Content from IASW Contributors

Will narcostate revelations sober State Department’s attempts to coddle Venezuelan regime?

By Roger F. Noriega By Roger F. Noriega
IYesterday’s blockbuster Wall Street Journal article revealing ongoing US criminal investigations into the involvement of “several high-ranking Venezuelan officials” in international drug trafficking will not have come as a surprise to anyone who has read my Congressional testimony and other reports on the subject in recent years.
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Guatemalans protest corrupt status-quo

By Roger F. NoriegaBy Roger F. Noriega
On Saturday, 60,000 protesters took to the streets in 13 cities in Guatemala demanding the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina. Guatemala has been rocked by a corruption scandal involving several members of the Perez Molina administration, including former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, who was forced to resign on May 8 due to her alleged involvement in a customs fraud scheme. Read More-->

Susan Kaufman Purcell: The New Normal in Latin America

| May 18th, 2015 | No Comments »
Latin American Herald Tribune

By Susan Kaufman Purcell

At the recent Summit of the Americas in Panama, the topic that received the most attention was the U.S. decision to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba. This allowed the historic handshake and the official talks between Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro that ended half a century of diplomatic isolation.

Various polls have shown, however, that that the diplomatic problems between the United States and Cuba have not been a major concern of Latin Americans. Why then were the Latins so enthusiastic about this particular change in U.S. policy toward the region?

The answer was not that normalization would bring an end to the Castro dictatorship, since Latin America has not cared whether Cuba remained a dictatorship. Nor were Latin American governments preoccupied that the inflow of dollars to Cuba following the normalization of relations would mainly benefit Cuba’s unelected and wealthy rulers, especially the military, which controls the ... Read More

Guatemalans protest corrupt status-quo

| May 18th, 2015 | No Comments »
AEI

On Saturday, 60,000 protesters took to the streets in 13 cities in Guatemala demanding the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina. Guatemala has been rocked by a corruption scandal involving several members of the Perez Molina administration, including former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, who was forced to resign on May 8 due to her alleged involvement in a customs fraud scheme. Although President Perez Molina has denied any involvement in the scandal, nationwide demonstrations now entering their fourth week are calling for him to step down. Perez Molina’s four-year term ends next January, and elections are scheduled in September to choose his successor.

This political crisis started on April 16 when Álvaro Omar Franco, director of Guatemala’s Superintendent of Tax Administration (SAT), was arrested by authorities for being part of the multimillion-dollar conspiracy to skim customs revenue.

The scheme, known in Guatemala as La Linea (The Line), involved cutting deals with importers ... Read More

Thousands call for President’s resignation in Guatemala protests

| May 18th, 2015 | No Comments »
Deutsche Welle

Thousands of Guatemalans took to the streets on Saturday, demanding the nation’s President Otto Perez Molina leave office in the wake of a scandal that claimed his former Vice President Roxana Baldetti.

Despite the rain, demonstrators in 13 cities across the Central American nation banged drums and blew whistles in the peaceful protests.

Those in the capital made their way to the main square, unfurling a banner reading “we are the people.”

The action was organized via social media, without any discernible leadership.

Several sectors of industry threw their support behind the movement, including business leaders, student groups, farmers and human rights organizations.

In April, the UN International Commission Against Impunity announced the results of an investigation into a customs bribery ring uncovered by Guatemalan prosecutors.

Some of the country’s top tax officials, as well as an aide to Baldetti who was alleged to be the ... Read More

Beijing to Unveil South America Investments

| May 18th, 2015 | No Comments »
Wall Street Journal WSJ-01

By PAULO TREVISANI and ROGERIO JELMAYER

BRASÍLIA—Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang is set to bring greater financial support to South America this week, part of Beijing’s broader effort to reassure developing countries that have been hit by China’s declining demand for raw materials.

On Tuesday, Mr. Li is expected to discuss with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff plans to build a giant railway, corporate acquisitions and the disbursement of billions of dollars for the overhaul of Brazil’s aging infrastructure as South America’s largest economy gears up for the Rio Olympics next year.

Later in the week, Mr. Li will visit Colombia, Peru and Chile, seeking to reassure trading partners that China’s slowdown won’t affect Beijing’s engagement in the region. Beijing is proposing deals in which China buys finished products instead of only commodities. Already, Chinese lenders have become some of Latin America’s top investors.

“China is putting money in companies and assets that are undervalued,” said Sergio Amaral, a Brazilian diplomat and former trade ... Read More

El Salvador is on pace to become the hemisphere’s most deadly nation

| May 18th, 2015 | No Comments »
From the Washington Post

By Joshua Partlow

SAN SALVADOR — Most nights now, men in black masks are sweeping through this city, house to house, rousting shirtless boys from their mattresses, shining flashlights across their torsos, looking for tattoos.

The police officers rummage for drugs and guns but will settle for Nike Cortez sneakers — a gang favorite — or any symbol of affiliation, like a little grim reaper scribbled on a bedroom wall. Then it’s into zip-cuffs and down to the station, with maybe a shove or a twist of the cuffs on the way. Because for the 500 members of El Salvador’s anti-gang police force, this has become personal.

In El Salvador, the homicide rate has spiked to its highest level in a decade, putting the tiny Central American nation on pace to become the most deadly country in the hemisphere. Since a 2012 truce between the two most powerful street gangs crumbled last year, ... Read More

Frustration with Latin America’s left on the rise as leaders hit by economic slowdown, scandal

| May 18th, 2015 | No Comments »
Star Tribune

By JOSHUA GOODMAN

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s socialist government is struggling to put food on the shelves amid runaway inflation. Brazil’s president is facing calls for impeachment. And even Cuba’s communist government, an iconic touchstone for generations of leftists, is embracing closer ties with the U.S.

Whether it’s because of corruption scandals or stagnant growth, the popularity of the crop of leftist Latin American governments that have been running the region since the start of the millennium appears to be waning. Voters that embraced what became known as the pink tide that swept away the pro-Washington, free-market policies dominant in the 1990s are increasingly tuning hostile against the populist firebrands they once rallied behind.

Across the region, polling numbers are tanking and street protests are on the rise.

Triggering the growing disenchantment are some serious economic headwinds. Most leaders came into power just as China’s economy was ... Read More

Brazen terrorism heating up Mexico’s drug war

| May 15th, 2015 | No Comments »
AEI

By Roger Noriega

On Wednesday, six persons were killed when their small plane was shot down by suspected narcotraffickers in Mexico’s northern state of Chihuahua—another brazen act of terrorism that suggests the drug war on our doorstep may be heating up. According to several eyewitnesses, the plane was hit by gunfire from numerous individuals on the ground. Sources say the attack was the result of a turf war between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Juarez Cartel, which has afflicted the area for years.

Just two weeks ago, the New Generation Cartel of Jalisco (CJNG) and the affiliated Los Cuinis syndicate mobilized more than 500 men in a coordinated attack in which seven soldiers died when their army helicopter was downed by narcotraffickers in an unprecedented use of force.

Although the Mexican government claims that its security strategy is working, levels of violence in the states of Tamaulipas, Guerrero, Michoacán, the eponymous state of Mexico, Chihuahua, Jalisco, and Sinaloa suggest ... Read More

Things just keep getting worse for Brazil

| May 15th, 2015 | No Comments »
Business Insider

By WOLF RICHTER

The “B” in the falling BRICS…

Brazil is in a tough spot. Led by weak investment and plummeting confidence, growth, after slowing markedly since mid-2013, came to a virtual halt in 2014. This largely reflects the impact of diminished competitiveness, the erosion of policy credibility, owing to a persistent deterioration of fiscal outcomes and above-target inflation, and a worsening of external conditions for the country.

Risks to the outlook are significantly to the downside, and include adverse ramifications from the ongoing corruption probe concerning Petrobras, the possibility that fiscal policy goals may not be fully met, and energy and water rationing.

External downside risks emanate from a tightening of global financial conditions, geo-political tensions, and contagion from adverse developments in other emerging economies.

These risks could conflate if they were to combine with domestic policy shortfalls, and would threaten macro and financial stability.

The ... Read More

Colombia Takes U-Turn on Drug Policy

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

By Juan Forero

LA HORMIGA, Colombia—For nearly 15 years, crop dusters have buzzed over the hinterlands here in southern Colombia, dumping defoliant on vast fields of the crop used to make cocaine. And little by little, much of the coca that covered these humid hills like corn in Iowa wilted and died.

But Thursday night, a state entity that sets national drug policy announced that President Juan Manuel Santos’s government will phase out aerial spraying of coca, a cornerstone of Washington’s war on drugs in the Andes, epicenter for the world’s cocaine production.

The development is being celebrated by detractors of fumigation, who say spraying from the sky is inefficient, causes health problems and breeds resentment in regions where the government needs to win hearts and minds in its battle with Marxist rebels.

Spraying had been reduced since 2013, as safety concerns following the downings of crop dusters by rebel ground-fire and other factors prompted ... Read More

“Tremendous Yearning for Change” in Cuba

| May 15th, 2015 | No Comments »
WJCT

By MELISSA ROSS

As the U.S. and Cuba edge closer to an agreement to restore full diplomatic ties, a retired State Department official who served as the senior diplomat in Cuba says Florida is well-positioned to take advantage of the historic changes.

“There is this tremendous yearning in Cuba for changes to happen to allow people to have more opportunities,” says John Caulfield, who served as Chief of Mission of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from 2011-2014.

Now retired, Caulfield lives in Jacksonville. During a foreign service career that spanned decades, he held posts across Latin America. Caulfield is watching closely and advising business delegations from the Sunshine State who are planning outreach in the coming months to the Communist island nation.

“For several years now, U.S. citizens have been able to do business in Cuba with the sale of agricultural commodities, telecommunications equipment and services, and in pharmaceuticals. Now though, trade is ... Read More

Wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Lopez speaks in US

| May 15th, 2015 | No Comments »
CNBC-01

By Silvana Ordoñez & Michelle Caruso-Cabrera

For 5-year-old Manuela, the “magic word” is not please or thank you, it’s “libertad”—the Spanish word for freedom. That’s the term she’s heard her mother say repeatedly in the 15 months since her father, Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, has been in prison.

“We are going to free daddy,” Lilian Tintori told her daughter in Spanish during a roundtable at the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday.

Tintori was in Washington to accept an award on her husband’s behalf from the nonprofit National Endowment for Democracy. While here, she spoke about her husband’s situation to members of the Council on Foreign Relations, an influential foreign policy organization.

Her Washington trip comes as the health of the Venezuelan economy continues to hit new lows. The country’s black-market exchange rate fell below 300 bolivars per U.S. dollar on Thursday. In 2012, a dollar exchanged for 10 bolivars, and even as recently ... Read More

Cuba’s Twisted Definition Of Terrorism

| May 15th, 2015 | No Comments »
Forbes

By Alejandro Chafuen

The communists celebrated after President Obama announced his decision to remove Cuba from the list of countries that support terrorism. Josefina Vidal, head of the North American section of the Cuban Foreign Ministry and Havana’s leader of the current negotiations with the United States, praised the “just decision” and stated that “Cuba condemns, rather than supports, terrorism.”

Cubans have a talent to twist the meaning of words. They label Carlos Alberto Montaner, the noted writer and freedom champion, as a terrorist for his student activism—confronting the communists at age 17. The same Cubans honor the FARC, a Colombian terrorist military organization as the “Colombian People’s Army.” For General Raul Castro’s regime speaking and writing in favor of the free society is terrorism. Supporting a group who kills soldiers of a democratic Colombia is combatting terrorism.

Nevertheless, one can make a case that to accomplish its strategic goals Cuba is spending ... Read More

Drug traffickers shoot down plane in northern Mexico, kill 6 people

| May 14th, 2015 | No Comments »
From Fox News Latino

Six people were killed when suspected drug traffickers shot down a small plane in Urique, a city in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, state officials said Wednesday.

The victims were aboard an air taxi that was on its way from the northwestern state of Sinaloa to Chihuahua when it was shot down by drug traffickers on Tuesday.

The reason why the plane was shot down has not been determined, the Chihuahua Attorney General’s Office said.

“After searches, patrols and sweeps in towns outside the city of Urique, a Cessna-type plane was found Tuesday afternoon in the Arroyo de Tubares, located in Las Cieniguitas, on the border of Chihuahua and Sinaloa,” the AG’s office said in a statement.

The bodies of six men, including pilot Eleazar Ramirez Perez, were found at the crash site and taken to the coroner’s office.

The 58-year-old Ramirez ... Read More

Venezuela Faces Crime Epidemic

| May 14th, 2015 | No Comments »
NPR

With 16,000 homicides last year, Venezuela became the world’s second deadliest country. But even as crime climbs, the number of police battling criminals is falling.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Now, let’s talk about law enforcement in a lawless place. Venezuela had more than 16,000 homicides last year. That’s the world’s second-highest murder rate. John Otis reports on why criminals have the upper hand.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIREN)

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: I’m on night patrol with the police in Petare, a sprawling mountainside slum that’s one of the most dangerous areas of Caracas. The upper reaches of Petare are so steep that the streets give way to a winding foot paths and staircases which make perfect hideaways for criminals.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLICE RADIO)

OTIS: At this checkpoint, for example, the police stop a stolen SUV. The driver jumps out and runs, and the police pursue him on motorcycles.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOTORCYCLE)

OTIS: But the thief ducks into a dark alleyway and ... Read More

In Cuba the transformation of the economy needs to happen much faster

| May 14th, 2015 | No Comments »
The Economist

It has been five months since Cuba and the United States announced that they would end their long cold war, but Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro, is still basking in the afterglow. On his way home from Russia this week he stopped off at the Vatican to see the pope, and said he might return to the Catholic faith. Later François Hollande paid the first-ever visit to Cuba by a French president; he was granted an audience with Fidel Castro, Raúl’s ailing brother, who led the revolution in 1959 and ruled until 2008.

But beneath the bonhomie lies unease. Cuba’s creaky revolutionaries spent half a century blaming the American embargo for all the island’s woes. Now they resist American capitalism for fear of being overrun. The result for most ordinary Cubans is not too much change but too little (see article). The island is poorer than many of its ... Read More

Picturesque, but doing poorly

| May 14th, 2015 | No Comments »
The Economist

By day grey-haired Americans trundle through the streets of Havana in pink 1957 Chevy convertibles, klaxons blaring. By night they recline over rum and cigars, tipping generously, listening to hotel salsa and reminiscing about the cold war. Many of the new American visitors to Cuba, whose numbers have surged since a diplomatic detente in December, are old enough to remember life before the internet and relish a few days in one of the world’s last Facebook-unfriendly bastions. What tourists find quaint seems stifling to many Cubans themselves.

For a lucky minority life has improved since “D17” (December 17th), the day Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raúl Castro, announced that they would seek to end five decades of hostility. Mr Obama’s decision to relax some restrictions on American visitors is expected to push tourism to Cuba up by 17% this year, bolstering foreign exchange by around $500m, or ... Read More

US companies are rushing to insulate themselves against Venezuela’s sinking currency

| May 14th, 2015 | No Comments »
Business Insider

BY BRIAN ELLSWORTH, DENA AUBIN AND TIM MCLAUGHLIN

CARACAS/NEW YORK (Reuters) – A growing number of U.S. companies say they can’t cope with Venezuela’s sinking bolivar currency, prompting some of them to remove their operations in the South American nation from their consolidated financial reports. In other cases, they have exited the country altogether through a sale or by simply shuttering their businesses there.

Many of those recently taking such action are medium-sized or small companies, which means that the tumbling currency and a deeply troubled Venezuelan economy have tended to have a disproportionately greater impact on their results than suffered by bigger entities with business in the country.

The restructuring moves can shield the financial results of parent companies such as batteries and razors maker Energizer Holdings, automated teller machine and bank vault provider Diebold Inc and printing and publishing company RR Donnelley & Sons from Venezuela’s economic troubles. ... Read More

Vigilantes Vs. Assassins on Mexico’s Heroin Highway

| May 14th, 2015 | No Comments »
The Daily Beast

By Jeremy Kryt

On patrol with the volunteer police force going AK-47 to AK-47 with the narco-gangs in Mexico’s most dangerous state.

OCOTITO, Mexico — On an early spring morning, in the desert of Mexico’s southwestern Guerrero state, a half-dozen rusty pickups speed toward a line of late-model 4x4s blocking the road.

As armed men leap from the truck beds, the drivers swing across the tarmac, forming an opposing blockade of ancient Nissans and Ford Rangers.

Crouched behind their respective barricades, their elbows propped on hoods and fenders to steady their aim, some 40 men now draw down on each other with every kind of firearm imaginable: bolt-action hunting rifles, automatic shotguns, old-fashioned six-shooters, Uzis and M16s, even a few AK47s.

It’s just a few hours after dawn in these jagged foothills; the temperature is already in the mid-80s and climbing fast—but the tempers of the men ... Read More

The Panama Canal Gets Grander

| May 14th, 2015 | No Comments »
From Time

By Karl Vick

The last time someone dug a trench through the Isthmus of Panama, the result was declared the greatest wonder of its age. It’s being done again–mountains toppled, earth moved by the millions of tons, oceans connected–and the wonder this time is that anyone notices.

Consider the crowd that assembled on April 28 to see the last, most impressive piece of the new and improved Panama Canal being literally slotted into place. A massive sea gate standing 11 stories tall moves on its own down the great concrete sluice that Caterpillars and Putzmeisters have carved from the jungle. Atop dozens of little rubber wheels, the behemoth creeps along, steered by a man in a hard hat toggling a remote control slung around his neck. And the only journalists on hand to document the historic moment are local ones, save for one reporter. “You get lots of ... Read More

Springtime for Dictators

| May 14th, 2015 | No Comments »
Wall Street Journal WSJ-01

BY DANIEL HENNINGER

Not everyone gets an hour-long audience with the pope, as Raúl Castro did this past Sunday at the Vatican. But Raúl Castro isn’t everyone. Raúl is the president of Cuba and the heir to his brother’s half-century-old Communist dictatorship. And right now, Raúl is hot.

Raúl Castro is taking meetings with everyone from President Barack Obama in Panama last month to Pope Francis in Rome last weekend. Then he returned to Havana for a meeting with President François Hollande of France, who flew in to see him and Fidel. How good can it get?

“President” Castro is in some sense an honorific title. When Raúl ran for president of Cuba for the first time in 2008, he was the only candidate. And while the Communist Party isn’t the only party in Cuba, the others can’t campaign, and political speech is forbidden. One might argue that the Castros’ Cuba is the model for how Vladimir Putinhas reset ... Read More

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