thumbnail text

Tough talk

South America [DIPLOMACY]

When representatives of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) met at a recent summit in Guyana, they seemed to share one goal: to render obsolete an Organisation of American States (OAS) they consider weak and toothless. “It’s always the same thing. There’s a coup, everybody rushes to the OAS headquarters in Washington to condemn, then go back to their countries and recognise the new and illegitimate government all the same,” a senior South American diplomat said.

Unasur is designed as OAS 2.0. The union agreed to adopt much tougher trade sanctions and border measures against governments that overthrow elected leaders. Plus, with the US banished to the sidelines, there will be no gringos preaching democracy, only peer pressure. The two-year-old group has settled on a spot for its HQ – Mitad del Mundo, Ecuador, a city crossed by the Equator – and an architect, Ecuadorian Diego Guayasamín. But following the death of its first secretary-general, Argentine ex-president Néstor Kirchner, in October, the bloc lacks both leader and budget.

Whoever takes charge of Unasur might ­actually prefer the lack of a formal structure, says José Botafogo Gonçalves, president of the Brazilian Center for International Relations. It is a bad Iberic habit to create huge bureaucracies with no specific function, he says, and so the opposite might serve Unasur well.

Who will be the next leader of Unasur?

1. Lula da Silva:
Many had hoped he would take the job as he’s currently kicking his heels after competing two terms as Brazilian president. However, he’s likely to wait for a bigger job.
2. Michelle Bachelet:
The former Chilean president has just been appointed as head of the new UN Women organisation so she probably wouldn’t be interested in Unasur now.
3. Tabaré Vásquez:
The Uruguayan ex-president has emerged as the latest favourite – as long as the Argentines don’t seek payback for the way Uruguay stalled Kirchner’s nomination.

Ups and downs

Chile [INFRASTRUCTURE]

With 30 lines, the Chilean port of Valparaiso once had the world’s biggest concentration of funiculars scaling its hillsides; now fewer than half remain. This autumn, operators advertised 10 of them for sale. “Valparaiso elevators. Unique opportunity for domestic or foreign investors,” read newspaper ads – setting off a race to save the routes.

No one has surfaced with money, while Chile’s president has promised to restore the creaky boxes into dignified Victorian follies. Next month the government is due to complete a study of how to buy the system, which is used by locals to get goods up slopes and tourists to explore the UN World Heritage Site.

Going for gold

Peru [MINING]

There’s a gold rush in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, the headwaters of the Amazon. In four months, the region’s mostly illegal gold mining has gone from producing 10 per cent of Peru’s gold to 19 per cent. Hundreds of people a day are moving there, and with gold selling for about €1,000 an ounce, small-scale miners now earn enough to abandon their picks, shovels and rustic wooden sluices in favour of dump trucks, backhoes and industrial-scale mills. Their efforts are tearing down rainforest and polluting rivers with mercury, but government enforcement efforts have so far failed to overcome the lure of shiny yellow metal.

In the running

USA [ELECTION WATCH]

Chicago voters go to the polls on 22 February to pick a replacement for mayor Richard M Daley, who is retiring after 21 years in office. The front-runner is former White House chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel (left), and Washington will watch to see if Barack Obama re-enters his hometown’s messy racial politics to campaign for his former aide.

Student chief

Mexico

Twenty-year-old mum and college student Marisol Valles García was appointed police chief in October 2010 in Praxedis G Guerrero, Mexico, one of the country’s most dangerous towns. About a dozen mayors died from drug-related violence in the region in 2010.

View from Washington

Ronald Reagan’s fans celebrate what would have been his 100th birthday by trying to move mountains and redraw money in his image.
By Sasha Issenberg

The last time Republicans controlled the House of Representatives, they quickly went after the nearest airport and renamed it. In 1997, Washington National Airport became Ronald Reagan National Airport. Shortly after, activist Grover Norquist founded the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project with an audacious goal of renaming things for the former president: one in each of the US’s 3,141 counties, with a “significant” tribute in all 50 states.

“This isn’t some kind of edifice complex,” Norquist says from the offices of his influential Americans for Tax Reform. “When a kid flies into Reagan airport, they turn to their parents – because they went to public school – and ask ‘who is Ronald Reagan?’ These are teaching moments.”

Norquist’s efforts are testament to the Reagan nostalgia that has controlled Republican emotions, if not policymaking, ever since he left office. In the most linguistically audacious tribute, South Dakota Senator John Thune, a likely presidential candidate, recently said Americans are “hungry for a Reaganesque-type leader.”

It would have been Reagan’s 100th birthday on 6 February and the Legacy Project has already received its gift: Republicans again controlling the House. “I think we’ll have an easier time pushing this,” project executive director Nathan Pick says of a bill to picture Reagan on the $50 note. (It currently features Ulysses Grant, a mediocre president.)

The last time Norquist pushed to put Reagan on cash was soon after his death in 2004. Norquist says he appealed to George W Bush’s administration to redraw the $10, $20 or $50 note or dime coin with Reagan’s image, but was rebuffed: “I can think of no pleasant, honourable reason why Bush didn’t do it other than family jealousy.”

Bush’s presidency may now offer Norquist’s efforts an inadvertent boost. Many Republicans look back on Bush’s terms with disappointment, for its general air of incompetence. “It makes Reagan look more impressive,” Norquist says. “He was not just another Republican presidential leader. He was monumentally more successful than other people you could compare him to.”

The actual naming of monuments has had modest success. The Legacy Project counts 102 dedications to Reagan, mostly roads and schools. Few qualify as “significant”: a Ronald Reagan Turnpike in Florida and a Mount Reagan in New Hampshire. At the moment, the Reaganistas are eyeing an Alaskan mountain range and dream about turning one of the 50 states into Reagan. “North Dakota or South Dakota,” muses Norquist. “We don’t need two Dakotas.”

A rough ­objective is to catch up with the 600 to 800 tributes to Democratic hero John F Kennedy. “We’re not trying to name more things after Reagan than anyone in modern US history; we’re just trying to honour him appropriately,” says Norquist. “His accomplishments dwarf FDR’s and Churchill’s.”

Overseas tributes:

1. Ronald Reagan Roundabout: Wroclaw, Poland
2. Ronald Reagan Lounge: John O’Farrell’s Pub, Ballyporeen, Ireland
3. Commemorative merchandise: Grenada Salutes Ronald Reagan, Leader of Freedom stamp collection
4. Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site: Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands
5. Ronald Reagan Statue: outside US Embassy, London (under construction)

Q&A- Aaron Smith

Executive director, National Cannabis Industry Association

USA

You run one of the country’s newest trade groups. What’s on your 2011 agenda?
There has been a lot of progress in medical marijuana but it’s about time that the industry is recognised for the market it is: thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in tax dollars.

Will you be lobbying for just medical marijuana, as is now legal in California and Colorado, or for full legalisation?
We want full legalisation – with taxation and regulation – of adult use of marijuana. We need to take the product out of the illegal markets.

How soon will the US see legalisation?
I think it’ll be sooner than we ever thought. Over the next decade, we can easily achieve an end to federal marijuana prohibition.

Who do you see as your main opposition?
The groups that stand to gain from maintaining prohibition, such as the prison guards or police unions.

On the safe side

Guatemala [SECURITY]

Fearing Guatemala’s elections in 2011 will be the most violent in recent times, cautious politicians and businessmen have fuelled a soaring demand for armoured vehicles. Already a major industry domestically, it’s estimated that up to 600 bullet-proof cars are sold in the country every year, and some are even exported to war zones around the world.

One of the seven firms that produce armoured cars, Blindajes Artesanales de Guatemala, registered a 70 per cent increase in sales in 2010. Shielding a vehicle can cost up to $45,000 (€33,800) depending on the model and the protection level required.

Bright young thing

USA

At 39 years old, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, elected in 2007, is 10 years younger than President Obama and is the youngest US state governor. The son of Indian immigrants, he’s also Louisiana’s first non-Caucasian to hold the office.

×The Atlantic Shift

0:00:000:01:00

Drag me