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Weekly Roundup: Peru's Middle Class, Brazil's Domestic Drones, Mexico's Energy Reform

Weekly Roundup AS/COA

August 08, 2013

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Report: Are Protests in the Americas the New Reality?

Brazil’s June demonstrations could be hints at what’s to come for the rest of Latin America, says a report released this week by Vanderbilt University’s Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP). According to LAPOP’s 2012 AmericasBarometer Survey, only 41 percent of Brazilians feel satisfied with public services, and Chile, Peru, and Uruguay show similar levels of satisfaction. In addition, only 45 percent of Brazilians, 49 percent of Peruvians, and 55 percent of Chileans support their political systems. “Our findings suggest that conditions may be ripe for an outburst of protest in many of the region’s countries where rising education rates and sustained economic growth combine with low quality political institutions and inferior and sporadic public service provision,” explained Mason Moseley and Matthew Layton, the report’s authors.

Countdown to the Unveiling Of Mexico’s Energy Reform

President Enrique Peña Nieto postponed sending his energy reform bill to Congress this week, and the legislation is likely to be unveiled next week, reports Vanguardia. The delay came after a high-level meeting on the Pacto por México, a major reform package forged by Mexico’s three main political parties.

But delaying the presentation of the energy reform hasn’t stopped discussion about what it might include. On August 6, President of the Energy Commission David Penchyna said the energy reform could include constitutional amendments and, while the proposal would maintain public ownership of the energy sector, it would pave the way for combined public-private investment. Milenio reported August 8 that opposition legislators said the reform would focus on removing language from Article 27 of the Constitution, thereby eliminating text that serves as a barrier to allowing contracts with private companies.

Up for Debate: Marijuana Legalization in Mexico City

In Mexico City, local government officials will consider legalizing marijuana, with debates scheduled in September, reports IPS. However, an August 1 poll found that nearly 50 percent of Mexicans oppose legalizing the drug, with only 13 percent in favor. Miguel Ángel Mancera, the city’s mayor, faces opposition from other members of his party, including former Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador. But the idea has already sparked debate in other parts of the country; Graco Ramírez, governor of Morelos, supports discussion of the idea and plans to hold a conference on the topic in his own state, reports EFE.

Uruguayan Government Seeks to Tighten Alcohol Laws

While Uruguay’s Congress takes steps to regulate marijuana, the government wants to put stricter controls on alcohol. On August 1, the Uruguayan government sent proposed legislation to parliament that increases taxes on alcoholic drinks, limits alcohol sales between 10:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. with the exception of vendors with a special license, and prohibits promotions of alcohol sales (such as open bars and happy hours). The bill would create an Alcohol Regulatory Unit responsible for issuing permits for selling and distributing alcohol to prevent street sales.  

Same-Sex Marriage Takes Effect in Uruguay

Starting August 5, gay couples were officially able to tie the knot in Uruguay, reports El Pais. In April, President José Mujica signed marriage equality legislation, which took 90 days to go into effect. The first same-sex couple to legally wed was married early Monday morning.

Brazil to Debut First Domestically Made Military Drone

Brazil’s first domestically produced military drone will begin flights in 2014, reports Deutsche Welle. The $50 million unmanned aerial vehicle is being developed to aid in reconnaissance missions and border patrols. Brazil currently uses Israeli-made drones to monitor borders, as well as special operations during mega-events, like the Confederations Cup.

Kerry to Visit Colombia as New U.S. Ambassador Poised for Appointment

On August 12, Secretary of State John Kerry will make his first visit to Colombia since his appointment to the post, writes El Tiempo. Kerry will meet with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín to discuss Colombia’s peace process, security, and expanding trade relations. Kerry will head to Brazil after his stop in Bogota.

Meanwhile, a new U.S. ambassador is likely to be appointed to the Andean country. Kevin Whitaker­—who is currently deputy assistant secretary of state for South America in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs—is poised to become the next U.S. ambassador to Colombia, reported Semana this week.

Santos Presses for FARC Peace Deal, though Deadline Could Be Extended

Progress on a peace deal between Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) must speed up, said Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos this week. "The guerrillas have no alternative, [i]f they don't take the peace train now, they will miss it forever," he told Caracol Radio. However, Santos—expected to announce his reelection bid within three months—appeared to back off the November deadline for a deal. “If in November we haven’t finished entirely, we’ll see where we are, and if we have to prolong the talks a couple of months, we’ll extend them,” he said. “Deadlines in these processes are totally counterproductive.”

Venezuelan Court Rules against Capriles on Election Appeal

An August 7 verdict by Venezuela’s Supreme Court struck down a challenge of the country’s April presidential election brought by opposition leader Henrique Capriles. His appeal, based on voting irregularities, was ruled “inadmissible” by the court. The court also fined Capriles $1,698 for challenging the government’s authority and asked the national prosecutor to investigate Capriles for “offending the authority of government institutions.”

Defining Peru’s Middle Class

AméricaEconomia tackles a disputed issue in Peru: how big is the Andean country’s middle class? The Inter-American Development Bank estimates this group to represent 70 percent of the population, and Peruvian government figures put the number at around 60 percent. However, economist Elmer Cuba, head of Peruvian consulting agency Macroconsult, believes it’s closer to 30 percent. Cuba believes it’s not just about income, but also having health insurance, savings, and a formal job. Gustavo Yamada, dean of economics at the University of the Pacific, says a Peruvian is middle class if he owns a washing machine; only 20 percent of Peruvians have one.

Chilean Census Should Be Repeated, Say Experts

On August 7, an independent commission said that Chile should hold another census in 2015 due to serious flaws with the one held in 2012. The panel said that over 9 percent of the population was not included in the census. The next day, President Sebastián Piñera apologized for the debacle, but noted the government had acted with “total transparency” to investigate the errors. 

How to Improve Start-up Investments in LatAm

Entrepreneur and venture-capital investor Juan Pablo Cappello writes a critique of start-up funding in Latin America for The Next Web, noting that investors are losing money by trying to copy Silicon Valley. Instead, Cappello says investors and start-ups should create a unique “TechnoLatino” that caters to the region. He recommends that investors stop funding “clones”—projects that are modeled after successful Silicon Valley-created companies—and focus on truly innovative start-ups. He also advises that entrepreneurs offer smaller amounts of seed funding.

TransCanada Plans for a Larger Pipeline—without the U.S.

TransCanada Corporation, the company hoping to build the Keystone XL pipeline to the United States, announced plans last week for a new crude oil pipeline that would be the largest in North America. Estimated to cost $12 million, the Energy East pipeline would span 2,734 miles and transport 1.1 million barrels per day of crude oil within Canada. Meanwhile, the Keystone XL pipeline hit another roadblock this week as the State Department undergoes an investigation for a possible conflict of interest involving the contractor hired to conduct an environmental review of the project.

After Migration Reform, Cuban Visas to the U.S. on the Rise

Since the Cuban government implemented migration reform in January, more Cubans are traveling to the United States. The U.S. Interests Section in Havana confirmed this week that the number of non-immigrant visas issued to Cubans jumped 79 percent in the first half of the year. In total, the U.S. government issued 16,767 non-immigrant visas from January through June. On August 1, a new policy went into effect giving five-year, multiple-entry visas to Cubans spending temporary stays in the United States. Previously, these visas were valid for only six months and for a single entry.

Managua Seeks New Arms as Colombia Border Dispute Continues

Nicaragua wants to beef up security along its maritime borders, looking to purchase four new patrol ships and weapons for the ships, reports El Espectador. Tensions are still running high between Nicaragua and Colombia over a maritime border dispute, even though the International Court of Justice of the Hague sided with Nicaragua in November. On August 6, Nicaragua denied reports that it planned to offer 43,000 square miles to energy companies—including waters in the disputed area.

(H/T Pan American Post)

Construction Begins on Panama’s First Wind Farm

Engineers have started assembling Panama’s Penonome wind farm, the country’s first alternative energy facility and the largest in Central America, writes GlobalPost. With a $440 million price tag, the farm is slated to start operating next year and will produce between 6 and 7 percent of energy for the entire country. The farm will also help Panama save water and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.