Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

July 13, 2011

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.

Chávez Likely to Need Chemotherapy

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said he may go through a third stage of treatment involving radiation or chemotherapy, following surgery to remove a cancerous tumor that he described as the size of a baseball. Chávez received extreme unction on Tuesday, saying it would serve to protect his body against malignant cells. Bloomberg analyzes what Chávez’s illness means for his 2012 presidential bid.

China Promises More Funds for Venezuela

Convalescing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said over the weekend that Beijing will loan Caracas another $4 billion for development projects, including railway infrastructure. Venezuela will contribute $2 billion of its own funds to the activities. The Associated Press reports that “China has become Venezuela’s biggest foreign lender in recent years,” with $32 billion in exchange for oil shipments. 

Humala’s Brother Meets with Gazprom

President-elect Ollanta Humala returned from a visit to Washington to controversy, after the Russian state-controlled oil company said that Humala’s brother Alexis had visited claiming to be a “special representative of the President-elect of the Republic of Peru.” Ollanta Humala denied that his brother, who studied engineering in Russia and speaks the language fluently, went to Russia as a representative of the Peruvian government.

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Tags: Colombia, Chavez, Codelco, Rousseff, Humala, Venenzuela, Chilean mining

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

June 8, 2011

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.

Victorious Humala Plans SouthAm Travels

The latest numbers from Peru’s electoral authority confirm that Ollanta Humala maintains his lead over Keiko Fujimori, who conceded defeat on Monday. Humala won 51.465 percent of the votes against Fujimori’s 48.535 percent, with 98 percent of the ballots counted. Several Latin American leaders congratulated Humala on his victory and invited him to visit their countries. Humala begins a tour of South America next Wednesday that will take him to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile, and then the rest of South America. The goal of the trip will be to strengthen bilateral relations with Peru’s regional neighbors and to push agreements aimed at promoting Peru’s development. Humala also says he hopes to visit the United States. 

Humala gave his first sit-down interview since the election to CNN en Español on June 6, in which he proposed allowing recall elections for the president and legislators, as well as reforming the Peruvian Constitution to allow the state to invest public money. He also said that under his administration military figures will only occupy military positions and there will be “zero tolerance for drugs.” He noted that ex-President Alberto Fujimori, currently serving time for corruption and human rights abuses, will only be transferred to an ordinary jail cell if the courts decide to move him. “We don’t want more divergence. We want unity.” 

Peru’s Stock Market Rebounds after Monday’s Steep Drop

The Peruvian stock market continued to recover Wednesday, after ratings agencies said that President-elect Ollanta Humala’s election would not affect the country’s investment-grade status. The Lima General Index plummeted 12.5 percent on Monday—the largest drop since it was created in 1981—and closed early, after conservative Keiko Fujimori conceded defeat to Humala. The Economist Intelligence Unit explores the meaning of the election for Peru’s economy. 

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about Humala’s electoral victory.

Ecuador, Venezuela Oppose OPEC Production Increase

The presidents of Ecuador and Venezuela met this week and released a statement arguing against an increase in oil production by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), of which both countries are members. Their statement came a day before a June 8 summit in Vienna, where OPEC failed to ratify a proposal by Saudi Arabia and three other Persian Gulf countries to raise output.

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Tags: Chavez, Amazon, Honduras, Ecuador, Correa, Santos, Peru elections, Dilma, Coup, Humala, Keiko

Syrian President Begins Latin American Tour

June 25, 2010

by AQ Online

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria begins a tour of several Latin American countries today with the goal of extending its diplomatic reach and attracting investment in Syria.  Assad is scheduled to arrive in Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday and will visit then Brazil and Venezuela—countries with significant Syrian expat communities. Syrian media also reports that he will be visiting Cuba.  The visit reciprocates previous official visits to Damascus by Fidel Castro in 2001, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2003 and Hugo Chávez in 2006. 

The president’s trip, his first to the region since taking power in 2001, comes as Damascus seeks to continue opening diplomatic channels with the West. This follows their involvement in brokering a deal with Iran to send low-enriched uranium abroad for reactor fuel, in cooperation with Brazil and Turkey.  Damascus is also seeking over $40 billion in investments over the next five years, nearly 80 percent of Syria’s annual GDP, to repair and replace Syria’s ageing infrastructure. 

The majority of the millions of Syrian-origin émigrés in Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela are businessmen, engineers, doctors, and politicians including former Argentinean president Carlos Menem.  President Assad also plans to meet with members of the Arab communities during his visit.

“Bilateral relations and developments in the Middle East and Latin America” will dominate discussions during the trip, according to the official SANA news agency.  Brazil plans to sign trade and technology cooperation protocols with Syria, and Argentina is anticipated to sign nine transportation, tourism and cultural agreements.

Tags: Cuba, Brazil, Chavez, Venezuela, Castro, Argentina, Lula, Menem, Syria

Colombia-Venezuela: ¿Vientos de guerra fría en la Frontera?

November 9, 2009

by Jenny Manrique

Lo único que le faltaba al clima de guerra fría que se desató entre Colombia y Venezuela por una reciente serie de asesinatos, deportaciones y capturas de ciudadanos de ambos países—señalados algunos de ser espías y paramilitares—era la propuesta del presidente Hugo Chávez de levantar un muro en la frontera que une a los dos países.  Mientras el mundo se prepara para conmemorar hoy los 20 años de la caída del muro de Berlín, en Latinoamérica los ánimos belicistas desatados por la ampliación de personal militar estadounidense en siete bases colombianas—documento que por cierto fue suscrito el pasado 30 de octubre aquí en Bogotá—vuelven a poner en el centro de la polémica, un cierre de fronteras en pleno siglo XXI.

Hay que ver a los ciudadanos que trabajan en Cúcuta y Villa del Rosario (Colombia) y San Antonio y Ureña (Venezuela) cruzando por el río Tachira y por trochas antes solo conocidas por los pimpineros (vendedores informales de gasolina) para llegar a sus destinos. El  bloqueo de los puentes internacionales Simón Bolívar y Francisco de Paula Santander por parte de la Guardia Venezolana como respuesta al asesinato de dos de sus efectivos, les está generando a los comerciantes de la zona pérdidas diarias cercanas a unos US$4 millones, según cifras de la Federación de Cámaras Empresariales de Venezuela (Fedecámaras).

Muchas de las amenazas incumplidas de Chávez, como la de ampliar en número los 515 efectivos de la policía castrense que resguardan la zona tachirense, o desplazar tropas militares hasta allí, parecen tener más asiento esta vez. Aunque en los últimos 10 años no se ha suscrito ningún convenio de cooperación militar fronteriza entre Colombia y Venezuela, este viernes en la mañana comenzó el desplazamiento de los primeros efectivos de la Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana (FANB) de un total de 15.000 movilizados, que llevarán a cabo la "Operación Centinela" en los estados de Amazonas, Apure, Bolívar, Barinas y Táchira.

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Tags: Chavez, Uribe, Colombia-Venezuela relations, DAS Colombia, Masacre de Chururu, Operacion Centinela, Guerra fronteriza

The Honduran Coup is Still a Coup: But Where Was Everybody Before?

June 29, 2009

by Christopher Sabatini

Let me say upfront, unequivocally: what occurred on June 28, 2009, in Honduras was a coup and should be condemned for the violation of constitutional, democratic rule that it is.  And unlike the street coups that removed Presidents Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (Bolivia) or Lucio Gutiérrez (Ecuador), this one was positively 1970s-style retrograde: the marching of military officers into President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales’ residence, his forced removal (or kidnapping as he called it) at gun point, his being placed by military brass on a plane to be flown out of the country, and the swearing in of a new president, Roberto Micheletti—the speaker of the Honduran Congress. But let’s be clear. This event has been brewing for some time and regional governments and multilateral institutions have sat on the sidelines. Their reaction now—while correct—underscores their passiveness earlier, and turns a President who had been bent on steamrolling the checks and balances of power to secure re-election into an unnecessary victim. 

Despite the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court’s superficial efforts to give this a constitutional fig leaf, the sacking of President Zelaya represents a genuine threat to the shared democratic vision and system of governance that most of the region has enjoyed for over two decades and violates the body of regional law and precedent defending democratic governments from the “interruption of the constitutional order.” In short order, as they should have done, the governments of the region have denounced President Zelaya’s removal and called for the restoration of democratic government.

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Tags: OAS, Chavez, Coup in Honduras, President Zelaya, Threat to democracy

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Versus the Human Right of Private Property

May 18, 2009

by Christopher Sabatini

You wouldn’t know it the way the media and most human rights groups have covered Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s recent seizure of land on May 11, but the right to private property is protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). Most have treated President Chávez’s most recent policy move as a rich person’s problem. In reality, most journalists and human rights activists are loath to appear that they’re coming to the defense of rich, pampered Venezuelan landowners.

But in not defending this internationally recognized right they are weakening human rights in the hemisphere—something they would be equally loath to do if it were judicial due process or freedom from torture.

Now, I’m not one to defend the egregious excess and avarice of Venezuela’s once-ruling class. In fact, few are, and President Chávez knows this. And that’s where the problem lies: no one wants to be the one appearing to defend a group of Latin American elite that had become infamous in the hemisphere for its excess. (As one friend, a professor at an Ivy League university, once said, “I don’t feel sorry for all those people I used to see in the duty free shops in Miami airport buying Rolex watches by the dozens.”) But this isn’t about whom you’re defending. It’s about what you’re defending. Private property is a human right, enshrined and endorsed by the UN General Assembly. And rights, whether the freedom against torture or the freedom against the seizure of one’s property, are seamless. The same government that will arbitrarily invade your land for some higher good is the same one that will detain and torture outspoken opponents for the same supposed good.

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Tags: Human Rights, Chavez, Venezuela

Daily Focus: Venezuelan Drug Bust

May 13, 2009

by AQ Online

Venezuelan authorities seized 4,370 pounds of cocaine and arrested three suspects in central Miranda state on Saturday. In a separate case, 1,830 pounds of marijuana were seized in the western state of Trujillo. Anti-drug officials in Venezuela hailed the seizures as a symbol of “the Venezuelan state's commitment in the head-on fight against drug trafficking.”

Back in April, President Hugo Chávez dispatched federal agents and security forces to take over major seaports and airstrips in four Venezuelan states. Experts offered disparate interpretations for the move; some saw it as an effort to crack down on opposition leaders in three of those states, others as an attempt to placate critics in the US, Russia and Iran.

U.S. officials have expressed concern over the drug trade in Venezuela since Chávez suspended cooperation with the United States Drug Enforcement Agency in 2005. In the interim, cocaine exports have grown more than fivefold. If Chávez continues his visible commitment to anti-drug enforcement, it is a potential point of cooperation and reconciliation between the Chávez and Obama administrations, each of which has voiced a desire to mend U.S.-Venezuelan relations.

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Tags: Chavez, Venezuela, Obama, Narcotics, US

All Quiet on the Latin American Front? Not Quite.

April 30, 2009

by Liz Harper

The Summit of the Americas brought a ton of Latin American coverage in the U.S. media.  Finally. But, now that the Summit is over, press attention to the hemisphere is waning. That is except for the swine flu spreading from Mexico.

There were a few news nuggets that came out of the Summit, but judging from post-Summit news coverage, you’d think that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Cuba were the only stories.  Of course, those are the two boilerplate favorites for covering Latin America. There have, in fact, been a number of positive developments—some of them coming out of the Summit. Unfortunately, none of them makes the U.S. news.

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Tags: Summit of the Americas, Cuba, Chavez, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ortega

How the Media Misinterpreted the Summit of the Americas

April 28, 2009

by Christopher Sabatini

I swore I wouldn’t write another blog on the Summit.  In fact, I had even urged the AQ staff to move on—that it wasn’t that important.  And yet here I am with an insatiable desire to slake my thirst for just one more blog post. 

And it is this: the media sorely missed the story of the Summit.  Despite what you saw in the media, the real events that indicate the direction hemispheric relations are heading were: 1) Obama’s side-by-side lunch with Uribe in which they chatted like allies and swapped notes; 2) Obama’s priority of the issues of human rights and democracy in his volley back to Cuba’s Raúl Castro (to which Raúl’s big, bearded brother, Fidel, responded significantly, “Did we say everything was on the table? Democracy, human rights, political prisoners?  We take that back"); and 3) the U.S. President’s last-minute finger wagging at Venezuela’s most powerful book club leader.   

Everyone twisted themselves into contortions interpreting the handshake between Presidents Obama and Chávez’ stage-stealing handing of the book to President Obama.

Even the Wall Street Journal’s Mary O’Grady jumped into the fray on Monday, April 27th with an unnecessarily-long denunciation of Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins.  Most 30 and 40-something Latin Americanists recognize it for what it is: a cartoonish screed that places all responsibility for Latin America’s ills on colonialists and imperialists.  And I suspect that it will be gathering dust (if that) on Obama’s bookshelf much as it is on everyone else’s who was forced to read it. 

And then there’s the whole over interpretation of the Obama-Chávez handshake. Everyone’s a twitter with whether he should have or shouldn’t have.  Honestly what else could he have done?  To paraphrase the famous saying, “Sometimes, Mr. Freud, a handshake is just a handshake.” 

But here’s the real story.  Out of the public spotlight or the media’s scandal-mongering eye, there were moments of real significance. 

First, Obama’s lunch date with President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia.  President Obama didn’t grant any bilateral meetings, but he made sure he was seated next to President Uribe and they passed notes, which President Uribe waved proudly around afterwards to the media with Obama’s signature.  Not coincidentally President Obama later urged that there be a review of Colombia and its free trade agreement.

Second, beyond the atmospherics the topic of Cuba really had little bearing on the Summit.  It was really only pushed by a handful of countries, and was never officially on the agenda.  As I’ve said before, it’s sad to see Latin American countries who for decades have complained about how the U.S. filters its relations with the region through the prism of Cuba, do the exact same thing—but with less noble means.  Their goal: normalize relations with a country that hasn’t budged an inch on democracy and human rights—two conditions for admission to the OAS and the Summit.

And for those reasons, Obama’s riposte to Raúl’s public relations thrust was subtle and wise.  As he said: “They are certainly free to release political prisoners….They're certainly free to stop skimming money off the top of remittance payments. They're free to institute greater freedom of the press.” 

The ball was back in their court.  And that’s when Fidel stepped in to return it with an over-the-top swing that sent the ball out of the court, saying that really they weren’t interested in democracy and human rights. 

But that doesn’t mean the U.S should give up. Quite the opposite, it should continue pushing.  Truth is: Cuba doesn’t want opening, under any conditions.  The regime would wither. And the Castros know that.  So let the U.S. offer.  And when the Cuban regime refuses to reciprocate, point that out.  The world will soon be disabused of the notion that Cuba’s the victim of a U.S.-imposed isolation.

The third is the much-overlooked final encounter between Obama and Chávez. Take a look.  There is clearly some serious message delivery there.  That isn’t about his disagreement over the book the Chávez delivered to him (“Characters were underdeveloped!” “Filled with old canards.”  “Improper footnotes!”) Instead it’s clear that he’s saying that hand shaking and book clubs aside, there are serious disagreements.   We don’t know what really transpired.  But this is where the rubber of diplomacy hits the road.  Shame it didn’t hit the presses—which preferred to focus on a handshake and a ridiculous book.

So for now, out of frustration for the silly way the media covered the event, I’m forced—despite my better intentions—to post another blog about the Summit.  But this will be my last. I swear.

Tags: Summit of the Americas, Chavez, Obama, Uribe

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.

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Tags: Peru, Chavez, Venezuela, Daily Update