Thursday, March 05, 2009

Latin America News Round-up, March 4, 2009

 Latin America News Round-up 
March 4, 2009

Dart's EM Ltd. Denies It's Holding Debt Talks With Argentina. Bloomberg
Argentine gov. and farmers reach first agreements. Mercopress
Argentina's Agricultural Agreement Is Inadequate, Farmers Say. Bloomberg

US House Foreign Affairs SubCommittee Calls For "Immediate High Level Dialogue" With Bolivia. Latin American Herald Tribune
Bolivia sets condition for patching up US relations. AFP
Bolivia dengue cases could reach 50.000 by end of March. Mercopress
Bolivia calls report on ALBA houses "politically-biased". El Universal

U.S. ratifies troops withdrawal from Ecuadorian air base. Xinhua
Ecuador sets its price for resource development. The Globe and Mail
UPDATE: Ecuador Government Open To Dialogue With Perenco -Oil Min. Reuters
Venezuela's Chavez Cuts Ministries, Shuffles Cabinet. Reuters
Venezuela Challenges Colombia Defense. Latin American Herald Tribune

Andean Region
Military top asks for security council, Uribe says no. Colombia Reports
Colombia Rebels Told to Set Hostage Talks Terms. Reuters
Chile's president meets with U.S. top-level military chief. Xinhua
Peru's Fin Min: Econonmic Stimulus Projects Underway. Dow Jones Newswires
RIGHTS-PERU:  "No Thanks" to Donation for Memorial Museum. Inter-Press Service

Southern Cone
EU, developing states clash over generic drug swoop. Reuters
Brazil's trade in February leaner but returns to surplus. Mercopress
BRAZIL:  Happiness Is Promoting Health and Development in the Amazon. Inter-Press Service
General-Director of Brazilian Senate resigns after scandal. Xinhua
Uruguay to discuss reducing working-day hours to combat financial crisis. Xinhua

México, Central America and the Caribbean
Mexican president announces three high-level resignations. CNN
Mexico's Peso Rises on Bets IMF to Offer More Flexible Loans. Bloomberg
The cross-border bullet trade. GlobalPost
Could Obama Say a Few Words for Democracy in El Salvador?
El Salvador amnesty law lets perpetrators of priests' murders walk free. The Chicago Tribune
Panamanian President to Venezuela. Inside Costa Rica
Poverty, elections place Haiti at risk for unrest. AP
Haitian Deportations to Continue. The New York Times
Students clash with police at Haitian university. AP


Argentina   [contents]     

Dart's EM Ltd. Denies It's Holding Debt Talks With Argentina
Bill Faries. Bloomberg. March 4, 2009

March 4 (Bloomberg) -- EM Ltd., an investment fund owned by billionaire Kenneth Dart, denied a newspaper report yesterday that it's in talks with Argentine officials over a possible restructuring of debt the country defaulted on in 2001.

EM said in a statement that it has "no plans" to meet with government officials.

"Should Argentina finally intend to pay the outstanding judgments against it, EM would welcome such a responsible action and be pleased to commence discussions with the appropriate officials," the statement said.

La Nacion newspaper reported yesterday that representatives of Dart and hedge-fund firm Elliott Management Corp. planned to meet with Argentine officials to discuss a possible restructuring. Elliott, which in September called Argentina "the poster child of rogue nations," also denied yesterday that it's meeting with government officials.

Elliott and Dart are among creditors holding about $20 billion of bonds that refused to accept Argentina's 2005 exchange offer of 30 cents on the dollar, the harshest restructuring terms since at least World War II.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said in September that she will consider proposals to reach an accord with holders of the defaulted securities, part of a government effort to regain access to international credit markets. The government has extended maturities on more than 18 billion pesos ($5 billion) of debt this year through two exchanges to ease a financing squeeze that has deepened as prices on the country's commodity exports plunged.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bill Faries in Buenos Aires at

Argentine gov. and farmers reach first agreements
Mercopress. March 4, 2009

Argentina's government agreed Tuesday to several demands for dairy, beef and wheat production following a four hours meeting with farm leaders with the unexpected two hours participation of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in the discussions.

The understanding occurs after months of acrid disputes and almost a year from the beginning of the conflict triggered by the increase of export taxes on grains, oil seeds and other agriculture commodities.

According to the agreement the administration of President Cristina Kirchner will eliminate export taxes on dairy goods, increase the current annual beef export quota of 550,000 tons by 60,000 tons and raise wheat prices to 420 pesos (116 US dollars) a ton from 370 pesos, Production Minister Debora Giorgi following the meeting with farm leaders.

"This is important progress that stimulates small producers to keep up their work" said Giorgi at a press conference at the Economy Ministry in Buenos Aires.

Farmers have been pushing the government to lower a 35% levy on soybeans and sunflower exports and remove restrictions on exports of all farm goods after commodities prices plunged and the worst drought in about 50 years hurt crops.

The government and farmers will resume negotiations on March 10 as producers seek to reduce the soybean export taxes, but the administration of Mrs. Kirchner has repeatedly stated that soybeans and sunflower levies will not be touched.

Interiror Minister Florencio Randazzo described the meeting as "very positive" and said the presence of the President "was fundamental". He added, "I hope this is the end of the conflict".

But farmers did not agree. "The conflict is not over yet" said Eduardo Buzzi, president of the Argentine Agrarian Federation. "We can't stand this level of taxes with so high costs".

Furthermore Buzzi called for a quick implementation of the agreements reached which will also help "to re-establish and recover confidence in the announcements".

Last year, the country's farm groups stopped selling grain and blocked highways during a four-month protest against tax increases and a ban on shipping beef abroad. The move prompted food shortages and higher consumer prices, pushing President Cristina Kirchner's popularity rating to its lowest ever.

"We have had several announcements but what we need is that these announcements will be implemented quickly," said Mario Llambias, president of the Argentine Rural Confederation. "We hope these accords will take place."

Hugo Biolcati president of the Argentine Rural Society said the agreement "are steps in the right direction" and described the discussions as "serious".

He praised Mrs. Kirchner's participation in the talks because "we finally had the knowledgeable officials (such as Agriculture Secretary Carlos Cheppi) and the authority to support him with the President's authority. This is coherent".

President Cristina Kirchner also invited the farm leaders to join the Social and Economic Council proposed by the government with the participation of all sectors from the economy to analyze and help address the global slowdown.

The government team was made up of Agriculture minister Carlos Cheppi; Production Minister Debora Girogi; Interior Minister Carlos Randazzo. Farmers were represented by the leaders of the four most important agriculture organizations.

Argentina's Agricultural Agreement Is Inadequate, Farmers Say
Bill Faries. Bloomberg. March 4, 2009

March 4 (Bloomberg) -- Argentine farmers say yesterday's accord with the government to cut dairy taxes and boost beef exports falls short after the worst drought in 50 years.

"The agreement isn't good enough," said Alfredo Rodes, executive director of Carbap, which represents 34,000 farmers in Buenos Aires and La Pampa provinces, in a telephone interview today. "What they signed yesterday has been promised before, but afterwards we haven't seen any results."

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is seeking to avoid a repeat of last year's conflict with farmers, whose protests over export taxes halted sales and prompted food shortages in South America's second-biggest economy. Fernandez joined talks with farm leaders yesterday, agreeing to eliminate export taxes on dairy goods and raise domestic prices for wheat to 420 pesos ($116) a ton from 370 pesos.

Rodes said the wheat price is too low and that Carbap leaders will meet March 6 to formally respond to the accord.

Farmers have been pushing the government to lower a 35 percent levy on soybeans and remove restrictions on exports of all farm goods after commodities prices plunged and the worst drought in about 50 years curbed crops.

Alfredo De Angeli, a regional leader of the Agrarian Federation, called the agreement "insufficient," according to online newspaper

Argentine Production Minister Debora Giorgi said the accord is a sign of "important progress" in negotiations, which will resume in Buenos Aires on March 10. Farm leaders asked the government to accelerate implementing the new measures.

Damaging Drought

Argentina, the world's second-biggest exporter of corn and third-biggest for soybeans, faced a damaging dry spell in major producing regions in recent months, just as plants needed water.

The drought will pare output of corn this year by at least 36 percent from the previous harvest to 13.8 million metric tons, the Buenos Aires Cereals Exchange said in a Feb. 27 report.

"We hope this will put an end to the conflict so we can all work to get through this difficult moment," Interior Minister Florencio Randazzo said yesterday in a press conference.

Eduardo Buzzi, president of the Agrarian Federation, said yesterday in a press conference in Buenos Aires that "the conflict isn't over."

Reports last week that the government planned to nationalize the purchase and sale of grains prompted farmers to warn the move could provoke "unrest." Randazzo denied reports that the government is working to create a grains regulatory agency, although he said the government doesn't rule it out either.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bill Faries in Buenos Aires
Bolivia   [contents] 

US House Foreign Affairs SubCommittee Calls For "Immediate High Level Dialogue" With Bolivia
Latin American Herald Tribune. March 4, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In a hearing today on the future of US-Bolivia relations, Congressman Eliot Engel, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, called for the administrations of Evo Morales and Barack Obama to "immediately initiate a high level bilateral dialogue that can quickly result in an exchange of ambassadors, a renewed strategy for joint counternarcotics efforts, and in turn, the reinstatement of Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) benefits for Bolivia."

Witnesses who testified at the hearing included Peter DeShazo, Director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Kathryn Ledebur, Director of the Andean Information Network in Cochabamba, Bolivia; Ivan Rebolledo, President of the Bolivian-American Chamber of Commerce; Marcos Iberkleid, CEO of Ametex, a major Bolivian textile firm that has benefited from ATPDEA; and Jaime Daremblum, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.

Chairman Engel opened the hearing saying:

"I want to start today's hearing by telling a story about a Bolivian friend of mine named Marcos Iberkleid who is testifying here today. Marcos was born in a displaced persons American military camp in post-war Germany in 1950. He moved with his family to Bolivia in 1952 and started working in a textile mill when he was 16. He went on to become the CEO of Ametex, a major Bolivian textile firm that has provided clothing to U.S. buyers, including Polo Ralph Lauren and Abercrombie and Fitch. Ametex and its employees have benefited enormously from the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) over the years. In fact, Ametex grew to become the largest employer in Bolivia, with over 4,000 employees.

"I visited the factory last year and was heartened to see a leading example of the tens of thousands of jobs that ATPDEA had created.

No one can deny that ATPDEA has been a major boon to citizens in Bolivia - the poorest country in South America, and a country where 54% of the population lives in poverty with 31% earning less than $2 a day. In the case of Ametex, ATPDEA has provided quality jobs to the country's poor, including many indigenous women who are among the most historically marginalized members of society in Bolivia and throughout the Andean region.

"As you all know, Bolivia was suspended as an ATPDEA beneficiary country this past fall. Since then, I am told that Ametex is having enormous financial difficulties. The company will undergo massive layoffs and could even shut down. Unfortunately, Ametex is only one of several companies which will be hit hard by the suspension of the trade preferences. Indeed, the job losses could tally into the tens of thousands.

Marcos, I hope I have not previewed your testimony too much, but this is so important, and we all deserve to hear what has happened in your own words.

"Let me say that I believe there is no one in the U.S. Congress who wants more than I to see improved relations between the United States and Bolivia, and the reinstatement of Bolivia's ATPDEA benefits.

"I met with Bolivian President Evo Morales twice last year - once in La Paz and a second time in my office here in Washington. My message to President Morales in our meetings has been consistent: please help me to help you. I want to be an advocate for Bolivia in Washington, but President Morales's expulsion of the U.S. and Israeli Ambassadors and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents over the past six months make it increasingly difficult for me.

In particular, I have known former U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia Phil Goldberg for many years. He is a fine career diplomat, and I am certain that the Bolivian Government's allegations against him were completely unfounded.

Finally, I was particularly troubled by President Morales's statement at a Summit of Latin American leaders in Brazil in December that, 'we should give the new government of the United States a deadline in order to end the embargo [on Cuba]. If the newly elected U.S. Government does not lift the economic embargo, we will lift their ambassadors out of our countries.' This kind of rhetoric certainly does not help, especially as the Bolivian Government attempts to reach out to the Obama Administration.

"That said, I would like to see both of our countries move quickly to improve relations. But, my message to the Bolivian Government is that it takes two to tango. I urge the Morales and Obama Administrations to immediately initiate a high level bilateral dialogue that can quickly result in an exchange of ambassadors, a renewed strategy for joint counternarcotics efforts, and in turn, the reinstatement of ATPDEA benefits for Bolivia. Personal stories like that of Marcos Iberkleid and his 4,000 employees prove that time is of the essence in reinstating ATPDEA.

"I recognize that Bolivia is a sovereign country and is not required to have our DEA agents present. But, I also believe that the way in which the agents were expelled is regrettable. As we look to restore relations and reinstate ATPDEA, we must find a way to rebuild trust between our leaders and our governments. We must move beyond the constant suspicions, especially in La Paz, where the most negative inference is drawn from every action and reaction. Even if our two governments do not agree on every detail, there certainly are enough intersections of our mutual interests to allow more effective cooperation on counternarcotics and other matters.

"Evo Morales is Bolivia's first indigenous president and is committed to lifting up impoverished people in his country. I congratulated President Morales on his personal achievements and his commitment to Bolivia's poor each time we met. I come from a working class background and would like to help President Morales and other leaders in Latin America roll back poverty and create jobs. Yet, I truly believe that President Morales's commitment to Bolivia's poor could in part be shown by a renewed effort from his government to improve relations with the U.S., which I hope would in turn lead to the return of Bolivia's ATPDEA benefits.

"I am now pleased to introduce our distinguished witnesses. Peter DeShazo is the director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Kathryn Ledebur is the director of the Andean Information Network which is based in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Ivan Rebolledo is the president of the Bolivian-American Chamber of Commerce in New York. Marcos Iberkleid is, of course, the CEO of Ametex. And, last but not least, Jaime Daremblum is a senior fellow and the director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute."

Bolivia sets condition for patching up US relations
AFP. March 3, 2009

LA PAZ (AFP) - Bolivia is ready to normalize relations with the United States but only if the US government is willing to recognize the new place the coca leaf has in Bolivia's constitution, a top official said.

Bolivia-US relations, on a rocky road since socialist President Evo Morales took office three years ago, took a turn for the worse last year after each country expelled the other's ambassador and US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials were kicked out of Bolivia.

"We're ready to resume and redirect our relations, and from State Department information we have we know they are also ready," Deputy Foreign Minister Hugo Fernandez told a press conference in La Paz.

However, Fernandez added, normalizing relations depends on the Washington's respect for Bolivia's traditions.

"Our constitution doesn't allow any disdain for the coca leaf, and if the United States can't accept this, its difficult to see how we can reach an agreement."

A US State Department report last week singled out Bolivia as an area of major concern for its persistent cultivation of coca leaf -- raw material for cocaine -- and as a money laundering hub.

Despite the DEA's counternarcotics operations in Bolivia, Morales in a recent constitutional reform enshrined coca leaf growing as one of Bolivia's historic traditions, further complicating relations with Washington.

Bolivia has been hoping for a US rapprochement since President Barack Obama took office in January, and Fernandez said the ailing US economy was keeping Obama from dealing properly with US-Bolivian relations.

Morales remains the leader of Bolivia's largest coca-leaf growers union.

Bolivia dengue cases could reach 50.000 by end of March
Mercopress. March 3, 2009

Bolivia revealed Tuesday that 35.500 people have contracted the benign strain of the mosquito transmitted dengue disease while 20 have died from the deadly haemorrhagic variant. There are also fears that before the rainy season is over 50.000 people could be infected.

"This is the most serious outbreak of the disease we have experienced in the last ten years", said Health Minister Ramiro Tapia adding that the worst hit area was to the east of the country in Santa Cruz province with 14 deaths and 25.000 confirmed cases

"Although the majority of cases are under control, we are concerned with the 106 haemorrhagic dengue infections" that can be deadly and are the result of a double bite from the Aedes Aegypti mosquito.

Santa Cruz city, the most populated of Bolivia, and a boom town because of the oil industry and rich farmlands, has seen its hospital and clinics system virtually collapsed by the number of people demanding medical attention.

Experts from Cuba, Venezuela, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador and the Pan-American Health organization are helping to combat the dengue disease.

President Evo Morales has made a national appeal for a general mobilization to impede the spread of the disease by eliminating stagnant waters and garbage where the larvae of the mosquito proliferates during the rainy season in the tropical regions of Bolivia.

This coming weekend all citizens from Santa Cruz city have been requested to get involved in a "clean and clear up" neighbourhood campaign.

"It's the responsibility of every Bolivian to help fight a disease that is causing so much harm to families; it's the responsibility of the authorities and officials but also of every head of family and citizen to impede the spread of the disease", said Morales during an official ceremony.

Dengue causes head aches, abdominal pains, vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration and makes patients loose appetite and feel exhausted. But the haemorrhagic strain can cause bleeding and death.

Bolivian sanitary authorities fear the number of cases could balloon to 50.000 by the end of the month.

A similar epidemic in neighbouring Paraguay in 2007 caused 17 deaths and contagion to 27.000 people.

Bolivia calls report on ALBA houses "politically-biased"
El Universal. March 4, 2009

Vice President of Bolivia Alvaro García described as "false" and "politically-biased" a report issued by a special committee of Peruvian legislators concluding that Venezuela and Bolivia, through the so-called ALBA Houses, meddled in Peruvian internal affairs.

García described the document "as a factoid and a politically-biased statement, which is the result of the internal problems that plague Peruvian politics." The report was issued in Lima by Peruvian lawmaker Walter Menchola, a member of Unidad Nacional party and chair of the special committee that investigated the role of ALBA Houses in Peru, AFP reported.

On Tuesday, Bolivian Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Hugo Fernández said that the Bolivian diplomacy was not aware of the report issued by the Peruvian lawmakers. Fernández stressed that the document would not undermine bilateral relations.
Ecuador   [contents]     

U.S. ratifies troops withdrawal from Ecuadorian air base
Xinhua. March 3, 2009

QUITO, March 3 (Xinhua) -- The United States on Tuesday ratified the withdrawal of its troops from the Manta military base, a strategic outpost for anti-drug operations in the Pacific Ocean.

U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador Heather M. Hodges reaffirmed the U.S. promise of withdrawing the troops, and thanked Ecuador for allowing its planes to land in the country for the past 10 years.

"We are thankful for being able to use the Aerial Base of Mantaso our plane could land. The government of President Rafael Correahas requested that we leave the place and we will leave," she said.

The Manta air base, about 260 km from Quito in southwestern Ecuador, was operated by some 300 U.S. soldiers and contractors who used it for the take-offs of Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) planes.

There has been mounting criticism within Ecuador about the Manta air base agreement with the U.S., and in 2007, Correa promised he would not renew the lease, which was signed in 1999 and will expire in 2009. He notified the U.S. of the decision last year.

Ecuador sets its price for resource development
Andy Hoffman. The Globe and Mail. March 4, 2009


Ten months after halting all mining development, exploration and construction, Ecuador is allowing foreign miners to get back to work. But the country's new mining law includes provisions that will entitle the state to more than half of a project's profits, a senior government official says.

Jose Serrano Salgado, Ecuador's vice-minister of mines, says Canadian mining companies including Kinross Gold Corp. and Iamgold Corp. can now resume developing their gold projects. Once they begin production, however, at least half the mines' profit must go to Ecuador.

"The state can not receive a smaller benefit than the benefit of the company," Mr. Serrano said in an interview.

The government official is in Toronto for the annual Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference.

Ecuador will derive its profit interest from a combination of taxes and levies. They will include a 5 per cent net smelter royalty, corporate income tax as well as a windfall profit tax.

"There are four main issues for the development of the projects in Ecuador. The technical aspects, the social aspects, the environmental aspects and the economic aspects," Mr. Serrano said.

Ecuador holds some of the world's largest untapped gold deposits including the Fruta del Norte deposit controlled by Toronto-based Kinross. Fruta del Norte is believed to contain more than 13 million ounces of gold.

Kinross chief executive officer Tye Burt said Ecuador's demands for at least 50 per cent of his gold project's profit was not unexpected.

"When we look at other jurisdictions in South America it is not out of line," Mr. Burt said in an interview.

In Chile, for example, Kinross pays approximately 52 per cent of the profits from its operations to the state. In Peru, taxes on gold miners are about 48 per cent, while in Brazil, they are roughly 49 per cent.

Despite the vast mineral wealth found there, Ecuador has been widely regarded as a risky place for foreign mining firms. There have been concerns that Ecuador and its president, Rafael Correa, could adopt similar policies to those enacted by president Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, where mining projects have been held up for years in bureaucratic stalling.

Ecuador's surprise decision to halt all foreign exploration and development work last April did little to calm investor anxieties. The country banned all mining activity while it developed its new mining law and expropriated scores of concessions from foreign mining firms.

With its new constitution and new mining law now passed Ecuador wants to let the industry know it is open for business. The Ministry of Mines and Petroleum believes that the largest mining projects will generate combined profits of more $150-million annually once they are in production. Not immune to the effects of the global economic crisis, Ecuador wants the mines to begin generating profit for the government's coffers.

UPDATE: Ecuador Government Open To Dialogue With Perenco -Oil Min
Mercedes Alvaro. Dow Jones Newswires. March 4, 2009

(Updates with Palacios confirming that the state could take over Perenco's production until the taxes are paid off)

QUITO -(Dow Jones)- Ecuador's government is open to dialogue with French oil company Perenco, Oil Minister Derlis Palacios said Wednesday, a day after the country said it would freeze part of the company's income over a tax dispute.

On Tuesday, Luis Jaramillo, president of state-run Petroecuador, said Ecuador will retain income from a shipment of 720,000 barrels of oil produced by Perenco to guarantee the payment of $358 million in back windfall taxes.

Palacios said in a televised interview that Ecuador is willing to hold a dialogue with the company.
But in a press conference later Wednesday, Palacios said the government could seize oil production equal to the amount that Perenco owes the state.

Meanwhile, the company is trying to stop the legal process in a local court.

Perenco produces around 28,000 barrels per day at blocks 7 and 21 in Ecuador's Amazon region.

The previous administration of President Alfredo Palacio decreed that when oil prices rose above those set out in operating contracts, the government's share of the excess would be 50%.

President Rafael Correa's administration raised the government's share to 99% in October 2007. Private companies said that the windfall tax made their businesses unprofitable.
Venezuela   [contents]     

Venezuela's Chavez Cuts Ministries, Shuffles Cabinet
Reuters. March 3, 2009

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez fired his defense minister on Tuesday in a minor cabinet reshuffle that left unchanged the key cabinet positions of oil minister, finance minister and vice-president.

Presidential spokesman Jesse Chacon announced the shuffle and said the housing ministry and the social protection ministry would be merged with larger ministries, in a bid to reduce spending as oil prices tumble in the OPEC nation.

Chacon said the changes were aimed at making the government more efficient. He did not say if government workers would be laid off as a result of the changes.

Chavez won a referendum vote in February that lifted term limits and will allow him to run for re-election as often as he pleases in South America's top oil exporter.

He typically reshuffles his cabinet after Venezuela's frequent elections and the nature of the changes can indicate his plans for the year.

This year's shuffle keeps in place men Chavez considers steady hands -- Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez, Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez and Vice President Ramon Carrizalez -- and does not bring back fiery ideologues who heralded a significant radicalization of Chavez's socialist revolution in 2007.

Last week Chavez reinstated leftist economist Jorge Giordani as planning minister. Giordani nominally heads the economic cabinet but is often overshadowed by the more powerful finance minister.

Former Defense Minister Gustavo Rangel held the post for over a year. Chavez, himself a retired soldier, usually rotates generals through the defense ministry annually.

He recently restructured the defense ministry reducing the power of the minister and placing troop command under another general.

Chavez is riding on a wave of popularity after his February victory but is limited by oil prices that are at less than a third of their 2008 peak.

Comments from ministers suggest the government could be preparing changes this year in the food and farming sectors.

Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez has said the government plans to double the amount of cultivated land in the next four years. In the past it has expropriated large farms it considered idle and handed them to peasant farmers.

In his latest clash with the business sector, Chavez ordered troops at the weekend to take over rice mills to increase supplies.

Venezuela Challenges Colombia Defense
Jeremy Morgan. Latin American Herald Tribune. March 4, 2009

President Hugo Chávez' government claimed that recent statements by Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos about the activities of guerrilla groups could pose a threat to the "stability and sovereignty" of countries in Latin America.

On Sunday, Santos had justified Colombian military excursions into the territory of neighboring countries in pursuit of guerrillas as an example of the "right to legitimate defense" against terrorists that are systematically attacking the population of my country, as they are not to be found within our territory."

Santos had specifically referred to the Colombian military attack last year on a camp made by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) inside Ecuador a year ago. In the attack, FARC second- in-command and "foreign minister" Raúl Reyes was killed.

Afterwards, the Colombian authorities claimed to have found a computer allegedly belonging to Reyes. Files from the computers were said to indicate contacts between the leadership of FARC and senior government officials in Caracas.

Among the names mentioned in this context was that of Rámon Rodríguez Chacín, a former interior and justice minister. Caracas claimed that the computer files had been faked.

In an official statement issued on Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry considered repudiated Santos' statement, accusing him of being "grossly ignorant of the consensus reached at the Rio Group summit in Santo Domingo in March 2008."

The summit took place a few days after the Colombian raid on the FARC camp in Ecuadorean territory. The Rio Group issued a statement saying "the territory of a state was inviolate."

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, an ally of Chávez, broke diplomatic relations with Colombia, and that remains the case to this day. And Correa was quick to attack the announcement of the Colombian military doctrine.

"If the government of Álvaro Uribe continues, despite his public apology [for the attack on 1 March 2008], with the doctrines enunciated by the Minister of Defense, he will find us ready," threatened Correa.

But while expressing strong criticism of the raid and recalling its ambassador, Venezuela did not follow Ecuador's lead in breaking relations with Colombia last year.

The Foreign Ministry's statement warned that Santos' latest remarks could damage "the relationship of living together and respect that our countries must have." Santos' remarks "constituted a threat to the agenda of cooperation and peace of Presidents Álvaro Uribe and Hugo Chávez," it claimed.

President Uribe reportedly spoke Tuesday morning with Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, who said he never intended his statements to create a nuisance to neighbors.

"The President has reiterated the request that great care is taken in the statements that commit the international policies, which must be issued by the Foreign Minister," said Uribe's office. "The Government is keen to develop constructive agenda defined by the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez."

The protest lodged by the ministry came amid renewed suspicions that FARC and other guerrillas had taken or were taking refuge on Venezuelan territory.

This is an age-old issue that has devilled bilateral relations for several years, and one that lay behind tense moments in links between Uribe and Chávez.

The turn-around in the relationship came after Chávez publicly called on FARC to lay down its arms. However, suspicions that recalcitrant elements of the once-thousands-strong guerrilla force may still be parked on Venezuelan territory have not been entirely allayed.

Full Statement from Venezuelan Foreign Ministry:

The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is deeply concerned about and rejects the irresponsible statements issued by Colombia's Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos since they represent a threat to the stability and sovereignty of the countries of the region.

The arrogant attitude of Minister Santos is abominable. Once again, he shows his disdain for international law when asserting that the fact of attacking rebel forces out of (Colombia's) borders "is an act of legal defense and a doctrine that is increasingly accepted by the community and international law."

Minister Santos falls into the rude ignorance of the consensus unanimously reached in the region after the signing of the Declaration of the Heads of State and Government of the Rio Group, on March 7, 2008, in Santo Domingo, which reads as follows: "the territory of a state is inviolable and may not be the object, even temporarily, of military occupation or of other measures of force taken by another State, directly or indirectly, on any grounds;" where the presidents of the region ratified the doctrine of defense of the our countries' sovereignty.

Consequently, the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela categorically denounces these statements which represent an aggression against the coexistence and respect that must exist among our countries. They also represent a threat to the cooperation and peace agenda agreed by presidents Hugo Chávez and Alvaro Uribe in the recent bilateral meeting they held.

The government of President Hugo Chávez ratifies its will to move forward with this positive agenda with Colombia's government based on the strict respect to international law and the sacred sovereignty of our homeland.
Andean Region   [contents]     

Military top asks for security council, Uribe says no
Colombia Reports. March 4, 2009

The chief commanders of Colombia's security forces Tuesday requested a top-level security meeting with President Álvaro Uribe, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos and Foreign Minister Jaime Bermúdez to discuss how to fight illegal armed groups on the borders of Ecuador and Venezuela. Uribe denied the request.

The request followed a clash between the Presidency and the Defense Ministry after the latter had defended the use of attacks on foreign territory as "legitimate defense." The remarks made by Santos cause furious reactions from neighbors Venezuela and Ecuador.

Uribe reprimanded Santos and announced only the Foreign Minister Jaime Bermúdez is authorized to discuss matters that involve Venezuela and Ecuador.

The commanders of the armed forces wanted to talk to Uribe, Santos and Bermúdez about how to adress the insecurity in the border regions and the presence of FARC and paramilitary forces that seem to go in and out of neighboring countries.

According to Caracol Radio, Uribe turned down the request. Sources within the presidential palace told the radiostation that the armed forces have all guidelines they need to conduct their operations and that Uribe allows no intervention on foreign territory as promised at the Rio Group in 2008.

Colombia Rebels Told to Set Hostage Talks Terms
Reuters. March 3, 2009

Colombian FARC rebels need to spell out the terms for talks aimed at breaking a deadlock over a deal to free captives held for as long as a decade, a group that has brokered past hostage deals said in a letter on Tuesday.

The group's communique, directed to FARC rebel commander Alfonso Cano, is the latest missive from the group led by left-wing Senator Piedad Cordoba, who has been instrumental in brokering accords with Latin America's oldest insurgency.

"It is urgent to define the framework within which an agreement can be reached, setting the time, method and place, so we can contribute to it taking place," the letter said.

Cordoba, an ally of Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez, helped broker the release of a group of FARC hostages last year and another six who were freed last month in an operation carried out by the Red Cross.

The FARC -- Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -- has fought the state for more than four decades, helped by its financial gains from extortion, kidnapping and trade in the country's huge cocaine business.

But the guerrillas are under heavy pressure from President Alvaro Uribe's U.S.-backed military campaign. They lost three top commanders last year and have been driven back into remote jungles and mountains.

Guerrilla commanders may be trying to gain political space with the recent unilateral hostage releases while attempting to show they still have military capacity with ambushes on army patrols and occasional urban bombs, analysts say.

A deal to exchange jailed rebels for 22 police and soldiers held for as long as 10 years in rebel jungle camps appears to be stalled over FARC demands Uribe pull back troops from a rural area to create a safe haven for negotiations.

But it is unclear whom the rebel command want to be released in any such deal and whether Cano is still demanding a New York City-sized safe haven in southern Colombia and also the release of FARC commanders held in U.S. jails.

Uribe, a hard-liner whose father was killed by the FARC, is popular for his security campaign. He refuses rebel demands saying that would allow the FARC to regroup. His government appears set on keeping pressure on the rebels and forcing individual units to surrender with their hostages.

Chile's president meets with U.S. top-level military chief
Xinhua. March 3, 2009

SANTIAGO, March 3 (Xinhua) -- Chile's President Michelle Bachelet and U.S. Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen discussed strengthening their security ties during a meeting Tuesday.

Bachelet met with Mullen for about 40 minutes as part of Mullen's official tour in Latin America.

Mullen also met with National Defense Minister Jose Goni.

Mullen also visited the Joint Center for Peace Operation of Chile (CEC0PAC) and the War Academy of the Army.

On Monday, Mullen met with Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim and leaders of the Brazilian Armed Forces in Manaos, Brazil.

Mullen's tour also includes visits to Peru, Colombia and Mexico.

Peru's Fin Min: Econonmic Stimulus Projects Underway
Robert Kozak. Dow Jones Newswires.  March 4, 2009

LIMA -(Dow Jones)- Public-sector works projects aimed at boosting economic growth in Peru are underway and advances in those projects will be seen clearly by April, Finance Minister Luis Carranza said late Tuesday.

Late last year the administration of President Alan Garcia outlined a plan to keep economic growth strong in the Andean nation in the face of the global economic slowdown.

The plan increased spending by an estimated 10 billion soles ($3.1 billion), although Carranza said in a broadcast interview that the amount wasn't fixed in stone and that it could be more than that if needed.

"In reality, projects tied to the plan started in January and we saw some execution (of them) in February. There is still some inertia and there were rains that impeded some programs. We will start to see advances now, especially from April," he said on television program, Hora N.

The government expects public sector investment to increase by about 50% this year over last year.

Peru's gross domestic product expanded by more than 9.8% last year after rising by 9.0% in 2007. Private-sector economists say that growth could weaken to less than 5.0% this year.
Carranza said the government's stimulus plan is a "diverse" one that aims to create growth in various sectors.

He said the central government will work with local and regional governments to boost the development of infrastructure projects.

Carranza said an expected drop in central government revenues, from a slowing economy, has been taken into account in the stimulus program.

"We are in a scenario of fewer revenues coming to the public treasury," he said.

As part of the stimulus program the government will back loans to private sector groups aiming to raise funds for projects.

RIGHTS-PERU:  "No Thanks" to Donation for Memorial Museum
Blanca Rosales. Inter-Press Service. March 4, 2009

LIMA, Mar 3 (IPS) - Heduardo, one of the most scathing caricaturists in the Peruvian press, published a cartoon showing President Alan García more interested in a "museum of amnesia" than a proposed "museum of memory."

The cartoonist was one of the first to lash out at the government's decision to turn down a two million dollar donation offered by Germany for the construction of a museum to commemorate the victims of the political violence that ravaged Peru from 1980 to 2000.

The proposed memorial museum would have helped Peruvians remember the two decades of armed conflict between the Maoist Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrillas and government forces, which left nearly 70,000 dead, according to the 2003 report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR).

As the criticism mounted, government officials felt compelled to respond. Defence Minister Ántero Flores Aráoz told a press conference that the donation could be used in the fight against poverty, to build health posts or schools.

Prime Minister Yehude Simon, who spent years in prison on charges of terrorism under the Alberto Fujimori regime (1990-2000), said the government could ask to use the funds for support for the survivors of the political violence, and for social programmes.

People's Defender (ombudswoman) Beatriz Merino, however, regretted that Germany's offer was turned down, and urged that the decision be reviewed.

On Sunday, Peru's leading newspapers published a statement signed by prominent intellectuals like writer Mario Vargas Llosa, artist Fernando de Szyszlo, theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez and sociologist Julio Cotler, as well as the former chairman of the CVR, Salomón Lerner, and dozens of other people protesting the government's decision.

The statement pointed out that during the intense period of armed conflict, initiated by Sendero Luminoso, both the insurgents and the security forces committed massive human rights violations and crimes against humanity.

Since the CVR carried out its investigation, it has become clear that the only way to bring about "fair reconciliation with a democratic spirit is to fulfill victims' rights to truth, justice and reparations," the signatories added.

And "one indispensable element for achieving this is a broad commemoration of what happened and an honest reflection on the past," the statement said.

The CVR found Sendero Luminoso responsible for 54 percent of the 69,280 victims documented in its investigation.

"The commemoration of victims of violence, a basic humanitarian gesture, is today a basic element of the international ethical consensus and a practice adopted by the world's democratic nations," said the statement printed in Sunday's papers.

"That is even more important in countries like ours, where the violence has taken place against a historical backdrop marked by intolerable ethnic and gender exclusions. For that reason, we respectfully but categorically object to this insensitive attitude on the part of the government, and we call on Peruvians with a democratic spirit to redouble their efforts to redeem (our country from its) violent past, not through silence but by means of honest, compassionate memory based on justice," it concluded.

Five years ago, the CVR opened the "Yuyanapaq" ("to remember," in the Quechua language) photo exhibit, a hard-hitting display that was to become a key component of the "museum of memory."

The CVR is not unique in Latin America, where similar commissions have been set up in Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama and Paraguay.

Truth commissions have also operated in African or Asian nations that have experienced armed conflicts, regional wars, occupations or apartheid, like East Timor, Ghana, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa and South Korea.

And human rights memorial museums exist in countries like Argentina, Britain, Chile, the Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Italy, Paraguay, Russia, Senegal, South Africa and Uruguay.

What prompted the García administration to turn down Germany's donation? Analysts who have closely followed the president's attitudes and political stances with respect to that period in Peru's history, especially the counterinsurgency policy followed by Fujimori - who is now on trial for a string of human rights crimes, in which a sentence might be handed down before the end of the month - believe the decision did not occur in a vacuum.

The governing APRA party, traditionally identified with social democracy, has often taken positions in line with those of the pro-Fujimori bloc in Congress.

Attempts to reintroduce the death penalty and votes in Congress blocking the impeachment of prominent APRA leaders accused of corruption reflect that informal alliance.

The formula followed by Fujimori - neoliberal, free-market economic policies alongside a strong alliance with business and the armed forces, combined with a harsh clampdown on social protest - seems to have been adopted by the current administration.

A key element in Fujimori's current defence strategy is to highlight his government's success in the fight against the guerrillas and argue that an attempt is now being made to forget about the peace that was achieved and to only focus on the "excesses."

Lawsuits have also been filed in court for human rights abuses committed during García's first administration (1985-1990), such as a 1986 massacre of 118 prisoners during a riot at El Frontón prison.

The case was taken to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which ruled in August 2000 that no statute of limitations applied, that the Peruvian state was responsible, and that it should investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible and make moral and material reparations to the victims' families.

A memorial museum could be an uncomfortable reminder of systematic human rights violations as state policy - a policy followed by several governments during the "dirty war," according to the CVR report. (END/2009)
Southern Cone   [contents]    

EU, developing states clash over generic drug swoop
Jonathan Lynn. Reuters. March 4, 2009

GENEVA, March 3 (Reuters) - The European Union and developing countries clashed on Tuesday over the treatment of generic drugs, with Brazil accusing Brussels of trying to undermine special public health rules for poor countries.

But the European Union said it had the right to inspect generic drugs in transit, to protect EU citizens and people in developing countries from the risk of fake medicine.

The argument involved the detention last December by Dutch customs authorities of an Indian generic drug to treat high blood pressure while in transit in the Netherlands for Brazil.

It touches on one of the most sensitive issues between rich and poor countries -- access to affordable medicine -- and has been cited by developing countries as an example of rising protectionism in the economic crisis.

Brazil's envoy to the World Trade Organisation told a WTO meeting on the trade in intellectual property agreement TRIPS that the Dutch move was part of a pattern by rich countries to try and claw back special treatment for poor countries.

"Not only is this a violation of the WTO disciplines but it runs counter to the spirit of everything developing countries negotiated under TRIPS to get the flexibilities that would allow public health concerns of developing countries to be taken into consideration, to be protected," Roberto Azevedo told reporters after the meeting.

Azevedo, whose arguments were echoed by India and backed by another dozen developing countries, said the detained cargo of 570 kilos of Losartan Potassium, an ingredient used to make an arterial hypertension drug, had been enough to treat 300,000 Brazilian patients for one month.

The drugs were held to investigate an alleged violation of IP rights, not to safeguard health in poor countries, he said.

He said there were similar examples, and Brazil was now investigating more than a dozen seizures of drugs in the Netherlands in 2008 intended for seven Latin American and African countries.


Azevedo said Brazil did not rule out launching a formal trade dispute at the WTO over the Losartan case.

But the head of the EU delegation to the TRIPS meeting, Luc Devigne, said there was no legal basis for a dispute, and added that Brazil had not raised any of the other cases with Brussels.

"We remain fully committed to a policy of access for medicine," he told reporters, noting that Europe was one of the world's biggest producers of generic drugs in any case.

But he said the TRIPS agreement allowed WTO members to inspect goods in transit, including generic medicines.

Fake medicine in the EU rose by half between 2006 and 2007, with one third coming from India, and a two-month action in late 2008, known as MEDI-FAKE, resulted in the seizure of 34 million illegal medicines, he said.

"Many countries actually should be grateful to European customs who most likely have saved lives and certainly in developing countries, because fake medicines are more spread in developing countries than developed countries," he said.

In this case Dutch customs held the cargo at the request of a company holding Dutch patent rights, he said.

After a settlement between the patent-holder and the exporter, India's Dr Reddys Laboratories Ltd (REDY.BO: Quote, Profile, Research), customs returned them to Dr Reddys, who flew them back to India rather than continuing the shipment to Brazil, he said, adding that 21 companies in Brazil also manufactured the drug.

Devigne declined to name the patent-holder, but trade officials said it was U.S. company Merck & Co (MRK.N: Quote, Profile, Research), under the name Merck Sharp & Dohme. Losartan is the generic name for the drug Cozaar developed jointly by Merck and E I du Pont de Nemours & Co (Dupont) (DD.N: Quote, Profile, Research).

Brazil's trade in February leaner but returns to surplus
Mercopress. March 4, 2009

Brazil's trade surplus hit 1.7 billion US dollars in February, up from a 518 million dollar deficit in January and an 882 million dollars surplus in February 2008, the Ministry of Development, Industry and Trade reported this week.

Despite the significant improvement in February, the country is still undergoing a strong economic deceleration compared with the same period in 2008. According to the ministry, exports in February reached 9.5 billion dollars, with an average rate of 532.7 million dollars per business day, up 14.4% from January but down 20% from the same period of last year.

Imports totalled 7.8 billion dollars, with an average of 434.5 million dollars per business day, down 11.5% from January and 30.9% from the amount registered in February 2008. The accumulated trade surplus in the first two months of 2009 dropped 26.3% from the same period in 2008, to 1.2 billion dollars, with an average of 31.9 million dollars per business day.

Both accumulated exports and imports also shrank in February, down 21.9% and 21.6% from the same period of last year, to 19.3 and 18.1 billion dollars respectively.

In 2008, Brazil was already experiencing a reduction in its trade surplus, mainly because of rising imports on strong domestic economic growth. Brazil's economy expanded by an estimated 5.6% in 2008, but growth this year is expected to reach only about 1.5%.

Brazil's foreign trade surplus narrowed significantly last year to 24.74 billion compared with the 40 billion of 2007.

According to Brazil's central bank weekly survey of expert opinion, released earlier Monday, the 2009 foreign trade surplus will reach just 13 billion US dollars.

The weekly survey tracks the opinions of 100 analysts and economists from banks and brokerages, reporting the average of their expectations.

BRAZIL:  Happiness Is Promoting Health and Development in the Amazon
Mario Osava. Inter-Press Service. March 3, 2009

SANTARÉM, Brazil, Mar 3 (IPS) - On his fourth trip to Brazil, Prince Charles plans to visit a project in the Amazon jungle that has cut infant mortality and illiteracy nearly in half by organising poor communities to get involved in their own development.

The Projeto Saúde and Alegria (PSA - Health and Happiness Project) has won a number of prizes, both within the country and abroad, and has been visited by a number of prominent personalities. But the Mar. 11-15 visit by Britain's heir-to-the-throne will bring it a new level of international visibility and could help it overcome its current financial hurdles, the directors of the programme hope.

Reproducing the initiative in other poor areas is the new dream of PSA founder Eugenio Scannavino. "We have developed a methodology that can be applied anywhere, including urban slums; all we need now are the funds," he said, clarifying that the project's initiatives are low cost and bring results within just a few years.

It all began 25 years ago, when Scannavino left the cities where he had spent the first part of his life - São Paulo, where he lived, and Rio de Janeiro, where he studied medicine - and moved to Santarém, an Amazon jungle city of around 300,000 people in northern Brazil, to bring medicine to those who most needed it, in an innovative and integral fashion.

He began by working with the city government in 1984 and 1985, but decided instead to set up a non-governmental organisation, the Centre of Advanced Studies for Social and Environmental Promotion, better known as PSA, to ensure the independence of the project from municipal authorities and to establish a community development project managed by local residents themselves.

Simple clean-up and hygiene measures, like channeling water and disseminating the use of chlorine to sterilise drinking and cooking water, as well as widespread vaccination campaigns and community-built septic tanks with concrete lids, reduced the infant mortality rate to 27 per 1,000 live births in the 150 communities served by PSA, which have a total combined population of 30,000.

By contrast, the infant mortality rate in nearby neighbourhoods that are not served by PSA averages 52 per 1,000 live births.

In addition, the illiteracy rate among people over 15 is 5.5 percent in PSA communities, compared to 11.3 percent in surrounding areas.

The name of the project sums up its methodology. Health is the focus of its actions, identified as the main problem in participatory debates with local residents. But it is a broad concept that encompasses the environment, education and food security, thus requiring sustainable economic development. And happiness and communication are decisive instruments in bringing about results.

Happiness is personified by Paulo Roberto de Oliveira, better known as Magnolio, his name as a clown.

He leads the Great Mocorongo Circus, which mobilises local communities and teaches hygiene and disease prevention, through laughter. His jokes and antics keep people entertained in the meetings he leads as one of PSA's three general coordinators.

Magnolio, who is also from São Paulo, studied law, social services and physical education. He was teaching - at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels - until Scannavino invited him to join the project as educational director.

Earlier, he had taken a circus arts course with his brother, learning about acrobatics, balancing, juggling - and humour.

"Circus arts is a profession that you can exercise even as an old man, but you have to learn it at a young age," argued the grandfather who recommended the course of studies to the two brothers.

They were successful as an acrobatic clown duo, but later separated, and Magnolio stayed in Santarém.

"Mocorongo is an interactive circus, with no distance between actors and spectators, who also express their ideas in the circus language," said Magnolio, who describes himself as an "ecological clown." Children and adults paint their faces and take part in the show. Everyone is an artist, and the entire PSA staff performs some circus routine at one point or another.

Mocorongo is the name given to natives of Santarém, a city in the northern state of Pará, where the Tapajós and Amazon rivers converge.

The project also uses methods from the Theatre of the Oppressed, a street theatre method created by Brazilian playwright and director Augusto Boal. The plays teach techniques for preventing diseases or for using homemade rehydration solutions, for example.

Dozens of men running towards a circle of women represent the race among sperm, in which only the winner will fertilise the egg. The sketch is part of sex education efforts aimed at fighting the spread of sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS.

Keeping teaching on health and other matters fun makes people eagerly await the return of the "Abaré", a boat that serves as the PSA's mobile hospital. The project's most visible tool, the boat makes periodic tours from one riverbank community to another, providing medical and dental care, vaccinations, family planning and even minor surgical procedures.

The PSA "is a big educational project" focusing on health, economic matters, and self-management of local interests by the community itself, but education is the most important aspect, said Magnolio.

The project involves programmes in community health, the forest economy, and education, culture and communication, all of which come together in the concept of community-driven development, said Scannavino.

His brother Caetano Scannavino Filho, who is also a general coordinator of PSA, but in the administrative department, sees economic and financial aspects as the project's main challenge today, because of the difficulty in generating sustainable incomes for local populations in the jungle.

Natural resources like fish and forestry products are becoming more and more scarce, limiting extractive activities like the gathering of nuts and fruit, while alternatives such as agroecology initiatives take years to consolidate, and "no one provides such long-term financing," he said.

Furthermore, processing the fruit and nuts to add value takes time, energy and capital that is not readily available in the area, he added.

PSA is active along the lower stretch of the Tapajós river and its tributary, the Arapiuns river, near the Amazon river. The beneficiary communities are riverbank villages in two nature reserves, where they are allowed to make use of the natural resources in a sustainable manner.

Local houses are mainly made of wood and located away from the river to escape flooding. The water level in the Tapajós river rises more than six metres in rainy season, submerging the riverbank beaches and limiting tourism to the dry season, in the second half of the year.

Government agencies built a large number of low-cost housing units in the area, made of bricks and cement to avoid the use of wood. But the houses are criticised as being too closed-in and stifling, running counter to local building styles, which keep people cooler in the heat of the jungle.

The local people, known as "caboclos" - a term referring to Brazilians of mixed indigenous and European descent who live in the Amazon jungle - "do not have an enterprising mentality," a characteristic that has been aggravated by broad government income transfer programmes, said Davide Pompermaier from Italy, who began working with PSA 15 years ago.

Moreover, "their traditional means of production are unsustainable," because they are based on the clearing of forests by the slash-and-burn technique and the cultivation of mandioc, "which is labour-intensive and of little value."

But the forest economy group that Pompermaier coordinates has shown results in fomenting craft-making, community-led ecotourism ventures, agroecological production and the generation of solar energy and other kinds of electricity. The focus is "to invest in young people to change local mentalities," and produce more food in a sustainable fashion, he explained.

Santarém has been governed by a woman mayor for the past few years, and rural trade unions have incorporated the term "trabalhadoras" - the female form of "workers" - in their names, reflecting advances towards gender equality in the area. But PSA continues to address the question of gender discrimination, especially in its work with children.

Young people in the area have been mobilising and seeing new horizons open up, mainly through PSA's education and communication programme (EDUCOM). The Mocorongo Communication Network involves 350 young people in community radio stations and the production and distribution of small newspapers, videos and television programmes.

Telecentres with a cultural focus, six of which are operating and five of which are in the process of being installed, have brought new opportunities for communication and strengthened community organisation and mobilisation.

The telecentres are two-story wooden eco-friendly buildings, with the first floor open to meetings and cultural activities and the second dedicated to bringing the Internet and new technologies to local people and expanding digital inclusion.

Fabio Pena, 29, is a symbol of PSA. He started out participating in the project's activities at the age of 10 in his village on the shores of the Amazon river, three hours by boat from the city of Santarém. Today, with a degree in pedagogy under his belt, he coordinates the EDUCOM programme.

"Our work is to create opportunities for learning and inclusion for the upcoming generations of riverbank villagers," so they can have better lives in their own communities, and so that the exodus to the cities is not the only alternative, said Pena.

A number of local young people now head community associations in the area.

PSA leaders say that access to new technologies, like the telecentres and videos, have encouraged youngsters to emphasise and rescue local culture, contrary to fears that they would be drawn in by modern urban lifestyles.

Elis Lucien Barbosa started out as a volunteer and now forms part of the EDUCOM team. She is proud of being "a good clown," and she helps out with community publications and blogs, the production of which has mushroomed at the telecentres.

As a teacher, she is interested in having an indirect influence on schools, to make teaching more interesting and better adapted to local realities.

Mónica de Almeida, 20, a community leader trained by the Mocorongo Network, is now a video producer after receiving training in participative video techniques at the Biskops-Arnö Nordic school in Sweden, which periodically sends teams to Brazil to give workshops to young people involved in PSA.

Today, Almeida coordinates "the telecentre that brought the age of the Internet to the town" of Belterra, near Santarém, by training more than 700 people in its courses, she said.

In the past, local cybercafés went under because so few people visited them, she noted.

Almeida's team has also produced five videos on issues like teen pregnancy and youth unemployment, and has held workshops on collective blogs.

These young people will ensure the continuity of the local development initiatives promoted by PSA, said Scannavino. (END/2009)

General-Director of Brazilian Senate resigns after scandal
Xinhua. March 4, 2009

RIO DE JANEIRO, March 3 (Xinhua) -- The General-Director of the Brazilian Senate, Agaciel Maia, resigned on Tuesday after being accused by local daily Folha de Sao Paulo of owning a mansion undeclared to the country's IRS service.

According to the daily, the mansion, a 1,000 square meters large property located in a posh neighborhood in Brasilia, Brazil's capital city, was bought in 1999 and registered by Federal Representative Joao Maia, Agaciel Maia's brother.

The mansion's value was estimated at about five million reais (about two million U.S. dollars).

Maia denied any wrongdoings, saying that he could not possibly hide the house he lives in from the IRS. He admitted, though, that the property's ownership was never legally transferred to him.

According to Maia, the resignation was definitive, and was a way to let the investigation run its course independently and without interferences. He will remain as a Senate employee.

The investigation on the General-Director had been requested by Jose Sarney, president of the Brazilian Senate. It was Sarney who nominated Maia for the position in 1995 during his first term as President of the Senate.

Maia's resignation, which was immediately accepted by Senator Sarney, does not end the investigation. Several of the country's political groups requested a detailed investigation into Maia's finances, to find out the origin of the resources used to buy the mansion.

The position of General-Director will be filled by Assistant Director of the Senate, Alexandre Gazineo.

Uruguay to discuss reducing working-day hours to combat financial crisis
Xinhua. March 3, 2009

MONTEVIDEO, March 3 (Xinhua) -- The Uruguayan government and private sectors will discuss a proposal by labor unions to reduce working hours as a way to ease the impact of the global financial crisis.

"I think it can be taken into account company by company," Eduardo Bonomi, the Work and Social Security Minister, said Tuesday.

"The suggestion can not be put forward in general because different sectors are being affected in different forms by the crisis."

Bonomi said the textile, tannery and automotive sectors were the most affected by the global economic slowdown.

Diego Balesta, president of the Chamber of Industries, said that to lower the working hours with a salary reduction would be good for some companies.

The PIT-CNT labor union, the country's largest workers' syndicate, said earlier that it will propose a six-hour working day in some sectors, along with respective salary and expenses reduction for the companies.

But the union insisted that the reduction must be agreed by the three parts -- workers, the state and the companies.

According to the government, Uruguay's economic growth in 2009 will fall to 3 percent, down from an original projection of 13 percent made last year.
México, Central America and the Caribbean   [contents]    

Mexican president announces three high-level resignations
Arthur Brice. CNN. March 3, 2009

(CNN) -- Mexican President Felipe Calderon announced the resignations Tuesday of three high-level government officials, most notably Communications and Transport Secretary Luis Tellez Kuenzler.

Abraham Gonzalez, a key official for the powerful ministry that oversees Mexico's government, also resigned. So did Sergio Vela Martinez, president of the National Council for Culture and the Arts.

No official reasons were given for any of the resignations, which analysts said did not appear to be related. But at least two of the resignations did not come as a surprise.

Tellez, who stepped down from a Cabinet-level post, had been involved for weeks in a controversy over taped comments revealed last month by CNN journalist Carmen Aristegui.

In the taped conversation, Tellez said former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari had stolen government money. Salinas has not been formally accused of any crime.

Tellez received an anonymous threat in late February from an apparent political enemy telling him to resign or more damaging audiotapes would be released to the media. He refused and turned the matter over to authorities.

Ana Maria Salazar Slack, a political analyst who is host of a daily radio show in Mexico City, called it "an almost soap opera-ish scandal" that left Calderon little choice but to force Tellez to resign.

"Although Calderon wanted to keep him in office, it made it very difficult to keep him there," she said.

Calderon moved Tellez to a post as a presidential aide dealing with economic matters.

Other observers also were not surprised by the move.

"That was waiting to happen," said Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center. "But evidently the president values his counsel and has kept him in a high-profile position in the presidency from which he'll continue to have influence."

Robert Pastor, the Latin America national security adviser for President Jimmy Carter in the 1970s, praised Tellez but said political considerations prevailed.

"He's a very competent fellow," Pastor said. "One of the most competent people I've known in Mexico. But this tape in particular was very embarrassing."

In a televised news conference after Calderon announced the changes, Tellez expressed his "gratitude for this opportunity that few Mexicans obtain."

Replacing Tellez will be Juan Molinar Horcasitas, the head of the Mexican Institute for Social Security.

Molinar belongs to the same party as Calderon, the National Action Party [PAN], while Tellez belongs to the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party [PRI]. That played a role, Slack said.

"The president is sending a signal to his party that he's going to support people from his own party," Slack said. "Beyond the political scandals of the tapes, there's a decision for the president to appoint people very close to the party."

Gonzalez's departure was not a surprise either, since he is running for a congressional seat in July and Mexican law requires him to resign.

Analysts spoke highly of Gonzalez's replacement, Geronimo Gutierrez Fernandez. He had been the top person in the foreign ministry for Latin and North America.

"Gutierrez moving in is outstanding," the Mexico Institute's Selee said, calling him "one of the smartest people ... I've met" and "an impressive guy."

Consuelo Saizar Guerrero takes over as head of the National Council for Culture and the Arts, replacing Vela, whose reasons for resigning were not disclosed. Saizar previously served as head of the Economic Culture Fund, the government's book-publishing enterprise.

The arts and culture post will play a significant role in 2010, when Mexico celebrates 100 years of its social revolution and 200 years of its declaration of independence, radio analyst Slack said.

As for the timing of resignations from three key posts, Slack linked it to Mexico's election calendar.

"In order to understand these changes," she said, "you have to understand there are midterm elections in July. So if there are going to be any changes, they have to take place right now."

Meanwhile, Peter Hakim, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue, said the changes do not portend a political shift.

"This doesn't sound like any major direction in change for Calderon," Hakim said.

Mexico's Peso Rises on Bets IMF to Offer More Flexible Loans
Valerie Rota. Bloomberg. March 3, 2009

March 3 (Bloomberg) -- Mexico's peso rose from a record low as speculation the International Monetary Fund may offer larger, more flexible short-term loans to member countries eased concern about the country's finances.

The peso gained 0.5 percent to 15.3450 per dollar at 5 p.m. New York time, compared with 15.4225 yesterday. The currency had tumbled to record lows for the past three days, touching 15.5105 per dollar yesterday.

The IMF's board is considering extending its limit on the loans beyond five times member nations' quota contributions, officials involved in the talks said on condition of anonymity. Member countries shunned an emergency credit program approved in October. Mexico's finances are under strain as a deepening in recession in the U.S. throttles demand for the Latin American country's exports.

"Any information that suggests Mexican finances will be shored up helps support the peso," said Manuel Galvan, a fixed- income strategy at Metanalisis SA in Mexico City.

Proposals to redesign the IMF's lending arrangements are scheduled to be discussed at a gathering of leaders of the Group of 20 emerging and developed nations in London on April 2.

The peso's gains today may be short-lived, said Luis Flores, an economist at IXE Grupo Financiero SA in Mexico City. The peso may fall to 15.7 per dollar in the coming days, he said.

The Mexican currency has weakened 32 percent over the past six months, the biggest decline among the world's major currencies.

Banco de Mexico bought $620 million worth of pesos directly in the foreign-exchange market last week, the central bank said today. That brings the amount of direct pesos purchases in February to $1.8 billion. It has spent about $19.5 billion of foreign reserves since October to stem the slide in the peso.

Mexico's foreign reserves have fallen 7.9 percent to $80.1 billion from a record in July.

Yields on Mexico's benchmark percent peso-denominated bond fell 12 basis points, or 0.12 percentage point, to 9.04 percent. The price on the 10 percent security due in December 2024 rose 1.01 centavos to 108.02 centavos per peso, according to Banco Santander SA.

To contact the reporter on this story: Valerie Rota in Mexico City at

The cross-border bullet trade
Mexican drug cartels are loading up on bullets in the U.S.
Todd Bensman. GlobalPost. March 4, 2009,2

LAREDO, Texas - For evidence of the booming bullet business along the U.S.-Mexico border, look no further than the case of Carlos Alberto Osorio Castrejon and Ramon Uresti Careaga.

The two Mexican men crossed the Rio Grande on a three-day shopping visa on Nov. 1, 2006. Their destination: Kirkpatrick Guns and Ammo in a tony shopping district of this Texas border city. They were sitting on the store floor sorting their purchase of 12,570 live rounds of assorted ammunition when their luck ran out. In walked an off-duty special agent for the ATF (the agency regulating sales of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms), who, after ascertaining that the men weren't U.S. citizens, arrested them on the spot. 

Castrejon and Careaga would go on to confess that they'd made numerous other day trips to buy U.S. ammunition to bring back to Mexico - just the month before, they'd shelled out $6,193 in cash for bullets at another local store.

As this case and others show, Mexican smugglers are simply dropping over the border on three-day shopping visas, toting wads of cash, and bringing warring Mexican drug cartels huge quantities of bullets.

By all accounts, the bullet trade is booming in this region, especially in Texas. Not coincidentally, the trade's boom is taking place as a savage drug war rages below the border in Mexico. In just the last year, Mexico's civil drug war has claimed 6,300 lives.

There are some laws that govern the purchase of new guns from retailers and licensed dealers, although they don't stop smugglers from arming cartels with these guns.

But bullets are a commodity almost as unregulated as milk or bread, with no record-keeping requirements, no limits on the number of bullets an individual can purchase, and no way to disqualify potential buyers based on criminal history. And unlike guns, bullets don't have serial numbers that can later be traced to a store or person.

The one law that applies to ammunition purchases doesn't do much to hinder Mexican bullet-buyers: It simply mandates that buyers be U.S. citizens, but it doesn't require retailers to check. So it's don't ask, don't tell. And only by poor luck do Mexican smugglers coming into U.S. border towns on shopping visas get caught in the act of smuggling.

Storeowner Bill Kirkpatrick - the owner of Kirkpatrick Guns and Ammo, where the ATF agent practically stumbled over the two Mexican smugglers - said he doesn't ask for proof of citizenship from ammunition buyers because nothing in the law says he has to.

"On ammo, we don't ask, because a lot of people can get offended," Kirkpatrick explained. "It's politically incorrect, like you're calling them a spic."

Mexican and U.S. authorities peg U.S. retailers as the source of more than 3 million rounds of ammunition seized in Mexico over just the past 24 months, which is considered a small percentage of an unknown total.

While authorities in both countries have tried to curtail the smuggling of U.S. firearms to Mexico for some time, they've only recently turned their attention to American ammunition.

"If they don't have bullets they can't use the guns," said J. Dewey Webb, the Houston-based leader of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. "It's just as important and it's just as illegal. If we could reduce the traffickers to throwing rocks at each other, I think we've achieved our goal."

There can be no doubt that American retailers are profiting handsomely from Mexico's drug war.

Authorities believe one of the nation's busiest ammunition-smuggling corridors runs through South Texas because of a proliferation of stores in densely populated regions close to the Mexican border. That pipeline, they say, runs south through McAllen, Harlingen and Brownsville. The connecting Mexican state of Tamaulipas is listed as one of the top five Mexican states for illegal ammunition seizures, according to Mexico's attorney general's office.

The market for certain kinds of ammo is so robust that big chains and smaller independent stores all along the Texas border report being unable to keep up with demand for .50 caliber sniper rifle rounds, which can sell for $4 each, and 5.7 "cop killer" bullets that can penetrate police body armor.

Employees of Texas-based retailer Academy Sports and Outdoors have plenty of stories about men piling shopping carts high with the $74-cases of 7.62 caliber rounds that only fit AK-47 assault rifles, as well as clearing shelves of .9 mm rounds and other ammunition that fit other kinds of assault-style rifles popular with cartel gunmen. 

"I had a guy come in the other day and clear me out of .223s," Francisco Rodriguez, who works in the guns and ammunition section of a store in McAllen, Texas, said, referring to ammunition that fits many kinds of assault-type rifles, as well as regular hunting rifles. But unlike a typical hunter, he said, this customer "paid $5,000 cash, and then he went to one of our other stores and cleaned that out, too. I didn't ask what he was going to do with it. He probably was going to take it to Mexico."

Mountains of ammunition types so popular at Academy stores in Texas keep turning up across the Rio Grande in drug cartel weapons depots. One bust of a cartel weapons stash house in Reynosa, Mexico last October netted half a million assorted rounds.

South Texas retailers don't like to contemplate the prospect that they might be profiting from Mexico's tragedy. Instead, many of those interviewed prefer to believe that target-shooting hobbyists are the ones primarily buying out their stocks.

Austin Ortiz, manager of the firearms section in a newly opened Academy Sports and Outdoors store in McAllen, Texas, offered a typical anecdote. He said the 7.62 and .223 calibers that fit AK-47s and Colt AR-15 military assault-style rifles are among his best-sellers. Often, customers pay in cash.

"There are a lot of gun ranges around here," Ortiz tried to explain, at first. Asked if he thought smugglers were also buying, he offered this: "I'm pretty sure there are people out there who will take it over and sell it at a profit."

Yet there's no store policy or law requiring Ortiz to record or limit sales to anyone. Academy declined to respond to a GlobalPost request for an interview.

Because of the absence of mandatory or voluntary controls on ammo sales, agents hunting the trail of smuggling-minded shoppers will remain hard-pressed to cut this supply line.

Whereas guns recovered in Mexico can at least be traced to a store and original buyer, bullets leave no trail. Smugglers eliminate all clues by removing the rounds from coded store boxes. Bullets are considered too heavy to carry into Mexico by hiking or swimming, so shells usually go into secret vehicle compartments, and then are driven south.

In Texas, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection fields several inspections teams that troll southbound vehicles for cash, guns and - of late - ammunition. But there aren't enough of them to present much of a deterrent, agency officials admit.

"The reality is that the smuggler has the advantage over us," conceded the Laredo-based CBP assistant port director, Jose R. Uribe. "It's just the nature of the border."

It's unlikely that gun sales will become more regulated in the U.S. anytime soon. But regulation of commodities that carry social costs isn't without precedent.

In the early 2000s, Texas and other states with methamphetamine drug problems passed laws restricting the volume sales of over-the-counter cold medicines used to make the drug.

In October, President Bush signed the Methamphetamine Production Prevention Act, requiring retailers like Walg


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Can you provide the source for this round-up, please?