Presenting his cabinet, many of them business leaders, Chilean President-Elect SebastiÃ¡n Pinera hung a thumbdrive containing policy plans around the neck of each minister-to-be. (Article and photo source.)
- Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva visited a snowbound Washington this week and was told that the Obama administration remains firm about cutting 2011 military aid, and that 2010 ratification of the U.S.-Colombia free-trade agreement is unlikely. “A high-ranking State Department official had assured him the reduction in aid was part of across-the-board belt-tightening in President Obama’s 2011 budget proposal,” Reuters reported. Democratic Senator Chris Dodd told Silva that the free-trade deal’s approval must wait because “this is a complex electoral year with a very heavy domestic agenda.” Meanwhile President Obama, interviewed by Bloomberg, “said he would press for passage this year of free-trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, though he cautioned that ‘different glitches’ must first be negotiated with each country.”
- “Eight years is too little time for a country that has had only 47 years of peace in 200 years,” Colombian President Ãlvaro Uribe said Friday. But Semana magazine looks at what remains to be done to legalize Uribe’s candidacy for a third consecutive term, and concludes that he has run out of time, that “it doesn’t fit in the electoral calendar.” A Centro Nacional de ConsultorÃa poll found 54 percent of Colombians now opposed to a third term for Uribe; this is the first poll to show a majority against re-election. Politically, the president has had a tough two weeks; Semana documents seven threats to Uribe’s continued popularity.
- The VoteBien website is doing a solid job of documenting organized-crime influence and other irregularities in the campaign for Colombia’s March 14 legislative elections. Its latest report outs a Conservative Party senator whose office marked World Press Freedom Day by giving envelopes containing 150,000 pesos (~US$75) to twenty reporters in Meta department.
- A group of prominent MedellÃn citizens, working with government authorization, brokered a truce between factions of the “Envigado Office,” the network of drug-running gangs responsible for a recent upsurge of violence in the city. The “La Silla VacÃa” website worries that while the pact may reduce violence in MedellÃn, it may signal a return to the time when the government tolerated organized crime in exchange for social peace, as occurred in the mid-2000s when since-extradited paramilitary boss “Don Berna” ran the Envigado Office. It is unclear what the gangsters got in return for agreeing to the new pact, though El Tiempo notes that the group’s jailed top hitman was abruptly moved from prison to house arrest.
- Laura Chinchilla, Costa Rica’s current vice president and a former security minister, was elected president Sunday with nearly 47 percent of the vote, more than 20 percent ahead of her nearest rival. Her party, the PLN, controls only 23 of 57 seats in the Congress, which means her political agenda may end up being modest.