President Hugo Chavez has returned to Venezuela after a fourth round of chemotherapy, which he celebrated as his last. Speaking at Simon Bolivar International airport outside of Caracas, the head of state claimed that his cancer has been beat. "I feel like I've been born again," Chavez said.
But Chavez’s announcement was contradicted by former U.S. ambassador to the Organization of America States (OAS) Roger Noriega, according to El Nuevo Herald. Speaking at a forum on Venezuela held at the University of Miami, Noriega cited sources that “over the years have provided very reliable information,” and claimed that Chavez is in serious condition. "These sources are saying that Chavez is in a serious condition and is not improving as his doctors had hoped," said Noriega. "This means we should start to think of and prepare for a world without Hugo Chavez."
The reliability of Noriega’s sources is not clear, however, as this is the second time the former ambassador has contradicted Chavez’s health claims. In July, he wrote a piece in the Herald alleging that Chavez had a 50% chance of surviving 18 months, saying he had “sources close to his medical team in Cuba.”
- In other Venezuela news, Chavez’s government has claimed responsibility for Iran’s recent release of the U.S. hiker "spies," Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal. According to Temir Porras, Venezuela’s Foreign Vice Minister for the Middle East, the release was made possible by the mediation of Hugo Chavez. "American hickers Josh #Fattal and Shane #Bauer were released by #Iran thanks to President #Hugo Chavez's mediation." Porras posted on his Twitter account yesterday. Despite corroboration of this claim by Iranian officials, so far the U.S. has not acknowledged that Venezuela had any role in the release.
- AP profiles the Cuban opposition, noting that it has lost stem in the face of several political and economic reforms announced by Raul Castro. One of the most visible opposition groups on the island, the Ladies in White, has lost its central issue after the government cleared the jails of political detainees and sent many of them into apparent exile in Spain.
- Mexico state governor Enrique Peña Nieto made waves this week when he officially announced his presidential bid, and claimed that the murder rate in his state had fallen by more than half under his watch. As the Economist's Americas View blog notes, however, this does not take into account the fact that the government changed the way it statistically records homicides in 2007. As a result of the shift, the murder rate fell on its own by 67 percent from December 2006 to January 2007. Controlling for the methodological change reveals no significant drop in murders over Peña Nieto’s term.
- El Universal reports that the Mexican Interior Department has directed federal prosecutors to investigate the Monterrey gaming house in which 52 people were killed last month, charging the casino with running “illegal games.”
- Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla issued a fresh denouncement of Nicaragua’s “provocations” on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly yesterday, AFP reports. The president called on the international community to intervene in the two countries’ year-long border dispute, saying "all we demand of this organization and the multilateral system is quick and timely attention to possible attacks.”
- The Economist has published its latest issue, featuring several interesting pieces on the region. Specifically, the magazine looks at creeping protectionism in South America’s two largest economies: Argentina and Brazil. It also reports on recent deaths from alcohol poisoning in Ecuador, the shifting face of the Venezuelan opposition and the role of the internet in Mexico’s “drug war.”
- With domestic sentiment against the U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti (known as MINUSTAH, its French acronym) on the rise, the Miami Herald reports that Haitian President Michel Martelly will make his first appearance at the U.N. General Assembly today. On Tuesday the country’s Seante voted to demand the withdrawal of peacekeeping forces over the next three years, and Martelly himself campaigned on the promise of removing MINUSTAH. As Reuters notes, the president has backed away from that stance upon reaching office, instead using the issue to call for the re-establishment of the military, which was disbanded in 1995. The tone of his statement today is expected to clear up this contradiction, solidifying his stance on the peacekeeping forces.
- AP reports that student demonstrations have resumed in Santiago, Chile, after the government failed once again to accept the protestors’ demands. The wire agency claims that tens of thousands of protestors hit the streets in downtown Santiago yesterday, but El Ciudadano has the figure at 150 to 180 thousand. After several hours, the demonstration was dispersed by tear gas and police in riot gear. MercoPress says that at least 50 students were arrested in the crackdown. Meanwhile, yesterday President Piñera repeated his claim that his government hopes to eliminate extreme poverty in Chile by 2014 during a speech given at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas (AS/COA) in New York.
- Rene Sanabria, the former Bolivian narcotics police commander who was arrested in August 2010 for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into Miami, will be sentenced by a federal judge today. Sanabria has pleaded guilty to the charges, and has allegedly cooperated with U.S. drug enforcement officials to provide insight into organized criminal activity in the country. As such, his defense team is expected to call for leniency in today’s the hearing.
- Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Congress, has voted to create a Truth Commission, which would investigate human rights abuses committed under the 1964-1985 military dictatorship. As Reuters notes, the country has generally avoided official recognition of the abuses committed by the military regime, and no politicians have yet been sentenced for political crimes dating back to the period.
- Viva Rio, a Brazilian NGO which works to reduce urban violence in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, partnered with Military Police of Rio de Janeiro state this week to host a conference on public security. Known as the Strategic Meeting on Public Security and Drug Policies, the conference was attended by 30 police officials and organized crime experts from various countries. The end result of the conference is the “Rio de Janeiro Declaration,” which calls on law enforcement officials around the world to move past the punitive “war on drugs” paradigm in favor of one based on harm reduction and community policing. The English translation of the document is available here.