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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Long-Awaited Colombia, Panama FTAs Advance

Max Baucus (D-MT), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, announced this week that on June 30 a “mock” markup would take place of the draft implementing bills of pending U.S. trade pacts with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. The move, involving negotiations between Republican legislators and the White House, could clear the way for approval of the three long-awaited bilateral pacts. Still, objections remain over the fact that the Obama administration tied it to a renewal of the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which provides aid to U.S. workers affected by global trade. Some Democratic legislators are pressing for the TAA to be separated from the trade-deal package.

Summit Meeting in Venezuela Canceled Because of Chávez’s Poor Health

Venezuela canceled the summit meeting of Latin American and Caribbean leaders today planned for July 5 due to the poor state of President Hugo Chávez’s health, Brazilian diplomatic sources told A Folha de São Paulo. The news came a day after Venezuelan state media released a video of Chávez speaking with former Cuban head of state Fidel Castro in an attempt to silence rumors that the Venezuelan leader had fallen into a coma. The rumor mill continues to churn, however, as Chávez remains in Cuba after over two weeks recuperating from what authorities say was surgery on a pelvic abscess. Chávez has only spoken to the media once, by telephone, since the surgery and the authorities have yet to release detailed information about his health. Meanwhile, Chávez’s brother Adán set off a flurry of media attention when he told a prayer meeting in the state of Barinas, where he is governor, that Chávez supporters should not discard armed struggle as a means to enact their revolutionary program. 

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the challenges Venezuela faces as Chávez convalesces.

Fernández de Kirchner Launches Reelection Bid and Announces Running Mate

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced Friday she would run for reelection in Argentina’s October 23 presidential elections and picked Economy Minister Amado Boudou as her running mate. Boudou helped implement Argentina’s current economic model, which combines state support of industry and wealth redistribution with export-driven growth.

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about Fernández’s reelection bid and Boudou’s performance as economy minister. 

Mexico State Holds Gubernatorial Vote Sunday

The most populous state in Mexico will choose its new governor this Sunday in a vote many are calling a preview on the upcoming presidential elections. The contest, focused mainly around economic issues, will play off the PRI’s Eruviel Ávila against Luis Felipe Bravo Mena of ruling party the PAN and the PRD’s Alejandro Encinas. Ávila, the popular mayor of a Mexico City suburb, is set to cruise to victory with polls showing him with 50 percent voter support.

Christine Lagarde Beats Agustín Carstens for Top IMF Spot

French candidate Christine Lagarde beat out Mexico’s Agustín Carstens on June 28 to secure the position of managing director of the International Monetary Fund. France’s economy minister had secured the backing of China and most European countries, before the United States officially announced it would back her earlier the same day. By unwritten agreement, the Fund only appoints Europeans to its top spot.

Democrats File Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill in the Senate

Senate Democrats launched a new attempt at comprehensive immigration reform June 22, even though the initiative is not expected to pass at a time when the issue has become highly polarized. The bill, authored by Senator Bill Menendez (D-NJ), includes the DREAM Act and would require more employers to use E-Verify to check potential employees’ immigration status before hiring them.

Father of Brazilian Food Program to Lead FAO

José Graziano da Silva, famous for his implementation of Brazil’s “Zero Hunger” program, was elected to head the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) June 26. Graziano da Silva criticized what he referred to as the demonization of biofuels in his first press conference as FAO head, marking a reversal in the organization’s traditional criticism of biofuels for their role in driving up world food prices.

Brazilian Government Websites Attacked by Hackers

A cyber attack was carried out on the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics’ website on June 24 by a group of hackers called Fail Shell, who promised to carry out more attacks this month. The group described itself as “nationalist” and said its action were a political protest. The attack followed an earlier one against the website of the Brazilian Presidency, carried out by the Brazilian branch of LulzSec.

Brazil to Grow at Different Pace to China

Shannon O’Neill of the Council on Foreign Relations compares Brazil’s fast growing economy with China’s even faster growth rate, which has been fueled by an average investment of 41 percent of GPD per year from 2000 to 2008. This is about double that of Brazil, where consumption drives economic growth. The Chinese also save much more than Brazilians, reducing their dependence on foreign investment. But, O’Neill points out, per capita income in China remains less than half of Brazil’s $8,230, which gives China more room to grow.

Mercosur Hopes to Stem Flood of Cheap Chinese Imports

Meeting on June 28, one day ahead of the presidential summit, the ministers of industry of the Mercosur countries discussed ways the regional bloc can limit imported manufactured goods from China and southeast Asia. Argentine Minister of Industry Debora Giorgi reportedly brought up the issue, calling for a review of all economic links between China and member countries.

France and Cuba Warm up to Each Other

The governments of Cuba and France signed an agreement June 27 to restart political dialog, after eight years of frosty relations. France distanced itself from Cuba in 2003, when the European Union adopted a common position sanctioning the island’s Communist leadership for jailing 75 dissidents under accusations of plotting with Washington to undermine the Castro government. Cuban officials hope to gain France’s support to lift the European Union’s common position, which requires the Cuban government to enact democratic reforms, a policy the island’s leadership views as interference in its internal affairs.

El Salvador’s Funes Sees Approval Rating Drop

Salvadorans are growing impatient with President Mauricio Funes, who continues to face a tough economy, a challenging security situation, and controversy over a reform requiring the Constitutional Court to approve decisions unanimously. The most recent poll by JBS of residents in greater San Salvador found his approval rating had dropped to 41 percent. Funes’ approval ratings had remained above 60 percent for his first two years in office.

Lobo Drops into Costa Rica, Meets with Chinchilla

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo dropped by for an unexpected meeting with his Costa Rican counterpart Laura Chinchilla on June 27. The two presidents discussed partnering against dengue fever and drug crime. Lobo also applauded the creation of a new political party in his country by ousted President Manuel Zelaya, which will compete in the 2013 elections.

AS/COA holds its first Latin American Cities Conference in Costa Rica tomorrow. Go to www.as-coa.org/CostaRica2011 for the agenda and live coverage of the event.

Nicaraguan Opposition Passes the Hat to Pay Libel Fine

Opposition groups in Nicaragua launched the “indignant peso campaign” to gather funds for the payment of a fine for libel levied by a judge against Luciano García, a city councilman in Managua. García accused Managua’s Secretary General Fidel Moreno of corruption, citing irregularities in the city’s finances. Local NGOs criticized the $19,000 fine as an affront to transparency.

UN Drug Agency: Cocaine Production down in Colombia, up in Bolivia, Peru

According to the 2011 World Drug Report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Cocaine production increased in Peru and in Bolivia, but dropped in Colombia, with the total area under coca cultivation worldwide dropping by 18 percent from 2007 to 2010. Marijuana is by far the most commonly used illicit drug, the report also said.

Colombian Women Cross Their Legs to Demand Infrastructure Investment

Growing impatient with unfulfilled government promises to repave a local road, 300 women in the Colombian town of Barbacoas vowed not to have sex with their partners until their demand to fix the road is met. Men responded to the “strike of crossed legs,” as locals refer to it, by staging a hunger strike in the town’s central park.

Uruguay Reopens Dictatorship-era Human Rights Cases

President José Mujica announced June 27 he would annul a series of executive decrees placing some 80 human rights abuse cases dating to Uruguay’s military dictatorship under the authority of the Ley de Caducidad, which exempts state security from punishment for abuses committed during that era. The decision, announced on the anniversary of the 1973 military overthrow, allows the courts to reopen the cases. The Ley de Caducidad has survived two referendums and Congress failed to overturn the law by one vote in May.

Paraguayan Legislature Considers Ending Presidential Term Limits

Supporters of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo delivered a petition with 90,000 signatures asking for a constitutional reform to allow Lugo’s reelection. Paraguay’s Congress must now decide whether to include the proposal in a referendum scheduled for October 9 to ask whether Paraguayans living outside the country

Morales Signs Food Security Law

President Evo Morales signed a law on June 26 aimed at defending Bolivia’s food security. The law, which requires an investment of $500 million, envisions the creation of a system to stockpile key agricultural products, including rice, potatoes, wheat, soy, corn, and quinoa. It also creates state enterprises charged with distributing seeds and providing farmers with credit, and requires imported foods to carry a label saying whether they were genetically modified.

Peru’s President García Withdraws Canadian Firm’s Mining Concession

Following deadly strikes and protests that left five dead over the weekend in Peru, the García administration revoked a concession to Canada’s Bear Creek to open a silver mine near Lake Titicaca, sending the company’s stock down by 28 percent.

Indigenous Actress Part of Greater Cultural Shift in Peru

NPR interviews Peruvian actress Magaly Solier, who accepted an award at the 2009 Berlinale for her performance in the Peruvian film The Milk of Sorrow, which also won top honors at the film festival, by singing in Quechua, her native language. Solier’s rise to stardom signifies a larger cultural shift toward greater empowerment of indigenous people in Peru, who make up roughly half the population.

Chilean Zombies Attack Ailing Education System

In Chile, some 3,000 students, dead tired of waiting for the government to inject new life into their moribund public education system, expressed their hunger by dressing as ghoulish zombies and performing a “flash mob” version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in front of Santiago’s presidential palace.

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