Archive for November, 2012

How U.S. can deepen ties in the Americas

| November 30th, 2012 | No Comments »
From the Washington Post

BY ROBERT ZOELLICK

On Saturday, Mexico will inaugurate a new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, just as President Obama is setting course for his second term. Obama’s administration is focused on more distant lands — rebalancing toward Asia and struggling with turmoil in the Middle East. Yet this week’s meeting of the two men highlights an opportunity for the United States to strengthen its continental base and leverage the dynamism of the Western Hemisphere as part of a global strategy.

The North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994 was the United States’ first international innovation outside the traditional Cold War security system. Over the past 20 years, U.S. attention to North America has been frequently diverted — but NAFTA and the partnership among Mexico, Canada and the United States are now starting to reach their potential.

This is an excellent time to deepen ties. The NAFTA countries should invest in a North American community that would make each stronger at ... Read More

Increased Syrian Activity in the Western Hemisphere Poses a Clear and Growing Threat to U.S. and Regional Security, Ros-Lehtinen Says

| November 30th, 2012 | No Comments »
US House of Representatives

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, made the following statement regarding Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister’s visits to the regimes of Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Ecuador.  Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:

“Almost a year after Ahmadinejad’s ‘Tour of Tyrants’ trip, it seems that the Syrian regime has followed suit and sent their Deputy Foreign Minister to meet with the tyrannical regimes of Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Ecuador. One state sponsor of terrorism after another continues to receive the royal treatment from these tyrants of Latin America. It is appalling, but not surprising, that these leftist pariah governments openly embrace violent rogue nations that support extremism worldwide.

“Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who has been systematically imprisoning, torturing and murdering tens of thousands of his own people, has sent his envoy to Latin America in hopes of garnering support for his fledgling regime. The increased Iranian and Syrian activity ... Read More

Don’t Cry For Argentina, The World’s Worst Sovereign Deadbeat

| November 30th, 2012 | No Comments »
Forbes

BY JULIAN KU

Last month, a court in Ghana detained the ARA Libertad, an Argentine naval training vessel, until Argentina guarantees repayment for a portion of its defaulted government debt.  This minor legal action has now exploded into an international incident.  Argentina has accused Ghana of violating international treaties, sought the intervention of the U.N. Security Council, and suggested that the Ghana courts are facilitating “an act of piracy against a sovereign country by greedy “vulture funds.”  They have also recently sought action by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

But Argentina’s bluster obscures the weakness of their legal position.  The Ghana court’s well-reasoned and thoughtful decision is completely consistent with international law and should be lauded for forcing Argentina to face accountability for its financial impunity.

Like other sovereign deadbeats, Argentina has used its status as a sovereign to avoid the consequences of its financial actions.  Unlike a private corporation, a sovereign government can default on debt it borrowed ... Read More

Cancer at the Heart

| November 30th, 2012 | No Comments »
Foreign Policy

BY PETER WILSON

CARACAS, Venezuela — Belkis Martinez isn’t taking any chances. Minutes after hearing that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was leaving for Cuba for another round of medical treatment, the 42-year-old hairstylist who lives in Antímano, a working-class neighborhood of Caracas, was in line at her supermarket buying canned goods and crackers.

“I just can’t help but think that they aren’t telling us the real story about El Comandante,” said Martinez, referring to the president. “If something would happen to him, anything could happen. His enemies could try to take power, or maybe people within in his own party would try. I just want to be prepared for the worst, especially if rioting breaks out or they declare martial law.”

The Venezuelan president’s return to Havana for additional medical care comes as he seeks to deepen the country’s socialist revolution after winning a new six-year term on Oct. 7. Chávez, who has ... Read More

Honduras touts record drug seizure

| November 30th, 2012 | No Comments »
EFE

Honduran authorities seized 15 tons of illegal drugs they discovered buried beneath a clandestine laboratory in the northern province of Yora, prosecutors said Thursday.

“According to what the experts say, the drugs found would amount to some 15 tons of cocaine (coca) paste or synthetic drugs,” Elvin Guzman, spokesman for the prosecutor’s office in the northern city of San Pedro Sula, told reporters.

The drug lab was found Thursday in a village lying between the towns of Santa Rita and El Negrito.

Officials suspect they may find additional drugs in underground tunnels at the site, Guzman said.

The operation involves personnel from the army and several different law enforcement agencies.

Authorities uncovered “chemical products and other substances, an electrical installation and a transformer” at the clandestine lab, Carlos Vallecillo, spokesman for the prosecutor’s office in Tegucigalpa, told Efe earlier Thursday.

Honduras’ Caribbean region is a major transshipment corridor for shipments of illegal drugs bound for the ... Read More

Argentina: don’t uncork the bubbly yet

| November 30th, 2012 | No Comments »
Beyond Brics

BY JUDE WEBBER

Phew! That’s how Wednesday’s Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, freezing a controversial order in favour of holdout creditors led by US fund Elliott that could have triggered an imminent Argentine default, was greeted in Buenos Aires.

But don’t uncork the champagne too soon. It’s going to be a tough month. It’s no longer a race against imminent default but a race to convince appeals court judges that they must review New York Judge Thomas Griesa’s controversial February ruling on pari passu.

That will probably require success in its appeal to have the case heard ‘en banc’ – by all 13 judges, which only happens once in a blue moon.

But still. Carpe diem. There’s much to do ahead of December 28, when Argentina must file its brief to the appeals court. It will need to prepare a potential reopening of the restructuring swap (though this could be delayed now that the ... Read More

Shapiro: Decision Time for Argentina

| November 30th, 2012 | No Comments »
Roll Call

BY ROBERT J. SHAPIRO

Bilateral relations between the United States and Argentina just became a good deal more complicated as legislation that would sanction Argentina for its scofflaw treatment of U.S. investors receives committee markup.

Although some have claimed that Buenos Aires welcomed President Barack Obama’s re-election, the reality is that the president’s second term will mark the continuation of his no-nonsense approach toward Latin America’s fourth largest economy. Now, with Thursday’s markup of legislation that would further penalize Argentina for its bad acts, all three branches of the U.S. government are working to rein in that country’s bad behavior.

For its part, the executive branch has, since 2011, carried out a policy of opposing new loans to Argentina by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank; more recently, the administration revoked Argentina’s preferential trade status.

The judicial branch, through a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, recently upheld ... Read More

Argentina’s 11-Year War With Hedge Funds

| November 30th, 2012 | No Comments »

BY ROBEN FARZAD

Since it defaulted on its debt more than a decade ago, Argentina’s economy has engaged in a Cold War of sorts with international investors. Buenos Aires stuck bondholders with a take-it-or-leave-it exchange offer of 30¢ on the dollar, the harshest sovereign debt haircut in at least half a century.

Companies delisted. Foreign investors bolted. Argentina, meanwhile, was demoted from the league of “emerging markets” to that of less-developed “frontier” economies, alongside Bangladesh and Kenya—among which the South American nation has been struggling to remain. To inflict injury on these insults, late President Néstor Kirchner and the wife who succeeded him, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, have nationalized $24 billion in private pensions and assumed control of the country’s top energy company, which was majority owned by Spain’s Repsol (REP:SM). The government also instituted bizarre regulations, such as one that requires car importers to match their imports with exports of equal value.

However, a hardy group of ... Read More

Mexico’s Peña Nieto Talks to TIME: ‘We Can Move Beyond the Drug War’

| November 30th, 2012 | No Comments »
From Time

BY TIM PADGETT

Enrique Peña Nieto takes office tomorrow, Dec. 1, as the next President of Mexico—whose young and otherwise successful democracy is beset by narco-bloodshed (60,000 murders in the past six years), an underachieving economy (average annual growth of only 2% since 2000) and a feeling that its Latin American leadership role has been eclipsed by its fast-developing South American rival, Brazil. Peña, 46, the popular former governor of central Mexico state, convinced Mexican voters that his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico from 1929 to 2000 as a corrupt, one-party dictatorship, has righted itself enough to right Mexico. (Read TIME International’s cover story on Peña, available to subscribers.) He spoke with TIME’s Latin America bureau chief, Tim Padgett, and Mexico reporter Dolly Mascareñas at his transition headquarters in Mexico City. Excerpts (translated from Spanish):

TIME: Your presidency marks a critical moment for Mexico. What are the most important things you have to ... Read More

Erin Burnett Grills Julian Assange: ‘Why Will You Not Talk About Ecuador?’ (VIDEO)

| November 30th, 2012 | No Comments »
The Huffington Post

Erin Burnett engaged in a heated argument with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Thursday, when she grilled him over reports that he is ill and human rights issues in Ecuador.

Assange has been granted asylum by Ecuador and is currently seeking refuge in London at the Ecuador embassy. It was recently reported that he is suffering from a lung infection. On Wednesday, Burnett interviewed him about his new book and asked him if the reports were true (starts at 7:00 mark in the clip above).

“Julian Assange is not very important,” he responded, before attempting to shift the conversation back to the book. When she pressed him to answer the question, he said, “I don’t think it’s important.”

She moved on to another issue: human rights in Ecuador, the country that has granted him asylum. “When you talk about governments clamping down on people’s right to speak, Ecuador is an unlikely champion of your ... Read More

Venezuela’s Oil Product Imports From U.S. Surge Ninefold

| November 30th, 2012 | No Comments »

BY JOSE OROZCO

Venezuela imported 196,000 barrels a day of petroleum products from the U.S. in September, more than nine times more than the 20,000 barrels a day the South American country imported in the same month a year earlier, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said today.

Venezuela, which has the largest oil reserves in the world, imported 68,000 barrels a day of finished motor gasoline from the U.S. in September, according to data published on the EIA’s website.

Venezuela is relying on imported petroleum products from the U.S. after a series of stoppages at its refineries, wrote Eurasia Group analysts Risa Grais-Targow and Daniel Kerner in a Nov. 27 report.

Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the state oil company, has been operating its Amuay refinery, the country’s largest, at reduced capacity since an Aug. 25 gas explosion that killed more than 40 people.

“Amuay is still operating at half of its normal capacity, and Ramirez’s claims that it will be back at ... Read More

Venezuela: Six More Years Of Decline Under Chavez

| November 30th, 2012 | No Comments »
Finding Petroleum

Same, same and very little different. After Hugo Chavez’s recent re-election victory in Venezuela the global oil industry knows only too well what to expect from his next six years in power. Chavez’s October 7 2012 Presidential election victory over contender Henrique Capriles with more than 54% of the vote hailed a continuation of the strategy which has come to characterise the President’s first fourteen years in office.

Lead by the highly-politicised vehicle of state oil firm Petróleos de Venezuela (otherwise known as PDVSA), the Chavez administration is expected to continue cutting discounted supply deals with allies within its sphere of influence, pushing away potential investors by expropriating further oil fields and ultimately mortgaging away its future oil production for financing right now, much of which has thus-far been put towards the government’s impressively ambitious social agenda.

To-date, Chavez’s agenda has failed to help the South American nation live up to its ... Read More

China’s Misguided Hugo Chávez Love Affair

| November 30th, 2012 | No Comments »
The Diplomat

BY MATT FERCHEN

The reelection of Hugo Chávez last month for another six-year term as president of Venezuela elicited almost universal praise from Chinese media and foreign policy analysts. Their general consensus was that his reelection was not only good for the people of Venezuela themselves, but also for economic and political ties between the two countries. However, Chinese government and business leaders who have assumed smooth relations for the foreseeable future are at risk of being unnerved because ties are only as healthy as Chávez himself. Recent reports that Chávez is back in Cuba for further cancer treatment serve to highlight that the new Chinese leadership may have therefore inherited a foreign policy time bomb from their predecessors.

China’s blithe optimism about the impact of continued Chávez dominance of Venezuelan politics sits uncomfortably with a growing anxiety about the effectiveness of the country’s political stability. This anxiety is directly related to the ... Read More

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Battling Bone Metastasis, Report Says

| November 30th, 2012 | No Comments »
From Fox News Latino

Venezuela President Hugo Chávez is now battling bone metastasis from his pelvic cancer, according to a report by Spanish newspaper ABC. Citing an unnamed intelligence source, ABC’s Washington correspondent Emil J. Blasco says there has been a recurrence and spread of the tumor, which was detected in a test performed on a trip to Havana just after the elections on October 7.

Blasco said the metastasis is causing Chavez “severe pain in the left femur and serious walking difficulties.” He also says that Chavez passed out twice in August, losing consciousness briefly, and that doctors determined that his situation was deteriorating slowly but steadily.

Chavez last appeared publicly during a televised meeting on Nov. 15, prompting some critics to publicly wonder where he went after his election win.

During the electoral campaign, he repeatedly dismissed rumors that he had not been cured of his cancer, and vowed to serve out his six-year term.

The treatment that ... Read More

The Health of Tyrants Chavez and Castro Worries Venezuela and Cuba

| November 30th, 2012 | No Comments »
Heritage Foundation

BY RAY WALSER

Just weeks after his October presidential electoral victory, Hugo Chavez is returning to Cuba for unspecified cancer treatment.

The brief announcement of his return appears to contradict Chavez’s campaign reassurances that he had conquered cancer.

Prior to the October 7 elections, Chavez, president since 1999, did all in his power to reassure the Venezuelan people that he was strong enough to govern for another six years. On October 1, he said, “If I did not feel that I have the strength” to lead the country for another six-year term, “I would not be here.”

Voters delivered a 10 percent margin of victory over rival Henrique Capriles in part because they believed what their leader told them regarding his health. It was a component of a much broader strategy to win unfairly at the polls. And it worked.

Since October 7, Chavez has rarely appeared in public, and his return to Cuba will touch off a new round ... Read More

US pivot to Mexico?

| November 29th, 2012 | No Comments »
Article originally appeared in The Christian Science Monitor

The date remains uncertain. But at some point Mexico’s reputation in the eyes of Americans will start to shift from being a burden – drugs, migrants, violence, corruption – to becoming a partner as close as Canada, Japan, or Britain.

Perhaps that date is Dec. 1.

That’s when a new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, takes office with far more political pull than recent presidents to push through the kind of reforms that have been moving Mexico closer to the United States over the past decade. He’s also taking over an economy that is fast rivaling China as a magnet for global investors.

President Obama welcomed Mr. Peña Nieto to the Oval Office on Tuesday, perhaps with an eye to raising Mexico higher in his second-term agenda. Indeed, in addition to the “pivot to Asia” that Mr. Obama recently proposed for US foreign policy, he might also pivot the US toward its southern neighbor, which is now its third largest source of oil and second largest export ... Read More

White House deputy security advisor calls for “tangible” progress in Honduran human rights

| November 29th, 2012 | No Comments »
Article originally appeared in the Associated Press

President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser said Wednesday the U.S. wants to see “tangible progress” in protecting human rights in Honduras.

After meeting Honduran President Porfirio Lobo in Tegucigalpa on Wednesday, adviser Denis McDonough said “the fight against violent crime and impunity cannot be conducted at the expense of human rights.”

The United States is withholding $50 million, about half of its aid to Honduras, due to concerns by some members of Congress about ongoing military and police corruption, assassinations of journalists and lawyers and a dysfunctional criminal justice system.

The U.S. resumed sharing radar intelligence with Honduras last week after a four-month stand-down prompted by repeated shootdowns of civilian aircraft suspected of drug trafficking.

During that suspension, Honduran pilots were retrained, standard operating procedures were revised and Honduran authorities signed a new promise not to damage, destroy, disable or threaten civilian aircraft in the skies.

McDonough pledged ongoing support to Honduras, and said ... Read More

U.S.-Mexico drug war partnership under Calderon broke new ground

| November 29th, 2012 | No Comments »
From the Los Angeles Times

BY TRACY WILKINSON, RICHARD FAUSSET, & BRIAN BENNETT

MEXICO CITY — In the six years of outgoing President Felipe Calderon‘s war against drug gangs, the U.S. became a principal player in Mexico, sending drones and sniffer dogs, police trainers and intelligence agents to a country long suspicious of its powerful neighbor.

Calderon, who steps down Saturday, essentially rewrote the rules under which foreign forces could act here in matters of national security. There has been relatively little public protest, reflecting the severity of a conflict that has killed tens of thousands nationwide and spread violence south into Central America — without significantly reducing the flow of drugs.

Incoming President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose Institutional Revolutionary Party long embodied a vocal Mexican nationalism, has said he wants to maintain cooperation with the United States at a high level, although he is suggesting some policy shifts.

U.S. intelligence has led to some of Calderon’s biggest successes, the killing or ... Read More

Mexico subdued ahead of former longtime ruling party resuming presidential control Saturday

| November 29th, 2012 | No Comments »
Article originally appeared in the Associated Press

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s first democratically elected president started his inauguration day breakfasting with homeless children and ended it with fireworks — a festive day meant to usher in a bright new era.

Six years later power was handed off in chaos, with a narrow, disputed election spawning fistfights in Congress and a seizure of the podium by leftist lawmakers.

On Saturday, the country’s former longtime ruling party retakes the highest office on a day planned to be low on pomp and extraordinarily high on security — a drama-free return to power for an Institutional Revolutionary Party trying to replace a history of repression and corruption with a new image of businesslike, technocratic efficiency.

A full week before the inauguration, the federal government began build a blocks-long enclosure of metal barricades around the lower house of Congress, where the PRI’s Enrique Pena Nieto will be sworn into office Saturday.

The new president will later ... Read More

Syrian government finds rare friends in Latin America during trip by high-ranking envoy

| November 29th, 2012 | No Comments »
Article originally appeared in the Associated Press

MEXICO CITY — Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government doesn’t have many allies left in the world, but it’s been enjoying support in Latin America this week from leftist leaders who see a fellow challenger to U.S. power in their Middle Eastern counterpart.

During trips to Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Al Mokdad, received mostly symbolic backing for his government’s 20-month battle against rebels.

More than anything, just the fact that Al Mokdad visited minor international players such as Ecuador shows how isolated Syria has become on the world stage, as accusations of indiscriminate killing of civilians by Syrian forces draw widespread condemnation, said Anthony Skinner, Middle East-North Africa chief at the British risk analysis firm Maplecroft.

Through an interpreter, Al Mokdad said in Venezuela on Tuesday that he also visited Nicaragua and Cuba. Those two governments had yet to confirm the itinerary.

“I don’t see these states as being ... Read More

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