Daily Update

Daily Focus: Canadian Loonie Surges

May 5, 2009

by AQ Online

The Canadian dollar reached its highest level in six months yesterday, climbing from a low of CAD$1.30 per U.S. dollar to $1.18 today. This comes as investors speculated that the worst of the financial crisis may be over. The Canadian dollar appreciation mirrors gains in both the U.S. and Canadian stock markets and a possible bottoming out of commodity prices.

Canada’s economy is closely linked to global oil prices and other commodity exports, with the lumber industry, in particular, optimistic about the slight up-tick in the U.S. housing market. This, coupled with better than expected manufacturing output in China, appears to be fueling a greater appetite for investment in more commodity-dependent currencies like the Canadian dollar. No major Canadian economic data will come out today, but markets will be watching as employment and housing reports come out later in the week.

Tags: Canada, Financial Crisis, Daily Update, Economy

Daily Focus: Nicaragua’s Supernatural Epidemic

May 4, 2009

by AQ Online

Global health experts are focused on Mexico, but regional neighbor Nicaragua is confronting an epidemic of its own. The method for transmission is unknown, but grisi siknis, or “crazy sickness” in the language of the indigenous Miskito­s—a community of 150,000 to 200,000 residing along Central America’s Mosquito Coast—continues to spread throughout the community. Experts are calling it a “cultural-bound syndrome” that is “more mental than physical,” and have puzzled over how to classify the illness, let alone cure it.

In 2009 alone there have been 46 recorded instances, ­each time afflicting a teenage Miskito girl. It is not, however, a new phenomenon. Reports from the 1970s catalogue the illness and note that symptoms include behavior commonly associated with supernatural possession. The BBC, in a recent article on the phenomenon, reported that grisi siknis “turns people into witches and they go crazy."

Tags: Nicaragua, Health care, Daily Update

Daily Focus: Mexico’s Economy Shrinks in the First Quarter as Swine Flu Threatens Bigger Economic Hit

May 1, 2009

by AQ Online

Late yesterday, Mexico’s Finance Ministry reported that the economy contracted at an annualized rate of 7% in the first quarter due to plummeting exports.  The most recent figures raise fears that the economy could shrink by more than the 3.8% to 4.8% that the Central Bank had previously forecast for 2009. 

Making matters worse, the swine flu epidemic has prompted the federal government to suspend all non-essential services and urge businesses to close from May 1 to May 5 to reduce the spread of the virus. 

Mexico’s revenues from tourism, which represent 8% of GDP, are also likely to fall precipitously as a result of the epidemic.  Earlier this week, Cruise lines announced that they would cease all port calls in Mexico.  And today, Continental Airlines announced that it is cutting flights to Mexico starting Monday.  Despite this grim news, the peso appreciated against the dollar in late trading yesterday on news of a $3 billion loan from the Inter-American Development Bank to help Mexico combat the disease.

Tags: Mexico, Health care, Daily Update, Economy

Daily Focus: Brazil to Start New Oil Extraction

April 30, 2009

by AQ Online

On Friday, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will be on an oil platform off the Brazilian coast to formally kick-off the start of subsalt oil production from the Tupi field. This marks an important milestone for Brazilian extraction of deep-water oil deposits off the coast of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo states. Discovered in 2007, the Tupi oil field is estimated to have five to eight billion barrels of oil, and is part of a broader oil find in the Santos Basin that could contain between 50 and 80 billion barrels. 

Petroleo Brasileiro, the state-run energy company, announced on Tuesday that it is “comfortable” beginning production at its pre-salt oil fields despite the decreasing cost of oil.  A company representative confirmed that the extraction and production can be profitable at a price as low as $35 to $40 per barrel.

Tags: Brazil, energy, Lula, Daily Update

Daily Focus: Despite Corruption Charges, Former-President Calderon Announces Candidacy in Costa Rica

April 29, 2009

by AQ Online

Former Costa Rican President Rafael Calderón (90-94) has formally announced his candidacy in the 2010 presidential elections. He will represent Costa Rica’s Unidad Social Cristiana.

His announcement was met with little surprise; rumors that Calderón was seeking his former office were numerous. Complicating his bid, however, are corruption charges from 2004, which landed him briefly in jail, and his ongoing trial—which has dragged on for years.

Tags: Costa Rica, corruption, Elections, Calderon, Daily Update

Daily Focus: Swine Flu South of (the Mexican) Border

April 28, 2009

by AQ Online

World headlines are being dominated by the spread of swine flu from Mexico and the United States to Canada, Europe and now the Middle East and Asia-Pacific. But what about Mexico’s neighbors to the south?

Today, Costa Rica claimed the inauspicious title of being the first Central American country to confirm a case of swine flu, and Guatemala (which shares a border with Mexico) has detected three possible infections. On high alert, Central American health ministers are meeting today in Managua with the goal of agreeing to shared measures to combat the spread of the disease. Already, Central American countries are taking precautionary measures. Panama and Costa Rica have taken steps to detect sick passengers at airports. Honduras has not only asked the international community to send doses of Tamiflu, but has also requested that Mexico stop deporting undocumented Hondurans. Nicaragua has prohibited the importation of pigs and pig products from Mexico. But given its close proximity to Mexico, Guatemala may face the greatest immediate challenge in the region.

Tags: Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Guatemala, Health care, Daily Update

Daily Focus: Canadian Hostages Released

April 27, 2009

by AQ Online

Two Canadian diplomats and two European women were released by an al-Qaeda-linked North African group on Sunday in exchange for four imprisoned Islamist fighters. The diplomats, Robert Fowler and Louis Guay, were kidnapped in Niger more than four months ago, and were released in neighboring Mali.

The Canadian government praised the “quiet diplomacy” that secured the hostages’ release, even though it was not party to the negotiations. Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated plainly that the Canadian government does not pay ransom and does not release prisoners, but failed to indicate whether the other countries involved in securing their release—Mali and Burkina Faso—had paid a ransom. The names of the Islamist prisoners released, and the countries that had held them, were not identified.

Tags: Canada, Security, Daily Update

Daily Focus: Mexican Legislature Fighting Crime

April 24, 2009

by AQ Online

On April 23, The Mexican Chamber of Deputies approved a new law that allows greater power and expediency in confiscating assets from criminal organizations, specifically drug cartels. Previously, authorities had to abide by cumbersome legal procedures that could delay asset seizure for years.

The Ley de Extinción de Dominio was originally presented to Congress by President Felipe Calderón in September 2008. It was approved yesterday by an overwhelming majority─299 votes in favor, 9 against and 2 abstentions. The law is intended not only to weaken the financial apparatus of criminal organizations; confiscated money and property will go to a new fund to help the victims of organized crime.

This week the Calderón government also propsed four additional judicial reform initiatives designed to strengthen the fight against drug traffickers and other criminal organizations. Action is pending in the Mexican Senate.

Tags: Mexico, Narcotics, Daily Update

Daily Focus: Venezuela's Rosales Seeks Asylum

April 22, 2009

by AQ Online

Facing corruption charges in Venezuela, Manuel Rosalesprominent opposition leader and mayor of Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second-largest cityis seeking political asylum in Peru. The application was filed yesterday after he entered Peru on a tourist visa.

He has called the charges politically motivated, and expressed concern over his ability to receive a fair trial. Last month, after authorities called for his arrest, Rosales told thousands of anti-government protestors that “there is no justice in Venezuela.”

It has been almost five years since the initial criminal complaint was filed by an ally of President Hugo Chávez. The complaint cited $68,553 in assets that “Rosales could not satisfactorily explain.” Despite the charges, he ran as the opposition candidate in Venezuela’s 2006 presidential election, earning 37 percent of the popular vote.

Read More

Tags: Peru, Chavez, Venezuela, Daily Update

Daily Focus: U.S.-Bolivian Relations

April 21, 2009

by AQ Online

Lost among all the buzz surrounding the widely publicized handshakes between President Obama and President Chávez in Trinidad and Tobago is yet another conciliatory gesture the U.S. President made this weekend—this time toward Bolivia.

President Evo Morales, who was recently a victim of an alleged assassination plot that left three dead in Santa Cruz last week—including two non-Bolivian conspirators—had publicly raised suspicions that the plot was related to a coup attempt last year, in which he cast blame on the U.S. government.  On Saturday, Morales reportedly approached Obama and asked him to publicly repudiate the attempt on his life.

At one of Obama’s final news conferences on Sunday, he specifically mentioned Bolivia in a statement opposing any violent overthrows of democratically elected governments in the hemisphere.  The U.S. relationship with Bolivia has been icy in recent years.  It appears, however, that behind the shadow of the Obama-Chávez handshakes, there may be room for renewed dialogue between the new administration and leftist governments in the region that had vocally opposed the Bush administration.  Morales, who is speaking at a public forum in Harlem (New York City) tomorrow, will have the opportunity to follow suit on Obama's gesture over the weekend—whether he decides to actually do so, however, is another question altogether.

Tags: Bolivia, Obama, Daily Update, US, Morales