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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Brazil’s Senate Passes Forest Code Bill as Amazon Deforestation Declines

On Monday, Brazil’s Senate passed a controversial forest code bill with overwhelming support. The bill alters an existing forestry law, and would increase the amount of forest farmers can legally cut down. It would also offer amnesty to those who illegally deforested land before 2008. The bill must pass the Chamber of Deputies before being submitted to President Dilma Rousseff, but still faces still opposition. Environmentalists have rallied support against the bill, and a Folha de São Paulo report today reveals that 50 congressmen received $8.3 million in campaign donations from agribusinesses that would receive amnesty under the new law. 

Coincidentally, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research reported this week that deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in 2011 reached its lowest level ever recorded since 1988. Between August 2010 and July 2011, Brazil lost 6,238 square kilometers of rainforest, 11.7 percent less than the same period last year. 

Brazilian Labor Minister Steps Down

Brazil’s embattled Minister of Labor Carlos Lupi resigned on December 4, becoming the seventh member of President Dilma Rousseff’s team to step down since she assumed office, and the sixth on account of corruption. Brazilian press accused Lupi of diverting taxpayer money to NGOs, an accusation he repeatedly denied. In his resignation, he stated: “I leave with the clear conscience of a duty fulfilled, of my confident, personal belief that the truth always prevails.” Hoping to avoid another political crisis, President Rousseff also called on Fernando Pimentel, minister of Development, Industry, and Foreign Trade, to discuss his time as a consultant between 2009 and 2010. Brazilian newspaper O Globo suggested he may be involved in influence peddling and non-payment of services rendered.

Read an AS/COA Online hemispheric update about the Rousseff administration’s attempts to rein in corruption.

State of Emergency Declared in Peru Amid Mining Protests

On Saturday, President Ollanta Humala announced a 60-day state of emergency following large-scale protests against Peru’s largest mining project in the Cajamarca province.  Residents oppose the $4.8 billion Conga mine, operated by American company Newmont Mining, since they believe it will cause environmental damage and contaminate the water supply. The state of emergency permits arrests without warrants. On Tuesday, police arrested two protest leaders; Wilfredo Saavedra, head of the Environment Defense Front of Cajamaraca, and Milton Sanchez, the head of a civic association were questioned and detained for 10 hours. 

Diverging Goals for CELAC?

On December 2 and 3, representatives from all 33 countries in the hemisphere except for the United States and Canada met in Venezuela to form the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Heralded by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as the realization of the Bolivarian dream and a counterweight to the Organization of American States, some question whether the organization has any definitive responsibilities, since it lacks a structure and rules. As The Miami Herald points out, some countries including Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela want the organization to act as a force against U.S. influence, while others—like Chile, Colombia, and Costa Rica—want CELAC to work in conjunction with existing organizations.

Read more about CELAC in an AS/COA Online News Analysis.

Thousands of Colombians March against FARC

Protesters took to the streets in Colombia’s major cities as well as abroad on December 6 to demand the release of hostages and an end to violence by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The marches were supported by local press and President Juan Manuel Santos, who called for “a million voices against the FARC,” hoping to recreate marches in 2008 that attracted millions of protesters. This year’s marches attracted an estimated 100,000 in the capital city of Bogota, with smaller groups in the second cities of Medellin and Cali, and international marches in New York and Miami. In response to the protests, FARC announced the release of more hostages, but said it remains committed to prisoner exchanges with the Colombian government.

Venezuelan Opposition Debates Show More Agreement than Discord

Venezuelan opposition candidates faced one another in a second televised debate on December 4. Among the topics discussed were security, education, and the economy. As in the case of the debates held on November 14, Venezuela’s El Tiempo found this round characterized more by agreement than by discord. The newspaper believes the solidarity shown by the candidates will be good for the opposition, but with little to distinguish the candidates, the debates may have limited impact on voter preferences.

Jamaica Announces General Elections for December 29

Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced on Sunday that Jamaica will hold general elections on December 29. Holness, of the Jamaica Labor Party, could potentially have the shortest PM term in Jamaican history, since he was appointed in October 2011 after embattled former Prime Minister Bruce Golding stepped down.

Cuba’s Social Network: Havana Launches RedSocial

The Cuban Ministry of Education launched RedSocial (Social Network), its own version of Facebook on December 1. The site’s layout is similar to Mark Zuckerberg’s, and even has Facebook in its url: http://facebook.ismm.edu.cu/ However, it features a map of Cuba instead of Facebook’s global map. The site, which touts itself as a “virtual meeting place for Cuban universities,” is only accessible within Cuba.

Police Duties Approved for Honduran Military

On November 30 the Honduran Congress approved a measure allowing the military to take on police duties within the country. The move is meant to combat the spiraling crime problem in the country as it battles with organized crime groups in the international drug trade. While the measure was popular, legal analysts question its constitutionality, according to an article in Honduran daily La Tribuna. Analysts protest that the measure sets no time limit on the state of emergency, and no end-date for when the military will stop performing police duties, and that a declaration of a state of emergency by the executive would have sufficed.

Gunmen in Honduras Target Security Chief and Journalists

Gunmen on motorcycles killed the former Security Minister of Honduras, José Alfredo Landaverde, on Wednesday morning in Tegucigalpa. He was with his wife in his car when they were attacked. Landaverde, also a former head of the Anti-Narcotics Commission, was an outspoken critic of police corruption who publicly denounced lawmakers involved in drug trafficking and believed police were responsible for the 2009 murder of Julián Arístides Gonzales, the Honduran drug czar. 

The Honduran press, which faces mounting levels of violence, also came under attack this week. The Tegucigalpa offices of Honduran daily La Tribuna were attacked in the early morning hours of December 5 by a group of unidentified gunmen. The assault comes after the newspaper reported on links between the police and the death of two university students. La Tribuna’s general manager was shot and wounded in May. Just hours after the attack on the newspaper, a Honduran radio journalist was shot and killed by gunmen on motorcycles on her way to work in Tegucigalpa. She was the seventeenth journalist killed in Honduras since 2010.

Guatemalan Police Archive Goes Online

In collaboration with the University of Texas at Austin, millions of documents from the Guatemalan national police archive are now available online. The documents are available free of cost, and can be accessed by anyone. The digital archive contains 12 million of the nearly 80 million pages of documents found in 2005, and sheds light on atrocities committed by the government during the lengthy civil war. (H/T: Latin American News Dispatch)

U.S. Foreign Relations Committee Debates Nicaraguan Elections

Inconsistencies in Nicaragua’s November 6 election led Chair of the U.S. Congressional Foreign Relations Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, to demand the United States cut off relations with Nicaragua and demand new elections. The declaration was made after statements from former U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua Robert Callahan and Carter Center Director for the Americas Jennifer McCoy, who both qualified the elections as the least transparent and fair since the return to democracy in 1990. The White House is coordinating with other countries to form a joint reaction to the accusations of voter fraud in Nicaragua.

Two-Thirds of Unauthorized Immigrants in U.S. for a Decade

Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center, finds that nearly two-thirds of the 10.2 million undocumented immigrants in the United States have been here for at least ten years, and that nearly half have children who are minors. The Center believes this reflects the sharp growth of illegal migration at the turn of the century that has since slowed.

U.S. Fortifies Stretch of Mexican Border Fence Extending into Pacific

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency will invest $4.3 million to replace a 1,300 foot section of the Mexico border fence near San Diego. The 18-foot-tall fence will extend 300 feet into the ocean. The Atlantic’s Cities blog takes a look back at the evolution of the border since the Nixon administration and the fortification of the portion built in the ocean. “like the salty water of the Pacific Ocean eating away at the old fence and eventually the new one, concerns over the fence’s impacts—environmental, political, social, economic—may also gradually eat away at the justifications behind these structures,” writes Nate Berg. 

Will Mexico’s New Migration Laws Matter?

Migration Information Source released its annual series of features on the top immigration stories of the year. Among them is a story on Mexico’s recent efforts to reform its immigration laws. Mexico has long struggled with undocumented Central American migration through its porous southern border. The new migration law, unanimously approved by the Mexican Congress in April 2011 and signed into law by President Felipe Calderón, creates the most sweeping reforms since the 1970s. However, there are worries that the historical corruption of Mexican National Institute of Migration, and the growing power of organized crime groups may undermine reform efforts.

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the Mexico’s 2011 immigration law.

Intelligence Op Stops Gadhafi’s Son From Fleeing to Mexico

Mexico’s Interior Minister Alejandro Poiré announced on Wednesday that an intelligence operation uncovered a plot to smuggle Moammar Gadhafi’s son Saadi and his family to Mexico. A Canadian, a Dane, and two Mexicans tried to procure false documents, open bank accounts and make travel arrangements for Gadhafi, currently in Niger.

PRI Party Chief Steps Down amid Corruption Scandal

Chief of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Humberto Moreira, stepped down December 2 amid accusations of financial mismanagement during his time as governor of the northern state of Coahuila. Upon departing office, Moreira left the state with $3 billion in debts, some of it through loans allegedly acquired with falsified documents. Party members feared the scandal would hurt the PRI’s chances in next year’s election, which it is currently expected to win. Writing for Excelsior, Mexican political scientist Leo Zuckermann questions why PRI presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto supported Moreira for the party presidency without properly vetting him.

Mexican Candidate’s Literature Mishap Sparks Twitter Controversy

Presidential candidate and former State of Mexico Governor Enrique Peña Nieto found himself at the center of controversy over the weekend when he was unable to correctly name a book that influenced him at Guadalajara’s International Book Fair. He confused two of Mexico’s most famous authors—Enrique Krauze and Carlos Fuentes—and rambled about the Bible. The gaffe went viral on Twitter. Later, Peña Nieto’s daughter tweeted an angry response to her father’s critics, eliciting an embarrassed apology from the candidate. 

Regional Stock Exchange MILA to Include Mexico

The Mexican stock exchange, Bolsa Mexicana de Valores (BMV), expressed its intent to join the Integrated Latin American Market, known as MILA. This would combine BMV with the stock markets of Chile, Peru, and Colombia, and will create a joint market valued at $1 trillion. The deal is subject to regulatory and legal authorization.

Chile, Mexico Top OECD List of Income Inequality

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), released a report Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising, which looks at the causes of inequality in OECD member countries over the past 30 years. Latin American OECD members Chile and Mexico top the list for income inequality. In the case of Chile, the richest 10 percent earns 27 times what the poorest ten percent earns, while in Mexico the statistic is 26 times more. The OECD average is a difference of nine times. To overcome the inequality, the OECD suggests the creation of more jobs, and higher investments in human capital.

Corruption Perceptions Index Finds Chile, Uruguay, Least Corrupt in Latin America

Transparency International released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index on December 1. Canada leads for lowest levels of corruption in the hemisphere, standing at number 10, while Chile led for Latin America at number 22—two spots ahead of the United States. Uruguay comes in a close regional second at number 25. According to the study, the most corrupt countries in the hemisphere are Haiti at 175 and Venezuela at 172, both falling under the category of “highly corrupt.”

Uruguay Vows Honesty on Military Rule Crimes

Following the October repeal of a dictatorship-era amnesty law, Uruguay is taking steps to uncover military abuses from 1975 to 1983. General Pedro Aguerre spoke to the media this week and promised to find any information about the murder of Julio Castro, a victim of the military regime whose body was identified last week after being found on a military base. President José Mujica has also spoken out to urge those with knowledge about past military abuses to report them.

Tide Turning for Argentina’s Relations with Iran?

Reuters looks at the growing links between Argentina and Iran. Relations between the two countries have traditionally been cold since Iran’s alleged involvement in a 1994 bomb attack on a Buenos Aires Jewish center, but have started to warm recently amid growing trade connections. Argentina has shown itself to be open to dialogue with Iran and appears to be moving away from condemning Iran’s nuclear program–moves that worry Israel and the United States. (H/T: Pan American Post)

E-Commerce Jumps in Latin America

Infolatam reports on the growing e-commerce industry in Latin America, which rose 40 percent in 2011, reaching sales of $35 billion. Brazil led the industry, making up 60 percent of all online sales, followed by Mexico with 12 percent. Analysts see potential for growth in the region as access to internet and credit cards continues to grow.

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