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
Top stories this week are likely to include: Uncertainty surrounding Hugo Chávez’ inauguration in Venezuela; Evo Morales alleges U.S. plot to destabilize his government; Brazil weighs electricity measures; and Canada deepens ties with Africa.
Inauguration Day in Venezuela: After his re-election last October, President Hugo Chávez is scheduled to be inaugurated this Thursday per the constitution that he helped write when he first rose to office in 1999. However, with Chávez recovering in Havana, Cuba, after his surgery last month on an undisclosed form of cancer, many Venezuelans are questioning his fitness for office as well as if or how he will assume another six-year term in three days. The constitution stipulates that the National Assembly President—Diosdado Cabello, who was re-elected to the post over the weekend—act as president if Chávez is declared incapacitated before Thursday and that Vice President Nicolás Maduro would become head of state if Chávez is declared incapacitated after Thursday. However, there are no indications that the executive branch intends to abide by these rules. Maduro claimed that the Supreme Court could swear in Chávez at a later date—a statement that was supported by Attorney General Cilia Flores, who is also Maduro’s wife. Calls from the political opposition for greater transparency have been repeatedly rebuffed. Stay tuned for updates on what will be the top issue in the hemisphere this week.
Morales Accuses U.S. Embassy: Bolivian President Evo Morales claims he has “irrefutable evidence” that the U.S. Embassy in La Paz is plotting to destabilize his government, claims Minister of the Presidency Juan Ramon Quintana. Quintana continued that the Morales administration will present the evidence to U.S. President Barack Obama and “tell him [to] cease all hostilities against the Bolivian government, stop the political ambush of our government.” U.S.-Bolivian relations have been tenuous since Morales assumed office in 2006, hitting a nadir when Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador in 2008.
Brazil’s Energy Budget Crisis: After water levels in hydroelectric dams dropped considerably—in some areas reaching a two-thirds decrease—Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called an emergency meeting with energy representatives to shore up electricity reserves. Rousseff tasked her Minister of Mines and Energy, Edison Lobão, to head the meeting, which Folha de São Paulo is reporting will occur on Wednesday. At issue: Brazilian cities have experienced blackouts in recent months, and some private-sector analysts are projecting a rationing of electricity in the world’s sixth-largest economy—recalling a similar scenario in 2001. Pay attention to see if Rousseff’s government announces any measures for 2013 as a result of the meeting.
Canada Discusses Africa Policy: Beninese President Thomas Yayi Boni, also the head of the African Union, will visit Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa tomorrow. A central focus of the meeting is anticipated to be the growing instability in Mali; last month the United Nations Security Council agreed to an African-led counter-assault against Islamist rebels. Boni’s visit could include a request for Canadian involvement. According to Defense Minister Peter MacKay, the Canadian government is “contemplating what contribution Canada could make.” International Cooperation Minister added that “Canada remains very concerned about the situation in Mali, [but] we do not anticipate going there.” More concrete details will likely surface after tomorrow’s meeting.
A national population and housing census will take place in Bolivia today, the first in the country in 11 years. Ahead of the survey, President Evo Morales has imposed a general curfew, which restricts private traffic, bans alcohol and closes the country's borders during the day. Exceptions to the curfew include government officials, diplomats, journalists and medical personnel.
The objective of the measure is to recount the country's population to better assess its needs. "The census is not for the government, it is for the people, especially for the future generations,” Morales said. Under the current Bolivian constitution, a census must take place every 10 years. The country has held 10 such surveys since independence in 1826.
According to the National Institute of Statistics (Instituto Nacional de Estadistica⎯INE) Bolivia’s population was of 8,274,325 inhabitants for the 2001 census. Estimates indicate that the population has grown to nearly 11 million.
The results from the census will lead to changes in the number of representatives in the legislative body. At the same time, some communities fear that they may be underrepresented in this year’s count, which will restrict their access to resources in the future. Given the important implications for years to come, the census has triggered more than 80 disagreements over the municipal borders that will help to define specific population areas. On Monday, Morales clarified that the objective of the census is not to solve territorial conflicts but to update information on the number of inhabitants and their needs.
Today the INE will mobilize 217,000 canvassers and will have the support of 36,000 police officers and the armed forces to carry out the national census. All Bolivians, including foreigners who reside in the country or are visiting, must remain at home and participate. Those who fail to abide by the curfew will be subject to a fine.
On Thursday, The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) approved a $122 million loan to help expand and upgrade a 69.7 kilometer (43.3 mile) segment of Bolivia’s Santa Cruz-Cochabamba Highway. Developing the highway has been declared a national priority due to its high traffic volume of 9,000 vehicles per day. More than 20 percent of trucks using the highway transport agricultural goods such as soy, cassava, corn, sugarcane, and rice.
The current highway, which runs from from Montero to Yapacaní, will be expanded to four lanes to alleviate traffic and facilitate the transportation of goods. An estimated 200,000 people will benefit directly from the highway construction, including farmers living between Santa Cruz and Cochabamba who transport their goods by road and pass through the municipalities of Portachuelo, Buena Vista and San Carlos.
“Due to geographical and other factors, Bolivia depends on road transportation for most of its foreign trade,” said René Cortés, the IDB project’s team leader. “The East-West Corridor is Bolivia's most heavily traveled road and carries the bulk of the country’s freight. It links the country's most important cities with Chile and Peru to the west and with Brazil to the east.”
The project is expected to advance service ability, reduce travel times by nearly a third and accidents by 15 percent by 2017. The main components of the project include civil works, road safety, technical and environmental management, social viability, and project management. Only 4,800 kilometers (2,982 miles) of Bolivia’s 74,831 kilometers (46,497 miles) of roads are paved—a little more than 6 percent.
Top stories this week are likely to include: UNGA high-level meetings get underway; Enrique Peña Nieto concludes Latin America tour; mining strike continues in Bolivia; Federico Franco and Mariano Rajoy discuss Ibero-American Summit; and Evo Morales visits Cuba.
UNGA High-Level Meetings Kick Off: The sixty-seventh session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) began last week, and this week the focus shifts to a series of high-level meetings along with general debate among the many heads of state representing the United Nations’ 193 member-countries. The high-level meeting on the rule of law takes place today at the New York secretariat. General debate begins tomorrow morning with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff delivering the first address for the second consecutive year.
Peña Nieto Concludes LatAm Tour: Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto will arrive home today after completing a six-country tour through Latin America in advance of his December 1 inauguration. Peña Nieto visited Guatemala, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Peru. In his most recent stop, Peña Nieto and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala agreed yesterday to strengthen ties on public security issues, particularly in the fight against organized crime and drug trafficking. The Mexican president-elect called for strengthening the Pacific Alliance and will round out his tour by meeting with 180 Peruvian businessmen today to discuss ways to boost trade ties. “This was a successful trip for Peña Nieto to show the leadership that his government wants to take in the hemisphere and how he will aim to collaborate on key issues for Mexico,” notes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.
Mining Strike in Bolivia: In the escalating standoff this month between the Bolivian government and cooperative-member miners over the Colquiri tin and zinc mine, perhaps this week could see a development. Although the Federación Sindical de Trabajadores Mineros de Bolivia (Union Federation of Miners in Bolivia) broke off talks on Saturday with a delegation sent by Bolivian President Evo Morales, Minister of Government Carlos Romero called for further dialogue over the rights to Colquiri. The Bolivian government expropriated the mine from a Swiss company in June 2012.
Franco, Rajoy to Discuss Ibero-American Summit: Paraguayan President Federico Franco and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will meet on the sidelines of UNGA in New York this week to discuss the status of Paraguay’s presence at the Ibero-American Summit to be held in Cádiz, Spain in November. Given Paraguay’s suspension from Mercosur and Unasur in response to the impeachment of former President Fernando Lugo, it was revealed that a Spanish diplomat traveled to Asunción recently to dissuade Paraguay from participating in the summit in the hope that Argentina would attend. Look for developments from the Rajoy-Franco discussion this week.
Evo Morales Visits Cuba: Bolivian President Evo Morales made an unannounced stop in Havana enroute to New York for the UNGA, where he was greeted by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez according to Cuban state television. Today, Morales receives a doctorate degree, honoris causa, in political science from the University of Havana.
The production of coca leaves in Bolivia is down since last year, according to an annual United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report published yesterday. The area used for cultivation of coca decreased 12 percent, from 31,000 hectares (76,600 acres) in 2010 to 27,000 hectares (66720 acres), the 2011 national coca monitoring survey said.
UNODC surveillance showed decreases in cultivation in Bolivia’s coca-growing hotspots: 11 percent in Yungas near La Paz, responsible for two-thirds of the country’s production; 15 percent in Cochabamba Tropics, Cochabamba; and 7 percent in the provinces north of La Paz. Despite these efforts, Bolivia remains the third-largest cocaine producer, after Peru and Colombia. While the production of cocaine is illegal in Bolivia, the production of small amounts of coca crop, the main ingredient in cocaine, remains lawful.
Monday’s UN report comes two days after the governments of Bolivia and Venezuela rebuffed a statement by President Barack Obama that both nations "have failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements." Bolivian President Evo Morales responded by saying that the American consumption of cocaine and other narcotics gives the U.S. “no morality, authority or ethics” to speak on the War on Drugs.
Top stories this week are likely to include: López Obrador files a legal challenge to Peña Nieto’s win; cholera spreads in Cuba; standoff between Bolivia and a multinational Canadian mining firm; the Chávez factor in the U.S. presidential election; and Unasur sends a delegation to Paraguay.
López Obrador Contests Peña Nieto’s Victory: Although Enrique Peña Nieto won the July 1 presidential election according to the independent electoral authority Instituto Federal Electoral (Federal Electoral Institute—IFE) earlier this month by over 6 percentage points, runner-up Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has now filed a legal challenge to the ruling, claiming fraud on the part of Peña Nieto’s Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI). AMLO’s team says it will prove that “illicit money” was used to buy votes. Despite IFE having recounted over half the ballots and still upholding its verdict of Peña Nieto’s win, AMLO’s legal challenge submitted to IFE will now be forwarded to the Federal Electoral Court; in turn, the Court will deliver a ruling before early September.
AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini notes, “While fraud remains a problem in Mexican elections and with it people's trust in the results, AMLO is going to have an uphill battle explaining the direct, logical connection between any allegations of fraud and 3 million plus votes of difference between him and the winner, Enrique Pena Nieto."
Cuba and Cholera: According to the Cuban health ministry in a release over the weekend, there have been no new cholera-related deaths since the three ones reported earlier this month in the eastern city of Manzanillo. However, the health ministry has reported 158 cases of the disease, a significant increase from the 56 initially disclosed. Given that the health ministry has remained rather quiet, leading to rumors about a wider problem with the outbreak, pay attention this week to growing concerns about the spread of cholera.
El año 2009 visité Yungas de Vandiola en Cochabamba, Bolivia, colindante por el costado sur con el Chapare, el mayor centro de producción de hoja coca en Bolivia. Allí vivía Silvia, dirigente cocalera.
Silvia me contó que el ahora gobernador de Cochabamba, Edmundo Novillo, paisano de la zona y miembro del partido de Evo Morales había prometido tierras a nuevos cocaleros como parte de la campaña política del MAS. Promesa cumplida. Porque esos colonos ingresaron a Yungas de Vandiola a plantar coca y el año 2006 se armó la grande dejando como saldo dos muertos. Lugareños contra colonizadores. Pero como Yungas de Vandiola es extraña -y sospechosamente diría yo- un lugar casi olvidado, nadie hizo demasiado caso.
Ahora que el centro de atención es el Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Sécure (TIPNIS) pienso en Silvia y en Yungas de Vandiola. Porque lo que ocurre con el TIPNIS es básicamente lo mismo. Aunque detrás del TIPNIS hay todavía mucho más que desatar pero eso vendrá después. Ahora sucede que los cocaleros del Chapare y nuevos colonos afines al presidente Evo Morales, esperan -como en Yungas de Vandiola- ampliar la frontera para el cultivo de hoja coca invadiendo cada vez más el TIPNIS.
Esos cocaleros, ingresados al TIPNIS como hormiguitas, poco a poco, durante los últimos 40 años, han conformado lo que se llama el Polígono 7. A estos nuevos habitantes, los indígenas “originarios” del TIPNIS no los reconocen como miembros de su territorio. Pero es a ellos a quienes el gobierno de Morales quiere incluir sí o sí, como condición para “negociar” con los indígenas del TIPNIS que hace 15 días llegaron a La Paz en su IX marcha luego de más de dos meses de caminata para hablar con el Presidente Morales que finalmente no los recibió. ¿Qué pedían los indígenas? Que el gobierno desista de su intención de construir una carretera que pase por el medio del TIPNIS para lo cual busca realizar una consulta “previa” a todos sus habitantes -originarios y cocaleros recién llegados- ¿Para qué? Depende. Desde la versión del gobierno, para llevar desarrollo a la región. Y desde la versión de los indígenas del TIPNIS para posibilitar el desarrollo de la coca destinada al narcotráfico.
Top stories this week are likely to include: proposed OAS human rights commission reform; OAS meeting underway in Bolivia; Pacific Alliance meeting on Wednesday; Peru-Chile relations; and no end in sight to the anti-mining protests in Peru.
OAS Human Rights Reform Considered: Organization of American States (OAS) member states such as Ecuador and Venezuela are calling for reforms to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the independent human rights organ of the regional body. Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño called for changes such as cutting funding for the OAS special rapporteur on press freedom, warning that the OAS “will disappear” otherwise, which earned the endorsement of Venezuela. Insulza has further called for renegotiation of the IACHR’s statute and procedures including allowing governments to decide how the IACHR monitors them. Last Friday, the Washington Post editorial board responded to these proposals, writing, “It’s not surprising that Venezuela and its allies would push for noxious initiatives, or that Mr. Insulza would serve as their frontman […] Canada and the United States… and their democratic allies should work to ensure that the Insulza proposals are rejected—and that the OAS is perserved as an institution committed to democracy and human rights.”
AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini concurs: “The reasoning behind the proposals that Insulza is bringing to the General Assembly is unclear. What is clear is that their effect would be to whittle away at much of the independent voice of the Commission—the most effective office in the OAS—and he’s doing it by making common cause with some suspect governments."
Developments at the OAS General Assembly: Representatives from the 35 OAS member states are in Cochabamba, Bolivia, from June 3 to 5 for the organization’s 42nd General Assembly. In addition to the IACHR reforms, other issues on the table include Bolivian President Evo Morales’ desire for forward movement in regard to his country’s lack of access to the Pacific Ocean, a longstanding dispute with Chile. Argentina’s leadership wishes to rally hemispheric consensus around its claim to the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands. OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza briefed the assembly that Latin America is still far from achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The UN has set 2015 as its target date for achievement of the MDGs. But expectations for concrete results are not high, notes Sabatini: "The OAS general assembly has become a theater for overreach and meaningless debate."
En Bolivia, los policías destinados fuera de su lugar de origen pagan un “diezmo” (10 por ciento de su salario) a sus superiores. Llaman “saludar” cuando pagan por obtener determinado cargo; “aceitear” cuando exigen dinero para agilizar algún trámite; y “formar” cuando piden a un funcionario presentarse a su superior para ofrecerle dádivas. Hay otros también: “cupo” es el dinero que deben reunir para “comprar” el destino al que quieren ir; “sanción” es el monto que pagan para pasar por alto sus faltas; “toco, teque” dicen, cuando pagan por un cargo u otros beneficios; y “vía rápida” llaman al soborno necesario para agilizar los trámites de licencias de conducir o documentos de identidad. Al mismo tiempo es muy común otras formas de pagamiento: “tres días” es el nombre y apellido de un hecho delictivo cometido por ellos mismos; “rayar” es el verbo que divide el dinero recaudado en algún trabajillo; y “filo” es la ganancia que exige el superior por el botín obtenido entre policías y ladrones.
Lo cuenta el propio presidente Evo Morales que en los seis años de su gobierno ya ha cambiado a siete comandantes generales de la Policía, tres de ellos en menos de dos años. Todos juran al cargo prometiendo erradicar la corrupción y lavar la tan deteriorada imagen institucional. Y todos terminan embarrados. Atrapados en el lado de los bandidos.
Un caso memorable es el del coronel Blas Valencia, líder de una banda delincuencial que el año 2001 atracó a un automóvil blindado con varios millones. De película. De ahí para adelante, rutina. Por eso casi ya no sorprende que el ex jefe de la Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotráfico, general de la Policía, René Sanabria Oropeza, quien hasta el año pasado dirigía el Centro de Inteligencia y Generación de Información antinarcóticos, sea más bien un gran narcotraficante, según acusación de la Oficina Antidrogas de los Estados Unidos donde fue extraditado luego de ser aprehendido infraganti en Panamá.