Latin America News Round-up, 08-09-2009


You find all the news in the text …

Honduras [contents]

IMF says Honduras will not have access to its funds until de facto gov’t is recognized.
Buenos Aires Herald. September 7, 2009.

The International Monetary Fund said that Honduras will not be able to use the 163 million dollars in SDR that make up part of a larger sum of money, 250,000 dollars, until the organization recognizes the government.

“The current de facto government will not be able to use these funds until a decision is made about whether or not the IMF recognizes this government as the Government of Honduras,” said the organization in a press release.

An IMF spokesperson said that the organization has not made a decision about when they will meet to decide if Roberto Micheletti’s de facto government, which ousted Manuel Zelaya’s administration on June 28, will be recognized as Honduras’ official government.

The SDR is a virtual currency created by the Fund, which administrates a small market where the governments of different countries exchange them for actual currency.

Finally, the IMF said that the organization does not have any type of financial agreement with Honduras.
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Honduran Front Strengthens Structures
Inside Costa Rica. September 8, 2009.

Tegucigalpa – The National Front against the coup d’ Etat in Honduras started Monday a reorganization process to strengthen people’s struggle against the June 28 military action.

The decision was adopted during the Front’s first national assembly, attended by hundreds of delegates from the country 18 departments. The aim was to strengthen that vast alliance from progressive forces.

This is a first effort to give minimum theoretical bases and organization to a group emerged spontaneously some few hours after the military coup, which has been led by the resistance for 72nd consecutive days.

Delegates ratified their demands to restore constitutional order, restitute ousted President Manuel Zelaya, and call for a national constituent, “popular, participative, inclusive, and democratic” assembly.

After three-hour debates, participants in the event approved 14 agreements, among them the organization’s general guidelines, and national-level anti-coup actions next week.
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Honduran teachers keep strike in protest of coup
Xinhua. September 8, 2009.

MANAGUA, Sept. 7 (Xinhua) — Ousted Honduran Education Minister Marlon Breve Reyes said here Monday that Honduran teachers would keep a partial strike in place until ousted President Manuel Zelaya returned to office.

Breve said Honduran teachers were currently restricting their strike to Thursdays and Fridays to limit the impact on children’s education.

Breve made the remarks after attending the inauguration of the Fatherland Week, which celebrates Central America’s independence from the Spanish Empire.

Honduras was excluded from the independence celebrations this year in condemnation of the coup against Zelaya, said Nicaraguan Education Minister Miguel de Castilla, who also attended the inauguration ceremony.

“We are not going to include the coup-mongers in the torch race by Central America. Already (ousted) Honduran Education Minister Marlon Breve Reyes is in our country where he will receive the Liberty Torch,” De Castilla said.

Nicaragua has agreed with El Salvador to transport, for the first time, the torch by ship, cutting out its route through Honduras.
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Ousted Honduran president to visit Guatemala, Nicaragua
Ria Novosti. September 5, 2009.

MEXICO, September 5 (RIA Novosti) – Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has said he will visit Guatemala and Nicaragua before making another attempt to return to his homeland.

Zelaya is currently in Washington where he met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday.

“I will soon fly from Washington to Guatemala to hold talks with President Alvaro Colom,” Zelaya said in an interview with Colombia’s RCN radio.

“After Guatemala I will head to Nicaragua to monitor mass protests against organizers of the coup in Honduras,” he added.

Zelaya earlier said he was set to make another attempt to return to his homeland “in the next few days.”

The Honduran military arrested Zelaya on June 28, the day polls were due to open for a nonbinding referendum on extending the non-renewable, four-year presidential term of office, and flew him to Costa Rica. The de facto Honduran leadership has not been recognized by the international community.

Zelaya has so far made two attempts to return. On July 5 he tried to fly into the country, but was stopped after police and troops blocked the runway. On July 25 he briefly crossed into his country and then retreated to Nicaragua, as the military blocked the road 25 meters from the border.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has suspended an economic aid program to help Honduras fight poverty over the interim government’s refusal to accept a 12-point plan devised by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. Under the plan, Zelaya would return to his post, while interim leader Roberto Micheletti would return to his pre-coup post of parliamentary speaker.

The plan, known as the San Jose Accord, also offers a full amnesty for those who ousted the president, and suggests holding presidential elections in the country one month earlier than scheduled.

Micheletti refused to accept the proposal and announced that presidential elections would be held in Honduras as scheduled, even if the international community refused to recognize them.
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Why Obama Won’t Use the M-Word for Honduras’ Coup
Tim Padgett. Time. September 05, 2009

The Obama Administration tried again this week to take on the coupsters of Honduras. With more than two months passed since Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was exiled in a military ouster – and less than three months to go before his impoverished Central American nation holds new presidential elections – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton jabbed harder at the coup leaders to get them to let Zelaya back into Honduras and finish his democratically elected term. The U.S. cut all non-humanitarian aid to the de facto government, about $32 million; revoked the visas of all civilian and military officials who backed the June 28 coup, and threatened not to recognize the results of the Nov. 29 elections unless Zelaya is returned to office.

The measures could move de facto Honduran President Roberto Micheletti to sign on to the San Jose Accord, brokered by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, which stipulates Zelaya’s restoration and immunity for the coup participants. They may also help restore President Obama’s standing among Latin American leaders, who have unanimously condemned the coup, as Obama has, but who have questioned the U.S. President’s commitment to matching his rhetoric with action. U.S. officials called the latest sanctions “a strong signal” that Obama has reversed Washington’s historic tendency to abide if not back coups carried out against its foes (the leftist Zelaya is a critic of the U.S.) and that he’s defending democratic process in the hemisphere.
(See pictures of protests against the military-backed regime of Honduras.)

But the Administration also sent a significant mixed signal. It didn’t use the m-word: Military. Its lawyers have determined that while Zelaya’s overthrow was a coup d’etat, it was not technically a military coup. The main reason: even though soldiers threw Zelaya out of the country at gunpoint, in his pajamas, he was not replaced with a military leader. Instead, Micheletti, a civilian who headed Honduras’ Congress, was made President. Other “complicating factors,” as the U.S. calls them, include lingering questions about which Honduran institution – Congress, the Supreme Court or the Army – actually ordered Zelaya’s removal after he openly defied a high court edict not to hold a non-binding referendum on constitutional reform.

The legal semantics matter. If the State Department labels a coup “military” – the most brutal and anti-democratic kind of overthrow – it automatically triggers a suspension of all non-humanitarian and non-democracy-related U.S. aid. In the case of Honduras, State Department officials insist that those measures have already been taken without the military-coup tag. But critics, who fear Obama is keeping the Honduras coup designation downgraded to mollify conservative Republicans, argue that further steps, like freezing Honduran bank accounts in the U.S., are still available to the Administration.
(Read about President Obama’s challenge in Latin America.)

Either way, foreign policy analysts say Obama is setting a precarious precedent by trying to have it both ways. In the future, restless militaries in other countries may look at the U.S.’s Honduras ruling and decide coups are worth chancing as long as they don’t install a guy wearing epaulettes in the president’s chair. In that scenario, a full-bore U.S. aid cut-off won’t kick in by default – and there’s always the possibility, they’ll reason, that the White House won’t adopt enough punitive steps to make them cry uncle in the end.

The U.S.’s non-military coup rating is especially dicey given that two of Honduras’ neighbors, El Salvador and Guatemala, recently elected leftist presidents who could also find themselves in the crosshairs of their countries’ overweening generals. “I think the armies and the business elites they back in those countries are watching the Obama Administration’s moves on Honduras very closely,” says Vicki Gass, a senior associate at the independent Washington Office on Latin America. While Gass applauds Clinton’s threat to reject Honduras’ November election results as a “very positive step that shows the U.S. is serious again about multilateral effort in Latin America,” she fears the U.S. has “created risks in other countries” by not designating Honduras’ putsch as military.

The Obama Administration has political reasons for eschewing the m-word. The most important is that calling an overthrow a military coup requires certification by Congress – where Obama and Clinton foresee a fight they’d rather avoid. Conservative Republicans are angry at Obama’s support of Zelaya, who they insist was trying to remove presidential term limits in Honduras and usher in a socialist government like that of his oil-rich left-wing ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. As a result, they’re blocking a number of the White House’s State Department appointees, including Arturo Valenzuela, Obama’s pick to oversee western hemisphere affairs.

But in a Los Angeles Times op-ed last week, Democratic Representative Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, argued that whatever Zelaya’s alleged infractions, they should have been addressed legally, not militarily. “It’s time to call this bird what it is,” a military coup, and move on with whatever tougher sanctions that might mean in order to get the Micheletti regime to back down, Berman wrote. Obama and Clinton still feel a negotiated settlement in Honduras can be reached. But the Micheletti regime, which human rights groups say has cracked down violently on many Zelaya supporters (a charge it denies), has so far indicated it won’t be swayed by the latest U.S. sanctions.

A negotiated settlement is indeed the preferred solution. But the problem is that the U.S. loses leverage in that process when, by not calling Zelaya’s ouster a military coup, it gives coup leaders the impression that what they did was merely second- or third-degree coup-mongering instead of the first-degree military kind. When the military hauls away a democratically elected president, it’s a military coup, period, regardless of who takes power afterward. It’s a rule that needs to apply not just in Honduras, but whenever the U.S. has to take on coupsters.

Argentina [contents]

Argentina Swaps About 16.7 Billion Pesos of CPI-Linked Debt
Drew Benson and Eliana Raszewski. Bloomberg.

Sept. 7 (Bloomberg) — Argentina exchanged 16.7 billion pesos ($4.34 billion) worth of inflation-linked peso bonds as the government seeks to extend maturities and reduce its financing needs.

Economy Minister Amado Boudou and Finance Secretary Hernan Lorenzino announced the results of the exchange, which concluded today, at a news conference in Buenos Aires.

“This is an important sign of confidence in our policies with respect to financial markets” that include extending debt maturities, Boudou said.

Argentina will issue 4.4 billion pesos of bonds due in 2014 and 10.8 billion of pesos of notes maturing in 2015 in exchange for the inflation-linked debt, according to Lorenzino. The 2014 bonds will pay an interest rate of 2.75 percentage points above the central bank’s interbank rate, known as Badlar, while the 2015 bonds will pay 3 percentage points above the interbank rate.

Argentina’s borrowing requirements rose to $10.73 billion this year from $5.9 billion in 2008 as the global financial crisis throttled demand for commodity exports, according to an Aug. 20 report by Credit Suisse Group AG. Argentina’s borrowing needs will total $8.24 billion next year.

The bond swap, which had a participation rate of 76 percent, led to a nominal debt reduction of 2 billion pesos and saves 7.2 billion pesos in debt servicing over the next three years, Lorenzino said.
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Kirchners ready to allow IMF review of the Argentine economy.
MercoPress. September 8, 2009.

Four years after Argentina froze relations with the International Monetary Fund under the administration of President Nestor Kirchner, the government of his wife Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is willing to accept an IMF review of the Argentine economy, according to Economy minister Amado Boudou, quoted in the Buenos Aires press.

The deal should be sealed by Economy minister Amado Boudou next month in Turkey during the annual IMF assembly

When specifically asked by La Nación whether Argentina “could accept” an IMF review of the country’s economy, Boudou said “exactly”.

According to La Nacion and government sources the review agreement with the IMF is “practically sealed”. However “we don’t have a calendar, but we are discussing a new relation with the IMF”, added Boudou.

Argentina in 2005 and with a year in advance cancelled all debts with the IMF (9.3 billion US dollars) and since 2006 has not allowed any review or auditing of the Argentine economy, standard procedure for all countries wishing to have access to international money markets.

The minister also pointed out that the idea is to look for “common ground” with the multinational organization, but Argentina “does not need IMF assistance” and the recent debt swap is part of the country’s strategy to address the matter.

“We’re not after loans or funds, so we have time and there’s no need to urge in the advancement of the understanding”, Boudou was quoted in London during the G-20 Finance ministers’ summit.

“Certainly” we’re not going to allow the IMF to review our economy “as in the past”, underlined Boudou. The Kirchner couple has repeatedly accused the IMF and its “recessive recipes” imposed on developing countries for much of Argentina’s financial and economic miseries.

“Argentina is a sovereign country and we don’t need any viceroy to come along and count our ribs”, said Boudou who pointed out that what matters is “that we are involved in a technical dialogue” among equals.

Re-establishing relations with the IMF is a first step for Argentina to return to international capital markets from where it has been excluded over the massive 2002 sovereign bonds default with some creditors holding on and refusing to accept a credit reduction restructured in 2005.

According to La Nacion and Clarin the final details for the IMF review system will be agreed in early October during the IMF annual assembly in Turkey. This would also help resume talks with the Paris Club to settle pending debts of 6.7 billion US dollars.

The Argentine economy is in need of fresh funds, since the current system of budget primary surpluses and positive trade results has been strained by the global recession and unorthodox handling of the country’s finances.
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Argentine pulp mill protestors promise to “fight on” whatever The Hague ruling
MercoPress. September 7, 2009.

With only a week left for the beginning of the hearings in the International Court of Justice in The Hague on the pulp mills dispute between Uruguay and Argentina, pickets that have been blocking bridges between the two neighbouring countries promised to keep on the struggle.

In spite of the pickets the Botnia plant has been producing according to plans, mostly exports.
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“Whatever the ruling, the fight goes on”, said a crowd of Argentine protestors who marched to the international bridge linking Gualeguaychú with Fray Bentos in Uruguay, where the Botnia pulp mill and heart of the contention has been built and has been in production for over a year.

Argentina claims Uruguay did not consult or advice on the fact it was planning to build the pulp mill along the river Uruguay which is the natural border between both countries and its management is shared by both countries according to an agreement dating back to the seventies.

Between September 14 and October 2, both sides will be making their final presentations and a ruling can be expected the following year.

This weekend an estimated 15.000 Argentine protestors and environmentalists marched to the head of the bi-national bridge with banners and chants, and read a proclamation.

“Whatever the ruling, we will continue to fight so that dirty industries do not come to contaminate our environment”.

Pickets argue that the state of the art pulp mill, in spite of complying with the latest EU regulations on environmental impact, confirmed by independent studies, including from Argentine universities, is polluting the waters of the River Uruguay and the air, becoming a health hazard.

The statement also calls on the International Court “not to give priority to multinational corporations’ benefits over the healthy and dignified life to which whole populations in the area are entitled to”.

“We’re the victims of unscrupulous and infamous World Bank dealings confirmed by their corrupt technical staff”, they added.

The pickets also made Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner responsible for damages, losses or sufferings emerging from contamination for not impeding the operations of the Botnia pulp mill through the Customs Code and the political decision to ban “Argentine input, including logs”.

Last month Uruguay’s Foreign Ministry said there was optimism that the ruling from The Hague would be favourable to Uruguay-

Bolivia [contents]

Seven candidates to run against Morales in Bolivia’s election
Ria Novosti. September 8, 2009.

MOSCOW, September 8 (RIA Novosti) – Seven candidates are expected to run against the incumbent president, Evo Morales, in Bolivia’s December election, national media reported on Tuesday.

The candidates include three indigenous Americans, one woman, one former military official, a lawyer, and a businessman.

In line with Bolivia’s new constitution, which came into effect on February 7 after a referendum, the parliamentary and predidential elections will be held on December 6.

Electoral authorities ended registration of candidates overnight, and anounced on Tuesday that the election campain will start on October 5.

President Morales, who leads the Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, currently has a popularity rating of 57%, and is expected to comfortably win the vote.

The leader said on Tuesday that “all candidates have the right to conduct their election campaigns across the country,” and urged them to ensure the campaign runs peacefully.

Morales’s main competitors are Samuel Doria Medina, leader of the National Unity Front (UN), and Manfred Reyes Villa, a former military official and candidate of the Progress Plan party (PPB-APB), with popularity ratings of 9,7% and 8,6% respectively.

Over 4 million Bolivians are expected to vote in the elections, including some 200,000 living outside the country. The next presidential term will run until 2015.

Morales has led Bolivia since 2006, and is the country’s first fully indigenous national leader. Since he came to power, industries including oil and gas and transportation have been nationalized to fund social programs.
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Bolivia reports cut in gas output
Associated Press. September 8, 2009.

Bolivia’s state petroleum company says reduced demand from Argentina and Brazil has sharply cut natural gas output.

Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos says natural gas output slipped to 1.25 million cubic meters in August _ 155 million cubic meters less than in July.

An economic slump and water-rich hydroelectric plants cut Brazil’s gas demand to 18 million cubic meters a day by month’s end _ the lowest level in years and down from 31 million cubic meters a day last year.

Argentina was taking 2 million cubic meters a day _ down from 5.35 million in July.

The company is suggesting possible contract revisions to set new maximum and minimum export levels for customers.

Ecuador [contents]

Ecuador, Chile to boost bilateral cooperation
Xinhua. September 8, 2009.

QUITO, Sept. 7 (Xinhua) — Ecuador and Chile have agreed to expand cooperation from politics to the economy and commerce through their second foreign ministerial meeting that began Monday in Quito.

An official statement from the meeting said the two countries expected the meeting to strengthen bilateral ties, which in turn would make political dialogue more viable and allow integration in commerce and culture.

On the agenda of the Quito ministerial meeting was evaluation of existing bipartite accords concerning companies and trade.

The meeting, chaired by Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Fander Falconi and joined by Chilean Foreign Minister Mariano Fernandez, will also assess Jose Miguel Insulza’s candidacy for secretary-general of the Organization of American States.

The two countries are also expected to discuss the June coup in Honduras, which ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

“We seek to improve our cooperation so as to continue progress,” said Fernandez who is scheduled to meet Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa after the meeting.

Ecuador and Chile held their first foreign ministerial meeting on May 10, 2007, in the Chilean capital of Santiago.

In 2008, Ecuadorian exports to Chile increased to 1.5 billion U.S. dollars while Chile exported 583 million dollars worth of goods and services to Ecuador.
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Ecuador security chief dies from H1N1 flu

The head of Ecuador’s presidential security has died of H1N1 flu, the government announced.
CNN. September 9, 2009.

Lt. Col. John Merino died Sunday night after being hospitalized for 28 days, President Rafael Correa announced on his web page. The cause of death was given as cardiopulmonary arrest.

Correa went to the Military Hospital of Quito, the capital city, to express his condolences late Sunday. “He was a great man, a professional, a friend and a patriot,” Correa said.

Merino’s body will be transported to the city of Guayaquil for burial.

Swine flu, as H1N1 is also known, has sickened two Latin American heads of state in recent weeks, but both have recovered. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias was stricken more than four weeks ago and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe came down with the disease about 10 days ago.
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Chevron’s legal fireworks
Seeking to change its fortunes in a Ecuador case it’s expected to lose, the oil giant releases an explosive video.
Los Angeles Times. September 5, 2009.

Only weeks ago, the 16-year legal battle between Chevron Corp. and thousands of indigenous people in Ecuador’s Amazon seemed as if it were coming to a close. After years of delay, all that remained was for the judge — there are no jury trials in Ecuador — to deliver a verdict on whether the oil company is responsible for wide-scale contamination. But Chevron, which is widely expected to lose and could be assessed a staggering $27 billion in damages, is not going down without some legal pyrotechnics.

Earlier this week, the San Ramon-based oil giant posted videos to its website that purport to show the judge in the case, Juan Nuñez Sanabria, prematurely declaring Chevron’s guilt. Nuñez, who maintains the tapes were manipulated and that no impropriety occurred, recused himself Friday at the request of Ecuador’s attorney general, Washington Pesantez. He told reporters that he wanted to avert any effort by Chevron to delay or de-legitimize a ruling.

Chevron says the videotapes were a gift from two men who, acting independently, used a hidden camera to record them. On the tapes, the men — a former Chevron contractor and an American businessman — press Nuñez to say how he will rule, without success. Then, as Nuñez prepares to leave, one of the men again maintains that Chevron is guilty, and Nuñez replies, “Yes, sir.” To Chevron, that cinches the argument. But on the video, it’s unclear to whom the judge is speaking and whether he is responding to the question or just trying to end the meeting.

Ecuador’s government says it will investigate the allegations of misconduct. It should, and as it does, it should probe not just the judge’s actions but those of Chevron. While maintaining it did not commission the tapes, the company acknowledges that it paid to relocate the two men and has provided them with “support.” The company could build trust by clarifying the nature of that relationship. Further, Chevron obtained the video in June, but instead of lodging a complaint to Ecuadorean authorities, it waited weeks and then posted the “sting” to its website.

Chevron now hopes to have Nuñez’s past rulings annulled and commence an investigation into the court-appointed expert who determined the $27-billion damage assessment. It is also possible, however, that Nuñez’s recusal won’t really matter. The court presidency rotates in Ecuador, and Nuñez received the case from his predecessor when he took the position; another change in judges won’t necessarily cause a long delay. It merely adds one more skirmish to a lawsuit of grave consequence to the suffering people of the Ecuadorean rain forest.

Venezuela [contents]

Venezuela’s Chavez says hopes can work with Obama
Mike Collett-White and Cindy Martin. Reuters. September 7, 2009.

VENICE (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy who once called George W. Bush “the devil,” said on Monday he hoped to be able to work more closely with President Barack Obama.

The leftist 55-year-old leader added in an interview in Italy that despite the global economic crisis and signs of a slowdown in growth in Venezuela, he did not expect his country to fall into recession.

Chavez was in Venice for the world premiere of “South of the Border,” director Oliver Stone’s sympathetic portrait of a leader he says has championed the poor and who has been unfairly demonized by the U.S. media.

“I have no reason to call him (Obama) the devil, and I hope that I am right,” Chavez told reporters in Venice.

“With Obama we can talk, we are almost from the same generation, one can’t deny that Obama is different (from Bush). He’s intelligent, he has good intentions and we have to help him.”

Stone’s documentary argues that the economy has grown under Chavez’s rule and poverty levels have fallen sharply, all without the help of bailout loans from foreign lenders.

Asked in an interview with Reuters whether the fact that Venezuela’s economy shrank for the first time in more than five years during the second quarter of 2009 could mean austerity measures ahead, Chavez replied:

“There is no recession in Venezuela. There has been a slight slowdown in growth but that is something logical because of the great worldwide recession in capitalism.

“We have taken some steps but unemployment continues to fall and production continues to rise. Venezuela has been affected by the crisis but has not and will not go into recession,” added the president, who sat next to Stone.

“REAL DEMOCRATIC MODEL”

Chavez also said his democratic credentials remained intact despite concerns over moves to crack down on the independent media and political opposition.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Caracas over the weekend to voice their opposition to the president, who has been in power for a decade and says he needs another 10 years to pursue his socialist reforms.

“In Venezuela, no television channel has been closed despite the fact that in many cases the television channels supported a coup d’etat,” he said.

“Noam Chomsky … was asked in an interview what would happen if Fox News or CNN had supported a coup against a president. Chomsky replied that not only would those channels have been closed, but their owners would have been sent to the electric chair.

“I’m entirely dedicated to building a real democratic model in Venezuela. As Abraham Lincoln said, what is democracy? It is not the system by which a rich minority exploits the people. It is government by the people and for the people.”

Stone’s film includes clips of U.S. news channels casting Chavez as a threat akin to that posed by al Qaeda.

“The caricature compares me to Hitler and Mussolini, that is just laughable,” he said. “It shows a lack of respect to the intelligence of the human being and of society.”
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Chavez urges Turkmenistan to join gas group
Associated Press. September 7, 2009.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is urging energy-rich Turkmenistan to join a proposed natural gas group similar to OPEC.

Chavez told Turkmen President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov Monday that the group wouldn’t be “strong enough” with the participation of Turkmenistan, which has the world’s fourth-largest gas reserves.

Russia and Qatar, the world’s largest exporters of natural gas, came up with the initiative in early 2007. Venezuela, Iran and Algeria have said they were interested in joining.

Many experts say a natural gas cartel resembling OPEC would be tough to achieve.

Unlike oil, which is traded on an exchange that constantly updates the price, most gas is sold under tight long-term contracts.
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Venezuela to export gasoline to Iran
CNN. September, 6, 2009.

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) — Venezuela will begin exporting 20,000 barrels per day of gasoline to Iran next month as the nations strengthen bilateral cooperation, according to Iranian state media and the Venezuelan government.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez reportedly said he aims to build a “nuclear village” with Iranian help.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez reportedly said he aims to build a “nuclear village” with Iranian help.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez announced the agreement Sunday. It will begin in October, according to Iran’s Press TV and a Venezuelan government statement. Chavez said Iran will pay about $800 million a year for the gasoline.

Iran produces 60 percent of its domestic gasoline demand and imports the remaining 40 percent, Press TV reported. Despite having large oil reserves, Iran lacks the refining capacity to cover all of its internal gasoline consumption.

The leaders had said on Saturday that they plan to stand up against “imperialist” foes — a reference to the United States and other nations opposing Iran’s nuclear program — by cooperating on a range of issues, including nuclear power.

“Expansion of Tehran-Caracas relations is necessary given their common interests, friends and foes,” Ahmadinejad said after a meeting with Chavez, according to Iran’s semiofficial FARS news agency.

Chavez arrived in Tehran on Saturday with a team of high-ranking officials for a two-day visit.

Chavez reiterated the goal: “Tehran and Caracas should help revolutionary nations through further expansion and consolidation of their ties.”

Venezuela announced a new agreement with Iran for a joint geological study in the South American country’s Andean belt, the state-run ABN news agency said.

Chavez highlighted bilateral projects already under way, including the construction of ethanol plants in Venezuela and gas exploration in Iran by Venezuela’s state-run oil company.

On Saturday, Chavez hinted of future projects as well.

The Venezuelan president said he aims to build a “nuclear village” with Iranian help in his country, according to Press TV. The details of such a plan were unknown.

Chavez backed Iran’s claims that its nuclear ambitions are for peaceful purposes.

“There is not a single proof that Iran is building … a nuclear bomb,” Chavez said after the leaders met, according to Press TV. “Soon they will accuse us also of building an atomic bomb.”

The visit was Chavez’s eighth to Iran and the first since Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election.

Chavez’s trip follows visits to Libya, Algeria and Syria. He will visit Belarus and Russia before returning to Venezuela
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Venezuela May Open Criminal Probe of Globovision
Daniel Cancel. Bloomberg. September 7, 2009.

Sept. 7 (Bloomberg) — Venezuela’s government may open a criminal investigation of independent television network Globovision for inciting violence, which could lead to the suspension or revoking of its broadcasting license.

Conatel, as the telecommunications regulator is known, today accused the network of inciting violence by broadcasting text messages from viewers in an on-screen ticker during an evening program. It will ask the attorney general to seek criminal charges, Conatel chief Diosdado Cabello said in comments carried by state television.

“Those messages are filtered by the channel and there must be consequences if a channel is calling for the assassination of the president or a coup,” said Cabello, who is also the minister of public works and housing.

Cabello has closed 34 radio and television outlets and is reviewing as many as 240 licenses as part of a process to “democratize” the media after being appointed by President Hugo Chavez this year. Chavez has called on the attorney general and courts to take action against media identified with the opposition, saying they try to destabilize the country.

The charge against Globovision today is the sixth in the past six months and could lead to a 72-hour suspension of broadcasts or the complete revoking of its license, said Ana Cristina Nunez, the legal representative of Globovision.

“Globovision is totally distanced from any message that could incite something as serious as a coup,” she said in comments on Globovision.

Radio Stations

The channel has 10 days to prepare its defense, according to a statement posted on the Conatel Web site.

The telecommunications regulator will inform 29 radio stations of their legal situation in coming days, Cabello said today. On July 3, Cabello said the government was reviewing 285 broadcast licenses after the licensees failed to comply with an order to update documents at the regulator.

“There are television stations that are infectious for public health,” Cabello said. “The impunity for media owners is over.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Cancel in Caracas at dcancel@bloomberg.net.
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Chavez walks Venice red carpet with Oliver Stone
COLLEEN BARRY. AP. September 7, 2009.

VENICE, Italy – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez received a movie star welcome Monday at the Venice Film Festival, where he walked the red carpet with director Oliver Stone for the premiere of the documentary “South of the Border.”

Hundreds of admirers, some chanting “president, president,” gathered outside of the Casino for the leader’s arrival. Chavez threw a flower into the crowd and touched his heart, and at one point took a photographer’s camera to snap a picture himself.

Security outside the Casino was tightened in advance of Chavez’s arrival with military police checking bags.

Stone says “South of the Border” is meant to illustrate “the sweeping changes” in South America in recent years as a direct counterpoint to what some say is Chavez’s depiction as a dictator by U.S. and European media.

Stone spent extensive time with Chavez for the 75-minute documentary, which is premiering at the Venice Film Festival on Monday, and also interviewed the leaders of Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Cuba and Paraguay, whom Stone said “are on the same page” as Chavez.

“He’s a guy you should meet and get to know. … He’s the star of the movie,” Stone said in an interview before the premiere.

Stone said he wanted to illustrate changes that put leaders in many South American countries in power who represent the majority of their populations, a movement started with Chavez. He cited Bolivian President Evo Morales, the first Indian to be elected president, and Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a well-known trade unionist.

“If you look now, there are seven presidents, eight countries with Chile, that are really moving away from the Washington consensus control,” Stone said. “But in America, they don’t get that story.”

Stone was invited to Venezuela to meet Chavez for the first time during the Venezuelan leader’s aborted rescue mission of Colombian hostages held by FARC rebels. The mission was aborted, but Stone said the Chavez he met was different than some U.S. media depictions.

He returned in January to interview Chavez, and continued on to four other countries to interview Chavez’s allies, with Cuban and Ecuadorean leaders joining him in Paraguay.

Stone is best known for his dramas, but he also has made four documentaries, including “Comandante,” the 2003 documentary based on a meeting with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, which the director says in many ways led him to Chavez.

“I used the real man,” Stone said. “I hope you realize how dynamic he is in the movie. What I like about the film is you see how sincere he is on camera. You don’t see a guy who is a phony. He’s not a dictator.”

Stone had said he spent “several hours here and there” with Chavez. The movie shows him at Chavez’s enormous desk and visiting the president’s childhood home, where he rides into the frame on a child’s bicycle, which breaks under his weight. He immediately offers to pay for it. Footage also shows Chavez driving his own vehicle and stopping to greet supporters.

Stone said he didn’t see it necessary to present the opposition’s case in his film.

“A dark side? There’s a dark side to everything. Why do you seek out the dark side when the guy is doing good things?” Stone asked. “He is a democrat and there is opposition to him, and he’s not perfect. But he is doing tremendous things for Venezuela and the region.”

Stone concedes that Chavez “says things unnecessary to provoke. I think he doesn’t have to do that.” But he said his opinion of Chavez only improved during the making of the documentary.

“People forget that he cut the poverty rate by one half,” Stone said. “People in Venezuela are getting an education, they are getting health care and welfare. He actually delivered on what he said he would.”

The movie’s screenwriter is Tariq Ali, the British-Pakistani historian who most recently wrote “Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope” and it was produced by Fernando Sulichin. Stone also was advised by economist Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“South of the Border” is showing out of competition at the Venice Film Festival, which ends Saturday with the awarding of the Golden Lion.
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Critics march against Chavez across Latin America
SUSANA LONDONO. AP. September 5, 2009.

BOGOTA – Thousands of opponents of Hugo Chavez marched against the Venezuelan president across Latin America on Friday, accusing him of everything from authoritarianism to international meddling.

The protests, coordinated through Twitter and Facebook, drew more than 5,000 people in Bogota, and thousands more in the capitals of Venezuela and Honduras. Smaller demonstrations were held in other Latin American capitals, as well as New York and Madrid.

The Honduras march was led by Roberto Micheletti, who became president when Chavez ally Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a June coup.

“Any politician who tries to stay in power by hitching up with a dictator like Hugo Chavez, he won’t achieve it,” Micheletti said. “We’ll stop him.”

Chavez, who was traveling in Syria, ridiculed the protests, likening Micheletti to a gorilla and saying: “Those who want to march, march with ‘Goriletti,’ the dictators, the extreme right.”

Chavez supporters held smaller counter-demonstrations, including a Caracas rally that drew about 100 people. Police in Quito, Ecuador, intervened to keep pro- and anti-Chavez groups from clashing.

Turnout was far from massive in many cities. A dozen people rallied in Sao Paulo, while about 200 turned out in New York and Madrid. Protests also were held in the capitals of Argentina, Ecuador, Chile, Panama and Bolivia.

Protest organizer Marcela Garzon in Colombia said she didn’t care about the numbers.

“The quantity doesn’t interest us, but rather the quality,” she said.

Associated Press writers Fabiola Sanchez in Caracas, Venezuela, Jeanneth Valdivieso in Quito, Ecuador, and Freddy Cuevas in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, contributed to this report.

Andean Region [contents]

Constitutional Court may shorten referendum procedure
Adriaan Alsema. Colombia Reports. September 8, 2009.

Colombia’s Constitutional Court does not rule out the possibility that the re-election referendum could go through a shortened review procedure as time for the popular vote is running out.

Court president Nilson Pinilla told Caracol Radio on Monday that the high court has not yet discussed the possibility for a shortened review process for the popular vote, but will do so next week after the Court returns from Cartagena, where it takes part in the 16th Congress of Latin-American Constitutional Courts.

Pinilla denied allegations that the court’s referendum ruling is “in the pocket” as President Alvaro Uribe has been able to pick one third of the magistrates in the two terms he served.

The court must rule on the constitutionality of the referendum bill that was approved by Congress recently and ratified by Uribe on Monday. Supporters of the referendum fear a slow procedure in the court could kill the president’s chance for re-election, as the elections already scheduled for May and the President is obliged to confirm his candidacy before November 30.

According to Interior and Justice Minister Fabio Valencia Cossio, Uribe will only speak out on his 2010 aspirations if the Colombian people approve presidential re-election for a third term in the referendum.
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DAS worked together with paramilitaries, former official repeats
Javier Emilio Valencia . olombia Reports. September 7, 2009.

Colombia news – rafael Garcia

The former ICT director of Colombia’s intelligence service DAS confirmed a leaked testimony wherein he alleged that the DAS was engaged in drug trafficking by paramilitary organization AUC and wiretapping government critics. President Alvaro Uribe was aware of the service’s illegal activities, the director said.

“The only thing I can say is that during [former director Jorge] Noguera’s tenure, drug trafficking was carried out by the DAS with the participation of senior DAS officials,” Garcia said to Noticias Uno.

Garcia also alleged in the newscast interview that DAS gave weapons to the now demobilized paramilitary Northern Bloc, and that several local DAS directors were appointed by explicit request from the paramilitaries. Garcia stated that the appointments of Romulo Betancur as the DAS director in Bolivar, and of Emilio Vence Zabaleta as the DAS director in Atlántico, were solicited by paramilitary commanders.

Garcia told Noticias Uno that Noguera kept in contact with the paramilitary leaders through the imprisoned army general Rito Alejo del Rio.

According to Garcia, Noguera wiretapped NGO, leftist, and opposition leaders, like the senators Piedad Cordoba and Gustavo Petro. “At his home, while we were having some drinks, he (Noguera) told me: ‘I even hear Piedad Cordaba’s snoring’,” said Garcia.

Garcia also said that the security officials assigned to protect opposition leaders by DAS were used by Noguera to spy on the people.

Garcia repeated his allegations that President Uribe was aware of Noguera’s illegal actions. According to Garcia, Noguera handed intelligence information to paramilitary forces following the command of President Uribe.

“He (Noguera) told me: ‘Don’t worry. The President and the Prosecutor (General) are fully aware of this. They will back us up when necessary,” said Garcia to Noticias Uno. Garcia also told the newscast reporter that he heard Noguera complaining over the phone in a conversation with President Uribe because a Magdalena Police director was harassing the paramilitary forces in the northern Colombian Department.

Noguera is currently in jail on suspicion of having had ties to the AUC and using the now demobilized paramilitaries for political murders.

Garcia is serving an 11-year sentence for helping paramilitaries while serving for the DAS.
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US Congress concerned by Colombia bases agreement
Colombia Reports. September, 8 2009.

A number of U.S. Congressmen say their country’s agreement with Colombia on the use of military bases adversely affects Colombia’s development, newspaper El Tiempo reported on Tuesday.

“We are very concerned that an increased military presence in Colombia will exacerbate the failures of Plan Colombia and continue to focus on the financing of the armed forces instead of development and the law,” American congressmen said.

A letter regarding Colombia is circulating in Washington, collecting signatures in order to be sent to President Obama, recommending a “cautious approach”, the newspaper reported.

The reitierate the findings of a recent report by the Comptroller General of the Congress, which concluded that Plan Colombia has not managed to reduce the flow of illicit drugs to the United States. The 1998 plan devised with Colombia’s then-President Andrés Pastrana, aimed to end the armed conflict and curb drug activity.

In their letter, the congressmen also express concern regarding the high number of human rights violations attributed to the Colombian military. The United States and Colombia recently negotiated a deal to allow Washington access to seven military bases in the country. The agreement has generated controversy, with everyone from Colombian students to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez decrying the pact.
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Peru’s Garcia names party insider prime minister
Buenos Aires Herald Tribune. September 8, 2009.

Peruvian President Alan Garcia named a member of his pro-business ruling party as prime minister after bowing to opposition pressure to shake up his Cabinet in the worst crisis of his term.

Garcia picked Javier Velasquez, a member of the APRA party and the head of Congress, to take over leadership of his team of ministers at a time when the president’s approval rating has plunged to 21 percent.

He also retained Finance Minister Luis Carranza, a favourite of investors who is in the middle of rolling out a $3.2 billion stimulus program to help the economy to grow 3 percent this year.

As prime minister, Velasquez will face growing calls from unions, indigenous groups and the poor for the government to increase social spending as unemployment rises and the economy slows from last year’s 10 percent surge.

Opposition parties have demanded Cabinet changes since last month when at least 34 people died in clashes between police and indigenous groups in the Amazon rain forest.

Outgoing Prime Minister Yehude Simon was heavily criticized for botching negotiations with protesters, who were demanding the government strike down laws designed to open up their ancestral lands to foreign mining and oil companies.

Garcia also replaced the ministers of defence, justice, agriculture and the interior after demonstrators blamed them in part for failing to avert the deadly clashes.

A third of Peruvians live in poverty and critics say Garcia’s agenda of pushing free-trade agreements and encouraging foreign investment in mines and energy projects has not lifted incomes enough.

“The country wants order and social inclusion and I am sure the Cabinet that Velasquez leads will meet these objectives,” Garcia said at the presidential palace.

The opposition said that Garcia should have chosen an independent with a knack for building consensus among left-wing and right-wing parties in Peru’s rocky political world.

“This nomination is disappointing,” said Carlos Tapia, speaker of the Nationalist Party, whose leftist leader, Ollanta Humala, is a top contender for the 2011 presidential race. Garcia cannot run in the next election.

“We think it should have been somebody who was politically autonomous,” Tapia said.

In the cabinet shuffle, Mercedes Araoz, who as trade minister helped implement a free-trade pact with the United States, was named minister of production and industry.

Martin Perez, a legislator from the conservative National Unity party, was named trade minister and Pedro Sanchez was retained as mines and energy minister
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Chile’s Central Bank May Keep Rate at Record Low 0.5%
Sebastian Boyd. Bloomberg. September 8, 2009.

Sept. 8 (Bloomberg) — Chile’s central bank will probably keep its benchmark interest rate at a record low for a second straight month as policy makers wait for signs that an economic recovery has taken hold.

Bank President Jose De Gregorio and the rest of the five- member policy committee will maintain the rate at 0.5 percent, according to all 16 economists surveyed by Bloomberg. The bank will announce its decision at about 6 p.m. New York time today.

De Gregorio will leave the monetary stimulus in place until the end of the year as policy makers gauge how fast economic growth will return, said Rodrigo Aravena, an economist at Banchile Inversiones in Santiago. De Gregorio has room to hold borrowing costs at a minimum without concern about fanning inflation, Aravena said.

“It is very unlikely we’ll see rate rises before the second quarter of 2010,” said Aravena, who sits on a panel that provides the government with economic growth estimates. “Even though the economy is recovering there is still a wide output gap.”

The output gap measures the breach between an economy’s potential growth rate and its current pace of growth.

Chilean consumer prices fell 1 percent in August from a year earlier, the National Statistics Institute said today, the steepest decline since 1939. The drop in prices, led by an 18 percent fall in the cost of electricity, exceeded the median estimate of 0.8 percent in a Bloomberg survey of 13 economists.

Economic activity shrank 2.7 percent in July, the central bank said yesterday.

Forecast for Growth

Analysts expect the business environment will improve. A committee of 16 economists organized by the government estimated this month that Chile’s gross domestic product would expand an average of 4.2 percent annually in the next five years.

Consumer prices will probably fall 0.7 percent this year, according to the median estimate of 29 economists in a central bank survey on Aug. 7.

Chile’s central bank has lowered borrowing costs by 7.75 percentage points this year, more than any other major central bank. De Gregorio lifted the rate to its highest in a decade last year as inflation rose to 9.9 percent, the fastest pace of price increases in 14 years.

The central bank is offering loans to banks at the overnight rate in maturities as long as 180 days as it seeks to cheapen funding for lenders, leading to lower interest loans for companies and individuals. The six-month loans imply the bank will leave the rate unchanged for at least that long.

Extending Maturities

Policy makers mulled extending the maturity of the facility at their last meeting on Aug. 13 before deciding to leave it unchanged, according to minutes published on Aug. 28.

“The minutes and statement read on the hawkish side,” said Rafael de la Fuente, chief Latin American economist at BNP Paribas SA in New York. “They don’t seem to be in any hurry to introduce more monetary easing. The central bank seems comfortable where they are. They’re on hold.”

Chile’s GDP contracted 4.5 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, the most in two decades, after the global economic slowdown lowered prices for copper exports and a salmon virus crippled fish farms. The median forecast of 29 economists in the central bank survey on Aug. 7 was that the economy would shrink 1.5 percent this year. It shrank 3.4 percent in the first seven months.

The central bank is due to publish a new survey Sept. 10 and its own updated economic forecasts Sept. 15. The bank said in May that the economy may shrink as much as 0.5 percent this year or grow by 0.5 percent. In July, the bank’s economists said in a report to policy makers that the economy was slowing faster than they had expected.

Copper Prices

The economy may be beginning to expand after President Michelle Bachelet earmarked more than $4 billion for tax breaks and subsidies. Chile is also benefiting from the increase in the price of copper, which doubled from the beginning of the year to $2.85 per pound on demand from China.

Government programs alone may have cut 1.5 percentage points from the unemployment rate, Finance Minister Andres Velasco said Sept. 4.

The central bank’s rate cuts and government incentives for homebuyers have also helped the Chilean building industry, Velasco said. Government handouts to poorer families and unemployment insurance have boosted consumer spending, he said.

“Consumption has started to recover pretty quickly, and that has something to do with the large and opportune cuts in interest rates,” Velasco said.

Supermarket sales rose 7.2 percent in July from a year earlier and retail sales increased year-on-year for the first time in six months, the National Statistics Institute said.

The worst of the crisis has passed, Bachelet told Chileans in a nationally televised speech Sept. 1. “There are evident signs of recovery,” she said.

Chile’s currency rose 0.1 percent to 552.40 pesos per dollar as of 1:24 p.m. in New York today.

Southern Cone [contents]

SOUTH AMERICA: Glaciers – Going, Going…Gone?
Marcela Valente. IPS News. September, 6, 2009.

BUENOS AIRES, Sep 6 (IPS) – South America is perhaps most often associated with the Amazon jungle, the world’s largest tropical rainforest. But along its western edge, from Ecuador to southern Chile and Argentina, it also harbours huge glaciers which are rapidly melting due to global warming.

The 18,000-year-old Chacaltaya glacier in the Bolivian Andes disappeared in August. Experts had forecast that it would survive until 2015, but it melted sooner than predicted, and what used to be famed as the world’s highest ski run, 5,300 metres above sea level, is now a boulder-strewn slope with a few patches of ice near the top.

In Ecuador, an avalanche at the base of the Cayambe glacier killed three tourists and a mountain guide this year. And in May, an avalanche caused serious damage in the area of Pampa Linda, at the base of Monte Tronador (Thundering Mountain) in southern Argentina, when a glacier collapsed.

These isolated avalanches confirm the trend towards the collapse of the Andean glaciers, experts say.

“Glaciers in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia have their days numbered,” Juan Carlos Villalonga, head of the Argentine chapter of the global environmental watchdog Greenpeace, told IPS. The ice sheets in Cuyo, in western Argentina, and the even larger ice sheets of Patagonia, shared between Argentina and Chile in the southwest of the continent, are also shrinking.

According to Greenpeace, the melting of the glaciers must be a cause for concern among the world leaders who will be meeting in Copenhagen in December for the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference, and greater commitment is needed to curb the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

In an interview with IPS, glaciologist Ricardo Villalba of the Argentine Institute of Snow Research, Glaciology and Environmental Sciences (IANIGLA) said that the retreat of the glaciers’ enormous ice masses “is a global process which began in 1850 and has accelerated since 1970.”

However, this process “is not an even one,” he said. “In Ecuador or Bolivia, where the glaciers are smaller, they tend to collapse more quickly,” whereas in Argentina, some are shrinking at an alarming rate while others are surviving, depending on temperature and rainfall.

On average, however, glaciers in Patagonia have shrunk by between 10 and 20 percent in the last 20 years. “If this trend persists, the ice will all disappear within 60 or 70 years,” he said.

In a study updated in August, “Cambio Climático: futuro negro para los glaciares” (Climate Change: A Black Future for Glaciers), Greenpeace Argentina warns that the melting of glaciers in South America is accelerating. The report contains a reminder that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted this trend in 2007.

According to the IPCC, the average global temperature has risen by 0.74 degrees over the last 100 years, and the area permanently covered by ice and snow has shrunk. It also indicates that 11 out of the last 12 years have been the hottest since 1850, and global temperature is forecast to continue to rise this century.

“One of the effects climate change is expected to have is a massive loss of permanent ice cover on the earth’s surface, from the polar ice caps as well as from different bodies of continental ice,” the Greenpeace report says. This will have severe consequences, it stresses.

In first place, sea levels will rise, causing forced migration and the loss of coastal infrastructure. The proportion of reflecting ice on the earth’s surface will also shrink, increasing the amount of solar radiation absorbed by the earth and exacerbating global warming.

But above all, the melting of the glaciers means the loss of vast reserves of fresh water for human consumption, and for the rivers that provide hydroelectric power. These losses will particularly affect the Andes highlands in South America.

“South America has a surprising variety of glaciers along the length of the Andes mountain range, and the largest of them are found in Patagonia,” says the Greenpeace study. In Ecuador, “their disappearance is imminent,” and the significance of this is underlined by the fact that 50 percent of the water used by the population of Quito is glacier meltwater.

The report confirms the findings of a 2008 research study by the World Bank, titled “Impact of Climate Change in Latin America”, which points out that 70 percent of the world’s tropical glaciers are in the Andes mountains, in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.

In Peru alone, where millions of people depend on meltwater for their daily supply, 22 percent of the surface area of glaciers has been lost in little over 30 years. The Quelcaya ice cap has lost 20 percent of its volume since 1963, the study says. “It has retreated faster in the last century than in the previous 500 years,” according to Greenpeace.

“In the 1990s, the rate of retreat has risen to 30 metres a year,” Greenpeace said, referring to this glacier that supplies Lima with its water.

In Argentina, the immense ice sheets in Cuyo “are in a highly critical situation,” the report notes. Water is scarce in this part of the country: in the western province of Mendoza, for instance, only three percent of the land is oasis; the rest is desert and depends heavily on icemelt for water.

In Patagonia, some 20,000 square kilometres of glaciers are shared between Argentina and Chile. The Southern Ice Field in both countries spreads over 13,000 square kilometres, the Northern Ice Field in Chile covers 4,200 square kilometres, and the Darwin mountain range glaciers, also shared by the two countries, cover 2,500 square kilometres.

“Many of the largest glaciers in these ice fields have thinned alarmingly and retreated several kilometres,” except for two of them, the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina and the Pío XI glacier in Chile, which are stable or even advancing, Greenpeace says.

In Villalba’s view, the fragile glacier ecosystem depends on the balance between the amount of snowfall and the temperature, which must be low, otherwise the glaciers collapse. He said that the recent retreat of the glaciers is associated mainly with the rise in temperature.

“The Upsala glacier, for instance, is retreating amazingly fast,” Villalba said. The glacier flows into Lago Argentino, in the southern province of Santa Cruz, and its contact with the lake accelerates its erosion. The same is true for the Viedma glacier, in the same province.

“As long as greenhouse gases continue to be released into the atmosphere, the ice will melt at an increasing rate, which is why we are calling for a reduction in the use of fossil fuels and the pursuit of alternative energies,” Villalba said. (END/2009)
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Obama’s “on line” strategy to promote Lula da Silva’s successor
MercoPress. September 8, 2009.

Brazil’s President Lula da Silva ruling Workers party has been in consultations with the communications team that worked with US president Barack Obama, with the purpose of helping design its campaign for the 2010 presidential election.

Leaders from the Workers Party met with Ben Self from the Blue State Digital agency, the brains and architect behind the successful digital publicity strategy displayed by president Obama during his 2008 campaign.

According to O’ Estado de Sao Paulo, Lula da Silva’s party is intent in mounting a propaganda strategy through Internet to promote the most certain presidential postulation of Dilma Rousseff, currently cabinet chief, and who Lula da Silva has virtually hand picked as his successor.

Rousseff currently is far behind in public opinion polls’ vote intention to Sao Paulo governor Jose Serra, leader of the opposition Brazilian Social Democrat party, PSDB.

The Brazilian congress recently approved legislation which allows presidential hopefuls to air political publicity in internet.

Obama’s “on line” strategy has been closely followed by Lula da Silva and his advisors who last week inaugurated the president’s own blog with incredible success.

Brazilian analysts and politicians, even from the opposition, admit that Lula da Silva is a “born communicator” which has become a “phenomenon” and “case study” because of his plain, straight, easily understandable style which reaches all segments of the population, even the humblest.

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Brazil to buy 36 fighter jets from France
Chris Kraul. Los Angeles Times. September 8, 2009.

The deal, estimated to be worth more than $2 billion, apparently hinged on France’s willingness to transfer technology to the Brazilians, a step other bidders including Boeing were reluctant to take.

Reporting from Bogota, Colombia – Stepping up an aggressive plan to fortify the defense of its valuable natural resources, Brazil said Monday that it had entered into a billion-dollar-plus agreement to buy 36 French fighter jets.

The deal was announced in a statement issued by Presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who together took part in Brazil’s Independence Day ceremonies in Brasilia. The precise value of the aircraft sale was not released pending final agreement on the terms but observers estimate its value at more than $2 billon.

The French aircraft manufacturer Dassault beat out Boeing and the Swedish aircraft company Saab in the closely watched bidding for one of the larger defense plums in recent years.

A decisive factor was France’s willingness to transfer technology to Brazil in the course of supplying it with Rafale fighter jets. Saab, maker of Gripen jets, and Boeing, maker of F-18 Super Hornets, were reluctant to agree to such a transfer, Lula indicated in remarks last week in which he expressed a preference for the French planes.

Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim said in April that such transfers would be a prerequisite henceforth of any major arms deals Brazil signs.

The agreement follows a long-term pact signed in December and valued at $11 billion, under which Brazil and France will jointly build five submarines, one of them nuclear-powered. The vessels will be built at a new shipyard in Itaguai, an industrial zone near Rio de Janeiro that includes three new steel factories.

In addition, France is selling Brazil 50 military helicopters that will be assembled at a factory to be built in Minas Gerais state.

In a defense plan unveiled last year, Brazil detailed what it saw as the need to militarily protect its growing reserves of offshore oil as well as natural resources in the Amazon basin. On Monday, Lula said that the French fighter jets would help Brazil defend its borders.

“We’re going to produce equipment that reinforces our technological capacity to protect our natural riches,”Lula said. “Brazil is counting on a regional defense plan to integrate its development.”

Over the last two years Brazil has announced the discovery of huge offshore oil reserves called Pre-salt in ultra-deep waters of the Atlantic that could make it a major global exporter and, according to Lula, finance its ascension to first world status.

The nation also has immense natural resources — including timber, gold and uranium — in its Amazon region that reportedly are being exploited illegally by groups said to include the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a leftist guerrilla group.

Brazil is not the only major country in the northern reaches of South America that is arming up. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has also been on an arms spending spree, buying aircraft, tanks and AK-47 assault weapons from Russia worth more than $3 billion. And the U.S. has given in excess of $4 billion in military aid to Colombia since 2000.

Despite the apparent loss of the Brazilian aircraft deal, U.S. arms manufacturers still lead the world by a large margin.

In a report issued over the weekend, the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan branch of the Library of Congress, said that while global arms sales worldwide fell 7.6% in 2008 to $55.2 billion, the United States increased its share to $37.8 billion, or 68.4% of all sales.

Italy was a distant second with $3.7 billion in sales.

Kraul is a special correspondent.
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Brazil’s Lula rejects Iran sanctions, urges talks
Reuters. September 6, 2009.

PARIS (Reuters) – Western powers should stop punishing Iran over its nuclear program and instead talk to it in order to foster peace, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Sunday.

A rising diplomatic power campaigning to gain a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council, Brazil has adopted a much more conciliatory line toward Iran than Western allies including the United States.

“I think there are a lot of sanctions and not enough conversations with Iran,” Lula said during an interview with three French media, TV5 Monde, RFI radio and Le Monde newspaper.

The West suspects Iran of trying to build nuclear bombs, while Tehran says its programme is for peaceful power generation.

U.S. President Barack Obama has given Iran until later in September to take up an offer from the United States, Russia, Britain, China, France and Germany to discuss trade benefits if Tehran shelves nuclear enrichment. The alternative is to face harsher sanctions.

Lula rejected the idea of new sanctions, urging Western leaders to talk to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“I think Obama should talk to him, (French President Nicolas) Sarkozy should talk to him, (British Prime Minister) Gordon Brown should talk to him, I should, everybody should,” he said.

“Stop punishing him. Third-level U.N. officials take decisions that punish a country and make it more and more isolated. It will get harder and harder to reach an agreement,” he said, speaking through a French interpreter.

Lula gave the interview just ahead of a visit to Brazil by Sarkozy, who has been one of the most vocal Western leaders in criticizing Ahmadinejad and his disputed re-election. Sarkozy has repeatedly said Iranians deserved better than their current leadership.

Lula said electoral disputes were common all over the world, citing the 2000 presidential election in the United States, and said other countries should not meddle in Iran’s internal affairs.

México, Central America and the Caribbean [contents]

Mexico govt plans more taxes, cuts in bureaucracy
Jason Lange. Reuters. September 8, 2009.

MEXICO CITY, Sept 8 (Reuters) – Mexican President Felipe Calderon will ask Congress to slash spending on government bureaucracy and raise taxes to prop up public finances as the country languishes in a deep recession.

The most severe downturn since 1932 and a plunge in oil production have slammed government revenues, hurting Mexico’s efforts to improve its shoddy schools, roads and hospitals.

Mexico’s central bank has warned about raising taxes during hard economic times, but Mexico is trying to fend off threatened downgrades by Wall Street debt rating agencies.

Calderon said on Tuesday that austerity measures and new tax revenues could be worth 180 billion pesos ($13.5 billion) in extra funding for next year’s federal budget.

“It’s a drastic adjustment,” Calderon told reporters.

Rating agencies worry about Mexico’s paltry tax collection — roughly on a level with Haiti — and its dependency on oil to fund the budget and pay back creditors. A downgrade would lead many investors to dump Mexican assets, pushing up interest rates in Mexico and further complicating economic recovery.

Pledging to push for deep reforms, Calderon said his 2010 economic package, to be submitted to Congress later in the day, would also include proposals to overhaul competition and labor law.

The proposal is expected around 6 p.m. (2300 GMT).

Most of the 180 billion pesos in extra funding would come from new tax revenues. The plan would save 80 billion pesos by eliminating or merging several federal ministries and cutting the wages of some bureaucrats.

The finance ministry previously had projected a fiscal shortfall of about 300 billion pesos next year. ($1=13.3382 pesos) (Editing by James Dalgleish)

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With new AG, Mexico tries to revamp drug war
JULIE WATSON. AP. September 8, 2009.

MEXICO CITY – With a new attorney general, Mexican President Felipe Calderdon is trying to get even tougher on drug cartels and those who protect them.

But critics say he tapped the wrong man for the job: Arturo Chavez was mired in controversy as attorney general of a border state where corruption ran rampant and hundreds of women were raped and murdered with impunity.

In nominating Chavez, Calderon clearly sided with Mexico’s top cop, Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna, in an increasingly bitter rivalry with outgoing Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora. Chavez and Garcia Luna are allies from the same faction of the ruling party.

While Medina-Mora focused on restructuring Mexico’s justice system, Garcia Luna won praise for carrying out the bulk of the 80,000 drug arrests since Calderon took office in 2006. He oversees thousands of federal police working alongside soldiers in the country’s drug hotspots.

“This backs the muscular approach as they try to ramp up their capabilities to fight the cartels,” said George Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. Unlike Medina-Mora, he said, Garcia Luna “doesn’t spend a lot of time contemplating policy. He wants to put policy into action.”

Calderon’s all-out war on the cartels has drawn criticism as the death toll topped 13,500, and his party lost ground in midterm congressional elections in July. There has also been growing discontent among the armed forces, which want more action against politicians who protect the cartels.

“It’s one thing to go after capos, but behind the capos are those who are benefiting from the drug dealing – the governors, senators, deputies, mayors and thousands of civilian public officials,” Grayson said.

“The military is furious that there are governors who live high on the hog while they are putting troops in harm’s way. That is the buzz among the brass.”

Chavez, who still faces a tough battle for confirmation in Mexico’s senate, is relatively little known on the national stage. But in Chihuahua – across the border from Texas and home to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s deadliest city – women’s groups lined up to criticize his record.

During his 1996-98 term as state attorney general, state police botched investigations into the murders of hundreds of women whose bodies turned up dead in the desert outside Ciudad Juarez so badly that former President Vicente Fox later had to send in federal prosecutors to take over the cases.

Activists accused Chihuahua state officials of torturing suspects, contaminating and falsifying evidence and harassing victims’ relatives.

Chavez drew fire for suggesting the victims were partly to blame “for wearing miniskirts.” He recommended women take karate classes and carry pepper-spray.

“God help us,” said Victoria Caraveo, a women’s activist in Ciudad Juarez. “He did nothing when faced with this problem in Juarez. What will he do as attorney general for Mexico?”

Calderon says there is no better man to lead his drug war.

“I am sure that Mr. Arturo Chavez has the necessary knowledge and experience to carry out the delicate work of the attorney general, above all in these times when Mexico is building its future by decisively confronting organized crime,” Calderon said Monday in announcing Medina-Mora’s resignation.

Chavez was not present during the announcement and could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Calderon indicated Chavez’s experience in Chihuahua was an asset. Chihuahua is home to the Juarez cartel, which is locked in a bloody battle with the Sinaloa cartel for lucrative drug routes into the United States. More than 1,300 people have been killed by drug violence in Ciudad Juarez alone this year.

Federal congresswoman Maria Antonieta Perez, of Calderon’s National Action Party, said that means Chavez can hit the ground running.

“He is incorruptible, capable and knows the issues of drug trafficking well,” she said.

Associated Press writer Olivia Torres contributed to this report from Ciudad Juarez.
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El Salvador’s Funes marks
100 days with high public approval
TicoTimes. September 8, 2009.

Mauricio Funes on Tuesday reaches his 100th day as president of El Salvador with a more than 80 percent approval rating, in spite of attempts by the opposition to paint his administration as a “government of deception.”

Funes, a former TV journalist who ran as a reformed leftist on the ticket of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), took office June 1 from conservative President Tony Saca, starting a new chapter in El Salvador’s history by leading the first left-leaning government after a long line of right-wingers (NT, May 29).

A July CID-Gallup poll ranked Funes and fellow newly-elected president, Ricardo Martinelli of Panama, the most popular Central American leaders, both with an 86 percent favorability rating.

This Monday, local TV channel Telecorporación Salvadoreña released a public opinion poll by Mitofsky that shows his approval rating remains high at 85 percent.

Roy Campos, president of Mitofsky, said Funes is still in his “honeymoon” period. “The hope for changes (and) for a better life with the Funes win remains,” Campos said. His poll surveyed 1,200 Salvadorans at the end of August.

A recent Universidad Centroamericana survey gave Funes high marks too. The university’s president, José María Tojeira, said the Funes administration started off on the right foot. “It’s a government that began with a quite solid position because it gave stability to a country following an electoral period in which stability was in question,” said Tojeira, who is also a priest. The university president added that he considers the administration is “a kind of moderate-leftist government.”

Faced with the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression, Funes scored points when he proposed a $587 million investment to build 25,000 homes and other social programs.

The opposition, the National Republican Alliance (ARENA), which governed the country for about two decades, said the FMLN-led administration “is headed toward becoming the ‘government of deception.'”

“100 days is a brief time period that’s being used to criticize us,” Funes said at an event in Acajutla, southeast of San Salvador, in which the government handed over land to small farmers.

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Nicaragua Economy to Shrink 1% in 2009, Guevara Says
Blake Schmidt. Bloomberg. September 4, 2009.

Sept. 4 (Bloomberg) — Nicaraguan Finance Minister Alberto Guevara said the economy will contract this year for the first time since 1993 as the global slump cuts remittances and demand for exports from Latin America’s second-poorest country.

Gross domestic product will shrink 1 percent this year, after growth of 3.2 percent in 2008, Guevara said in an interview in Managua. The central bank last revised its growth projection for 2009 in June, cutting it to less than 0.5 percent.

“We’re still measuring the impact of the economic crisis on our country,” said Guevara, 45. “We’ll still be feeling the effects for two, three or four years after developed countries overcome the crisis.”

Guevara, one of the main planners of a government proposal to raise tax revenue, said the changes will fill a fiscal gap left by the suspension of $120 million in aid by some European countries, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. They cited transparency concerns in November 2008 mayoral elections.

The changes, which include a 10 percent tax on capital gains, will help to raise tax collection by 2.4 percent of GDP, he said. The changes would also exempt the poorest 71,000 tax- paying Nicaraguan workers from income taxes.

“This is about taxing personal income of owners of businesses, of shareholders,” Guevara said. “We’re not trying to reform the capitalist system. We just want a little bit of redistributive justice. There’s no ideological concept here.”

Second-Poorest

Guevara said he expects to win approval for the changes in October. Nicaragua’s per capita GDP of $1,025 is the second- lowest in the Americas after Haiti, according to International Monetary Fund data.

The country’s fiscal deficit could grow to as much as 3.5 percent of GDP in 2010 from about 2 percent this year, he said.

Nicaraguan economist Jose Luis Medal, a professor at Ave Maria College in San Marcos, Nicaragua, said the government’s fiscal reform proposal will deepen the crisis by creating new taxes during a slump.

The government should focus instead on convincing U.S. and European countries to reestablish aid flows and accounting for Venezuelan assistance, which lacks transparency, he said.

“Before any fiscal reform, the government should incorporate Venezuelan aid into the budget,” Medal said at the Barcelo hotel in Managua yesterday.

Guevara, a former central bank economist, expects Venezuelan aid in 2009 to be comparable to 2008, when it totaled $457 million in oil, financing and direct transfers.

Guevara said he backs President Daniel Ortega’s push for a referendum on constitutional changes that would allow Ortega to seek re-election.

“I don’t see any problem with it as long as there’s a political agreement in which the whole nation decides. It’s the tendency in Latin America,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Blake Schmidt in Managua, Nicaragua at bschmidt16@bloomberg.net.
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UN peacekeepers to bolster presence at Dominican-Haiti border
Dominican Today. September 8, 2009.

DOMINGO.- Peacekeepers of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (Minustah) will heighten their presence at the border with the Dominican Republic as part of a plan to reinforce the zone’s controls and security.

As part of the operation the Minustah troops, on the Haitian side, and those of the Border Security Corps (Cesfront), on the Dominican part, will patrol the more than 350 kilometer border from Montecristi in the northwest, to Pedernales in the southwest.

Reportedly the land patrols will be reinforced to target key points for the traffic of undocumented people, drugs, guns and merchandise. Mentioned in that regard are the Dominican towns Elías Piña, Dajabón, Montecristi, Pedro Santana, Bánica, Sabana Cruz and Juan Santiago, Sabana Artibonito, among others.

On the Haitian side the communities cited are Ounaminthe, Maribaroux, Savane Longue, Gens de Nantes, Dilaire, Dosmond, Gens de Nantes, Belladere, among others.

In the eve of the start of the UN Annual Assembly Secretary General Ban Ki-moon raised the need for more attention at the Haiti-Dominican border, including more patrol and support vehicles to transport more troops.

The Minustah currently has 9,158 peacekeepers, including 7,106 soldiers and 2,052 police, supported by 492 international officials, 1,221 national officials and 202 United Nations volunteers.

The Dominican Government has called on the international community to seek a solution to the Haitian crisis and the United States will contribute US$30 million to fight drug trafficking through the border.
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Castro slams Philips for helping US ‘harm’ Cuba, Venezuela
Carlos Batista. AFP. September 7, 2009.

HAVANA – Cuban ex-president Fidel Castro on Monday slammed Dutch multinational Philips as a “traitor” for not delivering spare parts for medical equipment due to the US economic embargo on Cuba.

Castro, 83, and still head of the Cuban Communist Party, charged in an editorial in official media that Philips’ “backing down and betrayal of Cuba and Venezuela” stemmed from US pressure under former president George W. Bush, and has not changed much under President Barack Obama.

The United States and Cuba do not have full diplomatic relations. Washington has had a full economic embargo on Cuba since 1962.

Oil-rich Venezuela is Cuba’s key regional ally, and keeps Havana’s deeply strained central economy just barely afloat. Hundreds of Cuban doctors in turn work in Venezuela’s national health system.

While the United States has made enough loopholes in its own sanctions to become a leading supplier of food to Cuba, most US industrial and manufactured goods still cannot be sold directly to the Americas’ lone communist government.

Castro said that in 2006, at the request of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Cuba bought from Philips and Germany’s Siemens thousands of pieces of advanced medical equipment for the two countries.

The retired Cuban leader, who left power that year after almost 50 years at Cuba’s helm, said Siemens “kept its promises.”

But Philips, despite a purchase of 3,553 pieces of equipment worth 72.8 million dollars, did not deliver spare parts due to what Castro said it called “brutal intransigence” on the part of unnamed US authorities.

Only in June did Philips deliver the needed spare parts, Castro said, after it paid a 100,000-euro fine to the Obama government.

“No one has compensated Cubans, or Venezuelan patients under the care of doctors, for the human suffering caused,” Castro wrote.

However US law permits states to sell agricultural, medical and information technology products on a cash basis to Cuba. Since 2000, such sales have totaled more than three billion dollars. So Castro charged the United States with violating the loophole it made in its own sanctions.

Castro said Venezuela “is more threatened than ever” by “imperialism” — usually Cuban shorthand for the United States, so the need for bilateral cooperation was stronger than ever.

Just Thursday the US Treasury eased restrictions on travel and money transfers to Cuba by Cuban-Americans five months after Obama announced the measures in a bid to improve ties with the communist island.

The move also allows US telecommunications network providers to link to Cuba with fiber-optic cables and satellite technology, permits US wireless telephone providers to enter roaming service agreements with Cuban firms, and allows US satellite broadcasts to the island.

When it first announced planned changes in April, the White House said the move was intended to encourage expanding democratic and political rights in Cuba.

Region: Trade, Security, Economy and Integration [contents]

Latinamerica turns to Europe, Russia and China for military hardware
MercoPress. September 8, 2009.

Brazil’s plans to buy French fighter jets confirms a trend across Latinamerica that is based in recent history and the proclivity of US lawmakers to put political restrictions on what customers can and cannot do with their purchases.

French aircraft and submarines have emerged with winning colours

This had convinced many Latinamerican countries that it is more reliable and less politically sensitive to acquire military hardware from Western Europe, Russia and lately from the emerging China and in the near future possibly from India.

In Brazil’s case this helps explain in part why France’s Rafale emerged victorious over the US F/A-18 Super Hornet and Sweden’s Gripen NG, according to the planned purchase announced on Monday; plus the 9 billion US dollars cooperation agreement for the acquisition of submarines, one of them nuclear powered and 50 choppers.

While the Rafale was an excellent choice anyway on performance criteria, Brazilian officials said it was France’s offer to share all of the plane’s technology that really sealed the deal.

The technology behind the F/A-18 and the Gripen (which uses some US components such as the engine) are subject to approval from Washington – which has in the past vetoed any transactions with of which it disapproved.

That was the case under President Jimmy Carter, who embargoed military sales to South American dictatorships in the 1970s. Argentina as a result turned to Europe – buying French Super-Etendard fighters with Exocet missiles that subsequently proved so successful and fearsome for the British Task Force sent to recover the Falkland Islands taken over by the Argentine military dictatorship in 1982.

More recently, former US president George W. Bush slapped an arms embargo on populist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who has close relations with Iran and is accused of not doing enough in the “war on terror”.

As a result, and with no spares for his US military hardware, Chavez went shopping to Russia which has proved only to happy to sell him 24 sophisticated Sukhoi fighter jets, 51 combat helicopters, missile-launchers and 100,000 AK-103 assault rifles for a total 4.4 billion US dollars. He also purchased 24 light jets from China and turbine anti guerrilla aircrafts from Brazil.

Across the rest of South America the situation is not different.

Peru although now friendly with the United States, had longstanding ties with Moscow. It has Russian MiGs and Sukhois and French Mirages in its air force, German submarines and Italian frigates in its navy. The army has US tanks, but they are backed up by French, German, Italian, Brazilian and Russian armoured vehicles.

Even Colombia, the United States’ main ally in the region, is not relying entirely on Washington, which has given 5.5 billion US dollars in mostly military aid over the past decade to fight drug trafficking and rebels.

The Colombian air force has 15 Black Hawk helicopters but its pilots also fly French Mirages (and Israeli-modified Mirages Kfirs) and Brazilian Super Tucanos for jungle warfare. Colombia is also scheduled to receive five Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters and is asking France and Germany to look at modernising its navy.

In Chile, cooperation with European suppliers goes back to the start of the 20th century with the British supplying the Navy and Air Force, and Germany traditionally the Army. Currently the Navy is undergoing a renewal process with British and Dutch frigates, French submarines and Israeli torpedo boats. The Air Force opted for F-16s from the US as part of the free trade deal signed with Washington in the mid nineties plus other refurbished F16s from Europe and French Mirages. The Army is equipped with German Leopard tanks.

The smaller countries, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay have also diversified their sources of supply from the traditional US military hardware to Europe, Russia, China, Israel, Brazil and lately even Iran.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI, statistics, an “arms race” seems to be emerging in Latinamerican arms race, which says regional defence spending grew 50 per cent between 1999 and 2008.
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Education gap in Latinamerica and with other regions widening
MercoPress. September 8, 2009.

Latinamerica and the Caribbean spend three times more in arms and fuel subsidies than in the learning gap between children from low income and high income homes, a sum estimated in 14 billion US dollars, according to the president of the Inter American Development Bank, IDB, Luis Alberto Moreno.

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IDB Luis Alberto Moreno admits education results evidence “is not encouraging”

The sum said Moreno “sounds exorbitant in these hard times” but last year the region spent three times more in the Armed Forces and in subsidies to reduce the fuel bill, which represents 42 billion US dollars.

Although defence and transport have their room in the national budgets, giving 46 million children from the region the opportunities they should have, it could help better understand the long battle to reduce inequality, according to Moreno.

The big question is whether students in Latinamerica and the Caribbean can some day catch their peers in the advanced countries and “the latest evidence is not encouraging”.

In spite of the fact that access to education in the region has expanded considerably, the assessment tests keep showing that “the quality of our public education is several steps behind international standards.

“A third of our third grade students do not understand phrases that begin with ‘once upon a time’ and most of those in sixth grade can’t solve problems with fractions”, said Moreno.

Up to now all efforts had concentrated in improving schooling results for children above six years, “but for then it could be too late”, admitted Moreno.

“To ensure we can close the education gap, our governments and our communities must ensure that all children receive the adequate stimulation, as well as education, health and nutrition, before starting first grade”, said Moreno.

Many recent investigations show that the period from birth to the start of school is critical, “since 80% of brain development occurs before the three years of age”, said Moreno.

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