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.
Peru’s Largest Mining Project Suspended Following Protests
In Peru’s Cajamarca province, American company Newmont Mining suspended operations on the Conga mine, the largest mining investment in the country, estimated at $4.8 billion. The shutdown came after a week of protests and a general strike, brought on by residents' worries the mine will contaminate the local water supply.
Read an AS/COA News Analysis about the Conga mine protests.
Brazil's Odebrecht Withdraws Plan for Peruvian Dam
On November 24, Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht announced it would discontinue the Tambo 40 project, a hydroelectric dam slated for construction in Peru. The dam is a part of a $20 billion bilateral agreement for six hydroelectric projects in Peru, signed by former President of Peru Alan García and former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The dam came under fire since it would displace up to 15,000 indigenous people and flood over 54,000 acres of jungle. Peruvian critics also said the proposed hydroelectric projects would unfairly benefit Brazil by sending the majority of electricity there.
Chávez Launches “Operation Gold”
The Economist’s Americas View blog discusses the recent efforts by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to repatriate his country’s gold reserves, dubbed “Operation Gold.” On November 25, Chávez began the repatriation of 160 tons of gold and $6.3 billion in foreign reserves from banks in Europe and the United States. The gold and reserves were moved to Brazil, China, Russia, and other emerging economies. The blog discusses rumors of his motives. While the official reason was to remove assets from possible exposure to U.S. and European economic woes, critics argue it also eliminates the risk of confiscation in case of a Venezuelan default on debt obligations.
Colombian Hostage Survivor Discusses Time among FARC
Sergeant Luis Alberto Erazo, the sole surviving hostage of a military raid on a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) encampment that resulted in the death of four of his comrades, gave an interview with Radio Caracol. Erazo survived by ignoring the FARC members’ orders and attempting an escape, but was injured by a grenade. His time among the FARC gave him insight into their operations, chain of command, and possibility for demobilization.
Colombia Doubles Education Budget
Colombian Minister of Education María Fernanda Campo announced that the government will dedicate more than $7.7 billion to education in 2012, more than double the amount allotted in 2011. Of this amount, $250,000 will go towards ensuring free education. As a result, more than 8.5 million students will be able to attend school without incurring costs for student ID cards, diplomas, records, or transcripts.
Medellin Creates Special Taxis for Women
An article in InfoSur Hoy discusses the positive reception to FemTaxi, Medellin’s specialty taxi service for women. In a city where 62 percent of women report suffering abuse or harassment while using public transportation, the service provides women with a safe alternative.
ECLAC Finds Three of Ten LatAm Women Do Not Get Paid for Work
The 46th Regional Conference on Women held by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribben (ECLAC), finds that three of every ten women in Latin America receive no income for their work; the statistic is one in ten for men. Women instead engage in unrenumerated activities such as household chores and childcare, which if paid would make up between 25 and 30 percent of GDP of every Latin American country. The conference was held at ECLAC's headquarters in Santiago, Chile and is a follow-up to the 2010 "Brasilia Consensus" which sought greater economic independence for women.
Latin America’s Top “Global Thinkers”
Foreign Policy published its list of top 100 global thinkers on Tuesday, and the list includes Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff at spot 42, Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez at 81, and Venezuelan newspaper editor Teodoro Petkoff at 99. The article praises Rousseff for her “low-key aplomb” and her ambitions to fight poverty, and Sánchez for painting “an unusually vivid portrait of a society in limbo.” Petkoff is described as “one of the most prominent and persistent critics of Venezuela's red-shirted president.”
Mexican Activists Petition ICC to Investigate Calderón Administration
On November 25, Mexican activists presented a petition with over 23,000 signatures to the International Criminal Court demanding an investigation of President Felipe Calderón and high-ranking members of his government. They allege human rights violations by police and military forces are part of the war on drug cartels initiated by Calderón. President Calderón’s office called the petition “absurd” and “out of order.”
Peña Nieto Officially Announces Presidential Candidacy
Enrique Peña Nieto officially registered himself as the sole pre-candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) for the 2012 presidential elections in Mexico. While detractors called it a spectacle “worthy of the old PRI,” Peña Nieto assured his commitment to democracy and respect for national institutions.
Mexico Inks Unified FTA with Central America
On November 22, Mexico signed a unified free trade agreement with Central America, replacing a series of pacts signed individually with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Central America is an important trading partner for Mexico, and is the fourth-largest recipient of Mexican investment in Latin America, with investments totaling nearly $5.2 billion.
U.S. Banks Complicit in Mexican Cartel Money Laundering
The Los Angeles Times reports on the role of U.S. banks in money laundering for Mexico’s drug cartels. A number of top U.S. banks, including Wachovia and HSBC, have been investigated by the Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The agencies found serious oversights in verifying sources of large deposits, and other “suspicious activities.” "Wachovia's blatant disregard for our banking laws gave international cocaine cartels a virtual carte blanche to finance their operations," says U.S. Attorney Jeffrey H. Sloman. Blogging by Boz’s James Bosworth takes a look at what the next Mexican president can do to combat money laundering.
Hispanic Birthrate Down in the United States
Recent data show the Hispanic birthrate declined nearly 11 percent since 2007. While analysts point out that people of all ethnic groups are having fewer children due to economic tough times, the number of babies born to Hispanics registered the sharpest decline. This indicates the economic crisis has affected Hispanics disproportionately, analysts say.
Gingrich Flushes Out Immigration Proposal
Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich provided further details on his plan to award citizenship to undocumented immigrants. Gingrich’s plan would entail the creation of “citizen review” boards that would assess an illegal immigrant’s “fitness” to remain in the country. Undocumented immigrants would be required to pass English proficiency tests, demonstrate self-sustainability, and acquire private health insurance. They would also pay a $5,000 fee to remain in the country.
Chilean Judge Requests Extradition of American Navy Official
On Tuesday, Minister Jorge Cepeda indicted two military officials, a Chilean and an American, for the murders of two Americans during the 1973 military coup in Chile. The judge asked the United States to extradite Navy Captain Ray E. Davis, to be tried for homicide.
Chile Approves 2012 Budget without Agreement on Education
The 2012 Budget was approved by the Chamber of Deputies on November 28, where it had been previously rejected. The Senate easily approved the bill last week, as the center-left opposition abstained from voting. The budget encountered hurdles over education spending, with the opposition deeming the $12.1 billion amount insufficient. The budget will now move to law. However, a separate $4 billion education fund was not approved as part of the budget, and must now be debated by a special bipartisan Mixed Commission. Students protesting since May have rejected the budget outright.
Chileans' Life Expectancy Rose Dramatically
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development announced that Chile ranks third in member countries that most improved life expectancy rates since 1960. Chile’s current life expectancy averages 78.4 years, an increase of 21.4 years from 50 years ago. South Korea topped the list with an improvement of 27.9 years.
Political Scientist Guillermo O’Donnell Dead at 75
Influential Latin American political scientist Guillermo O’Donnell passed away in Buenos Aires on November 30. O’Donnell is famed for his work on democratic transition and Latin American politics. His most famous works include a book on the bureaucratic authoritarian regimes in Latin America, and the concept of “delegative democracy,” developed in the 1990s to describe a form of democratic rule in the region that he found more delegative than representative. His recent works focused on his concerns over the rise of populism in the region. He was 75 years old.
Paraguay Holds Groundbreaking for World Trade Center
Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo attended the groundbreaking for the World Trade Center in the capital city of Asunción. The new structure will be one of the largest civil construction investments in Paraguay’s history, with a state investment of $50 million over three years. The initiative will generate 3,000 jobs and aims to diversify Paraguay’s foreign trade.
Costa Rica, Brazil, Argentina Top Country Brand List
The 2011-12 Country Brand Index rates Costa Rica, Brazil, and Argentina, respectively, the three highest "brands" in Latin America, while Canada topped the list overall. The index measures countries based on visitors’ “awareness, familiarity, preference, consideration, advocacy, and active decisions to visit or interact with a place.”
Trinidad Uncovers Assassination Plot
Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced that police uncovered a plot to assassinate her and several members of her cabinet. So far a dozen people have been arrested in connection with the plot, including members of the police and armed forces. Persad-Bissessar attributed the plot to the success of the state of emergency she declared in August, claiming “criminal elements” sought “reprisals.” The government has released few details of the plot, leading critics to suggest it might be a ruse to continue the state of emergency.
France Extradites Manuel Noriega to Panama
On November 23, French courts approved a motion allowing former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega to be extradited to his home country. Noriega faces two 20-year jail sentences for crimes committed during his rule. However, under Panamanian law, he may be eligible to serve them under house arrest rather than in prison. The Central American Politics blog points out that a similar law allowing criminals over the age of 80 to serve time under house arrest is under consideration in Guatemala. Some warn the law amounts to impunity for octogenarian war criminals.