Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

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U.S. Envoy Travels to Mexico amid Debate over CIA’s Drug War Involvement

Deputy Secretary Bill Burns—the U.S. State Department’s second in command—traveled to Mexico City this week to meet with Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa and continue talks on U.S.-Mexico cooperation. His visit comes amid controversy surrounding an article published in The New York Times earlier this month. The report stated that Washington has recently posted CIA operatives and retired military personnel at a Mexican military base to share information about and help combat cartel operations. The New York Times indicated that the United States is considering sending private-security contractors as well. Mexican daily El Universal reports on the visit by Burns, who said during a press conference that Washington respects Mexican sovereignty and does not carry out operations on Mexican soil. Mexican security spokesman Alejandro Poiré acknowledged last week that U.S. agents participate in information exchanges but do not participate in raids or arrests.

Calderón Eliminates Pocket Veto

On Tuesday, Mexican President Felipe Calderón inked a constitutional change ending the “pocket veto,” which allowed presidents to reject legislation by ignoring it, reports the Associated Press. Mexican heads of state will now be required to approve a bill or resubmit it to the country’s Congress within a 30-day period. 

Merida Initiative Shifting Focus to Mexico’s North

El Paso Times reports that the $1.5 billion Merida Initiative will move its focus to Mexico’s northern states in an effort to support state and local initiatives combating cartel activities. “This is where most of the cartels have focused their activities,” said William R. Brownfield, assistant secretary of the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, on Tuesday at a border-security conference in El Paso.

At a recent COA event, Ambassador Brownfield discussed Central American security issues, including their impact on Mexico’s drug war. Watch a video.

UNASUR Ministers Meet to Confront Global Financial Volatility

South American finance ministers and central bank heads convened in Argentina on Friday to discuss how to meet global financial instability head on. Unasur officials proposed boosting trade, creating a $10 billion to $20 billion fund to help countries facing capital flight, and strengthening an existing fund that helps Latin American countries facing balance of payment problems.

Make Way for the Multilatinas

In a guest post for the Financial Times beyondbrics blog, ESADE Professor Javier Santiso writes that “the rise of the Latin multinational cuts across many countries and sectors” as multilatinas—the term coined to describe international Latin American firms—become increasingly globalized. Of the 66 most globalized firms in the region, 53 run operations outside Latin America.

Funes Discusses Talks about El Salvador’s Crime Fight

In a 25-minute interview with Al Jazeera English, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes discusses how his government is working to reduce one of the highest murder rates in the world while also attempting to address the root causes of his country’s violence. “We are convinced that our problems—poverty, the lack of or slow economic growth, and climate change—can only be solved regionally,” Funes said.

Sotomayor Visits El Salvador

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor arrived in El Salvador on August 15 for a week-long visit, in which she will meet with Mari Carmen Aponte, the U.S. ambassador to the Central American country. During her trip, Sotomayor will also meet with her Salvadoran counterparts in the Supreme Court as well as law students in the capital of San Salvador.

Panama Canal Marks Anniversary with Ongoing Expansion

A mile-long, 100-foot deep hole marks the beginning of the Panama Canal’s first expansion in its century-long history. The $5.25 billion project is expected to greatly expand trade between the Americas and Asia by allowing ships that are 965 feet long and 106 feet wide to pass through the canal’s locks. The expansion is scheduled for completion in 2014.

U.S. Legislator Calls for Overhaul of Cuban Adjustment Act

Congressman David Rivera (R-FL) this week called for a change to the Cuban Adjustment Act, a 1966 law that grants residency to most Cubans who arrive in the United States. Rivera wants to exclude emigrants who return to the island to visit their relatives, arguing that they should not qualify for a law enacted to provide political asylum. The initiative responds primarily to the desires of hardline elements from the generation of Cuban-Americans who left the island in the 1960s fleeing communism and who oppose President Obama’s loosening of travel restrictions, but Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute does not expect the bill to move forward.

Peru’s Mining Firms Agree to Higher Royalties

A Peruvian government source said this week that mining firms in that country have agreed to pay higher royalties, based on profits rather than sales. “The new system would be similar to one used in Chile,” reports Reuters. The new royalty rate has not yet been determined. President Ollanta Humala pledged renegotiation of royalty rates while campaigning for election.

Humala Follows Colombian Model to Combat Shining Path

In an effort to combat a resurgent Shining Path, Peru’s President Ollanta Humala appears to be following in Colombia’s footsteps to find a solution, reports The Christian Science Monitor. Humala is seeking to reshape Peru’s counterinsurgency strategy and “has studied the recent success of Colombia in beating back the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia” (FARC) with an eye to the intelligence work used in deadly attacks against FARC leaders Raul Reyes and Mono Jojoy, writes Geoffrey Ramsey. “Intelligence work was a key factor in both of these assassinations, and military sources told the newspaper that they are restructuring their intelligence organs to focus on taking out the Shining Path’s leaders.”

Growing Number of Colombian Municipalities at Risk for Electoral Fraud

Colombia’s Electoral Observation Mission, an NGO, presented a report on August 17 finding that 544 municipalities are at risk for electoral fraud as the country prepares for regional elections in October. The figure marks an increase of 216 compared to 2007. The report highlighted that violence against political candidates had increased by 68 percent since 2007.

Venezuela to Expropriate Gold Industry

President Hugo Chávez said on August 17 he would nationalize the country’s gold industry, in order to boost international reserves. “We don’t only have oil wealth, we have here one of the largest reserves of gold in the world… Let’s convert it into our international reserves because gold is increasing in its value,” Chávez said, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Morales Confronts Indigenous Protests in Bolivia

Bolivian President Evo Morales faces protests in the Amazon from indigenous groups opposed to a joint project with the Brazilian government to build a road through the rainforest. Bloggings by Boz points out that reaching an agreement with protesters, who oppose the highway project over environmental concerns, could prove difficult for Morales, despite his hopes for developing the country’s infrastructure.

Law Reins in Brazil’s Pretrial Detention Troubles

Open Society Foundations’ blog reports on a Brazilian law passed in July that seeks to trim pretrial detention and, thereby, overcrowding in the country’s prisons. After telling the story of one man who spent a decade in pretrial detention before his name was cleared, the post explains that Brazil has the fourth largest prison population in the world—and almost half of those incarcerated await trial. The new law, ushered through with the help of civil society groups, offers nine options to pretrial detention, including bail and electronic monitoring. 

Brazilian Companies among Hemisphere’s Most Valuable

The consultancy Economatica reported that Petrobras and Vale—Brazil’s state-controlled oil company and private mining company—ranked as the fourth and fifth most valuable enterprises in the Americas, respectively, in the first trimester of 2011. Only Exxon Mobil, Chevron Texaco, and Apple topped Petrobras’ $7.01 billion in revenue, according to Economatica.

Fernández de Kirchner on Track to Win a Second Term

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner performed better than expected in Argentina’s first national and obligatory primary election on Sunday, taking just over 50 percent of the vote and winning in all but one province. With no clear opposition figure emerging from the contest, it appears increasingly likely that Fernández de Kirchner will win the election in the first round.

Read an AS/COA Online news analysis of Sunday’s primary election and check out an AS/COA hemispheric update, which explores Argentina’s electoral landscape.

Argentine Agriculture Reshaped by Soy Crops

The Los Angeles Times looks back over Argentina’s shift from farming livestock to soybeans. The total cattle herd in Argentina dropped from 58.3 million to 47.9 million since 2007 while soybean harvests are forecast to reach 50 million tons this year—up from 30 million tons a decade ago. 

Chile Discusses Ending the Binomial System

The Sebastián Piñera administration and opposition politicians in Chile’s Congress have agreed to begin discussing a reform of the country’s binomial system, an electoral system that encourages the formation of coalitions and reduces the possibility of competition from third parties. Changing the electoral laws may require amending the Constitution.

Congressmen Urge Obama to Close School of the Americas

Sixty-seven Democrats and two Republicans have signed a letter asking U.S. President Barack Obama to close the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly called the “School of the Americas.” The letter contends that closing the school, based in Georgia and used to train Latin American soldiers, would save the United States $180 million over the next decade. The school has long been a source of controversy, due to allegations that its alumni perpetrated human rights abuses in the past. 

Sizing up Rick Perry’s Immigration Stance

Despite his reputation as a Tea Party-backed hardliner, Texas Governor Rick Perry holds views on immigration that conservatives view as left-of-center. His positions, outlined by Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post’s Right Turn blog, include opposition to Arizona’s SB 1070 and support for Texas’ 2001 state-level DREAM Act. Perry has said in public statements that he wants the federal government to address national security threats at the border before passing comprehensive immigration reform legislation. But his position may not satisfy Hispanic voters either, some of whom criticize him for only supporting a limited federal DREAM Act, opposing a path to citizenship as part of comprehensive immigration reform, and submitting legislation in Texas to make it harder for undocumented immigrants to receive drivers licenses.

Where Are the U.S. Cartels?

Writing for InSight Crime, Nathan Jones asks why the United States does not appear to have the large drug cartels comparable to those found in neighboring Mexico. Jones posits that the United States is dominated by small drug gangs and decentralized networks of prison gangs that are kept in check by law enforcement.

Competing in Colombia’s Cycling Mecca

NPR reports on an area of central Colombia where locals train in rural mountains and compete to become some of the world’s best cyclists. “In the European racing circuit, Colombian cyclists are famous for withstanding pain,” writes Juan Forero.

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