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  • Brazil to Delay Bidding for Bullet Train Project

    July 14, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Following its failure to attract private proposals for a high-speed rail between the cities of São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian government has decided to cancel the competitive bidding scheduled for July 29 and change the rules for the project. Bidding will now be split into two phases—one to determine the operator and technology for the train, and the other to establish the company or consortium that will construct it. The train may even be operated by state-controlled company ETAV, according to O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper.

    Bernardo Figueiredo, the director general of the Agência Nacional de Transportes Terrestres (National Agency of Land Transportation), attributed the lack of success in finding a bidder to difficulties between national and foreign companies in forming a consortium, which was a condition of the bidding process. “There were six groups with the technical knowledge but they had problems joining with civil construction firms,” Figueiredo explained. “Now we will separate the operation from the construction,” which will increase competition for the bids.

    This is the third time the auction for the trem de alta velocidade (TAV) has been delayed. Bidding was originally supposed to take place in December 2010 but was postponed to April 2011 to accommodate potential bidders’ request for more time to analyze the project. In April it was again postponed to July to allow bidders to form consortiums. Following the latest changes, the first round of bidding is now expected to take place in September or October of this year, with the second round to follow in early 2012. Figueredo and other government officials have said the change in bidding process will not affect the project’s cost, estimated at a total of 38 billion reais ($24 billion), or its timeline, with construction expected to begin in 2013, though transport specialists and construction firms appear skeptical. Only a part of the TAV is likely to be completed by 2016.

    The 500 kilometer (300 mile) rail link is considered a key infrastructure project for the government of Dilma Rousseff, which faces the notable challenge of upgrading and expanding its transportation infrastructure, especially in the lead-up to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Companies from China, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, and South Korea have demonstrated interest in the project, which will receive 20 billion reais ($13 billion) in loans from Brazilian development bank BNDES, and an additional $3.4 billion in direct government investment.

    Tags: Brazil, transportation policy

  • What the Debt Debate is Really About

    July 13, 2011

    by John Parisella

    I cannot recall when the issue of raising the United States’ debt ceiling was so contentious. The gridlock has reached fever pitch, despite warnings from economists, financiers and former Treasury officials of the risk the U.S. runs if government intervention is not undertaken. As the world’s strongest economy with the largest reserve currency, a U.S. default would have disastrous consequences on the global financial system.

    What is different this time around has a lot to do with how the Republicans have been able to frame the debate around the current deficit numbers (around 9 percent of GDP) and the debt figure now surpassing 90 percent of GDP. As a result, President Obama is locked in a debate about the size and the role of government. The dialogue no longer concerns a balanced budget. Rather, the Republican leadership, under the scrutiny of a vocal and united Tea Party movement, is unable to deliver the kind of compromise solution that could include substantial spending reductions but would also involve new tax revenues.

    Looking back on previous battles, we have seen a Republican president like George H.W. Bush raise taxes—at great political cost—to reduce the gap between spending and revenue. A Democratic president like Bill Clinton accepted welfare reform and tax reductions in his effort to streamline government; he left office with balanced and surplus budgets.

    In Canada and Québec, the fight for fiscal sanity both in the 1990s and the most recent recession concentrated on careful consideration of the role of government. The mix of two-thirds spending cuts with one-third new revenues, agreed upon in the latest round of debt negotiations, has kept both jurisdictions on course for a balanced budget by 2014. In the process, Canadian lawmakers have not had to encounter an ideological battle about the size and scope of government to the extent that is seen in the U.S. 

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    Tags: Canada, U.S. Congress, Quebec

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    July 13, 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.

    Chávez Likely to Need Chemotherapy

    Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said he may go through a third stage of treatment involving radiation or chemotherapy, following surgery to remove a cancerous tumor that he described as the size of a baseball. Chávez received extreme unction on Tuesday, saying it would serve to protect his body against malignant cells. Bloomberg analyzes what Chávez’s illness means for his 2012 presidential bid.

    China Promises More Funds for Venezuela

    Convalescing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said over the weekend that Beijing will loan Caracas another $4 billion for development projects, including railway infrastructure. Venezuela will contribute $2 billion of its own funds to the activities. The Associated Press reports that “China has become Venezuela’s biggest foreign lender in recent years,” with $32 billion in exchange for oil shipments. 

    Humala’s Brother Meets with Gazprom

    President-elect Ollanta Humala returned from a visit to Washington to controversy, after the Russian state-controlled oil company said that Humala’s brother Alexis had visited claiming to be a “special representative of the President-elect of the Republic of Peru.” Ollanta Humala denied that his brother, who studied engineering in Russia and speaks the language fluently, went to Russia as a representative of the Peruvian government.

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    Tags: Colombia, Chavez, Codelco, Rousseff, Humala, Venenzuela, Chilean mining

  • Brazil Announces Major Investments in Agriculture

    July 13, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff yesterday announced the creation of a $10 billion fund to help small-scale agricultural producers maximize output and revenues during the 2011–2012 growing season. The fund, which was a major promise when Rousseff was campaigning for office, is targeted at rural family farms and is designed to curb poverty and reduce urban migration.

    Brazil is currently the world’s largest producer of coffee, oranges and sugar and is one of few countries whose agricultural exports continue to grow rapidly. In addition to the small-farmer fund, Ms. Rousseff has also announced nearly $64 billion in government spending to support commercial farming nationwide. Family farms produce approximately 70 percent of Brazil’s total domestic food consumption and nearly 70 percent of rural Brazilians work in some capacity in the agricultural sector.

    The announcement of the fund is consistent with decades of Brazilian government policy which, since the mid-1970s, has played an active role in supporting agricultural development. 

    For more on Brazil’s agricultural boom, check out the forthcoming AQ—coming out August 10, 2011—which includes a policy update on the topic.

    Tags: Agriculture, Dilma Rousseff

  • The Movies that Inspire: Human Rights on the Big Screen

    July 12, 2011

    by Lina Salazar Ortegón

    During the last two weeks of June, Human Rights Watch (HRW) celebrated the 22nd (1989) version of the HRW International Film Festival in Walter Reade Theater in New York.  I only saw two of the screenings, but even today I’m still haunted by what I saw. 

    When sitting alone in my apartment I think of the 25-year-old Canadian Muslim who’s been locked up in isolation for the last nine years in a window-less cold room at Guantánamo Bay. Or I remember the words of Carlos Horacio Urán Rodríguez’ daughter when she addressed the audience after La Toma: “I was 2 years old and I remember” how her father was mysteriously found shot after the siege of the Colombian Supreme Court in 1985. He left the Court alive and contradicting any logic was found shot dead the next day in that same building.

    This is a testament to the power of film—a particularly important and powerful medium for human rights.

    More than 7,500 people attended this year’s 19 films, which covered human rights in 12 countries including Guatemala, Colombia, the U.S., Kenya, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Bulgaria. The good news is that the festival premiered 17 films in New York—five of them for the first time in the United States.  The bad news?  Most of them were hardly screened in their country of origin.

    The Festival’s goal was to exploit the power of media in all its forms to create awareness, promote debate, inspire, and inform.  What better way to do that than through film which can bring to life past (or even worse, current) events—many of which the public often considers foreign or remote.   (It’s an unconscious—if not unforgivable mistake we all make: if we don’t see it, it’s not happening).   Movies can vividly transport audiences by recreating sensations and personalizing trauma that—more than anything—can shake the public out of their complacency or disbelieve.  It was what allowed me to know about and empathize with Omar Khadr’s life in Guantánamo Bay and the suffering of Colombian families who after 25 years of the Supreme Court’s siege by M-19 guerrillas still don't know the truth about the disappearance of their loved ones.

    Luc Côté and Patricio Henríquez’s shocking You Don’t Like The Truth-4 Days Inside Guantanamo is now my ‘everyday bread.’ Imagine you are buried alive. It’s dark. You’re running out of oxygen (are you really imagining this?) and even though you scream for help no one is there to assist you. You’re alone. No exit. This is the feeling I imagine Omar Khadr has felt for the past nine years he has been imprisoned without trial under the harshest conditions.

    Allegedly, when he was 15 years old and the U.S. Army ambushed the camp in Afghanistan where his father had left him, he threw a grenade and killed U.S. soldier Christopher Speers. After being shot in the chest, losing an eye, and suffering painful leg injuries, Omar was taken to the Bagram Airfield camp in Afghanistan, well known for the infamous and humiliating tortures that occurred there.

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    Tags: Colombia, Guantanamo, human rights in Latin America, Human Rights Watch, Military Tribunals

  • Former Guatemalan First Lady Barred from Presidential Run

    July 12, 2011

    by AQ Online

    The Guatemalan Supreme Court this morning rejected an appeal by former First Lady Sandra Torres to allow her to run for president to in elections on September 11. The winner will take office from President Álvaro Colom, Torres’ husband until March 2011. Article 186 of Guatemala’s constitution bans relatives of any sitting president from running for office. After divorcing President Colom, Ms. Torres, had hoped their legal separation would exempt her from the provision.

    As first lady, Ms. Torres maintained a high profile in overseeing numerous government-sponsored anti-poverty programs and has enjoyed widespread popularity. That reputation led many to believe she could win the presidency under the incumbent Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE) party. Numerous polls, however, have shown her trailing the leading conservative candidate and former army general Otto Pérez by a wide margin.

    It is unclear whether Mr. Torres will continue the appeals process to the federal Constitutional Court—Guatemala’s highest court—or choose to bow out of the race. Analysts also say no clear successor to Mr. Colom is evident from within his own party.

    Tags: Guatemala, Álvaro Colom, Sandra Torres

  • Piñera’s Penguins

    July 11, 2011

    by Robert L. Funk

    May is a month during which students traditionally protest. In 2006, secondary-school students took to the streets in what was dubbed the “Penguin Revolution,” demanding that the Michelle Bachelet government do something about public education.  The movement managed to force an education minister to resign and to establish some dialogue with the government. But broader structural reforms never really got off the ground.

    The same students, today in university, have taken to the streets in even greater numbers. But this time they’re facing a government that has little patience for mass demonstrations, little understanding of social movements and little inclination to strengthen the public education system. Structural reforms such as financing the public system, teacher quality and whether private universities profit from student enrollment (the law says they cannot, but in practice loopholes make it possible) remain very much part of the students’ demands.

    In fact, since March, the government of President Sebastián Piñera has faced a series of demonstrations not only from the educational sector, but also from opponents to a hydroelectric project and in favor of sexual diversity. Like the Penguin movement of five years ago, the striking thing is the heterogeneous nature of those taking part. Of the hundreds of thousands who have taken to the Alameda, Santiago’s main thoroughfare, there has been a wide range of ages, socioeconomic backgrounds and political affiliations.

    Which is precisely the point. Those marching for better public education, the environment and sexual diversity may be left or right, Concertación or Alianza, or, most likely, neither of the two coalitions. Recent public opinion polls confirm this trend. While the Piñera government lingers with 31 percent approval and 60 percent disapproval, the opposition Concertación is actually doing worse, garnering 68 percent disapproval. With an economy growing at about 6 percent, why such political discontent?

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    Tags: Education, Sebastian Piñera, Concertación

  • Mayoral Elections in Buenos Aires Go to a Second Round

    July 11, 2011

    by AQ Online

    The next mayor of Buenos Aires will be decided on July 31 after no candidate secured an outright majority during Sunday’s vote in the Argentine capital. Mayor Mauricio Macri—the frontrunner and leader of the Propuesta Republicana (PRO) party—won 47.1 percent of the vote while Daniel Filmus of the Peronist Frente para la Victoria (FPV) party received 27.8 percent of ballots cast, according to results posted with 79 percent of the ballots counted. Fernando ‘Pino’ Solanas from Proyecto Sur received nearly 13 percent of the votes.

    Macri reacted with euphoria: “This was greater than what we imagined. I am happy.” Filmus called on other parties to join him in July. “I’ve heard a lot of coincidences. A lot of forces talking about a fairer Buenos Aires. Those forces need to join me in a common project,” he said.

    The July 31 runoff election will serve as a thermometer of the political environment preceding the presidential election on October 23, when President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (FPV) will run for re-election. Macri himself previously pulled out of the presidential election to focus on the city; he campaigned on a project of inclusion.

    President Fernández de Kirchner called Filmus yesterday evening and told him to “fight the battle.” However, only her ministers attended Filmus’ press conference yesterday.

    Tags: Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Buenos Aires, 2011 Argentina Elections

  • LGBT Activists Rally in Mexico City

    July 11, 2011

    by Isabelle Schäfer

    Thousands convened along the Paseo de la Reforma to participate in Mexico City’s 33rd Gay Pride Parade recently. Adorned in colorful flags and angel costumes and chanting loudly amid peals of music, people of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) orientation marched and danced in demand of respect for sexual diversity in Mexico.

    The motto this year was “Laws without Discrimination for the Whole Nation”—referring to the drive to take the progressive LGBT policies that exist in Mexico City (Distrito Federal—D.F.) and expand them across all of Mexico. In December 2009, the Asamblea Legislativa del Distrito Federal (Legislative Assembly of Mexico City) permitted gay marriage in Mexico City, making it the first city in Latin America to do so. The policy has been in effect since March 2010.

    “We want the entire Mexican Republic to have all the advances that have been won in the D.F.,” said Octavio Perez, 26, of the Gay Pride Parade’s organizing committee. “That is basically the essence of the march.”

    Although the Mexican capital has made venerable progress with regard to LGBT rights, homophobia within the country remains virulent. Between 1995 and 2008, the nongovernmental organization Letra S has documented 628 registered homicides connected to homophobia, as quoted by the Mexican National Commission of Human Rights. Moreover, 52 percent of Mexican lesbians, gays and bisexuals consider discrimination one of the main problems they face, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Council to Prevent Discrimination (CONAPRED). The same survey also notes that homosexuals and bisexuals admit that they encounter the most intolerance from the police and religious groups.

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    Tags: Mexico, Gay Rights

  • Chávez Holds First Cabinet Meeting since Returning to Venezuela

    July 8, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez yesterday held his first cabinet meeting since making a surprise return to Venezuela earlier this week, only days after admitting in Cuba that he is battling cancer. While he referred to his diagnosis many times during the meeting, Chávez showed no apparent signs of weakness and vowed to overcome his cancer by proclaiming, “We will win, and we will live.”

    Contrary to reports from Venezuelan daily newspaper El Mundo that Chávez would remove Vice President Elías Jaua from power and replace him with current Minister of Foreign Affairs Nicolas Maduro, Chávez instead announced that Jaua would remain in his post and that he had decided to extend the terms his cabinet members. Chávez also announced the creation of a new ministry of youth and appointed journalist Maria Pilar Hernandez as its first minister.

    Oncologists suggest that if rumors that Chávez has advanced colon cancer are true, he could have as little as four to nine months left to live. In the run up to Venezuela’s presidential election in December 2012, top opposition leaders such as Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo López have said that they prefer to see Chávez lose at the ballot box rather than to an illness. Chávez addressed these criticisms by telling his opponents, “You will never again govern the Venezuelan fatherland.”

    Tags: Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, Leopoldo Lopez, Nicolás Maduro, Elias Jaua

  • Continued Partisanship at Mock Mark-Ups of Trade Bills

    July 8, 2011

    by Kezia McKeague

    After Republicans won the House last November, predictions of gridlock usually cited one potential exception—trade policy.  President Obama affirmed his support for free-trade agreements (FTAs) in his State of the Union address in January, raising hopes that the three pending deals could be approved this year.  As a Senate Foreign Relations Committee minority report argued, in an era of divided government, the agreements “provide an opportunity for bipartisan cooperation on the administration’s stated goal of doubling exports in 5 years.”

    If only it were that easy.  While yesterday’s “mock mark-ups” were a welcome and necessary step, they didn’t stand out for bipartisanship.  The House Ways and Means Committee approved the implementing bills for the Colombia and Panama FTAs on partisan lines, with all Republican Members voting for them and all Democratic Members voting against.  Many of these Democrats expressed support for the agreements, but used their nay votes to protest the omission of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) in the South Korea bill.

    Indeed, TAA has proved to be the partisan sticking point.  Many Republicans and Democrats can agree that free-trade agreements are tools to spur job creation and growth without deficit spending, but the same can’t be said of training for displaced workers.  The unfortunate irony is that the fiscal cost of renewed funding for TAA would be much lower than the cost incurred to U.S. businesses by a failure to approve the three FTAs.

    On the Senate side, the Finance Committee met yesterday on the second try, after Republicans boycotted the mock-up originally scheduled for June 30.  The South Korea bill, with TAA language included, was the target of the partisan standoff, passing on party lines by 13 Democrats to 11 Republicans.  Ranking Member Orrin Hatch vowed to vote against the agreement if it includes “the TAA poison pill.”  For once, Colombia was less controversial with an 18-6 vote, and Panama passed easily, 22 to 2.  No amendments passed.

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    Tags: Colombia, Panama, Free Trade, U.S. Congress

  • Mexico and United States End Long-Standing Trucking Dispute

    July 7, 2011

    by AQ Online

    After nearly two decades of tension and ongoing dispute, the United States Department of Transportation yesterday announced the signing of an agreement that will allow U.S. and Mexican trucks to freely transport goods anywhere across the nearly 2,000-mile long U.S.-Mexico border. The new accord formalizes an agreement announced in March by Presidents Calderón and Obama and marks the end of one of the largest commercial disputes to arise between the two countries since the North American Free Trade Agreement came into force in 1994.

    An immediate effect of the new accord will be the removal by Mexico of nearly $2.4 billion worth of punitive tariffs that it imposed in 2010 in response to a U.S. court ruling that prohibited Mexican trucks from transporting goods within the United States. According to a statement by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, "the agreements…are a win for roadway safety and they are a win for trade."

    The accord resolves numerous safety concerns, which had stymied earlier efforts to conclude negotiations. Mexican trucks will be required to use electronic systems that monitor hours of service and routes and Mexican drivers will be required to take tests that gauge their understanding of English and ability to read traffic signs. 

    Pro-business groups, which had lobbied hard on behalf of the agreement, responded swiftly to yesterday’s news: "This is a vital program to our region's competitiveness that will foster greater security and increase efficiency at our border, while reducing the cost of business in our region, which ultimately benefits consumers with lower prices," said Kyle Burns, president and CEO of the Free Trade Alliance San Antonio.

    Tags: NAFTA, Mexico, President Obama, President Calderon, transportation

  • Morreu o maior líder negro brasileiro do Século XX

    July 6, 2011

    by Paulo Rogério

    An English translation will appear 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.

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    Tags: Social inclusion

  • UN Proposes Truth Commission on Duvalier Dictatorship

    July 6, 2011

    by AQ Online

    On Tuesday United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang  supported  the creation of a truth panel to investigate the human rights abuses of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, Haiti’s president from 1971 to 1986. Speaking at a press conference in Haiti, Kang said the initiative would facilitate reconciliation among Haitian victims of the dictatorship, and that it would proceed alongside current efforts to prosecute Duvalier in local courts. The former despot has been accused of torture, arbitrary detentions, rape, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions.

    During a four-day trip to Haiti, Kang met with government officials, including President Michel Martelly and the president of the lower chamber in Congress, as well as human rights groups and civil society organizations. She reminded them of the importance of human rights in the context of development and insisted on the importance of a truth commission. “I hope it will thoroughly examine this period of Haitian history as well as others, promote memory and reconciliation, and raise awareness of the need to protect and promote human rights, particularly among young persons,” she said.

    After being overthrown by a popular uprising in 1986, Duvalier fled to France, where he spent the last 25 years in exile. He returned to Haiti in January of this year, after which several criminal charges were brought against him. More than 20 lawsuits have been filed in local courts for crimes including murder, torture and embezzlement. Bobby Duval, a former soccer celebrity who favors the creation of a truth commission, is among the plaintiffs; he has spoken several times about the tortures he suffered during 17 months of imprisonment without charge.

    Duvalier’s lawyer, Reynold Georges, opposes the creation of a truth commission, arguing, “We have our own legal system, and we're going to stick to it. ... Love Duvalier or leave the country.” Additionally, in April, President Martelly told a Montreal newspaper that he would be willing to consider amnesty for Duvalier on the basis of national reconciliation. He has already reached out to Duvalier allies; Daniel Supplice, minister of social affairs under Duvalier, was the head of Martelly’s transition team and is among the candidates to become Martelly’s Prime Minister.

    Tags: United Nations, Haiti, Jean-Claude Duvalier, Human Rights in Haiti

  • Cuba Travel Restrictions in the Spotlight in Brooklyn and Beyond

    July 5, 2011

    by Matthew Aho

    On June 23, South Florida Congressman (and Appropriations Committee member) Mario Diaz-Balart successfully added an amendment to the 2012 Financial Services Appropriations Bill  that would nullify recent steps by President Obama to ease travel restrictions and money transfers to Cuba. The move—which would disproportionately affect constituents in Mr. Diaz-Balart’s own district, many of whom regularly visit family in Cuba—is the latest attempt by hardliners in Congress to block people-to-people contact and prevent Americans from traveling or sending money to Cuba.

    Although the amendment may be gutted before the bill’s final passage (this has been the fate of similar prior efforts), the tactic is a stark reminder that some in Congress still believe that the only way to facilitate democracy in Cuba is to prevent Americans from spending money there, where some of it inevitably winds up in Castro government coffers.

    Moderates disagree. Shortly after the measure passed, the Washington DC-based Cuba Study Group issued a statement condemning the amendment saying, “transitions from authoritarian rule in Eastern Europe, apartheid South Africa and even the Arab Spring…have proven that contact with the outside world has played a crucial role in promoting those changes.”

    There are numerous compelling arguments for freedom to travel. One often-raised belief is that the U.S. government shouldn’t be in the business of deciding where Americans can and cannot travel. U.S. citizens can travel to Iran and North Korea (far scarier adversaries by any objective measure)—just as we were allowed to travel to apartheid South Africa and the Soviet Union—so why not Cuba?

    Others think travel restrictions are a strategic blunder. If U.S. policy toward Cuba is designed to foment political transition, the thinking goes, then the soft-power punch dealt by iPod wielding Americans comingling on Havana’s famous Malecón far outweighs any profit the Cuban government derives from cash those gringos spend there.

    All of this aside, the simple reality is that ending the travel ban, which requires an act of Congress, is a political non-starter—at least through the end of 2012. It just won’t happen! And this raises an interesting question: Why are Diaz-Balart and his colleagues making such a tremendous fuss over low levels of family, academic and cultural travel?

    Even those of us who watch Cuba news closely struggle to understand this one.

    Read More

    Tags: Cuba, Barack Obama, Mario Diaz-Balart, Cuba Study Group, Brooklyn academy of music

  • Humala to Visit U.S. in Move to Strengthen Ties

    July 5, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Peruvian President-Elect Ollanta Humala will meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza and likely President Barack Obama—depending on Obama's schedule—in Washington DC on Wednesday.  The trip marks the first top-level contact between the United States and the president-elect, who will take power on July 28. The meetings will touch on Peru’s recent economic growth, the free-trade agreement with the U.S.—which Humala has publicly opposed—as well as joint efforts to combat drug trafficking.

    The visit marks an important step in continuing the strong relationship between the U.S. and Peru. As South America’s sixth-largest economy, Peru is currently leading the region’s economic boom with a projected 6.6 percent growth this year. A former army officer, Humala moderated many of his positions during the presidential campaign and has said that he’ll support sensible investments in the country’s natural resources, but “with respect for the rights and freedoms of the indigenous population and local community.”

    Prior to his U.S. trip, Humala completed a tour of South America where he met with the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay. The president-elect had also scheduled a visit to Venezuela which has been delayed to President Hugo Chávez’ current health conditions. Before arriving in Washington DC, he and his wife, Nadine Heredia, will first pass through Miami.

    Tags: Peru, Barack Obama, Washington DC, Ollanta Humala, Hila

  • What Georgia Stands to Lose Through Enactment Today of HB 87

    July 1, 2011

    by Jason Marczak

    Three years ago, I led efforts to bring together leaders from civil society and the public and private sectors to identify ways in which to expand the integration of immigrants and Latinos overall in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Today, July 1, marks a rather unceremonious change in how Georgia’s politicians have caved into anti-immigrant sentiment.

    The Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011—HB 87—is likely to not only drive out immigrants, but also restrain current and new investment and jobs.

    Back in 2008, the working group—comprised of both leaders from Atlanta and beyond— recognized the importance of the fast-growing Hispanic market and noted how integration of this constituency into the workforce is good for business. Michael Thurmond, the then-Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Labor, opened our meeting with a discussion of the contributions of Hispanics to Georgia’s economy both as laborers and as consumers. Hispanics, he said, represented $1.8 billion in buying power in Georgia. 

    Beginning with the construction boom around the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, immigrants have increasingly become a source for Georgian economic prosperity. These new laborers helped to build Centennial Olympic Park and other critical infrastructure for Georgia to host the Olympics and leap onto the world stage. Following the Olympics, between 1996 and 2004, an average of 71,414 homes were built in Georgia, as the Atlanta metropolitan area became a hub for real estate and construction.

    And, as Americas Society documented a few years ago in our white paper on Atlanta, although immigrants’ contributions are generally recognized, “a slowdown in economic growth and rising unemployment can shift public attitudes toward immigrants and generate concerns about their costs and the transformation of communities. This leads to social division and an unwelcome environment for Hispanics, including those who are legal residents or citizens.” Regrettably, this is exactly what has happened with today’s enactment of the anti-immigrant HB 87.

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  • Election for Governor of the State of Mexico and Implications for the 2012 Presidential Race

    July 1, 2011

    by P. Velasco and A. Saracho

    This Sunday, the citizens of the State of Mexico, the country’s most populous state, will elect a new governor. But Sunday’s election is more than just a state contest: it has the attention of the entire nation. The current governor, Enrique Peña Nieto of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), is the clear frontrunner for the 2012 presidential election and this weekend’s contest is seen as a test for him and his party.

    Every electoral poll published in the last three or four years has consistently noted the popularity of Peña Nieto. According to recent polls, if the elections were held today, the PRI would return to the presidency after 12 years of Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) governments. And this would happen by a wide margin.

    And this election is the first battle for the presidency. If the PRI wins, the popularity of  Peña Nieto and his party would be validated. But it is also an opportunity for the PAN and Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD), to beat Peña Nieto and PRI or, at least, to weaken his position. Indications are that Sunday will be a PRI victory: polling suggests that Peña Nieto and the PRI will win with a clear advantage –more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round.

    A victory would reinforce the PRI’s position as the strongest party in the country. It has won over significant governorships and some large cities or municipalities. What has made it so strong is being mostly united behind Enrique Peña’s presidential bid. In this sense they learned their lesson from the 2006 election where two main groups fought for the candidacy and ended up sending the PRI to third place.

    This time we shouldn’t expect this to happen.

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    Tags: Felipe Calderon, 2012 Mexico elections, Estado de Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, Eruviel Avila

  • Chávez Admits to Cancer

    July 1, 2011

    by AQ Online

    In the wake of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ address yesterday evening from Cuba in which he confirmed rumors of a battle with cancer, Venezuela’s army chief, General Henry Rangel Silva, is reaffirming the continued stability of the country.

    Gen. Silva said on Venezuelan state television that, “We have seen our comandante thinner than usual but still standing. The country is calm.” Venezuelan Vice President Elías Jaua assured the public that Chávez’ administration would remain united and robust, and would continue implementing the policies that Chávez has long championed.

    Chávez didn’t specify what type of cancer he has nor where the tumor that was surgically removed two weeks ago was located. He also didn’t provide an indication of when he would return from convalescence in Cuba. A regional summit on July 5 marking 200 years of Venezuelan independence—at which Chávez was scheduled to appear—has been postponed.

    Chávez’ governing from abroad—especially in less-than-perfect health—during his longest absence from Venezuela during his 12-year presidency has also raised charges of unconstitutionality. Yet, financial markets reacted positively to Chávez’ address, with Venezuela’s benchmark bond increasing by 2.0 points. 

    Tags: Cuba, Venezuela, Hugo Chavez

  • Will Bolivarianism Outlive Hugo Chávez? Unlikely

    July 1, 2011

    by Christopher Sabatini

    Now we know: President Hugo Chavez admitted last night that he has cancer.

    A lot hinges on his recovery.

    The debate - and fear - swirling around Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's absence demonstrates the institution-less condition that twelve years of his government have left Venezuela in. Where before his absence after June 10 left the country wondering about his condition, the news now of his battle with cancer has opposition and allies alike all-too aware of his fallibility--and worrying about the polarized country's future. His absence has left a vacuum in Venezuela underscoring a system that is not only incapable of selecting a replacement but also institutionally incapable of balancing competing (some of them criminal and potentially violent) elements within the government. The risk--not just now--is that even should he return to full health, Venezuela is fast becoming a failed state, held together by one sultanistic leader and the opposition's hatred of him.

    After his speech last night, the Vice President, Elias Jaua and others called for "maximum unity" in the Partido Unido Socialista de Venezuela (PSUV). That unity is likely to fray with President Chavez's uncertain recovery and his probable intermittent absence as he seeks treatment. Criminal elements within the regime are likely to pursue any means possible to avoid being revealed and relinquishing their nefarious and lucrative businesses. Already there are rumors of individuals within the government reaching out to segments of the opposition.

    The situation should be a reminder, not just to the U.S. whose policy on Venezuela has been adrift the last three years but also to Venezuela's neighbors that this regime--and the eventual transition to another leader (whenever and whoever that may be)--is not likely to follow the relatively smooth patterns of the democratic transitions of the 1980s. The U.S. and neighboring governments should see this as an opportunity to begin to lay plans for how to best deal the likely implosion of the Bolivarian government, in a way that should involve efforts to form a government of national unity and rebuild consensus and the rule of law in the polarized and politicized country.

    In the meantime, one of the worst things the opposition could do now is to try to force a confrontation with the government. In the past, the opposition engaged in a deluded and ultimately dangerous strategy of street politics--organizing mass protests as a sign of strength in the hopes of bringing down the government or provoking a violent reaction by elements within it. Unfortunately, on April 11, 2002 they got what they wanted--though at the cost of human life, Chavez came out the victor. Doing the same now could provoke a political crisis with dangerous consequences. Let's hope now that they have rediscovered the merits of competing in elections and have a number of new, fresh leaders that they use this opportunity to double down and focus on the presidential elections in 2012.

    Tags: Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, Cancer, 2012 elections

  • Georgia’s HB 87 Goes into Effect on July 1

    June 30, 2011

    by Daniel Altschuler

    In 2004, a film called “A Day Without a Mexican” explored a thought experiment: what would happen if all of California’s Mexican population suddenly vanished?  The “mockumentary” was based on the premise of a magical-realist pink fog that descends on the state and takes away all residents with blood ties to Mexico.  The result? The state’s economy grinds to a screeching halt.
     
    This year’s immigration fight is showing the prescience of this farcical film.  With states pushing draconian immigration measures to scare away undocumented immigrants, and congressional Republicans introducing additional enforcement measures with no offer of legalization for workers already here, we are beginning to see just how economically damaging these policies can be.  Nowhere is this truer than in Georgia, where farmers are finding it nearly impossible to replace the immigrant workers—not all Mexicans, to be sure—who are fleeing the state in fear of draconian new legislation.
     
    Georgia’s law, HB 87, mirrors provisions of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, by empowering local police officers to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of violating any law (including a traffic violation). Among other harsh provisions, the law also follows an earlier Arizona law by mandating that businesses use a federal electronic verification system (E-Verify) to check that all their workers have legal authorization. It also dictates sentences of up to 15 years for workers who use false identification to get hired.

    Read More

    Tags: Immigration, HB 87

  • Georgia’s HB 87 Goes into Effect on July 1

    June 30, 2011

    by Daniel Altschuler

    In 2004, a film called “A Day Without a Mexican” explored a thought experiment: what would happen if all of California’s Mexican population suddenly vanished?  The “mockumentary” was based on the premise of a magical-realist pink fog that descends on the state and takes away all residents with blood ties to Mexico.  The result? The state’s economy grinds to a screeching halt.
     
    This year’s immigration fight is showing the prescience of this farcical film.  With states pushing draconian immigration measures to scare away undocumented immigrants, and congressional Republicans introducing additional enforcement measures with no offer of legalization for workers already here, we are beginning to see just how economically damaging these policies can be.  Nowhere is this truer than in Georgia, where farmers are finding it nearly impossible to replace the immigrant workers—not all Mexicans, to be sure—who are fleeing the state in fear of draconian new legislation.
     
    Georgia’s law, HB 87, mirrors provisions of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, by empowering local police officers to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of violating any law (including a traffic violation). Among other harsh provisions, the law also follows an earlier Arizona law by mandating that businesses use a federal electronic verification system (E-Verify) to check that all their workers have legal authorization. It also dictates sentences of up to 15 years for workers who use false identification to get hired.

    Read More

    Tags: Immigration, HB 87

  • Presidential Candidacy of former Guatemalan First Lady Rejected

    June 30, 2011

    by AQ Online

    The Guatemalan Supreme Electoral Court yesterday ruled against Sandra Torres, ex-wife of President Álvaro Colom, in her bid to compete in the country’s September 11 presidential election. The court’s decision was based on legal fraud stemming from Torres’ divorce from Colom on March 11.

    The divorce was an effort to bypass a provision in the Guatemalan constitution that bars close relatives of a former president from taking power. Aimed at limiting autocratic rule, the clause dates back to Guatemala’s transition to democracy in the mid-1980s. According to Deputy Christian Boussinot of Torres’ Coalicion de la Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza y la Gran Alianza Nacional (National Unity of Hope—UNE), the party plans to appeal the decision.
     
    Even before the Court’s decision, Torres was trailing behind her presidential rival, former army general and Partido Patriota (Patriot Party) candidate Otto Pérez Molina, by 27 percentage points in an exit poll of 230,000 voters conducted by Prensa Libre and released yesterday. Given the high levels of insecurity in Guatemala, Pérez Molina’s military background and anti-crime platform make him a popular candidate. If Torres had been allowed to run and won the election, she would have become Guatemala’s first female president.

    Tags: Álvaro Colom, Otto Perez Molina, Guatemala elections, Sandra Torres

  • Republicans Play Politics with their Own Trade Agenda

    June 30, 2011

    by Christopher Sabatini

    On Monday this week, the White House finally sent to Congress for approval the free-trade agreements (FTAs) with South Korea, Panama and Colombia.  The Senate Finance Committee is already tackling the legislation by holding today a “mock” markup of all three implementation bills. Only this time, after President Barack Obama re-negotiated key provisions of the agreements to please segments of the Democratic base, it isn’t President Obama or his labor cohorts that are putting trade expansion at risk—but the Republicans in Congress.

    Included in the FTAs sent to the Hill this week is a provision for continued funding of trade adjustment assistance (TAA). Designed to provide support for U.S. workers hurt by foreign trade, TAA has been a part of every trade bill since the 1960s, making it easier for Democratic representatives to vote in favor of trade by avoiding the charge that they were coldly placing global economic concerns over the interests of domestic labor.

    Now, though, Congressional Republicans have decided to use TAA as a symbol of their zeal to cut public spending. Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative John Boehner have stated their intent to separate it from the vote on the FTAs—a move that will complicate Democratic support. The targeting of TAA as an example of economically damaging profligacy, though, is spurious; the budget for TAA is only estimated to account for $1 billion. This amounts to a drop in the bucket compared to the $13 billion of new exports that the FTAs are expected to generate for the U.S. economy.

    Moreover, the tactic represents political cynicism at its worse.  Since the agreements were originally negotiated under the George W. Bush administration, Republicans have derided Democrats as hurting American jobs and betraying U.S. allies when they have balked at supporting them.  They were right then.  But at the time they were negotiated, it was reasonable to expect—on the part of Republicans and Democrats alike—that TAA would be part of the package, as it has been for decades. Now, Republicans are changing the game. If they insist on sticking to their new rules, they will be the ones who will hurt the U.S. economy, U.S. workers and abandon U.S. allies who committed to an FTA under a Republican president.

    *Christopher Sabatini is editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly and senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.

    Tags: Colombia, Panama, Free Trade

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    June 29, 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.

    Long-Awaited Colombia, Panama FTAs Advance

    Max Baucus (D-MT), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, announced this week that on June 30 a “mock” markup would take place of the draft implementing bills of pending U.S. trade pacts with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. The move, involving negotiations between Republican legislators and the White House, could clear the way for approval of the three long-awaited bilateral pacts. Still, objections remain over the fact that the Obama administration tied it to a renewal of the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which provides aid to U.S. workers affected by global trade. Some Democratic legislators are pressing for the TAA to be separated from the trade-deal package.

    Summit Meeting in Venezuela Canceled Because of Chávez’s Poor Health

    Venezuela canceled the summit meeting of Latin American and Caribbean leaders today planned for July 5 due to the poor state of President Hugo Chávez’s health, Brazilian diplomatic sources told A Folha de São Paulo. The news came a day after Venezuelan state media released a video of Chávez speaking with former Cuban head of state Fidel Castro in an attempt to silence rumors that the Venezuelan leader had fallen into a coma. The rumor mill continues to churn, however, as Chávez remains in Cuba after over two weeks recuperating from what authorities say was surgery on a pelvic abscess. Chávez has only spoken to the media once, by telephone, since the surgery and the authorities have yet to release detailed information about his health. Meanwhile, Chávez’s brother Adán set off a flurry of media attention when he told a prayer meeting in the state of Barinas, where he is governor, that Chávez supporters should not discard armed struggle as a means to enact their revolutionary program. 

    Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the challenges Venezuela faces as Chávez convalesces.

    Read More

    Tags:

  • Security in Central America: A Glimmer of Hope

    June 29, 2011

    by Jason Marczak

    No longer can policymakers ignore the grim reality of the level of violence in the seven countries that comprise the Central American isthmus. The situation today evoke comparisons of the homicide rates that many countries experienced at the height of their armed conflicts—a time of violence that all had hoped would remain in the past.

    The numbers are staggering. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Central America’s homicide rate tops 33 murders per 100,000 people, making it the most violent area of not just Latin America, but also the world. In fact, the region’s homicide rate is more than four times the global average. The situation is particularly troubling when it comes to the region’s youth; 39 of every 100,000 young people age 15 to 24 years old will fall victim to murder each year.

    Increasing international attention and assistance to the region is certainly a very welcome development. Last week, Central America's heads of state along with the presidents of Mexico and Colombia and other international observers decamped to Guatemala City for the International Conference in Support of the Central American Security Strategy organized by the Central American Integration System (SICA). In a region where divisions often bubble to the surface, the leaders’ resolve to jointly tackle insecurity was perhaps one of the conference’s biggest achievements.

    Read More

    Tags: Central America, Security, Crime, Youth

  • Hopes for Approval of U.S. FTAs with Colombia and Panama

    June 29, 2011

    by AQ Online

    The White House announced yesterday that a major hurdle had been cleared for bringing the free-trade agreements (FTAs) signed with Colombia, Panama and South Korea more than five years ago to Congress for a vote. This happened after the administration reached an agreement with House Republicans about Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA)—the program that helps American workers who have lost their jobs to overseas trade and increased competition return to work.

    TAA was last in the spotlight in February of this year when amendments enacted in 2009 to expand the program expired. A vote to extend those changes was postponed in February because Republicans questioned the cost of the bill, arguing that the program would cost $620 million for the remainder of 2011 and $6.5 billion over the next 10 years. On the other hand, Democrats insist that trade agreements cannot be discussed before there is a decision on the benefits program. Last year $975,320,800 in federal funds was allocated to states under the TAA program, and 227,882 U.S. workers received TAA benefits and services.

    A sign that the FTAs may be on their way to approval is the decision by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Finance Committee, to hold a “mock” markup of the draft implementing bills of the three FTAs tomorrow. In addition to the FTAs and TAA, the session will cover the extension of the Generalized System of Preferences and Andean Trade Preference and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA). As the Finance Committee explained in a press release yesterday, “these programs lower costs for U.S. manufacturers importing from developing countries and give developing countries duty-free access to the U.S. market for certain products.”

    Given that the FTAs were submitted under fast-track procedures—which at the time allowed former President George W. Bush to negotiate agreements that Congress could merely approve or disapprove—mock markups are the only opportunity legislators have to suggest amendments to the administration’s proposals.

    Despite evidence demonstrating the positive economic impact the FTAs with Colombia and Panama would have on the U.S. economy, a difficult political environment has hindered their passage. Before TAA expired, debate over the FTAs was stalled on the basis of unionists’ rights in Colombia—a powerful argument at the time of the 2008 presidential elections.

    Tags: Free Trade, U.S.-Colombia FTA, Trade Adjustment Assistance, U.S.-Panama FTA

  • Canada’s New Foreign Minister Doubles Down in Libya

    June 29, 2011

    by Huguette Young

    Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s management of Canada’s foreign policy has been widely criticized in recent months—particularly after the embarrassing loss of its seat on the UN Security Council in October 2010. Yet, having recently secured a comfortable parliamentary majority in Canada’s May 2 elections, Mr. Harper and his Conservative Party colleagues appear poised to take a more assertive stance on global affairs.

    The first substantial indicator of this departure from its foreign policy status-quo was Canada’s June 14 announcement that the Harper administration had formally decided to side with the Libyan rebel forces instead of the embattled Qadhafi government.

    As part of an “enhanced engagement strategy,” Canada has chosen to recognize the National Transitional Council of Libya (NTC) as the “legitimate representative of the Libyan people going forward,” said newly appointed Foreign Minister John Baird in an announcement to the House of Commons. Baird also promised that he would meet NTC representatives in their stronghold city of Benghazi (a promise he fulfilled on Monday) and that Canada’s response against Colonel Muammar Qadhafi’s regime would be robust.

    “After three months of energetic diplomatic, military and humanitarian engagement, the world’s resolve to protect the civilians of Libya against attacks and threats of attacks from the Qadhafi regime has not faded,” Baird continued in his address. “It is gaining momentum. But our work is far from over. And so we must look at doing more in terms of humanitarian aid. We must continue our military assault on Qadhafi’s command and control centers.”

    Calling for a “full and impartial investigation,” Baird also said he was disgusted by reports that the Libyan regime was using torture and sexual violence against the Libyan population.

    Mr. Baird’s nomination to lead the foreign ministry came as a surprise when it was announced. Known as the “pit bull” of Parliament due to his scrappy and aggressive tone, Baird replaced then-Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon, who was defeated in the Conservative Party’s parliamentary sweep in May. Thus far, Baird has been deft in addressing difficult questions during the daily question-and-answer sessions in Parliament and appears to be sticking to his promise to “fight hard for what I believe in.”

    Canada’s recognition of the NTC certainly reflects Baird’s position, as has his endorsement of a 90-day extension of Canada’s participation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-led military campaign in Libya. And Parliament appears to agree with the Harper administration position—with the only dissenting voice coming from Member of Parliament Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party.

    With Canadian forces retreating from Afghanistan in July, the Libyan conflict now tops Canada’s foreign affairs agenda. Last year’s humiliating defeat at the United Nations Security Council was a blow to Canada’s international standing. It now seems Harper is taking steps to turn things around.

    *Huguette Young is an AQ Online contributing blogger based in Ottawa, Canada.

    Tags: Canada, Stephen Harper, John Baird

  • Human Trafficking Persists in Latin America, Report Finds

    June 28, 2011

    by AQ Online

    The U.S. Department of State yesterday released its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which evaluates states’ actions to combat human trafficking around the world. The 2011 report shows an increase over 2010 in the number of countries that fail to take adequate steps to prevent human trafficking. In Latin America, Venezuela joined Cuba on a list of Tier 3 violators—a status given to countries that do not make sufficient efforts to address the problem.

    Of 13 states cited for insufficient action in last year’s report, the Dominican Republic is the only country to be reclassified due to progress. In April, 2011 Dominican President Leonel Fernandez met with leaders of the U.S. armed services’ Southern Command to develop a plan for an Antinarcotics War Coordination Center—to be headquartered in the Dominican Republic—which will also combat human trafficking in the Caribbean.

    The report also honors ten individuals for their extraordinary efforts in the fight against human trafficking. Two TIP Report “Heroes” hailed from Latin America: Leonel Dubon, founder of El Refugio de la Niñez (Children’s Refuge House), a Guatemalan NGO that provides shelter to underage sex-trafficking victims and human trafficking specialist Dilcya Garcia, a former deputy prosecutor in Mexico City’s Attorney General Office.

    The TIP Report was first published in 2001 following the passage in the United States of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000. Its classification system also includes Tier 2 countries, which do not currently meet TVPA standards but are making significant progress, and Tier 1 countries—like the U.S.—that are fully compliant with anti-human trafficking standards. Of the 184 countries evaluated in 2010, 23 were given the lowest, Tier 3, designation.

    Tags: Human Rights, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, human trafficking

  • Fernández de Kirchner Selects Economy Minister as Running Mate

    June 27, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Three days after announcing her re-election bid, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK) revealed the selection of Amado Boudou, the current economy minister, as her running mate in the October 23 election. Boudou, 47, is one of the cabinet’s most charismatic members and observers believe that his age will help court young voters.

    Boudou is also popular among the electorate for his accomplishments in public office. Prior to his current post, he was in charge of Argentina’s pension funds. During this period—the nadir of the global recession—Boudou was instrumental in advocating for the nationalization of privatized pension funds. He remains adamant that Argentina’s inflation rate, hovering near 25 percent, is not an issue—instead pointing to the economy’s growth rate of 9.1 percent during the first four months of 2011.  

    The selection of Boudou was welcomed by kirchneristas as he belongs to CFK’s Peronist Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV)—unlike incumbent Vice President Julio Cobos, who belongs to the opposition Unión Cívica Radical (Radical Civic Union—UCR). CFK and Cobos have frequently clashed and barely speak to each other.

    In a poll taken last week, CFK led the field of candidates with 47 percent support. If a candidate receives at least 45 percent of the vote in October, s/he wins the presidency and a runoff is avoided.

    Tags: Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Julio Cobos, 2011 Argentina Elections, Amado Boudou

  • In Mexico, Women Protest Against Sexual Violence

    June 24, 2011

    by Isabelle Schäfer

    Last week, about 2,500 people—spanning all genders and ages—participated in La Marcha de las Putas (Slutwalk) along Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma to demonstrate against sexual harassment and violence.

    One of the protestors, Adela Muñiz, stood in the middle of the promenade dressed in a short skirt, high heels and a red blouse. Muñiz was holding a wooden cross with slogans in Spanish such as “Enough,” “No more aggressions,” and “#Marchadelasputas”—the latter denoting the hashtag on Twitter. Other demonstrators were chanting “Ni putas, ni santas—sólo mujeres” (Not sluts nor saints—just women).

    The wooden cross, according to Muñiz, symbolizes women’s victimhood of verbal and physical aggression, and how that aggression has led to many dead and missing women. Events like La Marcha de las Putas are intended to convey that these assault victims should never be blamed for any act of sexual violence.

    “[The pejorative word] ‘whore’ is the pretext that sexual harassers use [to commit their crimes],” said Minerva Valenzuela, a cabaret actress and organizer of the Slutwalk. “We [women] got used to thinking that we are being harassed because it is our fault. We think for example: ‘It’s my fault, I shouldn’t have worn this skirt.’”

    The first Slutwalk began in Toronto, Canada, after a police representative said that—in order to avoid victimization—women should refrain from dressing like “sluts.” Valenzuela heard about the Canadian demonstration from a friend, asked that friend to blog about the topic and looked into organizing a similar event in Mexico. After registering initial support through her network of friends, an open Facebook invitation that Valenzuela initiated soon ballooned to over 10,000 participants.

    Read More

    Tags: Mexico, Women's rights

  • Haiti Overhauls Adoption Procedures

    June 24, 2011

    by AQ Online

    Haitian President Michel Martelly on Thursday announced that he intends to ratify the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption, which sets forth guidelines and procedures governing international adoptions and mandates that all adoptions be processed by government-recognized agencies.

    The announcement was made after a summit in Port-au-Prince that brought together representatives from ten adoption-destination countries to discuss efforts to revamp Haiti’s adoption laws.  Problems with Haiti’s adoption laws entered the international spotlight following numerous incidents in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, including one occasion in which a group of U.S. missionaries were accused of kidnapping 33 children from Haiti under the guise of adoption.

    Prior to the earthquake, in 2007, UNICEF reported that there were approximately 380,000 orphans in Haiti—a number that has surely increased in recent years.

    Tags: Haiti, adoption, Michele Martelly

  • Secretary of State Clinton Visits Central America

    June 23, 2011

    by AQ Online

    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Guatemala yesterday for a meeting of regional leaders as part of an International Conference of Support for the Central American Security Strategy. Also attending are numerous heads of state from the region and other officials, such as Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank.

    During an announcement earlier today, Secretary Clinton pledged U.S. support totaling $300 million (up 10 percent from 2010) to combat drug trafficking, crime and associated violence. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos—speaking from vast experience in dealing with insecurity issues—told his Central American counterparts, “Drug trafficking brought our country to its knees…But we stood back up.”

    Clinton’s visit comes on the heels of President Obama’s March trip to El Salvador, during which he reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to stability in the region. Total cost estimates for regional security measures are estimated to be nearly $900 million but, as Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom said, “for us, it is the difference between life and death.”

    Tags: Guatemala, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Insecurity

  • Mexico Lowers the Bar on Education

    June 23, 2011

    by Arjan Shahani

    It’s a common challenge in all of Latin America: run-down public school systems are insufficient, inadequate and outdated. Specifically in Mexico, negligence regarding education has widened the divide between the nation’s poorest and richest, leaving little hope for children graduating from public schools actually making a name for themselves and growing out of poverty. Mexico spends a larger portion of its GDP (about 5 percent) than countries like Uruguay, Chile and China, but it’s not about the amount of money spent. It’s the quality of education provided.

    Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education (SEP) continues taking one step forward and two steps back in this regard, mainly hindered by its inability to negotiate with the ever-combatant teacher’s union (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, or SNTE) which has become a mob of ramblers who’ve taken education hostage. 

    The most recent news regarding the eroding quality of our school system is an agreement reached by the SEP and SNTE on filling new teaching positions. This year the Ministry of Education and the SNTE (led by Elba Esther Gordillo) declared that candidates will be eligible to become teachers if they pass a meager 30 percent of questions on the Examen Nacional de Habilidades y Conocimientos Docentes (National Test on Teaching Skills and Knowledge).

    Ironically students in Mexico need to get 70 percent or higher to pass each subject. This, however, does not seem to bother José García, a member of the Comisión Rectora de la Alianza por la Calidad de la Educación (Guiding Commission of the Alliance for the Quality of Education) of the SNTE, who blatantly defends the policies. “It’s the students who need to show they know to subject matter, not the teachers,” he says. Crazy as this may sound.

    Read More

    Tags: Mexico, Education

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    June 22, 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.

    Argentine President Announces Reelection Bid

    Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced Tuesday she will run for reelection in October. Fernández, who has led Argentina since 2007, stated her decision was based on “a strong sense of political and personal responsibility.” Given her current high popularity, many analysts see her as well placed to win reelection. 

    Sec. Clinton Joins CentralAm Leaders at Guatemalan Security Summit

    In a trip aimed at supporting Central American efforts to rein in drug cartels, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will head the U.S. delegation to Guatemala City for the Central American Integration System’s summit on security, kicking off June 22. Assistant Secretary of State for Hemispheric Affairs Arturo Valenzuela and Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield will also attend and will meet with seven regional presidents, including heads of state from Central America, Colombia, and Mexico. The United States has already pledged $200 million to support security initiatives in Central America and is not expected to pledge additional funds at the summit. 

    In a related story, The Washington Post takes an in-depth look at security challenges faced at the porous Guatemalan-Mexican border.  

    Read More

    Tags: El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala, Argentina, IMF, Kirchner, Hilary Clinton, Drug War. Mexico Central Bank, Venezuala Electricity

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