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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Calderón Visits Washington

Mexican President Felipe Calderón will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington Thursday, as Obama prepares for a tour of Latin America later in March. The pair’s fifth meeting is expected to focus on cooperation in Mexico’s fight against organized crime. Early news analyses suggest that Calderón will push the Obama administration to control gun flows from the United States to Mexico, while Obama will urge Calderón to reform Mexico’s police and judiciary. 

Ahead of the trip, Calderón spoke with AARP VIVA about Mexican advances in universal health coverage, education, and infrastructure; how the country’s middle class has grown; and why Americans should consider retiring in Mexico. 

Read the AS/COA Online news analysis regarding Obama’s upcoming meetings with Latin American heads of state, including Calderón, and access Americas Quarterly blog coverage of the Mexican president’s visit. 

Americas Society and Council of the Americas, in conjunction with the Woodrow Wilson Center, will hold a public forum (access the live webcast here) with President Calderón on March 3. 

Mexican Senate Approves Immigration Reform

A law that would decriminalize and depenalize illegal immigration flew through Mexico’s Senate with a unanimous vote last week. If the measure were to become law, employers could not be punished for hiring undocumented workers, and the security forces would lose the authority to arrest people based only on their immigration status. The bill will now pass to the Chamber of Deputies for consideration. 

South America’s Middle Class Boom

With 56 million people rising out of poverty over the last decade, a growing middle class is helping to boost South America’s economies, reports NPR. The growing consumer base has helped the continent bounce back from the worldwide economic crisis, beginning in 2009. South America’s economy grew 6.6 percent last year.

Paraguay Extradites Three Lebanese Men to U.S.

Authorities in Paraguay sent three Lebanese men—two on narcotrafficking charges and one suspected of raising funds for Hezbollah—to the United States last week. The terror suspect, a dual U.S.-Lebanese citizen, appeared in a Philadelphia court Friday and faces charges of exporting some 1,700 cell phones, 400 Sony PlayStations, and three cars to finance Hezbollah operations in Lebanon.

Argentine Government Sues over Inflation Figures

Argentina has fined a private economic consultancy $125,000 for publishing inflation figures that the government questions, the Financial Times reports. The government statistics agency reported that inflation grew by 10.9 percent in 2010, while private groups place the figure at around 25 percent. 

Former Argentine Dictators Go on Trial for Stealing Babies

Court proceedings have begun against former Argentine heads of state Rafael Videla and Reinaldo Bignone, along with six other ex-military officials, for the crime of systematically stealing babies from suspected political opponents during the country’s military dictatorship (1976-1983). According to the human rights group Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo, 102 cases have been uncovered

Chile Explores Nuclear Energy Option

Despite public concerns about possible safety issues due to Chile being earthquake prone, the country is looking to nuclear power to meet its energy needs, GlobalPost reports. “We need to double our energy over the next 10 to 12 years,” says Mining and Energy Minister Laurence Golborne. “We have to diversify our energy sources and Chile has to be open to consider the nuclear alternative.” 

Belo Monte Dam Project Halted By Brazilian Court

A federal court in the state of Pará suspended the environmental license given to Norte Energia to begin work on the controversial Belo Monte dam. In order to start the process of deforesting necessary to launch the project, the company had to meet 40 conditions set forth by the federal environmental agency. Because the company did not meet all the requirements, the agency ceded a partial license, which the federal court rejected, arguing that no legal category exists for partial licensing, Brazilian daily A Folha de São Paulo reports. 

Brazil Marks First UN Sanction Vote with Libyan Decision

With Brazil acting as the rotating president, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to sanction the Libyan government of Moammar Gadaffi by freezing his family’s financial assets, placing an arms embargo on the government, and referring the crimes allegedly committed by Libyan officials to the International Criminal Court. It marks the first time Brazil has voted to sanction any country, notes Bloggings by Boz. In Washington, Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota discussed the vote with reporters. 

Chávez Defends Gadaffi, Accuses U.S. of Planning Invasion

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez criticized Western media coverage of the Libyan protests, referring to them as a “web of lies,” and said the United States is “exaggerating and distorting things to justify an invasion.” Chávez, who has maintained warm relations with Libyan leader Moammar Gadaffi in the past, defended the international pariah, referring to him as “my friend.” 

IACHR Hears Cases of Disqualified Venezuelan Candidates

Leopoldo López, former mayor of the Chacao district in Caracas, presented his case this week against the Venezuelan government, which has declared him ineligible for public office until 2014. López is one of 800 public functionaries who have lost the right to run for public office due to allegations of misuse of public funds. Candidates’ ineligibility is decided administratively, rather than by the courts. Spanish daily El País reports that 89 percent of the candidates who have lost the right to run for office belong to the political opposition.

In related news, trade unionist Rubén González was jailed for seven years for his role in a 2009 strike to demand unpaid wages. A Venezuelan court convicted him of unlawful assembly, incitement, and violating a government security zone. 

UN Drops Colombia from Narcotics Blacklist

The International Narcotics Control Board removed Colombia from its list of countries with serious drug trafficking problems, Colombian daily El Espectador reports. The body, which was created at the request of the United Nations, will study the possibility of removing Peru and Bolivia this year as well. Camilo Uribe, one of the group’s 13 directors, said Colombia’s exit from the list amounted to a recognition by the international community of Colombia’s efforts to reduce drug trafficking. 

Ex-Chief of Bolivian Counternarcotics Police Extradited to U.S.

René Sanabria, a senior Bolivian official who recently headed Bolivia’s anti-drug police force, was arrested in Panama and extradited to the United States to face cocaine trafficking charges. The arrest coincided with the arrests of three senior police officers in Bolivia under similar accusations. The Bolivian government said it was not aware of the international arrest warrant issued at the request of a Miami court for Sanabria. 

Mudslides Leave Hundreds Homeless in La Paz

Some 800 families were left homeless in La Paz after heavy rains caused mudslides. The majority of the neighborhoods affected were poor, EFE reports. “Natural phenomena unfortunately are causing a lot of damage. Something is changing on the planet,” said Bolivian President Evo Morales. He said his government would build new houses for those who lost their homes.

Is Aristide Coming Back to Haiti?

Despite widespread expectations in Port-au-Prince, twice-ousted, former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide still has yet to go back to his home country. Aristide lives in South Africa and recently received a diplomatic passport from the Haitian government. “But no one knows when, or even if, he’ll show up,” reports The Los Angeles Times. Aristide’s fractured party, Fanmi Lavalas, was excluded from participating in Haiti’s presidential elections.

FCC Investigates “Sweet Micky” Campaign Phone Calls

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has launched an investigation into automatically generated campaign calls from Haitian presidential candidate Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly. When the U.S. Army received the calls, featuring Martelly’s screaming voice asking in Creole for support from the Haitian diaspora, it confused them with a terrorist threat and briefly evacuated at least two buildings at Fort Bragg military base. 

State-sector Layoffs Fall Behind Schedule in Cuba

Cuban head of state Raúl Castro said Monday that the planned dismissal of 500,000 public sector workers has fallen behind schedule, state television reported. Castro said the authorities delayed the firings to make sure the state would “leave no one unprotected.” Castro has proposed a series of sweeping economic reforms of the communist system aimed at making the state more efficient and boosting economic productivity through small-scale liberalization. 

U.S. Holds Second Clean Energy Roundtable Focused on CentAm

Energy ministers, private sector investors, and other stakeholders met with U.S. officials in Washington for the second Central America Renewable Energy Forum. The Forum’s goal is to explore ways to facilitate the export of U.S. clean energy technology to the countries of Central America. 

Lobo Dispatches Military to Fight Crime in Honduras

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo ordered thousands of soldiers to the streets this week to help fight a crime wave in Honduras, which has suffered 36,000 murders since 2000, according to the Associated Press. The decision was prompted in part by recent murders carried out by hired assassins, Honduran daily La Tribuna reports. 

Ortega Nominated as Sandinista Candidate

The governing Sandinista Party nominated current President Daniel Ortega as its candidate for this year’s presidential elections, notwithstanding a conflict over Ortega’s ineligibility. Nicaragua’s Constitution (Ch. 3, Art. 147) prohibits consecutive reelection and only allows a maximum of two terms, but the Supreme Court nullified those sections in 2009. The political opposition disputes the validity of the Supreme Court decision and argues that Ortega, who is currently serving his second term, should not be allowed to run. Early polls predict that Ortega will win the election. 

Baja Arizona: The 51st State?

Attorneys Paul Eckerstrom and Peter Hormel have teamed up to launch an initiative that would allow Pima County’s one million residents to split off into a new state bordering Mexico. The group’s goal is to “establish a new state in southern Arizona free of the un-American, unconstitutional machinations of the Arizona legislature and to restore our region’s credibility as a place welcoming to others, open to commerce, and friendly to its neighbors,” according to its Facebook page. Democratic State Senator Paula Aboud submitted an amendment on Thursday that would allow for Pima County’s secession.

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