Thursday, April 25, 2013

Slow Progress in Colombia Peace Process; Panama Tax Haven for Germans; Questions about Press Prize for Veracruz Governor

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for April 24-26

Colombian Government, Rebels Struggle to Keep Peace Process On Track
Just when the government of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the guerrilla Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) were showing clear signs of progress toward signing an agreement to end a half century of armed conflict, "those who live off war"--as the president called critics who contend that such social conflicts can only be explained using military language--made several alarmist statements aimed at destroying the dialogue taking place in Havana, Cuba. Spokespersons for the government and the rebels had made it known that in May they might announce an agreement on the first of six points--the agrarian issue--included in the conversations begun in November 2012.   -Andrés Gaudín   Read More

Cuba's Food and Sugar Production Remain Below Expectations Despite Reforms
Obtaining food remains a cause for daily concern in Cuban homes because of insufficient domestic food production despite agricultural reforms and plans of President Raúl Castro’s government to spend a record US$1.9 billion this year for purchases on the international market, where prices have increased dramatically.   -Daniel Vázquez   Read More

Panama Becomes Tax Haven for Wealthy Germans
Some of Germany’s richest families, including the Porsche and Jacobs families, have opted for registering their businesses in Panama, a country where tax loopholes persist, revealed German daily newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung in a report published in March. The newspaper obtained the information from British hacker Dan O’Huiginn, who published data regarding German multimillionaires who had registered their companies in Panama on his blog.   -Louisa Reynolds  Read More

Questions Arise About Veracruz Governor’s Commitment to Protect Journalists
The weekly news magazine Proceso and the administration of Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte Ochoa are at the center of the latest controversy involving the plight of journalists in Mexico. The controversy began on April 10, when Duarte announced that authorities had detained Jorge Antonio Hernández Silva, who was alleged to have killed Proceso reporter Regina Martínez in the state capital of Xalapa in April 2012. Under normal circumstances, Hernández Silva’s arrest would be a significant development in a country where authorities at all levels have failed to solve the murders of dozens of journalists. But a Proceso investigation raised strong questions about the arrest, primarily the inadequate evidence presented against Hernández Silva, a drug addict who was semi-homeless. -Carlos Navarro    Read More

State-run Oil Company PEMEX Inaugurates Electricity-Generating Plant in Tabasco State
In 2003, the Mexican Senate approved changes to the Constitution to allow state-run oil company PEMEX to produce its own electricity, and the decision appears to be paying off. Since that time, PEMEX has constructed a handful of small power plants to supply the oil company with electricity, but the largest project to date was a cogeneration facility inaugurated in April 2013, 10 years after the reform was approved. The plant--in the CPG Nuevo Pemex complex in Tabasco state, just outside of the capital city of Villahermosa—has the capacity to produce 300 megawatts of electricity and as much as 800 tons of steam per hour . -Carlos Navarro  Read More

Pardons Again on Political Agenda in Peru
In April, the hot topic in media news coverage was pardons, and the issue was firmly on the country's political agenda as well. A possible humanitarian pardon for convicted ex-President Alberto Fujimori was receiving extensive news coverage as were allegations that former President Alan García (1985-1990, 2006-2011) pardoned convicted drug traffickers. -Elsa Chanduví Jaña  Read More

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bachelet to Run Again in Chile; Education-Reform Protests in Mexico; Glitch in Guatemala-Belize Referendum

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for April 17-19

Bolivia Continues Nationalization Policy
In mid-February, the Bolivian government authorized a new nationalization, continuing the process that President Evo Morales has claimed is necessary and indispensable since he headed the organized coca growers long before becoming president. This time it was the turn of SABSA, which in 1997 had been given a 25-year contract to manage the country's 37 airports. SABSA is wholly owned by TBI, the company acquired in 2005 by Spanish-owned Abertis and AENA.  Andrés Gaudín   Read More

Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet Launches Bid For Second Term
Back home after a several-year hiatus abroad, former President Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010) has made a late--though not altogether unexpected--leap into Chile’s presidential race. The last to join the country’s crowded field of contenders, the popular ex-president nevertheless begins her quest for a second term as the clear favorite. Elections are scheduled to take place Nov 17. Bachelet officially launched her bid on March 27, just hours after returning to Chile from the US, where she spent two and one-half years as head of the New York City-based UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women). Benjamin Witte-Lebhar  Read More

Education Reform Runs into Resistance from Teachers in Poorer States
A portion of the rank-and-file membership of the teachers’ union (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, SNTE) are displeased with the recent overhaul of Mexico’s public-education system, and this discontent has taken the form of demonstrations in Guerrero and Oaxaca states and other areas. The education reform changes the Constitution to transfer important functions from the SNTE to the Secretaria de Educación Pública (SEP), including the evaluation, promotion, and training of teachers. Under the reform, teachers would be promoted based on merit and aptitude, while the old system allowed the SNTE to use patronage and other methods to decide promotions. Carlos Navarro  Read More

Guatemala Demands That Belize Change Date for ICJ Referendum
Guatemala has complained that a change in Belize’s Referendum Act requiring a 60% threshold of voter participation for the vote to be deemed valid will place the two countries on an unequal footing in the forthcoming referendum, scheduled to take place on Oct. 6, since Guatemalan law has no such requirement. Belizeans and Guatemalans will be asked: "Do you agree that any 
Guatemalan claim on Belizean continental and insular territory as well as maritime areas belonging to those territories should be taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) so that the issue can be definitely resolved and the court can establish the two countries’ respective borders?" Both countries require a "yes" vote in this referendum to take their long-standing border dispute to the ICJ in The Hague. Louisa Reynolds  Read More

Major Stumbling Block to Improving Security in Honduras, Cleaning Out Police, Difficult at Best
Weeding out dirty cops--at all levels--has proven to be, at best, a difficult enterprise for Honduran authorities in their announced move to purge the Policía Nacional (PN). Civil society sectors skeptical of the measure have signaled it as a failure, something the very institution in charge of shaping up the much-discredited force admits. But, in its defense, the Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (DIECP) claims that the failure derives from elements beyond its responsibility--such as lack of funds or the Secretaría de Seguridad not firing corrupt cops. George Rodríguez   Read More

Russia Bans Some Imports of Mexican Beef Because of Concerns about Use of Harmful Substance in Cattle
A trade conflict between Mexico and Russia regarding the alleged use of a banned substance in Mexican meat has caused some friction between the two countries. Effective April 8, Russia banned almost all imports of Mexican beef because of concerns that Mexican producers had not complied with a commitment to refrain from using the animal-feed additive ractopamine, used to promote leanness in animals raised for their meat. The use of ractopamine is prohibited in more than 100 countries, including members of the European Union, China, and Taiwan, because of concerns that residues of the stimulant could affect the health of consumers. The livestock industries in the US, Canada, and Brazil are the largest users of ractopamine. Carlos Navarro  Read More

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Femicides in Ecuador; Assassination Attempt Thwarted in Mexico; 'Impunity' in El Salvador Amnesty Law

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for April 10-12

Operación Cóndor Trial in Argentina Has Far-Reaching Implications
Four decades after the events in question, a trial for crimes against humanity began on March 5 in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires that is perhaps the most important in history, in the opinion of Miguel Ángel Osorio. Osorio is the federal prosecutor in the trial of those who carried out Operación Cóndor, the coordinated repression by the civilian-military regimes in the Southern Cone in the 1970s . The trial for the cross-border repression will implicate the dictators of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. It gathers and unites portions of various processes opened between 2008 and 2012 and includes the cases of 106 victims of Operación Cóndor. -Andrés Gaudín   Read More

"Total Impunity" In El Salvador Under Amnesty Law; Truth Commission Turn 20
Tributes held in late March to slain Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero (1917-1980) capped a month of poignant, civil-war-related anniversaries in El Salvador, which remains deeply divided regarding the dark legacy of its dozen-year internal conflict (1980-1992). -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar   Read More

The Danger of Being a Woman in Ecuador
Femicide--the murder of a woman for being a woman and where sexual, domestic, or workplace violence can be determined--remains a major problem in Ecuador. A report from Comisión de Transición Hacia el Consejo Nacional de las Mujeres y la Igualdad de Género found that 77% of the murders of women in four cities in the country involved femicide. Of the 170 deaths of women reported in 2012 in Guayaquil, Esmeraldas, Cuenca, and Portoviejo, 80 were murders, and 62 had signs consistent with femicide. And a separate investigation by the Observatorio Metropolitano de Seguridad Ciudadana in Quito found that 21 cases of femicide were reported in the capital city of Quito in 2012 and 28 cases were reported in 2011. -Luis Ángel Saavedra    Read More

U.N. Concern Runs High on Haiti's Urgent Need to Establish Rule of Law and Hold Much-Delayed Senate Election
Michel Forst, until last month--and for the previous five years--the UN-appointed independent expert on Haiti's human rights situation, and Nigel Fisher, as of February the head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), coincide on their concerns regarding the situation in this poverty-stricken, French-speaking Caribbean island nation. They share a very pessimistic view of Haiti as a country not ready to face its many and sizable challenges. On Feb. 7, Forst submitted his final, six-chapter, 21-page report, emphasizing the critical importance of establishing the rule of law in Haiti. George Rodríguez   Read More

Authorities Thwart Assassination Attempt against Federal Senator, Deputy from Zacatecas
In early April, Mexico's Centro de Investigación en Seguridad Nacional (CISEN), thwarted an assassination plot against two prominent center-left politicians from Zacatecas, Deputy Ricardo Monreal Ávila of the Movimiento Ciudadano (MC) and his brother Sen. David Monreal Ávila of the Partido del Trabajo (PT). Investigators s aid the would-be killers might have been hired by Zacatecas businessman Arturo Guardado Méndez, who appeared to have a personal vendetta against the Monreal brothers..  -Carlos Navarro   Read More

Mexico Facing Severe Drought Again in 2013
With Mexico facing severe drought conditions again this year, the federal government has announced stringent conservation measures to preserve already tight water supplies, particularly in a large area just south of the border with the US. Estimates released by the Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT) and the Confederación Nacional Campesina (CNC) indicate reservoirs in northern Mexico have fallen to between 25% and 30% of capacity because of extremely low precipitation for an extended period. The situation is most dire in the northern and central states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango, Zacatecas, Coahuila, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosí, and Nuevo León, but even some southern states like Oaxaca and Guerrero are facing drought conditions.  -Carlos Navarro   Read More

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Costa Rica Takes on Human Trafficking; Venezuela Enters Post-Chávez Era; Mexico Economy Sluggish in Near Term

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for April 3-5

Costa Rica's Campaign Against Organized Crime Includes Crackdown on Human Trafficking
 In its effort to counter organized crime, and as a Central American nation that is at the same time a destination, passing-through route, and source for trafficking in people, Costa Rica is striving to curb this illegal activity on which it has focused particular attention. In one of its most recent moves, Costa Rica put into force tough legislation, reforming the country’s penal code and setting prison terms ranging from three to 23 years for those directly or indirectly responsible for the crime and related activities. The Ley Contra la Trata de Personas y Creación de la Coalición Nacional was passed last Oct. 8 by the unicameral Asamblea Legislativa (AL), signed Dec. 3 by Costa Rica’s President Laura Chinchilla, and put into force last month, after it was published in the Diario Oficial La Gaceta on Feb. 8. George Rodríguez  Read More
Slow U.S. Recovery Could Limit Growth in Mexico’s Economy in Short Term, but Reforms Could Boost Long-Term Prospects
When President Enrique Peña Nieto’s took office, he immediately entered into an agreement with the opposition parties in Congress to promote deep reforms that would set the foundation for long-term economic growth . But Mexico's economic prospects for the short term are more uncertain because of the sluggish US economy, which has resulted in reduced exports north of the border. Additionally, remittances have fallen for eight consecutive months, and a recovery is not expected in the near term. Carlos Navarro  Read More

Venezuela Enters Post-Chávez Era
President Hugo Chávez, the American statesman with the greatest political impact in the last quarter century, died on March 5 in Venezuela. "Controversial, loved and hated, eclectic," wrote Uruguayan political analyst and Sen. Constanza Moreira. His death opened the door to a new electoral process that could lead to the definitive consolidation of the Revolución Bolivariana or to its demise. In compliance with the Constitution, the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) set April 14 as the date to choose the next president. Andrés Gaudín  Read More
The Day Elena Caba Ilom Met Guatemalan Dictator Efraín Ríos Montt
The trial against Guatemala's former president, retired Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, for genocide against the Ixil people, began on March 19. Ríos Montt developed Plan Victoria 82 and Plan Sofía in 1982 to target and eliminate communities considered "subversive," including several villages in the Guatemalan highlands. At a hearing on March 25, Elena Caba Ilom, an Ixil woman who was a victim of the attacks when she was only 8, narrated what occurred on April 3, 1982, when, according to the Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico (CEH), Guatemala’s truth and reconciliation commission, the Army massacred 90 defenseless civilians in the village of Chel. Louisa Reynolds Read More

Mexican Court Ruling Complicates ex-President Ernesto Zedillo’s Case in U.S. Court
The question of whether ex-President Ernesto Zedillo (1994-200) can claim immunity from prosecution for his alleged complicity in a massacre in Chiapas in 1997 just became murkier. A ruling by an appeals court in Mexico City in March has cast some doubt on whether the ex-president, who is on the faculty of Yale University in Connecticut, can claim immunity in a US lawsuit filed by 10 individuals who claim to be survivors of the massacre in the community of Acteal in Chiapas during Zedillo's presidency.   Carlos Navarro  Read More

New Four-Country Latin American Body Unites Pro-U.S. Allies
Within a region that has developed an integration process in recent years leading to the creation of several economic and political bodies--from the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR) to the Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (CELAC)--four countries sharing both a common ideology and a Pacific coastline (Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Chile) have formed a new organization. The Alianza del Pacífico (AL) was first proposed in early 2011 by then President Alan García of Peru. The union was formalized in June 2012 and began to operate late last year. Andrés Gaudín  Read More