Thursday, November 3, 2011

Abortion Stirs Controversy in Latin America, as in US

Bloomberg Businessweek looks at abortion laws in Latin America, in the context of the current debate on the issue among Republican primary candidates, pointing out that;
Latin America, home to the world’s strictest abortion laws, may hold lessons for U.S. Republican presidential hopefuls who advocate a ban on the practice.
[…]
The strict laws in Latin America haven’t stopped abortion and, in some cases, have interfered with life-saving medical procedures for women.
The magazine points out that women in the region have the highest rate of “unsafe” terminations in the world, at 31 per 1,000 women of reproductive age, according to the World Health Organization.

The article notes that Chile, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic have all moved to make abortion illegal in all cases, including those in which the woman’s life is in danger if the pregnancy continues.

The issue of abortion is currently under debate in several other countries in the region. An Argentine Congress committee this week took a step towards legalizing elective abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy -- it is currently illegal except in cases of rape of a woman with mental problems, or if there is danger to the woman's life. According to AFP, the Ministry of Health said there were nearly half a million abortions in the country in 2009, which Human Rights Watch says represents 40 percent of all pregnancies. The news agency also quotes a Congress member who said that 700,000 illegal abortions happen each year. The move does not have the support of newly re-elected President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner, who has declared herself to be an opponent of legal abortion, according to AFP.

In October Colombia’s Senate struck down a Conservative Party proposal to make abortion illegal in all cases. Since 2006 it has been allowed when the pregnancy is a result of rape, or when there is a threat to the life of the woman or serious malformation of the fetus. However, a survey released in September highlighted the prevalence of abortion in that country, at a rate of 39 per 1,000 women of reproductive age. The survey said that 99.9 percent of all abortions in Colombia are carried out illegally.

On Monday, the issue of abortion made headlines in Nicaragua when the country’s first lady personally announced that a 12-year-old indigenous girl who had been raped had given birth in Managua. The president’s wife called the healthy birth “a miracle and a sign of God.” Women campaigned on the streets of the capital city the previous week, demanding the legalization of “theraputic” abortion, carried out on grounds of health, reports EFE. Abortion was made illegal in all cases in 2006, and Bloomberg Businessweek identifies President Daniel Ortega’s support for the total ban as one of the things that helped bring the former advocate of abortion rights back to power in that year.

However, anti-abortion advocates are gaining traction in Mexico, where in September the Supreme Court ruled not to overturn a measure banning elective abortion in Baja California. Several states have passed similar measures since Mexico City legalized abortion in 2007, reports the LA Times.

The issue looks set to keep generating controversy. As Bloomberg Businessweek points out;
In Latin America, abortion is an issue that draws on strong emotions and is used as a political card in heavily Roman Catholic nations.

News Briefs
  • A mayor in the west Mexican state of Michaocan was assassinated while on the campaign trail for the sister of President Felipe Calderon, who is standing for a position in the state government. According to the Associated Press, Ricardo Guzman is the fifth mayor to be killed in the country this year. EFE counts 20 since the beginning of 2010. Mexican media report that the victim was a close ally of the Calderon family. Michoacan is one of states most dominated by organized criminal groups, being the birthplace of the Familia Michaocana drug gang and its offshoot, the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar).
  • Arms trafficker Victor Bout has been convicted by a New York court of trying to sell arms to Colombian rebel group the FARC. He was captured in Bangkok in a 2008 sting by the U.S. anti-drug agency DEA, whose agents posed as representatives of the guerrilla organization. The deal he thought he was making included the sale of 100 surface-to-air missiles, 20,000 high-powered rifles and 10 million rounds of ammunition to the FARC.
  • Forbes publishes its annual list of those it dubs the 70 most powerful individuals in the world, controversially ranking Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman, alias “El Chapo,” at 55, up from 60 the previous year. Mexican newspaper Vanguardia called the selection of Guzman a case of “pure journalistic stupidity.” In more respectable choices from Latin America, the list features Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff at 22, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim at 23, and Chilean President Sebastian Piñera at number 66.
  • The New York Times reports on Mexico’s campaign to attract tourists to the country, and overcome the image of danger and drug violence perpetuated by media reports on the country. A new series of commercials features “hidden camera” footage of U.S. tourists riding in taxis after they returned from vacations in Mexico, and discussing their trips with their drivers. The subjects were told that they were being filmed for a commercial, and asked to sign a waiver. This campaign comes, however, on the heels of news that deaths of U.S. citizens in Mexico have reached an eight year high, with 65 murdered in the first six months of 2011.
  • The first lady of the Dominican Republic, Margarita Cedeno, is set to run as vice president to Danilo Medina, the candidate of her husband’s Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) in the 2012 elections. Incumbent President Leonel Fernandez is blocked from running again next year. AFP reports that the selection of Cedeno is likely to unify the party, as Medina had lost to Fernandez in the 2006 primaries.
  • In Honduras, the government of Porfirio Lobo has deployed troops onto the streets as part of a new operation against organized crime. The country is on course for the world’s highest murder rate this year, at 86 per 100,000 population.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports on the first big corruption scandal to face Peru’s new President Ollanta Humala, with one of his vice presidents, Omar Chehade, facing congressional questioning over allegations that he abused his position to evict a group of protesters on behalf of a private company. The WSJ says analysts predict Chehade will be forced out of office to limit the damage to Humala.
  • The latest poll from Guatemala puts Otto Perez on course to win the presidency in Sunday’s second round of elections, at 58.5 percent of voter intentions, to rival Manuel Baldizon’s 41.5 percent. Meanwhile the country’s electoral council announced moves to tighten security in order to avoid violence on polling day.
  • The Miami Herald reports on Nicaragua’s presidential elections, set for the same day as Guatemala’s, in which incumbent President Daniel Ortega is set to win another term after overturning constitutional term limits. The newspaper says that the president “sits atop a growing family fortune and seems destined himself to become the founder of a dynasty as he steers his Central American nation through a modest economic boom.” Like other commentators, (see yesterday’s post) the Miami Herald points to economic largesse from Venezuela as having helped Ortega to stay popular through social spending.
  • The Guardian reports on a Brazilian campaigner who has been fired from his job with the government indigenous protection service FUNAI, which helps determine policy on the country’s indigenous groups, allegedly due to his campaigning against a mega-dam project. Megaron Txucarramae told the newspaper that he thought the sacking was “political persecution” due to his work campaigning against the controversial Belo Monte hydroelectric dam.