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Weekly News Roundup from Across the Americas

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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Washington and Bogota Agree on Defense Pact

On August 14, the United States and Colombia finalized a defense agreement that will allow the U.S. military to operate out of Colombian bases to coordinate counternarcotics operations. The agreement comes in the wake of the closure of a U.S. base in Manta, Ecuador. In a U.S. Defense Department news briefing, U.S. General James Cartwright said the goal of the pact is “to be able to provide to the Colombians what they need in order to continue to prosecute their efforts against the internal threats that they have.” The accord awaits signature by the U.S. and Colombian governments.

Still, the bilateral pact stirred up hemispheric tensions in recent weeks, particularly between Colombia and its neighbor Venezuela, as Liz Harper writes in the Americas Quarterly blog. On Tuesday, after meeting with Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought to squelch concerns about “what the agreement does and does not do,” saying it involves bilateral cooperation rather than the creation of U.S. bases in Colombia.

Read an AS/COA analysis of discussion and debate by the Union of South American States (better known as UNASUR) related to the U.S. presence in Colombian bases.

Micheletti: Zelaya Faces 18 Charges

The interim leader of Honduras Roberto Micheletti reiterated this weekend that he would not go along with any proposal allowing ousted leader Manuel Zelaya to return to office. In an interview with McClatchy, Micheletti said the exiled Zelaya faces jail and 18 charges related to violating the constitution should he return. A proposal by Costa Rican President Óscar Arias, who mediated talks between the two sides, would allow Zelaya to return to office under a coalition government. Despite voicing opposition to Zelaya’s reinstatement, in an interview with Honduras’ El Diario La Prensa, Micheletti expressed confidence in Arias’ mediation process.

An AS/COA analysis looks at the continuing political standoff over the Honduran presidency.

Honduras Cuts Diplomatic Ties with Argentina

The interim government in Honduras suspended ties with Argentina this week in reponse to Buenos Aires’ decision to expel the Honduran Ambassador Carmen Eleonora Ortez Williams. Argentina asked Ortez to leave because of her support for the de facto government that replaced deposed leader Manuel Zelaya on June 28. Tegucigalpa rebutted with the news that Argentine diplomats would be given 72 hours to leave Honduras.

Looking for Leadership in the Americas

In an op-ed for The Miami Herald, AS/COA’s Christopher Sabatini and Kissinger Associates’ Stephanie Junger-Moat point to crisis in Honduras and incendiary debate over a U.S.-Colombia military pact as examples of the lack of leadership in the Western Hemisphere. They write: “If the United States is going to be a partner with Latin America—a healthy and laudable goal—the aspiring powers of the hemisphere need to shake off their timidity and worn-out rhetoric.”

Caught Between a Bolivarian Dream and Liberal Democracy

In an interview with Colombia’s El Espectador, Editor of Mexican magazine Letras Libres offers his perspective on the political direction of the Americas and why neither Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez nor his Colombian counterpart Álvaro Uribe should win reelection. In terms of Washington’s relations with Latin America, Krauze commends U.S. President Barack Obama for maintaining a low profile in the face of Chávez’s “provocations.” However, he recommends the White House ramp up dialogue with Brazil and objects to the lag time in passing the Colombia trade deal: “It is an error that the United States has converted Colombia into a military ally but not an economic ally.” Hat tip to El Maestro at the Venezuela Report, who offers a portion of the interview translated into English.

Colombia Arrests Ex-DAS Director for Galan Murder

Twenty years after the assassination of Colombian presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan, the former head of Colombia’s intelligence agency surrendered when authorities released an arrest warrant for his suspected involvement in the murder.

Lagos on Latin American Democracy

In Bogota, former President of Chile Ricardo Lagos talked with Semana about challenges to democracy in Latin America, including the importance of strengthening of political institutions and new means of communication through social media. He said that while political parties no longer assure the spread of democracy in Latin America, particularly given the growth of civil society. “For democracy to work, there has to be a material foundation that involves economic growth,” said Lagos, adding that, with increased concern about climate change, a country’s carbon emissions will near the importance of per capita GDP.

Chile's Three-Way Race

Chile’s presidential race moves full steam ahead with numbers remaining too tight to call. Traditionally fought out between two major parties, a third contender is being taken seriously: 36-year-old maverick Miguel Enríquez Ominami, an independent candidate who continues to make significant gains in the polls, writes Justin Vogler for openDemocracy.

Read an AS/COA analysis about Ominami's candidacy.

Calderón and Lula Talk Economic, Energy Ties

Mexican President Felipe Calderón visited Brazilian leader President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva this week to talk trade. Feeling economic heat from the financial troubles in the United States, Mexico plans to “diversify and intensify relationships” with other countries, said Calderón. Latin America’s most populous countries make up 70 per cent of the region’s GDP yet trade between them stands at $7.4 billion—a figure that Calderón described as “peanuts.” In addition to hopes for stepped-up trade ties, the leaders expressed an interest in developing a strategic alliance between state-owned oil firms Pemex and Petrobras. The Mexican president also traveled to Colombia and Uruguay with a similar goal of deepening trade ties.

Panama Asks Brazil for Infrastructure Support

Infolatam reports that Panama’s government asked for $1 billion in credit from Brazil’s development bank to support transportation infrastructure and the purchase of Brazilian goods. The request came during a visit to the Central American country by Brazil’s Commerce Minister Miguel Jorge. Furthermore, Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli that his country should “learn from Brazil about the ethanol industry.”

Funes Rides Wave of Popularity, though Economic Challenges Loom

Nearly three months after taking office, El Salvador’s President Maurcio Funes commands a 70 percent approval rating, according to a CID-Gallup poll. Tim’s El Salvador Blog points out that even a majority of the main opposition party’s members give Funes positive marks. Still, Funes' government faces challenges associated with an inherited economic crisis, including rising poverty and shrinking remittances. Funes has announced a series of programs with the goal of job creation and boosting agricultural production.

Read AS/COA analysis of Funes’ electoral victory.

El Salvador Faces Steep Remittance Drop

The Central American country’s Central Bank announced that, in the first seven months of 2009, its citizens living abroad sent home 11 percent less in funds than during the same period the prior year.

Ecuador Signs Energy Deal with China

As part of an effort to ease the liquidity crunch it faces, Quito agreed to supply energy-hungry China with 69 million barrels of oil over the next two years in return for an upfront loan of $1 billion, reports the Financial Times. Some critics warn the 7.25 percent rate of interest on the loan is too high. However, Ecuador’s access to credit has become limited since the price of oil plummeted and after Quito defaulted on foreign debt repayments it called “illegitimate.”

China has made prior investments in Latin American energy. Read an AS/COA analysis of Beijing’s $10 billion loan to Brazil for that purpose.

Roofless in Peru

Two years have passed since a devastating earthquake pummeled Peru’s Ica region, yet reconstruction efforts remain slow in spite of Lima’s promises. Over the weekend, protesters took to the streets and blamed authorities for mismanaging reconstruction funds. In the meantime, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez stepped in with a housing lottery, providing 100 homes for free.

Read an AS/COA analysis about reconstruction efforts six months after the earthquake.

Caracas Passes Education Reform

The Foreign Policy Association blog writes that Venezuela’s education system received a socialist reworking last week with lawmakers in Caracas pushing forward legislation allowing the state a greater say over the administration of the country’s schools and universities, including curriculum development.

Canada’s PM Makes Arctic Trip

Prime Minister Stephen Harper traveled to the Arctic this week to highlight Canada’s economic and military activities in the region. Canwest News Service reports that Harper, who has traveled to the Arctic each year since taking office, also intends to send a message to Russia and the United States “that Canada’s aspirations to be a great northern power are not to be taken lightly.” His trip coincides with Operation Nanook, which involves Canadian military exercises and patrols for a three-week period in the Arctic.

Bolivians Use Ancient Methods for Sustainable Farming

BBC reports on a project in Bolivia’s Amazon region in which farmers make use of an irrigation technique that’s hundreds of years old. The pre-Columbian system involves raised earth platforms to protect crops from floodwaters while making use of canals for irrigation. Proponents of the two-year-old project say it could help poor farmers counter the effects of climate change, slow deforestation, and boost food security.

UK Takes Over Governance of Turks and Caicos

London suspended the constitution of the Turks and Caicos Islands and imposed direct rule following allegations of corruption in the British Overseas Territory. The Caribbean islands’ former prime minister, Michael Misick, was implicated in corruption investigations and resigned in March. Ousted Prime Minister Galmo Williams called Britain’s moves a “coup.”

Health Care Debate Getting You Down? Head to DF for a Vacation... and Coverage

With tourism to Mexico diminished as a result of the swine flu scare, officials in the capital hope to attract tourists with free health insurance. The Los Angeles Times La Plaza blog says the initiative, run by Mexico City’s tourism office, offers coverage to guests in the capital’s hotels. Tourists “can get help by dialing a call center, which will have attendants fluent in English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish.”

Read an AS/COA analysis about H1N1 in the Americas. 

Dear subscribers: The Weekly Roundup is going on summer break! We'll be back September 9 with our regular summary of editorials, blogs, and analysis covering the Americas.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Chile, Peru, Brazil, El Salvador, Mexico, Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Honduras, Ecuador, Argentina, China, Ricardo Lagos, Health care

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