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Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

August 10, 2011

by AS-COA Online

Students and Chilean Government Still Deadlocked

Chilean students held another mass demonstration on Tuesday, drawing over 140,000 marchers throughout the country, as well as support from the copper miners union. The Chilean government says it will not submit a new education proposal, notwithstanding student organizations’ rejection of the August 1 reform outline issued by the Ministry of Education.

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The continuous protests since May have contributed to the sapping of Piñera’s popularity. A poll released August 4 by the Center for Political Studies found that Piñera’s approval rating dropped 26 percent—the lowest level of any president since the return to democracy in 1990.

Piñera Initiates Gay Civil Union Law in Chile

Fulfilling a campaign promise, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera introduced legislation to allow civil unions for same-sex couples during a ceremony on Tuesday. Prominent conservative members of the president’s coalition did not attend the ceremony, highlighting the proposal’s controversial nature. The bill was introduced to the Senate, but is not expected to pass quickly.

LatAm Stock Markets Ride Global Economic Rollercoaster

Latin America’s stock markets plummeted Monday, along with the rest of the world’s, experiencing their worst downslide since October 2008. Argentina’s Merval led the pack, with a 10.73 percent nosedive, followed by Brazil’s Bovespa with 8.08 percent and Peru’s Lima General Index with 7.09 percent. Stocks in the region bounced back on Tuesday, but the situation remains uncertain as the possibility of another recession in the United States and a looming European debt crisis keep markets nervous.

Canada’s PM Tours Latin America

Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper embarked Sunday on a six-day, four-country tour of Latin America in what The Vancouver Sun described “another sign Canada is looking beyond the U.S. to ensure its continued prosperity.” The leader inked a series of cooperation agreements with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff before heading on to Colombia, where a bilateral trade deal takes effect next week. Canada also has a free-trade agreement with Costa Rica and is considering starting trade negotiations with Honduras, which marks the last stop in Harper’s trip.

Read an AS/COA news analysis about the prime minister’s trip through Latin America

Argentina Holds Its First Primaries

Argentina will hold its first official and obligatory primary elections, following a contentious political reform approved in 2009. Observers expect the vote to give an idea of how much support President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner enjoys ahead of the presidential election scheduled for October.

Read an AS/COA hemispheric update covering Argentina’s election outlook.

Rousseff Loses Third Cabinet Member

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff replaced her defense minister, Nelson Jobim, with former Foreign Relations Minister Celso Amorim this week. Jobim resigned last week after publicly criticizing Rousseff’s handling of the military. This marked Rousseff’s third cabinet change in seven months.

Brazil’s DefMin Considers Haiti Peacekeeping Withdrawal

Former Foreign Minister Celso Amorim has been in his post as the new defense minister for less than a week but is already proposing a potentially major change: withdrawal of peacekeepers from the UN Mission for the Stabilization of Haiti, better known as MINUSTAH. Amorim contends that Brazil’s slowing economy is one reason, but he also said that the country has a new president and greater prospects for stability. The minister did not set a deadline for troop withdrawal. 

Federal Police Arrest 38 in Brazilian Corruption Operation

Brazil’s federal police arrested 38 suspects, including the country’s vice minister of tourism, Federico Silva da Costa, and several other government functionaries in an operation targeting corruption linked to the World Cup and Olympic Games preparation. The Rousseff administration has already lost two cabinet heads, Antonio Palocci and Alfredo Nascimento, who lost credibility over corruption allegations. 

Rio’s Crack Treatment Program Sparks Debate

The Los Angeles Times reports on a drug-treatment program in Rio de Janeiro that involves police and social workers apprehending homeless, crack-addicted youths and requiring them to undergo rehabilitation. Some 1,000 people—hundreds of them minors—have been placed into confined treatment since the program commenced in May. “The experimental program is being watched by the rest of the country as a possible model for dealing with Brazil's persistent problem of child homelessness and drug addiction,” writes Vincent Bevins. “But critics say forcing minors into confinement against their will or the will of their families is unconstitutional. They contend that much of the program is about cleaning up the streets of Rio de Janeiro, which is preparing to host the World Cup soccer tournament and Olympic Games.” 

Fears Grow that Gunmen Wiped out Amazon Tribe

Brazilian officials have grown increasingly worried that armed men wiped out an “uncontacted” Amazon tribe living near the Peruvian border—and close to a drug-trafficking route. Armed men attacked a nearby Brazilian guard post last week and officials have found no signs of the tribe since then, with the exception of an arrowhead in a backpack deserted by one of the gunmen. “Arrows are like the identity card of uncontacted Indians,” said Carlos Lisboa Travassos, head of Brazil’s Isolated Indians Department. “This situation could be one of the biggest blows we have ever seen in the protection of uncontacted Indians in recent decades.”

No New Prisoners in Venezuela

As the first phase in a new plan to decongest the overcrowded and violent prison system, Venezuelan Minister of Penitentiary Services Iris Varela said the government will suspend the imprisonment of new offenders, with the exception of violent criminals. This latest announcement comes after Varela said July 31 that she intends to reduce the country’s prison population 40 percent by releasing nonviolent criminals. 

New Immigration Report Highlights Asylum Seekers

The Organization of American States, the UN Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently released a joint report analyzing changes in immigration patterns over recent years. The study highlighted the increasingly important immigration flows between Latin American countries, and noted a sharp uptick in asylum seekers entering Ecuador, largely from neighboring Colombia. Some 35,514 asylum seekers sought refuge in Ecuador in 2009—more than any country in the hemisphere other than the United States, with 38,080. (H/T Two Weeks Notice.)

UN Expresses Concern over Bolivia’s Indigenous Poor

With August 9 marking the UN’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, the agency expressed concern over the fact that more than a third of Bolivia’s indigenous population lives in extreme poverty. Roughly 62 percent of Bolivia’s ten million inhabitants are indigenous. 

Peru’s Daniel Mora Talks Defense

In an interview with Peruvian daily El Comercio, the new Defense Minister Daniel Mora discusses his thoughts on the military profession, Peru’s defense needs, and eradication of illicit coca crops. Mora said he does not oppose the release of either President Ollanta Humala’s brother or former dictator Alberto Fujimori, provided the releases are made for humanitarian reasons.

Santos Finishes First Year on Top

With an 85 percent approval rating and remarkable efficiency pushing his agenda through Congress, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had much to celebrate when marking his first year in office on Sunday. But he still faces serious challenges, including high unemployment, a health care crisis, the renewal of political violence, and recurring public squabbles with his ally and former President Álvaro Uribe. El Tiempo looks back at the issues that defined Santos’ first year in office, from the floods that required the Colombian president to unexpectedly commit scarce resources to reconstruction to the anti-corruption statute debate.

Americas Quarterly offers a preview of an interview with Santos slated for publication in its Fall 2011 issue.

Mexico’s Violence Doesn’t Scare Investors

Notwithstanding its five-year-old drug war, Mexico continues to attract foreign investment. In fact, a recent government report found that the seven states with the highest incidence of drug-related murder take in a greater share of the country’s foreign direct investment than they did before President Felipe Calderón launched the drug war offensive in 2006.

Alleged Gun Trafficker Bought 700 Guns with ATF’s Knowledge

USA Today reports on the case of Uriel Patino, an Arizona resident who allegedly purchased roughly 700 guns, many of which ended up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels and turned up at crime scenes on both sides of the border. Despite Patino’s orders raising red flags with an Arizona gun dealer, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives requested the sales go through to track the purchases as part of a discontinued and discredited program known as “Operation Fast and Furious.”

DHS to States: No Opting out of Secure Communities

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced August 5 that all states must participate in the immigration enforcement program known as Secure Communities, which will be deployed across the country come 2013. The Boston Globe reports that more than 40 governments signed memos to participate in the program, designed to apprehend undocumented immigrants with criminal records. Despite concerns about the program voiced by some governors, states have been informed that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is terminating all the agreements and that participation will instead be a federal requirement. As many as 28 percent of deportation proceedings initiated nationwide through the program involved immigrants with no criminal convictions.

Sandra Torres Definitively Prohibited from Prez Elections

Guatemala’s Constitutional Court voted unanimously to prohibit former First Lady Sandra Torres from running for president in elections scheduled for September 11. Torres divorced current President Álvaro Colom in March in an attempt to skirt a constitutional ban on electing close members of the sitting president.

Salvadoran Soldiers Surrender for Civil War-era Jesuit Killings

Nine Salvadoran soldiers turned themselves in for facing charges related to the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests, five of whom were Spanish. The ex-soldiers surrendered upon hearing that they faced arrest by Salvadoran police due to an order issued by Interpol. They have been indicted in Spain and El Salvador must now decide whether to extradite them.

Former Salvadoran Officer Convicted of Arms Trafficking in U.S.

A U.S. federal court in Alexandria sentenced former Salvadoran Captain Héctor Antonio Martínez Guillén to 31 years for selling automatic weapons and explosives to a person he believed belonged to Colombia’s FARC guerrillas. Martínez was arrested in November 2010 while transporting cocaine between Virginia and New York.

Corruption at Cuba’s State Telecom Company

The head of the state telecommunications company ETECSA and two deputy ministers were arrested in Cuba on charges of corruption, according to unnamed sources cited by Reuters. Cuban head of state Raúl Castro has vowed to crack down on corruption as he spearheads a modernization of the country’s Communist economic system.

Crafting Food Policy in Haiti

Canadian think tank FOCAL released a research paper this week noting that Caribbean countries, particularly Haiti, remain vulnerable to food price fluctuations due to heavy dependence on food imports and insufficient national production. The paper recommends the development of both regional and country-specific food policies that encourage investment in agriculture without distorting local food markets.

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