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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Colombian Court Freezes U.S. Base Deal

Semana reports on the Colombian Constitutional Court’s decision to suspend a pact with Washington that allowed U.S. access to Colombian military bases for counternarcotics and anti-terrorism operations. The Court questioned the constitutional legality of the manner in which the deal was passed and is now requiring President Juan Manuel Santos to gain congressional approval. The military accord, negotiated in 2009 between the Obama administration and Santos’ predecessor Álvaro Uribe, has been a source of debate in South America and a sore subject for some of Colombia’s neighbors, particularly Venezuela. An analysis by La Silla Vacía posits that a reexamination of the accord under the new government’s watch could have a negative impact on the improved relationship between Bogota and Caracas seen since Santos’ inauguration.

Read an AS/COA analysis of the Colombian base debate.

Miracle Landing for Colombian Plane

Officials called Monday’s emergency landing by a Colombian airline on the Caribbean island of San Andres a miracle. Aires Airlines flight 8250 was carrying 121 passengers when a lightning strike or microburst of wind caused the aircraft to plummet as it was approaching the runway. The plane split into three pieces upon hitting the ground. Surprisingly, the sole fatality of the ordeal was blamed on heart failure. The miracle landing has been credited to pilot skill in controlling the aircraft, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

Vast Natural Gas Discovery in Brazil

Brazilian oil and gas company OGX says it has discovered 15 trillion cubic feet of natural gas under the ocean in the northeastern Parnaiba basin. A field this size could output around 15 million cubic feet per day, securing 30 percent of total domestic demand.

Rousseff Widens Lead in Brazilian Race

An Ibope poll published by TV Globo shows that Brazilian presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff’s lead over her top rival José Serra has grown to 11 percent. The survey puts President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s former cabinet chief on track to win in the first round of the October election.

Read an AS/COA hemispheric update covering the Brazilian presidential race.

Brazil’s Auto Industry Shifts into Higher Gear

New data shows Brazil is now the world’s fourth largest consumer of automobiles, reports AméricaEconomia. Brazil trails only China, the United States, and Japan in cars bought. Along with growing demand, Brazil expects greater investment in the industry. Volkswagen has announced plans to invest $3.4 million in 2014, Ford $2.5 million between 2011 and 2015, and General Motors $1.6 million between 2010 and 2012. Brazil’s Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento (BNDES) also announced $17 million to construct new plants for Toyota and Hyundai in São Paulo.

Hotels Help Brazil’s Boom

Financial Times’
Beyond BRICs blog reports that, despite a modest drop in hotel occupancy at Brazilian hotels, guests are spending more money and generating greater revenue for the industry. “I don’t know if this is international or in Latin America in general,” said Ricardo Mader, executive vice president of Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels. “But it has everything to do with the growth of the [Brazilian] economy and the growth of buying power.” In 2009, guests at Brazilian hotels spent an average of $63 for a room, up 7.7 percent from the previous year.

Brazilian and Chilean Airlines Merge into Biggest LatAm Carrier

LAN Chile and Brazil’s TAM Linhas Aereas agreed on a $3.7 billion merger to become Latin America’s biggest carrier by market value, with a combined 115 destinations in 23 countries. The new company, called LATAM Airlines Group SA, will be headed by former LAN CEO Enrique Cueto.

Chile to Investigate Domestic FARC Ties

In an interview with El Mercurio, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera said he spoke with his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos at his August 7 inauguration about alleged ties between Colombian FARC guerillas and small indigenous terrorist groups operating in Chile’s southern Araucania region. The Colombian Prosecutor General delivered a report to the Chilean government claiming extremist Mapuche groups, who have been involved in violent acts associated with land rights, and several members of the Chilean Communist Party had had contact with the FARC. The politicians and Mapuche leaders deny the allegations.

U.S.-Mexican Trucking Dispute Rolls on

Mexico will impose tariffs on 99 U.S. products following the U.S. congressional decision to cancel a pilot program allowing several Mexican trucking companies to haul cargo onto U.S soil. On top of a first round of tariffs imposed in March 2009, the list of import duties will expand to include new products, including pork. Mexico is the U.S. pork industry’s second-largest export market. Mexico’s Economy Minister Bruno Ferrari says these new rules will add up to $2.5 billion worth of tariffs.

Mexico’s Highest Court Upholds Same-Sex Adoption Rights

By a vote of 9 to 2, Mexico’s Supreme Court upheld a Mexico City law allowing same-sex couples to adopt children. The Court found that heterosexual couples, divorced parents, single parents, and same-sex couples share equal protection under the Mexican constitution and therefore denying any of these groups the right to adopt is discriminatory.

“Narco-Censorship” Intimidates Journalists in Mexico

The Los Angeles Times reports on how organized crime threatens free speech in Mexico, where roughly 30 reporters have been killed or disappeared since the government launched a war on cartels in December 2006. “As the drug war scales new heights of savagery, one of the devastating byproducts of the carnage is the drug traffickers’ chilling ability to co-opt underpaid and under-protected journalists,” writes Tracy Wilkinson. Last week, the UN sent a mission to Mexico for the first time to investigate the threat to Mexican journalists, who have protested the lack of government protection for members of the press.

White House May Ease Cuba Travel Restrictions

A potential policy shift in Washington’s Cuba policy could relax rules for academics and students to travel to the island, although the embargo would remain in place. In a sign of defrosting bilateral relations, the Obama administration will permit the American Ballet Theater Company to visit the island for the first time in 50 years. The BBC reports that the company will perform in Havana at the International Ballet Festival on November 3 and 4.

El Salvador’s Prez to Make Historic Cuba Trip

Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes announced his intention to make an official visit to Cuba during the first week of September. Funes’ trip—the first by a Salvadoran president in five decades—will focus on warming relations between the two countries, which re-established diplomatic relations in 2009 after 50 years. While in Cuba, Funes is expected to sign several bilateral trade and travel agreements.

Redesigning Haiti’s Education System

The Miami Herald reports on Haitian efforts to overhaul the country’s educational system. Roughly 90 percent of Haitian schools are private, creating major obstacles to improving standards in a country where just one in three children complete sixth grade, according to pre-earthquake figures. Education officials in Haiti have put together “an ambitious plan that seeks to use international aid dollars to not only subsidize the construction of new schools but also to put private schools…under state oversight,” reports Jacqueline Charles.

A Kirchner in the Running for 2011

In a poll conducted by Poliarquía for La Nación, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration received a 45 percent approval rating, while 52 percent believed that both former President Néstor Kirchner and the current president make joint governmental decisions. Furthermore, 58 percent prefer Fernández de Kirchner as a 2011 presidential candidate, while 54 percent believe that Néstor Kirchner will be the party’s choice. Chief of Cabinet Aníbal Fernández said he believed that the presidential couple would be represented in the forthcoming elections.

Clinton Thanks Argentina for Mediator Role

Argentina’s Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on August 11 to discuss terrorism and regional conflicts. Clinton thanked Argentina for its constructive role in encouraging a peaceful resolution to a recent dispute between Colombia and Venezuela over guerilla camps, as well as for its leadership role in nonproliferation issues.

Protest Ends in Bolivian Mining City

After nearly three weeks of demonstrations in the southwestern city of Potosi, protesters and government officials reached an agreement to bring the general strike to a close this week. Thousands of demonstrators had brought the city to a near standstill over what they said was the government’s failure to invest in the region and mining industry. Potosi was once an important source of silver and continues to be a major mining center. Bloggings by Boz looks at the agreement reached by the two sides to end the dispute.

Resentment Grows over Chinese Mining in Peru

As China scours the developing world for much-needed resources, its reputation in places like the small Peruvian mining town of Marcona has deteriorated, reports The New York Times. Developed in the 1950s by American engineers, the town’s mine was nationalized in the 1970s. In 1992, China’s Shougang Corporation purchased the mine and promised investment for the town. But many of the town’s residents say China has since ignored its investment commitments and slashed the work force. Peruvian workers at the Marcona mine also complain of discrimination, meager wages, and environmental abuses.

LatAm Market Could Offer Lifeline to U.S. SMEs

In a new article featured in The Huffington Post, AS/COA President Susan Segal argues that more needs to be done to promote relations between Latin American markets and small and medium enterprises in the United States. “If the President wants to meet his export goals and have sustainable growth, [Latin America] is a region that has largely felt the cold shoulder of Washington for decades, but is willing to take business relations to another level,” writes Segal.

Latin Americans Trust Media, Military

The media and the military are the two institutions most trusted by Latin Americans, according to a poll taken by Costa Rica-based social science organization FLACSO. The survey of 18 countries found that 58.6 percent of Latin Americans trust the media while 43 percent trust the military. But the poll found that only 31.5 percent of those surveyed trusted parliaments and just 14.3 percent have faith in political parties.

Where Do LatAm Country Names Come from?

With countries throughout Latin America celebrating bicentennials this year, El País offers an interactive look at the origin of country names in Latin America. Historians from across the Americas explain the wide and varied ways countries got their names.

Tags: Colombia, LAN Chile, Military Base, Rousseff, United Stattes
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