From 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.
New President to Take the Reins in Peru
Peruvian President Alan García thanked his cabinet for its work at their last meeting today, as the country prepares for the July 28 presidential inauguration of Ollanta Humala. The former leftwing firebrand finished revealing a cabinet that Reuters characterizes as more conservative than that of former president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio "Lula” da Silva, to whom the media often compare Humala. The cabinet is anchored by Central Bank head Julio Velarde and Finance Minister Luis Miguel Castilla, both U.S.-trained economists who Humala will carry over from the outgoing García administration. (Velarde will remain at his position, while Castilla moves up from the position of deputy finance minister.) The 12-country South American regional bloc UNASUR will also meet tomorrow in Lima, where they will discuss ways to advance regional integration and poverty reduction. All 12 heads of state plan to attend Humala’s inauguration and the UNASUR meeting, except for Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who is undergoing cancer treatment.
Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about Humala’s cabinet picks.
Humala Appoints First Afro-Peruvian Minister in Country’s History
President-elect Ollanta Humala announced that singer Susana Baca will serve as culture minister in his cabinet. A 2002 winner of a Latin Grammy, the singer will be the first Afro-Peruvian to hold a cabinet post in the Andean country.
Puerto Maldonado Shows Another Side of Peru’s Economic Development
In a dispatch for the Summer 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly, Caroline Stauffer profiles the town of Puerto Maldonado in the Peruvian Amazon—an impoverished area where the rapid economic growth of recent years has yet to trickle down. Puerto Maldonado is one of the many places where the local population's perception that development had passed them by contributed to the rise of center-left Ollanta Humala in this year’s presidential elections.
The next issue of Americas Quarterly, focusing on sports in the Western Hemisphere, hits newsstands August 10.
Colombia’s Congress Tasked with Debating Gay Marriage
Colombia’s Constitutional Court told Congress last night to take up the issue of gay marriage in order to resolve a legal vacuum surrounding same-sex partnerships. The issue remains controversial in Colombia, whre the Constitution specifies that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman. Congress has declined to change the law, despite considering proposals to legalize gay unions six times in recent years.
Gazprom May Help Paraguay Find Energy Treasure Trove
Paraguay continues to seek oil and gas in its western territories in a hunt that has elements of the search for the Holy Grail. Now the country may have a new partner in its quest: Financial Times’ beyondbrics blog reports that, with the Paraguayan Deputy Energy Minister Mercedes Canese just returning from Moscow, Russia’s Gazprom appears to be interested in forming a joint venture for exploration and development. “They were clear that money is not a problem,” said Canese of the Russian state-run energy firm.
U.S. Dollar Hits 12-Year Low against Brazil’s Real
The inability of the U.S. Congress to reach an agreement on the debt ceiling helped push the value of Brazil’s currency to a 12-year high against the dollar on Tuesday. Forbes.com’s Bric Breaker reports that, in a surprise move, the Brazilian government responded Wednesday when it threw the dollar “yet another life raft” by announcing new macroeconomic measures for dollar traders.
Brazilians Bring Their Reais Abroad
Mercopress reports that Brazilians, armed with a strong currency, are spending cash abroad “as never before.” In June, Brazilian travelers spent $1.4 billion overseas, which represents an increase of almost 40 percent compared to the same month in 2010.
Argentina’s Peso out of Step with SouthAm Currencies
Latin American Thought blog’s Eliot Brockner reports on the fact that, while South American currencies are largely gaining value against the U.S. dollar, Argentina’s peso continues to lose value against it. One reason appears to be “Argentines’ habit of reverting to the dollar in times of uncertainty.” More than a third of the dollar purchases have been less than $1,500 each, signaling small-scale capital flight.
Copper Mine Rejects Government Mediation in Chilean Strike
A five-day strike at Chile’s Escondida mine showed no signs of ending Tuesday when the mine rejected government mediation and striking workers responded by saying they would not abandon demands for bonuses tied to company earnings. Escondida accounts for 7 percent of global copper extractions. Meanwhile, workers at state-owned copper firm Codelco staged a rare 24-hour walkout, leading President Sebastián Piñera to agree to meet with Codelco unions on Wednesday.
The labor unrest comes at a time when Chile’s Energy Ministry experiences leadership woes; three days after he was selected to head the ministry, Fernando Echeverria resigned over a conflict of interest.
Chileans Tune in to Public TV Drama about Pinochet Regime
The Archives of the Cardinal, a new Chilean television drama about Church officials who uncover human rights violations carried out during the Pinochet regime, led the country’s TV ratings when it first aired last week. But the 12-part series also stoked controversy, drawing criticism from conservative politicians who warn it will revive historical divisions.
Canada’s Opposition Leader Takes Leave Due to Cancer Battle
Less than three months after Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) became the official opposition party for the first time in history, the party’s leader Jack Layton was forced to take leave to seek treatment for cancer. Layton has been credited with helping the NDP leapfrog over the Liberal Party in the May 2 parliamentary vote. He hopes to return to the party leadership in September. Nicole Turmel, a Member of Parliament representing Quebec, will serve as interim leader.
Hispanics Hit Hardest by U.S. Recession
Median household wealth for Hispanics plunged from $18,359 in 2005 to $6,325 in 2009, marking the largest drop of any U.S. racial or ethnic group, according to a study released Tuesday by the Pew Hispanic Center. The median wealth of white households is 18 times that of a Latino household, the survey finds.
DHS To Air Anti-Human Trafficking Ads
U.S. television viewers will soon see a series of anti-human trafficking ads that recently aired in Mexico and Central America as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s “Don’t Be Fooled!” campaign. The ads will run primarily in states with high immigrant populations, but that are located far from the border and where there is less awareness about human trafficking.
Obama Continues to Support Immigration Reform
President Barack Obama reiterated his call for immigration reform at a conference of the National Council of La Raza, the country’s largest Latino civic rights organization. Obama has courted the Hispanic vote since shortly after announcing his reelection in April in a series of speeches and a visit to Puerto Rico, but many Hispanics continue to fault him for failing to take the lead on immigration reform, while simultaneously deporting record numbers of undocumented immigrants. “On the issue of immigration reform, it’s fair to say that we didn’t hear anything new,” said La Raza President Janet Murguía at a news conference after the event.
U.S. Policy toward Cuba Travel May Get Rolled Back
Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) may have figured out a way to undo President Barack Obama’s loosening of travel policy toward Cuba. Because Diaz-Balart managed to tack the bill onto an appropriations bill, it has a higher chance of passing, despite the fact that Obama has threatened to veto it, The Miami Herald reports. AS/COA Policy Director Christopher Sabatini and Americas Quarterly contributor Andres Schipani elaborate on the role that sports diplomacy could play in improving U.S.-Cuban relations.
Cuban Holiday Shines Light on Island’s Economic Woes
Cuba commemorated the fifty-eighth anniversary of the July 26 attack on the Moncada barracks, which launched the Cuban Revolution and gave Fidel Castro’s movement its name. Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura gave a speech reiterating the message that Raul Castro has driven home repeatedly since presenting a package of proposals in October 2010 to reform the Communist system and revive the stagnant economy. "We have to definitively break the mentality of inertia," he said.
Obama Aims to Choke Cartels’ Finances
The White House announced this week that the U.S. government will launch a new initiative aimed at stifling organized crime by cracking down on money laundering and making it more difficult for criminal organizations to own property or do business with legitimate companies. The document contains 56 actions deemed priorities to fight the world’s four largest criminal gangs, including Los Zetas of Mexico. But Steven Dudley of InSight Crime argues that the initiative, while recognizing the complexity of transnational crime, offers limited concrete policy changes required to address it.
Mexico Touts Security Achievements
Though the drug war rages on, Mexico’s Public Safety Director Genaro García Luna noted in the study “The New Model of Security for Mexico” that the country’s federal police force has nearly tripled since 2005 to over 35,000 and its federal prison capacity has doubled. Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Antonio Garza said that, due to reforms administered by García Luna, Mexico’s federal police had become more professional and reduced corruption.
Colombia and Mexico Finish Negotiating Extradition Treaties
Mexico and Colombia finished negotiating treaties governing extradition and judicial collaboration in order to reinforce collaborative efforts to crack down on drug trafficking and organized crime. The two countries’ heads of state will sign the agreements during Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ visit to Mexico on August 1.
Ambassadorial Appointee to Nicaragua Delayed
The Obama administration’s appointment for the position of ambassador to Nicaragua, Jonathan Farrar, was postponed Tuesday after it became apparent that the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations did not have enough votes to confirm him. Cuban-American Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) lead the opposition to Farrar’s confirmation based on their disapproval of his work in Cuba, where they say Farrar did not work closely enough with the dissident community.
Barras Bravas Make Peace in Honduras
Honduras’ most violent rival soccer hooligans negotiated a peace deal after two years of negotiations, Infosur reports. “We have made a commitment of honor for peace and harmony,” reads the pact, which was signed in May.
Guatemala Launches War Crime Trial
On Tuesday, Guatemala began its first trial related to the 1982 Dos Erres massacre in which more than 250 people died. The four former Guatemalan soldiers on trial plead not guilty to charges that they played a role in the killings, contending they were not stationed with the troops that carried out the attacks. More than 200,000 people died during Guatemala’s 36-year-long civil war and a UN report attributed 95 percent of those killings to the military.
Leading Guatemalan Prez Candidate Explains His Agenda
La Plaza Pública of Guatemala interviews former general and current presidential candidate Otto Pérez Molina, who is running on a hardline law-and-order platform dubbed “mano dura.” Pérez discusses his thoughts on economic reform, how to contain organized crime, and why he refutes that genocide occurred in Guatemala during the country’s civil war.
Bolivia's Morales Worries U.S. Will Plant Drugs on Him
Bolivian President Evo Morales said he feared traveling to the United States on Wednesday to attend a UN General Assembly meeting because the U.S. authorities may try to plant cocaine on his plane, the Bolivian press reported Monday. Despite his worries, Morales will attend Wednesday’s meeting to celebrate the first year anniversary of the recognition of potable water as a basic human right.
Salsa Legend Joe Arroyo Passes away
Colombian salsa Singer Joe Arroyo died on the morning of July 26, after spending a month under intensive care to treat pneumonia, cardiac failure, and kidney problems. Arroyo, who got his start as a singer for Fruko y Sus Tesos, became famous for a slew of classic songs known wherever salsa is danced, including “No le pegue a la negra,” “Tania,” and “El caminante.” View photos documenting Arroyo’s musical career at Colombian daily El País.