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Weekly Roundup: Santos' Cabinet, Uruguay's Mining Code, LatAm's Gun Laws

September 06, 2013

Santos Sees Cabinet Reshuffle amid Ongoing Strike

On September 2, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ entire cabinet resigned, allowing him to make changes ahead of a potential reelection bid and in the midst of a major farmers’ strike. Santos then appointed his cabinet on September 5, naming five new ministers of energy, the interior, justice, agriculture, and the environment. He kept the same ministers of finance, defense, and foreign affairs.

The strike—in which farmers are demanding subsidies and tax exemptions—and accompanying protests began over two weeks ago, and may be hurting Santos’ approval ratings, which fell to an all-time low of 21 percent this week.

Obama Promises Investigation into Peña Nieto and Rousseff Spying Allegations

Following a September 1 report that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) spied on both the Brazilian and Mexican presidents, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff and Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto each met separately with President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Russia this week. Rousseff said that Obama “took personal responsibility” for investigating the espionage allegations, and Peña Nieto also noted that the U.S. president promised a probe into the claims. 

Brazil Announces New Satellite Plan

The Brazilian government announced September 5 that intends to launch three new satellites for military and strategic communication within the next 13 years. The satellites have an average 15-year lifespan, and aim to increase information security and expand military communication. The first satellite—to be built by French companies and estimated to cost over $600 million—will be launched from French Guiana in 2016.

Mexican President to Striking Teachers: No More Negotiations

This week, Mexico’s Congress overwhelmingly approved legislation allowing implementation of an education reform, but that didn’t stop thousands of teachers from continuing protests against the reform and, in particular, a new system of teacher evaluations expected to go into effect by July 2014. Protesters called for meetings with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. The president responded from the sidelines of the G20 summit in Russia by saying the time for dialogue with the teachers had come to an end and that “there is no going back” on the reform.

Meanwhile, demonstrations against an impending energy reform are slated for September 8 in Mexico City, with former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador at the helm. However, his former political party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution, said it will not join the September 8 protests and, instead, plans to hold demonstrations on September 15.

WEF Competitiveness Report: Chile Leads LatAm

Released this week, the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2013 ranked 148 economies, with Chile leading the pack in Latin America and placing at spot 34 overall. Two of the region’s biggest economies—Mexico and Brazil—were neck and neck at 55 and 56, respectively. At spots 134 and 143, Venezuela and Haiti ranked lowest in Latin America. Uruguay and Argentina saw the greatest fall in the ranking from last year, tumbling 11 and 12 spots respectively. 

Blackout: Lights out in Venezuela

A massive power outage left 70 percent of Venezuela in darkness on September 4, including the country’s capital city, where blackouts are rare. President Nicolás Maduro pointed to “sabotage” as the reason behind the blackout, and established a new security unit to protect the electric grid.

Also this week, El Universal reported that Venezuela’s crude petroleum exports to the United States dropped 9.5 percent in the first half of 2013, as U.S. imports of refined oil grew by 92 percent over the same period.

Maduro Goes Multilingual on Twitter

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro opened several new Twitter accounts on August 29, creating profiles in Arabic, English, French, and Portuguese to translate his Spanish tweets and to tell the world “the truth” about Venezuela. The president told his 1.3 million followers that accounts in Chinese and Russian will soon follow.

Uruguayan Congress Passes Major Mining Law

On September 3, Uruguay’s House of Deputies passed a new mining code, which will impose large taxes on mining projects—up to 25 percent on corporate profits and another tax of 38 percent on overall profits. The legislation, approved by the Senate last month, also imposes stricter environmental regulations. President José Mujica is expected to sign the law soon, in hopes of making the country a large-scale iron ore exporter. “It is idiotic to have riches and not try to multiply them,” Mujica said this week, in response to criticism from the opposition.

Can Arms Laws Reduce Gun Violence in LatAm?

This week, InSight Crime published an analysis of gun laws in Brazil, Chile, Honduras, Mexico, Uruguay, and Venezuela, finding no clear correlation between legislation and gun deaths. “Gun legislation alone will do little to reign in the criminal groups responsible for the rampant violence in the region's most murderous areas,” says the article. The presence of armed groups, drug trafficking, and institutional strength all factor into the equation, Matthias Nowak of Small Arms Survey told InSight Crime.

Bolivia’s Top Anti-Corruption Cop Arrested on Extortion Charges

The Bolivian government’s top dog in the fight against corruption, National Police Colonel Mario Fabricio Ormachea Aliaga, is being held in a Miami jail on charges of extorting Bolivian businessman Humberto Roca. The August 31 arrest came after Ormachea attempted to extort $30,000 from Roca in exchange for wiping away the businessman’s criminal charges in Bolivia.

Who is the New Head of Guatemala’s CICIG?

Guatemala’s Prensa Libre profiles Colombia’s Iván Velásquez, the new head of the UN’s International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Appointed on August 30, Velásquez replaces Francisco Dall'Anese, who is stepping down. The new CICIG director sent 50 congressmen to prison during his tenure as an auxiliary judge in Colombia’s Supreme Court. However, he takes over the organization at a difficult time; several Guatemalan legislators tried unsuccessfully to revoke the CICIG’s mandate last month after allegations arose that Dall’Anese tried to pressure a judge into convicting a former president.

Haiti Unveils Roots of New Security Force

The Haitian army was disbanded 18 years ago, but on September 5 Haitian President Michel Martelly introduced the beginnings of a new security force. Defense Minister Rodolphe Joazile calls the 41 Ecuadoran-trained recruits “a concrete step” toward the goal of reinstating the Haitian military. Once fully formed, the force will work on border surveillance, anti-drug trafficking efforts, and disaster preparation and response.

Mapping the U.S. Latino Population

The Latino population in the United States has more than tripled since 1980, and an August 29 Pew Research Center maps population growth by county, state, and city. The Atlantic created two GIFs of the maps, showing growth in the Hispanic population from 1980 to 2011.

Longer Lives for Most Latin Americans

Most Latin Americans are living longer today than 40 years ago—with the exception of young men, says a new report from the World Bank Group and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). The study found that regional mortality rates dropped 80 percent for children under 4 years old and 50 percent for women between ages 20 and 44. But mortality rates actually increased 1 percent for young men between 15 and 19 years old.

Tasty Title: Peruvian Restaurant Wins Best in Latin America

At the inaugural Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards held in Peru on September 4, the host country not only won first place with Lima’s Astrid y Gaston, but also dominated the top 10, as trendy spots Central and Malabar claimed fourth and seventh place. With 15 restaurants on the list, Argentina has the largest number of establishments in the ranking, while Brazil and Mexico each had nine restaurants make the cut.