Friday, July 25, 2014

Economic Development, Energy Needs Clash with Environmental Protection, Right of Communities to Control Natural Resources

Photo: Carlos Navarro
In March 1977, the United Nations Water Conference recognized water as a right for the first time declaring that “All peoples, whatever their stage of development and social and economic conditions, have the right to have access to drinking water in quan tities and of a quality equal to their basic needs”.

The right to protect water and natural resources has become a source of conflict in many countries in Latin America.  Four countries--Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Panama--have had to struggle or are struggling with a decision regarding this precious natural resource. Environmental advocates and indigenous communities are among hose opposing the privatization of water or the development of huge water-related projects.  The government and the business sector are on the other side. They see the large-scale projects as a means to promote development/and or create sources of energy for the country. The results have been mixed.

Let's examine each of the conflicts.

Chile. In June, the government’s Comité de Ministros—the top of the bureaucratic totem pole for decisions regarding development projects—voted unanimously to reject the polemical HidroAysén power project, a multibillion-dollar hydroelectric complex planned for a mostly untouched area of Chile's far-southern Región de Aysén.  The ruling ended years of on-again, off-again legal limbo regarding the costly venture, which its corporate backers—Endesa (51%), a Spanish-Italian energy giant, and Colbún (49%), a privately owned Chilean utility—first unveiled in 2007.  Read More in Read More  from Benjamin Witte-Lebhar in NotiSur, July 11, 2014

Ecuador: A march staged by Ecuador’s indigenous movement—the second during President Rafael Correa’s time in office—was so small that, instead of influencing the government, it showed the indigenous movement to be weak and fragmented. A water law, as this set of regulations for the use and administration of a natural resource that the Ecuadoran Constitution classifies as a human right is known, was approved by 103 of the Asamblea Nacional’s 137 members despite ongoing debate since the bill was proposed in 2009. Read More  from Luis Ángel Saavedra in NotiSur, July 18, 2014

Panama: Panama’s newly elected President Juan Carlos Varela, who took office on July 1, comes to power amid a drought-sparked energy crisis that has highlighted the perils of depending heavily on hydroelectric power at a time when rain patterns have become increasingly erratic as a result of climate change. Panama’s new government has stated that it wishes to review the contract awarded by the former administration to Brazilian company Norberto Odebrecht for construction of the Chan II hydroelectric dam on the Río Changuinola, in the northern province of Bocas del Toro. Representatives of the Ngöbe indigenous group have reiterated their opposition to the project and have complained that Varela has not met with them to discuss his plans for Chan II. Read More from Louisa Reynolds in NotiCen, July 24, 2014

Peru: The  Congress on July 11 passed a packet of laws to promote investment and reactivate the economy despite numerous national and international criticisms that labeled the proposal a blow to the country’s environmental structure, control, and management. The new regulations basically relax sanctions for environmental violations. Iván Lanegra, former intercultural vice minister, told the newspaper La República, "Clearly, reducing fines implies less environmental protection and, worse yet, dismantling environmental protection is done with a law called "Investment Promotion," which increases the risk that it could be interpreted to mean environmental policy is being used to attract investment, which is precisely what should not be done."  Read more from Elsa Chanduví Jaña in NotiSur, July 25, 2014

Also in LADB the Past Two Weeks...
In Mexico, a federal court granted bankruptcy protection to PEMEX contractor Oceanografía,, the federal government reduced estimates for the number of disappeared, President Enrique Peña Nieto created an office to manage immigration policies along the southern border, and several states  have approved a ban on the use of animals in circus performances, thanks to the efforts of the Partido Verde Ecologista de México (PVEM)

In Central America, Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez Cerén made a pair of early overtures to human rights victims, raising hopes that his presidency, which began just last month, might usher in an era of greater accountability regarding the many abuses and atrocities committed during the country’s dozen-year civil war (1980-1992)...Guatemala's Congress approved a nonbinding resolution that denies that genocide was committed during the country’s 36-year civil war and calls for "national reconciliation."And President Daniel Ortega added a new item to his already bulging portfolio of powers: direct command of the Policía Nacional (PN), Nicaragua’s 12,000-strong national police force.

In South America,.the Paraguayan government and business leaders moved to encourage more investments from already economically dominant Brazil, and political infighting fueled a standoff between the Venezuelan government and the oposition
-Carlos Navarro
(Subscription required to read full LADB articles. Click here for subscription information)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Holograms for Cuban Cigars

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Cuba is perfecting holographic seals to prevent the sale of counterfeit cigars, which the international black market offers to visitors for a paltry sum compared to prices determined by the official marketing network. Today, any tourist walking down the street in Havana, a major tourist destination, will probably hear three deals whispered in their ear: sex, habanos, and rum. However, sometimes those cigars are imitations made from low-quality leaves.  -from NotiCen, July 10, 2014

How can you tell if that famous habano cigar you bought from a street vendor in Havana or in the cigar store in Zurich or Buenos Aires is real? If you're a regular tourist--and not a connoisseur--you might not know until you  actually light up.  

Cigars are serious business in Cuba, and the government is very keen on ensuring that the prized habanos are of the highest quality That's why authorities are in the process of developing  holographic seals to prevent the sale of counterfeit cigars. The effort is directed not as much at the domestic market but international markets. "Cuban tobacco remains one  the fundamental sources for millions of dollars in income for the island, is a source of employment for more than 150,000 farmers, and generates impressive sales in the more remote parts of the world,"  Read more from Daniel Vázquez in this week's issue of NotiCen.  And there is more information about this prized product in The Cuban Cigar Website

Also in LADB This Week
One of the most significant developments in South America in recent weeks (and no, it's not the FIFA World Cup!) is the decision of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet's administration to cancel the polemical HidroAysén power project, a multibillion-dollar hydroelectric complex planned for a mostly untouched area of Chile's far-southern Región de Aysén. The ruling ended years of on-again, off-again legal limbo regarding the costly venture/

In Mexico,  the Congress approved the secondary laws that allow the government to implement reforms to the telecommunications sector.  But there are mixed opinions on whether the changes will truly benefit the citizenry.  Some international organizations like the OECD believe reforms to the telecommunications, energy and other sectors are essential to help the Mexican economy grow.

In Costa Rica, one of the issues is to maintain the Central American country secure. That is why Costa Rican authorities are continuing with an effort of cooperation with Colombia and the United States

Finally, in Argentina, the courts have initiated legal proceedings against journalists and media companies accused of working with the Argentine dictators in 1976-1983 to broadcast, both in and outside Argentina, a false, bucolic image of a nation whose dictators were committed to "re-educating the subversives in order to return them to society mentally sound."

-Carlos Navarro
(Subscription required to read full LADB articles. Click here for subscription information)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Dirty Campaign Tactics, A Repressive Leader, A Corrupt Governor, and Mayors Who Can't Read

"[Ex-President Álvaro] Uribe was a no-show when called upon by legal authorities to produce the evidence he claimed to have against President Juan Manuel Santos. Obliged to retract his accusations, he used an odd argument that was unbefitting an ex-president and practicing lawyer. 'I checked the dictionary and must say now that there is a difference between evidence and information. What I have is information,' said Uribe, who has since dropped the subject entirely."   -from NotiSur, July 4, 2014
Colombia's former President Álvaro Uribe claimed to have proof that President Juan Manuel Santos
Caricature of a "ward heeler" politician (Wikimedia Commons)
had accepted US$2 million in donations from drug traffickers to cover costs of his reelection campaign. When asked to provide proof of his allegation, Uribe backed down from the statement.  And yet, even if untrue, the comments from Uribe were a matter of public record. The statement had the potential to sway voters in a tight runoff election between Santos and Uribe-backed candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga. In the end, they didn't make a difference, as Santos won the runoff election by seven percentage points. Andrés Gaudín tells us more about the Colombian election in this week's edition of NotiSur. 

A second article in NotiSur looks at the impact of political consultants on high-profile elections in Latin America. The dirty tactics employed by these consultants have generally benefited candidates who lean to the right politically (Carlos Menem of Argentina, Henrique Capriles of Venezuela, Porfirio Lobo of Honduras, Norman Quijano in El Salvador, and León Febres Cordero of Ecuador), but a couple of leftists (Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil) have also made use of their services.  Click here to read more

Crackdown in Haiti
In other issues covered by the LADB this week, we also deal with politically tainted personalities and institutions. An article from George Rodríguez examines how a lack of judicial independence has resulted in a weak judiciary across Central America. A second article in NotiCen discusses the repressive tactics of President Michael Martelly's administration in Haiti, and how the leader is now viewed as a dictator.

In Mexico, scandal continues to dog the governor's office in Michoacán state. Gov. Fausto Vallejo was forced to resign after the release of several photographs of his son meeting with notorious drug trafficker Servando Gómez Martínez, also known as La Tuta. The release of the photos came just weeks after Vallejo’s top aide, and former interim governor, Jesús Reyna García, was arrested on charges of collusion with the Caballeros Templarios. Other elected leaders, primarily mayors in poor rural areas in Mexico, have a different kind of problem. They cannot read or write. (By some estimates, 20% of the mayors in the state of Oaxaca are illiterate). An article in this week's issue of SourceMex looks at the problem of illiteracy in Mexico, and how there has been very little progress in solving the problem in recent years.

Read two reports from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Literacy in Mexico. Education Policy Outlook: Mexico and Programa Internacional para la Evaluación de Alumnos (PISA 2012)

-Carlos Navarro
(Subscription required to read full LADB articles. Click here for subscription information)