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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Rio+20 Kicks off in Brazil

The United States Conference on Sustainable Development—known as Rio+20—begins June 13 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, marking the 20-year anniversary of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. An estimated 130 heads of government and state will attend, although U.S. President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not. Participants will discuss goals for sustainability as well as carbon emissions targets, but finding consensus could be a challenge.  Environmental protection is a critical issue for Latin America, as climate change damages could cost the region $100 billion annually, an IDB report revealed last week

LatAm Participants Gear up for G20

The Group of 20 (G20) summit begins June 18 in Los Cabos, Mexico, marking the first time the international event will be held in Latin America. The meeting will also mark a record number of Latin American participants: Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico are members, and Chile and Colombia will also send foreign ministers. While the eurozone crisis promises to be a dominant topic at the conference, Brazil and Mexico plan to discuss reforms to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Brazil will push for more voting power for developing countries at the IMF, and Mexico will urge participants to increase IMF funding in order to confront the global economic crisis. 

During a March 2012 conference in Mexico City, AS/COA explored Mexico’s role as the G20 host. Read relevant coverage on the conference blog at www.as-coa.org/Mexico2012.

The Mexican Presidential Debates and Its Election Impact

Mexico’s four presidential candidates held the second of two televised debates from Guadalajara on Sunday. With two weeks to go before that country’s election, Juan Manuel Henao writes for the Americas Quarterly blog that the debate had little influence on the election, with the candidates still struggling to catch up with the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) Enrique Peña Nieto. Reporting from Guadalajara, where the debate took place, Reuters’ Lizbeth Diaz notes that governing-party candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota “offered most of the attacks during the debate, trying to brand her adversaries as two sides of the same coin, at turns describing them as corrupt, cowardly, and untrustworthy.”

The prospect of a PRI victory on July 1 attracted 90,000 student protesters from the YoSoy132 student movement on the day of the debate. That movement organized a debate for the candidates on June 19, for which all the candidates have confirmed attendance except Peña Nieto. 

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the development of the YoSoy132 student protests in Mexico. 

Wikipartido: Mexico’s Crowdsourced Political Party

Univision News profiles the efforts by Mexican Alfonso Tamés’ efforts to form a “Wikipartido” in Mexico. Modeling the party on the crowdsourcing techniques used by sites such as Wikipedia, the Wikipartido allows users to propose their own vision for the country and to vote on platforms. Tamés hopes the Wikipartido will attract enough members to be able to compete in the 2018 elections. “This party is whatever you want it to be, and it is the only party that allows you to do that,” Tamés says.

Proof of Televisa’s Political Bias?

UK newspaper the Guardian claims to be in possession of documents from 2009 and before showing that Mexico’s Televisa network accepted payment to air favorable coverage of political candidates and negative coverage of their competitors. The documents also show the formation of a media strategy to promote coverage favorable to political clients. The perception that Televisa’s coverage has been disproportionately favorable to the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s Enrique Peña Nieto is one of the catalysts of the YoSoy132 student movement. A 2009 US diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks also shows concerns over close ties between Peña Nieto and Televisa, reports the Guardian. Moreover, in an electronic chat with a reporter, prominent Televisa journalist Carlos Loret de Mola backed up one of the Guardian documents. Loret de Mola denied making the comments and Televisa denied the allegations.  

Mexican Auction to Challenge Media Duopoly

Mexico’s Federal Commission of Telecommunications (Cofetel) announced plans to auction two new television channels. Those channels would be broadcast to 153 local markets, and reach about 93 percent of the Mexican population. The auction would present a challenge to Mexico’s Televisa and TVAzteca which currently dominate the Mexican media scene. 

Spain Eases Visa Requirements for Brazilians and Mexicans

Last week, Spanish officials agreed to simplify the visa process for Brazilian and Mexican tourists in light of rising levels of deportations at airports. Now, the “invitation letter” visitors must show Spanish immigration agents will require less paperwork. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff personally addressed the issue with Spanish King Juan Carlos during his visit to that country last week.

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about King Juan Carlos’ visit to Brazil and Chile.

Mapping Latino Swing-State Voters

The Center for American Progress published an interactive map of battleground states for the U.S. presidential election, focusing on how unregistered Latino voters could swing the vote. Along with several million Latinos who are currently eligible but unregistered voters, another 8.1 million could become citizens in time to vote in the election. At 4.39 million, California has the largest number of Latinos who could register to vote by November. 

Hispanics and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Approval Ratings

A guest post by Professors Francisco I. Pedraza and Joseph Daniel Ura of Texas A&M University on the Latino Decisions blog looks at approval of the U.S. Supreme Court among Latinos. Based on a survey conducted with LatinoDecisions, the professors find a strong well of objection among Latinos to a potential Supreme Court ruling upholding Arizona’s SB 1070; 71 percent of Latinos said they would disagree with such a decision, compared with 43 percent of Americans in general. These finds are important, the authors argue, as a ruling upholding SB 1070 could “undermine the legitimacy and standing of the Supreme Court among the Hispanic community for decades to come.”

Rising Debt, Decreasing Productivity Put Canada’s Economy on Notice

A June 13 OECD report finds that Canada’s resilience to a global economic crisis could weaken due to spiraling debt, increasing real estate prices, and low productivity. Peter Jerrett, the report’s author, told The Toronto Star that the country must focus on innovation to boost growth. “[Canada] needs to do more to develop other sectors of the economy if it is to maintain a high level of employment and an equitable distribution of the fruits of growth,” he said. 

Nicaragua Wants Its Own Transoceanic Canal

President Daniel Ortega is pressing ahead with plans to build a $30 billion canal, which would make it the second canal in the hemisphere to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Brazil, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and Venezuela have expressed interest in investing in the project, which would be a joint venture with the Nicaraguan government. However, part of the proposed canal passes through the San Juan River that borders Costa Rica, and the site of a border dispute. 

Funes Seeks Expat Vote for Salvadorans

During his June 1 state of the union address, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes announced he would introduce a bill to allow emigrants the right to vote. At present, Salvadorans abroad can only vote if they have an ID card and return home on election day. The proposed law would allow the nearly 3 million expatriate Salvadorans to vote in their country of residence. (H/T Latin News)

Read an AS/COA Online Explainer about expatriate voting laws in Latin America.

Haiti’s Development: Industry or Agriculture?

Now under construction, Haiti’s $300 million Caracol Industrial Park is being questioned for its potential role in the country’s economy. Though the park could bring thousands of textile jobs, some believe foreign investment should focus on agriculture. “Since the assembly industry is the only game in town, and there is nothing else being planned around it to grow the economy, it’s not going to have any long-lasting effect on the growth of the economy,” Alex Dupuy, a Wesleyan University sociologist told The Miami Herald. The Inter-American Development Bank and the U.S. government are spending around $500 million on Haitian agriculture projects, including areas near the industrial park.

Latin America Ranks High in Happiness

Writing for The Atlantic, Shannon O’Neil of the Council of Foreign Relations examines a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report on well-being in 34 countries. While Brazil, Chile, and Mexico still rank lower than developed economies on safety, education, and income, they rank higher in terms of “life satisfaction.” O’Neil writes: “Perhaps this reflects the fact that, though challenges remain, many [Latin Americans] see and feel progress over their lifetimes, and are optimistic about the future.” 

Assessing Peacefulness in Latin America

The Vision of Humanity’s 2012 Global Peace Index ranks Chile as the most peaceful nation in Latin America. The index measures a country’s “peacefulness” based on a country’s militarization, defense spending, social peace, and the presence of terrorism. Colombia ranked at the bottom regionally, taking spot 144.

UN Predicts 3.7 Percent Growth for LatAm

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs released its mid-2012 report World Economic Situation and Prospects on June 7. The report forecasts economic growth of 3.7 percent for Latin America and the Caribbean this year, and says that should increase to 4.2 percent in 2013. The report says Mexico and Venezuela face worrisome rates of unemployment that will affect economic growth.

Latin America’s Housing Shortage

Brazil’s EXAME takes a look at the housing deficit in Latin America with an infographic using data from the Inter-American Development Bank. While only 35 percent of families in Bogota are unable to afford to purchase homes, Caracas lies on the other end of the spectrum, with 80 percent of families lacking the means to buy a house. On national levels, Bolivia and Peru have the largest housing deficit in the region at 75 percent and 72 percent, respectively.

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about Colombia’s new housing program for low-income families.

The Most Expensive Cities in the Americas

Mercer’s 2012 Cost of Living Survey showed that while São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro remain the most expensive cities in the Americas, inflation is driving up costs in other cities. Caracas is the third most expensive city in the hemisphere, followed by New York and Brasilia. Buenos Aires saw the largest increase in cost of living in the Americas, due to rising inflation.

SOUTHCOM’s Drone Plan for South America

Wired’s Danger Room blog examines why the U.S. Southern Command wants to supply drones to Latin America. As well as aiding with anti-drug trafficking efforts, drones can serve as a preventative measure for humanitarian emergencies and can aid peacekeeping operations. In addition, the blog says the U.S. military could use the opportunity to implement technology used primarily in the Middle East in another region where its uses could be adapted for local needs. 

Uruguay Recognizes First Gay Marriage

On June 11, a Montevideo court sanctioned the first ever marriage of a same sex couple, allowing a Uruguayan to marry a Spanish citizen. Though gay civil unions are legal in Uruguay, a bill to legalize same-sex marriage is under consideration in Congress.

Read an AS/COA Online Explainer on LGBT rights in Latin America.

Beijing to Finance Uruguayan Port

China’s development bank is considering financing the construction of a deep-water port in Uruguay, La República reports. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will travel to Montevideo following the Rio+20 conference in Brazil, making him the highest-ranking Chinese official ever to visit Uruguay. He will reportedly sign an agreement to construct the port during his stay.

Falklands Islands to Hold Referendum on Political Status

Officials in the Falklands Islands announced on Tuesday that a referendum will be held in early 2013 to determine the political status of the contested territory, also known as the Malvinas. While Argentina continues to lay claim to the islands, the Falklands are an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. Falklands government officials say residents wish to remain part of the UK. The last time Falklanders publicly took a stand on the sovereignty issue was a 1986 opinion poll.

Chile Moves to End Copper-Revenue Military Funding

The Chilean Congress began debates this week to end Chile’s armed forces’ dependence on copper revenues and to find new sources of financing. The proposal, a stated goal of Chilean Defense Minister Andrés Allamand, would revise a 1958 law strengthened by the Pinochet regime that directs 10 percent of the country’s copper revenues to the Chilean armed forces. Legislators are currently debating alternative financing sources and how often to subject the armed forces’ budget—which has heretofore been secret—to congressional approval. 

Read an AS/COA Online Explainer on trends in Latin American defense spending.

Homage to Pinochet Sparks Controversy in Chile

The screening of a controversial pro-Pinochet documentary caused controversy in Santiago this week, with supporters and detractors of the former dictator taking to the streets. The screening of the documentary, titled Pinochet, attracted many of the former regime’s supporters in what the BBC called “one of the biggest pro-Pinochet gatherings since he died in 2006.” Detractors say the documentary is overly lauding of the former general. Supporters claim the right to free speech. 

Chile Seeks to Refine Migration Policy

The Migration Information Source profiles Chile’s recent efforts to refine its migration policy. Strong economic growth in Chile and migration restrictions elsewhere have made it an attractive destination for intra-regional migrants—especially from Peru and Bolivia. Since 1990, governments have worked to improve immigrants’ access to visas, citizenship, and education, but much remains to be done to develop a holistic migration policy. The study’s authors write: “Outdated laws do not comply with recommendations of human rights organizations, nor are they in accordance with the new realities of a democratic country immersed in a globalized world.”

Pacific Alliance Drops Inter-Country Visas

After formalizing the grouping last week in Chile, the leaders of the Pacific Alliance—which consists of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru—announced that their first move will be to eliminate visas between the constituent countries to allow free movement of citizens. 

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the formation of the Pacific Alliance.

FDI Rises 24 Percent in Colombia

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos reported that foreign direct investment in Colombia is up 24 percent compared with last year. However, the president pointed out that this investment goes beyond mining and hydrocarbons, with only 20 percent destined for those industries. Colombia attracted $13.2 billion in foreign direct investment in 2011, a 92 percent increase over 2010. 

Read about Colombia’s economic growth in a blog post for AS/COA’s Bogota conference, which takes place June 14 and is available via live webcast. 

New Secretary General of UNASUR Takes Over

On Monday, Venezuela’s Alí Rodríguez took over as Secretary General of UNASUR from Colombia’s María Emma Mejía. Rodríguez is an ex-guerrilla and has held a number of ministerial positions in Venezuela and served as ambassador to Cuba. Rodríguez and Mejía agreed to share the position of secretary general for two years each after the sudden death of former Argentine President Néstor Kirchner left UNASUR without a leader in 2010. 

Chávez Releases Plan of Action for Next Term

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez released a plan of action on Monday detailing his plans for governing from 2013 to 2019, should he win a fourth term in October. The plan calls for deepening the Bolivarian Revolution by “completing the transformation from an extractive capitalist economy to the productive socialist model.” The plan also calls for increasing food production by 45 percent and doubling oil production by the end of this decade.

Correa Ponders Restricting Ministers’ Access to Press

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa announced on June 9 that would restrict his ministers’ ability to give interviews to the private press. Correa said an interview with the private press only “fills the pockets of the six families that dominate the national media” and that ministers should instead only give commentary to public and not-for-profit communications outlets. In his blog Prensa y Expresión, Inter-American Press Association’s Ricardo Trotti writes: “Correa knows the immense power of the press and that’s why he wants to monopolize it solely for government use.”

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