Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

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From the 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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The New LatAm Group on the Bloc

Latin American leaders convened in Cancun, Mexico on February 22 and 23 for the 2010 Rio Group summit, where they agreed to form a new regional alternative that excludes the United States and Canada and that some posit could serve as an alternative to the Organization of American States. The specific details of the body will most likely be figured out at a 2011 summit in Caracas.

AS/COA’s Christopher Sabatini discusses the newly created Latin American body on Worldfocus. “[The region’s] feeling its own diplomatic muscle and it wants to assert that,” says Sabatini.

Uribe and Chávez Clash, Colombia and Ecuador Outline “Road Map”

Presidents Álvaro Uribe of Colombia and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela exchanged insults during the Rio Group summit on February 23, with Uribe telling Chávez to “be a man” and Chávez responding with “Go to hell.” After the spat, the two leaders agreed to have a group of friendly countries—Argentina, Mexico, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and Brazil—mediate.

Despite tension between Uribe and Chávez, progress was made on another Andean front: Uribe met with Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa for the first time since Ecuador broke relations in 2008, and established a “road map” to improving relations between the two countries.

Read an AS/COA analysis of the Rio Group Summit.

Argentina Brings Falklands Case to the UN

The Argentine foreign minister, Jorge Taiana, meets with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon today to argue that Britain broke international laws when it allowed drilling for oil to occur in the Falkland Islands this week. The UN has called for talks between Buenos Aires and London but, as The Guardian points out, has limited ability to take action, given that Britain’s Security Council seat would give it the ability to veto major resolutions.

During this week’s Rio Group summit, Latin American countries backed Argentina’s claims. “Our attitude is one of solidarity with Argentina,” said Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Cancun, Mexico. “What is the geographical, political and economic explanation for England to be in the Malvinas? What is the explanation for the United Nations never having that decision? Could it be because the UK is a permanent member of the UN’s Security Council where they can do everything and the others nothing?”

Brazilian Worker’s Party Nominates Rousseff

On February 20, Brazil’s ruling Worker’s Party (PT) confirmed Dilma Rousseff, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s chosen successor, as the party’s presidential candidate ahead of the October elections. Analysts say Rousseff’s policies are more progressive than the current administration’s, but Lula himself has said that there are differences between the party and candidate, and that sometimes the candidate defends principles the party cannot.

Read an AS/COA analysis on the year in Latin American elections.

Sales up for Brazil’s Super Tucanos

The Los Angeles Times writes about the growing demand for Embraer’s Super Tucanos, Brazil’s modest attack planes. “Unsleek and unsupersonic, the Super Tucano hardly fits most people’s concept of a modern warplane,” writes Chris Kaul. Yet their relatively low price tag and the fact that they work well for counterinsurgency and antinarcotics efforts has drawn a growing number of buyers. Countries that have purchased the planes include Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Ecuador; the Pentagon and the United Kingdom are reportedly considering purchases as well.

Brazil Ramps up Innovation

The Christian Science Monitor features Brazil along with four other countries focused on boosting innovation to become more economically competitive. “The competition isn’t just between East and West. Brazil symbolizes the way continents of the South are ramping up efforts to nurture new businesses,” writes Mark Trumball. “A major government-backed effort to support start-ups includes a growing array of university-based incubator programs.”

Mexico, Brazil Announce Launch of Trade Talks

On the sidelines of the Rio Group summit on February 23, Mexican President Felipe Calderón and his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced they would launch talks on a possible free trade pact between Mexico and Brazil, Latin America’s two largest economies. Bilateral trade grew 138 percent between 2000 and 2009, reaching $6 billion last year. The two leaders also announced that petrochemical producers Braskem of Brazil and Idesa of Mexico would invest $2.5 billion in a plant to be built in Veracruz, Mexico, creating an estimated 6 to 8 million temporary jobs during its construction.

U.S. Bill Proposes Eased Rules on Agri Exports and Travel to Cuba

A bipartisan bill introduced February 23 in U.S. Congress paves the way for expanding agricultural exports and travel to Cuba. Known as the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, the bill does not lift the embargo on Cuba, but eases restrictions on food exports and allows U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba. “Goals of the legislation are to create more jobs for U.S. agriculture, provide new routes and revenues for our travel industry, restore to Americans their fundamental right to travel, and get direct economic benefits and more information to Cuba’s people,” reports Poder.

Cuban Prisoners ask Lula to Support Their Release

Ahead of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s visit to Cuba this week, 50 Cuban dissidents—42 in prison and eight on parole—sent him a letter asking him to intercede on their behalf, reports The Miami Herald’s Cuban Colada blog. In his fourth and final trip to Cuba as Brazil’s president, Lula will meet with the Castro brothers during a three-day stop before he goes on to Haiti.

Honduras Reestablishes Relations with 29 Countries

President Porfirio Lobo’s new government in Honduras restored diplomatic relations with 29 countries after breaking ties with Honduras following a military coup that removed then-President Manuel Zelaya from power. Countries that have not recognized the new government include: Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Chile. Lobo was not invited to the Rio Group summit, where Latin American leaders agreed not to formally discuss Honduras’ return to the Organization of American States.

Colom on Fighting Corruption and Impunity

During a visit to Washington last week, Guatemelan President Álvaro Colom spoke with IPS News about human rights, his administration’s efforts to root out corruption and organized crime, and the process for selecting a new attorney general. “It’s not easy for a government to fight impunity in a country where impunity reigns,” Colom told Jim Lobe. “But I am totally committed to the goals of justice and security.”

UN: Trafficking from Hidden LatAm Airstrips on the Rise

The UN International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) released its annual report on February 24, taking stock of international drug abuse and trafficking issues. In its coverage of the Americas, the INCB warns that, though trafficking by sea in the Central American and Caribbean region continues to be a problem, smuggling from hidden airstrips is on the rise. In 2008, cocaine production reached its lowest level since 2003. While coca cultivation decreased in Colombia, it grew in Peru and Bolivia.

Colombian Opinion Shapers Question Viability of Reelection Referendum

From the 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.

Republicans Eye Hispanic Vote

The Houston Chronicle’s Immigration blog takes stock of recent media coverage of Republicans’ new efforts to engage Hispanic voters. Articles in The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post cover the fact that the Latino electorate has become too large for the GOP to ignore, leading the party to reframe its handling of immigration reform after realizing that a tough stance alienated Hispanics.

Americans Consistently Love Canada

A recent Gallup poll featured on ForeignPolicy.com shows that, from a list of 20 countries considered central to U.S. foreign policy, Americans continue to like Canada the most, with 90 percent viewing it favorably. Mexico took ninth place, with 49 percent of Americans viewing it favorably. Iran is in last place with 10 percent.

Mayans Celebrate Year 5126 in Guatemala

Guatemala’s indigenous Mayans, who represent 42 percent of the population, held ceremonies welcoming the start of the Mayan year 5126 on February 22. According to an EFE interview with Mayan leader Cirilo Pérez, the upcoming new year does not mark the end of the world as some have mistakenly thought, but rather the end of an era and the beginning of new leadership and peace and tranquility for humanity.

Tags: Agriculture, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Rio Group Summit
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