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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Drug Lord La Barbie Captured in Mexico

After a 14-month operation, on Monday Mexican security forces captured U.S-born kingpin Édgar Valdez Villareal, better known as La Barbie for his fair appearance. Valdez, reputedly one of Mexico’s most violent cartel leaders, controlled the Beltrán-Leyva gang in the states of Morelos, Guerrero, State of Mexico, and Sinaloa. The branch of the cartel he oversaw is thought to be responsible for smuggling roughly a ton of cocaine into the United States each month. Alejandro Poiré, Mexican security spokesman, declared the arrest as “a high impact strike against organized crime and an important step in the security strategy.” Valdez could be extradited to the United States, where he was indicted on drug trafficking charges. Also this week, the Colombian National Police arrested 11 people who served as liaisons between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and La Barbie’s gang.

Unfortunately, cartel leaders function like hydra monsters. In The Los Angeles Times’ La Plaza blog Daniel Hernandez ponders the question of who might take La Barbie’s place.

Read an AS/COA Online news analysis about President’s Felipe Calderón’s strategy to attack cartels at their base by cracking down on money laundering.

Report Paints Uneven Geographical Picture of Mexican Security

A new report published by the Mexican government provides a look at official crime statistics across the country and finds that the four states of Chihuahua, Durango, Sinaloa, and Guerrero experience much higher rates of violence than the remaining 32 states. The Economist’s Gulliver blog points out that in the much-touristed Yucatan the homicide rate of 1.7 per 100,000 inhabitants trails Canada’s rate of 2.1. “Before I am buried in an avalanche of polite Canadian emails, I should acknowledge that comparing an entire country with one quiet state is hardly fair: there are no doubt parts of Canada where no-one has been so much as kicked in the shin for decades,” notes the Gulliver post. “But Mexico’s predicament is worth highlighting, because the extreme violence around its border with the United States colors people’s view of the rest of the country, though much of it is pretty quiet.”

New Tactics to Combat Police Corruption in Mexican Border State

The Mexican border state of Nuevo Leon, hard hit by cartel crime, will increase the salary of state police officers by 20 percent in an attempt to deter them from joining drug gangs. Other incentives include a scholarship program for the children of police officers as well as extra life insurance coverage.

Interactive: CentralAm Migrant Dangers in Mexico

In the wake of the massacre of 72 migrants traveling through the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, Honduran newspaper La Prensa offers an interactive feature covering the dangers faced by Central American migrants as they travel through Mexico on their way to the United States, particularly at the hands of the Zetas gang. The feature, which includes news stories and videos, reports that of the 10,000 Central American migrants kidnapped by the gang in Mexico last year, two thirds were Honduran.

Mexico City Woos the Pink Peso

The Mexican capital, which legalized gay marriage in December 2009, is encouraging gay tourists to come to the city. As well as creating a special tourist office to focus on the initiative, the city—in a show of solidarity—organized an all-expenses-paid honeymoon in Mexico City for Argentina’s first legally married gay couple. In July, Argentina became the first Latin American country to pass same-sex marriage.

U.S. Opportunity to Usher in More Cuban Reforms

In a Financial Times op-ed, AS/COA’s Christopher Sabatini writes that Cuba’s recent reforms coupled with the release of over 50 political prisoners opens the door for Washington to ease travel policies, banking restrictions, and telecommunications regulations targeting the island. “If done carefully, further reforms hold the promise of breaking the policy and human rights stasis that has gripped Cuba, and U.S. policy towards Cuba, for more than half a century,” writes Sabatini. “That is a prize worth grasping.”

Major wireless providers are urging the Obama administration to push forward with easing telecommunications regulations as a tool for democracy promotion on the island.

Empowering the Cuban People through Technology, a Cuba Study Group report written in collaboration with Americas Society/Council of the Americas and the Brookings Institution, outlines ways to boost Cuba’s telecom access.

NASA Pitches in on Efforts to Rescue Chilean Miners

U.S. space agency NASA, responding to a request from the U.S. State Department on behalf of the Chilean Health Ministry, is providing logistical support as well as advice on how to maintain the psychological health of the 33 miners trapped underground in the Atacama desert. In The Washington Post, U.S. astronaut Jerry Linenger discusses his experience being stranded on a malfunctioning space station for four months and offers advice on how to manage the miners’ expectations as they experience stress and isolation.

Controversy over Argentine Battle with Newsprint Co.

On August 27, in the latest strike against Argentina’s major newspapers, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner called for the nationalization of Papel Prensa, the country’s biggest newsprint company and owner of Clarín and La Nación. Newsweek’s Mac Mogolis writes about the battle between the president and the media monopoly in the context of recent government closures of free press in many parts of Latin America.

Uruguay’s Growth Could Earn Investment Grade

During a Montevideo conference, AS/COA’s Susan Segal signaled that Uruguay’s stability and economic growth could help the country win back the investment grade that it lost in 2002. Also at the AS/COA Latin America Cities conference, Uruguayan President José Mújica said the country should focus on boosting its standing as a regional leader in biological and genetic innovation and called on businesses to invest in those industries.

Mercosur’s Beef Exports on the Rise

IPS News reports that beef exports jumped this year due to a surge in Asian demand for the product. An Argentine report found that, in 2010, Mercosur will account for 40 percent of the global market’s supply and Brazil alone supplies 25 percent of world exports.

Ottawa Boosts LatAm Ties during Trade Minister’s Tour

Over the course of the past week, Canada’s Minister of International Trade Peter Van Loan traveled to Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, and Colombia to boost trade ties. Ottawa and San José agreed to revise their existing free trade agreement and Van Loan signaled that the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement could take effect in 2011. After returning home, the trade minister indicated that Canada, along with South Africa and India, plans to initiate trade talks with Mercosur this year.

Canada Defends Arctic Sovereignty

Last week, Canadian fighter jets intercepted two Russian military aircraft as they approached Canadian Arctic airspace. The incident occurred as Canada begins military exercises in its far-north territories and is the latest in a string of moves by Russia designed to strengthen its sovereignty claims in the melting, resource-rich region.

Lima, Seoul Sign FTA

South Korea and Peru finalized a long-awaited FTA in Lima on Monday with a ceremony attended by Peruvian President Alan Garcia and South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon. The pact comes after 18 months of negotiations and could increase trade between the two countries fivefold to reach $7 billion in five years.

Peru Ranks First in Silver Production

Reflecting the country’s expanding resource capabilities, Peru announced its place as the world’s leading silver producer this week. Peru’s Ministry of Energy and Mines said the country currently holds 120 million fine kilograms of the precious metal, a figure said to represent 30 percent of reserves worldwide.

Peruvian Candidate O. Humala Wants “New Political Class”

In an interview with Latin America News Dispatch, former and current Peruvian presidential candidate Ollanta Humala discusses his vision for Peru in terms of political representation, social equity, and external affairs. The indigenous activist, who says that he is neither left nor right aligned, would, if elected, create a “new constitution, a new economic model and the construction of a new political class.” An August poll places Humala in fourth place among the presidential candidates currently in the race for the April 2011 Peruvian presidential bid.

Colombia to Compensate State Victims

In a new bill designed to improve the country’s Victims Law, officials in Bogota have agreed to allow those who have suffered at the hands of the state or its agents to be eligible for reparations. The original bill, signed by the government of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, excluded victims of state violence.

Ecuador Revokes Santos’ Arrest Warrant

In 2008 when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos served as defense minister, Quito issued an arrest warrant for him after the Colombian army raided a guerilla camp on Ecuadoran territory. On Monday, a judge revoked the arrest warrant on the grounds that the former commander of the Colombian armed forces and the chief of the police were also linked to the raid but no warrants had been issued, thereby violating the principle of legal equality. Colombia Reports notes that the gesture is another step toward repairing strained bilateral relations.

South Asian Migration to Ecuador Soars

An analysis from BBC Mundo reports that migration from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka to Ecuador increased 300 percent over the past two years. Some observers believe the rise stems from a change in Ecuadoran migration policy that, since 2008, has allowed foreigners to enter the country without a visa and stay up to 90 days.

New Law Seeks to Turn Tide on Gender-Related Violence in Bolivia

Violent crimes against women increased considerably over the past two years in Bolivia, rising by 10 percent in La Paz alone, reports Fonografia Collective. The crimes largely go unpunished, but a new law that may pass by the end of the year proposed 30-year prison terms for femicide.

Brazilian FM: South-South Cooperation on the Rise

In an op-ed for The Hindu, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim stressed the need for greater South-South cooperation, writing that: “For almost eight years now, Brazil has acted with boldness and, like other developing countries, has changed its place in the world,” adding that Brasilia would continue to seek greater prominence in world affairs. Amorim pointed to the UN, the World Bank, and the IMF as fora for developing-world cooperation, as well as new multilateral alliances such as BRIC.

Rousseff’s Economic Horizons

Writing for Roubini Global Economics, Latin American economics specialist Thomas Trebat offers his predictions about how a Rousseff administration might develop the Brazilian economy post election. Trebat speculates that Rousseff, who leads in presidential-race polls, would continue previous administrations’ tried-and-tested policies while pushing for greater state action on investment and infrastructure creation through the use of public financing.

Brazil Uses Census to Reach Minorities

As part of its 2010 Census, Brazil is making efforts to document minority and under-privileged groups, including the impoverished Kalunga community. The group, descendant of runaway African slaves, attribute previous improvements to their community, such as the introduction of electricity, schools, roads, and potable water, to government efforts after the country’s last census, held in 2000.

Costa Rica Opens Its Airwaves for Mobile Phone Competition

The final barrier to Costa Rica’s state monopoly over mobile phone service was removed on Tuesday, reports the Financial Times Beyond Brics blog. The government in San Jose announced its intention to open bids for three bandwidths of service to compete with the Costa Rican Electricity Institute. As part of its obligations under the Central American Free Trade Agreement, Costa Rica committed to abolishing all state monopolies, including those over the telecommunications industry.

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