Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly News Roundup from Across the Americas



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.

Thirty-Four Leaders to Gather for Fifth Summit

Trinidad and Tobago hosts leaders for the Fifth Summit of the Americas this weekend. The conference will serve as President Barack Obama’s introduction to a majority of the leaders in the Western Hemisphere. Although Washington’s Cuba policy has been in the spotlight ahead of the meeting, it’s far from the only big issue facing leaders. The National Journal reports that “Obama will have to walk the line between Latin America’s heightened expectations and domestic political considerations.” But an editorial in La Opinión takes a sunnier view, saying that what’s most important is the “tone set in the relations between the U.S. and the rest of the hemisphere.”

AS/COA Online offers extensive coverage of the Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain. What follows is a sampling; visit www.as-coa.org for more:

Excusive interview with Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow on Expectations for the Summit of the Americas.

Obama y la Cumbre de las Americas” by Christopher Sabatini, AS/COA Senior Director of Policy, El Diario/La Prensa.

What it Really Means to Stand with the Poor” co-authored by Eric Farnsworth, COA Vice President, Diplomatic Courier.

The Great Challenge for Leaders at the Summit of the Americas” by Juan Cruz Díaz, AS/COA Director of Public Policy Programs, Viewpoints Americas

Obama Heads to Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago

Leading up to the Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, President Barack Obama heads to Mexico April 16 for his first official visit in Latin America. Topics to be covered when he meets with President Felipe Calderón include climate change and economic cooperation, but security, trade, and immigration issues will likely dominate the talks. The Houston Chronicle looks at potential stumbling blocks, such as a dispute over a cross-border trucking program and domestic political pressures for Calderón ahead of July legislative elections.

Slate offers a series of opinion articles on “America’s dysfunctional ties with Mexico,” with authors including the Peterson Institute’s Barbara Kotschwar, NYU’s Jorge Castañeda, and New America Foundation’s Andres Martinez. The articles examine the misconception that the Mexican state is failing, Turkey-EU relations as a model for U.S.-Mexico ties, and a comparison of the drug war with the war in Iraq.

Read AS/COA analysis of Obama’s trip to Mexico.

Live From Santo Domingo: State Dept Town Hall on the Summit

Didn’t get an invitation to the Summit of the Americas but want to tell those 34 leaders what you think? Secretary Hillary Clinton will conduct a live digital town hall from the Dominican Republic on April 17 for a web-based discussion on issues “that impact the entire hemisphere.” Text the secretary your questions now.

Clinton’s stop in the Dominican Republic comes after her visit to Haiti, where donors pledged $324 million in aid to help the country as it struggles to recover from the twin woes of hurricanes and food shortages.

White House Eases Some Cuba Restrictions

President Barack Obama took steps to ease restrictions on travel and remittances for Cuban Americans with families back on the island. As AS/COA’s Christopher Sabatini writes in the Americas Quarterly blog, the move “presented an easy way to set the tone” as Obama heads to the Summit of Americas. He also writes that, even though leaders who gather in Port of Spain may push Obama for bigger shifts on U.S.-Cuba policy, many changes require moves in U.S. Congress, not White House action.

Unsurprisingly, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro responded to the easing of restrictions on Tuesday by saying that they were a positive sign but not far-reaching enough. He also responded to chatter over whether the Organization of American States (OAS) should readmit Havana by saying Cuba is not interested and that the OAS is “repugnant.”

A Foreign Policy slideshow looks at travel between the United States and Cuba.

Read an AS/COA analysis on Washington’s Cuba travel policy.

Cuban Energy Market & U.S. Firms

The Wall Street Journal
blog Environmental Capital wonders if U.S. energy companies may push to partake in Cuban energy explorations. The idea could gain traction after President Barack Obama ordered his administration to loosen travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans. Cuba estimates that oil reserves in its Gulf territory could be twice as big as the total the United States reports.

Washington to Name “Border Czar”

Politico reports that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will name a former Justice Department official to the post of “border czar.” Alan Bersin, who previously worked for DHS chief Janet Napolitano on border matters when she was attorney general, will focus on the fight against drug-related violence and illegal immigration in this role.

Mexican Congress Debates Marijuana Legalization

Before U.S. President Barack Obama touches down in Mexico, that country’s Congress opened a three-day debate on whether to legalize marijuana for personal use. Mexican President Felipe Calderón is against the idea, but supports legislation that would provide offenders treatment rather than give jail time. In an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation, Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan said, “This is a debate that needs to be taken seriously, that we have to engage in on both sides of the border: both in producing, in trafficking, and in consumption countries.”

Read AS/COA analysis on the drug policy debate in Latin America. 

U.S. Unions Reach Agreement on Immigration

The AFL-CIO and Change to Win unions agreed this week on a common proposal for immigration reform. They support a path to legalizing the status of 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

The Pew Hispanic Center released a new report finding that undocumented immigrants are more geographically dispersed than in the past and that a  growing portion are children. More than 75 percent are Hispanic.

The Migration Policy Institute also released an in-depth study about migration flows and how they correlate to past and present economic crises in the United States.

Brazil, Not Beijing, as a Model

In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Portland State University’s Bruce Gilley writes about the India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum (IBSA) as a challenge to Beijing’s rising star, given the three countries’ democratic credentials when compared with China.

Fujimori Conviction as a Landmark Case

Writing for the University of Pittsburgh’s Jurist blog, Andrew Hudson of Human Rights First calls the conviction of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori groundbreaking for a number of reasons: It came at the hands of a court in his own country, sets a “precedential and deterrent value,” proves the value of the inter-American system on human rights, and demonstrates the readiness of third-party countries (in this case, Chile) to arrest and extradite former leaders.

In a blog post for Americas Quarterly, Financial Times correspondent Naomi Mapstone covers the Fujimori conviction from Lima.

Read AS/COA analysis of the Fujimori case.

Colombia: No U.S. Base, but We’ll Host Operations

Earlier this week, Colombian General Freddy Padilla de León confirmed that U.S. drug interdiction missions may be carried out from his country’s military bases. Yet he rejected the possibility of allowing the Washington to move the U.S. Air Force base from Manta, Ecuador, to a location in Colombia.

Top Drug Lord Arrested in Colombia

Colombia’s President Álvaro Uribe hailed the arrest of the most sought-after drug lord Daniel Rendón Herrera—also known as “Don Mario”—and around 40 people from his personal security detail. Rendón is considered Colombia’s most powerful drug baron and main partner of the Mexican cartels. The operation involved more than 600 police and army personnel.

Uribe and
Chávez Meet, Push for FARC Ceasefire

On April 14, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe visited his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chávez in Caracas. Chávez echoed Uribe’s call for a four-month ceasefire by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as a goodwill gesture and starting point for a peace process. The presidents also inked several cooperation agreements ranging from energy to the creation of a development fund.

Chávez’s Drug Crackdown

World Politics Review examines Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s recent actions to crack down on drug trafficking in ports and airstrips earlier this month. A number of theories have arisen as to why Chávez took this step now from trying to boost his image to strengthening his hand.

Lugo Acknowledges Fathering Two-Year-Old Boy

President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay admitted earlier this week that he fathered a child prior to becoming president and while he was still a Catholic bishop. Lugo admitted to being father of a 2-year-old boy after the mother filed a paternity suit. Viviana Carrillo, now 26, alleges that the relationship began with the president when she was 16. McClatchy covers the divided response to the scandal, with some viewing the matter as a private one and others calling it a blow to the Catholic Church.

Argentina’s Soy Crops Diminish as Prices Jump

The worst drought in half a century in Argentina has reduced the 2008/2009 soy bean crop by 16 percent over the previous harvest, according to estimates from the United States Department of Agriculture. As Argentina’s production lags, soy prices rose to a two-and-a-half month high on April 14. Argentina remains the world’s third largest soy exporter behind Brazil and the United States.

Read an AS/COA analysis on the drought affecting the Southern Cone.

Evo Ends Hunger Strike, New Electoral Law Passes

Bolivian President Evo Morales ended a five-day hunger strike early on April 14, successfully pressuring Congress to approve new electoral rules that allow for general elections on December 6. The legislative move also allows Bolivians living abroad to cast their votes and reserves eight seats in Congress exclusively for people of indigenous Bolivians.

In his blog Pronto, Miguel Centellas spells out details of the new electoral law approved in La Paz.

Nicaraguans Prefer Not to Talk about Politics Publicly

Los Angeles Times blog La Plaza reports on a public opinion survey showing that Nicaraguans don’t “feel safe and respected” if they voice political commentaries in public places. The same poll found that 77 percent of the people interviewed have little or no interest in national politics.

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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
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