Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

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From 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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Argentine President Announces Reelection Bid

Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced Tuesday she will run for reelection in October. Fernández, who has led Argentina since 2007, stated her decision was based on “a strong sense of political and personal responsibility.” Given her current high popularity, many analysts see her as well placed to win reelection. 

Sec. Clinton Joins CentralAm Leaders at Guatemalan Security Summit

In a trip aimed at supporting Central American efforts to rein in drug cartels, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will head the U.S. delegation to Guatemala City for the Central American Integration System’s summit on security, kicking off June 22. Assistant Secretary of State for Hemispheric Affairs Arturo Valenzuela and Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield will also attend and will meet with seven regional presidents, including heads of state from Central America, Colombia, and Mexico. The United States has already pledged $200 million to support security initiatives in Central America and is not expected to pledge additional funds at the summit. 

In a related story, The Washington Post takes an in-depth look at security challenges faced at the porous Guatemalan-Mexican border.  

Mayoral Candidates under Attack in Guatemala

Citizen Action, a pro-transparency NGO, called on Guatemalan authorities over the weekend to suspend the mayoral campaign in San José Pinula after two of the candidates were murdered, a third injured, and a fourth received death threats. In Guatemala as a whole, 26 candidates and campaign workers have been murdered, 15 injured, and 27 have received death threats since campaigning began on May 4, according to the country’s Human Rights Prosecutor’s Office.  

El Salvador’s Prez Visits Los Pinos, Talks Transnational Crime

On a state visit to Mexico, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes met with his Mexican counterpart and discussed the need for unity in the face of transnational crime, saying “we will only achieve peace and security in Mexico and Central America if we fight united and strongly integrated.” Funes said that members of the Zetas gang had sought guns in El Salvador left over from the country’s civil war. His visit came ahead of the June 22 and 23 Central American summit on security in Guatemala City.

Mexican Kingpin “El Chango” Captured

The head of the Mexican drug cartel La Familia Michoacana, José de Jesús Méndez Vargas, or “El Chango,” has been captured in the state of Aguascalientes, announced Mexico’s national security spokesman Alejandro Poiré on Tuesday. The cartel is known for its violence and for the spiritual ideology it imparts on its members to maintain loyalty among its ranks. Poiré said Mendez’s capture amounted to the dismantling of La Familia’s chain of command. Mexican media outlet Excelsior examines the operation and profiles both the cartel and Méndez.  

Mexico’s Central Bank Head Makes Case for IMF Top Job

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) board interviewed Mexican Central Bank head Agustín Carstens Tuesday to assess his candidacy for the agency’s top position. Though interviewed first, Carstens is considered a long shot against French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde. He made the case that having a European run the IMF as the EU faces a debt crisis could be a conflict of interest. He identified four areas for the Fund’s improvement: boosting emerging markets’ voice, oversight of the global economy, the need for the IMF to ward off future crises, and global policy coordination. The IMF’s board is expected to make a decision on June 30.  

ATF Director Expected to Quit over “Fast and Furious”

Following the scandal of the ATF’s “Fast and Furious” anti-gun trafficking program, The Wall Street Journal reported this weekend that the Justice Department will replace Director Kenneth Melson. The Fast and Furious program allowed suspected gun smugglers to purchase firearms in order to track them. The program sparked a scandal in December, when two assault weapons sold under Fast and Furious turned up at a crime scene where a Border Patrol agent was killed.  

Georgia’s Immigration Crackdown Causes Labor Shortage

After passing HB 87, a law to crack down on illegal immigration, the state of Georgia is facing an agricultural labor shortage as undocumented immigrants flee the state. Adam Ozimek at The Atlantic explains why the law may lead to farm closures as the cost of labor rises. 

Obama May Submit Pending Trade Deals before Congress’ August Recess

The Miami Herald reports that the White House could send long-stalled free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea to Congress before it breaks for recess in August, according to Kevin Sullivan, who heads economic policy in the Western Hemisphere for the State Department. The agreements form part of a broader Obama administration initiative to stimulate trade that will include reinstatement of the Andean Trade Preferences Act and the Generalized System of Preferences.

Read an article from The Huffington Post by COA’s Eric Farnsworth about how passage of the U.S.-Colombia trade pact could boost job creation in the United States. 

Santos Comes out on Top as Colombia’s Congress Closes

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos scored major victories during the congressional session that closed last week, managing to pass a whopping 92 percent of the laws his administration presented. La Silla Vacía takes a look back at who won and who lost in the exceptionally efficient 2011 session.

Colombian Literary Giants Differ on Country’s Crime Challenge

In interviews with The Los Angeles Times, two prominent Colombian authors discuss the violence that has plagued the country for 40 years. Juan Gabriel Vásquez takes a pessimistic view, arguing that until class inequality is addressed, the violence will persist. Héctor Abad Faciolince, on the other hand, sees reasons for hope, citing a 90 percent reduction in homicides in his hometown of Medellin.  

With Chávez Away, Concern Grows over Venezuelan Leadership Vacuum

Known for being verbose, President Hugo Chávez has been relatively silent since he was admitted to a Cuban hospital for surgery on June 10, sparking concern from his supporters and criticism from his political opponents. The Economist reports that his absence highlighted his need “to overcome his own health problems and a vigorous opposition to win reelection” as he seeks a third term in 2012.  

Blackouts Lead to Electricity Rationing in Venezuela

Venezuela’s Energy Minister Alí Rodríguez said June 16 that the country would begin rationing electricity in several regions due to recurring power outages. Rodríguez did not specify how many of Venezuela’s 24 states would be affected. The country’s officials also announced power-saving measures last week and hope to reduce electricity usage by 10 percent.  

Venezuela Pledges Prison Reforms in Wake of Riots

The takeover of the Venezuelan prison of El Rodeo in the state of Miranda on Friday by an armed gang highlighted the disarray of the country’s penal system, reports InSight Crime. The government sent roughly 5,000 troops to restore order and evacuate prisoners, but they encountered resistance from the gang that controls the institution with a 1,100-man private army. A fire broke out during the fighting that reportedly left 17 people dead. Vice President Elias Jaua said the government would commit some $96 million to reforming the system.

Bolivian Soldiers Return Home after Wandering into Chile

A group of 14 Bolivian soldiers were released by the Chilean government after crossing the border illegally during an anti-drug trafficking operation. The Bolivian government said Sunday it would send a plane to pick up the soldiers. The two countries have tense border relations, due to Bolivia’s claim over a slice of territory it lost to a war with Chile more than one hundred years ago during the War of the Pacific.  

Food Production Slumps due to Weather, Policy Conflicts in Bolivia

Faced with droughts, floods, and disputes over price controls and export bans, Bolivia—which is typically self-sufficient in terms of food production—was forced to import staple foods this year, including corn and sugar. President Evo Morales is making food production a top priority for his government and reaching out to farmers and agribusinesses in an attempt to solve the problem, but many farmers say export restrictions and bureaucracy preventing local sales contributed to the problem, reports Bloomberg. 

Ecuador’s Foreign Debt Jumps 3 Percent

The Central Bank of Ecuador said Tuesday that the country’s total foreign debt climbed 3 percent to $14 billion since last year. Ecuador has been largely cut off from financial markets since President Rafael Correa defaulted on $3.2 billion in foreign loans in 2008, but Ecuador is negotiating a $2 billion loan with China.  

Uruguayan to Head UN Human Rights Council

The UN Human Rights Council inaugurated Ambassador Laura Dupuy of Uruguay Monday to hold the body’s 12-month rotating presidency. Dupuy has a background in human rights work and said during the ceremony that her father was imprisoned and tortured during Uruguay’s military dictatorship.  

Panama Recognizes Libyan Rebels

The Ricardio Martinelli administration recognized the National Transitional Council of Libya as the country’s government, making Panama the fifteenth country in the world and the first in Latin America to officially throw its support behind the Libyan rebels. Martinelli announced the decision after meeting with two members of the Libyan opposition.  

Dominican President on Middle East Tour

Leonel Fernández, president of the Dominican Republic, traveled to the Middle East over the past week, where he met with President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, and King Abdullah II of Jordan in Amman. Fernández expressed support for an independent Palestinian state and called for peace with Israel.  

On the Catwalk: 15 Years of São Paulo Fashion Week

As São Paulo Fashion Week wraps up its fifteenth year, Financial Timesbeyondbrics blog reports that, even though it’s now the fifth-largest of its kind in the world, it’s “still a good deal away from cracking into international fashion.” Given the strength of the real, Brazilians are traveling and continuing to buy well known brands from abroad. “It has been difficult for emerging market fashion companies to build brands that can hold their own against the mystique of established European houses,” writes Vincent Bevins. “And since prices in Brazil aren’t much lower, it’s a big challenge to get Brazilians—not to mention foreigners—to buy local, rather than opt for Balenciaga or Dior.”

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