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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Summit Advances Cooperation Despite Lack of Declaration

The Sixth Summit of the Americas took place in Cartagena, Colombia over the weekend. Despite the lack of a final declaration due to disagreement over Cuba’s future participation and hemispheric recognition of Argentina’s Falklands claim, members signed a number of bilateral pacts on regional integration, development, and cooperation. Among these were Connecting the Americas 2022, which will increase electricity and telecommunications access throughout the hemisphere, as well as the Small Business Network of the Americas, aimed at promoting small businesses. Members debated drug policy at the insistence of Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, and agreed to have the Organization of American States evaluate current policy and seek more effective solutions. The participating heads of state heeded a Mexican proposal for an Inter-American System against Organized Crime, an effort to coordinate security policy in the hemisphere. Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa boycotted the summit due to Cuba’s absence, and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez did not attend. Ortega did not provide a reason for his absence, while Chávez cited health reasons.
An AS/COA report, The Private Sector’s Commitment to Job Creation, was distributed to leaders and showcases private sector initiatives to combat joblessness in the Americas.
Read an AS/COA News Analysis on bilateral meetings held on the summit sidelines.
Read an AS/COA Online Explainer answering “What is the Summit of the Americas?
Obama: Colombia FTA to Take Effect Next Month

During his visit to Colombia for the Summit of the Americas, President Barack Obama announced that the free-trade agreement between Colombia and the United States would go into effect on May 15. Though the U.S. Congress approved the agreement in October, Colombia had to implement a workers rights plan before the accord could begin. When the FTA takes effect, over 80 percent of U.S. consumer and industrial exports and over 50 percent of U.S. agricultural exports to Colombia will be able to enter the country tax-free.
State Department Extends Visa Validity for Colombians

The U.S. State Department announced on Sunday that the U.S. government will extend the validity of visas for Colombians visiting the United States from five to ten years. The website says the extension is in support of “the expanding partnership between the United States and Colombia…which has resulted in increased exchanges for tourism and business.” Around 577,000 Colombians visit the United States annually.
Colombia’s President Santos in Focus

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos graces this week’s cover of the European edition of TIME magazine. In an interview with TIME’s Tim Padgett, Santos addresses a number of issues, including Colombia’s goals for the Summit of the Americas, the strength of its economy, the future of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and his country’s relationship with the United states.
Foreign Investment Surges in Colombia

Reuters reports that in the first trimester of this year, foreign direct investment in the Andean country shot up 30 percent to $4.2 billion. Statistics from the Central Bank show that the hydrocarbons industry accounted for 72 percent of this influx.

Secretary Clinton Promotes Bilateral Cooperation in Brazil

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Brazil this week after attending the Summit of the Americas in Colombia. In Brasilia on Monday, Clinton met with Petrobras CEO Maria das Graças Foster to discuss expanding U.S.-Brazilian cooperation for deep-water oil exploration. Clinton spoke before the National Confederation of Industry, where she praised U.S.-Brazilian bilateral trade, but said the two countries could do more to foster collaboration. She discussed the possibility of a double taxation treaty, a bilateral investment treaty, and a potential future free-trade agreement. In a meeting with Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota, Clinton gave hope to Brazil’s mission for a permanent UN Security Council seat, stating: “[I]t would be very hard to imagine a future UN Security Council that wouldn’t include a country like Brazil.” On Tuesday, Clinton met with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff at a high-level meeting of the Open Government Partnership, a multi-country initiative to promote government transparency. The United States and Brazil are co-chairs of the partnership. During the meeting, a group of non-profits launched the Brasil Aberto movement to promote transparency and citizen participation in promoting open government.
Defending Brazil’s Borders

Thomson Reuters released a report on April 12 on Brazil’s recent efforts to protect its borders from undocumented immigrants, drugs, and contraband. Defending the 10,000 mile border—which is five times longer than the U.S.-Mexican border—has become even more critical now that Brazil is the world’s second-largest drug-consuming country. Also last week, Brazil’s chief of the joint staff announced a bilateral operation with Venezuela in which Brazilian and Venezuelan soldiers will increase monitoring along the shared border. The operation will use similar strategies from Brazil’s operations along the Colombian border.
Brazil Becomes Fourth-Largest Source of Tourists in U.S.

Mercopress reports that Brazil is now the fourth-largest source of tourists to the United States, based on data from the U.S. State Department. In 2011, 1.5 million Brazilians visited the United States. U.S. visa issuances to Brazilians tripled between 2006 and 2011, and are expected to increase another 87 percent by 2016. After Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s visit last week, the United States announced the opening of two new consulates in Brazil to handle the demand for tourist visas.

Law Requires Gender-Specific Nouns on Diplomas in Brazil

On April 3, Brazil passed a law compelling universities to issue diplomas using the female gender for professions. This means that on a diploma for a doctor, for example, the school would have to print “médica” for a female graduate instead of “médico.” As the first female president, President Dilma Rousseff is referred to as “presidenta” rather than “presidente.”
The Wisdom of a BRICS Development Bank

World Politics Review takes a look at the BRICS proposal to set up a development bank, a topic discussed at the group’s New Delhi meeting in March. The five countries seek to form a new “South-South model of aid distribution.” The challenge, the article says, lies in reconciling the differing opinions among constituent countries regarding aid, adding: “Unless they can figure out a common definition of what constitutes development aid, and the best practices to administer it, the proposed bank is doomed to fail before the delivery of its first check.”
Argentina Nationalizes Oil Company

Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner submitted a proposal to Argentine Congress on Monday to renationalize YPF, the country’s former state oil company held since 1999 by Spanish oil company Repsol and private investors. The legislation—which is expected to pass both houses in the coming weeks—would give 51 percent of the company to the Argentine government, with 49 percent divided among petroleum-producing states. The Argentine government justified the nationalization on claims of control of hydrocarbons being in “the national interest,” and continued allegations of underinvestment by the Spanish company. The Financial Times reported that the nationalization initiative came after an unsuccessful, private attempt by Repsol to sell a 57 percent stake of YPF to Chinese oil company Sinopec.
Obama Vows to Pass Immigration Reform in 2013

During the Summit of the Americas, President Barack Obama pledged to push through immigration reform in the first year of his second administration, but warned legislation would also depend on Congress. Some immigration reform proponents are cautious. Immigrant rights advocate Juan José Gutiérrez told Univision: “If Obama is reelected, I don’t think there will be immigration reform. That will depend more on what immigrants and their allies do to drive it.” 

No Surprises: World Bank Picks U.S. Candidate

On Monday, the World Bank voted for the U.S. pick for president of the institution: public health expert Jim Yong Kim. Colombian candidate José Ocampo dropped out of the race last week, saying the competition had become too political. Latin American countries also chose to pool their votes for Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Commenting on one of Kim’s challenges in the Western Hemisphere, Council of the Americas Vice President Eric Farnsworth told BBC Mundo: “What we’ve seen in Latin America is a large lack of investment in education…which is why the region hasn’t been able to use its human capital.”
How Policy Affects LatAm’s Declining Inequality

In his blog, The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman takes a look at falling rates of inequality throughout Latin America since 2000. He evaluates how different government types affected a decline in poverty, asking: “Can policy make a difference in inequality?”
The Spring issue of Americas Quarterly, scheduled for an April 26 release date, will focus on social inclusion in the Americas. Please visit the Americas Quarterly Social Inclusion Portal for more information.

At Close of Registration, 1 Million New Voters in Venezuela

Voter registration for the October presidential election in Venezuela closed on April 15. The country’s National Electoral Council (CNE) announced it registered 1.2 million new voters, bringing the total number of eligible voters to 19 million. Of these newly registered voters, almost 90 percent were between 18 and 25 years old. Some voter groups asked the CNE to extend registration by a week to accommodate last-minute registrants, but the CNE declined.
Homophobic Comments Spur Controversy in Venezuela

This week, an anti-gay slur used by Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro to describe opposition leaders caused an outcry among gay rights groups in that country. The leader of Venezuela’s Network of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgenders released a statement criticizing the remarks, saying: “[T]hey undermine constitutional pledges to defend the rights of sexual minorities.”
Cuban Government Promises Migratory Reform

Ricardo Alarcón, president of the Cuban National Assembly of People’s Power, announced that Cuba plans to undertake a “radical and profound” migratory reform in the coming months. The reform would eliminate the costly and difficult task to obtain an “exit visa” required of Cubans in order to leave the country and to protect the country’s “human capital.” Alarcón said the reform will also ease the return of recent Cuban emigrants, whom he acknowledged have different motivations for emigrating than those who left in the early years of the Communist government. Alarcón said these expatriates have a right to “maintain a peaceful link” with their birthplace.

Dominican Officials Reveal Alleged Haiti Overthrow Plot

On April 12, senior government officials in the Dominican Republic revealed an alleged plot to overthrow Haitian President Michel Martelly by former Dominican Colonel Pepe Goico, who works for Dominican presidential candidate Hipólito Mejía’s security team. Goico was caught on a tapped phone call with Haitian businessman Pierre Kanzki discussing the destabilization of Martelly’s government. Though Goico and Kanzski deny the plot, the Haitian government is investigating the two men.
One-Third of Mexican Voters Remain Undecided

The latest polling from BGC/Excelsior shows a growing lead for the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s Enrique Peña Nieto, while support for the National Action Party’s Josefina Vázquez Mota has “gradually declined.” Nevertheless, polling shows that the number of undecided voters remains firm at 33 percent. A piece in The Los Angeles Times questions if this large number of undecided voters owes to voter apathy given a sense of inevitability regarding Peña Nieto’s victory, and lack of alternatives proposed by the candidates.

In Mexico, Controversial Video Pulled from Web

Last week, Our Mexico of the Future—a group sponsored by an insurance company and civil society organizations—released a video showing children depicting social ills in Mexico, from corruption to shootouts between police and drug traffickers. The video intended to send a message to the Mexican presidential candidates, urging them to tackle the country’s ongoing crime and poverty challenges. Though the video received responses from the candidates and several million views on Youtube, the group pulled the video on April 16 after complaints from congressmen that the video violated childrens’ rights.
Drought Takes Toll on Mexican Agriculture

A severe drought in the north of Mexico and southwest United States caused a water dispute among farmers between the two countries. Mexican farmers demanded the March release of irrigation waters that originate in the United States. Farmers on the Texas side of the border wanted to delay the release to May to attempt to extend the growing season, but water authorities allowed Mexico’s allotment last month. The drought is taking a toll on Mexico’s northern indigenous groups, such as the Tarahumara, who are asking for financial help as food has become scarce.
Salvadoran Ruling Party Announces Presidential Candidate for 2014

Online newspaper ContraPunto reports that current Salvadoran Vice President and Education Minister Salvador Sánchez Cerén will be the 2014 presidential candidate for the ruling party Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). A former military leader during El Salvador’s 12-year civil war, Sánchez is now an important member of the FMLN and has long held presidential ambitions. ContaPunto questions his chances given the slim defeat of the FMLN in the March 2012 congressional elections.
Panama’s Unequal Boom

NPR’s All Things Considered discussed how Panama’s economic growth left out a third of the population, currently living in poverty. “We still have two countries—a First World country that’s going gangbusters, and a half an hour away, a Fourth World country with too many poor people,” commented Roberto Eisenmann, founder of Panamanian newspaper La Prensa.
Americas’ Drug Decriminalization Debate Explored

GlobalPost offers a new portal called “Legalize It” to explore the growing debate over Latin American drug decriminalization, covering the range of positions. Reporting features news stories on legalization talks, multimedia, and infographics on narcotics production and use in the hemisphere. 

Shining Path Hostages Freed in Peru

Members of Peru’s Shining Path released 36 hostages on Saturday after they were kidnapped on April 9 in the Apurimac and Ene valley region. The Peruvian government sent 1,500 troops to recover the hostages, who are oil and gas workers operating in the Shining Path’s last stronghold. Though the rebels demanded a ransom, Peruvian authorities say they did not negotiate.
Hitchhikers Offer a Glimpse into the Cuban Reality
McClatchy journalist Kevin G. Hall shares his experience picking up hitchhikers throughout Cuba during his stay for the Pope’s visit. Their stories offer insights into the country’s economic situation, the impact of the reforms, and attitudes toward the Communist government—and what might come after the Castros.
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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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