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  • Indigenous Protest Amazon Road in Bolivia

    August 16, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Representatives of three native groups in Bolivia started a 603-kilometer (375 mile) march yesterday from Trinidad to La Paz protesting against the construction of a highway through their Amazonian land.  The road between the highland city of Cochabamba and San Ignacio de Moxos in the Amazon lowlands would cross the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS), a 9,997 square kilometer (2,470,400 acre) national park and self-governing territory since 2009. It is held in common by the Yuracaré, Moxeño and Chimán people.

    The march—led by TIPNIS inhabitants, the Confederación de Pueblos Indígenas de Bolivia (Cidob) and the Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu (Conamaq)—challenges President Evo Morales’ plans to build the 305-kilometer (190 mile) road that would cut the TIPNIS territory in half. The two sections of the highway leading to and from the indigenous reserve are already under construction as a part of a $415 million-project mostly financed by the Brazilian government. The controversy surrounds the final stretch which has yet to undergo an environmental review and community consultation process. 

    The president of the Central de Pueblos Indígenas (CPIB), Pedro Vare, said the project was proposed ignoring the social and environmental costs it implies. “Evo Morales never visited the zone. He just got to the colonized area and he didn’t visit the forest where the indigenous people live,” Vare added. Native communities are worried the road will open access to the reserve to illegal loggers, cocaleros and narcotraffickers. The threat to biodiversity also undermines their survival as the inhabitants rely on hunting and fishing for food.

    The government has insisted on the economic benefits of the project, highlighting it will provide a commercial link between central Cochabamba and the Amazonian Beni region. President Morales said “we [the government] will do the consultations, but I want you to know they won’t be binding. We won’t stop the projects just because the indigenous say so.”

    Tags: Bolivia, Amazon Indigenous, Evo Morales, Indigenous Land Rights

  • Argentina Votes for Continuity

    August 15, 2011

    by Janie Hulse Najenson

    At a time of global uncertainty, Argentineans voted for continuity on August 14. More than anything else, Sunday´s presidential primary results revealed the country’s preference for President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Unlike in the U.S. where primaries mean the selection of a party´s candidate, in Argentina, the candidates had already been chosen and voters were free to vote for whomever they wished. In effect, Sunday´s election was a popularity contest and a dry run for the presidential contest on October 23.

    Cristina proved so popular that she blew the other contenders out of the water with over 50 percent of the national vote. She held a nearly 38 percentage point lead over runner-up candidates Ricardo Alfonsín (12.17 percent)—son of popular former President Raúl Alfonsín—and Eduardo Duhalde (12.16 percent), a transitional president after Argentina´s economic collapse in 2002-2003.

    Looking quite fabulous despite her black garb, Cristina Fernández appeared emotionally moved by the support at last night’s results rally. To say the least, she has recently weathered a few sentimental disturbances, the worst of which was the passing of her husband and political sidekick, former President Nestor Kirchner in late October 2010. And just this week, her son´s girlfriend suffered a late miscarriage, which made front page news and led to cancellations on the presidential agenda. These very human experiences seem to have bolstered Ms Fernández´s popularity and helped people overlook her administration’s deficiencies. 

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    Tags: Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Elections in Argentina

  • Canada-Colombia Free-Trade Agreement Enters into Force, U.S. Continues to Wait

    August 15, 2011

    by Kezia McKeague

    I’ve got a flag on my lapel, not a maple leaf,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk exclaimed at a Senate Finance Committee hearing in March.  Today, as Canada’s free-trade agreement (FTA) with Colombia enters into force, it is the maple leaf that represents competitive pressures on U.S. market share and the political influence that goes with it.

    Canada and Colombia are two of our closest friends in the Western Hemisphere, and their strengthened commercial ties clearly benefit their mutual interests as well as Washington’s broader goal of promoting open markets and economic development.  Yet U.S. businesses and their congressional advocates are keenly aware that Canada has beat us to the punch, leaving U.S. exporters to an important emerging market at a competitive disadvantage.

    The implications of delayed ratification of the U.S.-Colombia FTA are not lost on either Colombia or Canada.  As Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos bluntly put it in a recent interview with Americas Quarterly, “American products are being replaced in the Colombian market because other countries have free-trade agreements.  If the FTA is not approved shortly, the U.S. will continue losing market share.”  Those losses will be particularly acute in the agricultural sector, where duty-free Canadian wheat will likely replace U.S. imports.

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    Tags: Canada, Free Trade Agreement, Colombia

  • Fernández de Kirchner Wins Nationwide Primary in Landslide

    August 15, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner trounced opposition contenders on Sunday in the country’s first-ever nationwide primary election for presidential candidates. With more than 96 percent of votes counted, Fernández de Kirchner won slightly more than 50 percent of votes cast—38 percent more that the second-place candidate Ricardo Alfonsín of the centrist Radical Civic Union party. The third place finisher, Eduardo Duhalde, won 12 percent.

    Under the primary rule system, candidates receiving less than 1.5 percent of votes will not be eligible to run in October’s first-round election. For analysts, this weekend’s results mean that the president is in a good position to win re-election in the fall elections.

    For a candidate to win in the general elections, he/she must receive at least 45 percent of the total vote, or 40 percent of the vote with a 10-point lead over the second place finisher.

    Following yesterday’s victory, Fernández de Kirchner vowed to maintain the status quo, “This is a recognition of all the work, the effort, everything that has been accomplished in the past eight years, but also for what we still need to do…My only promise is to keep working for everything we still need.”

    Tags: Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, 2011 Argentina Elections

  • Humala’s Imprisoned Brother Requests Pardon

    August 11, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Peruvian President Ollanta Humala’s brother, Antauro Humala, yesterday requested a presidential pardon that would cut short a 25-year prison sentence. He is currently serving time for his role in a 2005 attack on a remote Andean police station that left four officers dead.

    Although President Humala has not publicly acknowledged that he is considering a pardon, speculation has grown following statements by Defense Minister Daniel Mora and Vice President Omar Chehade that downplayed Antauro Humala’s involvement in the attack. In a Monday interview with Peruvian daily El Comercio Mora said Antauro was "not directly involved.” Mr. Chehade on Tuesday supported this view, saying "from what I've been able to determine, Antauro Humala never grabbed and shot the gun, nor was he the person who issued an order to shoot the police.”

    President Humala’s relationship with his brother Antauro has long been strained and a move to alter his sentence would carry political costs—as did a trip his older sibling Alexis recently made to Russia. This sensitive political environment is looked at in further detail in the Summer issue of Americas Quarterly, with an article written from the perspective on a remote jungle town on the levels of political frustration that the Peruvian President now must face in office.

    Tags: Peru, Ollanta Humala

  • Latin American Mayors at the Forefront of Innovation

    August 10, 2011

    by Jason Marczak

    It’s not often that mayors from nine Latin American countries and even Jordan have the opportunity to come together for three days to learn from each other about how to deal with some of their cities’ most pressing issues: balancing budgets, increasing citizen participation, promoting public-private partnerships, fostering economic growth, improving security, and, of course, strengthening democracy. But that’s precisely what happened in Bogotá, Colombia, last week at a conference organized by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.

    The message was clear: these mayors are among those at the front line of creating new, creative policies and programs that respond to their communities’ most urgent challenges. And policymakers at the national level have much to learn from these local laboratories of innovation.

    Take Oscar Montes, mayor of the municipality of Tarija in Bolivia. He inherited a city drowning in debt and revived it through a participatory budgeting plan. Montes’ initiative is structured so that citizens and local interest groups submit their priorities for infrastructure projects and jointly decide with the municipality which projects should be financed. Involving local stakeholders in city planning is more time consuming than simply rolling out a budget—but the process has paid off. Tax collection is up because tarijeños now feel like they are part of the city’s development, and project beneficiaries are now willing to financially contribute to infrastructure development that is aimed at their particular interests or neighborhoods.

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    Tags: Local government, Carlos Ocariz, Carlos Montes, Oscar Ortiz, Jeaneth Ordoñez

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    August 10, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

    Students and Chilean Government Still Deadlocked

    Chilean students held another mass demonstration on Tuesday, drawing over 140,000 marchers throughout the country, as well as support from the copper miners union. The Chilean government says it will not submit a new education proposal, notwithstanding student organizations’ rejection of the August 1 reform outline issued by the Ministry of Education.

    The continuous protests since May have contributed to the sapping of Piñera’s popularity. A poll released August 4 by the Center for Political Studies found that Piñera’s approval rating dropped 26 percent—the lowest level of any president since the return to democracy in 1990.

    Piñera Initiates Gay Civil Union Law in Chile

    Fulfilling a campaign promise, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera introduced legislation to allow civil unions for same-sex couples during a ceremony on Tuesday. Prominent conservative members of the president’s coalition did not attend the ceremony, highlighting the proposal’s controversial nature. The bill was introduced to the Senate, but is not expected to pass quickly.

    LatAm Stock Markets Ride Global Economic Rollercoaster

    Latin America’s stock markets plummeted Monday, along with the rest of the world’s, experiencing their worst downslide since October 2008. Argentina’s Merval led the pack, with a 10.73 percent nosedive, followed by Brazil’s Bovespa with 8.08 percent and Peru’s Lima General Index with 7.09 percent. Stocks in the region bounced back on Tuesday, but the situation remains uncertain as the possibility of another recession in the United States and a looming European debt crisis keep markets nervous.

    Canada’s PM Tours Latin America

    Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper embarked Sunday on a six-day, four-country tour of Latin America in what The Vancouver Sun described “another sign Canada is looking beyond the U.S. to ensure its continued prosperity.” The leader inked a series of cooperation agreements with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff before heading on to Colombia, where a bilateral trade deal takes effect next week. Canada also has a free-trade agreement with Costa Rica and is considering starting trade negotiations with Honduras, which marks the last stop in Harper’s trip.

    Read an AS/COA news analysis about the prime minister’s trip through Latin America

    Argentina Holds Its First Primaries

    Argentina will hold its first official and obligatory primary elections, following a contentious political reform approved in 2009. Observers expect the vote to give an idea of how much support President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner enjoys ahead of the presidential election scheduled for October.

    Read an AS/COA hemispheric update covering Argentina’s election outlook.

    Rousseff Loses Third Cabinet Member

    Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff replaced her defense minister, Nelson Jobim, with former Foreign Relations Minister Celso Amorim this week. Jobim resigned last week after publicly criticizing Rousseff’s handling of the military. This marked Rousseff’s third cabinet change in seven months.

    Brazil’s DefMin Considers Haiti Peacekeeping Withdrawal

    Former Foreign Minister Celso Amorim has been in his post as the new defense minister for less than a week but is already proposing a potentially major change: withdrawal of peacekeepers from the UN Mission for the Stabilization of Haiti, better known as MINUSTAH. Amorim contends that Brazil’s slowing economy is one reason, but he also said that the country has a new president and greater prospects for stability. The minister did not set a deadline for troop withdrawal. 

    Federal Police Arrest 38 in Brazilian Corruption Operation

    Brazil’s federal police arrested 38 suspects, including the country’s vice minister of tourism, Federico Silva da Costa, and several other government functionaries in an operation targeting corruption linked to the World Cup and Olympic Games preparation. The Rousseff administration has already lost two cabinet heads, Antonio Palocci and Alfredo Nascimento, who lost credibility over corruption allegations. 

    Rio’s Crack Treatment Program Sparks Debate

    The Los Angeles Times reports on a drug-treatment program in Rio de Janeiro that involves police and social workers apprehending homeless, crack-addicted youths and requiring them to undergo rehabilitation. Some 1,000 people—hundreds of them minors—have been placed into confined treatment since the program commenced in May. “The experimental program is being watched by the rest of the country as a possible model for dealing with Brazil's persistent problem of child homelessness and drug addiction,” writes Vincent Bevins. “But critics say forcing minors into confinement against their will or the will of their families is unconstitutional. They contend that much of the program is about cleaning up the streets of Rio de Janeiro, which is preparing to host the World Cup soccer tournament and Olympic Games.” 

    Fears Grow that Gunmen Wiped out Amazon Tribe

    Brazilian officials have grown increasingly worried that armed men wiped out an “uncontacted” Amazon tribe living near the Peruvian border—and close to a drug-trafficking route. Armed men attacked a nearby Brazilian guard post last week and officials have found no signs of the tribe since then, with the exception of an arrowhead in a backpack deserted by one of the gunmen. “Arrows are like the identity card of uncontacted Indians,” said Carlos Lisboa Travassos, head of Brazil’s Isolated Indians Department. “This situation could be one of the biggest blows we have ever seen in the protection of uncontacted Indians in recent decades.”

    No New Prisoners in Venezuela

    As the first phase in a new plan to decongest the overcrowded and violent prison system, Venezuelan Minister of Penitentiary Services Iris Varela said the government will suspend the imprisonment of new offenders, with the exception of violent criminals. This latest announcement comes after Varela said July 31 that she intends to reduce the country’s prison population 40 percent by releasing nonviolent criminals. 

    New Immigration Report Highlights Asylum Seekers

    The Organization of American States, the UN Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently released a joint report analyzing changes in immigration patterns over recent years. The study highlighted the increasingly important immigration flows between Latin American countries, and noted a sharp uptick in asylum seekers entering Ecuador, largely from neighboring Colombia. Some 35,514 asylum seekers sought refuge in Ecuador in 2009—more than any country in the hemisphere other than the United States, with 38,080. (H/T Two Weeks Notice.)

    UN Expresses Concern over Bolivia’s Indigenous Poor

    With August 9 marking the UN’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, the agency expressed concern over the fact that more than a third of Bolivia’s indigenous population lives in extreme poverty. Roughly 62 percent of Bolivia’s ten million inhabitants are indigenous. 

    Peru’s Daniel Mora Talks Defense

    In an interview with Peruvian daily El Comercio, the new Defense Minister Daniel Mora discusses his thoughts on the military profession, Peru’s defense needs, and eradication of illicit coca crops. Mora said he does not oppose the release of either President Ollanta Humala’s brother or former dictator Alberto Fujimori, provided the releases are made for humanitarian reasons.

    Santos Finishes First Year on Top

    With an 85 percent approval rating and remarkable efficiency pushing his agenda through Congress, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had much to celebrate when marking his first year in office on Sunday. But he still faces serious challenges, including high unemployment, a health care crisis, the renewal of political violence, and recurring public squabbles with his ally and former President Álvaro Uribe. El Tiempo looks back at the issues that defined Santos’ first year in office, from the floods that required the Colombian president to unexpectedly commit scarce resources to reconstruction to the anti-corruption statute debate.

    Americas Quarterly offers a preview of an interview with Santos slated for publication in its Fall 2011 issue.

    Mexico’s Violence Doesn’t Scare Investors

    Notwithstanding its five-year-old drug war, Mexico continues to attract foreign investment. In fact, a recent government report found that the seven states with the highest incidence of drug-related murder take in a greater share of the country’s foreign direct investment than they did before President Felipe Calderón launched the drug war offensive in 2006.

    Alleged Gun Trafficker Bought 700 Guns with ATF’s Knowledge

    USA Today reports on the case of Uriel Patino, an Arizona resident who allegedly purchased roughly 700 guns, many of which ended up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels and turned up at crime scenes on both sides of the border. Despite Patino’s orders raising red flags with an Arizona gun dealer, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives requested the sales go through to track the purchases as part of a discontinued and discredited program known as “Operation Fast and Furious.”

    DHS to States: No Opting out of Secure Communities

    The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced August 5 that all states must participate in the immigration enforcement program known as Secure Communities, which will be deployed across the country come 2013. The Boston Globe reports that more than 40 governments signed memos to participate in the program, designed to apprehend undocumented immigrants with criminal records. Despite concerns about the program voiced by some governors, states have been informed that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is terminating all the agreements and that participation will instead be a federal requirement. As many as 28 percent of deportation proceedings initiated nationwide through the program involved immigrants with no criminal convictions.

    Sandra Torres Definitively Prohibited from Prez Elections

    Guatemala’s Constitutional Court voted unanimously to prohibit former First Lady Sandra Torres from running for president in elections scheduled for September 11. Torres divorced current President Álvaro Colom in March in an attempt to skirt a constitutional ban on electing close members of the sitting president.

    Salvadoran Soldiers Surrender for Civil War-era Jesuit Killings

    Nine Salvadoran soldiers turned themselves in for facing charges related to the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests, five of whom were Spanish. The ex-soldiers surrendered upon hearing that they faced arrest by Salvadoran police due to an order issued by Interpol. They have been indicted in Spain and El Salvador must now decide whether to extradite them.

    Former Salvadoran Officer Convicted of Arms Trafficking in U.S.

    A U.S. federal court in Alexandria sentenced former Salvadoran Captain Héctor Antonio Martínez Guillén to 31 years for selling automatic weapons and explosives to a person he believed belonged to Colombia’s FARC guerrillas. Martínez was arrested in November 2010 while transporting cocaine between Virginia and New York.

    Corruption at Cuba’s State Telecom Company

    The head of the state telecommunications company ETECSA and two deputy ministers were arrested in Cuba on charges of corruption, according to unnamed sources cited by Reuters. Cuban head of state Raúl Castro has vowed to crack down on corruption as he spearheads a modernization of the country’s Communist economic system.

    Crafting Food Policy in Haiti

    Canadian think tank FOCAL released a research paper this week noting that Caribbean countries, particularly Haiti, remain vulnerable to food price fluctuations due to heavy dependence on food imports and insufficient national production. The paper recommends the development of both regional and country-specific food policies that encourage investment in agriculture without distorting local food markets.

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  • Albert Pujols Raises Money for the Dominican Republic

    August 10, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Major League Baseball (MLB) all-star Albert Pujols hosted a celebrity golf tournament this week in Missouri to benefit his Pujols Family Foundation and its work in helping families in need in his native country, the Dominican Republic. The foundation and the baseball star are featured in the Summer 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly, released today and available in all Barnes & Noble bookstores on August 15.

    Established in 2005, the Pujols Family Foundation helps families and children with Down syndrome and other disabilities or life-threatening illnesses. It also alleviates poverty in the Dominican Republic.

    Pujols highlighted the importance of the tournament, noting that the money raised will enable his foundation to “do a lot of great things like going down to the Dominican Republic with doctors and dentists” through mission trips. The Pujols Family Foundation also helped build a baseball field and start a youth league in the Dominican Republic a couple of years ago. When speaking of his home country, Pujols reflected, “Every time I go down there I bring a different memory back. Even though I grew up down there and I know some of the area, it still touches me every time I go down there. Giving back, it’s pretty special.”

    Other star athletes featured in the new AQ include Mia Hamm, Lorena Ochoa, Lionel Messi, Tony Gonzalez, and Marta Vieira. Read exclusive interviews with them in Good Sports.

    Tags: Sports, Albert Pujols

  • Rogue Group Attacks Nanotechnology in Mexico

    August 9, 2011

    by Arjan Shahani

    The anarchist group known as ITS (Individualidades Tendiendo a lo Salvaje or “Individual actions bordering on being savage” as it would roughly translate in English) gained notoriety in Mexico on Monday (August 8) when they claimed responsibility for a home-made explosive device that detonated in the hands of Tec de Monterrey Estado de México professor Armando Herrera Corral on the first day of school of this semester. A second device was found in another university (Instituto Politécnico Nacional) the next day; luckily authorities were able to remove and defuse it.

    Through its blog “Liberación Total” ITS claims that it is an organization against all forms of domination. Radical language against the neoliberal model is of course included, with the usual blurb about the United States dominating the world, cultural and economic imperialism, etc. ITS states that nanotechnology will lead to the downfall of mankind and paints a fatalist picture of the future where artificial intelligence will take over and control mankind. Tempting as it may seem, we really shouldn’t blame Arnold Schwarzenegger and those Terminator movies for the existence of this group.

    In the communiqué where they claim responsibility for the attack at Tec de Monterrey, ITS denounces universities in Mexico, claiming they “aim to prepare minds that don’t only want a piece of paper that credits their studies, but to graduate people who truly contribute to scientific knowledge and development of nanobiotechnology, in order to obtain what the system ultimately wants: total domination of everything which is potentially free.” They go on to say that scientists who claim to be investigating benefits for all of mankind are lying to us and that their true intentions are purely based on self-indulgence. The cherry on top is an isolated line in between paragraphs : “No matter what they say, Ted Kaczynski was right.”

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    Tags: Mexico, Terrorism, Crime and Security

  • AQ Video: The Private Sector and Social Development in Latin America

    August 9, 2011

    by AQ Inclusion

    View how Microsoft has partnered with the Organization of American States to enhance social development in the Americas through the "Unlimited Potential Partnerships" program.

    Tags: Social inclusion, Microsoft, Organization of American States (OAS)

  • AQ Video: Business Stepping Up to Provide Health Care

    August 9, 2011

    by AQ Inclusion

    Lack of access to health care is pervasive in rural areas of Latin America. Watch GE address this challenge in Honduras through its "Developing Health Globally" initiative.

    Tags: Honduras, Social inclusion, General Electric

  • Latin American Markets React to Global Uncertainty

    August 9, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Latin American stock markets plunged on Monday registering the worst numbers since February 2010.  The Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) Latin America—an index to measure equity market performance in emerging markets in the region—dropped 5.52 percent partly over concerns of the financial situation in the United States and Europe.

    The downgrade from AAA to AA+ announced by Standard & Poor’s on Friday after the close of trading impacted the markets in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru—the countries covered by the MSCI Latin America. Brazil’s Bovespa, the most dynamic market, lost 8.08 percent, the lowest since October 2008, amid international concern as well as domestic uncertainty over inflation and interest rates and a possible slowdown in consumer credit. Companies such as Petrobras (oil) and Vale (iron ore), two Brazilian giants, lost market value for up to 42 billion real ($26.5 billion).

    Replying to suggestions that Brazil’s dominance as an emerging market is at stake, President Dilma Rousseff has said the country’s “fundamentals justified confidence in its prospects. Brazil’s foreign exchange reserves today are nearly $350 billion, up 80 percent since the global financial crisis in 2008.”

    The Bolsa de Valores de Lima (BVL) dropped 7.09 percent, followed by Chile’s IPSA with 6.92 percent and Mexico’s Bolsa Mexicana de Valores (MBV), which fell 5.88 percent. While Colombia’s Bolsa de Valores (BVC) registered a decrease of 4.11 percent—and the 35 largest companies faced a market value decrease of 19.5 billion pesos ($10.7 million)—Argentina’s Merval suffered the most, plummeting 10.73 percent.

    According to Nick Chamie, from RBC Capital Markets in Toronto, “Friday’s downgrade, along with recent weakness in the U.S. economic data and the ongoing European sovereign debt crisis, highlight the external risks currently facing emerging markets.”

    Tags: Chile, Peru, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, U.S., Stock markets, emerging markets

  • Canadian Prime Minister Kicks Off Latin America Tour

    August 8, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper today begins a weeklong tour through South and Central America with a focus on boosting trade ties. He will visit four countries: Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

    Harper’s arrival in Brazil last night marks his first official visit to the country in more than five years as prime minister. His bilateral meeting with President Dilma Rousseff today and speech to the São Paulo business, political and academic communities tomorrow underscore his goal to aggressively improve Canadian-Brazilian commercial relations. The rise of Brazil is a focus of the Spring 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly and of the AS/COA’s Latin American Cities Conference in São Paulo tomorrow.

    Canadian-Brazilian ties have become rocky in past years, especially amid disputes over government subsidies for Brazil’s Embraer aerospace conglomerate and Canada’s Bombardier, Inc. aircraft manufacturer. Brazil is Canada’s 10th-largest export destination and Jayson Myers, president of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, said that “of any major emerging economies, Brazil presents Canada with the most opportunity for export.”

    Harper will continue Wednesday to Bogotá to meet with President Juan Manuel Santos. The two countries enjoy close ties and the Canada-Colombia free-trade agreement (FTA) enters into force next week. President Santos—in an exclusive interview with AQ on Friday—emphasized the importance of a similar FTA with the United States. Harper finishes his trip in Central America, visiting Costa Rica and Honduras on Thursday and Friday. The Prime Minister’s Office in Ottawa notes that Harper will be the first foreign leader to visit Honduras after its readmission into the Organization of American States in June.

    Tags: Costa Rica, Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Stephen Harper, Juan Manuel Santos, Organization of American States (OAS), Dilma Rousseff

  • AQ Slideshow: Afro-Bolivian Culture

    August 8, 2011

    by AQ Inclusion

    Although they constitute a small fraction of South America’s only indigenous-majority country, Afro-Bolivians maintain a distinct identity all their own.

    Tags: Bolivia, Social inclusion

  • Militares a juicios civiles

    August 5, 2011

    by Yoloxóchitl Casas Chousal

    An English translation appears below this text, originally submitted in Spanish.

    Casos emblemáticos de violencia contra mujeres, perpetrados por elementos del Ejército Nacional Mexicano, hoy vislumbran un futuro esperanzador, y podrían tener un resultado distinto al que han vivido las víctimas desde el momento en que fueron agredidas.

    El fallo emitido por la Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación (SCJN) al determinar que los militares que cometan delitos que violen los derechos humanos de civiles no podrán ser juzgados por tribunales castrenses, sino por instancias del fuero común y federal, es un parte aguas que sienta profundos precedentes en la consecución de la justicia y el respeto a estos preceptos universales.

    Mujeres como las 14 triquis violadas por soldados en Oaxaca, en 1979; las hermanas Ana, Beatriz y Celia, violadas y golpeadas por militares tras ser detenidas en un retén militar de Altamirano, en el sureño estado de Chiapas, en 1994; las oaxaqueñas que sufrieron abuso y violación en Santa Catarina Loxicha en 1997; Inés y Valentina, indígenas tlapanecas violadas por elementos del Ejército en Guerrero, en 2002; y las 14 bailarinas y sexoservidoras golpeadas y violadas en 2006 por soldados que “cuidaban” las urnas electorales en Castaños, Coahuila, al norte del territorio nacional; de seguro van a obtener juicios con resultados más favorables para ellas.

    Tags:

  • Celso Amorim Takes Over as Brazil’s Minister of Defense

    August 5, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Thursday accepted the resignation of Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, following a series of derogatory statements made to the press in recent weeks. Shortly thereafter Former Minister of Foreign Relations (1993–1995, 2003–2011) and Americas Quarterly contributor Celso Amorim was selected as Jobim’s replacement and he officially took office yesterday. In the Spring 2011 issue of AQ, Minister Amorim reflects on Brazil’s global rise in the first article written after leaving his post as foreign minister.

    The controversy surrounding Jobim had been growing for several weeks. He was widely reported to have recently referred to his colleagues in the Rousseff administration as “idiots” and news surfaced in July that Jobim had claimed publicly that he voted for President Rousseff’s rival, José Serra, in the October 2010 elections. In his most recent comments Jobim was quoted as saying that Minister of Institutional Relations Ideli Salvatti “lacked power,” and that cabinet chief Gleisi Hoffmann "doesn't even know" Brasilia. Jobim issued a statement yesterday denying the quotes.

    Jobim is the third minister to resign since Rousseff took office in January. In June, cabinet chief Antonio Palocci resigned over corruption charges and Transportation Minister Alfredo Nascimento quit in July over alleged irregularities in the awarding of contracts within the ministry.

    Tags: Celso Amorim, Dilma Rousseff

  • Student Protests Grow in Chile

    August 4, 2011

    by AQ Online

    The leaders of widespread student and faculty protests in Chile yesterday announced plans to mount a national strike and an additional series of mass demonstrations to contest a far-reaching education reform bill supported by the government. In response, Chilean Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter indicated that his office would deny to students permission to demonstrate in downtown Santiago where prior confrontations with police have caused significant property damage: “The march will not be approved by our government due to the damage caused to property, bystanders and police. We will take all necessary measures to enforce the decision. It is time for the demonstrations to end.”

    According to student leaders, the government’s proposed education reforms would allow for excessive levels of privatization in the education sector and lead to higher levels of indebtedness among graduates. “We analyzed the ministry’s proposal and students considered it a setback because it allows profit in the education sector. We do not see any structural changes, but only further privatization and perpetuation of student debt," said Univeridad Católica de Valparaíso official Nataly Espinoza.

    Chile has long struggled with education reform initiatives and these latest demonstrations are the culmination of more than two months of smaller protests across Chile. Students are calling for a halt of the trend toward privatization in education and other basic services such as public transportation.

    Tags: Chile, Education, Sebastian Piñera

  • Caribbean Women in Political Decision Making

    August 4, 2011

    by Jaevion Nelson

    On a global scale, very few women hold leadership roles in decision-making processes. This unfortunate reality holds true especially at the regional and national levels. Didier Ruedin, a scholar on population studies, notes that “in free and partly free countries, the proportion of women in parliament is closely associated with other measures of women’s status in society.” As the argument goes, if more women are integrated into society—and are viewed as respectable and capable leaders, equal to the social standing of men—then their participation in the political system is more likely.

    Gender Equality

    And since 1945, when the United Nations Charter was adopted, equal opportunity for men and women has become a fundamental principle of human rights. In the gender equality movement, there have been significant changes over the years—particularly in the areas of entitlements and women’s roles in certain activities including decision making. In fact, the 1975 genesis of International Year for Women spawned international agreements benefiting women. Some such declarations include the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights, and the Millennium Development Goals, and they have been enacted to highlight the need for countries to act against discriminatory practices. 

    Yet many inequalities remain. Statistics show that:

    •    Two-thirds of the world’s illiterate people are female.
    •    Nearly 70 percent of the world's poorest people are female.
    •    Women represent a growing proportion of people living with HIV/AIDS.
    •    In only 16 countries in the world does female representation in national legislatures amount to larger than 25 percent.

    Tags: Caribbean, Jamaica, Gender Equality

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    August 3, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

    Cubans Prepare for Home Sales

    The Cuban government has yet to finalize the rules, but Cubans are preparing for the soon-to-come day when they can buy and sell homes for the first time since the 1960s. Some Cubans imagine legal home sales as an economic boon and an opportunity to skirt the state bureaucracy’s control over where they reside, while others see home sales as a gateway to gentrification. Officials say they will enact the reform before the year’s end.

    Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the challenges facing Cuba as it continues reforming its communist economic system.

    Martelly’s 2nd PM Pick Rejected by Haitian Senate

    Haiti’s Senate rejected Bernard Gousse, President Michel Martelly’s second nominee in the three months since he took office, for the position of prime minister. The legislators opposed Gousse’s candidacy on the grounds that he has been connected with human rights violations.

    UNASUR Considers Measures to Guard against Volatile Dollar

    Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa proposed on Saturday that UNASUR take measures to avoid negative effects from the tumbling value of the U.S. dollar and economic uncertainty due to the debt ceiling negotiations. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos called meetings of UNASUR members’ economic ministers and central bank directors to discuss South American dependency on the U.S. currency, the first of which is scheduled to take place in Lima tomorrow.

    Venezuela to Drastically Reduce Prison Population

    Newly appointed Venezuelan Minister of Penitentiary Services Iris Varela told the press Sunday that she plans to clear some 20,000 prisoners from the country’s jails—a drop of 40 percent—in order to reduce overcrowding. She contended that people guilty of nonviolent crimes should serve their sentences outside of prison. In Venezuela, over 50,000 people are crammed into space designed for only 14,000, according to government figures.

    Chávez Wants to Talk FARC with Santos

    Colombian admiral Édgar Cely worked the Andean media into a tizzy Tuesday, when he said that the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chávez continues to provide a safe haven for rebels from the FARC and the ELN. Cely later backtracked on his comments, drawing applause from Chávez, who denies that Colombian rebels find refuge in his country. Nevertheless, Chávez said Wednesday he wanted to speak with his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos about the subject.

    Colombia’s Silent Violence

    As Colombia’s civil conflict wanes, security in many parts of the country has improved. But Elizabeth Dickinson reports for The Atlantic on violence that doesn’t show up in official statistics in her article covering the disappearance of 328 people over four years in the coastal town of Buenaventura.

    Mexico and Colombia Cement Cooperation

    Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos visited Mexico this week, where he met with President Felipe Calderón and signed several security agreements. The deals include an extradition treaty and a judicial cooperation agreement. Santos’ visit coincided with the inauguration of a bilateral free trade agreement between the two countries.

    U.S. Senate Confirms Wayne as Mexican Envoy

    Four month after the Mexican ambassador to the United States stepped down amid a dust up over WikiLeaks cables, the U.S. Senate confirmed his replacement late on August 2. The job goes to Earl Anthony Wayne, a career diplomat who served both as an ambassador to Argentina and, most recently, as the deputy ambassador to Argentina.

    Read an AS/COA Online update covering recent congressional hearings on the Obama administration’s new choices for diplomatic positions in Mexico and Guatemala.

    Mexico’s Other Migration

    In an in-depth piece for The Los Angeles TimesLa Plaza blog, Daniel Hernandez explores the economic and security dynamics driving internal migration in Mexico, where the unemployment rate is nearly half that of the United States, yet 3 million people slipped into poverty since 2008, according to a recent government report. Prosperous Queretero has emerged as one of the towns attracting new migrants. Moreover, a more secure Mexico City, once stereotyped as a seething cauldron of crime, has also become a refuge from states where drug war violence has surged since 2006.

    See Americas Quarterly’s photo essay of the Campos Ordinola family’s 2010 journey home from Ciudad Juarez—a family lured to the city by the promise of work, but disillusioned by drug war violence.

    Federal Prosecutors Resign en Masse in Mexico

    Top federal prosecutors in 21 of Mexico’s states abruptly resigned from their posts Friday. The Mexican Attorney General’s Office has fired 462 employees and is investigating another 700 as part of a process to rid the institution of corruption.

    Mexican Prez Candidate Talks Education, Security, Economy

    Candidate for the governing National Autonomous Party (PAN, in Spanish) Santiago Creel offered his take on the challenges facing Mexico. In an interview with Milenio, Creel says he would reform public monopolies, go after drug traffickers’ laundered money, and centralize police functions under a secretary of the interior. Improving education is the country’s most important task, according to Creel.

    DOJ Sues Alabama

    The U.S. Department of Justice sued the state of Alabama over HB 56, the toughest state immigration law in the country. The bill, which faces at least two other lawsuits, instructs police officers to check the immigration status of those they stop, criminalizes giving undocumented immigrants a ride, and directs schools to check students’ status. “[A] state cannot set its own immigration policy, much less pass laws that conflict with federal enforcement of the immigration laws,” Eric Holder said in a press release.

    Costa Rica Suspends Oil Exploration

    On his first day on the job, Costa Rica’s new Environment, Energy, and Telecommunications Minister René Castro announced Monday a three-year moratorium on oil exploration. Castro also headed the ministry from 1994 to 1998.

    An AQ blog post by Alex Leff reports on President Laura Chinchilla’s sinking approval ratings and recent cabinet shakeup.

    Brazil Could Overtake Japan as 3rd Biggest Automaker

    Forbes.com reports on Brazil’s booming automobile industry, with production expected to grow from 3.6 million to 6.2 million per year by 2026. The sector is attracting billions in investment from Chinese and South Korean manufacturers, and benefits from trade agreements with other Latin American countries and a strong domestic market. The boom could lead to Brazil overtaking Japan as the world’s third-biggest car manufacturer, behind the United States and China.

    Brazil’s Real: Most Overvalued Currency in the World?

    The Economist’s version of the Big Mac Index for July 2011 finds that Brazil now has the world’s most overvalued currency, at 149 percent over the value of the dollar when adjusted for GDP per person. Of the 45 countries other than the United States included on the list, the other top two overvalued currencies were also South American—Colombia (108 percent) and Argentina (101 percent).

    Macri Wins Buenos Aires Mayoral Election

    On Sunday, conservative incumbent Mauricio Macri defeated Daniel Filmus, who was backed by the governing party in a runoff election to become mayor of Buenos Aires. Macri said at a press conference following the victory that he plans to run for president in 2015.

    Read an AS/COA hemispheric update exploring Argentina’s electoral outlook.

    Student Protests Continue in Chile, Hurting Piñera’s Popularity

    President Sebastián Piñera’s education proposal fell short of mollifying student protesters this week, who plan to respond to the president’s outline for reform by Friday. Students have taken over universities and high schools throughout the country, disrupting classes since May and sending Piñera’s approval rating tumbling to 30 percent—his lowest since taking office.

    “Anonymous” Enters Education Dispute in Chile

    The group “Anonymous” hacked into a series of Chilean government pages in a show of support for the country’s student protesters. As Bloggings by Boz reports, the attack could have been staged by the international hacking group or by student-activist groups in Chile who have taken on the “Anonymous” moniker. Writes Boz: “This online addition to street protests is likely to become the norm for Latin America in the coming decade. As long as government servers are easily hacked or hit with denial of service attacks, computer-savvy protesters are going to find ways to hit the websites and draw additional attention to their cause.”

    Uruguay Condemns Iranian Amb’s Holocaust Denial

    Luis Almagro, Uruguay’s foreign affairs minister, condemned comments by Iranian Ambassador Hojatollah Soltani saying that the number of Jewish Holocaust victims did not exceed “maybe thousands.” Almagro recalled that Holocaust survivors still live in Uruguay. Diplomatic relations between Uruguay and Iran remained unaffected by the incident.

    Honduras Displaces Guatemala as Top CentAm Coffee Producer

    With a harvest of 3.8 million 60-kilogram bags of coffee, Honduras became Central America’s top coffee producer this year. This year was also the first time coffee prices in Honduras had surpassed neighboring Guatemala’s in a decade, reducing a historic pattern of smuggling Honduran beans across the border to fetch higher prices.

    Guatemala Sentences Ex-soldiers to 6,060 Years

    After a quick trial, a Guatemalan court sentenced four former military officers on Tuesday to 6,060 years of prison each for their role in the 1982 massacre of over 200 people in the village of Dos Erres. MSNBC’s Photo Blog offers scenes from the courtroom. The Central American Politics blogger writes: “[W]hile it is right that these four men from the Dos Erres massacre have their day in court, I am uncomfortable with the fact that the people who trained, ordered, and rewarded them for their behavior will not.”

    Noriega to Head Home to Panama

    The French government said Tuesday it approved a Panamanian extradition request for Former dictator Manuel Noriega, who is currently serving a seven-year sentence in France for money laundering. Noriega could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of human rights abuses committed during his rule.

    Marvel Comics Unmasks Afro-Latino Spidey

    Marvel Comics revealed the new face behind the Spiderman mask this week: Miles Morales, a half-black, half-Hispanic teenager from Brooklyn. Morales takes over the superhero job from Peter Parker, who was murdered by the Green Goblin in the last issue. Sid Axel Alonso, senior editor at Marvel Comics, was quoted as saying: “What you have is a Spider-Man for the twenty-first century who’s reflective of our culture and diversity. We think that readers will fall in love with Miles Morales the same way they fell in love with Peter Parker.”

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    Tags:

  • Afro-Peruvians Gain Federal Representation

    August 3, 2011

    by AQ Inclusion

    Although Ollanta Humala became Peru’s president just last week, he has already achieved a landmark accomplishment by appointing the first black minister in the history of the republic. Renowned Afro-Peruvian singer, Susana Baca, 67, will lead Peru’s culture ministry.

    Baca, whose name and work is synonymous with Afro-Peruvian tradition, mixes Andean and African beats in her music. Her work won her a Latin Grammy award in 2002 for “Best Folk Album,” referring to Lamento Negro which had been recorded in Cuba two decades prior. Over the years, Ms. Baca has become an ambassador of sorts for Peru’s black community; she is building a cultural center for Afro-Peruvians in the Peruvian town of Santa Barbara and has toured frequently around the world.

    Ms. Baca’s nomination came as a welcome surprise to many who had become accustomed to the absence of black representatives in Peruvian politics. In 2009, Peru under Alan García became the first Latin American country to formally apologize to its citizens of African descent. The government apologized for the “abuse, exclusion and discrimination perpetrated against [Afro-Peruvians], from the colonial era until the present.” So while discrimination of Afro-Peruvians is not state-sanctioned, many believe that there remains a high degree of “underground” racism.

    President Humala's new culture ministry is a welcome step in reversing such racism.

    Tags: Peru, Ollanta Humala, Susana Baca

  • Peru to Ration Electricity in Northern Cities

    August 3, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Peru’s new Minister of Mines and Energy, Carlos Herrera, announced yesterday that authorities from the country’s Comité de Operación Económica del Sistema—the national agency responsible for energy oversight—would begin rationing energy in Peru’s major northern cities Trujillo and Cajamarca.

    Although the likely need for electricity rationing in 2011 was predicted last year by former Mines and Energy Minister Pedro Sánchez, the implementation of cuts highlights Peru’s infrastructural shortcomings in the energy sector. According to the government statement, hydroelectric facilities in Peru’s central regions produce sufficient energy to fulfill demand, but the country “does not have the capacity to transport sufficient electricity to the north.”

    Power will initially be cut only during nighttime hours in the affected areas and the government has voiced support for plans to import electricity from Ecuador, Colombia and Chile in the near future.

    Tags: Peru, energy, Ecuador, Ollanta Humala

  • Massive Resignation of Top Federal Prosecutors in Mexico

    August 2, 2011

    by AQ Online

    The office of Mexican Attorney General Marisela Morales announced yesterday the formal removal from office of 21 federal prosecutors who had represented districts throughout the country. This is the largest mass resignation in the office’s recent history and coincides with another announcement that 111 office staff members will be charged with crimes, 462 will be immediately removed from their positions, and 386 cases are still pending. The assortment of charges against staff includes fraud, theft, the abuse of public office for personal gain, bribery, and embezzlement.

    The attorney general’s office has not provided details about the removal of prosecutors, which has led Alejandro Poiré, Secretary of the National Security Council (Concejo de Seguridad Nacional), to request that Morales informs the government whether the prosecutors are under investigation for wrongdoing. According to Poiré, the office “didn’t clarify if the prosecutors failed performance evaluations or if they are being removed because of differences with the incumbent Marisela Morales.”

    In a press release, Morales Ibañez was vague: “Depuration of the Attorney General’s Office is fundamental to provide citizens the results they deserve. Today’s Mexico requires that public officials do our work with responsibility and dedication,” she said.

    The prosecutor for Querétaro state, Norma Patricia Valdéz, said that her colleagues were gathered together and informed the dismissals. Valdéz—who like other prosecutors will be replaced by her assistant—said there were never any personal differences between herself and the Attorney General. She added she doesn’t fear any investigation into her time in office as she has always “worked within the bounds of the law.”

    Tags: Mexico, Mexican General Attorney

  • Analfabetas en Colombia, sin esperanza

    August 2, 2011

    by Daniel Mera Villamizar

    An English translation appears below this text, originally submitted in Spanish.

    En Colombia existen cerca de 2.150.000 habitantes mayores de 15 años que no saben leer ni escribir. Y alfabetizarlos no es una prioridad nacional.

    Recientemente, un destacado economista, Adolfo Meisel, escribió en la prensa:

    “Algunos pensarán que el analfabetismo no se ha erradicado en Colombia porque los costos que implica son muy altos. No lo creo. Más bien, ha sido por falta de interés de los que orientan las políticas sociales y educativas, así como de los ciudadanos que gozamos del inmenso privilegio de tener una buena educación.”

    El Estado asumió un compromiso de corto alcance. En el marco de los Objetivos de Desarrollo del Milenio se propone reducir la tasa de analfabetismo de los jóvenes entre 15 y 24 años.

    Tags: Colombia, Social inclusion

  • Laura Chinchilla's Struggles in Costa Rica

    August 2, 2011

    by Alex Leff

    Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla is struggling to navigate choppy waters. A crisis in the public health system has deepened the troubles facing the Central American republic.

    Chinchilla's popularity in this 4.6 million-strong nation is steadily eroding, bucking a trend in which most neighboring leaders are gaining in their approval ratings. In her worst poll score, by Unimer for La Nación newspaper, Chinchilla sank in early July to 26 percent approval from 37 percent in March.

    One in four respondents said that President Chinchilla is doing a poor job and 80 percent said they see her having no control over the country. Cathalina García, Unimer’s vice president of research, has attributed Chinchilla’s unfavorable report card to her perceived failure to live up to her promise of handling crime.

    The ailing health care system is exacerbating matters. The discovery last month of a hole in Costa Rica’s social security system has set off a fresh crisis for the Chinchilla administration, prompting a workers strike and a series of cabinet shakeups—including the resignation last Thursday of María Luisa Ávila, Costa Rica’s minister of health. Ávila’s resignation does not bode well; she was Chinchilla’s highest-regarded minister, having secured a 79 percent approval rating when Unimer last polled the public opinion of President Chinchilla’s cabinet members in March.

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    Tags: Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla

  • Mauricio Macri Re-Elected Buenos Aires Mayor

    August 1, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Mauricio Macri, incumbent mayor of Buenos Aires since 2007, was re-elected yesterday by a nearly two-to-one margin over challenger Senator Daniel Filmus. The election, which had entered a run-off last month after no candidate won an outright majority on July 10, ended with Macri claiming 64.3 percent of votes and Filmus the remaining 35.7 percent.

    Filmus was President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s hand-picked candidate from her Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV), which controls both the presidency and a combined 118 seats in the 329-seat bicameral Argentina National Congress. Although Macri enjoys widespread popularity as mayor, his Propuesta Republicana (Republican Proposal—PRO) alliance holds only 11 seats in the national congress.

    This election was viewed by observers as a bellwether for Argentina’s presidential race. Macri was considered a leading challenger to Fernández de Kirchner in the upcoming October election, but he declined to enter the race earlier this year in favor of seeking another mayoral term. Although Fernández de Kirchner currently leads in the polls, a first-round victory—which requires at least 40 percent of the vote—is not a foregone conclusion. Macri’s endorsement is widely sought after among all potential candidates and he has pledged to speak with each of them prior to deciding who to back. 

    Tags: Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri, Daniel Filmus

  • Un año de Santos y su cruzada anti-corrupción

    August 1, 2011

    by Lorenzo Morales

    Uno de los hechos más notables del primer año del gobierno del presidente colombiano Juan Manuel Santos ha sido su impetuoso interés por destapar escándalos de corrupción en las oficinas del Estado. En poco tiempo, Santos—que se posesionó el 7 de agosto de 2010—ha desenmascarado multi-millonarios desfalcos a las arcas públicas y ha puesto en evidencia sofisticadas redes de fraude que involucran a empresas privadas con altos funcionarios del gobierno, ex-funcionarios y mandatarios locales.

    Para demostrar que esta batalla está muy arriba en la lista de sus prioridades, Santos ha salido a los medios en tono solemne a anunciar operaciones anti-corrupción de gran calado. Los anuncios se han vuelto tan frecuentes que a la prensa le queda poco tiempo para asimilar un caso cuando ya sus titulares apuntan hacia otro nuevo.

    Hace apenas dos semanas, el 12 de julio, el Presidente Santos, acompañado de la Fiscal General de la Nación y el comandante de la Policía Nacional, reveló un millonario desfalco a las arcas públicas en la DIAN, la oficina nacional de recaudo de impuestos. 17 personas enfrentan cargos por el robo, desde 2004, de cerca de 1 billón de pesos (unos 568 millones de dólares), en devoluciones fraudulentas del impuesto a las ventas, IVA. “Este es apenas un bracito de un gran pulpo,” dijo Santos.

    El 2 de mayo, el presidente, en otra puesta en escena similar, anunció el primer gran golpe contra una anillo de corrupción en el sistema público de salud, en el que se detectó que cerca de 600.000 millones de pesos anuales (unos 340 millones de dólares) habían sido robados o pagados de manera fraudulenta a contratistas privados por servicios de salud que nunca fueron realizados o por medicamentos que nunca fueron suministrados a los pacientes.

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    Tags: Colombia, corruption, Juan Manuel Santos

  • Morreu o maior líder negro brasileiro do Século XX

    August 1, 2011

    by Paulo Rogério

    An English translation appears below this text, originally submitted in Portuguese.

    O Brasil perdeu um dos seus mais importantes líderes da luta pelos direitos humanos. Aos 97 anos, morreu, no Rio de Janeiro, o escritor, jornalista, ex-senador e dramaturgo, Abdias Nascimento no mês de maio. Considerado o mais importante ativista negro, depois do lendário Zumbi dos Palmares, Abdias representa, para os negros brasileiros, algo semelhante ao que Nelson Mandela representa para os sul-africanos, ambos com uma biografia dedicada à luta contra o racismo em seus países.

    A história de Abdias Nascimento confunde-se com a própria luta pela igualdade racial no Brasil. Sua militância começou na juventude, quando, ainda na década de 30, participou da Frente Negra Brasileira, o primeiro movimento nacional contra o racismo. E, em 1944, fundou com outros ativistas negros (procure um sinônimo) o Teatro Experimental do Negro, uma companhia que tinha como objetivo protestar contra a falta de negros na dramaturgia brasileira. Abdias foi, também, o primeiro senador negro do Brasil e um dos primeiros legisladores a abordar medidas de reparação para os descendentes de africanos escravizados no Brasil. Seus memoráveis discursos no Senado Brasileiro eram iniciados com um pedido de proteção às divindades africanas, das quais era devoto.

    Abdias foi também um embaixador da causa negra brasileira no exterior. Exilado nos Estados Unidos durante os anos da ditadura militar no Brasil, o ativista entrou em contato com dezenas de importantes líderes afrodescendentes da África e demais países da diáspora. Na condição de professor convidado por prestigiadas universidades como a Yale School of Dramatic Arts, o escritor sempre sempre se dedicou a divulgação da história e cultura dos povos negros do Brasil. Suas denúncias nos fóruns internacionais fizeram de Abdias uma persona non grata para o establishment brasileiro, que refutava veementemente sua crítica à falsa democracia racial brasileira.

    Tags: Brazil, Social inclusion

  • Cubans in Tampa Ready for Take-Off

    July 29, 2011

    by AQ Online

    As early as September 10, 2011, Tampa’s Cuban residents will be able to fly directly to Havana, officials announced Wednesday. These flights will be the first between Tampa’s International Airport and the Cuban capital since 1962, when the U.S. implemented a trade embargo on Cuba.

    Last March the Tampa airport received official approval from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to operate direct flights to Cuba, but the Cuban government did not give its go-ahead until earlier this week. The weekly flight, which will seat 145 passengers in a Boeing 737, will be operated by ABC Charters of Miami, which already offers flights between Miami and Cuba. "Accessing this vital international destination will benefit all of Tampa Bay with its economic impact, and it is great news for our Cuban-American community," asserted Joe Lopano, CEO of Tampa International Airport.

    The Tampa area has the second-largest Cuban-American population in the nation (behind Miami), according to U.S. Census figures. The new flights will open the airline runway for 140,000 Cuban-Americans who live within 90 minutes of the airport.

    Shortly after President Obama’s inauguration the administration reversed restrictions imposed by President George W. Bush on the travel of Cuban-Americans to the island.  And in January of this year, the administration enacted policies to allow American citizens to send up to $2,000 a year to support “private economic activity” in Cuba and facilitate “people-to-people” contact by permitting American student, religious and cultural groups to visit Cuba.

    ABC Charters predicts that it will increase its services in October from one flight per week to and from Havana to two. While tickets prices have not been confirmed, ABC Charters’ president Tessie Aral said they will range from $399 to $459.

    Tags: Cuba Travel

  • Humala Takes Office as President of Peru

    July 28, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Promising continued economic growth but reiterating a commitment to greater social inclusion, Ollanta Humala takes office today as president of the Republic of Peru. Fifteen heads of state are to attend, including all the presidents of South America except for Hugo Chávez, who remains in poor health.

    Humala, a nationalist former Army officer, won a runoff election on June 5 after campaigning on promises of more fairly redistributing wealth and taxing the windfall profits of mining companies—promises that particularly appealed to residents of rural Indigenous communities. Since then, he has taken noticeable steps to reassure members of the business community, who had feared that his election may dampen the country’s growth and stifle investment. He has said he would not replicate the actions of Hugo Chávez, for example by nationalizing key industries. And in a spate of key cabinet appointments announced last week and earlier this week, including Luis Miguel Castilla—deputy finance minister under outgoing president Alan García—to the post of finance minister, Humala has demonstrated his intention to maintain continuity with at least some of the previous administration’s economic policies.

    Even as Humala signals a desire to maintain Peru’s current rate of economic growth (nearly 9 percent in 2010), analysts believe he will reiterate his commitment to income redistribution and social inclusion today. The rate of overall poverty in Peru is more than 30 percent, and stark inequalities between urban and rural areas persist. During his campaign Humala promised to increase the monthly minimum wage from 600 soles ($220) to 750 soles ($272); create pensions for the indigent; and increase spending on social services for the poor through a windfall tax on gold and copper producers. Nonetheless, as Carlos Monge, a researcher at the Centro de Estudios y Promoción del Desarrollo (Center for the Study and Promotion of Development), points out, members of the economic team the president-elect has assembled have not historically shown themselves to be enthusiasts of taxing mine companies.

    Humala will face pressure to continue following through on promises to boost spending for the poor. Renee Ramirez, general secretary of Peru’s Education Workers Union, said, “The new government has built up such great hopes that if it doesn’t follow through there’ll be a big divorce…We threw our weight behind Humala but we didn’t write him a blank check.”

    Tags: Peru, Ollanta Humala, 2011 Peru presidential election

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    July 28, 2011

    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.

    New President to Take the Reins in Peru

    Peruvian President Alan García thanked his cabinet for its work at their last meeting today, as the country prepares for the July 28 presidential inauguration of Ollanta Humala. The former leftwing firebrand finished revealing a cabinet that Reuters characterizes as more conservative than that of former president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio "Lula” da Silva, to whom the media often compare Humala. The cabinet is anchored by Central Bank head Julio Velarde and Finance Minister Luis Miguel Castilla, both U.S.-trained economists who Humala will carry over from the outgoing García administration. (Velarde will remain at his position, while Castilla moves up from the position of deputy finance minister.) The 12-country South American regional bloc UNASUR will also meet tomorrow in Lima, where they will discuss ways to advance regional integration and poverty reduction. All 12 heads of state plan to attend Humala’s inauguration and the UNASUR meeting, except for Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who is undergoing cancer treatment.

    Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about Humala’s cabinet picks.

    Humala Appoints First Afro-Peruvian Minister in Country’s History

    President-elect Ollanta Humala announced that singer Susana Baca will serve as culture minister in his cabinet. A 2002 winner of a Latin Grammy, the singer will be the first Afro-Peruvian to hold a cabinet post in the Andean country.

    Puerto Maldonado Shows Another Side of Peru’s Economic Development

    In a dispatch for the Summer 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly, Caroline Stauffer profiles the town of Puerto Maldonado in the Peruvian Amazon—an impoverished area where the rapid economic growth of recent years has yet to trickle down. Puerto Maldonado is one of the many places where the local population's perception that development had passed them by contributed to the rise of center-left Ollanta Humala in this year’s presidential elections.

    The next issue of Americas Quarterly, focusing on sports in the Western Hemisphere, hits newsstands August 10. 

    Colombia’s Congress Tasked with Debating Gay Marriage

    Colombia’s Constitutional Court told Congress last night to take up the issue of gay marriage in order to resolve a legal vacuum surrounding same-sex partnerships. The issue remains controversial in Colombia, whre the Constitution specifies that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman. Congress has declined to change the law, despite considering proposals to legalize gay unions six times in recent years.

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    Tags: Peru, Pinochet, Gay Marriage, Humala, Afroperuvian Minister, Joe Arroyo

  • Chilean Copper Mine Strike Hits Impasse

    July 27, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Union workers at Chile’s Escondida copper mine broke off labor negotiations on Tuesday over unmet contract terms, and are threatening to extend their five-day strike indefinitely. The 2,300 striking miners from the Escondida—the world’s largest copper mine—will be joined by 7,000 contractors today, according to union leader Marcelo Tapia. Workers from Chile’s state-owned Codelco mining company may join the strike on Thursday, though the intervention of President Sebastián Piñera has made it unlikely.

    The strike at Escondida that began last Thursday was spurred by disagreement over monthly production bonuses. The mine is willing to pay workers a total of $6,000 in bonuses by the end of the year, but the worker’s union rejected the offer, demanding $10,800 per worker instead. Other union demands include protections for workers who contract serious illnesses on the job, punch clocks that better control their 12-hour work days, and removal of company surveillance camera which, the union claims, violates worker privacy.

    Escondida has deemed the strike illegal and has refused to continue talks. Australian mining company BHP Billiton Ltd, which holds a 57 percent share of the mine, has refused the same government mediation that appears to have eased tensions at Codelco.

    Union demands are buoyed by the near all-time high price of copper, currently at $4.40 per pound, that is generating record profits for shareholders like BHP, Rio Tinto PLC and Mitsubishi Corporation. The mine, located in the northern region of Antofagasta, produces about 3,000 tons of copper per day, or 7 percent of the world’s copper, worth about $30 million.

    Tags: Chile, President Sebastian Piñera, Chilean mining

  • A Long Time Coming: Cuba-U.S. Sports Exchanges

    July 27, 2011

    by Andres Schipani

    Legend goes that when Fidel Castro was a law student, back in 1949, he was such a talented baseball player that he was offered a $5,000 to join the New York Giants team. But he snubbed the offer. That refusal has been widely commented among Cuban baseball fans but also by stars who are divided between those who follow Castro’s example, and those who go.

    The greatest, Lázaro Vargas is among the former, having turned down an $8.5 million offer to join the Atlanta Braves, after winning the gold medal in the Barcelona Winter Olympics in 1992. “Castro taught me it is a sweet feeling to walk down the street knowing that no one can buy you,” he once said.

    Baseball players live a relatively privileged life in Cuba, and are regularly paraded as national heroes. During my first trip to Havana I remember watching a television program showing a crowd on the concrete steps of Havana's stadium going crazy as Vargas drove a curveball past second base. “"We love baseball more than rum, more than rice and beans; sometimes I feel I love it more than my own life” a shirtless youngster once told me, while playing baseball with a stick from a door and the lid of a plastic bottle in one of the many creaky corners around Nuevo Vedado. “I would love to be able to play in the United States one day, to play American kids, to get that feeling. Do you understand?” he asked me. I did not really then.

    Now, after several trips to Havana, having lived in Miami and after writing an article titled Ping-Pong Diplomacy for the Summer 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly (to be released on August 10 and available in Barnes & Noble on August 15) on Cuba and U.S. sports relations, I feel I am getting closer to answering him positively. Despite recent reports that show that around 350 Cuban baseball players have abandoned the Communist-led island over the past several years—virtually all to the U.S.—money is not the only factor.

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    Tags: Fidel Castro, Baseball

  • Biofuel Powers Commercial Flight in Mexico

    July 26, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Mexican airline Interjet has successfully completed the first commercial biofuel flight in Latin America. Flight 2605, which used a jatropha-based fuel that reduces air pollution by 80 percent, flew round-trip from Mexico City to Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of the state of Chiapas, where jatropha grows. Interjet joins European carriers KLM and Lufthansa in pioneering commercial biofuel flight. 

    The Airbus A320/200 operating the Interjet flight was powered by a blend of 27 percent jatropha-based fuel and 73 percent kerosene. A total of 12,716 liters (3,360 gallons) were consumed for the 800-kilometers (497 miles) flight. The jatropha used for the flight was cropped in Chiapas and turned into fuel at a Honeywell subsidiary in the United States.

    Jatropha curcas is a flowering plant that contains seeds, harvested by Chiapas farmers, which are predominantly used to produce biodiesel. It is not yet a viable substitute for petroleum-based fuels because its production is not sufficiently large. According to Interjet CEO Jose Luis Garza, who was aboard the flight to Tuxtla Gutierrez, “Production of this fuel is very expensive, several times more than conventional fuel.” But, he added, “We didn’t raise the price of the tickets. The goal is to raise awareness.” Currently, the land in Chiapas is overexploited and jatropha production could be a way to recover it, he said.

    Aeropuertos y Servicios Auxiliares—the state-owned company managing Mexico’s airports and supply of aviation fuel—has said that more jatropha could be produced if demand were higher. The Mexican government aims to produce 700 million liters (185 million gallons) of biofuel a year by 2020 and become a leading biofuel producer in the region. Among the plans to stimulate production are the Convenio General de Colaboración  con el Consejo para el Desarrollo Económico de Sinaloa (General Cooperation Agreement with the Sinaloa Council for Economic Development), which aims to promote the commercialization of jatropha-based fuels.

    Tags: Mexico, Biofuels

  • Choosing High Speed Rail

    July 25, 2011

    by John Parisella

    Two separate rail journeys on two separate continents have provided very different learning experiences. Last year, I decided to take Amtrak's Adirondack train from New York to Montréal to observe firsthand the state of passenger rail travel in North America. U.S. President Barack Obama had outlined his vision for high speed rail (HSR), and the Province of Québec had expressed its interest in joining the international connection for the Northeast corridor. I blogged about my experience and was pleasantly surprised to find out that the prospect of HSR was attracting an enthusiastic following. 

    This year on a visit to Europe, I traveled France’s Train à Grande Vitesse (High Speed Train—TGV) from Paris to Marseille and Paris to London.

    I knew the New York to Montréal trip would be long, but 11½ hours was more than I bargained for. The scenery was surely stunning, the price was affordable, but it is ridiculous that in an era of alternative travel the trip was nearly double the time of a car ride and quadruple the time of a commercial flight to the same destination. Crossing the U.S.-Canada border was particularly disconcerting as the train, which was filled to capacity with passengers, stayed immobile for over an hour for individual inspections. And I was told this was a good day.

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    Tags: Canada, Quebec

  • Humala Announces More Cabinet Appointments

    July 25, 2011

    by AQ Online

    In a television interview yesterday evening, Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala—set to take office on Thursday (July 28)—unveiled eight additional appointments to his administration’s cabinet. He named engineer René Cornejo to head the Ministry of Housing, Construction and Sanitation. He also tapped Peruvian doctor Alberto Tejada to lead the Ministry of Health. Humala designated constitutional lawyer Fernando Eguiguren to direct the Ministry of Justice, while choosing former president of the Association of Exporters, José Luis Silva, to be foreign trade and tourism minister.

    An earlier round of appointments was made last week, as Humala selected centrist politicians Daniel Mora and Kurt Burneo to respectively head the defense and production ministries. Both leaders served during former President Alejandro Toledo’s administration from 2001 to 2006. Humala also reappointed incumbent President Alan García’s popular choice of Central Bank Governor, Julio Velarde, to another five-year term. International markets responded favorably

    Other portfolios named yesterday included the ministries of labor, interior, transportation and communications, and agriculture. The president-elect has not yet named ministers of culture or education. View more of Humala’s appointments. 

    Tags: Peru, Ollanta Humala

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