This week’s likely top stories: Bolivia holds local elections; Cuba and the U.S. to discuss human rights; Caribbean Bitcoin exchange launches; UNASUR head urges closing of U.S. military bases in the region; Chile rejects Bolivian aid for flood victims.
Bolivia’s MAS Party Loses La Paz in Local Elections: Bolivian citizens elected local government leaders on Sunday, with President Evo Morales’ party, Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement Towards Socialism—MAS) winning most governments, according to unofficial results. MAS won four out of nine provinces (Pando, Potosí, Oruro and Cochabamba) outright, and led in two other provinces that will now advance to a second round of votes on May 3, due to a close race. However, MAS lost La Paz, as well as Santa Cruz and Tarija provinces. Félix Patzi, from the Solidaridad y Libertad party (Solidarity and Liberty) secured approximately 52 percent of the votes for the governorship of La Paz. Official results are expected later on Monday.
U.S. Confirms Human Rights Meeting with Cuba: On Friday, a U.S. government spokesperson confirmed that U.S. and Cuban officials will meet on Tuesday, March 31 in Washington, DC for a preliminary discussion on human rights. The undersecretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, Tom Malinowski, will lead the U.S. delegation. Pedro Luis Pedroso, deputy director of multilateral affairs and international law at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, said that the Cuban delegation will detail the country’s current and past successes in the area of human rights. This will be the fourth round of talks since the re-establishment of ties between the two countries. U.S. President Barack Obama hopes to re-open embassies before the Summit of the Americas in Panama on April 10-11.
Caribbean Bitcoin Exchange Launched: The Caribbean Bitcoin exchange “Bitt,” which is based in Barbados, was launched on Monday. Bitt, powered by digital currency exchange software company AlphaPoint, will be operating after confirming $1.5 million in seed funding from venture capital group Avatar Capital. The exchange will allow customers to trade in 11 fiat currencies, including the U.S. dollar and the euro. CEO Gabriel Abed praised the positive impact that Bitt will have. “By facilitating trade between traditional and digital currency markets, Bitt is creating the platform for very low-cost international commerce and remittance between the people who need it most—the millions of unbanked and underbanked citizens in the Caribbean,” he said.
Head of UNASUR Proposes Elimination of Regional U.S. Military Bases: Former Colombian president and head of the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (Union of South American Nations—UNASUR) Ernesto Samper affirmed on Monday that the upcoming Summit of the Americas should serve as a forum to redefine U.S.-South American relations. He also noted that a good first item on the agenda would be to eliminate U.S. military bases in the region, which he claims are an unnecessary relic of the Cold War. Samper argued that U.S. claims of “certifications” in the areas of human rights and combating narco-trafficking should be rejected, and that the countries should work toward a new multilateralism.
As Death Toll from Floods Increases, Chile Declines Bolivian Offer for Aid: Early Monday morning, Chilean Undersecretary of the Interior Mahmud Aleuy announced that the death toll due to flooding in the north of the country had increased to 17 people. On March 25, Chile declared a state of emergency after flash flooding in the northern Atacama and Antofogasta regions killed at least four people and left 22 missing. So far, there are 10,900 affected citizens. On March 28, Bolivian President Evo Morales offered to provide humanitarian aid for the victims, but Chile’s consul general in La Paz, Milenko Skoknic, said Monday that international aid was not necessary at present. Skoknic also thanked Morales and said that the decision to decline aid was unrelated to the current maritime dispute between the two countries.