June 26, 2019  

Two new flags will be flying high at the Olympic Games in Rio.

For the first time, South Sudan and Kosovo have been recognized by the International Olympic Committee. Kosovo, which was a province of the former Yugoslavia, will have 8 athletes competing; and a good shot for a medal in women's judo: Majlinda Kelmendi is considered a favorite. She's ranked first in the world in her weight class.

(South Sudan's James Chiengjiek, Yiech Biel & coach Joe Domongole, © AFP) South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, will have three runners competing in the country's first Olympic Games.

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus


(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)



Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler



CARTOON: Peter Broelman, Australia/BROELMAN.com.au)


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Entries in latin america (4)


El Salvador Gang Truce Expanded to Include Extortion (REPORT) 

(Video Al Jazeera)

Opinion by Tatiana Faramarzi

El Salvador’s involvement in a truce between the country’s two major street gangs has grown, with the government now pursuing a reduction in gang extortion in addition to homicides.

Although the daily homicide rate has declined sharply since 30 leaders of the MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs were transported to a more relaxed prison facility in March, reports of extortion have continued and even risen in some departments, according to the country's Attorney General.

Transportation unions in particular have reported an increase in the monetary losses incurred by gang extortions.

(PHOTO: Tico Times) Straying from prior denials of government involvement in the negotiations, La Prensa Grafica reports that Justice and Security Minister David Munguia Payes has stated that “the government cannot sit down to negotiate with criminal groups, but if other institutions do, we will facilitate the dialogue.” The Church and former congressman Raul Mijango have already initiated efforts to negotiate a reduction in extortions with the gangs.

Munguia claimed that he is unsure of what the gang leaders will ask for in exchange for a reduction in extortions, but the government is prepared to do whatever is necessary to facilitate a dialogue, so long as concessions remain within the scope of the law. Currently, the government is considering some “gestures of goodwill” that gang leaders have requested, such as allowing imprisoned gangsters to be visited by their children, or lengthening the allowed visit time.

According to the minister, all the dialogue can do is “create opportunities.” If negotiations through Mijango and the Church are fruitless, the government will be forced to explore other options. However, he is convinced that the reduction in homicides that resulted from the truce can only be followed by a reduction in extortion, auto theft, and illicit arms acquisition.

The Salvadoran government’s continued facilitation of the discussion between the Church and the country’s two largest street gangs points to the state’s deepening investment in the deal.

The consideration of new concessions to curtail gang extortion also sheds light on the leverage that the gangs have in the negotiations.

(PHOTO: Justice Minister David Munguia Payes) Minister Munguia appears confident that dialogue between the Church and the gang leaders will lead to the decline of several criminal activities, but brokering a truce between two gangs at war is very different from convincing the groups to cease the activities that dictate their way of life.

Each of the myriad illicit activities that Salvadoran gangs engage in may require new government concessions.

As Insight has suggested, inadvertently delegating this kind of political power to gangs could compromise the justice system, as well as any peace that has already resulted from the negotiations.

---This piece originally appeared in INSIGHT HERE.


Democratic Speed Bumps in Latin America (PERSPECTIVE) 

By Taylor Dibbert

After a decade of growing popularity, democracy has hit a slump in Latin America. A recent Latinobarómetro poll cited by The Economist in late October underscores this point. In all but three Latin American countries, fewer people than last year believe that democracy is preferable to any other type of government. In the cases of Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, the drop in support for democracy is significant.

The 2009 removal of democratically elected Manuel Zelaya and the post-coup human rights abuses of the government of Porfirio Lobo are obvious indicators that Honduras is on the wrong track. Dozens of political murders have taken place in Honduras, and there has been little outrage from Washington.

Additionally, November’s presidential elections in Nicaragua and Guatemala (and recent polling on Mexico’s 2012 election) reinforce the notion that many in the region have grown skeptical about democratic governance.

Reasons to be Skeptical

Many reasons could explain this change in perceptions. Increased crime — particularly around the flow of illegal drugs — is perhaps the most obvious factor. Latin Americans want law and order and are willing to overlook an administration’s democratic lapses to achieve domestic security.

As people get wealthier, the Latinobarómetro poll suggests, they expect more and better government services. This craving is understandable, although the highly inefficient tax regimes in the region make this difficult to achieve. Large informal economies and numerous loopholes or exemptions to current tax collection systems pose challenges that most politicians have been unwilling to address. For example, Mexico’s rate of tax collection is the worst of any country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). But Guatemala’s is even worse; it was only 10.5 percent of GDP last year. The average rate in Latin America is about 14 percent of GDP.

Legislative inertia is also a factor. Since the end of military dictatorships in Latin America, many countries have been plagued by frustrating legislative gridlock. "The truth is that people in Latin America care very little about parties and congresses, and expect even less from them," according to a Brookings Institution analysis.

Global financial crises have also not helped. In terms of economic prosperity, Latin America remains the most unequal region in the world. During these crises, the poor and lower-middle classes prioritize meeting their daily needs. If their ability to make ends meet declines, they tend to blame the ruling parties and give in to the temptation to simply “throw the bums out” and bring in new leaders, regardless of their stances on human rights, transparency, good governance, or the rule of law. At a time when electorates view their leaders as weak and ineffectual, those who promise a "strong hand" become more attractive.

Backward Steps in Nicaragua, Guatemala

During his campaign for a third term as president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega repeatedly reassured voters that he was a strong, experienced leader who knew how to get things done. To a certain extent, he is right: Nicaragua has a history of economic volatility, but the situation has remained relatively stable under Ortega’s recent stewardship. His anti-poverty programs and subsidies, partly a result of generous Venezuelan loans, also helped persuade voters.

Nevertheless, from banished term limits to alleged corruption, and from a judiciary stacked with Ortega loyalists to convincing evidence of electoral fraud (which was not even necessary), Ortega is already well on his way to bringing Nicaragua back to the authoritarianism that the country is all too familiar with.

In 2006, Ortega was instrumental in changing Nicaraguan electoral law to lower the threshold for a first-round presidential victory from 45 percent to either 40 percent of votes cast or 35 percent, as long as there is at least a five-point difference between the first- and second-place candidates. In the 2006 presidential election, Daniel Ortega captured 38 percent of the vote, thereby precluding a run-off that many analysts believe he would have lost.

Ortega accepted electoral defeat back in 1990, although Nicaragua has remained, at best, a fledgling democracy since then. Nicaraguans were again reminded of Ortega’s perennial presence on the Nicaraguan political scene in 1999 with the implementation of el Pacto, or “the Pact,” an agreement reached between Ortega and then-President Arnoldo Alemán of the Partido Liberal Constitutional. Although the two leaders were not close at the time, their two parties held almost all the power in the country’s National Assembly. This “pact” shielded both leaders from criminal prosecution and consolidated power in the judiciary and the Supreme Electoral Council. (This agreement is still in place, even though it has now become clear that Ortega has gotten more out of the deal than Alemán.)

Alemán still did get a 20-year prison sentence for numerous charges of corruption in 2003. In 2009, Nicaragua’s Supreme Court exonerated Alemán; his conviction was conveniently overturned. Transparency International recently honored Alemán in their list of “The World’s Ten Most Corrupt Leaders” in recent history.

The 2009 Nicaraguan Supreme Court ruling that exempted Ortega from only serving two presidential terms sent a strong message that good governance in Nicaragua was waning. Under the Nicaraguan constitution, presidents are not allowed to run for consecutive terms and are supposed to respect a two-term limit. But because Mr. Ortega essentially controlled the Supreme Court, its judges ruled that the previous laws constituted human rights violations and should not apply to him. Legally speaking, Ortega could be president for the rest of his life. Nicaragua’s institutions were never particularly strong, but as its extremely politicized court makes clear, they are undoubtedly weakening under Ortega’s watch. Due to rampant fraud committed by Ortega’s Sandinista party in 2008 municipal elections, the EU and the United States suspended aid.

In Guatemala, meanwhile, the incoming administration of Otto Peréz promises to be a step backwards in terms of human rights. Peréz held a number of high positions in the Guatemalan military during Latin America’s bloodiest civil war. Many voters were too young to remember the massacres in the country’s western highlands, most of which occurred during the early 1980s. Crime statistics in Guatemala are atrocious, and security was voters’ foremost concern throughout the campaign. Guatemala has one of the world’s highest homicide rates. In 2010, there were more than 40 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, rising to an astounding 110 per 100,000 in the capital. To put this in perspective, the homicide rate in the United States is less than five per 100,000. Guatemala’s neighbor Mexico, which is in the throes of a bloody drug war, has a homicide rate of about 14 per 100,000. With a pitiful prosecution rate hovering around 2 or 3 percent, Guatemalan voters are desperate for a solution to what they consider their most pressing problem.

Peréz’s campaign slogan of mano dura  or "the strong hand" — promised to crack down on violent crime and pursue offenders relentlessly. Security concerns dominated the presidential campaign, as runner-up Manuel Baldizón also put an anti-crime message at the top of his agenda. Once in office, Peréz will likely involve the military in police matters, reversing a trend toward civilian control.

Feckless Governance in Mexico

Mexicans, meanwhile, have grown tired of the feckless governance the country has experienced since its “democratic breakthrough” in 2000. Nowhere is the lack of compromise or legitimate negotiation more obvious than in Mexico's federal legislature. Under Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) leadership, legislative gridlock has plagued Mexican political life for the past decade. President Felipe Calderón has fared slightly better than former President Vicente Fox, although frustration among the Mexican citizenry remains. Voters have finally gotten a taste of multiparty democracy and discovered how bittersweet it is.

A recent report published by Human Rights Watch, which documents widespread abuses by state security personnel and even judicial actors, has shown how damaging President Calderón’s misguided “war on drugs” has been for ordinary Mexican citizens. Calderón’s egregious mismanagement of Mexican security policy has exacerbated citizens’ growing exasperation, and rightfully so. Systematic and widespread abuses by state security personnel under the auspices of PAN “democracy” would make anyone question whether democracy has developed in Mexico over the past decade.

Certainly, the media environment has improved since 2000, and the country’s judicial system is more relevant and unbiased than it was under the rule of the long-serving Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). Nevertheless, much of the political power in Mexico has moved from the federal executive to the country’s various governorships and, perhaps most tellingly, to Congress and key players within Mexico’s three big political parties. During the 70 years of PRI authoritarianism, political actors from disparate groups did not need to work together. Mexican politicians are still learning how to accomplish this.

Calderon’s drug war has undoubtedly failed, but more fundamentally, Mexican citizens simply do not trust the country’s existing institutions, of which political parties would probably top the list.

For next year’s presidential election, the PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, a former governor of the state of Mexico, is the current frontrunner. As in Guatemala, many voters are too young to remember the authoritarian past and the PRI's connection to it.

In a 2010 Latinóbarometro survey that included 18 Latin American nations, Mexicans were more apathetic about democracy than anyone else. Nothing would indicate that things have changed since then. A recent UN study revealed that 36 percent of households were victims of crime last year, a year that witnessed around 22 million “common crimes.” This is not entirely drug-related violence; criminal activities are more pervasive than that. There is no evidence to suggest that these statistics will improve between now and next July’s presidential election.

Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala may be bellwethers for a regional shift away from democracy, or they may simply be exceptions. The counter-examples of Chile, Uruguay, Costa Rica, and Panama suggest that democracy is not completely on the decline in the region. Nevertheless, challenges from crime to legislative gridlock are likely to persist in the region, and these challenges will put pressure on what are still fragile democracies.

U.S. Foreign Policy vis-à-vis Latin America

There was a real and not unfounded hope that the administration of George W. Bush would make a concerted effort to engage with Latin America’s political leaders. But after 9/11, the region fell to the bottom of U.S. foreign policy priorities. The Obama administration has not done much better. Plan Colombia and the Mérida initiative, which deal largely with security issues and fighting an unwinnable drug war, do not constitute a coherent grand strategy. More recently, U.S. policymakers have again been reminded of the tight links between energy security and national security.

This provides another reason to strengthen U.S.-Latin American ties, especially since China’s influence in Latin America will only grow over the coming decades. In 2009, China became Brazil’s biggest trading partner.

Placing a greater emphasis on human rights and respect for civil liberties is crucial. Washington’s lackluster response to post-coup violence in Honduras only encourages further democratic backsliding elsewhere. Revisiting comprehensive immigration reform would be another good place to start.

The devastating effects of the 40-year war on drugs are related to current violence in Central America. And yet, there is little to suggest that anyone in Washington is willing to reexamine U.S. drug policy. As the United States shifts its focus to East Asia, reengagement with Latin America will probably be a gradual process.

U.S. policymakers must approach the region with more nuanced strategies. Latin America is not a monolithic entity, where a certain set of policy goals in one country will be relevant or entirely applicable to another. In spite of many similarities, Mexico is not Guatemala. Andean nations should not just be lumped together in the same policy category. Although there are no easy answers, appreciating the specific context of each country will be essential.

Strengthening relationships must go beyond military or security-related bonds. Right now, American foreign policy in the region is unacceptable, counterproductive, and will likely presage a continued rise in authoritarianism. Latin America is not the Cold War hot spot it once was, but it is a region that still merits attention. Diplomacy on the cheap usually produces undesirable outcomes. The perpetuation of current U.S. policy will be no exception.

Taylor Dibbert earned a BA in political science from the University of Georgia and a Master of International Affairs degree from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). He served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala from 2006-2008. He is the author of the book Fiesta of Sunset: The Peace Corps, Guatemala and a Search for Truth.

Originally published by the Institute for Policy Studies licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.


(HEADLINES) Latin America - July 20, 2011 


Eliminating poverty in Latin America one house at a time (Report) 

(HN, November 29, 2010) -- Today in Haiti there are 800 new homes that have been built since the devastating earthquake 10 months ago. All over Latin America slums are being turned into functioning communities.

The group making this all happen is Un Techo Para Mi Pais (in English ‘A Roof for My Country’)

UTPMP working in Chile (photo: UTPMP) Founded in 1997 by a group of university students in Chile who were appalled by the country’s deplorable slum conditions and were compelled to take an active role in denouncing extreme poverty, Un Techo Para Mi Pais has grown and works in 18 countries today: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.

UTPMP invites the society they work in to recognize the injustices of poverty and acknowledge its responsibility to address the lack of opportunities of the most marginalized families in Latin America and the Caribbean.

UTPMP headquartered in Chile coordinates the efforts of local offices, each of which shares basic goals and methods, while adapting the project to the particular challenges of poverty in each country working with local and regional government and community leaders.

The goal is economic empowerment. The “Trojan Horse” as director of UTPMP, Marisol Alarcon calls it, are the pre-fabricated modular homes that are each built in 2 days by 8-10 volunteers.

The modular homes, which are 18m2 (3m x 6m), with wood floors and sides and a zinc roof, are a way into the slums and provide a concrete solution that allows a family to benefit from a dignified and protected living space, which also generates a sense of property and motivation for saving money. UTPMP works with other organizations, different in each country, for clean wanter and proper sanitation in the homes or in the area. Additionally, the construction process builds bonds of trust between families and volunteers. Families participate in the construction of their own homes 100 percent.

UTPMP volunteers in Brazil (photo UTPMP) Volunteers, most of which are university students are from within the country that UTPMP works in. Marisol says “the idea is that the volunteers be from the country where the poverty is around them so that they want to continue to work with these communities – we are not interested in social tourism we are interested in eliminating poverty from within the countries we work in where the people who live in the country have an invested interest in seeing the change they bring about”.

In order to do this the homes are but the first phase leading to the second which is social inclusion through the implementation of training programs led by volunteers in areas such as education, healthcare, economic development, microfinance vocational training legal aid and others. Through this settlers begin to believe in themselves and in the strength of community organization allowing them to overcome their learned helplessness and participate in formal networks and democratic space.

The final phase is for UTPMP to help families, living in slums to develop their own sustainable community, with bonds between neighbors and links to external  networks. The community then works to prioritize needs, elect representatives, and brainstorm to find solutions they need to have for their own needs.

The current construction in Haiti is the first time UTPMP has ever worked in an emergency response environment.

UTPMP in the Dominican Republic (photo: UTPMP) The biggest challenge for UTPMP, when first arriving in Haiti, was getting enough volunteers. It is very difficult to ask people to help build a house for someone else when most don’t have a home themselves says Marisol Alarcon. She adds, “Haitians are used to not having a government work for them and are used to poverty even before the earthquake so getting them to volunteer to help others was a challenge.”

At the beginning, most of the volunteers came from the Dominican Republic and surrounding Central American countries to build homes in Haiti. Recently however, more volunteers are Haitian and they are seeing the difference they are making in their own country helping their neighbors and building a community.

In remembrance of the earthquake one year ago, UTPMP will build 1000 homes from January 7-17. “We will do this with 1000 Haitians and 700 other volunteers from countries all over Latin America and the Caribbean”, Marisol says.

The funding for the homes in Haiti and for all of the 18 countries UTPMP works in are financed from partnerships with businesses, international nonprofit foundations, and individuals. Some of their most important partners are the Inter-American Development Bank/Multilateral Investment Fund, Deloitte, Banco Santander, LAN Airlines, Chevron, Arauco, Dakar, and Young & Rubicam.

-          HUMNEWS Staff