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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Haitian Presidential Election Outcome Sparks Riots

Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council announced late Tuesday a runoff would be needed to choose between two presidential candidates, former first lady Mirlande Manigat and Jude Célestin, outgoing President Réne Préval’s handpicked successor. Célestin narrowly edged out Michel Martelly to finish second in a vote that took place November 28 and was seen by many critics as tainted by fraud. After the results were announced, Martelly’s supporters took to the streets across the country in violent protest, denouncing the election results as fraudulent.

UN Troops Linked to Haitian Cholera Outbreak

A report penned by French epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux and obtained by the Associated Press linked Nepalese peacekeepers to the cholera outbreak in Haiti. “No other hypothesis could be found to explain the outbreak of a cholera epidemic in this village…not affected by the earthquake earlier this year and located dozens of kilometers from the coast and (tent) camps,” wrote Piarroux.

The epidemic has resulted in over 91,000 hospital visits, 43,000 hospitalizations, and 2,071 deaths.

Chávez’s Party Claims Eight Posts in Election, Loses Maracaibo

Venezuelans went to the voting booths on December 5 to elect 11 mayors and two state governors in an election that, according to Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, was unmarred by fraud. Opposition candidate Evelyn Rosales, wife of the former presidential candidate who was forced to flee to Peru in 2009, Manuel Rosales, won the mayoralty of Maracaibo, capital of the oil-producing state of Zulia. Seven mayoral positions and one governorship went to President Hugo Chávez’s National Socialist Party and the remainder fell to the opposition’s Democratic Unity Table alliance.

AS/COA will host a breakfast on December 13 with Leopoldo López, a prominent opposition politician from Venezuela. The event will also be available via live webcast.

Charting Venezuelan Nationalization

Caracas’ El Universal features an online report on nationalization in Venezuela, including a timeline of expropriations since 2007.

Landslides Hit Colombia, Venezuela

Torrential rains in Venezuela have caused landslides both there and in neighboring Colombia, leaving almost 1.5 million people homeless. The flooding is just the latest episode in an ongoing saga, with heavy downpours pummeling both countries since March, says ColombiaReports. La Silla Vacía ponders whether Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ declaration of emergency “will be his Katrina or his miner rescue.”

Waiting for DREAM Act Vote

Both congressional houses are poised to vote on the DREAM Act on December 8, which would create a path to citizenship through armed service or college for undocumented immigrant youth who came to the United States before age 16. The White House has thrown its weight behind the act, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) amended it to decrease its costs to taxpayers to win over Republicans. The Congressional Budget Office said that, as modified, “the DREAM Act would result in revenues of $2.3 billion annually,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Nonetheless, the bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Republicans have reaffirmed their pledge to filibuster the vote.

Hispanic Market Thrives

MSNBC.com reports that, even through difficult economic times, the U.S. Hispanic population is thriving. The article says that the 46 million U.S. Latinos represent $1 trillion in buying power, a figure expected to grow by almost a half in the next four years. “For decades, businesses and cultural institutions could afford to ignore the Hispanic market,” says the report. “Now, they are chasing it aggressively, because that’s where the money is.”

Dilma Announces Top Cabinet Members

Brazilian President-elect Dilma Rousseff announced Friday three members of her coalition cabinet: Antonio Palocci, a physician who resigned as President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s finance minister in 2006 amid corruption scandals, for chief of staff; Jose Eduardo Cardoso as justice minister; and Gulberto Carvalho as the president’s general secretary. MercoPress reports that the remaining appointments were held up by disagreements within the coalition government as the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party seeks more posts.

Brazil’s President-elect Talks Presidential Plans

In a December 2 interview with The Washington Post, Brazil’s President-elect Dilma Rousseff discussed plans for her time in office. Subjects covered included Brasilia’s stance on Iran at the UN, how best to grow the Brazilian economy, and how her administration will navigate relations with the United States. On this, Rousseff said she was “planning to visit President [Barack] Obama in the very first days after my inauguration.”

Read AS/COA Online coverage of Rousseff’s electoral victory.

Difficulties Ahead for Brazilian FinMin

A piece in Roubini Economonitor argues that Brazil’s Finance Minister Guido Mantega may encounter difficulties trying to overcome hurdles put up by financial policies currently in place. The piece offers suggestions for how to push back the real’s appreciation and improve fiscal account credibility without creating bureaucratic inefficiencies or hurting growth. “There is a declaration which, by itself, would constitute a great contribution: accounting tricks will no longer be used to produce illusory fiscal results,” argues Associate Professor at PUC-Rio Márcio Garcia.

Brazil Tops Climate Protection Index

A new report released by Germanwatch and Climate Action Network Europe ranked Brazil at the top of a survey on climate protection, recognizing its efforts to rein in deforestation. Canada took the bottom spot.

U.S. and Brazil Eye Open-skies Agreement

An agreement to liberalize commercial flights between Brazil and the United States targets 2015 for the elimination of all restrictions. Though still awaiting approval, both countries have said that ratification is a priority.

Mexican Senate Approves Antitrust Legislation

Lawmakers in the Mexican Senate approved on December 7 legislation to strengthen the Federal Competition Commission in hopes of fighting monopolies. However, before approving the bill Senators weakened it “so that fines only apply to the division or service that a company may have used to violate regulations, rather than applying to total income,” reports Bloomberg.

Mexico Greens Light Bulbs

Speaking at the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, President Felipe Calderón announced that by 2014 all of Mexico will switch to energy-saving light bulbs. Calderón hopes that the measure, which includes giving four low-consumption bulbs to every household in the country, will eventually cut emissions by close to 1,000,000 tons per year.

Mayor of Mexico City Wins World Mayor Prize

The Germany-based World Mayor Project awarded Mexico City’s Marcelo Ebrard with its 2010 World Mayor Prize for his “long-lasting contribution to [his] community” and for his successful environmental efforts. Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of Caracas, came in sixth.

Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru Launch Pacific Pact

La Tercera reports that a meeting between the presidents of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru yielded an agreement to create an alliance for trade and development, which will facilitate coordination on infrastructure, energy, human trafficking, and taxation strategies. A 90-day time limit was agreed on to produce the formal document.

Prison Fire Claims 83 Lives in Chile

An early morning fight between inmates in a Santiago jail led to a December 8 blaze that killed 83 people. The San Miguel jail held 1,900 prisoners in a space built for 1,100 and has pushed prison reform higher on the Piñera administration’s agenda. “Our prison system is a disgrace,” said President Sebastian Piñera, who visited the facility.

Costa Rica-Nicaragua Dispute Simmers

In an interview during last weekend’s Ibero-American summit, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla stated that Nicaragua had become one of Costa Rica’s “enemies” following her country’s border dispute with Managua. Bilateral relations continue to deteriorate following the closure of the Costa Rican embassy in Managua on December 6. The Organization of American States held a meeting of foreign affairs ministers on December 7, attended only by the Costa Rican representative René Castro and the Guayanese chancellor Caroline Rodríguez-Birkett. The meeting produced a resolution noting that Nicaragua’s efforts to open a canal cross Costa Rican territory.

El Salvador’s Public Disclosure Act

El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly approved on December 2 a long-debated law that requires state institutions to provide access to information listed as “public” under the new law’s classification, reports the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

Evo Pursues Japanese Investment

Bolivian President Evo Morales headed to Japan December 7 to work out an agreement on coordinated development of lithium reserves and to sign energy-financing agreements.

South Africa Builds Cuban Connection

Africa’s largest economy cancelled on December 7 roughly $137 million in debt owed by Cuba,  with South African President Jacob Zuma announcing $30 million in new capital to “insure South African suppliers for exports to Cuba.”

Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay Recognize Palestinian State

On Friday Brazil announced formal recognition of a “free and independent” Palestine with 1967 borders. Argentina and Uruguay followed suit on Monday. The Argentine Foreign Ministry said that the move “was designed to help definitively advance the negotiation process that will lead to the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East,” reports The Jerusalem Post. Over 100 countries have endorsed an independent Palestinian state since 1988.

Uruguayan Approval Gives UNASUR “Legal Effectiveness”

Last week the Uruguayan senate approved the country’s membership in the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), making it the ninth country to formally join. This ratification gives UNASUR enough members for its charter to gain “full legal effectiveness,” reports Agencia Pública de Notícias del Ecuador y Suramérica.

Delegates at the UNASUR meeting held in Guyana on December 3 failed to elect a new secretary general to replace Néstor Kirchner, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack on October 27.

Republican House May Burn Bridges with Latin America

In an opinion piece for Foreign Policy’s Argument blog, Venezuela’s ambassador to the U.S. Bernardo Álvarez Herrera discusses the consequences of recent U.S. midterms elections. Florida Republicans will likely take over the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. “Both lawmakers are throwback Latin American cold warriors, catering to their Cuban-American constituents with belligerent policies toward any neighboring government that seeks independence from U.S. influence,” writes Herrera. “Needless to say, what’s satisfying for this narrow segment of Floridians won’t be in the United States’ greater national interest.”

Nuclear Energy in the Americas

CFR.org offers an interactive multimedia guide to nuclear energy, which includes a map showing that within Latin America only Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico have nuclear power plants. No countries in the region plan to acquire nuclear power in the near term, although the map shows Chile, Ecuador, and Venezuela as having long-term ambitions. Only Brazil has major uranium deposits and also commercial enrichment or processing of the nuclear fuel.

“Sensational” Incan Stones Uncovered

British archaeologists in the Peruvian Andes unearthed three Incan “ancestor stones,” some of the most sacred religious objects for the Andean empire. Experts thought the stones, recorded by Spaniards in the sixteenth century, had not survived. Incans believed the stones formed a link between ancestors in the underworld and gods in the heavens. When archaeologists made the find, they “danced a little jig on top of the mountain” to commemorate the monumental discovery, reports the Guardian.

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