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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