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...
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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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Friday, September 12, 2014

The Debate over Tax Reform in El Salvador

Street vendor in El Salvador (Wikimedia Commons)O
Economists, opposition lawmakers and San Salvador's conservative conservative daily El Diario de Hoy have expressed strong objections to the new tax reform approved in El Salvador this summer.

A central goal of the the reform promoted by Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez Cerén is to increase taxes on the wealthier contributors to provide the government with new revenues to boost expenditures on social services, education and community facilities. Th reform is is projected to raise the government an additional US$160 million annually. Read more from Benjamin Witte-Lebhar in this week's issue of NotiCen. (This move to boost taxes on wealthier contributors to allow the government to boost spending on social programs is strikingly similar to the argument that Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto made when pushing his tax-reform plan in Mexico at the end of 2013).

Critics contend the tax hike will not only affect the wealthier taxpayers and the larger businesses, but small and medium-sized ones as well, and will effectually diminish their ability to grow and hire more workers. This, in turn, would create a negative ‘trickle-down’ effect that will hit even the poorest sectors of the economy. El Diario de Hoy, for example, argues in an editorial that that the pupuseras who sell stuffed tortillas on street corners and the minuteros (who peddle cell phone minutes) on the streets as well as the small store owners would be the ones paying for the nation’s new tax plan. The bottom line, says the editorial, is that  that, despite the popular belief that this tax reform was created so “those who earn the most will pay the most," the new system will have an effect on everyone, not just the wealthy elite.

Palacio Nacional, San Salvador
This argument is a classic and well-worn debate over the benefits of supply-side economics, and has served as a fundamental roadblock to socialist reform throughout Latin America, and elsewhere, for decades. President Sánchez Cerén, in contrast, refers to these opposing opinions as untruthful tactics to rally the public against the reform. 

There is also a debate about managing the economy in Panama, where conservative president Juan Carlos Varela is facing criticism from other conservative politicians for pushing through a measure to control food prices. Despite an inflation crisis that has driven the price of basic foodstuffs up more than 30%, members of the Cambio Democrático (former President Ricardo Martinelli's party) have hesitated to support the measure, citing possible side effects that include food shortages, black markets and even rioting and destruction of property. Read more from Louisa Reynolds in this week's edition of NotiCen.

  -Jake Sandler 

Also in LADB this week....
A New Airport for Mexico City :President Enrique Peña Nieto has resurrected a proposal to build a new airport for Mexico City, offering a much larger project than the plan that ex-President Vicente Fox proposed in 2001. In announcing plans for the new airport, Peña Nieto said the existing facility had reached its operating capacity, resulting in bottlenecks in Mexico’s air traffic. The AICM, the second-busiest airport in Latin America, recorded more than 389,000 takeoffs and landings in 2013, surpassing its stated capacity of 340,000.  Read more from Carlos Navarro in this week's issue of SourceMex.

Changes to Ecuador's Constitution: The administration of President Rafael Correa is calling for a series of constitutional reforms based on the argument that the Ecuadoran Constitution—which has been hailed by many for its strong emphasis on human rights and was developed in a constituent assembly and approved by a large majority in a national referendum—is preventing the government from ruling and thus jeopardizes the welfare of the people. Part of the problem, according to the administration, is that constitutional guarantees designed to protect citizens' rights are being used abusively to boycott government plans.  Luis Ángel Saavedra tells us more in this week's edition of NotiSur

A Third Term for President Evo Morales in Bolivia?: For the first time in more than a century, Bolivians are expected to elect a president for the third-consecutive time; indications are that Evo Morales will be re-elected for a term that would keep him in office until 2019 Morales takes credit for important achievements during his eight years as the country’s leader, and his achievements have been recognized by international organizations and even some of his domestic enemies. Meanwhile, his opposition—mainly right-wing and ultraright groups—has failed to build either strong leaders or a united program.  Read more from Andrés Gaudín in this week's edition of NotiSur.

Mexican Union Leader Wins Court Victory:Less than a month after Interpol issued an order for his arrest, exiled Mexican labor leader Napoleón Gómez Urrutia won a victory in the Mexican courts that effectively negates the directive of the international law-enforcement agency .This week's edition of SourceMex expands on this development.

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Friday, September 5, 2014

Colombian Peace Process Feels Different

Photo from Caguan Peace Talks,  Wikimedia Commons
"Members of the security forces and their families have been given equal footing alongside members of the guerrilla and their families [in cases where] both groups suffered harm or had their rights substantially impaired as a consequence of gross human rights violations." - Committee that selected victims to testify at Havana Peace Talks

The Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) appear closer than ever to a peace agreement after 50 years of conflict. The ongoing talks, which have taken place in Havana, could lead to substantive change. According to the British non-governmental organization Justice for Colombia, several earlier attempts to achieve peace have failed, including the Caguan Peace Talks in 1998-2002. 

What is difference this time around? The Colombian government has made a concerted effort to enter this round of talks, the first after many violent years, with a tone of mutual respect, rather than one of superiority. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is demonstrating that respect in several ways, through the location of the meeting in Havana, through the composition of the panel, and most importantly, through the inclusion of and focus on testimonials of war victims from both sides of the half-century of conflict.

Although the Santos government does maintain positive relations with Cuba, Havana has an even tighter connection with the FARC, which has maintained a firm alliance with Marxist-Leninist philosophy since its beginnings during agrarian movements of the early 1960s .With a more or less neutral ground established, Santos sent his highest ranking military official, General Javier Florez, to meet face to face with the FARC leaders, a message that the Colombian administration respects the legitimacy of the group. This gesture also opens the door for FARC guerillas to lay down their weapons and reenter society without fear of being exterminated.

Finally, the inclusion of victims’ testimonials have taken center stage, stirring up heavy emotions on both sides. The presence of victims at the peace talks represent an acknowledgement that grave injustices have been committed by both sides, not just by the FARC guerillas. A great deal of tension surrounds the failure of the government’s right-wing factions to accept responsibility for the alleged crimes and human rights violations. However, Santos’ negotiating team has emphasized that a goal for these talks is to “satisfy the victims’ rights to truth, remembrance, justice and the admission of responsibilities. Andrés Gaudín addresses the role of the testimonials in the Havana peace talks in this week’s issue of NotiSur.  See additional coverage of the talks in Granma,the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba.

 -Jake Sandler

Also in LADB this week.... 
Guatemala’s Plan to Privatize Tax-collection System:  President Otto Pérez has proposed a plan to privatize the country’s tax-collection system to try increase tax revenues, which have fallen below target. Louisa Reynolds tells us about opposition to the plan and related questions of corruption in the latest issue of NotiCen..

Costa Rica: The Report before the Report: Before making public his account of the first 100 days of his administration, Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís repeatedly said he was going to tell Costa Ricans the state in which he found the country and what his government’s roadmap would be. The opposition prevented Solís from presenting his findings to Congress, so he released the report before an audience of close to 1,000 members of civil-society sectors. Read more from George Rodríguez in NotiCen.

Cartel of Cartels in Mexico: Four of the most notorious and ruthless drug cartels in Mexico have apparently proposed joining forces rather than fighting each other in turf battles. Intelligence reports from the US and Mexican governments indicate that leaders from the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), the Carrillo Fuentes organization (also known as the Juárez cartel), the Beltrán Leyva cartel, and the Zetas held a meeting in the city of Piedras Negras in Coahuila to discuss the possibility of forming some sort of alliance. The latest issue of SourceMex provides more details.

Mexican Court Upholds Ban on GMO Corn. A Mexican federal court handed multinational seed companies another setback with a ruling against the Swiss-based seed company Syngenta, which had appealed a ban on the use of genetically modified (GM) corn in Mexico. Carlos Navarro expands on this development in the latest edition of SourceMex.

Brazilian Elections. The untimely death of Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB) candidate Eduardo Campos has added a new dynamic to the Brazilian elections. Campos' replacement Marina Silva could actually prove to be a more formidable opponent to President Dilma Rousseff (Partido de Trabalhadores, PT), and conservative challenger Aécio Neves (Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira, PSDB). Silva has a broad base of support thanks to her politics and biography. Her sustainability credentials appeal to urban leftist intellectuals and progressive youth. Gregory Scruggs tells us more about the upcoming Brazilian elections in the latest edition of NotiSur.

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