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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Petro Wins Mayoralty of Bogota on Anti-Corruption Platform

Gustavo Petro, a former presidential candidate and leftist guerrilla, won the mayoralty of Bogota in highly contested elections on October 30. Petro, an independent candidate, won 32.2 percent of the vote, beating his closest runner-up, Enrique Peñalosa, by 7 points, or 150,000 votes. A former Socialist senator, Petro campaigned as an independent with a fierce anti-corruption platform in a city whose last mayor was suspended and jailed in connection with corruption scandals. However, El Tiempo reports that the election was marked by a high rate of abstention, with 52.64 percent of bogotanos not participating. Such a high rate of abstention has occurred previously in Colombia, as in the 2007 election.

Colombia Dissolves Controversial Intelligence Agency

On October 31, the Colombian government officially dissolved the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), an agency tainted by scandals, including allegations of espionage and ties to paramilitary groups. Latin American News Dispatch reports that the agency will be replaced with a department connected to the executive branch, called the National Intelligence Agency. The dismantling of the agency came after the largest intelligence leak in Colombian history in September 2011, when it came to light that DAS employees sold thousands of classified documents containing sensitive intelligence information.

Chinese Minister Expands Military Cooperation on LatAm Tour

China’s Vice President of the Central Military Commission, Colonel General Guo Boxiong, is on a three-country tour of Latin America this week. In Cuba, he met with President Raúl Castro and military leaders, promising to deepen bilateral ties. In Colombia, he signed an agreement to donate $1.5 million to the Colombian government for defense and military investments. He arrived in Peru today, where he will sign bilateral military cooperation agreements. Bloomberg covers the recently signed U.S.-Colombia trade agreement, commenting that it may have been too little too late, pushing Colombia to look for other partners such as China. Says AS/COA’s Eric Farnsworth: “The delay in passing this called into question the United States’ reliability as a partner.” 

Is GOP Immigration Rhetoric Alienating Latino Voters?

Michael Gerson writes for The Washington Post about the one-upmanship shown by Republican presidential candidates as they race to propose ways to combat illegal immigration, from increasing border security to cutting public benefits for undocumented immigrants. “Apart from moral considerations, the denial of basic public benefits to undocumented immigrants and their children raises a number of practical questions: How does it benefit the United States to purposely limit the educational and life prospects of a whole category of students?” writes Gerson. Considering the potential importance of Latino voters in deciding the next election, Gerson asserts the GOP candidates should reconsider their approach.

A new Americas Society report compares the impact of restrictive versus non-restrictive local immigration ordinances, looking in particular at employment.

Rumors Swirl around Anonymous’ Threat Against Zetas

In a YouTube video, the international hacker group Anonymous demanded the release of a fellow member who had been kidnapped by Zetas. The group threatened to reveal the names of a variety of people—from government officials to taxi drivers to journalists—with ties to the Zetas. Later, on Twitter, some Anonymous memberscalled off the operation, dubbed #OpCartel, though other members claimed it was too late and that the information would be released.  Some reports indicate that the YouTube video that started the controversy is a fake, that other observers say Anonymous backed down due to fears of violent repercussions, and that Anonymous Mexico may not be behind the threat.  However, rumors continue that Anonymous will release intelligence about the Zetas on November 5

Peña Nieto’s Star Power

The Atlantic profiles Enrique Peña-Nieto, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate who is considered the frontrunner in Mexico’s presidential race, focusing on the star power that has propelled his career. As governor of the State of Mexico—the country’s largest state—Peña Nieto has amassed a wealth of support. If elected president, it would mark the first time the PRI returned to the presidency since 2000, before which they ruled for 70 years. Silvana Paternostro writes that aside from political accomplishments, Peña Nieto can count other factors weighing in his favor: “[T]he good looks that have inspired his opponents to dub him ‘a male Barbie’ or ‘the PRI’s policy Beckham;’ and his partnership with Televisa, Latin America’s biggest mass-media company and, through its popular telenovelas, creator of stars like Salma Hayek.”

How “Economic Complexity” Spells Growth for Mexico and Central America

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released The Atlas of Economic Complexity, a study that visualizes how the complexity of a country’s products affects economic growth. The study includes three rankings: economic complexity, which measures the “amount of productive knowledge that is implied in export structures;” expected annual per capita growth by 2020; and expected GDP growth. In Latin America, Mexico ranked highest in economic complexity, followed by Panama and Costa Rica. Panama ranked highest in Latin America—and ninth worldwide—in expected growth per capita. Guatemala ranked as the Latin America country with highest expected total GDP growth, followed by Panama and Mexico. The report also includes an interactive feature where users can view infographic results by country.

Guatemalan Candidates’ Wives Profiled

Univision profiles the two potential first ladies of Guatemala, both named Rosa and both married to their husbands since they were teenagers. The presidential runoff is scheduled for this Sunday, and former army general Pérez Molina is the favorite to win. (H/T: The Pan American Post)

Survey Finds Slump in LatAm Support for Democracy

The 2011 Latinobarómetro finds a general fall in support for democracy in the region, led by sharp slumps in Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. The survey also finds a drop in satisfaction with the way democracy functions, and a decrease in public trust for a number of institutions like the Catholic Church, television, and government. The poll found an increase in the concern over quality of public services in countries with emerging middle classes, such as Chile and Brazil. Brazilians were most concerned about the quality of their health system, while Chileans worried about education.

OECD/ECLAC Report: LatAm Social Programs “Insufficient”

Latin American Economic Outlook 2012, published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development along with the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, debuted at this year’s Ibero-American summit in Paraguay. The report finds that while Latin American countries have performed well in spite of the current global economic slump, present social reforms are “insufficient” to construct “equal and inclusive societies.” It suggest larger investments in human capital to promote long-term development.

Global Gender Report Shows Mixed Results in LatAm

The World Economic Forum released its annual Global Gender Gap Report on Monday, indicating uneven results for gender equality throughout the region. In terms of gender equality, Cuba ranked best in Latin America in the twentieth spot, while Guatemala ranked last in the Americas at 112. Other Latin American and Caribbean countries in the survey’s top 30 consist of Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Argentina. Meanwhile, Brazil and Mexico did not fare well, ranking at 82 and 89, respectively. Both countries scored poorly in the areas of income equality and political participation.

UN: Chile, Argentina Most Developed LatAm Countries

The UN Development Program released its annual Human Development Index today. Chile and Argentina were the only Latin American and Caribbean countries ranked in the top 47—considered “very highly developed.” Uruguay and Cuba were the highest-ranked Latin American countries in the “highly developed” category. Haiti was the only country in the region in the “low-developed” category

Argentina’s New Currency Controls Limit Access to Dollars

The Argentine government implemented a new policy this week that limits foreign exchange and reduces access to dollars, which are often used by consumers for large purchases. The move by the newly reelected president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, is intended to combat money laundering, tax evasion, and capital flight. But the policy has affected a large number of consumers and weakened the peso, leading to criticism and confusion about how to adhere to the new regulations.

Uruguay Strikes Down Amnesty Law

Amid fierce debate, the Uruguayan Senate on October 25 invalidated the country’s amnesty law for those involved in the military dictatorship (1973-85). The law passed at the time of the country’s return to democracy, and was created in exchange for a law that also protected those involved in the country’s left-wing guerrilla movements. The Amnesty Law survived two public referendums in 1989 and 2009, and its revocation was narrowly defeated in Congress as recently as May. Its annulment reclassifies crimes committed during the dictatorship as “human rights violations,” and removes the statute of limitations on such crimes, which would have expired November 1.

XXI Ibero-American Summit a Failure?

The Spanish press was largely unimpressed with the XXI Ibero-American Summit, held October 28 and 29 in Asuncion, Paraguay, reports La Nación. Half of the regions leaders failed to attend, and the summit’s most noteworthy episode was Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa walking out on a speech by Pamela Cox, World Bank vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean, and demanding an apology from her for the damage wrought by neoliberalism. Journalists claim Latin American eyes are more focused on Asia, and blame Spain’s underwhelming foreign policy toward the region for the general lack of interest. Some observers wonder if next year’s summit—to be held in Cadiz, Spain—will be the last.

Brazil to Surpass UK as Sixth Largest Economy in 2011

Reports from the IMF and Economic Intelligence Unit project that Brazil will become the world’s sixth largest economy in 2011, surpassing the United Kingdom. Brazil’s GDP is expected to reach $2.44 trillion this year, in comparison with the UK’s $2.41 trillion. Brazil surpassed Italy as the world’s seventh largest economy in 2010, and is expected to surpass the remaining large European economies—France and Germany—by 2020.

Assessing the Political Repercussions of Lula’s Cancer Diagnosis

Brazil’s popular former president, Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva, has a tumor in his larynx and began chemotherapy on Monday at the Hospital Sírio-Libanês in São Paulo. According to the BBC, some analysts speculate whether Lula’s illness will reduce his influence within the governing Worker’s Party, or whether it will it will prevent him from running for the presidency in 2014. Lula may also not be able to fulfill his role as powerbroker in the upcoming 2012 municipal elections. However, Lula’s type of cancer has a 90 percent cure rate, and doctors believe he has an excellent chance of recovery

Brazil Once Again a Country of Immigrants

The Brazilian Ministry of Justice announced this week that 1.4 million foreigners currently live legally in Brazil, an increase of 52 percent since last year. Along with around 600,000 undocumented immigrants, the Ministry estimates there are now 2 million foreigners residing in Brazil. The number of Brazilians living abroad has also decreased from 4 million in 2005 to 2 million in 2011.

Russian Firm Signs $1b Deal to Exploit Amazon Oil Reserves

The Russian oil conglomerate TNK-BP purchased a $1 billion, 45 percent stake in 21 oil blocks in the Solimões Basin in Brazil’s Amazon from the Brazilian firm HRT. Meanwhile, Brazil’s state-owned oil firm Petrobras has focused its efforts on offshore oil reserves, partially due to infrastructure and logistical challenges of Amazon oil exploration.

Chávez‘s Expropriation of UK-Owned Ranches Could Provoke Meat Shortages

Cattle industry leaders fear a meat shortage in Venezuela after Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez seized over 716,000 acres of ranchland from Agropecuaria Flora, a company that belongs to the United Kingdom’s Vestey Group.

Haiti Trial Seeks Prosecution of Post-Quake Police Abuses

On Tuesday, The New York Times detailed the ongoing trial of 13 police officers in Les Cayes, Haiti. The prosecution says the officers are responsible for a 2010 prisoner massacre. The trial is seen as a test of Haiti’s fragile legal system and an attempt to fight impunity in the wake of human rights abuses that followed the 2010 earthquake.

The High Price of Cuba’s Used Cars

NPR’s All Things Considered discusses the high prices charged for used cars in Cuba after the country legalized their sale in October. Under a U.S. trade embargo, and with a 100 percent import tax on new cars, Cuba’s supply of cars remains limited. Sellers have been asking for tens of thousands of dollars for cars that are as much as two decades old. In a country where the average wage is around $20 a month, such an amount is a fortune for a majority of Cubans, according to the report.

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