Thursday, December 20, 2012

Peña Nieto's Anti-Crime Strategy; Latin American Economic Growth; Institutional Crisis in Costa Rica

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen, and NotiSur for Dec. 19-21

President Enrique Peña Nieto Presents Anti-Crime Strategy
In mid-December, just two weeks after taking office, President Enrique Peña Nieto announced a public-safety strategy that adopts a regional focus and creates a national police force to replace the Army and Navy in drug-interdiction efforts. Peña Nieto’s strategy includes several central concepts: planning, crime prevention, respect for human rights, coordination, revamping law enforcement and the judiciary, as well as a process of continual evaluation.  -Carlos Navarro
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Latin America, Caribbean Nations Have Economic Lessons for World Powers
Beginning in October, documents from the World Bank, the European Union (EU) statistics office, various UN agencies, and private organizations made clear the unimaginable gap that has opened between the dominant countries of the Global North and the always-disdained nations of the South, in this case those of Latin America and the Caribbean. Contrary to what has been a historic constant, however, this time the US and the floundering European economies have observed Latin America's healthy economic indicators. Those indicators show that the inclusive policies applied by progressive governments that came onto the scene with the new millennium produced employment growth and the capacity to generate new jobs and, consequently, a significant drop in poverty and food-insufficiency indices. -Andrés Gaudín    Read More

Costa Rican Congress-Supreme Court Clash as Magistrate’s Re-election Sparks Institutional Crisis
Costa Rica’s Constitution states that the unicameral Asamblea Legislativa (AL) elects the 22 magistrates making up the Corte Suprema de Justicia (CSJ) and decides whether to re-elect them or not--the latter requiring an affirmative vote of at least 38 of the 57 AL deputies. It has been customary to re-elect magistrates as their eight-year terms near their end, But within the context of an increasingly agitated political scene, this tradition took a turn this year. The term of Magistrate Fernando Cruz, a member of the CSJ's Sala Constitucional (also Sala IV), ended in October, and, a month later, a 38-vote majority made up of the 24 deputies of the governing social democratic Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN) plus allies from minority blocs decided not to re-elect the judge. -George Rodríguez   Read More

Salvadoran Gangs Willing To Extend Truce, On One Condition
Nine months after agreeing to an historic truce, jailed leaders from El Salvador’s largest street gangs say they are ready to curb more than just killings--at least in a handful of strategic "peace zones." Before moving ahead with the experimental plan, however, the notoriously violent maras, as the groups are known, want the government to do something in return: repeal its repressive "anti-gang law." -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar   Read More

Mexico Mends Trade Relations with Argentina; Officials Reach New Auto Agreement
After a six-month disruption, Mexico and Argentina have mended fences and agreed to resume trade in automobiles. On Dec. 14, the two sides announced a 27-month agreement that allows exports of Mexican automobiles to enter Argentina duty free, although a new smaller quota was imposed in the near term.
Under the new agreement, which became effective on Dec. 18, 2012, the two countries agreed to establish an annual limit of US$575 million for Mexican auto exports to Argentina in the first year, US$625 million in the second year, and US$187.5 million in the three-month period between December 2014 and March 2015. On March 2015, the two countries will return to free trade in automobiles, as established under Mexico’s agreement with the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR).  -Carlos Navarro    Read More

Investigation of Forced Sterilizations in Peru
The decision of the criminal prosecutor's office in Lima to reopen investigations of forced sterilizations was hailed by women victims of the practice, carried out during the administration of ex-President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), who now see the possibility of justice being done after 15 years of struggle. The Primera Fiscalía Penal Supraprovincial de Lima headed by Dr. Edith Chamorro has 53 pieces of evidence based on 1,700 pages of memoranda and official letters, as well as reports from government ministers addressed to Fujimori informing him about the sterilization "quotas" that were fulfilled, and other evidence confirming that what was happening was a state policy. - -Elsa Chanduví Jaña   Read More

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mixed Ruling on Colombia-Nicaragua Dispute; Controversial Fisheries Law in Chile; Passenger Trains Returning to Mexico

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen, and NotiSur for Dec. 12-14

World Court Wades Into Nicaragua-Colombia Maritime Border Dispute
                                  A long-anticipated International Court of Justice (ICJ)ruling that was supposed to settle a decades-old maritime boundary dispute between Nicaragua and Colombia has instead riled relations further still for the two countries. When it came to the water around those islands, however, the ICJ ruled very much in favor of Nicaragua, nearly doubling the country’s Caribbean claims by extending its maritime border well east of the 82nd meridian, a de facto boundary line imposed for years by Colombia.

 -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar     Read More

Colombia President Negotiates With Rebels but ContinuesMilitary Offensive
Since Nov. 18, and after a half century of a bloody internal war, the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) guerrillas have been in Havana negotiating the terms by which they might finally end the fighting and return the country to longed-for peace. In addition, since March, a few days after the secret meetings in Havana began, the government has been pushing for congressional passage of a constitutional reform to expand military jurisdiction, transferring to military courts all crimes involving military personnel. In the end, the government gave in on some points, but that did not satisfy any of the agencies and organizations that harshly criticized the idea. -Andrés Gaudín   Read More

Chile: Corporate-Friendly Fisheries Bill Sparks Protests, Divides Opposition
Against the objections of artisan fishers, environmental groups, and some opposition lawmakers, Chile’s Congress is inching closer toward approving a controversial government-backed overhaul of the country’s fisheries regulations. Following its approval late last month in the Senate, the new Ley de Pesca now heads back to the Camarade Diputados, which approved an earlier version of the bill in July. President Sebastián Piñera is hoping the lower house will complete the parliamentary Ping-Pong process by the end of the year, when Chile’s current fisheries law--in place since 2001--is set to expire. -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar    Read More

President Enrique Peña Nieto Proposes Plan to Restore Passenger Trains to Mexico

President Enrique Peña Nieto has proposed an ambitious plan to restore intercity passenger-rail service in Mexico after a hiatus of nearly two decades. Under the president's plan, the government will begin by establishing three rail routes, one connecting Mexico City with the industrial hub of Querétaro, a second one linking the capital with Toluca, and a third high-speed line that would span a large portion of the Yucatán Peninsula. -Carlos Navarro    Read More

Government Offers Major Reform to Public Education; Measure Would Also Curb Power of Teachers Union

A constitutional reform addressing education is not a topic that normally would make the top headlines of Mexican newspapers. But the changes proposed on Dec. 10 in the Congress have far-reaching political implications, not only because of the broad support from all major political parties but also because the initiative has the effect of ending the stranglehold that the powerful teachers union (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, SNTE), and specifically its longtime leader Elba Esther Gordillo, has had on Mexico’s educational policies. -Carlos Navarro   Read More

Leaked Emails Lift Lid on Corruption in Administration of Panama's President Ricardo Martinelli

Exactly one year ago, the Panamanian media published a series of incriminating emails detailing how government officials had accepted bribes from Italian businessman Valter Lavítola, CEO of the Finmeccanica corporation, which was awarded a US$250 million contract to refurbish the country’s decaying prisons. The coverage was based on leaked emails from opposition leader Balbina Herrera of the leftist Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD). Herrera and Mauro Velocci, CEO of the Italian corporation Svemark now face prosecution for leaking the information to the press and are accused of committing a breach of secrecy and violating President Ricardo Martinelli’s right to privacy.  -Louisa Reynolds    Read More

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Mexico's Peña Nieto Forges Agreement with Opposition; Guatemala Report Called 'Superficial'; Bolivia Opposition Unable to Unite

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen, and NotiSur for Dec. 5-7

President Enrique Peña Nieto Starts New Administration by Signing Political Agreement with Opposition Parties
The election of Enrique Peña Nieto marked the return of the long-governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) to the highest office in Mexico, but the jury is still out on whether the old authoritarian party is back in office or whether a transformed party will be governing Mexico for the next six years. Shortly before and after taking office on Dec. 1, 2012, Peña Nieto took steps to try to convince Mexicans that this is a new era for the PRI and that his administration would be politically inclusive and employ a more efficient style of governance. One of the new president's first moves was to bring together representatives from his party and the two major opposition parties to hammer out an agreement to promote reforms to strengthen democracy, address social inequalities, and foment economic growth in Mexico. -Carlos Navarro   Read More

Civil Society Organizations Brand Guatemalan Government’s Report to U.N. Superficial"

On Oct. 24, the UN’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC) assessed Guatemala to establish whether the 43 recommendations made by its members in 2008 had been heeded, a process known as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Guatemala’s official delegation listed the country’s achievements in advancing human rights in the country. However, civil society organizations said that the presentation was "superficial" and "incomplete" as it failed to include a number of key issues such as indigenous rights -Louisa Reynolds     Read More

Bolivian Opposition Has Little Success Uniting Ahead of 2014 Presidential Election

Although Bolivia's next presidential election is still two years away, the opposition is already focused on it, with all that implies in countries like this one in the South American altiplano, where party, personal, business, and even racial interests carry more weight than concern for the nation. In recent weeks, the leadership of parties in opposition to President Evo Morales began negotiations to create an electoral front to be able to go into the December 2014 elections with a chance of defeating the president. -Andrés Gaudín    Read More

Honduran Election Authority Claims Primary Voter Turnout Rose from 2008 to 2012; Human Rights Activist Says Results Grossly Manipulated

Honduras’ Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE)--the country’stop election authority--has released results for last month's primary elections by the Central American nation’s parties for next year’s presidential, congressional, and municipal contenders. TSE figures indicate that voter turnout this year exceeded that of 2008, a trend that, by those estimates, dramatically lowered absenteeism from almost 62.8% to 54.9%. But human rights activist Bertha Oliva contends that the final results were manipulated, and that center-left candidate Xiomara Castro receeived many more votes than reported. George Rodríguez   Read More

Venezuelan Voters Head to Polls Again
Amid warring polls, which Venezuelans learned to not take seriously given their unreliable performance in the Oct. 7 presidential elections, voters will return to the ballot boxes on Dec. 16. This will be the fifteenth election (constituent, general, regional, legislative, referendum, recall) since President Hugo Chávez set the Revolución Bolivariana in motion in 1999. Voters will choose governors in the country's 23 states and elect 237 deputies for state legislative councils. -Andrés Gaudín 
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Despite Challenges, Tourism Sector Grew Under Former President Felipe Calderón

One of the top accomplishments of President Felipe Calderón’s government was to keep the tourism industry afloat despite significant challenges that slowed the influx of foreign visitors and inhibited the ability of Mexicans to travel to popular destinations. Among other problems, the administration had to deal with an outbreak of the H1N1 flu in the spring of 2009 and drug-related violence that escalated out of control during the president’s six-year term. In mid-November, then Tourism Secretary Gloria Guevara Manzo reported that 201.7 million foreign tourists visited Mexico during the six years of the Calderón government, an increase of almost 25% from the total of 162 million tourists recorded during the previous administration of ex-President Vicente Fox (2000-2006).-Carlos Navarro Read More

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Climate Change Affecting El Salvador; Lima Mayor Faces Recall; U.S., Mexico Reach Agreement on Colorado River

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur, November 28-30

Signs That Climate Change Is Already Spelling BigTrouble For Tiny El Salvador
Sobering studies by development organizations, government offices, and UN agencies continue to underscore what many in El Salvador say they have already learned firsthand: climate change is a real and present danger for the disaster-prone Central American country. El Salvador contributes a relatively tiny share of the global output of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse-gas emissions thought to be responsible for rising temperatures and dangerous shifts in weather patterns. -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar

Lima Mayor Faces Recall
Lima Mayor Susana Villarán insists that she does not fear the recall referendum that the Jurado Nacional de Elecciones (JNE) has scheduled for March 17, 2013, which will decide whether she and 39 municipal councilors keep their jobs. The law does not specify the conditions for carrying out a Consulta Popular de Revocatoria, although such a process must be based on serious legal grounds, although not necessarily on evidence. Marco Tulio Gutiérrez, promoter of the recall effort, says that the main reason is the Villarán administration's "extreme incompetence," but at no time has he given solid arguments for the measure. -Elsa Chanduví Jaña

Ghana, US Court Side with Argentina's "Vulture-Fund"Bondholders
In October,a Ghanaian judge unexpectedly upheld the claim of a "vulture fund" of US financial speculators and, consequently, impounded the Frigata Libertad, the Argentine Navy's training ship, at the port of Tema. The judge took the action at the request of the investment group NML Capital Ltd. , which had made several unsuccessful attempts to take over Argentine assets to cover 100% of the debt bonds that it bought at junk prices (5% of their value) in 2001 when the Argentine economy tumbled and the country defaulted on its debts. NML is an investment firm belonging to US hedge fund manager Paul Singer, who for the past 11 years has tried in every way possible to pressure Argentina. -Andrés Gaudín

U.S., Mexico Sign Landmark Water-Sharing Agreement forColorado River
The US and Mexico have signed a landmark agreement by which the two countries will share and manage water from the Colorado River, allowing them to better respond to drought and other environmental challenges. The agreement also offers opportunities for cooperation in border infrasturcture and restoration of the Colorado River Delta. -Carlos Navarro

Cuba Alert to Possible Brain Drain with IncreasedMigratory Flexibility
Cubans’ eagerness to travel off the island may lead to a stampede of professionals leaving the country beginning on Jan. 14, the date when, after decades of waiting, a more flexible immigration policy will finally come into force, despite warnings from the government of President Raúl Castro that restrictions will be maintained for individuals deemed important for national security and development The "brain drain" and the departure of the skilled work force has been one of Cuba’s most controversial subjects since 1959, when Fidel Castro took power and the country headed toward communism. -Daniel Vázquez

Mexican Senate Overwhelmingly Approves Two Nominees for SupremeCourt
In late November, the Senate overwhelmingly confirmed two candidates proposed by President Felipe Calderón to replace Justices Guillermo Ortiz Mayagoitia and Sergio Aguirre Anguiano on Mexico’s high court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, SCJN). The two retiring justices both completed their 15-year terms. Their replacements, Alfredo Gutiérrez Ortiz Mena and Alberto Gelacio Pérez Dayán, will assume their new posts on Dec. 1, the same day that President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto will be inaugurated. Pérez Dayán will replace Ortiz Mayagoitia, while Gutiérrez Ortiz Mena will take the spot vacated by Aguirre Anguiano. -Carlos Navarro

Friday, November 16, 2012

Mexico Overhauls Labor Law; Municipal Elections Held in Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua

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These articles were published in SourceMex, NotiCen, and NotiSur on Nov. 14-16

After a few weeks of acrimony, the Mexican Congress approved the first overhaul of Mexico’s labor code (Ley Federal del Trabajo, LFT) in 42 years. The measure--considered generally friendly to employers and the business sector--was introduced by President Felipe Calderón and endorsed by President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto as an instrument to help Mexico become more competitive in the global market.  -Carlos Navarro

Brazil's municipal elections, held in October, ended with significant numerical growth nationally for the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), the party of President Dilma Rousseff and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010). The elections also showed a certain voter disillusionment with leaders of party politics and a desire for renewal, for change, for the future. -José Pedro Martins 

President Daniel Ortega’s Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) mauled the reeling opposition in nationwide municipal elections earlier this month, leading Nicaragua closer toward one-party-state status with wins in more than 80% of the country’s towns and cities. Sandinista candidates drew approximately 68% of the votes cast in the Nov. 4 contest, giving the leftist party control of all but one of the country’s 17 provincial capitals, including Managua, where Mayor Daysi Torres was re-elected in a landslide. -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar

President Sebastián Piñera’s center-right Alianza coalition stumbled in municipal elections, held late last month throughout Chile, dropping tight mayoral races in several conservative strongholds. But, while most pundits and political leaders agree the elections were a "defeat" for the Alianza, few are clear on what the results mean for its traditional rival, the still influential but increasingly fractured Concertación coalition. -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar

The Mexican mining industry, already beset by accusations of environmental violations, territorial fights with local indigenous communities, and safety concerns, is facing a relatively new threat—connections with drug-trafficking organizations like the Zetas in Coahuila and La Familia in the central state of Michoacán. There are reports that the Zetas are extracting coal illegally, many times in collusion with local mining companies, and selling it to the state utility, the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE), through an intermediary, primarily the Promotora de Desarrollo Minero (PRODEMI).  -Carlos Navarro

Representatives of 18 Ibero-American nations, meeting in Costa Rica during the 17th Annual Assembly of the Federación Iberoamericana de Ombudsman (FIO), agreed to push for all countries in the regional bloc to pass legislation to fight violence against children--the meeting’s main topic. The idea is to review legislation, where it exists, and to promote it in countries where it does not, as a means to penalize child aggression, Defensoría de los Habitantes spokesperson Ahmed Tabash told NotiCen. -George Rodríguez

Friday, November 9, 2012

Guatemalan Army Cracks Down on Protestors; Paraguay Parties Posed for 2013 Election; Mexican Remittances Down

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These six articles were published in this week's issues of SourceMex, NotiCen, and NotiSur

The slow US economic recovery in the construction and services industries has contributed to a steady decline in remittances sent home by Mexican expatriates during the summer months and into the early fall. In a report published in early November, the Banco de México said remittances during September fell for the third-consecutive month relative to a year ago. The central bank, also known as Banxico, said September remittances amounted to only US$1.66 billion, down 20% from US$2.08 billion in September 2011. That was the largest decline since October 2009, when the amount of money sent home by expatriates declined by 36%. -Carlos Navarro

An independent review of the result of the July 1 presidential election shows that a large percentage of the voters who are considered extremely poor may have actually cast their ballots for the conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) and not the PRI or the center-leftMovimiento Progresista. A vote for the governing party was an endorsement of government public-assistance programs implemented under President Felipe Calderón’s administration. The leftist coalition, which received about 32% of the vote in the presidential election, appears to be headed for a split with the formal decision by Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (Morena) to become a political party. -Carlos Navarro 

After electricity costs in the northwestern department of Totonicapán doubled in less than a year to almost US$12, Mayan K'iche' community leaders decided that enough was enough, and protestors occupied the ENERGUATE electricity company’s office in the departmental capital. The day before, indigenous leaders had already announced theirintention to block the the Inter-American Highway, and they were met by dozens of police vehicles and at least two Army vehicles. What happened next is currently under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office as different versions of events have emerged.   -Louisa Reynolds

In recent weeks, the issue of fiscal reform has caused tensions in the Dominican Republic, especially because some have argued that public spending spiraled out of control under the administration of outgoing President Leonel Fernández (1996-2000, 2004-2012), who has been accused of causing the country’s huge public debt, a debt that newly elected President Danilo Medina seeks to curb. Medina’s fiscal-reform proposal seeks to raise RD$46 billion (Dominican pesos)--slightly above US$1.17 billion--has met with negative reactions. However, the Senate approved it with 30 of 32 votes, all of which, with one exception, belong to the official Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (PLD). -Crosby Girón
What is indigenous justice? Does an indigenous justice system really exist? Should indigenous justice be subordinate to a country's ordinary (national) justice system? These and other questions are perplexing legal experts trained in Western law as they analyze and try to put into practice the mandate in the Ecuadoran Constitution's Article 171. The article recognizes the competence of indigenous authorities to apply their own norms and procedures that are appropriate for resolving internal conflicts and not contrary to the Constitution or human rights. This article also requires that mechanisms be designed for coordination and cooperation between indigenous justice and ordinary justice. -Luis Ángel Saavedra

The coup that toppled the democratic government of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo (2008-2012) and installed Federico Franco as de facto head of state has accelerated the electoral calendar, revealing the ambitions and needs of some and the political immaturity of others. -Andrés Gaudín

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Mexico Removes Corrupt Judge; Private Cities Ruled Unconstitutional in Honduras; Uruguay Decriminalizes Abortion

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SourceMex, October 31, 2012

On Oct. 25, Mexico’s judicial oversight council (Consejo de la Judicatura Federal, CJF) announced that federal Judge Efraín Cázares López would be permanently relieved of his duties for "serious offenses in his judicial duties." Judge Cázares, who was suspended in June pending an investigation, issued a controversial ruling ordering the release of 10 mayors and dozens of public officials in Michoacán state accused of collaborating with La Familia drug cartel in 2009. -Carlos Navarro

In late October, President Felipe Calderón inaugurated three new wind-power projects in Oaxaca, adding another 300 megawatts of wind-generated capacity to the state. With the three new facilities—Piedra Larga, Oaxaca I, and La Venta III---the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, known for its favorable wind conditions, now has more than a dozen power plants. The expansion of wind energy is part of the Calderón government’s plan to greatly expand the use of renewable energy in Mexico and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. So far this year, Mexico has more than doubled its installed wind-power capacity to about 1.3 gigawatts from 519 MW last year. In contrast, Mexico produced only 6 MW of wind power when Calderón took office in December 2006. -Carlos Navarro

NotiCen, November 1, 2012

In general, women--and girls, for that matter--in Haiti have historically been, at best, second-class citizens, culturally seen as fit only for household work and assigned the role of sexual object with no rights, a context in which abuse comes naturally and goes unpunished. Gender-based violence in homes has been coupled with sexual violence as political repression by dictatorial régimes in this French- and Creole-speaking Caribbean island nation. Years of violence were the framework for "widespread and systematic rape and other sexual violence against girls," according to the international nongovernmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Watch (HRW). UN reports also revealed that criminal gangs used threats and actual sexual violence to terrorize Haitian communities. -George Rodríguez  

The idea to build private cities began gathering momentum early this year, after the Congress passed the bill in 2011 creating the Redes Especiales de Desarrollo (RED)--better known as ciudades modelos (model cities)--opening the way for foreign investors to come in and start building what, in their English version, are known as charter cities. But the RED was struck down by the Honduran Supreme Court, which ruled that the law was unconstitutional. -George Rodríguez

NotiSur, November 2, 2012

Argentina's Corte Suprema de Justicia de la Nación (CSJN) put an end to the legal delays by powerful media conglomerate Grupo Clarín and set Dec. 7 as the deadline by which it will have to comply with provisions of the communications law (Ley de Servicios de Comunicación Audiovisual). This means that, instead of 254 stations (over-the-air and cable TV channels, AM and FM radio stations), it will have only 34. The media giant will have to decide which outlets it will retain and which it will dispose of, and the government will auction off broadcasting licenses for the freed-up frequencies to individuals and nonprofit entities. -Andrés Gaudín

 Both houses of the Uruguayan legislature have now passed an abortion law (Ley de Interrupción Voluntaria del Embarazo, IVE) allowing any woman--adolescent or adult--to have an abortion during the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy by making her decision known to the national health care system (Sistema Nacional Integrado de Salud, SNIS), which includes public and private health providers. The law, which the Senate approved on Oct. 17, was signed five days later by President José Mujica and lacks only its enabling regulations to go into effect. -Andrés Gaudín