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.
National Guard Troop Deployment Announced
U.S. President Barack Obama set an August 1 deployment date for 1,200 National Guard members to be sent to the Mexican border. Alan Bersin, the U.S. customs and border protection commissioner, said the troops’ mission will be to “support efforts of law enforcement, not to have a direct law enforcement role.” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano declared that the troops will support “agents working in high-risk areas to disrupt criminal organizations seeking to move people and goods illegally across the southwest border.”
Merida Initiative under Scrutiny
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report covering shortcomings in deployment of Merida Initiative funds. Only 9 percent of the $1.6 billion pledged has been released for the security program, which seeks to boost anti-trafficking efforts in Mexico and Central America. U.S. Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY), one of the report’s commissioners, commented that the initiative lacked the capacity for benchmarking. “We need to find a way of measuring success,” Engel told the Associated Press.
Dissidents May Be Allowed to Remain in Cuba
In an official statement, Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón announced that dissidents recently released by the regime could remain in Cuba if they chose. On July 8, Cuba announced that it would release 52 political prisoners. At the time of this report, ten of them had arrived in Spain.
Read a new AS/COA report published in collaboration with the Cuba Study Group and Brookings Institution that outlines ways that the public and private sector can build access to technology and telecommunications services in Cuba.
Latin American Growth Forecasts Boosted
IMF’s Western Hemisphere Department head Nicolás Eyzaguirre said earlier this week that Latin American GDP growth could log in at 5 percent for 2010, up from previous IMF predictions. The reassessment is in response to strong forecasts for both Brazil and Mexico, predicted to grow 7 and 4.5 percent respectively. Eyzaguirre also said that the eurozone crisis would not affect the region if the U.S. economy continues to mend and global trade remains on the rise.
Chilean FinMinister Optimistic on 2011 Growth
In an interview with the Financial Times, Chile’s Finance Minister Felipe Larraín predicted his country’s economy will expand 6 percent and generate 200,000 jobs in 2011. However BanChile Chief Economist Rodrigo Aravena stated that these projections were overly optimistic, citing a lack of domestic “space to improve productivity” and slow U.S. and European recoveries as possible drags on the economy. Chile grew at a 7.1 percent in May 2010, experiencing only a shallow slump after the February earthquake.
Argentina Passes Gay Marriage Bill
Following a close vote in the Senate (33-27), Argentina became the first country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage, granting gay couples the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner voiced her support of the legislation, declaring “it would be a terrible distortion of democracy if the majorities, [and] the actions of those majorities, denied rights to minorities.”
Deadly Cold Front Hits South America
An unusually strong cold front has swept through the Southern Cone, leaving over 50 people dead across the region. Normally temperate areas have experienced freezing temperatures and snowfall, with schools closing in Bolivia and over 1,000 cattle dying in Paraguay.
Assessing the Future Shape of Brazil’s Anti-Drug Policy
Brazilian presidential candidate José Serra caused a diplomatic stir when he accused Bolivia of being an accomplice in the illegal drug trade in May. His comments also sparked questions about the country’s drug policy under the next administration, given the rising consumption of cocaine in Brazil. “With Brazilian presidential elections slated for October, the question of how Brazil will handle international drug trafficking along its borders promises to remain on the agenda,” writes Roque Planas for World Politics Review. “Regardless of who wins, Brazil’s foreign relations appear likely to be increasingly determined by its drug consumption patterns.”
Opening Skies in Brazil
With the FIFA World Cup set to take place in Brazil in 2014, attention is turning to the domestic aviation sector. Azul, a relatively new domestic airline, has announced plans to invest $850 million in developing aviation into a low-cost, viable intercity travel option. Also this week, the Brazilian government announced it would allocate $2.9 billion to ready 13 new airports around the country in time for the global sporting event.
Brazilian Soft Power, Hard Currency
In efforts to increase its visibility on the world stage, Brazil tripled aid to the developing world since 2008, which now stands at nearly $4 billion a year. The Economist points out that recipients span the globe, from Haiti to the Palestinian Territories.
U.S. Offers Reward for Info on Peruvian Terrorists
The U.S. State Department announced rewards of $5 million for information leading to the arrest of two former leaders of Peru’s Shining Path terrorist organization. The inclusion of Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala and Víctor Quispe Palomino in the U.S.’ Narcotics Rewards Program comes after a June 23 UN report found Peru had surpassed Colombia in cocaine production.
Ecuadoran Emigration to Spain Slowed
On a visit to Ecuador, Spain’s top immigration official Anna Terrón ruled out the possibility of any new regularization procedures for Ecuadoran migrants. Citing European financial instability and unemployment in Spain floating at 20 percent, Terrón said that Madrid would limit its migration policies to only provide visas for skilled laborers. Ecuadorans represent the third-fastest growing immigrant community in Spain.
Charting Colombia’s New Congress
La Silla Vacía maps out Colombia’s newly inaugurated National Congress. Roughly 80 percent of the country’s congressmen are part of the coalition allied with Juan Manuel Santos, who takes over the presidency in August. The article’s charts share information about the legislators, including party affiliation, female representation, and contested seats.
Colombia Emerges as LatAm Success Story
Economic achievements, institutional robustness, and strengthened domestic security are elements that have transformed Colombia into a South American success story, reports Newsweek. “Whether on security, democratic stability, or vibrancy, the strength of Colombia’s democracy is there for all to see,” says COA Vice President Eric Farnsworth, interviewed for the article. Since 2002, foreign direct investment in Colombia increased fivefold and the country’s GDP doubled.
FARC Camps in Venezuela Bedevil Bogota-Caracas Ties
Colombia called on the OAS to hold an extraordinary meeting about the presence of FARC camps on Venezuelan territory. The accusations have further strained the already tense ties between the Andean neighbors. In light of the allegations, Caracas declined an invitation to attend Santos’ August 7 inauguration. The Latin Americanist explores theories that the issue has also caused divisions between President-elect Juan Manuel Santos and outgoing President Álvaro Uribe and that the current head of state disagrees with the softer tone his successor has used with Venezuela.
Chavista Installed on Globovisión Board
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced July 20 that he intends to appoint a government official to the board of directors of the privately-owned television station Globovisión. He also revealed that the government now owns 25.8 percent of Globovisión, one of Venezuela’s few remaining independent media outlets, due to the government’s takeover of Banco Federal earlier last month. One of the bank’s owners held the minority stake in the network.
More Mexican Cabinet Changes
Maximiliano Cortázar, head of the Mexican presidential communications office, announced July 16 that he will step down to become communications secretary for the ruling National Action Party (PAN). Cortázar’s appointment aims to strengthen the PAN ahead of next year’s gubernatorial races, as well as to prepare the party for the 2012 presidential race.
In an exclusive AS/COA interview, the Wilson Center’s Andrew Selee talks about Mexico’s recent cabinet shuffle.
Former Mexican Presidential Candidate Remains Hostage
Two months ago, kidnappers took former presidential candidate Diego Fernández de Cevallos hostage. Since then, there have been few updates on his whereabouts and many assume him dead. However, La Jornada reports on evidence that Cevallos is alive and remains in captivity. Cevallos, who has a $30 million ransom on his head, is believed to be held by a criminal gang responsible for over 40 high-profile kidnappings. Cevallos’ family has been communicating directly with the kidnappers due to threats to kill him in the case that police were involved.
Honduras Readmitted by SICA
During a July 20 summit in San Salvador, Central American Integration System (SICA) leaders voted in favor of readmitting Honduras. SICA boycotted Honduras following the June 2009 overthrow of then-President Manuel Zelaya. SICA, which also voiced support for Honduras’ readmission into the OAS, made the decision despite the absence of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who has not yet recognized the new Honduran government.
Sen. Kerry Urges TPS Visas for Guatemalans
A recent spate of natural disasters along with high crime rates in Guatemala prompted U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to write to President Barrack Obama on July 15 requesting Temporary Protected Status for Guatemalan citizens living in the United States. Kerry argues that Guatemalans are not able to return to safety in their country, as “their most basic human needs cannot be met.”
Guatemalan Election-Fraud Fears
A poll published by Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre found 63.9 percent of Guatemalans fear fraud in the 2011 general elections. Voters will be able to use one of two different types of identification to register to vote, leading to fears of parallel electoral rolls. In the same poll, 53 percent of Guatemalans disapproved of President’s Álvaro Colom administration and 46.1 percent listed insecurity as a major concern.