Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

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Paraguay’s Presidential Impeachment Causes Outcry

On June 22, Paraguay’s Congress impeached President Fernando Lugo after a land conflict earlier in the month that left 17 dead. Lugo initially accepted the impeachment and Vice President Federico Franco assumed the presidency the same day. The impeachment—which began the day before and took roughly 24 hours—caused indignation throughout Latin America, as nearly a dozen countries recalled their Paraguayan ambassadors for consultations. The Southern Common Market, or Mercosur, announced on Sunday that Paraguay would be suspended from the regional bloc’s summit this week and condemned the impeachment as a “congressional coup.” On June 25, as Franco appointed his new cabinet, Lugo met with a “parallel cabinet” and said he would try to return to power. 

In a web exclusive for Americas Quarterly, Human Rights Foundation International Legal Director Javier El-Hage argues the impeachment did not constitute a democratic breach. “While President Lugo’s removal was too swift for the taste of many legitimate critics, he was removed legally through the application of a constitutionally-mandated impeachment trial, carried out on the vague yet constitutional grounds of ‘poor performance of his duties.’ No ‘impeachment coup’ occurred,” he writes.

Read AS/COA Online’s Resource Guide to Lugo’s impeachment.

UNASUR to Hold Emergency Meeting about Paraguay

A meeting of Mercosur members scheduled for June 29 in Argentina will instead serve as an emergency UNASUR meeting focused on the political crisis in Paraguay. The presidents of a number of member countries will travel to Mendoza, including Chile’s Sebastián Piñera, Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos, and Peru’s Ollanta Humala. Argentina, which currently holds the rotating Mercosur presidency, announced that the newly sworn-in Paraguayan President Federico Franco will not be invited to the meeting, though ousted President Fernando Lugo is expected to attend. UNASUR members will discuss whether to suspend Paraguay from the body and are expected to transfer the UNASUR rotating presidency, currently held by Paraguay, to Peru.

Brazil Launches New Stimulus Plan amid Rising Debt

In the face of a slowing economy, the Brazilian government on June 27 announced a $4 billion stimulus package called PAC Equipment, which will fund state acquisitions of vehicles and agricultural and medical equipment. Finance Minister Guido Mantega also said the government plans to lower the annual long-term corporate lending rate from 6 to 5.5 percent—the lowest in history. The plan comes amid news of rising loan defaults, which reached 9.4 percent for companies and 8 percent for individuals in May. 

Boeing and Embraer to Cooperate on Brazilian Aircraft

Executives from U.S. aircraft manufacturer Boeing and Brazil’s Embraer announced June 26 that they would cooperate in the manufacture of the KC-390 transport plane for Brazil’s air force. Other countries which produce components for the aircraft—such as Argentina, Chile, and Colombia—also expressed interest in purchasing models of the $50 million plane when it is completed. The cooperation came as part of a bilateral aviation pact signed by U.S. President Barack Obama and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff during the latter’s visit to Washington in April. 

Brazil Trade with Mercosur Falling, Increasing with U.S. and China

Folha de São Paulo reports that, despite ongoing economic uncertainty in Europe, Brazil’s trade this year fell faster with other Mercosur members than with the European Union. Brazil sold 10.3 percent less to Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay this year than last, while exports to Europe were down 5.1 percent for the same period. Nevertheless, trade with the United States was up 27.5 percent this year, largely due to oil exports. Trade with China grew 9.3 percent over the same period.

Chinese PM Tours Brazil and Southern Cone

China’s Prime Minister Wen Jibao traveled to Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile after attending the Rio+20 in Brazil. He signed a number of trade and cooperation agreements. Notable among these were the promise to buy more Brazilian manufactured goods, the development of an Atlantic deep-sea port in Uruguay, a proposed free-trade agreement between China and Mercosur, and a number of technological and investment agreements with Chile. 

Uruguay Proposes to Legalize Marijuana

In a bid to combat a rising crime rate, Uruguay’s government announced plans on June 20 to legalize and regulate the sale of marijuana. The proposed legislation would let the government sell marijuana cigarettes to registered consumers, and collect taxes on the sales that could be directed toward rehabilitation programs, reports Uruguay’s El País. Legislators said the measure is inspired by studies showing the legalization of marijuana reduces the consumption of harder drugs, which they hope will combat a crime wave in one of South America’s safest countries.

Argentina Pulls out of Auto Pact with Mexico

Reuters reports that Argentina pulled out of an auto trade pact with Mexico on Monday, leading the Mexican government to prepare a case against the country at the World Trade Organization. Argentina sought to renegotiate the pact, known as ACE-55, in March, but Mexican authorities refused. Auto imports made up almost two-thirds of Argentina’s trade deficit of $1.5 billion with Mexico in 2011. 

Peña Nieto Leads ahead of Mexico’s Election

With Mexico’s presidential election on Sunday, the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s Enrique Peña Nieto maintains a sizable lead over his competitors. Less clear is who the runner-up will be, with the Party of the Democratic Revolution’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador and the ruling National Action Party’s Josefina Vázquez Mota generally polling neck-and-neck and within a margin of error. The number of undecided voters has also remained in the double digits in most polls.

Access AS/COA Online’s Mexican election guide for coverage, links, social media information, and more.  

Mexico’s Pre-Election Security Snafus

The Economist’s Americas View blog takes a look at what security blunders in Mexico in the past week could mean for that country’s July 1 election. On June 22 Mexican marines captured a man they mistakenly identified as the son of El Chapo, Mexico’s most wanted criminal. Then a June 25 shootout in Mexico City’s international airport left three federal police dead. “With the election only six days away, the latest slip-ups in the drug war will be fresh in the minds of voters as they go to the polls,” says the blog. “That cannot be good news for Josefina Vázquez Mota, the candidate of the ruling party.”

#YoSoy132 Holds Unscripted Presidential Debate in Mexico

Three of Mexico’s four presidential candidates faced off in an unscripted debate last week organized by the student movement #YoSoy132 and held at the Human Rights Commission in Mexico City. The debate was the last to be held before Sunday’s election and first in which candidates did not receive questions in advance. However, frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party declined to attend the debate, and few public channels broadcast the proceedings.

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the origins of the #YoSoy132 movement.

Mexico Trails in Seizure of Criminal Assets

An article in Mexico’s El Universal reports on the country falling short when it comes to seizing assets from criminal organizations, particularly when compared to other countries in the region facing similar criminal challenges, such as Colombia or Guatemala. Between 2003 and 2009 Colombia seized over $11 million in criminal assets, while Guatemala has seized nearly $760,000 since February 2012. In comparison, Mexico’s criminal repossessions have been “merely symbolic” says Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies Center for Social Studies and Public Opinion; Mexico brought only 10 repossession proceedings against criminal groups in 2011 compared with 25 in Colombia and 40 in Guatemala.

Fast and Furious in the Context of U.S. Gun Control

With the U.S. House Oversight Committee holding Attorney General Eric Holder “in contempt” this week over his refusal to hand over documents about Operation Fast and Furious, Andrew Cohen takes a look at the controversy for The Atlantic. Cohen argues that instead of focusing on the operation—which accounts for about 3 percent of all arms of U.S. origin seized in Mexico—legislators should instead worry about the other 97 percent by enacting gun control policy to prevent arms trafficking across the border.

Supreme Court Rules on SB 1070

In a 5-3 decision this week, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down three of the four provisions of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, maintaining the “show me your papers” provision requiring police to check the immigration status of people they stop, detain, or arrest.  However, the Court said that provision could be challenged in future lawsuits due to concerns over racial profiling. Both sides claimed the ruling as a victory, with Arizona Governor Jan Brewer saying the “heart” of the bill was preserved. However, Ben Winograd of the America Immigration Council writes for The Christian Science Monitor that “regardless of what Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer or other supporters of the law might say, Monday’s ruling…provides a clear sign that states have little, if any, leeway to enact laws like SB 1070.” 

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the SB 1070 decision.

Learn more about immigration issues from AS/COA’s Hispanic Integration Hub.

Florida’s Anti-Cuba Business Law on Hold

Miami Federal Judge K. Michael Moore ordered an injunction on Monday against a Florida law that would bar companies that do business in Cuba or Syria from operating in Florida. Moore agreed with Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which brought the lawsuit, that the law usurps the federal government’s power to set foreign policy. Though Moore’s injunction is temporary, it “foreshadows that he is likely to issue a permanent decision that the law is unenforceable,” writes The Miami Herald.

Haiti’s New Constitution Expands Rights for Citizens Abroad

A new Haitian Constitution entered into law last week that expands rights for Haitians living outside the country. Haitians abroad may now own land in Haiti and are permitted to hold dual citizenship. Though President Michel Martelly originally opposed these measures, diaspora rights groups changed his mind, arguing they deserved such rights due to their large contribution to the Haitian economy through remittances. “All Haitians are Haitians,” Martelly said at the signing ceremony in Port-au-Prince.

Read an AS/COA Online Explainer on Diaspora voting laws in Latin America.

Cabinet Shuffle in Trinidad and Tobago

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced a “reconfiguration” of her cabinet on June 22, replacing a number of key ministers, including those responsible for National Security, Finance, and Tobago Development.

Martinelli Presents, then Withdraws Lawsuit against Electoral Tribunal

Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli presented a lawsuit against three judges of the Electoral Tribunal on Friday, seeking to remove them from their positions. The opposition accused the president of seeking to replace the judges with political allies. The move also came just days after two controversial bills presented by the president—one of which would have expanded the number of justices in the Supreme Court—were withdrawn amid protests. The judges then reported Martinelli personally apologized to them over the weekend, and withdrew his lawsuit on Monday.

Aid Cut to Nicaragua Calls Future U.S. Assistance into Question

On June 21 the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua announced it would not renew the U.S. fiscal-transparency waiver for Nicaragua, with $3 million in aid attached to it. The cancellation of that waiver calls into question whether another waiver with $1.4 billion in aid tied to it will be renewed next month. The Nicaragua Dispatch’s Tim Rogers writes that the cancellation of that second waiver could fall prey to politics in a U.S. election year, and would be “an atomic bomb” on the Nicaraguan economy.

U.S. Drug Czar Visits Guatemala

Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina welcomed U.S. Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske to his country last week. Kerlikowske presented a plan to reduce drug use in the United States, and pointed to statistics showing cocaine use fell by 40 percent in the last five years. “We’re pleased with the emphasis that the U.S. government is putting on prevention efforts,” Pérez told local press. “I think that it’s a good proposal while other strategies for combating drug trafficking are debated.”

Colombia-Costa Rica FTA in the Works

On June 22, Colombia and Costa Rica announced plans to begin negotiations for a bilateral free-trade agreement. The announcement was made during Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ trip to the Central American country, and both sides agreed negotiations would begin July 30. Costa Rica presently exports $48.2 million a year to Colombia, while importing nearly $456 million. 

EU Confirms FTA with Colombia and Peru

European officials gave the green light to a free-trade agreement with Colombia and Peru on June 26, and confirmed the treaty could enter into vigor by the end of the year. Negotiations for the FTA finished in May 2010. Once approved by the European Parliament and Colombian and Peruvian legislatures, officials estimate the treaty could save exports $270 million a year in fees and ease European investment in both Andean countries.

Peru Hosts International Anti-Drug Summit

Lima welcomed representatives from 60 countries from June 25 to 26 for a summit on anti-drug policies. Peruvian President Ollanta Humala urged attendees to cooperate on drug control measures, and think beyond anti-crime efforts to projects such as drug rehabilitation and alternative crop programs. “We need to design policies with a multi-sector vision,” he said. “We shouldn’t think that only with tough law [the drug trade] is going to disappear.”

Police Strike Ends in Bolivia

A Bolivian police strike demanding higher pay ended on Tuesday when the police union accepted the government’s pay raise after six days of instability. The offer was previously rejected in negotiations last week, leading President Evo Morales to accuse the police of a right-wing conspiracy and creating a “coup scenario.” The protests turned violent on Monday when the protesting police shot tear gas at demonstrators gathered in support of Morales in La Paz.

ALBA Calls for Ouster of USAID

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa announced this week that Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) members are considering expelling USAID from their countries. Correa read a declaration signed by all ALBA members that accused USAID of ties with the CIA and of funding “fundamentalist” opposition groups in ALBA countries. “We will not permit this shameless interference in our internal affairs,” Correa told reporters. 

Latin America Ranks High on Happy Planet Index

Countries from Latin America and the Caribbean rank high on the Happy Planet index, making up nine out of the top 10, and 17 out of the top 30. The index ranks countries based on three criteria: life expectancy, well-being, and ecological footprint. Costa Rica tops the list, followed by Vietnam. Colombia, Belize, El Salvador, Jamaica, Panama, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Guatemala round out the top 10.

Venezuela Plans Bolívar Theme Park

Caracas Chronicles reports on the Venezuelan Ministry of Tourism’s announcement to build an amusement park on the site of Venezuela’s final independence battle against the Spanish, the Campo de Carabobo. The ministry’s website says the project will include “carriage rides, horseback riding, and a theme park,” and be part of the “Liberator Route,” which honors spots important to the life of independence hero Simón Bolívar.

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