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.
Calderón and Obama Condemn Arizona Immigration Law
U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed his Mexican counterpart Felipe Calderón to Washington this week where the two leaders decried a tough immigration law approved by Arizona last month. During remarks, Obama said he would ask the Department of Justice to take a “very close look” at the law to determine its constitutionality. “We’re examining any implications, especially for civil rights, because in the United States of America, no law-abiding person, be they an American citizen, a legal immigrant, or a visitor or tourist from Mexico, should ever be subject to suspicion simply because of what they look like.” Calderón rejected SB1070 as “discriminatory.” In his first official visit to Washington, the Mexican president will deliver remarks to U.S. Congress on Thursday. Read an AS/COA analysis about Calderón’s visit.
AS/COA will explore bilateral relations during our March 25 conference in Mexico City. Get a full list of speakers, conference agenda, and more information about the event, which is free and open to the public. The event will be liveblogged in English and Spanish.
Brazil Mediates Nuke Swap Deal but U.S. Proceeds with UN Iran Sanctions
Iran agreed to a nuclear fuel-swap agreement forged by Brazilian and Turkish diplomats that allows for half its stockpile of uranium to be sent to Turkey for further enrichment. The deal, criticized by the United States, Europe, and Russia as a last minute ploy to derail Security Council sanctions, would allow for Tehran to maintain enough enriched material on its soil to produce a bomb if it chose to. The joint declaration,seen as proof of Brazil and Turkey’s rising diplomatic clout, is similar to a measure proposed by the West last year and rejected by the Iranians at the eleventh hour.
During a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton revealed that China and Russia had agreed to a draft resolution that would allow a fourth round of UN sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.
Writing in The Huffington Post, COA Vice President Eric Farnsworth comments on President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s weekend trip to Tehran: “Rather than working with the United States, Europe, and the other BRIC nations to build a more secure global environment, Lula’s gambit risks enabling an outcome that could dramatically heighten regional and indeed global tensions.”
Lula’s UN Aspirations
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s weekend trip to Tehran may have as much to do with UN-related aspirations as helping mediate a standoff over Iran’s nuclear plan, reports Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Transmission blog. Brazil’s Iran diplomacy could be tied to a desire for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and, according to some rumors, Lula’s hopes of becoming UN secretary general. But others say it has little to do with either and stems instead from Lula’s goal of playing a larger role on the world stage.
EU, Mercosur to Resume Trade Talks
The European Union and the Mercosur trading bloc agreed this week to reopen stalled trade discussions following the EU-Latin America and Caribbean Summit in Madrid. The talks aim to boost Mercosur’s access to European markets, but are seen as controversial by some in Europe due to concerns that similar, more expensive European-produced goods would suffer from an influx of cheaper South American equivalents. Trade deals were also reached with Colombia, Peru, and Central America.
Trading Places in Madrid
Financial Times’ beyondbrics blog comments on the financial role reversal taking place at this week’s EU-Latin American summit in Spain. The meetings occurred “against an eerily familiar backdrop of double-digit budget deficits, heavy sovereign debt loads, intervention from the International Monetary Fund, and violent street protests,” writes Mark Mulligan. “The only difference this time is that it is Europe—and not Latin America—causing all the problems.”
Chile Deepens Asia Ties with Malaysia Trade Deal
Santiago added Malaysia to its growing list of free-trade partners when it inked a trade deal with that Kuala Lumpor on May 14. Bilateral trade rose from $130 million to $230 million last year. Chile has trade agreements with 58 countries.
Canada and Panama Sign Trade Accord
Panama and Ottawa signed a free trade agreement on May 14, as well as labor and environmental protection deals. The Canadian government reports that its country’s exports to Panama increased by 52 percent between 2005 and 2009 to $88 million. The pact now requires parliamentary approval in each country.
During last week’s 40th Washington Conference on the Americas, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon discussed Ottawa’s increased economic ties to Latin America.
Growing Cell Phone Use in Cuba
A GlobalPost feature looks at the rising use of cell phones by Cubans to communicate via text. With access to the Internet limited on the island, the number of wireless accounts in the country has grown from 600,000 to over 838,000 since President Raúl Castro ended a ban in 2008 that kept Cubans from owning cell phones. “The U.S. government, Cuban exile groups, and dissidents on the island say cell phones can be a conduit of unfiltered information to ordinary Cubans,” writes Nick Miroff.
In Cuba, Zelaya Makes Case for Honduran Reconciliation
The Miami Herald’s Cuban Colada blog reports on deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya’s trip to Havana last week, where he presented his Plan for National Reconciliation. The plan would allow him to return home without facing trial and allow the National Resistance to gain legal recognition. “In exchange, Zelaya would press for Honduras’ readmission to the Organization of American States and the System of Central-American Integration,” according to the blog. Zelaya, ousted in June, is living in the Dominican Republic and has already traveled to Nicaragua and Ecuador in support of his plan.
Caracas Freezes Currency Trading in Brokerage Probe
Venezuelan authorities temporarily stalled bond trading Tuesday as new financial regulations are determined, including a plan to establish maximum and minimum prices in bond trading. Central Bank President Nelson Merentes said brokerages would be excluded from trading to avoid currency speculation at a time when the bolivar continues to decline in value.
Ecuador Plans Trial for Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos
Quito made it clear this week that it plans to call former Colombian Defense Minister and current presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos to trial over his role in the 2008 attack on a guerilla camp just across the border in Ecuadorian territory. “Until the end of my days I will remember that bombardment,” said Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa to reporters during this week’s EU-Latin America summit in Madrid. During Colombian presidential debates held Tuesday, all candidates voiced support for Santos, with one of the leading candidates, Antanas Mockus, calling Ecuador’s legal actions “judicial nonsense.”
The Changing Face of Terrorist Groups in Colombia
Outgoing President Álvaro Uribe’s security policies have led Colombian paramilitary groups to splinter and shift ideological alliances, writes Eliot Brockner for ISN Security Watch. These new alliances, used by groups as a means of remaining active and relevant in the drug trade, will create security challenges for the next administration.
The new issue of Americas Quarterly looks at the threat of narcotrafficking in the Americas.
U.S. Official: Arms Smuggling into Mexico Goes Unabated
Newsweek’s Declassified blog reports that a high-level U.S. official says “there’s mounting evidence that the illegal trafficking of high-powered U.S. weapons into Mexico is continuing unimpeded and may actually be increasing, despite repeated statements by Obama administration officials (including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a March visit to Mexico City) that they are forcefully addressing the issue.” Recently, the Mexican military uncovered a large narco-paramilitary training camp in the Mexican border state of Nuevo Leon, reportedly a training base for the Los Zetas drug cartel. The camp contained a huge stockpile of weapons and ammunition, including grenade launchers and semi-automatic assault rifles, most of which could be traced back to purchase in the United States, military officials said.
Access Americas Quarterly’s Spring 2010 charticle on narco-networks in the Americas.
Guatemalan Anti-Crime Body Seen as Central American Model
The Christian Science Monitor takes a look at the successes of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a crime-fighting organization established two years ago though an agreement between the UN and the Guatemalan government. In a country where 98 percent of murders go unsolved, “CICIG has forced the removal of thousands of police officers, prompted the arrest of dozens of corrupt businessmen and officials, and solved some of the country’s most heinous crimes,” writes Ezra Feiser. Neighboring Honduras and El Salvador are now hoping to join Guatemala in creating a regionwide group modeled after CICIG.
An April 2010 AQ blog post reports on CICIG’s efforts to combat crime and corruption.
Peru Declares State of Emergency in Three Regions and Major Port
Given rising narcotrafficking activities carried out by the Shining Path, the Peruvian government declared a state of emergency for 60 days in the Huanuco, Ucayali, and San Martin regions. Moreover, Lima also pronounces a state of emergency in the port of Callao as a result of strikes by stevedores over modernization that they fear will lead to job cuts.
Landslide Victory for Dominican Ruling Party
President Leonel Fernandez’s ruling Dominican Liberation Party made sweeping gains during elections in the Caribbean country, winning 30 of 32 seats available in the Senate. The elections were marred by opposition protests in the south of the country, where reports indicate five people died and 13 were injured.
Celebrity Chef a Go at White House Dinner for Calderóns
The Washington Post’s Reliable Source blog reports on the President and First Lady’s preference for engaging celebrity chefs for state dinners, a practice rarely seen at the White House previous to this administration. The couple asked Chicago-based celebrity chef Rick Bayless to prepare the menu for this week’s dinner in honor of Mexican President Felipe Calderón. On top of that, guitarists Rodrigo y Gabriela perform at the dinner (8:30 p.m. EDT), a concert that can be viewed via White House livestream.