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Venezuela Leads Region in Poverty Reduction in 2012, ECLAC Says Print
Written by Dan Beeton and Joe Sammut   
Friday, 06 December 2013 10:19

The Associated Press reported yesterday that the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has highlighted a slowing of progress in poverty reduction in Latin America, citing “rising food costs and weaker economic growth” as contributing factors:

Poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean is now easing at a slower pace, the UN's regional economic body said on Thursday, calling on governments to make policy changes that encourage growth while reducing the huge gap between the rich and poor.

UN economists based in Santiago said about 164 million people, or 28 percent of the region's population, are still considered poor. That is nearly unchanged from last year. Out of those, 68 million of them are in extreme poverty.

But there are bright spots. ECLAC’s new “Social Panorama of Latin America” report [PDF] notes that Venezuela and Ecuador led the region in decreasing poverty in 2012:

Six of the 11 countries with information available in 2012 recorded falling poverty levels (see table 1). The largest drop was in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, where poverty fell by 5.6 percentage points (from 29.5% to 23.9%) and extreme poverty by 2.0 percentage points (from 11.7% to 9.7%). In Ecuador, poverty was down by 3.1 percentage points (from 35.3% to 32.2%) and indigence by 0.9 percentage points (from 13.8% to 12.9%).

This 5.6 percentage point decrease in Venezuela translates into a 19 percent decline in poverty overall last year, which CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot noted last month “is almost certainly the largest decline in poverty in the Americas for 2012, and one of the largest – if not the largest – in the world.” 

This dramatic decrease in poverty is likely due to the impact of two new misiones (social programmes), the Gran Misión En Amor Mayor Venezuela and the Gran Misión Hijos de Venezuela, which were, by January 2013, benefitting more than 1,400,000 people.

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Honduran Elections: Live Blog Print
Written by The Americas Blog   
Sunday, 24 November 2013 00:00

Monday November 25

8:30 P.M. EST: The National Lawyers Guild International Committee has released the following statement:

The National Lawyers Guild, with a delegation of 17 members who observed Sunday's elections in Honduras, will be issuing a press statement tomorrow.   In advance of that statement, the NLG International Committee wants to alert our members and other interested parties that US media and government reports of a free, fair and transparent election in Honduras are premature and inappropriate.  Such unsupported claims will only exacerbate tensions in a country that recently suffered a coup, followed by massive attacks on human rights defenders, opposition party candidates and activists that continue to this moment.  

Honduras has a flawed electoral system with many deficiencies including control of the process by political parties, unregulated and undisclosed campaign financing, and inadequate resources, training and voting facilities that disadvantage poor communities.  In addition Honduran electoral law provides for no run-off election. Without a runoff election in which a majority of voters choose leadership, the electoral aspirations of two-thirds of Honduran voters who voted for change, are frustrated, and the winner of a mere plurality is denied a real mandate.

The NLG will issue a press statement tomorrow to be followed by the delegation’s comprehensive report.

 

6:56 P.M. EST: Although the TSE has yet to announce the final results of the election, current Honduran president Porfirio Lobo has congratulated Juan Orlando Hernández on his election, reports La Prensa.

6:30 P.M. EST: The TSE continues to update their website with partial results, however a few discrepancies have emerged. The main page of the TSE website shows 61.77 percent of voting tables as having been counted, however on the results by department page, the TSE reports 57.99 percent of voting tables as having been counted. On the main page, the TSE reports a total of 15,147 voting tables while on the results by department page, the TSE reports a total of 16,135 voting tables.

The results by department page, which includes both null and blank votes, shows a total of 2,009,101 votes as having been processed. However if one adds up all the votes for each candidate as well as null and blank votes, the total is 1,928,450, a discrepancy of over 80,000 votes.

The TSE has yet to make any formal announcement today with updated results, but check the TSE website periodically for updates.

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John Kerry’s Rhetoric Does Not Match Reality Print
Written by Stephan Lefebvre   
Tuesday, 19 November 2013 17:08

Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry gave a major address at the Organization of American States on U.S. foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere and, despite all evidence to the contrary, he continued to describe the relationship between the U.S. and Latin America as a partnership between “equal partners.” Kerry did not reveal any new policy changes, and his talk contained few specifics, but we can still take time to appreciate some of the contradictions in his statements.

First of all, it seems abundantly clear that the U.S. does not treat any country as its equal, especially not any Latin American country. This has been proven recently by the Obama administration’s disregard for “collateral damage” in the war on drugs and its support for the Cuba embargo despite opposition from all of the countries in Latin America, indeed all the world’s countries except Israel recently voted against the embargo at the U.N. Other examples are not hard to find.

Second, Kerry continued the U.S.’s half-acknowledgement of espionage targeting foreign citizens, leaders and companies. He incorrectly placed Latin American countries on the same side as the U.S. when he referred to “understandable concerns around the surveillance disclosures.” Actually, Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald have received praise for their work around U.S. government transparency – their disclosures are credited with having brought to light an issue of vital importance for international trade, sovereignty and human rights. The “understandable concerns” are about the surveillance itself. The postponement of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s state visit was only the culmination of a long series of failures on the part of the U.S. government to offer an acceptable explanation or apology.

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US Congress Continues to Slam Political Repression Ahead of Honduran Elections Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Friday, 15 November 2013 14:45

With Honduras’ presidential and legislative elections just around the corner (November 24), members of the U.S. Congress continue to weigh in, expressing concern over whether the process will be “free and fair,” and also decrying ongoing human rights violations. A letter from Senator Tim Kaine’s (D – VA) office, also signed by another 12 senators, warns that

Fragile institutions and a besieged judiciary have done little to punish the perpetrators of the violence, encouraging a climate of impunity and undermining citizens’ confidence that their political, civil and human rights will be protected.  Moreover, Honduran journalists are regularly the targets of violence and threats, and political candidates have been killed as a result of running for office. These challenges raise serious concerns over the Honduran government’s ability to conduct free and fair elections. The United States must press the Government of Honduras to ensure the right of all its citizens to peacefully assemble, campaign and vote.

In a press release announcing the letter, Senator Kaine was quoted as saying:

“I’m very concerned by the ongoing violence in Honduras and the impact on the November 24 elections,“ said Kaine, who served as a missionary in Honduras in 1980. “We are receiving reports of threats against journalists and even assassinations of candidates.”

Emphasizing that the United States has no preferred outcome other than clean elections that win the confidence of the Honduran people, Kaine said, “only a legitimate Honduran government can work to stem the systemic violence, end criminal impunity, and create opportunities for Honduran youth.”

As we have previously noted, some 18 members of the LIBRE opposition party of Xiomara Castro de Zelaya – including candidates – have been murdered since May last year, at least as many as from all the other major political parties combined, according to a recent Rights Action report [PDF] that mostly cites Honduran media sources and human rights organizations.

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New Report Highlights Rising Poverty and Inequality in Honduras Print
Written by Jake Johnston and Stephan Lefebvre   
Wednesday, 06 November 2013 00:00

A new CEPR report examines Honduras’ economy and finds that much of the economic and social progress experienced from 2006 – 2009 has been reversed in the years since. The paper shows that economic inequality in Honduras has increased dramatically since 2010, while poverty has worsened, unemployment has increased and underemployment has risen sharply, with many more workers receiving less than the minimum wage. While some of the decline was initially due to the global recession that began in 2008, much of it is a result of policy choices, including a decrease in social spending.

honduras-inequality-one-pager

Click for a larger image or check out the report, "Honduras Since the Coup: Economic and Social Indicators."

 
Honduras: Military Police as a Major Electoral Issue Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Thursday, 31 October 2013 18:46

The deployment of a new military police force, an initiative first proposed by National Party candidate, and president of the National Congress Juan Orlando Hernández, has emerged as an important contextual issue in U.S. media and analysis of Honduras’ fast-approaching presidential elections. Catherine Cheney, for example, wrote recently for World Politics Review:

Last week, in the midst of a political campaign that has focused heavily on public security, authorities in Honduras deployed 1,000 military police as part of an effort to address drug violence and organized crime in this Central American country, home to the highest homicide rate in the world.

The new police force is a demonstration of a central Hernández political campaign position in response to one of the biggest issues in the elections: soaring crime rates, and Honduras’ now infamous status as the “murder capital of the world.” As Henry Tricks wrote for The Economist:

…Mr Hernández has made security the central issue, even though polls show that the economy is just as much of a concern for most citizens. In relentless publicity slots, he accuses [LIBRE presidential candidate Xiomara] Castro of wanting to demilitarise the fight against crime (she denies this, saying she wants to use the military to secure the borders against drug traffickers). In contrast, he has put his weight behind the creation of a 5,000-strong military-police force, 1,000 of which have been deployed on city streets during the campaign.

Cheney cites experts who see the militarized police force as both poorly-trained and having a misplaced focus:

[Mark Ungar, a Latin America expert and professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center] said militarizing the police is harmful to both security and human rights, and diverts attention from reforming the police. “They’re not trained for security. They don’t know how to do criminal investigation or community policing. They’re trained to shoot,” Ungar said of the military police.

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AULA Blog on Venezuela Gets It Wrong Print
Written by Mark Weisbrot   
Thursday, 24 October 2013 15:33

On Monday, October 21, the AULA blog published by the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University had a post describing “[t]he dire state of the economy” in Venezuela that contained several errors:

  1. The authors state that “The opposition estimates an annual inflation rate of 49.4 percent.”  This is actually the official inflation rate for September 2012-September 2013, from the Venezuelan Central Bank – not an opposition estimate.  It’s also a sign that the authors are not familiar with the basic economic statistics of the country that they are writing about – in this case, one that was reported in all of the major news outlets in the Western Hemisphere a couple of weeks ago.
  2. Much worse, they assert that Venezuela had “a 29.9 percent increase in the poverty rate last year.”  In fact, Venezuela’s household poverty rate declined by 20 percent last year, almost certainly the largest decline in poverty in the Americas.  (The authors cite the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, but ECLAC does not have figures for last year, and ECLAC uses the same household survey data as the Venezuelan government, so it will show the same result in poverty when it analyzes this data. The World Bank has already posted the 2012 poverty data for Venezuela, showing the sharp decline in poverty for the year.)

Since the main analysis at the beginning of the article, about an alleged struggle between “pragmatists” and “ideologues” within the government, contains no links, references, or sources, the reader is left to wonder if this narrative is also fictional.  The piece ends with speculation about a possible military coup.

It’s true that most major media outlets have reached the point where there are practically no standards for reporting on Venezuela.  But this is a blog published by a university department, so we would expect higher standards than those of, e.g. Fox News.  There are plenty of haters around; in fact the vast majority of people who write about Venezuela hate the government.  It is surprising that this blog cannot find people who are better informed to express these views, or at least hire a student as fact-checker.

 
Honduras Elections: Violent Attacks Against Opposition Candidates Provoke Increasing Concern Print
Written by Alex Main   
Tuesday, 22 October 2013 13:06

Members of the U.S. Congress are keeping a close watch on Honduras’ upcoming general elections.  In June of this year, 24 U.S Senators signed a letter expressing concern about the human rights situation in Honduras and requesting that Secretary of State John Kerry “make every reasonable effort to help ensure that Honduras’ upcoming November 2013 elections are free, fair and peaceful.”  On October 15th three members of the House of Representatives chimed in with their own letter to Kerry stating that:

the freedom and fairness of [the November 24] election is very much at risk, as human rights abuses under the existing government continue to threaten basic civil liberties, opposition candidates do not enjoy a level playing field, and state security forces are taking on an increasingly central, and ominous role in context of the election.

The House letter, signed by Representatives Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Mike Honda (D-CA), noted that the U.S. Embassy in Honduras “had not spoken forcefully about the militarization of the police under the impetus of one of the candidates [or] expressed concern with the National Party’s concentration of institutional power through illegal means.”  The letter focused in particular on “the acts of violence and intimidation against leaders of opposition parties, especially members of LIBRE”, a new left-leaning political party that sprung from the movement of resistance against Honduras’ 2009 coup.  Grijalva and his three colleagues requested that the Department of State “speak forcefully” against these attacks and noted that:

According to COFADEH, Honduras' leading human rights group, at least sixteen activists and candidates from LIBRE have been assassinated since June of 2012. Furthermore, it has been brought to our attention that the Honduras government has failed to effectively investigate and prosecute those responsible for these assassinations.

A few days later Agence France Presse (AFP) published an article that included an initial, albeit anonymous, U.S. government reaction to the Grijalva letter.  Unnamed State Department officials told AFP that they were also concerned about the police militarization taking place in Honduras, in the form of the new Military Police, launched with great fanfare by National Party presidential candidate Juan Orlando Hernández, in his capacity as president of the Honduran Congress.  The Military Police actually appears as one of Hernández’s five key electoral proposals on his campaign web page.  “In our view”, said one of the anonymous officials, “the creation of a military police distracts attention from civilian police reform efforts and strains limited resources.”  The State Department stated that it was not providing assistance of any kind to the new force.

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Are Honduran Election Polls Reliable? Print
Written by Joe Sammut   
Friday, 18 October 2013 15:02

The imminent Honduran presidential elections have been met with polls published by a surfeit of different polling firms. Unfortunately, however, these are notably inconsistent and show significant differences in their results. While the majority project Xiomara Castro, wife of the deposed President Zelaya, as the winner, there is a notable divergence in the size of the lead. In the scant coverage that they have given, the international press has paid almost exclusive attention to the polls conducted by the noted U.S. polling company, CID-Gallup.

Gallup has a lofty reputation in the U.S. as the first modern pollster. It accurately predicted the result of the 1936 presidential election by using modern sampling methods, and in the process destroyed the reputation of the Literary Digest poll, which had previously been considered the most accurate because of its much larger sample. This demonstrated the importance of representative sampling in order to reliably predict voting intentions. However, in Honduras, Gallup’s polling data has been divergent from actual electoral results, suggesting a bias towards the (right-wing) National Party.

This is important as Gallup is the most prolific, widely quoted and one of the longest standing pollsters in Honduras. In 2005, the last relatively free election in Honduras,1 Gallup in two separate polls predicted poll leads of 8 percent and 16 percent respectively in favor of the National Party candidate, Porfirio Lobo. These polls, coming just weeks before2 the actual election, were remarkably divergent from the actual result that Manuel Zelaya won with 45.6 percent of the vote to Lobo’s 42.2. This raises questions about the reliability of the recent poll by Gallup, paid for by the National Party controlled Congress, ahead of the coming election showing Xiomara Castro de Zelaya with a lead —within the margin of error— of just 2 percent.

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Militarization, Austerity and Privatization: What’s Happening in Paraguay? Print
Written by Sara Kozameh (guest post)   
Wednesday, 09 October 2013 14:54

On August 15, Horacio Cartes, a millionaire, businessman, and alleged drug-trafficker assumed the presidency in Paraguay, leading the Colorado Party back into power after a four-year interruption from its 61-year rule by Fernando Lugo, who was deposed last year in a “parliamentary coup.” Cartes has been investigated by the U.S. government for money laundering and drug trafficking, according to this 2010 U.S. diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks.

Since Cartes started his term eight weeks ago, several announcements have been made regarding Paraguay’s social and economic policy that are worth noting.

Militarization

Only a week after having taken office, Paraguay’s Congress –in which the Colorado Party has a majority in both houses– granted the president the power to deploy the military within the country to carry out policing activities. Despite opposition from human rights organizations who fear a return to dictatorship-era military operations, three days later Cartes ordered 400 military personnel to areas in which disputes over land tenure are ongoing. On August 28th the military entered an elementary school with demands to interview children on the whereabouts of suspected rebels and arrested several land rights activists and peasant leaders in the area.

The military powers granted to Cartes are especially alarming in a country that spent most of the 20th century either in political turmoil or under brutal dictatorship. The increased militarization of the Cartes regime is occurring in a context of growing discontent over public sector layoffs and privatization plans.

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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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