Top stories this week are likely to include: Maduro narrowly wins Venezuela elections; U.S. Senators to release immigration legislation; Guantánamo prison standoff escalates; Mexican teachers plan more protests this week; Chile’s Michelle Bachelet begins her campaign.
Venezuela elections: Venezuelan voters narrowly elected Nicolás Maduro as president on Sunday in a highly contested election in which the results are currently being challenged by opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. Venezuela’s Consejo Electoral Nacional (National Electoral Council—CNE) reported that Maduro won 50.7 percent of the vote and Capriles won 49.1 percent. As the polls closed on Sunday amid violence, supporters of both Maduro and Capriles claimed electoral fraud. Maduro's lead in opinion polls before the elections suggested that he would win, but Capriles rapidly gained ground with Venezuelan voters in the last two weeks. Capriles has demanded a recount, but it is unclear whether this will take place.
Gang of Eight to release immigration plan: The bipartisan "gang of eight" group of U.S. Senators will unveil a proposal to overhaul the U.S. immigration system on Tuesday, according to Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). The proposal is expected to step up enforcement and border security, create a new guest worker program and provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), one of the authors of the proposal, strongly endorsed the bill on Sunday. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the bill on Wednesday.
Guantánamo prison protest escalates: Prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay prison clashed with prison guards on Saturday. At least 43 of 166 prisoners have continued a hunger strike to protest prison conditions that include separating inmates in communal housing and putting them in individual cells. The Pentagon reported that 11 inmates are now being force-fed after going on strike as a response to invasive searches and other controversial security measures. Some of the inmates have been imprisoned at Guantánamo for over a decade without being charged with a crime.
Mexican teacher protests continue: The Mexican government sent federal police to Guerrero state last week to confront teachers that have been protesting Enrique Peña Nieto's recently-introduced education reforms by creating roadblocks on the highway between Mexico City and Acapulco. The reforms include the implementation of a requirement that teachers pass a standardized test to teach, which many protesters fear will cause them to lose their jobs. The protesters have teamed up with local militias, such as the 1,200-member Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities, and say that they are planning more protests on Monday.
Michelle Bachelet hits campaign trail: Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet officially launched her presidential campaign on Saturday, promising education and tax reforms if she is re-elected president. Bachelet’s possible opponents in the upcoming election include Andrés Allemand, a former defense minister, and Laurence Golborne, a former public works minister who led the rescue of 33 trapped miners in 2010. Though Bachelet left office with an 84 percent approval rating, she faces challenges. Tens of thousands of students took to the streets on Thursday, demonstrating that education will likely play a major role in the country's November 17 elections.
Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet is expected to announce her candidacy for president in the November election when she returns from the United States this morning, Chilean newspaper La Tercera reported on Tuesday.
Bachelet, who served as president from 2006 to 2010, resigned from her position as under-secretary-general and executive director of UN Women last week. The Party for Democracy (Partido Por la Democracia) and Socialist Party (Partido Socialista de Chile) are expected to announce her as their parties’ candidate on April 13.
Former President Eduardo Frei feels confident in Bachelet’s bid. “Everyone [in Chile] talks about her,” he said, “her friends and her enemies alike have made her campaign for her, they’ve paved the way.” A Centro de Estudios Públicos (CEP) poll is already predicting a Bachelet victory. Still, she would encounter her first challenge on the road to La Moneda on June 30—the date of the primaries to select the opposition coalition’s presidential candidate. Other candidates include Claudio Orrego of the Christian Democratic Party (Partido Demócratico Cristiano) and José Antonio Gómez of the Social Democracy Radical Party (Partido Radical Socialdemócrata).
Presidential elections are scheduled for November 17. If no candidate secures an absolute majority in the first round, a runoff election will be held on December 15.
In the early hours of yesterday morning, Chileans marked the one-year anniversary of the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that killed over 500 people, left thousands homeless and caused upwards of $30 billion in damage. President Sebastián Piñera attended the official vigil in the coastal town of Cobquecura, which was the epicenter of last year’s disaster.
Former president Michelle Bachelet, who was Chilean head of state during the 2010 tragedy and is currently the Under Secretary-General of the United Nations, replied to criticism of a perceived slow response on the part of her administration. In an interview yesterday with Radio Cooperativa, President Bachelet said that her government did everything “humanly possible,” adding that “we made the maximum effort to be with the people, the victims, and to come to the community.” Bachelet said that the only time the government paused during the recovery was to hand over power to Piñera, who assumed the presidency 13 days after the earthquake hit.
Looking forward, President Piñera remains optimistic about Chile’s future. In all, 220,000 homes, thousands of schools and hundreds of hospitals were destroyed by the earthquake. He noted that over half of the necessary reconstruction efforts to damaged infrastructure have already been achieved in one year’s time. Piñera proclaimed that “this is a gigantic accomplishment for all Chileans.”
Coincidentally, around 10:30pm local time yesterday evening, a smaller earthquake—registering a 5.9 magnitude on the Richter scale—hit southern Chile, specifically the Maule, Biobío, Los Ríos and Araucanía regions. No casualties have yet been reported, according to Chile’s Oficina Nacional de Emergencias (ONEMI). Another smaller earthquake followed this morning, around 7:30am local time, in Biobío.
The first months of 2010 have shown, in multiple and unexpected ways, the courage, resilience, and solidarity of the citizens of the
In my blog on March 13, I wrote about Secretary Clinton’s six country trip to the region. It was a great honor to accompany the Secretary. With each leader and citizen we met, our deep and personal engagement with our neighbors in the region was apparent. Given how much is at stake in the western hemisphere right now, I was pleased to have the opportunity to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere on March 10—and share with Members of Congress my perspectives on our relationships with countries of the region and what we want to accomplish together.
I talked about efforts by the
Peruvian President Alan Garcia cut short his trip to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Singapore, returning to Lima this morning to deal with a brewing spying case. Mr. Garcia abruptly announced his return—which comes a day earlier than had been scheduled—in order to publicly address an alleged incident of Chilean espionage involving an officer from the Peruvian Air Force. This newest diplomatic spat between the two countries had already provoked the cancellation of a meeting yesterday between President Garcia and his Chilean counterpart, Michelle Bachelet.
The spying accusations follow the arrest on October 30 of Peruvian Air Force official Victor Ariza Mendoza, who is accused of passing secret documents detailing Peru’s projected future military acquisitions to Chilean intelligence officers in exchange for money. Peru has brought charges of treason against Mr. Ariza and indicated that it plans to bring charges against two Chilean officials as well.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has responded to Peru’s allegations by denying any accusation of espionage and warning Peru’s government from jumping to conclusions. According to a Chilean presidential spokeswoman, “When there are accusations of this type, governments must exercise caution…We want to be clear: Chile does not spy.”
President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia comes back to Washington today—his 13th time here since being elected in 2002—to meet with President Obama following their face-to-face meeting at the April Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. It’s an opportunity to set an agenda looking ahead across the broad range of issues confronting both nations. The pending trade agreement will be discussed, but with Uribe already planning a return trip to Washington in September specifically to lobby, the agenda for the meeting today will be broader, including, no doubt, a joint statement on Honduras.
That’s important, because Colombia has been willfully misrepresented by trade opponents and their allies in Washington as a human rights wasteland. On top of that, for the past several years U.S. policy has been characterized as one dimensional and as supporting a president who his opponents claim is a quasi-autocrat with caudillo, or strong-armed, tendencies, and who, for good measure, was too close to an unpopular U.S. president. The meeting today, together with their discussions in April, will show again that the Colombian president is a serious, thoughtful leader. It will also emphasize that the bilateral agenda with Colombia goes well beyond passage of one agreement, as important as that is, and that the U.S.-Colombia relationship is strong and enduring.
After a long phone conversation with President Bachelet, Arturo Herrera, the director of Chile’s Investigation Police, resigned only 4 months before his term was over. Herrera, who had been in the force for over 38 years, was accused on a national television program of being involved in an underage prostitution ring. Such accusations have prompted investigations on the former director, who is also believed to have had links to the secret police during the days of Augusto Pinochet.
In an interview with “El Mercurio,” Herrera claimed his resignation was his own initiative even after being under pressure for the last few days. President Bachelet has appointed Marco Vásquez Meza as his successor.
Debo confesar que, a pesar de haber seguido con muchísimo entusiasmo los procesos electorales de Chile en las últimas dos décadas, las elecciones presidenciales de este año me producían un enorme aburrimiento. Eso cambió cuando Marco Enríquez-Ominami apareció en escena. Paso a explicar.
La candidatura del millonario Sebastian Piñera por la Alianza opositora perdió la frescura novedosa que tuvo en el 2005. Eso importa mucho en un país donde, luego de un largo periodo de gobierno de la Concertación, existe mucha sed de cambio. En este contexto la vieja Concertación gobernante demostró que no fue capaz de renovarse y prepararse para el futuro, llevando como candidato al ex presidente de 67 años Eduardo Frei. Hasta ahí no había nada nuevo. Un país que fue capaz de convertirse en una sociedad moderna y pujante, no supo producir una renovación política para enfrentar los desafíos del futuro. Es cierto que la Concertación tiene mucho que ver con las cosas buenas que pasaron en Chile en los últimos años. Pero sus dirigentes envejecieron al abrigo del poder y parecen no tener nuevas ideas. Michelle Bachelet—que mantiene niveles altísimos de popularidad—fue una fuerte señal que demostró que la sociedad esta preparada para un cambio que la vieja dirigencia no quiere o no puede entender.