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Weekly Roundup: Argentine Rally, Lula-Chavez Summit, Best Latin American Investments

April 02, 2008

Rallies and Roadblocks in Argentina

After three weeks of strikes by Argentine farmers protesting tariff increases on soybean exports, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner criticized her opponents during a rally of roughly 20,000 supporters. She compared the strikers’ roadblocks to those set up by farmers in 1976, on the eve of the military coup that led to a seven-year dictatorship. The current roadblocks have led to food shortages in Argentine markets. An editorial in the Financial Times warns that “problems are piling up” in Argentina and recommends negotiations to end the strike. A resolution could be in the works; farmers say they will announce on Wednesday whether or not to extend their protests. La Nación places the cost of the strike at nearly $750,000.

In neighboring Chile, violence during a protest commemorating the killing of two leftists during the Pinochet dictatorship left one dead and more than 200 arrested. 

Chilean Salmon Industry Responds

Leaders from Chile’s salmon industry rejected a New York Times report about unsanitary salmon farming conditions and allegations that Chilean salmon farmers use hormones to increase fish size. The Times article examines the causes behind infectious salmon anemia, currently resulting in widespread killing of millions of salmon intended for export. Following publication of the article, U.S.-based Safeway supermarkets suspended sales of Chilean salmon.

Bush Applies FTA Pressure

Before leaving for Europe’s NATO summit, President George Bush requested that the U.S. Congress move quickly to approve the bilateral Colombia free-trade agreement. A recent New York Times op-ed highlighted progress made in terms of safety and rule of law in Colombia—including for trade unionists—and urges the deal’s passage

Writing in Poder magazine, COA Vice President Eric Farnsworth takes a look at options for moving trade policy forward during a U.S. election year.

A recent AS/COA Online analysis examines the White House push for the U.S.-Colombia trade pact.

Mobilizing Hispanic Voters

A new study by the Century Foundation’s Tova Andrea Wang examines the Latino vote in the 2008 Nevada caucus and makes recommendations to increase Hispanic participation in U.S. elections. An article on Politico.com says Hispanic voters will likely serve as colorblind voters in November elections; experts project Latino voters will turn out in record numbers and that a majority will probably lean toward a Democratic nominee.

Slow Change in Cuba

Since Raúl Castro recently took power, Cuba’s government began instituting reforms to remove some minor restraints on personal freedoms. However, average Cubans may gain little from lifted bans on luxury hotel stays  or cell phones because low monthly salaries will likely keep such goods and services out of reach. BBC covers proposed legislation introduced by Castro’s daughter Mariella to Cuba’s National Assembly allowing recognition of same-sex unions

McClatchy reports that the Bush administration has begun shifting funds away from Miami-based anti-Castro groups to international advocacy programs. The U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development plan to triple 2008 democracy grants to nearly $46 million.

Read about and listen to a COA panel discussion on Cuba’s future following Fidel Castro’s resignation as the island’s longtime leader.

Caracas’ Dual Currency

In order to control rising inflation and mitigate the effects of devaluation, Venezuela’s Finance Minister Rafael Isea plans to implement a dual currency monetary structure.

Venezuela’s New Utopias

The Christian Science Monitor takes a look at “Caribia,” a small town under construction in the outskirts of Caracas and labeled a “socialist city.” President Hugo Chávez’s government plans to build roughly a dozen of these villages, where residents will participate politically and grow crops. But critics say the project, slowed by long delays, lacks planning and long-term goals.

Brazil-Venezuela Summit

The Security in Latin America blog discusses Chávez’s recent trip to Recife, Brazil to meet with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Sam Logan argues the event demonstrated Chávez’s growing weakness as Venezuela likely lacks the funds for a Brazil-based oil refinery planned in an agreement between Petrobras and PDVSA. 

A new AS/COA analysis examines Brazil’s proposal for a South American defense alliance, discussed during the Lula-Chávez summit.

Training Days at Cartel Camps

Mexican drug cartels beef up the skills of assassins in training camps located in isolated border areas to an increasing degree. “Part of that preparation is live firing ranges and combat training courses. ... And that's not something that we have seen before,” says a senior U.S. anti-narcotics official in an in-depth report by the Dallas Morning News. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security plans to waive federal and state environmental laws to speed construction of 370 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The Fall 2007 issue of Americas Quarterly offers examined crime and security issues in the Western Hemisphere.

Mexico’s Education Challenges

A Houston Chronicle report finds that, even though Mexico achieved important advances in terms of boosting student attendance over the past decade, the country’s schools suffer from high dropout rates, low test-score results, and poor teacher training. President Felipe Calderón’s proposed reforms include increased investment and university enrollment. Changes will require negotiations with the country’s powerful teacher unions.

Read a summary about AS/COA’s recent Latin American Cities Conference in Mexico City, where Calderón served as a keynote speaker.

Destination Madrid

Brazilians migrating to the Iberian Peninsula increasingly choose Spain over Portugal as a result of strict Portuguese immigration policies and the wealth of cheap flights from Brazil to Spain. However, the rising number of Brazilian immigrants recently sparked a diplomatic row between Brasilia and Madrid. 

Peru’s Growth Trickles Down

An analysis by RGE’s Latin America EconoMonitor examines seemingly contradictory data about inflation in Peru. On a positive note, writes Mark Turner, the average Peruvian may finally feel the effects of the country’s GDP growth, “even with inflation numbers that grab headlines and are manipulated by pro and anti-government factions.”

Latin America’s Best Investment Bet

A new report by the Inter-American Development Bank examines which types of projects provide governments, NGOs, and foundations with the best returns in Latin America. Early childhood development tops the list in terms of affording the greatest impact with the highest level of efficiency using limited resources. 

Press Freedom in the Americas

The Inter-American Press Association concluded its mid-year meeting in Caracas by saying that press freedom in the Americas suffered a troubling decline in the last six months.” The organization issued a country-by-country report examining the state of freedom of the press across the Americas. 

007 Set Shaken—Not Stirred—in Chile

Police arrested a local Chilean politician after drove his car through the set of the newest James Bond movie in protest; the scene ostensibly takes place in Bolivia, despite the location of filming in Chile’s Antofagasta region. Bolivia lost the region to Chile in a nineteenth century war, causing historical tensions between the neighbors.