Latin America News Round-up
April 9, 2012
'War on drugs' Has Failed, Say Latin American Leaders
For the latest news and developments on Haiti, please see CEPR's blog, "Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch."
For archives of past Round-ups, please click here.
Brazil and Southern Cone
Colombia and Mexico push for drugs debate
Brazil's Rousseff seeks US help with skills shortage. BBC
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff prepares for Washington visit. Miami Herald
Brazil will not levy taxes on all foreign capital-Minister. Reuters
U.S. backs Argentine stance on defaulted debt ruling. Reuters
Chile to extend energy rationing amid drought, delays-paper. Reuters
Northern Andean Region
Venezuela’s Chavez Returns to Cuba for Cancer Treatment. EFE
Heading to Cuba, Chavez ups Venezuela minimum wage. AP
Santos willing to personally talk peace with FARC. Colombia Reports
Colombian families appeal Uribe's immunity in Drummond union murders. Colombia Reports
Western Andean Region
Shifting Alliances in Bolivia’s TIPNIS Conflict. NACLA
'Please get us out of here': trapped Peru miners wait it out. AFP
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean
Tiny Mexican newspaper leads the fight for truth amid the drugs war. The Guardian
Unlikely project revives Guatemala City's downtown. AP
Honduran campesinos in the crosshairs. Al Jazeera
China Buys Inroads in the Caribbean, Catching U.S. Notice. New York Times
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration
Colombia and Mexico push for drugs debate. Financial Times
'War on drugs' has failed, say Latin American leaders. The Guardian
We have to find new solutions to Latin America's drugs nightmare. The Observer
Drugs: The Debate Goes Mainstream. Huffington Post
Two of Latin America's deadliest gangs join forces. AP
Brazil and Southern Cone [contents]
Brazil's Rousseff seeks US help with skills shortage
Pablo Uchoa. BBC. April 9, 2012
Science education and training are high on the agenda for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's first official visit to the US, as her government seeks to tackle a growing problem: the lack of skilled workers in Brazil.
The first time Lucas Oliveira, a student of mechanical, electrical and computer engineering from Brazil, boarded a plane bound for another country, he embarked on what he describes as "an incredible life opportunity".
Mr Oliveira, 21, is part of a group of 650 Brazilian undergraduate students who arrived in the US in January for a one-year exchange programme in American universities.
Until then, he said, "the furthest I'd gone had been to Venezuela - by car."
Like Mr Oliveira, Guilherme Cruzatto could not pay for his engineering studies at an American university.
But thanks to a Brazilian government scholarship, and academic agreements between US and Brazilian institutions, both men are living in the halls of the Catholic University of America, in Washington DC.
Their food and accommodation is paid for, and each man receives a $300 (£188) allowance per month.
"I believe this programme will be one of the most enriching experiences of our lives," says Mr Cruzatto, 23.
Mr Oliveira and Mr Cruzatto are in the first group of 100,000 students that Brazil plans to send to universities around the world to acquire skills.
Under the programme, Science Without Border, which runs until 2015, students will study engineering, biotechnology, ocean science and other fields that could boost economic growth.
Around 20,000 of those will study in the US.
When they return home, Mr Oliveira and Mr Cruzatto, who are interns at the Nasa Goddard Space Flight Center, in Maryland, are likely to be in high demand in Brazil's job market.
A decade of strong economic growth in Brazil has pushed unemployment to a record low but it has also highlighted the shortage of qualified workers, especially in fields like engineering.
The government fears that this could eventually halt the country's development.
This concern is high on President Rousseff's agenda as she visits the US.
Ms Rousseff will address business leaders in a bid to promote co-operation and innovation between companies.
She is also visiting Boston to court top international educational institutions such as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Ms Rousseff's two-day tour returns President Barack Obama's official visit to Brazil in March last year, less than three months after she took office.
Analysts saw Mr Obama's visit as a goodwill gesture after a time when US-Brazil diplomatic relations had been somewhat strained.
President Rousseff's predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, once called "the man" and "the most popular politician on Earth" by Mr Obama, took his country to an unprecedented level of prominence on the international scene.
But in doing so, he was often at odds with Western powers, in particular the US.
Ms Rousseff, described as a pragmatic, managerial and business-minded leader, differs in tone and style from the flamboyant Lula.
She is the first leader of the Bric countries - Brazil, Russia, India and China- to visit the US after the Bric meeting last month in Delhi.
She indicated that she would voice the group's concerns with sanctions against Iran.
But Ms Rousseff is likely to concentrate on aspects of the bilateral relationship that have worked in the past.
"She is much more focused on Brazil's internal challenges," says Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a think tank in Washington.
"They have to do with increasing productivity of the economy, increasing competitiveness - especially in the industrial sector - and dealing with deficits in infrastructure and education, which were exposed by Brazil's recent economic success."
Broad but shallow
The Brazilian leader will meet President Obama at the White House, but no state dinner or state functions, like those offered to the leaders of China and India, will take place.
In the highly choreographed world of presidential diplomacy, the gesture has been received with disappointment on the Brazilian side.
"Brazil feels that it's now an important emerging power. It wants to be treated like China and India," says Joao Augusto de Castro Neves, an analyst at the Eurasia Group.
As part of its new aspirations, Brazil wants a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, and resents the lack of US support.
The fact that the US supports India, which developed nuclear weapons against the wishes of the international community, is another source of frustration.
Analysts describe relations between the two biggest and most influential countries in the Americas as broad but shallow.
"It's a relationship looking for something," says Peter Hakim, president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue. "Both countries have a lot to offer one another, but they have to get started."
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff prepares for Washington visit
MIMI WHITEFIELD. Miami Herald. April 6, 2012
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff arrives in Washington next week for a day of talks intended to deepen the relationship between the hemisphere’s two largest democracies.
The Monday meeting at the White House also serves as a follow to President Barack Obama’s trip last year to Latin America’s largest nation and the world’s sixth-largest economy.
“That visit was important because it reopened the dialogue” between the two nations, said Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, during a conference in Washington this week.
It “created a new environment’’ for a relationship, he said, that was “always broad but also shallow.’’
Unlike the pomp and fanfare of Obama’s trip to Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro, Rousseff’s visit will be all about business. It isn’t even considered a state visit with the traditional black-tie dinner.
The Brazilian leader will arrive in the capital on Sunday and two presidents will hold formal discussions Monday morning before lunching together. They later will attend the invitation-only Brazil-U.S. Partnership for the 21st Century Conference, a gathering of top executives from both countries.
On Tuesday, Rousseff plans to speak at Harvard University’s Kennedy School.
The White House says Rousseff’s visit will be an opportunity to “continue efforts to grow commercial, economic, education and innovation ties’’ forged during Obama’s visit.
One focus of next week’s talks may be trade. China, which is a huge buyer of Brazilian soybeans, iron ore and other commodities, has replaced the United States as Brazil’s top trading partner. But China also has flooded the Brazilian market with cheap manufactured products, hurting Brazilian industry and giving rise to a new buzzword in Brazil — deindustrialization.
The United States, on the other hand, still is a good market for Brazilian manufactured goods.
Although Rousseff seems to be more focused on domestic issues, such as increasing Brazilian productivity and competiveness and shoring up its education system, than her predecessor, Luiz Inácio “Lula’’ da Silva, it is Brazil’s foreign policy that has ruffled a few feathers in Washington since the Obama visit.
Brazil opposed the U.S. position on sanctions against Syria, supporting negotiation instead, and also provoked harsh words from Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, when it abstained this spring on a U.N. Security Council resolution supporting military action in Libya.
Still, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns sounded a conciliatory note during a speech to business leaders in Rio last month. He said that the central theme of Obama’s visit “bears repeating: the American people don’t just recognize Brazil’s success — we root for Brazil’s success.’’
And, he said, the relationship shouldn’t be seen as senior and junior partners but rather one of “equal partners.’’
Other topics that may come up when Obama and Rousseff meet:
• Visas: Brazilians who want to visit the United States have lengthy waits — sometimes months — to get visas. U.S. visitors to Brazil also are required to get visas.
Bill Talbert, president and chief executive of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, is one of the main proponents of a visa waiver that would do away with visas requirements for both countries and boost tourism in the process.
The visa issue is of particular interest in South Florida, where Brazil is not only the region’s top trading partner but also the top provider of international visitors. Last year, more than 634,000 Brazilians visited Miami-Dade County and Brazilian visitors to Broward County were up by 50 percent to 450,000.
The United States recently increased consular personnel in Brazil and added consulates in additional cities to meet the strong demand for visas. The State Department says it has been eating into the lengthy waiting times but tourism officials say a visa waiver is a better option.
• An update on cooperation agreements and memos of understanding signed during Obama’s Brazil trip: They include a Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement that calls for creation of a commission that will study ways to boost trade as well as accords on opens skies, cooperation on biofuels and climate change, and the peaceful use of outer space.
• Embraer contract: Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer thought it was making real strides in the world of U.S. defense contracting when the U.S. Air Force awarded it and U.S. partner Sierra Nevada Corp. a $355 million contract to build counter-insurgency planes. But in February the Air Force abruptly pulled the $355 million contract, citing faulty paperwork. U.S. rival Hawker Beechcraft had filed a lawsuit challenging the contract.
The planes would have been assembled in Jacksonville.
• U.N. Security Council seat: Brazil wants a permanent seat on a reformed United Nations Security Council. It had hoped for an endorsement by Obama during his Brazil trip like one he gave India, but he only expressed appreciation for Brazil’s aspiration.
• Education: Rousseff and Obama both support initiatives that would send 100,000 students from the United States to study in Latin America and bring 100,000 students from Latin America and the Caribbean to study in the United States.
Rousseff has a similar initiative, “Science without Borders’’ that proposes to send as many as 100,000 students to study abroad over the next four years. At least half of them would come to the United States.
Whether Rousseff’s visit will result in new understandings with the United States remains to be seen.
But in a nod to its status as an emerging power, Brazil would like a more strategic, special relationship with the United States, said Peter Hakim, president emeritus and senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue.
Brazil will not levy taxes on all foreign capital-Minister
Reuters. April 8, 2012
SAO PAULO, April 8 (Reuters) - Brazil will not further expand taxes to all foreign capital but could step up defensive measures to shield its pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries from foreign competition, Industry Minister Fernando Pimentel said in an interview published on Sunday.
Pimentel told O Estado de Sao Paulo that Latin America's biggest economy will have to get used to a strong real as a result of heavy capital inflows attracted by the country's high interest rates.
But asked whether the government would generalize a 6 percent tax on financial transactions recently expanded to debt of up to five years in the hope of curbing short term foreign deposits he said: "No. It is not going to happen."
However, Pimentel signaled the government could take further steps to protect its industry battered by the appreciated real but also by a heavy tax burden, bureaucracy and red tape.
"The world is showing that whoever has the demand, controls the supply ... And we have a market of almost 200 million Brazilians. We have the ball. That is why people want to invest here, sell their cars here. Why would we give up that power?"
Questioned about the industries the government may want to protect Pimentel said: "We are working intensively on pharmaceuticals, chemicals, electronics and fertilizers."
Brazil announced earlier this week a series of tax breaks and subsidized credit for several industries in an effort to support the country's fragile economic recovery, measures critics say are just palliative and insufficient.
President Dilma Rousseff said domestic demand is key for the BRICS nation to resume vigorous economic growth after a disappointing 2.7 percent in 2011.
She has also accused rich countries of unleashing a "Tsunami" of cheap capital that is propping up the currency and leading to a flood of imports while making the country's exports less competitive.
Concerned about increasing trade imbalances, Brazil last month imposed quotas on auto imports from Mexico prompting criticism for what many see as a surge in protectionism.
But Pimentel told O Estado de Sao Paulo that Brazil is playing by the rules and could not be challenged at the World Trade Organization.
"There are always going to be people complaining and gritting their teeth ... but nobody is going to set a panel against us."
U.S. backs Argentine stance on defaulted debt ruling
Hilary Burke. Reuters. April 7, 2012
(Reuters) - The U.S. government has backed Argentina in the latest legal battle over a 2002 default, arguing the nation should not have to pay "holdout" creditors when servicing debt held by investors who accepted a harsh restructuring, court documents show.
Argentina declared a world-record sovereign default during an economic meltdown a decade ago. It faces numerous lawsuits in U.S. courts by creditors who spurned past government swap offers and have sued to recover the full value of the defaulted bonds.
About 92 percent of Argentina's defaulted debt has been restructured through swaps carried out in 2005 and 2010. The country has steered clear of global credit markets since the default, partly because of the pending litigation.
On February 23, U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa in Manhattan ordered that Argentina pay holdouts, including NML Capital Ltd and Aurelius affiliates, each time it services the debt issued in the swaps. This followed two related rulings from December.
Argentina quickly moved to appeal the decision.
On Wednesday, U.S. government lawyers filed an "amicus curiae" or friend-of-the-court brief, asking that the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reverse Griesa's rulings, according to documents obtained by Reuters and reported in the Argentine media on Friday.
The judge's orders "could enable a single creditor to thwart the implementation of an internationally supported restructuring plan, and thereby undermine the decades of effort the United States has expended to encourage a system of cooperative resolution of sovereign debt crises," U.S. lawyers wrote.
Griesa accepted an interpretation of the "pari passu" clause included in many bonds that NML's parent company, Elliott Associates, used to disrupt a Peruvian debt exchange in 2000.
At that time, Elliott convinced a Belgian court that under that clause, all creditors should be treated equally and that Elliott should get paid along with the creditors who entered Peru's swap. The country ended up settling with the fund for $58 million to move forward with its restructuring.
"The Belgian court's construction of the pari passu clause deviated from well-established market practice and was viewed with almost universal consternation by international financial markets," the U.S. legal brief stated.
Argentine officials say they expect to win this appeal.
"Argentina is very confident with regard to this process. There's no doubt the appeals court decision will be favorable," the country's undersecretary for financing, Fabian Dall'O, told state news agency Telam on Friday.
Griesa has granted several billion dollars in court judgments to litigating holdout creditors, but they have been unable to collect any money because U.S. sovereign immunity laws protect most assets owned by a country abroad.
Although Washington sided with Argentina in this particular case, it has been increasingly critical of the country's refusal to pay its debts, including compensation awards owed to U.S. companies in disputes stemming from its 2001-02 crisis.
Last month, the United States suspended trade benefits for Argentina over this issue.
"The United States consistently has maintained, and continues strongly to maintain, that Argentina immediately should normalize relations with all of its creditors, both public and private," government lawyers wrote.
(Reporting by Hilary Burke; Editing by Paul Simao)
Chile to extend energy rationing amid drought, delays-paper
Reuters. April 6, 2012
SANTIAGO, April 6 (Reuters) - Chile will likely extend energy-saving measures through October, as a drought slows hydro power generation and delays starting up two new coal-fired plants hits an already blackout-prone, fragile electric grid, a senior energy official was quoted as saying on Friday.
The world's top copper producer will probably decide next week to prolong for a third time measures first introduced last year to reduce voltages and cut use of water from r e servoirs, Deputy Energy Minister Sergio del Campo told El Mercurio newspaper.
The country's third consecutive drought and the delays starting up two new power stations have compounded energy problems in Chile, whose grid is already suffering from years of underinvestment and a massive earthquake in early 2010.
"Everything indicates it would be reasonable to extend (rationing)," del Campo was quoted as saying.
He said newly-named Energy Minister Jorge Bunster, the fifth person to occupy the post during President Sebastian Pinera's two-year administration, will likely announce the extension of the power-saving measures.
The measures, which had been due to expire this month, include reducing voltage by up to 10 percent in the country's central energy grid.
The central grid, or SIC in its Spanish initials, which supplies more than 90 percent of the population, is most likely to be hit by the energy squeeze because of its reliance on hydro power. The far northern grid, which powers miners in the copper-rich north, mostly uses energy generated by thermal plants.
Generator Colbun's Santa Maria coal plant will come on line in June, as opposed to April, and generator Endesa's Bocamina II will come on line in August, instead of June, del Campo said.
"This is clearly bad news but it doesn't put the system at risk," he said.
Energy blackouts remain a risk, former energy minister Rodrigo Alvarez told Reuters in February, and it will take years to head off a repetition of massive blackouts such as one in September 2011 that hit operations at major mines and cost state copper giant Codelco over 1,400 tonnes in lost output.
The government estimates that to keep up with rising energy demand, some 8,000 megawatts of capacity will need to be added by 2020 to the current 17,000 megawatts in the country's power matrix. (Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Frances Kerry)
Northern Andean Region [contents]
Venezuela’s Chavez Returns to Cuba for Cancer Treatment
EFE. April 7, 2012
HAVANA – Cuban President Raul Castro welcomed his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, back to Havana, where he will undergo another round of cancer treatment, state media reported Sunday.
Chavez and Castro had “a lively exchange” at Jose Marti International Airport, the Juventud Rebelde newspaper said in its cover story.
Chavez said Saturday he would travel to Havana to undergo another round of radiation therapy, a treatment he has been given since he was operated in late February for a new cancerous tumor.
“I’m leaving again (Saturday night) for Havana to continue the battle for my life and health – I’ll keep you informed,” the Venezuelan president told state television channel by telephone.
Chavez is undergoing his third round of radiation as part of a treatment program that began two weeks ago.
The Venezuelan leader underwent surgery on Feb. 26 for the recurrence of the tumor that was removed in June 2011.
Chavez said the tumor was in the pelvic region, but did not reveal the precise location.
He underwent several rounds of chemotherapy after the initial surgery before announcing in October that he was cancer-free.
Chavez gave an emotional speech Thursday after a Mass offered for his health in his hometown of Barinas, asking Jesus Christ for a “longer life” and pleading “don’t take me yet.”
“Give me your crown of thorns, Christ, give it to me, for I am bleeding, give me your cross, 100 crosses, but give me life, because I still have things to do for this people and this country, don’t take me yet, give me your cross, give me your thorns, give me your spear for I am willing to bear them all, but alive, Christ my Lord,” Chavez said at the church.
The Venezuelan president arrived Wednesday at midnight from Havana after his second round of radiation therapy.
Chavez has said that he has no metastasis and that he is certain of a full recovery.
He has vowed not to abandon his bid to win another term in Venezuela’s Oct. 7 presidential election.
In power since 1999, Chavez now faces a race against the governor of the central state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, the consensus candidate of Venezuela’s long-divided opposition.
Heading to Cuba, Chavez ups Venezuela minimum wage
AP. April 7, 2012
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has announced plans to increase his country's minimum wage.
Chavez says the minimum wage will increase 15 percent in May and an additional 15 percent in September. The increase has been expected given Venezuela's soaring inflation, which currently stands at about 25 percent.
The leftist president's government has raised the minimum wage between 20 percent and 30 percent each year during the past decade.
Chavez made the announcement as he prepared to return to Cuba late Saturday for his next round of cancer treatment. He has been traveling to and from Havana recently for radiation therapy treatment.
Santos willing to personally talk peace with FARC
Adriaan Alsema. Colombia Reports. April 7, 2012
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has said he is willing to personally discuss peace with the country's largest rebel group FARC under the condition the guerrillas show a "real will" for peace.
In an interview with Brazilian weekly Epoca published Thursday, Santos said that if the FARC showed the will, "I would really like that [the negotiation] was directly with me, just like I took the steps with [Venezuelan President] Hugo Chavez," with whom Santos brokered improved relations only days after taking office in 2010.
According to the president, "a true manifestation of will" to reach a peace accord is necessary for Santos to begin the negotiations with the country's oldest and largest rebel group.
Without clarifying what he would consider manifestations of will, the Colombian head of state reiterated that the recent release of the last ten of the FARC's political hostages was a good example, but reiterated that the release and the promise of the FARC to ban kidnapping for economic purposes "enough demonstrations" to justify peace talks.
According to Santos, "the experiences with peace processes have been very negative. The guerrillas always used these moments to with time and breath."
The FARC have been fighting the Colombian state since 1964. The last peace talks between government and guerrillas ended in 2002.
Colombian families appeal Uribe's immunity in Drummond union murders
Arron Daugherty. Colombia Reports. April 9, 2012
Families of three murdered Colombian unionists appealed a US court decision shielding former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe from testifying in the case, said Noticias Uno Sunday.
Last September a Washington D.C. federal judge decided former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe did not have to testify in the case against US coal giant Drummond.
Drummond used paramilitary groups as security for its operations in Colombia, and is accused of using the same forces to combat union activism through violence.
Last month former paramilitary Alcides Mattos Tabares told Colombian media Drummond had paid his group $1.5 million to murder union leaders.
In his appeals, lawyer for the three families Terry Collingsworth said many former paramilitaries and Drummond employees who had come forth to testify against the company had been threatened. Former contractor Jaime Blanco Maya said, "all witnesses have received threats and all witnesses have been promised money to change their testimony."
If the appeal goes through Uribe will have to testify in a US court on the connections between paramilitary groups and multinational corporations working in Colombia.
Western Andean Region [contents]
Shifting Alliances in Bolivia’s TIPNIS Conflict
Emily Achtenberg. NACLA. April 6, 2012
In the run-up to the May-June consulta that will decide the fate of the proposed highway through the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS), the Bolivian government is signing agreements with lowland indigenous groups and seeking to cancel its contract with Brazilian company OAS to build the TIPNIS road, causing a shift in political alliances around the TIPNIS conflict.
By way of explanation, the government says it’s trying to promote productive projects, resolve past differences with disaffected constituencies, and address serious problems with the construction contractor. But leaders of the TIPNIS Subcentral and the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia (CIDOB), the lowland indigenous federation representing 34 ethnic groups in seven of Bolivia’s nine departments, see a deliberate strategy to divide the indigenous movement. Specifically, they accuse the government of attempting to undermine the national march scheduled to begin on April 25, in opposition to the road that would bisect the ancestral territory of the Yuracaré, Moxeño, and Chimán people.
In the past six weeks, President Evo Morales has signed pacts with leaders of up to 11 (out of 13) CIDOB regionals, promising health and education benefits as well as infrastructure and development projects. All of these groups were involved in the first anti-highway march (that was brutally repressed by police last September), but their participation in the upcoming mobilization is now in doubt.
Some, like the Chiquitanos, have announced that they will not be marching. Others have not formally decided. Still others, like the Guaraní, have said they will join the march if the government does not fulfill its promises—a position denounced by the national CIDOB leadership as opportunistic. Having subordinated their demands for two straight years to CIDOB-led mobilizations, with few tangible results in return, it seems that the Guaraní are now betting on a more pragmatic sectoral approach, rather than solidarity, to advance their agenda.
Still, internal splits are evident, with Guaraní from several Tarija communities deciding to march and Guaraní from Santa Cruz agreeing to take supportive actions within their community on behalf of the marchers. TIPNIS and CIDOB leaders, while acknowledging the risks involved, are hopeful that the bases in many regions will override directors whom they regard as unaccountable, and opt to join the march.
As far as the government’s motives, Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network says, “It’s hard to know. On the one hand, the government is obviously campaigning for the road; at the same time, it’s their job to sign agreements to provide services. Signing agreements to swing support is a time-honored tradition in Bolivia, and the Morales government has been no different.”
Other political analysts interviewed by the daily Página Siete conclude that the government is simply shifting from a failed strategy of attacking, stigmatizing, and criminalizing the anti-highway movement to a “divide and conquer” policy, seeking consensus with some in order to isolate the “hard core” protesters. While plenty of “sticks” are still in evidence (such as the criminal charges being pursued against 26 protest leaders), “carrots” are the preferred method of undermining indigenous unity ahead of the march, at least for now.
The architect of the new strategy is the hard-line but pragmatic Chief of Staff Juan Ramón Quintana, a brilliant tactician (and former SOA-trained military operative). Interior Minister Carlos Romero, the former director of CEJIS—an NGO that strongly supports the TIPNIS march—is also well acquainted with the strategy of “sectorializing” social movement demands. Both strongly deny any intent to debilitate the march.889 OAS road construction. Credit: Página Siete.
As for the OAS contract, the Minister of Public Works announced this week that the portion of the contract pertaining to the section of the road within the TIPNIS was effectively invalidated by the law declaring the park “untouchable.” In any case, the government says it will cancel this portion of the contract, along with its funding provided by a loan from the Brazilian government, due to dissatisfaction with the slow pace of construction on the two other road segments leading to and from the park, and other irregularities. Once the consulta endorses the road, as the government anticipates, the contract would then be rebid.
Critics accuse the government of dissembling in order to create the appearance that the upcoming “consulta previa” is indeed prior to any definitive action taken towards construction of the road, as required by international law and the Bolivian constitution. They note that while the loan agreement with Brazil to fund the road does consist of three “subcredits,” which may be separable, there is a single construction contract covering all three segments of the road, which cannot be unilaterally modified. The government says it's prepared to pay any indemnity. Still, it’s unclear how or when (before or after the consulta) the construction contract and loan agreement will be modified.
Ironically, the United Nations Human Rights Commission stated this week that cancellation of the OAS contract is not required for a legitimate consulta. But the consulta also cannot be imposed unilaterally on sectors that are unwilling to be consulted (or, as in the case of the TIPNIS communities, who have pledged to resist its implementation). Under current polarized conditions, says the Commission, a legitimate consulta cannot take place.
While their own ranks are divided, lowland indigenous groups have formed a broad coalition with the highland indigenous federation CONAMAQ (National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu), urban social movements, international networks (including the Guaraní of Brazil, Argentina, and potentially Paraguay), and unions represented by the Bolivian Workers Central (COB) to participate in the April 25 march. Government leaders charge that the inclusion of outside sectors “distorts” the purpose of the mobilization, but the march’s agenda is not only to protect the TIPNIS but to defend indigenous, environmental, and human rights in Bolivia and elsewhere.
A key force in this emerging alliance is the COB, which has threatened a general strike next week to pressure the government over its annual wage demands. The COB membership has been at odds with its new (more pro-government) leadership over the TIPNIS issue. Some wonder if the COB’s position on the TIPNIS might ultimately be swayed by a promise of substantial government concessions. Whether the COB will use the TIPNIS conflict, like the Guaraní, to leverage its own sectoral interests, or will see those interests as better served by reinforcing its alliance with lowland indigenous protesters, could be critical to the outcome of the TIPNIS controversy.
Read more on the TIPNIS conflict on Emily Achtenberg's blog, Rebel Currents. See also, the January/February 2011 NACLA Report, "Golpistas! Coups and Democracy in the 21st Century;" the September/October 2010 NACLA Report, "After Recognition: Indigenous Peoples Confront Capitalism;" or the September/October 2009 NACLA Report, "Political Environments: Development, Dissent, and the New Extraction." Or subscribe to NACLA.
'Please get us out of here': trapped Peru miners wait it out
Reynaldo Munoz. AFP. April 8, 2012
ICA, Peru — It could take two or three more days to rescue nine miners trapped since Thursday in a mine in southern Peru, a top official said Sunday, as one of the miners begged "please, get us out of here."
Oscar Valdes, cabinet chief to Peru's President Ollanta Humala, told journalists that an engineer working on the rescue operation said it could be delayed for "two to three more days" due to fresh collapses inside the Cabeza de Negro mine, about 325 kilometers (202 miles) south of Lima.
The miners have been trapped 250 meters (820 feet) underground in a horizontal tunnel since Thursday when a shaft collapsed.
The nine, aged 22 to 59 and including a father and son, were not injured and remain together. They were being supplied with oxygen, water and soup through a metal tube that they also use to communicate with rescue workers.
Some were able to speak with relatives who are staying near the mine at an improvised camp of about 80 people that also includes police, firefighters and other miners.
While their health was generally sound, some of the miners were suffering from anxiety, not unusual for the emergency situation and its risks.
"We are depressed. Please, get us out of here," begged Jacinto Pariona in a trembling voice from the back of the area where he was trapped with his colleagues.
His wife, Nancy Fernandez, fought back the tears as she tried to boost his spirits, chatting calmly through a hose, as rescue workers tried to rush to get the trapped men out.
"My husband told me they have been having headaches and dizziness, bone pains, and shivering. But they are not injured, and we want this work to get done fast," Fernandez said.
Authorities seemed to be cautious about taking a happy ending for granted.
In addition to Valdes, the government sent in Mining and Energy Minister Jorge Merino to try to get the crisis ironed out safely.
Outside the tunnel, a group of rescuers cut wood beams to reinforce the tunnel walls.
Workers were using buckets to remove the debris obstructing the shaft by hand, then pushing it out of the mine in a small mining car.
The rescuers were thought to be only about two meters (6.5 feet) from the miners on Saturday when more cave-ins slowed the pace of the operation and workers had to focus anew on shoring up the chamber to avoid a larger cave-in.
"Due to the cave-ins late Saturday we don't know exactly the distance between rescuers and the miners but communication has been maintained constantly," said Erin Gomez, a provincial civil defense manager.
Cabeza de Negro is an unlicensed mine that was was abandoned more than two decades ago by its owners, but continues to be exploited.
Informal artisanal mining has been on the rise in recent years in Peru, one of the largest producers of silver, copper and gold.
The Peruvian miners' fate recalled a similar case in Chile that made world headlines. In August 2010, 33 miners were trapped in a cave-in in the San Jose gold and copper mine in northern Chile -- after 69 days and a spectacular rescue operation with the world watching, they were brought out safely.
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean [contents]
Tiny Mexican newspaper leads the fight for truth amid the drugs war
Jo Tuckman. The Guardian. April 8, 2012
The ambush of a young man in his white Ferrari never looked like a run-of-the-mill murder. The arrival of a second group of gunmen to retrieve the body and the car, as police and reporters looked on, rammed home the point. The silence that followed made it crystal clear.
As far as the authorities and the local daily papers were concerned nothing happened that night in Culiacán, the capital of the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa and bastion of the Sinaloa cartel. As far as the tiny investigative local weekly Río Doce was concerned, it was time to get to work.
"It was just not right that they said nothing," says Ismael Bojórquez, the newspaper's editor. "People have a right to know what is going on."
Run on a shoestring from a few rooms above a dentist's office in Culiacán, Río Doce is one of the last redoubts of investigative journalism on the frontline of Mexico's drug wars that have killed more than 50,000 people since President Felipe Calderón launched his crackdown on organised crime five years ago.
The deaths or disappearance of more than 40 journalists, probably because of their work in this period, together with the direct and indirect threats that abound in all the main hotspots, mean most regional media limit their coverage to superficial reporting of violent events and arrests. Often they only do that when there is an official statement to quote. In some areas, particularly where the Zetas cartel is strong, a near news blackout reigns.
Río Doce's willingness to go further than other local papers is not, however, foolhardy bravery. Covering the dynamics of the conflict in Sinaloa, and staying alive, requires a subtlety illustrated in the case of the 2010 sports car murder.
The assigned reporter first ruled out initial information that the missing body was Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán – the leader of the Sinaloa cartel and the most famous of Mexico's many kingpins. He then confirmed the victim was the son of a Chapo ally from Michoacán state, nicknamed El Animal. He also delved into El Animal's bloodthirsty reputation.
With this in mind the story, which appeared without a byline, focused on the official information vacuum, slipping in the key facts almost by the by. It named the victim but did not mention his father or the Chapo link. The comments posted underneath the piece on the internet filled in the blanks – Mexico's version of open journalism at work.
Even Río Doce's rivals are lavish in their praise. "What they do is a lighthouse in the ocean for us all," says Marco Santos, news editor of the local daily Noroeste.
While it consistently condemns the corrosive influence of the drug cartels, Río Doce's editorial line puts more emphasis on criticising the government offensive as misguided and counterproductive. This is a matter of survival as well as conviction. An angry politician can be dangerous, but irate capos are a bigger worry.
There are limits. Río Doce doesn't touch the personal lives of the relatives of major underworld figures or mention laundering operations and trafficking infrastructure that have not been made public before. Other than that, the paper's four permanent reporters and dozen or so independent contributors rely on their instincts to decide what lines not to cross. They also get feedback from their sources about how their stories play with those that might be inclined to seek revenge. These sources range from members of the cartels and the security forces to people who just happen to know stuff in a state where drug trafficking goes back many decades and pulses through all walks of life.
"We all know people who are involved," says a young man who, while pursuing an eminently respectable career himself, has close ties with important trafficking families dating from childhood.
The story of how one of his best friends, an assassin, got upset at being deleted from his chat after killing his uncle by mistake, appeared in the paper last year. The details were altered to protect his identity in a way that simply leaving out his name could not.
"Many of Mexico's problems come from everybody being afraid of powerful people," he says. "Río Doce is very brave."
Bojórquez, the editor, says that for the moment the risks are manageable within his commitment to the idea that journalism is pointless unless it informs.
"We are also motivated by the hope that things will get better," he adds. "Actually, it is more of a hope that hope exists because, to be honest, at the moment I don't see a way out."
Unlikely project revives Guatemala City's downtown
ROMINA RUIZ-GOIRIENA. AP. April 8, 2012
GUATEMALA CITY -- Guatemala's capital is a bleak and violent place, a city of dark, claustrophobic streets blighted by abandoned cars. The wealthy hide behind barbed wire and concrete walls, hiring rifle-toting guards to fend off armed robbers. Drivers are wary of bandits who grab cellphones at traffic lights.
Some guidebooks suggest international travelers skip the poorly policed capital of 2.5 million altogether.
But on a recent weekday in the center of Guatemala City, a lunchtime crowd of professionals and university students ordered tapas and baguettes with prosciutto and camembert cheese in the Eccentrico bistro, watching pedestrians stroll down tiled walkways lined with ficus trees. At a cafe two blocks away, staff set out tables for customers stopping for cappuccino before heading to a nearby movie theater.
An unlikely urban redevelopment project is thriving for dozens of businesses in a five-block section of the Zone One downtown neighborhood.
A nonprofit, city-run redevelopment corporation known as Urbanistica has spent more than $5 million since 2004 to close streets to traffic, light them brightly and monitor them with closed-circuit video cameras and extra police officers. Rundown storefronts have been repainted jungle-green, indigo or paprika.
Some 670 street vendors who used to sell handicrafts from oilcloth tents that congested more than a mile of the city center have been relocated to a covered market steps from a new bus terminal.
"In the 10 years I have lived here, I have personally seen the neighborhood turn around," said Eluvia Morales, a 42-year-old grass-roots organizer and consultant for nonprofit organizations. "It's a beautiful place and I love that more and more people are starting to come."
Some outside analysts are skeptical that the project can attract Guatemalans beyond the capital's small, prosperous elite and that it can thrive over the long term in a country with one of the world's highest homicide rates and roughly half of its 14 million people in poverty.
They point out that in 2002, a group of private investors converted a nearby area into a pedestrian mall. Although it attracted hundreds, the experiment was abandoned two years later because of drug trafficking and prostitution.
Spending money is "pointless if people in the city are starving, or cannot find stable sources of employment," said Eduardo Mendieta, a philosophy professor at Stony Brook University in New York who writes about modern urbanism in Latin America.
But the young architects and businessmen running the Zone One project say they are confident that they have only begun to tap into the pent-up demand for the type of urban experience associated with wealthier cities in Latin America, Europe and the U.S.
Alvaro Veliz, the head of Urbanistica, said a million people a month visit the heart of the redeveloped zone, the 12 million queztal ($1.5 million) pedestrian plaza known as Camino Real, or the Royal Path, which was the site of the Spanish colonial government's most important buildings and an economic engine of Guatemala City until the 1970s.
When "spaces change, people behave differently and this increases security," he said.
Above the Eccentrico bistro, a developer has torn down walls to create six airy, white-painted loft-style apartments.
Emiliano Valdes, a curator and gallery owner, moved in three years ago for an urban lifestyle that would allow him "to walk around, get the newspaper and go out for dinner without the inconveniences of driving."
On a recent weekend night, a stream of Land Rovers and other SUVs drove up Twelfth Street to deposit patrons at Reilly's Irish tavern, three blocks away, and a candlelit dance bar with an indoor patio.
"I've always loved the city center," said taxi driver Rudy De Leon. "It was really bad a few years ago and it was harder for me to go. But since the changes, I try to come here on Sundays with my wife."
Urbanistica says that it wants to raise money from private investors to build its own rent-controlled condominiums in Zone One.
Silvia Garcia, one of Urbanistica's architects, said that business has grown downtown but "people need to live in the area to ensure long-term success."
Honduran campesinos in the crosshairs
Lauran Carasik. Al Jazeera. April 7, 2012
Springfield, MA - Honduras now claims the dubious distinction of being the murder capital of the world as drug trafficking and gangs play an undeniable role in the violence plaguing the small central American country.
However, there is near complete impunity for the forces that have killed more than 300 people since the 2009 coup, including labour, political and land reform activists, journalists and lawyers. Members of the campesino land rights organisations in the Bajo Aguan have been the targets of systemic repression. Last Thursday, four more campesinos were murdered in Trujillo, bringing the total number of people killed in that region since January 2010 to 64.
The international community cannot sit idly by as these atrocities unfold.
The land disputes date back to efforts in the 1960s to entice landless farmers to the fertile region of the Bajo Aguan. The initial agrarian reform laws contained protections intended to ensure that the land remained in the hands of small landowners by limiting the amount of hectares individuals could accumulate. In 1992, the Law for Modernisation of Land gutted many of the protections written into the original agrarian reform efforts, creating pressure on peasant land cooperatives to sell their land to large landowners.
Honduras gets crafty to keep kids off streets
In the two years following passage of the 1992 law, three large landowners used a combination of fraud, coercion and violence to consolidate ownership of 73.4 per cent of the land transferred under the prior Agrarian Reform. Palm oil magnate Miguel Facusse, well known to the US government for alleged ties to drug trafficking, owns a significant swath of land in the lower Aguan valley and is implicated in much of the ongoing repression.
Organising in resistance to the coercion, local campesino groups formed, known as Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguan (MUCA) and the Authentic Revindicative Campesino Movement of the Aguan (MARCA), to demand the nullification of the title transfers. In the absence of a functioning judicial system, campesinos were forced to navigate a byzantine dispute resolution process that promised no ready solution or relief.
After years of delay, then President Manuel Zelaya oversaw an agreement in 2009 to review the land title claims of the MUCA campesinos that many presumed would set aside the fraudulent transfers. Zelaya's ouster in the coup shortly thereafter invalidated a land reform bill that promised some relief for peasants, as the illegitimate administration of Roberto Micheletti sent the unmistakable message that it had no intention of honouring the agreement. In the face of escalating violence, the campesino movements have continued to demand the right to occupy the land they rely on to survive.
Under unrelenting pressure, representatives from MUCA and MARCA negotiated an agreement to the land dispute with the Honduran government in February 2012. The onerous and untenable terms of the agreement all but guarantee its dissolution, as families will be unable to subsist under the payment scheme required. Foreclosure on the land is inevitable, giving the patina of legitimacy to the future eviction of the campesinos.
The tenuous campesino coalitions threaten to unravel as families grapple with the impossibility of their obligations. Without a solution that ensures the long term ability of the campesinos to farm and feed their families, the cycle of repression and violent displacements will continue. Similar conditions exist elsewhere in Honduras.
The egregious human rights abuses related to the land disputes have attracted the attention of US legislators. On March 5, 2012, seven senators wrote to express their concern about the killings and impunity in Honduras. Four days later, 94 members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging the US government to suspend aid to the Honduran military and policy and to demand the end to impunity in Honduras, with specific mention of the repression in the Bajo Aguan.
Instead of responding to the grave concerns outlined by members of the House and Senate, the Obama administration has requested increased military aid for fiscal year 2013, ostensibly to assist the fight against drug trafficking. Many analysts decry the increased militarisation of the war on drugs as counter-productive and destructive.
Aside from that polemical critique of US policy, the US can and should refuse to provide further military assistance unless Honduras works to the end to the violent repression and impunity that plagues the country generally, and especially the Bajo Aguan region.
Although the land disputes are decades old, conflict in the Bajo Aguan has been exacerbated by the incentive offered to developing nations under the carbon credit trading scheme created under the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. Concerns about global climate change prompted the UN set up the Clean Development Mechanism to encourage the production of alternative fuel.
Inside Story Americas - Is law and order breaking down in Honduras?
In effect, countries in the global south that develop clean energy sources can sell carbon credits to the larger polluters in the global north. The fertile land of the Bajo Aguan provides optimal conditions to grow African palm oil, an enterprise that qualifies as green energy.
Adding an additional international component to a local land dispute, both the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank's International Finance Corporation provided loans to Facusse's Grupo Dinant to support the production of African palm biofuels.
The human rights abuses are not just a Honduran problem: International Financial Institutions are providing loans to the very corporate African Palm producers accused of violently repressing the campesino land rights movements.
The US government is providing military training and assistance to the Honduran government that is complicit in the repression; developed countries are purchasing carbon credits from companies that produce green energy through the violent displacement and repression of local campesinos; and the UN Clean Development Mechanism is inadvertently fostering optimal conditions for human rights violations in the global south by making land grabs from subsistence campesinos more profitable.
The US government and multilateral institutions must unequivocally demand an end to the human rights abuses in Honduras as a condition of ongoing assistance. Developed countries must demand that carbon credits they purchase are ethically generated. The beleaguered campesinos of Honduras cannot wage this fight on their own.
Lauren Carasik is Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Western New England University School of Law.
China Buys Inroads in the Caribbean, Catching U.S. Notice
RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD. New York Times. April 7, 2012
NASSAU, the Bahamas — A brand new $35 million stadium opened here in the Bahamas a few weeks ago, a gift from the Chinese government.
The tiny island nation of Dominica has received a grammar school, a renovated hospital and a sports stadium, also courtesy of the Chinese. Antigua and Barbuda got a power plant and a cricket stadium, and a new school is on its way. The prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago can thank Chinese contractors for the craftsmanship in her official residence.
China’s economic might has rolled up to America’s doorstep in the Caribbean, with a flurry of loans from state banks, investments by companies and outright gifts from the government in the form of new stadiums, roads, official buildings, ports and resorts in a region where the United States has long been a prime benefactor.
The Chinese have flexed their economic prowess in nearly every corner of the world. But planting a flag so close to the United States has generated intense vetting — and some raised eyebrows — among diplomats, economists and investors.
“When you’ve got a new player in the hemisphere all of a sudden, it’s obviously something talked about at the highest level of governments,” said Kevin P. Gallagher, a Boston University professor who is an author of a recent report on Chinese financing, “The New Banks in Town.”
Most analysts do not see a security threat, noting that the Chinese are not building bases or forging any military ties that could invoke fears of another Cuban missile crisis. But they do see an emerging superpower securing economic inroads and political support from a bloc of developing countries with anemic budgets that once counted almost exclusively on the United States, Canada and Europe.
China announced late last year that it would lend $6.3 billion to Caribbean governments, adding considerably to the hundreds of millions of dollars in loans, grants and other forms of economic assistance it has already channeled there in the past decade.
Unlike in Africa, South America and other parts of the world where China’s forays are largely driven by a search for commodities, its presence in the Caribbean derives mainly from long-term economic ventures, like tourism and loans, and potential new allies that are inexpensive to win over, analysts say.
American diplomatic cables released through WikiLeaks and published in the British newspaper The Guardian quoted diplomats as being increasingly worried about the Chinese presence here “less than 190 miles from the United States” and speculating on its purpose. One theory, according to a 2003 cable, suggested that China was lining up allies as “a strategic move” for the eventual end of the Castro era in Cuba, with which it has strong relations.
But the public line today is to be untroubled.
“I am not particularly worried, but it is something the U.S. should continue to monitor,” said Dennis C. Shea, the chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a bipartisan Congressional panel. But, he added, “With China you have to be wary of possible policy goals behind the effort.”
This archipelago, less than a one-hour flight from Florida, has gotten particular attention from the Chinese. Aside from the new stadium, with its “China Aid” plaque affixed prominently at the entrance, Chinese workers here in the Bahamas are busy helping build the $3.5 billion Baha Mar, one of the region’s largest megaresorts.
Beyond that, a Chinese state bank agreed in recent weeks to put up $41 million for a new port and bridge, and a new, large Chinese Embassy is being built downtown.
The new stadium here, Bahamian officials said, was in part a reward for breaking ties with Taiwan in 1997 and establishing and keeping relations with China.
It is one of several sporting arenas that China has sprinkled in Caribbean and Central American nations as gratitude for their recognition of “one China” — in other words, for their refusal to recognize Taiwan, which Chinese officials consider part of their country.
“They offered a substantial gift and we opted for a national stadium,” said Charles Maynard, the Bahamian sports minister, adding that his government could never have afforded to build it on its own.
In this enduring tug of war with Taiwan, others have switched, too, with a little financial encouragement. Grenada ended relations with Taiwan in 2004, and it is now in talks with China about getting a new national track and field stadium. The parting has not been entirely amicable; Taiwan and Grenada are now locked in a financial dispute over loans that Grenada received to finance the construction of its airport.
Determined not to be sidelined, Taiwan is seeking to solidify its existing relationships with countries like Belize, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Lucia — which in 2007 broke relations with China in favor of Taiwan — with a bevy of projects, many of them agricultural, including an agreement signed with Belize in recent weeks to develop the fish farming industry there.
Still, Taiwanese diplomats in the region conceded that they could never keep up with China’s largess but continued to make strategic investments in the Caribbean.
There are some commodities in the region that China wants. In August, a Chinese company, Complant, bought the last three government sugar estates in Jamaica and leased cane fields, for a total investment of $166 million. Last year, Jamaica for the first time shipped its famed Blue Mountain Coffee to China.
The Jamaican government has also received several hundred million dollars in loans from China, including $400 million announced in 2010 over five years to rebuild roads and other infrastructure.
“In order to be prosperous you need to build roads first,” said Adam Wu, an executive with China Business Network, a consulting group for Chinese businesses that has been making the case for China in several Caribbean countries.
Several analysts in the Caribbean say they believe that China eventually will emerge as a political force in the region, with so many countries indebted to it, at a time when the United States is perceived as preoccupied with the Middle East and paying little attention to the region.
“They are buying loyalty and taking up the vacuum left by the United States, Canada and other countries, particularly in infrastructure improvements,” said Sir Ronald Sanders, a former diplomat from Antigua and Barbuda.
“If China continues to invest the way it is doing in the Caribbean, the U.S. is almost making itself irrelevant to the region,” he added. “You don’t leave your flank exposed.”
In some places, Chinese contractors or workers have stayed on, beginning to build communities and businesses. So many have opened in Roseau, Dominica, that local merchants have complained about being squeezed out.
Trinidad and Tobago has had waves of Chinese immigration over the past century, but locals are now seeing more Chinese restaurants and shops, as well as other signs of a new immigrant generation.
“I am second-generation Trinidadian-Chinese, and like most of us of this era, we have integrated very well in society, having friends, girlfriends, spouses and kids with people of other ethnicities,” said Robert Johnson-Attin, 36, a mechanical engineer now with his own successful business. “It’ll only be a matter of time before it happens with the Chinese coming in now.”
Here in the Bahamas, Tan Jian, the economic counselor at the Chinese Embassy, said he that believed “it’s only the start” of the Chinese presence across the Caribbean, casting it as one developing country using its growing economic power to help other developing ones.
The Bahamian government, he said, “cannot afford to build huge projects by itself.”
While the Chinese built the stadium, the Bahamas is responsible for utility hookups and the roads and landscaping outside it.
The $35 million gift “is costing us $50 million,” said Mr. Maynard, the sports minister. “But at the end of the day it will pay for itself” by putting the Bahamas in position to host major sporting events and reap the tourism revenue that comes with that.
For Baha Mar, the Chinese Export-Import Bank is financing $2.6 billion, nearly three-quarters of the cost, and China’s state construction company is a partner.
The Bahamas agreed to allow up to 8,000 foreign workers, most of them Chinese, to work on the project in stages, but it also required employment for 4,000 Bahamians, dampening concerns that Chinese workers were taking jobs. American companies will also take part in building and running it.
Mr. Jian played down any economic competition with the United States, whose tourists, he asserted, stood to benefit from China’s presence in the Caribbean. The Chinese workers here live in barracks behind the project fences, largely shielded from public view.
“We hardly know they are here,” said James Duffy, watching a track practice next to the stadium one recent afternoon, adding with a chuckle: “Except for the big things they build.”
Karla Zabludovsky contributed reporting from Mexico City, Camilo Thame from Kingston, Jamaica, and Prior Beharry from Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago .
Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration [contents]
John Paul Rathbone. Financial Times. April 8, 2012
Colombia and Mexico, with the tacit backing of the US, will push for an open international debate about the legalisation of drugs at next weekend’s Summit of the Americas in a recognition that the four-decade long policy of drug prohibition has failed.
The aim is to assemble a cross-country working group to examine the implications and possible regulatory framework of legalising some or all drugs, such as cannabis and cocaine. The findings of the non-partisan panel would be presented to the UN for co-ordinated international action.
A senior Latin American diplomat said: “The idea is to map out, in a non-confrontational way, various scenarios so as to base future drug policy on approaches that are as realistic as possible, and better than current approaches.”
The summit, which will gather 33 heads of state in the Colombian colonial town of Cartagena on April 14 and 15, may well dissolve into the fractious squabbling that has characterised previous gatherings and so see the plan advance no further than the drawing board.
However, several centre-right presidents in the region – from Mexico’s Felipe Calderón to Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos, Costa Rica’s Laura Chinchilla and Guatemala’s Otto Pérez Molina – have said they are open to debate new drugs tactics, including considering legalisation or other “market-based alternatives”.
Joe Biden, the US vice-president, said during a visit to Mexico last month that drug legalisation debates were “totally legitimate” – although he added that “there’s no possibility that the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy on drug legalisation”.
“The initiative is to start a debate on the regulatory framework [surrounding drugs policy] and its consequences and potential alternatives,” another Latin American diplomat said.
In Mexico, about 50,000 people have been murdered since Mr Calderón declared war on the nation’s drugs gangs in 2006. Mr Calderón has consistently criticised the US for failing to reinstate a ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004, which he says has caused a surge in Mexican killings.
Policy makers generally acknowledge that prohibition boosts the price of drugs and thus the profits generated by transnational criminal organisations, while doing little to reduce demand in the US, the biggest market. The problem is advancing the analysis from there.
Colombia, for example, is generally credited with having fought a successful drugs war and reduced violence. Yet the flow of cocaine from the country has barely abated.
“Everybody knows what is in place now is not working well, so it’s important to explore options,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue. “But anyone who thinks legalisation by itself will solve crime and violence is kidding themselves. Criminality is due to the weakness of institutions.”
A further complication is that drug consumption is no longer just a “gringo” problem. The prevalence of Argentine and Chilean cocaine use, for example, is now at developed world levels, according to UN statistics.
Alongside narcotics, other issues will compete for leaders’ attention at the summit, including Argentina’s claim to sovereignty over the Falklands islands and Cuba’s absence because it does not meet the democratic requirements of the Organisation of American States. Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador, will skip the meeting in protest at Cuba’s absence.
The last summit, held in 2005 in Argentina, disintegrated into farce after Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s president, addressed a big anti-summit of anti-American protesters. Political temperatures should be cooler this year. Mr Obama is popular in the region, unlike his predecessor George W. Bush, while Mr Chávez is battling cancer and his socialist revolution is no longer regarded as a credible model.
'War on drugs' has failed, say Latin American leaders
Jamie Doward. The Guardian. April 8, 2012
A historic meeting of Latin America's leaders, to be attended by Barack Obama, will hear serving heads of state admit that the war on drugs has been a failure and that alternatives to prohibition must now be found.
The Summit of the Americas, to be held in Cartagena, Colombia is being seen by foreign policy experts as a watershed moment in the redrafting of global drugs policy in favour of a more nuanced and liberalised approach.
Otto Pérez Molina, the president of Guatemala, who as former head of his country's military intelligence service experienced the power of drug cartels at close hand, is pushing his fellow Latin American leaders to use the summit to endorse a new regional security plan that would see an end to prohibition. In the Observer, Pérez Molina writes: "The prohibition paradigm that inspires mainstream global drug policy today is based on a false premise: that global drug markets can be eradicated."
Pérez Molina concedes that moving beyond prohibition is problematic. "To suggest liberalisation – allowing consumption, production and trafficking of drugs without any restriction whatsoever – would be, in my opinion, profoundly irresponsible. Even more, it is an absurd proposition. If we accept regulations for alcoholic drinks and tobacco consumption and production, why should we allow drugs to be consumed and produced without any restrictions?"
He insists, however, that prohibition has failed and an alternative system must be found. "Our proposal as the Guatemalan government is to abandon any ideological consideration regarding drug policy (whether prohibition or liberalisation) and to foster a global intergovernmental dialogue based on a realistic approach to drug regulation. Drug consumption, production and trafficking should be subject to global regulations, which means that drug consumption and production should be legalised, but within certain limits and conditions."
The decision by Pérez Molina to speak out is seen as highly significant and not without political risk. Polls suggest the vast majority of Guatemalans oppose decriminalisation, but Pérez Molina's comments are seen by many as helping to usher in a new era of debate. They will be studied closely by foreign policy experts who detect that Latin American leaders are shifting their stance on prohibition following decades of drugs wars that have left hundreds of thousands dead.
Mexico's president, Felipe Calderón, has called for a national debate on the issue. Last year Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia's president, told the Observer that if legalising drugs curtailed the power of organised criminal gangs who had thrived during prohibition, "and the world thinks that's the solution, I will welcome it".
One diplomat closely involved with the summit described the event as historic, saying it would be the first time for 40 years that leaders had met to have an open discussion on drugs. "This is the chance to look at this matter with new eyes," he said.
Latin America's increasing hostility towards prohibition makes Obama's attendance at the summit potentially difficult. The Obama administration, keen not to hand ammunition to its opponents during an election year, will not want to be seen as softening its support for prohibition. However, it is seen as significant that the US vice-president, Joe Biden, has acknowledged that the debate about legalising drugs is now legitimate.
Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil and chairman of the global commission on drug policy, has said it is time for "an open debate on more humane and efficient drug policies", a view shared by George Shultz, the former US secretary of state, and former president Jimmy Carter
We have to find new solutions to Latin America's drugs nightmare
Otto Perez Molina. The Observer. April 8, 2012
Twenty years ago, I became head of intelligence services in the Guatemalan army. In this capacity, I had to co-ordinate operations with several United States and Latin American agencies dealing with the fight against drug trafficking. In those years, this was already a challenging and complex task. However, Guatemala's security forces had the capacity to deal with the problem, intercepting drug convoys and arresting drug lords. Probably the most important victory on this front was our sophisticated and discreet intelligence operation that led to the arrest of a prominent Mexican drug lord, who was subsequently sent to Mexico for trial.
None the less, the drug lord stayed in jail only eight years, managing to escape from a high-security prison, something that in itself shows the corrupting tentacles of drug trafficking. Today, this capo is listed among the 10 richest men in Mexico, and one of the richest and most influential men on Earth according to Forbes magazine. Some analysts even consider him the most prominent drug trafficker in the world. His name is Joaquín, but he is better known for his nickname: "Chapo" Guzman, head of the Sinaloa cartel.
Three months ago, I became president of Guatemala. And contrary to the good fortunes enjoyed by Guzman, I found that the justice and security systems were not what they had been 20 years earlier. Which led me to ask myself these questions: isn't it true that we have been fighting the war on drugs these past two decades? Then, how on earth is drug consumption higher and production greater and why is trafficking so widespread?
In spite of this quite confusing scenario, I am not frustrated by what we Guatemalans have done in our fight against global criminal networks. In fact, I am proud that during the last two years our justice and security forces have been able to arrest at least 10 very important drug traffickers in our territory. Just last week, we announced the capture of Walther Overdick, the main contact of the Zetas cartel in Guatemala. Our institutions may be weak financially and sometimes even technically, but there are still many Guatemalans of honour who cannot be bought by drug money. Thanks to them, we are far from being a failed state. We are just a small territory that happens to find itself geographically between the largest drug consumption markets and the largest drug producers.
So, decades of big arrests and the seizure of tons of drugs and yet consumption and production of damaging substances are booming. The fall in the consumption of one drug is rapidly undermined by the rise in demand for another. In the same vein, the destruction of drug production in one territory is quickly replaced by the increase of drug production in another. The causes for drug consumption seem to multiply over time, as do the incentives for drug production. This is not a frustrating fact. It is just a fact.
And facts are what we need to concentrate on when considering drug policy options. When we analyse drug markets through realistic lenses (not ideological ones as is pretty much customary in most government circles these days), we realise that drug consumption is a public health issue that, awkwardly, has been transformed into a criminal justice problem.
We all agree that drugs are bad for our health and that therefore we have to concentrate on impeding their consumption, just as we combat alcoholism and tobacco addiction. However, nobody in the world has ever suggested eradicating sugar-cane plantations, or potatoes and barley production, in spite of these being raw materials in the production of the likes of rum, beer and vodka. And we all know that alcoholism and tobacco addiction cause thousands of deaths every year all over the world.
So, knowing that drugs are bad for human beings is not a compelling reason for advocating their prohibition. Actually, the prohibition paradigm that inspires mainstream global drug policy today is based on a false premise: that the global drug markets can be eradicated. We would not believe such a statement if it were applied to alcoholism or tobacco addiction, but somehow we assume it's right in the case of drugs. Why?
Moving beyond prohibition can lead us into tricky territory. To suggest liberalisation – allowing consumption, production and trafficking of drugs without any restriction whatsoever – would be, in my opinion, profoundly irresponsible. Even more, it is an absurd proposition. If we accept regulations for alcohol and tobacco, why should we allow drugs to be consumed and produced without any restrictions?
Our proposal, as the Guatemalan government, is to abandon any ideological position (whether prohibition or liberalisation) and to foster a global intergovernmental dialogue based on a realistic approach – drug regulation. Drug consumption, production and trafficking should be subject to global regulations, which means that consumption and production should be legalised but within certain limits and conditions. And legalisation therefore does not mean liberalisation without controls.
A dialogue on drug markets regulation should address some of the following questions: how can we diminish the violence generated by drug abuse? How can we strengthen public health and social protection systems in order to prevent substance abuse and provide support to drug addicts and their relatives? How can we provide economic and social opportunities to families and communities that benefit economically from drug production and trafficking? Which regulations should be put in place to prevent substance abuse (prohibition of sales to minors, prohibition of advertising in mass media, high selective consumption taxes for drugs etc)?
Next weekend, leaders from the Americas will meet in Cartagena. This is an opportunity to start a realistic and responsible intergovernmental dialogue on drug policy. The presidents of Colombia and Costa Rica, Juan Manuel Santos and Laura Chinchilla, have both already expressed their interest in fostering a dialogue on drug policy. It is not by coincidence that both presidents have served as ministers of security or defence. Those of us who have experience on security matters know what we are talking about.
Guatemala will not fail to honour any of its international commitments to fighting drug trafficking. But nor are we willing to continue as dumb witnesses to a global self-deceit. We cannot eradicate global drug markets, but we can certainly regulate them as we have done with alcohol and tobacco markets. Drug abuse, alcoholism and tobacco should be treated as public health problems, not criminal justice issues. Our children and grandchildren demand from us a more effective drug policy, not a more ideological response.
Otto Perez Molina is president of Guatemala. The Sixth Summit of the Americas is in Cartagena, Colombia, 14-15 April
Drugs: The Debate Goes Mainstream
Cesar Gaviria, Ernesto Zedillo, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Huffington Post. April 9, 2012
What is the best way to deal with drugs? Criminalizing drug users or treating them as patients? Sticking to a strict prohibitionist stance or experimenting with alternative forms of regulation and prevention?
Latin America is talking about drugs like never before. The taboo that has long prevented open debate about drug policies has been broken -- thanks to a steadily deteriorating situation on the ground and the courageous stand taken by presidents Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala and Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica.
The facts speak for themselves. The foundations of the U.S.-led war on drugs -- eradication of production, interdiction of traffic, and criminalization of consumption -- have not succeeded and never will. When there is established demand for a consumer product, there will be a supply. The only beneficiaries of prohibition are the drug cartels.
Forty years of strenuous efforts have failed to reduce the production and consumption of illicit drugs. Worse, in Mexico and Central America, prohibition-related violence and corruption have become a major threat to public safety and the stability of democratic institutions.
In light of the disastrous consequences of the war on drugs, we took the initiative four years ago to convene a Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy -- and, more recently, a Global Commission on Drug Policy. Our core message was clear: The war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies throughout the Americas.
Our commissions presented two key recommendations. The first was to end -- as soon as possible -- the criminalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others. People struggling with drug abuse or addiction may indeed harm themselves and their families, but criminalization and social marginalization are not going to help them.
Drug abuse and addiction are public health problems. The most effective response, then, is to provide treatment and health services to all who need them. The criminalization of drug use is the primary obstacle to treatment and rehabilitation.
Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Uruguay have already passed laws decriminalizing drug possession for personal consumption. However, given that the legal distinctions between "possession" and "trafficking" are unclear, the law often leads to police corruption and outright discrimination against the poor.
The primary objective of drug control policies should be protecting the young, seeking by all means to prevent drug abuse and addiction. This requires increased investments in prevention, treatment and social reintegration. Only such a comprehensive approach can be effective in reducing drug use.
The full enforcement power of the state and the social and cultural pressure of society should be aimed at a relentless fight against organized crime -- rather than persecuting people in need of treatment.
Our second core recommendation -- which is more complex but just as important for ensuring peace and public safety -- is to encourage experimentation with different models of legal regulation of drugs, such as marijuana, in similar ways to what is already done with tobacco and alcohol.
Research has consistently demonstrated that marijuana is a less harmful drug than tobacco or alcohol. Regulation is not the same as legalization. This is a critical point. Regulation is a necessary step to create the conditions for a society to establish all kinds of restrictions and limitations on the production, trade, advertising and consumption of a given substance to deglamorize, discourage and control its use.
The stunning reduction in the consumption of tobacco in the Americas shows that prevention and regulation are more efficient than prohibition and punishment.
Regulation cuts the link between traffickers and consumers. It is this link that enables traffickers to impel people to use ever more harmful drugs. Since marijuana is by far the most widely consumed illicit drug in the world, regulation would also significantly reduce the vast resources -- and thus the vast power and influence -- generated by organized crime in the illegal drug markets..
We congratulate the presidents of Colombia, Guatemala and Costa Rica for having the courage to put different options on the table that would undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.
For the first time, drug policy will be on the agenda at the Summit of the Americas, which will take place in Cartagena de las lndias, Colombia, on April 14-15. It is unlikely that the heads of state will reach a consensus about such a complex and controversial issue. At this point, what is most needed is a serious and rigorous debate, enabling each country to develop its own position and to adopt more appropriate solutions that take their history and culture into account.
Latin America's experiences in fighting drug traffic, the successful examples set by some European countries in reducing the individual and societal harms of drug misuse, the experimentation of several U.S. states with the medical uses of marijuana, the engagement of the business sector and the scientific community, and the profound wish of the young to live in peace, all point toward more balanced, humane and efficient drug policies.
A paradigm shift, combining repression of the violent drug trade with increased investments in treatment and prevention, would be the best contribution that Latin America -- a region that has suffered so much under drug prohibition -- could make to global reform of drug policies.
Written by Cesar Gaviria, former president of Colombia and member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy; Ernesto Zedillo, former president of Mexico and member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy; and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil and chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy
Two of Latin America's deadliest gangs join forces
ROMINA RUIZ-GOIRIENA. AP. April 7, 2012
GUATEMALA CITY -- - Hardened in the streets and prisons of California and deported in the 1990s to the Central American countries where they were born, the members of the Mara Salvatrucha street gang swiftly grew into a force of heavily tattooed young men carrying out kidnappings, murder and extortion.
Now, Guatemalan authorities say, they have begun to see new and disturbing evidence of an alliance between the Maras and another of the most feared criminal organizations in Latin America - a deal with the potential to further undermine that U.S.-backed effort to fight violent crime and narcotics trafficking in the region.
Secret jailhouse recordings and a turncoat kidnapper have described a pact between leaders of the Maras and the Zetas, the brutal Mexican paramilitary drug cartel that has seized control of large parts of rural northern Guatemala in its campaign for mastery of drug-trafficking routes from South America to the United States.
In recent months, authorities say, they have begun to see the first signs that the Zetas are providing paramilitary training and equipment to the Maras in exchange for intelligence and crimes meant to divert law-enforcement resources and attention.
The Zetas, formed more than a decade ago by defectors from Mexico's army special forces, have already joined forces with local drug kingpins in the Guatemalan countryside, and recruited turncoat members of Guatemala's military special forces for operations in Mexico and Guatemala, officials in the two neighboring countries have said.
There is some evidence that other Mexican cartels have paid Central American street gangs to sell drugs for them. And Salvadoran authorities said they are aware of informal links between the Zetas and local cliques of the Mara Salvatrucha paid to sell individual shipments of drugs, but officials have seen no proof of any formal deal between the gangs.
But a formal, durable alliance with the Maras could bring the Zetas thousands of new foot soldiers, extending the cartel's reach into the cities of Guatemala, and, potentially, other countries in Central America where the Maras maintain a grip on urban slums.
Guatemalan authorities told The Associated Press that they believe the Zetas have trained a small group of Maras in at least one camp inside Mexico. Zeta members have spoken of recruiting 5,000 more, although the extent to which they have succeeded remains unclear, officials said.
Surreptitious recordings of jailhouse conversations between Zeta and Mara leaders contain mentions of a deal between the two groups, according to a high-ranking investigator who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive and dangerous nature of the information.
Eduardo Velasco, head of an Interior Ministry task force on organized crime, told the AP that authorities believed the Maras' training by the Zetas had manifested itself in the increasing brutality, planning, organization and firepower of Maras' operations in Guatemala.
Previously armed mainly with handguns, Maras, recognizable by intimidating, dark tattoos that cover swaths of their bodies and often their faces, have begun carrying AR-15, M-16 and AK-47 assault rifles and military fragmentation grenades.
In the city of Villanueva in January, a group of Maras armed with assault rifles burst into a suburban disco and opened fire on a meeting of rivals, killing five people.
Maras have also begun chopping off the fingers of kidnapping victims to pressure their families into sending ransoms, a technique previously seen in Mexico, Velasco said.
"As a result of this union with the Zetas, the Mara Salvatrucha have more ability to organize, strategize and maneuver," Velasco said. "The Mara Salvatrucha want to build up their inventory of long-range weapons, grenades and drugs for their own use and for sale ... they know the economic benefit is great for them and that the Zetas, as an outside group, need the Maras' network in order to grow inside Guatemala."
The Zetas have not tried to recruit the Salvatruchas' rival MS-18 gang, also a group whose name and organization originate in the slums of Los Angeles, because it is not as powerful or sophisticated, Velasco said.
The Zetas' ultimate goal, according to analysts, Guatemalan authorities and international officials, is to integrate the Maras into their network and become the most powerful group in Guatemala - criminal or legitimate.
"The Zetas are a paramilitary organization that wants to control all the legitimate, illegitimate and criminal activities in Guatemala," said Antonio Mazzitelli, regional head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Organized Crime.
Miguel Angel Galvez, a judge who hears narcotics and organized crime cases, said the Mara-Zeta alliance was increasingly evident in the cases he hears, and had been documented in notebooks found on arrested Zetas that detailed payments to Mara members.
"The Zetas come to a group like the Maras and grab total control," he said.
Authorities first learned of the alliance after arresting 50 suspected Zeta members linked to a May 14 massacre on a cattle farm in Peten province that left 27 people dead, 25 of them decapitated, another law-enforcement official said on condition of anonymity for reasons of personal safety.
The suspects were incarcerated alongside Maras, and their secretly recorded conversations contained the first mention of an alliance, the official said.
The Zetas expressed the desire to completely integrate with the Zeta members of the Mara Salvatrucha and are providing them with military training and indoctrination in Mexican camps, Velasco said.
Another operation led to the dismantling of a group of kidnappers, Velasco said. The head of the gang became a cooperating witness and told authorities he had sent 18 members of his group to a Zeta training camp in Veracruz, Mexico, paying each 5,000 quetzales ($640). They came back to Guatemala and worked as kidnappers for him. He was planning to send another six for training when he was arrested.
Velasco declined to elaborate on the case.
Mexican officials have dismantled Zeta training camps in the state of Nuevo Leon but declined to comment on the Guatemalan claims. U.S. officials in Guatemala also declined to comment.
Contributing to this story were Sonia Perez in Guatemala City, Alberto Arce in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Marcos Aleman in San Salvador, El Salvador and Adriana Gomez Licon, Michael Weissenstein and E. Eduardo Castillo in Mexico City.