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.
VP Biden Meets with Mexican and CentAm Leaders
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Mexico and Honduras this week. In Mexico, Biden met with President Felipe Calderón, where the two discussed trade ties, illegal arms trafficking, and the decriminalization of drugs. Biden qualified that third topic as “worth discussing,” but added that “there is no possibility the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy.” Biden also met with the three main Mexican presidential candidates: Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Enrique Peña Nieto, and Josefina Vázquez Mota. Biden pledged that the Obama administration plans to work with whoever wins the July elections, a promise Bloggings by Boz’s James Bosworth calls “an important gesture in this political climate.” Shannon O’Neil writes for LatIntelligence that the meeting showed how far Mexico’s democracy has come: “A few decades ago a U.S. official meeting with opposition candidates would have caused great consternation and tension between the governments; today it is accepted and even expected.” On Tuesday, Biden traveled to Tegucigalpa to meet with the presidents of Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama. Biden addressed the challenges in confronting transnational crime and promised an additional $107 million for the Central American Regional Security Initiative.
Mexico to the United States: Let Us in to the TPP
In an op-ed for Politico, Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Bruno Ferrari García de Alba urges the United States to let Mexico enter negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free-trade agreement involving nine countries bordering the Pacific Ocean. Writes Ferrari: “Mexico’s inclusion in the TPP would be of real value to Washington—not only because it could provide an immediate boost to U.S. exports but also because increased Mexican sales to TPP markets would translate into more U.S. exports, a virtuous cycle. It would result in more jobs on both sides of the border.”
Mexico Hosts First Think-20 Research Summit
Writing for World Politics Review, the Stanley Foundation’s David Shorr reflects on last week’s Think-20, a summit held in Mexico City that brought together 22 representatives from research institutions around the world to discuss this year’s G20 agenda. The February 27 and 28 meetings were the first of their kind held in conjunction with the G20. “[T]he essential function of think tanks is to provide strategic perspective and innovative policy frameworks,” writes Schorr. “Hitching those capabilities more closely to the G20 may indeed prove helpful.”
AS/COA Online covers the Think-20 on its Mexico City Conference blog. The annual AS/COA event held in Mexico’s capital takes place this year on March 13 and will explore Mexico’s global leadership role in the context of its G20 presidency. Visit www.as-coa.org/Mexico2012 for an agenda, analysis, and to tune into the live webcast on the day of the event.
New Poll Shows Mexican Presidential Race Tightening
A new poll by GEA/ISA shows a decline in the gap between the two frontrunners in Mexico’s presidential election, reports Mexico’s El Milenio. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)’s Enrique Peña Nieto now leads the National Action Party (PAN)’s Josefina Vázquez Mota by 7 points, with 36 percent of intended votes compared to Vázquez Mota’s 29 percent. This is down from a nearly 20 percent lead in January. The Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD)’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador remains in the third spot with 17 percent. The same poll finds that nearly 17 percent of Mexican voters remain undecided, which could be key in the upcoming election. Campaigning officially begins March 29. However, The Economist’s Americas View explores Mexican polling institutions and expresses caution about the reliability of their findings.
Violence Shifting Location in Mexico as Cartels Splinter
The Trans-Border Institute released its third annual special report on violence in Mexico this week. The report finds that while violence increased overall, it declined along the U.S.-Mexican border, moving south. It also reports a decline in large-scale organized crime groups except for the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas. “Mexican organized crime groups have weakened, splintered, and become involved in a more diverse array of lower level criminal activities, including kidnapping, extortion, and other crimes that have a more direct effect on the general population,” reports the Justice in Mexico Project.
Latino Issues a Low Priority on Super Tuesday
This week’s Super Tuesday saw primary voting for the U.S. Republican presidential candidate in ten states, with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney winning six. The Latino vote is expected to be an important force in the November election, and a Fox News Latino poll this week registered strong Latino support for Obama. But analysts point out that unlike states like Florida or Texas, the states at play in yesterday’s contest have relatively small Latino populations and most Latinos in those states are registered Democrats. Gabriel Lerner of The Huffington Posts’s Latino Politics writes: “[T]opics that were hot in Florida, like immigration reform and the possibility of a Latino—Senator Marco Rubio—in either Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich's formula as a VP hopeful are practically non-existent, and probably will not reemerge until the primary election cycle reaches Puerto Rico on March 18.”
Uruguay and Mexico Lead LatAm in Women’s Economic Opportunity
On March 6, the Economist Intelligence Unit released its Women’s Economic Opportunity Index 2012 to measure women’s access to jobs in the formal economy. Canada was the highest-ranking in the Americas in the ninth position, followed by the United States at 14, Uruguay at 39, and Mexico at 41. The lowest ranked in the region was Bolivia, at 92. The report also found that while the region still lags in education, every country except Peru improved in this area in 2011. As a leader in opportunities for women in Latin America, Uruguay improved in terms of “non-discrimination policy and practice; equal pay for equal work and de facto discrimination at work.”
Panama Expresses Desire to Join Pacific Alliance
During a Pacific Alliance meeting on March 5, President Ricardo Martinelli of Panama announced his country's intentions to join the regional organization. Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru are members of the new trade bloc, created last year. However, one of the requirements is that members must have trade agreements with other member countries. Though Panama has agreements with Chile and Peru, negotiations with Colombia and Mexico stalled in 2003 and 2010, respectively.
Nicaragua Launches Military Operation against Climate Change
In Central America’s first military-backed solution to combat climate change, Nicaragua launched “Operation Green Gold,” a mission of 580 “environmental soldiers.” The mission hopes to slow Nicaragua’s deforestation—with the country’s forest cover falling from 63 percent in 1983 to 40 percent today—by pursuing illegal logging operations and planting some 560,000 trees. This battle comes as a new report from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean warns that climate change will cause “higher temperatures, dangerous changes in rainfall patterns, stronger and more frequent hurricanes, and stress on hydrologic resources” in Central America. Despite the fact that the region is responsible for 0.3 percent of net global carbon emissions, the report finds that Central America will feel disproportionate effects from climate change with serious consequences for agriculture, clean water, and biodiversity.
No Smoking in Costa Rica
Costa Rican lawmakers passed a strict new anti-smoking bill last week in line with World Health Organization guidelines for smoke-free public space. The bill will ban smoking in public places—including bus and taxi stops, public buildings, restaurants, and bars—and introduces a tax of four cents per cigarette, among other regulations. The bill must first pass the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court before the president can sign it into law. If passed, Costa Rica will become the tenth Latin American country to pass anti-smoking legislation in line with World Health Organization guidelines for 100 percent smoke-free public spaces, reports GlobalPost.
Chávez Confirms Need for New Round of Radiation Treatment
Speaking from Cuba Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced via a prerecorded message that his cancer had recurred, and he will undergo a new round of radiation therapy to treat it. Chávez underwent surgery in Cuba last week to remove a lesion from the same location as a previous tumor removed last summer. Chávez said the cancer has not spread to the rest of his body, and was optimistic about the outcome.
Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the political implications of Chávez’s health issues.
Shooting Rattles Venezuelan Opposition Event
Violence erupted at a campaign stop by Venezuelan opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski in a traditionally pro-Chávez sector of Caracas on Monday. Gunshots were fired, leaving two people with minor injuries. Both sides accused one another of initiating the violence, though Capriles campaign manager Armando Briquet assured: “They aren’t going to intimidate us.”
Santos Heads to Cuba to Meet with Castro and Chávez
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to Cuba Wednesday with two objectives: resolving Cuba’s position at April’s Summit of the Americas in Cartagena and the inking of a Colombian-Venezuelan trade agreement. Last month, Bolivarian Alliance members threatened a boycott of the summit if Cuba were not permitted to attend, though the United States remains opposed to the idea. Meanwhile, signing of the trade agreement was slated for earlier this year but was delayed due to Chávez’s health.
Bogota Mayor Presents Tax Plan to Pay for Victims Law
Gustavo Petro, mayor of Bogota, will present a tax plan to finance reparations worth $800 billion for victims of violence in Colombia’s capital. The Victims Law, which went into effect in January, is a national plan to provide financial compensation and land restitution for victims of Colombia’s decades-long armed conflict. Petro hopes to implement a progressive tax scheme to raise the funds for 400,000 beneficiaries of Bogota’s victims fund.
Read an AS/COA News Analysis about Colombia’s Victims Law.
Colombian Opposition Figure Floats Presidential Run
Senator Jorge Robledo announced he will consider participation in Colombia’s 2014 presidential election. Robledo, senate leader for the country’s Alternative Democratic Pole, is the country’s “most vocal and recognizable opposition politician,” says the Colombia-Politics blog. Robledo would face a contest from his party’s president, Clara López Obregón, before securing a nomination.
Ecuador Inaugurates First Large-scale Mining Project
In the country’s first large-scale mining operation, Ecuador signed an agreement with Chinese Ecuacorriente for the exploitation of the country’s copper reserves, estimated to be worth more than $1.7 billion. Financial Times’ BeyondBrics blog reports that Ecuador secured “extremely favorable terms” for the agreement, including 52 percent of the mine’s profits, and $100 million in advance royalty payments. However, some analysts worry if the precedent of such favorable terms will deter future investments.
Shining Path Successor Captured in Peru
Nearly three weeks after Peruvian police arrested Comrade Artemio, the leader of the guerrilla group Shining Path, the authorities apprehended his successor on Saturday. Police say Walter Díaz was organizing retaliation against informants responsible for Artemio’s arrest. The arrests “contribute to pacification” and show that “the government has not let down its guard against the Shining Path and narcoterrorism,” said César Villanueva, the coordinator of the National Assembly of Regional Governments. (H/T: Pan-American Post).
Bolivians Fight over Quinoa Lands
Foreign Policy’s Passport blog looks at ongoing fights over quinoa-growing lands in Bolivia. Last week, 30 people were injured in fights over communally owned land in the Bolivian Altiplano. Such fights have spiked while the price of quinoa tripled in the last five years due to international popularity.
Falklanders Meet Argentina’s Flights Offer with Skepticism
John Fowler, deputy editor of the Falkland Islands’ Penguin News, writes for that paper about the Falkland Islanders' skepticism regarding Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s offer to reinstitute flights between her country and the Falklands. The Argentine president proposed replacing the once weekly flight between the islands and Santiago, Chile, with thrice weekly flights to Buenos Aires. Fowler rejects the offer as insincere, and writes of President Fernández de Kirchner: “[S]he has once again failed to recognize our desire and right to determine our own affairs.”
In Germany, Rousseff Talks Finance, Innovation with Merkel
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff visited Germany this week, where she spoke to Chancellor Angela Merkel about the IMF’s recapitalization fund. She reiterated Brazil’s promise to help with financing in exchange for greater power for developing countries within the IMF. The president participated in several events at Hannover’s CeBIT, the world’s largest technology trade fair, where Brazil is promoting itself as a tech hub. The two leaders also signed an accord on renewable energy, which would give Brazil access to up to $68 million in reduced interest loans to develop sustainable energy projects.
FIFA and Brazil Showdown: Lost in Translation?
A war of words resulted after ongoing tensions burst between the Brazilian government and the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) over the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. On Friday, FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke criticized Brazil’s preparations, saying that “things are not working in Brazil” and that the country needed a “kick up the backside.” In response, Brazilian Sports Minister Aldo Rebeldo said the Brazilian government would no longer recognize Valcke and demanded a replacement. Marco Aurelio Garcia, one of President Dilma Rousseff’s top advisors, joined in, calling Valcke a “bum” who talks too much. Though initially Valcke dismissed Rebeldo’s reaction, he later apologized and blamed poor translation, claiming he only meant that Brazil needs to push itself harder. On Tuesday, FIFA President Joseph Blatter wrote a letter of apology to Rebeldo, and requested a meeting with Rousseff to smooth things over.
Petrobras Announces Nearly $200 Million for Brazil’s Science without Borders Program
On March 5, Brazilian energy firm Petrobras announced it would award $181.8 million for 5,000 Brazilian students to study abroad. As a part of the Brazilian government’s Science without Borders program—an initiative with private and public investment to fund science education—the company will provide scholarships to students focused on subjects related to oil, natural gas, energy, and biofuels.
Read an AS/COA Online interview with Dr. Glaucius Oliva about Brazil’s Science without Borders program.
A Look at Organized Crime in Latin America
The Winter 2012 issue of Harvard’s ReVista looks at new trends in threats from and recommendations for confronting organized crime, focusing on topics beyond drug trafficking to include contraband, kidnapping, extortion, and societal responses to crime. The issue features articles by Mexican Minister of the Interior Alejandro Poiré, award-winning journalist Alfredo Corchado, and others.
Extreme Poverty on the Decline in LatAm
In the World Bank’s 2012 Global Poverty Update released on February 29, data indicates falling levels of extreme poverty in Latin America, in spite of the 2008 global economic crisis. Though the number of poor in Latin America rose until 2002, it has been in decline ever since. “From a peak of 14 percent living below $1.25 a day in 1984, the poverty rate reached its lowest value so far of 6.5 percent in 2008,” says the report.
Last Inca Emperor’s Tomb Found in Ecuador
Ecuadoran historian Tamara Estupinan found ruins she believes may be the final resting place of the last Inca emperor, Atahualpa. The site, high on a ridge over 3,000 feet above sea level and 45 miles south of Quito, includes a “phenomenally well-preserved” Inca complex of aqueducts, walls, and stone work. Atahualpa was executed by the Spanish, and Estupinan believes his most loyal general, Rumiñahui may have brought his remains to the site for burial. “This is an absolutely important find for the history of Ecuador’s archaeology and for the (Andean) region,” said Ecuadoran Patrimony Minister Fernanda Espinosa.