Thursday, June 27, 2013

Peru Pushes for More Investment; Banking Reform in Mexico; Golf Courses Part of Tourism Promotion in Cuba

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for June 26-28

Colombia's Peace Process Makes Significant Headway
After a half century of setbacks, so serious that they were manifested in a war that has taken a toll of hundreds of thousands of persons dead, exiled, or displaced, the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the guerrillas of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) reached an initial agreement on the central issue of the conflict--which in 1964 led to the birth of the rebel organization: land ownership and use. On May 26, when the two sides, meeting for talks in Havana, Cuba, acknowledged signing the far-reaching agreement, the entire political spectrum, except the far right, applauded. Days later, on June 18, the government and the guerrillas resumed talks to work on the second point on the preset agenda: integration of the guerrillas into legal life and the guarantees they will receive, once demobilized, to participate in political activity. -Andrés Gaudín    Read More

Court Ruling, Political Potshots Challenge El Salvador’s 15-Month-Old Gang Truce
An experimental tregua (truce) signed last year by rival street gangs has cut El Salvador’s horrific homicide numbers by more than half. And yet, for all of its apparent success, the 15-month-old gang truce currently finds itself on shaky ground. A mid-May ruling by the Consejo Suprema de Justicia (CSJ) forced the government’s point man on the project, then Security Minister David Munguía Payés, to resign. Shortly afterwards, El Salvador’s main opposition party began to openly attack the truce, saying there will be "no more negotiating with criminals" should it win back the presidency in the February 2014 national elections. Gang leaders say they are still committed to the cease-fire, though just how much control they exercise over their tens of thousands of criminal underlings remains an open question. -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar      Read More

Mexican Candidate Loses Election to Head World Trade Organization to Brazilian Rival
President Enrique Peña Nieto was hoping that strong support from the US, the European Union (EU), and Japan would be sufficient to elect Mexico’s Herminio Blanco as director of the World Trade Organization (WTO). But the vote from those countries—which comprise the majority of the members of the Group of Eight (G8) nations—did not give Mexico’s former trade secretary enough votes to overcome the strong backing that Brazil’s Roberto Azevêdo received from African countries and members of the five-nation bloc of emerging economies (BRICS), which include Azevêdo’s home country of Brazil, plus Russia, India, China, and South Africa. -Carlos Navarro   Read More

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala Declares Investment Promotion in "National Interest"
With the aim of reversing economic actors' loss of confidence following the slowdown in economic growth in the first quarter of this year, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala in late May declared investment to be in the national interest and announced seven measures to boost it. The measures announced by the president include creating a task force to oversee mining-investment projects in energy and infrastructure. The president also announced a supreme decree aimed at reducing bureaucratic hurdles for obtaining approval for environmental impact studies (estudios de impacto ambiental, EIAs). The decree calls for approving EIAs in less than 100 days. -Elsa Chanduví Jaña     Read More

Cuba Gambles on Golf and Moneyed Travelers to Increase Tourism Industry Income
Banned by Cuba's communist government for more than five decades, golf has returned to the island in style and has become the tourism industry's new, big venture. It is projected that the construction of eleven golf courses at five-star megadevelopments will attract well-heeled tourists who will leave more cash on the island. The Cuban government is holding talks with a dozen foreign companies, including Canadian, French, Italian, and Spanish firms, regarding the creation of eleven golf-related real estate developments, according to sources within the Ministerio de Turismo and as quoted by the official newspaper Granma. -Daniel Vázquez    Read More

President Enrique Peña Nieto, Congress Considering Reforms to Banking System that Would Boost Lower-Cost Credit, Promote Growth
In early May, President Enrique Peña Nieto and leaders of the three major parties teamed up to introduce a banking-reform bill that would boost bank loans in a country where credit availability is far behind other major economies in Latin America. Among other things, the legislation would offer commercial banks more incentives to lend to individuals and businesses as well as increase the role of government development banks in helping expand credit. The measure, which has yet to reach the floor of the Chamber of Deputies, also contains clauses that would increase the accessibility and accountability of financial institutions. -Carlos Navarro    Read More

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Corruption Cases in Mexico, Costa Rica; Nicaragua Cracks Down on Press; Outgoing Chile President Urges Political Continuity

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for June 19-21

Uruguay Strengthens Ties With U.S.
News about military-cooperation programs between the US and Uruguay is making headlines, especially the political debates on the issue, in this small country with a long history of clearly anti-US sentiment. While the assistance plans, troop training, provision of materials, and even the possibility of building a military base have come into the spotlight in recent months, they have been developing since 2005, when, after nearly two centuries of institutional life, the left and political progressives took power for the first time, through the Frente Amplio (FA) and President Tabaré Vázquez.   -Andrés Gaudín    Read More

Nicaraguan Authorities Criticized for Press Crackdown
Rights groups are sounding the alarm about a pair of apparent press-freedom violations, both involving news photographers who--on separate occasions last month, just days apart--were prevented from completing their respective assignments after being pushed around up by Nicaraguan security personnel. On May 24, photographer Manuel Esquivel was forcibly removed from Managua’s Complejo Judicial (central courthouse) while attempting to cover an event involving Zoilamérica Narváez Murillo, the estranged stepdaughter of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. In a second incident, Agence France-Presse photographer Héctor Retamal of Chile was deported--after being held incommunicado. Retamal was seized by security personnel while trying to cover a meeting between President Ortega and Palestine Foreign Minister Riad al Malki.  -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar    Read More

In Final State Of The Nation Address, President Sebastián Piñera Makes A Pitch For Political Continuity
Taking the podium last month for his fourth and final State of the Nation speech, President Sebastián Piñera delivered a resounding toot of his own horn, citing an array of facts and figures to make the case that Chileans are better off now than they were when he took office three years ago. The approach looks to have paid dividends: a poll released in early June showed a six-point bump in Piñera’s approval rating. But with Chile’s next election just five months away, the president’s conservative coalition still has some convincing to do if it hopes to stay in power beyond March 2014, when Piñera is set to leave office.   -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar   Read More

Charges Against Ex-Tabasco Governor Andrés Granier Test President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Commitment to Fight Corruption
The governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) has once again been linked to charges of massive corruption, which could affect efforts by the party and President Enrique Peña Nieto to regain the trust of the Mexican public. The latest case involves former Tabasco Gov. Andrés Granier Melo (2007-2012), who is under investigation, along with several associates, for embezzling billions of pesos. The ex-governor is said to have diverted about 20 billion pesos (US$1.5 billion) in public funds for personal purposes, with the whereabouts of US$1.9 billion pesos (US$143 million) still unknown. But the discontent with the governing party might not necessarily translate into votes against the PRI in upcoming elections, particularly the July 7 gubernatorial race in Baja California state, because the alternatives, including the opposition parties, are considered part of a corrupt political establishment. Rather, citizens are finding other ways to demonstrate displeasure with the government, including registering animals as candidates in upcoming mayoral elections. -Carlos Navarro   Read More

Borrowing Private Plane for Costa Rican Presidential Trips Abroad Backfires for President Laura Chinchilla
On May 11, the Presidencia de la República issued a brief communiqué reporting that Costa Rica’s President Laura Chinchilla was on her way to a private visit in Peru and was scheduled to meet with that nation’s President Ollanta Humala. The high-level talks would include strengthening the bilateral diplomatic link and the passage in May by the Costa Rican unicameral Asamblea Legislativa (AL) of the Costa Rica-Peru free-trade agreement (FTA), according to the official report. The president returned two days later, and 24 hours after that, a series of events began to unfold that would rock the local political scene. On May 14, several opposition legislators, both rightist and center-left, requested that the Ministerio Público (MP) and the Procuraduría de la Ética Pública, part of the Procuraduría General de la República (PGR), investigate the trip.   -George Rodríguez   Read More

Mexico, ILO Sign Agreement to Help Boost Formal Jobs, Increase Social Benefits for Workers
The Mexican government and the International Labor Organization (ILO) have entered into a five-year agreement to develop greater social protections for workers in Mexico, expand the job market to create more alternatives for workers in the informal economy, and bring Mexico in line with international labor standards. Mexican Labor Secretary Alfonso Navarrete Prida and ILO secretary-general Guy Ryder signed the agreement at the ILO’s annual meeting in Geneva in mid-June. -Carlos Navarro   Read More

Friday, June 14, 2013

Mexico Reconsiders Arraigo; Ecuador to Focus on Energy; Victims Won't Testify Again In Possible Rios Montt Trial in Guatemala

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for June 12-14

Mexico Reviews Practice of Detaining Suspects of Certain Crimes for Extended Periods
There is extensive debate in Mexico on whether the practice of detaining suspects in certain crimes for a period of time without charging them should be abolished. Prosecutors and other proponents of the controversial practice—known as the arraigo—argue that this is a much-needed tool to investigate and eventually prosecute those who commit serious violations of the law, including drug traffickers. But opponents argue that the practice, in any form, represents a gross violation of the civil rights of a detainee, especially since the arraigo has been applied to cases other than those linked to organized crime.  -Carlos Navarro  Read More

Bolivian Government Expels USAID as Relations with U.S. Hit New Low
After a long process of misunderstandings and deteriorating dialogue that had reduced bilateral diplomatic relations to their bare minimum, on May 1, during the International Workers' Day celebration, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced that the government was expelling the US Agency for International Development (USAID) mission. Two weeks earlier, on April 18, the president had said that he would have to seriously analyze USAID's presence in the country as well as "the US Embassy's presence, because relations with the US are desirable but not at the cost of allowing the intolerable interference of its agents in the country's internal affairs." -Andrés Gaudín   Read More

Ecuadoran Government to Focus on Energy in President Rafael Correa's New Term
On May 24, Rafael Correa was sworn in for a new four-year term as president, promising to emphasize productivity. Until now, he said, the priority has been on social investment. The president's proposed new direction also involves the Asamblea Nacional (AN), since it will have to debate modifications to laws to facilitate investment and enable pending projects such as large-scale mining to move forward. Correa's new vice president, Jorge Glas, said his his office would focus on energy production, with a goal for Ecuador to produce 93% of its electricity needs and then produce electricity for export.  -Luis Ángel Saavedra    Read More

Guatemalan Genocide Victims Will Not Testify Again if Trial of Former Dictator Efraín Ríos Montt Is Repeated
Fear and mistrust reign in the Guatemalan municipality of Santa María Nebaj, in the highland department of Quiché, in the wake of a decision by Guatemala's high court (Corte de Constitucionalidad, CC) to annul a sentence against Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983). The CC ruled that the trial must be rewound to April 19, when the court had already heard most of the testimonies and both parties were about to sum up their conclusions before the judges could deliver their verdict. The CC has not clarified whether, since a new panel of judges will take over the case, the trial will have to be repeated from scratch.  -Louisa Reynolds     Read More

U.S. President Barack Obama’s Meeting with Central American Leaders Seen as Possible Relaunching of US-Central America Relations
US President Barack Obama’s meeting last month in Costa Rica with Central American counterparts could have relaunched the relationship between the US and this region. That is the view several local observers shared with NotiCen after Obama met early last month with Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana (SICA) leaders over a work dinner at this capital city’s elegant Teatro Nacional. As was the case during the bilateral US-Costa Rica encounter hours before , topics ranged from introducing new elements in the fight against organized crime--mainly drug trafficking--in the region to development and environmental issues, such as fighting poverty, strengthening US-SICA trade, and producing clean energy.  -George Rodríguez   Read More

New Telecommunications Law Lacks Provisions for Satellite Industry
The telecommunications reforms that the Congress approved overwhelmingly in March and April offer significant changes that could boost competition and efficiency in the television and radio-broadcast industries and telephone service. The new telecommunications law became effective on June 12, the day after the measure was published in the daily federal register Diario Oficial de la Federación. But critics contend that the Congress missed a chance to make important changes to Mexico’s satellite-services sector, which does not operate on an equal footing with international standards and is overly bureaucratic. Still, despite the lack of competition in Mexico, the prospects for the satellite industry have improved with the recent launch of a new satellite, Satmex 8, in March of this year.  -Carlos Navarro  Read More