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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Guatemala Heads to Runoff after Ex-General Wins First Round

Otto Pérez Molina won the first round of Guatemala’s September 11 election by a wide margin, but well short of the 50 percent plus one vote need to avoid a runoff. With almost all ballots counted, the Patriotic Party (PP) candidate captured 36 percent of the vote compared to 23 percent for second-place finisher Manuel Baldizón of the Renewed Democratic Freedom (Líder) party. Pérez, who served as a general during the country’s civil war, campaigned on a platform that he would confront the country’s high violent crime rates with an “iron fist.” He is heavily favored to win against wealthy businessman Baldizón when they face each other in the second round on November 6. However, Pérez also faces a challenge over campaign spending; the country’s electoral agency says he already surpassed the legal limit while he contends that he can still spend $1 million between now and the runoff.

The website of Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre carries multimedia content exploring the electoral results, including graphs, video, and a timeline.

Read an AS/COA News Analysis about the Guatemalan election.

Congress up for Grabs in Guatemala

Guatemalans voted for legislators as well as presidential candidates on Sunday. Central American Politics blog looks at how the election reshaped the country’s Congress, with no party winning an outright majority. The governing National Unity of Hope and the Grand National Alliance (UNE-GANA) coalition, which previously accounted for the block that held the largest number of seats in the 158 unicameral Congress, will likely be outnumbered by members of the Patriotic Party. The lack of presidential candidate likely hurt the coalition’s candidates at the polls. UNE-GANA was left without a contender after the Constitutional Court banned former First Lady Sandra Torres from the race on the grounds that close relatives of a sitting president cannot run for the presidency.

China Eyes Diversification of Latin American Investment

Zhu Xinqiang, vice governor of the Export-Import Bank of China announced that China will seek to diversify its investment in Latin America. Latin America is becoming an important destination for Chinese investment, with $43.88 billion invested in the region by the end of 2010. Most Chinese foreign direct investment has gone to Argentina and Brazil, with the latter receiving 59.2 percent, reports China Daily. China will also seek to diversify of investment beyond natural resources to infrastructure construction and high-tech and agricultural projects. As part of this diversification, China has pledged $1 billion in loans towards infrastructure improvements in the Caribbean.

Beijing Prevents Argentina from Honoring Dalai Lama

The governments of Argentina and of the province of Buenos Aires each planned to recognize the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, with awards during his visit to the South American country this week. However, both administrations opted not to after China stepped in.

Colombia’s Santos Talks Trade in Japan, S. Korea

During a trip to Japan and South Korea this week, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos seeks to reduce trade barriers and step up trade-cooperation agreements. During his first stop, in Japan, the two countries discussed forging an economic partnership agreement. Colombian exports to Japan rose to $56.5 million in January 2011 from $32.1 million in January 2010. Santos heads to South Korea Wednesday and expressed hopes that negotiations for a bilateral free-trade agreement, initiated in 2009, could conclude by the end of the year. Two-way trade almost doubled to $1.82 billion in 2010 over the prior year, reports Yonhap News Agency, which also carries a Q&A with Santos.

The Colombia leader will join AS/COA for a public event on September 22.

Ex-Intelligence Chief Gets 25 Years in Colombia

The Supreme Court of Colombia sentenced the country’s former intelligence chief to 25 years for links to paramilitary groups. Jorge Noguera, who served during the Uribe administration, was convicted for sharing information that led to three contract killings.

Colombia Targets Cocaine Production beyond Coca

Recent Colombian drug-control efforts focus on restricting access to the components of cocaine production beyond eradicating coca leaves, reports John Otis for GlobalPost. The production of cocaine requires chemicals such as sulfuric acid, caustic soda, and acetone. But these are easily substituted with everyday goods like gasoline, lime, nail polish remover, cement, and baking soda. The Colombian government has put restrictions on the sale of these items in the south of the country, where most cocaine production occurs, and begun investigations of chemical-importing companies to assure their legitimacy. As a consequence, drug cartels now often ship a rough form of cocaine to Central American labs for refinement into powder cocaine.

Peru Declares State of Emergency amid Protests

On Tuesday, Peru ordered a state of emergency for parts of its Amazon region amid protests by coca growers angered by forced eradication of their crops. The declaration will last for 60 days and allow police more power to make arrests. According to a UN report, Peru surpassed Colombia as the world’s largest producer of coca leaf, and last week the Peruvian government promised the United States to reinstate a previously suspended eradication program.

Venezuela Reschedules Presidential Vote for Earlier Date

The Venezuelan presidential election will be held on October 7, 2012—two months earlier than the traditional December date. The new date gives the opposition nine months to run a campaign after a candidate is picked in the February primary, and allows Chávez more than a year to recover his health as he battles cancer. Last year’s parliamentary elections showed a split electorate, and analysts say one-third of Venezuelans remain undecided ahead of the vote. Chávez stated his desire to stay in power until 2025.

Brazil’s FinMin: BRICS May Come to EU’s Rescue

Valor Econômico reports that the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) could lend a hand to the crisis-affected eurozone by increasing quantities of their international reserves in Euro-denominated bonds. Financial Times‘ beyondbrics blog follows up on the story with a quote from Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega, who said BRICS’ finance ministers and central bank heads would meet in Washington on September 22 “to talk about what to do to help the European Union get out of this situation.”

Lula’s Long Shadow on Dilma’s Foreign Policy

In the September issue of The Brazilian Economy, João Augusto de Castro Neves suggests that President Dilma Rousseff’s foreign policy shows more signs of continuity than rupture with her predecessor’s, Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva. Earlier steps such as a warming towards the United States and a distancing from Iran indicated a change. However, Lula’s ideological approach to foreign policy may still loom large, as demonstrated by Brazil’s abstaining vote in the UN Security Council decision on Libyan airstrikes, as well as its cooperation with India and South Africa to resolve conflict in Syria.

Brazilian States Compared to Countries’ Economies

In an interactive infographic, The Economist compares Brazilian states to countries based on GDP, GDP per person, and population. The GDP graphic illustrates the economic divide between the more developed South and Southeast and lesser developed North and Northeast.

Mujica Apologizes for MINUSTAH Assault Scandal

In a letter to Haitian president Michel Martelly, Uruguayan President José Mujica apologized on behalf of Uruguayan peacekeepers for their alleged rape of a Haitian man. In the letter, Mujica apologizes for the “irreparable damage” caused by the incident, assured investigation, and said those involved will receive “the maximum sentences.”

Madres de la Plaza de Mayo Questioned for Corruption

As part of an ongoing investigation into Sergio Schoklender, the former financial manager of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, Argentine authorities say they have uncovered proof of fraud and money laundering by the organization. Among the accusations are misappropriation of funds, generous contributions to governing-party candidates, and Spanish bank accounts worth millions of euros in the name of the organization’s president, Hebe de Bonafini. She has denied the accusations.

Uruguay to Recognize Nagorno-Karabakh?

Did Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh at a recent summit? The region, which is populated by ethnic Armenians and declared itself independent after a bitter war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, has been a cause of friction between the two countries for the past two decades. While some news sources interpreted Almagro’s declaration at a September 9 seminar on Uruguayan-Armenian relations as a full Uruguayan recognition of the region as an independent country, others have said the declaration fell short, but was still enough to upset Azerbaijan. The move adds to a recent trend of Latin American countries recognizing the independence of separatist territories in the Caucasus, with Nicaragua and Venezuela recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Nearly 18.5 Percent of Latin American Youth “Idle”

A new Brookings Institution report finds that 18.5 percent of Latin American youth between 15 and 24 years old—9.4 million people—are “idle,” meaning they are neither in school nor the labor market. This has led to concerns that the region will not be able to capitalize on the demographic window of opportunity that opened in the early 2000s, when the productive population outgrew the dependent population.

Access AS/COA’s Social Inclusion report Taking Youth to Market: Expanding Formal Labor Market Access through Public-Private Collaboration.

Mexico: Low Unemployment but Lots of “Ninis”

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that Mexico is the member state that most quickly reduced its unemployment rate over the past month, bringing it to 5.3 percent—a decrease of .5 percent compared with a month earlier. This compares to an organization-wide average of 8.2 percent, with the United States and the eurozone showing little change. However, reports from the OECD also show that Mexico has the highest population (7.2 million young people between 15 and 29 years old) of inactive youth of any member country. The population has been dubbed ninis—those who ni estudian, ni trabajan (neither work, nor study).

To Tweet or Not to Tweet: Restricting Social Media in Mexico

McClatchy looks at the growing debate in Mexico over prison terms for tweeting “troublemakers.” In the state of Veracruz, two people face terrorism and sabotage charges for tweeting unsubstantiated information about a school shooting that the state’s public security chief says led to accidents in resulting panic. Now the state of Tabasco is on the verge of implementing a law that would award jail time for phone calls or online posts that “provoke chaos or social insecurity.” Local politicians defend the law as a means to halt the spread of rumors. But free-speech advocates maintain that, in a country where journalists fear reprisals for reporting violence committed by crime syndicates, social media tools help ordinary citizens fill the information gap through information sharing.

An Americas Quarterly blog post by Arjan Shahani looks at how, in Mexico, Twitter users share information “to warn people about risk zones and specific attacks in real time.”

Richardson Returns from Cuba Empty-Handed

After traveling to Havana at the invitation of the Cuban government, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has returned the United States without achieving his mission to negotiate the freedom of imprisoned U.S. contractor Alan Gross. Richardson remarked: “My sense is there are some elements in their government that don’t want to improve relations with the U.S.

Puerto Rican Police “Abusive,” Says U.S. DOJ

In a new 116-page report, the U.S. Department of Justice accused the Puerto Rican police of civil rights violations, corruption, and disproportionate use of force. The report comes at a time when crime is on the rise in Puerto Rico, with this year’s murder rate already surpassing 2010’s record number.

Cabinet Shakeup Surprises Honduras

President Porfirio Lobo on Saturday dismissed his foreign relations and security ministers, director of the Honduran Fund for Social Investment, and director for the National Tax Bureau. Rumors suggest that the ministers of finance, education, and culture could be next, leading to a debate about Lobo’s motivations. “He must see he is running out of time to make a positive difference in Honduras,” writes Marco Cáceres in Honduras Weekly. “He must also see that he can’t do it with his current team.”

Can Netflix Beat Latin America’s Pirates?

As of September 12, people in 42 countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean are able to subscribe to the Netflix online movie-streaming service. Considering Netflix’s success at counteracting piracy in the United States and Canada, it is hoped the same can be done in Latin America. While piracy offers a cheap alternative, Netflix hopes to fill that gap. However, the service will not come cheap, with consumers in Central America and the Caribbean being asked for $7.99 a month, and Brazilians $9 a month. And, of course, the service is only available to those who can already afford broadband Internet. However, Netflix hopes to make its mark with the option of a flat monthly fee—and without the quality issues of pirated products.

Tags: China and Latin America, Free Trade, Guatemalan Elections, Juan Manuel Santos
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