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Around Latin America

December 4, 2013 Comments off

-Peru has launched its biggest exhumation ever, as it tries to find victims from the violence between the Shining Path and the Peruvian state between 1980 and 2000.

-Peru is not the only country exhuming victims of violence. In an attempt to find two missing police officers, forensic scientists in Mexico got more than they expected when their search led to the discovery of 64 bodies buried in mass graves in Jalisco and Michoacán, with the bodies showing signs of torture and indicating they are the victims of ongoing violence between cartels. In spite of the discovery, the two police officers remain missing.

-In the wake of a close election and allegations of electoral fraud, Honduras will hold a recount after thousands took to the streets in support of Xiomara Castro, who allegedly lost the election to conservative candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez (who got 37% of the total vote)  and whose husband, former president Manuel Zelaya, was removed from office in a coup d’etat in 2009. The recount comes amidst outsiders’ observations allegations of chicanery and after Honduras’s electoral council was very slow to issue the data from the November 24 election, adding to suspicions of fraud.

-Rio de Janeiro governor Sérgio Cabral announced that he will leave office 9 months early after seeing his popularity plummet in the midst and wake of protests last June, when millions of Brazilians took to the streets to protest a number of causes, including political elites’ disconnect and corruption. Cabral himself became a particular target of that anger in Rio de Janeiro.

-The bad news for governors is not limited to Brazil. In Mexico, former governor of Tamaulipas Tomás Yarrington faces charges in the US of having ties to the drug cartels while he was in office during his 1999-2004 governorship.

-Costa Rica closed a probe into the 1984 bombing that killed 7 journalists and Nicaraguan Contras and wounded 20 more people, after forensics revealed that the attacker died in the late-1980s.

-Mexico’s Senate has approved electoral reform that would allow reelection and would strengthen Congressional power in the face of executive power even while approving President Enrique Peña’s efforts to increasingly privatize the state-run PEMEX oil company in Mexico.

-Francisco Flores, the former president of El Salvador for the conservative ARENA party, is under investigation for the misuse of upwards of $10 million that Taiwan donated to El Salvador during his presidency, money that apparently never made it to its intended institutional destinations.

-Finally, in Brazil, Guaraní indigenous leader Ambrosio Vilhava, whose struggle to help protect Guaraní land was documented in the 2008 film Birdwatchers, was found stabbed to death after his father-in-law allegedly killed him. While the circumstances around his death remain unclear, the fact remains that his death marks the loss of an important activist and leader in Brazilian indigenous mobilization.

Around Latin America

April 1, 2013 Comments off

-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.

Gearing up for Latin American Presidential Elections

March 13, 2013 Comments off

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.

Around Latin America

February 21, 2013 Comments off

-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).

Former Coup Leader Running for President in Honduras

January 21, 2013 Comments off

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.

Around Latin America

January 8, 2013 Comments off

-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.

-Preparing for re-election, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa announced he is taking a one-month leave in order to campaign for a third term.

-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.

Around Latin America

December 18, 2012 Comments off

-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.

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