Cuba: Getting Gitmo closed

August 28th, 2015

I fully expect the Obama administration to close not only the prison but also the U.S. base at Guantanamo, after which, Obama will do a turnkey ceremony in Havana with photo-op with Raul Castro.

Here’s the latest headline, on the latest hurdle:
Obama, Congress head for showdown over defense bill curbs on Gitmo

The House version of the fiscal defense authorization bill, now in House-Senate conference, contains language that prohibits transferring any Guantanamo detainees abroad or to the United States.

The bill does so by barring the Pentagon from spending any funds on the transfers or constructing or modifying prison facilities in the United States. It also bans putting the detainees in any Pentagon facilities worldwide or to combat zones.

Lastly, the House bill prohibits using any defense funds to send terrorists from Guantanamo to any foreign country unless the defense secretary provides a certification that past transferees haven’t returned to terrorist activities.

Although the bill fully funds the president’s budget request, Mr. Obama has threatened a veto on the grounds that it misuses the Overseas Contingency Operations to fund other defense programs. His real rationale for a veto, however, may be the House’s Guantanamo restrictions.

No similar restrictions are in the Senate version of the bill. However, the House bill notes that the White House ignored previous legal restrictions on Guantanamo prisoners, thus bolstering the argument for keeping the more restrictive House language.

As Drudge says, developing . . .

What about the Trump/Ramos thing?

August 27th, 2015

The bottom line:
In the battle of the egos, they each got out of it exactly what they wanted.

And, by the way, Univision’s influence in the Latino news market is vastly overrated, and it’s not even owned or controlled by Lateenos.

UPDATE
According to this study by the Pew Research Center, 82% of Hispanics consume news media in English, while the number who do so in Spanish decreases. Likewise,

The rise in use of English news sources has been driven by an increase in the share of Hispanics who say they get their news
exclusively in English. According to the survey,
one-third (32%) of Hispanic adults in 2012 did this, up from 22% in 2006. By contrast, the share of Hispanic adults who get their news exclusively in Spanish has decreased to 18% in 2012 from 22% in 2006.



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.