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.”
Ecuador Revokes Asylum Offer to WikiLeaks' Assange
President Rafael Correa revoked on November 30 the invitation made by Kintto Lucas, a minister in Ecuador’s Foreign Relations ministry, offering asylum to Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ founder. Interpol is currently seeking the arrest of Assange on sex-crime charges.
Confusion and Conflict after Haitian Election
Ten presidential candidates maintain accusations that fraud marred Haiti’s November 28 elections. The controversy and protests began before voting had closed, with candidates calling on Haitians to take to the streets. The Organization of American States contends that, though it observed election irregularities, it “does not believe that these irregularities, serious as they were, necessarily invalidated the process.” Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) said that the “political uncertainty” in the election could cost Haiti billions of reconstruction dollars if left unresolved, according to The Miami Herald.
Haitian Cholera Situation Worsens
The cholera epidemic continues to escalate in Haiti, with over 27,000 reported cases and 1,648 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. The Pan American Health Organization features an interactive map showing the geographic concentration of cholera cases.
Saving Copenhagen in Cancun
Despite observers’ low hopes for the UN climate talks kicking off this week in Cancun, the conference could play a crucial role in rescuing the accord inked last year in Copenhagen, writes Council on Foreign Relations Fellow Michael Levi in Slate. He contends that the pact may have fallen short on expectations but did manage to set international climate change benchmarks, pushed developing countries to sign on for cutting emissions, and required commitments to transparency. “[T]he UN talks can't be avoided—and the Copenhagen Accord, properly reinforced, can provide a core foundation for future efforts to address climate change,” writes Levi. “Without it, the world is in for an even rockier ride.”
Calderón Reflects on 10 Years of the PAN Governing Mexico
December 1 marks not only the beginning of President Felipe Calderón’s fifth year in power, but also 10 years since the National Action Party (PAN) took over the presidency from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) after the latter party maintained a grip on the country’s presidency for more than seven decades. In an interview with Excelsior, Calderón defends his anti-crime platform and highlights PAN accomplishments, including a 25 percent decrease in extreme poverty levels in Mexico over the past decade.
December 1 also marks the date that a large number of Mexico’s governors-elect take office. News reports are, in particular, watching the power handoff to Gabino Cué, the new governor of the state of Oaxaca and the first non-PRI governor there in over 80 years. He replaces Ulises Ruiz, who held the lowest approval ratings of all Mexico’s governors and could face human rights abuse and corruption charges after stepping down. AS/COA Online interviewed Cué, who won with the backing of a coalition of opposing parties, on location in Oaxaca about expectations for his new government. Read the interview in English or Spanish.
Mexican Police Nab Suspected Juarez Gang Leader
Federal Police in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, detained Arturo Gallegos, known as “El Farmero,” the supposed head of Los Aztecas. According to Mexico’s Public Safety Secretariat, two other accomplices were arrested along with Gallegos, who is accused of killing two employees of the U.S. Consulate in Juarez and five federal police officers. Authorities claim Gallegos can be blamed for 80 percent of the killings in the war-torn city, as well as for major smuggling of arms between the United States and Mexico. An editorial in The Dallas Morning News offers a recommendation: “For Mexico to take full advantage of Gallegos' capture, police must move quickly to round up as many other Los Aztecas members as possible before they have a chance to regroup under new leadership and resume their violence.”
Nicaragua Releases White Paper on Costa Rican Border Dispute
Last week, Managua released a 76-page white paper called The San Juan River of Nicaragua: The Truths that Costa Rica Hides. Costa Rica and Nicaragua have made little progress in resolving their border disagreement, despite assistance from the Organization of American States. A hearing on the issue is set for January 11 to 13 at the International Court of Justice.
Dilma Announces Government Appointments
Brazilian President-elect Dilma Rousseff began to quell speculation by announcing key appointments to government posts on November 24: Guido Mantega will continue as finance minister; Alexander Tombini will take over as Central Bank head; and, if rumors are to be believed, Antionio Palocci will be chief minister in the coalition government. “Some among the bankers and business people in São Paulo, Brazil’s financial capital, have become increasingly anxious for reassurance,” argues The Economist, so these first appointments offered “soothing messages.”
Got a Question for Brazil’s CenBank Head?
Financial Times’ Beyondbrics blog invites readers to submit questions for Brazil’s Central Bank head Henrique Meirelles before he hands the reins over to his successor, Alexander Tombini. Send in your questions about Brazil’s fiscal policy by December 6. Answers to selected questions will be published by the middle of the month.
Brazil’s ForeignMin Ranks among Top Global Thinkers
Foreign Policy ranks Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim in the top 10 of its leading 100 global thinkers of 2010 list and credits him with “transforming Brazil into a global player.” Says Amorim in an interview with the magazine’s editor in chief: “Brazil has this unique characteristic which is very useful in international negotiations: to be able to put itself in someone else's shoes, which is essential if you are looking for a solution.”
Rio Police Battle Traffickers
Military and police forces in Rio de Janeiro concluded a week-long assault on drug gangs Sunday by entering slums where police purportedly captured 100 traffickers and killed 40 more. The assault came in response to a wave of robberies and vehicle burnings that authorities interpreted as a warning to “back off” the pressure on drug dealers who operate with impunity.
Brazil Plans Unmanned Surveillance along Its Borders
Brasilia wants to use unmanned air vehicles to monitor its borders with Bolivia, Colombia, Paraguay, and Uruguay. MercoPress reports the flights should help “to detect clandestine docks and piers used by smugglers.”
After the Miner Rescue: Chile’s Debate over Codelco’s Privatization
Universia Knowledge@Wharton reports about Chilean state-owned mining firm Codelco and its role in the October rescue of 33 miners from the San José mine. The rescue also reignited debate over President Sebastian Piñera’s early 2010 proposal to privatize 20 percent of the firm. “Some experts have argued that the rescue has opened the way for Codelco to forge new strategic alliances that will help the company manage its business,” says the article.
Colombia, Ecuador Normalize Relations
President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia announced on November 26 the full reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Ecuador, and said that the first step in the process will be exchanging ambassadors. Quito froze relations with Bogota in 2008 after a Colombian cross-border raid on a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (better known as the FARC) base on Ecuadoran territory.
More ETA Members in Venezuela
Former Venezuelan diplomat Diego Arria told Spain’s High Court that a further six members of the separatist group Basque Homeland and Freedom (ETA) worked with the Venezuelan government through Agriculture Minister Arturo Cubillas. Spain requested Cubilla’s extradition in October based on accusations that he coordinated training efforts with FARC and ETA members in Venezuela.
Latino Leaders Debate Creating “Tequila Party”
Las Vegas Sun reports that, “Latino leaders in Nevada and nationwide are quietly debating whether to sever their traditional Democratic ties and form an independent grassroots political group.” The article notes that the Tea Party serves as an “unlikely model,” leading some to call the Hispanic movement the “Tequila Party.” Those involved would leverage the fast-growing Latino vote to pressure for policy changes.
A South American Arms Race Assessment
In a new research paper, Brookings’ Kevin Casas-Zamora takes a look at South America’s rising military expenditures, which doubled between 1990 and 2009. However, he points out that “as a proportion of GDP, military outlays in the region have remained fairly stable over the past two decades.”
U.S., Panama Ink Tax Info Pact That Could Boost FTA Hopes
Washington and Panama City signed a Tax Information Exchange Agreement on November 30, paving the way for the two countries to request tax information from each other. The accord may make it easier for U.S. legislators to approve the stalled 2007 U.S.-Panama trade agreement, according to Roberto Henriquez, Panama’s minister of trade and industry.
World AIDS Day: Combating HIV in El Salvador
The Latin Americanist blog covers World AIDS Day in the Latin American and Caribbean context, reporting that over two million people in the region are infected with HIV—more than in Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States combined. The post features a video about the work of El Salvador-based organization Among Friends, which provides outreach and education about HIV/AIDS while fighting discrimination toward the country’s LGBT community.
Poverty Takes a Hit in LatAm and Caribbean
A new report by the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean predicts that poverty rates in the region will drop this year to the pre-crisis levels of 2008, thanks to economic recovery across a large portion of countries. Poverty and extreme poverty will drop by 1 percent and 0.4 percent respectively, according to the report.
Argentina Takes up Abortion Law
A legislative committee in Buenos Aires is considering allowing abortions during the first trimester of pregnancy. In a country that is roughly 75 percent Roman Catholic, the debates in the legislature mark the first time Argentina has considered lifting the ban.
Desperately Seeking Permits: Madonna’s Mexican Gym Faces Censure
Pop star Madonna opened her first in a chain of fitness centers to much fanfare in Mexico City on Monday. But the material girl now finds herself on the borderline of seeing the gym closed Friday due to failure to secure the proper permits. Will she be able to justify the center’s operations or will the gym, named Hard Candy, be forced to take a holiday?