Wednesday, December 24, 2014

LADB Highlights of 2014

The following are some of the most significant developments in Latin America in 2014 that were covered in the Latin America Data Base.

Image: Wikimedia Commons
SourceMex (Mexico)
Economy: The North American Free Trade Agreement completed 20 years of existence with mixed results...Grupo Financiero Banamex, Mexico's largest bank was at the center of a major scandal involving PEMEX contractor Oceanografía. Flagship airline company Mexicana  ceased to exist after a federal judge declared full full bankruptcy for the airline

Economic Reform
The Mexican Congress approved secondary laws to implement  telecommunications reforms and energy reforms. The reforms for the two areas were approved in principle in 2013.

Political Reforms
One of the most important recent political reforms in Mexico was a provision that allowed citizen consultations.While the intent was to create a more democratic process in Mexico, the Congress set up fairly restrictive rules. The three major parties each proposed a topic to bring to the public for a vote. The governing  Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) put forth an initiative to reduce the size of Congress, the center-right Partido Acción Nacional (PAN)wanted voters to have a say on the minimum wage,  and the center-left Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) and Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (Morena) sought a citizen vote on energy reforms. In November, the Supreme Court ruled that all three of those proposals violated the rules established by the same parties that proposed the referenda. 

Drug Trafficking, Corruption 
The most important development at the beginning of the year was the government's arrest of notorious drug trafficker Joaquín Chapo Guzmán. Even with Chapo Guzmán in custody, the Sinaloa cartel was expected to remain a formidable organization. Corruption and connections to drug cartels affected two politicians from the PRI who had governed the state of Michoacán. In April, former interim governor Jesús Reyna governor was arrested on charges of colluding with the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar cartel). Two months later, Gov. Fausto Vallejo was forced to resign  after the release of several photographs of his son meeting with Caballeros Templarios leader  Servando Gómez Martínez, aka "La Tuta."

Guerrero Massacre
Political corruption also reared its ugly head in Guerrero state following the massacre of 43 students from a teachers college. The incident directly affected Iguala Mayor José Luis Abarca and Gov. Ángel Aguirre, both members of the PRD. Abarca was said to have ordered the killing, while Aguirre was accused of looking the other way. The development also led the Senate to appoint a new human rights ombud to replace Raúl Plascencia Villanueva, who was deemed largely ineffective.  Even though the PRI was not initially implicated in the killings, widespread protests erupted against the governing party around the country.President Enrique Peña Nieto and the PRI were accused of not doing enough to learn the whereabouts of the students and encouraging the political climate that led to their disappearance.Documents that emerged later offered evidence that federal forces might have been involved in the kidnappings and killings.

NotiCen/SourceMex (Central America and Mexico)
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Unaccompanied Minors
Economic conditions and public safety in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador became the focus this summer when tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors fled those countries for a perilous journey to the US. The situation also further exposed the dangerous conditions faced by Central American migrants on their journey through Mexico. The crisis prompted leaders from the U.S., Mexico and the three Central American countries to create a task force to develop short- and long-term strategies to stem the flow of unaccompanied minors and to support their communities of origin.

NotiCen (Central America & the Caribbean)
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Elections in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama
El Salvador elected its second consecutive member of the Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) as president.  Salvador Sánchez Céren won a narrow victory over San Salvador Mayor Norman Quijano of the rightist Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA). In Costa Rica, underdog Luis Guillermo Solís of the enter-left Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC) won a surprising victory over  Johnny Araya of the former ruling social democratic Partido Liberación Naciona (PLN). An opposition leader, Juan Carlos Varela, won the presidential election in Panama, in what was seen as a rebuke to outgoing President Ricardo Martinelli.

There was mixed news from Nicaragua, where President Daniel Ortega consolidated his hold on the presidency through a political power play that could extend his already lengthy stay in office until 2021—and beyond. Ortega also moved forward with a controversial plan to construct a "Great Canal" as an alternative crossing for the Panama Canal. The decision on the canal sparked protests from campesino communities in danger of displacement. On the positive side, the Ortega administration made great strides on its plan to implement an eco-friendly overhaul of its electricity sector

Corruption Charges Against ex-Leaders of Guatemala, El Salvador, Haiti
Two former presidents were placed behind bars on charges of corruption involving connections to Taiwan. In May, a court in New York sentenced former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo (2000-2004) to five years and 10 months in jail for accepting US$2.5 million from the Taiwanese government and attempting to launder the illegal money through US banks. This was the first time a former Latin American head of state has been sentenced to jail in the US judiciary system. In October, a Salvadoran court ordered the imprisonment of former Salvadoran President Francisco Flores (1999-2004), pending trial on charges that he misappropriated roughly US$15 million donated during his presidency by the government in Taiwan. In Haiti, a panel of three-judges ruled earlier this year that former dictator Jean-Claude "Bébé Doc" Duvalier (1971-1986) could be charged with crimes against humanity, in addition to corruption. Duvalier, who was ill, died before he could face any of those charges.
Dominican Republic-Haiti Immigration Dispute
In June, the Dominican Republic launched a plan to regularize the migratory status of "illegal aliens," a measure that goes a long way to solve a dispute with neighboring Haiti. The United Nations and the European Union endorsed the plan.

Economic Changes in Cuba
In Cuba, officials have hinted that the dual system of currencies would soon be removed.  This has created strong concerns among residents of the island nation, who are worried about the fate of their savings and their future purchasing power. Meanwhile, many Cubans will have the opportunity to create and expand existing small businesses, following a decree by President Raúl Castro's that the management of restaurants and cafes will be placed under private control as part of the internal reforms that began in 2009.

 NotiSur (South America)
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Landslides in Elections in Bolivia, Uruguay
Popular President Evo Morales of Bolivia won easy reelection in 2014, with support from some of  the conservative factions that had previously opposed him. In Uruguay, voters returned Tabaré Vázquez to the executive office in an election that he won by a wide margin. Vázquez, who previously served in 2005-2010, replaces outgoing President José Mujica. Two other presidents Juan Manuel Santos of  Colombia and Dilma Rousseff of Brazil also won reelection, but outside factors before and during their campaigns had some impact on the outcome of the vote.

Colombia Election & Talks with FARC
Santos was facing strong opposition from ultra-right factions, led by former President Álvaro Uribe, to his efforts to negotiate a peace agreement with the guerrilla group, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia. Uribe and hard-right candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga warned against any negotiations with the FARC during the presidential campaign. The ultra-right factions also maneuvered the ouster of Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro on trumped-up charges of corruption, which increased tensions during the election. Santos ultimately won the election in July, allowing the peace process to continue to move forward. In October, negotiators agreed on three points during negotiations in Havana. Talks are expected to continue during 2015.

Brazil Election & Protests Ahead of World Cup
President Dilma Rousseff faced a tough challenge from two rival candidates in the first round of voting in the Brazilian elections. Since none of  the three candidates won sufficient votes in the first round, the election went to a second round, where Rousseff narrowly defeated conservative challenger Aécio Neves. Rousseff faced a tumultous road to reelection, particularly in the weeks leading to the World Cup. Demonstrators took to the streets of major Brazilian cities to protest the government's decision to spend large sums on the international soccer event while ignoring the needs of citizens. While  the protests diminished during the World Cup, the demonstrations probably contributed to her narrower-than-expected electoral victory. The electorate, especially youth, were disengaged ahead of the election.

Street Protests in Venezuela
Protestors also took to the streets of Venezuela in 2014, but the demonstrators appeared to be less united than those in Brazil. The protests were sparked by economic measures taken by President Nicolás Maduro. According  to the Venezuelan government, the protests were organized by the conservative opposition and supported by outside forces. While the Maduro administration survived the crisis, divisions continue to create a bit of instability  in Venezuela--both among supporters of the government and inside the opposition.

Argentina & Vulture Funds
Another major crisis in South America occurred when a US court issued a ruling that prevents Argentina from continuing to pay its foreign debt. This past June, just as it had done every quarter for nearly a decade, Argentina deposited US$539 million into the Bank of New York Mellon (BNYM). The bank was supposed to then transfer that money to citizens from all around the world who had purchased Argentine foreign-debt bonds and participated in the debt restructuring. But, on orders from Judge Thomas Griesa, BNYM withheld the money rather than distribute it into the accounts of its rightful owners. The court ruling favors a group of "vulture funds"—lenders that in 2005 refused to participate in a restructuring of the South American nation’s foreign debt.  Argentina tried to challenge the ruling, bit the US Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal. The US court decisions, in effect, dec;lared Argentina in default, setting off situation set off alarm bells among various international bodies and agencies, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The situation has gone from being a dispute between a sovereign state and private interests to a full-fledged face-off between the Argentine and US governments.

Stay tuned for coverage of all these topics and more in the Latin America Data Base in 2015.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Center for Justice and Accuntability Seeks Truth, Justice, Redress for Victims of Torture, Human Rights Violations

"The administration of Salvador Sanchez Ceren has the obligation and opportunity to make a difference, to improve the lives of the people of El Salvador – the people th ey fought for – and ensure that they see justice."  Center for Justice and Accountability
Several thousand people participated in a candlelit procession through the campus of the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), the scene, 25 years ago, of one of the most infamous episodes in El Salvador’s dozen-year civil war (1980-1992): the predawn murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and and the housekeeper's daughter.  This week's issue of NotiCen examines some of the issues surrounding the anniversary, including efforts to overturn a blanket amnesty approved in El Salvador in 1993, which allows the perpetrators to remain unpunished.
Photo: Center for Justice and Accountablity
Among those participating in the procession in San Salvador on Nov. 18 was Almudena Bernabeu, an attorney and rights advocate at the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) in San Francisco, California. The CJA has played a leading role in recent years in efforts to prosecute the authors of the UCA massacre

The CJA is an international human rights organization dedicated to deterring torture and other severe human rights abuses around the world. The organization also advances the rights of survivors to seek truth, justice and redress, which applies directly to its work in El Salvador. 

CJA uses litigation to hold perpetrators individually accountable for human rights abuses, develop human rights law, and advance the rule of law in countries transitioning from periods of abuse.
The case of the murdered Jesuits is just one of seven active cases in El Salvador.  The center is  involved in human-rights-related litigation in seven countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.  In addition to El Salvador, the CJA is involved in cases in Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, and Peru (as well as the United States).  The other five countries where the CJA is involved in human-rights-related cases are Bosnia, Cambodia, China, Somalia, and Timor-Leste.

The CJA was founded in 1998 with support from Amnesty International and the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture to represent torture survivors in their pursuit of justice. The center is part of the movement for global justice for those who have been tortured or have suffered other severe human rights abuses.

"CJA is one of the few international human rights NGOs with a base of clients who speak out publicly against mass atrocities from a survivor's perspective," said the organization.  "At the heart of CJA’s mission is the belief that survivors themselves are the most effective spokespeople against torture, genocide and other abuses. CJA devotes resources to supporting clients who, as a result of participating in our litigation, are galvanized to dedicate more time and energy to anti-impunity efforts within their communities."

-Carlos Navarro 

Also in LADB on Dec. 10-12 
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Monday, December 8, 2014

Farming Communities, Environmental Groups Continue Fight to Save Intag Region in Northwest Ecuador

 “Yesterday I was running down the path to bathe in the waterfalls, and passing a pile of leaves they turned into butterflies and flew away. This is a magical place. Thank you for sharing it.” Despite gains in corporate incursion, many Intag residents are hoping that this “magic” can continue to be their largest export to students and tourists from the US, Europe and Japan.  -Carlos Zorilla, organizer, Intag Cloud Forest Reserve & Education Center
Photo: Dina M - Flickr
Imagine an environmental paradise in northwest Ecuador, where the local farming communities are self-sustaining. This paradise is known as the Intag reegion, an area blessed with a microclimate diversity. As a result, local growers have produced a lush cast of mixed fruits and specialty crops-- from shade-grown coffee to papayas, blackberries and plantains, to the uncommon tree tomato. In fact, the tree tomato has been the third most valuable individual crop per hectare for small-scale family farmers, surpassed only by coffee and sugarcane. Such gastronomical specialties, along with a keen sense of self-sustaining environmental protections and local autonomy, began attracting a growing consumer base for exports, tourism and environmental activism both within Ecuador and in foreign markets.

Community farmers and land owners have benefited from a gowing market for ecotourism and specialty, fair trade and organic products, in addition to the region’s notoriety for grassroots environmental activism. The interest and foreign demand for Intag’s agricultural and cultural products is firmly evident in the Intagblog, which displays the important link between Intag community resistance, foreign environmental and human rights activists, and foreign consumer markets that specialize in organic, fair trade produce, crafts and environmental-based tourism. The area housing the Istag communities was the first region to be granted the status of an “Ecological Canton”.
Photo: Dawn Paley - Flickr
The problem for this community of 17,000 residents, is that the area is also attractive to the multinational mining companies, who have their eyes on the huge deposits of copper and other minerals in the area. The communities of the Intag region, operating under the defense and protection created via local resistance and organization efforts, fended off a Japanese company in the 1990s and Canadian mining concern Ascendant Copper Corp. more than a decade later.  The mining industry has not abandoned its efforts to gain access to the natural resources in the area.  This time, a mining company has obtained the support of Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa's administration.  In the second half of 2013, Ecuador's  Empresa Nacional Minera del Ecuador (ENAMI) signed an agreement with the Chilean mining firm CODELCO and, without consulting local communities, reopened the project in the second half of 2013.

In this week's issue of NotiSur (as well as a previous issue in March 2014), Luis Ángel Saavedra reported that intervention of ENAMI and CODELCO in the project comes at a time when Intag is fragmented and unable to sustain its long-standing determination to defend its territories. Will the residents of Intag finally lose out to the mining industry?  Even under these adverse conditions, the resistance continues, as evidenced by the emergence of the campaign entitled CODELCO Out of Intag.

-Jake Sandler

Also in LADB on Dec. 3-5...
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