Latin America News Round-up
August 18, 2011
Peru Suspends US-Funded Coca Eradication Program
For the latest news and developments on Haiti, please see CEPR's blog, "Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch."
For archives of past Round-ups, please click here.
Brazil and Southern Cone
Andean ministers to discuss citizen participation, water resources in Lima
Brazil corruption: President loses fourth minister. BBC
Brazil June activity down, first time since 2008. Reuters
Annual march in Brazil demands increased social justice. AFP
Clothing giant Zara implicated in Brazilian slave labour scandal. Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Brazil revisits forest code. Nature
Brazil's booming wind sector faces auction test. Reuters
Northern Andean Region
Chávez proposes meeting of the South American Energy Council. El Universal
Venezuela's Chavez Plans To Nationalize Gold Industry. Dow Jones
Venezuelan party picks presidential contender. AP
The Islamo-Bolivarian threat. Al Jazeera
Election-Related Violence In Colombia On The Rise, Group Says. Dow Jones
Western Andean Region
Bolivia sees rise in people-smuggling. BBC
Peru suspends US-funded coca eradication programme. AP
Peru suspends coca eradication programme in Huallaga. BBC
Peru Cabinet Approves Creation Of New Ministry. Dow Jones
Analysis: Peru's indigenous losing faith in reformed Humala. Reuters
Peru: A league of their own. Al Jazeera
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean
Mexican party builds comeback with discount card. AP
Mexican Army Hands Over Rights Cases to Civilian Prosecutors. EFE
Honduras' Latest Aguán Crisis Unrelated to Land. Honduras Weekly
War crime suspect found in Everett. Boston Globe
Rodrigo Abd and Guatemala’s Indigenous Beauty Queens. TIME
Jamaica's heavy debts weigh on schools, hospitals. AP
Economist warns Gov't against budget cuts in critical ministries. Jamaica Gleaner
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration
Andean ministers to discuss citizen participation, water resources in Lima. Andina
Colombia leader: Latin America needs ‘barriers’ against economic crisis in US, Europe. AP
Brazil and Southern Cone [contents]
Brazil corruption: President loses fourth minister
BBC. August 18, 2011
Brazil's Agriculture Minister Wagner Rossi has resigned amid a corruption scandal.
He is the fourth minister to leave office because of corruption allegations since President Dilma Rousseff came to power in January.
Mr Rossi said he had spent a month battling what he called "false accusations", and had had enough.
He is a member of the Democratic Movement Party of Brazil (PMDB), the president's largest ally in Congress.
"Over the last 30 days, I have faced a daily barrage of false accusations without any proof," Mr Rossi wrote in a letter cited by Agencia Brasil.
He had been accused of accepting bribes and free air travel from agricultural companies, local media report.
Relations between the president and the PMDB have worsened, with the party leader in the lower house of Congress, Henrique Eduardo Alves, speaking of "protests ... until Congress gets the respect we want".
Defence Minister Nelson Jobim, Transport Minister Alfredo Nascimento and President Rousseff's chief of staff, Antonio Palocci, have all resigned since she took office.
Brazil June activity down, first time since 2008
Brad Haynes. Reuters. August 17, 2011
SAO PAULO, Aug 17 (Reuters) - Brazil's economic activity fell in June for the first time since December 2008, the central bank said on Wednesday, adding to signs of a steeper-than-expected slowdown in Latin America's biggest economy.
The central bank's IBC-Br economic activity index BRIBC=ECI fell 0.26 percent in June from May, the first sequential drop since the country fell into recession at the height of the global financial crisis.
The numbers accompany signs the central bank's interest-rate hikes and credit curbs are finally putting the brakes on the nation's torrid economic expansion.
Sagging industrial output and retail sales data in recent weeks have fanned worries the economy might be losing steam faster than initially expected.
"The bottom line is that the economy likely slowed much more than we anticipated in the second quarter," Goldman Sachs economist Paulo Leme told clients in a note. "The initial conditions for activity are worse even before we consider the risk of contraction shocks coming from abroad."
The bank also revised down growth in May from April to 0.05 percent from a previously reported 0.17 percent.
According to Barclays Capital economist Marcelo Salomon, the central bank's revisions shaved nearly one-third of a percentage point off growth in the January-May 2011 period.
Leme said the data, coupled with concerns about a global economic slowdown, increased odds the central bank would hold its benchmark lending rate on Aug. 31 rather than raise interest rates as Goldman Sachs previously forecast.
The central bank has raised interest rates five times this year to 12.5 percent to try to rein inflation as it rose to its fastest pace in six years.
Yields on Brazilian interest rate futures contracts <0#DIJ:> sank in Wednesday trade on concerns activity could be slowing at a faster pace than expected. Investors usually push rates lower when they expect economic activity to lose steam.
The yield on the rate contract due January 2013 DIJF3, among the most highly traded early in the session, slumped to 11.79 percent from 11.86 percent in the previous session. (Editing by Guillermo Parra-Bernal and Andrew Hay)
Annual march in Brazil demands increased social justice
AFP. August 17, 2011
BRASILIA — At least 50,000 Brazilian rural workers called for increased social justice, especially for women, from President Dilma Rousseff's government as they marched through Brasilia's streets on Wednesday.
"Brazil is a very socially unequal country and when it comes to women, that inequality is even bigger," said Carmen Foro, who coordinated this year's annual protest march.
The crowd of women -- 70,000 according to organizers and 50,000 according to police -- wore straw hats and brandished purple banners while they marched down the capital city's main thoroughfare.
"We have come to deliver the Brazilian rural workers' demands to President Dilma. We fight for water, for healthy food, for food security, for a non-sexist education, for access to healthcare and an end to domestic violence," said a union manager.
For the first time, the yearly protest is addressing a female president in Brazil and Rousseff was expected to join the march at the end of the day in a city park.
"We are anxiously awaiting her arrival, because since she is a women, she will understand our pain. Even if she is not in our social class. Dilma Rousseff was a political prisoner and a victim of discrimination," said 71-year-old Ivanize Magalhaes, who traveled for three days to join the protest.
Each year the march brings thousands of rural workers from all over Brazil to Brasilia. The protest movement is a tribute to Margarida Alves, a union leader who was assassinated in 1983 while fighting for social justice.
Clothing giant Zara implicated in Brazilian slave labour scandal
Deutsche Presse-Agentur. August 17, 2011
Rio de Janeiro - Spanish clothing giant Zara has been implicated in a slave labour scandal in Brazil, after a report that it had bought items made by Bolivian and Peruvian immigrants in illegal working conditions.
The case was made public late Tuesday by Brazilian television network Band, whose reporters accompanied Labour Ministry personnel when they rescued 15 people working in degrading conditions in two clandestine workshops in Sao Paulo. They were working for the firm AHA, a supplier for Zara.
According to the report, a similar raid had freed 52 workers, mostly Bolivians, in similar conditions in May in Americana, in the state of Sao Paulo.
All workers had been recruited in their home countries with promises of a better life in Brazil.
Once in Sao Paulo, they were made to work up to 16-hour days for wages below Brazil's legal minimum (about 340 dollars a month).
Employers also deducted from wages the cost of travelling to Brazil and living costs, which according to the Labour Ministry constitutes enslavement to pay off debt.
The Spanish group Inditex, which owns Zara, denied any responsibility for the wrongdoing. Instead, it said that AHA had 'seriously violated' its ethical code for manufacturers by hiring workshops that illegally exploited workers.
Inditex added that it had taken steps to get AHA to compensate the affected workers and to commit to using workshops that operate in accordance with the law.
Inditex noted that it has 50 suppliers in Brazil, its third-largest market in the Americas after the United States and Mexico. These suppliers made 7 million items of clothing last year, with these illegal workshops making only 0.03 per cent of that total, Inditex said.
Brazilian authorities, however, were unconvinced and mentioned Zara among those responsible for the irregularities.
'The firm (AHA) works, in practice, as a logistics extension of its main client, Zara Brazil Limited,' the authorities said in a report.
'(Zara) is responsible for those who work for it. These workers were making Zara clothing and followed instructions from that firm,' said public prosecutor Giuliana Cassiano Orlandi.
Brazil revisits forest code
Jeff Tollefson. Nature. August 17, 2011
A tough-minded law has boosted Brazil's environmental record in recent years by helping to drive the rate of destruction in the Amazon rainforest to historic lows. But a backlash in the hinterlands is threatening to weaken the country's forest code and push deforestation rates back up again.
Soya bean farming in the Amazon is rising along with food prices, contributing to an increase in the rate of deforestation for the first time in years.Soya bean farming in the Amazon is rising along with food prices, contributing to an increase in the rate of deforestation for the first time in years.R. BALEIA/LATINCONTENT/GETTY IMAGES
Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) began reporting spikes in deforestation in March, two months before the nation's House of Representatives passed a bill to change the law that governs forests, which has been in force since 1965. The legislation includes clauses supported by agribusiness and small landowners that scale back federal authority and grant immunity from prosecution for all deforestation before 2008. The bill is now pending in the Senate — and is opposed by the administration of President Dilma Rousseff — but some observers say that the debate alone has emboldened landowners to clear more land.
The tensions have been fuelled by high prices for commodities such as soya beans and beef, which have driven up demand for arable land while giving farmers and ranchers the cash they need to bring in chainsaws and bulldozers, says Dan Nepstad, a US ecologist who works with the Amazon Environmental Research Institute in Brasília. Meanwhile, he says, authorities are stuck trying to enforce a law that is strict, complex and difficult to comply with. "What Brazil has created is in many ways sort of the perfect recipe for a rural insurrection," Nepstad says.
But the Rousseff administration is not backing down. Deforestation causes some 15% of global greenhouse-gas emissions and 75% of Brazil's. Rousseff's predecessor, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, promised during the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen that Brazil would cut deforestation by 80% by 2020. Although Rousseff is not known as an environmentalist, she has maintained Lula's pledge and sent hundreds of law-enforcement officers into the Amazon as deforestation spiked.
The world will get its first glimpse of the results later this month, when the INPE releases its preliminary analysis of the annual deforestation season that ended in July. Some analyses already indicate that the stepped-up enforcement has helped. According to an analysis of satellite data by the non-profit research institute Imazon in Belém, deforestation was actually 42% lower this June than last.
AMAZON ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE/INPE
"Deforestation is going to increase in 2011, but it won't be a big jump," says Carlos Souza, a remote-sensing scientist who heads Imazon's satellite analysis. Imazon says that cumulative deforestation between August 2010 and June 2011 rose by 15% compared with the same period the season before. If that number holds up in the final analysis using higher resolution satellite data, it would still be the second lowest loss on record (see 'Clearing the Amazon'). "We could say that the situation is still under control," says Souza.
Many scientists fear that the new law will cause further backsliding. For now, all landowners in the Amazon must maintain forest on 80% of their land, and those who had cleared illegally must reforest to that level. The House bill, however, would create exemptions for small landowners, and allow state governments to adjust the 80% rule.
All told, the changes could legalize the clearing of more than 220,000 square kilometres — an area nearly the size of the United Kingdom — according to an analysis by researchers at the University of São Paulo. Thomas Lovejoy, a tropical ecologist at the Heinz Center in Washington DC, says that the bill is a "recipe for Amazon dieback", a feedback loop that decreases rainfall and could convert vast swathes of rainforest into savannah.
But the bill could still be reformed in the Senate. Nepstad is pushing for an affordable way for older violators to comply, and for a credible punishment for new offenders. He says that the government needs to start investing in schemes to protect forest carbon and rewarding frustrated landowners who have obeyed the law while their neighbours cleared more land. If the law can't be enforced, he adds, the alluring profits of agriculture could lead to a "new wave" of deforestation.
Although rural interests have dominated the debate so far, most people share the concerns of the scientific community, says Luiz Martinelli, an ecologist at the University of São Paulo in Piracicaba who is analysing the legislation for senators. A national poll conducted in June by environmental groups found that 85% of Brazilians rate forest protection above agricultural production. "Brazilian society is kind of sick of this deforestation drama," Martinelli says.
Brazil's booming wind sector faces auction test
Brian Ellsworth. Reuters. August 17, 2011
(Reuters) - Brazil's blustery coastlines and booming electricity demand have spurred a wind-power gold rush as investors flock to build turbines and set up wind farms.
Yet, as wind projects slowly shed government protection to compete head-to-head with traditionally cheaper fossil fuel energy, government power auctions this week may reveal whether the wind-power investment euphoria is overblown.
Developers of natural gas power plants, biomass thermoelectric plants and wind farms will compete in an auction on Wednesday to offer the lowest prices for the electricity their facilities will sell in the coming years. A second auction on Thursday will not include natural gas projects.
The results will show whether Brazil's wind industry can continue lowering generation costs, a trend that has spurred investment in wind farms and equipment factories -- and could help diversify Brazil's hydro-dependent energy system.
A strong showing by natural gas projects may validate some skeptics' claims that the wind boom has gotten ahead of itself, possibly cooling investor interest or requiring new government efforts to support the industry.
Government leaders, excited to promote an alternative to hydro-power, say tumbling wind costs are a sign Brazil has helped the industry evolve from an environmentalist dream into a competitive money-maker.
"Before you had a situation in which wind power always needed someone holding its hand, or to have the government behind it -- now wind power is strong enough that it can scare the big players," said Mauricio Tolmasquim, head of the government-run energy research group EPE.
Wind power accounts for 240 of the 321 projects participating in the auctions and more than 40 percent of the 14,083 megawatts in generating capacity on offer.
Brazil's current 1,400 megawatts of installed wind power represents only around 1 percent of its total capacity.
Wind power is still roughly double the cost of power produced by the large hydroelectric dams that provide most of the country's electricity.
Nonetheless, it is slated to grow almost eight-fold between 2010 and 2014 to reach 4.2 percent, according to wind energy association ABEeolica.
EPE expects Brazil's total power consumption to rise 60 percent between 2010 and 2020, reflecting Brazil's brisk economic growth and expansion of its middle class.
ABEeolica expects 25 billion reais ($15.7 billion) in wind investments between 2009 and the end of 2013.
Wind power has gained traction around the world in the past decade as concerns about greenhouse gas emissions spur greater interest in alternative energy. Brazil created an incentive program in 2004 that offered to buy wind power at higher rates than other types of generation.
By 2010, thanks to new technology, tax breaks, and more local manufacturing of turbines, wind farms were offering to sell power at prices 50 percent lower than the average price during the period of government incentives.
Spain's Gamesa and France's Alstom have invested in manufacturing facilities to build wind equipment in Brazil, while General Electric and India's Suzlon Energy are studying similar projects.
Brazil has natural advantages for wind energy, including windy coasts in the northeast and the south. Its many dams can make up for the variability of wind generation -- a major problem for wind projects in the United States and elsewhere.
But Adriano Pires, an energy expert with the Brazilian Center for Infrastructure said the government has spurred excessive optimism about wind power, leading project developers to promise power rates that they may not be able to deliver.
"Brazil has a history of euphoria when it comes to power generation," he said. "Right now wind power is the darling of the government, but that doesn't mean it's going to be sustainable in the long run."
Northern Andean Region [contents]
Chávez proposes meeting of the South American Energy Council
El Universal. August 17, 2011
Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez met Tuesday with María Emma Mejía, the Secretary-General of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), and proposed to convene a meeting of the South American Energy Council at the end of the year in Caracas.
"We are making arrangements for the next meeting of foreign ministers to be held in Buenos Aires on August 24. We have talked about the need to convene the South American Energy Council in Caracas. The meeting could be held in October or November," Chávez said after a meeting with the former Colombian minister of foreign affairs.
The Venezuelan Head of State said that he agreed to review and strengthen the operation of existing institutions in the South, including the Andean Development Corporation (CAF) and the Latin American Reserve Fund.
Meanwhile, Mejía said that they "talked about economic issues (...) and about the Bank of the South (Banco del Sur)," she added.
Venezuela's Chavez Plans To Nationalize Gold Industry
Dow Jones. August 17, 2011
CARACAS (Dow Jones)--Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Wednesday he plans to nationalize the country's gold industry in a bid to take over production and cut down on smuggling, while ramping up international reserves.
Speaking on state television via telephone, the leftist leader said he will introduce a new decree in the coming days to put exploration and extraction of gold into the government's hands.
It will be "a decree to take the gold sector," which still remains in the hands of a "mafia and smugglers," Chavez said. "We don't only have oil wealth, we have here one of the largest reserves of gold in the world ... Let's convert it into our international reserves because gold is increasing in its value."
Venezuela has for years talked about cracking down on illegal gold mining and smuggling along the country's sparsely populated southeast region. At the same time, however, many critics say years of insufficient investment and government red tape have limited extraction of the precious metal.
In a telephone interview, Andre Agapov, the chief executive of the only non-state-owned gold miner in Venezuela, Rusoro Mining Ltd. (RML.V) said he isn't worried about Chavez's announcement because he believed that it was targeted toward the many illegal mining operations in the country that work without government permits and use environmentally damaging practices such as clear cutting and mercury dumping.
"All the gold is being sold illegally, and of course the central bank, the minister of mines and the president said enough is enough, especially considering the current gold price," Agapov said.
Rusoro produces about 100,000 ounces of gold a year, he said. The illegal gold mining industry in Venezuela is so large it likely produces twice as much as Rusoro and the Venezuelan government combined, he said.
Vancouver-based Rusoro bought its operations from South Africa's Gold Fields Ltd. (GFI) in 2007. It's in a 50/50 joint venture in its Isadora mine with the Venezuelan government and owns a 95% stake in its Choco 10 mine, with the government taking a 5% stake.
Agapov said his father, Rusoro Chairman Vladimir Agapov, is personal friends with Chavez and his company has always had a good relationship with the Chavez government, so he's not worried about expropriation.
The latest announcement comes one day after documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal showed that the Venezuelan government plans to transfer billions of dollars in reserves held abroad to banks in Russia, China and Brazil and tons of gold from European banks to its own central bank vaults. According to the documents, the South American country aims to move 211 tons of gold it keeps abroad and values at $11 billion to the central bank in Caracas, where the government keeps its remaining 154 tons of bullion.
The Central Bank held nearly $18 billion in gold as of the end of the first half of the year, making up nearly 63% of its total reserves. As of the end of June, Venezuela had the largest gold holdings in all of Latin America, according to the World Gold Council.
Chavez, who has looked to centralize control of the Venezuelan economy's key sectors as part of his self-styled "21st century Socialist revolution," hinted most recently in May that a nationalization of gold was underway. At the time, he said he wanted to create a "national" entity for gold, much like state oil monopoly Petroleos de Venezuela, or PdVSA. He also said the country was producing around 11 metric tons of gold each year, while the same amount was leaving as contraband.
In February, Canada's Crystallex International Corp. (KRY.T) had its contract to develop the Las Cristinas gold fields terminated by the government. The company is now seeking arbitration and is looking to get nearly $3.8 billion in compensation from Venezuela.
A year ago, the state allowed gold-mining companies to export up to half of their product, softening an earlier law that required companies to sell 70% of their product domestically and export only 30%.
-By Kejal Vyas and Edward Welsch, Dow Jones Newswires; 58-414-249-6821; email@example.com
Venezuelan party picks presidential contender
AP. August 18, 2011
CARACAS, Venezuela -- One of Venezuela's main opposition parties announced its candidate Wednesday to compete in a February primary that will choose a single presidential candidate to face President Hugo Chavez in next year's election.
The party Un Nuevo Tiempo said it will be backing Pablo Perez, the governor of western Zulia state and a longtime ally of the party's leader, former presidential candidate Manuel Rosales.
Rosales announced the choice in a televised speech from an undisclosed location. Rosales, also a former governor of Zulia state, lost to Chavez in the last election in 2006 and has been in exile in Peru for two years after being accused of corruption. Rosales insists he is innocent.
Rosales said he decided not to return to compete in the primary because he fears he could be jailed. He said if he were to come back, he would become a "factor of distraction."
A survey by the polling firm Datanalisis last month said that Perez, 42, had the third highest support among opposition politicians, after Miranda state Gov. Henrique Capriles and former Caracas district mayor Leopoldo Lopez.
At least five opposition politicians have confirmed plans to compete in a primary Feb. 12. The presidential vote is expected in late 2012, but a date has not yet been set.
The Islamo-Bolivarian threat
Belen Fernandez. Al Jazeera. August 17, 2011
In early July, the US Congressional Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence held a hearing entitled "Hezbollah in Latin America - Implications for US Homeland Security".
The line-up of witnesses consisted of Roger Noriega, visiting fellow at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute; Douglas Farah, senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center; Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council and journal editor for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs; and Brown University professor Dr. Melani Cammett, the only testifier who bothered to provide an accurate history of Hezbollah and to refrain from referring to the Lebanese political party and resistance movement as a terrorist organisation directed by Iran.
Cammett's co-witnesses more than made up for her dearth of creativity. Given the quality of what is consistently allowed to pass as evidence of the threat posed to the US by the supposed love affair between Iran and leftist Latin American regimes, it is perhaps only surprising that the first three expert-propagandists did not invoke Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's joke in the Oliver Stone documentary "South of the Border" - in reference to a corn-processing facility - that, "This is where we build the Iranian atomic bomb."
Stripped of its facetious intent, the comment would have proved an able companion to the clique's existing arsenal of justifications for increased US militarisation of Latin America as well as potential military manoeuvrings against Iran.
The Caracas-Tehran one-stop
No congressional subcommittee hearing would have been complete without testimony confirming that it is currently possible to travel by air from Caracas to Tehran with only one stop in Damascus.
This bit of trivia, mentioned by both Noriega and Farah, has for the past several years been a favourite among neoconservative pundits as well as members of the Israeli foreign ministry.
During his June 2009 expedition to Honduras to attend the 39th General Assembly of the Organisation of American States (OAS), Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon warned: "We know that there are flights from Caracas via Damascus to Tehran." The superior urgency of the "Iranian attempt to penetrate into the continent" was unclear given that no representatives of the Islamic Republic or any other non-American state had been present at said assembly.
In addition to Ayalon's appearance in Honduras, other instances of proof of the facility of transatlantic travel include the 1983 training in Israel of Carlos Castano, father of modern Colombian paramilitarism, who acknowledged inheriting the concept from the Israelis. It comes as no surprise that Israeli-Colombian models of terrorisation and displacement of populations infringing economically, ideologically, or ethnically on the interests of power are deemed far less deserving of contemplation in certain circles than, for example, the "dangerous 'caudillo-mullah' axis" advertised by the Honourable Noriega.
Noriega's scary secret fantasy stash
Roger Noriega, one of various Iran-Contra relics recycled into subsequent US administrations, served under the Bush II regime as US ambassador to the OAS and then as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. The Iran-Contra portion of his curriculum vitae suggests that he has already had considerable experience with a different sort of caudillo-mullah axis, according to which profits from arms sales to the axis' latter half went to benefit supporters of right-wing dictatorships in Nicaragua.
Noriega's transparent fear-mongering efforts against the new axis often employ a vocabulary of limited range, such that in the past ten months alone we have been alerted to the existence of rightist Honduran President Pepe Lobo's "Secret Pact with Hugo Chavez" as well as "Chavez's Secret Nuclear Program" and "Argentina's Secret Deal With Iran?", and have been reminded that the Caracas-Tehran one-stop is part of "Hugo Chavez's Scary Anti-American Campaign."
The sensational effects of Noriega's strategic reliance on "secrets" are somewhat mitigated by his inability to sustain his own allegations. As Nicaragua-based journalist Charles Davis points out in a March 2011 piece for Right Web with regard to Noriega's October 2010 detection of Venezuela's clandestine nuclear weapons programme:
"[T]hat show-stopping claim of nuclear proliferation on the US's 'soft underbelly' isn't mentioned in [Noriega's] more recent, 2,700 word policy guide for the new Congress. According to leaked State Department cables released by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, US diplomats have privately mocked the notion that Venezuela is assisting Iran's nuclear program or developing atomic weapons - or even capable of developing a civilian nuclear power program."
In a dispatch entitled "Chavez the Cocaine Capo?", Noriega speculates that the Venezuelan leader "should be very troubled that a man whom President Obama has branded one of the world's most significant drug kingpins, Walid Makled-Garcia, may soon be telling US federal prosecutors everything he knows about senior Venezuelan officials who have abetted his cocaine smuggling operations". The attempt to discredit leftist governments by saddling them with drug trafficking ties should be juxtaposed with the fact that CIA facilitation of the accrual by right-wing Nicaraguan paramilitaries of revenues from cocaine distribution in the US is no secret.
Farsi tattoos, Mexicans and geography
The tendency to heap socialists, Islamists, drug traffickers, and other undesirables into a single nexus of malevolence is also observable in a 2010 letter from US Representative Sue Myrick to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, hyping the idea that Hezbollah is cooperating with drug cartels on the US southern border.
Apparently unconcerned that the friendly Mexican government may also be cooperating with drug cartels on the same border, Myrick delivers the smoking gun:
"Across states in the Southwest, well trained officials are beginning to notice the tattoos of gang members in prisons are being written in Farsi. We have typically seen tattoos in Arabic, but Farsi implies a Persian influence that can likely be traced back to Iran and its proxy army, Hezbollah. These tattoos in Farsi are almost always seen in combination with gang or drug cartel tattoos."
Myrick's argument was compelling enough to merit regurgitation by Douglas Farah at last month's congressional subcommittee hearing and then by Texas' Rio Grande Valley KRGV news station, which cautioned: "Terrorists Use New Identifying Markers To Recognize Each Other". As for Myrick's contention that, thanks to the bond between Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranians can now learn Spanish in Venezuela and then cross the US border posing as Mexicans, the need for enhanced racial profiling in the US has also been suggested by the global intelligence firm STRATFOR's analysis that Hezbollah looks Mexican.
Farah's testimony meanwhile also included the allegation that Venezuela is an "ideal launching pad" for drug trafficking due to its "geographic proximity to West Africa". That Farah is unable to present his arguments without resorting to such preposterous calculations does not aid his overall credibility, which is further obviated via his announcement that Iran, the Bolivarian states, Hezbollah, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC):
"Share a doctrine of asymmetrical warfare against the United States that embraces the use of weapons of mass destruction, massive civilian casualties as acceptable collateral damage and the underlying belief that the acquisition of nuclear weapons to destroy the United States is a moral or religious imperative. This is not a statement of capacity, but a clear statement of intention."
The problem here, of course, is that it is not clear what the "this" that is allegedly a clear statement of intention is referring to aside from Farah's own fabrications, given that none of the listed entities has ever expressed belief in the necessity of a nuclear destruction of the US and that the practice of inflicting massive collateral casualties has in recent history been monopolised by the US-Israel axis.
Relentlessly invoked as evidence of the malicious continental designs of Iran/Hezbollah is the extermination of civilians in Buenos Aires in terrorist attacks on the Israeli embassy and the AMIA, the Jewish cultural centre, in 1992 and 1994, respectively. The standard argument is that the attacks were conducted as revenge for Argentina's cancellation of nuclear contracts with Iran.
However, as historian and investigative journalist Gareth Porter points out in an in-depth report for The Nation, a top Argentine nuclear official has confirmed that negotiations to resume cooperation with Iran continued throughout the period in which the bombings occurred and that it appeared the outcome would be favourable to the Islamic Republic. This raises the possibility that revenge may have instead been the priority of a non-Iranian party.
Walking down the street in Buenos Aires in July 2009, I quickly learned from the disproportionate number of sidewalk billboard advertisements featuring Chavez and Ahmadinejad clasping hands - accompanied by a warning of "Iranian penetration in Latin America" - that the annual observance of the anniversary of the AMIA attack constituted a prime occasion on which to intensify the dissemination of paranoia. The penetration ads directed consumers to an article by a certain Ely Karmon in Veintitres magazine and were interspersed with posters depicting an unoccupied bed with white sheets in commemoration of the "85 goodbyes", which I first assumed was a reference to the current Argentine swine flu epidemic rather than the AMIA fatalities.
Veintitres defines Karmon as a Senior Academic Investigator at the International Counterterrorism Institute and the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. His senior academic investigatory techniques in this case include plagiarising three paragraphs from a 2007 Miami Herald article by Andres Oppenheimer, whose observation that "Ahmadinejad must love the tropics" because he has spent more time in Latin America than George W. Bush, Karmon does attribute to the Herald - albeit without explaining how it is that the former US president has become the standard against which travel frequency to places other than Crawford, Texas, should be measured.
Karmon's investigation exposes worrisome trends such as that Farsi is being taught at Venezuelan universities, that a number of Iranian engineers have learned basic Spanish, and that Hezbollah operations have recently been "thwarted in Azerbaijan and an unidentified European country". He additionally draws attention to a 2008 Los Angeles Times article that reports word of a joint scheme between Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Venezuelan airport workers to exploit IranAir's Venezuela service in order to capture Jewish businessmen in Latin America and smuggle them to Lebanon. The "Western anti-terrorism official" to whom knowledge of the plan is ascribed does not explain why the one-stop to Tehran is not thus a non-stop to Beirut.
As for other functions of the Caracas-Tehran trajectory, these have been revealed by Roger Noriega, who, two weeks after declaring that "We can only guess who and what are aboard these flights", managed to inform the congressional subcommittee: "The Hezbollah networks use these flights and others to ferry operatives, recruits, and cargo in and out of the region."
Nicaragua misplaces mega-embassy and canal
Another persistent cause for concern is the Iranian diplomatic presence in Latin America, as exemplified in Douglas Farah's testimony: "In Bolivia recently the Iranian embassy reportedly asked for more than two dozen spaces in the international school for children of their newly-arrived diplomats there." It is not clear why the Iranian embassy in Bolivia is inherently more sinister than the Iranian embassies in Canada and the UK.
Journalist Charles Davis summarises the ruckus generated by Iran's reported ambassadorial mother ship in Nicaragua:
"In 2009, prominent neoconservatives like Michael Rubin drew attention to media reports claiming that Iran had built a new embassy in Nicaragua's sprawling capital Managua that was 'the largest diplomatic mission in the city'. The embassy, coupled with Iran's investments in Nicaragua and elsewhere in the region, Rubin warned, indicated the Islamic Republic 'might see Latin America as a beachhead from which to conduct an aggressive strategy against the United States and its allies'.
"The claim was spread throughout right-wing policy circles. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton picked it up. "The Iranians are building a huge embassy in Managua," she warned in 2009, just a few months after taking office. "And you can only imagine what that's for."
"But as the Washington Post reported in July 2009, that "huge embassy in Managua" could not be found. "It doesn't exist," a chuckling Ernest Porta, head of the Nicaraguan Chamber of Commerce, told the paper."
As for last year's headline in the Israeli daily Haaretz according to which "Iran, Venezuela plan to build rival to Panama Canal," the prospect of an Iranian-funded "'Nicaragua Canal' linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans" becomes less convincing when the following detail appears at the end of the article: "A US State Department official told Haaretz's Washington correspondent Natasha Mozgovaya on Wednesday that the US is not aware of any plans to build a new canal in Latin America."
In an October 2009 presentation to the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs entitled "Iranian Penetration into the Western Hemisphere through Venezuela", Norman A. Bailey - former Mission Manager for Cuba and Venezuela under Director of National Intelligence and Honduran death squad ally John D. Negroponte - unearthed further insidious machinations on the part of the penetrators.
A champion of the 2009 US-backed coup against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, Bailey converted Chavez's displeasure at intra-hemispheric neoliberal penetration into the result of Iranian inter-hemispheric penetration and the idea that "the Iranians had opened a 'maintenance' facility in Honduras for… 'tractors' produced in Venezuela, in reality a drug transshipment warehouse." International observers with a less keen eye, such as the Agence France-Presse news outfit, reported the delivery of Venezuelan tractors to Honduras without realising that they were not really tractors.
Bailey describes Iranian involvement in Latin America as "curious" given that "[t]here is no affinity at all between monarchic or Islamic Iran and the countries of the Hemisphere; historical, cultural, political, economic or otherwise." One might ponder what sort of cultural or political affinities exist between the US and monarchic Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Islamist guerrillas in Afghanistan, or whether trade between Venezuela and Iran does not constitute economic affinity. As for Bailey's assessment that "one of the principal motivations [for Iranian activity in the region] is to be able to retaliate against the [sic] United States if [Iran] is attacked," it is not clear whether Bailey is aware that he has just characterised Iranian penetration as defensive rather than predatory in nature.
Barrios of Caracas convert to Shia Islam
Ely Karmon's prediction concerning the possibility of sudden religious affinities and the inculcation of the Latin American poor with Shia teachings meanwhile appears to be as of yet unfounded given Chavez's contention that Jesus Christ was an anti-imperialist who died on the cross as a result of the class struggle. That some level of ideological convergence is nonetheless possible is suggested by Roger Noriega's observation that "radical Muslims from Venezuela and Colombia are brought to a cultural center in Caracas named for the Ayatollah Khomeini and Simon Bolivar for spiritual training."
The danger of Latin American collaboration with a foreign country that - unlike the US - has not in contemporary history engaged in such regional activities as inaugurating schools for aspiring dictators and death squad leaders, presiding over illegal detention centres, and infecting local populations with syphilis is meanwhile fairly straightforwardly spelled out by Douglas Farah:
"All of this [collaboration] comes at the expense of US influence, security and trade - including energy security and hence economic and infrastructure security (Venezuela is the 4th largest supplier of US petroleum imports, just behind Mexico; indeed Latin America is our 2nd largest source of supply overall, only slightly behind the Middle East)."
"Security", of course, is not to be confused with stability - a concept that has no place in the business of regional militarisation and incitement.
Belen Fernandez is an editor at PULSE Media. Her book The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work will be released by Verso on Nov. 1, 2011.
Election-Related Violence In Colombia On The Rise, Group Says
Dan Molinski. Dow Jones. August 18, 2011
BOGOTA -(Dow Jones)- Killings of candidates and other violence ahead of local elections in Colombia this October are up sharply compared with the previous voting four years ago, a watchdog group says.
The independent Electoral Observation Mission said in a statement Wednesday that violence against candidates for governors, mayors and town councils in the Oct. 30 elections is up 68% this year compared with statistics for the entire election period in 2007.
"This increase is worrisome, especially if you take into account there are still 75 days before the elections," said the watchdog group, which is known by its Spanish acronym, the MOE.
The MOE said there have been 109 reported incidents against candidates this year: 27 assassinations, 66 threats, 11 attacks and five kidnappings. Many other threats likely happened but went unreported, it said.
Officials at the government's main election body, the National Electoral Council, weren't immediately available to comment on the private group's findings.
Colombia remains gripped by a nearly five-decade-old war that involves leftist guerrillas and other armed groups.
The October elections will be the first large-scale voting in Colombia since President Juan Manuel Santos took office one year ago. Santos claims guerrilla- related violence is generally on the decline and says the war could be completely over within a few years.
But some independent analysts dispute Santos' claims and allege the country's main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is staging a modest comeback. Santos himself acknowledges the FARC has increased its attacks in recent months, but says they're mostly small-scale hits that demonstrate the group's weakness.
The MOE says the FARC are once again responsible for some of the election- related violence, but says other illegal groups have emerged as well.
Somewhat-organized criminal bands, or Bacrim as they are known in Colombia, are responsible for some of the attacks against candidates, the MOE said. Some Bacrim members were formerly with right-wing paramilitary groups that fought against the FARC before demobilizing as part of a government arrangement several years ago.
Claudia Lopez, an MOE representative, said common criminals are also responsible for some of the electoral violence as they seek to gain local influence.
The region with the most electoral violence is in the state of Antioquia, while the states of Valle Del Cauca, Arauca and Tolima have also seen higher- than-average incidents of violence, the MOE said.
-By Dan Molinski, Dow Jones Newswires; 57-310-867-6542; dan.molinski@ dowjones.com
Western Andean Region [contents]
Bolivia sees rise in people-smuggling
Mery Vaca and Mattia Cabitza. BBC. August 18, 2011
Juan Rivera couldn't believe his luck when he was taken to Russia with the promise of a guaranteed job and a monthly pay of $2,500 (£1,550).
The 35-year-old Bolivian was among hundreds who replied to an advertisement in the local press for builders to work abroad.
Mr Rivera had been doing seasonal manual work in Argentina.
Travelling to the town of Rostov in Russia seemed like a great opportunity to earn money for his growing young family. His wife was pregnant at that time.
But once in Russia, none of that money materialised.
What awaited him instead were exploitation, overcrowded accommodation and hunger.
It was then that Mr Rivera realised he had been a victim of human trafficking.
"We had to work for 12 hours a day, even on Saturdays," he remembers.
"They didn't give us a cent; only some food, which we had to share."
During more than two long months in Russia, he worked at a car factory and slept in a tiny room with several other Bolivians.
Mr Rivera said he felt like a hostage. Smuggled into Russia by his traffickers, he was unable to go out on the street for fear of being detained by the police.
Left with debts
Mr Rivera is now back home and is grateful to the Bolivian embassy staff in Moscow.
They helped him and the other victims escape, after a phone call alerted the embassy that more than 200 Bolivians were working without pay and in poor conditions.
But Mr Rivera and hundreds of families were left penniless.
"I had to borrow $9,500 (£5,800)," he says, money he paid his recruiters to go to Russia and used to escape from them.
"I still have to repay [my brother] $7,000," a fortune in Bolivia where the minimum wage is $116 (£70) per month.
Mr Rivera is not an isolated case. Thousands of people have even had to sell their homes to pursue the promise of better opportunities abroad.
Bolivia's Public Ombudsman Rolando Villena says the problem of human trafficking is a "growing reality" that is "fed by mafias and transnational criminals who operate in different countries".
Mr Villena believes that many of the 15,000 children who cross into Argentina alone every year, with their parents' supposed authorisation, are instead victims of sexual and work exploitation.
He also says that, in the Bolivian mining region of Potosi, children are being sold to human traffickers for as little as $3.
President Evo Morales has questioned the ombudsman's allegations, saying he was surprised by the revelation, and asked Mr Villena's office to provide evidence.
But despite the existence of incomplete data about the scale of the problem, the few statistics that are available do suggest that human trafficking in Bolivia, and of Bolivians, is increasing.
According to the police, cases of trafficking went up by 26% between 2008 and 2010.
Official data show that 335 people, mostly children and adolescents, were known to have been recruited by criminals last year.
But human rights groups believe that number is much higher, because not all victims are rescued or come forward.
Neighbouring Brazil and Argentina are the main destinations for Bolivian migrants and victims of human traffickers alike.
Mario Videla, of Pastoral de Movilidad Humana, a Christian charity, believes young Bolivians are easily lured into fictitious opportunities abroad because of poverty at home.
"Many of these young people can't see a future here," he says. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America.
"So when somebody tells them 'If you go with us, you will work eight hours and gain $1,000 dollars a month', this is attractive for them.
"But when they arrive there, they find out that the conditions [are inhuman] and the money never comes. Some of these people work, eat and live in the same place."
Clandestine factories are frequently dismantled in Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo, where Bolivians live in slave-like conditions.
But these criminal networks also operate within Bolivia. In La Paz, for example, a women's centre looks after children and young adolescents who were rescued in the city.
Fourteen youngsters are currently housed in the Centro de Terapia.
Villazon border crossing between Argentina and Bolivia Legal crossings between Argentina and Bolivia but it is the smuggled people who are at risk
Among them is a 15-year-old girl from the city of Sucre who was brought to La Paz to be a domestic worker but was exploited and raped by her employer.
Another girl of 14 years from Potosi was sent by her mother to La Paz to work as a nanny, but ended up doing all the household chores.
She escaped and is now being looked after by the centre.
Since coming back from Russia in 2008, Juan Rivera has resumed working in the construction industry in the eastern city of Santa Cruz.
His traffickers, who include three Russians, continued operating the same recruitment agency in Bolivia until they were arrested by the police two years ago.
They were found guilty by a court in the city of Cochabamba and are now waiting for sentencing, which may mean up to 15 years in jail.
Mr Rivera has set up an organisation with other Bolivians who suffered the same ordeal to help trafficking victims to seek justice.
He has learnt not to believe opportunities that sound too good to be true, and urges people not to make his mistake.
"You must be careful who you get involved with," he says, "because it is a big mess if you are deceived."
Peru suspends US-funded coca eradication programme
AP. August 17, 2011
Peru's new centre-left government is temporarily suspending its modest US-funded coca eradication programme to re-evaluate its strategy.
The prime minister, Salomón Lerner, said the government was committed to reducing the illegal crop and would convene a special panel next month to chart a strategy that would stress alternative development, "social inclusion and fighting poverty".
The government had confirmed the suspension after several newspapers reported it without naming sources.
The US ambassador, Rose Likins, told reporters earlier on her way to see Lerner that she had been surprised by the news.
"It would have been nice to have been informed in advance," she said.
Peru is the world's second biggest producer of cocaine after Colombia. Its area under coca cultivation has grown steadily for four years to reach 61,200 hectares last year, according the UN. Washington gave Peru more than $30m in anti-drugs aid last year.
The president, Ollanta Humala, promised to continue the eradication of the drug in his inaugural address on 28 July, and Lerner said the government was pausing Peru's programme after eradicating two-fifths of its 2011 goal of 10,000 hectares.
That contrasts with the 147,000 hectares that Colombia reported eradicating last year. Bolivia, where the crop is little more than half the size of Peru's and has also been growing, said it had eradicated 8,000 hectares.
Lerner said the pause in eradication was "to refine the instruments necessary for success in the interventions".
A leading Peruvian drug expert, Jaime Antezana, called the announcement bad news for drug-fighters and good news for drug traffickers.
And the former interior minister Fernando Rospigliosi noted in a tweet that the coca crop in the Upper Huallaga valley, the only area where eradication is carried out, had dropped by 25% last year.
"It's not eradication that has failed," he said.
The new head of the state anti-drugs agency, Ricardo Soberón, has been critical of anti-drugs efforts under the previous president, Alan García, saying they were ineffectual across the board. Peru's cocaine seizures under Garcia amounted to less than a tenth of those carried out by Colombia.
Soberon did not specify in a TV interview what changes might be made. The suspension came amid reassignments in the police high command, including the Dirandro anti-drugs unit.
Coca farmers in the Upper Huallaga have complained of being singled out, blocking roads during a weeklong protest last year, and Humala promised to help them during the presidential campaign.
Peru's government does not try to eradicate coca in areas where remnants of the Shining Path rebels operate and where dozens of soldiers have been killed in recent years.
Peru suspends coca eradication programme in Huallaga
BBC. August 18, 2011
The Peruvian government says it has suspended coca eradication efforts in an area where much coca is grown.
Head of the Peruvian president's anti-narcotics efforts Ricardo Soberon said the new government would halt eradication in Huallaga while it re-evaluated the programme.
He said previous eradication efforts had had little effect.
Analysts said the move raised concerns about Peru's commitment to the fight against illegal coca production.
Peru's President Ollanta Humala, who came to office on 28 July, spoke in his election manifesto of decriminalising coca farmers and even the low-level cocaine processors and smugglers.
But Mr Soberon told AFP the suspension was only temporary and not unusual.
"In every country - in Afghanistan, in Colombia, in Bolivia, in Mexico - it is normal to have these pauses to do the necessary evaluation of what has happened, to correct mistakes," he said.
But the Colombian anti-narcotics police said they had not halted their eradication programme since its inception in 1994.
"The fight against the (illicit) crops is permanent and continuous, with the participation of the military, the police, the Ministry of the Interior, the National Narcotics Office and the Presidency," an anti-narcotics official said.
Sources close to Mexico's anti-drugs fight also denied having stopped their efforts to destroy illicit crops, saying there had been a temporary slow-down due to the lack of equipment in the early 2000s but never a complete halt.
In Bolivia, where the growing of coca plants for medicinal, cultural and religious purposes is legal, but the growing for the production of cocaine remains banned, the eradication of illicit crops has also been continuous, according to one former legal grower.
Former leader of coca growers of Los Yungas region Savino Mendoza said the government of President Evo Morales had changed tactics but not suspended its efforts.
"Eradication used to be carried out by force, with the help of the military, but under the new strategy the (government) comes to an agreement with the coca-producing communities to fulfil the international conventions for eradication."
Opposition politicians in Peru have been critical of the suspension.
Former Interior Minister Fernando Rospigliosi said it sent the wrong signal.
"It says to coca producers and guerrillas, 'Go ahead, plant your coca, nothing will happen'," he said.
Interior Minister Oscar Valdes said the government's commitment had not wavered.
"In his message to the nation, President Ollanta Humala has been very clear: The government will not permit the extension of illicit crops and will work decisively to reduce them," he said.
US Ambassador to Lima Rose Likins said she was awaiting further information on the decision.
But she said it was "natural" that a new government would want to re-assess its programmes and stressed that the US was keen to continue collaborating with the Peruvian government.
Peru Cabinet Approves Creation Of New Ministry
Dow Jones. August 18, 2011
LIMA -(Dow Jones)- Peruvian President Ollanta Humala's cabinet has approved the creation of a new ministry that will be in charge of implementing social programs in the country.
The executive plans to send a bill to congress soon to create the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion, Production Minister Kurt Burneo said during a press conference Wednesday.
Burneo said the new ministry is needed to improve the efficiency of government social programs and that it will not create additional costs for the government.
"The idea is to centralize the social programs," said Burneo, who is expected to lead the new cabinet. "One of the current problems that has led to glaring economic losses is the fact that the social programs are disperse."
Humala, a 49-year-old left-leaning nationalist, has promised to quickly implement programs targeting about 30% of the population that lives in poverty. One of the programs is a new pension plan for all Peruvians over 65 years old.
-By Ryan Dube, Dow Jones Newswires; 51-1-945-043-802; firstname.lastname@example.org
Analysis: Peru's indigenous losing faith in reformed Humala
Caroline Stauffer. Reuters. August 17, 2011
(Reuters) - Indigenous leaders and rights groups in Peru are expressing disappointment with President Ollanta Humala's plan to encourage oil exploration in the Amazon and want the leftist leader to safeguard tribal lands.
The new head of Peru's oil agency has said Peru hopes to attract up to $20 billion in petroleum and gas investment in the next five years, more than the $6.2 billion the sector brought in under former President Alan Garcia.
Garcia's term was marred by frequent clashes with indigenous groups over laws aimed at opening ancestral lands to foreign investors. Tensions with police often erupted in violence, at times turning deadly. Indigenous communities had thought Humala, who championed the glory of the Incan empire during the campaign, would be different.
But the former anti-capitalist radical has reinvented himself as a moderate and is now wooing the foreign investors he once railed against.
Indigenous groups, who have not made the political inroads of their peers in neighboring Bolivia and Ecuador, now fear Humala will put finding new energy for Peru's surging economy ahead of preserving their lands.
"The communities had entrusted this government to oversee a real, profound change," said Alberto Pizango, head of Peru's most important indigenous rights group in the Amazon, AIDESEP. "But Humala has altered his discourse, leading the people to say this government will just be more of the same."
Pizango criticized Humala for designating Carlos Herrera, an engineer, as mine and energy minister. Pizango says Herrera showed little concern for indigenous people when he approved petroleum concessions during the first time he held the post in 2000.
Humala's defenders, however, praise him for backing a proposed measure that would require firms to hold consultation meetings with local communities before drilling for oil or mining near their homes. Passing the consultation law has long been a priority for indigenous leaders.
The measure, which was passed by Congress but vetoed by Garcia last year, would put Peru in compliance with a U.N. convention on indigenous peoples that Peru signed in 1989.
Aurelio Ochoa, an Humala appointee in charge of energy concessions, told Reuters he personally supports the proposed consultation law.
Pizango said enacting a consultation law would give indigenous communities more influence over how their lands are used but might not be enough to curb widespread opposition to energy extraction in the Amazon.
More than 200 towns have organized to stop mining or oil projects in Peru. In numerous cases, violence has erupted, causing at least 100 deaths in the past 3-1/2 years, according to the government's human rights office.
The conflicts threaten to delay some of the $50 billion companies plan to spend on natural resource projects in Peru over the next decade.
A clash between police and indigenous protesters in the northern Amazon town of Bagua killed 33 people in June 2009, the low point of Garcia's presidency. His government accused Pizango of fomenting the violence and blamed leftist presidents in the region for encouraging the unrest.
"I feel the people are increasingly convinced that the only way to be heard is through their protests," Pizango said. "They want an end to traditional politics ... not just dialogue."
Others worry that tribes living in voluntary isolation from the outside world would suffer if virgin lands are opened up to drilling and mining.
Peru is home to one of the world's largest populations of so-called uncontacted tribes, advocacy groups say.
Peru has set up reserves to protect tribes that live in voluntary isolation. But Garcia's government said in some cases drilling was permitted in reserves, frustrating activists.
Humala's views on the reserves are not yet known, but activists working in the region are not especially optimistic.
"I'm not convinced Humala's going to stand up for people who don't have any power," said Gregor MacLennan of the group Amazon Watch. "I'm concerned about what's happening to the whole region. It's going to reach a tipping point."
The international advocacy group has complained that Pluspetrol, which operates two lots on the Camisea natural gas fields, explores inside reserve areas. Pluspetrol declined immediate comment.
Ochoa, the geologist managing concessions for Humala, says the reserves will be treated with "total respect" but he does plan to aggressively promote exploratory drilling in Peru, which he considers a "semi-explored" petroleum landscape.
"Remember that there are different types of reserves," he said. "There are some that are untouched and virgin, but others can see some extraction."
(Reporting by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Terry Wade and Will Dunham)
Peru: A league of their own
Al Jazeera. August 17, 2011
In the isolated Andean communities of Peru, poor indigenous peasants used to live in a state of economic and social apartheid. Entire families lived on less than a dollar a day.
A few years ago, Juana, an indigenous peasant, organised a football team for women in the Andes, opening a path to her community's participation in politics for the first time.
"We were the first to organise activities for women of this community. We were the first women to play football in this place. Nobody had ever thought of it before. But they all came to play and haven't stopped ever since," she says.
After decades spent playing a largely passive role in community organisation and politics and consigned to working in the kitchen, raising cattle or ploughing fields, football provided the women with an opportunity to discuss their communities' needs.
Post-match meetings were turned into popular assemblies where the women would talk about their collective problems and discuss solutions. Chief amongst the issues that concerned them was climate change and its impact on farming communities.
The high slopes of the Andes in Peru could once sustain indigenous peasant communities, but now the droughts threaten lives and livelihoods.
Juana's family grow corn and potatoes, but climate change has caused floods that make farming impossible to profit from. Previously fertile land is becoming obsolete and the floods have ruined the crops.
"If we get together and encourage each other, we'll find a solution, we must work as a collective. Because if we don't work together and remain scattered around we'll have to face certain death," she says.
Many peasants in the Andes feel abandoned by the government. Sixty per cent of them live in extreme poverty and have no access to basic services, like water and healthcare.
Thanks to football, Juana was the first woman to speak out at assemblies and to approach politicians regularly - a role that was previously reserved for men.
Many local women's groups began springing up in the region in order to play football and fight the impact of climate change. The women are determined to break their traditional silence. As they gain confidence to speak up at the football meetings, they take on increasingly important political roles in their communities.
In Peru: A league of their own we witness some of the women as they go straight to the political heart of their country to make their voices heard and demand support in managing rivers and approval for a relocation plan for their village.
Peru: A league of their own can be seen from Tuesday, August 16, at the following times GMT: Tuesday: 2230; Wednesday: 0930; Thursday: 0330; Friday: 1630; Saturday: 2230; Sunday: 0930; Monday: 0330; Tuesday: 1630.
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean [contents]
Mexican party builds comeback with discount card
Adriana Gomez Licon. AP. August 18, 2011
MEXICO CITY—Join a political party and get deals on meals, hotels, gyms, jewelry and more.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, the authoritarian party that ruled Mexico for 71 years before its defeat in 2000, is offering discount cards on movie tickets, gym memberships, jewelry, dry cleaners, hotels and even university tuition to boost party membership in the central state of Queretaro.
The PRI, which had a long history of corruption and vote-buying to stay in power, now says it's a renovated party dedicated to open democracy as it makes a strong campaign to regain the presidency in 2012.
But others argue the discount cards handed out under PRI's "Family Savings" program are just a more sophisticated twist on old party practices -- this time aimed at the middle class, where the swing votes lie.
Party members once lured voters to campaign rallies by announcing free "despensas," or food baskets that were needed in a country where half the population lives in poverty.
"There was a condition of 'I will give it to you, but you have to go to the rally,'" said political columnist Raymundo Riva Palacio. "It is an evolution of the 'despensas.' They are tackling different demographics."
Gabriela Monjaraz, who heads the "Family Savings" effort and says it is the first program of its kind, denies it has anything to do with vote-buying in a state where the PRI already holds the governorship but not a majority in the state legislature.
"It is only a program in place so people who want to save a bit with the businesses we have signed ... are able to do it," she said.
Federal election laws say parties cannot force people to affiliate in order to obtain a service. And state election laws penalize those who offer a benefit in exchange for a vote, but only during elections.
The Queretaro Electoral Institute, which enforces state election law, has received no complaints about the program and can't say whether it breaks any laws, spokesman Gabriel Morales said. Jose Luis Orozco, spokesman for the Federal Electoral Institute, said affiliating to a party is not a sure vote.
But Jose Luis Baez Guerrero, state president for President Felipe Calderon's National Action Party, or PAN, said he is investigating possible violations. At the very least it is not ethical, he added.
"It's not healthy to take advantage of people in need," Baez said. "It's not moral or ethical to tell people, 'I'll give you a discount as long as you carry a party credential.'"
PRI leaders in the states of Sonora, in the northwest, and Tamaulipas, in the northeast, have also given out discount cards but with expiration dates.
Queretaro, a state of about 1.8 million people where manufacturing is the main economic driver, does not hold elections for state and local offices until next July, when Mexico will choose a new president.
After PAN candidate Vicente Fox defeated the PRI for the first time in 2000, followed by Calderon's victory six years later, the PRI's presumed presidential candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto, is running strongest in pre-election polls.
Anyone showing up at the party's offices with their Mexican voter ID can get a free "Family Savings" card carrying the PRI logo. Those who join the party get a special ID with their photo.
"We wanted people to say: 'I have a PRI card. I'm part of the party,'" Monjaraz said. "The businesses are getting customers and people are saving. It's a virtuous cycle."
The PRI first issued the cards a year ago, when they were good for about a dozen businesses. The program has since grown to include at least 200 businesses offering discounts, Monjaraz said, though the state party website lists only 110.
They include hospitals, tortilla factories, travel agencies, auto shops, gyms, universities and high schools, which offer cardholders discounts ranging from 10 percent to 50 percent for their goods or services.
The cards "will not only identify you as a member of our party, it will also get you multiple benefits like discounts and special promotions," the state party website says.
The businesses that joined the discount agreement are not necessarily PRI supporters, Monjaraz said.
One of them, she said, is the University of the Valley of Mexico, one of the country's most prestigious colleges with a campus in Queretaro, which is offering cardholders up to 20 percent off on tuition fees.
The university said its participation does not make it appear to be a supporter of the PRI.
"We are interested in extending access to higher education," the university said in an email.
Marco Antonio Jimenez, manager of the City Express Queretaro hotel, and Roberto Gomez, an employee of auto repair business Mecanica Integral, told The Associated Press they signed the agreement with the PRI only to get more clients, not to support the party.
But Juan Pablo Rodriguez, owner of the Manduka restaurant in the state capital, also called Queretaro, said he supports the party.
"I hope this savings program helps them get votes," he said.
Mexican Army Hands Over Rights Cases to Civilian Prosecutors
EFE. August 18, 2011
MEXICO CITY – The cases of Ines Fernandez Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantu, two Indian women allegedly raped by soldiers in 2002, have been transferred by military prosecutors to the Mexican Attorney General’s Office, a human rights group said.
The Military Prosecutor’s Office notified the women in writing on Aug. 12 that the rape and torture investigations had been handed over to the AG’s office, the Tlachinollan Mountain Human Rights Center said.
Federal prosecutors have not received official notification that the case is now theirs, an AG’s office spokesman told Efe.
The Defense Secretariat was also unable to confirm the report from the human rights group.
Rosendo Cantu and Ines Fernandez Ortega, who are Me’phaa Indians from the southern state of Guerrero, were raped in separate incidents by army soldiers.
The women have been fighting for nearly a decade to have justice done in their cases.
“The Military Prosecutor’s Office was correct in acknowledging that it lacked jurisdiction to continue investigating and determine the indictments,” the human rights group said.
Military prosecutors handed over the cases on July 29 to civilian prosecutors so they can move forward with the investigations, the human rights group said.
The Military Prosecutor’s Office made the decision to turn over the cases to the AG’s office because of the charges involved and recent constitutional reforms in the human rights area, as well as an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling against the Mexican state, the human rights group said.
The move was also made in response to an “express request” by the women in the wake of a recent Supreme Court ruling, the human rights group said.
The women and human rights organizations contend that Mexican laws giving the military jurisdiction over alleged rights crimes by soldiers against civilians serve only to cover up disappearances, rape, torture and other serious offenses.
The Inter-American Court has repeatedly ordered Mexico to ensure that those crimes be tried in civilian courts as opposed to military tribunals and called on Congress and the president to make the necessary legal changes.
The Mexican Supreme Court on July 12 limited military jurisdiction in cases of rights abuses committed by soldiers, in conformance with a 2009 ruling by the Inter-American Court in connection with another case.
The high court also found that judges should ensure their sentences are consistent with international human rights treaties ratified by Mexico.
Previously, only some federal courts had taken the international legal obligations assumed by Mexico into account in their proceedings.
President Felipe Calderon submitted a bill to Congress last year that would require that soldiers indicted on charges of enforced disappearance, torture and rape be tried in civilian courts, but lawmakers have not yet put the measure to a vote.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said in July that the president’s proposal “falls short of what is required by the Inter-American Court’s rulings” because “other serious violations would continue to be investigated and prosecuted within the military justice system.”
The bill “would also grant military authorities the power to determine which acts constitute such violations, despite the military’s track record of downgrading the severity of charges against soldiers,” the rights watchdog said.
In an earlier press release asserting the need for a military justice overhaul in Mexico, HRW said Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission had “received nearly 5,000 allegations of human rights violations against the military since 2007, including killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and rape.”
Military courts trying cases of rights abuses against civilians have a record of “near total impunity,” HRW said. EFE
Honduras' Latest Aguán Crisis Unrelated to Land
Honduras Weekly. August 17, 2011
The violent confrontations during the past three days between peasant farmers and security guards at the Paso del Aguán ranch in the Bajo Aguán Valley of the department of Colón, Honduras have nothing to do with land disputes involving the peasant organizations, the Unified Peasant Movement of Aguán (MUCA) and the Authentic Peasant Protest Movement of Aguán (MARCA), and Honduran businessman, Miguel Facussé, according to César Ham, the director of Honduras' National Agrarian Institute (INA). Mr. Ham noted yesterday that the Lobo government negotiated and signed agreements with MARCA on May 24 and with MUCA on June 16, granting lands to the groups which INA has purchased from Mr. Facussé. The deals with MARCA amd MUCA include land grants of 2,151.4 manzanas (3,715 acres) and 5,801.58 manzanas (10,019 acres) respectively.
In a press conference on Tuesday, INA legal adviser Neptalí Medina said that "there are other groups [in the Bajo Aguán] that have an interest in destabilizing the zone, and those groups are really creating a very critical crisis, and that is what is provoking a security problem for the people who live there and have to find a way to protect themselves".
Mr. Medina's view was supported by the Chief of Police in Colón, Julio Benítez, who speculated, "Judging by the kind of operation and the type of weapons used, it appears to be a guerrilla group". According to Mr. Benítez, "We cannot continue to assume this crisis is based on a peasant struggle for agrarian reform, on trying to recover lands. This case is totally different. These are armed groups who are committing crimes, killing people."
Mr. Medina called for a general disarmament in the area. He said that only persons carrying weapons should be the authorities... "in this case, the police and the military".
A total of 11 people -- both peasants and security guards -- have died near the Paso del Aguán ranch in confrontations since Sunday. The Ministry of Security has dispatched 600 police officers and soldiers to join the 400 already deployed in the area. The move is designated "Operation Xatruch II" and is aimed at trying to contain the situation.
War crime suspect found in Everett
Mark Arsenault. Boston Globe. August 18, 2011
EVERETT - A former Salvadoran government minister accused of colluding in the infamous killing of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador two decades ago has been living a quiet life in a modest apartment building in Everett, says a human rights group pursuing a legal case against him.
Inocente Orlando Montano, apparently living in Massachusetts for years under his own name, is among 20 former military officers charged with conspiring to kill the priests in fresh indictments from Spain.
The international indictments issued in May seek justice for the clergymen, five of them Spaniards; their housekeeper; and her 16-year-old daughter, who were roused at night from their beds on the campus of Central American University in San Salvador and executed by an elite unit of the Salvadoran military.
Most of those accused of the notorious war crime have never faced justice.
A man who answered the door at Montano’s apartment on Irving Street last week said the former Salvadoran army colonel was not at home, but promised to leave a message. The message was not returned, and the next day Montano’s name had been removed from his mailbox. No one answered the door at the apartment on three other occasions over the past several days. Several neighbors said they did not know Montano.
In 1993, a United Nations “truth commission’’ that investigated the clergy killings named Montano, a former government vice minister of public safety, as one of the top leaders who participated in a meeting to plot the assassination of Father Ignacio Ellacuria, the university’s rector. The government suspected Ellacuria of supporting leftist rebels. The unit dispatched to kill Ellacuria was ordered to leave no witnesses, according to the commission’s report.
“I find it unbelievable and unconscionable that somebody involved in this crime is in the United States,’’ said US Representative James McGovern, a Worcester Democrat who helped investigate the Jesuit slayings 20 years ago as an aide to J. Joseph Moakley, then a congressman. Moakley, of South Boston, had been appointed to lead a congressional task force to look into the killings in the early 1990s.
“It’s still this terrible memory,’’ said McGovern, who knew three of the slain priests personally through congressional work on refugee issues. “I had never been involved so closely with something so horrific. That case still is a strong force in me, saying that human rights is something we need to stand up for.’’
The Jesuit massacre on Nov. 16, 1989, made international headlines. Photos of slain priests were shocking even for El Salvador, which at the time was deep into a 12-year civil war riddled with atrocities. About 75,000 people died in the conflict between government forces and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, a collection of rebel groups.
In a June phone interview with a Salvadoran Internet newspaper, Montano said that the indictment “is all based on lies’’ and that the only high-level meetings in which he participated concerned the defense of San Salvador, which was under rebel attack at the time. He told the news site El Faro that he was in Massachusetts and had been living in the same place for the past 10 years.
Montano was located in Everett by The Center for Justice & Accountability, a human rights organization based in San Francisco. In 2008, the center filed suit against the 20 defendants in Spain, which led to the new indictments. The group used a private detective to confirm Montano’s address before presenting the information to the judge in Spain, said Almudena Bernabeu, a lawyer who brought the lawsuit for the Center for Justice. At least one other former Salvadoran officer charged in the indictment is in the United States; he lives in California, she said.
Nine of the men accused in the indictments turned themselves in to authorities in El Salvador on Aug. 7. Salvadoran courts will decide if they will be extradited.
Whether any of the defendants will ever appear in a Spanish courtroom is an open question.
“Sometimes I expect little from these cases but at the same time I have to be optimistic,’’ said Bernabeu. She hoped the US Department of Justice would arrest and extradite suspects in the United States, but three months after the indictments, no arrests have been made.
Because of that, she said, “I’m a little more pessimistic. But you never, ever know.’’
The Department of Justice, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment on the case.
Members of the US Congress are urging the Obama administration to cooperate with authorities in Spain.
McGovern said he did not previously know that an alleged conspirator was living in Massachusetts. But he had contacted the Department of Justice about the case, urging action to assist the Spanish court in tracking down suspects, he said.
Four US senators - Tom Harkin of Iowa, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Barbara Boxer of California, and John F. Kerry of Massachusetts - wrote to the Department of State in July, asking Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to “make every possible effort to ensure that the United States cooperates fully in the pending legal proceedings’’ against the defendants in the Jesuit massacre. The letter does not mention the location of any of the former Salvadoran officers, but states that at least one “may be living in the United States.’’
Responding to the senators, Joseph Macmanus, acting assistant secretary of state, offered few details, writing that the department is monitoring the case, and “will work closely with the Department of Justice to ensure that any request for assistance from the Spanish government receives appropriate consideration.’’
Kerry said this week that the United States should support the Spanish court. “All these years later, I just want to see justice done,’’ he said in a statement to the Globe.
The National Court of Spain levied the indictments in the case under the principle of “universal jurisdiction,’’ which says crimes against humanity are so heinous they can be prosecuted across international lines. Spanish courts are known for applying the principle in far-reaching international indictments. Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator, was arrested in 1998 on human rights charges in London, for example, on a warrant issued by a Spanish court. He was not extradited.
Nine members of the Salvadoran military were originally charged in El Salvador in the Jesuit killings. In a 1991 prosecution widely criticized as a sham, only two went to jail, including Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides, who was charged with giving the order to shoot the priests.
Even before the trial had run its course, Moakley’s congressional task force found that Salvadoran investigators “made little effort to determine whether senior military officers other than Colonel Benavides might have had a role in ordering or covering up the crime,’’ according to its 1990 report.
The UN truth commission later found “substantial evidence’’ that high-level government officials, including Montano, colluded the day before the killings to order Benavides to kill Father Ellacuria and any witnesses.
Benavides was freed under a 1993 amnesty law, approved after the peace accord that ended the country’s civil war.
Mark Arsenault can be reached at email@example.com.
Rodrigo Abd and Guatemala’s Indigenous Beauty Queens
Myles Little. TIME. August 17, 2011
Associated Press photographer Rodrigo Abd recently traveled to Coban, Guatemala to document the women competing to become this year’s National Indigenous Queen of Guatemala.
In a country where about 40 percent of people self identify as indigenous, the contest carries great prestige, especially as rapid globalization threatens to sweep aside Mayan traditions. The women, who ranged in age from 14 to 26, went through multiple rounds of competition and were expected to give speeches in both Spanish and their native tongue. Twenty-three-year-old Rosa Lidia Aguare Castro of Santa Lucia La Reforma was this year’s winner.
Meanwhile, Abd was doing his own part to uphold tradition by using a 19th century style wooden box camera he had bought in Afghanistan. The women had to hold still for up to two minutes as the Abd exposed the images straight onto photo paper. After dunking the paper into developer and fixer liquid inside the camera body, he got a negative image of his sitters. He later photographed these negatives to produce the positive versions seen here. With the lengthy exposure times, “you can’t make any real big gestures,” Abd said. “You are in front of a box camera. You need to be quiet and you need to be frozen…I really like the idea of doing these portraits in this way because I’m going back to the idea of photography without iPhones or that sort of modern technology,” Abd said. “It’s about having this connection with people I’m portraying because they have to be totally quiet and spend some time only with me, looking at me with my camera.”
Rodrigo Abd, of Buenos Aires, Argentina, is a staff photographer for the AP based in Guatemala. He won the 2010 Feature Photography Award from the Overseas Press Club of America for his pictures of an emergency room at a Guatemala hospital.
Jamaica's heavy debts weigh on schools, hospitals
DAVID McFADDEN. AP. August 17, 2011
KINGSTON, Jamaica -- When the afternoon bell rings at August Town Primary School, children kick around a plastic bottle filled with gravel instead of a soccer ball. When administrators need to buy a copier, they turn to parents, businesses or foreign embassies for donations.
Making do has become a way of life at the school as it has all across Jamaica, where paying off the nation's punishing debt takes priority.
The country owes creditors $18.2 billion, which is more than its entire domestic economy produces in a year: 132 percent of gross domestic product, according to the International Monetary Fund. That's a heavier load than crisis-hit Italy, Spain or Ireland face, and nearly as high as Greece's.
For years, over half the government's budget has been dedicated to paying the debt, and that has forced the government to scrimp on schools, hospitals and infrastructure.
"The budget's tight, there's no question. But it's been tight for a long while and we've had to learn to make things work as best as we can," said August Town Vice Principal Dwight Peart at the low-slung concrete school in an impoverished valley community in the capital.
Roughly a third of the Caribbean island's 2.8 million people live in squatter settlements, and there's little money for housing aid. Public hospitals are hampered by a shortage of medical equipment. Roads are filled with potholes. The thousands of Jamaican dropouts from overcrowded schools become easy prey for drug and extortion gangs.
With the exception of the pearl-toned beaches of Jamaica's resorts, no corner of the island has been spared by the debt monster.
Jamaica's experience with austerity holds lessons for other nations struggling to cope with debt, says Mark Weisbrot of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research.
"Attempts to squeeze the economy in order to maintain unsustainably high debt service can lead to prolonged periods of stagnation and high unemployment." He said Jamaica's recent domestic debt restructuring erred by merely reducing some interest payments without writing down the principal.
It's not the first, or even the worst time Jamaica has faced an avalanche of debt. The debt-to-GDP ratio soared to 262 percent at the start of the 1990s, according to a Jamaica-based think tank, the Caribbean Policy Research Institute.
Most of that, though, was owed to foreign governments and international institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund at relatively low interest rates. Some of the debt owed to governments was written off. A spurt of growth in the late 1980s helped make the debt less of a burden, while a spike in inflation, which reached 80 percent in 1991, sharply devalued the domestic part of the debt.
Since then, the debt has been more challenging, partly because of Jamaica's high domestic interest rates, said Damien King, executive director of the think tank. The government was paying as much as 28 percent a year on its domestic currency bonds until a few years ago, with the inflation rate hovering near 20 percent.
"Research shows that the entire increase was due to debt contracted by entities outside of central government, debt that the government subsequently had to assume responsibility for. The largest portion of it derived from bad private bank loans that the government absorbed as part of the resolution of the banking crisis of the late 1990s," King said.
If the old crisis was caused by too much government intervention, the current one may have been caused by too little.
Before the 1990s banking crisis, Jamaica ended exchange controls while lifting restrictions on lending and interest. Local banks went on a spree of lending while interest rates shot to near 50 percent. Then, in 1996, the system crashed. Dozens of banks failed and the government stepped in to absorb the bad loans and keep the rest of the system from collapsing, taking pension funds along with it.
By 2010, Jamaica's towering debt and the damaging impact of the global recession forced the government to seek assistance from the IMF. It helped the government carry out the debt restructuring and provided $1.27 billion in standby credits. It also unlocked funding from other global lending organizations, including $600 million from the Inter-American Development Bank and $450 million from the World Bank.
Yet roughly 60 percent of government spending goes to debt and an additional 30 percent goes to pay wages. That leaves just 10 percent for education, health, security and other functions.
The 2010 domestic debt-swap program lowered the government's debt-service costs by $450 million a year. But it left the amount of capital owed untouched. The interest expense breakdown is about 70 percent for domestic debt and 30 percent for external debt.
"Servicing the debt has undoubtedly absorbed fiscal resources that otherwise would likely have been deployed on infrastructure improvements as well as on needed social services," said King, who is also head of the economics department at Jamaica's University of the West Indies.
A sluggish global and local economy has frustrated Jamaica's effort to grow its way out of the crisis. During the global recession, three of the country's four alumina refineries were closed and revenues from tourism and Jamaicans working abroad slowed.
In recent months, the economy appears to be on a meager upswing. Recently, the country recorded first-quarter growth of 1.4 percent over the same period a year earlier. The inflation rate for the first five months of the year was 1.7 percent.
Prime Minister Bruce Golding, whose Jamaica Labor Party came to power in 2007, argues that his government is finally putting the country on a solid economic pathway. This year it has divested money-losing entities such as Air Jamaica and its three remaining sugar factories, and Golding says a crackdown on gangs should improve the business climate.
With money short, Education Minister Andrew Holness said he is looking for foreign help in building schools.
"If China wants to build them - (or) U.S., Canada, Saudi Arabia, Jamaicans - it doesn't matter to me," he said.
Stephanie Black, the New York-based director of "Life and Debt," an award-winning 2001 documentary that dissected the impact of globalization on Jamaica's economy and skewered lending policies of international organizations like the IMF, said she does not feel the island's economic situation has improved since her film was completed a decade ago.
"When one looks at the class divide within the country there is little mobility, (and) the high cost of daily living, low minimum wages, prevailing unemployment, lack of improvements in basic infrastructure, and widespread corruption makes it terribly challenging for too many who are still living hand to mouth," Black said.
Economist warns Gov't against budget cuts in critical ministries
Edmond Campbell. Jamaica Gleaner. August 17, 2011
AS THE cash-strapped Bruce Golding administration huddled on Monday to carve out a Supplementary Estimates of Expenditure to be tabled in Parliament later this month, one economist is cautioning against cuts in the health, education and national security ministries.
Economist Dennis Chung suggested that these critical ministries could not withstand cuts from their already-thin budgets.
Finance Minister Audley Shaw, in a recent national broadcast, warned that no ministry, department or agency would be spared in order to accommodate several unplanned expenses.
Chung told The Gleaner that while the Government had no option but to slice the budgets of some ministries and agencies, this would only constitute a short-term solution.
He said in the medium to long term, a more prudent decision would be to re-engage the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with a view to negotiating a restructured agreement.
Suggesting that the country needed more breathing space at this time under the IMF programme, Chung called for a "more relaxed agreement that will allow the country to have some economic activity coming back".
He stressed that continued cuts in the public sector would lead to a contraction of the Jamaican economy.
"The rhetoric and the quantitative IMF targets alone are not going to cut it, we need to understand that economics is a social science that depends on human behaviour, and the only way people go out and spend money is not based on what they earn today but what they expect to earn," he asserted.
Gleaner guest columnist Darron Thomas said he had not heard any further comment from Shaw on an extended IMF agreement since he made the suggestion in his budget presentation earlier this year.
"Renegotiating the agreement to get a longer term usually means what is known as an extended fund facility," Thomas observed.
He said this facility would have tighter constraints than a standby arrangement.
"It's kind of counter intuitive to think we are going to get an extended fund facility with less stringent conditionalities," Thomas argued.
Commenting on the public sector rationalisation programme, Thomas said it was not "politically prudent" for the administration to cut employment in the public sector, given the closeness of a general election.
"I don't think you are going to see the civil service shrinking even though we have this rationalisation programme," he said.
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration [contents]
Andina. August 17, 2011
Lima, Aug. 17 (ANDINA). The Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Andean Community (CAN) will meet in Lima on August 22 to discuss proposals related to citizen participation, water resources management and climate change, among other topics.
The 23rd Ordinary Meeting of the Andean Council of Foreign Ministers will be held at the CAN headquarters in the Limean district of San Isidro, under the pro tempore presidency of Colombia.
During such event, the ministers of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru will discuss the proposals related to citizen participation and freshwater resources management, noted on Wednesday the sub-regional bloc.
The chancellors of all four countries will also talk about “climate change, international technical cooperation, culture and foreign relations.”
In addition, the ministers of Foreign Trade of the Andean bloc will meet in the 107th Ordinary Session of the CAN Commission to analyze proposals concerning statistics, public health, customs and energy.
The 34th Special Session of the Andean Council of Foreign Ministers extended with Representatives to the CAN Commission will also take place during this time.
The meeting agenda for this session is focussed on the proposed reengineering of the Andean Integration System, the Strategic Plan for Integration and the position of the Secretary General of the CAN.
Colombia leader: Latin America needs ‘barriers’ against economic crisis in US, Europe
AP. August 18, 2011
SANTIAGO, Chile — Colombia’s president says Latin America needs to put up “barriers and shock absorbers” to protect the region’s economies from the debt crisis in the United States and Europe.
Juan Manuel Santos also says Argentina, Brazil and Mexico must work together to make sure Latin America’s needs are met at G-20 meetings dominated by northern countries whose economies are now in trouble.
Santos is visiting Chile and then Argentina looking for alliances that will help the economies of the region find safe harbor in what he calls a time of hurricanes.