Latin America News Round-up
April 20, 2011
Colombia Says Chavez Helpful Against FARC
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Brazil and Southern Cone
Brazil Unemployment Rises to 6.5% in March, Lowest for Month. Bloomberg
Brazil tax revenue jumps nearly 10 pct in March. Reuters
Brazil's Vale names Rousseff ally as board member. Reuters
Q&A: Brazilian journalist Fernando Rodrigues discusses the country's journey toward a freedom of information law. Knight Center
Argentine imports’ substitution helps March industrial production expand 9.2%. Mercopress
Argentine oil strike continues despite union deal. Reuters
Extorre finds high-grade gold at Argentina mine, shrs up. Reuters
Chile: Housing minister quits in contract scandal. AP
Chile to revamp prison system to beat overcrowding, firearms traffic. UPI
Northern Andean Region
Lawyer unraveling Ponzi scheme seeks extension. AP
Colombia says Chavez helpful against FARC. AFP
Colombia and Venezuela resume bilateral agricultural trade. Colombia Reports
Santos meets with US delegation to smooth FTA passage process. Colombia Reports
US Congressmen think FTA with Colombia will be ratified in July. Colombia Reports
Lashing Rains Intensify In Colombia; 80 Killed This Year. Dow Jones
Nukak people face battle to survive in Colombia. AFP
Western Andean Region
Bolivian unions end strike, accept government offer. Reuters
Bolivia Backpedals On Glencore, Pan American Mine Takeovers. Dow Jones Newswires
AFP: Bolivia to produce lithium carbonate this year: Morales. FOCUS News Agency
Ecuadorian FM holds phone talks with top U.S. official. Xinhua
Ecuador says oil firms to invest $450 mln in 2011. Reuters
Judge dismisses firm's lawsuit against Chevron. Reuters
Peru's Humala caught in uproar over pension funds. Reuters
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean
Ex-foreign minister says human rights tenuous in Mexico. San Antonio Express-News
US and Panama near trade deal. Financial Times
Ex President Zelaya Might Return to Honduras. Inside Costa Rica
Guatemalan Government Says Thousands at Risk of Going Hungry. EFE
A Fair Wind for Clean Energy in Central America. Inter-Press Service
Cuba Lays Foundation for a New Leader. New York Times
Dominican police and soldiers are increasingly getting in the drug trade. Miami Herald
Brazil and Southern Cone [contents]
Brazil Unemployment Rises to 6.5% in March, Lowest for Month
Iuri Dantas. Bloomberg. April 19, 2011
Brazil’s unemployment rate rose less than economists expected in March, reaching the lowest on record for the month, reinforcing signals that the economy remains heated.
Unemployment in March rose to 6.5 percent from 6.4 percent in February, below the median 6.7 percent forecast of 36 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg, the national statistics office said today in Rio de Janeiro.
Latin America’s largest economy is currently “almost at full employment” and faces labor shortages in many industries, Finance Minister Guido Mantega said yesterday in New York. Policy makers will rely on interest rate increases, spending cuts and measures to rein in credit to slow inflation toward the bank’s target by the end of 2012, economic policy director Carlos Hamilton said March 30.
“The figures aren’t showing the economic slowdown we would like to see now,” Andre Perfeito, chief economist at Gradual Investimentos, said in a telephone interview from Sao Paulo. “The macro-prudential measures the central bank is relying on is a beautiful name to avoid interest rate increases, but the effect must be the same otherwise inflation will remain high and expectations will get out of control.”
The Brazilian economy generated 92,675 government- registered jobs in March, the fewest since a seasonal loss of jobs in December, the Labor Ministry said today in a report distributed in Brasilia.
“The labor market is still heated, we had fewer jobs because of the Carnival holiday,” Labor Minister Carlos Lupi told reporters in Brasilia. “Interest rate increases may have an effect, but nothing that will change our course, I’m confident we’ll create 3 million jobs this year.”
Brazil created 583,886 government-registered jobs in the first quarter, the ministry said.
Government-registered job creation is a balance of posts created minus job eliminated. Registered jobs, so-called formal work, assure employees a range of benefits such as unemployment insurance, bonuses and retirement payments by the government.
Brazil’s benchmark consumer price inflation index rose 6.3 percent in the year through March on higher food prices and transportation costs. Brazil targets an annual 4.5 percent inflation rate of plus or minus two percentage points. Inflation may breach the upper-limit of the target between July and August this year, Hamilton said.
The central bank will raise the benchmark interest rate by 50 basis points by a third consecutive time tomorrow in a bid to cool domestic demand and slow inflation running at the fastest pace in more than two years, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of 56 economists.
Policy makers led by central bank President Alexandre Tombini raised the so-called Selic rate by 100 basis points this year to 11.75 percent.
Traders are wagering the central bank will increase borrowing costs by at least 25 basis points to slow inflation that is threatening to breach the upper limit of policy makers’ target, Bloomberg estimates based on interest rate futures show.
Yields on the interest-rate futures contract maturing in May 2011, the second-most traded today, rose one basis point, or 0.01 percentage point, to 11.87 percent, at 2:39 p.m. New York time. The real rose 0.9 percent to 1.5751 per dollar.
To contact the reporter on this story: Iuri Dantas in Brasilia at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Brazil tax revenue jumps nearly 10 pct in March
Reuters. April 19, 2011
BRASILIA, April 19 (Reuters) - Brazil's tax collection surged in March on the back of consumer demand that has continued to be robust, the federal tax authority said on Tuesday.
Tax revenue in March, adjusted for inflation, jumped to 71 billion reais ($44.9 billion), an increase of 9.7 percent from a year earlier.
Tax revenue in February totaled 64.14 billion reais.
Latin America's largest economy is expected to slow to growth of around 4.5 percent this year after red-hot expansion of 7.5 percent in 2010.
Still, a rise in aggregate wages, strong retail sales and industrial output compared to the previous year helped drive March tax income, the tax authority said.
Brazil's public accounts deteriorated significantly in 2010 as the government increased spending ahead of October's presidential elections.
The country missed its main budget target with a consolidated primary surplus BRPSPS=ECI in the 12 months through December of 2.78 percent of gross domestic product, well below the goal of 3.1 percent of GDP for the year. For more see [ID:nN31206720].
The March primary budget surplus figure is due to be announced on April 29.
Investors look at the primary budget surplus, the excess in revenue over expenses but excluding interest payments, as a gauge of the country's ability to service its debt.
The administration of the new president, Dilma Rousseff, announced budget cuts this month of 50 billion reais in an effort to meet its budget target and help contain rising consumer prices. [ID:nN09134882]
The tax authority expects an increase of 9 percent in tax revenue for 2011, not adjusted for inflation.
(Reporting by Leonardo Goy; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)
Brazil's Vale names Rousseff ally as board member
Reuters. April 19, 2011
RIO DE JANEIRO, April 19 (Reuters) - Shareholders of Brazilian mining company Vale (VALE5.SA: Quote) have chosen a new board of directors that includes a close ally of President Dilma Rousseff, the company said on Tuesday, weeks after it appointed a new chief executive under government pressure.
The new board includes Nelson Barbosa, executive secretary of the finance ministry, a close advisor to Rousseff who accompanied her on her recent trip to China.
His new role could augur greater government intervention in the world's largest iron ore miner.
State leaders for years heavily criticized outgoing chief executive Roger Agnelli for not investing enough in steel or helping the country's economic development.
Agnelli will be replaced in May by former Vale executive Murilo Ferreira.
The government has indirect influence at Vale, which was privatized in 1997, through key shareholders including state development bank BNDES and state-linked pension funds. (Reporting by Stuart Grudgings)
Q&A: Brazilian journalist Fernando Rodrigues discusses the country's journey toward a freedom of information law
Summer Harlow. Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. April 19, 2011
Renowned Brazilian journalist Fernando Rodrigues, who has worked as a reporter, editor, foreign correspondent, and columnist and was a Nieman Fellow in 2007, has been instrumental in the push for Brazil to finally adopt a freedom of information law. The president of the Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism (Abraji), which is one of the world's top investigative groups, Rodrigues also played a key role in the 2004 launch of the Forum for the Right to Access Public Information. Due in part to years of Rodrigues' tireless efforts campaigning for freedom of information, Brazil finally is poised to enact a public information access law. The Brazilian Senate's Commission of Science and Technology and Commission on Human Rights will meet Tuesday, April 19, to recommend approval of an information access bill that President Dilma Rousseff is expected to sign into law May 3. The Knight Center spoke with Rodrigues about his role in campaigning for the law, what such a law will mean for Brazil, and the proposed Open Government Partnership that the United States and Brazil are expected to lead.
Knight Center: First, can you explain why you think there was such hesitation for so long to pass/support an information access law?
Fernando Rodrigues: In reality, in all countries the process to approve a law always is long. In the United States, it took more than a decade from the time debate began until the FOIA was approved. It all depends on the pressures and demands of society.
Brazil experienced 21 years of a military dictatorship (1964-1985). Then came the demands to elect a president directly, and control the economy (the country experienced more than 10 years of high inflation and little growth).
When democracy finally was installed, in the second half of the 90s, Brazilian society became a little more sophisticated. Other demands came forward. At the beginning of the 21st Century, in 2002, the creation of Abraji was a milestone for the right to access public information. Abraji conducted seminars, informed journalists (who were not yet very aware of the issue) and put pressure on Congress and the presidential administration to pass a law. As this was a very new subject, with little appeal in society, there was this delay.
KC: What has been your role in pushing for such a law?
FR: Since I am part of the leadership of Abraji in Brasília, I have the responsibility to monitor the issue nad propose new actions in this regard. Also I had to take care of the organization and coordination (along with other associations) of the Forum for the Right to Access Public Information: www.informacaopublica.org.br. It is now a coalition of 25 civil society associations that are in favor of an access law. All entities of the Forum had a key role in the effort to convince the authorities about the need for a law in Brazil.
It is important here to note that the Forum was created in 2003, during an international seminar about the theme that was promoted by Abraji in Brasília. Abraji directors Marcelo Beraba and Fernando Molica played a major role in creating the Forum. And Professor Rosental Calmon Alves [who is founder of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas] was one of the creators behind the seminar, and is one of the reasons why Brazil today is close to having a law.
In my case specifically, I helped coordinate the work of the Forum during the past eight years, since I was designated by Abraji and physically located in Brasília [the capital of Brazil]. Fortunately, it is worth the effort of having talked to so many congress members, senators and ministers. It was slow work of evangelization on the need for a law. But it seems to be working.
KC: Why now do you think a law finally is moving forward?
FR: Democracy, like everything in life, has cycles. In Brazil the cycle just ended of eight years of Lula's government. Now, I imagine, the new political players understand the necessity of having institutional advances that weren't possible in previous years. It seems to me this is the case in terms of the presidential administration in relation to adopting a law on access.
KC: Why is it so important for Brazil to have such a law?
FR: Brazil is one of the largest economies in the world and a nation important to the democratic balance in South America By having an access law, the country sends a strong signal toward more freedom of information - which is vital for South American countries.
KC: What do you think of this U.S./Brazil initiative for transparency? What sorts of impacts might it have?
FR: It is very important that countries coordinate efforts such as this, because the globalized world requires global initiatives. It's a way to encourage more transparency of public data.
KC: Anything else you want to add?
FR: I would like to say that the week ends here in Brazil with great optimism about the eventual adoption of the law. But I emphasize that when dealing with a bill still in the Senate, it is necessary to be careful and hope that the text is actually approved. And then that it is signed by President Dilma Rousseff. If all this happens, Brazil will have a law that might not be perfect, but it has major innovations - including in comparison to the U.S. and other countries.
The parts of the bill are not very positive are:
1) the maximum period of confidentiality (for classified secret documents) can reach, in some cases, up to 50 years (one term too long), 2) it has not created an independent regulatory agency to lead the process of enforcement.
Some of the positive aspects are:
1) Although some documents may remain classified up to 50 years, there are many difficulties to make this happen. It is necessary that government ministers personally make this classification and outline in detail their reasons for doing so.
2) Although no regulatory agency is created, the law is quite detailed on the procedures available for those who wish to have access to information. There are many punishments for public officials who break the law.
3) Unlike many countries, the Brazilian law applies to all municipal governments (5,600 cities), states (27 governors) and the President of the Republic. It also applies to the Judicial and Legislative branches, in all their levels. Finally, all firms or NGOS that work for the government or receive public funds also are subject to the law. As far as I know, no other country has produced a law with a spectrum as broad as the Brazilian one.
4) Another piece of great relevance requires all public agencies to disclose annually a complete list of all documents that were classified, some sort of identification and the period within which these papers will become public. These listings are a powerful tool in the hands of society to hold governments accountable.
In addition to lists of classified documents, public agencies are also required to make a statistical report with the number of information queries approved and refused, with detailed explanations about it.
Argentine imports’ substitution helps March industrial production expand 9.2%
Mercopress. April 19, 2011
Spurred by strong support from the government, Argentina's industrial production in March jumped 9.2% on the year according to a Monday release from economic advisors Orlando J Ferreres & Asociados, OJF.
Strong domestic consumption and exports have fuelled the Argentine economy led by steep gains in machinery and equipment, food and base-metals production. Car makers have led the charge with a 22% year-on-year gain in machinery and equipment production during the first quarter, OJF said.
In March, car makers produced 70,487 vehicles, up 34% on the year, according to the car manufacturer chamber Adefa. March exports surged 55% to 38,994, with over 80% of those shipments going to neighboring Brazil.
However OJF points out that despite the strong figures, manufacturers face a number of challenges, including capacity constraints and energy-supply problems. In addition, investment is needed to expand capacity to increase production and make up for imports, which have been slowed down by the government, said OJF.
The government of President Cristina Fernandez has thrown up a host of barriers to imports as part of its strategy of boosting import substitution, stimulating local manufacturing and creating jobs.
In related news Argentina posted a primary budget surplus of 1.3 billion Pesos (approx 309 million US dollars) in March, up 6% from the same month a year ago, reported the Economy ministry.
Argentina's economy and tax revenue have grown sharply over the past year, with GDP expanding 9.2% in 2010 and the government expecting growth of over 6% this year. That allowed the government to post a primary surplus of 3.5 billion pesos and a fiscal surplus of 965 million Pesos during the first two months of the year.
Argentine oil strike continues despite union deal
Reuters. April 19, 2011
BUENOS AIRES, April 19 (Reuters) - Argentine energy workers rejected a proposed deal to end a three-week-old strike that has halted oil output in the Santa Cruz province, calling for their union boss to quit, a dissident union leader said on Tuesday.
The workers rejected an agreement reached by the union leadership and company officials on Monday, aimed at resuming production in a province that accounts for nearly 20 percent of Argentina's total crude output. [ID:nN18223439]
Ruben Retamoso, a dissident official at the Santa Cruz energy workers union, said rank-and-file members will not lift the strike until union leader Hector Segovia resigns.
"Today (Tuesday) the workers' assembly decided to continue the measure until Segovia goes," Retamoso told Reuters.
The protesting workers accuse Segovia of not properly representing their demands after he negotiated nearly three weeks ago a roughly 25 percent pay hike, in line with estimated inflation. Many workers rejected the settlement.
The strike has blocked production in Santa Cruz at operations run by Repsol's YPF (REP.MC)(YPFD.BA), Occidental Petroleum Corp (OXY.N) and Pan American Energy, which is co-owned by Argentine and Chinese interests.
An industry source who followed the strike said last week that YPF had suffered production losses of 11,000 cubic meters of oil per day.
The source, who asked to remain anonymous, estimated Occidental had lost output at 6,000 cubic meters of oil per day and said Pan American stopped producing some 1,400 cubic meters per day.
The parent company of China's Sinopec Corp (0386.HK) agreed in December to buy all of Oxy's oil and natural gas assets in Argentina for $2.45 billion, but the deal was subject to government approval and it was not immediately clear if that hurdle had been cleared. [ID:nTOE6B903U]
(Reporting by Karina Grazina; Writing by Luis Andres Henao;editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)
Extorre finds high-grade gold at Argentina mine, shrs up
Reuters. April 19, 2011
April 19 (Reuters) - Extorre Gold Mines said it drilled high-grade gold and silver at its flagship Cerro Moro mine in Santa Cruz, Argentina, and expects mineralization to continue as it drills deeper, sending its shares up about 11 percent to a life high.
The Canadian miner said the drilling of 3 holes out of the planned 21 holes at the early stage Zoe vein intersected 4.84 metres at 64.6 grams per tonne (g/t) gold and 7,530 g/t silver.
The discovery was blind from the surface, with shallow high-grade mineralization appearing at a vertical depth of 80 metres, Extorre said in a statement.
The Zoe discovery is located about 2.5 kilometres from the mineral-rich Escondida gold vein.
The company plans to focus half its drill rigs on defining the Zoe discovery, as a result of the high grades of gold and silver intercepted at the zone.
Extorre, a spin-out from Exeter Resource Corp , also operates the Don Sixto gold project in the Mendoza province of Argentina.
Shares of Vancouver, British Columbia-based Extorre were up over 10 percent at C$8 in early trade on Tuesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange. (Reporting by Gowri Jayakumar in Bangalore; Editing by Roshni Menon)
Chile: Housing minister quits in contract scandal
EVA VERGARA. AP. April 19, 2011
Chile's housing minister has quit suddenly amid a scandal over highway construction cost overruns.
Magdalena Matte had been praised for her work leading reconstruction after 220,000 homes were damaged by last year's earthquake.
But she quit Tuesday after Chile's federal prosecutor and controller decided to investigate her decision to pay a construction company working on a road project $35 million more than what had been budgeted due to a delay beyond the company's control.
Matte later stopped payment and sent documents to the prosecutor, but the political damage was done.
A number of scandals involving the Housing Ministry have hurt the popularity of President Sebastian Pinera's government. His approval rating has dropped below 50 percent.
Chile to revamp prison system to beat overcrowding, firearms traffic
UPI. April 19, 2011
SANTIAGO, Chile, April 19 (UPI) -- Chile will revamp its nationwide prison network to address key security issues and remove overcrowding, following President Sebastian Pinera's pledge to reform what he called an inhumane system that killed more than 80 inmates in one incident last year.
The Ministry of Justice said it contracted U.S. firm Altegrity Security Consulting to provide assessment and adviser services as part of the planned prison restructuring program.
A fire blamed on overcrowding at the San Miguel prison in Santiago killed at least 80 inmates last December, making it the country's deadliest prison incident. Chile's prisons are bedeviled by frequent riots, drug and firearms trafficking, security breaches and fires resulting from congestion-related incidents.
The San Miguel prison fire erupted during a fight between rival gangs who set mattresses alight. Critics said overcrowding was to blame and Fundacion Paz Ciudadana, a non-profit foundation concerned with citizens' issues, said the prison had 1,654 inmates against an approved capacity of 892.
The prison fire raised key security issues and critics cited risks of trafficking in firearms and other weapons.
Pinera reacted to the blaze with a pledge to reform the prison system.
"We cannot keep living with a prison system which is absolutely inhumane," he said. "We are going to speed up the process to ensure our country has a humane, dignified prison system that befits a civilized country."
ASC said under terms of its contract the company will oversee the management of the construction of four model prison facilities. These include two dorm-style 2,500-bed minimum-security prisons, one combined maximum- and minimum-security facility and a reception and classification center that includes approximately 500 beds.
The team will produce an Operations Manual using best practices and will work with the Chilean Gendarmeria to review and revise their training curriculum.
"The Chilean government is committed to creating and establishing a prison management process and structure that will perpetuate self reliance, positive growth, and continual development of a strong corrections organization and we are committed to helping them make that a reality," ASC President Michael Berkow said.
The company will work with the Chilean Ministries of Justice and Public Works, building on its international experience with providing best practice solutions that assist nations in the fields of correctional system infrastructure and operations.
ASC experts are working with Chilean officials in the government and the Gendarmeria.
Altegrity has headquarters in Falls Church, Va., and employs about 11,000 people in 30 countries.
In March a Chilean court ordered three prison guards held on negligent homicide charges for the deaths of 66 of the 81 inmates who died at the San Miguel prison.
Five senior officers including former prison Director Carlos Bustos Hoffman were charged with manslaughter.
Northern Andean Region [contents]
Lawyer unraveling Ponzi scheme seeks extension
AP. April 20, 2011
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The attorney assigned to unravel a Connecticut-based investment pyramid scheme says it will take longer than expected to account for the money, including hundreds of millions of dollars invested on behalf of a pension fund for Venezuelan state oil workers.
The court-appointed receiver, John Carney, is investigating the financial dealings of Francisco Illarramendi, a Venezuelan-American accused of taking money from hedge funds he operated in Stamford, Conn., for personal use. U.S. prosecutors in Connecticut have called it the state's biggest white-collar federal prosecution.
Carney on Monday asked for a three-month deadline extension to Sept. 30, saying the task has been complicated by gaps in the paper trail and other challenges.
"The magnitude and fraudulent nature of the transactions, the lack of meaningful documentation, the involvement of foreign entities, and the sheer quantity of data all necessitate additional time," Carney, of the New York law firm Baker & Hostetler, wrote in the court filing.
The office of the U.S. district judge handling the case, Janet Bond Arterton, said the request was pending Tuesday.
Illarramendi, 42, of New Canaan, pleaded guilty on March 7 to criminal charges including several counts of fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice. He faces up to 70 years in prison at a sentencing hearing that remains to be scheduled.
The pension fund for employees of Venezuela's state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, accounted for roughly 90 percent of the investment in the unregistered hedge funds. The oil company has promised to guarantee any losses.
While the full extent of the damage remains unclear, the Securities and Exchange Commission said in its complaint that the gap between the funds' liabilities and assets could reach hundreds of millions of dollars.
The SEC complaint says Illarramendi and one of his holding companies, Michael Kenwood Capital Management, improperly used money from the funds to make investments in private companies for his benefit and falsified documents to deceive clients and creditors. An attorney for Illarramendi, John Gleason, said Tuesday that he could not comment.
The hunt for assets of the entities controlled or directed by Illarramendi has included negotiations with foreign financial institutions to secure money, some of which is being transferred to receivership accounts. Assets were held by more than 75 financial institutions.
Carney's team is also investigating whether any property, including property that may be located in Venezuela, was purchased with investors' money and titled to others, according to court documents.
At the end of March, the balance in the receivership account was about $5.1 million, according to court documents.
The court records indicate the receiver has collected roughly 100,000 pages of documents from third parties through requests and subpoenas but is awaiting other deliveries with "massive" amounts of data. He has also secured data from 40 computers and collected 89 boxes of files and records.
The locks were changed in February at the Stamford office where Illarramendi's holding companies conducted most of their business. One employee has been kept on part-time to help asset-recovery efforts, but the office is to be closed at the end of April when office furnishings, telephones and computers will be liquidated.
Colombia says Chavez helpful against FARC
Mohideen Mifthah. AFP. April 19, 2011
BOGOTA, April 19, 2011 (AFP) - Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos said left-wing FARC guerrillas are probably operating in neighboring Venezuela but that leftist President Hugo Chavez was helping to battle them.
“It is likely that the guerrillas are also present in Venezuela, but I am confident that they are not under the protection of the Venezuelan government,” he told Radio Caracol on Monday.
“President Chavez has said: 'If you find a FARC camp in Venezuela, give me the coordinates and we will respond immediately.' When we have given him the information, he has responded,” he said.
The presence of FARC militants in Venezuela had been a recurrent source of discord between the two countries under Santos's predecessor, Alvaro Uribe.
In July 2010 Chavez broke off relations with Colombia after Uribe accused Caracas of harboring some 1,500 fighters and filed a complaint with the Organization of American States (OAS).
Santos swiftly moved to reverse the policy, restoring diplomatic relations with Venezuela three days after his inauguration in August of that year.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is the country's oldest and largest guerrilla force, believed to have some 8,000 members. The group has been at war with the government since its founding in 1964.
Colombia and Venezuela resume bilateral agricultural trade
Toni Peters. Colombia Reports. April 19, 2011
Colombia and Venezuela reached an agreement to restore bilateral agricultural trade allowing the Colombian export of meat, poultry and dairy products to the neighboring country, local media reported Tuesday.
According to El Colombiano, Agriculture Minister Juan Camilo Restrepo Salazar said that the idea is to implement the agreements reached by President Juan Manuel Santos and President Hugo Chavez in Cartagena on April 9.
Restrepo Salazar said, "I want to emphasize the Colombian government is pleased with the restoration of Colombo-Venezuelan trade, in particular hard currency, agriculture and livestock."
it was agreed that Colombia would sell 6,500 heads of cattle, 40% of which are to be slaughtered in Colombia, in addition to 3,000 live cattle and 3,500 pregnant cows to increase Venezuela's breeding stock.
The offer was also made to export 60,000 day-old chicks, and 100,000 hatching eggs while the number of table eggs and chicken meat to be exported is still being assessed.
Furthermore the offer to export 100,000 tonnes annually of dairy products in the form of liquid, powdered and evaporated milk, as well as whey, butter, cheese and milk based beverages. Fresh and frozen potatoes and seeds will also be exported.
The manager of Colanta - a dairy products cooperative - Jenaro Perez, Gutierrez said that the deal will allow his company to take evaporated milk to be powdered in a plant owned by the Venezuelan government which has spare capacity. He said "So far, we have not set any fixed figures for possible exports, but we will transport the milk and make the most of the opportunity."
Jorge Enrique Bedoya, the president of the National Federation of Poultry Farmers (Fenavi), is slightly wary due to the debt owed to Colombia by Venezuela. He said "Since late 2009, the Venezuelan market for poultry has been lost. Since then, they [Venezuelans] owe money to companies and this generates a degree of skepticism. This is welcomed but seeing is believing."
Colombian exports to Venezuela fell significantly between 2009 and 2010 due to frosty diplomatic relations and trade sanctions restrictions.
Santos meets with US delegation to smooth FTA passage process
Tom Heyden. Colombia Reports. April 19, 2011
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will meet with a U.S. delegation Tuesday to discuss ratification of the bilateral free trade agreement and to patch up disagreements over alleged drug lord Walid Makled's extradition to Venezuela, reported Caracol Radio.
Santos will welcome to Bogota's presidential palace congressmen from the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means, the chief tax-writing committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, responsible for initiating passage of the FTA once it is presented by U.S. President Barack Obama.
The six-person delegation, which represents both major U.S. parties, will meet with President Santos, Colombian Ambassador to the U.S. Gabriel Silva and other selected officials, to discuss ratification of the long-awaited agreement, which is due to be submitted before the U.S. Congress on April 22, 2011.
However, a strongly worded letter sent by Republican delegation member Aaron Schock and Republican Michael McCaul to President Santos on April 8, 2011, but only publicized this Monday, indicates possible snags in the passage of the FTA.
In the letter, the two men express their disappointment over the imminent extradition of alleged Venezuelan drug lord Walid Makled to his home country, rather than to the U.S, labelling it a significant "mistake."
The sought-after prisoner is wanted in the U.S. both for a series of narco-trafficking charges, and because of his previous statements about possessing crucial information on drug trafficking links to key Venezuelan government and military officials, which adds to his political value.
The Republican congressmen base their arguments for extradition to the U.S. on the supposed timeline of the extradition requests submitted by Venezuela and the U.S, as well as their belief that Maklid would be "silenced" were he to be extradited to Colombia's neighbour.
Schock and McCaul also cite announcements made by former President Alvaro Uribe that it was the U.S. that first declared interest in Makled, which in Uribe's words would signify an "explicit" order to extradite him there.
The letter further suggests that the high "media coverage" that the affair has received may "complicate" FTA ratification, before concluding with a call for Santos to "strongly suggest reconsideration" of the extradition decision.
Congressman Schock will be joined in Colombia by three Republicans and two Democrats, including the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dave Camp.
US Congressmen think FTA with Colombia will be ratified in July
Adriaan Alsema. Colombia Reports. April 19, 2011
Six U.S. Congressmen on an official visit to Bogota said Tuesday they think that the free trade agreement between the U.S. and Colombia will be ratified by July.
The Democratic and Republican Congressmen were in the Colombian capital to voice their support for the free trade pact that according to a timeline agreed between U.S. President Barack Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will be presented before congress within days.
"We have had some very productive discussions about the way forward, about the future, because we want the FTA to be approved by the U.S. this summer," Representative Dave Camp (R-MI) told Spanish press agency EFE after meeting with Santos.
Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD) called the meeting with the Colombian President "productive and informative" and stressed that "under the leadership of President Santos" and his predecessor Alvaro Uribe "we have seen greast progress in Colombia."
The White House will present the U.S.-Colombia FTA before Congress after Colombia has taken concrete steps to guarantee improvement in the protection of labor rights workers and the diminishing of impunity for those guilty of killing unionists.
"We believe that this action plan will increase the respect for rights and opportunities. It is a very important step forwards," said Hoyer.
Santos thanked the Washington Congressmen and told press that "all are in favor" of the free trade pact.
The pact was signed by the governments of both countries in 2006, but never made it to Congress over concerns about the human and labor rights situation in Colombia.
Lashing Rains Intensify In Colombia; 80 Killed This Year
Dan Molinski. Dow Jones. April 19, 2011
BOGOTA (Dow Jones)--Torrential rains in Colombia wreaked more havoc Tuesday, including in an area outside of Bogota where a rain-soaked ravine collapsed, creating an avalanche of mud and debris that smothered an entire town, killing at least one person.
Some 80 people have been killed in Colombia this year due to rain and flooding and most of those deaths happened during the last couple of weeks. On Apr. 13, 20 people in a bus were killed when an overflowing river in the lush coffee-growing region swept the vehicle off a steep highway.
This year's death toll adds to the 300 or so killed during the second half of 2010 when the unusually heavy and persistent rains began, fueled by the "La Nina" weather phenomenon, a South American counterpart to "El Nino."
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said late Monday the lashing rains and its destruction of life and property is "without precedence in the history of Colombia."
The resurgence of the rains also threatens to derail Colombia's economy, which only recently got back on track and is expected to grow between 5% and 6% this year. Analysts say the recent rains may destroy coffee crops, just as they did last year, and make it difficult for some multinational companies to transport oil and coal to shipping ports for export.
Nearly all of nation's 32 states, or departments, are under a state of emergency, and around 3 million people have been left homeless since the devastation began last year.
The town of Utica, located a two-hour drive northwest of Bogota, was enveloped in mud Tuesday after an overflowing ravine outside of town gave way, sending mud, water, rocks and trees rushing into the streets just after midnight.
Cundinamarca state Governor Andres Gonzalez, standing in Utica's muddy streets, told television cameras that 120 homes were completely destroyed by the rush of mud. "The school in town, which was just inaugurated three weeks ago, was also destroyed," he said.
One person was reported killed in Utica and another is missing, while the town remains without any water or electricity. The governor said the loss of life would have been much higher had authorities not sounded the alarms around 4 p.m. local time Monday, allowing residents to evacuate with just hours to spare.
"A major tragedy in terms of human life was avoided," Gonzalez told television cameras. "The destroyed property, this can be rebuilt."
There are also concerns of more problems in northern Colombia along the Magdalena River, where last year a giant break in a levee at Dique Canal caused millions of gallons of water to spill into the plains region, leaving half of the entire state of Atlantico under water.
In late January, the 258-meter-long canal breach was completely sealed in a ceremony in which a government official laid down the final sandbag. Despite the repairs, drainage remains a problem and many residents in the area are still homeless and without clean drinking water.
The worry is that if the rains continue--and Colombia's meteorological institute Ideam says the intense rains could last into June--the temporary fix for the large breach might be washed away.
Carlos Rosado, direct of the government roads institute Invias, dismissed that possibility in an interview with RCN Radio Tuesday, saying the repairs already made will withstand anything Mother Nature delivers.
"It's not going to collapse," Rosado said of the Dique Canal. "There's no alarm."
Despite the new round of lashing rains, Finance Minister Juan Carlos Echeverry said over the weekend the government has enough funds to pay for emergency relief and reconstruction, and won't need to resort to a budget amendment.
"I think we will have the resources needed to be able to cope with the winter without additional legislation," Echeverry said.
-By Dan Molinski, Dow Jones Newswires; 57-310-867-6542; email@example.com
Nukak people face battle to survive in Colombia
Carlos Osorio. AFP. April 19, 2011
SAN JOSE DEL GUAVIARE, Colombia — The Nukak-Maku tribe, nomads discovered only 23 years ago who number no more than 600, is struggling to adapt after Colombian guerrillas chased them from their homes deep inside the country's lush tropical forests.
"Llego la plata" ("the money is coming"), someone murmured from inside a palm leaf hut crowded with 10 adults and two dozen children thrown into an unfamiliar world.
Handed bread and panela, a block of unrefined whole cane sugar which is rich in calories, tribesmen seized the food before one woman suddenly asked for "Coca-Cola".
Albeiro Riano, a doctor trying to improve the living conditions of the Nukak people, told AFP that expressions like "Llego la plata" and "Coca-Cola" showed how the tribe was losing its cultural values.
Wembe, chief of this small clan of 30 living in Agua Bonita, near the south-central town of San Jose del Guaviare, complained that food was growing scarce.
"Hunting, fishing, it's all really lacking," he said in broken Spanish.
His clan no longer has any blowpipes to hunt monkeys, especially prized by the Nukak for their meat.
And diseases have plagued the group. "Malaria, the flu, diarrhea, amoeba," said Wembe.
The Nukak, driven from their homes by Marxist FARC guerrillas, have been forced to leave the depths of the jungle.
Only 600 members of this endangered tribe remain and "99 percent no longer live on their original lands, the worst thing that could ever happen to them," said Riano.
Their neighbors reject them and barely consider them human, he added, noting that some women have fallen into prostitution while the men have "become modern slaves in the region's huge coca fields."
The discovery of the Nukak, in 1988, was hailed by anthropologists, who paid tribute to the significant knowledge of the hunter-gatherers in zoology and botany. Now there is anger about their predicament.
"No thought was given to their precarious position as vulnerable people living through a massive culture shock," an international expert told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Wembe sees his tribe's return to its own territory, a vast 900,000 hectares (2.2 million acres) swath of jungle in the middle of southeastern Guaviare department, as the only solution for its survival.
About 100 members of the tribe have headed home, but most are frightened to do so because of dozens of anti-personnel mines scattered across the territory.
These are grim reminders of the brutal battles being fought between the FARC guerrillas, the Colombian army and former paramilitary forces now trafficking drugs.
Giovanni Lepri, of the UN refugee agency, urged the Colombian authorities to take immediate action to ensure the survival of the Nukak people.
"They don't have enough resources, even though they should be entitled to $950,000 in principle due to taxes linked to oil exploration on their territory," he said.
"The money exists in funds to which they do not have access, because the law demands that they are organized under a recognized entity and have a representative, which is not possible for now."
Western Andean Region [contents]
Bolivian unions end strike, accept government offer
Reuters. April 19, 2011
LA PAZ (Reuters) — Bolivian trade unions agreed Monday to end an 11-day general strike over wages, accepting the leftist government's slightly improved offer of an 11 per cent pay increase for 2011.
President Evo Morales has been at odds with the COB labor federation since trying to hike fuel prices last year, a belt-tightening measure he was forced to abandon after mass protests in the impoverished Andean nation.
COB leaders called a general strike in protest of the government's 10-per-cent wage increase for public sector employees. Inflation clocked 11.11 per cent in the 12 months through March, according to official data.
The unions originally demanded a 15-percent raise but voted to accept the government's revised offer.
``The decision has been signed by all the groups belonging to the COB ... therefore all strike measures have been lifted,'' COB leader Pedro Montes told reporters.
The strike paralyzed most health and education services in Bolivia but did not disrupt the crucial natural gas and mining sectors that drive the country's small economy.
Morales, a former coca farmer and close ideological ally of Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez, has stepped up state control over industry and basic services. Union leaders support such policies and want them to be expanded.
Bolivia Backpedals On Glencore, Pan American Mine Takeovers
Dow Jones Newswires. April 20, 2011
Bolivia's plans to nationalize mines owned by Pan American Silver Corp (PAAS) and Swiss commodities trader Glencore International AG appear to have hit a snag, with workers' unions at the two companies rejecting the move.
The government has said it would not move forward with taking over the mines if the unions opposed it.
The idea has been discarded because the unions don't want any change, vice minister of mining development Hector Cordova told Radio Fides late Tuesday.
However, an official decision has not been made yet and mining minister Jose Pimentel was meeting with president Evo Morales Wednesday, mining ministry spokesman Alfredo Zaconeta said in a telephone interview. An official announcement is expected later in the day, he said.
Last week, Morales said something had to be done about miners' demands that the state "reclaim" mines that were sold to private investors in the 1990s.
Morales, has greatly expanded government control over the economy since he took office in 2006. During that time, he has nationalized or raised taxes on oil, natural gas, mining, telecommunications, and power companies.
Glencore's Bolivian subsidiary Sinchi Wayra runs the Colquiri, Porco and Bolivar zinc, lead and tin mines, which were privatized in the 1990s. In February 2007, the Morales administration seized Glencore's Vinto tin smelter following accusations of corruption involving the sale of the plant to Glencore and claims that the company failed to conduct the maintenance stipulated in its contract.
The company and government have been locked in a bitter dispute ever since, with each side claiming that compensation is owed by the other.
Canada's Pan American Silver bought the rights to the San Vicente project from state mining company Comibol at the end of the 1990s. In 2010, Pan American produced more than 3 million ounces of silver at the San Vicente mine.
Pan American Silver is the world's second-largest primary silver producer and has a number of mining operations across Latin America. Its San Vicente mine produced about 12% of the 24.3 million ounces of silver it mined last year.
-By Shane Romig, Dow Jones Newswires; 54-11-4103-6738; firstname.lastname@example.org
AFP: Bolivia to produce lithium carbonate this year: Morales
FOCUS News Agency. April 19, 2011
Uyuni. Bolivia will produce lithium carbonate for the first time this year, President Evo Morales said Tuesday, a sign his country is making economic strides thanks to its key reserves of the mineral used in electric car batteries, AFP reports.
Bolivia has an estimated 70 percent of the world's reserves of the mineral also used in industrial ceramics and pharmaceuticals. It is most prominently used at the moment however in electric car batteries.
"This year we are going to have lithium carbonate already, and the most important thing is that that is a first step toward industrialization," Morales, a leftist who leads South America's poorest nation, said in Uyuni next to the salt flats where the mineral is present.
Morales is keen on having Bolivia actually produce batteries but there has been no agreement ironed out on that at this stage; it would require major capital input from an international partner, something Morales is courting.
Bolivia estimates that south of the salt flats there are 100 million metric tonnes of the mineral.
Lithium is widely used in rechargeable batteries for laptops, mobile phones and electric cars.
Ecuadorian FM holds phone talks with top U.S. official
Xinhua. April 20, 2011
Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino held phone talks with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela, officials said Tuesday.
Monday's conversation was the first official contact between Ecuador and the United States after Quito earlier this month declared the U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador Heather Hodges a "persona non grata" and expelled her from the South American country.
There was "a cordial dialogue" between Patino and Valenzuela Monday at the request of Valenzuela, Ecuadorian Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kintto Lucas told local radio station Democracia, without giving more details about the conversation.
"There is certain information I cannot give. I can only say that there is a total opening with Valenzuela, and he was the one who requested the conversation; it is not that we requested to talk," he said.
Lucas said "certain meetings" are expected to be held to mend strained relations between the two countries, including one under the framework of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) in June.
Ecuador announced Hodges' expulsion after a 2009 diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks revealed controversial comments made by the U.S. ambassador about police corruption in the administration of Ecuador's President Rafael Correa.
In response, the U.S. government declared the Ecuadorian Ambassador to Washington Luis Gallegos persona non grata and asked him to leave the country.
Following the diplomatic incident, the United States suspended the bilateral dialogue mechanism created by the two countries in 2008 that facilitated the discussion of trade, investment and migration issues.
Ecuador says oil firms to invest $450 mln in 2011
Reuters. April 20, 2011
QUITO, April 20 (Reuters) - Private oil companies will invest $450 million in Ecuador in 2011, the OPEC member's Oil Minister Wilson Pastor said in a radio interview on Wednesday.
The South American country has total annual crude output of around 470,000 barrels per day, making it the smallest producing member of OPEC.
"Private oil companies have to invest $450 million this year ... including more than $250 million in exploration," Pastor said.
Most foreign oil companies working in Ecuador signed new operating deals late last year under which they became service providers in exchange for a fee.
The contracts let Ecuador retain about 80 percent of oil revenue, up from 70 percent previously.
The deals, which were signed by five big oil operators and rejected by one, are a key part of leftist President Rafael Correa's drive to increase state control over Ecuador's natural resources. [ID:nN26118806] (Reporting by Santiago Silva; Writing by Eduardo Garcia; Editing by Daniel Wallis)
Judge dismisses firm's lawsuit against Chevron
Reuters. April 19, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Chevron Corp will not have to face accusations from a prominent U.S. law firm that the oil major mounted a "smear campaign" related to long-running environmental battles in Ecuador, a U.S. judge has ruled.
Patton Boggs, a Washington D.C.-based firm representing Ecuadorean plaintiffs suing Chevron, had filed a separate lawsuit saying the company had tried to improperly interfere with its ability to represent the clients.
A judge in Ecuador's Amazon in February ruled against Chevron, demanding that the company pay $8.6 billion for contamination from petroleum drilling in the 1970s and 1980s by Texaco, which was later purchased by the giant U.S. oil company.
Chevron appealed that ruling. The company has also launched a series of separate legal proceedings in a bid to make any judgment unenforceable outside of Ecuador.
Patton Boggs had asked a U.S. judge to rule that its representation of the Ecuadoreans was proper. Tactics used by Chevron -- like threatening to disqualify Patton Boggs in various proceedings -- were tortious interference, the firm argued.
But U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. granted Chevron's bid to dismiss the lawsuit on Tuesday.
"For this court to inform all other federal courts that Patton Boggs is qualified to represent the ... plaintiffs before those courts would be incredibly intrusive," wrote Kennedy, who is based in Washington.
A representative for the plaintiffs declined to comment. The lead Patton Boggs attorney on the case did not immediately respond to a message.
Theodore Boutrous, a lawyer for Chevron, said the lawsuit was "fundamentally flawed." Patton Boggs had sought to add Boutrous' law firm, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, as a defendant, but Kennedy rejected that request.
"We are pleased that the district court so swiftly dismissed this frivolous and misguided lawsuit," Boutrous said.
The case in U.S. District Court, District of Columbia is Patton Boggs LLP v. Chevron Corporation, 10-1975.
(Reporting by Dan Levine, editing by Matthew Lewis)
Peru's Humala caught in uproar over pension funds
Reuters. April 19, 2011
LIMA, April 19 (Reuters) - Left-wing presidential candidate Ollanta Humala vowed on Tuesday to leave Peru's $30 billion in pension funds in private hands, even though his campaign platform calls for replacing them with a government-run system.
It was the second move in as many days by Humala that aimed to appease investors.
Humala, a former army officer who won the first-round vote on April 10 with almost 32 percent of the vote, faces a June 5 run-off against right-wing lawmaker Keiko Fujimori that is expected to be tight. He has adopted an increasingly moderate tone as he campaigns.
Critics have said Humala's official pension plan could jeopardize a key pillar of the country's market-based growth model in one of the world's fastest-growing economies.
The privately run funds, known as AFPs, are the biggest investors in Peru's stock market and, to a lesser extent, in housing construction and infrastructure. They also buy government bonds.
Humala's plan would establish a public pension system to which all classes of workers would be required to contribute based on income.
It would also guarantee a minimum pension to all individuals over 65, mainly to ensure workers who toiled in the vast informal sector have a basic safety net.
The plan says any future contributions to the private pension system, which was set up in the 1990s, would be optional and only complement the public system. Workers in all sectors, even public-sector workers, contribute to the privately run system.
"We guarantee that we won't touch the AFPs," Humala said on Tuesday, referring to workers' savings that are in funds managed by private banks. "We want to give confidence to the Peruvian people."
FINANCE MINISTER STUDIES SAFEGUARDS
Finance Minister Ismael Benavides said he was studying ways to safeguard private pension funds from any legal changes carried out by the next government.
"We're not trying to protect the profits of pension fund companies, but rather the savings of the Peruvian people," Benavides said in the latest sign the outgoing government does not fully trust Humala's pledge to manage the economy prudently, the newspaper Gestion reported.
Humala on Monday added experienced technocrats to his campaign team, leading analysts to say he might revise his official campaign platform. [ID:nN1821532]
Humala won the first-round vote by promising to better distribute the fruits of a decade-long economic boom in a country that still has a poverty rate of around 35 percent.
Investors have sold assets in Peru's stock market .IGRA and the local sol currency PEN=PE since the election. (Reporting by Caroline Stauffer and Marco Aquino)
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean [contents]
Ex-foreign minister says human rights tenuous in Mexico
Jason Buch. San Antonio Express-News. April 20, 2011
After decades of restoring human rights, Latin America is taking steps backward, particularly in Mexico, former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañedasaid Tuesday at Trinity University.
He attacked Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s decision to use the army to combat drug traffickers. Soldiers are not supposed to act as police, he said, and their involvement results in “inevitable human rights violations.”
Castañeda, a human rights advocate, New York University professor and author who was foreign minister from 2000 to 2003, spoke at Trinity as part of the Maverick Lecture Series.
The army’s excesses are particularly frightening, he said, after a 20th century in which many Latin American governments violated their citizens’ rights with such impunity they made the word “disappeared” a transitive verb.
“Governments in Latin America do not go out and shoot people with the same impunity that they did before,” Castañeda said. “They still do it, but they do it a whole lot less. And a whole lot less is a big deal. Because it means people can go out into the streets and protest.”
But in Mexico, he said, civil rights are eroding as the government orders soldiers to fight drug traffickers. To protect civil rights, Castañeda said, Mexican society must rely on entities that are anathema to its individualist nature: foreign governments, foreign news media and nongovernmental organizations.
The onus to protect human rights in Latin America is on the U.S. as well, Castañeda said. Money the U.S. sends to Mexico to fight drug traffickers should be withheld from places such as Ciudad Juárez and the coastal state of Quintana Roo, where high-ranking police officials have a history of human rights abuses.
While he doesn’t agree with the war, Castañeda acknowledged he understands the logic behind it.
“What I don’t see the logic in,” Castañeda said, “is the Obama administration getting involved in Libya to stop the death of what could have been thousands in Benghazi and unconditionally supporting the drug war in Mexico that has already killed 40,000.”
US and Panama near trade deal
James Politi. Financial Times. April 20, 2011
A trade agreement between the US and Panama is heading for congressional consideration, paving the way for larger bilateral deals with Colombia and South Korea to move towards ratification in the coming months.
The progress on the US-Panama deal followed the implementation this week of an agreement between the two countries designed to make it easier for them to curb money laundering and identify tax evaders.
It came amid a flurry of activity in US trade policy, as the administration sought to press ahead with the Panama, Colombia and South Korea deals, which had been stalled for more than three years since being signed by George W. Bush when president.
With Republicans now in control of the House of Representatives, the agreements face improved prospects of being approved by Congress, where much of the opposition to trade comes from Democrats.
The Business Roundtable, a lobbying group for corporate America, cheered what it described as “excellent” news for the US economy on Tuesday.
“Together, these trade pacts will create new opportunities for American companies and workers, ensure fairness and accountability in the international economy and open new markets for American goods and services in these countries,” it said.
But critics – such as Public Citizen’s global trade watch – say the tax agreement with Panama contains loopholes that will allow the central American nation to remain a tax haven and will not help efforts to crack down on tax dodging. Mike Michaud, the Democratic congressman from Maine, chimed in on Tuesday: “I firmly believe these Nafta-model trade deals are flawed and will cost our country jobs.”
In December, the US and South Korea reached a deal that made their free trade agreement more palatable to the US auto industry. This month, US and Colombian negotiators announced a plan to address concerns about labour rights and violence against union members in the South American country, which could soon pave the way for the submission of that bilateral pact to Congress.
The Panama deal will be endorsed by Barack Obama, US president, and Ricardo Martinelli, his Panama counterpart, at a White House meeting next week.
Ex President Zelaya Might Return to Honduras
Inside Costa Rica. April 19, 2011
Tegucigalpa - Former President Manuel Zelaya plans to return to Honduras in May, in the wake of efforts started this month with the mediation of Venezuela, Deputy Coordinator of the National People´s Resistance Front (FNRP) Juan Barahona announced.
Barahona said that the FNRP fully trust the mediation of President Hugo Chavez so that institutional order can be restored in Honduras.
Leaders of the resistance front participated along with Zelaya in a meeting on Saturday in Caracas with Chavez, who expressed his willingness to contribute to restore peace and democracy in Honduras. Zelaya´s return is a main demand made by the international community to Honduran President Porfirio Lobo so that the country can be re-admitted into the Organization of American States.
"The OAS General Assembly is scheduled for early June and ex President Zelaya has to be in Honduras before the country is accepted again in the organization," said Barahona.
Zelaya was ousted by a coup and taken to Costa Rica on June 28, 2009.
Three months later he managed to enter Honduras unexpectedly, and remained in the Brazilian Embassy until he left for the Dominican Republic in January 2010.
Besides demanding full guarantees for the return of the former president, the anti-coup resistance front demands the return of all people from exile, the defense of human rights and the call for a National Constituent Assembly.
Guatemalan Government Says Thousands at Risk of Going Hungry
EFE. April 19, 2011
GUATEMALA CITY – The Guatemalan government on Tuesday declared a nationwide “nutritional risk alert” to avoid a food crisis in the country’s poorest areas where thousands of people don’t have enough food to survive.
Press secretary Ronaldo Robles told reporters that the measure was taken by President Alvaro Colom and his Cabinet to facilitate the implementation of a contingency plan designed by the National Council for Food and Nutritional Security, or Conasan.
“This is a nutritional risk alert, not an emergency. What is being sought with this measure is, precisely, to prevent the emergency,” Robles said.
To implement the plan, which includes the distribution of food to at-risk families, the government needs 324 million quetzales ($40.5 million), of which it only has 46 million quetzales ($5.8 million).
“Financial resources will have to be sought from different sources, but the important thing is obtaining them by means of a tax reform,” Robles said.
In addition to the distribution of food, the plan sets forth mechanisms to monitor the results obtained in its initial phases, as well as the stockpiling of reserves to prevent the development of a full-blown food emergency.
Extreme effects caused by climate change ranging from prolonged droughts to heavy rains have damaged the harvests of millions of poor farmers in the country’s interior.
The so-called “dry corridor,” which spans nine provinces, along with the southern coastal communities affected by the rains, are the areas that have been most affected.
Conasan says that some 5,000 children suffer from acute malnutrition nationwide and another 10,000 are “at risk” due to their lack of minimum nutrients.
A study by the national ombud’s office released last week said that up until March at least 808,137 cases of chronic malnutrition had been tallied on the national level.
Action Against Hunger, an international NGO, said that in the dry-corridor provinces of Jalapa and Chiquimula the lack of food forced poor families to reduce the average amount of food a person consumes each day by 40 percent from 1.23 pounds to 0.75 pounds. EFE
A Fair Wind for Clean Energy in Central America
Danilo Valladares. Inter-Press Service. April 19, 2011
GUATEMALA CITY, Apr 19, 2011 (IPS) - Soaring international prices for oil and gas are driving the expansion of renewable energies in Central America, a region that has plenty of untapped potential for producing hydroelectricity, wind power and geothermal energy.
"What stands out the most is that all the countries are interested in wind energy, and in continuing to make the most of hydroelectric power, with the development of large scale megaprojects," José María Blanco, head of the Fundación Red de Energía (BUN-CA), a Costa Rica-based non-governmental organisation, told IPS.
"The region is looking ahead to the completion of the Central American Electrical Interconnection System (SIEPAC)", which involves putting up 1,800 kilometres of 230-kilovolt transmission lines from Guatemala in the north to Panama in the south, he said.
The SIEPAC project, which has a planned interchange capacity of 300 megawatts, three times the present capacity, and a projected cost of 500 million dollars, is due to come onstream for commercial operation later this year.
In recent weeks, the pockets of Central American consumers have been hurt by constant increases in fuel prices. Gasoline, for instance, has climbed to nearly five dollars a gallon (3.8 litres), and diesel fuel is four dollars a gallon, with the usual knock-on effect on the basic basket of goods, an index of the cost of living.
This scenario has made renewable energies more attractive in the region because of their low environmental impact and lower consumer prices, in contrast with the volatile prices of fossil fuels and the high levels of pollution they cause.
Costa Rica, for example, is building the largest hydroelectric dam in the country on the Reventazón river, close to the town of Siquirres on the Atlantic coast. It will be capable of generating 306.5 megawatts, and will cost 1.2 billion dollars.
In Honduras the British power company Globeleq, together with Mesoamerica Energy, a Central American firm, are working on a 250 million dollar wind park in Cerro de Hula, 24 kilometres south of Tegucigalpa, with a capacity of 102 megawatts.
Roberto Leiva, of the Honduras Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD-Honduras), told IPS several hydroelectric plants are under construction or in process of being approved in Honduras. A wind park is also being built, and plans for at least two geothermal facilities are being studied.
Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala have also embarked on new projects for solar, wind, geothermal and hydroelectric power that will change their energy mix, at present based mainly on oil.
Central America could develop renewable energy sources with a potential capacity of more than 31,000 megawatts, comprising 60 percent hydroelectric power, 30 percent wind power and the remaining 10 percent geothermal energy, BUN-CA studies say.
However, the region is still "highly dependent on imported fossil fuels, which provide 80 percent of total energy consumption," Blanco said.
Costa Rica is the exception in the region. Over 80 percent of its energy mix is derived from renewable sources, according to the state Costa Rican Institute of Electricity (ICE).
But Dinora Sandino of the Nicaraguan Association for Renewable Energy and the Environment told IPS that, because of high oil prices, "we have seen a marked trend over the last decade towards substitution of fossil fuels with renewable energy sources."
In 2008, clean energies represented 36 percent of installed capacity within the country's energy mix, and the aim is for them to grow to 90 percent by 2016, according to the government of leftwing President Daniel Ortega.
To meet this goal, the plan is to generate 600 megawatts, mainly from a geothermal project at San Jacinto-Tizate, in northwestern Nicaragua, and hydroelectric developments at Tumarín, in the eastern province of Atlántico Sur, and Larreynaga and HidroPantasma, in the northern province of Jinotega, according to the Nicaraguan Ministry of Energy and Mines.
"The entry into force of the Electrical Industry Law in 1998 was an incentive for the private sector to participate in the generation of renewable energy and increased state participation in carrying out hydroelectric and geothermal projects," Sandino said.
El Salvador is not lagging far behind. "The rising price of oil has had a major influence on the development of clean energies, but so has concern for the environment," Luis Miguel Vázquez of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) told IPS.
Last year, JICA-El Salvador began drawing up a master plan to develop renewable energies in the country over the next 15 years, including solar photovoltaic technology, concentrated solar thermal power, wind energy, geothermal and hydroelectric power and biomass.
At present, El Salvador depends on fossil fuels for 80 percent of its energy. "This illustrates the pressing need for renewable energies, which at first glance might seem more expensive, but in the long run are affordable and environmentally friendly," Vázquez said.
Oswaldo García, with the Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Mines, told IPS that "the trend is to use more renewable energy" due to the high prices of crude, but also because of disasters like the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, caused by the Mar. 11 earthquake and tsunami.
"There is a great deal of international pressure to use environmentally friendly sources of energy, in order to avoid accelerating climate change," he said.
Guatemala is aiming for an energy mix in 2022 made up of 58 percent hydroelectric power, 37 percent thermoelectric power produced by stations fuelled by coal, natural gas and biomass, 4 percent geothermal energy and only the remaining 0.6 percent based on oil.
This will require heavy investments, since statistics for 2008 indicated that oil generated 46 percent of the country's energy consumption.
César Barrios of FUNDAECO, a foundation for eco-development and conservation, told IPS renewable energy is a good option in view of the high price of oil and the problem of pollution.
"The difficulty is that companies do not make an effort to empower the local communities in the vicinity of their installations. They should educate local people so that they can participate in the management of the projects, and generate real development in the communities," he said. (END)
Cuba Lays Foundation for a New Leader
RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD. New York Times. April 19, 2011
HAVANA — Cuba made the most significant change to its leadership since the 1959 revolution on Tuesday, possibly setting the stage for a post-Castro era by naming someone other than Fidel or Raúl to the second-highest position in the Communist Party for the first time.
The appointment, at the party’s first congress in 14 years, coincided with a blizzard of changes allowing more private enterprise that, taken together, are meant to pull the revolution out of a midlife crisis that has led to a sinking economy and even — in the estimation of President Raúl Castro — stagnant thinking.
With Fidel Castro, 84, looking on but silent, dressed in a blue warm-up suit over a checkered shirt and helped at times by aides when he stood to clap, his 79-year-old brother took the top position of the party and read off a list of leadership changes that made official Fidel Castro’s departure from the ranks of the party he founded. The longtime leader, who was warmly cheered by party members, had announced last month he was no longer first secretary of the party, but his name still appeared on lists.
The new No. 2, who will be closely watched as a possible next president, is not the young-up-and-comer President Castro had hinted might ascend as he called for a rejuvenation of the political system. Instead, he tapped a party stalwart and fellow combatant in the revolution, José Ramón Machado, 80, who fought at his side in the mountains during the rebellion 50 years ago.
President Castro did, however, name several people younger than 70 to the central committee and three to the 15-member politburo, possibly grooming them for bigger roles in the future.
The president, aside from offering the usual lashing words toward the United States, portrayed the changes as an upgrade of Cuban socialism, rather than a reboot that would open the way to full-on capitalism.
“I assume my post to defend, preserve and continue perfecting socialism, and never permit the return of capitalism,” the president said in a speech closing the congress
But analysts said it was clear the president trusted the old guard bound firmly to the revolution to guide any economic reforms, which could include the buying and selling of homes, banned since the revolution, and the eventual elimination of state subsidies such as ration books. The congress approved over 300 modifications, without releasing details, and sent them to the national assembly for widely expected ratification.
“What it means is any generational change and the implementation of reforms will be guided by the historicos — or perhaps better put, constrained by the history of the Cuban revolution and the memories and goals of its founders,” said Christopher Sabatini, a Cuba scholar who edits Americas Quarterly.
Dominican police and soldiers are increasingly getting in the drug trade
Frances Robles. Miami Herald. April 20, 2011
SANTO DOMINGO -- Elías Enmanuel Núñez is an ex-cop on the run.
The former lieutenant with the Dominican Republic’s National Police anti-narcotics unit accused his supervisors of protecting drug dealers and stealing dope. He was fired, threatened with death, and officially logged as one of the 5,000 crooked police officers, soldiers or anti-narcotics agents sacked in the past three years.
“I would arrest a drug dealer for having however many kilos of cocaine, and the next day the drugs I seized would be gone, and the guy would be back on his corner,” Núñez told The Miami Herald. “I did not offer myself to that kind of thing, and now I can’t even get a job as a security guard.”
Núñez eventually went public, and the colonels in question were suspended. They are among thousands of law enforcement officers that Dominican authorities acknowledge have become hit men, thieves or drug traffickers. Many formed business partnerships with the Dominican drug dealers and Colombian cartels that move massive amounts of cocaine by land and sea through the island of Hispaniola.
As more Colombian drugs move through the Dominican Republic on their way to Europe and the United States, traffickers have corrupted the very institutions charged with keeping them at bay, destabilizing already weak agencies plagued by low pay and graft.
Entire trafficking networks have been dismantled from within the armed forces, National Police and the country’s specialized quasi-military anti-drug corps. More than 20 percent of the National Drug Control Directorate, the country’s equivalent of the DEA, was fired last year, underscoring the need for massive reform in a country where U.S. anti-drug aid has dwindled.
“There is no question that most of the heavy lifting in drug trafficking in the Dominican Republic is being done by the military: They are the ones who facilitate the entry of drugs,” said Miami attorney Joaquin Perez, who represents traffickers. “They get a commission, in the form of drugs, and then find someone to sell it.”
Earlier this month, 12 soldiers, including a captain and lieutenant colonel assigned to the Puerto Plata airport anti-drug agency were arrested in a scheme to smuggle 33 kilos of cocaine to Canada in a child’s suitcase, prosecutors announced.
An internal affairs lieutenant investigating dirty cops was murdered in January. A commission that probed last year’s high profile arrest of fugitive Puerto Rican kingpin José David Figueroa Agosto recommended the dismissal of 13 police officers, including six bosses.
The issue exploded here in August 2008, when seven Colombian men were found dead in Paya, a village near Bani, a southern Dominican city. Twenty two people — among them soldiers who posed as drug agents — were convicted of robbing the Colombians of 1,300 kilos of cocaine and then murdering them.
Gen. Rolando Rosado stepped in as head of the National Drug Control Directorate (DNCD) last year and fired 418 of his 2,000 officers.
“They have to take out what doesn’t work, and if that leaves 10 people, then they need to start over with those 10 people,” said Jordy Veras, an attorney in Santiago, a city north of the capital. “The situation is very grave.”
Veras was shot twice in the head last year by hit men hired by a former client’s jailed husband. Seven cops and one Navy officer were arrested.
Anti-corruption activist Julio De La Rosa, a professor at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, said a university study showed that of 10 reported crimes, six were committed by police officers.
“Based on our experience, the honorable police who commit no crime make up maybe 35 percent of the National Police,” said De La Rosa, who runs the Dominican Anti-Corruption Alliance. “Some don’t participate in drug trafficking, but during searches may keep some of the suspect’s belongings. In the armed forces, you see more support and backup to illicit organizations. Murders and crime are more the work of the National Police.’’
Former officers, lawyers and activists interviewed stressed that while the corruption is rampant and has nabbed colonels and captains, the agency chiefs are widely believed to be honest.
“Gen. Rosado, he’s been there a year and a half and is really doing a very excellent job in his efforts to tackle drug trafficking in the Dominican Republic and to weed out many of these bad apples,” said a U.S. government official who, citing policy, spoke on the condition that he not be named. The number of officers and soldiers removed are staggering. The Listin Diario newspaper recently published a three-year tally:
• The armed Forces has fired 2,300 soldiers in the past three years, including two generals and six colonels
• 1,100 soldiers dismissed from the Air Force
• 1,200 police officers fired by the last police chief
• The Army said it fired more than 100 soldiers for drug offenses alone.
“It is not an isolated situation: it is systemic and constant,” Rosado said.
Experts warn that the purges are a façade because many of the fired officers are never criminally charged.
“They are creating a problem because they fire people who have already made contacts with criminal organizations,” De La Rosa said. “It’s not like these people are going to go work for private companies.”
Javier Cabreja, who heads the nonprofit group Citizen Participation, said many fired officers wind up back on the job months later.
“It’s a way to claim to the public that you are doing something but without doing true reform,” he said.
Rosado said the DNCD now offers perks to attack paltry salaries that top brass acknowledges are part of the problem. Officers now get a month’s minimum wages for every kilo of cocaine seized, if the seizure comes with a criminal suspect.
“We will never be able to compete with what the narcos offer,” he said. “If we arm them with values, yes, they can resist the temptation.”
If officers bring in the drug traffickers who attempt to pay them off, they are now rewarded with the amount of the bribe. For most of 2010, only two bribery cases were brought against drug traffickers. But from last September to March of this year: 39.
“It has awakened the spirit of the work,” Rosado said.
Mabel Feliz, the Dominican government’s top drug policy administrator, said corruption spread when the Dominican Republic stopped being just a transit nation perfectly positioned half-way between Colombia and the United States.
Cartels started paying dealers in product instead of cash, creating a domestic market that produced hundreds of drug sale points, which offered low-paid patrolmen an opportunity for extra bribe money to augment the $150 monthly salaries.
“The officers live in extreme poverty, and drug traffickers use all methods to conquer them,” she said. “The government has responded.’’ She stressed that high school diplomas are now required to join the police department.
In 2004, President Leonel Fernández hired Florida International University Prof. Eduardo Gamarra as a consultant to conduct police reform. Initial pilot programs were successful, but Gamarra acknowledges that the wholesale layoffs required became politically unfeasible.
The culture of the institutions must change, including better pay, training and incentives that make the officers proud to be cops, he said. .
“Am I being successful because all these cops were arrested, or am I a failure because all these cops were arrested?” he said. “The reason you are seeing more cases is because they are being found, purged and expelled; some are even serving time.”
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