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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Chile Proposes New Tax Code to Fund Education

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera introduced a bill to Congress on Monday to reform the country’s tax code. The new tax code raises corporate income tax and sales taxes, but lowers income taxes across the board. It also permits families to write off 50 percent of the cost of education on their tax returns. The reform further progressively eliminates import duties—currently at 6 percent—over the next three years. Piñera said the reforms should raise between $700 million and $1 billion a year to be used to fund education and government scholarships. CIPER Chile calls the government’s reform “regressive,” saying a tax cut for the rich while raising sales taxes for everyone is “unjust.” 

Bolivia Nationalizes Electrical Grid

On May 1, President Evo Morales announced that Bolivia would take over the country’s electrical grid Transportadora de Electricidad, currently operated by Spanish company Red Electrica Corps. Morales ascribed the move to underinvestment in the sector and a need for government control of electricity. 

Brazilian Supreme Court Rules Racial Quotas are Legal

The Brazilian Supreme Court ruled unanimously last week that racial quotas for university admissions are constitutional. The justices said such measures were necessary in order to guarantee the advancement of Afro-Brazilians and correct past injustices against black citizens. However, two judges expressed reservations, urging the court to consider more specific criteria than race such as socio-economic status. “No one has the power to say who is white and who is black in a highly mixed society,” one justice said. 

Brazilian Lower House Passes Controversial Forest Code

Late on April 25, Brazil’s House of Deputies approved a revised reform to the country’s Forest Code, which determines the quantity of trees landowners must maintain. Congressmen representing agribusiness interests defeated President Dilma Rousseff’s preferred version of the bill by giving more flexibility to farmers to remove forest cover. Rousseff has until mid-May to veto the bill or line-item veto parts of the existing bill.

State Dept Launches Sustainable Cities Program in Brazil

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that Brazil will be the launching pad for the Accelerating Market-Driven Partnerships (AMP) initiative. The AMP will bring together public and private institutions to resolve social and environmental problems faced by developing economies. The program in Brazil will focus on creating “sustainable cities” through low-cost-housing initiatives, skills-training and job creation, and improved urban waste management systems.

Read a recent AS/COA report, which explores public-private initiatives that serve as models for job creation and economic development in the Americas.

Press Freedom Sees Decline in the Americas

A Freedom House report released on May 1 shows that press freedom decreased in the Western Hemisphere though it remained unchanged worldwide. Ecuador saw the largest ranking decline in Latin America while Chile and Guyana were demoted from a “free” rating to “partly free.” (h/t: Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas blog)

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about recent Latin American laws concerning the press.

Exploring Social Inclusion in Latin America

Released on April 26, the new issue of Americas Quarterly looks at social inclusion in the Americas, ranging from poverty alleviation to civil rights. The issue includes an index measuring social inclusion in 11 countries in the Western Hemisphere. A section of essays—written by prominent authors ranging from ex-U.S. President Bill Clinton to former Brazilian Environmental Minister Marina da Silva—profiles 24 heroes of social inclusion in the region. 

Read features from the new issue of Americas Quarterly.

Venezuela to Leave Hemispheric Human Rights Body

President of Venezuela Hugo Chávez announced plans this week to “withdraw immediately” from the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR), saying the United States used the organization as a tool against his country. The decision follows a series of IAHCR condemnations of Venezuela’s human rights record, which caused Chávez to recently accuse the Commission of “unfounded denunciations.” U.S.-based Venezuela Awareness Foundation qualified Chávez’s decision as “serious,” adding “this possible withdrawal from Inter-American system leaves victims who seek justice defenseless and helpless, and guarantees impunity.” 

PDVSA Supports Refinery Construction in China

Venezuela’s state oil company helped break ground this week on the first of three oil refineries in China planned in conjunction with China’s National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). The $8.3 billion refinery in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong will process 400,000 barrels of oil a day from Venezuela’s Orinoco Belt, and may triple Venezuela’s oil exports to China once completed. The refinery is part of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s plan to diversify Venezuela’s oil exports by focusing more on Asian markets, said Venezuelan Oil and Mining Minister Rafael Ramírez. CNPC has a 60 percent stake in the Guangdong refinery while the Venezuelan oil firm will own the remaining 40 percent.

Canada and Colombia’s Growing Ties

The Globe and Mail takes a look at the growing economic ties between Bogota and Ottawa in an extensive article. From banking to mining to oil extraction, Canadian firms are increasingly active in Colombia as the government’s security gains open new lands to development. But the article also raises concerns about violence, internal displacement, and forced disappearances in areas of Colombian resource extraction. “The Canadian embassy in Colombia must perform a delicate balancing act between political sensitivities and the task of marshalling a growing stampede of resource-based companies into Colombia,” writes the article’s author Paul Christopher Webster. (h/t: Inca Cola News)

Santos Goes East

Infolatam reports that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will travel to China May 8 to 12, where he will meet with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the two leaders will sign a number of economic, commercial, technological, and cultural cooperation agreements.

Decision Expected in Colombia-Nicaragua Island Dispute

Colombia Reports looks at the International Court of Justice arbitrations over the San Andres Islands, held by Colombia but claimed by Nicaragua. Though both countries agreed to Colombian sovereignty in 1928, Nicaragua now rejects that treaty. The court began hearing arguments on Monday and should release a ruling on May 4. 

Last Founding Member of Sandinistas Dies

Tomás Borge, the last founding member of Nicaragua’s Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), died on Monday, according to the Nicaraguan government. Borge was one of the founding members of the FSLN, a movement which overthrew the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza in 1979. Borge went on to serve as interior minister for 11 years, during which time the Sandinistas engaged in a conflict with the U.S.-backed Contra forces.

Peru-Panama FTA Enters into Effect

As of May 1, the free trade agreement between Peru and Panama entered into effect, eliminating 57 percent of bilateral tariffs. The Peruvian ambassador to Panama, Guillermo Russo Checa, said trade between the two countries is currently $800 million a year, and that he expects that number to double in the next few years due to the free trade agreement.

Mexico Passes Victims Law

On Monday, Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies passed the country’s Victims Law, which will provide compensation to crime victims. The law calls for the creation of a national registry for victims to gain legal, medical, or financial support. Compensation, which could be as high as $77,000, would come out of a fund created from seized assets of organized crime groups. President Felipe Calderón is expected to sign it into law. 

Medical Tourists Get Green Light at U.S.-Mexico Border

As of April 29, medical tourists to Mexicali, Mexico, can skip the lines at the U.S.-Mexico border. Officials opened a special lane that cuts the wait time from two hours to 20 minutes. The program is part of Mexicali’s bid to increase medical tourism by 50 percent, reports Fronteras.

Interpol’s Operation Maya Fights LatAm Piracy

An anti-piracy initiative carried out in 11 countries across the Americas by Interpol released results on Friday. Dubbed “Operation Maya” and carried out March 1 to 15, the operation’s agents seized nearly $30 million in counterfeit goods. InSight Crime reports that the global market in counterfeited goods is estimated to be worth roughly $350 billion a year.

Two-Thirds of Seized Mexican Arms Traced to U.S.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) found that of the 99,000 firearms submitted to them by Mexican authorities between 2007 and 2011, over two-thirds originated in the United States. The report noted a shift in that period from revolvers to rifles in committing crimes in Mexico. The ATF adds that it “is dedicated to reducing firearms trafficking and firearms-related violent crime on both sides of the border.”

Florida Governor Backtracks on Cuba Business Ban

Governor Rick Scott signed a bill on Tuesday that forbids state and local governments within Florida from hiring companies that conduct business in Cuba and Syria. The law will go into effect on July 1 and will affect at least $1 million in government contracts. It may also jeopardize a number of contracts with Brazilian and Canadian companies operating in Florida. However, Scott issued a letter the same day implying that the new legislation is unenforceable, roiling supporters of the law. Congressman David Rivera (R-FL) threatened to sue Florida’s government to uphold the new rule. 

Cuba: Number One in LatAm Gender Equality?

The International Herald Tribune’s Rendezvous blog asks if Cuba may be the most feminist country in Latin America. A UN gender gap report shows that “Cuba has a high number of female professional and technical workers (60 percent of the total work force in those areas) and in Parliament (43 percent), as well as high levels of primary, secondary and tertiary education enrollment.” However, some worry that Cuba’s economic update may put an additional burden on women as the government withdraws from providing services. The article also talks of a political glass ceiling: all of Cuba’s senior-government leadership is male.

Havana Talks Migratory Reform with Cuban-Americans

As part of its recent initiative to promote migratory reform, Cuban Foreign Ministry officials addressed a crowd of 118 Cuban-Americans at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington via video conference last week. In the conference from Havana, Cuban Vice Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodríguez spoke to the group about Cuba’s economic “update,” and answered questions about changes to migratory laws.

Could the Diaspora Determine the Dominican Election?

President of the DC Latino Caucus Franklin Garcia writes for The Huffington Post about the possible effect of Dominican diaspora voters on the Dominican Republic’s May 20 election. Dominicans in the United States make up 5 percent of the country’s voters, and both leading contenders—Danilo Medina of the Dominican Liberation Party and Hipólito Mejía of the Dominican Revolutionary Party—toured the United States in April to woo potential voters. 

Buenos Aires: On Its Way to Being a Smart City

Co.Exist profiles Buenos Aires as a twenty-first-century smart city. “A robust transit system, rigorous collection and use of metrics to inform decision making, open data for private developers, and development of the Distrito Tecnologico” all demonstrate its move toward smart-city status and make it a model for Latin America, writes climate strategist Boyd Cohen.

A Portrait of Colombia’s Botero

The Los Angeles Times profiles Fernando Botero, the Colombian artist famous for his paintings of “plus-sized” figures. In the profile, the 80-year-old Botero discusses his career, saying he will die “with a paintbrush in [his] hand.” He also speaks about his hopes for his home country, saying: “Once peace arrives, what follows the peace process won’t be any 15 minutes or 30 minutes of fame but a boom that will make Colombia a hemispheric power. This country has a lot to offer.”

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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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