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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Swine Flu Strikes

An outbreak of Type A/H1N1 influenza in Mexico has rung alarm bells around the world over the possibility of a swine flu pandemic. More than 150 people have died in Mexico, there has been one fatality in the United States, and cases have been confirmed in seven other countries. BBC offers multimedia coverage of the outbreak, including maps and country-by-country updates on cases and precautionary measures taken. The World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention are seeking out answers about the disease and the “rapidly evolving situation.” Much remains unknown, with arguably the most nagging question being why death rates have been so high in Mexico while cases appear to be milder in other countries.

The Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy (CIDRAP) provides breaking news related to swine flu. CIDRAP also provides an overview that gives a historical perspective and explanations of the flu, as well as treatment and prevention information.

Wendy Orent, author of Plague: The Mysterious Past and Terrifying Future of the World’s Most Dangerous Disease, writes that the strain of the swine flu that’s spreading around the world appears to be milder than the “original virulent one traced to a Mexican pig farm.” The New York Times’ Room for Debate blog brings together four experts to discuss whether or not the outbreak is cause for panic.

Read AS/COA analysis about the outbreak in Mexico.   

Rough Week for Mexico, But Signs of Rebound

As if the swine flu epidemic weren’t enough, Mexico was jolted by 5.6-magnitude earthquake earlier this week. The country’s tourism industry, already ailing because of coverage of drug war violence, also took a hit. Five cruise lines suspended Mexico stops this week and Argentina and Cuba have suspended flights to the country.

Dow Jones reports that the swine flu outbreak could do further harm to Mexico’s economy at a time it already feels the effects of the global financial crisis. Mexico City’s Chamber of Trade, Services, and Tourism estimates that cancellations of events and shuttered businesses as part of swine flu control could cost the capital $57 million per day.

Still, there were some positive signs on Wednesday, when Mexican stocks and the peso strengthened. The rise has been attributed to increasing optimism that the effects of the outbreak could be limited.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports on the possible global economic effects of the swine flu outbreak.

Correa Wins Reelection, Faces Challenges

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa won reelection by pulling in more than 50 percent of the votes on April 27. He avoided a runoff and defeated his closest rival, former President Lucio Gutierrez, by more than 20 points. Now Correa’s government may be put to the test when facing tough economic conditions, low commodity prices, and the question of whether to maintain dollarization. “Correa could well face a jarring clash between his self-proclaimed ‘leftist, humanist, Christian’ ideology and his U.S.-trained market-savvy over the issue of Ecuador’s use of the U.S. dollar as the national currency,” writes Guy Hedgecoe for OpenDemocracy.

Two Weeks Notice blog takes a look at the possibility that Correa could turn to the International Monetary Fund for loans.

In an interview with El País, Correa discusses Ecuador’s struggles to offer support to thousands of families planning to return from Spain as a result of that country’s rising unemployment rates. He also defended his strong relations with Venezuela and Bolivia and his support for the creation of a South American common currency.

Read an AS/COA analysis of the presidential elections in Ecuador.

Panama Prepares for Elections

On May 3, Panamanians choose their next president. Polls show Ricardo Martinelli of the opposition Democratic Change Party ahead of Balbina Herrera of the current ruling Democratic Revolutionary Party. This opposition appears poised to win despite the fact that Panamanian President Martín Torrijos’ approval rating rose to 57 percent in April. Infolatam offers a biography of the pro-free-market businessman Martinelli, who was defeated by Torrijos in 2004.

Iran’s President to Visit Brazil, Venezuela

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran visits Brazil on May 5 and 6 and will likely stop in Venezuela as well. “Many Latin America watchers expect the Brazil visit to represent the first significant advancement of ties between the two countries in the areas of commerce and energy cooperation,” writes Samuel Logan for ISN Security Watch in an analysis of Tehran’s growing ties with Latin America.

The Two Sides of Brazil’s New Energy Policy

IPS News reports on an energy plan unveiled by Brazil’s Environment Minister Carlos Minc at a G8 meeting in Italy. The plan involves greater emphasis on renewable sources (such as hydroelectric power) while pursing expanded production of fossil fuels. The proposal reflects a Summit of the Americas plan for countries in the Western Hemisphere to move toward generating half their energy from renewable sources by 2050.

COA’s report Building the Hemispheric Growth Agenda: A New Framework for Policy spelled out proposals for energy partnerships in the Americas.

Canada to Phase Out Coal-Fired Power

The Globe and Mail reports on new climate-change rules laid out in Ottawa that will push Canada’s electricity sector to eventually stop using coal-fired power. “The approach that we’ve been working towards involves a cap-and-trade system relating to thermal coal, and the requirement of phasing out those facilities as they reach the end of their useful, fully-amortized life,” said Environment Minister Jim Prentice.

Peru, Brazil Consider Using Real for Bilateral Trade

Peruvian President Alan García visited his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the two leaders announced their intentions to adopt Brazil’s real as the payment currency for bilateral trade, bypassing the dollar as “an intermediate currency.” During their meeting in Rio they also inaugurated a stretch of a road that will eventually connect Brazil’s Amazon region with Peruvian ports in the Pacific Ocean.

Venezuela-Peru Relations Strained

Caracas recalled its ambassador to Peru on Tuesday after Lima granted political asylum to the former Governor of the Venezuelan state of Zulia Manuel Rosales. Rosales faces corruption charges in Venezuela but he claims that he is victim of “political lynching” because of his opposition to the government of President Hugo Chávez and that attaining a fair trial in Venezuela is impossible. Venezuelan authorities claim that Peru’s decision violates international law and demanded Rosales’ arrest and return. Peruvian Foreign Minister José Antonio García Belaúnde said that Rosales’ political asylum was based on “humanitarian” considerations. 

China, Peru Sign Free Trade Agreement

Peruvian Vice President Luis Giamprieti traveled to Beijing to co-sign a bilateral free-trade pact. Trade between the two countries reached $7.5 billion in 2008, reports China Daily. The agreement with Peru is Beijing’s second in Latin America after Chile and will remove tariffs from 90 percent of goods.

Bachelet on Economy, Social Equity

In an interview with Newsweek, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet talks about her government’s moves to close the gap between rich and poor, steps taken to help weather the current economic crisis, and the “new and positive climate for dealing with the region’s issues” in the wake of the Summit of the Americas.

How Andres Velasco Became Chile’s Most Popular Minister

Last year government workers burned an effigy of Chile’s Finance Minister Andres Velasco during a Santiago protest. This year he is the country’s most popular minister. A Bloomberg feature looks at how the “Harvard peso doctor” girded the country’s economy to help the country’s currency become the best performer of any emerging market’s.

Mid-Term Election Race Heats Up in Argentina

Ahead of the June 28 legislative elections in Argentina, former President Nestor Kirchner rallied supporters of the ruling coalition in hopes of maintaining its majority in the country’s congress. Kirchner warned that losing congressional control could lead to the political instability felt in 2001. Half of the lower house’s 257 seats and a third of the senate’s 72 seats are up for grabs. “The Kirchners face a serious challenge not only from a reorganized opposition but also from inside the ruling coalition,” reports Mercopress.

Colombia at a Crossroads on Manta Relocation

The idea of allowing the U.S. Air Force to move operations from Ecuador’s Manta base and set up shop on Colombian soil raises questions for Bogota. Colombian military officials have denied they will host a base but could allow the U.S. military to conduct operations from their bases. In an article for World Politics Review, Anastasia Moloney puts forth the issue that those Colombian bases could effectively be seen as U.S. bases, causing tensions with neighboring countries. “For the Colombian government, though, the U.S. is a vital partner in the fight against the common threat of drug traffickers. And with the troubled U.S.-Colombia bilateral free trade agreement still facing a difficult reception in the U.S. Congress, Bogota can not afford to deny the U.S. needed access,” writes Moloney.

Bogota Picks Colombia’s First Female General

Colonel Luz Marina Bustos will be the first woman to be promoted to the rank of general in Colombia. The promotion, which comes after Bustos’ 29 years of service in Colombia’s National Police, represents a milestone for more than 8,000 women serving in the institution. The announcement awaits final congressional approval but is expected to pass, El Tiempo reports.

Bolivia and Paraguay End Border Dispute

A 77-year-old border dispute that began with the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay officially ended on April 27. While in Buenos Aires, Bolivian President Evo Morales and his Paraguayan counterpart Fernando Lugo signed a pact settling the border dispute. Los Tiempos newspaper offers a timeline of the conflict that claimed more than 90,000 lives between 1932 and 1935.

Tags: Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, Elections, energy, Free Trade, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Venezuela, Weekly Roundup
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