Thursday, August 29, 2013

Energy-Reform Debate Set to Begin in Mexico; Peru President Humala's Popularity Plunges: Dominican President Medina Complets One Year in Office

(Subscription required to read full articles. Click here for subscription information)

Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for August 28-30

Governing Party, Center-Left Opposition Offer Plans for Energy Reform
The chips are on the table now that the governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and the opposition center-left Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) have rolled out their proposals to overhaul Mexico’s energy sector. The conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) revealed its plan in July. The three proposals have a common goal—to ensure that any reforms to Mexico’s energy sector provide enough revenue to modernize the state-run energy companies, primarily oil company PEMEX, but also the electric utility Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE). The three parties also share another proposal: a national petroleum fund that would administer future oil and gas profits. While some common ground exists in the three proposals, the major differences are on how modernization would be funded.  -Carlos Navarro    Read More

Peru's President Ollanta Humala Sees Popularity Plummet
President Ollanta Humala began the third year of his term on July 28 isolated politically, with the lowest approval rating since he took office and facing constant social protests against his administration. In the latest Ipsos national urban poll commissioned by the daily El Comercio in August, Humala's approval rating fell to 29%, four percentage points lower than in July, when it had dropped eight points; since April Humala's approval rating has declined 22 points, based on previous Ipsos polls. In the most recent poll, 64% of respondents said they disapprove of Humala "because he does not fulfill his promises/lies"; 53% "because of crime/a lack of citizen security"; and 38% "because prices are rising." At the same time, 38% believe "there is corruption in his administration" and 32% "that he has appointed the wrong people to public positions." -Elsa Chanduví Jaña  Read More

Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina’s Year of Promises
A year after President Danilo Medina took office, polls show that a majority of those surveyed approve of his administration. Despite worsening problems such as poverty and the high cost of living, the polls appear to show that Medina still enjoys considerable approval from his support base. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) says that, between 1991 and 2012, the country’s GDP has increased by 5.6%. This is above the region’s average of 3.3% and, says the IDB, it has been made possible thanks to "a stable political and social climate." Nevertheless, the IDB also points out that the country’s public finances are in a vulnerable state because of low taxation (particularly tax breaks), the impact from natural disasters, and transfers made to fund public services, such as electrical energy.   -Crosby Girón     Read More

Venezuela's Polarization Shows No Signs of Subsiding
Venezuelan political leaders say that 82% of citizens believe that political polarization is harming the country and that the leaders of the governing Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) and the opposition Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) should negotiate a new status quo to ensure a harmonious coexistence. The government and the opposition continue to resort to insults and disparagement whenever they refer to each other. Against this backdrop, all national sectors--politicians, business people, and workers--see the government and the opposition continuing to write new chapters in a narrative that has pushed the stability of the country to the brink. -Andrés Gaudín Read More

Snubbed by Major Cell Phone Companies, Zapotec Community in Oaxaca Installs Own Telephone System
Isolated from the outside world because of a lack of telephone infrastructure, residents of the remote community of Villa Talea de Castro in Oaxaca state began efforts in 2008 to convince the major telecommunications companies to bring cellular telephone service to the village. The residents were rebuffed repeatedly, as the cellular companies, including industry giant América Móvil, declined because the venture would be unprofitable. After repeated rejection from Telcel and other companies, residents of Villa Talea de Castro decided to explore other alternatives to install a means of communication. With the help of indigenous organizations, civic groups, and universities installed its own cell-phone system.  -Carlos Navarro   Read More

The Long Battle to Eradicate Homophobia in Belize
Activists are seeking to change Article 53 of the Belizean Constitution, which declares gay relationships unlawful, on the grounds that it is an infringement of basic human rights. Caleb Orozco, a health educator and president of the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM), is now leading a legal crusade to prove that Article 53 of Belize’s Criminal Code, which states that every person who has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person or animal shall be liable to imprisonment for ten years, violates basic human rights. The National Aids Commission also favors the changes, but there is fierce opposition from Catholic and Protestant religious organizations. -Louisa Reynolds    Read More

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Murder of Journalist in Honduras; Controversy over Community Police in Mexico; Courts and Human Rights in Uruguay

(Subscription required to read full articles. Click here for subscription information)

Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for August 21-23

Federal Government, Indigenous Communities in Two States Disagree On Legality of Community Police Forces
A handful of rural indigenous communities in Michoacán and Guerrero have formed community police forces or militias, partly to counteract the influence of drug-trafficking cartels within their borders. The informal police units, known as autodefensas, have put the communities at odds with the federal government, which considers the organizations vigilante groups outside the law. The conflict between the federal government and the autodefensas came to the forefront after federal authorities arrested several-dozen members of the local militia formed by the community of Aquila in Michoacán in mid-August. -Carlos Navarro   Read More

Protests Could Affect Re-election Chances for Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff
For almost a month beginning on June 10, Brazil was a powder keg. A slight increase in the fare for public-transportation--bad and expensive--acted as a detonator. First in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and then in most cities in the country, throngs of people took to the streets calling for a reversal of the fare hike and also demanding improvements in health and education. In this environment, the country was overrun with polls. During the protests, voter intention for Rousseff fell from 52.8% to 33.4%. The president would not win in the first round but would prevail in a runoff, in which she would compete against environmentalist Marina Silva (20.7%), who moved into second place ahead of the most entrenched leaders of the right . -Andrés Gaudín   Read More

Honduran Human Rights Advocate Sees Effort to Justify Militarization in Journalist's Killing
On the morning of July 9, a gruesome finding shocked this country, however used to violence it may be. The dismembered body of Honduran television journalist and university professor Aníbal Barrow was found more than two weeks after the victim was kidnapped. The murder prompted an outcry from two international journalists' organizations and the Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH). Barrow’s homicide fits in a trend of selective killings, aimed not only at journalists but at lawyers and teachers as well, COFADEH directo Bertha Oliva said. -George Rodríguez    Read More

Uruguay's Supreme Court Ignores International Human Rights Norms
While Uruguayans marked the 40th anniversary of the June 27, 1973, civilian-military coup, and all cities in the country paid tribute to victims of the dictatorship, the Suprema Corte de Justicia (SCJ) received a new condemnation from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), various UN agencies, and world-renowned jurists such as Spain's Baltasar Garzón. On on the day before the 40th anniversary of the bloodiest coup in the country's history and on June 27 itself, the SCJ announced two decisions that make clear the real political and ideological position of four of the five SCJ justices. First, the court closed two cases in which high-ranking Army and Air Force officers were on trial for torture, forced disappearance, and murder. Second, it exonerated two soldiers responsible for the 1981 hanging death of a political prisoner. -Andrés Gaudín     Read More

Femicide Numbers Down But Problems Persist For Salvadoran Women
El Salvador’s female homicide figures have fallen sharply during the past year and a half, thanks in large part to a tenuous government-backed gang truce that has cut overall murders by more than half. An encouraging sign for the country as a whole, the decrease is a particularly welcome development for the administration of President Mauricio Funes, which has made women’s rights a policy priority with initiatives such the Ley Especial Integral para una Vida Libre de Violencia para las Mujeres (LEIV), a femicide law that went into effect early last year, and Ciudad Mujer, a network of female-focused resource centers.   -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar     Read More

U.S. Deportations of Undocumented Mexicans Continue at Steady Pace in 2012
The US continued deporting undocumented immigrants from Mexico at a steady pace during 2012, surpassing the record set in 2011. Statistics from Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM) indicate that the US deported about 400,000 Mexican citizens during calendar year 2012, which would surpass the record of slightly more than 397,000 set in 2011. In the midst of the widespread deportations, strong criticisms have emerged about the practices employed by the US government, including deporting immigrants at night, when they have no support services.  -Carlos Navarro  Read More

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Haiti Senate Election Remains in Limbo; Mexico Court Releases Killer of DEA Agent; Bolivia Striking Miners Return to Work

(Subscription required to read full articles. Click here for subscription information)

Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for August14-16

Mystery Chinese Firm To Tackle Nicaragua’s "Great Canal" Project
Sticking to his grandiose promise of building an ocean-to-ocean canal through Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega has decided to place his faith--and a huge swath of national territory--in the hands of an untested Chinese firm whose mysterious owner, telecom tycoon Wang Jing, promises nothing less than to "change the world." This past June--much to the chagrin of opposition leaders, environmental groups, and other government critics--Ortega used his vast support in the Asamblea Nacional (AN) to quickly approve a concession deal that gives Wang’s HKND Group exclusive rights to "design, develop, engineer, finance, construct, possess, operate, maintain, and administer" the proposed canal. HKND, which is based in Hong Kong but registered in the Cayman Islands, has no major infrastructure-construction experience. -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar   Read More

Mexican Court Orders Release of Notorious Drug Trafficker Convicted of Killing U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Agent in 1995
Just weeks after the Mexican government arrested notorious drug kingpin Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, the top leader of the Zetas cartel, another infamous Mexican drug trafficker has been set free. On Aug. 9, a panel of judges from a federal court (Primer Tribunal Colegiado en Materia Penal) in Guadalajara ordered the early release of Rafael Caro Quintero, one of the founders of the Guadalajara cartel, on a technicality. Caro Quintero, who had already served 28 years of a 40-year sentence, was charged in the kidnapping, torture, and murder of US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agent Enrique Camarena in Guadalajara in 1985. -Carlos Navarro Read More

Ecuadoran Government Seeks to Control Civil-Society Organizations
As if managing to take political control of all state institutions were not enough, the Ecuadoran government is now attempting to control all organizations created at the initiative of civil society. To do so, it has implemented a series of legal, political, and financial controls requiring each organization to submit periodic reports that allow the government to know its activities and, if it considers them detrimental to the government, to close it down on the grounds that it has violated a regulation. On June 4, President Rafael Correa signed an executive order (Decreto Ejecutivo 16), creating the Sistema Unificado de Información de Organizaciones Sociales (SUIOS), under the direction of the Secretaría Nacional de Gestión de la Política, which, in turn, is under the Ministerio Coordinador de la Política. -Luis Ángel Saavedra   Read More

Haitian President Michel Martelly Says He Wants Senatorial Election; Opposition and Civil-Society Leaders Doubt It
One-third of the seats in Haiti’s 30-member Senate expired on May 8, 2012, and those legislators’ replacements had to be elected no later than five months before. The country’s legislature consists of a 30-member Sénat and a 99-strong Chambre des Députés, respectively elected for six-year and four-year terms. In the Senate, one-third of its members are elected every two years, the reason for the vote that has been delayed for some nineteen months. Government-opposition clashes, presidential dismissal of several Conseil Electoral Permanent (CEP) members, and difficulties in appointing a provisional authority--Collège Transitopire de Gestion--to run the CEP are among the factors of an election crisis that has kept the vote on hold. -George Rodríguez  Read More

Bolivia's Striking Miners, COB Return to Work
During the first three weeks of May, the administration of Bolivian President Evo Morales had to confront a difficult situation when the labor federation Central Obrera Boliviana (COB) and workers--especially miners, the country's key labor sector--declared an indefinite strike. The country was paralyzed and a spiral of violence began. In their daily demonstrations, the miners resorted to the sector's long-standing practice of setting off dynamite sticks in the streets of the cities. The strike had one demand, something still not achieved by workers in any country in the world: when they retire, salaried employees would receive a pension equal to 100% of their pre-retirement salary -Andrés Gaudín    Read More

Popocatépetl Volcano Creates Constant Anxiety, Economic Opportunity for Nearby Residents
Every three or four months, dozens of communities in Puebla, Tlaxcala, and México states receive alerts from the federal disaster center Centro Nacional de Prevención de Desastres (CENAPRED) to watch for possible eruptions from the Popocatépetl volcano, also known as Popo. These alerts, which apply to about 60,000 residents in 42 communities bordering the volcano, are issued every time the volcano starts to rumble and/or exhale smoke. The volcano, which has kept area residents on edge for generations, is now also a source of economic development. Area researchers have discovered that ash from Popo is a good source of material to treat the denim cloth used for blue jeans, which could provide a new source of income for residents of nearby communities. -Carlos Navarro  Read More

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Chilean Right Replaces Candidate; Presidential Succession an Issue in Mexico; Cuba-U.S. Migration Talks Continue

(Subscription required to read full articles. Click here for subscription information)

Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for August 7-9

Organization of American States: Abandoning War on Drugs Would Be Worst Scenario for Region

The wave of violence that has swept over the countries in Latin America that have been the worst affected by drug trafficking could lead them to unilaterally abandon the war on drugs . In the short term, this could reduce the number of drug-related killings in these countries; in the long term, becoming a "narcostate" would allow the drug trade to flourish and expand. This is one of the four scenarios explored by the Organization of American States (OAS) in two reports published during its latest meeting, held in June in Antigua, Guatemala. The reports, compiled by a team of experts from each of the member states, analyze the state of drug trafficking in the region and put forward various scenarios that illustrate the advantages and disadvantages of following different paths, including decriminalization and legalization. -Louisa Reynolds  Read More

Chile’s Reeling Right Switches Presidential Candidates Again After Pablo Longueira, Citing Depression, Bows Out
Three months after a financial scandal sank its most-promising presidential candidate, Chile’s governing coalition, the Alianza, has been forced to pass the proverbial baton yet again, opting this time for a contender better known for her occasional foul language than for her politics. The conservative coalition’s new banner bearer, Labor Minister Evelyn Matthei, has nearly a quarter century of political experience under her belt but little time left to test her savoir-faire against her leading opposition challenger, former President Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010), a clear favorite to win the country’s Nov. 17 election. Interestingly, the two women--both daughters of high-ranking Air Force officers--have known each other since they were children. -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar  Read More

Report Shows Nearly Half of Mexico’s Population Remains Poor
While some experts consider Mexico one of the top economies in Latin America and a middle-income country, one set of statistics sticks out like a sore thumb: the country’s high rate of poverty. The most recent report from the Comisión Nacional para la Evaluación de la Política Social (CONEVAL) offered a stark reminder that any recent economic growth has left a lot of the country’s population behind. The CONEVAL report, released in late July, says that 45.5% of Mexico’s population is currently living in poverty. Of that total, 35.7% of the population suffers from "moderate" poverty and 9.8% from "extreme" poverty. The CONEVAL statistics indicate in absolute terms that the numbers of Mexicans living in poverty as of 2012 has increased from 2010, even though the percentage of poor in relation to the population has actually declined. -Carlos Navarro Read More

Migration Talks Between Cuba and the U.S. Resume Despite Tensions
The US and Cuba returned to talks in Washington to assess the progress of their immigration agreements after two years of cooling bilateral relations caused by the imprisonment of subcontractor Alan Gross, and they now face new concerns motivated by the latest scandal involving weapons covertly sent from the island to North Korea. The discovery of military equipment in the North Korean vessel Chong Chon Gang on July 15 as it was passing through the Panama Canal seemed to compromise the rapprochement between the two countries, which systematically evaluate the immigration agreements signed during the administration of President Bill Clinton. -Daniel Vázquez Read More

Argentina State Oil Firm YPF Teams with Chevron to Extract Shale Oil, Gas
Amid the most dire prognostications about the viability and development of Argentina's state oil company YPF, the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed an agreement on July 16 with Chevron, the US multinational oil giant, which could allow Argentina to achieve the long-sought-after goal of energy self-sufficiency by 2017. Since the state renationalized the oil company in May 2012, when it took over the shares that had been in the hands of the Spanish firm Repsol since 1992, YPF has been looking for partners able to invest the huge amount of capital needed to return to full operation and profitability a company that had been decimated in just two decades of private management. -Andrés Gaudín Read More

President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Surgical Procedure Reignites Debate over Presidential Succession
The discussion on whether Mexico should develop an emergency presidential-succession plan in case something happens to the chief executive resurfaced at the end of July when President Enrique Peña Nieto underwent surgery. The last time that the issue became a major topic of public discussion was in 2003, when then President Vicente Fox announced he would undergo surgery to correct a pinched nerve in his back . Mexico has no vice president. -Carlos Navarro  Read More

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Controversial Aqueduct in Sonora; Colombia Coca Farmers Seek Protection; Bad Reviews for Guatemala President Otto Pérez

(Subscription required to read full articles. Click here for subscription information)

Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for July 31, August 1-2

Colombian Guerrillas Offer Campesino Protesters Support
Colombia's strategic northeastern region of Catatumbo, on the border with Venezuela, has become a volcano, which, after years of lying dormant, now seems close to erupting. Since June 10, campesinos have been peacefully protesting against a government policy that threatens their only source of sustenance--coca fields--and they are specifically demanding that their lands be declared a Zona de Reserva Campesina (ZRC). ZRCs are a legal concept established in 1994 to promote agricultural development through work cooperatives, which receive state subsidies until they are able to successfully operate on their own. The Colombian government has refused the request, and in fact, has cracked down on local protests, sparking violent and fatal conflicts in the area. -Andrés Gaudín    Read More

Yaqui Indians Claim Aqueduct in Sonora State Infringes on Tribal Water Rights
The scarcity of water in northwestern Mexico has created a conflict between the Yaqui Indians in Sonora and the federal and state governments regarding control of the scarce water that flows on the Río Yaqui. The controversy concerns an aqueduct constructed by the administration of Sonora Gov. Guillermo Padrés Elías, which captures 634 gallons of water per second from the Río Yaqui and diverts it through 130 km of pipeline between Presa El Novillo and the state capital of Hermosillo. The Yaquis, which have opposed the project from its inception, argue that the Sonora government has usurped their water rights and violated the law by ignoring court orders to halt construction and then to stop operations of the aqueduct. -Carlos Navarro    Read More

President Enrique Peña Nieto to Present Energy-Reform Plan in August
After months of promising to overhaul Mexico’s energy sector, President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration might finally be ready to send an initiative to the legislature. Leaders from the governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) said they expect energy-reform legislation to arrive in Congress during the first week of August. The energy debate—which is expected to center on the future of the state-run oil company PEMEX—comes as Mexico’s crude-oil reserves are falling rapidly and interest from private investors in exploration and extraction is low because of a lack of incentives.  -Carlos Navarro    Read More

Administration of Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina Scores Badly in Recent Poll
A year and a half after President Otto Pérez Molina came to office , a poll carried out by Vox Latina shows that the popularity of the ruling Partido Patriota (PP) is at an all-time low. In the poll, carried out by the government as part of a confidential report that was leaked to Guatemalan newspaper El Periódico, most respondents said they believed that Pérez Molina "lacks enough character to make decisions" and regard the economy as the country’s greatest problem, followed by crime and violence. A report published by the Universidad Rafael Landívar in January also concludes that the Pérez Molina administration has failed to meet voters’ expectations, has not met its campaign promises, and has not adequately solved social conflicts.  -Louisa Reynolds   Read More

Paraguay's Efforts to End Child Labor Face Uncertain Future
Two weeks before businessman President-elect Horacio Cartes' Aug. 15 inauguration, no one yet knows what his policy regarding children and child labor will be, even though, since his electoral win in April, national and international children's advocacy agencies have urged him to make some commitment to the most powerless and neglected sector of society. Cartes had promised before the election to address the issue. But he has since remained silent. And in the days leading to his inauguration, the president-elect said his priiority is to transfer state assets to the private sector, which means the issue of eradicating child labor could receive less attention. -Andrés Gaudín   Read More

Political Parties Choose Presidential and Congressional Candidates for Costa Rica’s 2014 Elections
Costa Rica’s political parties are getting their act together for next year’s presidential and congressional elections. For their top tickets, some parties have gone through primary elections, while others have had only one nomination each, thus not needing to hold primaries and just having their respective assemblies ratify their nominee. So far, adding traditional, medium-size, and small political parties, the presidential offer in this Central American nation of just over 4.6 million people consists of 15 hopefuls.    -George Rodríguez    Read More