Latin America News Round-up
April 21, 2011
South America Is Priority for Brazil’s Foreign Policy, Says Rousseff
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Brazil and Southern Cone
Spread of drone programs in Latin America sparks calls for code of conduct
Rousseff: South America Is Priority for Brazil’s Foreign Policy. EFE
Brazil Signals More Interest Rate Increases at a ‘Softer’ Pace. Bloomberg
Brazil: “What do we want? A rate cut. When do we want it? Now!”. Financial Times
Rebellion in the Brazilian Amazon. Americas Program
Argentine Witness to Bishop's Death Disappears. AP
Capital Controls in Chile Aren't ‘Suitable’ for Now, Central Banker Says. Bloomberg
Chile Launches First Quick-Charging Station For Electric Cars. Dow Jones
Paraguay dividing over spending Brazilian millions. AP
Northern Andean Region
Venezuela's January Retail Sales Rise 5.2% From Year Earlier. Dow Jones
Colombian citizens continue to be victims of demobilized AUC: OAS. Colombia Reports
Colombia: Mudslides cause major damage in Utica. BBC
Participatory Budgeting Is Music To Medellin's Poor. NPR
Western Andean Region
Bolivia accepts financial aid offer from US to monitor coca eradication. The Guardian
Bolivia Celebrates Law Granting Rights to Mother Earth. Environmental News Service
Chevron Submits Amended Complaint To Block Ecuador Ruling. Dow Jones
Ecuador Seizes Drug-Running Super Submarine. NPR
In response to Renco lobbying, activists mount their own campaign. Sunlight Foundation
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean
Activists highlight ordeal of migrants in southern Mexico. EFE
‘Misleading’ Claims Harm Honduras Emissions-Project Owner, Executive Says. Bloomberg
Finance ministry dismisses reports of wage freeze extension. Jamaica Observer
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration
Spread of drone programs in Latin America sparks calls for code of conduct. Christian Science Monitor
Brazil and Southern Cone [contents]
Rousseff: South America Is Priority for Brazil’s Foreign Policy
EFE. April 21, 2011
RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said Wednesday that the priorities of her foreign policy is the integration of South America and closer relations with emerging nations like China, India and Russia, while at the same time maintaining “constructive relations” with the United States and Europe.
“South America will continue to be the top foreign-policy priority of my government. I made that priority clear by choosing Argentina for my first trip abroad,” Rousseff said in her speech at a Diplomat Day ceremony.
“There is no room for the strife and rivalries that separated us in the past. The countries of the continent have become valuable economic and political partners of Brazil,” said the president, who took office on Jan. 1 replacing her mentor, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva.
Unlike other countries battered by the world economic crisis, those in South America had an average economic growth last year of 7.2 percent and became a “dynamic pole of world growth,” she said.
“Today, as we commemorate 20 years since the signing of the Treaty of Asuncion that created Mercosur, we have much to celebrate. In that period, trade within the bloc surged from $4.3 billion to $44 billion,” she said.
She said that the four original partners of Mercosur – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – stand out as the five economies in Latin America that grew the most last year.
She said another priority for Brazil are its relations with emerging nations of the group known as BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – in whose name she attended last week’s summit in China.
She said she used the gathering to send a “clear message to our strategic partners: we not only want to expand trade but also to diversify it. We’re not ashamed to be a big exporters of raw materials but we want to expand our value-added exports.”
At the same time, Rousseff said that Brazil will not give up its already good relations with the United States and Europe.
In that regard she hoped that U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Brazil will serve to invigorate bilateral relations and give them an added dose of pragmatism.
Rousseff also used the speech to repeat Brazil’s long-standing demand for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
“Reforming the U.N. Security Council is not a whim of Brazil. It reflects the need to adjust this important instrument to the correlation of forces of the 21st century. The big decisions have to be taken by organizations that are more representative and consequently more legitimate,” she said.
The council currently has five permanent members – the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France, each with veto power – and 10 rotating seats apportioned by region. EFE
Brazil Signals More Interest Rate Increases at a ‘Softer’ Pace
Andre Soliani and Matthew Bristow. Bloomberg. April 21, 2011
April 21 (Bloomberg) -- Brazil’s central bank signaled it may keep raising borrowing costs for a longer period of time than many economists had expected after slowing the pace of rate increases yesterday.
Policy makers raised the benchmark Selic rate by a quarter point to 12 percent, surprising the 41 of 58 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg who expected them to maintain the 50 basis point pace of the previous two meetings. Fifteen analysts predicted the smaller increase, which was anticipated by traders, according to interest-rate futures. Two dissenting members of the board favored raising the Selic to 12.25 percent.
The bank’s seven-member board said in a statement that an adjustment of monetary conditions for a “sufficiently long period” is the “most adequate” strategy to guarantee inflation returns to its 4.5 percent target in 2012. The board, led by President Alexandre Tombini, said it reduced the pace of increases because of uncertainty over the global recovery and Brazil’s domestic slowdown.
Inflation expectations could deteriorate further if analysts judge the strategy insufficient to rein in consumer prices that rose this month at their fastest pace since 2008, said Zeina Latif, a senior economist with RBS Securities Inc.
“You can lose credibility very fast but to regain it is very slow,” said Latif in a phone interview from Sao Paulo. “Even though they signaled that they will do more, it doesn’t mean markets will be comfortable. It doesn’t mean that markets will celebrate.”
Consumer prices rose 6.44 percent in the year through mid- April, close to the upper limit of the central bank’s target range of 4.5 percent, plus or minus 2 percentage points. Analysts surveyed by the central bank on April 15 expect prices to rise 6.29 percent this year, and 5 percent in 2012.
The same survey showed economists had expected policy makers to raise the Selic to 12.25 percent yesterday, then keep it on hold for the rest of the year.
The signaling of “softer” increases to come is a “costly strategy given the de-anchoring of inflation expectations and recent inflationary surprises,” said Marcelo Salomon, chief Brazil economist for Barclays Capital.
“It would be better to go more proactive and continue at 50 basis point pace and then stop,” Salomon said in an interview from New York.
Yesterday’s decision reinforces the bank’s strategy of relying on a mix of policy tools, including budget cuts and measures to curb consumer lending, to fight inflation, said Jankiel Santos, chief economist at Espirito Santo Investment Bank in Sao Paulo.
Traders have pared bets for the year-end Selic since policy makers said March 10 that such measures are a “rapid and potent” weapon. The yield on interest rate futures maturing in May 2011 rose five basis points yesterday to 11.92 percent.
Total outstanding credit in Brazil’s economy rose 21 percent from a year earlier in February, to 1.74 trillion reais. Tombini told lawmakers March 22 that growth in consumer credit of more than 15 percent needs to be monitored “very carefully” to avoid “excessive risks.”
The 6.4 percent appreciation of Brazil’s currency against the dollar in the past month may have been decisive in persuading policy makers to increase borrowing costs by a smaller amount, said Gustavo Rangel, chief Brazil economist for ING Financial Markets in New York.
“That clearly adds to the bank’s more benign assessment of inflation,” Rangel said before the decision was announced.
The real gained 0.6 percent to 1.5663 per U.S. dollar, its strongest close since August, 2008. The real’s gain in the last month is the third best among the 16-most traded currencies tracked by Bloomberg after the New Zealand and Australian dollars.
While fighting currency gains, Brazil is raising borrowing costs along with policy makers in Russia, India and China -- the other so-called BRIC nations -- that are contending with similar inflationary pressures as commodity prices surge. Regional peers Chile, Colombia and Peru have also raised their borrowing costs in the past month.
Brazil’s bank may be expecting a supply shock caused by higher commodities prices globally to recede in the coming months, said Pedro Tuesta, a Washington-based economist for Latin America at 4Cast Inc. Food and beverage prices rose 2.15 percent in the first three months of 2011, after increasing 10.4 percent in 2010.
The central bank expects consumer prices to rise 5.6 percent this year, and 4.6 percent in 2012, according to its so- called reference scenario in its March 30 quarterly inflation report, which assumes an interest rate of 11.75 percent.
“Given the recent dovishness showed by the monetary authority, the stability of the Selic rate at 12 percent should not be seen with surprise,” Enestor Dos Santos, senior Brazil economist for BBVA in Madrid, said in a report.
Finance Minister Guido Mantega said April 18 that Brazil is neither “patient” with nor “tolerant” of faster inflation, and that the measures already taken will be effective after a lag.
President Dilma Rousseff’s government cut 50.7 billion reais ($32.4 billion) from its 2011 budget to help curb inflationary pressure. In December, the central bank raised banks’ reserve requirements to slow credit growth, and this month the government doubled to 3 percent the so-called IOF tax on consumer credit.
Growth in Latin America’s biggest economy is slowing after a 7.5 percent expansion last year, though it’s unclear how quickly.
Capacity utilization rose to its highest level in three years in February as the central bank’s economic activity index, a proxy for gross domestic product, rose at the fastest pace since August. Brazil is close to full employment, Mantega said April 18, a day before the government reported a 6.5 percent March jobless rate that was the lowest for the month since 2002.
Retail sales unexpectedly fell 0.4 percent in February, down from a revised 1.1 percent increase in January. Tombini said March 22 that the retail sector is “perhaps the best expression of the current state of the economy.”
--With assistance from Iuri Dantas in Brasilia and Fernando Simon in Sao Paulo. Editors: Joshua Goodman, Robert Jameson
To contact the reporter on this story: Matthew Bristow in Brasilia at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at email@example.com
Brazil: “What do we want? A rate cut. When do we want it? Now!”
Samantha Pearson. Financial Times (Beyond Brics). April 20, 2011
Angry protestors hit the streets of Brazil on Tuesday, waving red flags and shouting anti-government slogans.
A stand against poor working conditions? Corruption? The abuse of human rights? No; what had got these crowds so riled up in the São Paulo sunshine was interest rates.
Brazil’s main workers’ union CUT is calling for the central bank to help combat extreme poverty by lowering the country’s sky-high interest rate at its monetary policy meeting on Wednesday.
Greedy bankers and speculators are the only ones who gain from higher interest rates while lower lending costs help the workers, a protest pamphlet declares.
“Brazil’s development is more important than inflation targets,” it reads.
Unfortunately for CUT, policymakers do care about inflation and there is absolutely no chance of a reduction in rates this week.
Brazil’s twelve-month inflation rate is already close to breaking the central bank’s official limit of 6.5 per cent, sending alarm bells ringing in a country where hyperinflation crippled the economy for decades.
Instead, the big question is whether the central bank will raise the so-called Selic rate, which currently stands at 11.75 per cent, by 25 basis points or by 50.
According to a Reuters survey, the consensus among economists is for a 50 basis point hike. The central bank needs to take a stand and show its sceptics once and for all that it can contain rising prices, they say.
However, the market shows that traders disagree. The prices of interest rates futures, which have often produced more accurate forecasts than economists, are now indicating a 75 per cent chance of a 25 basis point increase.
Brazil is reluctant to raise interest rates much further for fear of boosting the already overvalued local currency, and the government has increasingly relied on credit restraints and capital measures to slow the economy instead.
As such, some argue that central bank policymakers will only raise the Selic by 25 points and hope that their colleagues in the finance ministry can do the rest of the work.
Either way, the protesters won’t be happy.
Rebellion in the Brazilian Amazon
Raúl Zibechi. Americas Program. April 20, 2011
During the month of March 2011 the biggest social protest by workers in many years erupted in Brazil. More than 80,000 workers all over the country paralyzed the work of “progress” in the form of hydroelectric plants, refineries, and thermoelectric generating facilities. The spark of the protest was lit in Jirau, in the Amazon jungle, provoked by arbitrary action, violence, and authoritarianism.
It all started with something very small, just like in Tunisia, the way all great social events begin. It was a fight involving a worker and a bus driver, on the afternoon of March 15, at the camp where thousands of laborers from the poorest regions of Brazil are building one of the largest hydroelectric dams in the country, a gigantic project on the Madeira River that will cost ten billion dollars.
Soon after the fight, in which the laborer was beaten, hundreds of workers began to set fire to the buses that take them from their barracks to the worksite. Some sources mention 45 buses and another 15 vehicles burned, but others raise the toll of buses burned to 80, in just a few minutes. The offices of the construction firm, Camargo Correa, also burned, along with half the workers’ dormitories and at least three bank ATMs. Some 8,000 workers went into the jungle to escape the violence. The police were overwhelmed, and only managed to protect the facilities where the explosives used to alter the course of the river are stored. Calm was only restored when the national government headed by president Dilma Rousseff sent 600 troops of the military police to take control of the situation. But the workers, numbering around 20,000 in the Jirau site, went back to their places of origin rather than returning to work.
At the nearby Santo Antonio construction site a work stoppage began that involved the 17,000 workers who are building yet another generating plant on the Madeira River near Porto Velho, the capital of the state of Rondônia. In just a week the wave of strikes spread through the huge worksites: 20,000 workers left their jobs at the Abreu e Lima refinery in Pernambuco, another 14,000 at the Saupe petrochemical plant in the same city, 5,000 in Pecém, in the state of Ceará. What these strikes have in common is that they all have taken place in the gigantic projects of the Growth Acceleration Program (Programa de Aceleração do Crescimiento–PAC), and they have challenged the biggest construction firms in the country, the Brazilian multinationals contracted by the national government.
The Dams on the Madeira River
The Madeira River is the main tributary of the Amazon. Starting at the convergence of the Beni and Mamoré Rivers near the city of Vila Bela on the border of Brazil and Bolivia, it is 4,207 km long, one of the 20 longest rivers in the world and one of the top 10 in volume. It is fed by runoff from the Andes mountains in Bolivia and southern Peru, and thus has great potential for hydroelectrical generation.
Brazil’s growth plans require huge amounts of electrical energy, and national planners take the position that the rivers of the Amazon basin are underutilized. The plan for the Madeira River is to build four hydroelectric dams, of which two, Jirau and Santo Antonio in the Brazilian stretch between the Bolivian border and Porto Velho, are already under construction. The Jirau dam, 150 km from the state capital, will produce 3,350 megawatts, and Santo Antonio will have the capacity for 3,150 megawatts. These two projects are priorities of the Growth Acceleration Program, which seeks to connect the isolated systems of Acre state (adjacent to Rondônia) and Maranhão (on the Atlantic coast to the north) to the national electrical distribution grid. 
According to several analysts, the overall plan is to use the hydroelectric potential of the Amazon to benefit the regions of Brazil’s Center-South, which have the largest industrial concentrations, and to supply electrical power to those sectors that are intensive users of energy, such as mining, metal refining, and cement production. This will also support the agroindustrial sector, the “driving force of the Brazilian connection to the Pacific.” 
An expansion is taking place from the historic core region of the national economy, in São Paulo and the southern states, toward the north, where the great hydroelectric projects are being developed, along with the expansion of the highway system and growth of livestock and mining. President Lula launched the Growth Acceleration Program in early 2007 with enormous investments over four years of 503 billion dollars, equivalent to 23% of Brazil’s Gross National Product at the time. Leaving aside the petroleum sector, the biggest investment, of 78 billion dollars, was in electrical energy generation and transmission.
In 2010 PAC 2 was launched, with three times more resources, approaching one trillion dollars over 4 years. The production of electrical energy is one of the largest investment sectors. Brazil had a total installed electrical generation capacity of 106,000 megawatts in 2009, including hydro, thermal, petroleum, and nuclear sources. Hydroelectric power produced 75,500 megawatts in that year, but the potential generating capacity of its rivers is 260,000 megawatts, the largest of any country in the world. In other words, “only” 30% of its potential is being utilized.
The National Energy Plan 2030 envisions reaching 126,000 megawatts of hydroelectric energy by the latter year, an increase of 65%, most of which would be concentrated in the Amazon and Tocantins river basins. To double power generation along the jungle rivers, as proposed in the “Brazil 2022” plan, immense projects would have to be built in a very short time. The Jirau project was approved in May 2008, to be built by a consortium called Sustainable Energy of Brazil, including Suez Energy with 50.1%, Camargo Correa with 9.9%, Eletrosul with 20%, and the Companhia Hidroelétrica de São Francisco (CHESF) with 20%. The initial cost was set at 5.5 billion dollars, financed by the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES).
From the start, the project was the target of criticism and accusations. It puts at risk indigenous groups who have chosen voluntary isolation. The National Environmental Institute (IBAMA) approved the project in July 2007 under political pressure and contrary to the opinion of its own technical experts. The consortium moved the site of the dam to a location 9 km downriver to reduce costs, with no study of the environmental impact of such a change. In February 2009 IBAMA decided to stop work on the project because it was using the new site without authorization, and imposed a heavy fine. In June 2009, however, the definitive environmental permits to proceed were issued in the midst of protests and demonstrations by environmental groups.
Bolivia also criticized the project so near its borders, due to concerns that the large lakes behind the dams could increase the incidence of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. According to the Brazilian media cases of malaria had increased 63% in the area of the project in the first seven months of 2009, over the previous year.
Rebellion in the Jungle
The two projects now under construction employ about 40,000 workers, 70% of whom are from other Brazilian states. At Jirau alone there are some 20,000 employees, the great majority poorly paid laborers (wages are around 1,000 reais per month, about 600 dollars). They come to the isolated jungle work sites from distant places in the northeast, far north, and even the south of Brazil, many times tricked by labor recruiters (called gatos, “cats”) who promise them wages and working conditions better than the reality. All of them must pay the gatos for the “services” they provide.
When they arrive on the site workers are already in debt, and food and medicines are more expensive because they must be purchased from company stores. Many are housed in wooden barracks where they sleep on mattresses on the floor. The bathrooms are few and distant, there is no electricity, and they are crowded. Maria Ozânia da Silva, of the Pastoral of the Migrant in Rondônia, says that the workers “feel frustrated by their wages, and for the deductions from them made with no explanation.”
The first problem they complain about is that Camargo Correa, the company in charge of Jirau, does not pay overtime. But the “revolt of the laborers” is not about wages, but about dignity, says journalist Leonardo Sakamoto. The ten main demands of the protesters include: putting a stop to the aggressive actions of supervisors and security guards, who use private jails; respectful treatment of those who come into the barracks when inebriated; an end to the moral harassment of office workers and laborers; payment for transportation time when the trip to the worksite is long; efficient service in the dining halls so that the wait in line doesn’t take up the time for rest after the meal; and payment for rations that is based on local prices.
According to Sakamoto the laborers of today have a profile quite different from those who worked in construction in the 1990s. Today they use cell phones and the internet, they know what is happening in world, they are proud of dressing well, they demand respectful treatment and they often use the word “dignity.” They are bothered by the precarious condition of the buildings and dormitories as well as the isolation far from their families, and the least mistreatment sets them off. Silvio Areco, an engineer with experience on large projects, notes the change: “Before, whoever gave the orders on the worksite was almost a colonel, he had authority. Nowadays that doesn’t work. A common laborer has more independence.”
The companies are in a hurry because the work tends to fall behind schedule, so they put pressure on the workers. In September 2009 the Ministry of Labor freed 38 people who worked in slavery-like conditions, and in June 2010 it reported 330 violations of labor conditions at Jirau. The main problem is insecurity. In Da Silva’s opinion the migrants become an easy target for labor recruiters and construction companies because they have no protection from abuses.
But the problems are not limited to the workplace. Aluisio Vidal is the pastor of Jaci-Paraná, a town near Jirau, and the president of the Party of Socialism and Freedom (Partido Socialismo e Liberdade—PSOL) for the state of Rondônia. He complains of the increase in crime and prostitution. Between 2008 and 2010 the population of Porto Velho grew 12% (it has half a million inhabitants), but in the same period homicides increased 44% and according to the child protection court the abuse of minors increased some 76% in that time.
According to the social activist organizations in the region, joined together in the Amazon Rivers Alliance (Aliança dos Rios da Amazônia), “All possible problems are concentrated in Jirau: At an uncontrolled pace, the project has brought to the region the ‘development’ of prostitution, drug abuse among young fishermen and in riverbank settlements, real estate speculation, a rise in food prices, unattended disease, and all types of violence.”
Elias Dobrovolski, a coordinator in the Movement of those Affected by Dams (Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens—MAB) who has followed the situation of the workers since the beginnings of the project, states that the districts around Jirau are experiencing very serious problems. “Towns that had two thousand inhabitants now house 20,000. There is no infrastructure for so many people—not enough schools, health clinics, nor police to support all the people that came in with the projects.”
In addition to all this, the huge projects of the Growth Acceleration Program have above-average rates of job-related deaths. The Brazilian construction industry has a rate of 23.8 deaths per 100,000 workers, and in PAC projects the rate is 19.7. In the United States the equivalent number is 10 per 100,000, in Spain it is 10.6, and in Canada 8.7. The Brazilian figure is higher than it should be because the large construction firms “have sufficient technology to protect the workers.” The Movement of those Affected by Dams also denounces work days longer than 12 hours, and epidemics in the worksites.
To make matters worse, the companies hired ex-colonels suspected of committing sabotage to bring criminal accusations against the unions. The revolt attacked the symbols of power. “Witnesses of the attacks said that the men who came to destroy the living quarters first set fire to those of the supervisors and engineers.”
Unions, Business, and Government
Those employed in civil construction in Brazil exceeded 1.8 million in 2006, and 2.8 million in 2010. Unemployment in the construction sector is only 2.3%. The unions estimate that when the infrastructure projects are in full swing, including those related to the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games of 2016, the projects included in the Growth Acceleration Program alone will have a million workers. This is overwhelming to both the companies and the unions.
The revolt of the laborers in Jirau took everyone by surprise—government, business owners, and the unions. Víctor Paranhos, president of the construction consortium, said: “It is troubling because we don’t know the motive. There are not even leaders.” The union leaders’ position is curiously similar. “In these revolts in Jirau we perceive that there is no leader who could negotiate a truce,” said Paulo Pereira da Silva, of the union group Força Sindical. The Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), not to be left out, defended the government against the workers: “They have to return to work. I am Brazilian and I want to see this plant in operation.
This shared culture of business and organized labor, which tries to redirect social protest into institutional channels and smother it with the massive police presence (the government sent in 600 members of the military police), fails to comprehend that the revolt is not only nor even mainly about wages. Groups such as MAB, the indigenous people, and the church-affiliated social movements have a different reading of the situation. “The revolt is a result of authoritarianism and the drive for accumulation of wealth through the exploitation of both nature and the workers,” says a statement by the Movement of those Affected by Dams. 
In the opinion of the Instituto Humanitas Unisinos, neither the left nor the environmentalists were sensitive to what was behind the Jirau revolt. The sites of the movements barely covered the conflict. “The violence of the revolt in Jirau and that of the Arabs is similar, but the reception here, in both cases, was negative,” said the journalist Janio de Freitas.
On April 5 the workers of Santo Antonio returned to work after 10 days on strike, following a vote of the membership in favor of an agreement between the CUT and the Odebrecht firm. The accord includes an early increase in wages of 5% in anticipation of further negotiations, an increase in the food stipend from 110 to 132 reals, and five days leave every three months to make family visits home, with a right to airfare. Work at Jirau remained suspended after 20 days, awaiting negotiations with Camargo Correa.
As the report on “The Rebelion in Jirau” notes, “The Growth Acceleration Program is the synthesis of the developmentalist model that reproduces the project of a grandiose Brazil from the era of Getúlio Vargas, Juscelino Kubitschek, and the military dictatorship. It is a model based on huge projects, in particular on the exploitation of energy and its consumption by an emerging nation focused on commodity export.” That plan for Brazil’s exponential growth ends up converting the Amazon and all its resources into commodities. It has few organized opponents, since the vision is shared by labor and business, left and right, government and opposition.
The Movement of those Affected by Dams (MAB) has been resisting what it considers a dispossession for 20 years now. Its motto is “water and energy are not commodities.” The Jirau revolt is the response of the poorest sector, the laborers of Brazil, to the ambitious project of modernization and the deepening of capitalism. Gilberto Cervinski, of MAB, summarizes the problem: “To build the generating plants of the Madeira River is to open the Amazon region to dozens of other hydroelectric projects, without even discussing questions that we believe are fundamental: Energy for what? And for whom?” 
Raúl Zibechi is an international analyst for Brecha of Montevideo, Uruguay, lecturer and researcher on social movements at the Multiversidad Franciscana de América Latina, and adviser to several social groups. He writes a monthly column for the Americas Program (www.cipamericas.org).
Translation by Dr. Thomas H. Holloway
[Editor’s Note: For footnotes, click here]
Argentine Witness to Bishop's Death Disappears
AP. April 20, 2011
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentina's president ordered all federal forces Wednesday to search for a key witness against a former military officer in the death of a bishop who tried intervene on behalf of victims of the dictatorship.
Victor Oscar Martinez, 52, disappeared Monday, his wife said in a formal missing person's complaint.
"The fact that we have no details of his whereabouts is highly worrisome for the national government," Justice Minister Julio Alak said.
Alak said President Cristina Fernandez personally ordered all federal police and other security forces to be used to find Martinez.
The mystery reminded many Argentines of the still-unsolved 2006 disappearance of Jorge Julio Lopez, who hasn't been heard from since shortly after accusing a formerly high-ranking police official of crimes against humanity.
Martinez was the sole witness to the death of Bishop Carlos Horacio Ponce de Leon, who died in a car accident in July 1977 as the two men were driving to deliver evidence of junta crimes to the Vatican's representative in Argentina. The papers disappeared.
The government suspects the car accident was provoked to prevent the bishop from getting Vatican help in his requests for information about political dissidents in his diocese who disappeared after the 1976 military coup. Another activist bishop, Enrique Angelelli, had died in a similarly suspicious car accident the previous year.
Martinez survived the accident and said he was tortured for information about the bishop's activities.
Martinez also accused former Lt. Col. Manuel Fernando Saint Amant of having threatened the bishop before his death, and then found himself accused of giving false testimony by the judge. That judge is one of many whose handling of human rights cases has been questioned by the current government.
Saint Amant is now a defendant charged with various other crimes against humanity, but remains free pending verdicts in those trials.
The Martinez family's lawyer, Gabriela Scopel, told state news agency Telam that her client was threatened with death in 2009 if he continued "bothering" with the case.
Capital Controls in Chile Aren't ‘Suitable’ for Now, Central Banker Says
Randy Woods and Sebastian Boyd. Bloomberg. April 20, 2011
Chile, whose currency has gained the most among Latin America peers in the past year, has no need to impose capital controls because asset prices are coherent with economic growth, a central bank board member said.
Internal demand and credit also have evolved at a pace that is in line with economic fundamentals, Sebastian Claro said today in an interview from his Santiago office. The central bank wouldn’t rule out using the tools at its disposal should pressure on capital accounts increase, he said.
“If controls haven’t been implemented so far, it’s because they haven’t been considered suitable,” Claro, 38, said. “If this situation were to change, one would have to evaluate the different measures that are within the bank’s power to apply.”
While the central bank is undertaking an unprecedented $12 billion dollar-buying program to limit gains in the peso, authorities have refrained from measures used by other emerging economies such as increased taxes on foreign inflows and reserve requirements. Chile is the region’s highest-rated borrower after it became a net creditor in 2007 for the first time by paying down debt and hoarding savings in an offshore wealth fund.
Chile’s government isn’t considering capital controls to weaken the peso, which has appreciated 12 percent against the dollar in the past 12 months, more than the other six major Latin American currencies tracked by Bloomberg, Finance Minister Felipe Larrain said last week.
There is no evidence that Chile’s peso, which has gained 5.5 percent against the dollar since the central bank started buying $50 million a day on Jan. 5, has “detached in a significant or evident way” from fundamentals, Claro said.
The peso rose 0.9 percent against the dollar to 469.26 today from 473.48 yesterday. The peso will continue to gain, eventually exceeding 465, Patricio Nazal, chief executive of VanTrust Capital Corredores de Bolsa SA, said today.
“There’s not much more the central bank can do; it’s already buying $50 million a day,” Nazal said. “They’ll let it float a little more. No one can now accuse the government or central bank of not having done anything because they have, but they can’t go against the market. They’ve done their part.”
Capital controls can create “clear distortions” by redirecting inflows from regulated to unregulated areas of the financial market, central bank President Jose De Gregorio said in prepared remarks this weekend when speaking in Washington on behalf of Latin America’s Southern Cone countries.
The central bank may eventually discuss capital controls as a measure of last resort to stem inflows, Manuel Marfan, the bank’s vice president, said in an interview published in Santiago-based El Mercurio newspaper Sunday.
Claro, who in 2007 joined the central bank board for a 10- year term, said Chile can take steps to help prevent capital flows from putting pressures on assets and causing financial intermediaries from taking on too much risk.
“If a prudential supervision and regulation of the financial system exists, and if there is flexibility in adjusting asset prices, it’s less probable that a situation of excessive capital flows will be faced,” he said.
The extra dollars pumped into the world by the U.S. Federal Reserve’s $600 billion quantitative easing program don’t generally flow into emerging-market economies, De Gregorio said in a speech in Santiago today. They are deposited back into the U.S. by emerging markets that, like Chile, are net savers.
“It is China, Chile to a much lesser extent, but countries that are saving that are buying the debt of the U.S., Portugal, that are still financing countries that have demand for financing,” De Gregorio said.
Measures designed to address excessive capital inflows, if needed, could attempt to reduce the surge of money or prevent the capital from distorting markets, Claro said.
“One can either evaluate the conceptual and practical suitability of implementing controls and the limitations of the controls versus a strategy that creates incentives for the prudence and supervision and regulation of the financial system,” he said.
Chile’s governments and policy makers, under current and previous boards, have protected the bank’s right to implement capital controls during negotiations on free trade agreements and accords with international investment banks, Claro said.
“The discussion with regards to imposing capital control or not should be evaluated on its own merits,” he said. “It shouldn’t be limited by restrictions that for one reason or another are imposed on the powers of the bank.”
Claro received his doctorate in economics from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2001 and the next year joined the economics department of Chile’s Catholic University.
To contact the reporter on this story: Randall Woods in Santiago at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at email@example.com
Chile Launches First Quick-Charging Station For Electric Cars
Anthony Esposito. Dow Jones. April 20, 2011
SANTIAGO -(Dow Jones)- Chile inaugurated the first quick-charging station for electric cars in Latin America on Wednesday.
The Andean nation joins the ranks of Japan, which has 600 charging stations, and Belgium, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, the U.S., Sweden and Spain, which have another 41 stations divided among them.
"The day we can use this technology in massive quantities, we're going to leap forward in protecting the environment, reducing pollution in our cities and improving people's quality of life," President Sebastian Pinera said at the inaugural ceremony.
The new charging station will allow electric cars to recharge to 80% of capacity in half an hour, giving them a range of 130 kilometers.
Car dealerships only started selling electric cars in Chile earlier this year.
Chilean power company Chilectra SA (CHILECTRA.SN), a unit of energy holding company Enersis SA (ENI, ENERSIS.SN) will supply the charging station with electricity. The charging station is located at one of Brazilian state-run energy giant Petroleo Brasileiro SA's (PBR, PETR4.BR) gas stations in Santiago.
Paraguay dividing over spending Brazilian millions
PEDRO SERVIN. AP. April 21, 2011
ASUNCION, Paraguay -- President Fernando Lugo is about to realize Paraguay's long-held dream of receiving millions of dollars more from Brazil for energy from their shared hydroelectric dam, money he promised would finance land reform and transform his impoverished, agrarian nation.
But now that the extra $240 million a year is about to arrive, that campaign promise seems as difficult to fulfill as ever. The ex-Roman Catholic bishop appears incapable of keeping the money from being directed elsewhere by the entrenched political party that controls congress and ran Paraguay as its fiefdom for 61 years before his election in 2008.
Fighting cancer and politically weakened in the final years of his term, the leftist president can count on only a few dependable votes in a congress still dominated by the right-wing Colorado Party, which intends to dictate how the windfall will be spent.
Meanwhile, the threat of social unrest among Paraguay's landless is growing and some of Lugo's allies even support invasions of private property as a solution.
In 2009, Lugo persuaded then Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to sign a deal tripling Brazil's payments to Paraguay from the huge Itaipu dam - from $120 million to $360 million a year. Lugo has campaigned quietly since then to make it a reality.
Brazil's lower house of Congress finally approved it April 6, and Silva's successor, Dilma Rouseff, is expected to sign it into law after it passes Brazil's senate by month's end.
Lugo praised Brazilian lawmakers for opening a new chapter in bilateral relations and repairing a long-standing "asymmetry" between the countries.
"These funds will be fundamental for the investments that need to be made to continue development" in Paraguay, he said after the April 6 vote.
While some Brazilians complain about the change, the governing Workers Party says helping Paraguay is a smart fiscal and political move.
"The agreement will strengthen the Paraguayan economy and this in turn can only benefit Brazil because bilateral trade will increase," argued Sen. Joao Pedro Goncalves de Costa, whose Foreign Relations Commission is discussing the measure this week. "It will be good for both countries."
That $240 million a year is a vast sum for Paraguay's revenue-starved government, which doesn't have an income tax and whose annual budget is $8 billion.
Paraguay's economy is dominated by large soy plantations, and 80 percent of the productive land is owned by just 2 percent of the population, leaving 42 percent of rural residents - 3 million people - in extreme poverty, said Belarmino Balbuena, who leads the Paraguayan Peasants' Movement.
Lugo, who won the presidency with 40 percent of the votes on a pledge of land reform, desperately needs the dam money to deliver on his promises, but he has been increasingly withdrawn while fighting lymphatic cancer, and often travels to Brazil for chemotherapy treatments.
While peasant leaders are already planning their land purchases, Colorado Party lawmakers insist any spending will be subject to their control. And Lugo has yet to offer a detailed spending plan, frustrating both ends of Paraguay's political spectrum.
"In his campaign he promised the reform, but since becoming president has not elaborated a plan," Colorado Party President Lilian Samaniego said in an interview. "If Brazil's senate manages to improve the increase in compensation, this money can only be put to use if the congress approves it, after analyzing projects, whether they be land purchases or construction of roads, schools, health clinics, housing, seed purchases and other purposes."
Balbuena and other advocates of land reform fear the money will be diverted.
The dam on the Parana River is jointly managed, generating up to 14,000 megawatts shared 50/50 by the two countries. But under the terms of a 1973 treaty, Paraguay must give Brazil any unused energy through 2023 - more than 90 percent of its half - and has never received a full market price for that energy.
The unequal deal was made because the initial $10 billion in foreign construction loans, to be paid off with proceeds from the electricity generated, were backed by Brazil's treasury.
The cost ballooned due to interest, inflation, currency devaluations, corruption and other factors over the years. Paraguay says it nearly doubled, while some Brazilians say it nearly tripled, to $27 billion. Disputes over just what each side owed sank every effort to increase Paraguay's revenues.
It took intense personal lobbying by Lugo and Silva to persuade Brazilian lawmakers to raise Paraguay's share - a bill totaling $3.1 billion 12 years from now, complained Brazilian opposition congressman Eduardo Sciarra.
A Paraguayan government study, however, found Brazil's state-owned Electrobras power company will still make nearly $2 billion in profit annually after the increase in payments, given the markup it charges its customers in Brazil.
Once Rouseff signs the law, the money should start flowing almost immediately, da Costa said.
Yet Paraguay lacks consensus on how to spend it.
One of Lugo's closest personal friends in politics, Gov. Jose Ledesma of the northern San Pedro province, Paraguay's poorest, says the government must spend it on the rural poor as Lugo promised.
But even he acknowledges that Lugo hasn't made key decisions.
"In these moments the president doesn't have time to deal with this issue, which is why we've asked on numerous occasions for the creation of a multi-sector board to move forward with the purchase and distribution of properties," Ledesma said.
Facing unrest, Ledesma says he even supports invasions of private properties, "because society's leaders have to show their face and help the poor to achieve a more humane politics. The rich are self-sufficient, but the poor are completely unprotected."
Northern Andean Region [contents]
Venezuela's January Retail Sales Rise 5.2% From Year Earlier
Ezequiel Minaya. Dow Jones Newswires. April 20, 2011
CARACAS (Dow Jones)--The volume of Venezuelan retail sales increased 5.2% in January compared with a year earlier, marking the first such gain in at least 13 months, according to the central bank's latest data.
Compared to January 2010, during the first month this year, textiles sales surged 129%, food and beverages in specialized stores 52%, pharmaceutical products 30%, and auto parts 6%. Household appliances and auto sales were down, 32% and 12% respectively.
The increased consumption is the latest glimmer of recovery after a long recession. The economy expanded 0.6% in the final three months of 2010 against the same period a year earlier, posting the first growth since the first quarter of 2009, according to Central Bank of Venezuela data.
Earlier this month, the top officials from the central bank and the Finance Ministry said the economy was growing faster than expected and could expand by as much as 4% this year, double initial estimates.
Many analysts and economists forecast 2% growth in 2011 for Venezuela's economy, which contracted 1.4% in 2010 and 3.3% in 2009.
Government officials have blamed the global financial meltdown and an electricity shortage for the sputtering economy of recent years. The return in late March of widespread blackouts and power outages, however, has cast doubt on the improved economic outlook.
The shaky power grid means there are "limited" chances that businesses will be able to raise productivity, said Carlos Larrazabal, president of Venezuela's largest industrial chamber, Conindustria.
Venezuela also continues to register among the highest inflation rates in the world at 27.4% countrywide during the 12-month period through March.
-By Ezequiel Minaya, Dow Jones Newswires; 58-414-120-5738; firstname.lastname@example.org
Colombian citizens continue to be victims of demobilized AUC: OAS
Edward Fox. Colombia Reports. April 20, 2011
The Organization of American States (OAS) expressed on Wednesday their concern over the terrorizing of Colombia's population by criminal groups comprised of formerly demobilized paramilitaries, AFP reported Wednesday.
During a meeting which saw the submission of a quarterly report by the OAS Mission to Support the Peace Process (MAPP/OEA), OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza acknowledged the disappearance of the paramilitary group the AUC as "a political reality," but highlighted that the OAS is "concerned that the civilian population is still caught in the dynamics imposed by criminal groups post-demobilization."
Based on the most recent MAPP/OEA report, violence against and displacement of rural populations is said to be highest in Antioquia, Choco, Nariño and Corodba.
"It remains imperative to strengthen the economic and community reintegration of villages, " that are still faced with these challenges, Insulza added.
The demobilization process of the AUC, carried out from 2003-2006 under the administration of former President Alvaro Uribe, is now widely considered to have failed due to the rearming of several paramilitary fighters after the process or the lack of entrance into it in the first place by large numbers.
In February U.S. cables from 2006, leaked through the website WikiLeaks, highlighted significant failures in the Justice and Peace Law (JPL), the culmination of the demobilization process that was supposed to see all fighters hand over arms and confess to their crimes in exchange for judicial benefits.
Primary among these failures was the government's lack of offering to low and mid-level fighters of the same benefits being offered to top AUC leaders. Many of these subsequently went on to join neo-paramilitary organizations such as "Aguilas Negras," "Los Urabeños," and ERPAC.
An NGO report from March this year suggested that these criminal groups have a presence in nearly a third of Colombia. Justice and Interior Minister German Vargas Lleras has admitted that as a result of this vast presence, the groups could threaten upcoming October elections.
In relation to the demobilization failure, Insulza didn't point specifically to the JPL but rather noted the economic and psychological problems of reintegrating former fighters into society due to the current unemployment levels in Colombia and the "stigma" attached to being a former paramilitary.
The mandate of the MAPP/OEA was recently extended and will run until the end of the current Juan Manuel Santos administration in 2014.
Colombia: Mudslides cause major damage in Utica
BBC. April 20, 2011
More than 200 families have been left homeless in the central Colombian town of Utica after a mudslide swept away their houses.
Heavy rains caused the local river to break its banks, sending torrents of water, mud and stones through the town's streets.
Officials said one elderly woman died and two men are missing.
Meteorologists say five of Colombia's provinces have seen double the average rainfall for April.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he would visit Utica to inspect the damage caused to the town.
Utica mayor Marcel Hernandez said 238 families had been "left with nothing".
Officials said more than 80% of the town had been engulfed by the mudslide.
Residents recounted how they had been alerted to the approaching mudslide by the ringing of the church bells.
Man inspects damage to his home in Utica, Colombia Some residents have returned to their homes to salvage some possessions
Most were able to flee their homes in time.
The government said it would send a group of experts to Utica to assess whether it was safe for residents to return to the town or if there could be sinkholes or other geological faults.
As meteorologists forecast more rain for the area, firefighters did not rule out the possibility of another mudslide.
Government officials in Cundinamarca, where Utica is located, said they would decide over the next few days whether to rebuild the whole town on safer, higher ground.
The heavy rains are not restricted to Cundinamarca. In central Tolima province officials have put the town of Honda on high alert as the level of the river Magdalena continues to rise.
Nationwide, 12 major highways have been closed due to the continuing rains and flooding.
Colombia has been suffering from a particularly wet winter, which officials say has affected almost three million people across the country.
Participatory Budgeting Is Music To Medellin's Poor
Alex Schmidt. NPR. April 20, 2011
Colombia's image is still tainted by its long and violent drug war, but its second largest city is practicing one of the most innovative forms of city democracy anywhere.
Medellin is one of few big cities in the world to have successfully implemented a participatory budgeting system: Citizens define priorities, and public money is allocated accordingly.
Jhon Jaime Sanches, 26, grew up in the hills of Medellin, under the legacy of Pablo Escobar's violent drug cartel.
"Militias would come to our school and tell us we had to take up arms to make revolution," Sanches says. "I liked the idea that we needed to find a solution to change things — but what I didn't believe is that we needed to do it with violence."
So Sanches found another way: He started a band. But his hip-hop group Son Bata is more than that — over the years it has grown into a social service force against the crushing poverty of his neighborhood.
Son Bata's base of operations is a colorful cultural center. It stands out from the background in Medellin, where ramshackle homes pile on top of each other, and open sewers pour down nearly vertical streets. Within its walls, hundreds of children find an escape through free music classes, and working musicians from the slums get help finding performing jobs.
"For me, it's everything," says Ingris Joanna Jaramillo, who works at the center. "Son Bata is my life. When I started being part of Son Bata is when I started to dream."
Part of what has helped the group is Medellin's process of participatory budgeting, which divides the city into small neighborhoods. Residents allocate part of the city budget to health centers, college scholarships and youth music groups that have sprung up in Medellin.
Sanches gets 30 percent of his operating budget through the system.
"With participatory budgeting, Son Bata has contracted with professors," Sanches says. "We bought instruments. We are creating a music studio."
Participatory budgeting originated in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1989. It's 5 percent of the city budget in Medellin, one of the largest cities in the world to have successfully adopted it. Sanches says it's not enough to make deep structural changes — but by most measures, the system has been a success.
Alberto Diaz-Cayeros of the University of California, San Diego, has been studying the ways such systems take root in Mexico. He says there is not a lot of research about it, but he knows that historical factors have to be just right, like they were in Medellin.
"This happened in [a violent city], in a deep crisis, where a mayor came in without any connections to established political parties, with a new vision of how to run local government," Diaz-Cayeros says.
That mayor, Sergio Fajardo, is now running for governor of the Colombian state of Antioquia, home to Medellin. He worries that another challenge remains: keeping citizens engaged.
"In the communities, people may get tired," he says. "You have to make sure you mix things up, that you keep the flame alive."
For Son Bata's Sanches, at least, the flame shows little sign of fading. "Participatory budgeting is a very valuable way for the youth to understand how, with a resource, I can try to solve the problems of my community," he says.
This budgeting process didn't create Sanches' group — Son Bata existed a year before it even came into effect. But it did make city money easier to get, for him and dozens of youth music groups in Medellin. Energetic idealists, in any city, may be unlikely to pass up that kind of opportunity.
Western Andean Region [contents]
Bolivia accepts financial aid offer from US to monitor coca eradication
Rory Carroll. The Guardian. April 20, 2011
Bolivia has relaxed its hostility to US involvement in Latin America by accepting help to combat the country's growing drug trafficking problem.
President Evo Morales, an outspoken critic of Washington "imperialism", has accepted financial aid to monitor efforts to eradicate coca, the raw ingredient for cocaine. The government accepted the $250,000 offer following setbacks to its counter-narcotics programme which prompted calls for a return of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Morales, an Aymara Indian and former coca grower, expelled around 30 DEA agents in 2008, claiming they were plotting against his socialist revolution. The president allowed coca cultivation to expand, arguing the Andean leaf had multiple legitimate uses. As a coca farmer in the 1980s he had been beaten by Bolivian police who tried to enforce the DEA's campaign against the crop.However, he pledged "zero tolerance" for cocaine, a chemical derivative of coca, and said Bolivia could crack down on traffickers without US help.
The effort to rehabilitate coca, considered sacred by the Incas, gained widespread international support but Bolivia's law-enforcement institutions have struggled against well-funded drug gangs. Authorities said they seized 28 tonnes of cocaine last year, more than neighbouring Peru, but the US and UN said drug trafficking was spiking.
In February the government was embarrassed when three senior police officers and the former commander of the counter-narcotics force, Rene Sanabria, were arrested on suspicion of smuggling cocaine to the US. Around 40 other Bolivian officials and agents are facing trafficking charges.
Morales has ruled out the DEA's return but this week the vice-minister of social defence, Felipe Cáceres, said the government would accept $250,000 from Washington for satellite monitoring of manual eradication of illicit coca crops.
The deal, expected to be signed this week, was part of a joint initiative with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Brazil, which will contribute $100,000 to the satellite tracking.
The minister stressed that US agents would not be returning. The deal was limited to logistical support and economic assistance and would help make Bolivia's anti-drug efforts more transparent and quantifiable. "In no way would north American personnel" be involved in interdiction and eradication, he said.
Brazil has grown alarmed that more cocaine from Peru and Bolivia is crossing its border and being consumed there, fuelling violence and corruption.
Bolivia Celebrates Law Granting Rights to Mother Earth
Environmental News Service. April 21, 2011
LA PAZ, Bolivia, April 20, 2011 (ENS) - Bolivia today marked the International Day of Mother Earth with a ceremony in the Plaza Murillo, the center of political power. An ancient ritual shared center stage with speeches in which authorities in this Andean nation extolled the Law of Mother Earth - the world's first legislation that grants to all nature rights equal to humans.
President Evo Morales advocates climate protection at the UN's Copenhagen Climate Summit, December 2009. (Photo by Simon Wedege)
President Evo Morales, the first indigenous leader of Bolivia, is the architect of the Law of Mother Earth. Supported by politicians as well as nongovernmental organizations, the law is expected to easily pass the National Congress where Morales' ruling party, the Movement Towards Socialism, has a majority in both houses.
Today's event was attended by representatives of the executive branch and legislators, diplomats, indigenous peoples and peasants.
Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca told the crowd, "In Bolivia we seek a return to balance, a harmonious life not only between individuals but between man and nature, so today must be a day of reflection of awareness of all to care for our Mother Earth and take timely means for our mother back to its natural balance."
The first article of the Law of Mother Earth says that every human activity has to "achieve dynamic balance with the cycles and processes inherent in Mother Earth."
It defines Mother Earth as "a unique, indivisible, self-regulating community of interrelated beings that sustains, contains and reproduces all beings."
Bolivians celebrate International Day of Mother Earth, April 20, 2011 (Photo courtesy Government of Bolivia)
In parallel, a fair was held to raise awareness about global warming and its effects, and the Bolivia-led crusade for nature protection.
Minister of the Presidency Oscar Coca told the crowd that Bolivia has the "conviction" to promote international policies that promote awareness of the climate change problem in all nations across the planet.
"President Evo Morales says the planet can live without humans, but humans can not live without the planet and reminds the world today that the rights of nature should be rights equal to those we, ourselves, enjoy," Coca said.
Inspired by Bolivia, in 2009, the UN General Assembly proclaimed April 22 as International Mother Earth Day, expressing its conviction that, to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environmental needs of present and future generations, "it is necessary to promote harmony with nature and the Earth."
In October 2009, the General Assembly named President Morales "World Hero of Mother Earth."
The Morales Government intends to establish a Ministry of Mother Earth to implement the Law of Mother Earth, which will establish new rights for nature, including:
* the right to maintain the integrity of life and natural processes
* the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered
* the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration
* the right to pure water
* the right to clean air
* the right to balance, to be at equilibrium
* the right to be free of toxic and radioactive pollution
* the right to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities
The law promotes "harmony" and "peace" and "the elimination of all nuclear, chemical, biological" weapons.
At the same time, President Morales is set to announce on May 1 that he will be "dismantling the privatization model," thereby expropriating privately owned zinc, silver and tin mines.
The government plans to place these mines under government control reversing the actions of previous administrations that sold the mines to private interests.
The Corp Minera de Bolivia, known as Comibol, will operate all the newly expropriated mines. Several mines have already been expropriated under Morales presidency, including the Vinto tin smelter.
Soon after his election as president in 2006, the Morales Government took over gas and oil refineries, all in a bid to have the government control the country's natural resources.
As a result of these policies, foreign private investment in Bolivia has plummeted.
Chevron Submits Amended Complaint To Block Ecuador Ruling
Dow Jones. April 21, 2011
Chevron Corp. (CVX) on Thursday said it has filed an amended complaint in a New York federal court to block enforcement and recognition of a multibillion- dollar ruling against the energy giant, alleging further fraud and corruption in the case.
The amended complaint cites newly discovered evidence, according to Chevron, that the Ecuadorean indigenous plaintiffs' lawyers and consultants, at a minimum, "provided clandestine assistance to the Ecuadorian court in drafting the judgment against Chevron."
The original ruling, issued in February, ordered Chevron to pay $9.46 billion in damages, including $860 million to the Amazon Defense Front, a coalition formed by the plaintiffs. Both Chevron and the Ecuadorian plaintiffs appealed the ruling.
Last month, three new judges were appointed to analyze the case, including appeals submitted by the two parties, before releasing a second ruling.
On Thursday, Chevron cited several alleged examples of the overlap between the judgment and the plaintiffs' private files. For example, Chevron alleged internal files erroneously replaced "micrograms" with "milligrams" for certain sample reports, and the judgment made the same error for the same samples.
"There is no apparent explanation as to how the judgment would have incorporated these errors and irregularities without cooperation between the Ecuadorian court and the plaintiffs' representatives," said R. Hewitt Pate, Chevron's general counsel.
-By John Kell, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2480; email@example.com
Ecuador Seizes Drug-Running Super Submarine
NPR. April 20, 2011
NEAL CONAN, host:
For years, rumors circulated that drug cartels planned to build and operate submarines to smuggle cocaine past the Coast Guard. Authorities did find primitive submersibles designed for one-way trips up the Pacific Coast, but the whispers spoke of something far more ambitious: a full-sized super sub with the range for round trips and the capacity for tons of cargo. Nobody ever saw one, until now.
In the current issue of Wired magazine, Jim Popkin describes this Loch Ness monster of the drug trade: a sophisticated Kevlar-coated submarine built in the swampy jungles of Ecuador that would have been nearly impossible to detect.
Jim Popkin joins us here in Studio 3A.
Nice to have you with us today.
Mr. JIM POPKIN (Writer, Wired Magazine): Thank you.
CONAN: And let's start with July 2, 2010. What happened on that day - the day that changed the dope - the drug smuggling game?
Mr. POPKIN: Well, the DEA had been looking for a long time and, as you said, Neal, hearing rumors about an actual fully-functioning submarine that might have been built near Colombia, Ecuador, and - but they considered it like Bigfoot. They thought maybe it exists, but we've seen proof of it yet.
On that day, about 150 Ecuadorian navy and police members were crashing through the jungle - it's a very remote area with mangrove forests - and they - I can't say they stumbled upon it, because they had pretty good intelligence, but they found, lying on its side at low tide, a 74-foot long fully-functioning submarine that has really changed the equation for interdiction of drugs in that area.
CONAN: Now, let's be precise. Those previous vessels were, well, sort of semi-submerged, just a little bit of the boat on top and used for one-way trips to crash land and bring hundreds, maybe thousands of pounds of cocaine in per trip. This is something on an entirely different scale.
Mr. POPKIN: It is, and I mean, not to take anything away from that construction and that engineering, that's been going on for more than 15 years, where they started with these cigarette boats that they would convert into semi-submersible vessels, which really means that they're almost completely submerged but they ride just under the waves, and part of the boat is visible. They have to, obviously, have an air supply.
CONAN: Yeah. But if it's wood, it's hard to pick up on radar.
Mr. POPKIN: It's very hard to pick up on radar, and the key thing is it can't dive. It just stays there. So if you happened by it or you're looking from high above, you can see some part of it coming out of the sea.
What is different here is that this is a submarine. It has a ballast system. It can go down. This one can only go to a depth of 62 feet, which is not very far and really doesn't give them much of a margin of error. However, if you need to go underwater, you can ride underwater for 18 hours at a clip, and it has a range of 6,800 nautical miles, which is, you know, pretty incredible.
CONAN: Or enough to go from that part of Ecuador to San Diego and back.
Mr. POPKIN: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely.
CONAN: And the Kevlar coating, yeah, as you say, it's not titanium-hulled. It doesn't give you much submerging room, but it also makes it stealthy.
Mr. POPKIN: Absolutely. And I was fortunate enough to be able to look at the U.S. Navy's technical assessment of this submarine - a 70-page long white paper - and they had a kind of very begrudging respect for the engineering that went behind this, and they had never seen a Kevlar- and carbon-fiber-coated submarine. It's new. It, obviously, has a wooden hull, but there's very little metal in it, and it is very, very hard to track.
When it goes under, it's almost completely silent. It operates with the use underwater of 249 massive batteries, lead-acid batteries. And like an old World War II sub, when it goes under, you can barely hear it all, so it's really difficult to track at sea.
CONAN: And interesting, a lot of the parts seem to be Chinese.
Mr. POPKIN: A lot of the parts are Chinese. But this is really a hodgepodge. There are American parts. They seemed to be - it seems kind to be target of opportunity here. Where they can get the parts for the engines and other key elements, they take them from around the globe. But it is interesting, and the Navy makes note that in many cases that it's interesting that there are Chinese parts.
CONAN: So the suggestion, and no more than a suggestion, is these people may have had help in designing and building the submarine.
Mr. POPKIN: There is that suggestion. But the intelligence officials I talked to for the article think that it's probably made by a Colombian drug cartel using mostly local help. Now, they do think that someone came in to guide them on the design and then, ultimately, would have guided them on the use of this. You know, maybe someone with actual submarine training, because it would have been very difficult to operate this safely. Not that they particularly care about the safety of the crew, but to go up and back many times, which is what this sub is designed to do, would have been difficult.
CONAN: And it isn't cheap.
Mr. POPKIN: It cost approximately four to five million dollars to build, and it's not the only out there.
CONAN: Well, the key part, though, is its cargo capacity, nine tons.
Mr. POPKIN: Exactly. So nine tons of cocaine, let's say, has a street value in the U.S. of close to a quarter billion dollars. And that's why the cartels are willing to spend a year, devote all this labor and take the risk of bringing in all the parts - we haven't talk - this area of northwest Ecuador by Colombia is incredibly remote. And they built this without the use of electricity, bringing the parts in essentially by canoe-like boats several at a time for over a year. And they built it from scratch right there in the jungle.
So they - the cartels are willing to spend that kind of time and money because at the end of the day, you can ship $250 million worth of cocaine up to, let's say, Mexico, for transport into the U.S.
CONAN: Why not directly into the U.S.?
Mr. POPKIN: There's no evidence that they've done that yet. And the whole apparatus is set up so that the cocaine is made in Colombia, it goes up the Pacific Coast, it's offloaded secretly and at night in Mexico, picked up by boats and then brought across in the traditional ways across the borders of Mexico.
The U.S. intelligence agencies are very worried that now, with this submarine, you could have incursions, if you will, to the U.S., maybe even to Europe or Africa, just given the range and the potential of these vessels. But at this point, they only have evidence of them going as far as Mexico.
CONAN: And you said there is more than one.
Mr. POPKIN: There is. Just this past February, the Colombians found a similar submarine - this was about 100 feet long but similar capabilities - in Colombia, not that far. This whole region is, you know, marshy, jungle area. It's not that far from where the Ecuadorians found this. But now there are two, and the belief is if there are two that our government and these foreign governments have found, there are very likely are others out there.
And this is how it's developed. With the semi-submersibles, they started very humbly and they really grew. They became very much more sophisticated over the years and the thought is the same thing is true of the submarines.
CONAN: There were some sense of vindication from some of the people in the DEA that you talked to, that their are reports of these submarines finally proved out to be true.
Mr. POPKIN: Yeah. Yeah. You can imagine the scuttlebutt and the talk about this. If you didn't really know that much about this area and you heard that a drug organization was building a submarine in a jungle, it just sounds ridiculous on its face because of the engineering feat that has to go into this.
So there was some, kind of, playful banter in the U.S. embassy in Bogota over this over the years. And when it was discovered, the DEA did feel a real sense of vindication.
CONAN: And then the question becomes, so what do we do about it? If there have been two found, you have to suspect that there are others operating, that there is probably something like a small fleet of these submarines.
Mr. POPKIN: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And that's the - I guess, the concern is that it's almost like a little makeshift navy, if you will.
There are certain methods that U.S. and other foreign governments' intelligence agencies can take to try to detect them, using drones and sonar and radar. But in end of the day, I think, they acknowledge that they're going to have to continue to rely on good intelligence and that's what led to the capture of this sub.
There were a couple of tips that came in that got to the right people that enabled them to find the exact location. Because when they flew over this, and there's constantly plane traffic over these areas and satellite imagery, they saw nothing.
In fact, before the July 2nd successful raid, about a week prior to that, there was another raid. And they flew right over it and they right in the area, and they never saw a thing. It wasn't until they got boots on the ground and had very good intel about where to go that they stumbled upon some barrels in the jungle and then worked their way through and found this sub on its side.
CONAN: And as you said in your piece, they also found evidence of a camp for the workers who were assembling this vessel and that, what, breakfast was still warm.
Mr. POPKIN: Yeah, exactly. Everyone left when they heard this, essentially, this army coming in pretty loud. And they weren't able to arrest anyone directly connected, but they found evidence of at least 40 beds and, you know, quite a camp that was in operation.
CONAN: And how exactly do you assemble something like this without electricity?
Mr. POPKIN: Well, they think they probably had the use of some gas-fired generators. But, by and large, it was built by hand, kind of the old-fashion way, and done in place with some buildings right next to the estuaries there, which are tidal, so that obviously you don't want to build something that's too big and then have to try to move it. So it's - essentially, it's built in place, in sections, assembled and then it's ready to go.
CONAN: We're talking with Jim Popkin, a writer based here in Washington, D.C., who wrote an article for Wired magazine about the super sub that was found in the jungles of Ecuador ready to smuggle nine tons of cocaine. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And anybody who's ever been to the Field Museum in Chicago knows there's a U-boat that was captured during the Second World War that resides in front. Where is this submarine today?
Mr. POPKIN: The sub is sitting now, it's propped up like a trophy, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in one of the main naval command centers there. And it's kind of protected, and it is treated almost like a trophy now because it was such an intelligence prize for the Ecuadorian navy.
CONAN: And is that where you got to see it?
Mr. POPKIN: It is. It is. I was allowed to go there and, I guess, the first journalist who saw it once it was taken out of the water and kind of cleaned up. And it was really exciting. I had read a lot about it and talked to a lot of investigators. But to stand next to it and see (unintelligible). It's almost twice as large as a city bus. It's just enormous and it was impressive to see.
CONAN: And, yes, sophisticated - some elements, though, the wheels, for example, a little primitive.
Mr. POPKIN: Yeah. It had this feel of like - reminded me of that movie "Brazil," it's a mixture of old and new at the same time. And you have an old go-kart steering wheels that help guide it, and yet you have this, you know, relatively sophisticated diesel/electric engine system. It has two screws, two propellers that drive it, and then this very modern Kevlar and carbon fiber exterior. So it really was a very clever mix of old and new.
CONAN: And as you, excuse me, the U-boat is at the Museum of Science and Industry, not at the Field Museum. I apologize for that. It was a long time since I saw that. There was a sideline in your article, the passionate devotees of submarines in this country who build some - amateurs on their own and were contemptuous of those earlier semi-submersibles, as you describe them, and took a look at the specs for this one and said, whoa.
Mr. POPKIN: Exactly. There's a group called PSUBS, and it stands for personal submarines. And it's a collection of about 250, mostly men, in the U.S. and all over the world, who build submarines of their own in their garages and on their driveways. And I thought it'd be important to go to them because you can talk to the Navy and naval experts, so they know about big professional, you know, rather more commercial construction of submarines.
I wanted to know how hard would it really be to do this, and what skills would it take. And as you say, Neal, they were quite contemptuous of the early versions, these semi-submersibles. But when they saw pictures and then I provided them with some of the details the Navy had provided, they were really, really impressed and thought that this was an incredible feat.
CONAN: Jim Popkin's article is in the current issue of Wired magazine. There's a link to it on our website. Go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. Now, thanks very much for coming in today.
Mr. POPKIN: Thank you so much.
CONAN: More in just a moment.
In response to Renco lobbying, activists mount their own campaign
Keenan Steiner. Sunlight Foundation. April 6, 2011
A coalition of environmental advocates has launched a letter writing campaign directed at government officials who intervened in a dispute between Renco Group and its Doe Run Peru subsidiary and the government of Peru. The campaign came after the Sunlight Foundation reported that Renco had hired eight former government officials in less than three months to lobby on its behalf.
Two members of Congress, House Financial Services chairman Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., and Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., wrote letters to executive branch officials summarizing Renco Group's position in the dispute with Lima. The letters request that the U.S. government consider measures to aid the company.
Payne had his letter, which was signed by other members of Congress, published in the Congressional Record, but without the names of his co-signers. The congressman’s chief of staff, LaVerne Alexander, has not supplied a copy of the letter despite repeated requests. Neither Alexander nor a spokesman for Bachus, who sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in January, responded to a request to comment for this story.
Activists have targeted Renco Group in the complex dispute, which involves an inactive metal smelter in the town of La Oroya, Peru, which the Blacksmith Institute labeled one of the ten most polluted places on earth in 2006.
The Renco Group acquired the smelter, which had been in operation since 1922, in 1997 from the Peruvian government; as part of the privatization deal, both sides agreed to take steps to clean up La Oroya. In 2009, the company suspended operations at the site, blaming the slowdown in the world economy. In July 2010, the government of Peru revoked the company's operating license.
Doe Run Peru is currently in bankruptcy proceedings in Peru, where creditors will decide whether to liquidate or restructure it within weeks, according to Business News Americas.
In its filing for arbitration in December, Doe Run Peru claimed that if its assets were expropriated, the government of Peru would be violating the U.S.-Peru free trade agreement by breaking investment agreements. The claim also stated that Peru has not fulfilled its environmental cleanup responsibilities and has not granted the company adequate extensions in time to complete its own environmental projects. The Peruvian government recently fined Doe Run Peru about $2.5 million for failing to meet some of its environmental obligations.
The company, in a press release from earlier this year, blamed the environmental degradation on the government-owned firm, which operated the smelter before 1997. Renco spokesman Andrew Shea has not yet responded to questions for this article.
To press its case in Washington, the Renco Group hired five different lobbying firms in a span of less than three months; eight former government officials represent the company, including a former chief of staff of Payne's.
Activists have sought to mount their own campaign to counter Renco's efforts. Alexa Smith, who works with the hunger campaign of the Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Ky., estimated that hundreds of letters have been sent, mostly to Secretaries Clinton and Geithner.
The coordinator of the environmental coalition, called Friends of La Oroya, is a St. Louis-based Presbyterian Rev. Elinor Stock, has been advocating for the health of people in La Oroya for almost a decade.
“Doe Run is not the victim here. The people [of La Oroya] are the most vulnerable,“ she said. “Doe Run is using clauses in the free trade treaties to justify the non-compliance and continued procrastination of their environmental responsibilities,” she added.
One Presbytery in New Jersey, Payne's home state, sent about 60 missives to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to Rev. Phyllis Zoon, a hunger advocate for the Monmouth, N.J. Presbytery. On Mar. 25, Zoon said she met with Payne’s chief of staff in Washington, D.C. to express her concerns about Doe Run Peru.
Rev. Stock's concern for La Oroya hit close to home. In the early 2000s, at about the time when her church began working with a network of Peruvian groups over contamination in La Oroya, Doe Run Peru was then a subsidiary of Renco-owned Doe Run Resources, which operated a lead-producing plant in Herculaneum, Mo. Lead levels in the air were so dangerously high that residents around the plant were relocated. The company agreed to pay $65 million last year to address the situation.
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean [contents]
Activists highlight ordeal of migrants in southern Mexico
EFE. April 21, 2011
Mexico City – An ecumenical Stations of the Cross procession began Wednesday in southern Mexico to denounce the "Calvary" suffered daily by undocumented migrants who attempt to head north across the country risking becoming victims of organized crime and corrupt officials.
The goal "is to hold a mirror up to what is happening with the migrants and we're going to do it live, to recall all those deeds that we've been experiencing. It's nothing more than the Stations of the Cross of Jesus in the person of the migrant," the Rev. Alejandro Solalinda told Efe.
The Catholic priest runs the Hermanos en el Camino migrants shelter in the southern border state of Chiapas.
"It's not a protest of one cry, useless - it's a language of symbols that they have to move us with, to lead to changes," he said.
The first station of the procession was undertaken on Wednesday in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, where four activists and a dozen or so migrants crossed the Suchiate River - which forms the border - to perform the second station on Mexican soil.
In a few hours, 25 participants had gathered.
An undocumented Honduran, Carlos, played the role of Jesus Christ. "If the National Migration Institute doesn't grab him he's going to be Christ until the end," Ruben Figueroa, one of the activists accompanying him, told Efe.
The participants, whose numbers increased as they moved forward, on Wednesday will go on foot and by pickup truck to La Arrocera, a spot in the municipality of Huixtla, where there have been cases of abuse of migrants who were heading to northern Mexico to cross into the United States.
On Thursday, three stations are scheduled, one devoted to the shelters, another that will evoke "La Bestia" (The beast), as the freight train that traverses Mexico from south to north with migrants perched upon it is known, and the third will recall the dispossessed.
On Good Friday the final round of activity will be devoted to the mothers of those who emigrate, the tireless seekers of those who disappear on their journey north, to the cemeteries, kidnappings and massacres, especially that of 72 Central and South American migrants by members of a drug cartel last August in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas.
Marta Sanchez Soler, the promoter of the initiative and representative of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement, the procession also allows people to recall tragedies such as the massacre of 145 people whose bodies were found in several common graves this month, also in Tamaulipas, a deed attributed to the Los Zetas drug cartel.
"Central Americans say that Mexico is a cemetery for migrants," she said.
According to the latest report on the matter issued by Mexico's independent National Commission on Human Rights, at least 11,300 migrants were kidnapped between April and September 2010.
Official figures are that each year some 300,000 undocumented migrants, the majority of them Central Americans, cross over the 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) of border Mexico shares with Guatemala and Belize to try and reach the United States to find work.
‘Misleading’ Claims Harm Honduras Emissions-Project Owner, Executive Says
Mathew Carr and Catherine Airlie. Bloomberg. April 21, 2011
Grupo Dinant, owner of an emissions-cutting project in Honduras, said “misleading” claims linking it to human-rights abuses may force the company to close.
Should the accusations prevent Dinant from getting finance, “that could cause the company to close,” Roger Pineda, corporate treasurer at the Tegucigalpa, Honduras-based company, said April 19 by telephone.
A German development bank yesterday said it hasn’t paid out on a loan to Dinant. CDM Watch, the Bonn-based environmental lobby group, said in February that Dinant may not hold legal claims to its land and may be linked to killings of members of the Unified Peasant Movement and the Peasant Movement of the Lower Aguan Valley.
Dinant’s viability was “at risk due to the fact of the misleading statements,” Pineda said. “Eight thousand people could lose their jobs.”
DEG Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH hasn’t paid out on a loan to Dinant and has halted its relationship, Cordula Rinsche, a spokeswoman for the development bank, said yesterday. She didn’t say why the loan wasn’t paid.
Twenty-three peasants were killed in the Bajo Aguan region from January last year to February 2011, CDM Watch said April 18, citing a report by international human rights groups led by FIAN, the FoodFirst Information and Action Network, a Heidelberg, Germany-based group that identifies abuse.
FIAN didn’t approach Grupo Dinant before making its report, Pineda said. A security company hired by Dinant killed five people in November last year because its guards were under attack, he said. There has been no legal action stemming from the killings, he said.
In March, FIAN requested DEG review its contract with Dinant. The human-rights group was under no obligation to consult with Dinant about what happened on Nov. 15, said Martin Wolpold-Bosien, FIAN’s co-ordinator for central America. FIAN was acting to encourage Honduras to better protect human rights, Wolpold-Bosien said yesterday by phone. “The state has not done enough to investigate.”
Dinant is investigating killings of 10 security guards and a 13-year-old boy in relation to “trespassing” on its site, Pineda said. Land-ownership rights and related deaths are currently being documented, he said. The company produces food as well as biofuel.
The human rights organizations “don’t seem to care about the people who get killed by the peasants,” Pineda said.
Last week, Dinant’s Aguan biogas Clean Development Mechanism project in Central America said it was evaluating Electricite de France SA’s termination of a contract to buy carbon credits. EDF terminated its involvement after the CDM Watch allegations. The so-called CDM allows rich-nation emitters to buy credits from poor nations in a bid to spread more widely greenhouse-gas cutting technology.
The credits can be used as a cheaper form of compliance for about 11,000 factories and power stations in the European Union carbon market, the world’s biggest. CDM credits for December closed yesterday at 13.15 euros ($19.23) a metric ton on the ICE Futures Europe exchange in London. They’ve gained 15 percent this year. EU allowances for December closed at 16.98 euros a ton yesterday.
Buyers of credits and financiers need to investigate carefully before deciding to participate in these projects, said Mark Meyrick, head of the Rotterdam-based carbon desk at Eneco Holding NV, the Dutch utility. The greenhouse-gas cut often takes place in remote areas of developing nations.
‘Proper Due Diligence’
“This is a question of proper due diligence,” Meyrick said April 19 by e-mail. Projects must consult their so-called stakeholders as part of the process seeking United Nations- overseen approval for tradable credits, Meyrick said. “In too many CDM projects, only lip service is paid to the stakeholder consultation, and the CER buyers and finance providers don’t check that properly,” he said.
Michele Reid, an EDF Trading spokeswoman, declined to comment on the consultation of stakeholders. DEG’s Rinsche didn’t immediately respond to messages and an e-mail seeking further comment.
The CDM Executive Board in Bonn, which regulates the program, may consider registering the Dinant carbon-reduction project at a meeting ending June 3, or the one following, David Abbass, a CDM spokesman, said April 18.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Voss at firstname.lastname@example.org
Finance ministry dismisses reports of wage freeze extension
Alicia Dunkley. Jamaica Observer. April 21, 2011
THE Ministry of Finance and the Public Service has rejected reports that public sector workers face a fourth year of wage freeze. "There was never any talk of, plan for, nor contemplation of any fourth year of wage freeze," state minister Senator Arthur Williams said in a press release yesterday.
He reiterated that the wage freeze time period agreed to wiht the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was up to the 2011-2012 financial year.
"That is, year 1: 2009-2010, year 2: 2010-2011 and year 3: 2011-2012. I trust this will put an end to the speculation that is now taking place," he explained.
On Tuesday, Finance Minister Audley Shaw said Government was in discussions with various public sector groups to fast forward a programme of compensation.
Shaw, who was answering questionsfrom member of Parliament Natalie Neita Headley, said these discussions will have to take into consideration the vexed issue of the seven per cent salary increase owed to public sector workers since 2009.
"Under the IMF Standby Agreement, the medium-term programme called for a wage freeze through to the end of this fiscal year. However, I am having discussions with the public sector groups. We will have to take into consideration the seven per cent and the arrears," Shaw said, noting that already meetings have been held with the police and the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions looking at available options and exploring possibilities.
"We are having discussions now to see if we can come up with a creative approach to possibly bring forward the programme of compensation. There can be no immediate decisions at this point. We have to have discussions with the groups, and with the IMF," he added.
In the meantime, Shaw said some $30 billion was owed in all to public sector workers but said the administration could not at this time afford to make complete payoffs.
"We have to look at it against the background of global conditions which have not improved to the point where our own resources in Jamaica can tolerate the full impact of three years of almost $30 billion. This budget could not take that kind of pressure. If we were to attempt to do any of this then all of the macro economic fundamentals we have worked so hard to stabilise the economy would literally go up in smoke," he added.
The administration, which had owed teachers some $8 billion, paid over some $500 million in the last fiscal year. This year another $2.59 billion is to be paid over. Another $5 billion will be outstanding.
Yesterday Shaw said of the $3 billion in general allowances owed to the rest of the civil service, $1.5 billion has already been paid while the remaining $1.5 billion will be paid this year.
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration [contents]
Nacha Cattan and Taylor Barnes. Christian Science Monitor. April 20, 2011
In December, a UFO landed near Reyna Hinojos's house on Craddock Avenue, in an El Paso, Texas, neighborhood separated from Mexico by the Rio Grande. Her startled neighbors dragged the aircraft into their front yard and called the police, who identified the object: an Israeli-built unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operated by the Mexican government to monitor drug trafficking and human smuggling.
Why It Matters
Drone programs are proliferating, and incidents such as the recent one in El Paso – along with drones' controversial use in Pakistan, where a March 17 attack killed dozens of civilians – have put a critical eye on their potential to harm bystanders and spy on neighbors.
The small drone had landed safely, says Ramiro Cordero, an agent with US Customs and Border Protection. It was promptly loaded into a police pickup truck and returned to Mexican authorities.
Ms. Hinojos was unsurprised by the incident, since her border town constantly swarms with surveillance vehicles such as helicopters – one of which crashed a few years ago.
"They might have their dangers," she says of drones, "but I feel safer knowing they're out there."
Countries throughout the Americas are deploying drones as a high-tech answer to tackling drugs, gang violence, and activities such as illegal logging. From Canada to Brazil, at least 11 nations are flying UAVs over the Western Hemisphere, often Israeli-made. Brazil's Army in January purchased its first two Hermes drones, and its federal police force is set to deploy its first surveillance UAV by July.
Code of conduct needed
Drones are here to stay, experts say, and the time is past for debate. At this point in the game, Latin America should collaborate to develop a code of conduct that will prevent the arming of drones and assuage civilian concerns, says Johanna Mendelson Forman, a Latin America specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington.
"I think it's the maturation of Latin American defense systems," she says, while cautioning that the potential to arm drones could turn the project into a "double-edged sword."
Latin American politicians are also raising calls for an international pact that defines the scope of drone missions. "Regulations should be established," says Mexican Sen. Fernando Baeza, who advocates a limit on data collection. "The great precision of satellite information could be put to good use, or could be used for spying."
Drones are an invaluable resource to aid investigators on the ground, analysts say. They can jam signals, locate enemy satellite dishes, spot drug plantations or cartel hideouts, and monitor a country's own police force for corruption, says Inigo Guevara, a Latin America security researcher with Georgetown University.
"You still need people on the ground to intercept, to interdict, to make arrests, to get involved in firefights," Mr. Guevara says. "But you can protect them a lot more if you have your eye in the sky."
Israeli companies eye clients
Make that plural: eyes. Washington in August began patrolling the entire US-Mexican border with Predator drones, and several US counties reportedly have pilot programs in police and sheriff offices. The US also sends high-altitude drones over Mexico that "have been particularly useful in achieving various objectives of combating crime," the Mexican National Security Council said in a statement March 16, days after the controversial program was exposed by The New York Times. (The Associated Press later reported that the US has flown Predators into Mexico since 2009.)
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Why It Matters
Drone programs are proliferating, and incidents such as the recent one in El Paso – along with drones' controversial use in Pakistan, where a March 17 attack killed dozens of civilians – have put a critical eye on their potential to harm bystanders and spy on neighbors.
Mexico in 2008 deployed its own drones to crime-plagued Ciudad Juárez (across the border from El Paso) and today operates up to 30 UAVs nationwide, says Guevara. Programs also exist in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. None are armed and most are discreet. Hugo Chávez in 2009 accused Colombia of sending drones to capture images of Venezuela, which Colombian officials dismissed as "Santa's sleigh."
Israel Aerospace Industries has sold its Heron to Mexico and Ecuador, where it has a branch in addition to offices in Brazil, Colombia, and Chile. Another Israeli firm, Elbit Systems Ltd., has sold its Hermes to Mexico and Brazil. The company's Brazilian subsidiary, AEL Sistemas, citing the "great strategic relevance" of the drone market in Latin America, declined to speak with the Monitor. In April, Elbit signed a "strategic agreement" with Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer, which lauded drones' "dual-use for monitoring of ports, agricultural, forest, and coastal areas, traffic, etc."
Brazil puts 'eyes in sky'
Brazil's president has openly advocated drone use. "This allows us to perceive transporting of arms, drugs, and suspect movements," Dilma Rousseff said while campaigning in August. Drones also enable police "to see the movements in the regions with the greatest commercialization and distribution of drugs."
In addition to dispatching the Heron to Brazil's porous western frontier – the 10,500-mile border touches 10 nations – police are also considering flying drones over violent cities and the Amazon, to fight deforestation and illegal exploitation of natural resources, according to a police spokesman, adding that 14 Heron drones are to be purchased by 2014 for $395 million. Adriano Kancelkis of São Paulo-based AGX Tecnologia, the first Brazilian manufacturer to produce UAVs, says he expects strong demand from the agricultural industry and environmental lobby.
Brazil is now negotiating a code of conduct with Colombia, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay to allow an incoming fleet of federal police drones to monitor their territories – under the promise that each government could view the data and flights would be limited.
Vanda Felbab-Brown, a Mexico expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, cautions that drones should not replace traditional policing methods. "Although [the UAV] is another tool and probably facilitates following particular individuals," she says, "I don't think it has the potential at all to bring any crippling blow to any particular organization."