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July 2022, Volume 28, Number 3

Summit, Canada, Mexico

The 9th Summit of the Americas held in Los Angeles June 8-10, 2022 was marked by controversy when Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela were not invited, prompting Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and the leaders of the Northern Triangle countries to stay away.

The first Summit was held in December 1994 in Miami and ended with plans for a Free Trade Area of the Americas. The 2022 summit addressed climate change, food insecurity and migration. President Biden announced the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity to help Latin America recover from covid, and promised more aid to the countries hosting Venezuelans.

Some six million Venezuelans have left their country, including a third who are in neighboring Colombia.

The Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection called on the 20 signatory countries to improve regional cooperation to assist countries hosting migrants, create new legal pathways for foreign workers, cooperate to police borders and deal with smugglers, and coordinate responses to mass migration.
Mexico said that the US promised to issue 150,000 work visas to Mexicans and another 150,000 to Central Americans in 2022.

Vice President Harris leads the Root Causes Strategy, an effort to encourage US businesses to invest in Central America. However, CAFTA since 2004 has mostly expanded exports of apparel (half of Central American exports to the US) and bananas and coffee. Workers employed in Central America firms that export have formal jobs, meaning that employees receive at least the minimum wage of about $300 a month and earn work-related benefits. However, most Central American workers are employed informally, working for cash wages and excluded from social safety net programs.

Critics say that the benefits of CAFTA have accrued to local elites and multinationals. With remittances averaging $5,000 per household per year and local earnings averaging $3,600 a year, many households are better off with a member in the US who sends remittances than with a member who works in a local apparel factory.

A caravan of 6,000 migrants, including many Cubans and Venezuelans, began to march from Tapachula near the Guatemalan border through Mexico in June 2022. Migrants are supposed to wait in Tapachula for humanitarian visas that allow them to travel freely in Mexico, but migrants in the caravan said that Mexican government processes to issue these visas were too slow.

Mexico apprehended 300,000 migrants in 2021, a year when 130,000 foreigners applied for asylum. Most of those apprehended in Mexico were seeking jobs in the US.

Canada. Canada admitted 405,000 immigrants in 2021 and plans to admit 432,000 in 2022, increasing the population of 38 million by over one percent a year via immigration. About 60 percent of the immigrants, some 250,000, are admitted because at least one member of the family satisfies selection criteria that include age, education and skills. A quarter of Canada’s immigrants are admitted to join relatives, and 15 percent are refugees and foreigners who are granted asylum.

The government is changing the Express Entry system that has governed most economic immigration since 2015. Express Entry invites foreigners to provide their personal details and receive a score based on their work experience, educational background, language skills, age and other factors. The Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada agency invites those with the highest scores to apply for immigrant visas, and issued over 100,000 invitations in 2020 and 2021.

There were over 50,000 candidates in the pools for the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), the Canadian Experience Class (CEC), and the Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP) in May 2022. The IRCC announced that additional points could be awarded to foreigners with particular skills, such tech workers who speak French.

Quebec, Canada’s second-most populous province with eight million residents, enacted legislation in May 2022 that tightens the 1977 Bill 101 that requires the use of French in private businesses and when dealing with the Quebec government. The 2022 amendments cap enrollment in English-language junior colleges and require their graduates to pass a French test. Critics, including indigenous groups, say the law discriminates against the 15 percent of Quebec residents who do not speak French.

Rising home prices, an average C$868,000 early in 2022, prompted a government proposal to restrict foreigners from buying homes in Canada. British Columbia imposed a tax on foreigners who buy real estate, but BC house prices continued to rise, in part because many of the homes that are bought with foreign funds are purchased by Canadians on behalf of relatives abroad.

Pierre Poilievre, the “true conservative” new leader of the Conservative party, says that Canadians want more freedom, evoking some of the calls of the truckers who shut down Ottawa in February 2022 to protest covid vaccination mandates. Poilievre said that a Conservative government would repeal Canada’s carbon tax.

Mexico. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador held a referendum on his presidency April 10, 2022 that saw 92 percent of those who voted approve his continuance in office; turnout was 17 percent. Polls suggest that AMLO remains popular with Mexicans but, because AMLO cannot run for re-election in the 2024 presidential election, jockeying to become the Morena Party’s presidential candidate has begun.

AMLO’s agenda for 2022-24 includes changes in the energy sector to increase government involvement in Pemex and guaranteeing the Federal Electricity Commission CFE at least 54 percent of the electricity market. CFE has a monopoly on supplying homes with electricity, and subsidizes the price that residents pay, but has lost many industrial customers who switched to cheaper private electricity providers.

AMLO has focused on the poor (for the good of all, the poor come first), who are a majority of Mexico’s 130 million residents, and decried the ambitions of the 50 million middle-class residents, many of whom send their children to private schools. Some $22 billion will be paid to 23 million Mexicans under 13 social programs in 2022, which the ex-director of Coneval said helped AMLO to win votes from those who benefit from social programs.

The USTR filed two complaints in May-June 2022 under USMCA’s Rapid Response Labor Mechanism alleging that Mexican workers were being denied union rights at GM plant in Silao and at a Tridonex automotive parts facility in Matamoros. USMCA requires secret-ballot elections at Mexican plants with union contracts to determine if employees want to retain the incumbent union.

Gang violence in Michoacan, a state the size of West Virginia, is displacing residents of villages in the mountains. The Jalisco New Generation cartel taxes producers of timber and avocados, prompting the creation of local self-defense forces that can lead to confrontations and violence. Peach farmers around Jerez, Zacatecas abandoned 8,000 tons of peaches in May 2022 after threats from drug cartels.

Mexico has 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) of strawberries, including 15,000 hectares in Baja and 35,000 hectares in Michoacán and Guanajuato. About 40 percent of Mexican strawberries are exported or sold fresh in Mexico; the other 60 percent are frozen or processed in plants in Zamora and Irapuato. Driscoll’s markets about half of Mexico’s fresh strawberries that are exported. Mexican strawberries sold for about $14 per four kg flat in 2021-22, meaning about $10 a flat to the grower after marketers deduct their costs.

Mexico’s 9,000 hectares of blueberries are projected to double to 18,000 hectares by 2031, when production is expected to top 180,000 tons a year. Jalisco has 3,500 hectares of blueberries, followed by 2,100 hectares in Sinaloa; production peaks between January and May. Mexico’s federal labor ministry in June 2022 announced a ban on subcontracting in the avocado and berry sectors, saying that banning the use of subcontractors in these sectors would level the playing field and raise the share of farm workers in formal jobs.

Mexico produces 3.7 million metric tons of fresh tomatoes each year, including a quarter in Sinaloa, and 10 percent each in San Luis Potosi and Michoacan. Mexico is the world’s largest exporter of fresh tomatoes, sending over half of its production or almost two million metric tons of fresh tomatoes to the US each year.

Mexico has 2.1 million public school teachers, including 60 percent who teach in primary grades. Most belong to the SNTE union, one of the largest unions in Latin America.

Central America. The northern triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras send many families to the US who seek asylum due to gang violence at home. The US is trying to help northern triangle governments to reduce gang violence and promote economic development, but has expressed concerns about some government strategies, such as the mass arrests of almost 20,000 suspected gang members in El Salvador in March-April 2022.

Critics suspect that Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele made a secret truce with gang leaders to reduce violence. Bukele bought $100 million worth of bitcoin in 2021 and made it official tender alongside the US dollar, only to see bitcoin’s value drop by half in 2022. Instead of spurring investment and job creation, Bukele’s bitcoin gambit may force El Salvador to default on its $24 billion debt, which is 86 percent of GDP. A quarter of Salvadorans live abroad and remittances are 30 percent of GDP.

Caribbean. Fidel Castro promised a liter of milk for every child every day, but during Cuba’s economic crisis in 2022, Cuba lacks milk and many other food items. Cuba imports 70 percent of its food, and a combination of fewer tourists due to covid and the economic implosion of ally Venezuela means there is not enough money to import food. Milk production fell from over a million metric tons a year in 1990 to 455,000 tons in 2020.

The Cuban government is trying to promote private-sector farming, but farmers have trouble importing seeds, fertilizers and other inputs.

South America. Latin America is among the world’s most unequal regions; the richest 10 percent of residents receive 55 percent of the region’s income. In the early 2000s, high commodity prices allowed governments to transfer money to the poor via social programs, but these transfer programs shrank as commodity prices fell.

Militant Mapuche are attacking forestry workers in central Chile. There are 1.5 million Mapuche in 3,000 communities, and the Chilean government has promised to give them more rights and resources in a new constitution. However, some Mapuche want to move non-Mapuche off what they consider their land in La Araucania and similar traditional lands, prompting the government to deploy troops to deal with “criminals” who use freedom for Mapuche as a cover for drug trafficking and crime.

Colombia elected a leftist president in June 2022, following Chile and Peru in the march to the left in a South America battered by covid and slow growth. If Lulu is re-elected president of Brazil in October 2022, then most major South American countries would have leftist leaders who successfully convinced voters that leftism does not have to mean governments like those in Cuba or Venezuela.

The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) organized protests against inflation that shut down transport for 16 days in June 2022, blocking $35 million in flower exports and $32 million in banana exports. The Confederation helped to oust three governments between 1997 and 2005 by leading massive, days-long street protests that pushed the National Assembly to vote out the presidents for incapacity to govern.

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