- The runoff in Haiti is official. Government protege Jude Celestin and former first lady Mirlande Manigat will advance to a runoff in presidential elections. One cannot help but question the legitimacy of these elections and the fact that Celestin made it to the second round. As one protestor clearly stated “We’re still living under tents and Celestin wastes money on election posters.”
- New WikiLeaks cables suggest U.S. diplomats accusing Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s government of taking bribes from drug traffickers and receiving “suitcases full of cash” from Venezuelan officials.
- According to a new French medical report the cholera epidemic that has caused more than 2,000 deaths in Haiti was introduced by Nepalese troops. This was suggested before, but know its official. This is unfortunate as UN operation’s legitimacy will start to be questioned and the saftey of many of those stationed there will be in danger.
- The government of Venezuela has took control 20% of the stake at the only big opposition news channel left, Globovision. The government declared that the 20% stake owned by Sindicato Avila, which is related somehow to Banco Federal (which was also expropriated earlier this year), will now be in the hands of the government. Another classic move of state intervention in all aspects of Venezuela society, and just plain embarrassing.
- Honduran President Portfirio Lobo has said he wants ousted ex President Manuel Zelayas to return to the country without facing charges. He didn’t elaborate, which hints to some real insincerity since he was involved in removing him.
- In a big step forward for Cuba, President Raul Castro defended â€?a href="http://laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=380870&CategoryId=14510">permanent differences in all ideas,â€?because that is where â€śthe best solutionsâ€?come from, and he encouraged Cubans to express themselves freely in the public debate now underway about economic changes for the communist-ruled island.
- Drug cartels in Mexico are infiltrating everyday lives of the State. A new report found that the cartels have newspaper journalists on their payrolls to report what comes out.
- Days before Argentine President Cristina Fernandez is supposed to give a talk about a new gas reserve that will be able to meet Argentina’s gas needs for the next 50 years, workers at an oil/gas refinery are on strike over lack of pay increases and have shutdown production.
- Ongoing: Exhibition of Peruvian Hand-crafted Nativity Sets at Peru Embassy
- Ongoing: Argentine Jewish Cinema at 21st Washington Jewish Film Festival
- Ongoing: Ceramics by Argentine artist Alfredo Ratinoff at Watergate Gallery
- Ongoing: Paintings by ArgentineÂ Felisa Federman
- Ongoing: Argentina in Focus – Cristian Segura/Sergio Vega at Museum of Americas
- 12/9 at 7pm: Bolero Concert of Leoonor Maza at Venezuela Embassy
- 12/10 at 8:30: Tango in DC
- 12/12 at 3pm: Bingo fundraiser for children with special needs in Ushuaia, Argentina at Rockville
- Elections were held yesterday, in Venezuela, for two governorships and 11 municipalities. In the second largest city of Venezuela, Maracaibo, Evelyn Trejo, wife of exiled former presidential candidate and mayor of Maracaibo, Manuel Rosales, won with 58% of the vote. In total the PSUV won 7 municipalities, and 1 governorship (although one is still to be decided). The MUD won 4 municipalities.
- Is Brazil’s success in calming violence in the favelas worthy of exporting to other countries in the region? Although it is effective and many people in the favelas are thanking the police/military for the takeover, militarization is never the sole answer. More emphasis should be given on social inclusion rather than a police state.
- Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa is making a strong andÂ successfulÂ push to bring ex-pats back home. With a lagging American economy many immigrants are now going back through the “Welcome Home” program that gives grants to those who want to start small businesses, waives import taxes and fees on belongings taken home and even a one way flight back.
- No one knows what will happen yet with the Colombia Free Trade Agreement with the new Congress, but it still is lacking key provisions that would help end the violence against labor union leaders, help for small farmers, and job increase in the US.
- Venezuela is trying to pass new laws that will further dilute the power of the National Assembly, after the opposition picked up about a third of the seats in September.
- The Economist has published the newÂ findings of the latest LatinobarĂłmetro poll taken in 18 countries.Â Support for democracy in Latin America continues to edge up, as does backing for private enterprise. Crime has become a bigger worry than unemployment. And Brazil is seen as more influential than the United States across much of the region.
- The Council of the Americas has published a resource guide to all the WikiLeaks cables for Latin America.
- The upcoming trial of Luis Posada Carriles will mark the first time that evidence gathered by Cuban authorities and the FBI will be presented in a U.S. courtroom to show the former CIA operative’s alleged role in a string of Havana bombings. Also for the first time, a jury will hear controversial but key evidence: Posada’s taped interview with a New York Times freelance journalist, who quoted him admitting that he masterminded the deadly plot to attack the Havana hotels in 1997.
- The Council on Hemispheric Affairs released a new report on Iran-Latin America relations and what it means for the US.Â In the short-term, the U.S. is going to have to accept that it is powerless to discourage or contain expanding Iranian-Latin American relations. Only a long-term solution can be effective. The U.S. will almost certainly be challenged in the future by an axis of states that stand in opposition to its hegemony. However, a hasty, intervention-centric response will only serve to exacerbate this situation. Given that perceived threats against U.S. security interests arising out of the Iranian-Latin American relationship are unrealistic, this state of affairs should be tolerable and certainly does not warrant the risks associated with a reckless response on the part of the United States, which was a prominent feature of the â€śbad old daysâ€?of overtly antagonistic U.S.-Latin American relations.
- More Wikileaks information: new cables released showed American diplomats have been worried about Iran’s growing influence in Latin America but believe fears of Venezuela sending uranium to aid Tehran’s nuclear program are likely baseless. Other cables showed Mexico’s 4-year-old assault on drug cartels lacks a clear strategy and a modernized military, and suffers from infighting among security agencies. And finally, Mexican President Felipe Calderon told a U.S. official last year that Latin America “needs a visible U.S. presence” to counter Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s growing influence in the region.
- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has invited 16 families who have been left homeless because of the torrential rainstorms that have caused massive flooding in the country to live at the Presidential Palace, Miraflores. It’s moves like these that win him over with the people of Venezuela and why he still has over 50% approval rating. What would be interesting to know is how these 16 families were picked?
- After a long spat between Colombian ex President Alvaro Uribe and the Supreme Court, Colombia elected its first woman attorney general. The failure to fill that key post came amid a long-running spat between Uribe and the Supreme Court related in part to the latterâ€™s investigation into collaboration between Uribe allies in Congress and murderous right-wing paramilitaries.
- Hundreds of peasants marched in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, demanding land reform. This comes after 5 peasants were killed last month by private security guards. A score of people, most of them farm laborers, have died in Bajo Aguan since November 2009 in sporadic clashes between landless peasants and security guards working for landowners.
Headed by Senator Chris Dodd, the hearing yesterday lasted about two and a half hours. Although Congress is in the lame duck session, this hearing will hopefully prove to be somewhat beneficial in the senator’s final days as a policy maker. The opportunities abound for the US with Latin America in the year to come, but not without many challenges from our neighbors down south.
One common theme throughout the hearing was the challenge of security in the region, specifically in the matter of drug cartels. The call for strengthening the region’s police and justice systems are growing stronger by the day. Several countries, such as Venezuela and Mexico, are already in the midst of reform in these areas. The ability to prosecute without committing human rights abuses is pivotal in any reform. A point of praise was said for the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala and how it should be spread to other countries in the region as well. Also mentioned, was a concern for the spread of the drug trade to leave Mexico and plant itself in neighboring countries in Central America who are much less adept at handling the situation.
In the same vein, drug policy strategies were discussed. With the increase in power of drug cartels, strategies for how to handle drugs has become a hot topic. For starters, Joy Olsen of WOLA recommended that the Senate pass the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act, which has already passed in the House. The Act focuses on three major tasks: illicit drug supply reduction and interdiction, domestic demand reduction policies and programs, and improving existing international and domestic counternarcotics policy. It is by giving young people opportunities to study and work that will keep them from joining the drug trade. That is where prevention must start.
Economics was a big issue for the hearing. Specifically, the concern of Latin American countries seeking other places for trade, especially China. Asia, and primarily China, has overtaken the EU has Latin America’s second largest trading partner. And Brazil, Chile and Peru’s biggest destination for exports – China, not the US. This has a lot to do with why Latin America did not get hit so bad with the US’s recession. The region has highly diversified their trading partners and therefore has not relied so heavily on the US as in the past. This also stresses the importance of Latin America’s sovereignty. The US cannot act on its paternalistic impulses any longer, but look towards Latin America as an equal, as a partner. Otherwise, the US can just start saying goodbye to the $500 billion their trade is worth with Latin America.
The US has many opportunities to forge a closer relationship with the region. Mark Schnieder suggested the US expand its assistance for rural development in Latin America. Many of the cartels thrive in these areas because they lack basic infrastructure and solid institutions such as schools and hospitals. At the same time, there should be more of an effort encouraging tax reform in the region. Tax evasion is widespread in Latin America, yet some countries are making stronger efforts to stop this practice, such as Venezuela.
Senator Dodd wrapped up the hearing with someÂ recommendations of his own. He stated that 75% of people in Latin America live now in urban areas and therefore we should start focusing more on fostering relationships with mayors and governors of the region since we are seeing their importance. In Colombia, Antanas Mockus, a former mayor from Bogota, almost pulled an upset in the presidential elections. In Brazil, Jose Serra, the governor of Brazil’s biggest state Sao Paolo, also gained legitimacy because of his well executed state government plan. This trend seems to be continuing in the region and Sen. Dodd was right about their importance and that the US should start fostering better relationships with these public figures.
- It seems as if the Cuba travel ban in the US will not be lifted this year. Senior Democrats are saying that in the polarized environment the bill won’t even come up during the lame-duck session. Better luck next year, they say. I just wouldn’t hold my breath.
- In more Wikileaks news: According to a cable, Haiti’s President Rene Preval’s “overriding goal is to orchestrate the 2011 presidential transition in such a way as to ensure that whoever is elected will allow him to go home unimpeded. Based on our conversations, this is indeed a matter that looms large for Preval.” Elsewhere, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez is “submissive” to her powerful husband who is a controlling “monster,” her former Cabinet chief told a U.S. official. And of course, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was not spared. According to a cable, the US was concerned with his cozy relationship to Iran and viewed him in the “axis of mischief.”
- Francisco Silva, the clown who acquired the most votes for Congress during the Brazilian elections over a month ago, has been ruled worthy of public service. There originally had been concerns that he was illiterate, which would have barred him from serving, but he passed the literacy test and now can find out what a federal deputy does.