Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Chile’s Bachelet Commits to Reforms in Inaugural Address

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet took office for the second time yesterday, using her first speech to echo campaign promises of major tax and education reforms.  “Chile has only one great adversary: inequality. And only together we'll be able to defeat it,” the newly-inaugurated president announced to a crowd outside the presidential palace yesterday.

Back in October, Bachelet published a list of 50 measures that she said she would institute during her first 100 days in office, and she has expressed commitment to sticking to these promises. The most highly-anticipated of these is a plan to reform the country’s public education system to provide free tuition, to be financed by increased corporate taxes. La Tercera has a helpful graphic breaking down all 50 proposals, divided into 14 different areas.

Emol reports that the president held her first cabinet meeting this morning, and The Clinic notes that she now begins a “race against time” to meet her deadline for implementing the measures.

The AP suggests that Bachelet’s reform-minded agenda will be tough to implement, however, as her promises have raised expectations. Her education plan is sure to come under scrutiny from Chile’s vocal student movement, which has already flexed its muscles on the issue. Last month, Bachelet’s handpicked Deputy Education Minister Claudia Peirano was forced to step aside, following revelations by student activists that she had questioned the wisdom of tuition-free university education in a 2011 letter. The Economist points out that three other would-be undersecretaries have been forced to resign after past misdemeanors came to light, which her opponents have attacked as a sign that she is unprepared for office.

News Briefs
  • With Bachelet’s inauguration over, many of the regional foreign ministers there will stay in Santiago today for a UNASUR meeting to address the situation in Venezuela.  Spain’s El Pais notes that the government of Brazil played a key role in organizing the meeting, but that it is unclear whether the government of President Dilma Rousseff is capable of voicing a solid position on the unrest. U.S. administration sources have told the AP that Vice President Joe Biden, who was also in Santiago for Bachelet’s inauguration, discussed Venezuela with other regional leaders and “mentioned the possibility of mediation by third parties,” a potential reference to the UNASUR dialogue.  Meanwhile, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said yesterday that his government would welcome a UNASUR delegation to “accompany and strengthen the process of national dialogue” in his country.
  • El Universal notes that today marks one month since nationwide protests first broke out in Venezuela, a milestone that the opposition student movement is commemorating with a march to the Ombudsman’s office to denounce allegations of torture of imprisoned activists. As the death toll from clashes between protesters and security forces continues to rise -- it now stands at 23 -- the New York Times reports that the odds of dialogue seem to be growing slimmer, with extremists on both sides becoming more resigned to the violence.
  • In a column for the New Republic, Venezuelan opposition blogger Francisco Toro makes an argument similar to one put forward in a recent NYT op-ed by journalist Rafael Osio Cabrices: that the opposition protests have given disproportionate voice to extremist elements. This, in turn, makes them easier for the government to dismiss and helps the Chavista camp rally its support base against demonstrators.
  • The NYT features an investigation into the U.S. political donations of two fugitive Ecuadorean bankers living in Miami, Roberto and William Isaias, who are wanted in their home country on embezzlement charges. In June 2013, the U.S. sent an official denial of Ecuador’s extradition request for the brothers, a move that some analysts have alleged is a sign that the Isaias have received political favors in exchange for their campaign contributions.
  • It appears El Salvador’s conservative ARENA party has dug in its heels. After previously calling for a full recount and declaring himself the true winner of Sunday’s vote, ARENA’s Norman Quijano has requested that electoral officials annul the elections. As La Prensa Grafica reports, Quijano pointed to a series of alleged anomalies, including reports of voter fraud and a lack of impartiality in the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.
  • Guatemala’s Plaza Publica goes through the Constitutional Court’s recent ruling in which it laid out the case for shortening Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz’s term. The decision has been criticized by several legal analysts in the country, including former Constitutional Court President Rodolfo Rohrmorser. The full decision was released on Friday, the same day that Paz y Paz presented her name for re-election to the committee tasked with naming her replacement.
  • The Guardian’s environmental policy blogger David Hill profiles a recent announcement by newly-appointed Peruvian Energy Minister Eleodoro Mayorga Alba, who told Gestion magazine last week that requirements for companies to conduct impact assessments before exploring for oil and gas would be eliminated in a new law. The government has since backtracked from this statement in the face of objections from civil society groups, including the Lima-based Institute of Legal Defense (IDL).
  • Colombia’s Semana magazine highlights an unlikely overlap among three very different political actors in the country -- the FARC, Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro and the faction led by ex-President Alvaro Uribe -- who have all alleged that the current system in Colombia must be changed, and would benefit from a constituent assembly.
  • Some 1,500 Haitians filed a lawsuit in a Brooklyn federal court yesterday to seek compensation from the United Nations for victims of the deadly cholera outbreak that has killed over 8,000 people in the country. While the UN claims immunity from prosecution over the outbreak, the AP notes that prosecutors say this argument is invalid, citing a document in which the UN General Assembly agreed to assume “liability for damage caused by members of its forces in the performance of their duties.”
  • Mexican officials in Michoacan have announced the arrest of vigilante leader Hipolito Mora, one of the most prominent heads of the state’s controversial “self-defense groups.” El Universal reports that Mora has been detained in connection with the Friday murder of a rival vigilante leader, and that local officials in his area of operation have also made allegations of land theft and extortion against Mora.