Archive for February 6th, 2013

Firm Denies Deception in Big Check Tied to Iran

| February 6th, 2013 | No Comments »
The New York Times


CARACAS, Venezuela — When German customs agents at the Düsseldorf airport found a check for the equivalent of nearly $70 million in Venezuelan currency in the carry-on bag of a former Iranian economy minister last month, it seemed like the elements of an international thriller.

But an Iranian construction company contended on Tuesday that the reality was much more mundane: the money, it said, was meant to pay wages and buy concrete and other materials as part of a project to build 10,000 apartments in Venezuela.

“They’re buildings, not bombs, not missiles,” said a lawyer for the company, Kayson Venezuela, mocking speculation here that the company’s construction projects were a front for more sinister activities.

The lawyer, interviewed at the company’s offices in Caracas, refused to give his name, citing company policy.

The unusual courier was Tahmaseb Mazaheri, a former Iranian economy minister and Central Bank governor, according ... Read More

Another Phony Election in Cuba

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Council on Foreign Relations


Democracy may be spreading in large parts of the world and with it genuine, contested elections–but not in Cuba.

Cubans “voted” again yesterday for the Cuban “National Assembly,” if one uses such terms very loosely. The Washington Post quotes Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez saying “It is a different electoral system. Personally I find it is more democratic than (others) I know.” This is offensive nonsense, because Cuba remains a one-party state where zero electoral competition is allowed. “Renouncing the principle of a single party would be equal to legalizing one or more imperialist parties,” Reuters reports Raul Castro saying last year.

So the system in Cuba is summed up by Reuters this way: “Reuters talked with more than half a dozen voters on Sunday before they entered the polls in Havana. None of them knew the candidates on the national slate from their districts.” And why should they, given that there is no competition and that the ... Read More

U.S. late to the party on Latin America, Africa

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Orange County Register


President Barack Obama’s proposed tilt of U.S. priorities toward the Pacific – and away from the historical link to Europe – represents one of the most encouraging aspects of his foreign policy. Although welcome, we should recognize that this shift comes about three decades too late and that it may miss the rising geopolitical centrality of sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. The emergence of these longtime historically impoverished backwaters has been largely missed as American policy-makers and businesses now obsessed with the challenges and opportunities posed by the emergence of China and, to a lesser extent, India. Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, over the past decade has produced six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies. From 2011-15, according to the International Monetary Fund, seven of the fastest-growing countries will be African, and Africa as a whole will surpass the slowing growth rates in Asia, particularly China.

This growth has caused the region’s poverty rates, ... Read More

Mexican President Peña Nieto: ‘We Have to Crush the Mafia’

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Spiegel Online

Enrique Peña Nieto took over as Mexico’s president in December. In a SPIEGEL interview, he discusses his plans to fight poverty and drug violence and why Europe should take advantage of his country’s economic boom.

SPIEGEL: Mr. President, more than 60,000 Mexicans have lost their lives in the drug war during the last six years. You have been in office for two months now. How do you propose to end the carnage?

Peña Nieto: We must fight inequality and poverty if we want to re-establish peace and security. Seven million Mexicans live in extreme poverty, which is why I have launched a crusade against hunger. We also have to improve our educational system and stimulate economic growth.

SPIEGEL: Social policy alone will hardly be enough to come to grips with the problem.

Peña Nieto: We will strengthen the security forces and the judiciary. Cooperation between the central government and the individual federal states has already improved. We will ... Read More

A New U.S. International Economic Strategy

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Article originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal


Five years into the global economic storm, America’s traditional allies, the European Union and Japan, are struggling. Developing economies are reshaping the global dynamic but also face big challenges. The United States is the one country that could lead the modernization of the international system so as to supply security, economic opportunity, and prospects for liberty. America’s own strategy for economic revival cannot be limited to the nation’s borders. And its future foreign policy—its projection of power and principle—must be grounded in the emerging economic order.

President Obama has said he admires Ronald Reagan’s transformative thinking. If so, he should ask for an assessment of Reagan’s second-term innovations on currency and monetary affairs, trade, debt and development. Reagan advanced a new international system to match the revival of capitalism after the oil shocks and stagflation of the 1970s. America’s success in the 1980s contributed both to the end of ... Read More

Argentina may lose access to $3.2 billion of emergency aid

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BUENOS AIRES — The International Monetary Fund censure that puts Argentina a step closer to becoming the first nation to be expelled from the Washington-based lender in more than a half-century is undermining confidence in the country’s ability to pay its debt.

Argentina may lose access to as much as $3.2 billion of emergency aid as borrowing costs that average 13 percent, the highest among major emerging markets, and legal disputes over debt left over from its $95 billion default in 2001 prevent the country from tapping international markets. Central bank reserves, which it used to pay foreign creditors $5.7 billion last year, are at their lowest level since 2007.

The IMF censured the country on Feb. 1 for not taking measures to address the accuracy of official price reporting, which put 2012 inflation at half the 26 percent rate estimated by economists. If the data aren’t improved, Argentina may be the first ... Read More

Mexico Man on US Kingpin List for Money Laundering

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Article originally appeared in the Associated Press

The U.S. Treasury Department says it is levying financial sanctions against a Mexican businessman who allegedly launders money for the Zetas drug cartel.

The department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control says in a statement Tuesday that it is acting against Filemon Garcia Ayala under the U.S. Kingpin Act. A listing bars U.S. citizens from having business transactions with the person and allows authorities to freeze their assets in the United States.

The department says it is also acting against two of Garcia Ayala’s companies in Zacatecas, Mexico, Prodira Casa de Cambio S.A. de C.V. and Trastreva S.A. de C.V. It has also blocked three of his companies in the United States.

It says Mexican authorities tried to arrest Garcia Ayala in June on money laundering charges, but he fled and remains a fugitive.

Click here for original ... Read More

Mexico’s commerce crawls back from drug war’s chaos

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CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico — Héctor Murguía is wearing a satisfied smile that has nothing to do with the steaming cup of soup sitting before him or the comfortable office that he occupies as this city’s chief executive.

Just hours before, the mayor’s reinvigorated police force notched another important victory in the long, bloody campaign to restore order to what had become one of the most violent places on the face of the globe.

Jesus Rodrigo Fierro-Ramirez, a former Mexican state policeman-turned-brutal enforcer for the Sinaloa drug cartel, was killed in a nighttime raid of a cartel safe-house on the outskirts of town. Ramirez, the mayor said, was armed with grenades and a cache of high-powered rifles similar to those responsible for so many of the 10,000 deaths here in just the past four years — all casualties of a drug war that pushed this once-bustling border city ... Read More

Colombia ELN kidnap victims are German pensioners

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German officials say the two men kidnapped by rebels in Colombia are German pensioners who entered the country on a tourist visa.

Colombia’s second largest rebel group, the ELN, said on Monday it had seized brothers Gunther and Uwe Breuer “weeks ago” in northern Catatumbo region.

The rebels said they suspected the two, who are 69 and 72 years old, of being intelligence agents.

The ELN is also holding two Peruvian and a Canadian contractor.

The German Foreign Ministry has set up a crisis group to deal with the abduction.

Ministry officials said Gunther and Uwe Breuer were on a tour of South America when they were taken in Norte de Santander province, near the border with Venezuela.

It is not clear when exactly they were kidnapped.

‘Unlikely spies’

In a statement published on their website on Monday, the ELN (National Liberation Army) said that “in the weeks they [Gunther and Uwe Breuer] have been held, they ... Read More

Ecuador’s Populist President Looks Set for Another Four Years

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The Huffington Post


Less than one month before Ecuadoreans are due to go to the polls for presidential and legislative elections, the outcome of the vote is looking increasingly predictable. The president, Rafael Correa, in office since 2007, remains well ahead in the polls, with the latest survey indicating that he has stretched his lead over his rivals since the end of 2012.

This marks a change from the transfers of power Ecuador grew accustomed to before Correa took office. Elections were unpredictable and characterized by a high number of candidates, with the likely winner often not emerging until weeks before the polling date (as was the case with Correa in the 2006 election). Furthermore, presidents were frequently forced out of office before the end of their terms, often by popular protests, as was the case with Lucio Gutiérrez (2005), Jamil Mahuad (2000), Rosalía Arteaga (1997) and Abdalá Bucaram (1997).

However, since 2007 ... Read More

China and Venezuela: Equity Oil and Political Risk

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The Jamestown Foundation


Referring to the evolving political crisis in Venezuela, a Shanghai Academy of Social Science scholar, Zhang Jiazhe, recently remarked, if Hugo Chavez dies, “the diplomatic effect on China won’t be large because China-U.S. competition is in Asia not Latin America. Economically, China-Venezuela relations are based on oil and weapons sales” (Huanqiu Shibao, January 6). Back in 2006 Beijing University Professor Zha Daojiong, however, sounded a more skeptical note when he wrote “The search for overseas oil supplies has led Beijing to pursue close diplomatic ties with Iran, Sudan, Uzbekistan and Venezuela—all countries that pursue questionable domestic policies and…foreign policies” [1]. These two different Chinese foreign policy perspectives highlight an ongoing debate—and not only inside of China—about how Chinese state-owned enterprise (SOE) pursuit of global energy supplies was or was not leading China into unwanted and unhealthy foreign entanglements.

The logic of Chinese SOE energy investments in all these “questionable” ... Read More

US military launches training program for Mexico forces — will it backfire?

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An overhaul of a U.S. military program aimed at helping Mexican security forces fight the war on drug cartels is raising concerns that U.S. training could fuel human rights abuses — and even be exploited by the cartels themselves.

But officials with the U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), which has trained Mexican military officials in anti-insurgent and intelligence-gathering techniques for the past decade, say not to worry.

The concerns, and the assurances, come after outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta set up a new special operations headquarters to train Mexican forces. The team will reportedly help Mexico track drug cartels much like U.S. teams have tracked Al Qaeda. It will still be run under the umbrella of USNORTHCOM.

Capt. Jeff Davis of USNORTHCOM, in an interview with, played down the significance of the new designation — saying the mission will remain the same as it has and will not involve U.S. Special ... Read More