Jennifer Keck

Guest Blogger

Jennifer Keck is a copywriter with a passion for foreign policy. She is particularly interested in US-Latin America relations, with an expertise in Mexico and Argentina. She speaks fluent Spanish and is working on her French. She lives in New York, New York.

Mercosur to Suspend Venezuela over Human Rights Record?

Venezuela, South America, Mercosur, Human Rights, European Union

Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami famously wrote, “Hell has no true bottom.” And Venezuela may be proof. As the country continues its downward economic spiral, it now faces pressure from Mercosur to meet the organization’s human rights and immigration standards. The South American trade bloc warned that Venezuela’s membership will be suspended if it fails to meet the December 1st deadline to improve conditions, Bloomberg reported. (Upon joining in 2012, the country agreed to the four-year timeline to meet all the requirements.)

In June, Caracas was set to assume the bloc’s rotating presidency, but leading members Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay filled the role using an interim team from other states in order to “preserve and strengthen Mercosur,” the ministers said. It was an early warning sign that Venezuela was on shaky ground with its trading partners.

The decline in global commodity prices has led Mercosur to seek out new ties with other trade blocs—including the European Union, which evaluates the human rights records of potential partners. Given Venezuela’s increasing political turmoil, the oil-rich nation is quickly becoming a liability. 

“The European Union has condemned Venezuela for human rights violations. So (Venezuelan President Nicolas) Maduro isn’t exactly the best face for Mercosur to have right now,” Roberto Moritan, a former deputy foreign minister in Argentina, told The Wallstreet Journal.

Solar Power’s Surprising Win in Chile

Chile, Spain, Dubai, solar energy, renewable energy, climate change

Chile has officially debunked the argument that coal is cheaper than solar.

Solarpack Corp. Technologica, a Spanish developer, won contracts to sell solar power for $29.10 per megawatt-hour at an energy auction in August, the lowest price ever. Not only does this beat out the deal in Dubai from last May, it went for almost half the price of coal at the same event. Chilean solar power is now at one of the lowest rates for any kind of electricity anywhere, according to Solarpack General Director Inigo Malo de Molina.

“Solar energy technology has evolved and proved it is competitive,” Molina told Bloomberg in a telephone interview from Santiago. “Prices for electricity generation have changed drastically in the last years. Solar energy in Chile is now the cheapest in the market.”

From Energy Crisis to Energy Abundance

It’s an amazing turn-around, given the county’s recent energy woes. Just five years ago, Chile’s energy prices were among the highest in Latin America. A few monopolistic utility companies dominated the sector, and Argentina had stopped selling natural gas to its neighbor. Facing the risk of blackouts, the private sector planned to open more coal-burning power plants and build hydroelectric dams that would have flooded Patagonia.

A Model for Climate Change: Guatemala's Agro-Ecological Center

Guatemala, Climate Change, German Society for International Cooperation, Agriculture, Food Security

Plagued by rising temperatures, droughts, and elevated carbon dioxide levels, Central America's agricultural sector hangs in the balance. But the Guatemalan town of San Miguel Chicaj in Baja Verapaz may have the answer to this increasingly worrisome problem. With support from the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), San Miguel Chicaj will soon be home to an agro-ecological center designed to serve as a model of adaption to climate change.

For the past ten years, the state of Baja Verapaz has been part of the 'dry corridor', making it the perfect testing ground for the agro-ecological center's techniques. The center, located in a small forest surrounded by cornfields and nurseries, plans to teach people to adapt crop production to the changing environment.  

"It will strengthen our crops…serve as a space for youth to be trained in agricultural-related activities," the chief counselor of San Miguel Chicaj told El Periodico.

The project, which is in the second phase of the "Adapt" initiative of the GIZ, has been called "innovative" and "a new way to address climate change" by the organization's head of cooperation Thomas Cieslik.

Under construction on municipal land, it will cost around $100,000 USD to complete. GIZ, meanwhile, is providing €10.5 million over six years (2013-2018) to invest in consulting and training. Once open, the center will fund operations by charging schools, universities, and companies for training students and employees.

It won't be ready for about a year-and-a-half, but GIZ is already conducting workshops to teach residents of Baja Verapaz how to reduce their impact on the environment.