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The Wall Street Journal’s Problematic Reporting on Protests in Ecuador Print
Written by Stephan Lefebvre   
Friday, 21 November 2014 16:21

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article covering Wednesday’s protests in Ecuador against President Rafael Correa, but key facts were missing and the article contained several misleading statements.

First, it is curious that the WSJ chose to focus on a protest of reportedly “around 3,000 protesters,” when a much larger demonstration took place on Saturday in favor of the government’s labor reform policy. The pro-government rally had participation from 100,000 people, according to organizers, and news outlets such as EFE reported participation of “tens of thousands of workers.” Perhaps an argument can be made that protests are more interesting than rallies supporting measures championed by the government, but the WSJ used the same word, “thousands,” to describe the number of attendees at both events.

The piece also includes a line that reads, “Mr. Correa took office in early 2007 and promptly engineered a new constitution that allowed for his re-election.” In reality, a constitutional convention (i.e. adopting a new constitution) was one of Rafael Correa’s campaign promises the year he was first elected (with 56.7 percent of the vote). Further, the old 1998 constitution allowed for indefinite re-election, though not consecutively, for the presidency, while the 2008 constitution set a limit of two-terms for the presidency, which could be served consecutively. Neither of these basic facts was mentioned in the article.

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Excerpts from Congressional Briefing on the Impact of U.S. Security Assistance on Human Rights in Mexico, Central America and Colombia Print
Written by Alexander Main   
Thursday, 13 November 2014 09:28

During a visit to Washington in late July, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina jointly called for a regional security initiative modeled on Plan Colombia in response to the rampant violence sweeping their countries.  In an October 29th Congressional briefing, human rights advocates from Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and Colombia made a distinctly different appeal.  Describing how militarized security programs cut from the same cloth as Plan Colombia had undermined human rights and democracy in their countries, they earnestly called on the U.S. Congress to reconsider its ongoing support for these programs. 

The briefing, hosted by the office of Representative Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) and co-sponsored by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, Just Associates, CISPES and CIP-Americas, was entirely videotaped by CEPR, and can be viewed here (in Spanish with no subtitles). 

For those who are interested in these issues but don’t speak Spanish or have limited time, we provide a translation of key excerpts from each of the four powerful presentations made by the human rights defenders.

First, a quick summary of the event:

Iduvina Hernández Batres, Director of the Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy, discussed how the U.S. security agenda in Guatemala undermines citizen security. Bertha Oliva, Coordinator of the Committee of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), talked about how abuses by U.S.-backed security forces have increased, while judicial authorities justify rather than investigate the violence. María Luisa Aguilar López of the Mexican human rights organization Tlachinollan, explained how the recent disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero is not an exception, but rather a representative case in a country that has recorded at least 22,000 forced disappearances since the U.S.-backed, militarized drug war began in Mexico in 2006.  Alberto Yepes, coordinator of the Human Rights Observatory of the Colombia-Europe-U.S. Coordination, described the dire effects of Plan Colombia on human rights and democracy in Colombia, including thousands of extrajudicial killings and disappearances, and how the U.S. is now helping export the Colombian model to other countries. 

Kathryn Johnson, from the Washington office of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, moderated the panel.  In her introductory and closing remarks she shared passages from a statement by the MesoAmerican Working Group on the impact of U.S. security assistance on human rights in Mexico and Central America, including policy recommendations for U.S. lawmakers.  The statement is available here [pdf].

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Will the EU and IDB Fund Human Rights-Free Zones in Honduras? Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Friday, 31 October 2014 13:57

Karen Spring of the Honduran Solidarity Network writes that in a recent meeting

… Juan Orlando Hernández (President of Honduras), Daniel Ortega (President of Nicaragua), and Salvador Sánchez Cerén (President of El Salvador) defined their nation's [sic] interests in projects that would develop the [shared area of the Gulf of Fonseca] and came to an agreement on investments in the following sectors: Infrastructure, tourism, agroindustry, and renewable energy.

The meeting declaration mentions, among other projects

…the "implementation of a Employment and Economic Development Zone (ZEDE) [known as a Model City] that includes a logistics park." The idea is to convert the Gulf into a "Free Trade and Sustainable Development Zone."

Radio Progreso has noted that the Honduran government is courting investment for the projects from “the European Union [and] the Inter-American Development Bank and is seeking investors in Panama and the United States.”

The ZEDEs, or “model cities,” are areas in which large portions of the Honduran constitution will not apply, including various sections that apply to fundamental and internationally-recognized human rights.

A National Lawyers Guild (NLG) delegation recently traveled to Honduras to investigate the legal implications of the proposed ZEDEs. In a report released in September, the NLG described how few articles of the constitution residents of the ZEDEs would actually enjoy:

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“Dilma’s loss would be a loss for the world’s working class”: An Interview with Luis Gonzaga “Gegê” da Silva Print
Written by Brian Mier (Guest post)   
Friday, 24 October 2014 14:06

The Central de Movimentos Populares (CMP) was founded in 1993, with support from liberation theology sectors of the Catholic Church, as a federation of poor people’s social movements representing the poor and working class, homeless people’s unions, Afro-Brazilian movements, working class women’s groups, housing movements, indigenous people’s organizations and the LGBT movement.  Today, it has hundreds of thousands of members, acts in nearly every state in Brazil, and is an important actor on the Latin American left.

The CMP's Luís “Gegê” Gonzaga da Silva is a former MR-8 Guerilla who was arrested and tortured during the military dictatorship and helped found the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) party in São Paulo in 1982. He has remained affiliated with the party ever since, and is one of the leaders of its internal Socialism or Barbarism Caucus. He never held public office, never benefited financially from his status as one of the party founders and has spent the last 30 years organizing mass occupations of homeless families in abandoned buildings in downtown São Paulo.

In 2005, a corrupt local judge and São Paulo military police framed him for a murder that took place in an occupied building on a day when he was not in town. He eventually spent 54 days behind bars before Landless Peasants’ Movement (MST) lawyers got him out on habeas corpus. Declining an invitation by Hugo Chávez to move to Venezuela, at the age of 64 he decided to go underground and spent two years in hiding, as a group of Brazil’s best human rights lawyers worked pro-bono to clear his name.  When the charges were thrown out, he returned to his public housing apartment in a former abandoned building in downtown São Paulo and picked up where he left off, leading a squatters movement called the Movimento de Moradia do Centro de São Paulo (MMC). I spoke with him by Skype recently to find out what he thinks about this Sunday’s presidential elections.

Gegê
(Photo by Brian Mier)

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How Many Extra Votes Does Brazilian Opposition Candidate Aécio Neves Get from Media Bias? Print
Written by Dan Beeton and Jeanette Bonifaz   
Thursday, 23 October 2014 11:50

The second round of Brazil’s presidential elections, taking place Sunday, could be close according to polls showing President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party (PT) favored by 52 percent over challenger Aécio Neves of the Social Democratic Party (PSDB) with 48 percent. As we noted with Mexico’s 2012 presidential elections, media coverage can have a strong impact on election turnout and voter preferences, and there is compelling research [doc] that Mexico’s TV duopoly was decisive in determining the outcome of Mexico’s 2006 election. While Brazil’s media is mostly opposed to the PT, it hasn’t been able to swing recent presidential elections – but it appears it’s not for a lack of trying.

Manchetômetro (literal translation: “headline meter”), an independent project affiliated with the Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Políticos at the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, has analyzed major media coverage of the main candidates and parties in Brazil. Focusing on TV coverage on Brazil’s largest audience TV news program “Jornal Nacional,” and front-page coverage in Brazil’s three largest newspapers (Folha de S. Paulo, O Globo and O Estado de São Paulo), Manchetômetro has documented a pattern of lopsided coverage that has disproportionately put Dilma Rousseff and the PT in a negative light, while opposition candidate Aécio Neves of the PSDB (and first round challenger Marina Silva) have received much more positive treatment and much less negative coverage, proportionately. Manchetômetro’s analysis also reveals that this bias against the PT is not new; coverage favored Fernando Henrique Cardoso (of the PSDB) over Rousseff’s predecessor, Lula da Silva during the 1998 election, and there was also more favorable treatment of the economic situation under Cardoso than the current economic downturn under Dilma, though the former was significantly worse than the latter.

TV Coverage: “Jornal Nacional”

Globo’s decades-old “Jornal Nacional” is considered to be a leading news program on Brazilian television; with around 18 million viewers (in 2013) it has a total audience of about twice the combined viewers of the four leading U.S. Sunday morning news talk shows (“This Week,” “Face the Nation,” “Meet the Press” and “Fox News Sunday”). The program’s influence may not be surprising considering Globo’s dominant position in Brazil’s media landscape. In a 2009 book, Giancarlo Summa (who did communications for Lula’s 2006 campaign) noted that Globo controlled 61.5 percent of UHF television stations, 31.8 percent of VHF TV, 40.7 percent of newspaper distribution, 30.1 percent of AM radio, 28 percent of FM radio and - through an association with Rupert Murdoch - 77 percent of the cable TV market.

Manchetômetro found a strong bias against Dilma Rousseff in “Jornal Nacional” coverage. During the campaign period (beginning July 6, and up to October 22), 21 percent of the coverage of Rousseff was negative, the most of any candidate. The percentage of positive coverage that Rousseff received was just 1 percent, much less than any other candidate. (Rousseff also had 78 percent “neutral” treatment.)

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A Full Moon after Bolivia’s Elections? Print
Written by Jeanette Bonifaz   
Friday, 10 October 2014 15:42

Campaigning for the Bolivia’s presidential election officially ended on Wednesday, ahead of voting on Sunday. The election, which includes 272,058 voters living abroad in 33 countries, will be observed by a mission from the Organization of American States. While the final outcome is likely to be a first-round victory for the incumbent, Evo Morales, the most interesting results will come from the four departments of the media luna region. In the past, the Morales administration has faced significant opposition there, including a sometimes violent secessionist movement.  This year, the president has a chance to win majority support in all four of the departments, which would mark a major turning point in Bolivian politics.

Earlier this week, Morales expressed confidence that he will surpass his 2009 record of support, and that as much as 70 percent of the electorate will vote for him this year. Morales won previous elections handily, with 54 percent of the vote in 2005, and 64 percent in 2009. When his party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), celebrated the end of its campaign in what has been an opposition stronghold, Santa Cruz, on Tuesday, thousands of people came together to show their support, demonstrating changing dynamics in the relationship between the MAS and Santa Cruz. Then on Wednesday, Morales brought his campaign to an end in El Alto, where he claimed that he will win in all nine of Bolivia’s departments, saying:

Bolivia is united, the “half-moon” is over, now it is a full moon. We have all united at the top the social forces and the youth, who have joined for two reasons: because of the patriotic agenda and stability and because of the economic growth that guarantees hope for future generations.

The “half moon,” or “media luna,” is located in the eastern lowlands of Bolivia and is comprised of the departments of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, and Tarija. According to an IPSOS poll the MAS could win in Santa Cruz with 50 percent of the votes. In the 2009 presidential elections, Morales lost in Santa Cruz, Beni, and Pando. Things have been changing, however, and Morales has been strategic in building and maintaining alliances in the media luna departments. Not only do polls show that Morales might win in Santa Cruz, but he might also win in Beni (44 percent), Pando (54 percent), and Tarija (43 percent).

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Bolivia's Economy Under Evo in 10 Graphs Print
Written by Jake Johnston and Stephan Lefebvre   
Wednesday, 08 October 2014 15:37

On October 12, Bolivians will go to the polls to choose their next president for a five-year term. Recent polling suggests that the incumbent, Evo Morales, will obtain a decisive first-round victory over his closest opponent, Samuel Doria Medina. Below are ten graphs on economic and social developments since Evo’s election in 2005 that help explain the strong support for his re-election.

 

      1. Economic Growth: Bolivia has grown much faster over the last 8 years under President Evo Morales than in any period over the past three-and-a-half decades.

Source: International Monetary Fund.

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Marina and Dilma: Different Visions for the Brazilian Economy Print
Written by Stephan Lefebvre   
Thursday, 02 October 2014 16:10

Marina Silva unexpectedly became a front-runner in the 2014 Brazilian general election when her presidential running mate, Eduardo Campos, died in a plane crash this August, catapulting her to the head of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) ticket. After this, Silva briefly took the lead in the polls, but in the last few weeks the incumbent, Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party (PT), has recaptured the momentum and the lead in a potential second round match-up with Silva. In an opinion piece written for Al Jazeera, Zeynep Zileli Rabanea explains Silva’s appeal:

With her background being quite different from the regular ruling elite - a woman of African descent from Amazonia - she has been portrayed favourably by the international media both as a disruptive force and as a welcome departure from the usual suspects running Brazil (Rousseff's workers' party [sic] has been in power for more than a decade). Silva has even been depicted as a kind of "green" heroine, all of a sudden popping up on the political field to save Brazil from corruption.

The rest of the piece is dedicated to examining this reputation in light of Silva’s election platform. Silva advocates a rebalancing of foreign policy, bringing the country closer to the United States; she proposes signing trade deals with the U.S., Europe and some of the Asian country trading blocs; and she has embraced big agriculture in a series of policy changes, including dropping her opposition to genetically modified crops. In terms of macroeconomic policy she has focused on lowering the government budget deficit and raising interest rates to curb inflation. Could these policies be the appropriate response to a slowing economy?

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Police Violence and Forced Evictions in São Paulo: An Interview with Benedito “Dito” Barbosa Print
Written by Brian Mier (Guest post)   
Thursday, 25 September 2014 09:50

Brazil has a housing shortage of around 5.8 million units, while there are around 6 million vacant units in empty houses and buildings located mainly in the downtown areas of its large cities. Urban social movements have historically tried to resolve this problem by coordinating squatters’ occupations of empty buildings, and they have successfully pressured the government to legalize these activities, resulting in some of the world’s most progressive property rights. Articles 182 and 183 of Brazil’s 1988 Constitution guarantee that the social function of property overrides the profit motive.  After a decade of protests and advocacy, in 2001, these amendments were further defined through the complimentary Statute of the City legislation. According to Brazilian law, buildings that do not fulfill their “social function,” that are left vacant and owing property taxes can, after a certain period of time, be taken over by people who don’t own any property of their own and converted to low income housing at the government’s expense. Unfortunately this law, like many other progressive laws of its kind in Brazil, is ignored by many local governments.

According to Evaniza Rodriques, from the União Nacional de Moradia Popular (National People’s Housing Union, or UNMP) there are around 35,000 people squatting in 60 abandoned buildings in São Paulo’s downtown region, trying to pressure the government for ownership.  Currently, 30 of these buildings are undergoing legal processes to be returned to their former owners. As the violent eviction of hundreds of people from a building on São João Avenue in downtown São Paulo last week shows, military police violence against squatters groups is increasing.

Benedito “Dito” Barbosa is a lawyer and founding member of the Central de Movimentos Populares (People’s Movements Central, or CMP).  Earlier this year, while trying to communicate with his clients during a technically-unconstitutional mass forced eviction in downtown São Paulo, Dito, a man of humble origins in his 50s, was beaten, choked and dragged down the sidewalk by Sâo Paulo military police.  It was not an isolated incident. There have been seven cases of lawyers beaten by police while trying to perform their duties during mass evictions in São Paulo this year.

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Connectivity and Mobility through Bolivia's Cable Cars Print
Written by Jeanette Bonifaz   
Friday, 19 September 2014 14:16

The government of Bolivia has built a cable car that connects the cities of La Paz and El Alto, giving commuters a much better alternative to the long and congested path they would otherwise have to take in buses and road transportation. Together, these neighboring cities are home to about 2 million people. The cable car, which cost $234 million, was built by the Austrian company Doppelmayr and will have considerable benefits for workers and the environment, and will reduce poverty, if we can judge from precedents with cable car projects in Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil.

The World Bank notes that:

Urban poverty may be reduced through the contribution which transport makes to the efficiency of the urban economy and so to the overall growth of incomes.  Urban transport policies can also be focused more specifically on meeting the needs of the poor.  Inability to access jobs and services is an important element of the social exclusion which defines urban poverty.  Accessibility is important not only for its role in facilitating regular and stable income-earning employment, but also as a part of the social capital which maintains the social relations forming the safety net of poor people in many societies.

This is very important in a country where the national poverty rate is still 43.4 percent and extreme poverty is 21.6 percent (2012). Traffic congestion for commuters traveling between these two cities has been a real obstacle. As the World Bank asserts, “Inadequate and congested urban transport is damaging to the city economy and harms both rich and poor.”  The relationship between lacking transport and poverty has also been demonstrated and explored in academic research.

In addition, as the Bolivian Agency for Information (ABI) points out, Bolivia’s new cable car will conserve energy and time as well as reduce car accidents.  Some critics in Bolivia, like Rolando Carvajal, point out that the cable car will make only a small difference because it will serve (together with other new transportation initiatives) less than 20 percent of commuters.  Carvajal also claims that the government has been using the cable car as a palliative in an election year, even moving the inauguration of the red line closer to the elections.  But President Evo Morales has no serious challenge to his re-election, and did not need to build a $234 million cable car to assure that he would win. Polls have shown that Morales enjoys considerable support; according to a recent poll carried out by the company Equipos-Mori, Morales is leading with 54 percent and his opponent, Samuel Doria Medina, follows with only 14 percent.

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The Americas Blog seeks to present a more accurate perspective on economic and political developments in the Western Hemisphere than is often presented in the United States. It will provide information that is often ignored, buried, and sometimes misreported in the major U.S. media.

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