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Weekly Roundup: Brazil's Fiscal Battle, Peru's Climate Change Summit, Peña Nieto's Guerrero Trip

Weekly Roundup AS/COA

December 05, 2014

Venezuelan Opposition Figure Indicted for Alleged Plot

On December 3, a Venezuelan court indicted Venezuelan opposition politician Maria Corina Machado for allegedly planning to assassinate President Nicolás Maduro. Machado, a former legislator and high-profile figure who supported anti-government protests earlier this year, denied accusations of conspiracy, saying the evidence was falsified. Her charge carries a maximum sentence of 16 years in prison. The U.S. State Department released a statement condemning Machado’s indictment and called for the release of several imprisoned opposition figures, including Leopoldo López.  “The charges against Machado raise concerns once again about Venezuela’s arbitrary use of prosecutorial power to silence and punish government critics,” Department spokesperson Marie Harf said.

Watch an Americas Quarterly video interview with Lilian Tintori, an anti-government activist whose husband Leopoldo López remains jailed for allegedly inciting violence during February’s protests.

As Mexican Protests Continue, Peña Nieto Travels to Guerrero

The week began in Mexico with another round of major protests over the disappearances of 43 students in the state of Guerrero that took place more than two months ago. The protests also marked the December 1 anniversary of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s inauguration. Polls released that day show support for the president sinking; a Reforma survey found his approval ratings dropped 11 points over the last quarter to 39 percent—the lowest held by any Mexican president since 1995. Also this week, Peña Nieto traveled to Acapulco, Guerrero’s tourism capital, where he called on the country to overcome the pain caused by the disappearances and launched an economic revitalization plan for the state. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Miguel Osorio de Chong traveled to Iguala—the city where the students went missing—to announce security proposals for Guerrero.

December 1 also saw the president send seven constitutional amendments to Congress in relation to a security plan he announced the prior week. That plan includes proposals ranging from a national emergency hotline to restructuring of municipal police forces. Writing for Excelsior, economic and security analyst Viridiana Rios compares his proposals to similar measures already in place.

Find out how the response to the disappearances and protests evolved in recent weeks.

Colombia’s Peace Talks Slated to Resume after FARC Releases General

On December 3, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) jointly announced that peace talks between the two groups would resume on December 10. The announcement came three days after the FARC released captured General Ruben Dario Alzate and his two companions after two weeks as hostages. President Juan Manuel Santos first confirmed on December 2 that the peace talks—which he suspended following Alzate’s capture—would resume in order “to evaluate where the process is and where we’re going, and to make a cold and objective evaluation of the process in order to see how we can continue.” In a press conference Monday, Alzate resigned from active duty after answering a request from Santos to explain why he was unarmed and traveling in civilian clothes when kidnapped. Alzate said he did so to build confidence in the local community.

Learn more about the FARC and the peace talks in an AS/COA Online explainer.

Brazil’s Congress Battles over Fiscal Goal

This week, Brazil’s legislators approved an amendment that will allow the government to avoid its fiscal savings goal for the year, cutting the primary surplus goal to a tenth of its original level. The measure took two weeks to approve and resulted in a bitter debate and protesters in the halls of Congress. Meanwhile, the country’s new finance minister is slated to take office next week after legislators vote on a final amendment.

Hear what a former Brazilian Central Bank governor thinks about Brazil’s economic future.

U.S. Senate Confirms Ambassador to Argentina

On December 1, the Senate confirmed Noah Mamet as the United States’ new ambassador to Argentina, filling a post that has been vacant since July 2013. Mamet runs a consulting company, and in 2012 he raised nearly $1.4 million for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign. The Washington Post notes that has no career diplomacy experience. During his February confirmation hearing, he acknowledged that he had never visited Argentina and does not speak Spanish.

AS/COA’s Kezia McKeague assesses the urgency of confirming ambassadors to Latin American countries

Lima Kicks off Global Climate Conference

Government and civil society representatives from 194 countries are meeting in Lima, Peru, this week for the UN’s COP 20 climate change conference. The event aims to encourage cooperation between developed and developing economies to reduce carbon emissions. Delegates are drafting a multilateral treaty that will be voted on next year and seeks to hold responsible countries that the existing Kyoto Protocol leaves out, namely countries like China, India, and Indonesia. Peruvian officials estimate that approximately 10,000 people will take part in this year’s talks, which run through December 12.

Read an AQ feature looking at Peru’s opportunities as host of this year’s climate conference.

Guantanamo Detainees to Arrive in Uruguay Next Week

The United States will transfer six Guantanamo Bay detainees to Uruguay on December 8, reports El Espectador. Imprisoned since 2002, the detainees include four Syrians, a Palestinian, and a Tunisian.

President José Mujica​ agreed to receive the detainees earlier this year as a "humanitarian gesture," though in September he postponed their transfer until after the November 30 presidential runoff. During the campaign, opposition candidate Luis Lacalle Pou expressed doubt about the decision to resettle the men, who have been cleared for release but cannot be sent home. President-elect Tabaré Vazquez supports Mujica's decision.

COA’s Eric Farnsworth examines the U.S.-Uruguay relationship in a World Politics Review piece.

Ranking: Chile and Uruguay Least Corrupt in Latin America

Government efforts to reduce corruption in Latin America have failed to produce significant changes in the region, according to new data from Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index. This year’s results show that while Uruguay and Chile tied for the region’s least corrupt countries, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Honduras registered the greatest improvements, with scores increasing three points from last year’s ratings. Haiti and Venezuela tied for the most corrupt in Latin America. In a blog post, Transparency International’s Regional Director for the Americas Alejandro Salas said that despite the implementation of anti-corruption policies in many Latin American countries, “big corruption schemes that involve individuals at the highest level of power and lack of punishment of the corrupt continue to prevail in the Americas.”

Learn about one of Brazil’s newest anti-corruption laws.

Survey Finds Security as Rising Concern in the Americas

Concerns over crime and insecurity in the Western Hemisphere are on the rise, according to new data from 2014 AmericasBarometer report from the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP). This year’s survey of 28 countries found that the number of interviewees citing security as a top concern rose 10 percentage points over the past decade, while concerns about the economy fell. "On average across the Americas, essentially 1 out of 3 respondents report an issue related to crime, violence, or insecurity as the most important problem facing their country," says the report. Trinidad and Tobago, El Salvador, and Uruguay showed the largest percentages of people citing security as the country’s biggest problem.

Watch LAPOP’s chief researchers discuss this year’s results at AS/COA.