Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Bachelet Under Fire for Abortion Initiative

Last week, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet unveiled a bill that would loosen Chile's strict ban on abortions. While the measure has been praised by women's and reproductive rights advocates, the president has come under heavy criticism from conservative sectors. 

In the first state of the union address of her second administration on May 21, Bachelet confirmed reports that she would submit a bill to loosen the country’s abortion ban. Abortion is currently criminalized in all cases in Chile, and women or doctors convicted of having or performing them can be sentenced to between three to five years in prison. Bachelet's proposed reform would allow abortion in three cases: when the fetus is non-viable, when the mother's life is in danger and in cases of rape.

As news site The Clinic reports, in subsequent remarks the president said her position had to do with recognizing an existing social reality. "It seems like this has been a taboo subject for some time, and it seems to me that there should be no taboo subjects in a society. That is undemocratic," said the president. "There may be different perspectives here and I am not imposing anything. What I'm saying is that we must not close our eyes."

Not everyone sees it that way, however. Yesterday, La Tercera and El Mostrador reported that some 2,000 demonstrators -- mostly young students -- gathered in front of the presidential palace to prostest the measure. They were joined by lawmakers of the conservative Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party. The opposition National Renewal (RN) party has slammed the initiative as well, in addition to the Catholic Church.

In fact, the president may face an uphill battle in pressing the issue among lawmakers in her own ruling coalition, which includes Christian Democrats. Paula Molina has a good discussion of the political challenges and longstanding cultural barriers that Bachelet is up against for BBC Mundo, noting that more than 10 bills to amend the abortion ban have been presented in Chile since 1991, and each one has failed. While there is some support for the measure among more liberal segments of the opposition, this is complicated by the fact that the head of the RN has promised to expel anyone who votes for the bill. Ultimately, Molina suggests that for the measure to pass, supporters will have to remove one of the more contentious exceptions, like cases of rape, or restrict the risk to a mothers' life to "a very specific definition."

News Briefs
  • Following Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa’s recent reversal on a constitutional amendment to allow indefinite reelection, El Universo has an overview of the president’s evolution on the issue. The paper notes that while he called ending term limits “absurd” when taking office in January 2007, he has become increasingly vague on his public position on reform that would authorize a fourth term following his third inauguration in May 2013. In a recent interview, Correa stopped short of saying whether he would seek to run for a fourth time, saying only that it would depend on political conditions in 2017 and would be a “decision for his party.”
  •  Animal Politico casts a critical eye on recent remarks by Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong’s recent claim that the total number of disappeared individuals in the country had been reduced to 8,000, while roughly twice that number had been found. Ultimately, it seems this figure is a product of fuzzy math, selective wording and data manipulation. According to federal prosecutors consulted by the news site, just 73 victims of forced disappearances have been located -- alive and dead -- under the Peña Nieto administration.
  • Following his victory in Sunday’s first-round vote, Colombian presidential candidate Oscar Zuluaga has seemingly confirmed President Juan Manuel Santos’ characterization of the election as a choice between “those of us who want the end of war and those who prefer a war without end.” Semana reports that yesterday Zuluaga announced that if elected president, he would “provisionally suspend” the peace talks and demand that the guerrillas “cease all crimes against the population.”
  • Today is the 50th anniversary of the creation of the hemisphere’s oldest insurgent group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). InSight Crime marks the occasion with an in-depth investigation into the history of the guerrilla army, detailing their development both before and after the peak of their military power in 2002. The investigation’s author, InSight co-director Jeremy McDermott, also argues that the government has painted an inaccurately rosy picture of the progress of peace talks in Havana, deemphasizing serious points of contention at the negotiating table like FARC opposition to immediate disarmament and ceding control of territory. McDermott also offers a useful look at the involvement of several FARC fronts in the drug trade, which underlines the importance of the recent accord on drug trafficking reached in Havana.
  • A federal judge in Rio de Janeiro state has ruled against the application of Brazil’s 1979 Amnesty Law in the case against five military officials accused of disappearance and murder of former congressman Rubens Paiva in 1971. As Folha de São Paulo reports, the judge found that the amnesty law “should be interpreted restrictively…especially when it opposes fundamental rights.”
  • The New York Times is the latest U.S. outlet to point out delays in Brazil’s World Cup preparations, this time in the central state of Mato Grosso, where construction projects in the host city of Cuiaba have been marked by passed deadlines, corruption allegations and design flaws.
  • In an op-ed in today’s New York Times, Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez offers a look at the recent economic reforms on the island. She characterizes these, along with the January 2013 immigration reform, as major blows to the prevailing order in Cuba, asserting that these changes are fueling the pro-democracy opposition movement.
  • Buzzfeed’s David Noriega reports on the growing momentum behind the push for sanctions against Venezuela in Washington, noting that some of its Venezuelan-American backers in the U.S. appear to be organizing along similar lines as the powerful Cuban-American lobby in Florida.
  • Following a wave of high-profile announcements by international airlines that they would cut flights to the country, Venezuela’s government has announced a new plan to pay nearly four billion dollars in debt to the companies. As El Universal reports, airlines will now fix ticket prices according to the country’s devalued exchange rate, a move which the AP characterizes as a potential “stealth devaluation” that could cause prices to multiply significantly.
  • Uruguay’s National Drug Secretary, Julio Calzada, has announced that the government is putting the finishing touches on its registry of home cultivators of marijuana. Over the weekend, Calzada told local news channel Teledoce that this would be launched in “15 to 20 days.” When the registry goes into effect, a 180-day “amnesty period” will begin, during which individuals who had previously grown the drug illegally will be allowed to register their plants with authorities under the conditions of the law (6 plants per household, a maximum yield of 480 grams annually). 

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