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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Puerto Rican Statehood: Effects on House Apportionment


Royce Crocker
Specialist in American National Government

For years, the people of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have been involved in discussions relating to changing the political status of Puerto Rico from a commonwealth of the United States to either the 51st state or an independent nation, or maintaining the status quo as a commonwealth.

In the 111
th Congress, H.R. 2499, introduced by Representative Pedro Pierluisi, would have established procedures to determine Puerto Rico’s political status. It would have authorized a two-stage plebiscite in Puerto Rico to reconsider the status issue. H.R. 2499 was similar to H.R. 900 as introduced in the 110th Congress. A possible outcome of this process is Puerto Rican statehood.

Proposals to change Puerto Rico’s governmental relationship with the United States from a commonwealth to some other model raise many political, social, and economic issues. This report focuses exclusively on what impact adding a new state that is more populous than 22 of the existing 50 states would have on representation in the House of Representatives.

Statehood for Puerto Rico would likely cause Congress to explore whether the current limit of 435 seats in the House of Representatives should be changed. If Puerto Rico had been a state when the 2010 census was taken, it would have been entitled to five Representatives based on its 2010 census population of 3.7 million residents.

If the House were faced with the addition of five new Representatives, it could accommodate them either by expanding the size of the House or adhering to the current 435-seat statutory limit, which would reduce the number of Representatives in other states.



Date of Report: March 16, 2011
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: R41113
Price: $29.95

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Venezuela: Issues for Congress


Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

The United States traditionally has had close relations with Venezuela, a major supplier of foreign oil, but there has been friction in relations for almost a decade under the government of populist President Hugo Chávez. U.S. officials have expressed concerns about human rights, Venezuela’s military arms purchases, its relations with Cuba and Iran, and its efforts to export its brand of populism to other Latin American countries. Declining cooperation on anti-drug and antiterrorism efforts has also been a concern. In September 2008, bilateral relations worsened when President Chávez expelled the U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, and the United States responded in kind. Under the Obama Administration, Venezuela and the United States reached an agreement for the return of respective ambassadors in July 2009. While some observers were hopeful that the return of ambassadors would mark an improvement in relations, this has not been the case. In December 2010, Venezuela revoked its agreement for the appointment of Larry Palmer, nominated to be U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela. The United States responded by revoking the diplomatic visa of Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alavrez.

Under the rule of President Chávez, first elected in 1998 and reelected to a six-year term in December 2006, Venezuela has undergone enormous political changes, with a new constitution and unicameral legislature, and a new name for the country, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Human rights organizations have expressed concerns about the deterioration of democratic institutions and threats to freedom of expression under President Chávez. The government benefitted from the rise in world oil prices, which sparked an economic boom and allowed Chávez to increase expenditures on social programs associated with his populist agenda. These programs have helped reduce poverty levels significantly, but the Venezuelan economy has been hit hard by the global financial crisis and economic downturn.

Venezuelans approved a constitutional referendum in February 2009 that abolished term limits, allowing Chávez to run for reelection in 2012. Since 2009, the government has increased efforts to suppress the political opposition, including elected municipal and state officials. In January 2010, the government shut down the cable station RCTV-Internacional, prompting domestic protests and international concern about freedom of expression. In legislative elections held in September 2010, opposition parties won 67 out of 165 seats in the National Assembly, denying President Chávez’s ruling party a supermajority and providing the opposition with a voice in government. In December 2010, however, Venezuela’s outgoing National Assembly approved a law granting President Chávez far-reaching decree powers for 18 months that undermined the authority of the new Assembly that was inaugurated in January 2011.

As in past years, there were concerns in the 111
th Congress regarding the state of Venezuela’s democracy and human rights situation and its deepening relations with Iran. On July 1, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Disinvestment Act of 2010 ( CISADA, P.L. 111-195), which includes a provision making gasoline sales to Iran subject to U.S. sanctions. In 2009, Venezuela had promised to supply some gasoline to Iran in the case of U.S. sanctions. U.S. officials are examining whether Venezuela is in violation of the sanctions legislation. Several other bills and resolution were introduced in the 111th Congress with provisions regarding Venezuela and proliferation, terrorism, and human rights concerns, but none of these were acted upon. The 112th Congress may continue to pay close attention to these issues.


Date of Report: March 11, 2011
Number of Pages: 53
Order Number: R40938
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Haiti’s National Elections: Issues and Concerns


Maureen Taft-Morales
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

In proximity to the United States, and with such a chronically unstable political environment and fragile economy, Haiti has been a constant policy issue for the United States. Congress views the stability of the nation with great concern and commitment to improving conditions there. Both Congress and the international community have invested significant resources in the political, economic, and social development of Haiti, and will be closely monitoring the conduct of the elections as a prelude to the next steps in Haiti’s development.

For the past 25 years, Haiti has been making the transition from a legacy of authoritarian rule to a democratic government. Elections are a part of that process. In the short term, elections have usually been a source of increased political tensions and instability in Haiti. In the long term, elected governments in Haiti have contributed to the gradual strengthening of government capacity and transparency.

Haiti is currently approaching the end of its latest election cycle. Like many of the previous elections, the current process has been riddled with political tensions, allegations of irregularities, and violence. The first round of voting for president and the legislature was held on Sunday, November 28, 2010. That vote was marred by opposition charges of fraud, reports of irregularities, and low voter turnout. When the electoral council announced that out-going President Rene Préval’s little-known protégé, and governing party candidate, Jude Celestin, had edged out a popular musician for a spot in the runoff elections by less than one percent, three days of violent protests ensued. Tensions rose as people waited to see which candidates would proceed to the second round, whether Préval would continue in office beyond the constitutional expiration of his term, or if some sort of provisional government would have to be established.

The Haitian government asked the Organization of American States (OAS) for help and delayed releasing final results, which were due out December 20, 2010, to give the OAS team of international elections experts enough time to investigate and verify the process. The team began its work on January 1, 2011, and gave President Préval a report with its recommendations on January 13. The Haitian Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) released the final results of the first round of voting on February 3, sending Mirlande Manigat, a constitutional lawyer and university administrator, and Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, a popular singer, to the run-off race. The governing party’s candidate was eliminated from the race by a narrow margin. After months of dispute, the second round of elections is now scheduled to take place on March 20, 2011.

The United States is providing $14 million in election support through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

This report provides an overview of the controversies surrounding the first round of voting in late 2010, and concerns related to the second and final round of the elections. In addition to ongoing issues regarding the legitimacy of the upcoming March 20 elections, other questions have raised concerns within the international community and Congress. These include the destabilizing presence of former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the possible return of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and the newly elected government’s ability to handle the complex post-earthquake reconstruction process and its relationship with the donor community.



Date of Report: March 14, 2011
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R41689
Price: $29.95

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Panama: Political and Economic Conditions and U.S. Relations


Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

With five successive elected civilian governments, the Central American nation of Panama has made notable political and economic progress since the 1989 U.S. military intervention that ousted the regime of General Manuel Noriega from power. Current President Ricardo Martinelli of the center-right Democratic Change (CD) party was elected in May 2009, defeating the ruling center-left Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) in a landslide. Martinelli was inaugurated to a five-year term on July 1, 2009. Martinelli’s Alliance for Change coalition also captured a majority of seats in Panama’s National Assembly. Panama’s service-based economy has been booming in recent years, largely because of the ongoing Panama Canal expansion project (slated for completion in 2014), but economic growth slowed in 2009 because of the global financial crisis and U.S. economic recession. Nevertheless, the economy rebounded in 2010, with a growth rate approaching 7%, and strong growth is continuing in 2011.

President Martinelli still retains high approval ratings, but he has been criticized by some civil society groups for taking a heavy-handed approach toward governing and for not being more consultative. The country experienced labor unrest in July 2010 after the government approved legislation that would have allowed companies to suspend contracts of striking workers and hire replacement workers during strikes, but the government ultimately agreed to repeal the provisions. In February 2011, the government amended the country’s mining law to allow foreign investment. Indigenous groups have protested the change even though President Martinelli has vowed that his administration would not approve any mining concessions in indigenous areas.

The United States has close relations with Panama, stemming in large part from the extensive linkages developed when the Canal was under U.S. control and Panama hosted major U.S. military installations. The current relationship is characterized by extensive counternarcotics cooperation, assistance to help Panama assure the security of the Canal, and a proposed bilateral free trade agreement (FTA). U.S. bilateral assistance amounted to $7.6 million in FY2009 and $7.3 million in FY2010. The FY2011 request is for $10.6 million, while the FY2012 request is for $2.6 million. This funding does not include assistance in FY2008 and FY2009 under the Mérida Initiative to assist Central American countries in their efforts to combat drug trafficking, gangs, and organized crime; beginning in FY2010, Panama has been receiving assistance under the successor Central America Regional Security Initiative.

The United States and Panama signed a bilateral FTA in June 2007, and Panama’s National Assembly overwhelmingly approved the agreement in July 2007. Neither the 110
th nor the 111th Congress considered the agreement. Issues that have raised congressional concern relate to worker rights and to Panama’s tax transparency. On November 30, 2010, Panama and the United States signed a Tax Information Exchange Agreement that had been a prerequisite of some Members of Congress for the consideration of the FTA. In the 112th Congress, several measures have been introduced that would express support for the FTA with Panama: S.Res. 20 (Johanns) and S. 98 (Portman), both introduced January 25, 2011; and H.Res. 86 (Frelinghuysen), introduced February 11, 2011. For additional information, see CRS Report RL32540, The Proposed U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement, CRS Report R40622, Agriculture in Pending U.S. Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, CRS Report RL34112, Gangs in Central America, and CRS Report R41215, Latin America and the Caribbean: Illicit Drug Trafficking and U.S. Counterdrug Programs .


Date of Report: March 1, 2011
Number of Pages: 31
Order Number: RL30981
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Latin America: Terrorism Issues


Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

U.S. attention to terrorism in Latin America intensified in the aftermath of the September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, with an increase in bilateral and regional cooperation. In its 2009 Country Reports on Terrorism (issued in August 2010), the State Department maintained that terrorism in the region was primarily perpetrated by terrorist organizations in Colombia and by the remnants of radical leftist Andean groups. Overall, however, the report maintained that the threat of a transnational terrorist attack remained low for most countries in the hemisphere. Cuba has remained on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1982 pursuant to Section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, which triggers a number of economic sanctions. Both Cuba and Venezuela are on the State Department’s annual list of countries determined to be not cooperating fully with U.S. antiterrorism efforts pursuant to Section 40A of the Arms Export Control Act. U.S. officials have expressed concerns over the past several years about Venezuela’s lack of cooperation on antiterrorism efforts, its relations with Iran, and potential support for Colombian terrorist groups.

Concerns about Iran’s increasing activities in Latin America center on Iran’s attempts to circumvent U.N. and U.S. sanctions, as well as on its ties to the radical Lebanon-based Islamic group Hezbollah. Allegations have linked Hezbollah to two bombings in Argentina: the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 30 people and the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. The State Department terrorism report maintains that the United States remains concerned that sympathizers of Hezbollah and the Sunni Muslim Palestinian group Hamas are raising funds among the sizable Middle Eastern communities in the tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, but stated that there was no corroborated information that these or other Islamic extremist groups had an operational presence in the TBA or elsewhere in the hemisphere.

In the 111
th Congress, President Obama signed into law the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Disinvestment Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-195) on July 1, 2010, which includes a provision making gasoline sales to Iran subject to U.S. sanctions. (In 2009, Venezuela promised to supply gasoline to Iran in the case of U.S. sanctions. U.S. officials are examining whether Venezuela is in violation of the sanctions legislation.) In other legislative action in the 111th Congress, the House approved H.Con.Res. 156 (Ros-Lehtinen) in July 2009, which condemned the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires and urged Western Hemisphere governments to take actions to curb the activities that support Hezbollah and other such extremist groups.

Several other measures were either considered or introduced in the 111
th Congress with provisions related to Latin America and terrorism issues. In June 2010, the Senate Committee on Armed Services reported S. 3454, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2011, with a provision that would have required a report on Venezuela related to terrorism issues. In June 2009, the House approved H.R. 2410, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for FY2010 and FY2011, with a provision that would have required a report on Iran’s and Hezbollah’s actions in the Western Hemisphere. Other introduced measures included H.R. 375 (Ros-Lehtinen) and H.R. 2475 (Ros-Lehtinen), which would have placed restrictions on nuclear cooperation with countries assisting the nuclear programs of Venezuela or Cuba; H.R. 2272 (Rush), which would have removed Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list; and H.Res. 872 (Mack), which would have called for Venezuela to be designated a state sponsor of terrorism.


Date of Report: February 23, 2011
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: RS21049
Price: $29.95

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