Monthly Archives: September 2011

AS/COA – Venezuelan Opposition to Back One Candidate against Chávez

There may be a year to go before Venezuelans head to the ballot box for the next presidential vote,  but the election is already kicking into high gear. On Monday, opposition leaders in the Coalition for Democratic Unity (MUD) signed a deal agreeing to back one candidate to face current President Hugo Chávez on October 7, 2012.  “We the signatories of this agreement unanimously support the candidate who is elected in a February 12 primary as the single candidate of the Democratic Unity coalition,” reads the pact. The deal was signed within days of Leopoldo López—banned in 2008 from competing for Caracas’ mayoralty seat—announcing his presidential bid. Should the Supreme Court allow him to run, López would compete against a number of candidates for the primary seat, including polling favorite and Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles. The primary winner is slated to compete against the cancer-stricken Chávez, whose approval ratings hover around 50 percent, as he seeks a third six-year term.

The Venezuelan race gained steam September 16 when the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ordered Venezuela to “reestablish the political rights of Mr. Leopoldo López Mendoza” in the case López brought against his country with the OAS court. The popular, ex-mayor of Caracas’ Chacao district is one of some 800 Venezuelans—80 percent from opposition parties—banned from holding public office by the Chávez government since 2007. Known as inhabilitados, they were charged with corruption, though many, including López, were never convicted. After the IACHR’s decision, Chávez dismissed the court as “worthless” and his government said only Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice has the right to make the final decision on whether López can hold office before 2014. Still, Time’s Tim Padgett points out: “[I]f Chávez rejects the Inter-American Court ruling and keeps López inhabilitadohe risks handing opposition voters an injustice to rally around.”

Given Monday’s unity pact, the opposition might avoid the fragmentation that kept it from selecting a serious challenger to Chávez in past elections. Capriles could be that opponent, according to an August Datanálisis poll that puts him ahead of other contenders. The Miranda governor stresses social programs but not the anti-capitalist sentiment of the Chávez administration, instead looking to former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for a model. “Brazil is an example to the region of how you can achieve economic growth with social vision,” he recently told Reuters. Other candidates include Governor of oil-rich Zulia state Pablo Pérez, legislator Maria Corina Machado, and Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma. With the exception of 55-year-old Ledezma, the major candidates are relatively young. “You’re looking at an opposition that’s more unified in terms of its generation, vision, and history,”  AS/COA’s Christopher Sabatini told World Politics Review’s Trend Lines. He pointed out that Venezuelan voters are divided into three groups: those who support Chávez, those against him, and those who fall between. “The question will be who’s going to best be able to capture that middle 30, and it’s going to be a popularity contest.”

Another crucial and uncertain factor in the race is Chávez’s health. The president says he is recovering from cancer after just returning from Cuba for a fourth round of chemotherapy and contends the opposition is seeking to take political advantage of his illness. Meanwhile, rumors continue to swirl about the gravity of his illness; Cuban doctors removed a tumor from his “pelvic area” in June, but the specific type of cancer remains unconfirmed. Chávez opted not to address the UN General Assembly during last week’s opening debate and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad postponed his planned visit to Venezuela due to Chávez’s convalescence. Univision reports that the Venezuelan government began polls to establish president’s potential succeeding candidate, including Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, Vice President Elias Jaua, and Chávez’s brother and Governor of Barinas state Adán.

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IRNA – Iran, Ecuador to expand trade ties

Tehran, Sept 8, IRNA — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad submitted his government’s bill on trade transactions between Iran and Ecuador to Majlis (parliament) this week.

According to the bill, Iran and Ecuador can expand their cooperation through different means such as exchange of visits by officials of both countries.

Expansion of trade ties between Iran and Ecuador as one of the most important producers of oil, fruits and agricultural products with an important share in 12-trillion-dollar market of Latin America can greatly benefit both countries.

Iran considerably made progress in economic activities after the victory of 1979 Islamic Revolution. Since the Middle Eastern countries could not meet Iran’s requirements and attract its products, Iran had to look for new economic partners in other parts of the world.

Latin America with a population of about 500 million and abundant natural and human resources could be a suitable potential market for Iran’s products.

Many Latin American countries are trying to expand their economy and Iran can be a suitable economic partner for them.

Latin American countries, including Ecuador are very rich in terms of natural resources.

Ecuador is a neighbor of Colombia and Peru. Its foreign trade balance, including its important export items such as oil, banana, shrimp, timber, coffee, industrial machinery, cars, fuel, foodstuff and home appliances hit $36 billion. 

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Real Clear World – A Reality Check for Brazil

By Jaime Daremblum

Ever since the global financial crisis erupted in 2008, Brazilian officials have been bragging about their country’s resilience and castigating the failures of Western policymakers. “People ask me about the crisis, and I answer, ‘Go ask Bush.’ It is his crisis, not mine,” then Brazilian President Lula da Silva said shortly after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Six months later, Lula infamously declared that the crisis “was fostered and boosted by the irrational behavior of people who were white and blue-eyed, who before the crisis they looked like they knew everything about economics, but now have demonstrated they know nothing about economics.” Several weeks ago, Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, pointed to renewed global financial turmoil and boasted, “this is the second time that a crisis affects the world, and it is the second time that Brazildoesn’t shake.”

Her cockiness is understandable. The resource-rich Brazilian economy, Latin America’s biggest, grew by 7.5 percent in 2010, its fastest annual rate of expansion since 1986. The country has received massive amounts of foreign direct investment, especially fromChina; it has discovered vast new oil deposits; and its commodities have been booming. Thanks to Lula and his predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Brazil enjoys stable, market-oriented economic policies. Its poverty rate has fallen tremendously: Nearly 30 million Brazilians, according to a new Council on Foreign Relations report, entered the lower middle class between 2003 and 2009. The anti-poverty gains were partly attributable to Bolsa Família, Brazil’s hugely successful cash-transfer program, which is now being emulated around the world.

Yet despite its white-hot growth and undeniable progress on poverty reduction, Brazil is still a developing country with a host of developing-country problems. Leaving aside its current inflation woes and economic slowdown, Brazil suffers from excessively high taxes, burdensome regulations, rampant corruption, shoddy infrastructure and a chronically weak education system. In the Wall Street Journal/Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom, it ranks 113th out of 179 economies, below the likes of Gabon and Nigeria. In the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, Brazil ranks 127th out of 183 economies, right behind Mozambique, and it places even lower (152nd) in “ease of paying taxes” subcategory. As for graft and transparency, President Rousseff, who took office in January, has already lost several government ministers to corruption scandals.

Amid all the scandals, Brazil is busily preparing for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, both of which will be held in Rio de Janeiro. Writing in Americas Quarterly, economist Andrew Zimbalist notes that the obstacles to finishing the necessary construction “include labor shortages, bureaucratic encumbrances, political corruption, legal entrapments, insufficient funds, incompetence, and inadequate infrastructure.” The former soccer superstar Pelé, Brazil’s most famous athlete of all time, “has warned that the country is at risk of embarrassing itself before the world.”

Beyond its infrastructure concerns, the South American giant is plagued by alarming levels of violent crime. For all the attention paid to drug-related killings in Mexico, Brazilhas a significantly higher overall murder rate. For that matter, the Brazilian homicide rate is approximately twice the Nicaraguan rate and roughly five times that of the U.S. Brazil’s security problems made global headlines last month, when a prominent criminal judge, Patrícia Acioli, was shot dead in the city of Niterói, close to Rio. “She was best known for convicting members of vigilante gangs and corrupt police officers,” the BBC reported.

The level of violence among young Brazilians (aged 15 to 24) is particularly alarming: According to a Brazilian justice ministry report published in February, the country’s youth homicide rate nearly doubled between 1998 and 2008. As the author of the report, sociologist Julio Jacobo Weiselfisz, told the Associated Press, “The murder rate among youths has reached epidemic proportions.” Indeed, it is among the highest in the world.

In the short term, violent crime will greatly complicate planning for the World Cup and the Olympics in Rio (where the murder rate has declined substantially but is still quite high). Over the long term, the biggest threat to Brazilian competitiveness is a poor education system. On the OECD’s latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, administered in 2009, Brazil ranked 53rd out of 65 countries and school systems in reading and science, and 57th in mathematics. Its scores in each of those three categories improved from the previous PISA test, in 2006. Yet as The Economist noted, “the recent progress merely upgrades Brazil’s schools from disastrous to very bad.” Brazil fashions itself a Latin American regional superpower, but on the reading portion of the 2009 PISA test it scored below Chile, Uruguay, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago and Colombia. On the math and science portions, Brazil scored below all of those countries save Colombia.

To be sure, Brazilians can take justifiable pride in their country’s recent economic achievements. The days of hyperinflation in the late 1980s and early 1990s are now a distant memory. But government officials must not become unduly arrogant or complacent. Brazil is still a long way from becoming a wealthy, advanced country, let alone a global superpower.

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Bretton Woods Project – Ecuador shuns IMF, borrows from China

Ecuador is avoiding IMF credit facilities in favour of a long-term loan arrangement with China in exchange for oil. This arrangement, in which China will buy 52 per cent of Ecuadorean oil, is preferable to “the horrendous adjustments imposed by the IMF”, according to Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa – who is adamant that the country will not approach the IMF for credit. Total loans from China to Ecuador are estimated by Maria de la Paz Vela, economic analyst at Multiplica Consultancy, to amount to $7.2 billion (11.7 per cent of GDP), with the latest loan of $2 billion to be repaid over eight years at 6.7 per cent weighted interest.

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FT – Russia joins South America’s ‘great game’

Following China and India, Russia has also taken measures to project its influence in Latin America beyond its multi-billion dollars arms sales to Venezuela. Russia, the last of the BRIC countries to “enter the region,” is focusing on energy, which Latin America has in abundance. Moreover, Russia has also demonstrated interest in joining the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB); once again – who would have thought it? – breaking into the  US “back yard.”

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Ex-military chiefs convicted for Bolivia crackdown


LA PAZ, Bolivia — Bolivia’s highest court on Tuesday convicted five former top military commanders of genocide for an army crackdown on riots in October 2003 that killed at least 64 civilians. It gave them prison sentences ranging from 10 to 15 years.

In a unanimous decision, the six judges of the Supreme Tribunal also convicted two former Cabinet ministers of complicity in the killings and sentenced each to three years.

Indicted in the case but not tried was Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, Bolivia’s president at the time of the killings. He was forced into exile by the widespread popular anger they provoked. Carlos Sanchez Berzain, the then-defense minister, also was indicted but not tried. Bolivian law prohibits trials in absentia and both men live in the United States.

A lawyer for Sanchez de Lozada issued a statement calling Bolivia’s justice system highly politicized and saying that “no objective observer” can take the sentences seriously.

“Plainly, the Bolivian judiciary was used here as a political tool,” said the statement by attorney Ana Reyes.

The 2003 protests and crackdown, in what has become known as “Black October,” was a turning point in Bolivian politics: The country’s discredited traditional political parties collapsed and Evo Morales, one of the protest leaders, won the presidency two years later.

The unrest was initially sparked by a government plan to export natural gas from this poor, landlocked South American nation through a proposed pipeline to Chile. It quickly set off protests by the largely Aymara Indian population of La Paz’s satellite city, El Alto, which vented centuries of anger over poverty and political marginalization.

Sanchez de Lozada, whose indictment was authorized by Congress before Morales’ December 2005 election, has long argued that using force was justified because a blockade by unruly protesters in El Alto had cut off La Paz, the capital, from food and fuel.

But prosecutors said nothing justified letting soldiers open fire on civilians who were armed only with sticks and rocks. Sixty-four people were killed and 405 wounded, Chief Prosecutor Mario Uribe said.

One witness in the trial told of how her curious 5-year-old son, Alex Llusco, was killed by a bullet in the head when he went onto their porch to watch the protests. He was the youngest victim.

Families of victims erupted in tears when the verdict was announced Tuesday at a brief public hearing in Sucre, where the court sits. Many had held vigil outside for two months.

The longest sentences were meted out to Roberto Claros, the armed forces chief during the crackdown, and Juan Veliz, the army commander. Both were given 15 years in prison for “genocide in the form of a bloody massacre” and murder.

The convicted former Cabinet ministers were Erick Reyes Villa, who had been environment minister, and Adalberto Kuajara, the labor minister.

Sanchez de Lozada, who lives in a Washington suburb, has long argued that the unrest was instigated by “narco-unionism,” a slap at Morales, who was a coca growers union leader and congressman at the time.

As a legislator in late 2003, Morales became the first person to formally request criminal charges be brought against Sanchez de Lozada in the case.

One of the convicted military men, the former armed forces chief of staff, Gonzalo Rocabado, testified during the trial that Bolivia faced “an armed insurrection to destabilize the government” when the crackdown occurred.

Rocabado, who received a 10-year sentence, called the case misguided because it was “a trial against the armed forces that followed the law.”

Bolivia has sought the extradition of Sanchez de Lozada and Sanchez Berzain, who lives in Florida. The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond Tuesday to an Associated Press query on the status of that request.

Relations between the two nations are strained. Bolivia expelled the U.S. ambassador and Drug Enforcement Administration agents in late 2008, accusing them of conspiring with Morales’ political opponents.

This article was also shared by IASW.

The Foundry – Guest Blog: Cuba’s Pro-Freedom ‘Resistance’ Movement Is Growing

As attention focuses on the Middle East and North Africa, where protesters have taken to the streets to demand political change, some wonder whether Cuba will follow suit. A closer look at the island, where freedom fighters wage a nonviolent struggle against a regime desperate to conceal the effectiveness such methods have met during the “Arab Spring,” reveals good news: a big story that cuts through the bleak reality of 52 years of totalitarian rule and the media noise fueled by pro-regime talking points.

The island’s growing pro-freedom Resistance, a movement of brave activists who defend Cubans’ basic liberties and fight for democracy, is making gains that are impossible to ignore. Their civic resistance actions, including increasingly bold demonstrations in highly visible public places, are garnering greater support from the man on the street. The Resistance has the courage to speak what is on the country’s mind.

Testimony from longtime activists and new video footage making its way out of the island confirm that something new is happening: more and more, ordinary Cubans are overcoming the climate of fear created by systematic surveillance and repression, firing squad executions, political imprisonment and torture to support Resistance members who proclaim a pro-freedom message on Cuban streets. This is happening in a situation which finds Cubans at a disadvantage in comparison to conditions in some “Arab Spring” countries: Cuba is a single-party Communist state with centralized control over the economy and people’s livelihoods, the regime denies Internet access to all but a chosen elite, mobile phone penetration is very low, telephony is monitored, and all independent media is illegal.

Case in point: a daring protest in Havana on Tuesday, August 23, 2011, first reported by the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, a coalition of pro-democracy groups in Cuba and abroad, and video of which quickly made its way online thanks to independent Havana-based news agency Hablemos Press.

Four women, members of the island-wide National Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience Front, as well as the Rosa Parks Women’s Movement for Civil Rights, ascended the granite steps of Havana’s historic Capitol Building. It is a majestic, neoclassical structure that housed the Congress of the Republic of Cuba before the totalitarian takeover in 1959.

These valiant ladies, Sara Martha Fonseca Quevedo, Tania Maldonado Santos, Odalys Caridad Sanabria Rodríguez and Mercedes García Alvarez, wore black, a symbol of mourning for their country and those fallen in pursuit of freedom. They paused about one-third of the way up and unfurled a white banner bearing words of hope and courage: “Freedom, justice, and democracy… DOWN WITH THE DICTATORSHIP.”

There, before crowds of Cubans and foreigners making their way through the broad space before the Capitol where tourists often pause for snapshots of bicycle taxis or old American cars, camcorders and mobile phone cameras captured the sight of four Cuban women publicly demonstrating for freedom.

For at least half an hour they made their stand, borne above the crowds by stones that once buttressed Cuban democracy.

“We all are the Resistance! The streets belong to the people! Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” they chanted, as onlookers watched.

Their actions brought to mind the words of former Czech President and anti-communist resistance fighter Vaclav Havel, who wrote that when a person breaks the rules of a Communist state and does not obey the regime’s demand in silent conformity, he chooses to “live in truth,” an essential step in opposing the crushing power of that system.

As you can see in the accompanying video, after a time, a single man, assumed to be a plainclothes officer of the feared State Security force, attempted to drive the women from their chosen ground, but they clutched their banner and sat.

Real Cuban voices, belonging to persons who chose to live in truth on that sun-drenched morning, shouted at the regime’s man. “Bully, Abuser! Let them go!” Facing a crowd that had suddenly lost its fear, the regime thug balked, and conferred with three additional plainclothes agents, returning after a time with uniformed male officers who manhandled and dragged the women away amid jeers and whistles of contempt for the oppressors from those witnessing the scene.

The women were detained, beaten, and threatened, but vowed to continue their struggle for freedom. The regime, meanwhile, continues to lash out, using systematic violence to maintain its hold on power. It has of late increased its repression against women, including the well-known Ladies in White who march on Sundays after Mass for the release of all political prisoners.

The protest at the Capitol and the people’s support for the activists, are proof that open support for the Cuban Resistance is growing among the people at large. Their strategy, nonviolent civic resistance, has proven effective against oppressive regimes. Their friends and allies abroad work actively to spread news of their struggle and provide support.

The big story in 2011 Cuba is that freedom is on the march, and it is very good news.

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