News Timeline: Latin America 2009


January 25: El Salvador

In El Salvador’s parliamentary elections, former rebel movement, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), becomes the country’s largest political party and wins a majority of seats in the parliament. FMLN was founded by El Salvador’s left wing rebels who fought against the U.S.-supported government in the country’s civil war in the 1980s.

January 26: Bolivia

Sixty-one percent of Bolivians approve a new constitution in a referendum. The new constitution allows a president to run for a second term, gives indigenous people more rights, and provides for land reform by limiting the size of land ownership.

February 15: Venezuela

Fifty-four percent of voters in Venezuela approve a constitutional amendment that removes term limits on elected officials. This allows President Hugo Chavez, who has been in power for the last 10 years, to run again when his term expires in 2012.

February 26: Mexico

U.S., Mexican, and Canadians authorities conduct a massive crackdown on Mexican drug trafficking gangs operating in the United States. As a result, the U.S. arrest 775 people and confiscate 23 tons of drugs worth $59 million. So far this year, about 1,000 people died in drug-related violence between Mexican narcotic gangs that fight each other for control of the drug routes from Colombia to the U.S.

March 9: Bolivia

Bolivia expels U.S. diplomat, Francisco Martinez, accusing him of having contacts with Bolivian opposition groups. Six months ago, U.S. ambassador to Bolivia was also ordered to leave the country over similar accusations.

March 11: Cuba

U.S. Congress eases some of the economic restrictions on Cuba. Cuban-Americans will be allowed to visit Cuba once a year and send back more money. It also lifts some of the restrictions on sending medicines and food.

March 16: El Salvador

Mauricio Funes from El Salvador’s former Marxist rebel party, Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), defeats the country’s conservative president of the last 18 years, Rodrigo Avila, in presidential elections. Funes vows to respect the country’s democratic institutions and maintain good relations with the United States. He also faces a difficult task of repairing El Salvador’s failing economy.

April 14: Bolivia

Bolivian President Evo Morales ends his hunger strike after the country’s parliament approves a new bill containing constitutional and electoral changes. The bill, which allows the president to run for a second term and sets aside seven seats in the parliament for candidates from minority indigenous groups, was being blocked by the Senate.

April 19: Latin America

A three-day Summit of the Americas in Trinidad concludes without a final declaration, but it ends on an upbeat note for the future cooperation between the countries of Americas. The top issues at the summit were the current economic crisis and the issue of Cuba, which was excluded from the summit. The United States President Barack Obama admitted that years of the U.S. policy toward Cuba has not worked; these policies have been adjusted but the full lifting of sanctions could happen only after such changes as democratic elections are implemented.

May 4: Panama

Conservative businessman Ricardo Martinelli wins Panama’s presidential election with 61 percent of the vote, defeating the ruling party candidate, Balbina Herrera. Matinelli, who succeeds Martin Torrijos, will oversee a $5 billion expansion of the Panama Canal.

May 4: Organization of American States (OAS)

The Organization of American States (OAS) votes to readmit Cuba after an absence of more than four decades. Cuba’s membership was suspended in 1962 after it became a communist state. However, Cuba says it does not plan to rejoin the organization.

May 11: Mexico

Mexico eases swine flu restrictions and reopens schools that have been closed since April. Fifty-six people have died in Mexico from the virus. Worldwide, there have been 4,700 confirmed cases of swine flu.

June 5: Peru

More than 50 people die, including two dozens of policemen, during violent clashes between Peru’s police and the country’s indigenous groups protesting a legislation that allows foreign investors to exploit resources in the Amazon forest. (June 19): Peru’s parliament revokes the controversial foreign investment laws that caused uproar among the Amazon Indians and weeks of protests.

June 28: Honduras

The military in Honduras arrests President Manuel Zelaya and forces him into exile. The coup happens just hours before a referendum ordered by the president, but opposed by the parliament, the Supreme Court, and the military, to amend the constitution to extend his time in office. The coup is condemned by international community.

July 4: Honduras

The Organization of American States (OAS) suspends Honduras after the military coup that ousted the country’s President Manuel Zelaya. (July 20): Two days of negotiations between the international mediators and the Honduran interim government to make Zelaya a leader of a unity government end with no agreement. As a result, the European Union suspends $90 million of aid to Honduras.

July 29: Venezuela/Colombia

Venezuela breaks diplomatic relations with Colombia after Colombia accused it of supplying weapons to Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Colombian rebel organization. After raiding one of the FARC camps, Colombian troops recovered weapons which serial numbers indicated they had been sold by Sweden to Venezuela.

August 14: Turks and Caicos

The United Kingdom imposes direct rule on the Turks and Caicos Islands, one of its territories in the Caribbean with about 30,000 inhabitants, accusing the ruling elites of endemic corruption and incompetence. The islands will be governed by a UK-appointed representative.

August 15: Colombia

Colombia concludes a deal with the United States, which will allow the U.S. to use Colombia’s seven military bases for its regional drug-trafficking and terrorism operations. The U.S. made this agreement after Ecuador decided not to renew the lease for the U.S. for using its military base in Manta.

August 26: Argentina/Mexico

Argentina’s Supreme Court rules unconstitutional thearrest of persons possessing and using small amounts of marijuana and says the state cannot impose lifestyles on people. It also makes it clear that this is not a complete decriminalization of drugs. The ruling comes after a similar decision by Mexico’s parliament, which has made marijuana, but also LSD, cocaine, and heroine legal for personal and limited use. Bigger quantities, sales, and public consumption, however, are still forbidden. The idea is to redirect resources from the consumers to fighting big drug dealers. The critics say the law will increase drug usage and promote drug tourism from the U.S.

September 4: Honduras/Brazil

The United States freezes $30 billion of its humanitarian aid to Honduras in response to the country’s coup in June and its refusal to allow deposed President Manuel Zelaya back in Honduras. It also says it will not recognize the new elections scheduled for November as legitimate. (September 21): Ousted President Zelaya makes a surprise return to Honduras and seeks refuge in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva says that the international community calls for Honduras to reinstate Zelaya.

September 5: Venezuela

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans take part in two rival rallies: one in opposition and one in support of the country’s President Hugo Chavez. The anti-Chavez demonstrators protest the new education law, described as socialist indoctrination, and massive closing of radio stations by the government. The protests come a day after similar anti-Chavez demonstrations in other Latin American countries, with the largest in Colombia and Honduras.

September 8: Guatemala

Guatemala announces a state of public calamity referring to severe food shortages among tens of thousands of families, especially in the country’s eastern part, caused by a combination of poor weather conditions and recent recession. The Guatemalan government hopes that this announcement will give it access to funds for emergency food purchase.

September 28: Latin America

The leaders of several Latin American countries agree to create The Bank of the South, a development bank that would work for the benefit of developing countries, unlike, as the leaders say, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela would provide the initial fund of $20 billion.

October 14: Venezuela

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez issues a decree to nationalize one of the Hilton hotels situated on the island of Margarita. The move is the next in a string of recent nationalizations, including those of the electric, cement, steel, and banking industries.

November 9: Venezuela/Colombia

Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, prepares for a possible military action against Colombia and orders 15,000 troops to mobilize on the border with Colombia. The move is in response to Colombia’s agreement that gives the United States access to the country’s military bases to fight drug-trafficking in the region. Other Latin American countries also object the presence of the U.S. army in the region.

November 30: Honduras

After all negotiations with the Honduran interim government to reinstate ousted President Manuel Zelaya failed, voters in Honduras elect a new president, Porfirio Lobo Sosa of the conservative National Party. Brazil and several other countries refuse to recognize the election as legitimate. The United States, however, says it will accept the result as the election was scheduled before Zelaya was deposed.

December 7: Bolivia

Bolivian President Evo Morales defeats his conservative rivals in the presidential election, winning more than 60 percent of the votes. He has a wide support of the country’s indigenous people, who constitute about 65 percent of the population. Morales is the first president ever in Bolivia to stay for a second term. He says that the wide margin of his victory gives him a mandate to continue his social reforms.