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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Aftershock Hits Ravaged Haiti

A 6.1-magnitude aftershock hit Haiti early Wednesday morning even as the country reels from last week’s ruinous earthquake. At least one person suffered injuries immediately after the aftershock. No deaths or damages were immediately reported. Even in the midst of chaos, officials around the world are considering what efforts can be implemented to aid Haiti’s long-term recovery. In a blog post on NationalJournal.com, COA’s Eric Farnsworth writes: “A long term project will require long term attention, and political will that goes beyond the provision of emergency relief efforts.” Foreign Policy features five views on how to help Haiti rebuild using emergency aid and development.

Piñera Victory Ends Concertación Rule

Business tycoon Sebastián Piñera won Chile’s runoff elections on January 17, marking the first win for a conservative presidential candidate since the country’s return to democracy. According to an article in The Washington Post, Chile will most likely continue to follow free-market policies that rendered the country prosperous since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship. COA’s Christopher Sabatini, quoted in the article, said Latin Americans “are making the choice to support market economies and rational leaders.”

Read an AS/COA analysis of recent and upcoming Latin American elections.

Brown’s Senate Win Has Latin American Impact

In an Americas Quarterly blog post, Eric Farnsworth writes that the loss of a Democratic Senate seat in Massachusetts’ January 19 vote could mean issues affecting the Western Hemisphere—such as trade legislation and immigration reform—could fall lower on the agenda. “[W]ith unemployment remaining stubbornly high and Republicans feeling a renewed sense of momentum and purpose, the odds are unfortunately increasing that serious efforts at immigration reform will not be made until after the midterms, with particular implications for Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean Basin,” says Farnsworth.

Havana Allows U.S. Flights to Pass through Its Airspace for Haiti Relief

This week, Cuba opened its airspace to U.S. flights involved in relief efforts in the wake of Haiti’s destructive earthquake. The move cuts 90 minutes in flight time by eliminating a trip from the U.S. base at Guantanamo to Miami. In a briefing given on January 15, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “[W]e very much appreciate the Cubans opening their air space for medical evacuation and emergency flights, and we would welcome any other actions that the Cuban Government could take in furtherance of the international rescue and recovery mission in Haiti.”

Naturalization Expedited for Immigrant Soldiers

New rules will speed up the naturalization process from three years to one year for applicants who have served in the U.S. military since September 11, 2001. “Expediting the citizenship process for service members reflects our commitment to honoring those who come from all over the world to serve our country and become its newest citizens,” said Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Study: California Stands to Gain $16 Billion from Immigration Reform

A new study released by the University of Southern California finds that the cash-strapped state could reap $16 billion in economic benefits by legalizing its 1.8 million undocumented adult Latino immigrants, but Steven Camarota of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies says the report does not adequately account for the extra burden in social services that would result.

Nine Get Time for Texas-Mexico Gun Deals

The Houston Chronicle reports that a federal investigation has led to nine people facing prison time “as part of a rare case in which weapons were traced from murder and mayhem in Mexico to stores in Houston.” The gun traffickers provided at least 328 guns to Mexico’s Gulf Cartel.

PAN-PRD Unity to Challenge PRI in Mexico’s State Elections

Mexico’s conservative National Action Party and left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution agreed to unite in at least three states holding elections this year (Oaxaca, Puebla, and Sinaloa) to challenge the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s dominance in these areas. As the Under the Volcano blog reports, twelve Mexican states will vote for governors this year and three will hold congressional or municipal elections.

Honduran Officers Face Charges for Zelaya’s Expulsion

A Honduran Supreme Court judge filed charges against six military commanders for forcing former President Manual Zelaya on a plane to Costa Rica as the national constitution prohibits forcible removal of a citizen. The charges do not question the presidential ouster itself.

Funes Apologizes for State Atrocities during Salvadoran Civil War

Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes officially apologized for human rights violations committed by government forces during the country’s civil war, which left at least 75,000 people dead. “I apologize in the name of the Salvadoran state,” said Funes, whose political party was the guerrilla organization Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front during the civil war. Funes delivered the apology at a ceremony commemorating the eighteenth anniversary of the peace pact’s signing.

Uribe Reelection Referendum Remains a Question

Colombia continues to wait for a decision as to whether President Álvaro Uribe can run for a third term when May elections roll around. Last week, Colombia’s attorney general urged the Constitutional Court to approve a law allowing a referendum on his candidacy. This week, Colombia’s senior electoral official said time has run out for the referendum. Semana forecasts a decision in early February and reports that, even as the question of Uribe’s candidacy remains unanswered, hundreds of politicians are gearing up for campaigns ahead of the March legislative elections.

Venezuela Expropriates Franco-Colombian Chain

The Venezuelan government initiated its nationalization of French-Colombian supermarket chain Exito this week after charging the company with raising prices following Caracas’ devaluation of the bolivar. Venezuelan Trade Minister Eduardo Saman said the government intends to reopen the chain as “socialist mega-stores.”

Bolivia Prepares for Evo’s Second Inauguration…and More Elections

The Democracy Center offers a 2010 preview of upcoming events in Bolivia, including the $1 million inauguration of Evo Morales on January 22 for his second presidential term; April elections of governors and mayors; and plans for Cochabamba to host an alternative climate change conference.

Peru Faces Transportation Strike

Cargo and passenger transportation drew to a halt in many Peruvian cities earlier this week as unions demanded a reversal of a 5 percent increase in fuel prices. On Monday, the government offered to decrease diesel taxes by 20 percent—a proposal the unions rejected. With no solution yet, the strike has been termed “indefinite.”

Fernández de Kirchner Postpones China Trip

Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced that she will postpone her trip to China scheduled for next week, saying she does not want to leave Vice President Julio Cobos in charge of the country in her absence. Since taking office, a rift has grown between the president and Cobos. That rift has widened recently as a result of a dispute over Fernández de Kirchner’s move to dismiss Argentina’s Central Bank President.

Uruguayan Banks Offer Safe Haven for Argentine Depositors

An increasing number of Argentine investors turn to Uruguayan banks as a way to safeguard their deposits. The trend began in 2008 and, by late 2009, deposits of non-Uruguayan residents—mainly Argentines—reached almost $3 billion, reports MercoPress.

As BRIC Influence Grows, So Does Brazil’s Cosmetics Market

Financial Times takes an in depth look at the growing role of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) in the world economy. In an article on Brazil’s booming beauty product market, Jonathan Wheatley reports that, with a growing middle class, Brazil now has the world’s third largest market for beauty supplies after the United States and Japan.

Lula Inaugurates First Ethanol-powered Generator

Brazil powered up the world’s first ethanol-powered electric plant in the state of Minas Gerais on January 19. The plant, developed by General Electric and the Brazilian state-controlled oil provider Petrobras, runs on either natural gas or ethanol and provides power to 150,000 people.

Brazil SMS Program to Boost Sales Tax Revenues

The Rio State Finance Secretariat (SEFAZ) established a new program aimed at increasing tax revenues by persuading consumers to send in sales receipt via mobile phone. Rather than sending receipts by mail, consumers who send data through SMS can win cell phones, televisions, cars and cash prizes. According to Rio Finance Secretary Joaquim Levy, the program is part of a series of reforms in tax administration geared at modernizing registering machines and information systems in the retail sector.

Tags: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Immigration, Immigration Reform, Mexico, Peru, U.S. Senate, Uruguay, Venezuela
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