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Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

Dear Readers: Weekly Roundup will take a winter break.
Look for the next issue on January 12, 2011. Happy holidays!

Chávez in Charge

The Venezuelan National Assembly granted to President Hugo Chávez on December 16 the power to rule by decree for the next 18 months, in what El Tiempo calls legislators’ “fourth instance in 11 years of hari-kari.” The “Enabling Law” comes two weeks before the new National Assembly takes office, after which Chávez’s party will lack the needed two-thirds majority to enact new legislation. A Venezuelan archbishop came out against the law, saying it will turn the country into a “constitutional democratic dictatorship.”

Legislators also approved on December 20 other laws extending Chávez’s power, including two that tighten regulations on the internet and telecommunications. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) warns these lawscould promote further censorship. “The reforms,” argues CPJ senior program coordinator for the Americas, “passed without any debate, are a clear attempt by the Venezuelan government to further its clampdown on critics and independent media.”

Venezuela Rejects U.S. Ambassador

Caracas reiterated on Saturday its unwillingness to accept Larry Palmer as the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, responding to news about Palmer’s pending appointment by U.S. Congress. Washington responded that Venezuela's decision will have “consequences.”

AQ blogger Liz Harper puts Caracas’ rejection of Palmer in the context of Washington’s approach to handling a challenging relationship with Chávez.

Next Steps for Haiti Considered amid Election Result Postponement

The Haitian Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced this week that it would postpone publishing the final results from Haiti’s November 28 presidential election. The CEP did not set a new release date, claiming to be awaiting “the arrival and the completion of the work of an OAS expert mission” to analyze the voting process. Given controversy surrounding the electoral proceedings, the international community has suggested strategies to overcome the hurdle of the controversial electoral proceedings, proposing everything from scrapping the November 28 vote to forming a coalition government. The Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles covers the various solutions proposed.

Guatemala Declares State of Siege

President Álvaro Colom declared a state of siege in the Guatemalan province of Alta Verapaz on December 19. Under the state of siege the army can detain suspects and conduct searches without warrants. The strategy, which is set for 30 days but may be extended, aims to dislodge the Zetas drug gang that has taken control of the area and infiltrated the local police.

Activist Murdered in front of Chihuahua Governor’s Office

Although murders in Mexico’s northern state of Chuihuahua have, sadly, become commonplace, Marisela Escobedo Ortíz’s death last week drew widespread attention and outcry. Escobedo became a one-woman activist after judges set free the confessed killer with narco ties suspected of murdering her teenage daughter in 2008. Escobedo initiated an ongoing vigil in front of Chihuahua’s government buildings where a gunman killed her on December 16. The assassination was captured on video and has been widely broadcast. Two days later, authorities found the body of Escobedo’s slain brother-in-law. Observers say the family tragedy underscores rampant impunity in Mexico.

Mexican Politician Freed after Seven Months

Kidnappers released former Mexican presidential candidate Diego Fernández de Cevallos, seven months after he disappeared and left behind a bloodied car, kidnappers released him earlier this week. The case riveted the country since he went missing in May as people speculated that Fernández, a prominent lawyer who had represented drug kingpins, may have been abducted by an angered ex-client. But the mystery continues, with Fernández refusing to reveal the identity of his kidnappers when he reappeared with a bushy, white beard a few days before Christmas.

Pipeline Explosion Highlights Fuel Theft in Mexico

A fuel pipeline outside Mexico City exploded on December 19, killing 29 and leaving 52 injured. Mexican officials blame the persistent problem of thieves siphoning fuel from the pipeline.

Nicaragua, Maybe Costa Rica Accept Guatemala as Mediator

Various news agencies began reporting on December 17 that Costa Rica accepted Guatemala’s offer to mediate the dispute with Nicaragua after Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega requested Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom’s help. However, a release by the Costa Rican Ministry of Foreign Relations thanking Guatemala for the offer says “the first priority is to overcome the situation of the occupation [of Costa Rican territory] by Nicaraguan armed forces. The Tico Times argues that this indicates mediation is unlikely.

Report Documents Honduran Post-coup Abuses

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released on December 20 a report documenting the Honduran state’s “failure to ensure accountability for abuses committed under the country's de facto government in 2009.” The report documents attacks on journalists, human rights defenders, and political activists. It also offers recommendations to reverse the “chilling effect” that “the lack of accountability–and ongoing violence and threats–have had.”

White House Offers “No Timeline” on Colombia or Panama FTAs

The White House announced on December 18 that President Barack Obama “has not yet discussed a timeline” to ask Congress to consider free-trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. The Washington Post calls the decision “ridiculous” and argues that both deals would mean major export opportunities for the United States.

Colombian Army to FARC: Merry Xmas and Happy Demobilization

The BBC reports on the Colombian army’s installation of 10 Christmas trees in territory controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The goal of “Operation Christmas” is to encourage FARC rebels to lay down their weapons. The trees bear messages such as: “If Christmas can come to the jungle, you can come home.” The Colombian government says 2,000 rebels deserted the FARC this year.

Flooding Leaves Ghost Towns in Colombia

Semana offers a look at the deserted towns and regions in Colombia affected by months of heavy rains and flooding that have left over 300 dead and two million homeless.

Colombian Blog Founder Talks Digital Beat Journalism

Juanita León spoke with harvard’s Neiman Foundation about her blog, La Silla Vacía (“The Empty Seat”), which covers political power in Colombia. “[T]he Internet changes the concept of the beat,” says Léon. “A blog such as ours becomes a valued partner of political reporters offering them additional sources and fresh angles for stories.”

Peru Pulls out of Stock Market Integration

The Lima Stock Exchange announced on December 20 the suspension of its integration with the Chilean and Colombian markets, pending the passage of legislation to stabilize Peruvian capital gains taxes at five percent. The Santiago Stock Exchange announced that Chile and Colombia will continue integrating their markets.

Read an AS/COA Online analysis of the stock market integration.

Vampire Bats Spark Rabies Outbreak in Amazon

Reporting on location in Peru, a GlobalPost video covers a rabies outbreak also affecting Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela caused by vampire bats that attack at night. Children are particularly vulnerable due to weaker immune systems. The video explores how medical teams raise awareness about the need for vaccinations amnd track the rise in outbreaks along with growing vampire bat populations in areas where logging takes place.

Considering Universal Health Care in Chile

A presidential council submitted in early December two proposals to Chilean President Sebástian Piñera, both of which would guarantee a minimum level of health care for all Chileans. The Center for Investigation and Journalistic Information interviewed the World Health Organization’s Guillermo Paraje about universalizing Chile’s health care system. The majority-supported proposal rectifies the current system’s “serious problems with incentives” that lead to patients being denied care, said Paraje.

The Summer 2010 issue of Americas Quarterly explored health care in the Americas.

Brazil’s CenBank Head: No Change in Policy Framework

Financial Times
’ beyondbrics blog carries a two-part interview with outgoing Brazilian Central Bank Governor Henrique Meirelles, featuring questions from the blog’s readers. Issues discussed by the bank head range from inflation management to interest rates. When one reader asks whether his departure will threaten credibility built during his tenure, Meirelles concludes: “I do not see why the central bank would change its policies and lose its credibility.” Read part one and part two of the interview.

Lula May Seek Presidency Again

When asked on a December 20 television news program if he might run for president again in the future, outgoing Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said “I can’t say no because I am alive. I am honorary president of a political party, I am a born politician, I built extraordinary political relationships.”

Brazil Cuts off Germany as Fourth Largest Auto Market

With sales of 3.45 million automobiles in 2010, Brazil follows only China, the United States, and Japan in terms of market size, displacing Germany to become the world's fourth largest market.

Argentine President’s Political Renaissance?

A Los Angeles Times article considers Argentine President Christina Fernández de Kirchner’s newfound political popularity following the passing of her husband and Argentina’s former president, Nestor Kirchner. “No one has suffered more than Kirchner's widow,” yet “if untimely death shattered the carefully laid political plans of the nation's most powerful duo, it also spurred an unexpected tidal wave of popular support.” Some counts put her approval rating above 65 percent, 30 points ahead of her position in early October.

Unemployment Drops to Pre-crisis Levels in LAC

The International Labor Organization reports that 2010 Latin American and Caribbean unemployment rates fell to nearly pre-crisis levels, dropping from 8.1 percent last year to 7.4 percent this year—just 0.1 percent higher than 2008. “The fall in unemployment is good news and clearly demonstrates both the capacity of countries to tackle the crisis and the speed of recovery of their economies,” said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. “The challenge today is the quality of jobs, in other words, making progress towards decent work.”

Latin America’s 2011 Risks

A Reuters “Factbox” explores the top political risks facing Latin America in 2011, covering the possibility of slower growth under Brazil’s new administration, the economic impact of Mexico’s drug war, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s tightening power grip, potential political instability in Ecuador, and the uncertainty of presidential votes outcomes in Argentina and Peru.

Read an AS/COA Online analysis of what’s in store for Latin America in 2011.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Venezuela, Haiti, Elections

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