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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Mercosur Rejects Honduran Elections, Stalls on Other Matters

Leaders of the Mercosur countries—Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay—along with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez gathered for a two-day presidential summit in Montevideo. They rejected Honduras’ November 29 elections, saying the elections took place in an illegal context. The presidents also agreed to move forward on free-trade negotiations with the EU but made little headway on their external tariff code, infrastructure projects for smaller countries, or a mechanism for the body’s Parliament to approve legislation. Leaders from the bloc also said they expect Venezuela to become a full member of Mercosur, pending approval by Brazil’s Senate and Paraguay’s Congress. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said he expected his country’s Senate to approve Venezuela’s accession as early as December 9.

Latin Americans Worry over Climate Change

With Copenhagen climate change talks underway, a BBC and Globescan poll found that global warming concerns most Latin Americans. Eighty-six percent of Brazilians and Chileans, 83 percent of Costa Ricans, 81 percent of Mexicans, and 72 percent of Panamanians thought it was a “serious problem.” But far fewer believed their government should play a leadership role in setting targets to address the issue. For example, only 53 percent of Brazilians and 25 percent of Panamanians answered affirmatively. This news comes as Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva pushes for international agreements to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent compared to 1990 levels.

The Fall 2009 issue of Americas Quarterly explores environmental priorities for the Western Hemisphere.

Chile Gears Up for Presidential Elections

As presidential campaigns wind down ahead of the December 13 elections in Chile, Sebastián Piñera polls ahead of his rivals at 44 percent. In an expected January runoff he will likely face the Concertación candidate, former President Eduardo Frei. But independent contender Marco Enríquez-Ominami could give Frei and Piñera a run for their money. In a Poder360 video commentary, New York University Professor and political analyst Patricio Navia says that Enríquez-Ominami would pose a bigger challenge to Piñera in the runoff.

Morales Wins in Bolivia, Touches on Future Reelection

President Evo Morales says he is not considering running for a third-term after a landslide victory in Sunday’s election that will also give his party control of the country’s Senate. However, Morales said the move would be permitted, given that the country’s new constitution won approval in January. “If we talk of the new constitution…this is the first election of Evo Morales,” he said.

Read an AS/COA analysis of the December 6 election in which several Bolivian departments voted for autonomy.

Venezuelan, Colombian Ambassadors Voice Opinions on Bilateral Tensions

In a December 8 ForeignPolicy.com article, the Venezuelan and Colombian ambassadors to the United States give each of their perspectives on tensions between their countries since the October 30 signing of a U.S.-Colombia military deal. In opposition to the military pact, Venezuelan Ambassador Bernadro Alvarez Herrera writes: “This agreement’s vague provisions and questionable motivations threaten regional stability and territorial sovereignty, alter the region’s military balance, and threaten to push more of the violence and drug trafficking that is endemic to Colombia’s conflict across its borders.” Colombian Ambassador Carolina Barco counters: “The agreement builds upon decades of cooperation in fighting terrorists and criminal and drug cartels, a common objective of all countries in the hemisphere and also one in which Colombia and the United States have a long history of cooperation.”

Stimulus Boosts Lula’s Approval Rating, Not His Party’s

A recent Ibope poll cited in Reuters found that Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s approval rating jumped to 83 percent after stimulus measures pulled Brazil out of the recession earlier this year. But the high ratings don’t necessarily help his party: While 92 percent of those polled said they had positive expectations for next year, only 17 percent said they would vote for Lula’s chosen candidate, Chief-of-Staff Dilma Rousseff, in October 2010 elections.

Rio Expects Olympic-sized Real Estate Boom

The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will likely boost Brazil’s real estate market, which already benefits from a lower interest rate, a rising middle class, and new public housing projects. Property prices in and near Rio will increase by 50 percent over the next seven years, predicts Anita Kon, professor of economics at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo. Commercial real estate prices are forecasted to be higher, reports Knowledge@Wharton.

Mexico’s Finance Secretary Tapped to Head Central Bank

President Felipe Calderón announced Wednesday that he has appointed Finance Secretary Agustín Carstens to replace Guillermo Ortiz as head of Mexico’s Central Bank. Ernesto Cordero Arroyo, currently secretary of social development, was chosen to succeed Carstens as finance secretary.

Central American, Mexican Remittances Plummet

As the global economic crisis hits immigrant workers in the United States, remittances are expected to fall by $1 billion this year in Central America. The outlook is even bleaker for Mexico, where remittances suffered a year-on-year drop of 35.8 percent in October. The Mexican Central Bank described this decrease—double the forecasted figure—as the largest since it began recording remittance rates in 1995. Remittances serve as Mexico’s second biggest source of hard currency.

Investment Grade Expected for Panama

Latin Business Chronicle republished commentary by Bulltick strategist Kathryn G. Rooney in which she predicts that at least two rating agencies will likely raise Panama’s investment grade rating over the course of the next year. The Central American country’s GDP growth should clock in at 3.2 percent for 2009, making it the highest in Latin America, said Rooney.

Funes Rejects El Salvador’s ALBA Incorporation

El Salvador’s highly popular president, Mauricio Funes, said El Salvador will not join the Bolivarian Alliance for Latin America (ALBA), a body founded by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez. “We are not joining ALBA nor are we considering it,” said Funes after his vice president said during a trip to Cuba that the Central American country was analyzing the possibility of entry into ALBA.

$343 Billion Price Tag for Salvadoran Flood

El Salvador faces recovery costs of $343 million for damages resulting from floods and mudslides that devastated much of the country and left 199 dead. While $135 million of this total stem from damage to infrastructure and homes, the remaining losses were tied to economic disruptions. Recovery costs include investment in prevention and planning, which an official from the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean says can reduce future economic losses.

All Action, No Life Stories in Coverage of Latino Communities

A new Pew Hispanic Center study finds that media coverage of Hispanics in the United States is mostly event-driven without incorporating the “life and times” of Latinos. Using a sample of more than 34,000 news stories from February to August 2009, the report found that nearly 40 percent of Hispanic coverage was about Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination while 15 percent was about the Mexican drug war. Only 57 stories focused directly on the lives of Hispanics in the United States.

Illegal Immigration’s Limited Economic Impact

A new report by the Migration Policy Institute finds that employers and unauthorized workers benefit while low-skilled native workers shoulder a burden in the form of “slightly depressed wages.” Illegal immigrants’ overall impact on the U.S. economy is negligible, which the author says makes U.S. spending on border enforcement hard to justify.

Guatemalan Colonel Convicted for Civil War Abuses

Last week, a Guatemalan court sentenced a retired colonel to 53 years in prison for his role in the disappearance of eight indigenous Guatemalans during the country’s 36-year civil war that claimed 200,000 lives. Three of his subordinates were also sentenced in what represents the country’s first conviction of a high-ranking military official for human rights violations during the war. President Álvaro Colom praised the convictions as a “landmark” that testified to recent social and political changes in the country.

Top Anti-drug Official Gunned down in Honduras

Two unidentified gunmen killed Honduras’ top anti-drug official, General Julian González, while he was driving his car on December 8. Officials indicated organized crime was likely the cause. Some observers say the country’s recent political crisis creates an atmosphere that fosters criminal activity.

Merida Initiative Dollars Left Unspent

More than $1 billion in U.S. funds allocated to help Mexico and Central American countries to combat drug trafficking and crime this year have not been delivered, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Washington set aside $1.4 billion for the Merida Initiative, but only $26 million has been expensed. The report blames red tape for the delay. U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual says expenditures have already grown since the report’s completion. “[W]hat you’ll see over the course of the next year and a half is a radical change in the pace of the implementation,” said the ambassador.

Peru “Close” to Chinese Military Purchase

Lima is testing out Chinese tanks for purchase and five MBT-2000s participated in a December 8 military parade in the capital yesterday. The tanks would replace Soviet tanks purchased in the 1960s and 1970s.

Low Human Rights Marks for Latin American Policing

A series of reports released in the past week raise human rights concerns about security and police forces in specific Latin American countries. On Sunday, Venezuela’s interior minister revealed that corrupt policemen perpetrate as many as 20 percent of the crimes in that country. A December 8 Amnesty International study finds that complaints about mistreatment at the hands of the Mexican military spiked in the past year and a half. Abuses include disappearances, torture, and arbitrary detention. Also released Tuesday, a Human Rights Watch report says that Rio and São Paulo police have killed over 11,000 people since 2003. The study finds that, while some of these actions “are legitimate acts of self-defense, many others are extrajudicial executions.”

NPR reports on a Rio favela where authorities are giving community policing a try in hopes of building confidence in the police and reducing crime.

Solar Energy Powers Argentina’s Puna Region

Tierramérica examines pioneering “solar villages” in Argentina’s Puna, the Andean high plains. The Puna’s residents use solar energy instead of increasingly scarce firewood to power their kitchens, heaters, and hot-water tanks. Four hundred solar energy units have been set up in 30 towns across the Puna, and studies by the EcoAndina Foundation indicate that one solar oven cuts down household firewood consumption by 50 to 70 percent, enabling residents to reduce their dependence on carbon-releasing fossil fuels.

Tags: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, energy, Guatemala, Honduras, Human Rights, Immigration, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Venezuela
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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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