• Canada's Alberta Province Rejects its Tea Party

    April 26, 2012

    by John Parisella

    It’s been said that the United States is a center-right country and Canada is a center-left country.  Actually, given the evidence, it should be said that both countries generally prefer the center when it comes to selecting its leaders.  According to nearly all the opinion polls, Canada’s oil rich province of Alberta was set to choose the Wildrose, Canada’s version of the Tea Party, as its government.  Instead, this past Monday (April 23 ) it decided to keep the incumbent and mainstream Progressive Conservative party, stewards of Alberta for 41 consecutive years, as its government.

    True, Alberta is probably Canada’s closest version of Texas.  It has the lowest tax rate in the country, is the home of Canada’s largest reservoir of fossil fuels and generally is seen to be the jurisdiction with the strongest libertarian streak in the country.  Over the decades, the governing Progressive Conservative party has become a reliable and stable fixture, despite the obvious fatigue voters are beginning to feel with 41 years of rule.  The Wildrose party, with striking similarities to the U.S. Tea party including its brand of conservative populism and its economic libertarianism, seemed at the end of the day, too extreme even in the Canada’s most pro-free enterprise province.

    Just as in the United States, Canada has its ideologically based parties, but when it comes to electing its prime ministers and premiers, it prefers that their leaders govern with the widest consensus possible.  In a parliamentary system, governments can often be found with a majority of seats but with less than 50 percent of the popular vote.  Any government that is insensitive to this reality will eventually pay a price at the next political rendez-vous.  Pragmatism and compromise are preferred to rigidity and ideology.

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    Tags: Canada, United States, Tea Party, Alberta, Wildrose Party

  • Chile Most Inclusive Country in Hemisphere, Says AQ Study

    April 26, 2012

    by AQ Online

    With today’s release of its Spring 2012 issue, Americas Quarterly has unveiled a new index that measures social inclusion in the Americas. This ranking evaluates 15 different indicators and compares them across 11 countries in the hemisphere. The variables include a country’s economic competitiveness, percent of national GDP spent on social programs, level of political and civil freedoms, and citizen perception of personal empowerment and government responsiveness in that country.

    Out of a maximum of 100, Chile came out on top with a score of 71.9, while Guatemala ranked lowest at 7.5. The index praises Chile’s “consistently high rankings across almost all indicators” and cites “severe inequalities by race and ethnicity” in the case of Guatemala, adding that “Indigenous and Afro-Guatemalans lag far behind” socioeconomically. Uruguay and Brazil ranked second and third, respectively.

    For four variables—enrollment in secondary school, percent of population living on more than $4 per day, access to adequate housing, and percent of population with access to a formal job—Americas Quarterly uses data collected by the World Bank in household surveys and disaggregated by race and gender.

    According to the index, social inclusion is defined as “the concept that a citizen has the ability to participate in the basic political, economic and social functioning of his or her society. It includes not just economic empowerment, but also access to basic social services, access to infrastructure (physical and institutional), access to the formal labor market, civil and political participation and voice, and the absence of legally sanctioned discrimination based on race, ethnicity or gender.”

    Access the full results of—and methodology behind—AQ’s social inclusion index.

    Tags: Chile, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Mexico, Colombia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Social inclusion, poverty, Ecuador, Uruguay, Paraguay

  • Media Crackdown in Hugo Chávez’ Re-Election Campaign

    April 25, 2012

    by Andrés Cañizález and Roberto Velásquez

    Any crackdown on media freedom is harmful to democracy in any country at any time. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez' abuse of power is particularly egregious since the ongoing and intensifying crackdown takes place in what is the most important electoral campaign of the last 14 years in Venezuela. Presidential elections are to be held on October 7, 2012.

    Hugo Chávez’ biggest efforts to thwart media freedom—in terms of impact on democracy—are threefold. First and most importantly, the inappropriate abuse of the public media spectrum for political gain significantly restricts freedom to equal representation and equal access to the airwaves, including both radio and television in Venezuela.

    Second, the long-standing intimidation of private media outlets—heightened in the current electoral season—essentially forces them to: broadcast the government line; curb political discussion altogether; or face the consequences. See the Marta Colomina interview with César Miguel Rondón from earlier this year for anecdotal evidence of this crackdown.

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    Tags: Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, Press Freedom

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    April 25, 2012

    by AS-COA Online

    From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    U.S. Defense Secretary Tours Brazil, Chile, and Colombia

    Colombia, Brazil, and Chile will host U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta this week. “This is a way of making contact and dealing with the region at a time when there’s growing concern over the ability of many countries to be able to handle the threat posed by transnational crime and, specifically, drug trafficking organizations,” one former Pentagon official told Voice of America. In Colombia, Panetta secured the sale of 10 U.S. helicopters to that country to be used in combatting drug trafficking and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Panetta met with Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim in Brasilia as part of the first U.S.-Brazil Defense Cooperation Dialogue, established during Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s visit to Washington earlier this month, and discussed ways to expand bilateral trade in defense technology. Panetta will next head to Rio de Janeiro before departing for Chile, where he is expected to discuss joint naval drug-patrol operations off the Central American coast.

    Mexican Migration to the U.S. at a Standstill

    A poll from the Pew Hispanic Center finds that Mexican migration to the United States has stopped and perhaps even reversed. The research finds that from 2005 to 2010, 1.4 million Mexicans emigrated to the United States, and 1.4 million Mexican immigrants returned to Mexico from the United States. The report also finds that the number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States dropped by nearly 1 million by 2011. The report says the decline is a result of “weakened U.S. job and housing construction markets, heightened border enforcement, a rise in deportations, the growing dangers associated with illegal border crossings, the long-term decline in Mexico’s birth rates and changing economic conditions in Mexico.”

    U.S. Funds to Fight Intellectual Property Crimes in LatAm

    Last week, the U.S. State Department announced 12 international intellectual property training programs, designed to combat transnational crime and piracy by educating judges and law enforcement agents on the subject. Of the $2.6 million set aside for these efforts, $438,814 is destined for programs in Mexico, $150,644 for Brazil, $100,000 for Chile, and $70,000 for Colombia. 

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    Tags: SB 1070, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Mexico Migration, Intellectual Property, Puerto Rico Primary

  • Argentina, Uruguay Sign Tax Evasion Treaty

    April 25, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Argentina and Uruguay signed a bilateral treaty yesterday as part of a joint effort to stem tax evasion, reduce capital flight, and attract greater foreign investment. Argentine citizens have long used Uruguayan banks accounts to avoid tax payments. The new measure, which will likely be approved by both countries’ legislatures later this year, will allow investigators from Argentina’s tax authority, Administración Federal de Ingresos Públicos (AFIP), to access financial data on suspected tax evaders.

    “This is a fundamental tool for international cooperation on tax matters,” said Uruguayan Minister of the Economy Fernando Lorenzo. The treaty also allows  Uruguay to respond to Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recommendations that it shore up its highly deregulated banking sector.

    The treaty is very specific on how and what information on depositors can be shared. Information will only be exchanged on a case-by-case basis and a formal legal petition has to be filed by tax authorities for each individual under scrutiny. It is estimated that approximately $ 2 billion in Argentine savings have been deposited in Uruguayan banks in recent years by depositors anxious about the possibility of further currency controls.

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    Tags: Argentina, Uruguay, Tax evasion

  • Argentina Is Not Brazil and YPF Is Not Petrobras

    April 24, 2012

    by Janie Hulse Najenson

    After much speculation, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner once again proved she has the guts to move forward with a politically controversial government takeover. This time around Spanish oil company Repsol was the victim. In 2009, another Spanish company, Marsans, was forced to cede the Argentinean flagship airline to the government, and in 2008, $30 billion in private pension funds were nationalized.

    Ms. Fernández announced a week ago that her government would expropriate 51 percent of YPF from Repsol, which would give the government control of the company. She cited insufficient investment resulting in energy scarcity as the reason for the takeover.

    As with Aerolineas Argentinas' expropriation, the YPF takeover was popularly supported. The majority of Argentineans believe that the state should control strategic resources like oil. According to the consultancy Poliarquía, six out of every ten Argentines support the measure. This figure is lower than the 74 percent support rate reported by a government-friendly poll.

    This public support, however, must not be confused with support of the government’s handling of energy policy. Indeed, according to polls, most Argentineans blame the government over YPF Repsol for dwindling hydrocarbon reserves. The public is aware how government price controls and fluctuating subsidies have distorted market forces and made necessary investments less attractive.

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    Tags: Brazil, Argentina, Petrobras, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Repsol YPF

  • Guatemalan President Completes First 100 Days with High Approval

    April 24, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Survey results released yesterday show that 82 percent of Guatemalans consider President Otto Pérez Molina’s performance during his first 100 days in office “good” or “acceptable,” while 11 percent consider it “bad.” Approval of the formal military general, who represents the Partido Patriota (Patriot Party) was highest (87 percent) in the capital, falling to 82 percent in rural areas and 81 percent in other urban areas.

    The survey of 1,201 Guatemalans was conducted between April 10 and 15 by the private firm Prodatos and published yesterday by the newspaper Prensa Libre. It had a confidence level of 95 percent and a margin of error of 2.8 percent.

    Pérez Molina’s stance on education, security and decriminalization appeared to be among the factors most strongly influencing Guatemalans’ perceptions of his administration. Manuel Pérez Lara, an analyst and dean of the Universidad del Istmo, said, “My sense is that [the citizenry] recognizes a certain leadership in the new government, in that its lines of action have been clear and defined from the beginning.” Eight-two percent of those surveyed approved of the government’s performance on education issues, 81 percent supported its fight against delinquency, 71 percent responded favorably to its initiatives to combat narcotrafficking, and 67 percent supported its efforts to fight corruption. In contrast, 12 percent of survey respondents said the president’s efforts to decriminalize drugs are “the worst” thing he has done.

    The survey results also show that Guatemalan citizens recognize that much remains to be done, although they are on the whole positive about their current leadership and the future. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they thought things would improve in Guatemala in the next few months, compared with 23 percent who believe things will stay the same and 29 percent who say they will get worse. The majority of respondents consider President Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti “hard-working,” “well-intentioned,” “honest,” “sincere,” and “open to dialogue.”

    In an interview with Prensa Libre, Pérez Molina said he would rate his first 100 days an “eight,” although he acknowledged that the period is a short one from which to evaluate his administration. He cited fiscal reform and the Hambre Cero program to combat malnutrition as signal accomplishments.

    Tags: Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina

  • La civilización del espectáculo de las prostitutas en Cartagena

    April 23, 2012

    by Jenny Manrique

    Dice el Nobel de Literatura Mario Vargas Llosa, en su último libro, el primero después de ganarse el prestigioso galardón, que asistimos a la “civilización del espectáculo.” Su argumento es que cada vez más la cultura se confunde entre lo banal y lo espectacular y que temas como el sexo y la vida privada hacen más que nunca parte de la esfera de lo público. Aunque la discusión de lo mediáticamente importante puede ser de largo aliento, lo innegable es que un espectáculo mediáticamente taquillero en la semana poscumbre de las Américas, ha sido el de los agentes del Servicio Secreto que hacían parte del cuerpo de seguridad del Presidente Barack Obama, quienes durante su visita a Cartagena pagaron servicios sexuales a prostitutas. O muchachas prepago, o damas de compañía como prefirió llamarlas el alcalde de Cartagena, Campo Elías Terán, quien consideró “injusto” llamarlas prostitutas—y puntualizó indignado que el puerto “no es el Cabaret de Suramérica.”

    Ya a estas alturas sabemos mucho de ellas: Cuántas eran (20); quién es la mujer que pidió $800 por sus servicios y le pagaron $30 (Dania), razón por la cual desató el escándalo (vimos su rostro y por supuesto su cuerpo para poder hacer la valoración pertinente sobre si su reclamo era legítimo); y los bares donde trabajaban, burdeles cuya clientela aumentará solo por la morbosa curiosidad.  Los medios corrieron por la exclusiva como si se tratara de la mismísima “garganta profunda,” y hasta hay rumores de que el New York Times le pagó para que no le hablara a ninguna otra publicación.

    El periodista que destapó el escándalo en el Washington Post, Ronald Kessler, es más famoso aún, como también algunos de los 12 agentes que participaron en tamaño desliz (y de paso su familia sometida a escarnio público), cuyas fotos en Facebook coqueteando con otras mujeres ya son de dominio público, y cuyas cabezas rodarán dentro de poco, quizá junto a la de Mark Sullivan, director de la agencia que le cuida la espalda a uno de los hombres más custodiados del mundo.

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    Tags: Summit of the Americas, Colombia

  • Monday Memo: AQ’s Top Expected Stories for the Week of April 23

    April 23, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Top stories this week are likely to include: continued fallout over YPF expropriation; Leon Panetta to South America; Humala approves controversial mining project; and IMF warns of protectionism in Latin America.

    Global Response to YPF Seizure: Repsol has threatened to take legal action against any company that invests in YPF SA, its Argentine subsidiary that was nationalized last week. This will complicate efforts by Argentine Planning Minister Julio de Vido to elicit investments in YPF. Beyond Repsol’s response, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner faces continued condemnation from Spain and the European Parliament, which is looking at the possibility of imposing trade sanctions on Argentine imports. Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned oil corporation, has pledged to expand cooperation with Argentina. Look for further official reaction from Europe this week.

    Panetta in South America: U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta departs today for a five-day tour in South America, where he will visit Colombia, Brazil and Chile. A defense official reports that Panetta will stop in Bogotá to evaluate U.S.-funded Plan Colombia and discuss further measures to combat the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Then, he heads to Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro to discuss potential military deals, including Embraer’s participation in a now-cancelled military aircraft contract for the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak notes, “Although the Embraer deal was worth less than $400 million, getting it back on track would be a huge plus for U.S.-Brazil relations.” Panetta and his Brazilian and Chilean counterparts will also discuss drug interdiction measures off the coasts of Africa and Central America—two of the world’s worst drug transit points.

    Peru Approves Conga Mine: Peruvian President Ollanta Humala gave conditional approval last week to the controversial Conga mining project, constructed by U.S.-owned Newmont Mining Corporation. Previously, it had been stalled due to environmental concerns and protests by local Indigenous peoples in the Cajamarca region. Independent environmental auditors recommended a series of changes including larger artificial reservoirs that would allow for the adequate supply of water to local populations; Humala gave Newmont the green light for construction on the condition that these suggestions be met. Cajamarca President Gregorio Santos remains unconvinced, so watch out for the possibility of further local backlash.

    IMF Warns of Protectionism: During its spring meetings over the weekend, the International Monetary Fund predicted 3.75 percent growth for the Latin America and Caribbean region this year. The IMF also warned emerging economies against adopting protectionist measures in response to the “accommodative monetary policy” adopted by the U.S. and other developed countries. The 3.75 percent figure represents a moderation of the region’s 4.5 percent growth in 2011. Given Brazil’s criticism of the United States’ monetary behavior, pay attention to whether Latin American economies heed the IMF’s advice.

    *RELATED – Angelina Jolie Visits Refugees in Ecuador: In her capacity as a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ambassador, Angelina Jolie visited displaced Colombian refugees in Ecuador over the weekend. Read an Americas Quarterly dispatch on refugees in Ecuador from the Winter 2012 issue.

    Tags: Chile, Peru, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, FARC, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Spain, natural resources, mining, International Monetary Fund, Leon Panetta, Repsol YPF

  • Hundreds of Indigenous March in Paraguay

    April 20, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Some three hundred representatives of Paraguay’s Indigenous peoples demonstrated in the capital city of Asunción yesterday, marking the Day of the American Indigenous and demanding access to education, health and ancestral lands. They came from across the interior of the country and once in Asunción, walked 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Cerro Lambaré, a monument to an Indigenous chief, to the seat of the national Congress, in a demonstration that included dancing, music, the selling of artisan handcrafts, and shaman rituals.

    Clemente Lopez, a leader of the Chamacoco peoples, told the Associated Press, “Our permanent struggle is to make the state return the lands where our ancestors lived and that today should belong to us.” Catalino Sosa, of the Mbyá Guaraní peoples, told Efe, “This is not a party. It is a day of reclaiming from the state and the government land and territory, because in Paraguay laws are not enforced, nor is there political will.” He said his community, based about 250 km (155 mi) east of Asunción lacked schools and health services, and asked that greater resources be allocated to it. Another leader from a fishing community north of Asunción said the fisherpeoples there needed government assistance to help commercialize their artisanal products.

    The Indigenous demonstration and celebrations were in part coordinated by the state body Instituto Nacional del Indígena (National Institute of the Indigenous), which facilitated their transportation from the interior zones of the country. There were no incidences of violence, according to police forces deployed to maintain order.

    Paraguay’s Indigenous number about 100,000, out of a total population of 6.5 million. They are divided into 20 pueblos and five linguistic families—the Guaraní, Maskoy, Mataco Mataguayo, Samuco and Guacuru. The majority of them live in rural areas in the western Chaco region, although a scant community of about 10 families lives in the jungle region on the border with Bolivia. A rise in deforestation, mechanized agriculture and government neglect have increased poverty among Paraguay’s Indigenous communities; 63 percent of Indigenous children in the country live in extreme poverty, compared to about 20 percent of non-Indigenous children.

    Tags: Social inclusion, indigenous, Paraguay

  • A Canadian Perspective on Cuba and the Summit

    April 19, 2012

    by John Parisella

    Last weekend’s Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, ended on a discordant note with no final communiqué outlining a joint statement on the conference’s outcome. The refusal by the United States and Canada to accept Cuba at the next Summit created a schism with their Latin American and Caribbean partners who supported Cuba’s inclusion, although President Obama and Prime Minister Harper were acting in a manner consistent with previous positions regarding Cuba‘s participation.  The lack of a communiqué, however, should not be seen as a failure but rather as a time to reflect.

    The U.S. embargo of Cuba is essentially a relic of the Cold War period when Fidel Castro embraced the Soviet bloc, and later, when the world teetered on the brink of a nuclear confrontation during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Clearly, in this presidential cycle with Florida remaining a swing state and with its fiercely anti- Castro Cuban population, Obama had little room to maneuver. Admittedly, there is no appetite in both the Democratic and Republican parties to turn Cuba into a political issue in the short term.

    Despite this predictable outcome, it is reasonable to hope that both the U.S. and Canada take a fresh look at Cuba and the post-Castro period. Both Castro brothers are aging and communism is no longer a major geopolitical factor on the global stage. Latin American countries have emerging economies with increasingly stable democracies wanting to reach out with trade overtures. In this era of the Internet and globalization, it is unlikely that the iron fist of the Castro legacy will be able to maintain its grip for years to come. In any case, the embargo has not achieved its goal. Why not explore the option of engagement?

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    Tags: Summit of the Americas, Canada, Cuba, Organization of American States, Stephen Harper, Barack Obama

  • Honduran Farmers Stage Nationwide Land Seizure

    April 19, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Thousands of farmworkers seized 30,000 acres of land from major landowners and private companies in Honduras on Wednesday morning. The coordinated land seizure, which commemorated International Day of Peasant Struggle, marks the largest in the country’s history. The farmers say their actions are not motivated by politics, and claim that they have a right to cultivate the seized land because it is public property according to Honduran law.

    Mabel Marquez of Vía Campesina’s Honduras chapter said that peasants “want to avoid any type of confrontation” and are open to dialogue with government officials. But hours after 1,500 farmers seized land belonging to Compañía Azucarera Hondureña, S.A. in the northern Cortés department, police had already begun evictions. Other land seizures occurred simultaneously in the Yoro, Santa Bárbara, Intibucá, Comayagua, Francisco Morazán, El Paraíso, and Choluteca departments.

    Though Wednesday’s confrontations between farmers and law enforcement remained relatively peaceful, many previous land disputes have ended in violence. Tension over land has run high in Honduras for decades, as half the population lives outside of the cities and 72 percent of rural households live in poverty. Fifty-five farmers, farm security guards and policemen have died in land-related conflicts over the past two years alone.

    Tags: Honduras, land rights, Land Dispute, Land Violence, Rural Poor

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    April 18, 2012

    by AS-COA Online

    From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    Summit Advances Cooperation Despite Lack of Declaration

    The Sixth Summit of the Americas took place in Cartagena, Colombia over the weekend. Despite the lack of a final declaration due to disagreement over Cuba’s future participation and hemispheric recognition of Argentina’s Falklands claim, members signed a number of bilateral pacts on regional integration, development, and cooperation. Among these were Connecting the Americas 2022, which will increase electricity and telecommunications access throughout the hemisphere, as well as the Small Business Network of the Americas, aimed at promoting small businesses. Members debated drug policy at the insistence of Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, and agreed to have the Organization of American States evaluate current policy and seek more effective solutions. The participating heads of state heeded a Mexican proposal for an Inter-American System against Organized Crime, an effort to coordinate security policy in the hemisphere. Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa boycotted the summit due to Cuba’s absence, and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez did not attend. Ortega did not provide a reason for his absence, while Chávez cited health reasons.
    An AS/COA report, The Private Sector’s Commitment to Job Creation, was distributed to leaders and showcases private sector initiatives to combat joblessness in the Americas.
    Read an AS/COA News Analysis on bilateral meetings held on the summit sidelines.
    Read an AS/COA Online Explainer answering “What is the Summit of the Americas?
    Obama: Colombia FTA to Take Effect Next Month

    During his visit to Colombia for the Summit of the Americas, President Barack Obama announced that the free-trade agreement between Colombia and the United States would go into effect on May 15. Though the U.S. Congress approved the agreement in October, Colombia had to implement a workers rights plan before the accord could begin. When the FTA takes effect, over 80 percent of U.S. consumer and industrial exports and over 50 percent of U.S. agricultural exports to Colombia will be able to enter the country tax-free.
    State Department Extends Visa Validity for Colombians

    The U.S. State Department announced on Sunday that the U.S. government will extend the validity of visas for Colombians visiting the United States from five to ten years. The website says the extension is in support of “the expanding partnership between the United States and Colombia…which has resulted in increased exchanges for tourism and business.” Around 577,000 Colombians visit the United States annually.
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    Tags: Summit of the Americas

  • Cuba, Alan Gross and the Summit of the Americas

    April 18, 2012

    by Matthew Aho

    The uproar over the scandalous behavior of U.S. Secret Service agents, combined with front-page reporting of Secretary of State Clinton’s late-night party at a local salsa club appear to have drowned out more serious coverage of last weekend’s sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia.

    Maybe it’s for the better. There isn’t much positive news to report—at least from a U.S. perspective.

    Mexican President Felipe Calderón may have been impressed by President Obama’s patient demeanor during days-long speechifying by hemispheric leaders on issues ranging from the U.S.-led war on drugs to Argentina’s territorial claims to the Falkland Islands. But at the end of the day, 30 regional leaders refused to sign even a symbolic joint declaration, largely out of protest against U.S. policies that prevent one of our closest neighbors, Cuba, from joining the conversation. Even the host, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, acknowledged that future summits will be in jeopardy unless Cuba gets its seat at the table.

    To be fair, when it comes to Cuba’s participation, both sides have valid points. Latin American leaders rightly point out that the U.S. embargo and policies of isolation are ineffective Cold War relics. The Obama administration and Canada correctly note that membership in the Organization of American States (OAS), which organizes the summit, is reserved for democratically-elected governments, which Cuba’s is not. But what’s missing from this largely rhetorical debate is less wishful thinking and more nuts and bolts analysis on how to improve U.S.–Cuba relations in the years leading up to 2015, when Panama has offered to host the next summit.

    Since taking office, President Obama has unilaterally relaxed rules on travel and remittances to Cuba to their loosest levels since the late 1970s, and he seems poised to do more. Given ongoing reforms in Cuba, changing attitudes in South Florida and growing calls for policy changes in the U.S., a substantially warmer relationship is possible.

    The catch is that the ball is in Havana’s court and the Cubans refuse to pave the way to better relations by making one simple gesture: releasing 63-year-old USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned since December 2009 on charges stemming from his work to distribute sensitive communications technologies to independent civil society groups in Cuba.

    Disregarding the particulars of either sides’ positions on Gross’ imprisonment, it’s safe to say that he has become a pawn in a larger diplomatic chess match and a thorn in the foot of U.S.–Cuba relations. Despite early indications that the Cuban government would consider releasing Gross on “humanitarian grounds,” they have since tied his fate to that of five Cuban intelligence agents imprisoned since 1998 in the U.S. and suggested that a prisoner swap is the only way to resolve the impasse—a nonstarter for the White House. So, Gross remains—in the views of many observers—the single biggest impediment to further bilateral progress.

    The Cubans should let Alan Gross go home now. Here’s why:

    Read More

    Tags: Summit of the Americas, Cuba, Alan Gross

  • Repsol Takes a Hit on Global Markets After YPF Nationalization

    April 18, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Repsol shares fell by 6 percent yesterday in response to Monday's announcement that Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner intends to nationalize YPF SA, Argentina’s biggest oil and gas producer. With the government taking 51 percent stake in the company, Repsol's stake drops to only 6 percent of YPF SA. Repsol's value hit a 52-week low with prices dropping to 16.42 euros a share.

    On Tuesday, both Repsol—a Spanish firm—and the European Union also denounced Argentina for not complying with international business accords. According to the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, the forced buyout “will create a negative environment for foreign investors.” Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called it a "negative decision for everyone."Repsol, for its part, has vowed to "carry out all pertinent legal actions to preserve the value of all their assets."

    Repsol has stated that if the Argentine government wanted to buy a majority stake at YPF, it would cost $9 billion—a notion rebuffed by Argentina, which prefers a valuation by an Argentine government agency. Argentine Vice Minister of the Economy Axel Kicillof also added that YPF would not be paying dividends in the coming years, instead reinvesting them into production.

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    Tags: Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Nationalization, Repsol YPF

  • Mexican Electoral Politics Hit Rock Bottom

    April 17, 2012

    by Arjan Shahani

    The 2012 electoral process is the most uninspiring we’ve seen in recent history. Therefore it’s no surprise that Mexican society is increasingly disenfranchised with the political system. In fact, trust in the political elite is at an all-time low. Where interest groups saw possibilities of working hand in hand with the government in 2000 and 2006, the division between those governing and those being governed grows day by day.

    The age group most alien to the electoral process this year will be young adults. A recent UNDP-sponsored study carried out by the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM) posits that 7 out of every 10 voters ages 18-29 will not turn out to vote due to “disenchantment with Mexican democracy.” Enrique Cuna Pérez, the head of the sociology department at the UAM, points out that Mexican adolescents do believe in democracy but not in the way it is implemented in the country. “Young people are not shying away from democracy as a system, they are shying away from Mexican democracy. They consider themselves as democratic people. They understand the importance of voting but they are not willing to participate in Mexican democracy as it stands today,” says Cuna.

    There are many reasons for this. For one, people are finding it harder to believe in and rally for the different candidates. The turn that political campaigns have taken—toward destructive criticism, finger-pointing and whining—is far from inspiring. Since the actual political platforms and proposals show nothing new, candidates are focusing on projecting their persona, trying to get people to believe in them, but they are doing it by saying “you can’t believe in the other candidates” as opposed to showing the country why they are fit to lead.

    Read More

    Tags: Mexico, Felipe Calderon, Elections, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Enrique Peña Nieto, Josefina Vázquez Mota

  • Secretary Clinton on Two-Day Brazil Trip

    April 17, 2012

    by AQ Online

    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emphasized deepening business ties and promoting innovation in a speech to Brazil’s National Confederation of Industry (CNI) on Monday. Clinton had traveled to the capital city of Brasilia for a two-day visit following her participation over the weekend in the Summit of the Americas meeting in Cartagena, Colombia.

    In her remarks before the CNI, Clinton noted that last year trade between the U.S. and Brazil reached $75 billion, and that Brazilian investment in the U.S. now stands at $15.5 billion. She also praised Brazil for undergoing inclusive economic growth in recent years, saying the country “has ascended to the world stage as an emerging economic dynamo, lifting millions of Brazilians into the middle class while maintaining and improving democratic institutions.”

    However, she said the U.S. and Brazil could do much more. “I believe that the opportunities and potential for greater investment, trade, growth and jobs is only now being tapped,” she said. Specifically, Clinton pointed to private-sector innovation as a key element of the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Brazil, yet she also emphasized a role for government, which she said “can work closely with business leaders to create the conditions [for innovation to] take hold.” In particular, the secretary mentioned a double taxation treaty, a bilateral investment treaty and a future free-trade agreement.

    Beyond the CNI speech, the secretary met yesterday morning with the new head of Petrobras, Maria das Gracas Foster and led the U.S. delegation for the third U.S.-Brazil Global Partnership Dialogue. The Global Partnership Dialogue builds upon previously-reached agreements in the areas of development and education cooperation and global political and economic issues.

    Today, she and President Dilma Rousseff speak at the First Annual High-Level Meeting of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The OGP, launched eight months ago by President Rousseff and President Barack Obama, includes 42 countries that have pledged to prevent corruption, promote transparency and devise ways to harness technology to empower citizens.

    Tags: Brazil, Hillary Clinton, U.S.-Brazil Relations

  • Cumbre de las Américas: la Cumbre de EEUU

    April 16, 2012

    by Jenny Manrique

    No nos digamos mentiras: los únicos resultados concretos de la Cumbre de las Américas se hicieron a la medida de Estados Unidos. Unas pocas horas antes de que el presidente Barack Obama aterrizara en Cartagena, dos leyes sustanciales para la aprobación del Tratado de Libre Comercio (TLC) fueron aprobadas a pupitrazo por el Congreso de Colombia.

    Por su propio veto (el de Estados Unidos), temas cruciales que marcaron la agenda mediática y política las últimas semanas, no se discutieron en la Cumbre: la inclusión de Cuba en próximos encuentros continentales y la defensa argentina de la soberanía de las Islas Malvinas. Ese disenso motivó que no hubiera declaración final conjunta. Una cumbre sin declaración, es como una reunión sin acta: ni idea quién estuvo ni qué se dijo, ni en qué orden, ni quién apoyo qué. Claro, aquí se sabe más que eso, pero varias de las reuniones fueron privadas, y las públicas fueron sin duda políticamente correctas.

    Por tanto más hubiera valido hacer una cumbre bilateral y no un encuentro con 31 invitados que costó al menos 25 millones de dólares (según la propia cancillería) en los que algunos se fueron molestos (Argentina y Bolivia), otros cortaron su estancia inexplicablemente (Brasil) y otros se tomaron fotos con los indígenas Wayuu y hablaron de responsabilidad social (Chile) pero a la hora de la verdad tampoco aportaron al debate grueso que prometía marcar la diferencia en esta cumbre: la discusión sobre la política antidrogas.

    Pese a que el mismo José Miguel Insulza, secretario general de la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA) dijo que ya era hora de una estrategia antidrogas propia para el continente, desde pronto Barack Obama, entrevistado en medios latinoamericanos, tanto como Juan Manuel Santos en medios norteamericanos, lanzó frases políticamente correctas como que aceptaba la responsabilidad de su país en el consumo, pero siempre fue claro en que no estaba de acuerdo con la despenalización.

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    Tags: Summit of the Americas, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Barack Obama, Argentina, ALBA, Juan Manuel Santos, Counternarcotics

  • Monday Memo: AQ’s Top-Five Expected Stories for the Week of April 16

    April 16, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Top stories this week are likely to include: the World Bank presidency goes to a vote; Secretary Clinton in Brazil; Repsol proposes talks with CFK; Chávez authorized for 90-day leave; and the possibility of progress in drug-related violence.

    World Bank Presidency: With Colombia’s José Antonio Ocampo withdrawing his candidacy over the weekend, the contest for the next president of the World Bank is a two-person race. A vote is scheduled for today to decide between the two remaining candidates:  the United States’ Jim Yong Kim and Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Despite Brazil’s call recently for the BRICS nations to rally behind one candidate, pay attention to which candidate the developing economies will cast their vote. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini says, “The ability of developing countries to really force a change in the international financial institutions depends on their ability to ally. They split over the IMF presidency last year, and despite their narrowing to two candidates for the World Bank, it’s difficult to imagine them rallying over the Nigerian candidate.”

    Secretary Clinton in Brazil: After yesterday’s conclusion of the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Colombia, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be in Brasilia, Brazil, today and tomorrow for meetings on the Global Partnership Dialogue and the Open Government Partnership (OGP). She and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will “welcome 42 new countries into the [OGP] as they announce concrete commitments to prevent corruption, promote transparency, and harness new technologies to empower citizens,” according to a State Department press release. AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak notes that “with last weekend’s summit not signaling any kernel of hemispheric unity, this week’s meetings are an important opportunity for the Americas’ two largest economies to show that one of the most important relationships in the hemisphere continues to strengthen.”

    Repsol Proposes Talks with Argentina: Reports surfaced last week that the Argentine government was mulling a takeover of the majority of shares of YPF SA, the country’s largest oil company. Those reports sparked an international backlash especially in Spain, where YPF’s parent company Repsol is based. Spain’s minister of industry warned on Friday that Argentina would become an “international pariah” if it went ahead with the takeover—and Argentina has since delayed the project rather than abandon it. The head of Repsol is currently in Argentina and is urging talks between his company and the Argentine government. Look out for developments this week.

    Chávez in Cuba for Extended Stay: Although he planned to attend last weekend’s Summit of the Americas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez instead departed for further medical treatment in Havana after doctors advised him on Saturday not to travel to Cartagena. On the same day, the Venezuelan legislature legally authorized Chávez to leave the country for up to 90 days. Pay attention to how Venezuelans react to the possibility of a prolonged absence of the president—especially the opposition eager to unseat him.

    Progress in Drug-Related Violence?: Last weekend’s Summit “served as a good forum for discussion over drugs—and that was about it,” according to Sabatini. But while no final declaration was made on this longstanding problem, there was one glimmer of hope on Saturday. El Salvador, one of the Northern Triangle countries embattled by the bitter gang violence surrounding narcotics trade, experienced its first homicide-free day since President Mauricio Funes took office in June 2009. Whether this is a one-off success or the beginning of a pattern remains to be seen.

    Tags: Summit of the Americas, Cuba, Brazil, Venezuela, World Bank, Argentina, Hugo Chavez, Hillary Clinton, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Dilma Rousseff, drug violence, Repsol YPF

  • Summit of the Americas in Cartagena: A Welcome but Misguided Disagreement

    April 15, 2012

    by Christopher Sabatini

    I don’t think Cuba should be a member of the Summit of the Americas process. Nor do I think it is worthwhile that divisions over Cuba should dominate a regional summit. But I’ll take a genuine disagreement like we had in Cartagena, Colombia this weekend over the anodyne, empty and ultimately ineffective statements that have come out of past summits.

    That the 30-plus elected heads of state walked away from the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena this weekend with no agreement is a reflection of the diversity and changes within the hemisphere. Standard photo-ops and platitudes have now become an opportunity whenwhether on U.S. drug policy or the status of Cuba in the hemisphereheads of state can express their displeasure and difference with U.S. policy and try to expand the debate. That’s a far cry from the empty, forced consensus over issues like education (Santiago 1997), sustainable development and connecting the Americas (this year’s theme) that have come out of past Summits. None of these were really issues that would normally have been Summit-worthy in any other region. But that’s what’s marked past summits. And, as expected, there was never much followup afterwards, despite all the high-minded commitments.

    This time, countries wanted to send a signal. And they did.

    Let me be clear, though: under its current leadership Cuba doesn’t belong in the Summit. When it was started in 1994, the Summit of the Americas was intended to be a club of democratically elected leaders. And if it is to mean anything it has to stay that way. Granting access to the Castro brothers who have ruled Cuba since 1959 would contradict the very purpose of the Summit process and demonstrate cowardice in the defense of democratic standards and human rights in the hemisphere.

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    Tags: Summit of the Americas, Cuba, U.S. Drug Policy, Cartagena

  • Ahead of the Summit: An Afro-Colombian Letter to Obama

    April 13, 2012

    by Daniel Mera Villamizar

    Please find the original text below, submitted in Spanish.

    We're not going to complain or request solutions. Welcome to Colombia, a country that in the last past 200 years has tried to align itself to your ideals of liberty and equality, with more or less mediocre results. Acclaimed historians have often said that we're a "country of the in-between," despite the fact that we've been reluctant to renounce our airs of "greatness."

    Since President Santos decided to give out—in your presence—two titles to collective territories for Afro-Colombians, the issue of our country’s Afro-Colombian has been on the agenda.

    You, President Obama, would most likely have a vision that's oriented to a civil, independent and critical society; it would be strange if you didn't.

    Ours is one that has given a "conditioned support" to the lobby that backed the ratification of the free-trade agreement in the U.S. Congress, with our own resources.

    We have shown other proof of our desire of inserting the best interests of Colombia's Afro-descendant population into those of the nation.

    Tags: Summit of the Americas, Colombia, Barack Obama, Social inclusion, Afro-Latino

  • Peruvian Hostage Crisis Enters Fifth Day

    April 13, 2012

    by AQ Online

    The Peruvian government yesterday announced that there will be no official negotiations over the fate of 36 hostages, who were kidnapped on Monday by a branch of the Maoist rebel group Sendero Luminoso in a rural area of the south-central department of Cuzco. The rebel group in a communique earlier this week demanded a $10 million ransom in exchange for the hostages’ release. According to local reports, 29 of the 26 victims are Peruvian employees of Swedish construction giant Skanska.

    The Peruvian government has deployed 1,500 soldiers in the affected zone with the intention of cordoning off the area and has set up a joint command with national police in the area. In a statement Thursday, Minister of Justice Juan Jiménez said, “The government does not negotiate with terrorists, the government acts according to the law…There is a security operation in the affected area to rescue these victims alive.” Skanska officials contacted in Lima on Thursday refused to comment on whether the company was prepared to negotiate for the hostages.

    The ongoing hostage crisis is the worst episode of violence connected to Sendero Luminoso since the February capture of rebel leader alias Comrade Artemio, who was wounded after clashing with Peruvian troops. President Ollanta Humala said after the capture that it marked the near defeat of Sendero. This week’s events could have political implications for Humala, who may be hesitant to authorize aggressive action until a formal complaint filed by human rights groups with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is resolved.

    Tags: Shining Path

  • China, Chile and Youth Entrepreneurship: An Interview with Leslie Forman

    April 12, 2012

    by Nnenna M. Ozobia

    In March 2012, the Export-Import Bank of China (China Eximbank) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) announced that an approximately $1 billion investment fund to promote sustainable economic development in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) would be operational this year. The joint project will invest in the public and private sectors and focus primarily on infrastructure, projects on energy and natural resources, and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

    At the root of sustainable development is the notion that economies can still grow without endangering resources and the environment for future generations. However, although discussions about economic resources and the environment dominate the spotlight, the central role of future generations, or youth, in driving that notion and identifying related solutions is often relegated to the background.

    Leslie Forman grew up in Silicon Valley, California, as the daughter of two serial startup veterans. She lived in China for several years and worked in diverse industries, such as advertising, consulting, corporate social responsibility and education. In 2011, she moved to Chile to take part in Start-Up Chile—a government-sponsored entrepreneurship program.

    Given her unique background, Leslie has a coveted window into many worlds. She recently shared some valuable insights related to her entrepreneurial experiences and vision to connect Chile, China, California and beyond.

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    Tags: Chile, China, Youth, Market Access, Entrepreneurship

  • Brazil Displeased at Bolivian Decision to Revoke Highway Contract

    April 12, 2012

    by AQ Online

    The Brazilian government expressed its displeasure yesterday at Bolivian President Evo Morales’ decision to revoke the contract of a Brazilian construction company to build a controversial highway through the Amazon. According to the Brazilian newspaper Valor Económico, Morales’ announcement on Tuesday that he would rescind Construtora OAS’ contract to build the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway “was poorly received in the Brazilian government, which considers it a sovereign decision but not a positive one from the point of view of Brazilian investors in that country.” The newspaper also said the subject would likely come up when Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff meets with Morales later this week at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia.

    Morales suspended construction on one part of the highway last fall, following a series of protests over the road’s planned path through an Indigenous rainforest known as the Parque Nacional y Territorio Indígena Isiboro-Secure (Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory—TIPNIS). He announced on Tuesday his plans to annul the contract to build the other two sections of the highway, saying during a news conference that “the company hasn’t complied” with the terms of their agreement and that it had “suspended construction without justification or authorization.” Morales did not say if construction of the highway would continue without OAS or if the company would be compensated.

    Funding for the project was due to come largely from Brazil’s national development bank, Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES), which had approved a $332-million loan for the project that Brazil hoped would link the Brazilian Amazon to Peruvian and Chilean ports on the Pacific coast. Bolivian Minister of the Economy and Public Finance Luis Arce Catacora on Tuesday declared that the loan’s interest rate was too high and that Bolivia could “likely obtain other sources of financing...with better terms for Bolivia.” 

    Tags: Bolivia, indigenous, TIPNIS, Bolivia-Brazil relations

  • Una Cumbre, muchos debates

    April 11, 2012

    by Jenny Manrique

    Que la Cumbre de las Américas, un encuentro continental donde se reúnen 33 presidentes, sea el escenario para que temas de largo alcance pretendan ser discutidos, es una obviedad. La pregunta es si de la ambición no quedará solo el cansancio y si la promesa de la canciller colombiana, María Ángela Holguín, de que los alcances de la declaración final no se conviertan en saludos a la bandera, puede ser real.

    Si bien es cierto que el debate sobre la política antidroga ha ocupado la mayoría de los titulares no es el único que quiere ser metido en la agenda. Sobre este hay que decir que busca abrir horizontes más allá de las directrices estadounidenses pro fumigación y entre las propuestas se han colado desde un impuesto a la legalización (hecha por el propio presidente Juan Manuel Santos), hasta el reconocimiento a la hoja de coca como sagrada tal y como sucede en Bolivia (hecha por los indígenas) pasando por el tratamiento de los consumidores como un problema de salud pública (hecha por Ong de siete países).

    El secretario general de la OEA, José Miguel Insulza, reconoció que hay la necesidad de que el hemisferio tenga su propia “estrategia” y el gobierno colombiano quiere que al menos de la Cumbre salga una comisión de expertos, sin hacer la claridad de que eso esté en el documento final. Es más desde el principio, diplomáticamente, le está haciendo el quite a que el tema aparezca en los compromisos. De las múltiples propuestas habrá que ver si hay una real voluntad política para ejecutar una nueva política antidroga y no solo declarar que la necesitamos.

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    Tags: Summit of the Americas, Colombia, Counternarcotics

  • DC Water Cooler: Hold Drops and Ambassador Swaps

    April 11, 2012

    by Liz Harper

    On March 29, the U.S. Senate confirmed several of President Obama’s diplomatic nominations, many of whom were tapped to serve in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA). Here’s a brief rundown of the confirmed WHA officials and their new positions: Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs; Larry Palmer, Ambassador to Barbados; Pamela White, Ambassador to Haiti; Phyllis Powers, Ambassador to Nicaragua; Jonathan Farrar, Ambassador to Panama; and Julissa Reynoso, Ambassador to Uruguay.    

    Not only do these confirmations provide a celebratory sense of relief, as many of these officials waited months for their nominations to proceed through the Senate, but the timing could not be better as the U.S. delegation prepares to depart for Cartagena, Colombia, to attend this weekend’s Sixth Summit of the Americas.

    Jacobson was nominated in late September after becoming acting assistant secretary in July 2011 when her predecessor, Arturo Valenzuela, returned to academia. It’s both notable and laudable that a woman is leading WHA for the first time.  

    Jacobson’s candidature was challenged by Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who placed a hold on her nomination last November with a call to the Obama administration to “review abuses in the people-to-people Cuba travel policy.” Rubio dropped his hold on March 22 following guarantees from the State Department that it would require “applicants to demonstrate how their itineraries constitute purposeful travel that would support civil society in Cuba and help promote their independence from Cuban authorities,” according to the senator’s news release.

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    Tags: Bolivia, Panama, Venezuela, Barbados, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Haiti, U.S. Department of State, Roberta Jacobson

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    April 11, 2012

    by AS-COA Online

    From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    Presidents to Converge in Cartagena for Sixth Summit

    Democratically elected leaders from throughout the hemisphere will convene in Cartagena, Colombia this weekend to attend the Sixth Summit of the Americas. The summit's theme is “Connecting the Americas,” and will focus on hemispheric integration and cooperation. “What is less clear, however, is whether the agenda that has been agreed to in advance by regional governments will have a meaningful impact on the hemispheric trajectory in the twenty-first century,” writes COA’s Eric Farnsworth for Poder. The Financial Times’s beyondbrics blog says the real issues on the radar will be the expected debate on the pros and cons of drug legalization, Argentina’s claims on the Falkland Islands, and Cuba’s continued exclusion from the summits—an issue that prompted Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa to boycott this summit. Speaking to Colombia's El Tiempo¸ Colombian President and summit host Juan Manuel Santos said he would be willing to mediate between the United States and Cuba, and voices support for the debate on drug legalization.

    A report by AS/COA’s Summit of the Americas Working Group offers recommendations for job-creation initiatives in the Western Hemisphere.

    Read an AS/COA Online Explainer about the origins and operations of the Summit of the Americas.

    Obama Could Green-Light Colombia FTA Implementation

    Colombia Reports writes that, while in Cartagena for the Summit of the Americas this weekend, President Barack Obama is expected to announce that Colombia has met the labor conditions necessary for implementation of the U.S.-Colombia trade pact. The U.S. Congress approved the Colombia free-trade agreement in October 2011, but implementation had been delayed pending fulfillment of an April 2011 plan requiring Colombia’s protection of worker rights. 

    Will Obama's LatAm Focus Extend beyond April?

    With April being touted as U.S. President Barack Obama's "Latin American month," New York University Political Science Professor Patricio Nava asks if the United States will continue paying attention when the month is over. Navia is skeptical, warning: "By failing to take advantage of the opportunities Latin America offers, the U.S. will further erode its declining economic and political power in the world and Latin America will find partners for development elsewhere." 

    Read More

    Tags: Summit of the Americas, Colombia FTA, President Dilma Rousseff, Latino Vote

  • Hugo Chávez to Attend Summit of the Americas

    April 11, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Colombian officials confirmed yesterday that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is expected to attend this weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. The announcement of Chávez’ decision to attend the summit alongside other hemispheric heads of state comes amid intense speculation about the possible deterioration of the Venezuelan leader’s health. Chávez has spent the last few days in Cuba undergoing radiation treatment for his cancer and, according to sources in Colombia, may spend only a few hours at the summit before heading home to Venezuela.

    President Chávez at home is facing his most serious electoral challenge since he rose to power in 1998 and may be striving to shore up international support, while projecting an image of strength to observers in Venezuela. The upcoming summit will put major hemispheric issues into the spotlight, such as commercial integration, regional security, monetary policy, and natural disaster relief.

    The Obama administration also announced yesterday that the U.S. president will arrive in Colombia on Friday—a day earlier than was originally planned. Senior White House officials have announced that Obama will go to the summit seeking to boost trade and commercial ties—especially in the energy sector—and will likely focus his public statements on the successful passage last year of free trade deals with Panama and Colombia.

    Tags: Summit of the Americas, Colombia, Barack Obama, President Hugo Chavez

  • Racial Inclusion and Dilma Rousseff’s Washington Agenda

    April 10, 2012

    by Paulo Rogério

    President Dilma Rousseff arrived in the U.S. on Sunday for an important diplomatic visit. This is the third meeting between the Brazilian head of state and U.S. President Barack Obama, who visited Brazil in March 2011. With the theme "Agenda of the twenty-first century between Brazil and the United States," the short visit was intended to highlight commercial and educational issues, but racial inclusion should not be left out of the discussions.

    Despite not being received as part of a state visit—as in the case of the recent visits from the leaders of India and China—the meetings aimed to rekindle relations that are currently unsettled by commercial disputes and other international affairs such as Cuba and Iran. One of the highlights of the visit is also the Science Without Borders program, a Brazilian project that aims to send 100,000 students abroad to study science and technology. Plans are for the United States to be the main recipient.

    Although innovative, the Science Without Borders program has been criticized in Brazil for its elitist character. Last week the Brazilian NGO Educafro protested in Brasilia for the program to include a quota for Afro-Brazilian students. As it is, the selection criterion only considers academic achievement and fluency in English, a focus only young wealthy people can afford. Without changes to the selection process, Afro-Brazilians will increasingly be left behind in science, technology, engineering, and math—the future of Brazil.

    Tags: Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, Race

  • Rousseff, in Washington, Pushes for U.S. Support in “Currency War”

    April 10, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff met with President Obama yesterday on her first official visit to the United States since assuming office in January 2011. At the top of the Brazilian agenda was a push for U.S. collaboration in countering a global trend of countries keeping their currencies artificially undervalued in order to make their export prices more competitive.

    According to Rousseff, a multilateral effort is needed to halt competitive exchange rate devaluations, which she contends impair growth in countries like Brazil. Now the world’s sixth-largest economy, Brazil’s trade balance with the United States has gone from a $6.4 billion surplus in 2007 to an $8.2 billion deficit in 2010. This is driven in large part by a strong real, which has boosted Brazil’s demand for imports.

    Both presidents praised each other on fostering strong bilateral relations, but it was also acknowledged that there is more to be done. According to Obama, “The good news is that the relationship between Brazil and the United States has never been stronger. But we always have even greater improvements that can be made.” Among other things, the United States is trying to help U.S. businesses profit from major oil discoveries off Brazil’s coast and from growing Brazilian investments in advanced military equipment such as fighter jets.

    President Rousseff is in Boston today to speak at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    Tags: Brazil, Barack Obama, Dilma Rousseff

  • Monday Memo: AQ’s Top-Five Expected Stories for the Week of April 9

    April 9, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Top stories this week are likely to include: Dilma Rousseff in Washington; Sixth Summit of the Americas on Saturday; Chávez possibly seeking treatment in Brazil; Maras and Zetas reportedly joining forces; and Boudou under investigation.

    Dilma in Washington: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff begins a three-day visit to Washington today, where she will meet with her U.S. counterpart Barack Obama. This is Rousseff’s first visit to the U.S. since taking office in January 2011. Aside from meetings at the White House, Rousseff will speak at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce later today, and give a public speech at Harvard University tomorrow. In the Financial Times, Moisés Naim calls for the two countries to agree to a trade deal as a tangible outcome. Adds AQ Editor-in-Chief, Christopher Sabatini, “There will be plenty to discuss, from improving bilateral commerce and investment, Brazil’s recent flurry of legislation favoring local content and business, Iran, and—I hope—the upcoming presidential elections in Venezuela.”

    Summit of the Americas on Saturday: Cartagena, Colombia, will host this weekend the Sixth Summit of the Americas, the regional conference of heads of state organized under the aegis of the Organization of American States. This year’s theme is “Connecting the Americas: Partners for Prosperity.” But will the summit yield any significant results? Notes Sabatini: “While this will be a great opportunity to show off how far Colombia has come in the 18 years since the summit process started, there is really very little the summit can accomplish beyond speeches and vague promises.”

    Chávez May Seek Treatment in Brazil: Although Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez landed in Havana on Sunday to receive his latest round of radiotherapy, Brazilian media has been reporting that Chávez may seek further treatment at Sírio-Libanês hospital in São Paulo. This is the same hospital where former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva last year successfully recovered from cancer surgery. Specifically, O Globo has reported—citing anonymous sources—that Chávez’ cancer has metastasized and may spread to his liver. Although the Venezuelan embassy in Brasília has denied the reports, pay attention to how this story develops over the coming days.

    Maras-Zetas Alliance: Guatemalan authorities this weekend reported that the deadly Mara Salvatrucha gang, which dominates Central America’s Northern Triangle, has formed a pact with the equally dangerous Zetas group in Mexico for control of key drug transit routes from South America to the United States. In an already violence-plagued Central America, the alliance spells bad news for counternarcotics officials and may bolster the positions of Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina—a proponent of drug legalization—at this weekend’s Summit of the Americas. “An alliance between two of the region’s most feared criminal networks yet again reinforces the critical need for a real regional approach to reducing insecurity. The drug traffickers don’t respect borders and neither should counternarcotics efforts,” notes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.

    Future of Boudou: Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou  is now under investigation by federal authorities for his actions as economy minister—in the two years prior to assuming the vice-presidency—specifically that he helped printing company Ciccone Calcográfica get out of bankruptcy. Boudou has denied the charges and still has the full support of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her administration. After a raid of Boudou’s apartment last week, there may be new developments this week on the ongoing investigation.

    Tags: Summit of the Americas, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Barack Obama, Argentina, Hugo Chavez, Drug Trafficking, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Mara Salvatrucha, Counternarcotics, Dilma Rousseff, Otto Perez Molina, Amado Boudou, Zetas

  • Brazil Rallies BRICS over World Bank Nominee

    April 6, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega said yesterday that the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) bloc of advanced emerging economies should rally behind a single candidate for the presidency of the World Bank. Though an American has filled the role since the organization’s founding in 1946, developing nations—spearheaded by the BRICS group—seek to break to mold with whoever is nominated to succeed current president Robert Zoellick.

    Mantega met United States nominee and global health expert Jim Yong Kim Thursday morning, but maintained that Brazil had not yet made a decision of who to endorse. “By late next week, Brazil should have a position on the matter, and I will talk with the other BRICS,” Mantega said.

    Apart from Kim, the other front-runners include Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala—who has received the support of many developing nations and South Africa—and former Colombian Finance Minister José Antonio Ocampo.

    With this and similar proclamations on behalf of other BRICS nations, Brazil sees the nomination as an opportunity tip the balance of power, long held by the U.S., in favor of the emerging markets. The World Bank plans to make a decision before its spring meetings held jointly with the IMF, beginning on April 20. 

    Tags: BRICs, Guido Mantega

  • Why The Iran-Brazil Friendship Has Gone Cold

    April 5, 2012

    by Eduardo J. Gomez

    After just over a century of amicable relations, Brazil has decided to cool its relationship with Iran.

    Gone are the days when Brazil's leader, President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva (2002-2010), worked hard to strengthen Brazil's partnership with Iran, defending Iranian interests, sharing and learning from similar policy experiences over cafezinho.

    At a time when Brazil has sought every opportunity to engage the international community and increase its influence as a mediator of conflict and peace, why has Brazil's new president, Dilma Rousseff, refrained from strengthening the government's ties with Iran?

    The answer lies in Rousseff's personal experiences and geopolitical ambitions.

    As someone who experienced human rights violations first hand under Brazil's military dictatorships (1964-1985), Rousseff has been unwaveringly committed to human rights. She has made it crystal clear that she will not support Iran unless President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seriously addresses this issue.

    It's striking how quickly two nations sharing similar economic and geopolitical interests have suddenly distanced themselves from each other and how Brazil's decision may negatively affect Iran's relationship with other countries.

    What this also suggests is that amicable relationships between similar nations are never guaranteed and that a sudden change in government interests and aspirations can reverse historic partnerships while having broader geopolitical ramifications.

    For Rousseff, personal experiences matter.

    As a high school student from the city of Belo Horizonte, she joined a Marxist revolutionary group called Palmares Revolutionary Armed Vanguard (Var-Palmares), which sought to dethrone a military government that repeatedly violated civil and human rights.

    In 1970, she was arrested, interrogated and placed in prison. While serving three years, Rousseff was periodically tortured: electrical shocks ran throughout her body; she was incessantly beaten and called names; she was hung upside down in between two steel platforms in what the military called the pau de arara ("parrot’s perch"). By the time of her release at 25, she lost more than 22 pounds and her thyroid glands were nearly destroyed.

    Needless to say, these horrific experiences had an enduring imprint on Rousseff's foreign policy views.

    Indeed, when questioned about Iran during her campaign trail in 2009, the first two words to often come out of her mouth were "human" and "rights." The Iranian regime's atrocious history of killing thousands of dissidents, when combined with Iranian court orders to have several people stoned to death for violating the law was viewed by Rousseff as "medieval behavior." Moreover, the regime's decision to continuously throw political opponents in jail touched a sensitive nerve with Rousseff.

    She made it very clear that before any business took place with Iran, Ahmadinejad would need to stop these barbaric acts. Yet this may prove difficult as Ahmadinejad's political influence is often perceived as limited because of the presence of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

    Being blamed and essentially ignored by Ahmadinejad also didn't help. Last year, Ahmadinejad's media adviser, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, was quoted as stating that Rousseff had "destroyed years of good relations" between them.

    Under Lula, Brazil strengthened its political and economic ties with Iran through trade (indirectly via Dubai, estimated at $1.25 billion in 2010) and investment in Iran's oil sector. But when Ahmadinejad visited Latin America this January, he avoided meeting with Rousseff. Apparently he regrets having done so and plans to meet with her later this year.

    Rousseff's geopolitical aspirations have also caused her to step away from Tehran. After Lula joined Turkey in 2010 to vote against UN sanctions on Iran for failing to disclose information about its nuclear reactor site and ignoring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's request to do so, it appears that Rousseff views distancing herself from Iran as a way to strengthen Brazil's relationship with the United States.

    Through these efforts, it seems that Rousseff is seeking to garner U.S. support for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, as well as increasing Brazil's influence in major international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund.

    Without Rousseff's support, Ahmadinejad faces problems in Latin America.

    Iran has tried to strengthen ties with Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Cuba, and until recently, Brazil. And it's opened six embassies in the region since 2005, sans Brazil. But Ahmadinejad can essentially forget about getting the support of Brazil's close economic allies, such as Mexico, Argentina and Chile. Ahmadinejad has also failed to live up to his promise of helping spur economic development in the region.

    At a time when he is trying to increase his legitimacy, given his hostile relationship with Israel and efforts to develop his nuclear reactors, Ahmadinejad might not be able to afford losing his Latin friends, as they have defended him in the past and their support makes him look less isolated in the world.

    This freeze in relations with Brazil, and Iran's gradual loss of allies in the region, also opens up further opportunity for the United Nations to impose and enforce additional sanctions on Iran. Should this occur, Ahmadinejad faces the specter of other allies questioning their relationship with Iran, which could have serious political and economic repercussions for Iran.

    Despite the rich history that these two nations share, it seems unlikely that Rousseff will want to strengthen her ties with Ahmadinejad.

    With aspirations to increase Brazil's international influence and geopolitical importance, she will likely place more stock in strengthening her relationship with the United States and other cooperative nations within the United Nations. Unless Ahmadinejad changes his tune on human rights and decides to fully abide by UN rules, Iran's losses may go beyond Brazil.

    *This post originally appeared on CNN's website and is republished with permission from the author, who also wrote “Dilma’s Education Dilemma” in Fall 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly.

    Eduardo J. Gomez is assistant professor in the department of public policy and administration at Rutgers University.

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    Tags: Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Dilma Rousseff

  • Eric Holder Expects to be Interviewed in Fast and Furious Investigation

    April 5, 2012

    by AQ Online

    U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday he expects to be interviewed by investigators looking into Operation Fast and Furious, the flawed program run by the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) in which federal agents were supposedly authorized to smuggle hundreds of illicit weapons into Mexico.

    During an appearance in Chicago, Holder said he would speak to investigators from the DOJ’s inspector general’s office when they request it. That office has been conducting an investigation into the individuals responsible for employing the tactic known as “gun-walking,” in which illicit weapons were smuggled into the hands of drug traffickers as part of an effort to trace them to the highest echelons of Mexico’s drug cartels. Fast and Furious was launched in October 2009 and ran until January 2011. ATF lost track of hundreds of the firearms, many of which have since been linked to crimes against U.S. civilians, including the fatal shooting in December 2010 of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

    House Republicans are also currently investigating the operation. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has subpoenaed the Attorney General’s office for 80,000 pages of documents concerning Fast and Furious and threatened to hold Holder in contempt of Congress if he doesn’t comply. So far, Holder has only handed over about 7,000 pages, though he has given all 80,000 pages to the DOJ’s investigator general. 

    Democrats are also increasingly critical of Holder’s handling of the operation and investigation. Two House Democrats recently demanded that the DOJ release the findings of the inspector general’s investigation ahead of this year’s presidential election.

    Tags: Eric Holder, Drug Policy, Crime and Security, Fast and Furious. U.S.-Mexico relations

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    April 4, 2012

    by AS-COA Online

    From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    FARC Releases Military Hostages

    The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) released the last of their security force hostages on April 2. The ten hostages—four soldiers and six policemen—were surrendered to hostage mediators and the Red Cross, and transported by Brazilian military helicopter to the city of Villavicencio. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos praised the release, but called it “insufficient,” saying the FARC must still release hundreds of civilian hostages and renounce all violence. 

    Colombian World Bank President Nominee Outlines Vision

    In an op-ed for Project Syndicate, ex-Finance Minister of Colombia José Antonio Ocampo shared his vision for the World Bank in light of his nomination for the presidency of the institution last month. He explained the need for social inclusion and the importance of incorporating market, state, and society actors. “It is not the role of any international institution to impose a particular model of development on any country—a mistake that the World Bank made in the past, and that it has been working to correct,” he writes. “Because no ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy exists, the Bank must include among its staff the global diversity of approaches to development issues.” 

    April: Obama’s Latin America Month

    Latin America will be U.S. President Barack Obama’s focus this April, reports EFE. Obama kicked off the month meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderón at the North American Leaders Summit. April 9 will see a visit from Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff at the White House, followed by a trip to Colombia for the Summit of the Americas a week later. After the summit, Obama will spend an extra day in Colombia meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. This attention serves to shore-up support from the Latino community in the United States, says the article, which also notes that the “renewed relationship” Obama promised with Latin America in 2009 has not materialized. 

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    Tags: FARC, Colombian Hostages, World Bank President, Obama Latin America, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs