When songwriter Billy Joel penned this classic song about New York City, it had a big nostalgic overtone. In short, it is very hard to be away from New York City for long. The new Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, has sounded a similar tone about New York State and its past leadership role among the 50 states—a time when the Empire State was the “go-to” state and not a “move-from” state.
With statistics at hand, the Governor pointed a somber picture of where New York State is and convincingly argued that the state was at a crossroads. Lagging behind in economic development, healthcare performance, education results on a national level and along with the highest taxation in the nation, he has argued for reinventing, reorganizing and redesigning the state and its government. He has also promised to make the necessary cuts—about $10 billion—in the next budget, due within a few weeks. Finally, he has sounded a realistic tone that clearly indicated that his program and agenda were not a short term, quick fix approach. Rather, it would require an effort over the long haul and would involve both the executive and legislative branches of the government.
It is heady stuff. Using impressive technological support and an unconventional venue, Cuomo demonstrated to his audience at his swearing-in ceremony a command of the situation, and more importantly, he engaged his most crucial partners, Assembly Speaker and fellow Democrat, Sheldon Silver, and new Senate Republican Majority Leader, Dean Skelos in the exercise. The message was clear: we are all on the same ship sailing in one direction.
At the swearing in, both Speaker Silver and Senate Majority Leader Skelos struck a tone of cooperation and promised to work together looking for common solutions, encouraging bipartisanship, and displaying a firm commitment to work beyond the partisan divide. The bar will be high and there will be many difficult choices ahead, but for the over 2,000 people present in the Albany State Convention Center, it marked a new beginning and indicated new opportunities to turn things around.
Cuomo closed his first remarks as governor by reminding the audience that New York State was once the beacon for problem solving and innovation. This was his “New York state of mind” moment. While it is too early to predict how all this will turn out, it was a moment of attention and encouragement that New Yorkers seem to have longed for many years. Just that in itself makes it a good start for the new administration and legislature, and a moment to savor for our New York friends.
*John Parisella is a guest blogger to AQ Online. He is Québec's Delegate General in New York, the province's top ranking position in the United States.
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.
Baby Doc Faces Corruption Charges in Haiti
Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier returned to Haiti on Sunday 25 years after going into exile. He was arrested Tuesday. The former dictator, accused of presiding over the killing and torturing of thousands of Haitians, now faces embezzlement and corruption charges. International human rights defenders have also called for the Haitian courts to prosecute Duvalier over the allegations of violence committed during his dictatorship. Duvalier’s sudden return sparked rumors that the U.S. and French governments might somehow be involved (both deny the claims) and fueled unsubstantiated speculation that ousted leftist president Jean Aristide may also be planning to come back to Haiti.
Death Toll Rises above 700 in Brazilian Floods
Heavy rains outside Rio de Janeiro devastated hilltop communities, killed more than 700 people, and left another 14,000 homeless. The floods struck on the anniversary of the January 12 Haitian earthquake, raising debates and comparisons about response. President Dilma Rousseff and Rio de Janeiro state Governor Sérgio Cabral said lax enforcement of housing codes worsened the destruction. The World Band committed to lending Brazil $485 million in to aid relief efforts and the Rousseff administration has moved ahead with plans to create a national disaster alert system. O Globo offers a photo gallery of the areas affected by the catastrophe.
Rousseff Reassesses Jet Deal
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff appears to be rethinking the purchase of 36 Rafale jet fighters from French company Dassault—a deal nearly concluded by her predecessor Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva. Rousseff’s decision to reevaluate the finalists for the $4 billion defense contract put the U.S. company Boeing back in the running, though Rousseff reportedly wants Boeing to provide additional technology-transfer guarantees.
The Secretaría de Educación Pública or SEP (Ministry of Education) in Mexico has traditionally been known for being slow, over-bureaucratized and square-minded. Low quality levels are reflected year after year through a series of international comparative studies. One need only consult the results of the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) to see in disgust how Mexico’s constant is to come up last in the OCDE countries year after year.
Vidal Garza, a friend and editorialist for a major newspaper in Mexico, writes that the problem is even more apparent when you look at the amount of money we spend on our public schools: “Mexico invests 5 percent of its GDP on public education. The average annual expense per student in elementary school is $1,604, yet we fare deficiently in PISA. We do worse than Uruguay, Chile and China, which actually spend a lot less per student.”
To make things worse, The SEP (and Mexico as a whole) is in a constant battle with the SNTE, Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, a corrupt teacher’s union that promotes strikes and teacher absenteeism as a the means to advance a political agenda. SNTE has filled our public schools with undedicated, unqualified and mediocre people who should not even have the honor of being called “teacher.” Granted, this is a generalization but a real one. I have met a couple of very good teachers in the public system; unfortunately today they are a rare breed.
It is no secret that we need to improve productivity in terms of education in Mexico. That’s why I was pleased to see a spark of progressive thinking on the part of SEP when I learned that they will be instituting a program to identify overachievers and children with higher intellectual proficiency in elementary schools with the intent to “credit, promote and advance them” in an accelerated manner. For example, if a child in 3rd grade shows the intellectual capacity of a 6th grader, the program will identify, prepare and eventually advance him/her to a 6th grade classroom. SEP estimates that around 10 percent to 15 percent of kids could benefit from this program.
Argentina’s wine exports to the United States increased 12 percent in the 2009-2010 period, overtaking Chile as the fourth-largest wine supplier to the U.S. market. Italy, France and Australia hold the top three spots. Total exports exceeded $222 million in 2010 compared to $210 million for U.S.-directed Chilean exports. Total foreign sales of Argentine wine topped $860 million in 2010 overcoming poor numbers in 2009 when a low harvest blamed on bad weather forced Argentina to import Chilean wine to meet domestic demand.
The increase in sales has been largely attributed to the economic conditions in the U.S., which have forced consumers to look for alternatives to more expensive European wines. Top among them is Argentina’s Malbec variety according to vintner Jose Zuccardi. Further hurting Chilean wine exporters is the appreciation of the Chilean peso.
Argentina is now the world’s fifth-largest wine producer, ninth-largest exporter and the seventh-largest consumer. In fact, Argentines consume more than three-quarters of their total domestic wine production which contributes US$2.63 billion—an industry that yields $2.63 billion in sales and employs nearly 400,000 people.
Political institutions tend to respond slowly in adapting to challenges. Longstanding problems typically arise and evolve long before policymakers and government officials are able to identify them. And when they do, they are generally ill-equipped to devise proposals to solving these problems. One of the more telling examples is happening in Colombia—where not only the mining industry is impacted but strategic assets like water are being put at risk.
Colombia is the largest coal producer in Latin America, and after Venezuela and Brazil, the third-largest for crude oil. The exploitation of gold, silver and rare earth minerals such as coltan (a combination of columbite and tantalite) is growing exponentially. Must of this activity is driven by foreign direct investment (FDI); between 2008 and 2009 alone, the percentage of investments in mining projects out of all FDI skyrocketed from 17 percent to 43 percent—from $1.8 billion to $3.1 billion. The figure is expected to further increase in 2010.
But environmentalists are concerned about the booming mining sector. “Mining is a high-risk industry growing in Colombia at an exorbitant rate while national environmental institutions that are meant to regulate it are in their weakest shape in 15 years,” notes Guillermo Rudas, a researcher at the Universidad Externado de Colombia. Rudas’ study maps the evolution of land with mining titles and land requested for mining in the last 20 years. He notes that from 2002-2010 areas with mining titles boomed from 2.8 million acres to 21 million acres. Despite this trend, Rudas notes that the budget relative to GDP for Colombia’s environmental agencies was three times larger in 1994 than in 2010.
This fiscal disconnect takes a serious and unique toll. Despite its relatively small size, Colombia is ranked among the most biologically diverse countries in the world. Its rich ecosystems range from tropical rainforests to high-altitude moorlands to the open sabana valley of ponds and wetlands. This means that the success of the mining industry has a lasting imprint on Colombia’s ecology. Mining involves heavy machinery, enormous need of water, extensive soil removal and tree removal, massive usage of toxic chemicals, and opening new roads in naturally-protected areas. It also poses unprecedented health risks to workers and local populations.
Colombia needs clear legal frameworks, reliable information, strong regulations, and well-financed environmental institutions. But none of these seem to be happening.
No member of “The Worst of the Worst”—a list put together by George Ayittey for Foreign Policy—would be expected to address the legislature of his country with an open attitude and with calls for democratic dialogue. “The Worst of the Worst” is a list of the world's tyrants, autocrats and dictators. Prominent members include, among others, North Korea's Kim Jong Il, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, Sudan's Omar al-Bashir (indicted by the International Criminal Court), Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus, Europe's last and only dictator.
But just recently, while addressing Venezuela's National Assembly, President Hugo Chávez, a member of the list, spoke with a tone of reconciliation, made repeated calls for dialogue with the opposition and even pledged to end in five months the 18-month special decree powers conferred to him by the Assembly in December 2010.
What does this say about the nature of Chávez' regime? Ayittey included Chávez in the list for having “...jailed opposition leaders, extended term limits indefinitely, and closed independent media.” All of that is true. But at the same time, it's true that all this has been done in a way that makes Chávez quite different from most members of the list.
While it's true that opposition leaders have been persecuted, it's also true that opposition parties are permitted in Venezuela, and are in fact very vocal and active. It's true that Chávez sought (and got) indefinite re-election. But at the same time, it's true that he has won a number of elections that are presumed fair, since no credible evidence of fraud has ever been presented. Chávez did even allow international observation at some of these elections.
Talks between government officials and local leaders on Monday failed to end protests over an increase in natural gas prices in the south of Chile. Chile's Mining and Energy Minister Laurence Golborne travelled to the regional capital of Punta Arenas to offer a limit on the price increase to 3 percent, an improvement from the 17 percent originally estimated, and to continue subsidies for poor families. But the concessions were not sufficient to appease the demonstrators.
The protests began last week when Chile's state-owned national petroleum company (Enap) decided to reduce local subsidies beginning in February, causing the spike in gas prices. Gas is of particular concern to the residents of southern Chile, where the artic temperatures require more household heating than in other regions of the country.
Demonstrators have been blocking roads and ports, leaving hundreds of tourists stranded last week, though many have since managed to leave the region. The Chilean government is considering using state security if protests continue.
Over the course of my week in Cartagena, I have become more steeped in the language, culture and attitudes of Colombians. It seems fitting, then, that the last music concerts I attended at the Festival Internacional de Música were distinctly rooted in Colombian traditions and modern identities, rather than the classical music of Europe. As much as the festival may cater to an international audience, on Thursday and Friday the spotlight was on Colombia and its next generation of musicians.
At the beginning of Thursday evening’s concert, which took place in the by-now-familiar Plaza San Pedro Claver, the festival’s artistic director Stephen Prutsman appeared on stage. “Tonight you can show your emotion for the music,” he told the audience. “This is no ordinary classical music concert.” To make sure they understood his meaning, he then led them in a practice round of applause.
They did. Thursday evening’s concert, entitled Colombia Mágica (Magical Colombia), drew standing ovations and pleas for encore performances. One group it featured was the Guafa Trio, which—founded in 1998—was one of the first groups to combine classical music’s technical rigor with instruments and traditions native to Colombia. With the high, airy notes of the flute and earthy, sensual beats of the base (contrabajo), Guafa Trio’s music immediately called to mind folkloric tunes of the Andes.
The concert also featured Marta Gómez, a singer/songwriter who is originally from Cali. Wearing a long black dress under a bright yellow shawl, her black hair neatly parted and slicked back in a tight bun, Gómez made for a striking presence on stage even before she began singing. Accompanied by musicians from across South America and even Russia, her voice strong and charged with emotion (reminding me alternately of Mercedes Sosa, Enya and Alanis Morissette), and her hips swaying naturally to the music, Marta Gómez hypnotized the audience. They held their breaths during her melancholy solos, clapped enthusiastically to the beat of her cumbia, and cried for more when it was all over.
Marta Gómez y su grupo performing at the Plaza San Pedro Claver. Photo courtesy of Joshua Z Weinstein.
Rather than focus on crafting real solutions to our broken immigration system, legislators have started the new year again playing politics. Last week, on the first day of Congress, Representative Steve King (IA) introduced the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2011 (HR 140) as legislators from Arizona, Georgia, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina also unveiled their plans to introduce local measures to create state-by-state, two-tiered citizenship categories. Nine other states also intend to introduce similar bills this year. Neither of these proposals should be part of the answer to the
The King bill made it onto the list of the first 150 pieces of legislation to be introduced in the new session of the House of Representatives. What about the economy or jobs? Only four job-related bills (HR 72, HR 117, HR 132, and HR 133) were introduced before Mr. King’s bill and none have come close to gathering the 33 cosponsors that the King bill can already count on. Actually, each of these bills has zero to one cosponsor at the time of this post. Instead, 33 Members of Congress chose to focus part of their attention on a bill that would restrict citizenship to only those children with parents where one of whom is either: “a U.S. citizen or national; a lawful permanent resident alien whose residence is in the United States; or an alien performing active service in the U.S. Armed Forces.”
Supporters of restricting citizenship cite the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” in the 14th Amendment—adopted in 1868 to allow former slaves to become
At least 511 people have been reported killed since Wednesday by mudslides and flooding in Brazil’s deadliest natural disaster in recent memory. Heavy precipitation over the past few days is now predicted to continue in the coming weeks, threatening further damage and hindering rescue efforts in the states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
The cities of Petropolis, Teresopolis and Nova Friburgo—all located in a mountainous region about 40 miles north of Rio de Janeiro—were the hardest hit as rain swelled rivers and swept away houses. With the death toll rising, authorities and experts have already begun assigning blame for what are perceived as inadequate rescue efforts and insufficient preparation for floods, which have become increasingly common in Brazil.
“There is carelessness at every level of government,” says Gil Castello Branco, secretary general of Contas Abertas, a group that monitors government spending. Although annual flooding is common in southeastern Brazil, the federal budget for disaster prevention and preparation measures dropped 18 percent in 2010, says Mr. Castello Branco.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Rio de Janeiro Governor Sergio Cabral, however, cite poor oversight by municipal authorities who allow people to build houses on hillsides vulnerable to landslides. Mr. Cabral said 18,000 people lived in high risk areas in the city of Rio de Janeiro alone. Ms. Rousseff concurred, saying “mountains untouched by men dissolved. But we also saw areas in which illegal occupation caused damage to the health and lives of people…When there aren't housing policies, where are people who earn no more than twice the minimum wage going to live?"
(An English version of this post is forthcoming.)
A edição de 13 dezembro de 2010 da Revista Época trouxe como manchete uma análise sobre os 100 mais influentes brasileiros do ano. Com cinco opções de capa, a revista dá ao leitor a opção de comprar a versão com a presidente Dilma Rousseff; a do cineasta José Padilha, diretor dos filmes Tropa de Elite 1 e 2; com o empresário Eike Batista, considerado a 8ª pessoa mais rica do mundo e finalmente a capa com o jogador santista Neymar Júnior. Mas, o que de fato chama a atenção não é o recurso publicitário acima mencionado, e sim o fato de que praticamente não há negros nessa edição especial.
Com exceção da ex-ministra Marina Silva, fenômeno das últimas eleições presidenciais, e do jogador Neymar, que ocupa a tradicional parcela de negros no campo das celebridades futebolística, todos os outros 98 escolhidos pela equipe da revista são brancos. Como disse certa vez, em entrevista, o ator negro Milton Gonçalves, “nós não estamos na fotografia do poder”.
Pela lógica da revista , a população negra brasileira deve, portanto, contentar-se em ler histórias de sucesso de seus patrícios não-negros e ícones do Brasil que “deu certo”, como a de Eduardo Saverin, bilionário, co-fundador do Facebook, de apenas 28 anos; David Neeleman, que colocou a companhia Azul em terceiro lugar no mercado de aviação brasileiro; de Alexandre Behring, que comprou ações da empresa americana Burger King - reforçando a nova imagem do capitalismo brasileiro no mercado Global - além de tantos outros “euro-ascendentes” que contribuíram para o desenvolvimento do Brasil em 2010. Até na música, tradicional reduto negro na mídia, sobrou para os cantores negros Margareth Menezes e Carlinhos Brown apenas fazerem comentários elogiosos sobre Ivete Sangalo e a roqueira Pitty, respectivamente.
Como se vê, se tomarmos apenas essa reportagem como referencial, conclui-se que o Brasil termina a última década de século XX como se estivesse ainda no século XIX: sem negros nos espaços de poder, apesar da retórica conservadora de que somos uma democracia racial.
Julia Salvi, a native of Colombia, recalls bringing her Italian husband Victor to Cartagena for the first time, around early 2005: “Of course he loved it right away, and started thinking about what he could do here. When other people were thinking about buying houses, he was thinking about buying a theater,” she chuckles.
It might sound crazy, but the Salvis, who own a harp-making business, were contemplating a new musical venture that would have a philanthropic component. Although their name isn’t on any theater in Cartagena, the changes they have brought to the city are indelible. With the inaugural Festival Internacional de Música in 2007, Julia and Victor Salvi established the Fundación Victor Salvi to promote the music industry and the musical development of youth in Colombia. Julia is now the president of the Salvi Foundation.
At the beginning, the festival was funded entirely by the Salvis. Over the past five years, however, it has grown very quickly, expanding its funding base alongside the growing numbers of participants, concerts and educational activities, This year, it met its budget of $5 million primarily through in-kind and cash support from corporations, private foundations and individual donations. Financial support from the federal and local government is minimal, consisting of a $100,000 donation from the government of the City of Cartagena and a $15,000 grant from the Ministry of Culture. “I wish I could have more,” says Salvi, but she is also quick to point out that the government supports the festival in other ways (for example, helping with publicity and facilitating necessary permits), and that she does not want to depend on politicians—who change frequently and could be a source of financial instability—for money, preferring instead to be self-sustaining.
Salvi says the Festival Internacional de Música plays a significant role in international and cultural tourism. She estimates that 35 percent of paid-ticket holders are foreigners and 25 percent are Colombians who currently live abroad. The festival directors try “not to lose the balance” between international and local audiences to ensure an international perspective. Nonetheless, the festival’s free concerts, which are open to the public and make up about one-third of its programming, do attract a local audience. For example, at the open-air concerts—written about in previous posts from Cartagena this week (here and here)—Salvi estimates that approximately 40 percent of the standing audiences were from Cartagena.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) heard Costa Rica’s formal complaint against Nicaragua yesterday—initially filed in November 2010—regarding the ongoing border dispute along the San Juan River. Nicaragua will present its arguments today.
Costa Rica’s delegation headed by Jorge Urbina, the permanent representative to the United Nations, presented historical maps from Costa Rica-Nicaragua bilateral agreements with accompanying satellite photographs of the disputed region. Foreign minister René Castro was “satisfied” with his government’s testimony before the panel of 16 judges at the ICJ. Castro added: “Costa Rica does not accept the thesis [of Nicaragua] that the end justifies the means.”
The border argument took form in October 2010 when Costa Rica alleged that Nicaraguan forces were operating on Calero, an island in the San Juan River, and performing dredging operations—which Costa Rica claimed damaged the environment. After a successful appeal to the Organization of American States (OAS), and the subsequent recommendation of Secretary General José Miguel Insulza for Nicaragua to remove troops from Calero, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega threatened to withdraw unilaterally from the OAS.
A Year after the Quake, Good Manufacturing News for Haiti
In Haiti, Sae-A Trading Company, a South Korean clothing-manufacturing giant, opened for business this week. Its factory will employ 20,000 Haitians once fully operational. On the same day, the historic downtown Port-au-Prince Iron Market reopened after Caribbean mobile phone carrier Digicel paid to have it reconstructed. Jean-Max Bellerive, Haiti’s prime minister, said: “I have to say this is the best day of my life.”
Read an AS/COA news analysis reflecting on Haiti a year after the earthquake and covering the latest developments on the upcoming runoff election.
How New Tech Helped Haiti after Quake
A year after the earthquake, a report released by the Knight Foundation explored ways that new technologies provided help to Haiti in the midst of and after the catastrophe. Crowd sourcing helped rescuers find injured quake victims, texting spread critical information, and open-source maps and GPS devices allowed humanitarian workers to navigate damaged areas. Donations by texting outstripped fundraising by telephone and raised $30 million in the first 10 days of the emergency. But one older media format—radio—also served as a crucial source of communication. The report looks at technological hurdles as well and offers recommendations for using innovative tools in future disasters.
Connectivity: Cell Phones Challenge PCs in Latin America
Universia Knowledge@Wharton explores why mobile phones will rival computers when it comes to Internet use in Latin America. The article points out that Latin American cell-phone subscribers total 530 million—one hundred million more than in Western Europe and outpaced only by the Asia-Pacific region as a market. Lower service and hardware costs fuel the rise of web use on cell phones in the region.
Santiago Latest in LatAm to Recognize Palestinian State
ForeignPolicy.com’s Passport blog takes a look at the rising number of South American countries recognizing the Palestinian state, with Chile and Paraguay joining the ranks of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Venezuela. There are an estimated 300,000 Chileans of Palestinian decent.
Chilean Protests against Gas-Price Hikes Turn Deadly
The Christian Science Monitor suggests Chilean President Sebastián Piñera “may be facing his biggest crisis yet,” stemming from a general strike in Punto Arenas against rises in natural gas prices. The demonstrations took a tragic turn Tuesday night, when two protestors were killed after a truck ran through a barricade where they were posted. The Piñera administration has proposed a price increase of 17 percent.
Argentine Imports Brazil-Printed Peso Bills
Argentines are suffering from a shortage of peso bills as the government struggles to keep up with demand for 100-peso notes, the most valuable denomination. The task of printing more bills has been outsourced to Brazil, with the government prioritizing delivery of paper money to the more populous provinces in the country.
Ante Upped on Exchange Rate Rhetoric by Brazil
Tensions over language against global currency manipulations increased this week when Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega warning that “[t]his is a currency war that is turning into a trade war.” As well as protecting its domestic economy, Brasilia will call on the World Trade Organization to redefine exchange-rate tampering as a form of export subsidy.
Economic Management Hurdles ahead for Dilma
Following the inauguration of Dilma Rousseff as Brazil’s new president, Roubini Global Economics offers a forecast of the economic challenges that lie ahead for the newly minted head of state. Swelling inflation will need to be managed, as well as fiscal policy, which will need to be tightened at the expense of public spending, says the analysis.
Read an AS/COA analysis about Rousseff’s inauguration.
13 Candidates Onboard for Peruvian Presidential Race
January 10 marked the deadline for candidates to officially throw their hats into the ring for the April 2011 presidential election in Peru. Thirteen have signed up, including ex- President Alejandro Toledo; Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the imprisoned former leader; Ollanta Humala, who lost the last election to Alan García, former Lima Mayor Luis Castañeda, and ex-Finance Minister Mercedes Aráoz.
Forecasting a Rise in Venezuelan Nationalizations
“Those who believed that the Venezuelan opposition's gains in the September 2010 midterm elections would chasten President Hugo Chávez have seen their hopes dashed in the past six weeks,” writes AS/COA’s Christopher Sabatini in an article for ForeignAffairs.com. “Since the end of November, Chávez and his allies—Chavistas—rammed through a series of laws that consolidate his control over everything from banks and local governments to the Internet and the National Assembly.” Sabatini contends that expropriations will continue, and that Washington should partner with other countries to ensure compensation and electoral oversight in next-year’s presidential vote.
Spain Arrests ETA Members with FARC Links
Spanish authorities arrested two members of the Basque separatist group ETA suspected of providing communications and IT training to FARC guerillas. The arrests are part of a larger attempt to dismember ETA-FARC cooperation, as members of ETA are suspected of being in hiding with the FARC in Venezuela.
Colombia’s Santos Talks Past, Future
El Espectador features a heart-to-heart interview with President Juan Manuel Santos, who suggests that his proposed political reforms may result in him having a legacy similar to Franklin Roosevelt’s, referring to the biography Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In the interview, Santos talks about his military background, his experience as minister of defense, and his relationship with former President Álvaro Uribe. In talking about goals for his presidency, Santos stated he wants “Colombia to become an example for the entire world.”
McCain: Republicans to Push FTA with Colombia, Panama
In a meeting with Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos in Cartagena, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) discussed the Republican Party’s desire to expand preferential trade benefits for Colombia. He indicated that the GOP, now holding the balance of power in the U. S. House of Representatives, would push for the ratification of the stalled free trade agreement with the Andean country, and with Panama.
The upcoming issue of Americas Quarterly covers trade policy in the Americas.
Canada’s PM Shuffles Cabinet
Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada shuffled his cabinet for a third time in 12 months, reassigning the environment, foreign affairs (Americas), finance, and seniors portfolios. In what is seen as a solid selection for a challenging position, Peter Kent was presented with the environment portfolio. Calgary MP Diane Ablonczy will serve as the foreign affairs minister in charge of Canada’s diplomatic efforts in the Western Hemisphere.
Canadian Eyes Look to Latin America
The Globe and Mail’s emerging markets blog says “Latin America is luring a wave of Canadian investors and entrepeneurs” at a time when “the world is waking up to the region’s promise.” The blog post highlights key points, including that almost all Latin American economies will grow this year, Mexico as an attractive place to do business, and infrastructure as an investment opportunity.
U-Turn on U.S.-Mexican Trucking Dispute
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk indicated Monday that a stalled program paving the way for Mexican trucks to operate in the United States may restart within four to six months. The announcement came during a January 10 meeting of North American trade officials. A NAFTA provision requires Washington to allow cross-border trucking operations, but a bill inked by President Barack Obama in 2009 eliminated spending for such a program, sparking Mexico to impose tariffs on roughly 90 U.S. products.
Mexican Presidential Hopeful Offers Crime-Fighting Plan
Writing for Financial Times’ beyondbrics blog Enrique Peña Nieto, governor of the state of Mexico, outlines four strategies to reduce violent crime in Mexico. Preventative measures include a reduction in inequality, a strengthened and smarter anti-organized crime force, a more focused security strategy, and shared social responsibility. Peña Nieto is considered a frontrunner in the 2012 Mexican presidential election. Bloggings by Boz ponders “just how similar Peña Nieto's strategy is to the most recent strategy announced by President [Felipe] Calderón in June 2010.”
IMF Extends Record Credit Line to Mexico
In a show of confidence, the International Monetary Fund extended a $72-billion credit line to Mexico to help underwrite its economy in case of future economic difficulties. The credit extension, the largest in the IMF’s history, is based on Mexico’s strong economic showing. The country grew 5 percent in 2010.
Curbing Childhood Obesity in Mexico
Mexico took steps to combat child obesity on January 10 by proposing controls on the sale of junk foods (chatarra) in public and private schools around the country. The Education Secretariat released a list of over 600 low-fat and low-sugar foods that it recommends to be sold in schools. Mexico ranks second in the world for adult obesity, but takes the cake in rankings for overweight children.
Saving Juarez: Local Business Leaders Combat Violence
An article on The Atlantic's website includes interviews with business leaders in violence-plagued Ciudad Juarez about efforts to combat cartel crime. “It might seem unlikely that a handful of civic leaders could organize and fundraise their city out of the chokehold of drug violence responsible for so many killings, kidnappings, and attacks on police,” writes Eliza Barclay. “But they believe it could work in part because the city's economic backbone is still intact.”The article notes that, despite the bloodshed, Ciudad Juarez has seen 24,000 manufacturing jobs added since June 2009.
Maritime Incident Raises Jamaican-Honduran Tensions
Honduras and Jamaica are embroiled in a diplomatic dispute over a maritime incident involving a Honduran fishing boat and Jamaican Coast Guards. The Coast Guard claims the vessel was fishing illegally in Jamaican waters, refused to cooperate, allegedly attempting to ram the Coast Guard’s ship, who then shot at the boat’s engine room to disable the vessel, killing the ship’s captain and injuring two others.
El Salvador’s Top Stories for 2010
Tim’s El Savador blog offers a roundup of the leading stories affecting El Salvador in 2010. The list includes record rains, reforms that will allow local polling and voting for individuals rather than parties, and the apology offered by President Mauricio Funes for the government’s involvement in human rights atrocities during the country’s civil war.
Tourism on the Rise in Guatemala, Nicaragua
Official figures released by Guatemala show two pieces of good news for 2010: a decrease in the homicide rate and an increase in the number of tourists visiting the country. Late last month, Nicaragua also shared positive tourism news: the country hosted one million tourists in 2010—its highest figure on record.
One year has passed since Haiti was rocked by the 7.0-magnitude earthquake on January 12, 2010. In just three minutes, a nation already suffering from hunger and neglect was hit with a seemingly decisive blow.
The media’s coverage of Haiti is as insightful today as it was in the weeks immediately following the earthquake. Then, as now, there is a cache of grim photos and figures that find their way into each segment. Running down a list of casualties—supposedly to paint a picture of the situation plaguing Haiti—tends to oversimplify an unnervingly complicated situation. At the same time however, it’s important to take stock of what has been lost in just a year: more than 250,000 killed in the earthquake alone; 1 million displaced persons; 3,500 dead by Cholera with 400,000 more cases estimated to surface in 2012; upwards of $10 billion in damages; and political violence rampant surrounding the political election. As they say, ‘if it bleeds, it leads’.
But amidst the cripplingly slow reconstruction effort, some progress has been made. The most symbolic achievement—and perhaps the most dramatic as well—is the presidential election that took place on November 28, 2010. Why would a fraud-ridden election that played out like a telenovela be so key? Because the single most important entity in post-earthquake Haiti will be an established, well-funded Haitian government. Not only will this government be in charge of delivering social services the government has failed to provide for decades, but the legitimacy of the government (and I use the word legitimacy optimistically) will determine how much of the $10 billion in donations and foreign aid actually makes its way to Haiti, and from that point, how effectively it is invested.
Granted, it will be several months before Haiti’s next president comes into power, let alone establishes him or herself. But the Organization of American States (OAS) took a crucial step on Monday when it published a review of the hotly contested election results. The outcome: disqualification of 17,220 votes for ruling-party candidate Jude Celestin and 7,150 votes for kompa star Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly. The OAS put an end to the back and forth about who will participate in the run-off next month (assuming President Préval accepts the report, which he should given that he invited the 10-man OAS team in the first place). With Martelly likely to earn a second-place victory with 22.2 percent of the vote, he would face undisputed first-place finisher Mirlande Manigat for perhaps the most important presidential post in Haiti since the 1960s.
Si no supiera que murieron casi 300.000 personas y que todavía hoy en día hay 1.200 campamentos de refugiados con casi un millón de personas diría que hoy los haitianos celebran algo. El día en que se cumple un año del terremoto por las calles de Puerto Príncipe desfilan miles de personas vestidas de blanco, cantando y bailando. Cantan a Dios y no se sabe muy bien por qué bailan, pero bailan, incluso muchos sonríen. Hoy en Haití no lloran. Las iglesias están llenas de gente. Muchos cierran los ojos y rezan, otros simplemente agachan la cabeza y parecen meditar en lo que pasó y lo que vendrá.
Un año después del terremoto las calle de la capital parece una imagen congelada de hace un año. Apenas se ha recogido el 10% de los restos del terremoto y las tiendas frente al palacio presidencial están en el mismo sitio que la semana que se instalaron después del seísmo.
A treinta kilómetros al oeste de la capital en Camp Corail—el campamento de refugiados más grande montado por el gobierno haitiano—para Sherline sin embargo hoy es un día como otro cualquiera. Se ha levantado y no tiene nada que hacer, no hay trabajo ni dinero para comprar mercancía que revender. El campamento está situado en una zona totalmente seca, sin árboles, agua, ni mucho menos un pueblo o iglesia cercana donde ir a rezar. Junto a ella viven 10.000 personas. Atendidos por doce ONG´s internacionales y con patrulla de la ONU permanente, en Camp Corail se viven con mejores condiciones de salud y seguridad que en los campamentos espontáneos de la capital—pero sus habitantes pasan el mismo hambre que sus vecinos capitalinos.
Sherline tiene 32 años y está embarazada de su cuarto hijo: un bebé “Goudu-Goudu”, como se conoce a la generación de bebés nacidos después del terremoto. La joven haitiana comparte con sus cuatro hijos una pequeña casa de madera prefabricada a la que se acaba de mudar después de meses en una tienda. “Después del terremoto me sentía sola y tenía miedo. Me enamoré pero cuando me quedé embarazada se marchó”.
The citizens of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, gathered today to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the cataclysmic earthquake that struck the Haitian capital last year, killing an estimated 300,000 people, leaving thousands homeless and causing $8 billion to $14 billion in damage.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who is now the United Nations special envoy to Haiti and co-chair of an Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, responded from Port-au-Prince to widespread criticism that the international community’s efforts to help rebuild Haiti have achieved little in the past 12 months. Mr. Clinton says he was encouraged by the quickened pace of reconstruction in the final months of 2010.
One symbol of the speedier recovery, says Clinton, is the recent signing of an investment agreement between the Haitian government and South Korean garment manufacturer Sae-A, which plans to build a $78 million plant in Haiti that will create 20,000 and make it the largest private sector employer in the country. Outgoing Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive also commented on the deal, saying the ineptitude of the international relief efforts highlight the need for private-sector investment: "This will help Haiti overcome dependence on aid ... we need jobs," Bellerive told reporters.
¿A cuántos aquí les gusta el tango? (Who here likes tango?) asked the emcee of last night’s concert. Amid general cheers from the audience, the loudest response was from the woman behind me, who promptly and enthusiastically yelled, ¡Todos! (“Everyone!”).
Todos is what this concert was all about. Sponsored by the international credit card company Diners Club and held at the Plaza San Pedro Claver, the selection of works and the style of performance were the most modern, accessible and laid-back yet witnessed at the festival. The performance included Argentine harpist María Luisa Rayán-Forero, who interpreted famed Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla’s Otoño Porteño and Libertango with an instrument and style not ordinarily expected of the tango. With the fingers of her left hand slowly plucking strings to create low, sultry, jazz-like chords, those on her right hand danced over the harp to render the tango’s melodies. To keep time, her knuckles occasionally rapped on the instrument itself, and Rayán-Forero’s harp sounded more like an upright bass and guitar with occasional percussion. The effect was hypnotic and seductive, completely transporting the audience to the streets of Buenos Aires.
The program also included violin and flute solos which, although from the early twentieth century, felt much more contemporary. Twenty-five-year-old French violinist Arnaud Sussman played Fritz Kreisler’s Three Pieces with a technique reminiscent of Van Halen on the guitar; extended use of arpeggiation; and quick fluttering of his fingers at the highest notes possible—creating an almost discomforting, but nonetheless enthralling, effect. Colombian flutist Gabriel Ahumada brought new life to one of the most famous and popular pieces in classical music: the Carmen Fantasy. Playing the long solo from memory, the high notes and extremely quick tempo of certain segments captivated the audience, who audibly hummed along.
The most popular—and populist—piece of the evening was the Largo al Factotum aria from Gioacchino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. Baritone Christòpheren Nomura appeared on stage drinking a glass of wine, then ran to the microphone just in time to begin singing, accompanied on piano by the festival’s artistic director, Stephen Prutsman. Within seconds, the audience was laughing. Although the aria is very demanding technically—with its constant singing of triplets, allegro vivace (quick and lively) tempo, and tongue-twisting Italian superlatives (everything ending in –issimo)—you would never know, given the levity and humor Nomura brought to it. Coming close to the end, he rendered the repeated “Figaros” for which the piece is known with especial gusto. At one point, he even called out to the audience, “¡Todos! Fiiii-ga-roooo.”
The audience was only happy to oblige. Todos indeed.
Baritone Christòpheren Nomura. Photo courtesy of Joshua Z Weinstein.
*Nina Agrawal is an associate editor for Americas Quarterly. She is blogging this week from the 2011 Cartagena International Music Festival.
January 10, 2011: "Cartagena Comes Alive at International Music Festival"
A 10-person team from the Organization of American States (OAS) completed a report on Monday that concluded that Michel Martelly won more votes than previously announced in the Haitian presidential elections on November 28, 2010. The controversial election placed ruling-party candidate Jude Celestin in second place, qualifying him for a second round run-off over the popular kompa star Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly. After reviewing the results, the OAS disqualified 17,220 votes for Celestin and 7,150 votes for Martelly, giving Martelly the second-place victory with 22.2 of the vote.
The Haitian government asked the OAS to review the election after widespread protests and violence broke out following the initial release of results on December 7, 2010. The clashes between protesters—mostly Martelly’s supporters—and UN Peacekeepers left at least five dead.
President René Préval and the Haitian Electoral Committee have denied accusations of fraud and ballot-stuffing. Now that the OAS results clash with the Haitian government’s—and cites the strong possibility of fraud—Préval has not yet accepted the OAS report. Whoever is chosen as the second-place finisher will face first place Mirlande Manigat in a run-off that is postponed until February 2011.
Latin America is changing. Do we have the tools and intellectual framework to deal with it?
From Brazil to Mexico, Latin America has found new diplomatic muscle, asserting itself into international issues and all the while deepening ties with new trade partners from China to Russia. At the same time, despite increased rhetoric of regional solidarity and independence from the U.S., the region is at its most divided, ideologically and in its economic trajectories.
All this presents a challenge, not just to U.S. policymakers, but to policy analysts and scholars alike. For the first time, Latin America is becoming a complex international relations topic.
In the past, Latin Americanists (a term I apply loosely to people who work in or on the region) have tended to focus on domestic and development issues. Discussions of U.S. policy, by policymakers and analysts alike, have followed a different path for Latin America than for other regions.
In the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries Latin America was largely seen as the backyard of the United States. During the Cold War, the region was the staging ground for proxy wars between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, in which broader ideological battles were projected onto (and inflamed) internal social, political struggles. With the third wave of democratization and the fall of the Berlin Wall came the heady days of collective action for democracy and the promise of economic integration.
That ended. And with the rise of the anti-globalization governments aspiring to build a multipolar world by cozying up to rogue regimes (read: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez), the rise of China and India with their voracious appetites for natural resources, and Brazil’s aspirations to find a political role commensurate with its size, economic potential and independent world view, we’re no longer dealing with your grandfather or even father’s region.
Latin America has entered the realm of foreign policy in which the U.S. is not the primary axis around which countries define their economic and political interests or defend themselves. That’s not to say that, as one unfortunately titled article in Foreign Affairs said, the U.S. is “losing Latin America.” Yes, U.S. influence has waned in the region, giving political and economic space for these diverse relations in the region. But despite all the talk of other countries eclipsing it in the region, it remains a powerful force in defining the agenda, both positive and negative, for the region.
What is significantly different is that the U.S. now has to grapple with multiple, competing issues, a far more diverse region (in terms of orientation and interests), greater potential for intra-regional friction, and more contrarian countries—even when they may agree on broad points of principle.
Anyone who has ever played on a bad Little League team will recall the age-old wisdom that you learn more from defeat than from victory. While winning prompts celebration, losing demands critical reflection. The same is true in politics: any advocate worth her salt will use defeat as a learning opportunity for future efforts.
Now is just such a reflective moment for the movement for immigration reform, which, after losing the DREAM Act via a Senate filibuster, has come up empty-handed in the Obama administration’s first two years. Advocates must now ask themselves how they could have done better with regards to legislative strategy. The DREAM story suggests that this inquiry should revolve around two concerns. First, were advocates of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) too slow to shift to supporting piecemeal legislation? And, second, did these movement and congressional leaders advance the optimal piecemeal strategy by focusing exclusively on the DREAM Act?
The DREAM Act centered on a path to legalization for undocumented high school graduates whose parents brought them to this country as minors. The price for a path to citizenship would have been attending college or serving in the military. Since its introduction in 2001, DREAM has enjoyed bipartisan support, because it focuses on a highly sympathetic group of immigrants—students—who bear no responsibility for their undocumented status.
But, in the hyper-polarized 111th Congress, DREAM became extremely controversial. First, the bill failed to overcome a filibuster before the mid-term elections. Then, during the lame-duck session, despite majority public support for DREAM, the prospect of another Senate filibuster prompted DREAM advocates to shifting their focus to the House of Representatives.
Nonetheless, the Democratic leadership was unsure if DREAM could pass even the lower chamber. Eventually, Democrats modified the bill to pre-empt Republican objections—they reduced the age limit (from 34 to 29), lengthened the time period for citizenship (to a 10-year wait before being able to apply for citizenship), eliminated DREAMers’ eligibility for certain government benefits during the 10-year waiting period, and increased the fees beneficiaries would have to pay.
Folha de Sao Paulo reported on Sunday that the Dilma administration will invest $6 billion to control the trafficking of drugs and arms along Brazil’s borders with a reinforced police presence and upgraded weapons technology. The Sisfron system (Integrated Monitoring Borders) is part of Brazil’s efforts to boost security in preparation of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic games and is to be completed by 2019.
The majority of drugs in Brazil enter through its neighboring countries, with the largest quantities coming from Bolivia. According to El Pais, narcotrafficking and arms sales are responsible for 90 percent of the violence in Brazil. The Dilma administration has identified Brazil’s porous border as "the number one problem of the country's security.”
Last month Brazil’s Embraer—the world’s third-largest aircraft maker—and eight other private companies sent representatives to Brasilia to explore opportunities to invest in Sisfron. International defense companies have until January 31 to send proposals that will be reviewed by the Communications Center, the Army Electronic Warfare (Ccomgex) and Atech, a company specializing in software development.
The arepas are hot, the micheladas cold, and the music ubiquitous. A thick blanket of humidity hangs in the air, and the sunlight is blinding, even behind layers of fog. This is Cartagena de las Indias, a port city on Colombia’s northern Caribbean coast and the seat of the Festival Internacional de Música (International Music Festival).
Surrounded by beaches, full of colonial architecture and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cartagena has long been a popular destination for tourism, even when insecurity and violence in Colombia were at their height. With the renaissance of the past two decades, however, there has been an explosion of cultural activity. This January and February, Cartagena will play host to three major cultural festivals: the International Music Festival, the Hay Festival for literature and the Cartagena Film Festival.
One might ask how this city of 1 million inhabitants—as unknown internationally as beloved locally—has come to attract the attention of so many international artists. One reason: both the local and national government (i.e., municipal bodies and the federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism) have robust public policies promoting culture. Another, more practical reason is that the festival-as-cultural-commodity has found its optimal space here: Cartagena is beautiful (colonial architecture in the old city, picture-perfect beaches on the islands), strategically important (a port), and sought out by the elite.
In my short time here, I have already witnessed Cartagena—as a festival host—in action. On Friday night, the inaugural concert at the Adolfo Mejía Theater (named after a Cartagenero who composed songs about the city in a local musical style) in the Old City was clearly a place for the Colombian and international elite to see and be seen. Women in elegant gowns attended on the arms of men in white guayaberas, or linen dress shirts. President Juan Manuel Santos and investor, industrialist and philanthropist Julio Mario Santo Domingo (of the Emporio Santo Domingo holdings company) came with their families in tow. The program consisted of Johann Sebastian Bach, Joaquín Rodrigo and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, and was performed by the City of London Symphony and three soloists (one harpist, two violinists). The concert was everything one might expect of an opening night at a festival of international acclaim—dignified, reserved and respectfully yet enthusiastically received by its patron audience.
Audience spillover, mostly Cartageneros, watching on a TV screen nearby. Photo courtesy of Joshua Z Weinstein.
Two nights later, an open-air, public concert in the Plaza San Pedro Claver was even more lively and impassioned than that on opening night. Maybe it was the open-air environment on a warm evening with a mild breeze, or maybe it was the captivating cello and violin soloists performing works by French composers François Couperin and Camille Saint-Saens.
(Homepage rotator photo: Haitians in Grand Boulage are employed in one of UNDP's watershed management projects that are part of reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts. Courtesy of United Nations Development Programme.)
No es fácil realmente conocer la realidad de Haití y no precisamente porque los haitianos sean desconfiados o no quieran contar su historia. No es fácil conocer Haití porque nadie que no sea haitiano pone un pie en el día a día de la calle.
Hasta mil organizaciones no gubernamentales (ONGs) están trabajando en el país, una gran mayoría internacionales, pero los expatriados no pasean por Puerto Príncipe, no compran en los supermercados haitianos, ni se paran a adquirir siquiera una tarjeta para recargar el móvil en la pequeña tienda de la esquina. Al extranjero los haitianos lo ven montados en pick ups nuevas, circulando con los pestillos de seguridad echados y con la clara directriz de no bajarse del vehículo a hacer ninguna foto o tomar imágenes. El riesgo de secuestro es lo primero que a uno le advierten al llegar al país.
De vez en cuando por la carretera se cruza algún camión de la MINUSTAH presente en el país desde el 2004. Los cascos azules patrullan bajo el capítulo siete del Consejo de Seguridad, toda una operación de paz. Su presencia apoya el trabajo de los 10.000 policías del país garantizando la seguridad de un país de cerca de diez millones de habitantes. El toque de queda para el extranjero es de 11 de la noche a 6 de la mañana, tiempo en que la policía de Naciones Unidas no patrulla.
Cartel del candidato para la presidencia Jude Célestin. Photo by Tábata Peregrín.
Pero, es real la inseguridad que nos venden a los visitantes? Reniteau Ojean, profesor de comunicación de la Universidad de Puerto Prince lo pone en duda. “No nos podemos comparar con un país como Afganistán. El problema es que los mismos haitianos sobreprotegemos al extranjero”.
This Monday (January 10) will mark one year since the tragic night when 20 some Cuban mental patients died at Havana’s national psychiatric hospital due to a cold spell, according to the Cuban authorities. Human rights leaders on the island told Reuters (January 14, 2010) that “the patients were not properly protected from temperatures that dipped into the low 40s during an unusual extended cold snap on the tropical island.”
Granma, Cuba’s official newspaper announced that “the ministry of public health decided to create a commission to investigate what happened, and… the commission has identified several deficiencies related to the failure to adopt timely measures,” adding that “those principally responsible would be submitted to the corresponding tribunals.”
The Granma article was published on January 16, 2010. But nothing else has been heard from Havana.
The story, and the heartbreaking photographs, could not be denied by the authorities due to the courage of human rights activists who took advantage of twenty-first century technologies, sending abroad the dramatic evidence. Granma reported in a small item on January 16 that “during last week there has been an increase in the mortality rate of the patients at the psychiatric hospital of Havana.”
The Cuban government yesterday announced on state television changes in leadership at the ministries of construction and telecommunications. Former Minister of Construction Fidel Figueroa was dismissed due to unspecified “errors” and will be replaced by Rene Mesa Villafana, former head of Cuba’s state water supplier. No indication was given if there was simple mismanagement or malfeasance in the ministry. Former telecommunications Minister Ramiro Valdés, 78, will also relinquish his post to 48-year-old army general and communications engineer Medardo Díaz Toledo.
Mr. Valdés, who fought alongside Fidel Castro and his forces during the revolutions and is also a former interior minister, is considered a close ally of President Raúl Castro. He will retain his title of vice-president and, according to the statement, will have more time to oversee the leadership of both” his old ministry” (Interior) and the construction ministry.
These latest changes follow a series of Cabinet reshufflings in recent months as Cuba tries to revitalize its ailing economy by removing a half million public sector workers and opening up new opportunities for self-employment and entrepreneurship. In September, for example, the government announced the removed the minister of oil and mining, Yadira Garcia, in a sternly worded statement citing "deficiencies" and "weak manner."
The Obama administration took a positive step today toward resolving a long-simmering point of contention for U.S.-Mexico relations. A two-page concept document released by Secretary Ray LaHood and the Department of Transportation (DOT) outlines a series of proposals to revive the long haul, cross-border Mexican trucking program—an issue that has affected U.S. exports to a key U.S. trade partner.
Since March 2009, the United States and Mexico have sparred over allowing Mexican trucks to carry cargo into the United Sates. President Obama cancelled the program after concerns over the safety records of Mexican drivers and carriers as well as their lack of English. The move was seen as anti-free trade and protectionist by both U.S. and Mexican companies.
Soon after the President cancelled the program, Mexico denounced the move citing its violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which called for creating a cross-border trucking program by 2000. In response, Mexico imposed tariffs on products ranging from pork to chewing gum and pistachios. Once an agreement is reached, these retaliatory tariffs would be lifted.
Today’s concept document aims to renew negotiations with Mexico while also addressing concerns that led to the cancellation of the program. The document proposes vetting the information of both carriers and drivers through the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. Additionally, Mexican truck drivers and their carriers must pass a Pre-Authority Safety Audit (PASA) that includes a review of the carrier’s safety record and driver’s record, compliance with EPA emissions standards and a review of the carrier’s accidents, convictions and inspections in Mexico. Mexican drivers must also pass an English Language Proficiency exam and a U.S. Traffic Laws exam (conducted in English) and submit evidence of financial responsibility (insurance) to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
A new session of Venezuela’s National Assembly began official business yesterday in Caracas with a host of new faces. As a result of the 2010 parliamentary elections in September, President Hugo Chávez’ Partido Socalista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) party saw its count of Assembly seats reduced from 139 to 98 while members of the opposition—which had overwhelmingly boycotted the 2005 election—occupied the remaining 67 seats. The agenda was mostly ceremonial as Fernando Soto Rojas, a PSUV representative, was elected the new Assembly president. The first and second vice presidents of the Assembly elected yesterday were also from PSUV. Rojas comes from the state of Falcón and President Chávez nominated him for the post.
But the tone of the session was hardly amicable. After the swearing-in of all new representatives, President Chávez said that his majority party would “crush” the voices from the opposition, adding “I hope that the opposition members respect the Constitution, the laws, and the institutions.” PSUV representative Iris Varela dismissed any possibility of negotiating with the opposition. Competing demonstrations were held in the streets outside the Palacio Federal Legislativo between chavistas and pro-opposition supporters.
The new body takes office in the wake of last month’s Ley Habilitante (Enabling Law), passed by the outgoing Assembly and which awarded Chávez amplified decree powers. It was criticized yesterday by opposition spokesman Alfredo Marquina as a power grab, given the opposition having won over half the popular vote but 40 percent of the seats due to redistricting. This morning U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela referred to the Enabling Law as “antidemocratic” and a violation of the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Democratic Charter.
Mexico is the second most corrupt country in Latin America. That’s not an award countries usually strive for but it is, according to UNAM’s Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales (the National University’s Social Research Institute, or IIS), the disgraceful situation Mexico finds itself in at the start of 2011.
On January 3, UNAM released a press package in which they declared that according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index and the Latinbarómetro indicators, Mexico is only led by Haiti as the most corrupt nation in the region. IIS’s Corruption and Transparency Research Coordinator Irma Eréndira Sandoval Ballesteros explained that throughout Latin America “Mexicans are considered extremely corrupt in terms of public and private practices.”
TI’s 2010 Corruption Perception Index report explains that 75 percent of people believe that Mexico’s corruption has increased in the last three years. Political parties, police, Congress, and the judiciary top the list of corrupt institutions in our country (considered extremely corrupt), followed by media, businesses, organized religion and NGOs.
Sandoval Ballesteros reported that while the 2003 creation and further strengthening of IFAI (Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información y Protección de Datos, Federal Institute for Information Access and Data Protection) has been a significant progress in terms to access to information, transparency has done little in battling corruption and has been marginally useful in creating a public conscience. In her own words, “if Mexico is not a leading nation in political and economic terms, it is because corruption has not allowed it and has become an obstacle to possible progress.”
Chile and Paraguay are expected to recognize an independent Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders in the coming weeks, says Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki. Today, the Chilean Senate approved a resolution requesting that President Sebastián Piñera recognize a “free and sovereign Palestinian state.” President Piñera is also expected to travel to the West Bank within the next few months.
President Piñera met one-on-one with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday in Brazil during the inauguration of President Dilma Rousseff. Abbas had traveled to the inauguration to thank Latin American presidents who have recently recognized a Palestinian state. These include the presidents of Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Ecuador—apparently in response to increased efforts by Abbas to seek international recognition of a Palestinian state at a time of stalemate in the peace process.
The recent spate of recognitions has somewhat confounded Israeli politicians, as no South American country has been directly involved in peace negotiations. Chile, however, is home to a population of about 350,000 Christian Palestinians, and like many of its neighbors, has a substantial Jewish community. Nonetheless, Israel has said that the South American declarations are a “highly damaging interference” by countries that were never part of the peace process.
For its part, Colombia has said it will not recognize a sovereign Palestinian state until a two-state peace accord with Israel is reached. And while Mexico has in the past expressed concern over Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, its foreign ministry has not indicated that it would follow suit behind Brazil and others. Spanish President José Rodriguez Zapatero has promised that Spain will recognize an independent Palestinian state in 2011, the only European Union country to do so.
In November, Americans turned on their computers, fired up their Internet connections and gravitated to wikileaks.org. The nation was appalled at coverage by virtually all national media telling the tale of a series of diplomatic cables leaked from different U.S. embassies in the world.
Immediately questions were raised about the U.S. military’s excessive use of force, national security, foreign relations, and a number of other matters included in the first wave of cables reaching the public eye. Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the State Department (with the help of Interpol) set out to try to silence Assagne.
But the response was starkly different in Mexico. Two days after the first WikiLeaks came out communications were released on U.S.-Mexico relations, the violence problem in Mexico and our armed forces’ internal debacles, as well as President Hugo Chávez’ involvement in supporting former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the 2006 elections.
Some U.S. colleagues immediately contacted me commenting on “the hard hit” Mexico was taking from Assange’s open communication and free speech antics. However, Mexicans did not start tweeting or commenting on facebook and other social media sites about this. The usual suspect bloggers were mildly impressed and Mexico’s government reaction to the leaks was as agitated as a couple of turtles taking a nap.
A fire bomb, possibly homemade, exploded on a passenger bus in northwestern Guatemala City on Monday, killing at least six people and injuring 17 more. Witnesses told police that a woman came aboard the bus, placed the bag that presumably held the explosive on the luggage rack, and then got off the bus.
An investigation is underway but representatives of the bus driver’s union said that drivers had received repeated threats of violence from local gangs if they failed to pay protection money. According to Guatemalan news station Noti 7, the gang members were asking for a one-time payment of 60,000 quetzals, or about $7,300.
Attacks on public transportation officials are not uncommon in Guatemala, though past attacks rarely involved passengers. Human rights group Grupo Apoyo Mutuo reported that 175 bus drivers were murdered in 2009 alone. Guatemalan police estimate that bus drivers paid out more than $1.5 million in extortion money to organized crime groups over the course of 2010.
After more than 90 years, Yale University has agreed to return 363 ancient artifacts excavated by Hiram Bingham, who is accredited with discovering Machu Picchu in Peru. According to the Ministry of Culture, the 363 Inca pieces that Bingham excavated will first be exhibited in Lima’s Museo de la Nacion in March 2011, and then will be moved to Cusco’s Casa Concha. The rest of the items will be returned by 2012.
The agreement came after national and international campaigns, a lawsuit and negotiations between delegations. The efforts even sought out help from Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa.
Although a memorandum of understanding was signed between Yale and President Alan García in 2007 for the return of the artifacts, problems arose when former Peruvian first lady Eliane Karp did not agree to the terms. She wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times that Peru would only receive a limited amount of the original artifacts, when in fact the Peabody Museum at Yale University would retain the rest of the artifacts, supposedly numbering 46,332 in total.
Carrying on a tradition begun under former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, President Dilma Rousseff will bring together her principal ministers today for a coordination meeting to define the first steps to be taken by her government. As under Lula, these meetings will be held at the beginning of each week but do not replace full cabinet meetings.
The names of those participating in today's meeting have yet to be officially announced, but if the same posts are represented as during the Lula government, attendees should at least include: Secretary General of the Presidency Gilberto Carvalho, Secretary of Institutional Relations Luiz Sérgio, Chief Minister of the Institutional Security Cabinet José Elito Siqueira, Vice President Michel Temer, and Antonio Palocci, the head of the Civil House.
Before this afternoon’s larger meeting, Dilma is speaking individually with Antonio Palocci, Finance Minister Guido Mantega, Senate President José Sarney, Chamber of Deputies President Marco Maia, and President of the Federal Supreme Court Cezar Peluso
It was a banner year in the history of gay rights in the Americas. Here are the top-20 LGBT-related stories.
20) Open Doors: United States. The law that banned HIV-positive non-U.S. citizens from traveling or immigrating to the United States officially ended. The ban began as policy in 1987 and became law in 1993 (January 2010).
19) The Gay Man and the Sea: Peru. Gay director Javier Fuentes-León’s film, Contracorriente, about a love story between a fisherman married to a woman and his secret affair with a man, wins the Audience Award for World Cinema at the Sundance film festival (February).
18) An alternative Bolsa Escola: Brazil. Escola Jovem LGBT, Latin America’s first “school of gay arts,” as principal Deco Rebeiro describes it, opens in Campinas. The school was spearheaded by a Brazilian NGO and is financed by the state’s secretary of culture and Brazil’s ministry of culture (March).
17) Wings for all: Chile. LAN Airlines becomes an official sponsor of the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, the first time a Latin American airline sponsors a U.S. pride celebration (June).
16) La niña bonita: Cuba. Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuba's President Raúl Castro, marched along with hundreds of activates in an LGBT march celebrating the International Day Against Homophobia in Havana (May).
15) Negative campaigning: Chile. The government’s National Service for Woman launched a new ad campaign to fight violence against women with the slogan: “Faggot is he who beats a woman [maricón es el que maltrata a una mujer].” The largest LGBT organization (MOVILH) approved the use of the word faggot in the ads, arguing that in Chile the term refers mostly to a “non-transparent” person rather than to a homosexual and thus, using the term is not homophobic. Others thought the campaign was homophobic. Shortly after the campaign started, variations of the expression (e.g., “faggot is he who photoshops his picture") were widely tweeted across the country (October).
14) Good words: El Salvador. President Mauricio Funes issues a presidential decree banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the public service (May).
13) Beyond words: Brazil. Government creates the National LGBT Council, a specialized agency to protect the rights of the LGBT community.
12) In the dark: Vatican City/Santiago, Chile. The Vatican's second-highest authority, Cardinal Tarciso Bertone, says during a news conference in Chile that the sex scandals haunting the Roman Catholic Church are linked to homosexuality and not celibacy among priests. "Many psychologists and psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relation between celibacy and pedophilia. But many others have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relation between homosexuality and pedophilia.”
11) Fit to a T: Costa Rica. The Supreme Electoral Court publishes a resolution allowing transsexuals to appear on their national ID with the image they “frequently display” to society. This victory for the LGBT community was a reply to a demand from a male transsexual citizen, Andrey Porras Araya, to appear in his photograph as a female.
10) Evo-lutionary science: Bolivia. Speaking at an environmental conference, Evo Morales claimed that both homosexuality and baldness can be caused by the humble chicken. Chicken producers injected fowl with female hormones and insisted that "when men eat those chickens they experience deviances in being men."
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.