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.
Peru Runoff: Fujimori and Humala in a Tight Race to the Finish
Peru’s second-round vote is slated for Sunday, but who the winner will be is far from clear. The two candidates—conservative Keiko Fujimori and left-leaning Ollanta Humala—are running neck and neck, while polls show many voters remain undecided. Reuters Factbox summarizes a large portion of the last major polls from last week (Pollsters cannot publish surveys in Peru during the last week before the election). All list Fujimori leading, but, in some cases, her lead is less than 1 percent. An Imasen poll published May 29 shows Humala ahead by 1.3 percent. An Ipsos Apoyo survey measuring voter intention and published by El Comercio on May 29 shows Fujimori ahead by 2 percent. But the incidence of blank votes hit 12 percent while undecided votes hit 8 percent.
Access an AS/COA Online election guide to the Peruvian second-round vote, including links to coverage, candidate plans, and Sunday’s presidential debate.
IMF Candidates Seek Support from Brazil
Christine Lagarde arrived in Brazil Sunday to field support for her candidacy for the IMF director position left vacant after Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned over a sexual assault scandal. Mexican Central Bank Director Agustín Carstens followed Lagarde to Brazil on Wednesday, where he pitched his candidacy to Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega. Brazil has yet to throw its support behind either candidate.
Read an AS/COA Online analysis about Latin America and the call for a non-European IMF director.
Where Do Brazilian Taxes Go?
Though the average Brazilian must spend six months working just to pay taxes, says A Folha de São Paulo, few know where their money goes due to poor transparency laws. Greg Michener blogs in The Christian Science Monitor about a long-delayed proposal to make Brazilian taxation more transparent.
Brazil’s Enviro Agency Grants Dam-construction Licenses
The Brazilian environmental agency (known as Ibama) kicked off June by giving the green light to and issuing licenses for construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. The project, which has drawn criticism and legal action from environmentalists, will be built on a tributary of the Amazon River.
Read an AS/COA Online analysis of the legislative debate on reform of Brazil’s Forest Code.
Zelaya Returns Home; Honduras Returns to OAS
Almost two years after he was ousted in a coup and sent into exile, ex-President Manuel Zelaya returned to Honduras over the weekend. In a special meeting held June 1, the Organization of American States (OAS) voted to readmit the Central American country. Over the weekend, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza praised Honduran efforts to restore democracy by negotiating the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya in a deal mediated by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
Read an AS/COA Online analysis of the pact that allowed Zelaya’s return.
WikiLeaks: Honduran AG Never Ordered Zelaya’s Ouster
Though Honduras’ Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubí publicly defended the legality of the 2009 coup against then-President Manuel Zelaya, confidential U.S. cables made public by WikiLeaks this week reveal that Rubí told the U.S. embassy that the coup was illegal and said he never issued an arrest warrant for Zelaya.
Fight for Rule of Law Faces Hurdles in Guatemala
In a new report, International Crisis Group examines the progress made by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). The legal body established by the UN has seen its mandate extended for a third two-year term and, while some progress has been made in the country’s struggle against impunity under its watch, the report questions whether sufficient foundations are being laid for the Guatemalan government to maintain the body’s work on its own. “CICIG has provided a crutch,” says Crisis Group’s Special Adviser on Latin America Mark Schneider. “The justice system must now learn to walk on its own and increasingly assume the responsibilities with which CICIG has been charged.”
Read “A Plan of Action for Guatemala” by COA’s Eric Farnsworth.
Central America Debates Security Taxes
In El Salvador and Honduras, politicians are proposing a new method for fighting crime: levying a security tax on the wealthy. Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes submitted a proposal to his country’s legislature in early May that would tax the country’s richest citizens to raise money for security. To the south, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo is discussing the possibility of applying a security tax to private businesses, but has yet to submit a law to Congress, La Tribuna reports. The idea for a security tax originated in Colombia in 2007, as part of then-President Álvaro Uribe’s democratic security initiative.
Cuban Dissidents Convicted for Distributing Leaflets
Four Cuban dissidents received sentences of up to five years in prison on May 31 for distributing leaflets that referred to Fidel and Raúl Castro as “assassins.” The cases bring the total number of convicted dissidents up to eight so far this year, compared to two in all of 2010, according to Juan Tamayo of The Miami Herald.
LatAm’s Top Economies Encourage Spending to Control Inflation
The governments of some of Latin America’s largest and fastest-growing economies—Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru—are urging their people to spend less to keep rising inflation in check. Though UN economist Osvaldo Kacef says Latin American inflation may rise as high as an average of 8 percent this year, few expect a return to the days of hyperinflation that characterized the 1980s and 1990s.
UNASUR Unveils New Defense Organization
Bloggings by Boz covers last week’s inauguration of UNASUR’s new Defense Strategic Studies Center, a “think tank” operated by the body’s South American Defense Council. Based permanently in Argentina, the group will see its leadership rotate through representation from the 12 member countries. “The initial focuses of the organization according to various government officials appear to be defense of natural resources, adapting to climate change and the fight against organized crime,” the post notes.
Trading Begins for Integrated Exchange of Chile, Colombia, Peru
The integrated exchange of Chile, Colombia, and Peru—known as MILA—began trading Monday. The first stage of integration involves trading across the three countries’ exchanges, followed by a single exchange platform. Mexico and Panama may also join MILA, thanks to a pact signed in Lima in April. “There’s a lot of attention on Latin America, and the message we want to send is that there are alternatives to Brazil,” said Colombian exchange head Juan Pablo Córdoba, reports Bloomberg. “We’re making it easier for foreign investors to get into our market.”
An AS/COA Online analysis explores MILA and deepening integration between Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.
Mario Vargas Llosa Cancels Column in Peruvian Paper
Alleging that Peruvian daily El Comercio manipulates information and has “become a propaganda machine for Keiko Fujimori’s candidacy,” Peruvian novelist and pundit Mario Vargas Llosa asked Spanish daily El País to stop syndicating his column to the paper in a letter published by Terra on May 31. El Comercio’s director Francisco Miró Quesada Rada rejected Vargas Llosa’s allegations in an editorial, saying Vargas Llosa’s letter was “full of lies.”
Bolivia Sends Iranian DefMin Packing over ‘94 Argentina Bombing
Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi is on Interpol’s wanted list in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires-based Jewish association’s building that claimed 85 lives. Still, Bolivia’s defense ministry invited him to a military ceremony attended by President Evo Morales in Santa Cruz on Tuesday. Argentina demanded Vahidi’s arrest but Bolivia instead asked the minister, who was traveling on a diplomatic passport, to leave. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca sent a letter to his Argentine counterpart that described Vahidi’s visit as a “grave incident.”
Argentina, Brazil, Mexico Drive Facebook’s Rapid Expansion
In Mexico, Social Media a Tool for Drug Crime Awareness
“With many of Mexico's conventional news outlets no longer willing to risk reporting on Mexico's ongoing drug wars, a growing number of Mexicans in this country's northern cities are turning to Internet tools to keep abreast of the conflict raging around them,” writes Tim Johnson for McClatchy. The article focuses on how Facebook, Twitter, and blogs help users share news of violent crimes as well as safety tips.
Polls Show Runoff Likely in BsAs Mayoral Vote
The Argentine capital’s current Mayor Mauricio Macri leads polls ahead of the July 10 election, but the figures from six different surveys show he may not capture the requisite vote majority to avoid a runoff. According to six different polls, Macri (Propuesta Republicana party) will draw between 29 and 36.7 percent of ballots. Daniel Filmus of the peronista Frente para la Victoria trails in second place with between 21 and 29.6 percent.
Chile’s LAN Airlines Seeks International Partner
In a bid to continue expanding internationally, Chile’s LAN Airlines is on the lookout for an international partner with whom to merge. The company hopes to override objections to a proposed merger with Brazil’s TAM, which would create Latin America’s largest air carrier. An antitrust tribunal is currently examining the deal to assess its legality.
Chinese VP to Tour Chile, Cuba, and Uruguay
Xi Jinping, China’s vice president, hits the road from June 1 through June 13 in a trip that includes stops in Italy, Cuba, Uruguay, and Chile, according to Xinhua. The report notes that, last year, Chinese trade hit $770 million with Cuba, $2.63 billion with Uruguay, and $25.83 billion with Chile.
Pew Breaks down U.S. Hispanic Population Growth by Nationality
Hispanics of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban origin remain the largest groups in the United States, the Pew Hispanic Center reported, based on an analysis of census figures. But Latinos from groups of the next four highest countries of origin—Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic—grew faster over the last decade.
GOP Senators May Block Obama Commerce Pick in FTA Push
U.S. President Barack Obama named environmentalist and ex-energy executive John Bryson as his pick for the next commerce secretary. But Bryson could face an uphill battle when it comes to gaining Senate approval: GOP senators have previously promised to block the nomination until Obama submits the Colombia, Panama, and South Korea free-trade pacts to U.S. Congress for approval.
D’oh! Drinking Duff in Latin America
Homer Simpson’s favorite beer is now available in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico where it is sold with a label reading “Yes, it does exist.” Latin American producers won’t discuss their product with the U.S. media, however—perhaps because 20th Century Fox has not licensed its sale in the United States, reportedly over fears that the move would amount to pushing children to drink alcohol.