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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Women Play Greater Role in Latin American Politics

With three women serving as Latin American heads of state and increasing representation within government ministries, women have made major political gains in recent years, according to a new study by the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Not all of the news is good, however. While four countries—Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Nicaragua—have achieved gender parity at the cabinet level, women remain underrepresented in the lower chambers of national legislatures and receive much less media coverage for their electoral campaigns than men.

Rise of Female Labor Force in the Latin American Context

Roubini.com’s Latin America Economonitor reports that, as this week’s marks 100 years since the first International Women’s Day, women are playing an important part in Latin America’s economic growth, with female participation rising from 35 percent in 1980 to 57 percent in 2009. Natalie Picarelli notes that women are also making advances in fields outside those they’ve traditionally dominated (such as education and health). The analysis found that gender gaps still run wide, however. Women lag well behind men in terms of employment and leadership positions in top firms. When comparing based on similar educational and age levels, women still make 17 percent less than their male counterparts across the region.

Congressional Budget Brouhaha Could Block Obama’s LatAm Tour

The New York Times’ The Caucus blog reports that, once again, a congressional showdown could prevent U.S. President Barack Obama from traveling. With a two-week budget extension scheduled to expire on March 18, Obama may see his March 19 through 23 trip to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador postponed. “The current debate is more about a legislative fight in Congress than it is a face-off with Mr. Obama,” reports Michael D. Shear. “But that perception could shift quickly if the two sides were to fail to reach agreement and the government were to shut down with the president out of the country.”

Americas Quarterly’s blog takes a look at Obama’s agenda in Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador.

Calderón-Obama Meeting Leads to Trucking Deal

A visit by Mexican President Felipe Calderón to the White House last week has paved the way for resolution of a 16-year-old dispute over a cross-border trucking program. When inked in 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement included provisions to allow Mexican trucks to carry goods into the United States starting in 1995. But the provisions went unmet and funding was dropped in 2009 for a U.S. Department of Transportation pilot program. Mexico responded with $2.4 billion in tariffs on U.S. goods at the time. Now, as CNN reports, a plan is being put in place in the wake of the Calderón-Obama summit to get the program up and running. Mexican officials have proposed three phases for Mexican trucking companies to gain approval for U.S. operation: application and initial review of trucks, a three-month period of thorough inspection and certification, and notification of permanent authorization to operate after an 18-month period.

AS/COA co-hosted an event featuring remarks by President Felipe Calderón on March 3. Watch the video.

Tug-of-War Keeps Groundbreaking Mexican Doc in Limelight

Since its official release on February 18, a Mexican documentary highlighting the urgent need to reform the country’s judicial system has faced a series of its own legal hurdles. Presunto Culpable (Presumed Guilty) covers the case of Antonio Zuniga, erroneously convicted for a murder he did not commit and handed a 20-year sentence during a trial fraught with errors. In its opening weekend, the film took the spot of the country’s top-grossing documentary in history. But, within days, the movie faced a threat of getting pulled from theaters after a witness in the case said he had not given permission to be filmed and a judge ruled that cinemas must suspend showing the film. The move has been widely condemned as censorship. Cinepolis, a major distributor, stopped showing the film earlier this week, although a panel of federal judges on Wednesday overruled the lower court’s order of suspension.

The controversy has led to a massive outpouring of support and international coverage about the film, as well as distribution on YouTube. Moreover, Mexico City’s Mayor Marcelo Ebrard this week unveiled a proposal that would lead to the filming of trials in the capital.

ALBA Countries Reject Military Response to Libyan Crisis

The countries that make up the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) issued a statement Friday opposing foreign military intervention in Libya to quell a conflict between dictator Muammar Gadaffi and protesters. The statement suggested establishing a peace commission to mediate the conflict. Bloomberg reports that the Arab League is reviewing Venezuelan President Higo Chávez’s bid to mediate in Libya’s civil strife. However, The Christian Science Monitor suggests that Chávez’s peace-brokering credentials were harmed this week when a Spanish court indicted a senior Venezuelan official for playing a leadership role in Spanish terror group ETA.

Brazil’s Agrarian Ambitions

Brasilia is preparing legislation to prohibit foreign “sovereign investors” from buying up large amounts of land unless the buying company is more than 50 percent Brazilian. Many see this as a response to rich Asian and Arab countries purchasing huge tracts of African land to ensure food security. Brazil stands to become an agricultural superpower as improvements in local farming practices and land cultivation meet rising global food demand.

Carnival Takes Place in Brazil, but Is “Made in China”

Financial Times reports that 80 percent of Brazil’s carnival costumes were imported from China this year. “From the more traditional creations flaunted by competing samba schools to the stranger outfits such as Elvis Presley suits and Osama Bin Laden masks, the vast majority are made from Chinese polyester and nylon, along with the odd piece from South Korea,” writes Samantha Pearson. Economists say the appreciation of the Brazilian currency played a role in the flood of Chinese imports.

Rio Uncovers Slave-port Ruins during Harbor Renovation

Archeologists believe that the ruins of the slave market known as Valongo wharf have been uncovered during a multi-billion-dollar renovation of Rio de Janeiro’s harbor in preparation for the 2016 Olympics. Tania Andrade Lima of Rio’s National Museum told the Guardian that Valongo represents a symbol of the “brutal period of enslavement” of Afro-Brazilians that had been erased from sight. Brazil imported more than three million African slaves from 1550 to 1888.

Piñera on Official Visit to Israel, Palestine

As a part of a broader international tour, Chile’s Sebastián Piñera made official visits to Israel and Palestine over the weekend. In Ramallah Piñera signed bilateral agreements with the president of the Palestinian Authority, stating at a press conference: “These agreements are broad and deep, and will serve to benefit Chilean and Palestinian people.” Piñera also continued negotiations with Jerusalem on a long-discussed trade pact.

One Year into Presidency: Interview with Piñera

In an interview with Spain’s El País, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera discusses his plan to conquer extreme poverty in Chile within four years. A year into his presidency, Piñera also offered his take on his country’s difficult political history, Brazil’s role as regional leader, and why he supported approval of the morning-after pill. The interview was conducted just before Piñera arrived in Madrid Monday for a three-day trip to Spain that included his presence at the Hispano-Chilean Business Conference.

Limeños Don’t Know Who to Vote for

A new Datum poll shows that 70.2 percent of Lima residents do not know who they will vote for in upcoming congressional elections, while another 8.4 percent plan to spoil their votes. A report in El Comercio cited the city’s large size, the absence of coordinated media campaigns for congressional races, and Limeños’ greater focus on the presidential elections as possible reasons for the stark lack of party identification. Former President Alejandro Toledo currently leads the polls with 29 percent of voter intention.

Colombia Helps Train Latin American Militaries

With its extensive experience fighting insurgents and drug cartels, the Colombian military is helping to train the armed forces of 13 other Latin American and Caribbean countries, The Los Angeles Times reports. A 32-week helicopter training course Colombia offers to Mexican pilots costs $75,000 and is funded through the Merida Initiative.

Salvadorans Unhappy with Security and Economy, but Approve of Funes

La Prensa Gráfica and Mexican polling firm Mitofsky found that a majority of Salvadorans are disappointed with their country’s economic and security situation. Still, President Funes enjoys an approval rating of 69.7 percent, according to the survey. Funes will play host to U.S. President Barack Obama on March 22. 74 percent of Salvadorans feel that Obama’s trip will be beneficial, reports Mitofsky.

El Salvador’s Prez Facing Clashes within Party

The Canadian Foundation for the Americas takes a look at the presidency of Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to the Central American country. The article outlines the political challenges confronting Funes, who faces more hurdles from the more strongly left-leaning officials within his party than from the right-leaning opposition party. “Contradictions that initially arose during the electoral campaign—fueled by Funes’ moderation and the FMLN’s radicalism—have since multiplied,” writes Carlos A. Rosales. “The FMLN has shown clear lack of support for Funes’ pragmatism on many issues.”

Nicaraguan Newspaper Publishes “Albaleaks” Report

Nicaragua’s Confidencial newspaper offers an investigative report based on leaked documents describing the financial dealings of Albanisa, a private company formed four years ago by Venezuela’s PDVSA and Petronic de Nicaragua. The documents detail the firm’s opaque business operations and subsidiaries, labeled “inauditable” by two accounting experts.

Guatemalan First Lady to Run for President

Sandra Torres announced her candidacy for Guatemala’s presidential election, which takes place in September, and hopes to succeed her husband Álvaro Colom. However, Torres’ bid faces heavy legal obstacles: Guatemala’s Constitution prevents relatives of presidents from succeeding them. Thus, Torres’ ability to run rests with a decision from the Guatemalan Constitutional Court.

Puerto Rican Senator Convicted of Bribery

U.S. Senator Héctor Martínez of Puerto Rico was found guilty of bribery and conspiracy for accepting a trip in 2005 to watch a boxing match in Las Vegas from businessman Juan Bravo, who had benefited from legislation filed by Martínez. Bravo was also convicted of bribery, conspiracy, and other charges. Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño asked Martínez to step down from his Senate seat.

Trial for U.S. Contractor Alan Gross Concludes in Cuba

The trial of USAID contractor Alan Gross in Cuba for charges of undermining the country’s sovereignty ended Saturday. At the time of this report the verdict was yet to be announced. If found guilty, Gross could face up to 20 years in prison, though his lawyer has asked the Cuban government to release Gross as a humanitarian gesture. Gross has been jailed since December 2009 for illegally transporting satellite communications equipment to Cuba as part of a program prohibited in Cuba.

Chávista Leader Lina Ron Dies

Fervent chávista Lina Ron, famous for her vocal support of Chávez and notorious for her scuffles with opposition groups, as well as an incident in which a group she led threw tear gas canisters at the studio of television station Globovisión, died of a heart attack on Saturday. Chávez spoke at her funeral, saying “with the physical departure of Lina Ron, the sword of the revolution becomes sharper and sharper.”

Who Are the Top Presidential Tweeters in the Americas?

Mexican daily El Universal takes a look at which presidents and leaders in the Americas are the most popular in terms of Twitter followers. @BarackObama tops the list with nearly 6.9 million followers. @chavezcandanga places second with roughly 1.3 million. @FelipeCalderon came in third with just under half a million. But @dilmabr has less than 10,000 followers fewer than her Mexican counterpart and takes the number four spot.

Argentines Just Want to Have Fun

Stranded at an airport in Buenos Aires on Friday due to ongoing flight delays, 1980s pop sensation Cyndi Lauper showed her true colors by helping passengers pass time after time when she belted out two of her classic hits through a handy nearby microphone.

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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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