Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Teacher evaluations after all, and Mexican election results (June 9, 2015)

The Mexican government will proceed with teacher evaluations -- a cornerstone of an ambitious education sector reform -- which had been suspended two weeks ago due to protests ahead of last Sunday's elections. (See last Tuesday's post.) A federal judge ruled against the suspension yesterday, saying the government's decision violated the autonomy of the National Institute of Education, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Yesterday administration officials said the evaluations will continue as originally scheduled. Critics say the government bowed to union pressure by suspending them before elections, while cynics suggest the move was an electoral ploy, according to El Daily Post.

The AP's Mexican Election Takeaway: The ruling PRI party took the largest percentage of the vote and, together with two allied parties, will control about 263 of the House of Deputy's 500 seats. Jaime "El Bronco" Rodriguez is the first independent candidate to win a governorship, widely viewed as a sign of voter anger at established parties. Two-time presidential candidate Andres López Obrador effectively split the leftwing vote when he left the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD). They won less than 11 percent of the ballots, and stand to lose up to a dozen seats in Congress, while López Obrador's newly founded Morena party took about 8.5 percent of the vote and will have representation in Congress. Preliminary results have the political rookie Cuauhtemoc Blanco, a recently retired national soccer hero, winning the mayoral election for Cuernavaca.

The PRD also lost its power in the Mexican capital, where it has held a monopoly of political power since 1997, reports the Wall Street Journal. The party lost 8 of the 14 city districts it previously controlled and more than half of its deputies in the local legislative assembly.

The PRI won half the municipalities of Guerrero state, as well as the governorship, reports Animal Político. Districts they won include Iguala -- where 43 students disappeared last year in a human rights case that has gripped the country -- and Tixtla and Tlapa, where there were election day confrontations between teachers and security officials.

  • The FARC intercepted 19 trucks forced drivers to spill over 200,000 gallons of crude oil over the road in a rural area of Putumayo in Colombia, reports EFE. The attack, together with three attacks last week on electrical towers, form part of the guerrilla group's new offensive since suspending its unilateral cease-fire last month.
  • BRIO journalism, a new startup multimedia website, released an in-depth investigation on the influence of BNDES (Brazilian Development Bank) in Latin America. BNDES has disbursed at least $8.5 billion to Latin American countries since 2007. Though the projects help increase the flow of capital to Brazil, very little is known about them, according to the report. Just last week, the bank started to disclose the exact values of funding for each individual project, making it easier for the public to follow the information. (See Friday's post.) The secrecy can partly be explained by the fact that some of the BNDES' financing operations in Latin America are primarily political decisions, not taking into account studies of costs or social and environmental impact, according to BRIO.
  • But BNDES president Luciano Coutinho argues that the bank is far from the opaque institution it has been portrayed as in recent months. In a Folha de S. Paulo op-ed he notes that the bank has had information on its operations available online since 2008, including the client's name, industry, objectives of the project and the amount of money contracted. This is already more than other Brazilian banks and more than most development banks too, he says. Last week BNDES added information available, including types of interest, payment conditions and guarantees.
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will be announcing market-friendly infrastructure upgrade projects today. Private businesses will be invited to build projects in exchange for operation rights and the ability to collect fees, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Argentina must pay $5.4 billion to more than 500 "me-too" holders of defaulted debt before it can pay the majority of its creditors, a U.S. judge Thomas Griesa ruled on Friday. Argentina will appeal his decision, the latest in long-running litigation by creditors seeking full repayment on Argentine bonds following its $100 billion default in 2002, reports Reuters.
  • Nobel peace laureate Óscar Arias joined the chorus of former leaders criticizing the Venezuelan government. In an interview with "O Estado de Sao Paulo" the former Costa Rican president said the country has stopped being a democracy.
  • The FAO recognized Venezuela's progress in the eradication of hunger yesterday. The award was received by VP Jorge Arreaza, after President Nicolás Maduro cancelled his trip at the last minute due to health reasons. Poverty has been halved in the country, according to Arreaza. The Venezuelan government has invested $142 billion in Misión Alimentación in the past decade, which benefited 22 million Venezuelans, Arreaza said in his acceptance speech.
  • A potentially rich oil discovery off the northern coast of South America has rekindled a border dispute between Guyana and Venezuela, reports the AP.
  • U.S. real estate industry leaders are eying Cuba for the first time in fifty years, reports the Miami Herald. Headline notwithstanding, enthusiasm is hardly the word: A survey of nearly 180 executives shows they are "slightly more optimistic about investment opportunities in Cuba than in traditional standouts like Venezuela and Argentina, despite the remaining restrictions on direct investment in Cuba."

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