Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

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Cubans Prepare for Home Sales

The Cuban government has yet to finalize the rules, but Cubans are preparing for the soon-to-come day when they can buy and sell homes for the first time since the 1960s. Some Cubans imagine legal home sales as an economic boon and an opportunity to skirt the state bureaucracy’s control over where they reside, while others see home sales as a gateway to gentrification. Officials say they will enact the reform before the year’s end.

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the challenges facing Cuba as it continues reforming its communist economic system.

Martelly’s 2nd PM Pick Rejected by Haitian Senate

Haiti’s Senate rejected Bernard Gousse, President Michel Martelly’s second nominee in the three months since he took office, for the position of prime minister. The legislators opposed Gousse’s candidacy on the grounds that he has been connected with human rights violations.

UNASUR Considers Measures to Guard against Volatile Dollar

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa proposed on Saturday that UNASUR take measures to avoid negative effects from the tumbling value of the U.S. dollar and economic uncertainty due to the debt ceiling negotiations. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos called meetings of UNASUR members’ economic ministers and central bank directors to discuss South American dependency on the U.S. currency, the first of which is scheduled to take place in Lima tomorrow.

Venezuela to Drastically Reduce Prison Population

Newly appointed Venezuelan Minister of Penitentiary Services Iris Varela told the press Sunday that she plans to clear some 20,000 prisoners from the country’s jails—a drop of 40 percent—in order to reduce overcrowding. She contended that people guilty of nonviolent crimes should serve their sentences outside of prison. In Venezuela, over 50,000 people are crammed into space designed for only 14,000, according to government figures.

Chávez Wants to Talk FARC with Santos

Colombian admiral Édgar Cely worked the Andean media into a tizzy Tuesday, when he said that the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chávez continues to provide a safe haven for rebels from the FARC and the ELN. Cely later backtracked on his comments, drawing applause from Chávez, who denies that Colombian rebels find refuge in his country. Nevertheless, Chávez said Wednesday he wanted to speak with his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos about the subject.

Colombia’s Silent Violence

As Colombia’s civil conflict wanes, security in many parts of the country has improved. But Elizabeth Dickinson reports for The Atlantic on violence that doesn’t show up in official statistics in her article covering the disappearance of 328 people over four years in the coastal town of Buenaventura.

Mexico and Colombia Cement Cooperation

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos visited Mexico this week, where he met with President Felipe Calderón and signed several security agreements. The deals include an extradition treaty and a judicial cooperation agreement. Santos’ visit coincided with the inauguration of a bilateral free trade agreement between the two countries.

U.S. Senate Confirms Wayne as Mexican Envoy

Four month after the Mexican ambassador to the United States stepped down amid a dust up over WikiLeaks cables, the U.S. Senate confirmed his replacement late on August 2. The job goes to Earl Anthony Wayne, a career diplomat who served both as an ambassador to Argentina and, most recently, as the deputy ambassador to Argentina.

Read an AS/COA Online update covering recent congressional hearings on the Obama administration’s new choices for diplomatic positions in Mexico and Guatemala.

Mexico’s Other Migration

In an in-depth piece for The Los Angeles TimesLa Plaza blog, Daniel Hernandez explores the economic and security dynamics driving internal migration in Mexico, where the unemployment rate is nearly half that of the United States, yet 3 million people slipped into poverty since 2008, according to a recent government report. Prosperous Queretero has emerged as one of the towns attracting new migrants. Moreover, a more secure Mexico City, once stereotyped as a seething cauldron of crime, has also become a refuge from states where drug war violence has surged since 2006.

See Americas Quarterly’s photo essay of the Campos Ordinola family’s 2010 journey home from Ciudad Juarez—a family lured to the city by the promise of work, but disillusioned by drug war violence.

Federal Prosecutors Resign en Masse in Mexico

Top federal prosecutors in 21 of Mexico’s states abruptly resigned from their posts Friday. The Mexican Attorney General’s Office has fired 462 employees and is investigating another 700 as part of a process to rid the institution of corruption.

Mexican Prez Candidate Talks Education, Security, Economy

Candidate for the governing National Autonomous Party (PAN, in Spanish) Santiago Creel offered his take on the challenges facing Mexico. In an interview with Milenio, Creel says he would reform public monopolies, go after drug traffickers’ laundered money, and centralize police functions under a secretary of the interior. Improving education is the country’s most important task, according to Creel.

DOJ Sues Alabama

The U.S. Department of Justice sued the state of Alabama over HB 56, the toughest state immigration law in the country. The bill, which faces at least two other lawsuits, instructs police officers to check the immigration status of those they stop, criminalizes giving undocumented immigrants a ride, and directs schools to check students’ status. “[A] state cannot set its own immigration policy, much less pass laws that conflict with federal enforcement of the immigration laws,” Eric Holder said in a press release.

Costa Rica Suspends Oil Exploration

On his first day on the job, Costa Rica’s new Environment, Energy, and Telecommunications Minister René Castro announced Monday a three-year moratorium on oil exploration. Castro also headed the ministry from 1994 to 1998.

An AQ blog post by Alex Leff reports on President Laura Chinchilla’s sinking approval ratings and recent cabinet shakeup.

Brazil Could Overtake Japan as 3rd Biggest Automaker

Forbes.com reports on Brazil’s booming automobile industry, with production expected to grow from 3.6 million to 6.2 million per year by 2026. The sector is attracting billions in investment from Chinese and South Korean manufacturers, and benefits from trade agreements with other Latin American countries and a strong domestic market. The boom could lead to Brazil overtaking Japan as the world’s third-biggest car manufacturer, behind the United States and China.

Brazil’s Real: Most Overvalued Currency in the World?

The Economist’s version of the Big Mac Index for July 2011 finds that Brazil now has the world’s most overvalued currency, at 149 percent over the value of the dollar when adjusted for GDP per person. Of the 45 countries other than the United States included on the list, the other top two overvalued currencies were also South American—Colombia (108 percent) and Argentina (101 percent).

Macri Wins Buenos Aires Mayoral Election

On Sunday, conservative incumbent Mauricio Macri defeated Daniel Filmus, who was backed by the governing party in a runoff election to become mayor of Buenos Aires. Macri said at a press conference following the victory that he plans to run for president in 2015.

Read an AS/COA hemispheric update exploring Argentina’s electoral outlook.

Student Protests Continue in Chile, Hurting Piñera’s Popularity

President Sebastián Piñera’s education proposal fell short of mollifying student protesters this week, who plan to respond to the president’s outline for reform by Friday. Students have taken over universities and high schools throughout the country, disrupting classes since May and sending Piñera’s approval rating tumbling to 30 percent—his lowest since taking office.

“Anonymous” Enters Education Dispute in Chile

The group “Anonymous” hacked into a series of Chilean government pages in a show of support for the country’s student protesters. As Bloggings by Boz reports, the attack could have been staged by the international hacking group or by student-activist groups in Chile who have taken on the “Anonymous” moniker. Writes Boz: “This online addition to street protests is likely to become the norm for Latin America in the coming decade. As long as government servers are easily hacked or hit with denial of service attacks, computer-savvy protesters are going to find ways to hit the websites and draw additional attention to their cause.”

Uruguay Condemns Iranian Amb’s Holocaust Denial

Luis Almagro, Uruguay’s foreign affairs minister, condemned comments by Iranian Ambassador Hojatollah Soltani saying that the number of Jewish Holocaust victims did not exceed “maybe thousands.” Almagro recalled that Holocaust survivors still live in Uruguay. Diplomatic relations between Uruguay and Iran remained unaffected by the incident.

Honduras Displaces Guatemala as Top CentAm Coffee Producer

With a harvest of 3.8 million 60-kilogram bags of coffee, Honduras became Central America’s top coffee producer this year. This year was also the first time coffee prices in Honduras had surpassed neighboring Guatemala’s in a decade, reducing a historic pattern of smuggling Honduran beans across the border to fetch higher prices.

Guatemala Sentences Ex-soldiers to 6,060 Years

After a quick trial, a Guatemalan court sentenced four former military officers on Tuesday to 6,060 years of prison each for their role in the 1982 massacre of over 200 people in the village of Dos Erres. MSNBC’s Photo Blog offers scenes from the courtroom. The Central American Politics blogger writes: “[W]hile it is right that these four men from the Dos Erres massacre have their day in court, I am uncomfortable with the fact that the people who trained, ordered, and rewarded them for their behavior will not.”

Noriega to Head Home to Panama

The French government said Tuesday it approved a Panamanian extradition request for Former dictator Manuel Noriega, who is currently serving a seven-year sentence in France for money laundering. Noriega could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of human rights abuses committed during his rule.

Marvel Comics Unmasks Afro-Latino Spidey

Marvel Comics revealed the new face behind the Spiderman mask this week: Miles Morales, a half-black, half-Hispanic teenager from Brooklyn. Morales takes over the superhero job from Peter Parker, who was murdered by the Green Goblin in the last issue. Sid Axel Alonso, senior editor at Marvel Comics, was quoted as saying: “What you have is a Spider-Man for the twenty-first century who’s reflective of our culture and diversity. We think that readers will fall in love with Miles Morales the same way they fell in love with Peter Parker.”

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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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