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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Latin American Leaders Join DC Nuclear Summit

Representatives from 46 countries—including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, and Mexico—traveled to the United States this week for the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington. Foreign Policy looks at who attended the summit and what they hoped to gain from it. Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner met with U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the summit in Obama’s only bilateral meeting with a Latin American leader. The two presidents discussed nonproliferation issues and Argentina’s role in Haitian earthquake relief efforts.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva criticized new sanctions against Iran ahead of the summit, even though the United States and Europe have sought to move forward with sanctions. The Latin Americanist blog points out that despite differences on Iran, Brazil’s Defense Minister Nelson Jobim signed a U.S.-Brazilian military cooperation agreement with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on April 12.

Read an AS/COA analysis on the signing of the U.S.-Brazil military pact.

Mexico, Canada, and U.S. Join Forces on Nuclear Security

The United States, Mexico, and Canada announced at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington that they will collaborate, together with the International Atomic Energy Agency, in a plan to replace Mexico’s highly enriched uranium reactor with a low-enriched uranium reactor in order to strengthen nuclear security in North America.

Chile Hands over Weapons-Grade Uranium

In conjunction with the Nuclear Security Summit and as part of a strategy to prevent weapons-grade nuclear material from falling into the hands of terrorists and rogue states, Chile relinquished its last highly enriched uranium from its nuclear reactors to the United States, becoming one of the first countries to surrender its weapons-grade uranium.

In First Official Solo Trip, Michelle Obama Visits Haiti, Mexico

Ahead of her first official solo trip abroad, U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama made a surprise visit to Port-au-Prince “to underscore to the Haitian people and the Haitian government the enduring U.S. commitment to help recover and rebuild.” The First Lady continued on to Mexico City, where she will spend three days speaking with youth and young Mexican leaders. Obama and her Mexican counterpart, Margarita Zavala de Calderón, held a private meeting in which they touched on youth-related issues such as drug rehabilitation and the humane treatment of unaccompanied migrant children. Mexico’s El Universal carries multimedia coverage of Michelle Obama’s Mexico trip.

U.S. Lawmakers Urge Release of Security Equipment to Mexico

Legislators from Texas and Arizona traveled to Mexico April 8 to meet with President Felipe Calderón and said they would urge Washington to speed up the transfer of military hardware to help combat the drug war. The Houston Chronicle reports that $830 million worth of helicopters, planes, and other equipment have been allotted for Mexico under the security accord known as the Merida Initiative. However, the country has only received $128 million in hardware even though the cooperation pact is in its third and last year.

Latin America Looks beyond U.S. for Economic Partners

Former Florida Congressman James Bacchus warns in The Huffington Post that Latin America is increasingly looking outside of the United States—to countries such as China and Canada—to forge new commercial partnerships as Washington continues to lag on pushing through trade agreements. “One way we could begin to improve this spectacle, ease this apprehension, and restore our rightful role as a valued partner to Latin America, would be by approving the Colombian free trade agreement,” he writes.

U.S. Withholds Climate Aid from Bolivia and Ecuador

The United States is denying climate change aid to countries opposing the Copenhagen Accord, including Bolivia and Ecuador, which will lose, respectively, over $3 million and $2.5 million in aid that had been carved out under the Obama administration’s Global Climate Change initiative. Bolivia was a strong critic of the U.S.-brokered climate agreement last December arguing that the accord would not do enough to curb greenhouse gas emissions and protect developing countries who will feel the burden of climate change. Bolivian President Evo Morales will convene his own Climate Summit later this month.

BRIC Leaders Travel to Brazil for Summit

The leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, and China come together this week in Brazil for the second BRIC summit. After attending the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on April 12 and 13, Presidents Dmitry Medvedev of Russia and Hu Jintao of China travel to Brazil, with Medvedev stopping in Argentina for an official visit on April 14 and 15, ahead of the summit. Hu will also make stops in Venezuela and Chile. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva plans to travel to Moscow on May 13. Revista Perspectiva’s blog looks at Chinese and Russian interests in Latin America within the context of the BRIC summit.

Read a new article in The Huffington Post by COA’s Eric Farnsworth about Moscow’s growing ties with and arms sales to Venezuela.

Brazilian Rancher Gets Time for American Nun’s Murder

Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, a Brazilian rancher, was delivered a sentence of 30 years this week for his role in the 2005 murder of a U.S.-born nun. Dorothy Stang spent decades working as an environmentalist and advocate for landless peasants in Brazil’s Amazon region.

Chinchilla Tours Central America to Promote Unity, Security

Costa Rican President-elect Laura Chinchilla met with Central American leaders this week in a tour to promote unity and public security. After meeting with Presidents Mauricio Funes of El Salvador and Porfirio Lobo of Honduras on April 12, Chinchilla called for the return of Honduras to regional organizations, including the Organization of American States and the Central American Integration System. Chinchilla concluded her tour with meetings with Presidents Álvaro Colom of Guatemala and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua on April 13, focused on improving bilateral relations and urging Nicaragua to recognize Honduras’ new government. Nicaragua is the only Central American country that has not recognized Lobo’s presidency, though Ortega and Lobo met on April 9 in a move toward mending relations between the two countries. Laura Chinchilla takes office May 8.

Costa Rica, China Sign Free-Trade Pact

On April 8, the commerce ministers of China and Costa Rica signed a free trade agreement in Beijing, marking China’s third free trade agreement with Latin America after signing deals with Chile in 2006 and Peru at the beginning of 2010. The agreement represents strategic importance for China as it fosters closer economic relations with Central America, a region in which many of the countries maintain diplomatic ties to Taiwan. San José broke diplomatic relations with Taiwan in order to cement ties with Beijing, but Costa Rican Commerce Minister Marco Vinicio Ruiz said that the trade deal is “important because it consolidates a commercial relationship that already existed and in which China is already Costa Rica’s second-largest trading partner.”

China Could Become Latin America’s Second-Biggest Market

A new report by the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean finds that China will likely overtake the European Union as Latin America’s second largest export market by 2015. By 2020, China could account for 19.3 percent of the region’s exports, compared with 7.6 percent in 2009. The same report expects Latin American exports to the United States to drop from 38.6 percent in 2009 to 28.4 percent in 2020.

Beijing Stems Import of Argentine Soybean Oil

Bloomberg reports that China stopped accepting permits to import soybean oil from Argentina as a trade dispute grows between the two countries. Argentina is the biggest exporter of soybean oil to China, and China is the Latin American country’s biggest importer. Beijing will likely turn to Brazil and the United States for soybean-oil imports, though experts say those two countries may not be able to provide sufficient stock.

José Serra Chosen as PSDB Presidential Candidate in Brazil

A coalition comprised of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (known by its Portuguese acronym PSDB), the Democrats, and the Popular Socialist Party picked economist and former São Paulo Governor José Serra on April 10 as its candidate for Brazil’s October presidential elections. Under the slogan of “Brazil can do better,” Serra stated that his government would push for lower taxes and more investment. Serra polls ahead of his main rival, Dilma Rousseff of the ruling Workers Party, by 36.8 percent compared to her 34 percent.

South Africa, Cuba Collaborate on IT and Communications

The governments of Cuba and South Africa signed a memorandum of understanding and collaboration in information technologies and communications. The two countries already have cooperation agreements in public health care and education. South African Minister of Communications Siphiwe Nyanda began a visit to Cuba on April 7.

Mockus Climbing in Colombian Presidential Polls

Green Party presidential candidate Antanas Mockus bumped the Conservative Party’s Noemí Sanín out of the second place spot in the race for Colombia’s next president, according to an April 8 poll commissioned by a Colombian television station. The poll shows Mockus with a slight lead over Sanín, with 22 percent compared to 20 percent, but trailing behind frontrunner and former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos with 37 percent. Observers say that Mockus, who recently revealed he has the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, could make it to a second round of voting in June if no candidate pulls in more than half the vote. The first round of elections takes place May 30.

A Confederate Celebration in Brazil

The Adventures of a Gringa blog covers the Confederate Festival in São Paulo, celebrated by descendants of American Confederates who came to Brazil following the U.S. Civil War. The descendants of the southerners, who established an American community near Santa Barbara d’Oeste after the War, dress up in clothing from the mid-1800s and engage in traditions such as square dancing.

Jog First, Nuclear Security Later

The presidents of Chile and Mexico place a high priority on physical fitness as well as nuclear security. Guanabee features a photo of Presidents Sebastián Piñera of Chile and Felipe Calderón of Mexico taking a break to run together on the grounds of the White House ahead of their participation at the Nuclear Security Summit on April 12.

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