Top stories this week are likely to include: U.S. congressional interest in Iranian activity in Latin America; Brazil responds to low 2011 growth numbers; Hugo Chávez returns from Cuba; drug legalization to be a topic of debate at the Summit of the Americas; and Costa Rica and Nicaragua agree to cooperate on their shared border.
Congress To Demand Iran Knowledge: The Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives last week passed H.R. 3783, also known as the “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act.” The bill, which will advance to consideration by the full House in the near future, requests that the State Department provide Congress with a detailed report of the activities that Iranian agents and proxy organizations Hezbollah and Hamas are undertaking in the Western Hemisphere. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini said in The Washington Times that the legislation “smacks of Cold War backyardism” because Iran’s presence in Latin America is the only Latin America-related issue that is being discussed in the 2012 presidential campaign rather than, say, the rise of Brazil.
Brazil Adjusts to Low 2011 Growth: After the Instituto Brasileiro de Georgrafia e Estatística (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) reported a 2.7-percentage GDP growth in 2011, Brazil’s central bank cut the key Selic interest rate by 75 basis points last Thursday to 9.75 percent. What does this mean going forward? AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak observes: “Although economic growth in 2011 was 5 percentage points below that of 2010, this must be looked at in context with the global situation and the fact that 2010 growth was the highest in 25 years; plus, these latest numbers also show that Brazil overtook the United Kingdom to become the world’s sixth biggest economy. Still, expect the rolling out of various measures to boost growth before voters head to the polls in October’s municipal elections.”
Chávez Returns Home: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez will return home this week after recovering from another surgery in Cuba to remove a malignant lesion. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed the news after traveling to Havana last week. Cubadebate reports that Chávez will immediately begin his electoral campaign for president ahead of the October elections. Expect the populist leader to be publicly energetic while the Venezuelan electorate remains highly skeptical over his long-term health.
Drug Legalization at the Summit: The number-one topic of debate during U.S. Vice President’s visit to Mexico and Honduras last week, drug legalization will be an agenda item at the Sixth Summit of the Americas next month in Cartagena, Colombia. Marczak says: “U.S. willingness to discuss drug legalization shows that the Obama administration is listening to the frustrations of various countries that are seeing legalization as a possible way to reduce the violence inflicted by the narcotics trade. Still, opening it up to discussion does not mean that the U.S. has shifted in its rejection of legalization.”
Nicaraguan–Costa Rican Coordination: The announcement last week that Nicaragua and Costa Rica would jointly coordinate on security matters related to their shared border is welcome news amid their longstanding border dispute over the island of Calero. The Calero incident “was a sharp reminder that border conflicts persist in the region. While this one looks fortunately to be resolved, there are at least a half-dozen others that could flare given the political differences in the region,” notes Sabatini.