IN FRONT of the skyscrapers on the esplanade in Panama City, joggers puff along a path in the morning heat, as men and women do push-ups and bench-presses. In this part of Panama the enemies are fat and diabetes. But a short flight away indigenous communities living amid fearsome overcrowding on the tropical islands of Guna Yala (formerly San Blas) are so poor and malnourished that their young children can die for lack of a boat fare to get to the nearest health clinic. Parts of Guna Yala are, says an official from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), “hell in paradise”. This disparity between the rich-world health worries of city dwellers and the parlous situation of the poorest is prevalent across Central America. But until recently the IDB says it has never been measured or dealt with directly.
On July 30, Argentina defaulted on its outstanding debt. The technical default ends a long saga. It began in 2001 when the country failed to continue payments on nearly $100 billion worth of obligations, continued through its 2005 and 2010 restructurings of over 90 percent of these bonds, bled into ongoing lawsuits with "holdout creditors" including Elliott Management and Aurelius Capital Management, and culminated in the June 16 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to not hear Argentina's appeal of a 2012 ruling by New York Judge Thomas P. Griesa. This left in place a decision that not only bolstered the holdouts' rights to repayment, but also blocked Argentina and its U.S.-based banks from disbursing the next $539 million round of interest due on the restructured debt. Negotiations over the last month ended fruitlessly, leading to Wednesday's selective default, as defined by Standard & Poor's.
BOGOTA – Venezuela is descending ever deeper into violence, with street protests spreading rapidly across the country. President Nicolás Maduro’s government appears to be losing control – using both a strong hand against protesters and a timid attempt to begin a dialogue with political rivals – while the opposition is divided and appears incapable of taking power. Since the current crisis began in February, more than 40 people have died, roughly 650 have been injured, and some 2,000 have been detained.
I’d gone to Bolivia because some NGOs and activists there have been trying—seemingly against all good sense—to lower the legal working age from 14 to six years old. And this was not the doing of mine owners or far-right politicians seeking cheap labor like one might expect. Instead the idea has been floated by a group of young people ages eight to 18 called the Union of Child and Adolescent Workers (UNATSBO)—something like a pee-wee version of the AFL-CIO—who have proposed a law that aims to allow young children to legally work. Bolivia’s congress is slated to vote on a version of the law as soon as this month.
THOSE who have dealt with the FARC say that for Colombia’s veteran guerrilla movement time is different than for the rest of humanity. Founded in 1966, they have long outlasted the end of the cold war. They are said to think in decades rather than months. But times change, even for the FARC. After nine months of talks with the government of President Juan Manuel Santos, the guerrillas are closer to a peace deal than ever before. In a backhanded way, that seemed to be confirmed this month by a FARC walkout from the negotiations—only for them to return three days later.
ON SEPTEMBER 12th a queue of stationary vehicles kilometres long blocked the coastal highway that leads out of Puerto Cabello. “Politics,” said a resident, wearily, by way of explanation.
ECUADOR’S decision to grant asylum to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks wanted in Sweden for questioning over claims of rape and sexual molestation, has put the country in a political standoff with Britain, where he is holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy.
Last week, in a show of increasing political unity, Venezuela’s opposition parties -- grouped under the umbrella “Table for Democratic Unity” (MUD for its acronym in Spanish) -- made an important step forward. They announced that they would go to the next presidential election with a “unitary card”.
MEXICO CITY – Prior to Mexico’s just-concluded presidential election, public disaffection with the state of affairs in the country was palpable. Mexicans from all walks of life seemed concerned about spiraling violence, anemic economic growth, and the lackluster rule of the National Action Party (PAN). With 60,000 people killed in the war on drugs, Mexicans – like Russians following the first chaotic years of democratic transition under Boris Yeltsin – opted for political regression, underpinned by nostalgia for rule by a firm, if corrupt, hand.
FOR Brazil’s government recent weeks have brought some long-awaited victories. The overvalued currency has weakened to two reais to the dollar, from its peak of 1.54 last July. At 9% the Central Bank’s policy interest rate is near to historic lows and should fall further after President Dilma Rousseff’s brave decision to cut returns on government-backed savings accounts, which had previously acted as a floor.
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