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Showing posts from November, 2007

21st Century Socialists Turn Tables On Opposition

(Nov. 30, 2007) Without delay, Ecuador's new Constitutional Assembly approved President Rafael Correa's proposal to close the national congress until the assembly concludes its broad reorganization of the state in what officials are calling a "Citizen Revolution."

Ecuador is the third South American country to call a Constitutional Assembly this century, joining Venezuela and Bolivia in their social revolutions that promise to put citizens back in control of their countries. Decades of poor management and weak political institutions have robbed the traditional political elite of their legitimacy, leading to the sweeping victories of President Correa, Venezuela's President Chávez and Bolivia's President Morales.

Although this "Troika" of so-called 21st century Socialists was elected with the majority support of their respective citizens, each faces an entrenched opposition that questions the democratic nature of the constitutional reforms proposed by t…

Is South America Sliding Into Chaos Or Is It Just Business As Usual?

(Nov. 28, 2007) For anyone interested in the state of South America's regional relations, this week was full of news. Argentina and Uruguay appear to have given up on political dialogue and have closed their borders until The Hague gives them a reply sometime in the next 2 years, Venezuela froze ties with Colombia and recalled its ambassador, and Peru announced it will file a formal complaint with the Hague over its southern maritime border with Chile. While none of these events is a real surprise, their combined effect, along with the internal conflicts currently playing out in other South American countries, is striking. Our question is whether these flash points are representative of the region as a whole or whether they are merely isolated incidents between ships of state at sea. The conflict between Argentina and Uruguay is not new. Argentinean protestors have been intermittently closing the border for two years and now Uruguay is beginning to do the same from its side. Eve…

Bolivian Assembly Approves Constitution In Irregular Session

(Nov. 26, 2007) Last Friday Bolivian President Evo Morales and his MAS party in the National Assembly approved constitutional changes by a simple majority vote in an irregular session without the presence of opposition parties. According to the former Vice President Victor Hugo Cádenas the meeting took place in a military barracks in Sucre where 136 of the 255 total representatives - all supporters of Morales - met to approve the final draft of the new national constitution, while outside protesters literally took over the city. By the end of the weekend the entire police force of the Sucre, Bolivia's second capital, had retreated, leaving control of the city in citizens' hands. Morales claims that his MAS party has a popular mandate to reform and that Friday's actions will be vindicated after the reform passes in the referendum vote. However, according to Cádenas this mandate within the Assembly is actually 50.7 to 49.3 percent, or a mandate of 1.4 percent. This narrow …

Venezuelan Police Shoot Students Protesting Chávez's Constitutional Reforms

(Nov. 25, 2007) Riot police shot a group of students from the Universidad Monteávila on Friday for handing out pamphlets protesting the upcoming constitutional referendum in Venezuela. El Observador Online reported that eight students were wounded in the attack.Police firing small pellets and tear gas forced students to seek protection inside their university. The police then tried to force their way onto the university campus through a hole in a fence but were driven back by students yelling at them that they were breaking the law. Police are not allowed onto university campuses in Venezuela.On Nov.2 two students were killed and four injured after a similar protest, five days later masked pro-Chávez supporters attacked a group of students protesting the proposed Constitutional referendum resulting in two gunshot wounds and seven other injuries.Student groups from all over the country met in Caracas on Saturday to continue the protests. Students from 40 different schools wrote protest…

Argentina Breaks With Venezuela Over Free Trade And Middle East

(Nov. 24, 2007) Argentina's President Elect Cristina Kirchner distanced herself from the political agenda of Venezuela President Chávez on Monday by proposing a Mercosur-Israel free trade agreement (FTA) during her visit to Brazil. The proposal is a diplomatic counter punch to Venezuela's open support for Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the OPEC meeting in Saudi Arabia last week. The proposal was greeted by Brazilian President Lula Da Silva and will be presented officially by Kirchner at the Mercosur reunion of heads of state in Montevideo, Uruguay in December. The announcement was also a signal that Chávez would not control the political agenda of Mercosur if Venezuela is accepted as a member, as seems increasingly probable after Brazil's Senate voted yes to Venezuela's petition to join the union. During the Senate debate it was noted that Chávez would do less damage inside the group than outside of it. That the proposal was announced by Kirchner in Braz…

South American Border Wars Slow Regional Integration

Guyana Foreign Minister Rudolph Insanally announced a temporary truce on Wednesday after Venezuela’s military blew up two Guyanese mining boats on a river near the international border. The attack took place on Nov. 15th and was part of a three day military operation, called Tepuy, to remove illegal miners from the Cuyuni River basin.

Although Venezuela has promised it can provide coordinates that prove the attack took place in their territory, it was agreed to postpone an official declaration until Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro returns from a trip to Europe. The delay will also give both nations more time to complete their analysis of the event.

Guyana is also waiting for a response over an unauthorized Venezuelan military incursion in Guyana last year that left one Guyanese citizen dead. Foreign Minister Maduro promised to provide information in this case last March during a press conference at the Rio Summit but so far no report has been released.

The history of the disp…

The Other Iberoamerican Summit

Besides the now famous spat between President Chavez and King Juan Carlos and the evil empire bashing of the People's Alternate Summit, what actually happened at the Iberoamerican Summit that took place in Santiago last week? Why did the leaders of 33 countries go to so much trouble to meet together for three days of intensive reunions in Chile? Leaving aside the drama, the intended theme was social cohesion. The choice was made by Chile in its capacity as the host of the summit and is a clear reflection of the priorities of the Bachelet administration's emphasis on long-term social planning. The concrete fruit of the reunion were eleven documents; a declaration, a plan of action, and nine special communiqués. The combined focus of these documents can be reduced to five categories; human development, economic development, the environment, defense and security, and political dialogue. Human development received the most attention, specially emphasizing the role of the region&…

What Does Peru's FTA Mean For The Rest Of The Region?

U.S. newspapers announced this week that Congress is expected to ratify a free trade agreement (FTA) with Peru before its Nov. recess. The FTA will eliminate 80 percent of U.S. export tariffs to Peru with the remaining 20 percent to be phased out over the next 10 years. While U.S. lawmakers argued over the inclusion of labor and environmental provisions, no comment was made about the impact the FTA will have on regional integration efforts in South America. When Peru began trade talks with the U.S. in 2006 both Colombia and Ecuador were also in the process of negotiating bilateral FTAs. Many worried that these agreements would undermine the goals of the Andean Community (CAN). Bolivian President Evo Morales expressed this bluntly when he said, "These treaties are destroying the Andean Community," accusing the countries of abandoning the principle of regional solidarity by negotiating individually instead of as a group. Ultimately the decision to pursue these FTAs led to Ve…

Some Initial Questions: Unasur And Integration In South America

In South American integration literature there exists a puzzling divide between primary government sources and secondary analysis. On the one hand you have a series of regional declarations signed by the 12 presidents of South American nations stating their intent to form a new continental block. On the other hand you have a public that remains largely unconvinced and skeptical of the union's long-term chances of success. The fundamental question seems to boil down to whether or not the nations of South America can overcome their traditional conflicts to achieve the goals of the new union. While a review of the government generated literature is overwhelmingly positive, a similar review of non-governmental literature is at best neutral. Why is there such a difference between the two observed positions?It is our opinion that regional integration in South America is, at its most basic level, a reaction to the demands of the changing world order. It is a process remarkably similar to…