Friday, February 7, 2014

IOC Chief to Rio: “No Time to Lose”

The opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia took place on Friday with an abundance of pomp and circumstance.  But with the Summer Olympics two years away, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has increased the pressure on organizers of the summer games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

On Thursday, IOC President Thomas Bach criticized Rio Olympics planners for not making a “great effort to communicate whenever possible” to the Brazilian people.

“There is a good story to tell and Rio needs to tell it to the people to improve support.  We are confident they can achieve this,” said Bach who visited Brazil in January and talked with President Dilma Rousseff.  Nevertheless, he echoed comments made during that trip and warned Rio planners, “Back to work there is no time to lose.”

Bach’s comments followed a progress update by Rio organizers where they promised to deliver all projects as scheduled even though construction could be delayed on their second Olympic park in Deodoro.  Hence, the IOC's head of the coordination commission, Nawal El Moutawakel, noted that there were a “number of unsolved issues remain with regard to the full alignment of government support.”

“Significant and tangible progress has been made. But constant supervision and assistance will be required over the coming months,” said Moutawakel.

The IOC’s actions occurred on the same day that more than 1000 people protested against a 9% fare hike in Rio’s public transport system. 

Daily Headlines: February 7, 2014

* Uruguay: Members of Uruguay’s ruling party and a Dutch NGO have nominated President Jose Mujica for the Nobel Peace Prize due to his support of decriminalizing marijuana use.

* Costa Rica: Is the Super Bowl to blame for the low turnout of Costa Rican expat voters to last Sunday’s elections?

* Bolivia: Meteorologists predicted that more rain would continue to hit heavily flooded areas of northern Bolivia where the inclement weather has killed at least thirty-eight people.

* Puerto Rico: Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla criticized Standard & Poor’s decision to lower Puerto Rico’s bond status to “junk” levels despite his claims that officials were “committed to taking correct and sensible actions to rebuild” the commonwealth.

Video Source – AFP via YouTube

Online Sources- LAHT; Reuters; Tico Times; The Latin Americanist; Huffington Post

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Daily Headlines: February 6, 2014

* Panama: Informal talks are reportedly being held between operators of the Panama Canal and a Spanish-led consortium in order to continue the troubled expansion of the famed waterway.

* Venezuela: Venezuela's main opposition party called on authorities to release seven people arrested over the weekend for protesting in the city hosting the Caribbean Series.

* Central America: The Costa Rican government will file a new complaint against Nicaragua with the International Court of Justice as part of the latest chapter in the diplomatic tug-of-war between the neighboring Central American states.

* Haiti: According to human rights group Amnesty International, Haitian police clashed with survivors of a 2010 earthquake in an apparent attempt to evict residents of a makeshift camp.

Online Sources - Washington Post; Tico Times; Reuters

Video Source - euronews via YouTube ("There are renewed tensions over building work to expand the Panama Canal which has been the subject of a dispute over who should pay up for cost overruns.")

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Report: LatAm Military Spending Keeps Increasing

Despite denials from regional leaders in recent years, a new report found that Latin America continues to be engaged in an arms race that includes increased military spending in the region.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) report found that military spending in the region grew by 15% in recent years from $61.3 billion in 2010 to $70.9 billion in 2013.

Though the study noted that roughly half of that increase came in a period of “high inflation and strong appreciation of currencies in the region” in 2010 and 2011, military spending in the region increased by over 3% last year.  Venezuela (12%), Colombia (11.6%) and Bolivia (8%) were the Latin American countries that increased their most in spending on the military in 2013 while Mexico and Central America boosted their defense funds by over 6% last year.

The IISS identified Brazil as Latin America’s top military spender in 2013 though their defense budget of $34.7 billion would only account for roughly 5.7% of the $600.4 billion spent on defense in the U.S. last year.

Ironically, Brazil was one of the few Latin American countries where military spending decreased in 2013 with a 1.1% drop.  (The sharpest decline was in Uruguay that spent 4.1% less in defense last year compared to 2012).

Daily Headlines: February 5, 2014

* Mexico: President Enrique Peña Nieto pledged to spend $3.4 billion in funds for social and infrastructure programs in Michoacán, a Mexican state where recently legalized “self-defense” groups have battled against the Knights Templar drug gang.

* Puerto Rico: Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla’s plans to present a balanced budget a year ahead of time were not enough to present Standard and Poor’s from lowering the credit rating of the commonwealth to “junk” status.

* Brazil: Several million Brazilian residents were affected by blackouts that hit parts of the country, and that occurred amid record heat and low reservoir levels at the country's hydroelectric plants.

* Peru: Autopsy results could explain the cause of death of over 400 deceased dolphins that washed up on the coast of northern Peru in January.

Video Source - euronews via YouTube ("Government authorities in the Mexican state of Michoacan signed a deal (last week) allowing the police to work with local vigilante "self-defence" volunteer groups.")

Online Sources- GlobalPost; Reuters; ABC News; The Guardian

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Remembering Doña Dedé

On February 1st, Dominican pro-democracy activist Belgica Adela Mirabal died due to pulmonary problems at the age of 88.  The following day, thousands of people including President Danilo Medina and her family participated in the funeral march for the woman lovingly nicknamed "Doña Dedé."

As we mentioned in a November 2012 post, Dedé was one of the Mirabal sisters, a quartet of very brave women who stood in the face of a brutal dictatorship.  The following text comes from that post:

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women was created via a resolution approved by the United Nations General Assembly in 1999.  The draft resolution for the date was introduced by the representative of the Dominican Republic, which was no coincidence since November 25th represents a dark day against women’s rights in that Caribbean country.

The Mirabal sisters (Patria, Dedé, Minerva and Maria Teresa) were four political dissidents opposed to the authoritarian rule of strongman Rafael Trujillo. They were known as Las Mariposas (The Butterfly Sisters), a nickname that came about due to their efforts for freedom and democracy in their country.  Despite dangers such as harassment from the police and the imprisonment of three of their husbands the sisters forged ahead and became symbols of the Dominican resistance movement.  

The Trujillo regime’s campaign to silence the Mirabal sisters came to a climax on November 25, 1960.  On their way home after visiting their incarcerated husbands, three of the sisters were intercepted by a group of soldiers. Patria, Minerva, Maria Teresa and their driver were choked and beaten to death.  The assassins brazenly tried to cover up the murder as an auto accident.

Daily Headlines: February 4, 2014

* Latin America: On the eve of World Cancer Day, a World Health Organization report released yesterday found that a lack of early detection and access to treatment have contributed to about 70% of global cancer deaths that occur yearly in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

* Colombia: A new poll found that President Juan Manuel Santos comfortably leads his rivals for the presidency yet roughly half of respondents are either undecided or would vote for none of the candidates.

* Argentina: The Argentine government is none too pleased with Royal Dutch Shell and blasted the oil giant for raising fuel prices by 12%.

* Central America: Researchers believe that deforestation in Central America has increased since drug traffickers have sought routes that are more difficult to detect by law enforcement authorities.

Video Source – The Lancet via YouTube

Online Sources- Catholic Online; Deutsche Welle; Reuters; ABC News

Monday, February 3, 2014

Runoffs to Decide Next Salvadoran, Costa Rican Presidents

A second round of presidential elections will likely be held in El Salvador and Costa Rica after none of the candidates received sufficient support from the electorate on Sunday.

Salvador Sanchez of the ruling FMLN gained a plurality of 48.93% of the vote in El Salvador and fell short of the majority required to win yesterday’s election.  With 99.3% of the vote counted, the former leftist guerilla turned vice president earned nearly 10% more support than San Salvador’s conservative mayor and second round opponent Norman Quijano.

“If we got the win in the first round, we will triumph in the second,” declared a confident Sanchez in front of a multitude of supporters yesterday.  Quijano, meanwhile, declared that his campaign fought a “historic battle” where  “a monster wanted to crush us but could not.”

Even though Sanchez and Quijano easily beat out a trio of other candidates, the key to victory in the March 9th runoff could come in the form of Antonio Saca who received 11.4% of the vote in the first round.  The former president broke away from Quijano’s ARENA party in 2009 yet it’s unclear which of the two remaining candidates pro-Saca backers will opt for.  (Saca in his concession speech didn't provide any hints regarding whom he might support).

In Costa Rica, meanwhile, Luis Guillermo Solís of the center-left Citizen Action Party earned first place with 30.95% of the vote though he was unable to obtain the minimum 40% needed to prevent a runoff on May 8th. Nevertheless, his victory was reportedly a surprise after ruling party candidate Johnny Araya was seen as the favorite and had actually led in early exit polls.

“We will govern for Costa Rica. Not one step backward, only forward,” declared the historian who polls prior to the election indicated that he would end in third or fourth place.  “We’re going to win, because we are a people who decided to change,” added the 55-year-old who left the ruling National Liberation Party in 2005.

Daily Headlines: February 3, 2014

* Brazil: Respected Brazilin filmmaker Eduardo Coutinho was stabbed to death yesterday in an incident allegedly perpetrated by his son who has mental health issues.

* South America: Days after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in a border dispute between Chile and Peru, Bolivian President Evo Morales said that his country will not drop its ICJ lawsuit against Chile.

* Latin America:
Support for Puerto Rican independence and a promise to resolve regional differences via dialogue were some of the details mentioned in a declaration at the end of last week’s summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.

* Venezuela: The Caribbean Series of baseball started on Sunday in Venezuela with the return of Cuba for the first time since 1960.

Video Source – YouTube user Gabriel Silva Mendeleh (The career of Eduardo Coutinho spanned four decades and included directing documentaries such as 1999’s “The Mighty Spirit,” which focused on the residents of a Rio de Janeiro slum prior to a visit of Pope John Paul II to Brazil.)

Online Sources-; UPI; Reuters; The Latin Americanist; Xinhua