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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Cholera Outbreak Worsens in Haiti

In the wake of tropical storm Tomás, the number of cases and deaths related to cholera continues to climb; the outbreak officially reached Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, according to the Pan American Health Organization. The Miami Herald offers a collection of AP videos about the outbreak, the storm, and preparations on the ground.

Argentine Junta Leader Massera Dies

Emilio Eduaro Massera, one of the main leaders of Argentina’s 1976 military coup and subsequent military government, died of a cerebral hemorrhage on November 8. Many see Massera as the brains behind the junta’s Dirty War, which led to the murder and disappearance of between 13,000 and 30,000 people. “Over his tomb will fall the spit of an outraged public, like intermittent rain,” said biographer Osvaldo Bayer, according to the Canadian Press.

Brazil Preps for G20 Round of “Currency War

“It’s no use throwing dollars out of a helicopter,” said Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega, criticizing the U.S. Federal Reserve Banks policy of monetary easing. Financial Times reports that outgoing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will travel with President-elect Dilma Rousseff to the G20 summit in Seoul this week, “to take all the necessary measures to not allow our currency to become overvalued.”

Destination Mozambique: President Lula’s Last Trip to Africa

Infolatam reports that this week Brazilian President Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva made his last trip to Africa as head of state, with a trip to Mozambique. The Lula administration greatly stepped up economic and diplomatic ties with Africa. During his presidency Lula visited the continent 12 times and traveled to nearly 30 African countries.

Citizen Journalism Brings News from São Paulo’s Outskirts

The Knight Center for Press Freedom reports on a citizen journalism project bringing coverage and accuracy to news reports from poor neighborhoods on the outskirts of São Paulo. A Brazilian journalist started the project to train citizen journalists six months ago. The result is the blog Mural, which will soon be published on the website of O Folha de São Paulo.

Peru’s Former FinMin and Ex-Prez Enter Presidential Race

The crowded Peruvian presidential race has two more candidates with two strong contenders announcing their official candidacies for the April 2011 vote. Mercedes Aráoz, who served as a finance minister in the current administration, made the announcement that she would run last week. Living in Peru offers an interview with Aráoz about her presidential bid. Ex-President Alejandro Toledo threw his hat into the ring on Wednesday, informing Twitter followers and Facebook fans that he was about to reveal his candidacy.

Lori Berenson Freed Again

On November 6, a Peruvian judge reinstated parole for Lori Berenson, who served 15 years of her 20-year sentence for aiding the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement in Peru. She was originally granted parole in May but imprisoned in August due to an issue involving verification of her address. Berenson must spend the remainder of her parole period in Peru unless the country opts to deport her.

Mexico, Peru Top LatAm for “Doing Business”

A new World Bank report ranks Mexico and Peru as the best countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in terms of ease of doing business. Argentina took the top spot for enforcing contracts, Colombia for protecting investors, Guatemala for registering property, and Panama for ease of trade across borders.

A Recipe to Reduce Gang Violence in Mexico

Writing for Mexican magazine Nexos, Eduardo Guerrero offers a thorough analysis of violence in Mexico since 2001 and particularly since the Calderón administration began its offensive against cartels in 2007, noting that waves of violence follow the arrest or assassination of certain cartel leaders. The article explores successful efforts to combat organized crime in the United States and Latin America that offer lessons for Mexico by increasing the costs of committing crime, quick and correct sentencing of criminals, and clear communication with gang members regarding which crimes will be met with “zero tolerance.”

DOJ Report Puts Project Gunrunner under Microscope

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released a report on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) implementation of Project Gunrunner on November 9. Project Gunrunner began in 2005 in an effort to “deny firearms, the ‘tools of the trade,’ to criminal organizations in Mexico.” The DOJ report finds that the “ATF does not systematically and consistently exchange intelligence with its Mexican and some U.S. partner Agencies,” and argues that “despite the increased activity associated with Project Gunrunner, we found that significant weaknesses in ATF’s implementation of Project Gunrunner undermine its effectiveness.” The report argues for improved bilateral communication and intelligence regarding gun smuggling.

Mexican Marines Take out “Tony Tormenta”

Following a Friday-night gun battle, Mexican security forces killed high-ranking Gulf Cartel leader Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen—better known as “Tony Tormenta”—in the northern state of Tamaulipas. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the move drew a congratulatory phone call from President Barack Obama to his Mexican counterpart Felipe Calderón; the State Department had a $5 billion bounty out on Cardenas. Despite the drug war success, some observers are concerned that the cartel leader’s death could strengthen the rival Zetas cartel’s power in the state and lead to more bloodshed.

Zeta’s PR Arm Pushes Stories on Mexican Reporters

Mexico-based Mike O’Connor of the Committee to Protect Journalist writes for GlobalPost about how the brutal Zeta cartel developed a public relations wing that sends press releases to reporter—along with threats if they don’t run the Zeta version of news stories. In many cases, says one reporter who began receiving Zeta dispatches four months ago, the releases paint the military in a bad light and local police in a positive one. Twenty-seven journalists have been killed or disappeared over the past four years in Mexico.

World Bank: Remittances Rebounding

Remittances to Latin America will recover after their fall from $65 billion in 2008 to $57 billion in 2009, but at a slower pace than remittances to all developing countries, according to a World Bank study. Estimates of remittances to developing countries in 2010 equal the $325 billion sent in 2008, while money flows to Latin America are not forecasted to match or surpass pre-economic crisis levels until 2011.

Four Million Hispanics Want to Leave U.S.

More than one in seven Hispanics “would leave the U.S. permanently if they had the opportunity,” 32 percent of whom would relocate to Mexico, according to a new Gallup study. The study also found that 10 percent of U.S. citizens would like to emigrate, while 22 percent of Latin Americans are would-be emigrants.

U.S. Energy Security Depends on Relationship with LatAm

A World Politics Review piece looks at the history of U.S. efforts to cultivate its relationship with its neighbors to the south. “The U.S. has failed to engage the nations of resource-wealthy Latin America in any strategic manner,” which, according to the analysis, leads to a threat to U.S. energy security as energy exports from Latin America to the United States decline, the piece argues.

Raúl Calls First Communist Party Meeting in 14 years

Cuban President Raúl Castro called a congress of the Communist Party for May 2011, the first such meeting since 1997. Castro announced that central planning would be paramount in updating the country’s economic model, though direct foreign investment and expansion of the private sector will also be promoted as a way to improve the economy.

Tutu Diplomacy: U.S. Ballet Co. Hits Havana

In the American Ballet Theater’s first trip to Cuba in 50 years, it performed to enthusiastic crowds for two nights. “It’s the latest attempt at cultural diplomacy for two long-estranged neighbors,” reports NPR.

Insulza Presents Recommendations on Costa Rica-Nicaragua Dispute

OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza outlined on November 9 his recommendations, which include engaging in dialogue and avoiding conflict, for resolving a territorial disagreement between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Insulza went on a fact-finding trip to the border and both countries over the weekend. All parties remain committed to a peaceful solution, though no immediate resolution is apparent.

Read an AS/COA Online analysis of the context of the conflict over an area of the San Juan River delta.

Fighting Malnutrition in Guatemala

A euronews report looks at food security in Guatemala. The report discusses the limited variety of foods traditionally consumed and the impact of resultant dietary deficiencies in the Central American country of 14 million, where more than half the country lives below the poverty line and malnutrition is an ever-present threat. Oïkos, a Portuguese NGO, is overseeing a food security project in Guatemala’s rural north that addresses malnutrition by expanding available foods and agricultural production. Hat tip: Central American Politics blog.

Oil Exploration to Draw Investment to Colombia

The Colombian government initiated a process that should lead to more than $1 billion of investment, awarding 78 oil exploration and productions blocks on November 8. Latin American Herald Tribune reports that, “by 2015, Colombia aims to be producing 1 million barrels of oil per day, or nearly double its current output.”

Colombia’s .co Challenges .com

The .co domain, owned by the Colombian government, has attracted almost 600,000 registrants around the world since July, and many in Colombia hope that it will eventually compete with the .com domain. A quarter of the revenue that the .co registry makes will go to the Colombian government, reports the BBC.

Captured Mexican Cartel Leader Has Skin-So-Soft

Mexican cartel leader Edgar Valdez Villareal, known as “La Barbie,” has a reputation for being a bloodthirsty assassin, but it turns out that, when it comes to his skin, he’s a little sensitive. Within days of his arrest, Villareal had arranged for the use of designer clothing, soaps, lotions, and colognes, all in order to help him overcome his dermatitis and keep him in the style and comfort to which he is accustomed. Milenio’s weekly magazine runs a feature about the gang leader’s time in prison while Borderland Beat blog runs an English translation.

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