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Latin America

Chile and Argentina bet on integration against xenophobia

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The President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, and the Argentine President, Mauricio Macri, met in Chacabuco for the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the battle of homonymous. The two presidents, together with their Minister for Foreign Affairs agreed on the need to strengthen  relations between the countries of South America without failing the “convergence in diversity” principle, this means strengthening the economic integration with  MERCOSUR and the political with the Pacific Alliance, also presidents both agree on the need to fight the political populism and xenophobia, this to highlight the difference of views between South America and the new US administration.

Mexican teachers keep on protesting against the education reform

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In Mexico, teachers keep on protesting against the education reform, which was introduced by the government at the beginning of 2013. Over the last month, the tension between the government and the CNTE (Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación) has increased, leading to the “Nochixtlán massacre” on the 19th of June, in which 8 civilians were killed.

The education reform was approved by Enrique Peña Nieto’s government in order to enhance the quality of the Mexican education system. In particular, the government wants to remove the corruption, and the lack of transparency in the selection process of the educators. One of the measures stated by the reform is a selection of the teachers based on merit, in addition to a periodic assessment of their preparation. This point of the reform has been criticized by a great number of educators, especially in the southern States of Mexico: Oaxaca, Guerrero and Chiapas. These areas of the country are inhabited by a majority of indigenous. The teachers argue that the criteria for the assessment process are not appropriate for the specific characteristics of these areas of Mexico. They suspect that the evaluation process is a way to dismiss them. The teachers affirm that their role in that poor areas of the country is irreplaceable as they speak Spanish as well as the indigenous languages. In that remote areas of Mexico, the educators establish an important connection with the children, teaching them Spanish, as well as with their parents, communicating effectively with them in the local languages. Furthermore, it may be difficult to convince teachers residing in other parts of the country to move to such isolated areas, where sometimes there is no electricity or telephone connection.

For these reasons, the teachers, represented by the CNTE, organized long lasting strikes and they blocked the circulation of vehicles in the main streets. The population of the areas affected by the protests has sometimes backed the teachers, even though the government declared that Mexicans support the education reform.

The episode occurred on the 19th of June in Nochixtlán (Oaxaca), should be mentioned for its seriousness. The police cleared out the block of a street organized by the CNTE. The government declared that the police had to open fire in response to the violence used by the demonstrators. However, the inhabitants of the town said that the police started shooting at them, so they tried to protect themselves through rudimentary weapons, such as stones. Nevertheless, the balance of the clash has been the death of 8 civilians (even though the inhabitants of the town affirm they are 11) and 3 police officers injured. The United Nations asked the Mexican government to investigate on what happened in Nochixtlán.

After the episode of Nochixtlán, the government decided to change strategy proposing to the CNTE to restart the negotiations. On the 5th of July the government representatives and the CNTE met in Mexico City in order to explain their proposals for the solution to the conflict. They scheduled a new meeting  for the 11th of July, few day before the start of school holidays on the 15th of July.

The teachers are willing to negotiate, but they firmly claim the abolition of the education reform. Moreover, they affirm that if the government use violence, they will respond by all means available. It is important to bear in mind that in the south of Mexico there are armed groups related to the indigenous population, such as the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.

The FARC and Colombia signed a landmark agreement in Havana

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On the 23rd of June, a landmark cease-fire agreement was signed in Havana between the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Force of Colombia) and the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. The peace talks, which have been held in Havana since November 2012, led to a remarkable achievement: a possible solution to a 50 years lasting conflict.

The meeting was held in Havana, the capital of the small Caribbean country that gave a great support to the negotiation process. In fact, Cuba provided the necessary mediation between a revolutionary armed group and a legitimate government. This task has been carried out in an excellent way by the pre-eminent revolutionary country of Latin America, whose government is the successor of a guerrilla group that took the power in 1959. At the same time, Cuba has created an institutional stability as well as a credibility in international relations. These characteristics gave Cuba the status of a trusted interlocutor in the international community. Moreover, the United Nations Organization (UN) played a determinant role in the peace talks, both in the negotiation process and in the future implementation of the agreement. In fact, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, took part in the decisive meeting on the 23rd of June.

The agreement is composed of three parts. The first one refers to the cease-fire, the end of the conflict and the disarmament. The second part concerns the fight against criminal organizations and the safety of political movements. The third one, finally, affirms the commitment of both parts in asking the Constitutional Court to decide which mean could be appropriate in order to check people’s opinion on the agreement (probably a referendum). The first part of the covenant is the most important because it defines how the end of the conflict and the disarmament are going to be ensured. This is going to be obtained by the creation of specific zones, in which the fighters will be able to live, without their weapons, in order to start an integration process in the civil society. Inside these zones, professional or educational courses are going to be organized in cooperation with the government. Another important point of the agreement is that the FARC accepts to deliver all its weapons to the UN. So that the UN officials will be able to use it for the creation of three monuments, which will be designed together by the FARC and the Colombian government. In order to guarantee the respect of the commitments, a monitoring and verify mechanism is going to be founded. It will be composed of representatives of the FARC, the government as well as the UN. The second part of the covenant refers to the commitment of the government in fighting criminal organizations and ensuring for all political and social movements a safety participation in Colombian political life. This is the necessary requirement to allow FARC’s inclusion in the political dialogue, so that they will be able to express their future political claims by legal means. In exchange, the FARC accepts to give up using weapons for political purposes.

The President Juan Manuel Santos declared that a new era of peace in Colombian history has started, but at the same time, it is important to remain realistic, because the issue is not completely resolved. In fact, the Colombian population is required to approve the agreement by a referendum consultancy. Even though the majority of the population expressed its joy when the pact was signed, a part of political forces is more conservative and rejects any kind of negotiation with the FARC. These political forces, headed by the former President Álvaro Uribe, think that the FARC should be defeated by military means. In addition to that, someone observes that the government has not resolved the conflict with smaller armed groups like the ELN (National Liberation Army), which asked the government for separate negotiations.

Nevertheless, the importance of the agreement reached is undeniable. Its symbolic value as well as its pragmatism have restored Colombians hope in the solution of the bloody conflict that has been affecting their country since the sixties.

Argentina turns right

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The first six months of Macri’s presidency marked a turning point in Argentina’s history. After 12 years of a Peronist government ruled by the Kirchner spouses, Argentina changed its route in internal policy as well as in international relations. Mauricio Macri won the presidential elections on the 22nd of November in 2015, and he immediately started to implement a series of reforms in contrast with the policies adopted by his predecessors.

Firstly, Macri’s government adopted a series of measures in order to reduce public spending on social welfare. These measures consist in the increase in public transport fees, energy and petrol prices, in addition to the layoff of part of the public employees. The Argentine population is not satisfied about these measures. On the other hand, it is important to point out that the government approved tax cuts for businesses, in order to stimulate the growth in export of wheat, corn, meat and minerals. One of the latest proposals of the government was the reform of the electoral system, in order to introduce the electronic voting. The declared intention of President Macri is to promote a modernization of the country as well as bolstering the economic recovery. Moreover, the new President reached a landmark agreement with foreign creditors of the country. The government accepted to pay its debts so that Argentina will be able to regain trust in international markets. In addition to that, the government is seeking to attract foreign investments in the country.

Undoubtedly, the agreement with the foreign creditors had a positive impact on the relations between Argentina and the United States, as well as Europe. In fact, these countries tightened its bonds with Argentina, and this led to an official visit of President Obama in Argentina, after 20 years of difficult relations between the two countries. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and President François Hollande also visited the new Argentine President. Argentina’s new position on the world’s stage led to a weakening in its relations with the previous allies: particularly Venezuela and Russia. One of the main challenges proposed by Macri in foreign policy it is to strengthen Mercosur and to promote free trade in Latin America, as well as opening new commercial routes in the Pacific area.

It is important to mention the cold relations between Macri’s government and the Holy See, even though it is not something new if compared with the previous Argentine government. On the 9th of June, the association Scholas Ocurrentes, a pontifical foundation that opened schools in Argentina and other countries, refused, under Pope’s instructions, a 16 million pesos donation from President Macri. Pope Francis argued that the foundation should be careful in order to avoid corruption. Macri’s offer was considered by the Pope as a strategy to improve his relations with the Holy See. The public response of Bergoglio was that “Argentine government has to cope with many people’s needs, so that the managers of the foundation do not have the right to ask the government for anything”. The Casa Rosada was surprised about this response, mainly because the foundation asked the government for that quantity of money. Macri underlined that the support to Scholas Ocurrentes was a policy in line with the previous government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The real message of Pope Francis seems to be that Macri’s government should change its strategy to gain Vatican’s trust as well as its attitude towards lower social classes.

Argentina’s political change is part of a more general phenomenon affecting Latin America. Many of the socialist governments that had great success at beginning of the 21st century, are now suffering from a reduced popularity. However, Argentina’s government will not be able to ignore the legacy of Kirchner’s era, which mainly consists in the social achievements obtained by Argentines over the last decade.

 

by Elena Saroni

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