Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas



Peru Declares State of Emergency amid Mining Protests

The Peruvian government declared a state of emergency yesterday in the southeastern province of Espinar after a week of protests left at least two dead and 70 injured. Espinar residents are protesting a $1.5 billion expansion of the Tintaya copper mine, claiming that the mine’s Swiss owner Xstrata—the largest single mining investor in Peru—does not contribute enough to the local economy. Similar demonstrations took place last year in the province of Cajamarca, where residents protested the expansion of a gold mine.

Brazil Plans Five New Hydroelectric Dams

On May 25, Valor Econômico reported that the Brazilian government is forging ahead with plans to construct five hydroelectric dams in the Tapajos River basin, a tributary of the Amazon. The publication said that environmental studies are underway and bidding for operators will begin next year. Belo Monte—one of the country’s largest hydroelectric construction projects also located in the Amazon basin—encountered numerous obstacles to construction, including lawsuits and worker strikes. 

Dilma Announces Changes to Polemical Forest Code

On May 25, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff issued a number of alterations to the new version of the Forest Code, a legal framework for forest preservation in Brazil. She made 12 line-item vetoes and 32 modifications, most notably nixing amnesty for large-scale illegal deforesters who cleared land before 2008. The law now returns to Congress, where it won’t likely be discussed until after Brazil hosts the UN Rio+20 environmental conference in June.

Read more about the Forest Code in an AS/COA News Analysis on environmental issues in Brazil.

Brazil, Venezuela Rank High in Software Piracy

Four Latin American countries—Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela—make the top 20 in the Business Software Alliance’s annual report on software piracy. Brazil comes out on top (and fifth overall) in terms of value of pirated software at $2.8 billion. But Venezuela leads the pack with the highest rate of pirated software—88 percent.

Venezuela Targets Civilian Aircraft in Drug Fight

The Venezuelan Congress passed legislation May 23 permitting the country’s air force to shoot down aircraft suspected of carrying illegal drugs. Though the government believes the law will help Venezuela in its fight against international organized crime groups, InsightCrime believes “a policy advocating the use of force against civilian aircraft carries risk.” 

Poll Shows Narrower Lead for Chávez

A recent survey by Venezuelan polling firm Varianzas puts opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski within five points of his competitor, President Hugo Chávez. The current president leads with 50.7 percent of likely votes while Capriles has 45.5 percent, the poll found. However, 53.3 percent of respondents said they believed Chávez would win in October, compared with 42.4 percent for Capriles.

Assessing Human Rights in Latin America

On May 24, the U.S. State Department released its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, looking at the status of global human rights in the past year. In the Western Hemisphere, the report criticized arbitrary detentions in Cuba, concentration of power in the executive branch in Venezuela, and human rights abuses arising from the fight against organized crime in Mexico and Central America.

An Amnesty International report released May 23 highlighted similar issues, calling for respect for indigenous people throughout Latin America and an end to impunity.

A Look at Sino-Colombian Relations

In light of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ April trip to China, World Politics Review interviewed Benjamin Creutzfeldt, an expert in contemporary China at Externado University in Bogota. Creutzfeldt believes Colombia’s relations with China, while expanding under the Santos administration, remain underdeveloped. He also notes that unlike Peru, a lack of Chinese migration to Colombia means the country lacks interlocutors with an understanding of China’s culture and networks.

Global Food Prices Derailing Chile’s Anti-Poverty Gains?

A recent survey shows poverty is on the rise in Chile after two decades of decline, a fact the Chilean government attributes to rising food prices since 2010, reports the Financial Times’ beyondbrics blog. To that end, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced the creation of a food welfare program on Monday that will provide $78 annually per family to help offset food costs. The program is expected to benefit nearly 7 million Chileans and cost $197 million.

Uruguay’s President Profiled

Salvadoran magazine Contrapunto profiles Uruguayan president José Mujica, praising his charity and austere way of life. Mujica donates 90 percent of his presidential salary to charity, stating: “This money sustains me, and it has to sustain me, because many Uruguayans live on much less.” (H/T Pan American Post)

Bolivia Prepares to Host OAS General Assembly

With Cochabamba, Bolivia, set to host the Organization of American States (OAS) annual General Assembly from June 3 to 5, Bolivian President Evo Morales said the top two items on his agenda are sea access for Bolivia and recognition of Argentina’s claims to the Falklands. Bolivia bases its Pacific claim on a 1978 OAS declaration that states it is of “hemispheric importance” that Bolivia find “sovereign and useful” access to the sea, reports Bolivia’s news agency Agencia Boliviana de Información. 

What Became of Venezuela’s High-Speed Internet for Cuba?

Last week, the Associated Press raised questions about the fate of the much-heralded $70 million fiber-optic cable laid between Cuba and Venezuela, dubbed ALBA-1. That cable was supposed to greatly increase Cuba’s internet access by July 2011, though locals report no change in the island’s internet speed—currently the slowest in Latin America. On May 24, a Venezuelan official declared the cable “absolutely operational,” but said it is only used for “strategic communication” between the two governments. “It’s up to the Cuban government how they use it,” the official said. 

Cuban Offshore Oil Comes up Dry

Fox News Latino looks at Cuba’s offshore oil-drilling efforts, thus far unsuccessful. Cuba hopes offshore drilling will help it become self-sufficient and lessen its dependence on Venezuelan oil imports, but petroleum companies are hesitant to keep drilling. “[T]he pain and tribulations that people have to go through to drill in Cuba are not worth it when there are better and easier options in places like Angola, Brazil, or the U.S. Gulf of Mexico,” said one former oil company executive.

Medina Faces Challenges in the Dominican Republic

The Economist looks at the challenges Danilo Medina will face as president of the Dominican Republic, suggesting the biggest difficulty will need “to govern in his predecessor’s shadow.” Current President Leonel Fernández ruled for 12 of the last 16 years, and leaves Medina a country contending with corruption and low investment in education—but with growth outpacing that of the rest of the Caribbean.

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the election that brought Medina to victory.

Latin America’s Coasts Vulnerable to Climate Change

A recent report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean calls attention to the effects of climate change on the region’s coasts. The report finds that low-lying Caribbean islands are most vulnerable to extreme weather events, sea-level increases, and coastal erosion, though countries like Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, and Mexico are also exposed. In addition, the publication evaluates climate change’s effects on infrastructure and economic activity in coastal areas.

Guatemala’s Energy Needs at Core of Social Conflict

An article on the Americas Quarterly blog looks at the Guatemalan government’s state of siege in the town of Santa Cruz Barillas near the Mexican border, where locals protested the construction of a dam. Though the dam would produce 10 percent of Guatemala’s electricity needs, residents remain opposed to the project and say they were not consulted on its construction. “[A]ctions such as the recent governmental siege are not a long-term solution for balancing local needs with development priorities,” writes Guatemala-based Nic Wirtz.

Central America Sees Exports Increase in 2011

A report from the Secretariat for Central American Economic Integration released on Tuesday said that Central American countries exported $52 billion worth of goods in 2011—a 22 percent increase over the year before. Panama led in the region with exports up by 33 percent, while Costa Rica trailed with just 10 percent. Coffee, integrated circuits, and bananas made up the majority of exports.

Poll Shows Mexicans Support Continuing Drug War

Mexico’s Strategic Communications Cabinet found that 78 percent of Mexicans believe the next administration should maintain or increase the war on organized crime introduced by President Felipe Calderón in 2006. The poll also showed that divisions about whether or not a ceasefire would lead to a reduction in violence—45 percent believe it would, while 48 percent say it would not. 

How Would Mexico Fare under the PRI?

The Economist features an online debate this week about whether Mexico would be better off with a president from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Luis Videgaray Caso, general coordinator of PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidential campaign, explained arguments in favor, while Roberto Gil Zuarth, organizer of the National Action Party’s Josefina Vázquez Mota’s campaign, offered arguments against. Readers can weigh in on whether they agree with the arguments, and the moderator will announce a winner on Friday.

Merida Initiative Funding Approved as Mexico Military Corruption Case Breaks

On May 24, a U.S. Appropriations Subcommittee in the Senate approved the State Department’s 2013 operating budget including funding for the Merida Initiative. The 2007 security agreement provides U.S. training, equipment, and intelligence to Mexico’s military and police. The Senate approved $244 million for the Initiative, though that amount must also be approved by the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, the arrest of four former military officials in Mexico accused of drug-trafficking ties has raised U.S. law enforcement concerns about the Mexican military, The New York Times reports.

What Will It Take to Win the Latino Vote?

The New York Times’ “Room for Debate” consults a series of experts to assess how each U.S. presidential candidate will fare in attracting the Hispanic electorate, which analysts agree will be key in the 2012 presidential election. All agreed building voter enthusiasm will be the most important determinant.

New Series Reflects on Latino Identity in the U.S.

The Pew Hispanic Center invited Latino journalists, scholars, and civic leaders to discuss their identities as a follow-up to the organization’s April study on Hispanic identity in the United States. The series begins with The Washington Post’s columnist Esther Cepeda—who prefers the term “Hispanic” over “Latino”—discussing her upbringing as the child of Ecuadorian and Mexican immigrants in Chicago. A new profile will be published each day over the next two weeks on the site’s identity portal.

Quebec’s Student Protesters Enter Negotiations with Government

Student leaders in Quebec met with government officials on Monday in hopes of bringing an end to the protests that began in February. Students object to a tuition hike proposed by the government that would increase fees by $325 a year over five years, as well as a law passed by the province’s government that restricts the right to assembly. “It’s not clear whether a resolution to the conflict over tuition increases would put an end to the ongoing unrest,” reports The Montreal Gazette.

Canada’s Philanthropic Billionaire

The Globe and Mail profiles Jeffrey Skoll, a former president of eBay, Canada’s eighth-richest citizen, and leader in the field of “impact investing.” Skoll seeks to use his fortune to fund projects with a social impact, and supports projects as diverse as promoting economic independence among Canada’s aboriginal people to addressing issues like climate change and water scarcity. “There’s really only so much that you need… All else is to be turned, hopefully smartly, into a benefit for the world,” he said.

Clowns Demand Recognition in Peru

Hundreds of clowns took to the streets of Lima last week to demand the government recognize them as artists so that they become eligible for government healthcare and pensions. They also asked that each May 25 be recognized as the Day of the Peruvian Clown, and that the word “clown” not be used as an insult. “We are professionals and our art deserves to be respected,” said one demonstrator. (H/T Pulsamerica)

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