The Americas: 13 to Watch in 2013

PHOTO:  Mexican President Elect Enrique Pena Nieto Takes Office

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This year we saw some major changes in the Americas in regards to business, technology and politics. 2013 should be all the more interesting. Here are thirteen people and things to keep an eye on this year.

PEOPLE

1. Michelle Bachelet: After two years in New York as the head of UN Women, Chile's first female president will be back in the spotlight in 2013. Bachelet, who was president from 2006 to 2010, is a slight favorite to win back the presidency in the November elections, but she will face a tough race from Laurence Golborne of the center-right.

2. Enrique Peña Nieto: EPN was sworn in as Mexico's President on December 1 and has promised some big changes to the Mexican economy, specifically in regards to monopolies and energy. He will also set out to reform education, curb corruption and make the labor market more efficient. We'll find out early in 2013 how difficult this will be, but he seems to be off to a good start.

3. Hugo Chavez: There is no doubt that Chavez is a sick man. Everyone is watching to see if he can recover from surgery in time for his inauguration on January 10. It is unlikely he will remain in office through all of 2013. One scenario has Chavez stepping down, officially passing the torch to his vice president Nicolas Maduro, and then embarking on one epic, final campaign to perpetuate Chavismo.

4. Nicolas Maduro: He has been picked as Chavez's successor, but he remains an unknown. Optimists hope he is a moderate, although that is unlikely. His biggest challenge will be keeping subordinate chavistas in line and united if Chavez dies and a new election is called.

5. Fidel Castro: Could Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez pass away in the same year? Both are ailing and fighting to preserve their legacies. Although many believe that both countries will have more freedom to progress without them.

6. Barack Obama: Things won't get easier for President Barack Obama during his second term. After dealing with the "fiscal cliff," the U.S. president will be under pressure to reform immigration and rethink the country's gun laws—two very contentious issues. The potential deaths of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro could also draw his focus to Latin America. Also expect the beginning of the end of the "war on drugs" as administration officials may finally acknowledge that the current drug strategy is not working.

THINGS

7. Launch Pad Tech: In mid-January, this 12-week business accelerator will launch in Miami bringing a total of 35 startups from the U.S., Latin America and Europe to the city. Ten of those companies will receive a $25,000 grant, a year of free space, and technical support and mentorship. Can Miami attract and keep top talent? It will need to prove it can if it wants to become a major tech hub.

8. InnPulsa: You definitely haven't heard of it yet but this "start-up government agency," which launched in February, hopes to put Colombia on the entrepreneurial map. InnPulsa's goal is to support Colombian entrepreneurs and encourage larger companies to be more entrepreneurial by inspiring a shift in culture and mindset when it comes to business.

And with a new law stating that 10% of extractive income must be invested in innovation, it will also help Colombia's regions invest their windfall oil and mining revenue.

9. Zumba: Is Zumba Fitness, which was started by three Colombian guys in Miami, the model of a 21st century company? It is social, entrepreneurial, fun and global. According to Inc Magazine, which named Zumba Fitness its Company of the Year, fourteen million people in 150 countries take Zumba classes at least once a week. Expect further growth in 2013 as the company expands its music and retail clothing business.

10. Open English: The Miami-based online language-learning platform had a big year. Revenue is forecast to grow 350% this year, and in July they received $43 million from outside investors. In 2013 they will use this money to expand further in Latin America, especially Brazil, and target new countries like Russia, Turkey or China. Open English's Venezuelan founders would love to replicate some of Zumba's global success.

11. .CO: This Colombian start-up is out to break the .com monopoly of domain names. .CO (pronounced "dot co") is positioning itself as the hip domain option for startups and creatives. Since opening to the public in mid-2010, .CO has sold more than 1.3 million domain names and is poised to break the 2 million barrier in 2013. The domain market could change forever in April when up to 1,000 non-traditional internet domains (such as .mormon and .news) will be launched, and .CO expects the new domains to create more awareness about non-.com domains.

12. The FARC: The rebel group has a chance to end its decades-long war with the Colombian government thanks to current peace talks. Will they agree to demobilize in 2013? The government of President Juan Manuel Santos will want to conclude negotiations before the end of next year when campaigning for 2014 is expected to start. The clock is ticking.

13. The Drug Debate: The debate about ending the prohibition of drug use in the Americas will heat up in 2013. With new marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington and countries like Uruguay moving forward with liberal policies, officials will be forced to take a new look at the issue. Public sentiment is also shifting in favor of legalization, and while policies will take time to follow, 2013 may see the beginnings of that process.

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