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.
Venezuelan Election Outlook Complicated by Chávez Cancer News
President of Venezuala Hugo Chávez confirmed the discovery of a new tumor in his pelvic region on February 21, and said he will undergo surgery in Cuba. Speaking to Venezuelan television, Chávez said the tumor could be malignant, and was found in the same location as a previous tumor he had removed last year. Chávez’s announcement comes after a weekend during which officials denied media rumors that Chávez went to Cuba to receive medical treatment, and months of Chávez repeatedly declaring he is cured of cancer. Foreign Policy’s Transitions Blog discusses the implications of Chávez’s new diagnosis, especially in an election year, asking in the headline “How do you campaign against a cancer victim?”
Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis on Henrique Capriles Radonski's victory in the opposition primary.
Read an AS/COA Hemispheric Update on what to expect from Venezuela's upcoming presidential election.
Homeless in Venezuelan Election Spotlight
NPR’s All Things Considered discussed Venezuela’s housing crisis, which Venezuela’s opposition sees as an election issue. Though the Chávez government promised housing for Venezuela’s homeless, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski points out that official data show fewer homes have been built by the Chávez government than any previous administration. More than 2 million Venezuelans are homeless out of a total population of 29 million.
Venezuelan Regulator Shutters 35 Radio Stations in Three Months
The Caracas Chronicles blog discusses a report in Venezuela's El Nacional on the Chávez government’s closure of 35 radio stations in the past three months. Though the reasons for the closures vary, the author believes it is part of a strategy to limit the opposition's media outreach. “With most TV off-limits, radio was the one remaining medium the Capriles campaign could count on to reach a mass audience.”
Read an Americas Quarterly web exclusive by Caracas Chronicles author Juan Nagel on Capriles' vision for Venezuela.
U.S. Vice President to Visit Honduras, Mexico in March
The White House announced today that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Mexico and Honduras from March 4 to 6. In both countries he is expected to discuss April’s Summit of the Americas, to be held in Cartagena, Colombia. The Mexico stop will focus on bilateral cooperation while the Honduras visit will involve meetings with Central American leaders.
Cuba’s Summit of the Americas Fate Rests with Colombia
Colombia will have the ultimate say in whether Cuba can attend this year’s Summit of the Americas, says OAS Secretary of Legal Affairs Jean Michel Arrighi. “The host country decides who is invited to the summit, and that is Colombia,” he said. The summit, to be held in April in Cartagena, faced a boycott by Bolivarian Alliance members if Cuba was not permitted to attend, although Cuba is not an OAS member. Cuban officials said they will attend the conference if invited, but will not seek to rejoin the OAS.
Colombia to Triple Infrastructure Investments
The Colombian government plans to triple infrastructure investment in the next three years, reports Infolatam. At a speech in London, Director of the Colombian National Agency for Infrastructure Luis Fernando Andrade claimed the country will dedicate three percent of GDP to infrastructure by 2014, up from one percent last year. Among the planned projects are improvements of highways, ports, airports, and canals.
Judicial Reform Planned for Colombian Military Abuse Cases
The Colombian government announced plans to submit reforms to the military judicial penal code in March. The reforms would no longer allow military courts to hear cases of human rights abuses committed by the armed forces. Juan Carlos Pinzón, the minister of defense, explained that the reforms will provide “mechanisms to strengthen the military judicial penal service and to increase its independence.” Former President Álvaro Uribe criticized the reforms, saying human rights would be best protected "with the military stimulated, not stigmatized."
G20 Foreign Ministers Expand Summit’s Agenda
The foreign ministers of G20 countries met last week in Los Cabos, Mexico, ahead of the summit to be held in June. At the meeting they agreed to expand the G20 agenda beyond its economic focus to encompass political and security matters. The Council on Foreign Relation’s The Internationalist blog discusses the expanded agenda, calling the shift “both inevitable and welcome.”
Access AS/COA’s blog for its annual conference to be held in Mexico City on March 13, titled “Mexico and the G20: Rethinking the Global Economic Balance.”
Mexico and U.S. Sign Oil Exploration Agreement
The Latin American Herald Tribune reports that Mexico and the United States signed an energy accord on the sidelines of the G20 foreign minister’s meeting in Los Cabos over the weekend. The pact permits exploration of oil and gas reserves along the countries’ Gulf of Mexico maritime border. “These reservoirs could hold considerable reserves...but they don’t necessarily stop neatly at our maritime boundary,” said U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Mexico’s Secretariats of Foreign Relations and Energy released a statement saying the accord “will generate the necessary legal certainty for the long-term development of resources that may be found in the area.”
Los Angeles Mayor to Chair DNC
The Obama campaign tapped Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the first Latino mayor of that city, to chair September’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Villaraigosa will also participate in outreach to Latino voters in battleground states. The announcement propels Villaraigosa into the national arena, helping his future political career, reports The Los Angeles Times.
Questioning the GOP’s Immigration Rhetoric
The New York Times editorial board published commentary on February 20 ahead of the February 22 Republican presidential primary in Arizona. The article comments that the candidates’ views on immigration veer from the moderate proposals favored by most Americans and urges them to embrace a more feasible approach.
Finding a New Approach to U.S. Policy in Latin America
In an essay published in Foreign Affairs this week, AS/COA’s Christopher Sabatini recommends a new U.S. policy approach in Latin America. The current method, which focuses largely on liberalization and development, is insufficient in promoting U.S. interests. “This approach has distorted Washington's calculations of regional politics and hampered its ability to counter outside influences and deal sensibly with rising regional powers,” Sabatini writes.
Europe to Target Canadian Tar Sands
Controversy erupted between Canada and the European Union this week ahead of an EU vote to label Canadian tar sands as “highly polluting.” Canada worries the penalization of tar sands oil by the EU could create a global precedent, and calls the science behind the declaration suspect. An article in Canada’s The Globe and Mail says that while the extraction of the tar sands oil would raise global carbon levels, it would do so much less than the extraction of alternative fuel sources such as coal or shale gas.
Billboard at Mexican Border Tells US: "No More Weapons!"
Mexican President Felipe Calderón unveiled a billboard on the U.S.-Mexican border on February 17, with the message “No More Weapons!” At the unveiling of the billboard, which is made of crushed intercepted firearms, Calderón called on the United States to “stop the flow of automatic weapons into Mexico.”
Suspicions Surround Mexican Prison Riot
The prison riot at Apodaca near Monterrey on February 19 may have been staged with the complicity of the prison guards, reports Mexico’s El Universal. The revelations come after evaluating video from within the facility and confessions from nine of the prison guards. According to a state official, prison guards allowed armed prisoners linked to the Zetas cartel to enter cellblocks housing members of the Gulf cartel, where 44 prisoners were killed. The guards then allowed 30 Zetas-related prisoners to escape. The officers thought complicit in the plot were taken into custody and face criminal charges.
Mexico’s Malnutrition Scourge
Mexico’s Excelsior reports on findings from the Center for Research and Study of Development and Social Assistance, which finds nearly 12 million Mexicans suffer from malnutrition and more than 85,000 died from hunger in the past decade. The study finds the causes range from falling agricultural output due to government policy, regional disparities in income, and food shortages due to climate change.
U.S.-South Korea FTA to Take Effect; What About Colombia and Panama?
Reuters reports that the free trade agreement between the United States and South Korea will go into effect March 15. The agreement passed Congress in October 2011 along with free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. The government has not announced when the other two will take effect.
State Dept Official Voices Concern for Nicaraguan Democracy
Nicaragua Dispatch published an interview with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Kevin Whitaker on the state of Nicaraguan democracy. Whitaker says Nicaragua is a good regional trading and security partner, but is “moving backwards” when it comes to democratic governance. “Nicaragua… is slipping back to a time when the country seems to be on the fence about whether democracy is even a noble pursuit,” says the article. (h/t Pan American Post)
Exploring the History of Israeli-Guatemalan Ties
Tablet magazine covers the longstanding relationship between Israel and Guatemala. While the two countries have historically warm relations, including agriculture assistance and early diplomatic ties, Israel’s arms sales to Guatemala during the Civil War left a mark on Guatemalan society that is still felt to this day.
Chilean Patagonians Protest Isolation
Residents in Chile’s remote and sparsely populated southern region of Aysén began protests last week against their isolation from the rest of the country. Demonstrators claim they grapple with high prices and scarcity, and demand infrastructure improvements, subsidies in the price of fuel and utilities, and increases in pensions and the minimum wage. Government spokesperson Andrés Chadwick criticized the “overly violent” nature of the protests, which include roadblocks and clashes with police.
What Lies behind Chile’s High Rate of Imprisonment?
PlazaPública reports on the state of Chile’s prison system. Chile has Latin America’s highest rate of imprisonment with 107,935 prisoners out of a population of 17 million, or 318 prisoners per 100,000. Though the system faces overcrowding, some Chilean lawmakers argue the solution is not building more prisons, but rather reforming strict Pinochet-era laws that mandate jail time for minor offenses. Such proposals have not found support among the Chilean public.
Argentines Concerned by Government’s Biometric Data Collection
The Miami Herald reports on the controversial new efforts by the Argentine government to collect biometric information on its 40 million citizens, including fingerprints and photos. While the government says access to such information will expedite criminal investigations, civil liberties groups are not convinced. “Privacy is particularly crucial for our country since throughout our long history of social and political movements, calls for action have often taken to the streets,” said one Argentine, who worries the government could use the information to target demonstrators.
Train Crash in Buenos Aires Kills Dozens, Injures Hundreds
A train crash in Buenos Aires left at least 49 dead and more than 550 injured when the train crashed into the platform at the city’s Once Station. The train hit the platform during morning rush hour on February 22 going approximately 12 miles per hour. Transportation Secretary Juan Pablo Schiavi said the issue may have been connected to failure of the train’s breaks. At the time of this report, hundreds of people remain trapped and rescue efforts are ongoing.
Brazil’s State Oil Firm Welcomes Female President
Worldcrunch covers the appointment of Maria das Graças Foster as the first female president of Brazilian state oil company Petrobrás. Graça Foster was tapped for the post by President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's first female president, and started working at Petrobrás as a student intern, rising through the ranks.
Northeast of Brazil Celebrates Its Own Kind of Carnival
Brazil kicked off its world famous Carnaval this week, where Rio de Janeiro’s famous celebrations capture headlines. But The Los Angeles Times looks at the more traditional carnival in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. "All that elaborate spectacle, with women exposing themselves, that's for the cameras in Rio. We don't do that stuff around here," says one pernambucano. Brazilian magazine VEJA also published a photo gallery of celebrations in the Pernambuco city of Olinda.