Friday, August 29, 2014

Argentina Pushes Back

As Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner battles against a recent court decision in New York that ruled in favor of Argentine bond owners, called ‘vulture funds’, the populist South American leader is also filing suit against RR Donnelley, a printing company that recently closed up shop in Buenos Aires and laid off hundreds. The large printing company cited struggles amidst the difficult national economic situation, due in large part to Argentina’s defaulting on its debt for the second time since the new millennium. President Fernández de Kirchner is utilizing an anti-terrorism law to threaten RR Donnelley with criminal charges for attempting to further derail the national economy and incite fear in international markets.

Fernández de Kirchner’s threat against the printing company could appear as desperate, backing the position of those who favor the New York decision and view Fernández de Kirchner’s anger as nothing more than a mechanism to draw popularity by standing against the unpopular US government.

Despite favorable responses from the IMF and international media that criticized the heavy-handed New York court decision, which set Argentina’s default in motion by affirming the claims of vulture funds that held-out during a debt restructuring plan under the presidency of Nestor Kirchner (Fernández de Kirchner’s husband) almost a decade ago, the US Supreme Court upheld the New York decision, thus calling into question the economic spending policies of Kirchner’s administration. Andrés Gaudín addresses the controversy in Argentina in this week's issue of NotiSur. 

High public spending has been known to cause problems for the national economies of countries ruled by populist leaders, often more concerned with pleasing the masses and maintaining their power than financial minutia such as inflation rates. In fact, the populist president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, has set in motion a group of laws that not only allow him to stay in power indefinitely, but also begin a move away from Ecuadoran dollarization. President Correa has framed this strategy as a way to protect the Ecuadoran people from the control of banks and bankers. Luis Ángel Saavedra discusses the Correa government's new currency policy in this week's issue of NotiSur. However, the new financial code is set up in a way that will allow Correa to more readily increase spending and ‘print’ electronic money. This would create a system of parallel currencies, similar to the convertibility plan under which Argentina has operated since its first default in 2002.

Between Kirchner and Correa, two leaders heavily influenced by South American populists during the second half of the twentieth century, there is a grand attempt evident to stand up against the US and other global powers. Whether or not these positions are motivated by populism, the ‘vulture funds’, in Argentina’s case, and the dependence on the US dollar in Ecuador’s, underline the legitimate struggle of Latin American nations (and other post-colonial, periphery economies for that matter) to overcome what economist Ellen Brown calls “colonization by bankruptcy”.

-Jake Sandler

Also in LADB this week....
Update on Unaccompanied Minors: We've written about the children from Central America from the perspective of Mexico and El Salvador.  George Rodríguez gives us a regional perspective as well as a point of view from Honduras. 

Praise for Dominican Republic's Immigration Policy: The Dominican government's decision to move toward a resolution of its immigration conflict (primarily with neighboring Haiti) has earned the praise of a couple of important international figures, Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon,  Read more from Crosby Girón.

A New Corruption-Free Police Unit in Mexico? On Aug. 22, President Enrique Peña Nieto swore in a 5,000-member gendarmerie, an elite federal police force that the administration is touting as a "new model" of corruption-free law enforcement. The new unit, known as the Gendarmería Nacional, will function as a type of SWAT team that will be deployed to specific areas of conflict. Security analysts are skeptical that the new unit will make much of a difference. "The gendarmerie is an aspirin to fight a cancer," Ernesto López Portillo, founder of the Instituto para la Seguridad y la Democracia (Insyde). Read More from Carlos Navarro

Too Many Deputies and Senators in Mexico?  The governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) has proposed a public referendum on a proposal to reduce the size of the Chamber of Deputies and Senate in Mexico. Supporters of this plan agree that Congress has become too big and costly to operate, so a reduction in the number of members of the Chamber of Deputies and Senate is warranted. Critics suggest, however, that the PRI’s proposal to reduce the number of at-large seats in each chamber is undemocratic because it would make it difficult for small parties to gain representation in Congress and perhaps give too much power to the party with the majority of seats.  Carlos Navarro tells us whether this initiative will prosper.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

'¡¡¡Ehhhh… puuuto!!!' (Cultural Bias?)

Fans, 2002 World Cup Source: Klafubra  (Wikimedia Commons)
This was the second match of the FIFA World Cup, held in  Arena das Dumas in the Brazilian city of Natal. A large portion of the estimated 50,000 Mexicans who traveled to Brazil for the international soccer tournament were on hand to cheer for El Tri in this contest against Cameroon on June 13..

The fans wore the national colors, carried some banners and signs--and brought their cultural bias. Every time Cameroon's goalkeeper Charles Itandje kicked the ball off, a loud taunting cheer of '¡¡¡Ehhhh… puuuto!!!' was heard in the stands. Puto is not a kind word.  It is often used to insult homosexual men.

The European-based anti-discrimination monitoring group Fare complained about the Mexican fans to the international soccer governing body, FIFA. FIFA officials agreed to investigate Fare’s complaint but ultimately declined to take any actions against Mexican soccer fans and the Mexican soccer association.

The macho cultural bias in Mexico and much of Latin America is to reject homosexuality, perhaps as a  sign of weakness.  So fans were not questioning the Itandje's sexuality when they used the common taunting cheer ¡¡¡Ehhhh… puuuto!!!  And Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa was on the receiving  when Brazilian fans taunted him with the same phrase when Mexico played Brazil on June 17.  (Mexican fans might have started something. Japanese soccer fans have started to use the taunting chant in their stadiums).

And while the use of the taunt can be dismissed as "soccer tradition," it is important to realize that cultural biases are behind our acts of discrimination. The word puto remains very much an insult in Mexico.

And culture plays a role in biases against other groups in Mexico, such as indigenous peoples (especially those who reside in the cities) and women in general. Read more about discrimination in Mexico in this week's issue of SourceMex, and in a recent report from the Consejo Nacional para Prevenir la Discriminación (CONAPRED)

Other countries in Latin America have also had to deal with concerns of discrimination against  the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) community. This week, our LADB newsletters examine recent patterns in Peru and Honduras. In July of this year, the Peruvian government approved the Plan Nacional de Derechos Humanos 2014-2016 . But as Elsa Chanduví Jaña points out in this week's edition of NotiSur, this document  has come under criticism for its omissions: it lacks measures to protect vulnerable sectors such as the LGBTI community and domestic workers.

In Honduras, the LGBTI community is among the groups subject to increased attacks in the four years since the coup that toppled President Manuel Zelaya in June 2009. More than 30 hate crimes have been committed against the LGBTI community since the coup. George Rodríguez gives us more details in this week' edition of NotiCen. A report from Human Rights Watch on Honduras expands on this issue.

Also in LADB this week...
Nicaragua Attack: Were the perpetrators of two attack on supporters of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) former contras? Some groups like the hitherto unknown organization calling itself the Fuerzas Armadas de Salvación Nacional-Ejército del Pueblo (FASN-EP) are certain the attacks came from regrouped contras. President Daniel Ortega's administration says, however, that the perpetrators were simply "common criminals."  Read More

Electrical Self-Sufficiency in Uruguay:At a time when all of the countries of South America, to one degree or another, are suffering the ill effects of inflation, small Uruguay has made a point of lowering consumer costs—at least for one vital service: electricity. The move went into effect July 1 and benefits not only household consumers but also commercial and industrial enterprises. Read More

Mexico Fines Dragon Mart Developers for Environmental Violations: The controversial Dragon Mart project in Quintana Roo state hit another bump in the road when the federal environmental-protection agency (Procuraduría Federal de Protección al Ambiente, PROFEPA) levied a stiff fine against the developers of the megacomplex for failing to comply with the federal norms on environmental protection.  Read More

-Carlos Navarro 

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Should a 10-Year-Old Child Be Allowed to Work?

There are 13 million (8.8%) of children in child labour in Latin America and the Caribbean -International Labour Organzation's latest report on Child Labor

Child labor already exists, and it is difficult to fight against it. Rather than crack down on it, we want to guarantee children’s labor security so that, step by step, we can eradicate [child labor] in the next five years. For that reason the law includes necessary safeguards in labor, health, and education rights. -Bolivian Sen. Adolfo Mendoza.
Image for ILO's Football Resource Kit
On July 17, 2014, the Bolivian Congress approved the Código Niño, Niña Adolescente, which lowers the minimum age at which children can work—to 10. The governing Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) defended the decision by saying it reflects what for "innumerable" families is simply a fact of life.

Is this a pragmatic decision or does it further entrench a practice that the global community believes is unacceptable?

The Bolivian Congress believes that children are having to work by necessity, and that any prohibition against having children as young 10 years old participate in the workplace would be counterproductive, particularly when this practice has taken place for generations. The legislation recognizes that low-income Bolivian children will and must work. And if this is going to happen, they have to have protections.

While the arguments of Bolivian legislators and President Evo Morales might merit strong consideration, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) believe that the standards were set for a reason: to provide a framework to eradicate the practice of child labor. "One of the most effective methods of ensuring that children do not start working too young is to set the age at which children can legally be employed or otherwise work," the ILO says in a report on conventions and recommendations on child labor. Read more about this issue from Andrés Gaudín in this week's edition of NotiSur,

Here is the ILO's latest report on recent child labor trends.  Here is the ILO's Football Resource Kit on using football (soccer)  in child labor elimination and prevention projects.  And here is what UNICEF says about child labor.

Also in LADB this week...
Other Issues involving Youth and Children
If you have been following the ongoing coverage of the surge in the number of unaccompanied minors fleeing from Central America to the US, Ben Witte-Lebhar offers us the perspective from El Salvador in  this week's edition of NotiCen.

In NotiSur, we look at youth from a totally different perspective. Greg Scruggs tells us why Brazil's newest potential voters, those aged 16 and 17, have chosen not to register to vote in record numbers.

Health-Related Matters
We also covered children from a broader-health related perspective in this week's newsletters.  In NotiCen, Louisa Reynolds examined how Latin American countries are dealing with the problem of obesity in a region where (according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO)  23% of the adult population and 7% of preschoolers are overweight or obese.

In SourceMex, we wrote how a chemical spill into the Sonora River forced environmental and health authorities to declare an environmental emergency in seven cities. 

International Hero or Corrupt Fugitive?
Our other article in SourceMex reported on the latest effort to bring fugitive miners' union leader Napoleón Gómez Urrutia back to Mexico. There are two sides to Gómez Urrutia.  Even though he has been accused of embezzling US$55 million from the union, he has been reelected as secretary general on numerous times. And international labor organizations have given him awards for his efforts to shine the light on corporate greed and inadequate safety standards for miners in Mexico.

-Carlos Navarro
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Friday, August 8, 2014

Excuse Me, Dear Sinaloa Congress...You are Suppressing Freedom of the Press

"After weighing the arguments against the new law, we determined that a change was needed.,"said  state legislative leader Jesús Enrique Hernández Chávez. 'We saw the real possibility that the work of the professional news media could be negatively affected." Hernández Chávez acknowledged that the legislature did not look at the Ley Mordaza closely on the day it was approved because it was one of many pieces of legislation that came before the legislature before recess, and legislators did not have time to "notice those kinds of details."

Did Gov. Mario López Valdez manage to slip a piece of legislation by the Sinaloa Congress that would  prohibit  news organizations from recording videos or taking photographs at the scene of a crime or interviewing anyone directly associated with an incident? The legislature claims it was too busy passing several bills before recess to notice that the restrictive measure had been slipped into the legislative agenda. Did Gov. López Valdez and the legislators think that the media in Sinaloa would not react to the directive? There was a loud outcry from a coalition led by the Asociación de Periodistas de Sinaloa, A.C. and other organizations that promote freedom of expression, including the Mexican affiliate of Article 19. The controversy  forced the legislature to review its actions and then promise to rescind the measure during an upcoming special session.

And Gov. López Valdez? He claimed he made a mistake in pushing the initiative, and that it was not his intention to suppress free speech.  Read more about this issue in this week's edition of SourceMex.

Also in LADB This Week....

Energy Policy
Energy Policy was very much in the minds of  decision-makers in Mexico and Costa Rica. A key consideration in both countries was how to reduce the cost of electrical power, which could help promote economic growth. In Mexico, the Congress approved the secondary laws to implement energy reforms, which could bring greater investment into development of gas extraction and transportation.  A greater domestic supply of natural gas could reduce the cost of operation for power plants.  The Secretaría de Energía created a handy section on its Web site with specifics of the Energy Reform.

In Costa Rica, a member of the center-left  Frente Amplio (FA) is proposing that the Costa Rican government renew efforts to join the Petrocaribe initiative, which could provide the Central American country with lower-cost fuels via Venezuela.  Read more from George Rodríguez in NotiCen.  Here is the official Petrocaribe Web site..

Illegal Trafficking of Weapons
A photograph delivered to the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung’s newsroom showing a Colombian policeman pointing a "made in Germany" pistol recently sparked an investigative-journalism project. The investigation is now beginning to show that both Germany and the US are involved in the weapons trade. Germany’s laws explicitly prohibit exporting any weapons to countries 1) experiencing internal armed conflicts, 2) with security forces accused of "excessive" use of force in applying repressive measures (being trigger-happy or allowing extrajudicial executions), or 3) where recurrent human rights violations have been proven. Colombia has ranked first in all three criteria for more than 50 years.  So how are weapons from Germany making their way into Colombia?  Read more from Andrés Gaudín in NotiSur.

Staying Power
Many leaders come to office with high expectations, but at some point during their tenure in office their popularity is eroded because they have failed to meet expectations and/or/campaign promises. Sometimes the problem is that the unity that brought them to office has given way to inflighting within their coalitions. This is what is happening in Chile to President Michelle Bachelet, who took office in March 2014.  Read more from Benjamin Witte-Lebhar in NotiSur.

In Guatemala, President Otto Pérez Molina would like to extend his mandate beyond the end of his term in 2016.  The Guatemalan president has called for a constitutional reform that would allow him to stay in office an additional two years until 2018. The problem is that the the Guatemalan Constitution contains a number of articles that cannot be changed, known as artículos pétreos,which include those establishing a four-year period in office.  Read more from Louisa Reynolds in NotiCen.

-Carlos Navarro
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Friday, August 1, 2014

At the Other End of the Migration Journey

Honduran school children ( ZackClark. via Wikimedia Commons)
'The program is aimed specifically at children at social risk and with no access to formal education, and in it the child’s interests are involved. The beneficiaries are children practically living in city dumps, and others with no access to school, those who have no father or mother to provide them with a family and support." - Col. Gustavo Adolfo Amador, administrator of Honduras' Guardianes de la Patria

Most of the attention on the recent migration of minors from Central America to the United States has been on the point of destination--the United States. The coverage in the US media ranges from the detention centers where the young migrants are housed to U.S. immigration policies.

Even in this week's issue of SourceMex, we discuss a controversial move by Texas Gov. Rick Perry to send 1,000 National Guard Troops to the Texas-Mexico border as a response to the surge of minors from Central America. To some extent, we have also covered news from the point of transit, which is Mexico.  And in our coverage, we have alluded to the poverty and violence in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, which is largely behind the large exodus of unaccompanied minors.

Official T-shirt
So how do you keep young people from joining gangs?  Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández thinks he has a partial solution.  Earlier this year, he launched a program called Guardianes de la Patria, aimed at covering some 25,000 youngsters in the 5-15 age group in low-income, densely populated neighborhoods nationwide. The goal is to  teach young people values, prioriites and love of country.  "They receive formal and nonformal education, such as workshops, lectures, Christian education, training in technical work, physical training, sports, recreation activities according to age groups, and there is a school for fathers and mothers," said  Col. Gustavo Adolfo Amador, one of the officers who has oversees the program.

Human rights organizations warn, however, that the program has a Nazi-type component, exposing kids to a political-military culture of weapons to make up for a failed strategy to draft youngsters into the volunteer military service. "That’s a neo-Nazi project. We’re going to have youngsters with only military training since their childhood, and they’re having, with all that, all their rights … violated. It’s a project to annihilate a country’s dreams and the hope one places in youth. It’s a horror, what we’re living," said Bertha Oliva, head of the Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH)   Read More from George Rodríguez in NotiCen, July 31, 2014

(This video in Spanish from HispanTV provides addtional information)

Also in LADB This Week....
  • Environmental advocates have accused Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow of reneging on his commitment to a sustainable-tourism policy by allowing a subsidiary of Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) to invest US$50 million in the construction of a cruise port on Harvest Caye, a 75-hectare island 5 km southwest of Placencia Village.
  • The center-left Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional (Morena),  created by former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is now officially a political party and is ready to compete with the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) for votes in Mexico's election in 2015..
  • The World Cup was a disaster for Brazil, when measured by the results on the field (a 7-1 loss to Germany,  Off the field, the tournament ran smoothly for the record number of foreign tourists visiting the country and affluent Brazilians attending matches, but preparations also caused the widespread displacement of low-income Brazilian families. Either way, the event will have little impact on President Dilma Rousseff's reelection chances.  An economic downturn, however, could influence voters.
  •  In the days leading up to the BRICS summit in Brazil on July 15, the Russian and Chinese presidents came to Latin America offering generous loan packages and cooperation plans. As leaders of the strongest economies of the five countries in the BRICS group, Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China signed hundreds of agreements for billions of dollars with Latin America’s progressive governments with which they either have, or are looking for, points of agreements on the necessity of modifying structures of the global agencies and establishing a fair and polycentric new world order based on international law with the UN playing a central coordinating role.
-Carlos Navarro
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