Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly News Roundup from Across the Americas

Reading Time: 7 minutes

From the 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.

Sign up to receive the Weekly Roundup via email.

Clinton, Vázquez Worry over LatAm Arms Race

Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington September 15 where, during a press conference, they expressed concern about the possibility of a Latin American arms buildup. Clinton referred in particular to Venezuela’s announcement that it would purchase $2.2 billion worth of arms from Moscow, saying: “[W]e urge Venezuela to be transparent in its purchases, clear about its purposes. They should be putting in place procedures and practices to ensure that the weapons that they buy are not diverted to insurgent groups or illegal organizations, like drug trafficking gangs and other criminal cartels.” Vázquez added that, in a region marked by social inequality, resources should be devoted to poverty alleviation rather than weapons.

Read an AS/COA analysis of the South American arms spending, focusing in particular on recent arms deals forged by Venezuela and Brazil.

UNASUR Remains Undecided on Colombian Base Issue

South American defense ministers met in Quito Tuesday to revisit the matter of a military deal between Washington and Bogota that would allow U.S. troops to operate out of Colombian bases. However, no resolution was reached, reports Semana. The deal, which appears near approval, has stirred up tensions in South America, particularly between Colombia and Venezuela. During Tuesday’s talks, Venezuela asked Colombian officials to be transparent about the pact. They responded with reluctance, saying the deal was not yet finalized.

Read AS/COA analysis of the deal and related regional debate.

Harper, Obama Talk Afghanistan during White House Visit

Afghanistan, trade, and resolution to a charter flight dispute that could threaten hockey playoffs made the agenda during Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s visit to Washington today. President Barack Obama said there was “no immediate decision pending” over what the United States expected Canada’s role should be in terms of extending or expanding troop presence in Afghanistan.

Read AQ blog analysis about Harper’s trip by COA’s Nicole Spencer.

Countdown to Honduran Elections: Arias Meets Candidates

Honduras now stands closer to the November elections than the June 28 coup that saw President Manuel Zelaya overthrown, as Bloggings by Boz points out. With that in mind, mediator and President of Costa Rica Óscar Arias meets with the top presidential candidates September 16 to stress that the election results will not be recognized if carried out under the watch of de facto government headed by Roberto Micheletti. Arias will also seek the contenders’ support for Zelaya’s return.

The Black Box, a blog by Central American Business Intelligence, reports that former Guatemalan President Álvaro Arzú has questioned the wisdom of several countries—including the United States—that say they will not recognize an election carried out by the de facto government. The post points out that, if such a tack were taken in the 1980s, several Central American countries would have been prevented from transitioning to democracy. COA’s Eric Farnsworth notes that this would also have been true in the case of the elections that ended the Pinochet regime and may some day end the Castro government in Cuba.

Boz suggests a solution: “If the Micheletti regime was smart and nefarious (and I’ve already said they’re dumb), they’d now wait a bit longer and offer Zelaya an unconditional return sometime around November 1, letting him return with very little time left. That would then place Zelaya in the position of postponing the elections (and giving ammunition to those who say he is anti-democratic) or allowing the elections and basically serving as a lame duck figurehead.”

Read AS/COA background analysis on the Honduran coup and recent U.S. actions taken against the interim government.

A Lack of U.S. Leadership on LatAm Policy

In an article for Poder, Marcela Sanchez writes that the Obama administration experience in Latin America is wanting. “Neither President Obama nor Vice President Biden or anyone in the cabinet could honestly be considered a Latin Americanist,” she says, describing the White House Americas policy as “a hodgepodge of decisions that demonstrates a lack of coordination and strategy.” But Sanchez does not spare Republicans either. She reports on Republican legislators’ “cheap political maneuvering” to stall the confirmations of Arturo Valenzuela, Obama’s nominee for assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and potential U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Thomas Shannon.

Breaking Down Myths about Immigrants and Healthcare

Days after Representative Joe Wilson’s now-famous outburst during President Barack Obama’s healthcare speech, the Center for American Progress fact checks misconceptions about undocumented immigrants and the U.S. healthcare system. The myth-busting article points out that immigrants “use fewer healthcare resources” than do U.S citizens and that the undocumented will not get coverage under the proposal currently being weighed in Washington.

Migrant Farm Workers Continue to Face Challenges

Despite improvements in terms of labor rights, circumstances for undocumented workers in California’s agricultural industry remain difficult, particularly in light of the economic downturn. PBS’ Frontline investigates conditions in the state estimated to be home to one quarter of all undocumented workers in the United States.

Australia Advances on Gas Plan while LatAm Stands Still

Latin America’s ability to pull itself out of the economic slump through commodity sales to Asia will come under threat from a vast new natural gas project off the coast of Western Australia, writes COA’s Eric Farnsworth in the Americas Quarterly blog. Australia’s ambitious project could offer an energy alternative to China and Japan. “In contrast, Latin Americans continue to tie themselves in knots over basic questions of ownership, production and basic supply arrangements in the natural gas sector, even to the point of foregoing uncertain gas supplied from immediate neighbors such as Bolivia and Argentina to import LNG from Asia,” blogs Farnsworth.

Economic Opportunity and Environmental Woes on the Amazon Road

National Public Radio covers the road through the Amazon connecting Brazil to Peru’s Pacific coast, charting how the new highway brings goods and jobs to remote Peruvian villages but threatens to bring environmental destruction as well. The report includes video, images, interactive maps, and an interview with former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt.

Babbitt joined AS/COA for a panel discussion on the risk of the deforestation in the Amazon.

Brazil Turns the Economic Page

Last week, news hit that Brazil became the first Latin American country to emerge from a recession. The Economist Intelligence Unit reports that the Brazilian economy grew by 1.9 percent from April to June, fueled in part by domestic demand. Desafios do Desenvolvimento Editor-in-Chief Gilson Luiz Euzébio offers an in-depth look at the recovery, outlining “how Brazil should take advantage of its early emergence from the crisis and take measures to ensure future growth.”

Growing Tech Sector in Brazil Gives Google a Leg Up

As Brazil’s economy continues to grow, its increasingly tech-savvy middle class is turning the country into a world player in terms of technology and Internet usage, writes Erwin Cifuentes in The Latin Americanist blog. Moreover, Google is getting a boost out of the deal, given the popularity of Google social-networking tools such as Orkut and the company’s search engine in Brazil.

IT Firms Bite as Buenos Aires Wireless Capacity Grows

With a fast adoption rate of new technologies and the availability of free wireless Internet coverage, Buenos Aires’ has become a popular regional technology hub, writes Anil Mundra in GlobalPost. The result is that the Argentine capital is becoming an attractive regional base for IT companies.

Argentina-Uruguay Paper Mill Hearing Warms Up at ICJ

The International Court of Justice this week began hearing arguments in a long-running dispute between Argentina and Uruguay over a Montevideo paper mill that Buenos Aires says had polluted the river dividing the two countries.

Read AS/COA analysis of the dispute.

A LatAm Vision for Competitive Business School Graduates

In an interview for Universia Knowledge@Wharton, Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM) head Pablo Carrera Narváez discusses the university’s model for training globally competitive Latin American business students. ITESM, which looks to education trends in countries such as India and China, has 33 campuses throughout Mexico and satellites in Argentina, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Peru.

Resisting Generalizations about LatAm’s 2009 Elections

In an analysis for Infolatam, Patricio Navia reviews elections taking place across Latin America this year. He cautions that commonalities in some outcomes and elections in some of the countries heading to the polls in 2009 should not be construed as representing a regional swing. Elections have already taken place in Ecuador, El Salvador, and Panama and will take place in Bolivia, Chile, and Uruguay before the end of the year. Despite the overthrown of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, Honduran elections remain scheduled for November.

Nine Arrested for Guatemalan Lawyer’s Murder

The May assassination of prominent Guatemalan lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg caused an uproar when a posthumous video of him made the Internet rounds. In it, Rosenberg tells viewers that, “If at this moment you are hearing or watching this message, it is because [President] Álvaro Colom had me killed.” To allay fears of political turmoil, Colom called on an UN investigative body and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. This week nine people were detained for the killing. Suspects include police officers and members of the military with links to organized crime, reports IPS News.

Moscow’s Top General on Cuban Visit

The Miami Herald’s Cuban Colada blog reports on a visit to Havana by Russia’s Armed Forces General Chief of Staff. The army general is expected to meet with representatives of the Cuban armed forces and tour the island’s military facilities.

Mexican Drug Cartels Take Battle to Rehab

“When gunmen stormed a drug rehab center in northern Mexico, lined up addicts against the wall and shot them execution-style, Mexico’s drug cartels sent a powerful message to drug addicts working the streets as retail drug suppliers: You are in this for life,” writes Louis Nevaer for New America Media. Nevaer compares Mexican addiction rates to the much larger ones in the United States and covers Mexico’s decision to decriminalize some drugs for personal use. He also notes that “what may be sound public policy” could be construed by cartels as a government attack on gang networks through rehabilitation.

The Trouble with Latin American Prison Transfers

Latin American Thought blog takes a look at recent incidents in Brazil and Guatemala that show how transfers of high-profile prisoners can lead to attacks on police and prison workers. “As long as gangs can maintain their networks within prison walls and beyond, they will have the ability to protest violently, even if their leaders are in chains,” notes the post.

Shout Out for Latin American Independence

Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua celebrate independence days this week (as did Brazil on September 7). Guanabee’s holding an online fiesta, inviting visitors to submit gritos along the lines of the shout for independence delievered just before midnight each September 15 in Mexico. Check out a sample shout and submit your own. 199 years ago, the shout by Miguel Hidalgo marked the beginning of Mexican independence from Spain.

Like what you've read? Subscribe to AQ for more.
Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Sign up for our free newsletter