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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U.S. Files Labor Law Complaint against Guatemala

The U.S. government filed a complaint against Guatemala on grounds of labor law violations under the Central America Free Trade Agreement. The complaint, filed by the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations and six Guatemalan unions, accuses the Guatemalan government of not enforcing labor rights or doing enough to protect union leaders. The Guatemalan government denied the allegations but said it was willing to seek a solution to the issue.

Guatemalan union leader Juan Fidel Pachecho’s body was found July 30, showing signs of torture. Since 2007, 46 union leaders have been found dead in Guatemala.

Immigration Reform Could Circumvent Congress

In response to the possibility that Congress does not pass immigration reform this year, U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services prepared a memo outlining 18 ways the government could grant permanent residency status to undocumented immigrants without requiring congressional approval. Critics claim the administration is trying to circumvent Congress and act unilaterally.

Valenzuela Visits the Caribbean

Following up on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to the region earlier this year, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Arturo Valenzuela visited the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. Valenzuela’s tour focused on encouraging economic prosperity, addressing threats posed by drug trafficking, discussing climate change, and strengthening institutions.

Haiti’s Homeless Wait for Help

An article in the Los Angeles Times looks at the state of reconstruction in Haiti six months after an earthquake killed more than 200,000 people and devastated much of the country. The disaster left 1.5 million homeless, with only 34,000 provided with housing since rebuilding begun. While the multinational Interim Haiti Recovery Commission is responsible for reconstruction, critics cite an overwhelmed Haitian government as a contributing factor to the lagging recovery efforts.

Cuban Private Sector to Grow

In a measure aimed at addressing the country’s difficult financial situation, Cuban leader Raúl Castro announced that more Cubans will now be able to become self-employed and hire workers. The state sector employs 95 percent of the population and the new legislation will aim to cut jobs out of the government payroll over the next five years. However, in an article for the Guardian, AS/COA Senior Policy Director Christopher Sabatini said that “these are reforms on the margin that don’t address the fundamental inefficiency of the Cuban economy.”

Mexican Remittances Fall First Half of 2010

The Mexican Central Bank announced that remittances to Mexico fell 4.07 percent to $10, 627 billion in the first half of 2010, compared to $11, 078 billion sent during the same period in 2009. The funds, the majority of which come from the United States, constitute Mexico’s second biggest source of income after oil exports.

Colombian Drug-War Lessons for Mexico

In a New York Times op-ed, Gustavo Flores Macías outlines lessons for Mexico and the United States from Colombia’s successes fighting drug trafficking. Macías writes that for Mexico to get the upper hand against the drug cartels, the government needs to implement tax reforms, improve government accountability, and update its security apparatus, one of the most outdated in the hemisphere.

Ecuador Signs Amazon Agreement with UNDP

The Ecuadoran government signed an agreement with the United Nations Development Program that will prohibit oil drilling in the country’s Amazon Yasuní national park, one of the world’s major biodiversity hot spots and a UNESCO biosphere reserve, in exchange for access to a $3.6 billion trust fund, to be created by international donors. In addition to conserving the environment, the initiative will stop an estimated 470 million tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.

Spanish-LatAm Investment Flourishes

Private-sector investment in Latin America is an important engine of growth for Spanish companies, shows an Infolatam report. Companies with investments in Latin America—including Telefónica, Santander bank, and BBVA—earned a significant amount of their overall profits from the region. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Peru were the best performing markets.

Democracy Helps Fight Poverty in Brazil

A report published by the Brazilian government’s Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada reveals that from the 43.4 percent of Brazilians living in poverty in 1995, only 20.9 percent continue to do so in 2008. The paper pins this achievement to successful social policy as well as the country’s institutional and democratic continuity over the last two decades.

Read an AS/COA Online analysis about Brazil’s upcoming race for the presidency.

Rousseff Could Fall Short on Female Votes

Dilma Rousseff, candidate for the Workers Party in the upcoming Brazilian election, may not gain enough female votes to win the presidency. According to a poll released by Datafolha Roussef polls neck-to-neck with her Social Democracy Party rival José Serra, but Serra has the support of 38 percent of women polled, against Rousseff ‘s 30 percent.

Brazil Census Enters Digital Age

For the next three months the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics will carry out its twelfth demographic census, covering an estimated 58 million households with the help of 192,000 workers. This year, however, staff will use handheld computers, digital maps, and GPS devices, allowing them to send information automatically to computer centers and execute the first digital population assessment in the country’s history. Preliminary results will be available November 27.

Mercosur Establishes Customs Union

In an agreement signed this week during a summit, Mercosur, the trade bloc comprising of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, signed into effect a Common Customs Code. The agreement resolves how customs revenue is distributed and eliminates double tariffs on non-Mercosur goods transported across member countries; both crucial conditions for a free trade agreement with the European Union. During the meeting the bloc also signed into effect a trade pact with Egypt.

Bolivian Billionaire to Invest in Lithium

Owner of the biggest mobile telephone distributor in the world, Bolivian tycoon Marcelo Claure announced the creation of a billion-dollar lithium investment fund in the New York Stock Exchange, to be called Global X Lithium. Claure said he considers lithium the “mineral of the future,” due to its use in mobile phone, laptop, and electric car batteries. Part of the fund will be used to develop the huge reserves of the metal found in south-western Bolivia.

Read an AS/COA Online analysis about Bolivia’s lithium reserves.

Peruvian Election Date Set

With less than a year to go in office, Peruvian President Alan García set April 10, 2011, as the date for Peru’s next presidential and legislative elections. García promised absolute government neutrality during the campaigning and electoral process.

Latin America’s Political Balance

The democratic election of numerous moderate conservative candidates across Latin America has narrowed the space between the right-of-center and left-of-center political spheres, states this op-ed for the Miami Herald. The trend shows a decline in ideology and a lean towards pragmatism in the region.

Bicentenary Security Assessment for LatAm

Much of Central and South America is currently celebrating two centuries of independent rule. In an extensive overview, the International Relations and Security Network examines many of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for Latin America in its third century of independence.

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