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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OAS on Overturning 1962 Rule Suspending Cuba

Ecuador’s Minister of Foreign Relations Fander Falconí told journalists Wednesday that the ministers at the OAS General Assembly have agreed to overturn a 1962 decision that expelled Cuba from the organization. Falconi said that Cuba’s suspension will be lifted as a result of a new proposal that eliminates conditions for Cuba to rejoin. This came after the first day of the assembly ended with no consensus about allowing Cuba to rejoin the organization. U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton insisted that Cuba must show clear steps towards addressing human rights and political freedom before the island can be allowed to rejoin.

Despite the United States opposing proposals to allow the readmission of Cuba without the country meeting certain democratic standards, signs of a U.S.-Cuba thaw continue. On May 30, the head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington Jorge Bolaños officially accepted on behalf of Havana the U.S. proposal to resume high-level talks on legal immigration. Talks will also cover bilateral cooperation on drug trafficking, terrorism, disaster readiness, and resuming regular mail services.

Financial Times takes a look at how some members of the U.S. Senate hope to block easing of restrictions in U.S.-Cuba relations. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) suggested at COA’s Washington Conference that the United States should reexamine its funding for the OAS if the agency allows Cuba to rejoin.

Page Turned in El Salvador

El Salvador experienced a historic moment this week when Mauricio Funes, the head of a former guerilla movement, was inaugurated as president before his country’s citizens as well as leaders from around the world. “Change starts now,” said the new president during his inaugural address. Watch his inauguration and a Latin Pulse interview with Funes following his landmark election. U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton attended the ceremony in San Salvador before her trip to the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly in Honduras. In a Miami Herald op-ed, Clinton described Funes’ inauguration as “a testament to the strength and durability of democracy throughout the Americas.”

An Alta Hora de la Noche blog post covered the inauguration, saying “this could be the start of something beautiful.” The Wall Street Journal warns of challenges Funes will face, from a high crime rate to a hurting economy.

Read AS/COA coverage of the Salvadoran election and Funes’ inauguration

Colombia to Host 2013 Summit of the Americas

The OAS designated Colombia as the host country of the VI Summit of the Americas to be held in 2013. The decision came after Paraguay withdrew its candidacy. The V Summit of the Americas was held in Trinidad and Tobago in April.

Access a complete AS/COA resource guide to the Fifth Summit of the Americas.

Iran, Israel, and the OAS

Israeli Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Danny Ayalon attended this year’s OAS General Assembly, marking Israel’s presence at the event for the first time. Albeiro Rodas blogs about the event for GlobalPost, saying Israel’s presence shows its hopes to boost relations with the region but also to head off Iran’s inroads there.

Bloggings by boz takes a looks at Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s efforts to fend off critics back home who say he should be focusing on relations with neighbors rather than Latin America.

Read AS/COA analysis of Iran’s links with Latin America.

Vargas Llosa to Debate Chávez? Apparently Not.

Venezuela’s El Universal covers the back-and-forth between President Hugo Chávez and Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa about whether to hold a public debate on the president’s Aló Presidente. The episode began when Vargas Llosa attended a conference celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of a pro-democracy think tank in Caracas and Chávez challenged him to a public debate. Vargas Llosa agreed but Chávez backed out. The author’s son, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, writes about the incident for The New Republic, refuting the president’s argument that the debate would have involved several intellectuals versus Chávez. He writes: “Venezuelans had been told that we were imperialists bent on destroying the revolution. But Chavez needs no such help; he is doing a fine job of it himself.”

Venezuela Reduces Remittances to Exterior

To prevent a steeper currency flight from Venezuela, the Comisión de Administración de Divisas—the government entity that controls money exchange—announced that the amount of money Venezuelans can send abroad every month will be reduced by half starting in July. The official maximum allowance will drop from $1,800 to $900, InfoLatam reports.

Why Venezuela Tops LatAm Murder Rankings

In a web exclusive for Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations’ Fellow Shannon O’Neil writes about how Venezuela came to have the highest murder rate in a region where homicide rates are three times the global average. Reasons include the drug trade, a poorly equipped police force, and a problematic judicial system. But, argues O’Neil, the governing style of President Hugo Chávez adds to the insecurity and a worsening economic situation could contribute to crime.

SOUTHCOM Confirmation Hearings in Process

Air Force Lt. Gen. Douglas M. Fraser, deputy commander, U.S. Pacific Command is U.S. President Barack Obama’s nominee to head U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). On June 2, Fraser faced the Senate Armed Services Committee as part of his confirmation hearings. “I will spend all my time and energy enhancing the role that United States Southern Commander plays with our partner armed forces in the region and continue [Navy] Admiral [James] Stavridis’ dedicated efforts to enhance the interagency cooperation and coordination,” If the Senate approves Fraser’s nomination, he will become a full general and replace Stavridis, who currently serves as SOUTHCOM’s commander and Obama’s nominee to be the supreme allied commander for Europe and commander of U.S. European Command. Stavridis’ confirmation also awaits Senate approval.

New Documentation Rules Enforced for U.S. Border Crossing

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) went into effect on June 1, requiring all citizens from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and several Caribbean countries to present a valid passport every time they leave and reenter the United States. Border officials reported that the change occurred relatively smoothly.

More Latino Children Born to Foreign-Born Parents

A new Pew Hispanic Center survey found a changing trend among Latino children in the United States: A majority are second-generation (born to immigrants). In 2008, 57 percent of Latino children were third generation or more. By 2007 that figure had dropped by 20 percent while the portion of the country’s 16 million Hispanics born in the United States to foreign-born parents rose to 52 percent. Latinos now make up 22 percent of all children in the United States, compared to 9 percent in 1980.

The Catholic Church’s Shifting Policy on Mexican Emigration

In a feature for Migration Information Source, David Fitzgerald of the University of California, San Diego writes about how the Catholic Church’s approach to Mexican emigration has changed over the past century. In the 1910s and 1920s, the Church opposed emigration on the basis that it would divide families and lead to religious conversion. This changed in the 1960s and, writes Fitzgerald, the Church now serves as “a voice for migrants’ rights while encouraging both their U.S. integration and homeland ties.” The article also looks at how the Mexican state and Church work in tandem, with the former modeling some record-keeping methods on those of the latter.

Mexican Journalists Receive Survival Training

Nonprofit groups dedicated to press freedoms launched a survival training for Mexican journalists who find themselves under threat because they cover organized crime. Mexico is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. The Los Angeles Times’ La Plaza blog offers a video of the self-defense sessions in which participants “went through a simulated kidnapping, dodged tear gas, learned first aid, and received psychological training on dealing with emergencies.”

Opposition Party Holds Primary in Costa Rica

The Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC) opposition party in Costa Rica held a vote on May 31 to choose their candidate for the 2010 presidential elections. Results indicate that Ottón Solis will be the PAC candidate, winning over Epsy Campbell and Ramón Macaya. As the Americas Quarterly blog points out, Solís lost by little more than 1 percent in 2006 to current President Óscar Arias.

Crime Wave in Argentina Could Affect Elections

The Wall Street Journal
reports on how the increasing crime wave in Argentina could become a critical issue in the midterm elections scheduled for June 28. According to the article, many Argentines are suspicious of government statistics about crime and opinion polls show security as a top issue. The government’s fragile majority in congress is at stake in the elections, given that half of the lower house and a third of the senate seats will be up for grabs.

Is Concertación Running on Empty ahead of Chilean Elections?

Revista Perspectiva’s blog considers the possibility that Chile’s ruling political party Concertación could face a challenge because its presidential candidate and former President Eduardo Frei has failed to excite voters. The blog post also suggests that the Chilean experience of managing the financial crisis may be an example for other countries to follow.

Patricio Navia writes in Poder about the rapid rise of independent presidential candidate Marco Enríquez-Ominami and poses the question of whether the candidate “is Chávez or Obama.”

An In-Depth Look at Ecuador’s Bond Default

In a deep analysis, Reuters’ blogger Felix Salmon takes a look at how the Ecuadorian government staged its latest bond default and drew it to a close by buying back the debt for 35 cents per dollar. “The country has a reputation for utter incompetence when it comes to fiscal matters,” writes Salmon. But he adds that, “somehow, however, this exchange offer was probably the most successful and least fraught debt restructuring in the history of Latin American sovereign defaults.”

Positive Outlook for Brazil

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria writes in a Newsweek article about the unstoppable economic growth in countries like Brazil, China, Indonesia, and India despite the global financial downturn. He explains that “the mood in many of these countries remains surprisingly upbeat” thanks to improved fiscal discipline and overall optimistic attitude towards their long-term growth goals.

Spain’s National Court May Be Limited in Foreign Human Rights Cases

Mounting international pressure—including from the U.S. and Chinese governments—
has prompted a judicial reform by the Spanish government that promises to restrict the court’s international jurisdiction. That means that it can no longer conduct investigations outside its borders without having a Spaniard affected in a case, Spiegel reports. Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón drew international attention for issuing an arrest warrant for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998.

Tags: Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Crime, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Elections, Immigration, Mauricio Funes, Mexico, OAS, Remittances, Spain, Venezuela
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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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