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Latin America Roundup - April 23

April 23, 2008 |  8:21 am

Latin America's economic growth will slow this year, weighed down by a struggling U.S. economy and rising food prices, according to figures released Tuesday by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, writes Marla Dickerson from Mexico City.

Mexico is projected to be Latin America's laggard, with expected GDP growth of 2.7% in 2008, down from 3.3% in 2007. Mexico is highly dependent on the U.S., which buys 80% of its exports.

Authorities in Colombia yesterday ordered the arrest of President Alvaro Uribe's cousin and confidant Mario Uribe, charging him with criminal conspiracy in alleged dealings with outlawed paramilitary groups. The arrest warrant for Uribe, a former senator, brings a burgeoning "para-political" scandal involving the right-wing militias and Uribe-supporting members of Congress closer to the president's office. Until now, the controversy has done little damage to President Uribe, who remains immensely popular, writes Chris Kraul from Bogota.

Bush_and_calderon_2 Bush and the leaders of Mexico and Canada delivered a forceful message yesterday to the next president of the United States: Don't mess with NAFTA. James Gerstenzang writes that  Mexican President Felipe Calderon was particularly blunt, warning that weakening the 14-year-old pact would damage the Mexican economy and could create "even greater migratory pressure" on Mexicans to cross the border to look for work in the U.S.

Photo: President Bush shakes hands with Mexican President Felipe Calderon during a meeting of North America’s leaders in New Orleans, Apr. 21, 2008. Bush used the opportunity to reaffirm his support for NAFTA. Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

Adelir_antonio_de_carli_2 A Roman Catholic priest who floated off under hundreds of helium party balloons was missing yesterday off the southern coast of Brazil, according to the Associated Press. Rev. Adelir Antonio de Carli lifted off from the port city of Paranagua on Sunday afternoon, wearing a helmet, thermal suit and a parachute.

Photo: Roman Catholic priest Adelir Antonio de Carli gives an interview before floating off using party balloons filled with helium in Brazil on Sunday. Carli was reported missing off the coast of Santa Catarina state hours after taking off on an attempt to break the 19-hour record for the longest flight with balloons. (Renita Pelissari / Agencia O Globo)

Writing in Opinion, Tim Rutten says it's hard not to be taken aback by some of the last few days' reaction to Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United States. Comments to President Bush asking that U.S immigration policy take account of basic human rights and that the historical contribution of immigrants be recognized and “the most rabid anti-immigrant demagogues instantly began ranting about Benedict's ‘intrusion’ into American politics.”

Also in Opinion, responding to an article last week about Special Order 40, Rodger Pardee, an associate professor at Loyola Marymount University, writes that feelings should not trump facts. “I've read this section of his piece over and over, and I can't make it add up to anything other than something like this: When people have strong feelings about a subject, it doesn't matter what the facts are. You must respond to those feelings.”

-- Deborah Bonello in Mexico City