Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mexican Congress Approves Energy Reform; Peru Cracks Down on Social Protests; Costa Rica Spots Illegal Helicopter Landing Sites

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

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

CARICOM Nations Intensify Push for Slavery Reparations
Member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) continue to press their case for indemnities from European nations that engaged in the transatlantic slave trade following a Dec. 9 meeting of the CARICOM Reparations Commission. This meeting followed the international attention achieved by Caribbean heads of state during their September addresses to the UN General Assembly. Both Prime Ministers Baldwin Spencer of Antigua and Barbuda and Ralph Gonsalves of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines used the UN bully pulpit to state their case. The latter will assume the rotating presidency of CARICOM in January 2014 and intends to make the reparations issue a cornerstone of his agenda.Fourteen countries have signed on to CARICOM’s position, which will focus on the governments of the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands. Several Anglophone Caribbean nations, Haiti, and Suriname, all CARICOM member states, were the respective colonies of the aforementioned European countries.  -Gregory Scruggs   Read More

Congress Easily Approves Energy Reform Plan; PRI, PAN Majorities Key to Passage
A little more than a year after taking office, President Enrique Peña Nieto has succeeded in reaching one of his most important goals: pushing through an overhaul of the energy sector, particularly the state-run oil company PEMEX . The reforms, which would allow increased private participation in Mexico’s energy sector, were approved by an overwhelming 353-134 in the Chamber of Deputies and 95-28 in the Senate. In gaining easy passage for his initiative, Peña Nieto benefited from strong numbers in both chambers of Congress, including legislators from the governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), and their allies the Partido Verde Ecologista de México (PVEM) and Partido Nueva Alianza (PANAL). The parties formed enough of a majority to overcome strong opposition from the center-left parties--the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), Movimiento Ciudadano (MC), and Partido del Trabajo (PT). -Carlos Navarro   Read More

Crackdown On Peru’s Social Protests Intensifies Under President Ollanta Humala
Opposition to Peru's extractive industries, particularly mining, has resulted in a steady increase in socioenvironmental conflicts since President Ollanta Humala came to power. Authorities have countered by criminalizing social protests as a way to neutralize the people who are speaking out and weaken their social movements. During the Humala administration’s two-and-a-half years in power, nearly 700 people involved in social conflicts have been criminalized, meaning they have been formally accused of various crimes and subjected to judicial proceedings, according to the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDDHH). -Elsa Chanduví Jaña    Read More

Chile’s Once And Future President Michelle Bachelet Wins Election Runoff In A Landslide
If ever there was a case of victory foretold, this was it. On Sunday, Dec. 15, former President Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010)--the hands-down favorite long before she even announced her candidacy--completed her re-election bid with relative ease, besting her rightist rival Evelyn Matthei by nearly 25 percentage points in Chile’s presidential runoff election. Bachelet, 62, made history eight years ago when she beat current President Sebastián Piñera to become the country’s first female head of state. With her 62% to 38% triumph over Matthei, Bachelet’s name will now go down in the history books again--this time as the first president since Chile returned to democracy in 1990 to win a second term in office. -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar   Read More

Costa Rican Authorities Spot Illegal Airfields for Helicopters; President Says Finding Makes Organized Crime Nervous
Within a month's time, six clandestine airfields for helicopters were discovered during police operations next to makeshift camps inside sprawling rural properties in a mountainous sector in Costa Rica’s northeastern Caribbean area, close to the border with Nicaragua. Costa Rican authorities said investigations are focused on the structures being a part of an international organized-crime network’s operation in Central America--trafficking drugs northward, money and weapons southward. The findings took place from Oct. 8 through Nov. 8, after members of communities in the area reported having repeatedly sighted at least one helicopter, flying just above treetops, coming from the border area. Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said organized crime has thus been exposed in this country, and it makes them nervous. -George Rodríguez   Read More

Mexico, Turkey Commit to Negotiate Free-Trade Agreement in 2014
Mexico and Turkey have signed a memorandum of understanding to boost cooperation in trade, finance, security, and other areas including negotiating a free-trade agreement (FTA) and developing a joint strategy to combat organized crime. The two countries announced their new cooperation efforts in Ankara in mid-December following a series of meetings between Presidents Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Abdullah Gül of Turkey. This was the first-ever state-level visit by a Mexican president to Turkey. During the meeting, which came at Gül’s invitation, the two countries signed 12 cooperation agreements. Leading the list of agreements was the commitment to work toward an FTA in 2014. -Carlos Navarro    Read More

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Latest Brazilian Response to U.S. Spying; Mexico Approves New Electoral Reforms; Racial Discrimination in Panama

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

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

Brazil Responds to U.S. Spying with International Diplomacy and Domestic Lawmaking
The September revelations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) included Brazil on its list of spy targets continue to fuel political drama in the country’s foreign and domestic policy, including a UN resolution on the right to digital privacy and congressional debates about a landmark Internet privacy bill. The spying scandal’s most immediate outcome, the unprecedented indefinite postponement of President Dilma Rousseff’s official state visit to the US, initially slated for Oct. 23, remains in limbo. Political analysts speculate that it is unlikely to be rescheduled before the end of Rousseff’s first term, which concludes in January 2015. -Gregory Scruggs  Read More

Central American Migrants Remain Under Siege in Mexico
As Mexico awaits movement in the debate on immigration policy in the US, some changes are in the works on Mexico’s own policies toward immigrants, including a proposal to strengthen the rights of persons about to be deported. Some see the proposal from President Enrique Peña Nieto as a shallow move intended to benefit a Peruvian-born television commentator who has come under fire for her  reporting tactics, while others view the change as a tactic to improve the business climate in Mexico for foreigners. Regardless, critics are urging the administration to take on a more urgent immigration-related matter: protecting the rights of migrants from Central America and other countries in Latin America who travel through Mexico to attempt to cross into the US. These migrants are often kidnapped and robbed, or worse—they are killed by criminal organizations following failed extortion schemes. By some estimates, 400,000 to 500,000 Central and South Americans cross illegally into Mexico every year. Some are seasonal farm workers, but the vast majority are passing through on their way to the US. -Carlos Navarro  Read More

Racial Discrimination: a Crime Without Punishment in Panamanian Society
Panama has made progress in the fight against racial discrimination but still lacks the necessary legal framework to bring perpetrators to justice. This was the main conclusion of a report published by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Panama’s Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores on Nov. 14. The report, based on an OHCHR visit to Panama in January this year, highlights a number of significant steps taken toward eradicating discrimination but also lists omissions and failings. The OHCHR welcomed the creation of the Comisión Nacional contra la Discriminación (CND), in 2002, and the approval of a law against discrimination in the workplace, as well as the creation of the Secretaría del Consejo de la Etnia Negra, a government bureau that works to advance the rights of Afro-Panamanians and defend the preservation of their culture. -Louisa Reynolds  Read More

Congress Approves New Set of Electoral Reforms
The Mexican Congress has approved another set of electoral reforms that would make the legislative branch more effective and open up the country’s political institutions to more democratic participation and scrutiny. The latest reforms, approved in early December, allow sitting members of Congress to run for re-election, eliminating the previous restriction that limited legislators to a single three-year term in the Chamber of Deputies and a six-year term in the Senate. Under the reform, states would be given the option to decide whether to allow direct re-election of mayors and deputies in state legislatures. The changes would also replace the Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE) with a more powerful and independent agency, the Instituto Nacional Electoral (INE). This reform is intended to create greater oversight of state elections, which have been managed by state electoral institutes. -Carlos Navarro  Read More

Nicaraguan Legislature Ready to Ratify President Daniel Ortega’s Constitutional Rewrite
At the behest of President Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s Sandinista-controlled legislature has given initial approval to a series of made-to-order constitutional reforms that together amount to an overhaul of the country’s political system. Among other things, the changes clear the way for Ortega--who has already won the presidency three times (in 1984, 2006, and 2011)--to seek indefinite re-election. The Ortega administration says the reforms will give Nicaragua a more "direct democracy" and institutionalize a model of government it now calls "evolving constitutionalism." Unveiled in late October, the proposals were "inspired by the values of Christianity, the ideals of socialism, and the practices of solidarity," the administration went on to say. -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar  Read More

Uruguayan Politics Heats Up 11 Months Before Election
Although Uruguayan political parties still have seven months to select candidates in open, obligatory, simultaneous primaries, and the general election is 11 months away, people are already talking about who might rule the country for the five years from March 2015 to March 2020. Both upcoming elections are already hot topics with pollsters hazarding predictions of victors in both the internal party and general elections. The possibility that the progressive Frente Amplio (FA) could continue governing the country for a third consecutive term has sparked worried conservative and rightist sectors--the traditional Partido Nacional (PN or Blanco) and Partido Colorado (PC)--to spring into action. In addition, seven small parties have filed to register for the elections. -Andrés Gaudín   Read More

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Controversial Election in Honduras; Mexico Multi-Party Political Agreement in Danger; Progressive Ties Wither in Southern Cone

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

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

Assailants Torch Human Rights Archives As Pressure Against El Salvador’s Amnesty Law Mounts
An intimidating pre-dawn attack on a San Salvador human rights organization has turned new attention to the still divisive legacy of El Salvador’s dozen-year civil war (1980-1992), which involved numerous abuses and atrocities and resulted in an estimated 75,000 deaths and 8,000 disappearances. Many of the missing were children whose parents were killed or who--in the mayhem of conflict--were separated from their families and scattered to unknown whereabouts. Others were snatched by military personnel or scuttled into orphanages and later adopted, often by families in the US and Europe. Benjamin Witte-Lebhar   Read More

Honduran Elections Turn Chaotic; Both Favorites Declare Themselves President-elect
The Nov. 24 election in Honduras went on with no upsets, a considerably high turnout, and calls from different sectors for parties--both leaders and followers--to respect results. The immediate results were far from conclusive, with Xiomara Castro of the center-left Partido Libertad y Refundación (LIBRE) and Juan Orlando Hernández of the ruling rightist Partido Nacional (PN) both claiming victory The Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE) ultimately declared the election in favor of Hernández, but Castro and LIBRE denounced the PN's victory was the result of massive fraud. Furthemore, the opposition accused the TSE of manipulating the final numbers. George Rodríguez    Read More

Progressive Ties Wither in Southern Cone
The process of regional integration, which blossomed in the last half of the last decade as South American countries created effective and powerful regional organizations, has stagnated, admit progressive leaders in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Uruguay who had supported cooperation. Although many blame the resurgence of right-wing governments for the backsliding, some analysts say that it’s no surprise that the reversal happened in the wake of the deaths of former Presidents Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) of Argentina in October 2010 and Hugo Chávez (1999-2013) of Venezuela in March 2013 . Both leaders were driving forces behind efforts to get South American countries to work together. Andrés Gaudín    Read More

Center-left Party Withdraws from Pacto por México, Threatening Viability of Political Agreement
Just days before the one-year anniversary of the Pacto por México, the agreement by the major parties to push for significant political and economic reforms in Mexico has begun to unravel. On Dec. 1, the center-left Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) announced that it was withdrawing from the agreement because of differences regarding the strategy of the two other partners to push through energy reforms before the end of the year. The PRD made the decision after learning that the governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and the conservative opposition Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) have reportedly been negotiating behind the scenes to push through a legislative package to overhaul Mexico’s energy industry to allow greater private participation in the state-run oil company PEMEX. Carlos Navarro   Read More

PEMEX Helps Broker Agreement Between Argentine Government, Spanish Energy Company Repsol
In a move that could benefit Mexico’s state-run oil company PEMEX, Spain’s energy company Repsol and the Argentine government reached an agreement that compensates the Spanish company for losses incurred during the renationalization of its Argentine subsidiary in May 2012 (NotiSur, May 4, 2012). PEMEX, which owns almost a 10% share in Repsol, helped broker the agreement, subsequently approved by the Spanish company’s board of directors. Argentina agreed to compensate Repsol the equivalent of about US$5 billion in bonds denominated in dollars and guaranteed by the government. Carlos Navarro   Read More

Breakthrough in Colombia Peace Talks Opposed by Far Right, Applauded By Everyone Else
Colombia is divided into two, though far from equally sized, camps regarding ongoing peace talks between the government and guerilla leaders. While a large majority supports the process, a small but powerful far-right sector is doing all it can to ensure that the violence, which has as already plagued the country for half a century, continues. Andrés Gaudín    Read More