Monthly Archives: August 2011

Global Post – Google maps the Amazon

In its quest to map the entire planet, Google has started in on the world’s largest tropical rainforest.

Google started its Street View in Brazil last year. But until recently, it’s just been focused on the country’s bustling cities and towns.

Now, it plans to send its street-view cameras on tricycles down dirt trails, and even mount them on boats to capture on-the-ground pictures.

Google also will rely on the aid of local people to add details that only they would know, such as well-traveled paths or far-flung villages. The tech giant plans to work with Amazonas Sustainable Foundation, a non-profit organization backed by the Brazilian government that works to conserve the forest and improve the livelihood of communities who live there.

The hope is that it will help outsiders better understand the scope and the importance of the world’s largest tropical rainforest, Google said.

Mapping the forest could bring more pressure to bear on the Brazilian government, as the president considers whether to sign off on a bill that would scale back protections for the famous forest.

Over the years the forest coverage has shrunk as farmers clear the land for their own use, and commercial farms expand. Already, in the past year, Amazon deforestation increased by 15%, according to the National Institute for Space Research.

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Survival – Peru approves ‘historic’ indigenous rights law

On Tuesday night, Peru’s Congress unanimously approved a ‘historic’ new law that guarantees indigenous people’s right to free, prior and informed consent to any projects affecting them and their lands.

President Ollanta Humala says he supports consultation, and now has 15 days to sign the bill into law. It is a significant step away from the policies of former Peruvian President Alan Garcia, who vetoed a similar bill.

The ‘Prior Consultation Law’ complies with commitments set out inILO Convention 169, the only international law designed to protect tribal people’s rights.

Peru ratified the ILO 169 in 1993 but has consistently failed to uphold it, causing widespread unrest amongst the country’s indigenous population.

Amazon Indian organization AIDESEP has welcomed the government’s decision, but warned this is just the first step to ensure indigenous rights are guaranteed.

‘We mustn’t fall into false triumphalism. It is now up to the government to form a national indigenous organization… that will uphold strict compliance with this new law.’

Under Alan Garcia, Peruvian Indians experienced unprecedented pressures on their lands as a result of his aggressive development policies.

More than 70% of the Amazon is now divided into oil and gas concessions often without the consent of the indigenous inhabitants.

Survival International’s Director, Stephen Corry, said ‘There are two factors at stake here. Firstly, Humala should support the decision of Congress to approve the Prior Consultation Law. Secondly, the Peruvian Government must commit to upholding it.’

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The Foundry – Qadhafi Fall Would Deal a Double Blow to a Beleaguered Hugo Chavez

As jubilant Libyans take to the street to celebrate the imminent fall of Muammar Qadhafi, the fate of Libya’s leader remains uncertain: trial or exile?

Press resources speculate that he may be headed to a friendly country. Russia, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela are mentioned. Richard Spencer of The Telegraph reported that “the main possibility of exile outside the Arab world is in Venezuela, whose leader Hugo Chavez is an old friend. Last week a Venezuelan envoy was in the Tunisian resort island of Djerba, talking to Qadhafi representatives.”

Throughout Libya’s civil war, Chavez has steadfastly aligned with the Libyan leader. Never once did he call for new leadership in Libya or even urge Qadhafi to spare the lives of his own people.

On August 1, Chavez remained adamant. “I respect him a lot! He’s resisting there. Long live Libya!” Chavez denounced the National Transition Council as “a group of terrorists.” “Live and be victorious,” urged Chavez. “We’re with you.”

On August 13, Chavez dispatched a letter of support to his “brother” Qadhafi.

The Libyan leader’s fall will deal a double blow to Chavez. It is another setback for the extreme anti-Western, anti-U.S. ideology that has increasingly become the touchstone of Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution and international alliance structure. Once more, Chavez puts himself on the wrong side of history.

With Syrian ally President Bashar al-Assad—whom Chavez defended as “a humanist” and victim “of a fascist onslaught—under siege and swiftly losing legitimacy, Chavez could soon be bereft of the companionship of another radical Arab soul-mate.

That would leave revolutionary Iran as Chavez’s firmest and sole remaining ally in the Middle East.

To emphasize the point, the U.S. State Department’s new 2010 Country Reports on Terrorism judged that Venezuela fails to assist in the fight against international terrorism and warned that “President Chavez has continued to strengthen Venezuela’s relationship with state sponsor of terrorism Iran.”

Chavez’s foreign ministry and pro-Chavez media employed highly undiplomatic language in denouncing the Obama Administration and its latest terrorism report, accusing it of playing the role of “planetary judge,” engaging “in massacres of civilians on numerous war fronts,” and opposing any nation “that does not yield to its imperial intentions for world domination.”

A slippage in oil prices is also unwelcome news for Chavez. With his economy on the ropes and elections ahead next year, a decline in revenue for an economy that depends on petroleum exports by his national oil companyfor 90 percent of its foreign earnings is a grim prospect.

Since the start of the Libyan crisis last March, Chavez has made clear where his support and moral sentiments lie. Celebrations in the streets of Tripoli marking the impending fall of a tyrant are once more a warning sign of what lies ahead for despots: Arab, African, Asian, or Latin American. It is a message whose significance should not be overlooked by the Castros in Cuba or the Chavistas of Venezuela.

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Strategy Page – Venezuela Feasts on Russian Arms Loans

August 21, 2011: Venezuela has obtained another $4 billion loan from Russia, with which to buy more Russian weapons. This was foretold. Four years ago, Russian arms dealers stated that they expected to increase sales to Venezuela, from the then current $4 billion, to over $10 billion. They have now exceeded that goal, as the new loan will mean over $13 billion in Russian arms are headed to Venezuela.

Why all the weapons? Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez achieved a measure of popularity with the voters by convincing them that the United States was about to invade. These threats, and Chavez’s poll numbers, are less believable these days. Venezuela is running out of money, but Chavez takes comfort in new weapons, especially those being used to arm a new personal militia. Weapons may not be needed to stop Yankee invaders, but they will also work against disloyal Venezuelans.

This Venezuelan credit binge is a new development. Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has sold weapons on a cash basis. No more generous terms as in the Cold War past. But that is changing, and two years ago, Russia offered Venezuela $2.2 billion in credit, for the purchase of more weapons. The Venezuelan spending spree has brought in dozens of Su-30 jet fighters, hundreds of armored vehicles (including T-90 tanks) and scores of artillery systems (mainly multiple rocket launchers.) There are also small arms (including a factory for making assault rifles), radios and other equipment. There are support aircraft, including transports and helicopter gunships. Negotiations are still under way to purchase new warships, including submarines. The new loan may well move the submarine purchase forward.

With Venezuelan unemployment rising, there’s no shortage of people trying to join the military. Those willing to profess undying loyalty to Chavez have an edge, and the senior ranks have already been purged of those who did not agree with the radical reforms Chavez wanted to impose on the military. These reforms were heavy on politics and theory, and short on training and experience. So all those new weapons are faced with a problematic future, as they are in the hands of inept, but politically motivated, users.

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LA Times – Soybeans now rule the range on Argentina plains

[Growing] soy can be twice as profitable per acre as raising cattle. Adding to the disincentives of cattle are political pressures. To ensure domestic supplies of affordable beef for her highly carnivorous constituents, populist President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has placed tough export restrictions and price controls on beef.

The shift by ranchers away from raising cattle to growing soybeans and other row crops is causing a steady diminution of Argentina’s once immense cattle herds and centuries-old tradition of gauchos connected to them. The total cattle herd in Argentina is about 47.9 million head, down 17% from the 58.3 million as recently as 2007, according to the national cattlemen’s association. Meanwhile, the national harvest of soybeans this year is expected to reach 50 million tons, compared with the 30 million tons harvested a decade ago. Some experts expect the harvest to increase by an additional 20 million tons by the end of the decade.

The boom has been good for Argentina, which is third behind the United States and Brazil as the world’s leading producers of soy, a high-protein food especially popular in China and India.

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TODAYonline | World | Chavez foes reject military’s political meddling

TODAYonline | World | Chavez foes reject military’s political meddling.

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – Opponents of President Hugo Chavez on Monday accused Venezuelan military commanders of abandoning democratic ideals by publicly denigrating government foes and backing the socialist leader.

Opposition lawmaker Tomas Guanipa said recent statements by military leaders aimed at discrediting Chavez’s adversaries ignore constitutional norms designed to guarantee the military’s democratic and apolitical character.

He urged middle-level officers and rank-and-file soldiers to ignore political commentary voiced by their superiors.

“We call on the military, if its members believe in democracy and the constitution, to understand these messages from the high command do not represent the feelings of the vast majority of the national armed forces,” Guanipa said at a news conference.

Guanipa was responding to statements made by Gen. Major Euclides Campos Aponte to soldiers on Saturday that ridiculed the opposition and accused it of trying to divide the military.

Campos Aponte said the discourse on the military by anti-Chavez politicians “is one from those who see themselves as beaten, that the possibility of winning the presidency through the vote is almost null.”

“They don’t have leadership,” he said of Chavez’s critics while speaking to a crowd of uniformed soldiers.

Chavez quickly congratulated the general.

“What an extraordinary speech Gen. Major Euclides Campos Aponte has given! Bravo!” Chavez commented in a Tweet posted shortly after the general’s address.

Polemical statements made by military commanders have irked Chavez’s opponents in the past, but the most recent statements have raised fresh concerns as Venezuela’s political rivals prepare for the 2012 election.

Last year, army Gen. Henry Rangel Silva said in a newspaper interview that neither the military nor the public would accept an opposition victory in the 2012 election. He also said officers are loyal to Chavez’s Bolivarina Revolution, a political movement named after 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar.

The president further angered opposition politicians by promoting the general to general-in-chief after the pro-Chavez comments.

Chavez appears to be using the issue to try to capitalize on tensions between his political opponents and allies within the military.

“The squalid ones are going crazy: They have an obsession with the military, with us soldiers,” Chavez said Sunday.

Chavez, who is being treated for cancer, has accused his political adversaries of conspiring to spur a military uprising with help from officials in Washington.

Government adversaries deny seeking a military rebellion. They say they are dedicated to ousting Chavez at the ballot box.

Political analyst Ricardo Sucre said he thinks Chavez’s influence over the armed forces is limited.

“I don’t think his strategy has been completely successful,” Sucre told the Globovision television channel Monday. “It does not permeate the entire institution.”

Reuters – Analysis – Chavez seeks to contain voter angst over economy

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s economy is plagued by shortages, high inflation and crippling currency controls, but a massive spending spree by President Hugo Chavez will likely keep an incipient recovery alive, at least until a 2012 vote.

In the short term, Chavez can paper over underlying problems with subsidies, price controls and ramped-up spending on his flagship health and housing programs for the poor.

But eventually, falling oil production by the OPEC nation combined with mounting debt will make it harder to finance his socialist “revolution,” analysts say, leading to sub-par growth and possibly another painful currency devaluation.

Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, according to OPEC. Yet it was the last in Latin America to pull out of recession, returning to growth in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Perhaps the biggest wrench in the economy is the mind-boggling set of rules limiting the amount of foreign currency businesses can obtain. The result is a dollar drought that hangs like a curse over a country that imports 90 percent of its needs and where basic items like milk and cooking oil are in short supply.

Annual inflation hit 25.1 percent in July, the highest in the region, but may not constrain growth as long as Chavez’ redistribution of oil wealth provides stimulus.

It is all a far cry from the oil boom days of the 1970s when the bolivar was one of Latin America’s strongest currencies, letting middle-class Venezuelans enjoy foreign travel and cheap shopping at plush Miami malls.

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