-Brazil’s Federal Council of Medicine recently came out in favor of legalizing first-trimester abortions in Brazil, adding to the arguments and debate over the issue in a country where abortion is currently only legal in the case of rape, severe mental disability in the fetus, or if the pregnancy is a threat to the mother’s life.
-A hunger strike at Guantanamo continues to expand and to last, adding to questions of indefinite detention at the US bas in Cuba.
-Students in Chile continue to demand educational reforms, and, after police attempted to force students onto a route other than the already-approved one, the march turned violent, a turn of events that could perhaps have been avoided had police not forced the last-minute change.
-In an attempt to reduce violence against women, Ecuador may categorize femicide as a separate crime within the country’s penal code.
-The Brazilian Senate passed a law this week that gives domestic workers the same rights as other workers, including overtime pay, finally extending workers’ rights to the millions of domestic workers (almost all women) who work for Brazil’s middle- and upper-classes. Unsurprisingly, those who employ domestic servants have pushed back against the idea of their workers actually enjoying basic rights (an attitude the Washington Post itself reinforces by declaring the law will “impinge” upon the economy).
-Police violence in Honduras continues to be a major issue, as police act excessively and with impunity in ways reminiscent of the 1980s, even as the US allegedly continues to funnel money to forces that operate as death squads (a charge US officials of course deny).
-In tales of opposite results, the Peruvian government is working on setting aside lands for indigenous peoples who voluntarily remain isolated from most of Peruvian society, even while one of the few Bolivian indigenous groups that is growing faces opposition from ranchers who continue in their attempts to relocate native groups and seize their lands.
-A Brazilian doctor and her medical staff are under investigation for the murder of seven patients at a hospital; however, reports suggest that at least another 20 deaths could be tied to her team, with 300 more cases under investigation. According to one recording of the doctor, she allegedly committed the murders in order to open up beds in the hospital.
-As Paraguay’s elections approach, conservative candidate Horacio Cartes appears to be in the lead.
-Speaking of elections, Michelle Bachelet has officially announced she will run for president for a second time (she previously served from 2006-2010) as Chile prepares for elections next year. However, in spite of her incredible popularity when she left office in 2010, the path to a second term is far from assured. She is already facing harsh criticisms from other politicians and has significant work to do among social groups (including students and those who support the indigenous Mapuche, whom Bachelet targeted) who have grown critical not just of the right-wing Pinera government, but of the post-Pinochet governments in general.
-Finally, in a bit of potentially good environmental news, Brazil’s supermarkets have agreed not to sell beef from cattle raised in the Amazonian forest. It is not clear how they will monitor this or prevent all Amazonian beef from reaching the shelves, but given that ranches are responsible for much of the deforestation in the Amazon, this is a not-insignificant step.
The US certainly excels at trying to guess presidential elections way too early (guessing-games that prompt entirely-reasonable responses). While 2016 is still too far off, 2014 is not, where several Latin American presidential elections will occur. In Central America, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Panama are all holding elections in February, March, and May, respectively. Mike Allison has an excellent summary of the three races right now. Read his whole post for the breakdown, but the shorter version is that runoffs seem likely in El Salvador, where the right-wing ARENA candidate, Norman Quijano, has a slight lead over the FMLN’s Salvador Sanchez Ceren, and in Costa Rica, where Partido Liberación Nacional [National Liberation Party] candidate Johnny Anaya polls ahead of candidates like Epsy Campbell and Otto Guevara (who has previously run in the 2002, 2006, and 2010 elections). Meanwhile, Panama’s situation is more tenuous, as the public speculates (and fears) constitutional reforms that would allow re-election.
In South America, Uruguayans will go to the polls in October to pick José Mujica’s successor. Bolivia is set to also hold presidential elections in December 2014. And of course, Brazil will have its presidential elections next October as well, for a total of at least 6 presidential elections next year, with campaigning having unofficially but visibly begun. Incumbent president Dilma Rousseff of the PT remains very popular as she faces reelection. After years of flirting with candidacy, Aécio Neves, the former governor and current senator from Minas Gerais, is finally running for the presidency for the center-right Partido Social Democracia Brasileira [Brazilian Social Democracy Party; PSDB]. While the PT and the PSDB are currently the two strongest parties for presidential politics, their hegemony is far from absolute; they continue to rely on the coalition-building that defines Brazil’s parliamentary-presidential system, and that means that there could be legitimate threats from other parties. Former environment minister Marina Silva, who had a strong third-place showing for the Partido Verde [Green Party] in 2010, has formed the new Rede Sustentabilidade [Sustainability Network]; while it is not yet clear whether her new party will focus on presidential politics, legislative elections, grassroots mobilization, or some combination of the three, certainly the path for her to be presidential candidate in her own party is open. In recent years, the PT and the PSDB have become the two strongest parties in Brazil’s parliamentary system, and Rousseff and Neves are understandably the front-runners. Indeed, while campaigning has not officially begun, Lula da Silva and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the founders of the PT and the PSDB, respectively, and former-allies-turned-political-foes, have already begun trading barbs back and forth, trying to discredit the other party [and, consequently, the candidates]. Though Brazil’s presidential campaign cycle only officially lasts 3 months, it’s clear that it’s moving to informally expand campaign season through surrogates. It’s too early to say whether a runoff will take place, but expect more candidates to enter into the race; even if Rousseff and Neves remain front-runners in the latter half of 2013 and into 2014, dark horse candidates like Marina Silva, who could build on her 2010 success, or others may challenge the PT and PSDB.
And all of that comes after Venezuela and Paraguay both hold elections to fill controversial mandates [Venezuela with the death of Hugo Chávez, Paraguay 10 months after the forced removal of democratically-elected president Fernando Lugo], while Chile goes to the polls in November to elect a successor to embattled president Sebastián Piñera [when a 38% approval rating marks an "improvement," it seems safe to say things have not gone well for a president]. And of course, in November, Honduras will have elections for the first full term since the 2009 coup that overthrew Manuel Zelaya. All of that sets up for no fewer than ten presidential elections in the coming 21 months, marking a period of political transition that will have a deep impact on politics, economics, and social relations not only for the citizens of the respective countries, but for the region as a whole.
-Brazil and Russia reached an agreement on arms and technology exchanges between the two countries while also discussing nuclear power. Talks between Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and President Dilma Rousseff led to the sale of surface-to-air missiles to Brazil as well as the possibility of Russia aiding Brazil in building more nuclear power plants. Currently, Brazil, whose rapid growth has put a strain on energy supplies, has only one nuclear power plant (with two functioning reactors) at Angra dos Reis in the state of Rio de Janeiro.
-Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court has upheld a ruling that prohibits gay couples from adopting children. The judges ruled 5-4 that only mother-father relationships were appropriate for children, marking a significant setback in equal rights on the island.
-Nearly 30 years after battles between the Shining Path and government forces, Peru’s government returned the bodies of 26 people killed during the fights to their families, who were finally able to bury their loved ones.
-While it’s difficult to imagine extreme poverty being eradicated, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff says that Brazil is very close to doing just that after raising the monthly stipend for 2.5 million Brazilians living below the poverty line.
-With Colombia near the top of the list in terms of deaths and injuries caused by mines, volunteer groups made up of civilians have begun training and working on removing mines.
-In an effort to reduce both deforestation and crime that is often connected to illegal logging, an international operation has led to Interpol arresting over 200 people for illegal timber trafficking and logging in South America.
-A new intelligence law in Honduras designed to create new security apparatuses has some concerned, as its combination of military defense and police forces is reminiscent of Cold War policies that fostered the disappearance of Hondurans in the 1980s.
-While Chile’s support for England over Argentina during the Malvinas War has long been known, recently-declassified documents have further shed light on the diplomatic ties and subjects discussed between the Chilean and English governments diplomatic ties operated prior to the beginning of the War.
-Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez took advantage of new passport regulations to leave her home country. Her first stop? Brazil, where she addressed Congress yesterday, though her journey has also witnessed some opposition from supporters of Cuba.
-Finally, FIFA appears ready to finally use technology to improve futebol/soccer, as the 2014 World Cup in Brazil will employ goal line technology to confirm goals. The issue came to the forefront when Englishman Frank Lampard clearly scored a goal that did not count in a match against Germany (though Germany went on to win the game 4-1, Lampard’s goal would have made it 2-2).
Well, the Honduran election just got a little more interesting:
Former Honduran armed forces chief Romeo Vasquez, who in 2009 led the coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya, on Sunday launched a presidential campaign, saying he will restore order and security to the troubled Central American country.
Vasquez, who until now has been running the country’s phone company, will stand as a candidate for the right-leaning opposition Patriotic Alliance party in the elections in November, he said at an event in the Honduran capital.
“We will fight hard to bring order and security to this country, combating corruption and impunity so we can attract jobs and investment,” he told journalists. [...]
In the election, Vasquez will face the wife of Zelaya, Xiomara Castro, a candidate for the leftist Liberty and Refoundation party.
Glibness aside, there’s sadly little in this news that’s surprising, from the generic, boilerplate slogans of combating corruption and attracting investment to the impunity for individuals who led what was, by Honduras’s own admission, a coup. The fact that military members can act outside of their constitutional authority is nothing new, of course, but it speaks to the ongoing challenges democracy faces in Central American countries like Honduras. One can hope that Honduras won’t elect a man whose very actions helped establish the escalating violence that has led to Honduras having the highest murder rate in the world. Unfortunately, one of the many depressing history lessons from Central America is that the political and military elites in the region rarely face the consequences of or face justice for their actions. The fact that Vasquez is even able to run for office after the events of 2009 is yet another reminder of that fact.
-With Hugo Chávez in Cuba convalescing from further cancer treatment even while his inauguration looms, there is growing tension over whether Chávez will assume power constitutionally or not. Proponents say he does not have to be in the country to assume, while opponents say if he cannot be inaugurated on Thursday, then a new leader must be appointed. A new plan that could be implemented would delay the inauguration until Chávez is able to take office. Now, the Catholic Church in Venezuela has weighed in, proclaiming it to be “morally unacceptable” should Chávez remain in power without officially being present for his inauguration. While the Church’s stance is unlikely to turn the tide one way or another, it adds a powerful voice to a situation that’s already uncertain, and could add to the political tensions in the country.
-Students in Guatemala continue to take to the streets to protest the government’s planned educational reforms. The reforms include a plan to make teachers’ certification take five years instead of three (as it currently requires), a move that students say will cost them more, an issue that was at the heart of similar protests last year.
-Chilean authorities arrested eight military officials for the murder of folk singer Victor Jara in 1973. Jara, one of the best and most popular of the Nueva Canción movement that highlighted social inequalities and was often associated with leftist politics, was arrested, tortured, had his hands cut off, and was ultimately shot shortly after the military coup that overthrew democratically-elected president Salvador Allende and led to Augusto Pinochet’s regime. And while Chile has finally arrested eight officials tied to the murder, his widow, Joan, has asked the US to extradite Pedro Barrientos Nuñez, another official tied to the murder who currently lives in Florida.
-Haiti renewed ex-dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s passport after a judge ordered Duvalier not face charges for human rights violations during his regime.
-In another example of the deep social impacts that migration and xenophobia filter into everyday life, rights activists in northern Mexico are increasingly facing threats from unnamed groups over their role in helping migrants.
-Argentina sentenced another sixteen former military officials and seven police officers and civilians for their roles in human rights violations during the military regime of 1976-1983, capping off a relatively successful year that saw a number of successes as human rights violators faced justice (and victims and their families saw some sense of closure) for their actions during the dictatorship.
-Speaking of human rights in Argentina, the use of torture, while widespread under the military rule, has never gone away. Fortunately, officials and rights activists are set to start using surprise visits to prisons, juvenile detention centers, and psychiatric hospitals in an attempt to discourage and prevent the torture of inmates.
-Honduras has fired its ambassador to Colombia after two computers were stolen during a party in which at least two suspected prostitutes were in attendance. Of course, this is not the first time that Colombian prostitutes have been connected to high-level security controversies for foreign powers.
-In an attempt to reduce the number of real crimes committed with fake weapons, Mexico City destroyed thousands of toy guns this week. While the effort to reduce crimes like robberies through the measure, one can only hope the move leads to a reduction in crime and not criminals using real guns that actually kill people in order to commit robberies.
-Last week, Salvadoran bus drivers and microbus operators launched a work stoppage to protest an end to government fuel subsidies. As Tim points out, although the work stoppage came to an end over the weekend, there’s the chance it could resume, as the issue of the subsidy has not yet been resolved.
-Finally, though it’s a few weeks old, Chilean Justice Minister and former rector of the Autonomous University of Chile, Teodoro Ribera, resigned his position as minister after he was tied to allegations of bribery and corruption, as well as to questionable accreditation practices, allegations that further hurt the already-unpopular president, Sebastián Piñera, who has faced mounting criticism and protests over the issue of the cost of higher education and demands for reforms.
-While Hugo Chávez’s health is increasingly in question as he underwent surgery for cancer yet again, his political vision appears to remain alive. In gubernatorial elections yesterday in Venezuela, his political coalition won 20 of the 23 elections for state offices. Henrique Capriles, who lost the presidential election to Chávez in October, was also re-elected governor of the state of Miranda.
-Human rights appear to have taken a step backwards in Colombia, where Congress passed a bill that allows military members who commit crimes to face trial in military courts rather than in civil courts. The move further strengthens the potential for impunity for Colombia’s military, already closely tied to numerous human rights violations, and represents a significant step backwards in the quest for preventing human rights violations in Colombia.
-In a case of an unbalanced counter-offer, Chevron countered two civil lawsuits for $20 billion for its role in oil spills in Brazil by offering to instead pay $150 million to resolve the suits.
-In a step towards equal marriage rights, Uruguay’s Chamber of Deputies overwhelmingly passed a bill that would allow gay marriage and would permit couples to decide whose surname goes to their children in what order (thus helping equalize what has culturally been a patriarchal practice). The bill next heads to the Senate, where it is also expected to pass.
-On the other end of the spectrum of equal rights, two teenagers in Brazil were arrested in the murder of a gay college student. One of the two teens confessed to killing Lawrence Corrêa Biancão out of homophobia in what appears to have been a calculated and cold-blooded murder that, in its homophobic extremity, is not so dissimilar from the murder of Chilean Daniel Zamudio earlier this year.
-Honduras is in the midst of a brewing institutional crisis as Congress and the Supreme Court are locked in a battle over power and legislation even as President Porfirio Lobo bandies about allegations of a planned coup against him.
-Brazilian rapper Mano Brown has begun pushing for the impeachment of São Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin (who unsuccessfully ran for president of Brazil in 2006) for allowing police to allegedly target Afro-Brazilian youths in South America’s largest city.
-Speaking of police violence in Brazil, police were caught assautling a journalist covering a protest in one of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.
-Authorities in Paraguay have charged 14 farmers for killing 17 people in land disputes that ultimately led to the removal of President Fernando Lugo from office in June. The charges come even as the causes and events of the actual showdown remain unclear.
-While the image of indigenous peoples as inherently better stewards of the environment is a highly-charged and problematic image, that does not take away from the fact that indigenous groups have become important actors in environmental conservation in the 21st century, as Peru’s Achuar people remind us.
-Finally, it was an excellent weekend for Brazilian sports, as Brazil officially opened the first finished stadium a year and a half in advance of hosting the 2014 World Cup, even while São Paulo’s Corintians football team defeated Chelsea 1-0 to become the first Brazilian club to win the World Club Cup since Internacional did it in 2006.
Honduran President Porfirio Lobo has created a bit of a stir after claiming yesterday that there is a conspiracy to launch a coup and overthrow him. Of course, this isn’t the first time Lobo has made such claims – back in 2010, he also hinted at vague allegations of a possible plot to overthrow him. And of course, it’s no small irony that Lobo himself took office after elections held to replace overthrown president Manuel Zelaya, whom the military and conservatives overthrew in a coup in 2009 when he attempted to hold a plebiscite on potential constitutional reforms, throwing the country into political turmoil and fundamentally transforming it in unintended but damaging ways in the long term.
A few quick thoughts. First, it’s tough to say whether or not there’s any substance to these rumors. The fact that it’s not the first time Lobo has made such claims without offering much in the way of evidence to support them could certainly lead to some doubts about the allegations. At the same time, though, it’s not like segments of the political and/or economic elites have hesitated to overthrow presidents in the face of international opposition, as the 2009 coup reminds us. As for why Lobo would make such claims, that’s equally uncertain: on the one hand, the claims could be legitimate, but on the other hand, it could be an attempt to strengthen his own position and isolate his opposition. As even a basic understanding of Latin American politics in the 20th century reveals, the allegation mysterious plots to solidify one’s own control over the country has been a tried and true method for politicians throughout the region in the past, and that could be what we’re seeing here in a country with an executive branch that was greatly weakened in the wake of the 2009 coup.
It’s also interesting that he made the claim while addressing a military group. The military played a key role in overthrowing Zelaya in 2009 (though several of its leaders escaped prosecution). Lobo may be trying to ensure that he has the support of at least a not-insubstantial part of the armed forces. Again, historically, politicians have often turned to the military for support in order to remain in power, creating an uncertain political terrain that gives the military a more direct role in national politics and turning the armed forces into another political agent rather than a less partisan and independent institution. The timing and audience of Lobo’s latest allegations does not seem like an accident; indeed, he may be using such threats, real or perceived, to try to gain greater institutional support from the Honduran military. For what purpose remains unclear, but it will be worth watching to see what, if anything, comes out of these latest allegations in Honduras.
-Colombia’s FARC has announced a cease-fire as peace talks to end a nearly-50 year civil war take place between one of the largest guerrilla forces and the Colombian government.
-In an ironic twist of history, Spain has asked Latin American countries to invest in it in order to help it through its economic crises. And where in colonial times Spain tried to dictate the economic ties between itself and its colonies in the Americas, the shoe is now on the other foot, as Latin America has said it will support Spain even while telling it it needed to avoid austerity measures.
-Chile’s influential student group, the Federación de los Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile (Federation of Students of University of Chile; FECH) elected Andrés Fielbaum its new president, an office previously held by student leader Camila Vallejo. Meanwhile, Vallejo herself has announced she will run as a candidate for the Chamber of Deputies in Chile’s elections in November 2013.
-José Dirceu, former chief of staff to ex-president Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, was sentenced to ten years and ten months in prison for his role in the mensalão scandal, in which legislators were paid cash for supporting legislation in Congress. The sentence marks a remarkable fall from power for Dirceu, who was one of the key student leaders against the military regime in 1968 and a major player in the formation and operation of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT). Current PT president Dilma Rousseff has said she will uphold and will not discuss the sentencing. Lula himself has never been directly connected to the scheme.
-Adela Hernandez became Cuba’s first elected transgender political figure after winning a municipal election. The fact that Hernandez spent time in prison for “dangerousness” over her sexual identity in the 1980s and is now an elected official is a powerful reminder of the social transformations that have taken place in the last 20 years.
-Meanwhile, in gay rights in Rio de Janeiro, more than a million people are estimated to have attended the city’s Gay Pride Parade yesterday. While many Brazilians attend the parade as much for the party atmosphere as for any other reason, the fact that so many are exposed to anti-homophobia messages and willing to engage in a spirit of camaraderie with Brazil’s LGBT community is not-insignificant in improving the acceptance of gay peoples and cultures in Brazil.
-Police in Honduras have gone on protest after the government announced new measures designed to crack down on corruption. The efforts hinge upon a series of tests (including drug tests and psychometric tests), which have raised the ire of officers who insist they are not opposed to cleanup itself, but to the new methods involved.
-Although Alberto Fujimori is attempting to seek a pardon (even while living in some of the best conditions for any prisoner in Peru), a court has ruled that Alberto Fujimori should again stand trial, this time for corruption. Fujimori is currently serving 25 years in prison for his role in human rights violations during his presidency (1990-2000).
-In a unique and potentially-dubious attempt to combat extinction, Brazil has announced that it will attempt to clone endangered species, a move that conservationists fear will distract from the broader need to defend and protect ecosystems in which endangered species live.
-Argentines have taken to the streets to demonstrate against President Cristina Kirchner and to protest inflation, corruption, and what many believe will be her attempt to run for a third term as president (though she has made no move to suggest this will happen).
-Jamaica has finally abolished a slavery-era law that allowed flogging as a punishment for criminals. Though slavery was abolished in 1834, whipping inexplicably remained on the books into the twenty-first century.
-In a twist on the milk-carton ads, Mexico’s state of Chihuahua is putting on tortilla wrappers ads for missing persons in the state in an attempt to raise awareness of the problem and perhaps find some of those who have gone missing.
-Former mayor of São Paulo, Paulo Maluf, was convicted in a US court of diverting public funds from Brazil to an offshore account in the US, and ordered him to pay back more than $10.5 million. Maluf was mayor of São Paulo several times, and ended up being the pro-military party’s candidate for president when Brazil returned to a democracy in 1985; he ultimately lost the election to opposition candidate Tancredo Neves.
-Former president and convicted human rights violator Alberto Fujimori is planning on asking for a pardon from his prison sentence due to health issues in a move that would undo years of efforts for justice for the victims of his regime. Meanwhile, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights requested Peru annul a Supreme Court ruling from this past summer that could lead to Fujimori’s early release from the 2009 conviction that found him guilty of ordering death-squad killings.
-An alleged leader of the Paraguayan Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (Army of the Paraguayan People; EPP) released a series of videos that called for the elimination of private property in the name of Paraguay’s poor, highlighting the ongoing social and economic inequalities and ongoing social dissatisfaction and unrest over land distribution in one of Latin America’s two landlocked countries.
-In a move to streamline urban planning and familiarity, San José, Costa Rica, home to 1.5 million of the country’s residents, is finally installing street signs in the city. Prior to this, all addresses were based on landmarks (I don’t remember the exact address of where I lived in Costa Rica 11 years ago, but part of that address was “100 meters north of the school, on the right”). While this seems like a good idea for those visiting such a large city, cab drivers familiar with the old system are among those critical of the decision.
-With student protests and educational reforms causing serious problems for his government, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced his 2013 budget, with increased spending on education making up 20% of the budget. Although the move is no doubt likely designed at least in part to address criticisms Piñera has faced over education, it is unlikely to satisfy a student movement that wants institutional reforms and free public education for all.
-In Honduras, rights activist Antonio Trejo, who represented peasants in their struggles against wealthy landowners and who was opposed to recent plans to privatize three cities, was assassinated while attending a wedding last week.
-In a decision that should have happened decades ago, Brazil has formally outlawed the formation of and participation in militias and paramilitary organizations. While the law is an important one to have on the books, it certainly seems like a case of “too little, too late” in a country where police militias have resorted to extrajudicial executions of children, the poor, and others in Brazil’s cities since the 1980s, and the 4- to 8-year sentencing seems light for what is a very real security problem in Brazil. Meanwhile, a former officer who served over 25 years in prison for his role in leading a death squad that killed more than 50 people was himself gunned down in the state of São Paulo last week.
-With one week to go before national elections in Venezuela, a suspect has been arrested in the murder of three opposition activists at a rally last week. Though the suspect’s identity has not been released, opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles spoke out against the killings and the violent climate in Venezuela that they say allowed the killings to take place.
-Thousands of Haitians took to the street to protest against President Michel Martelly’s government, blaming it for rising food prices and the cost of living and accusing it of corruption.
-Bolivian miners who had been in conflict with each other over possession of a mine have agreed to end their conflict, with both sides having access to the Colquiri mine. Earlier struggles had led to months of protests and strikes and even turned violent, with one miner dying in clashes last month.
-In a macabre landmark, a new report says that landmines have killed or maimed 10,000 Colombians in the last 22 years. Leftist guerrillas are responsible for a majority of the mines, a defense mechanism they’ve employed during Colombia’s 48-year (and counting) civil war.
-Speaking of mines, Chile is set to de-mine a path leading to the Torres del Paine National Park, on the Chilean-Argentine border. Both countries heavily mined their respective territories in 1977-1978 when a maritime border dispute over some islands at the southern tip of the continent nearly led to war, with ultranationalists in Argentina particularly aggressive in their declarations. The conflict revealed that, while the dictatorships of South American countries collaborated on human rights abuses via Operation Condor, not all relations between the dictatorships were cordial.
-Margaret Myers has another edition of her “Chinese News Coverage of Latin America” posts up, with Chinese headlines reflecting a preoccupation with eco-tourism, diplomatic ties with the Pacific Alliance, and tariffs, among other items.
-At the UN meetings last week, Argentina and Iran met and agreed to begin talks over prosecutions for those connected to the 1994 bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina, which left 85 dead and to which Iran had been connected.
-Uruguay claimed to have deactivated a bomb placed at the Venezuelan embassy in Montevideo. Though pamphlets claiming ties to a left-wing group were found near the bomb, it is unclear who actually planted the bomb or the pamphlets – though it may have been leftists, it could also have been from the right in an attempt to discredit the Chávez government, if not something altogether different.
-Finally, Curação’s ex-Prime Minister, Gerrit Schotte is saying he has been removed in a bloodless coup. Schotte accused governor Adeel van der Pluijm-Vrede of illegally swearing in a new government, though the Dutch government, whose kingdom Curação is still a part of, has said the interim government is legal.
While Latin America has seen the rise of more progressive leaders at the national level in recent years, neoliberalism has certainly not faded away as residents of three Honduras cities are about to find out:
Honduras has unveiled a radical free-market plan to establish three “charter cities” in the violence-racked Central American nation.
The government this week signed an agreement with US developers MKG group to begin building the cities – complete with their own governments, laws, courts, police forces and tax systems – from scratch early next year.
The plan’s backers say it is the only way to kick start development in Honduras, which has the world’s worst murder rate – 68 times higher than the UK’s – and where 65 per cent of the 8 million-strong population lives below the poverty line.
However, critics warn that it could mark a return to the dark days in Honduras when US companies controlled the government, owned vast tracts of territory and ordered police to massacre striking workers – an era which prompted political scientists to coin the term “banana republic”.
The turning over of Honduran infrastructure to foreign private enterprise should raise major warning sirens for anybody even vaguely familiar with the history of the region. However, MKG CEO Mark Strong is apparently not one of those familiar with said history. In the grossest displays of condescension and historical ignorance, Strong arrogantly declared that “the future will remember this day as the day that Honduras began developing.” Suffice to say, the belief that Honduran development can only begin via a neoliberal approach that puts Honduras’s fate in the hands of foreign private companies is, to put it charitably, historically myopic and grossly ignorant. Going back to the colonial period, Honduras (a relative “backwater” in the Spanish empire) existed primarily to ship its limited silver back to Spain, relying first upon indigenous labor and then African slaves and creating a context in which the crown and a handful of its representatives and elites became wealthy at the expense of the majority of Honduras’s small population.
However, those inequalities in the international arena only worsened in the nineteenth century, when foreign capitalism replaced the mercantilism of the colonial period. By the 1870s, the politico-economic elites of the country had embraced liberalism; by the 1880s, transportation companies based in the US had built railroads and improved harbors in Honduras and other Central American companies. However, these lines were not made to help improve the lives of Hondurans; rather, they existed for the companies to enter into the banana industry and to profit only them. As a result, these transportation companies eventually became companies like the Boston Fruit Company and, later, the notorious United Fruit Company. Throughout the late-1800s and early-1900s, these companies bought up incredible amounts of land, while political elites in favor of liberalism looked the other way or even facilitated such land grabs (often profiting themselves). The result of this was an increasing flow of cash out of Honduras and other Central American countries, even while an increasing percentage of the population was landless and impoverished, further accelerating socioeconomic inequalities and underdevelopment in the parts of the country not directly tied to the banana companies. These conditions led to a virtual monopoly on power in which the Banana companies effectively ran national politics, infrastructure, and economics in Honduras and elsewhere either directly or indirectly, leading to the term “banana republics” – countries where a small plutocracy aided private multinational companies in exporting goods and money out of the country at the cost of political and economic stability, even while an overwhelming majority of the citizens of a country remained impoverished and often landless.
While the powers of the banana companies diminished somewhat in the latter half of the twentieth century, the long-term effects are still visible – even today, over 60% of Honduras’s population lives in poverty [as the article also points out], and the average annual income is only $1,970 per year. As loaded as the term “developed” is, it’s not a stretch to say that, in many regards, Honduras suffers from a lack of development. However, contrary to what Mr. Strong would like to believe, Honduran “development” hasn’t occurred because of private enterprise and multinational investment in the country, not in spite of it.
And it’s not like privatization is the only solution. In a country that presently and historically has had tax rates that favor the oligarchs and foreign corporations, they could try to resolve the issue by perhaps redistributing the revenue of the state to tax those who actually have money in order to provide the infrastructural and public institutions designed to protect all citizens, including the elites. But hey – that would require the elites to actually sacrifice something, and as we know, the elites are not exactly open to a more democratic society in Honduras. As a result, they prefer selling off the country to private interests rather than assuming the responsibilities and duties a state owes its citizens, sacrificing autonomy to private enterprises in a system that historically has played no small role in perpetuating the very inequalities and underdevelopment that continue to plague Honduras to this day. And it will be the majority of Honduran citizens who are going to pay the price for this, learning once again the hard lessons of international capital in their country.