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Weekly Roundup: LatAm's Women Execs, Mexico's Teachers, Brazil's Imported Doctors

August 22, 2013

Women Executives: A Priority for LatAm Companies?

More executives in Latin America say that gender diversity is a concern at their companies, though few enterprises report women on their executive teams, according to an August McKinsey survey. The results show that 37 percent of respondents consider gender diversity a top priority, compared to 21 percent in 2010. The survey found that 60 percent of executives believe companies with significant numbers of female executives gain higher financial returns. This belief was strongest in Mexico, although Mexican companies have the fewest numbers of women on executive teams in the region.

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Conducting Business in LatAm: EU and Germany’s Loss May Be China’s Gain

An essay published by the German Council on Foreign Relations takes a look at how the European Union and, particularly, Germany may be losing out to China when it comes to Latin American business opportunities. Aside from sectors such as energy and infrastructure development, Beijing is seeing a growing share of high-tech exports to Latin America. “Chinese quality in higher-tech equipment is still generally nowhere near that of similar German goods,” writes author Thomas O’Donnel. “However, the central point here is that the nature of the Chinese challenge to German and EU export business in Latin America is evolving. Chinese competition is a moving target, and it has begun to undermine Germany’s (and the EU’s) traditional comparative advantage in LAC trade.”

Brazilian Government Moves ahead with Cuban Doctor Plan

On August 21, Brazil’s health minister signed an accord with the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) to import 4,000 Cuban doctors by the end of 2013 as a part of the “More Doctors” program. The controversial plan faced opposition when it was launched in May, and the government backpedaled. Now, the government will pay around $4,000 a month to each doctor to work in impoverished and rural areas of the country where few doctors are willing to go. Salaries will be channeled through PAHO to the Cuban government. The first group of Cuban doctors arrives next week. The More Doctors program, open to domestic and foreign physicians, has attracted less than 400 qualified foreign doctors so far.

Pemex to Form New Company to Explore U.S. Shale Gas and Oil

A week after Mexico’s president revealed his government’s energy reform proposal, the CEO of Pemex said that the state oil monopoly plans to launch a new company by the end of the year with the goal of exploring U.S. shale gas and oil, as well as deepwater crude. In an interview published August 19 by The Wall Street Journal, Emilio Lozoya said the move “will represent Pemex's first step in its quest to eventually become an international oil company.”

Mexico’s Congress Gives in to Striking Teachers on Evaluations

This week marked the beginning of the school year in Mexico—but not for about two million students forced to stay home due to teachers’ protests. Striking members of Mexico’s teacher’s union blocked legislators from entering Congress in the country’s capital, protesting implementation of an education reform that includes, among other measures, performance reviews for teachers. On Wednesday, legislators gave into protestor demands, saying they would not approve the legislation on performance appraisals, which would have led to dismissals of unqualified teachers.

Despite Government Overtures, Colombia’s National Strike Persists

A nationwide strike in Colombia continued into its fourth day on August 22, despite the fact that the government said it would agree to negotiate with the numerous labor groups involved. Protesters have a variety of demands, ranging from lower tolls to higher subsidies. Latin America expert at Harvard University, Joseph Tulchin told The Economist’s Americas blog that “the politician who learns how to channel this anger can count of plenty of votes in next year's congressional and presidential elections.”

Israel Sets its Sights on the Pacific Alliance

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to “significantly boost trade and economic ties” with the Pacific Alliance countries—Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru—in order to bolster trade with the region overall. With still-weak economies in Europe, Netanyahu is refocusing on Latin America to “create a new growth engine” and to complement trade efforts with Asia-Pacific countries, reports Haaretz. In June, Israel and Colombia inked a free-trade agreement, though it still must be ratified by both countries.

Matthei Registers Presidential Candidacy in Chile

Conservative Alianza por Chile candidate Evelyn Matthei officially registered her candidacy for president on August 18. Though former president and Concertación candidate Michele Bachelet maintains a lead in polls, Matthei expressed confidence, saying numbers show that “differences are decreasing day by day.”

Peru Announces New Billion-Dollar Investments

On August 20, Peru’s Energy and Mines Minister Jorge Merino announced that new mining projects worth over $15 billion will begin at the end of the year and in early 2015. Economist Jorge González Izquierdo told La República that these initiatives will be “saviors of the Peruvian economy” by driving GDP growth up. On August 21, Peruvian Minister of Transport and Communications Carlos Paredes said the government plans to invest $20 billion through 2016 on infrastructure projects, focusing on road construction.

Venezuela to Install Cameras to Increase Security

The Andean country is beefing up security measures to collect information in real time by installing approximately 30,000 video cameras and other types of sensors. Most of the Chinese-made cameras will be placed in the country’s capital in September. Some of the cameras were already installed during a pilot program in metropolitan Caracas.

Ecuador Sees Fallout from Ending the Yasuní Initiative

On August 15, President Rafael Correa announced a decision to liquidate the Yasuní Initiative, a trust fund begun in 2007 to protect the Yasuní National Park. In an open letter to the National Assembly on August 16, environmental, youth, and indigenous groups called for a "popular consultation" on the matter. Analysts believe that 80 to 90 percent of Ecuador's population is in favor of preserving Yasuní. After the German government criticized the project’s cancellation, Correa said on August 20 that he would end Ecuador’s environmental accord with Germany and promised to return all of the funds the European country gave to the project. Germany had previously promised approximately $46 million for the initiative, but only delivered $13.3 million.

Paraguay to Rejoin UNASUR

After its membership was suspended in June 2012 following the impeachment of former President Fernando Lugo, Paraguay will once again join the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). Newly inaugurated President Horacio Cartes will attend UNASUR’s presidential summit in Suriname on August 30. Cartes has not yet given a definitive answer about if and when Paraguay will rejoin the Southern Common Market bloc.

Border Tensions between Costa Rica and Nicaragua Continue

The dispute over maritime boundaries between Costa Rica and Nicaragua continues as Nicaragua began drilling its first exploratory offshore oil well in contested territory. Costa Rica is also concerned about recent weapons purchases by Nicaragua. On August 16, Costa Rica’s foreign ministry said the arms were “offensive” in nature, rather than defensive.

Honduran Congress Approves New Military Police Force

On August 21, the Honduran legislature approved legislation to create a special 5,000-member military police force in areas plagued by organized crime and gangs. However, the law may have little effect on police corruption, writes InSight Crime, noting: "[T]he military police force will face the same temptations that its military and police counterparts already struggle with throughout the country.”

Report Takes Closer Look at Haiti's Cholera Outbreak

Al Jazeera America's Fault Lines aired "Haiti in the Time of Cholera" on August 22, detailing the Caribbean country's struggle with the disease and the UN's response to the epidemic in the wake of Haiti's 2010 earthquake. The feature comes after Yale University's released its Peacekeeping without Accountability report, which gives scientific evidence that U.N. workers leaked cholera-infected waste into Haiti's waterways. In an article for Slate, a Yale researcher looks at the UN reaction to the report and says that by "painting the earthquake and the epidemic with the same brushstroke, the U.N. plays into a dangerous conception of Haiti as pathology: a country that brings disease upon itself."

Brazil’s “Cloud Library” Expanding to LatAm

EFE profiles Nuvem de Livros, or Book Cloud, an online library with a million subscribers in Brazil. With access to 10,000 books on computers, tablets, and mobile phones, the library is expanding to the rest of Latin America in September.