El Salvador was the last stop in what probably seemed an eternal five days to President Obama. Amid increasing domestic pressure regarding the intervention in Libya, Obama had to reduce an already short stay (although just by a few hours) in San Salvador.
President Funes, hoping the U.S. President would stay longer, jokingly said: “It is a pity because if you had stayed a little bit longer we could have invited you to get to see the beaches of our country that are one of the best in the region.”
The coincidence of Obama’s trip and the Libyan intervention unfortunately downplayed the importance of what could have been an even more historic visit. Before the trip, analysts, scholars and civil society engaged in Latin American issues speculated as to whether Obama’s trip represented a new realignment of U.S.-Latin American relations. The accuracy of that hypothesis is yet to be tested.
Coalition operations in Libya to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is being met by mixed reaction in the Americas. On the one hand, the leaders of Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela have criticized the mission as being a foreign intervention in a domestic Libyan conflict. At the same time, countries such as Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Panama, and Peru have backed the military action to varying degrees. Colombia, for example, voted in favor of the resolution, while others abstained from taking a position. The mixed reaction may be traced to differing perspectives on state rights to self-determination regardless of political ideologies.
Brazil, a rotating member of the UN Security Council, abstained from the vote approving military intervention in Libya, but clarified that their abstention should not be seen as approval of the Gadaffi regime or as "negligence" of the need to protect Libyan civilians. The Brazilian Foreign Ministry further stated that their abstention was based on the uncertainty that military intervention would bring about the "immediate end to the violence or that it would protect civilians." Brazil issued a statement calling for a ceasefire in Libya on Monday, following President Obama’s departure from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Other Latin American leaders have been more aggressive in their reaction to the Security Council's actions. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa called the military action "unacceptable," and Bolivian President Evo Morales called for Obama's Nobel Peace Prize to be rescinded while criticizing the United Nations and the Security Council for adding to global insecurity. Paraguayan Chancellor Jorge Lara Castro struck a more diplomatic chord saying that approval of joint military action "reflected a weakness of the United Nations" while calling for "diplomatic negotiations to prevail."
Air Force One touches down in San Salvador at 2:45pm EST today, the last stop in President Obama’s three-country Latin America tour. The President will be in El Salvador for two days. According to the White House schedule released this morning, the President and First Lady will participate in an arrival ceremony, followed by a bilateral meeting between Obama and his Salvadoran counterpart Mauricio Funes and a state dinner in Obama’s honor. The two leaders will hold a joint press conference at 4:55 pm EST with a live audio stream available.
Yesterday, in an address to Latin America at Santiago’s Centro Cultural Palacio La Moneda, the President attempted to reset relations between Latin America and the United States. Obama touched on themes like renewable energy sources, security against transnational crime, inclusive socioeconomic development and the importance of sustainable democratic institutions. (Here is a transcript of the President’s remarks.)
As previewed in AQ Online, discussion topics in the Obama-Funes working meeting are expected to range from immigration policy to poverty to free trade to counternarcotics efforts across the region. Read more AQ coverage of Salvadorans’ expectations from Obama’s visit.
Speaking to the Chilean and Latin American public from the La Moneda presidential palace in Chile, President Obama signaled the start of a new era in U.S.-Latin America relations—one whose focus will be on enhancing security in the region, promoting inclusive development, strengthening democratic institutions, and securing sustainable energy resources. On the eve of the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s creation of the Alliance for Progress and amid political turmoil and regime change in the Middle East and North Africa, President Obama’s speech to the Latin American public was both symbolic and significant.
It is no secret that the U.S. administration supported—and even lent assistance—to the forces that overthrew Chilean president Salvador Allende’s democratically elected government in 1973 and installed a military regime with General Augusto Pinochet at its head. This is a part of Chile’s history with which the country continues to come to terms, serving justice to the victims of the regime’s human rights abuses.
In a joint press conference with President Piñera, Obama was asked by a reporter about the U.S.’ past role in Chilean affairs. He answered without missing a beat: “It is important for us to understand our history, and to learn from our history,” he said, but “we are not trapped by our history.”
President Obama’s visit to Chile coincides with President Piñera’s completion of the first year of his four-year term. Although his administration has been highly effective at rebuilding the massive damage of the 2010 earthquake and tsunami, Piñera’s approval ratings are at their lowest level yet. Almost immediately after being sworn in, Piñera took a hit in the polls.
The unnecessary delay in selling two of his most emblematic companies (a television station, CHV, and LAN Airlines) sparked debate on potential conflicts of interest. Although he was able to regain some support after the successful rescue of the trapped miners, a popular revolt triggered by the decision to raise natural gas prices in the south sent approval ratings in a downward trajectory.
Though Piñera later sold his companies (or provisionally signed them over to non-profit organizations) and promptly announced that gas prices would only marginally increase, several other minor unforced and unpopular decisions have underscored his first year in office. Some of these errors can be attributed to the difficulties of running a country ruled by the opposition for the past 20 years. But others should be understood as part of Piñera’s natural entrepreneurial character, which naturally entails a certain amount of risk-taking.
During a two-day visit to Brazil this past weekend, and amidst a backdrop of escalating events in Libya, U.S. President Barack Obama and his Brazilian counterpart Dilma Rousseff reinvigorated stalled political and economic relations between the two countries, signing a series of preliminary agreements that pave the way for stronger commercial links between the Hemisphere’s largest economies.
Obama’s trip—intended to bolster trade and investment ties with the world’s seventh-largest economy and prove U.S. commitment to a region increasingly engaged with China—kicked off with talks between the two leaders in Brasilia on Saturday morning. Following the leaders’ meeting at the Palácio do Planalto, Obama met with U.S. and Brazilian CEOs and delivered an address at the U.S.-Brazil CEO forum. Throughout the meetings around Brasilia, Obama stressed the opportunities for mutual economic benefit through increased cooperation, and cited the potential for the U.S. to sell “more goods and services to a rapidly-growing market of around 200 million consumers.”
After talks at the Palácio do Planalto, the two leaders announced the signing of a series of agreements to deepen ties as “global partners in the 21st century” in areas ranging from trade to technology, education to energy and air travel.
Chile is abuzz. President Obama landed at Santiago’s airport at 1:20 pm (local time) and will stay in the country for 24 hours. Every U.S. President since George H. W. Bush has been to Chile, but this is the first strictly bilateral visit in almost 20 years.
The last 13 months have been challenging for the country, with a series of events that placed Chile under the spotlight of international media, forcing a candid scrutiny of national strengths and weaknesses. A mega earthquake and tsunami, a transition of power from the center-left to the center-right, the tragedy of the trapped miners and their subsequent victorious rescue, and the celebration of the nation’s 200 years of independence have all made this an eventful period of time and a test of resilience that somehow redefines national identity. In this context, the visit of the U.S. President serves as a culmination after an intense year of soul-searching.
International news often praise Chile for institutional strength and economic success. But Chileans are not self-congratulatory. The country made a sustained effort to be included in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and now uses this yardstick to measure itself. Chile is a small open economy vulnerable to the swings of the global economy and self-aware of its light weight in international politics. For this very same reason, the visit of the U.S. President is sincerely appreciated, as it signals the respect Chile has earned from the international community and reinforces the ever-improving bilateral relations. If in the past Chile went north to ask for aid, or the U.S. went south trying to intervene in domestic politics to maintain the Cold War status quo. Now both countries talk of cooperation, common values and regional challenges.
President Barack Obama departed Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this morning and is scheduled to arrive at the international airport in Santiago, Chile, at 12:20 pm (eastern). He will hold a bilateral meeting with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera to be followed by a joint press conference at 2:05 pm (eastern) and a public speech at 3:20 pm (eastern) at the Centro Cultural Palacio La Moneda. The speech is being framed as an address to all of Latin America with comparisons drawn to his Cairo speech in June 2009.
Yesterday, in an address to the Brazilian people at Rio de Janeiro’s Teatro Municipal, the President reinforced the U.S.-Brazil partnership, economic ties and cooperation in areas such as infrastructure and energy. Read more AQ Online coverage of his Rio speech including a video of the address.
Today’s speech to all of Latin America is being held in Chile since the “successful transition to democracy and sustained economic growth make it a model for the region and the world,” according to the President in an interview with Chile’s El Mercurio. In light of the unfolding nuclear crisis in Japan, among the issues to come up is the nuclear cooperation agreement signed between U.S. and Chilean officials on Friday.
Since the DREAM Act failed to pass the Senate in December and Republicans took over the House of Representatives, many people have argued that any pro-immigrant legislation is impossible. The chances are indeed slim, but the movement that emerged to press for DREAM is far from accepting defeat. In fact, if you ask these young leaders, their struggle has only just begun.
The DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act would offer undocumented youth an earned path to citizenship, conditional on college attendance or military service. When the bill failed to overcome a Senate filibuster in December, DREAM students (Dreamers) were devastated. And, to make matters worse, the Republicans’ landslide victory in the mid-term elections indeed made DREAM an unlikely prospect until at least 2013.
But student leaders have responded with aplomb. And at the United We Dream (UWD) network’s national congress in Memphis in early March, they focused on how far they’ve come and the work that lies ahead.
The U.S. Embassy in Brazil announced yesterday that President Obama’s speech in Rio de Janeiro, scheduled for this Sunday, will change venue. The President’s appearance was originally scheduled to occur in Rio’s historic plaza Cinelandia, but instead he will deliver remarks at the Municipal Theatre. The embassy did not issue a reason for the change in location, and has not yet confirmed whether the event would be open to the public.
In preparation for the President’s visit, Brazilian authorities began securing the premises by closing off numerous streets on Thursday night. Some of the areas surrounding Cinelandia had been covered with anti-U.S. banners hanging from a roadside fence. Some social organizations and union groups have declared Obama a persona non grata and called for a protest the event, criticizing the U.S.’s foreign policy and the War on Terror.
There is much anticipation around Obama’s first diplomatic visit to Latin America as president. Brazil, the largest power in the region, will be the President’s first stop. As U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Tom Shannon said last year, Brazil and the United States have begun “encountering each other in places where traditionally we have not.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will discuss U.S.-Latin American relations in a televised speech entitled "Our Opportunity with the Americas” today at 2:00pm.
When President Obama lands in El Salvador on March 22 he will be facing the most challenging visit of his three-country trip to Latin America. Obama will have already met two consolidated, more mature, democratic states with clear commercial strategic value to U.S. interests.
Chile has trade agreements with over 60 countries and has been able to steer clear of the polarizing ideological discourse of the 1980s. Brazil, clearly a global and regional player, represents one of the top-10 trade partners of the United States. The mere size of the Brazilian economy puts it in a category of its own. And then, there’s El Salvador, the smallest country in continental America with intimate historic and demographic ties to the United States. Historically, the U.S. was actively involved during the civil war that occurred at the height of the Cold War, and demographically, Salvadorans represent the sixth-largest immigrant group in the United Statess. So why does El Salvador represent the most challenging visit to Obama?
First, the political climate in El Salvador is highly polarized with remnants and outbursts of outdated Cold War rhetoric being made periodically by important political actors. This should obligate President Obama to adjust his discourse to convey an unequivocal message that political stability grounded on democratic principles is pivotal in poverty reduction, foreign direct investment and economic growth. A compelling argument revolving around democracy consolidation will resonate in a region where fragile democratic institutions abound; especially when it’s made from a nation that has arguably advanced most on this matter in Central America. Furthermore, positioning poverty reduction as a strategic objective for the Western Hemisphere as well as highlighting the role of public-private partnerships will be an idea best delivered in El Salvador.
The route from the international airport into downtown Rio de Janeiro along the Linha Vermelha passes through parts of the city unnoticed by the casual business traveler or tourist. Instead, a first-time visitor is likely to focus on the favelas dotting the hillsides in and around Rio, or on that first glimpse of the sea in anticipation of the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana.
On Saturday evening, U.S. President Barack Obama (in his first trip to Rio) will be taking that same road after he lands at Galeão Air Force Base in Rio. On Sunday, some of his visits will include Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue, a speech at Cinelândia Square (moved to the municipal theater as of March 18) and a visit to the Cidade de Deus, or City of God, favela made famous in the 2002 movie. The visit to Cidade de Deus is certainly a good choice given the implementation of Governor Cabral's Pacifying Police Units (UPP) strategy in that favela.
But as the President leaves Galeão Air Force Base on Saturday night or arrives on Monday morning, he—like other visitors flying into the adjacent international airport—may unfortunately not notice the community of Maré, which sits along the Linha Vermelha leading into the city center. The wall constructed along the highway to block the view of Maré, which seemed bigger when I recently visited Rio and Maré, is a concrete reminder of the isolation of one of Rio’s largest favelas. With 140,000 people living in Maré, its population is on par with that of Kansas City, KS, or Savannah, GA. But that is where the similarities—at least on the surface—end.
The youth of Maré have long faced an uphill battle in being able to move up the socioeconomic ladder, a major factor of which is a lack of education. Among Maré’s 16 communities, there are just three public high schools and 16 elementary schools. Of these schools, 88 percent do not have a public library according to data from Rio Como Vamos, a Rio-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) that measures the city’s quality of life. But even more worrisome, schools are sometimes closed for a month or so at a time with teachers simply not showing up for work. And shockingly, less than 0.5 percent of Maré’s youth receive a university education. This compared to the 16 percent of Brazilians nationwide from the lowest income quintile that go on to post-secondary institutions—a number that is still low when compared to the 52 percent attendance rate for those from the highest quintile.
Without post-secondary education, there is little chance for Maré’s youth to enjoy the widespread mobility and rising middle-class status that Brazilians increasingly enjoy.
President Hugo Chávez announced today that he is freezing plans to develop nuclear energy in light of the events currently unfolding in Japan. This past October, Chávez signed a deal with a Russian company to build a nuclear power plant over the next decade. Highlighting the dangers of nuclear technology, despite technological advancements, Chávez has put those plans on hold. “Despite the great technology and advances that Japan has, look at what is happening with some of its nuclear reactors,” he stated. The president also noted that increased concern for the safety of nuclear power will boost demand for Venezuelan oil exports.
Venezuela’s hold on its nuclear energy plans follows China’s announcement that they would also be putting a hold on the construction of 27 new nuclear energy plants, almost half of new nuclear power plant construction worldwide, while they reviewed safety regulations.
Despite concern over nuclear energy triggered by the catastrophe in Japan, Chilean President Sebastian Piñera announced that Chile will forge ahead with a nuclear cooperation deal with the U.S. due to be signed during President Obama’s trip to Santiago next week. Piñera noted that Chile’s energy demands required the country to keep the option of nuclear energy open despite recent events. “Chile needs to learn about nuclear energy, and that is why we have signed accords with France and Argentina and we will sign another with the US,” Piñera announced following a meeting with the Japanese ambassador during which he expressed Chile’s condolences.
Colectivos de colombianos por la paz insisten en salida política negociada al conflicto.
Desde que el día de su posesión presidencial Juan Manuel Santos aseguró que “las llaves de un proceso de negociación no están perdidas”, varios sectores en Colombia han manifestado su optimismo por un cambio de discurso que, durante los ocho años de gobierno del ex mandatario Álvaro Uribe, sólo pronunció la palabra guerra.
Pasar a la historia como el presidente de la paz, ha sido el anhelo de muchos mandatarios en el país, aunque con resultados poco alentadores. El deseo de Santos no es la excepción a la regla. “Después de la aparición de las llamadas economías emergentes compuestas por el BRIC (Brasil, Rusia, India y China), Santos quiere que Colombia figure en el concierto internacional como una potencia emergente. Para que eso ocurra debe dejar de ser un país en guerra”, asegura el congresista Iván Cepeda, hijo del asesinado líder de la Unión Patriótica (UP), Manuel Cepeda, por cuya muerte el estado colombiano fue condenado ante la CIDH.
Cepeda participó en el encuentro internacional “Haciendo la paz en Colombia”, realizado en Buenos Aires a fines de febrero, que reunió a colectivos nacionales e internacionales que buscan poner fin a cerca de cinco décadas de conflicto en Colombia.
Pero, ¿en qué han cambiado las condiciones para que los ánimos de una salida política negociada al conflicto de 50 años finalmente prosperen? Si bien Santos le coquetea a la idea de la paz, también ha sido claro en que esta “no será a cualquier precio” y que no conversará “con quienes se niegan al diálogo desarmado”. Y es precisamente el desarme antes de diálogo el elemento más complejo para construir confianza entre las partes.
Among the many crises competing for international attention, the ethno-territorial conflict plaguing the Afro-Colombian population on Colombia’s Pacific Coast is barely making headlines. Afro-Colombians have been systematically displaced from their communities, often violently, at the hands of guerillas and neo-paramilitary groups since the mid-1990s. Yet few Colombians, let alone foreigners, are paying attention.
This comes despite the de-escalation of Colombia’s three decade-long drug war. Still today armed militias are active and using terror tactics to expel Afro-Colombians from their ancestral territory. The reason is that the land is so valuable. It is considered among the richest in the world in terms of natural, exploitable resources, including oil, timber and minerals. Groups like the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN), which can no longer generate enough income from drug trafficking and kidnapping, are turning to mining, both legal and illegal, along the Pacific Coast to finance weapons sales, according to President Juan Manuel Santos. With gold at near record levels, neo-paramilitary groups appear to be cashing in on this business as well.
The socioeconomic condition of the Afro-Colombian community, estimated between 4 million and 10 million strong, and a lack of political representation help to explain why this population is vulnerable to internal displacement. In fact, 78.5 percent of Afro-Colombians live below the poverty line compared to 49.2 percent of the general population, and only one out of every 50 completes a university education. Afro-Colombian representatives only hold two seats in the national chamber and none in the Senate, adding to the challenge of getting issues of inequality, exclusion and the more pressing displacement epidemic on the national agenda.
Authors: Daniel Altschuler and Javier Corrales
Sometimes in an election, voters have to choose the lesser evil. Democracy is imperfect, and so are candidates. But the two apparent front-runners for Guatemala’s upcoming presidential election in September are worse than imperfect candidates; they reflect deeply troubling trends in Latin American politics—the Iron Fist and conjugal continuismo.
The front-runner, Otto Pérez Molina, signals a frightened population’s willingness to cede power back to a military that devastated the country. Pérez’s rise seems predicated on the promise of resuscitating coercive means of the past in response to crime in the present.
The second candidate, First Lady Sandra Torres de Colom, represents the trend of sitting presidents seeking to extend their reign. Since the 1990s, many Latin American presidents have tried to relax or abolish term limits. They try various strategies. The current Guatemalan president’s chosen method for circumventing term limits is conjugal continuismo--nominate his wife as his chosen candidate.
Both candidacies are troublesome for democracy. Mr. Pérez, a retired army general, played a central role in Guatemala’s armed conflict, in which state forces killed as many as 200,000 people. Pérez once led the notorious military intelligence unit and has been implicated, though never charged, in conspiring in the murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi. In his last presidential campaign, he used his strong man image to launch a platform of mano dura, a clenched fist, to combat crime. In Latin America, at the moment, not just in Guatemala, there is demand for more heavy-handed responses to crime, undoubtedly one of the region's most serious urban problem. But when this demand occurs in a country the military remains fairly unaccountable, the result could be a serious deterioration of civilan control of the military.
The earthquake in Japan and the emergency in the nuclear plant of Fukushima have had an unprecedented effect in Chile on the upcoming visit by President Barack Obama next Monday.
Weeks before the visit, the Sebastián Piñera administration had announced that a cooperation agreement on nuclear energy would be signed during the visit. After the nuclear crisis in Japan, that agreement has become a contentious topic of debate in Chile. Some environmental organizations and the center-left Concertación opposition have seized the opportunity to criticize the government.
Though the treaty will only allow for the preliminary steps toward the possible adoption of nuclear energy in several years from now, like Japan, Chile is also vulnerable to powerful earthquakes. The government has now tried to downplay the importance of the nuclear energy cooperation agreement, but until last week it had highlighted this agreement over dozens of others that will also be signed. As an inevitable result, the Japanese nuclear emergency has produced aftershocks in the political arena in Chile.
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.
Previewing Obama’s Latin America Trip
A March 15 White House press gaggle with U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs Mike Froman offered a preview of President Barack Obama’s trip to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador from March 19 to 23. Froman focused on Latin America’s economic strides, saying: “[T]his trip fundamentally is about the U.S. recovery, U.S. exports, and the critical relationship that Latin America plays in our economic future and jobs here in the United States.” He also indicated that energy, infrastructure, and trade would serve as focus areas during the tour and that a CEO Forum will be held in Brasilia during Obama’s stop there. Several U.S. secretaries will join Obama for the Brazil portion of the trip, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
In a follow-up White House press conference on March 16, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes confirmed that Obama will deliver a speech spelling out the administration’s “approach on Latin America” while in Santiago on Monday. According to the Associated Press, Rhodes suggested “Obama will highlight the democratic transitions that swept through Latin America as a model for Middle Eastern countries that are facing challenges to their autocratic regimes.”
Visit AS/COA Online ahead of and during the president’s trip to Latin America for ongoing coverage. AmericasQuarterly.org carries an “Issues in Depth” page on the Obama tour. Also follow AS/COA on Twitter (@ascoa) and Facebook.
Brazil’s Ex-ForeignMin Makes Case for UN Security Council Seat
Celso Amorim, who served as Brazil’s foreign minister during the Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva administration, called upon President Obama to support Brazil’s inclusion in a reformed U.N. Security Council. “It would be a disappointment if Obama does not endorse our drive for a permanent seat on the world’s premier international security body,” Amorim writes for Foreign Policy. “Not just because Brazil deserves a seat but because the council’s very legitimacy depends on the inclusion of emerging powers.”
Funes’ Agenda for Obama’s Visit
Diana Villers Negroponte, a Brookings Institution senior fellow, outlines what to expect when U.S. President Barack Obama stops in San Salvador next week during his Latin American tour. She writes that Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes will seek Washington’s partnership on recognizing poverty-eradication efforts, combating organized crime, providing equipment and training for an El Salvador-based security plan, supporting an IMF plan to offset effects of the economic crisis, and increasing U.S. private investment in the energy sector. “By his visit, Obama is signaling assurance in the Funes government’s capacity to rebuild the economy, distribute wealth, and contain the violence,” says Negroponte. “We must hope that foreign investors will build upon this assurance to develop manufacturing plants, alternative energy production and agro-industrial businesses.”
Anyone who thought Costa Rica’s surprise overture toward Cuba in March 2009 would ruffle the feathers of the Central American country’s close ally, the United States, was likely to be wrong.
Not only did Washington have advance information that the administration of former President Oscar Arias would seek rapprochement with the Communist island, the United States invisibly encouraged the making of amends, according to leaked U.S. diplomatic cables published in La Nación newspaper.
Yes, WikiLeaks reared its whistle-blowing head in Latin America again this month after a slight lull in the region. This time the pro-transparency group has tapped La Nación, a San Jose-based daily paper revered for investigative journalism, to act as the fortuitous bearer of “Cablegate” in Costa Rica. The paper dedicated a crack investigative team to do what several top publications have done before it—digest, redact, reprocess, and then dump secrets of the U.S. diplomatic corps into cyberspace, accompanied by analysis pieces. The leaks have outed some fascinating spiders from Costa Rica and America’s closets.
Among the latest leaks are cables by former U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica Mark Langdale, dating from 2006, that detail Langdale’s nudging of a top Tico diplomat to help set off a regional charm offensive on the Castro regime. Costa Rica had broken off ties with Cuba in 1961. The rapprochement would use Costa Rica’s “moral stature,” according to one cable, to guide a process “in support of a democratic transition in Cuba.”
A National Council of La Raza (NCLR) reported released on Tuesday reveals that a shocking 56 percent of Puerto Rico’s children live below the poverty line. According to a study titled 2010 KIDS COUNT - Puerto Rico Data Book, the poverty rate among Puerto Rico’s under-18 demographic, representing a quarter of the island’s population, is three times that of children in the rest of the United States (18 percent). According to the U.S. government, a family with two adults and two children making less than $21,834 a year is considered poor.
NCLR, the U.S.’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization, said a leading cause of child poverty is the prevalence of single family households. In total, 49 percent of children in Puerto Rico live in single parent households, compared to 32 of children elsewhere in America. The teen birthrate is among the highest in the United States and the island leads the country in the proportion of teenagers who neither attend school nor work (14.6 percent).
The author of the report, Nayde Rivera-Hernández, said the information is meant to inform government officials, nonprofits, community groups, and the private sector of the harsh realities facing children, and promote policies that effectively support young people. NCLR’s KIDS COUNT program was founded in 2002 as an advocacy tool for the socioeconomic well-being of Hispanic children in the United States.
Felipe Calderón is changing the rules of the game for fighting corruption. Earlier this month, Calderón announced a series of initiatives targeting corrupt practices in public service and for the first time, providing rewards to whistleblowers and citizens who provide information leading to identification of these practices.
Mexico’s President recognized that “the depth at which corruption has penetrated our society is a problem we can no longer permit.” These types of declarations, which candidly and honestly recognize our fragile state, are unbecoming of what we are accustomed to hear from him.
Possibly wanting to shift public discourse away from the violence and crime dialogue (which is obviously linked to corruption), Calderón talked about this new legal framework and what it looks to achieve in more economic terms: “we must not allow corruption to continue hurting Mexicans, reducing our competitiveness or blocking our country’s ability to grow.”
United States officials asked former president of Haiti, Jean Bertrand Aristide, to delay his return to the country until after the March 20 elections amid fears that his presence will influence voters. President Aristide has been living in exile in South Africa since his removal from office in 2004. U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner stated in comments yesterday that the decision to allow Mr. Aristide to return was up to Haitian authorities but warned that his return before the election could be “destabilizing” and “could only be seen as a conscious choice to impact Haiti’s elections.” Mr. Aristide’s lawyer, Ira Kurzban, has echoed the U.S. State Department’s sentiment that the former president’s return be left up to the Haitian authorities while noting that Mr. Aristide wishes to return to Haiti to dedicate himself to education and not to politics.
Speculation of Mr. Aristide’s return to Haiti has increased since the return of another exiled former Haitian leader, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, to Haiti on January 16, 2011, after 25 years of living in exile in France. U.S. authorities have appealed to the South African government to delay Mr. Aristide’s departure from the country. However, South African deputy foreign minister Marius Fransman stated today that it was not “our responsibility to say if Jean-Bertrand Aristide should or should not leave South Africa before the election” while noting that the Haitian government has cleared the way for Aristide’s return by issuing him a passport this past February.
Both presidential candidate’s in this weekend’s run-off, Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly, or “Sweet Micky” as he is more popularly known, have no objections to Mr. Aristide’s return. Meanwhile, Mr. Aristide remains a divisive figure in Haitian politics and still retains some support, especially among Haitian living in slums and tent cities where the since the January 2010 earthquake, where people have become frustrated with the slow pace of recovery.
In the universe of cable news and major sports events such as the Olympics, one often has the tendency to equate a nation’s identity with its political leaders and sports celebrities. We know, however, that in the U.S. celebrities can also play a role in how a country is understood in the rest of the world. But with mass communications and globalism, the phenomenon of culture is playing an increasing part in how a people express themselves beyond their borders and how they are perceived. In some, cases, the artists have become greater ambassadors than the diplomats.
A case in point is the sustained effervescence of the cultural community emanating from my home province, Québec, the only French-speaking majority jurisdiction in North America. This year, our cultural affairs ministry is celebrating its 50th anniversary, which is worth noting because, over the years, Québec artists have become more international in scope and in recognition. It begs the questions: Should governments be involved in supporting culture? And to what extent? Has the Québec model been a success?
Clearly, artistic communities primarily depend on their creativity and many talents. In Québec, the duly elected government in 1960 began with a vision that its artists could instill pride and inspire accomplishment if there was support from the people and ultimately, the state.
Guatemalan-born citizens who have since left the country—but continue to send monetary remittances to family members back home—demanded yesterday for the right to vote in the September 2011 presidential elections. Marcos Yax, president of the Coalition of Guatemalan Immigrants in the United States (CONGUATE), cited two pertinent reasons: the lack of voting rights of the Guatemalan emigrants in their countries of residence and the economic benefits that they provide to their home country.
As for remittances, emigrants sent more than $4.1 billion dollars back to Guatemala in 2010, a 4.35 percent increase over 2009. Yax argues that these financial ties merit the involvement of Guatemalan expatriates—estimated at more than 2 million people with most living in the United States—in elections both as candidates and as voters.
CONGUATE is receiving support from groups like El Colegio de Abogados (Bar Association), La Comisión Presidencial contra la Discriminación y el Racismo (Presidential Commission against Discrimination and Racism) and the Central American Parliament.
Just last week, the wife of incumbent president Álvaro Colom, Sandra Torres de Colom, announced her candidacy for the presidential elections. In addition, September 2011 will see the elections of a vice president, 333 mayoralties, 158 members of Congress and 20 representatives to the Central American Parliament.
Peru has been very busy looking for cooperation in the realm of international commerce. In his remaining months as president, President García is intent on leaving lasting footprints, especially a legacy of free trade. At present, Peru has signed bilateral free-trade agreements (FTAs) with the United States, China, Canada and Singapore. It plans on signing agreements with Japan, the European Union and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
While the pact with EFTA is expected to come into force in July, trade with Switzerland will begin this month. Switzerland’s main commodity interest appears to be gold, as Peru's mineral exports to Switzerland amount to about 3.8 billion dollars, while the export value of non-traditional products totals seven million dollars. Other notables in the Peru-EFTA agreement include industrial and processed goods, fish, intellectual property rights, government procurement, competition and investment.
Peru and South Korea are expected to sign an FTA on March 21. Such an agreement is expected to boost bilateral commerce by $7 billion by 2016 and would benefit Peru’s agriculture, mining, coffee and fishing sectors. There is also news that Peru is seeking deeper trade integration with Panama, Chile and Colombia to cooperate with respect to goods and services, trade facilitation and microenterprises. Peru is even undergoing talks with Arab nations.
Bloomberg reports that Mexico’s government is close to reaching a free-trade agreement with Peru. Mexican Economy Minister Bruno Ferrari said that Mexico currently exports $974 million annually to Peru, which represents 0.3 percent of Mexican exports and 3.4 percent of Peru’s imports—but Mexican exports to Peru would increase to $2.7 billion under an FTA.
The Mexican Senate held hearings on Thursday over reports that agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed hundreds of U.S. purchased guns to enter Mexico. This apparently happened while agents were investigating gunrunning by cartels.
The Mexican Senate voted to summon U.S. Ambassador Arturo Sarukhán to testify on the issue, but no official date has been confirmed. The Senate also recommended that Foreign Relations Secretary Patricia Espinoza request details from the U.S. State Department.
Arms trafficking has attracted increased attention from U.S. and Mexican authorities after a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent was gunned down last month on a northern Mexican highway with a firearm purchased in a town outside Fort Worth, Texas. Last week, while meeting with President Obama in Washington, President Calderón noted that there is a “great deal that has to be improved in terms of how to share information, how to trace the weapons." In the past two years, Customs and Border Protection agents seized 386 guns at all border crossings on the 2,000-mile border. The Brookings Institution estimated in 2008 that 2,000 firearms were crossing daily.
Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin promised last April that at least $72.6 million would be allocated in fiscal year 2010 to hire 115 additional Customs officers and 144 new Border Patrol agents to bolster outbound operations. But U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives estimated that 90 percent of the weapons discovered at Mexican crime scenes were originally purchased in the United States.
Inclusion. The concept will likely figure large during President Barack Obama’s planned trip to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador from March 19 to 23. This is so, not only for symbolic reasons (the U.S. President is a powerful symbol of inclusion and U.S. meritocracy), but also the significant advances and challenges of the countries he’ll be visiting on his first trip south of Trinidad and Tobago. Will he address it realistically or gloss over the ongoing challenges?
While it is a complicated issue, fraught with the complexities of economic growth, race, and social policy, one policy prescription for improving economic and social inclusion stands out above all others: Equal access to education. Education has been demonstrated to be the single most important variable affecting social mobility. And who better than Obama—the biracial son of an absentee father who went on to study at Columbia University and Harvard Law School—to discuss the benefits of quality education?
In recent years, the growth of the Latin American middle class, especially in Brazil, has been significant. But those gains are delicate and limited by race. More than a decade of stable economic policy coupled with social policy innovations has lifted over 40 million people in the region out of poverty in what was, and remains, the most unequal region in the world. These numbers are nothing to sniff at, but they belie the fragility of this new middle class. Most academic or technocratic measures of “middle class-ness” rely on measuring income, while most journalistic reporting on the middle class tends to cite these arrivistes’ access to credit.
Neither really captures the security of the middle class. That it has grown is undeniable. But its definition and stability—not to mention its deeper meaning, given Latin America’s racial history—are open to debate. For one, tying the definition strictly to income or credit access obscures other more sustainable elements of modern-day (U.S. and European) notions of middle class: Namely, equal access to public and social programs such as quality education, health care, or pensions.
Nos próximos dias 19 e 20 de Março, o presidente dos Estados Unidos, Barack Obama, visitará o Brasil pela primeira vez desde que assumiu o posto em 2009. Obama, que virá acompanhado de sua família, terá uma agenda protocolar com a presidente Dilma Rousseff, em Brasília, e visitará também uma favela no Rio de Janeiro. Além do Brasil, Obama segue também para o Chile e El Salvador, nessa que é também a sua primeira visita à América Latina.
No Rio, a expectativa é que Obama visite a comunidade Chapéu Mangueira, no morro da Babilônia. A escolha dessa localidade deve ocorrer por uma relação pessoal de Obama com essa comunidade, o que o faz tê-la citado em sua autobiografia. Neste morro, foi gravado, em 1959, o filme O Orfeu da Conceição, uma co-produção franco-brasileira dirigida por Marcel Camus a partir de um roteiro do poeta e cantor Vinícius de Morais, um dos inventores da Bossa Nova. O filme teria sido apresentado a Obama por sua mãe, quando ele era jovem.
A comunidade Chapéu Mangueira é também uma das Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora (UPP), zonas pacificadas pelo poder público após a expulsão de traficantes de drogas que controlavam a localidade e pretende ser uma resposta à comunidade internacional, fruto da pressão por melhorias na segurança pública durante a realização da Copa do Mundo em 2014 e dos Jogos Olímpicos, em 2016.
A month away from the first round of voting in Peru’s presidential election, former President Alejandro Toledo (2001–2005) leads in the polls. The margin by which he leads, however, is not wide enough to avoid a runoff in which he would likely face Keiko Fujimori, daughter of another former president, Alberto Fujimori (1990–2000), or Luis Castañeda, a former mayor of the city of Lima. The election has attracted only lukewarm enthusiasm from the general public.
Latest polls show Toledo, of the Perú Posible political party, earning 30 percent of the vote, while Fujimori of Fuerza 2011 and Luis Castañeda of Solidaridad Nacional are tied as runners-up, currently projected to earn 19.2 and 19.6 percent of the vote, respectively, on April 10. Although of divergent pasts, the principal candidates share a campaign position of maintaining the current, free-market economic model, which has led to unprecedented and sustained growth in Peru (8.8 percent in 2010).
The notorious unreliability of polls in Peru notwithstanding, a number of analysts suggest Toledo has the greatest chance of ultimately winning the presidency. Nelson Manrique commented that he has “carried out his campaign the best and has been able to capture the votes of distinct sectors from all over the country.” Recently traveling in Peru’s northern areas, which lack such basic infrastructure and services as roads and hospitals, Toledo has campaigned on the promise of completing the social reforms he began during his first presidency, and has promised higher taxes on the rich and on mining companies’ windfall profits.
For his part, some analysts say, Castañeda is unlikely to repeat at a national level the popularity he earned as Lima mayor, which reached 80 percent. On the other hand, some recent polls show him beating both Toledo and Fujimori in the case of a runoff. And while Fujimori could attract significant votes, she, too, has limitations, relying on a loyal group of voters who would support her no matter what, but unable to win over those who would never vote for her.
Fujimori, for better or worse, is often perceived as carrying out the legacy of her father, who is currently serving a sentence of 25 years in prison for corruption and human rights violations committed during his presidency, but who enjoys great popularity among certain sectors of the population.
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.
Women Play Greater Role in Latin American Politics
With three women serving as Latin American heads of state and increasing representation within government ministries, women have made major political gains in recent years, according to a new study by the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Not all of the news is good, however. While four countries—Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Nicaragua—have achieved gender parity at the cabinet level, women remain underrepresented in the lower chambers of national legislatures and receive much less media coverage for their electoral campaigns than men.
Rise of Female Labor Force in the Latin American Context
Roubini.com’s Latin America Economonitor reports that, as this week’s marks 100 years since the first International Women’s Day, women are playing an important part in Latin America’s economic growth, with female participation rising from 35 percent in 1980 to 57 percent in 2009. Natalie Picarelli notes that women are also making advances in fields outside those they’ve traditionally dominated (such as education and health). The analysis found that gender gaps still run wide, however. Women lag well behind men in terms of employment and leadership positions in top firms. When comparing based on similar educational and age levels, women still make 17 percent less than their male counterparts across the region.
Congressional Budget Brouhaha Could Block Obama’s LatAm Tour
The New York Times’ The Caucus blog reports that, once again, a congressional showdown could prevent U.S. President Barack Obama from traveling. With a two-week budget extension scheduled to expire on March 18, Obama may see his March 19 through 23 trip to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador postponed. “The current debate is more about a legislative fight in Congress than it is a face-off with Mr. Obama,” reports Michael D. Shear. “But that perception could shift quickly if the two sides were to fail to reach agreement and the government were to shut down with the president out of the country.”
Americas Quarterly’s blog takes a look at Obama’s agenda in Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador.
Assuming the U.S. government will be operational past the March 18 funding deadline, President Obama will make his first trip to Central and South America from March 19-23. Obama had previously visited Mexico before heading to the Caribbean in April 2009, where he represented the United States at the Summit of the Americas held in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
President Obama will begin his Latin America tour in Brazil, where he will visit Brasília on March 19 and hold bilateral talks with his counterpart, President Dilma Rousseff, who was inaugurated on January 1. The central discussion points are expected to be infrastructure financing and energy cooperation, with energy an especially critical area for sustaining Brazil’s economic boom and future development. Obama will continue to Rio de Janeiro the following day, where he is expected to hold a CEO roundtable and visit select sites with his family.
Obama will arrive in Santiago, Chile on the afternoon of March 21 and be greeted by Chilean President Sebastián Piñera. The two leaders will have a working meeting and sign a joint declaration, followed later that evening by a state dinner at the Palacio de la Moneda. Piñera and Obama will discuss innovation and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, the latest round of which concluded last month in Chile. President Piñera has expressed a desire to have the negotiating countries (Australia, Malaysia, Peru, United States, and Vietnam) join the existing TPP signatories (Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore) before the next Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Honolulu, Hawaii, in November 2011.
On the morning of March 22, President Obama will deliver a speech to all Latin Americans from Santiago. The specific location is still being finalized; the Natural History Museum is a likely venue with the National History Museum and the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) headquarters as alternative choices.
After his speech, Obama will fly to El Salvador for his final stop. He will be the fourth U.S. president to visit the Central American country while holding office, after Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Obama will meet with his El Salvadoran counterpart, Mauricio Funes, and discuss a range of bilateral issues including U.S. immigration policy and the recently-announced $200 million pledge from the State Department to renew Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) funding. The two heads of state will also discuss the success of CAFTA-DR. El Salvador was the first Central American signatory. The United States and El Salvador celebrated five years of free trade relations on March 1, 2011.
Follow AQ Online for daily developments leading up to President Obama’s Latin America trip.
Senator Héctor Martínez, a Puerto Rico senator from the island’s New Progressive Party, was found guilty of one count of bribery in U.S. Federal Court on Monday. After a three-week trial the jury found that Sen. Martínez accepted an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas in May 2005 to see a boxing match featuring Puerto Rican boxing champion Felix “Tito” Trinidad. The businessman who funded the trip, Juan Bravo Fernández was also convicted of bribery, conspiracy and interstate travel in aid of racketeering.
Bravo was the former CEO and president of Ranger American, Puerto Rico’s largest security company that services large shopping malls and provides armored car services. The jury found that Bravo paid for the Vegas trip shortly after Sen. Martínez submitted a bill that would require private security companies to obtain a private detective license. While Ranger American owned the license at the time, most of its competitors did not. The bill was not approved, however.
Senate President Tomás Rivera Schatz has not asked Sen. Martínez to resign from the senate, but Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuno has demanded his immediate resignation. Hailing from the San Juan suburb of Carolina, Martínez was first elected senator in 2004 and re-elected in 2008 where he served as president of the Commission of Public Safety and Judiciary Affairs, before stepping down last year. He has been an advocate for Puerto Rican statehood.
According to federal prosecutors, the trip paid for by Bravo included first-class airfare, hotel rooms at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, $1,000 tickets to the boxing match, meals, drinks, and entertainment. Each bribery count carries a maximum penalty of 10 years and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for June 7 and Sen. Martínez’s lawyer has said he will file an appeal by March 14.
“Soy Hugo López, uno de los pocos que sobreviví a los psicofármacos”, dice micrófono en mano un hombre grueso y de mirada bonachona, locutor habitual de la Radio la Colifata. “También conduzco aquí mi espacio llamado la Fogonera en donde hablo de todas las delicias gastronómicas que no podemos comer en este hospital”, agrega, con su habitual sentido del humor. Uno a uno pacientes internados, ambulatorios y externados del Hospital Mental José Tiburcio Borda se presentan en la ronda de introducción del programa. También lo hacen algunos invitados y curiosos que quieren ser partícipes de esta singular experiencia, única en Latinoamérica, en la que un medio de comunicación transmite desde un neuropsiquiátrico.
Todos los sábados desde una casita de colores en los predios del Borda, una institución que actualmente tiene alrededor de 900 camas psiquiátricas para pacientes de escasos recursos, este programa de cinco horas resulta irreverente y ejemplar. Desde hace casi 20 años decidieron que era una forma de comunicarse con el exterior sin que mediaran autoridades ni diagnósticos. No es, sin embargo la única experiencia al interior de este hospital de salud mental.
Yesterday, Peruvian Minister of International Trade and Tourism Eduardo Ferreyros announced that his country intends to sign a free-trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union in the next two weeks. Marianne van Oteen, EU chief delegate to Peru, added that she hopes the FTA can enter into force by the end of 2011, as the agreement must be translated into 21 different languages and then await ratification by the parliaments of the EU and Peru. The terms for the FTA were agreed upon last week.
The EU is a key trading partner as it accounts for one-fifth of all global trade and is the world’s largest exporter and second-largest importer. However it is only one element of Peru’s larger trade agenda. According to Peru’s Ministry of International Trade and Tourism (MINCETUR), Peru has signed bilateral FTAs with the United States, Singapore, Canada, China and the European Free Trade Association. Peru is also presently negotiating preferential trade agreements with Mexico, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a bloc of Central American nations.
Negotiations have already been concluded—but agreements not yet implemented—with Japan, South Korea and Thailand. The latter trend is part of Peru’s “Look to Asia” strategy as described by AS/COA director of policy Jason Marczak. Recent data shows it is working, as bilateral commerce between Peru and China increased by 43.6 percent in 2010.
*Update: On Monday, March 7, Cinépolis and other theaters temporarily suspended showings of Presunto Culpable to comply with a direct order from the Radio, Television and Cinematography Directorate of Mexico. Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry has lodged an appeal to keep the film in theaters, and Cinépolis said it would pursue all available legal means to continue showing the film in the "legitimate exercise of freedom of expression."
Late on Wednesday, March 2, a federal judge in Mexico ordered the suspension of screenings of Presunto Culpable (Presumed Guilty), a documentary film about wrongful conviction and the ineptitude of Mexico’s judicial system. Judge Blanca Lobo Domínguez issued the injunction after one of the film’s featured witnesses complained that the film violated his right to privacy. The irony is painful. It would almost be funny if it didn’t put into stark relief the continuing injustices and shortcomings in Mexico’s judicial system that the film sought to call attention to in the first place.
Presunto Culpable was released in Mexico on February 18. Since then, it has been seen by 430,000 people and earned 18,600,000 pesos ($1.5 million), becoming the nation’s highest-grossing documentary ever, according to Cinépolis, a Mexican theater chain and distributor of the film. Originally released in 2009, Presunto Culpable earned wide acclaim on the 2009-2010 festival circuit, including the audience award for best international feature at the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival. It also aired on the PBS television series POV last fall and became the most-watched broadcast when it was streamed on its website.
In spite of such a positive international response, filmmakers Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete struggled to find a way to share the film with Mexican audiences, for whom they thought its message would be most poignant. Presunto Culpable describes a corrupt and blatantly unfair judicial process, which is unfortunately the norm in Mexico but about which “most Mexican citizens have no idea,” Negrete told me in an interview for Americas Quarterly last fall. “This film is a picture of a routine homicide trial—not an extraordinary case of human rights violations. We want people to walk away from it with a better understanding of [what actually happens in] the Mexican judicial system.”