Thursday, November 15, 2012

Argentina's Battle With Clarin Media Group Escalates

The ongoing battle between Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and the Clarin media group --which controls 50 percent of print circulation in the country and owns one of the biggest cable television networks in Latin America -- is heating up.

President Fernandez has given Clarin until December 7 to sell off some of its assets in accordance with an anti-media monopoly law passed in 2009, and has threatened to auction them off if the media giant does not comply. Officials say the price of these assets would be established by a federal court, and proceeds from the auction would go directly to the company, not the government, according to the Wall Street Journal.

These plans were confirmed on Wednesday by Martin Sabbatella, who was recently appointed to head the agency charged with enforcing the media law, La Nacion reports. Sabbatella said that while the law affects at least four other media conglomerates besides Clarin, it is the only group directly challenging the measure.  He also claimed that the 2009 law limits media companies to a maximum of 24 broadcast licenses nationwide, and Clarin has 237.

Clarin maintains that it is only standing up for freedom of the press in Argentina, but the Fernandez administration accuses it of using the law to score political points, pointing to its extensive coverage of recent anti-government protests as evidence. Al Jazeera English reports that the December 7 deadline is the same date on which several anti-Fernandez demonstrations are planned, and questions whether the media group is spurring opposition for its own benefit.

Clarin has vowed to fight the measure, and has prepared itself for a long-term fight against the law in the country’s court system. But this may no longer be an option. On Wednesday, Congress passed a law creating a new constitutional mechanism known as “per saltum,” which allows the government to bypass federal appeals courts and present cases directly to the Supreme Court.

If the government asks the Supreme Court to intervene in the Clarin case and the Court rules in the government’s favor, it could give the company less time to sell its assets. However, as Reuters notes, an unfavorable ruling could spark a conflict between judiciary and the other branches of government, which are dominated by Fernandez’s Front for Victory party. 

 News Briefs
  • Yet another reason to question US support for the Honduran military and police has emerged this week after an investigation into the murder of Honduran teenager Ebed Yanes at a military checkpoint in May revealed that the soldiers responsible for the shooting were vetted, trained and equipped by the US government. The link was uncovered by Ebed’s father, Wilfredo Yanes, who also found evidence of a high-level cover-up of the case, reports the AP. US officials have condemned the incident, with State Department spokesman William Ostick remarking yesterday that "[t]he incident with Ebed Yanes was a tragedy and we urge the Honduran government to assure the perpetrators are brought to justice."
  • BBC reports that Argentina has called on the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, a United Nations-backed court which enforces maritime law, to order Ghana to release the naval ship seized last month at the behest of US creditors. Argentina argues that the seizure violates international maritime law, and has requested the “immediate and unconditional release” of the ship.
  • The UN General Assembly held a record vote on Tuesday, in which 188 countries condemned the US embargo against Cuba.  This is the General Assembly’s 21st such condemnation, with the vote in favor of the measure increasing from 186 the year before. The AFP reports that the United States, Israel and Palau were the only countries to oppose the resolution, while the Marshall Islands and Micronesia abstained. Foreign Policy in Focus’ Ian Williams remarks that the vote “reminds us yet again that US foreign policy is concocted in a bubble detached from the real world, where most nations recognize that the boycott is designed to pander to the most reactionary Cuban emigres in Florida.”
  • The New York Times profiles the controversial labor reform law passed by Mexico’s Congress on Tuesday, noting that while provisions establishing union elections by secret ballot and requiring a yearly audit of union finances were passed, clauses which would make unions more transparent (such as allowing workers the right to vote on their contracts) were struck from the final version of the bill. But while the bill will now go to President Felipe Calderon to sign into law, it may be some time before it is implemented. El Universal reports that congressional leaders of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) argue that the bill was passed without proper debate in Congress, and plan on fighting the law in court.
  • The Venezuelan government deported alleged Colombian drug trafficker Daniel "Loco" Barrera to Colombia yesterday. Barrera was arrested in Venezuela in September, and was referred to by Colombian authorities as the country’s "last capo." From Colombia, Barrera will most likely be extradited to the United States, where he is wanted on drug trafficking charges, according to the AP.
  • Adam Isaacson of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) takes on claims from the right that the US/Mexico border must first be “secured” before comprehensive immigration reform can be considered. Writing for WOLA’s Border Fact Check blog, Isaacson argues that completely securing the border may be an impossible standard to meet, potentially creating a pretext for postponing immigration reform indefinitely. 
  • President Barack Obama spoke with both Mexican President Felipe Calderon and President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto via telephone yesterday. AFP reports that both Mexican politicians congratulated Obama on his re-election, and Peña Nieto promised to increase cooperation with the US on security policy.
  • Human Rights Watch has released a new study on Colombia, finding that the country’s legal system has failed women and girls who have been displaced by the armed conflict only to find themselves victims of gender-based violence. According to HRW researchers, Colombia’s 2 million displaced girls and women  are significantly more likely to suffer rape and domestic violence, and a number of legal obstacles prevent them from seeking justice for these crimes.
  • Jose Antonio Torres, a journalist with Cuba’s official Granma newspaper, was sentenced to 14 years in prison on espionage charges on Wednesday.  The Miami Herald reports that dissidents on the island claim Torres is being politically persecuted, noting that the charges were filed soon after he reported on the government’s mishandling of an aqueduct construction project in the eastern province of Santiago. Little is known about the details of the espionage charges, but the paper cites unconfirmed reports that Torres deposited a CD holding confidential information in the mailbox of the US diplomatic mission on the island.
  • Telesur reports that the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) will present a report on November 29th on the political situation in Paraguay following the June ouster of former president Fernando Lugo. According to Peruvian politician Salomon Lerner, who heads UNASUR’s special task force on the Paraguayan political crisis, the report is result of four months of investigation and consultations with trade associations, unions and human rights organizations in the country.

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