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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UN Hosts Donors Conference for Haiti

The United Nations plays host to an international donors conference at its headquarters in New York on March 31. UN Dispatch reports that reconstruction will cost the international community $11.5 billion and that the Oval office has requested $2.8 billion from U.S. Congress to support Haiti’s rebuilding efforts. More than a dozen countries are participating in the summit and are expected to raise $4.8 billion. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the UN’s envoy to Haiti, will co-chair a rebuilding commission along with Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is announcing a $1.15 billion pledge to Haiti to be disbursed over the next two years.

A new report by the International Crisis Group makes a series of recommendations with the goal of assuring Haiti’s political stability, particularly given that legislative elections were postponed in light of the January 12 disaster.

COA Vice President Eric Farnsworth writes in the March 2010 issue of Poder: “There is a significant opportunity in the wake of the earthquake to build Haiti into a modern, economically stable, environmentally sound nation.”

FARC Releases Hostage Held Captive for 12 Years

On March 30, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) released Sergeant Pablo Emilio Moncayo, one of Colombia’s longest-held hostages. Moncayo was captured 12 years ago along with 17 other people from a military communications center. His father drew attention to his son’s case by traveling across Colombia by foot while wearing chains. In addition to its coverage of the hostage release, The Christian Science Monitor features an online photo gallery covering the FARC.

Lula Swears in New Ministers after Election-Related Exodus

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva swore in ten new ministers today, including a replacement for his chosen successor and chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff. Lula replaced ministers who left their posts to run campaigns for positions up for October’s vote. Ministries that experienced a change of command included agriculture, energy, environment, communications, and social development. Central Bank President Henrique Meirelles may also step down this week to join the race for the presidency.

Read a related AS/COA analysis on the role of a newly launched infrastructure investment plan.

Brazil Urges Negotiations but Would Respect Iran Sanctions

Infolatam reports that during a recent television interview, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said his country continues to prefer a negotiated solution to the dispute on Iran’s nuclear program over UN sanctions against Tehran. However, he said that, despite Brazilian economic interests in Iran, Brazil would respect UN sanctions. Brazil, which has been under pressure to support sanctions, is a temporary member of the UN Security Council. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva plans to make an official visit to Iran in May.

Read a related AS/COA analysis about Lula’s announcement of a new infrastructure investment plan.

Bolivia Prepares for Regional Vote

On April 4, Bolivians will vote in municipal and departmental elections, with new governors to be elected in all of Bolivia’s nine departments. In his Pronto blog, Miguel Centellas offers a department-by-department breakdown of how state legislatures will be elected and how reforms such as recognition of departmental autonomy enshrined in the 2009 constitution will affect the vote.

Ecuadorian Journalist Gets Three Years for Insulting Politician

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas reports that an Ecuadorian judge sentenced Emilio Palacio, who serves as the opinion editor for El Universo, to three years in prison for insulting the official who heads up the government’s National Financial Corporation.

Cuban Dissident Continues Hunger Strike, Refuses Spain’s Help

A hunger strike by dissident Guillermo Fariñas, who is protesting the imprisonment of political prisoners, has drawn international attention to Cuba’s human rights situation. Fariñas began his strike a day after the death of another dissident, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, on February 23 after an 86-day hunger strike. Fariñas rejected an offer by the Spanish government to travel to Spain for treatment, and his condition has deteriorated since he collapsed on March 11. Two other dissidents have joined in on the hunger strike. A meeting scheduled for next week between Cuba and the European Union was postponed.

Read an AS/COA analysis on the hunger strike in Cuba.

Chilean Environmentalists Call for Eco-friendly Reconstruction

Tierramérica looks at efforts by Chilean environmentalists to promote ecological and sustainable reconstruction plans in response to damage caused by Chile’s February 27 earthquake. Among the plans up for discussion are proposals to reuse rubble and waste left by the earthquake for new infrastructure and recreational areas, as well as using low-carbon materials for the reconstruction of buildings.

Immigration Reform Could Bridge U.S. Political Divide

The Center for American Progress writes that the divisive issue of immigration reform could be the key to bridging the political divide between Democrats and Republicans. “The political math as well as the economic math adds up in favor of immigration reform,” write Angela Maria Kelley and Gene Martinez. “Immigration offers a chance to help workers in this struggling economy and to stop playing politics with a badly broken system.”

U.S. States Tighten Reins on Immigration Enforcement

Latin America News Dispatch takes a look at new state bills under consideration that would increase immigration enforcement. Among proposals are a Maryland bill allowing state and local police officers to enforce immigration laws and some officers would be required to train with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A Georgia bill that passed through the Georgia Senate provides financial incentives for local governments to turn over undocumented workers. In Arizona, a new bill paves the way for undocumented immigrants to be arrested on trespassing charges.

Hispanics Rank High among Uninsured

Updates to the Pew Hispanic Center’s statistical profiles found that U.S. Hispanics are more likely to live without health insurance than other racial and ethnic groups. The national uninsured rate for Hispanics was 31.7 percent in 2008, compared to 19 percent for blacks and 10.7 percent for whites.

ICE Sets Higher Deportation Quotas

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have established higher quotas to deport illegal immigrants, shifting ICE’s focus from enforcement mainly on immigrants with violent criminal backgrounds. According to a February 22 ICE memo covered by The Washington Post, the agency plans to increase arrests of illegal immigrants with minor violations—such as lying on visa applications—to meet deportation quotas.

U.S. DOJ Releases Annual Drug Threat Report

The U.S. Department of Justice released its annual report on trafficking and abuse on March 25. The report found that a majority of illegal drugs were made increasingly available in the United States in 2009, stemming from Mexican drug cartels boosting production and distribution. But while the presence of drugs such as amphetamines, heroin, and marijuana rose, decreases in cocaine distribution continued. The report concluded that cartels funneled cash flow running into the tens of billions of dollars from certain U.S. cities back to Mexico.

Remittances and Mother’s Schooling Boost Mexican Education

A Migration Information Source feature examines how remittances and mother’s education levels affect educational opportunities in migrant-sending communities in Mexico. Adam Sawyer writes, “[R]eceiving remittances is associated with increased schooling aspirations for youth whose mothers have below-average levels of education. Remittances also provide an apparent boost in improving the chances of high school completion for youth whose mothers have above-average levels of education.”

Mexico’s New Gay-Marriage Law Earns Critics and Support

OpenDemocracy offers an analysis of a law enacted on March 4 in Mexico allowing same-sex couples to marry in Mexico City and to adopt children. Federal government and religious officials who say it goes against the “protection of the family” are contesting the law. However, according to polls cited in the article, more than 70 percent of Mexico City residents approve of gay marriage, while 40 percent support adoption by same-sex couples.

An Americas Quarterly web exclusive looks at the significant victories of gay rights activists in Latin American countries in recent years.

Argentina to Use Central Bank Reserves Beginning Next Week

On March 30, an Argentine court overturned the suspension of a presidential decree to use Central Bank reserves to pay off debt, thereby allowing Argentina’s government to use the reserves for debt payments. However, opposition parties will attempt to overturn the emergency decree in Congress this week in a political crisis that has lasted for three months and prompted the departure of the Central Bank governor in January. According to the Financial Times, the government is expected to tap into the $4.38 billion of reserves beginning April 5.

Research Uncovers New Ways to Curb Dengue Fever in Face of LatAm Outbreak

As Latin American governments prepare for a potential dengue fever outbreak, the Latin Americanist blog looks at research revealing that the blocking of a urination protein in populations of mosquitoes may help contain the spread of dengue via infected mosquitoes. Dengue infects 100 million people a year.

Peru Prohibits Smoking in Closed Public Spaces

The Congress of Peru ushered through legislation this week that paved the way for the country to join a wave of countries stepping up restrictions on smoking in public places. The new law prevents smoking in offices, nightclubs, bars, restaurants, hotels, and public transport.

Low-Cost Cervical Cancer Screening Considered in Peru

Health experts are looking to cheaper, low-tech options to screen cervical cancer in Peru’s poor, rural areas, reports PBS NewsHour. A pilot project run by the Pan American Health Organization tested a technique called visual inspection with acetic acid, or VIA, which is cheaper and faster than a conventional pap test. Cervical cancer kills one in every 4,000 women each year in Peru, where it is a leading cause of death among females.

Putin to Visit Caracas to Talk Arms and Energy

The government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced this week that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will visit Caracas on Friday in his first trip to Venezuela. Putin will deliver the last four out of 38 helicopters agreed upon in a bilateral military contract, discuss a $2.2 billion loan that will allow Venzuela to purchase more Russian arms, and create energy agreements, reports RIA Novosti. The Russian leader will also meet with Bolivian President Evo Morales.

Twitter Rises as Political Tool in Venezuela

Reuters reports that Venezuelans have taken to microblogging by the droves to voice their political opinions, with Twitter use growing by over 1,000 percent over the course of 2009. When the government closed a private TV channel in February, protesters tagged their messages with #freevenezuela, which became the fourth highest Twitter trending topic worldwide that month. In early March, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez warned that: “The Internet is a battle trench because it is bringing a current of conspiracy.” Access a Reuters Factbox on Internet and social media use in Venezuela.

The “Kaleidoscopic Artistry” of Haiti’s Tap-Taps

PBS’ Frontline takes a look at Haiti’s intricately decorated buses, also known as tap-taps. In the report, Adam Davidson interviews the artists who paint the buses and explains that bus drivers pay large sums because “tap-tap competition is vicious”—people will not ride buses unless they look good.

Tags: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Haiti, Health, Hispanics, Immigration, Mexico, Peru, Remittances, Trafficking, Venezuela
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