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Weekly Roundup: Dilma's U.S. Visit Postponement, Mexico's Floods, LatAm's Ultra Wealthy

September 20, 2013

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Storms Thrash Mexico’s Coasts, Leaving Tragedy in Their Wake

Hurricanes Ingrid and Manuel ravaged the coasts of Mexico this week, affecting 1.2 million people, displacing tens of thousands, and leaving at least 97 dead as of Friday morning. Interior Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong said two-thirds of the country felt the impact of the storms. El Universal offers multimedia content and infographics about the damage while Milenio covers where in Mexico to donate goods that will help the storms' victims.

With damage control efforts underway, President Enrique Peña Nieto has cancelled his September 21 to 25 trip to New York—he was scheduled to meet with presidents from the region at the United Nations General Assembly—and promised that his “priority is to supervise rescue and reconstruction efforts.”

VP Biden Leads Delegation to Mexico, Meets with Peña Nieto

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Mexico City on September 19 to meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and led a delegation of U.S. cabinet officials for a visit during which they launched the bilateral U.S.-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue (HLED). "There is no question our economic partnership has been a success, but there is also no question there is much, much, much, much more potential," said Biden at the HLED launch. News reports say that when Biden met with the president, he emphasized the need to facilitate more trade across the border while Peña Nieto set a goal of having 100,000 Mexican students study in the United States and 50,000 U.S. students in Mexico. 

Frustrated Friendship: Rousseff Postpones U.S. State Visit

Despite a last-minute phone call by U.S. President Barack Obama, this week Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff decided to postpone her October state visit to Washington. The Brazilian president said conditions weren’t right for the trip, given concerns about spying allegations by the U.S. National Security Agency. Some observers say Rousseff has her eye on next year’s presidential elections, though others note that the United States should be doing more to strengthen its relationship with Brazil. The postponement is “a stark reminder that U.S. administrations have to be able to strike a balance between reacting to current events and laying the groundwork for the future,” writes foreign policy analyst Nikolas K. Gvosdev for World Politics Review. Meanwhile, the new U.S. ambassador to Brazil, Liliana Ayalde, arrived in Brasilia on September 16.

AS/COA Vice President Eric Farnsworth outlines five points to watch on the postponement, saying Brazil's “decision will take a while to move beyond.” Writing for, AS/COA's Christopher Sabatini says that "if Brazil wants to be seen as a diplomatic world power, it will need to move beyond symbolic posturing and a knee-jerk sense of victimization.”

Landmark Brazilian Corruption Case Reopened

On September 18, Brazil’s Supreme Court voted to allow appeals by 12 out of 25 people convicted in one of Brazil’s largest corruption cases. Known as the mensalão, or “big  allowance,” the court was heralded for convicting over two dozen people last year. Now, 12 of the defendants will be able to appeal their sentences. The justices voted 6 to 5 to allow the appeals. The tie-breaking judge defended his vote, saying that denying a new trial would go against the Brazilian Constitution and international treaties on human rights.

Latin America Only Region to See Drop in "Ultra Wealthy"

This week, Wealth-X and UBS released the World Ultra Wealth Report 2013, showing an all-time high of “ultra high net worth” individuals globally. In Latin America, Brazil topped the list with 4,640 ultra high net worth people, though this group decreased by nearly 2 percent from last year. Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, and Peru round out the top five countries in the region for the largest number of ultra-wealthy. However, Latin America was the only region in the world to see a decline in the number of ultra wealthy since last year, falling by 600 individuals and $75 billion in total wealth.

Heading East: Maduro Goes to China

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro travels to China from September 21 to 24 in his first state visit to the Asian country. The trip comes after the September 17 signing of a $14 billion bilateral accord to develop an oil field in Venezuela’s Orinoco region. On September 19, Maduro accused the United States of prohibiting his plan to fly through U.S. airspace over Puerto Rico on his way to China this weekend, though the United States denied this claim. The U.S. Embassy in Caracas explained that Venezuela made a last-minute request—diplomatic clearance normally require three days’ notice—but that the authorization was ultimately given on Thursday night.

Uribe: First Former Colombian President to Seek Congressional Seat

Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe announced September 16 that he will run for the Senate during the March 2014 legislative elections. It’s the first time in Colombian history that a former president will try to win a seat in Congress. Uribe will run on a closed list with other congressional hopefuls on the ticket of his newly launched Democratic Center Party.

Morales Signs New Gun Control Law in Bolivia

On September 18, Bolivian President Evo Morales signed the country’s new gun-control law, which increases penalties for illegal arms and creates a gun registry program and voluntary disarmament initiative. The legislation also stipulates that police and members of the military are forbidden from using their service weapons when they are off duty. Possession of illicit guns will carry two to six years in prison, and those convicted of illegal gun carrying will receive one to five years. Those found with illegal military weapons will have their sentences increased by a third.

Piñera and Humala to Meet on UNGA Sidelines about ICJ Dispute

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera will meet with his Peruvian counterpart President Ollanta Humala in New York on September 25 during the week of the United Nations General Assembly. Piñera and Humala are likely to discuss the upcoming International Court of Justice decision on a long-running maritime dispute between the two countries, though a date for the ruling is still unclear. The two leaders will also join the president of Colombia at an event about the Pacific Alliance.

Paraguay’s President Continues Rounds in Southern Cone 

Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes visited Chile on September 16 and 17, where he discussed trade and investments with President Sebastián Piñera. The trip follows a September 10 visit to Argentina, and precedes a meeting with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff at the end of the month and a visit to Uruguay in October. The Paraguayan head of state told Reuters this week that he expects his country to be fully reintegrated into the Southern Common Market bloc by “very early” in 2014.

Understanding the Politics of Free Software in Brazil

Open source software—which anyone can use, change, and redistribute—could have “greater economic and political consequences for places like Brazil” than the United States, writes software researcher Yuri Takhteyev for Foreign Affairs. Free software has not only offered Brazilian engineers a tool for empowerment by allowing greater participation in global software development, but has also presented a “political critique of the very idea of property” and created a “model for new ways of organizing.”

Did You Know? Five Facts about Latinos to Mark Hispanic Heritage Month

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month—which runs September 15 through October 15—the Pew Research Center features five facts about Hispanics in the United States. Among them: 55 percent of U.S. Latinos live in just three states (California, Texas, and Florida) and nearly half of Hispanic high school graduates were enrolled in college in 2012, surpassing enrollment rates white and African-American peers.

Why Has the Caribbean Had a Weak Hurricane Season?

The Caribbean basin normally receives large quantities of dust from African dust storms, but an increase in Saharan dust outbreaks this year could have contributed to a weaker hurricane season, according to a new study in Environmental Science and Technology. Because dust scatters solar radiation, less sunlight reaches the ocean, which then sees cooler temperatures. When the ocean is cooler, hurricanes have less energy to form and strengthen.