Friday, October 30, 2015

NarcoData insight into Mexico's cartels; Human rights orgs criticize gov't (Oct. 30, 2015)

Animal Político and El Daily Post presented a new project this week: NarcoData, which seeks to explain the evolution and growth of organized crime in Mexico. 

The interactive website that offers an in-depth study of the past four decades of organized crime in Mexico, compiles proven information and presents it in a orderly fashion.

The idea came from documents obtained by Animal Político as a result of a public information request. One document from the Federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) identified all the criminal cells that operate in Mexico and the cartels they work for. The document also exposed several "myths" spouted by public officials, such as the claim by Mexico City authorities that cartels and organized crime do not operate in the Federal District, explains El Daily Post.

The data is also contributing to journalism pieces. The fascinating first of the series came out earlier this week and explains how two cartels -- the Sinaloa and the Jalisco New Generation -- have come to prominence under the Peña Nieto administration, overshadowing the other seven active cartels in the country. But this is no sign of coming peace, warns the piece. 

"The seven smaller cartels still boast sufficient power and structure to commit a variety of other high-impact crimes. Their decline and the arrest of some of their principal leaders has birthed smaller gangs that are battling for space in the criminal world." In fact, that's exactly what's going on in Guerrero, where at least six small and bloodthirsty crime cells operate.


Everybody is piling on the Mexican government on human rights issues.

The last Amnesty International report on Mexico said reports of torture rose by 106 percent last year compared to 2013, and up to 737 percent compared with 2012. The organization denounced that the government hasn't "recognized the magnitude of the problem" nor really implemented policies to end torture, reports Animal Político. The Attorney General's office has few resources to deal with the problem, according to the piece: it has only 30 people specialized in the issue to deal with over 2,400 reports on a federal level from last year alone.

And a Human Rights Watch report from this week denounces two episodes in Michoacán state in which at least 50 civilians died this year, which point to unlawful killings by federal police, according to the organization.
At least eight civilians were killed in the city of Apatzingán on January 6 after federal police broke up a demonstration involving citizen self-defense groups, and 42 civilians and one police officer died in Tanhuato on May 22, when federal police raided a compound allegedly occupied by a criminal gang. (See May 26th's post.)

"Based on the available evidence, it appears we’re looking at two more major atrocities byMexican security forces,” said Daniel Wilkinson, managing director of the Americas Division at Human Rights Watch. “While the government insists that police acted appropriately in both cases, what witnesses describe clearly involves extrajudicial killings."

The report backs the version of witnesses and area residents who say the operations against alleged organized crime members -- which left only one officer dead -- were not as clean as officially claimed, reports the Associated Press. Earlier this month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said Mexico is experiencing a "serious human rights crisis" and urged the country to investigate the same two incidents.

But the El Daily Post's security expert Alejandro Hope says the case at Tanhuato might not be so clear, and suggests that the "key takeaway from the report is that, months after the incidents, we are nowhere near truth and justice." And he gloomily concludes that a number of factors mean the truth is unlikely to come out in these cases.

The Mexican government must follow up its stated will to resolve outstanding human rights cases -- such as the missing 43 -- with concrete results, said the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power speaking in Monterrey yesterday.

"It's impossible to fix the whole system overnight," Power said according to Reuters. "But if progress could be made in the Iguala case, or if progress could be made on the cases you raise ... and resources are dedicated and accountability is achieved, that sends a really important signal."

Her visit comes only two weeks after the U.S. government cut off millions of dollars of aid to Mexico's drug war as a result of the country's failure to reach certain human rights goals. Though the reduction is only a small portion of the annual funds given to Mexico to help fund security initiatives, it's a major sign of State Department frustration. (See Oct. 19th's post.)

News Briefs

  • Mexico will have a difficult time meeting a deadline to implement a nation-wide system of oral trials by next year, said Power yesterday. The policy is part of the implementation of a 2008 constitutional reform, which would replace the current system of closed trials based on written testimony, reports Reuters. Human rights groups say the current system is responsible long periods of pre-trial detention, wrongful conviction and, sometimes, confessions extracted by torture.
  • Back to yesterday's post on possibly legalizing pot in Mexico, Catalina Pérez Correa writes in Horizontal on the relevance of the move for the thousands of Mexicans imprisoned drug related charges.
  • Local observer groups and opposition candidates are denouncing "systematic, massive fraud" in last Sunday's elections for president, parliament and local mayors. How widespread the fraud might be and whether electoral technicians will detect is has become the key question as the country waits for provisional results, reports the Miami Herald. A vote count could come anytime after November 3. Vote technicians in Port-au-Prince are receiving tallies in a secure warehouse and quarantining suspicious or fraudulent votes from the country's 13,275 polling stations.
  • A piece in the New York Times revisits the plight of Dominican-born people of Haitian descent, who have been denied DR citizenship and are effectively stateless and locked out of vital public services such as education in the DR. (See June 17th's post.)
  • Speaking for the first time since her party's unexpectedly poor showing in last Sunday's elections, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner gave a speech yesterday reminding citizens of the accomplishments of her government, including the nationalization of Aerolineas Argentinas and the YPF oil company, social welfare programs for the poor and expanded access to public universities. She called on voters to stand up for these accomplishments in November 22nd's run-off presidential elections, reports the Associated Press.
  • CELS executive directo Gastón Chillier wrote an op-ed in Perfíl on the human rights gains in Argentina over the past 12 years of Kirchner governments and those issues that remain to be addressed. 
  • Chile's government authorized the biggest medicinal marijuana plantation in South America, reports Los Andes. With 7,000 seeds, the measure will benefit nearly 4,000 oncological patients, people suffering from epilepsy that doesn't respond to anti-convulsive medication and chronic pain patients.
  • Greg Gandin, writing in The Nation, looks at the long history of Colombia's civil war, which might come to an end by the end of the year. (See yesterday's briefs.) He interviews Winifred Tate, who teaches in the anthropology department at Colby College and has been involved with Colombia since the 1980s, about the ongoing Havana peace talks. 
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said he will turn to the U.S. legal system to sue the U.S. government in an attempt to combat an executive order from earlier this year declaring the South American country an extraordinary threat to U.S. national security. Maduro called the measure a Sword of Damocles and said the suit would expose its "international illegality," reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • An even bigger threat, for the government at least, are dismal approval ratings -- below 25 percent -- which could mean an opposition majority, if not super-majority, in the National Assembly resulting from December's parliamentary elections, according to David Smilde and Michael McCarthy at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. They review the vulnerabilities of the voting system, and how the government is working them in its favor. They note that "it is unlikely that the government would engage in outright fraud as their national and international legitimacy strongly depends on being elected to power." However, that does not mean that they won't attempt "to gain strategic advantages by nibbling around the edges."
  • UNASUR announced earlier this week that Maduro has agreed to allow some 20,000 Colombians who were either deported or fled to return to the country and legalize their immigration status reports the Miami Herald. Many had been living in Venezuela for decades until an August crackdown on border security.
  • Even baseball, previously an affordable and enjoyable pastime, is starting to be out of reach in Venezuela. The price of tickets has quadrupled. The season has kicked off to half-empty stadiums. Average attendance is down 25 percent, reports the Associated Press. Players complain their per diems aren't even enough to buy lunch.
  • It might not rank up there with the violence issues Mexico is facing, but the navy has been called in to battle an invasion of brown algae that is plaguing the Caribbean basin this year, reports the Washington Post. Its not at all funny for the country's tourism industry though, and authorities are concerned about the impact of the smelly seaweed.
  • Mexico's most successful independent satirical show, El Pulso de la Republica, uses public corruption, embarrassing mismanagement and other hot-button issues as material for jokes that established television channels no longer run, reports the Los Angeles Times. "Migration is like smoking weed: If you don't have papers, it's going to be a bitch," joked host Chumel Torres in a recent episode.
  • The New York Times has a piece on Argentine cartoonist Liniers, a well-known artist in South America whose work has been attracting fans in the U.S. over the past few years. He has drawn three covers for The New Yorker since last year and had two books out in the U.S. this month.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Mexican Supreme Court pot decision delayed (Oct. 29, 2015)

Eager Mexican pot smokers and drug policy watchers will have to keep waiting. The judges of the Mexican Supreme Court's Courtroom No. 1  put off a discussion regarding  a proposal to to strike the legal restrictions against growing and possession of marijuana for personal use.

Though the case is technically limited to an injunction requested by the Mexican Society for Tolerant and Responsible Personal Use, the court's decision has the potential to become a precedent-setting landmark case that could pave the way for decriminalization for marijuana for personal use, reportsEl Daily Post. (See Oct. 20th's briefs.)

The proposal by Justice Arturo Zaldívar argues against prohibition on marijuana use for personal consumption, saying it's an illegitimate restriction on free development of personality, reports Animal Político. Zaldívar’s draft asserts that "the damage derived from consuming marijuana is not serious" in comparison to other narcotic drugs, according to El Daily Post.

Animal Político reports that it's likely the justices will ask the case be sent to a plenary of the entire court considering the importance of the case, which would leave it without a definite hearing date.

The government has argued against the case, saying that the restrictions on marijuana consumption are valid, based on the right to health.
The group which brought the case forward is focusing on libertarian arguments, rather than the contributions of the prohibition to the country's drug war, reports the Latin Times.

Indeed the ruling would have absolutely no effect on the vast majority of the country's marijuana production, which is intended for export to the United States, says Alejandro Hope in the El Daily Post.

"Still, for all its limitations, this could be an important ruling," he says. "First, it would be a powerful symbolic victory for promoters of drug policy reform. Second, it might open the door for more court challenges to existing drug control laws. Third, it could potentially move Mexico into a good long-term equilibrium: legalization without commercialization, i.e., legal marijuana supply without creating another tobacco-style industry."

Despite the delay, the motion itself has forced public figures to come out on the subject, reports Spain's El País. Mexico City mayor Miguel Angel Mancera has come out in favor of pot legalization, while the government addiction commissioner says he's opposed and "does not want a society addicted to marijuana." The governing PRI party has launched an online survey to test the waters of public opinion, and an opposition presidential candidate -- the wife of former President Calderón -- says she'd submit the issue to public referendum. A May study by Congress found that over 70 percent of Mexicans oppose legalization.

"This debate in Mexico's Supreme Court is extraordinary for two reasons: because it is being argued on human rights grounds, and because it is taking place in one of the countries that has suffered the most from the war on drugs," writes Hannah Hetzer, the Policy Manager of the Americas at the Drug Policy Alliance in the Huffington Post.
News Briefs

  • The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees warned of an impending Central and North America, due to people fleeing rampant gang violence in parts of Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. "The dramatic refugee crises we are witnessing in the world today are not confined to the Middle East or Africa," said the high commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, reports the New York Times. Applications for asylum in the United States have more than quadrupled since 2008, and they are also increasing in Central American countries like Costa Rica and Nicaragua. (See Tuesday's post.)
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos urged peace negotiators to rapidly reach an agreement over how to end the conflict with the FARC, so as to begin an internationally monitored bilateral cease-fire on January 1, reports the BBC. Over the past few years of peace talks with the rebel FARC group, the government has repeatedly refused to enact a bilateral ceasefire. The Farc, have been observing a unilateral ceasefire.
  • Venezuelan prosecutor Franklin Nieves, who this week defected to the U.S. says President Nicolás Maduro personally ordered the arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo López. López was recently sentenced to nearly 14 years in jail for inciting violence, after a trial denounced by human rights organizations as a sham. Nieves, one of the two lead prosecutors on the case, has apologized to López and said it was "a totally political trial which should be nullified." (SeeTuesday's briefs.) In an interview on Tuesday with CNN en Español Nieves said that in February of last year he was called in to a meeting with Brig. Gen. Manuel Bernal, then the head of the intelligence police. Nieves alleges that Bernal said he had orders from Maduro to arrest López and three others and that they fabricated evidence in order to justify the warrants. In March, Bernal was included on a list of seven Venezuelan officials sanctioned by the United States over accusations of human rights violations, reports the New York Times.
  • Persian Gulf countries are reportedly against a Venezuelan proposal to gather an oil-price summit with both OPEC member and non-member states, reports the Wall Street Journal. Their rejection of the move is a setback for Venezuela's attempts to prop up slumping oil prices -- which have left its economy in a tailspin. 
  • Coming in third became an unexpected power boost for former Argentine presidential candidate Sergio Massa. The newly crowned kingmaker is enjoying his moment on the political main stage. Yesterday he presented key policy demands and said his 5 million supporters would vote in next month's run-off election based on how the two remaining candidates respond, reports Reuters. But experts say he will avoid making an outright choice, out of fear of alienating his own power base -- which rejects both candidates. Nonetheless, in the past days two top allies have said they would not support Daniel Scioli, dealing a blow to the possibilities of the government backed candidate. Still, the mood on the street is that anything is possible.
  • A rowdy protest at the World Indigenous Games -- a sort of native peoples olympics -- brought the event, held in Brazil, to a premature end. The crowd, made up of mostly Brazilians, were protesting a proposed Constitutional amendment which would transfer the right to demarcate indigenous lands from the executive branch to Brazil's Congress, reports the Associated Press. Such a move would be catastrophic to the 300 or so surviving tribes, as legislators are heavily influenced the agriculture lobby that has fought against indigenous reserves in the past, they say. 
  • Chile's environmental regulator said yesterday that it fined salmon-farming company Los Fiordos $3.2 million for 35 sanitary and environmental violations at 18 salmon farms -- the largest such fine ever, reports the Associated Press.
  • The Puerto Rican Government Development Bank said yesterday that its liquidity has dropped below $1 billion as concerns grow it won't be able to make a large upcoming bond payment amid the U.S. territory's economic crisis, reports the Associated Press.
  • Mexican Congressional commissions decided against a proposal that would reduce the much lauded tax on sugary beverages, reports Animal Político. (See yesterday's briefs.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Evaluating Chinese impact in LatAm (Oct. 28, 2015)

Chinese influence in Latin America is much discussed already. The new issue of Nueva Sociedad has a host of articles focusing on the Chinese "landing" in Latin America and asks whether the Sino alliances are win-win or a form of "neocolonialism by invitation?" More specifically, whether China is contributing to the creation of exclusively commodity based economies or whether it's a partner in regional modernization. The answers are varied, but go into depth on an issue of primary relevance in regional diplomacy.

Chinese purchasing of commodities such as oil, copper and soybeans has been -- in large part -- responsible for the Latin American boom of the past decade. From 2000 to 2013, Chinese trade with Latin America rocketed from $12 billion to over $275 billion, reports Michael Reid in a recent Foreign Affairs piece.

In several countries China has displaced the U.S. as the biggest commercial partner, and Chinese investments and loans often come without the strict conditions that come with traditional financial market or IMF loans. Back in February a report from the China-Latin America Finance Database (a collaboration between Inter-American Dialogue and Boston University) showed that China's loans to Latin America rose 71 percent last year to $22 billion, a sum that exceeds last years' loans from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. (See Eduardo Romero's post on February 27.)

Of course such money buys influence.  A New York Times piece from July uses the case of Chinese investment of over $11 billion in Ecuador as an example of how the country deploys economic clout to win diplomatic allies and assure access to natural resources around the world. And Reid discusses how the Chinese interest in the region has permitted Latin American leaders to reject U.S. "diplomatic" overtures and mandates. 

Back to Nueva Sociedad: Yang Zhimin first goes into the question of who the players in this landing are, noting that there is the State, quasi-governmental organizations and companies themselves, all acting on different levels. He writes that the government applies a "top down" global strategy that includes policy plans aimed at orienting the development of bilateral economic relations, as well as favorable polices which include preferential loans. This strategy has created a favorable environment for Chinese companies, which exert a "bottom up" approach that feeds back into the government strategy. 

Food exports are a point of contention. Chinese interests are increasingly focused towards securing food for an expanding urban population -- but this is bumping up against Latin American barriers against foreign ownership of land and complaints of a focus on primary products without value added processes, says Adrian Hearn. Brazil, which provides China with 45 percent of its soybean imports, is an example of a growing mistrust regarding Chinese investment.

And in the same vein Luciano Damián Bolinaga makes the case that Chinese investment in Argentina favors re-primarization of the economy -- focusing on soybeans and oil -- to the detriment of intraindustrial relations with Mercosur neighbors. 

Caribbean countries are increasingly dependent on Chinese imports, and the growing trade deficit could become a problem for the region. Dong Jingsheng argues that China should help Caribbean countries to diversify and that local production such as coffee or rum could be potentially lucrative exports. 
he case of investment in infrastructure shows another facet of the Chinese-Latin American relationship, but also of potential concern. Forty percent of Chinese loans to Latin American governments  over the past decade have been for infrastructure. But these call into question whether they will also involve an "exporting" of laxer environmental and social impact regulations. Bettina Gransow cites the examples of the Nicaragua Grand Canal (see Oct. 2nd's post) and Brazil-Peru railway that would cut through swathes of Amazonian rainforest. She calls on cooperation in the future to include better environmental and social practices, using China's desire to be perceived as a responsible global actor a leverage.

Other articles go more into depth on the case of mineral exports from Brazil and how relations with China have been reconfigured in this sector; while another piece looks at the soybean market between Argentina and China, as well as the flow of migrants from the latter to the former.

News Briefs

  • Cuba obtained record support for its annual U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning the U.S. embargo against it: 191-2. Only the U.S. and it's traditional voting ally, Israel, voted against the resolution. There was speculation over what the wording of this years' resolution would be, given that it's the first since the two countries reestablished diplomatic ties earlier this year and have been working on rapprochement since last December. There was a rumor that the U.S. might abstain for the first time if Cuba would change the wording. Such a move might isolate the U.S. Congress and pressure it to lift the embargo, reports the BBC. But Cuba was unwilling even to discuss the subject, according to an administration official cited in theWashington Post. The resolution adopted yesterday added language welcoming renewed ties and recognizing Obama's desire to end the embargo, reports Reuters. But U.S. officials criticized the resolution, saying it doesn't adequately reflect the steps forward taken over the past year. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez acknowledged U.S. efforts to lift the "blockade," as it's called in Cuba, but said the measure is still in full force and at an important human cost, reports the Miami Herald. Despite the new relaxation of certain trade regulations, Cuba says there has been an intensification of other aspects of the embargo, including billions of dollars in fines against third-country banks for using U.S. currency in trading with Cuba.
  • Jimmy Morales, the new president-elect of Guatemala, is fleshing out his promise to switch up politics as usual. He promised yesterday to keep former army officers out of his cabinet, with the exception of the Ministry of Defense. The commitment is targeted at concerns regarding military influence in his National Convergence Front party, which was founded by army vets. The army has been accused of major human-rights violations during the country’s three-decade civil war, reports the Wall Street Journal. He also said he plans to end overpricing in the government's purchase of medicines and major political overhauls aimed at increasing accountability and transparency in government and political parties.
  • While Guatemala navigates the success of it's protest movement, Hondurans are worried their missing their chance for political reform against endemic corruption. Local Indignados want an Honduran version of the International Commission Against Impunity In Guatemala (CICIG), and instead got an OAS mission which will largely focus on recommending justice system reforms writes Louisa Reynolds in Foreign Policy. "The Honduran people don’t want any more diagnostics. We’re very clear about the fact that this country is plagued by rampant corruption and impunity," Indignados spokesperson Ariel Varela told Honduran news site Criterio. The movement has called for a nationwide civic strike and protest on November 4.
  • The Honduran newspaper Tiempo says it's temporarily shutting down due to "economic asphyxiation" after the government froze the bank accounts of owner Jaime Rosenthal in the wake of U.S. Treasury accusations that he and family members laundered money for Central American drug syndicates through accounts in the United States, reports theAssociated Press. The Rosenthals reject the allegations. (See Oct. 8th's post.)
  • El Salvador's national prosecutor's office arrested an evangelical pastor and 28 alleged members of Mara Salvatrucha, one of El Salvador's two major gangs that operate in the historic central district of the capital. Rev. Pedro Antonio Jimenez de Leon is accused of working street corners in the city with others, carrying bibles and collecting extortion money and pretending the funds were church offering, reports the Associated Press
  • Mexico's love affair with soda has contributed to a growing obesity epidemic. Looking to stem the problem, the government created a a national tax of about 10 percent on sugary drinks two years ago. Evidence is starting to show that the national experiment in trying to force people to healthier alternatives is working (see June 24th's briefs). The tax on sugary drinks has been held up as an example for other countries to follow, especially as diseases like diabetes and obesity boom in the developed and developing world alike, reports The Guardian. But a new proposal in Congress, approved by the lower chamber last week, would cut the tax in half for drinks that contain less than five grams of sugar per 100 milliliters. The idea is to push producers to put less sugar in drinks say legislators, but opponents say it represents behind-the-scenes maneuvering by soda companies and that the change would mainly benefit brands that are marketed to children, reports the New York Times
  • Two French pilots sentenced to 20 years in jail for smuggling 700 kilos of cocaine into the Dominican Republic in a private plane escaped the island by speedboat. The Attorney General of the Dominican Republic, Francisco Dominguez, said yesterday that they would work through diplomatic channels to seek the pilots' extradition from France, reports Reuters. But the French government says it will maintain its tradition of not extraditing citizens, reports the Associated Press.
  • The Ecuadorian capital, Quito, awarded a $1.5 billion contract to build part of its metro to a consortium led by Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht SA and Spain's Acciona SA, reportsReuters. The deal comes as Odebrecht's CEO and other senior executives are in jail in Brazil on accusations of leading a "cartel of engineering firms" that allegedly overcharged Petrobras and used the funds to bribe politicians and executives.
  • Celebrating diversity in Brazil: a parade of young women in the World Indigenous Games in Brazil celebrated the varied facial features, body types and adornments of native peoples from across the continent. The fact that the event took place at all marked something of a watershed, said organizer Tainara da Silva to the Associated Press. "Before, the elders didn't want to show their womenfolk in public," said Silva, an agronomist who started organizing beauty contests on her home reservation a few years ago. "But that's changing. They now see that this is a way of valorizing our culture and traditions."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Violence and poverty in LatAm (Oct. 27, 2015)

Why is Latin America -- which finally left behind decades of military dictatorships to re-embrace democracy -- the epicenter of world violence and homicides? The disturbing numbers come as the region has made historic strides in reducing poverty, a confusing relationship.

In the 1960s and 70s the murder rate in the region was closer to the global average. Since then, rates in the rest of the world have fallen, but skyrocketed in Latin America, writes Robert Muggah in a recent Americas Quarterly piece.

He examines a long list of factors that help explain the regional crisis, including: persistent inequality, youth unemployment, "aspirational" crime, weak security and justice institutions, and (the regional scourge) organized crime.

On the positive side, he notes that initiatives to reduce poverty -- including conditional cash transfer programs in Mexico and Brazil, for example -- have reduced crime rates.

An interesting piece on recent elections in Guatemala, Colombia and Argentina in InSight Crimemakes the interesting observation that militarized approaches are employed in countries with governments that cover the range of the political spectrum, from Venezuela to Mexico. Though such policies are often linked to human rights abuses and don't seem to actually decrease violence, they play well with voters, and, thus, seem likely to continue.

On the issue of poverty, which was reduced in the region, versus inequality, which was not as much -- depending of course on how it's measured -- according to an interesting piece in Nueva Sociedad

And of course, it's always depending on how it's measured. The Miami Herald's Andres Oppenheimerinterviews Nobel laureate Angus Deaton who says that Latin America has some of the most unreliable poverty statistics in the world.

News Briefs

  • One of the lead prosecutors in the case against Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López -- recently sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison for inciting violence in anti-government protests last year -- says the year-long trial was a sham. Franklin Nieves fled to the U.S. last week and apologized for his actions as the prosecutor who detained López and jointly supervised his trial. "This was a totally political trial which should be nullified. All of Leopoldo López’s human rights were violated because he was not able to present any witnesses or evidence," he told the Wall Street Journal. The dramatic defection is likely to further complicate the Maduro administration ahead of the December parliamentary elections that could give the opposition a majority in the National Assembly for the first time since Hugo Chávez reformed the body in 1999. Human rights groups had already denounced problems with the trial, including that most witnesses called by the defense were not allowed to testify and López's team was prevented from presenting most evidence. Venezuela's attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz denied the former prosecutor's accusations that officials had been pressured to provide false evidence at Lopez's trial, reports the BBC. She said Nieves was fired this week for abandoning his post.
  • The unifying themes of Latin America's Super Sunday of voting are peace and change, according to the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's post.) Voters in Argentina and Guatemala sought to reject the status quo of reigning politicians (albeit no necessarily in support of their actual proposals) while the polls in Haiti and Colombia were relatively peaceful.
  • Overarching peace not-withstanding, Colombia's second largest guerrilla force, the ELN killed at least 12 members of security forces yesterday as the officials accompanied an electoral commission near the town of Guicán, Boyacá. In addition three people were wounded and six people are missing, including two soldiers, one policeman, two civil-service officials and one indigenous guide, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Argentine politicians Daniel Scioli and Mauricio Macri, the two front-runners of Sunday's presidential election, are gearing up for a fight to the death in next month's run-off election, a first in Argentine history. (See yesterday's post.) They're fighting for the nearly 30 percent of the electorate who opted for other parties in the voting, especially dissident Peronist Sergio Massa's voters. He has announced that he will retreat for several days, draw up a list of priorities and then enter into negotiations regarding which side to support. Already they have agreed to at least one televised debate before voters head back to the polls. There are few predictions yet, but observers say the momentum is with Macri, who not only came surprisingly close to front-runner Scioli, but also routed him in his home state of Buenos Aires, a traditional Peronist stronghold. The New York Times' sources say it might presage a national political shift as "voting preferences in the province have historically foretold important shifts in Argentine politics." The Guardian wonders if the strong showing by conservative coalition "Cambiemos" is the beginning of the end for the Latin American "pink wave" of populist leftwing leaders who took power in Latin America in the first years of the 2000's. 
  • Most Brazilian's are opposed to President Dilma Rousseff's proposal to raise taxes in order to close the budget deficit, reports Reuters. Nonetheless her popularity has risen marginally from a low in July, from 7.7 percent to 8.8 percent.
  • Brazilian federal police, investigating allegations of tax fraud and influence peddling, searched the offices of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's son reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • A report from El Daily Post last week clarifies how the Mexican government and a team of independent investigators from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) -- who up until now disputed divergent evaluations of what happened on the night last year when 43 teachers' college students disappeared --will collaborate on the recently reopened Iguala probe. The unexpected cooperation with the human rights organization comes as the Peña Nieto faces unprecedented national and international criticism regarding his handling of rights violations. "In the world’s eyes, Peña Nieto is no longer seen as a leader of a nation where accusations of human rights violations are common. He’s seen, fairly or not, as a violator of human rights."
  • The easing of tensions between Cuba and the U.S. has led to a slew of policy changes over the past year. In a move that is more symbolic than anything else, the second-ranking official at the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas will return to Havana for a visit. He fled with his family in 1960 and never returned since, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Birth rates in Cuba parallel those of far richer countries: the population is aging and declining at a record rate. Aversion to having children, chalked up to the difficult economic situation, is compounded by youths who prefer to leave the island however they can in search of other opportunities, reports the New York Times. The country's liberal abortion policy means it has one of the highest rates in the world, but the basic problem is people's perception that they cannot afford a child, according to the piece.
  • Tijuana is modernizing public transportation in the city. The first step will be a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system is expected to start service to some 300,000 passengers a day next year, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Lest readers think Argentina is only focused on politics, The Guardian reports that the country's famed love-affair with meat (beef) is unlikely to be tainted by a recent WHO report that concluded concluded that red meat is "probably carcinogenic to humans."

Monday, October 26, 2015

Voters demand change in Argentine and Guatemalan elections (Oct. 26, 2015)


Argentina's presidential elections yesterday ended in surprise: a strong showing by conservative candidate Mauricio Macri, who nearly tied with governing party candidate Daniel Scioli, means the two will head to a run-off election next month. The final results came in early this morning: Scioli has nearly 37 percent of the vote, with Macri coming close behind, with just over 34 percent. The leading candidate needed more than 45 percent of the vote, or 40 percent and a margin larger than 10 points over the nearest rival, to avoid the runoff. (See Friday's post.)

Scioli, who is governor of Buenos Aires, was widely expected to win outright, or at least have a larger lead against Macri, who is mayor of Buenos Aires city. Yesterday's results put Macri within reach of the presidency and send a strong message to the governing Frente para la Victoria party. It also means marks the emergence of a new, nationally competitive force in Argentina, reports the Wall Street Journal.

But the close results are already a victory for Macri and his campaign message of "let's change" (cambiemos). "What happened today will change politics in this country," Macri promised his supporters last night in what wound up being a victory party, reports Reuters. Opposition candidates one in municipalities and governorships up for grabs around the country, including the Buenos Aires province, a bastion of Peronist voters. Together with Macri's surprisingly strong showing, the mood is one of victory for his party, though it's not yet clear what will happen in next month's run-off.

Both candidates already made appeals last night to voters of the four candidates who were left out of the running yesterday, especially Sergio Massa, who is running on an opposition Peronist party ticket and got over 21 percent. Massa congratulated his supporters yesterday and Scioli and Macri, without saying which he will throw his weight behind in the upcoming run-off, reports Reuters. The former Kirchner ally turned opposition could play the role of kingmaker now, reports the New York Times. However about a third of Massa's supporters are Peronists, who could now back Scioli and potentially hand him a win.

Experts quoted in the piece say voters were looking for an end to the Kirchner governments which have been in power for 12 years now, and a less polarized style than that of current President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

But, others note the essential similarity between the three leading candidates, who all promised to maintain many central elements of the Kirchner years, especially social spending. One Buenos Aires Herald columnist made the case that the three could be amalgamated into one composite candidate: "He is an amiable, middle-of-the-road, middle-class, middle-aged and fairly athletic bloke of Italian extraction who, with a winning smile, tells us that the country can easily overcome all its many economic and social problems," writes James Neilson.

Continuity won't be easy, says the Wall Street Journal. Argentina is short on dollars, and Fernández's successor will have to pursue unpopular (read austerity) policies to keep the economy on track. The piece goes into the complications of Argentina's foreign reserves and exchange rates, as well as high inflation and an important budget deficit. Both candidates are likely to scale back government intervention in the economy.

Yet, another New York Times piece notes the relative popularity of Fernández -- her approval ratings are at 42 percent. The highest of any president in modern Argentine history, notes the WSJ. Analysts are wondering what will happen to her political movement -- the Peronist oriented Kirchnerismo -- after she leaves office. A lot depends on whether her candidate Scioli wins the presidency or not. Cristina, as she's known locally, is constitutionally barred from running for a third consecutive term, but die hard fans are holding out hope that she'll make a comeback in the future ... 

In an aside, yet another New York Times piece from earlier in the weekend speaks of candidates who "buy" votes, via "clientilistic" policies of "offering services and goods in exchange for support." The piece quotes citizens and experts who cast social spending as vote buying. Admittedly there are many problematic practices in the area that could be improved through more institutionalized systems of social support, but the critiques reek of class snobbery and tend to be extended to all types of social programs. (The same is true around the region, as is the case with the much lauded "bolsa familia" in Brazil.) Poor people "sell" their votes in exchange for beneficial policies -- middle class voters are "courted" by politicians and justifiably vote in their best economic interests.


No joke: former TV comedian Jimmy Morales swept into the Guatemalan presidency with a landslide win in yesterday's run-off election against leftist Sandra Torres, reports Reuters

With over 90 percent of ballots counted, Morales had 70 percent of the vote, compared with 30 percent for Torres. It could be the largest margin of victory in a presidential vote since democracy was restored in 1985, reports the Wall Street Journal.

He was chosen in a fervor of anti-corruption sentiment, in the wake of several very high profile investigations that led to the resignation of former President Otto Pérez Molina in September and have implicated members of the Guatemalan political elite. Best known for playing dim-witted characters on TV, Morales' election represents a strong rejection of the status quo, reports the New York Times.

His slogan, "not corrupt, nor a thief," says it all.

"As president I received a mandate, and the mandate of the people of Guatemala is to fight against the corruption that is consuming us," Morales said last night.

However, how he will fight entrenched corruption is more of a mystery, as is basically everything else about his eventual government policies. His campaign was short on specifics, including what action he will take on pressing issues such as poverty and violence. Income inequality is among the most extreme in Latin America, and almost half of the children are chronically malnourished, according to the NYTimes piece.

The WSJ piece makes the case that Morales must now announce bold actions, especially in terms of promises to increase government transparency and accountability, if he hopes to avoid the widespread citizen protests that brought down Pérez Molina.

And he might represent a rejection of established political parties, but he'll be forced to cooperate if he wants to govern as his party has only 11 seats in Congress out of 158, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Voters don't seem to care about potential ties of members of his political party with military repression during the country's brutal and long 36-year civil war reports the Los Angeles Times, citing a local poll. "Signs tying Morales to military personnel associated with acts of repression during the civil war and other dark facts from his past don't seem to have had much impact on the vote registered in our survey," said the ProDatos research published on Oct. 21 in Prensa Libre.

News Briefs

  • No results yet from Haiti's presidential elections -- but officials thanked voters for a relatively calm day and urged patience, reports the Miami Herald. Voters may face a long wait for results: partial results are expected in 10 days but final results would not be ready until late November, reports the Associated Press. The leading candidates are expected to end in a run-off vote in December, though there was little clarity over who might be the front-runners of the 54 candidates. Still, the day was considered a success. Brazilian diplomat Celso Amorim, who headed a 125-person Organization of American States Observer Mission said the elections were positive. "Of course, we have to wait. It’s not finished, but I have a positive expectation that we’re moving into the right direction," he said. The number of voting centers vandalized or reporting security issues was down compared to Aug. 9, when 13 percent of the 1,508 voting centers were forced to suspend balloting because of armed violence, voter intimidation and irregularities. Voting was prevented in only one locality, where ballots and voting material were destroyed and could not be replaced because of adverse conditions. United Nations security forces reported that 224 people were arrested, including a candidate for the lower chamber of Deputies and two Haiti National Police officers. 
  • Election bonus track: Municipal elections in Colombia swept former mayor Enrique Peñalosa back into office in Bogotá. Peñalosa, a centrist independent who governed from 1998 to 2001, has promised to tackle the city's transit and crime problems, reports the Wall Street Journal. He narrowly beat the liberal party candidate who had the endorsement of President Juan Manuel Santos. Voters punished Social Democratic Polo Democratico Party whose members have been governing since 2004, according to Colombia Reports. Peñalosa, along with legendary former mayor Antanas Mockus (who gave him crucial backing this month), are behind what in policy circles is considered a case-study in urban transformation in Bogotá. It's a win for technocrats, but does not mean an end to polemic surrounding the office of the country's largest city, reports Silla Vacia. The former mayor inspires passion among followers and detractors, and has promised sweeping change for the city.
  • Around the country voters chose 1,500 provincial governors, mayors, councils and other officials, in elections that marked the return of a leftist party, the Patriotic Union, which had been nearly wiped out by political violence in the 1990s, reports the WSJ.  In the second-city of Medellin, former city council member Federico Andrés Gutiérrez won the race with 36 percent of the vote, reports the Miami Herald. The election day was peaceful, though there were hundreds of reports of fraud and irregularities, according to Colombia Reports. However, during the campaign season authorities arrested 113 people for electoral crimes, including 26 candidates, notes the Miami Herald. A piece from Time Magazine from last week says mayoral elections in Colombia are notoriously corrupt -- massive vote-buying and voter registration fraud could affect the results in hundreds of remote towns and cities. And that could be a problem for the recently signed peace accords with the FARC. Some candidates running for office yesterday are believed to have links to criminal gangs and large landholders who have little interest in the peace agenda, according to the piece. These are the first regional elections since Santos started the peace process against the FARC.  "The candidates that will be elected will have a great challenge on their shoulders: put in motion the peace agreement and achieve reconciliation," said statement by the Santos administration released the day before the elections. The FARC, the country’s largest rebel group, carried out no attacks yesterday. Silla Vacía has more coverage.
  • In a curious case, the central Colombian town of Yopal elected a new mayor who has been running the last month of his campaign from jail where he is held on corruption charges. It is unclear ifif he will be able to assume office as he was arrested earlier this month for selling plots of land from a terrain that originally belonged to "Coletas," an alleged drug trafficker wanted by the United States, explains Colombia Reports.
  • Dominican author Junot Díaz was called "anti-Dominican" and stripped of the order of merit award given to him in 2009 after campaigning for the rights of undocumented migrants in the Dominican Republic, reports The Guardian. Díaz was in Washington last week with the Haitian American author Edwidge Danticat, to urge the U.S. government to take action to curb persecution of, mainly Haitian, migrants in the Dominican Republic.
  • Hurricane Patricia, the strongest storm ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere fizzled when it hit Mexico, in the sparsely populated area of Jalisco State and caused no major damage, reports the Wall Street Journal. Still the government response seems to have been reasonably competent says Alejandro Hope, of El Daily Post, who compares success in disaster relief and prevention policies with utter failure in public security and crime. It was a rare bit of good news for President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Sunday vote updates and gun de-regulation in Brazil (Oct. 23, 2015)

Pollsters yesterday agreed that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's candidate, Daniel Scioli, is likely to win presidential elections outright this Sunday, according to left-wing newspaper Página 12. But the polls, which place him winning with 41 to 42 percent are within the margin of error that might mean a second round run-off election next month.

To win the presidency outright, a candidate needs to take 45 percent of the vote or at least 40 percent with a 10 percent lead over the runner-up. 

The characters and electoral minutia can be overwhelming to latecomers. The Guardian has a handy guide to the parties, polls and electoral system. 
Some 30 million Argentinians voted in the August primary which both selects presidential candidates and acts as a mock election for the party coalitions or "alliances." The Frente para la Victoria party, with Scioli as the only candidate, garnered 38.41 percent of the vote in August.

Want more detail? La Nación has a review of the party platforms, although, admittedly "few read them." The Economist has an interview with Scioli in which he explains his path of change and continuity with the current administration. 

To look at only one key campaign issue in depth: Proposals to combat drug activity and drug-related violence in Argentina have prominently figured in the campaigns of the top three presidential contenders, notes InSight Crime, which says all three put forward similar solutions for how to confront the growing drug trade in Argentina. Proposals have particularly focused on militarizing drug policy by increasing the role of state security forces in the fight against drug trafficking. All three candidates also agree on the need for creating a new federal agency to investigate drug crimes.

InSight is critical of the proposed approach. "Although they appear to be largely in line with the public's priorities, the candidates' proposals for militarizing the fight against drugs evokes alarm. Evidence suggests the militarization of domestic security -- a popular choice among governments across Latin America -- is detrimental to human rights and has little overall impact on crime and violence in the long term. The candidates' rhetoric also runs contrary to steps taken under the Kirchner administration to decriminalize drug use and phase out the military's participation in the fight against drug trafficking."

The elections mark the end of an era, even if Scioli wins as expected. Between Fernández de Kirchner and her deceased husband and predecessor Nestor Kirchner, the Kirchners governed the country for twelve years, known by supporters as the "won decade" ("la década ganada") in reference to the enormously popular social policies they ushered in.

The BBC looks at some of the key legacies (both positive and negative).  And The Economist gloats at the end of the Kirchner administration, which the magazine says her populist polices have left Argentina on the brink of catastrophe. Either of the two leading candidates would be an improvement, according to the magazine.

And so it's fitting that on the other side of the spectrum Horacio Verbitsky in Página 12 recalled aMafalda comic from fifty years ago that speaks to the current situation (they always do): a young character tells how her father is disgusted by the candidate he is going to vote for, and depressed at what will happen under his administration -- but even more horrified by the alternative options.

In the U.S. observers wonder whether the new era will signal a change in foreign policy. Scioli has indicated he would welcome foreign investors and settle a dispute with U.S. bondholders that has kept Argentina from tapping global credit markets reports the Wall Street Journal.

Undecided voters might be attracted to an unexpected star of this year's endless election season: Omar Obaca, a fictional African-Argentine candidate, dreamed up by an advertising company to satirize Argentine politics, reports the New York Times. The wildly popular internet campaign has spurred debate over the ways black people are portrayed in a country that traditionally prioritizes its European (ie white) heritage.


Haitian officials are attempting to reassure anxious voters that elections this weekend will be fair, peaceful and organized, reports the Associated Press

The prime minister, various Cabinet members, the police chief and the elections director spoke on state television about preparations for the elections in which Haitians will pick a new president as well as parliamentary representatives and municipal posts. If none of the 56 candidates garners a majority on Sunday, the top two vote-getters will face each other in a runoff on Dec. 27.

The upcoming election is seen as a key test for the Haitian National Police, reports VICE. During the August vote, officers were criticized for either standing on the sidelines or directly contributing to the unrest in efforts to tip the outcome in favor of their preferred candidates. 

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has sent an 11-member team to observe the polls, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.

(See yesterday's post on Guatemala's presidential run-off election.)

A special Brazilian congressional committee met earlier this week to analyze the national Disarmament Statute. According to press versions, most members are in favor of relaxing the law, which would mean easier access to weapons and relaxed norms for carrying them as well.

The vote itself was postponed until next week, according Portal Vermhelo which goes into detail over the parliamentary wrangling going on.

The actual reform would modify the 2003 Estatuto do Desarmamento in one key element: that citizens be required to demonstrate "actual need" to carry a weapon, due to professional duties or having received threats, for example. The law vastly reduced concessions to carry arms, reports the BBC.

Lawmakers noted the dangers of changing 2003 law, which is credited with saving over 160,000 lives since it was implemented. Deputy Glauber Braga said the proposals will raise the amount of homicides in Brazil and said the argument that the law permits citizens the tools for legitimate defense is false, reports Agência Câmara.

But activists in favor of the move say that in practise the requirements will limit access to weapons, while the establishment of technical criteria will make access to weapons more fair, according to the BBC.

But the executive director of the NGO Instituto Sou da Paz, Ivan Marques, disagrees strenuously. He told the BBC that it is the elimination of the carrying of weapons regulations that is most dangerous. "Prohibiting civilian possession of firearms was the way to prevent banal discussions, in transit or in bars, for example, from turning into violent deaths by firearms," he said. "Returning to civilians carrying arms is a recklessness."

The Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública spoke out against the proposed modifications, noting that the recently released 9ª Edição do Anuário Brasileiro de Segurança Pública shows extremely elevated levels of homicide by firearms in the country: 71 percent and reaching 90 percent in some states.

They also note that an increase of one percent of firearms in the population raises the homicide rate by two percent, and has an effect on the rate of crimes against property, meaning more weapons don't generally contribute to a better sense of security.

The repeal of the statute would be a mistake, argues an O Globo editorial. "Since it was established in 2003, the law has been the subject of attacks in all legislatures, but apart from a scratch or other, stood firm as the primary for successful deterrent instrument of proliferation of firearms in the country."

The piece says  there are 116 murders per day in Brazil, according to the Map of Violence, 94.5% of them committed with firearms. But, the rate of 21.9 deaths per hundred thousand inhabitants (more than double the rate considered epidemic violence by the UN) is only the second highest in Brazilian history. It's still a shade below the rate in 2003, when current limitations on firearms were put in place, precipitating a drop in homicidal violence.

The piece blames the fight between Congress (led by speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha) and the Rousseff administration for a spate of proposals designed more to oppose the governing Workers' Party than anything else.

The Brazil Post explains that the debate to repeal or modify the law is not new, but has received new force from conservative factions of the lower chamber of congress (the so-called "B" benches -- Boi, Bala e Bíblia (Beef, Bullets and Bible) -- which include evangelicals, hardliners and parts of the opposition. (See July 1st's post on the push to lower the age of criminal responsibility and July 3rd's briefs on the surprise last-minute approval of the bill.) However even the members of the "Bullet Bench" are not united behind the efforts, according to O Globo.

(Another O Globo piece goes into depth into some of the internal disagreements around clauses that would permit the importation of weapons and others.)

The piece notes that the PMDB party behind the proposed changes received the most of nearly $2 million reais in donations from the arms industry. The change would allow people over 21 and with no convictions for felony, to take exams and a 10 hour course that will permit them to buy up to 6 weapons. It's harder to get a drivers license, according to the Brazil Post.

News Briefs
  • Human Rights Watch report released earlier this week focuses on the prison crisis in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, where "the prisons hold more than three times as many inmates as their official capacity in conditions that are dangerous, unhealthy, and inhumane." Prisoners lack even floor space to sleep on and "the prevalence of HIV infection in Pernambuco’s prisons is 42 times that of the general population; the prevalence of tuberculosis is almost 100 times that of the general population. Prison clinics are understaffed, medication is scarce, and ill detainees are often not taken to hospitals for lack of police escort." Though the crisis is particularly acute in Pernambuco, the problems there are representative of Brazilian prisons in general. Some of Brazil's prisons are controlled by gangs, which have shown they are even able to orchestrate revenge killings outside of prison from their cells, reports VICE.
  • American investigators are increasingly focusing on Venezuelan officials suspected of corruption, including officials at the government-owned oil company, Pdvsa, reports the New York Times. (The Wall Street Journal ran a similar story covered in yesterday's briefs.) One Treasury Department investigation found that high-ranking Venezuelan government officials used shell companies, fake contracts and import scams to camouflage the illicit movement of more than $4 billion through a European bank accused of being a money-laundering haven. But Venezuela's U.N. envoy dismissed the WSJ piece about a U.S. probe into billions of dollars in bribes allegedly paid to executives at the country's state-run oil giant that he used to run. Rafael Ramirez posted messages on Twitter Thursday describing the report as attacks by "enemies of the people" in retaliation for the late President Hugo Chavez's recovery of the nation's oil wealth for the benefit of Venezuelans, reports the Associated Press.
  • Guyanese President David Granger says Venezuela is claiming the territory that holds his country's largest goldmine. He accused Venezuela of trying to scare away foreign investors from Guyana, reports CBS News. The Canadian operated mine is one of Guyana's biggest investment projects. Venezuela has long claimed 40 percent of Guyana's territory and extended its maritime claims this year after oil was discovered in disputed waters. (See Sept. 30th's briefs.)
  • Peruvian police arrested an army lieutenant yesterday, alleging he regularly collected bribes from drug traffickers for letting small planes ferry cocaine out of the world's primary coca-producing valley, according to the Associated Press. It's the first arrest of a military officer on drug trafficking charges in at least a decade and comes a week after an AP report that said the Armed Forces have turned a blind eye to cocaine trafficking out of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro river valley, called the VRAEM. (See Oct. 14th's briefs.)
  • Former Peruvian President  Alan Garcia is officially running for a third term in next Aprils elections, reports the Associated Press. He governed from 1985-90 during a period of runaway inflation and a worsening Shining Path insurgency and again again from 2006-2011 during an economic boom that also saw Peru become the world's primary cocaine exporter. He is third in opinion polls, with 9 percent. The daughter of the disgraced and imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori, Keiko Fujimori, is leading polls with 35 percent.
  • Two brothers from Mexico's capital, conducting a poll on tortilla consumption in Ajalpan were taken for criminals and killed by a lynch mob of townspeople frightened by both the gang violence plaguing much of Mexico and recent tales of alleged child abductions, reports theAssociated Press. Local media in Puebla state say there have been as many as 10 incidents of vigilantism against suspected criminals in the last year resulting in three deaths, but there are no official accounts to corroborate that. "The phenomenon of lynching or people taking the law into their own hands, and the frequency with which it has presented itself in the state of Puebla, is evidence of the fragile rule of law," the National Human Rights Commission said.
  • Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán's lawyer was in charge of executing the (ultimately successful) plan to break the drug kingpin out of prison earlier this year, reports the New York Times. He was arrested on Wednesday along with Guzmán's brother-in-law, who is believed to be the architect behind the elaborate tunnels across the United States border that became the trademark of a drug trafficking network. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Mexico is expected to be hit by a Category 5 storm, Hurricane Patricia later today. Some of Mexico’s most popular resorts, including Puerto Vallarta, are in the path of the storm, the strongest of its kind recorded in the Western Hemisphere reports the New York Times. Forecasters say it could make a "potentially catastrophic landfall" later today, according to theAssociated Press.
  • Earlier this week Cuban officials announced Cuba announced a long-term plan to preserve its sharks, developed in cooperation with the U.S -based Environmental Defense Fund. The move is part of part of a rapidly accelerating partnership between the two countries aimed at preserving their shared waters, reports the Associated Press.