Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas



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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Venezuelan Opposition Agrees to Back One Candidate

Members in the Venezuelan opposition umbrella group known as the Coalition for Democratic United (MUD) signed a pact Monday agreeing to present a united front against President Hugo Chávez in next year’s presidential election. The pact states they will recognize the winner of the February 12 primary as the sole candidate of the MUD. The MUD also asked the Venezuelan Electoral Council that international observers from the OAS, UN, EU, Mercosur, and Unasur be invited to monitor the vote.

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the Venezuelan opposition’s decision to back one candidate.

Bolivian Ministers Resign over Rainforest Highway Controversy

As Bloggings by Boz notes, some 20 social movements in eight Bolivian departments aligned with indigenous protests against construction of a highway through the country’s rainforest. The Brazil-funded highway would connect the northeast of Bolivia with northern Chile and run through the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (known by its Spanish acronym TIPNIS). With the government of Evo Morales facing criticism over police action against the protesters, the interior and defense ministers are among officials to resign over the controversy. Morales suspended construction of the TIPNIS project; its fate will be decided in a referendum held in two Bolivian departments.

An AS/COA News Analysis offers background on the TIPNIS highway protests. 

Bolivia in Focus

The Fall 2011 issue of Harvard’s ReVista focuses on Bolivia, taking a look in particular at changes in the country since current President Evo Morales took office. Topics explored include economics and development, education, political processes, natural resources, and different aspects of Bolivian identity.

Paraguayan Guerrilla Group Threatens Journalists

The leader of the leftist guerrilla group Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), Alcides Oviedo Brítez, is currently serving time in prison but told Paraguayan daily La Nación that the group would begin targeting civilians and journalists if they acted as “informants.” The EPP is responsible for a number of kidnappings, murders, and attacks in Paraguay over the past decade, including strikes on police stations over the past week that resulted in the death of two police officers. Journalists have called on the Paraguayan government to protect journalists and journalistic freedoms. 

Peru’s New Government Faces Child Malnutrition Challenge

The Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog takes a look at Peru’s efforts to tackle infant malnutrition. Between 2005 and 2011, chronic malnutrition in children under five dropped from 22.9 percent to 16.5 percent. But rates run higher in rural areas, with the figure reaching 44.7 percent in the province of Huancavelica last year. Government health programs such as Juntos help by providing monetary incentives for bringing their children in regularly for health clinic visits. Writes Dan Collyns, “The model has been exported around the world and the view of the new government, which has yet to spend 100 days in power, is expected to be: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Can the Colombian Left Overcome the Moreno Rojas Scandal?

The Economist’s Americas View blog discusses the effect of the corruption scandal involving former Bogota Mayor Samuel Moreno Rojas on his party, the Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA). The PDA’s long-standing support for the mayor, despite mounting evidence against him, hurt the party’s reputation—already tarnished by fierce congressional infighting. As the only party opposing current president Juan Manuel Santos’ “national unity” coalition, the success of the PDA has serious consequences for the Colombian left.

Private Equity Sees Infrastructure Investment Opportunity

Infrastructure is key to taking advantage of Colombia’s economic potential, but Colombia faces problems of investment due to the country’s nascent private equity sector. “Having grown from two funds in 2005 to a total of 20 today, industry players are on the collective lookout for investment gaps, like in infrastructure, that they are ready to fill,” reports Universia Knowledge@Wharton. “But regional competition is stiff and Colombia, still synonymous until recently with drug trafficking and violent clashes between leftist guerrillas and its military, has only a small portion of the region’s PE fundraising, and replicating the large deals of Latin America’s more mature markets won’t happen overnight.” 

Hillary Clinton Meets with Colombian Foreign Minister

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with her Colombian counterpart María Holguín in New York Monday. The two discussed cooperation and security concerns in Central America, and issues from the UN Security Council such as Syria, Palestine, and Haiti. Clinton also expressed optimism for the passage of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which awaits approval by the U.S. Congress. The two agreed to meet again in Bogota in 2012.

Senate Approves Worker Aid Bill Linked to Colombia, Panama FTAs

The U.S. Senate last week agreed to extend Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which provides aid to U.S. workers suffering unemployment due to outsourcing. Democrats made passage of the program, which now requires House approval, to approval of long-pending free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. The Washington Times reports that, with the TAA roadblock cleared, the White House could send along the trade pacts for congressional approval as early as next month.

White House Announces Nominee for Western Hemisphere Affairs Post

The Obama administration announced on Tuesday Roberta Jacobson as its pick for the U.S. Department of State’s Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs. The position has been vacant since Arturo Valenzuela stepped down in July. Jacobson currently serves as acting assistant secretary at the Bureau and previously worked as deputy assistant secretary for Canada, Mexico, and NAFTA issues.  The nomination requires U.S. Senate approval.

Mexico City Mayor Ebrard Launches Presidential Bid

The mayor of Mexico City, Marcelo Ebrard, officially launched his candidacy for Mexico’s 2012 presidential election,  with the left-leaning Democratic Revolution Party (PRD). He will step down on January 1 to pursue the post. The Los Angeles Times’ World Now blog reports that “Ebrard’s first serious hurdle may be his former boss, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a divisive figure who nonetheless commands a wide base of passionate supporters” within the PRD.

Has Mexican Oil Lost Its Incentive to Reform?

Mexican oil production appears to have stabilized after many years of falling production. However, Financial Times’ Adam Thomson writes that analysts fear this stabilization hampers incentive for reform of the Mexican oil industry, which is highly restricted and dominated by Pemex, the state oil monopoly. The subject of oil industry reform is taboo in the country, where the sector generates one third of government revenue.

How to Breathe New Life into the Border Governors Conference

Council on Foreign Relations’ Shannon O’Neil writes this week on the importance of revitalizing the Border Governors Conference. The annual conference, which once brought together the governors of the four American and six Mexican border states, was affected by the polarized political environment in the United States, as well as the pressures of unmanageably large agendas. O’Neil argues the conference should be revived and streamlined to help the two countries reach common solutions to the most pressing issues.

Noriega’s Panamanian Return Scheduled for October

Former dictator Manuel Noriega, deposed amid a U.S. invasion in 1989, will return to Panama on October 1, after having served jail time for money laundering in the United States and France. He will be extradited to Panama to face murder charges there.

Chávez Extends CELAC Invitation to Honduran President

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez invited Honduran President Porfirio Lobo to attend a conference on the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, reports the Honduran Chancellery of State. The invitation is especially noteworthy considering Chávez’s prior objection recognizing Lobo’s presidency after the Honduran leader was elected in the wake of the 2009 Honduran coup.

Jamaican PM Says He’ll Step Down in November

Prime Minister Bruce Golding of the Jamaica Labor Party announced on September 25 that he intends to step down from his position in November. “The challenges of the last four years have taken their toll, and it was appropriate now to make way for new leadership to continue the programs of economic recovery and transformation while mobilizing the party for victory in the next general elections,” said Golding. Golding has faced criticism over his government’s handling of the extradition of Jamaican drug kingpin Christopher “Dudus” Coke.

Haiti’s Martelly Taking Steps to Restore Military

Associated Press reports that it obtained a document indicating that Haitian President Michel Martelly plans to make good on a campaign pledge to restore his country’s military—disbanded in 1995 by Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Martelly’s government would spend $95 million to equip a military that could, at some point, replace the UN peacekeeping force currently stationed in the country. A post in TIME’s Global Spin blog contends that Haiti does not need an army. “Haiti could indeed use improved civil defense forces like disaster response teams or a coast guard,” writes Tim Padgett. “But it faces few if any foreign military threats, so it doesn’t need an army—neither the expense of it nor the real risk of human rights abuses.” 

Chilean Students Agree to Government Talks, Plan More Protests

Student leaders agreed this week to sit down with the Chilean government in hopes of negotiating an end to five months of strikes through reforms to the country’s education system, but they pledged to go ahead with a major demonstration on Thursday. Students have demanded for the central government to increase public funding and take full control of education while the administration of President Sebastián Piñera has pledged some reforms that protest leaders say do not go far enough.

Washington Rejects New Multilateral Credits for Argentina

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Treasury for International Markets and Development Marisa Lago announced this week that the Obama administration will henceforth oppose loans from multilateral development banks (such as the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank) to Argentina until the country repays its Paris Club debts. “As one of the largest contributors to these institutions, the United States cannot continue to allow its money to be used to support Argentina, when the Argentine government owes $3.5 billion to U.S. citizens,” said Robert Raben, executive director of American Task Force Argentina. It is unclear if other nations will follow the United States’ example.

Argentina Seeks Contact Info for Journalists Who Cover Inflation

A judge in Argentina requested the personal information of journalists who have written about inflation in the country in the past five years. The debate over Argentina’s inflation statistics is ongoing with many questioning the government’s official statistics and relying instead on alternative sources. Guillermo Moreno, the secretary of Domestic Trade, has said these alternative estimates may constitute a violation of criminal law, and imposed fines on firms who create them. The Argentine Association of Journalistic Bodies has said the requests for journalists’ information “carries a clear risk of indirect censorship and potential restrictions on free information from the public.”

Latin America’s Parental Leave Average Falls Short

A report from the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean examines parental leave throughout Latin America for formal-sector employees. The report found that, on average, Latin American countries offer three months leave, which is shorter than the 14-week minimum outlined by the International Labor Organization’s Maternity Protection Convention. Chile, Cuba, and Venezuela exceed Latin America’s average by offering 18 weeks and Brazil offers public sector employees six months.

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