04-Jan-2013 - Brazil: The Future for President Dilma Rousseff
Bottom Line: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is poised to have a successful reelection campaign in 2014 if Brazil’s economy improves in 2013.
02-Jan-2013 - Colombia: Colombia’s new tax regimen: progressive, not excessive
Background: After climbing the political ranks as a member of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), and promising to follow in former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s footsteps, Dilma Rousseff was elected as Brazil’s first woman president on 31 October 2010. Inaugurated on 01 January 2011, President Rousseff, an economist by trade, inherited an economically vibrant Brazil, with growth of 7.5 percent in 2010.
On 1 January 2013, President Rousseff completed half of her four-year term with a popularity rating of 78 percent, which was higher than extremely popular Lula da Silva at the same point during his term. Even though the economy has under-performed during 2011 and 2012, dropping to 2.7 percent and 1 percent respectively, President Rousseff’s high approval is attributed to weathering the global economic crisis, real income increases, and bringing 16.4 million people out of extreme poverty through the government program Brasil sin Miseria. However, the Mensalão corruption case concluded, and other corruption scandals tied to former President Lula have popped up during 2012, illuminating Brazil’s constant struggle with eliminating corruption.
Commentary: Considering Rousseff’s popularity and ample government support, she has solidified her position as the PT’s presidential candidate for the 2014 elections. However, economic deceleration threatens her popularity and also has the potential to affect inflation, job creation, and salaries – all influential factors among the general public. Rousseff promises Brazil’s economic growth will increase in 2013. She is trying to increase economic competitiveness through tax cuts and slashing energy rates to help consumers. To do so, she plans to reform the Fiscal Responsibility Law. That law, which forces the government to off-set revenue cuts with spending cuts, is widely regarded as one of the foundations for Brazil’s economic stability today. Rousseff clearly believes that her government now has the discipline to increase spending in proportion to growth, without incurring excessive debt or causing inflation to spiral out of control. Whether the full stimulus package will boost competitiveness and growth is yet to be determined, but Rousseff has a clear vision for Brazil to grow and develop under her leadership. Still, even if Rousseff maintains her personal popularity, ongoing corruption scandals, including legislative vote-buying under Lula’s administration, could tarnish the Workers’ Party’s reputation, and make a reelection campaign difficult. Despite holding on to power for over ten years, corruption could be the PT’s undoing.
Bottom line: Changes to the tax code in Colombia may lessen unemployment and off-the-books work, but will not significantly improve income inequality or tax collection in the near-term.
20-Dec-2012 - Venezuela: Henrique Capriles in a Sea of Chávistas
Background: On 18 December 2012, the Colombian legislature approved a new tax regimen which took effect 1 January 2013, with the goal of reducing income inequality and creating between 400,000 and 1 million new jobs.
Among the primary changes is the establishment of a new Alternative Minimum Income Tax (Impuesto Mínimo Alternativo Nacional, IMAN). Individuals earning less than US$15,612 annually will not pay any income tax. While tax rates decreased for individuals earning less than US$54,288 a year, they increased for those who earn more, especially for the wealthiest Colombians. Income taxes doubled for those who earn more than US$203,676 a year, and more than tripled for salaries above US$577,000 at a maximum effective rate of 27 percent. Health and retirement contributions will not be included in the calculation of income.
The changes cut corporate income tax from 33 percent to 25 percent, but the difference would be made up by assessment of an Equitable Income Tax (Impuesto sobre la Renta para la Equidad, CREE) of 8 percent of profits, climbing to 9 percent between 2013 and 2015. CREE funds will pay for health insurance, national technical education (Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje, SENA), and for family welfare (Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar, ICBF). The Finance Ministry expects the temporary 1 percent CREE increase to produce an additional US$675 in the next three years.
Employers will contribute 13.5 percent less in payroll taxes, dropping from 29.5 percent to 16 percent, for employees who earn less than US$3,395 a month, or 10 times the minimum wage. Of that 16 percent, 12 percent is for employee pension contributions and 4 percent for unemployment insurance.
The bill modified the Value Added Tax (IVA) for consumers, reducing the number of IVA rate categories from seven to three – with rates of 0, 5, or 16 percent. In order to create economic incentive on the islands of San Andrés, Providencia, and Santa Catalina, no IVA will be assessed there, except on luxury goods like yachts and aircraft, which are subject to 8 percent IVA.
Commentary: President Juan Manuel Santos pushed for tax reform to reduce income inequality, to create jobs, and to simplify the tax code. As passed, the recent reforms should address the first two goals, but it may not be as simple as hoped. The decrease in payroll taxes is likely to help bring more workers into the formal economy, though some economists express concerns about rising inflation in the short-term. Given Colombia’s steady growth and responsible monetary policy, we do not believe the current reforms will hinder Colombia’s economy in any way, although it will be difficult to determine whether they will stimulate it either. Colombia remains a friendly investment environment, especially for businesses that create jobs.
Bottom Line: Despite the general success of the PSUV in the recent elections, the victory of Henrique Capriles demonstrates a path to the presidency for the opposition in the event of a new election.
13-Dec-2012 - Peru: Peru v. Chile Maritime Dispute
Background: On 16 December 2012, Venezuelans elected 23 state governors and 237 state legislators. With Chávez still recovering from cancer surgery in Cuba, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, Chávez’s handpicked successor, and Energy Minister Rafael Ramírez drummed up support for Chávez allies. Chávez’s Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) won 20 governorships. Former or current military leaders were elected in five previously PSUV states, and four more were elected in states that flipped for PSUV in this election. PSUV and its allies also dominated the state legislature elections, winning 186 positions, gaining complete control in seven states and a majority in 22 other states.
The opposition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), lost the gains it made in the 2008 elections, but held on to three governorships in Amazonas, Lara, and most notably Miranda. Former presidential MUD candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski was re-elected as Miranda governor with 50 percent of the vote; his opponent Elías Jaua, Chávez’s former vice president, earned only 46 percent. In Bolívar, Andrés Velásquez (MUD) refused to recognize the victory of PSUV candidate Francisco Rangel Gómez, considering the close results, 42.34 percent to 43.57 percent respectively. Of the 237 open seats in state legislatures, only 51 opposition candidates were elected; the PSUV even controls Miranda’s state legislature.
Voter participation, 54.4 percent, was significantly lower than in 2008 when 65.45 percent of voters went to the polls. The MUD complained that government changes to the school holiday schedule were designed to deter voter participation. Also, in contrast to previous elections, the mood during this election was reported as calm and even apathetic.
Commentary: The PSUV successfully capitalized on voters’ sympathy for Chávez. The extent of their success indicates support for his revolution is still strong, especially among the poor. If Chávez is unable to attend his inauguration on 10 January 2013, Maduro could have a fighting chance against the opposition if they remain unified—a scenario much more likely if Chávez’s health deteriorates gradually. However, Chávez sycophant, Elías Jaua, could not unseat Capriles, despite having plentiful resources and full party support. Capriles solidified his position as the best presidential candidate and a unifying figure in the opposition movement. Chavistas may not remain so unified without Chávez, particularly if they are unprepared for a radical shift in party leadership.
Bottom Line: The heart of the dispute rests on whether or not, in the 1952 Santiago Declaration and 1954 Agreement on Maritime Border Zones, a formal maritime border was established between Peru and Chile.
12-Dec-2012 - El Salvador: Gangs Agree to Truce in Peace Zones With Condition
Background: As illustrated in the map below, Peru and Chile exhibit overlapping claims to an area of 37,900 square kilometers in the Pacific Ocean.
International law generally provides for a nation to exercise sovereignty over water to a distance of 200 nautical miles from its shore. Where claims overlap, countries have largely agreed to draw a line cutting the disputed area in half and award each country the nearest half. On 16 January 2008, Peru filed a case asking the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague to set their maritime border with Chile according to the aforementioned method. However, Chile argues the border was set in the 1952 Santiago Declaration and 1954 Agreement on Maritime Border Zones following a latitudinal parallel extending from the land border between Chile and Peru. Despite signing these agreements, Peru claims the 1952 and 1954 documents are commercial fishing accords, not formal border agreements. Subsequent to those agreements Chile controlled the area now in dispute.
Analysis: In two previous rulings (Nicaragua v. Honduras 8 October 2007 and Nicaragua v. Colombia 19 November 2012), the ICJ established that usage of an area does not confer territorial rights. Although many other tangential arguments exist (including where the precise land/sea border juncture falls and the impact of Bolivian claims to Pacific access), the ICJ’s decision will ultimately rest on the question of whether Peru agreed to the maritime border Chile asserts. If no border was established in the 1952/1954 documents, Peru correctly interprets the proper division. But if the documents did establish a border, that agreement would supersede international maritime law and the Chilean map would prevail. On 30 November 2012, both Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala committed to abide by the ICJ ruling, and asked their countrymen to avoid excessive nationalism. While oral arguments at The Hague end this week, the ICJ is not expected to issue a ruling until 2013.
Excerpt of 18 August 1952 Santiago Declaration (Declaración sobre Zona Marítima):
III. La jurisdicción y soberanía exclusivas sobre la zona marítima indicada, incluye también la soberanía y jurisdicción exclusivas sobre el suelo y subsuelo que a ella corresponde.
IV. En el caso de territorio insular, la zona de 200 millas marinas se aplicará en todo el contorno de la isla o grupo de islas.
Si una isla o grupo de islas pertenecientes a uno de los países declarantes estuviere a menos de 200 millas marinas de la zona marítima general que corresponde a otro de ellos, la zona marítima de esta isla o grupo de islas quedará limitada por el paralelo del punto en que llega al mar la frontera terrestre de los Estados respectivos.
III. The exclusive sovereignty and jurisdiction over the maritime zone indicated also includes exclusive sovereignty and jurisdiction over the sea floor and what lies beneath.
IV. In the case of island territory, the 200 nautical mile zone applies to the coast of the island or group of islands. If an island or group of islands belonging to one of the countries were within 200 nautical miles of the maritime zone of another country, the maritime zone of the islands would be limited by the parallel from the point where the sea meets the land border between the respective states.
Excerpt of 4 December 1954 Agreement on Special Maritime Border Zone (Convenio Sobre Zona Especial Fronteriza Marítima):
CONSIDERANDO: Que la experiencia ha demostrado que debido a las dificultades que encuentran las embarcaciones de poco porte tripuladas por gente de mar con escasos conocimientos de náutica o que carecen de los instrumentos necesarios para determinar con exactitud su posición en alta mar, se producen con frecuencia, de modo inocente y accidental, violaciones de la frontera marítima entre los Estados vecinos;
Que la aplicación de sanciones en estos casos produce siempre resentimientos entre los pescadores y fricciones entre los países que pueden afectar al espíritu de colaboración y de unidad que en todo momento debe animar a los países signatarios de los acuerdos de Santiago; y Que es conveniente evitar la posibilidad de estas involuntarias infracciones cuyas consecuencias sufren principalmente los pescadores;
PRIMERO: Establécese una Zona Especial, a partir de las 12 millas marinas de la costa, de 10 millas marinas de ancho a cada lado del paralelo que constituye el límite marítimo entre los dos países.
CONSIDERING: That experience has shown that due to difficulties encountered by vessels crewed by those with insufficient nautical knowledge or inadequate equipment to determine their exact position in the high seas, there are frequent innocent and accidental violations of the maritime border between neighboring states;
That the application of sanctions in such cases produces resentment among fishermen, and friction between the countries that can affect the spirit of collaboration and unity that should always drive the signatory nations party to the Santiago agreement; and being that it is convenient to avoid the possibility of these involuntary infractions whose consequences primarily affect fishermen;
FIRST: To establish a Special Zone, starting 12 nautical miles from the coast, and which is 10 nautical miles wide on each side of the parallel that constitutes the maritime border between the two countries.
[Map courtesy of Political Geography Now. Excerpt translations by Southern Pulse.]
Bottom Line: If gangs in El Salvador perceive the government to be an unwilling partner in peace, they could abandon the truce altogether and return to extreme violence.
10-Dec-2012 - Venezuela: Chávez names VP Nicolás Maduro as his chosen successor
Background: The Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 (18th Street) gangs formed in the streets of Los Angeles in the 1980s. Law enforcement arrested and deported gang members, who reassembled and reinforced their clicas in El Salvador. Homicide rates rose steadily for decades. Under current President Mauricio Funes, the government of El Salvador tried a militarized approach to the problem without success. Recognizing the situation was unsustainable in early 2012, Monsignor Fabio Colindres, Chaplin to the military and national police, and ex-guerilla commander Raúl Mijango, began negotiations between the two gangs. Carlos Mojica (Barrio 18) and Borromeo Henríquez (MS-13) and other gang representatives agreed to a truce on 9 March 2012 in La Esperanza prison in Mariona, San Salvador. Within days, the national homicide rate dropped from fourteen to five murders a day. On 24 September 2012, the gangs released a communiqué celebrating 200 days of the truce.
Following this success, the facilitators proposed the second phase of the peace process on 22 November 2012, and called for the creation of “peace zones” free from gang violence and crimes, along with youth intervention programs, a victims’ fund, and Municipal Code reforms. On 4 December 2012, MS-13 and Barrio 18, as well as the gangs Mao Mao, La Maquina, and the Miradas Locos, released a statement accepting the proposal to create ten municipal “peace zones,”, which would benefit nearly 900,000 people. Leaders ordered clicas in these zones to abide by the non-aggression pact and disarm. However, final acceptance of the proposal comes with a major condition: repeal of the Ley de Proscripción de Pandillas o Maras y Grupos de Exterminio (Gang Prohibition Act), passed in September 2010. On 11 December 2012, Colindres and Mijango presented the conditional offer to the Legislative Assembly.
Commentary: The March 2012 truce surprised the world and effectively reduced violence on a historic scale. Inside El Salvador, the truce received a testy welcome, with many observers commenting that the government’s position offered too much political power to the gangs. The request to repeal the Gang Prohibition Act, which is a central tool for police enforcement on the streets, is a significant test of the gangs’ collective political power. So far, the truce has been successful because it has not required the direct and sustainable participation of the government; facilitators could freely negotiate truce terms. Now, the condition on the current proposition could stall the pacification process, and possibly rupture the truce. Representatives of the Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (National Republican Alliance or ARENA) and Concertación Nacional (National Coalition) support truce efforts but do not plan to repeal the Gang Prohibition Act. Moreover, ARENA is critical of the truce because many citizens still report feeling insecure about crime levels. Limited support from political parties for truce-related proposals will make achieving further progress on gang pacification difficult, and could reverse the trend entirely. The most likely scenario would see El Salvador fall into downward spiral toward violence.
Bottom Line: Although Chávez is now making plans for chavismo beyond his own leadership, if his health fails, civil unrest is likely, as a united opposition will mount a strong challenge for the presidency.
06-Dec-2012 - Mexico: Protesting the Inauguration of PRI President Enrique Peña Nieto
Background: On 8 December 2012, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela - PSUV) spoke to his legislature to request a short leave of absence from office to travel to Havana, Cuba for a third cancer surgery. Chávez acknowledged doctors found malignant cells again, and for the first time, discussed his wishes if his health should fail. Article 233 of the Constitution establishes new elections are required within thirty days if the President-elect is unable to assume office, or if the President becomes incapacitated in his first four years of office. Article 234 further provides that if a sitting President is unable to fulfill his duties for a period of 90 consecutive days, the legislature may vote on whether the absence constitutes an abandonment of office. In such circumstances, Chávez expressed his absolute and total support for VP Nicolás Maduro, not only to govern in the interim, but also to represent the PSUV in any election. Maduro, an active transportation union member, served as Foreign Minister from August 2006 until October 2012, when Chávez named him Vice President. Since Chávez announced his illness in June 2011, Maduro has represented Venezuela in Chávez’s stead at numerous international events. Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores, is the Attorney General of Venezuela and defended Chávez in 1992 when he was jailed for attempting a military coup of then-President Carlos Andrés Pérez.
Commentary: Until his 8 December 2012 speech, Chávez had not publicly discussed the possibility of his inability to preside; this conversation leads us to speculate his health is worsening and Chávez wants to lay the foundation for chavismo to survive him. It may be too little, too late: in the 7 October 2012 election, Chávez won a close race against a highly organized and united opposition movement Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), led by Henrique Capriles Radonski. Capriles’s campaign is grounded in many of the same ideals Chávez himself espouses, such as social justice and a focus on education, but from a more moderate and fiscally responsible position. Although Maduro is well-liked and respected, he does not have the charisma of either Chávez or Capriles. Polls pitting Maduro against Capriles show an opposition victory, although until now, Maduro did not have the explicit backing of Chávez. Capriles continues to campaign for MUD unity going into the elections for state governors, which will take place 16 December 2012. He is a gubernatorial candidate for the state of Miranda, facing Chávez’s previous Vice President Elías Jaua. Ironically, in the short-term the PSUV may be able to parlay sympathy for Chávez into success at the polls, but the current administration’s fiscal mismanagement means the long-term picture is bleak for the PSUV.
Perhaps what is most surprising about Chávez’s 8 December 2012 speech is the indication he is considering a future election in which he is not a candidate. Many expect Chávez will try to circumvent the current constitutional mandates to unilaterally name a successor and avoid a new election. This sort of authoritarian act could backfire and provide fuel to anti-Chávez factions. In addition, a PSUV attempt to undemocratically cling to power would certainly draw rebuke from Venezuela’s partners in the region. Absent Chávez, Maduro could not count on military support, nor should he assume all the other loyal chavista leaders will unify to support his candidacy. In short, without Chávez, chavistas will be forced to compete on a more level playing field. The antagonism between chavistas and opponents was on display in the 2012 presidential election in violent, and even fatal, clashes in Puerto Cabello and Barinas. Violence, with or without an election, may be the first legacy of chavismo.
Bottom Line: Civil unrest at Peña Nieto’s inauguration expressed discontent with what protesters call the fraudulent election of a PRI president and fear of a return to a corrupt, semi-authoritarian government.
02-Dec-2012 - Ecuador: Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa poised to win re-election
Background: After the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) took power in the newly established democracy. Through corruption, the PRI held on to the presidency for 71 years, until the election of Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) candidate Vicente Fox Quesada in 2000 and his PAN successor Felipe Calderón in 2006. After twelve years of control, PAN relinquished the Executive Office to PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto on 1 December 2012. During his oath of office, protesters swarmed around barricades, clashed with police, and surrounded the Congressional building where the ceremony took place.
The National Convention Against the Imposition (La Convención Nacional contra la Imposición), a coalition of more than 300 opposition groups, and the student movement Yo Soy 132, called for protests in downtown Mexico City during the inauguration. Thousands of protesters participated in the demonstrations, while other groups rallied in cities across the country. The government erected steel barricades almost 3m high, stretching 4.7km, around the National Congress to prevent interruptions and security threats. The protesters and self-identified anarchists wearing masks threw concrete, Molotov cocktails, and firecrackers at the federal police to break the barricade. Police responded with tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and water cannons. While most groups, including Yo Soy 132, tried to distance themselves from the violence, police detained 100 people for disruption of the peace, while another 100 protesters sustained injuries. Meanwhile, lawmakers inside the Congressional building held signs protesting Peña Nieto and booed. On 3 December 2012, over 2,000 activists marched through Mexico City demanding the release of more than 60 “political prisoners” charged with vandalism during the riots.
Commentary: The demonstrations during the inauguration are an indicator that a significant spectrum of Mexicans, across all age groups, are uncomfortable with the PRI’s return to power. During the election, protesters, led by opposition Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) candidate Andres Manual Lopez Obrador, accused the PRI of reviving their old habits and buying votes. This sentiment permeated the inauguration protests. The heavy police presence, security barrier and over zealous detention of dissenters, as well as President Peña Nieto’s expressed belief that Mexico has regressed during the 12-year reign of PAN, portend the return to traditional PRI politics and policies.
Nonetheless, Mexico has changed over the last twelve years and new democratic spaces and organizations have appeared. Peña Nieto must overcome the PRI’s dubious history to prove the party also evolved, and can bring economic growth and decreases in national violence without repression. Plans to open Pemex to investors and establish an anti-corruption agency may indicate new, reasonable PRI policies. However, it is hard to forget the President’s track record as governor: questionably close relationships with media, unaccounted-for public funds and their illegal use for image promotion, possible drug organization links, as well as ignoring high homicide, femicide, and poverty rates in his state. Protests signal an active civil society that will remain cognizant of Peña Nieto leadership and can help protect Mexico’s democracy, preventing the slip back to authoritarian and corrupt control.
Bottom Line: Correa’s distancing from the U.S. and populist measures may not appeal to business or elites, but they will propel him to another term as President. Though Correa will win the presidential race, his party will lose its majority in the legislature. In his next term, Correa will continue down a path of radical rhetoric, forsaking speedier economic growth for international notoriety. Correa will continue to focus on bilateral relationships with Iran, Bolivia and Venezuela. Oil export revenue will prop up Ecuador’s Treasury, with spending on some initiatives that will benefit Ecuador in the long-run, such as health care, education and infrastructure. Other strategies, such as excessive regulation on financial institutions and foreign investors in mining and energy, will temper growth but not enough to cause a fiscal crisis.
19-Nov-2012 - Uruguay: Wiretapping in Uruguay Challenged in Appeals Court
On 12 November 2012 President of Ecuador Rafael Correa (Alianza PAÍS
) formally confirmed his plans to run for re-election in the presidential elections taking place on 17 February 2013. Despite opposition from both the left and the right, Correa is popular; polls show that around half of likely voters plan to vote for him.
In the 2006 presidential campaign Correa presented himself as an environmentally-conscious populist, highly critical of neoliberal economic policies. Correa has more or less adhered to this image. Within the region, Correa is an heir apparent to the legacies of aging and ill socialist revolutionaries and anti-Yankee propagandists Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez. Much like Chávez and Castro, criticism of Correa frequently cites his dictatorial leadership and oppression of free speech. Under Correa, government offices have filed dozens of civil and criminal lawsuits against opposition media and political opponents, most famously seeking three-year prison sentences for the journalists and US$80 million from El Universo in a case filed on 22 March 2011.
Yet under Correa’s administration, Ecuador’s GDP has grown every year (albeit very slightly during the global economic crisis of 2009), and it is anticipated to be between four and five percent in both 2012 and 2013. Poverty and unemployment have declined, and inflation is under control. Undoubtedly, much of this growth can be attributed to the fortunate fact more than eight billion barrels of oil reserves lie in Ecuador’s territory and oil prices were at historic highs for much of Correa’s tenure. But oil production has stalled at about 500,000 barrels per day under oppressive taxation and regulation by the government since Correa took power. Correa’s new running mate, Jorge Glas, is an electrical engineer who works on energy issues, and hopes to massively expand Ecuador’s hydroelectric sector.
Still, one of Correa’s key assets is his forceful personality, and willingness to “think outside the box.” In conjunction with economic advisers Correa urges for consideration of innovative ideas including the Yasuni-ITT initiative; a global carbon tax; and development of a regional currency.
In the current presidential race, there are three candidates poised to benefit if Correa should stumble: conservative Guillermo Lasso Movimiento Creando Oportunidades
(CREO); moderate Lucio Gutiérrez Partido Sociedad Patriótica 21 de Enero
(PSP); and leftist coalition candidate Alberto Acosta.
Lasso, a former banker, promises to open Ecuador to foreign investors and lower taxes. While on the campaign trail in September 2012, Lasso asserted the need address poverty, and proposed increasing the Human Development Bonus (HDB), a government cash transfer to the country’s poorest households from $35 a month to $50 a month, though he said the means of funding the increase was still undecided. Correa took that idea and made it law. On 20 November 2012, Ecuador’s National Congress approved a Correa-backed bill to raise taxes on banks, and divert those funds to HDB recipients. Income taxes for banks, which are already heavily regulated, will rise from 13 percent to 23 percent, and bank revenue taxes will rise 3 percent.
Gutiérrez, a former President (2003-2005), was a military officer who took part in the coup against democratically-elected President Jamil Mahuad in January 2000. Gutiérrez was also ousted prematurely by Ecuador’s Congress on 15 April 2005 in the face of major demonstrations and questions surrounding his dismissal of the Supreme Court.
Acosta is an economist representing a left-wing coalition dissatisfied with Correa’s economic stance, which he characterizes as insufficiently revolutionary. Acosta’s base of support is most clearly aligned with the people who also support Correa.
Realistically, with a 30 percent cushion in polls, Correa is far enough ahead in the polls that none of these challengers poses a significant threat in the February 2013 election, though they are likely to run again in 2016.
Bottom Line: Uruguay’s judicial system should clarify the legal standard required for approval of a wiretap application to protect civil liberties.
31-Oct-2012 - Colombia: Colombian Peace Talks: Why Now?
Background: On 13 January 2010, police detained Milton Edgardo Millán with 39 kilos of cocaine base. On 5 November 2012, an appeals tribunal considered overturning his case based on an argument by his attorney, Federico Álvarez Petraglia, that the wiretaps used by police to monitor Millán were improper. Other defense lawyers, and even judges, have added their support to the complaint.
The attorneys, many of whom represent indicted drug traffickers, say that investigators merely change the name on a standardized wiretap warrant form which is routinely approved by judges, even without supporting evidence. A member of the judiciary, Luis Charles, confirmed that this is the case and that he is concerned with the erosion of privacy for ordinary citizens. Convictions based on wiretap evidence are now more common than confessions. Petraglia and his associates further allege that police frequently bug suspects’ phones, including illegally eavesdropping on privileged attorney-client communications and then request a wiretap warrant after the fact. If their legal challenge prevails, dozens of current indictments against members of organized crime could be reversed.
Analysis: In most modern democracies, courts require substantial cause for suspicion to approve the use of wiretaps, which is usually more difficult than obtaining a search warrant. Many countries limit the crimes and circumstances for which a wiretap may be requested, but in Uruguay police may request communication surveillance for any crime. In Uruguay, Article 212 of the Penal Code and Article 5 of the Money-Laundering and Terrorist Financing Control and Prevention Act address the question of wiretapping to say that they may only be used with court order, and only for a limited period of time. However, Uruguayan law is silent on the question of total duration, so applicants simply apply for extension after extension, to continue eavesdropping in perpetuity. Most of the conversations do not relate directly to criminal activity, an undue infringement on the private communications of civilians. One man, who was later released, was detained after police recorded conversations in which he said “Bring potatoes and four bottles;” investigators imbued his words with an illicit double-meaning. Aside from actually violating civil rights, the widespread use of such spy techniques also causes paranoia. For instance, legislators Pedro Bordaberry and Jaime Trobo allege that high-level personnel from the executive branch bugged their telephones.
On the other hand, violent crime has been rising in Uruguay, and it is tempting for police to use new technology to nab culprits and secure evidence easily. Indeed, the Anti-Drug Unit of Uruguay’s Federal Police can execute up to 200 taps simultaneously. Yet societies erect barriers to government surveillance because citizens also want privacy; where the line between legitimate watchfulness and “Big Brother” falls isn’t a debate unique to Uruguay. The appellate court which is deciding Millán case must take into consideration the precedent they are setting. If they overturn the lower court’s ruling and nullify evidence gained by listening in on his calls Millán will go free. But perhaps more importantly, Millán’s mother and his mechanic and all the other people who speak with crooked acquaintances will not have their conversations recorded and analyzed. Police will improve their investigation techniques. No one is arguing that wiretaps should be outlawed, only that they be issued with substantial supporting evidence and consideration for the privacy rights of all.
Bottom Line: The FARC appears determined to use the current round of peace negotiations with the Colombian government as a platform to publicize their cause rather than to end hostilities.
Background: The Colombian government has been locked in civil war since 1964 when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla movement grew out of a peasant uprising. For the past 48 years, the FARC has used paramilitary tactics and terror and the Colombian military has responded forcefully. At least 10,000 people have died in the war and more than five million Colombians have been displaced from their homes.
In 1984, the two sides called for a ceasefire and began negotiating a peaceful transition from guerrilla fighters to a political party – the Unión Patriotica (UP). The talks failed when both sides resumed fighting. From 1999 to 2002, in another attempt at peace, President Andrés Pastrana granted an area in Caquetá department, the San Vicente del Caguán safe haven, to FARC rebels as an incentive to negotiate with the government. The FARC continued to kidnap political opponents and attack villages until Pastrana ordered the military to take back the de-militarized zone on 22 February 2002.
Under current President Juan Manuel Santos, the two sides have decided to try again. As a good-faith gesture, on 2 April 2012 the FARC released ten hostages who were captured in the late 1990s and pledged to stop kidnapping. Neither side is willing to discuss a ceasefire. The current peace talks began 18 October 2012 in Oslo, Norway, and will resume on 15 November 2012 in Havana, Cuba.
Commentary: In the 2012 peace talks, the government of Colombia negotiates from a position of strength. The FARC is a shadow of the 2000 organization. More importantly, President Santos enacted the Victims and Land Restitution Law on 10 June 2011, providing reparations for suffering endured in Colombia’s civil war. When Santos signed that bill into law, FARC acknowledged it as a good starting point for peace; yet in Oslo, the FARC delegation’s main spokesperson, alias Iván Márquez, harshly criticized the law. Still, teams from the Colombian President’s office and from FARC leadership agreed on a five point outline for the negotiations: rural development, the right to exercise political opposition, an end to the armed conflict, narcotraffic, and victims’ rights. In Oslo, Márquez gave several rhetoric-laden speeches, including an opening statement that laid out FARC’s ideological aims without addressing any potential compromise. Two days after the Oslo talks began, FARC leaders in Colombia released a letter that cited possible actions if the current negotiations fail. Along with the minimal progress the parties made in Norway, it appears FARC may be using this opportunity to have their cause in the headlines once again without conceding any ground.