On the last days of year 2010, the Colombian Congress passed a rather unnoticed and little commented law to stimulate youth employment. Despite its simplicity, Ley 1492—also known as la ley de formalización y generación de empleo—carries an ambitious goal: reducing Colombia’s pervasive youth (ages 15 to 24) unemployment. Last year it reached 24 percent, and despite projections of GDP growth around 5 percent, it is expected to rise in 2011.
The core of the law can be synthetized by two basic strategies: encouraging young people under 28 to create companies through special state-financed loans and using fiscal discounts to reward companies who hire a young labor force.
But the well-intentioned law risks clashing with a harsh reality: the severe disconnection between the skills we are teaching to our future labor force and what industries need. Most governmental efforts are oriented toward creating more qualified workers, but without reliable information on the abilities that new and growing industries are desperately demanding.
“To take full advantage of the talent of our youth we need much better communication between companies, training centers and policymakers”, according to Rosalba Montoya of Manpower, a global talent firm that specializes both in high-level and entry-level jobs. Montoya pointed-out how the market is demanding more technicians, construction workers and machinery operatives, while most policies still focus on training professionals in already saturated fields.
The lack of reliable and ground–based information on Colombia’s labor market is a true hitch for the law. We not only ignore who are the professionals in the country and what they really know, but we don’t know what human talent Colombia needs in the mid and long term. Do we need more doctors? Engineers? Bakers? Nurses? Biology teachers? Public officials and experts recognize that gathering that vital information can take more than a decade.
That’s in part why those who supported the bill in Congress underline the benefits of a law that is based on a fiscal stimulus. The impact of the law can be measured, they argue, since every job created under this special regime has to be reported on tax forms. Senator Rafael Pardo, who sponsored the bill and worked to include the creation of a National Committee to monitor labor demand both in cities and rural areas, has argued that one of the great things of the law is that it can be evaluated every fiscal year, and so it can be adjusted.
But adjusting a law is much easier than adjusting people’s expectations about a promised future. A youth labor law should also tackle cultural and deep-rooted practices that work against any intention of guaranteeing young people a better future through a decent work. As a number of companies experience first-hand, a lot of the youth, especially those coming from poverty, simply look for a job, but do not really to build a career.
One of the main challenges is to train youth who grew up seeing their parents financially survive with informal and irregular ‘gigs’ to get used to daily routines, strict discipline, hierarchy, and long-term goals. This cultural unpreparedness for a stable job results in worker turnover and a reluctance from companies to hire precisely those who might need the job the most.
Without reliable information everybody is mostly guessing at their labor needs—from government to companies and workers. The risk is much bigger than simply having another innocuous law in our kit of alternatives. An intuitive effort to help young and ambitious people find a job can really turn against them.
Why? We risk generating massive frustration among young and talented people who, often with high doses of personal and financial sacrifice, are trying to breakthrough in the job market. Even worse, young and talented people might end up feeling (hopefully erroneously) that education is overrated in a market of broken promises.
With so little information on the workforce that Colombia needs, entering the job market resembles searching for a seat in a dark and crowded movie theater. You can either sit on the dirty floor wondering why you paid for for such a bad seat or simply, as it might be more often the case, leave the theater. No refunds.
*Lorenzo Morales is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He is a professor at the Center for Journalism Studies at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, and is also a journalist currently funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting to focus on the Colombian mining industry.
Responding to a request by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Brazilian government refused on Tuesday to suspend construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the Amazon. Last Friday the commission had requested that the Brazilian government stop the dam’s licensing process until it had addressed the concerns of environmental and indigenous groups who filed a petition against the dam in February. The move is the latest in a long-standing battle between the Brazilian government and environmental and human rights activists, including Hollywood notable James Cameron, Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar of California and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the IACHR’s demands were “premature and unjustified,” and that the dam project was “strictly adhering to all relevant standards for construction.”
The Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, which will be the world’s third-largest—after the Three Gorges dam in China and Itaipu, jointly run by Brazil and Paraguay—will extend 3.75 miles long and divert the flow of the Xingu River in Brazil’s northern Pará state. Environmental groups say it would flood close to 200 square miles of virgin rainforest, displacing up to 50,000 indigenous residents and releasing large quantities of methane gas, causing irreparable damage to the environment.
The Brazilian government, which estimates the number of displaced people to be much lower, says the dam is crucial for economic development and for upgrading Brazil’s energy infrastructure. It says the dam will create thousands of local jobs and, by the time it becomes fully operational in 2015, provide electricity to 23 million homes. Brazil currently uses hydroelectric power for than 80 percent of its energy needs.
Construction of the dam, expected to cost between $11 and $17 billion, has been stymied since it was first proposed in the 1990s. After a drawn-out bidding process, a contract for construction was awarded to the nine-company Norte Energia consortium in April of last year. Licenses for the actual building of the dam have yet to be granted, but the Brazilian environmental agency Ibama gave the go-ahead to clear land for it in January. Last month a Brazilian higher court lifted a lower-court order suspending construction based on environmental concerns.
U.S., Colombia Labor Deal Helps Advance FTA
The White House announced on Wednesday that Washington and Bogota had reached a deal that would strengthen labor protection in Colombia, which paves the way for the Obama administration to submit the pending bilateral free-trade agreement (FTA) to U.S. Congress for approval. Colombia pledged to broaden oversight in terms of enforcing labor laws and hiring additional labor inspectors. The New York Times reports that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, currently in New York for his country’s assumption of the UN Security Council, will meet Thursday with U.S. President Barack Obama to announce the deal. This announcement comes less than a month after 44 GOP lawmakers ratcheted up pressure to pass the FTA, warning they would potentially filibuster a U.S. commerce secretary appointment. Learn more about the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, which was originally signed in November 2006 and has since awaited U.S. passage.
Colombia to Head UN Security Council
President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos will preside over a special session on Haitian reconstruction at the UN Security Council on April 6 following his country’s takeover of the Council’s rotating presidency. The agenda for the one-month term of Colombia’s presidency will also include crises in Libya, Ivory Coast, and Sudan.
Peruvians to Vote for New President on Sunday
Read an AS/COA Online Analysis about polling in the Peruvian elections.
Wikileaks has claimed another victim in U.S-Latin American relations. Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino asked U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges yesterday to leave the country as soon as possible citing her persona non grata.
The announcement comes on the heels as a cable signed by Ambassador Hodges accused the Ecuadoran police force of widespread corruption. The cable, published by Spanish newspaper El Pais, specifically singles out senior policeman General Jaime Aquilino Hurtado Vaca. Hurtado’s service to the Ecuadorian National Police (ENP) dates back from the 1990s and served as the Commanding General from 2007 until he resigned in 2009. Ambassador Hodges accuses Hurtado of “using his position to extort bribes, facilitate human trafficking, misappropriate public funds, obstruct investigations and prosecutions of corrupt colleagues, and engage in other corrupt acts for personal enrichment " and, that “internal ENP investigations reportedly suggest that Hurtado has been engaged in corrupt activities within the ENP since the early 1990s.” Also included in the cable are accusations that President Rafael Correa knew about the widespread corruption.
White House sources have confirmed that the Colombian and U.S. administrations have agreed to terms for a free-trade agreement (FTA), which is expected to be formally announced today. The FTA, which was originally signed on November 22, 2006, was being renegotiated under the Obama administration. The changes reflect a decision to add more protection provisions for labor unions.
This FTA will bring significant economic benefits to the U.S. economy, around $1 billion annually according to U.S. officials. Trade experts also predict that the U.S.-Colombia FTA has a better chance of clearing legislative hurdles in the U.S. Congress than in past years. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will visit the White House tomorrow, and will be joined by his minister of foreign affairs, minister of commerce, ambassador, secretary-general, and senior advisors.
The U.S.-Colombia FTA news coincides with the announcement last week that Colombia’s Constitutional Court affirmed the constitutionality of its FTA with Canada, which was already approved by both legislatures. The Canada-Colombia FTA will enter into force on or before July 1.
Now is the season when governments of Canada and the United States present their budgets and outline their fiscal objectives as they pursue their respective economic recoveries. It seems long ago now, but I recall September 15, 2008 when the potential of an economic and financial horror descended on Western economies and threatened to unleash another global depression.
We all remember how the U.S. economy was well on its way to losing close to 15 million jobs. The world’s biggest economy had to bail out its financial sector through the Troubled Asset Recovery Program (TARP) in the midst of a presidential election. Now, developed economies are recovering slowly but surely—and the emphasis is not only on creating jobs but also restoring fiscal health following the recession.
In Canada, the path to fiscal responsibility began in the 1990s and culminated later that decade with balanced or surplus budgets at both the federal and the provincial levels. Canada resisted the deregulation bug of the financial sector, giving it an advantage when the worst recession since the 1930s hit. Deficits have returned but Canada’s financial sector did not need a bailout.
In the U.S., a robust job market in the 1990s aided measures undertaken to bring about fiscal health. At the end of the Clinton years, the country had balanced budgets and surpluses—allowing it to pare down the debt. Then 9/11 occurred, and fiscal restraint was to be tested severely.
The 2010 U.S. Census counted 50.5 million Latinos. We account for 16.3 percent of the residents of the country—a percentage that is expected to grow given that Latinos represent more than 23 percent of the population among children ages 17 and under.
Given this, it is undeniable that Latinos will represent a large share of the electorate in the coming decades. Scholars, commentators and politicians have repeatedly stated the importance that Hispanic voters will have in deciding future elections. However, Latinos will not become a true political force until we address a critical challenge: our low level of political engagement.
Historically, Latinos have been a politically disengaged group. We have had less than average participation in elections, and hardly ever become involved in policy debates, advocacy groups or town meetings. A poll by the Pew Hispanic Center in 2010 showed that only 51 percent of Hispanic-registered voters were certain that they would vote in that year’s election (in contrast to 70 percent of all voters.) Other statistics confirmed this tendency: only 26 percent have attended a public meeting or demonstration, 22 percent have contacted an elected official and 7 percent have worked for a candidate. Even when a critical issue like the Dream Act is at stake, Latino involvement waned relatively fast.
Michel Martelly, otherwise known as kompa star “Sweet Micky,” was declared the winner of the Haiti’s presidential election according to preliminary results released by the Provisional Electoral Council yesterday. Martelly, 50, received 68 percent of the vote in the March 20 runoff, besting constitutional law professor and former first lady Mirlande Manigat.
While he is best known for his carnival music, on-stage antics and profanity, Martelly reinvented himself during the campaign as a clean-cut, antiestablishment politician focusing on reforming education and agriculture and streamlining delivery of $18 billion in promised humanitarian aid. His image as political outsider makes him popular among Haiti’s poor, but Martelly will have to court the Haitian elite to guarantee political support of his policies.
The likely next president is already ruffling some feathers among the upper crust with his plan to reinstate the Haitian Armed Forces that was disbanded by former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1995. Martelly will face the challenge of sharing power with a prime minister chosen by Haiti’s parliament, where incumbent president René Préval’s INITE party holds significant sway.
Though preliminary results show that Martelly won by a landslide, Manigat will have a chance to appeal the preliminary results before the official numbers are announced on April 16. If the results stand, Martelly will be sworn in as Haiti’s 44th president of Haiti in May and face the daunting task of rebuilding a weakened public sector in a country currently dominated by nongovernmental organizations.
The five main candidates in Peru’s presidential election, to be held on Sunday, met in Lima yesterday for a debate that focused largely on economic and social issues. The participants included: Ollanta Humala (Gana Perú); Alejandro Toledo (Perú Posible); Keiko Fujimori (Fuerza 2011); Luis Castañeda (Solidaridad Nacional); and Pedro Pablo Kuzynski (Alianza por el Gran Cambio).
Kuzynski was described as being seemingly hesitant and Castañeda as lost in the mechanics of the debate. Former frontrunner Toledo aggressively went after his opponents for their perceived weaknesses. Toledo attacked Fujimori by saying that her father (former President Alberto Fujimori) left Peru in bad economic shape. Keiko had told voters she would continue the policies of her father, who is incarcerated for human rights violations. Humala, on the other hand, tried to strike a conciliatory tone and shake off allegations of perceived closeness to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and Bolivian President Evo Morales. Humala presented himself as an alternative to Peru’s presidential administrations of the past 20 years.
Humala appears to have been the main beneficiary of yesterday’s debate. According to an Ipsos Apoyo poll released yesterday, support for Humala jumped to 26 percent of the electorate, up from 21 percent last week. Fujimori, Toledo and Kuzynski remain in a three-way statistical tie for second, while Castañeda trails in last place. If no single candidate garners 50 percent of the vote on April 10, the top two candidates will advance to a runoff in June.
The date is November 17, 1969. In San José, Costa Rica, the states of the Americas are about to decide what degree of protection to grant citizens’ political rights under the American Convention on Human Rights. After three days of discussion, the text of Article 23.2 reads as follows, “The law may regulate the exercise of the [political rights to vote and stand for election] only on the basis of age, nationality, residence, language, education, civil and mental capacity, according to the case.” Suddenly, Dr. Carlos A. Dunshee de Abranches, the Brazilian delegate to the negotiating conference proposes all states to adhere to his country’s 1967 constitutional standard—to “erase ‘according to the case’, and add ‘or sentencing by a competent court in criminal proceedings’.” The amendment is then approved by unanimity, and incorporated to the Convention.
On March 1-2, 2011, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, an international tribunal established also in 1969 and based in Costa Rica, sat to hear the case of Leopoldo López Mendoza v. the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The case goes as follows—in 2008, through two administrative resolutions alleging corruption, the Comptroller General of Venezuela disqualified the mayor of the Chacao Municipality, in Caracas, Leopoldo López, to run for office for six years. At the time of his disqualification, López was an almost certain winner of the race for mayor of metropolitan Caracas, the country’s largest electoral district.
Acting as plaintiff in this case on behalf of López, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) has argued that the administrative resolutions that disqualified him fall far below the “criminal sentence” standard set in the Convention, and requested the Court “to conclude and declare that the (Venezuelan) State violated the political rights (...) of Mr. Leopoldo López,” and, “to order the Venezuelan State” to reinstate them. On the other end, the Venezuelan State, represented by several attorneys and expert witnesses in Costa Rica, claimed that Leopoldo López’ disqualification is not only legitimate under Venezuelan domestic law, but that it is well within the margin of appreciation the Convention gives states in the regulation of human rights.
All arguments have been made and a final decision by the Court is expected in the next few months. Venezuela, which has participated fully in the proceedings, is bound to comply with it. Yet, this is no everyday case. On the one hand, López is now a potential candidate for the upcoming 2012 presidential elections, and his participation on the primaries that will define the opposition’s candidate, depends largely on this ruling. More widely, however, this particular decision could lead to the restitution of the political rights of thousands of people in the Americas who are at this time banned from holding public office, from voting, or from participating as candidates in elections.
Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn are back in the United States after enjoying the hospitality of Fidel and Raúl Castro in Havana and visiting with Alan Gross, an American serving a 15-year sentence for giving away a satellite telephone and a laptop to Cubans. They also met with Cuban dissidents, notably mothers and wives of political prisoners and Yoani Sánchez, the Cuban blogger who has received substantial international attention in recent months.
Of course there are already some who have expressed their outrage at what they say was President Carter’s emphasis on the need to lift the U.S. trade embargo and his “feeble efforts” to bring home Alan Gross, who Carter reports lost 88 pounds during more than 15 months in Cuban jails.
Nevertheless, the Carters should be given credit where credit is due. While the eyes of the world are focused on the struggles against dictatorship in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya and the nuclear disaster in Japan, the Carters’ journey helps remind international opinion not only about U.S.-Cuba policy but about the 52-year-old Cuban dictatorship, Havana’s political captives, and the courage of Cubans who continue to face harassment, beatings and imprisonment for their desire to bring to an end the last dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere.
Brazil’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Antonio Patriota, arrived in Santiago, Chile today, where he will meet with his Chilean counterpart, Alfredo Moreno and President Sebastián Piñera as part of annual bilateral talks to promote diplomatic and economic cooperation between the two countries. Although much of the dialogue will focus on economic issues, local media are reporting that talks will also cover regional integration issues, such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and Brazil’s interest in cooperating on the planned construction in Cerro Armazones, Chile of the European Union’s Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).
Official statistics released by Brazil last year show that Chile was the second largest Latin American market for Brazilian products, while Brazil was fourth largest importer of Chilean goods and services. Trade between the two countries in 2010 reached $8.3 billion, a 58 percent increase over 2009. In addition, Brazilian investment in Chile amounted to $2 billion dollars, primarily in energy, mining, banking and construction. For its part, Chile's investment in Brazil totaled $10 billion in 2010, making it the top destination for Chilean investments abroad.
President Obama’s trip one week later: Did it matter? It barely made a splash in the U.S. media, but at a regional and personal level it did. Talk to Brazilians, Chileans or Salvadorans and they appreciate the fact that he went there. Sure, he couldn’t do it with the festive, family-oriented aura that he had hoped, given world events, but it was precisely the frenzied swirl of those events that gave his trip to the region that much more credibility in the region.
For many of us (here I speak not of Latin Americans but Latin Americanists) rooting from the sidelines, his trip meant, “Yes, yes he does care!!!” (Maybe we’re just really needy.)
But the proof now is in what happens next. The personal relationships President Obama developed with Presidents Rousseff, Piñera and Funes are immeasurably important. There may be no tangible, obvious benefits of personal chemistry (speaking at least from a diplomatic standpoint), but these things are important. They allow a president to make a phone call, personally press a position and establish the foundation for the sort of partnership that he talked about.
With President Barack Obama having returned from Latin America a little over a week ago, Washington has again turned its attention to other world regions. The problem is that, even during the trip, Washington never really focused on our hemisphere. Yes, the timing of the Libya military intervention certainly did not help coverage of Obama’s first presidential trip to Central and South America. But don’t forget about the “Ugly Betty” effect—a term recently used by CNN International anchor Luis Carlos Vélez in reference to the popular Colombian telenovela Yo Soy Betty la Fea.
In the telenovela, Betty la Fea demonstrates intellect but is constantly ignored and overlooked due to her perceived lack of beauty; however, over time she becomes indispensable to her organization’s success. Given the substantial economic and political strides that Latin America has accomplished, Mr. Vélez makes a valid point. The region is a success story but people often tend to ignore it. The President’s trip once again demonstrated this unfortunate reality. Take the press conference in El Salvador for example; of the seven questions asked to Obama and Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes by domestic and foreign media, only three had anything to do with the region.
The three countries that hosted Obama during his five-day visit—Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador—are representative of the region’s success. They are flourishing democracies that emerged from dark political pasts, and are governed by centrists who enjoy bipartisan support.
Latin America exited the Great Recession with remarkable speed, having stored away sizeable fiscal reserves beforehand due to shrewd countercyclical measures—a sharp contrast to the massive debts blighting central banks in the United States and European Union. These initiatives helped lift millions from poverty and expand the Latin American middle class. The Institute of International Finance predicts Latin America’s economy as a whole will grow by 4.5 percent in 2011, building on the 6.1 percent growth in 2010. The president of the Inter-American Development Bank, Luis Alberto Moreno, even coined the 2010s as “the Latin American decade.”
Authors: Brandon Yoder and Aimel Wong
Former President Jimmy Carter departed Havana yesterday after a three-day visit that the Carter Center billed as an opportunity “to learn about new economic policies and the upcoming [Communist] Party Congress, and to discuss ways to improve U.S.-Cuba relations.” However, given that U.S. development contractor Alan Gross was recently sentenced to prison for providing assistance to the island’s Jewish community, President Carter’s meeting with Jewish leaders was a clear sign that Mr. Gross’ fate is intrinsically linked to the stated purpose of the visit. Unfortunately, he left without the jailed U.S. contractor.
Mr. Gross was arrested by Cuban authorities in December 2009 for distributing telephone and satellite communications equipment as part of a U.S. Government-funded democracy promotion program. He subsequently served 14 months in prison before he was charged with “acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the [Cuban] state.” After a cursory, closed-door trial earlier this month, he received a 15-year prison sentence. The U.S. Government has continuously sought Alan Gross’ release and publicly stated that it is a prerequisite for any improvement in bilateral relations. Nevertheless, official channels of communication have failed, raising expectations for President Carter’s visit. Like President Clinton in his August 2009 visit to North Korea, Mr. Carter was faced with the unsavory task of appeasing an aging communist dictatorship to secure the freedom of a wrongfully imprisoned U.S. citizen.
With his 2002 visit to Cuba as precedent, President Carter was expected to use his trip to also deliver a strong message in support of greater respect for democracy and human rights, two issues that the Castro regime continues to ignore after more than 50 years in power. President Carter met with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the highest ranking official of the Cuban Catholic Church. Cardinal Ortega deserves such high-profile attention for his role as an effective broker with the Cuban government in the release of more than 110 political prisoners since June 2010, including members of the March 2003 “Black Spring” crackdown. Just last week, the final prisoners from this latter group were finally released, having rejected the condition of exile to Spain that was imposed during initial negotiations.
A first set of artifacts taken from Machu Picchu in the early 1900s made its way back to Peru yesterday, after being housed at Yale University for nearly a century. The set of 363 objects and 1,000 fragments is part of a collection of over 45,000 artifacts that will return to Peru over the next two years, under an agreement signed last November between Yale and the Peruvian government.
The pieces, which include ceramics and bones, were found by archaeologist Hiram Bingham when he “discovered” the Incan citadel of Machu Picchu in 1911. A Yale lecturer who later became a U.S. senator, Bingham took the artifacts—supposedly on loan—to Yale University after expeditions in 1912 and 1915. The Peruvian government has long lobbied for their return as objects of national patrimony, twice filing a suit and last summer launching an international campaign that included an appeal to U.S. President Barack Obama and the soliciting of help from Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa. Peruvian President Alan García said of their return, “We are proudly satisfied.”
The objects arrived in Lima’s airport on Wednesday morning and were transferred to the presidential palace a few hours later for a formal reception. A large security operation, including 600 police officers, was involved in the transfer. The objects will remain in Lima for about a week before settling into their final home at the newly-established San Antonio Abad University-Yale International Center for the Study of Machu Picchu and Inca Culture in Cuzco. The universities will jointly conduct research and facilitate related student and faculty exchanges.
A second shipment of objects is scheduled to take place in December 2011, with all artifacts returning by the end of 2012, said Peru's Culture Minister Juan Ossio.
Presidential Election Results Delayed in Haiti
Haiti’s electoral agency announced that preliminary results from a March 20 runoff election—originally scheduled to be released March 31—won’t be available until April 5, with final results planned for April 16. The council attributes the delay to signs of fraud in vote counts. The results will reveal whether ex-First Lady Mirlande Manigat or former pop singer Michel Martelly will serve as the country’s next president.
IDB To Help Cool LatAm Economies
The Inter-American Development Bank said it will help Latin American economies “de-dollarize” during its four-day annual meeting, which took place in Calgary this year. The Washington-based bank said it will offer more loans in local currencies and the option to exchange open loans from dollars in order to combat the soaring value of many of the region’s currencies and economic overheating. The International Monetary Fund’s regional director Nicolas Eyzaguirre said the region should terminate stimulus programs to stop overheating, but Brazil’s Deputy Central Bank Governor Luiz Pereira da Silva defended his country’s plan to limit inflows of speculative capital from overseas.
Bachelet on UN Gender Empowerment Initiative
In an interview with The New York Times, former Chilean President and current head of UN Woman Michelle Bachelet discusses her strategy to empower women worldwide. She emphasizes bringing women into positions of power and recruiting men to support the struggle for gender equality.
Brazil Versus Energy Curse
Latin America analyst Shannon O’Neil thinks Brazil can avoid the “energy curse” that traps developing economies in a cycle of dependence on a single export subject to wild price swings. According to O’Neil, Brazil’s diverse economy, past experience implementing a successful national energy plan, and democratic form of government will all help turn pre-salt oil discoveries into a blessing rather than a curse.
Brasilia Tries to Rein in Real with New Tax
Financial Times reports on Brasilia’s attempt to combat appreciation of its currency through a new tax adjustment requiring local companies to pay a 6 percent tax (up from 5.38 percent) on a portion of funds raised from foreign loans and international bond sales. “The tax adjustments underline a subtle shift in the focus of the government’s efforts to rein in the currency,” reports Samantha Pearson. “Whereas past measures targeted ‘foreign speculators’ and alluded to a global ‘currency war,’ Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s president, has taken a wider, more technical approach by introducing measures that will affect Brazilians as well as foreigners.”
Argentine Daily Blocked from Distributing Sunday Paper
Clarín, the Argentine media conglomerate, failed to distribute the Sunday, March 27 edition of its newspaper because of union protestors who blocked vehicles from leaving the printing plant in the early hours of the morning. The news group has been engaged in an ongoing dispute with the Fernández de Kirchner government over allegations of holding a monopoly. However, critics accuse Fernández of a vendetta against the newspaper, which takes a critical stance against her administration.
Hugo Chávez Gets Journalism Prize on South American Tour
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez kicked off a four-country tour through Latin America with a visit to Argentina, where he received a journalism award for from the University of La Plata for his contributions to the state-funded Telesur broadcast network. Chávez and Argentine President Christina Fernández de Kirchner signed trade agreements providing Argentina with oil in exchange for cars, food, agricultural equipment, and technology transfers to build motors and refrigerators in Venezuela. Chávez travels on to Uruguay, Bolivia, and Colombia.
Óscar Arias Talks Venezuela
Former President of Costa Rica and Nobel Laureate Óscar Arias offered veiled criticism of what he referred to as a “step backwards” for democracy in Venezuela under Hugo Chávez in an interview with El Universal. Without naming Chávez explicitly, Arias pointed out that some democratically elected governments “erase checks and balances…censor the press, shut down media, disqualify opposition politicians, and modify the Constitution to get reelected.” Notwithstanding his criticisms, Arias also maintained that Venezuela’s pluralism and free elections make it a democracy.
Colombia Mulls Extradition of Suspect to US or Venezuela
On March 25, Colombia’s Supreme Court decided that Venezuelan drug kingpin Walid Makled can be extradited. Now Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos must decide whether to send Makled to the United States, where he’s wanted for narcotics trafficking, or to Venezuela, where he’s been connected to the murder of a journalist. Makled has indicated that, in the case that he gets sent to the United States, he will share information linking Venezuelan authorities to the drug trade, reports The Christian Science Monitor’s backchannels.
Peruvian Nationalist Ollanta Humala Takes Lead in Poll
A poll by CPI released Sunday shows that nationalist Ollanta Humala has risen from third place to take the lead in Peru’s presidential race. Humala’s support jumped from 15.7 percent to 21.1 percent in a week, according to CPI. Conservative Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the former president who dissolved the Congress and is now serving a 25-year jail sentence for human rights violations, placed second with 19.9 percent. None of the five major candidates enjoy sufficient support to avoid a runoff.
Read an AS/COA Online Analysis about polling in the Peruvian presidential elections.
Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru Could Form New Econ Bloc
In an interview with El Tiempo, Peruvian President Alan García suggests that his country could form an integrated economic bloc with Chile, Colombia, and Mexico during a summit set to take place in Lima on May 2. García also talked with the Colombian daily about supporting Bogota’s bid to join the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. He also left open the possibility of running for president again in 2016, after sitting out the upcoming five-year term.
Honduran Judge Permits Zelaya to Return
Judge Óscar Chinchilla annulled orders for the arrest of ex-President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, but the former leader refuses to return, saying that he faces threats from some of those who overthrew him in 2009. Zelaya currently lives in the Dominican Republic. The Honduran government used tear gas and water cannons on Monday to break up protests led by teachers demanding the return of the ousted president as well as the fact that they’ve experience a six-month delay in salary payments.
Pérez Molina Leads Polls in Guatemalan Prez Race
Guatemalan daily El Periódico released the results of a poll by Borge y Asociados for the month of March that puts Otto Pérez Molina of the Patriotic Party in the lead for the country’s presidential election, with 47.2 percent. Sandra Torres of the governing National Unity of Hope holds second place, with 13.7 percent. Pérez, who lost the 2007 vote to current President Álvaro Colom, previously ran under the slogan mano dura, cabeza y corazón (firm hand, head and heart). First Lady Torres began divorce proceedings Monday, which will allow her to circumvent a Guatemalan constitutional ban preventing close relatives of the head of state from succeeding as president.
Unraveling a Guatemalan Murder Mystery
In a lengthy feature for The New Yorker, journalist David Grann unravels the political conspiracy that led to the murder of Rodrigo Rosenberg in Guatemala in the spring of 2009. Rosenberg caused a political uproar when a video surfaced saying that if he were murdered, Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom was responsible. A UN investigation found, however, that Rosenberg organized his own assassination.
Dominican President May Seek a Third Term
The Dominican Liberation Party presented President Leonel Fernández Sunday with a petition signed by 2.2 million people asking for his third consecutive reelection. Fernández said he would let his party decide on his candidacy, though the Constitution prohibits more than two consecutive presidential terms.
Cuban State Media Gives Independent Bloggers Publicity Boost
When Cuba’s state media last week aired a documentary called “Cyberwar” vilifying the country’s independent bloggers as pawns of Washington, they ended up accidentally doing their enemies a big favor. Yoani Sánchez says that she and other bloggers now enjoy fame on the island, where few people previously read their work.
Jimmy Carter Visits Cuba
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter this week visited Cuba for the second time, where he discussed ways to move forward with stalled U.S.-Cuban relations with Cuban leaders, including Raúl Castro. Carter also met with prominent bloggers and dissidents. Notwithstanding speculation in the U.S. press that Carter went to the island to press for the release of jailed U.S.A.I.D. contractor Alan Gross, Carter said Tuesday he wanted to work to improve bilateral relations and did not visit to get Gross out of jail.
Mexican Media Outlets Sign Drug War Coverage Pact
Covering organized crime in Mexico is a dangerous business, with the country among the world’s most dangerous for reporters, according to the Knight Center for Journalism is the Americas. With that in mind, almost 50 Mexican media outlets last week signed the Agreement for News Coverage of Violence, which seeks to prevent news organizations from succumbing to the influence of cartels by avoiding distributing excessively violent images and preventing attacks on journalists, among other measures. Sadly, a day after the pact was inked, a Televisa TV host was found dead in the northern city of Monterrey in what appeared to be a gang-style killing.
UK’s Deputy PM Visits Mexico
Nick Clegg, the British deputy prime minister, led a business and educational delegation to Mexico March 28 in what he said “marks the beginning of a major push in 2011 to renew the UK's ties to Latin America.” The Guardian reports that Clegg will be the first British politician to address the Mexican Senate. “Having learnt from the Tequila Crisis of the 1990s, Mexico demonstrated great resilience in the face of global recession,” wrote Clegg in Reforma “As we look to reform our banking sector at home, there are important parallels we can draw.”
Mexico Criminalizes Femicide
The Latin Americanist blog reports on Mexico’s approval of a law that makes gender-based murder a separate crime punishable by sentences of up to 70 years. The Attorney General’s office will create an office to investigate violence against women. Also, last week the country’s Secretariat of the Interior distributed a manual to federal employees that offers guidelines for avoiding sexist language in the workplace.
Canada-Mexico Relations Driven by State-to-Province Relations
The relationship between Canada and Mexico is increasingly determined by the interaction between Canada’s provincial governments and Mexico’s state governments, according to a new report by think tank FOCAL. The report argues that these relationships, which the two countries’ federal governments generally fail to manage, can both encourage and complicate the overal bilateral relationship.
PM Harper Sets May Date for Election
Canadians will vote in their fourth general election in seven years come May 2 after Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s minority government lost a rare no-confidence vote on March 25, leading to the dissolution of Parliament. The Toronto Star reports that Harper’s Conservative Party is polling strongly and could end up with a majority in Parliament. Shortformblog explains the Canadian Parliament’s vote and what happens next. Get ongoing coverage of the five-week campaign on the daily’s politics page.
An Insider’s Look at an Andean Narco-submarine
Wired magazine takes readers inside a jungle-built submarine used to traffic Colombian cocaine. The vessel, seized by Ecuadoran authorities last year, demonstrates a level of technical know-how that’s a major step up from cigarette boats encased in wood and fiberglass that were previously seized. It could go 10 days without refueling, carried a crew of up to six people, and had a hull made of difficult-to-trace materials. “The most valuable feature, though, is the cargo bay, capable of holding up to 9 tons of cocaine—a street value of about $250 million,” writes Jim Popkin. And there may be other submarines traveling in the Pacific right now; a second, similar drug sub was seized in February.
Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced yesterday that large voter turnout and a “high incidence of fraud and irregularities” during the March 20 presidential runoff will delay the announcement of preliminary results. Though the results were scheduled for release tomorrow, presidential hopefuls Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly will have to wait until April 4 for the first vote tallies.
Compared to the first round of voting on November 28, 2010, which was marred by widespread fraud, low voter turn out and three days of violent protests, international monitors had praised the second round for being better organized. The violence following the first round broke out when it was announced that Martelly, a kompa star that is a favorite among Haiti’s poor, was left off the runoff ballot. Not until the Organization of American States reviewed the voting results was Martelly placed back on the ballot over then-second place holder Jude Celestin—the candidate of current president Réne Préval’s party.
Though the delay affects the release of preliminary results, final results remain on schedule to be released on April 16. The next president of Haiti, who will assume power this May, will face the daunting task of procuring billions of dollars in promised foreign aid and rebuild a weakened public sector in a country currently dominated by nongovernmental organizations.
The recent news published by The New York Times on unmanned drone planes doing reconnaissance flights over Mexican territory has already spurred aggressive reactions by the legislative opposition to Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party, or PAN). Practically in unison, civil society is responding to these reactions and sending a message to Congress: get your head out of the gutter and do something for our country.
The Times article stated that Calderón and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed earlier this month to continue allowing surveillance flights over Mexico, collecting information and turning it over to Mexican law enforcement authorities. The report also discusses a “counternarcotics fusion center” already operational in Mexico City and the possibility of a second one being established in the near future.
Gearing up for federal elections, political parties like Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD), Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI) and Partido del Trabajo (Labor Party, or PT) jumped at the opportunity to accuse Calderón of violating Mexican law by allowing drone flights.
Just a decade ago, most Latin American governments looked to the United States and Europe as examples of how to improve governance, foster sustainable economic growth and institute more just societies. But today, there are some countries in Latin America that serve as case studies worth following—one of which is Uruguay. It may be the size of Washington State and have one of the smallest populations in the region (3.3 million), but it should be truly commended for its developmental progress in recent years.
Although dwarfed by the neighboring economies of Brazil and Argentina, Uruguayans overall have a better standard of living. Uruguay’s annual per-capita income is estimated at roughly $14,000—higher than that of Brazil and Argentina. Physical security is better, too, as evidenced by known cases of families moving from Buenos Aires to Montevideo in search of a safer environment. Recent regional rankings on tourism reflect Uruguay as a desirable destination. According to the 2010 Latin Business Chronicle’s Tourism Index, Uruguay is Latin America’s tourism champion. The country receives more than 2 million tourists a year, an amount equaling roughly 60 percent of its population.
Years of economic growth and state policy promoting technology usage by citizens, government and business has made the Uruguayans some of the most tech-savvy in the region. In May 2008, former president Tabaré Vázquez (2005-10) launched a government program called La Agenda Digital Uruguay 2008-10 (Uruguay Digital Agenda 2008-10) that worked toward the consolidation of all of Uruguay’s information technology programs. Its main objective was to create a more inclusive and democratic society. It gave high priority to Plan Ceibal, known in English as One Laptop per Child, which is responsible for distributing low-cost laptops to all public primary-school students and teachers. This open-source initiative has been so successful that it was extended to secondary schools, and inspired another project to make available affordable “triple play” (Internet, phone, and television) services to low-income families. By November 2010, Uruguay’s investment agency Uruguay XXI reported that the government had distributed 380,000 laptops, trained 18,000 teachers, created 280 free Wi-Fi areas in Montevideo and gave 220,000 families their first computer.
Jimmy Carter arrived in Cuba yesterday afternoon for a three-day visit to the island by invitation of the Cuban government. Carter’s travel to the island, billed as a private trip, will include meetings with Catholic and Jewish authorities as well as a meeting with Raúl Castro. The former President is expected to address U.S.-Cuba relations, Cuban economic reforms and the upcoming sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba scheduled to meet from April 16 to 19.
There is also speculation that the former President will also seek to gain the release of imprisoned U.S. government contractor Alan Gross, who was sentenced two weeks ago to a 15-year prison term for providing satellite communication equipment to Jewish groups in Cuba. Authorities claim this was an attempt to provide Internet access to dissidents to destabilize the island.
This trip marks the second time Carter has visited the island and he remains the only sitting or former U.S. President to visit Cuba since Fidel Castro took power in 1959. Carter’s last trip to Cuba was in 2002 during which he pressed Cuban authorities to improve human rights and to introduce democracy. Upon his return, the President urged U.S. authorities to lift the trade embargo against Cuba. As in 2002, Carter will once again be accompanied by his wife, Rosalynn.
Yesterday, Carter met with the head of the Council of the Hebrew Community of Cuba and with Cardinal Jamie Ortega of the Catholic Archdiocese of Havana. Today, he is scheduled to visit the Belen Convent in downtown Havana followed by a meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro. A press conference will be held at the Havana Palace of Conventions before returning to the United States.
With Peru’s presidential election occurring less than two weeks from today, nationalist candidate Ollanta Humala has taken the lead according to two polls published yesterday. His lead reflects a surging candidacy and a decline in momentum for former President Alejandro Toledo.
An Ipsos poll has Humala leading with 21.2 percent of the vote, with early frontrunner Alejandro Toledo trailing with 20 percent, and Keiko Fujimori, legislator and daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori, with 19 percent. Behind Fujimori are former economy minister Pedro Pablo Kuzynski and former Lima mayor Luis Castañeda—logging 15 and 14 percent, respectively.
A second poll, from the Lima-based firm CPI, has Toledo in third place—pulling in 18.6 percent of the vote, with Humala and Fujimori in the top two spots. CPI also highlights that 27 percent of the electorate remain undecided. Given the necessary 50 percent of votes needed on April 10 to avoid a run-off (scheduled for June 5 if necessary), the race for the presidency is still wide open.
Humala, the leader of the Partido Nacionalista Peruano (Peruvian Nationalist Party), lost to current president Alan García in 2006 in a run-off and has since remained a popular voice in Peruvian politics.
On the day before Argentina marked the 35th anniversary of the military coup that installed a seven-year dictatorial regime, an ex-general was sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity. Luciano Menendez, 83, was head of the army’s Third Corps during the dictatorship period of 1976-1983. This was his sixth life sentence.
According to a verdict released by Argentina’s judiciary branch, Menendez was found guilty of homicide and unlawful entry in an army and police assault in a home in Tucumán province on May 20, 1976. A group of Montoneros, a leftist urban guerrilla group, was meeting inside the house before the forces launched explosives and entered. Five people were killed and buried in a common grave.
The verdict, which also found former Tucumán province police intelligence chief Roberto Albornoz guilty in the same case, is part of a recent series of trials that have taken place after the 2007 decision of then-president Néstor Kirchner to annul pardons against former junta members. In a particularly high-profile case, General Jorge Rafael Videla, the former leader of the military dictatorship, was sentenced to life in prison in December 2010 for crimes against humanity.
On March 24, 1976, a military junta led by Videla overthrew the elected government and began a period of military rule in Argentina that lasted until 1983. During this period, Videla and the generals that succeeded him undertook a “national reorganization process,” more commonly known as the Dirty War, to maintain social order and eradicate any political subversion. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 30,000 individuals were killed or disappeared as a part of this war, with still others tortured and/or forced into exile.
Yesterday—the National Day of Memory, Truth and Justice—thousands of people marched on the streets of Buenos Aires and other cities to remember those lost during the Dirty War and to celebrate the work of human rights groups since then. Marchers included human rights activists, including the famous Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, as well as ordinary citizens, both young and old.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was at her family’s home in the town of El Calafate in Santa Cruz province and did not participate in any of the rallies.
A new change in British law last year extends the retroactive reach of United Kingdom authorities to prosecute for war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide. Crimes can now be prosecuted for acts committed all the way back to 1991—10 years earlier than the previous cut-off point.
Given this development, a Peruvian man was recently arrested in Yorkshire, England, for allegedly participating in death squads during the Shining Path era. The charge was suspicion of involvement in state-backed death squads that targeted guerrilla movements, mainly the Shining Path. He is being accused of participating in the murder of up to 100 individuals during the period of 1989-1993 and is the first to be arrested under the new law.
The purpose of the law was to cover the actions of individuals who had become UK residents after the genocide in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. It is suspected that hundreds of suspected war criminals from around the world are living in the UK with apparent impunity.
But the UK is not alone in its ability to prosecute such criminals. The United States has the Alien Tort Claims Act, which asserts that “the district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” Although the law remained dormant for nearly 200 years, with the increased awareness about and concern for human rights, litigants have recently begun to seek redress more frequently under the Alien Tort Claims Act—including by Paraguayans, Ethiopians, Nigerians, Libyans and Filipinos.
Sebastián Piñera, presidente de Chile, propuso al presidente estadounidense Barack Obama una relación 2.0. Piñera hacía así gala de su familiaridad con las redes sociales del Internet. Un gesto de modernidad acorde con la propia imagen de su país, el más yuppie de América Latina. De hecho, el Presidente chileno le recordó a Obama que ambos se graduaron de Harvard.
Pero el de Piñera no fue sólo un gesto algo cool sino que marcaba así la línea recta con la que Chile plantea las cosas, buscando una relación de igual a igual y lo más fluida posible (2.0, como son el facebook o twitter) con el poderoso del norte, esta vez propuesta en el lenguaje de la diplomacia “progre”.
Evo Morales, en cambio, pocos días antes de la celebración del “día del mar”que se recuerda en Bolivia cada 23 de marzo hace 132 años, dijo que se trata más bien del “día del carajo”. Y carajo en Bolivia significa muchas cosas desde la referencia a algo tan espectacular como un buen gol (“¡qué del carajo!”) hasta la referencia al fracaso más estrepitoso (“se fue al carajo”). Pero en el vocabulario de las buenas costumbres, esa es sobre todo una mala palabra. “Carajo” fue la célebre frase que pronunció el héroe boliviano de la guerra del Pacífico que libraron Bolivia y Chile en 1789 cuando Chile invadió territorio boliviano dejando a Bolivia sin acceso al mar. “¿Rendirme yo? Que se rinda su abuela ¡carajo!” gritó Eduardo Abaroa.
Por eso, saber que Evo Morales había cambiado el “día del mar” por el “día del carajo” resultó… digamos incomprensible. ¿Qué parte del abanico semántico habría elegido el presidente Morales, considerando sus memorables exabruptos?
President Obama landed at Andrews AFB late yesterday afternoon, completing a very significant trip to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador. The visits highlighted relationships, and societies, that have truly transformed themselves; opening vast new opportunities for cooperation that can help us meet big twenty-first century challenges. Many of them are daunting, but everything I experienced on the trip reinforces a sense of optimism I have about the Americas and about what we can achieve together.
The three countries the President visited have very distinct histories and national experiences that extend to their relations with us. But across all the President’s meetings—with Presidents Rousseff, Piñera and Funes, as well as other senior officials, plus civil society and business leaders, there was a common spirit. It was forward-looking and pragmatic—and unmistakable: a desire to work together in concrete ways to address real issues, in the Americas and in the world. The agendas for the President’s meetings were as varied as you can imagine. They included the crises in North Africa and the Middle East; economic growth and competitiveness; social inclusion, food security, and education; civil aviation and space cooperation; nuclear security; the fight against transnational crime; financial reform, and many other issues—as extensive a roster of today’s challenges as we would discuss with our most important Asian or European partners.
But just as noteworthy was the quality of dialogue. Absent were the formulaic repetitions of positions, or even finger pointing, that sometimes dilute the impact of bilateral meetings. Instead, I heard the President tackling even some of the toughest issues—often mutual challenges—in our relationships with candor and directness. His counterparts picked up on this immediately, and responded in kind. For example, on immigration, a major issue for President Funes, in particular, the President talked at length about the complicated politics that surround the issue in our society, and his commitment to continue pursuing comprehensive reform consistent with our values and national interests.
Conservative critics have had a field day criticizing President Barack Obama’s trip to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador this week. Former speaker of the house and now presidential aspirant Newt Gingrich implied the President was abdicating his leadership by taking the long-anticipated trip to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador and Fox News commentator Sean Hannity referred to it as a “vacation in Rio.” Besides revealing a troubling—even offensive—stereotype and disregard of the region, they are also wrong.
To be sure, the president’s long-overdue tour of South America couldn’t have come at a worse time in terms of world events. The NATO aerial campaign to establish a no-fly zone to contain Muammar Gadaffi from slaughtering his own citizens, the threat of nuclear meltdown in post-tsunami Japan, the Saudi-led crackdown against popular protests in Bahrain, and the budget battles in Washington provided plenty of reasons for staying. But it would have been a diplomatic disaster if he had remained behind.
In his January State of the Union address President Obama declared—somewhat unexpectedly—his desire to travel to Brazil. The president’s promise captured the imagination of Brazilians and offered a high-level opportunity to repair frayed political and economic relations with the world’s soon-to-be fifth largest economy. In the last 12 years, Brazil has risen from poverty and the periphery to become an emerging regional and world power, an ascendance that under former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva often caused diplomatic friction with the United States and provoked a dramatic shift in the region’s economic order in which China overtook the U.S. to become Brazil’s (and Chile’s) number one trade partner.
A bill proposed yesterday in the New York State Senate would revive parts of federal legislation that failed to make it through the U.S. Congress last year. That legislation, known as the DREAM Act, would have provided a path to citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants. Following its defeat in Congress, the New York State Youth Leadership Council, a youth-led nongovernmental organization dedicated to promoting equal opportunity for immigrant youth, mobilized an aggressive campaign to introduce and garner support for a state version of the bill.
While not offering a path to citizenship, the new bill, sponsored by Democratic State Senator Bill Perkins of Manhattan, would offer young undocumented immigrants certain rights and privileges currently afforded only to legal residents and citizens—including the authorization to hold certain state jobs and to apply for a driver’s license. While undocumented immigrants in New York already qualify for in-state tuition fees, the bill would enable them to apply for state financial assistance in the form of grants, loans and scholarships. It would also provide them with access to health care.
To qualify, the young person would have to have arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16, lived in New York for two years and be under the age of 35. He or she would also be required to have completed at least two years of a four-year degree at a state college or university, two years in the New York National Guard or nearly 1,000 hours of community service.
The proposal of the bill comes amid a recent wave of state legislative measures designed to address unauthorized immigration—some meant to crack down on and others meant to expand the rights of undocumented immigrants—after the federal government failed to do so last year. Co-sponsor Daniel L. Squadron (D-Brooklyn) says the new legislation would not circumvent the federal provision that employers cannot willingly hire undocumented immigrants, but “could potentially expand the state’s options.”
Announcement of the new legislation also follows President Obama’s recent trip to Latin America, in which he reiterated his support for comprehensive immigration reform while also underscoring the need to promote development and job growth in Mexico and Central America.
Democratic Assemblyman Guillermo Linares is slated to introduce an Assembly version of the bill shortly.
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.
Obama Wraps up First Major LatAm Tour
U.S. President Barack Obama wrapped up a five-day tour in Latin America this week that took him to Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, and San Salvador. The UN Security Council’s passage of a no-fly zone and subsequent allied attacks on Libya cast a shadow over Obama’s first trip to Central and South America and, ultimately, pushed him to cut the tour a few hours short. But the U.S. leader made the case that Latin America, a region where most countries successfully moved from authoritarian regimes to democracy, offered a model for the Middle East and North Africa. “At a time when people around the world are reaching for their freedoms, Chile shows that, yes, it is possible to transition from dictatorship to democracy—and to do so peacefully,” said Obama during a Santiago speech focused on U.S.-Latin American ties. “Virtually all the people of Latin America have gone from living under dictatorships to living in democracies…The work of perfecting our democracies, of course, is never truly done, but this is the outstanding progress that’s been made here in the Americas.”
Obama’s meetings with Presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Sebastián Piñera of Chile, and Mauricio Funes of El Salvador included a number of cooperation agreements. In the case of Brazil, those pacts focused on areas ranging from educational and technical exchange to economic cooperation to organizing sporting events. A bilateral nuclear-energy pact signed in Chile was notable in the context of Japan’s current nuclear crisis. In El Salvador, Obama and Funes discussed Washington’s $200 million in funding for a regional security initiative as well as economic cooperation with the goal of stemming emigration and organized crime. “Ultimately [El Salvador] wants to be able to find growth and tap into its own potential here inside the country,” said Obama in a joint press conference.
Chile and U.S. Sign Nuclear Energy Research Deal
The United States and Chile signed an agreement in advance of President Obama’s visit to work together to train Chilean nuclear engineers—a decision that opposition politicians and environmental groups criticized, pointing to the recent disaster in Japan. Chilean Energy Minister Laurence Golborne stressed that his earthquake-prone country does not currently produce nuclear energy and the agreement does not include plans to build a reactor. Chile signed a similar agreement with France last month.
Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about how the nuclear crisis in Japan affects Latin America’s options for developing nuclear energy capability.
El Salvador was the last stop in what probably seemed an eternal five days to President Obama. Amid increasing domestic pressure regarding the intervention in Libya, Obama had to reduce an already short stay (although just by a few hours) in San Salvador.
President Funes, hoping the U.S. President would stay longer, jokingly said: “It is a pity because if you had stayed a little bit longer we could have invited you to get to see the beaches of our country that are one of the best in the region.”
The coincidence of Obama’s trip and the Libyan intervention unfortunately downplayed the importance of what could have been an even more historic visit. Before the trip, analysts, scholars and civil society engaged in Latin American issues speculated as to whether Obama’s trip represented a new realignment of U.S.-Latin American relations. The accuracy of that hypothesis is yet to be tested.
Coalition operations in Libya to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is being met by mixed reaction in the Americas. On the one hand, the leaders of Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela have criticized the mission as being a foreign intervention in a domestic Libyan conflict. At the same time, countries such as Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Panama, and Peru have backed the military action to varying degrees. Colombia, for example, voted in favor of the resolution, while others abstained from taking a position. The mixed reaction may be traced to differing perspectives on state rights to self-determination regardless of political ideologies.
Brazil, a rotating member of the UN Security Council, abstained from the vote approving military intervention in Libya, but clarified that their abstention should not be seen as approval of the Gadaffi regime or as "negligence" of the need to protect Libyan civilians. The Brazilian Foreign Ministry further stated that their abstention was based on the uncertainty that military intervention would bring about the "immediate end to the violence or that it would protect civilians." Brazil issued a statement calling for a ceasefire in Libya on Monday, following President Obama’s departure from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Other Latin American leaders have been more aggressive in their reaction to the Security Council's actions. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa called the military action "unacceptable," and Bolivian President Evo Morales called for Obama's Nobel Peace Prize to be rescinded while criticizing the United Nations and the Security Council for adding to global insecurity. Paraguayan Chancellor Jorge Lara Castro struck a more diplomatic chord saying that approval of joint military action "reflected a weakness of the United Nations" while calling for "diplomatic negotiations to prevail."
Air Force One touches down in San Salvador at 2:45pm EST today, the last stop in President Obama’s three-country Latin America tour. The President will be in El Salvador for two days. According to the White House schedule released this morning, the President and First Lady will participate in an arrival ceremony, followed by a bilateral meeting between Obama and his Salvadoran counterpart Mauricio Funes and a state dinner in Obama’s honor. The two leaders will hold a joint press conference at 4:55 pm EST with a live audio stream available.
Yesterday, in an address to Latin America at Santiago’s Centro Cultural Palacio La Moneda, the President attempted to reset relations between Latin America and the United States. Obama touched on themes like renewable energy sources, security against transnational crime, inclusive socioeconomic development and the importance of sustainable democratic institutions. (Here is a transcript of the President’s remarks.)
As previewed in AQ Online, discussion topics in the Obama-Funes working meeting are expected to range from immigration policy to poverty to free trade to counternarcotics efforts across the region. Read more AQ coverage of Salvadorans’ expectations from Obama’s visit.
Speaking to the Chilean and Latin American public from the La Moneda presidential palace in Chile, President Obama signaled the start of a new era in U.S.-Latin America relations—one whose focus will be on enhancing security in the region, promoting inclusive development, strengthening democratic institutions, and securing sustainable energy resources. On the eve of the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s creation of the Alliance for Progress and amid political turmoil and regime change in the Middle East and North Africa, President Obama’s speech to the Latin American public was both symbolic and significant.
It is no secret that the U.S. administration supported—and even lent assistance—to the forces that overthrew Chilean president Salvador Allende’s democratically elected government in 1973 and installed a military regime with General Augusto Pinochet at its head. This is a part of Chile’s history with which the country continues to come to terms, serving justice to the victims of the regime’s human rights abuses.
In a joint press conference with President Piñera, Obama was asked by a reporter about the U.S.’ past role in Chilean affairs. He answered without missing a beat: “It is important for us to understand our history, and to learn from our history,” he said, but “we are not trapped by our history.”
President Obama’s visit to Chile coincides with President Piñera’s completion of the first year of his four-year term. Although his administration has been highly effective at rebuilding the massive damage of the 2010 earthquake and tsunami, Piñera’s approval ratings are at their lowest level yet. Almost immediately after being sworn in, Piñera took a hit in the polls.
The unnecessary delay in selling two of his most emblematic companies (a television station, CHV, and LAN Airlines) sparked debate on potential conflicts of interest. Although he was able to regain some support after the successful rescue of the trapped miners, a popular revolt triggered by the decision to raise natural gas prices in the south sent approval ratings in a downward trajectory.
Though Piñera later sold his companies (or provisionally signed them over to non-profit organizations) and promptly announced that gas prices would only marginally increase, several other minor unforced and unpopular decisions have underscored his first year in office. Some of these errors can be attributed to the difficulties of running a country ruled by the opposition for the past 20 years. But others should be understood as part of Piñera’s natural entrepreneurial character, which naturally entails a certain amount of risk-taking.
During a two-day visit to Brazil this past weekend, and amidst a backdrop of escalating events in Libya, U.S. President Barack Obama and his Brazilian counterpart Dilma Rousseff reinvigorated stalled political and economic relations between the two countries, signing a series of preliminary agreements that pave the way for stronger commercial links between the Hemisphere’s largest economies.
Obama’s trip—intended to bolster trade and investment ties with the world’s seventh-largest economy and prove U.S. commitment to a region increasingly engaged with China—kicked off with talks between the two leaders in Brasilia on Saturday morning. Following the leaders’ meeting at the Palácio do Planalto, Obama met with U.S. and Brazilian CEOs and delivered an address at the U.S.-Brazil CEO forum. Throughout the meetings around Brasilia, Obama stressed the opportunities for mutual economic benefit through increased cooperation, and cited the potential for the U.S. to sell “more goods and services to a rapidly-growing market of around 200 million consumers.”
After talks at the Palácio do Planalto, the two leaders announced the signing of a series of agreements to deepen ties as “global partners in the 21st century” in areas ranging from trade to technology, education to energy and air travel.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.