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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U.S. Visa for Castro’s Daughter Stirs Controversy

Last week, Cuban President Raúl Castro’s daughter Mariela received a visa to travel to the United States, sparking controversy among Cuban-American senators. Head of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education, Castro will attend events in San Francisco and New York beginning on May 24. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) criticized the visit, calling Castro “a vociferous advocate of the regime and opponent of democracy.” AS/COA’s Senior Policy Director Christopher Sabatini told Fox News Latino: “The U.S. government is clearly trying to demonstrate a new, more fluid relationship with some elements of the regime.” 

UN Begins Cuban Human Rights Investigation

On May 22, the Geneva-based UN Committee Against Torture announced it would begin an investigation into human rights in Cuba, and demanded information from the Cuban government on poor prison conditions, detention of political dissidents, and harassment of government critics. The same day, government-run Cuban newspaper Granma published a report on prison conditions on the island, writing that the penitentiary system protects prisoner rights and “respects dignity.” 

Incumbent Party Wins Dominican Elections

Danilo Medina of the incumbent Dominican Liberation Party declared victory on Monday after winning just over 51 percent of the votes in Sunday’s election. The Dominican Revolutionary Party candidate and former President Hipólito Mejía won almost 47 percent of votes. In an article for Americas Quarterly, former Dominican Ambassador to the U.S. Flavio Darío Espinal argues that Medina owes his victory to President Leonel Fernández’s sound management of the country and missteps by Mejía in the last weeks of the campaign. Mejía questioned the election results, accusing the government of vote-buying, but appeared to concede defeat yesterday. 

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis on the Dominican election.

Haiti’s Government Staunches Pro-Army March

Violence erupted during a Port-au-Prince march last week in favor of restoring the country’s military, with authorities arresting 59 demonstrators. Former and aspiring soldiers have occupied military bases over the past year, demanding Haitian President Michel Martelly make good on a campaign promise to restore the armed forces. “The latest clashes add to doubts over whether Haiti should reconstitute its army,” says InsightCrime.

Record Number of Women Appointed to Haitian Cabinet

Upon assuming office last week, Haiti’s new Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe received praise for his decision to appoint seven women to his 22-member ministerial cabinet. Women now make up 32 percent of that body for the first time in Haitian history, reports Pulsamérica. 

U.S. Becomes SICA Observer

At a May 18 meeting in Tegucigalpa, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson signed an accord granting the United States observer status to the regional body Central American Integration System, also known as SICA. “This agreement underscores the United States’ commitment to partnership with Central America to work for greater prosperity and security for the citizens of the region,” the State Department said.

Read an AS/COA Online Explainer about regional integration organizations in the Americas, including information about members and observer countries in each case.

LatAm OECD Growth Projections Increase

In its biannual Economic Outlook report released on Tuesday, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) raised growth projections for Brazil, Chile, and Mexico over the next two years. Chile led the group with growth increasing to 4.4 percent this year, followed by Mexico’s growth projected to hit 3.6 percent. Brazil’s 2012 growth projection remained stable at 3.9 percent. All three economies’ 2013 projections were raised between two and seven points. 

Raising the Bar for North American Competitiveness

In the Latin America’s Moment blog, Council on Foreign Relations’ Shannon O’Neil looks at North America’s challenge to foster more competitive economies. If China’s competitiveness continues to weaken, she writes, “North America won’t be able to capture or capitalize on the opportunity if the United States, Canada, and Mexico don’t work together to change bilateral and trilateral policies and invest in infrastructure.”

Mexican Presidential Frontrunner Talks Future Challenges

In an interview with Slate, Mexican presidential frontrunner and candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) Enrique Peña Nieto responded to questions ranging from how his administration would confront insecurity, challenge police corruption, and whether he will push for reform of the state oil firm. When asked whether the PRI would take on monopolies after not having done so in the past, he responded: “They made an effort, they tried. Now the conditions are different. Now the PRI has a very important backing from society to push the reforms that have to be made to put Mexico into a growing path.” 

Mexico Buys Majority of U.S. Gas Exports

Based on data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Mexico’s El Diario reports that Mexico purchased 60 percent of U.S. gas exports in the first half of 2012. For the past 25 years, Mexico has been the primary consumer of U.S. gas, as 77 percent of Mexico’s energy imports come from its northern neighbor. 

Latino Winemakers on the Rise in Napa Valley

Fox News Latino takes a look at the growing influence of Latinos in Californian wineries. Though Latinos account for 40 percent of Napa Valley residents, only 3 percent of Hispanics are in powerful positions in the wine business. Many Latino winery leaders migrated from Mexico and Central America and worked their way up through the production chain to the top, with the result that “the faces of the wine world are slowly changing.”

New Genocide Charge for Guatemala’s Ríos Montt

Central American Politics blog reports that prosecutors presented enough evidence to bring a second genocide charge against former Guatemalan President Efraín Ríos Montt for his role in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre. Ríos Montt maintains his innocence under military law. Prosecutors hope charges against Ríos Montt could be used as precedent to try other former military members accused of human rights abuses during Guatemala’s civil war. 

Santos Introduces Royalties Law in Colombia

On Tuesday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced the passage of a new royalties law, which he said would provide a more equitable distribution of wealth from oil and mineral extraction. Royalties will no longer be distributed to minor municipalities, but will have a regional focus to fund larger projects. “We hope that royalties truly turn themselves into development, social progress, and better quality of life for all Colombians,” the president said. 

Colombia Promotes Scientific Research

The Latin American Thought blog examines efforts by the Colombian government to promote scientific research through the state-run scientific research body Colciencias. “The proposal is part of an overarching movement in Colombia: closing the inequality gap,” the blog reports. “[I]nvesting in underserved regions will spur opportunity, value-added innovation, and competition.”

Read more about Colombian science investments in the blog for AS/COA’s Latin American Cities Conference in Bogota, taking place on June 14.

Bomb Deactivated in Buenos Aires ahead of Uribe Event

On May 22, Buenos Aires officials reported they deactivated a bomb at a local theater where former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe was scheduled to speak. The device was attached to a cellphone and hidden in a light fixture. The bomb scare comes a week after a deadly bomb attack in Bogota that targeted former Interior Minister Fernando Londoño from Uribe’s administration. 

Buenos Aires Approves Gay Marriage for Tourists

The city of Buenos Aires passed a resolution last week legalizing same-sex marriages for tourists and other foreigners, making it the fourth Argentine district to do so, reports the JURIST blog. Argentina legalized same-sex marriage in 2010 for its own citizens.

Uruguay Limits Public Sector Electricity Use

The Uruguayan president announced plans this week to cut electricity use in the public sector by 10 percent through a number of measures, including limiting the length of the workday, suspending use of central heating, and eliminating illumination of public edifices. Uruguay faces electricity shortages due to a drought that reduced hydroelectric production.

Chile’s Lithium Challenge

Universia Knowledge@Wharton reports on Chile’s challenge in promoting its lithium industry, of which it is the world’s largest exporter. As home to 25 percent of the world’s lithium reserves, “Chile should take advantage of its leadership as one of the largest producers of lithium, and develop its research capabilities, particularly in the area of lithium batteries,” says one Chilean professor. “Why not create a lithium industry cluster in Chile?”

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis on Chile’s drive for energy independence.

Peru to Enjoy Lowest Inflation in LatAm

Consultancy Latin Focus Consensus released a report on Monday forecasting that Peru will have the lowest inflation in Latin America in 2012 and 2013. Peru’s inflation should be around 2.6 percent the group says, well below the world average of 2.9 percent.

Proposed Highway Sparks Debate in Peru

Peru’s Congress is set to debate the construction of a highway to cut through the country’s remote Amazonian region, sparking debate among proponents of development and those who seek to protect indigenous peoples. GlobalPost reports that, while environmental and indigenous rights groups say the road will destroy local tribes’ way of life, proponents argue it will bring an end to the region’s poverty borne from isolation.

Brazilian Subs Could Change South Atlantic Military Balance

A piece in British magazine Prospect looks at Brazil’s growing naval power in the South Atlantic and questions its potential effect in the event of a future conflict over the Falklands. Of particular interest are Brazil’s five nuclear submarines that will enter service in 2016, notes the article. “Brazil’s submarines change the naval balance of power in the region…Brazil may now demand that foreign powers simply steer clear of its backyard as the United States did in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,” writes Michael Moran.

Brazil Requests Greater Share of Itaipú Production

Last week, Brazilian officials asked Paraguay for 90 percent of the electricity generated by the Itaipú dam—home to one of the world’s largest hydroelectric plants—located on the border between the two countries. Paraguayan officials reportedly responded that the division should remain 50-50 as established in the original treaty, but that Paraguay would be willing to sell Brazil any unused reserves at market price. 

Second-Generation Ethanol Production Promoted by Brazil

The Financial Times’ beyondbrics blog reports on a $200 million venture by Italy’s Mossi & Ghilsofi in Brazil to produce second-generation ethanol on a commercial scale. Second-generation ethanol, or cellulosic ethanol, is produced from sugar cane production residue such as leaves and husks rather than sugar, thereby avoiding competing with global food prices. “Brazil’s full commercialization of cellulosic ethanol promises to double the productivity of the country’s sugar cane ethanol producers,” says the blog.

Thailand Fills China’s Brazilian Sugar Gap

Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Brazilian delays in harvesting its sugar crop may lead that country to lose its Chinese market share to Thailand. Chinese sugar imports should climb by 1 million tons this year, with Thai sugar making up the majority of it. “Brazilian producers are having to discount their sugar to be competitive,” one financial analyst told the newswire.

In Pictures: A Tour of Brazil

The Atlantic offers a series of photos of Brazil to “sum up” the country that will host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. Photos show the country’s iconic cities, diverse landscapes and wildlife, social ills, and athletic and artistic achievements. 

Geeks on a Plane Lands in São Paulo

A group of tech start-ups, investors, and executives traveling the world and known as “Geeks on a Plane” landed in São Paulo last week to network and visit local tech firms. “It’s the hottest place in South America. As we come here we’re learning more and more that enforces that belief,” said one “geek.” CNN reports that Brazil’s growing online market is a major pull for investors and that the number of Brazilian startups tripled over the past three years.

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