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Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

February 23, 2011

by AS-COA Online

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.

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Latin American Leaders React to Gadaffi Protests

Reactions to the government crackdown on protests in Libya that have reportedly left hundreds dead have prompted a range of reactions in Latin America. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega told Radio Nueva Ya that he has discussed the crisis by phone with Gadaffi and offered the solidarity of the Sandinistas to the people of Libya. Retired Cuban head of state Fidel Castro said Gadaffi’s image suffered from attacks in the Western mass media, and predicted that NATO would invade Libya. Peru broke diplomatic relations with the North African government, while the Chilean government asked for an immediate end to the repression. Nearly all Latin American heads of state have called for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. 

U.S. Senate Holds Hearing on LatAm Policy

The U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing to discuss Latin America policy on Thursday, February 17. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) proposed looking at Latin American policy “through a prism that includes four lenses: values, institutions, attitudes, and technology.” Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) called for the passage of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Act and debated Cuba policy with Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Arturo Valenzuela. The Senate hearing followed a similar hearing in the House two days prior.

State Dept Seeks to Quell Fracas over Cargo Plane in Argentina

The State Department issued a fact sheet explaining its version of the events that led to the confiscation of the contents of a cargo plane carrying guns, surveillance equipment and drugs. The State Department said it had coordinated with the Argentine government and declared the equipment prior to arrival, and added that all of the materials were necessary to conduct hostage-rescue training for the Argentine federal police. The U.S. team neglected to declare morphine included in medical kits. The issue continues to stir controversy in Argentina. 

Weak Dollar Takes a Bite out of Chilean Tourism

International tourism to Chile has declined in recent months, as a weak dollar and strong Chilean peso have combined to make the Andean country less attractive to foreigners, MercoPress reports, citing statements from tourism officials in the resort city of Viña del Mar. Foreigners may also still have concerns about the possibility of earthquakes and tsunamis in Chile, according to the report. 

Dilma Rousseff vs. Overheating Economy

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff may be presiding over a booming economy, but she faces the problem of an overheating one, according to The Economist. She won a political battle with trade unionists and opposition over how much to raise the minimum wage, but will have to make tough decisions to control government spending and rein in inflation.

Colombia’s Justice and Peace Law Falls Short on Convictions

With 52,000 crimes against humanity admitted by over 4,500 demobilized paramilitaries, Colombian prosecutors have only secured three convictions under the Law of Peace and Justice since the measure was passed in 2006, according to BBC Mundo. The Law of Peace and Justice reduces the maximum sentence for human rights crimes committed by demobilized paramilitaries to eight years, provided they testify about their illegal activities. The slow speed of the process has led some to criticize the Colombian government’s ability to handle the avalanche of information produced by the confessions.

Uribe’s Cousin Sentenced for Paramilitary Links

Mario Uribe, a former senator and cousin of ex-President Álvaro Uribe, was convicted of collaborating with illegal, rightwing paramilitaries and sentenced to seven and a half years in prison. Mario Uribe, 61, is one of about 70 politicians who have been convicted and jailed for ties to violent paramilitary groups, according to the BBC

Venezuelan Hunger Strikers End Protest as Congressman Released

University students staging a hunger strike ended their 23-day protest this week as the opposition leader they supported had been released from house arrest. Biagio Pilieri, a congressman-elect, was prevented from taking office after facing corruption charges linked to his four-year period as mayor of Bruzual. Hunger strikers said allies of President Hugo Chávez were behind trumped up charges against Pilieri, who will take his seat in the National Assembly as a deputy representing Chivacoa. 

Keiko Fujimori Admits to Taking Tainted Money

Peruvian presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori said Sunday that she took $10,000 in campaign contributions from businessman Eudocio Martínez Torres, who is currently under investigation for drug trafficking. News of Fujimori’s admission came as the Peruvian press reported on cables published by WikiLeaks showed that the United States was concerned that drug traffickers had infiltrated the Peruvian government and Keiko Fujimori. A recent poll by Datum found Fujimori tied for second place with 19 percent, behind Alejandro Toledo at 28 percent.

Immigration Bill Worries Georgia's Agribusiness

Georgia’s state legislature is considering a law that the state’s agribusiness interests fear could destroy them. The proposal would require employers to use the federal, online employment verification program known as E-Verify to assess employee’s eligibility to work legally in the United States. Agriculture would be hardest hit by the initiative, according to a report by the The Macon Telegraph.

Why Is Obama Going to El Salvador?

The New York Times’ Caucus blog speculates that President Barack Obama’s visit to the Central American country of El Salvador next month “is as much about domestic politics as international affairs,” citing the fact that “one of the larger and fast-growing immigrant populations in the United States hails from this nation.” Greg Weeks at Two Weeks Notice disagrees, predicting that Obama’s agenda in El Salvador will focus on gangs and drug trafficking rather than immigration. 

Honduras Cracks Down on Smoking

A strict new law in Honduras bans smoking in most public and private places, and allows people to file complaints for exposure to secondhand smoke in private residences. Violations lead to a warning for the first offense, and subsequent infractions can lead to arrest and a fine of $311, the Associated Press reports. 

Former General Leads Guatemalan Polls

A new survey conducted by Borge and Associates places ex-General Otto Pérez Molina ahead of the pack for September’s presidential vote in Guatemala. Pérez, who lost the 2007 vote to current President Álvaro Colom, polls with 42.9 percent of voter intention, which is well ahead of First Lady Sandra Torres’ 11.1 percent. The frontrunner has seen his poll lead grow by 4 percent since December. Pérez pledged a mano dura—or firm hand—against crime and insecurity during the last election.

Calderón Talks Security, Legacy, and WikiLeaks

In a Q&A with Mexican daily El Universal, President Felipe Calderón broached a number of themes, from alliances between political parties to the drug war to how he will be remembered by Mexican citizens. He described the 2008 death of Secretary of Government Juan Camilo Mouriño as the most difficult moment of his presidency thus far. He placed blame on state governments for their failure to fight organized and petty crime, as well as on the United States for falling short on stemming drug abuse and arms trafficking. Moreover, when asked about WikiLeaks cables hinting at Washington’s shaky faith in Mexico’s fight against cartels, Calderón faulted U.S. diplomats for following personal agendas and contended that U.S. security agencies compete with each other rather than working in a coordinated fashion.

House Rejects Anti-Gun Trafficking Rule

The U.S. House of Representatives voted to oppose a measure proposed by the Obama administration that would give federal authorities more oversight over the sale of semiautomatic rifles. The unsuccessful rule, which was opposed by the National Rifle Association, would have required the 8,500 gun dealers near the U.S.-Mexican border to inform authorities when they sell more than one semiautomatic rifle greater than .22 caliber with a detachable magazine with in a five business-day period, The Washington Post reports. More than 65,000 guns confiscated in Mexico have been to the United States. Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan called the failure of the measure “unfortunate.”

New Mexico Senators Kill Anti-Illegal Immigration Measure

Democratic state senators defeated a bill in the New Mexico state legislature that would have required people who apply for a driver’s license to show proof of immigration status. The New Mexico legislature voted in 2003 to allow undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses. Republicans attempted unsuccessfully to overturn the measure in 2005. 

Arizona Senate Unveils More Immigration Enforcement Laws

Over the past few weeks, Arizona continued the trend of launching tough immigration measures with new legislation focused on education and health access. As The New Republic reports, one new proposal would require schools to not only report undocumented students to the department of education but also quantify how much it costs to educate legal immigrants. Yesterday, Arizona State Senate Republican Russell Pearce—who also authored the contentious SB1070—upped the ante and introduced a 29-page bill that, as Eliza Gray writes “is a kind of catch-all for radical proposals, designed to insert immigration enforcement into practically every facet of Arizonan life, including public benefits like Medicaid and K-12 education.” One measure requires parents to submit documentation to schools proving their children’s legal status within a certain time to avoid having the school contact law enforcement officials.

Covering the Violence and Beauty of Guatemala

PBS NewsHour has published and will air on March 7 and 8 a series of stories focusing on “Guatemala as a land of exquisite beauty, but also of exquisite agony.” Coverage will include slideshows about Guatemalan indigenous communities and timelines. On-the-ground reporting looks at the high rate of violence against women and educational programs to help girls and young women avoid gender-based violence. “The country is also hard hit with malnutrition and has one of the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality in the hemisphere,” writes Talea Miller.

A Cuban Cigar for the Ladies

Cuba’s largest tobacco company is launching “Julieta,” a new brand aimed at women. The cigar will have a milder flavor than the stronger Romeo y Julieta, founded in 1873. While most cigars marketed toward women tend to be thin, the Julieta will boast a width of half an inch.

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