Top stories this week are likely to include: impact of the Amuay refinery tragedy in Venezeula; aftermath in the Caribbean of Tropical Storm Isaac; YPF and Chevron move toward an alliance; fallout of a cabinet shift in Colombia; and Canada seeks to strengthen commercial ties with Southeast Asia.
Disaster at Amuay Refinery Continues: After Saturday’s deadly explosion at the Amuay oil refinery in Venezuela’s Falcón state, much remains up in the air. Flames were still burning as of this morning, and President Hugo Chávez has ordered an investigation and declared three days of mourning. However, as the death toll remains unpredictable—it already climbed to 41 from 39 overnight, with 20 of the dead belonging to Venezuela’s National Guard—pay attention to any developments in the aftermath of the worst accident in Venezuela in recent memory.
Isaac Causes Damage: Over the weekend, Tropical Storm Isaac slammed Hispaniola, killing 10 total—eight in Haiti and two in the Dominican Republic—and displacing thousands. Haiti’s Civil Protection Office reported 14,000 had fled their homes and another 13,500 were living in temporary shelters. How will the island rebound? And what lies in store for Isaac? It is picking up speed in the Gulf of Mexico and will likely turn into a hurricane early this week, with projected landfall near New Orleans, Louisiana, on Wednesday—six years to the day after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the coastal city. (Donate to the American Red Cross.)
YPF, Chevron in Advanced Talks for Alliance: YPF, Argentina’s state-controlled energy company, is mulling a strategic accord with Chevron, Latin America’s leading private energy investor. YPF CEO Miguel Galuccio held a meeting on Friday with Ali Moshiri, Chevron’s Latin America chief, and noted that YPF needs more experienced partners to help develop Argentina’s massive shale reserves, which are the world’s third largest. Of particular interest is the Vaca Muerta field in the Nequén province, and Chevron is already involved in three wells in Vaca Muerta. Galuccio will present a five-year plan this Thursday.
Cabinet Shakeup in Colombia: Having recently crossed the halfway threshold into his four-year term, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos decided to reshuffle his cabinet last Thursday when he asked all 16 of his ministers to resign. Some posts have been reassigned; former mines minister Mauricio Cardenas has assumed the finance portfolio. However, Cardenas’ replacement, as well as other vacant posts, has not yet been named. This week will likely see movement in Santos’ cabinet.
Canada Seeks Increased Trade Ties in Asia: Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast begins a trade mission today to Southeast Asia, where he will conduct official visits to Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia followed by the first Canada-ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting in Cambodia. Fast will then continue to Burma, marking the first time a Canadian trade minister has ever done so. In a statement, Fast said, “This year, as we celebrate the 35th anniversary of relations between Canada and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, we are committed to moving our trade and investment relationship with ASEAN forward.”
Top stories this week are likely to include: Dominican Republic presidential results; Raúl Castro’s daughter travels to the U.S.; Honduran uproar over counternarcotics operation; Colombia responds to last week’s assassination attempt; and Brazil’s economy slows.
Medina Leads in Election Returns: With over three-fourths of the vote counted in yesterday’s presidential election in the Dominican Republic, ruling party candidate Danilo Medina leads challenger—and former president—Hipólito Mejía. The tally has Medina ahead of Mejía by 51 percent to 47 percent, according to the BBC, which would cross the majority threshold to avoid a runoff. However, more votes remains to be counted; the Dominican expatriate community could play a deciding factor. Stay tuned for the announcement of a winner.
Mariela Castro to Visit the U.S.: The daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro and outspoken gay rights activist, Mariela Castro, will begin a weeklong visit to the United States this week after being granted an entry visa by the U.S. government last week. She will make stops in San Francisco and New York City. In San Francisco, she will chair a panel on sexual diversity at the forthcoming congress of the Latin American Studies Association. Ms. Castro will also give a talk at the New York Public Library next Tuesday, May 29. What does this mean for the future of U.S.-Cuba exchanges? AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini comments, “While the decision to grant Raúl Castro’s daughter a visa likely indicates a shift in U.S. visa policy, the decision not to grant visas to well-known academics like Rafael Hernandez and others is odd and unfortunate.”
Honduras-DEA Fallout: After a Honduran counternarcotics operation last week involving the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) ended in the death of four innocent civilians, local Honduran civil society groups are demanding an end to U.S. presence in their country with a consortium of five Indigenous groups declaring the DEA agents “persona non grata.” Residents burned down government offices last week in protest and U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs Ranking Member Howard Berman called for a review of U.S. assistance to Honduras. AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak points out that “the Hondurans and the U.S. government are both saying that no shots were fired by DEA agents. But still, this incident will likely force a re-evaluation of what should be the exact terms of the U.S. support role.”
Top stories this week are likely to include: Hugo Chávez post-radiation therapy; Michel Martelly begins his second year as president; Dominicans head to the polls; Peru minus two ministers; and Brazil creates a new social program.
Chávez Ends Cancer Treatment: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez returned from Cuba on Friday claiming that he had ended his radiation therapy session in Havana “in a successful manner.” This appears to be the first full week in the past several weeks where Chávez governs the country while on its soil. Despite his repeated absences, the latest poll by Datanálisis reports that Chávez returns home with a 17 percentage point advantage over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski ahead of the October presidential election. Now the question is whether Chávez is truly recovered; the recently-formed Council of the State casts some doubt. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini points out, “Sure Chávez says he is in the clear, and we all hope he is. But President Chávez has said that before. Given the chronic lack of transparency of this regime, it’s impossible to know.”
Martelly in Second Year: Haitian President Michel Martelly was sworn in one year ago last Friday, and this is his first full week of the new presidential year. The Associated Press ranks his first year as one of “modest gains” that many in Haiti view with “guarded surprise.” Despite clashes with parliament, Martelly has overseen successes such as reduced tuition for schools, funded by a tax on international phone calls, as well as a steady recovery after the devastating January 2010 earthquake. But it has not been without challenges. According to AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak, “A top priority in the next few months will be getting to the UN to devote all the resources necessary to control the cholera outbreak. This cannot be a piecemeal approach; it must be dealt with rapidly and comprehensively before more Haitians die.”
Elections in the Dominican Republic: Dominicans elect a new president on Sunday, May 20; the two leading candidates are Hipólito Mejia of the Partido de la Revolución Dominicana (Dominican Revolution Party—PRD) and Danilo Medina of the ruling Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (Dominican Liberation Party—PLD). President Leonel Fernández of the PLD is not running for re-election. Sabatini notes, “This election, and the Dominican Republic’s future, turns really on the ability of the PLD and the political system’s capacity generally to renew itself. The truth is: without broader leadership change across the parties, the political and economic miracle of the DR may be at risk—not now, but in the future.”
Peru and the Ministerial Gap: After last week’s resignation of the interior and defense ministers, Peruvian Prime Minister Oscar Valdés must quickly restore order to President Ollanta Humala’s cabinet. The ministers resigned after a failed operation against the Shining Path rebels killed at least nine soldiers, and they faced a congressional censure. This is not the first ministerial change; the entire cabinet was dissolved by former Prime Minister Salomón Lerner after Indigenous Peruvians protested against the controversial Conga mine. “Increasingly, we’re seeing a government that is shifting more in favor of investor rightism in large part as a recognition of the need of the state to generate revenue to support its social inclusion agenda,” observes Sabatini.
Brazil Combats Extreme Poverty: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced a new social program to fight extreme childhood poverty yesterday. The program, Brasil Cariñoso (Caring Brazil), will spend $4 billion to create 6,000 new daycare units for children and an increased subsidy of the popular Bolsa Família program—and it will affect the most impoverished areas of Brazil, the north and northeast. Marczak says, “The very poor have yet to join in the Brazil miracle, but this newest program has the right ingredients for their young children to have access to many of the foundations needed for success. Once again, Brazil is an example for the region.”
With partial funding from Cisco Systems, "Mujer en la Red" (Women on the Network) provides underprivileged young women in the Dominican Republic with access to the ever-growing Information and Communication Technology industry. Video in Spanish.
As the NFL lockout nears an end, its resolution will almost certainly redistribute income from incoming rookies to veteran players. The same could be the case in impending Major League Baseball (MLB) negotiations, where the interests of Caribbean youth might be sacrificed to those of the league and its current players.
Historically, top NFL draft picks yet to play a down received larger contracts than players who had proved themselves over seasons of bone-crushing, concussion-inducing play. But as owners and players negotiated distribution of the players’ share of revenue, the 224 collegians drafted by NFL teams—who had no seat at the table—found their collective self-interests ignored. Instead, the new contract will include a rookie salary scale limiting their pay.
A similar scenario could unfold in baseball. The issue is whether Caribbean youth will be included in the annual player draft. Currently, only players in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico reaching the age at which their high school classes graduate are draft-eligible. Extending the draft internationally would include youth from the Caribbean, baseball’s most fertile recruiting grounds.
Dominicans alone hold a tenth of all major league roster spots and a quarter of those in the minor leagues. Foreign-born players, overwhelmingly Latinos, constitute over 27 percent of all major leaguers and about half of all minor leaguers.
The U.S. Department of State yesterday released its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which evaluates states’ actions to combat human trafficking around the world. The 2011 report shows an increase over 2010 in the number of countries that fail to take adequate steps to prevent human trafficking. In Latin America, Venezuela joined Cuba on a list of Tier 3 violators—a status given to countries that do not make sufficient efforts to address the problem.
Of 13 states cited for insufficient action in last year’s report, the Dominican Republic is the only country to be reclassified due to progress. In April, 2011 Dominican President Leonel Fernandez met with leaders of the U.S. armed services’ Southern Command to develop a plan for an Antinarcotics War Coordination Center—to be headquartered in the Dominican Republic—which will also combat human trafficking in the Caribbean.
The report also honors ten individuals for their extraordinary efforts in the fight against human trafficking. Two TIP Report “Heroes” hailed from Latin America: Leonel Dubon, founder of El Refugio de la Niñez (Children’s Refuge House), a Guatemalan NGO that provides shelter to underage sex-trafficking victims and human trafficking specialist Dilcya Garcia, a former deputy prosecutor in Mexico City’s Attorney General Office.
The TIP Report was first published in 2001 following the passage in the United States of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000. Its classification system also includes Tier 2 countries, which do not currently meet TVPA standards but are making significant progress, and Tier 1 countries—like the U.S.—that are fully compliant with anti-human trafficking standards. Of the 184 countries evaluated in 2010, 23 were given the lowest, Tier 3, designation.
Margarita Cedeño, the first lady of the Dominican Republic, announced yesterday that she will not make a bid for the presidency in the 2012 general election. The news comes just weeks after the ruling Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (PLD) party approved Cedeño’s candidacy in the party’s primary. In a radio and televised message on Monday night, Cedeño said "I don't believe the presidency is my ultimate goal."
Her husband, President Leonel Fernández, had announced earlier this month that he will not seek a fourth term, ending speculation of whether he would reform the constitution to allow for more than three terms. His announcement also opened the door for the first lady to become the PLD’s nominee in the general election. However, rising tension among PLD leadership likely influenced Cedeño’s decision to not pursue the party’s nomination.
With Cedeño out of the running, it is not clear who will represent the PLD to face former President Hipólito Mejía of the opposition Partido Revolucionario Dominicano. According to the Dominican Central Electoral Board press release last month, a total of 6,361,258 Dominican citizens are eligible to vote in the May 2012 presidential election—244,000 more voters than were eligible in the 2010 congressional election.
The Vatican confirmed today that during the annual Populorum Progressio foundation meeting, held this year in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, it will evaluate the financing of 230 projects in 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The projects range from initiatives to improve agricultural production to the construction of schools, health clinics and community centers.
This year’s meeting will be the foundation’s first in a Caribbean country. The location was selected with the hope of increasing the foundation’s awareness of issues concerning the region and to highlight the foundation’s missions in local church communities. In general, the church-funded projects are designed to benefit the indigenous, mestizo, afro-Latino and rural populations of Latin America and the Caribbean.
The meeting will also allow a Vatican delegation to travel to Haiti on July 22 to visit refugee camps sponsored by the Catholic Church. While the foundation already finances a number of projects in Haiti, it has recently approved $250,000 for the reconstruction of the St. François de Sales school in Port au Prince, which was destroyed by the earthquake in January.
From the 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.
Honduras Tries to Turn Page with Lobo’s Inauguration
Seven months after the overthrow of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya left Honduras in a state of political chaos, the Central American country inaugurated Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo as the new leader on January 27. In his first act as president, Lobo declared amnesty for all involved in what was widely regarded as a coup. He won the November election by a large margin, though its recognition was hotly disputed by several Latin American governments.
On the eve of the inauguration, the Honduran Congress also approved amnesty for Zelaya and those involved in his ousting. That, along with a Supreme Court decision to clear chief military officers of coup-related charges, is seen as a step toward reconciliation as the new president takes power.
Read an AS/COA analysis of the inauguration.
President Leonel Fernández of the Dominican Republic and President René Préval of Haiti agreed on Thursday to work together to eliminate mosquito-transmitted diseases on the island. The deal was struck under the auspices of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. The 10-year, $200 million program is focused on the eradication of malaria and filariasis.
The Dominican Republic and Haiti are the only Caribbean countries still affected by malaria. According to authorities from both countries, 33,000 malaria cases with 200 deaths were reported in 2007; 90 percent of the cases were on the Haitian side of the border.
A pilot project run by the Carter Center began in 2008 with a $200,000 investment in the border towns Dajabon, Dominican Republic, and Ouanaminthe, Haiti. Hopes are high for the program’s success, with only minimal resistance by a few government officials—a good sign considering the lack of political will in the past.
Repeated emphasis has been made on the need for binational cooperation. Malaria is a threat to both economies as well as to their tourism.