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Weekly Roundup: 2014 Year in Review

December 19, 2014

A Historic Shift: The United States and Cuba Normalize Relations

On December 17, Cuba released USAID contractor Alan Gross after five years in prison. Shortly after, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba more than five decades. The announcement was a result of 18 months of talks between Cuban and U.S. officials. In addition to opening a U.S. embassy in Havana, the new policies will loosen travel, trade, financial, and remittance restrictions.

At the Ballot Box: Presidential Elections in Central and South America

Seven Latin American countries held presidential elections this year. Three presidents won reelection: Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, and Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos. A former president, Tabaré Vázquez, triumphed in Uruguay. In El Salvador and Panama, the sitting vice president came out the victor. And in Costa Rica, the opposition candidate polling fourth ended up winning in a one-man runoff. Bolivia had the highest turnout, while Colombia had the lowest.

Upheaval in Caracas: Venezuela’s Protests

In February, a series of opposition demonstrations began in Venezuela. Over the next three months, more than 40 people died and over 2,000 were arrested, including opposition politician Leopoldo López, who still remains in prison. Attempts to resolve the country’s political conflicts through an UNASUR-run dialogue proved unsuccessful. In December, U.S. Congress passed a bill to sanction Venezuelan officials accused of human rights abuses during the protests; President Barack Obama signed the bill December 18.

In the Wake of the Child Migrant Crisis, Obama Takes Action on Immigration

During the summer, the number of minors—largely from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—crossing the U.S.-Mexico border peaked, reaching over 50,000 since October 2013. In November, U.S. President Barack Obama announced executive action on immigration, offering deportation relief for around 5 million undocumented immigrants.

Implementing Mexico’s Energy Reform

In August, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed the final components of legislation to implement the country’s 2013 energy reform, which opens up the energy sector to private investment and ending a nearly eight-decade long state monopoly. Bidding for production and exploration rights begins in early 2015, and the presidency forecast that the reform will create 500,000 jobs and increase GDP by one percent by 2018.

Victims Join Colombia’s Peace Talks

Negotiations between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) continued this year. In August, victims of the decades-old conflict joined the talks in Cuba for the first time, nearly two years after negotiations began. In November, the dialogue came to a halt after FARC forces captured a Colombian general Ruben Dario Alzate. The general was released and peace talks resumed on December 10. A week later, the FARC declared an indefinite, unilateral ceasefire, though President Juan Manuel Santos said the government would not reciprocate.

Brazil Plays Host to the World Cup and BRICS Summit

In June, the global tournament kicked off in São Paulo. Over the course of a month, games took place in 12 Brazilian cities. Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Costa Rica got to the quarterfinals, though Germany wins the Cup. In July, heads of state from the BRICS bloc met in Fortaleza, where they launched a new development bank.