Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas



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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López Bows Out, Supports Capriles ahead of Venezuelan Primary

Venezuela’s El Universal reports that pre-candidate Leopoldo López pulled out of the race for the opposition primary and gave his support to frontrunner Henrique Capriles Radonski. “Henrique, you will be the next president of Venezuela and I will dedicate all I have…and will not rest until we win on October 7,” said López upon announcing his decision. López’s renunciation leaves five candidates to compete in the upcoming primary on February 12.

Venezuelan Opposition Unveils Platform

The Venezuelan opposition coalition, known as the Democratic Unity Board (MUD), released a statement this week detailing how they plan to govern should they win the presidential election in October. The platform names “democratic reconstruction,” “a sustainable economic development model,” and a foreign policy based on “true commercial interests and a historic commitment to democracy” among its promises.

The Legacy of Venezuela’s Last Dictator

For Venezuelans, January 23 will mark the fifty-fourth anniversary of overthrowing the country’s last military dictatorship under Marcos Pérez Jiménez. Foreign Policy’s Transitions blog explores the significance of that date, which ushered in a 40-year period of democracy that “remains the only reference point Venezuelans really have for stable democratic governance.” The blog also makes reference to attempts by the Chávez government to redefine the date and Pérez Jiménez’s legacy. 

Ecuador’s Media Crackdown Comes under International Scrutiny

Amid international condemnations, an Ecuadoran court on Tuesday suspended an appeals hearing in the lawsuit by President Rafael Correa against El Universo newspaper, one of the most high-profile examples of Correa’s crackdown on the media. Correa won a libel case against the newspaper last year, after journalists published a critical opinion piece about the 2010 police protests in Quito. The ruling means the newspaper would have to pay $40 million in damages, and the journalist and newspaper owners were condemned to three years of jail time. Earlier this month, an editorial in The Washington Post said Correa was responsible for “the most comprehensive and ruthless assault on free media underway in the Western Hemisphere.”

Press Freedom Index Reveals Lower Rankings for Brazil and Mexico

Reporters Without Borders released its 2011-2012 Press Freedom Index today. In Latin America, Brazil had the largest decrease in the rankings, falling 41 places to the 99 spot due to the deaths of three journalists and bloggers. Jamaica and Costa Rica ranked highest in Latin America, at 16 and 19 respectively, while Cuba ranked lowest, at 167. Mexico and Honduras also received low scores due to mounting violence against journalists.

Obama Cites LatAm FTAs, Calls for Immigration Reform in SOTU

During Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama heralded the 2011 passage of long-pending trade deals with Colombia and Panama, saying they formed part of his plan to double U.S. exports over the course of five years. He also called for comprehensive immigration reform, citing undocumented youth and recent university graduates as potential beneficiaries of new policies. He also briefly mentioned U.S. diplomacy in Latin America, saying the United States’ ties to the Americas are now “deeper.”

Profiling Florida’s Latino Vote

The Pew Hispanic Center this week released a factsheet on Latinos in Florida, which finds that since 2008 Democrats have begun to outnumber Republicans among registered Latino voters in that state. Overall, Hispanics make up 13.1 percent of the state’s 11.2 million registered voters, making it the third-largest Hispanic voter population nationally. Nationwide 59 percent of the eligible voter population is of Mexican origin, but this represents only 9 percent of the Florida vote, which is 32 percent of Cuban origin and 28 percent of Puerto Rican origin. Florida’s Republican primary takes place on January 31.

GOP Candidates Debate Cuba Policy ahead of Florida Primary

The issue of how a Republican president would handle U.S. Cuba policy arose at the January 23 Republican debate in Tampa Bay, Florida. Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum said they would continue to tighten the trade embargo, with Gingrich promising to “implement an aggressive policy,” courting dissident groups on the island to overthrow the regime. The only dissonant opinion came from Ron Paul, who said “the Cold War is over,” and suggested ending the embargo.

Cuban Dissident Dies from Hunger Strike

The Los Angeles Times World Now blog looks at the death of Cuban dissident Wilmar Villar on January 19 due to complications from a hunger strike. The death prompted harsh criticism from a number of governments and human rights groups, though Cuba denied Villar’s role as a dissident. World Now states Raúl Castro’s government “has changed tactics in dealing with dissent. Instead of long prison terms, authorities often opt for brief but frequent imprisonment.”

Human Rights Assessed in Latin America

New York-based Human Rights Watch released its annual World Report 2012, evaluating the human rights situation in various countries. Within the Western Hemisphere, the report focused especially on the persecution of dissidents in Cuba; drug-gang violence in Colombia, Honduras, and Mexico; and “the precarious situation of human rights” in Venezuela.

Mexico’s Congressional Gridlock

The Economist takes a look at what it calls Mexico’s “do-nothing legislature,” which it points out has Latin America’s shortest working year among larger countries, and second-highest paid lawmakers. “When they do stir themselves to vote, it is more often to block rivals’ bills than to pass reforms,” the article states. The article says this is due to Mexico’s unique party system and ban on reelection, as well as strict voter loyalty to a political party, that “gives lawmakers every incentive to scupper the president’s agenda.”

Mexican Candidate AMLO Moves to the Center

M Semanal looks at the political redefinition of Andrés Manuel López Obrador—better known as AMLO—Mexico’s presidential candidate for the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). The article argues that AMLO, a traditionally leftist candidate who narrowly lost the presidential election in 2006, has moved to the center in the style of Peru’s Ollanta Humala in a bid to attract undecided middle class voters who would not be attracted to his prior radical rhetoric.

Guatemalan Ex-dictator to Testify in Genocide Trial

JURIST’s Paper Chase blog reports on Guatemala’s January 21 announcement that former Guatemalan president Efraín Ríos Montt must provide testimony in his genocide trial. Ríos Montt faces charges for crimes against humanity and genocide undertaken during his rule from 1982 to 1983. His case involves at least 1,771 deaths and 1,400 human rights violations.

Which Side Are the Honduran Police on?

McClatchy reports on the situation of the Honduran police. As reports come that San Pedro Sula, the second-largest city in that country, is the most dangerous city in the Americas, many wonder if the Honduran police are cooperating with the cartels. “In recent months in Honduras, evidence has turned up of police units involved in murder-for-hire plots, drug trafficking, extortion, auto theft and kidnapping,” writes Tim Johnson. (H/T Central American Politics blog.) 

Honduran Congress Passes Extradition Bill

On January 20, Honduras’ Congress passed a law permitting foreign governments to request extradition of Hondurans charged with drug trafficking, terrorism, and organized crime. The measure passed a day after Honduran President Porfirio Lobo met with U.S. officials in Miami.

Panama Becomes Net Exporter of Remittances

The Financial Times‘ beyondbrics blog reports that Panama is a Latin American exception when it comes to remittances, since it is now a net exporter. Panama exported $1 billion in remittances in 2011, mostly from skilled foreign professionals working in Panama’s booming economy.

From Cocaine to Cattle: The FARC Change Direction

As the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have seen their traditional cocaine profits dwindle due to seizures and successful military maneuvers, they have turned toward cattle raising to turn profits. WIRED’s Danger Room blog looks at this phenomenon, and the efforts by the government of President Juan Manuel Santos to resettle displaced farmers on land seized from the FARC.

Round 10: The Santos-Uribe Boxing Match

Semana takes a look at the attacks against current President Juan Manuel Santos by his predecessor Álvaro Uribe, treating it as a boxing match in ten rounds. Santos has weathered attacks from the ex-president on issues ranging from relations with Venezuela to judicial reform. The paper adds that attacks of this kind are “almost unprecedented” in Colombian history.

Santos Apologizes to Victims of El Tigre Massacre

In the latest of many Latin American leaders offering apologies for historic misdeeds, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos apologized Monday to victims of the “El Tigre” massacre. The massacre occurred in 1999 and left 29 dead at the hands of government-linked paramilitaries in the southern region of Putumayo.

Where Do Colombia’s Exports Go?

Dinero.com offers an infographic showing the largest markets for Colombia’s exports, as well as what those exports consist of. The graphic also shows which markets have shown the largest growth recently. 

China and LatAm Trade: More Balanced than You Think

Forbes.com’s BRIC Breaker blog takes a look at the Sino-Latin American relationship, and concludes it is more balanced than many think. In most Latin American countries, imports from China have indeed doubled, but started from a very low amount. The information, taken from a study in the upcoming issue of Americas Quarterly, finds that last year China exported $91 billion worth of goods to Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Argentina while those same countries exported $91.1 billion worth of goods to China.

The Winter 2012 issue of Americas Quarterly will be released on January 26 and focuses on China’s growing relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean.

Peru’s PM Calls for Environmental Review of Conga Mine

On Tuesday, Peruvian Prime Minister Oscar Valdes announced that a panel of international experts will examine the environmental impact study on the proposed Conga mine, one of the largest in Peru. Minera Yanacocha, a subsidiary of Newmont Mining, carried out the study. Residents of the Cajamarca region near the mine oppose the project, and believe the mine could contaminate the local water supply.

Chile Proposes Controversial Anti-protest Law

The Chilean Congress is set to debate a controversial new law that will impose harsh penalties on anyone “promoting acts of disorder” or “paralyzing a public service.” The new law, dubbed the “Hinzpeter Law” for Chilean Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter who proposed it, is deemed necessary by the government to maintain public order. But it has attracted protests from students and indigenous groups. Moreover, a controversial measure that would have required the press to turn over images of protests to police without a court order was withdrawn from the legislation last week after a media outcry.

Argentina and UK Exchange Heated Rhetoric over Falklands

Argentine and British officials exchanged strong words over the Falkland Islands this week, with each side accusing the other of “colonialism.” The comments inspired a protest in front of the British embassy in Buenos Aires on January 20, where protestors burned British flags and demanded Argentina cut off relations with the United Kingdom. Argentina has demanded bilateral talks on their sovereignty claim, while the British government insists the Falkland Islanders have a right to self-determination. The U.S. State Department announced this week it “takes no position regarding sovereignty” of the islands.

Iranian Official Claims Rousseff Ruined Bilateral Relations

An article in The New York Times reports that an Iranian official has complained about current Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, saying she “destroyed years of good relations” between Iran and Brazil.  Brazil was notably excluded from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Latin America earlier this month, despite close relations between Brazil and Iran cultivated by former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Brazil’s Foreign Ministry responded that relations remain warm toward Iran, as evidenced by Brazil’s skepticism about the use of sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Read an AS/COA News Analysis on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Latin American tour.

Rousseff’s Gender Revolution in Brasilia

Der Spiegel discusses President Dilma Rousseff’s efforts to appoint more women to high-level positions in the Brazilian government. While Brazilian women move up the ranks of power, they still encounter machismo. Gleisi Hoffman, Rousseff’s chief of staff, explained: “Women have to work twice as hard as men to get the same recognition.”

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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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