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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2010 Energy and Climate Ministerial Convenes in Washington

Energy ministers from the Americas met in Washington D.C., on April 15 and 16 for the 2010 Energy and Climate Ministerial of the Americas. An article penned by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu explores the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas, which has the goal of developing a clean energy network across the Western Hemisphere to cooperate and share information on energy initiatives. “[C]lean, reliable energy will provide a foundation for broad-based economic growth that will widen the circle of prosperity across our hemisphere and also reduce our carbon emissions,” they write.

Learn more about AS/COA’s Energy Action Group.

Bolivia Hosts Alternative Climate Change Summit

Ten thousand delegates from more than 100 countries gather in Bolivia this week for the first-ever World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, taking place in Cochabamba, Bolivia, from April 19 through the 22. The summit was arranged by Bolivian President Evo Morales as an alternative to the Copenhagen summit in 2009. The Democracy Center, based in Cochabamba, offers day-by-day coverage of the People’s Summit on Climate Change.

Far-Reaching Immigration Bill Passes in Arizona Senate

On April 19, Arizona’s Senate approved a bill that allows local police officers to search people for their immigration papers and also makes it a crime for employers to hire illegal immigrant day laborers. The Latin Americanist blog points out that while supporters of the bill say it will help lower crime, opponents argue that it will encourage “racial profiling” by police and target Arizona’s Latino population.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), currently engaged in a reelection campaign and considered a longtime advocate of comprehensive immigration reform, caused a stir by backing the legislation and saying border security is a top priority. Politico reported that immigration reform advocates were “bewildered.” His political rival, Congressman J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), described McCain’s shifting position as “political gamesmanship…born of political convenience—driven by his need for personal political gain.”

Correa Proposal Calls for Oil Nationalization

On April 17, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced he plans to send a bill to Congress that would nationalize oil fields if companies do not sign service contracts that meet the government’s requirements. “My patience with this is up. The oil companies are playing around with us,” Correa stated during a television address. “[I]n the coming weeks there are going to be some very important steps taken.” Crude oil export revenue provides for approximately 25 percent of Ecuador’s public spending and is the country’s main export product. Countries with firms operating in Ecuador that could be affected include Brazil, China, Italy, and Spain.

Finance, Energy Ministers Resign in Ecuador

Ecuadorian Finance Minister María Elsa Viteri, and Germánico Pinto, energy minister and current president of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, resigned on April 20 as President Rafael Correa reorganizes his Cabinet. Bloomberg reports that Correa hopes to improve relations with his ruling party members in order to get his legislative agenda approved and said he will continue to reshuffle his ministers on April 21—the fifth change in less than a month.

Colombian Candidates Profiled

La Silla Vacía rounded out its profiles of Colombian candidates over the weekend with two of the leading contenders: Juan Manuel Santos and Antanas Mockus. In Santos’ profile, a person who knows him well describes the frontrunner by saying “he is a cyborg programmed since childhood to be president.” Meanwhile, the profile of Antanas Mockus of the Green Party describes him as the Salvador Dalí of Colombian politics. The first round of presidential elections takes place on May 30.

China Offers $20 Billion in Soft Loans to Venezuela

Beijing and Caracas signed a series of agreements over the weekend, including a Chinese pledge of $20 billion in financing. Central to the accords is a $16.3 billion joint venture between Chinese and Venezuelan energy firms to develop a block in the Orinoco oil belt, helping to secure a Venezuelan oil supply for energy-hungry China. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez also said the Chinese loans would fund infrastructure projects in his country, although details were not disclosed.

Venezuela, Argentina Sign 25 Bilateral Agreements

On April 20, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chávez signed 25 new bilateral agreements on energy, food, and technology. Fernández traveled to Caracas for the Venezuelan bicentennial independence celebrations, where she was an honorary speaker at the National Assembly.

ICJ Rules Uruguayan Paper Mill Can Continue Operations

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a ruling on the long-running paper mill dispute between Argentina and Uruguay on April 20. The ICJ criticized Uruguay for not conferring with Argentina on the construction of the mill on the River Uruguay that acts as the border between the two countries, but ruled that Uruguay did not violate its environmental obligations and denied Argentina’s request for the dismantling of the mill.

Argentina’s Madres de Plaza de Mayo up for Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Committee accepted the nomination of the Madres (now known as the Abuelas) de Plaza de Mayo for a Nobel Peace Prize. The Abuelas, a human rights group seeking to find children who were kidnapped during the military dictatorship in Argentina from 1976 to 1983, have succeeded in discovering the identities of 101 people who were adopted illegally during the dictatorship.

The nomination comes as Reynaldo Bignone, Argentina’s last dictator, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for crimes committed during his rule between 1976 and 1983. Bignone was charged with 56 cases of torture committed in the Campo de Mayo military base, and in a statement to the judges, admitted that 8,000 people disappeared during his presidency.

China, Brazil Sign Energy Cooperation Deal

As part of bilateral talks during the BRIC summit on April 15, Chinese state oil company Sinopec signed a cooperation deal with Brazil’s Petrobras which covers the development of Brazilian oil resources, trade, and engineering equipment. In 2009, China agreed on a $10 billion loan to Petrobras in exchange for oil over the next decade. The agreement does not include the $10 billion credit line, but covers Chinese pledges for increased investment in Brazil, including a plan to build a steel plant in a Brazilian port that would constitute China’s largest investment in the country.

Brazil’s CenBank Head Urges Strong Chinese Currency

Ahead of this week’s G20 meeting of finance ministers in Washington, Brazil’s Central Bank Governor Henrique Meirelles joined with other critics of China’s foreign exchange policy and urged revaluation of the yuan. “I think it’s absolutely critical for the equilibrium of the world economy,” said Meirelles on Tuesday. The United States and other countries have pressured China to raise the value of the currency.

Police Detain Brazilian Priest in Video Scandal

An 83-year-old Brazilian priest was detained in São Paulo following pedophilia allegations. The arrest of Monsignor Luiz Marques Barbosa drew widespread attention after a videotape of his sexual encounters was distributed over the Internet. Two other priests in Brazil, the world’s most populous Catholic country, have also been charged.

Brazilian Challenges to Obtaining UN Security Council Seat

A Financial Times article looks at the challenges confronting Brazil in its quest for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s disapproval of hunger strikes in Cuba and the U.S.-Colombia military base deal—as well as Brazil’s warming ties with Iran—has raised criticism of Brazil’s foreign policy. “More challenging will be what will happen after October’s presidential election, when Brazil will have to manage without the cover of Mr. Lula da Silva’s charm. Its image as a cuddly imperium may not endure,” writes John Paul Rathbone.

Poll Examines Views of U.S. and Brazilian Global Influence

Bloggings by Boz looks at an April 19 BBC poll that shows positive versus negative views of the U.S. influence among a number of countries around the world. Of the Latin American countries polled, Brazil and Chile view the United States more positively than negatively while Mexico views the United States more negatively than positively. For the first time since the BBC began conducting the poll in 2005, views on U.S. influence are more positive than negative. The poll also found that a large majority of countries view Brazil in a positive light.

Ex-Costa Rican President’s Corruption Trial Begins

The trial for former Costa Rican president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez and eight other individuals accused of corruption begins this week. It follows a five-year detention of the former president by judicial officials stemming from extortion charges in connection with a $150 million telecom contract. After being accused of corruption in 2004, Rodríguez was forced to resign as the Secretary General of the Organization of American States only one month into his term and returned to Costa Rica to face charges.

Cardinal Interviewed on Current Situation in Cuba

The Miami Herald’s Cuban Colada blog looks at an interview published in the magazine of Havana’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese with Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino. Speaking on intolerance to the opposition in Cuba, the Cardinal says, “This is not the time to stoke passions. That is why we are grieved to see the acts of repudiation toward the mothers and wives of several prisoners.” The cardinal also described recent economic challenges on the island and called for U.S.-Cuban dialogue.

Creating a “Surge” of Humanitarian Efforts in Haiti

In an Americas Quarterly blog post, Ferentz Lafargue examines the United Nations Association (UNA) “people surge” for Haiti following the earthquake that struck the Caribbean country on January 12. The UNA surge aims to normalize life for Haiti’s children through Olympic-style activities and help families earn incomes. “One wonders though: A surge in Haitian-American volunteerism after the earthquake was inevitable, but the question is if this revamped volunteerism is sustainable,” writes Lafargue.

Mexican Artists Pay Taxes with Art

Public Radio International features an article about a Mexican law dating back to 1957 that allows artists to offer the government works of art in lieu of paying income tax. Today, the Mexican Ministry of Finance and Public Credit own more than 4,000 works of art thanks to the system, including masterpieces by famous artists such as Diego Rivera and Leonora Carrington. The article mentions that there is a movement to launch a similar program in the United States.

Stargazing in Chile

Chile has become a favorite spot for astronomers seeking to observe and research the universe. Chile received nearly $1 billion in foreign investment over the past decade for research observatories, and the addition of three new powerful telescopes will make Chile a provider of over 50 percent of worldwide astronomical viewing.

Tags: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Climate change, Colombia, Correa, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, energy, Haiti, Immigration, Uruguay, Venezuela
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