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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dominican Republic: Background and U.S. Relations

The Dominican Republic, a country of roughly 9.7 million people that shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with Haiti, is a key U.S. trade partner and political ally in the region. The United States is the Dominican Republic’s main trading partner, with two-way trade totaling more than $10.6 billion in 2008 before falling to $8.6 billion in 2009. In addition to trade, U.S. interest in the Dominican Republic has focused on anti-drug cooperation and governance/human rights issues, as well as the country’s role in helping resolve regional conflicts. After a July 12, 2010, official meeting, President Barack Obama praised Dominican President Leonel Fernández’s regional leadership, particularly the role he and his government have played in the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti and in helping to resolve the political crisis in Honduras.

President Fernández of the center-left Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) took office for his third term in August 2008. Fernández previously served as President from 1996-2000 and 2004-2008. In 2009, President Fernández achieved one of his primary political goals: securing congressional approval of a new constitution. The new constitution, which took effect in January 2010, allows presidents to complete one term and then serve again after sitting out of office for four years, making President Fernández eligible to run again in 2016. Few have criticized Fernández for changing the constitution to allow himself to run for another term, but some have spoken out against calls from the PLD for further changes that would enable him to run in 2012. Despite some lingering economic and security challenges that have yet to be resolved and concerns about corruption in his Administration, President Fernández has remained popular. His party dominated legislative elections held on May 16, 2010.

In recent years, U.S. interest in the Dominican Republic has focused on trade, security, and human rights issues. Trade and investment flows have expanded since the Dominican Republic- Central America-United States free trade agreement (CAFTA-DR) entered into force for the Dominican Republic on March 1, 2007. U.S. trade capacity building assistance has also reportedly helped boost Dominican competitiveness in some sectors. The United States is the largest bilateral donor to the Dominican Republic, with U.S. assistance totaling an estimated $49 million in FY2010. U.S. aid — both bilateral and regional aid provided through the Mérida Initiative and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) — is helping the Fernández government combat drug trafficking and crime. Human rights issues, including the treatment of Haitians in the Dominican Republic and trafficking in persons, have also been of interest to Congress and the Obama Administration.

This report provides background information on current political and economic conditions in the Dominican Republic, as well as an overview of some of the key issues in U.S.-Dominican relations.



Date of Report: January 3., 2011
Number of Pages: 16
Order Number: R41482
Price: $29.95

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Trafficking in Persons in Latin America and the Caribbean


Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Trafficking in persons (TIP) for the purpose of exploitation is a lucrative criminal activity that is of major concern to the United States and the international community. According to the most recent U.S. State Department estimates, roughly 800,000 people are trafficked across borders each year. If trafficking within countries is included in the total world figures, official U.S. estimates are that some 2 million to 4 million people are trafficked annually. While most trafficking victims still appear to originate from South and Southeast Asia or the former Soviet Union, human trafficking is also a growing problem in Latin America. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has estimated that sex trafficking in Latin America generates some $16 billion worth of business annually.

Countries in Latin America serve as source, transit, and destination countries for trafficking victims. Latin America is a primary source region for people trafficked to the United States. As many as 17,500 are trafficked into the United States each year, according to State Department estimates. In FY2009, primary countries of origin for the 333 foreign trafficking victims certified as eligible to receive U.S. assistance included Mexico, Guatemala, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic (along with India, the Philippines, and Thailand).

Since enactment of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (P.L. 106- 386), successive Administrations and Congress have taken steps to address human trafficking. In December 2008, the 110
th Congress passed The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-457). The act, among other provisions, authorized TIP appropriations for FY2008 through FY2011. Obligations for U.S.-funded anti-TIP programs in Latin America totaled roughly $17.3 million in FY2009, up from $13.7 million in FY2008.

On June 14, 2010, the State Department issued its 10
th annual, congressionally mandated report on human trafficking. In addition to outlining major trends and ongoing challenges in combating TIP, the report categorizes countries into four “tiers” according to the government’s efforts to combat trafficking. Those countries that do not cooperate in the fight against trafficking (Tier 3) have been made subject to U.S. foreign assistance sanctions. While Cuba and the Dominican Republic are the only Latin American countries ranked on Tier 3 in this year’s TIP report, nine other countries in the region—Barbados, Belize, Guatemala, Guyana, Nicaragua, Panama, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela—are on the Tier 2 Watch List. Unless those countries make significant progress in the next six months, they could receive a Tier 3 ranking in the 2011 report.

The 112
th Congress is likely to continue exercise its oversight of TIP programs and operations, including U.S.-funded programs in Latin America. Congress may consider increasing funding for anti-TIP programs in the region, possibly through the Mérida Initiative for Mexico, the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) or through other assistance programs. Congress may also monitor new trends in human trafficking in the region, such as the increasing involvement of Mexican drug trafficking organizations in TIP and the problem of child trafficking in Haiti, which has worsened since that country experienced a devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010. Another issue of interest may be whether sufficient efforts are being applied to address all forms of TIP in Latin America, including not only sexual exploitation, but also forced labor. For more general information on human trafficking, see CRS Report RL34317, Trafficking in Persons: U.S. Policy and Issues for Congress, by Alison Siskin and Liana Sun Wyler.


Date of Report: January 4, 2011
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: RL33200
Price: $29.95

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Cuba: Issues for the 111th Congress


Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Cuba remains a one-party communist state with a poor record on human rights. The country’s political succession in 2006 from the long-ruling Fidel Castro to his brother Raúl was characterized by a remarkable degree of stability. The government of Raúl Castro implemented limited economic policy changes in 2008 and 2009, and in September 2010 began a significant series of reforms to reduce the public sector and increase private enterprise. Few observers expect the government to ease its tight control over the political system, although it has reduced the number of political prisoners significantly.

Since the early 1960s, U.S. policy has consisted largely of isolating Cuba through economic sanctions. A second policy component has consisted of support measures for the Cuban people, including U.S.-sponsored broadcasting and support for human rights activists. In light of Fidel Castro’s departure as head of government, many observers called for a re-examination of U.S. policy. The Obama Administration lifted restrictions on family travel and remittances and restarted talks with the Cuban government. It criticized Cuba’s repression of dissidents, but also welcomed the release of political prisoners. The Administration also repeatedly called for the release of a U.S. government subcontractor imprisoned since December 2009.

The 111
th Congress approved three provisions in the FY2009 omnibus appropriations measure (P.L. 111-8) in March 2009 that eased sanctions on family travel, travel for the marketing of agricultural and medical goods, and payment terms for U.S. agricultural exports. In December 2009, Congress included a provision in the FY2010 omnibus appropriations legislation (P.L. 111- 117) that eased payment terms for U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba during FY2010 by defining the term “payment of cash in advance” more broadly. While Congress did not complete action on any of the FY2011 appropriations measures, it did approve a series of short-term continuing resolutions, the last of which (P.L. 111-322) provided funding for federal agencies through March 4, 2011 under conditions provided in enacted FY2010 appropriations measures. This extended the “payment of cash in advance provision” and also continued Cuba broadcasting and democracy funding. In other legislative action, in May 2009, the Senate approved S.Res. 149, related to freedom of the press, and in March 2010 it approved S.Con.Res. 54, recognizing the death of a Cuban hunger striker.

Numerous other initiatives were introduced, but not considered. Several of these would have eased Cuba sanctions: H.R. 188, H.R. 1530, and H.R. 2272 (overall sanctions); H.R. 874/S. 428 and H.R. 1528 (travel); H.R. 332 (educational travel); H.R. 1531/S. 1089 and H.R. 4645/S. 3112 (agricultural exports and travel); H.R. 1737 (agricultural exports); and S. 774, H.R. 1918, and S. 1517 (hydrocarbon resources). H.R. 1103/S. 1234 would have modified a trademark sanction, while several bills cited above would have repealed the sanction. S. 1808 would have eliminated Radio and TV Martí. Measures that would have increased sanctions were: H.R. 2005 (related to fugitives), H.R. 2687 (Organization of American States participation), and H.R. 5620 (Cuba’s oil development). H.Con.Res. 132 would have called for the fulfillment of certain democratic conditions before the United States increased trade and tourism to Cuba.

This report reflects legislative developments through the 111
th Congress and will not be updated. Also see CRS Report RL31139, Cuba: U.S. Restrictions on Travel and Remittances, and CRS Report R41522, Cuba’s Offshore Oil Development: Background and U.S. Policy Considerations.


Date of Report: January 4, 2011
Number of Pages: 84
Order Number: R40193
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

El Salvador: Political, Economic, and Social Conditions and U.S. Relations

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Throughout the last few decades, the United States has maintained a strong interest in El Salvador, a small Central American country with a population of 7.2 million. During the 1980s, El Salvador was the largest recipient of U.S. aid in Latin America as its government struggled against the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) insurgency during a 12-year civil war. A peace accord negotiated in 1992 brought the war to an end and formally assimilated the FMLN into the political process as a political party. After the peace accords were signed, U.S. involvement shifted toward helping the government rebuild democracy and implement marketfriendly economic reforms.

Mauricio Funes of the FMLN was inaugurated to a five-year presidential term in June 2009. Funes won a close election in March 2009, marking the first FMLN presidential victory and the first transfer in political power between parties since the end of El Salvador’s civil war. Funes’ victory followed strong showings by the FMLN in the January 2009 municipal and legislative elections, in which the party won a plurality of the seats in the National Assembly and the largest share of the municipal vote.

President Funes still has relatively high approval ratings (69% in November 2010), but faces a number of political, economic, and social challenges. The National Assembly is fragmented, which means that Funes has to form coalitions with other parties in order to advance his legislative agenda. The global financial crisis and U.S. recession negatively impacted El Salvador’s economy, increasing the country’s already widespread poverty. A three-year $790 million agreement signed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in March 2010 is helping support economic recovery, but will constrain the Funes’ government’s future fiscal policies. In addition to these political and economic challenges, El Salvador’s violent crime rates remain among the highest in the world and still need to be addressed.

Maintaining close ties with the United States has been a primary foreign policy goal of successive Salvadoran governments. Although some members of Congress expressed reservations about working with an FMLN administration, relations between El Salvador and the United States have remained friendly. After a March 8, 2010, meeting with President Funes at the White House, President Obama said that he was “very favorably impressed by the steps that [Funes is taking] to try to break down political divisions within the country ... focusing on prosperity at every level of Salvadorian society.” Both leaders pledged to continue working together to expand trade through the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), foster development, and combat organized crime. U.S. bilateral assistance, which totaled an estimated $57 million in FY2010, as well as assistance provided through the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), is supporting those bilateral goals.



Date of Report: January 3, 2011
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: RS21655
Price: $29.95

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Gangs in Central America

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Congress has maintained an interest in the effects of gang violence in Central America, and on the expanding activities of transnational gangs with ties to that region operating in the United States. The violent Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and its main rival, the “18th Street” gang (also known as M-18) continue to threaten citizen security and challenge government authority in Central America. Gang-related violence has been particularly acute in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, which have among the highest homicide rates in the world. In recent years, governments in those countries appeared to move away, at least on a rhetorical level, from repressive anti-gang strategies. However, continuing gang-related violence prompted El Salvador to adopt tough new legislation on gangs in September 2010. Guatemala may follow suit.

U.S. officials have expressed concerns about the expanding presence of the MS-13 and M-18 in cities across the United States, as well as reports that these gangs may be evolving into more sophisticated transnational criminal enterprises. Between February 2005 and October 2010, U.S. officials arrested some 3,332 alleged MS-13 members in cities across the United States, many of whom were subsequently deported. Evidence suggests, however, that previously deported members of both the MS-13 and the M-18 often reenter the United States illegally.

Several U.S. agencies have been actively engaged on both the law enforcement and preventive side of dealing with Central American gangs. An inter-agency committee worked together to develop a U.S. Strategy to Combat Criminal Gangs from Central America and Mexico, first announced at a July 2007 U.S.-Central American Integration System (SICA) summit on security issues. The strategy, which is now being implemented, states that the U.S. government will pursue coordinated anti-gang activities through five broad areas: diplomacy, repatriation, law enforcement, capacity enhancement, and prevention. An April 2010 study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended that U.S. federal agencies consider strengthening the aforementioned anti-gang strategy by developing better oversight and measurement tools to guide its implementation.

In recent years, Congress has increased funding to support anti-gang efforts in Central America. Between FY2008 and FY2010, Congress appropriated roughly $21 million in global International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) funds for anti-gang efforts in Central America. Congress provided additional support in FY2008 and FY2009 for anti-gang efforts in the region through the Mérida Initiative, a counterdrug and anticrime program for Mexico and Central America. In the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 111-117), Congress provided $83 million for combating gangs and drug trafficking under a new Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), splitting Central America from the Mérida Initiative. The Obama Administration asked for $100 million for CARSI in its FY2011 budget request. In the absence of FY2011 appropriations legislation, Congress has passed a series of continuing resolutions (P.L. 111-242 as amended) to fund government programs, with the latest extension set to expire on March 4, 2011. The continuing resolution, as amended, continues funding most foreign aid programs at the FY2010-enacted level, with some exceptions.

This report describes the gang problem in Central America, discusses country and regional approaches to deal with the gangs, and analyzes U.S. policy with respect to gangs in Central America. For more information on Central American gangs in the United States, see CRS Report RL34233, The MS-13 and 18th Street Gangs: Emerging Transnational Gang Threats?, by Celinda Franco.



Date of Report: January 3, 2011
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: RL34112
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Latin America and the Caribbean: Fact Sheet on Leaders and Elections

Julissa Gomez-Granger
Information Research Specialist

Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs


This fact sheet tracks the current heads of government in Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. It provides the dates of the last and next elections for the head of government and the national independence date for each country.


Date of Report: January 4, 2011
Number of Pages: 6
Order Number: 98-684
Price: $19.95

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