Latin America News Round-up
August 15, 2012
Argentina Tries Ex-President on Bribery Charges
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Brazil and Southern Cone
Brazil changes tack with new stimulus plan. BBC
Brazil court suspends work on controversial dam. AFP
Argentina tries ex-president on bribery charges. AP
Protesting Chilean students take over schools. AP
Chile, India to hold free trade talks: official. AFP
Unasur ratifies sanctions; Paraguay president more concerned with OAS position. Mercopress
Déjà Coup All Over Again. In These Times
Northern Andean Region
Venezuela's Chavez says U.S. given access to 'mercenary' suspect. Reuters
New Study Claims Venezuela a World Leader in Increasing Internet Usage. Venezuelanalysis
Colombia’s Santos Agrees to Talks with Indians. EFE
Colombia court rules strike at country's main coal railway illegal. Reuters
GM workers in Colombia sew mouths shut in protest. Toronto Star
Uribe planned military intervention against FARC, ELN in Venezuela. Colombia Reports
Western Andean Region
Ecuador says no decision yet on Assange's asylum. Reuters
Ecuador first-half trade surplus rises to $390 mln. Reuters
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean
Mexico's left: pigs, sheep, chickens bought votes. AP
Surge in violence in Mexico's drug war? Figures are inconclusive. Los Angeles Times
U.N. envoy tells Honduras to better protect its journalists. Reuters
Honduran journalist shot dead. The Guardian
Chinchilla Negotiating Mega Chinese Free Zone in Costa Rica. The Costa Rica News
Brazil and Southern Cone [contents]
Brazil changes tack with new stimulus plan
Joao Fellet. BBC. August 15, 2012
Brazil's government is set to launch the first in a series of measures that could inject up to $50bn (£32bn) into the economy over the next five years.
The first part of the plan, to be announced on Wednesday, includes privatising about 14,000 kilometres of railways and roads.
The privatisation of ports, lower energy costs and incentives for industry will soon follow.
The package is designed to boost what have been disappointing growth levels.
President Dilma Rousseff has invited 50 leading Brazilian businessmen to the capital Brasilia where she will personally launch the new strategy.
In May, she brought the businessmen to the presidential palace - the Planalto - to ask them what was needed to stimulate the economy.
Growth in Brazil is predicted to be under 2% this year, the weakest annual performance since 2009 and a sharp slowdown from an impressive 7.5% rise in 2010.
Rising debt rates
Prior to these measures, the government had been counting mainly on rising levels of domestic consumption - fuelled by credit growth and rising income among poor Brazilians - alongside investments by state companies.
Although the previous strategy had helped Brazil become the sixth largest economy in the world in 2011, overtaking Britain, the government has not been able to maintain high growth rates.
The recent weak growth has been attributed mainly to rising debt rates among the population and the global downturn, which reduced demand for Brazilian products.
Expensive energy, poor infrastructure and increasing labour costs - known here as 'Custo Brasil' or the 'Brazil Cost' - have also weighed on growth, analysts say.
Now the government will increase the role played by private investors, who were seen to have lost ground during the government of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil's president from 2003-2010.
President Rousseff was his chosen successor, but she is seen as a tough and pragmatic decision maker when it comes to economic policy.
In February, the government granted three of the largest airports in the country to private companies, hoping to improve overstretched facilities before the 2014 Football World Cup.
Now roads, railways, ports and perhaps other airports will also be privatised. President Rousseff hopes these concessions will also help to improve the country's much-criticised infrastructure.
"The government realized that privatisations are a way to boost investment", says Felipe Salto, an economist at Tendencias, a leading consulting firm in Brazil.
The concessions are expected to attract up to $50bn in investments in five years.
Rousseff is also preparing to lower the price of energy for industry with the abolition of some federal taxes, which could cut the price by 10%.
Further extensive reductions would depend on tough negotiations with governors and politicians across the country.
Economists are worried, however, about a new round of tax reductions for industry that should be announced in the coming weeks.
"Without structural changes, they could even generate demand and short-term growth, but also cause higher inflation", says Mr Salto.
The measures, he says, would also affect the fiscal balance.
"Comprehensive stimulus measures could harm the efforts to bring down public debt, leading to imbalance in government accounts."
For economist Silvia Matos, professor at Getulio Vargas Foundation, "the new package shows that the government is convinced that the economy faces a structural problem.
"The diagnosis is correct, but took too long to be made."
According to Ms Matos, previous economic steps taken by the government this year, such as reducing taxes on cars, were not enough to lift GDP.
Not even the recent devaluation of the currency, the real, and the progressive reduction in interest rates, have produced significant effects so far.
According to the National Confederation of Industry, 11 of the 19 industrial sectors they were tracking suffered a drop in capacity in 2011, indicating a cooling in industrial activity.
Ms Matos believes the new package will tackle some key economic problems, but says Brazil faces other serious issues such as increased public spending and an inefficient tax system.
Without reforms in these areas, she says, the country's economy will remain vulnerable.
Brazil court suspends work on controversial dam
AFP. August 14, 2012
A Brazilian court has ordered the immediate suspension of work on the controversial Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, ruling that indigenous communities were not consulted. It was set to be the world's third-largest dam.
The Federal Regional Court of the First Region ruled on Tuesday that native communities affected by the Belo Monte dam in the Amazon must be heard before work resumes.
It said that the controversial project had been approved by the Brazilian Congress in 2005 on the proviso that an environmental impact study be conducted after work started. The court found that indigenous people were not given the right to air their views in Congress on the basis of the study's findings, as was stipulated by law.
Norte Energia, the construction company which is running the project, faces fines of $250,000 (202,800 euros) a day if it chooses to ignore the ruling. It has the right to appeal the ruling in a higher court.
A member of the Kaiapo tribe holds a poster showing a picture of Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff during a protest by indigenous communities against the construction of Belo Monte hydroelectric dam
Indigenous communities fear the project will affect their way of life
Construction began a year ago on the dam, which runs across the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon. It was met by fierce opposition from local people and green activists.
Opponents argue it will reduce the volume of water in the Xingu River and affect populations of fish that are a staple in the diet of local indigenous peoples. They say it will lead to the displacement of around 20,000 people.
Environmentalists, meanwhile, warn of deforestation, greenhouse-gas emissions and irreparable damage to the ecosystem.
Due to be operational by 2014, the dam was designed to produce over 11,000 megawatts of electricity. If completed, it will only be surpassed in size by China's Three Gorges facility, and Brazil's Itaipu dam in the south.
Argentina tries ex-president on bribery charges
MICHAEL WARREN. AP. August 14, 2012
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Argentine prosecutors put a former president on trial for bribery on Tuesday, accusing Fernando de la Rua of bribing senators for votes.
A three-judge panel already has ruled that $5 million was paid to a group of senators in exchange for their votes to remove worker protections in the year 2000, when the International Monetary Fund was making workforce flexibility a requirement for extending loans to Argentina. The law, which enabled companies to fire workers without cause or severance pay, was overturned in 2004.
Now prosecutors must prove the payments were ordered by De la Rua, who served from 1999 to December 2001, when the IMF refused to extend more loans and the economy collapsed. Deadly riots followed, forcing de la Rua to flee by helicopter from the rooftop of the presidential palace.
De la Rua's co-defendants include his liaison to Congress, former parliament secretary Mario Pontaquarto, who confessed a decade ago to delivering the money on the orders of De la Rua himself.
Pontaquarto said he picked up the $5 million from Argentina's Intelligence Service, giving $4 million to one senator, Emilio Cantarero, and $1 million to another, Jose Genoud. Cantarero now suffers from Alzheimer's disease and Genoud committed suicide, but Pontaquarto said he helped prosecutors compile solid evidence.
"I'm looking for the truth to put an end to all of this," Pontaquarto said as he entered the courtroom Tuesday, adding that he's not afraid to go to prison.
"If there's no conviction for me, who turned myself in, no one will be convicted and impunity will result," he said. "Society has condemned this, and what I want is for the justice system to condemn it as well. I'm not interested in De la Rua's lies. This was the most serious act of institutional corruption since the return of democracy" in 1983, after seven years of dictatorship.
De la Rua's defenders handed out pamphlets at the courthouse Tuesday noting that Pontaquarto had been convicted of embezzling government travel money and saying he should not be believed.
"This is an absurd case, full of contradictions, built on rumors that lack any evidence," De la Rua declares in the pamphlet. "Pontaquarto has accused me without proof, with a discourse based on contradictions that were never proven. What credibility could this person have? None."
The trial is expected to stretch well into 2013 with nearly 340 witnesses lined up including President Cristina Fernandez, who was granted the right to submit written testimony. Fernandez was an opposition senator at the time of the crime and is not accused of taking a bribe.
Also charged with bribery are former intelligence chief Fernando de Santibanes and former Labor Minister Alberto Flamarique. Four former senators are charged with accepting the bribes: Alberto Tell, Augusto Alasino, Remo Costanzo and Ricardo Branda.
Junta leaders have been tried for human rights violations in recent years, but De la Rua is only the second democratically elected former Argentine president to face trial. The other was his predecessor Carlos Menem, who was acquitted in November of arms trafficking in the early 1990s.
Protesting Chilean students take over schools
LUIS ANDRES HENAO. AP. August 14, 2012
SANTIAGO, Chile -- Hundreds of students occupied high schools and blocked traffic in Chile's capital on Tuesday to demand education reform. Police in riot gear evicted students from several schools but at least seven remained occupied.
Student leaders met with Santiago Mayor Pablo Zalaquett, who has threatened to remove scholarships from students who join the school takeovers, but the talks ended after two hours without an agreement.
Zalaquett's scholarship threat was called an abuse of power by other mayors, but it received public support from Education Minister Harald Beyer.
"I think it's sensible for a mayor who has limited resources to use these recourses on students who are committed to education," Beyer told reporters. "We have to look out for the right to education."
The changes sought by students who have been protesting and boycotting classes all week would fundamentally overhaul a school system that has been privatized since the 1973-90 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
Mass demonstrations initially raised expectations for profound changes, but more than a year after the first protests, few students have seen any real benefits. Protesters say the system still fails families with poor quality public schools, expensive private universities, unprepared teachers and banks that make education loans at high interest rates that most Chileans can ill afford.
The government plans to raise about $1 billion in taxes for education, but students say that's not enough. In an interview with The Associated Press earlier this year, Beyer said the government would not cede to their demands for free education, calling it an unfair, backward-looking policy.
Last week, police used water cannons to break up a march by thousands of students in a protest where hooded vandals set three city buses on fire, 75 people were arrested and 49 policemen were injured. The government criticized student leaders for allowing the march, which had been banned by Santiago's municipal government.
Gabriel Boric, the president of the University of Chile student federation, initially said the burning of the Transantiago mass transit system buses had been staged. But on Tuesday, via Twitter, he said he regretted the "unfortunate" comment. Boric also said he disapproves of violence, but supports the takeover of schools and the university students that he represents could soon join high school students in the occupations.
"If we're coming to this extreme, this level of anger among students, it's because this government has been unable to have a dialogue and give us any answers," Boric told local TV late Tuesday. "The arrogance of (Education) Minister Beyer is one of the main reasons why students have taken control of high schools and we're studying similar measures for next week."
Although the government quickly came out to praise Boric's retraction about the bus burnings, it condemned the demonstrations.
"I think it's good that he recognizes that it was a mistake," presidential spokesman Andres Chadwick said. "But the true mistake that he should recognize is the violence."
President Sebastian Pinera's approval ratings have plunged with the protests making him the most unpopular Chilean leader since the country returned to democracy in 1990.
Pinera has refused to radically change the education system. Instead, he has proposed to spend about $1 billion on thousands of new scholarships and lower student loan interest from an average of 6 percent to 2 percent. He says the plan, which passed the lower house and is being debated in the Senate, would allow more promising students to attend the best schools in Chile and slash the financial burden on their families.
Student leaders say real change will only come when the private sector is regulated and education is no longer a for-profit business.
Chile, India to hold free trade talks: official
AFP. August 14, 2012
SANTIAGO — Chile and India will begin negotiations on a free trade agreement at the end of the year, Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno said in a television interview Tuesday.
The agreement will "include not only goods, but also services, investment and all the control elements, such as tariff barriers," Moreno said on CNN Chile.
Chile aims to be the first South American country to have a free trade agreement with India, a market of more than 1.2 billion people, Moreno added.
The two countries agreed to launch the talks while Moreno was in New Delhi last week for a meeting with his counterpart, Anand Sharma.
A free trade agreement would replace a partial agreement reached in 2007.
Chilean exports to India grew by 45 percent in the first half of 2012 to reach $1.36 billion. Imports from India rose 29 percent in the same period to reach $310 million.
Unasur ratifies sanctions; Paraguay president more concerned with OAS position
Mercopress. August 15, 2012
Unasur ratified on Tuesday Paraguay’s suspension from the block at a meeting of the so called High Level Group in Lima, Peru which assessed the situation of the landlocked country.
“The suspension of Paraguay from Unasur remains in place” said Salomon Lerner, president of the High Level group. He added the decision was based on the reports from South American embassies in Asuncion that remain open but working at second level since ambassadors have been called back to their countries.
“The report was passed on to all the foreign ministries and reveals a relative economic and business normality although there are claims of civil and human rights abuses”, added Lerner, a former Peruvian Prime Minister.
Lerner said the claims refer to followers of removed president Fernando Lugo in the government’s administrative staff although there is no extended alarm, but a few specific cases. Lugo stepped down following political impeachment and was replaced by Vice-president Federico Franco.
Lerner also revealed that the electoral timetable for April 2013, which was part of the Paraguayan political calendar, is being strictly complied with.
The meeting ratified decisions from the Mercosur summit and Unasur extraordinary meeting in Mendoza when Paraguay was suspended from both groups. Unasur also agreed to support the same political position in the coming OAS meeting in Washington next week when the Paraguay issue will be discussed, confirmed Lerner.
The former Peruvian PM said that following Unasur ratification nothing is going to change with the OAS meeting and the Paraguayan current administration will remain “politically isolated”.
Despite the lack of consensus, the US, Canada and Mexico are against sanctions, but consensus will be also absent to validate the “coup” that dumped Lugo or for any other form of political recognition of the new administration anticipated Lerner.
The High Level Group also called on Unasur to closely monitor the Paraguayan electoral process, with observers if necessary, to ensure transparency, respect for human rights and equal opportunities for all participating parties and candidates.
Lerner said the group will meet again before the end of the month for a further assessment of the situation.
From Asunción President Franco downplayed the significance of the Lima meeting regarding the legitimacy of his administration and said that for him it would represent a “promotion” if he was fired from the organization.
“If Unasur kicks us out, for me it would mean a promotion, even a gold medal. I’m not at call concerned, I’m not seduced by Unasur”, confessed Franco in a radio interview.
He added he was more concerned with what will happen at the Organization of American States, OAS, meeting next week, because after all Unasur is but “a presidents’ club”.
“OAS is a far more prestigious institution, with more institutional democratic gym, and we always make sure that they send observers to our elections”, underlined Franco.
However Franco said that Paraguay can’t be out of Mercosur. “It is part of our reality, our every day business. We are a Mediterranean country; we need to have good relations with our neighbours, particularly when they are very powerful (Brazil and Argentina)”.
“If Brazil is doing fine, Paraguay by extension will also be doing fine. From an economic point of view Brazil for us is vital. Our main trade partner is Brazil followed by China”, he said.
Regarding the controversy whether to remain in Mercosur as full member or associate member, as is the case of Chile, Franco admitted the issue could be considered in a referendum simultaneously with the April 2013 presidential election.
“Can we call a referendum and ask the people at the election in April what they want?” asked Franco. “Can a one year government make such a drastic decision as abandoning Mercosur or do we hold on and create the best possible conditions for the next elected government and let them decide?”
“I’m not going to make any decision that can hurt my country and that might rejoice one of two persons. Any decision will be taken always to the benefit of all the people of my country, which is my duty to them”, concluded Franco.
Déjà Coup All Over Again
Jeremy Kryt. In These Times. August 14, 2012
‘There was no love lost between Lugo and the State Department. They’re willing to accept the undermining of democratic processes as long as it’s a benefit to U.S. interests.’
Diplomatic relations in Latin America were rocked by the ouster of Paraguay’s President Fernando Lugo on June 22, after a hasty and controversial impeachment trial by the nation’s Congress.
Governments throughout the region denounced the proceedings as an “institutional coup,” and moved to sever ties with their soy-exporting, deeply impoverished neighbor. Meanwhile, in the capital of Asunción, schools shut down, shops closed their doors, and crowds of angry demonstrators took to the streets to protest the toppling of the first freely elected president in the country’s history.
Lugo is the third democratically-elected Latin American leader to be targeted for regime change in the last three years. A police-led uprising against the president of Ecuador was successfully put down in September 2010. A year earlier, in June 2009, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was kidnapped by soldiers and flown out of the country. As in Paraguay, the Honduran Congress was used to legitimize a puppet government.
A moderate leftist and a former Catholic priest, Lugo had been dragged before Congress on vague charges of “poor performance.” Given 24 hours to prepare a defense, he had just two hours to present his case before the opposition-controlled Senate. The verdict was delivered almost without debate, and the man known as “the Bishop of the Poor” was told to clean out his office—replaced by Vice President Federico Franco, a member of the far-Right opposition.
In their defense, the congressional architects of Lugo’s downfall cited Article 225 of the Paraguayan Constitution, which lays out an impeachment process. But critics point to the lack of time Lugo was given to defend himself, as well as the lightning-swift verdict, as evidence that due process had been violated.
“The Paraguayan Congress is one of the most corrupt in the hemisphere,” says Mark Weisbrot, director of the D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research. Weisbrot calls the president’s swift removal “a coup by the legislators and the people who own them.”
After more than 60 years of rule by the right-wing Colorado Party—including three decades of brutal dictatorship—Paraguayans celebrated when Lugo came to power in 2008, promising tax and land reforms, and to combat poverty. He made modest headway at first, investing in low-income housing and basic medical care for poor families. (Forty percent of Paraguay’s population is impoverished; 11 percent is extremely poor.) But Lugo’s administration soon ran afoul of elites who saw his anti-poverty initiatives as an existential threat to their grip on power.
“They were afraid of the political space [Lugo] was opening up for reform,” Weisbrot says, citing a U.S. State Department cable released by Wikileaks that revealed that a “mostly legal” presidential coup had been in the works for at least three years. “They’ve been trying to get rid of [Lugo] since he was elected.”
Freedom or feudalism
Lugo’s political enemies saw their chance to move against him on June 15, when a clash between police and displaced farmers near the eastern town of Curuguaty resulted in the deaths of 11 farmers and six officers. Another 80 peasants, including children, were wounded. The skirmish occurred when police moved in to evict farmers occupying land they say was stolen from them under the despotic rule of Alfredo Stroessner, the Colorado Party member who ran the country from 1954 to 1989.
Despite the fact that Lugo had ordered the police to evict the peasants, the priest-turned-president was accused by a Colorado-led coalition in Congress of “encouraging” illegal land grabs and was successfully impeached eight days later.
“The land reform issue played a great role in the coup,” says Martin Almada, a Paraguayan lawyer and renowned human rights activist who has worked with Amnesty International and UNESCO. “Under Lugo, for the first time, the campesino [small farmer] groups had a legitimate voice in government,” says Almada. “Now our democracy has been kidnapped.”
Bloody land disputes, driven by competition between large landowners and small-scale subsistence farmers, are nothing new in Paraguay. The land-locked nation is the world’s fourth-leading exporter of soy—much of it goes to biofuels for Europe and Asia— and the cash crop earns annual revenues of about $1.6 billion.
But ever-expanding soy production leaves little room for the country’s population of 250,000 campesinos, who have seen their ancestral lands swallowed up by influential plantation owners like Blas Riquelme, the former Colorado party senator (and outspoken opponent of Lugo) who was gifted the disputed land near Curuguaty under Stroessner’s rule. Just 2 percent of the landholders in this rural nation own about 77 percent of the arable land.
Meanwhile, almost two-thirds of the country’s farmland has been converted to soy production, and the process continues. As a result, 9,000 small-scale farmers lose their land each year. Lugo had promised to change all that.
“The campesinos just want to feed themselves. They desire the dignity that comes with working the land,” says Almada. “Instead we’re forcing an entire generation into the [urban] slums, or to work for slave wages on someone else’s property,” he says. “That’s not freedom—it’s feudalism.”
The fallout from the parliamentary putsch in Paraguay was fast and far-ranging. Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and many other Latin American countries promptly refused to recognize the Franco regime and called home their ambassadors. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned Lugo’s removal as “unacceptable” and “likely to affect the rule of law.” Regional trade blocs suspended Paraguay’s membership on charges of a “breach of democracy.”
Meanwhile, Lugo has appealed to the Supreme Court of Paraguay, whose decision is pending. The clock is ticking: Presidents are limited to a single term, and Lugo’s is up in August 2013.
Governments across South America and the European Union, and even the U.S. State Department, have pointed to the upcoming April 2013 elections as a means of normalizing relations with Paraguay. But there are also worries that the abrupt and disputed removal of Lugo might taint voter turnout.
“After seeing that their democratically and fairly elected president can just be thrown out of office like that—with no due process, no voice of the people—ordinary Paraguayans feel disempowered,” says Theresa Cameranesi, who sits on the governing Council of School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), a group devoted to monitoring U.S. involvement in the region.
Game of pawns
The U.S. State Department, in stark contrast to most of the rest of the hemisphere, refused to condemn the overthrow of Lugo. This drew fire from critics, who argue the Obama administration could have done more to protect democratic processes, or even demanded Lugo’s restoration. In the last four years Paraguay has received more than $121 million from the United States in military and humanitarian aid.
“There was no love lost between Lugo and the State Department,” says Cameranesi, explaining that the aforementioned Wikileaks documents also indicate that the State Department was, at best, ambivalent about Lugo. “They’re willing to accept the undermining of democratic processes,” Cameranesi says, “as long as it’s a benefit to U.S. interests.”
U.S.-based megacorporations like Monsanto and Cargill are heavily invested in the Paraguayan soy crop, and in some cases have partnered with the landowning elite who ousted Lugo.
Cameranesi, a regular leader of SOAW delegations to Paraguay, calls the far-right Franco regime a “more willing partner” for U.S. business concerns. (Cargill, Monsanto and the U.S. State Department all declined to be interviewed for this article.)
However, Weisbrot says the State Department’s willingness to look the other way on Paraguay’s regime change isn’t due solely to the nation’s vast soy fields. Lugo’s leftist leanings made him a natural ally to new powers in South America such as Brazil and Venezuela, which the State Department sees as economic and strategic threats. The Franco regime, by contrast, has already shown willingness to sever relations with U.S. arch-rival Venezuela.
“That is how [the State Department] sees the chessboard: Any little piece you can get,” Weisbrot says. “At the end of the day, it’s all about who has control in Latin America.”
Northern Andean Region [contents]
Venezuela's Chavez says U.S. given access to 'mercenary' suspect
Andrew Cawthorne. Reuters. August 14, 2012
CARACAS, Aug 14 (Reuters) - U.S. officials will be allowed access on Wednesday to an American citizen arrested in Venezuela on suspicion of being a mercenary, President Hugo Chavez said.
Clearly implying a plot was afoot less than two months before a presidential election, the socialist leader has said the man was detained entering illegally from Colombia a week ago and sought to destroy some coordinates in a notebook at the time.
Foes have scoffed at Chavez's statements, saying it is typical of him to invent tales of U.S.-backed aggression against him at election time. Washington has given no information on the case but requested that diplomats have contact with the man.
"Of course we have authorized it," Chavez told reporters. "Tomorrow they will have contact with the detainee."
Though there have been constant diplomatic flare-ups between Washington and Caracas since the ferociously "anti-imperialist" Chavez took power in 1999, the latest incident does not appear to be mushrooming into a major dispute.
Chavez was conciliatory in his latest comments.
"Of course we are going to collaborate with the U.S. government, and I hope they will collaborate with us. The signs we have received, (Foreign Minister) Nicolas (Maduro) tells me, are positive," he said.
Chavez, 58, is fighting for another six-year term at the Oct. 7 vote, but faces a vigorous campaign from a united opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles. Chavez also has been undergoing cancer treatment in the past year.
The president rejected suggestions he was exaggerating the affair of the American's arrest for political purposes.
"Let me repeat, especially for the spokesmen of the bourgeoisie who always try to minimize and trivialize any serious information like this, that this is a person who entered illegally in Tachira (state), fleeing from Colombia," he said.
"We still don't know his intentions. He's detained, being interrogated."
In previous days, Chavez has said the man was an ex-Marine and now a possible mercenary, was resisting questioning, and that stamps in his passport showed he had been to Iraq, Afghanistan and Jordan in recent years.
Chavez has coupled his mentions of the case with accusations that Venezuela's opposition is planning violence if it does not win the October election. Capriles' camp rejects that. (Editing by Mario Naranjo and Bill Trott)
New Study Claims Venezuela a World Leader in Increasing Internet Usage
Ewan Robertson. Venezuelanalysis. August 13, 2012
Mérida, 13th August 2012 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela leads the world in increasing internet usage, according to a study by internet marketing research firm Comscore.
The study revealed that between April 2011 and April 2012 the number of people using the internet in Venezuela increased by 62%, ahead of India (34%) and Indonesia (29%).
The findings contrast with Venezuela’s own national telecommunications body CONATEL, which reports that internet access here has increased by 7% in the past year.
According to CONATEL 40.27% of Venezuelan’s have access to the internet, up from only 3.4% in 2000, and there is a higher level of access than all countries in South America apart from Chile (58%), Argentina (57%) and Colombia (50%).
However, by using a new methodology focused on measuring the number of internet users rather than the number of connections, for example in households with a wireless router, Comscore claims that the increase in internet usage in Venezuela is actually much greater.
“Our sources are experts in Venezuela who tell us how internet use is evolving. We also take a census measurement, we take the CONATEL measurements into account, and other media contribute their [internet] traffic data to us,” Comscore director for Venezuela and Colombia, Alex Castro, explained to BBC World recently.
According to digital market research firms Comscore and Digital Trends (TD), increased access to previously marginalised communities has been an important factor in explaining the sharp rise of internet usage in Venezuela.
“What has grown most in [internet] penetration is access by poor; you don’t even need to get the exact number. The poor are connecting to the internet more,” claimed Carlos Jimenez, president of TD.
The government of President Hugo Chavez has introduced a number of policies over the previous twelve years aimed at increasing internet access in Venezuela.
A key initiative has been the Infocentros; free to use internet cafes that now boast a network of 700 centres in low income and rural communities throughout the country. In January the Infocentro Foundation was awarded a prize by UNESCO in recognition for their role in providing access to information technology for traditionally excluded sectors of the population.
Since 2009, the government has also provided almost 2 million Canaima laptops to primary school children in order to incorporate technology use in the education system.
The public telecommunications company CANTV, nationalised in 2007, offers credits and loans to allow lower-income users who solicit an internet connection to buy computers, an initiative that has “born fruit” in increasing internet access, according to Jimenez.
Private television companies offering combined internet and television packages, and a sharp rise in the number of users of cell phones with internet capabilities have also contributed.
Alex Castro further commented that Venezuela’s index of a more equal distribution of wealth has likely been a factor in increasing internet usage among Venezuela’s poorer communities. “When I passed through the poor neighbourhoods of Caracas, it really surprised me that many had Direct TV, and I asked myself “What’s this?” In Colombia for example, we see that the marginal sectors really are just that”.
However, Venezuela is also considered to have one of the slowest internet connections in the world, and is currently ranked on speedtest.net as 157 (at 1,7Mbph) of 176 countries measured by internet speed. Internet connectivity is also still largely limited to cities.
The government is currently constructing 5.796 km of fibre optic cable, with continuing to increase internet access part of Chavez’s Socialist Plan of the Nation 2013 – 2019.
Colombia’s Santos Agrees to Talks with Indians
EFE. August 14, 2012
BOGOTA – Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Tuesday he is ready to meet with leaders of the Nasa people, who seek the withdrawal of both security forces and leftist rebels from Indian lands in the southwestern province of Cauca.
Santos is expected to travel Wednesday to the main Nasa reserve, La Maria, where more than 15,000 indigenous people have been gathered since last weekend.
The president’s announcement represents a victory for the Nasa, also known as the Paez, who have been demanding direct talks with the head of state after years of fruitless negotiations with lower-level officials.
Colombia’s 1991 constitution guarantees autonomy for the nation’s indigenous peoples and gives them the right to exercise control over their officially designated territories.
Like most of the indigenous groups, the Nasa say they want no part of the Andean nation’s decades-long armed conflict. Last month, the Nasa declared themselves in “permanent resistance” with the aim of expelling security forces and guerrillas from their lands.
Intense fighting in Cauca between government forces and the FARC rebel group drove more than 2,800 indigenous and mestizo people from their homes in July.
Interior Minister Federico Renjifo was in La Maria on Tuesday to lay the groundwork for Santos’ visit.
The minister informed residents of “the presence tomorrow of President Santos,” Feliciano Valencia, counselor of the Association of Indigenous Government of North Cauca, told Efe. EFE
Colombia court rules strike at country's main coal railway illegal
Jack Kimball. Reuters. August 15, 2012
(Reuters) - A Colombian court declared a strike at the country's main coal railway illegal on Tuesday, dealing a blow to the union's action for higher salaries, and giving the privately held railway operator the ability to fire workers who walked off the job three weeks ago, officials said.
The 23-day strike by workers at the railway operated by Fenoco has shut off more than 50 percent of coal exports from Colombia, the world's No.4 coal exporter, causing major coal producers to declare limited force majeure and cutting the country's exports by an estimated 4 million tonnes this year.
The dispute has pushed up prices despite the availability of coal in the Atlantic and Pacific markets, although the shortfall from Colombia has yet to be strongly felt, utilities and traders said.
The decision by the Bogota-based court strengthened Fenoco's position in talks with union workers seeking to negotiate higher salaries.
"We won. The decision was unanimous. The strike was declared illegal," Fenoco President Peter Burrowes told Reuters by telephone, walking out of the court after hours of discussions.
The union vowed to appeal the ruling. A decision on the appeal will likely be months away.
Felix Herrera, president of the Sintraime union, told Reuters that union leaders would meet on Wednesday to decide how to move forward after the court ruling.
On Monday, more than 50 percent of rail workers voted to end the walkout, but the union called the vote illegal and vowed to continue the strike. In a statement in local media, the company said workers should return to their jobs on Thursday.
"It was a double whammy. We got the vote yesterday and the court decision today," Burrowes said.
In 2009, striking Fenoco workers held up exports for 27 days -- the walkout was later declared illegal.
Fenoco's shareholders include Glencore International Plc's Prodeco unit, Drummond International and Goldman Sachs Group Inc's Colombian units.
The labor dispute has brought coal exports from the main producing province of Cesar to a halt and cost the government more than $1.2 million per day in royalties.
The tonnage lost as a result of the Fenoco strike and a separate dispute at Prodeco's mines may have a greater impact on prices in two to three months' time when end-users return to the market for Q4 cargoes, but at present there is still more coal available than there are buyers, traders and utilities said.
Colombia's coal industry is dominated by big thermal producers with their own port and rail facilities such as Glencore, Drummond and Cerrejon, which is owned equally by BHP Billiton Ltd, Anglo American Plc and Xstrata Plc.
The Andean country has seen record foreign investment, mainly into the oil and mining sectors, pushing coal output to historic highs over the last decade after a U.S.-backed military offensive drove rebels into remote jungle and mountain hideouts.
(Reporting by Jack Kimball; Editing by Chris Lewis)
GM workers in Colombia sew mouths shut in protest
Miriam Wells. Toronto Star. August 15, 2012
MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA—Nine days into a hunger strike in which he has sewn shut his mouth, Jorge Parra, a former worker for General Motors in Colombia, says his condition is deteriorating. “I have terrible pains in my stomach, my lips are swollen and sore, and I am having problems sleeping,” he says. “But I will not give up.”
The 35-year-old is one of a group of men who say they were fired after suffering severe workplace injuries at GM’s Bogota factory, Colmotores, and have taken drastic action to demand compensation.
After protesting for a year outside the United States embassy with no results, four of the ex-workers sewed shut their mouths on August 1, followed by another three men a week later. More will undergo the procedure every week until their complaints are answered, they say.
“We are all totally prepared to die,” says Parra, whose lips are sewn tight enough to prevent chewing, but not so tight he can’t speak with some degree of difficulty.
Parra claims nine years soldering and doing other metal work for GM left him with herniated discs, severe carpal tunnel syndrome and tearing in muscles around his upper spine.
The Association of Injured Workers and Ex-Workers of Colmotores (Asotrecol), which Parra set up, says GM erased company medical records and failed to compensate employees who were injured on the job — claims the car company denies.
“GM Colmotores is respectful of the law and has never put the health or the well-being of its employees at risk,” it said in a statement. “Furthermore, the company would like to reassure and reaffirm that no employee has been discharged for health reasons.”
Asotrecol says otherwise, claiming debilitating spinal and muscular injures are common among the hundreds of workers that carry out physical, repetitive tasks at the automotive plant that employs 1,800 near Colombia’s capital city. Instead of providing medical care and alternative work for its injured employees, GM fires them, it alleges.
“I worked for Colmotores for 11 years before they sacked me,” says Manuel Ospina, a father of five whose lips are also bound with six stitches. He claims a fall while carrying equipment seriously damaged his spine, in an injury that deteriorated to the point that he could barely walk.
“The company doctor told me when I was first injured that we would not report it to the insurers so that I could keep my job,” he claims. “When it got worse and I couldn’t walk, I started asking Colmotores to do something. After five complaints, I was fired.”
The men say it is almost impossible to find work as a disabled person in Colombia, despite the fact many of them are qualified engineers. They have two demands: that Colmotores meets their medical costs and reintegrates them into the workforce.
For its part, GM said that it “has addressed each of the cases of the group of protesters and has proactively and transparently participated in various dialogues with former employees and the relevant authorities.”
Asotrecol says their treatment is an illustration of the appalling labour abuses that persist in Colombia, for years the world’s most dangerous place to be a trade unionist. They chose to set up a permanent camp outside the U.S. embassy in order to highlight the failure of the U.S. to hold Colombia to account for promised improvements.
A Labor Action Plan signed between the two nations as part of a recently ratified Free Trade Agreement (FTA) obliged Colombia to take “major, swift and concrete steps” to improve workers’ rights before the FTA could go ahead, but it has been mostly ignored by both governments and multinational companies, says Asotrecol.
The men are the latest demonstrators to sew their mouths shut as a form of protest. Iranian asylum seekers in the U.K., indigenous islanders in Indonesia and prisoners in Kyrgyzstan are among the other protesters who have resorted to this extreme form of hunger strike in recent years.
“We are all in a lot of pain but we will not give up,” says Ospina. “The more pain we suffer here every day, the more hunger we feel, hopefully we can force people to take notice.”
Witness For Peace, a U.S. NGO supporting Asotrecol, says the fact the U.S. gave GM a $50-billion bailout in 2009 makes this case “even more incredible.”
Austin Robles, a Witness for Peace Colombia team member, says, “The U.S. promised it would improve labour rights in Colombia, yet it is actually a major shareholder in GM, a company which is a case in point for Colombian labour rights violations.”
GM says that, of the ex-employees who have filed legal claims, 95 per cent of the cases have been resolved in GM’s favour. Asotrecol blames the Colombian government and GM’s “corruption.”
“It’s not just bullets that kill but people’s indifference and eagerness to forget what we are suffering,” says Parra, who has undergone three surgeries for the injuries he claims were caused by his work. “We are now in a critical situation and we had to do something serious.”
Uribe planned military intervention against FARC, ELN in Venezuela
Katharina Wecker. Colombia Reports. August 15, 2012
Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe admitted Monday he planned a military intervention against the rebel groups FARC and ELN in Venezuela but "didn't have time" to execute it before his presidential term ended in 2010.
"We obtained new evidence of guerrilla camps in Venezuela. I had three options: Report it, [or] keep quiet, or the other option was to stage a military operation in Venezuela. I didn't have time," Uribe said during a conference at the Autonomous Latin American University in Medellin.
Uribe said he found new proof about the presence of Colombian guerrillas in Venezuela in the first six months of 2010. His presidential term ended in August 2010, leaving him without time to send military troops across Colombia's eastern border.
In July 2010, Uribe denounced the presence of 87 guerrilla camps on Venezuelan territory in front of the Organization of American States. As a result, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez broke all ties with Colombia.
At the conference, Uribe accused Chavez' government failing to control high insecurity and criminality in Venezuela and contributing to it in Colombia. "In Venezuela insecurity and criminality has risen without anyone doing anything about it. Chavez insists that the violence is due to neoliberalism and he disagrees with our model although it has proven to be the one that works," Uribe said.
Western Andean Region [contents]
Ecuador says no decision yet on Assange's asylum
Eduardo Garcia. Reuters. August 14, 2012
QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador denied a report on Tuesday that it had granted amnesty to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and the country's foreign minister said only he and President Rafael Correa could make the decision.
Assange has been taking refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for the past eight weeks to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning on sex crime allegations.
The former computer hacker, who enraged Washington in 2010 when his WikiLeaks website published thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables, says he fears he could be sent to the United States, where he believes his life would be at risk.
Correa has said a decision on Assange's application is likely before the end of this week and that he will meet his foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, on Wednesday to discuss the case.
However, Britain's Guardian newspaper cited unnamed Ecuadorean government officials as saying amnesty will be granted. The report brought a swift response from Correa.
"The story is false ... When we make the decision we'll explain very clearly the reasons, the legal framework, the analysis that we made to grant or not asylum to Mr Julian Assange," Correa told a press conference in the coastal city of Guayaquil.
Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of an event in the highland city of Ambato, Foreign Minister Patino also criticized the report by The Guardian.
"Anonymous sources are useless. Only the president and myself will make the decision ... there's nothing yet," he said.
Earlier, Patino told Reuters that Ecuador was pondering not only whether to give Assange asylum, but also how he might avoid arrest in Britain should he try to head to South America.
BREACH OF BAIL TERMS
By diplomatic convention, British police cannot enter the embassy without Ecuador's approval. But the WikiLeaks founder has no way of boarding a flight to the Andean country without passing through London and exposing himself to arrest.
"It's not only about whether to grant the asylum, because for Mr. Assange to leave England he should have a safe pass from the British (government). Will that be possible? That's an issue we have to take into account," said Patino, who has led Ecuador's analysis of the case.
Assange is in breach of his British bail conditions and the police have said he is liable to arrest if he steps out of the Ecuadorean Embassy, which is in London's affluent Knightsbridge area, miles from any airport.
It appears unlikely that the British government would grant Assange safe passage to an airport as that would mean going against the Swedish arrest warrant and a ruling by Britain's own Supreme Court that the warrant was valid.
Leftist Correa, a self-declared enemy of "corrupt" media and U.S. "imperialism," said he sympathizes with Assange but also respects the British legal system and international law.
The British government has made it clear to Ecuador that it is determined to extradite Assange to Sweden, the Foreign Office said in a statement on Tuesday.
Roger Gherson, a lawyer and expert on British immigration law and related human rights issues, said a grant of asylum by Ecuador would not protect Assange from being sent to Sweden.
"It's not a get-out-of-jail-free card for any conduct anywhere in the world," Gherson told Reuters.
British and Ecuadorean authorities have been discussing the case but have not indicated what the solution could be.
Assange has not been charged with any offense in Sweden or the United States. Swedish prosecutors want to question him about allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two WikiLeaks supporters in 2010. Assange says he had consensual sex with the women.
If Correa's government were to grant Assange asylum, U.S. trade ties with Ecuador could suffer over the long-term, American business leaders and analysts said on Monday.
"It's not a move destined to win many new friends in Washington," said Eric Farnsworth of the Council of Americas, a group that represents companies doing business in Latin America.
(Additional reporting by Jose Llangari in Ambato, Yuri Garcia in Guayaquil, Maria Golovnina and Estelle Shirbon in London; Simon Johnson in Stockholm and Doug Palmer in Washington; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Cynthia Osterman)
Ecuador first-half trade surplus rises to $390 mln
Reuters. August 13, 2012
Aug 13 (Reuters) - Ecuador posted a trade surplus of nearly $390 million for the first six months of 2012, the highest surplus for the period in at least four years, the central bank reported on Monday.
Total exports in the first six months of 2012 increased 10.1 percent to $12.16 billion, while imports rose 8.7 percent to $11.77 billion, the bank said in a statement.
The surplus for the first half of this year compares with a surplus of nearly $217 million for the first half of 2011. Ecuador reported deficits for the first six months of both 2010 and 2009.
"The 8 percent increase in prices of crude oil and refined products resulted in a 14.6 increase in the value of oil exports from the same period last year... to $7.37 billion," the bank said, adding that oil exports increased 6.1 percent in volume.
Ecuador is OPEC's smallest member, and its economic growth depends heavily on crude exports.
Shipments of non-oil products rose 3.8 percent in value to $4.79 billion. The Andean country is a large exporter of bananas, shrimp, tinned fish and flowers.
Meanwhile, imports of consumer goods increased 10.7 percent to $2.44 billion, the bank said.
The government last year said it would cut imports of car parts, household electronics, cellular telephones and other goods in a bid to shrink the deficit in the non-oil sector.
High oil prices allowed Ecuador to cut its trade deficit in 2011 to $717 million from $1.98 billion the previous year.
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean [contents]
Mexico's left: pigs, sheep, chickens bought votes
AP. August 14, 2012
MEXICO CITY -- It wasn't just another political dog-and-pony show.
Mexico's leftist presidential candidate brought a pig, a sheep and chickens to a news conference on Tuesday.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador says the animals were given to voters by the Institutional Revolutionary Party in exchange for votes.
Lopez Obrador has filed court appeals against election results showing he finished 6.6 percentage points behind the candidate of the party known as the PRI, which earlier ruled Mexico for 71 years .
The pig was the most vocal of the group.
The sheep quietly munched on grass placed on the floor of Lopez Obrador's headquarters, while the chicken and some turkeys pecked aimlessly.
Lopez Obrador's supporters say the PRI also handed out gift cards and household goods during the campaign, accusations the PRI denies.
Surge in violence in Mexico's drug war? Figures are inconclusive
Los Angeles Times. August 14, 2012
MEXICO CITY -- A recent string of deadly incidents tied to Mexico's drug war does not appear to indicate a surge in the violence but does suggest a new flash point as the fearsome Zetas cartel shows signs of splitting apart.
Fourteen bodies were found dumped in San Luis Potosi state on Thursday, and the mayor-elect of the city of Matehuala in the same state was killed in an attack along with one of his campaign aides as they left a party Sunday.
The incidents are rare for relatively peaceful San Luis Potosi. One journalist's account, yet to be confirmed by authorities, says the Zetas are facing an internal struggle between a camp following its leader, "Zeta 40," and one following "Zeta 50" (link in Spanish).
New figures show a steady and unrelenting pace in drug-related homicides as Mexico approaches six years of the government's fight against cartels, which are themselves battling one another over trafficking routes.
Deaths allegedly related to organized crime have remained steady in 2012 in the states already identified as Mexico's most violent: Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Guerrero, Nuevo Leon, Jalisco and Coahuila, according to a July report by Lantia Consultores in Mexico City.
Lantia analyst Eduardo Guerrero Gutierrez (link in Spanish) reports that homicides in Mexico tied to organized crime grew by 10% in the first half of the year over the last half of 2011.
In contrast, President Felipe Calderon said earlier this month that such homicides have dropped by 15%. The president compared figures in the first half of the years, however, not the second.
Such contradictions over the numbers are reminders that accurately counting the victims of Mexico's conflict will always be a murky process and, inevitably, a political one.
With less than four months to go in Calderon's six-year term, his administration is under pressure to convince the public that the security strategies have worked. Calderon hands power in December to President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, who has pledged to maintain the offensive against Mexico's cartels.
The federal attorney-general's office has counted drug-related homicides only through September 2011, and that figure stands at 47,515 since December 2006, when Calderon took office. Separately, the National Security Council said in a report last month that 10,604 aggravated homicides occurred across the country in the first half of 2012.
But crucially, these figures are not yet divided into drug-related and non-drug-related.
Moreover, the federal government relies on figures sent to Mexico City by local and state governments, whose methods for counting are notoriously unreliable or motivated by political interests.
In another estimate, the Ciudad Juarez newspaper El Diario said on Aug. 4 that it found that 83,541 people were killed in Mexico, in both drug-related and non-drug-related homicides, from December 2006 to December 2011, citing figures it gathered using a freedom-of-information request (link in Spanish).
Last week, grisly massacres dotted the country from the port of Acapulco in the south to Coahuila state in the north. On Tuesday, authorities said nine people were killed overnight in a shootout in a bar in the increasingly troubled city of Monterrey, Mexico's wealthiest.
Security analyst Alejandro Hope writes that any uptick in recent days may be at least partly attributed to high summer temperatures in many regions of the country, and to patterns in drug-producing harvests in Mexico (link in Spanish).
Meanwhile in the United States, Mexican poet and activist Javier Sicilia has launched a Caravan for Peace, along with victims and survivors, in an effort to bring attention to the consequences of Calderon's war on cartels.
The caravan is scheduled to visit a string of U.S. cities and arrives in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 10, where it plans to stay for three days. It was in Los Angeles this week.
U.N. envoy tells Honduras to better protect its journalists
Gustavo Palencia. Reuters. August 14, 2012
Aug 14 (Reuters) - The Honduran government must investigate the cases of 22 journalists murdered in the last two years in a country that has the world's highest murder rate, a United Nations envoy said on Tuesday.
Frank La Rue, a U.N. special freedom of expression rapporteur, also demanded that President Porfirio Lobo establish new measures to protect journalists, including giving them access to bulletproof cars and helping threatened reporters and their families to relocate, either within Honduras or abroad.
"The state must investigate and apprehend the intellectual and physical perpetrators of crimes against journalists," La Rue said at a press conference. "The absence of justice constitutes impunity and in this case, impunity generates more violence against journalists."
The growing presence of Mexican drug cartels in Honduras has fueled a surge in killings that has turned the Central American country into the world's most dangerous, with 86 murders per 100,000 people in 2012.
La Rue told reporters that since 2010, when Lobo came to power, only one of the 22 cases of murdered journalists ended in sentencing, statistics he called "unacceptable and inhuman."
In the four years before Lobo was elected, only one journalist had been murdered, La Rue added, citing government data.
Alfredo Villatoro, a prominent radio journalist, was the latest victim. His was kidnapped in May and his body found a week later with a bullet wound to the head.
Between 2010 and 2012, 64 journalists were murdered worldwide, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which uses its own method for tallying murders.
In Mexico, where the government has been fighting a six-year offensive against drug cartels, more than 80 journalists have been murdered since 2000, according to the country's National Human Rights Commission. (Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Eric Beech)
Honduran journalist shot dead
Roy Greenslade. August 15, 2012
Honduran journalist Jose Noel Canales was shot to death on his way to work on Friday (10 August). His body was found inside his pick-up truck.
Canales had worked for more than 12 years as journalist, monitoring national news for digital newspaper Hondudiario and news monitoring agency Seproc.
Over the past six months, there has been an escalation of violence against journalists in Honduras. Last week, I reported an attack on radio reporter José Encarnación Chinchilla Canales, which led him to seek asylum in the US.
It is believed that Canales was the 23rd journalist killed in Honduras in the past two years. It is currently considered the second most dangerous country in the world for journalists.
Honduras is ranked 135th (out of 179 countries) in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
According to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, crimes against journalists continue to go unpunished in Honduras, despite its agreement to create special investigative bodies and protocols to respond to the attacks.
Chinchilla Negotiating Mega Chinese Free Zone in Costa Rica
The Costa Rica News. August 15th, 2012
The President of Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla, while visiting one of the largest industrial parks in China, Suzhou, said the Chinese experience can help create a similar area, that specializes in Chinese investment in Costa Rican territory.
The China-Singapore Industrial Park in Suzhou, established in 1994, has about 20,000 companies, 25 percent of them foreigners, many of Singapore.
A veritable city has been built around it for those who work there, with some 750,000 inhabitants and all kinds of services, from education and health to shopping and entertainment.
This was confirmed to EFE by Costa Rican Foreign Minister, Enrique Castillo, who along with three other ministers accompanying Chinchilla in the second official trip by a President to China.
The idea of creating an industrial zone in the Central American country, China’s Suzhou Park is “a model to imitate, of course keeping the differences in size and scale, but is a model even for Costa Rica, which has been working with zones for many years, “said Castillo.
Create something similar, Costa Rica would enter “a new stage” with “a new quality in free zones.”
“We have been one of the most successful countries in Latin America in attracting foreign direct investment, especially in recent years,” said Chinchilla.
To make this possible, Chinchilla told Zhou that she would like to have China’s experience and collaborate with the Development Bank of China, whose leaders will speak on Thursday, to “start planning design” of a possible joint industrial park specialized Chinese investment in his country.
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