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-->

Amid a Slump, a Crackdown for Venezuela

| February 23rd, 2015 | No Comments »
The New York Times

By SIMON ROMERO and GIRISH GUPTA

CARACAS, Venezuela — For a glimpse into Venezuela’s economic disarray, slip into a travel agency here and book a round-trip flight to Maracaibo, on the other side of the country, for just $16. Need a book to read on the plane? For those with hard currency, a new copy of “50 Shades of Grey” goes for $2.50. Forget your toothpaste? A tube of Colgate costs 7 cents.

Quite the bargain, right?

But for the majority of Venezuelans who lack easy access to dollars, such surreal prices reflect a tremendous currency devaluation and a crumbling economy expected to contract 7 percent this year as oil income plunges and price controls produce acute shortages of items including milk, detergent and condoms.

“I’ve seen people die on the operating table because we didn’t have the basic tools for surgeries,” said ... Read More

Time for Venezuela’s Friends to Act

| February 23rd, 2015 | No Comments »
International Crisis Group

By Javier Ciurlizza

The shocking 19 February arrest on coup charges of the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, marks a sharp new drop in the downward spiral of Venezuela since protests and harsh repression erupted in its main cities nearly one year ago. To find stability, Venezuela needs urgent help from its friends to build political consensus. So far mostly silent, regional states and organisations, as well as the international community at large, must act firmly, not with unilateral sanctions, but with pressure for dialogue between the two sides.

Crisis Group and other organisations have repeatedly warned of Venezuela’s dangerous polarisation since the violence that killed 43 people, landed 61 in jail (now including Ledezma) and resulted in judicial restrictions on another 2,000. Neither government nor opposition, however, has responded with more than pompous sermonising.

Sounding the alarm about Venezuela’s imminent collapse, coups, riots and other calamities can ... Read More

SENATOR RUBIO CALLS FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE OF MAYOR ANTONIO LEDEZMA IN VENEZUELA

| February 20th, 2015 | No Comments »
US Senate Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) issued the following statement regarding the arrest of the Mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, by Venezuelan intelligence agents:   “The arrest of Mayor Antonio Ledezma and harassment of other key members of the democratic opposition is only the latest example of the Maduro regime’s cowardly and paranoid oppression of the Venezuelan people. Just one week ago marked the one year anniversary of the violent repression of peaceful demonstrators in Venezuela. Now, Mayor Ledezma’s arrest is only further proof that Nicolás Maduro will stop at nothing to secure his tyrannical rule and silence the Venezuelan people’s demand for a democratic and free future.   “I urge the Obama Administration to demand the immediate release of both Mayor Ledezma and opposition leader Leopoldo López, and furthermore, to implement provisions of the Venezuela sanctions bill that President Obama signed into law last year. These latest actions by the Maduro regime require a response ... Read More

Dominican drug trafficker says he donated $4.6m to country’s ex-president

| February 20th, 2015 | No Comments »
The Guardian UK

A convicted drug trafficker and former captain of the Dominican Republic’s army told a local TV station Thursday that he donated millions of dollars to former president Leonel Fernandez.

A man who identified himself as Quirino Ernesto Paulino told TV station Teleradio America on a video call that he donated some $4.6m in cash from 2002 to 2004 that was delivered in suitcases. Fernandez was elected president for a second time in 2004 after serving from 1996 to 2002.

Paulino was arrested in December 2004 following the seizure of nearly 1,400kg (3,100lb) of cocaine, the largest ever at that time. He was extradited to the United States in 2005 on charges of money laundering and of allegedly importing 30 metric tonnes of cocaine into that country. He served a 10-year sentence following a plea deal and remains in the US to testify in other cases.

Fernandez said in a brief statement that Paulino’s ... Read More

NY Lawyer: Argentina Not Responding to Negotiation Requests

| February 20th, 2015 | No Comments »
ABC News

By LARRY NEUMEISTER

A lawyer appointed to lead negotiations between U.S. bondholders and Argentina over unpaid debts said Thursday the South American nation is not responding to requests to negotiate.

Special Master Daniel A. Pollack released a statement saying Argentina’s lawyers have failed to respond to calls over the past two weeks to meet to discuss a proposal from U.S. bondholders, led by billionaire hedge fund investor Paul Singer’s NML Capital Ltd.

The offer, Pollack said, came without pre-conditions and offered the possibility that Argentina could settle without being required to immediately pay cash, with details to be negotiated.

U.S. District Judge Thomas P. Griesa has issued rulings saying Argentina must pay U.S. bondholders the roughly $1.5 billion they are owed if it makes payments to more than 90 percent of its bondholders who swapped their bonds for ones of lesser value in 2005 and 2010.

The swaps occurred after Argentina defaulted in 2001 on $100 billion ... Read More

Brazil’s scandalous boom to bust story

| February 20th, 2015 | No Comments »
From CNN

Brazil looked like the next great economic growth story a few years ago, right after China. So how did things there get so bad, so fast?

Five years ago its economy grew three times faster than the United States. In 2011 its economic size surpassed Great Britain’s. Millions of Brazilians moved from poverty to the middle class, and the president at the time, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, had an 83% approval rating.

Eike Batista, once Brazil’s richest person, told “60 Minutes” that his nation was realizing its potential.

“Brazil has put its act together,” Batista told 60 minutes in 2010. “We’re walking into a phase of almost full employment…It’s unbelievable.”

It certainly was unbelievable.

Brazil’s economy has had a dramatic fall from grace. The nation has been embroiled in a massive political scandal, it’s seen a historic bankruptcy and is being led by an unpopular president, Dilma Rousseff, who is trying to preserve Brazil’s economy.

“Brazil was ... Read More

Colombia issues arrest warrants in probe of bribes paid to rebels

| February 20th, 2015 | No Comments »
Article originally appeared in Reuters

(Reuters) – Colombia’s Attorney General’s office has issued five arrest warrants as part of an investigation into whether bribes were paid by Italian construction company SICIM to Marxist rebels to guarantee the security of its employees, an official said on Thursday.

The warrants were issued for two SICIM workers and three members of guerrilla group the National Liberation Army (ELN), an official from the Attorney General’s office, who was not authorized to speak on the subject, told Reuters.

SICIM workers Roberto Jorge Rigoni from Argentina and Francisco Elizondo from Spainface charges of financing terrorism, rebellion and extortion, the official said. It is unclear if the two remain in Colombia.

SICIM is headquartered in Italy and has subsidiaries in Africa, Europe and in North and South America. It took part in the first phase of construction of the Bicentenario oil pipeline, which has a 110,000-barrel daily capacity to transport crude.

According to ... Read More

US Missionary Accused in Colombia of Alleged Rebel Ties

| February 20th, 2015 | No Comments »
ABC News

By LIBARDO CARDONA and FRANK BAJAK

A court on Thursday rejected a request from prosecutors for the jailing of a U.S. missionary to face charges of collaborating with Colombia’s main leftist rebel group, ruling the evidence was not strong enough to warrant detention.

Prosecutors can still pursue a trial for Russell Martin Stendal, a 59-year-old Minnesota native who has worked for decades in some of Colombia’s most dangerous regions. He earlier said that he is being falsely accused.

“Somebody set a trap for me, and I walked into it,” Stendal said in video posted to Facebook by one of his daughters after his surrender Wednesday night. “They are accusing me of rebellion for the missionary trips and visits we have made to conflict zones distributing Bibles and radios.”

David Witt, CEO of Arizona-based Spirit of Martyrdom ministries, which funds Stendal’s work and sells his books, said the preacher has routinely taken great risks for ... Read More

Controversy in Uruguay over new lives of Guantánamo refugees

| February 20th, 2015 | No Comments »
The Miami Herald

By Associated Press

Controversy is flaring over the six Guantánamo detainees taken in by Uruguay for resettlement, with even the man who pushed through the plan, President Jose Mujica, seeming to criticize them for lacking a work ethic. The men were locked up for more than a dozen years at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba before they were brought to Montevideo in December. Mujica agreed to accept them as a humanitarian gesture and said they would be given help getting established in a country of 3.3 million people with a total Muslim population of perhaps 300. The government has offered them a residential facility to study Spanish, learn about Uruguayan culture and integrate to their new home. But Syrian refugee Abu Wa’el Dhiab recently complained that the men have “walked out of a prison to enter another one.” In a TV interview, Dhiab expressed thanks to Uruguay, but said it needs a plan for ... Read More

Cars Drive Mexico Economy as Companies Invest $20 Billion

| February 20th, 2015 | No Comments »
Bloomberg

BY BENJAMIN BAIN

(Bloomberg) — Sparks fly as 200 robots weld and bolt together Nissan Sentras at one of the Japanese company’s factories in Aguascalientes, Mexico, on a cool December morning. The $2 billion facility, opened in November 2013, churns out 600 gleaming new cars a day and employs 3,000 workers. Acres of autos sit in the sun outside the plant, waiting to be loaded onto trains bound for the U.S., where consumers enjoying the lowest gasoline prices in five years are crowding auto dealerships, Bloomberg Markets magazine will report in its March issue.

The 192,000-square-meter (2.1-million-square-foot) Nissan Motor Co. plant is one of half a dozen that have sprung up or been announced for central Mexico’s industrial belt in the past five years, contributing to a nationwide $20 billion investment by global automakers eager to establish ready access to the U.S. market. Mexican vehicle exports are expected to rise ... Read More

Brazil’s Justice Minister Under Fire for Meeting Amid Corruption Scandal

| February 20th, 2015 | No Comments »
Wall Street Journal WSJ-01

BY LUCIANA MAGALHAES AND WILL CONNORS

SÃO PAULO—Brazil’s justice minister is under fire for granting a private meeting to lawyers of a construction firm implicated in a corruption scandal at Petróleo BrasileiroS.A. , an unusual move that has drawn public condemnation and raised concerns about the influence of powerful companies in Brazil.

Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo this week acknowledged meeting in Brasília on Feb. 5 with lawyers from building giant Odebrecht SA., whom federal prosecutors have accused of being part of a cartel that skimmed hundreds of millions of dollars from state-owned Petrobras through inflated contracts.

Odebrecht, Brazil’s largest construction company, has denied wrongdoing and said it is cooperating with the probe. No company officials have been charged.

Odebrecht attorney Dora Cavalcanti Cordani said Thursday she was part of a legal team that went to the Justice Ministry to complain about suspected leaks of confidential information related to the federal investigation, nicknamed Operation Car Wash.

Ms. Cordani, who ... Read More

Tensions up in Venezuela as police arrest opposition leader

| February 20th, 2015 | No Comments »
Article originally appeared in the Associated Press

By FABIOLA SANCHEZ and HANNAH DREIER

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Police broke into Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma’s office and carted off the longtime critic of Venezuela’s socialist government, adding to tensions on the anniversary of the outbreak of protests that paralyzed the nation a year ago.

President Nicolas Maduro took to television and radio to say that Ledezma, one of the most vocal opposition leaders, would be punished for trying to sow unrest in Venezuela, which is struggling with severe economic problems.

Emotions were already running high before dozens of men in flak jackets and camouflage uniforms smashed down the door of Ledezma’s office and forcibly carried him out of the building.

As news of the incursion spread across the capital, people spontaneously banged pots from their windows in protest while drivers tapped rhythms on their car horns in rush hour traffic. As night fell, a ... Read More

Argentina’s Kirchner reeling from scandal

| February 19th, 2015 | No Comments »
AEI

BY ROGER F. NORIEGA AND FELIPE TRIGOS

Hundreds of thousands rallied yesterday in Buenos Aires demanding justice in the suspicious death of Alberto Nisman, the lead investigator in a 10-year-long inquiry into the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, which left 85 people murdered. Nisman was found dead in his home on January 18, hours before he was expected to accuse President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of obstructing the investigation into Iran’s culpability. Protesters demanded “justice” and “truth” and denounced the Kirchner government. Such popular unrest, the ongoing inquiry into Nisman’s death, and the discovery of a draft warrant for Kirchner’s arrest have triggered a crisis for Argentina’s government.

This week, Kirchner accused the United States and Israel of meddling in Argentina’s internal affairs. She did not give evidence to support this claim but appears to be resorting to a familiar appeal to nationalism in a desperate attempt to ... Read More

Brazil Aims to Boost Economic Ties with U.S.

| February 19th, 2015 | No Comments »
Real Clear World-01

By Tim Ridout

WASHINGTON – Fresh off a narrow victory in a contentious election, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has signaled an interest in restoring momentum in Brazil’s ties with the United States as well as a renewed focus on the European Union. Brazil’s growth is collapsing due to continuing infrastructure, regulatory, and fiscal problems, as well as tightening external credit and low global commodity prices. The cumulative impact of these factors is encouraging tighter fiscal and monetary policies at home, and a trade agenda that focuses on a Mercosur-EU free trade agreement with Brussels and trade facilitation and regulatory convergence with Washington.

These initiatives are being pursued in the context of negotiations over a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the United States and EU, a mega-trade deal that Brazil worries will leave it outside global value chains. Given its similar fears regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership, stagnant domestic economic ... Read More

Thousands Protest In Argentina Demanding Answers In Prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s Death

| February 19th, 2015 | No Comments »
Article originally appeared in the Associated Press

By DEBORA REY and PETER PRENGAMAN

BUENOS AIRES (AP) — Thousands of Argentines marched in the capital Wednesday demanding answers in the mysterious death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman exactly one month after he was found in his bathroom with a bullet in his right temple.

Protesters waved Argentine flags and carried white signs with black letters that read “Justice!” and “Truth!” Many also carried umbrellas to repel a burst of summer rain.

Blanca Perez, 81, said she believed Nisman had been murdered and the government needed to account.

“If we don’t have justice, we won’t have liberty,” she said. “The government has lost control of the situation.”

Organized by several prosecutors, protesters planned to walk from Congress to the iconic Plaza de Mayo in downtown Buenos Aires. While police declined to provide estimates, the 10-block stretch, plus many surrounding streets, burst with people, suggesting it was one of the biggest of several marches since Nisman’s ... Read More

Mexico Central Bank Cuts ’15 GDP Forecast for Second Time

| February 19th, 2015 | No Comments »
Bloomberg

By Eric Martin and Brendan Case

Mexican policy makers reduced their 2015 growth forecast for the second time following a slump in global oil prices and a decline in domestic output.

Gross domestic product will expand 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent this year, down from the previous forecast of 3 percent to 4 percent, the central bank said in the quarterly inflation report published Wednesday on its website. It reduced the 2016 growth estimate to between 2.9 percent and 3.9 percent from 3.2 percent to 4.2 percent.

Banco de Mexico has kept the overnight borrowing rate at a record-low 3 percent in its past five policy meetings to boost an economy that grew less than estimated in eight of the past 10 quarters. The central bank on Wednesday signaled that leeway for further cuts is limited given the peso’s weakness, expectations for improvement in Mexico’s economy and the outlook for the Federal Reserve ... Read More

How Bad Is Venezuela’s Economic Chaos?

| February 19th, 2015 | No Comments »
Forbes

By Nathaniel Parish Flannery

Venezuela’s economy is slowly collapsing, crushed by the pressure of a falling oil prices and the accumulated weight of decades of mismanagement. Venezuela’s currency, the bolivar, is overvalued and artificially propped up by an arcane system of currency controls. The bolivar, like Venezuela’s economy, is trapped in a downward spiral. Within Venezuela the effects of the economic chaos are seen at the supermarket, where empty shelves are a constant reminder of the economic dysfunction that has come to define South America’s fifth largest economy. The economic distress is also felt on the balance sheets of dozens of major U.S. companies who hold sizable assets in Venezuela.

A group of around 40 companies, including General Motors and Merck & Co Inc, together hold assets worth US$11 billion in Venezuela. The problems for these companies stem from the fact that the official dollar exchange rate of ... Read More

To fix Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro must go

| February 19th, 2015 | No Comments »
Quartz

By María Teresa Romero

The profound crisis engulfing Venezuela shows no sign of abating. On the contrary, the first month of 2015 has exposed to the world the country’s dire shortage of basic foodstuffs and household products, rampant insecurity, human-rights violations, criminalization of protests, and the disarray of its armed forces, just to name a few issues.

This has created the conditions for renewed calls across society for the resignation of President Nicolás Maduro, or at least for such a possibility to be openly discussed. And the voices demanding it are not isolated. They come mainly from the Venezuelan opposition, who see in his resignation the only way for the country begin reconstructing a deeply fragmented society, in which the most basic values of cooperation have all but disappeared. But ordinary citizens unconnected to formal politics also feel the imminent crisis. The open disdain for human life has reached such heights that now Caracas ranks among the world’s top violent ... Read More

Pemex pospondrá proyectos de exploración en aguas profundas

| February 18th, 2015 | No Comments »
Excelsior

CIUDAD DE MÉXICO, 18 de febrero.-  La petrolera estatal mexicana Pemex pospondrá algunos proyectos de exploración en aguas profundasdebido al recorte de gastos derivado de la caída de los precios del petróleo, dijo el miércoles el director general de la compañía, Emilio Lozoya.

El jefe de la empresa también admitió que debido al recorte presupuestal anunciado para el 2015, por 62,000 millones de pesos (unos 4,150 millones de dólares), también habrá una disminución en la plantilla laboral de la firma, pero no precisó cifras.

Lozoya dijo, consultado en un programa radial, que han sido cancelados algunos proyectos que no habían comenzado y que suponen un mayor riesgo.

“Hay proyectos concretos, diría de exploración en algunos yacimientos en aguas profundas, no en todos, pero los de mayor riesgo, pues por ahora si no hemos comenzado, se posponen”, dijo.

“No quiere decir que Pemex deje alguno de estos proyectos de lado, que los cancele, simplemente como hay menos dinero, ... Read More

Petrobras kickback scandal roils Brazilian waters

| February 18th, 2015 | No Comments »
AEI

The ongoing scandal in Brazil over corruption in the state-owned oil company Petrobras continues to create headlines. This week Pedro Barusco, a former executive in Petrobras, claims to have received $200,000 to secure a $100 million contract for Rolls Royce. The British multinational joins dozens of other companies involved in what has become one of Brazil’s most notorious corruption scandals. As investigators scrutinize the involvement of the leaders of the ruling Workers’ Party (PT), it is apparent that President Dilma Rousseff has yet to see the worst of the political fallout from this scandal.

Several Petrobras officials have been accused by investigators of scheming to inflate prices on construction contracts in order to pocket the excess funds or provide kickbacks to PT politicians. Rousseff has denied knowledge of the corruption, despite having chaired the Petrobras board from 2003-2010.

Two weeks ago Petrobras’ CEO Maria das Graças Foster was forced to resign along with ... Read More

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