Saturday, April 29, 2006

Mexico Decriminalizes Illegal Drugs

Mexico's Senate, on a 53-26 vote, approved a bill decriminalizing possession of limited amounts of drugs including marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, LSD, heroine and peyote. The bill, already approved by Congress only needs the final green light from the executive to become law.

Presidential spokesperson, Rubén Aguilar welcomed the news in an AP interview: "This law gives police and prosecutors better legal tools to combat drug crimes".

President Vicente Fox himself proposed the law in January 2004 and is widely expected to sign the bill.

The news is rising eyebrows in the U.S.

"Any law that would decriminalize dangerous drugs would not be helpful", said an Embassy spokespan.

San Diego’s Mayor Jerry Sanders called the bill “appallingly stupid.”

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Cocaine Boom

Legal and illegal production of coca leaf is booming in Latin America.

Evo Morales announced that Cuba and Venezuela committed to buy coca leaves produced in the Bolivian regions of Chapare and Yungas. The commitment resulted from negotiations of a trade agreement among the three countries branded Tratado de Comercio de los Pueblos (TCP), to be signed on 29 April.

On the illegal front, the latest data released by White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy states that coca production in Colombia increased by 24% in 2005.

Coca leaves are the base ingredient for the production of cocaine. It’s just natural to expect that with such a production increase, access to raw material for the production of cocaine will be facilitated.

We are on the verge of a cocaine boom in consumer markets such as the U.S. and the E.U.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Calderon Takes the Lead

A recent survey published by Reforma, Mexico’s largest newspaper gives, for the first time, the lead in the presidential race to Felipe Calderon, from the ruling conservative party PAN.

Calderon is quickly gaining momentum whereas leftist contender Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is losing ground.

These are the numbers published by Reforma:

Felipe Calderon, PAN: 38% (7% increase from March)

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, PRD: 35% (6% decrease from

Roberto Madrazo, PRI: 23% (2% decrease from March)

Calderon momentum has been linked to an advertising campaign comparing Lopez Obrador with Hugo Chavez. Election day is 02 July.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Brazilians in Teheran

A Brazilian diplomatic delegation is in Teheran to discuss bilateral relations and the nuclear issue. The mission is led by Itamary chief of Middle East Affairs Sarkis Karminian and Minister Consellor Roberto Abdalla. A report by Correio Brazilliense states that the diplomats are to “make it clear that the Brazilian position has not changed since January when it supported the decision to take the Iran case before the UN Security Council (UNSC), which could possibly impose sanctions on the country.”

The only Latin American country backing Iran’s nuclear stance is Venezuela.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Neck to Neck

Felipe Calderón from the ruling party PAN is gaining momentum at the end of the Mexican presidential race.

Just a month ago Mexican Presidential Candiate Andrés Manuel López Obrador looked unbeatable, with a 10% lead in the Mexican presidential race. However the latest edition of a monthly poll
published by national newspaper El Universal is showing a different picture. Here are the numbers:

-Andrés M. López Obrador, Alianza Por el Bien de Todos: 38% (42% in March).
-Felipe Calderón, National Action Party: 34% (32% in March).
-Roberto Madrazo, Institutional Revolutionary: 25% (24% in March).

Felipe Calderón is gaining momentum just when he needs it, two months prior to election day, whereas López Obrador is quickly losing ground. This trend heralds a dramatic finale.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Road to a U.S.-Venezuela Breakup

Hugo Chavez wants Venezuela to separate from the U.S., but breaking relations with a country that is your main revenue generator is not simple. That doesn’t mean that Venezuela is not setting the ground for an eventual breakup. There is evidence showing that Chavez may be moving faster than analysts think:

-The latest data from the Energy Information Administration shows Venezuela moving down from fourth to fifth place in the U.S. oil suppliers ranking. Venezuela is selling 182,000.00 barrels a day less to the US than a year ago, that is a 11% decrease.

-Venezuela is selling one of its U.S. based CITGO refineries for US$ 4.5bn. The refinery processes 268,000 barrels a day.

-Venezuela is aggressively investing in new refineries based in politically friendly markets. For instance, last week Cuba and Venezuela announced the reactivation of Cuba based Cienfuegos refinery.

-Venezuela has offered wide access to its oil reserves to energy thirsty China.

What is the earliest Venezuela can afford breaking relations with the U.S.?

An educated guess is early 2007, just after Chavez’s re-election. In that way he could radicalize his political project without a U.S. Ambassador making troubles at home.

However, Chavez is full of surprises. With US$ 25bn in his current account and US$ 21bn in foreign reserves he has enough cash for the country to afford a sabbatical. A breakup with the U.S. could generate political dividends for a leader skilled at leveraging Anti-Americanism. If Chavez is willing to use his piggy bank the breakup could happen anytime.

Friday, April 14, 2006

For Ramonet the End Justifies the Means

The spin doctor and his old buddie the dictator. What's good for them is bad for the rest.

Ignacio Ramonet is a left wing intellectual fond of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. He made his reputation by criticizing mainstream media for manipulating news. His ideas are not particularly original but he is a good writer and has a legion of followers from the Anti-globalization camps.

Ramonet´s upcoming book “Fidel Castro: A Two-Voiced Biography”, is expected to become a best-seller, but a Spanish blogger may ruin its prospects. Arcadi Spada demonstrated that the text is doctored.

The book is being advertised as a rarity; one of only five books product of one-on-one conversations with Castro. However Spada realized that some fragments published by Spanish newspaper El Pais, were just reproductions of old speeches and documents, “a cut-and-paste operation”. That is a typical example of manipulation of news for ideological purposes. Ramonet did exactly what he criticizes mainstream media for.

This is not the first time Ramonet is caught experimenting with the ethical limits of journalism. Let’s quote a story by the Miami Herald:

“In 2002, Ramonet was involved in another flap when an article he purportedly wrote criticizing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez appeared in a Caracas newspaper. Ramonet first denied writing the article and blasted the paper for publishing it without verifying it with him.

He later admitted writing it to illustrate the unreliability of the Venezuelan media, which had been highly critical of Chávez.”

I suppose the end justifies the means for Ramonet.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Old Vs. New Populism

With almost 90% of votes counted for the first round of the Peruvian presidential elections, the general consensus is that the run off will be disputed between Ollanta Humala and Alan Garcia.

Two things are for sure:

-The right has failed in Peru.

-Peru’s future is being contested between old and new populism.

Old populism is improvised, undecided and incompetent, and it is personified in Alan Garcia.

New populism is assertive, nationalist and authoritarian, and it is personified in Ollanta Humala.

Old populism has been a disaster for the country. Alan Garcia´s legacy was one of violence, isolationism, economic collapse and poverty.

New populism deserves the privilege of the doubt. After all it’s still a disaster to be discovered.

Monday, April 10, 2006


The corruption scandals that forced Brazilian Antonio Palocci to resign haven’t affected President Lula’s reputation at all.

A recent public opinion poll by Datafolha actually showed a slight increase in Lula’s actual lead over opposition contestant Geraldo Alckmin from PSDB party.

Lula’s advantage to Alckim rose from 19 to 20%. These are Datafolha's numbers for the first round:

President Lula from PT party: 40% (2 points less than last month).

Gerardo Alckmin from PSDB party: 23% (2 points less than last month).

Anthony Garotinho from PMDB party: 15% (3 points more than last month).

Indeed the story here is the rise of Anthony Garotinho who nevertheless, hasn’t got his party’s nomination yet and is fighting a tendency within his party not to nominate a candidate for these elections but instead establish a political alliance.

Garotinho is a charismatic former Governor of Rio de Janeiro who happens to be both, evangelical and leftist.

Resurrection Attempt

The three North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) countries (Canada, Mexico and the US) have committed to focus their 2006 trade agenda in reactivating Free Trade of the Americas (FTAA) negotiations.

Colombia is also holding talks with more than thirty countries in an attempt to revamp prospects for the free trade area. At the same time the NAFTA countries and Colombia are using the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI) to set the ground for the FTAA. The idea is to reduce transaction costs between country members and consolidate existing trade agreements among ALADI countries.

Analysts foresee the establishment of a Mini-FTAA that would be limited to around 12 countries. A NAFTA-CAFTA-DR-Colombia-Chile trade block is a feasible option.

Diplomatic Soap Opera

Venezuela’s President just starred the last episode of the Venezuela-US diplomatic soap opera in a live performance at his weekly TV show Aló Presidente.

“If you are going to continue with provocations, prepare your luggage, because I'm going to kick you out", President Chavez warned US Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield, referring to a situation at a sports complex where the diplomat was attacked by Chavez’s supporters after donating equipment to a baseball school.

Venezuela’s president described the episode as "provocation and demagoguery" and warned that if Washington takes diplomatic reprisals against Venezuela for the attack against Brownfield, he will declare him “persona non grata.”

Chavez’ response is a reaction to an earlier statement by Washington warning of "severe diplomatic consequences" if Brownfield’s security was compromised again.

Venezuela sells to the US roughly 15% of its total oil demand, which at the same time represent 60% of Venezuela’s oil exports. This interdependency makes it unlikely from both countries to severe the relationship.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Love and Interest

Two unlikely weddings are hitting the headlines in Peru.

The first one involves Ultra-Conservative Lourdes Flores Nano. Regional media uncovered a peculiar stunt staged by the Peruvian presidential candidate. Aparently she planned to announce her wedding but to conceal the pretender's name. Then she would be "forced" to confess that the lucky one is no other than her country, Peru.

The stunt is a last resort to regain her lead just before election day. Thank God the stunt is a public affair and she will spare herself the embarrassment of a move that would look both tacky and desperate.

The second wedding is full of drama. Peru’s former President Alberto Fujimori just married Satomi Kataoka, his Japanese girlfriend. He signed the wedding papers from the Chilean cell where he awaits his extradition case verdict.

Mr. Fujimori faces corruption and human right violation charges in his native Peru. In a statement he referred to his wedding day “the happiest day of his life”.

Evomania Knows No Limits

Evo Morales’s popularity hit a new high of 80% in the latest Apoyo, Opinion y Mercado poll published by national newspaper La Razón.

The survey was taken in Bolivia’s “central axis” which includes the cities of La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. Morales’s popularity has increased constantly since
December 2005.

March was an active month for the Bolivian president. He managed to formalize establishment of a Constituent Assembly and a referendum on the autonomy of a region.

Morales’s first days in office mirror those of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, when his popularity reached unprecedented figures and a Constituent Assembly rewrote the contitution.