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LAPI Weekly Round Up – Interesting Stories From the Americas

Below a couple of cool stories you might have missed but are totally worth taking a look at. Enjoy! 

  • Great article by BBC Mundo on the complicated question regarding amnesty for abuses committed by Colombian military units.
  • The Economist writes about how the Mexican home has been transformed. Apparently, more interesting still is what Mexicans put in those homes. An excerpt below: 

More houses have televisions (93%) than fridges (82%) or showers (65%). In a hot country with dreadful television this is curious. Communications habits are interesting too: despite some of the world’s highest charges, two thirds of Mexicans have a mobile phone—though only four out of ten have a landline.

If you tap those phonelines you will find that 6.7m people speak an indigenous language, principally Nahuatl and Maya, though there are dozens more. Surprisingly, the number of indigenous language speakers is higher than in 2000. At the same time, the number of people unable to speak Spanish has fallen.

This is thanks to much better education. Less than 2% of today’s youths are illiterate, compared with a third of over-75s. But there is amazing regional variation. Nearly one in five residents of Chiapas, a poor southern state, cannot read nor write. In Mexico City, the figure is one in 50.

  • The same week the Cuban government  announced it is "studying plans that would allow citizens to travel abroad" as tourists for the first time in 50 years, it also forbid the outspoken blogger Yoani Sánchez to travel to Denmark & collect her $50,000 Freedom Award from CEPOS. So ironic.
  •  Brazil's Supreme Court has voted overwhelmingly in favour of allowing same-sex couples the same legal rights as married heterosexuals. Brazil is the world's most populous Roman Catholic nation and has an estimated 60,000 gay couples.

From now on, same sex couples will be able to register their civil partnerships with solicitors and public bodies, giving them proper inheritance and pension rights. However, the landmark ruling stops short of recognising gay marriage, which could involve public or religious ceremonies.Brazil's Roman Catholic Church had argued against the decision to allow civil unions, saying the only union referred to within Brazil's constitution was that between a man and a woman.

But the country's recently elected President Dilma Rousseff has made the issue one of her big social policy reforms.

Weekly Round Up - Stories from the Americas

We’ve all heard about Castro’s promises to change and reform Cuba. Half a century after the communist revolution, Raúl Castro has also talked about the need to rejuvenate the party’s leadership. Below are various links to must-read articles covering the Island’s recent events that look both backwards and forward.

  • Reuters'coverage of the named 15-member political Bureau that “will steer the country through the next five years as it overhauls the economy and fine tunes the one-party political system.” Interestingly, ages range from 50 to 80 and only one female was appointed. On that same note, Foreign Policy magazine examines how Raul Castro kicked off Cuba’s youth movement with an 80-year old deputy.
  •  The Financial Times’ Cuba Libre? piece that thoroughly analyzes the proposed changes.
  • The Boston Globe’s Big Picture has amazing photos, while Infolatam has video footage of Sunday’s May 1st parade in Santiago de Cuba, where crowds rallied in support of  “modernizing Cuban socialism”.
  • Andres Oppenheimer’s Op-Ed for El Pais argues that Raúl Castro is simply buying time with the reform announcements and declarations.

And as much as we love the Caribbean, let’s not forget about the rest of the Americas and some of last week’s cool stories.  Here are a couple you might have overlooked: 

  • According to the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, the mayor of Bogotá, Samuel Moreno, has been suspended for a period of three months and may be forced to resign over a scandal involving government contracts.
  •  Via a White House Statement on World Press Freedom Day, President Obama called attention to press freedom violations in the Latin American countries of Mexico, Venezuela and Honduras.
  • The New York Times takes a look at how Perú’s Ollanta Humala may be Lula’s biggest fan.
  • The BBC reported that a court in Honduras drops the remaining corruption charges against ex-President Manuel Zelaya, clearing the way for his return from exile.

Interesting Stories From the Americas

  • The White House announced President Obama and Panamanian President Martinelli will meet for the first time in Washington on Thursday, April 28th.  Check out today's special section about LatAm trade issues in  FT.
  • The long-awaited rules defining who can travel freely to Cuba were released last week by the Department of Treasury. The Miami Herald has all the details and full report. 
  • LatAm Dispatch reported that Venezuela has withdrawn its membership from the Andean Community of Nations. Chavez left the group because Peru and Colombia negotiated trade agreements with the US. Venezuela had expected to be a full member of Mercosur by this time. However, that membership remains held up by the Paraguayan Congress. Bloggings by Boz put out a short analysis on how this move is a step backwards for regional integration:

The move, officially announced five years ago, eliminates a number of trade benefits between Venezuela and the other CAN members (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia). However, Venezuela is working on temporary bilateral agreements with Colombia and Peru and already has agreements through ALBA with Bolivia and Ecuador.Interestingly, the only other country to withdraw from CAN was Chile under Pinochet in 1976. Pinochet complained that Chile's economic policy was incompatible with the other countries in the organization.

Medellín's reinvention holds potentially important lessons not only for the drug war in Mexico, but also for everyone else. Over the past generation, Americans have grown cynical about grand experiments in urban planning and other sweeping social-policy programs. But for most of the world's population, consumed with the necessities of day-to-day existence, getting social services right matters a lot more than ideology, as populist autocrats like Hugo Chávez and Islamist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah have figured out. Think government can't deliver smart, intelligent urban design that changes lives? Travel to Medellín, and it's hard to remember why it is that Americans have given up trying.

  • An awesome LA Times article takes a look at Mexico, where The richest man on the planet lives, as do millions of people existing below the poverty line. However, wealthy and poor constantly intersect, “entangled in a routine of mutual sustenance.”
  • Peruvian presidential candidate Ollanta Humala--who's leading the polls--promised to respect the ‘signed’ FTAs, but claimed the right to revise certain clauses within a judicial framework. Eric Farnsworth from the Council of the Americas explores the already existing debate ‘whether Humala, should he indeed be elected, will be a Peruvian version of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva or a Chávez acolyte, or perhaps some sort of hybrid nationalist.’

Interesting Stories From All Over the Americas

  • According to Americas Quarterly and El Universal, “the government of Mexican President Felipe Calderón made history this week when a presidential spokeswoman, Alejandra Sota, announced that Mexico was the first country in the world to have an entire president’s cabinet actively using Twitter.” The goal being:

 …accountability and to allow officials to better respond to citizens’ concerns.

  • The Economist published an interesting piece on President Piñera attempt to bring more women into the workforce by sending a bill to Congress that would require the state to pay working mothers for up to 7 months of maternity leave—“more time than women get in France.”

Mr. Piñera’s concern for the plight of Chile’s working women is justified. The country ranks 33rd of the OECD’s 34 countries for female labour participation, ahead only of Turkey. And its current maternity-leave scheme, which offers six weeks of time off paid by the state before birth and 12 afterwards, is regressive: 52% of payments go to the richest fifth of women and just 5% to the poorest fifth.

However, the Economist believes extra maternity leave would probably not bring many more women  into the workforce; click here to read why.

  • American blogger based in Nicaragua, Boz, wrote a well-thought analysis on the benefits of a long-tough primary for the Venezuelan opposition (MUD).  
  • While U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said a free-trade agreement with Panama is ready to be considered by Congress, The Associated Press reports that President Barack Obama and Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli will meet for the first time next week.
  •  The Hill informed that a bipartisan group of six lawmakers is heading to Colombia on Monday to discuss the pending free-trade agreement with the nation’s leaders.  During this quick trip to our Southern neighbor, the lawmakers are expected to meet President Santos, his Cabinet and labor as well as business leaders.  

Weekly Round Up - Stories from the Americas

Muchísimas gracias to everyone that joined us yesterday for our first ever Policy Day. The NDN LAPI Board of Advisors and team are very proud to have hosted "Forward Together/Avanzando Juntos/Avançando Juntos – A Conference Looking at the Changing Politics of the Americas”. Remember to check the website again in a  few days to watch the conference speeches and discussion panels.

Now, below a couple of cool stories from the Americas that you might have missed while worrying about the government shutdown. Enjoy!

  • In light of Peru's recent presidential elections, Spanish newspaper El País publised a must-read article on Perú’s persistent social inequality despite its economic success.
  • Central America will grow by an average of 4 % in 2011 propelled by the Panamanian economy. To read the Infolatam analysis, click here
  • The Christian Monitor put out an interesting piece on Mexico’s nomination of the first female attorney general. An excerpt below:

If ratified by the Mexican Senate, Morales would be the first woman to hold the male-dominated post – the significance of which would resonate widely in a nation that lags behind the region in terms of gender equality. Mexico places 91 on the World Economic Forum’s 2010 Global Gender Gap Report, one of the lowest rankings in Latin America and only better than Belize, Suriname, and Guatemala.

  • After much speculation, a family court in Guatemala has approved the divorce of President Alvaro Colom and his wife Sandra Torres. See BBC for full story.
  • The New York Times takes a look at Suriname’s new phenomenon and/or art on the move: elaborately painted mini-buses. By exploring social and political themes: 

...these colorful minibuses gliding through Paramaribo’s streets show a different side of the evolution of this astonishingly diverse South American country. Drivers adorn these “wilde bussen” with hand-painted illustrations of the heroes, outlaws, religious temples and musical subcultures that beguile this nation, home to an ethnic variety that includes Javanese, Indians, Chinese, indigenous groups, mixed-race Creoles and Maroons, descendants of runaway slaves.

“Qaddafi will be my next subject,” said Mr. Bruyning, referring to the embattled Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. “I want to paint him before he is gone".

  • The Boston Globe’s  photo blog, The Big Picture,  highlights Mexico’s Drug War by compiling a set of impressive and revealing photographs. 

Forward Together/Avanzando Juntos/Avançando Juntos – A Conference Looking at the Changing Politics of the Americas

NDN's Latin American Policy & 21st Century Border Initiatives will be joining forces next Monday, April 11th, for our all-day policy day Forward Together/Avanzando Juntos/Avançando Juntos –  Looking at the Changing Politics of the Americas.  We are very excited to announce that Ambassador Miriam E. Sapiro, Deputy USTR, will be joining us as luncheon speaker.  Ambassador Sapiro will be giving timely remarks about today's announcement that the United States and Colombian governments have agreed on a path forward for the passage of the pending trade agreement. 

The day will also feature major addresses by influential thought leaders including Governor Bill Richardson, the Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere at the National Security Council Dan Restrepo, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, the Ambassador from Mexico to the United States Arturo Sarukhan as well as a panel discussion on the changing politics of the US-Latin America relationship.

Below you will find the agenda for the day and please make sure to register for this event as soon as possible.

Forward Together/Avanzando Juntos/Avançando Juntos – A Conference Looking at the Changing Politics of the Americas

9:30 AM – 10:00 AM         
Continental Breakfast

10:00 AM – 10:05 AM       
Welcoming Remarks 

Nelson Cunningham, Chairman of the Latin American Policy Initiative

10:05 AM – 10:45 AM       
Remarks on President Obama’s Trip to Latin America

Dan Restrepo, Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere at the National Security Council

10:45 AM – 11:45 AM       
Panel Discussion on the Changing Politics of the Americas

Moderated by Juan Carlos Lopez, Anchor and Senior Correspondent CNN Espanol 
Ambassador Francisco Altschul, Ambassador of El Salvador to the United States
Ernesto Araujo, Minister Counselor for Economic and Trade Affairs at the Brazilian Embassy
Rodrigo Meza, Minister Counselor for Economic and Trade Affairs at the Chilean Embassy

11:45 AM – 12:15 PM       
Moving Forward on U.S. Foreign Policy with Latin America

Roberta Jacobson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs

12:15 PM – 12:45 PM       
Lunch Address

Ambassador Miriam E. Sapiro, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative

12:45 PM – 1:30 PM
The 21st Century Border Initiative
Mexican Ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan 

1:30 PM – 2:30 PM
Working Together to Create a 21st Century Border: A Mayor's Perspective on the US-Mexico Border 
Chappell Lawson, Associate Professor of Politics at MIT 
Arturo Garino, Mayor of Nogales Arizona 

2:30 PM – 3:30 PM    
Growing Together: How a 21st Century Border is Essential to Prosperity in Both the U.S. and Mexico
Moderated by Maria Luisa O’Connell, Senior Advisor for Trade and Public Relations Office of the Commissioner US Customs and Border Protection, DHS  
Martin Rojas, Vice President of Security & Operations, American Trucking Association 
Jim Kolbe, Senior Transatlantic Fellow, The German Marshall Fund
Col. Eric Rojo, Vice President of U.S.-Mexico Chamber Of Commerce and Security Program Coordinator for CEDAN-ITESM

3:30 PM – 4:15 PM    
Governor Bill Richardson, Former Governor of New Mexico and Chairman of APCO Worldwide's Executive Advisory Service Global Political Strategies

Weekly Round Up - Stories from the Americas

  • According to the BBC, a court in Guatemala has ordered a halt to the divorce proceedings of the country's first couple.  Since the constitution bans the President’s close relatives from running for the top office, First Lady Sandra Torres announced last week she was divorcing President Alvaro Colom so she be a Presidential candidate to succeed him. Ms Torres told the Guatemalan people she was leaving a “loving marriage” for the sake of the nation.
  • The Houston Chronicle reported last week that  Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, introduced legislation in Congress to designate six murderous Mexican drug cartels "foreign terrorist organizations." Latin Americanist blogger and social commentator, James Bosworth, had a provocative yet interesting take on this piece of news on Bloggings by Boz.  An excerpt below:

We need to remember that the list of terrorist groups is a tool, not a strategy. Countering the terrorist/criminal organizations in Mexico is a very different issue from countering the other groups on that list, including Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, the Tamil Tigers, the FARC and the remnants of the AUC or IRA. Placing the Mexican criminal organizations on the list of terrorists doesn't solve the problem nor does it even fully define the problem. While it has some symbolic significance, whether or not they are on that list should not impact the amount of attention given to the problem. The security problems in Mexico are important whether or not the groups meet the definition of "terrorists."

  • It’s official: Martelly wins Haiti election with 67.57 percent.
  • The Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, gave a speech today at Brown University on ‘Why People Should Give More than a Damn about Latin America". (To read the the speech, please access the file at the end of the blog post.)
  • The Former President of Brazil, Luis Inacio Lula da Sila, and the Vice President of Paraguay, Federico Franco, are both in Washington DC this week for Microsoft's 'Public Sector Leaders Forum of Latin America and the Caribbean".
  • The Economist published a must-read analysis on Perú’s upcoming presidential election: 

Peru’s election runs some risk of turning into a lesson in what happens when economic growth is not backed up by more effective government, and when a democracy is hobbled by weak and fragmented political parties (see article). Mr García chose to pour public money into roads rather than social programmes. That helped sustain growth. But a fifth of Peruvians still lack access to piped water, almost a fifth of children are malnourished and health care is patchy. The interior ministry, run by a series of APRA mediocrities, has failed to stop Peru from becoming the world’s biggest cocaine exporter. Although it is still a fairly safe country, the murder rate tripled between 2002 and 2008, according to Ciudad Nuestra, an NGO in Lima. Gangland killings among drug mafias are a frightening novelty.

Please feel free to share any news or opinion pieces that  you find are not only interesting but demonstrate the diversity of Latin American politics and societal views. Remember to check back every Tuesday for the LAPI round-up! Also, we would like to remind you that our Latin American Policy Initiative and 21st Century Border Initiative will be joining forces on April 11 for Forward Together/Avanzando Juntos/Avançando Juntos – A Conference Looking at the Changing Politics of the Americas.  This day-long conference will look at how this fast-changing region might be able to do more together in the years ahead.  The agenda for this policy day is listed here. Please make sure to register for this event as soon as possible.

Subsecretaria de Estado McHale & Panel de Discusión sobre las Redes Sociales en América Latina

La semana pasada NDN/NPI y Johns Hopkins SAIS fungieron como co-anfitriones en el foro “Diplomacia Pública y las Redes Sociales en América Latina” junto a la Subsecretaria de Estado para la Diplomacia Pública y Asuntos Públicos, Judith McHale. La Subsecretaria dio un discurso sobre cómo el Departamento de Estado ha logrado integrar los instrumentos en la red a su estrategia de diplomacia pública para conectar a la gente del hemisferio a gran escala. McHale expuso con ejemplos concretos de cómo el Dpto de Estado trabaja con las sociedades civiles en Haití, México, Brasil, Colombia y otras.  Para acceder al discurso completo, haga click aquí.

La Subsecretaria McHale expuso elocuentemente y explicó que el verdadero impacto de las nuevas tecnologías en los esfuerzos de diplomacia pública es la habilidad de entablar conversaciones entre individuos:

Si no somos nosotros los que contamos nuestra historia, alguien más lo hará.

El poder no está en la plataforma, está en las relaciones interpersonales

Al discurso le siguió un panel de cuatro expertos en el tema de la intersección de la tecnología y los asuntos de gobernabilidad, política y participación ciudadana en América Latina.

Christopher Sabatini de Americas Society/Council of the Americas argumentó críticamente que el embargo de EEUU ha prevenido la exportación de información y tecnologías de comunicación a Cuba. Además, le recordó a la audiencia que ningún país embargado por EEUUA ha logrado exitosamente el cambio democrático , y que específicamente, la Ley para la Democracia en Cuba del 1992—si algo ha hecho—es prevenir rotundamente que el pueblo cubano experimente con la democracia. El Dr. Sabatini ha escrito sobre estos temas, más recientemente en la revista Foreign Policy y el  Huffington Post

Carlos E. Ponce, del National Endowment for Democracy y el Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy, habló sobre el rol contradictorio de la tecnología en la promoción de una sociedad civil y gestión democrática más fuerte en su natal Venezuela.  Mientras que los grupos estudiantiles pro-democracia han hecho buen uso de la tecnología móvil y redes sociales a la hora de organizarse, el movimiento chavista ha utilizado las mismas herramientas para llevar a cabo sus objetivos. Por ejemplo, Hugo Chávez es el venezolano con más seguidores en Twitter. Ponce recientemente publicó sobre Chávez y otros dictadores en el Latin American Herald Tribune

Oscar Salazar, activista político y empresario mexicano, expuso sobre el rol que la tecnología puede jugar en el aumento de la participación cívica y  mejoría en cuanto a transparecia gubernamental. Su nueva compañía, Civiox, ofrece herramientas para que los gobiernos interactúen con los ciudadanos y comuniquen más efectivamente su agenda de trabajo. Ofreció el término “ Wegovernment” para describir su esfuerzo en crear un ecosistema ciudadano-gobierno más produtivo. Puede acceder a la pagina web para su compañía aquí 

Ricardo Casitllo, afiliado a George Washington University, habló sobre el impacto que las redes sociales están teniendo en la política latinoamericana, basándose en su experiencia como consultor de campañas en Brasil y Perú. Castillo entiende aunque varios líderes latinoamericanos se han aprovechado  de las redes sociales cada vez más, particularmente Twitter,  todavía existen retos en ayudar a los candidatos a entender que las redes sociales no son ni la solución ni el problema, sino que necesitan ser integradas como parte de cualquier estatregia exhaustiva de comunicación.  Su presentación está disponible aquí.

Abajo el video completo del forum. Disfruten!

Weekly Round Up - Stories from the Americas

Here are a couple of very interesting stories that took place last week across the Americas and the Caribbean. Please feel free to send us stories that we might have overlooked that touch on a wide-ranging policy issues affecting constituencies, civil society organizations and businesses with operations and ties to both regions. 

  • Dominican President Leonel Fernández hinted Sunday that he that he might seek a third consecutive presidency, despite constitutional term limits that seem to bar such a move. 

The Dominican Republic restricted re-elections in the mid-1990s to prevent repeat campaigns in the style of former President Joaquin Balaguer, who held power for more than two decades and was known for jailing critics. Allegations of fraud were widespread during his tenure. Leaders of President Leonel Fernandez's party have been promoting his candidacy while lobbying for constitutional reform that would allow him to run next year. They presented Fernandez Sunday with a petition apparently signed by 2.2 million people calling for his re-election in the Caribbean nation of 6.3 million registered voters.

  • The LA Times takes a look at President Obama’s visit to the tomb of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero:"a cleric and human rights champion who was assassinated at the outset of a civil war by the side U.S. governments would come to support." Moreover, Greg Grandin from The Nation raises a provocative question about the pilgrimage's meaning:

Today, El Salvador is led by President Mauricio Funes, head of a center-left coalition government that includes the FMLN, the insurgent group turned political party Ronald Reagan wasted billions of dollars and over 70,000 lives trying to defeat in the 1980s. By lighting a candle for Romero, Obama, it might be said, was tacitly doing in El Salvador what he wouldn’t—or couldn’t—do in Chile: apologize for US actions that resulted in horrific human tragedy.

  •  According to The Washington Post, leading Mexican media companies announced new guidelines designed to limit the use of gruesome and terrifying images of drug violence, and “pledged to work together to protect their reporters from harm” due to growing threats from criminal organizations. An excerpt below:

The journalists noted that the public displays are designed to terrorize the populace, intimidate authorities, and send chilling, coded threats to opposing drug organizations.

The nonbinding guidelines allow for continued use of bloody images. But in an apparent nod to complaints from President Felipe Calderon’s government that things are not as bad as the media report, the news groups pledged to “always present information in the right context and proportion” and to report “how it compares to what has happened, or is happening, in other regions and countries.

Journalists took note that Mexico’s democracy is threatened by unprecedented violence and that the country is one of the most dangerous in the world for reporters. In conflict zones in Mexico, many news outlets have stopped reporting daily killings, including street battles between government forces and alleged gangs.

“The places where it is really important to report the news, and the context, are the very places where the cartels have most of the power and will not allow the journalists to do their jobs. In fact, they will kill them for doing their jobs,” said Mike O’Connor, the Mexico representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

  • The Associated Press reports that the group of university protesters ended their month-long hunger strike in Venezuela after the government reportedly met their demands of increased public spending on universities.
  • Jimmy Carter arrived in Cuba yesterday for a three day trip. The former American president is expected to meet Cuban President Raúl Castro and press for the release of imprisoned American contractor Alan Gross. The BBC and Spanish El Pais cover the story.
  • Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez stressed the need to strengthen regional integration in Latin America upon his arrival to Argentina

Thank you to everyone that attended the NDN-SAIS joint forum on Public Diplomacy and Social Media in Latin America;we got a lot of positive feedback from the audience, and #LAConnect was a trending topic in DC for the two hours of the event. We will be creating a page on our website devoted to the event and the subjects discussed today—we hope the conversation will continue there.

We would also love to have you at our major day-long conference looking at how this fast-changing region might be able to do more to move forward together in the years ahead.  The day will feature major addresses by influential thought leaders, including Governor Bill Richardson, the Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere at the National Security Council Dan Restrepo, the Ambassador from Mexico to the United States Arturo Sarukhan, border region mayors and much, much more. Forward Together/Avanzando Juntos/Avançando Juntos– A Conference Looking at the Changing Politics of the Americas will take place at the Newseum on April 11th. Please make sure to RSVP!

Colombian Ambassador to the United States, Gabriel Silva, at NDN

On Monday, March 14, NDN & New Policy Institute hosted Ambassador Gabriel Silva of Colombia as part of our monthly Latin America Policy Forum series.  The Ambassador opened the speech by touching on Colombia’s increasing interest in acting as a constructive player in unifying the region and promoting engagement to heal old wounds. Mr. Silva called for the US and Latin American countries to sit down as a community, as a hemisphere. 

As expected, Ambassador Silva addressed the importance of the pending US-Colombia free trade agreement and explained it was not a “list in review but a dialogue that is just beginning.” Moreover, he assured that Colombia shares the goals and values of the US and that President Santos had enacted reforms to protect humans rights as well as provide relief to victims of violence.  The NDN Latin America Policy Initiative is proud of to have had the privilege of hosting such a successful event, and we plan to continue collaborating with the Colombian community and its Embassy here in Washington DC.

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