Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas



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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Uribe out, Santos in, Chávez Back

Speaking before his country, outgoing-Colombian President Álvaro Uribe bid farewell after eight years in office, apologizing for his administration’s mistakes and urging Colombians to defend their freedoms and support incoming President Juan Manuel Santos. Upon assuming office on August 7, Santos began efforts to restore ties with Venezuela, sent into a tail spin after the Uribe administration accused Caracas of harboring FARC rebel camps within its territory. Meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez three days into his presidency, Santos and his counterpart agreed to restore bilateral ties, improve military patrols along the border, and initiate a joint security commission to help monitor terrorist groups. Noting the surge in trade the rapprochement will bring, the Colombian business sector greeted the news well, however concerns remain regarding $800 million in debts owed to Colombian companies by Venezuela. Chávez insisted that Venezuela would honor all its debts. Santos, Colombia’s former Defense Minister, also took the step of opening the door to talks with FARC rebels, a move in line with the new president’s more conciliatory approach.  Also during the conference Santos tapped Jose Fernando Bautista as his new ambassador to Caracas. With Santos and Chávez eyeing reelection in 2014 and 2012 respectively, both men sought to improve a relationship that could last until 2018.

Fidel Gives Rare Government Address

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro addressed an extraordinary session of the Cuban Assembly on August 13, delivering a 12-minute-long speech focused mainly on foreign policy and the United States. The ageing leader’s first government appearance in almost four years could be an attempt to reinvigorate party officials, says AS/COA’s Senior Policy Director Christopher Sabatini: “It’s like seeing your aging grandfather wake up on the sofa all of a sudden and start holding forth on things.”

Mexican Supreme Court Upholds Gay Marriage Ruling

The Mexican Supreme Court upheld a law passed last year by Mexico City’s legislative assembly allowing same-sex marriage in the capital. The court followed the ruling by declaring that marriages conducted in Mexico City must be recognized across the entire country. The court is expected to rule on same-sex adoption rights next.

Arizona Exodus Could Provide Cartels with Recruits

As Arizona’s new immigration laws come into effect, many of the state’s undocumented immigrants are returning to Mexico. In need of paid employment and familiar with the United States, the possibility of finding work with criminal gangs could increase due to necessity, states a report for ISN Security Watch.

Report Urges Greater U.S. Understanding of Social Challenges in Mexico

The Rand Corporation has published a report titled United States and Mexico: Ties That Bind, Issues That Divide that proposes a discussion between Mexican and American policymakers on issues including immigration and economic development. The report suggests that U.S. policymakers could benefit from understanding Mexican social and economic challenges and how these drive emigration to the U.S.

El Salvador Calls on Army to Help Fight Street Crime

As part of efforts to combat one of the world’s highest homicide rates, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes directed the country’s armed forces to provide support to local law enforcement officials. “The main problem arises from the combination of gangs with drug trafficking. This is what is causing the violence that we’re seeing in the streets,” said General David Mungía Payés, El Salvador’s Defense Minister.

Costa Rica’s Carbon-Neutral Goal

In keeping with its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2021, Costa Rica plans to fully offset its production of greenhouse gasses by introducing several green initiatives including eliminating taxes on renewable energy technology, planting forests, and eliminating its dependence on fossil fuels.

Colombian Exports on the Rise

A report by Colombia’s National Bureau of Statistics indicates that exports in Latin America’s fifth largest economy soared by 24.3 percent the first two quarters in 2010. The findings showed that Colombian exports during this period totaled just over $2 billion, up $460 million over the same period last year. While traditional exports increased 30 percent, the report pointed to an expanding petroleum industry as the main reason for the overall economic surge.

Brasilia’s Economic Challenges

Despite Brazil’s record economic growth, concerns abound that a strengthening currency, creeping interest rates, lackluster world markets, and Brasilia’s failure to reform tax laws to attract further investment could spell a slowdown in growth for the Latin American giant. Growth was also fostered by outgoing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s effective fiscal policies. His departure adds to the uncertainty surrounding the country’s ability to maintain current growth rates.

Rio Homicide Rate Falls

According to data released last week by the Brazilian Institute for Public Security, Rio de Janeiro has seen its lowest homicide rate since 1991. Despite the drop, the city still had 2,566 murders in the first four months of 2010. “Its still a high rate in comparison to more developed cities,” said Roberto Alzir, an official at the Brazilian Secretariat of Public Security. “But compared to the reality of Rio de Janeiro, it is a big advance.”

Saving for a Rainy Day in Brazil

The Financial Times Beyond Brics blog takes a look at a Capital Economics report that analyses the Brazilian economy’s long term robustness. The report recommends Brasilia encourage domestic savings to steady the economy in the face of unsteady foreign flows of income and investment.

Peru’s Rising Natural Gas Production

According to figures released by Peru’s hydrocarbons agency Perupetro, natural gas production in the Andean country increased roughly 50 percent the first half of 2010 over the same period last year. The agency stated the majority of growth came from the Camisea fields in central Peru and was needed to meet growing domestic energy demands.

Bolivian Government Begins Military Training for Civilians

Army officials in Bolivia announced that they had begun a program training civilians to use military firearms in efforts to protect the country and its natural resources from a possible invasion. The opposition claims the training program is the first step to creating pro-government militias.

Indigenous Justice in Bolivia

Former President of Bolivia Carlos Mesa discusses the challenges posed by the use of traditional indigenous forms of justice in his country in this op-ed for El País. Intended to be more inclusive of Bolivia’s multicultural traditions, the new constitution, brought in by President Evo Morales, allows for the use of parallel courts to try those accused of committing crimes.

Report States Women’s Health Laws in Argentina Need Improving

A Human Rights Watch report has criticized the Argentine government for not providing adequate laws protecting women’s access to health and reproductive care. “Women need dependable care throughout their reproductive lives,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director at Human Rights Watch. “But in Argentina, it’s more like a lottery: you might be lucky enough to get decent care but you are more likely to be stuck with deficient—or even abusive—services.”

The Summer 2010 issue of Americas Quarterly looks at how technology and business are reinventing health care in Latin America.

Colombia to Help Train Uruguayan Police

Uruguay’s ambassador to the OAS announced that his government has begun consultations with the Colombian government seeking ways to help stem the increase in kidnappings and crime in Uruguay. As part of the proposed agreement, Colombia will send police officers to help train their Uruguayan counterparts in anti-kidnapping techniques.

Substance Abuse Lower Among Hispanics

A U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration study has found that Hispanic–Americans have lower than national average rates of alcohol consumption and illicit drug use. 9.1 percent less Hispanic-American adults drink alcohol and 1.3 percent less use illegal drugs compared to the national average.

Gender Equality Making Strides in LatAm Private Sector

While gender equality in Latin America’s is still far from balanced, an AméricaEconomía ranking shows that the ten most powerful female CEOs in the region manage companies with a combined worth of $40 billion. GM Mexico and Brazil, as well as the Mexican branches of Pepsico and Metlife, have a woman at the top, as do Peru’s Ferreyros and Petrobras’ Gas and Energy division.

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