Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

Ex-President of Costa Rica Found Guilty But Set Free

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on May 19, 2011

by Alex Leff for Americas Quarterly Online, May 17, 2011.

A San José court rejected most of an appeal by former Costa Rican President Rafael Calderón last week, but the court ruled to lighten his charges and overturned his five-year jail sentence.

Calderón, age 62, was convicted in October 2009 of two charges of embezzlement for helping divert millions of dollars from a Finnish government loan to Costa Rica’s social security system in 2004, after his presidency.

Last Wednesday, the appeals court reduced the ruling to a single embezzlement charge with three years in prison.

However, Calderón won’t go behind bars.

Under Costa Rican law, a person who is handed a sentence of three years or less, and whose record is otherwise clean, can walk.

In Calderón’s case, the judges said he must refrain from breaking the law for five years or else he could lose this get-out-of-jail card. (continue reading… )


Economists say poverty falls in Latin America

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on December 2, 2010

by Bloomberg Business Week & The Associated Press, November 30th, 2010.

Economists say poverty in Latin America is declining as the region struggles to recover from two years of financial crisis.

The U.N.’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean estimates that 180 million people are living in poverty today in Latin American countries, which represents a return to 2008 levels. Brazil, Paraguay and the Dominican Republic all show improvement.

Economists say rising salaries and government programs are helping to soften the impact of the recession and reduce inequality.

Not all countries are so lucky. Poverty has been climbing in Mexico, Ecuador and Costa Rica.

The organization presented its report Tuesday in Santiago de Chile.


Reclaiming the OAS’s Future in the Americas

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on December 2, 2010

by Robert Valencia for The World Policy Blog, December 1st, 2010.

The fourth episode of “Isla Presidencial”a highly acclaimed online animated series across the Spanish-speaking world for its witty look at Spanish-Latin American politics, depicts a soccer game between left- and right-leaning Latin American presidents shipwrecked on an isolated island. As former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez vehemently argue over the game’s rules, former Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula Da Silva acts as a mediator and calls for the referee they elected democratically to decide which of the presidents has played properly. At the 2:25 mark, the video swiftly pans to a scarecrow-like dummy wearing a sweater that reads “OEA,” which stands for the Organization of American States in Spanish. As the wind blows, its head falls down.

Though just a political lampoon, the episode suggests the state of Latin American relations in the past couple of years, as well as the reality the Organization of American States faces when regional disputes arise. The OAS awakens sordid sentiments from its detractors because it has long been considered a political platform where Washington enforces its foreign policy in the region. Hugo Chávez, a staunch critic, has called OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza Insulsoa Spanish pun from the Secretary General’s last name that means “bland.”

In effect, many observers question OAS’s validity and authority over Latin American affairs. Case in point: the most recent diplomatic crisis between Nicaragua and Costa Rica over Calero Island, a parcel of land located in the San Juan River. Costa Rica, which doesn’t have an army, relies on international bodies to resolve such international disputes. Its representatives asked Nicaragua to move its troops out of the island by November 27. Laura Chinchilla, president of Costa Rica, brought her case to the OAS, claiming Nicaragua’s invasion posed a direct challenge to Costa Rica’s sovereignty. Secretary General Insulza explained in his report after visiting the zone that both sides agreed to bi-national talks, and dictated that neither country should “escalate the military and police presence near the disputed area.” Given the growing gravity of this situation, Insulza called for a meeting of the OAS leadership on December 7 to find a solution. (continue reading… )

The history and some detailed maps of the disputed border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on November 17, 2010

by The Economist, November 17th, 2010.

The Caribbean end of the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua follows the course of the San Juan river, which was once considered a possible route for the trans-isthmus canal. The border was originally determined by the Cañas-Jerez Treaty of Limits in 1858.

The boundary follows the northern branch as the river splits into two, the southern branch is called the Colorado river. According to the treaty, the right bank of the San Juan river is Costa Rican territory but the river itself is Nicaraguan. In 1888 Grover Cleveland, then president of America, arbitrated in the dispute and gave a ruling stating that Costa Rica had the right to use the river for commerce but “has not the right of navigation of the river San Juan with vessels of war”. President Cleveland also commissioned a mapping survey of the area, conducted in 1897 by E.P. Alexander.

In 2009 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Costa Rica cannot re-supply its armed police border posts using the river, but also that Nicaragua cannot demand visas from Costa Rican tourists traveling along the river. (continue reading… )


First elected woman president for Costa Rica

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on February 8, 2010

by Euronews, February 8, 2010.

Costa Rica has its first ever elected woman president after a weekend election.

Pro-business Laura Chinchilla, the former vice president, is calling for unity among the country’s political parties.

She said: “My administration will be open to all Costa Ricans. That means we must listen carefully to the voices of those who didn’t vote for us in this election and we humbly ask for their help and support.”

Chinchilla won twice as many votes as her closest two rivals in a country decribed as one of Latin America’s most stable…(continue reading)

Costa Rica expected to elect first woman president

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on February 4, 2010

by Marianela Jimenez and Alexandra Olson, for The Washington Post, February 4, 2010.

Laura Chinchilla‘s election would mark another political triumph in the storied career of outgoing President Arias, who has been regularly called on to put out Central America’s political fires.

Chinchilla was Arias’ vice president before launching her campaign. If victorious, she has pledged to continue Aria’s moderate free-market policies in what is considered the most politically stable country in the region.

Costa Rica “got on the right path four years ago and now is the moment to stay the course,” Chinchilla said during a recent debate. “It’s not the moment for some change that will take us down a road we don’t know.”…(continue reading)

Obama and Latin America: New Beginnings, Old Frictions

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on February 1, 2010

by Michael Shifter, for Inter-American Dialogue, February 1, 2010.

Hugo Chávez’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, 2009, did not receive much attention. The speech was notably more restrained than his famous address on the same occasion three years earlier, in which the Venezuelan president had called George W. Bush the “devil” and referred to the “smell of sulfur.” This time Chávez was forced to depart from his usual, incendiary script because of Barack Obama’s favorable image and his preference for engagement—”We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” the US president had declared in his inaugural address. Indeed, Chávez said the smell of sulfur had been replaced by “the smell of hope.”

Nonetheless, Chávez—ever resourceful—hinted at what might become a common view regarding Obama’s approach toward Latin America and the Caribbean. He referred to “two Obamas,” one projecting a friendly, conciliatory image, and the other adhering to the course of Obama’s predecessors, who typically treated the region as the “backyard” of the United States. Chávez raised doubts about whether old practices and concepts would in fact give way to more genuine and equitable cooperation. His speech referred directly to three issues that caused friction in hemispheric relations in 2009: Cuba policy, the US military presence in Colombia, and the Honduras crisis.

The past year has actually seen relatively little substantive change on a number of longstanding disputes. And toward the end of 2009, inter-American strains were further aggravated by the sensitive question of Iran’s growing involvement in the region. The November visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Venezuela, Bolivia, and, most significantly, Brazil coincided with deepening concerns in Washington and the international community about Iran’s nuclear program…(continue reading)

Can Bribes paid by Private Firms Cause “Social Damage”?

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on January 27, 2010

by A. Hernandez, for Space for Transparency, January 26, 2010.

Yes! It is possible that firm pays for the damages caused to a society at large when caught bribing governmental officials – even Presidents! This is the case now in Costa Rica where Alcatel-Lucent, the French-American communications company, agreed to pay US $10 million to the Costa Rican State as a compensation for the “social damage” provoked to the Costa Rican society after a scandal that involved US $2.5 million in bribes to ensure a cell-phones contract under President Miguel Angel Rodriguez term (1998-2002).

The concept of “social damage” implies that a financial retribution should be made by those found guilty of a corruption crime to repair the damage caused to a society. It is a quite innovative concept introduced in 1998 in Costa Rica – unique in Latin America – that has been used by the Office of the Public Ethics Prosecutor in their investigations against two former Costa Rican Presidents and European firms, including Rodríguez and Alcatel-Lucent, involved in major corruption cases…(continue reading)

Chile politics: Shifting to the right

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on December 16, 2009

by Views Wire at The Econonomist Intelligence Unit, December 14, 2009.

Chile’s political landscape moved to the right of centre on December 13th, when Sebastián Piñera, candidate of the conservative Coalición por el Cambio, won the first-round presidential vote. Ironically, it is the followers of a Socialist dissident and third-place contender who will decide the final outcome in a runoff on January 17th. Overall, however, the approach to policy will remain stable no matter who wins the election.

Mr Piñera garnered 44% of the vote on December 13th—the first time in decades that a right-wing candidate has won the most votes in a presidential election. But this was short of the 50% needed to win outright. Eduardo Frei (a Christian Democrat who served as president in 1994-2000), the candidate of the governing centre-left Concertación coalition, received 30%. Marco Enríquez-Ominami, who broke with the Concertación to run as an independent, got 20%.

The fact that the dissident candidate won a fifth of the votes attests to the weariness of a sizeable chunk of Chileans with the status quo. Mr Enríquez-Ominami, a deputy in Congress and former member of the Partido Socialista (PS, one of four parties in the Concertación), campaigned on a discourse to shake up traditional politics. Rather than focus on policy, he sought to tap into rising popular discontent with Chile’s existing political class, although he himself is a product of this…(continue reading)

Lobo Wins Peaceful Honduran Election, Exit Polls Show

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on December 1, 2009

by Eric Sabo and Helen Murphy, for Bloomberg, November 29, 2009.

Honduran cattle rancher Porfirio Lobo won the presidency as the Central American nation seeks to overcome a five-month political crisis and rebuild its economy, according to exit polls and preliminary results released by television and radio stations.

Lobo, a member of the National Party, had 55 percent of the votes, Radio America reported, citing results from about a quarter of polling stations. Tegucigalpa-based television station Channel 11 said Lobo, who campaigned on a pledge to attract foreign investment, may have 53 percent of the vote.

Honduras voted amid relative calm for a president to replace Manuel Zelaya, who was deposed by the military in June after the Supreme Court ruled his bid to change the constitution was illegal. Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela have said they won’t recognize the result, while Costa Rica, Panama and the U.S. said they may if the voting was transparent and fair…(continue reading)