Latin America News Round-up
March 12, 2012
Right-Wing Party Holds Slim Lead in El Salvador Polls
For the latest news and developments on Haiti, please see CEPR's blog, "Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch."
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Brazil and Southern Cone
LatAm gays reach high govt offices
Brazil to Announce New Stimulus Measures Next Week, Estado Says. Bloomberg
Brazil Slaps 6.0% IOF Tax On Foreign Loans Up To Five Years. Dow Jones
Brazil prosecutors look into dictatorship murders. AP
End of a long stormy relation: IMF to close office in Buenos Aires. Mercopress
Argentina’s Oil-Producing Provinces Step Up Pressure on YPF. EFE
An Indigenous Language With Unique Staying Power. New York Times
Northern Andean Region
Thousands rally to show support for Hugo Chavez. AP
Consumers Line Up to Buy Chinese-Venezuelan Cars. AFP
Chavez's dream grows in 'socialist' Venezuelan city. AFP
Colombian colonel apologizes for murder of two youths. Colombia Reports
Western Andean Region
Bolivia defends coca consumption as age-old tradition. Reuters
Peru: Shining Path chief reveals gruesome tales. GlobalPost
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean
Latin Americans seek US-style electioneering. AP
AP Exclusive: Mexico police nearly nabbed El Chapo. AP
Right-wing party holds slim lead in El Salvador polls. AFP
Hondurans Continue Protests in Bajo Aguán Region. NACLA
Carbon Blood Money in Honduras. FPIF
That 'Blooming' Portia statement! Jamaica Gleaner
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration
LatAm gays reach high govt offices. AP
Remittances to Latam and Caribbean picked up in 2011 and reached 61 billion. Mercopress
Mercosur/EU meet for a new round of negotiations in Brussels. Mercopress
Brazil and Southern Cone [contents]
Brazil to Announce New Stimulus Measures Next Week, Estado Says
Matthew Bristow. Bloomberg. March 11, 2012
Brazil President Dilma Rousseff’s government will announce measures next week to boost demand and target economic growth of 4 to 5 percent this year, O Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper reported, citing an interview with Trade Minister Fernando Pimentel.
The measures are intended to complement the central bank’s 0.75 percentage point interest rate cut this month, and will be announced jointly by the Finance Ministry, the Trade Ministry, and the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Sao Paulo-based newspaper said, citing Pimentel. Pimentel declined to say what the measures will be, the newspaper said.
Pimentel also said the government is studying the possibility of extending tax breaks for household goods such as stoves and washing machines, according to Estado.
To contact the reporters on this story: Matthew Bristow in Brasilia at email@example.com.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brazil Slaps 6.0% IOF Tax On Foreign Loans Up To Five Years
Dow Jones. March 12, 2012
Brazil's government Monday extended a 6.0% tax on short-term foreign loans of up to five years, it said through a decree by President Dilma Rousseff.
Previously, the 6.0% financial operations tax, or IOF, was charged only on loans of three years or less.
The measure is part of an explicit government effort to arrest the appreciation of the Brazilian real against the U.S. dollar.
Brazil's government has become increasingly worried about the possibility that large amounts of capital will flow into Brazil seeking the country's high interest rates. The government blames easy-money policies in the U.S., Europe and Japan for providing a huge amount of cash in global markets, and the money which finds its way into Brazil puts undue pressure on the local currency, damaging the competitiveness of local industry.
Finance Minister Guido Mantega has consistently stated that the government is ready to take measures to prevent the currency from appreciating excessively.
Critics have argued that the currency is one part of Brazilian industry's problems, and that there is much more both the government and industry can do to improve its ability to compete in global markets.
The Brazilian real has appreciated about 5% against the U.S. dollar since the beginning of the year. Late Friday, the currency was trading at BRL1.7820.
--By Rogerio Jelmayer, Dow Jones Newswires; 55 11 3544 7071; email@example.com
Brazil prosecutors look into dictatorship murders
AP. March 11, 2012
RIO DE JANEIRO -- A Brazilian newspaper is reporting that federal prosecutors are investigating cases of forced disappearances during the country's 20-year military dictatorship.
In a report Sunday, prosecutors told the Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper that cases involving kidnappings and hiding of bodies may fall outside the amnesty law that released civilians and military from liability for political crimes.
They argue cases where the missing person is never found are "permanent crimes" falling outside the 1961-1979 period covered by the law.
On Friday, prosecutors heard witnesses about the disappearance of Edgard Duarte, seen for the last time in a police cell in 1973. He is one of 156 disappeared.
In Brazil, prosecutors investigate a case before filing a charge.
End of a long stormy relation: IMF to close office in Buenos Aires
Mercopress. March 12, 2012
In a surprise move the IMF has decided to close its office in Buenos Aires and Argentine issues will be managed and formally addressed from Peru, according to a report from La Nacion, quoting IMF sources.
This is the second time in recent years that such a drastic decision was taken. The previous was in 1994 with President Carlos Menem, but only lasted for six months, since quite soon Argentina was back again requesting financial support.
According to La Nacion IMF sources preferred not to talk about the tense relations between Argentina and the IMF, only arguing that the Fund’s strategy since the outbreak of the international crisis has been to concentrate human and financial resources to those areas where they have financial or technical assistance programs.
“The main focus now is in Europe and that is where some of the offices to close in South America will be located” said the sources.
The local IMF economist Mexican born Maria Gonzalez Miranda (who is also representative before Uruguay) will return to Washington and report to Nicolas Eyzaguirre who is responsible for Latam.
Argentina-IMF relations have been stormy, to say the least.
In November 2001, days ahead of the major default the IMF suspended all assistance to Argentina. And in 2005, then President Nestor Kirchner, having agreed with then IMF Managing Director Rodrigo Rato, repaid all pending loans and cancelled the whole debt. Kirchner presented the event as a corner stone for political independence and financial sovereignty.
A year later was the IMF last review of the Argentine economy in the framework of Article IV, which is done annually in all IMF member countries. In 2007 the Kirchner administration started to manipulate the inflation index and other stats, the exchange of information with the IMF ceased. The IMF then started to openly mistrust Argentina’s Indec indexes given the strong divergences between those figures and those elaborated by private consultants and at least ten provinces.
An Argentine judge then called on the IMF to clarify its statements, but alleging diplomatic immunity the Fund ignored the demand but was very disappointed with the whole incident.
The last chapter dates back to 2010, when other members of the IMF board asked for sanctions on Argentina for not publishing ‘transparent or adequate” stats based on international criteria. President Cristina Fernandez yielded and a technical cooperation agreement was signed between the IMF and Indec to improve stats, showing results in 180 days.
However the 180 days were up last January. And the IMF board questioned the poor results and made several recommendations, but with no sanctions, yet. But Argentina accepted a review of its financial system, which is one of several tasks of the IMF with all its member countries.
Summing up, Argentina is the only G20 member that does comply with IMF commitments; the Cristina Fernandez administration is very critical of the IMF austerity programs and claims greater emerging countries representation in the management of IMF.
Argentina’s Oil-Producing Provinces Step Up Pressure on YPF
EFE. March 11, 2012
BUENOS AIRES – Argentina’s four largest oil-producing provinces have warned the YPF petroleum firm, controlled by Spain’s Repsol, to increase its production and they may announce the withdrawal of drilling licenses in the coming days if the company does not present an investment plan.
Wednesday is the deadline that the government of Chubut, Argentina’s main oil-producing province, had set for the firm to present an investment plan or else have YPF’s licenses to exploit two areas in that province expire.
Chubut Gov. Martin Buzzi on Friday night met with Santa Cruz Gov. Daniel Peralta to analyze “the YPF situation,” officials said.
The provinces of Santa Cruz and Mendoza have also said that the oil firm must increase its investments, and Neuquen – the country’s largest natural gas-producing province, where YPF has large interests, joined in that sentiment on Friday.
Buzzi, an ally of President Cristina Fernandez, told the official Telam news agency that the YPF situation “has a limit” and is near its “end point.”
Media outlets speculated Saturday about the possibility that Buzzi would announce, once the deadline imposed on the firm expires, the withdrawal of the drilling licenses awarded to YPF in the El Trebol-Escalante and Campamento Central-Cañadon Perdido fields.
YPF “categorically” denied last Tuesday having failed to fulfill its investment and production commitments in those areas and warned that it will resort to the courts to defend itself against what it feels is “arbitrariness” on the part of the Chubut government.
YPF, in which Repsol has a 57.43 percent stake and Argentina’s Petersen Group holds a 25.4 percent interest, produces 19.6 percent of the oil in Chubut, a province that contributes about one-third of the crude that is extracted in Argentina.
YPF increased its investments in Argentina by about 50 percent in 2011 to a record 13.3 billion pesos ($3.05 billion).
An Indigenous Language With Unique Staying Power
SIMON ROMERO. New York Times. March 12, 2012
ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay — Legislators on the floor of Congress deliver speeches in it. Lovers entwined on Asunción’s park benches murmur sweet nothings with its high-pitched, nasal and guttural sounds. Soccer fans use it when insulting referees.
To this day, Paraguay remains the only country in the Americas where a majority of the population speaks one indigenous language: Guaraní. It is enshrined in the Constitution, officially giving it equal footing with the language of European conquest, Spanish. And in the streets, it is a source of national pride.
“Only 54 of nearly 12,000 schools teach Portuguese,” said Nancy Benítez, director of curriculum at the Ministry of Education, of the language of Brazil, the giant neighbor that dominates trade with Paraguay. “But every one of our schools teaches Guaraní.”
Paraguay differs significantly even from other multilingual Latin American nations like neighboring Bolivia, where a majority of the population is indigenous. Languages like Quechua and Aymara are spoken by different groups there, but rarely by people of mixed ancestry or the traditional elite.
In Paraguay, indigenous peoples account for less than 5 percent of the population. Yet Guaraní is spoken by an estimated 90 percent of Paraguayans, including many in the middle class, upper-crust presidential candidates, and even newer arrivals.
“Mba’éichapa?” asked Alex Jun, 27, a Korean immigrant who works in his family’s restaurant in Asunción’s old center, as he greeted customers with a Guaraní phrase translating as “How are you?”
“We’d go broke if we didn’t know the basics,” he explained.
Linguists and historians say the complex reasons for the broad use of the indigenous language here date to the earliest days of Spain’s incursions in the 16th century. The encomienda, a system common within the Spanish empire that forced indigenous people to work for Europeans and their descendants, did not penetrate big parts of the territory that eventually became Paraguay.
Meanwhile, Jesuits created communities for the Guaraní and other indigenous groups covering vast expanses, as depicted in the 1986 film “The Mission.” They armed Guaraní Indians against slaving expeditions, while nourishing the language in books and sermons.
When Spain expelled the Jesuits in 1767, more than 100,000 Guaraní speakers spread throughout Paraguay, said Shaw N. Gynan, an American linguist. Decades later, Guaraní speakers formed the bulk of support for the post-independence ruler José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, who took aim at the Spanish-speaking elite.
A despot who ruled until 1840, Francia was called Caraí Guazú, Great Lord. He banned those in the light-skinned upper class from marrying each other, sealed Paraguay’s borders and used Guaraní-speaking informants called pyragues, or fleet-footed ones, to bolster his tyrannical regime.
The result: a hobbled Europeanized elite by the end of Francia’s rule. Other dictators would later use Guaraní to stir nationalist fervor. Generals rallied troops in Guaraní in the devastating Triple Alliance War in the 1860s, which killed more than 60 percent of the population.
Isolation also sustained Guaraní. The Paraguayan novelist Augusto Roa Bastos, who mixed Guaraní with Spanish in his writing, called this landlocked, California-size nation an “island surrounded by land.”
Under Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, the dictator who ruled from 1954 to 1989, Guaraní thrived. At one point during General Stroessner’s rule, the writer Graham Greene warned that visitors risked being shot in the street by police officers if they did not understand Guaraní.
General Stroessner, the son of a Bavarian immigrant and his Guaraní-speaking wife, made it an official language, employed his own espionage network of pyragues and rewarded rural Guaraní-speakers with land for their loyalty.
“As disturbing as this may seem, political leaders in Paraguay have found it convenient to appeal to the masses in Guaraní, often suppressing liberalizing forces in the process,” said Mr. Gynan, the linguist.
When democratic rule was established in the 1990s, steps again were taken to strengthen Guaraní. The 1992 Constitution made Guaraní equal to Spanish. Officials said they have aggressively expanded Guaraní instruction in primary schools.
Teaching Guaraní is a subject infused with nationalism and competing theories of how to prevent Guaraní from being eclipsed by Spanish, long dominant in the legal system and in business.
Meanwhile, Guaraní is treading into new realms. Works like “Don Quixote” and the “Book of Mormon” recently gained Guaraní translations. Those proficient in written Guaraní exchange text-messages farewells like “Jajuecháta Ko’érõ,” which means, “We’ll see each other if tomorrow comes.”
A vibrant linguistic crossroads also persists in yopará, a mixture of Guaraní and Spanish. One yopará phrase is “ley del mbarate,” or “law of the strongest.” It captures the essence of a nation known as a haven for smugglers, arms dealers and counterfeiters.
Guaraní has also made diplomatic inroads. The former American ambassador, James Cason, a fluent Guaraní speaker who described it as “probably harder than Chinese,” recorded a Guaraní folk-song album in 2008 that put him on some radio stations’ playlists.
“It was obviously astute for Cason to do this,” said María Eva Mansfeld de Agüero, a member of the National Bilingualism Commission. “A diplomat here shouldn’t just speak Spanish at cocktail parties.”
Not everyone is bullish about Guaraní’s prospects. Ramón Silva, a poet and essayist who hosts a daily television program in Guaraní, is one skeptic. “Guaraní is slowly advancing to its death,” he said.
“It’s the perfect language for verbally disemboweling an adversary,” Mr. Silva said. “But Guaraní is in intensive care.”
He said his major concern involved the creation of new words in Guaraní to replace words borrowed from Spanish. “Using poorly created words may be well intentioned,” he said, “but neglects the reality of the language and pushes speakers into Spanish.”
Mr. Silva’s books still sell out, including a poetry collection titled “Na’ápe,” a work he proudly called “anti-dictatorial and vulgar.” The title, which translates as “take this” or “showing the middle finger,” opens a window, he says, into Guaraní’s mischievous capacities.
Others here share Mr. Silva’s concerns about Guaraní’s long-term future, pointing to factors like the increasing migration of peasants from the rural interior, where Guaraní is often the dominant language, to cities, where Spanish holds more sway.
Still, for a glimpse into Guaraní’s future, and the nationalist sentiment the language still arouses among some speakers, the writing may literally be on Asunción’s walls.
As many Paraguayans chafe at Brazil’s rising economic profile, one line of graffiti scrawled here reads, “Itaipu Ñane Mbae.” It refers to the huge Itaipu hydroelectric dam on the border with Brazil, owned by both nations but viewed by some as a symbol of submission to South America’s powerhouse.
“Itaipu,” the graffiti reads in translation, “is ours.”
Northern Andean Region [contents]
Thousands rally to show support for Hugo Chavez
AP. March 10, 2012
Thousands of supporters of Venezuela's president Hugo Chávez have held demonstrations across the country to show support for their leader while he recovers from cancer surgery in Cuba.
Demonstrators danced, beat drums and waved flags as they marched through the Venezuelan capital. Crowds of Chávez supporters also held simultaneous rallies in other cities.
In messages posted on Chávez's Twitter account, the president cheered on the demonstrators. One message said: "Let's go boys! Building the socialist homeland!" Another proclaimed: "I send all you my heart and my commitment to life and to Victory!"
The president has said surgery in Cuba removed a tumour from the same location in the pelvic region where another tumour was removed in June.
Leaders of Chávez's socialist party spoke to the crowds, expressing optimism that the president will fully recover and win re-election in October. They sought to counter any speculation that Chávez's health might get in the way of his re-election bid.
Justice minister Tareck El Aissami said Chávez's political movement is firmly unified in "one single bloc and one single current." He denounced government opponents as "fascists."
"We have one single plan ... Hugo Chávez is our candidate!" El Aissami said at a rally in western Trujillo state.
National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, another longtime ally of the president, led the crowd in chants of "Ooh-ah! Chávez isn't going away!"
"El Comandante is with us!" Cabello said. "There is no Plan B. ... El Comandante will come and will be the candidate of the revolution!"
At a rally in Caracas, Vice President Elias Jaua read aloud a message from Chávez that also appeared on Twitter, in which the president said he had a long conversation with Fidel Castro on Friday. "I told him about the youth march today, and he asked me to tell you how much he admires you. Viva Fidel!"
Some of the president's admirers held portraits of him.
Angel Lopez, an unemployed 22-year-old, said he isn't thinking of anyone else taking Chávez's place in the future.
"We have one leader, and that's El Comandante. ... We have faith he'll continue with us," Lopez said, adding that he thinks Chávez still has a great deal left to do in his drive toward socialism.
Chávez has said his cancer was first diagnosed during a visit to Cuba last June. He underwent four rounds of chemotherapy following initial surgeries last year, but announced in February that he was returning to Cuba for surgery to have a lesion removed.
Chávez has described the most recent tumour as measuring about 2 centimetres (0.8 inches) across. He has declined to identify the precise location or type of cancer.
Chávez plans to undergo radiation therapy treatment, although it's unclear how soon that will begin.
The 57-year-old leader, a former lieutenant colonel who was first elected president in 1998, is seeking another six-year term in the Oct. 7 vote. His rival, 39-year-old state governor Henrique Capriles, handily won a first-ever opposition presidential primary last month.
El Aissami said Chávez "will soon be together with the Venezuelan people in the streets."
Consumers Line Up to Buy Chinese-Venezuelan Cars
Lissy De Abreu. Agence France-Presse. March 12, 2012
Just weeks after the opening of four Chery dealerships in Venezuela, dozens of people are lining up every day to buy the first Chinese cars being sold in the Latin American nation.
Unlike competing Japanese and American cars, import preferences granted by the Venezuelan government mean the Chinese cars are cheaper, which has attracted a steady stream of interested customers.
The cars are assembled in Venezuela under an agreement with the Chinese, who President Hugo Chavez considers a major ally. The manufacturing enterprise is financed jointly by Chery and a Venezuelan public-private company.
Three other Chery dealerships are operating in other parts of Venezuela. The manufacturer plans eventually to expand to 18 Venezuelan dealerships.
Chavez named the car models the Arauca and Orinoco after two rivers that run through Venezuela.
Until sales of the Chery began, Venezuela suffered a shortage of cars because of import and exchange controls on other foreign vehicles.
Japanese and American brands like Toyota and Chevrolet operate plants in Venezuela, but they do not benefit from "exchange preferences" like the Chinese companies, according to economist Jose Guerra.
"Cadivi (the government agency that oversees foreign exchange) provides discretionary dollars and encourages Chinese enterprises" because of the close relations between the Venezuelan and Chinese governments, he said.
State banks offer credit lines of as much as 80% of the cost of the cars.
"The first weeks we were helping 250, 300 people a day, but it was overwhelming and some employees quit the first day. Now we serve customers according to identity card numbers and that's about 150 people daily," said Carlos Vargas, the Chery dealership manager.
The auto dealers have been able to keep up with demand so far because the manufacturing started months before the dealership opened. The dealership's management hopes to sell about 400 cars a month when sales reach a normal pace, which Vargas says will likely be later this year.
About 5,000 of the vehicles were assembled last year by the Chinese-Venezuelan enterprise. This year, they hope to assemble 18,800 of the vehicles.
Other Chery cars are imported from China, but mostly for sale to officials and offering better options than many cars purchased at the dealerships.
The Cherys are only one line of Chinese products recently offered in Venezuela under trade agreements.
Since 2010, Venezuelans have been able to buy Chinese mobile phones and household appliances, which are sold for discount prices at state stores.
Chavez's dream grows in 'socialist' Venezuelan city
Valeria Pacheco. AFP. March 11, 2012
CARACAS — After nine months in a flood victims' shelter, Daviana Padron now lives in a free apartment, works in a cooperative bakery and her kids attend a new school in the Venezuelan city of Caribia.
The coastal town outside Caracas is a model of what President Hugo Chavez refers to as his Bolivarian socialist revolution. And he plans to eventually turn the socialist-minded project into home to more than 100,000 people.
It also is an example of how Chavez hopes passionate grassroots support from low-and-middle-income Venezuelans will propel him to a third term as president in the upcoming October 7 vote.
He faces a tough election against Henrique Capriles, a 39-year-old lawyer who is popular among Venezuela's moderate and conservative voters.
Chavez says Capriles appeals to business interests while the ailing president draws supporters from more rural and economically disadvantaged.
Padron is one thousands of Venezuelans who credits her new lifestyle to Chavez's policies after heavy rains in 2010 washed out thousands of homes, leaving her and about 130,000 other people as victims.
"My life has changed too," Padron, 41, said. "I was a very aggressive person and I did not like being approached. Since I've been here, I share, I work, I talk to people and they listen to me."
Bread at the bakery where she works costs half as much as in the rest of Venezuela.
The packaging on locally made drinks reads: "Made with socialism."
Since August, about 5,000 people have moved into apartments in Caribia with up to four bedrooms each. For now, their rent is free but the government plans to establish payment plans for them based on their income.
In addition to the school, services in the city include child care, a health center, a hairdresser, a small market and a clothing store.
Padron says she does not want to return to Caracas, where she was unhappy with daily life and Venezuela's highest cost of living.
"I'll have nothing to do with Caracas," said Padron, who with her four children and partner were among the first families to move to Caribia. "My life is here."
But Padron and her neighbors also worry about how long what she calls her "little paradise" will last if Chavez is not reelected.
Chavez is recovering in Cuba from his second cancer surgery in less than a year. He acknowledged publicly recently that the tumor was malignant, which has created concern among supporters in Caribia that the next government might doom the urban project's future.
"With the help of God and the Virgin, Chavez will be fine because if he dies, this is over and things will become difficult here," said Carlos Silva, a 47-year-old baker whose voice became anguished and eyes watered amid discussion of a possible end to Chavez's administration.
He and Padron work with nine others in the cooperative bakery, where they display a photo of Chavez. Nearby, dozens of buildings are under construction. Work on the city started in 2007.
About 800 apartments have been built in Caribia so far with plans for 20,000.
"I live here peacefully and happily thanks to God and Chavez," Silva said. "We are starting a new city. If we care for it, it will stay safe.
Colombian colonel apologizes for murder of two youths
Arron Daugherty. Colombia Reports. March 12, 2012
A Colombian Army Colonel has apologized to the families of two Colombian young people killed by his military unit, said local media Monday.
Colonel Fernando Lopez Colmenares, under orders from military command, apologized to the families of Hortensia Neyid Tunja and Manuel Antonio Tao Pilinmue.
The two youths, 17 and 21 years old, were shot and killed by army personnel as the two left a party on January 8, 2006. The youths were later reported as guerrillas soldiers killed in combat, part of an ongoing practice known as "false positives," in which dead civilians are reported as enemy combatants in order to increase army kill rates and or cover up crimes.
During the ceremony Lopez said, "The sense of humanity brings us to face this community, and with firm conviction recognize the errors and ask forgiveness of these brave people."
After a mass for the two dead youths Lopez gave their families a bouquet of flowers as a symbol of apology.
Western Andean Region [contents]
Bolivia defends coca consumption as age-old tradition
Fredrik Dahl. Reuters. March 12, 2012
(Reuters) - Bolivian President Evo Morales defended Bolivians' right to chew coca leaves, the main ingredient of cocaine, on Monday, saying it was a tradition going back thousands of years and the world's No. 3 cocaine producer was working to fight drug trafficking.
The coca leaf was declared an illegal narcotic in the 1961 U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, along with cocaine, heroin, opium and morphine and a host of chemical drugs.
Bolivia has withdrawn from the convention but hopes to re-accede with a reservation recognizing coca chewing.
Morales, a former coca leaf farmer, told a United National anti-drugs meeting in Vienna on Monday that chewing coca leaves was an "ancestral right" for Bolivians.
"We are not drug addicts when we consume the coca leaf. The coca leaf is not cocaine, we have to get rid of this misconception," he said, holding up a coca leaf during a speech that ended with applause from the hall.
"This is a millennia-old tradition in Bolivia and we would hope that you will understand that coca leaf producers are not drug dealers."
Bolivia, the biggest cocaine producer after Peru and Colombia, has been trying to promote coca's health benefits and develop legal uses for coca leaves.
Coca is the raw material for making cocaine but Bolivians have chewed the leaves for centuries as a mild stimulant that reduces hunger and altitude sickness.
Morales has asked the United Nations to decriminalize the practice.
"We would hope that those who are present in this room will recognize that consumption of the coca leaf ... is essentially for positive purposes and will support us," he told the meeting in comments translated from Spanish to English.
"We are very much aware of the damage that can be done by cocaine and we are working against drug trafficking ... but we want the recognition of these ancestral rights."
He showed participants at the meeting marmalade, tea and other products made with coca to back up his assertion that the leaf is not dangerous and can have beneficial uses.
Earlier, Yury Fedotov, head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said illegal drugs represented a "trans-national threat of extraordinary proportions" as he opened the week-long Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in the Austrian capital. Progress on fighting the production of illegal drugs had been limited, he said.
"Have we achieved results? Yes, but only in some areas," Fedotov told participants in a speech.
"Over the last decade, coca cultivation has decreased by one third, opium poppy cultivation has also declined by 15 percent, while overall opium production is still increasing."
U.S. SEES BOLIVIA DRUGS FAILURE
Earlier this month, the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs said Bolivia had failed "demonstrably to make sufficient efforts to meet its obligations under international counter-narcotics agreements".
"Taken as a whole, eradication and interdiction results have not been adequate to compete with the rising drug trends that have brought Bolivia back to high coca cultivation and cocaine production levels," it said.
Bolivia and the United States agreed late last year to patch up their differences and restore full diplomatic ties three years after the Andean nation's leftist president threw out the American ambassador and Drug Enforcement Administration agents.
However, Bolivia said it would not let U.S. anti-drug agents return even as government officials work with Washington on a plan to fight the narcotics trade.
(Editing by Susan Fenton)
Peru: Shining Path chief reveals gruesome tales
Simeon Tegel. GlobalPost. March 11, 2012
LIMA, Peru – Disturbing new allegations of the violence used by Shining Path have emerged from the interrogation of a recently arrested leader of Peru's deadly rebel group.
“Artemio,” whose real name is Florindo Eleuterio Flores, was arrested last month in the remote Huallaga Valley, on the eastern slopes of the Andes, where he had been leading remnants of the group. A shoot-out with police left him wounded in the hand and stomach.
He was regarded as the last of the major leaders still at large from the Shining Path’s heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, when the rebel group plunged Peru into a civil war that killed nearly 70,000 people.
Flores, 50, is being held at a naval base near Lima, where police interrogators have been attempting to wean information from him about the recent operations of the Shining Path (“Sendero Luminoso” in Spanish).
The group — listed as a “terrorist organization” by the US government — now consists of two small bands of guerrillas, holed up separately in the Huallaga and another isolated, jungle-covered valley.
Although it continues to attack police and military patrols, occasionally even downing a helicopter, the Shining Path’s dwindling firepower is now a far cry from the days when it launched murderous attacks in downtown Lima and effectively laid siege to the entire country.
Flores is accused of more than 100 murders and has been formally charged with terrorism and drug trafficking. If convicted, he is likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
“Yes, I assume my responsibility as the head of the Regional Committee (of Shining Path in the Huallaga Valley) in the different actions and forms of struggle,” he is reported to have told interrogators.
In one chilling confession, Flores revealed how he allegedly ordered the late 2007 slaying of four members of a family in apparent revenge for the killing of a Shining Path member known as “Clay.”
“Yes, they were executed with my approval … I acknowledge being the author of the liquidation because I ordered it. When Comrade Clay died, I ordered an investigation. Later, they brought me the results, concluding that that family was responsible.
“Comrade Piero proved it and eliminated those people. It was an act of punishment and justice for the death of a comrade. I acknowledge the said elimination formed part of the policies of my party.”
Flores also admitted that the main goal behind the Shining Path’s continued violence in recent years was the liberation of Abimael Guzman, known as Comrade Gonzalo, the group’s founder and supreme leader. He is serving multiple life sentences after his arrest in 1992.
“I respect and admire him because he is my leader and continues to be so. I am a ‘Gonzalista’ combatant,” Flores told La Republica.
Flores’ capture has provided a major political boost to President Ollanta Humala. It may also pave the way for Peruvian security forces to finally take control of the lawless Huallaga, one of the world’s largest production centers of coca, the main ingredient in cocaine.
“The days of Sendero Luminoso being a strategic threat to the Peruvian state ended with the capture of Abimael Guzman,” Gustavo Gorriti, Peru’s leading investigative journalist, who interviewed Flores in his jungle hideout in December, told GlobalPost. “But Artemio was still a danger regionally and locally.”
The arrest has also shone a light on Peru’s uphill struggle to come to terms with its recent bloody past.
There is increasing concern that Peru’s booming young population knows little or nothing about the Shining Path’s atrocities, principally committed against some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens, such as peasants and indigenous communities from isolated areas of the Andes and Amazon.
“There is a long way to go still,” political scientist Eduardo Dargent told GlobalPost. “Part of the problem is that many of the victims were Quechua speakers and ‘campesinos’ who have little influence in society. They live in remote places and usually lack the resources or capacity to make their voices heard.”
Official indifference has also played its part. Critics complain that Peru’s schools fail to meaningfully teach the country’s modern history.
Meanwhile, many on the right in Peru avoid talk of human rights, which would raise difficult questions about the response to the Shining Path by former President Alberto Fujimori, now serving a 25-year jail term for directing death squads.
Even Prime Minister Oscar Valdes recently sparked outrage by accusing the Shining Path’s thousands of surviving victims of the “theatricalization” of their experiences.
Yet if some Peruvians still fail to grasp the brutality of the Shining Path, the reason may also be rooted in the sheer lack of reason or logic in the group’s devastating violence.
As Gorriti observes: “Many people died without ever knowing why, and many people killed without knowing why.”
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean [contents]
Latin Americans seek US-style electioneering
MARTHA MENDOZA. AP. March 12, 2012
CANCUN, Mexico -- On a recent February morning, as sleet darkened Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., three prominent Obama strategists gathered near the sparkling, turquoise waves of the Caribbean and opened their playbooks to hundreds of Mexican candidates and campaigners, each of whom had paid $900 for an insider peek at their most successful tactics.
"People tell me, 'We'd like you to do an Obama for us,'" said veteran Democratic media consultant Jim Margolis.
Mexicans are running this year for everything from mayor to president and are turning to American-style electioneering in hopes of generating the kind of excitement that shot an underdog into the White House four years ago. And with $1 billion estimated to be spent on Mexico's elections, U.S. political consultants see a lucrative opportunity.
"Doing an Obama" can be tricky in a democracy that has banned negative campaigning and fundraising, and where only one in three voters has Internet access, but the fundamentals remain the same: Candidates must win the trust of voters, and they will need technology to woo them.
"In order to effectively push through the clutter, you have to have a message that is real and true, authentic and credible," Margolis told the crowd. "And voters must be targeted and reached on their terms."
In Mexico's last presidential election six years ago, Twitter was preparing to launch, Facebook was open mostly to a few thousand Ivy League students and the iPhone was just a rumor.
This year, presidential candidates are developing phone applications, writing Wikipedia pages and launching YouTube channels.
But with low Internet penetration in Mexico, compared with about 80 percent in the U.S., traditional tactics also endure. Sweaty supporters wield bullhorns hollering slogans, bright plastic campaign flags line the streets, and rallies feature the essential political ingredients: spicy chicken tacos, steaming pork tamales and sugared cakes.
"We've learned from the U.S. in a big way, but we've still got to do things our way," said Alejandro Gonzalez, a Mexico City consultant whose creative campaign is credited with helping Mexico's first female presidential candidate, Josefina Vazquez Mota, win her primary in February. Now, as Vazquez Mota heads toward the July 1 general election, Gonzalez said they're mirroring President Barack Obama's 2008 social media strategy, offering a warm, carefully managed image that is constantly scrutinized: Too soft? Too tough? Too sharp?
Like Obama's video announcements emailed directly to supporters, Vazquez Mota also has exclusive YouTube videos viewable only by registering at her website. On her Facebook page, a digital application automatically makes clicking on her face a "like." Visitors also can download "I'm going with JVM" files to print onto T-shirts or buttons. She has spent much of her campaign pledging to make Mexico safer.
Her opponent, front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto, who is promising to build the economy and bring new jobs to Mexico, blogs about murder rates and his love of country and responds directly to Twitter messages.
Pena Nieto is the most digitally engaged right now, with 1.6 million "likes" on Facebook, but Vazquez Mota is closing on him, with 1.2 million - up from just a few hundred thousand in January. Those "likes" may turn into votes, as Vazquez Mota has gained significant ground in one recent poll. In a country where candidates need about 18 million votes to win the presidency, those Facebook followers alone could swing the vote.
The third major party candidate, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who trailed with 17 percent support in a recent poll, is also getting creative online: During major speeches, his website now streams the event live, and with a click of a mouse, viewers can forward the video to friends or embed it in their own websites.
Exporting U.S. electioneering began in the 1980s, long before politics had moved online, and now at least 110 U.S. political consultants are competing for an estimated $5.3 billion worth of overseas campaigns, mostly in developing countries. Among those at the Cancun conference were visitors from Brazil, Argentina and Colombia.
"It's an export business. We are imprinting our way of doing things on countries around the world," said Tom Edmonds, who heads the International Association of Political Consultants.
But they don't always get it right.
U.S. consultants learned a painful lesson in 2000 after the incumbent Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) hired President Bill Clinton's political strategist, James Carville, to help run its presidential campaign.
A Carville-influenced slogan, "It's the right kind of change, stupid," was plastered nationally on billboards, street banners and bumper stickers. But something was lost in translation.
"Unlike Americans, Mexicans had difficulty with being called 'stupid' by a politician. They took it literally, and it wasn't funny," said Portland State University political scientist Gerald Sussman, who believes it underscores what's wrong with growing U.S. influence on elections abroad.
"Democracy has never been ideal, never pure, but these days it's become an enormous spectacle," he said. "There isn't a deep-seated engagement of issues."
The PRI lost the presidency that year for the first time in 70 years for a number of reasons, and Mexican consultants said American-style electioneering lost its luster.
That changed in 2008, says Anita Dunn, a Democratic operative who served as Obama's White House communications director.
"After our win, we started getting a lot of interest from Mexico," she said. "People here wanted the nuts and bolts, how did we do it?"
Even consultant Daniel Paredes Tuyo, working for the PRI, said he's turning back to U.S. consultants this year, at least for advice.
"Americans, they really know how to circumnavigate the mass media and get their message directly to the voters," he said.
In Mexico this became crucial after election reforms in 2007, prompted by a vote-counting fiasco a year earlier that included a court-ordered recount and charges of fraud. The tough new laws limit campaigning before March 30 and ban candidates from buying advertisements. Instead, radio and television stations must now provide millions of free 20-second spots to candidates. In addition, fundraising is largely prohibited, and the government pays for 90 percent of campaign expenses.
As if those rules aren't mystifying enough for American consultants, negative advertising is forbidden, and can provoke steep fines.
"Banning negative ads? Come on, are these people supposed to win an election by out-complimenting each other?" said Washington D.C.-based consultant John Aristotle Phillips, whose current clients include presidential and parliamentary candidates and referendums in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.
And like all government rules, there are technicalities. In the case of Mexico, authorities imposed controls on billboards, radio, TV, magazines and newspapers but left a loophole of infinite proportions: the Internet.
Thus in Mexico today, YouTube videos and Facebook pages already are launching harsh attacks that would be banned in any other Mexican media. After Pena Nieto couldn't name the three important books of his life at the Guadalajara International Book Fair, satirical bloggers cut and pasted new digital campaign posters that said: "First, learn to read." Twitter rants have accused Vazquez Mota of lightening her skin and a YouTube channel dubbed VazquezMota says she hid one of her daughters from family photos because the girl is "too fat."
"Come on, man! Her daughter! We just don't answer that," said her adviser, Gonzalez.
In contrast, television advertisements vetted by federal election officials feature upbeat politicians and pithy slogans: "Today we are building a new future. Unite!" says Pena Nieto. "Real change is on its way!" says Obrador. There's no mention of opponents.
Ravi Singh recently opened a Mexico City office for his Washington, D.C.-based ElectionMall.com to pitch his online campaign packages.
"These are our golden days, with the rise of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter," said Singh. "We sell tactics to both sides, and let the political consultants worry about strategy."
His goal this year is to launch Mexico's first digital war room similar to one he set up two years ago in Colombia for President Juan Manuel Santos' successful bid. Singh said that in just a few days, they set up network servers, BlackBerrys or iPhones for the 80 campaign staffers, video streams from live events, websites, Twitter and Facebook accounts and "an abundant supply of Red Bull, potato chips, candy and anti-bacterial soap."
But not too much Red Bull. While Mexican candidates are eager for the information, they don't want anyone in this deeply nationalistic country to accuse them of being partial to the U.S.
"Typically American consultants are something you want to hide," said Republican strategist Michael Caputo in North Miami, Florida. "Everyone's got them, but they keep them in the doghouse."
AP Exclusive: Mexico police nearly nabbed El Chapo
KATHERINE CORCORAN. AP. March 12, 2012
MEXICO CITY -- Much like the late Osama bin Laden, the man the U.S. calls the world's most powerful drug lord apparently has been hiding in plain sight.
Mexican federal police nearly nabbed Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in a coastal mansion in Los Cabos three weeks ago, barely a day after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with dozens of other foreign ministers in the same southern Baja peninsula resort town.
Jose Cuitlahuac Salinas, Mexico's assistant attorney general in charge of organized crime investigations, confirmed on Sunday that there was a near miss in late February in the government's efforts to arrest the man who has become one of the world's top fugitives since he escaped prison in a laundry truck in 2001.
"We know he was there," Salinas told The Associated Press.
The incident fuels growing speculation that authorities are closing in on Guzman, and that the government of President Felipe Calderon is determined to grab him before his six-year term ends in December.
Calderon can't be re-elected, and his National Action Party is trailing in the polls ahead of the July 1 presidential vote. Many Mexicans say they are weary of his government's assault on organized crime that has left more than 47,000 dead and Guzman stronger than ever. The arrest of the top capo likely would be a political boon to the ruling party.
Two men and two women in the house where Guzman allegedly had been staying were detained and are in the custody of the attorney general's organized crime unit, Salinas said. He did not release their names but said at least one of the men served as a pilot for Guzman. Federal police also found arms in the house, Salinas said, but he did not offer details.
The raid was led by Mexican authorities. Salinas would not say if the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had any involvement. The DEA referred all comment to the Mexican government.
Since his prison escape, Guzman, 54, has transformed himself from a middling Mexican capo into what the U.S. Treasury Department calls the world's most powerful drug trafficker.
Calderon's government says it doesn't rank the 15 cartel leaders on its most-wanted list, but Guzman's Sinaloa cartel controls trafficking in nearly half of Mexico. Much of the rest of the country is in the hands of the Zetas cartel.
U.S. law enforcement officials say no other cartel has the international cocaine distribution networks of Sinaloa, which is also making a major push into methamphetamines in Mexico and Central America. Guzman appears annually on the Forbes magazine list of the world's billionaires, and also has been named by the magazine as one of the world's most powerful people.
He has a $7 million bounty on his head in Mexico and the U.S., and teams of law enforcement agents from both countries are devoted to his capture.
Guzman is often rumored to be hiding in the remote hills of his home state of Sinaloa, or in other locations, including Argentina for a time. Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said he has reports that Guzman has been in his country recently as well.
One U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks quoted Mexican Defense Secretary, Gen. Guillermo Galvan Galvan, as saying that Guzman moves frequently among 10 to 15 locations to avoid arrest, and has a security detail of up to 300 men.
Salinas said he didn't know if this time Guzman was in the house with only four other people and lacked the expected entourage of bodyguards and surveillance equipment, which reportedly normally includes helicopters. He would not give details of how the operation was carried out or what the four may have told authorities.
"That's classified information," he said.
Rumors also surface regularly that police have shown up in various hideouts just as Guzman is escaping out the back door. Law enforcement and military have said they were close before, including raiding a remote Sinaloa town where Guzman got married in 2007 hours after the wedding.
His narrow escapes raise the suspicion that he could be getting tipped off, including this time.
A series of bus burnings and narco road blocks in Guadalajara on Friday fueled new talk that authorities had captured Guzman. The commotion instead was related to the arrest of a leader of a smaller cartel, the New Generation, believed to be aligned with Guzman.
"We're still searching," Salinas said. When asked if authorities are close, he just smiled.
Salinas wouldn't say when federal police received the intelligence that Guzman was in one of several exclusive subdivisions of million-dollar homes between the Cabo San Lucas Highway and the beach. The operation ran several days starting on Feb. 21, just as the city had been filled with top security and foreign ministers meeting in advance of the June G20 countries, which will also be held in Los Cabos.
Salinas said he did not know the exact location of the house where the operation took place. But municipal police commander Alfonso Meza said it is located in the exclusive Punta Ballena development overlooking the Gulf of California. The home is still sealed off by the attorney general's office and the organized crime division, he said.
The Calderon administration has long been accused of protecting Guzman as it carried out major hits on his enemies, dismantling the rival Arellano Felix and Beltran Leyva cartels and taking out top leaders of the Gulf Cartel. But more recently, the Calderon government has come up with major hits on Sinaloa. In the last six months, it has netted Guzman's major methamphetamine manufacturer, a major cocaine shipper and Guzman's security chief, seizing computer files and other valuable data.
Los Cabos, at the tip of Baja peninsula, is considered one of the safest locations in Mexico, a favorite vacation spot among Hollywood stars and thousands of U.S. tourists who still venture to Mexican beaches despite the violence that plagues much of the country.
But the peninsula also has been frequented by drug lords. Federal police arrested one of Mexico's most violent drug traffickers, Teodoro Garcia Simental, known as "El Teo," two years ago in the home he owned in La Paz, north of Los Cabos.
The U.S. Coast Guard in 2006 arrested Francisco Javier Arellano Felix, head of the Tijuana-based Arellano Felix gang, as he was sport fishing off the coast of Los Cabos.
Osama bin Laden, the United States' most wanted man for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, was killed by commandos last May in his compound an upscale suburb of Islamabad, Pakistan.
Like Guzman, many had speculated he was hiding out in rugged mountains. Instead, he was found a short distance from the country's main military academy.
Right-wing party holds slim lead in El Salvador polls
AFP. March 12, 2012
SAN SALVADOR (AFP) - A right-wing opposition party on Monday led by a slim margin in El Salvador's general election in which the leftist government of President Mauricio Funes faced a key test of its popularity.
With more than 89 percent of precincts reporting, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) was ahead with slightly over 39.7 percent of the vote.
It was closely followed by the ruling Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) with 36.8 percent.
A conservative coalition named GANA led by ex-president Elias Antonio Saca, a congressional ally of the FMLN, was a distant third with just 9.4 percent of the ballot. Six smaller parties also fielded candidates.
If the results hold, ARENA will control 33 out of 84 congressional seats, FMLN 31 and GANA 11, officials said.
ARENA, which ruled El Salvador for two decades following the country's civil war, campaigned on a tough anti-crime platform that resonated with many voters tired of rampant crime.
"I voted because I want to see changes in this country -- our children and grandchildren live just like us, afraid of so much violence," Mirna de Cordova, 66, told AFP.
De Cordova showed up with her husband Roberto early to vote at a polling station on the outskirts of the capital San Salvador, only to find that polls opened more than an hour behind schedule due to logistical problems.
Like many voters, De Cordova said she wants to toughen laws against crime. Around 14 people are murdered every day in El Salvador, population six million, according to government figures.
While unemployment dropped during the Funes administration, young people continue to emigrate to the United States.
A staggering one in three Salvadorans now lives in the United States, providing remittances of more than 3.6 billion dollars in 2011, around one sixth of gross domestic product.
Funes, a political moderate with high approval ratings, has two more years as president in this tiny, densely-populated Central American nation.
But his popularity does not necessarily transfer into votes for his party, the FMLN.
In an improvised press conference as he voted Sunday, Funes urged voters to help him "guarantee that the changes that are taking place are strengthened, and not turned back."
The FMLN has campaigned promising social programs and job creation in a nation with unemployment among one third of the population.
ARENA has pledged a tougher tack against crime and youth gangs, or "Maras," that now control entire neighborhoods in large cities and smaller communities, which they turn into drug-trafficking havens.
Both main parties "have developed similar propaganda... without explaining how they will deliver on their promises," said Jannet Aguilar, director of the Institute of Public Opinion at the UCA.
As well as voting for lawmakers, about 4.5 million Salvadorans also elected mayors of 262 towns and cities.
The biggest single prize was for mayor of the capital San Salvador, where ARENA Mayor Norman Quijano has strong support in his reelection race against the FMLN's Schafik Handal, son of a prominent ex-guerrilla of the same name.
The FMLN says it plans to build a simple majority with at least two minority parties this time around.
The FMLN was founded by Marxist guerrillas fighting a US-backed government in the 1980s. More than 75,000 people were killed during the 1980-1992 civil war.
Election officials have said that many polling places opened late on Sunday, suggesting that this might delay the final tally.
Hondurans Continue Protests in Bajo Aguán Region
Tim Russo. NACLA. March 9, 2012
Over the weekend of February 18 and 19, in Tocoa, Honduras, more than 1,400 campesinos, indigenous peoples, and their allies met to continue their fight against repression. Activists organized the international gathering in solidarity with Honduras to expose the rampant violations of human rights and the systematic killing of campesinos. For months, campesinos have been struggling for land rights as agricultural corpo799 (Credit: Pelusaradical.blogspot.com)rations take over more land. The fight has centered around Miguel Facussé and his agro-fuels Dinant Corporation, as well as the Standard Fruit Company. Speaking to the crowd, Melissa Cardoza, with the Convergence of Popular Movements in the Americas (COMPA), read from the gathering's declaration about the state of human rights in Honduras:
The war in Honduras that has been furiously unleashed since the coup d’état is manifested with assassination, persecution, the criminalization of organized actions, kidnappings, sexual violence toward women, intentional crimes that terrorize the children that live in the villages of campesinos in struggle, attacks against the grassroots media, imprisonment, exile, and lately, arson attacks against distinct populations of the country.
Family members continue to demand answers regarding the prison fire that killed more than 350 people. On Monday, relatives broke into a morgue, demanding their loved ones' remains. Many Hondurans are also questioning a second fire that erupted over the weekend at the country's largest outdoor market in Tegucigalpa. No one was killed, but many vendors now lack a place to sell their goods. The fires are just the latest disasters to hit the country with the highest homicide rate in the world.
One of the objectives of the gathering was to launch an international solidarity brigade, which would observe and document human rights abuses in the Bajo Aguán region. In this vast valley, landowners like Facussé grow African palm, which is then processed and made into cooking oils and biodiesel. Human rights in the country have declined since the 2009 coup and one of the most violent regions is the Bajo Aguán. Over 60 farmworkers, or campesinos, have been killed over the last two years in Bajo Aguán because of complex land conflicts with Facussé, the country’s wealthiest landowner.
Consuela Castillas used to work on one of Facusse's African palm plantations. The middle-aged campesina, who was born in the Bajo Aguán, eventually began organizing with the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), both to secure land rights and to fight for the health of workers. Castillas herself suffers from chronic asthma from years of working with toxic chemicals used in palm production. She said the threats against activists like her have been increasing.
“For approximately 8 months there has been a continuous persecution by the private security forces of Miguel Facussé towards my house and my daughters where they live in Coralizita,” Castillas said. “There has been a constant and daily monitoring of my daughters and a persecution towards them when they leave for school.”
In addition to private security forces, the state military presence in the Honduras and in the Aguán specifically has grown since President Porfirio Lobo took office in 2010. Activists said this has increased the harassment of communities, challenging the vast monocrop fiefdom run by Facussé. Salvador Zuniga of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) said that death threats are an everyday occurrence for environmentalists and campesinos who inhabit many biologically diverse regions of Honduras.
“I think that it is important that world knows about that the constant violation of human rights in our country continues and has become quite acute,” Zuniga said. “It is good that people know about this but also that they plan actions to be executed in defense of our human rights in a country that is becoming characterized by violence and repression, and in particular in the sector of the Bajo Aguán, where a daily occurrence is the detention of men and women campesinos as well as their assassinations.”
In addition to international human rights groups, some U.S. lawmakers have also raised the issue of violence Honduras. Late last year, U.S. Representative Howard Berman wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, expressing his concern about the systematic violations of human rights and killings of campesinos in Honduras. Berman and other lawmakers want the State Department to withhold military aid until human rights improve. But Annie Bird, co-director of the Washington D.C.-based Rights Action, said there has been little response from the Obama administration to the growing violence. She said that could be due to geopolitical interests and the expanding us military presence in Honduras.
“The US has a very direct military presence in the Aguán and of course in Honduras in general. While it is true the government in Honduras is completely collapsed, there is no justice system, and the police are part of organized crime the military is part of organized crime. You know the conclusion that is being drawn from that is that well the U.S. needs to militarize more, have a more direct military presence, the DEA acting directly in the region. And of course we need to create new police forces for Honduras that the U.S. needs to do that, when that is absolutely the wrong answer to what’s happening, more militarization will not change the situation or solve any problems,” she said.
The campesino's fight for land rights is starting to achieve some results. Last Friday, a group of farm workers signed an agreement with President Porfirio Lobo that would give land titles to campesinos for close to 20,000 acres of land over the next fifteen years. But some have criticized the latest agreement, which includes a six percent interest rate on the payment of the lands. Activists are also demanding an end to detentions of labor leaders and the harassment of families.
Tim Russo is a reporter based in Mexico. This article is an edited version of a radio report originally prepared for Free Speech Radio News (FSRN). You can hear the FSRN report here. For more see "Out of the Past, a New Honduran Culture of Resistance," by Dana Frank, May 3, 2010, and "Biofuel (the New Banana) Republic," by Suzanna Reiss, September 15, 2011.
Carbon Blood Money in Honduras
Rosie Wong. FPIF. March 10, 2012
With its muddy roads, humble huts, and constant military patrols, Bajo Aguán, Honduras feels a long way away from the slick polish of the recurring UN climate negotiations in the world’s capital cities. Yet the bloody struggle going on there strikes at the heart of global climate politics, illustrating how market schemes designed to “offset” carbon emissions play out when they encounter the complicated reality on the ground.
Small farmers in this region have increasingly fallen under the thumb of large landholders like palm oil magnate Miguel Facussé, who has been accused by human rights groups of responsibility for the murder of numerous campesinos in Bajo Aguán since the 2009 coup. Yet Facussé’s company has been approved to receive international funds for carbon mitigation under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
The contrast between the promise of “clean development” and this violent reality has made Bajo Aguán the subject of growing international attention — and a lightning rod for criticism of the CDM.
The Coup and Its Aftermath
In June 2009, a military coup in Honduras deposed the government of Manuel Zelaya, stymieing the government’s progressive social reforms and experiments with participatory democracy. "It was not only to expel President Zelaya,” says Juan Almendarez, a prominent Honduran environmental and humanitarian advocate. The coup happened “because the powerful people in Honduras were acting in response to the people’s struggles in Honduras.”
The result has been social decay and political repression. The homicide rate in Honduras has skyrocketed under the Porfirio Lobo regime, registering as the world’s highest in 2010. Human rights groups highlight the ongoing political assassinations of regime opponents. In this small country of 8 million people, 17 journalists have been killed since the coup. LGBTI organizers, indigenous rights activists, unionists, teachers, youth organizers, women’s advocates, and opposition politicians have also received death threats or been killed. Those responsible are rarely punished by the justice system, which instead devotes its energies to prosecuting social and human rights activists. Protests are often met with teargas canisters and live ammunition.
The coup has also proved a setback for campesino activists seeking to halt the encroachment of large landowners on their farms.
The Struggle for Land in Bajo Aguán
Highly unequal land distribution has long been an issue in Honduras, and genuine land reform has been evasive. However, partial agrarian reform in 1961 made the rainforests of Bajo Aguán available for cooperatives of farmers who migrated there from other parts of the country. Clearing the forests to make the land suitable for farming was extremely difficult work, but the farmers’ perseverance turned it into one of the most desirable and fertile agricultural lands in the country.
However, under pressure from international financial institutions, Honduras’s government passed the Law of Agricultural Modernization in 1994, allowing large producers to extend their territories beyond the maximum legal property limits. As a result, large landowners began to buy up the land of small farmers, effectively reversing whatever limited land reform had been achieved. The human costs were immense. According to Juan Chinchilla of the Unified Campesino Movement of Aguan (MUCA), “it forced masses of farmers to migrate to the cities and to the U.S. under terrible conditions.”
An older movement, the MCA (Campesino Movement of Aguan), has organized several dramatic acts of resistance to this dislocation. In May 2000, the collective orchestrated a remarkable mass occupation of a former U.S. military base on a large tract of arable land controlled by agro-industrialists. Coordinating with landless farmers from all over the country, the MCA organized 50 trucks and, early one morning, entered the former base and tore down its fences. This occupation continues today, despite threats and persecution.
In 2008, MUCA occupied one of Miguel Facussé’s palm oil processing plants and subsequently entered into negotiations with then-President Zelaya to have occupied lands legally transferred to small farmers. When the coup occurred and jeopardized these hard-won gains, landless farmers mobilized against it, with MUCA officials travelling to the Nicaraguan border to meet Zelaya on his second attempt to return to Honduras. It was there that MUCA decided to organize a mass land occupation starting on December 9, 2009.
But despite this resistance, aggressive landholders buoyed by the coup have continued their onslaught against the farmers of Bajo Aguán. According to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, 42 farmers were assassinated between September 2009 and October 2011 in Honduras. More recent reports have the numbers in the 50s by 2011. In one surprisingly brazen incident in November 2010, after five farmers were killed in El Tumbador, Facussé gave a press statement acknowledging that it was his hired security guards who were responsible.
A community member from the Marañones settlement in Bajo Aguán described an eviction of small farmers from the Guanchía cooperative on 8 January 2010, carried out by a contingent of 500 police and soldiers with teargas and guns: “It was a violent eviction where they had nothing legal to show us; the first greetings they gave us were the weapons. They began to shoot at us, to capture and beat our compañeros. There were captured children, nine of them…compañeras were raped…our homes were destroyed, our food – they took part of it and destroyed the other parts.”
Almost every farmer I interviewed said that it was unsafe to leave their settlements. The countryside is dotted with military checkpoints, and farmers have been killed travelling to or from their settlements. “The way we see it, it has become a crime to be a farmer here,” Heriberto Rodríguez of MUCA explained. There have been at least four military operations in the area since 2010.
Palm Oil and Power
Bajo Aguán’s small farmers are already under siege. But carbon trading with the global North could help to fuel in this aggression even further under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Set up under the current UN climate treaty, the CDM is supposed to encourage “clean” technology in the South and to provide Northern actors with the most efficient (i.e., cheapest) way to reduce global pollution. The basic equation is simple: a project in the global South that ostensibly reduces carbon emissions generates carbon credits. These credits can then be bought and sold by companies in the global North, who can use them to meet government requirements to reduce pollution without actually reducing emissions in their factories or power plants.
Dinant, Facusse´s palm oil company, has set up one of these projects. In the past, the company's palm oil mill pumped its waste into large open pits, a process that produces large quantities of methane. Dinant's project involves capturing this greenhouse gas and using it to power the mill. The project's blueprint claims that it will reduce pollution in two ways: first, by not letting the methane from open pits escape straight into the atmosphere, and second, by preventing pollution from burning the fossil fuels that were formerly used to power the mill.
Dinant’s approval is obviously problematic for a number of reasons.
First, with the expanding palm oil industry contributing to massive deforestation in sensitive tropical regions, it’s ironic that Dinant would be rewarded for environmentally sound practices. Moreover, its CDM approval essentially endorses a business model of producing palm oil for export—instead of food for local consumption—in a country where one in four children suffers chronic malnutrition. As Heriberto Rodríguez argued, “We don’t need palm oil here. We need what we can eat.”
Finally, if Wikileaks cables detailing some of Facussé’s more unsavory dealings—including but not limited to his potential links to drug traffickers (to say nothing of his documented violence against local farmers)—are any indication, Facussé’s misdeeds are no secret to the North. And yet one CDM board member told a journalist that “we are not investigators of crimes” and that there is “not much scope” to reject the project under CDM rules.
As rights groups have brought these problems to light, Northern companies associated with the project have pulled out one by one, including a consultant that contributed to the project application, the German government bank that had agreed to give a loan to Dinant, and the French electricity company that had agreed to buy the credits. This has left Miguel Facussé and Dinant out on a limb. However, the struggle to stop European carbon market money from flowing to Bajo Aguán is not finished: the CDM board has re-approved the project, and the British government has not withdrawn its support, which means that new buyers could still appear.
Not for Sale
At an international human rights conference held in Bajo Aguan in February, MUCA signed an agreement with the Lobo regime that included a financing plan for the farmers to pay the large landholders for occupied land. But critics say that even if the government can be trusted (itself a questionable proposition), the crucial issues of assassinations and impunity were ignored. Facussé´s company is now accusing farmers of new “invasions.”
Needless to say, the situation in Bajo Aguán continues to be incredibly dangerous. Local rights groups have called for a Permanent Human Rights Observatory to witness, document, and discourage the ongoing violence against farmers in the region.
Although growing international condemnation has made it more difficult for Dinant to access carbon market money, the project remains officially sanctioned, and loans from international development banks have not been cancelled. Heriberto Rodríguez, speaking from his roadside hut in an Aguán settlement, had no doubt about the impact of this international support: "Whoever gives the finance to these companies also becomes complicit in all these deaths. If they cut these funds, the landholders will feel somewhat pressured to change their methods.”
MUCA spokesperson Vitalino Alvarez rejects the idea of carbon trading projects altogether. “To get into these deals is like having [our land] mortgaged,” he said. “So to this we say no; this oxygen, we don’t sell it to anybody."
Rosie Wong has accompanied the anti-coup movement in Honduras since 2009, visiting Honduras three times and doing organizing work in Sydney, Australia. She compiles monthly updates at http://www.sydney-says-no2honduras-coup.net and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kylie Benton-Connell, currently based in Brazil, provided research support.
That 'Blooming' Portia statement!
Ian Boyne. Jamaica Gleaner. March 11, 2012
The fiery controversy over the prime minister's reference to Greece in that Bloomberg interview has died down, but the release of the transcripts reveals that she made some other noteworthy statements which have so far not generated any comment in the media.
The prime minister has clearly signalled to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that Jamaica should not be assessed purely on macroeconomic criteria, but also in terms of the need for social equity and the protection of the vulnerable. In fact, the thrust of her controversial statement, which was blown out of context, was that a country like Jamaica needs special consideration from the IMF and the developed world in light of its challenges to adjust to the global economic crisis and its socio-economic status. Of course, Bloomberg is the last place you would want to take that message, as it is the mouthpiece of the international financial elite which sees nothing but numbers.
But the PM was determined to speak and to send her message to those who have ears. "I would really love to see the IMF take into consideration that while trying to balance the books - that's very critical and important - we should at the same time try to balance people's lives."
She continued: "A struggling country like Jamaica ... if we could get something, if we could get some consideration from some countries, IMF or otherwise, then we would be on our way to growth, development and progress." This was exactly what her former Comrade leader, Michael Manley, struggled for when he made his clarion call for a New International Economic Order. But Bloomberg's audience would see this as reckless Third World fantasy and perhaps another sign that Jamaica is not really ready for serious internal reforms; rather, it is looking to others to bail it out.
There are many here who hold that view also, and who feel that all Jamaica needs to do is to get its own house in order, "take the hard decisions", "bite the bullet", deal with production and make Jamaica business-friendly and then "watch Jamaica grow". The neoliberal vision. I believe that is a misguided view, as regular readers know.
Jamaica certainly needs to pursue fiscal prudence and it needs to remove macroeconomic distortions. But unless the IMF team now in Jamaica is prepared to negotiate with Jamaica pragmatically and realistically, rather than follow its usual theological dogmas, meaningful growth will continue to elude Jamaica. Oh, yes, we will be able to pay back our debtors and achieve certain macroeconomic targets. But, Lord, have mercy, the poor will feel it!
Portia understands this. She told Bloomberg, significantly: "And what I am hoping is that the negotiators of the IMF will take what she's (IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde's) been saying into consideration in terms of looking at countries that are suffering tremendously and that people are hurting."
Of course, the IMF has no such concern, blinded as it is by its dogmas and macroeconomic rituals. Prime ministers can only plead. They have no power to compel the IMF to follow logic or to think about what economic growth is really for.
But those with no inflexible dogmas to defend must make their voices heard and must bring reason, research and rigour to bear on public discourse.
In that regard, I was extremely delighted by the intervention last week of the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition, which made a highly cogent presentation to the Special Select Committee of Parliament looking at tax reform. The presentation was a model of eirenic reasoning.
The paper presented began with a quotation from Bishop Robert Thompson, who wrote in a recent Sunday Observer column: "If our economic and monetary policies are shaped by market forces alone ... with little regard to the social reality of the marginalised, no one in the long run benefits ... the poor must be seen as part of the social capital for national development."
And as though that were not enough to establish the Coalition's philosophical foresight, long-time social activist Horace Levy, who made the remarks before the committee, hit the entire tax-reform proposals at its philosophical roots. "We wish to see social equity placed alongside growth, so that the two together form the joint objective of the whole reform, the overarching perspective guiding it."
I had told you before that under Carol Narcisse's leadership, this group was shaping up to be a most potent force, intellectually and socially, being a truly non-partisan voice in the society. (They will be sorely needed now, with so many who were formerly critics of the State now complicit with it.)
Levy went on to make a profound philosophical point: "We recommend, therefore, that the Green Paper should explicitly acknowledge in its preamble the wider societal context, concerns and realities - we live in a society, not an economy." Profound, profound point not lost on those acquainted with the development literature. The IMF itself was originally set up not only to deal with price and exchange-rate stability but also with employment expansion; however, it has lost its way over the years, succumbing to a more narrow agenda and exhibiting a monetarist fetish.
BALANCED AND NUANCED
No one could accuse the Civil Society Coalition of making "old-fashioned, knee-jerk ideological claims for rich corporate interests looking out for their own at the expense of the poor," as The Gleaner, predictably, dismissed critics of the Private Sector Working Group's (PSWG) recommendations in last Tuesday's editorial. No, the Coalition was balanced and nuanced in its report. It started by commending past and present governments, as well as the private sector, for their commitment to tax reform.
The Coalition even advises the Government and the private sector to build a wider consensus to sell the tax-reform package.
Levy gave good advice to the committee: "As the voices of opposition to the removal of GCT exemption get louder, it will be critical for Parliament's tax reform to set out clearly the benefits to the poor, naming specific categories, both directly and through increased tax intake, that can be ploughed back into education, health and general social welfare. The 'selling' of tax reform is not be easy. But it is absolutely necessary." So these are not people giving knee-jerk reactions against hard-working business people, as supposed.
The Coalition, like me, expresses strong reservations to the removal of general consumption tax (GCT) exemption from basic foods and goods and recommends a phased, one-year implementation schedule for removal. Like me, the Coalition is concerned about the mechanisms to replace the GCT exemptions for the poor, and says, sensibly: "A phased removal, we urge, would give time for the mechanisms for increase and other needed changes to be put in place."
The Coalition has done what the PSWG has not done publicly, which is to pay attention to the replacement mechanisms for the poor. The PSWG also seems to underestimate the challenge involved in the State's efficiently designing a system to compensate the poor. Levy told the parliamentary committee that the Coalition was also concerned about other poor and vulnerable Jamaicans who are not direct beneficiaries of the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH).
"These are especially the 690,000 persons who make up the rest of the population of 1,080,000 million ... the 40 per cent of the population with the lowest incomes." And while the PSWG has adduced figures to show how the wealthy consume most of the subsidies ostensibly designed for the poor, the Coalition adds the significant fact that: "According to the Survey of Living Conditions, these (poor) households, the majority of them headed by women, spend nearly three out of every five dollars on food."
And the Coalition's written submission says: "Data from submissions by the private sector suggest that only minor increases in expenditure would be experienced by the poor with the removal of GCT exemptions. The data do not reveal the reality of consumption patterns - the number of repeat purchases of exempted goods in a given day, week, month, year, and therefore the real cumulative costs as a percentage of income of the poor/working, poor/lower middle class. This income has limited or no elasticity."
It is this kind of careful nuancing which characterises the Coalition's paper and its presentation last week.
This is what is needed: A calm, sober, data-driven and philosophically sensitive discussion on economic-development issues. A very important, if at times heated, exchange took place in Parliament two weeks ago. Audley Shaw and Andrew Holness were at their best in questioning and critiquing Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips. Audley debunked the view that the JLP Government was fiscally irresponsible. Phillips had talked about the country losing credibility with the IMF because of delays in the programme. The PNP has lambasted the JLP for not moving apace with the IMF programme, but let us gauge its eagerness - in applying the IMF's bitter-medicine prescriptions.
Andrew Holness asked Phillips some poignant questions. For when all the propaganda is over, Phillips and his Government will have to face the hard issues the JLP faced in dealing with the IMF. I reject the view that the JLP Government was fiscally reckless. Phillips was right: The JLP blundered significantly to design an IMF programme without factoring in agreements it had made with workers. But it was generally fiscally prudent.
But I rather suspect that the JLP was stalling in the interest of the people and, yes, its own popularity, too - but the two happened to coincide. Let us see whether this PNP administration will rush into any new IMF agreement and let us see what it is willing to do that the JLP was not.
For if the prime minister is as concerned about balancing people's lives as the IMF is about balancing the books, this PNP Government would have to be as reluctant to sing the IMF tune as the JLP was. I believe the JLP was unfairly criticised on economic management and performed better than it was given credit for.
Phillips said recently in Parliament that his Government was prepared to "undertake the necessary actions and commitments to rebuild our credibility" with the IMF. He had better know what that will involve.
Ian Boyne, a veteran journalist, is the winner of the 2010-2011 Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration [contents]
VIVIAN SEQUERA and FRANK BAJAK. AP. March 10, 2012
BOGOTA, Colombia -- Tatiana Pineros is a man by birth and a woman by choice.
Pineros, 34, is also a high-powered public servant who manages a $360 million budget and nearly 2,000 employees in Colombia's biggest and most powerful municipal government.
Her appointment by Bogota's new mayor to head the capital's social welfare agency was remarkable for how unremarkably it was received by Colombia's predominantly Roman Catholic public.
Across Latin America, public acceptance is gradually growing for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, officials. It's a phenomenon that has accompanied activists' broader struggle to win rights to marry, adopt children or share financial benefits with same-sex partners, and to transform the way socially conservative nations view and treat gays.
"It's all about the mobilization of groups demanding their rights," said Colombia's best-known gay activist, Marcela Sanchez. "It didn't just spring up spontaneously."
Ecuador's new health minister, Carina Vance, can attest to the change. She has a master's degree in public health from the University of California, Berkeley. She is also openly lesbian.
Before being named in January, Vance, 34, campaigned as an activist against clinics accused of using coercion to try to "cure" gays of their homosexuality. Her ministry is now investigating those alleged practices. She told a TV interviewer last month that "we will take action against those responsible."
Brazil's first openly gay national lawmaker, Rep. Jean Wyllys, was elected last year, and activists say six other openly gay people have been elected to public office in Latin America's most populous nation.
Wyllys, who first gained fame on the Big Brother reality TV show, has so far failed to pass legislation against homophobic insults and discrimination. His nemesis in the battle has been the Congress' evangelical Christian caucus.
Despite Wyllys' rise, openly gay Brazilians are rare in appointed positions. The gay community was outraged last year when a heterosexual was named to head the gay rights division in the federal Human Rights Ministry. The heterosexual never took the job, which remains unfilled.
Luiz Mott, an anthropologist and founder of the Grupo Gay da Bahia, said many more homosexuals are in government posts but have kept their sexual orientation private in a kind of self-censorship.
Advances have also been made in other countries but through appointment or complicated election laws that allow legislators to win their posts without being directly elected.
Mexico, for example, has one gay national lawmaker, Congresswoman Enoe Margarita Uranga Munoz, who ended up high on the list of candidates for seats that Mexican law allots to parties by their share of the vote.
Sen. Osvaldo Lopez, the only openly gay member of Argentina's Congress, was named in July to replace a senator who died in an auto accident.
Lopez's country and Brazil are the only in Latin America to permit gay marriage nationwide, though Mexico City also allows it under a law promoted by Uranga before her election to Congress.
Same-sex couples also have gained rights to inherit from their partners or share insurance due to court decisions in Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico City.
Colombia's Constitutional Court is now weighing whether to join Argentina and Mexico City in allowing same-sex couples to adopt.
But other Latin American countries have done little if anything to recognize what for LGBT activists are basic civil rights. Activists also say the successes of a few openly gay officials hasn't stopped anti-gay violence.
On March 4, a gay 24-year-old Chilean was so brutally beaten that doctors had to induce a coma to treat him for head trauma and a broken right leg. Prosecutors say a swastika was drawn on the victim's chest.
"The general practice on the continent is of an open season on LGBTs that never closes," the gay rights group Colombia Diversa says in a regional report on violence against the community.
It found that 83 of 226 murders of LGBT people in Colombia from 2006 to 2009 were classified as hate crimes, with no motive listed for most.
Brazil's Grupo Gay da Bahia, which has been keeping records of gay-bashing for more than three decades, says 260 LGBT people were murdered in Brazil in 2010, or 113 percent more than five years earlier.
Police in Lima, Peru, beat LGBT rights activists who smooched in a downtown plaza during a "Kisses Against Homophobia" demonstration in February 2011.
Proposed legislation to grant interitance rights to same-sex couples has been languishing for five years in Venezuela's National Assembly.
"The fight is for us to no longer be treated like animals," said Pineros, who said she has focused on building a career rather than crusading for gay rights.
Marcela Sanchez of the LBGT rights group Colombia Diversa said Pineros' appointment helps dignify the community by helping to "erase the negative image in society that (transsexuals) are only good for prostitution."
Pineros, born the second of three male siblings, was raised Catholic and says she suffered no discrimination at home. She just didn't much like it when her father gave her toy automobiles.
"In my case I'd like to be recognized as the woman I always wanted to be," said Pineros, a tall, slender brunette who is elegant in a sleeveless green dress and suede high-heeled boots as she talks with a reporter in her unadorned office overlooking Bogota.
Not until she "met a man" at age 29 and left an accounting job at the state comptroller's office for a public relations agency position did Pineros decide to initiate the sex change.
A few surgeries and hormone pill regimens later, she had larger breasts, a slimmer nose and a new job in public administration, working for the district of Chapinero where Bogota's gay community is centered.
As part of her appointment, she'll oversee Bogota's social welfare spending on everything from homes for the elderly to cafeterias for preschoolers. Mayor Gustavo Petro said via email her appointment "is a sign this mayoral administration recognizes diversity and doesn't discriminate based on sexual orientation, ethnicity or age."
In a sign of the times, the public reaction to Pineros' appointment has been smooth, with no criticism in the last two months ago.
But that doesn't mean Bogota's LGBT community is universally embraced.
Bogota's secretary of education, Oscar Sanchez, is under assault by conservatives for a program to help primary and secondary school teachers discourage race- and gender-based discrimination.
When Brazil's Education Ministry designed a program last year battling anti-gay discrimination, complaints from evangelicals in Congress prompted President Dilma Rousseff to withdraw the proposed legislation.
Sequera reported from Bogota, Bajak from Lima, Peru. Also contributing were Associated Press writers Gonzalo Solano in Quito, Ecuador, Jenny Barchfield in Rio de Janeiro, Marco Sibaja in Brasilia, Brazil, Fabiola Sanchez and Jorge Rueda in Caracas, Venezuela, Almudena Calatrava in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Eva Vergara in Santiago, Chile, and Eduardo Castillo in Mexico City.
Remittances to Latam and Caribbean picked up in 2011 and reached 61 billion
Mercopress. March 12, 2012
Latin American and Caribbean migrants sent 61 billion dollars in remittances to their home countries last year, up 6% from 57.6 billion in 2010, according to a report released today by the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), a member of the Inter-American Development Bank group.
Last year’s increase confirmed the upward trend in migrants’ money transfers that started in mid-2010, after the double digit drop in remittances recorded in 2009 as a result of the economic crisis. In 2011, nearly every country in this region received a greater dollar amount in remittances than the previous year.
“For the remittance market in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2011 was a year of renewed growth after the 2008-2010 period despite persistent economic uncertainty in Europe,” the report noted. For 2012, the MIF expects remittances to this region to grow at a similar rate as last year.
Most of the money continued to be sent from traditional host countries such as the United States and Western Europe. In the United States, source of about three-quarters of remittances to Latin America and the Caribbean, foreign workers saw improving employment and wage levels. As a consequence, migrants made more transfers for higher amounts than the previous year.
In contrast, uncertain employment prospects in Europe resulted in drops in remittance flows to Latin America in the fourth quarter of 2011. In the case of Spain, the migrant population shrank by as much as 2% last year, as foreign workers (particularly men who lost jobs in the construction industry) left that country.
Brazil was the only Latin American country that registered a drop in remittances received in 2011, measured in nominal terms. These flows dipped nearly 5% to about 2 billion dollars.
In contrast migrant transfers to Brazil – typically one-off transactions made when foreign workers decide to return to their countries of origin – jumped 51% to 2.1 billion, and for the first time exceeded workers’ remittances to that country.
This recent trend has led the MIF to adopt a narrower definition of remittances to Brazil, which considers only the money sent home by migrants living abroad for extended periods and leaves out other flows such as migrant transfers and the money sent home by temporary workers.
Currency fluctuations and inflation also affected the value of the money sent home by expatriate workers. Last year Mexican migrants sent home 22.7 billion, which adjusted for inflation and currency variations were worth 17.5% more in pesos. In contrast, migrant remittances to Brazil were worth 15% less when expressed in Reais, the local currency, and adjusted for inflation.
Remittances remain a major source of income for many countries in this region. In several of the smaller and poorer nations, they far exceed external aid and net foreign direct investment.
“The importance of these flows lies in the vital role they play for millions of recipient families that depend on remittances for basic needs, even in countries with higher GDP levels,” the report noted. “In the absence of this regular source of income that these families receive from their family members abroad, many would fall below the poverty line.”
In recent years, as regional economies improved, remittances have become a smaller share of GDP. In several countries, however, remittances are still more than 10% of GDP. In Haiti, which last year received nearly 2.1 billion, they represented more than one quarter of the national income.
Mercosur/EU meet for a new round of negotiations in Brussels
Mercopress. March 12, 2012
A new round of talks between the European Union and Mercosur is scheduled to begin Monday in Brussels for a week, according to a press release from the Argentine Foreign Affairs.
The Mercosur delegation is Brussels will be coordinated by Argentina that currently holds the rotating chair of the South American trade group.
In the framework of the meeting several task groups will be addressing issues at technical level, such as markets’ access, origin rules and government procurement and services, among others.
The Brussels meeting takes place in the round of negotiations that were re-launched in May 2010, when the Latam, Caribbean and European Union summit with the purpose of reaching a long delayed Strategic Association agreement between the EU and Mercosur.
Agriculture, and some manufactured goods remain as some of the main hurdles.
On a more political focus, Argentina’s growing protectionist practices, and the French presidential election have delayed negotiation results.
However the Falklands’ issue has also emerged since Argentina called on the country’s main corporations to avoid purchasing UK products.
The UK filed a complaint to the EU requesting explanations.