Monday, February 6, 2006

The election that noone noticed

-Taylor Kirk
Strenuous U.S. efforts to encourage free-trade agreements in Latin America would lead one to believe that the election of a pro-CAFTA Nobel Peace Prize winner in a friendly Central American country would merit an article or two in the main stream U.S. press. One would be mistaken.

Today former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias returned to power with 45% of the vote, enough for him to avoid a runoff. So far (I write this at 10:15pm) Reuters is the only English-language source covering the event, and I was only able to find that article after Googling Costa Rica in the news section. The very next article that sprang up was on luxury condos in Guanacaste.

Of course, anyone that can read Spanish could visit La Nacion (CR) for the latest results, if they were even aware that the election was taking place today. However, U.S. coverage of Latin America is dominated by Hugo Chavez' latest antics and the threat of Daniel Ortega returning to power in Nicaragua.

One of the effects of 9/11 was that U.S. citizens began to notice the world beyond our borders, and to take a greater interest in foreign affairs. Though primarily focused on events in the Middle East, the consumption of public radio, international publications, and television coverage of world events skyrocketed, bringing new perspectives and information about world events to our living rooms. This also brought a hope, however tentative, that increased international awareness might make the U.S. a smarter nation that might develop a smarter foreign policy.

As I write this, the three headlines on's section for the Americas are 'Brazil: 3 Crushed in Rush to Get Autographs', 'Washington: U.S. Kicks Out Venezuelan Envoy', and 'Venezuela: Hamas to Tour South America'. Apart from being almost comical, "The World's News Leader" has demonstrated that U.S. public interest in Latin America is confined to the sensational. Perhaps if Arias were a militant leftist, or if the elections were marred by violence, CNN would find it fit to cover. As it stands, the U.S. public will remain unaware that a successful election in a marvelous Central American country just changed the course of that region's history.

Update: Today coverage of the event is much more extensive, especially focusing on the closeness of the election. While La Nacion still has the candidates separated by almost 9,000 votes and a quote from Arias que 'confia en la victoria', the Reuters syndication has Arias saying that he 'cannot claim victory yet'.

Update II: Looks like I and the rest of the world called it too early, but I'd like to make it clear that my original point still stands. I was very disappointed Sunday to see the lack of coverage while the election was ongoing. The latest from La Nacion says that with 88.11% of the votes counted, Arias' lead has narrowed to 3,647 votes. I like the quote from Solis that 'qualquier cosa puede ocurrir' en la eleccion, as if we were not aware of that :D. I would also like to make everyone aware that the "World's News Leader" has finally posted the (now outdated) circulating Reuters article, though it comes AFTER the headline about how Cuba is planning a massive anti-US rally. Sensationalism anyone? Congrats CNN.

Update III: Costa Rica is on the main page of Wikipedia today. I love the wikis.

, , ,

Mexico hires public relations firm to improve image in the U.S.

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Mexico’s government hired a Dallas-based PR firm to help project a more positive image of Mexico within the U.S. The aim, according to a representative from the PR firm is to focus on ''the good things that are happening in Mexico'' and ``correct some of the myths and misperceptions that are out there.'' (Miami)

, ,

Latest reality show: gang members gone straight

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Former Guatemalan gang members will be transformed into community leaders in a reality show set to air next month. The program will air in Central America and will be partially produced by the U.S. Agency for International Development. (The Star)

, , ,

New law in Guatemala aims to decrease high birth rates

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. A new law passed last week by Guatemala’s legislature forces the government to provide sexual education classes and encourage the use of contraceptives. Still, Guatemala’s president and Catholic Church officials plan to appeal the congress’ decision on a supposed voting technicality. (BBC)

IMF’s role in danger due to Brazil and Argentina

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. The early repayment of Brazil and Argentina’s massive multi-billion dollar debt to the IMF has led to problems within the global lending body. The IMF is facing a growing amount of critics who feel it should cut back its lending practices. (Chronicle)

, , , , ,

Cuba: Embargo interferes with trade conference; rescued refugees sent to Bahamas

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Meetings in Mexico City between U.S. energy executives and Cuban officials had to be moved from a U.S.-owned hotel due to U.S. government pressure. Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard will return seven of eight Cuban “balseros” rescued from a Bahamian island to Bahamas’ immigration authorities. An injured refugee airlifted to a Florida hospital will be allowed to stay in the U.S. due to the U.S.’s “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy. (Sun Sentinel)

, , ,

Panama and Chile agree to free trade deal

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Panama and Chile signed a free trade agreement on Saturday after more than a decade of negotiations. According to the deal, most Panamanian goods will not have to pay tariff when entering the Chilean market. (Xinhua)

, , , , ,

Ecuador gets apologies from Colombia over border dispute

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Colombia’s defense minister apologized to Ecuador last week over an “accidental” military incursion into Ecuadorian territory. Colombian aircraft trespassed Ecuadorian airspace during a battle with left-wing guerillas. (BBC)

, , ,

Lula gains in polls, yet trails chief opponent

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. A poll published on Sunday shows that Brazil’s resident has gained popularity since December even though his administration has been rocked by a serious corruption scandal. Still, the poll showed that Lula would trail in a head-to-head match up with the opposition politician he defeated in the past presidential election. (Reuters)

, , ,

Rummy: Chavez is like Hitler

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. In the latest salvo in a diplomatic war between the U.S. and Venezuela, Donald Rumsfeld claimed that Hugo Chavez “is a person who was elected legally - just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally - and then consolidated power.” Chavez replied by comparing President Bush to Hitler and threatened to cut off Venezuelan oil exports to the U.S. (BBC)

, , , ,

The pause that refreshes? Brit schools may ban Coke

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Several British universities are considering banning all Coca-Cola products from their schools over allegations that Coca-Cola endangers labor leaders in their Colombian bottling plants. Coke has already been banned from U.S. schools such as New York University and the University of Michigan. (Independent)

, ,, ,

Evo to Bachelet: We want a coastline

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Landlocked Bolivia will request access to the sea from Chile after Chilean president-elect Michelle Bachelet takes office next month. Bolivia has been without a coastline to the Pacific Ocean since Chile beat Bolivia in the War of the Pacific over a century ago. (Xinhua)

, , , , ,