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Weekly Roundup: Venezuela's Sabotage Hotline, Mexican Fiscal Reform, Caribbean Incarceration

AS/COA Weekly Roundup

September 13, 2013

In Colombia, ELN Joins Peace Talks as Congress Debates Referendum

The fourteenth round of Colombia’s peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) took place this week amid ongoing controversy about a referendum on a future peace agreement. President Juan Manuel Santos is pushing for the referendum, which is now under discussion in Congress. FARC representatives—who oppose the referendum—plan to meet with legislators on September 18 in Havana to discuss the proposal. Meanwhile, another guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), will begin peace talks with the government on September 17. Vice President Angelino Garzón said he was confident a peace accord with the ELN could be signed by the end of the year.

Reports of U.S. Spying on Brazil Raise “Legitimate Questions”

On September 11, the new Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo met with the U.S. National Security Adviser (NSA) Susan Rice in Washington to discuss spying allegations. Rice commented on the reports  that the NSA spied on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and, more recently, state oil company Petrobras. She said the allegations were distorted by the media but ‘‘raise legitimate questions for our friends and allies about how these capabilities are employed.’’

Biden Cancels Trip to Panama but Will Still Head to Mexico

Vice President Joe Biden’s September 18 trip to Panama for a meeting with Central American presidents has been called off due to the situation in Syria, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli announced on September 11. However, Biden will still travel to Mexico to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto on September 19 and 20 for the inauguration of the U.S.-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue and to participate in the Bilateral Forum on Education, Research, and Innovation.

Mexican President Unveils Tax Changes, Rolled into Fiscal Reform

On September 8, President Enrique Peña Nieto announced the latest in a line of major national reforms, this time launching a fiscal reform that, among other measures, seeks to lift tax revenues. The fiscal reform includes unemployment insurance and a national pension plan, as well as a host of tax reforms ranging from increases for wealthier Mexicans to taxes on sodas and chewing gum. The Chamber of Deputies passed the reform by a vote of 383 to 63, but with almost 500 changes. The legislation now faces challenges from opposition parties in the Senate.

Caracas Calling: Venezuela’s Sabotage Hotline

This week, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro created a state council aimed at preventing “economic sabotage,” following months of shortages of goods like toilet paper and flour. Known as the Superior Organ of the Economy, the council will monitor private companies that sell food and basic goods. The president also announced that citizens could report crimes of sabotage by calling 0-800-SABOTAGE.

Capriles Presents Case to IACHR

Venezuelan opposition leader and Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles sent documents to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) on September 9 explaining allegations of fraud and human rights violations during the country’s April 14 presidential elections. This week also marks Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, one year after the Andean country denounced the international body. This means the IACHR can no longer bring Venezuelan cases to the Court.*

Peruvian Interior Minister Talks Police Corruption

Corruption within the Peruvian police force is a major problem and the government could plan a future purge, Peruvian Interior Minister Wilfredo Pedraza told La República in a September 9 interview. Pedraza noted that the government has identified 200,000 cases of police corruption this year alone, but hopes that raising salaries and a plan to fight organized crime can help reduce wrongdoing.

Peru Wants FTAs with India, Russia, and Turkey

The Andean country plans to negotiate free-trade agreements with India, Russia, and Turkey in hopes of increasing non-traditional exports, reported Gestión this week. All three countries represent huge markets for Peruvian produce, as well as minerals. Facing its first trade deficit in over 10 years, Peru could register a $720 million deficit this year rather than the anticipated $644 million trade surplus.

ECLAC: LatAm Trade to Slow in 2013

Latin American and Caribbean trade will take a hit this year due to a weakening global economy, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean’s (ECLAC) annual report released this week. ECLAC predicts that the region’s exports will grow by only 1.5 percent this year, while imports will grow by 4.5 percent. Paraguay and Uruguay could experience the largest export bumps this year at 33 and 14 percent, respectively. However, Peru will see exports fall around 9.7 percent, while Brazil will see a standstill.

Paraguay’s Cartes Seeks to Reset Ties with Argentina

This week, Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes met with Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Buenos Aires. It was the leader’s first state visit to Argentina, with the effort to reset relations following former President Fernando Lugo’s impeachment last year. Cartes and Kirchner discussed regional integration, and the Argentine president said the visit marked the restoration of the Southern Common Market, which Paraguay was suspended from in 2012.

Report: Calculating Latin America’s Migrants

More than 26 million Latin Americans live outside their country of origin, according to new figures released this week from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Latin Americans represent the second largest diaspora group after Asians, and the world’s largest international migration corridor remains between Mexico and the United States.

Why Does the Caribbean Have Such High Incarceration Rates?

While the United States tops the list for incarcerating the most people in the world, the lock-up rate in Caribbean countries counts among the highest in the world. Data from Britain’s International Centre for Prison Studies shows that, excluding the United States, Caribbean countries make up 10 of the list’s top 50 countries with the highest incarceration rates. A September 7 analysis by Caribbean Journal contributor Michael Edgehill discusses three factors at the root of this statistic: the 1980s regional crime surge, the resulting backlogged justice systems, and the implementation of U.S.-style criminal justice reforms.

Lost and Found: Uruguayan Hiker Found Alive in Argentina’s Andes

After surviving the winter on a diet of rats and raisins, Uruguayan Raúl Fernando Gómez Cincunegui was rescued in the Argentine Andes on September 8. The 58-year-old got lost crossing from Chile to Argentina after his motorcycle broke down and survived for four months. Despite his recuperation, Gómez faces extradition to Chile based on charges of sexual abuse.

*Editor's note: At the time of publishing, this report erroneously stated that Venezuela withdrew from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. It withdrew from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.