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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Links Uncovered between LatAm Cartels and Hezbollah

ProPublica examines the links uncovered by U.S. authorities between Latin American drug traffickers, Lebanese banks, and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Connections have been uncovered concerning Latin American drug trafficking profits laundered through Lebanese banks with connections to Hezbollah, as well as in cocaine shipments from South America to the Middle East and Europe. The NPR blog takes a look at the banking connections, and Slate provides an explainer to answer the question: “Why would a Mexican drug cartel selling cocaine to North America want to launder its money through Lebanon?” 

Supreme Court to Decide on Arizona Immigration Law

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will rule on the constitutionality of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB 1070, in mid-2012.  After the law’s passage in April 2010, the Justice Department sued against the measure, and an April 2011 federal appeals court decision prevented parts of the law from taking effect. The Supreme Court will rule on these four blocked parts of the legislation, including a section that allows police to ask for the immigration status of anyone who they believe could be in the United States illegally. 

U.S. and Canada Sign Border Accord

This week, Canadian and U.S. officials agreed to “Beyond the Border,” a non-binding plan intended to reduce red tape and speed up border crossings. It would expand the NEXUS program, a membership initiative which helps “trusted” travelers cross the border more easily. It would allow Canadians changing planes in the United States to avoid having their luggage rescreened, and eases rules for business travelers. The plan would also allow for more information sharing about travelers between the two countries, which could raise privacy concerns in Canada. The Economist’s Gulliver blog notes that those who oppose the new measures “can always take solace in the fact that, as with any other government program, it could take years to be realized, even though pilot projects are slated to start this April.”

Canada Withdraws from Kyoto Protocol

Facing nearly $14 billion in penalties for its greenhouse gas emissions, Canada’s Conservative government has decided to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. Government officials blamed an “incompetent Liberal government” that signed the accord, but took little initiative to follow the treaty’s guidelines, which required industrialized economies to cut their carbon emissions to below 1990 levels. The move drew criticism from members of the main opposition New Democratic Party, who contended that Canada is not making good on its international responsibilities.

Mexico’s China Tariffs Expire

On December 11, Mexico announced the expiration of more than 1,300 tariff restrictions on Chinese imports imposed in 2001. According to local media, the loss of tariffs will allow the entry of cheap Chinese imports, and will put almost a dozen Mexican industries at risk of bankruptcy. The sudden change has led to calls for Mexican industry to increase productivity and quality to compete with Chinese imports, but also for the Mexican government to assure Mexican industry can compete fairly with China.

Police Kill Two Student Protestors in Mexico

During a student teacher protest on a highway in Guerrero state, police clashed with demonstrators, shooting and killing two students. Students demanded to meet with the governor after classes were suspended due to a strike, but the protest turned violent when demonstrators set a nearby gas station on fire. Human rights groups asked for an investigation of the incident, which involved both state and federal police. 

Mexico City’s Informal Bus Network

The Los Angeles Times profiles Mexico City’s privately run, informal mass transit system comprised of small buses. Cheap and covering areas of the city underserved by formal mass transit, micros carry 12 million passengers weekly—nearly three times the number of passengers as the city’s subway system. However, safety concerns from wild drivers to accidents to muggings lead some to believe the system should be ended in favor of a formal bus system, with Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard scrapping 4,000 micros during his term.

U.S. Congress Reconsidering Travel Restrictions to Cuba

Congressman Mario Diaz-Belart (R-FL) included a measure in a House spending bill that would block the Obama administration’s easing of Cuba travel restrictions. Should it pass, the measure would only allow Cuban-Americans to travel to the island once every three years. As The Sun-Sentinal’s Florida Politics blog notes: “[President Barack] Obama opposes the provision, but he may be reluctant to veto the spending bill, which funds government agencies.”

Dominicans of Haitian Descent Protest Citizenship Laws

Hundreds of Dominicans of Haitian descent demonstrated in Santo Domingo on December 8. They protested recent moves by the Dominican government to invalidate their Dominican citizenship, in some cases granted decades ago, based on a 2007 ruling by the Central Electoral Board that nulled citizenship granted to people who could not prove their residency or legal status in the country. The law was denounced by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Many protesters carried images of Sonia Pierre, a human rights defender of Haitians in the Dominican Republic who died last week.

Nomination for U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Defeated

The U.S. Senate defeated the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte to ambassador of El Salvador on December 12 after Republican senators raised questions about her qualifications. At issue was a past relationship Aponte had with an alleged Cuban spy, as well as an editorial Aponte wrote for a Salvadoran publication where she criticized homophobia.

Noriega Extradited to Panama

Former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega was extradited to Panama on December 11 after spending 22 years in prison abroad in the United States and France. He faces a 20-year sentence for several deaths and may await further conviction in his home country, where a law could allow him to serve under house arrest. According to The New York Times, his return prompted little local attention in a country where three-quarters of the population were children when Noriega was removed from power.

Colombian Justice Reform Questioned

Human rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW), criticized Colombia’s plans to increase the use of military tribunals. The new plan would try crimes committed by military members in military courts, on the assumption that crimes are related to military service. HRW rejects this view, and believes it would lead to impunity for human rights abuses committed by the military.

Chávez Launches New Cash Transfer Program

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced a new social program on December 12 called the Great Sons of Venezuela Mission. The program will provide low-income households with $100 per month for each child, up to a maximum of three children. Supporters claim the new project will relieve poverty and misery among Venezuela’s poor, and hold it up as proof of the proper distribution of Venezuela’s oil wealth. Detractors argue it is just another populist tactic meant to shore up support for Chávez before next year’s election.

PM’s Resignation Prompts Cabinet Shuffle in Peru

Peru’s Prime Minister Salomón Lerner resigned on December 10 amid protests in the Cajamarca department over mining projects. His resignation prompted President Ollanta Humala’s entire cabinet to step down in accordance with Peruvian law. Humala named Interior Minister Óscar Valdés to replace Lerner, and also replaced 10 of the 19 ministers.

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis on Lerner’s resignation.

Peru’s Shining Path Admits Defeat

“Comrade Artemio,” leader of the remnants of Peru’s Maoist guerrilla group Shining Path, admitted defeat in an interview with IDL-Reporteros on December 6.  He asked the state for a truce and to begin peace agreement dialogues. Shining Path has only been sporadically active since the capture of their leader Abimael Guzmán in 1992. Peruvian Minister of Defense Daniel Mora denied any possibility of negotiations with Shining Path, stating “terrorists cannot impose conditions on Peru,” and asked members to turn themselves in.

State Split Voted down in Brazil

On Sunday, residents of Para state in Brazil voted in a referendum on whether to split the state into three, creating two new states called Carajas and Tapajos. The measure lost, as 66.6 percent voted against the creation of Carajas and 66 percent of voters voted against the creation of Tapajos. While supporters of the measure argued the state is too large to be managed from the capital city, opponents of the referendum believed it was a ploy to receive more federal funds. Para is located in the Amazon basin, and has the highest levels of deforestation in Brazil. Environmentalists feared splitting the state would lead to accelerated deforestation in remote regions.

Brazil’s President Extends Amnesty for Deforesters

On Monday, President Dilma Rousseff extended amnesty for Amazon deforesters until April 2012, the third time the measure was extended. Those who deforested before 2008 do not have to pay fines as long as they agree to participate in a tree replacement program. The measure was originally instated when Congress began considering the Forest Code law, which would legalize this type of amnesty program. The bill must pass the Chamber of Deputies before Rousseff signs it into law next year.

Read more about the Forest Code in an AS/COA Online News Analysis on environmental issues in Brazil.

More Brazil-Chile Dictatorship Ties Uncovered

On December 12, Brazil’s Folha de São Paulo newspaper revealed nearly 300 confidential telegrams sent from 1973 to 1976 indicating wide-ranging financial and diplomatic support to General Augusto Pinochet’s regime from Brazil’s military leaders. In return, Chilean officials supported Brazilian candidates for positions in international organizations.

Chile Attracts Foreign Start-Ups

The BBC profiles Start-Up Chile, a government-run program to attract foreign tech entrepreneurs to Chile by offering funds and a central hub in Santiago. After the pilot project, nine of 22 start-ups chose to stay in Chile.

Argentine Cabinet Appointments Signal Continuity

Upon inaugurating her second term, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced her new cabinet.  Most ministers will remain in their positions from her first term, with only three new appointments made to replace vacancies, notably Hernan Lorenzino as economy minister. Lorenzino hopes to return the country to international capital markets. The Financial Times’ beyondbrics blog takes stock of some of these appointments, commenting that they suggest “attempts to institutionalize continuity and reward the loyal stewards of presidential power.”

Obama Urges Argentina to Pay Outstanding Debts

In an interview with Argentina’s La Nación, U.S. President Barack Obama urged Argentina to pay its outstanding foreign debt, saying such a move would be “mutually beneficial” for Argentina and the United States, and would attract the attention of foreign investors. 

Uruguayan President Donates Part of Salary to Social Program

According to government publication Políticas, President José Mujica donated $124,000 from his salary to Plan Juntos, a government program to construct housing for low-income families. The program had struggled to receive private funding, so the president rallied support through his own donation and by encouraging local businesses leaders to contribute.

Tags: Arizona Immigration, Hezbollah, Kyoto Protocol, Mexico Student Protests, SB 1070, Supreme Court
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