By LUCIANA MAGALHAES, ROGERIO JELMAYER and JOHN LYONS
SÃO PAULO—Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is set to name Joaquim Levy, a former treasury secretary and prominent banker, as the country’s next finance minister, a move aimed at bolstering Brazil’s credibility amid slowing growth, rising inflation and falling markets, an official said.
Ms. Rousseff will name Mr. Levy as Thursday, possibly with other appointments for her second term that starts in January, the official said. Mr. Levy couldn’t be reached for comment.
The 53-year-old economist will succeed Finance Minister Guido Mantega to assume the top economic post at a crucial time for a resource-rich country hitting a downturn amid declining commodity prices. Brazil is mired in a toxic mix of near-zero growth and rising inflation, and its currency has lost more than a third of its value during Ms. Rousseff’s first term.
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Deep anger over the apparent massacre of 43 trainee teachers has plunged Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto into his worst crisis as president, but with no credible opposition in sight, mass protests look unlikely to force him from power.
Since the students were abducted by police and handed over to a local drug gang in the southwestern city of Iguala on Sept. 26, a wave of discontent has hit the government, spurring calls at protests and on social media for Pena Nieto to step down.
Although the protests have been largely peaceful, some demonstrators have clashed with police and even set fire to the door of the ceremonial presidential palace in Mexico City.
By Joe Leahy in São Paulo
When black money market dealer Alberto Youssef was arrested by police in March, he was carrying seven mobile phones with another 30 in a desk in his office, an officer involved in the case said.
The reason the jailed conspirator in what is emerging as Brazil’s biggest corruption scandal might have needed so many phones is becoming clearer after police this month raided the offices of Brazil’s major construction companies, arresting scores of officials and executives in the process.
The builders being investigated in the scam, in which Mr Youssef allegedly co-operated with former Petrobras director Paulo Roberto Costa to skim billions of dollars off the state-owned oil company to pay kickbacks to politicians, are responsible for much of Brazil’s infrastructure projects, from airports and nuclear submarine bases to stadiums for the 2016 Olympics.
By Ruxandra Guidi
QUITO, ECUADOR — A meme circulating on social media features a portrait of Ecuador’s controversial president, Rafael Correa, winking at the camera. The image is split down the middle, with one half reading “before“ and the other “after.“
In the before section, he’s quoted in November 2007, soon after he was first elected, saying, “indefinite reelections are absurd, because democracy requires a rotation in leadership.”
But on the “after” side is a quote from a speech he gave in June 2014: “Rotation of leadership is a bourgeois discourse that no one believes anymore. It’s a myth.”
A recent vote from Ecuador’s Constitutional Court partially cleared Correa’s path for indefinite reelection, and it appears he’s poised to stay in power beyond 2016. The National Assembly has until October 2015 to decide whether the issue should go up for a vote, or whether it can be resolved through a constitutional amendment ... Read More
By KEJAL VYAS
CARACAS, Venezuela—South America’s most economically troubled country, facing fears of a debt default amid tumbling oil prices and a cash crunch, has been thrown a lifeline by its largest lender, China.
The Asian giant loosened repayment terms on the nearly $50 billion in loans it has granted Venezuela since 2007, according to Venezuela’s Official Gazette. And President Nicolás Maduro said in a speech last week that his finance minister, Rodolfo Marco, would soon travel to China to try to secure new loans.
Mr. Maduro’s popularity has plummeted to 30%, polls show, as Venezuela’s currency collapses and the government struggles with the world’s highest inflation rate and widespread scarcity of basic goods. The country’s woes threaten the future of what Mr. Maduro’s predecessor, the late President Hugo Chávez , called 21st Century Socialism.
Analysts say Beijing’s flexibility may buy Mr. Maduro more time.
Government officials and media tend to present junkets like the recent presidential trip to Qatar and Chinese loans tied to contracts with Chinese companies for major infrastructure projects like the Coca – Codo Sinclair hydroelectric plant as evidence of surging foreign “interest,” often confusing loans with actual investment.
While critics moan about the price of these trips, the multi-billion dollar “portfolios” officials tout overseas sadly remain stalled, for which the Pacific Coast Refinery project isn’t the sole evidence. Data reflects a sad reality of investors still looking askance at Ecuador. Other countries in the region – notably Chile and Peru – show this doesn’t have to be so. They have similar economic structures, with commodities and agro-industry driving exports and a large retail industry. Yet they attract multiples of the investment Ecuador gets.
BY ROGER F. NORIEGA AND JOSÉ R. CÁRDENAS
Key points:The kidnapping and probable murder of 43 students at the hands of corrupt local officials and drug gangsters in September is a tragic reminder of persistent criminality and weak government institutions in much of Mexico. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has prioritized key economic reforms over security, and his administration must now deal with instability that undermines his goal to modernize Mexico. The United States should invigorate security cooperation with Mexico to fight crime and secure the border to safeguard the long-term benefits of a healthy US-Mexico economic partnership.
Mexico’s democracy, stability, and economy require a collaborative response from all levels of government to quell the wave of recent political unrest and address the underlying causes of insecurity and public dissatisfaction. The current crisis—sparked by national outrage over the September 26 disappearance of 43 students near the town of Iguala in ... Read More
By Brian Winter and Anthony Boadle
SAO PAULO/BRASILIA (Reuters) – President Dilma Rousseff expects a bribery scandal at state-run oil company Petrobras to deteriorate in coming months, aides say, with arrests possible for some political allies and potentially serious damage to an economy that is already struggling.
Prosecutors say corrupt officials siphoned billions of dollars from Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as the company is formally known, into the coffers of several parties including Rousseff’s Workers’ Party.
The probe has already resulted in the arrest of two former Petrobras officials as well as executives from eight of Brazil’s 10 biggest construction companies, which prosecutors say were part of the scheme. More arrests are expected.
“The only thing we know is that things will get worse,” a senior official close to Rousseff told Reuters.
By Ye Xie and Filipe Pacheco
Whoever is tapped by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to oversee the government’s finances in her second term, one thing is clear: There’s plenty of work to be done to win over currency investors.
While the real gained the most in three weeks on Nov. 21 amid optimism the looming cabinet shuffle will help shore up Brazil’s economy, foreigners are betting on more declines after the currency weakened to a nine-year low this month. Overseas holdings of futures contracts wagering against the real have soared 30 percent since Sept. 29 to $31.3 billion as of last week, according to data compiled by the Sao Paulo bourse. That’s just 8.6 percent shy of August’s record high.
Colombia’s Farc rebels will release five captives, including Gen Ruben Dario Alzate, next week, President Juan Manuel Santos has announced.
Mr Santos said information about their release had been received, but he did not specify when it would happen.
Ruben Dario Alzate is the first Colombian general to be abducted in 50 years of civil conflict.
Peace talks between the two sides were suspended after the men were captured by the left-wing rebels last Sunday.
Cuban and Norwegian officials acting as mediators first announced a deal for their release on Thursday.
The rebels said they seized the men because they were unhappy at the continuation of Colombian military activities during peace talks.
Handover details: Arturo Wallace, BBC News, BogotaPresident Juan Manuel Santos is likely to order the interruption of any military operations in a designated area for a short period of time, usually no more than 48 hours A delegation of the Red ... Read More
BY MARK POTTER
BOGOTA, Colombia — The peaks of the Andes broke through the mist and clouds as a Blackhawk helicopter carried the Colombian national police toward a remote, rugged area often patrolled by insurgent guerrillas.
The mission: Visit a colorful poppy field on a steep mountainside about 300 miles south of Bogota — the place where much of the white heroin flooding American cities along the Eastern Seaboard originates.As the chopper approached the landing zone on a grassy mountaintop, Colombian police in military-style uniforms waved it into position. Peasant farmers, some with faces covered, watched suspiciously. Colombian police and officials from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, along with a crew from NBC News that they had invited along, climbed out of the helicopter and made their way down a rough, muddy trail, huffing and puffing in thin air.
By PAUL WELITZKIN
Venezuela is entering the third year of an economic crisis as slumping oil prices threaten to hamper the South American country’s ability to make payments on its foreign debt.
In September, rating agency Standard & Poor’s lowered the country’s credit rating, citing a persistent economic slowdown. As Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro grapples with chronic shortages of consumer goods and the world’s highest inflation rate at 63 percent, he has turned to China for help.
Maduro said last week that a $4 billion loan from China would be added to the country’s international reserves. Venezuela’s Central Bank said the reserves had fallen to an 11-year low of $19.4 billion on Nov 14.
Regular readers of this column will remember that in July the U.S. asked local officials here to arrest Venezuelan Gen. Hugo Carvajal and to extradite him on suspicion of drug trafficking with Colombian guerrillas. He was detained but the Netherlands stepped in, refused the extradition request and let him go.
The general had been sent here to become Venezuelan consul and spread Bolivarian propaganda. He would have been an important intelligence grab for the U.S. So it wasn’t too surprising that Venezuelan foreign minister Elias Jaua and Cilia Flores, the wife of Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro, celebrated the Dutch decision by meeting his plane when he returned to Caracas.
The third person in the high-level greeting party at the airport—the governor of the state of Aragua, Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah—seemed out of place because he is not in the national government. That is until you consider his résumé: ... Read More
If the president’s primary objective was fixing our broken immigration system, he should have been willing to wait until the Republican-led Congress takes power in a few weeks and challenged it to act on a series of practical reforms.
The executive order on immigration announced by President Obama on Thursday night has Republicans in Congress so mad they can’t think straight. But when they can, they will realize that the president cannot give effect to his words without their consent. Indeed, his speech will be remembered for making it harder to fix our immigration system so that it serves our economic interests, secures our borders, and offers recourse to millions of illegal aliens who are part of our communities.
BY ANDERSON ANTUNES
One of the most famous songs by the late Brazilian rock star and songwriter Raul Seixas is entitled ‘Rent,’ in reference to what he considered to be the best solution for Brazil: literally, to rent the country for foreigners. The song was composed in 1980, at a time when Brazil was going through a difficult economic period marked by hyperinflation.
Fast-forward to 2014.
Today the ghost of price increases gone out of control has come back to haunt Brazilians, partly due to a government-sponsored rise in fuel prices that resulted in consumer prices advancing 6.54% in the 12 months through mid-November, down from a rise of 6.62% through the previous month but still above the 6.5% ceiling of Brazil’s Central Bank target, according to the median of 22 market forecasts for the IPCA-15 inflation index.
By Ruth Costas
Brazil’s state-run oil giant Petrobras has always been a company of superlatives.
In recent years, it has become not only the largest but also one of the most internationally recognised firms in Latin America.
It has discovered huge deep-water oil reserves, which experts predict could turn Brazil into a top energy player.
And in one of the biggest share sales in history it raised $70bn in 2010.
But recent investigations by the Brazilian Federal Police and public prosecutors have added an unfortunate addition to this record.
They have put Petrobras at the centre of what is thought to be one of the biggest corruption scandals in Brazil’s history.
“This [scandal] may change the country forever,” President Dilma Rousseff acknowledged during the recent G20 summit in Australia.
A number of Petrobras directors are accused of taking bribes from construction companies and funnelling funds to parties of the ruling coalition.
By Eric Martin and Brendan Case
Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in Mexico City to demand that the government strengthen the rule of law after the apparent killings of 43 students by a drug gang working with police.
On a day marking the start of the Mexican Revolution 104 years ago, demonstrators marched from a monument commemorating that struggle to the capital’s central square, or Zocalo, imploring President Enrique Pena Nieto to improve security in a nation racked by an eight-year drug war.
Banging drums and waving flags, demonstrators shouted “enough, the people are rising” and “justice.” One group arrived at the Zocalo carrying a 20-foot tall paper-mache effigy of Pena Nieto in a dark suit, with the red, white and green presidential sash on his shoulder and blood on his hands. As chants of “Pena, get out” intensified, they set it ablaze.
Colombia’s Farc rebels have reached an agreement with the government over the conditions necessary for releasing an army general and four others.
Announcing the agreement in Havana, Cuban and Norwegian officials acting as mediators said the hostages would be released as soon as possible.
However, the details of the agreement were not released.
Peace talks between the two sides were suspended after the men were captured by the left-wing rebels at the weekend.
Ruben Dario Alzate is the first Colombian general to be abducted in 50 years of conflict.
The rebels said they seized the men because they were unhappy at the continuation of Colombian military activities during peace talks.
Farc negotiator Pablo Catatumbo had earlier called for a bilateral ceasefire.
President Juan Manuel Santos had demanded the men’s release before peace talks could resume.
Talks in doubt Cuban diplomat Rodolfo Benitez and Norwegian official Rita Sandberg confirmed the agreement in Havana on Thursday.
wallBy ROGERIO JELMAYER
SÃO PAULO—The alleged corruption scheme said to involve kickbacks from contracts at Brazil’s state-controlled energy giant Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras , may have totaled as much as 4 billion Brazilian reais ($1.6 billion), according to the head of the country’s budget watchdog.
Brazil’s Court of Accounts, which is known by its Portugese initials TCU, is helping the country’s federal police investigate allegations of payments to politicians with money skimmed from Petrobras contracts, according to TCU President Joao Augusto Nardes.
The value calculated by Mr. Nardes includes money allegedly overcharged on contracts involving the purchase of a refinery in Texas and the construction of a petrochemical complex in Rio de Janeiro state and three refineries in other locations in Brazil.
“This case is the biggest corruption scheme evaluated in the history of the TCU, in terms of the financial amount involved and also regarding the huge number of people involved,” Mr. Nardes told The ... Read More