Friday, February 21, 2014

Anti-corruption Team to Visit Haiti, Venezuelan President Uses Decree Power To Fight "Devastating Economic War,"

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for February 19-21

Organization of American States Anti-corruption Team to Visit Haiti, Once Ranked Most Corrupt Country
The Organization of American States (OAS) is sending members of its anti-corruption team on a tour of Caribbean nations, and one of its stops is Haiti. In 2006, the massively impoverished French-speaking island country ranked as the most corrupt of the 163 nations included in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), a yearly study the Berlin-based nongovernmental organization Transparency International (TI) has put out since 1995--two years after it was founded. Meanwhile, the Haitian government is pressing Congress to complete passage of a bill for corruption prevention and suppression, which the Senate approved in May 2013 but has yet to be voted on by the lower house.George Rodríguez Read More

Self-Defense Groups Attempt to Protect Residents from Criminal Organizations in Guerrero State
While most of the front-page headlines in Mexico have centered on the ongoing violence in Michoacán state, a similar chaotic situation has developed in neighboring Guerrero state, where local communities have formed self-defense militias, known as autodefensas, to defend themselves against the drug cartels and criminal organizations that are extorting and terrorizing communities around the state. A study by the semi-independent Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (CNDH) discovered that self-defense groups are present in more than half of Guerrero's 81 municipalities. The study, released in mid-December 2013, said the 46 municipalities where autodefensa groups are present account for almost two-thirds of the state's population of about 3.5 million. Carlos Navarro Read More

Venezuelan President Uses Decree To Fight "Devastating Economic War"
Locked in an exhausting standoff with Venezuela’s primary economic power brokers, the Venezuelan government, for the first time since the launch of the Bolivarian Revolution in 1999, is finding itself at odds with some of its own supporters. The country's chaotic economic situation is fueling discontent not just among the government’s opponents but also among some of its traditional supporters. To reverse the situation--and save the country from a "devastating economic war" launched by leading business and opposition groups--President Nicolás Maduro recently signed a pair of decrees. The first introduced a "band system" to regulate currency exchange. Government backers support the measures, even if they do not necessarily grasp their true meaning. The second limits companies to a maximum profit margin of 30%. Opposition leaders are up in arms, saying the decrees amount to "stealth devaluation." Andrés Gaudín Read More

Belize’s Booming Tourism Industry Strains Country’s Precarious Wastewater-Management Facilities
San Pedro, a town on the southern part of the island of Ambergris Caye, in the Belize District, used to be a sleepy fishing village until word of its natural beauty got around and it became one of the most popular tourist destinations of the Caribbean, widely recommended in most travel guides as an ideal location for scuba diving. This transformation has come hand in hand with a change in the population of the town, and today, according to official figures, San Pedro has a population of about 13,381, the second-largest town in the Belize District and the largest in the Belize Rural South constituency. However, this inevitably means that the dynamics of the island’s environment have also been altered as Ambergris Caye has increasingly suffered the effects of pollution from a number of sources: the oily trail left behind by boats and cruise ships, domestic sewage originating from toilets, sinks, and other domestic sources, solid waste, agrochemicals, and industrial effluents. Louisa Reynolds Read More

President-Elect Michelle Bachelet Announces Cabinet Choices
After routing the right in December’s runoff election, President-elect Michelle Bachelet now faces the considerable challenge of turning her broad campaign coalition--a loose affiliation of center-left and left parties known as the Nueva Mayoría--into a viable governing bloc. The incoming leader took her first major step toward that goal late last month, introducing a Cabinet chosen to appease her traditional power base while at the same time reach out to her more recently acquired allies, namely the far-left Partido Comunista de Chile (PCCh) and Izquierda Ciudadana (IC). Benjamin Witte-Lebhar Read More

Federal Government Reaches Truce with Yaqui in Aqueduct Dispute
President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration has reached a truce with Yaqui Indian communities in their dispute about water rights in the Río Yaqui. The dispute centers on the Acueducto Independencia, a waterway that captures 634 gallons of water per second from the Río Yaqui and diverts it through 130 km of pipeline between Presa El Novillo and the state capital of Hermosillo. After months of negotiation, the Peña Nieto administration and Yaqui representatives finally reached an agreement on Jan. 21, guaranteeing that the water extracted from the Río Yaqui would only be used for human consumption in Hermosillo and that the administration would respect court rulings spelling out the rights of the region’s Yaqui and campesino communities. Carlos Navarro Read More

Friday, February 14, 2014

Panama Canal Expansion Grinds to a Halt, Indigenous Group to Oppose Ecuadoran Oil Push, AH1N1 Virus Reappears in Mexico

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for February 12-14

Musicians Hold Concert to Promote Caballeros Templarios Cartel in Michoacán State
On Feb. 2, the music-promotion company Andaluz Music organized a megaconcert featuring popular performers of narcocorridos, including the groups Los de la A and Calibre 50. The narcocorridos are part of the música alterada movement, which uses a narrative format to highlight the lifestyle and violent actions of organized crime, including acts of revenge and retaliation against rivals. The show, which lasted about 10 hours, was held at the Pabellón Don Vasco in Morelia, a venue owned by the state of Michoacán. During the performance, Ríos and Los de A made no secret of their loyalty to the Caballeros Templarios drug cartel, Given the controversial nature of the concert, it was remarkable that authorities gave their approval so easily, even using state police officers to provide security. Carlos Navarro Read More

Costa Rica's Elections Go to Faceoff Between Leading Candidates Whose Positioning Was Unexpected
Costa Rica’s presidential election goes, for the second time in this country’s political history, to a faceoff between the two most voted candidates, since none of 13 hopefuls managed to round up more than 40% of the vote. The results of the Feb. 2 election were not a surprise regarding the need for the second round, but the candidates’ positioning was astonishing. After having led most pre-election polls, San José Mayor Johnny Araya of the ruling social democratic Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN) suffered a major blow, along with his party, when he did not win the preliminary electronic results. Instead, Luis Guillermo Solís, a political scientist and university professor and a representative of the the center-left opposition Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC), received the most votes. The runoff between Solís and Araya is set for April 6. George Rodríguez   Read More

Argentina Devalues Currency; Braces for Opposition Attacks
Following Argentine legislative elections that narrowed the gap between the opposition and the ruling party, power groups and major media have pushed President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK) to devalue the country’s currency. Though opposition parties gained ground, they did not win the election.The government had held that its efforts to maintain monetary stability was a major achievement allowing it to enrich foreign-exchange reserves and develop social policy. However, on Jan. 24, persistent market movement culminated with the end of monetary stability, one of the pillars of the Kirchner administrations that began in 2003 with the late President Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and continued under his wife who was elected following his death in 2007. Andrés Gaudín   Read More

Indigenous Group Uses "Living Forest" Model to Oppose Ecuadoran Oil Push
Under renewed pressure from government-backed oil interests, the Kichwa people of Sarayaku, in the Ecuadoran Amazonía, are employing a new tool to defend their lands and lifestyle: an alternative-development model that challenges the classic concepts of wealth and poverty espoused by most western governments and international organizations. The Ecuadoran government has decided to include Sarayaku--along with the territories of other indigenous groups in Ecuador’s southern Amazonian area--in a new oil concession process. The people of Sarayaku, as a result, are mobilizing to prevent drilling on their lands. As part of their strategy, they have come up with a development proposal that stresses the sacred nature of their territory, that re-evaluates concepts regarding quality of life, and that respects their spirituality and right to make independent economic decisions. Luis Ángel Saavedra   Read More

Panama Canal Expansion Work Grinds to Halt
The expansion of the Panama Canal, which handles 5% of the world’s maritime trade, was suspended on Jan. 20 because of an acrimonious dispute between the Spanish-led building consortium Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) and the Autoridad del Canal de Panamá (ACP), the autonomous agency that manages the canal, regarding who should pay the US$1.6 billion needed to complete the ambitious project. The expansion of the 80 km cargo route that connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans included the construction of a third set of locks that would accommodate larger post-Panamax ships travelling from North America to Asia and was originally expected to cost about US$5.25 billion. However, the overruns could increase that to almost US$7 billion. Louisa Reynolds  Read More

AH1N1 Virus Reappears in Mexico in Early 2014; No Health Emergency Declared
There was a time when the mention of AH1N1 flu brought extreme concern, even a sense of panic, to the Mexican public. This was especially the case in the aftermath of the pandemic that followed the outbreak of the virus in central Mexico in March and April 2009. The AH1N1 virus infected 70,000 Mexicans, resulting in 1,300 deaths that year. The AH1N1 virus has reappeared in the first several weeks of 2014, with health authorities reporting almost 3,700 cases of influenza between Jan. 1 and Feb. 7, including more than 3,110 of AH1N1 infections. Despite the moderately high number of flu deaths, the outbreak did not attract the same type of front-page headlines as the 2009 pandemic. "The major difference between the situation we experienced in 2009 and now is that we have access to better medical information and an ample supply of vaccines, which have been distributed throughout the country," said Enrique Ramos Flores, tourism secretary in Jalisco state. Carlos Navarro   Read More

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Brazil Behind in Construction for World Cup; Nine Journalists Killed in Mexico in 2013; El Salvador Elections Going to Second Round

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Articles in SourceMex, NotiCen and NotiSur for February 5-7

Former Guerilla Commander Takes Round One In Salvadoran Presidential Election
Vice President Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the leftist Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) won El Salvador’s Feb. 2 presidential election by an unexpectedly solid margin but fell just short of the 50% plus one valid votes needed to avoid a runoff. The FMLN candidate drew nearly 49% of the vote, finishing a full 10 percentage points ahead of his main rival, former San Salvador mayor Norman Quijano of the hard-right Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA). Ex-President Antonio Saca (2004-2009), another conservative, finished a distant third (11.4%). Fringe candidates René Alcides Rodríguez of the Partido Salvadoreño Progresista (PSP) and José Óscar Morales of the Fraternidad Patriota Salvadoreña (FPS) earned less than 1% of the vote between them. Benjamin Witte-Lebhar  Read More

At Least Nine Journalists Killed in Mexico in 2013
Journalist rights organizations report that a least nine editors and reporters were killed in Mexico during 2013, although the number could actually be higher because the whereabouts of a handful of reporters who disappeared during the year are unknown. The organization Casa de Derechos de los Periodistas AC, based in Mexico City, reported the murders of six journalists during the first full year of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidency. Other sources reported at least three other murders, which adds up to nine confirmed killings last year, plus one journalist who disappeared and whose whereabouts are unknown. This compares with at least 17 murders of journalists in 2012, in addition to five others who disappeared. Carlos Navarro Read More

Honduras' New President Juan Orlando Hernández Pledges to Respect Human Rights While Providing Security
In his inaugural speech, Honduras’ new President Juan Orlando Hernández, often referred to as JOH, insisted he will keep his campaign promises, among them, his commitment to improve this Central American nation’s appalling situation regarding security--or lack of it. He also guaranteed that, in so doing, all actions would be carried out within the framework of the law and fully respecting human rights. But in human rights ranks, the president's words, at best, are not taken as sincere, and the forecast in this regard is somber.  George Rodríguez  Read More

Uruguay’s Conservative Parties Unite
Uruguay’s two conservative parties--opponents for their entire 177-year existence--have joined forces to defeat the Frente Amplio (FA), which has governed Montevideo, the national capital, for the past 25 years. The unprecedented alliance--motivated by the certainty that neither the Partido Colorado (PC) nor the Partido Nacional (PN or Blanco) could defeat the ruling progressive administration alone--is remarkable because the two parties have been on opposite sides of prolonged and bloody civil wars three different times. On Jan. 9, electoral authorities authorized unification of the two parties under the name Partido de la Concertación. The new party’s goal is to oust the Frente Amplio and recover control of the capital, home to nearly half the country’s 3.3 million inhabitants. Andrés Gaudín  Read More

FIFA World Cup Causes Financial and Human Burden on Brazilian Cities
As the calendar inches closer day to by day to the opening match of the 2014 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup in Brazil, questions mount about the impact of the global sporting event on the country’s 12 host cities. Brought to international attention by last year’s street protests, issues such as white-elephant stadiums, cost overruns at public expense, corruption in building contracts (NotiSur, July 1, 2011), human rights abuses against construction workers, and housing evictions in low-income communities persist. While the tournament draws are complete and soccer fans have depleted the first round of ticket sales, the behind-the-scenes preparation has been a far less smooth process.  Gregory Scruggs   Read More

Monarch Butterfly Populations at Biosphere in Michoacán Down Sharply
The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve sits at the edge of the territory controlled by the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) drug cartel in Michoacán state. The recent violence that has hammered communities like Apatzingán and Uruapan has apparently not spilled over to the biosphere. The popular tourist destination is facing a different kind of problem this year, however. The number of butterflies migrating to the biosphere is at an all-time low, and some environmental organizations are warning that the migration of the butterflies to Michoacán and México state could disappear altogether. This could create a major problem for the biosphere, which earned the designation as a World Heritage Site in 2008.   Carlos Navarro   Read More