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  • Mexican President Visits Hurricane Devastation

    September 21, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Mexican President Felipe Calderón visited the state of Veracruz on Monday—the region hardest hit by flooding and mudslides caused by Hurricane Karl. President Calderón did a fly-over of the affected areas, accompanied by Veracruz Governor Fidel Herrera, National Defense Secretary Guillermo Galván Galván, and Social Development Secretary Heriberto Félix, among others. President Calderón later said in a public address that "the Army and navy have been instructed to tighten security" due to widespread reports of looting in city centers.

    More than 40,000 Veracruz residents took refuge in state shelters and schools, while many remain stranded on rooftops awaiting rescue. Between 250,000 and 500,000 are believed to be left homeless. The most devastated areas of the state include Veracruz, Boca del Rio, Cotaxtla, Medellín, and Jamapa.

    Hurricane Karl touched down as a Category 3 hurricane last Friday with 105 mph winds, and has killed 16 people—12 of the fatalities occurred in Mexico. Before Karl made landfall, the Interior Ministry declared a state of emergency in 62 municipalities. Laguna Verde Nuclear Power Station was preemptively shut down, while Pemex evacuated 14 of its facilities on the Gulf of Mexico. The red alert will remain in place for several weeks to keep the public informed of developments in the rescue effort.

    Tags: Mexico, President Felipe Calderon, Hurricane Karl

  • Four More Weeks Until Resumption of Omar Khadr Trial

    September 20, 2010

    by Huguette Young

    After eight long years of internment at the United States’ Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, the so-called Gitmo prison, Omar Khadr’s military trial is scheduled to resume on October 18, 2010.  This comes nearly two months after his trial was suspended on August 13—the first day of arguments. 

    There is no more room for delays. Since being interned at Guantánamo, Khadr has faced delays after delays, he has fired his lawyers and has seen his trial postponed while the Obama Administration reviewed the functioning of military commissions. Then, on the first day of Khadr’s trial, his freshly-appointed military lawyer, Army Lt.-Col. Jon Jackson collapsed in the courtroom, and was air-lifted from the base to the United States for medical treatment. It is thought his malaise might be linked to a previous gallbladder surgery.

    On top of that, Khadr has turned down a plea bargain, which would have limited his prison term to five years instead of the 30 years he faces.

    Either way, the trial is off to a bad start

    The military judge presiding over the 23-year-old Canadian citizen’s trial, Army Col. Pat Parrish, ruled that evidence obtained through interrogations while Khadr was 15 years old was admissible. His lawyers maintained those confessions were extracted under duress and torture. The Supreme Court of Canada, Canada’s highest court, had reached the same conclusion in its January ruling but stopped short of ordering Canada to ask for Khadr’s repatriation to Canada.
     
    “The whole thing was a disgrace in terms of the rule of law,” says Allan Hutchinson from the University of Toronto’s prestigious Osgoode Hall.

    Read More

    Tags: Canada, Cuba, Barack Obama, Guantanamo Bay, Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden

  • Haitian Presidential Debate Draws Criticism

    September 20, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Only four of Haiti’s 19 presidential candidates participated in the country’s first televised presidential debate—a two-hour event held this past Saturday. Forty people attended the discussion but many left frustrated by vague responses from the candidates and the fact that all questions were required to be submitted in writing. Elections will be held on November 28.

    Notably absent from the debate was Wyclef Jean, the hip hop artist ruled unable to run due to not meeting residency requirements.

    When announced, the debate was lauded as a noteworthy example of transparency in an electoral climate that has been marred with criticisms. Colin Granderson, Assistant Secretary General of the Caribbean Community and Common Market says there are “concerns that the electoral council is not independent and is being manipulated by the president.”

    Tags: Haiti, Elections, Wyclef Jean, Colin Granderson

  • White House Adds Central American Countries to Drug List

    September 20, 2010

    by Alex Leff

    The White House has named Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras for the first time to its list of 20 “major illicit drug transit or major illicit drug producing countries.” The list is effective for fiscal year 2011.

    The addition of these countries has further pushed the theory that drug runners are relocating their transit and operation centers to smaller Central American nations from countries like Mexico and Colombia that have pursued an all-out crackdown. This was reported by the U.S. Department of State in March.

    Panama and Guatemala were already on the list, while El Salvador and Belize somehow didn’t make the cut. (Please add your comments below as to why you think that might be.)

    The White House explains the new additions as follows:

    “As Mexico and Colombia continue to apply pressure on drug traffickers, the countries of Central America are increasingly targeted for trafficking of cocaine and other drugs primarily destined for the United States. This growing problem resulted in Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua meeting the threshold for inclusion in the Majors List,” reads President Barack Obama’s September 15 memorandum for the secretary of state.

    The Central American countries join a 20 nation list that now includes: Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Bolivia, Burma, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela.

    Read More

    Tags: Barack Obama, Daniel Ortega, illicit drugs, US Department of State

  • Haiti to Hold First Televised Presidential Debate

    September 17, 2010

    by AQ Online

    On Saturday, September 18, viewers in Haiti and across the world can tune in to the country’s presidential candidates' debate at 9 a.m. on Radio Kiskeya, Radio Tele Ginen and Signal FM. International media have been invited to cover the event, and several universities, including New York University and University of Miami, will be streaming it live on the internet. To be broadcast from Pétionville, a relatively affluent suburb of Port-au-Prince, the debate will be the first in a series organized by the non-profit organization Haiti Aid Watchdog (HAW) in collaboration with the Interuniversity Institute of Research and Development (INURED). The theme of the series is, Nou pap vote moun men nap vote pwogram ("We are not voting for a person but a program").

    The 19 approved presidential candidates have been invited to present their platforms, and Haitian citizens within the country and in the diaspora are encouraged to participate via Skype, video conferencing, email, or SMS text.

    HAW monitors the Haitian government and seeks to educate voters and promote fair elections. It has organized the debates to foster dialogue and accountability from candidates on issues such as public services, international assistance, security, re-construction, and judicial reform.

    The debate series is welcome news of a measure of transparency and accountability. An August 16 meeting between President René Préval and members of Haiti’s election commission, CEP, led observers to wonder whether the commission four days later rejected certain candidates’ eligibility—including that of hip-hop star Wyclef Jean—on the basis of political considerations instead of constitutional law. An electoral observation mission run jointly by the Organization of American States and Caribbean Community has requested that the CEP disclose its reasons for dismissing candidates. However, most members of the international community—providing the bulk of the election’s $29 billion budget—are hesitant to interfere and slow down the election process.

    Tags: 2010 Haiti elections, candidates, presidential debates

  • Dominican Swims for Millennium Development Goals

    September 16, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Marcos Díaz, a 35-year-old ultra distance swimmer from the Dominican Republic, completed an aquatic tour across five continents when he arrived in New York City on Wednesday. The Santo Domingo native partnered with the United Nations on the “Swim across the Continents” tour to raise awareness for the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

    Díaz, nicknamed the “Dominican Dolphin,” began his journey on May 15 when he swam the 12 miles (19.5 km) from Papau New Guinea to Indonesia, crossing Oceania and Asia in four hours and 18 minutes. Over the next four months, he traveled from Jordan to Egypt; from Morocco to Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar; and from Russia to Alaska.

    Díaz completed the final leg of his trip in New York City yesterday, when he swam from the Statue of Liberty to Gantry Plaza State Park across from UN headquarters. There he presented UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with a petition signed by 200,000 people across the world, urging leaders to maintain their commitment to the MDGs. The end of the tour coincides with a UN summit commemorating the 10-year anniversary of the signing of the MDGs by every UN member country.

    The MDGs, which have a deadline of 2015, include freedom from extreme poverty and hunger, quality education, decent employment, adequate health and shelter, the right of women to give birth without risking their lives, environmental sustainability, and gender equality.

    Tags: United Nations, Dominican Repuiblic, Ban Ki-moon, MDG

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    September 16, 2010

    by AS-COA Online

    From the 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.

    Cuba’s Ideological About-face

    Former Cuban President Fidel Castro sparked controversy last week when he told The Atlantic that “the Cuban model doesn’t work.” He later said that he wasn’t maligning Communism, but actually meant “exactly the opposite,” claiming journalists misinterpreted his seemingly straight-forward comment. Despite Castro’s backtracking, the Cuban government announced Monday that it will cut half a million government jobs and encourage those workers to transition into the private sector, clearly suggesting a shift away from Cuban-style Communism.

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  • Las Confesiones del Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad

    September 15, 2010

    by Jenny Manrique

    Al tiempo que la Revista Semana se ganó el premio IPYS a la mejor investigación periodística en América Latina, por su brillante trabajo sobre las Chuzadas del DAS, nuevas revelaciones sobre cómo el aparato de inteligencia del Estado no solo grabó ilegalmente sino que persiguió y desprestigió a políticos opositores, magistrados y periodistas, están desmenuzando poco a poco la estructura criminal que se valió de tácticas impensables para conseguir información.

    El premio fue entregado en Buenos Aires al director de la revista, Alejandro Santos, durante la II Conferencia Latinoamericana de Periodismo de Investigación (Colpin) auspiciada por IPYS y FOPEA. Santos relató cómo una historia a la que uno de sus reporteros llegó siguiendo unos sobrecostos en la contratación de la compra de unas cafeteras en el DAS, terminó siendo uno de los mayores escándalos del gobierno saliente, que tendrá muchos ecos en el que acaba de comenzar si la justicia decide finalmente llegar hasta los culpables intelectuales de estos hechos.

    Las recientes confesiones de funcionarios involucrados parecen de novela. Ya son media docena los implicados que poco a poco, acogidos al principio de oportunidad con el ánimo de conseguir beneficios penales, han contado en extensas sesiones ante la Fiscalía, las ordenes que recibieron, las reuniones secretas que tuvieron en varias ciudades del país y la milimétrica puesta en escena de una operación de espionaje nunca antes conocida en Colombia.

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  • Chile’s Bachelet to Head New UN Agency

    September 15, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced yesterday the appointment of former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to head a newly created United Nations agency to promote women’s equality.  The UN Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women, or UN Women for short, will focus on promoting equality issues in education, government and employment which, according to a UN study conducted this past June, has progressed slowly.

    The former President’s nomination was considered along with two other candidates. She was unanimously approved by a 26-member selection committee to head the agency following interviews with each candidate by the Secretary-General last week.  “I’m confident that under her strong leadership we can improve the lives of millions of women and girls throughout the world,” said the Secretary-General of Bachelet.  In congratulatory remarks, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted: “She has broken barriers for women in Chile and throughout the region, and I am inspired by her passion, her expertise, and her courage to speak out on difficult issues.”

    The creation of UN Women was approved unanimously on July 2 this year and will consolidate the activities of four UN agencies including; the Division for the Advancement of Women, the Development Fund for Women, the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, and the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender issues.  The new agency will have 41 members consisting of member countries from each region. 

    Tags: Chile, United Nations, Women's rights, Bachelet

  • Argentina to Become Brazil’s Second-Largest Trade Partner

    September 13, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim on Saturday in Geneva announced that Argentina is on track in 2010 to become Brazil’s largest trade partner behind China, replacing the United States in second position. The announcement was shared at the eighth annual International Institute for Strategic Studies meeting.

    Bilateral trade between the two Mercosur-member countries is projected to reach up to $34 billion by the end of this year. This comes despite trade relations between Argentina and Brazil being strained at times. Brazil has periodically been accused of using unfair non-tariff policies to favor its import-competing industries. Addressing the need for improved bilateral trade relations with Argentina, Amorim recently called for “a leap forward in [liberating] the services and investment sectors.”

    Amorim will continue trade discussions during his European tour and will meet with Pascal Lamy, director general for the World Trade Organization.

    Tags: Brazil, Celso Amorim, Mercosur, China, US, World Trade Organization, International Institure for Strategic Studies

  • Chilean National Deputies Join Hunger Strike

    September 10, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Four Chilean congressional representatives from opposition parties announced today that they are joining an ongoing hunger strike by 34 indigenous Mapuche prisoners, who are protesting the use of Pinochet-era anti-terrorism laws to charge indigenous civilians for their role in land disputes with the government. The protesters say they are political prisoners and should not be treated as terror suspects or have to face trial in military courts.

    According to congressional aides, the leftist lawmakers are members of a human rights commission in the lower house of the national congress and have demanded that President Sebastian Piñera's government begin talks with the inmates.

    Reports indicate that Mr. Piñera this week introduced legislation that aims to ensure that civilians cannot be tried in military courts, and to reduce sentences under the anti-terror statutes. The Piñera administration has so far declined, however, to enter direct talks with the protestors. In response to the lawmakers’ decision to join the hunger strike, Minister of the Interior Rodrigo Hinzpeter has said the legislators are acting like “kindergartners” and should return to congress to press their case.

    Tags: Chile, Human Rights, Sebastian Piñera, Mapuche

  • Bolivia to Invest Heavily in Lithium, Potassium Production

    September 9, 2010

    by AQ Online

    The Bolivian government is planning to invest $450 million in large-scale production of lithium carbonate and potassium carbonate, Morales aide and former mining minister Luis Alberto Echazu told Spanish news agency Efe last week. His announcement came just a few days after Bolivian President Evo Morales and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak signed an agreement to jointly develop a lithium mine and infrastructure for processing and refining.

    Lithium—as lithium carbonate—is the key component in rechargeable batteries that power electric devices, including electric and hybrid vehicles, while potassium carbonate is mostly used in fertilizers. As automakers and governments alike pursue alternatives to fossil fuels, they are likely to become increasingly dependent on mineral reserves such as lithium. For Bolivia, which is the poorest country in South America but possesses half of all proven lithium deposits on Earth, this could very well bring about an economic transformation.

    The Morales administration says some 100 million tons of lithium lie under the Uyuni Salt Flats in southwest Bolivia. Other estimates, such as one by the U.S. Geological Survey, suggest that the reserves number merely 5.4 million tons. Regardless, electric car manufacturers could draw on the reserves for decades to come. Companies from across Asia and Europe are eager to partner with the Bolivian government to secure access to the reserves.

    Echazu, the head of the evaporitic resources office of the COMIBOL state mining corporation, said he expects to have the $450 million in funds by 2011. In the meantime, a pilot plant will be launched to produce 1,000 tons of potassium carbonate per month and 40 tons of lithium carbonate per month. The office’s ultimate goals for annual production of these resources are 700,000 tons and 30,000 tons, respectively.

    Tags: Bolivia, energy, Lithium

  • Labor's Stand for Immigration Reform: An Interview with Eliseo Medina

    September 8, 2010

    by Daniel Altschuler

    Over the last decade, organized labor has become a major player in the movement for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR).  With more members, resources and political clout than most other immigration reform supporters, union support has become a sine qua non for any potential legislation.  As part of an ongoing series of interviews on the current prospects for immigration reform, I spoke with Eliseo Medina, Executive Vice President of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of labor’s most outspoken advocates for immigration reform.  Mr. Medina spoke to me about various issues, including labor’s position in the pro-CIR movement, SEIU’s role in the boycott of Arizona, and the union’s efforts to increase Latino political strength throughout the country.

    Altschuler: How has Arizona SB 1070 affected SEIU’s organizing strategy on immigration issues?

    Medina: When SB 1070 was introduced, we spent a lot of time and energy trying to lobby the legislature, and then for the governor not to sign it. We felt it was unconstitutional, mean-spirited and divisive.  Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful.  From there, we switched to a strategy of trying to deal with the law and how it was introduced.  Our strategy built on the following components:

    Number one, challenge the law in the courts.  We joined with a number of other organizations in Arizona and nationally to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the initiative.

    Number two, we joined with the NCLR [National Council of La Raza], the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], and a number of other groups supporting a boycott of Arizona, because we felt that the only way we were going to be listened to was if there was some economic pressure brought to bear on Arizona.  It became apparent to us that this was not a question of good, sound policy arguments, but rather a political and ideological battle.  If they weren’t going to listen to us with their minds, we felt maybe they’d listen to us with their pocketbooks.

    The third thing we did was campaign to bring together different groups in Arizona that were interested not only in fighting 1070, but also empowering the Latino community to advocate for its own interests.  We put together a table of 501c3 and 501c4 organizations with the goal of reaching out to the Latino community, giving them the information they would need to come out and vote in November, and actually getting them to vote.  This would help us deliver a powerful message at the polls.

    Because SB 1070 has begun to rear its ugly head [through potential copycat laws] in 21 or 22 other states, we’ve been working with partner organizations and individuals across the country, lobbying at the state level to stop legislation while trying to make the boycott as successful as possible in order to send a message to other states.

    Altschuler: You mentioned the boycott.  Decades ago, you worked on an organizing effort that led to the California grape boycott. Now you find yourself in a movement boycotting the state of Arizona.  What lessons from your earlier boycott experience can you apply to the current effort?

    Medina: Boycotts work, because economic pressure can really focus the mind.  They also allow the broader public to do something very specific in support of the movement and to express their opposition to SB 1070.  So we have organizations [that] have cancelled their conventions, musicians and artists who have cancelled their performances, individuals who have cancelled their vacations to Arizona—not going to that state is their statement.  A boycott is something that is very democratic, because it’s something in which everybody can participate.  They don’t have to be in the state of Arizona; they can be anywhere in the world and participate.  It helps to build a movement, while at the same time putting pressure on and ensuring that the message about this law is picked up. 

    Read More

    Tags: SB 1070, Service Employees International Union, National Council of La Raza, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    September 8, 2010

    by AS-COA Online

    From the 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.

    Petrobras Plans World’s Largest Public Offering

    Mercopress reports that the Brazilian state-owned oil company Petrobras plans to sell as many as $64.5 billion in shares at the end of September to fund the development of new oil reserves. The Brazilian finance minister made assurances that the government will “act strongly” to protect the integrity of the real from the pending currency influx. But the IPO is also a turning point for China, marking the “first time a Chinese investment bank is taking a key role in a major share issue outside the mainland China and Hong Kong market,” reports People’s Daily Online.

    Read More

    Tags: Cuba, Haiti, Iran, Citigroup Bond Index, Mudslides

  • Balancing the Economy and the Environment – A Winning Proposition

    September 8, 2010

    by John Parisella

    With all the recent talk about a slow economic recovery and rising unemployment in the United States, there is a real risk that major environmental concerns will once again get overlooked for the sake of achieving renewed growth. Worse still, the failure of the UN Copenhagen Conference of 2009 to achieve substantive gains and the inability of the U.S. Congress to pass climate change legislation could lead many observers to conclude that the push for sustainable economic development is losing momentum. Based on some recent trends and events, however, I believe neither is happening and that the general consensus of the past decade that economic prosperity must not be achieved at the expense of environmental conservation is holding firm.

    The quest for renewable energy sources and the development of green technology is generally supported by policymakers across the globe. The lack of progress at the Copenhagen summit had more to do with the process than an absence of conviction. Countries throughout the hemisphere, from Chile to Canada and Quebec realize the threat that global warming poses to our collective future.

    The emerging debate around the exploration of shale gas in the Northeast of the North American continent is evidence that the economic potential of this resource should not blind us to the concerns of local populations regarding the technology used and its possible impact on the environment. New York State is in the process of establishing a moratorium on shale gas exploration in order to conduct further studies on its environmental consequences. Pennsylvania, which has embarked on an aggressive initiative to explore shale gas, has also substantially increased the number of its environmental inspectors. Just recently, the Quebec government asked its environmental assessment agency to conduct a thorough study of shale gas exploration with the promise that legislation will follow that takes into consideration the studies’ results. 

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    Tags: Chile, Canada, U.S. Congress, UN Copenhagen Conference, Climate Week NYC, Ban Ki Moon, Tony Blair, Jean Charest

  • Puerto Rico Declares Dengue Emergency

    September 8, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Puerto Rican government authorities have declared a public health emergency following the deaths of 10 people from dengue fever. The emergency declaration will result doctors’ receiving a course in the detection and treatment of the disease.  A public awareness campaign is also being ramped up to prevent further spread of the disease. 

    Dengue infections are on pace to break historic records. The total number of deaths attributable to the disease may reach 32 so far this year in Puerto Rico, outpacing the previous high mark of 19 deaths and over 11,000 cases of diagnosed dengue in 1998. Total suspected cases of dengue this year have already totaled over 12,000. 

    Actions by both patients and doctors have been blamed for the increase in fatalities with officials noting that doctors have not been providing appropriate follow-up care, while patients have insisted on leaving hospitals while still infected with the disease or not seeking immediate help. Chief epidemiologist Carmen de la Seda calls the problem serious, but she has thus far rejected claims that the epidemic is out of control.

    Tags: Public Health, Puerto Rico, Dengue fever

  • Seven Suspects Identified in Mexico Massacre

    September 7, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Seven individuals were identified by Mexican authorities on Monday as suspects in the massacre of 72 migrants in northern Mexico, whose bodies were discovered during a raid on August 24. Three of the suspects were killed by navy personnel during the raid, while another three were found dead near a highway shortly thereafter. All suspects, including a seventh that was arrested last week are believed to be part of Los Zetas drug cartel and were identified by one of the three massacre survivors.

    The bodies of the 72 mostly Honduran, Salvadorian and Ecuadorian migrants were discovered in the town of San Fernando in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas on the Texas border. As of Tuesday, 27 victims had been identified and are being repatriated to their home countries.

    The massacre is the latest example of drug-related in northern Mexican states along the U.S. border. According to Alejandro Poiré, the government spokesman for security issues, the mass-murder “confirms that criminal organizations are looking to kidnapping and extortion because they are going through a difficult time obtaining resources and recruiting people willingly.”

    Mr. Poiré’s comments come less than a week after the U.S. government announced it would withhold about $26 million in funding to Mexico’s anti-narcotics efforts over concerns that Mexico has not done enough to protect its people from cartel and police abuse.

    Tags: Mexico, Immigration, Drug war, Massacre, Raid

  • Venezuelan Hunger Striker Dies

    September 2, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Franklin Brito, a farmer in the southern Venezuelan state of Bolivar, died Monday night while protesting the government sanctioned takeover of his farm in 2000 under President Hugo Chávez’s land reform policies.  Mr. Brito had failed to regain his land from the government for the past decade despite numerous appeals and several previous hunger strikes that began in 2005.  Mr. Brito passed away in a military hospital where he had been forcibly interned for his own safety, according to government officials.

    Brito’s claims had initially garnered the support of Chávez who publicly supported him and called for government officials to rectify the situation.  However, the government made no further attempts to satisfy Brito’s land dispute.  Eventually, the government turned against Brito and accused him of having mental health problems. Venezuela’s minister for agriculture and land, Juan Carlos Loyo, stated publicly that Mr. Brito was being used by opponents of Hugo Chávez and his administration for political ends

    Brito had been placed in a medically induced coma last Friday to treat a respiratory condition, according to government sources, and also suffered from severe liver and kidney damage.  Authorities claim he collapsed and that attempts were made to revive him before he was pronounced dead at 9 p.m. on Monday evening. 

    Tags: Venezuela, Hunger Strike, land policy, Franklin Brito, protest

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    September 1, 2010

    by AS-COA Online

    From the 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.

    Drug Lord La Barbie Captured in Mexico

    After a 14-month operation, on Monday Mexican security forces captured U.S-born kingpin Édgar Valdez Villareal, better known as La Barbie for his fair appearance. Valdez, reputedly one of Mexico’s most violent cartel leaders, controlled the Beltrán-Leyva gang in the states of Morelos, Guerrero, State of Mexico, and Sinaloa. The branch of the cartel he oversaw is thought to be responsible for smuggling roughly a ton of cocaine into the United States each month. Alejandro Poiré, Mexican security spokesman, declared the arrest as “a high impact strike against organized crime and an important step in the security strategy.” Valdez could be extradited to the United States, where he was indicted on drug trafficking charges. Also this week, the Colombian National Police arrested 11 people who served as liaisons between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and La Barbie’s gang.

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  • Hispanic Candidate Challenges Legislator Behind SB1070

    September 1, 2010

    by AQ Online

    The race for the seat of Arizona state senate Republican Russell Pearce, a key sponsor of the controversial immigration law SB1070, is heating up.  His newest opponent, Andrea Garcia, is a Latino woman running on the Libertarian Party ticket who is basing her campaign to unseat Pearce on his support of the controversial law. “My goal is to get Pearce out of the legislature. I believe the approval of state law SB1070 shows the damage his ideas can cause our communities,” says Garcia.

    Support for and opposition to SB1070 has become a major issue in this year’s state-wide elections in Arizona and has proven a polarizing topic pitting mostly Republican supporters of the law against all opponents, especially Democrats. However, by many indications, support for the law has helped candidates around the state including Governor Jan Brewer, who won the Republican primary with nearly 82 percent of votes cast. She now faces Democratic challenger Terry Goddard over whom she holds a significant lead.

    Garcia faces a formidable incumbent opponent with substantial financial backing and appears to understand that victory is a long shot. She says, however, “I hope that when [voters] realize that SB1070 has really done nothing to prevent undocumented immigration and that, on the contrary, it is hurting our communities, these people will change their minds.”

    State-led immigration enforcement has also been an important campaign topic in state elections in Minnesota, California, Florida, and elsewhere.

    Tags: Arizona, hispanics in U.S., Elections, SB1070, Jan Brewer, Senator Pearce, Andrea Garcia

  • Grassroots Efforts for Immigration Reform: Voices from Michigan, New York, and Colorado

    September 1, 2010

    by Daniel Altschuler

    Over the past several years, grassroots groups across the country have held mass marches, lobbied government officials and used civil disobedience to call for reform of the nation’s immigration system. As part of a continuing series of interviews on the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) and the pro-CIR movement, I interviewed grassroots leaders from Michigan, New York and Colorado to explore the strategies of—and challenges faced by—groups in different parts of the country:

    • Ponsella Hardaway is the Executive Director of Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength (MOSES) in Michigan, a member of the Gamaliel Foundation's organizing network.
    • Andrew Friedman is the co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York
    • Julie Gonzales is an organizer at the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC) and the Colorado State Director for the Reform Immigration for America (RIFA) campaign.

    MOSES, Make the Road, and CIRC have also signed on as member organizations of the broader Reform Immigration for America (RIFA) campaign to achieve national comprehensive immigration reform.

    Altschuler: How long has your organization been working on immigration issues, and how did it first get involved?

    Friedman: Make the Road has been working on this issue since its foundation in 1997 in the aftermath of unsuccessful national immigration reform and punitive welfare reform that targeted immigrants. Most of our initial organizing campaigns focused on local treatment of immigrants. Back in 2005-2006, it felt like there was some momentum emerging in the backlash to the Sensenbrenner bill [the Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005]. That’s when we started to have substantive conversations about tactics and strategies for organizing committee meetings and participating in coalition work, both nationally and locally, on the issue. Since then, we’ve grown considerably, so this time around we were more active.

    Hardaway: MOSES has been working on the issue since the founding of our organization in 1997. One of our members, Holy Redeemer—probably the largest Latino congregation in the city—has been a part of MOSES since the beginning. Because of its involvement, we started out working on local neighborhood issues, like crime and the rise of gangs. Then, out of that, we began looking at the young people who were brought over as children—they didn’t necessarily see Mexico as their home, they went through the Detroit public school system, but they could not go to college without going back to Mexico and paying foreign rates for tuition. So our first big action, back in 2002, was around fighting for in-state tuition for undocumented students, so that they could at least go to college.

    Altschuler: What has your organization learned from the last failed effort for immigration reform in 2007?  How, if at all, are you approaching the current effort differently?

    Friedman: After 2007, we had considerable work to do with our allies—strong institutional allies like labor unions, nationally powerful Democrats—as well as with folks who were not necessarily with us on the issue. We came out of that thinking a couple of things: one, we really needed to build our political sophistication and muscle and two, we needed to ensure there wouldn’t be a split between the AFL-CIO and Change to Win—two major union partners—on the substance of the legislation.

    This time, we were just positioned differently. Our representative in Congress [Nydia Velázquez] was the head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Senator Schumer was the third highest-ranking Democrat. So we have been working more on local actions and local relationships to make an impact on the national struggle.

    Hardaway: The biggest struggle in our organization was developing a relationship [with non-immigrant groups on this issue]. In 2007 we aggressively moved to immigration reform without building a strong multi-racial base. There were many African-Americans in our organization who didn’t understand—especially when we used the term ‘civil rights’ of immigrants. African-Americans said, ‘We’ve been fighting for civil rights for a long time. Why is this important for us [if we haven’t won our fight yet]?’  It’s important to have the conversation about how immigration impacts everyone and how we can find common ground around what’s being done to minorities in general in this country and the government’s role in that.

    One of the things that MOSES did do was take on racial profiling. We got together as an organization and discussed racial profiling, working towards an ordinance in Detroit. We also got together around affirmative action, which was a big issue in Michigan. That was where we got a multi-racial coalition. It didn’t focus necessarily on immigration reform, but it took up the common things that affected us all. And then [in 2007-2008] we had some dialogue about immigration from a faith perspective, simultaneous to working aggressively on immigration reform.

    Gonzales: Our coalition [in Colorado] began in October of 2006. Everybody understood the fight, but for us, it didn’t feel like there was necessarily a way to plug in. We weren’t doing the day-to-day lobbying. We needed to find a way to engage the local communities, to make sure everyone could participate, including young people. With the DREAM Act effort of October, 2007, there was creative, new, engaging, exciting work in which people could become involved. We did things in Colorado—like lobby visits with State legislators in Spanish—that helped gear us up for the latest efforts. The RIFA campaign [is focused on] trying to marry those two worlds of political lobbying and grassroots organizing. We don’t have everything figured out, but we’re doing better.

    Read More

    Tags: Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength, Make the Road New York, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, Reform Immigration for America

  • Official Claims Venezuelan Military Armed FARC

    August 31, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Carlos Molina Tamayo, former national security advisor to President Hugo Chávez, told Miami’s El Nuevo Herald today that the Venezuelan military has, in the past, supplied arms to the Colombian Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). According to Tamayo, former Minister of the Interior Ramon Rodriguez Chacin asked him to help send rifles to the FARC, when he was in charge of the Venezuelan armed forces’ armory.

    Mr. Tamayo claims that Mr. Rodriguez Chacin asked him for 300 FAL rifles for an irregular operation and asked how they could be shipped out of Venezuela without being detected. Though Tamayo was never directly asked again to send more weapons, he claims that rifles, mortars and grenades and even anti-tank AT4 rockets would regularly “disappear” or were “stolen” from the Venezuelan caches.

    Tamayo’s on-the-record statements come only a month after former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe accused President Chávez of harboring 1,500 FARC guerrillas and funding the FARC movement in Colombia. Chávez responded by cutting all diplomatic ties with Colombia, raising the threat of a military clash along the countries’ shared 2,300km border. The tensions finally eased in mid-August when Juan Manuel Santos met with Chávez in the Colombian city of Santa Marta, shortly after succeeding Uribe.

    Tags: Colombia, Venezuela, Alvaro Uribe, FARC, Hugo Chavez, Juan Manuel Santos, Guerrilleras

  • Can anyone live on minimum wage in Mexico?

    August 30, 2010

    by Arjan Shahani

    In a quaint coffee shop in the heart of La Condesa  (one of Mexico City’s trendiest neighborhoods), Ana and Ricardo sit down and take a break from their jobs. One of them orders a shot of espresso, the other a soft drink and a muffin. Their bill exceeds 120 pesos ($9.10), excluding tip. After a while, they get up, pay and happily go on their way. 

    One block from the café another Mexican, Silvia, mops the floor of a local supermarket and earns minimum wage. A single mother of two she has to make ends meet with 345 pesos ($26.20) a week working six days.

    Her story is not an exception.  It is a reality shared by 12 percent of this country’s economically active population.  Another nine percent of our workers earn the sum of two minimum wages, 115 pesos ($8.74) daily.  This creates problems and challenges far greater than what these figures reflect.

    In the U.S., the minimum wage is set at $7.25 per hour. At 13 pesos to the dollar and an 8-hour workday, this means that a minimum wage employee in the US earns 13 times as much as one in Mexico. Does this tell you a little bit about the risks migrants are willing to face in order to illegally cross the border?

    Politicians in Mexico love to relate purchasing power to the price of the tortilla. At current rates, one minimum wage is the equivalent of 6 kilos of tortilla per day. This sounds like a lot (this is why they love to use this figure). I guess politicians expect us to live off of tortillas (and people wonder why our country has one of the worst obesity problems in the world). Unfortunately, though tortillas are cheap, nothing else on the shelf is. If Silvia pays a really low rent, she will blow the rest of her income when she goes to the  supermarket once a week and buys a box of cereal, a carton of milk, a couple of cans of food and a 2 liter bottle of her soft drink of choice. Not nearly enough to feed a family, let alone provide a balanced diet… Wait, don’t forget your tortillas!

    Read More

    Tags: Mexico, Tecnológico de Monterrey

  • Cuba Enacts Reforms to Bolster Foreign Investment

    August 30, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Cuban President Raúl Castro and the Cuban National Assembly last week issued two new decrees that analysts believe could prompt a new flood of foreign investment to the country. The new laws will permit foreign investors to lease government land for up to 99 years for tourism projects and loosen state controls on commerce in key agricultural sectors.

    "This is probably one of the most significant moves in recent years relative to attracting foreign investment," said Robin Conners, CEO of the Canadian firm, Leisure Canada, which is currently developing a number of hospitality-related projects on the island. A number of firms also want to build golf courses on the island—a stated priority of the Communist government.

    Others are more cautious. John Kavulich, a senior policy adviser for the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council says it’s still way too early to herald a new Cuba and that the measures enacted last week are not likely to open a floodgate of investment. Rather, he says, "I think it may turn on a tap so that people know there's water."

    Tags: Raul Castro, Cuban National Assembly, John Kavulich

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    August 29, 2010

    by AS-COA Online

    From the 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.

    Chile’s Miners Found, Long Rescue Mission Awaits

    Via a note that read the 33 of us in the shelter are well, miners trapped 2,300 feet underground in a private Chilean copper mine confirmed they were alive on Sunday. The men occupy a space the size of a small apartment and will receive food and medicine via tubes as well as oxygen. Despite the good news, the rescue mission will take at least three months. Financial Times reports that Chilean President Sebastian Piñera fired mining regulators and pledged to clean up the country’s mining agency.

    President Piñera will deliver remarks to Americas Society/Council of the Americas during a public program on September 22.

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    Tags:

  • FOGWILL: A LA MEMORIA DE UN ESCRITOR PUNK

    August 26, 2010

    by Liliana Colanzi

    Con Rodolfo Enrique Fogwill (1941-2010) se va uno de los grandes escritores malditos latinoamericanos. Sus relatos (pienso en “Muchacha Punk”, “Help a él” o “La larga risa de todos estos años”) fascinan por su intensidad, su inquietante lucidez, su extraña textura poética, cualidades capaces de sumir al lector en una especie de trance. Pero en Fogwill la obra es tan importante como el personaje. Irónico e irreverente hasta el final, se hizo famoso por sus cáusticos comentarios sobre sus contemporáneos—su rivalidad con Ricardo Piglia fue legendaria—y por sus opiniones políticamente incorrectas, que lo llevaron a pelearse con las madres de la Plaza de Mayo y a cuestionar la existencia de los campos de concentración nazis. Le gustaba salir en las fotos con cara de alucinado: los cabellos en todas direcciones, los ojos desorbitados, la lengua afuera y, en ocasiones, hasta desnudo. Fue conocido como un lector inagotable que siempre estuvo tomándole el pulso a las nuevas generaciones. Su generosidad con los jóvenes era extraordinaria: leía con atención los manuscritos de los escritores noveles y se encargaba de encontrarles editoriales que los publicaran.

    Lo conocí el 5 de agosto en Montevideo, en un evento literario organizado por la revista Eñe. Esa noche, durante la cena, destrozó a la mayoría de los escritores argentinos contemporáneos consagrados; en sus ataques no sólo se metía con la obra, sino también con la persona: acusaba a muchos de haberse corrompido por el mercado. En cambio, habló con entusiasmo de aquellos escritores con un perfil más alternativo, o quizás menos mediático: Diego Meret, Fabián Casas, Pablo Ramos, Carlos Busqued, Alejandro Rubio. También recordó las campañas de publicidad que hizo para varias marcas de cerveza en Bolivia (antes de darse a conocer como escritor fue un publicista de prestigio) y elogió el poemario Muerte por el tacto, de Jaime Saenz, a quien consideraba un poeta de primera línea. Pese al frío polar de esa noche, no le importó salir del restaurante para encender un cigarrillo en la calle; más tarde regresó para utilizar su inhalador. Cuando le pregunté si tenía asma, contestó con una sonrisa traviesa: “No, es enfisema pulmonar”. Creí que estaba siendo irónico...

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    Tags: Latin American Authors, Liliana Colanzi, Rodolfo Enrique Fogwill, Escritores Malditos

  • Rousseff Widens Lead in Brazil Election

    August 26, 2010

    by AQ Online

    The latest polls out of Brazil show presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff winning the support of 49 percent of voters polled, with a 20 percentage-point lead over her nearest challenger, former São Paulo governor José Serra, who trails behind with 29 percent. Green Party candidate Marina Silva lagged at 9 percent. A candidate in Brazil needs at least 50 percent to avoid a runoff and these newest results make a first-round win in the October 3 election increasingly likely.

    Ms. Rousseff received a major bump in name recognition and popularity after last week’s launch of her national television campaign, which included prime-time ad spots clearly linking her to ever-popular President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva.

    An outright win for Rousseff may give the one-time energy minister a mandate for her legislative agenda, which some believe will stay close to Lula’s playbook of a strong state combined with market-friendly practices. Some economic analysts however, say Rousseff could be considering a much bolder policy agenda, including budget cuts to allow for lower interest rates, limits to the growth of public spending and reforms to the tax code.

    The Datafolha poll was based on a nationwide sample of 10,948 people and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

    Tags: Dilma Rousseff, Brazil elections

  • The Rise and Fall of Political Parties in Peru

    August 25, 2010

    by Sabrina Karim

    For the last two election cycles in which Lourdes Flores has run for president, polls have always shown her with strong leads in the weeks before elections, but come election night, she has lost. This time she is running for mayor of Lima on the Partido Popular Cristiano political party ticket and it looks like the trend will continue. Recent revelations of her close ties to Cesar Castano, the owner of Peruvian Airlines, who is currently under suspicion of narco-trafficking, have caused her numbers to slide in the polls with the October elections fast approaching.

    While this could signal yet another political disappointment for Lourdes, it also raises questions about the strength of her political party affiliation and Peru’s political party system overall. Perhaps, this is because the formal institutionalization of political parties under the Peruvian legal system did not happen until 2003. But there is also simply a culture of informality with political parties here. Parties are often created every election cycle to fill a vacuum of political institutions and ideas, but they are not sustainable. They are created out of necessity during elections years to organize campaigns rather than built over the long-term, based on political ideas and platforms.

    Often, candidates in high profile races like Lima mayor or president form party alliances and then find candidates in the provinces and local areas to carry the name of the party bloc. After the election, the political party disappears only to be resurrected using the same name or another name in the next election cycle. Also common: political parties field candidates only at the municipal level and do not have national candidates or they are only national and struggle to find municipal candidates.

    Read More

    Tags: Lourdes Flores, Partido Popular Cristiano, Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana

  • Canada Intercepts Russian Bombers

    August 25, 2010

    by AQ Online

    The Canadian government revealed this morning that Canadian fighter jets were scrambled to intercept two Russian bombers approaching Canadian airspace near its Northwest Territories on Tuesday.  The Canadian jets returned to base without incident once the Russian planes turned around.  The announcement comes on the eve of a visit by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to northern Canada to observe military exercises over the Arctic. 

    The Russian TU-95 Bear jet bombers flew within 30 miles (50 km.) of Canadian soil after having first been spotted nearly 120 nautical miles north of Inuvik, Northwest Territories. Canada has linked the Russian flights over the arctic and near Canadian airspace to competition between Canada, the United States, Russia, and others to secure arctic resources as polar ice caps melt and reveal new potential sources of oil, natural gas and minerals resources.

    A similar incident involving Russian bombers occurred last month off Canada’s east coast and again in February 2009.  In both cases, Canadian fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the Russian aircraft. Russian officials have repeatedly claimed that their planes never encroached on Canadian airspace. 

    Tags: Canada, Russia, Arctic, natural resources, Military exercises

  • Mapuche Protesters Take Over Radio Station in Chile

    August 24, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Indigenous community leaders on Monday staged a take-over of Santiago-based radio station Bío-Bío to protest the station’s failure to report on the hunger strike of 32 Mapuche activists. The protesters demanded that Radio Bío-Bío air an interview with a spokesperson for the prisoners, who began their hunger strike on July 12. The take-over occurred one week after internal government documents surfaced alleging links between Mapuche activists, the Chilean Communist Party, and Colombian guerrilla groups.

    Mapuche activists have consistently challenged the Chilean government’s purported militarization of the southern region of Araucanía, which is the ancestral homeland of 650,000 Mapuches. The strong police presence in the region, they claim, is exacerbated by what they believe are the exploitative practices of multinational logging and mining companies.

    Many of the jailed activists were arrested for illegal land occupations or attacks on the equipment or personnel of multinational companies, both of which are considered acts of terrorism under the  Pinochet-era Anti-Terrorism Law, No.19.027. The hunger strike is in direct protest of the law, which protesters say allows the state to hold people for up to two years without charges, restricts defense attorneys’ access to evidence, and use testimony from anonymous witnesses.

    Since Chile’s return to democracy in 1990, this law has been applied  to Mapuche activists. The Chilean government maintains that the law is not being applied unfairly, and that the acts of the terrorists, regardless of their ethnicity, must be tried to the fullest extent of the law.

    Tags: Chile, FARC, Sebastian Piñera, Hunger Strike, Mapuche, Anti-Terrorism, Araucania

  • FARC Looks to UNASUR to Facilitate Dialogue

    August 23, 2010

    by AQ Online

    The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) today published an open letter to the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (UNASUR) proposing that the multilateral organization begin mediating long-stalled talks between the FARC and the Colombian government. According to the letter, the FARC continues to desire a “political resolution to the conflict” and is “ready to explain during a UNASUR assembly, our vision of the Colombian conflict.”

    The letter is the FARC’s second public statement since the inauguration of Colombia’s new President Juan Manuel Santos, following a July 30 video message to Mr. Santos that proposed restarting direct talks.

    President Santos has not outright rejected the new overtures but has insisted that that any new talks must be "based on the unalterable premise that (the guerrillas) give up arms, kidnapping, extortion, drug trafficking, and intimidation".

    Tags: Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC)

  • Legislative Prospects for Immigration Reform: An Interview with Marshall Fitz

    August 19, 2010

    by Daniel Altschuler

    Despite political pronouncements from President Obama and key legislators early this year, immigration reform now seems to have slipped off of the Congressional agenda.  As part of an ongoing series of interviews on the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), I spoke with Marshall Fitz to explore the current context in the Beltway.  Mr Fitz is the Director of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress and has been a key legislative strategist for the current Reform Immigration for America (RIFA) campaign. We discussed issues ranging from the congressional politics on immigration in 2007 and 2010, the communications challenges facing RIFA, and the significance of Latino voting patterns for the prospects of immigration reform.

     

    Altschuler: What have groups pressing for CIR learned from the last failed effort for immigration reform in 2007?

     

    Fitz:There was a very honest and earnest assessment of why the last go-around failed.   One of the central critiques from that assessment was: we weren’t strong enough politically. We had a lot of support in public opinion polling, but the support was broad and not deep, and we had a hard time contending with the very deep, intense, but narrow band of opposition to comprehensive reform.  That was a challenge that we’ve tried to address in a number of ways.

    On the communications front, we’ve done a lot of additional public opinion polling.  We’ve found the language that connects, language that meets the public where they are. Even when you set up the questions in the worst context, making the toughest arguments, you still get overwhelming support for a comprehensive solution, even by conservative voters.  And that is a function of the American public’s appetite for solving the problem, for making sure that people aren’t getting an undue benefit, but also putting everyone on an even playing field.  And doing it in a way that restores the rule of law, as opposed to continuing to perpetuate the dysfunction.  Those are central components to immigration reform, and they have been in the past, but we haven’t necessarily talked about them in the right way.  So that’s a communications challenge we have addressed.

    Altschuler: And how about on the legislative side?

    Fitz: Another critique of the 2007 failure was that trying to build a centrist legislative reform package meant that you needed a really strong, robust center that could be driven far enough forward that it would drag along the necessary votes.  But constructing the bill to hold the center meant that a lot of the groups on the Left were alienated because they thought that too much had been given up.  Frankly, it was a bill that no one loved—that was kind of the idea—but the core wasn’t strong enough in that center.

    In part, that was because John McCain had walked away from his collaboration with Senator Kennedy because of his presidential run.  Jon Kyl and the Bush White House stepped in the breach, and the bill moved strongly and sharply to the Right.  And yet, our strategy was built around this bi-partisan center, so we had to shift along with that move to the Right or walk away from the possibility of legalizing millions of people living in the shadows. Our willingness to bend and slide to the Right was premised on a promise that, if we did that, we would get 23 to 25 Republicans supporting the bill as we had in 2006.  And at the end of the day we only got 12, and the rest is history.

    So our central insight was that the groups driving the 2007 process from the Left were not strong enough to prevent that rightward tilt.  And the folks on the Right obviously weren’t delivering—they promised 25 votes and produced half that.  So there was a concerted effort to get stronger on the Left and ensure that labor was unified in their approach this go around.  In 2007, SEIU and UNITE HERE had been very strong and willing to keep moving the legislative process forward, but the AFL thought the bill was unsalvageable and opposed.  That rift, where the unions could be played off against each other in various Senate offices, really hurt our efforts to hold the center.  So one important take-away from this analysis was that a central goal of the next campaign had to be developing and maintaining labor unity and alignment with the campaign.

    Altschuler: Is there any chance now of progress on this issue before November or the end of the year?

    Fitz: The short answer is that we can take steps that lay the groundwork for comprehensive immigration reform soon.  A lot of people want to write CIR’s obituary, and I am not among them.  It’s way too premature. Now if the question they are asking is, “Is CIR going to pass in 2010?”, then I agree the answer is no.  But is there an opportunity to do something in September—maybe the DREAM Act or something that can generate more momentum, things that we can do non-legislatively that can continue to build the energy and momentum for a play in early 2011 or some additional pieces in a lame-duck session?  I don’t write off any of those possibilities.  And, as a campaign, we are strongly supportive of DREAM and AgJobs moving—they would help set the stage for comprehensive immigration reform in early 2011. The goal of the campaign remains to solve the current immigration crisis, and the solution is only going to be realized through a broad, comprehensive legislative overhaul.

     

    Altschuler: How important are get-out-the-vote efforts in Latino communities in 2010?  Can they push legislators to move faster on CIR?

    Fitz: I think there are a couple possibilities.  One is strong Latino voter turnout in 2010 that shows that 2008 wasn’t a flash in the pan, but rather that there’s a building crescendo of Latino electoral clout.  In races where immigration gets teed up as an important issue, looking at Latino voting patterns in those races will be very interesting and important.  Because one thing is clear: the Latino electorate is absolutely incensed with the way that this debate has been carried out.  Immigration has never been their top issue.  They’re like the rest of Americans; their top issues are the economy and jobs and health care and education.  But it has become a litmus test issue because of the demonization.  It doesn’t mean that they’re going to vote for someone who’s against them on every other issue just because of immigration, but I think the Republican brand is on the verge of being irreparably tarnished.

    This could be where the Republicans were in 1962, when they were still very much vying for the black vote.  Their retrenchment and opposition to the civil rights movement effectively lost them the black vote ever since.  They’re flirting dangerously close to that dynamic.  And, if that were to happen, given what’s happened with the minority vote and given the demographic trajectory of the Latino electorate, there will be no way for the Republicans to win the White House again.  So I think that’s made them enormously concerned.  I know that a number of the possible GOP presidential contenders, like Mitt Romney and others, would be extraordinarily happy to have this issue off the table.  That’s a reason that the dynamics could change in the first few months [of 2011].  And that desire will be strengthened if there is another strong expression of Latino voting power in November.

    On the other hand, the Latinos are justifiably frustrated that there hasn’t been any progress on this issue—an issue that they see as having been promised by the President as one that would be taken up during this first session.  Latino disappointment with the lack of positive movement on this issue could translate into ambivalence in November. That, in turn, could diminish the sense of urgency some Republicans might have to get this issue off the table and could make it harder to get bipartisan movement early in 2011.

    Altschuler: Last time, the push for CIR began in the Senate.  Would this still be true for this next round?

    Fitz: Here’s what happened.  In 2005, we anticipated that the Senate was going to move first.  Then, there were two Supreme Court vacancies that consumed the Judiciary Committee and postponed all consideration of everything else.

    During that pause in Senate action, Representatives Sensenbrenner and King put together a piece of legislation, HR 4437, that they passed in December—that was enforcement only, that was vicious, made felons out of everyone, and so on.  So the House actually acted first.  And the Senate responded with a historic immigration mark-up that passed under Chairman Specter’s direction.  It got a bi-partisan vote out of the Judiciary Committee, went to the Floor, and the vote on the floor ended up being 62-37, I think.  So, you had an extreme House measure passed out of the Republican-controlled House, and then you had a very solid bi-partisan compromise comprehensive bill pass out of the Senate.  And, of course, they couldn’t conference them, and frankly no one wanted to.

    Then both chambers flipped in 2006.  The question was: were we going to go back to the House, where they’d produced this horrendous, heinous bill, albeit under the auspices of the deposed Republican leadership?  Or the Senate, where newly installed Senate Majority Leader Reid was totally committed to going forward on it and made it one of the first ten bills that were going to be introduced.  In the Senate, it was like, “We just did this nine months ago.  With Ted Kennedy and John McCain leading the charge, we can do it again.”  And it obviously imploded.

    This time, we would’ve been happy to go House first.  But the House felt like it had already taken so many hard votes, and the Senate hadn’t proved that it could pass the legislation that the House had passed—the Energy Bill being a case in point.  Speaker Pelosi was very clear that she was waiting on Harry Reid to send them a bill.

    So the question in the next Congress will be: what does the make-up of the two chambers look like?  I think everyone believes that there will be significant losses in the House, which could possibly flip—and, if it doesn’t, the margins could be pretty thin.  That may militate in favor of the Senate going first once again, but we’ll have to see what the composition of the Senate looks like, too.

    Altschuler: Most voters in the upcoming elections will be primarily concerned with economic issues.  Can RIFA win the economic argument around immigration on Capitol Hill?

    Fitz: I think we’ve done a fairly good job.  We have had very strong economic messages, like the report that CAP put out with the Immigration Policy Center on the economic benefits of comprehensive reform versus trying to remove 11 or 12 million people.  It’s a $4 trillion dollar swing in cumulative GDP over 10 years.  And that report has gotten enormous citation, and it’s widely credited with bringing home the point that had been made in other studies—that immigration is a net benefit to the country.

    The most fundamental and emotional question in the national debate is what to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country. To me, there’s no economic argument there.  Legalizing that population is an unequivocal benefit to the economy and to similarly situated economic workers.  And they’re already here and working.  So, it’s not that you’re talking about new people coming in and taking jobs.  The question becomes one of alternatives: are you really going to try to remove all those workers, or do you want to make them legal taxpayers and help the economy get growing again and create jobs?   I haven’t felt like we’ve been losing the argument.  In fact, I think that there are good arguments for why this is a better economic climate for a lot of politicians who might not want to engage this debate to carry it out now.  Because there are less people coming in.  We’d been talking five years ago about 400,000 to 600,000 new temporary workers coming in every year, and we’re not having that conversation now.

    Altschuler: A lot of people have made this economic argument, including groups like the Chamber of Commerce and other pro-CIR business groups.  Are there any prospects for collaboration between the groups that you’re working with and the more Conservative groups on this?

    Fitz: The interesting thing is that, when we did that report with the Immigration Policy Center, the Cato Institute had previously come out with a report that reached very similar conclusions and numbers.  So we had Cato economists on our panels talking about this issue with CAP’s economists.  They went up to the Hill and did briefings, we had a very successful roll-out here, they’ve done some things elsewhere around the country.  So, we really are trying to pair up with some conservative economists and think tanks given the common story we have to tell.  The Chamber has been a group that we’ve long collaborated with, and we’ve continued to develop our relations with the Chamber.  They’ve just been so deeply immersed in these other fights that getting them to pay attention has been challenging, especially when their members are not struggling to get new workers.

    Altschuler: A recent piece in The American Prospect criticized progressive CIR advocates for compromising too much to a conservative security and “rule of law” agenda to get comprehensive immigration reform passed. How do you respond to this critique?

    Fitz: I think it was very misguided and frustrating. What it misses is where the debate actually is and where it has gone.  A lot of the focus has been on the language, rather than the substance.  And the substance hasn’t shifted with the language—the focus of the current efforts that were underway with Graham and Schumer and where we were headed was towards a broader, more robust, and unprecedented legalization.  One that was more generous than the McCain-Kennedy language, even.  And that was because of a recognition that you’ve really got to clear the decks and have as broad a legalization as possible if you’re going to correct the system.  If you’re just going to do half, then you’ve cut into the problem, but you haven’t solved it.

    But the language—that’s what I was talking about at the beginning of our discussion, about learning how to talk about this issue and communicate in a way that connects with the American public where they are.  For example, the American public may not be put off by the phrase ‘illegal immigrant’ at all—that’s just the colloquial term they understand.  And when they see you talking about ‘undocumented immigrants’—and I still do, because I think it’s more accurate—that’s kind of like a cue word for, “Oh, he just wants amnesty.”  Because that’s the way that the other side has painted it.  But, in fact, if you just talk about it in a way that meets them where they are, but also talk about what a real, practical solution is, then you actually get to a better policy place.  You haven’t moved to the right in terms of enforcement policy and support for the rule of law.

    And frankly, was the Left ever against the rule of law? The whole point of this exercise is to end illegal immigration as we know it and to restore the rule of law.  And certainly enforcement is a part of that.  The problem is when you continue to enforce the law on top of a broken system that doesn’t match current economic and social realities, you end up with a whole lot of hardship.  But, do we really not expect to be enforcing the law?  We certainly support enforcement, but we also support a rational system.

    Altschuler: Given the push for enforcement in the last few months, there’s been a lot of civil disobedience.  Is the RIFA campaign united on this?  Are there differences of opinion between groups in the coalition about taking a confrontational, grassroots approach to the administration?

    Fitz: Yes, I think there are.  It’s more about where the individual institutions are, I think.  And where individuals are.  I think that people experience different realities, and, because they experience a different reality, they’re going to have a different response to it.  A lot of the people who are service providers in the field and deal with these populations and deal with the stories of ten more people being put into proceedings, another family torn apart—all they see is the administration tearing their communities apart.  They might understand intellectually that there’s more going on—that the process is painfully complex and slow—but what they know is that families continue to be torn apart.  And so their response is calibrated to that reality.

    But, as policy folks working in DC, we understand how difficult it is to get anything passed on the Hill and how, if the Obama administration stopped enforcing the law, there would be zero prospect of ever getting immigration reform that constructively deals with the undocumented population during his tenure as president.  So we weigh those things against each other.  But it doesn’t mean that we’re not equally impacted by the continuing enforcement.   We don’t see it as just par for the course.  So we’ve been really pressing them (Obama and DHS) to change their focus and change their priorities.

    And I think they’ve actually done a pretty good job of trying to do that. It’s a slow process, but I think we are actually seeing the fruits of that effort. They’re deporting more people, but they are also deporting far more people who’ve had criminal convictions than under the prior administration.  So they’re really zeroing in on not just busboys who are trying to work, but on people who have committed crimes, and really prioritizing people who’ve committed serious crimes.  Right now, they’re at about fifty-fifty, and that reflects a very substantial shift.

    On the other hand, there’s still the other 50 percent—and that’s another 125,000 or 150,000 people or so this year—and they’ve got families, and they’re part of communities and part of companies.  And it’s enormously painful—not to mention de-stabilizing.  So we really get it. And that’s the really sad part of this effort; that’s what keeps us going to work every day, despite the challenging conditions.

    *Daniel Altschuler is a contributing blogger to www.AmericasQuarterly.org and a doctoral candidate in Politics and Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford. His research focuses on civic and political participation in Honduras and Guatemala.

    Tags:

  • New Data on Children of Undocumented Immigrants as U.S. Increases Border Patrol

    August 19, 2010

    by AQ Online

    A new analysis of U.S. Census data by the Pew Hispanic Center reports that while undocumented immigrants make up approximately four percent of the adult population in the U.S., their children represent eight percent of the newborn population and seven percent of the child population (younger than age 18). Factors explaining the difference include the relative young age of immigrants and their greater likelihood of having large families.

    The report comes amid growing calls by conservative lawmakers in Washington to consider repeal of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which endows citizenship to anyone born in the U.S. The debate began in early August following comments made by Senator Lindsay Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, who told Fox News that the amendment no longer serves its original purpose and should be re-examined. He and other politicians argue that fewer people would cross the border if they no longer had the incentive of giving birth to U.S. citizens.

    The report also arrives as 224 U.S. National Guard troops prepare to deploy along California’s southern border on September 1. The troops will assist with counter-narcotics, anti-illegal immigration and other border security operations.

    Tags: Border patrol, Immigration Reform, Undocumented immigrants, U.S. Census

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    August 18, 2010

    by AS-COA Online

    From the 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.

    Colombian Court Freezes U.S. Base Deal

    Semana reports on the Colombian Constitutional Court’s decision to suspend a pact with Washington that allowed U.S. access to Colombian military bases for counternarcotics and anti-terrorism operations. The Court questioned the constitutional legality of the manner in which the deal was passed and is now requiring President Juan Manuel Santos to gain congressional approval. The military accord, negotiated in 2009 between the Obama administration and Santos’ predecessor Álvaro Uribe, has been a source of debate in South America and a sore subject for some of Colombia’s neighbors, particularly Venezuela.

    Read More

    Tags: Colombia, United Stattes, Military Base, Rousseff, LAN Chile

  • Los cocaleros: la novia de Evo

    August 18, 2010

    by Cecilia Lanza

    Hay mujeres de esas que se pegan como chicle. A veces son mujeres obsesionadas que buscan a su presa sin parar, esperando en vano un amor recíproco. Otras veces el asunto es consentido. Ambos se quieren así, colados el uno al otro. Y otras veces, casi sin darse cuenta, sus espacios se confunden de tal manera que ya no saben si son uno o el otro y terminan así, colados.

    El Presidente Evo Morales no tiene novia. Pero tiene un capricho. Desde que en los años 1980 llegó al Chapare, en el trópico de Cochabamba, se enamoró del movimiento cocalero. Como todo amor de juventud, el suyo fue un enamoramiento apasionado y genuino. Pero además, aderezado con lucha política en defensa del valor cultural de la hoja de coca, el suyo fue un amor radical, incondicional.

    Dos décadas después, Evo Morales llegó al gobierno gracias al movimiento cocalero que arrastró, por identificación étnica y de clase, al resto de los indígenas, campesinos y excluidos del país. Un amor así, apasionado, compañero de luchas y cárceles, no podía sino ser un amor cómplice. Evo Morales, aún siendo ya Presidente del país, nunca dejó de ser el máximo dirigente de las seis federaciones de productores de hoja de coca del Chapare. Y es que el soporte político de Morales son los cocaleros del Chapare, su novia incondicional.

    Veinte años de noviazgo y cuatro en el poder, hicieron de aquélla una relación de interés mutuo. Evo necesita a los cocaleros como sustento político y ellos necesitan a Evo como padrino que proteja sus intereses cocaleros. Evo saca a la DEA (control antinarcóticos estadounidense) del Chapare y el resultado es el abuso. El narcotráfico en Bolivia se ha multiplicado y ese no es ningún secreto para nadie. Pero Evo lo niega.  Evo ya no distingue los límites. Evo no quiere ver que su novia se ha corrompido y abusa. Evo se lo permite porque la necesita ahora más que nunca, ahora que los indígenas del país se han empoderado y son cada vez más capaces de enfrentarlo y, acaso, de disputarle el poder.

    Read More

    Tags: Evo Morales, DEA.Movimiento al Socialismo

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