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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Mujica to Face “Pink” Alliance

During the first round of Uruguay’s presidential elections on Sunday, the Broad Front coalition’s José Mujica lost the majority needed to avoid a November runoff against the National Party’s Luis Alberto Lacalle. Mujica won a large majority at the polls, pulling in 48 percent—20 points above Lacalle. However, Mujica signaled concern about the “Pink” alliance made up of the National and Colorado Parties. While the Broad Front maintains a majority in Congress, it could lose its majority control in the lower house.

Read a new Americas Quarterly web exclusive on the Uruguayan elections by Adolfo Garcé of the Institute of Political Science at the University of the Republic in Montevideo.

Colombia, Venezuela Exchange Barbs over Espionage Accusations

Caracas announced the arrest this week of two officers from the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), Colombia’s intelligence agency. Bogota denied the allegations. Colombia’s ambassador in Venezuela, María Luisa Chiappe countered that Colombia is more concerned with identifying those responsible for the recent abduction and murder of ten amateur Colombian soccer players in a Venezuelan border town.

Tensions between Colombia and Venezuela have been heightened over a bilateral U.S.-Colombian agreement to give Washington access to seven of its military bases. Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva announced that the deal could be signed as early as Friday this week. He added that the deal was not a recent development, but an extension of US-Colombian cooperation against drug trafficking.

Read an AS/COA analysis of the military deal.

Commission Says Ecuador Involved in Attack on FARC Camp

Ecuador collaborated with the Colombian army in the 2008 FARC camp bombing that led to the deterioration of Colombia-Ecuador diplomatic relations, according to the Ecuadorian commission investigating the matter. “[T]here was Ecuadorian collaboration. I can’t say any more as it would be damaging to the report but there was at least some form of treason,” said Francisco Huerta, who leads the commission. The official report, which will name Ecuadorians involved in the bombing, will be released November 10.

Venezuela, Syria Enter into New Economic Agreements

Representatives from the Venezuelan and Syrian governments signed six trade and economic agreements in Caracas early this week. Among the deals finalized during the meeting was a joint plan by Iran and Venezuela to build an oil refinery in Syria.

Read congressional testimony delivered yesterday by COA’s Eric Farnsworth on “Iran in the Western Hemisphere.”

U.S. Envoy Sent to Honduras to Push for Crisis Resolution

The U.S. State Department’s chief Latin American diplomat, Thomas Shannon, travels to Honduras this week in an attempt to resolve the political crisis plaguing the country since the June 28 ouster of President Manuel Zelaya. Shannon and his delegation are pushing for an agreement between Zelaya and Roberto Micheletti’s interim government in advance of the November 29 presidential elections.

A new survey conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner finds that 60 percent of the Honduran population opposes Zelaya’s overthrow. A slight majority believes elections would be legitimate if held under Micheletti’s government.

Read an AS/COA analysis about the slow progress of Honduran negotiations.

National Party in Poll Lead for Honduran Presidential Race

With a month left until the presidential elections, a CID-Gallup poll shows the National Party’s Porfirio Lobo Sosa in the lead to win on November 29. Lobo has a 16-point lead over his main opponent, the Liberal Party’s Elvin Santos.

Council of the Americas will host a November 19 program about Honduras’ political situation ahead of the presidential election.

Micheletti’s Nephew Found Murdered

Honduran authorities are investigating whether the murder of Enzo Micheletti, the nephew of Roberto Micheletti, over the weekend is linked to the coup that placed his uncle in power in late June.

China Helps Pull Latin America out of Global Recession

According to a report in The Christian Science Monitor, Brazil and other South American countries are recovering from the global economic crisis due to increased trade with China. Meanwhile Mexico and Central America are lagging behind as a result of dwindling U.S. demand. “China is going to be an engine for recovery of Latin America,” said COA’s Eric Farnsworth.

Investing in Brazil Cheaper than China

Fortune reports that investing in Brazil may be a cheaper bet than China. Brazil came out of the global financial crisis fairly unscathed and earned an investment-grade rating from Moody’s in September, but Brazilian stocks are still priced cheaper than other emerging market countries. They are trading at 12.9 times next year’s estimated earnings, compared to 19.1 for Chinese stocks and 18.4 for Indian equities, making Brazil all the more attractive to investors.

Comparing Obama to Brazil

In a recent interview with Spiegel, columnist Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post called into question U.S. President Barack Obama’s potential by likening him to Brazil. “There used to be a cruel joke that said Brazil is the country of the future, and always will be; Obama is the Brazil of today’s politicians. He has obviously achieved nothing,” said Krauthammer in the interview. Foreign Policy’s Passport blogger rebutted the argument. Citing Brazil’s economic growth and strong fiscal position, Joshua Keating writes: “I’d say calling someone the “Brazil of politicians” should be a complement.”

Latin American-Thai Economic Alliance Sought

Thailand’s trade office sent a delegation for a 10-day trip to Latin America starting this week. The goal is to bolster trade and investment with Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. Thai exports to Brazil last year totaled $1.23 billion with imports at $2.1 billion, exports to Chile valued $328 million with imports at $211 million and exports to Argentina were worth $380 million with imports at $591 million.

House Democrats Urge Oval Office Action on Immigration

The question of immigration reform continues to dog Washington. More than 100 House Democrats have signed a letter to President Obama to remind him of his pledge to overhaul immigration legislation and encourage the administration to make reform a more urgent priority, reports New America Media. Because of the November 2010 elections, “the further we go into next year … the more difficult I think it will be to address this issue,” said Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-NY), acknowledging that risk-averse incumbents avoid controversial issues like immigration in election season.

Efforts Fall Short to Bring Ecuadorians Home

IPS News reports that Ecuador faces difficulties when it comes to luring citizens home from abroad, despite the “Welcome Home” plan intended to offer incentives for their return. The government offers grants to immigrants who open businesses and import tax exemptions for furniture, professional equipment and vehicles. It is uncertain how many have opted into the program, but only 384 families from the United States returned to Ecuador between January and August 2009.

Correa Wants EU Cash to Preserve Rainforest

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa travels to London this week, where he plans to ask Europe for $3 billion to forego a lucrative oil-drilling project in the Amazon rainforest that could harm indigenous groups and disrupt a habitat the United Nations declared a biosphere reserve.

Piñera Promises Efficiency in Chile’s Government

Financial Times
profiles Sebastián Piñera, the center-right presidential candidate who has a comfortable lead in the run-up to Chile’s elections in December. The article reports that Piñera plans to bring business-like efficiency to government programs leftover from 19 years of the Concertación rule. One of Chile’s richest men, Piñera says government has a vital role to play in the Chilean economy, and that he envisions a state “that strengthens its muscles, but doesn’t accumulate fat.”

Fractures Split El Salvador’s Conservative Party

ARENA, the conservative party that ruled El Salvador for 20 years before its electoral defeat earlier this year, seems to be fracturing; 12 of the party’s 32 legislators declared themselves independent of the party last week. After the party denied the bloc representation, the senators claimed they no longer had compatible legislative ideologies.

Term-Limit Extensions Undermine Democracy

A editorial in The Los Angeles Times says constitutional reforms to extend term limits undermine Latin America’s nascent democracies. Countries may determine for themselves the appropriate length of presidential stays, the editorial states, going on to say:
“But while we don’t believe in one-size-fits-all democracy, we don’t believe in alternating governments. The longer a single party stays in power, the more likely it is to take control of the courts, electoral institutions and the national purse strings, making it harder for opposition parties to compete.”

Obama Indicates Time for Change in Cuba-U.S. Relations

During a meeting at the White House, U.S. President Barack Obama told his Spanish counterpart José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero that now is the time for changes in U.S.-Cuba relations. Ahead of Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos’s visit to Cuba last week, Obama asked Spain to tell Cuban President Raul Castro that the U.S. is taking steps to improve relations, but it will be difficult to move forward if Cuba does not do the same

This week, for the nineteenth year in a row, the U.N. General Assembly once again condemned the ongoing U.S. trade embargo on Cuba.

Signs of a U.S.-Bolivian Rapprochement

Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca met with the U.S. State Department’s Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero in Washington on October 27 to improve relations. The two countries did not reestablish diplomatic relations, which were broken off in September 2008. However, Choquehuanca said they are “close” to normalizing ties.

Link between Argentine Government Dollars and Corruption Coverage

Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab reports on a study that found that a strong correlation between the willingness of Argentina’s four largest newspapers to cover scandals in government and the amount of money the government gives them. The analysis revealed that when government ad revenue increased, corruption coverage decreased. Harvard’s Rafael Di Tella attributed the problem to the lack of guidelines for government spending on newspaper advertising dollars.

Read a recent AS/COA hemispheric update on new media polices in the Americas.

Army Officers, Dictator Sentenced for Dirty War Crimes

Over the past week, Argentine and Uruguayan courts sentenced former military officers for crimes committed under the dictatorships that swept over Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s. In Argentina, Jorge Olivera Rovere and José Menendez received life sentences for involvement in murders, abductions, and disappearances during the “Dirty War,” and Uruguay gave former military ruler Gregorio Alvarez 25 years in prison for his role in 37 homicides.

Calle 13 Dashes Chávez’s Singing Dreams

On this week’s Aló Presidente, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez let listeners know he’s practicing his reggaeton singing style to join Calle 13 when the band performs this weekend in Caracas. He may just have to sing along like the rest of the audience, though. According to Calle 13’s Twitter feed, Chávez will not be performing because the band members do not allow presidents to perform with them.

Tags: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Immigration, Uruguay, Venezuela
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