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The Canadian Foundation for the Americas (FOCAL) is no longer in operation. This website documents FOCAL's activities and accomplishments throughout its existence. Thank you for your interest in the work of FOCAL.

U.S. Midterm elections: A forecast of relations with LAC

The Nov. 2 midterm elections in the United States resulted in the biggest Republican sweep in more than 70 years, shifting the balance of power in Congress and shrinking the Democrat majority in the Senate.According to Foreign Policy, Cuban-born Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who was re-elected to the House under the Republican slate in Florida will be a crucial actor in foreign relations. She is poised to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee and many analysts predict she will recast the committee’s agenda. Ros-Lehtinen is an active member of the Cuban-American lobby and overtly anti-Castro. She is likely to overturn outgoing chairman Howard Berman’s (D-Calif.) pending legislation to ease sanctions and travel restrictions on Cuba. Further, Ros-Lehtinen has been forthright about her disapproval of Venezuela’s regime under Hugo Chávez, as well as Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega and Bolivia’s Evo Morales. Marco Rubio’s election as Florida’s Republican senator also heralds an end to the Cuba-U.S. rapprochement. Rubio who comes from a family of Cuban refugees vowed in his victory speech never to forget the exile community. That could signify that any pro-Castro measure would require 60 votes to pass the U.S. Senate.

Corruption report delivers worrying results 

Corruption remains a main obstacle in solving the world’s most pressing problems according to Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released in Oct. 26. The Western Hemisphere is no exception, but results for the region are ambiguous. On one hand, Canada is the regional winner, occupying the sixth position of countries perceived as least corrupt worldwide. Barbados ranked 17th and Chile 21st, among a list of 178 countries. On the other hand, for the first time in the history of the Transparency International Index, the U.S. was not in the top 20 slot, ranking 22nd. Among the most worrisome cases in the region are Haiti and Paraguay tied at 146, and lastly Venezuela at 164. The index classifies countries on a scale of 0 to 10, from being perceived as highly corrupt to being perceived as having low levels of corruption. In 2010, almost three quarters of the countries in the index ranked below five, pointing to the pervasiveness of this issue.The results were especially striking for industrialized countries, many of which suffered a decline in the rankings. In light of such findings, Transparency International highlights the importance of battling corruption in order to achieve good governance, which is essential for addressing the global challenges of today.

Costa Rica and Nicaragua engage in border dispute

A Costa Rica-Nicaragua longstanding border dispute linked to territorial claims over the San Juan River that runs through the countries’ shared border re-emerged early November.The recent standoff was sparked by complaints over dredging work carried out in the river by Nicaraguan troops in a territory Costa Rica claims to be its own. Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla’s government affirms that this represents an attempt to change the course of the river and move the border. The government is also investigating alleged environmental damage caused in the border area by the supposed incursion.Costa Rica denounced what it considers to be an act of aggression against the country —an accusation that Nicaragua denies categorically, affirming it is merely exercising its right over its own territory. Heated tensions between the two countries lead the Organization of American States (OAS) to hold an urgent meeting on Nov. 3, in an attempt to mediate the issue. The meeting resulted unfruitful, and was followed by Secretary General José Miguel Insulza’s visit to both countries and to the disputed region over the weekend. However, the dispute remains unsettled. Costa Rica has warned it could take the case to the United Nations if the OAS does not provide strong backing and if Nicaragua’s troops are not withdrawn from the contested territory.

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