Monday, March 23, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, March 23, 2015

How leaders and nations respond to corruption scandals will likely be a running theme for 2015 with opportunities for renewal or for new actors. In Brazil, Petrobras scandal prosecutors are seeking tougher anti-corruption laws, according to Reuters (3/20). Separately, Siemens, Mitsui  and Bombardier have been "accused of forming a cartel to raise prices on the construction and upkeep of subway and train systems in the state of Sao Paulo," according to report by the Associated Press (3/21).

In Chile, Pres. Michelle Bachelet announced measures to curb corruption in Chile’s public sector, according to a news summary in the Americas Quarterly (3/20). Bachelet plans to "amend the constitution to mandate that former presidents continue to file the declaration of assets even after they have left office." But the President is also facing reports about her son receiving special treatments on commercial loans, according to EFE (3/20). The President's actions and omissions have eroded her moral authority and her announcements are "insufficient to combat corruption," according to a columnist in El Libero.

In a different mode of corruption, Peru’s Prime Minister fired the head of the National Intelligence Service among others last Friday over allegations widen over spy agency’s alleged gathering of information on notable people, according to the Wall St Journal and a press release from the Prime Minister's office. (3/20)

The "series of spectacular scandals" in Brazil and other countries will be a challenge to the political left, according to an essay in The Guardian (3/22). "The Latin American left is coming up against an enemy that it has never prepared itself for," according to Federico Neiburg (Museu Nacional, Rio do Janeiro). "It’s an alliance between shifting geopolitical interests, economic and financial elites trying to impose politics that are beneficial to them, and political action on behalf of the media."

US/LATAM RELATIONS   Over the weekend, the NY Times pushed Rousseff to get closer to Obama and a Miami Herald columnist encouraged Obama to get closer to Rousseff. Yesterday, a NY Times editorial expressed its disappointment in Brazil's Pres Rousseff's inability to become the transformational leader that they anticipated. The editorial compares her leadership poorly to the other BRIC countries and encourages her to "get Brazil’s relationship with the United States back on a healthy track" and to play a pivotal role with respect to Venezuela and Cuba.  

Meanwhile, the White House announced Pres. Obama's agenda for the Summit of the Americas in Panama, and Andres Oppenheimer wonders if Obama is too focused on Central America and the Caribbean, in his Miami Herald column (3/22). He quotes Michael Shifter (Inter-American Dialogue) who says that "the U.S. influence in South America has become marginal." Oppenheimer says that Obama should try to reset ties with South America at the Summit, "especially with financially ailing Brazil."

The Miami Herald (3/22) assesses the "reawakened interest" by the U.S. in the Caribbean. Separately, Alexander Main (CPR) wrote an op-ed late last week challenging Vice President Biden's plan for Central America, in a blog in The Hill (3/19). And Diana Ohlbaum identifies four development-related goals for the rest of Pres. Obama's term, in an op-ed in The Hill (3/23).  Ohlbaum is co-chair of the Accountability Working Group of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.

  • EVENT IN DC: Colombian Member of Congress Clara Rojas (Partido Liberal, Bogota) will talk about the Peace Process at WOLA tomorrow (Tuesday, 3/24; 1666 Connecticut Ave NW, # 400), according to a press release by the Colombian parliament. The event will also be live streamed online.   Rojas has recently been encouraging the creation of a Ministerio de la Mujer, according to to El Espectador (3/4).
  • Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Australian government are launching a $100 million, four-year effort to help 20 Latin American, African, and Southeast Asian countries improve the collection of basic health and mortality data, according to the Wall St Journal and a press release (3/22). "The initiative will pay for new tools and systems to improve birth- and death-registration systems and help the countries gather more information on risk factors for premature deaths." (It was not readily clear what countries would be included.)
  • Mexican investigative journalist Carmen Aristegui says that her former employer, MVS Radio, pressured her not to report on Pres Peña Nieto's real estate purchases, according to an interview she gave to Proceso (3/21). The radio station denied any form of censorship, according to their own press release (3/22). Though not all Mexican journalists support Aristegui, most do blame the federal government for her sacking, according to an oped in Sin Embargo (3/22).
  • Cuba is experimenting with free speech on online discussions including "once-taboo subjects" like the electoral system and civil society," according to the Financial Times (3/22). "These openings may be small and experimental, but they signal something important: criticism becomes legitimate discourse," says Bert Hoffman (German Institute of Global and Area Studies).
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the OAS held a hearing on Friday about the 2014 report of Brazil’s National Truth Commission (Comissão Nacional da Verdade) which was charged with investigating human rights violations committed by the state from 1946 to 1988, according to WOLA (3/19). Recommendations include "accountability for public officials involved in human rights violations ... preventing these officials from invoking the Amnesty Law."
  • Five special op police died in Jalisco, Mexico, as well as three gang members and two bystanders die in Jalisco, according to the NY TimesReuters and El Informador and El Milenio (3/20). The police officers were part of a 5,000-officer division formed last year by President Peña Nieto to go after organized-crime groups.
  • There is a leadership split inside the Cuban dissident group Ladies in White, "signaling divisions over the rapprochement between Cuba and the United States and, perhaps, the end of an era in which the white-clad women symbolized the fight for political freedom," according to the NY Times (3/21). The breakaway group supports the thaw between Cuba and the United States.
  • A mayor of a small Peruvian town near a huge Chinese-owned copper project was assassinated, according to Reuters (3/19). The Primer Minister suggested that "there are reasons to believe this was a warning to political authorities who are taking part in dialogue," with the national government.
  • Mexico has been on a "buying spree for U.S. military equipment" with purchases amounting to more than a billion dollars in the last 12 months, including Black Hawk helicopters, according to John Lindsay-Poland (Fellowship of Reconciliation Peace Presence) in NACLA (3/23).
  • China still has a significant learning curve in Latin America, particularly in agriculture, according to Evan Ellis (US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute) - an interview made more important by its source, China Daily (3/23). Separately, China is set to lend Venezuela $10 bln in coming months, according to Reuters.
  • Mar 21 was International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and media published related articles. Mexico's afro-population is more vulnerable with less resources to protect their human rights than its' indigenous community, according to Eliot Elizalde (Univ Iberoamericana) in El Universal (3/21)  Vanessa Barbara, a columnist for O Estado de São Paulo, writes about Brazil remaining in denial over its racism, in a NY Times oped (3/24).

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