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.
Colombian Defense Minister Resigns; Uribe Reelection Referendum Approved
Juan Manuel Santos will step down May 23 from his defense minister post to run for president in the 2010 elections. But Santos would declare his candidacy only if President Álvaro Uribe decides against running for his second reelection. If Uribe decides to go for it, Santos said that he’d be a loyal supporter of his campaign.
The Colombian senate brought Uribe a step closer to reelection Tuesday when it approved a path for voters to decide whether the constitution can be changed to allow the popular president to run again.
The Washington Post reports that “should Santos run and win, the Obama administration would have as a partner a U.S.-educated politician well versed in Washington ways.” The article also notes that Santos remains a firm supporter of Uribe’s democratic security policies and would likely continue them.
Polls Reveal Colombians’ Inclination toward Security
Colombians seem to place higher value on security and economic stability than democratic freedoms and human rights, says the Latin American Thought blog in an analysis of recent poll results conducted in Colombia. The analysis found that when the government can claim a victory against guerrillas, as in the case of Ingrid Betancourt’s liberation, approval ratings for President Álvaro Uribe skyrocket. But after several human rights scandal involving security forces and government officials, support for Uribe and his generals remain high instead of going down as one might expect. “It may just be that they’re drinking Uribe’s Kool-aid,” says the blog post.
A BBC report looks at the fact that Uribe’s approval ratings appear resistant to damage from scandals.
Latest Twists in Guatemala’s Murder Scandal
Last week, Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom requested international cooperation to investigate murder allegations made by lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg in a video released after he was assassinated on May10. On Sunday, thousands of demonstrators demanded Colom’s resignation. Colom supporters staged a counter-demonstration in support if the president. Also, a group of lawyers presented 35,000 signatures to Guatemala’s Congress to strip Colom of his immunity from prosecution and open the path to a possible impeachment.
The Christian Science Monitor examines how the Rosenberg’s murder has deepened divisions in an already polarized society, noting that the demonstrations over the weekend showed class differences between those who support and oppose the president. Colom has called the scandal a right-wing conspiracy, given that the fact that his administration declassified documents detailing the kidnappings and disappearances during the country’s civil war.
An op-ed from Mexico’s El Universal says that this corruption scandal has shattered the fragile illusion of peace in Guatemala, presenting an opportunity for its citizens to show their discontent for the country’s insecure state.
Lula’s Business Trip to China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey
Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva led business delegations to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and China this week. While in Beijing, Lula signed over a dozen deals with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao, including an oil-for-loan deal in which China will lend $10 billion to Brazil’s Petrobras in exchange for as much as 200,000 barrels of oil per day over the next decade. The deal will help Brazil explore its vast, pre-salt offshore oil reserves. On Wednesday, Brazil’s Mines and Energy Minister Edison Lobao indicated Brazil may seek additional funds from China for the project, as well as from the United Arab Emirates.
Before heading to China, Lula became the first Brazilian president to travel to Saudi Arabia, where he called for increased reciprocal trade and investment, as well as for partnership in petrochemicals.
The Brazilian president also travels to Turkey this week, where his delegation will attend the Turkey-Business Forum meeting.
Read an AS/COA analysis of Lula’s China trip.
Waves Felt from Montesinos Corruption Circle in Peru
Peru’s ex-President Alberto Fujimori, already sentenced to 25 years for human rights violations, faces an upcoming trial for paying his advisor Vladimiro Montesinos $15 million. Montesinos is currently jailed on corruption charges. But the ripple effect from the Montesinos scandal extends beyond Fujimori. The wife of opposition leader Ollanta Humala stands among those thought to have ties—a charge Humala has denied. Moreover, the ex-president’s daughter Keiko Fujimori, a congresswoman and possible 2011 presidential candidate, has refuted claims that Montesinos financed her university studies.
Mexican Ex-President Accuses Successor, then Recants
Former President of Miguel de la Madrid left Mexico caused a stir when he gave a lengthy interview to a journalist exposing his successor Carlos Salinas of corruption. The ailing De la Madrid said the 1988 elections allowing Salinas to take power had been rigged. He also connected Salinas’ brothers to organized crime. But, hours after the interview aired, Miguel de la Madrid recanted the information and Salinas penned a letter accusing the journalist of the ex-president’s declining health. Still, the story could have an impact on Mexico’s July legislative elections. Milenio columnist Joaquín López-Dóriga writes that effects of the accusations cannot be reversed.
Prison Break, Mexican Style
The Los Angeles Times’ Tracy Wilkinson reports on an incident in Mexico’s Zacatecas state in which suspected drug gang members—some disguised as police—freed 53 inmates. Authorities believed the prison break was an inside job. It was the third in the state in recent years and, while it occurred, a simultaneous one took place in the state of Veracruz in which six prisoners were freed. Some 44 policemen, including the prison’s warden, were taken into custody for questioning after the incident in Zacatecas, reports Mexico’s El Universal.
The Cuban Remittance Catch-22
ABC News reports about the trouble with a remittance tax that results from the U.S. embargo preventing the use of dollars in Cuba. Havana must change the dollars and charges a 10 percent tax to do so, according the article. Concern about the tax has grown since the Obama administration lifted restrictions on remittances sent to the island by Cuban Americans. The issue could become more troublesome if the U.S. Congress approves proposed legislation ending restrictions on travel for all Americans.
Dominicans Getting Cash from Home
The New School’s Feet in 2 Worlds blog reports on a development involving a remittance reversal. Dominican immigrants living in the United States and feeling the effects of the recession are receiving cash from back home. New York-based money-transfer company La Nacional said the number of monthly transfers from the Dominican Republic to New York nearly doubled from the 2006 rate to the current one. The blog post suggests immigrants are pulling money from savings in the Dominican Republic to support their lives in the United States.
Bill Clinton’s Second Chance in Haiti
Former President Bill Clinton has been appointed as UN special envoy to Haiti. This is billed as Clinton’s “second chance” in the country, which served as the site of his first international intervention as president. Economic and social development will top his agenda. The appointment follows the Clinton Global Initiative’s recent work in Haiti, stemming from President Clinton’s September 2008 Call to Action which gathered more than $130 million in commitments to aid long-term recovery efforts there.
Polling in the Argentine Elections
Data published by Infolatam on Argentina’s June legislative election place ex-President Nestor Kirchner ahead of his rivals in the race for a Buenos Aires congressional seat. Blogginsbyboz notes that no campaigning candidate polls above 35 percent. “This means Kirchner may win but his list of Peronists could lose seats in the Buenos Aires province, which is supposed to be a government stronghold,” explains the post.
Used Clothing Imports Cause Controversy in Bolivia
The Democracy Center reports on a dispute between small clothing makers and sellers of used clothes on the streets of Cochabamba, La Paz, and El Alto. Bolivian President Evo Morales announced that his government will enforce a decree to limit the import and the sale of used clothes. The decree should benefit small manufacturers but at the same time may affect the businesses of used clothing vendors. “It is a complex issue and a ‘poor vs. poor’ battle that is taking place not just in Bolivia but in other impoverished nations around the world, over clothes and other basic needs as well,” writes Jim Schultz, Democracy Center’s executive director.
Washington Bans Costa Rican Shrimp
The U.S. Department of State halted shrimp imports from Costa Rica starting on May 1 because authorities there failed to enforce laws that require commercial fishing vessels to protect endangered sea turtles from getting killed in trawl nets. A GlobalPost article reports that “the news came as a blow to a country thought to be leading a green revolution.”
Multilatinas Defy Downturn with Expansion
AméricaEconomía unveiled its second “Multilatinas” ranking, featuring 60 companies with a global presence. The survey found that many Latin American multinational corporations—“multilatinas”—are confronting the global financial crisis by expanding and diversifying their businesses worldwide. Companies such as Argentine’s Techint group, Mexico’s Cemex, and Brazil’s JBS group have seen opportunity grow amid the crisis.
Chile, Canada Get High Marks in Economic Stress Test
According to Switzerland’s IMD World Competitiveness Center, Chile ranked as the country in the Americas that is best-prepared to weather the global financial crisis, taking spot number 15 out of 55 countries. Canada ranked at 16. Chile’s Mercurio covers the results.
Venezuela Submarine Purchase Ended by a Fistfight?
Foreign Policy’s Passport blog entertains the idea that a fistfight between President Hugo Chávez’s bodyguards and Russian sailors onboard the Russian vessel “Peter the Great” during its visit to Venezuela derailed purchase of Russian nuclear submarines by Caracas. But the post notes that “the bigger reason Chávez balked at the deal is that his government is low on oil money these days.”
Latin America Mourns Escalona and Benedetti
Rafael Escalona, considered the best vallenato composer of all time and one of the most influential figures of Colombian folklore, died on May 13 in Bogota at the age of 81. Escalona’s music permeated Colombian society at all levels for more than 50 years, appearing in Gabriel García Marquez’ novel A Hundred Years of Solitude. He won a Latino Grammy Award in 2008 for best instrumental album. A wake took place in Colombia’s main congressional hall last week, followed by a mass where authorities, fellow musicians, and thousands of fans were present.
Over the weekend, another prominent figure in Latin American arts passed away; Uruguayan novelist, poet, and journalist Mario Benedetti, 88, died in Montevideo on May 17. Benedetti was known for his extensive literary work, including the novel The Truce, which was translated into over a dozen languages. He was also known for his outspoken posture against the military dictatorships in Uruguay in the 1970s and 1980s and he lived in exile for over a decade while his country was ruled by an authoritarian regime. Thousands of admirers attended his funeral. Global Voices collects bloggers’ reactions to Benedetti’s passing.