Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas



Guatemala Inaugurates New President

Otto Pérez Molina was sworn in as president of Guatemala on January 14 after winning a November runoff vote. In his inaugural address he promised a “total transformation of society.” Among recent indications of policy shifts, Pérez Molina indicated in a recent interview with Mexican channel Televisa that he would be open to region-wide decriminalization of drugs as a means to target narcotrafficking.

Read an AS/COA News Analysis on Pérez Molina’s inauguration.

Reflecting on 20 Years of Peace in El Salvador

In a guest post on Central American Politics blog, Washington College Professor Christine J. Wade discusses the 20-year anniversary of the Chapultepec Peace Accords that ended El Salvador’s 12-year civil war. While some progress has been made, including judicial and electoral reforms, violence is still a serious issue. “Post-accord El Salvador has been plagued by a seemingly unending crime wave that threatens not only Salvadoran citizens, but the very spirit of the accords. The violence is so consuming that some Salvadorans refer to the past 20 years as ‘not war,’ finding it impossible to reconcile such violence with ‘peace,’” Wade writes.

Peace Corps Pulls Volunteers out of Honduras

The Peace Corps evacuated all 158 volunteers from Honduras on January 16 amid safety concerns. The program also announced that it would stop sending new volunteers to El Salvador and Guatemala. In an opinion piece for The Los Angeles Times, Jared Metzker, who volunteers with the Peace Corps in Guatemala, argues the reports of violence are overblown, and states: “There is no Peace Corps draft, after all; we sign up and agree to come, fully cognizant of the risks.”

Venezuelan Defense Minister Accused of FARC Ties

Colombia’s Semana reported on January 14 that recently appointed Venezuelan Defense Minister Henry Rangel was the main conduit between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Venezuelan government. The two communicated often, and allegedly met at least four times between 2006 and 2008. The allegations were taken from emails between Rangel and current FARC leader Timochenko leaked to the paper by an anonymous source.

Closing of Venezuelan Consulate in Miami Could Affect Venezuelan Vote

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced the closing of Miami’s Venezuelan consulate on January 13 after the United States expelled Livia Acosta, Venezuela’s consul general in Miami, amid allegations that she discussed the possibility of a cyberattack against the United States. The closing of the consulate affects more than 200,000 Venezuelans living in the southeast United States, according to The Miami Herald, and could have an effect on this year’s presidential election, given that more than 95 percent of the voters registered at that consulate have traditionally favored the opposition.

Venezuela to Leave World Bank Investment Arbitration Body

Venezuelan Minister of Energy and Mining Rafael Ramírez confirmed in an interview with Venezolana de Televisión that his country would withdraw from the World Bank’s arbitration body—the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID)—amid accusations that it infringes on national sovereignty. The announcement was originally made by President Hugo Chávez during last week’s Aló Presidente!, when he announced Venezuela would not honor recent decisions by the body in a case between Venezuela and the Exxon Mobil Corp. The Financial Times’ beyondbrics blog says leaving the ICSID might not be so easy.

Peru’s VP Resigns, but Keeps Congressional Seat

Omar Chehade, one of Peru’s two vice presidents, resigned his post yesterday following accusations of corruption. Under Peruvian law, the president could not fire him, though Chehade was suspended from his congressional seat last month after the allegations broke in November. Chehade will, however, keep his seat in the legislature after a congressional commission voted to let him stay on as a federal congressman. He will return to Congress after the 120-day suspension ends in May.

Ecuador Passes Law Restricting Reporting on Candidates

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas blog reports on the recent measure by the Ecuadoran Congress to restrict media from “transmitting beneficial or harmful messages about candidates.” While the government contends it prevents media from influencing campaigns with their own agenda, critics argue it hurts the media’s role as public informer, and may mean having to wait till after a campaign to report political corruption.

Read an AS/COA News Analysis on Correa’s five years in office.

Raúl Castro’s Daughter Hopes to See Gay Rights Advance in Cuba

Mariela Castro, Director of the Cuban National Center for Sexual Education and daughter of President Raúl Castro, gave an interview with CubaSí about her work during the past two decades. Famed for her support of LGBT rights on the island, Castro said she hoped anti-discrimination legislation including sexual orientation and gender identity would be discussed at the Communist Party Conference later this month, and that a measure granting same-sex unions would be approved by the end of the year.

Baby Doc Living Well Back in Haiti

The Washington Post looks at how former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, better known as Baby Doc, has fared since returning to Haiti one year ago. Although formally under house arrest while awaiting trial for crimes committed during his rule, he has made appearances at several state functions and many believe he will be acquitted. Duvalier enjoys a measure of local support despite his legacy: “[M]any Haitians are nostalgic for the era, when the country was more prosperous, tourists were not afraid to come, and Haiti was the world’s leading maker of baseballs.”

Puerto Rican Exodus Hits Record Highs

New America Media carries a story about Puerto Rican migration over the year, which led the island’s population to decrease by 19,000 people. Overall, the island’s population has declined 83,000—or 2.2 percent—over the past decade. This marks the largest population loss by any U.S. jurisdiction, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.  The article attributes exodus to Puerto Rico’s “tough economic times.”

Canadian Immigration-policy Changes Could Increase Asylum Applications to the U.S.

The Los Angeles Times details the changes to Canada’s asylum policy, in which a reform program will evaluate a backlog of 42,000 refugee cases in June 2012. According to the article, Canada normally approves 40 percent of asylum applications. Richard Kurland, a Canadian immigration policy analyst, told the newspaper: “If you deprive a large number of people of asylum options, they’re going to look for the next place to go, in large numbers. So it is utterly incomprehensible to not figure out that come June-July 2012, when the new rules kick in, there will be a drive to seek sanctuary somewhere else, such as the largest neighbor in North America.” 

Release of Drug-related Killings Statistics Sparks Controversy in Mexico

The Pan-American Post takes a look at the debate over counting the number of people murdered in drug-related incidents in Mexico since the start of President Felipe Calderón’s war on drug trafficking in 2006. Government figures put the figure at 47,515, though several sources called that number into question as too low, with other estimates placing it from 60,000 to as much as 84,000. The irregularities are owed to how different states report and investigate crimes, and how drug-related crimes are officially categorized. The government’s hesitance to release the figure has also proven controversial. 

Mexico Makes Education Compulsory through High School

Last week the Mexican Congress voted to approve a constitutional overhaul that will make schooling compulsory through the “upper secondary level,” or grades 10 through 12. Education was previously compulsory only up until the ninth grade, or about 15 years of age. The goal of the measure is to improve people’s living conditions and combat social inequality.

PAN Candidate’s Comments Dominate Mexico’s Twitter

After the National Action Party (PAN) pre-presidential debate on January 17, two comments made by candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota became Twitter trending topics, according to El Milenio. The comments had to do with her ability to win, with harsh critiques of the other two parties participating in the race. Vázquez Mota currently leads the pack among the PAN candidates, with a two-to-one margin over her closest competitors, Santiago Creel and Ernesto Cordero. 

Brazil and Mexico: Surprisingly Similar?

An AméricaEconomía/Worldcrunch article examines Brazil and Mexico, and concludes “Latin America’s two largest economies are not quite as different as some might think.” The two face similar economic and demographic challenges, and share a mixed trading relationship with China.

Challenges for Brazilian Foreign Policy in 2012

Matias Spektor of the Fundação Getúlio Vargas outlines four major challenges for Brazilian foreign policy in 2012 in an article for Folha de São Paulo, as the start of a weekly series on Brazilian foreign policy. He points specifically to: renewing global leadership through the BRICS; continuing to exercise an international role outside the UN Security Council; working on the U.S.-Brazil relationship; and dealing with the consequences of Brazil’s more assertive defense policy. Further articles on the subjects will appear in the paper on Mondays.

What Lies behind Brazil’s Low Birthrate?

NPR looks at the reasons behind Brazil’s declining fertility rate, where the average number of children per woman fell from six to less than two—lower than the United States’—in half a century. While this decline follows regional trends, it has been especially pronounced in Brazil, with demographers attributing the change to urbanization, increased educational attainment for women, and even influence from the country’s popular telenovelas.

Brazil Looks to Ease Restrictions on Migration of Foreign Professionals

An article in O Globo explores an effort by the Brazilian Secretariat of Strategic Affairs to ease restrictions on foreign professionals who wish to migrate to Brazil. Currently, all applicants looking for employment in Brazil are subject to the same requirements, regardless of qualifications. Inspiration is taken from the immigration policies of Canada and Australia, which prioritize the migration of highly-qualified workers while leaving room for refugees.

Piñera Faces Breaking of Ranks

Infolatam reports that Chilean President Sebastián Piñera faced challenges from within his ruling coalition in Congress this week, as deputies from the Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party refused to support the president’s proposals to reform the tax and electoral systems. “It’s clear there’s a problem of loyalty” said one deputy close to the president. This is the latest in a series of challenges for the president, who holds an approval rating of 23 percent, according to a recent Adimark survey.

The Guyanas: Strangers in South America

A bridge between French Guiana and Brazil will open this weekend, marking the first overland connection between the European Union and Latin America and prompting The New York Times’ Opinionator Blog to take a look at the Guyanas (Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana). The article examines the history and border disputes that shape the only countries in South America that speak neither Spanish nor Portuguese.

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