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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Clock Ticks Down on Rio+20

The UN Conference on Sustainable Development—known as Rio+20—adopted an official text in negotiations this week, which will be debated on June 20 to 22. The 80-page document, titled “The Future We Want,” outlines the conference’s goals of sustainable development, corporate sustainability, and the importance of the private sector and free trade in achieving these goals. The summit was expected to draw 50,000 participants and the heads of state of more than 100 countries to Rio de Janeiro. However, “there are few expectations for concrete actions or pledges of new aid to developing countries,” reports the The New York Times. A piece in Mexican news site Animal Político also questions the conference’s sustainability, pointing to the huge carbon emissions involved in traveling to and hosting the conference. 

G20 Wraps up in Mexico

Discussions about the ongoing eurozone crisis dominated the two-day G20 summit held in Mexico this week. Members agreed to focus on improving Europe’s economic stability in the wake of continuing turbulence in Greece and Spain, and to avoid protectionist measures until 2014. The summit also succeeded in increasing funding contributions from emerging economies to international lending institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in exchange for promised reforms, including greater voting power for developing countries. China offered $43 billion to the IMF, while Brazil, India, Russia, and host country Mexico each agreed to contribute $10 billion. The United States used the opportunity to invite the G20 host country as well as Canada into negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed nine-country free-trade area in the Asia-Pacific. 

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about the importance of the G20 being held in Mexico.

Learn more about the TPP in an AS/COA Online Explainer.

World Leaders to Tour Region after G20 and Rio+20

A number of world leaders will take Latin American tours after participating in the G20 in Mexico and the Rio+20 in Brazil. Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao will undertake a tour of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will travel to Chile for three days after the two summits, and will also become the first South Korean president to visit Colombia, where he will spend two days. Portugal’s Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho is also visiting the region this week, making his first stop in Peru on Monday before continuing on to the Rio+20 in Brazil. He will spend this weekend in Colombia before returning home. 

Ahmadinejad’s Latin American Tour

In his second trip to the region this year, Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad travels to Brazil this week to participate in the Rio+20 conference, as well as visiting Bolivia and Venezuela. He arrived in La Paz on June 19 to meet with President Evo Morales to sign a number of mining and security agreements before heading to Rio de Janeiro for the UN summit. Ahmadinejad will travel to Caracas later in the week to meet with President Hugo Chávez, and is expected to discuss bilateral housing and defense initiatives—including the joint construction of drone aircraft.

Read an AS/COA Online Explainer on military spending in Latin America. 

Three of LatAm’s Largest Cities Cooperate to Go Green

In a Rio+20 sideline conference—called C40 Cities—for mayors of the world’s largest urban centers, representatives from Buenos Aires, Mexico City, and São Paulo signed an agreement to cooperate in “green” projects. The cities agreed to technology sharing, training exchanges, and collaboration to obtain credit for clean energy projects and sustainable transportation. “This agreement will accelerate our commitment to going green and will represent a breakthrough in improving the quality of life in our cities,” said Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri. 

Obama’s New Immigration Policy

In a broad policy change, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will halt deportations of some undocumented youth and allow eligible young immigrants to apply for work permits. U.S. President Barack Obama announced the new policy—which is similar to the proposed DREAM Act voted down in the Senate in 2010—on June 15. Undocumented immigrants are eligible if they are younger than 30, came to the United States before age 16, lived in the country for a minimum of five years, and have no criminal records. They must also either be in school or be high school graduates or military veterans. Up to 1.4 million immigrants could benefit, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. While the move drew support from the Latino electorate, a Bloomberg poll showed that 64 percent of overall voters support the new policy

The U.S. Undocumented Immigrant Experience

This week’s TIME magazine highlights the undocumented immigrant experience in the United States. With a cover story by José Antonio Vargas—who made waves last year with a New York Times piece about his undocumented status—the issue focuses on the immigration debate in the United States and includes profiles of some of the country’s 11.5 million undocumented immigrants. 

The Challenge of Improving U.S.-LatAm Relations

Mexico’s El Universal interviewed U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Mike Hammer on the changing nature of U.S.-Latin American relations. Hammer praised Latin America’s democratic and economic growth, and addressed diverse issues such as China’s diplomatic and economic outreach in the region, the growth of regional blocs, and the hope for future cooperation between the United States and Latin America. “We want to continue our good relations with all the countries of the hemisphere and create an environment in which we can cooperate in the challenges facing our peoples,” he told the paper. 

Read a piece by AS/COA’s Chris Sabatini and Ryan Berger for CNN’s Global Public Square on suggestions for U.S. policy towards Latin America, as well as a response piece by the State Department’s William McIlhenny.

New Bridge to Connect Gridlocked Route on U.S.-Canada Border

A new bridge will be constructed along one of the busiest routes between Canada and the United States, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced on June 15. The $1 billion infrastructure project will connect Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit, Michigan, making it the second bridge between the two cities. Though the Canadian government will finance the bridge, it will collect tolls on the U.S. side of the border to recoup its expenses. “This is the most important piece of national and international infrastructure that this government will complete while I am prime minister,” Harper said.

Mexican Frontrunner Picks Colombian Police Chief as Security Advisor

Mexico’s presidential frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto said he will appoint former chief of the Colombian National Police Óscar Naranjo as an external advisor on security issues. Peña Nieto praised Naranjo’s achievements in the fight against international organized crime in Colombia, helping to reclaim that country from drug traffickers and guerrilla groups. The Los Angeles Times’s WorldNow blog says the appointment of Naranjo sends “a signal to observers in Mexico and the United States that Peña Nieto would make the pursuit of drug trafficking a high priority.” 

Get coverage, links, polls, social media information, and more from an AS/COA Online guide to the Mexican elections

Assessing Mexico’s Economic and Education Challenges

McClatchy released a special report on Mexico this week titled “Mexico: Future at Risk” and featuring articles on the country’s economic and education challenges, with an eye towards its July 1 presidential election. “Powerful vested interests enslave Mexicans in a cycle of poverty, and the country’s subpar schools further shackle its future,” says the report.

Watch a video of an interview with the makers of  ¡De Panzazo!, a documentary about Mexico’s education system which premiered at the Americas Society on June 4.

Mexico’s Traffic Accidents: Outpacing Drug-Related Homicides?

The National Accident Prevention Council in Mexico reported more traffic-related deaths than organized crime-related homicides in 2011. Over 14,000 deaths were attributed to traffic accidents last year, compared to an estimated 12,900 deaths related to drug trafficking from January to September 2011. However, preventing car accidents isn’t seen as a priority, Luis Chías Becerril, a Mexican researcher told El País. “People consider traffic accidents to be random and therefore unavoidable,” he said.

Controversial Resort Project Nixed in Mexico

Mexican President Felipe Calderón canceled the permits for a $2 billion resort in Baja California proposed by Spanish company Hansa Urbana amid fears that it would upset the local ecosystem, including the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park. “Because of its size, we have to be absolutely certain that [the project] wouldn’t cause irreversible [environmental] damage, and that absolute certainty simply hasn’t been proved,” Calderón told reporters. However, the environmental news blog Grist points out that Hansa Urbana could resubmit the permits under a new government. 

Central America to Consider Regional Court for Organized Crime

The Central American Parliament, or Parlacen, is forging ahead with plans to create a regional court dedicated to organized crime cases. After discussing the idea at meetings of the Central American Integration System (SICA) this year, the court is beginning to take shape. During a SICA meeting on June 29, Parlacen officials will present an official proposal to create the court, intended to combat impunity in the region.

Following Protests, Martinelli Drops Polemical Bills

Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli halted two controversial measures following violent protests on the streets and scuffles with opposition lawmakers. The bills, one directing the sale of government assets in two major utilities and the other appointing three presidential allies to the Supreme Court, were opposed due to concerns they would leave the country with unmanageable debt and hand the judiciary to the executive. The bills will now be discussed by Panama’s National Consultation arbitration authority.

U.S. Confirms Ambassador for El Salvador

After months of delays, the U.S. Senate confirmed Mari Carmen Aponte as U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador on June 14. Aponte’s appointment was held up due to rumors that an ex-boyfriend was a Cuban spy, and discomfort over an opinion piece she wrote in favor of LGBT rights. 

Costa Rica’s March of the Invisibles

Thousands participated in Costa Rica’s “March of the Invisibles” on June 16, organized through social networks after the Legislative Assembly rejected civil rights legislation for gay citizens. Participants called for equal rights for LGBTs, the establishment of a secular state, rights for immigrants, and the legalization of in-vitro fertilization in the country. Costa Rica is the only country in the hemisphere that has an official state religion and bans in-vitro fertilization.

Read an AS/COA Online Explainer about LGBT rights in Latin America.

Legislators Approve Colombian Peace Talks

On June 14, Colombia’s Congress approved the Legal Framework for Peace, a bill that establishes a system for peace talks with guerrilla groups including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army. Though the bill will not apply to paramilitaries, drug traffickers, or those who committed crimes against humanity, it will permit Congress to grant amnesty to rebel group leaders. As a result, some oppose the bill, saying it is “too lenient” and doesn’t protect victims’ rights. The bill was converted into a constitutional amendment on June 19.

Colombian Tourism Increase Could Wipe out Decade of Decline

Tourism is expanding in Colombia after a decade of declines, said Colombia’s Minister of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism Sergio Díaz-Granados. Dinero reports that the minister says a number of infrastructure projects such as airport expansions are in the works. Nearly 3.3 million tourists visited Colombia last year, with increases from Mexico, Spain, the United States, and Venezuela.

Wikileaks’ Assange Seeks Asylum in Ecuador

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks who is wanted in Sweden on charges of rape, sought asylum at the Ecuadoran embassy in London on June 19. Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño confirmed that the embassy was processing his asylum request, and that Assange would remain under the embassy’s protection. Financial Times’ beyondbrics blog questioned the decision, given Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa’s relationship with the press. “Of all the countries a freedom-of-information-campaigner might run to for asylum, Ecuador is a strange choice,” writes Naomi Mapstone. 

Dilma Creates Bullet Train Company, Announces New Infrastructure Loans

On June 15, President Dilma Rousseff announced the creation of the High Speed Railway Transport Company, or Etav, which will administer the proposed $16 billion bullet train between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. The company will start with $24.5 million in capital, the decree said. Brazil’s transportation agency will hold a first auction for the project in October. The same day, the Brazilian government said it would lend nearly $10 billion in subsidized loans to state governments for infrastructure investments

Latin America: World’s Most Active Social Network Users

Vanguardia reports that Latin America is the world’s largest visitor of social networks, with users spending an average of 7.5 hours a month on such sites. comScore, the company that developed the data, reports that users dedicate one-quarter of all time spent online to Facebook alone. “This is a very interesting market to watch at this moment,” said comSCORE Latin America Senior Vice President Alejandro Fosk about the potential growth of social networks in the region.

Latinos in Space: Questions for Joe Acaba

Currently on a five-month mission at the International Space Station, Latino astronaut Joe Acaba will accept readers’ questions from space about his life in orbit. Readers can submit their questions via Twitter to @UnivisionNews by including the hashtag #AstroAcaba by June 22.

Tags: G20 Mexico, Immigration Reform, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Obama Immigration, Rio +20
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