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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Previewing Obama’s Latin America Trip

A March 15 White House press gaggle with U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs Mike Froman offered a preview of President Barack Obama’s trip to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador from March 19 to 23. Froman focused on Latin America’s economic strides, saying: “[T]his trip fundamentally is about the U.S. recovery, U.S. exports, and the critical relationship that Latin America plays in our economic future and jobs here in the United States.” He also indicated that energy, infrastructure, and trade would serve as focus areas during the tour and that a CEO Forum will be held in Brasilia during Obama’s stop there. Several U.S. secretaries will join Obama for the Brazil portion of the trip, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

In a follow-up White House press conference on March 16, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes confirmed that Obama will deliver a speech spelling out the administration’s “approach on Latin America” while in Santiago on Monday. According to the Associated Press, Rhodes suggested “Obama will highlight the democratic transitions that swept through Latin America as a model for Middle Eastern countries that are facing challenges to their autocratic regimes.”

In preparation for the trip, the Obama administration also released two fact sheets, one on U.S. relations with Central and South America and the second focused on economic ties with Brazil

Visit AS/COA Online ahead of and during the president’s trip to Latin America for ongoing coverage. AmericasQuarterly.org carries an “Issues in Depth” page on the Obama tour. Also follow AS/COA on Twitter (@ascoa) and Facebook.

Brazil’s Ex-ForeignMin Makes Case for UN Security Council Seat

Celso Amorim, who served as Brazil’s foreign minister during the Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva administration, called upon President Obama to support Brazil’s inclusion in a reformed U.N. Security Council. “It would be a disappointment if Obama does not endorse our drive for a permanent seat on the world’s premier international security body,” Amorim writes for Foreign Policy. “Not just because Brazil deserves a seat but because the council’s very legitimacy depends on the inclusion of emerging powers.”

Funes’ Agenda for Obama’s Visit

Diana Villers Negroponte, a Brookings Institution senior fellow, outlines what to expect when U.S. President Barack Obama stops in San Salvador next week during his Latin American tour. She writes that Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes will seek Washington’s partnership on recognizing poverty-eradication efforts, combating organized crime, providing equipment and training for an El Salvador-based security plan, supporting an IMF plan to offset effects of the economic crisis, and increasing U.S. private investment in the energy sector. “By his visit, Obama is signaling assurance in the Funes government’s capacity to rebuild the economy, distribute wealth, and contain the violence,” says Negroponte. “We must hope that foreign investors will build upon this assurance to develop manufacturing plants, alternative energy production and agro-industrial businesses.”

Chile’s Innovative Revolution

Encouraged by government funding, Chile’s IT sector is growing annually by 10 percent and saw revenue rise by nearly one-fifth in 2010. “With cultural similarities to the U.S., time-zone capability and a tech-savvy demographic, Chile is becoming a centralized IT hub for South America,” says Carlos Fernández, head of state-supported Chile-IT, an industry development and trade-promotion non-profit.

LatAm Nuclear Ambitions Unshaken by Japanese Earthquake

Plans to expand nuclear power capacity in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico have not been swept aside after Friday’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunami seriously compromised nuclear installations in Japan, reports Dow Jones. Chile has said it will wait to see how the Japanese crisis is resolved, while Brazil has called for stronger safety measures.

Senate Republicans Threaten to Block U.S. Trade Nominees

With U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke headed to China to serve as ambassador, President Barack Obama is expected to appoint a replacement. But Senate Republicans may block confirmation of a new secretary and other trade-related posts unless the Obama administration submits the pending Colombia and Panama trade pacts for congressional approval. 

Read an AS/COA Online analysis about the uptick in GOP Senate pressure. 

U.S. Drones Flying over Mexican Skies

The New York Times reports on recent security cooperation between the United States and Mexico involving the use of U.S. drones in Mexican airspace at the request of Mexico. While officials from both sides of the border claim cooperation has helped apprehend at least 20 high-profile narcotraffickers, the release of information to the public has been discrete due to Mexican sensitivities regarding sovereignty.

Mexican AG Kept out of Loop on ATF’s Arms-smuggling Program

A statement released last week by the Mexican attorney general’s office declared that it knew of a program in which U.S agents monitored arms purchases made by smugglers. However, it had not been informed that weapons were trafficked into Mexico and, apparently, obtained by drug cartels. The operation—dubbed “Fast and Furious” and carried out by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF)—allowed the purchases with the goal of building criminal cases against traffickers. Hundreds of the weapons appear to have gone missing in Mexico, sparking an outcry from Mexican officials. On Monday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder defended the ATF but said “letting guns ‘walk’…is not something that is acceptable.” Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano said “she knew nothing of her agency’s possible involvement” in the operation, reports CBSNews.com

Guatemalans Sue over U.S. Medical Testing

University of Pittsburgh’s JURIST reports that seven Guatemalans filed a class action suit Monday in U.S. District Court, claiming they had been among subjects of medical experiments conducted by U.S. government scientists in which hundreds of Guatemalans were purposely infected with syphilis without their consent. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued an apology in October 2010 over the revelation of the 1940s medical experiments that involved testing the efficacy of antibiotics in treating sexually transmitted diseases.

Cuba Gives U.S. Contractor 15-Year Sentence

U.S. Aid worker Alan Gross was sentenced to 15 years in prison after being convicted of trying to spread unrest in Cuba by distributing satellite communication equipment to government opponents. “We deplore this ruling,” said the U.S. State Department in a statement. The Obama administration had taken a series of steps to loosen travel and remittance policy toward Cuba prior to the sentencing.

Haitian Candidates Debate before Second-round Vote

The two candidates competing for the presidency in Haiti’s March 20 runoff vote faced each other in a televised debate last week. “Both right-leaning, the two are campaigning on similar platforms: education, national production, re-establishment of a Haitian military,” reports The Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles. Musician Michel Martelly and former First Lady Mirlande Manigat remain close in polls, with the former a little over four points ahead of the latter, according to local firm BRIDES.

Aristide May Return to Haiti as Country Prepares for Runoff

Rumors are floating around that former President of Haiti Jean-Bertrand Aristide may return to Port-au-Prince this week. The Obama administration urged Aristide to delay his return until after the country’s March 20 runoff election, saying that the ousted president’s arrival could cause turmoil and disturb the vote. Aristide, who accused the United States of participating in his ouster, responded via his attorney that the decision to permit or deny his return should rest with the Haitian government. 

Haiti’s Cholera Epidemic May Be Worse Than Once Thought

Health officials believe the Haitian cholera epidemic may affect twice as many people as they thought it would. The UN had estimated that as many as 400,000 people in Haiti might contract the diarrheal disease, but researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, published new estimates in the journal The Lancet putting the figure closer to 800,000. 

Fernández de Kirchner Ally Takes Catamarca

Federal Senator Lucia Corpacci of the Frente Para la Victoria (FPV), a coalition including the country’s Peronista party, won the governorship of the Argentine province of Catamarca with 48.2 percent of the vote in a surprise upset. Incumbent Governor Eduardo Brizuela came in second with 44.3 percent. The vote amounts to a symbolic victory for Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who observers believe will seek a second term as president for the FPV in the elections slated for October. 

Bogota, Caracas to Split UNASUR Leadership

The Union of South American Nations announced that it would split its two-year general secretary position between María Emma Mejía of Colombia and Alí Rodríguez of Venezuela. The position has been vacant since former Argentine President Néstor Kirchner died unexpectedly in October. The decision symbolized a desire to reinforce unity, following repeated diplomatic conflicts between Colombia and Venezuela in recent years that have toned down since the inauguration of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

Colombia Looks to Rebuild Textile Sector

Universia Knowledge@Wharton covers Colombia’s struggling textile industry as it competes with a flood of Asian goods, nearly half of which are contraband. In January, the Colombian government set up a $4 million fund “for rewards to tipsters who lead investigators to clothing and fabric smugglers.” The article reports that Colombian firms are creating specialized lines, recycling trash for fabric, and taking advantage of geographic proximity to specific markets in their bid to reinvent the industry. 

Bolivia Secures Military Ties with China

China’s Air General Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of the People’s Liberation Army General Staff, met with Bolivian Defense Minister Rubén Saavedra in La Paz to sign agreements outlining military cooperation between their two countries. The accords will increase logistics and communications equipment sharing as well as military exchanges.

Iran Offers Agricultural Aid to Bolivia

Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran Behrouz Kamalvandi visited Bolivia over the weekend and offered the country credit, investment, and agricultural machinery to help boost food production. The offer comes as Bolivia faces declining food production due in part to irregular weather patterns, including droughts, inundations, and early snows. Iran has provided $1 billion in assistance to Bolivia since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president in 2007.

Energy Project Linked to Ecuadoran Biodiversity Threat

Quito is pushing a scheme to dam the Coca River, one of the country’s main Amazonian waterways, using Chinese funds and expertise. The project, touted as a way to help renew Ecuador’s faltering energy infrastructure, has been criticized for not fully addressing its effects on the local environment—a UN biosphere reserve.

EU-Mercosur Hold Trade Talks Again

The EU and Mercosur resumed talks on Monday on a proposed trade agreement between the two economic blocs. Talks have been stalled for years, in part due to EU sensitivities to food and agriculture imports. Mercosur is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of beef.

Cocaine Labs Pop up in Honduras

A host of new cocaine labs have been popping up in Latin America recently, notes Bloggings by Boz, including a large one near Tegucigalpa discovered this week. Boz points out that the appearance of new cocaine labs around the region may signal that drug traffickers are having a harder time producing in Colombia, where the government has spent years combatting traffickers with U.S. backing.

Remittances Will Go up in 2011. So Will Inflation.

Money transfers from Latin America and the Caribbean will rise this year after having stabilized in 2010, according to report from the Inter-American Development Bank. The rising value of local currencies against the dollar and the euro, however, will likely continue to erode repients’ purchasing power. 

Census Estimates Fall Short of Counts for Hispanics

A new report by the Pew Hispanic Center found that, based on 2010 Census figures, Census Bureau estimates undercounted the number of Latinos in a majority of states, particularly in states with relatively small Hispanic populations. Thus far, the Census Bureau has released 2010 counts of the number of Hispanics in 33 states, with the remaining counts expected by late March. Counts were below estimates by at last 2 percent in 23 out of 33 states. The total count of 38.7 million Hispanics for those 33 states was nearly 600,000 higher than previously estimated.

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