Friday, September 27, 2013

Ecuador to Drill for Oil in Formerly Protected Area; Suspect in El Salvador Jesuit Massacre Jailed in U.S.; Twin Storms Batter Mexico

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for September 25-27

Did the World Fail Ecuador?
The Ecuadoran government has decided to allow oil drilling in Yasuní, a national park in the country’s Amazonian region. The decision follows six years of frustrated efforts to secure financial contributions from the international community in exchange for leaving the oil in the ground The government blames the plan’s failure on a lack of international cooperation. Some social sectors, however, say the government itself is responsible. They plan to defend the intangible area by organizing a popular referendum and by taking legal actions that could force the government to halt oil operations. -Luis Ángel Saavedra   Read More

Rio Protests Disappearance of Poor Favela Resident
The disappearance of Amarildo de Souza, a 43-year-old construction worker, two months ago exemplifies the ongoing political repression Brazilians face daily. Authorities claimed they released De Souza immediately after police mistakenly picked him up as a suspected drug dealer. De Souza, however, never reached work or returned home. After a Unidade de Policia Pacificadora (UPP) patrol detained him as he left his home in the Rio de Janeiro favela of Rocinha on July 14, he has not been heard from or seen again.In the last seven years--between January 2007 and May 2013--34,681 people have disappeared in Rio de Janeiro, according to the Movimento Rio de Paz, a humanitarian organization that cited official statistics from the Instituto de Segurança Pública (ISP). The organization says that 80% of the "disappeared" are from the favelas. -Andrés Gaudín Read More

Salvadoran 'Jesuit-Massacre' Suspect Jailed in U.S. For Immigration Violations
A Salvadoran man implicated in one of his country’s highest-profile human rights atrocities is headed to jail--albeit not in El Salvador, and not, technically speaking, because of numerous extrajudicial killings allegedly committed under his command. In late August, a federal judge in the US state of Massachusetts ordered Inocente Orlando Montano, 71, to spend 21 months in prison for immigration violations. Montano, an Army colonel and later vice minister of public security during El Salvador’s dozen-year civil war (1980-1992), is expected to begin his sentence on Oct. 11. -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar  Read More

Severe Storms Hit Mexico From Both Coasts, Causing Severe Damage in Much of the Country
The effect of climate change and decades of corruption--poor urban planning, shoddy home construction, and a lack of zoning regulations--combined to create a recipe for misery in Mexico in mid-September. Two tropical systems—the remnants of Hurricane Ingrid along the Gulf of Mexico and Tropical Storm Manuel on the West Coast--converged in Mexico during the weekend of Sept. 14-15, causing significant property and agricultural damage and forcing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. Dozens of people were reported dead or missing, and some entire communities were buried by mudslides. This was the first time in 50 years that major storms hit the Gulf of Mexico and the country’s Pacific coast simultaneously. -Carlos Navarro  Read More

Dominican Republic Hit by Corruption Scandals
On July 30, Dominicans took to the streets bearing placards to protest against corrupt actions purportedly committed by members of the administration of President Danilo Medina, some of whom also served under the administration of his predecessor ex-President Leonel Fernández (1996-2000, 2004-2012). This has not been the only public demonstration against corruption. In August, Dominicans again took part in a series of anti-corruption activities. The Paren Eso (Stop That) campaign was launched by the Red Nacional de Acción Juvenil (RNAJ) and has been backed by the following organizations: Justicia Fiscal, Participación Ciudanana, Juventud Caribe, Articulación Nacional Campesina, Ciudad Alternativa, La Multitud, Alianza Dominicana contra la Corrupción, Foro por la Transparencia y el Desarrollo de San Cristóbal, and Juventud Alianza País. -Crosby Girón   Read More

Dragon Mart Project Back on Track After State Supreme Court Orders Local Authorities to Grant Construction Permit
The huge megaproject sponsored by the Chinese government in Quintana Roo state is back on track after receiving a favorable court ruling that overrode strong opposition from the municipal government of Benito Juárez, which includes the resort of Cancún. The Dragon Mart project has been proposed for a 120,000-square meter site in the community of Puerto Morelos, just outside Cancún and within the borders of Benito Juárez. The project received a setback in April of this year, when authorities in Benito Juárez denied a building permit for the project because of environmental concerns about the high-density project In late August, the Quintana Roo Supreme Court (Tribunal Superior de Justicia del Estado de Quintana Roo) said the municipality’s decision violated the state’s constitution and ordered Benito Juárez officials to award the construction permit. -Carlos Navarro Read More

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Mexico Transparency Effort Stalls in Congress; Costa Rica-Nicaragua Tensions Rise; Chile Split Over 1973 Military Coup

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

After 40 Years, Chile Still Split Over 1973 Military Coup
If this month’s flurry of finger-pointing, public apologies, media exposés, and commemoration ceremonies was any indication, Chile’s 1973 military coup--and the brutal dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) that it unleashed--are nowhere close to fading from the country’s collective conscience. Critics of the military strongman lament that he was never made to answer for the multitude of human rights violations committed during his 17-year hold on power. Military and secret police arrested and tortured tens of thousands for their leftist leanings. More than 3,000 were killed or disappeared, according to government reports. But Pinochet also has his defenders. Some claim he saved the country from imminent civil war. Many more applaud his economic legacy: the World Bank now ranks Chile as the region’s richest in per capita Gross National Income (GNI). -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar   Read More

Cuba's Educational System Declines Amid Complaints from Government and Citizenry
Cuba's national education system, for decades one of the bastions of the communist project, is showing signs of a severe crisis, as indicated by the continuous complaints by the populace, including President Raúl Castro's administration, about the lack of teachers, low salaries, deteriorating schools, fraud scandals, and, in general, the decline of the country's moral values and social discipline. The island's state media started to publically air the issue after Castro voiced his own concerns, pointing out the loss of values, vulgarities heard in the streets, and criminal behavior ignored by the public. -Daniel Vázquez   Read More

President Enrique Peña Nieto Unveils Tax-Reform Plan
President Enrique Peña Nieto has set in motion the debate on tax reform, even though other important legislative initiatives are still pending, including the all-important energy-reform package. The Mexican president unveiled his tax-reform plan on Sept. 8, which aims to increase tax revenues by about 1.4% of GDP in 2013 and by 2.9% by 2018. The proposal would raise certain taxes on the wealthy and close tax loopholes while boosting the country’s growth rate. Peña Nieto’s plan avoids imposing a value-added tax (impuesto al valor agregado, IVA) on food and medicines, which might have won him support from the center-left Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD). The center-right Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) has come out against some elements of the plan on the premise that they would harm the middle class. -Carlos Navarro   Read More

Argentina's Polarization Continues Ahead of October Midterm Elections
On Aug. 11, amid an intense media campaign against the government, which more than once crossed the line to assume destabilizing characteristics, Argentines voted in the second simultaneous primary elections (Primarias Abiertas Simultáneas y Obligatorias, PASO) in the country's history. PASO is the process for choosing candidates for the Oct. 27 midterm elections, in which half (129) of the Chamber of Deputies and one-third (24) of the Senate will be elected. Although PASO's aim is to determine which groups are eligible to participate in the national election--the eligibility threshold is 1.5% of the vote--and which faction has the lead within each party, it is clear that, in the context of the unsustainable polarization, the results lend themselves to other speculations, including the impact on President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. -Andrés Gaudín   Read More

Costa Rica-Nicaragua Tensions Rise As Governments Escalate Exchange of Words
Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the frequently quarreling Central American bordering nations, are yet again at each other’s throats. As usual, the "Tico-Nica" quarrel is on sovereignty, and this time it refers to mainly two issues at the same time, the undefined territorial waters in both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean and the northwestern Costa Rican province of 
Guanacaste--bordering Nicaragua. Both add to the dispute focused on a spot on the eastern sector of the 309 km border the countries share, an issue dating back to October 2010 and now being studied by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). -  George Rodríguez    Read More

Effort to Reform Mexico’s Transparency Laws Stalls in Congress 
The two chambers of Congress in Mexico are feuding about measures to create a uniform transparency law in Mexico and expand the powers of the semi-independent transparency agency (Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información y Protección de Datos, IFAI). The move to reform Mexico’s transparency laws began in the Senate in December 2012, when the upper house approved an initiative to strengthen the powers of the IFAI, giving the agency oversight of state governments, political parties, labor unions, and any entity that receives any federal funding. The Chamber of Deputies introduced some changes that the Senate deemed unacceptable, including giving the government veto power over what documents would be available to the public. The dispute has stalled the legislation. -Carlos Navarro  Read More

Thursday, September 12, 2013

New MERCOSUR Resource on Dirty War; Mexican President Criticized for Timid Reaction to U.S. Spying; Guatemalan NGO Offers Gender Workshops in Rural Areas

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

MERCOSUR Unveils New Trove of Files on South American Dictatorships
Human rights violations committed by South American dictatorships during a period of four decades—from the 1954 coup d’état that brought Gen. Alfredo Stroessner to power in Paraguay to the peaceful departure of Gen. Augusto Pinochet in Chile in 1990—are part of the complex history shared by the countries of the Southern Cone. As the justice system continues to investigate the attrociities, with varying degrees of difficulty depending on the country, the Instituto de Políticas Públicas en Derechos Humanos (IPPDH) of the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR) has launched a guide to reference materials that compile information on crimes committed by the military regimes, "so that justice can act, so that memory can move forward." That was how MERCOSUR authorities put it when they announced, on Aug. 2, that the plan to make this information public had finally come to fruition. -Andrés Gaudín  Read More

Gender Workshops for Men Seek to Question Cultural Patterns at Heart of Guatemalan Machismo
The Colectiva para la Defensa de los Derechos de las Mujeres en Guatemala (Codefem), a Guatemalan nongovernmental organization (NGO) that focuses on empowering women and involving them in development projects for their community, is sponsoring a series of gender workshops targeted at men in rural communities. The 'masculinity' workshops--offered in 12 municipalities in the departments of Huehuetenango, Quiché, Sololá and Chiquimula--are an attempt to sensitize males in rural communities about their roles in society in the hope that this would eventually change some attitudes about women. The workshop organizers have found, however, that changing cultural patterns that have been passed on from one generation to the next has not been easy. -Louisa Reynolds    Read More

President Enrique Peña Nieto Criticized for Timid Response to US Spying Allegations
President Enrique Peña Nieto has taken a cautious approach in his reaction to reports 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. The president's timid reaction has prompted strong criticisms at home, with oppposition parties and political commentators pointing to a much stronger reaction from Brazil, which was also the target of US espionage. -Carlos Navarro Read More

Nicaragua Launches Oil-Exploration Effort In Contested Caribbean Waters
An offshore oil project has sparked a new outburst of ill will between Nicaragua and Colombia, which continue to dispute their Caribbean Sea boundary lines despite a binding ruling issued late last year by the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ). The contested waters include an area known in Nicaragua as the Tyra Bank, where last month--at the behest of the Nicaraguan government--the US firm Noble Energy Ltd. began drilling an exploratory oil and natural-gas well. The well is approximately 170 km east of Bluefields, the capital of Nicaragua’s Región Autónoma del Atlántico Sur (RAAS). Drilling is expected to continue until mid-November. Noble Energy also has prospecting plans for the adjoining Isabel Bank. The company gained concession rights to the two banks in 2009. Together the concessions cover approximately 8,000 sq km. -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar Read More

Regional Teachers Union Holds Demonstrations in Mexico City to Protest Public-Education Reforms
President Enrique Peña Nieto’s public-education reform has encountered some unexpected hiccups because of opposition from labor—but the opposition has not come from the beleaguered Sindicato Nacional de los Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE), the country’s largest teachers union. The pushback is coming from the smaller Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE), whose base is centered in the poor states of southern Mexico—Oaxaca, and parts of Guerrero, Chiapas, and Michoacán. The CNTE has organized a series of very vocal protests against Peña Nieto’s education reform, which the Congress approved a few months ago. Legislators had to pass several secondary laws before the initiative could be enacted. The approval in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate came in early September. -Carlos Navarro     Read More

Little Progress in Reparations for Victims of Peru's Political Violence
Ten years after the Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación (CVR) issued its report on human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict that ravaged Peru from 1980 to 2000, the recommendations to ensure truth, justice, and reparation for tens of thousands of victims and their family members are still on the table. "The general conclusion is that, ten years later, the victims of serious human rights violations, the vast majority of whom are poor and from the most remote regions, have yet to receive proper, timely attention from the state," the Defensoría del Pueblo said in its report on progress, setbacks, and challenges in the process. -Elsa Chanduví Jaña   Read More

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Panama Parties Divided Ahead of 2014 Election; Upcoming Vote Affects Colombia Peace Talks; Mexico Debates Marijuana Legalization

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

Mexico Engages in Debate On Further Decriminalizing, Legalizing Marijuana
In 2009, the Mexican Congress approved legislation that decriminalizes possession of a small amount of narcotics. The idea of further loosening up Mexican laws on drug-related issues has been very much alive since that time. In 2010, ex-President Felipe Calderón offered to initiate a debate on legalizing drugs in Mexico , but nothing came from the proposal. The issue has resurfaced in 2013, with new proposals focusing on further decriminalizing or fully legalizing marijuana. Some proposals center on the entire country, while other initiatives would apply to specific locations like Mexico City and Morelos state. -Carlos Navarro  Read More

Colombia's 2014 Presidential Elections Play Role in Peace Talks
Throughout all of 2013, and certainly for many months to come, the political life of Colombians has been and will be marked by the peace talks between the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos and the guerrilla Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) underway in Havana, Cuba, since November 2012. In recent weeks, after many encouraging moves by both sides, a series of contradictory signs--radically different in some cases--has cast a shadow on the process and demeaned the level of the dialogue. Analysts from different perspectives believe that the cause has much to do with the approach of next year's legislative and presidential elections. -Andrés Gaudín   Read More

Panama's Political Parties Divided Before May Elections
Three of the country’s five political parties are divided by internal conflicts between rival factions that are endangering their electoral strategies as the country’s political machinery prepares for the run-up to the May 2014 elections. The Movimiento Liberal Republicano Nacionalista (Molirena) is one of the most divided contenders and faces a struggle between Sergio González Ruíz and other party leaders, who have chosen to maintain their alliance with the governing Cambio Democrático (CD). The Partido Popular (PP) has also been torn apart by internal struggles, after a faction voiced its opposition to its leaders’ decision to form an alliance with the Partido Panameñista. Although there are seemingly fewer tensions within the PRD party, it is clear that there is still significant discontent within its ranks. -Louisa Reynolds    Read More

Honduras Is Creating Two New Police Forces: a Military Police for Public Order and a Community Police
With its Policía Nacional (PN) in a hopeless, and seemingly endless, state of corruption, a Central American nation with some of the highest levels of criminal violence worldwide, is setting up two new security forces, combining police and military power. One new body is the Policía Militar de Orden Público (PMOP), in charge of carrying out regular as well as specialized police work in an effort to reduce crime rates. Congress approved its creation in late August. The other is the Tropa de Inteligencia y Grupos de Respuesta Especial de Seguridad (whose acronym TIGRES is the Spanish word for tigers), a police force thought up to be in direct contact with communities, in an effort to improve the abysmal image the vast majority of Hondurans has of the regular police force--which they either fear or abhor, mostly both. -George Rodríguez    Read More

With President Horacio Cartes, the Partido Colorado Returns to Power in Paraguay
For some, Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes' inauguration on Aug. 15 opened a new chapter in the country. For others, the ceremony marked the return to the worst form of politics, exemplified by the Partido Colorado (PC, Asociación Nacional Republicana, ANR), Cartes' party and the party that for 35 years gave civil support to dictator Gen. Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989). Cartes' signing, within a week of being sworn in, a law that authorized using the military against social protests, as well as the events on inauguration day and the initial statements by his ministers, seem to support those who looked with pessimism on the return of "Coloradismo." -Andrés Gaudín    Read More

Transportation Secretary Warns Aeroméxico to Improve Financial Situation or Face Same Fate as Mexicana
Imagine Mexico without a flagship airline. Communications and Transportation Secretary Gerardo Ruiz Esparza raised this possibility as Mexico’s largest air carrier Aeroméxico was negotiating to avert a strike by the powerful flight attendants labor union (Asociación Sindical de Sobrecargos de Aviación, ASSA) in early June. Ruiz Esparza warned that Aeroméxico had to improve its economic situation or suffer the fate of Mexicana de Aviación, which has not been able to overcome bankruptcy. The communications and transportation secretary’s comments came just a few weeks before the three-year anniversary of the last time that a Mexicana flight took off, which was Aug. 28, 2010. The airline has had plenty of suitors but none of the bids have been deemed compatible with the requirements of Mexico’s bankruptcy laws. -Carlos Navarro   Read More