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Weekly Roundup: El Salvador's Runoff, Colombia's Transparency Law, LatAm's Most Expensive Cities

March 07, 2014

Protests Endure as Venezuela Commemorates Anniversary of Chávez’s Death

Venezuela’s opposition protests continued into their third week as the death toll reached 20. Amid the demonstrations, on March 5 the government commemorated the one-year anniversary of President Hugo Chávez’s death, drawing the presidents of Bolivia, Cuba, and Nicaragua as well as officials from throughout Latin America.

On March 6, the OAS Permanent Council held a meeting about the situation in Venezuela, but failed to reach a consensus; the group meets again today, reports EFE. Meanwhile, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa announced that foreign ministers from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) will meet in Chile on March 11 to discuss Venezuela’s crisis. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's foreign policy advisor, Marco Aurélio Garcia, met with Maduro on the sidelines of the March 5 commemoration, and said the Venezuelan government is open to allowing a mission of UNASUR observers to go to the country.

Get a full timeline of events and more key facts about Venezuela’s protests in AS/COA’s resource guide.

Venezuela Cuts Ties with Panama

On March 5, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced his country would break diplomatic and commercial relations with Panama. The move comes after the Central American country requested the Organization of American States’ Permanent Council meeting to discuss the situation in Venezuela. Martinelli took to Twitter to express his surprise, saying that Panama only wants “its brother country to find peace and strengthen its democracy.”

El Salvador Runoff Election Set for Sunday

With El Salvador’s presidential runoff set to take place March 9, contenders for the country’s highest office ended their campaigns on March 5. February polls show ruling party candidate Salvador Sánchez Cerén maintaining a 10- to 18-point lead over opposition candidate Norman Quijano. In an article for World Politics Review, Central American politics expert Michael Allison notes that Sánchez Cerén has the advantage of being able to take credit for achievements made by the governing party, such as popular social programs.

Read more about the latest presidential polls in an AS/COA blog post.

Costa Rican Presidential Candidate Suspends Campaign before Runoff

Johnny Araya, Costa Rica’s ruling party candidate, announced this week that he would stop campaigning ahead of the April 6 presidential runoff. The March 5 decision came shortly after the release of a University of Costa Rica poll showing that Araya trailed his contender Luis Guillermo Solís by over 40 points. Araya is the first candidate in the country’s history to discontinue his campaign before a second-round vote. But because Costa Rica’s Constitution does not allow a candidate to withdraw from a runoff, Araya’s name will still show up on the ballot.

Read an AS/COA Online blog post about Araya’s decision.

Mexico’s Senate Considers Reforms to Military Justice Law

This week, Mexico’s Senate debated reforms to the country’s Military Justice Code, which would allows civil courts to judge members of the armed forces for crimes against civilians that took place during peacetime. The proposal would also allow victims of military abuse to gain access “to truth and justice” and not just reparations. Under the reform, military courts would have jurisdiction only when crimes adversely affect the interests of the armed forces. 

Fewer Mexicans Have U.S.-Based Family Members

A new Mitofsky survey found that the percentage of Mexicans with family living in the United States stands at 32.4 percent as of June 2013—the same rate as in a prior survey in September 2012. The portion of Mexicans with a U.S.-based family member has declined steadily since a high of 40.3 percent in June 2008.

Santos Formalizes Presidential Bid and Taps New VP

On March 4, Colombian President Juan Manual Santos officially registered his candidacy to run for another term in office. Vowing to bring the peace process to a successful conclusion, Santos also promised to guarantee education for all. In addition, the president tapped the popular former Interior Minister Germán Vargas Lleras as his pick for vice president. A March 2 El Tiempo/W Radio poll found that Santos leads the running with 24 percent of the vote, although currently ahead of him is the “blank ballot,” polling at nearly 42 percent.

Colombia will hold legislative elections on March 9. Learn more about this vote and its impact on the presidential race.

Corruption Control: Colombia’s New Transparency Law

President Juan Manuel Santos signed a new transparency and information access bill into law on March 6, calling it “truly revolutionary” in the fight against corruption. He added that information is a right, not a privilege, and that it is the government’s obligation to provide it to the public. The law—which comes into force in six months—will not only require public organizations and officials to provide information upon request, but also government contractors and political parties.

Brazil’s Farm Lobby Seeks to Soften Forest Law

This week, Folha de São Paulo reported that Brazil’s farm lobby and representatives from the country’s Agriculture Ministry asked the executive branch to make changes to how the country’s forest law is implemented. The controversial reform to this legislation passed in 2012, though certain points have yet to be put into practice. The farm lobby wants the federal government to replace fines given for deforestation with warnings—instead of replanting trees. The group also would like to change property registration rules, which would allow large landowners to gain benefits given to small farmers.

In 2014, Brazil Sees Record Trade Deficit

This week, the Brazilian government released figures showing a $2.13 billion trade deficit in February—the largest trade deficit for that month since 1994. In January, Brazil had a record $4.06 billion deficit, its largest monthly trade gap ever. Lower prices of oil exports and high levels of energy imports are the source of the deficit, Brazil Trade Association President José Augusto de Castro told O Estado de São Paulo.

Ahead of Bachelet Inauguration, Chile Gets Its First Female Senate President

For the first time in its history, Chile's upper house of Congress will be headed by a woman. Isabel Allende—currently a senator for the Atacama region and daughter of the country's former President Salvador Allende—was appointed on Thursday to lead the Senate, a post her father also held.

In addition to her new role, Allende will also place the presidential sash on President-elect Michelle Bachelet when she is inaugurated for the second time March 11. Leaders from around the region will attend the ceremony, including the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, as well as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Peru and Chile Come to Agreement on Maritime Border Starting Point

On March 2, Chile and Peru concluded talks on the starting point for their shared maritime border, reports El Comercio. Experts from both countries worked throughout the weekend to reach an agreement. The talks initially began on February 6, after the International Court of Justice ruled that both countries would need to jointly establish a point of origin for their border.

Report: Money Laundering Hot Spots in the Americas

A new U.S. State Department report released this week lists a number of Western Hemisphere countries whose financial institutions' transactions include large proceeds from international drug trafficking. The 2014 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report named Canada and the United States, eight Caribbean countries, and 12 other Latin American countries as major money laundering hot spots.

Ranking: Caracas Rated as LatAm’s Most Expensive City

Caracas is the world’s sixth most expensive city, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) data. The Venezuelan capital was the only Latin American city to place in the top 10 of the EIU’s bi-annual Worldwide Cost of Living survey, which ranks 131 cities on factors such as currency appreciation and price inflation. However, Venezuelan journalist Francisco Toro writes for the New Republic that Caracas’ ranking has to do with Venezuela’s “dysfunctional currency exchange control system.” He explains: “At the more realistic black market rate, as EIU itself notes, Caracas is one the cheapest big cities on earth.”

At spot 124, Panama City is the least expensive Latin American city in the survey. Meanwhile, Brazilian cities São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro fell in the ranks from 43 to 57 and from 61 to 77, respectively.