Latin America News Round-up
March 5, 2012
US Eyes Suspending Trade Benefits for Argentina
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Brazil and Southern Cone
Biden travels to Latin America amid drug decriminalization debate
Brazil warns US over cancelled aircraft deal. Financial Times
Brazil President: Easy Money Similar To Trade Tariffs. Dow Jones
Slum Dwellers Are Defying Brazil’s Grand Design for Olympics. New York Times
US eyes suspending trade benefits for Argentina. Reuters
Argentina Ordered to Pay Interest on Defaulted Debt, Nacion Says. Bloomberg
Northern Andean Region
Venezuela government, opposition cast blame after violence. Reuters
Hugo Chavez says new tumor was cancerous. AP
Venezuela Suspends Gun Imports for a Year. EFE
PDVSA Said to Consider Lower Orinoco Venture Stakes for Hong Kong Listing. Bloomberg
Venezuela's Opec stand is a win for climate change campaigners. The Guardian
Colombia's Santos to meet Venezuela's Chavez in Cuba. Colombia Reports
49 Human Rights Activists Killed in Colombia Last Year, Report Says. EFE
Colombia chief prosecutor Viviane Morales resigns. BBC
Western Andean Region
Ecuador Plaintiffs to Target Chevron’s Assets in Venezuela, Panama. EFE
Ecuador, Peru Plan To Sign Agreement In June To Use Pipeline. Dow Jones
Bolivians fight over quinoa land. AP
Brother of Peru's president in prison transfer. AP
Peru arrests Shining Path rebel leader. Al Jazeera
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean
Drug allegations may hamper former Mexico ruling party's return. Los Angeles Times
The Mexican Election and the Split on the Left. Upside Down World
Nicaragua bids to stem deforestation with eco-soldiers. BBC
Listen to the women of Honduras. The Ottawa Citizen
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration
Biden travels to Latin America amid drug decriminalization debate. AP
Biden Visits Mexico, Honduras Amid Calls to Debate Drug Strategy. Bloomberg
Brazil and Southern Cone [contents]
Brazil warns US over cancelled aircraft deal
Joe Leahy and Arash Massoudi. Financial Times. March 3, 2012
The Brazilian government has warned Washington that the abrupt cancellation by the US Air Force of an order of warplanes from Embraer, the country’s aircraft manufacturer, could damage military relations.
The statement came as court documents showed the Air Force will reopen the bidding process to allow US manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft, which was dumped in favour of Embraer and its US partner Sierra Nevada Corp, back into the contest.
“The Brazilian government learnt with surprise of the suspension of the bid process to purchase A-29 Super Tucano aircraft by the United States Air Force, in particular due to its manner and timing,” the foreign affairs ministry said, referring to Embraer’s light attack aircraft.
“This development is not considered conducive to strengthening relations between the two countries on defence affairs.”
The strong statement from the Brazilian government comes as Dilma Rousseff is preparing to visit Washington next month in her first trip to the US as president.
The deal between the US Air Force and Embraer and Sierra Nevada was regarded as an important sign that the sometimes strained ties between the two most important powers in the Americas were improving.
The Tucano contract cancellation is an embarrassment for the US Air Force and follows a previous controversy over the Pentagon’s handling of a contract for refuelling aircraft in which a European-backed consortium, Northrop-EADS, lost out to Boeing of the US.
William Burns, US deputy secretary of state, said during a visit to Brazil this week that the US “remained interested” in the Tucano.
Worth an initial $355m, the order for 20 light attack aircraft for use in Afghanistan was the first US military aircraft deal for Embraer.
It was seen as an important step towards closer defence relations between Brasília and Washington, which Brazil will need to win US support for its bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
The Air Force has yet to explain why it suddenly cancelled the contract this week, saying only that it found problems with the documentation.
The debate over the contract had taken on a nationalist tinge, with Hawker Beechcraft and Sierra Nevada-Embraer each claiming their proposals would create more US jobs.
A court document said the Air Force intended to “reinstate Hawker to the competitive range, accept new proposals from Hawker and SNC, conduct meaningful discussions with the parties, and re-evaluate proposals”.
“The Air Force also reserves the right to conduct a whole new competition,” the ruling in the US Court of Federal Claims said.
Any extended bidding process, however, would jeopardise the project, whose budget expires next year.
Richard Aboulafia, analyst at the Teal Group, a defence and aerospace consultancy, said the Air Force might have had to cancel the contract anyway given deteriorating relations with Afghan forces after US personnel burned copies of the Koran last month.
“There were valid legal reasons to cancel this contract. Are there even more valid political ones? Oh dear God, yes,” he said.
Brazil President: Easy Money Similar To Trade Tariffs
Dow Jones. March 5, 2012
SAO PAULO – Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff criticized the measures taken by the central banks of developed economies to pump vast amounts of money into financial markets, saying on Monday that they are equivalent to a tax on trade.
The Bank for International Settlements recently reported that the central banks of developed economies have injected $8.8 trillion into the global economy since the start of the financial crisis, which Rousseff said caused an artificial depreciation of their currencies.
"When you have this level of expansion, you produce two effects: one is the artificial depreciation of a currency," Rousseff said, according to a recording of conversation with reporters on the presidential website. "The other serious problem is that you have a mass of money that doesn't go to the real economy. What do you get? Bubbles and speculation."
Rousseff said that Brazil, along with other developing economies, has seen the effect of that vast pool of money in the global economy.
"What is happening is equivalent to a trade barrier. And everyone complains about taxes on trade, about protectionism," Rousseff said from Hannover, Germany, where she is meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "I recognize that it's a defense mechanism, but you just buy yourself time" by devaluing a country's currency through those means, Rousseff said.
Rousseff said she will discuss the matter with Merkel on Monday. Asked if the discussions would amount to an infringement of the European Central Bank's autonomy, Rousseff said that the actions of other central banks have interfered with Brazil's own central bank policy.
In the meantime, Brazil will continue to enact measures to protect its economy from the tsunami of foreign currencies, Rousseff told reporters. The president cited measures such as the expansion of the so-called IOF tax on overseas loans as one example of measures the government will take to keep its currency from strengthening too much, which in turn harms the competitiveness of Brazil's exports.
Rousseff also criticized on Monday her own foreign-affairs adviser, Marco Aurelio Garcia, who told reporters Sunday that Brazil's central bank will lower rates.
Garcia said that the benchmark interest rate will see a "moderate" reduction this week when policy makers meet March 7.
"The person who discusses rates in my government is the Central Bank, it's Alexandre Tombini," Rousseff said Monday during her session with reporters. "Neither I nor anyone in my government is authorized to talk about rates."
Slum Dwellers Are Defying Brazil’s Grand Design for Olympics
SIMON ROMERO. New York Times. March 4, 2012
RIO DE JANEIRO — It was supposed to be a triumphant moment for Brazil.
Gearing up for the 2016 Olympic Games to be held here, officials celebrated plans for a futuristic “Olympic Park,” replete with a waterside park and athlete villages, promoting it as “a new piece of the city.”
There was just one problem: the 4,000 people who already live in that part of Rio de Janeiro, in a decades-old squatter settlement that the city wants to tear down. Refusing to go quietly and taking their fight to the courts and the streets, they have been a thorn in the side of the government for months.
“The authorities think progress is demolishing our community just so they can host the Olympics for a few weeks,” said Cenira dos Santos, 44, who owns a home in the settlement, which is known as Vila Autódromo. “But we’ve shocked them by resisting.”
For many Brazilians, holding the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Olympics on Brazilian soil is the ultimate expression of the nation’s elevation on the world stage, and the events are perfect symbols of its newfound economic prowess and international standing.
But some of the strengths that have enabled Brazil’s democratic rise as a regional power — the vigorous expansion of its middle class, the independence of its news media and the growing expectations of its populace — are bedeviling the preparations for both events.
At stadium sites, construction workers, eager to share in the surging wealth around them and newly empowered by the nation’s historically low unemployment rate, are pushing aggressively for wage increases.
Unions have already held strikes in at least eight cities where stadiums for the soccer tournament are being built or refurbished, including a stoppage in February by 500 laborers in the northeast city of Fortaleza, and a national movement of 25,000 workers at World Cup sites has threatened to go on strike.
Construction delays are fueling problems with FIFA, soccer’s world governing body. The group’s secretary general, Jerome Valcke, said late last week that Brazilian organizers were falling behind, adding, “You have to push yourself, kick your arse.” Brazil’s sports minister hit back over the weekend, saying Mr. Valcke’s comments were “offensive.”
Meanwhile, residents in some of the favelas, or slums, who face eviction are pulling together and standing their ground, in stark contrast to the preparations for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where authorities easily removed hundreds of thousands of families from the city for the Games.
Favela residents are using handheld video cameras and social media to get their messages across. And they are sometimes getting a helping hand from Brazil’s vibrant and crusading news media, arguably the envy of other Latin American countries.
Not only have the news media and newly-created blogs focused attention on the evictions, but they have also dogged officials with their own pursuit of corruption allegations swirling around the Olympic and World Cup plans.
“These events were supposed to celebrate Brazil’s accomplishments, but the opposite is happening,” said Christopher Gaffney, a professor at Rio’s Fluminense Federal University. “We’re seeing an insidious pattern of trampling on the rights of the poor and cost overruns that are a nightmare.”
Brazil’s political culture has done its share in contributing to delays, with corruption scandals involving high-ranking sports officials.
But the favela evictions have struck a particular nerve on the streets. A network of activists in 12 cities estimates that as many as 170,000 people may face eviction ahead of the World Cup and the Olympics. In Rio, evictions are taking place in slums across the city, including the Metrô favela near the Maracanã stadium, where residents who refused to move live amid the rubble of bulldozed homes.
The evictions are stirring ghosts in a city with a long history of razing entire favelas, as in the 1960s and 1970s during Brazil’s military dictatorship. Thousands of families were moved from favelas in upscale seaside areas to the distant Cidade de Deus, the favela portrayed in the 2002 film “City of God.”
As Rio recovers from a long decline, some of the new projects are largely welcome, like an elevator for a hillside favela in Ipanema, or new cable cars in the Complexo do Alemão slums. Authorities also insist that evictions, when deemed necessary, abide by the law, with families receiving compensation and new housing.
“No one is resettled if not for a very important reason,” said Jorge Bittar, the head of Rio’s housing authority.
But some favela residents accuse the authorities of contributing to already considerable inequalities. Brazil’s economic boom has led to evictions around the country, sometimes independent of the Games. In city after city, favela residents often do not learn their homes could be razed until they are literally marked for removal.
In Manaus, the Amazon’s biggest city, residents found the initials B.R.T., referring to a new transportation system, spray-painted on homes to be destroyed. In São José dos Campos, an industrial city, a violent eviction in January of more than 6,000 people captured the nation’s attention when security forces stormed in, clashing with squatters armed with wooden clubs.
In Rio, many of the people facing eviction live in the western districts, where most of the Olympic venues will be, and favelas persist amid a sprawl reminiscent of South Florida, with palm-fringed condominiums and shopping malls.
“Brazilian law is adapting to carry out the Games, rather the Games adapting to fit the law,” said Alex Magalhães, a law professor at Rio’s Federal University.
Organizations formed by favela residents are also using the law and social networking, in a country with the second-largest number of Twitter users after the United States.
One of the fiercest property battles is over Vila Autódromo, the settlement slated for destruction to make way for the Olympic Park.
“Vila Autódromo has absolutely no infrastructure,” said Mr. Bittar, the Rio housing official. “The roads are made of dirt. The sewage network goes straight into the lagoon; it’s an absolutely precarious area.”
Many in Vila Autódromo see things differently. Some have spacious houses that they built themselves. Guava trees shade yards. Some driveways have parked cars, a sign of making it into Brazil’s expanding lower middle class.
Residents took their fight online, posting videos of sharp exchanges with officials. They began working with state prosecutors to file injunctions aimed at blocking their removal, though they lost a critical ruling in recent days.
Journalists have weighed in, reporting that Rio’s municipal government paid two real estate companies more than $11 million for land to resettle Vila Autódromo’s residents; both companies had donated funds to the campaign of Eduardo Paes, Rio’s mayor. Mr. Paes denied any wrongdoing but promptly canceled the land purchase.
Still, authorities say they plan to remove the settlement to make way for roadways around Olympic Park, leaving residents scrambling to devise new strategies to resist eviction. “We’re victims of an event we don’t want,” said Inalva Mendes Brito, a schoolteacher in Vila Autódromo. “But maybe if Brazil learns to respect our choice to stay in our homes, the Olympics will be something to celebrate in the end.”
US eyes suspending trade benefits for Argentina
Reuters. March 5, 2012
(Reuters) - The United States could soon suspend trade benefits for Argentina because of that country's failure to pay awards in two long-running investment disputes with U.S. companies, a U.S. trade official said on Monday.
"We hope to make a recommendation to the president (Barack Obama) in the near term," a U.S. trade official told Reuters in response to an Argentine newspaper report that Argentina could soon lose the U.S. trade benefits.
The United States currently waives duties on some imports from Argentina under the Generalized System of Preferences program, a trade program aimed at helping create jobs in developing countries.
"USTR accepted two petitions in June 2010 seeking withdrawal of Argentina's GSP benefits due to the Argentine government's non-payment of two separate ICSID (the World Bank's International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes) arbitral awards," the U.S. trade official said.
"Our review of the two petitions is at an advanced stage, and the matter is being discussed at senior levels of the administration. The administration takes the two petitions very seriously and has engaged with the Argentine government at the highest levels on the underlying issues," the official added.
The official did not have more details on the two cases.
One case is believed to involve Azurix Corp, a Houston-based water services and investment company that was granted a 30-year water concession in Argentina in 1999.
Last year, Representative John Culberson, a Texas Republican, wrote to U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner urging him to help Azurix collect an ICSID award from Argentina totaling more than $165 million.
(Reporting By Doug Palmer; Editing by Will Dunham)
Argentina Ordered to Pay Interest on Defaulted Debt, Nacion Says
Camila Russo. Bloomberg. March 5, 2012
A New York court ruled in favor of Elliot Management Corp.’s NML Capital fund and ordered Argentina to pay interest on its defaulted debt, newspaper La Nacion reported, citing a Feb. 23 ruling.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Thomas P. Griesa said Argentina has to make the payments before or at the same time it pays interest on bonds it issued in its 2005 and 2010 debt restructurings, according to the Buenos Aires-based newspaper. Griesa’s order affects all the parties involved in the debt payments, including banks that make the transfers to bondholders, Nacion said.
Argentina has appealed the order and the decision has been suspended, La Nacion said, citing Jorge Arguello, Argentina’s ambassador in the U.S.
NML is seeking $650 million in capital and interest on its holdings, La Nacion said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Camila Russo in Buenos Aires at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Papadopoulos at email@example.com
Northern Andean Region [contents]
Venezuela government, opposition cast blame after violence
Andrew Cawthorne. Reuters. March 5, 2012
CARACAS, March 5 (Reuters) - Venezuela's government and opposition blamed each other on Monday for a violent melee at a campaign stop by presidential challenger Henrique Capriles in which several people were injured by bullets.
The flare-up in a poor neighborhood of Caracas underlined the potential for trouble during what is shaping into a close-fought race between Capriles and President Hugo Chavez, who is seeking to extend his 13-year rule in the Oct. 7 election.
Capriles' camp said red-shirted members of Chavez's ruling Socialist Party opened fire when the opposition leader and his supporters were walking through the Cotiza neighborhood.
Two supporters, including the son of an opposition legislator standing near Capriles, were injured, they said.
With Chavez in Cuba for cancer treatment, senior government officials called the opposition's account a lie, saying Capriles' security guards began Sunday's shooting and injured four people.
Both sides repeatedly played footage with different angles and takes of the incident on their TV stations to back up their version of the events, with the crack of bullets sounding as people were seen fleeing.
"While this government debates with weapons, we debate with ideas," Capriles, the 39-year-old center-left governor of Miranda state, said after the incident. "What are they scared of?"
Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami promised an investigation but said Miranda state police, operating without permission outside their state, had attacked government supporters involved in another activity.
"They were the promoters of the violence," he said. "They decided to mount this show during the dull activity of the candidate of the right, who could not even draw 10 people."
Added to the deep political polarization under Chavez, Venezuela has one of the worst crime rates in the world. Weapons abound - especially in poorer areas like Cotiza - and the potential for violence is high.
Another opposition leader, Maria Corina Machado, had shots fired at her entourage in November while campaigning in a Caracas shantytown ahead of the opposition Democratic Unity primary that Capriles won in February.
CHAVEZ FACES RADIATION TREATMENT
The fallout from Sunday's shooting came as Venezuelans reacted to news that Chavez faces more radiation treatment even as he seeks reelection.
After being stricken by cancer last year, Chavez has had two tumors removed - the latest last week - but insists there is no metastasis or spread of the disease.
Chavez said he needs the radiation treatment, which could leave him queasy and weak as he faces a campaign. Having wrongly claimed to be completely cured last year, some Venezuelans doubt his latest self-prognosis and believe he could be dying.
Anxious supporters are passionately backing him to recover and win the election, chanting "Uh! Ah! Chavez will be cured!" in a variation of their usual "Uh! Ah! Chavez is not going to leave!" at rallies held in his honor.
While the image of a sick candidate may win some sympathy, most political analysts said it would more likely undermine Chavez's campaign and play into the hands of an opposition candidate exuding youth and energy.
Driven by rising market expectations of a more business-friendly government, Venezuelan bonds continued to rise on news of Chavez's health woes. The benchmark dollar-denominated 2027 global bond rose another 1.57 percent on Monday.
Chavez still remains hugely popular, however, especially among the poor who have benefited from massive spending on welfare policies fuelled by the OPEC member's oil income.
In the latest survey available, taken after Chavez's return to Cuba at the end of February for new surgery, pollster Hinterlaces said 52 percent of Venezuelans intended to vote for Chavez in October while 34 percent backed Capriles.
Though Venezuela's polls are always hotly-debated and accompanied by accusations of bias, the survey underlined what a mammoth task Capriles faces.
"For Venezuelans, the national head of state must continue his political career even though he is sick," Hinterlaces director Oscar Schemel said, according to local media.
During Sunday's fracas in Cotiza, private, pro-opposition TV channel Globovision - long hated by Chavez supporters - also said its crew was attacked and equipment was stolen.
While Venezuelan politics are constantly dogged by low-level violence, the South American nation has also seen major unrest at various points in the last few decades.
Hundreds were killed when Chavez led a failed 1992 coup attempt. Ten years later, he was briefly ousted from the presidency after opposition protests ended in bloodshed, killing more than a dozen people, outside his Miraflores palace in Caracas. (Editing by Girish Gupta and Paul Simao)
Hugo Chavez says new tumor was cancerous
AP. March 4, 2012
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez revealed Sunday that a new tumor recently removed from his pelvic region was of the same type of cancer as a baseball-sized growth extracted from that part of his body about eight months ago.
In his first TV appearance in nine days, Chavez said the surgery and follow-up tests showed the tumor was "a recurrence of the initially diagnosed cancer."
He said the tumor was totally extracted and noted "the absence of lesions suggestive of cancer neither locally, neither in nearby organs, neither far away ... neither metastasis, none of this thanks to God, to the diagnosis and rapid intervention."
The 57-year-old president said he would spend several weeks recovering and then "we are going to do radiation treatment in the area ... without discarding other treatment options."
"There isn't fever nor any other sign, neither infection, hemorrhage," he said. He called the post-surgery healing "perfect in relation to the time that's passed, and we are already doing physical therapy."
Chavez spoke firmly in footage recorded Saturday in Havana while accompanied by various government ministers and older brother Adan Chavez. The president said his recuperation has been "open, progressive and rapid" in the footage aired Sunday in Venezuela.
Chavez said "still it hasn't been six days because the operation ended on the night of last Sunday." He verified the date of the recording by displaying a Saturday copy of the Cuban government newspaper Granma and a similar copy of the Venezuelan government paper Correo del Orinoco.
"We are very optimistic," he said while seated at an oval conference table. "There is a very favorable medical evolution, the vital signs very favorable."
Chavez underwent several weeks of radiation treatment in 2011.
Chavez flew to Cuba for his most recent surgery on Feb. 24, and his absence from the public spotlight since then has sparked speculation about his health. Chavez did phone into a show Friday on Venezuelan state television when he said he was recovering well.
Chavez hasn't specified what kind of cancer he has or exactly where it's located. But cancer specialists say that based on available information, Chavez appears to suffer from a relatively rare cancer known as sarcoma, which tends to reappear in the same location where related tumors are removed.
The president has taken pains to demonstrate unflagging energy in his public appearances as he faces a tough re-election battle this November.
"Everyone who has been operated on knows ... the impact of an operation of various hours," Chavez said in the most recent footage. "And how, above all the first day when the body begins to awaken, the pains begin, the obstacles, after one goes step by step recovering the functions of the body, like I'm recovering."
He added, "Since almost the second day, I began to walk. For this, I say thanks to God, to everybody."
He spoke in a stark, white-walled room, in front of paintings of Cuban independence leader Jose Marti and South American hero Simon Bolivar. With no one taking over his duties in Venezuela, Chavez issued instructions to government ministers and approved the budgets of various state-owned companies.
As he has done in recent weeks, Chavez defended Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, who has tried to violently crush a popular revolt in much of the Middle Eastern country. Venezuela has at least twice sent shipments of diesel oil to Syria over the past months.
"We continue lamenting the aggressions against Syria," Chavez said, "and the pressure of the United States government and many European countries, failing to recognize the sovereignty of a people such as the Syrian people."
"From here," Chavez said, "we send our solidarity to the Syrian people and to President Bashar Al-Assad."
Later Sunday, at Havana's cathedral, a service was held for Chavez's health.
Chavez is "in good spirts and boosted by the support and love of the Venezuelan people," said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, who was at the service.
In Venezuela, Chavez supporter Johsny Flores said his faith in the leader remains high despite the reports of ill health.
"Cancer is a serious illness, but I know that Chavez has so much love for the country, so much desire to continue with us, that he has going to come out of this," said Flores, a 35-year-old street vendor.
On the other side of the political fence, merchant Tomas Gutierrez followed the example of sole opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles and wished Chavez a swift recovery even as he longed for an end to the leader's 13-year rule.
"Another person in his place would be on the floor," the 63-year-old said. "We have to recognize his will power. But also, we hope that he gets better and that Capriles wins and puts an end to this disastrous government."
Venezuela Suspends Gun Imports for a Year
EFE. March 4, 2012
CARACAS – Venezuelan authorities have established a moratorium on importing guns for sale to the general public, while banning the marketing of munitions and all other armaments in an attempt to “put order” in that sector and exercise some control over the nation’s widespread violence.
The technical secretary of the Presidential Commission for the Control of Arms, Munitions and Disarmament, Pablo Fernandez, said Friday in an interview on state channel VTV that since Feb. 29 “the importing of weapons to Venezuela has been suspended.”
Exempt from the restriction are state security agencies, the armed forces and duly registered security firms.
Fernandez said the measure will allow greater protection for the safety of private citizens, which, he said, “has been degenerating into a state of chaos.”
The suspension of imports is accompanied by other measures, such as “a national process for legalizing the possession of arms,” which will take three months and will serve to register people “with arms acquired legally but without having their papers in order.”
Also contemplated is a control mechanism for arms and munitions that permits their origin to be tracked.
Interior and Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami later told a press conference that the marketing of arms and munitions is also suspended.
“This is not just about imports but also about local gunsmiths, who will no longer be allowed to sell firearms,” the minister told a press conference, adding that “no one is allowed to sell munitions.”
El Aissami said that also prohibited as a consequence of the ban on selling new weapons is the issuing of new licenses to bear arms.
Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the region, with 48 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants annually.
According to government figures, a firearm is involved in 98 percent of homicides in the South American country, and 63 percent of the murder victims were hit with more than five bullets.
PDVSA Said to Consider Lower Orinoco Venture Stakes for Hong Kong Listing
Nathan Crooks and Corina Pons. Bloomberg. March 2, 2012
Petroleos de Venezuela SA is considering a plan to sell part of its stakes in Orinoco heavy crude joint ventures in a private placement on the Hong Kong stock exchange, according to a company official.
The state-owned oil producer, which has held at least 60 percent of each Orinoco venture since President Hugo Chavez nationalized the oil industry in 2007, may reduce its stakes to as little as 51 percent, the official, who isn’t authorized to speak publicly, said today in Caracas. China’s Citic Securities Corp. is advising on the potential listing, the official said.
PDVSA will use proceeds from the deal to invest in the development of the Orinoco belt, one of the world’s largest oil reserves, he said. The operation would not be considered a privatization, as shares will be offered in a holding company created to manage PDVSA’s stakes in the joint ventures and not in the state oil company itself, the official said.
PDVSA is studying the Hong Kong stock exchange because of investor demand in the region and the South American nation’s close political ties with China, according to the official. PDVSA may consider an initial public offering in the Orinoco ventures if the private placement goes well, the official said, without providing a time frame for the operation.
Citic, China’s largest state-owned investment company, is currently conducting due diligence to purchase a 10 percent stake in the Petropiar heavy crude project held with PDVSA and California-based Chevron Corp. (CVX), the official said. PDVSA does not need permission from its minority partners to sell, list, or reduce its stakes in the ventures, according to the official.
To contact the reporters on this story: Nathan Crooks in Caracas at firstname.lastname@example.org; Corina Pons in Caracas at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dale Crofts at firstname.lastname@example.org
Venezuela's Opec stand is a win for climate change campaigners
Mark Weisbrot. The Guardian. March 3, 2012
Environmentalists seem to realize that they have some stake in a fight such as the Ecuador-Chevron lawsuit. That case, which Chevron has recently moved to an international arbitration panel in an attempt to avoid a multibillion penalty handed down by Ecuadorian courts, is about whether a multinational oil corporation will have to pay damages for pollution for which it is responsible. Most environmentalists figure that would be a good thing.
But what about fights between multinational oil giants and the governments of oil-producing states over control of resources? Do people who care about the environment and climate change have a stake in these battles? It appears that they do, but most have not yet noticed it.
In December of last year, Exxon Mobil won a judgment against the government of Venezuela for assets the government had nationalized in 2007. The award was actually a victory for the government of Venezuela: Exxon had sued for $12bn, but won only $908m. After subtracting $160m the court said was owed to Venezuela, Exxon ended up with a $748m judgment. The ruling was made by an arbitration panel of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). On 15 February, Venezuela paid Exxon $250m and announced that the case was settled.
Some background: the dispute arose out of the Venezuelan government's decision to take a majority stake in oil extraction, in accordance with its law. In 2005, it entered into negotiations with foreign oil companies to purchase enough of their assets in order to achieve a majority stake. Almost all the negotiations, with dozens of companies, were successful – with only Exxon and ConocoPhillips going to arbitration (Conoco is still negotiating).
Exxon adopted a strategy of trying to make an example of Venezuela, so that no other government would try to mess with it. Exxon went to European courts to freeze $12bn of Venezuelan assets, but this was reversed within a matter of weeks. They also went to arbitration at the ICC, and at the World Bank's arbitration panel, ICSID (the latter case still pending). But the ICC gave Exxon much less than the Venezuelan government had reportedly offered it in negotiations.
The decision was noted with intense interests among oil industry specialists – and was seen by developing country governments as an important victory for the developing world – but didn't get much attention in the mass media. This is a big precedent – and, of course, there are other countries that will continue to have disputes with oil companies over control of resources.
Why should environmentalists care? Well, for those of us who would like to slow the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, we would like to keep more oil in the ground. That is one reason why most environmentalists would support a carbon tax, which would raise the price of carbon emissions. The main reason that Venezuela insisted on a majority share in these oil projects is that it wants to control production. Venezuela is a member of Opec, and abides by the organization's quotas. If you want to reduce climate disruption, then you have a big interest in whether governments that want to reduce oil production are able to do so.
A higher price of oil due to reduced production by oil-producing countries reduces oil consumption in the same way that a carbon tax does. It also encourages the development of non-fossil fuel alternatives, including solar and wind technologies, which become more economically feasible at higher oil prices. (Of course, higher prices do also encourage non-Opec countries to produce more oil, and Opec members to cheat on the cartel, and a carbon tax would not have that same effect; but this would be an argument for a stronger and more inclusive Opec.)
On the other side, our adversaries have always had the goal of flooding the world with cheap oil, which would greatly accelerate global warming. Before Hugo Chávez was elected in Venezuela, the national oil company (PDVSA) shared that goal with Washington. But as soon as he was elected, Chávez successfully pushed Opec to reduce production, moving oil prices off their deep low point of $11 a barrel in 1998. The US State Department, in a 2002 report (pdf), admitted that the US government "provided training, institution-building, and other support to individuals and organizations understood to be actively involved" in the military coup that briefly overthrew Venezuela's elected government that year. That same report also stated that one of the main reasons for Washington's "displeasure" with Chávez was "his involvement in the affairs of the Venezuelan oil company and the potential impact of that on oil prices".
Of course, it is not politically popular for anyone to appear pro-Opec in the rich, oil-consuming countries. But most environmentalists are willing to support policies, such as a carbon tax, that are not necessarily going to win elections this year. So they should also recognize that they have an immediate stake in the producing states' struggle with multinational companies over control of fossil fuel and other natural resources.
Colombia's Santos to meet Venezuela's Chavez in Cuba
Charles Parkinson. Colombia Reports. March 5, 2012
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Monday announced through his official website he will meet Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez in Cuba on Wednesday.
The meeting will focus upon the final consultations for a trade agreement between the two countries, after an earlier meeting had to be cancelled due to Chavez's recent medical problems. Last month the Venezuelan leader had to return to hospital after a lesion was discovered in his pelvic region less than a year after undergoing cancer treatment in the same area.
While in Cuba, Santos will also meet Cuban leader Raul Castro to discuss Cuba's participation at the Summit of the Americas, due to be held in Colombia's Caribbean coastal city of Cartagena in April.
Cuba's participation in the event has been a source of controversy, as the United States insists it should not be invited due to not being a member of the Organization of American States [OAS].
Cuba's membership in the OAS was revoked in 1963 due to the country's socialist political system. While the suspension was revoked in 2009, Cuba has refused to rejoin.
However the left-leaning ALBA bloc of Latin American nations, which includes Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua, has threatened to boycott the event if Cuba is not invited.
Last month the OAS said that Colombia is responsible for making the decision about Cuba's participation at the summit.
49 Human Rights Activists Killed in Colombia Last Year, Report Says
EFE. March 5, 2012
Bogota – A total of 49 human rights defenders were murdered in Colombia in 2011, a year in which individual attacks against those activists increased by 36 percent, a report from the non-governmental organization Somos Defensores says.
The document, to which Efe obtained access, explains that the increase translated into 239 attacks, which included murders, threats, forced disappearances, assaults, arbitrary arrests, attacks in which injuries were inflicted and improper application of the penal system.
Diana Sánchez, a representative for the Asociación Minga, one of the three NGOs that comprise Somos Defensores, said in an interview with Efe that 2011 was a year of "lights and darks," given that while the number of attacks against rights defenders increased the government worked to provide greater protections for the activists.
Sánchez acknowledged the concern of the administration of Juan Manuel Santos with implementing the Victims and Restitution of Lands Law and guaranteeing human rights, but she emphasized the difficulty of doing so, given that Colombian institutions still do not hold complete sway in some parts of the country.
In the case of the northern provinces of Antioquia, Córdoba and Sucre, where 25 of the 49 murders occurred, Sánchez attributed that fact to the "high level of land disputes and paramilitarism" in the region.
"The national government has set its sights there on the Victims Law and there has been much pressure from landowners, ranchers, actors with a lot of real power who refuse to hand over lands that they violently usurped in the past," Sánchez said.
The activist identified another tumultuous region on the southern border with Ecuador comprising the provinces of Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo, Caqueta and Valle del Cauca, where violence against activists is due "to the heavy ... armed conflict" in that zone, which is a "rearguard area for the guerrillas."
The report emphasizes that the main victims of the different attacks are Indians, above all members of the Nasa, Emberá and Awa tribes, as well as people attempting to reclaim stolen lands and community leaders.
With regard to the attackers, she emphasized the role of "the paramilitaries," referring to the criminal bands that are the reconstituted offshoots of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, paramilitary group, which demobilized between 2003 and 2006.
"The fact that 50 percent of the reported cases have the paramilitaries as the alleged perpetrators is an indication that they continue acting out from under (government) control," the document said, adding that there had been an increase in the activities of those groups.
Somos Defensores also said that "the figures show the existing distance between the reality of the regions of Colombia and the effectiveness of the recent prevention and protection policies formulated by the authorities," and the group demanded that the Attorney General's Office make a greater commitment toward prosecuting cases involving attacks against rights defenders.
In comparing 2011 with prior years, Sánchez explained the differences, saying: "It's not that there were no attacks earlier. On the contrary, what is happening is that there are two phenomena. The title of (human rights) defender has more meanings than that of exclusive NGO activist and besides there are more complaints," Sánchez said.
In addition to the Asociación Minga, the Colombian Commission of Judges (CCJ) and the NGO Benposta Nación de Muchachos make up Somos Defensores.
The president of the CCJ, an entity that has consultative status with the United Nations, will present the conclusions of the report on Tuesday, March 6, before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Colombia chief prosecutor Viviane Morales resigns
BBC. March 2, 2012
Colombia's chief prosecutor, Viviane Morales, has resigned, days after a court ruled that her appointment in 2010 was invalid.
Ms Morales said she was stepping down because the ruling by the Council of State had undermined her position.
She defended her performance, saying she had tackled "the biggest cases of corruption" in Colombia.
Ms Morales had been under intense scrutiny since her marriage last year to a controversial former guerrilla.
The Council of State ruled on Tuesday that her election by the Supreme Court was invalid because there were not enough judges present when the vote took place.
President Juan Manuel Santos - who nominated her for the role of chief prosecutor - expressed regret at her departure.
He said she had performed the role with "great dignity, great efficiency, great transparency and great character".
In her resignation speech, Ms Morales said that, under her leadership, the Prosecutor's Office had brought charges in relation to the most serious cases of corruption in Colombia.
Those accused were either "in prison or on the run," she said.
"On my watch there were no untouchables."
Ms Morales complained that she had been the victim of "perverse and inhuman attacks" by journalists and media seeking to force her resignation.
Ms Morales had been criticised over her marriage to Carlos Alonso Lucio, a former congressman and ex-member of the demobilised M-19 guerrilla group, which has been linked to right-wing drug paramilitaries and drug traffickers.
During her period in office she had led prosecutions against several close associates of the former President Alvaro Uribe, including former ministers, for alleged corruption and criminal conspiracy.
Among them were senior officials accused of ordering the DAS intelligence agency to spy on some of Mr Uribe's political opponents.
DAS was disbanded as a result of the scandal.
Ms Morales was the first woman to serve as chief prosecutor, which is considered one of most important public roles in Colombia.
Western Andean Region [contents]
Ecuador Plaintiffs to Target Chevron’s Assets in Venezuela, Panama
EFE. March 2, 2012
QUITO – A long-running legal battle pitting Ecuadorian Indians and peasant farmers against U.S. oil supermajor Chevron Corp. entered a new phase Friday with an announcement that the plaintiffs will be targeting the multinational’s assets in Venezuela and Panama.
Their goal is to convince courts in those countries to recognize a judgment by two Ecuadorian tribunals ordering Chevron to pay more than $18 billion for toxic drilling waste dumped in the Amazon between 1964 and the early 1990s by Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001.
Because Chevron has no assets in Ecuador, the 47 plaintiffs – who represent tens of thousands of Indians and peasants affected by oil pollution – have decided to take legal action in countries where it does, Pablo Fajardo, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, said at a press conference on Friday.
He added that the plaintiffs will eventually force the company to pay “every last cent.”
“We think Panama’s a very important place because all the tankers filled with the Chevron company’s oil pass through there and they exclusively (belong to the U.S. multinational). Venezuela’s also an important country. There are a lot of Chevron assets there also. They’re not the only ones. We’ve said we’re going to go to several continents,” Fajardo said.
Leftist-led Venezuela, a close ally of Ecuador’s, has fought court battles against U.S. multinationals Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips over compensation for seized oil assets, although Chevron agreed to accept new terms that required it to enter into minority partnerships with state-owned PDVSA in the crude-rich Orinoco Belt.
Fajardo said the lawsuits will be filed “in just a few weeks,” although the plaintiffs have not yet decided in which countries they will act first. The legal battles could last between five months and five years, depending on how quickly the cases move through the different court systems, the attorney said.
Chevron has stakes in six hydrocarbon projects in Venezuela as a partner of state oil giant PDVSA and in 2010 pumped more than 100,000 barrels of crude per day there, while Panama is a transit country for its oil shipments.
Company spokesman James Craig told Efe that the future lawsuits should have no effect on its operations in either country because any court that “defends the rule of law” will reject them.
Chevron accuses the plaintiffs’ attorneys of falsifying technical reports filed with the two Ecuadorian courts in the northeastern province of Sucumbios and forging some of the plaintiffs’ signatures.
The San Ramon, California-based company has brought legal action in a U.S. federal court in New York against the plaintiffs’ U.S. and Ecuadorian lawyers, including Fajardo, for violations of the federal racketeering statute, accusing them of trying to extort a financial settlement from the company.
Fajardo, who has denied those allegations, said Texaco “caused the deaths of ... hundreds of people, caused devastation to a large chunk of the Ecuadorian Amazon (and) ruined the lives of indigenous peoples.”
On Thursday, the appeals court in Lago Agrio, Sucumbios, gave plaintiffs the green light to enforce the multi-billion judgment, Luis Yanza, the plaintiffs’ legal coordinator, said Friday.
That tribunal also has refused to recognize a ruling issued in February by an international arbitration tribunal in The Hague, which ordered the Ecuadorian government to prevent “recognition and enforcement” of the pollution judgment.
Chevron has appealed the case to Ecuador’s National Court of Justice, although it declined to ask the appeals court to set a bond as a means of halting enforcement of the ruling.
According to Fajardo, in cases of this type in Ecuador, such a bond would have amounted to about 8.15 percent of the award, or about $1.5 billion.
Chevron says the adverse rulings in Ecuador were not only marred by fraud but also ignored the fact that a previous government in the late 1990s had certified Texaco’s clean-up efforts and released it from liability from any future claims.
During much of the period from 1964-1990, Texaco was the operator of a consortium that drilled in the Amazon jungles of northeastern Ecuador and which also included state oil firm Petroecuador as majority owner.
The pollution case was initially filed in New York in 1993, but Chevron succeeded in having it moved from the United States to Ecuador in 2003, four years before President Rafael Correa came to power amid voter anger at corruption and traditional politicians.
But Chevron has maintained in recent years that the case has become politicized under the leftist Correa and that it cannot receive a fair trial.
Although the oil company maintains that Texaco was cleared of any liability for damages after remediating its share of environmental impacts, plaintiffs say that agreement with the government of the time did not release it from third-party claims and that Chevron is reneging on its pledge to abide by whatever decision was handed down by Ecuadorian courts.
Chevron says on its Web site that Petroecuador should be the target of local communities’ legal action, noting that Texaco ceased operating in Ecuador in 1992 and that the state oil firm has been “the sole and exclusive owner and operator of greatly expanded operations in the area from (that year) to the present.” EFE
Ecuador, Peru Plan To Sign Agreement In June To Use Pipeline
Dow Jones. March 4, 2012
QUITO (Dow Jones)--Ecuador expects to sign an agreement in June with Peru's state-run Petroleos del Peru (PETROBC1.VL) that will allow use of the northern Peruvian oil pipeline to transport oil from Ecuadorian fields in the southeast, Ecuador's Undersecretary of Hydrocarbons said.
The average transport rate could be of about $13 per barrel, Ramiro Cazar told Dow Jones Newswires on the sidelines of an oil meeting.
According to Cazar, the pipeline has a maximum capacity of 200,000 barrels per day for the Ecuadorian crude, and a branch connection will have to be built with the Peruvian pipeline.
Ecuador plans in late April to call its eleventh licensing round for 21 oil exploration blocks in the southeast, with reserve estimates of about 120 million barrels of crude oil.
As part of this tender, four oil blocks will go to Ecuador's state-run companies, seven will be awarded to foreign state oil companies and 10 to private companies.
In a recent interview Non-renewable Natural Resources Minister Wilson Pastor said that Petroleos del Peru, or PetroPeru, is interested in partnering with Ecuador's state oil companies Petroecuador or Petroamazonas, to explore in southeast Ecuador.
Currently Ecuador produces about 500,000 barrels of crude oil per day and expects to produce more than 600,000 barrels a day by 2013.
-By Mercedes Alvaro, Dow Jones Newswires; 5939-9728-653; email@example.com
Bolivians fight over quinoa land
AP. March 4, 2012
LA PAZ, Bolivia -- Bolivian authorities say at least 30 people have been injured in a fight between two communities over land for growing quinoa, the Andean "supergrain" whose popularity with worldwide foodies has caused its price to soar.
Oruro state police chief Ramon Sepulveda says combatants used rocks and dynamite against each other Wednesday and Thursday. A government commission was dispatched to the two high plains communities south of La Paz.
Farmland in the region is owned not by individuals but communities.
Authorities say the dispute is related to climate change because quinoa can now be cultivated in areas previously subject to frequents frosts.
Bolivia produces 46 percent of the world's quinoa, which has nearly tripled in price in the past five years.
Brother of Peru's president in prison transfer
FRANKLIN BRICENO. AP. March 3, 2012
LIMA, Peru -- The jailed brother of Peru's president was transferred Saturday from a maximum-security prison to a special lockup on a military base to serve his 19-year-sentence for leading a failed uprising.
Prisons director Jose Perez said in a radio interview that the transfer of Antauro Humala was "strictly for security reasons."
He said the 48-year-old retired army major was moved because Shining Path rebels were housed near him in Piedras Gordas prison and President Ollanta Humala's government had recently captured their leader, Comrade Artemio.
Perez did not explain the conditions under which Antauro Humala would be held at the army base in Lima's Chorillos district other than to say he was being held with two military men convicted of human rights violations.
Perez did not respond to repeated phone calls from The Associated Press seekng details.
A former interior minister, Fernando Rospigliosi, complained that the transfer constituted favoritism.
"It's a terrible signal because it shows that the laws don't function the same for everyone," he said.
Antauro Humala led a New Year's Day takeover in 2005 by 100 army reservists of a police station the Andean town of Andahuaylas to demand the resignation of then-President Alejandro Toledo.
The action failed to trigger a general uprising and four police officers and two army reservists were killed.
Initially sentenced to 25 years in prison, Antauro Humala had the sentence reduced by the Supreme Court in September from aggravated murder to manslaughter.
President Humala rose to the rank of army lieutenant colonel and military attache in South Korea before being retired, just prior to the Andahuaylas uprising, over his perceived disloyalty to Toledo.
Peru arrests Shining Path rebel leader
Al Jazeera. March 5, 2012
Peruvian police have said they arrested a suspected leader of a Maoist faction of the Shining Path rebel movement who was the apparent successor to "Comrade Artemio," who was captured last month.
National police director Raul Salazar told local media on Sunday that Walter Diaz Vega, also known as "Freddy" or "Percy," was snared in the mountainous jungle region of Alto Huallaga.
Diaz Vega "was the successor of Artemio and responsible for organising an armed column in Alto Huallaga," Salazar said.
"His capture took place on Saturday," and Diaz Vega "had intended to annihilate the informants who infiltrated (the rebels) to allow the capture of Artemio in February."
Diaz Vega will face multiple terrorism charges, Salazar added.
Comrade Artemio, whose real name is Florindo Eleuterio Flores, was captured on February 12 after a fierce gun battle against government forces in which he was wounded. He is to be tried on charges of terrorism and drug trafficking.
The 47-year-old Artemio led one of two splinter groups of the Maoist groups that was active between the 1980s and 1990s.
The Shining Path suffered a crippling blow when its founder and leader, Abimael Guzman, was captured in 1992. Authorities soon discovered other group leaders, and the remaining fighters fled into the jungle.
The survivors in turn split -- the group headed by Artemio wanted to negotiate a surrender, while a rival group active in the Apurimac and Ene River valley area led by "Comrade Jose" wanted to fight on.
Some 70,000 people were killed between 1980 and 2000 as the government battled the Shining Path and a rival leftist guerrilla group, the Tupac Amaru movement, according to Peru's independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean [contents]
Drug allegations may hamper former Mexico ruling party's return
Ken Ellingwood. Los Angeles Times. March 4, 2012
In a race widely deemed his to lose, Enrique Peña Nieto's greatest hurdle may be his own party.
Mexico'sformer ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, hopes to ride back to power behind its handsome young presidential candidate and a rejuvenated image.
But new allegations of drug payoffs to a former PRI governor have shoved the party's often-shady legacy to the forefront of the campaign, reminding voters of the sort of graft that marked the party's rule before it was booted in 2000 after seven decades of near-absolute control.
The fresh accusations of PRI corruption emerged last month in an affidavit by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in a federal court in Texas. U.S. agents, citing four confidential informants, say leaders of the Gulf cartel and Zetas gang funneled millions to Tomas Yarrington, the former PRI governor of the northeastern state of Tamaulipas.
Mexicans have low expectations of politicians in any party, and the latest reports have prompted more resignation than shock. But analysts say the charges could help reshape the presidential race by summoning the ghosts of the PRI's past. Drug trafficking took off under the PRI, often with the help of corrupt Mexican officials.
In a campaign in which crime is a central issue, President Felipe Calderon of the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, and his allies appear to believe the PRI's past may be its Achilles' heel when voters head to the polls July 1.
Many observers saw hardball politics behind recent leaks that Mexican authorities also are investigating Yarrington, as well as two other Tamaulipas ex-governors, all members of the PRI. All three have denied wrongdoing.
"It's a strategy to remind people that the PRI equals corruption, so that people might remember that the rise of drug trafficking occurs mainly in PRI governments, and that this is what would come [with] Enrique Peña Nieto," said Alfonso Zarate, a political analyst in Mexico City.
Commentator Hector Aguilar Camin, writing in the daily Milenio newspaper, said the Calderon administration's strategy is to turn the election "into a referendum, a vote of yes or no, on returning the PRI to Los Pinos," referring to the Mexican White House.
Calderon has been hammered by rivals over drug-related violence, which has killed more than 50,000 people since he declared war on traffickers in late 2006. But the PAN seems intent on steering blame back to the PRI, in part by arguing that it has failed to ensure public safety in states where it rules.
Yarrington, who governed from 1999 to 2004, is not charged in the U.S. case against Antonio Peña Arguelles, who was arrested in Texas last month on suspicion of money-laundering and has pleaded not guilty.
But the former governor figures prominently in the case. The 14-page affidavit says he and other Tamaulipas officials took money from two drug lords, with Peña Arguelles acting as a go-between. Peña Arguelles allegedly used banks on both sides of the border to launder millions in illicit cash, including proceeds belonging to Yarrington.
The payments were aimed at buying "political influence within the government of Tamaulipas, Mexico, through former Governor Tomas Yarrington," according to the affidavit, filed Feb. 6 in U.S. District Court in San Antonio.
Yarrington has labeled the allegations "absolutely false" and said he is willing to talk to prosecutors to clear his name.
Separately, Yarrington and the other ex-governors, Manuel Cavazos and Eugenio Hernandez, are reportedly under investigation by Mexico's attorney general. Mexican officials confirmed the investigation, without offering elaboration, after word of it was leaked to the press.
The PRI faces another old-style scandal in the northern state of Coahuila, where officials racked up $3 billion in unexplained debt around the time it was run by then-Gov. Humberto Moreira. Mexican federal authorities have issued arrest warrants for seven former Coahuila officials, though not for Moreira.
Moreira denies authorizing the borrowing, saying it happened after he left the governor's office in the hands of a stand-in to run for the PRI's presidency last year. He won, but stepped down in December in the face of growing disenchantment among some party elders.
It remains to be seen whether any of these troubles stick to the 45-year-old Peña Nieto, who consistently has held a double-digit lead in most polls over the PAN's Josefina Vazquez Mota and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD.
Peña Nieto has not commented on the allegations involving Yarrington. The PRI's president, Pedro Joaquin Coldwell, has said party members are responsible for their actions, but he called on Mexican authorities to not use the justice system for political ends.
The early skirmishing suggests that the campaign may shape up as a slugfest over which party is most responsible for Mexico's crime crisis.
But a strategy of tarring the PRI carries risks, even if tales of corruption under its former rule are legion, analysts say. For one thing, none of the parties is free of suspicion involving current or former governors. For another, scandal-weary voters are likely only to be moved by solid evidence of wrongdoing.
"You're getting into very dark waters when you start talking about governors and the federal administration, very deep waters," said Joy Langston, a political science professor at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics. "You had better be willing to back it up."
The Mexican Election and the Split on the Left
Paul Imison. Upside Down World. March 2, 2012
Recent studies by the National Council of the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL) and the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) again give lie to the myth that the neoliberal era in Mexico has led to greater prosperity and equality. On the contrary, according to the OECD, Mexico’s considerable income gap is widening while CONEVAL reports that 3.2 million more Mexicans have been plunged into poverty in the last three years; a striking commentary on the economic policies of right-wing, pro-US President Felipe Calderón.
The favorite to win this year’s crucial election is still Enrique Peña Nieto, the much-hyped fresh face of the country’s former ruling dynasty; the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Often referred to as “the dinosaur” for the way it clung to power for 71 years, the PRI was notorious for corruption and political repression but has gained significantly from the National Action Party (PAN)’s tumble in popularity. It’s widely acknowledged, however, that the man really pulling the strings of Peña Nieto’s bid is Carlos Salinas de Gortari; the much-maligned former president (1988-1994) who signed the NAFTA agreement and was repeatedly linked to organized crime.
Felipe Calderón’s PAN will attempt to retain power through Josefina Vázquez Mota, the first ever female candidate for a major Mexican party. The PAN is a socially-conservative outfit with links to extreme right-wing elements of the Mexican Catholic Church. Poverty and unemployment have increased during its twelve years in charge, although its enduring legacy will be the tragically misjudged “Drug War”, which has left over 50,000 victims in its wake.
Despite the foundation of a serious, progressive alternative, the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), in 1989, the Left has never won a free election in Mexico. It came agonizingly close in the country’s last presidential race in 2006, with Andrés Manuel López Obrador losing by just 0.56% of the vote; amid widespread allegations of fraud against Felipe Calderón. The PRD has held Mexico City – the beating heart of the country’s progressive politics – since 1997.
Although over half of Mexico’s population lives in poverty (at least 55 million people) – with an estimated 12% in extreme poverty – it’s always been rare for the various interests of the Mexican Left to unite behind one candidate. López Obrador (widely referred to as “AMLO”), who will run for the PRD again this year, draws his key support from the urbanized working-class; particularly in central and southern Mexico, and especially the capital.
Middle-class progressives tend to prefer Marcelo Ebrard, current Mexico City mayor and a more moderate, airbrushed face of the Left. Ebrard is the man who AMLO edged out for the PRD nomination, ending (for now, at least) a long dispute within the PRD between AMLO’s so-called “radical” element and the Nueva Izquierda (“New Left”) faction headed by Ebrard, PRD founder Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, and party president Jesús Zambrano.
In reality, AMLO’s “radicalism” was all in his fiery, anti-imperialist rhetoric; his actual policies were social democratic at worst. But given the way that such rhetoric ruffled feathers six years ago, his 2012 campaign looks set to be a far more cautious affair; courting the mainstream media, dropping the phrase “mafia of power” (used to describe the PAN-PRI hegemony) from his speeches, and making visits to the US and Spain to reassure investors that a “left-wing” Mexico would still be open for business.
Whatever one may think of AMLO’s style as a politician, he has rarely changed his stance on key issues and often deliberately taken views that are unpopular. In 2006, he left office as Mexico City mayor with an 80% approval rating, and his record in tackling poverty, crime and inequality in the capital was praised by both Left and Right.
Yet although AMLO has fought for progressive governance in Mexico for nearly three decades – as a PRI dissident; as mayor of Mexico City; twice as presidential candidate – he has routinely failed to win the support of key figures on the Mexican Left. In 2006, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) ran a counter-campaign (La Otra Campaña, or “The Other Campaign”) urging supporters of the Chiapas-based rebels not to vote for any party. Given the Zapatistas’ support among indigenous communities and young radicals, there’s still a debate as to whether the group’s campaign helped cost AMLO the presidency.
The current (reluctant) figurehead of civil resistance in Mexico is Javier Sicilia, a poet and journalist from Cuernavaca, Morelos, who took up activism after his son became an innocent victim of drug gang violence last year. Sicilia organized a massive march on Mexico City’s Zócalo square on May 8th, drawing some 20,000 supporters, and became a powerful yet media-friendly (i.e. well-spoken and middle-class) critic of President Calderón’s militarization of the “war on drugs”. Many other voices had been ignored or silenced.
With the death toll of Calderón’s “war” hovering between 50,000-60,000 people in five years, there has been considerable public support for Sicilia’s movement – known interchangeably as El Movimiento por La Paz (“Movement for Peace”) and No Más Sangre (“No More Blood”) – and its criticism of both the ruthless drug lords and the government crackdown. Without a doubt, lack of public security will be a key issue on the minds of voters heading to the polls in July.
Yet AMLO’s call for Sicilia and other members of the Peace Movement to join a leftist coalition for 2012 has fallen on deaf ears. Sicilia appeared on national television in January to declare the forthcoming elections a “sham” and vowed to spoil his ballot. Given the influence that he currently wields – particularly among the young, who are growing up in fear of violence – AMLO responded that Sicilia was “playing into the hands of the right wing” and essentially handing votes to the PRI’s Peña Nieto.
In Mexico, the Left starts with a handicap at the best of times; widely excluded from the mainstream by a corporate media long tied to the PAN/PRI elite. There is also the fact that, in its 23-year history, the PRD has never governed at the federal level, and the challenges facing the country – from poverty to the influence of powerful drug-trafficking organizations – are grave.
With campaigning officially set to begin on March 31st, most polls currently have AMLO’s coalition – comprising the Workers’ Party (PT) and other smaller parties – in third place. It could be that it’s too late; that the infighting within the PRD in recent years, its lack of experience, and public fear over gang violence are too much for people to trust in an untested, “leftist” party. But the lack of unity among influential voices on the Left undoubtedly hurts its cause and will more than likely see the PAN or PRI emerge victorious in July.
Contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nicaragua bids to stem deforestation with eco-soldiers
Tim Rogers. BBC. March 2, 2012
Deep inside the verdant and sweltering vegetation of Nicaragua's Mosquito Coast, a specially trained army unit is waging a new kind of war against a new type of enemy.
Operation Green Gold is the inaugural mission of Nicaragua's newly formed Ecological Battalion.
It is Central America's first concerted effort to seek a military-backed solution to the threats of climate change.
The green guard, a unit of 580 environmental soldiers, recently won its first "battlefield victory" by netting 111,800 cubic feet (3,165 cubic metres) of illegal lumber felled by loggers.
The trees were chopped down in Cerro Wawashang, a nature reserve that is being plundered to supply the black market for construction materials.
The eco-battalion, working in conjunction with state prosecutors and forestry officials, discovered the lumber contraband hidden under netting and brush to avoid detection from the air.
The troops are now reportedly on the trail of the criminal organisation that was extracting the wood from the jungle on riverboats.
"There are unscrupulous people who are taking advantage of the economic limitations of the people in this region.
"And in the end, it's the outsiders who benefit while the local communities are left with the indiscriminate deforestation," says Col Nestor Lopez, the army's chief of civil operations.
In a country with 71 nature reserves and other large areas of thick, primary forest, Nicaragua's precious hardwoods are tempting booty for timber traffickers.
Since 1983, Nicaragua's forest cover has dropped from 63% to some 40%, according to government data.
Not all Nicaragua's deforestation is caused by the lumber mafia - farmers and cattle ranchers are also doing their fair share of careless chopping.
But whoever is responsible, at the current rate of clearance only 25% of the country is likely to remain forested by 2030.
Reserves such as Cerro Wawashang will be reduced to scrub brush and grass, according to the military's projections.
As the forest cover recedes, the Nicaraguan government says climate change and global warming are already affecting the economy and national development.
"Since 2006, we are losing $200m (£126m) a year in lost agro-production due to climate change," says Dr Paul Oquist, who is President Daniel Ortega's adviser for national development policies and representative to world climate change forums.
"That's 9% of what's been planted each year. So our development in Nicaragua is already being affected by climate change."
Dr Oquist says deforestation and rising annual temperatures in Nicaragua - up three degrees centigrade in the past 50 years, according to government figures - is already affecting rain cycles.
Coffee farmers are having to move further up the mountains in search of cooler and shadier growing conditions.
"Eventually, you run out of mountain and you run out of the coffee industry," Dr Oquist said.
And that would spell disaster for Nicaragua's economy.
So, he says, "Nicaragua is not waiting for the global community" to act on climate change.
Instead, the government is seeking its own national solutions to mitigate the effects of deforestation and global warming.
Part of that effort is the Ecological Battalion, deployed to protect natural resources as a matter of national security.
In addition to carrying guns, the green soldiers also carry shovels as part of a nationwide effort to plant 560,000 trees in the various national reserves that have been affected by deforestation.
The eco-warriors represent an interesting change in what small agricultural countries now consider as a threat to their national security.
Indeed, Article 750 of Nicaragua's Constitution reflects the important tie between conserving nature and conserving the peace.
"Any act or action that severely impacts the environment of the country will be a considered a threat to national security," the law reads.
The battalion's mission is also about ensuring future energy security.
Nicaragua is currently largely dependent on an oil-powered electricity but is attempting to move towards supplying more than 50% of its needs with hydropower.
"The Nicaraguan government is trying to change the matrix of its energy supply, and to do so we need to preserve and conserve our nature reserves and forests so we can have the water we need to run what will be Central America's largest hydroelectric plant, Tumarin," said Col Juan Ramon Morales.
"But if we don't have forests, we won't produce the rain we need to make this project sustainable. We can't have a hydroelectric plant in the desert."
The world is changing, he says, and the military must adapt to new and emerging threats.
The Ecological Battalion will work, he said, because it is in the army's nature to be green.
"We wear olive drab and camouflage," said Col Lopez. "Our colour is green by nature. Now we have to make it that by conscience, too."
Listen to the women of Honduras
Jody Williams. The Ottawa Citizen. March 4, 2012
This weekend thousands of mining industry people from across Canada and around the globe are in Toronto for one of the world's premiere mining investment conferences. Two speakers at the conference are from Honduras — the minister of the environment and natural resources, and the director of the mines ministry of Honduras — who will talk about "developing a new mining act for Honduras."
Up until recently, this small fact would not necessarily have caught my attention. But a few weeks ago I led a delegation of prominent women from Canada and the U.S. — lawyers, women's rights experts, journalists and artists — to Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. There we heard testimonies from more than 200 women affected first-hand by the increasing levels of violence in the region.
In Honduras what we found is that the 2009 coup d'état and the subsequent crackdown on women opposing it have greatly fuelled a climate of already shocking levels of violence against women.
We expected to hear some tough things in Honduras — after all, the UN is now calling this tiny country the "murder capital of the world." But the situation was worse than we had imagined, even for those of us, including myself, who have long track records of working in Central America. Last year, in the first six months, 195 women were murdered — most were under 30 years old. It was hard to find a woman who had not been beaten, or beaten and raped. Sadly, the very people who are supposed to be protecting women in Honduras pose the greatest threat to them, namely state security forces. And increasingly, private security firms being hired by mining companies, mega projects and the business elite in Honduras are also behind the extreme violence against women.
In Honduras, our delegation met with women who have been impacted by the San Martin mine in the Siria Valley. The mine is owned by a subsidiary of Canadian Goldcorp. The women talked about how the mining operation has contaminated local water supplies. They blame the poor water quality for mysterious skin rashes on children and adults in the community, and attribute findings of high arsenic in the urine and lead in the blood of residents living near the mine to the gold operations (now in the process of closing). Despite having spoken out about their concerns over the mine's effects on health for years, residents in the Siria Valley have yet to receive much medical attention or compensation.
Journalists trying to cover the story are also at risk. Since the coup in 2009, 18 journalists in Honduras have been killed. At least another 25 have faced death threats. A few days before we arrived in Honduras, Gilda Carolina Silvestrucci — a local journalist who was talking to environmental activists about the problems with mining in the Siria Valley — received threats against her life and those of her children. Recently a journalist in Santa Rosa de Copan, where the Canadian company Aura Minerals operates, also reported receiving threats for having reported on concerns over mining operations in the area.
Understandably, these women have some very serious concerns about the highly touted mining law.
After meeting with Honduran President Porfirio Lobo and his security minister, none of my colleagues or I came away with any hope that this situation for women may change any time soon. The president blamed the violence on the drug trade, and the security minister said his hands are tied by weak legislation that does not allow him to crack down on police corruption and abuse.
What Honduran officials do seem eager to discuss is how Honduras is "open for business." The second morning of our visit, I was interviewed on one of the major morning television talk shows. Sitting next to me was Chile's deputy minister of mines, who was in Honduras to sign a new Honduran-Chilean mining agreement and provide some advice on the shaping of the new Honduran mining law. Honduras's minister of natural resources and environment — who signed the Chilean deal that day and is one of two Honduran officials who will present this week in Toronto — is part of a government that is clearly hoping that the new law will encourage the big mining companies to return to Honduras.
The proposed law would accelerate the licensing process for new mines in Honduras, including open-pit mines, and simplify the rules for mining companies planning to operate in Honduras. It would also reduce environmental standards and privilege water use by mining companies. At the same time, the new law would open the door for foreign states to become title owners of mining concessions, and it fails to ensure the communities that will suffer the most direct impact from the mining have any meaningful say over mining developments.
It appears that the Canadian government is eager for the deal. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade was involved in bringing the two government officials to Toronto this week to attend the mining convention. They seem quite undeterred by high levels of insecurity in Honduras, which likely helped put the country almost at the bottom of the list of the world's attractive places for international mining investments.
When we asked the women of Siria Valley what they wanted, their response was quite simple. They told us they want the public health issues in the Siria Valley addressed, and charges dropped against local activists who have been protesting against the mining. They also want to be included in consultations about the proposed law and any future mining concessions and to have their input taken into account.
In creating this new law, the Honduran government has bent over backwards to meet the needs of Canadian and other mining companies, but has carried out almost no consultations with Honduran civil society and community organizations. A recent survey shows that the majority of Hondurans reject open-pit mining and associate it with harmful affects to the environment and human health. These communities are now asking that the process to approve the proposed mining law be slowed down and their legitimate concerns be taken into account.
A few days after we left Honduras, the Canadian Embassy in Honduras sponsored a workshop on "corporate social responsibility" at which the ambassador said the Canadian government is working toward ensuring "benefits for communities where mines operate." Yet, the Canadian Embassy remains silent on the human rights abuses committed by mining companies, while playing a prominent role in facilitating high-level meetings for corporations that would be the beneficiaries of this law.
If the Canadian government is serious about a commitment to corporate social responsibility, it must demonstrate that commitment. Empty pronouncements will do nothing to respond to the needs of the communities affected by existing mines and opposed to new ones. Canada must ensure that the Honduran government consults with its own people, insist that the environmental and health impacts of existing Canadian operations are adequately addressed, and urge Honduran authorities to protect the right of Hondurans to dissent and freedom of expression.
Honduran women, their families and their communities deserve nothing less.
Jody Williams is chair of the Nobel Women's Initiative, an organization that supports women human rights defenders around the globe. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work to ban landmines.
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration [contents]
AP. March 4, 2012
Vice President Joe Biden heads to Latin America Sunday amid unprecedented pressure from political and business leaders to talk about something U.S. officials have no interest in debating: decriminalizing drugs.
Presidents of Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia and Mexico, all grappling with the extremely violent fallout of a failing drug war, have said in recent weeks they'd like to open up the discussion of legalizing drugs. Argentina, Uruguay, Peru and Mexico already allow the use of small amounts of marijuana for personal consumption, while political leaders from Brazil and Colombia are discussing alternatives to locking up drug users.
Business leaders are weighing in as well: in February, a group of banking, medical and legal experts sponsored a drug policy conference in Mexico City which concluded that current drug control policies aren't working and need reform.
"It's a different moment when you have actual heads of state talking about the need for a thorough debate on this," said John Walsh, a drug policy expert at the Washington Office on Latin America, an independent think tank. "It's certainly different for sitting presidents to be uttering those words. You wouldn't have thought it possible just a few years ago."
Dan Restrepo, the top Latin America official in the White House, briefing reporters about Biden's upcoming trip, said the vice president does expect a "robust conversation" about the security problems Latin American countries face as drug traffickers battle to control the lucrative U.S. sales. But he said Latin American leaders shouldn't expect a shift in policy.
"The Obama administration has been quite clear in our opposition to decriminalization or legalization of illicit drugs," said Restrepo.
Biden is scheduled to arrive in Mexico City on Sunday to discuss economic and security issues with Mexican President Felipe Calderon. He also plans to meet Monday with the three top Mexican presidential candidates running for a six-year term to replace Calderon this year.
On Tuesday Biden is slated to travel to Honduras to meet President Porfirio Lobo, along with the presidents of El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica and Guatemala, all countries struggling with the sweeping consequences of expanding drug cartels. Drug gangs have killed tens of thousands, overcrowded prisons are overflowing with accused drug users while powerful cartels fuel corruption -- influencing elections, weakening democracies and threatening fragile economies.
"I do think that the issue of legalization will be raised by the leaders to Biden, but in private," said Walter McKay, a policing expert on security issues in Mexico, where more than 47,500 people have been killed in drug gang violence since 2006.
Two weeks ago, Guatemala's president Otto Perez Molina, a right wing conservative and former army general, stunned observers when he declared the U.S. inability to cut illegal drug consumption leaves his country with no option but to consider legalizing the use and transport of drugs. He vowed to galvanize regional support.
Since then, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla and El Salvador's President Mauricio Funes have said they're open to the discussion, while Panama's leaders say they do not agree with decriminalizing drugs.
For decades Latin Americans leaders and the U.S. have cooperated on a war on drugs, with more than a trillion dollars spent by the U.S. to support enforcement and eradication in Latin America, as well as promises to reduce cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine use in the U.S. that generates an estimated $25 billion in profits each year.
But during that time, demand for drugs has increased, fueling violent competition between dealers.
In 2009, former presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia blasted the war on drugs and said it was time to consider the decriminalization of marijuana. Last summer they were joined by more than a dozen high level international leaders including former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former U.S. officials George P. Shultz and Paul Volcker, again slamming the war on drugs as a failure and calling on governments to undertake experiments to decriminalize the use of drugs, especially marijuana, to undermine the power of organized crime.
But while it's one thing for former presidents to suggest decriminalizing drugs, it is another thing entirely when sitting presidents do so, said retired Brazilian judge Maria Lucia Karam in an email to The Associated Press.
Karam said that while Latin American leaders at first may have been willing to give the "get tough" strategy time to work, they've been worn down by the drug war's relentless toll.
"The public comments we are seeing are a sign of deep frustration and anger that is now prevalent in Latin America due to the U.S. and U.N.'s seeming unwillingness to engage in a serious debate about implementing effective drug policies that respect human rights and truly protect health," she said.
Danny Kushlick, who heads the London-based Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said the region is "on the verge of a tipping point that will begin when the Latin Americans raise the issue within earshot and in full view of the Americans. Ultimately this is about allowing democratic conversations to take place without being leaned upon by the U.S."
But former U.S. drug czar John Walters said those who are calling for a debate on legalization are taking a dangerous and misguided step.
"I would note to them that the kind of dangerous people they face would welcome that change, to become more powerful," he said. "Legalizing is not a solution, it's an excuse."
Biden Visits Mexico, Honduras Amid Calls to Debate Drug Strategy
Adam Williams. Bloomberg. March 5, 2012
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will begin a visit today to Mexico and Honduras amid growing calls by regional leaders to debate legalizing the consumption of drugs as frustration with an American-led crackdown grows.
Five Central American presidents have said in the past week they were willing to engage in regional discussions over a change in policies, including the decriminalization of the use of drugs, to reduce drug-trafficking that is fueling a rise in violence and homicides in their region.
“If we keep doing what we have been when the results today are worse than 10 years ago, we’ll never get anywhere,” Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said in a Feb. 29 interview. Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon, who has seen murders surpass 40,000 since he declared war on the nation’s drug gangs in 2006, has also shown a willingness to debate new tactics.
The U.S., which in 2008 pledged $1.6 billion to fight drug gangs in Mexico and Central America through the Merida Initiative, remains unwilling to alter its opposition to drug legalization. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who visited Central America last week, said it “is not the way” to stop the flow of drugs.
Together with the half-century embargo against communist Cuba, the U.S. anti-narcotics crackdown has long irritated Latin America, the source for most of the cocaine and heroin consumed in the U.S. The U.S. has delivered $13.1 billion in anti-drug aid to Latin America and the Caribbean from 1990 to 2008, according to the Congressional Research Service.
That strategy may become a target of criticism by regional leaders when President Barack Obama travels next month to Colombia, the epicenter of the U.S. drug war abroad, for the sixth Summit of Americas, according to Michael Shifter, President of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.
Biden today meets with Calderon to discuss economic, immigration and security issues. About 80 percent of Mexico’s exports are sent to the U.S. and growth in Latin America’s second-biggest economy is closely-linked to its neighbor’s recovery from the global financial crisis.
Mexico’s central bank Governor Agustin Carstens said on Feb. 15 said the economy would grow 3 percent to 4 percent this year and next. The peso has strengthened 9.2 percent against the U.S. dollar this year, the biggest gain after Colombia’s peso among major Latin American currencies tracked by Bloomberg.
Biden will also meet with the candidates from Mexico’s three major parties competing in a July 1 presidential election before heading to Honduras tomorrow. In the Central American country he’ll meet with President Porfirio Lobo as well as the leader of Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama to discuss security and the region’s relations with the U.S.
Biden is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Honduras since the 2009 military coup in which then-President Manuel Zelaya was expelled from the country. Zelaya was ousted by soldiers after the Supreme Court ruled that his push to rewrite the constitution was illegal.
The U.S. broke with many countries in Latin America, including Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina, in recognizing Lobo’s post-coup government. Since then tensions between those countries and the U.S. has eased after Lobo allowed Zelaya to return to Honduras and established a truth commission to probe the causes of the coup.
Violence in Central America has risen even after the U.S. started the Merida Initiative to support law enforcement in the region, a major transit zone for the cocaine that arrives from Colombia by boat and then works its way north by land into Mexico and over the border into the U.S. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world, with 82 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2010, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Corruption among security forces is blamed for much of the violence. In January, Honduras’s Congress approved a law to create a commission to “cleanse” the national police and judicial officials. A specially-designated committee of national and international officials will interrogate and administer lie detector tests to security and judicial personnel beginning this year, according to text of the law.
Lobo said last week that an “infinite number of human lives” have been lost to drug violence and that as many as 22 people are murdered daily in his country.
Central American drug legalization talks were sparked last month by Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, who shortly after taking office said his government would “bring the debate to the table.” The former army general said that “while drug consumption is not being reduced, the problem will continue.”
Guatemala’s Vice President Roxana Baldetti met with the presidents of Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras last week to discuss methods to combat regional drug traffic, including possible legalization.
The added value of cocaine passing through Central America may equal about 5 percent of the countries’ gross domestic product, according to the 2011 annual report of the International Narcotics Control Board, an independent body that monitors the implementation of UN drug conventions.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who helped carry out the U.S.-led anti-narcotics strategy as his nation’s defense chief until 2009, called for a legalization debate last year and likened the war on drugs to a stationary bike. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox has also supported debate of the subject.
The murder rate in Mexico increased 65 percent from 2005 to 2010, including more than 20,500 homicides in 2010, according to the UN. The Mexican government estimates that violence shaves 1.2 percentage points off economic output annually.
To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Williams in San Jose, Costa Rica at email@example.com
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