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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Santos Wins Big in Colombia

Former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos won Colombia’s June 20 runoff elections by a landslide, pulling in more than 69 percent of ballots compared to the 27.5 percent earned by his rival, ex-Mayor of Bogota Antanas Mockus. Santos also won a greater share of the vote than did popular President Álvaro Uribe in 2006. “The hour of national unity has arrived,” said the president-elect after his victory. Semana reports that Santos will have one of the largest mandates of any Colombian leader, given coalition support in Congress, and explores the solidity of that support base. La Silla Vacia analyzes some of Santos’ initial appointments, including his chief of staff, finance minister, and personal secretary. Santos will be sworn into office on August 7.

Read an AS/COA analysis of Santos’ victory.

Colombia’s Neighbors React to Santos Victory

The Hemispheric Brief blog reports on reactions to the victory of Colombian President-Elect Juan Manuel Santos, paying particular attention to Quito and Caracas, both of which have had troubled relations with Bogota. However, immediate resumption of cross-border commercial ties is not expected. The government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez congratulated Santos, with Chávez expressing hope for “sincerity and respect.” Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa called Santos to congratulate him, signifying a good start despite the fact that Correa last month said a Santos presidency would be “a problem” for bilateral ties.

Extraditions Complicate Delivery of Justice in Colombia

In an article for Foreign Policy, Michael Reed-Hurtado of the International Center for Transitional Justice sheds light on how extraditions of Colombian criminals to the United States undermines the Andean country’s judicial system. “Perpetrators should first be brought to justice in Colombia for human rights-related crimes, before they are surrendered to U.S. authorities on drug charges,” argues Reed-Hurtado, who notes that the extraditions have led to a slowing of confessions for crimes by paramilitaries.

Colombia FTA Passed by Canadian Senate

Less than a week after Canada’s Parliament approved a bilateral trade pact with Colombia, Canada’s Senate passed the bill during a late session on June 21. President Álvaro Uribe and Minister of Commerce Luis Guillermo Plata regard this as a positive sign for other trade agreements currently under negotiation, particularly the long-stalled deal with the United States. Canada-Colombia trade rose from $490 million in 2003 to $1.08 billion in 2009.

New Poll For Peru Prez Race Shows Dead Heat

A June 21 survey by Ipsos-Apoyo found that, if the elections for president were held today, there would be a near tie between Keiko Fujimori, daughter of imprisoned ex-President Alberto Fujimori, with 22 percent and Lima Mayor Luis Castañeda with 21 percent. Meanwhile, 13 percent voiced support for former candidate Ollanta Humala and 12 percent would vote for ex-President Alejandro Toledo.

Canadian Senate Report Calls for Extension of Afghan Commitment

A June 22 report released by Canada’s Senate Defence Committee recommends that Canadian forces remain beyond its withdrawal, scheduled for 2011, to train Afghan security forces. Citing the recent surge of NATO forces in Afghanistan, the report stated: “It will be a key part of Canada’s legacy in Afghanistan that Canadian soldiers helped prepare them for this fight.”

Brazil to Halt Mediation on Iran Nuke Issue

Celso Amorim, Brazil’s foreign minister, told the Financial Times over the weekend that Brasilia would no longer serve as a broker in the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. “We got our fingers burned by doing things that everybody said were helpful and in the end we found that some people could not take ‘yes’ for an answer,” said Amorim. The announcement came after Brazil and Turkey last month negotiated a proposal that involved Iran exchanging half of its supply of enriched uranium for a research reactor. The proposal was rejected by the UN Security Council, which imposed new sanctions on Iran. Brazil and Turkey, temporary members of the Security Council, voted against the sanctions.

Peru and Brazil Sign Energy Accords

The presidents of Peru and Brazil met in Manaus June 16 to sign bilateral agreements allowing for the transfer of Brazilian technology to Peru for the purposes of sustainable energy as well as agricultural development and an integrated management of water resources shared by both countries.

A new working paper by AS/COA’s Energy Action Group makes several recommendations to the leadership of Peru regarding the oil and natural gas industry in that country. Among the recommendations: ensuring market friendly policies for energy development, strict environmental standards, and increased energy exports to Asia.

Coca Cultivation Rises in Peru, Falls in Colombia

In its latest annual report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime indicated that coca cultivation has dropped by 5 percent in the Andean region. The countries, however, exhibit different trends. While Colombia’s cultivation has dropped 60 percent compared to its peak a decade ago, Peru could overtake Colombia as the world’s biggest coca producer. Bolivia exhibited little change over the year in term of its production, although cultivation rates remain double what they were a year ago.

Piñera’s First 100 Days in Office Marked by Reconstruction

Chilean President Sebastian Piñera completed his first 100 days in office in a period heavily affected by the major earthquake that struck two weeks before he took office. Infolatam takes a look at the leader’s initial period in office, including his implementation of a reconstruction plan to recoup $30 billion in losses due to the disaster. The article quotes political analyst Patricio Navia, who comments that Piñera met his pledge of creating a “new form of governing,” although deep changes have not yet taken place.

Chile’s Border with Bolivia Now Free of Land Mines

After five years of removing nearly all land mines placed along Chile’s border with Bolivia during the Pinochet regime in the 1970s, the area has been declared free of land mines. Some 23,000 mines were removed in the process and began after Santiago ratified the Ottawa Convention on demining in 2005. Chile has a similar process underway in the south along the Argentine border, where it hopes to remove all mines by 2012.

New Foreign Minister in Argentina

Jorge Taiana stepped down from his post as Argentine foreign minister last week to be replaced by Héctor Timerman, the former ambassador of Argentina to the United States. Taiana began his tenure in 2005, during the administration of Néstor Kirchner, and retained the post in the current administration of Cristiana Fernández de Kirchner.

Nebraska Town Passes Strict Immigration Law

The town of Fremont, Nebraska, was thrust into the center of rising debate over immigration reform when voters elected to pass a law prohibiting businesses from hiring illegal immigrants and landlords from renting to them. Opponents of the law say it could come with an economic cost stemming from lawsuits. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the American Civil Liberties Union has already announced that it will challenge the law.

Obama Administration May Sue Arizona over Immigration Law

Arizona’s controversial law could be challenged in court by the U.S. Department of Justice, according to comments made by U.S. Secretary of Clinton in Ecuador in early June. Governor of Arizona Jan Brewer declared that any legal action from the federal government would be “outrageous” and that the government “should be using its legal resources to fight illegal immigration, not the law-abiding citizens of Arizona.” 

Mexico Submits Brief Supporting Suits against Arizona

The Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Relations submitted a brief to an Arizona federal court challenging the constitutionality of Arizona immigration law SB1070. The submission demanded the guarantee of civil and human rights for Mexican citizens in Arizona.

Immigrant Fishermen in the Gulf Hit by BP Spill

Feet in Two Worlds blog carries a feature about Central American workers who settled in St. Bernard Parish on the coast of Louisiana and have lost their livelihood due to the BP oil spill. Workers along the Gulf Coast wait to be called for cleanup work, have left searching for employment opportunities elsewhere, or face increasing immigration crackdowns. Prior to the spill, fishermen could earn as much as $600 per day.

Washington Renews Military Cooperation with Honduras

A year after the United States suspended aid to Honduras after the overthrow of then-President Manuel Zelaya, Washington restarted military aid to the Central American country last week when it donated 25 military vehicles to the Honduran army to be used by Honduran Special Forces. (Hat tip: Latin America News Dispatch)

Gangs Set Bus on Fire, Kill Passengers in El Salvador

At least 16 people were killed Sunday night when street gangs attacked passengers in two buses—setting fire to one of them—that were traveling through an area of San Salvador plagued by crime. Authorities say recent attacks are the result of the increased presence of drug traffickers and come as gang members demand protection money from bus companies.

Fugitive Drug Lord Captured in Jamaica

Weeks after pursuit of Jamaican drug kingpin Christopher “Dudus” Coke led to the death of 76 people in Kingston, Jamaican officials announced June 22 that they had captured Coke as he was en route to surrender at the U.S. embassy. Coke is wanted in the United States on charges of arms dealings and drug trafficking.

Read an AS/COA analysis of the turmoil resulting from pursuit of Coke.

Haitian President’s Leadership Questioned by U.S. Senate

In a report published June 22, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee called for stronger leadership from Haitian President René Préval and a unified donor strategy for Haitian earthquake reconstruction. Committee Chairman John F. Kerry (D-MA) joined Republican Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) in calling for Préval to improve the decision-making structure surrounding issues such as shelter and resettlement, as well as to expedite scheduling of elections, which were stalled by the January disaster.

Challenges for Mexico’s Governing Party in July Vote

On July 4, almost half of Mexico’s states hold elections and 12 will choose new governors. For the majority of states, the Institutional Revolutionary Party is expected to win, not only because of a successful political strategy, but because of “popular disenchantment with a decade” of governance by the National Action Party, writes David Agren in World Politics Review.

For an in-depth analysis of the upcoming elections in Mexico, read a new AS/COA Hemispheric Update.

Mexico Mourns Writer Carlos Monsiváis

One of Mexico’s most prominent intellectual figures passed away June 19 at the age of 72, leaving both an important legacy and a vacuum in contemporary culture. “He was known as Mexico’s finest chronicler, its ‘last public intellectual,’ its ‘conscience,’ and as the only literary figure around who was said to be recognized by regular folks on the street,” writes Mexico-based Daniel Hernandez for The Los Angeles Times La Plaza blog. Monsiváis will be remembered not only for his writing, but also for a museum of the writer’s collection of popular urban art.

Tags: Arizona Law Suit, Peru Brazil Energyy, Peruvian Elections, Pinera's 100 days, René Préval, Santos Wins
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