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.
Santos Surges in Colombia’s First Round as Polls Prove Inaccurate
Despite the fact that polls forecasted a near-tie in the Colombian vote, Former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos pulled in more than double the votes of his top rival, the Green Party’s Antanas Mockus. Still, with 46.6 percent of the vote, Santos fell just short of the requisite majority needed to win in the first round. Pollsters defended their surveys, saying that the shift in support for Santos grew as a result of voter discomfort with comments made by Mockus in the final days before the election. Colombian law requires polls to close 10 days before elections. A lack of accurate polling in rural areas and abroad may also have played a role. Santos and Mockus face each other in the second round on June 20.
AS/COA holds its annual Bogota conference on June 17, ahead of the second round of elections on June 20.
Read an AS/COA analysis on the first round.
Colombian Candidates begin Coalition ahead of Runoff
La Silla Vacía offers an analysis of how Colombian candidates Juan Manuel Santos and Antanas Mockus are seeking to build alliances ahead of the June 20 elections. With the remaining candidates from Sunday’s vote out of the running, Santos initiated a “National Front” to win over politicians from and supporters of the traditional Conservative and Liberal parties. Third-place-finisher Germán Vargas Lleras could be another important ally for Santos’ U Party. Meanwhile, Mockus indicated he would pursue a “citizen’s alliance” and the support of voters who abstained in the first round, along with parties that would like to form an alliance with the Green Party. The Democratic Pole, whose candidate Gustavo Petro won nearly 10 percent of the vote to finish fourth, may seek a coalition with Mockus’ party.
OAS Gives Colombian Vote Clean Bill of Health
The OAS electoral mission reported that none of its 85 observers witnessed evidence of vote buying during Colombia’s first round of elections on May 30. Terra’s Votebien, in partnership with the Electoral Obervation Mission, used software platform Ushahidi to track voter irregularities on Sunday, allowing voters to report incidents. Of Colombia’s nearly 30 million voters, just over 49 percent marked ballots on Sunday.
Guatemala Plagued by Storm, Sinkhole, and Volcano
Tropical storm Agatha—the first of the hurricane season—ravaged Central America over the weekend, leaving over 175 people dead, with Guatemala hit particularly hard. This came after last week’s exodus of more than 1,600 Guatemalans fleeing the eruption of Pacaya volcano (view a BBC video), which covered parts of the capital in ash. To top it off, Guatemala City residents were shocked after a giant sinkhole swallowed several buildings over the weekend.
UN agencies are preparing to assist the tens of thousands of people affected by Agatha in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Guatemalan residents can access a list of needed items and drop-off points posted by The Black Box blog.
Sec. Clinton to Head to LatAm for OAS General Assembly
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Peru from June 6 through 8 for the annual OAS General Assembly. She will then travel on to Ecuador (current holder of the UNASUR leadership), Colombia, and Barbados.
U.S. Troops Return Home after Five Months in Haiti
On Tuesday, the final 314 U.S. troops supporting Haiti relief efforts in the earthquake-ravaged country returned home. At its peak in February, Operation Unified Response had 22,000 members of the U.S. armed forces on the ground. Roughly 500 members of the National Guard will stay to help build schools and health clinics. An editorial in The Washington Post commends U.S. and international efforts to provide relief, but warns that “the scale and scope of what remains to be done are daunting.”
Peru’s García Visits the White House
President of Peru Alan García traveled to Washington June 1 to meet with his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama. The two leaders discussed cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation, antinarcotics efforts, and how to boost trade in the wake of the free-trade agreement implemented last year by the two countries. García pointed out that the trade pact will help Peru improve investment, technology, and job creation.
Lima Opts Not to Extradite Chinese Citizen
Pending a decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IAHCR), Peru decided last week not to extradite Chinese citizen Wong Ho Wing, who was to be sent to China March 25 on charges of money laundering, bribery, and tax fraud. The charges faced by Wong, a businessman, carry a death penalty sentence in his home country. Wong’s lawyer had petitioned the IAHCR to declare provisional measures, which would prevent “irreparable harm” to a person’s rights, including migrants who face deportation orders.
Calderón’s Canada Visit Marked by Bilateral Deals, Visa Pitch
During an official visit by Mexican President Felipe Calderón to Canada from May 26 through May 28, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced three areas for bilateral cooperation: an air transport pact to expand market access for both countries’ airlines, youth mobility and exchange programs, and anti-crime capacity building. “We are setting the stage for the next decade of growth and cooperation between our two countries,” said Harper. Trade between the two countries has grown from $4 billion prior to NAFTA to $21.3 billion in 2009.
Calderón also addressed the Canadian Parliament, where he argued that the future competitiveness of North America depends on deeper integration. However, he raised concerns about new visa restrictions for Mexicans implemented by Ottawa in July 2009. In the past 12 months, tourism from Mexico to Canada has dropped by almost 40 percent.
While he was in Canada, the CBC interviewed Calderón about his country’s battle against narcotrafficking.
Responding to SB1070, Mexico Extends Repatriation Program
In response to the controversial new Arizona immigration law, Mexico will maintain a program that assists citizens living illegally in the United States to move home. The Christian Science Monitor reports that, from June 1 through September 28, Mexican authorities will support immigrants by providing medical attention and helping them avoid attacks by criminal groups when returning to their hometowns.
Cancun Mayor and Gubernatorial Candidate Arrested for Drug Cartel Ties
Gregorio Sánchez, mayor of Cancun and candidate for the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) for governor of Quintana Roo, was arrested June 1 for connection with drug cartels, in particular with the Beltrán Leyva family and Los Zetas. Despite his arrest, the fact that he trails in the polls, and his right to campaign has been suspended, the left-leaning coalition led by PRD continues to support him as its gubernatorial candidate for July 4 elections.
U.S. Diplomat Travels to Bolivia in Hopes of Renewing Ties
On Tuesday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela traveled to La Paz to meet with Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca in hopes of improving ties at the ambassadorial level. Bolivia ejected the U.S. ambassador and U.S. drug enforcement agents in 2008 on charges that they had conspired against the government of Bolivian President Evo Morales. After the meeting, Choquehuanca indicated the foundations had been laid for a new diplomatic, commercial, and anti-narcotrafficking accord.
Correa Gives Views on Reelection, Regional Leaders
During his visit to Argentina last week, President Rafael Correa of Ecuador spoke with La Nación about about his possible reelection in 2013, which would allow him to seek a third term and stay in office until 2017. He also shared observations on Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Argentina’s Kirchners, and his positive thoughts on Chilean President Sebastian Piñera’s electoral victory and role in Latin America. Asked about his own governing style, Correa says, “If they wanted to elect Mr. Nice Guy, they made a mistake.” (H/T: Two Weeks Notice blog.)
The Role of Exchange and Interest Rates in Brazil’s Presidential Race
In an analysis for RGE’s Latin America Economonitor, former Brazilian Central Bank chief Antonio Carlos Lemgruber writes about how exchange and interest rate policy will play a role in Brazil’s presidential campaigns. “The opposition argues that the country is presently in a trap, where a very high level of real and nominal interest rates is being maintained, under the inflation-targeting regime, and contributing to produce an overvalued exchange rate,” writes Lemgruber. Meanwhile, the governing party “seems to prefer an economic policy which favors inflation control and Central Bank independence and which has produced precisely this ‘anti-growth’ combination of high interest rates and overvalued exchange rates for the last eight years.”
Lula Advocates for More South-South Cooperation
With Brazil playing host to the thirty-third session of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) this week, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva pledged that, once he steps down from office in January 2011, he will focus attention on improving the standing of Latin America and Africa.
Brazil’s Serra Raises Alarms over Bolivian Cocaine
Presidential candidate and former São Paulo Governor José Serra caused a stir last week when he accused the Bolivian government of complicity with drug trafficking. Veja reports that the amount of cocaine crossing Bolivia’s border with Brazil increased by 200 percent during the Morales presidency. Bolivia rejected the remarks as a political play while his main rival and candidate of the governing party Dilma Rousseff criticized the remarks as well.
Havana Moves Political Prisoners Closer to Home
Cuba’s government began transferring political prisoners to jails closer to their families in what Reuters termed a “modest humanitarian gesture.” Seven prisoners jailed far from their families have been transferred thus far. The move comes less than two weeks after Cuban President Raúl Castro met with Catholic officials, at which point he also promised to transfer sick prisoners to hospitals. Human rights advocated hope the gesture could signify eventual release for some of Cuba’s 190 political prisoners.
Read an AS/COA analysis of the meeting between Catholic and Cuban government officials.
Cuba and China Plan Havana-Based Deluxe Hotel
Latin American Herald Tribune reports on Sino-Cuban plans to build a $117 million luxury hotel in Havana this year. Beijing serves as Cuba’s second main trading partner, though bilateral trade dropped by over 30 percent last year compared to 2008.
Marking Their Bicentennial, How Do Argentines View Themselves?
In celebration of Argentina’s bicentennial, BBC Mundo asked Argentines to define what makes up the national character, whether it’s language, soccer fanaticism, beef, or dulce de leche.