Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

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Chávez Lashes out at Reporter after Election

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez issued a stinging critique of Andreína Flores, a Radio France reporter who questioned how vote tallies correspond to seats won in the National Assembly. Although opposition candidates picked up half the votes, recent redistricting means they captured only a third of the seats in September 26 parliamentary elections compared to the two-thirds snapped up by members of Chávez’s party. “It seems as if you’re totally ignoring what happened here, as if you lived on the moon,” said Chávez in response to the reporter. Radio France issued a reply which said that Flores “still has the full confidence of Radio France’s leadership,” and invited Chávez to “speak before the microphones as part of another interview.”

Read an AS/COA news analysis of the results of Venezuela’s September 26 parliamentary elections.

Venezuela Election Could Spell Freedom for Two Jailed Candidates

Results from Venezuela’s September 26 parliamentary elections show two political prisoners winning their respective races. Under Venezuela’s constitution, José “Mazuco” Sánchez and Biagio Pilieri would now be entitled to immunity from prosecution, fueling speculation that both men could be released soon. The government accuses Sánchez, a supporter of former presidential candidate Manuel Rosales, of murder. Pilieri, a former mayor, was accused of financial mismanagement but remains in prison even after being found innocent by a Venezuelan court.

Rousseff Remains Confident Despite Slipping Poll Numbers

Brazilian presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff’s poll numbers have fallen three points to 51 percent. Although this increases the chances of a runoff, Infolatam reports that she remains confident of her victory. Elections take place October 3 and the top three candidates include—in order of poll figures—Workers’ Party candidate Rousseff, the Social Democratic Party’s José Serra, and the Green Party’s Marina Silva.

Lula’s Long Shadow

As Brazil’s October 3 presidential election nears, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s success in promoting economic advancement has raised the question of his political future, says a University of Pennsylvania Universia Knowledge@Wharton piece. When asked whether he was considering the idea of becoming a candidate in 2014 Lula said, “I am not ruling that out,” but added that he doesn’t plan to be involved in government during the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Brazilian Finance Minister: International Currency War Brewing

Guido Mantega, the Brazilian finance minister, says that attempts by many countries to devalue their currency to gain a competitive advantage has resulted in an “international trade war,” that will have destabilizing effects and result in increased protectionism globally. A Roubini Latin America Economonitor article argues that uncoordinated currency debasement may lead to political tension and aggressive economic policy on the part of China and the United States, which could have global ramifications.

Santos Pitches Reparations Bill

President Juan Manuel Santos announced a bill that would award reparations to as many as four million people victimized during decades of violence. The bill, submitted to Colombia’s Congress on September 27, covers areas such as health care, education, and land restitution. Guerilla and paramilitary members will be excluded from the bill.

FARC Designates Jojoy Successor

In the wake of the death of top FARC leader Jorge Briceño Suárez—known by his alias “Mono Jojoy,” the guerilla group announced that it selected Félix Antonio Muñoz, alias “Pastor Alape,” to take over Jojoy’s position. El País reports that the government responded saying it will “continue combating subversive groups until they show signs of becoming peaceful.”

Read a profile of Pastor Alape published by Caracol.

During an AS/COA program, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia revealed that, in the strike that claimed Jojoy’s life, authorities captured 14 computers and 60 USB drives from the FARC camp.

Read an AS/COA news analysis covering Jojoy’s assassination.

Piedad Cordoba Accused of Supporting FARC

Semana reports that INTERPOL and the Colombian Attorney General Alejandro Ordóñez have filed documents arguing that Colombian Senator Pieded Cordoba collaborated with top Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) leader Raul Reyes and coordinated support for the FARC. Cordoba has gained attention for her role in brokering the release of FARC hostages. Ordóñez argues that although the alleged communication occurred during the period of hostage negotiations, it represents a clear legal violation.

Colombia Declares UN Security Council Candidacy

Last week, President Juan Manuel Santos announced to the United Nations his country’s aspirations for the rotating non-permanent seat for Latin America at the UN Security Council in 2011-2012. Santos called his country a “model” in the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism, adding that Colombia “can be very useful to all members.” After Santos’ announcement, Bolivian President Evo Morales indicated that Bolivia would oppose Colombia’s bid, charging Bogota with being a “candidate of the U.S.”

The Mexico-Colombia Comparison: Apples and Oranges?

An article in The Los Angeles Times looks at U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s early September comparison of Mexico’s upsurge in cartel-related killings with Colombia’s violent past. Mexico City-based Ken Ellingwood, outlining the differences, argues that the tactics and targets employed in Mexico’s drug war contrast from the Colombian experience. “Irked Mexican officials dismissed Clinton’s Colombia comparison as sloppy history and tartly offered that the only common thread was drug consumption in the United States,” writes Ellingwood. “And while the two cases share broad-brush similarities, there also are important distinctions, including Mexico’s profound sensitivity to outside interference.”

Fugitive Mexican Politician Sworn into Office

Julio Cesar Godoy Toscano, a Mexican politician wanted on corruption and drug charges since May 2009, evaded security at Mexico City’s Chamber of Deputies and was sworn into office. Godoy hid for two days inside the Chamber before emerging on September 23 to take office as a deputy representing the state of Michoacan. Godoy, whose office now grants him immunity from arrest, was implicated in an investigation conducted just prior to his election in 2009.

Calderón Vows Greater Protection for Journalists

Mexican President Felipe Calderón announced a plan on September 22 to protect journalists. Violence against reporters has surged since the government began cracking down on drug cartels nearly four years ago. At least 22 Mexican journalists have been killed and seven others gone missing over the past four years, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

El Salvador Court Strikes Blow to Freedom of Press

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas reports that El Salvador’s Supreme Court struck down a section of the penal code that protects reporters from accusations of defamation by public officials.

Honduras, El Salvador Ink Remittances Deal with U.S.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed separate agreements with the governments of Honduras and El Salvador to channel the flow of remittances through banks rather than wire transfer services. The initiative, known as Building Remittance Investment for Development Growth and Entrepreneurship—or BRIDGE—will help boost financing of infrastructure and small-business projects.

Nicaraguan Diplomat’s Death a Mystery

Investigators remain stumped about the death of Nicaraguan diplomat Cesar Mercado, who was found dead last week in his blood-spattered Bronx apartment, with his throat slashed but no signs of forced entry.

Panama Canal Marks One Million Transits

A Hong Kong ship called the Fortune Plum became the one-millionth vessel to pass through the Panama Canal earlier this month. The ship, whose name in Chinese signifies good luck, traveled through the canal on the morning of September 4—96 years after the first ship crossed the man-made passage in August 1914. An estimated 14,000 ships use the canal each year.

Retired Generals Call for Lift of Cuba Travel Ban

In a letter to the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, nine retired U.S. military officers called for the removal of the decades-old ban preventing American citizens from traveling to Cuba, arguing that the island no longer poses a threat to the security of the United States. “Lifting the overall travel ban would extend cultural and economic engagement and enhance our security by removing unnecessary sources of discontent in a country so close to the United States,” wrote the retired officers. Despite their call, the house committee’s chairman chose Tuesday to postpone a decision on the bill that would lift the ban.

Lima Urges Regional Unity in Fight against Drug Trafficking

Peru is calling for Latin American countries to form a regional alliance to combat organized crime dedicated to the illicit drug trade, reports IPS. “It is the Latin American countries that should shape the plan from our perspective,” said head of Peru’s National Commission for Drug-Free Development and Life’s Rómula Pizarro on September 27.

Peru-Thailand FTA Pending

Thailand and Peru should see a 25 percent increase in trade once a free trade agreement goes into effect on January 1, 2011, said Thai trade representative Vachara Panchet on September 23. He went on to declare, “We want to learn from our Peruvian friends how to be better at doing business in Latin America,” reports Andina.

Chile Launches New Initiative to Boost Entrepreneurship

The Piñera administration is hoping to lure investors and entrepreneurs to Chile with the promise of up to $40,000 in government funding per project as part of a new initiative called “Start-Up Chile.” Santiago will connect business mentors and venture capitalists across Chile and support them by covering capital costs for up to six months.

Argentine Energy Prices to Climb

The Argentine government will cut energy subsidies on October 1, which have been in place since 2001. Argentines can expect energy bills to increase between 50 and 200 percent depending on use, a hike that will hit hard when coupled with continued inflation that “is eroding purchasing power,” reports Financial Times’ Beyond Brics blog.

University Rankings: LatAm’s Top Ten

The Christian Science Monitor’s Global News blog looks at the rankings for universities in Latin America according to 2010 U.S News & World Report, which lists National Autonomous University of Mexico in the top spot. Brazil dominated the list with three schools; Argentina, Chile, and Mexico each had two schools; and Uruguay had one.

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