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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CFK Wins Argentine Election by Huge Margin

As many predicted, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner won the election Sunday by the widest margin since the country’s return to democracy. According to statistics from La Nación, the president won 54 percent of the national vote—almost forty points ahead of second-place candidate, Hermes Binner—and a majority of the vote in every state except San Luis. Fernández addressed joyous crowds in Buenos Aires’ Plaza de Mayo, vowing “Count on me to continue pursuing the project,” and adding “All I want is to keep collaborating … to keep Argentina growing. I want to keep changing history.”

Read an AS/COA News Analysis on Fernández de Kirchner’s victory.

Hopes and Hurdles for Argentine Natural Gas

LatIntelligence covers the December discovery of major shale gas reserves in Argentina that could make the country the world’s third biggest provider of natural gas. The post points out that Argentina’s water shortage could hinder access to the reserves—given the large quantities of water needed for drilling—while the energy pricing regime serves as an obstacle to investment. But, should Argentina successfully exploit the reserves, “[t]he find has the potential to totally transform the country’s (and the region’s) energy future.” 

Bolivia’s President Inks Law Forbidding Amazon Road

President of Bolivia Evo Morales signed a law that forbids highway construction of any kind in the TIPNIS indigenous territory. The move came following months of protests against a road planned to connect the Brazilian and Chilean coasts through Bolivian territory. Last week protesters from the Bolivian Amazon region arrived in La Paz following a two-month march to the capital to show their opposition to the project. But, while those demonstrators celebrated Morales’ decision to back down on the plan, the dust has yet to settle on the dispute. Indigenous groups and cocaleros supporting the highway’s construction now plan to protest the passage of the law, saying the highway would support efforts to widen coca cultivation and promote development. 

Paraguay Hosts Ibero-American Summit, Takes up UNASUR Leadership

At least 18 heads of state will attend the annual Ibero-American summit on October 28 and 29 in Paraguay, where officials will focus on the theme of the role of the state in development. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) officials plan to meet on the sidelines; Paraguay will take over the rotating UNASUR presidency from Guyana.

DEA Estimates Peru Surpasses Colombia in Cocaine Production

A report from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that Peru has surpassed Colombia as the world’s major cocaine producer. The report attributes this to successful anti-drug initiatives in Colombia, which is still the world’s largest cultivator of coca. Responding to the news, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala stated: “It is not something to be proud of to be a country with such a high production of cocaine.” He vowed to reinforce antinarcotic efforts, and discussed plans for alternative development in cocaine-producing regions.

Colombian Foreign Minister Conveys Israeli Proposal to Palestine

During her surprise visit to Israel this week, Colombia’s Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín conveyed an Israeli proposal to Palestine. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered to freeze construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank on government land if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to resume peace talks. The offer for Colombia to mediate between the two sides began after Abbas’ visit to Colombia earlier this month to promote Palestinian recognition at the United Nations. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos sent Holguín to Israel to promote mediation.

U.S. Infiltrating Mexican Cartels

Ginger Thompson examines the growing role of U.S. informants in the Mexican drug war for The New York Times. As the Mexican drug war intensifies, U.S. law enforcement has beefed up its presence along the border and cultivated a network of informants who have helped the United States and Mexico catch or kill roughly a couple dozen mid- to high-level drug traffickers. Still, the matter of U.S. intelligence in Mexican territory remains a sensitive issue due to the latter’s concerns about sovereignty. Officials say that, usually, “Mexico is kept in the dark about the United States’ contacts with its most secret informants…partly because of concerns about corruption among the Mexican police, and partly because of laws prohibiting American security forces from operating on Mexican soil.”

First Mexican Truck Enters U.S. under Delayed NAFTA Provision

The first Mexican truck crossed into the United States last Friday as part of a long-delayed NAFTA provision allowing Mexican trucks unfettered access to American roads. The original provision involved giving the trucks access to roads in border states by 1995 and all of the United States by 2000, but concerns over safety measures and the effects on U.S. trucking jobs served as obstacles to implementation. 

Ortega Widens Poll Lead in Nicaraguan Race

Niacaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who seeks reelection come November 6, saw his poll lead grow 18 points according to a CID-Gallup poll, reports PBS NewsHour. The Sandinista candidate has the support of 48 percent of voters compared to 30 percent for leading opposition candidate Fabio Gadea of the Independent Liberal Party.

Guatemala to Take over Brazil’s UNSC Seat

The Latin American non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council will go to Guatemala, after the Central American country won 191 votes in the General Assembly on October 21. Guatemala will take over the two-year post from Brazil to join the 15-member Council in 2012 and 2013.

Rousseff’s Cabinet: Fifth Minister Investigated for Corruption

The Brazilian Supreme Court launched an official corruption allegation against Sports Minister Orlando Silva, making him the fifth minister to face such charges since President Dilma Rousseff took office in January. The president began an anti-corruption drive in July following accusations levied against senior officials. The investigation against Silva, accused of taking kickbacks, comes as Brazil prepares for the 2014 World Cup.

Read an AS/COA news analysis of Rousseff’s corruption crackdown.

Cleaning São Paulo’s Tietê

An article in The Economist evaluates the 20-year challenge to clean São Paulo’s Tietê River. As an expert on the river, Janes Jorge, states in the article: “The river’s problems are an expression of the city’s problems—of poverty and environmental degradation.” While the river is still “stinking and filthy,” it is significantly better than when the project launched in 1992. Significant progress in sewage treatment and regional cooperation in pollution control lead experts to predict that changes will be noticeable by 2018, in time for the opening of a 47-mile park along the river’s banks.

FDI in LatAm Jumped in First Half of 2011

The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) announced Tuesday that foreign direct investment in the region surged by 54 percent in the first six months of the year. ECLAC credited the rising inflows to stability, economic growth, and high commodity prices. But the agency also warned that global financial volatility makes growth of future investment plans uncertain. 

LatAm Companies Get Noticed on NYSE

Univision’s news tumblr reports on the rising amount of money allocated to Latin American equities at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). While $120 billion was allocated to Latin American equities in the first quarter of 2006, the amount reached $520 billion during the first quarter of this year. The post lists the top 10 Latin American companies listed on the NYSE by market valuation. 

Assessing the Ease of Doing Business in the Americas

The World Bank released its report Doing Business 2012 on October 20, assessing business regulations in 183 world economies and ranks them according to the ease of conducting business. In the Western Hemisphere, the United States ranks number 4 and Canada came in at number 13. In Latin American and Caribbean countries, the survey ranked Chile, Peru, and Colombia the highest (39, 41, and 42) with Haiti and Venezuela (174 and 177) among the worst.

Chávez Increases Budget by 50 Percent for 2012

The Venezuelan government announced an almost 50 percent increase in the 2012 budget. The increase is due to President Hugo Chávez’s prediction that the average price of Venezuelan oil will increase next year. The budget increase will focus primarily on “sustainability of fiscal accounts, promotion of economic growth, and redistribution of wealth.”

Venezuela’s Globovisión to Fight Fine

Globovisión, an opposition media outlet in Venezuela,vowed to fight a $2 million fine imposed by the government last week. The fine comes as a result of Globovisión’s coverage of a prison strike in June and July, which the government’s telecommunications agency claims stirred public anxiety through false reporting. The president of Globovisión, Guillermo Zuloaga, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, said the fine would bankrupt the company, and vowed to fight it with every available legal recourse. “They won’t close us with fines,” he stated.

Survey Finds Cubans Welcome Reforms

A Freedom House report released on October 21 finds that Cubans are pleased with reforms taking place in their country. The survey measured large gains in the number of people who believe Cuba is making progress and who expect their economic situation to improve. The survey also saw a change in what reform most Cubans would like to see—freedom of expression and travel now top the list where improved economic conditions led the December 2010 survey.

U.S. Air Carriers Boosting Charter Service to Cuba

With an eye toward the eventual opening of the Cuban market to American tourists, a number of U.S. airlines began charter flights to Cuba this year, among them American Airlines, Continental, Delta, JetBlue, and United. An estimated 400,000 people will travel from U.S. airports to the island this year, up from 250,000 in 2010. While recreational travel to the island is still illegal for U.S. citizens, the Obama administration has relaxed restrictions on travel for students, journalists, and religious groups. Cuban-Americans can travel to the island to visit family. The Obama administration also increased the number of airports from which charter flights may depart from three to 15 nationwide. 

DR to Deport Thousands of Haitians under New Migration Law

The Dominican government announced the implementation of a new migration law last week that establishes quotas for foreign workers, and streamlines the migration process. Any migrants without the necessary documentation to prove their status will be immediately deported, according to Immigration Director José Ricardo Taveras. This is expected to lead to the evacuation of thousands of Haitian migrants—who number an estimated 600,000 in the country—many of them refugees from 2010’s earthquake.

New PM Inaugurated in Jamaica

Jamaica welcomed its ninth prime minister on October 23 with the swearing in of Andrew Holness. The former education minister and 39-year-old is currently the youngest head of state in the English-speaking Caribbean and the youngest prime minister in the country’s history. He replaces Bruce Golding, who formally resigned Sunday morning, after holding the post since 2007.

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