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.
Honduras Tries to Turn Page with Lobo’s Inauguration
Seven months after the overthrow of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya left Honduras in a state of political chaos, the Central American country inaugurated Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo as the new leader on January 27. In his first act as president, Lobo declared amnesty for all involved in what was widely regarded as a coup. He won the November election by a large margin, though its recognition was hotly disputed by several Latin American governments.
On the eve of the inauguration, the Honduran Congress also approved amnesty for Zelaya and those involved in his ousting. That, along with a Supreme Court decision to clear chief military officers of coup-related charges, is seen as a step toward reconciliation as the new president takes power.
Read an AS/COA analysis of the inauguration.
Looking to the Future: Haitian Recovery Efforts
Two weeks after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, recovery efforts are under consideration. Delegates from 13 countries and four multilateral organizations met earlier this week in Montreal and committed to a 10-year reconstruction plan for Haiti. The United States Institute of Peace offers a series of recommendations, including poverty reduction and avoidance of dependence on aid flows.
Also this week, Wired.com launched “Haiti Rewired.” The site is a Ning network and offers a collaborative online community in which users can contribute suggestions on Haiti’s rebuilding.
With questions about refugee issues growing, a Migration Information Source report on Haitian immigrants in the United States provides data on the Haitian diaspora’s size, geographic distribution, and socioeconomic status in the United States.
Additional Brazilian Troops Deployed to Haiti
Brazil will send an additional 1,300 troops to Haiti after its Congress approved a request to increase the number of soldiers heading to the Caribbean country as part of a UN peacekeeping force. Since 2004, Brazil has led command of the UN mission to Haiti.
Student Protests of Venezuelan Media Closures Turn Violent
The government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez closed six television stations, including the often-critical Radio Caracas Television (commonly known as RCTV). The station refused to air the president’s speeches in entirety, reports the Guardian. On Monday, security forces fired tear gas on student protesters opposed to the shutdown. Two students died and dozens have been injured in the clashes. The government previously closed RCTV in 2007.
Venezuelan VP Steps Down
Ramón Carrizález, Venezuela’s vice president and defense minister, resigned Monday for what he described as “personal reasons.” His wife, Yubirí Ortega, also stepped down from her position of environment minister. On January 26, Agriculture Minister Elias Jaua was named to replace Carrizález as vice president while retaining his other post. Carlos Mata will serve as the new defense minister.
U.S. Study Finds Orinoco Belt Oil Reserves Twice Saudi Arabia’s
New research by the U.S. Geological Survey finds that Venezuela’s Orinoco Belt contains 513 billion barrels of recoverable oil, or about twice as much as Saudi Arabia’s proven reserves.
Uruguayan Colonel Extradited to Argentina
Brazil handed over to Argentina a former Uruguayan intelligence officer accused of human rights crimes dating back to the 1970s. Colonel Manuel Juan Cordero, arrested two years ago in Brazil, faces kidnapping and murder charges for his suspected involvement in the disappearance of an Argentine citizen during Operation Condor.
Argentine Central Bank Drama Continues
The presidency of the Argentine Central Bank remains disputed following Martín Redrado’s dismissal from the position earlier this month by Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The government replaced Redrado with his deputy at the central bank, Miguel Angel Pesce, after he refused to transfer funds from the bank’s reserves to repay government debt. Redrado says it is up to Congress to decide whether he can remain in his post, but police turned him away earlier this week when he attempted to enter his office.
DEA Uncovers Al Qaeda-Latin American Drug Connection
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration exposed a connection between Latin American drug traffickers and proclaimed members of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). “As the need to smuggle more cocaine to survive forces groups like the FARC to reach out to any organized group they can find in North Africa, they will likely come into regular contact with a group like the AQIM, which stands to benefit from the suggested $2,000 to $4,000 it could earn per smuggled kilo of pure cocaine,” writes Samuel Logan for ISN Security Watch.
United States Okays Noriega Extradition
The U.S. Supreme Court decided on January 26 not to block the extradition of former Panamanian President Manuel Noriega to France in connection with money laundering charges. Claiming that he is a former prisoner of war, his lawyers argue that he cannot be extradited to a third country pursuant to the Geneva Conventions. After completing a 17-year prison sentence for drug trafficking in the United States in 2007, Noriega stayed in U.S. custody awaiting the result of his extradition appeal. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must now give final approval for Noriega’s extradition.
Guatemalan Police Seize Ex-Prez Indicted by U.S. Court
A day after a New York federal court indicted Alfonso Portillo for embezzlement of millions of dollars, including donations meant to purchase children’s books, Guatemalan police captured the former president as he tried to flee the country on January 26. Portillo also faced embezzlement charges in Guatemala. He previously fled to Mexico, from which he was extradited in 2008.
Schwarzenegger Proposes Building Prisons in Mexico
During a January 26 press conference, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger suggested that, by building and operating jails in Mexico to house undocumented immigrants, the state could save $1 billion. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has not reviewed the proposal yet. California is under a federal court order to cut the amount of inmates in prison by 40,000 over the next two years and roughly 19,000 of its 171,000 prisoners are illegal immigrants.
Dominican Republic Inaugurates New Constitution
The Dominican Republic’s revamped Constitution goes into effect this week. The new document prohibits consecutive reelection and abortion. While the approval of the Constitution did not meet major obstacles, leftists groups have called the constitution “ultraconservative.”
Women Make Political Gains in Bolivia
Bolivia’s new Constitution has paved the way for women to play a bigger role in political life while guaranteeing women’s rights as human rights, according to a new article in openDemocracy. Yet gender-based violence against female politicians and candidates is also on the rise, write Maria Eugenia Rojas, director of the National Association of Council Women of Bolivia, and Carolina Gottardo, head of Policy Advocacy. Forty-seven percent of women elected to the Senate last year were women, and earlier this month, Maria Encina, president of The National Association of Council Women of Bolivia won the mayoral race in Santa Cruz, the second largest city in Bolivia.
PM Harper Calls for New Maternal and Child Health Initiative
Ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper penned a January 26 op-ed in The Toronto Star about Canada’s plans as president of the G8 and host of the June G20 Toronto summit. “Canada will champion a major initiative to improve the health of women and children in the world’s poorest regions. Members of the G8 can make a tangible difference in maternal and child health and Canada will be making this the top priority in June,” says Harper.
Latin American Leaders Play Role in Davos
Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico’s presidents will be among the leaders attending this week’s World Economic Forum (WEF). WEF President Klaus Schwab says Mexican President Felipe Calderón will play a fundamental role in climate change issues.
U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Report Examines OAS Challenges, Offers Recommendations
A U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report released by the office of Richard Lugar (R-IN) on January 26 looks at the Organization of American States (OAS) financial and political challenges, and offers recommendations to the U.S. Government–the OAS’ largest donor—for improving the institution’s efficiency.
Closing of Peruvian TV Station Slammed
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the cancellation of an Amazonian television station’s license in Peru, reports Bloggings by Boz. The Transport and Communications Ministry claimed that Televisión Oriente was shut down because it did not meet the deadlines for operational checks, though RSF states the station completed all the legal requirements for its license.
Heavy Rains Strand Tourists at Machu Picchu
Peruvian authorities used helicopters this week to evacuate roughly 2,000 tourists stranded near the ruins of Machu Picchu after heavy runs and mudslides left roads blocked. Flooding and mudslides claimed at least five lives in recent days.