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January 2019, Volume 25, Number 1

Canada, Mexico

Canada. Countries such as Canada and the US that offer citizenship to all babies born in the country are attracting ?birth tourists,? women who give birth in Canada and the US so that their children will be Canadian or American citizens. Over half of the 200,000 residents of Richmond near Vancouver are ethnic Chinese, and short-term mothers account for 20 percent of the births at Richmond hospital.

Most mothers-to-be stay in some of the dozens of Richmond "baby houses" for three months, and pay about $18,000 for the stay-and-birth package. Some 1,500 to 2,000 babies are born each year to birth tourists. Chinese mothers say that they want their children to have the opportunity to access Canadian K-12 schools and universities, and to have an escape valve. Critics say granting citizenship to short-term mothers devalues Canadian citizenship.

About 30 countries grant automatic birthright citizenship. Some, including Australia and the UK, require the mother to be a legal immigrant at the time of birth for the child to receive birthright citizenship.

Jamaica and other Caribbean governments require guest workers leaving for Canada to sign agreements that oblige Canadian farm employers to withhold 25 percent of worker wages and send them to home country governments, which retain five percent and give 20 percent to returned workers.

The US barred such forced wage withholding from Jamaican H-2A workers, and Canada in January 2016 limited forced withholding to $5.45 a day. Caribbean governments use this $5.45 a day for their liaison expenses. Most Caribbean governments say that they need more money from workers to cover their costs. Critics say that Caribbean governments see wages earned abroad as a source of funding for their activities.

Canada legalized recreational marijuana October 17, 2018, becoming the first industrial country to allow adults to possess, carry and share with other adults up to 30 grams of dried cannabis, enough for 60 regular-size joints, and to have four marijuana plants. Canada's government estimated that five million Canadians, almost seven percent, consumed more than 20 grams of cannabis in 2017.

The government wants legalization to eliminate unauthorized marijuana farming and sales. Canada's cannabis industry is expected to be worth $5 billion by 2020 due in part to US investment.

Mexico. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office December 1, 2018. AMLO is a symbolic politician from Tabasco with a genuine concern for rural poverty but without a clear strategy to reduce it. AMLO announced the cancellation of a new $13 billion Mexico City airport in October 2018, which was a third completed, and turned the official presidential residence into a cultural center. AMLO insisted that no government employee can earn more than his salary of $5,350 a month.

Migration was one of AMLO's first challenges. AMLO's government in December 2018 said that Central Americans could apply for asylum in Mexico and receive work visas, and promised a $25 billion Comprehensive Development Plan with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to curb migration to the United States; the US will add $10 billion.

Some 28,000 foreigners, mostly Central Americans, applied for asylum in Mexico in 2018, double the 14,600 who applied in 2017.

AMLO's Morena party deputies have a majority in both chambers of Congress. Many of AMLO's advisors are advocates, and some are skeptical of export-oriented agriculture, citing concerns that range from exporting scarce water in fruits and vegetables leaving Mexico to creating low-wage seasonal jobs that attract hard-to-integrate internal migrants to major production areas. Some of AMLO's advisors see export-oriented agriculture as another example of foreigners generating profits from Mexican resources and people.

Mexico's minimum wage rose 16 percent from 88 pesos to 103 pesos a day ($5.10) January 1, 2019, and doubled to 177 pesos ($8.80) in 43 municipalities in the six northern states on the US border. Most workers with formal jobs earn more than the minimum wage, but many earn between one and two minimum wages. The USMCA replacement for NAFTA requires 40 percent of cars that trade freely in North America to be made by workers earning at least $16 an hour.

AMLO's first budget increases social security spending for the elderly, expands scholarship initiatives for students, and creates job-training and other programs for unemployed youth. The budget assumes two percent growth in 2019.

AMLO's Agriculture Secretary Victor Villalobos said that guaranteeing farmers fixed prices was better than providing them with cash. Villalobos said that small farmers would be paid guaranteed prices for up to 20 tons of corn, 15 tons of beans, 100 tons of wheat, and 120 tons of rice beginning in 2019.

The Petroleum Workers' Union has 36 locals and, for the first time in October 2018, workers voted for the leaders of these locals by secret ballot. Dissident workers said that the process was a sham, organized by the outgoing PRI government to ensure that longtime union leader Carlos Romero Deschamps is re-elected. Forbes magazine in 2013 named Romero one of the 10 most corrupt politicians in Mexico.

The US trial of Sinaloa drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman Loera or El Chapo highlighted widespread corruption in Mexico, as everyone from the Mexican government's director on the war of drugs to local policemen and prison guards were depicted as accepting bribes to allow the drug trade to continue. El Chapo's budget for bribes was $1 million a month.

The US-born chief of Mexico City's police force provided intelligence tips to El Chapo in exchange for cash; the chief was killed in McAllen, Texas in 2003 in a case that was never solved. Witnesses have suggested that drug kingpins bribed presidents and presidential candidates from Colombia to Mexico.

Central America. More migrants are leaving Guatemala's western highlands northwest of Guatemala City for the US despite efforts to discourage them. Many residents have relatives in the US and, despite the short-lived family-separation policy of May-June 2018, most believe that if they arrive in the US with children and apply for asylum, they will be released to live and work in the US several years until their cases are heard.

Guatemala's western highlands are poor. Most residents around Quetzaltenango are subsistence farmers whose cash crop is coffee. There are gangs and drug violence, and a well-established smuggling business that moves migrants to the US.

The US committed $200 million to projects to reduce poverty in Guatemala's western highlands, including ads on billboards and the radio warning of the dangers of traveling to the US and the inability to stay in the US. These warnings have not been enough to offset smuggler promises of safe trips to US relatives. About 160,000 Guatemalans enter the labor force each year, but only 40,000 jobs a year are created.

Venezuela. Some three million people have left Venezuela since 2014, and another two million may seek refuge in neighboring countries in 2019. A third of Venezuelan migrants are in Colombia, followed by smaller numbers in Peru and Ecuador.

The Declaration of Quito on Human Mobility of Venezuelan Citizens in the Region adopted in September 2018 sees no early end to the outflow of people from Venezuela and urges host nations to accept Venezuelans as immigrants and integrate them. Instead, most South American countries provide one or two year work and residence visas to Venezuelan migrants.

Jair Bolsonaro became Brazil's president January 1, 2019 and promised to reduce crime; there were a record 64,000 homicides in 2018. After Bolsonaro's criticism, Cuba cancelled a program that sent thousands of doctors and nurses to remote areas of Brazil. Brazil paid the doctors' salaries, which mostly went to the Cuban government.