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Weekly Roundup: Paraguay's Presidential Inauguration, Argentina's Primaries, Cuba's Connectivity

Weekly Roundup AS/COA

August 15, 2013

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What Next for Mexico’s Energy Reform?

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto presented his government’s energy reform package on August 12, outlining changes for the hydrocarbons and electricity sectors. The proposal includes a constitutional reform that would allow for profit-sharing contracts between foreign, private companies and Pemex—the state oil monopoly plagued by declining production.

The reform is drawing plenty of reactions and debate. Dudley Althaus writes in GlobalPost that the fact that contracts will be paid in cash rather than oil shares “may prove unattractive to the major international oil companies that Mexico hopes to entice.” The Dallas Morning News reports “the Texas energy industry is eyeing its southern neighbor’s oil fields with a mix of hope and skepticism.” Credit Suisse is more optimistic about the reform move than local financial markets demonstrated this week, saying that “the stage is set for Congress to approve a meaningful energy reform proposal towards the end of the year.” 

On the domestic front, the president stated the reform will lead to 2.5 million new jobs, says COA Director of Energy Christian Gomez, who writes: “The challenge for the Peña Nieto administration will be whether it can convince the public that these are credible claims.” Head of the conservative National Action Party Gustavo Madero described Peña Nieto’s proposal as “timid” and said it is not “sufficiently ambitious.” On the other hand, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas—founder of the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and son of the president who oversaw the 1938 oil nationalization—said Peña Nieto’s reform seeks “to gradually strangle” Pemex and leave the oil sector to foreign, private groups.

But José Carreño Figueras of the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education contends that no reform would meet all competing demands and that Peña Nieto’s proposal may represent be what is politically possible. “Only time will tell if is enough to advance the desired outcome,” he writes. 

Cartes Returns Colorado Party to Power in Paraguay

Horacio Cartes was sworn in as president of Paraguay on August 15, the first elected leader to take office after the impeachment of former President Fernando Lugo in June 2012. Cartes is also the first Colorado Party president elected since Lugo’s government interrupted 60 years of Colorado rule in 2008. Numerous presidents attended the ceremony, including heads of state from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, and Uruguay. Bolivian President Evo Morales and Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa refused to attend after Paraguay chose not to extend an invitation to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. 

Argentines Cast Ballots in Legislative Primary

On August 11, Argentines turned out to vote in primaries for October’s mid-term legislative election, when voters will select who will fill half the seats in lower Congress and a third of the upper chamber. The Economist’s Americas blog reports that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s Peronist Front for Victory took a hit, garnering just 26 percent of the vote. 

Kerry Questioned about NSA in Brazil and Colombia

On August 12 and 13, John Kerry made his first trip to Brazil and Colombia as secretary of state, talking trade and security. In both countries, he was asked about U.S. surveillance activities following revelations about spying by the National Security Agency. Though Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Holguín said she received “the necessary assurances,” her Brazilian counterpart, Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota, urged countries to stop “practices that violate sovereignty and the relationships of trust.”

Read an AS/COA News Analysis about Kerry’s visit

Colombia’s Santos Announces Armed Forces Shake-up

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced changes to military leadership on August 12, replacing the heads of the air force, army, navy, and police. Semana notes that one of the reasons behind the shake-up may have been to unseat General Sergio Mantilla, the former army commander, who was seen as an impediment to the country’s peace process.  

Spain to Ask EU to Lift Visas for Colombians and Peruvians

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy plans to ask the European Union to eliminate visa requirements for Colombian and Peruvian citizens—a move that would permit them to travel to the EU visa-free for three months, reports El Comercio. After communicating his plan to Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, he noted that he wants Spain to take a more active role in the Pacific Alliance bloc. 

Killings Strike Blow to Shining Path Leadership in Peru

On August 11, Orlando Borda Casafranca and Martin Quispe Palomino—two leaders of Peru’s Shining Path guerrilla group—were killed by government forces. Terrorism and security analyst Jaime Antezana told The Los Angeles Times that the action constituted “the government's first successful blow in recent years at the top military ranks of the group.” 

Brazil Violence Map: Why Are Murders Increasing?

A new report from the Latin American Studies Center maps violence in Brazil, and reveals a variety of factors contributing to rising murder rates in the last 30 years. Homicides rose 132 percent from 1980 to 2011, and the study explains that impunity and a “culture of violence” are the main causes for the increase. “Only 5 to 8 percent of murders were ever solved [in Brazil], compared to 65 percent in the United States and 90 percent in the United Kingdom,” notes an analysis on the study by InSight Crime. 

Mercosur: Bigger May Not Be Better

By preparing to extend membership to Ecuador and Bolivia, the Southern Common Market (Mercosur)  could weaken the bloc’s negotiation capacity, writes Eurasia Group Senior Analyst João Augusto de Castro Neves for World Politics Review. “Instead of becoming an instrument for further trade liberalization, Mercosur today resembles a trade fortress, stalled by its members’ proclivities toward more protectionist measures,” he explains. But Mercosur could advance by loosening rules to continue negotiations for a trade accord with the EU, writes the Financial Times. “In part, this is because exporters in Brazil—as in other countries that have attained middle-income status—will no longer qualify for automatic access to European markets on privileged terms,” says the editorial. 

Maduro to Request Special Powers for Anti-Corruption Efforts

On August 12, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced that he will ask the National Assembly for special decree powers to fight graft. “I’m going to call a national emergency…If I have to change all the laws to confront corruption, I’m going to do it,” he said. A survey released August 15 found that over 55 percent of Venezuelans believe Maduro isn’t doing enough to combat corruption. 

Chilean Congress Votes on Lobbying Law

On August 14, Chile’s Chamber of Deputies voted in favor of a lobbying bill, after a decade stalled in Congress. The legislation seeks to regulate lobbying by requiring government officials, such as congressmen and cabinet heads, to report on meetings held with private interest groups. Those in favor of the law say it will put more rules in place to reduce influence-trafficking. But Independent Congressman René Alinco announced he would vote against the law, saying: "This law is not going to make lobbying transparent: it is going to legalize bribery and corruption." The bill now moves on to the Senate. 

Costa Rica-Nicaragua Relations Strained over Continuing Border Dispute

Tensions emerged again between Costa Rica and Nicaragua this week over the contested province of Guanacaste. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said he would bring the matter before The Hague in order to regain the area annexed in 1824. Meanwhile, Costa Rican officials sent a letter to the UN Security Council alleging “misrepresentations” by Nicaragua during the countries’ International Court of Justice hearings about the border dispute. 

Panamanian Journalist Victim of Twitter Identity Fraud

This week, a Panamian journalist from La Prensa reported that someone created a fake account using her name on Twitter. Ereida Prieto-Barreiro had broken a story that Panamanian businesswoman Sheila Castillo de Arias—sister-in-law of presidential candidate José Domingo Arias—was being favored for government contracts. The fake Twitter account sent pro-government tweets before it was deactivated.

A Closer Look at Cuba’s Self-Employed Workers

The Miami Herald examines Cuba’s cuentapropistas, the country’s 430,000 self-employed workers. Though the government implemented changes allowing for these entrepreneurs to emerge, analysts say not much has changed. “Many of the cuentapropistas are dependent on the black market to supply them, and instead of the emergence of a small entrepreneurial class, what is happening is the encouragement of an informal or underground economy,” said Antonio Rodiles, a Cuban political activist.

Pen Drives: The Real Source of Cuban Connectivity?

Though Cubans have been legally able to access the internet at the country’s 118 cybercafés since June, only 25 percent of the island is online, according to government figures. Given the prohibitively expensive fees to get on the web, many Cubans depend on pen drives, reports TIME. In large supply, pen drives allow for sharing of everything from news to ads to movies. 

Using Drones to Study Ancient Civilization in Peru

Peruvian researchers are using drones to monitor crops and to study ancient ruins. "The drones allow us to resolve problems objectively, while people do it subjectively," archeologist Luis James Castillo told AFP.  Castillo is using drones to map a 1,300 year-old civilization on Peru’s northern coast. 

The Furry Little Olinguito: A Newly Discovered Andean Species

“For all of modern history, a small, carnivorous South American mammal in the raccoon family has evaded the scientific community,” writes Smithsonian Magazine. On August 15, the Smithsonian Institution announced the discovery of a new species called the olinguito, a small, furry mammal that lives in the cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador.