Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

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OAS General Assembly Weighs Defense, Human Rights

The Organization of American States (OAS) 42nd General Assembly took place in Cochabamba, Bolivia, from June 2 to 5. Delegates from throughout the hemisphere met to discuss food security as well as reforming the OAS human rights system. Countries from the Bolivarian Alliance bloc argued that the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHRC)—an autonomous body that oversees human rights in the hemisphere—should have more limited powers, and should also include the United States in its jurisdiction. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson defended the IAHRC, saying: “Our discussions have sometimes seemed as if we are seeking to weaken the fabric that binds us together in the inter-American system, rather than focusing on how the countries of the Americas can work together.”

At the end of the summit, foreign ministers from Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela announced their countries would withdraw from the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, a regional defense accord. The Assembly also passed a resolution urging Argentina and the United Kingdom to find a “peaceful way” to resolve the dispute over the Falklands Islands.

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis on the debate to reform the OAS human rights system.

Indigenous Groups Ask OAS for Help with TIPNIS

Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General José Miguel Insulza met with leaders from indigenous groups opposed to the plans for a road traversing Bolivia’s Isiboro Securé National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) on June 3. The leaders explained to Insulza that they are not against the project wholesale, but would prefer it bypass the park. Insulza criticized the violence the protesters faced when demonstrating last year, and promised to address their concerns with Bolivian President Evo Morales. Morales suspended development of the TIPNIS highway in October last year. But in February, his government proposed a new law with the backing of pro-road supporters that calls for prior consultation with indigenous groups on construction of the road. This move, in turn, sparked new protests as TIPNIS residents rejected the terms and conditions of the prior consultation law.

An AS/COA Online News Analysis explains the origins of the TIPNIS dispute.

Pacific Alliance Formalized in Chile

The leaders of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru convened in Antofagasta, Chile, this week to mark the official formation of the Pacific Alliance. The new grouping, founded in April 2011, seeks to promote regional integration through a coordination of commercial policies that it hopes will make the members better positioned to trade with Asia. Speaking at the opening ceremony this week, Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno highlighted that the Pacific Alliance countries “represent 55 percent of Latin America’s exports, are the region’s most open economies, and those which are growing fastest. There’s a tremendous benefit for us in working together.”

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the how the Pacific Alliance was conceived. 

Dam Project Suspended in Chilean Patagonia

On May 31, utility companies involved in a southern Chilean dam complex opted to suspend work amid continued protests sparked by environmental concerns. The $3.2 billion, five-dam complex, now on hold indefinitely, would flood 12,500 acres in the biologically diverse Aysen region. The Chilean government contends such projects are necessary to lessen Chile’s dependence on imported energy; the dam complex would add 2,750 megawatts of power to the national power grid, reports The Los Angeles Times.

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis covering Chile’s efforts to move towards energy independence.

King of Spain Visits Brazil and Chile

Spain’s King Juan Carlos visited Brazil and Chile this week, accompanied by 20 Spanish businessmen and trade representatives, in a mission to promote investment and business ties with the two countries. The king met with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia on Monday, with whom he discussed education and migration. The Spanish delegation continued on to Chile on Tuesday, where they met with the presidents of the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru).

LatAm’s Largest Garbage Dump Closes

Latin America’s largest garbage dump, Rio de Janeiro’s Jardim Gramacho, closed on June 3 as that city prepares to host the UN Conference on Sustainable Development—dubbed “Rio+20”—at the end of the month. The dump opened in 1978 and handled about 9,000 tons of garbage a day, causing degradation of the local environment and pollution of Rio’s Guanabara Bay. “Rio de Janeiro will not tolerate any more violence against the environment, like this environmental crime that the city has committed for so long,” said Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes at the dump’s closing. 

Brazil Creates New National Parks, Indigenous Territories

In honor of World Environment Day on June 5, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff signed the National Policy on Environmental and Territorial Management in Indigenous Lands, which creates seven indigenous territories in the Brazilian Amazon. The president also signed legislation creating two new biological reserves: the 34,000 hectare Bom Jesus Biological Reserve in Parana and the 8,500 hectare Furna Feia National Park in Rio Grande do Norte. 

Ahmadinejad to Travel to Brazil for Rio+20

Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota confirmed that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will attend the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, to be held in Rio de Janeiro later this month. Though Ahmadinejad will attend, not all UN-member delegations will be represented by their heads of state. Notable exclusions include U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister David Cameron. 

Argentina and Brazil Raise Non-Mercosur Tariffs

Last week the governments of Brazil and Argentina agreed to raise tariffs on non-Mercosur imports to the maximum possible levels permitted under the World Trade Organization regulations. The two must wait for their other Mercosur associates—Paraguay and Uruguay—to do the same. The Brazilian government defended the measure as protecting the country’s industry from foreign imports, calling it “commercial defense.” 

Assessing Press Freedom in Latin America

Freedom House recently released its Freedom of the Press 2012 report, showing a deteriorating situation in Latin America. A post on the organization’s Freedom At Issue blog explains that Latin America is the only region in the world to show an overall decline in press freedom over the past decade. Much of this decline owes to violence against the press from non-state actors and government hostility to media criticism, writes Karin Deutsch Karlekar. 

Latin America’s “Tame” Response to the Syrian Massacre

Last week, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) held an emergency meeting on the Syrian government’s role in the Houla massacre. The group eventually passed a resolution condemning Syria, but without the support of the UNHRC’s two Latin American members: Ecuador, which abstained, and Cuba, which voted against. In a column for The Miami Herald, Andrés Oppenheimer calls Latin America’s general response to the Syrian crisis “shockingly tame for a region that has suffered gross human rights violations in the past.”

Self-Employed Advertise for First Time in Cuba

More than 500 self-employed Cubans were listed for the first time in the latest edition of Cuba’s Yellow Pages, released on May 31. The self-employed, or cuentapropistas as they are known locally, were given the option to have their phone number listed in the book for $10, or pay a variable rate for a personalized advertisement. El Nuevo Herald offers a photo gallery of some of the advertisements.

Cuba’s New Oil Partners

With Spanish oil company Repsol’s decision last week to abandon Cuba after drilling there turned up dry, Malaysia’s Petronas and Venezuela’s PDVSA will now try their luck. AFP reports that the Scarabeo-9 platform used by Repsol—the only drilling platform permitted to drill in Cuban waters due to the U.S. trade embargo—passed to Petronas, and once drilling is complete, will next pass to PDVSA. 

Venezuela Opens Presidential Candidate Registration

Registration to run as a candidate in Venezuela’s October presidential election opened on June 1, and will remain open through June 11. Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski invited Venezuela’s youth to accompany him to his registration on June 10,  while representatives from President Hugo Chávez’s campaign assured the president would register “in person, accompanied by the people,” though did not specify a date. The Venezuelan election takes place October 7, 2012.

Chávez’s Uncertain Future Good for Venezuelan Markets?

The Wall Street Journal looks at recent investor interest in Venezuela driven by uncertainty over Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s future, given his ongoing illness and competition in the October election. Venezuela’s stock index is the best performing in the world, having doubled so far this year, even while other regional stock markets such as Brazil’s and Argentina’s declined. “The market views a change in government very favorably,” said one investor.

Venezuela Bans Private Gun Ownership

A new law in Venezuela introduced this week bans the commercial sale of arms in that country, except to members of the army, police, and security companies. The BBC reports that security is expected to be a major issue in this year’s presidential campaign, and the government hopes the new law will decrease Venezuela’s crime and murder rates—currently among of the highest in the world.

Colombian Drug Kingpin Arrested in Venezuela

Venezuelan authorities announced the capture of Diego Pérez, known as Diego Rastrojo, founder and head of Colombia’s largest drug gang Los Rastrojos. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos thanked Venezuelan forces for their cooperation and said Pérez would be passed to Colombian custody shortly. Pérez’s arrest comes one month after another Rastrojos leader was captured by U.S. authorities in Aruba. 

Debating LatAm’s Drug Policy

The New York Times hosted an online debate on whether or not Latin America should end the war on drugs. The experts’ opinions vary, with Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina arguing in favor of decriminalization, while others warn against that policy, and some offer legalization and regulation as a compromise. 

Scandal Highlights Nicaraguan Corruption

Nicaragua Dispatch offers a three-part report on Nicaragua’s anti-corruption efforts after Supreme Electoral Council official Julio Céser Osuna was found to be cooperating with international organized crime groups. “The case against Osuna—the first serious indication of narco-infiltration in the upper echelons of Nicaragua’s central government—has sent shockwaves through a country that prides itself on its image as the safest in Central America,” writes the blog’s Tim Rogers. 

Mexico’s Samurai Bond Issue Draws Attention

Mexico successfully issued $1 billion of yen-denominated “samurai bonds” in Japan last week. “More than paving the way for other Latin American debt sales in Japan, this may be the beginning of something more for Mexico,” one investment strategist told the Financial Times’ beyondbrics blog. Diverging Markets blog compares Mexico’s samurai bond issue to others undertaken by Poland and South Korea over the past month. “Given the state of all things European, uneven home bias among U.S. investors and a still-developing Panda/Dim Sum bond market in China, there aren’t too many other corners of the world to turn to, so yes, this is a pretty big deal.”

Ex-Mexican Prez Vicente Fox Backs Rival Party Candidate

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox caused controversy in his National Action Party (PAN) this week when he appeared to endorse rival Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto. Fox told the press the country should “close ranks behind who is going to win”—an allusion to Peña Nieto, who leads in most polls. On Twitter, PAN Party President Gustavo Madero criticized Fox’s statements, especially given Fox’s role in winning the Mexican presidency for the PAN after more than 70 years of PRI rule. The Economist’s Americas View blog covers the PAN’s lukewarm treatment of PAN candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota. “Whatever the reason for the cold-shouldering, it is partly to blame for Ms Vázquez’s recent slip into third place in the polls,” says the blog post. “Unless the PAN gets behind her soon, she may find it hard to get out of that position.” 

Mexican Legislators Give Themselves a Raise

The Mexican Chamber of Deputies voted to distribute $16 million worth of raises amongst themselves last week. The money will be distributed in two parts, one in equal amounts to all the deputies, and the other based on the relative majority of the major parties.

Smithsonian to Honor Celia Cruz

The Smithsonian will honor Cuban-born singer Celia Cruz as part of its “Frame an Iconic American Contest.” Cruz beat out a number of other U.S. historic figures in an online poll, and the museum now seeks public input for the biographical portrait to be created by Robert Weingarten. Submissions will be accepted through June 10.

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