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Weekly Roundup: Colombia's Military Courts, Bolivia's Vote Count, Brazil's Defense Deal

Weekly Roundup AS/COA

October 31, 2014

Mexico’s Top Court Nixes Bid for Energy Referendum

On Thursday, Mexico’s Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional a ballot initiative to ask the public’s opinion on the country’s energy reform. The reform, which opens the country’s energy sector to private investment, faces opposition from the Party of the Democratic Revolution and the Morena party, which each collected millions of signatures supporting a ballot initiative on the matter. In a vote of 9-1, the Court ruled the public consultation unconstitutional on the grounds that referendums can’t be held on issues related to government revenue.

Read an AS/COA viewpoint by Ruben Kraiem exploring the ballot initiative process and how it relates to the energy reform.

Relatives of Mexico’s Disappeared Students Meet with Peña Nieto

On Wednesday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto met with relatives of 43 students who went missing in the state of Guerrero in September, following nationwide protests demanding justice for and news of the whereabouts of the disappeared. At the meeting, the president and members of his cabinet signed a 10-point document pledging to resolve the case, although several of the students’ parents complained after the meeting about the lack of government action, according to Animal Politico. The attorney general’s office announced on Thursday that 10,000 federal police had been assigned to the search, reports ​El Universal. Meanwhile, despite earlier news that Peña Nieto may cancel a visit to Asia next month due to the scandal, the president instead opted to shorten his trip by one day.

Learn more about the student disappearances.

Busting Myths about Brazil’s Presidential Election

On October 26, President Dilma Rousseff narrowly defeated Senator Aécio Neves in one of the closest elections in Brazil’s recent history. In the aftermath of the runoff, O Estado de São Paulo looks at seven myths about the vote. The newspaper argues that the northeast wasn’t the region responsible for Rousseff’s victory, and pointed out that abstention numbers were within a similar margin as in past years.

Get a breakdown of the final presidential vote.

Brazilian Government and Swedish Firm Finalize $4.5 Billion Defense Deal

On October 27, the Brazilian government and Swedish defense company Saab AB finalized an agreement to provide the Latin American country with 36 fighter jets to the tune of $5.4 billion. The accord came 10 months after Brazilian authorities chose the Swedish manufacturer over French and U.S. companies. The firm also signed an industrial cooperation agreement with Brazil’s defense ministry, initiating a decade-long technology transfer plan.

Find out which Latin American countries spend the most on defense.

Doing Business: Colombia, Peru Lead Latin American Countries

Colombia is the best country in Latin America for doing business, according to the World Bank’s latest Doing Business ranking, released October 29. The country climbed nine spots to reach spot 34 worldwide, an improvement to which the report credits new tax and loan reforms. Fifteen countries from Latin America and the Caribbean made the top 100. Rounding out the top five in the region were Peru (35), Mexico (39), Chile (41), and Panama (52). On the other end of the spectrum, Bolivia (157), Haiti (180), and Venezuela (182) scored lowest in Latin America.  

Read about the emergence of Medellín, Colombia’s second largest city, as a regional hub for startups.

Colombian Senate Seeks to Expand Jurisdiction of Military Courts

This week, Colombia’s Senate approved a proposed military justice reform bill that would expand the jurisdiction of military tribunals. The Chamber of Representatives must now vote on the bill. However, the legislation has come under scrutiny from international human rights groups and the UN, which say it could lead to impunity for officials implicated in the killing of civilians disguised as guerillas, known as “false positives.” The UN’s delegate to Colombia Tim Howland told the Senate that the proposed legislation “is not consistent with Colombia’s international obligations to human rights.”

Hear what Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had to say on the bill’s implications during a Q&A at AS/COA in September.

Final Vote Count Confirms Legislative Majority for Morales

On October 30, Bolivia’s electoral court announced the final count from the country’s October 12 election, indicating that reelected President Evo Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party won a two-thirds majority in the country’s legislature. MAS won 61.43 percent of the national vote, which La Razón reports will give the party 25 senatorial and 88 federal deputy seats—just over the required amount to ensure legislative control. Leading opposition party Democratic Unity won 24.23 percent of the vote, securing nine senators and 32 federal deputies. Two opposition parties—the Movement Without Fear and the Green Party—each lost legislative representation after receiving less than the required 3 percent of votes, thus helping to lock in a majority for Morales’ coalition, reports Los Tiempos. (H/T The Pan-American Post)

Following Morales’ third presidential victory, read an AQ web exclusive on reelection in the Americas.

Latino Voters Could Swing Competitive Senate and Governor Races

Ahead of next week’s midterm elections in the United States, polling and census data show that Latino voters could be the deciding votes in some of the country’s most competitive Senate and gubernatorial races, according to a new Latino Decisions report. The political opinion firm says that six states—Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, and North Carolina—each have eligible Latino electorates larger than the polling margins for Senate candidates. The same is true for gubernatorial races in 12 states, including Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, and Illinois, which have polling margins of 1 percent or less and Latino voting populations of at least 10 percent or more.

Read about the role Latino voters will play in the November 4 midterm elections.

The Strategy behind Reducing Violence in Nicaragua

An NPR report this week looks at Managua’s approach to fighting crime, which emphasizes community patrols and career training rather than prison for at-risk youth. While homicide rates of Nicaragua’s “Northern Triangle” neighbors—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—spiked since 2000, Nicaragua’s murder rate stayed relatively low. In 2012, Nicaragua had the second-lowest murder rate in Central America behind Costa Rica, despite having Central America’s lowest GDP per capita

Read an AQ feature about the importance of social inclusion in tackling insecurity in Central America.