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-->

Venezuela’s Asia Tour Backfires as Crude Extends Slump

| January 16th, 2015 | No Comments »
Bloomberg

By Pietro D. Pitts

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is winding down a tour of Asia and Russia to garner support for measures to bolster oil prices. A further 8 percent decline since the trip started suggests he failed.

Maduro plans to coordinate with OPEC and non-OPEC producers to create a “formula that impacts the oil market and restores the normalization of prices,” he said Jan. 15 after meeting with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin as the lowest prices in six years threaten both nations’ economies. Crude extended declines as Maduro spoke.

Venezuelan government lobbying to prop up prices is falling on deaf ears among other OPEC members that are prepared to let prices fall to a level that undermines a U.S. shale boom. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have said repeatedly over the past six weeks that the organization wouldn’t cut output to halt the biggest rout since 2008.

“It was a surprise that he went ... Read More

Race on the high seas: Cartels feature new, faster smuggling boats

| January 16th, 2015 | No Comments »
FoxNews.com

By Perry Chiaramonte

Latin America’s drug cartels are leaving the U.S. Coast Guard in their wake, with new and faster speedboats law enforcement officials say are virtually undetectable by radar.

The new boats, nicknamed “Picudas,” after a tropical fish whose long, thin bodies they resemble, are made of fiberglass, making them invisible to radar and efficient with fuel. While older smuggling vessels took as long as three days to make the trip from Costa Rica to Jamaica, the Picuda can make the trip in two.

Dialogo, a newspaper published by the Pentagon’s Southern Command, quoted one Coast Guard source that called the craft “a wave-breaking go-fast wonder that defies radar detection.” The boats give the bad guys a leg up on authorities trying to cut off the flow of South American drugs, according to the article.

“They [cartels] are being forced to do something that they would rather not,” Adam ... Read More

Administration details eased travel, trade restrictions on Cuba

| January 15th, 2015 | No Comments »
The Hill

By Justin Sink

The Obama administration on Thursday announced the details of sweeping new regulations that will ease travel and trade restrictions with Cuba as part of President Obama’s bid to normalize relations with the communist nation for the first time in a half century.

The rules, announced by the Treasury and Commerce departments, will take effect on Friday.

Under the new policies, travelers who qualify under a dozen broad categories of authorized travel will be able to visit the country without applying for a license. Travelers visiting Cuba won’t be limited in how much money they can spend while on the island, and they’ll be allowed to use their U.S. credit and debit cards.

Travelers can also bring back up to $400 worth of goods, including $100 in alcohol and tobacco products. And travel agents and airlines will be allowed to provide service to the island without the need of ... Read More

Venezuelan Bishops Get Religion

| January 15th, 2015 | No Comments »
Wall Street Journal WSJ-01

By MARY ANASTASIA O’GRADY

There’s no better way to cure a fascination with utopian socialism than to live its reality. That’s one takeaway from a strongly worded critique of the Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro delivered by the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference on Monday.

The country is a mess, the bishops said in a pastoral exhortation, and the reason is “the government’s insistence in trying to establish a Marxist or communist economic model.” Reform needs to include, among other things, “promoting private activity in the economy.”

Those are fighting words, even from a church hierarchy that has never been enamored with Hugo Chávez ’s Bolivarian Revolution. Vatican faith in the state to deliver what it calls “social justice” has always been tempered in Venezuela by the facts on the ground. The late Cardinal Ignacio Velasco, who died in 2003, recognized the empty promises of the demagogue Chávez from the earliest days ofchavismo.

One of the most contentious issues ... Read More

Argentina’s President Kirchner Named in Criminal Complaint

| January 15th, 2015 | No Comments »
Wall Street Journal WSJ-01 By TAOS TURNER

BUENOS AIRES—A federal prosecutor in Argentina has filed a criminal complaint against President Cristina Kirchner , her foreign minister and others, accusing them of conspiring to cover up an investigation into Iran’s alleged involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in this capital city.

The prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, said on Wednesday that Mrs. Kirchner had ordered Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and others to negotiate immunity for Iranian suspects in hopes this would reestablish trade ties and allow Argentina to import Iranian oil to ease a domestic energy crisis. The alleged plan didn’t come to fruition, however.

The complaint will be evaluated by Federal Judge Ariel Lijo, who last year indicted Vice President Amado Boudou on corruption charges. It isn’t clear how that case will evolve. Mr. Boudou has denied the charges.

Meanwhile, Mr. Nisman has asked Judge Lijo to freeze $23 million of assets belonging to Mrs. Kirchner and the others ... Read More

20 State Officials Investigated in Mexico Military Slayings

| January 15th, 2015 | No Comments »
ABC News

At least 20 Mexico state officials are under investigation in the cover-up of threats and torture of women who were witnesses to the alleged killing of prisoners by soldiers last year, state authorities said Wednesday.

State attorney for Mexico state, Alejandro Gomez, said the officials under investigation include prosecutors, forensic investigators and state police.

On June 30, soldiers killed 22 alleged gang members at a warehouse in Tlatlaya. The army first said they died during a shootout, but it was discovered that some were executed.

Federal investigators have said eight people were killed after surrendering to the soldiers, but the National Human Rights Commission put the number between 12 and 15.

The commission also said the state attorney’s office tried to cover up the torture and sexual threats endured by at least two of the three women who survived.

“None have been removed from duty yet because there is a presumption of innocence,” Gomez said at a ... Read More

‘Bullet Caucus’ in Brazil Signals Political Shift to the Right

| January 15th, 2015 | No Comments »
The New York Times

By SIMON ROMERO

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Paulo Telhada rolls his eyes, denouncing Brazil’s support for the leftist government of Venezuela. He frowns, grumbling about gun control measures.

But when the subject turns to how many people he killed as a police officer on São Paulo’s streets, he gives a broad smile.

“More than 30,” said Mr. Telhada, 53, a rising star in Brazilian right-wing political circles, having recently won a seat in São Paulo’s state legislature in a landslide.

“I feel no pity for thugs,” he added, emphasizing that he did not enjoy working in a fancy office. “But I know my future lies in politics now.”

Their rising influence points to a major shift in Latin America’s largest democracy. While Brazil is governed by President Dilma Rousseff — a former leftist guerrilla who promotes the sway of ... Read More

Colombia ready for truce talks with Farc – President Santos

| January 15th, 2015 | No Comments »
BBC

Juan Manuel Santos said he had asked negotiators to start discussions “as soon as possible”.

He said a unilateral truce declared by the leftist rebels last month “has been a step in the right direction”.

The government had previously refused to join the ceasefire, saying the Farc would use it to rearm.

The two sides have been engaged in peace talks in Cuba since November 2012 to try to end decades of conflict.

 

‘Real belief’

In a televised address on Wednesday, Mr Santos said peace was closer than ever and it was now time “to de-escalate the intensity of the conflict”.

“We’re closer than ever to secure peace and make it a reality for us, our children and our children’s children.

“I have given instructions to the negotiators to initiate as soon as possible a discussion on the point of the definitive bilateral ceasefire and end of hostilities.”

Mr Santos added that high-ranking military officials had already been ... Read More

Night lines banned at shops in some Venezuela states; scarcity persists

| January 15th, 2015 | No Comments »
Article originally appeared in Reuters

(Reuters) – Governors in three Venezuelan states have banned overnight queuing amid huge and sometimes rowdy lines around shops across the scarcity-plagued country.

Shortages of basic consumer products from milk to toilet paper have worsened since a lull in distribution over the Christmas and New Year holidays, prompting many to wait from the early hours on foot – or in hammocks – before shops open.

The ubiquitous lines and frequent jostling for places when shop doors finally open are an embarrassment and irritation to Venezuelans across the political spectrum.

There have also been scattered protests and arrests.

“We are going to prohibit lines outside commercial establishments,” Falcon state governor Stella Lugo said late on Tuesday. “Security forces have been instructed.”

She joined two other governors, in the states of Bolivar and Yaracuy, who have announced the same ... Read More

Venezuela’s Top Opposition Leader Calls for Antigovernment Demonstrations

| January 15th, 2015 | No Comments »
Wall Street Journal WSJ-01

By KEJAL VYAS

CARACAS, Venezuela—Venezuela’s most prominent opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, called for antigovernment demonstrations Wednesday, boosting the likelihood of a new wave of protests as economic conditions worsen and social tensions rise in Latin America’s largest oil exporter.

Mr. Capriles’s call for street protests is a major political development because the 42-year-old former presidential candidate is widely seen as the most conciliatory of Venezuela’s opposition leaders. Last year, he distanced himself from violent protests that sought to oust President Nicolás Maduro, the successor to late populist Hugo Chávez.

More than 40 people died in street clashes between protesters and state security agents from February to May last year. At the time, Mr. Capriles’s reluctance to back the protest movement divided the opposition and the protests eventually fizzled out amid a state crackdown and allegations of rights abuses.

But now, with the country facing growing hardships due to an economic recession and plummeting crude prices, the state governor ... Read More

Tensions Boil Over in Venezuela in President’s Absence

| January 14th, 2015 | No Comments »
ABC News

By HANNAH DREIER

A high-profile Venezuelan opposition leader is calling for protests while President Nicolas Maduro travels abroad seeking help for the financially struggling country.

Tensions have escalated in recent days as the socialist administration has deployed troops and implemented a rationing system to control lines at government-run supermarkets.

Henrique Capriles, who nearly defeated Maduro in the 2013 presidential election, said Monday that it was time for public demonstrations.

“We are in a state of emergency,” he said. “This is the time to mobilize in the streets”

Caprilies did not support the protests called by more radical opposition leaders last spring. Those protests wracked the country for months and left more than 40 people dead.

Maduro has been out of the country for more than a week, visiting China and members of the oil cartel OPEC to push for a cut in output. Oil prices have fallen by more than half since June, battering Venezuela’s already staggering economy.

Oil ... Read More

In Argentina, Market Happily Awaits Kirchner’s Exit Next Year

| January 14th, 2015 | No Comments »
Forbes

BY KENNETH RAPOZA

Argentina. *Sigh.* Gone are her belle of the ball days, when she was the Paris of the South. Now, somewhat of a Latin America pariah state at odds with Washington, the fledgling economy prepares for its second act…again.

Investors are circling overhead. Not like vultures, mind you. But more like migratory birds looking for a good spot to perch.

“There are several institutional investors analyzing investments in different industries right now,” says Frederico Tomasevich, CEO of Puente, Argentina’s largest investment bank with roughly $2 billion under management. “They are in a wait-and-see mode,” he tells FORBES from his office in Buenos Aires.

As an investment, Argentina is undervalued compared to other Latin American countries. But that is expected to change once Cristina Kirchner leaves office. To some, she is Eva Peron incarnate, Argentina’s cultural and political deity. But the two-term leftwing Peronista’s reign ends on ... Read More

China Rescues Ecuador Budget From Deeper Cuts as Crude Drops

| January 14th, 2015 | No Comments »
Bloomberg

By Nathan Gill

Ecuador, an OPEC nation that relies on crude for about a quarter of revenue, obtained enough financing from China to avoid deeper budget cuts even as its oil price fell below $40 a barrel, Finance Minister Fausto Herrera said.

The Latin American country expects total financing needs for 2015 to rise to about $10.5 billion from a previous estimate of $8.81 billion, Herrera said today in an interview at his office in Quito. The government will use loans from China, multilateral lenders and the nation’s social security agency to help offset a drop in the price of crude, the nation’s biggest export, he said. The ministry isn’t planning to sell international bonds this year after global interest rates rose, he said.

Ecuador’s government announced last week that it would cut $1.42 billion of public spending on items such as new schools and police stations while ... Read More

The Impending Collapse Of Venezuela

| January 14th, 2015 | No Comments »
Forbes

BY FRANCES COPPOLA

On Tuesday January 13th, the ratings agency Moody’s downgraded Venezuela to Caa3, one step above default. This comes as no surprise – markets have been pricing in the likelihood of default for some time now.

Curiously, though, Moody’s changed the outlook from negative to stable:

The stable outlook is based on Moody’s view that even if the oil price drops further, expected losses to bondholders are likely to be consistent with a Caa3 rating and unlikely to reach levels associated with lower ratings.

This is too generous. Moody’s assessment assumes that Venezuela’s problem is mainly a balance of payments crisis caused by a rapidly falling oil price and inadequate foreign reserves. But the reality is different – and far worse.

The balance of payments problem is bad enough. The falling oil price is causing a widening foreign exchange gap. Venezuela needs an ... Read More

Cuban dissident ‘titan’ slams normalization while in Tampa

| January 14th, 2015 | No Comments »
The Tampa Tribune

By Paul Guzzo

TAMPA — There was more at stake than a photo op when Mayor Bob Buckhorn met Cuban opposition leader Jorge Luis García Pérez in Tampa on Tuesday.

To hear the man who arranged the meeting, it was meant to help preserve the safety of this leader known in Cuba as Antúnez.

 If the Cuban government knows the 50-year-old Antúnez, who continues to live on the island nation, has friends in high places in the United States, it may be less likely to punish him for what he says, said Ralph Fernandez, a Tampa lawyer long active in the movement to overthrow the Castro regime.

 “This is a protective measure,” Fernandez said. “And it might not be enough.”

Antúnez’s visit comes as the U.S. moves toward normalizing relations with Cuba, with the announcement last month by President Barack Obama that he will reopen an embassy in ... Read More

Oil price rout forces Venezuela to rethink petro-diplomacy

| January 14th, 2015 | No Comments »
Financial Times

Andres Schipani in Managua and John Paul Rathbone in London

Jamaica has its “Hope Zoo”, in Nicaragua garish yellow sculptures decorate the avenues of Managua called “The Trees of Life”, while Haiti has the “Hugo Chávez International Airport”.

All are monuments to the glory days when Venezuela’s socialist leader Hugo Chávez was still alive, oil prices were high, and revolutionary Caracas, which sits on the largest energy reserves in the world, could afford to send 200,000 barrels per day of subsidised oil to 13 countries, including Cuba, in return for their political support and sometimes repayment with goods in kind — like black beans.

Today, however, with oil prices having halved in six months, Venezuela’s economy in a tailspin and protests rising at home over food shortages, Caracas is having to rethink the Petrocaribe subsidised oil arrangement in order to finance dwindling imports, rebuild foreign reserves and avoid ... Read More

Latin America 2015: Time for Reform

| January 13th, 2015 | No Comments »
Brookings

By Daniel Zovatto

Latin America is starting off 2015 with a clear economic slowdown. The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) projects a modest recovery (2.2 per cent) with respect to last year (in 2014 growth was only 1.1 per cent, the lowest since the 2009 crisis), though these calculations may vary due to several factors.

The world economy is not helping. The downward trend in raw materials prices, scant dynamism in global demand, and the appreciation of the dollar are three factors that work against the region today.

Venezuela and Argentina, are facing very complex economic contexts. Venezuela is in the midst of stagflation (aggravated by plummeting oil prices); and Argentina is experiencing negative growth, high inflation, and the unresolved conflict with the “vulture funds.”

The two largest economies of the region, Brazil and Mexico, are facing their own demons. Brazil President Dilma ... Read More

Why Brazil Is A Surprisingly Closed Economy

| January 13th, 2015 | No Comments »
Business Insider

BY OTAVIANO CANUTO

According to traditional macro-level measures of trade penetration (share of exports and imports in GDP), Brazil is an unusually closed economy. For Brazil this measure was only 27.6% in 2013 – a figure among the lowest in the world. Notably, Brazil’s trade openness lags far behind its peers among the BRICS countries, all of which reached trade-to-GDP ratios of at least 50% in recent years.

Figure 1. Brazil’s relative closed-ness to tradeWDL

Brazil’s size is often used to explain the country’s relative closedness. As the comparison with other large economies already indicates, this argument does not hold up to close scrutiny. While it is true that large economies tend to exhibit lower percentages of exports and imports to GDP, this feature fails to explain the exceptionally low levels of trade penetration observed in Brazil.

Looking at 2013 data from 176 countries available ... Read More

Qatar Helps Venezuela Weather Oil Crisis

| January 13th, 2015 | No Comments »
Wall Street Journal WSJ-01

By KEJAL VYAS

CARACAS—Venezuela will receive “several billion dollars” in financing from Qatari banks to help the beleaguered South American oil-exporter withstand the fall in crude prices, said President Nicolás Maduro from Doha on Monday.

“They’re giving us enough oxygen to cover the fall in crude prices,” he said in remarks carried on Venezuelan state television.

Mr. Maduro, who has visited Russia, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia to seek aid in recent days and traveled to Algeria late Monday, said the preliminary deal with Qatar would help Caracas meet its investment and import needs for this year and next. He didn’t name the banks nor offer more details. Qatar didn’t comment.

The president’s effort comes as the global oil benchmark settled below $50 a barrel for the first time in nearly six years on Monday and foreign currency shortages in Venezuela have sparked concerns the country could default on its debt.

The Qatar deal follows other ... Read More

Venezuelan shortages, long lines spark violence, arrests

| January 13th, 2015 | No Comments »
Article originally appeared in Reuters

By Alexandra Ulmer and Javier Farias

CARACAS/ SAN CRISTOBAL (Reuters) – At least a dozen protesters arrested in Venezuela remained in jail on Monday and masked assailants burned a bus amid scattered unrest over swelling lines for basic goods, activists said.

Police rounded up 16 people for protesting outside stores over the weekend, according to the opposition MUD coalition, which said four of them were released shortly after.

Rights group Penal Forum said 18 protesters were still behind bars on Monday. The government did not confirm that.

Venezuela is suffering from chronic shortages of goods ranging from diapers to flour that have worsened since an ebb in deliveries over Christmas. The scarcity has forced shoppers across Venezuela to line up in front of stores before dawn.

The MUD also accused soldiers posted outside shops of banning photos of the lines, which ... Read More

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