Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Monday Memo: Haiti – Nicaragua Canal – Oil – Petrobras Scandal – Guantánamo

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This week’s likely top stories: Florence Duperval Guillaume is named Haiti’s interim prime minister; farmers set up blockades to protest the Nicaraguan canal; Saudis tell non-OPEC producers to reduce output; Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff says she will not replace Petrobras CEO; Four more prisoners are released from Guantánamo.

Interim Haitian Prime Minister Named: Haitian Health Minister Florence Duperval Guillaume was named Haiti’s interim prime minister on Sunday, filling the empty post left by former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, who resigned last week. Duperval is expected to hold the position for a month until Haitian President Michel Martelly presents a permanent candidate to Haiti’s Parliament. Protests and unrest have erupted across the country since early December, with Haitians calling for long-postponed legislative and local elections that were scheduled for 2011, and members of Haiti’s political opposition demanding that Martelly resign. Parliament could dissolve by mid-January if the elections are not held.

OPEC Pressures Non-Members to Scale Back Production: Nearly one month after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) decided to maintain its crude oil production ceiling of 30 million barrels per day (bpd), Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates said they would continue to meet their output targets, blaming non-OPEC producers for the oil glut of about 2 million bpd that has driven prices down by 20 percent since late November. By pressuring non-members to rebalance the oversupplied market, OPEC hopes to secure its share of market production in 2015. This could potentially soften the blow to the cash-strapped Venezuelan economy—which is almost wholly dependent on oil exports—but non-member Latin American states like Mexico, Argentina and Brazil will have to decide whether to reduce oil production or face even more devastating price shocks.

Rousseff Supports Petrobras CEO: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said today that she would not replace Petrobras CEO Maria das Graças Silva Foster, despite the deepening corruption scandal that has tarnished her administration. Some 36 people have been already charged with involvement in a scheme to pay politicians in exchange for Petrobras contracts and overcharge the company by billions. Brazil’s prosecutor general and the political opposition have insisted that Foster should step down, and, in the face of falling oil prices and a plunge in Petrobras shares, Foster herself has said that both she and the executive board have already offered their resignation. However, Rousseff defended Foster, who was appointed in 2012, saying she was an “ethical person” and did not see “indications of irregularities in the conduct of the current Petrobras management.”

Four Afghan Prisoners Released from Guantánamo: The United States transferred four low-level Guantánamo Bay detainees to Afghanistan on Friday—the latest in a series of detainee releases by the Obama administration. It is also the first transfer of Guantánamo prisoners to Afghanistan since 2009, when Obama vowed to close the detention center in Cuba. The four Afghan men were held for over a decade, and their release brings the total of Afghans at Guantánamo to eight out of 132 detainees—just as a majority of U.S. troops are due to leave Afghanistan. The Obama administration hopes to reduce the total inmate population to below 100 and prompt Congress to revoke a law that prohibits the transfer of detainees into the United States for trial or incarceration. Since November, 17 other detainees have been released, and more are expected to be transferred this month. 

Protesters to Boycott Inauguration of Nicaragua Canal: Farmers from the Movimiento Cocibolca (the Cocibolca Movement) in Nicaragua announced that they will organize a protest at the inauguration of construction for Nicaragua’s controversial $50 billion interoceanic canal. An official ceremony to mark construction is expected kick off this evening in the southern city of Rivas and in Managua, and since Saturday, farmers from the south blocked highways leading to Rivas to prevent workers from accessing the project. Protests against the project have gone on for months, with critics of the canal citing environmental impact and unfair land expropriation concerns along the 173-mile route. The Nicaraguan government maintains that construction will create 50,000 jobs, but the project is expected to displace approximately 29,000 people.

Tags: Guantanamo Bay, Haitian Prime Minister, Nicaragua Canal, OPEC Oil, Petrobras Scandal
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