After completing what he has called his first cycle of chemotherapy, President Hugo Chavez returned from Cuba to Venezuela on Saturday, triumphantly announcing that his Cuban doctors had not found a single cancerous cell in his body, neither in the pelvic region where his tumor was located nor anywhere else in his body. In a televised speech delivered at Simon Bolivar’s childhood home on Sunday, the Venezuelan leader commemorated Bolivar’s 228th birthday by speaking passionately about the future of his “Bolivarian Revolution,” and at one point broke into song with a folk music group, according to AP. Despite his cheery outlook, Chavez has stated that he will likely return to Cuba to seek treatment again in the coming months, although he did not say when the next series of treatments would begin.
In a Sunday interview with the state-owned Correo del Orinoco, Chavez also appeared to reaffirm his commitment to running for re-election in 2012, saying "I have medical reasons, scientific reasons, human reasons, reasons of love and political reasons to keep myself at the front of the government and the candidacy with more force than before.” While this is not quite a formal declaration, Reuters notes that the Venezuelan publication took it as such, allegedly splashing “Chavez to be candidate in 2012" on its front page.
Meanwhile, it seems that all of the speculation over whether Venezuelans would be outraged by Chavez’s decision to “govern from Cuba” has been relatively baseless. According to a survey of 1,300 Venezuelans by polling firm Datanalisis, domestic support for the president remains at around 50%, a figure which is nearly identical to the results of a poll that the group conducted a month earlier. What is less clear, however, is whether a different candidate will be able to step in should his cancer take a turn for the worse. Although this possibility currently seems rather distant, Roger Noriega claimed in the Miami Herald last week that Chavez has a 50% chance of surviving 18 months, citing “sources close to his medical team in Cuba.”
· New York Times highlights the rise of credit agencies in South America, with a focus on Brazil and Chile. Although credit-fueled spending has driven much of the growth in the region in the past few years, many South Americans have become victims of predatory lending practices such as misleading advertisement and hidden fees. According to the Times, the household debt-to-income levels in Brazil and Chile are rising at an alarming rate. In Brazil, it increased from 22% in 2006 to 40% in April, and in Chile, it was at more than 70% in December of 2010.
· Last Thursday, the Mexican Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduria General de la Republica – PGR) charged 111 of its own officials with a series of criminal charges, including abuse of power, fraud and embezzlement, and dismissed 192 others for inadequately carrying out investigations. AP and the Wall Street Journal claim that the process of investigation began in April, when Marisela Morales became attorney general and promised to fight internal corruption within the department. El Universal says that an additional 700 employees of the PGR are currently facing disciplinary sanctions for improper conduct.
· The Washington Post profiles Ciudad Juarez’s divisive new police chief, Lt. Col. Julian Leyzaola. The Post touches on opposition to Leyzaola by human rights groups, and points out his nomination is part of a larger controversy, as the government is tasking more and more military commanders with police duties in the country.
· The L.A Times’ Richard Marosi offers an interesting look at the efforts of U.S. law enforcement to track and detain members of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel. The article provides useful insight into the high level of complexity in the group’s trans-border smuggling networks, as well as their ability to make contacts in the U.S.
· Haitian President Michel Martelly has announced several changes to the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, naming Ann Valerie Timothee Milfort, former chief-of-staff for the Ministry of Women's Affairs, to serve as its interim executive director. Martelly’s also appointed six political allies to the Commission’s board, replacing those who resigned in protest when he took office. AP says the president also backed a proposal that aims to relocate 30,000 people living in six different refugee camps into 16 residential neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince.
· Nicaragua’s La Prensa reports that President Daniel Ortega enjoys a considerable lead in the upcoming November presidential elections. According to a new survey by M&R Consultores, the leader has the support of 56.5 of likely voters. Additionally, Ortega’s Sandinista party is projected to gain 56 deputies in the National Assembly, which would give them the numbers necessary to overpower the opposition on a number of political, economic and social reforms.
· The Global Post reports on Costa Rica’s worsening security situation, made worse by increasing income inequality, rising drug addiction and the rise of organized crime. Although homicide rates have fallen in recent years, almost half of all Costa Ricans consider insecurity to be the worst problem facing their nation. The Post also cites an April World Bank report which found that the percentage of victims of crime in the country doubled from 1997 to 2008.
· Mercopress and Clarin report that Argentine President Cristina Fernandez’s presidential campaign suffered a setback on Sunday, when her party’s candidate for governor finished a distant third in the province of Santa Fe. Especially damning to her was the fact that Kirchnerite candidates swept the Santa Fe provincial elections, indicating a high degree of support for her party but a widespread rejection of Fernandez herself.
· Julian Torres has a tidy critique of Colombia’s so-called “obligitaory” military service over at Colombia Reports. As is the case for most Latin American countries (and many other nations around the world), the majority of the Colombian army come from poor backgrounds, while the rich generally avoid military service or manage to obtain relatively risk-free positions. Torres claims that this represents an attitude which treats Colombia’s poor majority as “replaceable and expendable objects,” calling for a change in order for Colombia to become the more just society outlined in the country’s 1991 Constitution.
· Alan Gross, the American government contractor imprisoned in Cuba on espionage charges, made a final appeal to the Cuban government on Friday to have his 15-year prison sentence reduced or dismissed. According to the Miami Herald, the Cuban Supreme Peoples’ Court is expected to issue a ruling in a few days, and U.S. officials are confident that Gross will be freed for “humanitarian reasons.”
· AP reports on the Cuban government’s efforts to enact major changes to the country’s home ownership laws, which is expected to ease the massive demand for housing, stimulate construction employment and generate increased tax revenue.
· Finally, the New York Times reports on a new addition to Uruguay’s art scene: the Espacio de Arte Contemporáneo, which is located in an abandoned former prison.