors and publishers unilaterally reduced the take for vendors to 32 percent of the newspaper price; the vendors want it to be raised to 40 percent. Omar Plaini, secretary general of Sindicato de Vendedores de Diarios y Revistas (SIVENDIA), noted, “we will join our colleagues at a meeting next Friday and, if they do not comply with our claim for the return of what they seized unilaterally and arbitrarily, which is 20 percent of our income, we will have a battle plan that will extend what we are doing today.” He declared that the closures could take place again this weekend if no agreement is reached.
Brazilian Candidates to Begin Free Radio and Television Appearances: This week, candidates for mayor, vice-mayor and city councilor will begin appearing on radio and TV as part of the obligatory free programing mandated as part of the Horário Gratuito de Propaganda Eleitoral (HGPE). Elections will take place on October 7 and October 28, 2012, in the 5,566 municipalities across Brazil. The one hour of daily programming is divided into two half hour blocks: 7:00-7:30 am and 12:00- 12:30 pm for radio; and 1:00-1:30 pm and 8:30-9:00 pm for television. Beyond the TV and radio coverage, “look for a continued shifting of political alliances as national alliances don’t necessarily translate into local ones. Still, the results will have important national implications,” notes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.
It’s not just Olympic athletes who live in fear of a drug test ruining their career. Chilean politicians are being threatened with the revival of a bill that would remove politicians from public office if caught using illegal drugs.
The legislative hype began last month when Chilean Senator Fulvio Rossi admitted in an interview with Chilean newspaper La Tercera that he smokes marijuana “two or three times a month”—a revelation that shocked his colleagues and delighted a nation of thousands of cannabis users.
In spite of the threat of this new law, Rossi, a Socialist Party politician, has chosen to stand by his personal admission. What’s more, Rossi has used his confession as a launching pad for a public debate about the legal status of the drug in Chile.
On the Chilean Sunday television program Tolerancia Cero (“Zero Tolerance”), Rossi called for an “intelligent” discussion about the drug—saying that legalizing the “auto-cultivation of marijuana breaks the business of drug-trafficking,” is less harmful to one’s health than either alcohol or tobacco, and is an individual human right.
“This is private behavior that occurs in the privacy of the home and doesn’t offend public morality or harm others,” Senator Rossi, who also has a degree in medicine, said on the show. “The state can’t interfere. This is guaranteed in the Chilean constitution and in international treaties that Chile has signed.”
While opposition politicians have branded Rossi as “seriously irresponsible” for publicly admitting his consumption, other Chileans like Sebastián Binfa, Director of Revista Cáñamo (Hemp Magazine) and owner of a café in Santiago that sells cannabis-seed smoothies and other marijuana merchandise, called the act “courageous” and applauded Rossi’s attempt to “normalize the issue.”
Senator Rossi has been keen to point out that Chile “must adapt its legislation to social reality,” and has introduced a bill of his own that would decriminalize the home cultivation of marijuana for personal or therapeutic use. The proposal also suggested legalizing the transportation of small, regulated quantities of the drug.
Today and tomorrow, Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna will host the foreign ministers of Chile and Venezuela, Alfredo Moreno Charme and Nicolas Maduro, and Cuban Foreign Affairs Vice Minister, Rogelio Sierra. The meeting marks the first official dialogue between representatives of the 33-member Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States—CELAC) and the South Asian country.
According to senior foreign ministry officials, the main objective of the summit is to strength the strategic and economic relationship between India and Latin American and the Caribbean, increasing contact points despite the great geographical and cultural distances. “A meeting with the external affairs minister in this format is indicative of interest (from both sides) in raising engagement between India and the CELAC,” said India foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin.
Over the past decade, relations between India and Latin America and the Caribbean have continued to grow, as professor Jorge Heine and ambassador R. Viswanathan showed in their article in the Spring 2011 issue of America Quarterly. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former President Pratibha Patil visited several countries in the region over the past four years, and 10 Latin American presidential visits to India were made between 2001 and 2011. India’s trade with CELAC increased from $2 billion in 2000-2001 to $25 billion in 2011-2012. CELAC receives about $16 billion in Indian investment, which mainly revolves around the hydrocarbon sector, information technology, pharmaceuticals, and minerals. Investment in the energy sector totals $8 billion, but further investment is likely given India’s growing energy needs.
CELAC was created on February 23, 2010, at the Rio Group–Caribbean Community Unity Summit and formally established in July 2011 at a summit in Caracas, Venezuela. It includes 33 countries in the Americas, representing roughly 600 million people, with the notable exceptions of Canada and the United States.
After being stalled in Congress for seven years, a bill formally sanctioning discrimination became law in Chile yesterday. President Sebastián Piñera urged lawmakers to speed passage of the measure after the brutal killing of gay youth Daniel Zamudio earlier this year set off a national debate about hate crimes.
The Ley Antidiscriminación, also called Ley Zamudio, imposes penalties for acts of discrimination by race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, economic status, religion, or sexual orientation. Individuals may file anti-discrimination lawsuits and a judge must issue a ruling within 90 days. Penalties range from $370 to $3,660, but may be increased in the case of injury. The law also provides for criminal sanctions against violent crimes and requires the State to develop public policies to end discrimination.
Chile is one of the most socially conservative countries in Latin America. Divorce was only recently legalized in 2004, and abortion remains illegal in all circumstances. Conservative lawmakers had stalled on the anti-discrimination legislation, which was originally proposed by President Ricardo Lagos in 2005, on the grounds that it would open the way toward legalizing same-sex marriages. However, after 24-year-old Zamudio suffered fatal injuries from a brutal hate crime, the local and international community and President Piñera moved quickly to enact it. The bill was approved by a majority in both houses of Congress.
“Thanks to Daniel’s sacrifice, today we have a new law that…will enable us to confront, prevent and punish discriminatory acts that generate such pain,” said Piñera at the signing ceremony, where he was joined by representatives of the LGBT community; Jewish, Muslim and Indigenous groups; and Zamudio’s parents, among others.
When the Chilean government made its initial proposal early last month to increase the monthly minimum wage to 193,000 Chilean pesos ($390.53), it may have felt it was already conceding too much ground to the demands of Chile's workers union: the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (Central Workers’ Union—CUT). It signified an increase of 6 percent from the previous minimum wage of 182,000 Chilean pesos ($368.60).
It has been a series of back-and-forth negotiations that saw arrival at this figure, with an original initiative proposed by the government in congress on June 19 for a minimum wage of 191,000 Chilean pesos ($386.48). After further discussion in the House of Representatives, the figure was amended to 193,000.
Despite the significant jump, the new minimum wage resulted in significant backlash from the CUT and politicians concerned with the lower class. It underwent further discussion last Thursday, with the proposal passing a vote in the Senate to undergo further debate in the House of Representatives last Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Argentine Minister of Defense Arturo Puricelli and his Chinese counterpart, General Liang Guanglie, signed a memorandum of understanding in which they agreed to cooperate in the area of defense. The agreement was signed during a visit by the Argentine minister to Beijing to strengthen a relationship developed and deepened since 2004, when President Hu Jintao visited Argentina following the visit of then-President Néstor Kirchner to China.
During a lecture at the National University of the Republic of China in Beijing, Minister Puricelli said, "We are making a fresh start toward building a true bilateral strategic partnership of cooperation in defense" with China. Under the terms of the agreement, the two countries plan to conduct joint military exercises, exchange of UN peacekeeping experiences, and collaboration in the fields of science, technology and industry for defense purposes. China and Argentina had previously signed a similar memorandum for the period 2007-2012, which expired last month. The new agreement has no end date.
Puricelli denied that negotiations for the purchase of weapons were conducted, but hinted such purchases are not "restricted." He noted that the interest of Argentina is in cooperation and technology transfer, especially because much of the technology currently used in Argentina comes from the United Kingdom, and the government wants to "replace the technology with that of friendly countries," he said. Argentina’s defense ministry said yesterday that Puricelli had visited China’s defense contractors, including providers of helicopters, guided weapons systems and anti-aircraft artillery, and Puricelli also pointed to the “unvarying support” of China with regard to Argentina’s claims to sovereignty over the Islas Malvinas/Falkland Islands.
Chile's proverbial education debate has this taken a new turn this week after a seven-month investigation revealed that a number of universities are illegally operating as profit-oriented businesses.
According to a report conducted by a special investigation committee, eight universities violated anti-profiteering laws amidst findings of increased salaries among executives, circulation of finances between companies under the same private ownership and outsourcing of services as means of generating revenue.
Among the universities accused are: Universidad de las Américas; Universidad Andrés Bello; Universidad Viña del Mar; AIEP-Andrés Bello; Universidad Santo Tomás; Universidad de Artes, Ciencias y Comunicación; Universidad del Desarrollo; and Universidad del Mar.
The findings of the investigation, which will be sent to the Ministry of Education for further action, exemplify the disparity between Chile's ever-growing student movement gunning for free, higher-quality postsecondary education and the perspective of Chile’s federal executive branch, led by billionaire President Sebastián Piñera.
Piñera's cabinet includes Ministers Cristián Larroulet and Joaquín Lavín who are both founders of Universidad del Desarollo. When questioned on the issue while in Mexico for the G-20 summit earlier this week, Piñera deflected attention to a youth uprising influenced by ideas that in his view are simply wrong: "Remember that the main leaders of this movement belong to the Communist Party and they have a vision of society that is very different to this president."
Despite transferring presidential power to democratically elected Patricio Aylwin in 1990, General Augusto Pinochet’s reign as military ruler and dictator (1973-1990) remains a controversial topic among the Chilean people. It then came as no surprise that the lead-up last week to Sunday’s screening of “Pinochet,” a sympathetic documentary paying homage to the army general, led to significant public backlash.
“Pinochet” aims to outline political context leading up the 1973 military coup and focus on the positive outcomes of the consequent 17-year rule. Over 1,000 people attended the screening at Santiago’s Teatro Caupolicán on Sunday, including politically conservative invitees from the United States, Spain, France, and Argentina. As the opening credits appeared on screen that bore the title of the dictator’s surname, the audience erupted into empathic applause.
Protest groups lobbied to have the screening banned, calling for the federal government to clamp down on what they see as implicit approval of the human rights violations that were committed across 17 years. More than 3,200 people were murdered or disappeared during Pinochet’s rule, while 37,000 cases of torture and illegal imprisonment have been documented.
“In Chile, state-sponsored terrorism existed, torture existed, forced disappearances and executions existed, along with the systematic violation of hundreds of Chileans for over 17 years. We can’t allow a tribute to this,” human rights activist Alejandra Arriaza decried last week.
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera’s approval rating rose to 33 percent in May, according to a poll released on Monday by Santiago-based pollster Adimark Gfk. The boost is due to the Central Bank’s mid-May report that the Chilean economy grew 5.6 percent in the first quarter of 2012. Adimark reported that lower fuel prices and Piñera’s mea culpa on how the government dealt with social unrest in Aysén and Freirina during a speech last month were also factors.
Monday’s result was welcome news for the center-right president one month after his approval numbers dipped to all-time low of 26 percent in April—the lowest for a sitting president since the end of General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in 1990. But the boost may be short-lived. Despite solid economic growth, Chileans are wary of the widening income gap and many do not feel like they have benefited from the copper-fueled boom, according to the poll.
It is not clear whether low approval of the president will affect his coalition. Several of Piñera’s key ministers remain popular, including Public Works Minister Laurence Golborne, Defense Minister Andrés Allamand and Economy and Tourism Minister Pablo Longueira. Given Chile’s electoral law prohibiting immediate reelection, these ministers are favored to represent the Right in the 2013-2014 presidential election. "They have good chances in 2013” against the likely center-left opponent, Former President Michelle Bachelet, according to Patricio Navia, professor at the Universidad Diego Portales and New York University.