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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Cops and Soldiers Clash in Brazilian Police Strike

Soldiers clashed with police in the Brazilian city of Salvador da Bahia, where police are protesting in favor of a 30 percent wage increase. Soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at police occupying the state’s legislature. The BBC reports that crime has soared in Salvador since the start of the protests last week, with the murder rate more than doubling. Jornal do Brasil reported on February 8 that police strikes could inspire strikes in six other states this week, including Rio de Janeiro. The protests come two weeks before the country’s carnival celebrations, leading some to accuse the police of holding the government hostage.

In Peru and Argentina, Top U.S. Envoy Promotes Educational Exchange

Mercopress reports on U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta S. Jacobson’s travels to Peru and Argentina this week. Jacobson will introduce Obama’s “100,000 Strong in the Americas” plan to increase international study between the United States and Latin America, as well as tackle a number of economic and civil society issues with the Peruvian and Argentine leadership.

U.S. Leaves Diplomatic Posts Vacant in Latin America

An article in The Wall Street Journal explores the lag in appointing U.S. ambassadors to a number of Latin American diplomatic posts. The article observes that no other region in the world has as many U.S. ambassadorial  vacancies. A meeting of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on February 7 decided to delay the decision on any pending nominations. 

A DREAM Deferred? Looking at the ARMS Act

Feet in 2 Worlds blog questions the wisdom of the Adjusted Residency for Military Service (ARMS) act, introduced by Representative David Rivera (R-FL) on January 26. The ARMS Act is a revised version of the DREAM Act, which would grant citizenship to youths brought to the United States illegally as children if they completed college or served time in the military. The ARMS Act removes the education component. The blog asks if this might lead some to “sign up out of desperation” rather than an honest commitment to military service, and if it is wise to “deport trained professionals or students who have benefited from the public education system funded by the taxpayers.”

Cuba Marks Half-century of U.S. Trade Embargo

The U.S. trade embargo against Cuba marked its fiftieth anniversary on February 7, reports Fox News Latino. The embargo, first introduced by U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1962 in retaliation for Cuban nationalization of U.S. companies, remains “the defining feature of U.S.-Cuban relations.” Although U.S. opinion is mixed on its efficacy—while it has crippled the Cuban economy, it has not removed the Communist government from power—it will most likely remain, says the article. “The ball is really in the Cuban court right now and they may not want to play it,” says AS/COA’s Christopher Sabatini.

ALBA Meets, Proposes UK Sanctions

Infolatam reports on the decisions made at the latest summit of the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA), which took place in Caracas over the past weekend. The summit focused on a number of economic and diplomatic themes, including the creation of an ALBA reserve fund, and the group’s declaration of support for Argentina’s Falklands claim. The group expressed solidarity by agreeing to close their ports to ships bearing the Falklands ensign, and studying whether to impose sanctions against the United Kingdom. ALBA also debated whether to admit Suriname and St. Lucia as full members.

Colombia Seeks Consensus on Cuba Issue before Summit of the Americas

Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín has sought a consensus in the ongoing debate about Cuba’s attendance at April’s Summit of the Americas, which her country will host in Cartagena. At a Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) meeting last weekend, members threatened to boycott the summit if Cuba is not permitted to attend. U.S. State Department spokesman William Ostick responded that: “Today’s Cuba has in no way reached the threshold for participation,” which includes democratic values. Colombia’s El Tiempo reports that Holguín proposed Cuba attend as an observer instead of a participant.

Last Colombian Paramilitary Chief Captured in Venezuela

InSight Crime reports on the arrest of the last of Colombia’s paramilitary chieftains. Hector German Buitrago, alias Martin Llanos and head of the paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), was arrested in Venezuela on February 4. His arrest marks the end of the AUC, which once battled cartels for control of Colombia’s lucrative drug trade and penetrated key parts of the Colombian state. Buitrago and his brother, also arrested, are wanted for drug-trafficking and murder charges and will be handed over to Colombian authorities.

Poll Shows Growing Support for Venezuelan Opposition Frontrunner

A poll by Venezuelan polling service Datanálisis finds that Leopoldo López’s decision to drop out of the race and endorse Venezuelan frontrunner Henrique Capriles Radonski should help Capriles capture nearly 61 percent of the vote in this weekend’s opposition primary. Capriles’ support has grown 19 percent among voters since January 23. Further, 71 percent of poll respondents said the Capriles-López alliance increases the opposition’s chances for victory in the presidential election in October.

Read an AS/COA Online Hemispheric Update on issues to watch ahead of Sunday’s primary.

Correa Awarded $2m in Defamation Case

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports on yesterday’s decision by an Ecuadoran court to fine two journalists $1 million each for defaming President Rafael Correa in a book. The journalists, Juan Carlos Calderón and Christian Zurita, alleged an illegal awarding of state contracts to Correa’s brother Fabricio in Big Brother. CPJ’s senior Americas Programs coordinator said on the ruling: “The scale of the damages awarded in this case are punitive and clearly designed to crush all critical voices.”

Ecuador Seeks to Eliminate Begging by 2013

InfoSurHoy.com reports on efforts by the Ecuadoran government to eliminate begging by 2013 through a new program that educates and encourages donors to provide cash to charities that help those in need rather than giving money directly to beggars. “What we want is for families to have access to services such as health and education, which will allow them to leave this lifestyle and achieve true inclusion in society,” says César Paredes, director of the Ecuadoran Institute for Children and Families.

Bolivian Senate Votes for Referendum on TIPNIS Road

According to Bolivia’s La Razón, the Bolivian Senate voted to hold a referendum on the controversial highway through the TIPNIS (Isoboro Secure Indigenous Territory). Voters will be asked if the TIPNIS should be “untouchable,” or whether the proposed road can be developed. The referendum will be held within 120 days. The move comes after protests last week in favor of the highway after the project was suspended in October amid strong opposition marches.

Read an AS/COA News Analysis on earlier protests against the TIPNIS road. 

Female Candidate to Top Mexico’s Ruling Party Ticket

Mexico’s governing National Action Party (PAN) hosted its primary on February 6. The victor, former legislator Josefina Vázquez Mota, won 55 percent of the vote and will go on to represent her party in July’s presidential elections. Vázquez Mota is the first woman from a major political party to compete for the Mexican presidency. She faces tough competition from the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) Enrique Peña Nieto, whom she trails in opinion polls by 20 percent. In her victory speech, she positioned herself as the candidate to beat the PRI, stating a vote for that party would be a “return to corruption as a system and impunity as conviction.”

Read an AS/COA News Analysis on Vázquez Mota’s victory and prospects for her campaign. 

Mexico Says No to Renegotiating Auto Treaty with Brazil

Mexico’s Sub-Secretary of Foreign Trade Francisco de Rosenzweig headed to Brazil on February 7 to discuss renegotiation of Economic Complementation Agreement 55 (ACE 55), says Mexico’s El Financiero. The decade-old agreement allows car parts manufactured in either country to enter the other tariff-free. Brazil expressed desire last week to renegotiate the contract to help its domestic auto industry, but Mexican officials refuse, saying the agreement has been mutually beneficial.

Orchestra Gives Mexican Youth Sanctuary from Violence

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting covers the Aztec Hope Juárez Youth Orchestra, started by Fundación Azteca in 2010 in the border city of Ciudad Juarez. The orchestra now counts 230 youth in its fold and offers a refuge from organized crime to the city’s ninis—slang for youth who neither work nor study.

Remittances to Mexico Rise for First Time in Half a Decade

After five years of stagnation or decline, remittances to Mexico from abroad rose 7 percent over 2010 according to data from Mexico’s Central Bank. The Los Angeles Times’ World Now blog reports this increase owes to improved economic prospects in the United States, though remittances in 2011 were still $3.3 billion less than in 2007, before the economic crisis began.

Harper Heads to China to Talk Oil

Canada’s CTV News reports that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper headed to China on February 6 with a delegation of politicians and energy-sector executives. His visit will focus on developing trade links between the two countries, especially focusing on exporting more oil to China.

Read an AS/COA News Analysis on Canada’s drive to export oil to China after Washington opted not to develop the Keystone Pipeline. 

Indigenous Protests Rock Panama

Financial Times’ beyondbrics blog looks at the eruption of indigenous protests in Panama, where members of the Ngäbe Buglé indigenous group had closed access to the Pan-American Highway since January 30 in protest of multi-billion dollar mining and hydroelectric projects in their native territory. According to the Associated Press, the group agreed to end the blockade on February 7 in exchange for the release of members taken prisoner during the protests. Panama will also compensate the family of a man killed during clashes with the police.

Panama Refuses to Extradite Ex-Colombian Intelligence Chief

The Panamanian government denied Colombia’s request to extradite former Administrative Department of Security (DAS) director María del Pilar Hurtado. She is wanted in Colombia for her role in a wiretapping scandal under former President Álvaro Uribe in which various high-ranking opposition officials were spied upon. That controversy led the government to dissolve the DAS last year. Hurtado sought asylum in Panama in November 2010 on the grounds that the charges against her amounted to political persecution.

Former Panamanian Strongman Noriega Hospitalized

Panama America reports that former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, currently serving a prison sentence in his home country, was hospitalized on February 6 due to high blood pressure and concerns he might suffer a stroke. He continues under medical observation. Authorities denied that his medical condition could be used to release him from detention.

UN Expresses Concern over Salvadoran Justice System

A visit to El Salvador by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed concern about the prison situation in that country. The group focused on prison overcrowding, poor access to defense counsel, poor notification of sentences to the defendant, and “over-reliance on informers and testimony by opportunistic witnesses.” The group pressed the government to “urgently review its procedures to ensure human dignity for those deprived of their liberty.”

Latin America’s Strong Currencies: A Double-edged Sword

MarketWatch warns that the strength of the Brazilian real, Colombian peso, and Mexican peso may be a double-edged sword. “[W]hile strong currencies are good for some companies and some parts of the economy, they are a negative for exporters and a nightmare for those trying to manage monetary policy.” The article says the currencies’ strength threatens the commodities industry, which could have long-term consequences for Latin American economies.

Puerto Rico’s Newest Export: Iguana Meat

Remezcla reports that Puerto Rico is considering a novel solution to its iguana problem: exporting the animals as meat. The iguana overpopulation has wreaked havoc on “structures, the economy, crops, and the ecosystem” according to Daniel Galan Kercado, secretary of Puerto Rico’s Department of Natural Resources. But iguana meat can go for $6 a pound and is in high demand among U.S. Latino and Asian communities.

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