Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mexican Congress Approves Energy Reform; Peru Cracks Down on Social Protests; Costa Rica Spots Illegal Helicopter Landing Sites

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for December 18-20

CARICOM Nations Intensify Push for Slavery Reparations
Member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) continue to press their case for indemnities from European nations that engaged in the transatlantic slave trade following a Dec. 9 meeting of the CARICOM Reparations Commission. This meeting followed the international attention achieved by Caribbean heads of state during their September addresses to the UN General Assembly. Both Prime Ministers Baldwin Spencer of Antigua and Barbuda and Ralph Gonsalves of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines used the UN bully pulpit to state their case. The latter will assume the rotating presidency of CARICOM in January 2014 and intends to make the reparations issue a cornerstone of his agenda.Fourteen countries have signed on to CARICOM’s position, which will focus on the governments of the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands. Several Anglophone Caribbean nations, Haiti, and Suriname, all CARICOM member states, were the respective colonies of the aforementioned European countries.  -Gregory Scruggs   Read More

Congress Easily Approves Energy Reform Plan; PRI, PAN Majorities Key to Passage
A little more than a year after taking office, President Enrique Peña Nieto has succeeded in reaching one of his most important goals: pushing through an overhaul of the energy sector, particularly the state-run oil company PEMEX . The reforms, which would allow increased private participation in Mexico’s energy sector, were approved by an overwhelming 353-134 in the Chamber of Deputies and 95-28 in the Senate. In gaining easy passage for his initiative, Peña Nieto benefited from strong numbers in both chambers of Congress, including legislators from the governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), and their allies the Partido Verde Ecologista de México (PVEM) and Partido Nueva Alianza (PANAL). The parties formed enough of a majority to overcome strong opposition from the center-left parties--the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), Movimiento Ciudadano (MC), and Partido del Trabajo (PT). -Carlos Navarro   Read More

Crackdown On Peru’s Social Protests Intensifies Under President Ollanta Humala
Opposition to Peru's extractive industries, particularly mining, has resulted in a steady increase in socioenvironmental conflicts since President Ollanta Humala came to power. Authorities have countered by criminalizing social protests as a way to neutralize the people who are speaking out and weaken their social movements. During the Humala administration’s two-and-a-half years in power, nearly 700 people involved in social conflicts have been criminalized, meaning they have been formally accused of various crimes and subjected to judicial proceedings, according to the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDDHH). -Elsa Chanduví Jaña    Read More

Chile’s Once And Future President Michelle Bachelet Wins Election Runoff In A Landslide
If ever there was a case of victory foretold, this was it. On Sunday, Dec. 15, former President Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010)--the hands-down favorite long before she even announced her candidacy--completed her re-election bid with relative ease, besting her rightist rival Evelyn Matthei by nearly 25 percentage points in Chile’s presidential runoff election. Bachelet, 62, made history eight years ago when she beat current President Sebastián Piñera to become the country’s first female head of state. With her 62% to 38% triumph over Matthei, Bachelet’s name will now go down in the history books again--this time as the first president since Chile returned to democracy in 1990 to win a second term in office. -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar   Read More

Costa Rican Authorities Spot Illegal Airfields for Helicopters; President Says Finding Makes Organized Crime Nervous
Within a month's time, six clandestine airfields for helicopters were discovered during police operations next to makeshift camps inside sprawling rural properties in a mountainous sector in Costa Rica’s northeastern Caribbean area, close to the border with Nicaragua. Costa Rican authorities said investigations are focused on the structures being a part of an international organized-crime network’s operation in Central America--trafficking drugs northward, money and weapons southward. The findings took place from Oct. 8 through Nov. 8, after members of communities in the area reported having repeatedly sighted at least one helicopter, flying just above treetops, coming from the border area. Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said organized crime has thus been exposed in this country, and it makes them nervous. -George Rodríguez   Read More

Mexico, Turkey Commit to Negotiate Free-Trade Agreement in 2014
Mexico and Turkey have signed a memorandum of understanding to boost cooperation in trade, finance, security, and other areas including negotiating a free-trade agreement (FTA) and developing a joint strategy to combat organized crime. The two countries announced their new cooperation efforts in Ankara in mid-December following a series of meetings between Presidents Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Abdullah Gül of Turkey. This was the first-ever state-level visit by a Mexican president to Turkey. During the meeting, which came at Gül’s invitation, the two countries signed 12 cooperation agreements. Leading the list of agreements was the commitment to work toward an FTA in 2014. -Carlos Navarro    Read More

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Latest Brazilian Response to U.S. Spying; Mexico Approves New Electoral Reforms; Racial Discrimination in Panama

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for December 11-13

Brazil Responds to U.S. Spying with International Diplomacy and Domestic Lawmaking
The September revelations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) included Brazil on its list of spy targets continue to fuel political drama in the country’s foreign and domestic policy, including a UN resolution on the right to digital privacy and congressional debates about a landmark Internet privacy bill. The spying scandal’s most immediate outcome, the unprecedented indefinite postponement of President Dilma Rousseff’s official state visit to the US, initially slated for Oct. 23, remains in limbo. Political analysts speculate that it is unlikely to be rescheduled before the end of Rousseff’s first term, which concludes in January 2015. -Gregory Scruggs  Read More

Central American Migrants Remain Under Siege in Mexico
As Mexico awaits movement in the debate on immigration policy in the US, some changes are in the works on Mexico’s own policies toward immigrants, including a proposal to strengthen the rights of persons about to be deported. Some see the proposal from President Enrique Peña Nieto as a shallow move intended to benefit a Peruvian-born television commentator who has come under fire for her  reporting tactics, while others view the change as a tactic to improve the business climate in Mexico for foreigners. Regardless, critics are urging the administration to take on a more urgent immigration-related matter: protecting the rights of migrants from Central America and other countries in Latin America who travel through Mexico to attempt to cross into the US. These migrants are often kidnapped and robbed, or worse—they are killed by criminal organizations following failed extortion schemes. By some estimates, 400,000 to 500,000 Central and South Americans cross illegally into Mexico every year. Some are seasonal farm workers, but the vast majority are passing through on their way to the US. -Carlos Navarro  Read More

Racial Discrimination: a Crime Without Punishment in Panamanian Society
Panama has made progress in the fight against racial discrimination but still lacks the necessary legal framework to bring perpetrators to justice. This was the main conclusion of a report published by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Panama’s Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores on Nov. 14. The report, based on an OHCHR visit to Panama in January this year, highlights a number of significant steps taken toward eradicating discrimination but also lists omissions and failings. The OHCHR welcomed the creation of the Comisión Nacional contra la Discriminación (CND), in 2002, and the approval of a law against discrimination in the workplace, as well as the creation of the Secretaría del Consejo de la Etnia Negra, a government bureau that works to advance the rights of Afro-Panamanians and defend the preservation of their culture. -Louisa Reynolds  Read More

Congress Approves New Set of Electoral Reforms
The Mexican Congress has approved another set of electoral reforms that would make the legislative branch more effective and open up the country’s political institutions to more democratic participation and scrutiny. The latest reforms, approved in early December, allow sitting members of Congress to run for re-election, eliminating the previous restriction that limited legislators to a single three-year term in the Chamber of Deputies and a six-year term in the Senate. Under the reform, states would be given the option to decide whether to allow direct re-election of mayors and deputies in state legislatures. The changes would also replace the Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE) with a more powerful and independent agency, the Instituto Nacional Electoral (INE). This reform is intended to create greater oversight of state elections, which have been managed by state electoral institutes. -Carlos Navarro  Read More

Nicaraguan Legislature Ready to Ratify President Daniel Ortega’s Constitutional Rewrite
At the behest of President Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s Sandinista-controlled legislature has given initial approval to a series of made-to-order constitutional reforms that together amount to an overhaul of the country’s political system. Among other things, the changes clear the way for Ortega--who has already won the presidency three times (in 1984, 2006, and 2011)--to seek indefinite re-election. The Ortega administration says the reforms will give Nicaragua a more "direct democracy" and institutionalize a model of government it now calls "evolving constitutionalism." Unveiled in late October, the proposals were "inspired by the values of Christianity, the ideals of socialism, and the practices of solidarity," the administration went on to say. -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar  Read More

Uruguayan Politics Heats Up 11 Months Before Election
Although Uruguayan political parties still have seven months to select candidates in open, obligatory, simultaneous primaries, and the general election is 11 months away, people are already talking about who might rule the country for the five years from March 2015 to March 2020. Both upcoming elections are already hot topics with pollsters hazarding predictions of victors in both the internal party and general elections. The possibility that the progressive Frente Amplio (FA) could continue governing the country for a third consecutive term has sparked worried conservative and rightist sectors--the traditional Partido Nacional (PN or Blanco) and Partido Colorado (PC)--to spring into action. In addition, seven small parties have filed to register for the elections. -Andrés Gaudín   Read More

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Controversial Election in Honduras; Mexico Multi-Party Political Agreement in Danger; Progressive Ties Wither in Southern Cone

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for December 4-6

Assailants Torch Human Rights Archives As Pressure Against El Salvador’s Amnesty Law Mounts
An intimidating pre-dawn attack on a San Salvador human rights organization has turned new attention to the still divisive legacy of El Salvador’s dozen-year civil war (1980-1992), which involved numerous abuses and atrocities and resulted in an estimated 75,000 deaths and 8,000 disappearances. Many of the missing were children whose parents were killed or who--in the mayhem of conflict--were separated from their families and scattered to unknown whereabouts. Others were snatched by military personnel or scuttled into orphanages and later adopted, often by families in the US and Europe. Benjamin Witte-Lebhar   Read More

Honduran Elections Turn Chaotic; Both Favorites Declare Themselves President-elect
The Nov. 24 election in Honduras went on with no upsets, a considerably high turnout, and calls from different sectors for parties--both leaders and followers--to respect results. The immediate results were far from conclusive, with Xiomara Castro of the center-left Partido Libertad y Refundación (LIBRE) and Juan Orlando Hernández of the ruling rightist Partido Nacional (PN) both claiming victory The Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE) ultimately declared the election in favor of Hernández, but Castro and LIBRE denounced the PN's victory was the result of massive fraud. Furthemore, the opposition accused the TSE of manipulating the final numbers. George Rodríguez    Read More

Progressive Ties Wither in Southern Cone
The process of regional integration, which blossomed in the last half of the last decade as South American countries created effective and powerful regional organizations, has stagnated, admit progressive leaders in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Uruguay who had supported cooperation. Although many blame the resurgence of right-wing governments for the backsliding, some analysts say that it’s no surprise that the reversal happened in the wake of the deaths of former Presidents Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) of Argentina in October 2010 and Hugo Chávez (1999-2013) of Venezuela in March 2013 . Both leaders were driving forces behind efforts to get South American countries to work together. Andrés Gaudín    Read More

Center-left Party Withdraws from Pacto por México, Threatening Viability of Political Agreement
Just days before the one-year anniversary of the Pacto por México, the agreement by the major parties to push for significant political and economic reforms in Mexico has begun to unravel. On Dec. 1, the center-left Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) announced that it was withdrawing from the agreement because of differences regarding the strategy of the two other partners to push through energy reforms before the end of the year. The PRD made the decision after learning that the governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and the conservative opposition Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) have reportedly been negotiating behind the scenes to push through a legislative package to overhaul Mexico’s energy industry to allow greater private participation in the state-run oil company PEMEX. Carlos Navarro   Read More

PEMEX Helps Broker Agreement Between Argentine Government, Spanish Energy Company Repsol
In a move that could benefit Mexico’s state-run oil company PEMEX, Spain’s energy company Repsol and the Argentine government reached an agreement that compensates the Spanish company for losses incurred during the renationalization of its Argentine subsidiary in May 2012 (NotiSur, May 4, 2012). PEMEX, which owns almost a 10% share in Repsol, helped broker the agreement, subsequently approved by the Spanish company’s board of directors. Argentina agreed to compensate Repsol the equivalent of about US$5 billion in bonds denominated in dollars and guaranteed by the government. Carlos Navarro   Read More

Breakthrough in Colombia Peace Talks Opposed by Far Right, Applauded By Everyone Else
Colombia is divided into two, though far from equally sized, camps regarding ongoing peace talks between the government and guerilla leaders. While a large majority supports the process, a small but powerful far-right sector is doing all it can to ensure that the violence, which has as already plagued the country for half a century, continues. Andrés Gaudín    Read More

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Dominican-Haitian Immigration Dispute; Concerns Grow about GMO soy in South America; Mexico Holds 'Black Friday' Sales Weekend

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for November 20-22

Chile's Former President Michelle Bachelet Zeroes In on Second Term with Decisive First-Round Win
Opposition candidate and former President Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010) cruised to victory in Chile’s Nov. 17 first-round presidential election, scooping up nearly twice as many votes as her closest rival, Evelyn Matthei of the governing Alianza coalition, and sending the rest of the crowded field packing. Bachelet, leader of the center-left Nueva Mayoría coalition, won nearly 47% of the vote, well ahead of Matthei (25%) but short of the 50% mark needed to win the presidency outright. "We knew the challenge of winning in just one round would be complicated. We gave it our all and came very close to doing it," she told reporters following the Nov. 17 vote. -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar Read More

Questions Raised Throughout South America Regarding Use and Abuse of Agrochemicals
What began as a straight-forward journalistic investigation into modern farming practices in Argentina has turned into something of a regional rallying cry for critics of the US-based firm Monsanto and other large multinational agricultural firms involved in the production of genetically modified (transgenic) seeds and potent agrochemicals, which tend to be used hand in hand with those seeds. Critics worry about the adverse effects Monsanto products such as Roundup--a powerful and widely used herbicide made with the chemical glyphosate--could be having on humans, animals, plant life, water supplies, and the environment in general.  -Andrés Gaudín  Read More

Haiti and the Dominican Republic at Odds Because Ruling Deprives Persons of Haitian Descent of Dominican Citizenship
Two months ago, after Juliana Disguise-Pierre, a Dominican national of Haitian descent and the mother of four, appealed for having been deprived by the Dominican Republic’s Junta Central Electoral (JCE) of Dominican identification and voter cards, the country’s Tribunal Constitucional (TC) issued a ruling that has placed that country and Haiti, its Caribbean-island neighbor, at odds. In its Sept. 25 decision, the TC does not recognize as Dominican citizens persons born as of 1929 of foreign parents "in transit" or with irregular immigration status in the Dominican Republic. The  measure overwhelmingly applies to daughters and sons of Haitian nationals, the largest foreign community settled on Dominican soil. Different estimates put the total of Haitian-Dominicans at more than 200,000, while the rest of citizens of foreign descent number some 35,000. -George Rodríguez   Read More

Mexico’s "Black Friday" Campaign Boosts Consumption Ahead of Holiday Season 
In what some observers have described as a "government-supported Black Friday," retailers in Mexico sponsored the third annual El Buen Fin sales-promotion weekend, offering deep discounts and favorable interest terms on consumer goods and services. The campaign, started in 2011 under President Felipe Calderón’s administration, was intended to revive the economy by encouraging consumption. The federal government supports the effort by providing some funding for promotional activities and giving government workers their Christmas bonus in advance. Any retailer can participate in the effort by simply registering on a Web site created by several business organizations and the Secretaría de Economía (SE). The program has its share of critics, which point out that the campaign causes many families to incur unnecessary debts. -Carlos Navarr Read More

Congress Includes Special Fund for Border States in 2014 Budget 
The inclusion of a special fund to help residents of northern states that border the US helped ensure easy passage for the 2014 expenditures budget (Presupuesto de Egresos de la Federación) in the Chamber of Deputies. The budget—approved by wide margin of 441 to 26 with four abstentions—obtained support from the majority of the deputies from the center-right Partido Acción Nacional (PAN). The PAN had adamantly opposed President Enrique Peña Nieto's proposal to charge a uniform value-added tax (impuesto al valor agregado, IVA) of 16% to all states in Mexico. The northern states were previously charged an IVA of 11%. -Carlos Navarro   Read More

Guatemalan Army Intervenes in Customs Offices to Curb Smuggling
With falling tax revenues attributed to smuggling, President Otto Pérez Molina decided that five of the country’s 12 customs offices would be temporarily taken over by the military in an effort to curb corruption. The legality of the measure has been disputed, and even business representatives, those most affected by smuggling, argue that this is not a viable long-term solution. -Louisa Reynolds   Read More

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Saving an Endangered Species in Nicaragua; Peru Disbands Human Rights Subcommittee; Mexico Strengthens Ties with Cuba, Venezuela

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for November 13-15

President Enrique Peña Nieto Grants Pardon to Teacher Wrongly Accused of Killing Seven Police Officers in 2000
In the first test of a new law that expands the power of Mexico’s chief executive to grant pardons, President Enrique Peña Nieto ordered the release of Alberto Patishtán Gómez, a teacher accused of participating in the murder of seven police officers in El Bosque, Chiapas state, in 2000. Patishtán—a member of the Tzotzil community—claims he was wrongly accused of a crime that he did not commit. The teacher was charged with the murders based on testimony from a single witness, the son of El Bosque’s mayor, even though many other eyewitness accounts placed Patishtán far away from the scene.  -Carlos Navarro  Read More

Costa Rica’s Election Campaign Gets Off to Rocky Start
Costa Rica’s election campaign, officially launched early last month, got off to a rocky start, with two presidential candidates resigning--one permanently, the other returning--and a congressional hopeful about to be kicked off of his party’s list. With 13 candidates nominated for this Central American nation’s top job and 27 political parties vying for the 57 seats up for grabs in the unicameral Asamblea Legislativa (AL), the election process is marked by what is seen as the definitive end of Costa Rica’s historic bipartisanship--a process started two elections ago when numerous parties entered the legislature.  -George Rodríguez   Read More

High Court Ruling, Secret Document Discovery Overshadow Argentina's Midterm Elections Results
Argentina’s governing coalition lost ground and yet held on to its congressional majority in midterm elections held Oct. 27. The governing coalition--just as it did four years ago, in the 2009 midterms--lost the country’s five largest districts, areas that together represent nearly 63% of the electorate. Within days of the vote, Argentina’s political scene was shaken by a pair of noteworthy incidents that quickly turned the public’s attention away from the election results: The Corte Suprema de Justicia (CSJ) ruled that a controversial media law,is constitutional and thus immediately applicable. Less than a week later, Defense Minister Agustín Rossi publicly announced the discovery of a complete and perfectly preserved archive of secret documents produced over the course of Argentina’s final civil-military government (1976-1983).  -Andrés Gaudín  Read More 

A Race To Save Nicaragua’s Largest Land Mammal
Born and raised outside Managua in Nicaragua’s Zoológico Nacional, Maya and Carburito will soon be traveling east--aboard a military helicopter--to the Región Autónoma del Atlántico Sur (RAAS)--where they will swap their familiar chain-linked enclosure for the leafy wilds of the Wawashang forest. Two-year-old Baird’s tapirs, the youngsters are unwitting protagonists in a public-private initiative to save the trunk-nosed herbivores from extinction. Using GPS (Global Positioning System) technology, researchers involved in the Proyecto Tapir Nicaragua will keep close tabs on the pioneering pair as they try to settle into their new environment. There is no guarantee the introduction will work. -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar    Read More

Human Rights Subcommittee Disbanded in Peru After Fujimorista Appointed to Head Group
The controversial appointment of fujimorista deputy Martha Chávez --who vowed to investigate alleged irregularities in Peru’s truth and reconciliation commission--as head of a congressional human rights subcommittee was ratified Nov. 11, days after it appeared that a previous vote in her favor had been overturned. But the subcommittee was later disbanded in what was considered a victory for human rights. Chávez was a party leader under Fujimori, who was condemned in 2009 to 25 years of prison for crimes against humanity. - Elsa Chanduví Jaña    Read More

President Enrique Peña Nieto Moves to Strengthen Relations with Cuba, Venezuela
President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration has taken steps to repair relations with Cuba and Venezuela, which deteriorated during the administration of ex-President Vicente Fox (SourceMex, Nov. 16, 2005) and were uneven at best during the government of former President Felipe Calderón . In early November, the Peña Nieto government reached a series of cooperation agreements with Cuba, including an accord to pardon about US$487 million of Cuba’s debt to Mexico. The administration also announced plans to begin trade talks with Venezuela in 2014. However, some complications developed in the effort to restore trade and diplomatic relations with Venezuela following reports that the Venezuelan military shot down a private Mexican plane flying over its airspace.    -Carlos Navarro    Read More

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Protests Continue in Brazil; Mexico Cancels Refinery Project; El Salvador Deals with Deaths of Sea Turtles

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for November 6-8

Venezuela Opens Way for Paraguay to Return to MERCOSUR
After a 16-month rupture in diplomatic relations with Paraguay, the Venezuelan government has reopened binational dialogue. In mid-October Foreign Minister Elías Jaua traveled to Asunción to resolve the reopening of respective embassies and the naming of new ambassadors. In other gestures of rapprochement, on Oct. 30, Jaua invited the Paraguayan government to participate in a ministerial summit of the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR), and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro called Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes "to give him an embrace by phone." Maduro also urged other members of the trade alliance to "urgently bring the fellow nation of Paraguay back to the fold. -Andrés Gaudín   Read More

Rio Teachers Strike Sharpens Brazilian Protest Scene
Four months after the June protests in Brazil brought hundreds of thousands to the streets in a national airing of grievances, such mass demonstrations persist albeit on a smaller, more-focused scale. At the same time, marches continue to conclude with violent clashes between police and protesters. This trend is a result of both a tougher line by authorities as well as a proportionally larger use of black-bloc tactics, whereby masked protesters wearing black pursue direct action to destroy symbolic physical property such as banks, media vehicles, and police cars. The outcome has been widespread destruction of public and private property, mass arrests of civilians, injuries to protesters, and chaotic scenes on the streets of Brazil’s major cities, principally Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Brasília. -Gregory Scruggs Read More

President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Government Launches Major Operation against Caballeros Templarios Cartel in Michoacán State
In early November, the Secretaría de Defensa Nacional (SEDENA) and the federal police assumed control of the port of Lázaro Cárdenas in Michoacán state, in an effort to root out massive corruption and cripple the operations of the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) drug cartel at one of Mexico’s largest seaports. The federal operation at Lázaro Cárdenas came just days after assailants—presumably members of the Knights Templar--damaged several electrical power plants owned by the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE), triggering blackouts in at least nine cities. The destruction of the CFE plants was followed by attacks on several gasoline stations. Analysts said the attacks might have been intended as a show of power by the cartels to citizen groups, which have risen in resistance to the cartel, and to the government. -Carlos Navarro Read More

Scores Of Endangered Sea Turtles Wash Up Dead Along Salvadoran Beaches
Conservationists and government authorities are pointing their fingers in very different directions following a recent die-off of sea turtles, hundreds of which have washed up on El Salvador’s shoreline in recent weeks. In mid October, fishers operating along the Pacific beach of El Pimental, in the department of La Paz, reported finding some 100 dead turtles in a single day. Partially decomposed corpses have also littered the beaches of San Diego, El Amatal, and Toluca in the nearby department of La Libertad. Officially, more than 200 turtles died during a troubling three-week span that began in late September, the Ministerio de Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (MARN) reported late last month. Environmental groups suspect the real number of turtle deaths is higher still. Most of the dead animals were olive ridley and green turtles, according to MARN. Two other sea turtle species, leatherbacks and hawksbills, are also present in El Salvador. -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar  Read More

President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Administration Apparently Cancels Construction of New Refinery in Hidalgo State
Without much fanfare, President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration appears to have put the brakes on an ambitious project to construct the Bicentenario refinery in Tula, Hidalgo state. The facility--one of the largest investment projects launched during former President Felipe Calderón’s administration—was to be constructed next to an existing refinery in Tula. The project was intended to boost Mexico’s capacity to refine crude oil and reduce reliance on imports of gasoline and other fuels. Mexico at present imports about 50% of the gasoline consumed domestically, even though the country is a major producer of crude oil. The fate of the project became apparent with the release of the 2014-2018 business plan for the state-run oil company PEMEX, which left out the facility. -Carlos Navarro Read More

Still Wounded by 2009 Coup, Honduras Heads for Elections that End Historic Bipartisanship
Honduras is headed for its first elections since the much-questioned vote four years ago, within the framework of widespread repression under the de facto regime set up through the bloody 2009 coup that shook this poverty-stricken country to its very foundations and caused deep, unhealed wounds. The vote was held five months after the illegal political-military action that on June 28, 2009, brought to an abrupt end to President Manuel "Mel" Zelaya’s populist government, constitutionally scheduled to finish the following January. Zelaya's wife, Xiomara Castro, is the only woman in the eight-candidate presidential race, which includes the coup’s military leader, former head of the Fuerzas Armadas of Honduras and retired Gen. Romeo Vásquez of the rightist Alianza Patrótica (AP). -George Rodríguez   Read More

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Cuba Seeks to Boost Trade Prospects; U.N. Report Urges Mexico to Protect Journalists; Paraguay Congress Clears Privatization Law

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for October 30-31 and November 1

Central America Seeks to Become Biofuel Producer
With the price of fossil fuel rising on the international market, countries all over the world are seeking to boost the use of biofuel. For Central America, a region that boasts some of the world’s most efficient sugarcane producers and already has several ethanol production plants, this represents the opportunity to become a major biofuel exporter. Flavio Castelar, director of Brazil’s Arranjo Produtivo Local do Álcool (APLA), foresees that developed countries’ demand for biofuel will increase, which means that Latin American sugarcane producers will have to improve efficiency to produce the required volumes to meet the domestic demand and export the surplus. -Louisa Reynolds Read More

Bilateral Conflicts in Latin America Persist Despite Integration Efforts
Despite the proliferation of regional and global organizations designed to promote integration and good relations between countries, bilateral conflicts--territorial, political, economic, and environmental--persist in Latin America. In recent weeks, differences have re-emerged between Argentina and Uruguay and between Colombia and Nicaragua, reviving crises supposedly already resolved by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. -Andrés Gaudín   Read More

U.N. Human Rights Review Urges Mexico to Improve Protections for Journalists
Mexico’s inability to protect journalists and human rights defenders were among the issues raised during Mexico’s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of human rights, held in Geneva on Oct. 23. The process, which comes under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council, allows a country to present an update on advances in human rights over a four-year period but also provides the opportunity for fellow members of the UN to offer their assessment on the state of human rights in the presenter. -Carlos Navarro    Read More

Cuba Seeks Greater Role in Transatlantic Trade with Mariel Megaport and Foreign Trade Zone
Mariel Bay, 45 km from Havana, will become Cuba's main port when the expansion now underway is completed at a cost of about US$950 million and, in addition, a foreign-trade zone will open to attract international business, foreign investment, and new technology, all part of President Raúl Castro's attempts to update the socialist economic model. The project is aimed at generating exports, employment opportunities, funding, technology transfer, and logistics systems and encouraging domestic and foreign companies to set up business, according to the legislative decree signed by the president and published on Sept. 23 in the Gaceta Oficial de Cuba. -Daniel Vázquez   Read More

Paraguay’s Congress Clears Controversial "Privatization" Law
Two months after assuming the Paraguayan presidency, businessman Horacio Cartes has convinced Congress to approve a law giving the government authority to rent out--for a period of up to 40 years and without legislative or judicial oversight--a vast array of state assets and services. Officially named the Ley de Promoción de la Inversión en Infraestructura, the norm is more commonly referred to as the Ley de Participación Pública–Privada, or PPP. Among other things, it allows the executive to offer leases on Paraguay’s two massive binational hydroelectric plants: Itaipú, which it shares with Brazil, and Yacyretá, which it shares with Argentina. -Andrés Gaudín   Read More

President Enrique Peña Nieto Issues Executive Order to Ban Slot Machines, Tighten Regulations for Casino Permits
In an effort to control one of the activities of organized crime in Mexico, President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration has enacted tighter restrictions on casino operations. Peña Nieto issued an executive order banning slot machines and limiting the ability of casino permit holders to rent out or cede their permits to other operators. By issuing the executive order, the president pre-empted the need for the high court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, SCJN) to issue a ruling on the legality of slot machines, a matter that ex-President Felipe Calderón had brought to the court. -Carlos Navarro   Read More

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Controversy Over Gay Civil Unions in Peru; El Salvador Church Closes Human-Rights Center; More NSA Spying Allegations in Mexico

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for October 23-25

South American Indigenous Groups Demand Recognition, Inclusion
In recent weeks, events throughout South America have pushed indigenous issues back to the regional forefront. In Brazil, indigenous groups demonstrated in defense of the country’s 1988 Constitution--which guarantees many of their rights--as a way to challenge large multinational companies that promote the use of genetically modified seeds. In Chile, ethnic Mapuches, the country’s largest indigenous group, are again challenging the conservative government of President Sebastián Piñera, demanding that the country’s anti-terrorism law--used to subject indigenous people to discriminatory legal procedures be scrapped. In Bolivia and Ecuador, indigenous groups have begun challenging the "friendly" governments of Presidents Morales and Correa. And in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, member states of the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR) recently sat down with indigenous organizations to analyze an anti-discrimination initiative put forth by Venezuela. -Andrés Gaudín  Read More

Rights Advocates Question "Suspicious" Shutdown of El Salvador’s Tutela Legal
The Salvadoran Catholic Church has shuttered one of the country’s key human rights institutions, the Tutela Legal del Arzobispado, a legal aid office that operated for more than 35 years and collected a huge cache of documents regarding rights violations committed before, during, and after the country’s 1980-1992 civil war. The closure went into effect on Sept. 30, much to the chagrin of Tutela Legal’s approximately dozen employees, who say they were blindsided by the decision. Tutela Legal--known originally as Socorro Jurídico--was founded in 1977 by Archbishop Óscar Romero. The man who currently heads the archdiocese, Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas, offered little in the way of explanation for the shutdown other than to say, via a written statement, that the institution’s work was "no longer relevant." -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar  Read More

Non-marital Civil Union Proposed in Peru
A bill that would legalize non-marital civil unions for same-sex couples has split Peruvians into two camps: those viewing such unions a civil rights issue and others who say it is an attack on the family. Congressman Carlos Bruce, leader of the Concertación Parlamentaria bloc, presented a bill Sept. 12 to establish a legal institution of non-marital civil unions between same-sex couples in recognition of gay and lesbian civil rights and end existing discrimination against that sector of the population. But Lima’s Archbishop Juan Luis Cardinal Cipriani rejected the proposed law. "I do not agree; I don’t believe the people want it. I don’t believe it represents the majority nor do I think that it excludes anyone," he said in his weekly radio program. -Elsa Chanduví Jaña  Read More

New Report Reveals U.S. Spying Operations on ex-President Felipe Calderón
Critics hammered President Enrique Peña Nieto for an overly timid reaction to a report that the US National Security Agency (NSA) spied on him by intercepting his emails and cellular phone communications while he was still a candidate for president (SourceMex, Sept. 11, 2013). Now, new allegations have surfaced in a German magazine that the US was engaged in a massive spying campaign during ex-President Felipe Calderón’s administration (2006-2012), prompting the Peña Nieto government to talk tough again but not take any direct action against the northern neighbor. "This practice is unacceptable, illegitimate and contrary to Mexican law and international law," the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (SRE) said in a statement. "In a relationship of neighbors and partners, there is no room for the kind of activities that allegedly took place." -Carlos Navarro Read More

Chamber of Deputies Easily Approves President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Tax-Reform Package
On Oct. 20, the Chamber of Deputies approved a tax-reform plan that includes most of the controversial provisions that President Enrique Peña Nieto proposed. While the Mexican Congress debated the merits of tax reform, a discussion was also underway on whether the country is in the midst of an economic recession. Mexico’s GDP is expected to grow only about 1% in 2013, a stark contrast to earlier estimates that projected an expansion of close to 4% for the year. As has been the case, Mexico’s economic fortunes have been connected to those in the US, and the uncertainty created by recent developments in the US Congress—including the recent two-week shutdown of government operations—has had a direct impact on Mexico. -Carlos Navarro    Read More

Government Increases Military Presence on Dominican Republic-Haiti Border
At the end of May, the Dominican government decided to "reinforce" border security with 1,500 extra troops. This is far from being a recent event, as for years both countries have engaged in joint security operations. Minister of Defense Maj. Gen. Rubén Darío Paulino Sen told the local media that the troops sent to the border would be trained to prevent all sorts of crimes in the border area. This occurred amid a series of media stories regarding the "unchecked flow of illegal immigrants," particularly women and children, across the Dajabón border-crossing point. -Crosby Girón  Read More