Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Argentina Pushes Forward Judicial Reforms, Despite Resistance

In spite of the massive protests last week against Argentine President Cristina Fernandez’s proposed changes to the justice system, the government continues to promote the reform package as the Argentine Congress gears up for a debate of the measure.

April 18 saw one of the biggest anti-government rallies that Argentina has seen in years, with over a million people taking to the streets of Buenos Aires to protest against the Fernandez administration. As Reuters noted, it underlined widespread rejection of not only the president’s attempts to reform the courts, but her economic policies and combative stance against opposition media as well. It was also an illustration of the fact that her popularity has fallen since she was re-elected in October 2011 by a 54 percent majority, with a record 35-point lead over her closest opponent. According to a Management & Fit poll cited by the Wall Street Journal, just 34 percent of respondents approved of Fernandez’s government last month.

The protest failed to slow the advance of the government-backed judicial reform package, however.  La Nacion reports that both of Argentina’s legislative houses are set to begin debating different segments of the proposed law tomorrow, and both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate are expected to eventually pass it.

Spain’s El Pais has a rundown of the six bills that make up the judicial reform package, and the effects they would have on the current system in Argentina if passed into law. In addition to increasing the size of the Magistrates Council (the body responsible for appointing and impeaching judges), it would subject the membership of the Council to popular elections. The measure would also make it more difficult to challenge laws and presidential decrees in court, a particularly pressing issue for the government as the Clarin media group has repeatedly defied a 2009 anti-media monopoly law by bringing claims against the Fernandez administration.

The Argentine opposition claims that this project amounts to reckless politicization of the judicial system, and has vowed to bring the law before the Supreme Court if passed. According to InfoBAE, opposition congressmen announced yesterday that they would erect a “white tent” outside of Argentina’s lower house in protest of the measure, a symbol which was used in high-profile education protests of the late 1990s.


News Briefs
  • As mentioned in yesterday’s post, the election of Horacio Cartes as Paraguay’s next president has brought the South American nation back into the regional fold, and it appears that it will likely rejoin Mercosur and UNASUR after Cartes takes office. However, its Mercosur membership may come at a cost. Folha de Sao Paulo reports that the Brazilian government support readmitting Paraguay into Mercosur, but only if it accepts Venezuela’s entrance into the bloc, citing foreign ministry officials. Cartes’ Colorado Party withheld ratification of Venezuela’s full membership in the Paraguayan Senate since 2009, which grew into a major sticking point for the trade bloc. When the country was removed from Mercosur after former President Fernando Lugo’s ouster last year, the organization took advantage of its absence to grant Venezuela full membership. According to the AP, Cartes has said he will urge Congress to accept Venezuela’s entry into the regional bloc upon taking office.
  • Cartes has publicly apologized for homophobic statements he made in the days leading up to Sunday’s election, in which he compared gay men to monkeys and likened legalizing gay marriage to the end of the world.
  • The head of Colombia’s armed forces, Alejandro Navas, has announced that the military is close to finding out who leaked sensitive intelligence information to former President Alvaro Uribe, which he then revealed in a public critique of the government’s peace talks with FARC guerrillas. Caracol reports that Navas claims the individual responsible for the leak will likely be identified in some days’ time.
  • The Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) bloc has announced that it will create an “international observatory” dedicated to tracking abuses committed by multinational corporations in the region. The AFP reports that the plan was announced at an ALBA ministers’ meeting in Ecuador yesterday, and while the exact nature of this organization’s responsibilities remain undefined, it will follow complaints filed against foreign companies for alleged violation of terms of investment.
  • The Financial Times takes a look at another cause of discontent among the Argentine opposition: the perception of widespread corruption in all levels of government. The latest incident to fuel this grievance was the revelation that U.S. fashion company Ralph Lauren may have repeatedly bribed customs officials from 2005 to 2009, for which it has been forced to pay a $1.6 million settlement to U.S. authorities.  While cases like this are likely to deepen the opposition’s antagonism towards the government, the FT suggests that Argentines are so accustomed to such incidents that it will not have much impact on Fernandez’s image.
  • The Washington Post has a long and fascinating profile of Ana Montes, a high-level American intelligence officer who was arrested in September 2001 for serving as a Cuban spy. Montes passed on extremely sensitive information to the Cuban government for 17 years, and U.S. intelligence experts consider her the most damaging mole in recent memory.
  • A week after the Chilean Congress voted to impeach Education Minister Harald Beyer, President Sebastian Piñera has announced that she will be replaced by Carolina Schmidt, Minister of Women’s Affairs, who is currently the most popular member of his cabinet, according to Telesur.
  • Honduran Congressional President Juan Hernandez has announced that police in the Central American country have uncovered evidence of a plot to kill several high-profile figures in the country, including a journalist, a police officer and a congressman.  
  • The Miami Herald reports that for the first time since Haiti was hit by several major storms five years ago, the UN’s food program and other humanitarian groups in the country lack sufficient supplies due to a reduction in international aid.
  • A Vatican official has announced that Archbishop Oscar Romero’s pathway to sainthood has been “unblocked,” according to the National Catholic Reporter. According to the NCR, the announcement suggests that the revered Salvadoran figure could be beatified in the near future, an intermediate step before being considered a saint.