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.
Mockus, Santos in a Tight Race ahead of Colombian Elections
Campaigning for Colombia’s presidential elections closed on May 23, a week before Colombians head to the voting booths. Recent polls show the two frontrunners—Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus and U Party candidate Juan Manuel Santos—in a close race, with neither pulling in more than 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a June runoff election. According to an Invamer Gallup poll released on May 24, 37.5 percent of voters would pick Santos, compared to 35.4 percent who would pick Mockus. Should the election go to a second round, the poll shows that Mockus would pull in 48.5 percent compared to 43 percent for Santos.
Commander of Colombian Armed Forces Resigns
General Freddy Padilla, commander of Colombia’s Armed Forces, submitted his resignation to President Álvaro Uribe last week after 40 years of service in the country’s army. Although Padilla has been credited with striking heavy blows to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, his term has also been marked by controversy due to incidents such as the “false positives” scandal. Uribe accepted Padilla’s resignation on May 24. Padilla requested to stay in his post until August 7, when Uribe’s presidential term comes to an end.
Former Cop Accuses Uribe’s Brother of Heading Paramilitary Squad
The Washington Post reports that a former Colombian police official, Juan Carlos Meneses, alleged on May 24 that President Álvaro Uribe’s younger brother, Santiago Uribe, headed a paramilitary group in the early 1990s that operated from the family’s cattle ranch and killed at least 50 people. Santiago Uribe denied the allegations. Interior Minister Fabio Valencia suggested the accusations have the goal of influencing the May 30 presidential elections. The Washington Post reports that the allegations threaten to revive a criminal investigation against Santiago Uribe and raise questions about the president’s role in the formation of the death squads.
Piñera Talks Economic Growth, Earthquake Recovery
Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera gave his first state-of-the-nation address on May 21, saying that Chile will become a developed country within a decade. He laid out recovery plans to deal with damage caused by the February 27 earthquake. “We have to recover lost time and set Chile once again on the path to solid and sustainable progress,” Piñera said. “Our target of growing at 6 percent a year will allow us to achieve development in eight years, before the end of this decade, beating the level of per capita income of southern European countries.” The International Monetary Fund estimates the Chilean economy will grow at an average of 4.9 percent through 2014. Read Piñera’s May 21 address to the nation.
Mexican CenBank Head Says Mexico Shielded from EU Debt Crises
Speaking at the AS/COA 2010 Mexico City Conference, Governer of Banco de Mexico Agustín Carstens said there is low probability of damage to the Mexican economy from the European debt crisis. Carstens acknowledged that a “disorderly” resolution to Europe’s debt crisis would have negative results for financial markets and the global economy, therefore affecting Mexico, but pointed out that Mexico only sends 5 percent of its exports to the EU, and that the Mexican financial system has “practically zero” credit exposure to Europe.
Calderón Asks U.S. Congress to Reinstate Assault Weapons Ban
In his address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on May 20 during his Washington visit, Mexican President Felipe Calderón stated that Arizona’s controversial new immigration law signifies an acceptance of racial profiling, and also called for the United States to reinstate the Assault Weapons Ban. Calderón appealed to Congress to support an end to arms trafficking, saying, “I would ask Congress to help us, and to understand how important it is for us that you enforce current laws to stem the supply of these weapons to criminals, and consider reinstating the Assault Weapons Ban. Let us work together to end this lethal trade that threatens Mexico and your own people.” View and read Calderón’s speech to Congress.
During AS/COA’s conference, “Mexico: Economic Challenges in its Bicentennial Year” on May 25 in Mexico City, United States Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual gave an overview of Calderón’s U.S. visit, pointing out that the President said “American guns are taking Mexican lives,” and suggested that one method being explored to curb the flow of arms into Mexico is through improved ways to trace weapons.
The Spring 2010 issue of Americas Quarterly explores the impact of trafficking in the Americas.
Harper, Calderón to Talk Trade and Visas
A week after his trip to Washington, Mexican President Felipe Calderón kicks off a three-day visit to Canada on May 25. Trade cooperation will be high on the agenda, but Calderón is likely to address the new strict visa restrictions Ottawa imposed on Mexicans in July 2010.
Obama to Deploy 1,200 National Guard Troops to Border
USA Today reports that U.S. President Barack Obama will send up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to help with border security, intelligence, and surveillance, Obama’s National Security Adviser James Jones said in a letter. The decision comes after demands from Republican and Democratic lawmakers to tighten border security. The troops will be deployed to four border states for a year, to join members of the National Guard already stationed there to help police search for drug smugglers.
Brazil Begins TV Broadcasting in Africa
On May 24, Brazil launched its international television station, which will broadcast to 49 countries in Africa, specifically targeting audiences in countries where Portuguese is spoken.
Environmental Officials in Brazil Arrested in Connection with Illegal Logging
Seventy people accused of illegal logging in the Amazon, including several environmental officials hired to protect the rainforest, were arrested in Brazil, reports the BBC. The arrests came after a two-year investigation, which accused environmental officials in Mato Grosso state of giving false licenses for the extraction of timber from protected areas.
Panama Issues Apology for Dictatorship-Era Disappearance
The Panamanian government issued an apology on May 24 for the disappearance and murder of opposition leader Heliodoro Portugal during the country’s military dictatorship from 1968 to 1989. The apology was the first recognition by the government of the crimes committed during the dictatorship, more than 20 years since its end. “We have a responsibility as the state to deliver for you, and so with this act and our presence here, we ask for your forgiveness in the name of the Panamanian state,” said Vice President Juan Carlos Varela at a ceremony honoring Heliodoro Portugal.
First Woman Elected as Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister
Kamla Persad-Bissessar made history on May 24 after she was elected first female prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago. Persad-Bissessar’s People’s Partnership coalition won 29 of the 41 seats in parliament compared to 12 seats won by her main rival and current Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s People’s National Movement. Manning faced a surprise defeat after calling early elections just two and a half years into his five-year term. Voters said they had grown tired of Manning’s “autocratic leadership style” and corruption scandals marking his government in recent months, reports The Miami Herald.
Caribbean Security Partnership to Hold First Dialogue in Washington
A U.S. Department of State Fact Sheet looks at the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) partnership between the United States and the Caribbean, which was announced at the Firth Summit of the Americas held in Trinidad in April 2009. U.S. and Caribbean government representatives have met four times since then to develop the partnership’s goals, which include reducing illicit trafficking, increasing public safety, and promoting social justice. The first Caribbean-U.S. Security Cooperation Dialogue will kick off in Washington D.C. on May 27.
Dozens Die in Jamaican Violence after Drug Lord’s Arrest
Confrontations between government forces and gangs loyal to a drug lord resulted in the death of at least 26 civilians in Jamaica. Violence continued on May 25 as police raided a facility where Christopher “Dudus” Coke was believed to be hiding. The conflict came after Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding reversed his decision on the extradition of Coke to the United States on drugs and weapons charges, ordering his arrest on May 17. The Los Angeles Times La Plaza blog reports that Coke has been viewed as a “Robin Hood-like figure” to his supporters. As a result of the violence, schools, businesses, and the U.S. Embassy have been forced to shut down. The government has declared a state of emergency in parts of Kingston.
Cuba to Undertake Political Prisoner Reforms
The Cuban government has agreed to transfer sick political prisoners to hospitals and to move prisoners kept in distant jails to facilities near their hometowns, according to Guillermo Fariñas, a dissident journalist who has been on a hunger strike since February in protest of the regime’s treatment of political prisoners. The reforms come after Catholic Church officials and President Raúl Castro met on May 19 to discuss the release of political prisoners on the island. The reforms are set to begin early this week.
Peru Grants Parole to U.S. Citizen Lori Berenson
A Peruvian judge granted parole to U.S. citizen Lori Berenson on May 25 on conditional release after she spent 15 years in jail for aiding the leftist Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement in Peru in the 1980s and 1990s. Berenson will be released with her son Salvador, who was born in jail in 2009, but cannot leave Peru until her full sentence ends in 2015.
Police Raid Brokerage Firm in Venezuela
On May 24, Venezuelan police raided the office of Econoinvest, Venezuela’s largest brokerage. The government of President Hugo Chávez has run a crackdown that covers the financial and food sectors as the government confronts a weakening currency, inflation, and shortages of basic goods including food, reports the Financial Times.
Insulza Sworn in for Second Time as OAS SecGeneral
After being reelected on March 24, Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS) José Miguel Insulza, took office on May 24 for a second term, which will last until 2015. During a speech, Insulza said his goals for the next five years include boosting support for democratic governance; prioritizing issues related to public security such as drug, arms, and human trafficking; and giving “greater momentum to the subject of gender at the OAS.”
New Colombian Cultural Center Houses Latin America’s Biggest Library
Bogota’s Julio Mario Santo Domingo Cultural Center, which will house the largest public library in Latin America, officially opens on June 4. The Center features a theater, an art exhibition hall, a cafeteria, and multimedia and IT tools.