Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas



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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Humala Pulls ahead of Fujimori in Runoff Race

Left-leaning candidate Ollanta Humala holds the lead over conservative Keiko Fujimori in the first major poll since the April 20 first round of the Peruvian presidential election. The Ipsos Apoyo poll gave Humala 42 percent against Fujimori’s 36 percent, while another 20 percent expressed no preference or rejected both candidates. In an El País opinion piece, Peruvian Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa—famous for his criticism of the Latin American left—argued that to vote for Fujimori would amount to justifying the authoritarianism of her father. 

Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru to Ink Pacific Pact

The heads of state of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru meet in Lima this week to sign a pact aimed at increasing integration, as well as the ability to project themselves into the Asia-Pacific market by creating greater economies of scale. The signing of the agreement will take place Thursday.

An AS/COA Online analysis looks at the new Pacific integration pact.

LatAm Structures New Regional Organization

Foreign ministers of the governments making up the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States kicked off a summit in Caracas on April 26 to discuss how to structure the new 33-country political organization. The group’s goal is to foster hemispheric diplomacy and economic development. The United States and Canada have been excluded from membership. At the summit, participants proposed a “democratic clause” to avoid coups within member states. The proposal has yet to be ratified. 

Support Surges for Correa’s Referendum

With two weeks to go before a major referendum, a poll by Cedatos predicts Rafael Correa will win a resounding victory. The referendum’s 10 proposals—which include laws reforming the judiciary, restrict media companies’ business activities, and ban bull-fighting—would pass by an average of 61.7 percent on May 7, according to the survey.

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about Ecuador’s referendum.

Santos Announces Plan for 100,000 Reconstruction Jobs

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced a plan to create 100,000 temporary jobs to reconstruct communities damaged by heavy rains. The program will be included in the country’s national development plan, which sits before the national legislature. 

Venezuela Drops out of CAN

Citing opposition to free trade agreements with the United States, the Venezuelan government abandoned membership of the Andean Community of Nations on Friday, as it promised to do five years ago. The Chávez government has already signed new trade agreements with Ecuador and Bolivia, but has yet to iron out long-term agreements with Peru and Colombia. The latter two countries extended their current trade policies for three months to give time to set up a new arrangement. 

Gadaffi Reaches out to Chávez to Mediate Libya Conflict

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez received a delegation from Libya this week sent by Muomar Gadaffi in order to find a peaceful solution to the conflict there. Two months ago, Chávez proposed the creation of an international peace commission to halt the fighting between the Libyan government and rebels, and the Venezuelan leader routinely criticizes the NATO airstrikes. 

Brazil’s Busiest Crimefighter

Newsweek’s Mac Margolis features José Mariano Beltrame, Rio de Janeiro’s public safety secretary and the “top cop” credited with “pacifying” some of Rio’s most dangerous favelas. The magazine’s website also features an image gallery to accompany the story. 

Maps to Change after Uproar over Featured Favelas

In response to criticism that its Rio maps give too much weight to favelas but fail to highlight major tourist sites, Google said this week that it would amend text sizes and district labels to more accurately reflect the city’s neighborhoods. Special Secretary for Tourism Antonio Pedro Figueira de Mello said Brazilian officials’ attempts to get the maps changed date back to 2009. 

Rousseff Prioritizes South America, BRICS

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said in a speech that her government will focus its foreign policy on South American integration and bolstering ties with the BRICS countries in a speech last week. “There’s no room for the discord and rivalry that separated us in the past,” said the leader of the region’s most politically and economically powerful country, referring to the countries of Latin America. 

Brazil Meat Producer Buying up Global Market

Meat producer JBS of Brazil grew from a $1 billion operation 10 years ago to a company worth $40 billion today. Symbolizing Brazil’s economic ascent, the massive company built its growth in part by buying up companies from across the world, drawing resentment from some in the U.S. industry and scrutiny from the U.S. Justice Department. JBS controls one quarter of the world’s meat market, with operations in Argentina, Australia, Italy, and other countries. 

Santiago de Chile—City of the Future

FDI Intelligence named the Chilean capital of Santiago the number one “Latin American City of the Future” after the city attracted 84 foreign direct investment projects since 2003. Nearly one-fifth of those projects carries a capital investment of over $100 million. Lima, Monterrey, Bogota, and San Jose rounded out the top five.

Kidnapped Argentine Dirty War Witness Goes Free

Víctor Óscar Martinez, the only witness to the 1977 death of Argentine Bishop Carlos Horacio Ponce de León, was found alive last week after he was kidnapped and drugged. The government has reopened the investigation into Ponce de León’s death and the courts may call Martinez to testify. Martinez recounts the experience in an interview with Argentine daily Página/12.

Paraguay Debates How to Spend Cash Earned from Hydroelectric Dam

The extra $240 million per year that Paraguay will receive from its shared hydroelectric dam with Brazil did not turn out to be the blessing President Fernando Lugo hoped for. In a country that does not charge income tax, the left-leaning leader planned to use the extra money to finance land reform. But with the conservative Colorado Party dominating Congress and Lugo battling lymphatic cancer, the money may end up financing other projects.

Car Sales Skyrocket in Latin America

Latin America’s booming economies and bourgeoning middle classes are feeding a surge in car sales, led by Brazil, Peru, Argentina, and Colombia, The Los Angeles Times reports. Brazil, the region’s largest automobile market, saw sales jump 86 percent between 2006 and 2010, to 3.5 million. The greater prevalence of car ownership, however, brings with it the annoyances of traffic congestion and increased pollution.

Latin America’s Expanding Drone Programs

The Christian Science Monitor reports that at least nine Latin American countries are conducting drone programs for reasons that vary from combating drug trafficking to stopping illegal logging. While such patrolling helps stem illicit activities, controversy over drone use has led to calls for an agreed-upon code of conduct. Brazil is already engaged in negotiating particular types of drone use with Bolivia, Colombia, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Israeli aerospace firms are top sellers of such aircraft, the article notes. UPI takes a closer look at the Israeli defense sector’s increased focus on the Latin American arms market.

SecClinton to Host U.S.-Mexican Talks on Organized Crime

Mexico’s Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa leads a cabinet-level delegation to Washington, DC, this week, where her U.S. counterpart Hillary Clinton will host a meeting to discuss bilateral security initiatives laid out under the Merida Initiative. The summit comes at a time when Mexico has uncovered a series of mass graves in northern states containing the remains of nearly 300 people. 

Mexico’s Nini Generation

Milenio’s weekly M Magazine offers a special focus on youth. One feature takes a look at Mexico’s generation of ninisyouth who neither work nor study. (The name comes from the Spanish “ni trabajan, ni estudian.”) Of Mexico’s 30 million youths between the ages 12 and 29, about 4 million fit into the nini category. As demand for education outstrips available university slots and the number of job seekers outpaces the number of positions created, Mexico’s ninis suffer from depression and elevated suicide rates of suicide.

Honduran Military Supplying Guns to Narcos?

InSight covers a new cable released by WikiLeaks indicating that cartels aren’t just turning to U.S. gun dealers for arms. According to a U.S. State Department cable that refers to a 2008 Defense Intelligence Agency report, weapons seized in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and San Andres Island, Colombia, were traced back to the Honduran military. A previously released cable pointed to similar weapons flows from the Guatemalan military to Mexican gangs. The article quotes U.S. General and head of U.S. Southern Command Douglas Fraser, who told a congressional hearing in March: “Over 50 percent of the military-type weapons that are flowing throughout the region have a large source between Central American stockpiles, if you will, left over from wars and conflicts in the past.”

U.S. and UN Question Haiti’s Legislative Election Results

Haiti’s electoral commission said it will delay publishing the results for 19 of the country’s legislative elections from March 20, after the results were questioned by the United States and the UN. Irregularities marred both rounds of Haiti’s recent presidential elections.

In Miami, Haiti’s Martelly Reaches out to Diaspora

Haiti’s President-elect Michel Martelly addressed the Haitian diaspora in Miami on Monday, calling on the community to help rebuild the country. “We need you to bring your skills and expertise back to Haiti,” said Martelly. Among proposals unveiled is one that would draw $1 of every $100 wire transfer and a five-cent charge on every telephone minute to the country for an education fund. The result would be a projected $86 million for free education.

Can Raúl Castro Pull It off?

A week after Cuba announced major economic and political reforms at its Sixth Communist Party Congress, the Financial Times asks whether Raúl Castro can succeed in turning the country’s economy around and fostering more harmonious relations with the United States. He’ll face the obstacles of a 50-year-old trade embargo, organizing the aging leadership’s political succession, and overcoming the state’s notorious inefficiency. On the other hand, Cuban scholar Rafael Hernández notes: “There have been other congresses…but this one endorsed for the first time a fundamental change in the political and economic model.”

Dominican First Lady Drops Presidential Aspirations

First Lady of the Dominican Republic Margarita Cedeño, approved as an aspiring presidential nominee for the governing Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) two weeks ago, withdrew from the race on Tuesday. The presidential election is slated for May 2012. President Leonel Fernández previously said he would not seek a fourth term. Infolatam reports on other potential PLD candidates.

Low-level Offenders Deported Via U.S. Immigration Programs

An article published on The American Prospect’s website explores new data showing that U.S. deportation policies designed to target high-risk and undocumented immigrants largely target low-level offenders who are in the United States legally. New data released by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit found that, between October 2008 and February 2011, 60 percent of deportees either had no criminal history or were in the lowest priority category for removal.

Latino Voters Broke Records in 2010 U.S. Midterms

More than 6.6 million Latinos cast ballots in the 2010 U.S. midterm election, setting a new record in a midterm vote, according to a report published by the Pew Hispanic Center. However, Latinos lag behind other groups in terms of participation. With 21.3 million total eligible Latino voters, only 31.2 percent cast ballots, compared to 48.6 percent of white voters and 44.0 percent of black voters. The report attributes the lower turnout in part to the relative youth of the Latino voting bloc. 

Renegade Retweeter Hacks Uribe Account

Former President of Colombia Álvaro Uribe has raised eyebrows with controversial tweets in the past, but the latest message to cause a stir was written by a hacker. Last Thursday, Uribe’s account retweeted the message “If Jesus were Colombian Judas would be none other than @JuanManSantos,” referring to current President Juan Manuel Santos. The message lasted 24 hours and spread virally through the social network before Uribe’s social media team erased it and reset Uribe’s password.

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