News Timeline: North America 2009


January 9: United States

The United States registers the loss of 2.6 million jobs in 2008, the highest since World War II. At the same time, the number of part-time jobs increases to 8 million. The unemployment rate soars to 7.2 percent. Some economists point out that if part-time workers and those who stopped looking for jobs are included the unemployment rate amounts to 14 percent.

January 23: United States

U.S. President Barack Obama appoints two special envoys. Former Senator George Mitchell, who negotiated peace agreement in Northern Ireland, is put in charge of advancing the Middle East peace process. John Holbrooke, who brokered the deal to end the war in former Yugoslavia, is put in charge of coordinating the U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Over the course of American history, special envoys have worked to advance U.S. foreign policy.

January 29: United States

The United States carmaker Ford reports that 2008 was the year of the company’s biggest losses ever, amounting to almost $15 billion. Although the U.S. government has granted Ford emergency loans, the company is hoping to deal with the recession on its own.

February 14: United States

The U.S. Senate approves President Barack Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus plan, which is hoped to save or create at least 3.5 million jobs and reduce the severity of the recession. Earlier, the plan was passed in the House of Representatives without the support of Republicans. The stimulus money will go for tax breaks for individuals and businesses, health care, education, infrastructure projects, and aid for the U.S. states with budget difficulties.

February 18: United States

U.S. President Barack Obama approves a deployment of additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, fulfilling his campaign promise to make Afghanistan his administration’s priority. The troops will be positioned in the south of the country in an effort to stabilize the most violent part of the country.

February 26: United States/Canada

U.S., Mexican, and Canadians authorities conduct a massive crackdown on Mexican drug trafficking gangs operating in the United States. As a result, the U.S. arrest 775 people and confiscate 23 tons of drugs worth $59 million. So far this year, about 1,000 people died in drug-related violence between Mexican narcotic gangs that fight each other for control of the drug routes from Colombia to the U.S.

February 27: United States

U.S. President Barack Obama announces a two-stage plan for the withdrawal of the U.S. troops from Iraq. By the end of August of 2010, the number of troops will be reduced to about 50,000 and their mission will be advisory. All troops will be withdrawn by the end of 2011.

March 2: United States

U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton arrives in Egypt on her first visit to the Middle East as a representative of the Obama administration. She will participate in a donors’ conference in Sharm-al-Sheikh for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, which suffered great destruction as a result of the recent Israeli incursions. Clinton will also visit Israel and the Palestinian Territories to discuss how to move the peace process forward.

March 9: United States

U.S. President Barack Obama lifts the ban on federal funding for stem cell research. The move meets approval from researchers, who say stem cells can help understand and cure some of the most devastating diseases, and criticism from conservative and religious groups who consider it unethical.

March 9: United States

Bolivia expels U.S. diplomat, Francisco Martinez, accusing him of having contacts with Bolivian opposition groups. Six months ago, U.S. ambassador to Bolivia was also ordered to leave the country over similar accusations.

March 11: United States

U.S. Congress eases some of the economic restrictions on Cuba. Cuban-Americans will be allowed to visit Cuba once a year and send back more money. It also lifts some of the restrictions on sending medicines and food.

March 19: United States

The U.S. state of New Mexico passes legislation that abolishes the death penalty, making it the 15th state in the union that has done so. The state’s governor, Bill Richardson, says the DNA evidence has shown that innocent people were sentenced to death in the past.

April 3: United States

The unemployment in the United States rises to 8.5 percent with more than three million jobs lost in just the last few months. At the same time, the number of part-timers who cannot find full-time employment rises to nine million.

April 17: United States

After reviewing the scientific evidence, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concludes that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases are pollutants and need to be regulated. The decision is a major policy change from the George W. Bush administration.

April 17: United States

United States President Barack Obama says that CIA agents who were involved in harsh interrogations of terrorism detainees during the George W. Bush presidency will not be prosecuted. In January this year, President Obama signed executive orders to shut down the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention center within a year and to ban the use of controversial interrogation methods, such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation.

April 21: United States

Tajikistan agrees to allow the United States to use the country’s roads and rails to transport non-military supplies coming from Uzbekistan for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. The new option comes after Kyrgyzstan closed the Manas airbase, the only U.S. military base in Central Asia.

May 11: Mexico

Mexico eases swine flu restrictions and reopens schools that have been closed since April. Fifty-six people have died in Mexico from the virus. Worldwide, there have been 4,700 confirmed cases of swine flu.

May 12: United States

United Nations General Assembly elects the United States and 18 other countries to the 47-seat Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Members of the UNHRC are elected to three-year terms. This is a significant reversal of the U.S. policy from the George W. Bush administration, which boycotted the UNHRC. The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the UN responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe.

May 26: United States

United States President Barack Obama nominates Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court, the first Hispanic in this position. She will replace retiring Justice David Souter. Since she is also, like Souter, a liberal, her nomination is expected to keep the political balance of the country’s highest court unchanged.

May 29: United States

After meetings with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, and earlier this week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, United States President Barack Obama says that he strongly believes that a two-state option is the best solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also appeals to Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth. He also calls on the Palestinians to crack down on militants who attack Israel.

June 25: United States

Kyrgyzstan changes its previous decision to allow the United States to continue using the Manas airbase after the U.S. tripled its rent offer. The base, however, can be used only for non-combat supplies. The Manas base in Kyrgyzstan is the U.S. only base in Central Asia.

June 30: United States

The United States withdraws its troops from Iraqi towns as scheduled and officially hands over the security to the Iraqi forces. The pullback comes six years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. All troops are expected to leave Iraq by the end of 2011. With the U.S. troops gone, Iraqi forces face serious security challenges. In just past two weeks, about 250 people were killed in violent attacks across the country.

August 15: United States

Colombia concludes a deal with the United States, which will allow the U.S. to use Colombia’s seven military bases for its regional drug-trafficking and terrorism operations. The U.S. made this agreement after Ecuador decided not to renew the lease for the U.S. for using its military base in Manta.

August 30: United States

U.S. top military commander in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal submits a long-awaited report to Defense Secretary Robert Gates containing an assessment of and recommendations for the war in Afghanistan. In the report, McChrystal states that the U.S. could lose the war, but success is possible if some changes are implemented. He calls for a deployment of additional troops, interacting and protecting civilians when fighting insurgents, and better and faster training for Afghan military and police. The report and the recommendations come at the time when the support for the eight-year-old war at home has diminished.

September 4: United States

The United States freezes $30 billion of its humanitarian aid to Honduras in response to the country’s coup in June and its refusal to allow deposed President Manuel Zelaya back in Honduras. It also says it will not recognize the new elections scheduled for November as legitimate. (September 21): Ousted President Zelaya makes a surprise return to Honduras and seeks refuge in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva says that the international community calls for Honduras to reinstate Zelaya.

September 17: United States

The United States President Barack Obama cancels the controversial plan to build anti-ballistic missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The plan, initiated by the George W. Bush Administration and strongly opposed by Russia, intended to destroy incoming ballistic missiles from North Korea and Iran. It involved using radar and interceptors in the U.S., but also installing additional interceptors in Poland and building a radar station in the Czech Republic. President Obama says that more an effective way to tackle Iran’s short- and medium-range missiles will be a system that uses land- and sea-based interceptors.

October 1: United States

The United States Congress approves the Kerry-Lugar bill, which triples non-military aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year for the next five years. The bill has, however, several conditions attached: Pakistan has to dismantle its nuclear proliferation networks; it has to stop supporting militant groups; and it has to strengthen its laws on counter-terrorism and money-laundering. The aid will not be disbursed directly to the Pakistani government, but monitored by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.

October 31: United States

The United States former territory, the Pacific island of Palau, agrees to resettle six Chinese Uighur prisoners from the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay. Although the Uighur detainees are not considered enemy combatants, the U.S. has not allowed them to resettle in the U.S. Four other Uighurs were resettled in Bermuda and another five sent to Albania. There are still more than 200 detainees at Guantanamo Bay center, which is scheduled to close by mid-January 2010.

November 8: United States

The United States House of Representatives narrowly passes a healthcare legislation. Now, the Senate will need to pass its own version of the bill. After the two versions are reconciled, the bill will become law. The bill extends affordable healthcare to about 47 million of uninsured Americans, makes healthcare coverage obligatory, and covers Americans with pre-existing conditions. The bill also provides for the government to sell insurance and a controversial option of the government-run healthcare program (the public option) that stirred heated debates. The healthcare reform has been the focal point of the Barack Obama’s Administration.

December 2: United States

After months of discussions with top advisers, the United States President Barack Obama orders to deploy 30,000 troops to Afghanistan with an objective to defeat al-Qaeda. After the surge, the U.S. will have more than 100,000 troops supported by 32,000 NATO troops, as well as close to 200,000 Afghan National Army and National Police troops. However, President Obama also adds that the U.S. will start withdrawing its forces by 2011.

December 7: United States

Eight months after the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases could endanger human lives, the U.S. government declares that greenhouse gases threaten human health. This statement allows the EPA to regulate carbon emission levels without the approval of Congress. Presently, the legislation cutting the emissions has been stuck in the Senate, facing firm opposition.

December 11: United States

North Korea agrees to cooperate on dismantling its nuclear program and to resume the stalled six-party talks. The decision is announced during a three-day visit in Pyongyang by the U.S. special representative to North Korea, Stephen Bosworth.

December 2: United States

After months of discussions with top advisers, the United States President Barack Obama orders to deploy 30,000 troops to Afghanistan with an objective to defeat al-Qaeda. After the surge, the U.S. will have more than 100,000 troops supported by 32,000 NATO troops, as well as close to 200,000 Afghan National Army and National Police troops. However, President Obama also adds that the U.S. will start withdrawing its forces by 2011.

December 24: United States

The United States Senate passes a historical healthcare reform bill, which was backed by 58 Democrats and two Independents. All Senate Republicans voted against it. The Senate version removed the public option from the bill and included stricter restriction on federal funding for abortion. It also differs in how to pay for the reformed healthcare. The House and the Senate versions will have to be merged and the process is expected to start in January.