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  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    July 21, 2010

    by AS-COA Online

    From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    National Guard Troop Deployment Announced

    U.S. President Barack Obama set an August 1 deployment date for 1,200 National Guard members to be sent to the Mexican border. Alan Bersin, the U.S. customs and border protection commissioner, said the troops’ mission will be to “support efforts of law enforcement, not to have a direct law enforcement role.” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano declared that the troops will support “agents working in high-risk areas to disrupt criminal organizations seeking to move people and goods illegally across the southwest border.”

    Merida Initiative under Scrutiny

    The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report covering shortcomings in deployment of Merida Initiative funds. Only 9 percent of the $1.6 billion pledged has been released for the security program, which seeks to boost anti-trafficking efforts in Mexico and Central America. U.S. Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY), one of the report’s commissioners, commented that the initiative lacked the capacity for benchmarking. “We need to find a way of measuring success,”  Engel told the Associated Press.

    Read More

    Tags:

  • Chávez Claims Stake in Television Station

    July 21, 2010

    by AQ Online

    The Venezuelan President claimed on Tuesday to own 25.8 percent of outstanding shares of Globovision, the country’s only remaining TV channel with anti-government broadcasts. The stake in Globovision was acquired after the government took over Banco Federal CA, a failed bank that had owned a 20 percent stake in Globovision.

    With the accumulated shares, President Hugo Chávez claims to have the right to name its own representative to Globovision’s board of directors. "We're joining the business," Chávez said.

    This latest announcement continues a long running feud between Globovision’s owner, Guillermo Zuloaga, who is wanted on charges of illegally storing vehicles with the intent to sell them for profit, and Chávez, who faces near daily criticism of his administration from the broadcaster. Globovision representatives refuted the government’s right to place a government representative on the board noting that “the only way that a new member of the board can be chosen is by approval of 55 percent or more of the shareholders.”  The broadcaster also declared its intent to continue to stick to its anti-Chávez editorial line.

    Opposition channel RCTV was forced off the open airwaves in 2007 and then off cable and satellite TV in January when Chávez refused to renew their broadcasting license.

    Tags: Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, media in Latin America, Globovision

  • Panamanian Indigenous Community Seeks Protection of its Land

    July 20, 2010

    by Ruxandra Guidi

    The Naso indigenous community of Panama is lucky to be able to call Bocas del Toro home. This is an idyllic tropical paradise that begins in mountainous forests near the border with Costa Rica and ends up in the Caribbean Sea. It’s a fertile land where they grow plantain, corn, coffee, pineapple, and grapefruit, and make some extra money by serving the growing numbers of eco-tourists who sail into Bocas del Toro.

    By the same token, however, they are cursed to live in such a beautiful and coveted place. The Naso aren't all that different from many other indigenous groups in Latin America who inhabit forests rich in natural resources: They have something that many others want.

    Last month, a small delegation of Naso leaders traveled to Washington to submit a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) demanding that the Panamanian government and special business interests in the country allow them to stay in their territories and respect their cultural, territorial and human rights. Getting American law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP to represent the 3,500 Naso in the case was a challenge in and of itself.

    Read More

    Tags: Panama, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Indigenous rights

  • Cold Front Claims Lives in Southern Cone

    July 20, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Record low temperatures, hovering around 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-6 degrees Celsius) for the last two weeks, have killed more than 100 people and hundreds more cattle and other livestock, causing an agricultural emergency in rural areas of the Southern Cone. The cold snap is gripping Argentina, southern Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, and Bolivia with states of emergency being declared across the region.

    Read More

    Tags: Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Southern Cone, Cold Front, Low Temperature

  • Fujimori Leads Peru’s Presidential Race

    July 19, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Peruvian congresswoman and presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori leads a field of likely candidates for Peru’s 2011 presidential elections, according to an Ipsos poll released on Sunday in Lima. Ms. Fujimori, the daughter of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, was the top choice for 22 percent of likely voters. Lima Mayor Luis Castañeda closely trailed her with 20 percent, while former President Alejandro Toledo is in third place with 14 percent.

    Ms. Fujimori, who is known as a conservative lawmaker, says she will refrain from a “radical’’ economic path and would continue with the pro-growth strategies of recent years. “There’s no doubt Keiko would pursue her father’s policies to promote a free-market,” says Miguel Palomino, head of the Peruvian Institute of Economics.

    Human rights activists have criticized Ms. Fujimori for openly admitting that she would release her father—currently imprisoned for corruption, embezzlement, and kidnapping. “I trust that my father will be declared innocent, but if the time comes, and if I am president, I won’t hesitate to grant amnesty to any person that I believe is innocent and punish those who are criminals,” according to the candidate.

    Tags: Peru, Alberto Fujimori, Keiko Fujimori

  • Vatican to Finance Development Projects Throughout Latin America

    July 16, 2010

    by AQ Online

    The Vatican confirmed today that during the annual Populorum Progressio foundation meeting, held this year in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, it will evaluate the financing of 230 projects in 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The projects range from initiatives to improve agricultural production to the construction of schools, health clinics and community centers. 

    This year’s meeting will be the foundation’s first in a Caribbean country. The location was selected with the hope of increasing the foundation’s awareness of issues concerning the region and to highlight the foundation’s missions in local church communities.  In general, the church-funded projects are designed to benefit the indigenous, mestizo, afro-Latino and rural populations of Latin America and the Caribbean.

    The meeting will also allow a Vatican delegation to travel to Haiti on July 22 to visit refugee camps sponsored by the Catholic Church.  While the foundation already finances a number of projects in Haiti, it has recently approved $250,000 for the reconstruction of the St. François de Sales school in Port au Prince, which was destroyed by the earthquake in January. 

    Tags: Dominican Republic, Haiti, Vatican, Populorum Progressio

  • Gay Marriage Legal in Argentina

    July 15, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Today, Argentina became the first country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage when 33 senators voted in favor of the bill, with 27 opposed and three abstaining.

    The new law grants gays and lesbians all the same legal rights, responsibilities and protections of marriage as heterosexual couples. With the strong support of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, it is expected to be published in the official bulletin and enter into force within days.

    The 16-hour debate on the bill stretched on last night into the early morning hours, as both protestors and supporters rallied outside the Senate. In recent days, over 60,000 marched to oppose the bill, organized by evangelicals and the Catholic Church, but today, supporters are celebrating.

    (In the Winter issue of AQ, Mitchell A. Seligson and Daniel E. Moreno Morales compared tolerance toward gays and lesbians across the hemisphere. Argentina, with the U.S. and Uruguay was among the most tolerant according to the AmericasBarometer survey.)

    While the gay rights movement has led to civil unions in Uruguay, Buenos Aires and individual states in Mexico and Brazil, the Argentina law will go further, allowing the full rights of marriage to gays and lesbians nationwide. Argentina joins South Africa, Canada and seven European countries in legalizing same-sex marriage: the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, and Iceland.

    Tags: Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Gay Rights

  • Trade is the Answer to Strengthening the U.S. and Canadian Economies

    July 15, 2010

    by John Parisella

    In the 1992 presidential election, then candidate Bill Clinton had a slogan that his campaign posted on the wall of his electoral headquarters: “it’s the economy, stupid!” Clinton went on to win the election with his “economy first” message beating then President George H. W. Bush who had an over 80 percent approval rating just the year before.

    As Americans prepare to go to the polls this November, operatives and pundits from both parties agree that the economy will again be the major issue this fall. Call it anti-incumbency fever or just plain anger; it is all too obvious that Americans are primarily concerned about economic prospects.

    About 18 months ago, the U.S. economy teetered on the brink of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression of 1929. By now the narrative is familiar: a federal bailout program of the financial sector (TARP), the collapse of General Motors and Chrysler forcing another bailout effort, and a $787 billion stimulus—the biggest spending program in U.S. history. All this government aid was needed, the experts told us, or we would suffer another Great Depression. Today, economic growth has returned, but with a more modest job picture.

    Read More

    Tags: Canada, Bill Clinton, FTA, George H.W. Bush, TARP, Great Depression

  • Iroquois Lacrosse Team to Attend World Championships

    July 14, 2010

    by AQ Online

    U.S.-born players of the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team have been cleared to fly to Manchester, England, in time to compete in the World Lacrosse Championship beginning tomorrow night.  The Iroquois Nationals, comprised of members from the six Native American nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, had been barred from traveling to Manchester because the British government would not issue visas to the team unless the U.S. State Department gave written assurances that the players would be allowed back into the United States on their Iroquois passports. 

    The Iroquois Nationals, the fourth ranked lacrosse team in the world, have traveled to competitions in Australia, Japan and Canada on their own Iroquois passports without problems since 1977.  The current controversy raised issues of sovereignty of the Iroquois nation and placed the U.S. State Department and the Obama administration in a compromising position. 

    The State Department had agreed to expedite U.S. passports for the Iroquois Nationals team members but the players had refused to accept a compromise they viewed as a denial of their tribal sovereignty.  The Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL), sponsors of the World Lacrosse Championship, recognizes the Iroquois Nationals as their own national team, separate from the American lacrosse team, and require players to present passports from their originating countries in order to compete. 

    Some U.S. legislators came out in support of the Iroquois Nationals.  New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson wrote to the State Department and the Department of Homeland security:  “As a governor of a state with a significant Native American population, I know many tribes and pueblos will watch carefully how these young competitors are treated by the administration … I believe we have an obligation to assure these young men's rights are protected.”

    Tags: Indigenous Rights, Bill Richardson, Homeland Security, US State Department, sovereignty, Iroquois Nationals

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    July 14, 2010

    by AS-COA Online

    From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    The Wait for Washington’s Response on Cuba

    Following Havana’s announcement that it would release 52 political prisoners, eyes turned to Washington for a White House response. On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department applauded efforts by the Catholic Church and the Spanish Foreign Ministry to secure the dissidents’ release. “All those released from prison should be free to decide for themselves whether to remain in Cuba or travel to another country,” said a State Department spokesman. The first group of freed prisoners left for Madrid on Tuesday.

    In an interview with TIME, AS/COA’s Christopher Sabatini said the limited U.S. response “reflects the surprising policy radio silence we're so often getting from this White House on Cuba and Latin America in general.”  The article also discusses an AS/COA report, to be published on July 15 in conjunction with the Cuba Study Group and Brookings Institution, that urges the Obama administration to roll back restrictions on U.S. telecommunications links with Cuba.

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  • Who's Who in Lima's Mayoral Race

    July 13, 2010

    by Sabrina Karim

    It’s election season in Lima. In less than three months, Limeños will go to the polls to choose the successor for outgoing Mayor Luis Castañeda Lossio who will be running in the April 2011 presidential contest. Although there are two frontrunners, 12 candidates have formally registered to run in the October 3 mayoral contest.

    Here is a brief summary of each candidate:

    Read More

    Tags: Peru, Lourdes Flores, Alex Kouri, 2010 Lima elections

  • Santos Aims to Rebuild Relationship with Venezuela

    July 13, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Re-establishing relations with neighboring Venezuela will be a “priority” of the Santos government, says Maria Ángela Holguín, Colombia’s incoming foreign minister.

    Following a meeting with Foreign Minister Jaime Bermúdez, Holguín stated that the President-elect had maintained an interest in re-establishing relations with Venezuela throughout his campaign.  “For that to happen,” she stated, “there is a need for respectful and transparent dialogue, in which we are already engaged.” Holguín also confirmed that an invitation to Santos’ inauguration had been sent to President Chávez.

    Relations with Venezuela had deteriorated in 2009 after Colombia signed a pact with the U.S. granting access to seven military bases around the country.  Venezuela viewed the agreement as a threat to sovereignty in the region.  Recently, however, it has signaled a desire to mend relations with Colombia.

    Holguín also announced details of Santos’ upcoming Latin American tour. Beginning July 22, the President-elect will travel to Mexico, Panama, Chile, Argentina, and Peru to meet with each country’s head of state.

    Tags: Colombia, Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, Juan Manuel Santos, Jaime Bermúdez, Maria Ángela Holguín

  • How We've Oversold the Rule of Law

    July 13, 2010

    by Christopher Sabatini

    We hear it often: the rule of law is essential for investment.  For over a decade, a legion of organizations and scholars--from the World Bank to Douglass North--have argued that if countries really want to develop they need to develop an independent, impartial, pro-market system for the application of laws and their adjudication.  And those that don’t establish the rule of law will be ignored by international investors and the global market.

    If only it were true.

    The relationship isn’t that easy or clear.  There are plenty of examples of countries and economies that have prospered without the effective rule of law; ones that haven’t even though they may have it; and plenty of companies that are willing to invest even in abysmal or deteriorating conditions. 

    It may be heretical to say it, but we have oversold the rule of law. Truth is: it matters most for small and medium enterprises.  For large investors, national economies and specific economic sectors, it matters far less than we’ve convinced ourselves. 

    Let me highlight some of the overblown assumptions we’ve made about the rule of law and economic growth.  Only by understanding them can we really recognize, in a more nuanced and targeted way, the limited, though important, way that the rule of law is important and for whom.


    Myth 1:  Big Investors Need the Rule of Law

    In a famous speech, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell made an argument for countries to reform their judicial systems by stating that “capital is a coward.  It flees from corruption, bad policies, conflict and unpredictability.”  Left out of this was the bald truth that big investors can afford to invest in less safe conditions nationally because they come with their own protection: arbitration agreements.  Many of the contracts negotiated in private equity, vendor agreements, and even fixed investments establish that in the event of a contract dispute both parties will submit to international arbitration--often under  the Inter-American Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (1975) and the UNICITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration (1985)--with arbitration occurring outside the country. 

    What this does is effectively take the issue outside the country’s system for the rule of law, obviating the sweeping reform of the judicial system, an overhaul of commercial codes, and the creation of an effective, transparent independent system for the naming and oversight of justice officials necessary for the rule of law. 

    Sure, this international arbitration is great for investors who don’t have to wait for the lengthy, uncertain process of wholesale reform of a country’s legal and judicial system.  And it’s a boon to policymakers who can establish an effective, quick pathway to attract investors.  But it does little for pressuring the system as a whole for reform and reduces the advocacy and urgency for broader reform.  Yes, other disputes will arise that do not rise to the level of arbitration and that will need to be dealt with in the local courts, even for the big investors.  This can include matters of resolution of bankruptcy claims, contract violation, arbitrary regulatory changes, and intellectual property violation.  To be sure, the threat of these complications--often costly--is a disincentive for investment.  But, for many of the largest investors looking to sink their funds into a lucrative market, these are only one of the calculations among many that they make, which brings me to the next point.

    Read More

    Tags: Rule of Law, investment in Latin America

  • President Fernández de Kirchner Visits China

    July 12, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner began a five-day visit to China on Sunday in an effort to strengthen the China-Argentine strategic partnership. As part of her first presidential visit to China since, she is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao, who according to foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang "attaches great importance to President Cristina's visit."

    In a speech at the Beijing University of International Business and Economics President Fernández de Kirchner said, "It is important to realize we are immersed on a new international scenario…Countries should grow at a harmonious pace," she also stressed that Argentina will seek to be part of the next G20 summit to "combat fiscal parasites”.

    In addition to meeting with the President, the remainder of her visit will consist of bilateral talks with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and the mayor of Shanghai, Hang Zheng, along with Chinese entrepreneurs and a visit to the Shanghai 2010 Expo. 

    Tags: Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Argentina-China Relations, President Hu Jintao

  • Holidays Worth Celebrating

    July 8, 2010

    by John Parisella

    In recent weeks, there have been celebrations of what are called “National Holidays” in the U.S. (July 4), Canada (July 1) and Québec (June 24). People gather in a festive way, take a well-earned moment of rest and praise the joys of living in societies that clearly are the envy of the world.

    While each can claim its own reason for the holidays, it is interesting to observe how each celebrates and why. On the Fourth of July, I attended the stunning fireworks display along the Hudson River in New York City where families and friends gathered in authentic camaraderie to acknowledge the birth of America and its undying love of freedom. What impressed me was the relaxed atmosphere in a city that has had its share of pain and tragedy. People of diverse backgrounds coming together to celebrate what America is and what it can be—it was truly inspiring.

    In Canada, celebrations are usually more subdued as communities cherish moments together in the sunshine (hopefully!) and take in a quiet sense of pride and accomplishment with a picnic or attend a parade full of maple leaf flags. In the Canadian national anthem, the words ring out loud and clear: “the True North, strong and free.” All Canadians take solace in the resonance of these words throughout the land.

    Read More

    Tags: Canada, United States, Quebec, Public holidays

  • Santos Sets New Tone for Colombian Foreign Policy

    July 8, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Four weeks before his August 7 inauguration, president-elect Juan Manuel Santos is already using the occasion to alter the tone of Colombian foreign policy. President Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez have both been invited to the ceremony despite their countries’ strained relations with Colombia, and Mr. Correa has indicated that he plans to attend.

    Santos called Correa’s response “a step in the right direction” for the frayed relationship between the neighboring countries. If Chávez is able to attend, Santos said, "It would be big news for us…and we are very happy to have initiated this foreign relations process on the right foot."

    Despite the rhetoric, real obstacles to improved relations and better regional cooperation remain. Ecuador continues to uphold an arrest warrant against Santos, stemming from his role in a 2008 Colombian military incursion into Ecuadorean territory. Last week, the Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo uncovered allegations that Correa’s telephone was secretly wiretapped by Colombia security forces. Mr. Chávez frequently reiterates his view that a 2009 agreement allowing the United States military to use bases in Colombia is a threat to regional security.

    On his ongoing tour of Europe, Santos has said his administration’s foreign policy will based on “diplomacy, caution and respect.” His statements could signal a departure from the policies of his predecessor, current president Álvaro Uribe, who cautioned against naiveté on Wednesday and maintained that countries in the region must “undertake to not allow Colombian terrorists on their territory.”

    Tags: Colombia, Hugo Chavez, Juan Manuel Santos, Rafael Correa, Colombia foreign policy

  • PRI Accepts “Vote for Vote” Recount

    July 7, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Representatives of the Partido Revolucionario Intitucional (PRI) agreed to allow electoral votes cast in this past Sunday’s gubernatorial elections in the state of Veracruz to be opened and counted one by one to confirm that their candidate, Javier Duarte de Ochoa, won the election outright.

    Opposition coalition “Viva Veracruz” continues to claim that their candidate, Miguel Angel Yunes Linares, was a victim of electoral fraud and requested the recount.  The PRI agreed to the recount on the condition that the losing candidate no longer refer to themselves as the “legitimate governor.”

    The PRI was successful in this past Sunday’s elections, sweeping gubernatorial victories across nine of 12 states.  With victories in Chihuahua, Quintana Roo, Tlaxcala, Zacatecas and Tamaulipas, the PRI seems to be well represented ahead of the 2012 elections.  However, opposition party Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD) has also raised protests over the elections in the city of Juarez.  The PRD claims that the PRI purchased votes in its favor.  The allegations are currently under investigation.

    Tags: Mexico, PRD, PRI, Javier Duarte de Ochoa, Miguel Angel Yunes Linares, Mexico 2010 gubernatorial election

  • From Paraguay. World Cup Fever Comes to a Close

    July 6, 2010

    by Kate Prengel

    As soon as I arrived in Paraguay last week, I could see that the country was in the grips of football fever. It was impossible to forget, even for a minute, that the World Cup was on and that Paraguay’s team was doing extremely well. Every public space was draped with a Paraguayan flag. Every bar had its television on, blaring sports commentary. Taxi drivers and night watchmen carried around transistor radios so as not to miss the latest developments.

    The 2010 World Cup will not soon be forgotten. Even with the Quarterfinal loss to Spain last weekend, Paraguayans proudly welcomed home their team yesterday. After all, this team advanced further than any previous Paraguayan squad. This is a big deal for Paraguay, which otherwise suffers from an identity crisis.

    “Nobody knows what our country is,” said Bechy, a young woman waiting for a flight out of Asunción’s airport. “People always confuse us with Uruguay.” It doesn’t help, she added, that Paraguay is sandwiched between regional superpowers Brazil and Argentina.

    Read More

    Tags: Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Spain, Japan, Fernando Lugo, 2010 World Cup

  • World Cup: Uruguay Loses, Latin America Out

    July 6, 2010

    by Eric Farnsworth

    Well, it was fun while it lasted.  What was shaping up to be the year of Latin America in the early rounds of this year’s World Cup will see two European teams fighting for the championship on July 11.  The best that Latin America can now hope for is a 3rd place finish for Uruguay.  That'd be a terrific result for Uruguay, of course, the best finish for that nation since they last won it all in 1950.  But for Latin America as a whole, the result is underwhelming.

    Brazil’s surprising defeat at the hands of the Flying Dutchmen, Germany’s wipeout of Argentina and Spain’s close call with Paraguay ensured that Uruguay, which defeated Ghana in penalty kicks, would be the regional standard bearer in the final four.  Tiny Uruguay outlasted the region’s soccer giants, and started off well in its semi-final match, tied 1-1 with the Netherlands at half time.  Alas, their luck ran out with two superb quick strikes from the Dutch in the second half that put the game out of reach, despite an injury time goal that closed the gap to 3-2 and a furious final rush from Uruguay at the end.  Throughout the tournament, Uruguay proved to be a highly skilled and creative team, particularly effective on dead balls in the final third of the field.  For their part, Holland has tied its best previous finishes, in 1974 and 1978, when it lost championship games to West Germany and Argentina, respectively.  Will they finally be successful in 2010? 

    Read More

    Tags: Latin America, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Spain, Netherlands, Germany, Flying Dutchmen, United States. World Cup

  • Cuba Imprisons Fewer Political Dissidents in 2010

    July 6, 2010

    by AQ Online

    The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCHRNR) reported yesterday that the number of political prisoners held by the Cuban government has declined over the past six months. According to the independent watchdog based in Cuba, the number of prisoners has fallen from 201 in January to 167 in July.

    CCHRNR director Elizardo Sanchez said the drop is due in part to the government opting for brief arrests of dissidents over long-term detentions. Yet President Raúl Castro’s government is still guility of widespread human rights abuses of dissidents, most notably the late Orlando Zapata Tamayo and currently ailing Guillermo Fariñas.

    Read More

    Tags: Cuba, Political Prisoner, Dissident, Guillermo Farinas, Orlando Zapata Tamayo

  • New CICIG Commissioner Selected in Guatemala

    July 2, 2010

    by AQ Online

    On Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon named Francisco Dall'Anese Ruiz the new head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, known by its initials in Spanish as CICIG. Ruiz is a well-known advocate against corruption and, since 2003, he has served as attorney general in Costa Rica, where he has led major anti-corruption investigations against two former presidents and organized the passage of a milestone organized crime law.

    For the first two and a half years of CICIG’s mandate, the commission was led by Carlos Castresana, but Castresana submitted his resignation in early June, citing frustration with the Colom administration and the appointment of an attorney general, Conrado Reyes, with alleged ties to organized crime.

    The choice of a Central American for the post is significant, and reflects a growing sentiment—expressed most strongly by Costa Rica’s new president, Laura Chinchilla—that regional cooperation is needed in the fight against organized crime. While Reyes has already been removed from his post due to public outcry, Ruiz will face the repercussions of Castresana's allegations of a government plot to discredit CICIG and the appointment of a new attorney general in Guatemala.

    Impunity remains rampant. In 2009, according to Castresana, there were 6,451 killings in the country, of which only 230 cases were solved.

     

     

    Tags: Security, Guatemala, Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, Carlos Castresana, Francisco Dall'Anese Ruiz

  • The Fourth of July and Cuban Women

    July 2, 2010

    by Frank Calzon

    On the eve of this 4th of July, I think about our servicemen and women whose lives are at risk defending U.S. interests and the cause of freedom around the world. I also think about Cuba, so close to the United States, where a despotic regime continues to misrule; and about the Ladies in White, a group of women—mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives of Cuban political prisoners, punished for desiring the same freedoms that Americans will celebrate this weekend.

    Again, this Sunday the Ladies in White will walk together to mass, all dressed in white, calling attention to the plight of their loved ones and the lack of freedom in Cuba.  The women have been harassed, spat upon and insulted by mobs organized by the regime. Their mistreatment, detention and abuse by Cuban police has earned the condemnation of  world leaders, including the First Lady of France, former Czech President Vaclav Havel and President Barack Obama.

    Read More

    Tags: Barack Obama, United States, Ladies in White, Vaclav Havel, Ladies of Havana, United States Naval Institute, Cuban

  • Martinelli Hosts Dignitaries for Canal Ceremony

    July 1, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Spanish Deputy Premier Manuel Chaves held a ceremony yesterday in Panama City celebrating the expansion of the Panama Canal—a massive infrastructure project to be completed in 2014. Also joined by the presidents of Guatemala, Colombia and Honduras, the ceremony marked the beginning of the construction for the canal’s expansion. "Today, a new future begins for the country,” said Martinelli.

    The canal, first finished in 1904, is designed for ships with a 267-meter (875-feet) length and 28-meter (92-feet) beam, and is too small to handle modern ships, which commonly run three times as big. After a 2006 referendum approved its expansion, Grupo Unidos was awarded a 3.1 billion contract for the work.

    The canal currently facilitates close to 5 percent of world trade and approximately 23 percent of commercial shipping traffic between Asia and the United States.

    Tags: Ricardo Martinelli, Panama Canal, Silvio Berlusconi

  • Anniversary of a Coup: Insecurity, Impunity and Isolation in Honduras

    July 1, 2010

    by Daniel Altschuler

    One year ago this week, the Honduran military expelled President Manuel Zelaya from the country. The coup immediately prompted domestic tumult and international condemnation.  With elections in November, however, the Honduran political establishment and the Obama administration banked on the country moving beyond the coup domestically and normalizing relations with the world.  But theirs were rose-colored glasses; a coup’s effects are not so easily undone.

    Honduras is now struggling with the long-term damage that coups inflict on the rule of law and the enduring costs of international isolation.  Even after de facto President Roberto Micheletti ceded power to Porfirio Lobo following an election, insecurity and impunity reign domestically, and most of Latin America continues to isolate the country.  The battle for international legitimacy remains President Lobo’s principal concern, and has also brought issues onto the domestic agenda that put Lobo at loggerheads with powerful supporters of last year’s coup.

    Many on the Right claim that, by ousting Zelaya, the political establishment was responding legitimately to an over-reaching president.  And, indeed, in the first half of 2009, Zelaya flouted court rulings that deemed unconstitutional a referendum that would pave the way for a constituent assembly.  At one stage, Zelaya and his supporters seized referendum ballots held by the military under Supreme Electoral Tribunal orders.

    Read More

    Tags: Organization of American States, Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, Roberto Micheletti, Truth Commission, Porfirio Lobo, Central American Integration System

  • Cell phones, Extortions and Regulation

    June 30, 2010

    by Julio Rank Wright

    El Salvador is a nation with more cell phones than inhabitants. In fact, according to the Superintendencia General de Electricidad y Telecomunicaciones, there are 7,445,736 mobile telephone lines for a country of 5.74 million people. Of these mobile connections, 6,286,967 are pay-as-you-go and only 663,736 are based on a fixed payment contract.

    These numbers speak for themselves. As can be reported from almost any other developing nation it’s difficult not to encounter someone with a cell phone even in the most remote regions of the country. The penetration of mobile telecommunications has brought incalculable benefits to the economy. This is especially for small and micro enterprises that can monitor prices and sell their goods by contacting suppliers and wholesalers. A cell phone, could be argued, has given them a sense of formality since now they can be contacted more easily.

    However, there´s been an unforeseen consequence of cell phone penetration in El Salvador and presumably other developing nations: the use of cell phones to commit criminal acts, specifically extortions.

    Read More

    Tags: El Salvador, Security, Crime, Cell phones

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    June 30, 2010

    by AS-COA Online

    From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    Honduras Marks Coup Anniversary

    A year after the overthrow of Manuel Zelaya, Honduras continues its struggle to recover from the political fallout. “In spite of massive international attention and multilateral efforts in the days and months that followed, reconciliation—both domestically and internationally—remains elusive,” says an article in World Politics Review. President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo acknowledged that Zelaya’s overthrow constituted a coup, but his efforts at reconciliation have failed to win over key countries such as Brazil and Venezuela and regain entry into the Organization of American States. As the country marked the coup’s anniversary on June 28, Lobo expressed fears about plots against his own government while the exiled Zelaya charged that U.S. Southern Command played a role in his overthrow.

    Concerns persist over human rights violations in Honduras. Twenty-seven members of U.S. Congress signed a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging an assessment of human rights in the Central American country to determine whether Washington should, once again, suspend aid.

    Read an AS/COA analysis on the long-term economic costs of the coup.

    Read More

    Tags: Canada, Haiti, G20, Honduras coup, Tamaulipas, Cartel, Syrian President, Preval

  • Brother of Slain Mexican Gubernatorial Candidate to Run in his Place

    June 30, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Following the assassination of Rodolfo Torre Cantú, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) candidate for governor of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas on Monday morning, the PRI national committee chose his brother, Egidio Torre Cantú, today as his replacement on the ballot for this Sunday’s elections.  His selection was approved by the PRI committee based on “his honesty and social acceptance, ideological convictions and the work he has done on behalf of the party.” 

    Egidio Torre Cantú is a civil engineer and previously held public office from September 2000 to December 2001 as mayor of Ciudad Victoria.  However, his candidacy has also raised some controversy as he is also the owner of a company which has received public contracts valued at 166.5 million pesos (US$13 million) since 2005. Those contracts were awarded by the current governor, Eugenio Hernández, also a member of the PRI, raising allegations of favoritism in Egidio’s selection as substitute candidate.  The current administration claims no wrongdoing or favoritism in awarding Mr. Cantú’s company, Servicios de Ingeniería Tohesa, the contracts, which were awarded through both non-competitive and competitive bids.  Further debate will decide whether Mr. Cantú’s election might violate laws governing public servants and their private enterprises. 

    At the time of his assassination, Rodolfo Torre Cantú was expected to win this Sunday’s elections.  The assassination, blamed on hitmen affiliated with the drug cartels of the border state, follows the murder of the mayor of Guadalupe, Jesús Manuel Lara Rodríguez, just over a week ago, also attributed to narco-traffickers.

    Tags: Mexico, Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), Elections, drug violence, assasination

  • En Bolivia, en busca de la Coca Colla

    June 29, 2010

    by Liliana Colanzi

    Hace unas semanas, cuando regresé a Bolivia después de una temporada en los Estados Unidos, lo primero que hice fue preguntar por la Coca Colla, la bebida energizante hecha a base de hojas de coca que, según la voz popular, pretende competir contra la Coca Cola (los fabricantes, sin embargo, han negado esta aseveración).

    La producción de esta bebida es otra de las iniciativas promovidas por Evo Morales para fomentar la industrialización de la coca, que desde hace años se usa en la fabricación de pasta dental, caramelos, mates o pasteles. Sin embargo, ¿existía de verdad la Coca Colla? El proyecto sonaba más a parodia o broma que a realidad: la bebida tendría no sólo un nombre muy cercano al de la Coca Cola, sino también la misma etiqueta roja y el color oscuro. Además, nadie que yo conociera la había visto. Aunque pregunté en toda clase de restaurantes y bares por una botella de Coca Colla, la respuesta invariable de los vendedores era una sonrisa algo irónica y la sensación de que les estaba tomando el pelo. Y es que de la Coca Colla se han lanzado solamente  alrededor de11.000 botellas en todo el país, y por el momento, hacerse de una de ellas es como poseer un objeto de colección. Después de preguntar en varios lugares de Santa Cruz, un amigo me señaló una licorería del primer anillo donde, finalmente, pude comprar una Coca Colla de medio litro por 12 bolivianos (poco menos de 2 dólares, un precio algo más bajo que el de una lata de RedBull).

    Read More

    Tags: Bolivia, Evo Morales, Ley 1008 del Régimen de Control de la Coca y Sustancias Controladas

  • MERCOSUR Goes Four for Four

    June 29, 2010

    by Eric Farnsworth

    Four chances, four victories.  As predicted, all four original MERCOSUR nations have now gone through to the round of eight in the World Cup, joining three teams from Europe and one from Africa.  Only one team from South America has been eliminated (Chile), and it was bounced by another team from the region (Brazil).  Head to head against competition from outside the hemisphere, South America continues to impress.  From the opening round, the region has been a dominating presence in this year’s tournament.

    It wasn’t always easy or pretty, witness Paraguay’s shootout victory over a motivated Japanese team, but to this point, South America has gotten the job done.  Moving forward to the final four, however, will be another thing altogether.  There are no “gimme” games at this point; both the Brazil-Netherlands and the Argentina-Germany games could be legitimate championship games this year, were the teams not destined to meet in the round of eight.  It’s possible that the winners of these two games could well meet up in the actual final. 

    Read More

    Tags: Chile, Brazil, Mercosur, Argentina, Paraguay, Africa, World Cup, Netherlands, Europe, South America, Japanese, Germany

  • FIFA President Considers World Cup Technology

    June 29, 2010

    by AQ Online

    The question of whether to institute in-game technology in the World Cup has been a consideration for FIFA year after year. Yet one of strongest voices against the idea is the federation’s president, Sepp Blatter. Given that this year’s World Cup has been riddled with disallowed goals and unflagged offsides, Blatter is starting to change his stance on the matter. Following two incorrect, game-changing calls in the round of 16, Blatter has publicly apologized on Tuesday to the fans and players of England and Mexico, who were both knocked out of the tournament on Sunday.

    In addition to his apology, Blatter agreed to re-open talks on the one issue that he has actively opposed for decades: instituting in-game technology in all FIFA-sanctioned matches. Such technology could have prevented both of Sunday’s missed calls, which included a clear offside goal from Argentina’s Carlos Tevez against Mexico, and a disallowed goal for England’s Frank Lampard.

    Read More

    Tags: Mexico, Argentina, World Cup, FIFA, England, football technology

  • Lugo Calls for Venezuela’s Entry into Mercosur

    June 28, 2010

    by AQ Online

    Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo made a passionate call to Congress on Saturday for legislators to approve Venezuela’s entry into the Mercosur trade bloc. “Let’s think seriously in terms of the future…this will inevitably benefit both economically and commercially our country [Paraguay],” Lugo announced.

    He also called on lawmakers not to limit a country of millions “to only a name,” referring to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Paraguayan Vice-President Federico is in favor of the trade agreement as long as Chávez is no longer president of Venezuela.

    Paraguay is the last hurdle to Venezuela’s joining the group. The three other permanent Mercosur members—Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay—have already voted in favor of its inclusion.

    Tags: Mercosur, Hugo Chavez, Fernando Lugo

  • World Cup: Latin America Continues to Impress

    June 25, 2010

    by Eric Farnsworth

    When the knock-out round of the World Cup begins Saturday morning, the Western Hemisphere will have almost half of the final 16 teams in contention, and at least two teams (the winners of Argentina vs. Mexico on Sunday and also Brazil vs. Chile) guaranteed in the final eight.  Even more compelling: both 2006 finalists, Italy and France, will be watching the games from the sidelines, the first time that’s ever happened.  Other European teams that were early on picked to outperform have struggled; so far Holland appears to be the strongest European team although Slovakia has certainly surprised and Spain has finally recovered from an early setback to Switzerland.  Latin America and also the United States have acquitted themselves well so far.

    In soccer terms the Western Hemisphere has appeared to equal its former colonials overseers.  The United States tied England 1-1; Brazil tied its “second team,” Portugal, 0-0.  For good measure, even Mexico defeated its one-time colonial aspirant, France, 2-0.  Mexicans should consider adding June 17 to their holiday calendar, to compliment Cinco de Mayo which celebrates the defeat of the French at the Battle of Juarez.  Only Spain was able to prevail against its former colonies, defeating hapless Honduras, 2-0, and Chile by 2-1.  (Honduras did eke out a tie in its last game.)

    Read More

    Tags: Latin America, NAFTA, Mercosur, United States, World Cup, APEC, EU, Western Hemisphere

  • Syrian President Begins Latin American Tour

    June 25, 2010

    by AQ Online

    President Bashar al-Assad of Syria begins a tour of several Latin American countries today with the goal of extending its diplomatic reach and attracting investment in Syria.  Assad is scheduled to arrive in Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday and will visit then Brazil and Venezuela—countries with significant Syrian expat communities. Syrian media also reports that he will be visiting Cuba.  The visit reciprocates previous official visits to Damascus by Fidel Castro in 2001, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2003 and Hugo Chávez in 2006. 

    The president’s trip, his first to the region since taking power in 2001, comes as Damascus seeks to continue opening diplomatic channels with the West. This follows their involvement in brokering a deal with Iran to send low-enriched uranium abroad for reactor fuel, in cooperation with Brazil and Turkey.  Damascus is also seeking over $40 billion in investments over the next five years, nearly 80 percent of Syria’s annual GDP, to repair and replace Syria’s ageing infrastructure. 

    The majority of the millions of Syrian-origin émigrés in Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela are businessmen, engineers, doctors, and politicians including former Argentinean president Carlos Menem.  President Assad also plans to meet with members of the Arab communities during his visit.

    “Bilateral relations and developments in the Middle East and Latin America” will dominate discussions during the trip, according to the official SANA news agency.  Brazil plans to sign trade and technology cooperation protocols with Syria, and Argentina is anticipated to sign nine transportation, tourism and cultural agreements.

    Tags: Cuba, Brazil, Chavez, Venezuela, Castro, Argentina, Lula, Menem, Syria

  • A Guatemalan Town’s Recovery from Tropical Storm Agatha

    June 24, 2010

    by Kara Andrade

    While the rest of the world stared down the bottomless hole in Guatemala City's Zone 2, the small town of San Antonio Palopó around Guatemala's Lake Atitlan, was digging its way out of the aftermath of Tropical Storm Agatha using sticks, brooms, shovels, and their bare hands.

    The mostly indigenous town of 14,000 suffered the destruction of 43 houses, 19 deaths, 2 still missing, 4 hospitalized, and more than 500 people evacuated to six shelters around the town's municipal building. Like many small rural towns in Guatemala, San Antonio's water system was destroyed during the storm so potable water was scarce and in this case came from run-off or contaminated water.

    Here, women and children crowded around to scoop up the muddy water into their large ceramic jars three times bigger than their heads. After the women filled their jars they climbed, sometimes barefoot, over recently fallen rocks and large pieces of corrugated tin and broken wood that stuck out like over-sized muddied splinters. The community's only means of entering or leaving their town continues to be by small boats because the four bridges remained collapsed. This also meant being cut off from supplies, food, water, and machinery to help dig people out of the rubble.

    Read More

    Tags: Guatemala, Lake Atitlan, Tropical Storm Agatha

  • Dilma Rousseff Ahead with Lula’s Support

    June 24, 2010

    by AQ Online

    In a spell of good news for the handpicked candidate of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, an Ibope poll released yesterday shows Dilma Rousseff leading opposition candidate José Serra, 40 percent to 35 percent.

    According to Rafael Lucchesi, director of operations for the national confederation of industry, which commissioned the poll, Dilma’s position is bolstered by “the economy, the popularity of the government, the popularity of the president, and his capacity to influence the electoral process." Economic growth reached 9 percent in the first quarter of 2010, the best performance in 14 years, despite continued malaise in the global economy.

    Lula’s effect on the race is also growing. He has a 75 percent approval rating—the record for a Brazilian president—and is working with his party, the Partido dos Trabalhadores, to raise Dilma’s name recognition among voters. In March, Ibope found that only 58 percent of Brazilians could identify the candidate that Lula supports; in yesterday’s poll, that number grew to 73 percent.

    The campaign for the October 3, 2010, presidential vote is still in its early stage. The candidates formally accepted their nominations just two weeks ago, and until the World Cup is over on July 11, much of Brazil’s attention is on South Africa.

    Tags: Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Dilma Rousseff, Jose Serra, Brazil Elections 2010

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