Argentina: The #tucumanazo, stories of a fraud foretold?

August 27th, 2015

This does not bode well:
Riot police suppress protests calling for new elections in Tucumán

Allegations of electoral fraud bring demonstrators out on the street in Argentinean province

At stake was the governorship of Tucumán, where Alperovich and his associates from President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s Front for Victory (FPV) coalition manage a $3 billion dollar budget as they please. If no new elections are held, his vice-governor, Juan Manzur, will soon take over.
. . .
Though the province is the nation’s smallest, it has the fifth largest population and has now become the site of a landmark moment in this election season. According to preliminary results, presidential election favorite Daniel Scioli’s center-left FPV coalition won Tucumán by 14 points but this victory may cost him, with images of irregularities on the day of voting and other fraudulent maneuvers threatening to damage his standing.

Twitter #tucumanazo:

The sign reads, “I don’t fear the state’s repression.
I fear the people’s silence
.”

Heading to the World Meeting of Families in a VW bus . . . all the way from Buenos Aires

August 26th, 2015

Imagine, if you will, the ultimate road trip: Driving the PanAmerican Highway from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Monterrey, Mexico, and then steering northeast to Philadelphia, to arrive at the World Meeting of Families.

Read about a most incredible adventure, Heading to the World Meeting of Families in a VW bus . . . all the way from Buenos Aires.

And let’s get Da Tech Guy and the Walkers together!

Crisis at the Venezuela-Colombia border

August 26th, 2015

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro Deploys Army to Deport ColombiansPresident’s critics say he is seeking scapegoat as he deports more than 1,000 citizens of neighboring country

In recent days, Venezuela deported more than 1,000 Colombian citizens and closed key border crossings in the frontier state of Táchira, where Mr. Maduro declared martial law in several municipalities. The actions were allegedly aimed at cracking down on rampant smuggling of price-controlled Venezuelan goods into Colombia, a flow that aggravates shortages in Venezuela.

Venezuela’s armed forces were also deployed to root out what the government called a host of illegal activity. Mr. Maduro blamed that on what he said was an inflow of more than 10,000 Colombian immigrants a month.

Colombians flee homes in Venezuela amid border crackdown

The Colombians, many of whom have lived in Venezuela for years, said they were abandoning their cinder block homes in a riverside shantytown community known as “La Invasion” — the Invasion — fearing for their safety after they said they were given 72 hours to pack up and leave by Venezuelan security forces.

With makeshift pedestrian bridges between the two countries destroyed as part of a weeklong security offensive, police from Colombia helped migrants, including children and the elderly, ford the 10-meter wide Tachira River with mattresses, TVs and kitchen appliances slung across their backs and shoulders. Left behind were homes spray-painted in blue by security forces with the letter “R,” for reviewed, while those marked with a “D” are believed to be slated for demolition.

Venezuela border closing hurts innocent people: Colombian president, a rather lame reaction.

At the blogs:
Maduro Declares State of Emergency In Parts of Tachira State

Maduro plays the victim

Will it hold?

Video in Spanish,

Related:
Press Determined Not to Blame Venezuela’s Social and Economic Calamity on Its Chavista Government

Bolivia: What’s with the proposed nuclear plant?

August 26th, 2015

The Bolivian government has authorized the construction of a nuclear power plant and research center near La Paz. The mayor of La Paz is requesting more information on the project from the Hydrocarbon and Energy Ministry.

The project will cost an estimated US$1.75 billion and would take 10 years to complete.

Only three countries in Latin America – Brazil, Argentina and Mexico – have operating nuclear power stations.

It’s a curious project to have in a country with one of the second-largest natural gas reserves in South America (second only to Venezuela).

However, following last year’s visit to Iran, Evo Morales declared that Iran was to help it build a nuclear power plant, for peaceful purposes of course.

Bolivia is one of Iran’s hubs for its expansion into our hemisphere, and it has become one of Iran’s most important strategic partners in Latin America, and vice versa.

According to this report,

Bolivia is one of Latin America’s most resource-rich countries, and possesses some of the world’s largest reserves of lithium chloride. Knowing this, Iran made a move to become Bolivia’s co-developer of this resource, to include the production of lithium batteries. This resource exploitation project, in turn, has prompted speculation that other strategic minerals, namely uranium, would be exploited. To date, however, there is no evidence that Iran has effectively received any uranium ore from Bolivia.

In addition to natural gas, half the world’s reserves of lithium are buried in the Salar de Uyuni salt plain. That alone makes it strategically important.

Brazil: Cunha charged with corruption and money laundering

August 25th, 2015

Eduardo Cunha, whom the WaPo once referred to as Brazil’s evangelical Frank Underwood has been charged:

On Thursday, Brazilian Attorney General Rodrigo Janot formally charged Eduardo Cunha, Brazil’s highest-ranking lawmaker with commanding a farrago of felonies, including shaking down suppliers of Petrobras, the scandal-ridden national oil company, for some $5 million, and then laundering the bribes through more than 100 financial operations from Montevideo to Monaco.

Mac Margolis explains:

Ever since Cunha won the right to the top microphone in Congress, trouncing Rousseff’s own candidate for the job, the Rio de Janeiro lawmaker has dedicated his mandate to making her life miserable, delaying revenue raising initiatives and planting some “fiscal bombs” in Congress that would plump constituents’ earnings at the expense of the swelling public deficit.

So how do you say schadenfreude in Portuguese? After weeks of escalating rhetoric and street protests clamoring for impeachment, suddenly it’s Rousseff’s archenemy who looks to be on the brink.

But hold those vuvuzelas. While Cunha may be hobbled by the scandal, he’s hardly out of play. Even if the Supreme Court accepts Janot’s indictment and sends Cunha to trial, he has no obligation to step aside. Removing him would take half plus one of the 513 members of Brazil’s lower house, an ecosystem where Cunha is at home.

Cunha is second in line to succeed the president. As Speaker of the lower chamber he controls the legislative agenda and the budget.

As you may recall, Cunha made The Economist last month when he announced that he would defect to the opposition without leaving the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB),

If numbers were all that mattered, the PMDB would be the most powerful party by far. Besides having more seats in Congress than any other, it outguns its main rivals, the PT and the centre-right opposition Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB), in state and local governments (see table). The PMDB has 2.4m card-carrying members, more than the PT’s 1.6m.

In Brazil’s Byzantine political environment, the move to charge Cunha may be seen as payback for Cunha’s defection, who in turn may deny approval of Dilma’s (rather weak, if you ask me) proposals to slash government spending, raise taxes and reduce bureaucracy.

More interestingly, the question remains whether Cunha would push to impeach Dilma (as the demonstrators demand), and if he does, will Dilma gather enough congressional support to avoid impeachment – with the help of PMBD members.

En español: Los spots de campaña de Sergio Massa

August 25th, 2015

Advertencia: Contiene malas palabras

Bolivia: The catch in the numbers

August 25th, 2015

Mac Margolis at Bloomberg writes about Bolivia’s Hollow Victory in the War on Drugs

Last week the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime turned some heads. In a much-publicized press conference in La Paz, the UN announced Bolivia had reduced the amount of land planted with coca — the waxy leafed bush from which cocaine is made — for the fourth year running.

So far, so good, but (emphasis added),

Soon after the UN announced its survey, critics noted that the report focused on the coca leaf but omitted data on how much of the crop is being converted to cocaine. And without that data, the heralded fall in coca may be an optical illusion.

When it comes to trafficking and transport of cocaine,

One yardstick for the problem is the almost sevenfold rise in arrests for drug possession, up from 238 in 2000 to 1,456 in 2012, the last complete year for which Bolivia’s National Statistics Office has published statistics.

Another is the spiking volume of drugs seized by police: from 1,300 kilos of cocaine in 2005 to 4,175 kilos in 2012, according to the same census.

. . .

Former national drug control minister Ernesto Justiniano told a nationwide television show last week that Bolivia’s cocaine production amounts to a staggering 160 tons a year, double the figure for 2008.

Double. In seven years.

And the cartels are branching out: Bolivia: the New Hub for Drug Trafficking in South America

Bolivia now sits alongside the second biggest consumer of illegal drugs in the world: Brazil. Bolivia also borders the world’s principal producer of cocaine, Peru, and South America’s primary producer of marijuana, Paraguay. Meanwhile, Argentina is experiencing ballooning domestic drug consumption, particularly of “basuco” or “paco,” a form of crack cocaine which can be produced in Bolivia. Even the domestic drug markets in Chile and Peru are growing.

Read both articles.

Puerto Rico: Don’t expect payment anytime soon

August 24th, 2015

Mary O’Grady describes,
Puerto Rico Plays Chicken With Its Creditors

Failure to negotiate in good faith could cost the island the help it seeks from Washington.

On Sept. 1 the state-owned Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) faces a deadline for restructuring more than $8 billion in debt. If it can’t come to an agreement with creditors, a previous forbearance agreement will expire and the company will face default.

On Sept. 1 the state-owned Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) faces a deadline for restructuring more than $8 billion in debt. If it can’t come to an agreement with creditors, a previous forbearance agreement will expire and the company will face default.

In that event, bondholders could be expected to go to court to begin the process of receivership, as the bond contracts stipulate.

This high-stakes negotiation comes when Puerto Rico is asking Congress to give its municipalities and public agencies access to the chapter 9 bankruptcy protection the 50 states have. A Prepa default would be disruptive and possibly increase the odds that Congress will agree.

But failure on the part of the utility to negotiate in good faith also could backfire and jeopardize support in Washington for giving Puerto Rico chapter 9 protection. It could also reduce sympathy on the mainland for the write-down of other Puerto Rico debt issues—which total some $63 billion—that Gov. Alejandro García Padilla says he needs to get the island growing again.

Read the whole article.

The thing is, the governor has little to lose by defaulting.

  • I have stated in the past  that you can be assured the Puerto Rican government will continue to spend like crazy because 20% of the workforce is in government jobs, which gives the ruling party a built-in constituency. As I have pointed out before, it’s in the governor’s best interest to keep them happy, even if it means to default on all debt in order to meet payroll.
  • If the U.S. refills the ATM, García Padilla will claim credit for it; if the U.S. doesn’t, he has someone to blame.
  • People who don’t agree with the economic policy are exercising their right to move to places where the U.S. economy is brighter, thereby removing a large number of what would be opposition votes.
  • High debt-high spending make the island less appealing for statehood status.

Bottom line: No improvement in the horizon.

The $40/barrell oil Carnival of Latin America and the Caribbean

August 24th, 2015

Oil breaks $40 barrier for first time in six years, which is very important news for our hemisphere.

ARGENTINA
Menem vows to reveal evidence that could shed light on AMIA attack

The defence of Menem today requested the Federal Oral Court No. 2 (TOF 2), that is leading the investigation into the cover-up of the 1994 deadly attack, to have the Senate withdraw Menem’s state secrets privilege warning the release of the information “could affect” the interests of the Nation and “the breaking of peaceful coexistence” with other countries.

Argentineans Launch Petition against “Donald Trump” Wall with Paraguay
Locals Dry [sic] Infrastructure as Wasteful, Bad for Relations

BOLIVIA
Bolivian Police Drag Indigenous Protesters Out of Their Homes
Guaraní Pledge to Resist Evo’s Oil Exploration on Their Lands

BRAZIL
Translation: Merkel reminds Rousseff that Germans want to get paid. Merkel calls for a free trade accord between the Europe Union and Mercosur. During the “surprise” visit,

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed Brazil’s government on Thursday to further open its markets to foreign companies, and said she saw an opportunity to reach a free-trade deal between the European Union and the Mercosur trade bloc. Merkel is on a two-day visit to Brazil with a large delegation of government officials and representatives from German companies.

CHILE
Study: Chile likely to draw from stabilization fund due to copper price drop

COLOMBIA
Colombia slashes gold holdings by two-thirds amid July rout

The reason for and timing of the move are not known, but it came as institutional and speculative investors pulled more cash en masse from commodities, ending a decade-long boom, as the stock market crash in China reignited concerns about demand from the world’s biggest consumer of industrial raw materials.

CUBA
Obama Plays the Clinton Vietnam Card to Normalize Relations With Cuba, but Turns it On Its Head

Before restoring full diplomatic relations with Vietnam, President Clinton eased a majority of the economic sanctions. A mistake. However, by the time he did this, the Soviets were mostly gone from Vietnam; Vietnamese forces had pulled out from Cambodia and replaced with a UN peacekeeping force; and thousands of former South Vietnamese officials had been freed from political prisons and exiled to other nations including the United States.

What ultimately made it politically palatable for Clinton to remove sanctions was a 1993 Senate Select Committee report on POW matters that afforded Clinton the domestic political cover he needed to move forward to ease sanctions. Vietnam also started to return POW remains and allowed U.S. inspectors as part of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTF-FA) to visit various places throughout the country to investigate POW/MIA claims.

ECUADOR
Ecuador Protests: Correa’s Oil Crisis, Policies Could Spell End Of Latin America Success Story

Ecuador’s Cotopaxi volcano roars back to life, locals speak of lava flow fears and damage to tourism

GUATEMALA
Prosecution requests impeachment of Guatemala president Otto Perez

JAMAICA
IMF Considering Adjusting Some Measures Under Deal With Jamaica

International Monetary Fund (IMF’s) Mission Chief to Jamaica, Dr Uma Ramakrishnan says the fund is considering relaxing some of the targets under Jamaica’s economic support programme

MEXICO
Miguel Ángel Jiménez Blanco, Mexican who led search for mass graves found shot to death
Activist’s group had unearthed 129 bodies in Guerrero, where students went missing last year.

He worked for the politically active group called the Union of Towns and Organizations of the State of Guerrero (known as UPOEG)

Previously Deported Illegals Caught Smuggling Thousands of People Across Border

3-Time Deported Top Mexican Drug Trafficker Caught Illegally Re-Entering Texas

Investigation Lifts a Cloud Over President of Mexico
A seven-month conflict-of-interest investigation into the purchase of luxury homes by President Enrique Peña Nieto’s wife and his finance minister from a government contractor found no wrongdoing, Mexico’s comptroller said Friday.

NICARAGUA
Why am I not surprised? China’s Building a Huge Canal in Nicaragua, But We Couldn’t Find It

PANAMA
Turkey’s new direct connection to Panama may facilitate terrorist financing for Hamas

Turkey and Panama have no international trade to speak of, raising questions as to why, of the 28 countries not served by the airline, is Turkish Airlines expanding to Panama.

Likewise, New nonstop flight from Dubai to Panama a terrorist financiers’ dream? (h/t JC)

Financiers for Hezbollah and a number of other sanctioned Middle East terrorist groups must be jumping up and down for joy, for their jobs will become much easier. The amount of international trade between Panama and the Middle East is nominal, but the nonstop flights will greatly facilitate both illicit (i.e. money laundering) transactions, and terrorist financing operations.

Expect more of that if Obama’s Iran deal goes through.

PARAGUAY
Rogelio Livieres Plano, ousted bishop in Paraguay, dies at 69

PERU
The migrant nation
Urbanisation in Peru has brought citizenship but also a host of problems

Peruvian newspaper cancels cardinal column after papal ‘plagiarism’
Peruvian newspaper says it will not publish any more articles by Roman Catholic cardinal Luis Cipriani after papal plagiarism revelations

Now Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani has been unceremoniously dumped from his occasional column at El Comercio, Peru’s oldest privately-owned newspaper, after his writings were proved to include plagiarised words of popes.

PUERTO RICO
Governor Luis Fortuño On The Lessons The US Must Learn From Puerto Rico

The former Governor of Puerto Rico explains that “bottom line, you can never tax yourself out of a hole.”

Hurricane Danny Has Begun Its Weakening; Drought Relief For Leeward Islands, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico?

VENEZUELA
Good luck with that: Venezuelans Launch Mises Institute to Take Down ChavismoLibertarians Offer Ideological Cure to Economic Crisis

The week’s posts and podcast:
Nicaragua: Where’s the canal?

Argentina: Wheelchair tango

The Falklands: Pope Francis, what fresh hell can this be? UPDATED

Venezuela: Circling the drain

Somebody tell Al Sharpton Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens

Venezuela: Cuban doctors stuck in limbo, as the country collapses

Cuba: Air-travel, credit cards next . . . by executive action?

Menendez on Iran: Failure Theater, or not?

Cuba: “Who fears the billboard?”

“Culture is how we pass the time between hypocrisies.”

Brazil: Will Dilma get it?

Mexico: @Leon_Krauze looks at the big White House

Podcast: Cuba, marches in Brazil & other US-Latin America stories of the week

The foreign policy house of lies


Sunday palate cleanser: Stern, Yo-Yo Ma, Ax

August 23rd, 2015

playing Beethoven’s Concerto For Piano, Violin, Cello & Orchestra Op.56