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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Colombia, Panama FTAs Get Republican Push

President Barack Obama has indicated he will send the South Korean trade pact to Congress for approval in the near future, but some legislators are pushing for free-trade agreements (FTAs) with Colombia and Panama to be sent along as well. Republican leaders from the House lunched with Obama on Wednesday, where they voiced support for all three pacts. Also on February 9, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk testified before the House Ways and Means Committee, where he indicated action on the Panama and Colombia FTAs would take place within a year but was “contingent on the successful resolution” of concerns over protections of labor rights. On the same day, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) addressed the Council of the Americas, where he cautioned: “Colombia and Panama are not waiting on us. This is the new reality in our hemisphere today that too many Americans don’t understand: Our neighbors are not dependent on us.” 

The House postponed a Tuesday vote on the Trade Adjustment Assistance program in a move that The Hill says would “provide Republicans with more leverage for the Obama administration to send all three pending free trade agreements” for Congressional approval.

The new issue of Americas Quarterly explores free trade and market access in the Americas, including Charticles on which Latin American countries support free trade and an analysis of congressional support for FTAs.

FARC Releases Hostage in Colombia

The Colombian guerrilla army known as the FARC handed over hostage Marcos Baquero to a group including delegates of the International Red Cross and ex-Senator Piedad Córdoba on Wednesday morning. Baquero, a councilman from the town of San José de Guaviare, had been held hostage for one year and seven months. Brazil offered two Cougar helicopters for the operation, and four Brazilian pilots and four mechanics participated in the rescue. The FARC has agreed to free another four hostages between the time of this report and Sunday. 

Arab-LatAm Summit Postponed Due to Egyptian Political Crisis

The Third Summit of South American and Arab Countries (ASPA) was postponed until mid- to late-April due to “social problems within the Arab region,” Peruvian Foreign Minister José Antonio García Belaunde said. The Peruvian government has suggested April 20 as the new date, which will have to be approved by the Arab League. 

Rousseff and Geithner Talk Jets and Currency

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner traveled to Brazil to meet with President Dilma Rousseff on Monday, where the two discussed Brazil’s interest in purchasing three-dozen fighter jets from Boeing. Rousseff’s predecessor had lined up a deal to buy 36 Rafale jets from France, but Rousseff has delayed the deal. Geithner, in turn, sought Brazil’s support on pressuring China to let its currency appreciate. His trip also laid the foundations for a trip by President Barack Obama planned for next month.

Worst Drought in a Century Hits Brazilian Amazon

The drought suffered by Brazil’s Amazon last year was the worst it has seen for a century, according to a study published by Science and reported on by Spanish daily El País. At the same time, the region may face damage from torrential rains in March and April, which occurred following a similar drought in 2005. GlobalPost also points out that the Belo Monte dam is located in a place where water may become increasingly scarce, based on the same Science article. 

Brazil Gives Go Ahead for Massive Amazon Dam

Universia Knowledge@Wharton writes about the legal challenges to the Brazilian government’s plan to build the massive Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the northern Amazonian state of Para. The dam is expected to create 41,000 jobs and provide energy security for the state, but has been held up in courts due to concerns the project will have severe negative consequences such as flooding and environmental degredation.

Rio’s Sambadrome Catches Fire

With less than a month to go before Brazil’s Carnival, Rio de Janeiro’s Sambadrome caught fire, severely damaging floats and costumes that samba schools spend months preparing. Brazilian media group O Globo published a photo essay on its website of images taken by readers.

Climate Change May Not Increase Global Migration

British think tank International Institute for Environment and Development said a recent study “found no evidence that environmental degradation linked to climate change would result in large flows of international migrants.” In three cases studies, including one on Bolivia, researchers found that climate change prompted people to migrate to other areas within their own country—often temporarily—rather than crossing borders.

Chilean Foreign Minister Makes Historic Visit to La Paz

Bolivia received on Monday the Chilean foreign minister for the first time in 60 years, with a 13-point bilateral agenda scheduled for discussion. The continuing issue of Bolivia’s access to the sea was raised, but Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno said that a plan to establish a Bolivian sea-side enclave in Chile “was not in Chile’s best interest.”

2014 Presidential Bid for Uruguay’s Ex-Prez Vázquez?

Former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez stepped into his country’s political limelight on Friday, calling for party “unity” and “intelligence” during his center-left coalition’s fortieth birthday celebrations. The former president’s recent public pronouncements have created speculation that Vázquez is paving the way for a 2014 presidential bid.

12 Years in, Chávez Agenda Fares Poorly in New Poll

After 12 years in power—and ready to run for six more—Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s popularity appears to be declining, according to poll by Consultores 21. Venezuelan blog Caracas Chronicles said it was a “calamity for Chávez” that 61 percent of respondents disagreed with the statement “the country that Chávez wants is the one that I want,” up from 49 percent in June of 2007. 

Haiti’s Aristide Approved for Passport

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s ousted former president, has been issued a diplomatic passport by outgoing-President René Préval’s administration. Aristide has been exiled in South Africa for seven years, but still commands a sizeable support base in his home country. Haiti continues to experience turmoil following hotly contested election results and drifting recovery efforts.

Préval Announces a Further Three Months in Office

Haitian President René Préval announced he would extend his time in office by three months in response to ongoing political turbulence that has left Haiti without a clear winner of last year’s presidential elections. Préval, due to step down February 7, will stay in power until May 14, by which time it’s hoped the country will have a new president. Protests sprung up across Haiti in response to the announcement, with demonstrators demanding Préval step down immediately.

IACHR Opposes U.S. Deportations of Haitians

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights urged the United States to suspend deportations of undocumented Haitians who are seriously ill or who have family members in the United States. The Commission said deportation could jeopardize lives as detention centers in Haiti are currently overcrowded and unsanitary. Wildrick Guerrier, one of the first detainees deported to Haiti since the Jan. 12 earthquake, died last month after suffering from cholera-like symptoms. Over 100 Haitians have been deported so far from the New York area alone, reports Albor Ruiz of the Daily News.

U.S. Contractor Jailed in Cuba Could Face 20 Years

The Cuban government finally announced a formal charge against Alan Gross, a USAID contractor jailed on the island for over a year under charges of spying. Communist Party daily Granma published a note saying prosecutors will seek a 20-year sentence against Gross for allegedly committing: “Acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state.” Some speculate that the Castro government intends to seek an exchange for five Cuban intelligence agents jailed in the United States, but State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the U.S. government will not negotiate with Cuba for Gross’ release. 

New Mexico Immigration Law Takes Arizona Approach

An executive order signed last week by the Governor of New Mexico Susan Martinez gives police the right to question the immigration status of those they arrest, the New Mexico Daily Lobo reports. A dozen legislators held a press conference to voice their opposition to the law, which they compared to Arizona’s SB 1070.

Mexican Exporters Worried over Rise of the “Super Peso”

Like other fast-growing emerging economies, Mexico has seen its currency’s value quickly rise over the last 12 months due to inflows of speculative “hot money.” However, unlike many of its counterparts, the government has stated it will not intervene to reduce the peso’s value. Mexican exporters are seeing slimmer profit margins, but the economy sees no sign of slowing down, reports The New York Times.

Funes Wants to Focus on Poverty Alleviation with Obama

Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes said that the struggle against poverty will be the focal point of his meeting with President Obama, scheduled for March 22 and 23. Funes also said that he hopes to advance the Bridge Initiative, a program that would use remittance flows to help finance infrastructure and business development projects. 

Costa Rican Artifacts Headed Home

The Brooklyn Museum has offered to return most of its 5,000-piece collection of pre-Colombian artifacts brought to the United States by railroad and fruit mogul Minor Keith. The National Museum in Costa Rica expects the first shipment to arrive some time next month.

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