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.
Floods Hit Central America
Rainfall of as much as 47 inches fell in Central America this week, three times the average for this month. The rains caused heavy flooding and destruction of infrastructure, resulting in the displacement of 700,000 people and a death toll of more than 90. The governments of El Salvador and Nicaragua declared national states of emergency, and Honduras declared one in its southern region. Aid from Spain, Taiwan, the United States, and Venezuela poured into the region amid local pleas for humanitarian assistance.
Guatemalan Prez Declared Fugitive of Justice
A court in Guatemala declared former President Óscar Mejía a fugitive of justice after police failed to locate him in Guatemala City. Mejía is wanted for ordering massacres of indigenous peoples during his time as military chief (1982-83) under former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt. The trial of another general facing human rights abuse charges during the civil war (1960-1996), Hector Mario López, was delayed for the third time when the general arrived sedated. Central American Politics Blog questions if these are tactics to delay proceedings until after next month’s presidential election, when a former military official, Otto Pérez Molina, may win.
Obama to Sign FTAs on Friday
The White House announced that President Obama will sign the Colombia, South Korea, and Panama free trade deals this Friday. The signing will take place in the White House Rose Garden, where the president will be joined by workers, as well as business and labor leaders.
In a blog post for Americas Quarterly, COA Vice President Eric Farnsworth explores the roles played by members of the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress in passing the long-pending free trade deals.
An AS/COA Online Congressional Update covers the legislative process behind the trade pacts’ approval.
Latin America Lags on Boardroom Gender Equality
Universia Knowledge@Wharton covers the gender gap in Latin American boardrooms. The article reports that, while women continue to make strides in terms of political leadership and as a portion of the region’s workforce, Latin America lags other regions when it comes to women in senior business leadership positions. Half of the regions’ 10 biggest companies have no women on their boards and women make up just 9 percent on the remaining five. “None of the latter has a female chief executive officer or board chair, and most have no more than two female board members,” reports the article. Solutions include mentoring programs for women to pursue corporate careers and CEOs demonstrating a greater commitment to gender equality.
Bolivian Judicial Vote Ends in Widespread Ballot Destruction
The results of Bolivia’s first judicial vote, held on October 16, appear to be the first electoral setback for President Evo Morales since taking office in 2005. The election of judges was institutionalized in the 2009 Constitution in an effort to give greater voice to the country’s indigenous majority. However, the results show that 46 to 48 percent of voters cast null votes while 20 percent abstained. Analysts interpret this as a reflection of Morales’ falling approval ratings.
Read an AS/COA News Analysis on Bolivia’s judicial elections.
Citing Military Shortfall, Chile Drafts 57,000
Chile’s government announced that it would draft around 57,000 18 year olds to fill the 11,340 spots in the country’s military, citing a shortfall in available volunteers. The director of Chile’s draft, Brigadier General Gunther Siebert, explained more candidates than spots are necessary to excuse those who cannot serve. Deputy Secretary of the Armed Forces Alfonso Vargas blamed the ongoing student protests for the shortfall, as recruiters cannot recruit from schools.
Chile’s Two-day Strike Meets Violent Beginning
Students in Chile erected barricades throughout Santiago this week, causing traffic jams in the capital in the latest chapter of ongoing education strikes in that country. The barricades were met with tear gas and water cannons by police. Some protesters also set fire to a city bus, though all the passengers escaped alive. Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter responded to the protests by saying the government will invoke the State Security Law against those responsible.
Tabaré Vázquez Quits Politics over War Comments
Former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez announced he would withdraw from politics over his recent comments suggesting he considered war with Argentina during his mandate. Relations between Uruguay and Argentina were tense due to a dispute over a pulp mill on their shared border; Argentina contended the Uruguayan mill polluted the river. News of Vázquez’s remarks attracted criticism in both countries, causing him to withdraw from politics. He stated that he did not wish to hurt relations with Argentina, nor to damage his own party, the Frente Amplio.
High Court in Venezuela Rejects IAHRC Decision on López
On Monday, Venezuela’s Supreme Justice Tribunal (TSJ) ruled against an Inter-American Human Rights Court (IAHRC) decision that would allow opposition politician Leopoldo López to become the Venezuelan president if he wins the 2012 election. The TSJ ruled that the IAHRC ruling was “unexecutable,” and that López’s political rights are not hampered as his disqualification from holding public office until 2014 was administrative, not politically motivated. The high court’s ruling deemed that López, the former Mayor of the Chacao district in Caracas, can campaign but can’t hold office. López told supporters he plans to continue competing for the post.
Venezuelan Diaspora Grown Significantly Under Chavez
The Wall Street Journal reports that the number of Venezuelans living outside Venezuela grew dramatically over the last decade, more than doubling in the United States and quintupling in Spain. In contrast to many Latin American migrations, the migrants are largely middle class professionals fleeing the “high crime rates, soaring inflation, and expanding state controls” of President Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela. They are split over returning, with some seeing Chávez as the obstacle, while others believe Venezuela faces insurmountable problems.
ALBA Delegation Travels to Syria in Show of Support for Assad
Representatives from the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) member countries—Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Bolivia—arrived in Syria last week to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The representatives expressed their support for the Syrian regime and proposed a “diplomatic and peaceful” solution to the country’s internal conflict.
Cuba’s Ladies in White Leader Dead at 63
Laura Pollán, the leader of Cuba’s main opposition group, the Ladies in White, died October 14 at age 63. Pollán worked as an apolitical literature teacher until her husband’s arrest on political charges in 2003, after which she began the movement that became the Ladies in White. Every Sunday, dressed in white, the ladies led a march against the human rights abuses on the island, inspiring fierce criticism from the Castro regime. In an op-ed for The Miami Herald, Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez writes about Pollán’s legacy among the Cuban opposition.
Obama Administration to Inspect Cuba-bound Oil Rig
As Cuba announced plans to drill for offshore oil, many worried about the potential effect of an oil spill on the coastal United States. As such, the U.S. government announced plans to inspect the oil rig, owned by the Spanish oil company Repsol, before it reaches Cuba. “We will do all available and possible inspections,” said Michael Bromwich, the Obama’s administrations top offshore drilling regulator, according to a report by The Hill. Repsol has stated it will “adhere to U.S. regulations and the highest industry standards.”
The Repercussions of a Get Tough Immigration Policy
PBS’s FRONTLINE ran a special on their yearlong investigation into the immigration detention system, the controversy over Secure Communities, and whether Latino voters will turn their backs on President Barack Obama in 2012 due to his administration’s immigration policies. Coverage includes videos, interactives, and interviews.
On October 20, AS/COA hosts “The Economic Effects of Local Immigration Policy” to coincide with the release of a report on the citywide economic effects of restrictive versus non-restrictive immigration laws. A live webcast will be available starting at 6:00 p.m.
Calderón Warns of PRI-Cartel Collusion
In an interview published over the weekend in The New York Times, Mexican President Felipe Calderón addresses a number of issues, from the drug war to emigration to Mexico’s place in the global economy. Calderón stated that the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), whose candidate is the frontrunner in next year’s elections, would be less willing to fight the drug war and would return to “past pacts” with organized crime. The PRI’s spokesperson, David Penchyna, rejected the comments stating that Calderón “is behaving more like the president of a political party than president of the Republic.” The comments have led the PRI to consider filing a claim against the president before the Federal Electoral Institute.
Mexican PRI Candidate Expresses Willingness to Reform Pemex
Enrique Peña Nieto, the current frontrunner in the presidential election from Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), told the Financial Times that he would be amenable to opening Mexico’s national oil firm Pemex to foreign investment. The subject of reforming the oil sector is taboo in Mexico, and goes against decades of PRI ideology. The party nationalized the oil sector in 1938 and the country’s Constitution restricts private investment. Peña Nieto stated that the oil sector “can achieve more, grow more, and do more through alliances with the private sector."
AS/COA will host the program “Mexico on the Road to 2012: Economic and Political Perspectives” on October 27.
Mexico to Export Water to U.S.?
Plans for two desalinization plants in Playas de Rosarito, Mexico—15 miles south of San Diego, California—mean that Mexico may soon start to export water to the United States, reports Animal Politico. The two plants would be able to produce 570 million liters of water a day, which could supply as many as 300,000 homes on both sides of the border. It is hoped the plants will help alleviate friction between the two countries over water from the Colorado River, on which both countries depend. However, some worry about the potential environmental damage the plants might create.
Fighting Organized Crime in Local Colombian Politics
An article in Foreign Affairs evaluates the growing influence of drug trafficking groups on local politics in Colombia. After a decade of decline, political violence appears to be on the rise, writes Elizabeth Dickinson. As the influence of the left-wing guerillas and right-wing paramilitary groups has been eroded, local elections count all the more for determining who will profit from Colombian cocaine exports. “For its part, the government is painfully aware of the threat of infiltration—and the possibility that years of security policies aimed at curbing organized crime and the drug trade will come to naught,” writes Dickinson, who writes on Bogota’s efforts to fight the influence of organized crime at the municipal level.
Inter-American Press Society Decries Press Censorship
This week the 67th General Assembly of the Inter-American Press Society (IAPA) assembled in Lima. In his opening address, IAPA President Gonzalo Marroquín expressed his concern for threats to freedom of the press emanating from organized crime and authoritarian governments. He stated that governments are “weaving a web of restrictive laws” to impede free expression, and named Argentina, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela as especially noteworthy in this respect.
Ecuadoran Anti-Trust Law May Hurt Media Outlets
President of Ecuador Rafael Correa enacted an anti-trust law last week. Voters approved the referendum in May, and it was passed by the Congress in September. However, the JURIST blog worries about the new law’s specific prohibitions barring media owners from holding financial stakes in other businesses. These restrictions are expected to further the rancor between Correa and the media. Correa won a $40 million libel suit against the newspaper El Universo after comments made in Februrary, 2010.
Dilma in South Africa, Mozambique, and Angola
Following in the footsteps of her predecessor, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff undertook a visit to Africa this week, with stops in South Africa, Mozambique, and Angola. In South Africa Rousseff attended the India-Brazil-South Africa summit on Monday, where the group addressed cooperation in defense, energy and science, and technology.
$17b Announced for Mass Transit Projects in Brazil
In her program Coffee with the President, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced $17 billion in investment Monday for imporvements in mass transit projects. While the majority of the investment will be used to construct subways, money will also be used for city buses and tram systems. The cities of Belo Horizonte, Curitiba, and Porto Alegre will be the first beneficiaries, with future plans for Fortaleza and Recife.
UNESCO Warns Cuzco Losing its “Original” Population
A UNESCO report filed this week reported that the loss of the “original population” is the most pressing issue facing Cuzco. The report comes based on research performed in December. It finds that while the city has conserved its architectural and physical patrimony, hotels, hostels, and other industries servicing the tourists are displacing the city’s residential population, which decreased from 27,000 in 1980 to 10,000 today.