Content from IASW Contributors

Rebuilding Venezuela

By Roger F. Noriega By Roger F. Noriega
Venezuela is collapsing. President Nicolas Maduro’s dash-for-cash to Beijing last week was a humiliating failure. Half-mile food lines wind through the streets of Caracas and other cities. Maduro’s Cuban handlers are abandoning a ship they helped sink, while Venezuelan military officers are pondering the challenge of how to suppress angry, desperate protesters to buy time for an unpopular, incompetent regime.
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Reconstruyendo Venezuela

Por Roger F. NoriegaPor Roger F. Noriega
Venezuela está colapsando. El viaje de Nicolás Maduro a China, donde pidió fondos para sobrevivir, fue un fracaso humillante; filas de casi un kilometro para conseguir alimentos se pueden apreciar en las calles de Caracas y otras ciudades; cubanos que manipulaban el gobierno de Maduro están abandonando un barco que ayudaron a hundir; y los militares están considerando el reto de suprimir a manifestantes enojados y desesperados para regalarle tiempo a un régimen incompetente e impopular. Read More-->

Mexico captures most wanted drug kingpin, ‘La Tuta

| February 27th, 2015 | No Comments »
Article originally appeared in Reuters

By Anahi Rama

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico has captured the country’s most wanted drug lord still at large, Servando “La Tuta” Gomez, police said on Friday, in a boost for President Enrique Pena Nieto as he grapples with grisly gang violence.

The 49-year-old former teacher was the prime target of Pena Nieto’s drive to regain control of Michoacan, a violent western state wracked by clashes between Gomez’s Knights Templar cartel and heavily-armed vigilantes trying to oust them.

The arrest came just over a year after the capture of Mexico’s most notorious drug lord, Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, head of the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the most powerful drug smuggling gangs in the world.

It also comes as Pena Nieto seeks to quell outrage over violence, impunity and corruption in Mexico after the September abduction and apparent massacre of 43 trainee teachers by corrupt ... Read More

Plan to Sell Argentine Debt Collapses

| February 27th, 2015 | No Comments »
Wall Street Journal WSJ-01

BY MATT WIRZ AND CHRISTOPHER WHITTALL

A bid by two global banks to sell bonds for Argentina in London collapsed, delivering a fresh setback to the cash-strapped South American nation amid a long-running feud with creditors.

Deutsche Bank AG and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. approached bond fund managers on Wednesday to gauge interest in an auction of the country’s debt in London, people familiar with the matter said. The banks believed they had found a way to sell Argentine bonds without running afoul of a U.S. court ruling last year, the people said.

The banks suspended the plans Thursday after legal action taken by a group of creditors who have been battling with Argentina for payment on defaulted bonds. Late Wednesday, the U.S. District Judge in the case, Thomas Griesa, ordered an emergency hearing to discuss the proposed London sale.

The sale would have been the first of its kind outside Argentina since the country defaulted in 2001, and ... Read More

Brazil is in its worst mess since the early 1990s

| February 27th, 2015 | No Comments »
The Economist

Campaigning for a second term as Brazil’s president in an election last October, Dilma Rousseff painted a rosy picture of the world’s seventh-biggest economy. Full employment, rising wages and social benefits were threatened only by the nefarious neoliberal plans of her opponents, she claimed. Just two months into her new term, Brazilians are realising that they were sold a false prospectus.

Brazil’s economy is in a mess, with far bigger problems than the government will admit or investors seem to register. The torpid stagnation into which it fell in 2013 is becoming a full-blown—and probably prolonged—recession, as high inflation squeezes wages and consumers’ debt payments rise (see article). Investment, already down by 8% from a year ago, could fall much further. A vast corruption scandal at Petrobras, the state-controlled oil giant, has ensnared several of the country’s biggest construction firms and paralysed capital spending in swathes of ... Read More

Brazil’s coming recession

| February 27th, 2015 | No Comments »
The Economist

It is easy for a visitor to Rio to feel that nothing is amiss in Brazil. The middle classes certainly know how to live: with Copacabana and Ipanema just minutes from the main business districts a game of volleyball or a surf starts the day. Hedge-fund offices look out over botanical gardens and up to verdant mountains. But stray from comfortable districts and the sheen fades quickly. Favelas plagued by poverty and violence cling to the foothills. So it is with Brazil’s economy: the harder you stare, the worse it looks.

Brazil has seen sharp ups and downs in the past 25 years. In the early 1990s inflation rose above 2,000%; it was only banished when a new currency was introduced in 1994. By the turn of the century Brazil’s deficits had mired it in debt, forcing an IMF rescue in 2002. But then the woes vanished. Brazil became ... Read More

3 Deny Trying to Sell Military-Grade Arms to Colombia Rebels

| February 27th, 2015 | No Comments »
Article originally appeared in the Associated Press

By JENNIFER PELTZ

Three men pleaded not guilty on Thursday in an arms-dealing conspiracy case that spans three continents: They are charged with scheming in Europe to sell military-grade weapons to buyers posing as terrorists seeking to shoot down American aircraft in Colombia.

Cristian Vintila, Massimo Romagnoli and Virgil Flaviu Georgescu appeared in a New York federal court after being extradited from Montenegro, where they were arrested in December. No bail was set Thursday.

Vintila and Georgescu were based in Romania, and Romagnoli was based in Greece, prosecutors say.

“As alleged, these three men were ready and willing merchants of death, poised to sell sophisticated weapons to a terrorist organization,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.

Prosecutors say Georgescu, Romagnoli and Vintila offered last year to sell weapons including machine guns and rocket launchers to informants who posed as associates of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the half-century-old rebel group known as FARC, which has ... Read More

Venezuela’s crackdown

| February 26th, 2015 | No Comments »

Venezuela’s “Bolivarian” regime is lurching from authoritarianism to dictatorship. On February 19th it arrested the elected mayor of metropolitan Caracas, Antonio Ledezma. Then it moved to expel Julio Borges, a moderate opposition leader, from the National Assembly—a fate already suffered by his colleague, María Corina Machado, ejected last year. Leopoldo López, another opposition leader, has been in jail for a year and is now on trial. Almost half the opposition’s mayors now face legal action. The regime’s favourite charge to level at hostile politicians is plotting to overthrow the government, often in conspiracy with the United States. But it is the president, Nicolás Maduro, who is staging a coup against the last vestiges of democracy. Venezuelans call it an autogolpe, or “self-coup”.

Hugo Chávez, who created and presided over the Bolivarian state-socialist system until his death in 2013, was repeatedly elected by Venezuelans, thanks to windfall oil revenues ... Read More

Mexico President in Crisis Is Losing Support of Big Business

| February 26th, 2015 | No Comments »
The New York Times

MEXICO CITY — The full-page ad in Mexico’s national newspapers was unusual, if not unprecedented: 20 powerful business groups and think tanks publicly scolding the government for not doing its job.

They demanded “conditions necessary to do their work … in total security, in all of the country.” The ad, published last month, called on President Enrique Pena Nieto to “honor your oath to observe and enforce the constitution.”

The public criticism by Mexico’s business community underlines the eroding support for Pena Nieto’s administration as he enters the third year of a six-year term. Business leaders are angry over reforms that have increased the tax burden without sparking economic growth, scandals over apparent favoritism and acts of lawlessness that are hurting commerce.

Last weekend, Coca-Cola halted its operations in the capital of Guerrero state due ... Read More

Argentina OKs revamp of spy service after Alberto Nisman’s death

| February 26th, 2015 | No Comments »
Article originally appeared in Reuters

Argentina lawmakers passed a bill Thursday to revamp the country’s intelligence service, parts of which President Cristina Fernandez has portrayed as sinister, accountable to no one and possibly responsible for the death of a star prosecutor.

Fernandez’s leftist government submitted the bill after state investigator Alberto Nisman was found dead on Jan. 18, a few days after he accused Fernandez of trying to cover up Iran’s alleged role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center. She rejected the accusation as “absurd.”

Fernandez says the new state security body established under the legislation will be more accountable. But government opponents say the legislation does little more than change the name of the spy agency and had been rushed through Congress. The opposition boycotted some of the debate.

It is still not known if Nisman shot himself in the head or was murdered. Fernandez’s government has said rogue agents tricked Nisman into making ... Read More

For Emerging Market Investors, Brazil Has Become A Hot Mess

| February 26th, 2015 | No Comments »
Forbes

BY KENNETH RAPOZA

For those who like their macro trades to be alluring and exotic, but with an overdose of danger, then Brazil is the place for you. Like Rio de Janeiro itself, pretty but deadly, Brazil has become the hot mess of emerging markets.

Not even Russia, the wild east sanctioned geopolitical disaster zone that it is today, can compare to Brazil. Russia is, well, Russia. It’s always trading at a discount to better managed, diverse and transparent economies like Brazil.  But Russia is failing because of geopolitics and oil. Brazil, meanwhile, is shooting itself in the foot.

The most visible problem in Brazil today is the ongoing scandal involving Petrobras. Brazil’s state run oil firm was downgraded by Moody’s to junk bond status on Tuesday. More importantly, the corruption scandal has changed investor perception of Petrobras. It’s no longer trustworthy. Investor sentiment has soured to the ... Read More

Colombia peace deal should ensure criminals held to account: Annan

| February 26th, 2015 | No Comments »
Business Insider

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Those responsible for crimes committed during Colombia’s 50-year war must be held accountable as part of a peace deal between the government and Marxist rebels, ex-United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said on Wednesday.

Annan, who led the international organization for nine years, visited Colombia to meet with President Juan Manuel Santos, judicial authorities and the head of the opposition, former President Alvaro Uribe. He has no official role in Colombia’s peace process but is hoping to promote progress.

The ex-secretary general will now head to Cuba, where he will meet with negotiators from the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels at the talks, a bid to end the five-decade conflict which has killed 220,000 people and displaced millions.

“All those who committed crimes should be held accountable,” Annan said at a press conference. “However, justice should be ... Read More

US pressures Cuba to turn over fugitives

| February 26th, 2015 | No Comments »
Sun Sentinel

By William E. Gibson

U.S. officials will continue this week to pressure Cuba to turn over fugitives wanted for Medicare fraud and other crimes in the United States.

Closer cooperation between the two old adversaries could disrupt a criminal pipeline that has funneled ill-gotten gains from Florida to Cuba, an organized crime network disclosed last month by the Sun Sentinel after a year-long investigation.

Some members of Congress are demanding the return of fugitives, hoping to halt Cuban crime rings and discourage scams.

“I would hope that if those who wish to violate American law understand that they can’t hide from prosecution in Cuba, it would help to deter people from ripping off American taxpayers,” said U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat who represents parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties.

The issue will be raised Thursday when Cuba’s alleged links to terrorist groups are discussed at a House subcommittee hearing.

Chairman Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., said Cuban spying ... Read More

Meltdown in Venezuela

| February 26th, 2015 | No Comments »
Wall Street Journal WSJ-01

When Venezuelan intelligence agents carted off Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma to jail last week, they fired shots into the air to terrorize a gathering crowd. It was nothing unusual for the Venezuelan police state, which has studied under Cuba’s dictatorship. But it did underscore the magnitude of the economic and political crisis now gripping a country with one of the largest oil reserves in the world.

Mr. Ledezma is accused of plotting to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro with U.S. help. The government has provided no evidence. The mayor’s real offense is signing a letter this month calling Mr. Maduro’s government “terminal” and proposing a transition back to democracy.

Opposition leaders Leopoldo López, jailed a year ago, and Maria Corina Machado, who faces charges of plotting to kill Mr. Maduro, also signed the letter. On Tuesday the Maduro-controlled national assembly stripped opposition congressman Julio Borges of his seat and thus his legal ... Read More

Reality sinks in for many Cubans on eve of talks with US

| February 26th, 2015 | No Comments »
UT San Diego

By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN

HAVANA (AP) — The jubilation that greeted the announcement of U.S.-Cuban detente two months ago has faded to resignation for many Cubans who are realizing they’re at the start of a long process unlikely to ease their daily struggles anytime soon.

Dreams of U.S. products flooding Havana stores and easy visits to family members in Florida have dissipated, in part because of a coordinated campaign by Cuban state media and officials to lower expectations and remind people that the main planks of the half-century-old U.S. trade embargo remain in place.

As Cuban officials head to Washington for a second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations Friday, many working-class islanders say they no longer expect immediate changes in their lives regardless of what emerges from the negotiations.

“The great expectations that surged with the news ... Read More

What It Will Take to Beat Venezuela’s Maduro

| February 26th, 2015 | No Comments »
Bloomberg By Mac Margolis For anyone tracking the slow-motion crackup of the economy, the rule of law and all the other vital signs of democratic life in Venezuela, here’s a riddle.

How is it that the vast majority of citizens in Latin America’s poorest rich nation, with some of the world’s largest reserves of oil and gas, are fed up with life under the Bolivarian Republic and yet still have not turned on the Palacio Miraflores, never mind thrown in with the opposition?

Two recent surveys, by Datanalisis and Hinterlaces, show that seven to eight of every 10 Venezuelans believe that President Nicolas Maduro is doing a lousy job, and more than 85 percent say the country is in bad shape. Maduro’s personal approval rating has fallen to just 22 percent.

That ought to be dynamite fishing for Maduro’s foes as they head to legislative elections later this year. Instead, Venezuela’s opposition is fractured and floundering.

A poll in January found that ... Read More

Disaster in Venezuela

| February 26th, 2015 | No Comments »
Article Appeared in The Washington Times

President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela bears a marked resemblance to the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, right down to the mustache. With a collapsing economy that has soured his countrymen on his ruinous economic policies, Mr. Maduro is beginning to resemble Saddam in a more ominous way as well.

He is systematically jailing more and more of his opponents on trumped-up charges of plotting an “endless coup” against his government. Such attempts, he says, tipping his hat to the villain in the familiar Latin American imagination, are “supported and promoted from the north.” Intelligence agents last week burst into the office of Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of the capital Caracas and a leading opposition figure, and arrested him on vague “conspiracy” charges.

The mayor, 59, was taken to the Ramo Verde military jail where another opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, marked a year of incarceration on Feb. 18. The charges of arson, terrorism and homicide against Mr. ... Read More

Kerry blasts Venezuela’s ‘egregious behavior’

| February 26th, 2015 | No Comments »
From AFP

Washington (AFP) – US Secretary of State John Kerry blasted the Venezuelan government’s “egregious behavior” and promised the speedy implementation of recent sanctions against the crisis-hit country.

peaking at a US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Kerry said Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s regime had made a series of “wrong choices” in its handling of anti-government protests, as well as its clampdown on opposition leaders over claims of a US-backed coup plot.

“Venezuela keeps moving in the wrong direction and making the wrong choices,” Kerry said. “The answer is the sanctions are being implemented right now as fast as possible.”

Washington in December passed a law allowing sanctions against senior Venezuelan officials accused of violating the rights of protesters during anti-government demonstrations at the start of 2014.

Kerry said several US government agencies had “no disagreement whatsoever on the egregious behavior, the repression of people, the ... Read More

Shooting of Student Protester in Venezuela Ratchets Up Tension

| February 26th, 2015 | No Comments »
Wall Street Journal WSJ-01

By SARA SCHAEFER MUÑOZ and EZEQUIEL MINAYA

SAN CRISTÓBAL, Venezuela—Mourning relatives buried a 14-year-old boy killed by police as scattered protests broke out across the country over what citizens see as the state’s growing crackdown on dissent.

The student, Kluibert Roa, was shot in the head with a rubber bullet during an antigovernment demonstration on Tuesday, authorities said. A policeman was arrested in connection with the killing. Officials blamed the death on overzealous protesters, while demonstrators told reporters the boy was shot at point-blank range.

The teenager’s death reverberated throughout this tumultuous, oil-rich country, which has been hit by soaring inflation, a scarcity of basic goods, and what people say are increasingly repressive measures by the government of socialist President Nicolás Maduro.

The death ratcheted up tension in this western Venezuelan city, which was the epicenter of demonstrations last year that shook the country, spreading nationwide and leaving at least 43 people dead. Schools and universities ... Read More

Senate Democrats balk at $1-billion aid plan for Central America

| February 25th, 2015 | No Comments »
From the Los Angeles Times

Senate Democrats on Tuesday unexpectedly challenged the Obama administration’s plan to pour $1 billion into Central America to try to slow the flow of unaccompanied minors and others who enter the United States illegally.

In two hearings on the State Department budget, Democrats as well as Republicans warned that previous administrations have spent billions in the region without substantially reducing its violence or easing its poverty.

“We’ve spent billions of dollars there over two decades,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, told Secretary of State John F. Kerry. “And we’ve seen conditions get worse in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador.”

The plan, which would triple U.S. aid to the region, was devised in response to an unprecedented influx last summer of tens of thousands of children and teens who arrived without parents on the Southwest border. Most immediately surrendered to Border ... Read More

Reform Would Let Some Foreign Agents Carry Guns in Mexico

| February 25th, 2015 | No Comments »
Article originally appeared in the Associated Press

President Enrique Pena Nieto on Tuesday proposed a reform that would allow some foreign agents to carry arms inside Mexico, a significant change in a country that has historically said the practice would violate its sovereignty.

The bill, sent to Mexico’s Senate, would allow foreign customs and migration agents to carry guns in previously established zones. The main beneficiary would be the United States, which shares a long border with Mexico.

It would also allow foreign leaders or heads of state to enter the country with armed security details.

Mexican law currently prohibits any foreign agent or official from carrying weapons inside the country or participating in operations to arrest criminals. Authorities have always denied media reports of U.S. agents directly taking part in anti-drug trafficking operations inside Mexico.

Permits would be limited to revolvers or semi-automatic pistols with a caliber less than .40 and be granted by Mexico’s national defense department. The initiative would ... Read More

Ecuador Will Deal With Oil’s Drop and Dollar’s Rise, President Correa Says

| February 25th, 2015 | No Comments »
Wall Street Journal WSJ-01

By MERCEDES ALVARO

QUITO, Ecuador—President Rafael Correa said Ecuador will implement measures to curb the economic impact of the drop in oil prices and the stronger U.S. dollar, two events that private-sector economists say will hurt growth this year.

“We are taking all measures needed to be prepared. A good economic policy is to make the country less vulnerable to these external factors,” Mr. Correa said during his weekly address broadcast on Saturday.

The price of Ecuadorean crude oil has fallen almost 56%, from $91 in January 2014 to about $40 a year later.

Lower oil prices are expected to drag down economic growth, analysts say, or a country whose oil sector generates about one-quarter of total government revenue and about a half of the country’s exports.

“Ecuador is leaving behind years of prosperity with strong oil prices, in which the state took a leading role in the economy,” said Alberto Acosta, an economist with private ... Read More

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