Tuesday, July 31, 2012

White House Cocaine Production Data Differs Sharply from UN

In remarks to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) R. Gil Kerlikowske shared new data about shifting cocaine production trends in the Andes.

In 2011, Colombia saw its potential cocaine production fall 25 percent from 2011, representing a 72 percent from since 2001. This means that Colombia is now producing less cocaine than Bolivia or Peru for the first time since 1995, Kerlikowske said.

The ONDCP’s complete statement on its official findings is available on its website.

As the LA Times observes, one of the most significant implications of the White House data is that Peru is now considered the world’s largest producer of cocaine. According to the White House estimates, last year Peru’s total cocaine production reached 358 tons, compared to Bolivia’s 292 tons and Colombia’s 215 tons. Such figures appear to suggest that the “balloon” effect is being felt strongly in the Andes, as dropping cocaine production in Colombia is compensated by rising rates in Peru.

Bloggings by Boz notes that if the US figures are to believed, this is a largely positive outcome for Colombia, although explaining this trend is more difficult. “It's good news there is less cocaine production in Colombia and there is less cocaine abuse in the US. Getting to the causal reasons as to why those things occurred is a tough discussion,” Boz writes.

Notably, the White House numbers differ sharply from those released last week by the United Nations. The UN found that Colombia’s potential cocaine production output is at around 345 tons. As Adam Isacson at Just the Facts points out, this is a divergence of 77 percent, published within just five days or each other.

The UN and US also presented sharply different findings on whether Colombia’s coca production is going up or down. The UN found that the total area under coca cultivation actually increased for the first time in five years. According to El Tiempo, the White House reportedly found that the total number of hectares under coca cultivation actually decreased by 17 percent.

US Ambassador Michael McKinley told El Tiempo that the White House figures have “95 percent” accuracy. Another spokesperson for the Office of National Drug Control Policy told El Tiempo  that the US used superior technology to collect its data, which is more capable of detecting disperse coca cultivations.

The UN and White House data have rarely coincided closely in the past. But the fact that both sets of numbers point to such different trends may indicate that it is becoming more difficult to come to a realistic assessment of what regional coca and cocaine production actually looks like. Both the UN and the US primarily rely on data and imagery collected by satellites to form the basis of these reports. But the satellite technology cannot accurately measure small plots of coca of just a few hectares. And increasingly, coca is being cultivated in Colombia in tiny plots, or hidden among larger crops, making it more difficult to be detected by satellite.

News Briefs
  • Tuesday, Venezuela becomes a full member of Mercosur. The country that had previously blocked Venezuela from gaining full membership, Paraguay, was suspended from the trade bloc earlier this month, opening the way for Venezuela’s entry. Brazilian economist Celso Grisi told the AFP that the admission had more to do with “ideological” rather than “economic” reasons, a view apparently echoed by Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, who spoke positively about Venezuela’s entry, but admitted there were “political considerations” involved. Mercopress reports that while Mercosur convenes in Brasilia, Mujica will likely focus on “other issues” besides Venezuela’s new membership, including several energy agreements. Analysis by Reuters notes that the decision to allow Venezuela’s entry could fuel further criticism that Mercosur “has become little more than a political club for left-leaning leaders who harbor ambitions of Latin American unity.”
  • As the BBC reports, President Hugo Chavez’s trip to Brasilia for the Mercosur summit is his “first official trip abroad” since his cancer diagnosis last year. Chavez praised Venezuela’s entry into the trading bloc, even as a leader of Venezuela’s main farming association told the AP that he worried what an influx of cheap goods from Argentina and Brazil could do to the Venezuelan economy. At the top of Venezuela’s Mercosur agenda, Chavez said that he expected to begin talks with Argentina and Brazil about a new energy alliance, reports Mercopress.
  • Brazil and Ecuador have expressed willingness to help Haiti set up a new army, reports Reuters. One unidentified spokesperson for Brazil’s defense ministry told the news agency that Brazil is preparing to send an assessment team to Haiti, and has pledged to provide training and other support for the new military force. President Michael Martelly made reviving the army a key promise of his presidential campaign, saying that an army would be necessary to replace the UN peacekeeping force and to help battle organized crime.  But he later backtracked from his pledge amid concerns from US and UN officials that it could undermine efforts to build up an effective civilian police force. 
  • Colombian guerrilla group the National Liberation Army (ELN) claimed responsibility for kidnapping two oil sector workers in Eastern Colombia. While the ELN currently has a formal alliance with rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which promised earlier this year to cease all kidnapping, the ELN has made no such public pledge. 
  • Puerto Rico signed a new penal code which increases prison sentences for homicide and other crimes, reports the AP. The tougher legislation comes after the US island territory registered a record number of homicides last year. 
  • Nightclub owner Henry Farinas, who drove the vehicle in which Argentine folk singer Facundo Cabral was shot and killed last year in Guatemala, has been charged with laundering over $1 billion in drug money in Nicaragua. Farinas is being charged alongside Costa Rican Alejandro Jimenez Gonzalez in a case that has already revealed an intricate drug trafficking network in Central America. 
  • McClatchy with a feature on US gamblers that have found safe-haven in Costa Rica, after the US enforced tougher legislation against online poker playing. 
  • Activists in Mexico have protested against the burial of unidentified bodies in unmarked graves. 
  • The LA Times World Now blog reports that the closing of a Church-run migrant shelter in Tultitlan, Mexico, led a local priest to open a makeshift shelter of tents for the primarily Central American migrants. The closing of the migrant shelter is indicative of a larger trend in which migrants have little support other than Church volunteers. 
  • A Newsweek essay by Colombian novelist Hector Abad affectionately describes life in Medellin, Colombia.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Assessing Humala’s First Year as President of Peru

A year on from his July 28 inauguration, Peru’s President Ollanta Humala is facing falling approval ratings and widespread discontent, mostly driven by his shift from populist left-winger to a conservative who is seen as putting business interests above the wishes of communities affected by mining projects.

Humala’s presidency so far has been very different from what he promised during his campaign. The issue that has caused the most bitterness is his approach to social conflicts over the exploitation of natural resources, particularly mining. As the BBC points out, he had promised to use dialogue, not force, in handling these disputes.

However, in practice he has taken a hard line towards protests, imposing three states of emergency to quell them, sending the army in and suspending civil rights. Two of these were in Cajamarca, in the northern highlands, where 5 people died this month in clashes over a planned open-pit gold mine. At least 17 people have died in clashes with police across the country in the last year, according to the BBC, while some 245 riots took place across the country in June alone. All this has driven his approval rating down to 40 percent this month.

On the campaign trail last year Humala told assembled crowds in Cajamarca - "I give you my promise that I will respect your wishes,” saying that clean water was more important than gold.

Moves like this have alienated the left, which brought him to power, while gaining him ground with his former opponents on the right -- Humala has delivered a 6 percent expansion in the economy in his year in power. The Associated Press sums up the contradictions of the president by saying that:

Humala has proven most popular among the Peruvians who most feared him as a candidate, and least popular with the poor he professed to champion.
Humala argues that developing natural resources is the way to lift Peruvians out of poverty. The AP highlights two schemes that give a monthly payout to the elderly and the very poor, which the government plans to expand using mining revenues. Humala's administration has also increased the royalties paid by mining firms, and made consulting with indigenous communities a requirement for resource extraction projects on their land, as Reuters reports.

In a speech to Congress on Saturday to mark Peru’s independence day, Humala promised to bring about “inclusive growth,” and admitted that “we have not achieved everything we set out to achieve,” the BBC reports. The president said he would reduce the percentage of the population living in poverty from 28 percent to 15 by the end of his term in 2016, Dow Jones reports.

Humala has already carried out two cabinet reshuffles -- the first, in December 2011, heralded a more militarized approach to the social conflicts, with ex-military officer Oscar Valdes as prime minister. The second, a week ago, replaced Valdes with human rights lawyer Juan Jimenez, who has promised to take a more moderate approach to the social conflicts.

El Comercio points out that Humala has not fulfilled his promise to cut the price of a drum of gasoline to less than $5, or to raise the salaries of the security forces, but that he has created an anti-corruption prosecutor. It also notes that his wife is viewed as a driving force behind his presidency, and that members of the administration are feeding the idea that she could herself run for president.

Michael Shifter has a piece in Foreign Policy that talks about the first lady, Nadine Heredia, describing the questions over the extent of her influence as another headache for the president.

News Briefs

  • Indigenous groups in Brazil released three engineers who they had held hostage since Tuesday due to disputes about the environmental impact of the Belo Monte dam, reports the WSJ. Two were freed on Friday, after their employer Norte Energia and federal prosecutors agreed to meet with indigenous leaders. One of the engineers was freed Thursday, after suffering a “nervous breakdown,” reports Bem Parana. The engineers had visited the village of Muratu, in the southwest of the Amazonian Para state, to discuss measures to mitigate the impact of the dam, set to be the third biggest in the world. The tribes are concerned that the project will stop them navigating the Xingu river. Representatives of indigenous organization Funai said that there was no violence, and that the hostages were well treated, reports O Globo.
  • Cuba’s Interior Ministry has released the first official statement on the death of dissident Oswaldo Paya on July 22, saying that investigators found that the car had been going too fast, and span out of control on a stretch of dirt road, the Miami Herald reports. Suspicions have been raised that it was not an accident, however, with Paya’s wife telling journalists that other people traveling in the car said that it was repeatedly rammed by another vehicle. The LA Times says that Paya’s death, coming nine months after that of fellow dissident Laura Pollan, a founder of the Ladies in White, is a serious blow to Cuba’s opposition. The newspaper notes that “in both cases, the families raised questions about the circumstances and suggested the possibility of foul play, though they presented no evidence.”
  • The Christian Science Monitor and Al Jazeera have pieces on the efforts of Colombia’s indigenous Nasa group to eject the FARC rebels and the army from their homeland in Cauca province. The CSM reports from the public flogging of three guerrillas and a young accomplice captured by the Nasa. “The prisoners’ evident pain during the flogging divided the crowd. 'You have the hearts of dogs,' and 'Don't you have sons?' yelled some at those demanding the whippings be completed. The 16-year-old captive fell to the floor in tears after just a few hits, as his family pleaded for mercy. Each lashing was stopped early.”
  • Damien Cave at the NYT reports on the Uruguayan government’s proposal to legally regulate the sales of marijuana. It notes that, as it is already legal to possess the drug, some users see the government’s idea, with a registered list of users, as an "Orwellian" step backwards. Bloggings by Boz points out that the proposal will not wipe out the black market, as there will be artificial limits on the quality and quantity of the drug sold.
  • The WSJ has a report on a more affluent form of drug war refugee -- rich Mexicans who are fleeing across the border into the US to escape the threat of kidnap or extortion by drug cartels. This has helped support property prices in some Texan border towns like McAllen, where “until recently, most Mexican immigrants to the McAllen area were low-wage service industry workers.”
  • The offices of Mexican El Norte newspaper have been attacked for the third time in a month, reports the AP, with an arson attack a branch in Monterrey.
  • The Miami Herald’s Andres Oppenheimer has a piece arguing that the biggest challenge for Latin America’s governments is to focus on the “boring stuff,” as economist Paul Krugman put it in an interview with him: “The economies that seem to do the best are the ones that seem to have somewhat middle-of- the road policies, that are basically free market, responsible fiscal policies, but also make some serious efforts at poverty reduction, Brazil being the obvious case.”
  • Mary Anastasia O’Grady at the WSJ calls on the Obama administration to cut off Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) aid to El Salvador if the Funes government does not comply with a high court ruling on Supreme Court judges.
  • Venezuela’s acting ambassador to Kenya was found dead by strangulation in her residence in Nairobi. Olga Fonseca Gimenez took the post less than two weeks previously, after the previous ambassador left amid accusations of sexual harassment, reports the AP.
  • Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez turned 58 on Saturday. He marked the day with a campaign rally in the Caracas neighborhood of Petare, where he danced and sang onstage, reports the AP.
  • The LA Times profiles Eike Batista, a Brazilian billionaire who it says has become a symbol of the country’s declining economic fortunes, as investor flight destroyed half his $30 billion wealth.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Venezuela's Exit from Human Rights Court Earns Damning Response

 In light of Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduros’ confirmation Thursday that Venezuela will begin the process of withdrawing from the Organization of Amercan States' (OAS) Inter-American Court of Human Rights, many observers condemned the decision  and said it represented a major detraction from Venezuela’s commitment to human rights. 

Venezuela’s disengagement "would be sending a deeply regrettable message about its commitment to human rights and democracy,” a US State Department spokeswoman said.

Spokesperson Robert Colville for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called the decision “devastating,” reports Mercopress.

But Venezuela’s pending withdrawal will not be so straightforward, analysts toldEl Nuevo Herald. “Chavez can’t just say, ‘Ok, I’m leaving the court now,’” former foreign minister Armando Duran told the newspaper. “Venezuela can stop sending its representatives to the court, but [the Court] will not leave Venezuela unless [Chavez] withdraws from the Organization of American States (OAS), or if Venezuela is expelled like Cuba.”

One question now is whether Venezuela could actually end up withdrawing from the OAS altogether. Foreign Minister Maduro said that Venezuela has no intention to do so, according to the AP.

The withdrawal from the Court will also accompany Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Court’s sister organization, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. President Hugo Chavez previously threatened to leave the human rights body in May, echoing many threats that he has made in the past, but it appears that this year the government has acted on them.

Venezuela Analysis provides a helpful overview of the history of Venezuela’s rocky relationship with the Costa Rica-based human rights tribunal. When announcing the official withdrawal, Chavez specifically cited the Court’s favorable ruling in the case of alleged terrorist Raul Diaz: the Court found that the government had violated Diaz’s human rights, a decision which the Venezuelan government said “sided with terrorism.”

But the Raul Diaz ruling is only one example in which the Court of Human Rights issued rulings which provoked strong criticism from the Chavez government. The Court also previously ruled that opposition candidate Leopoldo Lopez should be allowed to run for political office, overriding the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s decision that found him guilty of corruption charges.

Venezuela’s exit from the OAS court is another reminder that the Chavez government is well prepared to leave international organizations which it says overrides the country’s sovereignty. The country’s withdrawal from the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, first announced last January, also became effective this week.

News Briefs
  • The AP examines Colombia’s Legal Framework for Peace legislation, which outlines the terms for a possible peace negotiation, primarily benefitting guerrilla groups. The AP notes that the law has provoked a rare moment of agreement between former president Alvaro Uribe and Human Rights Watch (HRW) Americas’ director Jose Miguel Vivanco, who have both criticized the law for granting some degree of amnesty to guerrilla group members who turn themselves in. Supporters of the law argue that the promise of amnesty is the essential foundation for any eventual peace agreement, and emphasize that the Framework is only a set of general guidelines for a peace process which is nowhere close to starting. The law’s author, Congressman Ray Barreras, insists, “We are not giving the president a blank check, and certainly not to armed groups.” The AP reports that Colombia has studied El Salvador’s 1992 disarmament process as a model for the Framework for Peace. But while those negotiations saw guerrilla groups turn in their arms and integrate successfully into the mainstream politics, the pay-off was impunity for combatants on both sides, especially the security forces.
  • The New York Times reports from Venezuelan border state Apure, where guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are believed to control much of the drug trade. The article argues that while the government claims it is doing everything it can to crack down on drug trafficking, the reality far outside of Caracas contradicts this. Apure is thought to host many of the hidden airfields where drug flights take off towards the Caribbean, then onwards to Central America. The FARC conduct patrols in the territory protecting the drug shipments and extort local ranchers and farmers with “alarming impunity,” the Times reports.With a slideshow.
  • The Human Rights’ Omsbudsman Office in El Salvador recorded nearly 8,500 of police abuse during the first five months of 2012, reports Univision. This is compared to the total of 30,240 reports of abuse for all of 2011, amounting to more than 80 complaints a day. One of the demands for a peace truce recently presented by El Salvador’s gangs reportedly includes withdrawing police from certain areas where the gangs are active, in order to limit police abuse, gang members say.
  • President Raul Castro said he was willing to hold talks with the US if it was “a conversation between equals,” the BBC reports, one of the most direct offers the Cuban president has made to mend relations with the US. The timing of Castro’s announcement was also noteworthy: his improvised remarks were recorded at a Revolution Day ceremony, a time that his brother Fidel usually used to announce major policy decisions.
  • Honduran President Porfirio Lobo said that the ongoing land conflict in Bajo Aguan should be treated as “a problem of national security,” adding that “armed groups” are involved in the dispute, reports EFE. “A farmworker should have no reason to walk around with an AK-47,” he said. While there have been reports of armed farmers in Bajo Aguan, some have said that they must carry weapons in order to defend themselves and the territory that they seized from big agribusiness. The Honduran government has previously tried to establish links between the Bajo Aguan conflict and “armed groups,” in what sometimes appears to be an attempt to detract from the protestors’ legitimacy.
  • The Economist argues that the main result of Brazil’s upcoming historic trial of ruling party members accused of corruption will be to “chip away at Brazil’s culture of impunity for the powerful.” The political fallout from the trial is unlikely to affect the reputation of President Dilma Rousseff, the magazine predicts.In Peru, President Ollanta Humala’s party has held on to the leadership post in Congress, after a vote Thursday, indication that despite widespread criticism against the president for his handling of social conflicts and the fight against the Shining Path, his party can still rely on an advantageous position in Congress.
  • President Hugo Chavez hosted what the AFP describes as his first formal campaign event in Caracas. Chavez has relegated campaign appearances to a small number of cities and states, due to his health, while the opposition has emphasized candidate Henrique Capriles’ ability to travel far and wide across the country.
  • “I am 132” protestors in Mexico City are hosting a 24-hour blockade outside of Mexico’s largest TV station, Televisa, in protest of the network’s apparent bias towards Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto during the presidential campaign.
  • The Economist reports on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ recent ruling that the Ecuadorean government failed to properly consult an indigenous community that would be affected by an energy project, which could provide a crucial precedent for similar legal cases across the region.
  • Reuters on the crime wave affecting Brazil’s biggest city, Sao Paulo, where homicides have increased 21 percent so far in 2012, compared to the same period last year.
  • A Barrio 18 leader in Guatemala confirmed to Plaza Publica that they sent a “representative” to El Salvador, in order to express interest in replicating El Salvador’s gang truce in Guatemala.
  • Argentina recognized the 60th anniversary of the death of Eva Peron Thursday, whose face is now printed on the 100-peso bill to mark the occasion.
  • The Guardian reports that Ecuador is trying to seek assurance that if WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faces legal proceedings in Sweden, he will not then be extradited to the US. Assange has found refuge in the Ecuadorean assembly in London for the past five weeks, and his legal case remains at an impasse.
  • The Mexican branch of British bank HSBC has been fined $27.5 million by Mexico’s banking security commission  for failing to properly regulate money laundering operations,Al Jazeera reports. HSBC will also likely face further fines as it comes to a settlement with US justice, where the bank has also been accused of failing to comply with banking regulations.
  • Honduras Culture and Politics notes that due to a software bug, the LIBRE party, associated with deposed president Manuel Zelaya, may not be able to formally register its official presidential candidate.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Colombia Sees First Expansion in Coca Crops in 5 Years

The area under coca cultivation in Colombia has increased slightly for the first time in five years, according to the latest UN report.

The international body reports that the area of coca crops rose to 64,000 hectares in 2011, up 3 percent from 62,000 the previous year. The UN said that this meant the overall picture was “stable.”

Some 62 percent of coca cultivation took place in the provinces of Nariño, Putumayo, Cauca and Guaviare. The first three sit in the southwest, close to the Pacific coast and the Ecuadorian border, while Guaviare is in the jungle interior of the country, southeast of Bogota. The biggest growth in cultivation was in Putumayo and the neighboring province in Caqueta, which together saw a rise of 80 percent to 13,280 hectares.

Despite the increased area under cultivation, the country’s potential cocaine production dropped slightly to 345 tons from 350, as the yield per hectare is down. This is likely due to farmers using less fertilizer and other chemical aids.

As the Miami Herald notes, the report found that 23 percent of the country’s coca crops are close to the borders with Venezuela and Ecuador, “where national parks, indigenous reserves and bilateral treaties have hampered aerial fumigation efforts.”

At a press conference in Bogota, a representative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said that it would not be known whether Peru was ahead of Colombia in cocaine and coca leaf production until August, when that country’s coca survey is released, reports the LA Times.

The Colombian figures were revealed last month by newspaper El Tiempo, which reported that the publication of the survey was delayed because the government and anti-organized crime bodies asked the UN to review their analysis, particularly for Putumayo.

As InSight Crime noted, the UN figures will be politically problematic for the administration of Juan Manuel Santos, as they back criticisms of the government being made most forcefully by former President Alvaro Uribe, who says that Santos is letting security in the country slide.

In response to the UN report, the government has announced a new plan to combat the replanting of coca crops, to be launched Friday by the Ministry of Defense, reports El Tiempo. This will focus on the province of Tumaco, in Nariño, which has the highest coca concentration of any municipality. The strategy will involve stationing the security forces in an area during and after eradication, and putting in place food security and development projects to make the eradication of the crop last. The rate of replanting is currently some 55 percent, according to the UN figures.

News Briefs

  • Cuba’s National Assembly met on Monday and approved plans for further liberalization of the economy, which will allow the formation of private, worker-owned cooperatives in sectors outside of agriculture. The scheme will begin with 222 pilot cooperatives, which will be allowed to operate in sectors including food services, transport, and “personal services,” reports EFE. The government will invest some $100 million in helping them get set up. President Raul Castro said that this would allow the government to move out of managing these sectors, and concentrate on the “fundamental means of production.” Economy czar Marino Murilla warned that “The most important part of our economy will be the socialist state enterprise. Don’t think that all of a sudden the private-sector workers will generate $40 billion, $50 billion in GDP,” reports the AP. The moves are a continuation of Castro’s economic reforms, which have already meant that 390,000 Cubans are now self-employed, compared to around 233,000 in 2010, reports Bloomberg.
  • Also on Cuba, the Global Post asks whether the island can “bear another martyr,” in the wake of the death of dissident Oswaldo Paya in a car crash. Ofelia Acevedo, Paya’s widow, reportedly told press that a friend told her one of those caught in the incident had sent messages saying the car crashed after being repeated rammed by another vehicle, reports the Miami Herald. The newspaper says, however, that Spanish media have reported that the man driving said he had failed to slow down at a curve, and hit a tree. The BBC has an interview with a boxer who defected from the island in 1996, who describes his struggles and suicidal feelings after leaving his homeland. Professional boxing is banned in Cuba due to the high risk of injury.
  • The Associated Press reports that Paraguay’s new president is doing surprisingly well, following his controversial ascent to power through the widely-criticized impeachment of predecessor and former ally Fernando Lugo. In his first five weeks in office, Federico Franco “has racked up accomplishments past administrations had tried but failed to implement, such as advancing land reform and pushing the country’s first personal income tax.”
  • The fallout from Mexico’s presidential elections continues, with second-place candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador threatening to release the names of more than 4,000 people who sold their votes to the winning PRI party, reports the AP.
  • Venezuela Politics and Human Rights looks at the work of the country’s Ministry of Penitentiary Services, a year on from its creation. It was established in response to the month-long stand-off in El Rodeo prison, and congresswoman Iris Varela "with a reputation for fistfights more than negotiation" was put at its head. The blog notes that the crises in the prison system have continued unabated since then, with 20 percent more inmates dying in 2011 than in 2010, and deadly conflicts breaking out in Caracas’ La Planta and in a prison in Merida state.
  • In the Arauca province of northeast Colombia, police say that a journalist and an environmental engineer abducted from their homes in the town of Saravena on Tuesday may have been taken by the ELN rebel group, as the Latin American Herald Tribune reports. The two women were being employed as contractors by companies building an oil pipeline in the area. On the other side of the country, the FARC rebels released a statement saying they were prepared to release two helicopter pilots who were kidnapped in Cauca after their helicopter crashed there on June 10, reports Colombia Reports.
  • In Brazil, indigenous groups in the Amazon have taken hostage three engineers who are working on the Belo Monte dam. The WSJ reports that the engineers had met with the tribes for talks on how to mitigate the environmental impact of the project, but have been prevented from leaving as their proposals were unsatisfactory to the groups.
  • Venezuela has deported drug lord “Diego Rastrojo,” a leader of the Rastrojos gang, to Colombia, after capturing him on June 3, reports the AP. Meanwhile, InSight Crime lists five potential game-changers in the trial of Walid Makled, a Venezuelan drug kingpin who the Colombian authorities opted to extradite to his home country instead of the US, despite his claims to have evidence of his ties to the Venezuelan military and government.
  • In part 4 of their series on Peru’s drug trade, IDL-Reporteros reports that the use of “backpackers” -- individuals carrying loads of cocaine on their backs -- has been significantly reduced as a method of trafficking drugs out of the VRAE region. Some 80 percent of the drugs that exit the region through Cusco is now carried in vehicles. With map showing the routes for cocaine leaving the country, much of it going to Bolivia.
  • Rio Real reports that city authorities say investigators have found no evidence for the theory that a pacifying police officer (UPP) who was shot dead Monday was killed in reprisal for the kidnapping of a drug traffickers’ wife. Rio’s public security authorities say the attack was part of a strategy of intimidation against the occupying police force in Complexo do Alemao. Rio Real notes that “in the context of pacification police arrests for corruption this year, it’s not hard to believe in conspiracy theories.”
  • InSight Crime says that El Salvador should take note of the failings of Colombia’s paramilitary demobilization, as it moves ahead with a peace deal with its "mara" gangs.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Venezuela to Officially Withdraw from Inter-American Court

After repeatedly threatening to do so, it seems Venezuela is now withdrawing from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. According to El Universal, Yesterday President Hugo Chavez announced that he had instructed Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro to begin the necessary steps to withdraw the country from the OAS human rights body. Characterizing the Court’s recent work as an “indescribable” violation of sovereignty, Chavez said that the move was necessary in order to defend the dignity of the Venezuelan people.

The BBC notes that he highlighted the Court’s recent ruling in favor of Venezuelan Raul Diaz, accused of orchestrating 2003 bombings of the Colombian consulate Spanish Embassy and in Caracas. Though he was sentenced to 9 years in prison, Diaz claimed he had nothing to do with the bombings. He fled the country in 2010 after a judge allowed him to work outside of prison. The Court found that Venezuela had violated Diaz's rights by imprisoning him in “inhumane” conditions, a ruling that Chavez said sided with “terrorism.”

Venezuela’s withdrawal is a worrisome development for human rights activists in the country, who will have less ability to raise awareness of abuses internationally. In April, Chavez announced that Venezuela would also withdraw from the Court’s sister body, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
But the decision also has regional implications as well. Several of Chavez’s allies in the ALBA bloc have come under increasing fire from the Inter-American human rights system, and this could set the precedent for Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua to withdraw as well.

News Briefs
  • Paraguay’s ousted ex-president, Fernando Lugo, has been called to testify in an official investigation into accusations that Venezuela’s foreign minister attempted to convince the Paraguayan military to intervene in Lugo’s impeachment. Prosecutor Stella Mary Cano told the AP that if Lugo fails to show at court on Monday, court officials could “use the public force to bring him in following the law."
  • Anti-globalization symbol and spokesman for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) Subcomandante Marcos may be dying of lung cancer, reports Milenio. In a forthcoming book, Luis H. Alvarez, a former director of negotiations between the indigenous movement and the government, alleges that Marcos suffers from lung cancer and has sought help from the federal government to obtain treatment.
  • The New York Times profiles Mexico’s only gun store, which is operated by the military. The paper notes that despite Mexico’s violent reputation, most Mexicans are in favor of strict gun controls, and view the comparatively easy access to guns in the United States with disbelief.
  • Skepticism over the cause of Cuban opposition activist Oswaldo Paya’s death in a car accident last Sunday has grown, with Paya’s daughter claiming to have evidence that her father’s car had been followed by another vehicle which may have been trying to run it off the road. AFP reports that the Spanish activist who was driving the automobile at the time of the crash has been detained for questioning at a Spanish consulate. Diplomats interviewed by Reuters say there is so far no evidence to suspect foul play, and that Paya likely died when the car hit a large pothole and swerved into a tree.
  • After Paya’s funeral yesterday, opposition activists staged a protest, which was reportedly met by an aggressive government crackdown. The Miami Herald reports that at least 40 protesters were arrested, and many claim to have been beaten by police. Opposition members told El Universal that the vast majority had been freed by late last night.
  • The Washington Post has an editorial commemorating Paya’s work, celebrating his emphasis on peaceful change that, in his own words, involved “no lynchings, no revenge, no exclusions.” The Post also features an op-ed by Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy, who argues that Paya’s activism posed a threat to the government, providing it with a very real motive to want him dead.
  • The constitutional crisis in El Salvador appears to have come to an end yesterday, after the leaders of all the country’s major political parties met to discuss the issue. The leaders all committed themselves to respecting the country’s Supreme Court, and to a resolution in which there would be “no winners or losers.” El Faro notes that the meeting signified a reversal for Funes, who had previously advocated taking the issue to the Central American Court of Justice. The talks will continue Thursday.
  • Colombia’s FARC rebels have released a new statement in which the group rejects talks held with the government “behind the country’s back,” reports Semana. The guerrillas maintain that while they are in favor of a peace process, secret talks will only serve to intensify the conflict.
  • Peruvian human rights organizations expressed widespread outrage on Tuesday in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling which would allow for the release of military death squad members accused of killing 25 people under the Fuijimori regime. President Ollanta Humala joined in the criticism, and his administration will likely seek to appeal the decision.
  • The Associated Press with a look at Brazil’s iconic Havaianas flip-flops, which have become a popular fashion statement throughout the world over the past 50 years. The wire service claims Havaianas have joined soccer and samba as “one of the great social equalizers” in Brazil’s highly unequal society.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Growth of Mexico Middle Class Fueled by Money Transfers

The Washington Post reports on the transformation of Mexico’s middle class, as more migrants return to Mexico and start up their own businesses in their home country. Even as much of Mexico’s economy remains dependent on remittances sent by those living abroad, the Post reports that these remittances have also helped fuel the expansion of the “anxious, tenacious, growing” middle class.

Part of this economic growth is fueled by the number of migrants returning to the US, the Post reports. As a recent report by the Pew Hispanic Center found, the number of migrants who are voluntarily or forcibly returning to Mexico has risen sharply, even as the number of those migrating to the US has dropped. The economic recession in the US may have also contributed to this migration pattern.  This means that for the first time in decades, migration flows between Mexico and the US have come to a standstill and may even have reversed, the Pew Center argued.

But evidence shows that the more time a migrant spends in the US, the remittances sent back to Mexico become larger, the Post says. It also becomes more likely that remittances will be invested in activities other than the family’s basic survival, such as business start-ups, the purchase of a new home, cars, vacations, or school tuition.

Researchers have found that after about seven years spent living in the US, it is more likely that remittances sent home to families will be saved and invested, rather than spent on a family’s immediate economic needs. These findings seem to suggest that the Mexican migrant population in the US has played a key role in helping to boost the Mexican economy -- but Mexico will more strongly feel the economic benefits the more time that migrants are able to spend working in the US.

According to the article's accompanying graphic, half of Mexico’s population of 112 million have a relative living in the US. The amount of remittances in 2011 was almost $23 billion. According to the Post, this was “greater than the direct foreign investment made by all multinational corporations. Remittances are now equal to the foreign currency exchange generated by Mexico’s tourism industry or its oil sector.” And the largest amount of remittances goes not to the very poorest, but to the lower middle class, according to research.

While remittances seem to have strengthened the middle class in Mexico, the Post adds that it is not a substitute for a strong economy that generates jobs inside the country. While there are some predictions that remittances will again begin to rise once the US economy improves, the Post notes that if Mexico remains dependent on these cash transfers to fuel economic growth, this is ultimately a sign of weakness, not strength.

The article is accompanied by a slideshow which includes scenes of daily life and businesses in Guanajuato, one of the several towns across Mexico transformed by the expansion of the middle class.

News Briefs
  • Nearing his one-year anniversary in office, President Ollanta Humala oversaw the second major shake-up in his 19-member cabinet, replacing his controversial prime minister, ex-army officer Oscar Valdes, with the justice minister and human rights lawyer Juan Jimenez, reports Reuters. Last December, Humala replaced 10 ministers in a Cabinet shake-up that was interpreted as a move to the right, largely because of his appointment of Valdes. The exit of Humala’s progressive drugs czar, Ricardo Soberon, in January was also interpreted to be a result of Valdes’ influence. Humala’s selection of Jimenez, who played a key role in Peru’s transition to democracy in 2000, appears intended to ease criticism that his government moved too far to the right with Valdes as prime minister. It is also likely that Humala was pressured to oversee another major reshuffling of his Cabinet due to his handling of the violent anti-mining protests seen in the past year, the AP reports. Bloggings by Boz notes that both now and in December, Humala made changes to his Cabinet in response to these anti-mining protests, and that he is spending much of his political capital on this fight, rather than focusing on other issues related to economic development. “It’s a political trap he needs to escape,” Boz concludes. 
  • A judge in Peru ruled that an army death squad active during former president Alberto Fujimori’s term was guilty of human rights violations, but not crimes against humanity, reports Reuters. This resulted in reduced prison sentences for many ex-members of the death squad, including one of Fujimori’s most prominent allies, former intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos, who saw his prison sentence reduced from 25 years to 20. Human rights group leader Gloria Cano of Aprodeh told Reuters that she worried the ruling could open the way for Fujimori’s early release from prison: "This is so they can have arguments to go to the Constitutional Tribunal and say there were no crimes against humanity -- so that Fujimori can be released from jail.”
  • Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has requested the Federal Electoral Institute to formally investigate leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador for receiving illicit funds for his campaign, reports El Universal. These allegations follow charges by Obrador that the PRI used laundered funds to finance that campaign of president elect Enrique Peña Nieto.
  • The AP on the rising number of unidentified dead in Mexico’s morgues, as many state investigators lack the training or resources to properly identify the bodies found in mass graves. Andrew Selee of the Mexico Institute: “The fact that so many bodies remain unidentified tells you about the enormous scale of the violence in some parts of the country where the cartels have fought each other and also ravaged the civilian population in the process.”
  • A truck carrying 14 undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America crashed in South Texas, killing everybody on board, including the driver, reports the New York Times. The accident calls attention to the number of immigrants who travel northwards through the US packed into vehicle compartments. For another report on safety along the southwest border, Salon with a piece on abuses committed by the US Border agents against immigrants, which includes destroying the water supplies that volunteers leave in the desert.
  • The AP on the mausoleum being constructed in Caracas, intended to house the remains of Independence hero Simon Bolivar and serve as a monument to Bolivar’s legacy. The AP notes that it is unclear who actually designed the building, which was supposed to have been completed last December but has suffered various delays. According to analysis by Elias Pino, described as a “historian and leading expert on Bolivar,” the mausoleum’s implicit intent is to reinforce the connection between President Hugo Chavez and Bolivar. Pino: "This monument will tie together both figures,and will not just be the mausoleum of Bolivar but also the entrance of President Chavez into the pantheon of patriots.”
  • The Council on Hemispheric Affairs examines the controversial Belo Monte dam project in Brazil, which has prompted serious backlash from indigenous and environmental activists. 
  • The Guardian's Poverty Matters blog with a critique of the latest Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on Venezuela, arguing that while many of the report’s criticisms are valid, it should not obscure Venezuela’s overall progress in improving the lives of the poor and including much of its citizenry in the political process. Another piece from the newspaper’s Comment is Free section criticizes human rights defenders for failing to support WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s bid for political asylum in Ecuador, instead choosing to criticize Ecuador’s lack of press freedoms, which, author Mark Weisbrot argues, is a misrepresentation of Ecuador’s media battles. 
  • The Miami Herald on US efforts to waive visa requirements for Brazilians, one of the primary outcomes of the meeting between President Dilma Rousseff and President Barack Obama in April, when the leaders discussed ways to increase integration between the two countries. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Chavez Refuses to Give Up Marathon Broadcasts

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has rejected the opposition’s calls for him to stop making lengthy TV and radio broadcasts, despite an election regulation banning programs in favor of one candidate that last more than three minutes.

Henrique Capriles, the candidate of opposition coalition MUD, had called on the president to cease using his personal addresses to the country as a campaign platform. These are a signature part of Chavez's presidency, which often last for several hours and are required transmission for all networks.

Chavez justified his position by arguing that most of the media is in favor of the opposition, saying “the major part of the radios, television channels and newspapers are in the hands of the bourgeoisie,” as the Associated Press reports

This position has inspired the government to launch a series of attacks on opposition broadcasters, as set out in a Human Rights Watch report released last week. The report describes the “aggressive steps to reduce the availability of media outlets that engage in critical programming,” as well as the government “routinely requiring private media to interrupt their regular programming to transmit presidential speeches and messages celebrating government policies.”

Caracas Chronicles has a post fact-checking the latest election ad from Chavez, concluding that, despite its "great production values," the statement that "Chavez ended illiteracy, made it possible for everybody to go to college and our education system will reach all Venezuelan children soon" is false.

Despite all this, one polling firm released results on Friday showing that Chavez had a 27-point lead over Capriles, reports El Nuevo Herald. However, the firm, Consultores 30.11, has faced criticism from the opposition for pro-government bias. The Devil’s Excrement blog has referred to it as a “flight-by-night” operation which is “clearly funded by the Government to promote favorable numbers.”

More reputable pollsters like Datanalisis have however shown imposing leads for the president, with a poll last week putting him 15 points ahead of Capriles.

Meanwhile Organization of American States head Jose Miguel Insulza said it is unlikely that the body will send observers to Venezuela’s presidential election in October, because it would need to be specifically invited by the government, reports El Nuevo Herald.

The rhetoric of the election continues to take an aggressive tone. Chavez compared the agenda of his rival to that of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, saying “it’s the extreme right-wing agenda that borders on the fascism of the United States.” As the AP reports, this follows a statement from Barack Obama that Chavez was not a security threat to the US, which was roundly rejected by Romney. This inspired Chavez to make an unusually positive statement about his US counterpart, who he said “deep down is a good guy.”

News Briefs

  • Guatemalan President Otto Perez says that prison gangs were responsible for the murder of Amilcar Corado, the director of El Infiernito prison who was gunned down in the capital city on Wednesday, reports the BBC. According to the president, it is likely that imprisoned leaders of “mara” gangs ordered the killing, reports Prensa Libre. The interior minister said that Corado had imposed new disciplinary measures in the institution since he took the position 15 days before his death.
  • InSight Crime reports from Google’s forum on how technology can help tackle organized crime. Steven Dudley says that it is not altogether clear what the search engine giant would have to gain from picking a fight with organized crime. He points out that a major problem with their planned app for anonymous reporting of crimes is that it requires a smart phone -- something many people in the rural parts of the country where crime is concentrated do not have. This makes the campaign to get people to report crime by phone “seem more like a bald-faced marketing pitch than a matter of life and death.”
  • In Venezuela, the government announced that it had retaken control of a prison in Merida state, after weeks of turmoil in which at least 20 prisoners died, reports the BBC. The riots broke out as inmates protested against being moved to other prisons. El Universal reports that the “pran” or inmate boss known as “Ever” had surrendered to the authorities, after some 117 inmates escaped from the institution on Friday night, leaving Ever with only 100 loyal followers. Prison Minister Iris Varela said that a woman being held hostage by the inmates had given birth during the siege, and that both mother and baby were now safe. Opposition candidate Capriles took to Twitter to criticize Chavez for not saying anything about the deaths.
  • Fresh conflict has broken out in the Bajo Aguan region of Honduras, where 200 farmers occupied an African palm farm near the town of Tocoa, reports the AFP.
  • The Economist asks why Jamaica’s economy has not lived up to its potential. Although it is politically stable, English-speaking, close to the US and on the route to the Panama Canal, it is currently on course to have the lowest yearly rate of growth in the Americas, averaged over the last 12 years. The magazine points the finger at Jamaica’s failure to collect taxes, causing the government to borrow large sums to finance public spending.
  • Mexico City saw huge marches on Sunday against the election of Enrique Peña Nieto, who won the presidential election three weeks ago. Protesters held banners accusing the incoming president of having committed electoral fraud, reports the AP.
  • The Vatican has said that the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru can no longer refer to itself as “Catholic” on the grounds that it is damaging the interests of the Church, reports the BBC. The university, alma mater of current President Ollanta Humala, has defied the church’s edicts on numerous occasions, including refusing to give a board seat to the archbishop of Lima.
  • IDL-Reporteros has released the third part of their series on drug trafficking in Peru, with a look at which families handle the cocaine trade in the VRAE region.
  • Foreign Policy has a piece on the backlash against Brazil’s attempts to take up a leadership role in South America, with some describing it as the region’s new imperialist power. Opponents of a planned highway running through Bolivia’s Tipnis national park see Brazil’s economic interests being placed above the environmental damage caused in Bolivia, pointing out that the current route is highly convenient for transporting products from west Brazil to Peru, and will open up swathes of Brazilian land for cattle ranching. The Guardian, meanwhile, has a piece on the massive environmental destruction set to be caused by the Belo Monte dam project in Brazil’s Amazon.
  • At the WSJ, Mary Anastasia O’Grady says that a crisis in customs union Mercosur over the suspension of Paraguay and admission of Venezuela could be beneficial in the long term, particularly for Brazil. For O’Grady, though the upset threatens economic stability for its members in the short term, it could encourage them to pursue free trade outside of the union.
  • Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya has died in a car crash at the age of 60, his fellow activists told the AP.

Friday, July 20, 2012

PAN, PRD Join Forces Against Peña Nieto

As mentioned in yesterday’s Post, Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Wednesday claimed to have direct evidence that the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) used laundered money to finance the campaign of President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto.

This is just the latest in a series of accusations that Lopez Obrador and his Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) have leveled against the PRI in recent days, having previously accused the former ruling party of widespread vote buying and exceeding limits on campaign spending.  So far Peña Nieto and his party have been able to downplay Lopez Obrador’s accusations, dismissing them as the product of populist rabble-rousing.

Now, however, the PRI team will likely have to rethink this tactic. As El Proceso reports, yesterday Gustavo Madero, leader of the right-wing National Action Party (PAN), held a press conference with Jesus Zambrano, his PRD counterpart, in which they called on the Attorney General’s Office to investigate the money laundering charges. Madero also gave his party’s support for a request made by Lopez Obrador to electoral officials to complete a review of the PRI’s finances before August 31, the deadline for the country’s electoral court to certify the results of the July 1 election.

The decision to back criminal charges marks an important shift for the PAN, which had previously steered clear of the PRD’s legal case against the PRI. With both of his main rival parties presenting a united front against him, it will be far more difficult for Peña Nieto to emerge from this scandal unscathed. Even if he and his party are cleared of wrongdoing, the investigation will likely cast permanent doubts on the legitimacy of his presidency.

News Briefs

  • Brazil’s National Petroleum Agency found that an offshore oil spill by Chevron last year was larger than previously thought, and was caused mainly by the company’s failure to follow standard procedure.
  • EFE reports that the warden of a Guatemalan maximum security prison known as “El Infiernito” was killed by unidentified gunmen in Guatemala City on Wednesday night.
  • In the Washington Times, former USAID official under the Bush administration Jose Cardenas criticizes President Obama’s recent remark on Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, making a puzzling attempt to link the Chavez administration in Venezuela with the “War on Terror.” Cardenas writes: “Anyone who has actually bothered to listen to Mr. Chavez would know he is a devotee of asymmetric warfare as practiced by radical Islam, a doctrine which holds that in the face of overwhelmingly unfavorable military capabilities, one is compelled to employ all manner of irregular methods (i.e., terrorism, guerrilla warfare and insurgency) to balance the odds.”
  • The Americas Quarterly blog highlights a new report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) which found that Latin America and the Caribbean have the greatest access to antiretroviral therapy.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

El Salvador Gangs Issue Controversial Demands for Govt Peace Talks

El Faro reports on the list of demand that leaders of the Mara Salvatruchas (MS-13) and Barrio 18 presented during a meeting with Jose Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), and other El Salvadoran government officials on July 12 in a prison.

The two representatives who helped broker the original ceasefire between the El Salvadoran gangs, Bishop Fabio Colindres and lawmaker and former guerrilla commander Raul Mijango, were also present.

The meeting was the first time that many rival leaders of the MS-13 and Barrio were seen sitting at the same table together. A video distributed by video sharing site Politico Stereo shows a representative of the gangs reading the list of their requests.

The list included several conditions that gang leaders say must be met in order to enter “negotiations” with the government. El Faro originally reported that the government helped broker the original ceasefire between MS-13 and Barrio 18, which the government and gangs later denied.

Some of the more controversial demands included police withdrawal in territories where gangs are active, according to El Faro’s report. The gangs also demanded the suspension of the law which criminalizes gang membership, and the elimination of the legal tool which grants reduced charges to witnesses who agree to testify against gang activity. El Faro notes that this legal tool has been one of the government’s most effective judicial tools in prosecuting gang members.

The gangs also asked the government to rein in military involvement in the fight against crime.

Some of the demands were less controversial. Gang members asked that elderly prisoners or those with terminal illnesses be pardoned for their crimes, something that the former director of prisons has already proposed. The gangs asked for improved conditions in prisons, and that the security forces cease using torture during interrogation.

El Faro reports that Insulza’s reaction to the gang demands was largely positive. “You can count on us,” he reportedly said. President Mauricio Funes was also reportedly sent a copy of the demands, as well as Security Minister David Munguia.

The gang demands are likely to stir further controversy over what are the next appropriate steps the government should take in extending the gang truce. As AFP reports, gang leaders in Honduras and Guatemala have reportedly expressed interest in brokering similar deals. While the benefits of El Salvador’s four-month-old gang truce are undeniable -- including over a 50 percent drop in homicides -- it is not clear how much the government can cede to the gangs’ demands without appearing overly weak on security.

News Briefs
  • The Colombian military has retaken the hill where Nasa Indians drove them away yesterday, injuring at least eight people, reports the AP. In a separate incident in the same region, a man was shot for refusing to stop at a military roadblock, although there have been conflicting reports over whether the man was indigenous or not. The Colombian government has cited having “FARC propaganda” in their possession inciting indigenous groups to demand military withdraw from the southwestern Cauca department, says Colombia Reports. Semana asks a panel of experts what possible solutions to the Cauca conflict could be, ranging from creating a “humanitarian zone” in the region to asking for intervention from “international organizations.”
  • In Brazil, the upcoming trial of many former members of former President Lula da Silva’s cabinet could potentially be the most damaging political scandal since the 1992 impeachment of ex-President Fernando Collor, reports the Wall Street Journal. While the corruption case has shown no sign of hurting Lula’s popularity levels, or that of his successor, President Dilma Rousseff, the trial could provide the opposition with a key opening in the 2014 elections. 
  • Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has charged President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto’s campaign of using laundered money, a charge that the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has rejected, reports the BBC.  A member of Obrador’s legal team said that several front companies that funded the Peña Nieto campaign are linked to organized crime. Cardenas also criticized the PRI for exceeding the campaign spending limits by a factor of twelve. While Cardenas continues to criticize the legitimacy of Peña Nieto’s win, the president-elect continues to seek to consolidate it, meeting with President Felipe Calderon for the first time since the July 1 elections.
  • The second part of IDL Reporteros’ investigation into Peru’s drug trade compares different estimates -- by the UNODC, the US State Department, and the DEA -- for how much cocaine Peru is producing, and asks which figure is closer to reality. What is clear is that Peru’s primary drug-producing region, the southeast Apurimac-Ene river valley (VRAE), is primarily exporting cocaine paste to Bolivia, where it is then refined, IDL Reporteros argues. 
  • Honduras Culture and Politics reports on the official registration of all political candidates for national, departmental, and local office Wednesday. The blog notes that all five political groups that make up the LIBRE party have registered Xiomara Castro de Zelaya as their official candidate, following up LIBRE’s pledge to have the former first lady run for president in 2013. 
  • A Cuban journalist who wrote an investigative piece on the mismanagement of an aqueduct project, which was published by state media and praised by Raul Castro, is being held in prison on espionage charges, reports the Miami Herald
  • A study by the Latin American school of Social Sciences found that Brazil is the fourth-worst out of 91 countries when it comes to youth violence, with 13.8 deaths per 100,000 people younger than 19 years old. This number has risen sharply from 1980, when the youth homicide rate was just 3.1 per 100,000, reports the AP.
  • At least four people were killed in protests in Guyana after the government raised electricity rates in a mining town, reports the Guyana Chronicle.
  • India’s second biggest steel company has withdrawn from its contract to develop an iron mine in Bolivia, citing an “anti-investor friendly attitude of President Evo Morales’ administration. 
  • 17 men have been arrested in connection to the brutal attack on a Christian youth camp just outside Mexico City. 
  • In a move sure to further isolate Venezuela, Venezuela’s foreign ministry issued a statement condemning the bombings in Syria and asking the international community to “avoid any armed intervention.”
  • Global Post with a dispatch about the lawsuit that Haitians have filed against the UN, asserting that UN troops brought cholera to the island in 2010.