Latin America News Round-up
June 15, 2011
Unemployment Falling in Latin America, UN Agencies Say
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Brazil and Southern Cone
Unemployment Falling in Latin America, UN Agencies Say
Another Amazon activist killed in logging conflict. AP
Majority of Brazilians reject changes in Amazon Forest Code. Mongabay
Brazil's clown congressman tables literacy bill. AP
US, Argentina resolve spat over seized equipment. AP
Monsanto signs royalty deals with Argentine farmers. Reuters
Northern Andean Region
Venezuelan government issues $2.3 billion in bonds. AP
Venezuela Government Confirms 19 Dead in Prison Riot. EFE
Venezuela Charges State Electricity Co Worker With Sabotage. Dow Jones
Colombia helps alleviate Venezuelan energy crisis. Colombia Reports
Colombia Congress Passes Deficit-Reduction Law Capitalizing on Mining Boom. Bloomberg
AFL-CIO to campaign hard against Colombia trade deal. The Hill
Murdered displaced leader's family may leave Colombia for security. Colombia Reports
Colombia Advances Beijing Trade Pact. Wall Street Journal
Western Andean Region
China to Loan Ecuador $1 Billion for Public Works, Expreso Says. Bloomberg
Ecuador's Jan-May Tax Collections Rise 17% On Year To $4.14 Billion. Dow Jones
The teenage miners of Bolivia. Al Jazeera
Doctor: Former Peru president depressed in jail. Miami Herald
Putting people at the centre of forest law-making is essential. The Guardian
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean
Law student clinic in Mexico aims high. Los Angeles Times
Freed by Judge, Billionaire Ex-Mayor of Tijuana Taken Into Custody Again. New York Times
Mexican president under fire after tycoon's release. The Guardian
Calderón's war 'too costly,' ex-official says. Houston Chronicle
Mexicans are uneasy about America's outsourced war on drugs. The Guardian
S&P Raises Rating Outlook On Honduras To Positive From Stable. Dow Jones
Central America Should Turn to Community Policing, Experts Say. Inter-Press Service
New Che Guevara diary published in Cuba. BBC
President Obama reaches out to Puerto Rico. Miami Herald
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration
Unemployment Falling in Latin America, UN Agencies Say. EFE
Brazil and Southern Cone [contents]
Another Amazon activist killed in logging conflict
JULIANA BARBASSA. AP. June 14, 2011
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A landless peasant activist was killed by a gunshot to his head outside his home in Brazil — the fifth murder in a month likely tied to the conflict over land and logging in the Amazon.
The body of the victim, Obede Loyla Souza, was found over the weekend in the dense forest surrounding his home in the landless settlement of Esperanca, near the town of Pacaja in the Amazon state of Para, said Hilario Lopes Costa, coordinator for the watchdog Catholic Land Pastoral in Para.
Costa traveled to the remote settlement to interview witnesses and support the victim's wife and children, who are also afraid for their lives.
Police from the nearby town of Tucurui confirmed the death and said the investigation was ongoing. Members of a national police force created by the federal government earlier this month to control violence in the region took the body to the state capital, Belem, for an autopsy. It was returned Tuesday for burial. They could not be immediately reached for comment.
The state law enforcement agency in charge of land conflicts, the Agrarian Conflict Delegation, is not participating in the investigation, a spokesman said, declining to give his name because of department policy.
The Catholic Land Pastoral monitors the threats made by loggers, ranchers and farmers to silence protest over illegal extraction of wood and the violation of land rights in the environmentally sensitive region. More than 1,150 rural activists have been killed in conflicts over land and logging in the last two decades, and group has a list of 125 activists who know their lives are in danger.
Souza wasn't on that list, said Costa.
The 31-year-old peasant was part of a landless settlement that occupied unused farmland in 2008, setting up a camp whose name, Esperanca, means Hope. He had been farming a small plot there alongside his wife and three children and waiting for the government land redistribution program to recognize their claim.
Costa said that in January, Souza got into an argument with a representative of loggers who are illegally harvesting wood in the region — targeting the region's Brazil nut trees, which are protected under law. He knew he was in danger from then on, said Costa.
"There is in this region a really dangerous group of loggers," said Costa. "He had a fight with one of them over the cutting of these trees, and he was marked man from then on."
Witnesses who did not want to give their name told Costa they saw four men in a pickup truck asking for Souza. They and Souza's wife are now afraid for their lives as well, Costa said.
Within the last month, four activists have been shot to death, along with a witness to two of the murders.
The increase in execution-style killings led to an outcry in Brazil's government, which created a working group to monitor the region, and reinforced paltry local police forces with officers from federal police, highway patrol and national guard.
Help must come quickly, because there are others whose lives are in danger, said the president of another landless camp, Francisco Evaristo da Conceicao.
He was friends with the victim, and part of the same movement to seize unused farmland for peasants without land. He heads the Barrageira settlement — a more established community of 107 families.
Like the victim, he's had run-ins with loggers, and has been threatened by men he thinks are part of the same group who killed Souza.
"We have a lot of problems with the loggers — they invade land, and clear out forest," he said. "We fight them, but it's complicated. Men have stopped at my house looking for me. Now I have to be more careful."
Majority of Brazilians reject changes in Amazon Forest Code
Rhett Butler. Mongabay. June 11, 2011
The vast majority of Brazilians reject a bill that would weaken Brazil's Forest Code, according to a new poll commissioned by green groups.
The national poll asked 1286 Brazilians across a wide range of socioeconomic classes about their opinions on a Forest Code reform bill that passed Brazil's lower house month. Environmentalists say the bill—in its present form—would grant amnesty to those who illegally cleared rainforest and would absolve them from taking reforesting lands as required under current Brazilian law. It would also reduce requirements for protecting forest on hillsides, along waterways, and on hilltops. The bill next heads to the Senate. If it passes, it would then most on to President Dilma Rousseff for final approval.
The survey found 79 percent in favor an eventual veto from Rousseff should the current bill pass the Senate. 84 percent agreed they would not vote for representatives or senators who had voted in favor of "pardoning illegal deforestation".
"The survey shows how differences between rural and urban area, or between regions and social groups, are insignificant: there is just one trend across the country," Roberto Smeraldi, director, Amigos da Terra - Amazônia Brasileira. "Possibly, the radical stand by rural leaders, who spent months alleging that all farmers would be illegal, so as to justify a law to forgive them, ended up backfiring, making public opinion to reject this idea."
The telephone survey was conducted by Datafolha at the request of Brazilian environmental groups Amigos da Terra - Amazônia Brasileira (Friends of the Earth - Brazilian Amazon), IMAFLORA, IMAZON, Instituto Socioambiental (the Socio-environmental Institute), SOS Atlantic Forest and WWF-Brazil. The poll had a margin of error of 3 percent.
79 percent of those polled said they generally opposed pardoning farmers and ranchers who have cleared forest beyond that allowed by law. 45 percent of respondents supported amnesty only for those who agree to restore deforested areas up to the legal requirement, while 48 percent rejected amnesty in any form, arguing that transgressors need to be punished "to set an example for future generations." Only 5 percent believe that deforesters should be forgiven without the need to reforest.
The questionnaire found wide support (77 percent) for further scientific assessment of the potential environmental impact of the Forest Code revision.
Surprisingly most Brazilians indicated a preference for forest conservation over commodity production. Given a choice between giving priority to forest protection that may eventually limit agricultural and livestock production or giving priority to production at the expense of some forest protection, 85 percent of respondents chose protection.
The findings are in sharp contrast to the broad support for the bill in Brazil's lower house of Congress, where it passed easily. The bill has been championed by Aldo Rebelo, the head of Brazil’s Communist Party, with support from industrial agribusiness interests, including the National Agriculture Confederation and companies like Bunge, a U.S.-based commodities giant. But the bill has generally been opposed by small farmer groups and the rural poor.
Speculation over passage of the bill — and potential amnesty for deforestation beyond what is allowed under the current Forest Code — is thought to be a contributing factor to the surge in deforestation this year. Data release last month by Brazil's National Space Research Agency (INPE) revealed that 593 square kilometers of forest was cleared between March and April 2011, an area of rainforest 10 times the size of Manhattan and a 473 percent increase over the 103.5 square kilometers chopped down from March-April 2010. The increase reversed the downward trend in deforestation since 2004.
Brazil's clown congressman tables literacy bill
AP. June 15, 2011
The clown elected to congress in Brazil has presented his first bill, which encourages illiterate adults to learn how to read and write.
Francisco Silva, who had to prove to a judge he met literacy requirements for congress members before taking his seat, called for a one off payment of 345 Brazilian real (£211) to be made to any illiterate adult who learns how to read and write.
Silva's spokeswoman Edit Silva said payment would be made at the end of a six-month literacy course.
Silva is known as Tiririca, which means "grumpy" in Portuguese. He won more votes than any other candidate in Brazil's elections last October.
US, Argentina resolve spat over seized equipment
AP. June 14, 2011
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. has settled a dispute with Argentina over that country's February seizure of military equipment brought in by an American police-training team.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday that Argentina has agreed to return the material after impounding it for four months.
Officials have described the material as three satellite phones with related software, hardware and encryption codes that Special Forces trainers take with them. Only one of the devices was declared, leading to Argentine accusations that illegal wiretapping equipment was being spirited into the country.
The spat worsened when Argentina demanded an apology and the U.S. refused.
Toner said the U.S. demonstrated to Argentina that its laws and customs requirements had been respected.
He said the problem related to "unintentional administrative errors."
Monsanto signs royalty deals with Argentine farmers
Hugh Bronstein. Reuters. June 7, 2011
BUENOS AIRES, June 7 (Reuters) - Bruised by a lengthy battle over royalties in Argentina, U.S. seed giant Monsanto (MON.N) is asking the country's farmers to sign contracts promising to pay to use the company's new seed technology.
The unusual drive underscores Monsanto's determination to win market share in the world's No. 3 soy exporter and its jitters about operating in a country where business leaders often complain about changes to the rules of the game.
By signing agreements with individual Argentine farmers who are seeking to boost output with its genetically modified (GM) soy variety Roundup Ready 2 Yield, Monsanto says it will get extra protection to guarantee royalty payments.
"We want to sign the contracts to be sure there's a consensus ... We don't want to go with the force of law alone," Monsanto spokesman Pablo Vaquero said. Farmers accounting for nearly a third of Argentina's soy output have already signed.
Monsanto's wariness stems from its experience with the original Roundup Ready soy variety, which was never patented in the South American country -- although it became ubiquitous -- provoking years of legal wrangling with the government. The new strain has already been patented.
However, Monsanto's move has angered small-scale growers, who have been allowed to sow original Roundup Ready seeds harvested from their own fields without paying royalties.
They accuse Monsanto, the world's largest seed company, of trying to monopolize production in Argentina and of effectively excluding smaller farmers from using new seed technology by demanding too much in royalty payments.
"We're defending farmers' right to re-use their seeds because they can't pay royalties indefinitely," said Julio Curras, a leader of the Argentine Agrarian Federation, which represents small- and medium-sized farmers.
Monsanto has genetically modified corn, soy and other crops to tolerate treatment with its glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide, making it easier for farmers to kill weeds.
The Roundup-resistant seeds have been a major revenue driver for Monsanto, but the patent on the first Roundup Ready strain expires in 2014 and the company has been trying to convince customers to move to the newer version.
It says the Roundup Ready 2 Yield soy has heightened resistance to certain pests and herbicides, boosting yields.
Monsanto was unable to patent the original Roundup Ready soy in Argentina. The company's battle to get royalties dragged on for years and saw court injunctions hold up Argentine soymeal shipments in European ports.
The company is under time pressure because Roundup Ready 2 Yield is set to be introduced next year in neighboring Brazil.
If Argentina does not have a new control system by then designed to protect the patent and allow Monsanto to license local seed dealers to sell Roundup Ready 2 Yield, the seeds will likely be smuggled in from Brazil.
The introduction of GMO soy has helped Argentine farmers boost output dramatically over the last 14 years, but industry analysts say current rules deter seed companies from marketing strains using the latest technology. [ID:nN01143278]
Agriculture officials are working on a reform of the country's seed law, but the bill is unlikely to be sent to Congress before an October presidential election and some analysts think it could take two years to become law.
Small-scale growers would be exempted from the new law and allowed to carry on saving seeds from the harvest to replant at sowing time, without having to pay royalties.
In the meantime, many farmers have signed Monsanto's contracts because they fear losing competitiveness if they miss out on new varieties being used by their counterparts in other leading grain exporters such as Brazil and the United States.
Competitiveness is a concern in Argentina, where farmers pay a 35 percent export tax on soybeans and double-digit inflation is increasing costs.
"In the short term, the way forward is going to be through contracts," said Ernesto Ambrosetti, chief economist at the Argentine Rural Society, which represents some of the country's biggest soy farmers.
"We don't have the luxury of falling behind or losing productivity."
(Editing by Helen Popper and Dale Hudson)
Northern Andean Region [contents]
Venezuelan government issues $2.3 billion in bonds
AP. June 15, 2011
Venezuela's government says it is issuing the equivalent of $2.3 billion in bonds to help cover debt payments and public spending this year.
The Planning and Finance Ministry announced the offering of 10 billion bolivars in government bonds.
It said in a statement on Tuesday that the bonds will be offered to state-run banks.
The ministry said the funds obtained by the government will go toward "national public debt service" as well as public spending.
In recent months, President Hugo Chavez's government has turned to state-run banks to help finance growing public spending.
Government debt held by state banks increased 32 percent in the first four months of this year and stood at about $7.5 billion in April.
Venezuela Government Confirms 19 Dead in Prison Riot
EFE. June 15, 2011
CARACAS – The Venezuelan government confirmed Tuesday the deaths of 19 inmates last weekend in a prison riot that was the worst incident of its kind in recent years.
Interior Minister Tarek el Aissami told reporters that “19 inmates lost their lives” on Sunday as a result of a “clash between two factions” in El Rodeo I jail near Caracas.
“We repeat what we have said on various occasions: the Venezuelan penitentiary system is among the commitments our government is working on, we have made an important effort but a lot still needs to be done on our penitentiary system,” El Aissami said.
The minister recalled that the government is going forward with several prison programs and has a plan for the complete restructuring of the prison system, but acknowledged that the efforts are insufficient “in light of the drama, the needs and complexity” of the Venezuelan penitentiary system.
He said that the government is handling the situation with “a great deal of responsibility and self-criticism,” and recalled that President Hugo Chavez has created a Cabinet post for the penitentiary system and recently approved 413 million bolivares ($100 million) for the sector.
The incident came after inmates in the last few weeks abducted officials in two other prisons, of which one of them, Rodeo II, is very near the jail that was the scene of Sunday’s riot.
Non-government organizations that monitor the sector believe the government has lost control of the prisons, where convicts have weapons and more or less run the institutions.
The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights has repeatedly called for Venezuelan authorities to take measures that guarantee prison security. EFE
Venezuela Charges State Electricity Co Worker With Sabotage
Dow Jones. June 15, 2011
CARACAS (Dow Jones)--Venezuelan authorities Tuesday charged an employee of state-run electricity company Corpoelec with sabotage, saying the act led to a major electricity failure across several states in May.
In a statement, the attorney general's office said it charged Luis Alfonzo Pena Nanez for his role in the power outage. The ministry also said it would charge another worker, Hugo Alberto Aguilar Caceres, on Friday.
Under state law, the accused could face four to eight years in prison.
As the oil-rich South American country struggles with widespread power shortages this year, top Venezuelan officials have frequently blamed the problems on sabotage as well as policies implemented by governments before President Hugo Chavez, who has been at the helm for 12 years.
Critics say the country's power troubles instead stem from rigid state control over the sector, mismanagement and lack of investment.
Venezuelan officials said that Pena and Aguilar were in charge of monitoring the flow of electricity through high-tension transmission lines. "Both failed to perform the necessary maneuvers to prevent a failure of the lines," the ministry said in the statement.
The May 9 interruption in two transmission lines caused a blackout across at least 10 states and the tourism hotspot of Margarita Island.
The announcement came on the same day that Argenis Chavez, a younger brother of the president, was named as the new vice minister of electricity development, according to the Official Gazette.
Speaking on local news channel Globovision, the vice minister said he expected Venezuela's electricity shortage to last until December as demand in the country was close to reaching 18,000 megawatts.
The electricity problems are likely to become a key political issue as President Chavez lines up a reelection bid next year.
On Monday, authorities Araque announced a new set of electricity-rationing measures including a steep price increase on penalties for customers who fail to conserve power.
The government's most recent restrictions were prompted in part by power failures over the weekend in the heavily populated and oil-rich state of Zulia, among several western states.
-By Kejal Vyas, Dow Jones Newswires; 58-414-249-6821; email@example.com
Colombia helps alleviate Venezuelan energy crisis
Tom Heyden. Colombia Reports. June 14, 2011
Colombia has begun transferring power to Venezuela to help alleviate its neighbor's energy supply problems amidst blackouts and shortages, El Espectador reported Tuesday.
Venezuela has recently been enduring energy problems similar to those in 2010, related to droughts in the country's northwestern regions, which have impacted the hydro-electric systems that provide some 70% of the nation's power despite its large oil reserves.
Colombia's Minister of Mining and Energy, Carlos Rodado Noriega, said that Colombia began the transfer of electrical energy on Monday, from Colombia's northern department of La Guajira, through the available Cuestecitas-Cuatricentenario energy line that connects the two countries.
The energy transfer comes as a result of agreements between Colombia and Venezuela, which were finalized during the most recent meeting between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in Cartagena in April.
Colombia Congress Passes Deficit-Reduction Law Capitalizing on Mining Boom
Helen Murphy. Bloomberg. June 15, 2011
Colombia’s Congress approved legislation yesterday to allow the Andean nation to capitalize on a boom in oil and mining investment to reduce debt and build a stabilization fund to cushion the economy during downturns.
The Senate bill passed yesterday, which still must be reconciled with a version approved in May by the lower house, targets a central government budget deficit of no more than 2.3 percent of gross domestic product in 2014, down from a projected 4.1 this year. It also seeks to narrow the gap to no more than 1 percent by 2022.
Colombia is counting on surging foreign investment in mining and energy to boost annual economic growth to 6 percent and reduce its debt burden. Stricter fiscal targets may win Colombia further upgrades to its credit ratings. Fitch Ratings said it would wait for approval of the so-called “fiscal rule” before considering whether to join Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s and raise the country’s credit rating to investment grade.
“This is basically a good aim toward correct fiscal behavior,” said Finance Minister Juan Carlos Echeverry after the approval.
The bill also creates a dollar-denominated rainy day fund, modeled on one in Chile, which will save excess mining and energy revenue overseas. Keeping the investment out of Colombia will limit gains by peso, the best-performing currency in Latin America this year.
The Senate version of the bill calls for a reduction of the deficit to no more than 2.3 percent in 2014, 1.9 percent in 2018 and 1 percent or a surplus by 2022. The lower house version seeks a deficit of no more than 2 percent from 2015.
The peso fell 0.4 percent to 1,779 per U.S. dollar at 9:15 a.m. New York time, from 1,771.4 yesterday. The yield on the nation’s 2024 peso bond was little changed at 7.89 percent.
While Colombia was slower to emerge from the global recession than its Latin American neighbors, growth this year is expected to exceed the pace achieved by Mexico and Brazil, the region’s two biggest economies. After growing 4.3 percent last year, the government forecasts growth of as much as 6 percent this year.
President Juan Manuel Santos, who took office in August, has vowed to maintain that pace in coming years, fueled by foreign direct investment that the Trade Ministry says will reach about $13 billion a year by 2014.
Most of the investment is tied to mining and energy as Colombia aims to expand oil production to 1.7 million barrels of crude a day in 2020, up from 903,000 currently.
“This guarantees Colombia will have a sustainable and constant path of growth in the coming years and that we don’t spend what we don’t have,” said Andres Jimenez, head of international sales for Interbolsa SA, Colombia’s biggest brokerage. “The fiscal rule is the beginning for Colombia to climb rapidly up the investment grade ranks so that we are graded A and above.”
Moody’s rates Colombia Baa3, the lowest level of investment grade, while S&P has a BBB- rating on Colombia.
To ease pressure on the peso, which has strengthened 7.4 percent against the dollar this year, the extra revenue will be stored overseas along with dividends from state oil company Ecopetrol SA.
The fund, to be administered by the central bank, may invest in financial assets including Colombian foreign debt purchased in the secondary market, and may also be used to pay interest on debt when needed.
While Santos’s government has stepped up efforts to curb the peso’s rally, Echeverry and central bank President Jose Dario Uribe have said that so far capital controls like ones used in Brazil aren’t needed.
Santos, a former finance minister, had promised during his campaign to balance the budget several years earlier though heavy rains this past year forced an increase in spending to rebuild washed-out roads and provide shelter to millions of flood victims.
Congress last week passed a law to modify distribution of taxes on commodities production to allow a greater swathe of the nation to benefit from rising revenue and the accumulation of savings.
The Colombian fiscal rule is modeled on one in Chile, which saves some of its income from copper sales for years when economic growth slumps and to ensure the nation isn’t as vulnerable to swings in the price of copper, which makes up 53 percent of exports.
The funds helped the Chilean economy withstand the 2009 recession and provided some of the financing to rebuild after the 8.8-magnitude earthquake last year that caused almost $30 billion in damage.
To contact the reporters on this story: Helen Murphy in Bogota at firstname.lastname@example.org;
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at email@example.com
AFL-CIO to campaign hard against Colombia trade deal
Kevin Bogardus. The Hill. June 14, 2011
The AFL-CIO will launch a campaign next week to try and stop the pending trade deal between the United States and Colombia.
The nation's largest labor federation has planned several events in hopes of convincing Congress to reject the agreement. Trade unionists from Colombia will travel to Washington to discuss the country’s poor record of violence against labor organizers with members of Congress.
On Tuesday, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) will release a report on Telefonica, a major phone provider in Colombia, which the union says will show problems with the trade deal. On Wednesday, the AFL-CIO will unveil a print ad campaign blasting the trade agreement.
And on Thursday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, CWA President Larry Cohen and several lawmakers will host a press conference to talk about violence against Colombia trade unionists.
The AFL-CIO campaign comes as the Obama administration continues to push for passage of the trade deal. On Monday, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced that Colombia had met another set of milestones outlined under the labor action plan the country agreed to with the administration.
That labor action plan is designed to improve the country's labor rights record as a precursor to approval of the pact by Congress.
The AFL-CIO, however, has said that the plan is not enough and that Colombia should not be rewarded with a trade deal.
Murdered displaced leader's family may leave Colombia for security
Marguerite Cawley. Colombia Reports. June 14, 2011
Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzon announced that the government is examining the possibility of getting the family of murdered displaced leader Ana Fabricia Cordoba out of the country for safety reasons.
"I find them very affected from an emotional and mental point of view, they have killed the father, the mother and the two brothers, they expressed the desire to leave the country," said the vice president, after meeting with the remaining children of the assassinated social leader and with her cousin, the ex-Senator Piedad Cordoba, Caracol Radio reported Tuesday.
Garzon said that Colombia is looking for ties with another government that would allow the rest of the family to leave the country as quickly as possible, following the administration's promise not to allow impunity for those responsible for the murder, and to provide any necessary security measures to ensure the safety of the remaining family members.
Meanwhile, the director of Citizen Security of the Colombian police, Orlando Paez Baron, said that authorities have rejected the possibility of police involvement in the murder, following investigation, while simultaneously saying that they have discovered those responsible and will soon release the information.
"We have made the inquiries and at this point we have no evidence or fact that indicates police authorities as responsible," Spanish news agency EFE reported Paez Baron as saying.
On June 9, Garzon called for an investigation into possible police involvement in Cordoba's murder, while the government offered an $85,000 reward for information helping to solve the case. A day earlier, the displaced leader's children blamed the state for the assassination of their mother, claiming that she had reported death threats prior to her death but didn't receive increased security, as well as denouncing the police as responsible for the 2010 murder of their brother.
The government has also announced plans to structure a new protection system for threatened persons, with the goal of preventing a new wave of violence from occurring against leaders involved in the land restitution and restoration process for those displaced by the conflict.
Colombia Advances Beijing Trade Pact
DAN MOLINSKI and ELIZABETH WILLIAMSON. Wall Street Journal. June 15, 2011
Colombian lawmakers passed legislation they hope will open the floodgates of trade with China, where the government plans two high-level trade missions over the next three months, as a long-delayed U.S. trade deal with the South American nation stalls in Congress.
Colombia Trade Minister Sergio Díaz-Granados said Tuesday's passage of the "Chinese Trade Promotion and Protection" bill—which affords China certain legal guarantees on its investments in Colombia—could also propel talks with China to build a railway that would link Colombia's Caribbean and Pacific coasts, and would serve as an alternative to the Panama Canal.
Trade officials in Bogotá expressed frustration with the slow pace of progress in Washington, which they say contrasts with Chinese eagerness to invest in Colombia, Washington's closest ally in South America.
In an interview, Mr. Díaz-Granados said he remained hopeful a free-trade pact with the U.S. would be passed before year's end, but that Colombia can no longer "sit with its arms crossed, waiting."
"We've been talking about a U.S.-Colombia free trade deal for 20 years, and it's certainly the trade deal we want more than any other," Mr. Díaz-Granados said. "But in the meantime, we have to continue working in other directions. Our business leaders need to pursue other markets and diversify."
Mr. Díaz-Granados said it was too early to begin formal trade talks with China, although the bill, which is expected to become law within two months, is Colombia's most important trade-related act with China to date.
Pending U.S. trade-opening agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama have been stalled for weeks as Republican lawmakers and the White House lock horns over renewing Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program that compensates workers displaced by trade deals.
The White House and many congressional Democrats say the deals cannot pass without a "robust" renewal of the 50 year-old program, which costs about $1 billion annually, and offers training and other benefits to workers idled by trade-related job shifts. Republicans, who are engaged in a broader budget fight, say the program must be scaled back. Administration officials and members of Congress worked through last weekend to craft a compromise, but have yet to reach an agreement.
Meanwhile, Washington's would-be partners in the agreements point out that U.S. exporters will miss out: a trade pact between Korea and the European Union enters force July 1, as does a Colombia-Canada pact.
Last week, a delegation of South Korean lawmakers met with members of Congress and the administration to press for immediate passage of the Korea deal. Unless Congress ratifies the agreement this summer, Korean government officials say, it risks falling by the wayside, as Korean lawmakers avoid controversial legislation in the run-up to April parliamentary elections.
Mr. Díaz-Granados said he would travel to China next month for trade talks in various cities, and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will visit there in September to discuss trade and other issues.
China has been making inroads in Latin America for some time. In 2009, it supplanted the U.S. as Brazil's largest trading partner, and Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez has for years allowed Chinese companies to set up shop in oil fields and factories once owned by U.S. firms before they were expropriated.
About 40% of Colombia's exports go to the U.S. and only 3% to China, while 28% of Colombia's imports come from the U.S., compared with 13% from China.
Continued delays in implementing a free-trade deal with the U.S. could deepen China's influence in Colombia. U.S. goods exports to Colombia in 2009, the most recent year available, were $9.5 billion, down 17.3% from 2008. U.S. goods imports from Colombia totaled $11.3 billion in 2009, a 13.5% decrease from 2008.
If U.S. lawmakers don't ratify trade pacts soon, they will be delayed indefinitely, as politicians avoid passing controversial legislation in the 2012 election year.
The U.S.-Colombia trade pact was approved by both governments in 2007, but Democrats in Washington haven't ratified the deal amid opposition from labor groups such as the AFL-CIO, which argues it would cost U.S. jobs and criticizes Colombia's alleged human-rights violations.
This year the Obama administration addressed some of those concerns by reaching an agreement with Bogotá designed to improve legal protections for labor organizers and members, and stiffen penalties for those who threaten Colombian workers' rights.
Meanwhile, Colombia began trade talks with South Korea and Turkey. Talks with Japan could begin soon, officials said.Mr. Díaz-Granados said the pact could provide a framework for more serious talks to begin on China building the railroad across northwestern Colombia. "The idea of building a railroad linking the Caribbean and the Pacific has been around for decades," he said. "The difference is that 50 years ago there was no China. Now there is, and it's a country with massive infrastructure and transportation needs."
Write to Dan Molinski at Dan.Molinski@dowjones.com and Elizabeth Williamson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Western Andean Region [contents]
China to Loan Ecuador $1 Billion for Public Works, Expreso Says
Nathan Gill. Bloomberg. June 14, 2011
China agreed to loan Ecuador $1 billion to finance public works projects including irrigation canals, hydroelectric dams and oil exploration, Diario Expreso said today, citing unidentified officials at the South American country’s Finance Ministry.
The loan, which will have an average interest rate of 7 percent, was agreed to last week and will be disbursed in the coming weeks, the Guayaquil-based newspaper said on its website. The government is also negotiating another $1 billion loan with different creditors, Expreso said, without providing more details.
Ecuador’s Finance Ministry and the Economic Policy Ministry didn’t immediately respond to telephone and e-mail messages from Bloomberg News seeking comment.
To contact the reporter on this story: Nathan Gill in Quito at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Papadopoulos at Papadopoulos@bloomberg.net
Ecuador's Jan-May Tax Collections Rise 17% On Year To $4.14 Billion
Dow Jones. June 14, 2011
QUITO -(Dow Jones)- Ecuador's tax collections rose 17% to $4.14 billion between January and May from $3.53 billion a year earlier, the Internal Revenue Service, or SRI, said.
Collections from the value-added tax reached $1.97 billion, 17% higher than $1.69 billion a year earlier, according to the SRI.
Income-tax collection reached $1.57 billion, up 35% from $1.16 billion a year earlier.
The special consumption tax took in $241 million from $205 million in the same period a year earlier.
The tax on capital outflows rose 41% to $184 million.
Other taxes totaled $175 million in the period.
In May, according to the SRI, Ecuador's tax collections rose 25% to $746 million from $598 million in the same month last year.
Collections from the value-added tax in May rose 24% to $413 million while income-tax collections rose 42% to $216 million.
The special consumption tax collected in May reached $53 million.
Ecuador expects to collect $8.33 billion in taxes in all of 2011.
All figures have been rounded.
-By Mercedes Alvaro, Dow Jones Newswires; 5939-9728-653;
The teenage miners of Bolivia
Al Jazeera. June 1, 2011
Jorge Mollinedo and Alex Choque are best friends. They have worked together in the tin mines of Bolivia, hammering out a living from the underground rock.
They are now teenagers and looking for a way out of their desperate poverty and lives blighted by silicosis and ill health caused by mining. Jorge sees the military as a way to change his life and his country. But Alex's plight keeps him tied to the mines.
This is the third time that Witness has filmed with these two, the original Child Miners, over several years. Teenage Miners is a poignant look at the lives of two young people fighting the cycle of poverty as they grow up into young men.
Here, filmmaker Rodrigo Vazquez writes about turning the idea of filming two child miners as they grow older into a reality.
Jorge Mollinedo, the main character in the award-winning film Child Miners, is now 15 years old and has become an energetic teenager determined to have a better life than his father, who has been a miner all his life and has contracted silicosis, the 'miners' disease' that kills thousands of people every year.
Thanks to the possibilities opened up by Evo Morales' government in the mining areas, "leadership courses" have been set up in Huanuni, Jorge's town. Jorge has begun attending these classes because he says that he would like to become a "leader of the poor" and to "raise awareness about the need to stop child labour".
The use of this kind of vocabulary by Jorge would have been impossible when we started filming, six years ago. Back then, he was articulate but did not realise that he was caught in a deadly cycle of poverty, forced labour and sickness that kills miners before they reach 40.
Making the film has been a blessing for all of us. I have learnt from Jorge and Alex what is like to have no idea of future. To be in their shoes for a moment has strengthened my resolve to combat child labour, poverty and social exclusion through cinema, and has increased a feeling that made me start making this film in the first place - one that makes me relate to the injustices committed in the world as if they were being committed against me. This experience has increased my awareness of the need for social change and the need to protect the environment against extractive industries such as open-pit mining.
Jorge and Alex have, through the simple experience of watching the films we have made together, become aware of their own lives from the outside, have been able to observe themselves and contextualise their plight. Now they know that their situation is not normal, that poverty is not a natural state for human beings, that child labour is wrong and that it could kill them in a short time.
Although Alex has not quite quit working in the mine, Jorge has - in no small part thanks to donations sent by Al Jazeera viewers that have managed to fund the kids' education at crucial times.
Thanks to this process of increasing self-awareness, Jorge has decided to become involved in politics somehow. So every Friday, Jorge gathers groups of child miners to talk about the need to get out of the mines and sings a bit of hip-hop with mine-related lyrics that he has written.
In this film, Jorge is finishing the compulsory military service and visiting Alex in the mining town. Alex, who is now 12, is not doing so well. Alex's mother forces him to work in the mine and Jorge is trying to make her understand that this could kill Alex. At the same time, Jorge is trying to get Alex to go to school regularly to finally learn how to read and write properly. In addition, Jorge has decided to find work in Bolivia's capital La Paz and wants to be trained to work on television, as his desire is to shed light on social issues such as child labour.
We will continue filming Jorge and Alex next year. Jorge is slowly becoming a responsible adult and is an example of willpower to transcend one's own circumstances. Alex's plight to quit mining is worth following as his life is at stake.
Doctor: Former Peru president depressed in jail
AP. June 15, 2011
LIMA, Peru -- The doctor treating Alberto Fujimori says the jailed former Peruvian president has not suffered any major health setback and blamed his recent weight loss on depression.
The 72-year-old Fujimori checked into the National Cancer Center Thursday for bleeding from the tongue. Doctors have removed cancerous lesions from his tongue three times in the past three years.
Fujimori's daughter Keiko narrowly lost Peru's presidency in a runoff this month.
Dr. Pedro Sanchez tells reporters that Fujimori will be released soon. He says Fujimori lost 33 pounds (15 kilos) in four months and weighs 141 pounds (64 kilos).
Alberto Fujimori is serving a 25-year prison sentence for rights abuses and corruption.
Putting people at the centre of forest law-making is essential
David Young. The Guardian. June 15, 2011
Imagine if your government suddenly passed laws that sold off the street your family had lived on for generations to an international property developer. Your land was to be "converted" into flats in the name of national economic development; bulldozers would soon be moving in to demolish your house and carve up the garden. You had no say in the process and were promised none of the financial windfall. But you were to be comprehensively muscled off your property – end of conversation.
This is the scenario that Hugo Che Piu, head of Peruvian NGO Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (Dar), is currently fighting in association with Global Witness. In 2009, 30 people died during protests near Bagua in the Amazonas region, after laws passed by executive government decree allowed for huge chunks of forest inhabited by indigenous communities to be handed over to international logging firms to develop biofuel plantations. The episode was unusually tragic, but it fitted a pattern of rising tensions Che Piu knew well from his years defending the rights of communities in Peru's forests.
Forests are not like most other natural resources. People live inside them, and depend on them for everything – the poorer the people, the greater the reliance. The executive decrees of 2009 in Peru gave indigenous people no say in decisions to "convert" their land into space for biofuel plantations. Indeed, international agreements on forest use would mean these new plantations would still be classed as forests – try telling that to the people who had lived in them for generations, and seen their homes destroyed.
The events in Bagua proved a turning point for Che Piu and Dar. He and his colleagues sat down to analyse the causes of the violence, and to seek a constructive solution. The government wanted to increase private investment, while the companies they courted sought favourable terms to establish industrial plantations in the Amazon. There was no space in the conversation for respecting the rights and the homes of the people that lived on the land. "[Bagua] reaffirmed the need to deepen and improve the mechanisms for participation so that people who depend on forests may see their interests reflected," says Che Piu.
In an effort to create this space for dialogue, Dar made itself mediator. Consciously looking to build the trust of all groups, it remained neutral and created a forum for information sharing instead of direct or confrontational advocacy.
The results have been impressive. In the past two years, Che Piu and his colleagues at Dar have brought lawmakers, indigenous peoples' representatives and technical experts to the table to negotiate new policies. Two years on from violent conflict, this newly consultative and transparent approach has seen the opposing parties jointly draft a new forest law and a new "consultation law". The second of these is key, as it will ensure the government consults civil society on any new legislation relating to forest use.
This newfound transparency and consultation will not resolve the conflict of interests in Peru's forests by itself – far from it. But it is a necessary starting point, and its success has profound implications for international forest management. Meaningful consultation with local civil society and transparent access to information must be a part of international thinking on forests if we ascribe any value to them outside of corporate balance sheets and net GDP.
More than 1 billion people live in the world's forests. How forests are managed is fundamentally a human rights and development issue as much as an environmental or commercial concern. It is crucial that the international community remembers this as it searches for a way to preserve them while driving development in the countries to which these forests belong.
• David Young is a Global Witness campaign leader for forest sector transparency
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean [contents]
Law student clinic in Mexico aims high
Ken Ellingwood. Los Angeles Times. June 14, 2011
Beneath a crown of black curls, Benjamin Salinas offers his clients encouraging words about past courtroom victories and the chance to make history.
Salinas, 21, and six equally earnest colleagues seated with him in a sterile conference room have yet to graduate from law school. But their clients, half a dozen homemakers and retirees with hearing aids and support hose, seem unbothered. They are desperate to recover their life savings, lost in an alleged investment scam, and this may be their best chance of getting justice.
"It's my little star of hope," says Alicia Gutierrez, 58, a retired office worker who lost more than $80,000.
Gutierrez's "little star" is a legal aid clinic where clients arrive with worn case files and dimming hope, but often end up long-shot winners. In some cases, clients have been freed from prison.
The clinic is part of a Mexico City university called the Center for Economic Research and Teaching, or CIDE. The center's legal studies program combines law school training with hands-on public interest advocacy, a novel field in a nation where many attorneys are poorly trained and their best weapon is often a bribe.
Javier Angulo, a slight, guitar-strumming professor with a history of Supreme Court triumphs, teaches law, oversees student work and is the attorney responsible for the clinic's cases.
Students, guided by Angulo and another staff lawyer, work on the cases for free. Many of them probe uncharted terrain and have yielded legal precedents or led to new laws, such as one easing the penalty for abortions.
As Mexico works to cultivate a fully functioning democracy, the 6-year-old clinic is an effort to modernize a system long viewed as a factory of injustice.
"It has succeeded in exploring a new way of teaching law and, at the same time, is making an impact on legal culture in Mexico," said Pedro Salazar, a legal scholar at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Classes at CIDE have a freewheeling tone. On a recent day, Angulo, a criminal law expert, spewed legalese and salty Mexican slang in equal doses as he grilled students on the finer points of a free speech case. He squeezed his eyes shut when explaining legal concepts, as if recalling lyrics of an old song.
Angulo is plotting a novel tack to recover money for the thousands of mom-and-pop investors left penniless when a firm called Grupo Sitma closed without warning. His plan: Sue Mexico's financial regulators under an untested law that allows class-action lawsuits, which are familiar in the United States but are just taking hold in Mexico.
"We want to be the first," said Angulo, 34, puffing one of a steady stream of Marlboros in his office amid stacks of files.
Class-action litigation is so new that secondary laws governing such cases have not yet been written. So Angulo is designing the outline of a suit while students research how class actions work in other countries.
"We don't have anything to go on," said Julio Salazar, 21, a second-year student. "It's cool."
Salazar, who hopes to become a government lawyer, sat at his laptop, studying an academic paper on class-action suits. Around him, workstations were heaped with legal papers, computer equipment and the remnants of Angulo's birthday cake, devoured that morning after the students pulled out a guitar and sang "Las Mananitas," the birthday song. (Later, the professor would grab his own guitar and join the group in a jam session that included music by the Chilean rock group La Ley, or "The Law.")
Since its inception, the clinic has fought on behalf of an array of underdogs: indigenous residents of Chiapas jailed for murder, women in Guanajuato arrested for violating a state ban on abortion, soldiers punished for speaking their mind, nonsmokers, gay couples.
The cases regularly make it to Mexico's Supreme Court — students have met and chatted with justices — and often end in victory.
Battles are carefully chosen. Angulo seeks suits that might change social policies, rather than trying to right the legal system's wrongs one inmate at a time.
Still, the clinic was barraged this spring after the success of "Presumed Guilty," a documentary film about a Mexico City man who was convicted twice by the same judge for a murder he didn't commit. The defendant was eventually exonerated thanks to new lawyers. (He was not represented by the clinic.)
People buoyed by the film began showing up at the clinic with loved ones' files as thick as bricks. Phones chirped endlessly.
"It got to the point that one afternoon we disconnected the telephones," Angulo said.
But the professor and his students have been examining the visitors' files, some reaching 5,000 pages, to offer an independent assessment of their cases. The reviews have revealed grievous breakdowns: shoddy work by lawyers, questionable rulings by judges.
But by and large, Angulo shepherds his young charges on cases that offer the best chance to set broader legal precedent. Last year, the team joined the defense of eight women jailed in the central state of Guanajuato for violating the state law prohibiting abortion.
One of the women was freed for lack of evidence, a ruling that generated wide publicity about the arrests. Angulo's team was working with a Guanajuato women's rights group to sue on behalf of the seven other women when Gov. Juan Manuel Oliva submitted a bill to the state legislature reducing the penalty for the charged offense, infanticide. It passed, and the seven women were released.
Angulo has high hopes for a new case on behalf of a Nahuatl-speaking indigenous woman in the southern state of Guerrero, also jailed on charges of illegal abortion. The woman, Virginia Flores Cruz, understands little Spanish and is baffled by the proceedings that have kept her behind bars for two years, Angulo said. The absence of Nahuatl-speaking interpreters or defense lawyers has in effect denied her representation in court, he said.
The professor says the Flores case could affect cases involving indigenous suspects across Mexico. He sees it as a Mexican equivalent of the American landmark Gideon vs. Wainwright, in which the U.S. Supreme Court guaranteed the right of penniless defendants to a court-appointed lawyer.
It's not easy striving for legal history when much of the work — reviewing documents, researching case law and even interacting with clients — is handled by students still wrestling with the concept of punitive damages.
But in Mexico, the fresh faces at Angulo's clinic can evoke unexpected confidence.
Esther Figueroa, a 36-year-old homemaker who lost nearly $40,000 in the investment collapse, said she felt better after meeting the student team.
For two years, she and the others have sought to recover their deposits, begging for help from prosecutors, members of Congress, even writing to President Felipe Calderon. Although the investment company's owner has been jailed, the whereabouts of the money remains a mystery.
Figueroa said she was optimistic.
"With young people we have a different strength," she said. "That they're young gives me faith that they will fight, that they haven't been corrupted."
Freed by Judge, Billionaire Ex-Mayor of Tijuana Taken Into Custody Again
ELISABETH MALKIN. New York Times. June 14, 2011
MEXICO CITY — The former mayor of Tijuana was released from jail Tuesday after a federal judge threw out weapons charges against him, but state prosecutors immediately had him taken into custody again in connection with a murder investigation.
The case against the former mayor, Jorge Hank Rhon, 55, an eccentric billionaire from a powerful political family, has been at the center of gossip here in the capital, far from the border city where he amassed a gambling fortune. Despite rumors, never proved, of ties to organized crime, Mr. Hank Rhon had appeared to be untouchable.
But after a predawn raid on his enormous compound June 4 turned up 88 guns and almost 10,000 rounds of ammunition, the federal attorney general’s office charged him with stockpiling weapons. Only 10 of the guns had a license, officials said.
Prosecutors in Baja California state said last Friday that evidence tied two of the guns found on the compound with a murder in 2009 and another one in 2010.
Judge Blanca Evelia Parra Meza ruled late Monday that the government had failed to present sufficient evidence to support the weapons charges against Mr. Hank Rhon. He had been held without bail since his arrest and she ordered his release, along with 10 men who had been arrested at his compound, all of them apparently security guards.
The attorney general’s office said in a statement that it would appeal the ruling.
After the former mayor was released early Tuesday, state prosecutors had him taken into custody to question him about a murder between 2009 and 2010, Baja California human rights ombudsman Heriberto García told local reporters. Under Mexican law, he can be held for 40 days without charges while prosecutors build a case against him. Mr. García said that Mr. Hank Rhon would be confined to a hotel.
Mr. Hank Rhon served as mayor of Tijuana between 2004 and 2007 and lost in his bid to become the state governor. His father was a leading politician in the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which governed Mexico for 71 years before losing the presidency in 2000.
National PRI leaders have alleged that the arrest was politically motivated, aimed at tarnishing the PRI’s reputation as it is staging a comeback.
Mexican president under fire after tycoon's release
Jo Tuckman. The Guardian. June 15, 2011
The Mexican government of Felipe Calderón has been left with egg on its face after a judge ordered the release of a former Tijuana mayor arrested earlier this month when dozens of firearms were allegedly discovered in a raid on his mansion.
The federal judge released Jorge Hank Rhon saying there was insufficient evidence to indict the 55-year-old gambling magnate and politician, despite reports from officials that 88 guns were found at his sprawling complex in Tijuana. Hank Rhon – a father of 19 – is famed for his fortune, machismo, and exotic animals.
But he did not get to enjoy his freedom for long, as he was immediately taken to the state prosecutor's office for questioning over murders reportedly committed with two of the guns.
Hank Rhon was arrested in the early hours of 4 June after soldiers entered his home, which stretches up a hill from the racetrack he owns. The compound also includes a private bullring and zoo populated by white Bengal tigers, guacamayas and other rare animals.
The attorney general, Marisela Morales, said Hank Rhon had no permits for 78 of the weapons said to have been found, which comprised 40 rifles and 48 handguns. The raid also yielded 9,298 bullets, 70 ammunition clips and a gas grenade.
The judge who ordered Hank Rhon's release in the early hours of Tuesday morning also freed 10 of his employees detained during the raid. The former mayor left the jail before dawn and was taken to an office of the state prosecution service for questioning, after ballistic tests that allegedly linked two of the seized handguns to murders in Tijuana.
Officials said the tests indicated that one of the guns had been used to kill a security guard in December 2009 and the other to kill a car salesman in June 2010.
State human rights ombudsman Heriberto Garcia, called in to monitor the case by Hank Rhon's lawyers, said the local authorities were seeking a judge's order to allow them to hold him for a maximum of 30 days while the investigations continued.
Hank Rhon is a member of a political clan associated with the Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI), which governed from 1929 to 2000. His supporters claim the arrest was politically motivated.
His father, Carlos Hank González, was one of Mexico's most durable powerbrokers. He died in 2001 with an estimated US$1.3bn (£800m) fortune and reputedly coined the Mexican phrase "a politician who is poor is a poor politician".
Anti-crime activists were outraged by the news of Hank Rhon's release.
"This is another farce from the government of President Calderón," said Eduardo Gallo, one of the leading figures of a growing movement deeply critical of the government's claims to be hounding major criminals.
"The state lacks the ability and the moral authority to tackle organised crime. The law in Mexico is never applied against those with money and political power."
Hank Rhon's business empire, centred on the racetrack, includes hotels, shopping malls and gaming houses across Mexico. He was elected mayor in 2004, but stepped down in 2006 to fight an unsuccessful campaign to become state governor.While the accusations against him are legion, he has never come so close to facing formal charges.
A former bodyguard is currently in prison for the murder of reporter Hector "El Gato" Felix of the local weekly magazine Zeta in 1988.
In 1995 he was briefly detained after a suitcase full of ivory tusks and waistcoats made of the skins of endangered ocelots was found.
Hank Rhon's arrest has prompted accusations of orchestration by Calderón as part of an attempt to derail the PRI´s campaign in upcoming elections in Mexico state.
Enrique Peña Nieto, the current PRI governor, was mentored by Hank Rhon's clan and is the runaway favourite to win the 2012 presidential elections.
The federal release order is highly embarrassing for the government.
Calderón's war 'too costly,' ex-official says
DANE SCHILLER. HOUSTON CHRONICLE. June 14, 2011
Mexican President Felipe Calderón needs to order military troops back to the barracks and halt a losing war against drug cartels, Mexico's former foreign minister told the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board on Tuesday.
"He should not have done it," said Jorge Castañeda, who served in Calderón's predecessor's Cabinet. "He wasn't prepared for it."
Castañeda, who was in Houston Tuesday to promote his new book, said Calderón has framed his war on the cartels as a moral crusade, but it can't be won, and certainly can't be continued by whoever takes office there in 2012.
"It is too costly. We are up to 42,000 dead," he said. "By the end of Calderón's term, more Mexicans will have died in this war than Americans in Vietnam."
As a condition of the retreat, Castañeda said cartels need to get the message that they must crawl back into the underworld, and stop the kidnappings, extortion and mayhem that have rocked Mexico for five years.
If they don't comply, the military needs to be unleashed again to go after them for the murder and mayhem, rather than wasting more resources on drug trafficking crimes, he said.
"You don't sit down with them. You don't talk with them. You don't pardon them," Castañeda said of drug bosses.
The cartels have fought each other as well as against government security forces.
Prior to Calderón taking office, the military was used sparingly in the drug war, which was fought chiefly by civilian police.
"It pretty much has to change; the next president will not be able to continue with Calderón's policy," Castañeda said.
Legalizing drugs in Mexico is the only viable long-term solution, he said.
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox, his former boss, said the same thing when on a Houston visit recently.
"It went too far," Castañeda said of Calderón's war. "If Calderón hadn't messed with it, maybe you wouldn't have this reaction," he said of a number of high-profile Mexicans, from all across the political spectrum, calling for legalization as a result of the war on cartels.
"The question at the end of the day is whether the violence brought the war upon the country, or whether the war brought the violence upon the country," Castañeda said.
He was in Houston to promote his new book, Mañana Forever? Mexico and the Mexicans, which examines flaws in the national character that he says have prevented Mexico from realizing its democratic and social potential.
Mexicans are uneasy about America's outsourced war on drugs
Luis Hernández Navarro. The Guardian. June 14, 2011
Cipriana Jurado is a Mexican activist who for years struggled to assert the rights of maquila workers in Ciudad Juarez on the US border. She directed the Centre for Research and Worker Solidarity until, in mid-March 2010, she took refuge in the United States and applied for asylum because her life was in danger. On Saturday 11 June 2011, the United States granted her political asylum.
Her asylum application was accepted on the basis of evidence that the Mexican army persecuted her after she sought to defend a family from which three members, including two women, disappeared in Chihuahua in late 2009. The Mexican army has been used in Chihuahua as part of the federal anti-drug strategy, and it has been repeatedly linked to human rights violations.
Cipriana Jurado is the first human rights defender to receive political asylum for being persecuted by the Mexican army – the same army the United States is supporting to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in the war against drugs.
Her asylum sets a precedent. It also illustrates the complex relations between Mexico and the United States in the war on drugs. This complexity, according to President Felipe Calderón, revolves around "the fact that we live next to the biggest consumer of drugs in the world and everybody wants to sell drugs through our door or our window and additionally this same friend [the United States] sells weapons to all the criminals".
Many Mexicans are convinced that Calderón's drug war has been imposed by Washington, which aims to get Mexicans to resolve a US problem. Instead of fighting drug trafficking in the territory of the United States, Washington has persuaded or pressured the Mexican government to do it within their country – "outsourcing" the fight against drugs.
Although there are many co-operation agreements in the fight against drugs between the two nations, many of them long-standing, the most recent international security treaty signed by Mexico and the US (and also the countries of Central America) is the Mérida Initiative. The agreement was accepted by the US Congress in June 2008 with an aid package pledge of $1.6bn (£1bn), over a period of three years. During the first year, Mexico received $400m in equipment and training.
The assessment of this treaty has provoked a bitter debate within Mexico. Just this past 11 May, Calderón thanked Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi for aiding Mexico through the plan. However, former president Vicente Fox – a member of the ruling National Action party – said on 13 June that the Mérida Initiative is "nothing more than a 'tip' given to us, paid in blood, death and violence – the task is theirs, to stop drugs from circulating in the United States".
A citizens' movement, the National Movement for Peace, has recently taken shape, challenging Calderón's drug war and opposing the militarisation of the country. The poet Javier Sicilia started the movement after the murder of his son on 28 March 2011. The movement will include actions of peaceful civil resistance, including the co-ordinated closings of border bridges and a trade boycott against US companies, if the United States does not help to stop the violence.
Many members of this movement consider the Mérida Initiative to be an act by which Mexico is ceding its sovereignty to the US. The initiative has formalised American intervention in Mexican national security, intelligence, crime fighting, the training and command of military forces and police, the patrol of Mexico's airspace, land and sea, as well as logistics and procurement.
On 11 June, after completing a week-long peace caravan through the parts of the country most affected by drug violence, Sicilia demanded that Washington suspend the Mérida Initiative and recognise that its drug policy is destructive to Mexico and Central and South America. The White House has responded by publicly supporting the government of Felipe Calderón. But it has also winked at the National Movement for Peace. Less than a week ago the state department spokesman Mark Toner said the "US supports the caravan's message for peace, especially in Mexico where society as a whole has been touched by violence".
Diplomatic relations between the United States have historically been complex and difficult. The war against drugs will, undoubtedly, make them much more turbulent. Last Saturday, President Calderón delivered the keynote speech at Stanford university's graduation ceremony. While delivering his speech to thousands of graduates, an aeroplane flew over the university stadium, brandishing a sign that read: "No more blood. 40,000 dead. How many more?". It's one more indicator that the tone in US-Mexican relations has changed.
S&P Raises Rating Outlook On Honduras To Positive From Stable
Dow Jones. June 15, 2011
Standard & Poor's raised its outlook on the Republic of Honduras to positive from stable, citing the Latin American nation's rising external liquidity and stronger state of fiscal affairs as cause for the boost.
Improving investor confidence since the election of President Porfirio Lobo last year and stronger ties with creditors also contributed to the action, S&P said, adding that it sees reduced fears about the sustainability of Honduras' fixed exchanged rate.
The credit rater also said the rating on Honduras reflects its fiscal and monetary rigidities, shallow domestic capital markets and weak public institutions, along with a comparatively low debt burden.
The ratings firm affirmed its short-term and long-term sovereign credit ratings at B, five levels below investment-grade status.
-By Mia Lamar, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-3207; firstname.lastname@example.org
Central America Should Turn to Community Policing, Experts Say
Danilo Valladares. Inter-Press Service. June 14, 2011
GUATEMALA CITY, Jun 14, 2011 (IPS) - The countries of Central America should adopt community policing as a strategy to fight organised crime, say experts in the region ahead of a key summit on security to be held Jun. 22-23 in the Guatemalan capital.
In Latin America, community policing was adopted in 2009 by the government of the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro, when Pacification Police Units (UPPs) were set up in some of the favelas or crowded shantytowns surrounding the city.
This new model of public security and crime prevention is aimed at forging ties of trust between the local population and the police. It maintains a sustained police presence in favelas once controlled by drug trafficking gangs, rather than the periodic violent police raids carried out in the neighbourhoods in the past, which claimed a large number of civilian lives.
And parallel to the new focus on relations between the police and the local communities are efforts to strengthen the state presence by bringing running water, sanitation, education, decent housing and other services to the favelas.
The Jun. 22-23 summit is being organised by the Central American Integration System (SICA – made up of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, plus the Dominican Republic as an associate) to come up with a regional security strategy and seek resources to finance it.
"The community policing model is very interesting because of its comprehensiveness, and it can be studied and adapted in this region," Verónica Godoy with the Public Security Monitoring and Support Group (IMASP) told IPS.
She pointed out that Guatemala has made similar efforts, such as the "model police station" in Villa Nueva, in the south of the capital, which with the support of the U.S. government has managed to bring crime rates down in that area since 2006.
The police station established a permanent presence of specially trained police in the community, including an anti-gang unit, and kept in close communication with the office of the public prosecutor. In addition, a hot-line was set up for people to anonymously report crimes.
But four years later, the station has turned into "just another station," she said, due to a lack of patrol cars, weapons and staff, and a drop in calls to the hot-line. Furthermore, the plan to expand the pilot programme to other areas has failed.
"It has been impossible to sustain the initiative due to a lack of resources and because government institutions are not sturdy enough to maintain it without external support," she said.
Godoy believes that a strategy like Rio de Janeiro's UPPs "is possible" in Central America, but only if it is a government decision.
The so-called "northern triangle" of Central America, comprising El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, is caught up in a bloody fight against drug traffickers and youth gangs, exasperated by a growing presence of Los Zetas, Mexico's most dangerous drug cartel.
The United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Central American Human Development Report 2009-2010 described the northern triangle as the most violent region in the world.
The report noted that these three countries have homicide rates five to seven times higher than the global average of nine per 100,000 people: 48 per 100,000 in Guatemala, 52 per 100,000 in El Salvador and 58 per 100,000 in Honduras.
Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama to the south are significantly safer, with murder rates of 11 per 100,000 population, 13 per 100,000 and 19 per 100,000, respectively, the report added.
The Latin American average is 25 per 100,000 people.
Experts say a closer relationship between the local community and police is essential. Jeannette Aguilar, director of the Institute of Public Opinion at the José Simeón Cañas Central American University, pointed out to IPS that community policing models help improve the image of the police and strengthen citizen participation.
But in this region the strategy "would only be feasible if the countries of Central America decided to make the shift from authoritarian to democratic approaches to security, and to make comprehensive efforts in prevention, law enforcement, rehabilitation and institutional reform," she asserted.
Aguilar said police reforms including a purge of the police force, professionalisation, and improved working conditions for police officers are needed, parallel to government anti-poverty and social development programmes.
No community policing initiative has been tried in El Salvador, the expert said. "The programmes implemented have been more oriented towards militarisation and greater territorial control, like what was done in the Distrito Italia," she said.
In that district on the northeast side of San Salvador, the government boosted the military presence in 2010 to fight crime and crack down on youth gangs.
But Aguilar said these are "repressive, militarisation-based approaches to internal security, which have been predominant, especially in the northern triangle of Central America, and have proven to be ineffective."
She also said any attempt to combat organised crime in the region will fail unless the problem of the high level of demand for drugs in the United States is addressed and arms sales are regulated.
Professor David Martínez-Amador, who teaches a course on transnational organised crime in universities of Guatemala, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Mexico, told IPS that up to now, no Central American country has adopted a community policing model along the lines of the strategy followed in Rio de Janeiro.
"On the contrary, they have tended to copy Mexico's militarisation, which has involved tardy reactive deployments of military troops to broad areas of territory," he said.
The professor believes reactive – as opposed to proactive – measures "are the easy way out." And "in countries like Guatemala there is a fascination with armies and a tendency to demonise any social policy efforts as 'communism', while there are no public policies to address the issue of drug trafficking activities," he added.
For his part, Honduran security expert Alfredo Landaverde told IPS that violence prevention and repression efforts, when necessary, must be accompanied by the promotion of social development in the region.
Landaverde said that although experiments in citizen security are frequently carried out in Latin America, it is never done on a large scale, or in an ongoing, sustainable fashion. "They implement them in a neighbourhood or city, and after a short time they change to another kind of project. But this has to be permanent, massive and integral," he said.
The SICA summit could be an opportunity to undertake a shift in focus on the question of regional insecurity, Landaverde said, although he added that "it doesn’t look like (the authorities) are heading to the meeting with novel, comprehensive proposals." (END)
New Che Guevara diary published in Cuba
BBC. June 15, 2011
A previously unpublished diary by the Argentine-born revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara has been unveiled in Cuba.
His widow, Aleida March, said she had decided to publish the writings unedited.
She said she wanted readers to get to know Che Guevara just as he was.
Diary of a Combatant covers his three-year guerrilla campaign which resulted in the overthrow of then-president Gen Fulgencio Batista and brought Fidel Castro to power.
The publishers said Che Guevara, a doctor by training, had terrible handwriting and it had taken them unusually long to decipher it.
The diary covers the period from the landing on Cuban shores of the revolutionaries on board the yacht Granma on 2 December 1956 to 1 January 1959, when they ousted Gen Batista.
The diary shed light on "Che Guevara's impressions of Cuba, its culture, identity and political context", according to the publishers.
Che Guevara's other writings have done well in the past.
The diary of his guerrilla campaign in Bolivia, where he was captured and executed in 1967, sold extremely well when it was released in 1968. It has been re-printed many times.
The Motorcycle Diaries, his memoir of a road trip through Latin America when he was 23 years old, also did well commercially and was turned into a successful film.
President Obama reaches out to Puerto Rico
FRANCES ROBLES. Miami Herald. June 15, 2011
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- During a historic four-hour visit to Puerto Rico on Tuesday, President Barack Obama vowed to “stand by” Puerto Ricans should they make a “clear decision” about whether to remain part of the United States.
He sprinkled his speech with palabras en español, went to a Spanish bakery and had a medianoche sandwich for lunch, and spent more than an hour at the historic governor’s mansion. Then he tapped deep-pocketed supporters who paid $35,800 each to raise nearly $1 million for his campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
With his whirlwind trip, Obama became the first president since John F. Kennedy to make an “official” visit to Puerto Rico. Because Lyndon B. Johnson and Gerald Ford didn’t meet with local officials during stops here, Obama’s trip was considered significant and underscored the growing importance that Puerto Ricans have in the upcoming elections.
The last presidential visit was from Ford in 1976 — well before current trends showing 35,000 Puerto Ricans a year moving to Florida.
“The most important thing about President Obama’s visit is that it changes the paradigm – after five decades, he gave respect and attention,” said San Juan attorney Andres Lopez, a Democratic National Committee member who organized the trip. “There is a lot of pride in Puerto Rico today, and justifiably so. The new census numbers show the Puerto Ricans in Orlando are the battleground constituency in the battleground state, and this White House took notice.”
Even Republican Gov. Luis Fortuño agreed: “Whoever shows up in person has 50 percent of the game on his side.”
Accompanied by Rep. Pedro Pierluisi, D-Puerto Rico, Obama was greeted at a National Guard base by several hundred dignitaries who waited hours in the sweltering sun to see him and a roaring crowd who responded enthusiastically to Obama’s pep speech honoring Puerto Rican veterans and Dallas Mavericks star JJ Barea.
‘A SIMPLE REASON’
“Puerto Ricans … have put themselves in harm’s way for a simple reason: They want to protect the country that they love,” Obama said. “Their willingness to serve, their willingness to sacrifice, is as American as apple pie — or as arroz con gandules [a rice and peas dish].”
About 200,000 Puerto Ricans have served in the U.S. armed forces in every conflict since World War I. “Every day, Boricuas help write the American story,” Obama said.
“When I ran for President, I promised to include Puerto Rico not just on my itinerary, but also in my vision of where our country needs to go,” he said. “… In that same spirit, we’ve been trying to make sure that every family on the island can find work and make a living and provide for their children.”
Obama also vowed to support any “clear” decision Puerto Ricans arrive at regarding the island’s political status.
Fortuño said Puerto Ricans would hold a plebiscite on the island’s status within 18 months. The issue is already controversial, and he and the opposing party argue over the referendum questions.
And while the pro-statehood governor positioned Obama’s visit as a nod for the statehood movement, the president made a point to have a surprise guest while eating at the Kasalta bakery in Ocean Park: Alejandro Garcia Padilla, a senator who is the opposing party’s top gubernatorial candidate.
“I thought his speech was a bit insufficient: He didn’t seem to recognize that thousands and thousands of Puerto Ricans have lost their jobs here,” said Jose M. Rodriguez Baez, president of the Puerto Rico Federation of Labor.
“We have to get out of colonization that has held our people back.”
A White House Task Force on Puerto Rico, which accompanied Obama, will remain behind Wednesday to discuss the unemployment situation.
Rep. Pichy Torres Zamora, a Republican who attended the welcome event, liked Obama’s message.
“He had a message of inclusion,” Torres said. “Puerto Rico is part of the United States and has struggled by its side to defend democracy. We also have a lot of economic problems, and for not being a state, for having an ambiguous status, we don’t have equality in federal funding.”
In a call with reporters afterward, the governor said he hit three topics with the president: job creation, clean energy and security. Puerto Rico struggles with all three. Unemployment has passed 16 percent, sending many jobless professionals to the United States for work. Electric bills are astronomical, and the governor is fighting to build a natural gas pipeline to generate alternative energy.
Fortuño said Obama promised to create a permanent Department of Justice working group regarding security in the region.
Reaction to the president’s trip was largely positive, although a group of independence activists protested his presence and urged him to free Oscar Lopez Rivera, the last imprisoned Puerto Rican independence activist who participated in a violent wave of attacks three decades ago.
Lydia Gonzalez, 60, a resident of Loiza who also stopped by the bakery where Obama had lunch, pointed out that it drew a Cuban clientele.
“He was a little light in his commentaries today, since we have many important problems and important things to talk about with a president,” she said. “People feel this is not an important visit. It is important for him to get some money, but he is not talking with the people.”
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration [contents]
EFE. June 15, 2011
SANTIAGO – Urban unemployment in Latin America and the Caribbean will ebb again this year, from 7.3 percent to somewhere between 6.7 percent and 7 percent, two U.N. agencies said Tuesday in a joint report.
The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and the International Labor Organization said that economic vulnerability has been reduced by counter-cyclical economic policies, including investment in infrastructure, emergency employment plans and stimulus for companies and social programs.
Nonetheless, the analysis said that these policies were generally the result of a short-term reaction, the reason they recommend institutionalizing the counter-cyclical focus to permit a rapid response to any new crisis that might arise.
The decrease in urban unemployment has been continual since 2002, when it was more than 11 percent, though the improvement has been unequal, since the reduction has taken place more in South American countries than in the northern areas of Latin America and, above all, the Caribbean.
In absolute terms, the number of employed in 2010 increased by 6.4 million people in urban areas of the region, while the number of jobless fell by 1 million to a total of 17.1 million people.
This year the decline is accelerating and could drop to below 7 percent, according to ECLAC and the ILO.
They also said that many countries show signs of improvement in job quality.
“Data on the evolution of regular jobs strongly reflects the recovery of economic activity,” they said.
Specifically in Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua and Uruguay, regular employment increased by around 6 percent, while in Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama and Peru it increased by between 3 percent and 5 percent.
At the same time, the relatively strong regional reactivation coincided with an increase in the percentage of urban employment by 0.8 percent, setting a historical record of 55.2 percent. EFE