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Weekly Roundup: CentAm Elections, Mexico's Auto Exports, Uruguay's Immigration Reform

January 31, 2014

International Court Issues Ruling on Chile-Peru Maritime Border

In a compromise ruling on a long-running dispute between Chile and Peru, the Hague-based International Court of Justice moved the maritime boundary between the two South American neighbors, reports Reuters. Announced January 27, the court awarded Peru more than half of the 23,612 miles of disputed territory while Chile retained the majority of the coastal fishing grounds. The disputed area is worth an estimated $200 million a year in marine resources. The new maritime border will extend 80 nautical miles west in a straight line from the meeting point between the two countries, then move southwest. The court did not specify geographical points for the border, instead leaving the details to Peru and Chile to "determine these co-ordinates in accordance with the present judgment, in the spirit of good neighborliness."

Peruvian President Humala said that the decision "will be obeyed and respected, and we are confident that Chile will abide in a similar way." Chile's Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno cautioned that implementation is up to both countries and will take time, and noted that there are points on the new border that are imprecise.

Mexican Government Signs Agreement with Michoacan Vigilantes

This week, the Mexican government unveiled a deal with vigilantes—known as autodefensas—in the state of Michoacan that will allow them to be incorporated into rural defense corps and require them to register their names and weapons with the Secretariat of National Defense. The vigilantes have been battling a Michoacan-based cartel known as the Knights Templar. The federal government also announced the capture of one of the cartel leaders, Dionisio Loya Plancarte or "El Tío." Loya Plancarte said his nephew is the new leader of the Knights Templar.

Gearing up: Mexico to Overtake Japan as Second-Largest Auto Exporter to U.S.

This year, Mexico is set to surpass Japan as the second largest auto exporter to the United States, with Canada still in first place, reports Bloomberg. Mexico vehicle sales to the United States will amount to $1.69 million this year, exceeding Japan's $1.51 million as three new auto plants are set to open in the coming months. "Passing Japan as a U.S. supplier has been in the works for quite some time," notes Guido Vildozo, an Automotive Industry Solutions analyst. "It looks like there's a possibility Mexico may pass Canada next year."

Mexican Filmmakers Absolved in Documentary Lawsuit

The producer and director of the film Presumed Guilty—the most successful documentary in Mexican history—are off the hook for 19 different lawsuits and nearly $225 million in damages. This week, a Mexican court ruled in favor of the filmmakers, who were sued on a variety of charges, such as defamation and unauthorized use of footage. The film follows the story of a young man wrongly accused of and imprisoned for murder.

Costa Rica Presidential Elections: More Parties, More Uncertainty

As election day draws near in Costa Rica, a new CIEP poll from the University of Costa Rica shows growing indecision among voters heading into the elections on February 2. A significant portion of people surveyed—33.4 percent—said they are undecided—a nearly 25 percent increase from an earlier poll this month. The poll puts Johnny Araya of the ruling National Liberation Party at the head of the pack with 17.4 percent, Broad Front Party candidate José María Villalta with 14.4 percent, Luis Guillermo Solís of the Citizen Action Party at 11.6 percent, and Otto Guevara of the Liberation Movement with 7.3 percent. The emergence of new parties has challenged the country's traditional two-party system, "making this election a multiparty nail-biter that includes a serious challenge by the left as well as a libertarian candidate," notes The Christian Science Monitor

Read an AS/COA blog post about the upcoming Costa Rican election.

El Salvador's Elections: A Runoff Appears Likely

Candidates wrapped up their campaigns this week in El Salvador ahead of the February 2 vote and the country's electoral agency announced that results should be expected at 11:00 pm ET on election day. Polls indicate that it's likely no candidate will garner the necessary 50 percent majority to avoid a March runoff. A University of Central America poll from last week gives the governing party candidate and former guerilla commander Salvador Sánchez Cerén 46.2 percent against 39.6 percent for his top opponent, Norman Quijano of the Nationalist Republican Alliance. An El Diario de Hoy/Newlink poll also put Sánchez Cerén ahead, with 37.9 percent over 33.9 percent for Quijano. However, the two polls differ on who would win in the second round, with the first giving the win to Sánchez Cerén and the second to Quijano.

To learn more about El Salvador's upcoming election, read AS/COA's latest blog post and get coverage and analysis of Central American elections in the 2014 Election Guide blog.

LatAm Leaders on the Sidelines of CELAC in Cuba

This week, Latin American heads of state met in Havana, Cuba for a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, a Latin American bloc founded in 2011. The meeting resulted in an 83-point memo, which included a declaration that countries would respect the rights of neighbors to decide their own political systems.

Nevertheless, much of the action took place on the sidelines. Fidel Castro held private meetings with at least seven heads of state—including the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico—as well as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. 

This week, the leaders of Brazil and Mexico also flexed their diplomatic muscles on the Caribbean island. President Dilma Rousseff inaugurated the newly renovated, largely Brazil-financed Port of Mariel with Cuban President Raúl Castro. President Enrique Peña Nieto met with both Castro brothers in the first visit by a Mexican head of state since Felipe Calderón went two years ago.

Brazil's Rousseff Announces Cabinet Shake-up

On January 30, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced changes to her cabinet. Aloizio Mercadante—who was serving as education minister—became the new chief of staff, replacing Gleisi Hoffmann. To fill Mercadante's spot, Rousseff tapped José Henrique Paim, an economist to run the education ministry. Arthur Chioro—a doctor specialized in public health—become health minister, as a replacement for the outgoing Alexandre Padilha. Another seven ministers are expected to resign in the coming months to run in the upcoming October elections. 

Brazil Marijuana Case Sparks Legalization Debate

On January 29, a Brasilia judge found a man innocent after he was charged with marijuana possession, stating that the drug's prohibition is unconstitutional. Though the decision was overturned the following day by another court, the judge's decision sparked a debate about drug legalization. Roberto Dias, a Brazilian constitutional law professor, told El País that a policy change depends on the country's legislature, and he believes few lawmakers would take the political risk of endorsing legalization.

UNESCO Education Report: LatAm in Focus

This week, the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) released its latest global education report, noting that worldwide, countries are annually losing $129 billion on low quality education. For Latin America, the study found that unequal access to secondary education remains a hurdle, particularly in countries such as Ecuador, Guatemala, and Paraguay. So does illiteracy: Brazil, for example, has the eighth highest rate of illiterate adults in the world.

Still, some countries in the region stood out for their performance. Brazil, Ecuador, and Panama increased national education spending by at least 5 percentage points between 1999 and 2011, and the number of poor students achieving minimum learning standards is on the rise in Mexico.

Colombia's Conservative Party Selects Presidential Candidate

At its party convention on Sunday, delegates from Colombia's Conservative Party elected Marta Lucía Ramírez as their presidential candidate ahead of the May 25 election. A minority in the party wanted to support President Juan Manuel Santos in his reelection bid, but were defeated by the majority that wanted its own candidate. Ramírez previously served as trade minister, defense minister and a senator. La Silla Vacía points out that this third major candidate in the running could potentially hurt the two existing candidates, taking votes away from Santos or lessening the chances of the Democratic Center’s Oscar Iván Zuluaga. 

Venezuela's Prices Law: Does It Add up?

On Foreign Policy's Transitions blog, Caracas Chronicles' Juan Nagel analyzes Venezuela's new Organic Law of Fair Prices. The law—which sets a maximum profit margin of 30 percent—requires businesses to submit costs so the government can set prices. It also imposes jail sentences on those who set prices above what is allowed. "The effect of the bill is clear: entrepreneurship in Venezuela is now an illegal activity," he writes. "Of course, the probable outcome is that the law is only selectively applied, and that the bureaucrats let businesses off the hook in exchange for paybacks," he adds.

Nicaraguan Congress Approves Sweeping Constitutional Reform

This week, Nicaragua's National Assembly approved a constitutional reform that changes nearly a fifth of the country's charter. The law eliminates presidential term limits, and now allows presidential candidates to win with a relative majority instead of a 35 percent minimum of the vote. It gives the president new decree powers, and allows military officers and police to hold public office. The reform also permits the military chief of staff to hold his position indefinitely, and allows the army to provide security for private companies.

New Honduran President Launches Security Plan

Sworn into office on Monday, President Juan Orlando Hernández announced a new security plan during his inauguration. "Any policy established in Honduras to combat insecurity must have the fundamental goal of fighting against drugs, drug trafficking, organized crime, money laundering, and, thus, zero tolerance," said Hernández. Named Operation Morazan, the plan sent military police and a newly created police unit to fight organized crime to the streets of Tegucigalpa and nearby Comayaguela, reports El Heraldo.

Panama's Ruling Party Taps President’s Wife as VP Pick

This week, the Panama's ruling Democratic Change party announced that Marta Linares would be its vice presidential pick, on a ticket with presidential candidate José Domingo Arias. Linares is President Ricardo Martinelli's wife, leading some to question the decision. Panama's presidential election takes place on May 4.

Home Away from Home: Uruguay Proposes Mercosur Immigration Reform

An immigration bill presented in Uruguay's legislature on January 29 could grant permanent residence to citizens of Southern Common Market (Mercosur) member and associate countries—Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. The bill also facilitates permanent residency for foreign family members of Uruguayans living abroad who wish to return home.

Room for Debate: Gay Rights in Latin America

This week, The New York Times' Room for Debate looks at Latin America's progress on gay rights. The region's high courts are moving quickly and more boldly than the U.S. Supreme Court to support a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, writes Omar G. Encarnación, a professor of political studies at Bard College. "Their embrace of gay rights has been nothing short of audacious," says Encarnación. He explains that in Latin America, marriage is considered a civil institution that is separate from the religious context. However, Annecka Marshall, a Jamaican professor, points out that the Caribbean has not seen progress on gay rights, pointing to "social pressure to conform to cultural and religious expectations about masculinity and femininity."

Central America’s Largest Museum of Mayan Culture Planned in Guatemala

The new Museo Maya de América—the largest museum of Mayan culture in Central America—is set to be built in Guatemala City, writes De Zeen. The museum's design will mimic Mayan temple architecture mixed with contemporary elements and will house artifacts, artwork, textiles, and other objects. The building will form part of a series of museums in what is expected to become the city's largest recreational open space. The museum's construction is slated to begin in 2015 and completed by 2017, with a budget of $60 million.