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Weekly Roundup: Chile's New President, Peru's Mega Dam, LatAm Women in Politics

March 14, 2014

El Salvador Presidential Runoff: Too Close to Call

On March 9, El Salvador held a second-round presidential vote which ended with a margin so small—less than 7,000 votes—that the national electoral authorities agreed to a recount. Both candidates declared victory on election night. But after another count, the result was the same: the governing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN)'s Salvador Sánchez Cerén won 50.11 percent, while Norman Quijano of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) won 49.89 percent. ARENA, alleging fraud, asked to nullify the election. An official winner will not be announced until the electoral authorities make a decision on ARENA's appeal, which is expected on March 17.

Learn more about the runoff vote in an AS/COA election blog post.

UNASUR Votes for Venezuela Mediation as Unrest Persists

This week marked one month of Venezuela's protests as the death toll reached 28. Meanwhile, the international repercussions continued. Following Chilean President Michelle Bachelet's inauguration, foreign ministers from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) met about Venezuela's  crisis in Santiago. They decided to send a commission to the country in early April to mediate a dialogue between the government and the opposition. On March 13, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed  support for the move by Venezuela's neighbors, and said the government must end its "terror campaign against its own citizens." In the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. legislators introduced a bill to authorize $15 million in funding "to defend human rights and rule of law" in the face of Venezuela's protests, and to sanction those in Venezuela responsible for human rights violations.

Follow the latest about what's happening in Venezuela in our guide.

Chile's Michelle Bachelet Sworn In as President for Second Time

On March 11, Michelle Bachelet returned to Chile's highest office—the only president to be reelected since the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Bachelet indicated that she will move forward with her ambitious reform pledges, which include constitutional, education, and tax reforms. The president's plan includes a total of 50 reforms in her first 100 days in office. Chile's T13 radio has an interactive meter to see how many reforms are accomplished each week.

VP Biden Attends Bachelet Inauguration in Chile, Cancels Stop in Dominican Republic

Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Chile on March 9 as part of the U.S. government delegation to President Michelle Bachelet's swearing-in ceremony. During his visit to Chile, Biden also met with the country's former President Sebastián Piñera, as well as the current presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. But he cut his Latin America trip short to meet with Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in Washington, instead of heading to the Dominican Republic to meet with President Danilo Medina. The vice president is expected to reschedule the DR visit.

Colombia's Legislative Election: Governing Coalition Maintains Majority

On March 9, Colombia held legislative elections, with President Juan Manuel Santos' Party of the U receiving the largest percentage of votes in both the Senate and House of Representatives. However, while Santos' governing coalition maintained its majority, it was reduced as former President Álvaro Uribe's Democratic Center party took 14 percent of Senate seats and nearly 10 percent of House seats. Uribe himself won a Senate seat, the first time an ex-president was elected to the upper house. Semana writes that this could be the "peace Congress." The legislature will be important to the ongoing peace process, and will be responsible for passing related legislation and reforms, the magazine explains. The next Colombian election takes place on May 25, when voters pick the next president.

As Brazil Elections Approach, Rousseff Shakes up Cabinet

On March 14, President Dilma Rousseff announced ministerial changes, with the departure of six ministers and the president's chief of staff, Giles Azevedo. Those ministers on their way out are running for office in October, while Azevedo will start working on the president's reelection campaign. New ministerial posts include that of agriculture, cities, tourism, and science and innovation. Beto Vasconcelos replaces Azevedo on the president's team.

Mexico's Latest Move against Corruption

On March 12, Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam announced the creation of an Anti-corruption Prosecutor's Office which will take aim at crimes such as bribery, abuse of power, and embezzlement. However, given the existence of similar organizations, some experts believe the new office may have little impact. Edna Jaime, director of think tank México Evalúa, says that creation of yet another organization is causing "fragmentation," adding that this type of office reacts to scandals without focusing on preventing them.

Peru in Talks to Restart Construction of "Mega Dam"

Talks are underway to restart Peru's controversial Inambari project, a $4 billion hydroelectric plant, reports Reuters. Construction came to a halt in June 2011 after facing opposition from indigenous and environmental groups. Jesús Ramirez, general manager of state-run Electroperu, said March 12 that the country is in talks with a Brazilian construction company to work on the plant. The project aims to dam a river along the Peruvian Amazon.

Caribbean Countries Sue Former Colonizers, the UN

This week, 14 Caribbean countries banded together to sue Britain, France, and the Netherlands to demand reparations for the residual effects of the slave trade. The Caribbean Community bloc is seeking an apology, the cancelation of debts, and assistance for cultural and educational organizations.

Meanwhile, over 1,500 Haitians launched a new lawsuit against the United Nations for the cholera outbreak that has claimed 9,000 lives and sickened roughly 700,000 in Haiti and surrounding islands. While the UN has denied culpability, the suit alleges that the outbreak resulted from UN negligence and seeks compensation for families as well as a new UN mission to assist communities.

In Washington, "Dreamers" Policy in the Spotlight

On March 12, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the ENFORCE Act, a bill that would allow Congress to sue the executive branch for "failing to enforce the law" and could end the so-called Dreamers policy that protects undocumented young people from deportation and provides a path to citizenship. President Barack Obama's administration has said that it would veto the bill should it reach the president's desk. Meanwhile, on March 13, Obama told the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that he has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to conduct deportation policies "more humanely," reports The Washington Post.

Which LatAm Countries Have the Most Women in Senior Management?

On the eve of International Women's Day on March 8, a new study from the Grant Thornton International Business Report looked at women in the private sector, and found that in Latin America, 40 percent of businesses have no women in senior management positions. Peru leads the region with 35 percent of women holding top positions, followed by Chile at 30 percent and Mexico with 28 percent. Despite having female presidents, Argentina and Brazil have 25 and 22 percent, respectively.

Latin America in Focus: Mapping Women in Politics

The newly released The Women in Politics Maps 2014 from the Inter-Parliamentary Union looks at women in legislative and ministerial positions around the world. Nicaragua leads globally in women in ministerial posts, with a total of 14. Cuba, Ecuador, and Nicaragua have the most female legislators in Latin America, with women in over 40 percent of seats.

Learn more about the political achievements of women in the Americas over the last 15 years in an AS/COA Online interactive timeline.