Thursday, May 30, 2013

Summary of Pacific Alliance Meeting in Colombia; 'Kirchnerismo' Still Popular in Argentina; Abortion Controversy in El Salvador

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for May 29-31

Pacific Alliance Will Eliminate Tariffs for 90% of Goods
The Alianza del Pacífico (AP), a bloc that includes Colombia, Peru, Mexico, and Chile, will eliminate tariffs for 90% of goods and services exchanged among them from June 30 onward. The aim is for tariffs to eventually be phased out completely. During its seventh summit held in Cali, Colombia, on May 23, important steps were taken toward achieving regional integration, including eliminating tariffs among members, incorporating new members as observers, and signing a free-trade agreement (FTA) between Colombia and Costa Rica. -Louisa Reynolds  Read More

Mexico, Chile Reach Agreement on Beef Inspections Ahead of Pacific Alliance Meeting in Colombia
On May 21, the governments of Chile and Mexico signed a memorandum of understanding that committed the two countries to harmonize their meat-inspection procedures, a move that could eventually lead to an increase in exports of Mexican meat to the South American country. The measure, while insignificant on its own, was an important symbolic step in consolidating commitments by Chile and Mexico before the Seventh Pacific Alliance (Alianza del Pacífico) Summit in Cali, Colombia, on May 23. The meat-inspection agreement signed by Chilean Agriculture Minister Luis Mayol Bouchon and Mexican Agriculture Secretary Enrique Martínez y Martínez represents the commitment of the two countries to remove nontariff trade barriers for agricultural products.  -Carlos Navarro    Read More

Peruvian Government Gives In to Pressure From Right
The Peruvian government's interest in acquiring the assets that the Spanish transnational oil company Repsol was selling in Peru, which included La Pampilla refinery, a network of more than 200 service stations, and a gas bottling plant, brought a heated reaction from rightest parties and media as well as business leaders who saw the move as a statist threat to the economy. On April 22, President Ollanta Humala met in the government palace in Lima with Spaniard Antonio Brufau, Repsol president and CEO. The next day, national newspapers reported the beginning of negotiations for the government to acquire Repsol. The news unleashed a major controversy between opposition sectors that consider the state a bad entrepreneur and those who see the government initiative as an opportunity to contribute to the country's energy security.  -Elsa Chanduví Jaña   Read More

Despite Elite's Opposition, Kirchnerismo Still Has Wide Popular Support in Argentina
Ten years after former President Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) began his political project, which his wife, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, continued after his death in 2010, and five months before the Oct. 27 legislative elections, the political climate for Argentines continues to be exhaustingly tense, with an opposition that has the backing of all the powers that be. Amid a virulent smear campaign, based on unproven daily allegations of corruption, the government continues to enjoy high approval ratings, and the opposition--a collection of parties that range from progressive to various degrees of centrist to the far right--is unable to weave a unifying program that can electorally challenge the continuation of "Kirchnerismo." -Andrés Gaudín  Read More

Passions Flare Regarding El Salvador’s No-Exceptions Abortion Policy
The plight of a pregnant Salvadoran woman known only as "Beatriz" has drawn outrage from abroad and rekindled a raging debate at home regarding El Salvador’s zero-tolerance approach to abortion. Beatriz (not her real name), who is now more than five months pregnant, suffers from lupus, a debilitating autoimmune disease that has already caused serious damage to her kidneys. The fetus she is carrying is also unwell: it has been diagnosed as anencephalic, meaning it is missing part of its skull and brain and will almost surely die either before or shortly after delivery. Doctors at San Salvador’s Hospital Nacional de Maternidad have been hoping for months to perform what they believe could be a life-saving abortion. So far, however, they have held off--out of fear that they, and Beatriz, could end up in jail for violating El Salvador’s total ban on abortions. -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar    Read More

Unrest in Michoacán Forces Federal Government to Assume All Law-Enforcement Duties
 On the campaign trail and just before and after his election, President Enrique Peña Nieto promised to take a totally new approach in Mexico’s efforts to combat criminal organizations. For the new president, the goal was to stop the seemingly out-of-control violence and not necessarily to stop the flow of drugs to the US, which was the primary target of his predecessor, ex-President Felipe Calderón. But Peña Nieto inherited some of the problems prevalent during the Calderón administration, including the reality that stopping violence might not be possible without going after the criminal organizations involved in drug trafficking. This was especially evident in the western state of Michoacán, where growing civil unrest in the last few weeks forced the Peña Nieto government to take full control of law-enforcement activities in the state in May.  -Carlos Navarro  Read More

Thursday, May 9, 2013

President Barack Obama Visits Mexico & Costa Rica; Paraguay & Chile Election Updates

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for May 8-10

Presidents Barack Obama, Enrique Peña Nieto Hold Uneventful Meeting in Mexico City
Before US President Barack Obama stepped on Mexican soil, he pledged that the agenda for his meeting with Mexican counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto would extend beyond discussions of security and immigration, which have been the topics most addressed during bilateral meetings in recent year. The whirlwind visit of a day or so to Mexico will most likely fade from memory, since no significant agreements came out of the meetings, at least none shared with the public. Very few people remember the outcome of Obama’s previous trip to Mexico in 2009, when he met with then President Felipe Calderón to discuss drug-related violence, a common strategy on climate change, and trade disputes.  Carlos Navarro    Read More

U.S. President Barack Obama and Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla Discuss Wide Agenda
Half a century after the first formal visit by a US president to Costa Rica, this month President Barack Obama became the fifth US leader to arrive in Costa Rica, to give a new turn to the bilateral tie. An innovative approach to drug trafficking stands out among the key topics on the agenda for the dialogue between officials of both countries, headed by Obama and Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, a lengthy list of topics that included development, education, entrepreneurship, environment, health, and, of course, security.  George Rodríguez   Read More

Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt’s Genocide Trial Resumes in Guatemala After Two Weeks of Uncertainty
The genocide trial against former dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983) and his former chief of intelligence José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez was suspended for 12 days and then went into a recess following a dispute over representation for the defense. After two weeks of uncertainty, Presiding Judge Jazmín Barrios resumed the trial and reinstated Ríos Montt’s defense lawyer, who had been thrown out on the trial’s first day for having a conflict of interest with one of the judges. Despite the setbacks, Ixil Mayas who survived the massacres perpetrated by the Guatemalan Army in the highland department of Quiché during Ríos Montt’s brutal dictatorship have not lost faith in the justice system. "Ríos Montt is shaking with fear. He’s nervous because his lawyers have been unable to halt the trial.   Louisa Reynolds   Read More

Horacio Cartes' Victory Returns Partido Colorado to Power in Paraguay
As if the political parties and candidates had been merely performing a screenplay, Paraguay's April 21 presidential election played out according to the script, as the pollsters and analysts had predicted. The traditional Partido Colorado (Asociación Nacional Republicana, PC), without new leaders and with the old vices that tied it to the most diverse forms of corruption, returned to power with the election of Horacio Cartes for a five-year term. The 56-year-old Cartes, a wealthy businessman and political neophyte, voted for the first time in his life in this election. Andrés Gaudín  Read More

Scandals Prompt Sudden Candidate Switch For Chile’s Governing Coalition
A congressional "no-confidence" vote, a timely high court ruling, and some embarrassing media revelations have hit Chile’s Alianza like a perfect storm, further dampening the governing coalition’s hopes of fending off opposition challenger, popular ex-President Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010), in November elections. Desperate for some momentum following Bachelet’s dramatic late-March leap into the presidential race (NotiSur, April 19, 2013), the two-party Alianza has instead been forced to backtrack--most notably by dumping its most popular presidential candidate Laurence Golborne, a former business executive who held several ministerial posts under President Sebastián Piñera. Benjamin Witte-Lebhar   Read More

New Telecommunications Law Almost a Reality
In early May, the state legislature of México state voted to ratify the telecommunications law approved by the federal Chamber of Deputies and Senate earlier this year. The approval set in motion the last step of the process for Mexico to enact comprehensive reforms to the telecommunications sector. The approval of more than half the state legislatures is required because the measure involves changes to the Constitution. With strong support from all major parties in Congress, it now appears likely that the measure will be ratified by at least 16 of Mexico’s 32 state legislative bodies.  Carlos Navarro  Read More

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Water Woes in Nicaragua; Dragon Mart Project in Mexico Suffers Setback; Brazil Catholic Church and New Pope

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for May 1-3

Nicaragua’s Water Problems Persist Amid Economic Upswing
After dipping into a recession in 2009, Nicaragua has enjoyed steady economic growth: GDP rose 3.6% in 2010, 5.4% in 2011, and 5.2% last year, the Banco Central reported. And yet not only has Nicaragua failed to improve its water services during the recent economic upswing, by some accounts, conditions have actually worsened. An estimated 15% of the population still have no access to "improved" water, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Most observers agree that the problem is primarily an infrastructure issue. Parts of the country have never been connected to any sort of water grid. The infrastructure that does exist is, in many cases, in dire need of maintenance and repair.  -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar  Read More

President Enrique Peña Nieto's Political Agreement with Opposition Parties in Jeopardy
The working agreement that President Enrique Peña Nieto forged with the opposition parties to try to push through important reforms for Mexico appears to be falling apart because of charges that a Cabinet member and a governor are engaging in corrupt practices favoring the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) in upcoming local elections. The agreement, known as the Pacto por México, enabled Peña Nieto to start off his administration on a positive note and demonstrated his willingness to cooperate with the opposition parties.  -Carlos Navarro  Read More

Venezuela's New President Nicolás Maduro Faces Tough Challenges Following Narrow Win
Forty days after the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the larger-than-life head of the Revolución Bolivariana who dominated politics in the last 14 years of Venezuelan democracy, voters in the Caribbean country had to return to the ballot boxes to elect a new president for the 2013-2019 term. Everything indicated that the governing party would repeat its success in the Oct. 7 election), when, with more than 55% of the vote, Chávez buried the electoral aspirations of Henrique Capriles, who received 44.3%. However, Nicolás Maduro, the Revolución Bolivariana candidate hand-picked by Chávez when he was becoming aware that he would not survive, defeated the opposition leader by only 1.83%. - Andrés Gaudín   Read More

Brazil's Catholic Church Waits to See How Pope Francis Addresses Multiple Challenges
Brazil's Catholic community closely followed the papal conclave to choose Benedict's successor. Until the last moment, the hope was that a Brazilian cardinal would be chosen to succeed Pope Benedict Pope Benedict XVI.. The name mentioned most often in the days leading to the election was Odilo Cardinal Scherer, archbishop of São Paulo. While the conclave's selection of Argentina's Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio as the next pope frustrated many Brazilians, the unprecedented choice of a Latin American to head the Catholic Church has been well-received. Among progressive sectors of the Catholic Church, influenced historically by liberation theology, Bergoglio's election was received with certain anticipation about what positions Pope Francis would take on the many challenges that the church faces in the world today.  -José Pedro Martins   Read More

Dragon Mart Project Suffers Setback After Local Authorities Deny Building Permit
Promoters of the controversial Dragon Mart project in Mexico suffered a major setback when the municipality of Benito Juárez in Quintana Roo state denied a building permit for the megaproject. The decision, announced in late April, raises some doubts on whether the project would proceed, although promoters have taken a couple actions that might allow Dragon Mart Mexico to survive: they filed a lawsuit against Benito Juárez, which includes the resort city of Cancún, and also raised the possibility of moving the project to some other site in Mexico. -Carlos Navarro   Read More

Will the Dominican Republic Remain Part of Petrocaribe?
The Dominican Republic faces uncertainty on whether it will continue to receive benefits from Venezuela's subregional initiative Petrocaribe, which provides oil to Caribbean nations at preferential prices. The Dominican government has used savings obtained through the Venezuelan assistance program to reduce the deficit by the electric-energy sector instead of spending the money on education, health care, and social projects to improve the living conditions of the poor, contrary to what funding from Petrocaribe is meant to be used for.  -Crosby Girón  Read More