Mexico’s Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (National Coordinator of Education Workers–CNTE), the powerful teacher’s union, took to the streets of Mexico City yesterday to protest President Enrique Peña Nieto’s educational reform, including a 3.5 percent increase in teachers’ wages. The leaders of the union sent a message to the president calling the increase “a joke.”
The education reform seeks to professionalize Mexico’s teachers, some of who have been accused of being "maestros aviadores" (aviator teachers) because they regularly fail to attend class. The protests in the capital come a month after local governments in Oaxaca, Chiapas, Michoacán, Sonora, Zacatecas and Baja California were taken to court by the Peña Nieto’s administration for not adhering to the rules of the reforms, and the laws of the “Servicio Profesional Docente” (Professional Teaching Service).
The educational reform project began with an agreement among Mexico’s three main political parties, known as the Pacto por México (Pact for Mexico). The reforms have faced stiff opposition, especially in southern Mexico where protests in Guerrero have turned violent and over a million students in Oaxaca missed nearly two months of class in September and October of last year. After taking to the streets on May 15, teachers threatened to call for more powerful protests and mobilizations against the Peña Nieto government.
Protesters in Haiti called for the resignation of Haitian President Michel Martelly as they closed a major road in Port-au-Prince on Thursday. Some 2,000 protesters accused Martelly of corruption and demanded that the government hold elections.
This is the third protest against the Haitian government this week after elections have been delayed for almost two and a half years. In March, a U.S. Congressional delegation to Haiti—including Florida Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Frederica Wilson—voiced concern over Haiti’s delay to hold elections. UN Special representative and head of the UN Stabilization Mission to Haiti (MINUSTAH), Sandra Honoré, has encouraged the participation of all actors after the executive, the legislative and political parties reached the Accord of El Rancho in February, agreeing to combine parliamentary and municipal elections. If elections are not held by the end of 2014, the parliament will dissolve in January of 2015, allowing Martelly to rule by decree.
The protests on Thursday were broken up by riot police and UN peacekeepers after the blockade and the Associated Press reported that at least 10 protesters were detained. Demonstrations overtook the northern city of Cap-Haitien on Sunday, and protests in the capital turned violent on Monday after protesters smashed car windows in Port-au-Prince.
After weeks of unrest, the Venezuelan government and the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable—MUD) opposition coalition agreed on Tuesday to “formal talks” to end the anti-government protests.
The two sides have tentatively planned to meet on Thursday for a discussion mediated by the Vatican and the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (Union of South American Nations—UNASUR). The foreign ministers of Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador are also expected to attend Thursday’s meeting.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro praised the preliminary talk on Tuesday, but said his government is not willing veer away from the Bolivarian Revolution. “Neither will we try and convert them [the opposition] to Bolivarian socialism, nor will they convert us to capitalism,” Maduro said.
Leopoldo López, the recently-imprisoned leader of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party and member of the MUD, expressed skepticism about the talks, saying in a message published by his wife on Twitter, “I believe deeply in dialogue, but in a dialogue of equals, not [with one side] on its knees.” A new round of protests erupted on Friday after Venezuela’s attorney general charged López with inciting violence, arson, damage to property and conspiracy.
The announcement of formal talks comes two weeks after Venezuelan government troops cleared the western city of San Cristobál, where the countrywide protests began in February. Since then, 39 people have died and over 600 have been injured in the unrest.
The wave of protests that first spread across Brazil in June may have subsided for the time being, but President Dilma Rousseff is still dealing with the political fallout.
To recap, after at first not responding to the protests, President Rousseff finally released a statement on June 21 during a ceremony to launch the new mineral sector regulatory framework. Three days later, revealing a sense of urgency, she met with Brazil’s 27 state governors and 26 state capital mayors. Then, on national television, she laid out new reforms to respond to protestor demands: fiscal responsibility; inflation control; stricter penalties for corruption; and reforms in public health, education, transportation, and politics—culminating in a partial constituent assembly that would consider modifications to Brazil’s constitution.
Rousseff’s Proposed Reforms
The president’s proposals seemed to prioritize political reform and addressing corruption. According to Rousseff, the constituent assembly would establish specific rules for selecting leaders and lawmakers as well as new regulations for campaign finance, coalitions between parties, and advertising on TV and radio.
The idea of a partial constituent assembly is not new in Brazil’s recent political history. In 1999, then-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso supported the implementation of a partial constituent assembly to more efficiently address tax, political and judicial reforms.
Rousseff’s proposal received immediate backlash, however. The president of the Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil (Brazilian Lawyer’s Bar Association), Marcus Vinicius Furtado Coelho, reaffirmed the association’s opposition, stating that political reform did not warrant changes to the Brazilian Constitution. Recently-elected Supreme Court Minister Luis Roberto Barroso and Brazilian Vice President Michel Temer, both ardent constitutionalists, also disapproved. As of June 25, President Dilma Rousseff had opted to forego the constituent assembly.
A finales de los ochenta, la prosperidad venezolana se desintegraba dejando en evidencia la ilusión que era. Parafraseando a José Ignacio Cabrujas, uno de los mejores analistas políticos que tuvo el país, sólo un mago podía ser llamado para devolverle la esperanza a una nación cada vez más frustrada. Pero a Carlos Andrés Pérez—quien resultó electo como presidente—se le acabaron los conejos del sombrero, y a falta de trucos ofreció realidades, entre ellas el aumento de la gasolina, y por consecuencia, del pasaje del transporte público.
Nadie lo vio venir, pero en la primera mañana en que el aumento de 25 centavos comenzó a regir, una revuelta popular iniciaría en los terminales de autobús de la periferia capitalina. Durante dos días, miles de personas dejaron correr su ira por las calles del centro político de Venezuela, y El Caracazo—nombre que recibió la protesta espontánea—se convertiría en un estigma político que marcó un hito en la historia nacional. Desde 1989, cuando ocurrió la manifestación, los precios de la gasolina sólo fueron aumentados una vez. Ni Hugo Chávez, con su inigualable carisma y conexión popular, se atrevió a tocar el desfasado valor del combustible.
Dos semanas atrás, en otros tiempos, otro país y otro contexto, un aumento en la tarifa del pasaje urbano también desataría la ira nacional. “La gota que derramó el vaso” repetían decenas de brasileños que salieron a las calles para rechazar el incremento—que en ciudades como São Paulo equivalía a USD 10 centavos. El himno del momento fue “no son sólo los 20 centavos” en alusión al precio en moneda local que los usuarios del transporte público debían pagar a más en cada viaje. Las frustraciones se mezclaron con las insatisfacciones, y lo que comenzó con una manifestación de calle derivó en un proceso de reclamos, tan complejo, que requirió de creatividad periodística para dar cobertura a las decenas de movilizaciones que, espontáneamente se siguen desplazando por las calles del país de la samba.
Acostumbrado a captar los titulares internacionales con fútbol, novelas y música, Brasil entró en la escena extranjera con notas sobre reclamos contra corrupción, malos servicios públicos, salud y educación deficiente. Economistas, sociólogos, analistas políticos y periodistas han intentado explicar cómo la población saboteó su propio pre estreno en la Copa Mundial—el desarrollo de la Copa de Confederaciones—reclamando menos estadios y más hospitales.
Thousands of Indigenous protestors have mobilized in the highland city of Puno, Peru, this week over fears that a Canadian-led silver mining operation will contaminate water supplies in the area. The protests, which began on Thursday, have largely cut off the city of 120,000 from the rest of Peru, stranded hundreds of foreign tourists who use the town as a staging point for tours of Lake Titicaca, and shut down a nearby border crossing to Bolivia.
According to local reports, these latest protests, which come less than 10 days before Peru’s scheduled second-round presidential elections on June 5, have been accompanied by sporadic violence. "They've started to loot public and private institutions, banks and shopping centers," police officer William Anda said on local radio. In response, President Alan Garcia has authorized the army to prevent escalation, but it has thus far not acted to put down the protests by force.
In a statement, Andrew Swarthout, CEO of the mining firm Bear Creek, which holds the concessions over the areas in dispute, attributed the protests to pre-election political tension, "which have arisen from communities distant from and unaffected by the Santa Ana Project." Hernán Cauna, a protest leader, declared: "We will defend our land until the very end, even though the state is causing pressure by mobilizing their armed forces and police.”
In advance of world leaders coming to Toronto and Huntsville, Ontario, on June 25, Canadian police have displayed the security measures that will be used to deter protesters, which will include thousands of federal, provincial and municipal police officers on horseback and motorcycles as well as officers in riot gear with SWAT and police snipers on high alert.
Police also have purchased Long Range Acoustic Devices, also known as sound cannons, to control the anticipated crowds. These are similar to those used at the last G20 summit held in Pittsburgh last year. Preparations in Toronto—the site of this month’s G20 summit—have included adding 77 closed circuit security cameras in downtown Toronto as an additional safety measure.
Some members of the Liberal party as well as of the New Democratic Party have called for an investigation into thee cost of security for the G20 summit. Slated to be the most expensive security operation in Canadian history, Auditor General Sheila Fraser will investigate the $800 million and rising price tag for the summit. Costs are estimated to reach nearly $1 billion at the summit’s conclusion.
Previous G20 meetings have each been expensive but have varied widely in cost depending on location. Security for last year’s summit held in London cost $30 million while the summit held in Japan two years ago cost closer to $300 million. Security expenses for this year’s summit increased when Canada agreed to host both the G20 and the G8 summit (in Huntsville).
The southern province of Abancay in Peru’s Apurímac region, known for copper and iron mines, is under police and military control to prevent further disruption from protesters who demand a greater share of the region’s budget. The state of emergency, declared Wednesday, will last for 60 days. Civil liberties have been suspended and public transportation is restricted in Abancay City, the region’s capital.
Protesters accuse David Salazar, president of the seven provinces in the Apurímac region, of allocating half of the region’s funds to the province of Andahuaylas, which has a historical rivalry with Abancay province.
On Nov. 20, clashes between police and union members who had gone on strike demanding the resignation of Salazar left 87 people injured. The Peruvian government fears the strikes and protests could effect mining operations in the region that are heavily backed by foreign capital. Total investment in Peru’s mines amounts to around $20 billion.
Peru's President of the Council of Ministers, Javier Velásquez Quesquén, said the protests are politically motivated. “We are not cutting the budget for Apurimac region. In fact it is increasing. The issue is the distribution, but even so, this is a political issue," he said.
Nearly 50 wounded protestors may be sent to jail as soon as they are released by doctors, according to AIDESEP, Peru’s main Amazon Indian confederation. Santiago Manuin, the prominent Awajun Indian leader, is among them and will be jailed and tried on charges of inciting murder once he recovers from injuries suffered from police bullets during a June 5 demonstration over the government’s plan to allow development on traditional indigenous lands in the Amazon.
According to the UN special envoy on indigenous rights, James Anaya, it will be difficult to resolve the dispute, which involves some 350,000 members of the Amazon indigenous community, if the government treats the protest leaders as criminals.
Many other Peruvian indigenous wounded in the protests have not sought out medical attention because of fears that they too will be arrested. Three officials of AIDESEP, including its top leader Alberto Pizango, have taken asylum in Nicaragua to avoid sedition and rebellion charges.
An Ipsos Apoyo survey published yesterday by El Comercio reported that President Alan García’s popularity had reached 27 percent by mid-July, a 6 percent increase from last month. The survey, conducted from July 15-17, also revealed that only 20 percent of the population supports the naming of Javier Velásquez Quesquén as prime minister—a contrast with the 41 percent that supported the previous prime minister, Yehude Simon, when he took the post last October.
García’s higher approval ratings may be a result of his decision to reshuffle the cabinet after indigenous protests turned deadly in early June. The protests revolved around a set of decrees that protesters said violated their ancestral claims on land and resources in the region. Infringement on indigenous land rights is a concern in Peru and in other countries where “territories have not been properly delimited,” according to Katya Salazar and Javier La Rosa in their article for the Summer issue of Americas Quarterly released today.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.