Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

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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.

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Ahmadinejad Tours Latin America

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began a tour of four Latin American countries on Sunday, beginning in Venezuela and traveling to Nicaragua yesterday for President Daniel Ortega’s inauguration. He is visiting Cuba today, and will fly to Ecuador on Thursday. Ahmadinejad is continuing efforts to expand Iran’s political and economic influence in the region, even while a crisis involving Western sanctions and a threat to block the Strait of Hormuz takes place in Iran. In an interview with Al Jazeera, COA Vice President Eric Farnsworth commented on Iran’s relationship with its few Latin American allies: “It is certainly a marriage of political convenience. In other words, they need each other.” 

Read an AS/COA News Analysis about Ahmadinejad’s trips to Latin America.

U.S. House Speaker Leads Delegation to LatAm

House speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is leading a congressional delegation to Latin America this week, with stops in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico to focus on energy and economic security. As well as discussing implementation of Colombia’s free-trade agreement—recently ratified by the U.S. Congress—the delegation will also consider energy issues in Brazil. During the first leg of the trip in Rio de Janeiro, the delegation visited a recently pacified favela.

Romney Releases First Spanish-Language Ad

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has released a Spanish-language campaign ad in Florida. The ad is narrated by Romney’s Spanish-speaking son Craig. The Washington Posts’ The Fix blog states that “while the ad does not mention Cuba, Cuban-Americans are obviously Romney’s focus,” given that 72 percent of registered Republicans in Miami Dade county are of Hispanic descent and largely Cuban-Americans. The ad features three Cuban-born Florida Republican lawmakers: Representative Mario Díaz-Balart, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and former Representative Lincoln Díaz-Balart. 

U.S. Expels Venezuelan Consul After Cyberterrorism Allegations

The U.S. government asked Miami-based Venezuelan Consul General Livia Acosta Noguera to leave after allegations that she had participated in talks with Cuba and Iran to launch a cyberattack on the United States.

Chávez Shuffles Cabinet; Appoints Defense Minister with Drug Ties

With the opposition primary in Venezuela fast approaching, President Hugo Chávez appointed several new ministers, choosing military men with business ties over Socialist Party loyalists. He tapped Diosdado Cabello, a former army lieutenant, as first vice president of the United Socialist Party (PSUV) and president of the National Assembly, and Francisco Ameliach, a former officer, as head of the PSUV’s organization. In addition, Chávez appointed General Henry Rangel Silva, the former chief of military intelligence, as minister of defense. In 2008, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned Rangel, accusing him of aiding cocaine smuggling and collaborating with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known as the FARC). 

Aló, Presidente! Returns to Venezuelan TV

President Hugo Chávez’s weekly Sunday television program, Aló, Presidente! returned to Venezuelan airwaves on January 8. The first show, after a seven-month hiatus due to Chávez’s health problems, lasted six hours and was filmed from the Petromonagas oil facility. In it, Chávez announced Venezuela would not recognize the ruling of a World Bank tribunal in a case between his country and the Exxon Mobil Corp.

Inside Caracas’ Skyscraper Squatter City

Foreign Policy features a photo gallery with a look inside Caracas’ “David’s Tower,” a skyscraper planned as a corporate headquarters that has, since 2007, become a massive squatter settlement. Some 2,500 squatters now live in the building, which was intended to be the third highest in Venezuela. A related article explores Venezuela’s housing crisis.

FARC Leader Pitches Peace Talks

In a letter directed at Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) leader Rodrigo Londoño, alias Timochenko, said he would be willing to return to a “hypothetical negotiating table,” taking off from the failed 1999-2002 El Caguan Peace Talks. Santos rejected the overture, saying peace can only be discussed when the FARC releases all hostages and declares an end to violence.

Colombia to Consider Gun Prohibition

A group of senators will present a bill to Colombia’s Congress proposing to ban guns. The bill would also give mayors (rather than police commanders) power over gun control. Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro implemented a gun ban in the capital, which goes into effect on February 1, and senators hope to replicate the ban on a national level.

Pablo Escobar’s Home up for Sale

The Medellin home where infamous Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar was killed by government forces in 1993 is for sale, reports Colombia’s El Tiempo. The current family has lived at the home since 2008, before which the house sat abandoned. The home, now a tourist site, attracts domestic and international visitors wanting to see where the “don of dons” met his end.

IMF Cautions Lower LatAm Growth in 2012

Nicolás Eyzaguirre, director of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere department, writes in The Huffington Post that while the region weathered the 2008 financial crisis, the eurozone crisis presents a risk for all Latin American economies. Eyzaguirre warned: “Overall, as 2012 kicks off, our advice is to hope for good news, but prepare for the bad.”

India to Increase Trade to Latin America

Trade between India and Latin America could increase to $50 billion by 2014, according to the Times of India. Latin America encompasses 4 percent of India’s trade, and trade between India and Latin America reached $23 billion in 2010. Rengaraj Viswanathan, India’s ambassador to Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, highlighted the importance of the region’s natural resources, saying: “[Latin America] is going to be a regular source of imports of crude oil, edible oil, minerals, timber, and other products which India needs to sustain its high growth.”

Read about India’s economic relationship with Latin America in an Americas Quarterly feature. 

Cuban Farmers Can Now Sell Directly to Hotels

In one of the latest economic reforms, the Cuban government will allow farmers to sell directly to hotels. As of December 23, hotels signed 71 contracts with local farmers, who will sell fruits and vegetables directly to these businesses.

Read an AS/COA News Analysis about Raúl Castro’s efforts to “update” the Cuban economy.

Two Years after Quake, Slow Improvements in Haiti

Jacqueline Charles and Nancy San Martin of The Miami Herald investigated reconstruction efforts in Haiti and found that, despite clean-up efforts in the capital and new construction of homes, half a million Haitians are still living in tents, and some aid money has yet to arrive. According to Charles and San Martin, “the slow pace of recovery, disorganized, donor-driven projects, scattered development, and lack of investments in creating jobs have many questioning whether the money was smartly spent.”

Brazil Closes Borders to Undocumented Haitians

Since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, approximately 4,000 Haitians have migrated to Brazil, entering illegally through the Amazon. On Tuesday, the Brazilian government announced that it would close the border to Haitian migrants, and would start a limited visa program in Port-au-Prince allowing for 100 conditional visas per month. The government also said it would give residency and work authorization to all undocumented Haitians currently living in Brazil, but that it would begin to deport new arrivals from now on. 

Read an AS/COA News Analysis about Haiti’s changing relationship with Brazil.

500+ Brazilian Officials Dismissed for Corruption in 2011

Brazilian daily Estado de São Paulo reports that 564 public employees have lost their jobs on corruption charges since President Dilma Rousseff took office one year ago. A government official quoted in the article states: “The intensification of dismissals stems from the determination of the government to combat corruption and impunity.”

Read an AS/COA News Analysis on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s first year in office. 

Jamaica to Dispense with the Monarchy?

In her inaugural address last week, newly elected Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller stated her desire for Jamaica to become a republic, thereby ending its ties with the British monarchy. An article in the Jamaica Observer discusses what would be necessary to cut the ties, including the surprisingly large price tag involved.

Read an AS/COA News Analysis on the election that brought Simpson-Miller to power.

Bible to Be Translated into Jamaican Patois

The BBC reports on the recent effort to translate the Bible into Jamaican patois.  The translation sparked controversy, which boils down to Patois being a language that has often been stigmatized and dismissed within the country. Supporters say it enshrines patois as a legitimate national language, and makes the Bible accessible to everyday readers, while opponents question if Patois has the vocabulary to express biblical meaning.

Puerto Rico Approves Status Referendum

On December 29, Puerto Rico’s Governor Luis Fortuño approved a two-part referendum to be held on November 6, which will determine whether the island stays a U.S. commonwealth or changes its status. If voters choose to change the island’s status, Puerto Rico could become independent, a sovereign free association, or the fifty-first state. However, U.S. Congress and the president must approve the voters’ decision.

Read an AS/COA News Analysis about Puerto Rico’s political future.

Drought and Fires Ravage Southern Cone

Since it began in December, a drought is causing water shortages and damage to crops throughout the Southern Cone. In Argentina, the drought will cause an estimated $785 million loss in corn production and a $412 million loss in soya production. In Paraguay, the drought is affecting 21,500 hectares of cotton and sesame crops. In the south of Brazil, 650,000 people have been affected by the drought, causing water shortages. 

In Chile, forest fires have affected the Torres del Paine National Park, destroying nearly 55,000 hectares of land, including nearly 13,000 hectares of forest. A series of fires have also been reported in the central region of the country.   The fires have jeopardized 30,000 jobs and $200 million in annual tourism revenue to the region.

Argentine President Does Not Have Cancer

After announcing in December that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had thyroid cancer—for which the president underwent a thyroidectomy last week—it has been announced that the tumor was in fact a “false positive.” The government’s swift reversal has led Argentine press critical of the government to question motives. In an editorial for La Nación, Carlos Pagni criticizes the “carelessness” of the government in not properly informing the Argentine public on the president’s health.

What Could a PRI Presidency Mean for Mexico?

Mexican political analyst Jorge Zepeda Patterson takes a look at what the return of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in this year’s elections could mean for Mexico in the Financial Times´ beyondbrics blog’s “12 for 2012” series. The PRI, which governed Mexico for seven decades amid wide scale corruption before losing elections in 2000, is the favorite to win this year’s election. Zepeda Patterson takes a negative look at this prospect: “[T]he PRI has not changed—the burning question is whether the country has changed enough to block the ‘old party’ from reinstating the old regime if it wins.”

Nicaragua’s Ortega Undertakes Third Term

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega assumed a potentially illegal third term on January 10, after winning widely contested elections on November 6. The inauguration ceremony was attended by a number of foreign dignitaries, notably Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, as well as the heads of state of many Central American and Caribbean nations. Taiwanese Foreign Minister Timothy Yang and the Prince of Asturias Felipe de Borbón also traveled to the country for the ceremony.

Read an AS/COA News Analysis on the Nicaraguan elections.

Taiwan Shores up Support with LatAm Visit

Bloggings by Boz’s James Bosworth takes a look at this week’s visit of Taiwanese Foreign Affairs Minister Timothy Yang to Central America, where he will be attending the inaugurations of the presidents of Nicaragua and Guatemala. The two countries are among the handful that continues to recognize Taiwanese independence. “Taiwan’s visit… is an attempt to maintain the small number of allies it has against the pressure of a bigger opponent and the rejection of the international community,” Bosworth writes.

Read an AS/COA News Analysis on China’s efforts to win over support from those countries in the region that still recognize Taiwan.

Tags: FARC Leader, House Delegation, IMF, Iran-Latin America, Venezuelan Consul, Venezuelan Defense Minister
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