Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly News Roundup from Across the Americas

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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.

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White House Chooses First Hispanic for SCOTUS

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced his choice for a Supreme Court justice to replace David Souter, picking the first Hispanic judge in history to be selected for the highest court in the United States. Sotomayor, whose credentials include three decades in the field of law and 16 years as a federal appeals judge, is from the South Bronx and of Puerto Rican descent. Pundits suggest that her ethnic background could serve as an obstacle for Republicans fighting her confirmation. Read AS/COA analysis about the nomination.

The Houston Chronicle
’s Immigration Chronicles blog points out that several media outlets made the mistake of saying Sotomayor was born to immigrant parents. Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917.

AS/COA’s Christopher Sabatini joined PBS’ Worldfocus to talk about the historic nature of Sotomayor’s appointment, as well as how Latin America is receiving her nomination.

Washington Inches Closer to Cuba

The U.S. State Department announced a proposal to Cuba that Washington and Havana restart talks about legal migration from the island to the United States, reports CNN. The talks were suspended in 2004 by the Bush administration. Moreover, The Miami Herald reported that the State Department went a step further late on Tuesday when it submitted a proposal to study Cuba’s readmission to the Organization of American States (OAS). Several OAS members have clamored for Cuba, suspended from the body in 1962, to be allowed to rejoin. The proposal will be reviewed at an OAS meeting on May 27 and Cuba’s potential readmission will likely be a topic of discussion at the OAS General Assembly in Honduras next week. Still, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla said Monday that Havana is proud not to be a part of the multilateral organization.

Read an AS/COA interview with OAS General Secretary José Miguel Insulza in which he talks about the possibility of Cuba rejoining the OAS. Also, read his remarks at COA’s annual Washington Conference, where he also touched on the matter.

Russia, Cuba to Partner on Nuclear Research

Cuban Colada blog reports that Russia and Cuba plan to resume cooperation in nuclear research, which previously ended in 1992 with the unfinished construction of a nuclear power plant in Ceinfuegos.

U.S.-Brazil Relations in an Obama Administration

Latin American Thought blog takes a look at rumors that U.S. Asst. Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs will likely be appointed to serve as the next U.S. Ambassador to Brazil. “That Obama wants Shannon, a lifelong diplomat who has spent much of his career in Latin America and the majority dealing with U.S.-[Latin American] relations, to serve as ambassador to Latin America’s largest and most powerful nation speaks to the importance the new U.S. president is placing on the U.S.-Brazil relationship,” writes Eliot Brockner.

View Shannon’s remarks at this year’s COA Washington Conference.

AS/COA hosts its annual São Paulo Conference on June 9, featuring remarks by current U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Clifford Sobel.

Israeli Intel Accuses Caracas, La Paz of Sending Iran Uranium

An Israeli intelligence report accuses Venezuela and Bolivia of supplying uranium to Iran for that country’s nuclear program. The report came out ahead of Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon’s trip to attend the OAS General Assembly in Honduras on June 2 and 3. Bolivia’s Mining Minister Luis Alberto Echazú rejected the accusations, saying that his country does not produce uranium, having not yet tapped the country’s possible uranium deposits. Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez mocked the intelligence report’s charge.

Venezuela and Bolivia ended diplomatic relations with Jerusalem after Israel’s January military offensive in Gaza. Both countries have signed financial accords with Tehran. Read AS/COA analysis of Iran’s links to Latin America.

Evo’s Assassination Plot Weakens Opposition

ISN’s Samuel Logan examines the assassination plot against Bolivian President Evo Morales uncovered by the secret police on April 16. A three-minute, low-quality video made with a cell phone camera serves as the main piece of hard evidence against the three men killed in the raid. “If any result has come of this whole terrorist cell fiasco, it has been to place Bolivia’s opposition on unsure footing, ensuring Morales’ administration of a weapon to keep its detractors on the defense through the upcoming elections,” writes Logan. The Wall Street Journal has more.

Cochabambino Joins Ranks of Candidates in Bolivia’s Election

Current and former Bolivian officials are throwing their hats into the ring for December’s presidential election. Infolatam reports that the former Prefect of Cochabamba Manfred Reyes Villa, who lost his post in an August 2008 referendum, formally declared his intention to run against current President Evo Morales. Reyes Villa ran in 2002, when he came in third. Other formal candidates include Potosí Mayor René Joaquino, campesino leader Alejo Véliz, and Hugo San Martín—former President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada’s labor minister.

Ecuador Announces New Terms for Debt Buyback

Bloomberg reports that Ecuador is offering to pay 35 cents on the dollar to holders of defaulted bonds. “The republic will not offer equal or more favorable terms to those being offered to holders of bonds presently,” announced Ecuador’s Finance Minister Elsa Viteri. The payout represents 5 cents more than Argentina offered in 2005 as part of debt restructuring. Quito will release information June 12 about how many takers it succeeded in getting for the buyback offer.

Chile Arrests Victor Jara Murder Suspects

Authorities in Santiago arrested two people in connection with the death of the Chilean folk singer Victor Jara. The arrest comes 36 years after Chilean folk singer Victor Jara was brutally murdered in the bloody aftermath of the coup led by General Augusto Pinochet. The investigation was closed in May 2008 with only one perpetrator charged, but was then reopened following documents presented by Jara’s family. Chile’s Centro de Investigación e Información Periodista offers an in-depth look at testimonies related to who was involved in the death of Jara, including new information about how his body was rescued from the morgue.

Sendero Luminoso Recruiting Minors

Americas Quarterly
’s blog reports in a Daily Focus on video evidence shown on Peruvian TV networks that the resurgent guerrilla movement Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) has resumed recruiting child soldiers. The group appears to be training fighters as young as seven years old.

Canadian Ambassador on Canada-Colombia FTA

Semana interviewed the new Canadian Ambassador in Colombia Geneviève des Rivières about the pending free-trade agreement between Bogota and Ottawa. “Colombia is important to us, and I think we are getting to be more important for Colombia,” says des Rivières, noting that bilateral trade has reach $1.3 billion. The free-trade deal was signed on November 21, 2008 but awaits approval in Canada’s parliament and Colombia’s Congress.

Colombia Ramping up Ethanol Production

During a visit to London, Colombia’s Agriculture Minister Andres Fernandez Acosta talked about his country’s efforts to increase ethanol production. Latin America’s second biggest ethanol producer after Brazil is expected to see its output more than double by the end of 2009, says the minister.

Lessons Learned from H1N1 Outbreak

The Foreign Policy Association initiated a series of blog posts on emerging trends stemming from the outbreak of H1N1 and related panic. In the first, Sean Goforth argues that the Mexican government reacted quickly and accomplished several successes, particularly when compared to China’s handling of SARS in 2003. “This ordeal underscores why democracies are crucial to the world’s security and prosperity,” writes Goforth. “Despite stiff economic repercussions, Mexico combated H1N1 with transparency, external cooperation, and sound public health policies.”

Mexico Makes Sweeping Arrests of Government Officials

The Los Angeles Times reports that Mexican security forces arrested 27 officials—including 10 mayors—in the state of Michoacan in the latest efforts to target politicians connected to drug cartels. The state serves as the home base for a violent and growing cartel known as La Familia, known for its ability to corrupt local officials. 

Leaders Head to Central America for Funes Inauguration

High-level officials from Europe, Asia, and across the Americas head to Central America this week as Mario Funes takes over the presidency of El Salvador. Funes won a divisive election as the leader of El Salvador’s left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced at COA’s Washington Conference that she would attend the June 1 inauguration before going on to Honduras for the OAS General Assembly. Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou will also attend as part of a 10-day trip that includes Belize and Guatemala. All three countries are among the handful that continue to diplomatically recognize Taipei over Beijing.

Positive Signs for LatAm Economies?

Vitoria Saddi, RGE Monitor’s former senior Latin American economist, writes that despite predictions that the region will not grow at the same pace as it did for the last five years, some positive developments “suggest that Latin America may have changed course and be on a much better economic trajectory.” Saddi also blogs that “What is impressive is that in times of stress, as the ones we are currently living, Latin America has not only survived but has outpaced other emerging regions like the Baltics and the whole Eastern Europe.”

On June 1, AS/COA hosts a panel discussion on Latin America’s prospects in the midst of a global economic downturn: “The Financial Crisis and Latin America: Green Shoots or Black Clouds?

FDI to Latin American at a Time of Financial Crisis

On May 27, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean releases its annual report on foreign direct investment (FDI) in Latin America. A press release says the report found that FDI flowed into the region in 2008 despite the global financial crisis, but will likely drop this year. The report also includes data on transnational companies, tourism, and dispute settlement between investors and governments. Access information about the study in English y en español.

Gay Marriage and Immigration Debates Intersect

Feet in 2 Worlds looks at the Uniting American Families Act, a proposed bill that would allow U.S. citizens to sponsor same-sex spouses in order to have them immigrate legally to the United States. The bill proposes changing language to include definitions for “permanent partnerships” to include homosexuals in committed relationships. The article reports that 36,000 gay and lesbian Americans could benefit from the law if it gains approval. About 20 countries, including Canada and Engliand, have similar legislation on the books.

Tags: Bolivia, Brazil, Canada-Colombia FTA, Cuba, Ecuador, Ethanol, Evo Morales, Latin American Economies, Mexico, Russia, Sendero Luminoso, Sonia Sotomayor, Venezuela, Victor Jara
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