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.
Shift on Drug War Strategy Stems from Clinton's Mexico Trip
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led a cabinet-level delegation to Mexico this week as part of bilateral efforts to make progress in the ongoing drug war that plagues the Mexican border region and Ciudad Juarez in particular. After the meeting, Clinton described a new approach that would fall under the umbrella of the $1.4-billion security pact known as the Merida Initiative and incorporates strengthening institutions and communities. “We are expanding the Merida Initiative beyond what it was traditionally considered to be, because it is not just about security,” said Clinton. “Yes, that is paramount, but it is also about institution building. It is about reaching out to and including communities and civil society, and working together to spur social and economic development.” The talks also resulted in renewed focus to target arms trafficking and money laundering.
Top U.S. Envoy to the Western Hemisphere: Engaging the Americas
In an exclusive blog post for Americas Quarterly, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela writes about new ways for Washington to engage the Western Hemisphere. The post covers regional security, strengthening democratic institutions, environmental protection, and bridging the inequality gap.
OAS Reelects Insulza
In what came as little surprise given the lack of other candidates, José Miguel Insulza was reelected for another five-year term as secretary general of the Organization of American States on March 24. Washington supported Insulza’s reelection, but the vote comes as some U.S. legislators urge reform of the hemispheric body. The United States supplies 60 percent of the OAS budget. “[The OAS has] demonstrated that it's more and more a toothless tiger,” said AS/COA’s Christopher Sabatini in an interview with the National Journal’s Burn After Reading blog. “It has in the past played a key role in evolving democratic standards, but not lately.... The decision-making mechanism of the group is too cumbersome to be effective.”
IDB Boosts Capital, Offers Debt Relief to Haiti
Financial Times reports that the governing board of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) agreed this week to the bank’s largest historical capital increase. The IDB will thus be able to double annual lending to $12 billion. The bank also planned to provide $479 million in debt forgiveness and relief funds to earthquake-battered Haiti.
Piñera Government Announces Chilean Rebuilding Plan
The Chilean government announced a $110 million reconstruction project to rebuild the country's most damaged regions in the wake of an 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Chile on February 27. The project aims to provide housing for the homeless, boost school attendance, repair fisheries, and create jobs for fishermen in coastal towns.
Peru and Argentina Repair Relations
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner traveled to Peru this week, where she inked a series of bilateral accords with host President Alan García. Her trip marked the first to the Andean country by an Argentine head of state in 16 years, when ties were strained by the revelation that Buenos Aires sold arms to Ecuador during that country’s brief 1995 conflict with Peru.
Colombia’s Conservative Party Confirms Candidate
Five days after the party primary, Colombia’s Conservative Party announced March 19 that former Foreign Relations Minister Noemí Sanín won to serve as its presidential candidate. Sanín defeated a former agriculture minister, Andrés Felipe Arias, considered a protégé of President Álvaro Uribe. La Silla Vacía blog examines how Sanín’s candidacy could shape the race and the likelihood that she will gain enough backing to force a second electoral round against current frontrunner Juan Manuel Santos. The first round is slated for May 30.
Read an AS/COA analysis about the Colombian presidential race.
Hostage Release of Colombian Soldiers to Be Tweeted
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia will release two of 24 kidnapped officers this weekend and the body of a third man who died in captivity will also be handed over to authorities. Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba, who has served as go-between in hostage releases, caused a stir when she announced that she plans to use social media tool Twitter to share minute-by-minute information about the hostages’ liberation, reports El Espectador.
Colombian Journalist Gunned Down
Clodomiro Castilla, the editor of the Colombian magazine El Pulso, was killed while sitting on his terrace in the city of Montería on Friday. Castilla was known for reporting on politicians' links with paramilitary death squads and, according to his family, he declined protection from the government despite having received death threats.
Brazil Hosts Belarusian President
Fresh on the heels of a trip to Venezuela, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met with his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Rio on March 22. The two leaders agreed to improve bilateral relations in areas such as trade, education, technology, and agriculture. In 2008, bilateral trade between Brazil and Belarus reached $1.3 billion. Lukashenko, described at times as “Europe’s Last Dictator,” also confirmed he will attend the UN’s third Alliance of Civilizations Forum, which takes place in Rio in May.
Lula Fined for Campaigning on Behalf of Rousseff
A Brazilian court ordered President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to pay $2,803 for campaigning for presidential candidate and Chief of Staff Dilma Rousseff during the inauguration of a sports complex in May 2009. The court did not order fines for Rousseff as she did not have prior knowledge of Lula's remarks. The governing Worker's Party picked Rousseff as its presidential candidate in February ahead of the October 3 elections. According to an Ibope poll published on March 17, Rousseff has a 30 percent voter approval compared with 17 percent in December.
Brazil Turns Mexico Green with Envy
World Politics Review covers Mexico's perceived envy of Brazil. The sentiment has grown after a difficult economic year for Mexico that coincides with Brazil’s much-touted rising influence in global affairs. A 2009 poll shows that Mexican trade groups are uneasy about a bilateral trade deal under negotiation. But some analysts suggest Mexico should look to Brazil for ideas on reform, including of state oil firm Pemex.
Mexico-based Cuban Diplomat Defects
A Mexico City-based Cuban diplomat and her spouse have defected, reports The Miami Herald. It is believed the couple will try to cross the border into the United States to seek asylum as it is possible Mexican authorities could send them back to Cuba.
SCOTUS Says Nay to Noriega Appeal
On March 22, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to reconsider a petition submitted by former Panamanian military dictator General Manuel Noriega to halt his extradition to France on charges of money laundering. Noriega and his wife were sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison in 1999, but France has consented to hold a new trial if he is extradited.
Nicaraguan Diplomats No Shows in Costa Rican Tax Fraud Case
In a case involving improper use of diplomatic license plates, Nicaraguan diplomats accused of the crime failed to show up to a hearing in San Jose. Costa Rican officials claim the Nicaraguan diplomats avoided paying $95, 000 in taxes by bringing cars into the country with diplomatic plates even though they were then put into personal use by family members.
Immigration Reform Supporters Rally in Washington
All eyes may have been turned to healthcare reform in Washington, DC, on Sunday but, at the same time, tens of thousands of immigration-reform supporters rallied in front of the Capitol on Sunday. Complaints are ongoing about reform’s delay. On Friday, The Washington Post published an op-ed by Charles Shumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) described a draft reform bill they’re expected to submit to U.S. Senate.
Film Explores Deportation of Legal Residents to Mexico
A new film aired by PBS’ “Independent Lens” reports about the deportation of two U.S. military veterans who were sent back to Mexico though they had spent most of their lives in the United States. New America Media features an interview with the Lost Souls’ filmmaker—and the men’s niece—Monika Navarro.
Samia Rahman writes for the Guardian about Muslim women in Ecuador and their place in the largely Catholic country. Due to the religious nature of the society, writes the author, faith is not politicized, as is the case in secular countries.
Chile, Argentina Confirmed to Host Dakar Rally
Argentina and Chile have been confirmed as hosts of the 2011 Dakar Rally for the third year running. The long-distance race was moved from West Africa in 2009 after concerns were raised about security.