Content from IASW Contributors

Washington should not forget Venezuela

BY ROGER NORIEGA & JOSÉ R. CÁRDENAS

Russia’s annexation of Crimea is an egregious violation of international norms that demands a concerted international reaction. However, as foreign policy pundits settle into their Eurocentric comfort zone, Washington must not neglect its important strategic interests elsewhere in an increasingly interconnected world

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La MS-13 brinda apoyo secreto al partido de gobierno en El Salvador

Roger NoriegaLa ultra violenta Mara Salvatrucha, conocida como MS-13 – cuyos 10,000 miembros siembran el caos en decenas de ciudades de Estados Unidos – ha estado apoyando secretamente al partido gobernante de El Salvador desde hace varios años de acuerdo a evidencia que ha surgido en las últimas semanas.

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Argentina’s Currency Falls Sharply Against the Dollar, Stirring Inflation Fears

| January 24th, 2014 | No Comments »
The New York Times

BY SIMON ROMERO

RIO DE JANEIRO — Argentina’s currency, the peso, plunged more than 8 percent on Thursday against the dollar after the country’s central bank tried to stem a decline in international reserves. The sharp decline, with the peso dropping the most since Argentina’s 2002 financial crisis, raises concerns that inflation could accelerate even further.

Since the start of the year, the Argentine peso has weakened 18 percent, ranking it among the world’s worst-performing currencies against the dollar. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s cabinet chief, Jorge Capitanich, insisted on Thursday that the plunge was not a devaluation but the result of the forces of supply and demand.

Still, local news media said the peso closed at 7.75 to the dollar, after weakening earlier on Thursday to about 8.24, with the central bank intervening late in the trading session. Argentina’s international reserves have been ... Read More

International Criminality and Socialist Alliance Loom in El Salvador’s Election

| January 24th, 2014 | No Comments »
Heritage Foundation

BY ANA QUINTANA

There are seven weeks left until the presidential election in El Salvador, in which voters will be choosing between candidates with radically different plans for their country’s future. While there are several candidates, three are essentially leading the pack: Norman Quijano, mayor of San Salvador, of the anti-communist, pro-business ARENA party; Salvador Sánchez Cerén, current vice president, of the radical, Marxist FMLN; and Tony Saca, former president, of the right-wing populist Unidad coalition.

The context, dictated by troublesome elements, makes this upcoming election critical to monitor. In particular, the small country of El Salvador is home to some of the world’s highest homicide rates, second only to Honduras. While the FMLN-negotiated gang truce, between MS-13 and the Barrio 18, has reduced violence, new dangers have arisen as a result. Rather than fighting one another, the rival gangs have ostensibly been forced into cooperating with one another, as well as other transnational criminal organizations.

In addition, this campaign marks the disgraced Saca’s return to national ... Read More

The ‘Cheapest’ Place in the World: Ramifications of Venezuela’s Currency Controls

| January 24th, 2014 | No Comments »
From Time

BY GIRISH GUPTA

Vinny is in the middle of a whirlwind trip. He began in Caracas ten days ago, has already passed through New York, Chicago, Kansas City, Dallas, Indianapolis and Los Angeles and is about to board a flight from Miami to Milan and onto Madrid. The 28-year-old personal trainer will be there for around 36 hours before continuing his journey on to London, Johannesburg, Doha, Tokyo, Dallas, Lima and finally Caracas again in just over a week’s time. The entire trip — all 16 flights — cost him just $600.

“This is the holy grail,” Vinny says as he boards the flight to Milan. The journey will earn him some 100,000 air miles and help re-qualify him for American Airlines’ highest frequent-flier tier. When using money obtained on the black market, the cost of flights out of Venezuela can be up to ten times less than normal market prices. A return flight from Caracas ... Read More

Venezuela Breaks Down in Violence

| January 23rd, 2014 | 1 Comment »
Brookings

BY HAROLD TRINKUNAS

Economic mismanagement in Venezuela is producing widespread resource scarcity and high inflation, creating the risk of a violent popular reaction and regional instability. Harold Trinkunas recommends that President Obama work with other Latin American countries to convince Venezuela to change its course, and to develop a coordinated response in the event Venezuela breaks down in violence.

Summary and Recommendations

Economic mismanagement in Venezuela has reached such a level that it risks inciting a violent popular reaction. Venezuela is experiencing declining export revenues, accelerating inflation and widespread shortages of basic consumer goods. At the same time, the Maduro administration has foreclosed peaceful options for Venezuelans to bring about a change in its current policies.

President Maduro, who came to power in a highly-contested election last April, has reacted to the economic crisis with interventionist and increasingly authoritarian measures. His recent orders to slash prices of goods sold in private businesses resulted in ... Read More

Brazil fears slower market activity in World Cup year

| January 23rd, 2014 | No Comments »
Financial Times

BY JOE LEAHY

In Brazil the early headlines of the year have been dominated by the football World Cup, which Latin America’s largest nation will host for a month starting in June.

Officials from Fifa, the organising body for the tournament, have been touring the country urging the 12 cities hosting the games to speed up their preparations.

Yet in spite of the last-minute rush to kick-off, most expect the tournament to be a success, with the chance that Brazil could score an extra goal by winning its sixth World Cup and first at home.

The same cannot be said for Brazilian capital markets, however, with the benchmark Bovespa index starting off the year by hitting five-month lows. Indeed in a year that will be dominated not only by the World Cup but by a late annual carnival festival and a presidential election, analysts are advising investors to move to sectors such as commodity exporters that ... Read More

Extradition, Maras and Police: Ex Honduras Minister Looks at the Future

| January 23rd, 2014 | No Comments »
From In Sight

 

BY MARGUERITE CROWLEY

A former security minister of Honduras tells InSight Crime the country is set to begin extraditing criminals, expediting police reform and taking a hard-line against the country’s gangs under the upcoming administration.

The following are excerpts from a December 2013 interview with Oscar Alvarez, the former security minister of Honduras, and a current member of Congress. After being unexpectedly removed from his security ministry post in 2011, he spent time in the United States before coming back to the country as campaign manager for incoming President Juan Orlando Hernandez — who takes office on January 27. Among other things, Mr. Alvarez was responsible for drafting the extradition law passed in 2012, and has been a principal proponent of police reform. He is also rumored to be named the next security minister, which would be his third stint in that job.

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio ... Read More

Destruction, Scarcity Are the Nicknames of the Bolivarian Revolution

| January 23rd, 2014 | No Comments »
Latin American Herald Tribune

Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro imposed the so-called “Bolivarian Revolution” in Venezuela, whose nicknames are destruction and scarcity.

Everything in its way, from companies and properties to activities and sectors of the financial, monetary, industrial or productive kind, ends up torn to pieces or corroded by its negligence, ineffectiveness and corruption.

Among many of the things it has destroyed is the value of the local currency thanks to tight foreign exchange controls since 2003.

That’s how it has restricted to the limit of what is tolerable the access to dollars to productive sectors whose survival and operability depend on inputs, spare parts or imported products as much as to those distributing food, meds and other products or services that rely on dollars and, even to citizens that need to meet health, education, family, professional, business or recreational needs.

We all have already seen the aftermath of this disaster, as all Venezuelans suffer it in ... Read More

Ecuador’s Correa wants US military to leave

| January 23rd, 2014 | No Comments »
From AFP

Ecuador’s leftist President Rafael Correa said Wednesday he would ask the United States to withdraw American military personnel assigned to its embassy in Quito.

Correa said he became aware of what he described as an outsized presence after learning that four US military personnel were aboard an Ecuadoran military helicopter that came under fire on October 3 last year near the border with Colombia.

“That’s when we learned of all this, of the military group, nearly 50 military personnel. This is inconceivable,” he told foreign reporters.

“Unfortunately, these people have been so infiltrated in all the sectors that what is scandalous appeared normal.”

Correa, an economist by training who has long railed against America’s “imperialism” in its Latin American backyard, said Quito was “already taking measures” to address the issue.

US Embassy spokesman Jeffrey Weinshenker said the United States had not yet received “formal notification” of the Ecuadoran request.

He said about 20 US Defense Department ... Read More

Street protest in Cuba draws at least 500, sparks clash with police

| January 23rd, 2014 | No Comments »
The Miami Herald

BY JUAN O. TAMAYO

At least 500 Cubans staged a rare street protest and clash with police in the eastern city of Holguin after municipal authorities confiscated household goods being sold in an open-air market by the island’s nascent private business owners, according to witnesses.

“This has been something immense. In my 31 years, I never saw anything like this,” said Holguin business owner Wilian Zaldivar Perez, who added that patrons in a restaurant near the protest also threw rocks at the police during the confrontation Tuesday.

Communist-ruled Cuba has not seen street protests of any significant size since 1994, when thousands of people rioted in downtown Havana amid a false rumor that the ferry that takes people across Havana Bay would take anyone to South Florida.

The protest Tuesday was the result of “the dissatisfaction that has been accumulating” with the Raúl Castro regime and his halting economic reforms, said Eduardo Cardet, an ... Read More

Shaky truce: Is El Salvador’s gang war really on hold?

| January 22nd, 2014 | No Comments »
BBC

BY WILL GRANT

“It’s the numbers versus the letters: 18 against MS.”

While meaningless to most people outside Central America, those words, spoken by a peace negotiator, evoke a conflict that has plagued the region for over two decades.

Barrio 18 is one of Central America’s biggest drug gangs. Mara Salvatrucha – MS for short – is its main rival.

Between them they have tens of thousands of members, and their near constant street-level war has claimed hundreds of lives per month since the early 1990s.

Deadly record

Until recently, El Salvador had the highest per capita murder rate in the world. That title has now passed to its unfortunate neighbour, Honduras.

In part, the change has been attributed to a 2012 truce declared by rival Salvadoran gang leaders.

Initially, the ceasefire yielded results. In 2012 El Salvador’s murder rate dropped from a staggering 14 murders a day to around five.

The truce was hailed as a blueprint ... Read More

Argentina restricts online shopping as foreign reserves drop

| January 22nd, 2014 | No Comments »
BBC

Argentina has introduced new restrictions on online shopping as part of efforts to stop foreign currency reserves from falling any further.

Anyone buying items through international websites will now need to sign a declaration and produce it at a customs office, where the packages have to be collected.

The procedure will need to be repeated for every new purchase.

Argentina’s reserves of hard currencies dropped by 30% last year.

The government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has introduced a number of restrictions on transactions with foreign currency.

Items imported through websites such as Amazon and eBay are no longer delivered to people’s home addresses. The parcels need to be collected from the customs office.

Individuals are allowed to buy items up to the value of $25 (£15) from abroad tax free every year. Once the $25 level is reached, online shoppers in Argentina need to pay a 50% tax on each item bought from ... Read More

Legal U.S. Pot Won’t Bring Peace to Mexico

| January 22nd, 2014 | No Comments »
Bloomberg

BY ALEJANDRO HOPE

Since Jan. 1, Colorado has had a legal marijuana market. The same will soon be true in Washington State, once retail licenses are issued. Other states, such as California and Oregon, will likely follow suit over the next three years.

So does this creeping legalization of marijuana in the U.S. spell doom for the Mexican drug cartels? Not quite. The illegal marijuana trade provides Mexican organized crime with about $1.5 billion to $2 billion a year. That’s not chump change, but according to a number of estimates, it represents no more than a third of gross drug export revenue. Cocaine is still the cartels’ biggest money-maker and the revenue accruing from heroin and methamphetamine aren’t trivial. Moreover, Mexican gangs also obtain income from extortion, kidnapping, theft and various other types of illegal trafficking. Losing the marijuana trade would be a blow to their finances, but it certainly wouldn’t put them out of business.

But surely Mexico ... Read More

Panama Canal Head Says Solution May Be in Sight

| January 22nd, 2014 | No Comments »
Article originally appeared in the Associated Press

BY JUAN ZAMORANO

The head of the Panama Canal said Tuesday that there may be a solution in sight to the $1.6 billion dispute that has threatened to halt work on the canal’s expansion.

Administrator Jorge Luis Quijano said that the consortium expanding the canal has proposed a resolution “with some potential” to resolve the dispute. He offered no details and the consortium, United for the Canal, made no immediate comment.

The two sides and the authority’s insurer met Tuesday to negotiate who will pay for cost overruns that led the Spanish-led consortium to threaten to halt work on a third set of locks that would allow far larger ships to pass through the canal.

“It’s a proposal that could provide a long-term solution and move the project forward,” Quijano said.

The construction group led by Spain’s Sacyr Vallehermoso said Sunday that a stoppage was “not a scenario being considered ... Read More

Panama accuses Cuba of refusing to cooperate

| January 22nd, 2014 | No Comments »
The Miami Herald

BY JUAN O. TAMAYO

Panama will send a low-ranking official to a summit of hemispheric leaders in Cuba to signal its displeasure with Havana’s refusal to cooperate over a shipment of Cuban weapons seized aboard a North Korean freighter, sources said Tuesday.

Floreal Garrido, the fifth-ranking official in Panama’s Foreign Ministry, will represent his government at the Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a knowledgeable ministry source told El Nuevo Herald on Tuesday.

Garrido, whose official title is Director of Foreign Policy, will be attending a Jan. 28-29 gathering where many of the 33 other countries’ delegations will be led by presidents, prime ministers or foreign ministers. The U.S. and Canada are not part of CELAC.

“We will send them our fifth-ranking official to Havana to show our displeasure with their total lack of cooperation on the matter of the North Korean ship,” said the source, who asked to ... Read More

VenEconomy: Venezuela goes the wrong direction

| January 22nd, 2014 | No Comments »
Petroleum World

The leitmotiv of this past fifteen years has been wrong policymaking from the Venezuelan government in economic and social matters, thought up for developing a country model resembling that of the Castro brothers’ Cuba.

As it has been widely demonstrated before, this has led to a deep economic and social crisis. Unfortunately, the political reasons of both rulers from the pseudo Bolivarian revolution, Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro, have resulted in a cure worse than the disease produced by the Castro-communist regime itself, and that other measures that were “kind of right” (those applied when they had no choice due to the crushing social pressure) were not taken promptly and became useless in the end.

One of those cases is that of the foreign exchange controls. The economic meltdown caused by tight foreign currency controls since 2003 has been, among many others, one of the main causes for a high inflation rate, ... Read More

Venezuela intimidates opponents, media: HRW report

| January 22nd, 2014 | No Comments »
From AFP

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro of runs a “feigned democracy” and intimidates opponents and the media, US-based Human Rights Watch charged Tuesday in its annual report.

“Under the leadership of president (Hugo) Chavez and now President Maduro, the accumulation of power in the executive branch and the erosion of human rights guarantees have enabled the government to intimidate, censor and prosecute its critics,” the document said.

Venezuela was included on HRW’s list of countries with “authoritarian governments” that have learned “it is possible to adopt the form but not the substance of democracy,” the report said.

“This feigned democracy rejects basic principles, such as that governments must be accountable under the rule of the law, limited by the human rights that protect minorities, and committed to allowing free and continuous public debate,” the report said.

HRW, which termed this status “abusive majoritarianism,” also placed Egypt, Syria, Myanmar, Thailand, Kenya, Russia and Ukraine in the same ... Read More

Colombia’s Perilous Peace

| January 22nd, 2014 | No Comments »
Pundicity

BY ILAN BERMAN

Today, Colombian politics are consumed above all by one issue: the peace process now underway between the government of president Juan Manuel Santos and the radical Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Since its initiation last fall, the controversial initiative has polarized national politics to an unprecedented degree. It has also become a personal bone of contention between President Santos and his predecessor and one-time mentor, Alvaro Uribe—a very-public disagreement that is now being played out in the national media.

Underlying this acrimonious debate is a fundamental disagreement over the prospects for a durable peace, the motivations of the FARC, and the strategic impact that integration of the group will have on Colombia’s larger political trajectory. Simply put, some believe that the FARC—diminished after nearly five decades of insurgency—is now eager to come in from the cold. Others, however, are convinced that the organization has not given up ... Read More

The Future of the Bolivarian Revolution in the Post-Chávez Era

| January 22nd, 2014 | No Comments »
University of Miami

BY DOUGLAS FARAH

Throughout his years in power, but particularly beginning in 2004, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez spent a significant amount of political and economic capital creating a structure to carry out his dream of establishing a regional alliance of countries espousing his “Socialism for the 21st Century” doctrine and enmity toward the United States.

Grouped under the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and including Iran as an observer, the alliance was largely sustained by Chávez’s vision and Venezuela’s largess in the form of petroleum and petroleum products at steeply discounted prices, as well as other economic benefits for member nations. In return, Chávez received international solidarity and a platform for launching a new regional defense doctrine in which the United States was identified as the primary external threat.[1]

A key question in the post-Chávez era is what will become of the Bolivarian edifice now under construction and whether ... Read More

“El destino de Ecuador puede ser peor que el de Venezuela”

| January 21st, 2014 | No Comments »
El Pais

BY EVA SAIZ

Las denuncias de corrupción estatal, sobre todo en el ámbito del petróleo y la minería, que Fernando Villavicencio (Sevilla, Ecuador, 1963) ha venido realizando desde que se inició en el mundo del periodismo de investigación con 18 años, han convertido a este ecuatoriano en una figura incómoda para el poder de su país. Las sucesivas revelaciones sobre irregularidades en el seno de la Administración del presidente Rafael Correa han detonado lo que el periodista califica de “caza de brujas” por parte del ejecutivo de Correa contra él y contra el asambleísta Cléver Jiménez, líder del movimiento Pachakutik y de quien Villavicencio es asesor, que la semana pasada se consumó con una condena a 18 meses de prisión por injurias contra el presidente en un juicio que ambos iniciaron y en el que se acusaba a Correa de haber ordenado, supuestamente, la incursión armada al hospital de la Policía durante la revuelta ... Read More

Canada Is Tired Of Obama’s Keystone XL Pipeline Delays

| January 21st, 2014 | No Comments »
Investor's Business Daily

Energy: President Obama continues to drag out a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. Meanwhile, the Canadians have been standing by while the administration dithers. Now they’re tired of waiting.

‘The time for Keystone is now,” Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird said Thursday while speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Canada has reached the point where the uncertainty has become intolerable. Baird said Canada needs an answer right away, “even if it’s not the right one,” because his country “can’t continue in this state of limbo.”

If approved, the Keystone XL pipeline will transport crude from Alberta’s oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries. It will merely be another pipeline in a web of many across the U.S. What, we wonder, is just one more?

But crude is not all Keystone will move. The pipeline will also put people to work.

The State Department, which is playing a major role in the Keystone decision, has ... Read More