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.
Top U.S. Envoy Announces U.S.-Brazil Security Negotiations
During a stop in Ecuador as part of his tour of the Andes this week, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela confirmed that negotiations were taking place between the United States and Brazil on their first major bilateral security agreement since 1977. According to Brazilian press, the agreement would establish a joint anti-narcotics facility in Rio de Janeiro to monitor drug-trafficking and smuggling, and would be under Brazilian command.
Floods Claim over 100 Lives in Rio de Janeiro
Mudslides and flooding caused by heavy rains in Rio de Janeiro this week claimed at least 102 lives, according to Brazilian authorities. On April 6, 11 inches of rain flooded the streets of Rio and left nearly 1,200 people homeless and stranded. According to Rio’s Mayor Eduardo Paes, the rainfall was the heaviest in Rio in such a short period and President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said it was “the greatest flooding in the history of Rio de Janeiro.” Experts say that a mixture of geographic and structural factors, including poor drainage, is responsible for the destruction. View an MSNBC slideshow of the flood.
MAS Makes Some Gains in Bolivian Elections
Bolivian President Evo Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party claimed victories in six of the country’s nine provinces following municipal and departmental elections held on April 4 across Bolivia. The victories may enable MAS, which previously ruled four provinces, to consolidate power in Bolivia against the bloc of eastern governors who oppose Morales’ policies. However, MABBlog points out that, given an upcoming law on autonomy and decentralization, “these results will mean that Evo Morales and his government will have to engage in negotiation with the opposition more often that they would like. The opposition, while weakened, is still present and now stronger due to the autonomic process.”
World Economic Forum Kicks off in Colombia
Representatives from over 42 countries convene in Cartagena this week for the 2010 World Economic Forum on Latin America. President Álvaro Uribe opened the Forum, which focuses on “New Partnerships for a Sustainable Recovery,” and will cover investment opportunities; governance; and the improvement of regional trade, security, and environmental performance in Latin America.
Ex-mayors Build Alliance in Colombian Presidential Race
The Green Party’s Antanas Mockus and independent candidate Sergio Fajardo announced a political alliance this week with their sights set on Colombia’s May 30 presidential election. Fajardo, former mayor of Medellin, will likely serve as a vice presidential running mate on a ticket with Mockus, a prior mayor of Bogota. Analysts suggest the partnership could pose a challenge to Conservative candidate Noemí Sanín and that the team could overtake her in the first round to face frontrunner Juan Manuel Santos of the U Party in a June 20 second round. Semana offers an analysis of the Mockus-Fajardo alliance.
Ecuador Moves to Get off Money-laundering Blacklist
An ISN Security Watch analysis reports that Quito appears to be taking steps to get itself off a list of countries blacklisted for failing to control money laundering. The International Assessment and Strategy Center released its report in February, blacklisting Ecuador along with Iran, North Korea, Ethiopia, Angola, Turkmenistan, and Sao Tome and Principe. Eliot Brockner comments that Ecuador has criminalized money laundering and pursued other reforms to fight corruption, but warns “[r]emoval from the blacklist is merely the first step toward a long battle against narco-activity.”
Eight Colombian Spy Suspects Arrested in Venezuela
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced April 6 that his country’s authorities had arrested eight Colombians for allegedly spying within the country’s borders. Chávez said the suspects had taken photos of Venezuela’s power plants and some of them possessed identification cards from the Colombian army. Colombian President Álvaro Uribe termed the move “persecution” of his country’s citizens.
Peruvian Miners Die in Confrontation with Security Forces
At least six people died in the state of Arequipa in Peru on April 3 in a confrontation between security forces and striking miners. President Alan García accused laborers of failing to follow environmental norms and dumping toxins in forests. The miners, in turn, say their livelihood depends on their work and accuse the government of falling short on tackling rural poverty.
Emergence of Paraguayan People’s Army Raises Policy Questions
Latin American Thought blog offers a backgrounder on the Paraguayan People’s Army—known by its Spanish acronym EPP—a Marxist-leninist guerilla movement that carries out kidnappings of rich Paraguayans for ransom. “The future of the EPP will depend on how President Fernando Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop, chooses to act,” writes Alex Sánchez. “Will the president allow for a military offensive, including search-and-destroy missions, against the EPP, should its activities continue? Or will Lugo’s religious background affect his decisions?”
Calderón Proposes Anti-monopoly Bill
Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón proposed a tougher anti-monopoly bill to his country’s Congress, which, if passed, will sentence executives to up to 10 years in prison and impose fines on companies for anti-competitive practices. “The lack of competition acts as a brake on investment and growth…it stigmatizes Mexico and reduces its competitiveness internationally,” said Calderón, according to a Financial Times article. Critics say Mexico’s economy is largely controlled by a small number of companies, thereby impeding competition and increasing consumer prices.
Mexico City Makes Strides in Smog Cleanup
The Washington Post reports that Mexico’s capital, which the UN declared the world’s most polluted city in 1992, has made dramatic strides when it comes to reducing smog. “Many say its determined efforts to control auto emissions and other environmental effects of rapid urbanization offer practical lessons to cities in China, India, and other fast-growing countries,” writes Anne-Marie O’Connor. Mexico City plays host to a UN climate change conference in late 2010.
Interview with Mexican Drug Lord Sparks Journalistic Debate
Mexico’s Proceso ran an interview with a fugitive, high-ranking member of the Sinaloa Cartel over the weekend. The Knight Center for Journalism reports on the ethical debate caused by the publication of the interview with Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, an ally of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. While some Mexican publications defended Proceso, others questioned the morality of giving voice to a narcotrafficker when so many Mexican journalists have been threatened or killed by cartel members.
Argentina Protests China’s Proposed Ban on Its Soya Oil Exports
The Argentine government criticized China’s plans to boycott its soya oil exports in what has been viewed as the latest round in the long-standing trade dispute between the two countries. Argentina has previously sought to limit Chinese imports in order to safeguard its domestic industries. A ban on the oil exports would be detrimental to Argentina’s economy, as it relies greatly on the soya oil industry, reports the BBC. China claims that it plans to boycott the Argentine oil because of quality concerns.
Chile Earthquake Draws U.S. Researchers to Measure California’s Preparedness
The Christian Science Monitor reports that U.S. engineers are visiting Santiago to learn more about successes and failures of different building codes and garner lessons for areas of California vulnerable to earthquakes. In February, Chile suffered the fifth-biggest earthquake ever recorded.
Haitian Schools Reopen
Three months after a massive earthquake, Haitian schools reopened this week, helping restore a sense of normalcy. The return to classes will involve group therapy to engage students in discussion about the trauma of the January 12 catastrophe.
U.S.-Held Cuban Asylum Seekers to Head to Australia
Australia announced this week that it will take three Cuban asylum seekers held at the Guantanamo Bay Migrations Operation Center, reports the University of Pittsburgh’s Jurist. The center, used most recently by the U.S. military for Haitians seeking asylum in the wake of the January earthquake, is not connected to the Guantanamo Bay detention center that houses terrorist suspects.
Foreign-born Hispanics View U.S. Census More Positively
A Pew Hispanic Center survey found that foreign-born Hispanics view the U.S. Census more favorably than native-born Hispanics. Overall, 70 percent of Hispanics believe the Census is good for the Hispanic community, but 80 percent of foreign-born Hispanics expressed these views compared to 57 percent of native-born Hispanics.
U.S. Health Care Reform Poses Benefits for Hispanics
In a Poder article that looks at how Latinos will gain from the Obama administration’s health care reform, Marcela Sánchez writes, “Prior to reform, one in three Latinos did not have health insurance. Thanks to the landmark overhaul, some Latinos will benefit as early as late June when many uninsurable or ‘priced out’ citizens with preexisting conditions will begin to see new insurance options.” But Sánchez adds that the White House’s lack of progress on another issue—immigration—has disappointed Latinos.
Latin American Church Leadership Cautious on Abuse Scandal
The Los Angeles Times reports that Latin America’s church leaders “are reacting cautiously, if at all, to the sex abuse scandal rocking the Vatican.” Tracy Wilkinson writes that Mexico City’s Cardinal Norberto Rivera warned of punishment for pedophile priests. But the Latin American Bishops Conference released a statement saying media reports that called Pope Benedict XVI an accomplice in the sex abuse scandal were “baseless.”
Santiago’s Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz revealed Sunday that the Roman Catholic Church is currently investigating “a few” cases of pedophilia carried out by priests in Chile.
Ticas Delay Motherhood for Careers
A GlobalPost feature explores how Costa Rican women are breaking through the glass ceiling, putting careers before motherhood. Costa Rica, which will have its first female president when Laura Chinchilla is inaugurated in May, had a 2008 fertility rate of 1.9 children per woman, lower than the 2.3 average rate for Latin America and 2.1 in the United States.