Americas - Issue 53 - Magazine | Monocle

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Back to Africa


Brazil is gearing up as host nation for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. With Africa’s football-loving audience in mind, the country is working on a new 6,000km submarine fibre-optic cable linking Fortaleza and Cacuaco in Angola. The first web traffic will go live by 2014.


That old chestnut

By Sasha Issenberg

For two decades, social issues were things that Democrats accused Republicans of introducing into US politics as a distraction from the important stuff. Those on the left dismissed the right’s agenda of “God, guns and gays” as cynically manufactured “wedge issues”, so-called because forcing the opposition to take a position on them would stick a cultural wedge in a party coalition built on class concerns. Most of the advice from Democratic strategists amounted to telling the party’s politicians to play on the right’s turf: don’t hide your personal faith, acknowledge gun owners’ rights, keep mum about gay priorities

Now, however, Democrats believe they finally have a chance to make the classic American wedge issue – reproductive politics – work for them. After the Supreme Court in 1973 legalised abortion during the first three months of a pregnancy, smart Republican strategists focused their immediate energies not on overturning that decision but introducing new technicalities into the debate. Those new questions – whether the federal government should pay for abortions or teenagers could get one without parental approval – forced pro-choice Democrats to choose between alienating feminist activists or being depicted as extreme for opposing what many saw as common-sense restrictions.

In the past year, Republicans have picked new fights – to define a foetus as a person, to require women to view an ultrasound image before having abortion – that are pushing the reproductive debate ever more rightward. Even as presidential candidates such as Mitt Romney have embraced the new laws under pressure from religious conservatives, many of the proposals have flopped. Emboldened by the backlash, Democrats have cast these efforts as a “war on women”, and have been looking to draw attention to the overreach whenever possible. Even some strongly pro-life Republicans are starting to caution allies that they’ve gone too far. In mid-March, John McCain warned that the party should respect “the right of women to make choices in their lives”.

By talking about reproductive politics not in the language of women’s rights but government overreach, Democrats believe they can divide women and young voters from the rest of the Republican coalition. (Some private research also shows that such rhetoric also works better with African-Americans and Hispanics, often uncomfortable with the usual feminist arguments for abortion.)

At the same time, the dramatic shift in favour of gay marriage – surveys show half of Americans support it now – and Obama’s hands-off approach to gun regulation have taken the old social issues off the table. Obama has been a political pioneer in many ways and now he could win re-election as an accidental social crusader. For the first time, a Democrat is winning the battles and has declared a war he thinks he can win, too.

Three women who could be a Republican vice-presidential nominee

  1. Susana Martinez: New Mexico’s governor is perfect on paper, a Latina former prosecutor. But is she ready for the national stage?

  2. Nikki Haley: South Carolina’s governor couldn’t deliver her state for Romney in the primary. But her peppy style makes her popular with Tea Party types.

  3. Michele Bachmann: A much-improved candidate who always played nice with Romney — and could be a good fit if he feels he still needs to enthuse religious conservatives.

Chapo the capo

Mexico — DRUGS

With Osama Bin Laden gone, a new foe tops the world’s most wanted. Valued by Forbes as the world’s 55th most powerful man, the US Drug Enforcement Agency puts a different value on Mexican Joaquín “Chapo” Guzmán: $5m (€3.8m) for his capture.

Chapo heads the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, named after his home state. With outreach into Europe, Asia and Africa, Guzmán’s ascension to control of drug trafficking corridors in Mexico has left thousands dead, tortured or disappeared.

Recent statements claimed Mexican forces came close to capture in February – proof of president Felipe Calderón’s ongoing efforts to nab him.


Dominican Republic

Date: 20 May
Type: Presidential
Candidates: Incumbent Leonel Fernández will not be running, as he has served a maximum of two consecutive terms. The front-runners are oficialista Danilo Medina, and Hipólito Mejía (nicknamed “Papá”). Both stood in 2000.
Issues: Poverty, poor infrastructure and corruption, coupled with nervousness about the border with Haiti. The construction of a US naval base on Saona Island is not universally popular.

Monocle comment:As Latin America booms, the Caribbean should be well placed to profit. It would have been nice to see new faces in the running.

Need for speed


A $13bn (€9.8bn) plan to build a high-speed rail link between Manhattan and New Jersey should relieve Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains at peak hours. It involves tunneling under the Hudson river and converting parts of the historic James Farley Post Office into a station.


Claudia Paz y Paz

Attorney general


When Claudia Paz y Paz took the office of Guatemala’s attorney general in December 2010, she became the first woman to inherit this dangerous job in one of the most troubled countries in the Americas. A 36-year civil war left hundreds of thousands dead and no prosecutions for thousands of war crimes and human rights abuses. Today, widespread impunity, corrupt security forces, political assassinations and one of the highest rates of violent crime in the world dog the country and make her position less than enviable.

But the 45-year old has proved ready to the task – one of very few Guatemalan officials seen as honest and focused on improving the country. And she’s taking aim at the 98 per cent impunity rate that haunts a weak justice system.

How does it feel to be the first woman to occupy this position in Guatemala?
It’s an enormous responsibility in this country with the high level of violence it has. It demands a forceful response that I have to give – as a citizen, a woman and as the attorney general.

What is being done to fight against impunity?
I see there being two main lines of work. One line is to work with the prosecutors in charge of reversing the rate of impunity and to meet monthly with all of them to see how much attention is being given to certain cases, how many cases they are attending and how they have improved giving attention to the victims. There is also the task of carrying out high-impact cases in parts of the country where certain groups continue to operate. For example, in regions where [Mexican drug cartel] Los Zetas operate there have already been months-long investigations into some complicated cases and a lot of work put into restructuring the witness protection programmes.

What steps are you taking to prosecute cases of organised crime more effectively?
One approach is that these cases don’t stay in the regions they occur in. Neither the prisoners, nor the cases: they are not even investigated by people that have to live there because there is no guarantee that the police are not involved, the judges are not involved or even that the Public Ministry is not involved. So the strategy we have developed involves bringing the cases to Guatemala City, where there is better monitoring of the judges, attorneys and police.

Do you believe it is possible to create an attorney general’s office that rises above the corruption and impunity and provides justice?
I’m convinced that we can change. Actually, this institution has already improved and we’ve offered some very important results in cases with a large social impact. Perhaps now the challenge will be to bring these positive results to all the cases because all victims deserve access to justice. But this type of thing does not change overnight. It’s a process that is in progress, because we can’t just say “stop committing crimes.”

Many commentators have said that Guatemala is at risk of becoming a narco state. What do you think about that?
To the extent that our institutions can do their jobs, as we continue working in coordination – as we are now doing with the Constitutional Court, with the Government Ministry and with the police – we can avoid this enormous risk. Imagine what this would signify for Guatemala and the region, if this were to happen.

To avoid this, does Guatemala need more of an armed forces presence or additional prosecutors? Or is it a bit of both?
I believe Guatemala needs more astute legal practices and better tools for criminal investigation.

Blown out


Almost from the moment he took office last spring, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel hailed the G8 summit scheduled for May 2012 as a great opportunity to showcase the Windy City to the world. But in early March President Obama pulled the rug out from his former chief-of-staff, moving the G8 from his Chicago hometown to the secluded presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, to reduce security demands.

Chicagoans view the relocation as an acknowledgement that city officials had failed to allay security concerns amid fears of a repeat of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when police famously battered peaceful protesters in Grant Park. Emanuel must content himself with the less glamorous Nato conference, scheduled for 20-21 May.

Brazilian average monthly spend on luxury goods

R$ 3,050

R$ 2,726

R$ 4,710

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