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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mexico’s 2012 Elections


Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

U.S. policy makers have closely followed the 2012 elections in Mexico, a key ally with whom the United States shares a nearly 2,000-mile border and some $450 billion in annual bilateral trade. On July 1, 2012, Mexico held federal (presidential and legislative) elections and state elections in 14 states, including six gubernatorial elections and an election for the mayor of the Federal District. Turnout reached record levels as 63% of eligible voters cast their ballots. Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) conducted the elections with the oversight of the Federal Electoral Tribunal, which must officially certify the results by September 6, 2012. While some domestic election observers assert that vote-buying and other irregularities marred the electoral process, the head of the electoral mission from the Organization of American States generally praised IFE’s handling of the elections.

As predicted, the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that governed Mexico from 1929 to 2000 retook the presidency after 12 years of rule by the conservative National Action Party (PAN) and won a plurality in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies. PRI/Green Ecological Party (PVEM) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, a former governor of the state of Mexico, won the presidential election, albeit by a smaller margin than polls had forecast. Peña Nieto captured 38.2% of the vote, followed by Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the leftist coalition led by the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) with 31.6%, Josefina Vázquez Mota of the PAN with 25.4%, and Gabriel Quadri of the National Alliance Party (PANAL) with 2.3%. The relatively narrow margin of Peña Nieto’s victory, coupled with the fact that López Obrador has challenged the election results before the Electoral Tribunal, could complicate the transition period. And, while PAN President Felipe Calderón has pledged to work with the incoming administration, his party has joined the PRD in calling on judicial authorities to investigate whether the PRI used any illicit finances to fund Peña Nieto’s campaign. Enrique Peña Nieto is expected to take office for a six-year term on December 1, 2012.

Polls predicted that the PRI might also capture a simple majority in one or both chambers of the Mexican Congress, a feat not accomplished since 1994. Since seat allocations are determined by a complex formula that involves proportional representation, the Electoral Tribunal has not confirmed the final composition of the congress. Nevertheless, the PRI and the allied PVEM party are projected to have fallen short of capturing a simple majority in either house. As a result, the PRI will have to form cross-party coalitions in order to pass key reforms, particularly those requiring constitutional amendments. The PRI will most likely find support from the PANAL or the PAN, which lost seats in the Chamber but retained a powerful bargaining position. The PRDled coalition, which will now have more seats in the Chamber than the PAN and remains the third largest force in the Senate, could complicate some reform efforts, including those aimed at increasing private participation in the energy sector.

This report provides an overview of the parties and candidates who competed in the Mexican federal elections with a focus on the presidential contest, recaps the election results, and discusses some potential implications of the elections for U.S.-Mexican security cooperation, North American economic integration, and U.S. energy security.


Date of Report: July 19, 2012
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: R42548
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Wednesday, July 25, 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: July 12, 2012
Number of Pages: 4
Order Number: 98-684
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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Haiti Under President Martelly: Current Conditions and Congressional Concerns


Maureen Taft-Morales
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

dictatorship in 1986, Haiti has struggled to overcome its centuries-long legacy of authoritarianism, extreme poverty, and underdevelopment. During that time, economic and social stability improved considerably, and many analysts believed Haiti was turning a corner toward sustainable development. Unfortunately, Haiti’s development was set back by a massive earthquake in January 2010 that devastated much of the capital of Port-au-Prince and other parts of the country. Poverty remains massive and deep, and economic disparity is wide: Haiti remains the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

Haiti is the Obama Administration’s top foreign assistance priority for Latin American and Caribbean countries. Haiti's developmental needs and priorities are many. The Haitian government and the international donor community are implementing a 10-year recovery plan focusing on territorial, economic, social, and institutional rebuilding. An outbreak of cholera later in 2010 has swept across most of the country and further complicated assistance efforts after the earthquake.

While some progress has been made in developing democratic institutions, they remain weak. Following yet another controversial, sometimes violent election process, Haiti saw its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power between presidents of opposing parties in May 2011. Outgoing President Rene Préval handed the presidential sash to President Michel Martelly, a popular musician without any previous political experience. Martelly’s administration has been without a prime minister for most of his first year in office, hampering reconstruction efforts.

The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has been in Haiti to help restore order since the collapse of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's government in 2004. MINUSTAH's current strength is 10,773 troops. The mission has helped facilitate elections, conducted campaigns to combat gangs and drug trafficking with the Haitian National Police, and played a key role in emergency responses to natural disasters, especially after the earthquake. Popular protests have called for MINUSTAH’s withdrawal because of allegations regarding its role in introducing cholera to the country and sexual abuse by some of its forces.

The main priorities for U.S. policy regarding Haiti are to strengthen fragile democratic processes, continue to improve security, and promote economic development. Other concerns include the cost and effectiveness of U.S. aid; protecting human rights; combating narcotics, arms, and human trafficking; and alleviating poverty. The Obama Administration granted Temporary Protected Status to Haitians living in the United States at the time of the earthquake.

Congressional concerns include the pace and effectiveness of reconstruction; respect for human rights, particularly for women; counternarcotics efforts; and security issues. Congress is also concerned that overdue Senate and local elections be scheduled and be free, fair, and peaceful.

Current law related to Haiti includes P.L. 112-74, P.L. 111-171, P.L. 110-246, and P.L. 109-432. Pending legislation related to Haiti includes H.R. 1016/S. 1576, H.R. 3711, H.R. 3771, H.Res. 510, H.Res. 521/S.Res. 352, S. 1023, S.Res. 26, S.Res. 352, and S.Res. 368. For details see “Legislation in the 112th Congress.”


Date of Report: June 25, 2012
Number of Pages: 25
Order Number: R42559
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Friday, July 6, 2012

U.S. Foreign Assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean: Recent Trends and FY2013 Appropriations


Peter J. Meyer
Analyst in Latin American Affairs

Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Geographic proximity has forged strong linkages between the United States and the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean, with critical U.S. interests in the region encompassing economic, political, and security concerns. U.S. policymakers have emphasized different strategic interests in the region at different times, from combating Soviet influence during the Cold War to advancing democracy and open markets since the 1990s. Current U.S. policy toward the region is designed to promote economic and social opportunity; ensure citizen security; strengthen effective democratic institutions; and secure a clean energy future. As part of broader efforts to advance these priorities, the United States provides Latin American and Caribbean nations with substantial amounts of foreign assistance. Congress – which authorizes and appropriates aid for the region, and engages in oversight of assistance programs – is currently considering the President’s foreign aid request for FY2013. In recent years, the State Department, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs appropriations measure has been the primary legislative vehicle through which Congress reviews U.S. assistance and influences executive branch policy toward the region. 

Trends in Assistance 


Since 1946, the United States has provided over $148 billion (constant 2010 dollars) in assistance to the region. Funding levels have fluctuated over time, however, according to regional trends and U.S. policy initiatives. U.S. assistance to the region spiked during the 1960s under President Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress, then declined in the 1970s before spiking again during the Central American conflicts of the 1980s. After another decline during the 1990s, assistance to the region remained on a generally upward trajectory through the first decade of this century, reaching its most recent peak in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Aid levels for the region have fallen in each of the past two fiscal years, however, as Congress has sought to trim the foreign aid budget. 

FY2013 Obama Administration Request 


The Obama Administration’s FY2013 foreign aid budget request would continue the recent downward trend in assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean. The Administration has requested some $1.7 billion for the region to be provided through the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). If Congress appropriates funding at the requested levels, Latin America and the Caribbean would receive nearly 9% less assistance than the region received in FY2012, and about 11% less than in FY2011. The proposed cuts are widespread, affecting nearly every foreign aid account. Colombia, Haiti, and Mexico would see some of the largest absolute dollar declines, but would remain the top three regional recipients, collectively accounting for some 55% of the aid to the region. Beyond the assistance provided through the State Department and USAID, many Latin American and Caribbean nations will continue to receive additional aid from agencies such as the Department of Defense, the Inter- American Foundation, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the Peace Corps. 

Congressional Action 


In May 2012, the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations marked up their annual appropriations bills for the State Department, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (H.R. 5857 and S. 3241). Funding in the FY2013 House bill is 11.8% lower than the Administration’s
request, and funding in the Senate bill is 4.7% lower than the Administration’s request. It is unclear how much foreign assistance each of the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean would receive under the two bills, however, since appropriation levels for individual countries and programs are generally not specified in the legislation or accompanying reports. Nevertheless, both of the reports (H.Rept. 112-494 and S.Rept. 112-172) express concerns over conditions in the region and recommend assistance levels that are above the Administration’s request for certain Latin American and Caribbean countries. As the legislation moves forward, Congress may consider issues such as how best to reconcile assistance priorities with budget constraints, improve inter-agency and donor coordination, and ensure the sustainability of U.S. assistance efforts.


Date of Report: June 26, 2012
Number of Pages: 49
Order Number: R42582
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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Guatemala: Political, Security, and Socio- Economic Conditions and U.S. Relations


Maureen Taft-Morales
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Since the 1980s, Guatemala, the most populous country in Central America with a population just over 14 million, has continued its transition from a centuries-long tradition of mostly autocratic rule toward representative government. A democratic constitution was adopted in 1985, and a democratically elected government was inaugurated in 1986. A 36-year civil war that ravaged Guatemala ended in 1996.

This report provides an overview of Guatemala’s current political and economic conditions, relations with the United States, and several issues likely to figure in future decisions by Congress and the Administration regarding Guatemala. With respect to continued cooperation and foreign assistance, these issues include security and governance; protection of human rights and human rights conditions on some U.S. military aid to Guatemala; support for the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala; combating narcotics trafficking and organized crime; trade relations; and intercountry adoption.

In November 2011, Otto Pérez Molina won the second-round presidential election run-off with 53.8% of the vote. He took office, along with the 158-member Congress, on January 14, 2012. A former military commander who served during the civil war period, Pérez Molina faces concerns from some regarding his role in the human rights abuses committed during that period.

Guatemala continues to be plagued by security issues related to narcotics trafficking and the rise of organized crime, social inequality, and poverty. Upon taking office Pérez Molina announced a controversial position to decriminalize drugs as one policy initiative to address Guatemala’s many problems. Pérez Molina's proposal has failed to garner the support of other Central American leaders, but he seems willing to continue pushing the debate forward. In his view, decriminalization has to be gradual and strongly regulated, and it has to take place in the whole region, including producer and consumer countries. In the meantime, Pérez Molina vows to continue prosecuting and jailing drug-traffickers.

Economic growth fell in 2009, to 0.5%, as export demand from U.S. and other Central American markets declined and foreign investment slowed amid the global recession. The economy gradually recovered, up to 2.8% in 2010, and 3.8% in 2011, though this is expected to taper off slightly in 2012. Agriculture contributes 13% of GDP and accounts for 26% of exports from Guatemala. According to the World Bank, Guatemala has one of the most unequal income distributions in the hemisphere. Guatemala is part of the U.S.-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR).

Relations between Guatemala and the United States have traditionally been close, but they have been strained at times by human rights and civil-military issues, long of interest to the U.S. Congress. U.S. policy objectives in Guatemala include strengthening democratic institutions; encouraging respect for human rights and the rule of law; supporting broad-based economic growth, sustainable development, and mutually beneficial trade relations; combating drug trafficking; and supporting continued Central American integration. 
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Date of Report: April 10, 2012
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R42580
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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mexico’s 2012 Elections


Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Given the close and complex relationship that the United States has with neighboring Mexico, the results of the July 1, 2012 Mexican elections are of interest to U.S. policy makers. As Mexico does not allow consecutive reelection for any office, the results of these elections could lead to significant changes in the country’s political landscape and the Mexican government’s approach to aspects of its relations with the United States. The top issues being debated in the Mexican presidential campaign—security, economic policy, and energy sector reform—are of crucial importance to Mexico’s future and of keen interest to Congress. The policies adopted by the next Mexican President will likely have implications for U.S.-Mexican security cooperation, North American economic integration, and U.S. energy security. The legislative elections are equally crucial, as they will likely determine how easily the next Mexican administration will be able to advance its agenda through the legislature.

The polls have tightened since mid-May 2012, but analysts are still predicting that the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) will retake the presidency after 12 years of rule by the conservative National Action Party (PAN). The PRI could also capture a plurality, and perhaps even a simple majority, in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies. Mexico’s security challenges and continuing poverty have left many Mexicans disappointed with the PAN and nostalgic for the order and stability they remember under the PRI, despite the party’s past reputation for corruption and undemocratic practices. Recent scandals involving former PRI governors under investigation for corruption and money laundering, and a new student movement protesting, among other things, Mexican media conglomerates’ tendency to favor the PRI, have shaken up the race.

Despite the aforementioned developments, a plurality of voters continue to express support for PRI candidates for the Chamber of Deputies and PRI presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, a former governor of the state of Mexico. According to several polls from mid-June, Peña Nieto, running in a coalition with the Green Ecological Party (PVEM), has a double-digit lead over his opponents. Roughly 15% to 20% of the electorate remains undecided, however, and constitutes a bloc of voters large enough potentially to tip the election toward one of the other candidates. Since late May, Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, a former mayor of Mexico City representing a leftist coalition led by the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), has moved into second place in most polls ahead of Josefina Vázquez Mota, a former Minister of Education standing for the PAN. Gabriel Quadri, an environmentalist from the small National Alliance Party (PANAL) aligned with the Mexican teacher’s union, continues to trail far behind in the polls.

This report provides an overview of the parties and candidates competing in the Mexican federal elections with a focus on the presidential contest, followed by a discussion of key issues in the campaign that could have implications for U.S.-Mexican relations. It will be updated after the election results are tallied. For background information on Mexico and U.S.-Mexican relations, see CRS Report RL32724, Mexico: Issues for Congress, by Clare Ribando Seelke and CRS Report RL32934, U.S.-Mexico Economic Relations: Trends, Issues, and Implications, by M. Angeles Villarreal.


Date of Report: June 20, 2012
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: R42548
Price: $29.95

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Monday, July 2, 2012

Mexico’s Drug Trafficking Organizations: Source and Scope of the Rising Violence


June S. Beittel
Analyst in Latin American Affairs

Violence has been an inherent feature of the trade in illicit drugs, but the violence generated by Mexico’s drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) in recent years has been unprecedented and remarkably brutal. The tactics—including mass killings such as the widely reported massacres of young people and migrants, the use of torture and dismemberment, and the phenomena of car bombs—have led some analysts to speculate whether the violence has been transformed into something new, perhaps requiring a different set of policy responses. According to government and other data, the best estimates are that there have been slightly more than 50,000 homicides related to organized crime from December 2006 through December 2011.

It has also been suggested that the targets of the drug trafficking-related violence in Mexico have changed. In 2010, several politicians were murdered, including a leading gubernatorial candidate in Tamaulipas and 15 mayors. While fewer local officials were killed in 2011, there is concern that political violence could spike in 2012 in advance of presidential and congressional elections slated for July. Over the past few years, Mexico has come to be regarded as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, with 10 reported killings in 2010 and another eight in 2011.

In December 2006, Mexico’s newly inaugurated President Felipe Calderón launched an aggressive campaign against the DTOs—an initiative that has defined his administration—that has been met with a violent response from the DTOs. Of the seven most significant DTOs operating during the first five years of the Calderón Administration, the government successfully removed key leaders from each of them, through arrests or by death in arrest efforts. However, these efforts add to the dynamic of change—consolidation or fragmentation, succession struggles and new competition—that generate more conflict and violence. The DTOs fragmented and increasingly diversified into other criminal activities, now posing a multi-faceted organized criminal challenge to governance in Mexico.

U.S. citizens have also been victims of the security crisis in Mexico. In March 2010, three individuals connected to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juárez, two of them U.S. citizens, were killed by a gang working for one of the major DTOs operating in that city. In February 2011, two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were shot, one fatally, allegedly by Los Zetas, one of Mexico’s most violent DTOs. In the U.S. Congress, these events have raised concerns about the stability of a strategic partner and neighbor. Congress is also concerned about the possibility of “spillover” violence along the U.S. border and further inland. The 112th Congress has held several hearings on DTO violence, the efforts by the Calderón government to address the situation, and implications of the violence for the United States. Members have maintained close oversight of U.S.-Mexico security cooperation and related bilateral issues.

This report provides background on drug trafficking in Mexico: it identifies the major DTOs; how the organized crime “landscape” has been altered by fragmentation; and analyzes the context, scope, and scale of the violence. It examines current trends of the violence, analyzes prospects for curbing violence in the future, and compares it with violence in Colombia. For background on U.S. policy responses to the security crisis in Mexico, see CRS Report R41349, U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Mérida Initiative and Beyond. For a discussion of the problem of violence “spilling over” into the United States, see CRS Report R41075, Southwest Border Violence: Issues in Identifying and Measuring Spillover Violence. For general background on Mexico, see CRS Report RL32724, Mexico: Issues for Congress.


Date of Report: June 8, 2012
Number of Pages: 46
Order Number: R41576
Price: $29.95



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