Archive for May, 2014

Ecuador’s looking for a few good extras

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

Faux Activism: Recruiting Anti-Chevron Protesters for $85 a Head (emphasis added)

 Several dozen demonstrators gathered outside the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum in Midland to condemn Chevron, which held its annual meeting on Wednesday at the historic site in the west Texas oil patch. Humberto Piaguaje, one of the indigenous Ecuadorian leaders involved in a massive lawsuit against the oil company, helped lead the sign-waving, slogan-chanting cohort. To fill out the ranks of the demonstration, a Los Angeles-based production company offered local residents $85 apiece to serve as what the firm described in a recruiting e-mail as “extras/background people.”

Julieta Gilbert, executive producer of DFLA Films, said in the e-mail that the company “need to get a group of people to help us document this event. … We will pay each one of them $85. They will be there for a couple of hours (8am to 12 pm). We need ethically [sic] diverse people.”

Heck, at those rates, I know several “ethically diverse” bloggers that may be willing to help out.

Venezuela: Bi-partisan US Congress approves sanctions bill

Friday, May 30th, 2014

faustaBoth parties came together to approve HR4587, the Venezuela Human Rights and Democracy Protection Act. Read all about it at Da Tech Guy Bog, and please hit Pete’s tip jar.

Colombia: Zuluaga change of heart?

Friday, May 30th, 2014

In an apparent change of heart, Colombian presidential runner-up Oscar Iván Zuluaga declared that he would not suspend the peace negotiations with the FARC taking place in Havana.

He did, however, assert that “we shall continue our fundamental demand, the cease of all criminal action against Colombians.”

Zuluaga

did not say how long he would give the FARC to declare a ceasefire, a condition it has rejected until now, but said he softened his stance at the request of Conservative Party leader Marta Lucia Ramirez in exchange for her support in the run-off vote campaign.

Call me a cynic, but this looks to me like a statement purely for local consumption, designed to diffuse Santos’s false choice of it’s-Santos-or-war, redacted after internal polls may have shown that it would favor his election on the June 15th runoff.

Mexico: PRD lobbying Washington

Friday, May 30th, 2014

Well, isn’t this precious?

Mexican Leftists Warn Investors About Energy Sector
Delegation in Washington Says Energy Reform Isn’t Complete

Leaders of Mexico’s main leftist party trekked to Washington this week with a warning for U.S. power brokers—investors could lose their shirts if they put their money in the country’s energy industry.

Jesus Zambrano, leader of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, the main party of Mexico’s splintered left, and other leftist politicians are in the middle of an unprecedented pilgrimage to Washington. They are meeting with U.S. officials, legislators and businessman to explain that a referendum being pushed by the PRD could undo a historic constitutional change passed late last year that opens the country’s oil and gas industries to private companies and foreign investors for the first time in 75 years.

Their message: Mexico’s energy reform is not a done deal. Until the fine print is dry, the country’s oil and gas fields are no place to bet a bundle.

Zambrano, a former communist guerrilla who has referred to D.C. as an enemy, didn’t get the turnout he expected last year when protesting the energy reforms.

Since it’s unlikely that the PRD would gather at least 1.6 million signatures, and get the Mexican Supreme Court to approve a referendum, they tried the next best thing: a junket to Washington, D.C.


Venezuela: US to sanction chavistas

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

U.S. House Passes Bill To Penalize Venezuela
Move Ratchets Up Pressure on President Nicolás Maduro’s Beleaguered Government.

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill Wednesday to penalize Venezuelan government officials found to violate human rights in that country’s crackdown on a protest movement, ratcheting up pressure on President Nicolás Maduro’s beleaguered government.

The bill calls for President Barack Obama to draw up a list of Venezuelan officials who are alleged to have violated human rights, freeze any assets they might have in the U.S., and bar them from entering the country by either withdrawing or denying visas.

A similar bill has been approved by a Senate committee, and is headed for a vote on the Senate floor in coming days.

Passage of the bill also raises pressure on the Obama administration, which has been wary of passing any kind of sanctions for fear it could create a backlash by allowing Mr. Maduro to mobilize supporters against the U.S. and distract from Venezuela’s growing homemade troubles. The administration also fears that the sanctions could jeopardize attempts at reaching a negotiated solution between the government and the opposition.

What negotiated solution? The o-called “negotiations” fell apart already.

14 Dems opposed the sanctions:The

Democrats led by Michigan Rep. John Conyers wrote a letter to President Barack Obama on Tuesday backing his administration. They also urged an exchange of ambassadors with Venezuela after a four-year hiatus.

Does this sound like a government willing to exchange ambassadors?

Venezuela alleged on Wednesday that the U.S. ambassador to Colombia has plotted to destabilize President Nicolas Maduro’s rule, adding to tensions between the two countries as the U.S. House approved a measure calling for sanctions on officials in the South American nation over human rights abuses.

A couple of days earlier, Mind your own business, Venezuela foreign minister tells Kerry.

In Caracas, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro welcomed the Democratic lawmakers’ initiative, saying he hopes “there is a bit of wisdom” in Washington. This wisdom from the guy who talks to a bird he thinks is Hugo CHavez.

Never mind, the Russian Foreign Minister says all problems should be solved on the constitutional basis, without threats of sanctions. In theory, they should; in reality . . .

Yleem D.S. Poblete posits that, in addition to the human rights violations,

For the sake of U.S. national security interests, the United States needs to act swiftly and resolutely to hold the Chavez-Maduro apparatus accountable.

The bill is now headed for a vote on the Senate floor.

Silvio Canto and I talked about this and other LatAm topics in last night’s podcast:
Elections in Colombia PLUS other US-Latin America stories of the week

Colombia: What the FARC really want

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

faustaI’m posting at Da Tech Guy Blog on the Colombian election and the FARC negotiations:
Colombia: What the FARC really want

Silvio Canto and I talked on this and other subjects in last night’s podcast.

Cuba: Why is the US Chamber of Commerce chief visiting?

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

Because they bought hook, line and sinker the propaganda bs:
U.S. Chamber of Commerce chief visits Cuba (emphasis added)

The president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a group of American business executives visited a cooperative here Wednesday to become acquainted with the new forms of non-state management being pushed in Communist Cuba.

And,

Almost a year ago the service cooperatives began operating in Cuba, a novel iniative in a country that during five decades of ongoing revolution had only allowed that management formula to be applied in the agricultural sector.

So, five decades of Communist coops later, the agricultural sector continues to be in ruins. And Thomas Donohue hasn’t figured that yet?

Along with Donohue, Marcel Smits, the chief financial officer of Minnesota-based agribusiness giant Cargill, is there ” to assess the island’s business climate.”

Tweet of the Day: What Private Enterprise?

By Cuban democracy leader, Ailer Gonzalez Mena:The President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce praises the expansion of private enterprise in Cuba. What private enterprise? Castro’s no?

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) called it “shameful that a group like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would choose to visit the island gulag of Cuba where the tyrants owe billions of dollars to the private sector all over the world.”

Alberto de la Cruz points out,

There are two simple yet very important requirements for doing business with Cuba’s apartheid Castro dictatorship: 1) All business agreements have to be made with the Castro regime and all monies from that business must go through them, and 2) You are required to actively and consistently parrot, regurgitate, and disseminate Castro-communist propaganda. Furthermore, neither of these two requirements are negotiable and any prospective investor looking to do business in Cuba has only two options; they either comply fully with the demands or they must forgo doing any business in Cuba.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Thomas Donahue is fully aware of these requirements and seems to have no issue complying with them.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) describes the hostile environment in Cuba, in a letter to Donohue, naming businessmen the regime has incarcerated:

While the Cuban government may be undertaking cosmetic changes in an attempt to attract badly-needed foreign investment and revive an economy that has suffered from a half-century of chronic mismanagement, I believe it is imperative to detail the frequently hostile operating environment that international business leaders have encountered in Cuba. The case of British businessman Stephen Purvis of Coral Capital is an irrefutable reminder of the ongoing risk faced by foreign businesses working in the country. Although Coral Capital was one of the largest private investors in Cuba – working closely with the Cuban government to renovate the Saratoga Hotel and develop the Bellomonte Country Club – the government eventually turned on Mr. Purvis, accused him of espionage and breaches of financial law, seized all of his assets, and imprisoned him for 16 months prior to his release in July 2013.

It is important to emphasize that Mr. Purvis’ misfortune is hardly uncommon. Canadian citizen, Cy Tokmakjian, President and CEO of the Tomakjian Group, has languished in a Cuban prison for nearly three years and still awaits trial. After providing the Cuban government with transportation, mining and construction equipment for several years, Mr. Tokmakjian was jailed in September 2011. The Cuban government seized his personal assets and those of his business, but never formally charged him with any wrongdoing. These examples are a clear indication of the complete lack of protection for foreign investment in Cuba, and should serve as a sharp warning for any company, including any U.S. business group, studying conditions in the country.

And let’s not forget working conditions in the island-prison

Furthermore, I am deeply concerned about the U.S Chamber of Commerce’s willingness to seek out a relationship with a regime that is in constant violation of international labor rights. More specifically, the Cuban government’s labor and employment practices are in direct violation of International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions on freedom of association, collective bargaining, discrimination, the protection of wages, and the abolition of forced labor. Regrettably, Cuba’s recent foreign investment law makes no efforts to bring the country’s poor labor conditions into accordance with international standards and, therefore, bears a paradoxical implication – it proposes beneficial changes for the state but ultimately ignores the benefits of the people.

Donohue says

his agenda was unhindered by the Cuban authorities and he was confident he was getting a “fair look” at Cuba

Yeah, right.

I wonder if Donohue is fluent in Spanish (looking at the above photo he seems to be traveling with an interpreter), and, if not, is he allowed to bring his own interpreter. Or is he allowed only a Cuban government-approved interpreter – for which he is billed? How much is he billed for the interpreter? How much is the interpreter actually paid?

The only certain thing coming out of this trip is that the oppression of the Cuban people will continue.


Brazil: World Cup blues UPDATED

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Oh-oh:
Hope Fades in Brazil for a World Cup Boost
For many Brazilians, facing unfinished or canceled infrastructure projects, the World Cup has become a symbol of the unfulfilled promise of an economic boom in this South American nation.
Money quote:

For many Brazilians, the Cup has become a symbol of the unfulfilled promise of an economic boom for this South American nation. But the boom has fizzled. And now the World Cup’s $11.5 billion price tag—the most expensive ever—and a list of unfinished construction projects have become reminders of the shortcomings that many believe keep Brazil poor: overwhelming bureaucracy, corruption and shortsighted policy-making that prioritizes grand projects over needs like education and health care.

Video:

And in yesterday’s paper, World Cup: A Dozen Stadiums, a Million Problems
Brazil’s World Cup Build-Out Is Late and Over Budget; Workers Scramble to Finish Roofs, Seats and Sidewalks
. Don’t miss the slide show.

UPDATE:
Glum: Brazil’s economy grew by 1.8%, and its bonds were downgraded to BBB-, the lowest investment grade.

En español: Terapia intensiva #209

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

@DrNetas nos pone al tanto,

Venezuela: 9.8% in extreme poverty

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

To those out there thinking that chavismo has “improved the economy drastically and ameliorated poverty drastically”, chew on this:

9.8% of the population is living in extreme poverty (a 38% increase over the prior year), according to the Venezuelan government’s own figures, as Education Minister Héctor Rodríguez mentioned on February 25 during his speech at a Campaign for Eradicating Extreme Poverty event.

Keeping the populace poor is a feature, not a bug, for chavismo; Héctor Rodríguez himself has said, “We’re not going to pull them out of poverty so they can become protesters,” a sentiment echoed by Planning Minister Jorge Giordani, who says. “The poor must remain poor, we need them like that, we must keep them poor and hopeful.” [quotes in Spanish here]

But back to the latest poverty numbers, Spanish newspaper ABC reports and I translate,

During the second half of 2013, 9.8% of the population, that is, 2,791,292 citizens lived in extreme poverty, while during the same period in 2012 the number was 7.1%, according to statistics published in Venezuelan daily «El Universal».

Looking at the article in El Universal (my translation), the number of households living in poverty increased by 28% in one year:

The percentage of Venezuelan households living in poverty increased from 21.2% in 2012 to 27,3% in 2013.

Contrast that with the chavistas rolling in dough. That’s 21st Century socialism.

The news of Chavez’s death was released on March, 2013. All this was happening while he was still alive, but his legacy lives on.

(h/t Café con Libertad · 27 de mayo de 2014)