Following a week of debate, Peru’s Congress approved President Ollanta Humala’s new 20-person cabinet yesterday, which will be led by Prime Minister Ana Jara. The cabinet was voted on a third time after the first two votes had too many abstentions to be valid, and approval was ultimately granted by a minimal margin for victory: 55 in favor, 54 against, and 9 abstentions.
Opposition legislators had made various demands of the administration before the debate, including that Energy and Mines Minister Eleodoro Mayorga resign. President Humala refused to get rid of any of his ministers, but did make concessions to the opposition, including suspending a law that required independent workers to pay into a pension fund.
Reacting to the news, Mesías Guevara, secretary-general for the Acción Popular (Popular Action) centrist opposition party said that President Humala “practically lives in a bubble” if he believes that the newly-approved cabinet is a strong one. The vote by Congress bolsters the Humala Administration at a time when it has been involved in frequent disputes with the legislative branch and the president’s approval rating is a paltry 25.8 percent.
Likely top stories this week: Venezuelan opposition agrees to participate in corruption debate; Chilean presidential candidate Evelyn Matthei registers her candidacy; Humala’s popularity reaches a new low; peace talks resume in Colombia; and environmental groups seek a referendum to prevent drilling in Ecuador’s Yasuní National Forest.
Public Debate on Corruption in Venezuela
On Saturday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced that he would ask the National Assembly for an enabling law to combat corruption, and challenged the opposition to participate in a public debate to discuss the government’s nationwide anti-corruption campaign. The Venezuelan government has made over 100 corruption-related arrests in the last month, including several political and media figures associated with the opposition.
On Sunday, Julio Borges, the national coordinator of Primero Justicia, said the opposition would participate in a public debate on corruption, and called on the president to “tell us the time and location” for a discussion on national TV and radio. According to Henrique Capriles, opposition leader and governor of Miranda State, recent anti-corruption efforts are a strategy to divert public attention from other pressing problems such as insecurity and inflation. Capriles’ offices are currently under investigation for corruption.
Evelyn Matthei Officially Registers her Candidacy
On Sunday, the candidate for the Unión Demócrata Independiente (Independent Democratic Union—UDI), Evelyn Matthei, officially registered her candidacy for the Chilean presidential election on November 17. Matthei was accompanied by leaders of UDI and Renovación Nacional (RN)—the two parties that constitute the ruling Alianza coalition. After registering her candidacy, Matthei gave a speech that recognized the current lead of former president and current presidential candidate of the Nueva Mayoría coalition, Michelle Bachelet. Still, Matthei expressed hope of taking the election to a second round of voting. If no candidate secures half of the votes in the first round, a second round of voting would be held in mid-December.
Humala’s Popularity Reaches a New Low
On Sunday, the latest Ipsos-Perú survey published by El Comercio revealed that Ollanta Humala’s popularity dropped to 29 percent, the lowest during the two years of his presidency. Despite the government’s recent military win again the Shining Path terrorist group, the president registered 4 percentage points less popular support than in July 2012. The survey also revealed that first lady Nadine Heredia’s popularity dropped to 38 percent, and Lima Mayor Susana Villarán continues to have one of the highest disapproval rates in the country, which reached 69 percent in August.
New Round of Colombian Peace Negotiations
On Monday, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—FARC) begin a new round of negotiations in Havana to discuss topics such as political participation. This is one of the most controversial items in the peace agenda as it involves negotiations around the incorporation of the rebel group into the country’s democratic system. According to Humberto de la Calle, the lead government negotiator, the FARC must surrender their arms and reach agreements around the five topics of the agenda to participate in Colombian politics. President Juan Manuel Santos sent a message to the FARC stating his commitment to the negotiations, but warned that the military fight will continue in the interim.
Environmental Groups in Ecuador Vow to Save Yasuní Program
On Sunday, environmental groups, human rights groups and Indigenous lawmakers threatened to take Ecuador’s government to international court over a plan to drill for oil in Yasuní, a protected part of the Amazon rainforest that is believed to hold some 900 barrels of oil—about a fifth of Ecuador’s total reserves. The actions follow President Rafael Correa’s statement last week that the government was abandoning the Yasuní-ITT Initiative, a long-term commitment to refrain from drilling in the rainforest area if the international community came up with $3.6 billion to offset some of the foregone benefits of the oil money. The president said that “the world has let Ecuador down,” as just $13.3 million has been delivered to the country. In the coming days, Correa plans to ask the National Assembly to declare crude-oil exploitation in the Yasuní as a "national interest." In response, some of Ecuador’s Indigenous lawmakers have called for a national referendum to decide on the issue.
The Peruvian Minister of Mines and Energy Carlos Herrera told Congress on Wednesday that the $4.8 billion Minas Conga mine project would not continue without the approval of the local community. “Projects should be approved by the people who will be affected by them," said Minister Herrera. Accompanied by the ministers of agriculture and the environment, Minister Herrera traveled to the project site in the northern Cajamarca region late Wednesday to negotiate an accord between the American mining company Newmont Mining and the local community.
Minas Conga is being developed in collaboration with Peruvian mining company Buenaventura and is expected to produce between 580,000 and 680,000 ounces of gold per year, starting in 2015. But local residents are concerned that the mine’s proximity to a water basin will cause pollution and sap vital water supplies. Responding to protests by local communities, some of which turned violent, Minister Herrera told Congress that "the position of the government is that it wants investment, but not at any price."
While it is unlikely that the project will be abandoned, Prime Minister Salomón Lerner Ghitis said on Wednesday that the government will carry out a "strict" evaluation of the mine’s environmental impact. On the other hand, the National Mining, Oil and Energy Society (SNMPE) said the government “cannot allow small, violent groups to impede inclusive development and private investment." An Americas Quarterly article to be released in the Fall issue on November 9 ("Do Chinese Mining Companies Exploit More?") looks at the labor rights and environmental records of Chinese mines in Peru.
As the world’s sixth largest gold producer, mines like Conga have fueled Peru’s stunning 7 percent annual growth rate. At the same time, President Ollanta Humala has made social inclusion a priority for his administration, promising to resolve the countless social and environmental conflicts plaguing Peru—many of them over mining and oil projects. President Humala will address the issue of responsible investment and social inclusion at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas Latin American Cities Conference in Lima tomorrow.
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Venezuelan Opposition Agrees to Back One Candidate
Members in the Venezuelan opposition umbrella group known as the Coalition for Democratic United (MUD) signed a pact Monday agreeing to present a united front against President Hugo Chávez in next year’s presidential election. The pact states they will recognize the winner of the February 12 primary as the sole candidate of the MUD. The MUD also asked the Venezuelan Electoral Council that international observers from the OAS, UN, EU, Mercosur, and Unasur be invited to monitor the vote.
Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the Venezuelan opposition’s decision to back one candidate.
Bolivian Ministers Resign over Rainforest Highway Controversy
As Bloggings by Boz notes, some 20 social movements in eight Bolivian departments aligned with indigenous protests against construction of a highway through the country’s rainforest. The Brazil-funded highway would connect the northeast of Bolivia with northern Chile and run through the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (known by its Spanish acronym TIPNIS). With the government of Evo Morales facing criticism over police action against the protesters, the interior and defense ministers are among officials to resign over the controversy. Morales suspended construction of the TIPNIS project; its fate will be decided in a referendum held in two Bolivian departments.
An AS/COA News Analysis offers background on the TIPNIS highway protests.
Bolivia in Focus
The Fall 2011 issue of Harvard’s ReVista focuses on Bolivia, taking a look in particular at changes in the country since current President Evo Morales took office. Topics explored include economics and development, education, political processes, natural resources, and different aspects of Bolivian identity.