Guatemala puts Reforms on Hold in the Wake of Earthquake

November 27, 2012

by Nic Wirtz

The aftershocks from Guatemala’s largest earthquake since 1976 continue to reverberate around the country, causing a halt to governmental efforts to introduce constitutional reform.

In August, President Otto Pérez Molina went to Congress with a list of 35 proposed constitutional reforms covering everything from the mining industry to educational reform. This prompted countrywide protests, leading to the deaths of six civilians in Totonicapán.

On a visit to San Marcos, the area most affected by the 7.2-magnitude earthquake on November 7, Pérez Molina announced that the Q200 million ($25.2 million) that was to be spent on constitutional reform will be set aside to help with the earthquake recovery.

The sheer scale of the earthquake is only just being felt, with 3.4 million people affected by it and 225 aftershocks ranging from 3.5-6.1 on the Richter scale in the past three weeks. At its peak, over 30,000 people were evacuated from their homes. 

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Tags: Guatemala, Central America, Earthquake

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

January 13, 2011

by AS-COA Online

A Year after the Quake, Good Manufacturing News for Haiti

In Haiti, Sae-A Trading Company, a South Korean clothing-manufacturing giant, opened for business this week. Its factory will employ 20,000 Haitians once fully operational. On the same day, the historic downtown Port-au-Prince Iron Market reopened after Caribbean mobile phone carrier Digicel paid to have it reconstructed. Jean-Max Bellerive, Haiti’s prime minister, said: “I have to say this is the best day of my life.”

Read an AS/COA news analysis reflecting on Haiti a year after the earthquake and covering the latest developments on the upcoming runoff election.

How New Tech Helped Haiti after Quake

A year after the earthquake, a report released by the Knight Foundation explored ways that new technologies provided help to Haiti in the midst of and after the catastrophe. Crowd sourcing helped rescuers find injured quake victims, texting spread critical information, and open-source maps and GPS devices allowed humanitarian workers to navigate damaged areas. Donations by texting outstripped fundraising by telephone and raised $30 million in the first 10 days of the emergency. But one older media format—radio—also served as a crucial source of communication. The report looks at technological hurdles as well and offers recommendations for using innovative tools in future disasters.

Connectivity: Cell Phones Challenge PCs in Latin America

Universia Knowledge@Wharton explores why mobile phones will rival computers when it comes to Internet use in Latin America. The article points out that Latin American cell-phone subscribers total 530 million—one hundred million more than in Western Europe and outpaced only by the Asia-Pacific region as a market. Lower service and hardware costs fuel the rise of web use on cell phones in the region.

Santiago Latest in LatAm to Recognize Palestinian State’s Passport blog takes a look at the rising number of South American countries recognizing the Palestinian state, with Chile and Paraguay joining the ranks of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Venezuela. There are an estimated 300,000 Chileans of Palestinian decent.

Chilean Protests against Gas-Price Hikes Turn Deadly

The Christian Science Monitor suggests Chilean President Sebastián Piñera “may be facing his biggest crisis yet,” stemming from a general strike in Punto Arenas against rises in natural gas prices. The demonstrations took a tragic turn Tuesday night, when two protestors were killed after a truck ran through a barricade where they were posted. The Piñera administration has proposed a price increase of 17 percent.

Argentine Imports Brazil-Printed Peso Bills

Argentines are suffering from a shortage of peso bills as the government struggles to keep up with demand for 100-peso notes, the most valuable denomination. The task of printing more bills has been outsourced to Brazil, with the government prioritizing delivery of paper money to the more populous provinces in the country.

Ante Upped on Exchange Rate Rhetoric by Brazil

Tensions over language against global currency manipulations increased this week when Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega warning that “[t]his is a currency war that is turning into a trade war.” As well as protecting its domestic economy, Brasilia will call on the World Trade Organization to redefine exchange-rate tampering as a form of export subsidy.

Economic Management Hurdles ahead for Dilma

Following the inauguration of Dilma Rousseff as Brazil’s new president, Roubini Global Economics offers a forecast of the economic challenges that lie ahead for the newly minted head of state. Swelling inflation will need to be managed, as well as fiscal policy, which will need to be tightened at the expense of public spending, says the analysis.

Read an AS/COA analysis about Rousseff’s inauguration.

13 Candidates Onboard for Peruvian Presidential Race

January 10 marked the deadline for candidates to officially throw their hats into the ring for the April 2011 presidential election in Peru. Thirteen have signed up, including ex- President Alejandro Toledo; Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the imprisoned former leader; Ollanta Humala, who lost the last election to Alan García, former Lima Mayor Luis Castañeda, and ex-Finance Minister Mercedes Aráoz.

Forecasting a Rise in Venezuelan Nationalizations

Those who believed that the Venezuelan opposition's gains in the September 2010 midterm elections would chasten President Hugo Chávez have seen their hopes dashed in the past six weeks,” writes AS/COA’s Christopher Sabatini in an article for “Since the end of November, Chávez and his allies—Chavistas—rammed through a series of laws that consolidate his control over everything from banks and local governments to the Internet and the National Assembly.” Sabatini contends that expropriations will continue, and that Washington should partner with other countries to ensure compensation and electoral oversight in next-year’s presidential vote.

Spain Arrests ETA Members with FARC Links

Spanish authorities arrested two members of the Basque separatist group ETA suspected of providing communications and IT training to FARC guerillas. The arrests are part of a larger attempt to dismember ETA-FARC cooperation, as members of ETA are suspected of being in hiding with the FARC in Venezuela.

Colombia’s Santos Talks Past, Future

El Espectador features a heart-to-heart interview with President Juan Manuel Santos, who suggests that his proposed political reforms may result in him having a legacy similar to Franklin Roosevelt’s, referring to the biography Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In the interview, Santos talks about his military background, his experience as minister of defense, and his relationship with former President Álvaro Uribe. In talking about goals for his presidency, Santos stated he wants “Colombia to become an example for the entire world.”

McCain: Republicans to Push FTA with Colombia, Panama

In a meeting with Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos in Cartagena, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) discussed the Republican Party’s desire to expand preferential trade benefits for Colombia. He indicated that the GOP, now holding the balance of power in the U. S. House of Representatives, would push for the ratification of the stalled free trade agreement with the Andean country, and with Panama.

The upcoming issue of Americas Quarterly covers trade policy in the Americas.

Canada’s PM Shuffles Cabinet

Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada shuffled his cabinet for a third time in 12 months, reassigning the environment, foreign affairs (Americas), finance, and seniors portfolios. In what is seen as a solid selection for a challenging position, Peter Kent was presented with the environment portfolio. Calgary MP Diane Ablonczy will serve as the foreign affairs minister in charge of Canada’s diplomatic efforts in the Western Hemisphere.

Canadian Eyes Look to Latin America

The Globe and Mail’s emerging markets blog says “Latin America is luring a wave of Canadian investors and entrepeneurs” at a time when “the world is waking up to the region’s promise.” The blog post highlights key points, including that almost all Latin American economies will grow this year, Mexico as an attractive place to do business, and infrastructure as an investment opportunity.

U-Turn on U.S.-Mexican Trucking Dispute

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk indicated Monday that a stalled program paving the way for Mexican trucks to operate in the United States may restart within four to six months. The announcement came during a January 10 meeting of North American trade officials. A NAFTA provision requires Washington to allow cross-border trucking operations, but a bill inked by President Barack Obama in 2009 eliminated spending for such a program, sparking Mexico to impose tariffs on roughly 90 U.S. products.

Mexican Presidential Hopeful Offers Crime-Fighting Plan

Writing for Financial Times’ beyondbrics blog Enrique Peña Nieto, governor of the state of Mexico, outlines four strategies to reduce violent crime in Mexico. Preventative measures include a reduction in inequality, a strengthened and smarter anti-organized crime force, a more focused security strategy, and shared social responsibility. Peña Nieto is considered a frontrunner in the 2012 Mexican presidential election. Bloggings by Boz ponders “just how similar Peña Nieto's strategy is to the most recent strategy announced by President [Felipe] Calderón in June 2010.”

IMF Extends Record Credit Line to Mexico

In a show of confidence, the International Monetary Fund extended a $72-billion credit line to Mexico to help underwrite its economy in case of future economic difficulties. The credit extension, the largest in the IMF’s history, is based on Mexico’s strong economic showing. The country grew 5 percent in 2010.

Curbing Childhood Obesity in Mexico

Mexico took steps to combat child obesity on January 10 by proposing controls on the sale of junk foods (chatarra) in public and private schools around the country. The Education Secretariat released a list of over 600 low-fat and low-sugar foods that it recommends to be sold in schools. Mexico ranks second in the world for adult obesity, but takes the cake in rankings for overweight children.

Saving Juarez: Local Business Leaders Combat Violence

An article on The Atlantic's website includes interviews with business leaders in violence-plagued Ciudad Juarez about efforts to combat cartel crime. “It might seem unlikely that a handful of civic leaders could organize and fundraise their city out of the chokehold of drug violence responsible for so many killings, kidnappings, and attacks on police,” writes Eliza Barclay. “But they believe it could work in part because the city's economic backbone is still intact.”The article notes that, despite the bloodshed, Ciudad Juarez has seen 24,000 manufacturing jobs added since June 2009.

Maritime Incident Raises Jamaican-Honduran Tensions

Honduras and Jamaica are embroiled in a diplomatic dispute over a maritime incident involving a Honduran fishing boat and Jamaican Coast Guards. The Coast Guard claims the vessel was fishing illegally in Jamaican waters, refused to cooperate, allegedly attempting to ram the Coast Guard’s ship, who then shot at the boat’s engine room to disable the vessel, killing the ship’s captain and injuring two others.

El Salvador’s Top Stories for 2010

Tim’s El Savador blog offers a roundup of the leading stories affecting El Salvador in 2010. The list includes record rains, reforms that will allow local polling and voting for individuals rather than parties, and the apology offered by President Mauricio Funes for the government’s involvement in human rights atrocities during the country’s civil war.

Tourism on the Rise in Guatemala, Nicaragua

Official figures released by Guatemala show two pieces of good news for 2010: a decrease in the homicide rate and an increase in the number of tourists visiting the country. Late last month, Nicaragua also shared positive tourism news: the country hosted one million tourists in 2010—its highest figure on record.

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Tags: Chile, Nicaragua, Haiti, Earthquake, Peruvian

Haiti’s Second Chance: A Time for Reflection and Progress

January 12, 2011

by Richard André

One year has passed since Haiti was rocked by the 7.0-magnitude earthquake on January 12, 2010. In just three minutes, a nation already suffering from hunger and neglect was hit with a seemingly decisive blow.

The media’s coverage of Haiti is as insightful today as it was in the weeks immediately following the earthquake. Then, as now, there is a cache of grim photos and figures that find their way into each segment. Running down a list of casualties—supposedly to paint a picture of the situation plaguing Haiti—tends to oversimplify an unnervingly complicated situation. At the same time however, it’s important to take stock of what has been lost in just a year: more than 250,000 killed in the earthquake alone; 1 million displaced persons; 3,500 dead by Cholera with 400,000 more cases estimated to surface in 2012; upwards of $10 billion in damages; and political violence rampant surrounding the political election. As they say, ‘if it bleeds, it leads’.

But amidst the cripplingly slow reconstruction effort, some progress has been made. The most symbolic achievement—and perhaps the most dramatic as well—is the presidential election that took place on November 28, 2010. Why would a fraud-ridden election that played out like a telenovela be so key? Because the single most important entity in post-earthquake Haiti will be an established, well-funded Haitian government. Not only will this government be in charge of delivering social services the government has failed to provide for decades, but the legitimacy of the government (and I use the word legitimacy optimistically) will determine how much of the $10 billion in donations and foreign aid actually makes its way to Haiti, and from that point, how effectively it is invested.

Granted, it will be several months before Haiti’s next president comes into power, let alone establishes him or herself. But the Organization of American States (OAS) took a crucial step on Monday when it published a review of the hotly contested election results. The outcome: disqualification of 17,220 votes for ruling-party candidate Jude Celestin and 7,150 votes for kompa star Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly. The OAS put an end to the back and forth about who will participate in the run-off next month (assuming President Préval accepts the report, which he should given that he invited the 10-man OAS team in the first place). With Martelly likely to earn a second-place victory with 22.2 percent of the vote, he would face undisputed first-place finisher Mirlande Manigat for perhaps the most important presidential post in Haiti since the 1960s.

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Tags: Haiti, Elections, Clinton, Earthquake, Manigat

France Refuses to Pay Back Haiti’s “Independence Debt”

August 17, 2010

by AQ Online

The French foreign ministry announced on Monday that it will not comply with a request to return $22 billion that Haiti was forced to pay France in exchange for its independence in 1804. The request was published as an open letter to President Nicolas Sarkozy in the French daily Libération. Its signatories, including Noam Chomsky, Eduardo Galeano, Cornel West and Naomi Klein, called the debt “illegitimate” and “illegal.”

The Foreign Ministry defended its decision, arguing that France has already cancelled $72 million of Haiti’s debt. This is in addition to the $418 million it has committed to the recovery effort following the January 12 earthquake. However, the international relief aid pledged by nations like France and the United States has been dreadfully slow to arrive. Eight months after the disaster, only 10 percent of aid announced at the international donor’s conference in March has been delivered.

According to the 90 academics, politicians and writers who signed the open letter, if the $22 billion “independence debt” was returned to Haiti, it could fill the current aid gap, stimulate the reconstruction effort and put pressure on the international community to deliver the money that was promised.

Tags: Haiti, France, Debt, Earthquake