Saturday, August 30, 2014

E-IR: The Future of the Organization of American States

"The Future of the Organization of American States"
W. Alejandro Sanchez and Kelly Morrison
E-International Relations
August 30, 2014
Originally published:

The Organization of American States (OAS) is set to appoint a new Secretary General in 2015. The new leader will replace José Miguel Insulza, of Chile, who will soon finish his second consecutive term. Since theOAS charter states that a Secretary General cannot serve more than two five-year terms, the position will soon be open to a new candidate. Regardless of which Latin American figure is chosen for the position––Uruguay’s Foreign Minister Luis Almagroand former Guatemalan Vice President Eduardo Steinare two recent nominations––the next Secretary General will have the critical responsibility of maintaining the agency’s status as a relevant player in the evolving inter-American system.
This will be no easy task. Washington has a reputation for influencing the OAS, and the next Secretary General will be responsible for maintaining the organization’s independent identity. Additionally, Insulza’s replacement will need to cut down on bureaucratic inefficiencies and build regional consensus on key policy issues such as the hemisphere’s approach towards Cuba and environmental issues. Only with these accomplishments will the OAS be able to implement positive changes in the hemisphere and maintain––or reclaim––its status as one of the region’s key international organizations.
A Brief History
The OAS traces its origin to the First International Conference of the Americas, which took place in Washington D.C. from 1889 to 1890. At this conference, delegations from throughout the Americas resolved to create the International Union of American Republics––later renamed the Pan American Union––in order to promote regional integration. By the Ninth Conference of the Americas, which was held in Colombia in 1948, the Union took on its current title.
During the Cold War era, the OAS gained its status as another of Washington’s pawns. According to one scholar, at this time “many observers came to view the OAS as a facile extension of the Cold War security interests of its most powerful member, the United States.”1 Certainly, the location of the organization’s headquarters in the heart of the United States has not helped the OAS maintain an image of neutrality.
Furthermore, the OAS has frequently carried out actions that unilaterally benefit the United States. Most notably, the OAS tacitly supported U.S. military intervention in the Americas during the 20th century, like the CIA-sponsored overthrow of the Arbenz government in Guatemala in 1954, and the invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965.2 In contrast to these incidents, the OAS passed a resolution to express its “regret” when the United States invaded Panama to overthrow Manuel Antonia Noriega. However, the OAS’ light criticism had little to no effect on Washington’s actions, and the resolution was deemed irrelevant when Washington continued with its military operations. As further evidence of U.S. influence, Cuba was excluded from the OAS in 1962 and was not allowed to rejoin OAS proceedings until 2009 (though Havana ultimately chose not to do so).
Turning Point
By the end of the Cold War era, the United States began to demonstrate less influence in the organization as the hemisphere’s concerns shifted from security to human rights issues.3 Yet it was not until 2005 that the key post of Secretary General was filled by someone other than a candidate pre-approved by the United States. The process by which Chilean Minister of Interior, José Miguel Insulza, took charge of the organization was somewhat unusual. In June 2004, OAS member states elected former Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodríguezto serve the five-year term as Secretary General. However, Rodríguez’s time in office lasted only a month as corruption chargessurfaced relating to his actions during his presidency. The Secretary General resigned in disgrace in October 2004. The following year, OAS members chose Insulza to be Rodriguez’s successor.
Initially, the U.S. government supported former Salvadoran President Francisco Flores to replace Rodríguez. However, Flores withdrew his candidacy early in the debating period. During the first round of voting, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez, backed by most of Central and North America, tied with Insulza, who had support from most of South America. However, citing his desire to maintain unity within the hemisphere, Derbez withdrew from the racebefore the second round of voting. Insulza then won the election with support from all but three of the Latin American states. Mexico abstained from voting out of respect for Derbez, whileBolivia and Peru refused to support Insulza due to their historical tensions (including border disputes) with Chile.
Diplomatic Hyperactivity
Insulza’s election marked a turning point in OAS history, but the organization has more to accomplish if it is going to remain the hemisphere’s preeminent multilateral organization. Indeed, the OAS is only one of many multinational agencies that cater to the economic and political needs of the Americas. According to one scholar, this excess of regional agencies suggests “a sort of diplomatic ‘hyperactivity’ in Latin America” that is resultant from the OAS’ inability to tackle the region’s current issues.4 Thus, the OAS will have to increase its problem-solving capacity if it is going to maintain its status among so many economic and political regional bodies.
This section will (briefly) outline those organizations that are most important to the region and the ways in which each compares to the OAS.
The Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños––CELAC) is a political organization that was created in Caracas, Venezuela in 2011 to merge the Rio Group and the Latin American and Caribbean Summit on Integration and Development (CALC). Some of the most ambitious of CELAC’s 33 member states hope that the organization will prove to be a viable alternative to the OAS, free from the influence of the United States and Canada (which are not members). For now, however, CELAC lacks the funding and organizational structure that it needs to deliver on its bold promises. The organization has no permanent representatives, nor headquarters of its own. For these reasons, although CELAC’s latest summit was a successful exercise in diplomacy, it seemed to lack real results.
The Union of South American Nations(Unión de Naciones Suramericanas––UNASUR) was created in 2008 to join the 12 South America states in an integrative body modeled after the European Union.  The most well-known of the group’s subsidiary bodies is the South American Defense Council, which was created to promote military cooperation and unified regional defense strategies.
The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América––ALBA) is the brainchild of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías. The organization was created in 2004 by Cuba and Venezuela, and its membership has since expanded to include Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, Antigua & Barbuda, Ecuador, and St. Vincent & the Grenadines. According to Americas Quarterly, ALBA is guided by three general themes: conflict, 21st century socialism, and international revolution. Thus, it unites countries that seek to challenge established norms in the region, and therefore the dominance of the OAS.
The Central American Integration System (Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana––SICA) was originally created in 1991 via the Protocol of Tegucigalpa and came into effect in 1993. Its members include all the Central American states, as well as the Dominican Republic. It has various agencies to promote regional integration and democracy, such as a Central American Parliament, the Central American Court of Justice, and the Central American Council on Tourism.
In addition to the aforementioned political organizations, Latin American countries have also created economic alliances to achieve their trade-related goals. The main groupings are the Pacific Alliance (Alianza del Pacífico) and the Common Market of the South (Mercado Común del Sur––MERCOSUR). The Pacific Allianceis a trade partnership between Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. These countries constitute some of the region’s fastest growing economies. The organization was created in 2011 to promote economic integration and economic growth for all member states, while building a “platform for political integration,” between Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region. In contrast, MERCOSUR was created in 1991 and includes Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. Though the group was established to promote regional economic integration, MERCOSUR has become more statist and politicized during recent years, especially since Venezuela joined the group in 2012.
Due to space issues, we cannot discuss other regional entities, such as the Andean Community, Caribbean Communityand the Association of Caribbean States.
To what extent the OAS has been influenced by the actions of other blocs is debatable; however the Washington-based organization has suffered from decisions made by its members within their own smaller blocs. Case in point was the 2013 decision by several ALBA nations (namely Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela) to leave the Inter-American Defense Board. At the time, Ecuador’s foreign minister claimed that the Board was “not useful at all.” The OAS has also been at odds with some blocs. Most notably, in 2012 thehead of the OAS mission to Paraguay published an open letter in which he critiqued UNASUR and MERCOSUR. The reason for the letter was that both blocs had suspended the landlocked nation in June of that year due to the overthrow of then-President Fernando Lugo.
How Can the OAS Become Relevant Again?
Given the multitude of regional organizations in Latin America, the next Secretary General of the OAS will have a full term trying to implement positive changes in the hemisphere. In this section, we will explore five main recommendations that would help the next Secretary General to be successful.
1) Focus on smaller agencies. As mentioned previously, one challenge for the OAS will be to defy the stereotype that the United States dominates the organization. However, this notion may not be as strong as some assume. Though the Secretariat and the General Assembly of the OAS have traditionally been influenced by Washington, the OAS has a plethora of lesser-known agencies such as the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Inter-American Commission for Women, the Inter-American Defense Board(IADB), and the Inter-American Defense College which operate somewhat independently. PAHO, for instance, has supported positive initiatives such as the implementation of higher taxes on tobacco. Other bodies, such as the IADB, could be reformed in order to promote increased hemispheric security. To be successful, the next Security General should empower the OAS’ smaller bodies, giving specialized agencies the chance to implement policy changes.
2) Stress the history of the OAS. Several governments continue to critique the OAS, while other analysts label it “obsolete,”, the next Secretary General should emphasize the fact that the OAS is the oldest multilateral organization in the region. Analysts are quick to declare new regional alliances “the future of the region,” but consistency is just as important as innovation. Though many scholars declare that the Pacific Alliance will have an impressive impact on the region, analysts said the same thing when MERCOSUR was created in the 1990s, and when ALBA grew powerful the following decade.5 Many journalists have harbored similarly high hopes for CELAC since its creation, due to the fact that it includes all Latin American and Caribbean nations, even Cuba. However, CELAC has yet to carry out any major initiatives, and it certainly does not have as strong of a structure as the OAS to enable it to achieve its goals. The next Secretary General must emphasize that the OAS has pursued positive initiatives over decades, not just during the past couple of years.
3) Keep OAS headquarters in Washington. Many countries, especially those with tense relations with the United States, have proposed moving the OAS to another country. In 2012 for example, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa wanted to move the OAS to Panama. Others have suggested that the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, an OAS agency, should be moved from Washington to Haiti. Though these proposals seek to decrease U.S. Meddling in the region, moving the OAS headquarters would be an empty victory. The United States would likely lose interest in the organization if it was stationed in another country. This could lead the hegemon to withdraw funding for the organization, which would be problematic given that Washington is the largest donor to the OAS.
4) Reach out to Cuba. Even though Cuba chose not to re-join the OAS when given the opportunity, Insulza tried to make amends with the country during his term by participating in the 2014 CELAC summitin Havana. His visit marked the first time that a Secretary General had travelled to the island in over five decades. It is unlikely that Cuba will rejoin the OAS anytime soon. Still, the next Secretary General should maintain amicable relations with Cuba, if only to appease the country’s regional allies (i.e. Venezuela).
5) Minimize red tape. In general, multinational organizations have a problem with bureaucratic redundancy as well as having sub-agencies that are not particularly effective. For example, the OAS has two agencies that deal with security in the Americas: the Commission for Hemispheric Security and the Inter-American Defense Board. The next Secretary General should re-shuffle OAS agencies to increase the organization’s efficiency. This move would free up OAS resources that can be utilized for more useful projects.
Hopefully the next Secretary General will implement some of these changes when he or she takes office next year. Given the number of multinational organizations and the complexity of political alliances within Latin America, the success of the OAS may be contingent upon their doing so.
[1] Dexter S. Boniface, “Is There a Democratic Norm in the Americas? An Analysis of the Organization of American States,” Global Governance 8 (2002).
[2] Fausto Rosario. “Rosario saca en cara a OEA el apoyo a invasion de EEUU a RD en 1965.” October 30, 2013. (Accessed on August 21, 2014). The role of the OAS in the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic is also discussed in: General Bruce Palmer Jr. Intervention in the Caribbean: The Dominican Crisis of 1965. (Kentucky – The University Press of Kentucky). 1989.
[3] Carolyn M. Shaw, “Limits to Hegemonic Influence in the Organization of American States,” Latin American Politics and Society 45, no. 3 (2002).
[4] Daniela Segovia, “Latin America and the Caribbean: Between the OAS and CELAC,” European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 95 (2013).
[5] Recent praise for the Pacific Alliance includes a discussion whether the U.S. should apply for membership: Carl Meacham. “Why Should the U.S. Join the Pacific Alliance?” Center for Strategic & International Studies. July 10, 2013 (Accessed on August 21, 2014). In 2006, Focus Web on the Global Southpublished a report discussed ALBA’s growth, including likely new members. David Harris & Diego Azzi. “ALBA – Venezuela’s answer to ‘free trade:’ The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas.” Focus Web on the Global South. Occasional Paper: 3. 2006 (Accessed on August 21, 2014). MERCOSUR was praised in the 1990s before the Argentina’s economic meltdown: Juan Jesus Aznarez. “Menem defiende el futuro del Mercosur pese a las disputas comerciales entre sus socios.” El País. September 12, 1997. (Accessed August 21, 2014). Also read: Gerardo Caetano (coordinator). MERCOSUR 20 AñOS. Centro de Formación para la Integración Regional / Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. 2011.(Accessed on August 22, 2014).

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

VOXXI: Ecuador takes big step for LGBT rights, recognizing civil unions

"Ecuador takes big step for LGBT rights, recognizing civil unions"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
August 27, 2014
Originally published:

Ecuador has taken an important step forward in supporting the rights of its LGBT citizens. It will now allow for same-sex civil unions to be displayed on national identification cards.
While gay marriage continues to be illegal, and this situation is not likely to change in the near future due to President Rafael Correa’s personal beliefs, his recent decision nonetheless deserves to be seen as a positive development in the Lesbian Gay Transgender and Sexual community. LGBT rights remain under threat in many countries–most notably Uganda. Hence, it’s a positive development that Quito has taken a significant progressive step toward greater equality among its citizens.

ID cards will recognize gay unions

Equality among Ecuadorans regardless of gender and sexual preferences has gained momentum in recent years. The 2008 Constitution, written a year after Correa first came into power, declares that Ecuadorans have the right to “personal integrity, which includes physical, psychological, moral and sexual integrity.” (Art. 66, section 3).
Ecuador held its first same-sex civil union  via a civilian magistrate in 2010.
More recently, this past Saturday, August 23, President Correa announced that Ecuadorans who are in same-sex civil unions will now be able to include this status in their ID cards. The measure is called Resolution 0174, and it was drafted by Ecuador’s Directorate General of Civil Registration. This change is optional for all Ecuadorans and will become available on September 15.
During remarks made to the TV station Telesur on Saturday, Correa stated that “if there was any doubt about heterosexual or same-sex civil unions being put on national ID cards, there is none any more […] and if someone is still turned away by a government employee, that employee will be dismissed for denying constitutional rights.”
Trans-feminist activist Diane Rodriguez, who works with the organization “X Silhouette,” praised the Resolution, explaining that “it’s like giving us full citizenship […] For example, in emergencies, my partner can make decisions about my health care at a hospital.”

Same presidential ideology in Ecuador?

Nevertheless, while the ID option is an important initiative, we should not expect another major breakthrough, like the legalization of gay marriage, any time soon. President Correa is known as a conservative Catholic who has openly stated he doesn’t support gay marriage. The aforementioned 2008 Constitution highlights that “marriage” is interpreted as the union between a man and a woman (Art. 67), while adoption is only available for couples of different genders (Art. 68).
In other words, while Quito allows civil unions, limits remain to the rights that same-sex couples can enjoy.
In 2013, President Correa highlighted how his government has worked towards greater equality and protection of the country’s LGBT community.
Nevertheless, referring to gay marriage, he also remarked that, “we have many problems that are more urgent than dealing with issues where there is a lot of controversy.” Such declarations highlight that while the leader of the Andean nation supports recognizing the civil unions of same-sex citizens, there are still “lines in the sand” that he’s not willing to cross.
It is important to keep in mind that President Correa was re-elected for a new presidential term in the country’s February 2013 elections and there are already rumors that he may run again in 2017. It is likely that if he runs again he will be re-elected, hence the illegality of gay marriage in Ecuador is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Latin America’s Cultural Revolution

It’s interesting that in recent years, several Latin American governments have taken a friendlier attitude towards the rights of their LGBT citizens, including gay marriage. In 2010 Argentina became the first Latin American state that legalized it, a decision which was followed by Uruguay in 2013. Moreover, even if some national governments have not agreed to recognize gay marriage, some cities have agreed to do this. Case in point is Mexico City, which recognized gay marriage in 2009.
On the other hand, some regional governments still do not support the idea of same-sex marriage. Most notably is the case of Colombia: In April 2013 the Colombian Senate voted against a bill that sought to legalize gay marriage (the vote was 17 in favor and 51 against).
From Mexico to Argentina, Latin America is undergoing a cultural revolution. While the region may still be qualified as “conservative” from a religious standpoint (particularly when compared to the U.S. or Western Europe) there have been obvious important developments in recent years. Gay marriage is now legal in various nations to one degree or another, while Uruguay became the first regional government to legalize marihuana in 2013. Ecuador’s decision to recognize same-sex civil unions in its ID cards is the latest development of this ongoing trend.
Though Latin America continues to be divided in factions based on political ideologies or trade preferences, there is a strong momentum behind a new way of thinking in the Western Hemisphere’s culture.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Peru This Week: The bright star of Peru's copper industry: How long will it shine?

 "The Bright Star of Peru's Copper Industry: How long will it shine?"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Peru This Week
August 25, 2014
Originally published:
 The Peruvian economy is still booming and, unsurprisingly, its mining industry is a critical reason for this positive momentum. According to the Peruvian Ministry of Energy and Mining, the Andean nation’s production of copper increased by 9% in the first trimester of this year, compared to the same period in 2013. Between January and March of 2014, Peru produced over 115 thousand metric tons of copper, cementing the country’s position as the world’s third largest copper producer.
A press release by the Ministry of Energy and Mining paints a promising picture of the country’s mining sector, explaining that companies in Lima, Pasco, Cajamarca, and Cusco have enjoyed increased production in recent months.
Though Lima remains optimistic and ambitious, just how far Peru’s copper industry can go remains to be seen. In 2013, Deputy Minister of Mining Guillermo Shinno declared that, while Chile is the world’s largest copper producer (the U.S. is second), Peru aims to overtake its southern neighbor in 15 years. To accomplish this, the Peruvian government plans to open new copper mines in 2016. These potential projects include: Las Bambas (in Apurimac), Toromocho (in Junin), and Constancia (in Cuzco), among others. Luis Castilla, Peru’s Minister of Economy, made similar declarations in September of 2013. At the time, he optimistically explained that Peru “has an enormous potential thanks to our natural resources. It would be a crime to turn our backs to them;” hence, he advocates more mining within environmental regulations.
A short-term goal for Peru is to increase copper production to 2.8 million metric tons by 2016, a significant increase from the estimated 1.5 million metric tons it is currently producing. Yet, considering the aforementioned increase in copper production in the first trimester of 2014, such an increase by 2016 is a realistic objective.
Even high-profile scholars from Chile, Peru’s historical nemesis dating back to the 19th century War of the Pacific, recognize Peru’s mining potential. A statement by Juan Carlos Guajardo, the director of Chile’s Centro de Estudio del Cobre y la Minería (Center for Copper and Mining Studies), in February 2014 illustrates the growth potential of Peru’s mining industry. He declared to the Peruvian daily Gestion that Peru has one of the most competitive mining industries in Latin America. The expert also highlighted that, even though Peru and Chile are usually competitors (mostly due to the aforementioned war), there is also room for joint cooperation in mining projects. This is not the first time that Chilean experts have made similar declarations. A 2008 report by the Chilean Commission on Copper is provocatively titled “Peru and Chile: Competitors and Partners on Copper Mining.” The extent to which Lima-Santiago cooperation regarding copper will grow in the coming years remains to be seen, as Santiago understandably does not want to lose its status as the world’s biggest copper producer.
While Peru could benefit from Chilean investment and know-how to increase its copper productivity, Santiago is not necessarily a critical mining partner for Lima, especially considering China’s activities. This past April, China gained control of 33% of Peruvian copper production after the consortium MMG Ltd, led by the Chinese Minmetals Corp, purchased a mine called Las Bambas in the Apurimac region. The mine is expected to produce up to 450 thousand metric tons of copper when it becomes operative in 2015. Beijing is no stranger to investing in Peru’s copper industry; in 2007, the Aluminum Corporation of China (CHINALCO) purchased the mine called Toromocho, located in the Junin region.
Peru’s mining industry is going through a golden age, and copper is its cornerstone. Chinese investment in the Andean nation demonstrates that Lima will profit from the global demand for Peruvian natural resources for the immediate future.
Alas, copper is not a renewable resource, and Peru’s copper deposits will eventually dry up. Ideally, the Peruvian government will utilize copper profits to ensure that, once the mineral becomes scarce, Peru’s productivity can smoothly switch to other industries (preferably industries that are more environmentally-friendly). In 2014, being a one-commodity economy is a recipe for disaster, and Peru should not solely depend on copper to make the country’s economy shine.
You can follow W. Alejandro Sanchez on his Geopolitics & Geosecurity blog and on Twitter:@W_Alex_Sanchez.

VOXXI: Pope pushes for beatification of Archbishop Romero

 "Pope pushes for beatification of Archbishop Romero"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
August 22, 2014
Originally published:
 Pope Francis has reached a milestone decision regarding El Salvador’s late Archbishop Oscar Romero. The head of the Catholic Church has “unblocked” Romero’s beatification process, a necessary prelude to full sainthood.
This is good news for supporters of the late Romero, not only from his homeland but also throughout Latin America. Hopefully, when he officially becomes “Saint Romero” the late priest’s image may finally become less commercialized and politicized in El Salvador.

Brief facts

Archbishop Romero was murdered on March 24, 1980, while he held a mass in the ‘La Divina Providencia’ Hospital, in El Salvador’s capital. Nobody has ever been convicted of his murder. Nevertheless, it is generally believed that a sniper shot Romero following orders from the Salvadoran Army officer Roberto D’Aubuisson, who eventually founded the powerful political party ARENA.
One of Romero’s most memorable acts was an open letter to then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter. In it, Romero warned that U.S. support for the Salvadoran government, known for its human rights abuses, would only “sharpen the injustice and repression against the organizations of the people which repeatedly have been struggling to gain respect for their fundamental human rights.” The plea proved to be useless and ironic, it was published on February 17, 1980, weeks before Romero died.
His murder is regarded as the opening act of the country’s civil war which lasted until 1992. Over 70,000 people are estimated to have died.
In a historical move, then-president, Mauricio Funes apologized for the crime in 2010. He explained that Romero was a victim of death squads “who unfortunately acted with the protection, collaboration or participation of state agents.” Gaspar Romero, the archbishop’s brother, thanked the president in the name of the Romero family.
Other Salvadoran administrations have supported Romero’s canonization, including current President Salvador Sanchez Ceren. But in spite of the general support among the government and population for Romero’s canonization, the process, which began in 1994, has only gained speed in recent years. One major reason for the Church’s apparent reluctance to support the process is that there were “concerns of his Marxist ideas.”

A Latin Pope for a Latin Saint

Pope Francis is the Catholic Church’s first Latin American pope. Since his election in March 2013, he has reached out to Catholics across the world. Hence, supporting Romero’s beatification is logical in order to strengthen support for the church in the Americas. Flying back from South Korea, Pope Francis stated, “for me Romero is a man of God.”
As early as 2013 there were reports that the Vatican was revisiting Romero’s case.
In a July 26, 2013 interview by the Vatican Insider with Gerhard Ludwig Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church official praised Romero, describing him as “a great witness of the faith and a man who was thirsty for social justice.” Furthermore, Cardinal Muller explained that “the process for the doctrinal ‘nihil obstat’ [objections] carried on as normal and sped up significantly during Benedict XVI’s pontificate… under Francis’ pontificate, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints is moving the process along even faster.”

The commercialization of a martyr

While Romero is a symbol of peace and understanding, his image and legacy has been routinely utilized inEl Salvador for other goals. Back in 2010, Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez declared that Romero’s legacy “has been politicized especially by revolutionary groups [i.e. political movements].” More recently, in 2013 Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas declared that the use of Romero’s image by political parties is “unfair” as “he was not a political leader.”
Former President Funes himself declared that Romero was his “mentor” when he ran for president in 2009. Meanwhile, current President Sanchez Ceren could not help combining Pope Francis’ decision with his presidential objectives as he stated that “we are sure confident that in this land where … Romero lived, will also be blessed and we will move forward in important areas like security and economic growth.”
Moreover, a 2011 report in the Salvadoran daily La Pagina discussed businesses and arguably illegal non-profits entities, utilizing Romero’s image for profit. The report stressed that no person or entity (i.e. the church) has a copyright over Romero’s image, so this can be easily exploited for commercial gain. For example, during the anniversaries of Romero’s birth and murder, vendors make a profit selling t-shirts, key chains, calendars and scapulars with his image.
It is tragic, but unsurprising that the image and legacy of a just person like the late Archbishop Romero has been politicized and commercialized. His eventual official ascendancy to sainthood (he is popularly known as “Saint Romero of the Americas”) will likely exploit his legacy even more for personal gain rather than the general good.
With that said, Pope Francis’ decision is a positive move, not just to strengthen Church-Latin America relations, but also to award Romero the title he undoubtedly deserves.

VOXXI: Will the Mexican government right the damage done to the Sonora River?

 "Will the Mexican government right the damage to the Sonora River?"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
August 18, 2014
Originally published:
In the Mexican state of Sonora, a mining company recently discharged sulfuric acid into the Sonora River and its tributaries. The occurrence prompted the government to prohibit thousands of local residents from drinking from the rivers.
Additionally, the company responsible for the mining operation, Grupo Mexico, is accused of waiting too long before notifying the authorities about the incident. They apparently also lied about the spill’s causes.

Spill and Cover

On Thursday, August 7, some 40 thousand cubic meters of sulfuric acid spilled from the copper mine Buenavista del Cobre (located in in Cananea) into local rivers. According to the company Operadora de Minas e Instalaciones Mineras, S.A. de C.V., owned by Grupo Mexico, massive rains caused one of the mine’s dams to overflow. However, Government inspectors concluded that one of the mine’s pipelines that transports the acid broke.
The acid then infiltrated the Bacanuchi River and eventually spread to the Sonora River, which is 261 miles (420 kilometers) long and carries around 171 million cubic meters per year. The inhabitants of the Arizpe municipality, some 31 miles downriver from the spill, observed “an unusual red shade” in the river and commented on its rare smell.
In addition to initially denying responsibility for the spill, the company is also accused of waiting 24 hours to notify authorities. Cesar Lagarda, a regional director of Mexico’s National Water Commission (CONAGUA), has declared that “the responsibility is 100% of the company […] they did not promptly report what happened and that qualifies them for severe sanctions; we are already imposing fines.”
CONAGUA has confirmed that the Sonora River now possesses high levels of contaminants. A week after the incident, the acid and minerals that polluted the water can be found some124 miles downriver. One article reports that there are now 1.78 milligrams of aluminum per liter, far over the maximum limit of 0.02 milligrams. When the spill was finally reported, local authorities ordered regional citizens not to touch the Sonora River, Bacanuchi River, and some of their tributaries’ waters.

Water service was suspended in several areas

Water service was suspended in seven municipalities, including Arizpe, Cananea, Banamichi, Baviacora, Aconchi and Ures. Water in Hermosillo, the state capital, was apparently partially suspended even though only 3% of the city’s water supply originates from the Sonora River. Government agencies provided water bottles to citizens affected by the suspension.
According to data from Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography and a 2010 census, Sonora has a population of 2.6 million citizens. Hermosillo comprises around 784 thousand people, while Cananea, the municipality most impacted by the acid spill, has more than 30,000 inhabitants.
Moreover, the spill’s timing is problematic. The Mexican daily “Milenio” explains that the region is emerging from a decade-long drought, and heavy rainfall means that the Sonora River and its tributaries are overflowing. Add acid and metals into these rivers, and it is not surprising that the local environment suffers.

Sonora – U.S. Trade Affected?

Besides the local population, local non-mining related industries, such as milk producers, were also affected. Additionally, and perhaps more worrisome, the state’s meat sector will be adversely influenced, as cattle ranchers are concerned about their animals drinking from the rivers. This is particularly problematic since cattle from Sonora is exported to the United States. If there is a real possibility that the animals have drunk contaminated water loaded with aluminum, they may have to be put down. This would translate into significant financial losses for Mexican cattle growers and would adversely impact U.S.-Sonora commerce.
In fact, just this past June, Sonoran cattle growers reported that Sonora is the Mexican state which exports the most cattle to the U.S. – over 300,000 heads of cattle were exported during the 2013-2014 period.

A Fitting Punishment?

If the Mexican government can be trusted, Grupo Mexico will face heavy fines and be subject to monitoring in order to ensure that it continues working to mitigate the pollution’s impact on the local environment. The company will have to test the rivers’ surface waters every 15 days for five years as well as the subterranean waterways.
Whether the company actually complies with these standards remains to be seen. Additionally, CONAGUA has announced that Grupo Mexico will be fined 1.2 million Mexican pesos (some $92,000 USD) for the incident. The company may also be fined by the Federal Prosecutor.
Mexico’s Secretariat of Economy highlights the importance of Sonora’s mining industry, as it is a major producer of copper. The state also produces 28% of Mexico’s gold, among other minerals. In other words, the recent acid spill will not persuade local authorities to ban mining projects in the state. We can only hope that Mexican authorities have learned from this new incident and will be more aggressive in monitoring mining companies in Sonora.