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Weekly Roundup: Bolivia's Brazil Dispute, Colombia's Peace Process, Honduras' Presidential Campaigns

August 29, 2013

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Report Reveals New Details on Cuban Arms Shipment to North Korea

A report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and 38 North indicates that contents aboard the North Korean ship inspected six weeks ago by Panamanian authorities included a much larger shipment of smuggled military cargo than previously reported. A total of 25 shipping containers and six military vehicles were discovered aboard the vessel, along with rocket-propelled grenades and ammunition “in mint condition,” contradicting Cuban government claims that they were in need of repair. Responding to the report, Panamanian authorities said the shipment “without a doubt” violated UN sanctions. 

(H/T Bloggings by Boz

Brazilian Foreign Minister Resigns after Bolivian Senator Flees to Brazil

Diplomatic tensions between Bolivia and Brazil ended in Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota’s resignation on August 26. He will switch places with Luiz Figueiredo, Brazil’s representative at the UN. Patriota is the first Brazilian foreign minister to resign since 2001.

The tensions arose after Bolivian Senator Roger Pinto escaped to Brazil on August 23 with the help of Brazilian diplomats. Wanted on corruption charges, he had spent 15 months living in Brazil’s embassy after the neighboring country granted him asylum. Pinto says he is a victim of political persecution. Bolivian President Evo Morales demanded Pinto’s return and says he will ask for extradition. 

Colombia’s Peace Law Upheld by Court as Talks Continue

The latest round of Colombia’s peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group concluded on August 28, the same day that the country’s Constitutional Court upheld the Legal Framework for Peace Law. Passed in June 2012, the legislation aims to facilitate an end to the country’s long-running conflict. Also on Wednesday, President Juan Manuel Santos said the government is open to allowing another guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army, to join. In addition, Santos announced that he would be willing to meet with FARC leader Timochenko before signing a final peace deal.  

Teacher Strikes Grip Mexico City, Challenge Education Reform

Some 10,000 striking teachers continued to stage protests across central areas of Mexico City this week, including a march on the presidential palace and demonstrations in front of the French, Spanish, and U.S. embassies. Mexico’s massive teacher’s union opposes the implementation of an education reform that would require teachers to undergo evaluations and loosen the union’s grip on hiring teachers. More protests are planned.

The education reform is one part of a larger government reform package that seeks to overhaul laws in areas ranging from energy to fiscal policy. Former Finance Secretary Guillermo Ortiz told CNNExpansión that Mexico finds itself in a crucial moment for advancing these reforms, but that progress depends in part on resolving the conflict with the teachers. 

VP Biden to Travel to Panama and Mexico in September

The White House announced on August 29 that U.S. President Joe Biden will travel to Panama and Mexico during the third week of September. He is expected to tour the Panama Canal expansion project and participate in the launch the U.S.-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue, as well as meet with the presidents of both countries. The vice president last traveled to Latin America and the Caribbean in May, when he visited Brazil, Colombia, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Campaigns Begin in Honduras with Deposed Leader’s Wife in Poll Lead

With November 24 presidential elections on the horizon, campaigns kicked off in Honduras on August 26. The Honduras Culture and Politics blog provides an overview of the candidates, and notes that a July poll showed that half of the Honduran electorate has no preference for any of the eight candidates. Nevertheless, two presidential hopefuls—Xiomara Castro and Juan Hernández—pulled ahead of the pack. Castro, who is the wife of deposed former president Manuel Zelaya, represents the Party of Freedom and Refoundation. She currently holds the lead at 19.8 percent. Still, the National Party’s Hernández is considered by many to be “the candidate to beat,” says the blog. He polls at 16.7 percent.

Pacific Alliance Ministers Talk Tariff Agreement in Mexico

Foreign relations and trade ministers from Pacific Alliance member countries—Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru—met in Mexico August 25 and 26 to complete negotiations on trade tariffs. Presidents from the four countries will sign an agreement to eliminate tariffs from 92 percent of goods on September 25, when the leaders meet in New York for the UN General Assembly.

Leaders to Meet at UNASUR Summit as Peru Assumes Pro-Tempore Presidency

The presidents of Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela will convene for another summit in Suriname on August 30. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) members will inaugurate Peruvian President Ollanta Humala as the group’s pro-tempore president, as well as reinstating Paraguay as a member after it was suspended in June 2012. Heads of state from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Uruguay do not plan to attend. Agenda items include the crisis in Syria, the Colombian peace process, and the Falklands Islands.

Venezuela’s President Aims to Double the Size of the Country’s Militia

On August 27, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said he will seek to expand the country’s civilian militia to one million members. Maduro noted that there are around 400,000 members now, though government estimates earlier in the year put the number at 130,000. The late President Hugo Chávez introduced volunteer militias in 2004.

Uruguay Debates Controversial Mining Law

IPS takes a look at Uruguay’s proposed mining legislation, which would alter the country’s mining code and allow for open-pit mining. Though the Southern Cone country has few mineral resources, Uruguay could become the world’s eighth largest producer of iron ore. Supported by President José Mujica and the ruling Frente Amplio party, the legislation—currently under discussion in Congress—would allow the $3 billion Aratirí iron ore project to move ahead.  However, a recent survey found that only 28 percent of Uruguayans support open-pit mining. 

Electoral Reform Bill Advances in Chilean Legislature

On August 28, senators on the Chilean Congress’ Constitutional Commission reached a deal on a major electoral reform bill, reports La Tercera. The legislation—which would only take effect in the 2017 elections—increases the number of seats in the country's bicameral legislature. The number of seats in the House would rise from 120 to 134, while the Senate would expand its capacity from 38 to 44 seats. The bill also includes changes to voting districts. The full Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week.

In Chile, Brazilian Astronomers Discover Solar Twin

Brazilian astronomers at Chile's European Southern Observatory have found an older "twin" star of the Earth’s sun. Images released on August 28 track the life of the 8-billion-year-old star, named HIP 102152, and could offer a glimpse at what its younger counterpart will look like in 4 billion years.