Friday, January 17, 2014

Argentina on Autopilot?

The Associated Press has a story this morning on Argentine President Cristina Fernandez’s marked absence from the public spotlight in the past month. While the president made a point of making a series of appearances after returning to work in November following surgery to remove a blood clot near her brain, she has kept a low profile since mid-December.

According to the AP, Thursday marked 37 days since Fernandez last spoke in public, and she has not posted to her Twitter account since December 13. The latter is especially notable, since the Argentine president’s active use of the site has made her the most-followed head of state in Latin America.

CNN also notes that her apparent absence has fueled speculation and rumors about her health. Some have alleged that she is seeking to make room for a potential successor in the 2015 elections, now that she has squarely denied plans to run for a political position after her current term ends.

Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich has clumsily downplayed the gossip, insisting alternately that Fernandez has not scaled back her work, and that she “is a human being who needs to rest.”

In the meantime, the AP notes that the mixed messages have fueled rumors of a growing internal power struggle in her administration. Economy Minister Axel Kicillof has dismissed these as attempts to “create a soap opera,” saying that there is no conflict in the president’s cabinet.

News Briefs
  • According to Spain’s El Pais, the European Union is preparing to normalize relations with Cuba after 17 years of restrictions on ties to the island country. Diplomatic sources in the EU have signaled to the paper that the bloc’s so-called “Common Position” on Cuba will be revisited as soon as next month, although it is expected to retain language on democracy promotion and human rights concerns.
  • The New York Times reports on disillusionment with security forces in the Michoacan city of Apatzingan, where some locals say the military’s recent clashes with vigilante groups rather than the dominant Knights Templar gang has discredited the federal government.
  • According to a new study on violence in the hemisphere published by Mexican think-tank Seguridad, Justicia y Paz, 40 of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world -- by homicide rate -- are in Latin America. At the top of the list is San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with 187 murders per 100,000 residents, followed by Caracas, Venezuela with 134 per 100,000.
  • Today’s Washington Post features an article which sheds light on the  impact that the rise in U.S. immigrant deportations has had on the Mexican border city of Mexicali, the most popular repatriation point for deportees. While larger cities like Tijuana and Juarez used to be the main unloading sites for deported individuals, security concerns caused the U.S. to shifrk t to places like Mexicali, with less dangerous reputations. At least 113,539 have arrived in the city in the past two years alone.
  • In the wake of the temporary suspension of Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro’s removal order, La Silla Vacia has a helpful breakdown of his legal options to secure his future political survival. Even if the mayor somehow overcomes the inspector general’s suspension order by a court battle, however, Petro will still have to face a recall referendum scheduled for March.
  • Another mining conflict has sparked in Peru’s troubled Cajamarca province, over the same controversial mining project that triggered deadly clashes between security forces and demonstrators in December 2011 and July 2012. El Comercio and the Wall Street Journal report that some 500 to 750 locals stormed land owned by the U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corporation yesterday, destroying a telephone tower and taking a security guard hostage, according to the company.
  • Guatemala’s major media outlets have largely ignored the content of President Otto Perez Molina’s state of the nation speech this week and focused on the subsequent “powdering” of the vice president at the event. However, news site Plaza Publica takes a hard look at the president’s speech, noting its inclusion of a number of alarming indicators (like the fact that Perez cited figures suggesting that childhood acute malnutrition has apparently gone up by 40 percent in the past year).
  • The human rights ombudsman for the west Brazilian state of Arce, Nilson Mourão, has made waves for proposing that the country temporarily close down its border with Peru, O Estadão reports. Mourão’s suggestion comes as a proposed solution to the influx of largely Haitian immigrants to the state, which has overrun local officials’ capacity. According to the human rights secretary, a camp outside the city of Brasileia currently houses 1, 200 immigrants, even though it has a maximum intended capacity of 300 individuals. Sao Paulo-based human rights NGO Conectas, which visited the camp in August and found its conditions unhygienic and “inhumane,”  has lobbied the federal government to assume greater responsibility for the situation there. 
  • A car bomb that detonated outside of a municipal building in a town in Colombia’s western Valle del Cauca province yesterday has been blamed on FARC rebels, who recently ended a month-long self-imposed ceasefire with the government. The bombing killed two and wounded some 50 locals, and President Juan Manuel Santos condemned the FARC for acting “irrational and contradictory.” The BBC notes that the FARC have not claimed responsibility for the incident, however.
  • Panamanian officials have announced that North Korea will be forced to pay a fine of over half a million dollars ($670,000) to recover the ship that was caught carrying Cuban weapons through the Panama Canal last year.