For a country fiercely protective of its access to the ocean, Chile is not taking full advantage of its access to abundant seafood—which, it turns out, is one cause of poor nutrition among a majority of its population.
According to a new study by the Catholic University of Chile and Banmedical Foundation, 62 percent of Chileans are considered to have a “poor diet” and 29 percent an “unhealthy diet.” The study attributes the poor performance to the low proportion in Chileans’ diets of protein- and nutrient-rich foods—such as fish, beans, fruits, and vegetables—and the excessively high proportion of sugary foods. Sixty-three percent of Chileans eat more than the recommended amount of sweets, while only 5 percent and 10 percent eat fish and beans, respectively, more than twice a week.
Federico Leighton, director of the Center for Molecular Nutrition and Chronic Diseases at the Catholic University, said part of the reason for the lack of foods like beans and lentils in Chileans’ diet is that, “despite their nutritional value, [these foods] are mistakenly seen as ‘poor people’s foods.’” Leighton also noted that “bad eating habits go hand in hand with low levels of physical activity and smoking,” increasing the risk of chronic disease.
Other experts concur, finding that, as Chile and other Latin American countries transition to higher-income economies and “modernize,” people’s changing eating habits, exercise and lifestyles, are having serious implications for their health. Chronic noncommunicable diseases (NDCs), such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and cancer, used to be seen as “diseases of the rich” but have now overtaken the traditional diseases of developing countries—infectious diseases, maternal mortality, malnutrition—as leading killers worldwide. According to Pan American Health Organization data from 2002, NCDs now account for two out of every three deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean.
On Tuesday, Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced former first lady Mirlande Manigat had won 31.4 percent of the November 28 presidential vote and that construction company chief Jude Célestin had earned 22.5 percent. The two candidates will compete in a runoff election on January 16.
Third-place finisher Michel Martelly, a popular singer who is known locally as “Sweet Micky” and “Bald Head,” did not advance to the runoff, having earned 6,845 votes less than Célestin.
The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince responded to the CEP announcement with a statement of concern. Locally, thousands of Martelly supporters took to the streets in violent protest. They set fire to Célestin’s party headquarters, blocked streets with rubble from the January 12 earthquake, and ignited hundreds of tires. As a result, four deaths have been reported, businesses and schools were closed and the international airport shut down. In an interview with Haitian radio, Martelly urged his supporters to protest nonviolently—arguing that the only way to challenge the results was through the legal process. However, he added that he would not participate in the runoff if Célestin remained a candidate.
CEP’s ruling was questioned by international monitors who did not expect Célestin to advance past the first round of voting due to his relatively unknown status among the electorate. Célestin was widely known as incumbent president René Préval’s handpicked successor, and observers allege fraud and ballot-stuffing on the part of the CEP.
Reactions to the WikiLeaks revelations have ranged from dismissal (Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva), to outrage (Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez) to “I told you so” (Bolivian President Evo Morales). In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa and his administration instead seem to be walking a fine line between outrage and acquiescence.
Early last week Ecuador’s vice chancellor, Kintto Lucas, extended an invitation to WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange to come to Ecuador. Lucas claimed that Assange would have no problems obtaining residency in Ecuador. Furthermore, Lucas argued that Assange could teach the Ecuador media establishment a thing or two about good journalism.
President Correa responded the following day saying that Lucas’ invitation did not have the approval of the chancellor or of the President. In his rebuttal, Correa also noted that the Ecuadorian government respects U.S. law and would support any charges against Assange for violations of the law. Correa simultaneously stated that his administration was unhappy with the content of the leaked documents and would be carefully reviewing those relevant to Ecuador, as well as those relevant to actual or attempted golpes in the region.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Haitian Presidential Election Outcome Sparks Riots
Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council announced late Tuesday a runoff would be needed to choose between two presidential candidates, former first lady Mirlande Manigat and Jude Célestin, outgoing President Réne Préval's handpicked successor. Célestin narrowly edged out Michel Martelly to finish second in a vote that took place November 28 and was seen by many critics as tainted by fraud. After the results were announced, Martelly’s supporters took to the streets across the country in violent protest, denouncing the election results as fraudulent.
According to 2010 U.S. Census projections released this week, Hispanics under the age of 20 make up between 21.8 percent and 25 percent of the total youth population in the U.S.—a significant increase over the 17 percent calculations derived from the 2000 U.S. Census. The 2010 figures are based on birth, death, Medicare registrations, and new immigrant population statistics as of April 1, 2010, and highlight the demographic impact of the largest minority group in the country. Without the growth in the Hispanic-youth segment, the non-Hispanic youth population would have shown a decline of between 1.25 and 2.9 million.
The announcement comes on the heels of the DREAM Act, which could come up for a vote in both chambers of Congress later today. The “Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors,” or DREAM Act, would create a conditional pathway to legal residency for thousands of young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents. Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office show that passing this bill would bring between 300,000 to 500,000 of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and potentially boost military recruitment and give employers access to a larger pool of motivated young workers.
Similar legislation failed to pass in 2007.
The Argentine government officially recognized Palestine as a free and independent state, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman said on Monday. In a letter to the president of the National Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner recognized Palestine’s borders as they were defined in 1967, before Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza during the Arab-Israeli War. Argentina’s announcement follows a similar statement of recognition made by Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Relations last Friday.
Only months after Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed over settlement issues, Argentina and Brazil’s statements were drew both praise and condemnation. The Palestine Liberation Organization said the support from the South American powers sends a message of respect for international law and against colonialism. The Israel government, on the other hand, condemned the recognition of Palestine as deceiving, lamentable and counterproductive to peace negotiations.
Several Middle Eastern nations have been working to build stronger diplomatic ties with Latin America. Perhaps the best example is the relationship between Brazil and Iran which is centered on energy cooperation. Uruguay, a sovereign member of Mercosur along with Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, has publicly announced its plans to recognize Palestine in early 2011. However, Israel remains a key partner for Latin America, and is the first non-Latin American nation to sign a free-trade agreement with Mercosur.
On November 13a group of drug dealers approached Don Alejo Garza Tamez in his ranch on the outskirts of Ciudad Victoria, in the troubled border state of Tamaulipas. They threatened Don Alejo and demanded that he hand over his land, which given its strategic location would have been used to harbor narcotic trafficking operations. They told him he had 24 hours to vacate the premises on his own free will or they would take the ranch using deadly force.
After the criminal group left, the 77-year-old businessman rounded up all ranch workers and asked them to go home for a couple of days, assuring them that nothing bad would happen. A hunter by trade, Don Alejo spent the rest of the day cleaning his guns and rifles and transforming the ranch into a trench.
When the drug dealers came back the next day expecting Don Alejo to give up at the sight of their heavy artillery, they faced a fierce combatant who gunned down at least four of them before taking a deadly hit. The criminals who survived the exchange escaped in their trucks leaving a dirt trail and the bodies of their friends behind.
What is most relevant of this story is not the fact in itself, but what it inspired and what it symbolizes for a tired and disenfranchised nation. The story of Don Alejo made the headlines of all major national newspapers. Respected journalists like Denise Maerker and Ciro Gomez Leyva were quick to hail him as a folk hero. In just a couple of days, stories about him hit the usual social media websites and today the letters “don a” are enough to bring up his full name as the first hit in Google Mexico’s instant search bar. Norteño music bands have already dedicated at least three songs to him and his story has spurred up a national debate about the right to carry weapons for self-defense.
On Sunday, Venezuelans cast their votes for the governors of Guárico and Amazonas states and for 11 mayoral seats including that of Venezuela’s second largest city, Maracaibo. This was the first vote since President Hugo Chávez’ Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) lost its two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections last September.
In all, the opposition won in four municipalities and in one state. This brings their control of governorships to six of a total of 24.
In Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second-largest city, Eveling Trejo de Rosales will become the city’s first female mayor winning 58.68 percent of ballots cast. Her victory against against PSUV candidate Gian Carlos Di Martino is an especially symbolic pick-up for the opposition. The mayor-elect is the wife of former Maracaibo mayor Manuel Rosales, who is currently in exile in Peru. “Manuel returns to the mayorship because Eveling Trejo arrives with him,” she exclaimed in her victory speech.
Elections were held with "complete normality," according to Socorro Hernández, head of the National Electoral Council (CNE), despite heavy rains that have left 30 dead and more than 72,000 homeless.
The Brazilian government announced this week that deforestation in the Amazon fell 14 percent in the August 2009 to July 2010 period compared with the previous year. Satellite monitoring showed that 6,450 square kilometers (2,490 square miles) of the world’s biggest rainforest were cleared during this latest reporting period—a stark decline from a peak of 29,100 square kilometers (11,235 square miles) in the 1994 to 1995 period.
The government’s announcement coincided with a United Nations global climate conference in Cancún, Mexico, in which Brazil wants to showcase its progress and reiterate its commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Isabella Teixeira, Brazil’s Minister of the Environment, said the achievement means Brazil is well on its way to achieving its self-imposed goal of reducing deforestation—a major contributor to the country’s overall carbon emissions—by 80 percent over historic highs by 2020. Brazil is likely to use the news to seek a bigger role in climate negotiations, especially under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), where it could potentially get paid billions for slowing deforestation.
At a ceremony Wednesday in Brasília, the Brazilian government criticized industrial nations for not doing their part to commute greenhouse gas emissions. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said news of the reduction showed Brazil was “keeping its promises” on addressing global warming, while advanced countries “are still not doing anything.”
Environmental groups, including Greenpeace International, celebrated the announcement as proof that deforestation can be halted—and accompany a period of economic expansion. The low rate of deforestation can be attributed both to increased policing and pressure from consumer groups, with the government fining illegal cattle ranchers and loggers and confiscating their products, and the beef and soy industries voluntarily banning products from illegally deforested areas.
Paraguay’s Senate is expected next week to vote in favor of Venezuela’s bid to join Mercosur—Mercado Común del Sur or Southern Common Market. The anticipated approval will be Venezuela’s final hurdle before assuming full membership of Latin America’s preeminent trade bloc, completing the process it began in 2006.
Mercosur nations are divided into three categories: full members, associate members and observers. Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay are the founding signatories and full member nations; Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru comprise the associate members, while Mexico is the only observer. The parliaments of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have already ratified Venezuela’s bid. The Paraguayan Senate needs 23 of 45 senators to support the measure, and observers predict that the simple majority will favor it despite the Senate being controlled by the opposition Colorado party.
Venezuela’s robust supply of oil and energy commodities is attractive to Paraguay, although Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ indifference to Mercosur’s “democratic clause” is a point of concern to Paraguayan senators who oppose the bid. It has also been reported that President Lugo’s administration, which strongly favors Venezuela’s accession, has promised high-level political appointments to undecided senators—particularly those in the UNACE party, a former faction of Colorado.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Waiting for the WikiLeaks Shoe to Drop in Latin America
WikiLeaks continues to reveal U.S. government cables, which The Miami Herald says are “fueling a wave of rumors and resentment in Latin America.” A few hundred of the 251,287 confidential cables have been released so far, leaving many countries waiting for the other shoe to drop. For example, 2,836 of the cables are relevant to Mexico, but it’s not clear yet when the records will go public.
Still, news relevant to the hemisphere has been trickling out , with some of the latest documents revealed on December 1 showing that the “United States saw big opportunities in helping Brazil boost its military capabilities as a way of ‘supporting U.S. interests,’” according to AFP. Other leaks range from topics such as Bolivian President Evo Morales purported sinus tumor to a description of the interim government that led Honduras after the 2009 coup as “totally illegitimate” to Cuban spies advising the Venezuelan government in what one diplomat called an “Axis of Mischief.” Global Voices looks at blog coverage of a range of leaked cables relevant to the Americas.
Speaking to The Christian Science Monitor, AS/COA Senior Policy Director Chris Sabatini said “I think most of what is going to be found will embarrass other leaders but will not do much to embarrass U.S. leaders.”
According to the Social Panorama of Latin America 2010 report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) released today, poverty in Latin America has fallen in 2010 to levels not seen since 2008. This is a result of a strong economic recovery fueled by higher commodity prices. Alicia Barcena, head of ECLAC, said Latin America was once again on track to reducing poverty as it had been since 2003. That was briefly interrupted with the economic crisis that began in 2009.
The report, presented in Santiago, Chile, highlights poverty reductions in Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, and Panama of nearly 10 percent due largely to newly implemented income distribution policies in those countries. However, Argentina, Peru and Venezuela experienced even greater reductions in poverty of between 20 percent and 30 percent. Only Costa Rica had no measured improvement in reducing poverty.
In all, nearly 41 million Latin Americans will have managed to get out of poverty this year reducing the total number of Latin Americans in poverty to 180 million or 32.1 percent of the total population. Latin Americans living in extreme poverty also fell to 2008 levels of 72 million people or 12.9 percent of the population.
The votes were barely tallied and already the politics of high speed rail had begun. Some Republican gubernatorial candidates, freshly elected, were already asking that high speed rail (HSR) funds be reallocated to other transport priorities.
Democratic Governors-elect like Andrew Cuomo of New York, Pat Quinn of Illinois and Jerry Brown of California were soon requesting that the rejected funds be reallocated to their states. Against this backdrop, the advocacy group U.S. High Speed Rail Association (USHSR) held a first post-election conference with a who's who of HSR including Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and former Transportation Secretary Norm Minetta, forging more consensus. By mid-November, it was certain the Administration remained solidly behind their HSR vision, but Republicans were sending mixed messages.
Is the Obama-Biden initiative in danger? With Spain and China currently making significant investments in HSR, would America once again stand back while other countries are forging ahead? There are no simple answers to these questions.
Many of the 250,000 diplomatic documents and cables leaked on Sunday by whistleblower site WikiLeaks address U.S. relationships with Latin American heads of state. And while U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is characterizing the leaks as “an attack on the international community” as well as on American foreign policy interests, Ecuadorian Ecuadorian Deputy Foreign Minister Kinto Lucas has extended an invitation to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to come to Ecuador.
On Tuesday, Lucas told Ecuadorinmediato, “We are ready to give him [Assange] residence in Ecuador, with no problems and no conditions… We are going to invite him to come to Ecuador so he can freely present the information he possesses and all the documentation, not just on the Internet, but in various public forums.”
Venezuela, Argentina and Honduras are the subjects of some of the most noteworthy leaked documents concerning Latin America.
One document was issued one month after the 2008 military coup in Honduras. In the cable, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens calls the ouster of former President Manuel Zelaya “clearly illegal,” and the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti “totally illegitimate.”
Venezuela is the subject of 2,300 of the leaked cables, most of which concern President Hugo Chávez. In a 2009 cable, a French official named Jean-David Levitte called Chávez “crazy” and said that "Brazil was not able to support him anymore." Levitte goes on to say that "Chávez is taking one of Latin America's richest countries and turning it into another Zimbabwe.” The Venezuelan President responded on Monday evening: “Somebody should resign ... I'm not saying [President Barack] Obama, but they should do it out of shame ... It is their empire left naked.”
Argentina was the subject of 2,200 cables. In one exchange in late 2009, Secretary Clinton questions the mental state and decision-making of both President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her late-husband, former President Néstor Kirchner.
The whistle-blowing website has also reportedly obtained 2,836 U.S. documents concerning Mexico, but most of those have yet to be released.
WikiLeaks also revealed that the U.S. offered millions of dollars worth of incentives to countries like Slovenia and Kiribati in exchange for taking detainees out of Guantanamo Bay. In an interview with the BBC, Amb. John Negroponte, who has served as U.S. ambassador to Mexico and Honduras, said today that the release of WikiLeaks cables “will damage [the U.S.’s] ability to conduct diplomacy.”
The recent release of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables by Wikileaks will undoubtedly focus the greatest attention on U.S. policy in the Middle East, but it could also shake things up in Latin America. Already, one of the leaked diplomatic cables has revealed the United States embassy’s assessment of the Honduran coup as a conspiracy against President Zelaya by the Supreme Court, Congress and military.
The summary reads as follows:
The Embassy perspective is that there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch, while accepting that there may be a prima facie case that Zelaya may have committed illegalities and may have even violated the constitution. There is equally no doubt from our perspective that Roberto Micheletti's assumption of power was illegitimate. Nevertheless, it is also evident that the constitution itself may be deficient in terms of providing clear procedures for dealing with alleged illegal acts by the President and resolving conflicts between the branches of government.
The cable then offers a detailed legal analysis of the coup. It acknowledges that there was reason for concern that Zelaya might have acted—or subsequently act—illegally, and that the Honduran constitution is plagued by ambiguity on matters relating to impeachment. But it finds that the lion’s share of accusations against Zelaya were either based on supposition or fabrication. The cable then concludes that the Congress lacked the authority to remove Zelaya, as his removal from power would require court proceedings and due process. His capture by the military and removal from the country was also completely unjustified.
This cable is both remarkable and it is not.
First, what is not really news: that Ambassador Hugo Llorens, the U.S. State Department and the Obama administration knew that what took place was a coup. Lest it go unsaid, the Obama administration categorically rejected Zelaya’s ouster all along. Hugo Llorens, then-U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and all the other State Department officials involved in this matter were quite clear about the illegality of Zelaya’s ouster and the illegitimacyof Micheletti’s de facto government.
But this cable is still remarkable for its tone and its level of detail. By using the language of “conspiracy” and systematically debunking the arguments made by coup supporters, the cable makes the wrong of Zelaya’s removal abundantly clear. Today, the revelation of the Llorens cable is the top headline in Honduran newspapers, where it will hopefully advance public debate within the country about last year’s crisis.
The cable also undermines the arguments made in an influential Law Library of Congress Report, which argued that Zelaya’s removal from power (though not from the country) was legal. Conservatives in the United States used this report to claim that Zelaya’s ouster was really just Honduras’ version of a legal impeachment. Republicans in Congress kept pushing this line, using it as a tool to pressure the State Department and place holds on presidential appointments.
This pressure made the Honduras affair a headache for the Obama administration, which tried to wash its hands of the matter by prematurely stating it would recognize the November 2009 elections. Meanwhile, there was little pushback from within the Obama administration on the details of the events leading to the coup.
The leaked analysis by the embassy offers such a systematic rejection pro-coup case, but it was never advanced publicly. Had the administration made public such an assessment of the Honduran coup—and its implicit rejection of the LLC report—it would have provided a useful tool for refuting the spurious arguments made by conservatives. Instead, as summer 2009 drew to a close, the position that the coup was a defense of the rule of law gained traction inside the Beltway.
This dealt a blow to both the chances of Zelaya’s restitution and defenders of democracy in the Americas more generally.
*Daniel Altschuler is a contributing blogger to www.AmericasQuarterly.org. He is a Copeland Fellow at Amherst College and a doctoral candidate in Politics at the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. His research focuses on civic and political participation in Honduras and Guatemala.
Haitians took to the polls—and then to the streets—yesterday on election day for President René Préval’s successor amid political violence and widespread accusations of fraud. Among the 18 candidates, much attention on election day and now afterwards is focusing on the actions of Mirlande Manigat of the Rally of Progressive National Democrats party (RDNP). She is the presidential front runner with the latest opinion polls giving her an 8 percent lead over any other candidate.
Manigat, a 70-year-old former first lady and current assistant dean of Quisqueya University has been a primary voice of opposition against President Préval’s government. On Sunday, she called for the Provisional Electoral Council to annul the election due to widespread irregularities. "This election is not important for me. It's important for the country. Haitians do not want continuity. They want change, to see a rupture from the past," according to Manigat.
For the Haitians who turned out to vote, despite danger of protests and the omnipotent threat of Cholera, many were not able to cast their ballot. Names were often missing from the list of registrated voters or polling stations were simply closed. There were even reports of an assassination attempt on presidential candidate Michel Martelly, better known by his stage name, “Sweet Micky.” As of Sunday night, 12 of the 18 candidates had denounced the elections as illegitimate.
Many voters and presidential contenders alike are blaming President Préval’s government for the electoral uncertainties. Presidential candidate Anne Marie Josette Bijou claimed that Préval, in agreement with the electoral council, is tampering with the elections to benefit the government-endorsed candidate, Jude Celestin. On Sunday the electoral council said there were irregularities at 56 of the 1,500 voting centers.
The San Juan River has not been the only focal point of the Costa Rica-Nicaragua conflict that has been brewing for over a month. Another battle ground, whose boundaries are far less defined than the countries' river border, reared its head in the dispute: the Internet.
In a region not especially known for its computer savvy, a form of Web 2.0 diplomacy has unexpectedly emerged.
It began when Costa Rica and Nicaragua dragged Google Maps into the fray. Costa Rica claimed the online map's outline of the border was wrong and Nicaragua insisted the map was just fine the way it was.
Google's replies are now world famous. They included the November 5 post on its Spanish-language El Blog de Google para América Latina that said, "while Google maps have a very high quality… in no way should they be taken as reference in the moment of deciding military actions between two nations."
La primera semana de Noviembre se llevó a cabo el 11º Foro de Biarritz, espacio donde altas autoridades políticas, académicas y económicas de Europa y Latinoamérica discuten los retos y oportunidades para reconfigurar una nueva relación comercial, cultural y política entre ambas regiones. El Foro pudiese haberse parecido a los diez anteriores sin embargo la visión del Presidente del Foro y Ex Presidente de Colombia, Ernesto Samper, de brindarle un espacio a un grupo de jóvenes latinoamericanos para plantear los retos del futuro abrió paso al nacimiento del Grupo Generación Bicentenario.
Algunos extractos del documento que se produjo se comparten a continuación por el profundo clivaje generacional que representan y la tremenda fuerza y deseo de transformaciones políticas, económicas y sociales que propone la Generación del Ahora:
It was hardly a slip of the tongue when Guido Mantega, Brazil’s minister of finance, coined the term “currency war” in late September when describing the state of the global economy. His bold statement publicly reflected the private concerns of investors and policymakers worried about the amount of government intervention worldwide to curb currency appreciation.
This is a particular concern for Mr. Mantega, whose country is home to one of the world’s strongest currencies. In the first ten months of 2010, the Brazilian real gained 4.5 percent on the U.S. dollar and a whopping 25 percent since early 2009.
Originally the finance minister preferred to limit public spending, opposing devaluation of any kind. But he quickly reversed course when many emerging economies, notably in the Asia-Pacific region, lowered their respective exchange rates. The result: when one country intentionally devalues its currency, its exports become cheaper to foreign consumers and imports more expensive to domestic buyers. When other nations follow suit, this practice, known as competitive devaluation, drives down the economic competitiveness of all nations.
To remain competitive, Mr. Mantega increased the tax rate for foreign investments of fixed-income securities two separate times—the second time only one week after speaking at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas in mid-October. Outside economists defended his actions, noting that investors would nonetheless continue to focus on BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) countries in the interest of high returns on investment.
Now Brazil has emerged as perhaps the leading critic among developing economies on the U.S. role in a currency war. Mr. Mantega suggested non-expansionary measures to increase demand and consumption, but got the opposite when earlier this month the Federal Reserve announced it would buy back $600 billion in government bonds. Known as quantitative easing, the Fed essentially gave itself license to print new money and increase liquidity to raise bond prices and lower long-term interest rates. Brazil did not react kindly; President-elect Dilma Rousseff blasted the move as “disguised devaluation.”
Mr. Mantega recommended that developed nations agree on a consolidated action plan at the International Monetary Fund meetings in Washington DC in October and the G-20 summit in South Korea earlier this month. But if the missions of the two gatherings were to advance discussion on the issue, then they both failed miserably.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has dismissed any speculation that he will take over the vacated leadership position of the Unión de Naciones SurAmericanas (UNASUR) when he leaves office in January, according to his spokesman, Marcelo Baumbach. The leadership position of UNASUR currently remains vacant following the October 27 passing of former Argentine President Néstor Kirchner. Baumbach further stated in comments yesterday that Brazil had no candidate to fill the position ahead of the UNASUR summit in Guyana this Friday.
Lula’s post-presidency plans remain speculative though he has made statements specifically addressing his desire to remove himself from public service. After stepping down in January, Lula plans to do a lot of “resting” and “traveling” throughout Brazil while further pledging to “extract myself from the presidency.” On representing the country abroad, Lula has stated “I don’t look like an ambassador. I don’t want to be an ambassador. I just want to be a simple Brazilian citizen once more and travel a lot across Brazil.”
This Friday’s UNASUR meeting in Guyana is not likely to include electing a new head for the multi-national organization as it seems that no countries have candidates for the post. The summit will instead focus on the possible creation of a human rights council and on the adoption of a “democratic clause” that would suspend countries transitioning power by non-constitutional means from UNASUR. This clause is being discussed as a response to “the crisis caused by the police uprising” in Ecuador on September 30, Baumbach said. President Lula will use this Friday’s meeting as an opportunity to also meet with Guyana’s President Bharat Jagdeo to discuss joint infrastructure projects.
The grace period granted to President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner after the sudden death of her husband and life-long political partner on October 27 has ended with physical violence in congress. Heated debates on November 17 over the 2011 budget ended when opposition congresswoman and president of the Commission on Constitutional Affairs, Graciela Camaño, publicly slapped fellow congressman Carlos Kunkel. With the opposition’s slight majority in both houses of congress, the government has its work cut out to pass its budget plan. The administration is taking an all-or-nothing approach to its legislative proposal and the result is division, fighting and accusations of vote-buying by Kirchner supporters.
Partly as a means to distract from days of deadlock over the budget, President Fernández made a televised announcement on November 15 that her government will start negotiations with the Paris Club, an informal grouping of lenders from the world’s principal economies, to pay off the last of its debt since its $100 billion default in 2001. She emphasized that the negotiations will take place without the intervention from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Any deal will cost the government anywhere from $6.5 billion to $8 billion, and it remains to be seen where it will get the money. It could tap into the $52 billion in international reserves, but it needs congressional approval to do so. This could be tough. Indeed, its current budgetary proposal includes an earmark of $7.5 billion of Central Bank funds to be used for debt payments, but congress is fighting tooth and nail to prevent its passage. Then there is the possibility that the government will issue sovereign bonds to generate the cash in 2011.
Ahead of this week’s first annual China-oriented trade exposition in San Salvador that is expected to include over 50 Chinese business representatives, President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador said Monday that his administration would explore establishing diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. Funes added that he would do so only if it were in the economic interests of his country.
Presently, El Salvador has diplomatic relations with the Republic of China—commonly referred to as Taiwan. In accordance with Chinese policy, China refuses to engage in diplomatic activity with any nation that acknowledges Taiwan. For Taiwan, it fears that El Salvador will repeat what Costa Rica did in 2007: break off relations in favor of a partnership with China that includes greater economic benefits from access to a substantially larger market. However, despite Costa Rica’s actions, all other Central American countries have chosen to maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
A Taiwanese source confirmed Tuesday that Taiwan’s ambassador to El Salvador received guarantees that diplomatic relations would not be broken off. The same source noted that any of China’s attempts to poach Taiwan’s allies would have a negative effect on Taiwan-China relations, which have improved dramatically in recent years under the presidency of Ma Ying-jeou.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Friday began a four-day trip to South America, where he attended a regional meeting of defense ministers in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, this weekend. Mr. Gates’ first stop was Chile, where he met with Defense Minister Jaime Ravinet to discuss disaster preparedness in the region. Chile is among Washington's "closest partners in the hemisphere" and the two countries share "a mutual desire to develop regional mechanisms to support disaster relief," Pentagon Press Secretary, Geoff Morrell told reporters.
On Sunday Mr. Gates arrived at the IX Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas, a gathering held every 18 months that aims to improve cooperation among the militaries in the hemisphere. On the agenda at the conference included issues such as how to promote greater openness in defense budgeting, the role of women in the military, disaster response, and transparency in arms sales and purchases.
On the subject of growing Iranian influence in Latin America, Mr. Gates said, "I think the countries negotiating with Iran in this field should be very cautious and very careful about how they interact with the Iranians about their real motives and what they are really trying to do." Bolivian President Evo Morales countered those comments, saying Bolivia will create alliances with any country that it chooses regardless of U.S. opinion. Gates responded, "As a sovereign state Bolivia obviously can have relationships with any country in the world that it wishes to," Gates expressed on Sunday. "I think Bolivia needs to be mindful of the number of United Nations Security Council resolutions that have been passed with respect to Iran's behavior."
Costa Rican Foreign Minister René Castro arrived to The Hague, Netherlands, on Thursday to file a complaint against Nicaragua at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Mr. Castro’s statements called on the court to help end a situation that he says "threatens imminent and irreparable harm" to Costa Rica.
Tensions between Nicaragua and Costa Rica have been high in recent weeks after Nicraguan soldiers entered the disputed territory of Calero Island, a parcel of land on the Atlantic coast. Nicaragua denies its military is on Costa Rican territory. Costa Rica says it has been invaded.
Also at issue is Costa Rica’s contention that Nicaragua has begun a dredging project as part of a larger effort to build a canal. Mr. Castro voiced his confidence that the ICJ—the UN’s highest court—will rule in Costa Rica’s favor on the issue. He also repeated prior assertions that Costa Rica “will not use any other instrument other than international law" to resolve the dispute.
A proposed law in Ecuador has the potential to choke off freedom of the press in a way that even the September 30 mandate that all public television stations broadcast only the Cadena Nacional has failed to do. The Ley Orgánica de Comunicación, Libertad de Expresión y Aceso a la Información Pública, commonly referred to as the Ley de Comunicación, would concentrate power over media outlets in the hands of the national government.
The Ley de Comunicación was first introduced in September 2009 and was hotly debated in the Ecuadorian Assembly. It was to be debated again this fall, but debate has been delayed indefinitely. This comes after letters of opposition to the ley were sent to Assembly President Fernando Cordero Cueva by Human Rights Watch and the Organization of American States and after a trip to Washington DC by seven congresspeople—referred to as the seven enanitos (little dwarves) by President Rafael Correa—to present their concerns with the ley to various international human rights organizations. Add to this a tense political atmosphere following the September 30 police incident. Dinah Shelton, the president of the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights has promised to come to Ecuador in January to observe debate of the ley.
With news reports often emphasizing the slow economic recovery with respect to jobs, it is possible that we lose some perspective about some legitimate success stories. National unemployment rates often overshadow the work of some communities in transforming their economic profiles. Cities like Raleigh NC have transformed their economy and others like Des Moines IA have significantly lowered their unemployment rates. Another below the radar screen example is Québec City, Canada.
Observe the latest unemployment statistics from October 2010: United States: 9.6 percent; Canada: 8.1 percent; Ontario province: 8.2 percent; Québec province: 7.9 percent; Québec City: 4.7 percent. Québec’s capital city, the so-called government town, has the lowest unemployment rate of any major city in Canada.
In itself, that is a story. But what is more significant are the facts. Québec City has had consistent growth due to its increasingly diverse economic base. When I worked in Québec City in the early 1990s, it was accurate to call it a haven of public service jobs. Now it is becoming a leader in information technology, biomedical research, defense research, applied optics and photonics research, food technology research, brain disease research, etc.
This week, while teaching a group of people how to upload blog posts, Cuban blogger and dissident Yoani Sánchez learned she was to receive yet another award. This time it was the $50,000 (40,000 euro) Liberty Prize granted by Denmark’s Center for Independent Research (CEPOS). Sánchez said that “the news came when I was doing what I like best, providing people with wings to fly in the IT sky.”
CEPOS’ Liberty Prize is given to individuals who demonstrate a sustained commitment to the ideas of individual freedom and human rights. Sánchez, 35, founded the blog “Generación Y” in 2007 and has since used it as a platform to share the realities of daily life in Cuba. She recently compiled select blog posts into a book titled Cuba Libre: Vivir y Escribir en La Habana. For her elegant prose, brave criticism and dedication to empowering others through digital media, Sánchez was previously awarded the Spanish Ortega y Gassett Prize for Digital Journalism (2008) and Maria Moors Cabot Prize for outstanding reporting on Latin America (2009). Sánchez was also named one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2008 and was selected as a 2010 World Press Freedom Hero by the International Press Institute.
Sánchez has been invited to formally accept the Liberty Prize at an upcoming ceremony in Copenhagen, but it remains to be seen whether the Cuban government will grant her an exit visa to travel abroad. She has been prohibited from leaving the island eight times in the past three years.
For Sánchez, her isolation by the Cuban government allows her to keep in touch with Cuban realities and has not stopped her from writing or sharing her knowledge of Internet tools. “Finding people who read what I write and seeing new faces appear” are sufficient compensation, she says.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Accusations Fly in Costa Rica-Nicaragua Dispute
Nicaragua fired the most recent salvo in the ongoing spat with its southern neighbor over a small piece of land on the San Juan River delta. The Organization of American States (OAS) overwhelmingly approved a resolution November 12 which reiterates OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza’s four recommendations and implicitly calls on Nicaragua to remove its troops from the disputed area. President Daniel Ortega responded on November 13 that he will not remove soldiers from the area, threatened to withdraw from the OAS, and said: “Drug traffickers direct Costa Rican foreign policy.” Nicaraguans took to the streets in support of the government’s decision. On Monday, Costa Rican Foreign Minister René Castro raised the possibility of calling a meeting of the OAS’ Commission of Foreign Ministers to discuss the dispute and apply further pressure on Ortega to follow the November 12 OAS resolution. Costa Rica’s La Nación argues that every new development “brings Costa Rica and Nicaragua further from dialogue.”
Read AS/COA Online coverage of the dispute.
Former economic and finance minister of Peru, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, has confirmed that he will officially enter the race for the presidency of Peru next Monday. Kuczynski’s candidacy will be on behalf of an alliance between the Restauración Nacional (RN), Partido Humanista, and Alianza por el Progreso (APP) parties and may yet include the Siempre Unidos party. The newly formed alliance will back Kuczynski in his bid for the presidency next year under the name Aliaza para el Gran Cambio and will constitute a centrist political party.
The announcement will add yet another candidate to the ballots for the upcoming April 2011 elections. Already vying for the presidency are Keiko Fujimori, the current front-runner and daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori; Luis Castañeda, former mayor of Lima; Former finance minister Mercedes Aráoz; Former President Alejandro Toledo; and Ollanta Humala who very nearly won the presidential election in 2006.
Chief concerns for the upcoming presidency are likely to be sustaining economic growth and poverty reduction. With current economic estimates pointing to over 8 percent growth this year, the future president will be expected to continue policies that have made this possible including free trade, promoting foreign investments and fiscal discipline. And while poverty rates have decreased from 50 to 34 percent, small towns and communities continue to demand more benefits from the large infrastructure projects that have helped expand Peru’s economic capacity.
At least one Haitian was killed in a clash with UN peacekeepers on the outskirts of Cap Haitien, Haiti, on Tuesday. The man was shot amid mass protests in response to the rapidly spreading Cholera epidemic that has killed more than 1,000 people and which many Haitians believe was spread by the mostly Nepalese UN forces. Haitians protesters in Cap Haitien and Hinche reportedly threw stones and set up burning barricades to which the UN troops responded by firing tear gas. According to the UN, the protestor who was shot had first fired at a UN soldier, who fired back in self defense.
The protesters were demanding the departure of peacekeepers and the end of the MINUSTAH stabilization mission, which has been a presence in Haiti since 2004. However, the confirmation of Cholera cases in Port-au-Prince and all of Haiti’s 10 provinces is largely responsible for the unrest. As Haiti nears the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake, many of its social services are provided, not by the government, but by the multitude of non-governmental organizations that are currently on the ground. Given the damaged and largely decentralized health care system, access to adequate care is still scarce.
Though fear and anger surrounding Cholera is no doubt the primary agitator behind this week’s protests, the UN believes violence and political manipulation surrounding the presidential elections could also be responsible. The Haitian elections commission may choose to postpone the elections, scheduled for November 28, given the heightened risk of Cholera contamination and Haitian people’s reluctance to leave their homes to vote.
*Homepage photo courtesy of Center for American Progress
El abrazo que se dieron los presidentes Juan Manuel Santos y Hugo Chávez, frente al cajón del fallecido Néstor Kirchner durante su velorio hace dos semanas en Buenos Aires, fue un símbolo inequívoco de la recomposición de las relaciones entre ambos mandatarios.
Una imagen impensable meses atrás que se constituye sin duda en uno de los grandes cambios que se han vislumbrado en los 100 días de gobierno que cumple hoy el presidente Santos: El de la política exterior. Menos confrontacional y más regional si se quiere, Santos eligió amistarse y de paso reanudar los vínculos comerciales con su vecino Chávez. Optó por entregarle al presidente Rafael Correa las copias de los discos duros encontrados en el computador del No. 2 de las Farc, Raúl Reyes, durante el bombardeo a su campamento en suelo ecuatoriano. Prefirió visitar a Brasil que a Estados Unidos en su primer viaje como presidente electo y no ha mostrado afanes en presionar el tratado de libre comercio (TLC) con el gobierno Obama (lo que permite repensar el impacto en la agricultura sobre todo para los lecheros), ni tampoco en rescatar el acuerdo sobre la presencia de militares estadounidenses en bases colombianas que regresó al legislativo por cuenta del concepto de la Corte Constitucional sobre su inexequibilidad. En cambio metió en la agenda con EEUU temas como el cambio climático, la ciencia y la tecnología.
En el plano nacional el Congresoestá abrumado con una serie de nuevas reformas urgentes y necesarias que el gobierno de su antecesor Álvaro Uribe se negó a impulsar: La ley de tierras pensada para atacar el epicentro del conflicto colombiano, que es la inequitativa distribución agraria y el despojo a los campesinos que habitan las tierras más ricas del país; y la ley de víctimas que busca mecanismos de verdad, justicia y reparación para aquellos abusados tanto por el Estado como los grupos armados ilegales. Aunque la discusión tiene mucho de fondo yalgunas asociaciones de víctimas y legisladores como el senador Ivan Cepeda del Polo democrático, se han opuesto a la iniciativapor no sentirse totalmente representados, es innegable que estos sectores fueron durante los ocho años anteriores criminalizados y desatendidos.
Santos también terminó la pelea con las Cortes y abrió canales de interlocución con ONG’s y otros grupos que van más allá del empresariado colombiano y que no se concentran en la microgerencia como solían ser los consejos comunales de Uribe de eternas jornadas dominicales. EL nuevo mandatario instauró los llamados Acuerdos por la prosperidad, privados, en los que más que una pretendida rendición de cuentas a la ciudadanía, discute temas sectoriales en grupos pequeños que cuentan con representantes de la sociedad civil, antes solo llamados para ser colaboradores o informantes de la fuerza pública.
Y es que, elegido para asegurar el continuismo, Santos ha marcado claras distancias con su antecesor sin que ello haya significado una ruptura de sus relaciones con Uribe. Ha demostrado que, por ahora, no será el ex mandatario que gobernó durante ocho años con altos índices de popularidad, el poder detrás del trono. Este distanciamiento sí ha levantado ampolla entre los más enconados uribistas que no se aseguraron ciertos puestos en el Estado como pretendían: Santos llamó a todas las fuerzas partidarias a hacer parte de su gobierno de Unidad Nacional (lo que ha dejado a un solitario Polo Democrático cabalgando en la oposición) e incluyó algunas de sus propuestas en su programa (la ley de victimas es de hecho una iniciativa del Partido Liberal). Nombró un gabinete en su mayoría tecnócrata e independiente,que no obstante tuvodos grandes lunares: la ratificación del director del DAS (Felipe Muñoz) aún en medio del escándalo de la entidad por las chuzadas ilegales a miembros opositores, y el nombramiento del ex ministro de agricultura, Andrés Felipe Arias, vinculado a la investigación de Agro Ingreso Seguro (asignación de subsidios a terratenientes), en la embajada de Italia.
In defiance of mounting international pressure, Nicaragua again refused to withdraw troops from the island of Calero as its border dispute with Costa Rica entered a fourth week. After the Organization of American States (OAS) Permanent Council voted 22-2 on Saturday night to recommend removal of all forces from Calero, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega accused the Permanent Council of bias and threatened to withdraw from the OAS unilaterally.
The border argument ignited on October 21 when Costa Rica accused Nicaragua of dumping sediment from dredging operations onto the islet that it claims as sovereign territory. Nicaragua continued the operations, citing a need to combat drug trafficking, which resulted in Costa Rica issuing a formal appeal to the OAS two weeks ago to stop the incursion. Nicaragua countered by demanding that Costa Rica withdraw its forces from the same territory; Costa Rica does not maintain a military.
OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza has met with the presidents and foreign ministers of both nations. Shortly after, he issued a set of recommendations, the most notable of which called for the removal of armed forces from “an area where they could generate tension”—a carefully-worded salvo leveled at Nicaragua.
The Permanent Council vote on Saturday endorsed Insulza’s recommendations with only Nicaragua and Venezuela opposing the measure. In light of Ortega’s threat, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla warned that she would involve the UN Security Council if necessary.
Venezuela’s National Assembly last week passed the Ley de la Bolsa Pública de Valores Bicentenaria, which will allow for the creation of a new stock exchange geared toward both public and private-sector entities wishing to undertake stock exchange operations. The move is seen as the continuation of a trend in Venezuela toward greater state control over traditionally private-sector functions.
House Finance Committee President Ricardo Sanguino called the new law an important component of the transition to twenty-first-century socialism and not a capitalist enterprise. He says the exchange is not meant to generate a speculative market, but rather to democratize access to liquidity and investment. Entities that will be allowed to raise capital on the market include public companies, joint ventures, collective and social production companies, savings banks, private companies, and small and medium-sized enterprises.
Critics of the new law say it raises more questions than answers. The major issue, according to analyst María Inés Fernández, is which titles are going to be traded and who is going to trade them. It is not clear that there is market demand for a public stock exchange—especially considering that most traders prefer to trade in dollars rather than the volatile bolívar.
State companies are currently traded on the private Caracas Stock Exchange, which will continue to operate but will no longer have access to public titles. The new public stock exchange legislation now awaits final approval by President Hugo Chávez.
The specifics of the planning process behind the September 30 police action are still murky. However, it has become clear that the police force used SMS messaging to rapidly spread information about the unpopular Ley de Servicio Publico and to coordinate the strike for the next morning. Similarly, national newspapers such as El Comercio have argued that the Correa administration, opposition politicians and the general public utilized various forms of communication such as Twitter and Facebook to coordinate, mobilize and share information. But, are all forms of communication created equally?
Facebook. About 30 politicians in
Other assembleistas in Correa´s camp, as well as opposition politicians such as César Montúfar (Concertación Nacional Democrática), have used their Facebook pages as a space to profess their opinions and to share information about legislative happenings. The general public, especially on September 30 and October 15, has used Facebook for posting their opinions and their involvement in street protests. However, because Facebook is, by design, exclusive, the information and opinions that are posted have a limited audience.
Former President Alejandro Toledo announced his intention yesterday to seek the presidency of Peru—an office that he held from 2001 through 2006. The 64 year-old will file for candidacy under the Peru Posible party that he founded in 1994. In his official announcement, Toledo pledged to fight for social equality, economic benefits to the poor and the prevention of corruption across the country.
President Toledo was elected in 2001 after the resignation of Alberto Fujimori—who is currently incarcerated for crimes against humanity—and the subsequent interim presidency of Valentín Paniagua. He took centrist and pro-market positions during his mandate and presided over a period of wide economic growth, even while his approval numbers dropped toward the end in his term.
A poll published earlier this week placed Toledo at third among constituent support for the upcoming April 2011 vote, at 16 percent. Among the candidate pool, ex-Mayor of Lima Luis Castañeda led the survey with 26 percent, followed by Keiko Fujimori, current congresswoman and daughter of the imprisoned ex-president, at 24 percent. Mr. Toledo is the first officially-announced candidate, although Mr. Castañeda and Ms. Fujimori are widely expected to follow suit in the coming weeks.
Toledo is expected to draw significant support from the remote Andean regions of the country, where he was raised in a small village.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.