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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Accusations Fly in Costa Rica-Nicaragua Dispute

Nicaragua fired the most recent salvo in the ongoing spat with its southern neighbor over a small piece of land on the San Juan River delta. The Organization of American States (OAS) overwhelmingly approved a resolution November 12 which reiterates OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza’s four recommendations and implicitly calls on Nicaragua to remove its troops from the disputed area. President Daniel Ortega responded on November 13 that he will not remove soldiers from the area, threatened to withdraw from the OAS, and said: “Drug traffickers direct Costa Rican foreign policy.” Nicaraguans took to the streets in support of the government’s decision. On Monday, Costa Rican Foreign Minister René Castro raised the possibility of calling a meeting of the OAS’ Commission of Foreign Ministers to discuss the dispute and apply further pressure on Ortega to follow the November 12 OAS resolution. Costa Rica’s La Nación argues that every new development “brings Costa Rica and Nicaragua further from dialogue.”

Read AS/COA Online coverage of the dispute.

As Outbreak Spreads, Haitian Cholera Protests Turn Violent

Haitians protesting official handling of the cholera outbreak turned violent Monday and Tuesday, leading to three deaths. Some officials believe the violence and looting were veiled attempts to destabilize the country ahead of the November 28 presidential and legislative elections. Meanwhile, the number of deaths from Haiti’s cholera outbreak has passed 1,000 with an additional 17,000 confirmed cases, at least 600 of those hospitalized in the capital of Port-au-Prince. The outbreak has also spread to the Dominican Republic. Despite the efforts of several dozen agencies and governments to provide information and medical supplies, the World Health Organization expects to need to treat 200,000 cases over the next six to 12 months.

Access AS/COA Online coverage of the outbreak and pending election.

Honduras: The Return of Mel?

The president of Honduras’ Truth Commission announced on November 16 that the body has nearly finalized an agreement for ex-President Manuel Zelaya to return to Honduras, reports El Heraldo. The Honduran military ousted Zelaya from the presidency on June 28 last year and he has lived in exile in the Dominican Republic since early 2010 to avoid state-issued arrest warrants.

Guatemalan Elites Question CICIG

The Hemispheric Brief blog takes a look at a recent wave of criticism against the UN-supported International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (known by its initials CICIG), emanating from the country’s political and economic leaders. Guatemala’s ex-vice president, who helped bring the commission to Guatemala to help increase effective prosecution of criminals, is “suggesting that the commission be placed under local political control for ‘overstepping its mandate’ and perhaps even operating ‘outside the law.’” But top officials in the CICIG, which has won praise for prosecuting criminals in a country plagued by impunity, rejects the criticisms. Associated Press quotes Editor Pedro Pablo Marroquín of Guatemalan newspaper La Hora, who says the CICIG “is touching people we never expected it to touch. And the problem is, we live in a society where some people are untouchable.”

Raúl Meets with Top Officials to Outline Econ Changes

The Miami Herald covers a Granma report about a meeting of over 500 Cuban Communist Party officials over the weekend to discuss economic shifts put forth by President Raúl Castro. The changes, designed to cut spending and rescue the island’s economy, will be debated at the first National Congress since 1997, to be held in April. The seminar held over the weekend sought to answer questions about layoffs and salary increases, but one of the hottest topics was the planned closing of state-owned businesses. Economic Minister Marino Murillo reportedly said: “The state cannot assume the costs of an enterprise that has lost money for 10 years.” Castro said the new policies are based on the ideas of his brother, Fidel.

Havana Releases First Non-exiled Prisoner

Cuba released the first of 13 dissidents on Saturday who had refused to take a deal requiring them to accept exile in exchange for freedom. So far, 39 other imprisoned dissidents have been released into exile as part of an agreement brokered with the Vatican.

East Asia Spends Twice what LatAm Does on Infrastructure

Economies is East Asia spend between 6 and 10 percent of GDP on infrastructure, compared with the 2 to 3 percent of GDP invested in Latin America, according to a World Bank economist. MercoPress reports that while “recently announced public works plans may fill some of this infrastructure gap,” many of them will have only a short-term effect on employment.

Help Wanted: Top U.S. Latino Leader

A recent poll by the Pew Hispanic Center asked Latinos living in the United States who the most important Latino leader in the country is. Of those surveryed, 64 percent said they didn’t know, while the next most common response was “no one.” U.S. Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor was both the most frequently named at seven percent and the most widely familiar to those polled.

Lame Duck DREAM Act Push Anticipated

U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi hopes to push the DREAM Act through Congress during the current lame duck period, according to Democrat sources. The DREAM Act would enable undocumented immigrant youth who came to the United States before age 16 a path to citizenship through armed service or college. With the recent Republican victories in midterm elections, this may be the last chance to get DREAM act legislation approved for a few years, according to Feet in 2 Worlds blog.

She may get help from the White House. On Tuesday, Hispanic legislators met with President Barack Obama to ask for his support for the bill.

CA Court, MA Governor Shift Immigration Laws

California’s Supreme Court upheld a law Monday that allows undocumented immigrants who graduated from state high schools to pay in-state college tuition—a $23,000-a-year savings. Critics argue that this reversal of the lower court’s decision conflicts with a federal ban on undocumented immigrants receiving residency-based college benefits. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is expected.

Meanwhile, on November 16 Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick promised to push a pro-immigrant agenda, which includes controversial measures such as in-state tuition at public colleges and driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. His pledge set off a “firestorm of criticism,” reports The Boston Globe, but drew widespread support from immigrants, who total nearly one million in Massachusetts.

U.S., Mexican Envoys Discuss 200 Years of Bilateral Ties

Last week, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual and Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan discussed a range of bilateral issues at a Council on Foreign Relations panel. Pascual said, “[O]f the things…for a new Congress to develop an appreciation for…is that Mexico is a partner, and that partnership has actually made both of us better off.”

On the other hand, NPR.org reports that “many Mexican politicians view the current drug war—which has claimed roughly 30,000 lives over the past four years—as one more curse foisted on Mexico by their rich neighbor to the north.”

Argentina Plans to Negotiate Paris Club Debt Repayment

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced on November 15 that “the Paris Club has agreed to negotiate Argentina’s debt without the intervention of the International Monetary Fund,” and that Argentina hopes to have the restructured debt paid off by 2011. A Standard & Poor’s Latin America director told Bloomberg that, if the Paris Club debt can be effectively resolved, “it will be very positive in terms of allowing Argentina to receive more funds from foreign direct investment.”

China, Argentina Revive Trade Relations

Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner met with Chinese Minister of Agriculture Han Changfu on November 15. The conversation focused on the opportunities for both countries with the sale of soybeans, corn, and beef to China. The meeting marked an official turning point in bilateral trade ties that only began to recover last month from the halt that Beijing placed on Argentine soybean oil imports early this year.

Taking the Pulse of Chile-Argentina Ties

In an interview with World Politics Review, AS/COA Senior Policy Director Chris Sabatini discusses relations between the two Southern Cone neighbors. The controversy over Argentina’s decision to grant asylum to Sergio Apablaza, an ex-guerilla from Chile, “opens up old ideological tensions within and between the countries.” But, notes Sabatini, “the issue is ultimately minor…and will have no lasting impact.”

33 Chilean Women Hole up in Mine, Demand Jobs

A group of 33 striking women have closed themselves up in an abandoned mine in southern Chile to mimic the conditions of the 33 miners trapped for nearly three months in the San José mine. Their demand? Jobs. The women were laid off by a Chilean agency dedicated to social assistance work. Along with “las 33”—as the women are being called—another 9,500 people were laid off in southern Chile.

Chile, Colombia, Peru Ready for Stock Market Integration

Bogota, Lima, and Santiago will initiate the first step of stock market integration on Monday November 22 by improving investor access between the three countries, which together accounted for market capitalization of $661 billion, reports Universia Knowledge@Wharton. “This integration will enable any citizen in these countries to invest in a particular market as easily as he or she does in their own country of origin,” says Jaime A. Retamal Smith, director of the MBA program of the Gabriela Mistral University in Chile. “In this context, one would expect that small investors, who previously were unable to find such diversification because of problems of scale, could now do so perfectly.”

Juan Manuel Santos: 100 Days in Office

La Silla Vacía offers a series of videotaped talks about Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ first 100 days in office. In chats moderated by Juanita León, analysts debate the degree to which Santos can be described as conducting a reformist agenda. Jenny Manrique also addresses the question in the Americas Quarterly blog, writing that one of the most notable changes under his leadership has been in the field of foreign policy; Santos improved ties with Ecuador and Venezuela and chose to visit Brazil rather than the United States in his first official visit abroad.

Venezuela Deports Guerillas to Colombia

Semana reports that the Venezuelan government deported one member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (better known as the FARC) and two members of the National Liberation Army to Colombia this week to be picked up by the Colombian National Police. This next step in building more amicable relations between the neighbors came just hours after Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that a narcotrafficker wanted in Venezuela will be extradited as soon as possible.

Colombia, U.S. Ink Open Skies Agreement

Bogota and Washington finalized an agreement last week to liberalize air traffic between the two countries by 2012. The accord will allow carriers more freedom to design routes and fares based on market forces, meaning airlines can establish flights from any airport in one country to any in the other without any restrictions.

After the Election: The Outlook for Brazil under Dilma

Financial Times carried an insert on November 15 about Brazil’s outlook after the election of Dilma Rousseff. It included articles arguing that Rousseff has impressed critics during since the election and in her creation of a transition team. However, she faces hurdles such as managing the coalition government, keeping inflation and interest rates in check, thinning out bloated government budgets, and ensuring sustainable growth for the next four years.

Brazil Looks to Improve Coffee Bean Quality

VOA News reports that with global demand for coffee soaring, Brazil’s coffee farmers are looking to up the quality of their beans to increase profits. Brazil accounts for production of half of the world’s coffee, according to one farmer interviewed who added: “Half of Brazil’s output is very low quality, but that is changing now.”

Cash Promises Go Unfulfilled for Ecuadoran Conservation Plan

Officially pitched in 2007, Ecuador’s Yasuni-ITT initiative asked for international funds to leave oil reserves untapped to conserve biodiversity in the country’s Amazon region. An IPS News report finds that the project drew cash promises but little follow through. The Spanish government has indicated it may contribute $1.3 million. However, “few financial resources have been donated to the project.” Chile is the only country to deliver, providing $100,000 out of the $1 million it pledged.

Mounties’ Mounting Troubles

The Economist’s Americas blog reports on problems plaguing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the famous Canadian national police force. The Mounties’ civilian commissioner William Elliot announced on November 4 a restructuring of the Mounties that reassigned 14 senior officers. Prime Minister Steven Harper appointed Elliot to the post in 2007 to fix the outfit, which a government report called “horribly broken” by its interference in the 2006 general-election and by accusations of corruption and nepotism.

Mayan Temples in Surround Sound

Acoustics expert David Lubman thinks that the ancient Mayan pyramids that cover much of Mexico and Central America “were essentially echo machines, built to inspire spiritual feelings.” He chaired a meeting held in Cancun on November 16 on the “archaeoacustics” of Mayan temples, which covered the physics of sound in Mayan temples, how some produce a chirp similar to the song of a quetzal bird, and a myriad of other acoustic purposes newly incorporated into archeological study. However, Maya scholar Lisa Lucero tells USAToday that, even though the ancient Maya likely took advantage of the acoustics for ceremonies, the pyramids “were not built to recreate birds sounds. That idea is for the birds.”

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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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