Wednesday, December 24, 2014

LADB Highlights of 2014

The following are some of the most significant developments in Latin America in 2014 that were covered in the Latin America Data Base.

Image: Wikimedia Commons
SourceMex (Mexico)
Economy: The North American Free Trade Agreement completed 20 years of existence with mixed results...Grupo Financiero Banamex, Mexico's largest bank was at the center of a major scandal involving PEMEX contractor Oceanografía. Flagship airline company Mexicana  ceased to exist after a federal judge declared full full bankruptcy for the airline

Economic Reform
The Mexican Congress approved secondary laws to implement  telecommunications reforms and energy reforms. The reforms for the two areas were approved in principle in 2013.

Political Reforms
One of the most important recent political reforms in Mexico was a provision that allowed citizen consultations.While the intent was to create a more democratic process in Mexico, the Congress set up fairly restrictive rules. The three major parties each proposed a topic to bring to the public for a vote. The governing  Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) put forth an initiative to reduce the size of Congress, the center-right Partido Acción Nacional (PAN)wanted voters to have a say on the minimum wage,  and the center-left Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) and Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (Morena) sought a citizen vote on energy reforms. In November, the Supreme Court ruled that all three of those proposals violated the rules established by the same parties that proposed the referenda. 

Drug Trafficking, Corruption 
The most important development at the beginning of the year was the government's arrest of notorious drug trafficker Joaquín Chapo Guzmán. Even with Chapo Guzmán in custody, the Sinaloa cartel was expected to remain a formidable organization. Corruption and connections to drug cartels affected two politicians from the PRI who had governed the state of Michoacán. In April, former interim governor Jesús Reyna governor was arrested on charges of colluding with the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar cartel). Two months later, Gov. Fausto Vallejo was forced to resign  after the release of several photographs of his son meeting with Caballeros Templarios leader  Servando Gómez Martínez, aka "La Tuta."

Guerrero Massacre
Political corruption also reared its ugly head in Guerrero state following the massacre of 43 students from a teachers college. The incident directly affected Iguala Mayor José Luis Abarca and Gov. Ángel Aguirre, both members of the PRD. Abarca was said to have ordered the killing, while Aguirre was accused of looking the other way. The development also led the Senate to appoint a new human rights ombud to replace Raúl Plascencia Villanueva, who was deemed largely ineffective.  Even though the PRI was not initially implicated in the killings, widespread protests erupted against the governing party around the country.President Enrique Peña Nieto and the PRI were accused of not doing enough to learn the whereabouts of the students and encouraging the political climate that led to their disappearance.Documents that emerged later offered evidence that federal forces might have been involved in the kidnappings and killings.

NotiCen/SourceMex (Central America and Mexico)
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Unaccompanied Minors
Economic conditions and public safety in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador became the focus this summer when tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors fled those countries for a perilous journey to the US. The situation also further exposed the dangerous conditions faced by Central American migrants on their journey through Mexico. The crisis prompted leaders from the U.S., Mexico and the three Central American countries to create a task force to develop short- and long-term strategies to stem the flow of unaccompanied minors and to support their communities of origin.

NotiCen (Central America & the Caribbean)
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Elections in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama
El Salvador elected its second consecutive member of the Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) as president.  Salvador Sánchez Céren won a narrow victory over San Salvador Mayor Norman Quijano of the rightist Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA). In Costa Rica, underdog Luis Guillermo Solís of the enter-left Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC) won a surprising victory over  Johnny Araya of the former ruling social democratic Partido Liberación Naciona (PLN). An opposition leader, Juan Carlos Varela, won the presidential election in Panama, in what was seen as a rebuke to outgoing President Ricardo Martinelli.

There was mixed news from Nicaragua, where President Daniel Ortega consolidated his hold on the presidency through a political power play that could extend his already lengthy stay in office until 2021—and beyond. Ortega also moved forward with a controversial plan to construct a "Great Canal" as an alternative crossing for the Panama Canal. The decision on the canal sparked protests from campesino communities in danger of displacement. On the positive side, the Ortega administration made great strides on its plan to implement an eco-friendly overhaul of its electricity sector

Corruption Charges Against ex-Leaders of Guatemala, El Salvador, Haiti
Two former presidents were placed behind bars on charges of corruption involving connections to Taiwan. In May, a court in New York sentenced former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo (2000-2004) to five years and 10 months in jail for accepting US$2.5 million from the Taiwanese government and attempting to launder the illegal money through US banks. This was the first time a former Latin American head of state has been sentenced to jail in the US judiciary system. In October, a Salvadoran court ordered the imprisonment of former Salvadoran President Francisco Flores (1999-2004), pending trial on charges that he misappropriated roughly US$15 million donated during his presidency by the government in Taiwan. In Haiti, a panel of three-judges ruled earlier this year that former dictator Jean-Claude "Bébé Doc" Duvalier (1971-1986) could be charged with crimes against humanity, in addition to corruption. Duvalier, who was ill, died before he could face any of those charges.
Dominican Republic-Haiti Immigration Dispute
In June, the Dominican Republic launched a plan to regularize the migratory status of "illegal aliens," a measure that goes a long way to solve a dispute with neighboring Haiti. The United Nations and the European Union endorsed the plan.

Economic Changes in Cuba
In Cuba, officials have hinted that the dual system of currencies would soon be removed.  This has created strong concerns among residents of the island nation, who are worried about the fate of their savings and their future purchasing power. Meanwhile, many Cubans will have the opportunity to create and expand existing small businesses, following a decree by President Raúl Castro's that the management of restaurants and cafes will be placed under private control as part of the internal reforms that began in 2009.

 NotiSur (South America)
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Landslides in Elections in Bolivia, Uruguay
Popular President Evo Morales of Bolivia won easy reelection in 2014, with support from some of  the conservative factions that had previously opposed him. In Uruguay, voters returned Tabaré Vázquez to the executive office in an election that he won by a wide margin. Vázquez, who previously served in 2005-2010, replaces outgoing President José Mujica. Two other presidents Juan Manuel Santos of  Colombia and Dilma Rousseff of Brazil also won reelection, but outside factors before and during their campaigns had some impact on the outcome of the vote.

Colombia Election & Talks with FARC
Santos was facing strong opposition from ultra-right factions, led by former President Álvaro Uribe, to his efforts to negotiate a peace agreement with the guerrilla group, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia. Uribe and hard-right candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga warned against any negotiations with the FARC during the presidential campaign. The ultra-right factions also maneuvered the ouster of Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro on trumped-up charges of corruption, which increased tensions during the election. Santos ultimately won the election in July, allowing the peace process to continue to move forward. In October, negotiators agreed on three points during negotiations in Havana. Talks are expected to continue during 2015.

Brazil Election & Protests Ahead of World Cup
President Dilma Rousseff faced a tough challenge from two rival candidates in the first round of voting in the Brazilian elections. Since none of  the three candidates won sufficient votes in the first round, the election went to a second round, where Rousseff narrowly defeated conservative challenger Aécio Neves. Rousseff faced a tumultous road to reelection, particularly in the weeks leading to the World Cup. Demonstrators took to the streets of major Brazilian cities to protest the government's decision to spend large sums on the international soccer event while ignoring the needs of citizens. While  the protests diminished during the World Cup, the demonstrations probably contributed to her narrower-than-expected electoral victory. The electorate, especially youth, were disengaged ahead of the election.

Street Protests in Venezuela
Protestors also took to the streets of Venezuela in 2014, but the demonstrators appeared to be less united than those in Brazil. The protests were sparked by economic measures taken by President Nicolás Maduro. According  to the Venezuelan government, the protests were organized by the conservative opposition and supported by outside forces. While the Maduro administration survived the crisis, divisions continue to create a bit of instability  in Venezuela--both among supporters of the government and inside the opposition.

Argentina & Vulture Funds
Another major crisis in South America occurred when a US court issued a ruling that prevents Argentina from continuing to pay its foreign debt. This past June, just as it had done every quarter for nearly a decade, Argentina deposited US$539 million into the Bank of New York Mellon (BNYM). The bank was supposed to then transfer that money to citizens from all around the world who had purchased Argentine foreign-debt bonds and participated in the debt restructuring. But, on orders from Judge Thomas Griesa, BNYM withheld the money rather than distribute it into the accounts of its rightful owners. The court ruling favors a group of "vulture funds"—lenders that in 2005 refused to participate in a restructuring of the South American nation’s foreign debt.  Argentina tried to challenge the ruling, bit the US Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal. The US court decisions, in effect, dec;lared Argentina in default, setting off situation set off alarm bells among various international bodies and agencies, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The situation has gone from being a dispute between a sovereign state and private interests to a full-fledged face-off between the Argentine and US governments.

Stay tuned for coverage of all these topics and more in the Latin America Data Base in 2015.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Center for Justice and Accuntability Seeks Truth, Justice, Redress for Victims of Torture, Human Rights Violations

"The administration of Salvador Sanchez Ceren has the obligation and opportunity to make a difference, to improve the lives of the people of El Salvador – the people th ey fought for – and ensure that they see justice."  Center for Justice and Accountability
Several thousand people participated in a candlelit procession through the campus of the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), the scene, 25 years ago, of one of the most infamous episodes in El Salvador’s dozen-year civil war (1980-1992): the predawn murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and and the housekeeper's daughter.  This week's issue of NotiCen examines some of the issues surrounding the anniversary, including efforts to overturn a blanket amnesty approved in El Salvador in 1993, which allows the perpetrators to remain unpunished.
Photo: Center for Justice and Accountablity
Among those participating in the procession in San Salvador on Nov. 18 was Almudena Bernabeu, an attorney and rights advocate at the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) in San Francisco, California. The CJA has played a leading role in recent years in efforts to prosecute the authors of the UCA massacre

The CJA is an international human rights organization dedicated to deterring torture and other severe human rights abuses around the world. The organization also advances the rights of survivors to seek truth, justice and redress, which applies directly to its work in El Salvador. 

CJA uses litigation to hold perpetrators individually accountable for human rights abuses, develop human rights law, and advance the rule of law in countries transitioning from periods of abuse.
The case of the murdered Jesuits is just one of seven active cases in El Salvador.  The center is  involved in human-rights-related litigation in seven countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.  In addition to El Salvador, the CJA is involved in cases in Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, and Peru (as well as the United States).  The other five countries where the CJA is involved in human-rights-related cases are Bosnia, Cambodia, China, Somalia, and Timor-Leste.

The CJA was founded in 1998 with support from Amnesty International and the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture to represent torture survivors in their pursuit of justice. The center is part of the movement for global justice for those who have been tortured or have suffered other severe human rights abuses.

"CJA is one of the few international human rights NGOs with a base of clients who speak out publicly against mass atrocities from a survivor's perspective," said the organization.  "At the heart of CJA’s mission is the belief that survivors themselves are the most effective spokespeople against torture, genocide and other abuses. CJA devotes resources to supporting clients who, as a result of participating in our litigation, are galvanized to dedicate more time and energy to anti-impunity efforts within their communities."

-Carlos Navarro 

Also in LADB on Dec. 10-12 
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Monday, December 8, 2014

Farming Communities, Environmental Groups Continue Fight to Save Intag Region in Northwest Ecuador

 “Yesterday I was running down the path to bathe in the waterfalls, and passing a pile of leaves they turned into butterflies and flew away. This is a magical place. Thank you for sharing it.” Despite gains in corporate incursion, many Intag residents are hoping that this “magic” can continue to be their largest export to students and tourists from the US, Europe and Japan.  -Carlos Zorilla, organizer, Intag Cloud Forest Reserve & Education Center
Photo: Dina M - Flickr
Imagine an environmental paradise in northwest Ecuador, where the local farming communities are self-sustaining. This paradise is known as the Intag reegion, an area blessed with a microclimate diversity. As a result, local growers have produced a lush cast of mixed fruits and specialty crops-- from shade-grown coffee to papayas, blackberries and plantains, to the uncommon tree tomato. In fact, the tree tomato has been the third most valuable individual crop per hectare for small-scale family farmers, surpassed only by coffee and sugarcane. Such gastronomical specialties, along with a keen sense of self-sustaining environmental protections and local autonomy, began attracting a growing consumer base for exports, tourism and environmental activism both within Ecuador and in foreign markets.

Community farmers and land owners have benefited from a gowing market for ecotourism and specialty, fair trade and organic products, in addition to the region’s notoriety for grassroots environmental activism. The interest and foreign demand for Intag’s agricultural and cultural products is firmly evident in the Intagblog, which displays the important link between Intag community resistance, foreign environmental and human rights activists, and foreign consumer markets that specialize in organic, fair trade produce, crafts and environmental-based tourism. The area housing the Istag communities was the first region to be granted the status of an “Ecological Canton”.
Photo: Dawn Paley - Flickr
The problem for this community of 17,000 residents, is that the area is also attractive to the multinational mining companies, who have their eyes on the huge deposits of copper and other minerals in the area. The communities of the Intag region, operating under the defense and protection created via local resistance and organization efforts, fended off a Japanese company in the 1990s and Canadian mining concern Ascendant Copper Corp. more than a decade later.  The mining industry has not abandoned its efforts to gain access to the natural resources in the area.  This time, a mining company has obtained the support of Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa's administration.  In the second half of 2013, Ecuador's  Empresa Nacional Minera del Ecuador (ENAMI) signed an agreement with the Chilean mining firm CODELCO and, without consulting local communities, reopened the project in the second half of 2013.

In this week's issue of NotiSur (as well as a previous issue in March 2014), Luis Ángel Saavedra reported that intervention of ENAMI and CODELCO in the project comes at a time when Intag is fragmented and unable to sustain its long-standing determination to defend its territories. Will the residents of Intag finally lose out to the mining industry?  Even under these adverse conditions, the resistance continues, as evidenced by the emergence of the campaign entitled CODELCO Out of Intag.

-Jake Sandler

Also in LADB on Dec. 3-5...
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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

PEMEX and Shari’ah Law

Photo: Magister Mathematica, Wikimedia Commons
Mexico’s state-run oil company PEMEX, hurting from the global decline in oil prices, is looking for new ways to raise capital. In an attempt to spur new international investment in 2015, the Mexican government is considering the possibility of issuing Sukuk Bonds, a type of bond compliant with Shari’ah law (Islamic moral code). Because Shari’ah law forbids the charging or paying of interest, certain Islamic governments and financial institutions that seek to invest in global markets will only do so if Sukuk bonds are issued in the place of conventional bonds. Responding to the rapid growth of wealth and investment among the Islamic monarch member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Sukuk bonds have grown tremendously over the last 10 years.

According to Scotiabank’s Sukuk division, total outstanding Sukuk rose from US$8 billion in 2003 to well over US$243 billion in 2012. Together, the GCC and Malaysia account for over 90% of all issued Sukuk bonds. By issuing Sukuk bonds to lure Muslim investors, the Mexican government would be joining the UK, the US, Canada, Thailand, Singapore and Sri Lanka in a rising global trend of government-issued Sukuk bonds. Mexico would be the first Latin American country to issue Sukuk bonds. For more on PEMEX’s plans to boost investment, see the Nov. 19 issue of SourceMex.

The difference between sukuk and conventional bonds
Conventional bonds are paid back with interest, while sukuk bonds are paid back with a share of assets. Because the payment of interest is prohibited in shari’ah law, Sukuk bonds skirt around that prohibition by replacing interest payments with a promise to share profits. Essentially, purchasing a Sukuk bond is much more like purchasing shares in a company, while a conventional bond represents the purchase of debt to be repaid with matured interest.

Photo: Akif Sahin. Flickr
 Why does shari’ah law forbid interest?
The prohibition of interest, or Riba as it is called under sharia law, is rooted in the writing of the Quran. Saleh Majid, a lawyer representing Islamic Banking laws in Germany and the UK, explains that the prohibition of Riba came gradually, and is based on an interpretation of Verse 2:275, which states that “Allah permitted the sale and forbade Riba,” and that “Every loan which attracts benefit is Riba.”

The principle underlying this prohibition is the need to prevent usury, or the accumulation of unearned accretion of capital… essentially what we call loansharking. Due to varying interpretations of the Quranic verse, and varying methods of implementing it in modern law, each Islamic government has its own particularities. Even Jewish and Christian scripture discourages the use of interest on loans. In fact European banking laws have much to do with the rise of Islam and its medieval conquests. As it turns out, Sukuk is the plural of the Arabic sakk, translated to the medieval French, “cheque”, or our modern word “check”.

-Jake Sandler

Also in LADB on Nov. 19-21....
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Friday, November 21, 2014

Tejas Verdes

Memorial to Victims of the Dirty War in Chile  (Museum of Memory and Human Rights)
Tejas Verdes served as a hotel resort for wealthy residents of Santiago until 1973, when dictator Chilean dictators Augusto Pinochet took over the site to use for torture and murder of opponents of his regime. Tejas Verdes, which means "green roofs," is located near the coastal towns of Santo Domingo and San Antonio (about an 1 1/2 hours drive from Santiago).  When the Pinochet regime took over the site, authorities converted music rooms and lounges into torture chambers. Thus, Tejas Verdes became one of more than 1,000 sites used by the dictatorship to torture and murder opponents of the regime. The use of Tejas Verdes  for torture and murder continued until mid-1974.

The Pinochet regime appointed Manuel Contreras to oversee the torture and murder operations at Tejas Verdes. Contreras, who would later rise to become head of the infamous Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA), hired several collaborators, including Army Col. Cristian  Labbé, who went on to become mayor of the Santiago suburb of of Providencia.  Labbé's role in Tejas Verdes came to the forefront again this month, when  an appeals court judge indicted him for his alleged involvement in a string of concentration-camp killings, including those at Tejas Verdes. (Read More in the Nov. 14 issue of NotiSur)  The indictment comes just a few months after authorities  discovered of human remains at Tejas Verdes.

Book describes Tejas Verdes
There is plenty of material to document what occurred at Tejas Verdes. The camp was the subject of survivor Hernan Valdes’ 1974 book, Tejas Verdes: Diario de un campo de concentracion en Chile, which was published in Spain and drew much international attention to the Pinochet regime. Much of the pretext of the detention, torture and mass murder was that the detainees, suspected of being communists or otherwise subversive, represented a threat to the state.

The memories of those times are in many ways still fresh for much of Chile, and still very much a part of national politics. Among those affected by the brutality of the concentration camps are Chilean President Michel Bachelet and her mother, Angela Jeria, who were themselves arrested and taken to another camp, called Villa Grimaldi. Bachelet’s father, Alberto Bachelet, was a general who was held captive and tortured to death for opposing the coup that toppled Allende. 

-Jake Sandler

Also in LADB on Nov. 12-14....

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Friday, November 14, 2014

So, Why is Bluefin Tuna So Special? Well, It May Not be the Taste…

Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium
Every January at Tokyo’s most legendary fish market, wealthy aficionados and businessmen bid on the year’ s first bluefin tuna. A symbolic, celebratory auction meant to bring excitement to the new year of one of Japan’s most prized fish, the tuna is never sold at market value; last year, a successful restaurateur bought the year’s first bluefin tuna at Tsukiji fish market for over US$1 million. Of course, that tuna will be sold at a loss, but never mind that, it would be more accurate to view the million-plus-dollar acquisition as a well-spent publicity stunt rather than a gross overpayment for a single fish.

At this year’s January sale, however, the first fish sold for a mere US$70,000 (still far above the market price, but much less than expected). According to Andrew David Thaler on his deep-sea blog Southern Fried Science, the exorbitant price of the symbolic tuna will be “presented as an argument against bluefin fishing,” and perhaps this year’s decline is an industry reaction to sharp criticism about overfishing, an attempt to mellow-out the ostentation in the face of serious international attention and pressure to stop the craze that will soon cause the species extinction.  Before brokering an agreement at the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) meeting in California a few weeks ago, Japan had proposed asking its importers to avoid buying Pacific bluefin tuna from Mexico to pressure the Mexican government to take measures to avoid overfishing of this species.  Read more in the Nov. 5 issue of SourceMex.

So, why the craze? What makes bluefin tuna so popular, and so incredibly valuable? We all know that preparing sushi and sashimi is a form of high art in Japan, so there must be an intricate, quality-based reason for bluefin tuna’s supremacy, right? Well, maybe not… turns out for quite some time, tuna (and especially the fat belly-cut we know pay so much for) was considered disgusting and at one point even used for cat food.
Photo: Flickr user Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig

Foul-tasting' fish
 Until after World War II, tuna was considered foul-tasting compared to the prized white flounder and mackerel fish, and tuna was mainly served as a poor-man’s food on the street. This history is strikingly similar to that of a prized delicacy in the U.S; the lobster. The crustacean was once served to prison inmates, before popularity surged in upscale, cosmopolitan markets.

Once Japanese society began absorbing a considerable influx of American culture during the 1950s and 1960s, the Japanese began demanding fattier, American style proteins, but tuna still remained largely unwanted and sold for pennies per pound. However, as Japan’s export economy entered a golden age, “Japanese airline cargo executives began promoting Atlantic bluefin for sushi so they’d have something to fill their planes with on their return trip from Tokyo.” The craze only increased, until today’s current mayhem, in which reports show that the Mitsubishi Corporation is even stockpiling frozen bluefin in order to control the world’s inventory at inflated prices once the species cannot be found any longer. That, and other shocking truths about the current state of the bluefin market can be seen in the documentary The End of the Line.

Despite the popularity and the high prices at the dinner table, real sushi aficionados in Japan still think of bluefin as a fatty, metallic tasting fish much inferior in quality to more traditional fish used for sashimi and sushi. Ironically, it seems, popularity in this market follows advertising trends, rather than the actual refined tastes of the experts.

-Jake Sandler

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

The European Union, Belize and the Fight Against Illegal Fishing

Fishing in Belize, Flickr user anoldent, North Carolina, USA
As the world's  largest fish importer, the 28-member European Union (EU) carries a lot of weight when it comes to maritime and fishing laws. Those laws,  controlled and enforced by the Commission for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, allow the EU to enforce bans and sanctions when it comes to imports of fish and seafood. 

These laws and regulations, formally established in 2008 by the EC under Council Regulation No. 1005, are implemented in order to “establish a community system to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.”

Over a half a year since the EU officially banned fish imports from Belize (read more from Louisa Reynolds in NotiCen, Oct. 30, 2014), the European Commission (EC) has rescinded the ban in recognition of Belize’s progress in bringing the Central American nation’s fisheries to compliance with EC law. According to an official press release by the EC, the decision to lift the ban on Belize was because the Central American country had demonstrated “its commitment to reforming its legal framework and adopting a new set of rules for inspection, control and monitoring of vessel.”

This press release also included news that proposed bans on Panama, Togo, Fiji and Vanuatu were also lifted because those nations had made progress in combating piracy and illegal fishing.

These laws and regulations, formally established in 2008 by the EC under Council Regulation No. 1005, are implemented in order to “establish a community system to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.”

The sanctions imposed over the last five years, largely under the leadership of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki, have vastly broadened the jurisdiction of these EC regulations by enforcing import bans for violations that do not occur in the EU territory. Internationalizing the scope of enforcement of the issues represented under the EC regulations has been a central goal of Commissioner Damanaki.

Banderas Europeas en el Berlaymont Bruselas  Amio Cajander.
Russian, Chinese Connection?
Although EC sanctions seem to disproportionately affect nations with struggling economies, an investigation launched in the last week is looking into the possibility of one of the largest “pirate” fishing boats in the world as being Chinese and Russian controlled. This case includes details and examples of how a fishing vessel can become pirate, such as switching between various, false national flags while traveling between China and South America.

The European Union itself was formed in order to protect economic interest of member nations, such as the European Coal and Steel Community, regarded as the predecessor of the modern EU. The recent action by the EC’s Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commission is an important development along this almost 70-year history of attempts to create international communities for the enforcement of transnational agreements and accords, be them economic, political or human rights-based.

In this light, the EU is not only a global rarity of a political-economic union between nations, but also represents one of the few transnational organizations (like OPEC) with the power to enforce by wielding heavy sanctions. The main difference between EU and OPEC, however, is that OPEC rarely if ever utilizes its power to enforce sanctions in the name of environmental sustainability and human rights.

In the case of the EU’s Commission on Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, the bans and sanctions are in place not in order to protect the markets of member states necessarily, but to enforce international agreements against over-fishing, piracy and other illegal practices. Despite much criticism leveled against the harsh enforcement of regulations under Damanaki’s leadership, criticism that rightfully draws to attention the unfair impact these sanctions will have on the poorest sectors of the economy, Damanaki and the EC are standing behind their position that these regulations are meant to enforce and promote maritime sustainably, and are in no way aimed at reinforcing EU’s control of international markets. -Jake Sandler

Also in LADB on Oct. 29-31

Ecuadoran Authorities Attack Nascent Student Movement

Chile Grapples With Unsettling And Unexplained Bomb Attacks

Expansion in Private Restaurant Sector Provides Relief for Cuban Entrepreneurs

New Details Emerge of Political-Criminal Links in Guerrero

Foreign Direct Investment in Mexico Down Sharply in First Half of 2014

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Is the Proposed Nicaragua Canal Scientifcally Sound?

You've heard the expression "the devil is in the details." Details about President Daniel Ortega's ambitious cross-country canal have been scarce, even though Nicaragua's Asamblea Nacional approved the project two years ago and HKND (Hong Kong Nicaraguan Canal Development Investment Company) was chosen as the developer in mid-2013.  

While there was skepticism, opponents--and supporters--did not know how to react to the waterway--known as the Gran Canal Interoceánico de Nicaragua (GCIN)--except in the vaguest of terms. The Ortega administration did offer some information about the project nearly a year before the actual route was released by HKND. But hen the government was confronted with the question of why officials failed on such a high level to consult with any of the communities involved, they explained that because the route was yet unknown, they could not consult with any communities in particular.

This fall,  HKND  released details of the project,including the exact route is for the waterway that will connect the Caribbean to the Pacific Oceans. This information has allowed  scientists and environmental researchersto publish their first informed assessments of the project. Both the Academia de Ciencas de Nicaragua  (ACN) and Centro Humboldt, a leading non-government environmental research center based in Managua, have highlighted the immense environmental, and socioeconomic repercussions that will inevitably result from the construction of the Gran Canal Interoceánico de Nicaragua (GCIN).

The ACN report argues that the project will cause incredible damage to biodiversity and natural and  aquifers as well infringe as the collective rights and well-being of many communities, including some that reside within protected, semi-autonomous regions. There is a “Message to the Nation” in the final section, which explains that the ACN “applauds all efforts for national economic development,” but also also urgently recommends “that such national projects should always pay close attention to all possible unintended consequences… and to follow the suggestions of relevant environmental, social and economic studies of impact.”

Without explicitly opposing the concept of the canal, the ACN report directs its criticisms at the specific plan proposed by HKND and brings the Chinese firm and the Nicaraguan government to task for failing to heed suggestions from environmental experts and community leaders.

A separate  report published by Víctor Campos, sub-director of Centro Humboldt, provides further information about the obvious and prolonged impacts that the canal will inevitably have on the fresh water supply in Lago de Nicaragua as well as the fragile biodiversity in the Cerro Silva Natural Reserve, an area that is also home to indigenous communities. These communities were not consulted despite the plan’s stipulations for the right to acquire whatever land HKND finds necessary.

At the end of Campos’ response, he too makes no explicit opposition to the idea of a canal in general, but leaves the nation with a list of suggestions and conclusions that include,”1. The best route will not pass through the Lago de Nicaragua; 2. That there has been a decision made at the National level to systemically ignore the voices of qualified scientists and experts; and 3. Eventually, Nicaraguans will be able to influence the decisions of the nation, but as of now, they will not be able to influence the decisions of this company and their enterprise.”

Both reports, which come from science-based entities, made the point that, aside from the proven and inevitable environmental and socioeconomic repercussions of the construction, much of the current problem lies outside the realm of science and environmental research itself. Both reports suggest the problem lies in the lack of transparency in the process. The national government and HKND failed to  make crucial information available to the public, failed to consult with the communities that will be directly displaced and affected, and ignored loud opposition from experts in scientific research.

-Jake Sandler

Also in LADB This Week...
Contrasting Elections in Bolivia and Peru 
While Evo Morales breezed through re-election as president of Bolivia, the trends in the Peruvian municipal and regional elections were less uniform. In the Peruvian results, Lima Mayor Susana Villarán came in a distant third, losing the race to former mayor Luis Castañeda Lossio.

A Social-Media Activist Loses Her Life in Mexico
The campaign by social-media activists to shine the spotlight on the activities of organized crime and on police and official corruption in Tamaulipas took a tragic turn when María del Rosario Fuentes Rubio one of the leaders of the Twitter-based community Valor por Tamaulipas was kidnapped and murdered.

More Trouble for Mexico's Largest Bank
Mexico’s largest lender, Grupo Banamex, is in deep financial and legal trouble with the Mexican and US governments for its handling of fraudulent loans to Oceanografía, a contractor that provided services to the state-run oil company PEMEX

A True Reform or a Charade for Police in Honduras?
The Dirección de Evaluación e Investigación de la Carrera Policial (DIECP) has provided the Ministerio Público (MP) with some 100 files on approximately 200 investigated members of the Honduran Policía Nacional (PN) as part of a slowly ongoing process officially aimed at cleansing the deeply corrupt force. But Honduran human rights activist Bertha Oliva counters, saying the results of the police-cleansing process launched in May 2012, during former President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo’s administration (2010-2014), adds up to zero.  See more in this week's issue of NotiCen

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Argentine Forensic Team Working in Guerrero

Photo: Via Creative Commons on Flickr
A team of Argentine forensic experts arrived in Iguala in Guerrero state in Mexico on Oct. 7 to help federal and state authorities identify the remains of bodies found in a clandestine, mass graves. It is unclear how many of the bodies uncovered in the mass grave are connected to the disappearance of 43 students following protests in Iguala on Sept. 26.This week’s issue of SourceMex lays out the array of unclear reports regarding what actually transpired on Sept 26, when students at a teacher’s college organized a protest against plans to cut funding to their university.

The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (Equipo Argentino de Antropologia Forense, or EAAF), was founded in the mid-1980s when a team was formed to investigate the remains of disappeared families in Argentina. Since that project, EAAF has expanded its work to over 30 countries and helped form the Association of Latin American Association of Forensic Anthropology (ALAF). The two organizations have worked jointly in Guatemala, Bolivia, Spain, Colombia , Mexico and other countries. The joint work of EAAF and ALAF in Mexico dates back to the early 2000s, when the EAAF was asled tp participate in an international seminar titled "Truth Commissions: Torture, Reparations, and Prevention." Recently, EAAF was asked to assist a new Special Prosecutor investigating cases of people disappeared for political reasons during the 1960's and 1970's. Over the past several years, EAAF members worked in the state of Chihuahua on a project to exhume, analyze, and attempt to identify the remains of over a hundred individuals associated with the investigation of murdered and disappeared women in Ciudad Juárez.

The EAAF's mission statement explicitly states that the objectives of the team are to cater to the wishes of relatives of victims and their communities, and that  "the team's track record in international tribunals displays a deep and sincere dedication to truth and “the historical reconstruction of the recent past, often distorted or hidden by the parties or government institutions which are themselves implicated in the crimes under investigation."

Even though  President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration requested the intervention of the EAAF,  family members of the victims are relying on the Argentine experts for truth and justice because of  deep distrust of police and government authorities. Melitón Ortega, a relative of one of the missing students, has publicly expressed his distrust of state involvement in the investigation, representing a general attitude among his community members that the police and the government are the last people they want in charge of investigating this site.

So will the Argentine team succeed in helping relatives of  the students arrive at the truth? The task might be difficult. A slew of reports in the last week have revealed that the Argentine forensic team has had difficulty accessing the grave site, where state and federal authorities are tightly securing the area.

-Jake Sandler

Also in LADB This Week...
Unpredictable Brazilian Election Turns Predictable as Traditional Parties Duel
Brazilians headed to the polls on Oct. 5 to decide the fate of incumbent President Dilma Rousseff, conservative challenger Aécio Neves, and insurgent Marina Silva. In the end, voters endorsed Rousseff, but not by enough to avoid a runoff against Neves that will take place on Oct. 26. It was an unpredictable election season that saw polling numbers for the candidates fluctuate wildly. In one of the campaign’s most surprising and tragic turns,  Read More

Colombia’s Peace Negotiators Agree on Three Points, Urge Continued Progress
On the eve of the second anniversary of the beginning of Colombian peace talks, government and guerrilla representatives broke a self-imposed silence on Sept. 24 by reporting key details of agreements reached so far. President Juan Manuel Santos and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) were obliged to give a progress report to counteract false versions spread by warmongers seeking to discredit the negotiations and dismantle talks that began in November 2012 in Havana, Cuba.  Read More

Former Salvadoran President Francisco Flores Jailed Pending Corruption Trial
After months on the lam, former Salvadoran President Francisco Flores (1999-2004) is now behind bars pending trial on charges that he misappropriated roughly US$15 million donated during his presidency by the government in Taiwan. Flores, who hails from the hard-right Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA), El Salvador’s leading opposition party, disappeared from public view in late January. And, in May, when a judge in San Salvador issued a warrant for his arrest, he officially became a fugitive from justice.  Read More

Murder of Guatemalan Civil Servant Reveals Lack of Compliance with Private-Security Law
On July 3, well-known Guatemalan civil servant and feminist activist Patricia Samayoa Méndez was shot dead in a pharmacy by the establishment’s private security guard, who later barricaded himself in the pharmacy and attempted to shoot the police officers who were trying to arrest him. This case has highlighted that a new law imposing tougher sanctions on private security companies is not being properly enforced. Samayoa’s murder has called into question whether a law imposing more stringent regulations on private security companies that came into force in October 2013 is really being enacted.  Read More

Chinese-Mexican Consortium Submits Only Bid to Construct High-Speed Rail in Mexico
President Enrique Peña Nieto has set the process in motion to develop a high-speed train to connect Mexico City with the industrial hub of Querétaro, about 210 km northwest of the Mexican capital. On Oct. 15, the administration closed the bidding process for consortia to participate in constructing the rail line. Only one consortium submitted a bid, a partnership led by China Railway Construction Corp. (CRCC) that included Mexican companies GIA and Prodemex.  Read More

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Blue Helmets on Mexican Soldiers

Daniel Košinár  (Wikimedia Commons)
If you examine the composition of UN Peacekeeping forces, you would be hard-pressed to find any Mexican soldiers.  That is about to change with President  Enrique Peña Nieto's recent commitment to provide military and civilian personnel to UN missions.
The Mexican president made that pledge during an address to the UN General Assembly during the last week of September.

Peña Nieto, of course, would still have to comply with the Mexican Constitution, which prohibits any chief executive from unilaterally offering Mexican troops for peacekeeping forces. The president would require the consent of the Senate. Convesrsely, Peña Nieto and other future president are allowed to provide military and civilian personnel for UN humanitiarian missions without a vote from the Senate. How was Peña Nieto's decision received in Mexico?  There were many supporters and some detractors.  Read more in this week's issue of SourceMex.

Marie Lan-Nguyen (Wikimedia Commons)
Let's say hypothetically that Mexico had committed troops to UN peacekeeping operations a while back. Where would these Mexican soldiers be located? Currently, there are 16 ongoing UN Peacekeeping Operations, including Haiti, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, several Middle Eastern nations, as well as nine countries in Africa, from the Western Sahara to Democratic Republic of the Congo.

There are currently over 116,000 military and police personnel working under UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), and although many personnel are armed and trained in military operations, the DPKO’s main purpose and protocol does not normally involve active combat, but rather helping local security forces to establish the proper conditions for end of conflict and lasting peace. The UN does not have its own military force, and relies completely on contributions from member states.

There is some risk in committing military personnel to an area of conflict. In its 66-year history, the DPKO has suffered 3,177 fatalities, with more than two-thirds occurring since 1993. Uruguay, Haiti, Argentina, Guatemala and Spain have lost dozens of troops, although the majority of the casualties have come from Sub-Saharan African and Northern European nations.  While armed conflict has been the major reason for the loss of lives, more than 1,000 deaths  have occurred because of illness. The two places with the highest incident of fatalities have been Lebanon and the Congo.
-Jake Sandler

Also in LADB This Week...
Transforming the Sales Tax into a Value-Added Tax in Costa Rica: President Luis Guillermo Solís has a plan to boost government revenues: transform the current sales tax into a a value-added tax (Read more from George Rodríguez in this week's issue of NotiCen). So what's the difference?  Diane Yetter explains in the Tax & Accounting blog  "Sales tax is collected on retail sales at the time of the sale to the final consumer, and only the final sale in the supply chain is subject to tax. Sales tax is generally imposed on sales of tangible personal property and selected services. Value Added Tax, on the other hand, is imposed on each stage of the supply chain and ultimately charged in full to the final purchaser."

Investment in the Dominican Republic. Officials in the Dominican Republic are pleased about a recent increase in investment, but critics worry that the trend comes at the expense of human rights and the environment.  Read more from  Crosby Girón in NotiCen.

Argentina and U.S. Lock Horns amid ‘Default’ Fallout: Argentina’s current "default" crisis, which began three months ago when a judge in New York ruled in favor of a group of "vulture funds"—lenders that in 2005 refused to participate in a restructuring of the South American nation’s foreign debt—has gone from being a dispute between a sovereign state and private interests to a full-fledged face-off between the Argentine and US governments. Read more from Andrés Gaudín in NotiSur.

Center-Left Coalition Expected to Remain in Power in Uruguay: Uruguayan voters will head to the polls Oct. 26 for the last in a series of South American elections that also includes contests in Brazil, to be held Oct. 5, and Bolivia, on Oct. 12. The Frente Amplio (FA), in power since 2005, is hoping its progressive model—introduced by former President Tabaré Vázquez (2005-2010) and continued by the country’s current leader, President José Mujica—will earn the party a third-consecutive term. The FA’s conservative rivals, the Partido Nacional (PN or Blanco) and Partido Colorado (PC), are hoping to re-establish the political hegemony that kept them in power throughout most of Uruguay’s post-independence history (from 1830 to 2005). Read More from Andrés Gaudín in NotiSur.

Another term for Mexican Human Rights Ombud? Raúl Plascencia Villanueva, president of the semi-independent human rights commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH), is facing severe criticism from what academics and opposition legislators see as the commission’s deficient and inadequate job of defending human rights in Mexico. Will the Senate reappoint him for another five years or will human-rights advocates succeed in pushing through a change?  Read more from Carlos Navarro in SourceMex.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Church and Military Lose Their Luster in Paraguay

  Asuncion'Cathedral  (Axou28th, Wikimedia Common)
“The head of the Area of War Materials sold projectiles and explosives to anyone who asked for them.” -NotiSur, September 26, 2014

The above quote sounds like a description of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, or even a line from some Orwellesque sci-fi dystopian novel. It’s neither.

This is Paraguay in 2014, and this is just one of many listed items on an internal report of corruption within the Paraguayan armed forces conducted earlier this year. As Andrés Gaudín points out in this week’s issue of NotiSur, Paraguayan citizens are well-aware of the rampant corruption within the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. But, now, after internal reports have been released by the military as well as the Vatican, the armed forces and the Catholic Church have joined the ranks of Paraguay’s most blatantly corrupt institutions.

Paraguay's previous perception of the military and the church as institutions that were free of corruption coincides with a recent survey of 107 countries. In that survey, conducted by Transparency International, none of the countries ranked the military among the institutions affected by corruption. Only three of the 107 countries viewed religious bodies (which includes the Catholic Church) as one of the most corrupt institutions.

In his first year heading Paraguay’s government, President Horacio Cartes has made some gains in promoting transparency. Just this month, Paraguay became the 100th country to approve a freedom of information law.  The Paraguayan government still has problems shaking off the perception of corrption, however. 

There have been other efforts to fight corruption, including a legislative initiative approved by the Congress to address the widespread problem of nepotisim. A new law bans legislators from hiring or appointing to any public post "spouses, domestic partners, or relatives to the fourth degree of consanguinity and second degree of affinity." Nepotism has long been a concern for the Paraguay public. Last November, some businesses --restaurants, bars, and movie theaters--banned those officials publicly reported guilty of nepotism from entering those establishments  Read More in the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo.

While corrupt activities by institutions like the military and the church had been widely accepted in Paraguay for years, change might be coming. The transformation of the military might not be swift--as evidenced by the lack of action on the part of Cartes government against military officials renting out equipment to private enterprises and collecting informal "tolls." The fact that the practice has been exposed in an internal report is a very important first step. The corrupt activities by the Catholic Church cannot be overlooked, however, now that the Vatican has intervened. According to a recent report in The New York Times, Pope Francis sent investigators to the Diocese of Ciudad del Este. The investigators found sufficient evidence of corrupt activities and cover-ups to warrant the removal of Bishop Ricardo Livieres Plano.

-Jake Sandler

Also in LADB This Week...
Chile-Peru Border Row: A border dispute that was supposed to have been resolved by a landmark ruling issued eight months ago by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague is once again causing tempers to flare between Chile and Peru, this time regarding a miniscule patch of coastal desert.

Another Honduran Journalist Murdered:  The killing of Honduran newsman Nery Soto on Aug. 14 in the town of Olanchito in the northern department of Yoro, some 390 km northeast of Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital, prompted the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to call on Honduran authorities to investigate this and tens of similar crimes committed mostly since 2009—the year of the bloody coup that toppled then President Manuel "Mel" Zelaya

Currency "unification" coming in Cuba: Cubans await the arrival of "Day Zero" with uncertainty about the fate of their savings and their future purchasing power. The still-to-be-established date will end the simultaneous circulation of two currencies (the Cuban peso and the convertible peso) and is a measure that, according to the communist government, has been considered necessary for two decades to make the economy more efficient.

Mexican Court Agrees that Televisa is a Dominant Company: In March of this year, the Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (IFT) ruled that Televisa was a dominant company, meaning that authorities had the right to enforce certain anti-monopoly provisions. The giant broadcaster and 18 affiliates appealed the ruling to a specialized court. However, the court ruled in September of this year that the IFT's designation was correct.

Toxic Spill Remains a Problem in Sonora State. The giant mining company Grupo México and its chief executive officer (CEO) Germán Larrea are again the center of controversy for violations of environmental policy in Sonora. In early August, state and federal environmental authorities cited Grupo México subsidiary Mina Buenavista del Cobre for spilling more than 1.4 cubic feet of sulfuric acid (about 40 million liters) into the Bacanuchi and Sonora rivers

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Monday, September 22, 2014

An Innovative Solution to Drought in Nicaragua: Eat Iguana Meat

From National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
As the worst drought in over three decades is taking its toll on families and communities throughout the “Dry Corridor” of Central America, the World Food Programme (WFP) is working with the governments of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua to provide food assistance to several million people through an effort that combines resources from Canada, Brazil and Australia, as well as donations of rice and beans from Japan and Ethiopia, 

The emergency conditions in the Dry Corridor, which scientists say are the result of climate change, have prompted the governments of Guatemala and Honduras to declare a state of emergency for the region. The drought is having an especially devastating effect on Guatemala.

Wikimedia Commons (Rob Young)
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's administration is holding off on an emergency declaration for now, even thought Nicaragua is still receiving large amounts of food from WFP.  “In this country we do not have a social crisis, what we do have is a drought affecting the dry corridor, which is made up of fewer than 100 municipalities. However, in most of those places it is raining and production is taking place," said the  Read more from Benjamin Witte-Lebhar in this week's issue of NotiCen.

Each of the four countries is attempting to cope with the situation in different ways. The Ortega administration, for example, is urging residents who live in the dry areas of Nicaragua to eat more iguanas.  According to  Guillermo Membreño, director the governmental Department of Land Management, iguana meat has a higher protein content than chicken.  The problem is that the hunting of iguanas in the wild is prohibited in Nicaragua during the first four months of the year. Membreño's solution is for residents in the dry areas to set up iguana farms. Any iguanas raised at the farms do not have the same protections as the iguanas found in the wild.

The drought has created a difficult situation for families in this region of Central America. “Some families resort to dangerous survival tactics, such as skipping meals. Others simply stop sending their children to school to save money. Others send the head of households to Mexico or the United States to find jobs," said the WFP.

Environmental activists from around the globe are hoping the UN Climate Summit in New York City on Sept. 27 will address the impact of climate change on agriculture, especially in poor regions like the Dry Corridor in Central America.

-Jake Sandler

Also in LADB This Week...
'Bebe Doc" Duvalier Can Face Trial on Human-Rights Abuses: Rejoicing victims of former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Bébé Doc" Duvalier (1971-1986) enthusiastically welcomed the decision announced by a three-judge panel on Feb. 20 that the Caribbean island nation’s former ruler could be charged with crimes against humanity. George Rodríguez tells us more in the latest edition of NotiCen.

Mexico-Related Labor Issues: The left and the right have both launched initiatives to raise the minimum wage in Mexico, seizing on an initiative that President Enrique Peña Nieto and the governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) have not put at the top of their economic priority lists. Read more from Carlos Navarro in this week's edition of SourceMex. Also, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Mexican government agreed to strengthen their collaborative efforts to provide immigrant, migrant, and otherwise vulnerable Mexican workers and their employers with guidance and information and access to education about their rights and responsibilities under the laws enforced by the EEOC. Read more in SourceMex.

Candidates of Questionable Character in Peruvian Elections: Peru’s regional and municipal elections scheduled for Oct. 5 are clouded by a considerable number of candidates with shady pasts convicted of graft, embezzlement, drug trafficking, and aggravated theft.  Read more from Elsa Chanduví Jaña in this week's edition of NotiSur.

Is the Right Regaining Power in South America? Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa believes that right-wing forces are launching a "conservative restoration" in South America, a coordinated effort to regain power and, unless the left is willing to fight back, put an end to the cycle of progressive governments that has taken hold there in recent years. Andrés Gaudín tells us more in this week's edition of NotiSur.

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