Thursday, October 18, 2012

Opponents, Supporters Alike Voice Criticism of Abortion Decriminalization in Uruguay

Yesterday the Uruguayan Senate voted to set the country on the path to become the second nation in Latin America -- after Cuba -- to decriminalize abortions, although both pro-choice and pro-life groups have expressed discontent with the move.  In a 17 to 14 vote on Wednesday evening, the Senate approved a bill allowing abortions during the first trimester, revising a previous bill on abortion as The New York Times reports.

The bill was approved by the country’s lower house in September, and President Jose Mujica has already said he would sign the bill into law, making it a near certainty that it will come into effect sometime in mid-November, according to Telesur. A similar bill had been passed by the legislature in 2008, but was vetoed by Mujica’s predecessor, President Tabare Vazquez.

As Reuters notes, the move has been vehemently rejected by members of the opposition, who have vowed to overturn the law. Uruguay’s El Pais reports that members of the conservative National Party are planning on organizing a nationwide referendum on the issue. The majority of Uruguayans, however, support the law. According to a recent survey conducted by Cifra polling firm, 52 percent of the country believes abortion should be legalized, while only 34 percent are opposed.

Inter Press Service points out that the bill has also been criticized by several pro-choice groups in the country, who are unhappy with the final version. Before being able to obtain an abortion, the bill calls for woman to first explain to a doctor the “economic, social, family or age difficulties that in her view stand in the way of continuing the pregnancy.” After that, she must then present herself to a three-member inter-disciplinary panel composed of  a gynecologist, a psychologist and a social worker.

Womens’ rights groups in the country argue that this puts unfair pressure on those considering abortion. As Martha Aguñin, spokeswoman for Mujer y Salud en Uruguay, told IPS: “We see this law as minimal; it is not what we were hoping for,” adding that “When women make a decision of this kind, we don’t need to be instructed to reflect on it, because we already do that in a conscious, adult, responsible manner.”

News Briefs

  • The New York Times profiles the initial phase of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla group, which began yesterday in Oslo, Norway. Little is known about the first face to face meetings between rebels and government officials, although both parties are expected to give a press conference today to discuss the prospect for peace, according to the AFP. Colombia’s El Tiempo refers to today as “D Day” for peace in the country, and notes that there has been some confusion about whether the conference will be head jointly or not, a possible sign that negotiations are off to a bad start.
  • Colombian legislators have reformed the controversial Justice and Peace law, which helped bring about the partial demobilization of thousands of right-wing paramilitary members in the country in 2005. Under the reform, imprisoned paramilitary members who do not comply with reparation requirements will face penalties of up to 30 to 40 years in prison, according to El Tiempo. Those who do follow the requirements, and have served at least eight years in prison, will be considered for release.
  • Despite growing speculation over the state of Fidel Castro’s health, the Cuban leader has penned another letter in the state-run Granma newspaper. In it, Castro congratulates a Cuban medical institute on its 50th anniversary. AP notes that this is the first communication from Castro to be made public since July.
  • Spain’s El Pais (with a superb English translation in The Guardian) looks at the difference between the way Latin America and Europe responded to the 2008 financial crisis, highlighting the skepticism Latin American leaders at Europe’s relatively unanimous embrace of austerity measures.  Along those lines, Bolivian President Evo Morales raised eyebrows yesterday when he remarked to reporters that one of the reasons for the crisis’ heavy impact on Europe and North America is the fact that countries in these regions “no longer steal, or extract” resources from Latin American countries.
  • The Atlantic profiles a recent surge in youth activism in Argentina, where more than 50 public high schools in Buenos Aires have been taken over by students in protest of changes to the curriculum that they say were made without consulting them. While the takeovers are slated to end this week, the magazine notes that it has given unprecedented political say to the nearly 30,000 high school students in the country who participated in them.
  • Coincidentally, the Argentine Senate voted on Wednesday to lower the voting age from 18, in order to allow 16 and 17 year olds to participate in elections. While proponents say the move would empower Argentine youth, critics say it is an attempt by the opposition (which is more popular among youth) to gain votes. The bill will now go the Chamber of Deputies to be debated.
  • Argentine President Cristina Fernandez met with the ousted ex-president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo , in the presidential residence in Buenos Aires yesterday, along with the former interior minister and members of Lugo’s party in the Senate, according to Telesur.
  • Venezuela’s government announced on Wednesday that it would expel the remaining Paraguayan diplomats in the country, effectively severing diplomatic ties with the country. Both nations withdrew their ambassadors in July over the fallout from Lugo’s removal of office.
  • In an illustration of the wide ranging influence of drug trafficking organizations in the country, the AP reports that Mexico’s Attorney General announced that seven federal officials had been arrested on suspicion of links to the powerful Sinaloa Cartel. According to Milenio, these included officials in the Attorney General’s own Office of Special Investigations into Organized Crime.
  • Chilean student movement leaders Camila Vallejo and Noam Titelman, who have organized some of the largest protests in Chile since the Pinochet era, received the 2012 International Letelier-Moffit Human Rights Award from the Institute for Policy Studies on Wednesday.  Democracy NOW! was able to interview both activists earlier this week, in which they spoke about the poor state of public education in their country and the future of their movement.