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  • President Rousseff Announces Stimulus for Lagging Brazilian Economy

    April 4, 2012

    by AQ Online

    On Tuesday President Dilma Rousseff announced a series of stimulus measures to kick-start the Brazilian economy. After a disappointing 2.7 percent GDP growth in the 2011 fiscal year, President Rousseff is hoping to reach at least 4.5 percent economic growth for the 2012 fiscal year.

    The stimulus packet, worth about 60.4 billion reais ($33 billion), will include a mixture of fiscal incentives, including lowering payroll taxes for employers in hard-hit industries and increasing tariffs on products that have been gaining market space. Furthermore, the state-sponsored Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES), backed by a 45-billion reais ($24.5 billion) injection from the Treasury department, will increase its loans to subsidized companies in order to foster local production. According to President Rousseff, Brazil has to make use of its big and growing internal market, which also attracts great amounts of foreign investment.

    These measures mark an important shift in strategy in President Rousseff’s administration. She came to power in the beginning of 2011 with an agenda ready for a country whose GDP had grown by 7.5 percent in 2010. The unexpected slowdown of the economy, however, has necessitated the adoption of fiscal measures to stimulate local businesses. Responding to criticism from the Brazilian congress over Rousseff’s management of the economy, former president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva announced his full support of the Rousseff administration.

    Tags: Brazil, Economy, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Dilma Rousseff

  • Amicus Briefs in Opposition to SB 1070

    April 3, 2012

    by Jason Marczak

    On April 25, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Arizona, et al., v. United States, a case which questions the constitutional legality of Arizona’s restrictive SB 1070 immigration law that was passed by the state legislature in 2010. The Court, in taking up the case, jumps right into the center of a national political debate. Paul Clement, who argued against U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. in last week’s equally highly charged hearings on the federal health care law, will do so again on behalf of the plaintiff.

    The decision on whether to uphold the April 2011 ruling from the Ninth Circuit, which barred certain provisions of SB 1070 from taking effect, will fundamentally shape the way immigration policy is determined in the United States.

    Arizona argues that a state should have the right to pass whatever measures it deems prudent—independent of how legislation will affect the historical, long-standing rights that immigrants (and those who may appear to be immigrants) have long enjoyed in this country. But in its decision last year the Ninth Circuit noted that: "The Arizona statute before us has become a symbol […] and a chilling foretaste of what other states might attempt."

    Read More

    Tags: Immigration, Supreme Court

  • Históricas liberaciones ponen fin al secuestro político en Colombia

    April 3, 2012

    by Jenny Manrique

    Que ayer, este lunes, se vivió en Colombia un episodio que parte en dos la historia del conflicto en el país, es una verdad de a puño. Regresaron a la libertad los últimos militares y policías que las FARC tenían en su poder, 10 uniformados que por casi 14 años vivieron en la selva, mientras sus hijos, padres, o familiares morían de pena moral o de enfermedades agravadas por la angustia de no saber el paradero de sus seres queridos. Mientras el país pasaba por tres mandatarios diferentes—un período de Andrés Pastrana, dos períodos de Álvaro Uribe y casi medio de Juan Manuel Santos, quienes a su modo querían ponerle fin al secuestro—mientras el mundo daba saltos tecnológicos agigantados al punto de que hoy cubrimos esas liberaciones con un iPad o un teléfono inteligente.

    La espera de las 10 familias de los militares Luis Alfonso Beltrán Franco, Luis Arturo Arcia, Robinson Salcedo Guarín y Luis Alfredo Moreno Chagüeza, y de los policías César Augusto Lasso Monsalve, Jorge Trujillo Solarte, Jorge Humberto Romero, José Libardo Forero, Wilson Rojas Medina, y Carlos José Duarte, terminó. Vidas que se habían congelado en el esfuerzo por las liberaciones, o que se habían subido en la montaña rusa de las esperanzas, tuvieron un final feliz ayer, el lunes 2 de abril: el mismo día en se conmemoraban 30 años del desembarco argentino en Las Malvinas.

    Colombia celebra la noticia. Las FARC cumplen por fin su palabra después de haber hecho este anuncio desde noviembre. El gobierno califica el gesto de la guerrilla, como “un paso en la dirección correcta pero insuficiente,” y Piedad Córdoba asegura que el trabajo de colombianos y colombianas por la paz cerró un ciclo en lo referente a la mediación en las liberaciones, y abrió otro en lo que para ella serán sus siguientes misiones: buscar a los desaparecidos y concretar las visitas a las cárceles para ver las condiciones de los guerrilleros presos.

    Read More

    Tags: Colombia, FARC

  • North American Leaders Discuss Trade, Security at Summit

    April 3, 2012

    by AQ Online

    President Barack Obama hosted Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderón for the sixth annual North American Leaders summit at the White House on Monday. The summit featured a two-hour, closed-door meeting and a joint press conference where the three heads of state issued a joint statement outlining their plans.

    Trade between the three countries, which exceeded $1 trillion for the first time last year, topped the agenda. President Obama said North American trade is an important driver of job creation, and said the three leaders agreed to “simplify and eliminate more regulations that will make our joint economies stronger.” Prime Minister Harper, who will travel to Chile later this month, said that Canada seeks to improve trade relations with the U.S. and Mexico, as well as other Latin American countries.

    The three heads of state also discussed regional issues, such as crime, energy, immigration, and the drug war. In his statement to the press, President Calderón once again called on the U.S. Congress to stem the illegal flow of American weapons into Mexico. “The expiration of the assault weapons ban in the year 2004 coincided almost exactly with the beginning of the harshest period of violence we’ve ever seen,” said Calderón.

    President Obama responded by saying that while the U.S. is actively preventing illegal gun trafficking, but more can be done to stop the violence plaguing Mexico. Absent from the press conference was any mention of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would transport oil from Canada’s oil sands to the United States. Obama tabled the issue last November, which drew criticism from Prime Minister Harper.

    The three heads of state will meet again at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia on April 14 and 15.

    Tags: President Felipe Calderon, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, President Barack Obama, North American Summit, Three Amigos Summit, North American Trade, Arms Trafficking

  • Social Media Brings Change to Rio’s Favelas

    April 2, 2012

    by Taylor Barnes

    When I first met Raull Santiago, 23, and Nathalia Menezes, 24, my initial charmed impression was that these were two young people who felt no shame of their penchant for playing on their cell phones. By the time we left our first meeting, they had friended me on Facebook, tweeted about our meeting and ‘checked in’ the time and place of our interview.

    What made all of this more than just another day in the life of social-medialite is where the spirited pair live: The community of favelas called the Complexo do Alemão, for years the scene of intense trafficker-police confrontations. Residents long feared the police that forcefully entered “pé na porta” to inspect their homes with a blanket judicial order. Outsiders feared that area was “off limits,” controlled by armed traffickers who famously killed a journalist who went undercover to investigate child sexual abuse in baile funk parties. Now Nathália and Raull were cautiously hopeful. The military had invaded the favela after an intense week of urban mayhem, in which scores of vehicles were robbed and lit on fire across the city, in what the government billed as a proactive response to retake territory key to traffickers.

    News watchers across Rio saw the site of dozens of traffickers in boardshorts fleeing with rifles on foot through the jungle and of tanks toppling the iron barricades once mounted to prevent police vehicles from entering.

    Read More

    Tags: Brazil, Favela, Social Media

  • Monday Memo: AQ’s Top-Five Expected Stories for the Week of April 2

    April 2, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Top stories this week are likely to include: Calderón and Harper at the White House; FARC releasing its remaining hostages; the Mexican presidential campaign officially underway; Good Friday declared a holiday in Cuba; and Brazil’s currency hits a six-month low.

    Harper and Calderón in Washington: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Mexican President Felipe Calderón and U.S. President Barack Obama are meeting today for the North American Leaders’ Summit. According to a White House press release, the meeting will have a “particular focus on economic growth and competitiveness, citizen security, energy, and climate change.” AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini says, “President Obama has met with these two leaders more than any other world leaders; it makes perfect sense given our levels of trade and the importance of both countries to our security, though this fact has escaped attention.”

    FARC Releasing Hostages: After announcing in February that it would release the 10 remaining hostages in its custody, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) will begin doing so today and later this week. The FARC has also announced that it will stop kidnapping civilians for money; asks Sabatini, “Could this be the end of the FARC?”

    Campaign Season Underway in Mexico: On Friday the three leading candidates launched their presidential campaigns in a bid to succeed incumbent Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) President Felipe Calderón, who is term-limited from seeking re-election. Expect much attention to be paid to the first full week of official campaigning among the candidates—Enrique Peña Nieto (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Partido Revolucionario Democrático, PRD), and Josefina Vázquez Mota (PAN). AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak notes, “Although much of the campaign will focus on security policy, the next three months will also be crucial for further defining visions of other important issues, namely energy reform, competition, education, and fiscal policy. These issues must get their due attention as well.” Mexico votes on July 1.

    Good Friday in Cuba: Pope Benedict XVI proffered during his visit to Cuba last week that Good Friday be declared a holiday in the island nation; over the weekend the Cuban government granted the papal request. This is particularly interesting for Cuba, which has a small Catholic population relative to other Latin American nations. Could this mean a growing influence of the Church in Cuba? Sabatini observes, “Religious space—any space—is important in Cuba. I hope, though, that the Pope’s trip helped produce more than this.”

    Brazilian Currency Hits Six-Month Low:
    Bloomberg has reported that the value of the Brazilian real dropped to its lowest level since September 2011. How will President Dilma Rousseff respond? Despite much global fears about slowing growth in China, Rousseff expressed frustration with what she termed a “monetary tsunami” on the part of developed economies including the United States. Given that President Rousseff will hold a bilateral meeting with President Obama next week, pay attention to how currency discussion unfolds in the coming days.

    Tags: Canada, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Stephen Harper, Barack Obama, Felipe Calderon, FARC, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Dilma Rousseff, Enrique Peña Nieto, Josefina Vázquez Mota, Pope Benedict XVI

  • Calderón to Visit Cuba Prior to Summit of the Americas

    March 30, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Mexico’s federal government officially notified the Senate yesterday that President Felipe Calderón will visit Cuba and Haiti as part of a four-day trip that will conclude on April 14–15 in Cartagena, Colombia, for the 6th Summit of the Americas. Cuba was not invited to participate in the Summit.

    The visit to Cuba will be the first for the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) president;  a planned 2009 visit was postponed after outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus.

    Calderón plans to raise human rights concerns, as well as issues of migration, oil exploration, and regional commerce and investment integration. Mexico–Cuba relations have been rocky since the administration of then-President Ernesto Zedillo (1994–2000) raised tensions by publicly criticizing Cuba for its checkered record on human rights. The relationship grew more contentious in 2004 under then-President Vicente Fox (2000-2006). Both countries closed their respective embassies for three months over human rights concerns.

    The trip to Haiti is in response to a long-standing invitation to visit the island extended by Haitian President Michel Martelly to discuss Latin American and Caribbean regional integration.

    Tags: Felipe Calderon, Cuba-Mexico relations

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    March 29, 2012

    by AS-COA Online

    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.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    Pope Rounds out Tour of Mexico and Cuba

    Benedict XVI arrived in Mexico on Friday, where he spent three days before leaving for Cuba on Tuesday. He will return to Rome tomorrow. Beyond entertaining Mexicans by donning a sombrero, the pope decried the drug violence affecting the country and asked for Mexico to honor religious freedom. The papal visit comes at a time when the Mexican Catholic Church is increasingly politicized, and the role of the institution in public life has reached legislative debate, according to analysis from The Los Angeles Times. “[A]lthough the Catholic Church has almost always enjoyed a powerful position [in Mexico], it has taken on a particularly activist role in partisan politics during the last decade,” says the article.

    The pope’s visit to Cuba has invited inevitable comparisons to Pope John Paul II’s visit to the country in 1998. In a post for ForeignPolicy.com's Argument blog, Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez writes about the general lack of enthusiasm among Cubans. “At the end of the nineties, Karol Wojtyla inspired us to hope. But now, in 2012, national cynicism conspires against enthusiasm. We already know, for example, that the phrase, ‘Let Cuba open herself to the world and let the world open itself to Cuba,’ never became more than the beautiful intention of the Polish pope.” 

    Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis on concerns in Mexico and Cuba preceding the papal visit.

    Looking at a Rapidly Changing Cuba

    The Economist this week features a 10-page special report on Cuba, with the headline “Cuba hurtles towards capitalism.” Articles focus on the island’s economic reforms, the consequences of those reforms, and relations with the United States. “After 50 years in which it has been an exception, the island’s destiny increasingly resembles that of its region. It is high time that those on both sides of the Florida Strait recognize that,” says the publication.

    North American Defense Heads Talk Transnational Security

    Mexico’s Defense Secretary General Guillermo Galván and Secretary of the Navy Admiral Mariano Saynez Mendoza met with the Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Ottawa on March 27 for the first trilateral meeting of North American defense ministers. Participants focused on the threat posted by Mexican organized crime and agreed to boost intelligence and security cooperation. “Quite frankly, these cartels don't recognize borders, they don't recognize nationalities,” said McKay.

    Read More

    Tags: Pope Trip, Pope Cuba. Cuba Economic Reform, Latino Labor, Mexican Presidential Election

  • Pope Meets with Castro, Urges Religious Freedom

    March 29, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Meeting with Fidel Castro and in a Mass before half a million people, Pope Benedict XVI urged Cuba to allow for greater freedom for the Catholic Church. On the last day of his Latin America tour, which also included stops in Mexico and Santiago, Cuba, Pope Benedict XVI met with Cuba’s revolutionary leader at the Vatican Embassy in Havana. The meeting, which lasted about a half-hour, was marked by “intense, cordial and serene dialogue,” said Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi.

    This is the first time Fidel Castro, 85, has met with Pope Benedict XVI, 84. He met with Pope John Paul II twice—at the Vatican in 1996 and in Cuba in 1998. According to Lombardi, the two joked about their age, and Castro asked the Pope about changes in the Catholic liturgy since his days as a young student at a Jesuit school. For his part, Pope Benedict spoke of his gladness to be in Cuba and the warm reception he had received.

    The intimate meeting between the two leaders followed remarks by the Pope before a much larger audience in Revolutionary Square, where he delivered a midday Mass. With an estimated 500,000 people in attendance, and President Raúl Castro seated in the front row, the Pope’s message of religious—and political—opening was clear. “It must be said with joy that in Cuba steps have been taken to enable the church to carry out her essential mission of expressing her faith openly and publicly,” he said. “Nonetheless, this must continue forward.” The Pope told those gathered in the square to search for truth, the search for which “supposes the exercise of authentic freedom.”

    It was unclear how the Pope’s homily was received. Many cheered on his call for an expanded role of the Catholic Church in Cuba, while others simply said they “came for curiosity.”

    Tags: Cuba, Pope Benedict XVI

  • AQ Slideshow: La Transformación de Ecosistemas Amazónicos

    March 28, 2012

    by Daniel Valencia

    La minería aurífera ilegal nos deja un paisaje lúgubre,  producto de operaciones que degradan y transforman los ecosistemas amazónicos. Así mismo, organizan la sociedad alrededor de puestos de trabajo en condiciones deplorables. Parte de este negocio también corrompe los asentamientos aledaños y da lugar a un ambiente de desgobierno. La realidad de los campamentos mineros ilegales es el típico modelo del negocio furtivo que daña al medio ambiente, se preocupa sólo de los beneficios económicos que este genera y se aprovecha de la necesidad laboral de los peones (gente de bajos recursos y de escaso nivel educativo).

    Las consecuencias de la actividad minera se reflejan en la organización de los espacios comunes dificultado el ordenamiento territorial, la conservación de la naturaleza y desestructurando modelos de organización comunal. A consecuencia de esto los bienes comunes no se pueden ubicar dentro de la perspectiva de una buena gobernanza social y la posibilidad de gobernabilidad estatal. Queda como desafío impulsar  propuestas participativas que hagan del concepto de desarrollo sostenible una herramienta indispensable para planificar el futuro, garantizar la continuidad de los ecosistemas y proteger la autonomía de la organización social propia de las comunidades nativas; así como la participación de todos los grupos sociales que conviven en un mismo medio ambiente. (Fotos y pies de foto cortesía de Daniel Valencia.)

    Tags: Peru, Environment, Climate change

  • U.S. Men's Soccer Eliminated from Olympic Qualifying

    March 28, 2012

    by AQ Online

    The United States Under-23 Men’s National Soccer Team failed to qualify for the 2012 London Olympic Games on Monday, after tying El Salvador in a must-win match in Nashville, Tennessee. A victory would have advanced the Americans to the semifinal round of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) regional qualifying tournament, but an injury-time goal from Salvadoran striker Jaime Alas in the 94th minute ended the U.S. Olympic hopes.

    The Americans were hoping to bounce back from a rare 2-0 defeat at the hands of Canada on Saturday and appeared to have the advantage against El Salvador early on when Terrence Boyd scored after only 61 seconds. But El Salvador, with the support of half the 7,889 fans in attendance, came from behind twice to secure a tie and claim the top spot in Group A. La Azul y Blanco will face second-place Canada on March 31 in Kansas City, and a victory would earn the Central American nation its first Olympic berth since 1968.

    With the World Cup defeat to Ghana still fresh in the minds of American soccer fans, elimination from the Olympics is yet another disappointing performance for a team striving to prove itself on the world stage. “I’m sorry for the fans,” said U.S. Under-23 Coach Caleb Porter, “and I’m sorry for U.S. Soccer, that we didn’t get the job done.” The loss also hurts the Americans’ chances looking forward to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The rising stars of the Under-23 team, some of who will become part of the U.S. World Cup squad in 2014, are missing out on a rare opportunity to represent their country in international competition.

    Tags: 2014 World Cup, U.S. Scccer, 2012 London Olympics, El Salvador soccer

  • U.S. Suspends Trade Preferences for Argentina

    March 27, 2012

    by AQ Online

    The United States announced on Monday that it was suspending trade benefits for Argentina under the Generalized System of Preferences, which waives import duties for select goods from developing countries. In 2011, the U.S. imported approximately $500 million worth of goods under the GSP program from Argentina. This sanction will mostly affect the wine, beef, sugar, and olive oil industries.

    The decision came after years of wrangling over a 2005 ruling when the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes ruled against Argentina in a $300 million case involving two American companies, Azurix and Blueridge—a case that dates back to the Argentine debt default in 2002. Although the settlement was widely accepted by the international community, Argentina has refused to pay damages stemming from the case. 

    A working paper published by Buenos Aires-based Red Latinoamericana de Comercio Exterior in anticipation of the expect U.S. decision notes that “this sanction is effectively null in the context of the overall trade with the US. It only represents 14 percent of total sales to the U.S. and even a smaller .0007 percent when compared with worldwide Argentine exports.” Although this does not represent a big economic hit for the South American country, experts say that it still has important political consequences.

    Read More

    Tags: trade, Argentina, United States, Argentina Debt Default

  • Petrocaribe and Guatemalan Energy

    March 26, 2012

    by Joshua Ryan Rosales

    Small countries like Guatemala hold little leverage in global energy markets; not surprisingly, Guatemalans are also strongly feeling the adverse effects of rising petroleum prices in their daily activities.

    As the saying goes, good business trumps politics—and Guatemala proves the maxim true. Although firmly opposed to acceding into the Petrocaribe agreement with Venezuela in 2008, President Otto Pérez Molina is now looking south to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ Petrocaribe organization for any possible relief. He is left with few choices as fuel prices hover closer to 40 quetzales ($5.15) per gallon.

    Guatemala has tried to position itself as a Central American petroleum hub through efforts to get off the ground construction of a possible regional refinery and by attracting investments into the exploration and production of its designated drilling blocks. But despite these efforts, Guatemala has not been able to finalize any refinery deals nor has it attracted much international interest in its oil exploration activities.

    More recently, in 2011, to the dismay of government officials, only two natural resource companies submitted bids for the four drilling blocks made available to investors that year. With up to 12 potential onshore and offshore oil areas currently available for exploration, Guatemala will have to raise the country’s profile in key global energy hubs. Another key challenge for bringing in energy investment is putting forth clear and more investment-friendly laws.

    Read More

    Tags: Venezuela, Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina

  • Monday Memo: AQ’s Top-Five Expected Stories for the Week of March 26

    March 26, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Top stories this week are likely to include: Pope Benedict XVI’s ongoing trip to Latin America; Hugo Chávez in Havana for radiation therapy; Latin America’s verdict on the World Bank presidency; pro-FARC sentiments in Caracas; and Chávez neck-and-neck with Capriles Radonski.

    Benedict XVI in Latin America: In his six-day trip to Mexico and Cuba, the Pope has already waded into the thorniest political issues. He condemned drug trafficking in Mexico and urged followers of the Catholic Church to wield their faith against poverty and other social challenges. “Besides being a successful visit for the Pope, on the political front the question is whether his message will in fact translate into a boost in the polls for PAN presidential candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota,” observes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.  Amid an ongoing crackdown on human rights in Cuba ahead of Benedict XVI’s landing in Santiago today, the pontiff has spoken out against Cuba’s communist model, adding that “today it is evident that Marxist ideology in the way it was conceived no longer corresponds to reality.” The reserved response given by the Castros may overshadow the Pope’s visit through Wednesday.

    Chávez’ Therapy in Cuba: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez arrived back in Havana, the site of his two surgeries after being diagnosed with cancer, for further radiation treatment. He is expected to remain there until Thursday, and he will return to Venezuela for three days before flying back to Cuba for another five-day treatment. But the Venezuelan people still do not know the severity of their president’s health. Notes AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini, “This has already sparked the rumor mill. The lack of transparency on the part of Miraflores is troubling.”

    Brazil and the World Bank:
    Brazil, Latin America’s strongest economy, has not yet decided whom to support for the World Bank presidency despite nominating José Antonio Ocampo (Colombia) on Friday. The two other candidates are Jim Yong Kim (U.S.) and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria). Brazil has long argued for greater representation in global governance on the part of emerging markets, despite casting its vote for Christine Lagarde over Mexican Central Bank (Banxico) head Agustín Carstens last year for the International Monetary Fund managing director post. “Even under the realignment in the voting system, Brazil only controls just over 2 percent of the votes while the U.S. controls nearly 16 percent. Developing countries will certainly have more of a say in this election but the vote of countries like Brazil will ultimately be more of a political statement than one that will dramatically affect the outcome of the election,” notes Jason Marczak. The three candidates will be interviewed to succeed the World Bank’s outgoing President Robert Zoellick, with a decision to be announced at the latest next month.

    Outrage over Tirofijo Tribute: Former FARC commander Manuel Marulanda Vélez—nom de guerre Tirofijo—was given a tribute over the weekend in Caracas to commemorate four years after his death. The Colombian government expressed indignation at the event, saying that Tirofijo represents “decades of terror of the FARC.” Venezuela’s perceived coziness with FARC and other rebel groups has always caused rifts with Colombia; Christopher Sabatini says: “President Santos’ policy of improving relations with his counterpart in Caracas helped to cool tensions and address regional issues. But this event is just another that tries those ties. Are they intended to provoke?”

    Chávez Tied with Presidential Challenger: President Chávez is in a statistical tie with the opposition candidate, Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski, according to a Consultoras21 poll released last Friday. Chávez received 46 percent support and Capriles Radonski 45 percent, marking the first time in the general election that Capriles Radonski has moved to a technical tie with the incumbent. Chávez is seeking a third term on October 7; Christopher Sabatini observes that “there’s a long time until voting day, but things are certainly getting interesting.”

    Tags: Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, FARC, Hugo Chavez, Drug Trafficking, Henrique Capriles Radonski, Pope Benedict XVI

  • Cuba Announces Cabinet-Level Leadership Changes

    March 23, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Cuban President Raúl Castro yesterday announced the departure from office of two long-time, high-ranking government officials. Jose Ramon Fernández, 88, vice-president of the Cuban Communist Party’s Council of Ministers, will be replaced by Higher Education Minister Miguel Diaz-Canel, 51. José Myar Barrueco, 79, minister of science, technology and the environment, will be replaced by Elba Rosa Pérez, former head of the Science Department of the Communist Party’s Central Committee.

    The cabinet changes, which come on the heels of the removal from office this month of Culture Minister Abel Prieto, are some of the most significant changes to Cuba’s senior leadership since the 2009 sacking of Vice President Carlos Lage and Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque. They are also a likely consequence of Castro’s desire to promote a new generation of officials to posts currently occupied by people in their 70s and 80s.

    The shake-up also comes only a week before the widely anticipated visit to Cuba of Catholic Pope Benedict XVI on March 26–28. Since formally taking office in 2008, Castro has embarked on a series of reforms with the goal of improving economic conditions on the island. Any changes to Cuba’s political leadership are watched closely by outside observers for clues about Castro’s own succession plans.

    Tags: Cuban government, Communist Party’s Central Committe

  • Religious Awakening in Mexico and the Pope’s Visit

    March 22, 2012

    by Arjan Shahani

    Pope Benedict XVI’s first visit to Mexico will begin on March 23 but unlike his predecessor, Benedict will not feel as comfortable calling Mexico siempre fiel—and so hopefully some of his agenda will include discussion on religious diversity. 

    Pope John Paul II called Mexico “forever faithful” in 1990 due to Catholicism being the dominant faith in the country. However, rising popularity of other religions and the emergence of atheist and agnostic thought in the country could very well be pushing Mexico to a tipping point, leading to question the favored role Catholicism plays in sociopolitical life.

    To this day, many large companies in Mexico (national and international) hold posadas, celebrate Christmas and observe other Catholic holidays such as Easter. Some even hold mass within their facilities to kick off special events. On the flip side, there are very few companies in Mexico that observe Yom Kippur or Ramadan. It is still a commonplace human resource practice to ask potential employees what their religion is during recruitment and—though none will publicly accept it—religion still plays a criteria in actual talent selection (otherwise, why would they ask about it?). This, by the way, is illegal under Article 3 of the Federal Labor Law.

    Catholicism is not just favored in the private sector. During the first weeks of December and leading up to the 12th (Day of the Virgen de Guadalupe) Catholics are not only allowed to march on some of the busiest streets in the cities as part of their pilgrimage while causing transit chaos, they are even escorted by public officials to guarantee their safety. This is a nicety not usually awarded to other faiths and it is funded by taxes paid for by people of all faiths.

    Read More

    Tags: Mexico, Religion, Pope Benedict XVI

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    March 22, 2012

    by AS-COA Online

    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.

    Strong Earthquake Rocks Mexico

    The largest earthquake since 1985 rocked Mexico on Tuesday, with the U.S. Geological Survey placing the epicenter near the border between the southern states of Oaxaca and Guerrero, and giving it a 7.4 rating on the Richter scale. Compared to the 8-point earthquake in 1985, which killed at least 10,000 people and destroyed parts of the capital, Tuesday’s earthquake resulted in no reported deaths and light damage. Officials attributed the lack of destruction to stronger building standards set after the 1985 quake. Mexican daily El Universal offers images and video of damage resulting from yesterday’s quake.

    Mexico and Cuba Prepare for Six-Day Papal Visit

    On Friday, Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Mexico, for a three-day visit before going to Cuba until March 28. While the Vatican says the visit is purely for religious aims, the pope could play a political role in both countries. The Washington Post reports that, in Mexico, where presidential campaigning officially begins next week, the visit could bring support to President Felipe Calderón’s National Action Party, which is close to the Church. In Cuba, the pope may look to expand the Church’s role following a religious opening in the 1990s. “Now the Church is an umbrella for many groups who seek more space for social action. This pope will try to strengthen this space, to try to position the Church to play a strong role in Cuba,” said Eduardo Barranco, a Catholicism specialist at the Center for Religious Studies in Mexico.

    Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the pope’s upcoming visit to the region.

    Ruling-Party Candidate Drops Five Points in Mexican Polls

    A recent poll by GEA/ISA registered a 5-point drop for Mexican National Action Party (PAN) candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota, decreasing from 36 percent to 31 percent of expected votes. The poll widens the gap between Vázquez Mota and frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), whose lead grew from 43 to 48 percent. The third major candidate in the campaign, the Party of the Democratic Revolution’s (PRD) Andrés Manuel López Obrador, retained 21 percent. The decline for Vázquez Mota comes after her poorly attended inauguration as the PAN’s candidate, which took place in a stadium where crowds left due to delays. 

    Mexico to Be World’s Seventh-Largest Economy by 2020

    A recent report by Goldman Sachs predicts that Mexico will become the world’s seventh-largest economy by 2020. By that year, Mexico should contribute 7.8 percent to global GDP, more than India or Russia, two of the so-called BRICS countries. Goldman Sachs, which created the concept of the BRICS, said it previously excluded Mexico from the BRICS because it was not growing at the same rate as countries like Brazil or China. This year, Mexico’s GDP should grow by 3.6 percent—equal to Brazil’s expected growth. 

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    Tags: President Barack Obama, Keystone XL pipeline, Mexico Earthquake, Papal Visit, Mexican Elections

  • Route for 2013 Dakar Rally Released

    March 22, 2012

    by AQ Online

    The Amaury Sports Organization (ASO) announced Wednesday that the 2013 Dakar Rally will be held once again in Latin America. The off-road race first staged from Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal, in 1979 will take place from January 5-20, 2013, starting in Lima, Peru, passing through Argentina (crossing the Andes mountains twice) and finishing in Santiago, Chile.

    Peru’s National Chamber of Commerce estimates that the 2013 Dakar Rally will generate around $600 million for the Peruvian economy alone. José Luis Silva, minister of foreign commerce and tourism, stated that all expectations were surpassed during the 2012 race, including 1,200 hours of television exposure and millions of dollars in publicity around the world. “We hope to surpass the number of spectators from 2012 [in 2013],” Silva told Agencia Andina.

    The prestigious competition of cars, trucks and motorcycles was moved from Dakar, Senegal, in 2008 to Latin America, because of the dangers encountered along the route in Africa. According to Etienne Lavigne, director of the rally, it is the organization’s intention to return to Africa at some point. But until violence and insecurity in the region subsides, Latin America will remain the host continent.

    Tags: Chile, Peru, Argentina, Dakar rally

  • Brazil's European Dream

    March 21, 2012

    by Eduardo J. Gomez

    The news that Brazil has overtaken Britain to become the world's sixth largest economic power is being touted as a sign that that the longtime "country of the future" has finally arrived. While the celebrations have been somewhat muted by concerns over slowing GDP growth and the country's still-heavy dependence on high energy and food prices, Brazil is heading into the coming global showcases of both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics with more than its usual swagger.

    But this emerging economic prominence is raising the question of just what kind of actor Brazil will be on the world stage. In the past 20 years, Brazil has become well known for turning crisis situations into geopolitical opportunities, becoming a leading voice in international forums devoted to AIDS, poverty, and even the environment. And now, it is doing it again with a challenge that Brazilians understand all too well: a debt crisis.

    Only this time, it's Europe in need of a helping hand, not the former Portuguese colony in Latin America. At an EU-Brazil summit held in Brussels last October, President Dilma Rousseff told European leaders, who had asked for assistance: "You can rely and count on us." As an initial strategy, Rousseff and her finance minister, Guido Mantega, considered using their foreign exchange reserves—estimated at $352 billion—to purchase debt through treasury bonds. However, after consulting with her BRIC colleagues at a meeting in Washington last November, Brazil decided that buying EU bonds would be too financially risky, and proposed instead to indirectly assist Europe by donating an estimated $10 billion to the International Monetary Fund.

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    Tags: Brazil, BRICs, IMF, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, 2014 World Cup, European Union, Dilma Rousseff, 2016 Olympics, Guido Mantega

  • ALBA Leaders Divided on Attendance at Summit of the Americas

    March 21, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Hugo Chávez is urging fellow left-leaning leaders to attend the upcoming Summit of the Americas, despite their displeasure at Cuba’s exclusion from it. The Venezuelan president confirmed Tuesday that he plans to attend the summit in Cartagena, Colombia, on April 14-15, and urged other members of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alternative to the Americas) to follow suit, though they had previously threatened to boycott the meeting if Cuba were not invited. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced earlier this month that Cuba would not be attending the summit, following a failure to reach consensus during bilateral talks.

    In a phone call broadcast on state television Monday night, Chávez said, “This will be the last so-called Summit of the Americas without Cuba,” as “a good number of us” would advocate Cuba’s inclusion in future such gatherings at the Summit. He said he had discussed the issue with leaders in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. Nonetheless, Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said ALBA member countries still had yet to decide whether to participate. That position was reiterated by Deputy Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Alurralde yesterday, who said in a statement to Prensa Latina that “Cuba has to be present, [and] must be part of the family living in this continent.” He did not say, though, which method of promoting Cuba’s inclusion was preferable—skipping the regional meeting by way of protest, or demanding Cuba’s inclusion from within it. Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, said last week he would not attend in protest.

    The Venezuelan and Bolivian statements came just after President Barack Obama confirmed his participation at the summit. Other high-profile attendees will include Microsoft founder Bill Gates, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Mexican media mogul Carlos Slim, and World Bank President Robert Zoellick. One issue expected to be a hot topic is drug decriminalization, which Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina has firmly advocated of late, and which Santos and Mexican president Felipe Calderón are open to discussion. The U.S. has said it is “willing to listen” to the debate at the upcoming meeting but remains firmly opposed to legalization.

    Tags: Summit of the Americas, Cuba, Hugo Chavez, ALBA

  • FARC Attack Results in Major Setback for Colombia’s Army

    March 20, 2012

    by Andrés Mejía Vergnaud

    Last weekend, Colombia, headlines announce the worst in a series of military setbacks for the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos in its fight against the FARC.

    In a rural area of the department or Arauca, 10 soldiers and a corporal were killed when their unit was ambushed by the FARC. Arauca has remained a tough zone for the government to control: even during the heyday of former President Alvaro Uribe’s military offensive, the FARC maintained a considerable military power in Arauca. The ELN, a very weak group, has its only stronghold in that region.

    Both groups have benefited from the fact that Arauca has a long border with Venezuela: a few years ago, when Venezuela had a policy of supporting Colombia’s guerilla groups, the FARC and the ELN established a sort of strategic rearguard beyond the border. Now that such policy is uncertain, they nonetheless take advantage of the border to escape the Army’s persecution, and to establish camps in Venezuelan territory.

    How will this incident affect Santos’ policies?

    “If you want peace, prepare for war” is a strategic maxim first written by Vegetius, a relatively unknown Roman author, who wrote treatises on military strategy and veterinary medicine. Such maxim can be interpreted in two ways. First, if you want your potential adversaries not to attack you, increase your military power so you will deter them. Second, if you are already involved in war, and you want to reach negotiated peace, you must build strength so that your enemy will conclude that talks are the best option to end the conflict; and you will have leverage at the negotiations.

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    Tags: Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, FARC, Juan Manuel Santos, ELN

  • Why Cancer or No Cancer, Chávez Will Run for Re-election

    March 20, 2012

    by Steve LeVine

    When Patrick Duddy, the former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, thinks about the ailing Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, he is reminded of the 1961 epic El Cid. In the climatic finish, a dead hero's men, fearing they cannot defeat North African invaders without him, secure his corpse upon his horse, and send it onto the battlefield in order to intimidate their enemies. Sure enough, the dead El Cid's Castillian army goes on to final victory.

    With seven months to go until October presidential elections, Chávez returned to Caracas over the weekend after a second cancer operation in Havana. Chávez's health has thrown the election into disarray, raising questions about what will happen not only in Venezuela should he be incapacitated, but in the country's projection of influence around the region. Until 2008, Chávez, fueled by the income of some 2.5 million barrels of oil exports a day, provided hundreds of millions of dollars of support for Colombia's hyper-violent rebel opposition FARC movement. Venezuela also was a key to cocaine smuggling. Meanwhile, Chávez has had a tense relationship with foreign oil companies during his 13 years of power, sometimes nationalizing their fields, or unilaterally changing contractual terms. ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips left the country.

    On arriving home, Chávez sang and danced with his daughter on a balcony, a demonstration of rigor intended to dispel talk that, despite chemotherapy he is to undergo, he is not up to the challenge of a tough campaign. "The beating we're going to give the Venezuelan right will be memorable ... not just in the history of Venezuela but in almost all the world," Reuters quoted Chávez as telling the crowd.

    Duddy is sure of only one thing: that, whether or not Chávez is healthy, he will in fact appear as the ruling candidate for president on October 7. There simply is no serious alternative in the chavista camp to face the popular opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski. And there is too much at stake in the way of power and wealth to leave victory to chance.

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    Tags: Venezuela, FARC, Hugo Chavez, Henrique Capriles Radonski, Adan Chavez

  • Cuban Police Release Ladies in White

    March 20, 2012

    by AQ Online

    The Cuban government released the last of the Ladies in White yesterday after more than 70 members of the group were detained over three separate incidents one week ahead of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit. The opposition group was founded by relatives of those detained during the Black Spring of 2003 and its members are known to walk through western Havana after mass each Sunday wearing all white to demand the release of political prisoners.

    Nineteen of the group’s members were detained on Saturday evening during a march in central Havana. The following morning an additional 36 protesters were arrested, including the group’s leader, Bertha Soler, and her husband, who remains in custody. After mass, 22 more women and two men were arrested as they began marching toward the city center.

    Many dissident groups see the Pope’s two-day visit as an opportunity to increase pressure on the Castro regime and draw attention to human rights abuses committed by the government. In a statement responding to the detention of the Ladies in White yesterday, the White House called on Cuban authorities to “abandon their tactics of intimidation and harassment to stifle peaceful dissent.” The Cuban government has not issued a statement of the matter.

    The detentions over the weekend are indicative of the tension building between the government and dissident groups prior to the Pope’s arrival on March 26. Last Thursday, the Cuban police raided the Church of Charity in Central Havana and evicted 13 protesters who had been occupying the space since for two days.

    Tags: Cuba, Cuban dissidents, Ladies in White, Pope Benedict XVI, Damas en Blanco

  • La Minería Informal en la Amazonía

    March 19, 2012

    by Daniel Valencia

    En el Perú, las aguas de la Amazonía que viajan en forma de ríos, que bañan las riberas de los bosques, que traen la vida desde las nubes hasta las sombras de un árbol, que aseguran un hogar a las especies animales o que se deslizan cuenco adentro en las manos de una niña a orillas de una comunidad nativa son las venas de este mundo; el eje de comunicación de muchas poblaciones y la fuente de sustento para pescadores, transportistas, albergues turísticos y operarios de algunas actividades extractivas.

    En la Amazonía Peruana, las áreas naturales protegidas buscan salvaguardar que los ríos, bosques, hábitats de especies animales y de comunidades nativas; puedan perpetuarse en el perfecto equilibrio de los ecosistemas amazónicos. Las actividades económicas, sin embargo, que se desarrollan dentro del espacio amazónico no viven, ni dependen del equilibrio amazónico, aparentemente. Es decir, madereros que depredan el bosque sin respetar planes de manejo o mineros artesanales que contaminan las aguas con una visión de corto plazo no asumen que si el ecosistema se rompe, no habrá donde realizar las actividades que los sustentan.

    Tags: Peru, Environment, Amazon, natural resources, mining

  • Monday Memo: AQ’s Top-Five Expected Stories for the Week of March 19

    March 19, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Top stories this week are likely to include: the pope’s visit to Mexico and Cuba; Chávez at home and in campaign mode; Argentina’s threat of legal action on the Malvinas/Falklands; drug decriminalization talks in Central America; and Venezuela taking a stand against narcotrafficking.

    Papal Visit to Mexico and Cuba: Pope Benedict XVI will arrive in Mexico on Friday for a five-day, two-country tour that will wrap up in Cuba. Benedict XVI will land in León—in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato—and celebrate a holy mass at the Parque del Bicentenario on Sunday.

    But expect greater a focus around Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini predicts: “Will he repeat Pope John Paul II’s call for Cuba to open up to the world and the world to open up to Cuba? And if he does, how will he frame it? While Cuba hasn’t done much, the U.S. hasn’t changed the embargo at all. How much weight will the Pope give to the Castros’ release of prisoners and the economic reforms—likely more than he will give to President Obama’s tinkering on the margins of the embargo.”

    Chávez Back Home: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez tweeted late Friday afternoon that he was departing Cuba after a three-week sojourn for a second surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. Shortly after arriving home, his first public appearance in Caracas turned into an impromptu campaign rally. As Chávez transitions into radiotherapy, expect continued speculation about his long-term health to grow while the president remains publicly visible and boisterous.

    Argentina Ready to Sue: Last week, Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman announced that he promised to sue any companies that exploit natural resources in or around the Malvinas/Falklands Islands. This is the latest salvo in intensifying rhetoric between Argentina and the United Kingdom ahead of the April 2 anniversary of the 1982 war over the archipelago. Will Argentina carry through with litigation? 

    Decriminalization Talks in Central America: Less than three weeks after the Central American presidents met with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in Honduras, the region's leaders will come together again later this week in Antigua, Guatemala, to discuss the idea of drug decriminalization. "The March 24 meeting gains increased importance now that decriminalization will be part of the agenda at the Summit of the Americas in mid-April. This is especially true for Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, who is leading the charge, and is looking to convince skeptical countries like El Salvador and Honduras to get behind him. It will not be an easy task," says AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak. Will the region come up with a unified stance?

    Venezuela Combating Narcotrafficking: Venezuela’s military announced Operation Sentry last week: a plan to move 15,000 troops across its borders with Brazil, Colombia and Guyana. This appears to be a sign of seriousness from President Chávez’ administration, particularly from Defense Minister Henry Rangel, to confront the narcotics threat. With only 2,000 troops dispatched thus far, look for any progress this week regarding the deployment of the remaining 13,000.

    Tags: Drugs, Cuba, Mexico, Argentina, Hugo Chavez, Counternarcotics, Falklands, Otto Perez Molina, Pope Benedict XVI, Hector Timerman

  • Student Protests Roil Chilean Capital

    March 16, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Student protests erupted in Santiago, Chile, yesterday when an estimated 5,000 demonstrators took to the streets to demand free, high-quality public education for all Chileans. The organization that convened the demonstrations, Asamblea Coordinadora de Estudiantes Secundarios (ACES), contends that steps taken by the Chilean government last year to quell similar protests are insufficient.  Shortly after protesters began leaving a designated area, police intervened with tear gas, water cannons and crowd control horses, which prompted demonstrators to retaliate by throwing tree branches, bottles and rocks. The street conflict and demonstration lasted for approximately three hours and resulted in 50 arrests and three police officers injured.

    Although yesterday’s demonstrations were the first major education-related protests of 2012, widespread protests have forced President Sebastián Piñera to replace two education ministers since 2010. Student demands also include requests for interest rate reductions on loans and a break on university fees, which have saddled many graduates with overwhelming personal debt.

    Human rights organization such as Amnesty International have expressed concerns about the Piñera government’s crackdown on protesters, saying  there have been complaints “by demonstrators about the use of excessive force and mistreatment of tear gas and water cannons  by the police, arbitrary arrests and reports of torture and mistreatment, including beatings and threats of sexual violence.” In 2011, there were more than 40 major protests during which an estimated 5,000 people were detained.

    Tags: Chile, Amnesty International, Student Protests

  • Adiós a Domitila Chungara, Una Héroe para los Derechos de las Mujeres

    March 15, 2012

    by Cecilia Lanza

    El martes 13 pasado murió Domitila Chungara. Esa mujer de roble que en 1978 inició una huelga de hambre que acabó con la dictadura de siete años del Gral. Hugo Bánzer Suárez en Bolivia. Tenía 75 años y un cáncer que la tomó por completo. Sus últimos años vivió prácticamente olvidada en su casita de Cochabamba, en la loma de un cerro como para no olvidar las minas de Potosí donde creció y luchó.

    Domitila Barrios de Chungara nació en mayo de 1937 en el distrito minero Siglo XX. Allí se crió y se casó. En 1961 los mineros quisieron marchar hacia La Paz pidiendo la provisión de medicamentos, además de otras demandas, pero fueron apresados y llevados a La Paz. Las mujeres, entonces, crearon el “Comité de Amas de Casa de Siglo XX”. Domitila, aguerrida desde siempre, fue dirigente de este Comité al que le otorgó un rol político fundamental. Desde el Comité de Amas de Casa, Domitila luchó por los derechos de los mineros y vivió la represión de los gobiernos militares de la época.

    Tags: Bolivia, Gender

  • Rethinking Latin America

    March 15, 2012

    by Christopher Sabatini

    U.S. regionalists need a reminder that development doesn't end politics and that contemporary Latin America has its own power dynamics. As the region enters a new era marked by increasing geopolitical autonomy and intraregional rivalries, it should be addressed with the mindset of international relations, not just comparative politics.

    The full article was published in the March/April 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs. To read more, please visit: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/137101/christopher-sabatini/rethinking-latin-america.

    Tags:

  • Santorum Says Puerto Ricans Must Speak English for Statehood

    March 15, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Campaigning in Puerto Rico yesterday, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said residents of the U.S. territory would have to make English their official language if they want to pursue statehood. A referendum on whether to pursue statehood or remain a commonwealth of the U.S. is scheduled for November; the island currently recognizes both English and Spanish as official languages.

    In an interview with El Vocero newspaper, Santorum said he supported Puerto Ricans’ right to determine the island’s political status, but insisted that English be the primary language. “Like any other state,” he said, “there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law. And that is that English has to be the principal language.” However, no clause in the U.S. Constitution designates an official language or mandates that a territory adopt English as its principal language to acquire statehood.

    Santorum traveled to Puerto Rico on Wednesday, hoping to capitalize on the momentum following his wins in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries on Tuesday. Puerto’s Rico’s Republican primary election is scheduled for Sunday, March 18. Though Puerto Ricans cannot participate in the general election in November, they do control 20 delegates to the Republican National Convention. A candidate must accumulate 1,144 delegate votes to win; the latest Associated Press tally showed Mitt Romney with 495, Santorum with 252 and Newt Gingrich with 131.

    Santorum met briefly with Governor Luis Fortuño, who has endorsed Romney, before holding a townhall meeting. His insistence on adopting English as the primary language may not sit well with Puerto Rican Republicans, many of whom contend that issues of language and culture should be decided at the state level.

    Tags: Puerto Rico, Rick Santorum, Republican presidential primary elections

  • Interview with Marina Silva: Five Reasons to Oppose Changes to the Brazilian Forest Code

    March 14, 2012

    by Lorenzo Morales

    This week the Brazilian Congress was scheduled to vote on a bill to amend the country’s forestry code. It is a bill that has evoked passionate debate.

    But yesterday, yet again, that vote was delayed after a congressional shake-up in which President Rousseff replaced her coalition’s leaders in each chamber. Since last November, the vote has been delayed for a variety of reasons including criticisms from the scientific community, environmental experts and a subtle political international pressure. No new date has been scheduled as of the publication of this post.

    Dating back to 1965, the current forestry code is credited with saving huge swaths of the Amazon rainforest. The proposed modifications, while originally intended to increase protection of forested areas, was changed in its drafting to allow areas to be farmed even if they were illegally logged before July 2008.

    For the ruralistas, the powerful Brazilian agribusiness sector, it is a more realistic code for a key sector that represents 22 percent of Brazilian GDP.  For environmentalists, such as former presidential candidate Marina Silva, it will foster deforestation by reducing conservation areas and granting amnesty to those who cut down trees in the past.

    Brazil, the world´s leading beef producer and second soya exporter after the U.S., has become a powerful global food supplier. The consequences of the new forest code could be felt not only domestically, but also abroad.

    Last week I met Ms. Silva in her new office on the second floor of a shopping mall in the north of Brasilia. She told me why she is fighting the new proposal and the reasons she is campaigning for President Rousseff to veto the new code if it is approved.

    Morales: Why do you oppose the new Forest Code?
    Silva: Since 1965 we have a law to protect forests in Brazil. The new forest code reverses the logic: it is a law to facilitate farming.

    Read More

    Tags: Brazil, Environment, Climate change, Marina Silva

  • Argentina Permits Abortions for Rape Victims

    March 14, 2012

    by AQ Online

    The Argentine Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday to decriminalize abortions in cases of rape. The landmark decision came out of a case where a 15-year-old girl was raped by her stepfather, a senior officer of the police force in the Argentine province of Chubut. In 2010, a Chubut court had ruled in favor of the adolescent having an abortion, which meant that yesterday’s decision formally backed the original ruling. The victim went forward with the abortion after the initial court decision.

    Prior to Tuesday’s ruling, abortions were only considered legal in cases where the woman was mentally ill or if her life is threatened by birth.  Doctors who performed illegal abortions could have faced between one and four years in prison. But the Supreme Court’s decision now permits doctors to perform abortions with the legal permission of the rape victim without having to seek court orders.

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    Tags: Human Rights, Argentina, Abortion, Womens rights, Decriminalization of Abortion

  • Questioning Drug Legalization in Central America

    March 13, 2012

    by Steve Mack

    Over the past weeks, an unprecedentedly open debate has arisen over the wisdom of prevailing anti-drug policy in the Western Hemisphere. The present U.S.- led  strategy, which relies heavily on aggressive interdiction and law enforcement, is being openly called a failure and even counterproductive by some Latin American leaders, who are asking for renewed discussion of other options, including, most notoriously from the U.S. perspective, the legalization of consumption. The heavy emphasis of anti-drug policy on repression, say these critics, has encouraged the domination of the drug trade by well-organized, heavily armed, ruthless and extremely violent cartels, with horrifying effects.

    Not coincidentally, the epicenter of the debate is Central America, a transshipment center for up to 80 percent of drugs headed for the U.S., where criminal gangs have overwhelmed weak governments and helped make some of these societies—especially Honduras and Guatemala—among the world’s most dangerous. One of the most interesting aspects of the debate is that the argument for legalization is being promoted most forcefully by Guatemala’s newly-elected president, Otto Pérez Molina, a right-leaning ex-general and former director of military intelligence during the country’s civil war: nobody’s idea of a naïve idealist.

    The U.S., whose treasure, power and prestige has been invested in the war on drugs (a term now officially abandoned) since the Nixon administration, has reacted defensively to criticism. The Obama administration sent Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on a tour of the region to attempt to tamp down opposition, while Vice President Joe Biden met with the regions’ presidents soon after. Biden said last week that while the U.S. was not opposed to discussing the merits of drug policy, there was no chance that the U.S. would change its position against legalization. In the end, Biden mentioned in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, last week only that the Obama administration was asking the U.S. Congress for $107 million in continuing security assistance for the region in the coming year.

    Read More

    Tags: Honduras, Guatemala, Joe Biden, illicit drugs, Otto Perez Molina

  • Morales Defends Right to Grow, Chew Coca

    March 13, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Bolivian President Evo Morales pushed for legalizing the chewing of coca leaves during a 53-country United Nations narcotics control meeting on Monday in Vienna. A former cocalero and coca grower’s union leader, Morales held up a coca leaf during his address and argued that growing and chewing the crop are staples of Bolivia’s Andean culture.

    In 1961, Bolivia’s military government ratified the U.N. Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs that declared the coca leaf an illegal narcotic, along with cocaine, heroin opium and others substances. The Morales administration withdrew from the convention last year and yesterday the president called its ratification a “historic error,” and said the “absurd prohibition of coca chewing” is not acceptable in Bolivia. “The coca leaf is not cocaine. We have to get rid of this misconception," he added.

    Bolivia is willing to rejoin the convention only if member nations approve an amendment allowing traditional cultivation and consumption of coca leaves. But Yuri Fedotov, chief of UNODC, responded to Morales’ appeal by warning that “such kinds of initiatives in the long run may undermine” international consensus on drug control and “have a domino effect.”

    Morales also used his time on the floor on Monday to call on developed nations to give Bolivia the tools to crack down on illegal cultivation intended for the manufacture of cocaine. Bolivia is the third-biggest cocaine producer after Peru and Colombia and the president asked for helicopters and other technology to combat drug-trafficking. The U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs said this month that Bolivia has “failed demonstrably to make sufficient efforts to meet its obligations under international counter-narcotics agreements" over the last year.

    Tags: Drug war, Drug Trafficking, President Evo Morales, Bolviia, UNODC

  • El colapso del transporte en Bogotá

    March 12, 2012

    by Jenny Manrique

    Hace tiempo que en la capital de Colombia, la gente viene quejándose del caos en que se ha convertido transportarse. Aunque el sistema de transporte masivo Transmilenio resultó desde su puesta en marcha una solución en términos de rapidez, en los últimos años el sistema colapsó. Colapsó porque el número de habitantes capitalinos que supera los ocho millones y que como toda ciudad industrializada, está compuesto por una mano de obra que vive en el sur y se mueve hacia el norte para trabajar, supera en creces la capacidad que tienen los buses articulados para transportarlos.

    Los reclamos son diversos. Tarifas altísimas de un dólar por trayecto, si se compara con la media latinoamericana que está por debajo de los 50 centavos de dólar, sobre todo en países donde el Estado subsidia el servicio. Falta de frecuencia en los buses, por lo cual aunque hayan servicios expresos que lo lleven a uno de un extremo al otro de la ciudad en tiempo récord, es imposible subirse en ellos sin obligar al cuerpo a acomodarse en minúsculos espacios o forzar el ingreso a los articulados a como dé lugar antes del cierre de puertas, el mejor estilo del metro de Tokio, aunque sin los conocidos “empujadores”.

    Rutas que si bien atraviesan las vías más importantes de Bogotá, dejan desconectadas  vías intermedias que comunican con los barrios más pobres de la ciudad, a donde ni los buses alimentadores (llamados así porque alimentan el sistema Transmilenio) llegan.  Monopolio de los buses articulados que pertenecen a una empresa privada en la que por supuesto el Estado no tiene participación. Concesiones a dedo de licitaciones públicas para construir las vías por donde circulan las rutas del sistema, que se encuentran a medio camino, o que han generado incontables sobrecostos y trancones por otros sectores de la ciudad.

    No es un dato menor que la discusión sobre medios de transporte alternativos como el tranvía o el metro, tenga un eje focal en qué vías de la ciudad atravesarán, y que la idea de que sea por la carrera 7a, contigua a los tradicionales cerros de la ciudad, choca por no mirar al occidente del país (Avenida Boyacá) donde por ahora no hay contemplado un sistema rápido de transporte masivo, y por donde también se mueven millones de pasajeros.

    Read More

    Tags: Colombia, Infrastructure

  • Monday Memo: AQ’s Top-Five Expected Stories for the Week of March 12-16

    March 12, 2012

    by AQ Online

    Top stories this week are likely to include: U.S. congressional interest in Iranian activity in Latin America; Brazil responds to low 2011 growth numbers; Hugo Chávez returns from Cuba; drug legalization to be a topic of debate at the Summit of the Americas; and Costa Rica and Nicaragua agree to cooperate on their shared border.

    Congress To Demand Iran Knowledge: The Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives last week passed H.R. 3783, also known as the “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act.” The bill, which will advance to consideration by the full House in the near future, requests that the State Department provide Congress with a detailed report of the activities that Iranian agents and proxy organizations Hezbollah and Hamas are undertaking in the Western Hemisphere. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini said in The Washington Times that the legislation “smacks of Cold War backyardism” because Iran’s presence in Latin America is the only Latin America-related issue that is being discussed in the 2012 presidential campaign rather than, say, the rise of Brazil.

    Brazil Adjusts to Low 2011 Growth: After the Instituto Brasileiro de Georgrafia e Estatística (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) reported a 2.7-percentage GDP growth in 2011, Brazil’s central bank cut the key Selic interest rate by 75 basis points last Thursday to 9.75 percent. What does this mean going forward? AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak observes: “Although economic growth in 2011 was 5 percentage points below that of 2010, this must be looked at in context with the global situation and the fact that 2010 growth was the highest in 25 years; plus, these latest numbers also show that Brazil overtook the United Kingdom to become the world’s sixth biggest economy. Still, expect the rolling out of various measures to boost growth before voters head to the polls in October’s municipal elections.”

    Chávez Returns Home: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez will return home this week after recovering from another surgery in Cuba to remove a malignant lesion. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed the news after traveling to Havana last week. Cubadebate reports that Chávez will immediately begin his electoral campaign for president ahead of the October elections. Expect the populist leader to be publicly energetic while the Venezuelan electorate remains highly skeptical over his long-term health.

    Drug Legalization at the Summit: The number-one topic of debate during U.S. Vice President’s visit to Mexico and Honduras last week, drug legalization will be an agenda item at the Sixth Summit of the Americas next month in Cartagena, Colombia. Marczak says: “U.S. willingness to discuss drug legalization shows that the Obama administration is listening to the frustrations of various countries that are seeing legalization as a possible way to reduce the violence inflicted by the narcotics trade. Still, opening it up to discussion does not mean that the U.S. has shifted in its rejection of legalization.”

    Nicaraguan–Costa Rican Coordination: The announcement last week that Nicaragua and Costa Rica would jointly coordinate on security matters related to their shared border is welcome news amid their longstanding border dispute over the island of Calero. The Calero incident “was a sharp reminder that border conflicts persist in the region. While this one looks fortunately to be resolved, there are at least a half-dozen others that could flare given the political differences in the region,” notes Sabatini.

    Tags: Summit of the Americas, Costa Rica, Cuba, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Hugo Chavez, Juan Manuel Santos, Iran

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