Saturday, November 28, 2015
Monday, November 23, 2015
Argentina's next president decided to pursue a career in politics under the most harrowing of circumstances: 24 years ago, he was kidnapped for nearly two weeks and released only after his family — among the nation's wealthiest — paid the kidnappers a reported $2.5 million ransom.
Mauricio Macri entered politics about a decade later in a failed bid to become mayor of Buenos Aires. Two years later, he won a seat in Congress. In 2007, running again for the mayor's office, he won a resounding victory with 61% of the vote.
The son of a wealthy, Italian-born industrialist — Macri's father, Francesco "Franco" Macri, emigrated to Argentina from Italy after World War II — Macri had presidential aspirations during the country's last election in 2011, but decided instead to run for re-election. He won with an even bigger margin, more than 64%.
His 12-day abduction in 1991 that he says resulted in his political career also led police to break up a major kidnapping ring, in which most of the suspects had ties either to Argentina's intelligence service or its federal police, The New York Times reported. Many were senior officials in the police force.
A civil engineer who has long mixed politics with soccer — he was for years the president of Boca Juniors, one of Argentina's best-known clubs — Macri, 56, has promised to get rid of the nation's controversial price control system, which applies to more than 400 supermarket items.
His victory on Sunday signals the effective end of a dozen years of leftist "Kirchnerism" in Argentina, which featured heavy taxes on agricultural exports and heavy-handed government intervention in the economy. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who is term-limited, succeeded her late husband, Nestor Kirchner, who served one term, from 2003 to 2007. His wife was elected in 2007 and re-elected in 2011. Nestor Kirchner died in 2010.
Macri promised to reduce the state's role in the economy and embrace more pro-business policies, as well as shift Argentina's foreign policy away from close relations with the anti-American governments in Venezuela and Iran and better ties with the USA.
He also wants to scrap currency controls and make it much easier for Argentines to change their local pesos into U.S. dollars, a move that would require the country's central bank to increase its currency reserves.
Saturday, November 21, 2015
CARACAS, Venezuela – A study estimates poverty in Venezuela has hit an all-time high of some 73 percent of households.My guess is that the Bolivarians have already spent everybody else's money.
The report says that's up from about 27 percent in 2013 and 48 percent in 2014.
It was prepared by researchers at three Venezuelan universities on the basis of surveys with 6,000 people in the nation of 30 million.
Poverty rates plummeted during the first years of Venezuela's 16-year-old socialist revolution under the late President Hugo Chavez. But they have risen more recently as the country struggles with raging inflation, a deepening recession and falling prices for oil — Venezuela's main source of foreign income.
The study was released Friday, before Venezuela holds legislative elections next month.
SAN MIGUEL, Argentina—As a “point man” for the ruling Peronist movement, Javier Llanos works teeming slums of dirt streets and plywood homes, exhorting prospective voters in this industrial suburb of the capital to cast ballots for Daniel Scioli in Sunday’s presidential election.
But the working-class districts that ring Buenos Aires—packed with millions of voters who powered Peronism for decades—are slipping from the movement’s grasp.
Six polls show that opposition candidate Mauricio Macri, the business friendly mayor of Buenos Aires, has a lead of five to 13 percentage points over Mr. Scioli, a signal that after 12 years, a movement that thrives on a mix of welfare programs and nationalism may be defeated.
“We’ll lose it all if Macri wins,” lamented Mr. Llanos, echoing the Peronist message that a vote for change will mean disaster for Argentina. “There will be a lot of suffering for the poor.”
But many Argentines—even those in poor districts who benefited from years of generous programs—disagree. They speak of decaying or nonexistent infrastructure and rising crime and drug trafficking under Mr. Scioli, who has been governor of the Buenos Aires province for the past eight years.
“I’m 52, and I have always known Peronism,” said voter Susana Arraskaita. “I want to see something different.”
Mr. Scioli, a 58-year-old former powerboat racing champion, fell short of the threshold needed to win in a first round of voting on Oct. 25 and barely squeaked by Mr. Macri, 56. Other outcomes of that election also went against President Cristina Kirchner and the Victory Front, the Peronist coalition she leads.
In large and populous Buenos Aires province, Mrs. Kirchner’s choice for governor, her mercurial cabinet chief Aníbal Fernández, lost in the October vote to Mr. Macri’s young and charismatic candidate, María Eugenia Vidal—the first time in 28 years a non-Peronist won that post.
The Victory Front’s mayoral candidates also took a beating in the 33 densely populated districts that ring Argentina’s capital and contain about 27% of the country’s 32 million voters, with Mr. Macri’s allies scoring victories in Peronist strongholds like the bedroom city of Lanús, population 500,000.
“With the results, the myths collapsed,” said Damián Sala, an activist who works for Lanús Mayor-elect Nestor Grindetti. “We learned that even in Lanús, a movement that’s not Peronism could win.”
Peronists are now feverishly trying to get the votes they need—a campaign to be won or lost in these 33 key districts. Of particular interest to both sides are three million votes that a dissident Peronist, Sergio Massa, received in the first round.
“The mother of all battles takes place in these working-class suburbs,” said Carlos Coronel, a teacher whose second job as a local Peronist representative entails organizing activists to convince San Miguel’s voters to cast ballots for Mr. Scioli.
In Mrs. Kirchner’s two terms—and in her husband Néstor’s previous 2003-07 term—Peronism has meant largess here in the capital’s industrial belt.
In the most costly expansion of social welfare since the rule of Peronism’s founder, Gen. Juan Domingo Perón, more than six decades ago, it has delivered everything from pensions for retired manual laborers to stipends for young mothers. For those fanatical about soccer, there is “Football For All,” which broadcasts games free that had once been available only on pay-per-view. Those who are hard to employ can work in government-supported neighborhood cooperatives, producing T-shirts or toys.
Peronist organizers now remind people here that deprivation and economic calamities of the past—like the 2001 debt default, which led to riots and poverty—took place under non-Peronist leaders.
“I remember 2001, I lost everything,” said Pedro Multari, a 54-year-old San Miguel resident. “We had to start selling things so we could have enough to eat.”
Peronism built up a fierce loyalty decades ago, winning territorial control by forging close ties to organized labor, said Rodrigo Zarazaga, a Jesuit priest who has spent two decades as chaplain in these downtrodden communities. Under the Kirchners, allegiance has been secured with public assistance.
But it has come at a cost. Ballooning government spending has fueled inflation, the second-highest in Latin America, which hits the poor hard. Rev. Zarazaga said the state has also ignored infrastructure: Nearly half of all households are without sewerage or potable water in the cities ringing Buenos Aires. Many roads are unpaved, large urban areas are prone to flooding,schools are decaying and decrepit commuter trains are overcrowded.
“The urgency was to resolve problems with massive cash transfers, but the lack of infrastructure is a problem,” said Rev. Zarazaga, a Harvard-trained social scientist who directs the Research and Social Action Center, a Buenos Aires think tank. “If Mr. Scioli doesn’t recover lost ground in these suburbs, he doesn’t have a chance.”
Mr. Macri’s efforts to win support in working-class wards haven’t been easy. The message activists of his Let’s Change coalition have hammered home in small-scale meetings with voters is that for Argentina to have a stable economy, it must resolve such issues as falling reserves and the lack of access to credit, said Lanús Mayor-elect Grindetti, who is currently Mr. Macri’s finance chief in the capital.
“That’s not the first problem people think about,” Mr. Grindetti said.
A few miles to the northwest, Mr. Coronel, the Peronist organizer in San Miguel, acknowledges how hard it has been to rev up the base. “There’s a sense of fatigue with regards to Mrs. Kirchner, so the runoff looks complicated,” he said while driving in San Miguel’s neighborhoods.
Mr. Coronel and other Peronist organizers have been actively trying to help residents with everyday problems, from assisting senior citizens with paperwork for pension benefits to sprucing up sport facilities. The idea, they say, is to make clear that their help is tied to Mr. Scioli.
“What some call populism is pejorative for us,” Mr. Coronel added. “We see this as social justice.”
Even with the headwinds for Peronism, many remain loyal.
In a San Miguel avenue where Peronist activists pass out pro-Scioli pamphlets, 63-year-old María Cristina Miranda recounted how she received retirement benefits under Mrs. Kirchner´s administration, though neither she nor her employer had ever contributed to a pension plan. And she doesn’t want to lose it.
“I pray to God and the Virgin that Scioli will win,” she said.
Thursday, November 12, 2015
The Colombian guerrilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) intend to avoid extradition and to be given seats in Congress without being elected. The FARC made these demands to the Colombian government on Saturday, November 7, in a press release in which they emphasize that they won’t sign a peace agreement after 50 years of conflict unless the government yields on both points.
The FARC demanded that the government directly appoint guerrilla members to seats in Congress, local Councils, and municipal assemblies during at least two four-year terms. They also called for the state to finance the political movement that will emerge after the peace process with 10 percent more public funds than those available to other parties.
Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo said that the “government believes that FARC members’ political participation is crucial; that is the ultimate goal of this negotiation.”
Opposition Senator Alfredo Rangel of the Democratic Center, former President Álvaro Uribe’s party, told the PanAm Post that the FARC’s involvement in politics would be “unacceptable,” because they are “a criminal organization that has recruited kids and is responsible for slavery, massacres, forced displacements, and kidnappings.”
He lashed out at the idea of gifting congressional seats to convicted FARC members like Timochenko and Iván Márquez, who have been sentenced to serve over 800 years in jail.
The FARC “are trying to impose a Castro-Chavista communist regime in Colombia,” because, “some 50 years ago, they decided to be part of the armed wing of the Communist Party,” he says.
Senator Rangel’s opinions are shared by a majority of Colombians according to a poll published on November 5. The pollster Cifras y Conceptos reported that some 71 percent of Colombians reject the FARC’s participation in politics, and 80 percent oppose the FARC’s proposal of congressional seats being directly awarded to guerrilla members.
“The Policy of Peace Leads Nowhere”
The FARC also revealed that they will launch 10 initiatives for the government to analyze during the final stage of the peace negotiations. The final agreement, the government has announced, is expected to be reached by March 2016.
Rangel deems the peace process as a “false truce.” He believes the FARC, which had agreed to cease attacks on security forces and infrastructure, continues to commit crimes, blackmail the population, and carry out illegal drug activities. “They are the world’s largest cocaine cartel,” Rangel says.
“The truce is a sham, because, despite the FARC’s announcements, crime is on the rise, coca-leaf production has increased by 50 percent, and the guerrillas are using the profits to rearm,” he says.
Lawyer Ricardo Urdaneta tells the PanAm Post that, in his view, the FARC won’t sign a final agreement, because they have no real interest in ceasing the armed struggle.
“The peace process is not leading anywhere,” he says. “Even if the FARC were acting in good faith, they don’t have the ability to bring peace to Colombia, not only because they don’t really want to, but especially because they don’t have real control over all their people, so they can’t force them to give up crime.”
Urdaneta adds that “the FARC are not the only armed group in the country.”
Urdaneta says that the peace negotiations are mere political stagecraft, because they won’t bring about any significant changes. “Every time the Santos administration announces that they are about to reach an agreement, FARC leaders come up with new demands.” Extending the negotiations, he says, allows the FARC to buy time.
Urdaneta believes that it’s unlikely that the government and the FARC will reach an agreement in March. “It’s even less likely,” he says, “that the FARC will give up their weapons.”
He adds that, to this date, no significant agreement has been reached, and that after three years of negotiations, the main points are still a source of contention.
“What kind of sentences will FARC members receive?” he asks. “Who will impart those sentences if FARC leaders are indeed prosecuted? None of this is clear. Every single one of the important issues is yet to be decided.”
As for the guerrilla’s demands to take part in Colombian politics, Urdaneta says that the group is looking to negotiate “on equal terms with the state.”
Urdaneta believes that President Santos is using the peace negotiations in order to increase his own power, just “like [Venezuelan President Nicolás] Maduro did with the enabling laws.”
He adds that Colombian law does not exempt FARC members from serving time, nor does it provide seats in Congress to any particular group that doesn’t participate in the regular electoral process.
New Minister for Post-Conflict
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos designated Rafael Pardo, a former candidate for mayor of Bogotá, as the new Minister for the Post-Conflict.
Pardo, who came in second place, will now be in charge of designing and coordinating policies and programs related to the post-conflict after the deal with the FARC is sealed.
On Twitter, Santos explained that Pardo “has all the skills to assume this important responsibility.”
Pardo served as former President César Gaviria’s Defense minister (1991-1994) and as Labor minister during Santos’s first term, between 2010 and 2014.
Sunday, November 1, 2015
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro warned that he wouldn’t let a defeat in December congressional elections derail his government even as his socialist party faces the possibility of losing control of the national assembly for the first time in 16 years.
While the embattled leader said he would accept the results of the election, whatever the outcome, even in a “negated hypothetical scenario” he’s not willing to “surrender the revolution.”
“I would govern with the people, always with the people and the civil-military union,” Maduro said late Thursday on state television, in response to a question on how he would govern in the event the opposition takes control of congress. “In such a scenario, Venezuela would enter one of the most turbulent and poignant stages of its political life.”
Triple-digit inflation, the worst economic contraction in the world this year and record shortages of food and medicine are undercutting support for both Maduro and his party. Candidates for Venezuela’s opposition alliance and independents are expected to get 66.3% of votes in the December election, according to September poll by Caracas-based Venezuelan Institute of Data Analysis, known as IVAD.
Furthermore, Maduro in July signaled that he won’t allow international observers to monitor the election. Brazil’s electoral court TSE said earlier this month that it wouldn’t join a Unasur mission to observe the election citing delays in an accord with Venezuela’s electoral body.
“The revolution will not be surrendered ever,” Maduro said. “With the constitution in hand, we will push Venezuela’s independence forward, whatever the costs, in any way.