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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U.S. Defense Secretary Tours Brazil, Chile, and Colombia

Colombia, Brazil, and Chile will host U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta this week. “This is a way of making contact and dealing with the region at a time when there’s growing concern over the ability of many countries to be able to handle the threat posed by transnational crime and, specifically, drug trafficking organizations,” one former Pentagon official told Voice of America. In Colombia, Panetta secured the sale of 10 U.S. helicopters to that country to be used in combatting drug trafficking and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Panetta met with Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim in Brasilia as part of the first U.S.-Brazil Defense Cooperation Dialogue, established during Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s visit to Washington earlier this month, and discussed ways to expand bilateral trade in defense technology. Panetta will next head to Rio de Janeiro before departing for Chile, where he is expected to discuss joint naval drug-patrol operations off the Central American coast.

Mexican Migration to the U.S. at a Standstill

A poll from the Pew Hispanic Center finds that Mexican migration to the United States has stopped and perhaps even reversed. The research finds that from 2005 to 2010, 1.4 million Mexicans emigrated to the United States, and 1.4 million Mexican immigrants returned to Mexico from the United States. The report also finds that the number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States dropped by nearly 1 million by 2011. The report says the decline is a result of “weakened U.S. job and housing construction markets, heightened border enforcement, a rise in deportations, the growing dangers associated with illegal border crossings, the long-term decline in Mexico’s birth rates and changing economic conditions in Mexico.”

U.S. Funds to Fight Intellectual Property Crimes in LatAm

Last week, the U.S. State Department announced 12 international intellectual property training programs, designed to combat transnational crime and piracy by educating judges and law enforcement agents on the subject. Of the $2.6 million set aside for these efforts, $438,814 is destined for programs in Mexico, $150,644 for Brazil, $100,000 for Chile, and $70,000 for Colombia. 

Will SB 1070 Help Obama Win Arizona?

As the Supreme Court debates the constitutionality of Arizona’s controversial immigration law this week, the National Journal looks at what the implications of SB 1070 could mean for Arizona in the 2012 presidential election. Since Latinos make up 30 percent of the state’s population and often vote Democrat, the Obama campaign believes Arizona could go blue in 2012. One Arizona pollster agrees, saying SB 1070 “has really driven a wedge in the state and has certainly affected and made clear to Hispanics in Arizona that the Republican Party is not one that is sympathetic to them.” 

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis looking at the SB 1070 hearing starting this week in the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Brazil and Canada Raise Concern over Florida Law

Some Brazilian and Canadian trade officials and business leaders are raising questions about Florida’s new law prohibiting local governments from hiring companies that do business with Cuba. Passed by the state legislature, the bill will go into effect on May 5 unless Governor Rick Scott vetoes it. Businesses from Brazil and Canada that operate in Florida oppose the move. “People are very alarmed that the state would consider setting its own foreign policy,” Mark Wilson, president of Florida’s Chamber of Commerce told The Miami Herald.

Puerto Rico Orders Investigation of March 18 Primary

Fox News Latino reports that Puerto Rico’s electoral commission opened an investigation this week into vote tampering and voter fraud allegedly conducted during the island’s March 18 primary, which saw the selection of candidates for the island’s two major parties and the U.S. Republican presidential candidate. Discrepancies from the vote already prompted a recount in March—the island’s first—which uncovered recorded votes from people who are deceased or did not vote. Electoral and party officials face criminal charges if convicted.

Legal Costs Expected over Alleged Wal-Mart Mexico Scandal

The New York Times broke the news this week of a massive bribery scandal and cover-up by Wal-Mart executives operating in Mexico. Based on investigative reporting, the paper alleges that Wal-Mart de México paid millions of dollars in bribes to rush construction permits, and sought to conceal these bribes from corporate headquarters. ShortFormBlog offers a summary of the report and says that “analysts and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act experts estimate that the [U.S.] governments’ legal fees could end up much higher than Wal-Mart stands to lose in penalties.” On the other hand, as The New York Times’ DealBook blog suggests: “The ultimate cost to Wal-Mart for the legal and accounting fees for the investigation, along with any monetary penalties the Justice Department and the S.E.C. may seek, will probably far exceed the bribes.” Wal-mart responded by saying it plans to increase controls in order to ensure compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Wall Street Journal columnist Holman W. Jenkins comments on the scandal, saying: “When a multinational decides to expand in an unfamiliar market, it makes a choice: Play by local rules or change the rules.” 

Climate Change Law Clears Mexican Congress

After passing the Chamber of Deputies early last week, Mexico’s General Climate Change Law passed the Senate on April 19. The law will now go to President Felipe Calderón, who is expected to sign it into law. The legislation sets levels for greenhouse gas emissions, and creates a National Institute of Economy and Climate Change, which will use domestic and international public and private funds to lower carbon dioxide emissions.

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about Mexico’s General Climate Change Law.

Assessing Pemex’s Government Oversight

The New York Times reports on the oversight of Mexico’s state oil company Pemex by the country’s National Hydrocarbons Commission, created by Congress in 2008. While Pemex historically enjoyed little oversight, declining oil reserves and the Mexican states’ dependence on oil revenues have pushed the National Hydrocarbons Commission to question the company’s operations and expenses. Though Pemex is not required to follow the commission’s suggestions, the commission can publicly condemn the company. “The strength of the commission is in public opinion,” said the commission’s president, Juan Carlos Zepeda.

PRI Members Clamor for Transparency

The Los Angeles Times’ World Now blog takes a look at internal divisions in Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Though the party candidate Enrique Peña Nieto is the frontrunner in this year’s presidential election, members called inconformes want to see more transparency within the party, especially in the selection of candidates for office. “The leadership tries to manipulate the votes. It’s a negotiation of a handing-out of posts, all stuff we don’t have access to as common human beings,” said Mexican historian Rogelio Hernández.

Pérez Molina Talks Drug Decriminalization

The Economist’s Americas View blog conducted an interview with Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, who shared his views on drug decriminalization at the World Economic Forum on Latin America held last week in Mexico. The interview touches on the logistics of putting the plan into action, and seeking Central American support. While a recent Prensa Libre poll showed Pérez Molina enjoying an 82 percent approval rating in Guatemala, the president’s decriminalization plan does not have majority support among the Guatemalan public. 

Read an AS/COA Online Hemispheric Update on Otto Pérez Molina’s first 90 days in office. 

Guantanamo Uighurs Granted Asylum in El Salvador

Two prisoners held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp for the last 10 years were granted asylum in El Salvador this week. The two prisoners from China’s Muslim Uighur minority are unable to return home since Beijing considers them political activists, meaning they face likely persecution. A spokesman for the Salvadoran Exterior Minister said his country accepted the prisoners’ request for asylum due to the U.S. tradition of accepting Salvadoran refugees in times of hardship.

Colombia’s Santos Sees Drop in Approval Ratings

Despite recent successes on the global stage, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ approval figure have dropped. In the most recent poll by Semana, 58 percent of Colombians approved of Santos’ job, down from 71 percent in July 2011. Colombians cite unemployment, insecurity, and judicial corruption as their biggest concerns. 

Hugo Chávez Dispels Death Rumors

After disappearing from public sight for nine days while undergoing radiation therapy in Cuba, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez called Venezuelan state television on Monday to proclaim that he is indeed alive. Speaking on the program, Chávez called the rumors of his death a psychological “dirty war” waged by the opposition. Until the phone call, Chávez had only communicated with the world via social media, drawing criticism from opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski, who tweeted: “The country’s problems cannot be resolved by Twitter.” 

Venezuela Restricts Access to Foreign Currency for Studies Abroad

Last week, the Venezuelan Ministry for Higher Education passed a law restricting access to foreign exchange for Venezuelans studying abroad. Students are exempt from the restrictions if they are pursuing one of a number of government-approved courses, including hard sciences, engineering and architecture, agricultural studies, and health studies. Students with approved courses will have access to unlimited transfers through the Currency Administration Commission (CADIVI), while students pursuing other topics will receive exchange through the Foreign Currency Transaction System (Sitme). As Pulsamerica explains, CADIVI provides students with unlimited access to foreign currency at the official exchange rate, while Sitme caps exchanges at $5,000 annually. 

Chávez’s Beauty Product Price Controls Reap Benefits

Foreign Policy’s Transitions blog looks at the politics behind price controls on beauty products in Venezuela. While some questioned why Venezuela regulated the price of beauty and hygiene products, the blog argues it is politically beneficial for the government. “Venezuelans are obsessed with beauty and personal care,” the author writes. “Anything that feeds into that part of their culture is bound to reap political benefits.”

IMF Warns of Sustainability of LatAm’s Economic Performance

The IMF will release a report today warning Latin American countries of the “double tailwinds” of “high commodity prices and easy external financing conditions.” While these conditions will last for a while, the report says, they’re not guaranteed in the long run. IMF Western Hemisphere Department head Nicolás Eyzaguirre suggested Latin American governments “rebuild resilience and flexibility” by saving profits from record exports and managing debt levels.

Humala Gives Conditional Approval to Conga Mine

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala gave a conditional go-ahead to U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corporation to continue with the Conga mining project. The $4.8 billion project was suspended late last year amid protests by locals concerned it would diminish and contaminate local water supplies. “The company should meet the environmental and social recommendations made by auditors,” Humala said, referencing a report issued last week that suggested the mine keep water reservoirs at least four times larger than those originally planned to assure water access for locals.

UN Military Training Center Opened in Chile

The Chilean government announced this week that a rumored U.S. military base in Concon is in fact a “training center” for UN peacekeepers inaugurated on April 5. Soldiers trained at Concon will receive peacekeeping and stabilization training for operations in urban areas. 

Pinochet’s Will Ordered Unsealed

Investigators ordered the opening of a 2005 addition to General Augusto Pinochet’s will this week as part of an ongoing investigation into the former leader’s alleged fraudulent enrichment. Research by Chile’s Supreme Court found that only $3 million of Pinochet’s alleged $21 million in assets were justified by his military salary, and investigators hoped the will would provide details about the source of Pinochet’s additional assets. However, Chile’s El Mercurio reports that the 2005 addition only provides information on the changing of the executor of the will. Investigators will now petition the courts to unseal the original, complete 2000 version of the will to see if that will yield further details.

Canada Pursues Education Exchange in Brazil

This week, Canada’s Governor-General David Johnston traveled with 30 Canadian university presidents, the largest Canadian education delegation ever sent abroad. “From a strategic importance, [Brazil] would rank with the top three or four countries in the world, I think, in terms of Canadian interests,” Johnston told The Globe and Mail. Johnston’s mission is to woo Brazilian students, given the Brazilian government’s Science without Borders exchange program. On April 24, Johnston met with President Dilma Rousseff, who announced 12,000 scholarships for Brazilian students to study in Canada as a part of Science without Borders.

Read an AS/COA Online Interview with the president of Brazil’s National Council for Scientific and Technological Development on Science without Borders.

Brazilian Minister Promotes Democracy, Trade in Africa

On April 23, Brazil’s Minister of External Affairs Antonio Patriota began a tour of Ethiopia, Tunisia, and Mauritania to promote trade and security in Africa. In Ethiopia, he participated in a meeting of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council to discuss upheavals in Guinea-Bissau and Mali and the peace process in Sudan. He reaffirmed Brazil’s support of Tunisia’s “democratic transition” in his April 24-25 visit there, and the minister will continue to Mauritania on Wednesday.

Road Construction Reveals Archeological Sites in Rio

Archeologists uncovered 58 sites of artifacts ranging from the Portuguese colonial period to 6,000 years ago along a new road near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. “The relics pointed to overlapping habitation,” head archeologist Jandira Neto told AFP.

Tags: Intellectual Property, Mexico Migration, Puerto Rico Primary, SB 1070, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
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