• Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    March 8, 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.

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    VP Biden Meets with Mexican and CentAm Leaders

    U.S. Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Mexico and Honduras this week. In Mexico, Biden met with President Felipe Calderón, where the two discussed trade ties, illegal arms trafficking, and the decriminalization of drugs. Biden qualified that third topic as “worth discussing,” but added that “there is no possibility the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy.” Biden also met with the three main Mexican presidential candidates: Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Enrique Peña Nieto, and Josefina Vázquez Mota. Biden pledged that the Obama administration plans to work with whoever wins the July elections, a promise Bloggings by Boz’s James Bosworth calls “an important gesture in this political climate.” Shannon O’Neil writes for LatIntelligence that the meeting showed how far Mexico’s democracy has come: “A few decades ago a U.S. official meeting with opposition candidates would have caused great consternation and tension between the governments; today it is accepted and even expected.” On Tuesday, Biden traveled to Tegucigalpa to meet with the presidents of Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama. Biden addressed the challenges in confronting transnational crime and promised an additional $107 million for the Central American Regional Security Initiative. 

    Mexico to the United States: Let Us in to the TPP

    In an op-ed for Politico, Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Bruno Ferrari García de Alba urges the United States to let Mexico enter negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free-trade agreement involving nine countries bordering the Pacific Ocean. Writes Ferrari: “Mexico’s inclusion in the TPP would be of real value to Washington—not only because it could provide an immediate boost to U.S. exports but also because increased Mexican sales to TPP markets would translate into more U.S. exports, a virtuous cycle. It would result in more jobs on both sides of the border.”

    Mexico Hosts First Think-20 Research Summit

    Writing for World Politics Review, the Stanley Foundation’s David Shorr reflects on last week’s Think-20, a summit held in Mexico City that brought together 22 representatives from research institutions around the world to discuss this year’s G20 agenda. The February 27 and 28 meetings were the first of their kind held in conjunction with the G20. “[T]he essential function of think tanks is to provide strategic perspective and innovative policy frameworks,” writes Schorr. “Hitching those capabilities more closely to the G20 may indeed prove helpful.” 

    AS/COA Online covers the Think-20 on its Mexico City Conference blog. The annual AS/COA event held in Mexico’s capital takes place this year on March 13 and will explore Mexico’s global leadership role in the context of its G20 presidency. Visit for an agenda, analysis, and to tune into the live webcast on the day of the event.

    Read More

    Tags: Drug war, Mexico Elections, Pacific Alliance, Biden Trip, Latino Voters

  • Chile’s LAN Airlines Flies First Commercial Biofuel Flight

    March 8, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Chilean airline company LAN hit a landmark on Wednesday, flying its first-ever commercial flight using biofuel. An Airbus 320 flew 170 passengers from the capital of Santiago to the southern city of Concepción, powered by a biofuel made from refined vegetable oil.

    Ignacio Cueto, general manager of LAN, said the flight “represented a key step toward the future of the industry,” and that there is “high potential” for biofuel production in South America. As LAN expands its operations in Latin America—with the acquisition of Colombia’s Aires and the recent merger with Brazil’s TAM airlines—the company is looking to develop alternate and cleaner sources of fuel. This is consistent with the direction in which the global airline industry is headed; the International Air Transport Association has committed to increasing its use of renewable fuels to 1 percent by 2015 and 5 percent by 2020. At the same time, Cueto and others emphasize that “the strictest technical standards” will continue to be upheld, and that investment to expand the use of biofuels will not be prohibitively high.

    Cueto did not specify the cost of a ticket for Wednesday’s Santiago–Concepción flight, saying only that the costs of biofuel-powered flights are not yet competitive. Yet he also affirmed LAN’s future willingness to use biofuel in all its flights, and to work with any supplier that can offer competitive costs. Wednesday’s flight was accomplished as a part of a joint initiative with biofuel and forestry conglomerate Copec, with biofuel imported from the United States. Yet Copec general manager Lorenzo Guzmari expressed confidence that Chile could develop its own renewable fuels.

    Biofuels are commonly made from plants with high levels of sugar and some oils. The ones used for LAN’s flight can be made from plants such as algaes, jatropha and halophytes and organic wastes, which can then be processed into high-quality fuels. In its press release LAN clarified that none of the fuels used were destined for consumption as food. The release also noted that the amount of carbon dioxide emitted during combusion of these biofuels is about the same as the amount taken up by plants during their growth cycle, which means that it results in no net addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

    Tags: Chile, Climate change, Alternative energy and renewables, LAN

  • China and the Americas: Common Roots of Internal Migration

    March 7, 2012

    by Nnenna M. Ozobia

    Internal migration is a common trend around the globe, and China is no exception. It has one of the highest levels of migration, mostly from rural areas to urban centers. According to the National Bureau of Statistics of China, 271 million people did not live in their registered residence for more than six months last year. Some estimates project that number will hit 350 million by 2050.

    Rural-to-urban migration in particular continues to stimulate China’s economic development. The largest human migration in the world takes place during the Chinese New Year season, when millions of people travel from major cities to their hometowns to reunite with loved ones. There are many reports, books and documentaries that tell vivid stories of the incredible personal sacrifice migrants and their families make in pursuit of a better life. Those sacrifices can even become so unbearable that families ultimately go back to searching for work or business opportunities closer to home. After the holiday break this year, China experienced a shortage of workers as some failed to return to work.

    Not everyone, however, is eager to return home to the countryside. Dominated by the agricultural industry, the rural, Hunan province town in which I reside is home to residents who go to bed far earlier than urbanites and who perform demanding labor that reaps little financial wealth. Many young people in particular have no desire to perpetuate the status quo. It is pretty uncommon to see residents in the 20-plus and 30-plus age demographics.

    The Chinese government has started to offer certain incentives to make rural living more appealing (such as subsidies and machinery) and has even considered paying premiums for insurance against bad weather. The combination of such incentives with increasing rural development and family demands has been successful in drawing some residents back. But youth in particular still tend to prefer more urban lifestyles. 

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    Tags: Bolivia, China, Migration

  • UN Achieves Millennium Development Goal

    March 7, 2012

    by AQ Inclusion

    The United Nations has already met one of its Millennium Development Goals (MDG) ahead of the 2015 deadline: access to safe drinking water. This was one of the 21 sub-goals or “targets” folded into the eight larger goals: eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; achievement of universal primary education; promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women; reduction of child mortality rates; improvement of maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and undertaking a global partnership for development. The MDGs were agreed upon in the Millennium Declaration circa September 2000.

    The specific MDG target achieved is worded as follows in the Declaration, relative to the base year of 1990: “Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.” According to a report from the World Health Organization and the UN Children’s Fund, 89 percent of the world’s population had access to improved water sources at the conclusion of 2010, up from 76 percent in 1990—exceeding the goal of 88 percent. A BBC article also notes that although an estimated 800 million people worldwide still drink dirty and unsafe water, in the past 20 years two billion people have accessed improved drinking supplies—a feat that should be celebrated.

    The drinking water access, however, has improved unevenly: of the 11 percent in the world’s population without access to safe drinking water, 40 percent of them live in sub-Saharan Africa.

    Tags: United Nations, sustainability, Millennium Development Goal, Water

  • Santos Meets with Castro, Chávez in Cuba

    March 7, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to Cuba this morning to meet with Cuban President Raúl Castro and Hugo Chávez in a visit the Colombian government says has two objectives. The first is to discuss the questions of Cuba’s participation next month in the Organization of American States’ Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. The second is to formally sign an outstanding bilateral trade agreement with President Chávez who is in Cuba recovering from surgery since February 24th.

    Although the United States has thus far opposed any possible role for Cuba in the summit, other regional leaders, such as Ecuador President Rafael Correa, have supported inviting Cuba to attend, saying, “it is unheard of that in the twenty-first century, something is called the Summit of the Americas and for certain hegemonic countries some of us are Americans and some of us are not.” Correa further stated that the regional trade alliance, Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (ALBA), would boycott the event if Cuba was not somehow involved. As host of the Summit, Colombia will likely have ultimate say over the question of Cuba’s participation.

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    Tags: Summit of the Americas, Cuba, Free Trade Agreement, Colombia, Venezuela, Raul Castro, Hugo Chavez, Juan Manuel Santos

  • La inseguridad ciudadana en El Alto en Bolivia

    March 6, 2012

    by Cecilia Lanza

    Tenía que sucederle a un personaje público para que en El Alto—y en el país—se arme la grande. Y sucedió. Verónica Peñasco, jefa de prensa de radio San Gabriel en El Alto y su hermano Víctor Hugo, también periodista, fueron asesinados la semana pasada por los llamados “cogoteros”. Ladrones que estrangulan a sus víctimas en pequeños buses de transporte público ("minibuses") o taxis. Una práctica que en esa populosa ciudad boliviana ha llevado a conformar incluso una organización civil de “víctimas de los cogoteros”. Sólo el año pasado han muerto 80 personas de ese modo. Ahora la gente pide “¡Pena de muerte!”

    No es la primera vez que en El Alto los vecinos protestan furibundos ante la inseguridad ciudadana. Hace ya varios años que el debate se abrió a raíz de los linchamientos sucedidos en todo el país, pero sobre todo en El Alto, a nombre de la llamada “justicia comunitaria”. Era, claro, un pretexto para de alguna manera legitimar la “justicia por mano propia” que nada tiene que ver con la justicia comunitaria digamos “originaria” que tiene otra lógica y que no contempla la pena de muerte (aunque hay datos antropológicos excepcionales, muy antiguos)

    El caso es que los vecinos de El Alto están hartos de la delincuencia. Y no es para menos. Porque pobre que es robado multiplica el agravio y la protesta. Porque en El Alto cerca del 80 por ciento de la gente es pobre que vive con $2 al día. De hecho, según la “primera encuesta de victimización, prácticas y percepción sobre violencia y delito" realizada por un importante centro de investigación boliviano (PIEB) El Alto es donde más hogares pobres son atacados por la delincuencia: “la proporción de hogares pobres victimizados representa el 75 por ciento del total, mientras que los hogares de estratos altos víctimas de robo representan el 4 por ciento”. 

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    Tags: Bolivia, Crime and Security

  • Biden Discusses Arms Trade, Bilateral Ties in Mexico

    March 6, 2012

    by AQ Online

    During Vice President Joe Biden’s one-day visit to Mexico City on Monday, President Felipe Calderón asked that the United States do more to "strengthen actions against the trafficking of weapons into our country and money laundering,” according to a statement from the president's office. More than 60,000 of the weapons used by Mexican cartels have been identified as originating in the United States.

    Biden also met with the three presidential candidates participating in Mexico’s July 1 general election to discuss security and cooperation. The frontrunner, Enrique Peña Nieto, said after his meeting that his Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) party is committed to fighting organized crime. "The discussion is not whether we should or shouldn't fight against it, but what we can do to achieve better results, he told reporters. Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador said later that the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship should prioritize development, jobs and welfare to decrease the push of migration. Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) candidate Josefina Vásquez Mota, who is closing in on Peña Nieto’s lead in the polls, said that the candidates in the U.S. and Mexican presidential should avoid the contentious immigration issue in the lead up to their respective elections.

    Biden travels to Honduras today to meet with President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, as well as the presidents of El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. Over the past several months, the presidents of these Central American nations—including Guatemala's President Otto Pérez Molina—and Mexico have said they are open to the idea of legalizing drugs as a response to the U.S.’s inability to curb demand. But after Biden said "there is no possibility the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy."

    Tags: Immigration, Honduras, Drug war, Drug Cartels, Mexico Elections, Biden Trip

  • El tamaño reto de ser fiscal en Colombia

    March 5, 2012

    by Jenny Manrique

    El país jurídico y político se sacudió esta semana con el fallo del Consejo de Estado que dejó sin piso la elección de la primera mujer en ocupar el segundo cargo más importante del país: el de fiscal general de la Nación.

    Dos días después de conocerse la decisión, la propia Viviane Morales anunció su renuncia irrevocable rechazando así de tajo la posibilidad de ser ternada para un segundo periodo. Como su elección en suma se cayó por vicios de forma, era posible que volviera a ser incluida por el presidente Juan Manuel Santos, en el listado de candidatos a sucederla. Aunque jurídicamente algunos consideraban inviable su reelección, lo cierto es que Morales, después del que calificó como el más “año más duro,” de su vida, no va más en el ente acusador.

    Por lo menos eso se desprende de su discurso de despedida en el que salieron varias cosas a flote como una defensa férrea a su marido, Carlos Alonso Lucio, un personaje con un prontuario importante (ex guerrillero del m19, mediador de procesos de paz y supuesto colaborador de paramilitares), que se convirtió en el talón de aquiles de su gestión. Un sector de la sociedad incluyendo connotadas columnistas, sugirieron que Lucio estaba influyendo en sus decisiones y por eso a ellos les dedicó unas palabras. Dijo que afrontó una "escalada de ataques perversos inhumanos de algunos periodistas y algunos medios de comunicación en el intento desesperado por provocar mi renuncia. Ni Colombia creyó en sus mentiras ni yo cedí a sus presiones."

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    Tags: Colombia, justice

  • Monday Memo: AQ’s Top-Five Expected Stories for This Week

    March 5, 2012

    by AQ Online

    What does AQ Online expect to be the anticipated headline grabbers for the week of March 5-9, 2012? The top-five stories include: Joe Biden’s Latin America tour; FIFA’s criticism of Brazil; Hugo Chávez’ health recovery; new presidential polls in Mexico; and the UN making further preparations for Rio+20.

    1) Biden in Mexico and Honduras: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived yesterday in Mexico, where he holds meetings today in Mexico City with Mexican President Felipe Calderón and the three presidential candidates for the July 2012 election. According to Tony Blinken, national security advisor to the vice president, Biden and Calderón will discuss a wide range of bilateral issues “in the spirit of equal partnership, mutual respect and shared responsibility.” Tomorrow morning, Biden travels to Honduras to meet privately with President Porfirio Lobo, and then will have lunch with the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama. Much of Biden’s visit will center around the violence surrounding narcotics trafficking through Central America. 

    Although Blinken said that the meeting in Honduras “provides an opportunity to reaffirm the United States' strong support for the tremendous leadership President Lobo has displayed in advancing national reconciliation and democratic and constitutional order,” AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini posits, “almost three years after the coup, Honduras has deteriorated politically and socially—and the region has largely walked away from it.”

    2) Brazil-FIFA Row: After FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke criticized on Friday Brazil’s lack of preparedness for the 2014 World Cup, specifically its lack of infrastructure and delayed construction timetables, Brazilian Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo has refused to communicate directly with Valcke. Rebelo called Valcke’s remarks—specifically that Brazil needs a “kick in the backside”—offensive and unacceptable. Expect this contention to further increase as the June 2014 kickoff date approaches, but more recently as Valcke lands in Brazil in the coming days.

    3) Chávez in Recovery: The revelation by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez that the lesion he had surgically removed in Cuba was indeed a malignant tumor has fueled speculation about his long-term health outlook before and after the October 7 presidential contest against Henrique Capriles Radonski. According to Christopher Sabatini, “unfortunately, the president has refused to be transparent about his condition in the past” and that his admission of the malignant tumor “still raises a number of questions including the prognosis for his recovery, his treatment and some alternative plan should his condition take a turn for the worse.”

    Read More

    Tags: Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Honduras, Sustainable development, Felipe Calderon, United Nations, Climate change, Hugo Chavez, Joe Biden, 2014 World Cup, Porfirio Lobo, Enrique Peña Nieto, Josefina Vázquez Mota, Monday Memo

  • Guatemalan Judge Rejects Dictator's Amnesty Plea

    March 2, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Judge Miguel Angel Galvez denied former Guatemalan dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt's appeal for amnesty in a genocide case yesterday. The charges were originally filed by Judge Carol Patricia Flores Blanco in January and allege that General Ríos Montt was involved in the death of 1,771 individuals and the displacement of 29,000 Indigenous Guatemalans during the 36-year civil war. The January decision case marked the first time a Latin American president was charged with genocide.

    Ríos Montt appealed the January decision on the grounds that he is protected by a 1986 amnesty law. However, the ruling yesterday signaled that the international treaty against genocide, signed by Guatemala in 1973, discounts any amnesty protection. "There are crimes like genocide and crimes against humanity that have no statute of limitations, and for that reason there can be no amnesty decree," said Galvez. But Francisco Palomo, Ríos Montt's defense lawyer, said the Constitutional Court will be the one to ultimately decide the case.

    Ríos Montt took power in a 1982 coup and served as leader of the military junta until the following year. After an unsuccessful presidential run in 2003, the former general went on to win a congressional seat in 2007 as part of the Frente Republicano Guatemalteco (Guatemalan Republican Front). Guatemalan electoral laws protect congressional representatives from prosecution, and Ríoss Montt was untouchable until his term ended on January 14. Retired Generals Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez and Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes, who served under Ríos Montt in the 1980s, are also being charged.

    Tags: Guatemala civil war, genocide

  • Argentine Corn Exports to China in Peril

    March 1, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Argentine government sources confirmed yesterday that despite the recent signing of a much lauded treaty between Argentina and China to promote food exports—particularly maize (corn) to China, access to the Chinese market will still be restricted  due to inconsistencies in health and safety regulations between both countries.

    Argentina is the second-largest exporter of corn in the world, after the United States. At current market prices, the Argentine Ministry of Agriculture’s 2012 estimates for corn—between 20.5 and 22 million tons—could generate up to $6.2 billion in revenues for both the private sector and additional tax revenues for the government.

    Several Argentine firms have complained anonymously about the disputed health and safety clauses, including one senior executive who said, “No company will risk exporting maize to China because they have the power to reject the shipment once it arrives.” The Argentine Ministry of Agriculture quickly rebuked this claim, saying that “companies should not worry since [such clauses] are very common in bilateral treaties, and will probably not affect overall corn trade.”

    Tags: Agriculture, Argentina, China, Trade Argentina-China

  • UN Report Highlights Crime Problem in the Caribbean

    February 29, 2012

    by Jaevion Nelson

    Two regrettable constants throughout the Caribbean region are that insecurity threatens human development and that crime and violence stymie economic prosperity. Research has upheld the latter; violence discourages tourism, foreign direct investment and business expansion. Crime has negative impacts on people’s livelihoods, mental wellbeing, socioeconomic status, and political freedom.

    In 2010, the Caribbean had an intentional homicide rate of 21 percent per 100,000 people, a three-percentage-point increase from 2004. Barbados and Suriname have shown relatively low homicide rates over a 20-year timeframe, from 1990 to 2010. The World Bank reported in 2007 that crime is so costly, that if it were to be controlled in Jamaica alone, Jamaica’s gross domestic product would increase by 5.4 percent annually.

    The UN Development Program (UNDP) is doing a commendable job of highlighting these devastating effects, in part through its recent publication of “Caribbean Human Development Report 2012: Human Development and the Shift to Better Citizen Security.” This is the UNDP’s first-ever Caribbean-specific report on human development, and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark visited Trinidad & Tobago earlier this month to launch it. The report provides an assessment on the state of crime in Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad & Tobago—and gives space to the national and regional policies and programs that these countries are enacting to address it. It ultimately states: “the Caribbean cannot achieve sustainable well-being and enjoy the fruits of its efforts toward progress unless its people can be secure in their daily lives.”

    Tags: Barbados, Crime, violence, Jamaica, United Nations, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Lucia, Suriname

  • After Correa’s Pardon, Ecuador Should Forgive but Must Not Forget

    February 29, 2012

    by Lindsay Green-Barber

    Ecuador’s Corte Constitucional (Constitutional Court) has delivered numerous controversial verdicts in the past six months with regard to freedom of the press and freedom of expression. But in a strange twist of events, on Monday President Rafael Correa pardoned the convicted defendants of two cases in which he was the plaintiff.  It is a welcome change, but it is one nonetheless that is too little, too late. In fact, it presents a danger that the pressure from the international human rights community will lessen in Ecuador at this very crucial moment in which the proposed Ley de Comunicación (Communication Law) is being debated.

    In late 2011, Ecuador's highest court ruled on three landmark cases with regard to freedom of expression. First, the court found the opinion editor and two directors the El Universo newspaper guilty of libel, sentencing them to three years in jail and $40 million in damages.  The court also found the authors of the book El Gran Hermano, which was critical of Correa, guilty of libel and ordered each to pay a $1 million fine.  Finally, Indigenous activist Monica Chuji was found guilty of spreading libel about Minister Vinicio Alvarado in an interview published in the newspaper El Comercio; Chuji was sentenced to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine; Chuji’s appeal is still being considered.

    After much international pressure from human rights organizations, such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), President Correa pardoned the convicted defendants in the El Universo and El Gran Hermano cases, effectively archiving the cases and dismissing the penalties.  However, because the court already delivered their rulings for these aforementioned two cases, those decisions stand as precedent within the judicial system.  Similarly, in his pardon Correa declared that if anyone was to publish similarly libelous material, he would not hesitate to bring suit again.

    The strategic timing of these pardons reveals Correa’s true intent. First, the pardon aims to get the international spotlight off the Ecuadorian media and the debate surrounding the proposed Ley de Comunicación. A special commission of legislators presented the newly drafted communication law earlier this month; while it contains some important changes from the draft previously presented by President Correa in July 2009, it still remains ambiguous in key areas—leaving space for abuse by the executive and judicial branches. 

    Read More

    Tags: Ecuador, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Rafael Correa, Media, justice

  • President Hugo Chávez Reportedly in Good Condition after Surgery

    February 29, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is reportedly in satisfactory condition following surgery in Havana, Cuba to remove a cancerous lesion from his pelvic area, according to a statement delivered Tuesday afternoon by Vice President  Elías Jaua: “The surgery was carried out as planned, obtaining a satisfactory result. President Chávez is in good physical condition,” he said.

    This week’s procedure is the third surgery that President Chávez, 57, has undergone over the last year in his battle against an undisclosed variety of cancer. Prior to his disclosure last week that a new round of care was necessary, Chávez had proclaimed that his initial rounds of treatment were successful and that he was “cancer free.” News of the illness’ recurrence have raised new questions about the need for possible succession planning—should Chávez need to step down during his recovery—and Chávez’ ability to campaign for Venezuela’s October 7 presidential elections.

    There is little certainty about who would replace Chávez if he is forced to leave office, as he has denied that any of his political allies are qualified to succeed him. Venezuela’s opposition leader and presidential candidate Henrique Capriles-Radonski has repeatedly stated his hope that Chávez will make a full recovery, while also criticizing the administration’s secrecy regarding the president’s illness.

    Tags: Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, Henrique Capriles Radonski

  • En Guatemala, Una Mujer Maya Defiende los Derechos Humanos

    February 28, 2012

    by Hector Javier Tecum

    A través del hemisferio occidental, activistas ciudadanos fuera del sector público luchan cotidianamente por los derechos humanos y una sociedad más justa e igual; en la comunidad maya guatemalteca, Aura Lolita Chávez es una lideresa que defiende los derechos de los pueblos mayas, y recién la entrevisté.

    Ella fue nacida en Santa Cruz del Quiché—160 kilómetros al noroccidente de la capital guatemalteca. Lolita es la fundadora y coordinadora del Consejo de Pueblos K’ichés, una instancia integrada por lideres indígenas de distintas regiones del departamento de Quiché y que busca fomentar una mayor participación de los sectores marginados y discriminados de la sociedad guatemalteca.

    Su constante lucha a favor de los pueblos indígenas le ha costado una serie de acciones en su contra como denuncias en el Ministerio Público y en otras instancias judiciales porque constantemente lucha por la defensa de la vida, madre naturaleza, la tierra y el territorio. También, propugna mensajes de lucha y resistencia ante las políticas estatales que marginan o relegan a los indígenas a posiciones no deseadas, una de sus fuertes luchas es contra la explotación y exploración minera y la mala utilización de los recursos naturales, también es conocida por la organización de protestas y el bloqueo de carreteras para que las autoridades atiendan las peticiones de los pueblos indígenas.

    Entre sus principales metas está el lograr una mejor calidad de vida para los pueblos de Quiché—por ello en una actividad recientemente declaró que los pueblos indígenas están en contra de las mínimas regalías que las grandes empresas mineras dejan al Estado sin que las comunidades afectadas se vean beneficiadas. Por ello exclamó, “Decimos sí a la vida y no a las regalías, porque nuestra tierra no se vende, se recupera y se defiende.”

    Tags: Guatemala, Social inclusion, women, indigenous, Maya

  • ¿Volverán a la libertad todos los rehenes?

    February 28, 2012

    by Jenny Manrique

    Una maratón de 110 horas de mensajes radiales en favor de los secuestrados, tuvo lugar la semana pasada en Colombia en el marco de una jornada exitosa en términos de las palabras de solidaridad escuchadas, pero triste en términos de la presencia que hizo la sociedad civil en el lugar del encuentro.

    Una escalada de ataques de las FARC principalmente en sus bastiones tradicionales ubicados en los departamentos de Cauca y Nariño, que ha causado numerosas bajas de civiles y uniformados, terminó con el epílogo este lunes del desplazamiento de más de 1200 lugareños en Caldono, en una muestra retaliatoria al discurso aquel de que están acabadas.

    Este es el contexto en el que la guerrilla anuncia que que no serán seis sino 10 los rehenes que liberarían en las próximas semanas, superando los escollos de la mediación internacional de Brasil y poniendo a una figura tan respetada como Marleny Orjuela, miembro de Asfamipaz, a ser quien encabece la comisión de recibimiento de los secuestrados.

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    Tags: Colombia, FARC

  • Correa Pardons Journalist, Publishers over Libel

    February 28, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Ecuador President Rafael Correa announced yesterday that he would pardon the columnist and three publishers of the newspaper El Universo that were found guilty of libel against the government. The transgressors were facing three years in prison and were ordered to pay Correa $10 million each in damages—a decision upheld by the Ecuador's National Court of Justice in mid-February.

    Correa filed suit last year over an opinion column written by chief opinion editor, Emilio Palacio in 2011 and titled “No a las mentiras” (No more lies), which was published by brothers Carlos, César and Nicolás Perez. The column referred to the president as a “dictator” and accused him of ordering troops to “fire at will” on a hospital full of civilians during a September 2010 police revolt. The trial provoked a backlash from international media and human rights groups who accused the president of stifling free speech.

    Correa responded in yesterday’s televised address, saying the case was a fight for justice against the “dictatorship of the media.” The president dropped another libel case against two other journalists who wrote a book that said companies tied to his older brother had $600 million in contracts with the Ecuadorian state.

    But Correa’s address did little to placate his critics. Carlos Lauria of the Committee to Protect Journalists said that Correa is acting more like a king than a president, and is “using archaic and outdated laws to silence critical journalists.” Human Rights Watch’s director for Latin America, Jose Miguel Vivanco, said the case “will certainly contribute to an environment of self-censorship.”

    Tags: President Rafael Correa, Ecuadoran Media, Libel

  • AQ Slideshow: Salvador, the Afro-Brazilian Capital

    February 27, 2012

    by Paulo Rogério

    While most of the world knows about Brazil’s burgeoning economic strength, much fewer people are fully aware of the country’s multiethnic diversity. This celebration is on full display in the state of Bahia and its capital of Salvador: the nucleus of Afro-Brazilian culture. Here are some examples of Salvador’s unique qualities. All photos courtesy of Fafá Araújo. All captions courtesy of Paulo Rogério.




    Tags: Brazil, Social inclusion, Tourism, Afro-Latinos

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

    February 27, 2012

    by AQ Online

    AQ Online today launches its weekly Monday Memo that looks ahead to what it expects to be the top headline grabbers for the week. The top anticipated stories for the week of February 27 include: Hugo Chávez’ surgery; U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s current five-country Latin America tour; U.S. Vice President’s forthcoming visit to Mexico and Honduras; the search for a new prime minister in Haiti; and FARC suspending kidnappings in Colombia.

    Chávez' Cancer: As the Venezuelan president heads to Cuba for a second surgical operation, the rumor mill on his real health status will continue as will the discussion about what its implications will be for Venezuela's October presidential election. Christopher Sabatini, AQ editor-in-chief, observes: “While it may translate into sympathy support, President Chávez' lack of transparency about his illness and treatment will likely raise fears among some Venezuelans about their future and a potential successor—irrespective of what the president says upon his release.”

    Napolitano on Latin America Tour: U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano begins a five-country tour today through Wednesday in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama. According to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) press release, Secretary Napolitano will be accompanied by Acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection David Aguilar and DHS Assistant Secretary for International Affairs Alan Bersin. Her visit is likely intended to reiterate support for security measures like the Central America Regional Security Initiative and reinforce counter-trafficking efforts to interdict narcotics through key transit points.

    Biden to Mexico and Honduras: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will visit Mexico and Honduras on March 4-6, meeting with both Presidents Calderón and Lobo. Why is the Vice President going to Honduras?  While Mexico remains an important economic, diplomatic and strategic partner in the war on drugs, the trip to Honduras is a mystery. Since the 2009 coup, Honduras has become the murder capital of Central America. Two weeks ago, a fire at a Honduran prison left 350 inmates dead—an incident that Human Rights Watch blamed on poor and overcrowded conditions in Honduran prisons.

    Haiti Prime Minister Watch: The abrupt resignation of Haitian Prime Minister Gary Conille on Friday culminated weeks of disagreement between him and President Michel Martelly. The departure of the former UN diplomat and favorite of the international aid community is a blow for both political stability in Haiti and for donor nations that had great hopes in a government that included his technical skills. Jason Marczak, AQ senior editor, says: “Expect President Martelly to move quickly in naming a successor, with a candidate likely announced this week.” Foreign Minister Laurent Lamothe is one possibility as is Chief of Staff Ann-Valerie Milfort. However, both would face a tough confirmation by an opposition-controlled legislature. 

    FARC Hostage Release: Colombia's FARC announced on Sunday that it will suspend all kidnapping and free remaining prisoners. Is this a political ploy or a true change in tactics? Given the group's decentralized nature, it is unclear whether the FARC secretariat can actually enforce the order, if it chooses to do so. Expect renewed debate this week on whether this may help to clear the way for an eventual peace dialogue or if the current strategy should continue without talks.

    Tags: Costa Rica, Mexico, Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Felipe Calderon, FARC, Janet Napolitano, Haiti, Hugo Chavez, Joe Biden, Porfirio Lobo, Counternarcotics, Michel Martelly, Garry Conille

  • El Barrio Remembers Piri Thomas

    February 24, 2012

    by Wilda Escarfuller

    Piri Thomas, revered as an icon of New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood (El Barrio) and author of Down These Mean Streets, was honored last weekend by fans and fellow artists at the Museo del Barrio. Thomas passed away last year, and was known for infusing terms like cheverete! (fantastic) and punto! (period) into New York’s Spanglish lexicon, and for positioning East Harlem’s Nuyorican (New York/Puerto Rican) experience on the map. Down these Mean Streets and other works told a story of a community that is rich in cultural heritage but conflicted by an identity caught between New York and Puerto Rico. Prior to discovering his writing and story-telling talents, Thomas discovered another passion while incarcerated: uplifting at-risk youth through poetry and the written word.

    Spanning several generations and backgrounds, Thomas’ admirers lined up patiently to commemorate his life alongside poets, activists and authors including author Junot Díaz, poet Emmanuel Xavier, poet Lemon Anderson, fiction author Willie Perdomo, poet Martín Espada, former Young Lord Party activist Felipe Luciano, and former director of El Museo Marta Moreno Vega. Speakers recounted their experiences of meeting Thomas for the first time and discussed how Thomas’ style influenced their work. Some of the artists read from Thomas’ collected works while others delivered writings of their own that spoke to Thomas’ character. Lemon Anderson read excerpts from the script of his play, County of Kings, and Xavier read an adaptation of Down These Means Streets that described his experience as a gay man.

    After the artists delivered their heartfelt dedication to Thomas, a panel featuring Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, editor Marcela Landres and Felipe Luciano discussed contemporary challenges facing Latinos in the U.S. and Latin American ethno-cultural literature. Much of the discussion revolved around Tucson, Arizona, where HB 2281 (which went into effect in January 2011) prohibits schools from offering courses at any grade level that advocate ethnic solidarity or cater to specific ethnic groups. Much of the Latino literature canon has been banned from schools, including Martín Espada’s 17-book collection. The panel concluded that the exclusion of these books is a clear extension of the discriminatory immigration laws that have taken hold in Arizona, Georgia, Alabama, and elsewhere. Ultimately, laws like HB 2281 drive a wedge between American literature and Latino/Latin American literature, and call into question the concept of equality for all regardless of their nationality.

    It’s been 45 years since Thomas’ work injected the Nuyorican identity into mainstream literature and shed light on how issues of race and ethnicity play out in the United States post-World War II. The panel discussion concluded that half of a century later this country is still grappling with this same issue of what/who is or is not American.

    Though they may fall under the genre of Latino or Latin American literature, the works being banned and their authors represent the American experience in its fullest and should be recognized as such, punto! Achieving this would be the best way of honoring the memory of Piri Thomas.

    Tags: Piri Thomas, Down These Mean Streets

  • Peru’s Development Minister Wraps Up Washington Visit

    February 24, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Peruvian Minister of Development and Social Inclusion Carolina Trivelli yesterday concluded a three-day visit to Washington DC during which she met with Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Maria Otero, as well as other senior officials from the Departments of State, Education, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services. The purpose of Trivelli’s trip was to deepen the U.S.–Peru relationship on economic and social development issues. 

    According to State Department sources, Trivelli’s delegation discussed a range of topics including early childhood education, nutrition, women’s empowerment, and boosting social inclusion for Indigenous and other marginalized groups.

    An early outcome of Trivelli’s U.S. visit was the announcement of a $1 million commitment by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for a three-year pilot program on early childhood education. Since taking power in 2011, President Ollanta Humala’s government has stressed the need to accelerate and improve assistance to those still living in conditions of extreme poverty. As head of the government ministry charged with achieving poverty-reduction goals, Trivelli hopes to attract increased development assistance from bilateral aid agencies and multilateral donors alike.

    Tags: Peru, Development, Social inclusion, Inter-American Development Bank, poverty, Ollanta Humala

  • Guatemala and the U.S.: Priorities in the Bilateral Relationship

    February 23, 2012

    by Joshua Ryan Rosales

    With a visit this week to Washington by Guatemalan Foreign Minsiter Harold Caballeros, and an impending first-time visit to Guatemala City by U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Guatemala appears to have momentarily captured the attention of the United States. For Guatemala, the bilateral relationship is a top foreign policy priority. In addition, the over 1.2 million Guatemalans living in the U.S. are an economic lifeline to their native country, representing 10 percent of Guatemala’s GDP .

    Guatemala’s fate is invariably tied to its Northern Triangle neighbors; each face an uphill battle in increasing the protections for migrants, reducing rampant organized crime and strengthening incomplete security apparatuses. For the U.S., relations with Guatemala are largely viewed within a larger Central American context, particularly through the Sistema de Integración Centroamericana (Central American Integration System—SICA). Guatemala also is the beneficiary of USAID projects and the U.S. as well supports Guatemala’s UN-mandated Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala—CICIG). Still, funding increases for the Central American Regional Security Initiative is one area in which Guatemalans are lobbying for more support. 

    With democratic consolidation solidifying in Guatemala, the U.S. has the opportunity to address other Guatemala-specific issues that lie near the forefront of the bilateral relationship. One would be granting Temporary Protection Status for undocumented Guatemalans living in the U.S., the economic lifelines of Guatemala. Another would be for the U.S. to further boost investments in security and development to the levels that other regional and global partners receive from the United States. Lifting the current military cooperation embargo against Guatemala would further provide the country with the technology, know-how and equipment to fight organized crime within its territory, a problem that is severely crippling the central government. Considering that Guatemala shares a border with Mexico and is used as a “bridge” for most narcotics trafficked to the United States, Guatemala should be part of the solution to the violence plaguing the isthmus. 

    Read More

    Tags: Guatemala, migrants, Remittances, Drug Trafficking, Janet Napolitan

  • Vice President Biden to Travel to Mexico, Honduras in Early March

    February 23, 2012

    by AQ Online

    The White House announced yesterday that Joe Biden will travel to Mexico and Honduras on March 4–6. In Mexico City, he will meet with President Felipe Calderón to underscore the U.S. commitment to dialogue and collaboration on a range of issues important to both countries. Following that, Vice President Biden will travel to Tegucigalpa for a bilateral meeting with President Porfirio Lobo.  Further details about these meetings will be released at a later date.

    Biden will also participate in a meeting of Central American leaders organized by President Lobo, the president pro tempore of the Central American Integration System. It is expected that the topic of crime and security will figure heavily into that meeting—especially following Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina’s statement last week that his country and others should consider legalizing drugs to help reduce violence in the region.

    In both countries, Biden will also be discussing the agenda for the Summit of the Americas, which will be held in Cartagena, Colombia, in mid-April, and the official theme of which will be physical integration and regional cooperation within the Western hemisphere as mechanisms for development and increased prosperity.

    Biden last traveled to the region in March 2009, when he met with Latin American heads of state at the Summit of Progressive Leaders in Viña del Mar, Chile and a summit of Central American leaders in San José, Costa Rica.

    Tags: Mexico, Honduras, Joe Biden, U.S.-Latin America relations

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    February 22, 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.

    Venezuelan Election Outlook Complicated by Chávez Cancer News

    President of Venezuala Hugo Chávez confirmed the discovery of a new tumor in his pelvic region on February 21, and said he will undergo surgery in Cuba. Speaking to Venezuelan television, Chávez said the tumor could be malignant, and was found in the same location as a previous tumor he had removed last year. Chávez’s announcement comes after a weekend during which officials denied media rumors that Chávez went to Cuba to receive medical treatment, and months of Chávez repeatedly declaring he is cured of cancer. Foreign Policy’s Transitions Blog discusses the implications of Chávez’s new diagnosis, especially in an election year, asking in the headline “How do you campaign against a cancer victim?”

    Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis on Henrique Capriles Radonski's victory in the opposition primary.

    Read an AS/COA Hemispheric Update on what to expect from Venezuela's upcoming presidential election.

    Homeless in Venezuelan Election Spotlight

    NPR’s All Things Considered discussed Venezuela’s housing crisis, which Venezuela’s opposition sees as an election issue. Though the Chávez government promised housing for Venezuela’s homeless, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski points out that official data show fewer homes have been built by the Chávez government than any previous administration. More than 2 million Venezuelans are homeless out of a total population of 29 million.

    Venezuelan Regulator Shutters 35 Radio Stations in Three Months

    The Caracas Chronicles blog discusses a report in Venezuela's El Nacional on the Chávez government’s closure of 35 radio stations in the past three months. Though the reasons for the closures vary, the author believes it is part of a strategy to limit the opposition's media outreach. “With most TV off-limits, radio was the one remaining medium the Capriles campaign could count on to reach a mass audience.”

    Read an Americas Quarterly web exclusive by Caracas Chronicles author Juan Nagel on Capriles' vision for Venezuela.

    U.S. Vice President to Visit Honduras, Mexico in March

    The White House announced today that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Mexico and Honduras from March 4 to 6. In both countries he is expected to discuss April’s Summit of the Americas, to be held in Cartagena, Colombia. The Mexico stop will focus on bilateral cooperation while the Honduras visit will involve meetings with Central American leaders.

    Read More

    Tags: G20, Venezuelan Election, Chavez Cancer, Bidden Mexico Visit, Colombia Infrastructure, Mexico US Oil Exploration

  • Unidos de Vila Isabel Wins Best Samba School at Rio Carnival

    February 22, 2012

    by AQ Online

    On Tuesday, the Unidos de Vila Isabel school took this top honor at carnival with the theme “You semba there[…] I sambo here. The free song of Angola.”

    The announcement came as the Carnival celebration ended on Tuesday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after attracting what Brazilian authorities believe is a record total of 2.2 million revelers.  According to tourism officials, up to 850,000 foreign tourists had traveled to Rio de Janeiro to partake in the celebrations.

    The traditional Carnival festivities are held across Latin America every year 46 days before Easter. Brazil’s celebrations are among the world’s most famous, but there are distinct celebrations for every city and country in the region. Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival, Bola Preta, which officially dates back to 1918, is a five-day celebration and massive parade through the iconic sambodromo stadium.  Every year, seven different samba schools parade and compete for the title of the Estandarte de Ouro for the city’s best samba school. This year the Unidos de Vila Isabel school took the prize. Once a religious holiday, Carnival has taken a different focus and is seen as a celebration that brings everybody together, from all districts and neighboring towns. 

    Read More

    Tags: Brazil, Carnaval, Rio de Janeiro

  • Time for UN Peacekeepers to Rethink their Role in Haiti

    February 21, 2012

    by Abby Goldberg

    Last week, a United Nations Security Council delegation visited Haiti to assess the 10,500-member peacekeeping force, known as the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti or MINUSTAH. The visit was to assess security needs in Haiti before the UN Security Council makes a decision about whether to reduce the number of forces stationed in the country.

    In a complete departure from past assessment missions, this trip included minimal assessment of actual peacekeeping, the reason MINUSTAH was sent to Haiti in the first place. Instead, the Security Council focused primarily on two major afflictions caused by MINUSTAH: Their admitted introduction of cholera to Haiti and corresponding failure to respond adequately despite ongoing death and illness, as well as reports of sexual abuse by peacekeeping troops, some of which were even recorded on film. Both of these crimes, very distinct in nature, have made it nearly impossible for the UN peacekeeping mission to be successful in its mandate to “keep the peace,” if there is even a peace to keep. Indeed, if anything, MINUSTAH is responsible for much of the unrest and instability.

    Recent protests in Haiti have largely focused on the problems brought by the peacekeepers. Not surprisingly, the Security Council visit last week brought on a new wave of such protests—one of the ways Haitian people have expressed their ongoing frustration with the UN “occupiers” as they are called. One in ten MINUSTAH peacekeepers worldwide are currently stationed in a country the size of Massachusetts, a country where there is no war. Even so, the UN continues to spend more than $2 million a day on the peacekeeping operation. In my own conversations with MINUSTAH personnel, they expressed boredom and difficulty communicating with Haitians, but never mentioned war or peace. They admitted that it is unclear how much security forces can do for Haiti. Haitians, for their part, are calling for justice.  They are demanding accountability. They know the UN is responsible for so much pain they have suffered, and they are asking for compensation. 

    Read More

    Tags: Haiti, MINUSTAH, Cholera

  • LAPOP Releases New Analysis on Education and Skin Color

    February 21, 2012

    by AQ Inclusion

    Vanderbilt University's Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) released a new report yesterday on whether educational attainment, a key indicator of socioeconomic status, is related to skin color in Latin America and the Caribbean. "Pigmentocracy in the Americas: How is Educational Attainment Related to Skin Color?" is written by Edward Telles and Liza Steele, both at the Department of Sociology of Princeton University, and is part of LAPOP's AmericasBarometer series.

    Based on data from LAPOP's 2010 AmericasBarometer, Telles and Steele's analysis concludes that people "with lighter skin color tend to have higher levels of schooling than those with dark skin color throughout the region, with few exceptions." The authors go on to say that "the negative relation between skin color and educational attainment occurs independently of class origin and other variables known to affect socioeconomic status."

    For more analysis, read "The Effects of Skin Color in the Americas", an AQ Web Exclusive by the authors of this LAPOP report.

    Tags: Education, Social inclusion, Skin Color

  • Mexico Prison Staff Fired After Riot

    February 21, 2012

    by AQ Online

    The director of the Apodaca prison in Monterrey, Mexico, was fired yesterday along with several prison officials following Sunday's bloody riot that killed 44 inmates and led to the escape of 30 more prisoners. The escaped prisons are suspected of having ties to the Zetas drug cartel, while most of the murdered inmates were from the rival Gulf gang. The two gangs were allies before they split in 2010 in a turf war over Monterrey's drug trafficking routes.

    The dismissed officials were suspected of abetting the riot and consequent prison break, as there was no sign that the inmates received external help. "It is hard for us to accept that the treachery, corruption and complicity of some [officials] can undermine the work of the good police and military who risk their lives every day for public security," said Nuevo León Governor Rodrigo Medina. Prison guards in Mexico are susceptible to corruption due to low pay and common threats made to them or their families by gangs. A $775,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the capture of the fugitive prisoners. One of the escaped inmates was identified as Oscar Manuel Bernal, alias "El Spider," a Zeta lieutenant arrested in 2010 for the murder of the Nuevo León police commander. 

    Overcrowding and corruption in prisons has been a persistent problem in Nuevo León and other states at the center of Mexico's drug war. In the state of Tamaulipas, a riot last month killed 31 people, while 20 more died in a similar conflict in October. Central American countries like Guatemala and Honduras are facing similar problems. Only last week, a fire in the severely overcrowded Comoyagua penitentiary killed 359 inmates in Honduras. The prison held twice its capacity of inmates, many of whom were being held on suspicion of drug- or gang-related activity but were not convicted of any crime.

    Tags: Zetas, Mexico Prison Riots, Mexico Drug War, Gulf Cartel, El Spider

  • Waiting for Xi Jinping: Latin America and China

    February 17, 2012

    by Andrés Bermúdez Liévano

    Exactly 40 years ago, Richard Nixon landed in China for the beginning of a seven-day state visit that was quickly dubbed “the week that changed the world”. It probably didn't, but it certainly had long-lasting effects on the delicate balances of power of Cold War diplomacy. The visit, which had been carefully prepared by Henry Kissinger and his team, quickly became engraved in pop culture thanks to iconic photographs of Nixon eating with chopsticks next to Mao and of the entire delegation admiring the Great Wall.

    Fast forward 40 years and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping just completed a five-day visit to the U.S., with stops in Washington, Los Angeles and, quite astonishingly, Muscatine, Iowa. This time there were no memorable photo ops, besides one of the man slated to become the next Chinese president driving a tractor. But Xi did more than that: he captured the soul of a small town that had hosted him 27 years ago when he was a provincial public officer on an agricultural mission. On display were his characteristic smile and his apparently affable personality, which have quickly become part of his public image. (And Xi knows the importance of collective imagination quite well, married as he is to one of China's greatest pop singers.)

    Read More

    Tags: China, China and Latin America, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Xi Jinping

  • Colombia’s Former Peace Commissioner: On the Run and Seeking Asylum

    February 17, 2012

    by Andrés Mejía Vergnaud

    El derecho a la ternura (The Right to Tenderness), a book that argues in favor of treating thy neighbor kindly, was somewhat of a local bestseller in Colombia in the mid-1990s. Its author, Luis Carlos Restrepo, had already been mildly successful with another book, La trampa de la razón (The Trap of Reason), which develops the quite original subject of how excessive reasoning is bad in fields like love, sex and friendship. Restrepo, a psychiatrist, became a somewhat successful public lecturer, and a frequent guest of morning radio and TV shows.

    But he is now a prominent fugitive, wanted by the Colombian authorities, after his polemic term as Peace Commissioner during the Uribe administration. Restrepo, however, had fled the country, his whereabouts being completely unknown, and according to a statement released yesterday, is now seeking asylum.

    The current situation dates back to 2002 when Álvaro Uribe announced he would appoint Luis Carlos Restrepo to lead his peace initiatives. It was a generally well-received choice: Restrepo’s experience as a psychiatrist and an author, dealing with issues such as friendship, tenderness and reconciliation seemed fit for the job.

    Read More

    Tags: Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, Luis Carlos Restrepo

  • Correa Wins Appeal in Press Libel Case

    February 17, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Ecuador’s National Court of Justice upheld a ruling on Thursday that found a columnist and three publishers of the newspaper El Universo guilty of defaming President Rafael Correa. The 2011 opinion column in question, written by chief opinion editor, Emilio Palacio and titled “No a las mentiras” (No more lies), referred to Correa as a “dictator” and criticized his handling of a police revolt in September 2010 involving a hospital full of civilians.

    Correa filed suit a year ago against Palacio and El Universal publishers (and brothers) Carlos, César and Nicolás Perez and won the case. The four defendants were ordered to pay Correa $10 million each in damages and serve three years in prison, though no time has been served due to the appeal process. Carlos, who was granted political asylum by Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, said yesterday that the verdict  “exposed raw corruption in Ecuador’s judicial system” and symbolized “attack on our newspaper and the sacred right of free speech” by Correa.

    International human rights and free speech groups joined in the condemnation of the lawsuit, claiming that it stifles free speech and freedom of the press and intimidates political opposition. The Inter-American Press Association described the president's actions as "a systematic and hostile campaign to do away with the independent press." The Committee to Protect Journalists said the ruling against the newspaper is a "setback for democracy in Ecuador.” But Correa, who maintains a 70 percent approval rating, argues that the case is defending Ecuador against dangerous ties between big business and the news media.

    Tags: Rafael Correa, Press Freedom

  • A Better Deal? Chinese Finance in Latin America

    February 16, 2012

    by K. Gallagher and K. Koleski and A. Irwin

    Lending by the Chinese Development Bank (CDB) and Export-Import Bank of China (China Ex-Im) to Latin America is larger, newer, and growing faster than its Western counterparts.  According to our research, since 2005, China has provided $75 billion in loans and credit lines to Latin American countries.  In 2010, Chinese funding exceeded the region’s combined financing from the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and U.S. Export-Import Bank. In fact, China overtook the World Bank and IDB even as those banks doubled lending to the region from 2006 to 2010.

    China’s emerging role as a major lender to Latin America has raised concerns regarding the competitiveness of loans from World Bank and Western export credit agencies and implications on governance and environmental initiatives. In an article for The Washington Post, journalist John Pomfret further outlined these concerns stating that “China is a master at low-ball financing, fashioning loans of billions of dollars at tiny interest rates that can stretch beyond 20 years… This has become a headache for Western competitors, especially members of the 32-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which long ago agreed not to use financing as a competitive tool.”  Others argue that Chinese financing provides an alternative source of financing without the restrictive policy conditionalities imposed by the World Bank. Deborah Bräutigam, a professor at American University, believes that in Africa, China is filling an unmet need for energy, mining, infrastructure, transportation, and housing lending, which was all but abandoned by the World Bank decades ago.

    In the midst of these debates, our report "The New Banks in Town: Chinese Finance in Latin America" released by the Inter-American Dialogue examines the volume, composition, and characteristics of Chinese lending to Latin America and the Caribbean. Our report found that lending by the CDB and China Ex-Im to the region is newer, larger, and complements lending by their Western counterparts.

    Lending by Chinese banks are recent additions to the region with annual lending never exceeding $1 billion prior to 2008.  Since then, Chinese lending has skyrocketed. Over 90 percent of Chinese funding is packaged as loans of $1 billion or more in comparison to 22 percent of the World Bank’s loans.  Despite concerns about emerging competition between Chinese banks and their Western counterparts, China’s lending complements rather than competes by lending at commercial rates to different countries and sectors.

    Venezuela and Ecuador received 61 percent of China’s total loans to the region, filling a gap left by sovereign debt markets. Chinese loans also concentrate in different sectors than their Western counterparts. An estimated 87 percent of Chinese loans are focused in the energy, mining, infrastructure, transportation, and housing sectors rather than the health, environment, and public administration sectors dominated by the World Bank.

    Read More

    Tags: finance, World Bank, China and Latin America, Export-Import Bank of China, Chinese Development Bank

  • Argentina Targets Soccer Mafias

    February 16, 2012

    by AQ Online

    The Argentine government announced tough new regulations on Wednesday to crack down on corruption in the country's soccer league. The rules published by Argentina's Financial Information Unit require the Argentine Football Association and every club in the top two divisions to file annual reports on everyone on the payroll who make at least 60,000 pesos ($13,800) a year.

    The regulations take aim at the barra bravasmafia-like networks that wield considerable power in soccer stands and among fans. Barras, which are endemic to Argentine soccer, make their money through ticket resale and parking rackets, controlling the sale of club merchandise. In order to keep order among their fans and peace with their corresponding barra, clubs have allegedly paid these networks portions of multimillion dollar player transfer fees and even paychecks.

    To curb this trend, the new rules require clubs to report all financial compensation earned by league officials, players, owners, club staff, corporate sponsors, investors, government officials, and any entity that conducts business with the federation of clubs. The income information requested in the rules go far beyond just salaries to include outside bonuses, prizes, loans and gifts such as housing and cars. But the statute causing the most ire is the fine for violators, set at 100,000 peso ($23,000) or 10 times the money involved in the illegal transaction-whichever amount is higher.

    The Argentine government's tougher stance on illegal activity in sports and elsewhere come in response to increased pressure from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international body that develops government policies to combat money laundering. If Argentina had not passed these regulations, it could have been  penalized by being added to the FATF's list of countries where financial transactions carry a high risk of criminal activity. The Argentine Football Association agreed to the tougher rules in exchange for the government paying $200 million a year in tax dollars to televise games for free through the "Football for All" program.

    Tags: Argentine Soccer, Barra Brava, Soccer Corruption

  • Mexico’s Presidential Race: Running on Air

    February 15, 2012

    by Arjan Shahani

    The stage is finally set for the presidential race between Josefina Vázquez Mota (PAN), Andrés Manuel López Obrador (PRD/PT) and Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI/PVEM). What is about to unfold in the coming months is a barrage of party propaganda and news media stories designed to pull the undecided electorate toward one or the other candidates, but the actual content of the messages will surely show the lack of political consciousness in Mexico.

    The product of a school system in crisis, a large portion of Mexico’s constituency is comprised of uneducated voters. Moreover, for those lucky enough to have gone through formal schooling, two essential things are missing: development of a widespread civic/political culture and embedding the capacity for critical thinking.  With regard to elections, Mexicans’ decisions have traditionally been based on a simplistic understanding of what candidates represent, if we like the way they talk and even their looks.

    A very young and sensationalist media also works against the creation of a politically informed voter base. Mainstream newspapers and TV networks are more interested in covering and making fun of the latest verbal gaffe by one of the candidates than really doing an in-depth analysis of the actual platforms they are running on. And the worst part is some of the current candidates have caught wind of this so their campaign focus will be less on substance and more on giving the media what they want in order to get more exposure. A secondary concern is the actual proposals and solutions to the country’s biggest challenges.

    Of the three candidates, the only one who has provided public discourse with a somewhat clear and consistent direction is López Obrador. To be fair, his campaign is six years ahead of the other two but that doesn’t excuse the fact that Vázquez and Peña have been unable to effectively communicate what they stand for and what their governments would seek. They might not even be trying to do this, as they’ve found they can try to win the election through other strategies.  

    Read More

    Tags: Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, 2012 Presidential Campaign, Enrique Peña Nieto, Josefina Vázquez Mota

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    February 15, 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.

    Honduran Prison Fire Kills over 350

    A fire at Comayagua prison in central Honduras killed over 350 people on Tuesday night. The origin of the fire is unclear, though Honduran press speculated a short-circuit was the cause.  Authorities suspect inmates escaped during the blaze. It is the third major prison fire in Honduras in the last decade and one of the deadliest Latin American prison fires in the last quarter century. Just last month, a fire also broke out at a forced detention drug treatment center in Peru, killing 27

    The Legacy of Honduras’ Coup

    NPR’s Weekend Edition broadcast a two-part series on the legacy of Honduras’ 2009 military coup that ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya from power. The series examines the effect of the coup on the country now, suggesting Honduras may owe its status as the world’s most violent country in part to that event. “If the president can be taken out of a country and have his rights taken away, without a trial or anything, then what becomes of your average citizen?” asks one Honduran. 

    Deposed Honduran President’s Wife Running for Office

    Xiomara Castro, wife of former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, announced her candidacy for president of Honduras on February 11, reports Honduras’ La Tribuna. She will compete as a pre-candidate for the Popular Strength and Refoundation Party in November and would run in the 2013 presidential election. She pledged that, if elected, she would pursue constitutional reform. Her husband also pushed for such reforms before the military ousted him from power in 2009.

    Read More

    Tags: Honduran coup, Alan Gross, Alabama Immigration, Honduras Prison Fire, Salvadoran President