The top story from the Americas in the New York Times this morning is from Haiti where the paper writes that the international community is trying to make the country exhibit A on the need to maintain foreign aid giving despite budget limitations. The World Bank says about 46 million more people can be expected to fall into poverty worldwide this year amid the largest decline in global trade in 80 years. Haiti is amongst the most vulnerable after a year of food riots that toppled the government and a series of hurricanes that killed hundreds and destroyed the economy. According to the NYT, the UN has commissioned experts like development expert Paul Collier to help find solutions, and in a recent visit to the island Dr. Collier, famous for his book The Bottom Billion, argued that the economic downturn might prove the perfect moment for Haiti to sell more exports like T-shirts and mangoes to Americans. However, there is some criticism that Mr. Collier’s basic recommendation involves turning Haiti into a sweatshop for American consumers, with workers paid $5 per day or less. Others say any attempt at development will not be sustainable until a corrupt judicial system, weak land tenure laws, and wildly inefficient ports are rebuilt.
The LA Times reports on yesterday’s Senate Foreign Relations field hearing in El Paso, Texas, where law enforcement officials told a congressional panel that the United States does not need to send troops to the border in response to Mexico's drug war. Officials added that Mexico is also not in danger of becoming a failed state. Rather, expert witnesses argued that the U.S. government must increase aid to Mexico and push to reform institutions whose weaknesses had been exposed by the current struggle with drug cartels. Worries about drug violence spillover were also quelled by El Paso Dist. Atty. Jaime Esparza who said that trafficking rivalries and infighting had little effect on crime in U.S. border towns. During the bloody 14 months in Juarez, El Paso had just 20 homicides, according to Esparza, who added that “the rhetoric has been escalated and exaggerated."
In the Miami Herald has a report this morning on U.S. worries about the falling amount of money being sent back to Central America in the form of remittances. At a recent press conference with Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom, Assistant Secretary of State Tom Shannon said the United States is working through the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to ensure Central American governments have access to credit to pay for social programs. Vice President Joe Biden also discussed the issue with Central American leaders during his visit to the region. According to the MH, World Bank economists project that monthly remittances to Central America from migrants in the United States will fall 10 to 15 percent this year, the first annual decline since the bank began tracking the funds. In Guatemala, remittances decreased 11.4%, to $282 million, in February, compared to one year earlier while neighboring El Salvador saw remittances drop 8.4% in January to $252 million. Fewer jobs in construction, restaurants, landscaping and farming in the United States are seen as a primary reason for the drop.
In other news, the BBC has a short piece on an exclusive interview with Mexican President Felipe Calderon. Calderon warns in the interview that corruption among American officials may be making it harder to deal with drug-trafficking between Mexico and the U.S., saying it was impossible to smuggle tons of cocaine into the United States without the complicity of some American authorities. Calderon added that violence in the border city of Juarez had fallen by 73% in the month since he sent 7,000 extra troops there, but some analysts in Mexico City point out that there was also a fall in the violence in Juarez last year when he sent a first detachment of troops in, but it quickly rose again.
And, The Financial Times writes on the growing role of China in Latin America, reporting that China and Argentina have agreed to a $10.24 billion currency swap. The deal, signed at an Inter-American Development Bank meeting in Colombia, will allow China to receive renminbi instead of dollars for its exports to the Latin American country. Many economists see the move as one piece in China’s attempt to promote wider international use of the renminbi, starting with making it more acceptable for trade and aiming at establishing it as a reserve currency in Asia, something that would also enhance China’s political clout, says the FT.
More in the NYT, where an AP report on Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Central America says the VP urged leaders to be patient with U.S. immigration laws as they will not change in the short-term amid the U.S. economic downturn. Many Central American leaders have been frustrated with the record pace of deportations. About 80,000 Central Americans were deported from the U.S. in 2008. The Vice President added that anti-drug aid for Central America under the Merida Initiative will be increased to $100 million in 2009 from $65 million in 2008.
A NYT briefing on U.S.-Mexico cooperation around drug violence quotes Mexican president Felipe Calderon who said the sharing of intelligence between the two countries will continue but made clear that American forces will not be conducting raids with their Mexican counterparts on Mexican soil.
And, another AP story in the NYT reports that on the last day of closing arguments in the 15-month trial of former president Alberto Fujimori in Peru, the defense asked how a court could convict the ex-president of murder and kidnapping if Peru's current president, Alan Garcia, was never charged for human rights abuses allegedly committed during his first term in office two decades ago. Prosecutors allege that Fujimori and his spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos fought terror with terror during a conflict in which 70,000 Peruvians were killed. For his part, current president Alan Garcia, who also headed the Peruvian government from 1985-1990, was found to be politically -- not criminally -- responsible for military abuses during his presidency, according to a government-appointed Truth Commission.
Finally, two more notes from the MH. First, the paper has more on Vice President Biden’s visit to Central America, reporting that the possibility of having Costa Rican President Oscar Arias act as a spokesman for the region appeared to be rejected by Biden. The U.S. Vice President said the U.S. wants “direct, immediate and personal contact with each of the leaders and each of the countries in the region.”
And, an AP report from Mexico in the MH says federal Public Safety Department officials have announced the opening of a "super-maximum" security prison to hold Mexico's most dangerous criminals in Veracruz state. Another prison will be built in Sinaloa state featuring a special section for kidnappers.