Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

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From 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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Calderón on NorthAm Integration, Clinton on Hemispheric Cooperation

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered her views on U.S. collaboration with Latin America in a new era at the 41st Annual Washington Conference on the Americas, saying: “We are interdependent, and we have to deal with the real questions that interdependence poses.” The secretary talked on a range of hemispheric issues, from the near-term goal of approving Colombian and Panamanian trade deals to academic exchange, institution building, and security pacts. Mexican President Felipe Calderón closed the conference by talking about the need to deepen North American integration, and said: “The closer we are, the more competitive we will be, and the faster we will grow.” Calderón called the current U.S. immigration system “broken” and described it as a “bottleneck for growth and prosperity.” He also called for U.S. leadership on climate change and bilateral security issues, pointing out that winning Mexico’s fight against organized crime required Washington’s collaboration to tackle arms trafficking, money laundering, and drug consumption in the United States.

Other speakers at the conference included Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, U.S. Senator John McCain, and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Get complete coverage at AS/COA Online

Obama Steps up Call for Immigration Reform

President Barack Obama gave a major speech in El Paso on May 10, calling for comprehensive immigration reform that would include a path to citizenship for the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. It was the fourth major event over the last three weeks in which Obama continued his push for reform, though he did not clarify when legislation will come or how he will win over opponents in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. 

Read an AQ blog post by Senior Editor Jason Marczak about the renewed call for immigration reform. 

DREAM Act Reintroduced in the Senate

Senate Democrats reintroduced the DREAM Act on May 11, one day after President Obama’s immigration speech in El Paso, Texas. The DREAM Act would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth who attend two years of college or serve in the military. Most Republicans currently oppose the measure, which failed in the Senate during the lame-duck session last year and faces an uphill battle this session in the Republican-controlled House. Immigration rights activists and senators who support the DREAM Act have called on Obama to use his executive authority to halt deportations of those who could benefit from the legislation.

Quebec Premier Gives Green Light to Plan Nord

Jean Charest, prime minister of Quebec, launched a 25-year, $91 billion plan for social and economic development in a resource-rich area of the Canadian province. Dubbed “Plan Nord,” the program will seek to develop mining, energy, and logging. The plan also involves job training and housing for populations living in that region, which 33,000 indigenous people call home. As the Foreign Policy Association blogs, some indigenous leaders in Quebec question whether Plan Nord will supersede existing agreements protecting their communities’ rights. 

Mexican Government Offers to Dialogue with Peace Marchers

A day after tens of thousands marched in Mexico to protest drug war violence, President Felipe Calderón offered May 9 to meet with demonstrators to discuss their concerns. While not wavering in his commitment to his administration’s current fight against organized crime, he said in a televised speech his position “doesn’t exclude the possibility and the responsibility to dialogue, to listen to each other, and understand each other.”

Corruption Cost Mexico $2.8 Billion in 2010

Transparency Mexico, a nongovernmental organization, said in a new report that corruption grew last year in Mexico, affecting 10.3 percent of the country’s households. The group estimated that over 200 million acts of corruption occurred last year, costing Mexicans $2.8 billion. 

Calderón Seeks Oil Reform But Stops Short on Pemex IPO

In an interview with Bloomberg TV, Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón discussed antitrust legislation and his hopes to usher through a second reform of state-owned oil firm Pemex before he steps down in 2012. The prior reform allowed for international oil companies to bid on operations in some Pemex fields. Despite his call for further reform, Calderón indicated that he does not envision an inernational public offering for Pemex as part of that.

Guatemalan Court Acquits Ex-prez Portillo

A Guatemalan court acquitted former President Alfonso Portillo for corruption charges that allegedly took place during his administration, from 2000 to 2004. He still faces a U.S. extradition request for accusations of money laundering. 

Home Sweet Home: Zelaya Wants to Return to Honduras

Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya may iron out an agreement to return to his home country within weeks, his aide Rasel Tomé said May 11. The announcement came after the Honduran Supreme Court dismissed corruption charges against the former president. Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and other countries demand that the Honduran government allow Zelaya to return as a condition for supporting the Central American country’s return to the OAS. 

USAID Money to Cuba under Review

Senator John Kerry froze $20 million in funds destined for Cuba under the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program earlier this year in order to assess its effectiveness, after a U.S. contractor was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his participation in the program. USAID programs are illegal in Cuba. Frances Robles of The Miami Herald reviews the controversy surrounding USAID’s activities on the island

Congressional Results Confirmed by Haitian Electoral Council

Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council settled the results for disputed congressional races this week. After announcing preliminary election results on April 4, the Council announced its decision in 19 races when it emitted the final results on April 20, which had prompted protests from the OAS and Haitian President-elect Michel Martelly. The Council confirmed the preliminary results in 14 of the 19 cases. 

Petrobras Tops List of LatAm’s Most Valuable Brands

State-owned Brazilian oil giant Petrobras leapt over Mexico’s Telcel to become Latin America’s most valuable brand, according to BrandZ, which appraised the brand at $13.42 billion. Telcel, owned by Mexican businessman Carlos Slim, got bumped down from the top slot in 2010 to second position this year, with a valuation of $11.56 billion. 

Brazil’s Supreme Court OKs Gay Civil Unions

The highest court in Brazil ruled unanimously May 5 that the government must recognize same-sex unions as a family entity with the same rights as those of a heterosexual partnership. Notwithstanding the progress, Brazilian LGBT people still face significant discrimination and violence because of their sexual orientation, reports The Guardian. NGO reviews of press coverage indicate that one LGBT person is murdered in Brazil every two days. 

Amazon Law Debate Sparks Deforestation Fears in Brazil

The Brazilian legislature held a heated debate this week pitting “ruralists,” who favor opening the Amazon up to development, against environmentalists. The legislation under consideration would reform the Forest Code to exempt small farmers from the requirement that 80 percent of the Amazon remain forested. Proponents of the law argue that the Forest Code restricts Brazilian economic development and limits its ability to maintain adequate domestic food consumption. Opponents counter facilitating deforestation of the Amazon could pave the way for environmental catastrophe. 

Paraguay Gets Triple the Payments for Joint Dam

The Brazilian Senate voted to triple payments from the Itaipu Dam it runs with Paraguay, from $120 million per year to $360 million. The deal was negotiated in 2009 by Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo and then-Brazilian President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, but had not yet received congressional approval in Brazil.

Chile Moves ahead on Dam Plan amid Protests

A nationwide movement has sprouted up in Chile to protest a $3.2 billion hydroelectric dam project in Patagonia that protesters say will damage the environment, reports TIME. But the government of President Sebastián Piñera supports the plan, arguing that Chile needs to double its electricity output by the end of the decade if it wants to maintain economic growth. A Chilean environmental commission has approved the dam project.

FARC Files Stir up Memories of Andean Diplomatic Disputes

A new study from the International Institute of Strategic Studies says that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez promised to aid the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), allowed them into Venezuelan territory, and asked them to train leftwing paramilitary units. The study, based on documents recovered from the computers of FARC second-in-command Raúl Reyes, also says the guerrillas contributed $400,000 to Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa’s 2006 presidential campaign. Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín said the revelations would not disturb the recent rapprochement between her government and those of Ecuador and Venezuela. 

Correa’s Controversial Referendum Measures Squeaking by

Vote counting proceeds on the 10-point Ecuadoran referendum. At the time of writing, all 10 proposals of President Rafael Correa’s initiative were headed toward approval, though two of the most controversial measures—a judicial reform and a law that would regulate media coverage—led by thin margins.

Peruvian Stock Market Surges as Fujimori Gains on Humala

A poll released May 4 by Ipsos Apoyo showed that conservative Keiko Fujimori had caught up with left-leaning frontrunner Ollanta Humala in the lead up to the June 5 runoff presidential election. The Peruvian stock market index jumped 6.12 percent upon release of the news—the largest one-day gain since November 2008. The poll found the contenders locked in a technical tie. 

Bolivia’s Only Woman Prez Dies at 89

The only woman to ever hold Bolivia’s highest office, Lidia Gueiler, died May 9 at age 89. The progressive politician took part in Bolivia’s 1952 revolution and was the first Bolivian woman to hold the general secretary position of a political party, the presidency of the House of Deputies, and the presidency of Congress. Gueiler fled into exile  after her administration was overthrown by the military, before returning to Bolivia in 1983.

In Latin America, WikiLeaks Doesn’t Surprise

The release of a trove of State Department cables by WikiLeaks threatened to send U.S.-Latin American relations into a tailspin when they were published in November. Instead, World Politics Review columnist Frida Ghitis argues, the cables wound up embarrassing several Latin American governments without doing significant damage to U.S. diplomacy in the region. Ultimately, the piece concludes, few of the WikiLeaks’ revelations surprised observers. 

Peruvians Bring Peru to Peru, Nebraska

Bringing llamas, surfboards, and pisco with them, a group of Peruvian celebrities and a film crew visited the town of Peru, Nebraska, to shoot a series of commercials about their country. Scenes shot included a ceviche festival and a pep rally with student catching “Te Amo Peru” t-shirts. The Peruvians picked Nebraska over at least eight other states with towns named after their country, reports The Omaha World-Herald.

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