Monday, October 31, 2005

Attached to Missiles

Nicaraguan Army Chief, Omar Halleslevens and leftist Sandinists have in common their passion for weapons, in particular for Russian made SAM-7 missiles.

This can be a bit of a problem if we consider that the ruling party, Liberal Constitutionalist (PLC), is proposing the destruction of 651 of the 1,051 SAM-7 missiles in the power of Nicaragua’s army.
The proposal is being backed by Nicaragua's President Enrique Bolaños, Halleslevens's boss.

Sandinistas accuse the US of being behind the PLC proposal, a move that, they argue, would compromise national security.

SAM-7 rockets can shoot down commercial planes.

Cuba’s Billion Dollar Lifesaver

Much is told about the relationship Chavez-Castro and how critical it has been for the survival of the Cuban regime. Venezuelan newspaper, El Universal, published an estimate of the actual financial benefits received by Cuban perennial chief: 100 million barrels of oil financed at 1% interest rate in 15 years. That is a lifesaver of roughly US$850 million.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Three Caballeros Vs. Bush

Argentine demigod Diego Armando Maradona is teaming up with perennial dictator Fidel Castro and mega-populist Hugo Chavez to take on Bush junior next week, during his visit to the America’s summit in Argentina.

The first round is televised. Maradona is broadcasting an apologetic interview with Cuba’s Castro, this coming Monday to set the ground for his own Anti-Americas summit.

The second round is live. From Tuesday on Maradona is leading an Anti-Summit that will include a series of street actions to complain against Bush’s visit. Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez is expected to have a guest appearance in the Anti-Summit. Activities include a large manifestation in a massive football stadium and a march to Mar del Plata where the American Presidents, including Chavez, will be meeting for the Summit of the Americas.

Bush’s corner looks weak. He is living arguably his most difficult political days as President. The America’s summit may make next week even worse for him.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Dragon Eyes Latin America

The Chinese news agency Xinhua released two sparing reports about military delegation meetings with Latin American peers. The first one announces the visit of a Chinese military delegation to Argentina, Uruguay and Cuba. The second one announces a Beijing meeting of Bolivian commander-in-chief with the Chinese Defense Minister. Routine meetings, of course.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Uribe Vs. Chavez, the Saga

After Colombia’s constitutional court decision to allow President Uribe to run for a second term, 2006 is poised to become the year of the Chavez-Uribe saga.

Both, the Colombian and Venezuelan president are expected to win their respective re-elections by landslide. Both are also expected to radicalize their political projects after being reelected.

Problem is they represent opposite forces and a clash of some sort looks unavoidable.

Job Hunting in Latin America?

If you are looking for a job in Latin America go to México. With a 3.9% unemployment rate the country has the best job market in the region. It is followed by Chile (8.3%), Perú (10.5%) and Uruguay (13.2%). The average Latin America and Caribbean
unemployment rate is of 10.9%.

These figures come from the latest report published by the International Labor Organization.

Close Race

A recent poll gives former Bolivia’s President Jorge Quiroga a fragile 1.1% lead in the presidential race.

The survey by Ipsos-Captura says that if the elections are held today Jorge Quiroga from Podemos (We Can) party would obtain 29.2% of the valid votes, whereas Evo Morales from MAS [Movement Towards Socialism] would get 28.3 per cent. An earlier survey gave Morales a 6% lead.

The race is close and the process polarized between left and right. This election is important for the regional political balance.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Honduras’s President Announces Messiahs

Honduras President Ricardo Maduro called his Venezuelan and Cuban colleagues, Hugo Chavez Frías and Fidel Castro “messianic leaders” in an interview to the Spanish newspaper ABC.

“I have a problem with the left-wing axis between Castro, Chavez , the Sandinistas and El Salvador's FMLN. I'm not so sure about their democratic calling. If support for groups that aim to weaken the institutions is observed, we democrats must act. I am worried about the emergence of these messianic leaders” said President Maduro.

Acceptance Speech

Venezuela stole Haiti and Paraguay thunder with an emotional acceptance speech for the third prize as the most corrupt Latin America and Caribbean nation.

José Vicente Rangel, Foreign Affair Minister, called a press conference and totally lambasted Transparency International, the organization that released the Corruption Perceptions Index 2005. “I will make things clear. Countries pay in exchange of a good ranking. This institution is totally disqualified” an emotional Rangel declared to the press.

His speech was so moving that the actual winners, Haiti and Paraguay haven’t given one yet.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

And the Winner Is

The 2005 Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International is out and, once again, Latin America and the Caribbean score high.

The first regional place goes to Haiti, ranked in the position 155 out of 158.

Paraguay is the first finalist, ranked 144.

The third place goes to Venezuela in the position 130. Its performance has no match: It moved from position 114 to 130 in only one year. No bad for a relatively rich country.

On the other end we have Chile (21), Barbados (24) and Costa Rica (51) as the cleanest regional countries.

Acceptance speeches are expected this week. Winning government officials will engage in the annual ritual of lambasting Transparency International for lack of transparency.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Puppies of War

Spain is an unusual market to buy weapons from, but Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez is also an unusually character. He decided to buy 12 transport CASA C-295 airplanes and eight patrol boats made in Spain.

Problem is the US has decided to block the sale of the aircraft unless their American radars are replaced.

Only Israel can provide similar equipment but due to it’s good relationship with the US it may also block the sale.

Nothing to worry about, the Dogs of War are everywhere. Russia, France, Brazil, they all make transport cariers and patrol boats.

A Non So Free Common Market

Mercosur is officially the most closed open market in the world.

Brazil, the largest economy in the group ranks 90 out of 153 countries in the 2005 Index of Economic Freedom by the Heritage Foundation.

Argentina takes the 114 spot.

Only tiny Uruguay ranks on the top 50% in the position 43.

If you have any doubts consider the newest addition to Mercosur, Venezuela: It ranks 146, sandwiched between Haiti and Uzbekistan.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Blaming the CIA

A Venezuelan top official accused the CIA of involvement in the killing of controversial chavista prosecutor Danilo Anderson.

Isaías Rodríguez, Venezuela’s Chief Prosecutor, announced that Anderson’s case had been solved and the names of the two masterminds will be revealed on 04 November. "The CIA also took part in the killing”, declared Rodríguez to El Universal newspaper.

Danilo Anderson was a high profile prosecutor famous for aggressively targeting opposition political leaders despite his actual position as “Environment prosecutor”.

He was killed by two charges of C4 plastic explosive fixed to his car and detonated remotely, apparently by cell phone.

After his death the Venezuelan government rushed to declare him a national hero and gave him a full honor funeral. Soon allegations involving Anderson in corruption cases emerged in the local media.

Conspiracy theorists blame both the US and the Venezuelan government for the killing. What actually happened in this kind of cases is never known.

Isaías Rodríguez has no credibility at all. During his period as General Prosecutor not a single case of government corruption has been conducted. And corruption
is so widespread that even President Chavez has declared it the worst enemy for his revolution.

It will be interesting to see the evidence Venezuela’s Chief Prosecutor will bring forward. Judging from past experiences it will actually boost the case against the prosecutor.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Ecuadorian Xenophobia

The October issue of Colombian Magazine Cambio runs a report on the rise of Anti-Colombian sentiment in Ecuador. Apparently, the Ecuadorian Xenophobia has been accentuated by the recent decision of the Colombian government to grant asylum of deposed President Lucio Gutierrez.

Ecuadorians feel, says Cambio, victims of a plot to involve them in the Colombian problem, specifically in the Plan Colombia. The countries share a lot of issues including guerrilla forces and drug trafficking.


The FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] wants the US to intervene in Colombia, says Carlos Velasquez, a Colombian military strategist.

If the US embarks on a commando operation in the country it would provoke strong Anti-American feelings that could be leveraged by the rebels. And if the commando operation was to fail, it would be a double victory for the FARC. Therefore: [the FARC ] "might be considering as part of its strategy, to goad the United States into becoming directly involved with its troops, in order to take a political breather", argues Velasquez.

The FARC’s bait is three US agents that they hold since the downing of a small plane on a drug operation in 2003.

Velasquez also makes a couple of interesting points:

Washington would not need authorization from Congress to order the rescue.

There are approximately 400 US soldiers in Colombia, who provide technical and military support for the Colombian troops who are fighting the insurgents, but they remain distant from direct combat operations.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Explosive Market

Russia wants to capitalize on the regional military build-up. Russian state arms company Rosoboroneksport is planning to take part in the international military exhibition SINPRODE, held in Buenos Aires every year.

In the words of Sergey Svenchnikov, head of the Russian delegation to SINPRODE: "These countries' requirements for modern weapons are considerable. This is because the armed forces of most of the countries of this region intend to
renew their armaments and military hardware in the very near future."

The Russian News Agency (RIA) estimates the volume of deliveries of Russian hardware and arms to Latin America to total about $300m. A relatively small figure, yet.

A Punctual Bomber

The Trinitarian “dustbin bomber” is showing an unexpected quality, punctuality.

The US Embassy warned its citizens to stay away from Port of Spain between 09-12 October to avoid an eventual attack.

The “dustbin bomber” has attacked on 11 July, 10 August and 10 September. At least 13 people have been injured by the explosions.

The “dusting bomber” objectives, beyond the obvious destabilizing effects, are not clear yet.

It isn’t clear either why the authorities identify him as a single individual and not an organization.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Watch Out Viña del Mar

Today four American companies suffered bomb attacks in Buenos Aires. Nobody got hurt. It was a typical media stunt, an attack made with home made bombs.

Bush is going to Argentina beginning of November and is meeting Kirchner, Lula and perhaps even Chavez at the Americas Summer in Viña del Mar.

In a recent survey 23% of Argentines said to have a “very unfavorable opinion” of the US.

Watch out Viña del Mar. What happens there may set the tone for hemispheric relations years to come.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Bolivia Turns Left

With Evo Morales leading the presidential race, Bolivia is about to make a left turn, and a radical one.

Even though Morales only has a 6% lead, he is gaining momentum and the vote could happen as early as December the fourth. Congress in maneuvering to change the election date but this may only boost Morales’s prospects.

The leftist club that already counts with Castro, Chavez, Lula and Kirchner, is ready to welcome Morales. Other aspiring members include retro-leader Daniel Ortega and Mexico’s rookie Lopez-Obrador.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Bachellet Flirts With Chavez

Chilean presidential candidate Michelle Bachelet is showing political instinct.

She recently criticized Bush for referring Venezuelan President Chavez as a “pebble in the shoe”. Chavez was democratically elected twice, she voiced. The US should let him be.

Bush is an easy target. There is not downside in criticizing him

Defending Chavez, on the other hand, could cost her some right wing votes but also win her some respect at the center and lots of leftish devotion.

She knows how to get to the people. Not in vain she leads the presidential race.

Hopefully this is just campaign bluffing. Hopefully.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Guerrilla Marketing

The Alfarist Liberation Army (ELA) announced the launching of operations in Ecuador. Sebastian Sanchez, head of the revolutionary start-up, described the group as an old-school marxist movement inspired in former Latin American guerrilla groups.

The ELA is planning to penetrate a neglected but promissing regional market, Marxist revolution.

Investors include FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia], ELN [National Liberation Army], also a Colombian operation, and Venezuelan armed groups.

The subversives have been trained at an ecological hostel in Venezuela's Tachira Department on the Colombian border and some selected leaders received an indoctrination program in the ranks of the FARC and ELN in Colombia.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Chilean Robot Finds Billion Dollar Treasure

Arturito, a robot manufactured by Chilean company Wagner Technologies found a buried treasure that could be valued at billion of dollars. And it all happened in Robinson Crusoe Island, the very same place where a Scottish sailor was marooned in 1704 to later inspire Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.

The legend goes that a treasure was buried by Spanish soldier Juan Esteban Ubilla-Echeverria in 1715 containing 800 gold pieces, papal rings and indigenous golden statues.

Experts estimate its value in billions of dollars.

Arturito already has celebrity status in Chile thanks to other findings, including a set of illegal arms buried at infamous right-wing-colony-Dignidad. It also helped finding the corpse of Francisco Yuraszeck, a businessman missed in 2004.

Scientific publications consider Arturito’s technology well ahead of its time. It uses atomic gamma rays for scanning, which aparently is a unique feature.

If you thought this story to be a magic realism tale don’t worry, it actually promises a soap opera ending. There is a feud now between Wagner Technologies and the local authorities to define if the company can keep a share of the treasure. If the treasure is not shared, says Manuel Salinas, the engineer who invented "Arturito", its location won't be revealed.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Where is Reagan?

President Chavez feels invincible. The Venezuelan opposition is weak and the US cornered. Without enemies he gains terrain. He is now smashing the local private industry with expropriations. “Social Interest” means death for companies. Polar, a big food productor and distributor is being taken over.

Chavez is also accelerating an old-fashioned agricultural reform and going after productive land. 300 expropriations were just announced in Cojedes State.

There is talk of a Constitutional Reform that would define the country as socialist and include a Bolivarian mission to justify foreign intervention.

Last Sunday Chavez spoke openly of a Cuba federation.

Chavez is also consolidating regional alliances. Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay and thirteen Caribbean countries owe him big favors. Nicaragua’s US friendly government is being challenged by retro-leader Daniel Ortega and Venezuela is backing up the Sandinista machinery.

Castro, Ortega, Chavez, more than a shift, this is looking like a flashback, and without Reagan.