Latin America News Round-up
February 10, 2012
Long-Hidden Archives Help Guatemala War Crimes Trials
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
US military assists in Latin America anti-drug operation
Police Strike by Brazilians Makes Holiday Seem a Threat. New York Times
Brazil, Mexico To Meet At End Of Month To Discuss Auto Agreement. Dow Jones
Exclusive - Brazil jets deal heats up as Boeing freezes bid. Reuters
Argentina renews call for oil companies to produce more. Reuters
Argentina Fights Child Obesity. Fox News Latino
We fixed it! Peru senator claims 1978 World Cup game against Argentina was rigged. Daily Mail
Northern Andean Region
Chavez foe seeks public worker support for primary. AP
Chávez postpones meeting with Brazil's Dilma Rousseff. El Universal
Venezuela Sees Rising Oil Exports To China; PdVSA Revenue Jumps. Dow Jones
PDVSA says secures March deadline on Brazil refinery. Reuters
Venezuela's Chavez Offers A Peek At New Price Caps. Dow Jones
Venezuela deports paramilitary warlord to Colombia. AP
Colombia orders ex-peace commissioner Restrepo's arrest. BBC
Western Andean Region
Bolivia seizes 17 properties in drugs raids. AP
Bolivia accuses US of spying on L America. Xinhua
Chevron and Ecuador to arbitrate damages. AFP
Spurned by president, Peru leftists protest mining. Reuters
Humala’s Approval Rating Rises to Four-Month High, Poll Shows. Bloomberg
Shining Path leader Artemio 'wounded during capture attempt'. The Guardian
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean
Mexico to Release Crime Statistics. EFE
Mexican army chief admits mistakes in drug war. AP
Long-hidden archives help Guatemala war crimes trials. Reuters
Honduran mining set for boost from new mining law. MineWeb
Panama Indians win withdrawal of dam, mines law. AP
Nicaragua: The Sandinista Revolution Continues! Huffington Post
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration
US military assists in Latin America anti-drug operation. AFP
IDB Capital Increased by $70 Billion for Latin America Lending. Bloomberg
In Latin America, Chinese cars are gaining buyers. Los Angeles Times
Santorum, Republicans in Congress want to replay Cold War in Latin America. McClatchy
Brazil and Southern Cone [contents]
Police Strike by Brazilians Makes Holiday Seem a Threat
SIMON ROMERO. New York Times. February 9, 2012
RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s government, faced with a devastating 10-day police strike that apparently contributed to a spike in killings in the northeast, is facing a new police strike in Rio de Janeiro less than two weeks before the start of the nation’s most famous international draw: Carnival.
The strike by police officers in Brazil’s northeast state of Bahia seemed to lose its momentum on Thursday with the arrests of several of the movement’s leaders. But a vote on Thursday night by police officers here in Rio to strike immediately, and the threat of other work stoppages by police unions in several Brazilian states, have kept regions of the country on edge.
More than a thousand police officers and firefighters gathered in downtown Rio on Thursday night to pressure lawmakers to vote for a measure that would raise their salaries. Sérgio Simões, a state defense official, told reporters here that the federal authorities had agreed to make 14,000 soldiers and national police officers available to maintain order in the state of Rio de Janeiro in case a strike took place.
In the northeast, the authorities registered at least 142 homicides during the strike in the metropolitan area of Salvador, Bahia’s capital, more than double the number in the same period last year. The strike has also been marked by clashes between rebellious police officers and federal security forces sent by the authorities in Brasília, the national capital, to reassert order on Salvador’s streets.
A strike could be even more tumultuous in Rio, especially during Carnival later this month, when throngs of visitors flood the streets and violent crime is a concern even when the regular police force is working.
The strike in Bahia revolved around demands by the military police, who do most of the street policing in Brazil, for wage and benefit increases, focusing new attention on Brazil’s income disparities. An array of social welfare programs have lifted millions of Brazilians from dire poverty over the last decade, but salaries for many public employees, including police officers and schoolteachers, remain relatively low.
While Brazil’s cost of living rivals that of the United States and surpasses it in some places, police officers in Bahia earn about $1,250 a month. Salaries for police officers in Rio de Janeiro are lower, roughly $1,170 a month when some benefits are included. About one-third of Bahia’s 31,000-member military police force adhered to the strike, which began when Bahia’s governor, Jaques Wagner, was away in Cuba.
“This strike should be a wake-up call for the entire country,” said Romeu Karnikowski, a sociologist who specializes in Brazil’s public security policies. “Brazil now has the world’s sixth-largest economy, but our policing model is an embarrassing failure.”
The strike opened a window into the disorder and disparity that characterize some of Brazil’s police forces. Other states, like Ceará in Brazil’s northeast and Pará in the Amazon, have recently suffered similar strikes. Elsewhere, corrupt police officers, like the militias and extermination squads of Rio de Janeiro, have been implicated in carrying out hideous crimes.
Scholars who study the police attribute some of the corruption to low salaries and a lack of prestige. Policing on the street level is often left to large contingents of low-paid, relatively untrained recruits in the military police, a force that is considered an auxiliary of the Brazilian Army and that is subordinated to state governments.
Meanwhile, administrative duties like investigating crimes are often the responsibility of each state’s civil police, who enjoy somewhat higher status and better salaries. Here in Rio, both the military and the civil police voted to go on strike, as did the state’s firefighters.
Brazil also has a well-paid federal police force, which investigates crimes like drug trafficking and ranks among Latin America’s most respected law enforcement entities.
In Bahia, intercepted cellphone conversations among leaders of the police strike, recorded by intelligence officials and broadcast on the Globo television network, suggested that rebellious police officers were plotting acts of vandalism and were trying to extend the strike to Brazil’s two most powerful states, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, speaking on Thursday from the northeast state of Pernambuco, said she was “terrified” after hearing the intercepted calls. “I do not consider the increase of murders in the street, burning buses, to be the correct way of leading a movement,” she said.
Still, the arrest of the leaders of Bahia’s police strike failed to put a definitive end to it, with officers there opting Thursday to continue the stoppage. Veja, a leading newsmagazine, said that police officers in as many as eight states were considering going on strike, timing their decisions ahead of Carnival.
The Bahia strike has divided Brazil’s judges and legal scholars as to whether it is legal, since the military police are subordinated to the army. One federal judge, Marcus Orione Gonçalves of São Paulo, argued that the police had the right to strike. But João Oreste Dalazen, the president of Brazil’s Superior Labor Tribunal, described the events in Bahia as a “rebellion” instead of a strike, telling reporters that the police there were carrying out an “aggression” against the democratic rule of law.
At the same time that Bahia’s police strike stunned the country, Brazil’s judges have been defending generous benefits of their own, adding to a debate over the country’s broad discrepancy in public-sector pay.
In the state of Rio de Janeiro, for instance, the so-called super-salaries for some judges are $23,000 to $87,000 a month, according to a report in the newspaper Estado de São Paulo.
Brazil, Mexico To Meet At End Of Month To Discuss Auto Agreement
Dow Jones. February 10, 2012
SAO PAULO – Brazilian and Mexican authorities will meet again on Feb. 28 and 29 to discuss possible changes in an auto industry trade accord as Brazil seeks to narrow a trade deficit with Mexico, Brazil's Ministry of Foreign Relations said Friday.
Officials from both countries met in the past three days in Brasilia to discuss possible changes in the trade deal, which exempts shipments of cars from paying import taxes in bilateral trade between Latin America's two largest economies. Both countries "are committed to finding a satisfactory solution that meets the needs of both parties," the ministry said in a statement.
The next round of meetings will be in Mexico City. According to reports, Mexico's government was reluctant to change the trade agreement. The agreement also cuts import taxes for trade within the Mercosur trading bloc, which consists of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Brazil has seen its deficit in the auto industry widen with Mexico in recent years as a strong Brazilian currency and high local labor and materials costs drive down competitiveness. In January, imported cars accounted for one-fourth of total sales, with Mexico responsible for about one in seven imported cars sold in Brazil.
Exclusive - Brazil jets deal heats up as Boeing freezes bid
Brian Winter. Reuters. February 10, 2012
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Boeing has frozen the price on its bid for a multi-billion-dollar Brazilian air force jet contract, sources close to the deal told Reuters, as the global race to sell military hardware to emerging economic powers becomes more competitive.
Boeing is offering to sell its F-18 fighter to Brazil for the same price per plane as its previous offer during a round of bidding in 2009, the sources said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the bidding process.
The sources declined to divulge the dollar amount of the bid, which includes the cost of the plane as well as some future maintenance and replacement parts. But the offer essentially means that Boeing would assume the cost of inflation over the past two-plus years, while the planes would be more than 12 percent cheaper for Brazil in real terms compared to 2009.
"It's an unusual move ... that shows how much value is being placed upon this contract," one of the sources said.
Boeing is competing with France's Dassault and Sweden's Saab for the Brazil deal, which is expected to be worth more than $4 billion over time. Brazilian Defence Minister Celso Amorim told Reuters in January that he hopes the government will make a decision in the first half of 2012.
Boeing's offer illustrates how U.S. and European defense firms are aggressively pursuing deals in the developing world as their markets dry up at home due to budget cuts. Companies are also disputing jet contracts in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and South Korea.
Dassault last week entered exclusive talks to sell its Rafale to India, which could lead to the jet's first foreign order. The deal could make the Rafale a more viable option in the Brazilian bidding process, since an established production line would allow Dassault to offer more stable pricing over time and reduce the risk of cost overruns.
The Brazilian deal will be decided by more than just price. While the F-18 is widely believed to be cheaper than the Rafale, Amorim has said that Brazil will base its choice primarily on how generously the companies offer to share their proprietary technology. Brazil hopes that knowledge will help it build a homegrown defense industry, led by Embraer, which is making a return to its roots by investing in military aircraft.
President Dilma Rousseff also sees the deal as a key decision in Brazil's strategic alignment during the next few decades, officials have said. The planes will be used to help guard Brazil's borders, protect its recently discovered offshore oil fields, and project greater power as Latin America's largest economy continues its climb into the world's elite.
A spokesman for the Brazilian government did not reply to a request for comment. Boeing spokeswoman Marcia Costley said: "We're in a competition and can't comment on the specifics of our offering but what I can say is that Boeing can guarantee a price that has been trending downwards because we have an active production line and can leverage economies of scale."
Amorim's recent comments suggest that the Brazilian deal is entering its endgame after more than a decade of intrigue and last-minute surprises.
Rousseff's predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, all but declared Dassault the winner late in his presidency but left office without finalizing the deal. Rousseff then appeared to favour Boeing in comments shortly after taking office in January 2011, but recent developments including Dassault's India talks mean the final decision is now anybody's guess.
Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paulo reported this week that the government is leaning toward the Rafale again, though it did not provide a source for the information.
Rousseff is likely to personally lead the decision-making on the contract, Amorim said in January.
The decision may come at a moment when Rousseff will be under unusually heavy pressure to be cost-conscious. The government is expected to freeze about $30 billion in budget spending in the next few weeks, equivalent to just over 3 percent of this year's budget, in an effort to cool the economy and help contain inflation.
The budget freeze will likely be unpopular among members of Congress who will see their discretionary funds cut. That means that Rousseff will need to appear circumspect on other big purchases - including the jets - in order to avert a backlash.
Argentina renews call for oil companies to produce more
Reuters. February 9, 2012
Feb 9 (Reuters) - Argentina's central government and the country's 10 oil-producing provinces renewed their call on Thursday for petroleum companies to increase output or risk losing their concessions.
Government energy officials and provincial governors met in capital Buenos Aires to discuss what they called inadequate production, concluding that companies such as Argentina's top oil firm YPF must improve output "within a reasonable amount of time."
The government's push for more production followed Wednesday's announcement by YPF, the Argentine arm of Spanish oil major Repsol, that its Vaca Muerta shale prospect holds 22.8 billion barrels of oil and gas resources, a staggering amount that may double Argentina's oil and gas output within a decade.
The announcement was seen by some as a message from the company to the government that huge amounts of resources are waiting to be exploited under market-friendly state policies.
The government delivered a message of its own on Thursday.
"The announcements need to be compatible with the facts," Argentina's Energy Secretary Daniel Cameron told Reuters at the close of Thursday's meeting.
"I think (YPF) put more effort into producing more, and I think that they can do that," he said. "And they have to do it within a reasonable amount of time."
Martin Buzzi, governor of the southern province of Chubut, said Argentine norms provide for sanctions against underproducing companies. Those sanctions, he said, include cancellation of concessions.
YPF is bearing the brunt of government pressure for energy companies to invest more to bring new resources on stream.
The tension, say most analysts, stems from arm-twisting tactics by an administration anxious to force more energy investment and so reduce a surging fuel import bill, which is pressuring the country's trade surplus.
Argentina Fights Child Obesity
Fox News Latino. February 9, 2012
Obesity has become a major health concern in Argentina - and is now ranked behind smoking as the largest preventable cause of death.
According to the World Health Organization, the country is following a global trend of soaring obesity rates in developing economies, affecting adults and children alike.
According to official data, nearly one in 10 children under the age of six in Argentina is severely overweight. For children, it can be the start of a life-long health battle.
Carla, a 12-year-old girl from Buenos Aires, realised she had a problem two years ago when her weight reached almost 70 kilos.
"At school we would go for runs round the stadium, and I was always the last. I was made fun of when I was the last one. I cried and told my mom about it. So she said, 'Carla, you need to lose some weight!'", she recalls.
Carla was lucky - thanks to a special treatment program, her weight is now back to normal, and she can pass by calmly the local candy stores without feeling tempted.
Máximo Ravenna, a specialist in eating disorders, says obesity could radically decrease life expectancies in the coming decades.
"If this trend continues, by 2050 over 85 percent of the world's population will be overweight or obese, and the life expectancy of the generation being born now will be less than that of their parents. It’s the first time you see children with high cholesterol. Boys of 12 years old, boys with hypertension at 14", he said.
The problem is that not every parent understands that fast food is not the only cause of child obesity. Candies and snacks that are sold everywhere also pose a major threat to children's health.
The increasing number of children with access to junk food has prompted the Argentine health authorities to take urgent action. Recently a program was drawn up for regional authorities to diagnose problems early and provide treatment. One of the main goals is to monitor children's eating habits in schools.
New Nutritional Guidelines for Mexico's School Kids
But the causes of obesity are not only on the store shelves or in home refrigerators, but also in people’s minds. Often, the main challenge for parents is to show their children that food is not the only pleasure in life.
We fixed it! Peru senator claims 1978 World Cup game against Argentina was rigged
Matt Roper. Daily Mail. February 9, 2012
Peru agreed to throw a game against eventual winners Argentina during the 1978 World Cup in South America in order to help the hosts progress at the expense of Brazil, it has been claimed.
They needed to win their second round game by four clear goals to reach the final at the expense of their arch rivals and promptly secured a 6-0 win.
There have always been suspicions about the game which led to Argentina lifting the trophy by beating Holland 3-1 in the final.
But now former Peruvian Senator Genaro Ledesma has confirmed the shock result was agreed before the match by the dictatorships of the two countries.
Mr Ledesma, 80, made the accusations to Buenos Aires judge Noberto Oyarbide, who last week issued an order of arrest against former Peruvian military president Francisco Bermudez.
He is accused of illegally sending 13 Peruvian citizens to Argentina as part of the so-called Condor Plan, through which Latin American dictatorships in the 1970s cooperated in the repression of political dissidents.
Once inside Argentina, the prisoners were tortured by the brutal military regime and forced to sign false confessions.
Mr Ledesma, an opposition leader at the time, claims Argentininan dictator Jorge Videla only accepted the political prisoners on condition that Peru deliberately lost the World Cup match - and by enough goals to ensure Argentina progressed to the final.
He said in court: 'Videla needed to win the World Cup to cleanse Argentina's bad image around the world.
'So he only accepted the group if Peru allowed the Argentine national team to triumph.'
Group B in the second round of the tournament was made up of Argentina, Brazil, Poland and Peru.
After Brazil beat Peru 3-0, then saw off Poland 3-1, Argentina had to win the game against Peru by at least four goals.
They did so with a suspicious degree of ease, leading to rumours that Peru might have been bribed. Other rumours claimed the beaten side had been offered a large shipment of grain to throw the match.
Argentina caused controversy by delaying their games until the outcome of the other result in Group B, so they knew exactly what they needed to do before every match.
Rapturous welcome: Argentina fans give their team a ticker-tape reception as they run out in the World Cup final in the Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires
Rapturous welcome: Argentina fans give their team a ticker-tape reception as they run out in the World Cup final in the Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires
Without their 1978 World Cup victory, Argentina would have won the tournament just once - the same as England, France and Spain.
Years after the game, Argentine striker Leopoldo Luque said: 'With what I know now, I can't say I'm proud of my victory. But I didn't realise; most of us didn't. We just played football.'
Northern Andean Region [contents]
Chavez foe seeks public worker support for primary
AP. February 10, 2012
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Opposition presidential contender Pablo Perez finished off his campaign Thursday urging public employees to join his supporters and vote in a primary election choosing a single challenger to face President Hugo Chavez.
The opposition coalition has accused the government of pressuring public employees not to vote in Sunday's primary, which is open to all of Venezuela's 18.2 million registered voters. The opposition has not provided evidence for its claim.
Perez, the governor of western Zulia state, marched through eastern Caracas accompanied by hundreds of supporters while a festive drum beat filled the air. He said at a rally that he has gained support among the poor.
The 42-year-old politician chided Chavez for talking so many hours on television, and pledged to instead be "a president who listens to the people."
Perez has been trailing in second place in recent opinion polls behind Henrique Capriles, a youthful state governor who has won a large following while promising to be a friend both to the poor and to business.
Capriles, who spoke to a rally of supporters in the central city of Valencia, said: "There's no obstacle that can stop a nation that wants change."
The winner among the five presidential contenders in Sunday's primary will be the opposition's unity candidate in the Oct. 7 election against Chavez, whose approval rating has been above 50 percent in recent polls.
Voters in the primary elections are also picking opposition candidates for other offices, including 17 state governor posts.
The Atlanta-based Carter Center said Thursday that it will send "a small study group of international experts" for the primary.
The center, founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, said in a statement that the group's purpose will be to "learn the perspectives of key political actors, representatives of civil society, and election officials about the national electoral processes this year." It said the experts "will not constitute an electoral observation delegation."
Chávez postpones meeting with Brazil's Dilma Rousseff
ALEJANDRA M. HERNÁNDEZ F. El Universal. February 9, 2012
Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez will not meet this weekend with his Brazilian counterpart Dilma Rousseff, as he had announced last Saturday in the framework of the 11th Summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), held in Caracas on February 4-5.
"No meeting has been scheduled on this weekend" between the two Heads of state, a source of the Brazilian President's Office told AFP on Wednesday. The information was confirmed on Wednesday night by President Hugo Chávez, who announced that he will travel to Brazil by the end of March to meet with Dilma Rousseff and promoting bilateral relationship.
Chávez made the announcement following a meeting with Alessandro Teixeira, the Executive Secretary of Brazil's Ministry of Development, Industry and Trade. The meeting was held at the presidential palace of Miraflores, the official seat of the executive office in Venezuela. They talked about bilateral issues.
Chávez also announced that Venezuela purchased 20 Brazilian aircrafts to increase the fleet of state-run airline Conviasa.
Venezuela Sees Rising Oil Exports To China; PdVSA Revenue Jumps
Dow Jones. February 9, 2012
CARACAS (Dow Jones)--Venezula plans to send as much oil to China as it does to its traditionally largest buyer, the U.S., within the next three years, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said Thursday.
The South American country also continued reaping the benefits of high global oil prices with its state energy monopoly Petroloes de Venezuela, or PdVSA, taking in a record revenue of $127.8 billion in 2011 from 2010's $94 billion, Ramirez said in comments carried on state television.
During his more than 12 years in power, President Hugo Chavez has used income from PdVSA to bankroll the large-scale social programs that have won him strong support among the country's many poor. During that time he has also strengthened economic ties with China, which has granted the hydrocarbons-rich country billions in loans for development projects and is working in various areas from housing construction to mining in Venezuela.
As part of its repayment for the loans, Venezuela sends oil shipments to China, which on Thursday, Ramirez said have reached 460,000 barrels a day.
"We are going to sell China one million barrels a day by 2015," by which time the Asian economy will be buying just as much oil as the U.S., said Ramirez, who doubles as PdVSA chief.
He added that China "will pay a slightly better [higher] price" than those paid by other buyers "because it's a distinct market."
Neither country has formally published the loan-for-oil pacts but Venezuelan government documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal in November showed that China appears to be paying roughly market prices, despite speculation that Venezuela was selling its crude at steep discounts.
Ramirez explained that costwise, shipments to China are not more expensive than those to the U.S. because Venezuela sends multiple tankers that hold 300,000 barrels of oil to the U.S., while for China they send "supertankers" that can hold as much as 2 million barrels, taking all the oil in one trip.
U.S.-bound shipments "end up being more expensive than those sent to China," Ramirez said.
In addition, PdVSA's joint venture with China National Petroleum Company, or CNPC, allows for both parties to split the transport cost evenly, Ramirez added.
Venezuela is planning heavy investments of $15 billion a year into its vast Orinoco heavy oil reserves in a bid to sharply increase output in upcoming years.
The Oil Ministry has said it aims to reach 3.5 million barrels a day in total production this year from 3 million. They plan to nearly double output by 2019.
The government's data, however, has been disputed by others like the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the International Energy Agency, both of which put current Venezuelan production closer to 2.4 million barrels daily.
-Kejal Vyas, Dow Jones Newswires; 58-414-249-6821; firstname.lastname@example.org
PDVSA says secures March deadline on Brazil refinery
Eyanir Chinea. Reuters. February 9, 2012
CARACAS, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA said on Thursday it had managed to extend until the end of March a deadline to make its contribution to a long-delayed refinery project with Brazil's Petrobras .
Petrobras said on Tuesday that PDVSA had failed to secure a $10 billion loan from Brazil's state-development bank BNDES that it was counting on to pay its 40-percent stake in the Abreu e Lima facility.
That was just the latest chapter in a six-year saga that began as a solidarity gesture between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and former Brazilian leader Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, but now strains Brazilian-Venezuelan relations.
"We presented a set of guarantees to BNDES ... We've conformed with all of their requirements and now we have a deadline up to March 31 of this year to finalize our entry (to the project)," Venezuelan Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez said.
He did not give more details.
Petrobras boss Jose Sergio Gabrielli had said on Tuesday that the BNDES loan was denied after PDVSA failed to give the bank sufficient guarantees. But it said Brazil's state-led oil company and its Venezuelan counterpart were still in talks.
The half-finished $14 billion Abreu e Lima project, on Brazil's northeast coast near Recife, aims to produce 230,000 barrels a day from the Marlim field in Brazil's Campos Basin and from the Carabobo field in Venezuela.
The refinery, which is way behind schedule and costing more than triple its original price tag, has yet to receive a penny from PDVSA, despite several grand ground-breaking ceremonies.
Petrobras has insisted it will complete the facility and operate it with or without PDVSA. It is one of five refineries Rio de Janeiro-based Petrobras is building in Brazil.
Venezuela's Chavez Offers A Peek At New Price Caps
Dow Jones. February 9, 2012
CARACAS -(Dow Jones)- Venezuela President Hugo Chavez gave a preview Thursday of new limits on the prices of many consumer goods in the country by unveiling lower prices on brands of bottled water and deodorant.
A five-liter bottle of water sold locally by Coca-Cola Femsa SAB (KOF, KOF.MX), Latin America's largest Coke bottler, will see its average price cut nearly in half to a fixed 12.45 bolivars, or about $2.90.
Chavez added that a deodorant marketed by Procter & Gamble Co. (PG) will be lowered by 24% to 13.50 bolivars or $3.14.
"We are not asking (companies) to lose money," Chavez said during a televised appearance. "Only that they profit in a rational manner, that they not steal from the people."
The Chavez government has undertaken a far-reaching expansion of price caps by examining the books of an estimated 16,000 firms that do business in Venezuela to determine "reasonable" profit for their products. Chavez has said he will seize companies that don't comply with government-set adjustments.
Officials launched the effort last year after passing the Law of Fair Prices and Costs but have held back the release of specific prices on a first wave of 19 items, mostly personal-hygiene and household-cleaning products, for several months now. The delay has unsettled local retailers as they wait to assess the impact of the measure on their operations.
On Thursday, Chavez said the announcement would be made in the next few days before revealing two of the coming changes.
Companies that face audits include local units of multinationals like Colgate-Palmolive Co. (CL), PepsiCo Inc. (PEP), H.J. Heinz Co. (HNZ), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Unilever PLC (UN, UL) and Nestle (NSRGY, NESN.VX), as well as local food distributor and packager Alimentos Polar.
Chavez, who is seeking re-election this October, has said rampant speculation in the private sector is responsible for the country's notoriously high inflation, which stood at an annualized rate of 26% in January.
Business leaders, however, say that the government's statist policies are the cause of economic imbalances that have produced the steep climb of consumer prices and wide-spread shortages of basic goods.
Venezuela deports paramilitary warlord to Colombia
FERNANDO LLANO. AP. February 10, 2012
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela turned over a prominent Colombian paramilitary warlord to Colombian authorities on Thursday.
Hector Buitrago, who is widely known as "Martin Llanos," was handed over to Colombian authorities at Caracas' international airport along with his brother, Nelson Buitrago, known as "Caballo."
They were captured on Saturday at a shopping center in the eastern Venezuelan town of El Tigre. The two are wanted on various charges including murder and drug trafficking.
Hector Buitrago, 44, is accused of unleashing a bloody war against rivals in 2003 in Colombia's eastern plains. About 1,000 combatants were killed and hundreds of people were displaced in the fighting.
In addition to murder and drug trafficking charges, Buitrago also faces charges of terrorism, torture and kidnapping.
His younger brother, 41-year-old Nelson Buitrago, has been sentenced in absentia to 38 years in prison for the 1997 killings of 11 judicial investigators in southeastern Meta state.
The brothers are accused of belonging to a right-wing paramilitary faction involved in drug trafficking.
Colombian authorities have said the brothers were in Venezuela for more than a year.
Gen. Oscar Naranjo, Colombia's national police director, said earlier this week that the two had left Colombia about five years ago and had moved between various countries, including Bolivia and Venezuela.
Colombian authorities have said the two were found in Venezuela by following the movements of relatives and members of their paramilitary group. Colombian officials had asked for assistance from Venezuela's National Anti-drug Office, which captured the men.
Venezuelan Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami announced the deportations at the airport and praised recent counter-drug cooperation with Colombian authorities.
The two were handed over along with a third man, Lebanese citizen Bachir Muhieddine Elghandour, who according to authorities used the alias Jhonathan Diaz Chacon. He was detained in Caracas in December and was wanted in Colombia for aggravated larceny, Venezuelan prosecutors said in a statement.
Colombia orders ex-peace commissioner Restrepo's arrest
BBC. February 10, 2012
An arrest warrant has been issued for a former Colombian peace commissioner on suspicion of faking the demobilisation of rebels.
Luis Carlos Restrepo allegedly staged the demobilisation by persuading criminals and unemployed people to pose as Farc rebels and hand themselves in to the authorities.
The warrant was issued after Mr Restrepo failed to attend eight court appointments.
Officials said he had left the country.
Mr Restrepo is the third close ally of the former President Alvaro Uribe to leave the country rather than face criminal charges.
He served as peace commissioner from 2002 to 2009.
Mr Restrepo had been ordered to appear before a court to explain his alleged role in the demobilisation of a group of left-wing Farc rebels.
The group handed themselves in to the authorities in 2006, but last year a number of those who had demobilised said they had never belonged to the rebel group.
They testified that they had been recruited in poor neighbourhoods of the capital, Bogota, and been paid to pretend to be rebels in order to inflate the number of Farc members who had demobilised.
The demobilisation of the group had been hailed as a success by the government of Mr Uribe, and questions about its veracity have enraged the former president.
Mr Uribe said the allegations against Mr Restrepo were part of a persecution by the judiciary against his cabinet.
Two other former officials from Mr Uribe's government have also left the country after charges were brought against them.
The former head of the secret police, the DAS, Maria del Pilar Hurtado, has been granted political asylum in Panama after she was accused of illegal phonetapping.
Former Interior Minister Sabas Pretelt de la Vega left his post as Ambassador to Rome and settled in Costa Rica after he was accused of bribery.
Mr Restrepo's current whereabouts are unknown, but officials confirmed he had left the country.
If convicted, he could face a sentence of at least six years in prison.
All three former officials have denied any wrongdoing.
Western Andean Region [contents]
Bolivia seizes 17 properties in drugs raids
AP. February 10, 2012
LA PAZ, Bolivia -- Bolivian authorities say they've seized 17 properties from a provincial clan ostensibly in the gravel business that it suspects of laundering drug money through real estate.
Cochabamba police chief Vladimir Pol says police were unable to capture any of the seven wanted brothers of the Cossio Rojas family when they raided the properties Wednesday. He says they did arrest two of the men's wives.
Prosecutors say some of the properties are in neighboring Chapare province, Bolivia's main coca-growing region.
Authorities say cocaine traffickers and their labs are getting more sophisticated in Bolivia, with Colombians and other foreigners increasingly involved in its illegal drugs trade.
Bolivia accuses US of spying on L America
Xinhua. February 10, 2012
LA PAZ - Bolivian President Evo Morales on Thursday accused the United States of spying on his and other Latin American countries.
The Bolivian president said the spying is done under the cover of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
"I am convinced that some NGOs, especially those funded by the USAID, are the fifth column of espionage in Bolivia, not only in Bolivia, but also in all of Latin America," Morales said during a press conference in Oruro, a southwestern Bolivian city.
Morales said the United States, through the cover of development aid operations of those organizations, knows "all the details of the activities of the social sectors and union leaders" in those Latin American countries.
The president regretted that some union leaders were allegedly used by these NGOs to stir disputes such as the one over a highway project in an indigenous territory in his country.
Morales has ordered to temporarily suspend the construction of the new highway amid strong public criticism for police crackdown on indigenous protesters in September last year.
Also at the press conference, the Bolivian president pledged to resolve the indigenous conflict through broad consultations based on international rules established by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Bolivian Constitution.
Chevron and Ecuador to arbitrate damages
AFP. February 10, 2012
Chevron and the Ecuadoran government have agreed to create an arbitration panel to review a $US9.5 billion ($A8.84 billion) judgment against the oil giant for damage to the Amazon rainforest, activists and the company said on Thursday.
The activists, who oppose the measure, said the move uses a controversial private enforcement procedure and could set a dangerous precedent by potentially cutting the award.
A statement by the groups Rainforest Action Network, Public Citizen and Amazon Watch said a panel of experts would meet this weekend in Washington.
Aaron Page, a United States lawyer who has represented indigenous Ecuadorans in the environmental damage case, said the panel would consider whether it has jurisdiction under the US-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Agreement.
The groups said the arbitration could "direct Ecuador to interfere in its judiciary system".
"We reject the process. It is a very dangerous precedent," said Rob Collier of Amazon Watch.
However, Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson said that the arbitration hearing was called "to address Ecuador's failure and refusal to comply with the tribunal's interim measures order directing Ecuador to take all measures at its disposal to prevent enforcement of the Lago (Agrio region) judgment, which the tribunal recently converted into an even more powerful interim award".
Lori Wallach, of Public Citizen, said this type of arbitration is normally used in cases of nationalisation and that the move is an effort to expand jurisdiction.
According to the activists, the panel will include three members - a US expert on international law chosen by Chevron, a British professor from Oxford chosen by Ecuador, and a third person chosen jointly who is a member of a British law firm.
Under the court decision announced last year, Chevron must make a public apology to the victims or pay double the amount of the judgment for environmental damage allegedly caused by oil operations in the Ecuadoran jungle between 1964 and 1990 by Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001.
The judgment - $US8.64 billion ($A8.04 billion) plus a 10 per cent fine - is the highest ever against an oil company for environmental damage.
Chevron has said it is pursuing efforts at an international tribunal and in the US courts to prevent enforcement of the ruling.
Spurned by president, Peru leftists protest mining
Reuters. February 9, 2012
Feb 9 (Reuters) - Left-wing activists and provincial politicians frustrated by President Ollanta Humala's move to the political center marched into Lima on Thursday to protest billions of dollars in government-backed mining projects proposed by foreign firms.
At least 1,000 people participating in a nine-day walk across the countryside arrived in the capital to pressure the government to withdraw support for the projects, which include U.S.-based Newmont Mining's $4.8 billion Conga mine and two projects by Southern Copper worth $1.8 billion.
The government wants to push ahead with $50 billion in mining projects, saying they are crucial to stoke expansion in one of Latin America's fastest-growing economies.
But the protesters say mining pollutes, soaks up scarce water supplies, and has historically failed to bring enough direct local benefits to impoverished rural towns in Peru.
They carried signs saying "there's gold, there's copper and the people are still poor," a phrase that rhymes in Spanish.
Peru is the world's second-largest copper, silver and zinc producer and Latin America's top gold producer. Mining fuels the economy by accounting for 60 percent of Peru's exports.
"We have to make a choice between mining and water," said Marco Arana, a former Roman Catholic priest and leader of the left-wing party Tierra y Libertad. He supported Humala in last year's presidential election but is now a fierce critic.
Humala, a former military officer shed his hard-line leftist past and reinvented himself as a moderate to win the presidency last June. He has embraced mainstream economic policies since taking office and forged strong ties to the business community that represents Peru's political right.
His swift political evolution has disappointed traditional allies and left his party with a tenuous working majority in Congress because of high-profile defections from his coalition.
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT QUESTIONED
Gregorio Santos, the top elected official in the region of Cajamarca, has led opposition to the Conga project and banded together with political leaders in Peru's 25 regions to pressure Humala.
"All regional leaders should unite to make the government address the issue of pollution and overuse of water by miners," he said.
Newmont says it has conducted an exhaustive environmental impact study for its mine, which has been cleared by the government but now faces stiff opposition.
It says the project would guarantee year-round water supplies, in part by building reservoirs that would replace a string of alpine lakes.
The Conga dispute is one of 200 environmental conflicts nationwide that Humala and Prime Minister Oscar Valdes are struggling to manage.
"I would like it if the march weren't political but rather technical - so that the leaders really make it clear what they see is the water problem," Valdes said.
Valdes has put the Conga project's disputed environmental impact study in the hands of international experts in hopes protesters will accept the verdict of what he says will be an objective audit.
Fernando Rospigliosi, a prominent columnist, said the march appeared to be more about ideology than water, especially because record rains have swollen rivers in Peru this month and caused floods.
"Heavy rains prove Arana and the anti-miners wrong: there's not a lack of water. There's a lack of infrastructure to dam and channel water," he said.
Humala’s Approval Rating Rises to Four-Month High, Poll Shows
John Quigley. Bloomberg. February 10, 2012
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala’s approval rating rose to a four-month high amid optimism the Andean nation will withstand the global slowdown, an opinion poll showed.
Humala’s approval rating climbed 8 percentage points from January to 58 percent, according to the Feb. 3-7 poll by Datum Internacional, which was published in Lima-based newspaper Peru21 today.
The rating slumped 22 percentage points in the fourth quarter as the economy slowed and street protests led Newmont Mining Corp. (NEM) to suspend its $4.8 billion gold project, clouding the outlook for investment as global demand slows. The economy expanded faster than expected in December as the government pumped up public investment as part of a $3.5 billion stimulus package, Finance Minister Miguel Castilla said Feb. 7.
Humala, who took office July 28, courted investors in Madrid last month and at the World Economic Forum in Davos as he seeks to spur investment in energy and infrastructure projects.
Of those surveyed, 65 percent thought the visit to Madrid will attract more investment to Peru, Datum said.
The company questioned 1,211 people and the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.
To contact the reporter on this story: John Quigley in Lima at email@example.com.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shining Path leader Artemio 'wounded during capture attempt'
Dan Collyns. The Guardian. February 10, 2012
The last free leader of the Shining Path, Florindo Eleuterio Flores-Hala, known by the nom de guerre of Artemio, has been wounded in a botched capture attempt by a faction of his own fighters and Peruvian special forces, according to a high-level source in the Peruvian military.
The 50-year-old leader, who heads a remnant group of guerrillas, was able to escape protected by a handful of loyal followers after a shoot-out in his jungle camp in the early hours of Thursday morning, according to the source and an investigative journalist website, IDL-Reporteros.
For more than two decades, Artemio has commanded a jungle faction of the brutal communist guerrilla movement in Peru's Upper Huallaga valley. He went into the cocaine trade in the early 1990s when most of the Shining Path leadership were either captured or killed. He is one of the US's most-wanted men – the state department's narcotics rewards programme offers a $5m reward for information leading to his arrest or conviction.
Initial reports suggest a faction of Shining Path fighters close to the leader may have coordinated the raid with special operatives from Peru's anti-drugs police.
The Peruvian government has not provided official comment on the raid but the country's anti-drugs police have been trying to capture Artemio for years. UN figures indicate Peru has overtaken Colombia as the biggest producer of coca leaf, used to make cocaine.
On Thursday police helicopters combed the thick jungle of the Upper Huallaga valley while commandos patrolled the banks of the Santa Rosa de Mishollo river, where the rebel leader is believed to have fled.
Gustavo Gorriti, director of IDL-Reporteros who, along with the Guardian, was the last journalist to interview Artemio in December 2011 said as more time elapsed the more chance the rebel leader had of evading capture.
"It is a fact that there was a shoot-out in Artemio camp, it is fact that Artemio was wounded but it appears the operation didn't end up as they expected.
"It's not the first time he has escaped being captured by the security forces", said Gorriti, a leading author on the Shining Path.
"But it appears to have been his narrowest escape."
Artemio is the only member of the Maoist-inspired faction's central committee who is still alive and at large. The movement's supreme leader, Abimael Guzman, known as "Presidente Gonzalo" to his fanatical followers, was caught in 1992, starting the group's rapid decline. Nearly 70,000 Peruvians were killed in the conflict between the state and the rebels in the 1980s and 90s.
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean [contents]
Mexico to Release Crime Statistics
EFE. February 10, 2012
MEXICO CITY – The Mexican government will begin to provide figures on serious crimes and in an initial announcement discussed the data on robberies, which last year showed a slight increase with respect to 2010.
During 2011, there were 669 robberies per 100,000 residents, a slight increase from the 657 such crimes per 100,000 residents reported in 2010. Also, last year there were 216 violent robberies per 100,000 residents, compared with 205 tallied in 2010.
The information was provided at a press conference by the executive secretary of the National Public Safety System, Jose Oscar Vega Marin, and agency spokesperson Jaime Lopez Arana.
Next week, Vega Marin said, the government will release the figures on kidnappings and over the following two weeks it will make public the figures on murders and acts of extortion.
The National Public Safety System compiles all the information on crime generated by Mexico’s federal, state and municipal governments.
The Attorney General’s Office a month ago raised to 47,515 the official death toll associated with organized crime between December 2006 and September 2011, bringing up to date the figures on murder after different social organizations exerted pressure to get the government to release the data. EFE
Mexican army chief admits mistakes in drug war
AP. February 10, 2012
MEXICO CITY -- The Mexican army's highest official concedes the military has committed errors in the fight against organized crime and drug traffickers but says those responsible have been punished.
National and international human rights groups have accused Mexican soldiers and marines of abusing suspects and contend the guilty evade punishment in the military justice system.
Defense Secretary Guillermo Galvan said during a ceremony Thursday pledging loyalty to the president that "there have certainly been mistakes."
The government recently acknowledged that a general and 29 soldiers have been charged with carrying out torture, homicide and drug-trafficking in a town on the border with the U.S.
Long-hidden archives help Guatemala war crimes trials
Mike McDonald. Reuters. February 8, 2012
GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - The secrets from a vault of moldy documents long covered in bat and rat droppings could soon help to put former top Guatemalan officials behind bars, years after the country's brutal civil war ended in 1996.
Clues found in the millions of police documents have lifted a lid on government repression during the 36-year war, and provided enough evidence to start sending cases to trial.
For the first time in Guatemala's history, a former police chief now faces trial based on evidence collected from the national police archives, a labyrinth of dark rooms found by chance in 2005 when an explosion tore through a dilapidated building being used as a munitions dump.
Hector Bol de la Cruz, former director of the national police, is charged in the case of Fernando Garcia, a 27-year old student activist who disappeared on February 18, 1984 and was never seen again by his family.
The first hearing is on hold pending an appeal by a defense lawyer to remove one of the judges in the case.
Garcia's relatives say the trial offers them the hope of finally finding out what happened to him.
"I think about how my dad would feel," said Alejandra Garcia, Fernando's daughter, who was a baby when her father disappeared. "He would be happy to finally see a little bit of justice in this country."
The chaotic jumble of archive papers and handwritten log books are being dusted off, digitally scanned and backed up on secure servers outside the country by rights groups so that prosecutors can sift them to solve crimes from the civil war.
The process could take years, and the cumbersome work means that only three cases are now being processed using material from the archive, which houses 80 million pages of documents that stretch back to the 1800s and include portraits and profile information on suspected leftists, even down to their daily walking routes. Hundreds of other prosecutions could follow.
Families of roughly 45,000 missing leftists have contacted local rights groups to help them find information about their relatives in the archives. Prosecutors have projected images of the documents on courtroom walls to build their cases and win support from judges.
Guatemala made the documents accessible to the public in 2009, and some 12 million digitalized copies from the archives have been published online by the University of Texas at Austin.
Relatives of some of the civil war victims see the trials as ending decades of impunity for those who ordered the abduction, torture and murder of thousands of suspected leftists.
However, building strong cases is difficult and convictions of former security officials have been few and far between.
Human rights lawyers say success in the cases would bring Guatemala into the ranks of countries like Rwanda and Germany, which held former government officials and military officers responsible for atrocities.
A U.N.-backed "Truth Commission" set up under 1996 peace accords concluded that the military was responsible for more than 85 percent of human rights violations during the war, which claimed the lives of around 250,000 people.
But the army still has a powerful presence in Guatemala. Otto Perez, a retired general and former head of military intelligence, was elected president late last year and took office in January. Some fear he will be wary of letting war crime trials move forward, although he insists he won't impede justice.
"The president cannot interfere with judicial proceedings," Perez said. "We have no reason to remove those in the judicial branch who are doing their job well."
During the conflict, police worked closely with the army to stamp out an armed guerrilla movement. The police archives could unearth evidence of those links, investigators say.
"These documents have been fundamental," said Alejandra Garcia, now a 29-year-old attorney. "They have shown that my dad was captured by state forces, what happened and where and who was involved."
When Fernando Garcia failed to show up for a family party, Alejandra's mother scooped her up and carried her round the capital in a frantic hunt, hearing from witnesses that her husband was snatched by men in an unmarked white pick-up truck.
Thousands of political dissidents and intellectuals were being targeted by the police and the army's counterinsurgency units at the time, and the Garcias feared the worst.
At police headquarters, then chief Bol de la Cruz said he knew nothing of the incident. The family took their complaint all the way to President Oscar Mejia, who also denied having any information on Fernando's whereabouts.
But investigators from the human rights ombudsman and attorney general's office say they found enough evidence in the archives to charge Bol de la Cruz with ordering Garcia's detention and subsequent disappearance. The 71-year-old former police chief denies participating in abductions and says he is innocent.
Among the police documents presented by prosecutors is a record officially praising officer Jorge Gomez and at least two others for participating in the arrest of "subversive criminals" on February 18, 1984 in the same location as Garcia's disappearance.
Gomez ordered a patrol car with four officers to monitor the street where Garcia vanished. Two of those policemen were sentenced to 40 years in prison in 2010 based on evidence from the police archive for forced disappearances and the other two have been declared fugitives.
Bol de la Cruz is waiting for a decision on an appeal in which his lawyers argued that the same judge who sentenced two of his policemen in 2010 should not be allowed to hear his case.
The records are being cross-checked with forensic evidence from excavations at Guatemala City's public cemetery, where security forces dumped bodies in mass graves identifying them only as "XX".
"Without the archives, it wouldn't have been possible to arrest anyone," said Mario Polanco, who leads a victims' rights group. "In some of these cases, 90 percent of the information we have comes from the archives."
The maze of dusty, gray cinderblock walls inside the old police station that contain the cache of documents held another secret: investigators found entrances to what was likely a clandestine prison, with tiny, barely-inhabitable spaces, some with old mattresses or discarded medicine bottles.
Archive researchers suspect that some of the people whose fate they are trying to uncover might have been tortured and killed right there.
Most attribute the recent successes of long-cobwebbed human rights cases to Guatemala's new attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz. She worked as a human rights activist before being appointed in December 2010 after her predecessors were disgraced in corruption scandals.
With her backing, Guatemala's most notorious dictator Efrain Rios Montt, who ruled during the bloodiest period of the civil war in 1982 and 1983, is set to be tried for genocide, a milestone for those who spent years pushing for his prosecution.
Rios Montt's lawyers argue that he cannot be held accountable for the actions of military leaders in wartime. "Each commander is responsible for making decisions at his own post and this decentralizes the chain of command," said his attorney, Danilo Rodriguez.
(Editing by Mica Rosenberg and Kieran Murray)
Honduran mining set for boost from new mining law
Dorothy Kosich. MineWeb. February 9, 2012
Two major developments beneficial to mining are on the horizon for Honduras including a new mining law and a mining cooperation agreement with Chile.
The Committees of the National Congress of Honduras have completed their report on a proposed new Mining Law and have submitted a draft of the legislation to Congress for their approval.
Committee Chairman Rep. Reyes Donaldo Avelar has met with environmental groups, the mining sector and officials from the Direccion de Fomento a la Minera or the Directorate of Mining Development (DEFOMIN), according to a report by El Horado.
DEFOMIN estimates that the new mining law could attract $330 million in new mining investment to Honduras.
Aldo Santos, chief of DEFOMIN, said he is confident that the new law will be enacted early this year.
Junior explorer Mustang Alliances reported that the new law include an acceleration of the licensing process and simplification of rules for mining companies planning to operate in Honduras.
Despite the lack of new legislation, Santos told El Heraldo, mining activity in Honduras generated $288 million in exports in 2010. He noted that 17 mining exploration contracts were approved in Honduras last year, 14 more than in 2010.
CHILE-HONDURAS MINING AGREEMENT
Recently Chile and Honduras signed a mining cooperative agreement in which Chile will provide technical assistance for the development of the Honduran mining sector. The two nations will also promote joint projects in the mining sector, according to a report in La Prensa.
The agreement was signed by Honduras' Minister of Natural Resources and Environment (SEMA), Rigoberto Cuellar, and Pablo Wagner, Chile's deputy minister of mines.
"Although research shows that Honduras has metal deposits such as gold, silver, copper, lead, iron, zinc, and deposits of antimony, marble and precious stones, unfortunately, this mining potential has not been exploited," Wagner observed.
The agreement allows the two nations to jointly develop mining projects, share tools and information pertaining to geology, steel manufacturing, mining process development, and improve environmental regulation, mining development, and control and socialization of artisanal mining.
"We are very encouraged by the submission of the mining law to Congress for ratification together with the confident statements of DEFOMIN Director Santos and the signing of the agreement with Chile," said Mustang President Robert Faber. "This indicates that the government of Honduras is serious about encouraging private sector investment in the mining sector."
"The passing of the Mining Law will stimulate investment and provide a framework for the big mining companies to return to Honduras," Faber predicted.
Mustang is focused on the acquisition and development of precious metals properties in Honduras, including concessions in the Choluteca District of the country.
Panama Indians win withdrawal of dam, mines law
AP. February 10, 2012
PANAMA CITY -- Legislators in Panama have agreed to reconsider a law on dams and mining that set off disruptive protests by Indians and their supporters.
The decision is a partial victory for the Ngobe-Bugle tribe, which has led highway blockades since Jan. 30 to oppose the new law. Its initial approval last month drew anger because it would theoretically allow the construction of dams on Indian lands in western Panama.
A congressional commission decided late Wednesday to return the law to debate, and Indian representatives and legislators have begun discussions on possible modifications.
Laws in Panama must win approval in three separate votes in Congress.
Nicaragua: The Sandinista Revolution Continues!
Dan Kovalik. Huffington Post. February 9, 2012
Back in the 1980s, thousands of Americans travelled to Nicaragua to see the Sandinista Revolution for themselves, and to show solidarity with the Nicaraguan people who were being victimized at the time by the U.S.-sponsored Contra War. I myself travelled at the age of 19 to Nicaragua in 1987 to do reforestation work for a month in Ocotal, Nicaragua with the Nicaragua Network. The very next summer, in 1988, I drove to Nicaragua from Dayton, Ohio with the Veterans Peace Convoy.
Those were heady and exciting days, and the impression that Nicaragua and its revolution made on many of us has been indelible. It was indeed in Nicaragua that I, a devout Roman Catholic at the time from a very conservative, pro-Reagan family, had my eyes opened to the realities of U.S. policy in Latin American. What I learned there is that the U.S. is not the force for good that I was raised to believe. Instead, I came to realize, the U.S. was bent on dominating poor countries by any means necessary, including through dictatorship -- in the case of Nicaragua, through the long-time Somoza dictatorship which the U.S. installed in the 1930s and continued to support until its overthrow by the Nicaraguan people, led by the Sandinistas, in 1979.
Then, when the U.S.'s dictator was dethroned, it turned to supporting the Contra terrorists to try to undermine the new, fledging revolutionary government through the murder of civilians, including doctors and teachers, and through the destruction of civilian infrastructure. As Daniel Ellsberg had said in the context of the Vietnam War, the U.S., in the case of Nicaragua "is not on the wrong side; it is the wrong side."
For the most part, one struggles to find many in the U.S. today who still carry a torch for the Sandinistas and their revolution. Most people I encounter either know nothing-to-little about it, or, if they do know, they believe that the Sandinistas, now back in the government since 2007, are not what they once were. I myself do not share this view. Since I was a young man, I have believed in the Sandinistas, and the latest news from Nicaragua has only confirmed my loyalty.
For example, while the rest of Central America, as well as its neighbor Mexico, have been steeped in the worst violence, much of it drug-related, since the wars of the 1980s, the Sandinistas have largely fended off such violence. And, you don't take my word for it, or the word of the left-wing press. Rather, it is the The Economist magazine which tells us this. Thus, in a story entitled, "Crime in Nicaragua, a Safe Haven," The Economist explains:
Amid this inferno [of violence in Central America] Nicaragua, the poorest country in mainland Latin America, is remarkably safe. Whereas Honduras's murder rate in 2010 was 82 per 100,000 people, the world's highest in over a decade, Nicaragua's was just 13, unchanged in five years. That means it is now less violent than booming Panama, and may soon be safer than Costa Rica, a tourist haven.
And, the Sandinistas have fought crime through revolutionary means, as The Economist explains. Thus, in Nicaragua:
Officers are aided by 100,000 volunteers. They include law and psychology students; 10,000 former gang members, who mentor youths via baseball in the barrios; and nearly 4,000 domestic-violence victims, who persuade women to speak out.
This is quite impressive given that Nicaragua's neighbor Honduras, where a U.S.-supported coup overthrew the government of democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, is now the murder capital of the world and the most dangerous country in the world to be a journalist. The violence is so bad in Honduras, in fact, that the U.S. just pulled the Peace Corps out of that country.
In addition, Nicaragua is leading the way in renewable energy. As an article in the Nicaragua Dispatch explains, when the Sandinistas regained power in 2007, they inherited a "modern 'dark age,'" with daily blackouts throughout the country, and an "aging power grid" which could not produce enough energy for the nation. However, as the Nicaragua Dispatch explains:
That was then. Five years later, Nicaragua's future is looking a lot brighter. Since returning to power in 2007, the Sandinista government has worked with the private sector and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez to fix the immediate energy problem by installing an additional capacity of 343 megawatts of power -- 41 percent more power than Nicaragua was producing five years ago...
With electricity demand finally being met, the government is now moving to phase II of its energy revival: Switching to renewable energy and weaning Nicaragua off its insalubrious and dipsomaniacal craving for foreign oil...
Geothermal production has increased and Nicaragua has started a very successful foray in to wind-energy production...
By the end of 2012 -- a year the U.N. has dubbed "The Year for Sustainable Energy for All" -- Nicaragua hopes to reduce its dependency on foreign oil by an additional 10 percent, finishing the year with an energy matrix that is 40 percent from renewable sources (hydroelectric, geothermal, wind and biomass).
And that's just the beginning. By 2016, once the massive Tumarín hydroelectric plant comes on line, generating an additional 253 megawatts of power (50 percent of the country's total energy demand), Nicaragua will generate 94 percent of its own electricity from renewable energy sources, and only have to pony up to world oil costs to cover the remaining 6 percent.
That means in a five-year period, Nicaragua will have gone from being the most oil-dependent nation in Central America, to the least.
This would be an impressive feat for any country, including the U.S., but it is a near-miraculous feat for a country which is the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere. Meanwhile, the Sandinistas have done much to reduce poverty and improve living standards in Nicaragua since 2007. As the Nicaragua Network explains in a wonderful article entitled, "Sandinista government has made improvements in people's lives:"
The Ortega government has made dramatic strides in reducing hunger, malnutrition, and providing food security -- strides which have drawn praise from the United Nations, the Food and Agriculture Organization ( FAO) , and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture ( IICA ). In its three years, the government has reduced the percentage of Nicaraguans who are malnourished from 27 percent to 22 percent. In July 2009, the government passed the historic Law for Food and Nutritional Sovereignty and Security which commits the government to promote programs that assure the adequate availability and equitable distribution of safe, nutritious food. Citing the government's Zero Hunger Program, school nutrition program, infant malnutrition program, and the National Food Program, among others, the FAO representative in Nicaragua, Dr. Gero Vaagt said: 'The Nicaraguan government gives great importance to food and nutritional security, which is reflected in the efforts it has made on the national level with small farmers, poor peasants, and the most vulnerable segments of the population to improve the food situation for all Nicaraguans.'
The same article explains that "[t]he Ortega government has slashed the illiteracy rate by 85 percent;" now provides free daily meals to 1,000,000 students; provides "free, quality, universal health care for all Nicaraguans;" realized great strides in reducing the maternal mortality rate as well as the incidence of malaria; and has built homes for thousands of poor Nicaraguans.
Such successes have led fellow revolutionaries in Central America to applaud the Sandinistas and Nicaraguan President, Daniel Ortega. As the Global Post relates:
'In contrast to the governments of Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador, which have been losing strength over time, Ortega has been gaining,' said former Salvadoran guerrilla leader Joaquin Villalobos. Villalobos said Ortega is more politically savvy than Chavez and other leftist leaders. And the Nicaraguan model -- a steadily growing market economy that has attained macroeconomic stability and a solid working relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) -- is much different from that of any other ALBA nation.
In short, despite the incessant jibes at the Nicaraguan government by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- who instead prefers the new president of Guatemala, a former general involved in the atrocities against the Mayan Indians in the 1980s -- the Sandinista government is continuing the revolutionary process and social strides it began in 1979 but was unable to continue due to the U.S. counter-revolutionary war of the 1980s. This is something all people of good will can take heart from.
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration [contents]
AFP. February 10, 2012
MIAMI — The US military announced Thursday it is joining a large international operation against drug smuggling and organized crime off the coast of Central America.
Military units from Europe and Latin America are also participating.
An interagency group of the US military's Southern Command is working with the multinational force's efforts to detect and stop smuggling of illegal drugs, weapons and large amounts of laundered money.
"More than 80 percent of the cocaine destined for US markets is transported via sea lanes, primarily using littoral routes through Central America," said Southern Command chief General Douglas Fraser. "We intend to disrupt their operations by limiting their ability to use Central America as a transit zone."
The US force is composed of 10 ships from the Navy and Coast Guard.
The Navy is in charge of detection and providing information about criminal activity. The Coast Guard is in charge of stopping the smugglers.
Southern Command officials told AFP that 13 countries are participating: Britain, Canada, Belize, Colombia, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Spain and the United States.
"We know that criminal organizations are very active in coastal waters of Central America," said Jose Ruiz, spokesman for the Southern Command in Miami.
They regularly move between international waters and specific countries, "so it is especially important that all countries in the region cooperate in the control," Ruiz said.
No completion date has been set for the action, called Operation Hammer, which began the last week of January. "It will be determined as we advance toward the goals," Ruiz said.
In 2011, the Southern Command assisted other agencies in seizing 119 metric tons of cocaine, worth an estimated $2.35 billion, in Central America.
Also seized were $21 million in cash and $16 million in black market items that were destined for money laundering by criminal groups, according to the Southern Command.
IDB Capital Increased by $70 Billion for Latin America Lending
Raymond Colitt. Bloomberg. February 9, 2012
Member countries will give the Inter- American Development Bank a capital increase of $70 billion to increase funding in Latin America, the Washington-based lender said.
Its 48 member countries will inject $1.7 billion over five years and pledge to make available the remaining amount if needed, the bank said in a statement on its website today.
The capital boost approved by the Board of Governors on Jan. 31 will allow the IDB to provide annual financing of $12 billion through 2021, up from an average of $8 billion over the past decade, according to the statement. The focus of its activities will be on smaller economies.
The financial injection coincides with a period of robust growth in Latin America. The region’s economies grew by 4.6 percent on average last year, compared with 1.6 percent growth for advanced economies, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Demand for development lending in the region accelerated after the global financial crisis in 2008, particularly in more vulnerable, smaller economies, according to the IDB website.
The IDB, which was created in 1959, provides loans, grants, and technical assistance to partners in Latin America and the Caribbean on a range of projects from poverty reduction to climate change and regional integration.
The IDB’s largest shareholder is the U.S., with Brazil and Argentina in second place with equal shares. The 22 non- borrowing members that contribute capital and have voting rights include the U.S., Canada, Japan, Israel, Korea, China and 16 European countries.
The most recent capital increase was approved in 1995 and finalized in 1999.
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In Latin America, Chinese cars are gaining buyers
Adriana Leon and Chris Kraul. Los Angeles Times. February 9, 2012
At first, Lima taxi driver Mario Segura was disgusted by the thought of buying a Chinese-made car. He had doubts about the vehicles' durability, service and resale value.
But favorable word of mouth, assurances that spare parts are plentiful and, of course, unbelievably low prices won him over.
"Little by little, I heard favorable comments," said Segura, speaking in a Chery showroom in the Surquillo district. He had just plunked down $12,000 in cash for a new Fullwin XR sedan, half the cost, he said, of a comparable Fiat or Renault. "It took a long time to decide, but I'm risking it."
So is Luis Luna, a doctor just back in Lima after working for several years in Argentina. He had planned on buying a secondhand Japanese car. Until, that is, he noticed billboards touting low-priced Chinese brands and listened as his relatives insisted that he kick tires at a JAC dealership, one of dozens of Chinese brands sold here.
"We realized for the same money that we'd pay for a crummy secondhand car that inspired no confidence, we could have a brand-new Chinese car with a two-year warranty," Luna said as he finished paperwork on his new $16,000 JAC B-Cross family wagon. "I'm totally convinced this is the right decision."
Similar buyer testimonials can be heard across Latin America these days, where Chinese cars with unfamiliar brand names like Great Wall, JAC, Brilliance and Sinotruk are selling like hot cakes. Chinese cars were introduced in Peru in 2006 and now one in six new cars sold here is a Chinese make.
There are no fewer than 90 Chinese car manufacturers to choose from, according to the trade group Automobile Assn. of Peru. The Chinese auto industry has yet to undergo the winnowing process that, over a century of competition, has reduced the U.S. car industry to three big players.
The Chinese brands' main selling point is, of course, price: New Chinese cars typically sell for half to two-thirds the cost of a comparable European, U.S. or Japanese vehicle, said Guido Vildozo, an auto industry expert with consultants IHS Automotive in Lexington, Mass.
"What makes Chinese cars so much cheaper? Start with labor," Vildozo said, noting that a typical Chinese autoworker makes $300 to $400 a month, a fraction of the $2,000 to $3,000 in wages that Mexican workers make or the $5,000 to $7,000 a month that U.S. auto workers average.
Another price advantage, said Jian Sun, a partner with AT Kearney business consultants in Shanghai, stems from the "reverse engineering," or design and mechanical imitation, that many Chinese carmakers use in competing models to save them the expense of designing new models from scratch.
Chinese manufacturers are entering the market as Latin American incomes are rising to unprecedented levels, flush from the decade-long global commodities boom filtering down to an expanding consumer class.
Augusto de la Torre, chief Latin America economist at the World Bank, said the region's middle class now encompasses 30% of its population of 570 million, up from 20% in 2002.
In Colombia, where the economy is thriving on global sales of its oil, coal, coffee and bananas, the increase in disposable income is especially dramatic. Bank of Bogota economist Camilo Perez said economic output per capita has nearly doubled in five years, to $6,700 last year from the $3,400 average in 2006.
So it comes as no surprise that car sales are accelerating. New units sold last year in Colombia totaled 325,000, a 28% increase from 2010. New car sales in Peru totaled more than 100,000 last year, up 26% from the previous year.
According to Scotiabank,Brazil'scar sales will grow to 2.8 million in 2012, up 4% from last year, but in a much larger population base than those of its neighbors.
The expanding new-car market is what attracted Chinese automakers, who see Latin America as a proving ground for its plan to conquer the world car market in coming decades. According to AT Kearney, China exported 800,000 cars last year but hopes to boost that number to 2 million by 2015 and to 3 million by 2020.
The Latin focus is also explained, AT Kearney's Jian said, by the fact that Chinese manufacturers are not yet prepared to tackle the U.S. and European markets, which are more demanding in quality and emissions standards. The competition is less intense and the regulatory restrictions are lower in emerging markets, he said. China and these regions share similar road conditions, emission controls and safety standards.
(The domestic Chinese car market, where sales last year totaled about 18 million vehicles, is the largest in the world, far surpassing that of the U.S., where about 12.8 million new cars and trucks were sold in 2011.)
Many buyers, like Antonio Benevides, a 26-year-old theme park worker in Bogota, are first-time owners. In early December, he bought a new Chery QQ model for $9,000, two-thirds the cost of a comparable Renault he had considered.
"That difference in price is what put a new car within my reach for the first time," Benevides said as he drove his car off the dealership lot near Bogota's international airport. "I've heard they hold together well, that they are cheap to operate and, as you can see, they are not bad looking."
Special correspondents Leon reported from Lima and Kraul from Bogota.
Santorum, Republicans in Congress want to replay Cold War in Latin America
JUAN BLANCO PRADA. McClatchy. February 10, 2012
Rick Santorum's recent electoral victories aren't welcome news in most of Latin America. Nor is the increasingly hostile rhetoric coming out of Republicans in Congress.
Santorum is one of the most hawkish candidates in the Republican presidential field. He has referred to Cuba in terms that could have been used on the bitterest days of the Cold War, calling Havana "the heart of the cancer that is in Central and South America." And he has criticized President Obama for having "a consistent policy of siding with the leftists, siding with the Marxists" in the Western Hemisphere. That would surprise anyone in Honduras, since the Obama administration was quick to recognize the right-wing government that came to power in disputed elections after a 2009 military coup.
Santorum has also been trumpeting a threat from a supposed Iranian-Latin American connection. Here, he has taken the lead from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who recently held a hearing on the subject.
The main witness at the hearing was Norman Bailey of the American Foreign Policy Council, a conservative think tank. According to Bailey, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent tour of Ecuador, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba had the purpose of establishing or reinforcing existing networks of terrorist cells and training camps connected to Hezbollah and local drug cartels.
Bailey stated that Iran has established Hezbollah-manned training camps in Venezuela to train Venezuelans to attack American targets. He went so far as to mention "unconfirmed" reports that Venezuela also hosts Iranian missile bases from which Iran could reach American territory. Despite his alarming tone, neither Bailey nor any of the other witnesses were able to present any hard evidence or intelligence reports to back their statements.
Most of what they claimed as supporting evidence referred to the alleged (and dubious) Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador with Mexican drug traffickers as hired guns, and to an alleged (and dubious) Venezuelan plot to conduct cyber-attacks on American targets using Mexican students. Ros-Lehtinen has seized on these unproven allegations to successfully push for the expulsion of the Venezuelan consul in Miami. Now she is asking for the designation of Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism, which would open the door for hostile measures such as trade barriers, sanctions and penalties for other countries that cooperate with Venezuela.
What Ros-Lehtinen and Santorum fail to realize is that Latin Americans have long ago grown weary of U.S. interventions and are now resolving most regional issues with the intentional exclusion of the United States, a choice preferred even by some of Washington's staunchest allies. A return to Cold War rhetoric and policies in Latin America would only serve to alienate them further.
Juan Blanco Prada is a writer for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 409 East Main Street, Madison, Wis. 53703; email: email@example.com; Web site: www.progressive.org. For information on PMP's funding, please visit http://www.progressive.org/pmpabout.html#anchorsupport.