Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly News Roundup from Across the Americas

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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.

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Honduran Talks Stall over Decision on Zelaya’s Future

Negotiations aimed at resolving the ongoing Honduran political impasse came to a standstill again this week. The main point of contention continues to be whether deposed leader Manuel Zelaya should be allowed to return to office. “Last week, Honduras’s World Cup qualification left the country glowing with optimism. Now, irrepressible hope and joy have again given way to a grimmer reality: political negotiations have hit a wall,” blogs Tegucigalpa-based Daniel Altschuler for Americas Quarterly, who writes about the proposals being passed back and forth between Zelaya and the interim government.

Read an AS/COA analysis on the halting steps made in the Honduran negotiations.

Protest and Media Restrictions Eased in Honduras

The Honduran interim government officially eased restrictions on protests and the opposition media earlier this week. A decree was passed after a pro-Zelaya protest in September to suspend five articles of the Honduran constitution, authorizing the closing of any media outlet deemed to disturb the peace. De facto leader Roberto Micheletti took action to repeal the decree earlier this month, but the measure did not take effect until yesterday. Coincidentally, the decree was lifted the day after the United Nations sent an OAS delegation to Honduras to begin a three-week human rights investigation.

Public Education Flunking in Honduras

Latin American Thought blog looks at how public education in Honduras is suffering due to the current political crisis. Despite protests from parents and teachers, the interim government ordered an early end to the school year to prepare for the November 29 elections. Moreover, classes have “been used as a bargaining chip that both sides have flip-flopped on in efforts to gain the upper hand,” writes Eliot Brockner.

State Department Confirmations for LatAm Positions on the Horizon?

In an interview with Foreign Policy’s The Cable, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) indicated he may let go of his holds on confirmation of two State Department appointees for top Latin American posts. In protest of the Obama administration’s Honduras policy, DeMint froze the confirmation process of potential U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Tom Shannon and Arturo Valenzuela, slated to become Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. DeMint also predicted the White House may ease up on statements indicating it would not recognize November 29 elections in Honduras without the reinstatement of deposed leader Manuel Zelaya beforehand.

Nicaragua’s Supreme Court Clears Path for Ortega’s Reelection

Six justices on Nicaragua’s Supreme Court ruled this week to lift a constitutional ban on reelection, thereby allowing President Daniel Ortega to seek another term in 2011 elections. But Chief Justice Manuel Martinez, qualified the decision made by the Court’s constitutional branch as “legal anarchy.” While the Chamber declared “inapplicable” the constitutional article preventing President Daniel Ortega from running for a second term, Martinez said the ruling still needs confirmation by the full 15-member court. However, Deputy Chief Justice Rafael Solis, a Sandinista, said the decision cannot be ruled upon.

A new poll shows that over 63 percent of Nicaraguans currently say they would vote against Daniel Ortega’s reelection.

Ex-Guerilla Favored to Win Uruguay Election

The incumbent party’s candidate, 74-year-old ex-guerilla José Mujica, is favored to win Sunday’s presidential elections, according to the latest polls. Still, a runoff election is likely, given that a winning candidate would need over 50 percent of the vote to declare victory on October 25. Mujica currently polls with 44 percent support while former President and leading opposition candidate Luis Alberto Lacalle has a following of 29 percent.

Read an AS/COA analysis of the upcoming elections.

NAFTA Meeting Sparks Talk on Trilateral Trade Issues

Canada’s International Trade Minister Stockwell Day, Mexico’s Economy Secretary Gerardo Ruiz Mateos, and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk met in Dallas earlier this week to reaffirm their commitment to the 15-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement. Still, a battle over a cross-border trucking program spurred Mexico to impose tariffs on some U.S. agricultural goods and led to a 28 percent decrease in U.S. exports to Mexico between February and July. Kirk said the trucking issue may win resolution in next year’s budget bill.

Meanwhile, Ottawa continued its fight to gain exception to “Buy American” clauses that prevent its companies from bidding on infrastructure projects funded with U.S. federal stimulus money. Day indicated cautious progress saying: “Their response to us is positive in the sense we’ve seen movement, but I’m not raising hopes here.”

Canada’s former Minister of International Trade Michael Fortier writes in The Globe and Mail that Canada must rally to fight the “Buy American” provision. He argues that, while seeking new trading partners is positive, Ottawa needs “to invest as much time with communities all over the U.S. that benefit from two-way trade with Canada.”

Salitre Military Exercises in Chile Draw Peruvian Concern

Joint military exercises with Argentina, Brazil, France, and the United States began in northern Chile this week and run through October 30. The air exercises, which simulate a low-level conflict, have drawn criticism in Peru, where a newspaper ran a story titled “Chile Starts War Game!” Santiago invited Lima to participate in the second multinational operation but Peruvian President Alan García said the invitation came too late. Bloggings by Boz writes that earlier tensions have cooled, given Chile’s decision to change “the enemy in the exercise from a neighboring country to an island.” Still, unlike Bolivia, Peru rejected the idea of sending observers.

Paraguay, Worried over Arms Race, Accuses Chávez of Meddling

Last week, Paraguayan Minister of Foreign Affairs Héctor Lacognata submitted a letter to Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General José Miguel Insulza expressing his country’s concerns over a regional arms race tendency. Insulza is considering presenting the issue before the OAS Permanent Council. While the letter does not name any country in particular, Paraguay recently accused Bolivia of purposely hiding details about its purchase of six fighter jets.

Then, on October 19, the head of Paraguay’s Congress accused Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez of meddling in its internal affairs. Chávez recently made statements that Paraguay’s “extreme right” was organizing a coup against President Fernando Lugo.

Bogota and Quito’s On-Again, Off-Again Relationship

Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez announced the indefinite postponement of a meeting with his Ecuadorian counterpart. The meeting would have been part of an ongoing process to reestablish ties broken after Colombia’s March 2008 attack on an Ecuador-based guerilla camp. The gathering was cancelled even as Ecuador’s National Court of Justice rejected processing an extradition request of Colombia’s former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos.

Samuel Logan writes in ISN Security Watch that Quito’s willingness to mend ties with Bogota signals Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa’s sense of political security.

Colombia, Brazil Push for Economic Integration

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe invited Brazilian investment in his country at an October 19 meeting with business executives early this week in São Paolo. “We admire you, we recognize all the progress of this country, what you mean, and we want to be able to integrate with you,” said Uribe. For his part, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva proposed that the countries take joint-action to double bilateral trade.

Brazil to Boost Ex-Pat Representation

IPS News reports on last week’s creation of the Council of Representatives of Brazilians Living Abroad. The representative will be elected in May 2010 to advocate for expatriate Brazilians by improving the quality of and access to education, healthcare, legal, and consular services for Brazilians abroad. The council also aspires to gain congressional representation for expatriates.

Lula Meets Chilean Presidential Candidate Enríquez-Ominami

Chilean presidential candidate Marco Enríquez-Ominami held meetings over two days with Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brasilia. The young candidate, who has been seen as shaking up a race between political veterans, may hope that Lula’s popularity will rub off on him ahead of the December elections. But the frontrunner Sebastián Piñera is also in the process of arranging a meeting with Lula next month.

Luz y Fuerza: From Start to Finish

RGE Monitor provides a lengthy backgrounder about the Mexican government’s decisions to shut down electric firm Luz y Fuerza del Centro (LFC) on October 12. The closing is “no doubt one of the boldest if not most difficult political decisions taken by President Calderón during his term,” writes Alejandro Schtulman. “Successive administrations have failed to reform LFC, given the threat of a frontal clash with its powerful union and the political and economic ramifications.”

Read an AS/COA analysis of the power company’s liquidation.

Spain, Cuba Increase Bilateral Cooperation

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos met with his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodríguez in Havana this week. The minister announced that Madrid plans to invest $50.6 million to projects in Cuba this year—double its 2007 investment.

Cuban Trade on the Decline

The Foreign Policy Association’s Cuba blog reports that four of Cuba’s top five trading partners have seen business with the island drop sharply this year. Canada, China, Spain, and the United States show between a 20 and 50 percent decrease in trade. Figures for Havana’s trade with Venezuela, Cuba’s top trading partner, were not available.

Southern Cone Rises, Central America Falls in Press Freedom Ranking

Reporters without Borders released its annual press freedom index this week. Southern Cone countries ranked among the highest in Latin America, with Uruguay taking the top spot for the region. The report notes that Central American countries saw a decline, particularly in Honduras in the wake of the June 28 coup. Press freedoms in El Salvador and Guatemala have taken a hit as a result of gang violence while the media faces new press restrictions in Nicaragua, but Costa Rica continues to rank high. Cuba rounds out the bottom of the regional list, but Venezuela has also seen its press freedom status fall. With nine journalists killed since January, Mexico remains the most dangerous country in the Americas to work as a reporter.

NBA Taps into Latino Market with Éne-Bé-A

The Los Angeles Times’ La Plaza takes a tour through the new National Basketball Association (NBA) website dedicated to Latino fans, who make up 15 percent of the NBA’s fan base in the United States. Along with a host of content in Spanish, the site will feature webisodes starring Hispanic basketball players.

Setting Climate Change Policy in the Americas

Ahead of December’s conference on climate change in Copenhagen the new issue of Americas Quarterly hit newsstands Friday, exploring priorities for environmental policy in the Western Hemisphere. Contributors to the issue include U.S. Senator John F. Kerry (D-MA) and former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos.

Tags: Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Education, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, trade, Uruguay
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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
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