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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Secretary Clinton Stresses Private-Sector Role in Hemispheric Relations

At the Council of the Americas’ 40th Washington Conference on May 12, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opened with a speech underscoring the high priority of hemispheric issues on President Barack Obama’s agenda, and identified three areas for U.S.-Latin American cooperation: trade and energy partnerships, public security, and inequality and immigration. Secretary Clinton concluded her speech saying, “I am committed to doing everything I can to have this hemisphere be a model and to combine our strengths, overcome our weaknesses, and work in a real spirit of partnership and friendship.” Other speakers at the Conference included: Arturo Valenzuela, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs; José Miguel Insulza, Secretary General, Organization of American States; and cabinet members from Colombia, Panama, Peru, Brazil, Canada, and Mexico.

Read summaries of speaker’s remarks and access materials from the conference.

Calderón to Address U.S. Congress during Visit

A National Journal blog looks at what to expect from Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s address to the U.S. Congress on May 19 during his first official visit to Washington under the administration of President Barack Obama. Speaking on the passage of Arizona’s new immigration bill, COA’s Eric Farnsworth says, “I would suspect the president would present a united front with Calderón since they have both come out against the Arizona law, but it’s delicate.”

Council of the Americas is holding a May 14 panel discussion in Washington about Calderón’s upcoming visit. Can’t join in person? Register for a free live webcast by 5 p.m. on May 13.

Harper and Calderón to Discuss Bilateral Relations

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced on May 6 that Mexican President Felipe Calderón will also travel to Canada from May 26 through 28. During his visit, Calderón will meet with Harper to discuss bilateral relations, and will address the Canadian Parliament. The Canadian Foundation for the Americas’ FocalPoint newsletter covers different areas in Canadian-Mexican ties ahead of Calderón’s visit.

Ex-Cancun Mayor Extradited to the U.S.

Former Mayor of Cancun Mario Ernesto Villanueva Madrid was extradited to the United States on May 9 on charges that he received millions of dollars in bribes from a drug cartel that imported more than 200 tons of cocaine across the border. His arrest and extradition to the United States counts as a success for U.S. law enforcement officials, who have convicted 12 Mexican cartel leaders over the last two years. Richard A. Serrano writes in The Los Angeles Times: “The Villanueva Madrid case is especially significant because it targets the political corruption system in Mexico that for decades has worked arm in arm with the cartels.”

U.S. Border Crossings Drop, but Death Toll Rises

A new policy brief by the National Foundation for American Policy finds that, even though illegal border crossings dropped in FY 2009, the death toll rose for migrants entering the country illegally. U.S. Border Patrol statistics show that, while the number of migrants arrested for illegally entering the United States dropped by over 165,000 during that period, border deaths increased to 417, up from 390 the year before. More than 4,000 people have died trying to cross the border since 1998.

IDB: 2010 Could Bring Remittance Turnaround

At the opening of a conference on remittances in Mexico City last week, the head of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Luis Alberto Moreno predicted an increase in migrant money flows to Latin America in 2010 following a decline last year. In 2009, Latin American and Caribbean countries received $58.8 billion in remittances. That figure represented 15 percent less than the prior year and the first decline in the ten years since the IDB began tracking the figures. Moreno forecast a single-digit increase for 2010. A new IDB report analyzes the last decade of remittance-related analysis and the importance of migrant money flows in several Latin American economies.

Chinchilla Inaugurated as Costa Rica’s First Female President

Laura Chinchilla was sworn in as Costa Rica’s first female president on May 8. The new President gave a 25-minute speech during her inauguration ceremony in which she called on both followers and opponents to cooperate with her government. In addition to promoting public security, Chinchilla spoke about education and environmental sustainability. Presidents Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Mauricio Funes of El Salvador, Porfirio Lobo of Honduras, and Álvaro Colom of Guatemala were among the leaders who attended the ceremony.

Read an AS/COA analysis about the new Costa Rican president.

Breaking Ties between Organized Crime and Politics

In the Spring 2010 issue of Americas Quarterly, former Costa Rican Vice President Kevin Casas-Zamora analyzes in “Dirty Money” how to break the link between organized crime and politics in Latin America. Casas-Zamora explores cases that show “the very real dilemmas that beset democratic systems in Latin America in trying to coexist with a huge illicit industry that requires political protection as humans require oxygen.”

Access an AQ charticle on narco-networks in the Americas.

Lobo to Visit Colombia, Peru

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo confirmed he will meet with Presidents Álvaro Uribe of Colombia and Alan García of Peru when he visits these countries from May 24 through the 26. Lobo stated that he personally wanted to thank Uribe for his solidarity, as the Colombian President was the first leader to visit Honduras after Lobo’s inauguration. Lobo will then travel to Peru, where he meets with García and will learn more about successful programs launched by the Peruvian government to develop economic sectors.

Mockus Rejects Alliance with Democratic Pole

Colombian presidential candidate for the Green Party Antanas Mockus rejected an alliance with Democratic Pole leader Gustavo Petro on May 10, but left open the possibility of forming a coalition with the left-wing party if the election goes into a second round of voting. After hearing Mockus’ decision, Petro criticized him for being in the same “political camp” as President Álvaro Uribe, who Petro says has been one of Mockus’ strongest critics. But Mockus stated that uniting with Petro would go against his “no-violence” platform.

Funes Announces Extension of Joint Troops-Police Patrols

In efforts to boost the fight against crime on the streets of El Salvador, President Mauricio Funes announced on May 7 a 12-month extension of the deployment of soldiers to support the activities of the national police. Funes also stated that the number of zones to be patrolled by the troops would be expanded from 19 to 29, and that in addition to joint patrols with police, troops will be deployed to 62 “blind spots” on the borders of El Salvador.

Lessons from Argentina for the Greek Debt Crisis

In the wake of Greece’s debt crisis and its potential spread to other European countries, Latin America Economonitor analyzes lessons learned from Argentina’s 2001 economic crisis. Domingo Cavallo and Joaquin Cottani point out three components for a Greek recovery plan to avoid the mistakes carried out in response to the Argentine crisis: fiscal consolidation, debt restructuring, and the enhancement of competitiveness. The Financial Times’ Beyond Brics blog points out that Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner also warned against a Greek rescue plan that repeated “the same recipes that they applied to us and that provoked (what happened in) 2001.”

Argentina Seeks to Safeguard Domestic Food Production

In a move to protect domestic food production, Argentina’s Interior Trade Secretary Guillermo Moreno announced that the country’s supermarkets should no longer be allowed to import a number of foods that can be produced at home. According to the Ecolatina consultancy, food prices already rose by 15 per cent between December and March, the biggest increase since 2002.

Chile’s Enríquez-Ominami Creates New Progressive Party

Marco Enríquez-Ominami, who finished third in Chile’s December 2009 presidential elections, created the new Progressive Party (PRO) on May 10, reports Two Weeks Notice blog. Enríquez-Ominami will set out to collect signatures in June—he has 210 days to obtain 0.5 percent of the total number of people who voted for deputies in each congressional district in the previous election. He has also met with Mexican leaders to boost his foreign policy experience.

Exploring Brazil’s Nuclear Plans

Spiegel posits that Brazil’s plans to potentially build nuclear-powered submarines could serve to cover up a nuclear weapons program. “[B]ecause almost all nuclear submarines are operated with highly enriched uranium, which also happens to be weapons grade uranium, Brazil can easily justify producing highly enriched nuclear fuel,” writes Hans Rhle, a former director of planning in the German Defense Ministry, in an article charting the history of Brazil’s secret nuclear programs and its signature of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). He argues that a resolution by Brazil’s parliament would easily open the door to getting around NPT protocols.

Lula’s Foreign Policy Challenges

A Newsweek article examines Brazil’s foreign relations ahead of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s visit to Iran on May 15. “Now, as Lula’s swagger grows bolder, the risk is that he is sending foreign policy on a political jag with little coherence, thereby squandering the remarkable legacy of pragmatism and evenhandedness that have been the country’s anchors for the most of the last decade,” writes Mac Margolis.

Touring the Home of Brazilian Diplomacy

The May issue of Monocle reports on Brazil’s growing diplomatic role on the world stage. An online photo gallery tours the home to this new soft-power push, with images showing the inside and exterior of Brasilia’s Foreign Ministry building, designed by Oscar Niemeyer. AS/COA hosts its annual Latin American Cities conference in São Paulo on May 18. Ministers, diplomats, economists, and investment analysts will explore Brazil’s rise.

UNASUR’s Role in Preventing a Paraguayan Coup

In an interview with World Politics Review, AS/COA’s Christopher Sabatini discusses the possibility of a coup in Paraguay addressed by Latin American leaders during the recent Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) summit. “[T]he relevant multilateral institutions need to make clear that they will not tolerate an interruption in the democratic process, which includes—but is not limited to—the unconstitutional removal of an elected president,” says Sabatini.

Text Message System Proves Successful in Haiti Recovery

Wired’s Danger Room blog looks at the effectiveness of text messages in relief efforts in the aftermath of Haiti’s January 12 earthquake. “At the height of the crisis, texts were arriving every few seconds. Volunteers were able to receive a message, translate it and send a grid location to teams on the ground within a matter of minutes,” writes Nathan Hodge. He adds that the system also depended in large part on the personal connections of the Haitian diaspora community in the United States who helped with quick translation of messages in French and Creole. Such methods were explored as part of a Haiti tech conference hosted by the U.S. State Department on May 10.

Demonstrators Call for Préval’s Resignation

Nearly 2,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Port-au-Prince on May 10 calling for the resignation of Haiti’s President René Préval. Opposition groups, some bearing arms, congregated near the national palace to protest against what they consider Préval’s plan to “sell the country to foreign powers” and extend his term in office. The protests were the largest since the January 12 earthquake.

Ecuador Increasingly Attracts Cuban Migrants

Cuban emigration to Ecuador soared by 147 percent in 2009 while the number of Cubans marrying Ecuadorians increased from 88 in 2007 to 1,542 in the first nine months of 2009. “The exodus has alarmed the communist government but remains largely unreported, a taboo topic for state media,” writes Rory Carroll in the Guardian.

Latin Americans Say Illegal Drug Sales Are Climbing

A Gallup survey released on May 7 shows that Latin Americans believe there is an increase in the sale of illegal drugs in the region. The survey also shows that, since 2007, residents in Brazil, Costa Rica, Argentina, Chile, Panama, Venezuela, and Uruguay have been more likely than Mexicans to say that illegal narcotics are being sold in their neighborhoods.

The new issue of Americas Quarterly, released on May 10, looks at narcotics and transnational crime in Latin America.

Colombian Presidential Candidate Chains Himself to Statue

Presidential candidate for Colombia’s Voice of Conscious Movement party Robinson Devia chained himself to a statue in Bogota to protest lack of media coverage of his campaign, reports BBC. After chaining himself to a statue of national hero Simón Bolívar, Devia declared a hunger strike, saying “Today we go on an indefinite hunger strike amid the rejection of Colombian democracy: we are chained to the truth.” Colombian elections take place May 30.

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