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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U.S. House Committee Votes to Defund OAS

During a July 20 markup hearing, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted in favor of cutting the entire $48.5 million that the United States contributes annually to the Organization of American States (OAS). “Let’s not continue to fund an organization that’s bent on destroying democracy in Latin America,” said Connie Mack (R-FL), who authored the amendment and is among GOP committee members who accuse the OAS of supporting anti-U.S. governments in the Americas. Committee Democrats contend the move signals backing away from multilateralism. “Here we are for a lousy $48 million willing to symbolically turn our backs on our own hemisphere,” said Gary Ackerman (D-NY). Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin reports that the decision “is only the beginning of what looks to be a long and contentious debate over the fiscal 2012 State Department and foreign operations authorization bill written by chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).”

Humala Keeps CenBank Head as Mining Stocks Rally

Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala said onTuesday he will keep President Alan García’s Central Bank head Julio Verde in his position, sending yet another signal that Humala plans to adopt centrist policies in the style of Brazil’s Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva. Stocks of mining companies with interests in Peru have rallied this month, recovering the losses they suffered when the Lima General Index plummeted on the news of Humala’s election. Humala is expected to announce his economic minister and his chief of staff during the evening of July 20.

Brother’s Scandal Puts Dent in Humala’s Approval Rating

In just one month, Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala’s approval rating took a nosedive, dropping from 70 percent last month to 41 percent on Sunday, according to pollster Ipsos-Apoyo. The polling agency attributed the public’s sudden discontent with Humala to the unpopularity of his brother Alexis, who made an unauthorized trip to Russia, in which he represented himself as an emissary of the new government in meetings with officials from Gazprom, Russia’s state oil company.

Chávez Begins Chemotherapy in Cuba

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez traveled to Cuba to begin another round of treatment for cancer, which will include chemotherapy. Jon Lee Anderson of the New Yorker provides an update on Chávez’s health and looks back on the Venezuelan leader’s ties to the region’s only Communist government.

Venezuela Leads World in Oil Reserves

OPEC announced in its Annual Statistical Bulletin Tuesday that Venezuela’s proven crude oil reserves jumped 12.1 percent last year to 1.19 trillion barrels, leapfrogging Saudi Arabia to become the world’s largest reserves holder. Venezuela accounted for most of OPEC’s growth in reserves last year, according to the bulletin.

Ecuador’s President Takes on Newspaper in Libel Case

A high-profile libel case got underway Tuesday in Ecuador, where President Rafael Correa seeks $80 million in damages from the Guayaquil-based newspaper El Universo along with prison sentences for some of the outlet’s senior staff. A February column called Correa a dictator and accused him of ordering gunfire on a civilian hospital in September 2010. The newspaper offered to print a correction, an offer the president rejected. CNN reports that the Inter-American Press Association criticized the Correa government for “ongoing harassment of Ecuador’s independent press through excessive and disproportionate legal suits.”

Former Colombian AgMinister Politically Sidelined

Colombia’s Attorney General stripped former Agricultural Minister Andrés Felipe Arias of his ability to run for public office for 16 years as a disciplinary sanction for failing to follow legal guidelines for contracting during his time in office. Colombia’s Agricultural Ministry became a focal point of controversy in 2009, when now-defunct magazine Cambio revealed that one of the ministry’s programs intended for low-income farmers, Agro Ingreso Seguro, subsidized large landholders on the Atlantic coast. Ten other former functionaries from the ministry also received sanctions.

Brazil’s “Mixed Bag” on Transparency

Rio Gringa interviews fellow blogger Greg Michener, the author of an upcoming book on government transparency and freedom of information laws. Michener describes transparency in Brazil as a “mixed bag.” On the one hand, Brazil boasts internationally renowned budgetary openness with programs like the Transparency Portal and is teaming up with the United States on the Open Government Partnership. On the other hand, Brazil has yet to pass a freedom of information law, and corruption threatens to counteract the benefits offered by transparency measures.

Argentine Election Puts EU-Mercosur Talks on Hold

Trade talks between the European Union and Mercosur will remain stalled until after Argentina’s October presidential vote, reports MercoPress. EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gutch indicated that both sides hope to overcome prior impasses and wrap up an agreement at some point in 2012. However, France’s presidential vote, slated for April, could cause further delays.

Buenos Aires Mulls Iran Overture on 1994 Bombing

Seventeen years after the bombing of a Jewish charity in Buenos Aires that claimed 85 lives, Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman said this week that his country is reviewing an Iranian offer to support investigations into the 1994 attack. “I am going to study it closely, I believe it is a step forward,” said Timerman of the offer, which comes after years of Tehran denying involvement despite Argentine claims that the attack was carried out by members of Hezbollah following Iranian orders. The Argentine government has issued related arrest warrants for five Iranians, including current and prior top officials. On Tuesday—a day after Tehran’s offer to support the investigation—a spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry maintained that Iranian suspects were “innocent” in the case.

Former Uruguayan Dictator Dies while under House Arrest

Juan Bordaberry, the former Uruguayan president who governed from 1971 to 1976, died while serving a 30-year sentence for his role in a coup and for 14 murders and disappearances. The dictator was carrying out his sentence, handed down in 2010, while under house arrest in Montevideo.

Chile’s Allende Committed Suicide, Study Confirms

A multidisciplinary team of scientists confirmed that former Chilean President Salvador Allende killed himself in the Palacio de la Moneda during an attack against his government in 1973 that led to the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The team’s study, presented Monday, concluded that Allende died of two self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the head.

Reset: Chilean Ministers Get to Work after Cabinet Shuffle

Infolatam takes a look at new priorities laid out by ministers since Monday’s cabinet shuffle by Chilean President Sebastián Piñera. Economy Minister Pablo Longueira said he would focus on ensuring that the general public experiences the benefits of economic growth, Public Works Minister Laurene Goldborne stressed interconnectivity among the country’s regions, and Planning Minister Joaquín Lavín said his priority would be to support the administration’s efforts to eradicate extreme poverty.

Evaluating Valenzuela

Writing for The Atlantic, Steve Clemons takes a look back at Arturo Valenzuela’s tenure as assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, crediting Valenzuela with working to build trust and defuse tensions in the region. Clemons cites the relaxation of U.S. sanctions on Cuba, the return of Honduras to the Organization of American States, and “reset” of U.S.-Brazilian relations as events that Valenzuela played a prominent role in shaping.

See an AS/COA Online News Analysis about Valenzuela’s departure from the State Department.

Crime Stats at the Border: Spillover Violence Overstated?

Violence along the U.S. side of the Mexico border has dropped consistently over the last decade and is significantly lower than rates of violence nationwide, USA Today reports, based on an analysis of crime reports from 1,600 law enforcement agencies and other crime statistics. The report contradicts politicians who favor taking a hard stance on illegal immigration, including Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Representative John Culberson (R-TX), and Representative Candice Miller (R-MI), who insist that violence in Mexico is spilling across the U.S. border. More than 83 percent of Americans believe the rate of violence along the Mexican border is higher than the national rate, according to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll.

The Challenge of Getting Correct Migration Counts

Tim’s El Salvador Blog points out the difficulties in getting reliable immigration statistics, pointing out that major media outlets often publish unsourced or misleading figures. The blog also directs readers to two studies that provide some of the most detailed statistical information yet on immigration in the Americas—the Migration Policy Institute’s “Mexican and Central American Immigrants in the United States” and the “First Report on International Migration in the Americas,” jointly produced by the OAS, OECD, and ECLAC.

Mexican Ruling Brings Soldiers under Civilian Jurisdiction

The Mexican Supreme Court decided unanimously last week to limit traditional protections for the military that had kept soldiers from facing charges in civilian courts. The ruling was based on a decision in a human rights case by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights dating from the 1970s. Spanish daily El País conducted a survey to see how Mexicans responded to the decision and how they view the problem of human rights abuses committed by the military. The poll notes that 59 percent of Mexicans see the decision as a step forward.

U.S. Diplomatic Nominees to Guatemala, Mexico Talk Security, Migration

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a July 20 hearing on the nominations of Earl Anthony Wayne and Arnold Chacon, the Obama administration’s picks for ambassadors to Mexico and Guatemala respectively. The nominees answered questions about human and weapons trafficking, migration, and security. Wayne, who has served as the deputy ambassador to Afghanistan, said that he would seek continued U.S.-Mexican cooperation in combating security issues and focus on stemming gun smuggling into Mexico. Wayne’s confirmations could be difficult to achieve before the U.S. Senate’s recess, reports Mexican daily El Universal.

Taking the Polling Pulse in Guatemala’s Legislative Elections

Central American Politics blog takes a look at public opinion surveys for Guatemala’s September 11 congressional election, which coincides with the presidential vote. Former General Otto Molina Pérez’s Patriotic Party, which advocates taking a hardline approach to solve the country’s crime problems and drug violence, is polling highest, with support from 21.2 percent of respondents. Alvaro Colom’s UNE-GANA coalition comes in second, with 11.2 percent. At least 10 parties will compete for seats in the upcoming election.

Republicans Recruit Hispanics

The Republican State Leadership Committee launched an initiative to recruit Hispanics to run for office, with the goal of bringing in 100 new legislative candidates. The Republicans are investing $3 million into the project, which will also aims to change the way the party communicates its message to Hispanic voters. (Hat tip: The Latin Americanist)

Latin America’s Millionaire Boom

The number of Latin America’s millionaires grows as the region’s economies boom, the middle class expands, and the average person’s purchasing power grows. América Economía ranks Latin America’s richest ten people. Four of them hail from Brazil, three from Mexico, two from Chile, and one from Colombia.

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