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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Rousseff Urges against Austerity at EU-Brazil Summit

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff addressed the Fifth EU-Brazil Summit on Tuesday, where her agenda touched on the EU-Mercosur trade agreement and the eurozone debt crisis. Rousseff urged Europe to back away from recessive measures such as austerity plans to overcome the crisis, citing the need to pursue policies that create jobs and income. She assured the Europeans: “You can rely and count on us.”

Dilma and FIFA Chief Discuss World Cup in Brussels

In a meeting Monday in Brussels, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff assured FIFA President Jerôme Valcke that her country will meet all its obligations for the 2014 World Cup. The meeting comes after a series of public misunderstandings between FIFA and Brazil concerning issues such as concession prices and Brazil’s preparedness to host the event. Many of the infrastructure improvements necessary to host the 2014 World Cup are behind schedule.

The Summer 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly focuses on sports in the hemisphere and includes an article by Smith College’s Andrew Zimbalist covering Brazil’s preparedness for the World Cup and Olympics.

Brazil to Begin MINUSTAH Withdrawal in March

Brazil’s defense minister, Celso Amorim, announced that Brazilian troops will begin a gradual withdrawal from Haiti starting in March 2012. Brazilian troops have been stationed there since 2004, where Brazil leads the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH. The goal of the withdrawal is to hand local security control over to the Haitians and slowly reduce the number of troops to pre-earthquake levels.

Third Time’s a Charm: Haiti Finally Gets New PM

Haiti’s Senate approved Gary Conille, a development expert, on Tuesday as the country’s new prime minister. Conille was President Michel Martelly’s third nominee for the post. Legislators rejected the prior two candidates over the summer. Observers hope that confirmation of the new prime minister will help spur along Haitian reconstruction efforts.

Obama Submits Colombia, Panama, Korea FTAs to Congress

After a wait of almost five years, U.S. President Barack Obama submitted free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea to Congress for approval on Monday. Legislators must approve the deals within 90 days under fast-track rules, though both houses of Congress are expected to pass the agreements this month.

Read an AS/COA News Analysis about the White House’s submission of the FTA’s to Congress.

Social Media Diplomacy: “Friending” Latin America

A report released October 5 by the office of U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Dick Lugar (D-IN) urges the State Department to promote social media and technology use to boost Latin American democracy. A focus on social media use could also expand business opportunities across the hemisphere, according to the report. “The growth of this market provides the opportunity for innovation and commercial gains for United States technological industry and for Latin American entrepreneurs,” said Lugar in a press release. The Washington Post’s Innovations blog covers the report, which includes case studies for Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico.

Rick Perry Open to U.S. Military Involvement in Mexico’s Drug War

U.S. Republican presidential candidate and Texas Governor Rick Perry suggested that, as president, he would be open to using the U.S. military to help Mexico fight the drug war. This has incited a lively debate about the viability of the plan, though Mexican ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan has said the idea is “not on the table.” An article in the Texas Tribune discusses the complexities of the issues.

Canada’s Immigration-integration Challenges

A new country profile by Migration Information Source focuses on Canada’s success when it comes to encouraging immigration by highly skilled and educated individuals. However, recent evidence shows that labor-market barriers keep many immigrants from finding positions commensurate with their skills. “The apparent mismatch between the skills and education levels of economic-class migrants and labor market performance in Canada is a concern that highlights both integration challenges in the post-industrial economy and a sharp division between immigration policy intent and outcomes,” writes A.E. Challinor.

El Salvador’s New “Disappeared”

According to El Faro, there have been 625 registered “disappeared” so far this year in only five municipalities of San Salvador. In a photo gallery, the newspaper explores the belongings and people those disappeared have left behind. (H/T: Central American Politics blog.)

Cuba Dissolves the Ministry of Sugar

Stating that it “currently serves no state function,” the Cuban government announced the close of the Ministry of Sugar last week. In its place will be a “business system capable of turning its exports into hard currency to finance its own expenses.” This comes as Cuba, once the world’s leading sugar producer, reported its lowest harvest since 1905 last year, and the government searches for ways to boost efficiency.

Sale of Cars Permitted in Cuba

As of October 1, Cubans will be able to buy and sell cars for the first time since the Cuban Revolution. Under the new regulations, buyers and sellers must pay a 4 percent tax and may not use money from remittances towards the purchase of a car. The import of cars from abroad remains heavily restricted.

Puerto Rico’s Governor to Submit Status Referendum

Governor of Puerto Rico Luis Fortuño said Tuesday that he plans to introduce a two-part referendum that could decide whether the island remains a U.S. territory. The legislation must be debated by the Puerto Rican Congress before it can be issued as a referendum, which asks voters to choose whether they support statehood, independence, or sovereign-free association—all of which differ from the current commonwealth status. Should the referendum advance, it would likely be slated for next year.

Ecuador’s “Coup,” One Year Later

Friday marked one year since a tussle between the police and President of Ecuador Rafael Correa that was labeled a “coup” by the government, but which opponents maintain was a particularly violent labor dispute. The Christian Science Monitor evaluates how the events of September 30, 2010 changed the country’s police, media, and the judicial system.

Peru Puts Ley de Consulta into Action

Peru has agreed to its first oil contracts since unanimously passing the ley de consulta last month. The law requires previous consultation with indigenous or rural communities before undertaking resource extraction or infrastructure projects. The law was a focal point of President Ollanta Humala’s campaign, and he believes the law will help attract investment by quelling the social unrest that has accompanied such projects in the past.

Judge Blocks Construction of Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam

JURIST reports that a Brazilian judge ruled on September 29 to construction of the Belo Monte dam in the country’s Amazon region must halt. The judge contended that the $11 billion dam project would harm fishing for indigenous people. The government argues the dam will provide clean energy to meet Brazil’s rising energy hunger.

Latin America’s Protest Wave

In a ViewsWire podcast, Economist Intelligence Unit analysts discuss the wave of protests taking place in South America in recent months, contrasting indigenous ongoing protests in Bolivia and Peru with education protests in Chile and anti-corruption protests in Brazil.

Chile Announces Budget Increases for Education, Social Spending

After months of student protests, the Chilean government proposed a budget yesterday that would expand social spending by 5 percent, and education by 7.2 percent for 2012, reports Latin America News Dispatch. The increase will result in the largest sum spent by the Chilean government on education in history. The budget also includes large outlays to fight poverty and crime. President Sebastian Piñera stated: “The 2012 budget has been designed especially with the needs and aspirations of our middle class and most vulnerable sectors in mind.”

One in Five Latin Americans Benefits from CCTs

According to the United Nations, 113 million Latin Americans, or one in five people in the region, benefit from a conditional cash transfer (CCT) program. These programs, in which poor families receive money in exchange for meeting certain educational or health criteria, are now implemented in 18 countries in the region. These figures were announced at the opening of a conference held in Santiago, Chile, focused on CCTs by three UN agencies.

Buenos Aires-Doha Drug Route Exposed

InSight Crime reports on a drug route between Argentina and Qatar exposed last month.  An Argentine judge is investigating six cases of suspects apprehended while trying to smuggle cocaine from Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza International Airport to Doha. Traffickers arrested included Europeans, Nigerians, and South Africans.

Chávez’s Poll Numbers up 10 Percent

Western Hemisphere Analysis links to a Datanalisis poll showing that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s poll numbers increased by 10 percent between July and September, to 58.9 percent. Further, the percentage of Venezuelan’s expressing their intention to vote for Chávez increased from 31 percent in July to 40 percent. This increase comes even while the Venezuelan president battles cancer, for which he continues to receive treatment.

Venezuela’s Ismael and the Holy Thugs

An article in The Guardian discusses a cult in Venezuela, known as “Ismael and the Holy Thugs.” The cult, which puts its belief in fictional figures from Venezuela’s criminal subculture, is an offshoot of a group that believes the dead exist with the living and can be channeled through mediums. In a country rocked by crime, devotees look to Ismael—a supposed “good criminal” killed by a “bad cop”—to protect them from crime or guide them in their illegal activities. “He can answer our prayers because he has walked down the same streets as we have,” said a local community leader. “He knows what we live, what we suffer. We didn’t inherit him from the Spanish.”

Chile-based Telescope Begins Study of Cosmic Dawn

The BBC reports the opening of a new telescope in Chile’s Atacama Desert described as “the largest, most complex telescope ever built” and will allow astronomers to study the origins of the universe. Scientific operations astronomer Diego García says the telescope will usher in a “new golden age of astronomy.”

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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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