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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Ecuadoran Crisis: A Coup or Not a Coup?

Observers are debating whether last week’s political crisis in Ecuador constituted a coup attempt. A September 30 police protest against budget cuts led to the rioting, which claimed five lives and sent President Rafael Correa to the hospital after a tear gas attack. University of Mississippi’s Miguel Centellas says in his blog that it qualifies as an attempted coup because “if Correa had died…then we would have seen a new kind of government.” An Associated Press article suggests that “thursday’s tumult appeared instead to be a revolt that spiraled out of control.” Quito-based Carlos de la Torre writes in an OpenDemocracy piece that it “was not just a failed coup” but also “a protest by police that got out of hand.” In the wake of the crisis, polls indicate that support for Correa jumped ten points to 75 percent, his highest since 2008, reports El Tiempo.

Access an AS/COA resource guide to the crisis.

Police Unrest in Ecuador Leads to Purge and Pay Raise

After the September 30 crisis in Ecuador, Correa pledged to never forgive the police behind the unrest. However, since then, his government agreed to increase military and police wages and may work out a compromise to reinstate some eliminated benefits. Still, the national police has begun to experience the promised purge, with Police Chief Freddy Martínez resigning.

Dilma’s First-round Win Blocked by Green Tsunami

Brazil’s ruling-party candidate Dilma Rousseff captured 46.9 percent of the electorate, falling short of the 50 percent plus one needed to win in the first round. Green Party candidate Marina Silva surprised analysts, winning just under 20 percent of the vote and more than polls predicted. As Dilma and runner up José Serra gear up for the October 31 runoff election, Silva’s success has produced what Hemispheric Brief calls “out-of-the ordinary environmental talk by Brazil’s two leading candidates.”

Brazil Increases Foreign-capital Taxes

Responding to the nascent “currency war,” Brazil upped its tax on foreign capital spent on bonds from 2 to 4 percent on October 4. The move aims to tamp down the real’s international value, but “it went off with a whimper” argues Financial Times’ blog beyondbrics, given that investors continued buying the real after the increase was announced.

How a Fantasy Currency Became Real

An NPR piece takes a look at how four economists saved Brazil from hyperinflation in 1992 by inventing an imaginary currency called the Unit of Real Value (URV). The URV tricked people into thinking that the government had learned how to keep a currency stable, and eventually became the real, the country’s current currency.

CFK Interviewed in Germany: Argentina Enjoying “Greater Trust”

While in Germany for the Frankfurt Book Fair this week, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner gave a Q&A to Spiegel that covered issues ranging from her country’s economy to her recent battles with Argentina’s major news companies. When asked about doubts over official inflation figures, she responded: “We have now eliminated absurd categories for comparison and simplified them, so that they now play a real role in the life of an industrial worker.”

Chile Cancels Meetings with Argentina over Guerilla Case

Relations between Santiago and Buenos Aires took a turn for the worse this week after Argentina chose to grant political asylum to Sergio Galvarino Apablaza Guerra, an ex-guerilla fighter charged with murdering Chilean Senator Jaime Guzmán. In response, the Piñera administration announced the cancellation of a series of ministerial meetings with its neighbor.

Some Mapuche Hunger Strikers End Protest

Twenty-eight incarcerated Mapuches have accepted a government proposal and ended their hunger strike on October 2. However, 10 of their peers—all of whom began the strike in protest of being tried and convicted in military courts for charges of terrorism—have refused to stop. They argue that the government’s efforts to revise military law do not constitute “serious commitments” to their protection from future abuses when fighting for rights to ancestral land, reports Milenio.

Chile’s All Volunteer Firefighting Force

A GlobalPost feature reports about Chile’s national firefighter force in Chile, made up completely of 38,000 volunteers, including 4,000 women. In recent years, it ranked higher than any other institution in terms of public confidence, ahead of the police and Catholic Church. Chile and Peru are the only Latin American countries to have all-volunteer firefighter forces.

Lima to Elect First Female Mayor in Tight Race

Susana Villarán currently leads Lourdes Flores by 0.91 percent in Lima’s mayoralty race. With 100 percent of votes cast but 26 percent remaining to be counted in the October 3 election, “regardless of the outcome, Lima is poised to elect its first female mayor,” reports Americas Quarterly’s Daily Focus.

Spanish Judge to Probe FARC Members for ETA Links

Two members of Basque Homeland and Freedom (better know as ETA) separatists reportedly told interrogators in Madrid that they received training from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) operating in Venezuela. On October 5, Spanish High Court Judge Eloy Velasco ordered Spanish police to interrogate nine former members of the FARC in Colombia, hoping they can identify the ETA members detained in Madrid.

Uribe Cabinet Members Barred over Wiretapping

Colombia’s Attorney General Alejandro Ordóñez issued sanctions on October 4 to ex-President Álvaro Uribe’s Personal Secretary Bernardo Moreno and eight other members of the former cabinet for their role in a domestic wiretapping scandal. Moreno was barred from holding public office for 18 years after being convicted of ordering the illegal wiretapping of Supreme Court magistrates, reports Semana.

Brazil and Venezuela Top Arms-purchasing List

Brazil ranked first among emerging-economy arms recipients for the value of arms transfers received in 2009, with Venezuela second, according to a Congressional Research Service Report. The report also found that, from 2006-2009, Russia supplied 47 percent of the value of arms deliveries to Latin America while the United States supplied 18 percent.

Telling the Story of Mexico’s Murdering Drug Lords

Writing in The New York Review of Books, renowned Mexican journalist Alma Guillermoprieto explores the work of reporters and academics covering Mexico’s drug war to help “place some of the better-known traffickers in their proper landscape.” She contends that Mexico is not a failed state but that, with so many officials on kingpins’ payrolls, “the question of who is in charge, who rules, who holds the power is vexing.”

Popularity Contest for Mexican Governors

A poll published by El Universal (and covered by Under the Volcano blog) explored the wide range in approval ratings for Mexican governors. Campeche Governor Ortega Bernés leads the pack with 86 percent approval while Oaxaca’s Ulises Ruíz, at the other end of the scale, holds a rate of around 22 percent. Many of the unpopular governors saw their parties held accountable in July 2010 gubernatorial elections. The poll found that the most common complaint against governors was an inability to combat crime.

Mexico Makes $1b Sale of Century Bonds

Bloomberg reports that, on October 5, Mexico sold $1 billion worth of bonds due to mature in 100 years with a yield of 6.1 percent, the longest maturing debt sold by a Latin American country. This is a sign of the Mexican economy’s strength “as growth expectations overshadow concerns about drug-related violence” and the IMF forecasts that Mexico’s economy will expand 4.5 percent this year.

Carlos Slim Earns $150m on NYT Loan

The New York Times will pay back the $250 million loan it received from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim last year. The company may be three years early in repayment, but Felix Salmon blogs for Reuters that Slim will still make a pretty penny and pull in somewhere between $150 million and $175 million from the loan. “And that doesn’t even include the strategic value of becoming the single-largest non-family shareholder of the New York Times Company,” writes Salmon.

Washington Says Sorry for 1940s Syphilis Testing of Guatemalans

U.S. President Barack Obama contacted Guatemalan counterpart Álvaro Colom on Friday to apologize for testing carried out in the 1940s by U.S. government scientists in which hundreds of Guatemalans were purposely infected with sexually transmitted diseases. Between 1946 and 1948, Guatemalan health authorities allowed the United States to infect about 1,500 unknowing prisoners, soldiers, and mental-asylum residents to test out new drugs. The program was a precursor to the Tuskegee syphilis study in which scientists denied treatment to African-American sharecroppers infected with the disease.

Bolivian Journalists Boycott Anti-racism Law

Journalists in 11 Bolivian cities protested October 1 a new law that imposes harsh penalties on those who report on opinions or acts considered racist. They argue that the law, introduced by President Evo Morales, restricts press freedoms and constitutes censorship.

Hispanics Support Dems, but Apathy Runs High

A new Pew Hispanic Center survey finds that 65 percent of Latino voters say they plan to support Democratic candidates in next month’s midterm vote. However, only 51 percent say they are certain to vote compared with the 70 percent of all registered voters.

FOX News Owner Favors Immigration Reform

Media billionaire Rupert Murdoch voiced his support for immigration reform in front of the U.S. Congress at a September 30 hearing, arguing that the “broken system of immigration is undermining our economy, slowing our recovery, and hurting millions of Americans.” Legislators and various publications were quick to point out the contradiction between Murdoch’s statements and Fox News’ stance on immigration.

Uruguay Experiencing Immigrant Influx

A BBC article spills the beans about the quality of life available in Uruguay. The country is seeing a positive influx of migration for the first time in 44 years. As Uruguayan director of consular affairs at the ministry of foreign affairs explains, “Uruguay is a politically stable country, it is one of the few Latin American countries that was not affected by the economic crisis, and investors see it as an attractive option.”

Brush up on Your Latin American Slang

Remezcla’s word of the day blog offers a collection of Spanish slang from Latin America and the Caribbean to bolster its readers’ street cred. Get vacano definitions for Cuba’s paragüero, Costa Rica’s tuanis, and Venezuela’s chimbo.

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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
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