Wednesday, September 21, 2005

US Signals Shift in Latin American Strategy

Bush nominated a career diplomat to replace Roger Noriega, his polemic Secretary of State for Hemispheric Affairs. The position is the most influential in shaping US politics towards Latin America.

The confirmation of Bush's candidate, Thomas Shannon is expected to be easy. Unlike his predecessor he is a career diplomat with actual experience in the field. And also unlike Noriega he doesn’t have a vested interest in the region.

Noriega’s strong links with Anti-Castrism and his outspoken style contributed to the regional alienation of the US. His biggest problem, Hugo Chavez, got worse during his period.

Mr. Shannon speaks Spanish and Portuguese and has served in Brazil, Guatemala and Venezuela. He is considered more of a “doer” than a “talker”. The US has just a few friends left in Latin America. It is now up to Shannon to change that.

The Begining of the End for Lula?

For the first time since Lula's election the number of people disapproving of his performance (39%) is greater that the number approving of it (29%). I find these results remarkably good for the level of crisis his party faces. However, when you lose the majority balance changes. Now that more Brazilians are potentially against him, Lula will need to work hard to come back.

The presidential race is scheduled for October 2006.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Mexican Priest Introduces Narco-Alms

In the market for souls competition is fierce.

The catholic church is rapidly losing customers in Latin America to more aggressive religious groups.

Since Ratzinger took over headquarters is of no help. The Vatican is busy writing reactive statements scandal after scandal. There is no time for customer acquisition.

But there is a Mexican priest who is quietly implementing a new business model that can revamp the millenarian institution.

Aguscalientes Bishop, Ramón Gordínez Flores is quietly testing a revolutionary product in his market: Narco-alms.

Money laundry has always been a lucrative business. It has risks but it does pay. If you manage to introduce secret banking into a stable legal system and establish a discreet retail operation then you are going to score high.

Bishop Gordínez Flores talked about his plans to Jornada newspaper. What follows are some of revolutionary business ideas he revealed to the Mexican paper.

-Service is key: “I receive alms from anybody and always say thank you.”

-In the financial world discretion matters: ”I don’t know if the money I get is dirty, I have no evidence. Money can be purified if the person has good intentions”.

-Know your customer base: “I even know of customers who have donated drug money, but those people have been purified. What matters is giving with good intentions”.

In today’s world you have to innovate to survive.

Nicaragua's Government in the Emergency Room

Daniel Ortega, leader of left wing opposition Sandinista party announced a deal to buy Venezuelan oil at a 40% discount.

You read well, the Nicaraguan opposition party signed a deal with a foreign government and a badly needed one.

This defiant move has put American friendly President Bolaño in an unenviable position.

National electricity company Fenosa is rationing power since the Supreme Court banned higher rates. Without extra revenue Fenosa can’t afford fuel to generate power. The Supreme Court is controlled by an opposition coalition.

There are two ways to solve the energy crisis. To increase rates or to take Chavez’s oil.

Since President Bolaño is not friends with Chavez he can only ask congress to approve higher bills. That will dent his popularity and increase Ortega’s.

Daniel Ortega just gave a mortal blow to the government, with a little help from his Venezuelan friend.

Monday, September 19, 2005

A Scientifically Proven Diabolical Plan

Ecuador’s President Alfredo Palacio told El Comercio newspaper about a diabolical plan to destroy the country: "There is a diabolical plan to totally destroy and demolish Ecuador. I state that scientifically and objectively. I am not just running off at the mouth".

The objective of the plan is to destroy democracy. And the mastermind, well that is a bit more problematic: "Sincerely, I do not know who is behind this plan, and I am trying to speak about it as much in the manner of a doctor as I can. It is as if they brought me to a sick mother and I explained to the son what is happening and then he asks me what virus is making her sick, and I cannot tell him because it could be one or it could be several."

If I was Palacio I would keep my mouth shot until having a treatment for this virus. But then I am neither president nor doctor.

Venezuela to Introduce Indigenous Weapons

Gustavo Ochoa has a mission.

The government owned company under his management, CAVIM, announced the production of three indigenous weapons for 2006, including a pistol, a revolver and an assault riffle.

CAVIM will also refurnish thousands of FAL riffles to be distributed among reservists when the army receives 100.000 brand-new AK103 from Russia.

When asked about Venezuela’s military build-up Ochoa makes it clear: “This is not in a military build-up but a social mission. ”

A double mission that is: saving the indigenous weapon while arming Venezuelans to the teeth.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Bolton’s Unlikely Friend

“The United Nations are useless”.

No, it wasn’t the US Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Bolton who just said so. It was Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, during his most recent UN speech.

Chavez sounds so much like Bolton that I wander if there is an underground pact between Republicans and Chavistas. In politics everything is possible.

It is amazing how the radical always sounds the same, whether it comes from left or right.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Lula the Survivor

Lula’s popularity dropped to a new low: 50%. He could even lose the presidency next year. Observers are rushing to announce his decline. Lula’s response?: “We are going to come out of this stronger than ever”.

He is right. He only dropped 10 points since July. That is nothing if we consider his party's (PT) dirt: Tax evasion, illegal campaign funding, bribes for contracts, to name just a few. He is looking remarkably strong. 50% is half of the country.

Only a direct link between Lula and the PT corruption would cost him the presidency. The opposition has failed to find it. We have Lula for long.

From Oil Diplomacy to Military Supremacy

Regional military build-up continues.

Venezuela confirmed plans to buy Spanish military equipment including two transport and two reconnaissance aircraft valued in 260m dollars.

“A Spanish-Venezuelan bilateral commission is holding talks for the purchase of four corvettes and four patrol boats for use on the high seas”, if we are to believe government controlled Radio Nacional.

Venezuela has made friends in the Caribbean by offering cheap oil. Enough to run 13 islands: 200,000 oil barrels per day. And they need it badly. Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez ordered public transportation vehicles to circulate only every third day. And Dominican Republic receieves 10% of those barrels.

Caribbean countries represent almost half of OAS votes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Peruvian Amnesia

It makes sense that Fujimori wants to go back to Peru. He must feel lonely in Japan, a country where he is just another fellow citizen. Back home he was the chief. What doesn’t make sense is that he may actually win the presidency.

If he returns he could be charged and found innocent on technical grounds. Or he could follow the example of fellow Nicaraguan colleague Arnoldo Alemán and run the country from prison.

Today no presidential hopeful has more popularity than Fujimori. His 20% puts him next to Lourdes Flores Nano from the Popular Christian Party.

The memories of the Vladivideos, his involvement in the army's killing of civilians, his embarrassing escape to Japan and faxed resignation letter, all of that has already been forgotten by 20% of the country. If the rest of Peru is amnesic we will find out in the next few months.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Next Latin Star

One more time presidents of the world gather in New York for the UN Assembly. This time all eyes are on Hugo Chavez. The high oil price, a televised assassination plea by Pat Robertson and the generosity of CITGO after Katrina have set the ground for Chavez’s appearance.

13 years ago the now Venezuelan President was taken prisoner after a failed coup attempt and was asked to capitulate on national TV. And capitulate he did, but not without adding two words that became his tag line for years to come: “For now”.

He has learned a big deal since then. His media skills are more than sharpened. Indeed he conducts a live TV program every Sunday.

Salma Hayek, Ricky Martin, Shakira, they all have made it in the US. I am telling you now, Chavez is the next Latin star.

Girl Power

The same country that only introduced divorce last year could elect a single mother for president. A recent survey gives Michelle Bachelet a 45% intention of vote in Chile, 27 points ahead of the second runner. Bachelet represents the ruling coalition of Socialists and Christian Democrats. Chile is usually depicted as an ultra conservative country. Bachelet’s popularity totally contradicts this cliché.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A Non So National and Hopefully Intelligent Agency

Paraguayan and US officials met to discuss the creation of a national intelligence agency. The new body would be headed by former attorney general Oscar German Latorre. He justified the the meeting with a riddle: "[the idea is] to establish coordinated inter-institutional policies, so that institutions here cease to function as separate units". If he was talking about US-Paraguay or just inter-Governmental cooperation wasn’t made clear. The new agency is to report directly to the President says ABC Color newspaper. If that means Bush or Duarte Frutos wasn’t made clear either.

Brazil Reequips Air Force

Brazilian Air Force is investing heavily in modernization. Imports by the force increased by 177.5% in the first half of 2005 compared to the same period last year. That translates in US$ 34 billion in purchases for that period and a 20% increase from 2004. This is all due to the Brazilian Air Force Operational Recovery Program (PROFAB) implemented since 2002.
Brazil already has the strongest regional air force.

Palacio to Kill Two Birds

Ecuador is to review foreign company oil contracts. President Alfredo Palacio wants to increase the country’s share from 20 to at least 50%. There is so much money in oil nowadays that companies will likely comply. Venezuela did the same a few months ago and foreign producers haven’t left the country.

By fighting oil transnationals Palacio may increase his dented popularity and at the same time pocket badly needed money. As for the ethics, well it’s hard to talk of ethics when dealing with big oil.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Lula the Evasive

He was expected to face his accusers. But Lula surprised observers during his last address to the nation by focusing almost exclusively on economic performance and only referring corruption allegations as a temporary obstacle. Apparently he was encouraged by a recent poll giving him the lead in the presidential race. Fact is Lula is showing his populist side and playing the traditional role of the Latin American president, evasive and slippery. After all it has worked for others.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Bolivarian Ketchup

If you thought green ketchup was a gastronomic aberration, wait to see the latest on sauce development, courtesy of Hugo Chavez Venezuela.

Monagas State Governor Jose Gregorio Briceno, a Chavez allied, ordered the seizure of a Heinz Corporation plant arguing “public interest” reasons. The plant had been inactive for years and was recently offered to the government for sale. But why to buy something when you can just take it?

The Soviet Union owned Beluga, Castro Habana Club and now Chavez will have his own Bolivarian Ketchup following exactly the same product development model: go and steal.

Ecuador's Scapegoat

Public acceptance of Ecuador President Alfredo Palacio is at 43%, from 63% at the start of his period. The administration credibility is at 34%. At the same time Palacio announced a purge to get rid of “Gutierrismo” traces in the executive. Local observers are accusing Palacio of making of “Gutierrismo” a scapegoat to justify his failures.

Black lists, forced resignations and arbitrary decisions were Gutierres’s trademark. Palacios is following his footsteps. Don’t be surprised if he lives the same fate.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Lula Fights Back

Lula is fighting back by raising his profile and getting closer to the electorate. His bi-weekly radio program “Café con o Presidente” is now to be broadcast weekly. The intention is to open direct communications channels with his people.

Lula dedicated the last "Café con o Presidente" episode to the Brazilian economy and sounded both bullish and secure. This more aggressive tone may help him survive the PT corruption allegations. Brazil, like the rest of Latin America, has a short memory.

Nobody Elected Marcos

Subcomandante Marcos has mixed feelings about his popularity. That he is unpopular doesn’t seem to affect him. After all he has been on the spot for only one month. But his 36% unpopularity index makes him react like a losing kid who blames the game: “I promise you my unpopularity will get to a hundred percent”.

He means it. He doesn’t believe in democracy, he believes in well, principles. Indeed, the Zapatista movement will be leading an “alternative campaign” based on Marcos’ principles, that is whatever brings publicity and blocks Lopez Obrador’s candidacy.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

More Posada Carriles

The good thing about reading Granma is its transparency. Granma is a window to Castro and Chavez’s mind. When Granma says that Venezuela will redouble efforts to extradite Posada Carriles it is spelling out the upcoming Cuban-Venezuelan international strategy. Next week then Venezuela and Cuba will do all they can to make of Posada Carrile’s extradition a hot piece of news. Tactically they will have public demonstrations led by Government-Controlled-Non-Governmental-Organizations. Hopefully next week the international media will be busy with the energy crisis to fall into the Cuban-Venezuelan game.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Zoomed Away

We have seen it before: A Pan-Latin American editorial project collapses from one day to the other. But Grupo Zoom was more than a dot com. Indeed, it reinvented itself after the dot com burst by re-branding Punto Com magazine as Poder and then by launching Loft magazine. All of them were unusually good publications for regional standards.

Losing these publications means to lose readible magazines. That, in the context of the Latin American kiosks, is to lose a luxury. I really hope the report from announcing the end of Grupo Zoom is only a hoax.