Latin America’s middle class expansion has been heralded in recent years, but childhood poverty rates remain a hurdle for many countries. Roughly 45 percent of people under 18 live in poverty, according to a joint survey of 18 countries in the region conducted by the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) and the Caribbean and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). But this blanket statistic masks a wide range in poverty rates from country to country, with figures ranging from 20.5 percent in Costa Rica to 86.8 percent in El Salvador. Given that Latin America has the second-youngest population in the world after sub-Saharan Africa, creating a path to social mobility for the region’s youth could be the key to shrinking inequality.
The world may have been focused on the events that unfolded at Osama bin Laden’s compound outside Islamabad, but Canada started out the week by witnessing dramatic events of its own. In its May 2 vote, the Conservative Party pulled in enough votes to win the parliamentary majority for the first time since Prime Minister Stephen Harper assumed office five years ago. But the general election—the country’s fourth in seven years—brought other major changes. The New Democratic Party (NDP) leapfrogged over the Liberal Party to take the second largest number of votes and become the official opposition in Parliament. Results led to the halving of the Liberal Party’s parliamentary seats and to Michael Ignatieff’s decision to step down from his position as the party’s leader. The NDP’s “orange tide” also swept over the Bloc Québécois, which came in second in Quebec Province and will retain just four parliamentary seats. The Bloc’s Gilles Duceppe will step down from party leadership as well at a time when as Canada’s political landscape gets redrawn in the wake of the snap election.
Co-authored with Roque Planas.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosts her Mexican counterpart Patricia Espinosa on April 29 in a summit focusing on bilateral cooperation to combat organized crime. It counts as the third by the Merida Initiative High-Level Consultative Group, but the first since a diplomatic hiccup set off by a leaked cable in which the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual questioned the efficacy of the Mexican government’s struggle against cartels. Close to the time that Pascual resigned in March, news came to light of a U.S. operation called “Fast and Furious” that aimed to take down cartels by tracking guns smuggled into Mexico. The only problem was that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives lost track of some of those weapons, raising questions about the hands the guns fell into at a time when Mexico faces a brutal drug war that has claimed over 37,000 lives. Now newly leaked cables indicate Mexico may have to look to its southern border as well to stem the illicit influx of weapons, with signs that guns may be flowing in from Central America.
Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper may be hoping for a case of “third time’s a charm.” He’s weathered some rocky political waters, from a 2008 election set during the global financial crisis to a budget dispute narrowly resolved in January 2009. Throughout his five years in office, his Conservative Party has held a minority in Parliament. Will that change come May 2, when Harper endures his third election? A short, five-week campaign cycle will deliver the answer.
While Air Force One carried President Barack Obama to Brazil this morning, the White House released his weekly address, making the case for how economic ties with Latin America can help the United States get a leg up on job creation. “[W]hat is clear is that in an increasingly global economy, our partnership with these nations is only going to become more vital,” said the president. The two South American countries he’s visiting—Brazil and Chile—purchase enough U.S. exports to support 320,000 jobs in the United States, he noted. His remarks echoed his USA Today op-ed from a day earlier in which he estimated that exports to Latin America “will soon support more than 2 million jobs here in the United States.” In a sign of this goal, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Brazilian Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota inked a pact to create a bilateral commission focused on eliminating tariffs and trade barriers.
Senate Republicans ratcheted up pressure for passage of Colombia and Panama trade pacts this week with a letter warning they would potentially filibuster a commerce secretary appointment. In a March 14 letter delivered to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), the 44 GOP legislators wrote: “Until the president submits both agreements to Congress for approval and commits to signing implementing legislation into law, we will use all the tools at our disposal to force action, including withholding support for any nominee for commerce secretary and any trade-related nominees.” With U.S. President Barack Obama naming Commerce Secretary Gary Locke as the new ambassador to China, the White House will announce an appointee to head the Commerce Department to replace him. That nominee could face a challenge gaining approval if the Obama administration chooses not to seek approval of the Colombia and Panama deals at the same time as a South Korea deal.
This article was co-authored with Roque Planas
U.S. President Barack Obama has never traveled to South America before, but the month of March will mark an uptick in Latin America-related meetings for him. On March 3, he hosts Mexican President Felipe Calderón at the White House. Then, from March 19 through 23, Obama heads to Brasilia to kick off a five-day trip that will also take him to Rio, Santiago, and San Salvador. AS/COA Online looks at the issues likely to be discussed when Obama meets with the presidents of Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador.
Could trade deals with Colombia and Panama see action from the U.S. Congress along with the South Korea pact? Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner gave one of the strongest indications yet that the Obama administration wants all three free-trade agreements (FTAs) passed this year during yesterday’s Senate Finance Committee hearing. “They're overwhelmingly in our favor economically and if we don't do it, what it means is that business just goes to other countries,” said Geithner. “So we need to find a way to pass them.” For more than three years, the deals have been gathering dust while awaiting congressional approval. But President Barack Obama’s job creation push coupled with pressure from key Republican legislators to pass the FTAs could help usher the deals through U.S. Congress within the coming months.
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a one-day stop in Mexico for a bilateral tête-à-tête with Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa in the colonial city of Guanajuato before a visit to the capital to meet with President Felipe Calderón. The two secretaries broached a range of topics—from climate change to Haiti to economic ties—during their reunion. But Clinton’s praise for the Calderón government’s war against drug cartels arguably attracted the largest amount of press hits.
Haiti was dealt another pair of blows this week, between news that a cholera outbreak could likely be traced back to UN peacekeepers and protests over election results. With no candidate winning the requisite majority of the vote, Haitians will choose their next president by casting ballots in a January 16 runoff. But some voters aren’t happy with the results from the November 28 election, which was tainted by fraud allegations; governing party candidate Jude Celestín edged out pop star Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly by less than a percentage point and will face former first lady Mirlande Manigat in the second round. The ruling party felt protesters’ wrath on Wednesday when its headquarters were set on fire. The December 7 election results coincided with news that a report leaked to the Associated Press linked UN peacekeepers from Nepal to a cholera outbreak that has, thus far, claimed 2,000 lives in Haiti.
Mar del Plata played host to the twentieth Ibero-American Summit over the weekend, where leaders took a stand to reject undemocratic power seizures. In a special declaration, the members agreed to expel any country that fails to follow democratic processes. “There is no Latin American forum in which you can be a member if you do not respect the democratic order,” commented Argentina’s Foreign Minister Hector Timerman. Leaders in attendance signed on to a final document that focused on boosting education and social inclusion, as well as a series of releases touching on topics ranging from the Falkland Islands controversy to climate change. And, despite news reports wondering whether WikiLeaks about Latin America would cast a shadow over the summit, leaders carried on with business and inked deals on the sidelines.
Gabino Cué, el nuevo gobernador del estado de Oaxaca en Mexico, conversó con la editora de AS/COA Online Carin Zissis pocos días antes de su toma de posesión en el primer día de diciembre. Por una alianza politíca inesperada del conservador Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN) y el izquierdista Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), Cué ganó una elección histórica en julio de 2010 y será el primer gobernador de oposición en el estado en mas de ocho décadas. Reemplazará Ulises Ruiz del Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), quien podría ser investigado por corrupción y violaciones de derechos humanos después de entregar el poder.
Cué, quien perdió frente a Ruiz en 2004 en una elección marcada por alegaciones de fraude, habla sobre como planea el avance de su estado—rico en recursos pero con mucha pobreza—dejando atrás los protestas de 2006 que atrajeron atención internacional. También cuenta como es que su gobierno va a unificar detrás de ideologías diferentes de la alianza que lo aportó durante la elección. “Nosotros conformamos una alianza opositora, en base a una agenda por la transición democrática, para tratar temas de interés de todos los partidos,” dice Cué. “De la misma manera lo vamos a hacer en el gobierno.”
- Read the English translation of the interview here.
AS/COA Online: Usted está reemplazando al Gobernador Ulises Ruiz, quien cuenta con el nivel de popularidad más bajo de todos los gobernadores en México. Como el primer gobernador de oposición de Oaxaca en más de 80 años, ¿cuál será la primera acción de su gobierno para llevar al estado de Oaxaca por un nuevo rumbo?
AS/COA Online - Exclusive Interview: Gabino Cue, New Governor of Oaxaca, Mexico, on His State’s Power Shift
Gabino Cué, the new governor of Oaxaca state in Mexico, spoke with AS/COA Online Managing Editor Carin Zissis on location in his transitional offices in the days leading up to his December 1 inauguration. Through an unlikely political alliance that included the conservative National Action Party (PAN) and the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), Cué won a historic July 2010 election to become the state’s first opposition governor in more than eight decades. He takes over from Ulises Ruiz of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), who may be investigated on corruption and human rights abuse charges after stepping down.
Cué, who lost to Ruiz in a 2004 election marred by fraud allegations, talks about how he plans to move his resource-rich but poverty-plagued state beyond 2006 protests that drew international attention as well as how his government plans to unify disparate ideologies of the alliance that backed him during the election. “We built an opposition alliance that had at its core an agenda for a democratic transition that would tackle issues important to all parties,” says Cué. “We’re going to build our government in the same way.” The new governor also touches on topics ranging from national security to investment prospects to the 2012 presidential vote.
- Usted puede leer la entrevista en español aquí.
AS/COA Online: You are replacing Governor Ulises Ruiz, who has the lowest approval rating of all the governors in Mexico. As the first opposition governor of Oaxaca in more than 80 years, what will be the first action your government takes to set Oaxaca on a new path?
Cué: First of all, we are experiencing a historic moment in Oaxaca where, after more than 80 years, the opposition won. There are great expectations when power shifts take place. And what we’ve said is that, at first, we want to do all we can to transition power from an authoritarian regime to a democratic regime. This means we have to dismantle the form in which practices have been carried out, which did little to support democracy. So, an important change will be the ways and style of relating to the electorate, the people, and those we govern.
The next change will be a package of institutional reforms that will allow us to move forward on practical themes: transparency, auditing, strengthening of autonomous agencies, the handling of human rights—all of which are, without a doubt, crucial in a state that has experienced so many violations of individuals’ rights. We have to do this through institutional changes that allow for better collaboration and equilibrium between powers—such as legislative power and judicial power—that permits greater independence and collaboration.
Haitians won’t know the results of the November 28 presidential vote until next week, but even then the outcome may be shrouded in controversy. No fewer than 12 presidential candidates rejected the election as fraudulent while proceedings were described as chaotic and marked by inefficiency. Results are slated for December 7 at the earliest, with a final tally expected on December 20. Even if calls to cancel the election go unheeded, the results may not be decisive; a runoff would take place January 16 if no candidate wins the requisite 50-percent-plus-one portion of votes in the first round. Voters cast ballots not only for President René Préval’s successor, but also for 11 of 30 seats in the Senate and all 99 seats in the Chamber of Deputies to govern a country beset by a cholera outbreak and still dealing with the repercussions of January’s massive earthquake. Despite initial outcry, two leading candidates backed away from those opposing the election, suggesting they expected to face each other in a second round.