The death from cancer on 5 March of President Hugo Chávez triggered a snap presidential election just 40 days later that his anointed successor, Nicolás Maduro, won by a margin of less than 1.5 per cent over Henrique Capriles of the Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance. But the tight result and legal challenges to the validity of the vote cast a shadow over the sustainability of the new administration. A country already deeply polarised is now clearly divided into two almost equal halves that appear irreconcilable. The validity of the election result remains to be clarified and the full independence of the electoral authorities, judiciary, and other key institutions restored. But to address the governance crisis and allow Venezuela to tackle its serious economic and social problems, national dialogue must prevail over confrontation and consensus over partisan violence.
Archive for the ‘English’ Category
Chilean finance minister Felipe Larraín has called it “the most exciting thing going on today in Latin America.” Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos believes it is “perhaps the most significant and profound integration process in the history of Latin America.” A recent headline said it has created “a new Latin American superpower.” It has also been hailed as a “bridge to Asia” and “a promising yardstick of Latin America’s prosperity.”
“It” is the so-called Pacific Alliance, a free-trade bloc that was first outlined in the April 2011 Lima Declaration and was officially established in June 2012. Its four members are Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru — four countries with a long record of supporting free markets and open commerce. Over the past year, these countries have abolished tariffs on 90 percent of all goods they trade with each other, and have also taken many other steps (such as eliminating visa requirements, merging stock exchanges, and launching a scholarship program) to integrate their economies. ... Read More
BY DIEGO ORE
CARACAS – Socialist leader Nicolas Maduro and the billionaire boss of Venezuela’s biggest private company have buried the hatchet after a war of words over food shortages and other economic problems in the South American nation.
Perpetuating the hard-line rhetoric of his predecessor Hugo Chavez, newly-elected Maduro turned on Empresas Polar president Lorenzo Mendoza in recent days, accusing him of hoarding products as part of an “economic war” on the state by private business.
Mendoza, whose company is Venezuela’s biggest beer- and flour-maker, denied that and pointedly challenged the government to sell production plants nationalized under Chavez back to the private sector to boost efficiency.
On Tuesday night, the pair met to discuss their differences in a spat seen by Venezuelans as a bellwether for state-business relations going forward under Maduro’s government.
BY CARLOS ALBERTO MONTANER
How’s your wife? It depends — compared to whom?
That’s a frequent dialogue among witty Spaniards. I imagine that women could respond the same way. We husbands fare badly when compared with Brad Pitt, much better if contrasted with Eduardo Gómez, the super-ugly doorman’s father in the comedy series Nobody Can Live Here on Spanish TV.
The same happens with countries and regions. To understand where we stand, we have to know where the others are and at what pace we move.
All this becomes relevant apropos the recent report on the most successful countries in Latin America. According to the news, the three wealthiest economies in Latin America are Chile, Panama (which has been growing at the rate of 8 percent for almost a decade) and Uruguay.
BY ADAM THOMPSON
In 1976, Rudesindo Cantarell arrived at Pemex’s offices in the Mexican Gulf city of Coatzacoalcos demanding compensation for damage that crude oil seepage had caused to his fishing nets.
His complaint alerted officials of the state oil company to what would become one of the world’s five biggest oil finds. For Mexico, it promised energy security and tens of billions of dollars a year for the state.
Today, the discovery is a distant memory. Production, which topped 2m barrels a day in the early 2000s, is now about 400,000 barrels.
Against this backdrop, Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico’s reform-minded president, has proposed what could be the biggest shake-up of his country’s energy industry since the government nationalised the sector in the 1930s. Before he assumed power in December last year, Mr Peña Nieto said Mexico had been a hostage to ideology and it was time to open up oil to private investment.
BY NICK MIROFF
MEXICO CITY — The recent changes ordered by new President Enrique Peña Nieto to Mexico’s anti-narcotics partnership with the United States have produced markedly different reactions here and in Washington, underscoring what appear to be diverging perceptions of the drug war’s goals and the costs of fighting it.
Peña Nieto’s decision to limit the ability of American agents to operate in Mexico has been met with dismay by U.S. law enforcement agencies, which left a heavy footprint under the previous administration of Felipe Calderon. They warn that intelligence sharing will suffer if they can no longer choose which Mexican force — the army, navy or federal police — to give sensitive information to; they’ve been instructed to now funnel everything through Mexico’s Interior Ministry instead.
BY HELEN MURPHY
BOGOTA – Colombia’s government warned on Tuesday of a plot by a criminal group to kill several high-profile journalists just weeks after the attempted assassination of an investigative reporter boosted concerns over threats to a free press in the violence-plagued Andean nation.
President Juan Manuel Santos also announced that 90 journalists are being given protection by the government. He urged Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre to investigate attacks against journalists.
“In this government, we’re totally committed to get to the very bottom of the problems that undermine this fundamental right to be well-informed that all Colombians have,” Santos said at an event to promote media rights.
Journalists and investigators have long been the target of attacks and threats in Colombia, allegedly carried out by corrupt politicians, drug lords, Marxist rebels and right-wing paramilitary leaders to silence coverage that may damage their interests.
BY PAUL MERRION
The expiration of trade incentives for Ecuador this summer could wilt a new flower distribution center at O’Hare International Airport just as it’s about to get off the ground.
The joint venture developing the nearly $2 million refrigerated processing center expects to have it ready by July, and a rose exporter from Ecuador has been lined up to start bringing two flights a week into Chicago.
But on July 31, the cost of importing cut roses from Ecuador will jump 7 percent when duty-free treatment under the Andean Trade Preference Act expires, reinstating the U.S. tariff in that amount.
Ecuador has expressed great interest in the O’Hare center, and “their support on the project is very crucial,” said Shlomo Danieli, a flower grower in Wilmette and one of three partners in the O’Hare flower distribution center. “If we have to pay a tax, it will put a burden on the project, but it ... Read More
Commerce: Big Labor worked hard to halt the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, claiming it threatened our economy and our workers. But a year since its passage, the pact has surpassed all expectations. Where’s the mea culpa?
If there was ever a reason to declare Big Labor’s credibility at zero on matters economic, the best example would be in its long, pathetic tocsins over free trade with Colombia.
Today, exactly a year since the pact went into effect, U.S. exports to Colombia have risen 13% while Colombia’s to the U.S. are up 3.4% — for a total of $28.5 billion in no-tariff trade. Net gains for both economies, in other words, but with the U.S. showing four times as many.
This lopsided result may well be because most Colombian goods already entered the U.S. tariff-free as part of preferences given in exchange for that country’s war on drugs. The Colombian peso has also strengthened along ... Read More
BY MARK FRANK
Canadian and British executives of three foreign businesses shut in 2011 by Cuban authorities, ostensibly for corrupt practices, have been charged after more than a year in custody and are expected to go on trial soon, sources close to the cases told Reuters.
The arrests, part of a broad government campaign to stamp out corruption, sent shockwaves through Cuba’s small foreign business community where the companies were among the most visible players.
Until then, expulsions rather than imprisonment had been the norm for those accused of corrupt practices.
The charges against the executives involve various economic crimes and operating beyond the limits of their business licenses on the communist-run island, according to the sources, who asked to remain anonymous and who include a close relative of one of the defendants.
Some of the foreigners are alleged to have paid bribes to officials in exchange for business opportunities.
BY IRENE CASELLI
Some 30 people are queuing outside a state-run supermarket in the 23 de Enero neighbourhood in Caracas.
A woman walks out with a bag in her hands. “There is milk!” she says enthusiastically, much to the delight of the other customers.
Milk is one of the products that are not easily available in Venezuela. Others include toilet paper, sugar, cooking oil and the cornflour used to make arepas, Venezuela’s national dish.
According to data from Venezuela’s Central Bank, the scarcity index rose to 21% last month, the highest since the bank started tracking the measure in 2009.
This means that out of 100 goods, 21 are not available.
When certain staples such as milk are available, queues inside and outside supermarkets become longer.
But shoppers at the government-run Mercal supermarket do not seem to mind. “There are always queues, but we need to be patient,” says Raul Espana, a 63-year-old retiree.
BY PABLO GONZALEZ & KATIA PORZECANSKI
President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner wants tax evaders hiding about $160 billion in dollars to help finance Argentina’s oil-producing ambitions. Her offer: Buy a 4 percent bond or face the prospect of jail time.
The tax authority announced the plan May 7, highlighting its information-sharing agreements with 40 nations and warning Argentines who don’t use the three-month amnesty window that they risk fines or arrest. Evaders have two options for their cash and the only one paying interest will be a dollar bond due in 2016 to finance YPF SA (YPF), the state oil company. The 4 percent rate is a third the average 13.85 yield on Argentine debt and less than the 4.6 percent in emerging markets.
A year after seizing YPF, Fernandez is funneling more money into the nation’s energy industry as the government struggles to boost production from the world’s third-biggest shale oil reserves. With Argentina already committed to pumping ... Read More
Venezuelan opposition TV channel Globovision has been sold and will change its editorial line, according to a statement published on its website.
One of the new managers, Leopoldo Castillo, said it would gradually move its editorial line “toward the centre”.
The channel is known for its fierce opposition to the left-wing government of late President Hugo Chavez, and that of his successor, Nicolas Maduro.
The government has repeatedly fined it and accused it of “poisoning society”.
Globovision was widely seen as the only terrestrial TV station which dared to be openly critical of Mr Chavez.
Outgoing director of Globovision Guillermo Zuloaga, who had led the channel for 18 years, asked viewers to give the new management “the benefit of the doubt”.
In a letter to station staff, he said he “had mixed feelings” about the sale.
BY MERCEDES ALVARO
QUITO, Ecuador–Ecuador’s Congress begins a new legislative period Tuesday, with the ruling party tied to President Rafael Correa in control.
Alianza Pais secured 100 of the 137 seats and is preparing to pass several laws considered key for leftist President Correa, whose third term will begin on May 24.
Alianza Pais lawmakers have already defined the legislative agenda for the first 100 days, giving priority to a controversial media law, regulations to redistribute idle land, and mining sector reforms, among other proposals.
“We worked for two months to prepare the agenda for the first 100 days,” said Juan Carlos Cassinelli, a lawmaker of Alianza Pais and former Vice President of the National Assembly. “There are about 130 laws that should be treated by lawmakers.”
Mr. Correa won re-election on Feb. 17, with 57% of the vote and topped his closest opponent by almost 35 percentage points.
BY ALBERTO DE LA CRUZ
On the Friday of the last weekend in February, Cuban dictator Raul Castro caught the news agencies covering his island nation by surprise when he dropped a hint that he was thinking of retiring. Later that Sunday, at a meeting of Cuba’s communist National Assembly, Castro went much further and announced that he would step aside at the end of the five-year presidential term to which he had just been “elected.” Adding fuel to the fire was the announcement that Miguel Diaz-Canel, a relatively unknown 52-year-old communist party apparatchik, had been appointed Castro’s second in command—and would thus theoretically be next in line to take command after the aging dictator’s exit.
Naturally, journalists, analysts, and so-called Cuba experts immediately began to explore the possibilities and ramifications. Many of them proposed the Western Hemisphere’s bloodiest and longest-running dictatorship was now possibly just five years away from its end. ... Read More
BY KARL RITTER & FABIOLA SANCHEZ
Venezuela’s biggest food company on Monday hit back at President Nicolas Maduro’s claims that it’s to blame for the country’s persistent food shortages.
The chief executive of Empresas Polar, Lorenzo Mendoza, rejected accusations by the president that the company has reduced production and is hoarding products to create scarcity.
“The accusations that we are producing less than last year are false,” Mendoza told reporters. “I presume that President Nicolas Maduro is not well informed about the situation and about what’s happening.”
Mendoza said his company has increased production of cornmeal by 10 percent in the past four months, and he offered to buy or rent government-owned corn processing plants to boost output event further.
Shortages of basic foods including sugar, milk, butter and cornmeal are a recurring annoyance to consumers in this oil-rich nation of 30 million people. Cornmeal is a crucial ingredient in arepas, or corn cakes, a ... Read More
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
Cuban government officials must fight “a grand battle” against corruption in areas such as business deals with foreigners and the distribution of gasoline, according to an official news media report Monday.
Rodrigo Malmierca, Minister of Foreign Commerce and Investment, gave a cabinet meeting Friday a report on the “irregularities detected in the functioning of businesses with foreign capital and international contracts,” the state-run Web page CubaDebate reported.
“He declared that among the principal causes … that make these acts possible, the foremost are the lack of rigor, control and exigency all along the deals, as well as the conduct and attitudes of the officials implicated,” CubaDebate added.
The Web report did not detail the cases, but the Cuban government has been rocked in recent years by a long string of corruption scandals involving top figures, from a former armed forces general to a couple of deputy ministers and even the ... Read More
BY HUMBERTO FONTOVA
On May 2, the FBI announced a $1 million reward for “information leading to the apprehension” of Joanne Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur, who they named a “most-wanted terrorist.” Chesimard is the first woman to make the FBI’s list. The New Jersey State Police then added another $1 million to the reward pot.
Convicted cop-killer (of a New Jersey state trooper) and “domestic terrorist” Chesimard has been living in Cuba since 1984 as a Castro-coddled celebrity of sorts. And it’s not like bounty hunters can operate freely in a Stalinist country. So the $2 million may be symbolic. As in the U.S. Justice Department putting on a game face and saying: “Look, Castro, we’re serious here.”
In the early 1970s, Chesimard belonged to a Black Panther offshoot known as the Black Liberation Army. “This case is just as important today as it was when it happened 40 years ago,” according to a recent press release from Mike Rinaldi, of the New Jersey State Police. “Chesimard was a member of the Black Liberation ... Read More
BY HILARY BURKE
BUENOS AIRES – When Argentina defaulted on its debt in 2002, the economy was collapsing and a bloody popular revolt had helped topple two presidents in a week. Now, the country could default again, but it would be over a matter of principle rather than necessity.
After a decade of sleepy litigation, investors got a jolt late last year when U.S. courts ruled in favor of “holdout” creditors who had rejected Argentine debt exchanges in 2005 and 2010 and sued to be repaid in full on their defaulted bonds.
A U.S. judge ordered Argentina to pay the holdouts the full $1.33 billion owed them the next time it serviced restructured debt. Argentina appealed, and a ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is expected in the coming weeks.
CARACAS, Venezuela – A lawyer representing the convicted terrorist known as “Carlos the Jackal” is urging Venezuela’s government to demand that France return her Venezuelan-born client to his homeland.
Attorney Isabelle Coutant-Peyre says Venezuela should press for the repatriation of Illich Ramirez Sanchez on the grounds that he was illegally detained in Sudan in 1994 before he was convicted in 2011 for instigating four bombings in France in 1982 and 1983 that killed 11 people and injured more than 140 others.
Ramirez has previously been convicted for a triple murder in 1975. He is serving two life sentences.
Coutant-Peyre told one of Venezuela’s state-run radio stations on Sunday that she hopes to meet with government officials to discuss the matter.