July 28, 2011Tags: Peru, Ollanta Humala, 2011 Peru presidential election
Promising continued economic growth but reiterating a commitment to greater social inclusion, Ollanta Humala takes office today as president of the Republic of Peru. Fifteen heads of state are to attend, including all the presidents of South America except for Hugo Chávez, who remains in poor health.
Humala, a nationalist former Army officer, won a runoff election on June 5 after campaigning on promises of more fairly redistributing wealth and taxing the windfall profits of mining companies—promises that particularly appealed to residents of rural Indigenous communities. Since then, he has taken noticeable steps to reassure members of the business community, who had feared that his election may dampen the country’s growth and stifle investment. He has said he would not replicate the actions of Hugo Chávez, for example by nationalizing key industries. And in a spate of key cabinet appointments announced last week and earlier this week, including Luis Miguel Castilla—deputy finance minister under outgoing president Alan García—to the post of finance minister, Humala has demonstrated his intention to maintain continuity with at least some of the previous administration’s economic policies.
Even as Humala signals a desire to maintain Peru’s current rate of economic growth (nearly 9 percent in 2010), analysts believe he will reiterate his commitment to income redistribution and social inclusion today. The rate of overall poverty in Peru is more than 30 percent, and stark inequalities between urban and rural areas persist. During his campaign Humala promised to increase the monthly minimum wage from 600 soles ($220) to 750 soles ($272); create pensions for the indigent; and increase spending on social services for the poor through a windfall tax on gold and copper producers. Nonetheless, as Carlos Monge, a researcher at the Centro de Estudios y Promoción del Desarrollo (Center for the Study and Promotion of Development), points out, members of the economic team the president-elect has assembled have not historically shown themselves to be enthusiasts of taxing mine companies.
Humala will face pressure to continue following through on promises to boost spending for the poor. Renee Ramirez, general secretary of Peru’s Education Workers Union, said, “The new government has built up such great hopes that if it doesn’t follow through there’ll be a big divorce…We threw our weight behind Humala but we didn’t write him a blank check.”
July 28, 2011Read More Tags: Peru, Pinochet, Gay Marriage, Humala, Afroperuvian Minister, Joe Arroyo
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
New President to Take the Reins in Peru
Peruvian President Alan García thanked his cabinet for its work at their last meeting today, as the country prepares for the July 28 presidential inauguration of Ollanta Humala. The former leftwing firebrand finished revealing a cabinet that Reuters characterizes as more conservative than that of former president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio "Lula” da Silva, to whom the media often compare Humala. The cabinet is anchored by Central Bank head Julio Velarde and Finance Minister Luis Miguel Castilla, both U.S.-trained economists who Humala will carry over from the outgoing García administration. (Velarde will remain at his position, while Castilla moves up from the position of deputy finance minister.) The 12-country South American regional bloc UNASUR will also meet tomorrow in Lima, where they will discuss ways to advance regional integration and poverty reduction. All 12 heads of state plan to attend Humala’s inauguration and the UNASUR meeting, except for Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who is undergoing cancer treatment.
Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about Humala’s cabinet picks.
Humala Appoints First Afro-Peruvian Minister in Country’s History
President-elect Ollanta Humala announced that singer Susana Baca will serve as culture minister in his cabinet. A 2002 winner of a Latin Grammy, the singer will be the first Afro-Peruvian to hold a cabinet post in the Andean country.
Puerto Maldonado Shows Another Side of Peru’s Economic Development
In a dispatch for the Summer 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly, Caroline Stauffer profiles the town of Puerto Maldonado in the Peruvian Amazon—an impoverished area where the rapid economic growth of recent years has yet to trickle down. Puerto Maldonado is one of the many places where the local population's perception that development had passed them by contributed to the rise of center-left Ollanta Humala in this year’s presidential elections.
The next issue of Americas Quarterly, focusing on sports in the Western Hemisphere, hits newsstands August 10.
Colombia’s Congress Tasked with Debating Gay Marriage
Colombia’s Constitutional Court told Congress last night to take up the issue of gay marriage in order to resolve a legal vacuum surrounding same-sex partnerships. The issue remains controversial in Colombia, whre the Constitution specifies that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman. Congress has declined to change the law, despite considering proposals to legalize gay unions six times in recent years.
July 27, 2011Tags: Chile, President Sebastian Piñera, Chilean mining
Union workers at Chile’s Escondida copper mine broke off labor negotiations on Tuesday over unmet contract terms, and are threatening to extend their five-day strike indefinitely. The 2,300 striking miners from the Escondida—the world’s largest copper mine—will be joined by 7,000 contractors today, according to union leader Marcelo Tapia. Workers from Chile’s state-owned Codelco mining company may join the strike on Thursday, though the intervention of President Sebastián Piñera has made it unlikely.
The strike at Escondida that began last Thursday was spurred by disagreement over monthly production bonuses. The mine is willing to pay workers a total of $6,000 in bonuses by the end of the year, but the worker’s union rejected the offer, demanding $10,800 per worker instead. Other union demands include protections for workers who contract serious illnesses on the job, punch clocks that better control their 12-hour work days, and removal of company surveillance camera which, the union claims, violates worker privacy.
Escondida has deemed the strike illegal and has refused to continue talks. Australian mining company BHP Billiton Ltd, which holds a 57 percent share of the mine, has refused the same government mediation that appears to have eased tensions at Codelco.
Union demands are buoyed by the near all-time high price of copper, currently at $4.40 per pound, that is generating record profits for shareholders like BHP, Rio Tinto PLC and Mitsubishi Corporation. The mine, located in the northern region of Antofagasta, produces about 3,000 tons of copper per day, or 7 percent of the world’s copper, worth about $30 million.
July 27, 2011Read More Tags: Fidel Castro, Baseball
Legend goes that when Fidel Castro was a law student, back in 1949, he was such a talented baseball player that he was offered a $5,000 to join the New York Giants team. But he snubbed the offer. That refusal has been widely commented among Cuban baseball fans but also by stars who are divided between those who follow Castro’s example, and those who go.
The greatest, Lázaro Vargas is among the former, having turned down an $8.5 million offer to join the Atlanta Braves, after winning the gold medal in the Barcelona Winter Olympics in 1992. “Castro taught me it is a sweet feeling to walk down the street knowing that no one can buy you,” he once said.
Baseball players live a relatively privileged life in Cuba, and are regularly paraded as national heroes. During my first trip to Havana I remember watching a television program showing a crowd on the concrete steps of Havana's stadium going crazy as Vargas drove a curveball past second base. “"We love baseball more than rum, more than rice and beans; sometimes I feel I love it more than my own life” a shirtless youngster once told me, while playing baseball with a stick from a door and the lid of a plastic bottle in one of the many creaky corners around Nuevo Vedado. “I would love to be able to play in the United States one day, to play American kids, to get that feeling. Do you understand?” he asked me. I did not really then.
Now, after several trips to Havana, having lived in Miami and after writing an article titled Ping-Pong Diplomacy for the Summer 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly (to be released on August 10 and available in Barnes & Noble on August 15) on Cuba and U.S. sports relations, I feel I am getting closer to answering him positively. Despite recent reports that show that around 350 Cuban baseball players have abandoned the Communist-led island over the past several years—virtually all to the U.S.—money is not the only factor.
July 26, 2011Tags: Mexico, Biofuels
Mexican airline Interjet has successfully completed the first commercial biofuel flight in Latin America. Flight 2605, which used a jatropha-based fuel that reduces air pollution by 80 percent, flew round-trip from Mexico City to Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of the state of Chiapas, where jatropha grows. Interjet joins European carriers KLM and Lufthansa in pioneering commercial biofuel flight.
The Airbus A320/200 operating the Interjet flight was powered by a blend of 27 percent jatropha-based fuel and 73 percent kerosene. A total of 12,716 liters (3,360 gallons) were consumed for the 800-kilometers (497 miles) flight. The jatropha used for the flight was cropped in Chiapas and turned into fuel at a Honeywell subsidiary in the United States.
Jatropha curcas is a flowering plant that contains seeds, harvested by Chiapas farmers, which are predominantly used to produce biodiesel. It is not yet a viable substitute for petroleum-based fuels because its production is not sufficiently large. According to Interjet CEO Jose Luis Garza, who was aboard the flight to Tuxtla Gutierrez, “Production of this fuel is very expensive, several times more than conventional fuel.” But, he added, “We didn’t raise the price of the tickets. The goal is to raise awareness.” Currently, the land in Chiapas is overexploited and jatropha production could be a way to recover it, he said.
Aeropuertos y Servicios Auxiliares—the state-owned company managing Mexico’s airports and supply of aviation fuel—has said that more jatropha could be produced if demand were higher. The Mexican government aims to produce 700 million liters (185 million gallons) of biofuel a year by 2020 and become a leading biofuel producer in the region. Among the plans to stimulate production are the Convenio General de Colaboración con el Consejo para el Desarrollo Económico de Sinaloa (General Cooperation Agreement with the Sinaloa Council for Economic Development), which aims to promote the commercialization of jatropha-based fuels.
July 25, 2011Read More Tags: Canada, Quebec
Two separate rail journeys on two separate continents have provided very different learning experiences. Last year, I decided to take Amtrak's Adirondack train from New York to Montréal to observe firsthand the state of passenger rail travel in North America. U.S. President Barack Obama had outlined his vision for high speed rail (HSR), and the Province of Québec had expressed its interest in joining the international connection for the Northeast corridor. I blogged about my experience and was pleasantly surprised to find out that the prospect of HSR was attracting an enthusiastic following.
This year on a visit to Europe, I traveled France’s Train à Grande Vitesse (High Speed Train—TGV) from Paris to Marseille and Paris to London.
I knew the New York to Montréal trip would be long, but 11½ hours was more than I bargained for. The scenery was surely stunning, the price was affordable, but it is ridiculous that in an era of alternative travel the trip was nearly double the time of a car ride and quadruple the time of a commercial flight to the same destination. Crossing the U.S.-Canada border was particularly disconcerting as the train, which was filled to capacity with passengers, stayed immobile for over an hour for individual inspections. And I was told this was a good day.
July 25, 2011Tags: Peru, Ollanta Humala
In a television interview yesterday evening, Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala—set to take office on Thursday (July 28)—unveiled eight additional appointments to his administration’s cabinet. He named engineer René Cornejo to head the Ministry of Housing, Construction and Sanitation. He also tapped Peruvian doctor Alberto Tejada to lead the Ministry of Health. Humala designated constitutional lawyer Fernando Eguiguren to direct the Ministry of Justice, while choosing former president of the Association of Exporters, José Luis Silva, to be foreign trade and tourism minister.
An earlier round of appointments was made last week, as Humala selected centrist politicians Daniel Mora and Kurt Burneo to respectively head the defense and production ministries. Both leaders served during former President Alejandro Toledo’s administration from 2001 to 2006. Humala also reappointed incumbent President Alan García’s popular choice of Central Bank Governor, Julio Velarde, to another five-year term. International markets responded favorably.
Other portfolios named yesterday included the ministries of labor, interior, transportation and communications, and agriculture. The president-elect has not yet named ministers of culture or education. View more of Humala’s appointments.
July 22, 2011Tags: Gay Rights, gays in the military
Today marks a victory for homosexuals who wish to serve openly in the U.S. military. The Pentagon is scheduled to announce that that the military is ready to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the Clinton-era policy banning gay men and women from openly serving in the military, without having an adverse effect on readiness. An estimated 13,000 people have been discharged from the military under the policy since it was enacted in 1993. Congress voted to repeal the law last December, but delayed ending enforcement of the ban until top military officials could verify that the military was prepared for the change. President Obama now has to sign a certification of the repeal; if he does so in the next few days, the policy will end 60 days after that, with the repeal becoming effective in late September.
Servicemembers United, an organization that represents gay and lesbian military personnel and veterans, praised the decision, as service members will no longer be obligated to serve in silence. "We are glad to see that just three weeks into his tenure as secretary of defense, [Leon Panetta] is already confident that this policy change can take place with little or no disruption to military readiness," said J. Alexander Nicholson III, the executive director. Nicholson was referring to the fact that repeal of the policy will be one of Panetta’s first major acts since assuming the office of Secretary of Defense earlier this month.
While this is a momentous occasion, a few hurdles lie ahead. The military still has to figure out what services and benefits it would offer to same-sex couples. While it can now extend family support to same-sex partners of deployed service members, federal law will prohibit it from providing same-sex couples with the full range of health, housing and education services it grants heterosexual couples.
July 21, 2011Tags: Cuba, Barack Obama, Fidel Castro, Sports
I wrote an op-ed in the Miami Herald today in reference to an article by Andres Schipani ("Ping-Pong Diplomacy") in the Summer 2011 Americas Quarterly to be released on August 10 and available in Barnes & Noble stores beginning August 15.
In the summer of 1989, U.S. yachtsmen sailed the Black Sea Regatta after the Soviet Odessa Sports Club had participated in the Liberty Cup Yacht Race around the Statue of Liberty. The exchange was one of hundreds of sports-related exchanges between the Cold War enemies that included hockey, tennis, baseball and diving before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In contrast, no such policy — until now — has taken off with Cuba.
Sports have always been an effective tool for fostering cross-cultural awareness and breaking down ideological stereotypes. Consider this: Between 1955 and 1985 the U.S. State Department issued on average 1,700 visas a year to Soviet athletes, artists, scientists and students in a policy of “soft power” diplomacy.
In the same vein, the now-famous ping-pong diplomacy launched by President Richard Nixon with China started with a table tennis match. Those early efforts undermined the communist governments’ efforts to isolate their citizens and were instrumental in building trust between citizens — and effectively weakened control of governments over their citizens.
The full text of this morning's editorial can be accessed here.
Christopher Sabatini is editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly and senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.
July 21, 2011Read More Tags: Mexico, Felipe Calderon, Drug Cartels
Last week, Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) ruled that military personnel accused of human rights abuses will no longer be court-martialed and will now face a civil trial. Though the decision might seem like a triumph for human rights activists, a much larger problem looms behind this smoke screen.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s war against drug cartels has increasingly involved the use of Mexico’s military. In hot spots like Nuevo Laredo, the military police has virtually assumed all of the law enforcement responsibilities, after 900 local transit and police officers were suspended pending toxicology exams and criminal investigations. And it doesn’t end there. Soldiers are posted in virtually all conflict-ridden areas in the country, cracking down on drug cartels in order to pursue a safer country where local law enforcement has proven ineffective.
This is all the more intriguing because in Mexico, ensuring domestic civil security is not part of the military’s responsibility. They have filled this gap due to their sworn allegiance to the President—one that they have not threatened to overrun since they committed to Mexico’s first post-revolution civilian government under Miguel Alemán in 1946.
The legislature and the SCJ have argued that since the military has essentially taken over control of policing local conflict areas in Mexico, military personnel should not be exempt from civil law and “protected” by military proceedings. It is unfortunate, however, that those in the lawmaking and justice system apparently have no knowledge of regional history or applied comparative politics.
July 21, 2011Read More Tags: OAS, Humala, Venezula, Brazil transparency, Argentina elections
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
U.S. House Committee Votes to Defund OAS
During a July 20 markup hearing, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted in favor of cutting the entire $48.5 million that the United States contributes annually to the Organization of American States (OAS). "Let's not continue to fund an organization that's bent on destroying democracy in Latin America," said Connie Mack (R-FL), who authored the amendment and is among GOP committee members who accuse the OAS of supporting anti-U.S. governments in the Americas. Committee Democrats contend the move signals backing away from multilateralism. “Here we are for a lousy $48 million willing to symbolically turn our backs on our own hemisphere,” said Gary Ackerman (D-NY). Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin reports that the decision “is only the beginning of what looks to be a long and contentious debate over the fiscal 2012 State Department and foreign operations authorization bill written by chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).”
Humala Keeps CenBank Head as Mining Stocks Rally
Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala said onTuesday he will keep President Alan García’s Central Bank head Julio Verde in his position, sending yet another signal that Humala plans to adopt centrist policies in the style of Brazil’s Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva. Stocks of mining companies with interests in Peru have rallied this month, recovering the losses they suffered when the Lima General Index plummeted on the news of Humala’s election. Humala is expected to announce his economic minister and his chief of staff during the evening of July 20.
Brother’s Scandal Puts Dent in Humala’s Approval Rating
In just one month, Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala’s approval rating took a nosedive, dropping from 70 percent last month to 41 percent on Sunday, according to pollster Ipsos-Apoyo. The polling agency attributed the public’s sudden discontent with Humala to the unpopularity of his brother Alexis, who made an unauthorized trip to Russia, in which he represented himself as an emissary of the new government in meetings with officials from Gazprom, Russia’s state oil company.
July 21, 2011Tags: Ecuador, Press Freedom, El Universo
A judge in Ecuador ruled Wednesday that the directors and former opinion editor of El Universo newspaper must serve three years in prison and pay $30 million to President Rafael Correa for an opinion article published in February. In addition, the judge ruled that the newspaper must pay Correa a separate $10 million.
In February, President Correa filed libel charges against El Universo directors Carlos Pérez, Nicolas Pérez and César Pérez, as well as then-opinion editor Emilio Palacio, after the newspaper published an opinion article by Palacio entitled “No to Lies.” Correa argued that the piece, in which he is repeatedly referred to as “El Dictador,” unjustly accuses him of ordering security forces to open fire on civilians at the hospital where the president was detained for several hours last fall. Though Correa originally sued for $80 million in damages, he has said he “will not keep one cent” of the money, and that the reason the ruling is important is that it sets a historic precedent, signaling “the beginning of the end of abuses by corrupt press.”
Palacio, who resigned last week from El Universo in hopes that President Correa would drop the charges against him and the newspaper, has said that the president misinterpreted his meaning. “I was not accusing the president, only warning him” that a future opponent could do so, he wrote in a column last Thursday. Palacio plans to appeal the judge’s ruling and says he was not given the opportunity to present evidence in court. El Universo will do the same. In an editorial published yesterday the newspaper said it “rejects this sentence of 80 pages, dictated in record time” and that its lawyers “will exhaust all national and international means of recourse.”
Press freedom advocates have also criticized the ruling. Diego Cornejo, executive director of the Asociación Ecuatoriana de Editores de Periódicos (Ecuadorian Association of Newspaper Editors), said the suit and judge’s decisión could lead to censorship and self-censorship among the press. Gonzalo Marroquín, president of the Inter-American Press Association, called it “a grave hit against the most essential principals of freedom of expression.”
July 20, 2011Read More Tags: Jose Miguel Insulza, Organization of American States (OAS)
Strange things seem to happen in Washington DC when the temperature climbs. As the thermometer approached triple digits today, the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs (HFAC) actually referenced the American classic film “Animal House.” The HFAC proposed cutting off funding for the Organization of American States (OAS), which the U.S. helped create and has supported from its founding in 1948.
As I describe in the forthcoming article “Is the OAS Irrelevant?” in the Americas Quarterly to be released on August 10 and available in Barnes & Noble stores beginning August 15, it has been a rough couple of years for the OAS. Most notable was the fiasco over the 2009 coup d’état in Honduras; recently a Truth and Reconciliation Commission has affirmed that the ouster of ex-President José Manuel Zelaya was, in fact, a coup. Then there was the controversial vote to end Cuba’s 50-year-old suspension, the continued blind eye that the organization seemed to turn toward Hugo Chávez’ antics in Venezuela, and a general sense that no adults were left to run the place.
The theoretical strength of the OAS is its inclusive nature. Yet that is also its weakness. All 34 countries in the Americas (except Cuba) are members and even the tiniest Caribbean nation can be heard during discussions. But because it is bound by consensus, that broad mandate works only so well as there is a consensus of approach among the members. As Latin America and the Caribbean have become increasingly diverse in their political and philosophical outlook, consensus of any kind had become harder to come by. As a consequence, the OAS itself has become mired in its own indecision.
Attacks on the OAS from Washington have been going on for years, but they have intensified during the tenure of current Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, a veteran Chilean politician known in his home country as “El Panzer.” With his socialist ties, Insulza was not the U.S.’ first choice nor its second. And criticism of his administration has become a wider chorus. Since he was elected to his first five-year term in 2005—he has since been re-elected last year—Insulza and the OAS have been the targets of bipartisan complaints and threats.
July 20, 2011Tags: Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, Referendum, International Court of Justice, Contras
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega proposed a referendum on Tuesday that would demand that the U.S. government pay $17 billion in damages to Nicaragua for its role in that country’s civil war in the 1980s. President Ortega made the announcement during a political rally in Managua to celebrate the anniversary of the 1979 ouster of dictator Anastasio Somoza by the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN).
The claim of due damages originated in 1986, when the International Court of Justice ruled that the U.S. had violated international law by “training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the contra forces.” It did not specify an amount for the indemnity. The administration of then-President Ronald Reagan blocked the ruling from being implemented through its power of veto on the UN Security Council. The charge was later dropped by former Nicaraguan President Violeta Chamorro in 1992, and Nicaragua never received compensation.
While Ortega’s proposed referendum drew support from a left-leaning crowd at the rally, Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, an opposition deputy, called the proposal “absurd” and said it would amount to nothing.
President Ortega, who has been in power since 2006, proposed the referendum amid the lead-up to November’s presidential elections, in which he plans to seek a third term.
July 19, 2011Tags: Chile, Education, Sebastian Piñera
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced several changes to his Cabinet yesterday, after his government’s approval rating fell to 31 percent, from 63 percent last October. The low approval is due in part to ongoing protests by students who demand reforms to the national education system. Justice Minister Felipe Bulnes will now take over the Education Ministry, and Pablo Longueira and Andrés Chadwick—two well-known senators from the conservative Unión Demócrata Independiente party, which is part of President Piñera’s Alianza por Chile coalition—have been assigned to the Ministries of Economy and Interior.
Thousands of students convened by the Confederación de Estudiantes de Chile (CONFECH) have taken to the streets of Santiago and other main cities of Chile calling for reform of the education system inherited from the Pinochet-era. The protests started in mid-May this year and have intensified since then. According to a statement published on the CONFECH website, the mobilizations aim for the defense and restoration of public education, the increase of state expenditures on education, not-for-profit schooling, and democratization of educational institutions.
Mining and Energy Minister Laurence Golborne, who gained enormous popularity following the rescue of 33 miners in October 2010 and is thought to have presidential aspirations, will move to the Ministry of Public Works. He leaves behind the problem of increasing labor unrest at the state copper mine CODELCO.
Piñera has been criticized by other political leaders for his cabinet reshuffle. José Antonio Gómez, from the opposition Partido Radical party, questioned why the president has appointed a total of four senators from his Alianza por Chile coalition—out of 16 in the Senate—to ministry positions. Noting that party leadership will now designate senators to fill those seats, Gómez and others argued that the decision undermines democracy, as it does not give citizens the opportunity to vote for those who will represent them.
July 19, 2011Read More Tags: Dominican Republic, Baseball, Sports
As the NFL lockout nears an end, its resolution will almost certainly redistribute income from incoming rookies to veteran players. The same could be the case in impending Major League Baseball (MLB) negotiations, where the interests of Caribbean youth might be sacrificed to those of the league and its current players.
Historically, top NFL draft picks yet to play a down received larger contracts than players who had proved themselves over seasons of bone-crushing, concussion-inducing play. But as owners and players negotiated distribution of the players’ share of revenue, the 224 collegians drafted by NFL teams—who had no seat at the table—found their collective self-interests ignored. Instead, the new contract will include a rookie salary scale limiting their pay.
A similar scenario could unfold in baseball. The issue is whether Caribbean youth will be included in the annual player draft. Currently, only players in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico reaching the age at which their high school classes graduate are draft-eligible. Extending the draft internationally would include youth from the Caribbean, baseball’s most fertile recruiting grounds.
Dominicans alone hold a tenth of all major league roster spots and a quarter of those in the minor leagues. Foreign-born players, overwhelmingly Latinos, constitute over 27 percent of all major leaguers and about half of all minor leaguers.
Caudillos Can Be Already Removed from Office in Honduras—Just Not the Way It Was Done with President Zelaya
July 18, 2011Read More Tags: Manuel Zelaya, Coup in Honduras, Honduran Truth Commission
Last week, the Honduran Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Commission) confirmed that the June 28, 2009 forced removal of former President of Honduras Manuel Zelaya was a coup d’état. This is good news. Unfortunately, the report goes on to recommend a series of unnecessary constitutional reforms intended to allow for a legal process to remove a president from power.
Problem is: procedures for a special trial against high-ranking state officials are already clearly and unambiguously articulated and regulated in the current constitution. They just weren’t followed. Amending the beleaguered Honduran constitution again to address this phantom problem will not only fail to address the fundamental issue behind the events of June 28th, they will further confuse and weaken Honduran rule of law.
The Commission’s report, “To Prevent These Events from Happening Again” claims (1) that “the Honduran system for checks on the executive power is problematic and has substantial omissions, along with contradictory and dispersed legal rules, open to a lax interpretation;” (2) that “a basic modern constitutional principle is that a president may not be removed by a court decision, but only by a resolution of Congress with due process of law;” (3) that “the constitutional crisis of June 28, 2009 demonstrated that Honduras lacks an impeachment process;” and (4) that “to prevent these events (the coup) from happening again, the constitution should create this procedure.”.
But these assertions are simply not true. Article 313(2)(c) of the Honduran Constitution gives the Supreme Court the power “to adjudicate on the legal actions brought against the highest state officials and congressmen.” Articles 414 to 417 of the current Code of Criminal Procedure outline each of the steps that a criminal suit against the president must follow.
July 18, 2011Read More Tags: Colombia
Desaparecerse del mundo bloguero es fácil cuando uno arranca un proyecto periodístico al que le dedica incansables horas. El primer sacrificio es abandonar aquellos espacios de opinión para volver a la rigurosa reportaría e investigación y sólo con el correr de la práctica, termina dándose cuenta que es capaz de hacer ambas cosas. O por lo menos intenta. Hace casi tres meses regresé a Colombia, esta vez como editora del portal Votebien—una plataforma de medios de comunicación, organizaciones sociales y cooperación internacional con el respaldo editorial de la revista Semana. Como reportera en la versión de 2010 en la que cinco colegas cubrimos las elecciones presidenciales, disfruté del periodismo serio, riguroso e independiente, y un equipo profesional incomparable. Viajé por buena parte del país, dicté talleres a colegas y aprendí de periodismo web y política 2.0 como nunca antes. Ahora con menos recursos y también menos periodistas, volvimos con el compromiso de cubrir las elecciones locales, un escenario de poder donde se juegan aún más los modelos administrativos, las cuotas burocráticas y la maquinaria electoral.
Los colombianos elegiremos en octubre ediles, concejales, alcaldes, y gobernadores en todo el país. Daremos con nuestro voto el poder a nada menos que 23 mil funcionarios públicos.
La preocupación de quienes apoyan la alianza y permiten que Votebien esté al aire es genuina: En Colombia las elecciones no son el fruto de un voto informado ni programático. Son, lamentablemente, escenarios donde presionan los grupos armados, las élites, los corruptos, el narcotráfico, los mafiosos y los políticos que por años se han quedado con la torta burocrática de sus regiones.
July 18, 2011Tags: Peru, Ollanta Humala
Only 10 days prior to his inauguration on July 28, Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala’s approval rating has dropped to 41 percent. The latest figure comes from a survey released yesterday by Peruvian firm Ipsos Apoyo—the same organization that polled support of Humala at 70 percent less than one month ago.
Ipsos Apoyo director Alfredo Torres attributes the 29-point slide to the fallout from a trip that Ollanta Humala’s brother, Alexis Humala, took to Russia earlier this month. While there, he held a series of meetings with high-level public- and private-sector officials, including Russian minister of foreign affairs Sergey Lavrov. Both sides report that they discussed oil and gas issues and improving bilateral ties, but the Peruvian media is also reporting that Alexis Humala met with Russian arms manufacturers, the defense minister and representatives from Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas corporation.
While the President-elect maintains that he did not send his brother to Russia as an envoy of the incoming administration, the Russian foreign ministry averred that Alexis was sent as a “special representative” of the Peruvian government. Alexis Humala lived in Russia for nearly 10 years and has close ties to the country. According to the poll, 77 percent of Ipsos Apoyo respondents believe that Alexis Humala tried to use his ties to his brother for personal benefit and 82 percent of respondents disapprove of the trip.
In the face of growing consternation, President-elect Humala on July 8 suspended Alexis from the Partido Nacionalista Peruano—a party the brothers co-founded together—which also forms part of the Gana Perú coalition that carried President-elect Humala to victory earlier this year.
July 15, 2011Tags: Fernando Lugo
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The Paraguayan Congress on Thursday rejected a constitutional amendment that would allow presidential re-election. Supporters of President Fernando Lugo’s Alianza Patriótica por el Cambio (Patriotic Alliance for Change—APC) party presented the opposition-controlled Congress with a petition of 100,000 signatures urging lawmakers to overturn one-term limit that dates back to 1992. But after Thursday’s ruling, President Lugo—who has claimed no interest in running for re-election—will leave office at the end of his first term in August 2013.
Several supporters of the amendment walked out of the hearing in protest of the decision, including Senator Carlos Filizzola, who said, “We are turning our backs on the country, they have smacked the citizens.” But Senator Lilian Samaniego was skeptical of the president’s stance on the re-election issue, saying the "campaign for re-election is encouraged by the president of the Republic, who with his classic ambiguity intended to appear as alien to the attempted constitutional violation."
Lugo was elected in 2008, ending six decades of rule by the Colorado Party on pledges to champion the needs of the poor.
July 14, 2011Read More Tags: Brazil, economic growth, President Dilma Rousseff, inflation
With inflation this month reaching a projected 6.3 percent per year and a currency that has increased 47 percent against the dollar since the end of 2008, could the Brazilian economic miracle be just a bubble? Though there are warning signs, there are also positive signals that indicate Brazil be able to power through--though at significant cost.
First the negative signals. Chief among these is the signs of an overheating economy. In June the Central Bank’s adjusted, upward, the rate of inflation to 6.3 percent--slightly over its target. Add to this near full employment, the limited efforts to reduce the Brazilian government’s stimulus (through BNDES and federal spending--especially in preparation for the World Cup and Olympics), and the promise to increase the minimum wage by 14.5 percent next year and it looks like a pressure cooker. Granted it doesn’t approach Argentina or Venezuela, but 6 percent-plus inflation touches the upper limits of the government’s comfort level and is Brazil’s highest rate since 2005.
Second is the overvalued Brazilian real. High interest rates (an effort by the Central Bank to contain inflation), record high commodity exports, and a flood of foreign investment have swollen the value of the real. The appreciated value of Brazilian currency against the U.S. dollar and the renminbi has hurt exports and undercut domestic manufacturing. And in an economy in which corporations have come to rely on foreign credit, the appreciated exchange rate has led many to take out dollar-denominated loans. A drop in the value of the real relative to the dollar would place a serious crimp on those corporations. Any sort of devaluation in Brazil’s floating exchange rate will be tough on the economy.
July 14, 2011Read More Tags: Arturo Valenzuela, Social Media
Last week, the Obama administration organized the White House’s first ever Twitter Town Hall. More than 60,000 questions were tweeted well before the start of the town hall—making it a massive outreach on jobs and the economy. While logistically awkward, the amount of participants in the town hall underscores the unrivaled reach of both Twitter as a medium and the imperative to know and use this tool.
Clearly, this administration recognizes the transformative power of social media. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela gets it too.
As Valenzuela’s tenure comes to a close at the State Department, many observers will assess how he left his mark on U.S. foreign policy and policymaking. Most, if not all, past administrations have made an impact on their Latin American policies with an innovative initiative or style. Examples include John F. Kennedy (Alliance for Progress), George H.W. Bush/Bill Clinton (Free Trade Area of the Americas), and George W. Bush (democracy promotion). What will Valenzuela be known for?
With his digital town hall last November, active Twitter feed and Facebook account—amid the burgeoning Facebook presence of U.S. Embassies in the Americas—Valenzuela’s assertive use and understanding of social media stand out as a chief positive contribution. This proactive social media presence falls in line with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “21st Century Statecraft.”
July 14, 2011Read More Tags: Economic Development, Youth, Crime and Security, Employment and unemployment, Walmart
However you feel about big-box retail setting up shop in New York, Walmart’s announcement last week of a $4-million donation to New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) offered some cause for celebration. According to the New York City government, private funds donated by Walmart and other companies will enable the program to provide an additional 4,000 New York City youth (aged 14 to 24 years old) with summer employment and educational opportunities. This comes on top of the 24,000 slots the program had secured through public funds alone.
SYEP, which began in the 1960s, places youth in various minimum-wage jobs at camps, parks, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, retail companies, and small businesses across the five boroughs of New York City. It also offers career exploration opportunities, training in financial literacy and information about post-secondary educational opportunities. Though reduced from the 35,000 placements made in 2010 and the 52,000 made in 2009, the 28,000 jobs SYEP will offer youth this summer are good news at a time when 24.5 percent of 16- to 19-year olds and 14.5 percent of 20- to 24-year-olds are unemployed across the country. But still, with 131,000 young people filing applications to be a part of SYEP this year, there remains unmet demand by aspiring workers.
July 14, 2011Tags: Brazil, transportation policy
Following its failure to attract private proposals for a high-speed rail between the cities of São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian government has decided to cancel the competitive bidding scheduled for July 29 and change the rules for the project. Bidding will now be split into two phases—one to determine the operator and technology for the train, and the other to establish the company or consortium that will construct it. The train may even be operated by state-controlled company ETAV, according to O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper.
Bernardo Figueiredo, the director general of the Agência Nacional de Transportes Terrestres (National Agency of Land Transportation), attributed the lack of success in finding a bidder to difficulties between national and foreign companies in forming a consortium, which was a condition of the bidding process. “There were six groups with the technical knowledge but they had problems joining with civil construction firms,” Figueiredo explained. “Now we will separate the operation from the construction,” which will increase competition for the bids.
This is the third time the auction for the trem de alta velocidade (TAV) has been delayed. Bidding was originally supposed to take place in December 2010 but was postponed to April 2011 to accommodate potential bidders’ request for more time to analyze the project. In April it was again postponed to July to allow bidders to form consortiums. Following the latest changes, the first round of bidding is now expected to take place in September or October of this year, with the second round to follow in early 2012. Figueredo and other government officials have said the change in bidding process will not affect the project’s cost, estimated at a total of 38 billion reais ($24 billion), or its timeline, with construction expected to begin in 2013, though transport specialists and construction firms appear skeptical. Only a part of the TAV is likely to be completed by 2016.
The 500 kilometer (300 mile) rail link is considered a key infrastructure project for the government of Dilma Rousseff, which faces the notable challenge of upgrading and expanding its transportation infrastructure, especially in the lead-up to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Companies from China, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, and South Korea have demonstrated interest in the project, which will receive 20 billion reais ($13 billion) in loans from Brazilian development bank BNDES, and an additional $3.4 billion in direct government investment.
July 13, 2011Read More Tags: Canada, U.S. Congress, Quebec
I cannot recall when the issue of raising the United States’ debt ceiling was so contentious. The gridlock has reached fever pitch, despite warnings from economists, financiers and former Treasury officials of the risk the U.S. runs if government intervention is not undertaken. As the world’s strongest economy with the largest reserve currency, a U.S. default would have disastrous consequences on the global financial system.
What is different this time around has a lot to do with how the Republicans have been able to frame the debate around the current deficit numbers (around 9 percent of GDP) and the debt figure now surpassing 90 percent of GDP. As a result, President Obama is locked in a debate about the size and the role of government. The dialogue no longer concerns a balanced budget. Rather, the Republican leadership, under the scrutiny of a vocal and united Tea Party movement, is unable to deliver the kind of compromise solution that could include substantial spending reductions but would also involve new tax revenues.
Looking back on previous battles, we have seen a Republican president like George H.W. Bush raise taxes—at great political cost—to reduce the gap between spending and revenue. A Democratic president like Bill Clinton accepted welfare reform and tax reductions in his effort to streamline government; he left office with balanced and surplus budgets.
In Canada and Québec, the fight for fiscal sanity both in the 1990s and the most recent recession concentrated on careful consideration of the role of government. The mix of two-thirds spending cuts with one-third new revenues, agreed upon in the latest round of debt negotiations, has kept both jurisdictions on course for a balanced budget by 2014. In the process, Canadian lawmakers have not had to encounter an ideological battle about the size and scope of government to the extent that is seen in the U.S.
July 13, 2011Read More Tags: Colombia, Chavez, Codelco, Rousseff, Humala, Venenzuela, Chilean mining
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Chávez Likely to Need Chemotherapy
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said he may go through a third stage of treatment involving radiation or chemotherapy, following surgery to remove a cancerous tumor that he described as the size of a baseball. Chávez received extreme unction on Tuesday, saying it would serve to protect his body against malignant cells. Bloomberg analyzes what Chávez’s illness means for his 2012 presidential bid.
China Promises More Funds for Venezuela
Convalescing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said over the weekend that Beijing will loan Caracas another $4 billion for development projects, including railway infrastructure. Venezuela will contribute $2 billion of its own funds to the activities. The Associated Press reports that “China has become Venezuela’s biggest foreign lender in recent years,” with $32 billion in exchange for oil shipments.
Humala’s Brother Meets with Gazprom
President-elect Ollanta Humala returned from a visit to Washington to controversy, after the Russian state-controlled oil company said that Humala’s brother Alexis had visited claiming to be a “special representative of the President-elect of the Republic of Peru.” Ollanta Humala denied that his brother, who studied engineering in Russia and speaks the language fluently, went to Russia as a representative of the Peruvian government.
July 13, 2011Tags: Agriculture, Dilma Rousseff
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff yesterday announced the creation of a $10 billion fund to help small-scale agricultural producers maximize output and revenues during the 2011–2012 growing season. The fund, which was a major promise when Rousseff was campaigning for office, is targeted at rural family farms and is designed to curb poverty and reduce urban migration.
Brazil is currently the world’s largest producer of coffee, oranges and sugar and is one of few countries whose agricultural exports continue to grow rapidly. In addition to the small-farmer fund, Ms. Rousseff has also announced nearly $64 billion in government spending to support commercial farming nationwide. Family farms produce approximately 70 percent of Brazil’s total domestic food consumption and nearly 70 percent of rural Brazilians work in some capacity in the agricultural sector.
The announcement of the fund is consistent with decades of Brazilian government policy which, since the mid-1970s, has played an active role in supporting agricultural development.
For more on Brazil’s agricultural boom, check out the forthcoming AQ—coming out August 10, 2011—which includes a policy update on the topic.
July 12, 2011Read More Tags: Colombia, Guantanamo, human rights in Latin America, Human Rights Watch, Military Tribunals
During the last two weeks of June, Human Rights Watch (HRW) celebrated the 22nd (1989) version of the HRW International Film Festival in Walter Reade Theater in New York. I only saw two of the screenings, but even today I’m still haunted by what I saw.
When sitting alone in my apartment I think of the 25-year-old Canadian Muslim who’s been locked up in isolation for the last nine years in a window-less cold room at Guantánamo Bay. Or I remember the words of Carlos Horacio Urán Rodríguez’ daughter when she addressed the audience after La Toma: “I was 2 years old and I remember” how her father was mysteriously found shot after the siege of the Colombian Supreme Court in 1985. He left the Court alive and contradicting any logic was found shot dead the next day in that same building.
This is a testament to the power of film—a particularly important and powerful medium for human rights.
More than 7,500 people attended this year’s 19 films, which covered human rights in 12 countries including Guatemala, Colombia, the U.S., Kenya, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Bulgaria. The good news is that the festival premiered 17 films in New York—five of them for the first time in the United States. The bad news? Most of them were hardly screened in their country of origin.
The Festival’s goal was to exploit the power of media in all its forms to create awareness, promote debate, inspire, and inform. What better way to do that than through film which can bring to life past (or even worse, current) events—many of which the public often considers foreign or remote. (It’s an unconscious—if not unforgivable mistake we all make: if we don’t see it, it’s not happening). Movies can vividly transport audiences by recreating sensations and personalizing trauma that—more than anything—can shake the public out of their complacency or disbelieve. It was what allowed me to know about and empathize with Omar Khadr’s life in Guantánamo Bay and the suffering of Colombian families who after 25 years of the Supreme Court’s siege by M-19 guerrillas still don't know the truth about the disappearance of their loved ones.
Luc Côté and Patricio Henríquez’s shocking You Don’t Like The Truth-4 Days Inside Guantanamo is now my ‘everyday bread.’ Imagine you are buried alive. It’s dark. You’re running out of oxygen (are you really imagining this?) and even though you scream for help no one is there to assist you. You’re alone. No exit. This is the feeling I imagine Omar Khadr has felt for the past nine years he has been imprisoned without trial under the harshest conditions.
Allegedly, when he was 15 years old and the U.S. Army ambushed the camp in Afghanistan where his father had left him, he threw a grenade and killed U.S. soldier Christopher Speers. After being shot in the chest, losing an eye, and suffering painful leg injuries, Omar was taken to the Bagram Airfield camp in Afghanistan, well known for the infamous and humiliating tortures that occurred there.
July 12, 2011Tags: Guatemala, Álvaro Colom, Sandra Torres
The Guatemalan Supreme Court this morning rejected an appeal by former First Lady Sandra Torres to allow her to run for president to in elections on September 11. The winner will take office from President Álvaro Colom, Torres’ husband until March 2011. Article 186 of Guatemala’s constitution bans relatives of any sitting president from running for office. After divorcing President Colom, Ms. Torres, had hoped their legal separation would exempt her from the provision.
As first lady, Ms. Torres maintained a high profile in overseeing numerous government-sponsored anti-poverty programs and has enjoyed widespread popularity. That reputation led many to believe she could win the presidency under the incumbent Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE) party. Numerous polls, however, have shown her trailing the leading conservative candidate and former army general Otto Pérez by a wide margin.
It is unclear whether Mr. Torres will continue the appeals process to the federal Constitutional Court—Guatemala’s highest court—or choose to bow out of the race. Analysts also say no clear successor to Mr. Colom is evident from within his own party.
July 11, 2011Read More Tags: Education, Sebastian Piñera, Concertación
May is a month during which students traditionally protest. In 2006, secondary-school students took to the streets in what was dubbed the “Penguin Revolution,” demanding that the Michelle Bachelet government do something about public education. The movement managed to force an education minister to resign and to establish some dialogue with the government. But broader structural reforms never really got off the ground.
The same students, today in university, have taken to the streets in even greater numbers. But this time they’re facing a government that has little patience for mass demonstrations, little understanding of social movements and little inclination to strengthen the public education system. Structural reforms such as financing the public system, teacher quality and whether private universities profit from student enrollment (the law says they cannot, but in practice loopholes make it possible) remain very much part of the students’ demands.
In fact, since March, the government of President Sebastián Piñera has faced a series of demonstrations not only from the educational sector, but also from opponents to a hydroelectric project and in favor of sexual diversity. Like the Penguin movement of five years ago, the striking thing is the heterogeneous nature of those taking part. Of the hundreds of thousands who have taken to the Alameda, Santiago’s main thoroughfare, there has been a wide range of ages, socioeconomic backgrounds and political affiliations.
Which is precisely the point. Those marching for better public education, the environment and sexual diversity may be left or right, Concertación or Alianza, or, most likely, neither of the two coalitions. Recent public opinion polls confirm this trend. While the Piñera government lingers with 31 percent approval and 60 percent disapproval, the opposition Concertación is actually doing worse, garnering 68 percent disapproval. With an economy growing at about 6 percent, why such political discontent?
July 11, 2011Tags: Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Buenos Aires, 2011 Argentina Elections
The next mayor of Buenos Aires will be decided on July 31 after no candidate secured an outright majority during Sunday’s vote in the Argentine capital. Mayor Mauricio Macri—the frontrunner and leader of the Propuesta Republicana (PRO) party—won 47.1 percent of the vote while Daniel Filmus of the Peronist Frente para la Victoria (FPV) party received 27.8 percent of ballots cast, according to results posted with 79 percent of the ballots counted. Fernando ‘Pino’ Solanas from Proyecto Sur received nearly 13 percent of the votes.
Macri reacted with euphoria: “This was greater than what we imagined. I am happy.” Filmus called on other parties to join him in July. “I’ve heard a lot of coincidences. A lot of forces talking about a fairer Buenos Aires. Those forces need to join me in a common project,” he said.
The July 31 runoff election will serve as a thermometer of the political environment preceding the presidential election on October 23, when President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (FPV) will run for re-election. Macri himself previously pulled out of the presidential election to focus on the city; he campaigned on a project of inclusion.
President Fernández de Kirchner called Filmus yesterday evening and told him to “fight the battle.” However, only her ministers attended Filmus’ press conference yesterday.
July 11, 2011Read More Tags: Mexico, Gay Rights
Thousands convened along the Paseo de la Reforma to participate in Mexico City’s 33rd Gay Pride Parade recently. Adorned in colorful flags and angel costumes and chanting loudly amid peals of music, people of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) orientation marched and danced in demand of respect for sexual diversity in Mexico.
The motto this year was “Laws without Discrimination for the Whole Nation”—referring to the drive to take the progressive LGBT policies that exist in Mexico City (Distrito Federal—D.F.) and expand them across all of Mexico. In December 2009, the Asamblea Legislativa del Distrito Federal (Legislative Assembly of Mexico City) permitted gay marriage in Mexico City, making it the first city in Latin America to do so. The policy has been in effect since March 2010.
“We want the entire Mexican Republic to have all the advances that have been won in the D.F.,” said Octavio Perez, 26, of the Gay Pride Parade’s organizing committee. “That is basically the essence of the march.”
Although the Mexican capital has made venerable progress with regard to LGBT rights, homophobia within the country remains virulent. Between 1995 and 2008, the nongovernmental organization Letra S has documented 628 registered homicides connected to homophobia, as quoted by the Mexican National Commission of Human Rights. Moreover, 52 percent of Mexican lesbians, gays and bisexuals consider discrimination one of the main problems they face, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Council to Prevent Discrimination (CONAPRED). The same survey also notes that homosexuals and bisexuals admit that they encounter the most intolerance from the police and religious groups.
July 8, 2011Tags: Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, Leopoldo Lopez, Nicolás Maduro, Elias Jaua
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez yesterday held his first cabinet meeting since making a surprise return to Venezuela earlier this week, only days after admitting in Cuba that he is battling cancer. While he referred to his diagnosis many times during the meeting, Chávez showed no apparent signs of weakness and vowed to overcome his cancer by proclaiming, “We will win, and we will live.”
Contrary to reports from Venezuelan daily newspaper El Mundo that Chávez would remove Vice President Elías Jaua from power and replace him with current Minister of Foreign Affairs Nicolas Maduro, Chávez instead announced that Jaua would remain in his post and that he had decided to extend the terms his cabinet members. Chávez also announced the creation of a new ministry of youth and appointed journalist Maria Pilar Hernandez as its first minister.
Oncologists suggest that if rumors that Chávez has advanced colon cancer are true, he could have as little as four to nine months left to live. In the run up to Venezuela’s presidential election in December 2012, top opposition leaders such as Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo López have said that they prefer to see Chávez lose at the ballot box rather than to an illness. Chávez addressed these criticisms by telling his opponents, “You will never again govern the Venezuelan fatherland.”
July 8, 2011Read More Tags: Colombia, Panama, Free Trade, U.S. Congress
After Republicans won the House last November, predictions of gridlock usually cited one potential exception—trade policy. President Obama affirmed his support for free-trade agreements (FTAs) in his State of the Union address in January, raising hopes that the three pending deals could be approved this year. As a Senate Foreign Relations Committee minority report argued, in an era of divided government, the agreements “provide an opportunity for bipartisan cooperation on the administration’s stated goal of doubling exports in 5 years.”
If only it were that easy. While yesterday’s “mock mark-ups” were a welcome and necessary step, they didn’t stand out for bipartisanship. The House Ways and Means Committee approved the implementing bills for the Colombia and Panama FTAs on partisan lines, with all Republican Members voting for them and all Democratic Members voting against. Many of these Democrats expressed support for the agreements, but used their nay votes to protest the omission of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) in the South Korea bill.
Indeed, TAA has proved to be the partisan sticking point. Many Republicans and Democrats can agree that free-trade agreements are tools to spur job creation and growth without deficit spending, but the same can’t be said of training for displaced workers. The unfortunate irony is that the fiscal cost of renewed funding for TAA would be much lower than the cost incurred to U.S. businesses by a failure to approve the three FTAs.
On the Senate side, the Finance Committee met yesterday on the second try, after Republicans boycotted the mock-up originally scheduled for June 30. The South Korea bill, with TAA language included, was the target of the partisan standoff, passing on party lines by 13 Democrats to 11 Republicans. Ranking Member Orrin Hatch vowed to vote against the agreement if it includes “the TAA poison pill.” For once, Colombia was less controversial with an 18-6 vote, and Panama passed easily, 22 to 2. No amendments passed.
July 7, 2011Tags: NAFTA, Mexico, President Obama, President Calderon, transportation
After nearly two decades of tension and ongoing dispute, the United States Department of Transportation yesterday announced the signing of an agreement that will allow U.S. and Mexican trucks to freely transport goods anywhere across the nearly 2,000-mile long U.S.-Mexico border. The new accord formalizes an agreement announced in March by Presidents Calderón and Obama and marks the end of one of the largest commercial disputes to arise between the two countries since the North American Free Trade Agreement came into force in 1994.
An immediate effect of the new accord will be the removal by Mexico of nearly $2.4 billion worth of punitive tariffs that it imposed in 2010 in response to a U.S. court ruling that prohibited Mexican trucks from transporting goods within the United States. According to a statement by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, "the agreements…are a win for roadway safety and they are a win for trade."
The accord resolves numerous safety concerns, which had stymied earlier efforts to conclude negotiations. Mexican trucks will be required to use electronic systems that monitor hours of service and routes and Mexican drivers will be required to take tests that gauge their understanding of English and ability to read traffic signs.
Pro-business groups, which had lobbied hard on behalf of the agreement, responded swiftly to yesterday’s news: "This is a vital program to our region's competitiveness that will foster greater security and increase efficiency at our border, while reducing the cost of business in our region, which ultimately benefits consumers with lower prices," said Kyle Burns, president and CEO of the Free Trade Alliance San Antonio.
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