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Let the right one in

Venezuela [MERCOSUR]

Mercosur, the free-trade area covering much of South America, is an unlikely place for backstabbing and intrigue but Venezuela brings drama. The Bolivarian Republic pleaded for entry to the customs union for six years but was blocked by Paraguay’s conservative senate. After Paraguay’s legislators booted President Fernando Lugo from office in June, the country was suspended from Mercosur membership amid accusations of breaking with democracy. A week later, Venezuela took advantage and joined the body “through the back door”, as Caracas newspaper Tal Cual put it.

That sets up a muddle when Paraguay holds elections and seeks to reintegrate with the group. In September, Brazilian foreign minister Antonio Patriota said he hoped Paraguay could rejoin soon. But in August Paraguay’s senate again voted to reject Venezuelan membership, based in part on Venezuela’s own failures as a democracy.

Venezuela has four years to comply with Mercosur free-trade standards, many of which require the government to change cherished policies on protectionism and currency controls. Half a dozen Mercosur rules may conflict with Venezuelan policy, including free trade with Colombia and Israel; this after Venezuela pulled out of the Andean Community to avoid free trade with Colombia. If Paraguay forces Venezuela out of the group don’t be surprised if Venezuela just lets it happen.

Other diplomatic disputes in South America:
1. Relations between Venezuela and Colombia are better than they were when Álvaro Uribe was in Bogotá’s Casa de Narino but Hugo Chávez is still thought to back Colombia’s Farc rebels.
2. Argentina’s quixotic battle with the UK over the fate of the Falklands Islands has dragged its neighbours into the fray: Chile and Brazil have reluctantly backed Buenos Aires but would rather not have to.

Clean bill of health

USA

San Francisco is attempting what no other city in the US has ever managed: the provision of universal health coverage for its residents. The Healthy San Francisco programme offers medical services to residents regardless of income, employment or immigration status.

The proposal

USA [GAY MARRIAGE]

The presidential election on 6 November will not be this month’s only big ballot. Citizens in Maine, Maryland, Washington state and Minnesota will be casting their vote on same-sex marriage. Currently it is only permitted in six US states and Washington DC. Polls suggest that the battle will be tight in Minnesota but supporters in the other states are in the majority.

Rail deal

USA [TRANSPORT]

The first phase of California’s high-speed rail project connecting Merced to Fresno won approval from the US Federal Railroad Administration in September.

Meeting in Palm Springs this month, the California Transit Association will be sure to discuss developments for 
this $68bn (€53bn) project. Committed to the growth of an efficient and effective public-transit system across the state, the conference will address everything from new rider-communication technologies to better fleet management.

Despite being one of the US’s most car-dependent states, California will be leading the way for a more widespread adoption of modern public transport.

Learning process

Canada [EDUCATION]

Acknowledging that Canada is falling behind countries such as the UK in attracting top young global talent, the Canadian government has plans to dramatically increase foreign student enrolment numbers at its universities (including Ottawa, right).

Foreign students only make up about 7 per cent of Canada’s university population; in most developed countries it is closer to 15. A government-commissioned task force has urged the country to more than double the number of foreign students to 400,000 within 10 years. As part of its overhaul of the immigration system the federal government is keen on the recommendations, beginning with an easier visa process for visiting students.

  • The US-Brazil alliance could become a vital regional axis – if the two countries are willing and able to work together.
  • The US is Brazil’s second-largest trading partner after China and is eyeing Brazil’s oil potential.
  • Brazil wants a permanent seat on the UN Security Council; Romney could generate an ideological conflict with Brazil’s leftist government.
  • Brazilians want greater flexibility in applications for tourist visas, including the creation of two new consulates. The election result could determine whether these go ahead.

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