From the 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.
Calderón Undertakes Housecleaning
Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón announced that his government plans to close down the secretariats of tourism, agrarian reform, and public service in an austerity measure that could save hundreds of millions of dollars. The three agencies will be absorbed into others. The move followed a cabinet reshuffling that involved replacing the attorney general, the head of state oil firm Pemex, and the secretary of agriculture. An Associated Press report suggests Calderón’s decision to replace Attorney General Medina-Mora with Arturo Chávez represents a choice to go with a stronger approach toward fighting drug cartels. However, women’s rights groups have protested the choice, saying Chávez did little while attorney general in the border state of Chihuahua to resolve the disappearances of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez. Chávez must gain confirmation from the Mexican Senate.
Passengers Safe after Mexican Plane Hijacked
Hijackers of an AeroMexico flight threatened to blow up an airplane traveling from Cancun to Mexico City Wednesday and demanded to speak with President Felipe Calderón. Passengers were freed and the hijackers, identified as Bolivians at the time of publishing, arrested when the flight landed. Follow El Universal's minute-by-minute coverage.
Brazil Inks Major Military Deal with France
During a visit this week to Brasilia, France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy signed an agreement worth as much as $7.2 billion with his Brazilian counterpart Luis Inácio Lula da Silva involving the sale of French fighter jets. The pact includes technology sharing between the two countries to assist Brazil with constructing helicopters and a nuclear submarine. France 24 reports that the deal shows Sarkozy’s interest in France deepening ties with Brazil, which he supports for a permanent UN Security Council seat.
Brazzil Mag explores why Latin America increasingly turns to China and Europe for arms deals, saying the trend “is based in recent history and the proclivity of U.S. lawmakers to put political restrictions on what customers can and cannot do with their purchases.”
Another Door Opens to Uribe’s Third Term
On Tuesday, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe signed a law calling for a national referendum for a constitutional change that will allow him to run for reelection. The law must now gain approval from the Constitutional Court, which will rule on whether the country’s legislators fulfilled requirements for an amendment. Semana explores what the current situation means for Colombia and warns that, “In the short term, Colombia will suffer from uncertainty until Uribe speaks out about his desire to prolong his rule.” Steven Taylor of PoliBlog explores possibilities for the timing of the referendum.
President Uribe will deliver remarks at a public AS/COA luncheon on September 24.
On Tour, Chávez Signs Deal with Iran
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez continued travels this week in a tour of Russia, Algeria, Syria, Belarus, and Libya. His trip also included a stroll down the Venice Film Festival red carpet with American director Oliver Stone, who was promoting his documentary that defends Chávez against U.S. press attacks. In Iran, Chávez touted a pact through which Tehran would share technology allowing Caracas to develop a civilian nuclear program. Moreover, through energy agreements Venezuela will export oil to Iran.
However, Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov rejected a Venezuelan proposal this week to form a natural gas cartel, á la OPEC. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty suggests that Russia is also unlikely to agree to the idea. Chávez will spend the remainder of the week in Russia, with energy and military agreements up for discussion.
Number of State Employees Grows in Venezuela
The Foreign Policy Association’s Venezuela blog reports that the Andean country’s public sector now employs one in every five workers. David Sussmen points out that this represents nearly a 5 percent increase over the past decade.
Endemic Violence on Both Sides of the Law in Caracas’ Slums
Venezuelan officers are receiving human rights training in efforts to rein in police killings in Caracas’ violent slums, reports the Guardian. Unchecked impunity mars the records of police forces amidst rampant crime and corruption in what has become South America’s most violent city.
Micheletti Sits Tight
The U.S. State Department said last week that it would terminate over $30 million in aid to Honduras as a result of the de facto government’s refusal to reinstate deposed President Manuel Zelaya. However, reports McClatchy, interim leader Roberto Micheletti “appears to be digging in its heels against Zelaya by circulating accusations the ousted president illegally used public money to keep horses, buy watches and jewelry and repair his Harley-Davidson motorcycle.”
Read an AS/COA analysis of economic sanctions faced by Tegucigalpa in the wake of the coup.
Chile Tops LatAm Competitiveness; Canada Home to Soundest Banks
The World Economic Forum released its annual competitiveness index. While much of the media hubbub focused on Switzerland unseating the United States as the world’s most competitive economy, Chile came in thirtieth to clinch Latin America’s top spot. Canada held on to its position as the country with the world’s soundest banks.
AS/COA hosts Chilean President Michelle Bachelet for a public dinner on September 23.
Mexican Bet Results in $8 billion Windfall
Financial Times reports that Mexican Finance Minister Agustin Carstens became the envy of Wall Street after earning Mexico $8 billion through contracts bought last summer as insurance against lower energy demand.
Priests at Risk in Mexico
IPS News reports that priests increasingly face intimidation and violence in Mexico, according to the Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference. The church’s opposition to organized crime has drawn the wrath of the drug cartels.
All Names in the Hat for Bolivian Elections
Sunday marked the deadline for Bolivian candidates to register for December elections. In his Pronto blog, Miguel Centellas compiles and examines polling data, concluding that current President Evo Morales currently has the necessary following to avoid a runoff election. The Cochabamba-based Democracy Center profiles Manfred Reyes Villa, a previous presidential candidate who could serve as Morales’ main opponent. He chose the now imprisoned former governor of Pando as his running mate.
Documentary Filmmaker Killed in El Salvador
French-born Christian Poveda, whose documentary “La Vida Loca” covered the Mara 18 gang, was found shot dead just outside San Salvador over the weekend. The day before his assassination, the longtime photojournalist warned that Central American gang wars were threatening to take an even more violent turn, reports The Chicago Tribune.
Watch the trailer for “La Vida Loca,” scheduled for release this month.
El Salvador’s President Lays out Political Vision
In an interview with Brazil’s Veja, Salvadoran President Maurico Funes said he believes social justice can be achieved through economic growth and stability rather than through populist rhetoric. “Borders must be opened and regional integration must be promoted, including with the United States, which must be seen as a strategic partner with whom common problems can be addressed,” said Funes. The Venezuela Report carries an English translation of a portion of the interview.
Most New Americans Are Hispanic
The Houston Chronicle’s Immigration Chronicles blog takes a look at new U.S. Census figures showing that more than 50 percent of people added to the nation’s population between July 2007 and 2008 were Hispanic.
Hispanic Unemployment Outpaces U.S. Average
While the national unemployment rate hit 9.7 percent, the figure stands at an even gloomier rate of 13 percent for the Hispanic population. Los Angeles-based La Opinión urged federal action to take steps that will help with “retooling and retraining the labor force.”
Learn more about the role of the private sector efforts through AS/COA’s Hispanic Integration Initiative.
Guatemala Faces Food Shortage Emergency
President Alvaro Colom announced Tuesday that Guatemala faces a crisis due to food shortages. El País reports on hunger woes in the Central American country, where 50 percent of children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition.
Lessons to Learn from Brazilian Health Care System
As the White House hopes to push healthcare reforms through U.S. Congress, Brazil’s experience could provide a useful list of dos and don’ts for the Obama administration, writes Rutger University’s Eduardo J. Gómez. Through its two-decade old universal healthcare system, Brazil has attempted to correct healthcare inequality. Despite some successes, the system has also weakened over time through inconsistent funding and mismanagement.
Cuba Wins Chinese Credit
Last week, China reached out to Cuba with a reported $600 million in loans and donations to aid the Communist island improve its trade infrastructure and telecommunications technology.
Goodness, Gracious: Great Balls of Fire in El Salvador
Young men in Nejapa, El Salvador celebrated a religious festival last week by flinging blazing balls of fuel-soaked rags at each other, as a BBC video shows. The tradition has its origins in a huge volcanic explosion that forced the evacuation of the town.