Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

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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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Helicopter Crash Claims Mexico’s Second Most Powerful Official
Mexico’s Interior Minister Francisco Blake Mora died in a helicopter crash on Saturday en route from Mexico City to Cuernavaca. The accident, which killed seven other people, was ruled a weather-related accident. In 2008, then Interior Minister Juan Camila Mouriño died in similar circumstances: he perished in a plane crash in Mexico City nearly three years to the day from Saturday’s accident. Blake was a powerful force in President Felipe Calderón’s war on drug trafficking, and his loss was a blow to the president’s administration’s war on drugs. Blake was also the fourth interior minister under Calderón, so his death could be a setback for Calderón’s National Action Party (PAN) prior to next year’s presidential elections.

López Obrador to Lead PRD Ticket in Mexico
Mexico’s leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) chose Andrés Manuel López Obrador as their candidate for the 2012 presidential election. Known as AMLO, the former mayor of Mexico City narrowly lost the presidential election in 2006. James Bosworth of Bloggings by Boz writes that the nomination could actually help the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, since after AMLO’s 2006 loss, “bouncing back is going to be tough for him.” He also believes that current Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard would have been a more viable candidate for the PRD, with larger national appeal.

Security, Drug Trafficking Concerns Colored Michoacan Election
Sunday’s elections in the Mexican state of Michoacan resulted in a victory for the PRI, with the PRI candidate for governor, Fausto Vallejo, eking out a victory over PAN candidate Luis Maria Calderón (sister of the current president). The candidate from the PRD, which has ruled Michoacan for the past ten years, came in a distant third. A piece by Animal Politico evaluates the reasons behind this win, including very high voter concern for insecurity and drug trafficking. Michoacan has become one of the most violent states amid President Calderon’s war on drug trafficking. Those concerned with insecurity generally voted for the PRI, while those concerned with drug trafficking tended to support the PAN.

Mexican Migration to the U.S. Reaches Historic Low
The Mexican census indicates that net Mexican migration to the United States is near zero, due to scare jobs in the United States, tighter border controls, and dangerous criminal groups who target migrants on the Mexican side of the border. According to Douglas Massey, an immigration scholar at Princeton University, “We are at a new point in the history of migration between Mexico and the United States.”

Remittances to Latin America Growing Once Again
Reports from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Bank of Mexico show a rise in remittances to Latin America in 2010 and 2011. The IDB report found that remittances increased by $100 million from 2009 to 2010, and the Bank of Mexico reported a 5 percent increase in money transfers during the first half of 2011 from the same period the previous year. Money transfers to Guatemala and Nicaragua also increased over the past two years.

Colombia’s Students Protest Education Reforms
November 10 saw massive student demonstrations in Colombia in protest of President Juan Manuel Santos’ proposal to reform higher education. The proposal would improve public education, says the government, but Colombian students insist education should be free and supported by the state. Tens of thousands of students took to the streets in Bogota even after the President offered to withdraw the controversial legislation. Students said they would not end the protests until the proposal is officially withdrawn, which will require a Congressional vote.

Four Year Intelligence Operation Took down FARC’s Cano
Semana describes the four-year long manhunt to track down FARC leader Alfonso Cano, who was killed by the Colombian military on November 4. Special forces troops and a small group of police infiltrated FARC ranks and tracked down Cano’s head of security in a carefully-planned operation before launching an aerial assault on the FARC hideout and pursuing Cano on foot.

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis on the death of Cano: “Colombia Takes out Top FARC Leader Alfonso Cano

Peru’s President Pursues Pacific Rim Investment at APEC
This weekend, President Ollanta Humala attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Honolulu,  where he met with American investors and held bilateral meetings with the heads of state of Canada, China, Japan, Russia, the United States, and Vietnam. Chilean President Sebastián Piñera also attended the summit, but Mexican President Felipe Calderón did not, sending other delegates after the untimely death of his interior minister.

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the Latin America presence at this year’s APEC summit.

Ethics Committee Votes for Peru VP’s Suspension
On Tuesday, Peru’s congressional ethics committee voted to suspend Vice President Omar Chehade for 120 days, and the full Congress will vote on the suspension next week. Chehade, a member of congress as well as one of two vice presidents, is under investigation for influence peddling but refused to resign. President Ollanta Humala publicly distanced himself from Chehade, but he isn’t able to force him to step down, since vice presidents can only be removed by congressional impeachment.

Correa Announces Cabinet Shuffle
Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa announced a cabinet shuffle on November 10, resulting in the appointment of 15 new ministers. Among the new appointments are Pedro Delgado, a cousin of Rafael Correa, who will head the Central Bank; and Raúl Patiño, brother of Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño, who will head the National Intelligence Agency. The rest of the positions were also mostly long-standing members of Correa’s coalition.

Giving Chávez a Run for his Money
The Wall Street Journal published a profile of Henrique Capriles Radonski, the frontrunner to face President Hugo Chávez in next year’s presidential election. Capriles is currently governor of Venezuela’s second-most populous and economically powerful state of Miranda. Capriles promises to deliver economic growth to the stagnant economy, while keeping social programs: “Chávez is not the owner of social issues,” he states. Current polls put him neck-and-neck with Chávez in a two-way race, but he will first have to win the primary.

Police Occupy Brazil’s Largest Slum
On Sunday, police and military occupied Rocinha, a Rio de Janeiro favela and the largest slum in Brazil, as part of a citywide favela pacification strategy to wrest control from drug traffickers and bring slums under state control. In Rio Real Blog, Julia Michaels analyzes the occupation, describing the favela’s integration into the rest of the city as both a “learning process” and “the end of an era.”

Brazil Divided Over an Emerging Middle Class
Brazil’s new middle class, known as the C class in the alphabetical Brazilian social class scheme, is causing discomfort among the traditional, more affluent middle class as new consumers compete for space with seasoned travelers, reports the BBC. With expanded access to credit, the C class now encompasses 34 percent of domestic tourism spending and more than 50 percent of plane travelers in Brazil.

Piñera Expects “Grand National Agreement” on Education Budget
This weekend, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera told reporters he predicts a “grand national agreement” on the highly divisive education budget. The deadline for the budget is November 30, but the government already ruled out part of the opposition’s proposal to implement tax reforms for increased education spending. A recent poll by Adimark found support for the student protests dropped to 67 percent in the month of October, down from 79 percent in September, while those who disagreed with the protesters also rose 10 points, to 24 percent. The same poll found a slight bump in President Sebastián Piñera’s approval rating, now at 31 percent—up one point from last month.

Anglo American and Codelco Face off
On November 15 a Chilean court unanimously put a hold on Anglo American selling a 24.5 percent share of its holdings in Chile to Japanese company Mitsubishi for $5.39 billion. The Chilean state copper company Codelco says the deal puts in peril its option to purchase a 49 percent share of the company (which was agreed to in October). The Financial Times’  beyondbrics blog offers a guide to the legal issues involved in the dispute.

Argentina Shale Oil Discovery Could Lead to Energy Independence
On November 7, Spanish oil company Repsol announced the discovery of an estimated 927 million barrels of shale oil in Argentina’s Neuquen province. Clarín discusses the political implications of Argentina’s new oil find, which could lead to energy self-sufficiency in as close as five years.

Uruguay Becomes IMF Creditor
Head of Uruguay’s Central Bank Advisory Department, Umberto Della Mea, announced that Uruguay is currently a creditor of the International Monetary Fund. He added that Uruguay has helped IMF bail-outs of countries like Ireland and Angola, and that Uruguay can request up to $4 billion from the institution, six times its quota. This shows a rapid turnaround in just ten years, when Uruguay was on the brink of default.

Panama, Uruguay Reject “Tax Haven” Label
Both Uruguay and Panama have been put on the defensive after French President Nicolas Sarkozy characterized Panama and Uruguay as “tax havens” at the G20 meeting in France. The remarks were fiercely criticized by Uruguayan President José Mujica, who succeeded in receiving an apology from France. However, the comment led his country to undertake greater efforts toward complying with OECD guidelines. In Panama, President Ricardo Martinelli responded that his country was removed from the OECD’s blacklist in July 2011. Martinelli will travel to Paris this week to correct Sarkozy in person.

Nicaragua’s Incorruptible Female Police Chief
McClatchy profiles Nicaragua’s Chief of Police, Aminta Granera. The grandmother, who once trained to be a nun, is seen as incorruptible by the population. Under her watch Nicaragua maintains one of the lowest crime rates in Central America. The article discusses her work as a cop since 1979, and her confrontations with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Polls find her to be the country’s most popular public figure.

Iguazu Falls, Amazon Named among “Seven Natural Wonders of the World”
Iguazu Falls and the Amazon River were voted among the new “Seven Natural Wonders of the World,” in a worldwide internet vote that ended on November 11, 2011 at 11:11 and 11 seconds. The results must now be validated. If approved, celebratory Official Inauguration events will be held in Argentina and Brazil.

Tags: APEC Meeting, Mexican Migration, Mexico Elections, Mexico Interior Minister, Michoacan Elections, President Hugo Chavez, President Rafael Correa, Remittances
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