Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

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From 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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Presidents to Converge in Cartagena for Sixth Summit

Democratically elected leaders from throughout the hemisphere will convene in Cartagena, Colombia this weekend to attend the Sixth Summit of the Americas. The summit’s theme is “Connecting the Americas,” and will focus on hemispheric integration and cooperation. “What is less clear, however, is whether the agenda that has been agreed to in advance by regional governments will have a meaningful impact on the hemispheric trajectory in the twenty-first century,” writes COA’s Eric Farnsworth for Poder. The Financial Times’s beyondbrics blog says the real issues on the radar will be the expected debate on the pros and cons of drug legalization, Argentina’s claims on the Falkland Islands, and Cuba’s continued exclusion from the summits—an issue that prompted Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa to boycott this summit. Speaking to Colombia’s El Tiempo¸ Colombian President and summit host Juan Manuel Santos said he would be willing to mediate between the United States and Cuba, and voices support for the debate on drug legalization.

A report by AS/COA’s Summit of the Americas Working Group offers recommendations for job-creation initiatives in the Western Hemisphere.

Read an AS/COA Online Explainer about the origins and operations of the Summit of the Americas.

Obama Could Green-Light Colombia FTA Implementation

Colombia Reports writes that, while in Cartagena for the Summit of the Americas this weekend, President Barack Obama is expected to announce that Colombia has met the labor conditions necessary for implementation of the U.S.-Colombia trade pact. The U.S. Congress approved the Colombia free-trade agreement in October 2011, but implementation had been delayed pending fulfillment of an April 2011 plan requiring Colombia’s protection of worker rights. 

Will Obama’s LatAm Focus Extend beyond April?

With April being touted as U.S. President Barack Obama’s “Latin American month,” New York University Political Science Professor Patricio Nava asks if the United States will continue paying attention when the month is over. Navia is skeptical, warning: “By failing to take advantage of the opportunities Latin America offers, the U.S. will further erode its declining economic and political power in the world and Latin America will find partners for development elsewhere.” 

Dilma in Washington

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff made her first trip as president to Washington on April 9, when she met with President Barack Obama. The two leaders discussed a variety of partnerships, and Rousseff expressed concerns about U.S. monetary policy. They signed six memorandums of understanding on aviation, food security, scientific cooperation, sustainable development, and alcohol imports. But, in an Americas Quarterly web exclusive, Rio-based reporter Taylor Barnes writes: “[A]fter meetings in Washington DC, Brazil, like the U.S., seems to have come out largely holding its own, rather than with any new gains.”

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about Rousseff’s visit to the United States. 

U.S. Announces New Brazilian Consulates

During an event at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in honor of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s Washington visit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the United States would open two new consulates in Brazil to increase the number of visas for Brazilians. The new consulates will open in the cities of Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre. 

Instagram: Part Brazilian

When Facebook bought photo-sharing application Instagram for $1 billion on Monday, the big news in Brazil was that Mike Krieger—one of the company’s co-founders—is one of their own. Brazilian columnist Gilberto Dimenstein said Krieger’s experience reinforced the importance of President Dilma Rousseff’s Science without Borders program. “The best universities like Harvard and MIT are incubators of talent and business,” writes Dimenstein. “For me, that’s where American paradise is translated into ingenuity.” 

The Latino Vote, Measured by Influence

With both parties vying for the Hispanic vote ahead of the U.S. elections, polling group Latino Decisions say it has developed a method to more accurately forecast whether the Latino vote could tip the electoral scale in swing states. NBC Latino reports that the political scientists who developed the model say it “will regularly input the local variations in the Latino vote in each state” and they contend that turnout trumps the size of any state’s Hispanic voting bloc in determining voter influence. 

Evaluating Latino Self-Identity

The Pew Hispanic Research Center released a report on self-identification among U.S. Hispanics. The survey finds that Hispanics prefer to self-identify based on their family’s country of origin rather than by pan-ethnic labels such as Hispanic or Latino. Following that preference, most U.S. Hispanics (69 percent) say that Hispanics in the United States have diverse cultures, while the remaining say there is a U.S. pan-Hispanic culture.

The First Three Months of Colombia’s Victims Law

After going into effect on January 1, Colombia’s law to restitute lands and provide financial compensation for victims of the country’s armed conflict shows mixed results. La Silla Vacia outlines some of the challenges, including long-term funding, providing security for beneficiaries of the law, and determining the total number of victims.(h/t Pan American Post).

Read and AS/COA Online News Analysis about the Victims Law. 

Chávez’s Illness Keeps Raising Questions at Home and Away

Venezuela’s El Universal reports that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez returned to Cuba for a third round of radiation treatment on Sunday, dispelling rumors that he would seek treatment in Brazil. Before leaving, Chávez attended mass in his hometown of Barinas where he begged Christ not to take his life yet. Analysts believe the continued medical treatment and his behavior at the mass showcase an increasingly “desperate” Chávez, raising perennial questions about his condition and who might succeed him. Meanwhile, Foreign Policy’s The Oil and Glory blog adds to the speculation by wondering if the president is really sick or exaggerating his condition to draw sympathy from his base in this election year. 

OAS Human Rights Blacklist Unchanged from 2010

The Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released its 2011 annual report on Monday. The 2011 report puts Colombia, Cuba, Honduras, and Venezuela on its “blacklist” for a second year, citing the lack of support for human rights in those countries. Infolatam reports that the commission sent the report to the countries mentioned in November, but neither Cuba nor Venezuela responded. 

Cuban Lessons for the Global Food Challenge

Slate looks at how Cuban farming adapted during the “Special Period,” when Cubans quickly lost access to Soviet subsidies. With the loss of technology that made industrial farming possible, Cuban scientists turned to “agro-ecology,” relying on natural solutions to replace the lost fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide. Though the article suggests the Cuban experience is far from a success, it asks what lessons farmers can take in a world faced with climate change.

Self-Employed Face Hurdles in Cuba

The Miami Herald offers profiles of Cuba’s cuentapropistas—or self-employed workers—in the eastern Cuban city of Santiago. While the government of Raúl Castro plans to increase the number of self-employed to reduce state payrolls, many who have taken the plunge complain about high taxes that make it difficult to earn a living. The changes are transforming the Cuban economy and attitude toward work. 

Guatemalan President Defends Drug Decriminalization

In an April 7 op-ed for the Guardian, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina explained his proposal to liberalize drug policy in Latin America. “Guatemala will not fail to honor any of its international commitments to fighting drug trafficking. But nor are we willing to continue as dumb witnesses to a global self-deceit. We cannot eradicate global drug markets, but we can certainly regulate them as we have done with alcohol and tobacco markets,” he writes. 

Mapping Drug Policy in the Americas

InSight Crime published an interactive map of the Western Hemisphere explaining each country’s stance on drug decriminalization and rigidity of drug laws. Only eight countries fully oppose drug decriminalization and legalization; most other countries are open to decriminalizing narcotics.

Honduras Fuming over Aussie Tobacco-Logo Ban

Tegucigalpa is taking the Australian government to the World Trade Organization’s arbitration court after Canberra passed legislation forcing tobacco companies to package cigarettes sold in Australia in unmarked, brown boxes. Honduras, whose tobacco industry is worth tens of millions of dollars annually, says the anti-smoking measures violate intellectual-property rights and create trade barriers. 

Amid Political Uncertainty, Nicaragua Attracts Investment

Tim Rogers of Nicaragua Dispatch writes about the country’s economic boom over the last half decade, with the country’s foreign direct investment jumping 91 percent from 2010 to 2011 and its economy topping the Central American average at 4.7 percent growth last year.

Barbados to Host Military Exercises on Transnational Crime

Exercise Tradewinds, the annual military event sponsored by the U.S. Southern Command, will focus on combating transnational crime in the Americas. Led by the United States and hosted in Barbados, the mid-June exercise will include military representatives from 17 countries in the Western Hemisphere. Participants will work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Canadian authorities on maritime interdiction, hostage negotiations, and other security training.

Presidential Frontrunner Outlines Security Policy in Mexico

Mexico’s El Universal discusses the security policy proposed by Mexican presidential frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party. Peña Nieto said he will use the Mexican army and navy to combat drug trafficking groups until a police force with “sufficient training and professionalism, as well as adequate equipment” could replace them. El Universal reports the policy offers limited changes from those of current President Felipe Calderón, whose policies helped forces capture 22 of Mexico’s most-wanted criminals, but has not stemmed the tide of violence in the country. 

Mexican Ruling-Party Candidate Retools Campaign

Mexico’s ruling National Action Party’s candidate, Josefina Vázquez Mota, announced changes to her campaign strategy and an overhaul of her campaign team. The overhaul led to the inclusion a number of officials from the Calderón administration in her team. Vázquez Mota announced her campaign will more vigorously pursue undecided voters. She trails frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, though a significant portion of the electorate remains undecided. “We lost time and got distracted, but today we begin on the path to victory,” she told supporters on Monday.

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about polling in the Mexican presidential campaigns. 

Shining Path Proves Itself Alive and Kicking

Members of Peru’s Shining Path kidnapped more than 30 gas company employees working in Peru’s Valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers (or VRAE in Spanish) on Monday. Though reports claimed some hostages were released, local officials say all the hostages remain held by the guerilla group.  The Shining Path released a ransom note with a series of demands, including $10 million and the release of their leader, Comrade Artemio, who was captured by Peruvian security forces in February. The kidnapping comes within days of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala announcing the “total defeat” of the group. 

Bolivia Announces Suspension of TIPNIS Road Contract

Bolivian President Evo Morales announced his government would cancel the contract with Brazilian firm OAS for construction of a controversial road through the Isoboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS). Morales said OAS’ failure to complete work in a timely manner prompted the decision. Bolivia’s La Razón reports that Bolivia must find another Brazilian company to replace OAS or risk losing funding for the road from Brazilian development bank, BNDES. 

Argentina Seeks Hemispheric Consensus on Falklands

Mercopress reports that Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner hopes to use the upcoming Summit of the Americas as another means to gain support for her country’s claim over the Falkland Islands. Argentina’s recent intensified campaign to recover the islands attracted the support of many Latin American nations, as well as regional blocs such as Mercosur and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.

For Canada, Pennies No Longer Make Cents

Due to the rising cost of production, Canada announced it will stop issuing pennies this fall. The Canadian one-cent piece currently costs 1.6 cents to produce, and officials believe Canada will save $11 million annually by stopping production. While electronic transactions will continue to include exact cents, cash transactions will be rounded up or down to the nearest 5 cents.

Tags: Colombia FTA, Latino Vote, President Dilma Rousseff, Summit of the Americas
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