Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, April 28, 2015

Honduran court ruling on reelection questioned

Perhaps if the constitutional ban on reelection in Honduras hadn't been the excuse for a presidential coup only six years ago, the decision of a Supreme Court panel (of judges appointed by the sitting president) wouldn't be such a big deal.

But the specter of reelection -- allegedly hidden in then-President Manuel Zelaya's proposal to vote on whether to convene a Constitutional Assembly -- was touted as sufficient reason to oust a democratically elected president, and ushered in a violent and politically questioned period in Honduras. Human rights continue to be a weak point, and judicial independence is highly questioned.

In fact, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court that is responsible for last week's ruling that would permit presidential reelection is the same one whose members were replaced a couple of years ago. The sitting judges were named by current President Juan Orlando Hernández or his proxies, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The five-member panel of the Supreme Court voted unanimously last Wednesday to strike down the Constitutional Amendment that would prohibit reelection. But on Thursday, one judge changed his vote, which should have sent the case to the full fifteen-member Court, according to the Times. Yet the government's official Gazette published the ruling as unanimous on Friday, making the ruling official.

Zelaya said last week that "there is sufficient indication for one to assume that National Party extorted the magistrates so that they would repeal (the ban on re-election)," according to TeleSur.

Opposition parties opposed the decision in Congress yesterday, in a session that was suspended due to lawmakers' vociferous protests. Tiempo notes that only party leaders were permitted to speak, and no motions or projects that would revert the decision were permitted. One lawmaker called for the impeachment of the judges responsible for striking down the reelection amendment.

Hernández avoided speaking on the subject in a press conference yesterday, saying he just wants to continue working on his government's economic and social policies.

The Harvard Political Review recently published a deeper examination of the ambiguous U.S. response to the 2009 coup.

News Briefs

  • Colombia's health ministry recommended the immediate suspension of the aerial spraying of glysophosate, the herbicide at the center of U.S.-financed efforts to wipe out cocaine crops, reports the AP. The World Health Organization's research arm determined last month that the product is probably carcinogenic. President Juan Manuel Santos has not yet responded to the ministerial recommendation. But U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken defended the policy: "I am a scientist and I've read with great attention the different studies on the subject. I can say that glysophate is used in all the states in my country and, believe me, we would have taken measures if there was something bad. ... We haven't seen any negative report other than the United Nations'," he says in an interview with El Tiempo.  Fumigations are the government's main weapon against the illegal cultivation of coca, according to La Semana, leaving authorities "between a rock and a hard place." About 1.5 million hectares of illegal crops have been fumigated with glysophate since 2000, estimates El EspectadorEl Tiempo has an editorial calling for the protection of the 10,000 families exposed to the aerial spraying of the substance, and for the revision of Colombia's drug policy.
  • Chile's president, Michelle Bachelet, signed a law reforming the country's electoral system. The new law establishes proportional representation in both chambers of Congress, replacing a binomial system put into place under General Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship that locked out smaller parties, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Brazil and Bolivia are negotiating the construction of a bi-national hydroelectric dam on Bolivia’s side of the Madeira River, according to the Latin American Herald Tribune. The dam, part of a package of Brazil-funded energy investments in the border region, would apparently operate under a model similar to that of Itaipu, a Brazilian-Paraguay joint venture that is the world’s second-largest hydroelectric dam.
  • The Guardian published an in-depth look at how the U.S. and Cuba finally began their diplomatic thaw. The unlikely key to the rapprochement was the arrest of U.S. State Department subcontractor Alan Gross, according to the piece. "Gross’s arrest had helped choke off earlier progress in talks with the Obama administration. And yet without the prospect of a prisoner exchange to drive negotiations forward, it is possible that Cuba and the US may never have resolved their differences." American concessions regarding the treatment of Cuban prisoners in the U.S. paved the way for both countries to sit down to negotiations, according to the Guardian's sources. And, as has already been widely reported, Pope Francis played a critical role in moving the negotiations forward.
  • Andrés Oppenheimer has high hopes for the Pope's upcoming Cuba visit. "If Francis doesn't use his considerable leverage with the Cuban regime to to speed up basic freedoms on the island, his visit will be a failure," he says in his Miami Herald column.
  • The impact of the Cuba's removal from the U.S. State Departments list of countries that sponsor terrorism will be muted because there's still a thicket of sanctions imposed under the embargo, the Helms Burton Act and other U.S. laws that remain in effect, including provisions that require U.S. banks to block transactions with Cuba or Cuban nationals that aren't in the permitted category, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Mining companies are champing at the bit to invest in Argentina, if October's presidential elections bring the promise of eased capital restrictions, according to Bloomberg. Current President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has restricted imports and repatriated export revenue for several years. 
  • Civil unions -- though not marriage -- are now an option for Ecuador's LGBT couples. Reforms to the country's Civil Code approved by the National Assembly yesterday include the raising of the legal age of marriage to 18 and the creation of civil unions as a civil status option.
  • Private-equity firm Carlyle Group LP will invest 1.75 billion Brazilian reais ($600 million) for an 8.3% stake in Brazilian hospital operator Rede D’Or São Luiz, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • China is a lender of last resort for Latin American economies in distress like Argentina and Venezuela, according to Inter Press Service.
  • A state of emergency remains in effect for a 13-mile radius around the Calbuco volcano in Chile, reports the Los Angeles Times
  • What was once the world's most dangerous road in Bolivia is now obsolete for motorized traffic, but that hasn't stopped thrill-seeking cyclists from a death-defying adventure. The Wall Street Journal reports on Bolivia's "Death Road."

  • Peru's Congress ratified Prime Minister Pedro Cateriano, avoiding a political crisis. Former Prime Minister Ana Jara was removed by the legislature after a spying scandal earlier this month. A second cabinet rejection would have permitted President Ollanta Humala to call for new congressional elections. While allowed for in the Constitution, the clause has never been used, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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