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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mexico: Issues for Congress


Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

The United States and Mexico have a close and complex bilateral relationship. As neighbors and partners under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the United States and Mexico have extensive economic linkages, with bilateral trade valued at almost $400 billion in 2010. In recent years, security issues have dominated the bilateral relationship, and the United States is providing more than $1.9 billion worth of training and equipment to Mexico through the Mérida Initiative to support efforts against drug trafficking and organized crime. Roughly $896 million of that assistance had been delivered as of December 31, 2011. Immigration and border security have also returned to the forefront of the bilateral agenda since Arizona became the first state to enact a strict law against illegal immigration in April 2010.

In his sixth and final year in office, President Calderón of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) has an approval rating of about 50% (February 2012). The Calderón Administration has arrested record numbers of drug kingpins, but the brazen violence committed by warring criminal groups, partially in response to the government’s aggressive anticrime efforts, has led to increasing criticism of its security strategy. According to Mexican government data, organized crime-related violence claimed more than 47,500 lives in Mexico between December 2006 and September 2011. President Calderón is still working to boost jobs, expand access to health insurance, and reform the country’s security apparatus. His government is also responding to the effects of a severe drought that began in May 2011 and is now affecting more than half of the country. However, with the end of his administration approaching, President Calderón may now be unable to shepherd much-needed structural reforms through the Mexican Congress.

Security and the economy are likely to be major issues in the July 1, 2012 presidential, legislative, and state elections. Recent polls show Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), former governor of the state of Mexico, leading Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the populist PRD candidate who narrowly lost the 2006 presidential election, and Josefina Vázquez Mota, a former Education Minister and congresswoman, of the PAN. The PRI’s prospects for recapturing the presidency have strengthened since its candidates won four of the six gubernatorial elections contested in 2011. However, analysts predict that the presidential race will tighten as the elections approach. The parties will not officially register their candidates until mid-March, with the campaign beginning on March 30.

Congress has maintained an active interest in Mexico with counternarcotics, border security, and trade issues dominating the agenda. Congressional funding and oversight of the Mérida Initiative is likely to continue. The Obama Administration asked for $269.5 million in assistance for Mexico in its FY2013 budget request, including $234.0 million in Mérida assistance. Congress may also monitor how organized crime and government efforts to suppress it are affecting human rights and democracy in Mexico, particularly as the Mexican elections approach. Drug trafficking-related violence in northern Mexico is likely to keep border security on the agenda of congressional oversight committees. While comprehensive immigration reform is unlikely to advance this year, Congress may consider discrete immigration measures to facilitate the admission of nurses and other high-skilled workers. Efforts to boost bilateral trade and increase economic integration, as well as to resolve periodic trade disputes under the NAFTA, are also likely to be of interest to Congress.



Date of Report: February 1
5, 2012
Number of Pages:
41
Order Number: RL32
724
Price: $29.95

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Latin America and the Caribbean: U.S. Policy and Key Issues for Congress in 2012


Mark P. Sullivan, Coordinator
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

June S. Beittel
Analyst in Latin American Affairs

Anne Leland
Information Research Specialist

Peter J. Meyer
Analyst in Latin American Affairs

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Maureen Taft-Morales
Specialist in Latin American Affairs


Geographic proximity has ensured strong linkages between the United States and the Latin American and Caribbean region, with diverse U.S. interests, including economic, political and security concerns. Current U.S. policy toward the region is focused on four priorities: promoting economic and social opportunity; ensuring citizen security; strengthening effective democratic institutions; and securing a clean energy future. There has been substantial continuity in U.S. policy toward the region under the Obama Administration, which has pursued some of the same basic policy approaches as the Bush Administration. Nevertheless, the Obama Administration has made several significant policy changes, including an overall emphasis on partnership and shared responsibility.

U.S. policy toward the region must also contend with a Latin America that is becoming increasingly independent from the United States. Strong economic growth has increased Latin America’s confidence in its ability to solve its own problems. The region has also diversified its economic and diplomatic ties with countries outside the region. Over the past few years, several Latin American regional organization organizations have been established that do not include the United States.

Congress plays an active role in policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean. Legislative and oversight attention to the region during the 112th Congress is focusing on the continued increase in drug trafficking-related violence in Mexico and U.S. assistance to Mexico under the Mérida Initiative; efforts to help Central American and Caribbean countries contend with drug trafficking and violent crime; as well as continued counternarcotics and security support to Colombia. The January 2010 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti, continues to focus congressional attention on the enormous task of disaster recovery and reconstruction. As in past years, U.S. sanctions on Cuba, particularly restrictions on travel and remittances, has remained a contentious issue in the debate over how to support change in one of the world’s last remaining communist nations. Another area of congressional oversight has been concern about the deterioration of democracy in several Latin American countries, especially Nicaragua and Venezuela. Congressional concern has also increased about Iran’s growing relations in the region, especially with Venezuela, and about the activities of Hezbollah.

This report provides an overview of U.S. policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean, including the Obama Administration’s priorities for U.S. policy and a brief comparison of policies under the Obama and Bush Administrations. It then examines congressional interest in Latin America, first providing an overview, and then looking at selected countries and regional issues and identifying key policy issues facing Congress in 2012. The final section of the report analyzes several upcoming events in the region in 2012 that could have an impact on developments in several countries or on U.S. relations with the region: the Pope’s upcoming trip to Cuba in March, the sixth Summit of the Americas in April, Mexico’s elections in July, and Venezuela’s elections in October. An appendix provides a listing of hearings in the 112th Congress focused on Latin America. For additional information, see the CRS Issues in Focus webpage on “Latin America and the Caribbean.”



Date of Report: February 14, 2012
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: R42360
Price: $29.95

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Mexico: Issues for Congress


Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

The United States and Mexico have a close and complex bilateral relationship. As neighbors and partners under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the United States and Mexico have extensive economic linkages, with bilateral trade valued at almost $400 billion in 2010. In recent years, security issues have dominated the bilateral relationship, and the United States is providing close to $1.7 billion worth of training and equipment to Mexico through the Mérida Initiative to support efforts against drug trafficking and organized crime. Roughly $896 million of that assistance had been delivered as of December 31, 2011. Immigration and border security have also returned to the forefront of the bilateral agenda since Arizona became the first state to enact a strict law against illegal immigration in April 2010.

Entering his sixth year in office, President Calderón of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) had an approval rating of about 51% (December 2011), lower than at any point in his term. The Calderón Administration has arrested record numbers of drug kingpins, but the brazen violence committed by warring criminal groups, partially in response to the government’s aggressive anticrime efforts, has led to increasing criticism of its security strategy. According to Mexican government data, organized crime-related violence claimed more than 47,500 lives in Mexico between January 2007 and September 2011. President Calderón is still working to boost jobs, expand access to health insurance, and reform the country’s security apparatus. However, with the end of his administration approaching, he may now be unable to shepherd much-needed structural reforms through the Mexican Congress.

Security and the economy are likely to be major issues in the July 1, 2012 presidential, legislative, and state elections. Polls released in January 2012 showed Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), former governor of the state of Mexico, leading Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the populist PRD candidate who narrowly lost the 2006 presidential election, and any of the three candidates then vying for the PAN nomination. The PRI’s prospects for recapturing the presidency have strengthened since its candidates won four of the six gubernatorial elections contested in 2011. However, analysts predict that the presidential race will tighten now that the PAN has chosen Josefina Vázquez Mota, a popular former Education Secretary and congresswoman, as its candidate. The parties will not officially register their candidates until mid-March, with the campaign beginning on March 30.

Congress has maintained an active interest in Mexico with counternarcotics, border security, and trade issues dominating the agenda. Congressional funding and oversight of the Mérida Initiative is likely to continue. Congress noted its support for the Obama Administration’s FY2012 budget request for Mexico, which included $282 million in Mérida assistance, in the report (H.Rept. 112- 331) accompanying P.L. 112-74. Congress may also monitor how organized crime and government efforts to suppress it are affecting human rights and democracy in Mexico, particularly as the Mexican elections approach. Drug trafficking-related violence in northern Mexico is likely to keep border security on the agenda of congressional oversight committees. While comprehensive immigration reform is unlikely to advance this year, Congress may consider discrete immigration measures to facilitate the admission of nurses and other highskilled workers. Efforts to boost bilateral trade and increase economic integration, as well as to resolve periodic trade disputes under the NAFTA, are also likely to be of interest to Congress.



Date of Report: February 8, 2012
Number of Pages: 42
Order Number: RL32724
Price: $29.95

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Friday, February 3, 2012

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.

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. In FY2010, for example, primary countries of origin for the 449 foreign trafficking victims certified as eligible to receive U.S. assistance included Mexico, Honduras, Haiti, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic (along with India and Thailand).

Since enactment of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA, P.L. 106-386), Congress has taken steps to address human trafficking by authorizing new programs and reauthorizing existing ones, appropriating funds, creating new criminal laws, and conducting oversight on the effectiveness and implications of U.S. anti-TIP policy. Most recently, the TVPA was reauthorized through FY2011 in the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-457). Obligations for U.S.-funded anti-TIP programs in Latin America totaled roughly $17.1 million in FY2010.

On June 27, 2011, the State Department issued its 11th annual, congressionally mandated report on human trafficking. 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 Venezuela are the only Latin American countries ranked on Tier 3 in this year’s TIP report, seven other countries in the region—Barbados, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Panama, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Bahamas—are on the Tier 2 Watch List. Unless those countries make significant progress, they could receive a Tier 3 ranking in the 2012 report.

Activity on combating TIP has continued into the 112th Congress, particularly related to efforts to reauthorize the TVPA and oversee TIP programs and operations, including U.S.-funded programs in Latin America. Congress may also 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 is likely to 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. For more general information on human trafficking and a discussion of TIP-related legislation in the 112th Congress, 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 23, 2012
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: RL33200
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

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 24, 2012
Number of Pages: 5
Order Number: 98-684
Price: $19.95

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