Thursday, October 31, 2013

Cuba Seeks to Boost Trade Prospects; U.N. Report Urges Mexico to Protect Journalists; Paraguay Congress Clears Privatization Law

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for October 30-31 and November 1

Central America Seeks to Become Biofuel Producer
With the price of fossil fuel rising on the international market, countries all over the world are seeking to boost the use of biofuel. For Central America, a region that boasts some of the world’s most efficient sugarcane producers and already has several ethanol production plants, this represents the opportunity to become a major biofuel exporter. Flavio Castelar, director of Brazil’s Arranjo Produtivo Local do Álcool (APLA), foresees that developed countries’ demand for biofuel will increase, which means that Latin American sugarcane producers will have to improve efficiency to produce the required volumes to meet the domestic demand and export the surplus. -Louisa Reynolds Read More

Bilateral Conflicts in Latin America Persist Despite Integration Efforts
Despite the proliferation of regional and global organizations designed to promote integration and good relations between countries, bilateral conflicts--territorial, political, economic, and environmental--persist in Latin America. In recent weeks, differences have re-emerged between Argentina and Uruguay and between Colombia and Nicaragua, reviving crises supposedly already resolved by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. -Andrés Gaudín   Read More

U.N. Human Rights Review Urges Mexico to Improve Protections for Journalists
Mexico’s inability to protect journalists and human rights defenders were among the issues raised during Mexico’s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of human rights, held in Geneva on Oct. 23. The process, which comes under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council, allows a country to present an update on advances in human rights over a four-year period but also provides the opportunity for fellow members of the UN to offer their assessment on the state of human rights in the presenter. -Carlos Navarro    Read More

Cuba Seeks Greater Role in Transatlantic Trade with Mariel Megaport and Foreign Trade Zone
Mariel Bay, 45 km from Havana, will become Cuba's main port when the expansion now underway is completed at a cost of about US$950 million and, in addition, a foreign-trade zone will open to attract international business, foreign investment, and new technology, all part of President Raúl Castro's attempts to update the socialist economic model. The project is aimed at generating exports, employment opportunities, funding, technology transfer, and logistics systems and encouraging domestic and foreign companies to set up business, according to the legislative decree signed by the president and published on Sept. 23 in the Gaceta Oficial de Cuba. -Daniel Vázquez   Read More

Paraguay’s Congress Clears Controversial "Privatization" Law
Two months after assuming the Paraguayan presidency, businessman Horacio Cartes has convinced Congress to approve a law giving the government authority to rent out--for a period of up to 40 years and without legislative or judicial oversight--a vast array of state assets and services. Officially named the Ley de Promoción de la Inversión en Infraestructura, the norm is more commonly referred to as the Ley de Participación Pública–Privada, or PPP. Among other things, it allows the executive to offer leases on Paraguay’s two massive binational hydroelectric plants: Itaipú, which it shares with Brazil, and Yacyretá, which it shares with Argentina. -Andrés Gaudín   Read More

President Enrique Peña Nieto Issues Executive Order to Ban Slot Machines, Tighten Regulations for Casino Permits
In an effort to control one of the activities of organized crime in Mexico, President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration has enacted tighter restrictions on casino operations. Peña Nieto issued an executive order banning slot machines and limiting the ability of casino permit holders to rent out or cede their permits to other operators. By issuing the executive order, the president pre-empted the need for the high court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, SCJN) to issue a ruling on the legality of slot machines, a matter that ex-President Felipe Calderón had brought to the court. -Carlos Navarro   Read More

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Controversy Over Gay Civil Unions in Peru; El Salvador Church Closes Human-Rights Center; More NSA Spying Allegations in Mexico

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for October 23-25

South American Indigenous Groups Demand Recognition, Inclusion
In recent weeks, events throughout South America have pushed indigenous issues back to the regional forefront. In Brazil, indigenous groups demonstrated in defense of the country’s 1988 Constitution--which guarantees many of their rights--as a way to challenge large multinational companies that promote the use of genetically modified seeds. In Chile, ethnic Mapuches, the country’s largest indigenous group, are again challenging the conservative government of President Sebastián Piñera, demanding that the country’s anti-terrorism law--used to subject indigenous people to discriminatory legal procedures be scrapped. In Bolivia and Ecuador, indigenous groups have begun challenging the "friendly" governments of Presidents Morales and Correa. And in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, member states of the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR) recently sat down with indigenous organizations to analyze an anti-discrimination initiative put forth by Venezuela. -Andrés Gaudín  Read More

Rights Advocates Question "Suspicious" Shutdown of El Salvador’s Tutela Legal
The Salvadoran Catholic Church has shuttered one of the country’s key human rights institutions, the Tutela Legal del Arzobispado, a legal aid office that operated for more than 35 years and collected a huge cache of documents regarding rights violations committed before, during, and after the country’s 1980-1992 civil war. The closure went into effect on Sept. 30, much to the chagrin of Tutela Legal’s approximately dozen employees, who say they were blindsided by the decision. Tutela Legal--known originally as Socorro Jurídico--was founded in 1977 by Archbishop Óscar Romero. The man who currently heads the archdiocese, Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas, offered little in the way of explanation for the shutdown other than to say, via a written statement, that the institution’s work was "no longer relevant." -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar  Read More

Non-marital Civil Union Proposed in Peru
A bill that would legalize non-marital civil unions for same-sex couples has split Peruvians into two camps: those viewing such unions a civil rights issue and others who say it is an attack on the family. Congressman Carlos Bruce, leader of the Concertación Parlamentaria bloc, presented a bill Sept. 12 to establish a legal institution of non-marital civil unions between same-sex couples in recognition of gay and lesbian civil rights and end existing discrimination against that sector of the population. But Lima’s Archbishop Juan Luis Cardinal Cipriani rejected the proposed law. "I do not agree; I don’t believe the people want it. I don’t believe it represents the majority nor do I think that it excludes anyone," he said in his weekly radio program. -Elsa Chanduví Jaña  Read More

New Report Reveals U.S. Spying Operations on ex-President Felipe Calderón
Critics hammered President Enrique Peña Nieto for an overly timid reaction to a report 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 (SourceMex, Sept. 11, 2013). Now, new allegations have surfaced in a German magazine that the US was engaged in a massive spying campaign during ex-President Felipe Calderón’s administration (2006-2012), prompting the Peña Nieto government to talk tough again but not take any direct action against the northern neighbor. "This practice is unacceptable, illegitimate and contrary to Mexican law and international law," the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (SRE) said in a statement. "In a relationship of neighbors and partners, there is no room for the kind of activities that allegedly took place." -Carlos Navarro Read More

Chamber of Deputies Easily Approves President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Tax-Reform Package
On Oct. 20, the Chamber of Deputies approved a tax-reform plan that includes most of the controversial provisions that President Enrique Peña Nieto proposed. While the Mexican Congress debated the merits of tax reform, a discussion was also underway on whether the country is in the midst of an economic recession. Mexico’s GDP is expected to grow only about 1% in 2013, a stark contrast to earlier estimates that projected an expansion of close to 4% for the year. As has been the case, Mexico’s economic fortunes have been connected to those in the US, and the uncertainty created by recent developments in the US Congress—including the recent two-week shutdown of government operations—has had a direct impact on Mexico. -Carlos Navarro    Read More

Government Increases Military Presence on Dominican Republic-Haiti Border
At the end of May, the Dominican government decided to "reinforce" border security with 1,500 extra troops. This is far from being a recent event, as for years both countries have engaged in joint security operations. Minister of Defense Maj. Gen. Rubén Darío Paulino Sen told the local media that the troops sent to the border would be trained to prevent all sorts of crimes in the border area. This occurred amid a series of media stories regarding the "unchecked flow of illegal immigrants," particularly women and children, across the Dajabón border-crossing point. -Crosby Girón  Read More

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bolivia Seeks Regional Effort Against Corruption; Belize Region Becomes Hub for Contraband; Mexico Seeks to Preserve Indigenous Languages

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for October 16-18

Bolivia Calls for Regional Effort Against Corruption
Bolivia plans to ask the 33 member-countries of the Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (CELAC) to establish common ways of dealing with corruption. President Evo Morales has called for a CELAC meeting in Cochabamba on Nov. 8 with transparency and corruption the only issues on the agenda. President Morales' administration has already proposed fellow Andean countries--Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, and Chile--adopt anti-corruption strategies that reach beyond their national borders. The administration believes that its war on corruption is the most successful such effort in the region and considers itself to be in a unique position to share its experience with neighboring countries. -Andrés Gaudín   Read More

Ex-Soldier Accused of Killing Chilean Singer Víctor Jara Faces U.S. Civil Suit
History may finally be catching up to a former Chilean Army officer--and long-time resident of the US state of Florida--who allegedly played a lead role in the 1973 murder of famed Chilean singer-songwriter Víctor Jara. Four decades after the iconic musician’s death, suspect Pedro Pablo Barrientos Núñez will finally be forced to explain himself in a court of law, albeit not in Chile--where he has a pending warrant for his arrest--and not with any immediate threat of jail time hanging over his head. In early September, the California-based human rights organization Center For Justice and Accountability (CJA) named Barrientos in a civil suit filed before a US district court in Jacksonville, Florida. -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar   Read More

Free Trade Zone in Belize's Corozal District Becomes Hub for Contraband Trade
The Corozal Free Trade Zone, on the Belize-Mexico border, was created to develop jobs and stimulate national and foreign investment in the Corozal district, after the closure of the Liberated Sugar Factory in 1985 caused widespread unemployment in northern Belize and forced thousands of young Belizeans to migrate to southern Mexico and the US. Around 500 containers from China, Vietnam, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Canada, Germany, and Paraguay are unloaded every year in this enclave. But there are plenty of indications that the zone plays a particularly significant role in the regional contraband, particularly illegal trade in cigarettes, liquor, clothes, toys, and electronic appliances. -Louisa Reynolds    Read More

Center-Left Parties Pushing for Public Referendum on Energy Reforms
President Enrique Peña Nieto might have sufficient votes in Congress from members of his own Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), its ally the Partido Verde Ecologista de México (PVEM), and the pro-business Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) to pass an energy-reform plan that expands private investment in Mexico’s oil sector. The support in Congress, however, might or might not translate to public support, depending on how the question is framed and who is asked. A handful of public opinion polls taken during the summer months are showing mixed results. While the polls might provide a cross section of public sentiment, center-left opposition groups are pushing for a more formal measure of public opinion: a citizen referendum. -Carlos Navarro  Read More

Researchers Seek Ways to Preserve Indigenous Languages in Mexico
There is strong concern in Mexico that indigenous languages are in danger of dying out if parents and teachers do not encourage younger generations to use these languages. A study by the Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas (CDI) found that parents and teachers in indigenous communities have been promoting the use of Spanish over a native language. The study, based on information provided by the national statistics agency Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI), divided each of Mexico’s indigenous languages into sets of age groups. CDI anthropologist Ludka de Gortari said Maya, the second-most-spoken indigenous language in Mexico, after Náhuatl, was surprisingly also one of the languages that appeared to be losing the most ground. -Carlos Navarro    Read More

Costa Rica Says Nicaragua Adds Insult to Injury, Maintains Diplomacy as Battlefield
Rising tension between Nicaragua and Costa Rica around Isla Portillos has reached new heights, triggered by events developing since last month. On Sept. 17, Costa Rica’s President Laura Chinchilla and Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo broke the news, during the weekly government press conference, that, doubling what it had done at the start of the Isla Portillos dispute
Nicaragua had carved two artificial canals through the area, linking the Río San Juan--which flows eastward next to a major section of the border--to the Caribbean Sea. The two drainage structures--one of them, some 20 to 30 meters wide, the other, half that width, both approximately 200 meters long--were captured in satellite photographs, and some of the images showed a dredge in one of the canals. -, George Rodríguez     Read More

Thursday, October 10, 2013

NSA Spying Damages U.S. Relations with Latin America; Mexico Strips National Park Designation from Nevado de Toluca; Nicaragua-Colombia Territorial Row Continues

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for October 9-11

NSA Spying Damages U.S. Relations with Latin America
A wave of indignation spread through the region following revelations by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden that the US spied on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and other South American leaders. In response, on Sept. 17, the Brazilian president postponed indefinitely her planned October official visit to Washington. A week later, in her speech at the opening session of the UN General Assembly in New York, Rousseff had harsh words regarding US foreign policy and President Barack Obama, saying, "In the absence of the right to privacy, there can be no true freedom of expression and opinion, and therefore no effective democracy." In an almost natural consequence of the general condemnation, Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño spoke for the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (UNASUR) to say that the regional organization's political leadership had entrusted its Consejo de Defensa to analyze the possibilities for "confronting US espionage." Ecuador has the pro tem presidency of UNASUR. -Andrés Gaudín    Read More

Ecuador Forgets, Colombia Wins
With three controversial agreements, the Ecuadoran government decided to forget incidents that strained its diplomatic relations with neighboring Colombia. These include the aggression Ecuador suffered from Colombia's bombing of Angostura and downplaying the damages caused by the fumigations to eradicate coca fields in Colombia territory, but which affected the health and destroyed the crops of Ecuadoran campesinos living near the border. These agreements show that the Ecuadoran government has made consolidating trade relations and normalizing diplomatic relations with Colombia a priority, even when this again puts at risk the border communities, which will also see their ability to organize reduced because of the offers of insufficient economic compensation. -Luis Ángel Saavedra   Read More

No End In Sight For Nicaragua-Colombia Sea-Border Standoff
A maritime border dispute that was supposed to have been settled last year by the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) continues to fuel a war of words between Nicaragua and Colombia, whose respective leaders--Presidents Daniel Ortega and Juan Manuel Santos--dug their heels in still deeper in recent weeks with fresh legal challenges that threaten to extend the discord for years to come. Last November, ICJ, upheld Colombia’s claim to the Caribbean archipelago of San Andrés--even though its islands are far closer to Nicaragua--but established Nicaraguan sovereignty over much of the surrounding sea. The Santos administration made it clear from the start it was unwilling to accept the loss. The only way Colombia will accept changes to its boundary lines, Santos explained, is through direct negotiations with Nicaragua. Nicaragua says there is nothing to negotiate--except maybe how best to implement the ICJ’s binding decision. -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar  Read More

Environmental Groups Protest Government’s Decision to Remove National Park Status from Nevado de Toluca
Two environmentally sensitive areas in central Mexico--Nevado de Toluca National Park and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve--have come under increased scrutiny because of the potential for long-term damage to the habitats in the two sites. Nevado de Toluca, southwest of Mexico City in México state, made headlines after President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration moved to strip the national-park designation from the site to remove restrictions on development. The move was opposed by environmental groups in Mexico and overseas, which urged the administration to reconsider its decision. There was also renewed attention on the monarch-butterfly reserve after a new study revealed that small-scale cutting of trees was continuing in the protected site despite severe restrictions imposed by the federal government in 2007. -Carlos Navarro   Read More

U.S. Treasury Identifies Honduran Drug Kingpins, U.S. Ambassador Warns Against Aiding Traffickers
Sept. 19 was a hectic day in the struggle against drug trafficking in Honduras. The events began with the US Treasury Department revealing the identity of seven people and several businesses as part of the Honduran drug-trafficking gang Los Cachiros. Addressing a conference on money laundering early that afternoon, US Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske warned financial institutions as well as people helping to launder assets about the risk they place themselves in. Late that evening, Policía Nacional (PN) chief Juan Carlos "El Tigre" Bonilla told reporters that members of the Cobra elite police strike force along with Army troops had secured more than 100 assets--among them real estate that included a zoo, vehicles, bank accounts--worth more than US$500 million, successfully closing an intelligence operation launched seven years ago. -George Rodríguez    Read More

Government Reduces Growth Projections After Recent Storms
The Mexican government has reduced its growth forecast for 2013 because of the two storm systems that hit Mexico in mid-September, causing significant damage in a large area of the country. The Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público (SHCP) now projects GDP growth in 2013 at 1.7%, compared with an earlier estimate of 1.8%. Many private analysts suggest, however, that the SHCP has overstated its economic projections, particularly since the country’s economic performance was already much more sluggish than projected for the first half of the year. In a recent survey by the central bank (Banco de México, Banxico) among private economists, the average of projections for Mexico’s GDP this year was 1.4%. The economic projections have prompted a debate on whether the tax plan proposed by President Enrique Peña Nieto is what the economy needs to recover. -Carlos Navarro Read More

Thursday, October 3, 2013

UN Honors Mexico Environmental Advocate; Guatemala Seeks to Crack Down on Contraband Along Northern Border; Colombia Campesinos Strike

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for October 2-4

UN Forces Linger in Haiti, Despite Calls for It to Leave and Despite Reduction in Its Numbers
The second ousting of then President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whom the US whisked away on board a plane in the midst of a rebellion led by the opposition Front pour la Libération et la Recontsruction Nationales (FRLN) in 2004, brought an international peace-keeping force to Haiti. Political instability led MINUSTAH to stay on, a presence whose need was strengthened by the magnitude 7.0 earthquake in January 2010 Now, Haitians and international human rights advocates are calling for the UN force to withdraw. UN Blue Helmets in Haiti are held responsible for sexual abuse of women and girls and for the cholera epidemic, which has claimed more than 8,000 lives and sickened hundreds of thousands more since it broke out some nine months after the devastiating 2010 quake. -George Rodríguez  Read More

Oil Exploration, Renewable Resources to Help Uruguay Reach Energy Independence
Uruguay is working toward a major change in its energy mix by installing wind and solar farms, biomass energy plants, and a regasification plant--actions that will thrust it to the forefront of countries generating and using clean energy. The program spearheaded by the progressive Frente Amplio administration aims to make South America’s second-smallest country more independent from foreign energy sources by 2016. In addition, Uruguay has opened up oil exploration for the first time. Based on geological studies that indicate a probability of economically viable oil fields, Brazilian and Venezuelan state oil companies and the French firm Total have already lined up for onshore and offshore exploration. -Andrés Gaudín  Read More

UN Environment Programme Honors Mexican Environmental Advocate for Work in Creating Biosphere
In mid-September, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) awarded the Champions of the Earth prize to Mexican environmental advocate Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo for her work in creating and developing the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve in Querétaro state in central Mexico. Ruiz Corzo, also known as maestra Pati, was one of seven people honored in 2013 for their environmental work. Ruiz Corzo was a co-winner in the inspiration and action category, along with Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food Italy. Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixera was a co-winner in the policy leadership category. Ruiz Corzo is the second Mexican citizen to be honored by the UNEP since the prize was first awarded in 2005. -Carlos Navarro   Read More

Colombia's Nationwide Campesino Strike Takes a Toll
Colombia is still coming to terms with a nationwide campesino strike, the first in recent history, that dragged on for 19 days, affected all sectors of the economy, and resulted in a painful number of deaths and injuries. The strike involved permanent roadblocks along dozens of routes and caused serious supply problems in the country’s principal cities. The events were triggered by a crisis that has left hundreds of families in financial ruin and is prompting a gradual exodus from rural areas. The campesino protesters blame their problems on the free-trade agreements (FTAs) Colombia signed in recent years with both the US and European Union (EU). -Andrés Gaudín  Read More

Crackdown on Contraband Along Guatemala's Northern Border
The Talismán-El Carmen border crossing between Mexico and Guatemala is a hub of activity. It’s 8 a.m. and a long line of Guatemalans on bicycles and cycle rickshaws are waiting to cross the border. Many are farm laborers who commute to Mexico on a daily basis to work on agricultural plantations; others go to Mexico to purchase groceries and other goods. Although these goods might be legally purchased in Mexican territory they are then sold in Guatemala’s local markets, which is a criminal offense as it creates a price distortion that affects local producers who are driven out of business. The Comisión Nacional Contra el Contrabando (CONACON), a multisector coordinating body that includes business representatives and various government security bureaus, estimates that some 30.000 Guatemalan families are involved in piecemeal contraband. -Louisa Reynolds Read More

Judge Questions Circumstances Surrounding Arrest of Teachers Union Leader Elba Esther Gordillo
In April of this year, President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration published a decree in Mexico’s daily register (Diario Oficial) that clarified and expanded the use of the recurso de amparo (recourse for protection), which strengthens constitutional protections under the law for a person accused of a crime. The changes, approved by the Senate in March and enacted by the Peña Nieto government a month later, included modifications to Articles 103 and 107 of the Mexican Constitution. One of the first big tests of the modified law came in September, when Federal Appeals Court Judge Francisco Sarabia Ascencio granted an amparo to Elba Esther Gordillo--the deposed leader of the teachers union (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, SNTE)--who was arrested in February on charges of corruption, money laundering, and racketeering. -Carlos Navarro Read More