Thursday, November 8, 2012

Massive Protests Planned in Buenos Aires as Govt Faces Off with Clarin

An anti-government protest is planned in the Argentine capital for Thursday night, which its organizers hope could be the biggest of the last decade, reflecting anger over the economy, crime, and the government's fight against Clarin media group.

Marchers will follow Argentina’s tradition of “cacerolazo” marches, banging on pots and pans to oppose President Cristina Kirchner’s handling of the economy, rising crime, and her rumored plans to change the constitution to stay in power longer, reports the AP. This will be the third such march this year.

Many people are angry about high inflation and controls on buying foreign currency. However, pro-government voices say that the protesters are outraged that the Kirchner government’s policies put Argentina's needs ahead of international commitments, as the AP reports.

Another point of friction is the president’s clash with Clarin media group, which has been given until December 7 to sell off some of its assets under an anti-monopoly law which Kirchner is enforcing. Opponents say that the president was put out by Clarin’s coverage of the recent protests, and is using the law as a political tool. In December, the group’s offices were raided by armed police.

A former Argentine communications official told the Wall Street Journal; "The government is using all its resources to demolish an enemy and control the media a bit more." The newspaper notes other causes for concern about Kirchner’s respect for freedom of speech, such as her government fining economists who release independent inflation estimates.

Clarin has criticized the government for its statements about today’s planned march, saying that its supporters are already trying to link protesters with a planned military coup and even Nazism.

The government's dogged pursuit of Clarin has impacted on its popularity, according to some analysts, as it makes it appear distracted from the issues of the economy and crime, which are more pressing for ordinary people.

Meanwhile, some 107 members of Argentina’s Congress and 28 senators have pledged to oppose any efforts to change the constitution to remove or extend term limits, which the Financial Times says is enough to block the move, preventing the government gathering a two-thirds majority in each house. The newspaper reports that some 83 percent of Argentines said in a recent poll that they would be opposed to changing the law to allow Kirchner to serve a third consecutive term.

News Briefs
  • A majority of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of becoming a US state in an election on Tuesday, as noted on yesterday’s briefing. Some 54 percent voted “no” to keeping the status quo, while 61 percent of those who answered a second question, on what they thought should replace it, picked statehood. The Latin American Herald Tribune comments that this comes after decades of support for maintaining the island’s commonwealth status. Many applauded the vote as a move for change, but for Bloomberg Businessweek, “The island remains bitterly divided over its relationship to the United States and many question the validity of this week's referendum.” Backing this is the fact that Puerto Rico selected anti-statehood Alejandro Garcia Padilla of the opposition Popular Democratic Party as its new governor on Tuesday. For Bloggings by Boz, the referendum “once again” asks “convoluted questions that don't provide a clear answer as to what its citizens want.”
    It is now up to US Congress to take the next step, and President Barack Obama had promised to respect the vote, whatever its outcome. Foreign Policy’s Passport blog asks what this would mean for US electoral politics, pointing out that the island would not necessarily be solidly pro-Democratic.
  • A 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck Guatemala’s Pacific coast at 10:35 a.m. on Wednesday, killing at least 48 people, mostly in San Marcos province, reports the AP. Many were still buried under rubble and over a hundred injured in the biggest earthquake to hit the country since the devastating quake of 1976. President Otto Perez flew in to the area to inspect the damage, and said that the government would pay for the funerals of all those killed. 
  • Votes to legalize marijuana for recreational use in Colorado and Washington could impact on Mexico, according to an advisor to incoming President Enrique Peña Nieto, who said “Obviously we can't handle a product that is illegal in Mexico, trying to stop its transfer to the United States, when in the United States, at least in part of the United States, it now has a different status,” the AP reportsInSight Crime comments that the vote is unlikely to hurt Mexico’s drug trafficking organizations in the short term, noting that these groups have proved themselves to be highly adaptable and able to find new sources of income, such as extortion and kidnapping.
  • The AP reports on reactions to President Barack Obama’s victory across Latin America, noting that Cuban newspapers called it the less-bad outcome, while some in Venezuela said it was a relief, as Mitt Romney might have toughened US policies toward the country. Meanwhile the Miami Herald suggests that Latin America could become a more important issue in Obama’s second term, citing “trade, potential political change in the region, the potent voting bloc US Hispanics have become, immigration, changing US attitudes toward drug policy and security.”
  • The Havana Note reports that Obama won a record percentage of the Cuban vote, which demonstrates that “for the first time in over half a century, engaging Cuba is no longer the political liability it once was”
  • Argentina has frozen the assets of US oil firm Chevron in support of Ecuador’s demand for $19 billion in compensation from the oil giant, which has no assets in Ecuador, reports the FT.
  • World Bank President Jim Yong Kim made a two-day visit to Haiti, where he signed agreements to launch two projects, with a combined value of $125 million, to improve power supply, waste management, and air safety. The AP reports that the visit has a special meaning for Kim, who co-founded a community health project in the country in 1987 with Paul Farmer. The Haitian government and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization are seeking $74 million in aid to help deal with the effects of hurricane Sandy, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The US ambassador in Bogota, Michael McKinley, said that there had been no request from the Colombian government to allow FARC boss alias “Simon Trinidad” to attend peace talks in Cuba, reports RCN.
  • Plaza Publica looks at Guatemala’s security and justice budgets, pointing out that the institutions for repressing crime, like the police and army, get far greater budgets than those responsible for investigating and prosecuting it.
  • IPS asks whether the “mensalao” corruption trial in Brazil will have a long term impact or is a mere political ploy.

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