Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

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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.

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UNASUR Pledges $300 Million in Aid for Haiti

The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) held a Tuesday summit in Quito, where delegations from twelve countries and Haitian President René Préval met to discuss how South America would support Haiti relief efforts. At the meeting, UNASUR leaders committed to $300 million in aid, including $100 million for recovery with remaining funds going to a long-term, low-interest loan through the Inter-American Development Bank. The Hemispheric Brief blog offers an overview of the summit as well Haiti’s governance struggles.

Signs of Colombia-Ecuador Rapprochement at UNASUR Summit

UNASUR’s Haiti summit in Quito gave Colombia and Ecuador another change to reheat relations chilled since 2007, when a Colombian border incursion involving an attack on a guerilla camp led to a diplomatic breakdown. Colombian President Álvaro Uribe attended the summit, where his Ecuadorian counterpart Rafael Correa spoke optimistically about restoring relations. The two leaders will get the chance to meet again in less than two weeks at a Rio Group summit in Cancun. Moreover, Correa indicated interest in rejoining Peru and Colombia in talks about an Andean free-trade deal with the European Union.

First Female President Elected in Costa Rica

On February 7, the National Liberation Party’s Laura Chinchilla made history as she was elected Costa Rica’s first female president. Chinchilla, President Óscar Arias’ chosen successor, pulled in nearly 47 percent of the vote, almost twice the number of her main opponent Ottón Solís, of the Citizen Action Party.

Read an AS/COA analysis of the Costa Rican presidential elections.

Piñera Picks Independents as He Unveils Cabinet

Chile’s President-elect Sebastián Piñera opted for a cabinet made up of independents as he announced his ministers Tuesday. The wealthy businessman-turned-politician, who takes office next month, chose just four ministers from his party and one from the opposition. Felipe Larraín will serve as finance minister while Alfredo Moreno was chosen as foreign minister. La Tercera offers an interactive with profiles of the 22 new ministers.

Read an AS/COA analysis of the Chilean election.

How Washington Can Move LatAm Policy past Crisis-Response Mode

In a new Americas Quarterly blog post, AS/COA’s Christopher Sabatini writes that the political crisis in Honduras and the earthquake in Haiti have led the United States to program its hemispheric policy around crisis response. “But there is hope. For all its heart-wrenching tragedy, Haiti is an opportunity to forge a broader hemispheric coalition and agenda in a way we failed in Honduras,” argues Sabatini. “Creating this historical partnership requires establishing a broad regional framework for monetary pledges, coordination, modalities, and goals of a comprehensive, long-term relief plan for Haiti that builds off Brazil and Chile’s long-standing commitment and the U.S.’s deep pockets and military and humanitarian presence.”

Canada, U.S. Reach Initial Deal on “Buy American”

After months of disagreement over Washington’s inclusion of “Buy America” provisions in the U.S. stimulus package, Canada and the United States reached a preliminary deal that could resolve the dispute. The pact would give U.S. and Canadian companies access to government contracts on both sides of the border, reports The Wall Street Journal.

USTR Indicates Possible Revival of Mexican Trucking Program

During a visit to Mexico this week, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said U.S. Congress could eliminate a March 2009 clause that cancelled funding for a program allowing Mexican trucks to carry cargo through the United States. Mexico reacted to the truck ban by instituting retaliatory tariffs worth $2.4 billion on U.S. exports.

Read an AS/COA analysis of the cross-border truck dispute.

Calderón Talks Drug War, Energy, and U.S. Relations

In an interview with The Washington Post, Mexican President Felipe Calderón talks with Lally Weymouth about the drug war, energy reform, U.S.-Mexican relations, and the effects of the economic crisis. Talking about the opposition’s political gains, the president commented: “[W]hen I started to run for president of Mexico, according to the opinion polls, I was in seventeenth place. I had no chance to win, even inside my own party. Finally, I won. So nothing is written in elections. Not in Mexico, not in any other country.”

Despite Drug War, Mexico Less Deadly than a Decade Ago

Though Mexico has found itself plagued by organized crime, the homicide rate in the country’s capital is less than a third of Washington DC’s, according to figures compiled by the Mexican Citizen’s Institute of Crime Studies. The national homicide rate fell from a high of 17 per 100,000 people in 1997, to 14 per 100,000 in 2009, hitting a low of 10 per 100,000 in 2007. “In terms of security, we are like those women who aren’t overweight but when they look in the mirror, they think they’re fat,” said Luis de la Barreda of the Citizens’ Institute in an interview with the Associated Press. “We are an unsafe country, but we think we are much more unsafe that we really are.”

Electricity Emergency Announced on “Suddenly Chávez”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez decided against attending the UNASUR summit on Haiti this week as the country faces what the leader called an “electricity emergency.” Chávez attributed the emergency to a drought and rising demand linked to economic growth, but critics say the electricity woes have more to do with mismanagement and lack of investment.

Chávez announced the emergency on his new radio show Suddenly Chávez. Unlike his regularly scheduled Aló Presidente, the show could come on the radio at any time. “When you hear the pluck of a harp on the radio, maybe Chávez is coming,” said the loquacious leader during the first airing. “It’s suddenly, at any time, maybe midnight, maybe early morning.”

Guatemalan Women Turn to Arms for Protection

Security conditions in Guatemala have led women to arm themselves in increasing numbers as many seek to protect their families and businesses. Between 2003 and 2008, female homicides in Guatemala rose by 179 percent.

Domestic and International Hurdles for Honduras’ Lobo

World Politics Review offers an analysis on the challenges that the new Honduran government faces in light of the setbacks triggered by last year’s ouster of then-President Manuel Zelaya. Concerns include lack of money as a result of withheld foreign aid following Zelaya’s deportation, safety issues, and education and job creation. “Every day spent working toward a resolution of the irreconcilable differences of the past is a day less spent on improving the plight of ordinary Hondurans’ future,” writes Eliot Brockner.

Hispanic Vote to Play Major Midterm-Election Role

Poder examines the big issues—the Census; the 2010 Senate, House, and gubernatorial elections; and economic recovery—that will make 2010 a promising year for the Hispanic American community. Looking ahead to the midterm elections in November, Cesar Conde writes: “The bottom line is that by the time the dust has settled on the 2010 elections, every political consultant, pollster, party leader, and aspiring politician in America will have been forced to confront the fact that the Hispanic vote is no longer an afterthought—it is the difference between winning and losing.”

Learn more about AS/COA new online resource, the Hispanic Immigration Hub.

2010 Immigration Reform Prospects Divide Followers

New America Media explores what President Barack Obama’s one State-of-the-Union comment about immigration means for reform prospects. Doris Messner, former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, writes: “That a single sentence at a precarious political moment could be seen so differently is a fitting metaphor for assessing the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform in 2010. This latest round has again delivered a glass-half-full, half-empty outlook.

Mobile Tool Helps Border-Crossing Migrants Find Water

In an effort to help Mexican migrants trying to cross the rough terrain of the U.S.-Mexico border, a team led by Ricardo Dominguez at the University of California in San Diego is developing a mobile application known as the Transborder Immigrant Tool, which provides migrants with real-time information on the location of water reserves and sends support messages. “The phone is like a virtual Statue of Liberty,” says Dominguez.

Brazil’s Interest in African Resources Grows

Financial Times’ Richard Lapper examines Brazil’s rising interest in Africa, where it joins BRIC counterparts China and India in “the scramble for Africa’s resources.” The article focuses on Brazilian mining operations in Mozambique but includes a graphic showing Brazil’s fast-growing trade with the continent over the past decade.

Brazil’s PMDB Backs Rising Rousseff

During its national convention over the weekend, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (known by Portuguese acronym PMDB) confirmed its alliance with President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva’s Worker’s Party (PT) and backed PT candidate Dilma Rousseff. São Paulo Governor Jose Serra of the Party of Social Democracy leads polls, but Rousseff, Lula’s chosen successor, has gained by six points since November.

Looking at French-Brazilian Defense Ties

An ISN Security Watch analysis examines why France has emerged as Brazil’s main arms dealer and argues that Brazil’s interest in the Rafale fighter jet could be linked to the South American giant’s interest in reproducing it to sell to Latin American neighbors. “Much of this strategic partnership between France and Brazil is due to the latter’s desire to remain flexible and not solely dependent on US suppliers, plus the former’s eagerness to find additional takers for the products of its expensively maintained military industrial complex,” writes Andrew Rhys Thompson.

Cuban Debate about Privatization in Granma

A GlobalPost feature looks at a recent and somewhat surprising trend in Cuba’s Granma, the country’s main paper and Communist Party mouthpiece. Op-ed columns and letters to the editors have highlighted a debate over low-level privatization measures to boost the island’s flailing economy. “Of course, the debates are bound by certain unspoken parameters, and do not contain calls for free-market capitalism nor any direct political criticism of Cuba’s leaders,” writes Nick Miroff.

Galapagos Sea Lions Migrate to Peru’s Coast

Sea lions from the Galapagos are migrating to Peru in search of warm waters, reports The Christian Science Monitor. About 30 sea lions migrated to northern Peru due to rising temperatures off the coast, according to the Lima-based Organization for Research and Conservation of Aquatic Animals. In addition to climate change, scientists have cited pollution, habitat quality, and noise as factors contributing to marine life migration.

Tags: Costa Rica, Drug war, Haiti, Hispanic, Laura Chinchilla, Mexico Trucking, UNASUR, Venezuela energy
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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
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