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Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

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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Former General Wins Guatemalan Election

Otto Pérez Molina, a former general who promised to take a mano dura (iron fist) to Guatemala’s rising crime problem, won Guatemala’s presidential election on November 6, capturing close to 54 percent of the vote. In an article for Time’s Global Spin blog, Tim Padgett says Guatemala needs a more effective police force, prosecuters, and judges rather than an iron fist. Writing for the Latin American Herald Tribune, COA’s Eric Farnsworth notes: “Guatemala’s task, along with others of its Latin American neighbors, is to develop effective democratic institutions that go beyond periodic elections.”

Ortega’s Rival Contests Nicaraguan Election Results

In Nicaragua’s November 6 election, current President Daniel Ortega coasted to reelection, capturing more than 60 percent of the vote—twice the percentage of his closest rival, Fabio Gadea. However, Gadea refuses to concede citing a "plague of irregularities." Among them, says Gadea, lies the questionable legality of Ortega’s second term. In an AQ web exclusive, James Bosworth puts Nicaragua’s electoral events in the context of other contested Latin American elections and explores what could come next. 

Obama Signs Economic Development Agreement with El Salvador

In an interview with El Salvador’s El Diario de Hoy, U.S. President Barack Obama explained the Partnership for Growth Initiative. Signed on November 3, the plan was originally proposed during Obama’s visit to El Salvador in March. The plan aims to aid development and growth in El Salvador through increased investment, public-private partnerships, and technical support. Commenting on the plan, Obama said: “The success of this partnership will be seen through teamwork between the government of El Salvador, the private sector, international partners, and the Salvadoran people.”

Calderón’s Sister Vies For Governorship in Mexico

President Felipe Calderón’s older sister Luisa Maria Calderón is running for governor of Michoacán state on the National Action Party (PAN) ticket in the November 13 elections. If she wins, the victory could give a much-needed boost to Calderón’s beleaguered party before the 2012 presidential elections, reports Reuters.

Mexican Transparency Law Goes Underutilized

Nine years after its passage, Mexico’s Federal Transparency and Access to Public Information Law continues to be underutilized, reports the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. According to his findings, most Mexicans do not know how the law can serve them, and 90 percent of Mexican journalists do not know how to make a freedom of information request.

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis “Brazil’s Senate Passes Landmark Transparency Laws.”

Cano Assassination: The End of the FARC?

The Colombian military announced the November 4 assassination of FARC leader Alfonso Cano (born Guillermo León Sáenz), after a bombing raid. Writing for CNN Global Public Square, AS/COA’s Christopher Sabatini and Ryan Berger assess Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ anti-insurgency strategy, and question the future viability of the FARC.

Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis on the Cano assassination. 

U.S.-Bolivian Diplomatic Ties Restored

Bolivia and the United States announced the reestablishment of diplomatic ties on November 7. This comes three years after the Bolivian government expelled the U.S. ambassador and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) from the country under allegations of inciting the opposition. A U.S. State Department release calls for “the early return of ambassadors to both Washington and La Paz.” However, despite the renewal of relations, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced that the DEA is not welcome to return to his country.

DEA Afghanistan Program Expands to Latin America

The New York Times details the DEA’s Latin American Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST). These “commando-style squads” are working with local law enforcement in Haiti, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Belize to fight local drug cartels. Started during the George W. Bush administration to target Talban-linked traffickers in Afghanistan, since 2008 “it has expanded far beyond the war zone,” writes Charlie Savage.

SB 1070 Senator Recalled from Office, Loses Vote

Arizona state Senator Russell Pearce was recalled from office yesterday after thousands of constituents petitioned for his removal. “Recall backers argued that Pearce's focus on illegal immigration—he wrote the state's controversial immigration law known as SB 1070 and a host of others—has distracted him from the needs of his district and damaged the image of the state,” according to The Los Angeles Times’ Politics Now blog. He lost the vote to Republican Jerry Lewis.

Obama Pick for Western Hemisphere Rep Gives Senate Testimony

U.S. President Barack Obama’s pick for Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson presented testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on November 8. If nominated, she would replace Arturo Valenzuela, who resigned in May. In her testimony, she vowed to help improve regional security, democracy, economic and social inclusion, and energy security. She also testified that she would prioritize the release of American contractor Alan Gross from Cuba, in response to questions from Cuban-American senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Marco Rubio (R-FL). Rubio previously threatened to hold up her nomination over the Obama administration’s Cuba policy, but indicated after November 8 that he had not decided whether he would take such action. Jacobson’s confirmation process continues next week.

Cuba Legalizes Buying and Selling Homes

The Cuban government announced new regulations for the sale of private property last week, which will take effect November 10. This marks the first time Havana has permitted such actions since the 1959 Revolution. The new laws also make provisions for the inheritance of property when people die, divorce, or emigrate. Until now, 80 percent of Cubans owned their homes, but were only permitted to trade their properties through a complicated government-run bartering system, or via the black market.

Chávez Says Opposition Would End Social Programs, Cuban Aid

In a recent announcement via telephone to state television, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez stated that if the opposition wins next year’s presidential election, it will end aid to the poor, privatize the health system, and expel Cuban workers. Cubans work as medical personnel in the countries clinics, as well as teachers, sports trainers, and military advisers in exchange for subsidized oil exports to the island. Presidential hopeful Henrique Capriles Radonski denied the accusations, and stated: “I don't agree with this form of politics: inventing stories to pressure, blackmail, and psychologically terrorize people."

Haiti Demands UN Compensation for Cholera Outbreak

Haitian cholera victims are demanding hundreds of millions of dollars from the UN as compensation. Studies find that cholera was brought to the country through UN peacekeepers from Nepal. The lawsuit came from the US-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, which alleges the UN did not properly screen peacekeepers for cholera, nor did it properly contain the outbreak. The outbreak began last October, resulting in more than 6,500 deaths and 500,000 infected.

Trinidad Lifts Curfew, State of Emergency Remains

On Tuesday, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced the lifting of the country’s 11pm to 4am curfew. However, the state of emergency will remain in effect. Both measures were introduced on August 21 to help battle rising crime in the country. While not claiming a “complete victory,” the prime minister said the state of emergency resulted in the lowest murder rate in two decades.

Under Investigation, Peru VP Takes Temporary Leave

Peru’s Vice President Omar Chehade decided to take a leave of absence but refused to resign in the wake of a corruption scandal. Chehade is under investigation for influence peddling, though he maintains his innocence. His temporary departure comes after President Ollanta Humala asked for his resignation.

Another Brazilian Ministry Accused of Kickback Involvement

On Saturday, Brazilian magazine VEJA published an exposé on the Ministry of Labor, accusing officials of demanding kickbacks on contracts with non-profit organizations. Labor Minister Carlos Lupi swiftly fired one of his advisors, but refuses to quit and declared himself innocent. The minister’s political party, the Democratic Labor Party, threatened to abandon President Dilma Rousseff’s coalition if she fires Lupi.

Arms Trafficking on the Rise in Santiago Slums

This week, the Chilean Center for Investigative Journalism released a report on arms trafficking amongst slum youths in Santiago. Despite a government crackdown on illegal weapons, a black market involving neighboring countries and local drug traffickers has sparked an increase in illicit arms sales in the Chilean capital.

No Agreement Yet on Chile’s Education Budget

On Sunday, Chile’s Minister Secretary General of Government Andrés Chadwick urged the opposition to come to an agreement on the country’s divisive education budget as soon as possible. The opposition recently asked for an additional $1.5 billion to be added to the budget for education.

Canada, Uruguay Rank High on Prosperity Index

The Legatum Prosperity index, which measures quality of life for 110 countries in the world based on criteria like education, healthcare, safety, and personal freedom released its 2011 rankings this month. The findings place Canada in sixth place worldwide, with the United States at number ten. Uruguay tops the list for Latin America at 29, and is the only Latin American country ranked among “high” prosperity countries.

New Oil Discovery in the Falklands

British petroleum firm Rockhopper announced a second oil discovery in the Falkland Islands November 9. In August, the company discovered a field estimated to hold 608 million barrels of crude oil. The latest discovery could mean the region, historically disputed between Argentina and the UK, could be a new oil hotspot.

Declassified Documents Reveal India Plan for Argentina and Paraguay Resettlement

The Times of India reports that declassified documents reveal an Indian government plan to resettle thousands of Indian farmers in Argentina and Paraguay in the 1960s. Indian officials abandoned the plan due to fears of high costs and xenophobia.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Nicaraguan Elections, SB 1070, President Daniel Ortega, Otto Perez Molina, Guatemalan Elections, DEA Afghanistan

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