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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U.S.-Colombia FTA Takes Effect

Approved by U.S. Congress in October 2011, the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement was implemented at 1 a.m. on May 15. Infolatam reports that 4,200 boxes of flowers were the first Colombian products to enter the United States under the agreement. Colombia’s Portafolio reports on the enthusiasm of Colombian producers to reach new markets in the United States. “We’re preparing ourselves with new technology and adapting our production plants,” says Finance Manager Gloria Suárez of Ritchi, a garment producer. “We’re excited for this important moment to reach a market as large as the United States.”

Read more about the October 2011 approval of the U.S.-Colombia FTA in an AS/COA Congressional Update. 

In an AQ blog post, COA’s Eric Farnsworth reflects on the trade pact’s implementation and about what should come next in U.S.-Latin American relations. 

Bomb Targets Former Colombian Minister in Bogota

A bomb exploded in central Bogota yesterday, killing two and injuring 54. Police say the target was former Colombian Interior Minister Fernando Londoño Hoyos, who served in ex-President Álvaro Uribe’s administration and was a fierce opponent of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The government believes the FARC carried out the attack.

Ministers Resign after Botched Hostage Rescue in Peru

Peruvian Defense Minister Alberto Otarola and Interior Minister Daniel Lozada resigned this week over the handling of last month’s rescue mission to free 36 gas pipeline workers from the Shining Path guerillas. The purpose of that mission, which cost the lives of nine Peruvian security force members, was called into question when the workers said the insurgents released the hostages beforehand, reports InsightCrime. 

UNASUR Military Spending on the Rise

A report released this week by the South American Defense Council of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) shows that members spent $126 billion on defense between 2006 and 2010. Overall military spending by UNASUR countries doubled over that period. Brazil accounted for 43 percent of defense spending, followed by Colombia with 17 percent and Venezuela with 11 percent. Ecuador topped the list for spending as a percent of GDP, dedicating 2.74 percent of GDP to defense. However, UNASUR’s average of defense spending as a percent of GDP is among the lowest in the world.

Chile’s Senate Passes Anti-Discrimination Law

An anti-discrimination bill inspired by the murder of gay youth Daniel Zamudio passed the Chilean Senate last week and will soon become law. Speaking about the bill’s passage, Senate President Camilo Escalona said: “Despite lingering homophobia—which is strong and has not disappeared—forces were able to come together to adopt this newest advancement of the democratic rule of law in our country.” 

Read more about the Zamudio law in an AS/COA Online News Analysis. 

Argentina Passes Dignified Death and Gender Identity Laws

In a legislative session last week, Argentina’s Senate unanimously passed laws guiding gender identity and dignified death. Argentina’s gender identity law makes it the first country in the world to allow individuals to change their legal and physical gender identity without first having to undergo physical or mental health exams. The dignified death law allows terminal patients to refuse medical treatment that would prolong life, though it does not legalize euthanasia or assisted suicide. 

Lugo Heads to Asia to Promote Paraguayan Exports

Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo will depart for India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand on Thursday in an effort to promote beef and soy—his country’s two largest exports. “Between 16 and 20 percent of the world’s population lives in the countries we will visit, where millions of people require the foods Paraguay produces in abundance,” Lugo told reporters.

President Rousseff Expands Cash-Transfer Program

Credited with helping lift millions from poverty, Brazil’s Bolsa Família social benefits program will now reach 2 million families living in extreme poverty, President Dilma Rousseff announced yesterday. The Brasil Carinhoso, or Caring Brazil plan, will guarantee a means-tested monthly stipend of $35 for each child six years old and younger. The plan also calls for the expansion of nursery schools and health care for children.

Brazil’s Truth Commission Takes Shape

On May 16, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff swore in the seven members of the country’s truth commission, established by a new law in November 2011. The group will investigate—but not prosecute—human rights abuses that took place between 1946 and 1988, a period that includes Brazil’s 21-year military dictatorship. Members consist of judges, lawyers, a diplomat, and a psychoanalyst. Brazil’s freedom of information law also takes effect today, which gives Brazilians greater access to government documents. 

Read more about the creation of the truth commission and freedom of information law in an AS/COA Online News Analysis.

Embraer to Resubmit Bid for U.S. Military Contract

Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer announced on May 8 that it would forge ahead with a new bid to sell 20 Super Tucano planes to the U.S. Air Force. The initial contract fell through in February after manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft filed a lawsuit against the U.S. military, alleging problems with the bidding process. The Air Force will announce the winner of the contract early next year. 

Made in Latin America: A Formula for Growth?

Hasan Tuluy, the World Bank regional vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean, writes on the institution’s blog about a formula for growth based on the Latin American experience. “’Made in Latin America’ is, for instance, striking the right balance between fiscal discipline, socially inclusive programs and robust growth—a difficult feat by all measures, as euro-zone countries can attest,” Tuluy explains. 

“Subversive” Crossword Causes Controversy in Venezuela

Venezuelan authorities questioned a crossword writer last week due to suspicions that his work contained veiled messages to murder Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s brother Adán. Venezuelan state TV pundit Miguel Pérez Pirela made the accusation, later echoed by other commentators. “While causing laughter in some circles, the case also shows the dangerously polarized environment in Venezuela,” said Reuters. 

Latin America’s Housing Deficit

The Inter-American Development Bank released a report on Monday about the lack of adequate and affordable housing in Latin America, indicating that the region has a higher incidence of substandard housing than other countries with similar income levels. The report suggests that regional governments improve infrastructure and property rights regulations, as well as boost private sector investment in quality low-income housing.

Martelly’s First Year

An Americas Quarterly web exclusive looks at the challenges Haitian President Michel Martelly has faced since taking office one year ago this week. Martelly struggled to gain parliamentary approval for two prime ministers, leaving the country without a prime minister for eight months of his term. He also faced allegations that he held dual citizenship and encountered continued challenges from former armed forces members over his unfulfilled promise to restore the military. University of Virginia Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs Robert Fatton Jr. quantifies Martelly’s first 12 months in office as “a year of wasted opportunities.” 

Haiti Strikes Gold

Exploratory drilling in northeastern Haiti has uncovered billions of dollars worth of gold, silver, and copper, reports the Associated Press. “If the mining companies are honest and if Haiti has a good government, then here is a way for this country to move forward,” said Haitian Bureau of Mines Director Dieuseul Anglade. The country will soon introduce mining legislation to regulate the nascent industry. 

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about new mining and investment projects in Haiti.

No Confidence Motion Defeated in Grenada

Grenada’s Prime Minister Tillman Thomas beat a vote of no confidence on Tuesday. Since assuming office in 2008, Thomas has faced a number of ministerial resignations and stalled development projects. Had the motion passed, parliament would have been dissolved and new elections would have been held.

New U.S. Envoy to Nicaragua Raises Bilateral Concerns

U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua Phyllis Powers expressed concern about Nicaragua’s ability to receive further extensions on its property and transparency waivers last week. These waivers allow Nicaragua to receive U.S. aid as long as the country makes progress on resolving issues related to properties confiscated from U.S. citizens. With ten new confiscations on record, the waiver may not be provided this year, ending U.S. bilateral aid and endangering funding from the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank.

The State of Latin America’s Prisons

In a special series released this week called Encarcelaración, GlobalPost looks at Latin America’s prison systems. The series of reports—covering conditions in Brazil, Central America, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela—reveals systems that are overcrowded, poorly patrolled, and rife with corruption. 

Mexican Writer Carlos Fuentes Dies

Renowned Mexican writer, intellectual, and political commentator Carlos Fuentes passed away Tuesday at the age of 83 in Mexico City. Fuentes is famed for works such as Aura (1962) and The Death of Artemio Cruz (1962). He was at the forefront of the explosion of Latin American literature in the 1960s and 1970s known as El Boom. Fuentes dedicated his life to writing in Spanish, saying English “with a long and uninterrupted literary tradition, did not need one more writer.” Fuentes received a number of literary awards including France’s National Order of Merit, Spain’s Prince of Asturias Award, and the Cervantes Prize. Mexico’s El Universal offers an interactive guide to his life. 

Presidential Frontrunner Faces Protests at Mexican University

The Institutional Revolutionary Party candidate Enrique Peña Nieto received a fraught welcome at the Universidad Iberoamericana last week, where groups of students loudly protested the presidential frontrunner. As a result, Peña Nieto cancelled a radio interview at the university, and protesters temporarily trapped the candidate in a restroom. Responding to the incidents via Twitter, Peña Nieto said: “Dialogue and debate are exercises that enrich democracy…I never shy away from the opportunity to hear from society, much less from young people.” 

Read more about the Mexican election in an AS/COA Hemispheric Update.

Mexican Economic Advisors to Hold Debate

The economic advisors of Mexico’s three presidential frontrunners will face one another in a debate today at Monterrey’s Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México entitled “Three Economic Perspectives for a Better Mexico.” Recently named as the new campaign advisor to National Action Party (PAN) candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota, Mario Laborín Gómez will represent the PAN. Fernando Turner Dávila will speak for the Party of the Democratic Revolution while Ildefonso Guajardo Villareal will represent the Institutional Revolutionary Party.

Mexico’s Rising Legal Immigration to the U.S.

Shannon O’Neil looks at the rising tide of legal Mexican immigration to the United States for the Council on Foreign Relation’s Latin America’s Moment blog. While only 10 percent of Mexicans entered the United States legally at the turn of the twenty-first century, today 50 percent enter on a variety of visas ranging from family reunification to education to investment. “The rise in legal immigration has the potential to alter the political debate, as it lessens the law and order challenges,” writes O’Neil. 

U.S. Launches Women’s Entrepreneur Exchange in LatAm

This week, the U.S. State Department announced plans to promote an exchange with 34 female entrepreneurs from the Americas to come to the United States to network with their U.S. counterparts. The women will also receive business training and mentoring through the government and non-profit organizations. The State Department says the exchange will help accelerate economic and social growth in the region. 

Easter Island Secrets Unearthed

Recent excavations on Chile’s Easter Island show that the famous moais, or large stone heads, actually have full bodies that extend underground. While some complete moais can be found on the island, scientists were unsure if it was the norm. Excavated moais also have extensive petroglyphs which could shed insight into the lives of early Easter Islanders, known as Rapa Nui. — Carin Zissis Editor-in-Chief, AS/COA Online Americas Society and Council of the Americas 680 Park Avenue New York, NY 10065 (212) 277-8330 AS/COA Online | http://www.as-coa.org/ Facebook | http://www.facebook.com/ASCOA Twitter | http://twitter.com/ascoa

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