• Pentagon to Certify End to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

    July 22, 2011

    by AQ Online

    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.

    Tags: Gay Rights, gays in the military

  • Ping Pong Diplomacy: Will Cuba Catch Up?

    July 21, 2011

    by Christopher Sabatini

    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.

    Tags: Cuba, Barack Obama, Fidel Castro, Sports

  • Mexico’s Supreme Court Versus the Military

    July 21, 2011

    by Arjan Shahani

    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. 

    Read More

    Tags: Mexico, Felipe Calderon, Drug Cartels

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    July 21, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

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

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    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.

    Read More

    Tags: OAS, Humala, Venezula, Brazil transparency, Argentina elections

  • President Correa Wins Libel Lawsuit against Newspaper

    July 21, 2011

    by AQ Online

    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.”

    Tags: Ecuador, Press Freedom, El Universo

  • U.S. House of Representatives Goes “Animal House” on the OAS

    July 20, 2011

    by Anthony DePalma

    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.

    Read More

    Tags: Jose Miguel Insulza, Organization of American States (OAS)

  • Ortega Proposes U.S. Compensation for Damages in Civil War

    July 20, 2011

    by AQ Online

    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.

    Tags: Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, Referendum, International Court of Justice, Contras

  • President Piñera Reshuffles Cabinet amid Negative Approval Ratings

    July 19, 2011

    by AQ Online

    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. 

    Tags: Chile, Education, Sebastian Piñera

  • NFL Lockout Raises Question of MLB Recruiting Reforms

    July 19, 2011

    by Rob Ruck

    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. 

    Read More

    Tags: Dominican Republic, Baseball, Sports

  • Caudillos Can Be Already Removed from Office in Honduras—Just Not the Way It Was Done with President Zelaya

    July 18, 2011

    by Javier El-Hage

    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.

    Read More

    Tags: Manuel Zelaya, Coup in Honduras, Honduran Truth Commission

  • Votebien: Vigilancia periodística a las elecciones en Colombia

    July 18, 2011

    by Jenny Manrique

    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.

    Read More

    Tags: Colombia

  • Ollanta Humala’s Approval Rating Plummets

    July 18, 2011

    by AQ Online

    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.

    Tags: Peru, Ollanta Humala

  • Paraguay Prohibits Presidential Re-election

    July 15, 2011

    by AQ Online

    NOTE: If you were incorrectly directed here and are looking for the Fall 2011 Table of Contents, please access it here.

    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.

    Tags: Fernando Lugo

  • Brazil: Boom or Bubble?

    July 14, 2011

    by Christopher Sabatini

    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.

    Read More

    Tags: Brazil, economic growth, President Dilma Rousseff, inflation

  • A Brave New World, All-a-Twitter

    July 14, 2011

    by Liz Harper

    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.”

    Read More

    Tags: Arturo Valenzuela, Social Media

  • Private Funds Aid New York City's Summer Jobs Program

    July 14, 2011

    by Nina Agrawal

    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.

    Read More

    Tags: Economic Development, Youth, Crime and Security, Employment and unemployment, Walmart

  • Brazil to Delay Bidding for Bullet Train Project

    July 14, 2011

    by AQ Online

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

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

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

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

    Tags: Brazil, transportation policy

  • What the Debt Debate is Really About

    July 13, 2011

    by John Parisella

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

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

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

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

    Read More

    Tags: Canada, U.S. Congress, Quebec

  • Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

    July 13, 2011

    by AS-COA Online

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

    Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

    Chávez Likely to Need Chemotherapy

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

    China Promises More Funds for Venezuela

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

    Humala’s Brother Meets with Gazprom

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

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

  • Brazil Announces Major Investments in Agriculture

    July 13, 2011

    by AQ Online

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

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

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

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

    Tags: Agriculture, Dilma Rousseff

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

    July 12, 2011

    by Lina Salazar Ortegón

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Former Guatemalan First Lady Barred from Presidential Run

    July 12, 2011

    by AQ Online

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

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

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

    Tags: Guatemala, Álvaro Colom, Sandra Torres

  • Piñera’s Penguins

    July 11, 2011

    by Robert L. Funk

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

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

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

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

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    Tags: Education, Sebastian Piñera, Concertación

  • Mayoral Elections in Buenos Aires Go to a Second Round

    July 11, 2011

    by AQ Online

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

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

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

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

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

  • LGBT Activists Rally in Mexico City

    July 11, 2011

    by Isabelle Schäfer

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

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

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

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

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    Tags: Mexico, Gay Rights

  • Chávez Holds First Cabinet Meeting since Returning to Venezuela

    July 8, 2011

    by AQ Online

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

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

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

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

  • Continued Partisanship at Mock Mark-Ups of Trade Bills

    July 8, 2011

    by Kezia McKeague

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

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

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

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

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

  • Mexico and United States End Long-Standing Trucking Dispute

    July 7, 2011

    by AQ Online

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

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

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

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

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

  • Morreu o maior líder negro brasileiro do Século XX

    July 6, 2011

    by Paulo Rogério

    An English translation will appear below this text, originally submitted in Portuguese.

    O Brasil perdeu um dos seus mais importantes líderes da luta pelos direitos humanos. Aos 97 anos, morreu, no Rio de Janeiro, o escritor, jornalista, ex-senador e dramaturgo, Abdias Nascimento no mês de maio. Considerado o mais importante ativista negro, depois do lendário Zumbi dos Palmares, Abdias representa, para os negros brasileiros, algo semelhante ao que Nelson Mandela representa para os sul-africanos, ambos com uma biografia dedicada à luta contra o racismo em seus países.

    A história de Abdias Nascimento confunde-se com a própria luta pela igualdade racial no Brasil. Sua militância começou na juventude, quando, ainda na década de 30, participou da Frente Negra Brasileira, o primeiro movimento nacional contra o racismo. E, em 1944, fundou com outros ativistas negros (procure um sinônimo) o Teatro Experimental do Negro, uma companhia que tinha como objetivo protestar contra a falta de negros na dramaturgia brasileira. Abdias foi, também, o primeiro senador negro do Brasil e um dos primeiros legisladores a abordar medidas de reparação para os descendentes de africanos escravizados no Brasil. Seus memoráveis discursos no Senado Brasileiro eram iniciados com um pedido de proteção às divindades africanas, das quais era devoto.

    Abdias foi também um embaixador da causa negra brasileira no exterior. Exilado nos Estados Unidos durante os anos da ditadura militar no Brasil, o ativista entrou em contato com dezenas de importantes líderes afrodescendentes da África e demais países da diáspora.  Na condição de professor convidado por prestigiadas universidades como  a Yale School of Dramatic Arts, o escritor sempre sempre se dedicou a divulgação da história e cultura dos povos negros do Brasil. Suas denúncias nos fóruns internacionais fizeram de Abdias uma persona non grata para o establishment brasileiro, que refutava veementemente sua crítica à falsa democracia racial brasileira.

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    Tags: Social inclusion

  • UN Proposes Truth Commission on Duvalier Dictatorship

    July 6, 2011

    by AQ Online

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

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

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

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

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

  • Cuba Travel Restrictions in the Spotlight in Brooklyn and Beyond

    July 5, 2011

    by Matthew Aho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    July 5, 2011

    by AQ Online

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

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

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

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

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

    July 1, 2011

    by Jason Marczak

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

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

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

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

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

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

    July 1, 2011

    by P. Velasco and A. Saracho

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

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

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

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

    This time we shouldn’t expect this to happen.

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

  • Chávez Admits to Cancer

    July 1, 2011

    by AQ Online

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

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

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

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

    Tags: Cuba, Venezuela, Hugo Chavez