Thursday, January 30, 2014

Nicaraguan Cane Cutters Face Health Issues; Mexico Launches Anti-Kidnapping Campaign; Bolivia's Evo Morales Seeks Re-Election

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for January 29-31

Nicaraguan Cane-Cutter Movement Brings New Attention To Central America’s Kidney-Disease Epidemic
In Chichigalpa, Nicaragua’s tierra del ron y del azúcar (land of rum and sugar), hundreds of men who developed a "mystery" illness while working in local sugarcane fields are seeking compensation from their former employer, the powerful conglomerate Grupo Pellas. So far the cañeros (cane cutters), all of them with the debilitating medical condition known as chronic kidney disease (CKD), have failed to secure either money or medical attention. Their quest did, however, put them in the crosshairs earlier this month of a police assault that left one person dead and another, a 14-year-old boy, half-blind and fighting for his life. -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar  Read More

Execution of Mexican Citizen in Texas Reopens Controversy on Capital Punishment, Consular Rights
The long-standing conflict between Mexico and the US regarding the death penalty resurfaced in late-January after the state of Texas decided to move forward with the execution of Mexican national Édgar Tamayo Arias. Tamayo, convicted of killing a Houston police officer in 1994, became the ninth Mexican citizen executed by a US state since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. All but one of the executions have been carried out by the state of Texas, including the high-profile cases of José Ernesto Medellín Rojas in 2008 and Humberto Leal García in 2011. At the heart of all the cases was the failure by local law-enforcement authorities to comply with US international obligations, specifically the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Article 36 of the treaty, which the US ratified in 1969, requires that any foreign national who is arrested be given immediate access to consular staff from his or her home country. -Carlos Navarro   Read More

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales Announces Re-election Plans
As Bolivian President Evo Morales begins the last year of his second term, his re-election as president of the Plurinational State of Bolivia appears assured. If elected next October, he could continue in office until 2020. Both sympathetic and unfriendly political scientists and analysts--in Bolivia social tensions have reached an extreme in which there is no room for middle-of-the-road or undefined positions--believe that, based on current economic indicators and inclusive social policies that have brought the majority indigenous population into economic and educational systems, there’s no possibility that the right could oust the current government in an election. -Andrés Gaudín Read More

Building Collapses and Severe Shortage Worsen Housing Situation for Cubans
Buildings that received little or no maintenance for decades, faulty construction, frequent collapses, and an overall 39% of homes in Cuba in poor or fair condition are worsening the housing situation on the island, confirmed government reports and details from the most recent population census. Cuba has more than 3 million houses, of which 61% are considered to be in good condition, but the rest are in fair or poor condition. The housing crisis is a recurring theme in demographic studies on Cuban families because of the generational issues caused by several generations of the same family having to live together, including those who were previously married and, after divorcing, were never able to move into independent housing. -Daniel Vázquez  Read More

President Enrique Peña Nieto Announces New Anti-Kidnapping Campaign
President Enrique Peña Nieto has unveiled a new strategy to prevent kidnappings and find missing persons that will shift the focus to intelligence gathering. The new plan, announced in late January, seeks to learn from the failed strategies of preceding administrations, primarily those of ex-Presidents Ernesto Zedillo , Felipe Calderón, and Vicente Fox. The Peña Nieto administration does not exactly have a stellar record when it comes to kidnappings. In fact, the number of abductions during the president’s first year in office increased significantly from the last year of the Calderón administration. This increase in abductions is what prompted the administration to put together an anti-kidnapping strategy, which places less emphasis on prosecution of the crime and more on intelligence gathering and prevention. -Carlos Navarro  Read More

Rights Groups Say Peru's New Law Protects "Trigger Happy" Police, Military
Numerous national and international human rights organizations are questioning a new law that gives police and the military more leeway to use lethal force "in the line of duty." President Ollanta Humala enacted the norm on Jan. 13. Ley 30151 modifies Article 20, Subsection 11, of the Código Penal, which exempted police and members of the armed forces from criminal liability in cases where, "in the line of duty and using their weapons in a prescribed manner, one causes injury or death." The Defensoría del Pueblo, Peru’s autonomous ombud’s office, agrees that "law enforcement should be given the tools it needs to tackle organized crime, terrorism, drug trafficking and common crime, as well as address the violence that can result from social conflicts. But it warned that the new regulations put everyone’s lives at risk by allowing the use of weapons without regard to established policing regulations. -Elsa Chanduví Jaña Read More

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Guatemalan Dictator Could Escape Justice; Tension in Michoacan; Paraguay Rejoins MERCOSUR

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for January 22-24

Former Dictator Efraín Ríos Montt Could Escape Justice
Two recent developments in the complex web of legal maneuvering surrounding the trial of former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983) have made it even more unlikely that he will ever be imprisoned for human rights violations committed during Guatemala’s 36-year armed conflict. The trial, set to resume in April 2014, was postponed again until January 2015, purportedly because of the court’s busy schedule. With survivors facing threats and harassment, their attorneys fear that, if the trial is resumed, more than half the witnesses will be unwilling to testify again. In addition, on Oct. 22, 2013, the Corte de Constitucionalidad (CC) instructed the Corte Suprema de Justicia (CSJ) to overturn its prior ruling that Ríos Montt could not seek amnesty. -Louisa Reynolds   Read More

Tensions Remain High in Michoacán State, as Self-Defense Groups Confront Drug Cartel
The ongoing violent dispute between self-defense militias and the drug-trafficking organization Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) in Michoacán state has escalated in recent weeks, and the presence of the Army and federal police appears to have worsened the situation. The Army insists that the self-defense militias are unnecessary and illegal and that the federal government will take charge of going after the Caballeros Templarios, an offshoot of La Familia de Michoacán, which once dominated the state. Local residents counter that self-defense groups, which have been formed in about one-third of the state, are necessary because federal authorities have been ineffective in eradicating the drug cartel, which continues to make life miserable for many residents. -Carlos Navarro   Read More

Chilean Rights Groups Applaud Demise Of Government-Backed 'Anti-Protest' Bill
Two days after losing last month’s presidential runoff, the Chilean right suffered a second stinging defeat, this time in the lower house of Congress, the Cámara de Diputados, which voted Dec. 17 to reject a controversial law-and-order bill known popularly as the Ley Hinzpeter. The bill--a key item in President Sebastián Piñera’s legislative agenda--was first presented in late 2011 by then Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter (now minister of defense). It was designed to give authorities added leverage in clamping down on street demonstrations. The bill’s demise (the Cámara voted 51-43 against it) added insult to injury for Piñera’s conservative Alianza coalition, whose faint hopes of retaining the presidency had been dashed less than 48 hours earlier by the dismal Election Day performance of its candidate, Evelyn Matthei, who earned less than 38% of the vote in the Dec. 15 runoff -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar   Read More

Polls Show Costa Rica’s Traditional Political Center Threatened from Left and Right
Since the five-week revolution of 1948--sparked by a congressional decision to annul a presidential election--when the present Second Republic was founded, bipartisanship has occupied the Costa Rican political stage, in the center--both center-right and center left. Through the years this evolved so that the two traditional players--the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana (PUSC) and the social democratic Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN)--became the two election options. But massive dissatisfaction with the PLN and the PUSC, held responsible for a deteriorating standard of living and a rising crime rate, has opened the door for candidacies from the far left and the far right. Voters are considering the two options even though they continue to view themselves as ideologically "centrists." -George Rodríguez   Read More

Paraguay’s Decision to Rejoin MERCOSUR Revitalizes Trade Bloc
In just two hours, Paraguay’s Congress produced a bit of news that immediately made major changes to the region’s political map. Following a Senate decision eight days earlier, Paraguayan deputies on a split vote Dec. 18 agreed to rejoin the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR), a trade association it helped create in 1991 along with Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay . Venezuela joined in 2012. Immediately after voting to rejoin MERCOSUR, Paraguay’s Congress also decided to recognize the democratic government in Caracas, re-establish diplomatic relations broken 18 months earlier, endorse Venezuela’s MERCOSUR membership, and lift a declaration declaring Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro persona non grata. Together these measures re-established the equilibrium broken on June 22, 2012, when the rightist Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico (PLRA) and Partido Colorado (PC) toppled the constitutional government of President Fernando Lugo in a parliamentary coup d’état. -Andrés Gaudín    Read More

Deportations of Mexican Citizens Set to Break Record during U.S. President Barack Obama’s Administration
Undocumented Mexican immigrants in the US, uncertain whether Congress will finally consider immigration-reform legislation in 2014, are facing high deportations, including deportations of many men and women who have been in the US longer than 10 years. Immigrant-rights organizations say deportations of Mexicans have surged during the current administration, approaching a record of 2 million people since US President Barack Obama took office in 2008. The latest data from Mexico’s immigration agency (Instituto Nacional de Migración, INM) indicates that 332,000 Mexican nationals were deported in 2013. And, as Mexicans fight to stay in the US, they are also making demands on the Mexican government—namely the right to make their votes count in Mexican elections. -Carlos Navarro   Read More

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Tight Election Expected in El Salvador; Zapatista Uprising 20 Years Later; Paraguayans Protest Corruption

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for January 15-17

Accusations Fly in Final Stretch of Tight Salvadoran Presidential Race
Less than three weeks before voters head to the polls to select a replacement for outgoing leader Mauricio Funes, El Salvador’s marathon presidential race remains too close to call. Norman Quijano of the far-right Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA) and Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the leftist Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) are expected to finish first and second in the Feb. 2 election, though not necessarily in that order. Neither, though, is likely to earn the 50% plus one valid votes needed to win the five-candidate contest outright, meaning the two top vote getters will have to square off in a runoff. The second-round election, should it be necessary, will take place March 9. -Benjamin Witte-Lebhar   Read More

Ousting Of Bogotá Mayor Presents New Challenge To Colombia Peace Talks
As Colombia’s next presidential election approaches, the far right has yet to come up with a candidate who appears capable of giving the incumbent, President Juan Manuel Santos, a run for his money. Barring a major turn of political events, there is no reason to believe Santos won’t win the May 25 contest. The one thing that could derail his chances would be a collapse of the peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) . The far right is bent on dashing the Colombian public’s dreams of peace. Last November, the sector falsely accused the FARC of planning to assassinate former President Álvaro Uribe, A month later, the uribistas again tried to put an end to the peace talks by employing the services of Procurador General (Inspector General) Alejando Ordóñez, a government official who owes his post to backroom political dealings. On Dec. 9, Ordóñez sacked the country’s second-most-important elected official, Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro. -Andrés Gaudín   Read More

Zapatista Uprising 20 Years Ago Left Lasting Impression on Mexico
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) share one important date, Jan. 1, 1994. That is the date when both the agreement and the Zapatista movement officially became part of the Mexican reality. NAFTA and other efforts to open Mexico to foreign investment were part of the neoliberal economic policies promoted by ex-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, which critics said would increase the gap between the wealthy and the poor. The EZLN used the launch of the agreement to push for greater economic and cultural rights for indigenous communities and to bring attention to the economic disparities in Mexico. Opinions are mixed on whether NAFTA has been good for Mexico, but most observers suggest that the Zapatista uprising had positive consequences for Mexico. -Carlos Navarro   Read More

Paraguayans Protest Corruption
No Paraguayan living today can remember playing a significant role in an important political decision. Since the time of their grandparents, no generation until now had changed the course of history. As 2013 drew to a close, young Paraguayans made an unprecedented protest against political corruption. Disgusted by legislators’ efforts to withhold information from the public, citizens took to the streets on Oct. 22. Two weeks earlier, Congress had voted to criminalize any attempt to look into the background and/or assets of public officials. After the first protest--an unusual event in Paraguay--things moved quickly. Forced by popular protests to take action, Paraguay’s Corte Suprema de Justicia (CSJ) ruled the same day that information about officials, their activities, and their salaries are in the public domain. It also ruled the right of privacy cannot be used to block a person or news media representative from getting that information. -Andrés Gaudín  Read More

Former Haitian Dictator "Bébé Doc" Duvalier Fights for Funds Frozen in Switzerland
Jean-Bertrand "Bébé Doc" Duvalier (1971-1986), who at the age of 19 inherited the ruthless and corrupt dictatorship of his father François (1957-1971, president for life since 1964) and retained his grip on power for the next fifteen years, is in Haiti facing charges of corruption and seeing about US$5 million of his ill-gotten fortune frozen in Switzerland and about to be turned over to the Haitian government. -George Rodríguez   Read More

Federal Government Proposes Expanding Mexico City Airport; Environmental Groups Oppose Plan
The federal government has proposed expanding the Mexico City airport in an easterly direction, constructing new facilities on land that the federal government has acquired near Lago de Texcoco in México state. The proposal has met with resistance from environmental groups and from the former director of the Comisión Nacional del Agua (CONAGUA), who fear that authorities will move forward without considering the consequences for the environment. Environmental advocates warn that the expansion could disrupt the migratory patterns of birds and threaten the water-distribution system for Mexico City and parts of México state.   -Carlos Navarro   Read More

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Poverty, Migration in Honduras; NAFTA's 20th Birthday; Military Attacks Small-Scale Miners in Ecuador

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for January 8-10

NAFTA Completes 20 Years of Existence with Mixed Results
On Jan. 1, 2014, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) completed 20 years of existence, amid varying opinions on whether the agreement has been good for Mexico. The agreement has certainly brought significant benefits for a segment of the population, primarily middle class and wealthy Mexicans. Critics suggest the agreement has personally not benefited the majority of Mexicans. The question after two decades is whether on balance the benefits of the agreement outweigh its negative aspects, including reducing tariffs that severely harmed producers of corn and other important agricultural commodities and derailed Mexico’s efforts to attain self-sufficiency in food production. -Carlos Navarro  Read More

An Unstoppable Tide of Femicides in Dominican Republic
Femicide in the Dominican Republic is a serious problem that the authorities have failed to address. According to recent reports, the Caribbean country has the third-highest femicide rate in Latin America. In 2011, 230 femicides were recorded, according to the Procuraduría General de la República (PGR), which compiles statistics from the police as well as the Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Forenses (INACIF). In 2012, 103 femicides were reported, and, during the first half of 2013, 140 Dominican women died as a result of acts of violence, a figure that includes 69 cases recorded as femicides. -Crosby Girón   Read More

Ecuadoran Government Alleges Mafia Involvement In Small-Scale Mining
Early last November, an incident between a military platoon and Shuar communities living on the banks of the Río Zamora, in southern Ecuador’s Amazon region, resulted in the death of an indigenous man named Freddy Taish. Later that same day, in a nationwide broadcast, the government blamed the incident on foreign "mafias" involved in arms and drugs trafficking and money laundering. Authorities say the outside criminal groups have infiltrated the Zamora area’s artisan (small-scale) mining industry. Artisan mining is a subsistence activity traditionally carried out by local indigenous and campesino communities. Domingo Ancuash, a longtime Shuar leader, believes the crackdown resulted from his community's vocal opposition to mining concessions granted in the region to multinational mining interests. - Luis Ángel Saavedra    Read More

Tens of Thousands of Undocumented Hondurans Caught and Deported in 2013
Migrating to the US in search of finding the opportunity they lack in their country to overcome their dire socioeconomic situation is nothing new to Hondurans. Neither is the risk of being caught along the lengthy, perilous way and sent back. Some 74,000 undocumented Hondurans were deported last year, marking an abrupt end--however calculated the risk--to their quest for labor opportunities and improved income to support their families back home. -George Rodríguez   Read More

Venezuela’s Chavistas Gain Strength; Opposition Split After Elections
Following municipal elections Dec. 8 in which Venezuela’s governing party confirmed its political primacy, the right-wing opposition is reconsidering a strategy that set Henrique Capriles up as the leader of the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD). During the past five years, the opposition had focused its efforts on Capriles, a task that was not always easy. Voter turnout in the municipal elections reached a record of nearly 60%, with the governing Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) winning 79% of the mayoral races in 337 municipalities. The ruling party had nearly 5.2 million votes while the opposition’s total came in a little under 4.1 million. Although not directly comparable, the gap between December municipal elections and the April presidential contest increased by nearly 1.1 million votes. -Andrés Gaudín    Read More

Telecommunications Regulator Announces Auction of Television Frequencies
When President Enrique Peña Nieto and the Congress proposed comprehensive changes to the telecommunications sector in 2013, they promised to enact a law that would bring greater democracy to the broadcast media. The telecommunications law approved in March 2013 included the creation of an independent agency, the Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (IFETEL), which was established to push for a more democratic broadcast sector. The IFETEL, which replaced the largely ineffective Comisión Federal de Telecomunicaciones (COFETEL), is taking its constitutionally mandated mission seriously, and this was reflected in the institute’s first major action. In early January, the agency announced the auction for 246 digital television frequencies around the country and in the process indicated that the two existing networks would not be eligible to participate. -Carlos Navarro  Read More