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.
Baby Doc Faces Corruption Charges in Haiti
Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier returned to Haiti on Sunday 25 years after going into exile. He was arrested Tuesday. The former dictator, accused of presiding over the killing and torturing of thousands of Haitians, now faces embezzlement and corruption charges. International human rights defenders have also called for the Haitian courts to prosecute Duvalier over the allegations of violence committed during his dictatorship. Duvalier’s sudden return sparked rumors that the U.S. and French governments might somehow be involved (both deny the claims) and fueled unsubstantiated speculation that ousted leftist president Jean Aristide may also be planning to come back to Haiti.
Death Toll Rises above 700 in Brazilian Floods
Heavy rains outside Rio de Janeiro devastated hilltop communities, killed more than 700 people, and left another 14,000 homeless. The floods struck on the anniversary of the January 12 Haitian earthquake, raising debates and comparisons about response. President Dilma Rousseff and Rio de Janeiro state Governor Sérgio Cabral said lax enforcement of housing codes worsened the destruction. The World Band committed to lending Brazil $485 million in to aid relief efforts and the Rousseff administration has moved ahead with plans to create a national disaster alert system. O Globo offers a photo gallery of the areas affected by the catastrophe.
Rousseff Reassesses Jet Deal
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff appears to be rethinking the purchase of 36 Rafale jet fighters from French company Dassault—a deal nearly concluded by her predecessor Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva. Rousseff’s decision to reevaluate the finalists for the $4 billion defense contract put the U.S. company Boeing back in the running, though Rousseff reportedly wants Boeing to provide additional technology-transfer guarantees.
Rising Currencies Worry LatAm Policymakers
Latin America’s economies are growing solidly, registering an average 6 percent growth last year. But the region’s currencies are also rising in value, posing a new set of problems, according to a report from The Economist. Latin American exports are becoming less competitive, while domestic markets flood with cheap imports. The article suggests policymakers find themselves in a tricky dilemma as they try to lower the value of their currencies without setting off inflation.
Strike in Chile Ends
A seven-day strike against a proposal to reduce subsidies and increase the cost of natural gas by 17 percent in the southern Chilean region of Magallanes ended Tuesday. The Minister of Mining and Energy Laurence Golborne announced he had cancelled the proposal and negotiated an increase of just 3 percent. The strike, which included roadblocks, left thousands of tourists stranded and prompted the Interior Ministry to say Monday it would invoke a Pinochet-era security law against protesters.
Airport Body Scanners Coming to the Southern Cone
Will airport body scans stir up the same controversy in the Southern Cone as they did in the United States? Body scanners have been approved for use in a handful of airports in South America, including Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza International Airport and the Marino Benitez terminal in Santiago de Chile. The body scans use radio waves to create an image of passengers suspected of carrying prohibited substances, such as drugs or explosives. Critic complain that the scans show passengers without clothing and violate privacy.
2010 Tourism: They’re Coming to the Americas
The UN World Tourism Organization released figures documenting a 7 percent increase in international tourist arrivals in 2010, following a four percent decline the year before. The Americas experienced the second-largest percent increase, following Asia.
Round Nine of Agricultural Strikes in Argentina
Argentina entered yet another round of agricultural strikes this past week. President Cristina Fernández de Kircher has fought a bitter political fight with Argentina’s agricultural exporters since March 2008, when she attempted to increase the sector’s export taxes. The strikes have cost Argentina a billion dollars over the past three years.
Video Scandal in Bolivia
Bolivian security forces killed alleged foreign terrorists accused of conspiring against the government in 2009, saying that they were armed and had resisted arrest. Those killed included Eduardo Rósza-Flores, the Bolivian-born, globetrotting veteran of the Balkan wars. The story continues to take strange turns, with Bolivian television circulating a video showing one of the key witnesses in the case receiving money from a government official Carlos Nuñez del Prado.
Bolivian ForeignMin on Coca Diplomacy Tour
David Choquehuanca, Bolivia’s foreign minister, started a tour of five European countries this week to lobby to build support for a Bolivian motion submitted to the UN calling on the multilateral institution to remove coca from its list of banned substances. Coca leaves, part of Bolivian indigenous traditions for centuries and chewed as a mild stimulant, have been stigmatized due to Bolivia’s standing as the world’s third biggest producer of cocaine.
Peru Confronts Glacier Melt
The looming ecological challenge of adapting to glacier melt in Peru may pose a more urgent environmental threat than deforestation in the country’s Amazon region, according to a feature article produced by the National Security Reporting Project at Northwestern University and published by the Washington Post. Peru now seeks international assistance to build dams and reservoirs in order to stave off a potential crisis.
HSBC Predicts Colombia to Become a Top Economy
Colombia may become one of the 30 largest economies by 2050, according to a report by HSBC, the world’s largest private bank. The only countries in the report envisioned to increase in size at a faster rate were Egypt and Malaysia. Colombia would have to maintain an average economic growth of 4 percent to fulfill the report’s predictions.
The MITSK Countries Join the BRICs
Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs—the economist who coined the term “BRICs” to refer to the fast-growing emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, and China—is adding four other countries to the group: Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey and South Korea. He also said these countries should be referred to as “growth” economies, calling the description “emerging markets” as “pathetic.” Financial Times offers a history of the Brics and discusses what impact O’Neill’s new concept will have.
Chávez May Give up Decree Power Early
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said before the National Assembly that he may rescind his authority to rule by decree as early as May. Before the last legislative period ended, the Venezuelan Congress passed an “Enabling Law” allowing Chávez to rule by decree for 18 months. Chávez said he needed the decree authority to address emergency flooding, but the move was criticized by the OAS and the political opposition as a means of skirting the authority of the newly elected Congress.
White House Makes Changes on Cuba Travel and Remittances
The Obama administration announced changes to its Cuba travel policy on Friday that will make it easier for universities and religious groups to sponsor travel to Cuba. It also allows more airports to apply for permission to handle licensed charter flights to the island and allows for greater remittance flows. The JURIST has a rundown of the background to the changes.
Political Risks for Mexico in 2011
The threat of increased drug violence and terrorism tops Roubini’s key political risks for Mexico in 2011. Others identified include mounting confrontation between the Institutional Revolutionary Party and the National Action Party, legislative paralysis, the fragmentation of the left, and the potential for electoral violence.
Mexican Database Uncovers Unknown Drug War Killings
The BBC posted a Q&A about Mexico’s drug war following the government’s unveiling of a new database that tracks the killings. The database tallies 34,612 killings over the last four years—a 4,000 increase over previous figures. The year 2010 was the most violent in the country so far. In related news, Mexican authorities said Tuesday that they had arrested a founding member of the Zetas gang.
The Battle over Birthright Citizenship
AS/COA’s Jason Marczak blogs for Americas Quarterly about the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2011, a bill submitted in the U.S. House of Representatives that would deny automatic citizenship to children born in the United States to undocumented immigrant parents. Marczak warns that such pieces of legislation threaten to create “another underclass of people” and would separate the United States from the vast majority of countries in the hemisphere that allow birthright citizenship, despite the fact that immigrants contribute $37 billion annually to the U.S. economy.
Five Years of PM Harper
Despite hitting bumps in the road during his tenure— from multiple elections to the financial crisis to the rarely used prorogue—Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper marked five years in office this week. “As a politician, his success is clear,” reports the Toronto Star. “Harper has run the longest uninterrupted minority government, and this week surpasses Lester B. Pearson’s time in office.” The Canadian daily is running a series of features exploring Harper’s time in office.
Guatemala’s 2011 Electoral Landscape: Trouble Ahead?
The Guatemala Times offers a look at campaigning and politics ahead of the Central American country’s presidential vote, slated for late summer. The article notes that all major political parties have already broken laws that prevent campaigning before 2011 and that a major challenge this cycle “is the unknown magnitude of illegal financing of the political parties.” Moreover, several major candidates, including First Lady Sandra Colom, face legal challenges to running. The report also raises concern about electoral violence, given the recent murder of a delegate for the Supreme Electoral Court.
Venezuela Barking Mad over Colombian Telenovela
The Venezuelan telecommunications regulator asked broadcaster Televen to stop airing a telenovela called Chepe Fortuna that it says promotes negative images of the country. The Colombian show features a character named “Venezuela,” whose dog is “Little Hugo”—both of whom are the source of constant jokes. In one scene, Venezuela loses Little Hugo, prompting her sister—“Colombia”—to tell her she is better off without him.