Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sept 26-28: Nicaragua Interoceanic Canal; Peru Seeks Repayment from ex-Officials; Refinery Blast in Mexico

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SourceMex, September 26, 2012

An explosion at a natural-gas distribution plant near the US-Mexico border city of Reynosa in mid-September killed 30 workers and injured another 46, raising new questions about the safety record of the state-run oil company PEMEX. The plant measures natural gas extracted from neighboring wells and transfers the fuel to a nearby processing plant, which separates liquid hydrocarbons from the gas. And, while the tragedy made headlines because of the magnitude and severity of the explosion, the incident exposed a troublesome trend in PEMEX's hiring practices. A large majority the victims of the explosion were not direct employees of PEMEX but were working for subcontractors. This raised questions of whether the personnel were truly qualified to perform the technical duties required for the facility.

 Mexico’s President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto took a tour of six Latin American countries in mid- to late September, in what was generally seen as an effort to touch base with key leaders in the region. While Peña Nieto’s tour was an apparent effort to strengthen his foreign-policy credentials, the trip also provided hints of the policies that he would pursue in three domestic areas: the fight against crime and drug traffickers, policies on the state-run oil company PEMEX, and the fight against poverty.

NotiCen, September 27, 2012

The number of traffic accidents, one of the leading causes of death in Cuba, soared this year to the highest level in more than a decade despite warnings from authorities against drunk-driving and the lack of road-safety education. Meanwhile, the public complains about the capital’s deteriorating public-transportation service, the problems of aging automobiles, and the condition of the road system.

With no viable opposition to convince him otherwise, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is pushing full steam ahead with plans to build an ocean-to-ocean canal that would be longer, deeper, and significantly more expensive than its busy Panamanian counterpart. Critics call the "Nicaragua-Canal" idea far-fetched. Ortega and his allies insist otherwise, pitching the grandiose project as a national priority, an eventual money machine that will help Nicaragua--historically one of the poorest countries in the Americas--make rapid and far-reaching economic gains.

NotiSur, September 28, 2012

Isolated internationally, and with qualified support from the same political parties that named Federico Franco to replace constitutional President Fernando Lugo following the Paraguayan Senate's legislative coup Franco's de facto government obtained the support of José Miguel Insulza, secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS). At the same time, the regime implemented a strategy of rapprochement with certain military sectors, and, in the face of timid Catholic Church criticism, it was confronted by a progressive bishop who condemned its decision to allow the use of new genetically modified (GM) seeds, a hot-button issue in Paraguay that has led campesinos and indigenous to clash with the armed guards of large producers, especially growers of GM soy.

The Procuraduría Anticorrupción is committed to recovering money stolen from the state during the regime of convicted felon and ex-President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000). To do so, it is initiating a series of measures that range from seizing property to repatriating assets that the debtors have stashed abroad. The Observatorio en Delitos de Corrupción, created by the Procuraduría, estimates that the amount involved is almost 1 billion soles (US$384 million), owed by 314 persons convicted of corruption.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sept. 19-21: Venezuela Joins MERCOSUR; El Salvador Parties Plan Early for Election; Split in Mexican Left

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SourceMex, September 19, 2012

On Sept. 10, less than two weeks after the electoral court (Tribunal Electoral del Poder Judicial de la Federación, TEPJF) ratified the victory of Enrique Peña Nieto in the July 1 presidential election, opposition candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced that he was separating himself from the three center-left parties to concentrate on building a citizen movement that he launched in 2011 called the Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (Morena). López Obrador made the announcement before thousands of supporters in Mexico City’s expansive central square, El Zócalo. The break is primarily with the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), since members of the two other parties—the Partido del Trabajo (PT) and Movimiento Ciudadano (MC)—are expected to work closely with López Obrador in building Morena.

The US State Department has agreed to recommend immunity for ex-President Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000), who is the target of a lawsuit in a US court over the massacre of 45 Tzotzil Indians near the village of Acteal in Chiapas in December 1997. With the likelihood that the federal District Court in Connecticut will accept the State Department’s recommendation, members of Las Abejas and their supporters are looking to bring legal action against Zedillo in other venues. One possibility is the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), an organ of the Organization of American States (OAS).

NotiCen, September 20, 2012

El Salvador’s two principal political parties--the rightist Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA) and left-wing Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN)--have decided to show their cards early, naming their respective candidates more than a year and a half before the next presidential election. ARENA is pinning its hopes on Norman Quijano, a party veteran who spent 15 years in the Asamblea Legislativa (AL) before being elected in 2009 as mayor of San Salvador, El Salvador’s capital and largest city. The governing FMLN lifted back the curtain on its presidential hopeful earlier still, announcing in June that it will support current Vice President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a former teacher who until recently doubled as President Mauricio Funes’ education minister.

Panama is one of the richest countries in Central America, with 3.5 million inhabitants and a per capita income of US$13,343 per annum, according to the latest report published by the UN Development Programme (UNDP). This figure is obtained by adding the country’s profits in goods and services produced and dividing that among the country’s inhabitants. However, although every Panamanian ought to have an annual income of more than US$1,112 a month, four of every ten Panamanians live in poverty (36.8% of the population) and 16.6% live in extreme poverty.

NotiSur, September 21, 2012

When Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay welcomed Venezuela as a full member of the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR) on July 31, they were not merely receiving another trade ally, they were taking a geopolitical step toward creating a new hemispheric order. Venezuela, which had sought MERCOSUR membership since 2006, counted from the beginning on favorable votes from those three countries, but, in the intervening six years, the Senate of Paraguay--the fourth founding member of the customs union--systematically refused to approve it. On June 22, after that same Senate staged a legislative coup to remove constitutional President Fernando Lugo, the regional bloc used its Carta Democrática (Democratic Charter) to suspend the de facto government in Asunción and opened its doors, at last, to Venezuela.

On Oct. 7, more than 140 million Brazilians will vote in municipal elections to choose mayors and city councilors in 5,564 municipalities. These are the first elections since President Dilma Rousseff took office and will be an important test of her administration's popularity. The municipal elections could also be an indicator of new directions for party politics in Brazil. Evaluations of the Rousseff administration have been generally positive. More than 70% of respondents in recent polls say that it is doing a good job, despite signs that Brazil's economy is in a period of cooling off, a cause of concern for the government, the productive sector, and workers.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sept. 12-14: Central American Investment Woes; Indigenous Rights in Colombia; CIA Agents Targerted in Mexico

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SourceMex, September 12, 2012

On Aug. 24, officers from the Mexican federal police (Policía Federal, PF) fired shots at an automobile with diplomatic license plates, and there was major confusion as to why the shots were fired in the first place.It turns out that the vehicle was carrying three agents from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and that the incident occurred in an area where drug traffickers are known to operate. But many questions remain unanswered about the incident, which caused a major embarrassment for President Felipe Calderón's administration.

Aeroméxico and US-based Delta Airlines have announced plans to construct a new aircraft-maintenance center in the industrial park in Querétaro state, which in recent years has become the hub for Mexico’s aviation industry. But the construction of the new facility at the Querétaro airport (Aeropuerto Intercontinental de Querétaro) requires the two companies to abandon an existing facility at the Guadalajara airport (Aeropuerto Internacional de Guadalajara Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla). The decision to leave the Guadalajara site, which was in large measure the result of a dispute about land-use rights, has caused great concern to the Jalisco state government, which is concerned about the economic implications, including a negative signal to potential investors and an increase in unemployment among workers not willing to relocate to Querétaro. 

NotiCen, September 13, 2012

Guatemala and other countries in the region--such as El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti and Honduras--are wrestling with the question of how to promote and retain foreign investment. The problem is that many foreign investors take actions that force these countries to compete with each other. The notion that foreign capital will flee the country if it does not offer better investment conditions than its neighbors--such as low wages and generous tax breaks--appears to be a common fear among Central American business leaders and politicians.

A few hours into this month, the Honduran unicameral Congreso Nacional passed a decree banning possession of guns in part of the northern region. The measure specifically applies to the northern department of Colón, where the violence-stricken area of Bajo Aguán, the stage of a bloody land struggle, is located. The ban, passed Sept. 1 and in force as long as Congress does not decide otherwise--as the text specifically points out--applies to the local population of Colón, an Atlantic (Caribbean) department, but not to local large landowners’ security personnel.

NotiSur, September 14, 2012

Since early July, Colombia has been in an unusual situation. Worn down by an armed conflict that they do not relate to but which is being intensely fought on their lands, the Nasa or Páez indigenous group used sticks and stones to expel the military and the police sent by the government as well as the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) guerrillas. The Nasa have lived in what today are the four strategic western departments along the Pacific coast (Nariño, Cauca, Valle del Cauca, and Chocó) since before the Spanish colonization in the 15th century. Before taking action, the indigenous addressed the parties involved. In their communication to the government, they demanded that President Juan Manuel Santos come to their territory to "negotiate the withdrawal of troops." They told the FARC to "get off of our lands."

In its Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas, issued in March 2012, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) said murders, extrajudicial executions, and forced disappearances of activists were on the rise. It called such crimes "one of the most serious obstacles to the exercise of promoting and protecting human rights." The IAHCR singled out three South American countries where the situation is especially serious—Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela—along with El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sept. 5-7: New Style of Coup Emerges in Latin America; Costa Rica Ponders Marijuana Policy; Enrique Peña Nieto Ratified as President-Elect

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SourceMex, September 5, 2012

On Aug. 31, Mexico’s electoral court (Tribunal Electoral del Poder Judicial de la Federación, TEPJF) officially declared Enrique Peña Nieto the victor in the July 1 presidential election. The announcement followed the TEPJF’s unanimous ruling the previous day that there was insufficient evidence to support the complaints by the center-left coalition Movimiento Progresista that Peña Nieto’s Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) engaged in a massive and illegal campaign of vote buying to win the election ). The TEPJF decision upheld Peña Nieto’s margin of victory of about 6.6% .

The sinking of a loading buoy off the seaport of Salina Cruz in Oaxaca state on Aug. 11 has contaminated several beaches in the area with spilled crude oil, endangering local wildlife and damaging the local fisheries and tourism industries. The environmental organization WILDCOAST/COSTASALVAJE said the spill from the buoy owned by the state-run oil company PEMEX killed at least two dozen Olive Ridley turtles during the nesting season.

NotiCen, September 6, 2012

Nine bills aimed at legalizing marijuana, written by citizens, have been waiting in line, some for as long three years, at Costa Rica’s unicameral Asamblea Legislativa (AL) for legislators to look into and promote them. So far, the 57 AL deputies have ignored the initiatives. In this Central American nation whose population is just over 4.3 million, smoking marijuana, despite being illegal, is not punished, unlike producing, selling, or trafficking the drug.

Michele Leonhart, head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), visited the Dominican Republic in early August. During Leonhart's trip, outgoing President Leonel Fernández bestowed her with a special distinction as a token of thanks for her government’s support for the country’s efforts to eradicate drug trafficking. However, even though Leonhart spoke of the Dominican government's efforts in fighting drug trafficking, many analysts said that statements made only two weeks earlier by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano betray deeper concerns about this issue.

NotiSur, September 7, 2012

Paraguay has just witnessed an event that marks the expansion of neogolpismo (neocoupism, a new style of coup) in 21st century Latin America. That is how various political analysts in Latin America, using almost the same words, described the June 22 institutional rupture that ended with the removal of democratic President Fernando Lugo ). Unlike the traditional coups led by the military, neogolpismo is formally less virulent, it is led directly by civilians (with the implicit support or explicit complicity of the armed forces), it maintains an institutional façade, it doesn't necessarily involve a power (the US), and it holds itself up as a solution to problems that, it says, the overthrown government did not know how to handle, said Brazilian academic and diplomat Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães..

A flurry of school occupations and street protests has provided a sudden burst of momentum to Chile’s student-led education-reform movement, which had lain conspicuously low in recent months following its tumultuous rise to prominence in 2011. Tens of thousands of students, families, teachers, union members, and others sympathetic to the cause gathered Aug. 28 in downtown Santiago to demand far-reaching changes to the country’s education system. Smaller protests took place in Concepción, Valparaíso, Puerto Montt, and other Chilean cities. Organizers estimated overall attendance for the marches at 180,000--proof, they said, that the movement is alive and well.