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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Sec Clinton Pushes OAS Recommendations in Haiti

On an official visit to Haiti, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated U.S. support for the OAS recommendation to remove Jude Célestin—the governing party’s pick—from the second round of presidential elections. Clinton said she would discuss with Haitian leaders how to move forward with the delayed runoff election, and she denied rumors that the U.S. would suspend aid to Haiti if the government did not follow the OAS recommendation. 

Last week, the Haitian government set March 20 as the date for the runoff election. 

Haiti to Issue Passport to Aristide

The Haitian government agreed to issue ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide a diplomatic passport, his lawyer Ira Kurzban said Monday. Haitian President René Préval has refused to approve Aristide’s passport requests for years, but General Secretary for the Presidency Fritz Longchamp told Reuters that Préval and the Council of Ministers decided to change their position. Aristide’s party, the Fanmi Lavalas, is the largest in the country but is banned by electoral authorities.

Haitians Question Role of NGOs

The nongovernmental organizations that have flocked to Haiti by the hundreds continue to face scrutiny from the country’s leaders, according to a feature report in The Washington Post. Even the groups themselves have criticized the high turnover and lack of coordination and transparency that has characterized charitable groups operating in Haiti, the report says. Foreign donors continue to prefer donating to NGOs rather than the government, however, due to Haiti’s reputation for corruption.

Feeling Egyptian in Latin America

Global Voices aggregates opinions from various blogs and newspapers about whether protests in Egypt could spark uprisings in Latin America. Bloggings by Boz suggests that “democracy is the expectation rather than the exception” in Latin America while Central American Politics suggests Bolivia and Ecuador would be the countries most likely to face protests. Two Weeks Notice compares and contrasts Egypt with Nicaragua.

How LatAm Economies Bounced Back Fast

Economist Eduardo Levy Yeyati of University Torcuato Di Tello discusses emerging economies with the International Relations and Security Network in a podcast. Levy explains that Latin American countries bounced back from the economic crisis that began in 2008 in part because they tended to reduce their dependence on external debt over the last decade and used the surpluses of the pre-crisis years to create a cushion. “In a way, they saved for a rainy day,” Levy said. South American markets look more promising than those of Central America and Mexico because increases in commodity prices tend to reward the former group while punishing the latter. The main macroeconomic challenge the region faces, according to Levy, is “how to administer investor interest to ensure a more balanced growth pattern.”

China’s Growing Latin American Role

In an article for Current History, COA’s Eric Farnsworth writes about China’s burgeoning role in twenty-first century Latin America, describing why Beijing is an attractive partner. “China promises only a commercial relationship without political or policy interference,” he writes. But the nature of these ties also has side-effects: “The ability to promote labor and environmental protections, human rights, and the rule of law is being commensurately reduced.”

Brazil and China: Too Close for Comfort?

Financial Times expects trade tensions between Brazil and China to increase as the two economies become increasingly intertwined. Beijing’s foreign direct investment in Brazil skyrocketed from less than $300 million in 2009 to $17 billion last year, according to Brazilian think tank Sobeet. But cheap Chinese imports are also flooding Brazil, undermining local manufacturers, and Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega has called for a revaluation of the renminbi as his country’s currency continues to gain strength. 

Read an AS/COA Online analysis about Brazil’s fears over cheap Chinese imports.

Rousseff and Fernández de Kirchner Meet in Buenos Aires

President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil met her Argentina counterpart Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Buenos Aires, where they signed more than 12 agreements to increase economic integration. Rousseff promised to allow Argentine businesses to participate in works related to preparations for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, both in Rio de Janeiro. She also invited Argentine companies to help explore and drill for oil in the pre-salt basin off Brazil’s southeastern coast. Both presidents said they would work together to reduce Argentina’s $4 billion trade deficit with Brazil, though Rousseff said just before her trip that she could not rule out a devaluation of the real in the future. The trip marked the Brazilian president’s first official trip abroad since her January inauguration.

Brazil’s FinMin Calls IMF Report “Stupid”

The National Treasury in Brazil released its annual debt report for 2010 and its projections for 2011. Brazil closed 2010 with a deficit of $1.69 trillion and estimates to finish 2011 with a public debt of between $1.8 and 1.93 trillion

But Brazil’s Finance Minister Guido Mantega says Brazil is on a path to meet fiscal goals this year and projects that net debt will fall from 41 percent of GDP in 2010 to 38 percent this year. Last week the International Monetary Fund criticized Brazil’s fiscal situation, saying that the country is expected to miss its 2011 budget targets. Mantega countered by saying: “I think the managing director of the IMF must have gone on vacation and some orthodox old men of the IMF got distracted and wrote this stupid thing about Brazil.”

Chilean Copper Law Faces Challenges

Management of Chile’s copper revenues could pass from the military to the Treasury Ministry, officials announced last week. A Pinochet-era law mandates that 10 percent of the revenues from state copper company Codelco go to the military. The president of Chile’s House of Deputies Alejandra Sepúlveda called Thursday for the reform or revocation of the controversial law. 

Courts Order Investigation into Allende’s Death

Chilean courts have ordered the first official investigation to assess whether former President Salvador Allende was killed or committed suicide. Allende was found dead in La Moneda, Chile’s presidential palace, during the coup led by Augusto Pinochet on September 11, 1973. The court’s decision resulted from a group of 726 lawsuits for cases of human rights abuses committed during the Pinochet dictatorship. 

Argentina Sees Alarming Increase in Female Incinerations

The Latin Americanist blog reports on an increase in the number of Argentine women killed through incineration. Eleven of the 260 women and girls killed last year were burned to death and, last week alone, incineration claimed the lives of three women. One NGO is seeking to recognize femicide as a separate criminal offense to fight violence against women.

Suriname and Paraguay Recognize Palestinian State

President of Suriname Desi Bouterse sent letters to the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations expressing his country’s support for a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders. Paraguay also announced that it will recognize an independent Palestinian state within the next few months. All but two countries of South America—Colombia and Guyana—have said they will recognize the Palestinian state.

Poll Figures Show Toledo Ahead in Tight Peruvian Race

Poll figures released Monday by Peru’s La Republica show Alejandro Toledo increasing his lead, with 30.7 percent of voter intention. At this time, his lead does not indicate he could avoid a runoff when the presidential vote takes place in April. Former Lima Mayor Luis Castañeda polls at 21.3 percent while Keiko Fujimori—daughter of imprisoned ex-President Alberto Fujimori—polls at 20.3 percent. A presidential debate will take place on March 13.

Santos Discusses Uribe and Chávez with BBC

In an interview with the BBC, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he would accept it if the country’s courts investigated his predecessor Álvaro Uribe for playing a role in illegal spying and other activities committed by the intelligence service. Santos also said Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is fulfilling his promise to keep the FARC from operating in his country. 

SecClinton Talks Bilateral Ties with Colombian VP

Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week. Clinton reaffirmed the U.S. government’s partnership with Colombia and said the U.S. will sponsor a second round of High Level Partnership Dialogue with Colombia in March to discuss a broad range of issues “from sustainable energy to human rights.” Clinton also reiterated President Obama’s commitment to “a successful conclusion and ratification of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Agreement.” The Wilson Center in Washington also posted a video of a discussion with Garzón that took place Wednesday. 

Access Americas Quarterly’s new issue on free trade and market access.

PRD Coalition Candidate Wins Guerrero Gubernatorial Race

Ángel Aguire Rivera won the gubernatorial race January 30 in Mexican state of Guerrero, thanks in part to the backing of a coalition led by the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution and as a result of the National Action Party candidate withdrawing from the race days before the vote. The election marked the first of six Mexican gubernatorial elections in 2011, which are being viewed as weathervanes for which way the wind may blow during the 2012 presidential vote, as the Wilson Center’s Katie Putnam explores. Aguire won 14 percent of the vote over the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, whose candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, is considered the presidential frontrunner.

Surveying CentralAm Migrants in the U.S.

A January briefing by Migration Information Source provides an overview of how many Central American immigrants reside in the United States, where they live, and demographic and socioeconomic data. As of 2009, 2.9 million Central American immigrants lived in the United States with El Salvador and Guatemala accounting for two-thirds of this population. 

Central American Leaders Team up to Fight Cartels

The governments of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador will work together to develop “special combined forces” to take on drug cartels that have recently moved into the region from Mexico, Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom said last week. The details of the security agreement have yet to be announced. The Economist recently reported that the three countries are among the world’s most violent.

New Nicaraguan Map Riles Costa Rica

Nicaragua released a “school version” of a map that shows the contested areas of Isla Calero and Harbor Head as falling within Nicaraguan territory, report Costa Rican sources. In November, Costa Rica elevated a case filed with the International Court of Justice against Nicaragua that calls on Managua to cease dredging of the San Juan River and remove troops from the disputed territory dubbed Isla Calero.

Zelaya Teamed up with Washington on Cuba?

A State Department cable made public by WikiLeaks indicates that ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya helped convince ALBA bloc countries to accept the U.S. text of a resolution permitting Cuba to reapply for membership to the Organization of American States if the Castro government agreed to abide by the group’s guiding principles. Zelaya denied working with the United States in a statement Monday, calling his position in the negotiations “a totally Honduran initiative.”

Cuban Courts Sentence Hospital Workers

The director of a Havana psychiatric hospital where 26 people died last year of hunger and hypothermia was sentenced to 15 years in prison Monday. Twelve others received sentences of between five and 14 years, after the court found them guilty of crimes including neglect and pilfering public goods. Critics of the Castro government say the case shows cracks in the Cuban healthcare system, which is trumpeted as one of the Communist government’s greatest achievements.

Immigration Status Plays No Role in Settlement of TX Case

Houston Chronicle reports that a Houston Court of Appeals rejected the argument that the family of Salvadoran immigrant who died on the job should have received a reduced settlement because he was undocumented. The waste services company contended that the 21-year-old would have faced deportation and, thus, that his family should have a settlement in line with wage levels in El Salvador rather than in the United States. The family was awarded $1.4 million in the wrongful death suit. “We believe this is a landmark decision because if undocumented workers are working and they get injured or killed, they deserve the same rights as anyone else,” the family’s attorney told the newspaper. 

Pursuing Happiness Could Become a Brazilian Right

The Associated Press reports on a proposed constitutional amendment in Brazil that would guarantee the right to seek happiness. Advocates say the amendment would provoke discussion about how to address social inequality. But critics say “Brazil’s democracy has moved beyond the need for such gimmicks since the end of the 1964-85 military dictatorship.”

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