Weekly Roundup: Maduro's Inauguration, LatAm Military Spending, Brazil's Mega-Event Security

A new immigration bill is introduced in the U.S. Senate, the Ríos-Montt trial takes an unexpected turn, and Mexico’s interior secretary visits Washington. Read these stories and more.

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Maduro Inauguration Forges ahead Despite Vote Audit

Venezuelan President-elect Nicolás Maduro was sworn in on Friday, despite the fact that the National Electoral Council agreed to a second audit of votes. Numerous Latin American leaders attended, including Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, and Uruguayan President José Mujica. On Thursday, heads of state from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) bloc met at an emergency meeting in Lima, Peru to discuss the situation in Venezuela. The bloc reached a consensus to support Maduro’s election and the vote audit, and created a commission to investigate Venezuela’s post-election violence.

“Gang of Eight” Introduces Landmark Immigration Bill

On Wednesday, a group of eight Democrat and Republican senators introduced the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. The bill calls for $3 billion to secure the border, and establishes rules for undocumented immigrants to become permanent legal residents and a 13-year wait time to become citizens. The Washington Post provides a brief breakdown of key provisions of the bill, ranging from the guest worker program to visa regulations. Arturo Sarukhan, former Mexican ambassador to the U.S. and a member of AS/COA’s Immigration Advisory Group, said “Few issues will have such a profound impact on the future prosperity, security, and well-being of the U.S. than getting this one right.”

Brazil Considers Anti-Terrorism Policies for Upcoming Mega-Events

Though the World Cup and Olympics are fast approaching, Brazil lacks key anti-terrorism legislation, reports Folha de São Paulo. Brazil’s Congress is considering six bills addressing the issue, including one dating back to 1991. After Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing, Brazilian officials are rethinking the security strategy for the upcoming sporting events; the government will institute no-fly zones and beef up airport security, reports Reuters. "We are confident there will be measures which will guarantee the security of the events," Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said this week.

In Guatemala, Hurdles in the Ríos-Montt Trial

On Thursday, Guatemala’s landmark genocide trial took an unexpected turn. A judge from a different court declared the proceedings invalid, claiming she was following orders from the Constitutional Court. José Efraín Ríos Montt—a general who ruled the country from 1982 to 1983—is on trial for nearly a month on charges of crimes against humanity. But the decision meant the trial would have had to start over. Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz said the decision was illegal, and vowed to ensure the trial moved ahead. On Friday morning, a judge presiding over the trial said the court would not accept the annulment, and would have the Constitutional Court review the resolution.

Mexico’s Interior Secretary Talks Security in DC
Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, Mexico’s interior secretary, traveled to Washington DC this week for high-level meetings with officials, including U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Milenio reports that, after meeting with Napolitano, Osorio Chong said they had signed into effect a new stage of the security program known as Merida Initiative to apportion “more resources to prevention and justice.”

LatAm Military Spending on the Rise

Despite cutbacks in other regions, Latin America’s military spending grew 4.2 percent in 2012, reports UPI, using new data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Paraguay and Venezuela had the largest spending increases, at 43 and 42 percent, respectively, while Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras cut expenditures. In Mexico, military spending rose almost 10 percent. Although overall spending declined in Brazil, last year the country spent more than $33 billion on defense development—nearly 1.5 percent of its gross national income—to boost defense around oil and natural gas resources, and to expand Brazil’s naval fleet.

Chile Opens Doors to Skilled Workers

The Chilean government is crafting an immigration bill targeted at increasing its skilled labor flow, writes Infolatam. Finance Minister Felipe Larraín says the program will offer $40,000 and a 12-month visa to businesses choosing to develop in Chile. While clarifying that the authorities will not be in charge of selecting professionals in one industry over another, Larraín points out that Chile is in need of teachers and recently incorporated 50 Spanish doctors into its education system. Four additional sectors for opportunity are astronomy, fishing, mining, and wine.

LatAm’s Entrepreneurship Revolution?

The Wharton School’s Universia asks whether the recent emergence of technology startups throughout Latin America is sparking an “entrepreneurial revolution.” In an interview for the article, Venture Lab’s Paris De l’Etraz cautions that Silicon Valley investors have entrepreneurial experience, whereas most Latin American investors do not. He says teaching students “how to fail” is the big challenge and is integral to thinking like an entrepreneur. However, he also notes that, in order to attract investment, the region needs to adopt fiscal policies similar to the United States, where tax deductions provide a safety net that allow a clean slate should a business fail.

Colombia: Progress and Challenges of Human Trafficking

While Colombia focuses on deterring international human trafficking, the domestic practice of this crime has worsened, say UN and Colombian officials. Carlos Pérez, an official with the UN Office On Drugs and Crimes, told El Tiempo that organized criminals exploit infrequently used roads to transport people around the country, especially for forced labor. The article estimates that for every victim identified, another 20 go unreported. Fundación Esperanza, a non-profit that works with trafficking victims, says domestic trafficking cases doubled from 2007 to 2012, reports InSight Crime.

Amid Cuts in Foreign Aid, Central America Sees Boost

Devex reports that most of U.S. bilateral aid programs will see budgets cut in fiscal year 2014, including funds to many Latin American countries. Brazil will have the largest cut in funding in the region, receiving over 50 percent less than in FY 2012. However, Central American countries will see an increase in funding for anti-drug efforts. El Salvador, for example, will get a 51 percent hike to its budget. The Central American Regional Security Initiative is slated to receive $162 million for fiscal 2014, $56 million more than in fiscal 2012.

Senators Call for Continued U.S. Anti-Narcotics Efforts in the Caribbean

On April 18, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) commented on a U.S. Government Accountability Office report from late March and called for continued funding for anti-drug-trafficking efforts in the Caribbean. The report details spending on the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), which provides funds to combat drug trafficking and improve security in the Bahamas, the Eastern Caribbean, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. From 2010 through 2013, the State Department and USAID committed $203 million to the CBSI. “When we cracked down on the drug traffickers in Mexico, they increased their presence farther south in the countries of Central America,” said Grassley in a statement. “Now, as we help Central America strengthen its counternarcotics efforts, we have to make sure we don’t squeeze the balloon in Central America and shift drug trafficking operations back into the Caribbean.”

Correa Touts Ecuador during Euro Trip

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa traveled to Europe this week, when he visited Italy and Germany. In Germany, he met with Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss investment, clean energy, and the possibility of an Ecuador-EU free-trade agreement.  During a trip to Italy on Friday he met with the Pope at the Vatican. Correa’s also due to visit the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Study: Costa Rica Leads Latin America in Social Progress

Costa Rica ranks first in Latin America in the inaugural Social Progress Index released by the Social Progress Imperative this week. Chile and Argentina took second and third places in the region, while Peru, Mexico, and Paraguay had the lowest rankings in the region. The index measures social and environmental factors to evaluate how well countries satisfy their citizens’ non-economic wellbeing, such as health, education access, and environmental sustainability.

Interactive: Panama's Expansion of Canal

In an interactive graphic, The Miami Herald explains details of the Panama Canal expansion project. New, expanded locks will modify the nearly century-old ones to lift and lower some of the biggest ships on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides. The expansion is expected to double the capacity of the Canal, with a budget of more than $5 billion.