Note to Readers: I’ll be off from tomorrow April 29 through the end of next week. There may or may not be some intermittent posting from others during that time. I'll see you back on Monday May 9. JFS
AP reports this morning that the Mexican Senate has approved a constitutional reform measure that would both allow federal legislators to seek re-election and allow candidates at any level to pursue public office without the backing of a political party. The reforms passed in a 95-8 vote Wednesday (with eight abstentions), and now goes to Mexico’s lower house for consideration. If approver there it will continue on to Mexico’s 31 state legislatures where it must be approved by simple majority (16) before finally arriving on President Felipe Calderon’s desk.
According to supporters, the measure will increase accountability – the idea being that if one must face re-election he/she will somehow feel more beholden to the will of the voters.
Meanwhile, a second and perhaps even more controversial measure is currently being debated in Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies. The Latin America News Dispatch reports that the lower house has less than one week to decide whether or not it will alter the country’s National Security Law, granting the Mexico’s president the power to deploy Mexico’s Armed Forces against a new list of broadly defined “internal threats.” The Senate has already approved the measure, but the Mexican Left remains strongly opposed to the measure – originally submitted by President Felipe Calderon back in April 2009 – saying it would allow the military to conduct surveillance of private citizens in order to gather intelligence and increase the military’s role in security operations. Moreover, PT deputy Jaime Cardenas argues there are no stipulations in the current 83 page initiative about whether or not military abuses would be tried in civilian or military courts. “Here we are creating a fourth power,” Cardenas said. “Technically, this decree constitutes a coup.” More from CIP’s Americas Program.
Mexico analyst John Ackerman seems to concur with that assessment. In a damning opinion in Proceso (and reprinted elsewhere), Ackerman says the measure “seeks to open the door to creation of a military government” in Mexico. “Instead of listening to the popular demand of ‘No blood,’ starting to remove the Armed Forces from the streets and establish transparency and monitoring through civil courts, Felipe Calderon is determined to normalize and broaden the new role of the military in the directly controlling the country.” Most dangerous of all, Ackerman contends, is an article in the bill which would allow the military to be used against any “action related movements or conflicts of a political, electoral, or social nature” when those movements constitute a “challenge” or “threat” to the security of the country, as defined by the president.
The debate over the measure comes just days before what could be the largest mass mobilization ever against Calderon’s prosecution of the drug wars. Narco News has more on those demonstrations which will begin May 5 in Cuernavaca and end May 8 in Mexico City’s zocalo. Among the broad front of organizers leading those efforts are poet and journalist Javier Sicilia, the ex-president of the Mexico City Human Rights Commission Emilio Álvarez Icaza, priest and immigrant rights defender Alejandro Solalinde, president of Causa Común María Elena Morera, Chihuahua Mormon Julián LeBarón, and ex-president of Mexico United Against Crime Eduardo Gallo.
Today’s bullet points:
· In Mexico’s northern state of Durango, AP says the number of corpses found at two mass grave sites soared yesterday to 104. In the Tamaulipas city of San Fernando the number of bodies recovered stands at 183, meaning that this month alone the bodies of at least 287 individuals have been found in what are now considered to be the two largest mass grave sites found in Mexico to date.
· Also in Mexico this week was Honduran President Porfirio Lobo. Lobo met privately with a group of Mexican businessmen whom he is courting to invest Honduras. Among those involved in the meeting were the head of America Movil, Daniel Hagg; Carlos Peralta, of Grupo IUSA; Alonso Quintana of ICA and the director of the state-run Federal Electricity Commission, Antonio Vivanco, says EFE. Next week Lobo will host the “Honduran Is Open for Business” forum – an attempt to attract new foreign investment and will include the participation of, among other individuals, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.
· In Costa Rica, former President and ex-Secretary General of the OAS Miguel Angel Rodriguez was sentenced to five years in prison Wednesday after being found guilty of corruption. According to AP, Rodriguez and other former government officials took bribes in exchange for giving the Latin American branch of the French telecom company Alcatel a $149 million cell phone contract with the Costa Rican Electricity Institute. Seven other individuals from Rodriguez’s government have been charged in the case as well and were sentenced to between five and 20 years in prison. An appeals process is expected to begin shortly.
· In neighboring Panama, AP looks at a constitutional reform push by President Ricardo Martinelli which officially under way this week. Martinelli appointed a commission of legal experts tasked with drafting a set of reforms early in the week. Martinelli says the objective is to make Panama’s constitution “an example in Latin America.” His political opposition, among them the Frente Nacional por los Derechos Económicos y Sociales, seems to disagree.
· In Venezuela’s El Universal, an interesting interview with Sara Carolina Diaz, Secretary General of the opposition PPT who says the MUD must broaden its social base beyond political parties and reject any shades of Venezuela’s old “puntofijismo” if it wants to defeat President Hugo Chavez in 2012 elections. Meanwhile, the CS Monitor has a critique of the minimum wage hikes announced by President Chavez last week, contending the 26.5% raise will not keep up with inflation, which is expected to be between 28% and 30% in 2011. It’s also interesting to note, as the CSM does, that Chavez has raised the minimum wage ahead of May Day every year since 1999. On the other major economic policy announcement made last week – the new taxes on oil producers in Venezuela – Setty has excellent analysis (here and here) on why the new “special contributions” were implemented and who will be affected by them (as well as who won’t).
· Regional election news: In Peru, BBC Mundo says Alejandro Toledo and his Peru Posible party will not be publicly endorsing either Ollanta Humala or Keiko Fujimori. The news would seem to be the biggest blow to Humala, who has been actively courting the former president and his supporters. More than not endorsing, Peru Posible says any member of its party who engages in active campaigning for either candidate will be “penalized with expulsion” from the party. In Guatemala, El Periódico publishes new poll numbers from Borge y Asociado showing Otto Perez Molina still in front of Sandra Torres, 34% to 21%. And in the DR, AQ says first lady Margarita Cedeno will not be making a run for president in 2012 to replace her husband Leonel Fernandez.
· In Haiti, TIME’s Tim Padgett on this week’s allegations of legislative vote fraud. In the Miami Herald, CSIS’s Johanna Mendelson Forman on why Michel Martelly should not resurrect and remobilize the Haitian military. Rather, she suggests, a “territorial civil defense force,” capable of acting as both a police force and national guard, be created, modeled, perhaps, after Costa Rica’s national police.
· The Guardian, earlier in the week, featured former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet in her new post at UN Women.
· And in Miami, the death of notorious anti-Castro militant Orlando Bosch yesterday. As the Miami Herald reports, Bosch – along with the recently acquitted Luis Posada Carriles – was the most identifiable face of the violent, anti-Castro counter-revolution in South Florida. He was 84.