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.
Costa Rica Gears up for Presidential Elections
Alex Leff blogs for Americas Quarterly about Costa Rica’s presidential campaigns ahead of the February 7 elections. Campaigns have taken a turn for the quirky, from conservative candidate Otto Guevara’s televised polygraph test to the Social Christian Unity Party’s Luis Fishman’s slogan that “the lesser evil is better.” While Guevara’s support in the polls rose from 13 to 30 percent in September, surveys estimate that President Óscar Arias’ chosen successor, Laura Chinchilla of the National Liberation Party, will win 40 percent of the vote.
Congressional Report Examines U.S. Policy toward Haitian Migrants
In the wake of the earthquake in Haiti, a Congressional Research Service Report examines U.S. migrant interdiction and detention policies toward Haitians. Human rights advocates have raised concerns over these policies, saying Haitians receive inferior treatment when compared to other asylum seekers trying to enter the United States.
Read an AS/COA analysis about the U.S. debate over Haitian immigration.
Elections Postponed Due to Haitian Earthquake
Haitian President René Préval announced this week that Haiti will not hold legislative elections scheduled for February 28 as a result of the January 12 earthquake. Two Haitian senators died in the earthquake, which claimed over 170,000 lives.
In an interview with the president, The Miami Herald examines the post-earthquake challenges facing Préval.
U.S. Envoy Sees Honduras on Path to Rejoining OAS
Speaking at AS/COA’s February 2 Madrid Conference, the top U.S. diplomat for Western Hemisphere affairs Arturo Valenzuela said Washington sees Honduras on a path toward rejoining the Organization of American States (OAS) and regaining political legitimacy. The country sank into crisis after the June 2009 ouster of then-President Manuel Zelaya. Governments across the hemisphere refused to recognize the de facto government and the OAS suspended Honduras’ membership. But, last week, a new administration took power in the Central American country with the inauguration of Profirio Lobo, elected in November.
Argentina Dismisses Central Bank Head
An Argentine congressional committee agreed late on February 2 to dismiss Central Bank head Martín Redrado. Before the Argentine Congress could decide his future, Redrado announced his resignation at a press conference in Buenos Aires on January 29 and defended his opposition to President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s decision to pay Argentina’s debt with the Bank’s reserves.
Néstor Kirchner Defends $2 Million Purchase
Argentine media sources revealed that former president Néstor Kirchner purchased $2 million worth of U.S. dollars in October 2008. The purchase took place days after the Lehman Brothers collapse that sparked the global financial downturn. Kirchner defended the move, saying he intended to buy a hotel in southern Argentina. A federal judge absolved Kirchner of illegal enrichment charges in 2008, and it is unlikely he will be prosecuted for these charges now, according to a former head of the government’s anti-corruption office.
A Look at Emission Reduction Plans as Copenhagen Deadline Passes
The Copenhagen accord spelled out January 31 as a deadline for countries to submit plans for lowering greenhouse gases. Most did not. But some of the major players did and The New Republic offers a peek at their plans. Both the United States and Canada pledged to cut emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Brazil pledged to cut 39 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
Brazil Okays Contentious Dam Plan
“Not a single Indian will be displaced,” Brazil’s Environment Minister Carlos Minc told reporters, fending off criticism over news that a dam project in the Amazon got a green light. The Brazilian government says the multibillion dollar hydroelectric dam will help the rising economy meet energy demands and lower emissions. But opponents say the project will displace indigenous populations and cause environmental damage.
Japanese, Mexican Leaders Promote Economic Ties
This week, Mexican President Felipe Calderón headed to Tokyo to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. The two leaders agreed on a strategic pact covering economic issues, support for Haiti, and the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.
Mexico Weighs Curbs on Social Media
The Mexican government may propose a bill to curb the use of social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook due to concerns that drug cartels and kidnappers use them to communicate. The bill’s proposal coincides with revelations that some Mexicans use Twitter to steer clear of drunk-driving checkpoints.
Carstens Pledges Closer Government Cooperation
In an interview with the Financial Times, Mexico’s Central Bank chief Agustín Carstens pledged better cooperation with Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s administration. This sparked concern among investors that Carstens, Calderón’s former finance minister, is vulnerable to political pressure.
Venezuelan Company Buys Nicaraguan Media Outlet
Latin American Thought blog takes a look at the recent purchase of a Nicaraguan channel by Venezuelan conglomerate Albanisa. Last week the firm, which runs Venezuelan imports into Nicaragua, bought Canal 8—a channel critical of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.
Decriminalization Policies Grow in Latin America
A number of Latin American countries are lessening drug penalties for smaller quantities, allowing more resources for rehabilitation and to pursue big-time traffickers. A Reuters report examines decriminalization reforms in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, and Mexico.
Cocoa Beans Prove Promising for Peru’s Farmers
Peruvian farmers hoping to avoid the global cocaine trade have turned to growing cocoa beans for chocolate retailers in Europe and the United States. “And key reasons for the turnaround—listening to local needs, creating synergy among a diverse array of actors, and sticking to market fundamentals—could carry lessons for other “narcostates” such as Afghanistan and Colombia,” writes Matthew Clark for The Christian Science Monitor.
United States to Decrease Aid to Colombia
The Obama administration’s 2011 budget proposal to Congress does not address Plan Colombia, the U.S. aid program to help the Andean country battle narcotrafficking and leftist guerillas. Colombia will receive 20 percent less U.S. aid than in 2009. On February 1, Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos cautioned that less military aid to Colombia would impair the efforts made in the last decade to fight drug trafficking.
Protecting Colombia’s Indigenous Communities
After a Colombian military attack on guerillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known more commonly as the FARC) wounded an indigenous family from the Embera Katío community, Andrés Navas writes in Revista Perspectiva blog that it is the fundamental duty of every democratic state to protect its citizens, especially those caught in armed conflicts.
Honduras, Colombia Sign Security Pact
Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and his newly inaugurated Honduran counterpart, Porfirio Lobo, signed a security accord to strengthen bilateral cooperation.
Chile Offers Fiscal Lessons for a Rainy Day
Ahead of Sebastián Piñera’s inauguration as president of Chile on March 11, Latin America Economonitor takes a look at lessons to be learned from the successful fiscal policies under Chilean President Michelle Bachelet’s administration. “[T]he government had increased spending sharply, using the assets that it had acquired during the copper boom, and thereby moderating the downturn. Saving for a rainy day made the officials heroes, now that the rainy day had come,” writes Jeffrey Frankel.
Proposed Chilean Reform Makes Water a Security Issue
Chile may follow the lead of Ecuador and Uruguay in freshwater conservation; a proposed Chilean constitutional reform would recognize freshwater as a national security issue. Approval of the bill submitted by President Michelle Bachelet on January 7 allows authorities to limit water consumption to ensure availability.
The Oscars, Foreign Policy Style
Foreign Policy’s Passport blog is taking nominations for its own version of the Oscars focused on the best global affairs dramas of 2009. The blog’s suggested nominees include Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez for “Best Actor.” Meanwhile, ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya received a nod for “Best Supporting Actor” because “for all his posturing and pontificating, he was never running the show.”