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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Honduras Marks Coup Anniversary

A year after the overthrow of Manuel Zelaya, Honduras continues its struggle to recover from the political fallout. “In spite of massive international attention and multilateral efforts in the days and months that followed, reconciliation—both domestically and internationally—remains elusive,” says an article in World Politics Review. President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo acknowledged that Zelaya’s overthrow constituted a coup, but his efforts at reconciliation have failed to win over key countries such as Brazil and Venezuela and regain entry into the Organization of American States. As the country marked the coup’s anniversary on June 28, Lobo expressed fears about plots against his own government while the exiled Zelaya charged that U.S. Southern Command played a role in his overthrow.

Concerns persist over human rights violations in Honduras. Twenty-seven members of U.S. Congress signed a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging an assessment of human rights in the Central American country to determine whether Washington should, once again, suspend aid.

Read an AS/COA analysis on the long-term economic costs of the coup.

Gubernatorial Candidate Murdered in Mexico

The frontrunner in the race for governor of border state Tamaulipas was assassinated Monday, along with four members of his campaign. Gunmen linked to organized crime ambushed and murdered the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Rodolfo Torres Cantú. The PRI selected his brother, Egidio Torre Cantú, as a replacement candidate. After an emergency meeting with his security cabinet, Mexican President Felipe Calderón condemned the attacks and called for a unified front against cartels and crime. Tamaulipas is one one of 14 states holding elections on July 4.. El Universal carries a special web page on the assassination in Spanish  while The Wall Street Journal offers interactive coverage in English.

Read an AS/COA hemispheric update of the July 4 elections.

Boosting Rule of Law to Fight Mexico’s Cartels

In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, former U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner recommends that Mexico and the United States should build Mexican policing capacity and rule of law instead of depending on military might in the shared fight against drug cartels. “Mexico could become a first-world country one day, but it will never achieve that status until it breaks the grip these criminal organizations have over all levels of government and strengthens its law enforcement and judicial institutions,” writes Bonner. “It cannot do one without doing the other.”

At the U.S.-Mexico Border: A Trade Spike

According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, surface-transport trade across the U.S.-Mexican border hit $27.8 billion in March—an increase of $8 billion over the same month last year. Texas led surface trade and achieved the largest amount with $9.6 million.The growth, reports The Economist, stems from increased industrial production in the United States. Still, strained relations and inefficiency continue between the neighboring countries due to a dispute over cross-border trucking.

Syrian President Tours Latin America

President of Syria Bashar al-Assad took his first tour of Latin America with an initial stop in Venezuela on Friday before heading on to Cuba, Brazil, and Argentina. Infolatam reports that his Caracas visit served as a way to reinforce the Venezuelan foreign policy of closeness with Syria and Iran as well as confrontation with the United States and Israel. Pacts signed include construction of an oil refinery in Syria involving Iranian participation. Chávez also invited Syria to join the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) as an observer country. During a meeting in Havana, al-Assad and Cuban President Raúl Castro criticized Israel and its activities in Gaza. The Syrian president’s visit to Brazil will likely focus on Brasilia’s role as a mediator in Middle East politics. “We see Brazil as an emerging power that can help stabilize the Middle East and open new dialogue channels with Israel,” al-Assad told Estado de São Paulo in an interview ahead of the trip. The Christian Science Monitor reports that al-Assad seeks investment and trade opportunities for his country and will also likely reach out to the large and wealthy Syrian Diaspora communities in Argentina and Brazil.

Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico Satisfied with G20 Results

Infolatam reports on the participation of three Latin American countries in the G20 summit in Toronto. The agreement reached during the meeting set a goal of cutting government deficits in half by 2013 and reducing or maintaining external debt by 2016.

EU and Mercosur Hold Trade Talks in Argentina

In Buenos Aires this week, the European Union and Mercosur countries convene trade talks with the goal of moving ahead with negotiations, stalled now for six years. “The new round of discussions must go beyond tariffs and subsidies; we’re highlighting the compromise of both blocs to gain competitiveness and multiply investment opportunities,” said Brazilian President Luíz Inacio Lula da Silva on Tuesday. Greece has issued complaints against Argentina’s restrictions on EU food imports.

Brazil’s Renaissance

Financial Times
published a special report this week about Brazil, reporting on the country’s “reversal of fortunes” with coverage of agriculture, the economy, energy, infrastructure, the auto industry, the environment, and even fashion. “[D]espite the important successes of the ‘new Brazil,’ many of the failings of the ‘old Brazil’ remain,” writes John Paul Rathbone. “What lends the new Brazil its excitement and promise is that the political and economic stability the country has recently won make such problems seem manageable and solvable.”

Racial Equality Statute Approved in Brazil

After seven years of debate, the Brazilian congress approved the Statute of Racial Equality this month. The Guardian reports that the measure promotes equal opportunities for black Brazilians and guarantees equal access to health, education, and employment. However, critics say the statute fell short of mandating quotas for admission to higher education institutions or political parties.

Brazilian Archives Face Risk of Perishing

CNN reports that Brazil’s massive historical records covering the crimes of the country’s military juntas from 1964 to 1985 run the risk of perishing in a Brasilia government building. “The preservation of these documents is important to our history and is crucial to victims’ families who are seeking the truth and some form [of] indemnity for their missing loved ones,” said Brazilian historian Carlos Fico of the roughly 35 million pages of archives.

The Canadian Model: Ottawa’s Lessons for Washington

A new article in Foreign Policy’s Argument blog reports on Canada’s economic strides since 1996 and argues that Washington could learn from Ottawa’s lessons of fiscal discipline and social welfare reforms. “The story of how a classic economic basket case transformed into a top global performer has implications beyond Canada,” argue the article’s authors. “Every one of the tools Canada used to extricate itself from its parlous position is available to the United States.”

U.S. Committee to Discuss Bill on Travel, Exports to Cuba

The House Committee on Agriculture plans to consider a bill on June 30 that’s designed to end obstacles to U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba and pave the way for Americans to travel freely to the island. Opponents of the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act contend that passing such legislations runs the risk of legitimizing the Cuban regime. The Havana Note argues in favor of the bill, saying: “In the United States of America, our government shouldn’t have the right to ban our citizens from traveling wherever their passport can take them.”

Haiti Announces November Elections

President René Préval announced that Haiti will hold presidential elections on November 28. Préval’s five-year term ends May 2011.

Utah’s A.G. Pitches Guest Worker Program

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Utah’s attorney general has been working with state and Mexican officials in hopes of creating a state-specific guest worker program. “I do feel very strongly that those who are going to be opposed to the Arizona-style law have to have a counterproposal. Just saying ‘no’ isn’t going to cut it,” says Attorney General Mark Shurtleff of the proposed pilot program. “Utah can take control of its immigration destiny by having a comprehensive plan in place that addresses things like employment and security.”

White House Picks New Venezuelan Envoy

U.S. President Barack Obama nominated Larry L. Palmer as the new U.S. ambassador to Venezuela this week.  A former ambassador to Honduras, Palmer will replace Patrick Duddy, who was temporarily kicked out of Caracas by the Chávez government from September 2008 until June 2009 in relation to a U.S.-Bolivian diplomatic dispute.

Peru, Colombia Make Gains in Call Center Sector

Universia Knowledge@Wharton reports that Colombia and Peru have made gains in the call center sector while Chile has fallen in terms of competitiveness due to that country’s rising labor costs. Hiring call center workers can run 25 percent cheaper in Peru and 17 percent cheaper in Colombia when compared to Chile. 

Potential Ratings Upgrades Forecast for Bolivia, Paraguay

Moody’s Investors Service predicted that Bolivia and Paraguay could receive credit ratings boosts over the course of the next three months, with their sovereign ratings rising from B2 and B3 respectively. Reuters reports that the ratings boosts depend on the level of political stability in Bolivia and the Paraguayan president’s aptness for balancing domestic demands and that country’s fiscal strength.

Bolivian Indigenous Groups Pose Test for Morales

Evo Morales may have been the first indigenous president elected in Bolivia, but he faces rising challenges from indigenous organizations. Miguel Centellas’ Pronto blog reports that Morales has sought to shift blame to the presence of the USAID in Bolivia. The post argues “that none of this says anything about the legitimacy of the protesters’ actual claims,”  which include concerns over the environmental impact of natural resource extraction and as well as autonomy for indigenous communities. Several indigenous lawmakers, who staged a weekend hunger strike to demand a greater allotment of seats for indigenous legislators, announced intentions of joining an indigenous rights march this week.

Panama’s President Assesses His First Year

In an interview with local newspaper La Prensa, President of Panama Ricardo Martinelli voiced satisfaction with his first year in power while acknowledging setbacks. Martinelli recognized that his set of “Nine in One” laws opposed by labor unions and environmental movements pushed through pro-business legislation without allowing time for adequate assessment. However, he argued that his one, five-year term gave him limited time to secure reforms. Martinelli’s popularity has seen a decline since he took office and now runs at less than 50 percent.

S. Korean Leader Seeks CentralAm FTAs

On the heels of a visit by South Korean President Lee Myunk-bak to Panama, The Korea Times reports that the Asian country hopes to step up economic ties via free trade agreements with member countries of the Central American Integration System (SICA). In 2009, trade between SICA and South Korea totaled $6.68 billion and Korean exports to the region stood at $5.3 billion. Lee’s visit to Panama marked the first by a South Korean president since the two countries established diplomatic ties in 1962.

FARC’s Panama Presence Confirmed

Panama’s Minister of Public Security José Raúl Mulino confirmed Monday that members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had operated in Panamanian territory “to hide out, protect themselves, and move arms and drugs.” Mulino contended that past governments had “friendly deals” with the FARC but that such relations have changed under the Martinelli adminstration. Panamanian police killed three FARC members in January.

France Begins Noriega Trial Proceedings

The Los Angeles Times reports on the beginning of trial proceedings of former Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, who faces charges of laundering money and stashing funds from drug trafficking in French bank accounts. Noriega had already been convicted for the charges in absentia in 1999. However, the United States, which had Noriega in custody, approved France’s extradition request two months ago. Noriega’s defense team argues that the former president should be allowed to return to Panama under the Geneva Convention. He would face torture and murder charges in his home country.

Washington and San Salvador Ink Migration-Security Pact

El Salvador and the United States signed an agreement on June 23 that allows the two countries to share information about deportees with criminal records who are repatriated to the Central American country. U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano declared that “the agreement will help ensure that we are able to easily share information about criminals who may pose a threat to public safety in either of our nations.” In 2009, 32 percent of Salvadorans deported from the U.S. had criminal records.

Suspects Surrender in Guatemalan Lawyer’s Murder-Suicide Case

Two brothers wanted in relation to the May 2009 killing of Guatemalan lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg turned themselves in on Monday. In a video released after his death, Rosenberg accused President Álvaro Colom of ordering the murder. A UN investigation later found that Rosenberg orchestrated his own death and asked the brothers—his cousins—to hire a hit man to carry out the job. BBC reports that, even though the investigation cleared Colom of any wrongdoing, “the allegations have left a deep rift in Guatemalan society.”

Brazilian Newspaper Ad Eliminates Brazil from World Cup

One of Brazil’s largest newspapers on Tuesday mistakenly features an advertisement expressing sadness over Brazil’s “elimination” from the 2010 World Cup. Folha de São Paulo ran the ad from a Brazilian supermarket chain in error, apparently anticipating the possibility of the national team’s ouster by their Chilean neighbors the day before.

COA Vice President Eric Farnsworth writes in the Americas Quarterly blog about the World Cup successes of the Mercosur countries: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

Due to the Independence Day holiday, distribution of the Weekly Roundup will be suspended during the week of July 5. Look for the next issue on July 14.

Tags: Canada, Cartel, G20, Haiti, Honduras coup, Preval, Syrian President, Tamaulipas
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