El Sur
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South American Politics and Government

Friday, August 30, 2002
ARGENTINA
New strategy: "If an agreement with the IMF doesn't appear, the government is thinking of imitating Karyn", says Argentina blogger "lucas" in
El Sur (¿no?) Existe. Go to his site and follow the link to Karyn.


posted by Richard 6:31 PM
. . .
VENEZUELA
In today's Americas column in The Wall Street Journal (sorry, no link), Mary Anastasia O'Grady reviews what was "known"--but is no longer "known"--and what is actually known now about the events of April 11-15 in Venezuela. The story that has emerged over the last four months reflects badly on President Hugo Chávez, and his international apologists. One of of these who looks especially foolish is Connecticut's sandalista senator, Christopher Dodd.

The story began April 11, with shots fired on a crowd of anti-Chávez demonstrators and a government-imposed media blackout. Quickly and invisibly, military officers refused to obey Chávez orders to put down the demonstrations, and forced Chávez to resign. After less than 48-hours of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, other military officers restored Chávez to power.

Since then, the situation in Venezuela has settled into stalemate: Chávez controls the administration, he has a narrow majority in the National Assembly and does not control the Supremen Court or the military. Chávez has the support of less than a quarter of the public, but many of them are members of violent street gangs, called Bolivarian circles. Economic and social conditions are deteriorating, as Venezuelans hunker down for a protracted political struggle. For reasons of both style and substance, the Venezuelan media seems mostly opposed Chávez.

U.S. and European media is another matter entirely, of course; ever sympathitic to leftwing authoritians, it is firmly in the Chávez camp. So, O'Grady says, even as Chávez was returned to power
his ideological allies around the globe recognized the brief coup as opportunity. Chavez supporters derided the removal of a "democratically elected" leader and went on the offensive. Bush administration opponents seemed to view the events less as human tragedy and more as political windfall.

Chief among the limelight-hogging moralists was Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd who decried Mr. Chavez's fall and the administration's handling of the events: "To stand silent while the illegal outser of a government is occurring is deeply troubling."
Dodd promised "a what-did-they-know-and-when-did-they-know-it investigation, complete with hearings that he would chair."

Unfortunately for Dodd and like-minded foreign Chávez apologists, it is now clear that the man with the plan in April was Chávez and that the plan was to provoke violence that would justify a military crackdown, defeating and silencing the opposition. O'Grady cites three "releases of information" that make this case.
The first was a two-part investigative series co-authored by reporters for the Venezuelan television station, Venevision and a local newspaper called Tai-Cual. Mr. Chavez managed to cut off broadcasting that day (April 11) but film crews and journalists kept working.

The cameras captured gunmen firing pistols from an overpass. Some of the assailants turned out to be government employees, others worked for municipalities that are in Chavez strongholds. Hooded men with rifles are filmed atop government buildings. One of those buildings belongs to the foreign ministry, another to a Caracas borough headed by Chavez supporter Freddy Bernal.
A gallery of images of the April events, that includes a photo of the shooters, remains available on the
El Nacional website.
A second piece of the puzzle was added last month when the State Department released a 92-page report on a two-month investigation of the role played by the U.S. government.

After poring over almost 2000 memos, e-mail and cables and conducting scores of interviews, the examiners report that, "OIG (Office of the Inspector General) finds noghing to indicate that the Department ofEmbassy Caracas planned, participated in, aided or encouraged the brief ouster" of Mr. Chavez. "The record shows that the department and the embassy consistently discouraged the overthrow of that democratically elected regime."
A copy of the Inspector General's report is available in PDF format from the Department of State website.
The third news development central to this case was last week's 11-9 ruling by Mr. Chavez's handpicked Supreme Court that four military officers involved in removing the president from power should not be tried for insurrection. Those officers say that when they were given an order to use force against the crowd they refused. That eventually led to Mr. Chavez's removal. The Court has ruled their action was defensible. So much for "deeply troubling" behavior.
El Sur noted the Supreme Court decision here, here, and here.

posted by Richard 11:07 AM
. . .
Thursday, August 29, 2002
ARGENTINA
Quoted in full: Good advice from the English-language
Buenos Aires Herald:
A country's modernization is generally defined in terms of its economic development but historically economic strength has marked the end rather than the beginning of the modernization process?the first step towards development is to assert the rule of law. Thus all European countries and Japan experienced long centuries of feudalism while the United States had to contend with unruly and even secessionist states--these multiple sources of law had to be welded into a single authority before any of these countries could contemplate serious modernization, including economic takeoff.

In the light of this historical experience, Argentina should perhaps be asking itself whether the answers to a crisis which is beyond doubt primarily economic are also necessarily economic. If the keys to modernization are indeed legal, this is bad news for Argentina because the rule of law has fallen into disarray at every level. The current uproar over the Supreme Court ruling restoring last year's 13 percent public-sector pay cut shows just how politicized the high court has become--a political football which also kicks back when its own impeachment is afoot. The ineptitude of lower levels of the judiciary has just been demonstrated by the errors which have caused Switzerland to withhold its co-operation from the probe into ex-president Carlos Menem's Swiss bank accounts (while patronizingly offering the judges a crash course on how to present their case properly). Meanwhile the nation's lawmakers in Congress have refused work for most of this month until primary rules are to their satisfaction. Criminal activity continues to run riot with more appalling crimes every day (for example, that Lomas de Zamora kidnap victim whose presence at a wake turned into his own funeral). Far from the police doing anything to stop this crime wave, it is now identified by many (even most) citizens as the main culprit with bad policemen seeking their own profit from all kinds of racketeering while the good policemen seek to fund their underpaid force by the same means.

Many things need to be done to restore majesty to the law but perhaps the most basic is a mental revolution--to see the law as a fixed procedure rather than the means of achieving a desired result and to multiply procedural absolutes towards that end. Once a country can trust its law and legal system, there is no reason why confidence cannot spread to all other walks of life.


posted by Richard 7:22 PM
. . .
MEXICO
How it's done: Admittedly, Mexico's economy is tied closely to that of the United States, to Mexico's benefit. And all Mexico's problems are not solved. But, as a report in
Economist shows, good policy performs wonders.

Instead of sending teams to Washington to beg, Argentina would do well to send teams to Mexico to learn how it's done.

posted by Richard 7:04 PM
. . .
ARGENTINA
IMF aid delayed: IMF spokesman Thomas Dawson said that talks will continue but without a calendar--that is, a set deadline, reports
La Nacion.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) signaled today that negotiations with Argentina for a financial agreement are complicated by the lack of a "political consensus" and pointed out that the problems of the country are "widespread."
El Fondo Monetario Internacional (FMI) señaló hoy que las negociaciones con la Argentina para un acuerdo financiero están complicadas por la falta de "un consenso político" y apuntó que los problemas de ese país están "extendidos".
In a press conference, Dawson anounced that a mission may go to Buenos Aires next week, but that no agreement is imminent.
Dawson indicated that areas exist "in which there has been little progress," among those he cited the monetary issue, the banking sector and "legal aspects."
Dawson indicó que existen áreas "en las que ha habido poco progreso", entre las que citó el área monetaria, el sector bancario y "aspectos legales".
What might those banking issues and "aspectos legales" be?

The Financial Times reports that
Argentine legislators solicited bribes from foreign banks operating in the country in return for stalling a controversial piece of legislation that could cost them hundreds of millions of dollars...

The request--reportedly rejected by the banks--was made little more than two weeks ago, just before the senate unanimously approved the particular bill reinstating a 2 per cent tax--scrapped several years ago--that the banks would have to pay on interest and commissions for a bankrupt union-run health scheme.

The bill, to be approved by the lower chamber, was written by senator José Luis Barrionuevo, a former union boss notorious for saying: "No one in Argentina makes their money by working" (emphasis added).
The paper says that a representive of Argentina's bank association was contacted by an unnamed individual offering to stop the legislation upon a cash payment. The banks reportedly refused. The bankers association president, Mario Vicens, denies it happened, but then the banks, administration and legislature are still negotiating several potentially costly issues. The U.S. government was sufficiently persuaded to send ambassador James Walsh to speak with Foreign Minister Carlos Ruckauf.

Returning to La Nacion's report, Argentina's ambassador to the United States, Diego Guelar, indicated that what Argentina can expect from the Fund in the near term will be a "renewal of credits" ("renovación de créditos")--that is, no new loans--and
predicted that the definitive accord with this organization will be reached by the next administration.
vaticinó que el acuerdo definitivo con ese organismo recién lo alcanzará la próxima administración.
In other words, Argentina can expect nothing more than roll-overs until next April.

posted by Richard 6:20 PM
. . .
COLOMBIA
The War: After years of looking abroad for solutions to its internal crisis, Colombia's government has launched a series of initiatives to harness local support for the country's institutions and against the communist guerillas of the FARC. Reports on two such initiatives have turned up in the English-language media.

1. Yesterday's
Washington Post notes a new program to recruit local people as the eyes and ears of the government. The Post unfortunately insists on characterizing the civilians who have agreed to help the military gather information on the FARC as "spies," a term they would never use to describe, say, members of Washington D.C. neighborhood watch groups. The paper interviews one participant:
"I joined because of the crisis that we are living through," he said during a recent interview, arranged by a National Police official here in capital of Cesar province, 400 miles northeast of Bogota. "I'm trying to do a little for my country."
Despite the occasional sneering, the Post's article does not minimize the importance of new President Alvaro Uribe's effort to more deeply involve Colombians in the war against the deeply unpopular FARC.

2. The BBC News notes a stepped-up effort to find and close bank accounts used by the FARC to launder millions in funds from, among other things, drug trafficking and kidnapping. Some 800 accounts in nine banks have been located so far.
The accounts were tracked down after the Colombian authorities launched an operation codenamed Black Cat four months ago.

"If we manage to stop the financing of the guerrilla, the drug cartels and the paramilitaries, it will be easier to combat these organisations," (Colombia's attorney general) Mr (Luis Camilo) Osorio said.


posted by Richard 7:18 AM
. . .
ARGENTINA
Trade:
Bloomberg.com, quoting La Nacion, reports that the U.S. has eliminated tariffs on 57 mostly agricultural products accounting for $200 million in trade per year. Leather, popcorn, jewelry, peanuts, cheese, citrus fruit, lumber, auto parts and meat products are among the products included.

In an accompanying analysis, La Nacion suggests that the U.S. decision has something to do with a search for allies in the event of an assault on Iraq, which is nonsense, but gives a hint about what is believed about the U.S. around the world.

posted by Richard 6:55 AM
. . .
Wednesday, August 28, 2002
ARGENTINA
Corruption:
Bloomberg.com reports that Argentina has fallen 12 places in an international ranking of corruption. Argentina fell from 3.5 to 2.8 on Transparency International's 1 to 10 scale, where 10 is the best.
Argentina "seems to have been captured by a network of leaders who misuse it in the service of their business and political interests," said Peter Eigen, chairman of the Berlin- based anti-corruption group, in announcing the results.

"That's why an economic and social crisis has spiraled out of control," Eigen said. "If businessmen only lobby to secure contracts illegally or to obtain sector benefits, their companies will have no lasting value for any stakeholders."
Last month, U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill stirred controversy by saying that Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay need to ensure that money lent to the country is used properly and doesn't end up in Swiss bank accounts.

Transparency International rates Chile as the least corrupt Latin American country, at 7.5, just behind the U.S. at 7.7 on honesty scale.

posted by Richard 6:10 PM
. . .
COLOMBIA
The War:

1. The U.N. is complaining that armed bands are preventing the delivery of food to hungry people in Colombia, reports the
Miami Herald.
The World Food Program is trying to feed some 130,000 Colombians, mainly women and children, but its operations are being held by up ''illegal checkpoints, blockades and attacks by bandits,'' the agency's spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume said...
Berthiaume did not identify the armed groups responsible, but said WFP appealed to all sides to respect international humanitarian law and allow the free circulation of aid convoys.
2. The FARC mortar attack on Bogata during the inauguration of President Alvaro Uribe on August 7 would have been much worse had not 94 of the 98 homemade devices misfired, reports the Miami Herald, quoting Vice President Francisco Santos.
''We are confronting a guerrilla that is going to do a lot of damage,'' Santos said in a meeting with Herald reporters and editors. ''I have no doubt that they want to take out this president . . . and take out high levels'' of the government.

Santos also said authorities are detecting about 20 clandestine flights per week along Colombia's border with Venezuela in what they believe are drugs-for-arms exchanges. The mostly twin-engine aircrafts can be packed with as much as 1.5 tons of cocaine or 500 AK-47s, officials said.
The vice president said Colombia was committed to making a dent in the drug trade, both by means of increased law enforcement and by introducing social, economic and security reforms into the coca-growing areas controlled by the FARC.

posted by Richard 6:03 PM
. . .
VENEZUELA
Cuban oil deal: Venezuela will resume oil shipments to Cuba, according to Rafael Ramírez, the minister of energy and mines, reports
El Universal. The shipments will begin in September. They were halted in April, after Cuba stopped paying. Cuba will receive the same amount of oil as in the past, under the new deal.

posted by Richard 5:55 PM
. . .
ARGENTINA
Roundup:

1. A court decision ordering the government to restore a 13 per cent cut in payments to state employees and retirees will be honored, even though the government doesn't have the money to do so, reports
La NacionThe decision is expected to cost the government $3 to $3.6 billion, including arrearages.
"What we are going to do to pay I don't know, we don't have the money," President Eduardo Duhalde stated frankly yesterday, in statements made to reporters in La Salta.
"Cómo vamos a hacer para pagar no sé, no tenemos la plata", se sinceró ayer el presidente Eduardo Duhalde, en declaraciones periodísticas realizadas en Salta.
La Nacion has a chart showing how much money is owed to whom.

2. A second court decision is wreaking havoc on President Duhalde's plans to hold internal elections--primaries--in November, leading up to a presidential election at the end of March. According to a brief update in La Nacion, the chief of cabinet, Alfredo Atanasof, reiterated the governments intention to hold the primaries--just delayed a bit, to December 15. Earlier, however, the Presidential Secretary José Pampuro "did not rule out an eventual suspension of the internals" ("no descartó una eventual suspensión de las internas"), according to same story.

Almost as soon as he was appointed, Duhalde promised an IMF deal and new loans by February. The deal wasn't made, but new promises were, month after month during the (Argentine) fall and winter right up to today, when Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna and President Duhalde can still be found promising an IMF deal in just a month or so. Now the same government has pushed internal elections off into a new month. Deja vu all over again?

3. Peronist presidential candidate (and former president) Carlos Menem denied in court that he opened foreign bank accounts during the period of his presidency when he was involved with the illegal export of arms to Croatia and Ecuador, reports La Nacion. There have been numerous reports in Argentine papers about Menem's rumored Swiss bank accounts, as previously noted in El Sur.

According to Clarin, federal Judge Norberto Oyarbide intends to sent a new request to Swiss authorities for information about any accounts Menem may have or have had there.
Oyarbide says that the Swiss justice responded to his demand that "he is not in a position to continue with the transaction," and he estimated that in reality he is dealing with "a rejection subtile, elegant, but a rejection in the end" to his request.

"I took the decision to elaborate, and already we are fairly into this task, a new demand, but on this opportunity I am going to accompany it with all the elements that underly the cause of action," the magistrate specified, indicating: "I hope that this time it will arouse interest."
Oyarbide dice que la justicia suiza respondió a su exhorto que "no está en condiciones de continuar con el trámite”, y estimó que en realidad se trata de "un rechazo sutil, elegante, pero un rechazo al fin" a su pedido.

"Tomé la decisión de elaborar, y ya estamos justamente en esa tarea, un nuevo exhorto, pero en esta oportunidad voy a acompañarlo con todos los elementos que fundamentan la causa", puntualizó el magistrado, quien indicó: "Espero que esta vez tenga eco".
4. Elisa Carrió, National Assembly member from Chaco, says that in the end she and former President Menem will be the two candidates competing for the presidency, reports La Voz del Interior (Córdoba). At stake in the election, "is the 'identity' of the Argentine people" ("es la 'identidad' de los argentinos"). Carrió is a member of the Alternative for a Republic of Equals (Alternativa por una Republica de Iguales or ARI) party.

posted by Richard 8:31 AM
. . .
Tuesday, August 27, 2002
VENEZUELA
More than 100,000 supporters of President Hugo Chávez marched in Caracas Saturday, reports
Yahoo! News - AP. The march was organized to protest the decision by the country's Supreme Court not to permit the trial of four high-ranking military officers on charges of rebellion for their actions during the April 11-15 period, when Chávez was briefly ousted from office.

posted by Richard 6:22 PM
. . .
COLOMBIA
The war:
El Tiempo reports that the communist guerilla FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) has threatened the life of Bishop Germán García Isaza, of the Diócesis de Apartadó, Antioquia province (see map linked at right) and several priests.
The minister of defense, Martha Lucía Ramírez, confirmed the threats and said that this is one way those who intimidate have of keeping "in silence" the population and the authorities.
La ministra de Defensa, Martha Lucía Ramírez, confirmó las amenazas y dijo que esa es una manera de quienes intimidan de tener "en silencio" a la población y a sus autoridades.
The FARC has previously threatened governors, mayors and other local officials throughout the country. It is all part of an effort to eliminate legitimate sources of authority and leadership, leaving only themselves.

In response, President Álvaro Uribe has demanded results from the military: "If we don't have the capability that goes with this responsibility, it is better to resign ourselves to her..." ("Si no somos capaces con esta responsabilidad, mejor renunciemos a ella..."), Uribe said. He spoke after hearing about security from Bishop García Isaza.
The bishop, in the middle of a council of security presided over by the chief executive, said that the insurgency has the people corralled and they cannot leave it to go anywhere.

Listening to this accusation, the President asked the military officers that accompanied him if they were familiar with this situation, to which they responded "yes." After this, Uribe said that it was very revealing and that "it would give the impression that those who live in another world are not the guerillas but us."
El obispo, en medio de un consejo de seguridad presidido por el Primer Mandatario, dijo que la insurgencia tiene a la gente acorralada y no la deja salir para ninguna parte.

Al escuchar esta denuncia, el Presidente le preguntó a los militares que lo acompañaban si tenían conocimiento de esta situación, a lo cual respondieron que sí. Ante esto, Uribe dijo que era algo muy revelador y que "daría la impresión de que los que viven en otro mundo no son los guerrilleros, sino nosotros".


posted by Richard 5:52 PM
. . .
ARGENTINA
Populist foolishness: Peronist presidential candidate José Manuel De la Sota shows he has learned absolutely nothing about what it takes to create and operate a prosperous modern country.
La Nacion has a report:
In what was his first campagn event in the City of Buenos Aires, the Justicialist (Peronist) presidential candidate proposed as an economic matter, "to offer the IMF to pay only 30 per cent of the debt," and to demand that the creditor countries open their markets so that Argendina can reinsert itself into the world through external commerce.
En lo que fue su primer acto de campaña en la ciudad de Buenos Aires, el precandidato presidencial del justicialismo propuso en materia económica, "ofrecerle al FMI pagar sólo el 30 por ciento de la deuda", y exigir que los países acreedores abran sus mercados para que la Argentina pueda reinsertarse en el mundo a través del comercio exterior.
There is nothing new about this idea. It is vintage Peron. And Argentina is never going to get anywhere as long as the Argentine electorate believes it.

De la Sota also rejected dollarization and urged the strengthening of Mercosur, the Argentina-Brazil-Uruguan trade zone, that as much as anything works to deprive all three countries of the benefits of engagement in the world economy.


posted by Richard 11:31 AM
. . .
Monday, August 26, 2002
LATIN AMERICA
Poll: According to
Financial Times Latin Americans have soured on their governments, but not democracy. This result comes from a poll of 18,500 people in 17 countries.

posted by Richard 6:20 PM
. . .
Friday, August 23, 2002
VENEZUELA
Yesterday, the
Financial Times assessed President Hugo Chávez's political condition in the wake of last week's Supreme Court decision that four high-ranking military officers could not be tried on charges of rebellion. The bottom line: While supporters in poorer neighborhoods like 23 de Enero, in central Caracas, aren't happy, Chávez is in trouble. Consider:
But opponents say the vote is a turning point and will severely constrain Mr Chávez's ability to press ahead with his so-called Bolivarian Revolution, an eclectic mix of militaristic populism and so far barely executed leftist reforms.

Mr Chávez, who himself described the ruling as "absurd", has instructed his legislators in the National Assembly to seek the removal of the Supreme Court justices, on the grounds that some are unqualified or were bribed to vote against the government. He has also said there may be a need to change the constitution that he helped rewrite three years ago. Yet analysts say Mr Chávez no longer commands either the two-thirds majority needed to remove the magistrates legally or sufficient military support to do so by force.

Perhaps more importantly, jurists say the president's apparent loss of control over the court has left him open to lawsuits that could lead to his impeachment.
Although impeachment isn't really probable, Chávez has clearly lost the offensive, which he held until the nationwide lockout/strike of last December 10. And the lawsuits will be debilitating:
Families of the victims allege they were killed by armed supporters of Mr Chávez and snipers atop the presidential palace.

"The decision not only does justice and clarifies what really happened on April 11, but it also allows us to begin to focus on the key issue - who is intellectually and materially responsible for the deaths, and what is Chávez's responsibility," says General Enrique Medina Gómez, former defence attache to the US.

Legal experts say the judicial process to determine and punish the true culprits is likely to represent a serious challenge to the government. The Supreme Court has already ruled that the attorney-general, Isaías Rodríguez, who is seen more as the loyalist government prosecutor, must be separated from the case for his implication in the events.

"Instead of clearing up the situation for the government, it's going to become ever more complicated," says Virginia Contreras, a lawyer who defended Mr Chávez after his attempted military coup in 1992 and former Venezuelan ambassador to the OAS.
The article goes on to note other cases, including misappropriation of funds and receipt of illegal campaign contributions.

For their part, Chávez partisans are planning a big march and rally against the Supreme Court for Saturday, reports El Nacional. According to National Assembly deputy and member of the National Tactical Command of the Fifty Republic Movement (Comando Táctico Nacional del Movimiento Quinta República or MVR), Darío Vivas, the march has three elements: the mobilization itself, a message of support for President Chávez, the delivery of a document to the National Assembly supporting its investigation into the Supreme Court. Organizers say they hope Chávez will deliver a speech to the nation at the end of the demonstration.

posted by Richard 7:21 PM
. . .
COLOMBIA
Sequestrados and sandalistas in suits: Colombian communist gueriallas of the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) have rejected President Alvaro Uribe's proposal of United Nations mediation, reports the
Miami Herald.
The moves underscore the wide gap between a president and an insurgency equally determined to win a war that has plagued Colombia for nearly 40 years. They also show that, at least for now, a negotiated solution seems out of the question.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, posted an open letter to Uribe on its website Thursday, saying group leaders are not opposed to dialogue -- but only on their terms.
And what might those terms be? First, the government must withdraw its forces from two provinces, Caquetá and Putumayo. Second, the FARC wants the government to stop referring to them as "terrorists" or "narcoterrorists." (Even the European Union declared the FARC terrorists last May, after the terrorists shot a gas cannister filled with high explosives through the roof of a church in the village of Bojayá, Chocó province (see map, linked right) killing about 120, nearly half children. Reports on this massacre from El Sur are here, here, and here.) Third, the FARC wants the government to crack down on the paramilitary Self-Defense Forces (AUC).

Not surprisingly, the FARC is getting support from at least some of the relatives of kidnap victims, still held.
"Alvaro Uribe wants to put on a display of military force -- that puts kidnap victims' lives in danger,'' said Yolanda Pulecios, whose daughter, former senator and presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, was kidnapped by the FARC six months ago. "Every time they bomb a guerrilla camp, I die of anguish.''
Betancourt was kidnapped on February 23, excatly six months ago.


Pressure on the government from victims' relatives is entirely predictable. It is obviously a conscious strategy of the FARC, who will always be willing to trade kidnap victims (of which there is an infinitely replenishable supply) for political and military concessions (after some number which FARC wins the war).

But what possesses some 45 U.S. Congressmen--mostly Democrats incidentally--to side with guerillas against the government of a just-elected president who is doing exactly what he said he would do during his campaign? Mary Anastasia O'Grady, takes up this question in "The Americas" column in The Wall Street Journal. On July 23, O'Grady says, the Congressmen wrote a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, accusing Columbian authorities of various charges, which, "repeat old allegations and mistruths that guerilla sympathizers and their non-governmental organizations have beem pumping out in recent years." Among the letter's targets, she says is is Columbia's Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio (just Tuesday the intended recipient of a package bomb--fortunately intercepted), who, the Congressmen suggest, "lacks the political will to investigate and prosecute army officers implicated in grave violations." O'Grady goes on:
The former government of Andres Pastrana was cowed by this nonsense out of Washington. But as Colombian society has coalesced in the face of ever more brutal guerilla tactics, government authorities are beginning to fight back. In an interview on Monday in Washington, Mr. Osorio told me a bit about what they are up against:

"Today in Colombia we are fighting a generalized war. But another war is being waged internationally. It is a war to discredit the authorities, not only in the military but also in the judicial system. It's an international movement not only by NGOs but by some European states, Sweden, Norway, France in the past and some groups in the U.S., including some U.S. Democratic Congressmen."
In fact, as noted in El Sur last May, it was the Swedes (here) and the French (here) who worked most actively against the European Union's decision to call the FARC terrorists.
The Colombian military is a highly respected institution, making them a rather formidable enemy for the rebels in Colombia. But in international circles among ignorant do-gooders not at risk from guerilla attacks the rebels have a better chance of winning the propaganda war. This, no doubt, is why they have worked their way around to a U.S. congressman.


posted by Richard 7:40 AM
. . .
Wednesday, August 21, 2002
ARGENTINA
Politics Pursuant to a decree by appointed President Eduardo Duhalde, presidential elections (at least) are to be held in two stages, first "internal elections," primaries, in U.S. terms, in November, then a general election in March, with a run-off if needed. However, the decree--and it was just a decree--left many questions unanswered. The result has been turmoil, as described in The
Buenos Aires Herald (the city's English language paper):
Two left-leaning presidential hopefuls yesterday announced they will be suspending their campaigns to rally instead alongside a wide front of social rights activists calling for the full renewal of elective terms in the next elections. Deputies Elisa Carrió and Luis Zamora also announced a rally for August 30 against caretaker President Eduardo Duhalde's elections call. The two are doing quite well in polls for the March 30 presidential elections. "We cannot be simple spectators while Peronist leaders change electoral dates and rules at will," said Zamora, a deputy with a Trotskyist background who now leads his own Self-determination and Liberty party. Carrió and Zamora want a Constituent Assembly to reform Argentina's Constitution, which was last amended in August 1994, so that all terms can end early and pave the way for a full renewal next year. The Peronists are engaged in escalating infighting over the rules of an open presidential primary which has been called for November 24. Former president Carlos Menem, one of the five Peronist presidential hopefuls, said yesterday that he was willing to take his case against the elections' call all the way to the Supreme Court.

Menem and other Peronist sectors have been critical of the government's decision to allow card-carrying party members to vote in the primary of another party. The dispute has led to the refloating of a bill in Congress to introduce the combined primary-election system, known here as ley de lemas.

Cabinet Chief Alfredo Atanasof admitted yesterday that cases filed in the courts against Duhalde's decrees ordering the vote "are endangering the electoral process."

Carrió and Zamora were yesterday joined by a group of unionists, pickets, human rights groups, intellectuals and other social rights activists. The press conference was opened by Víctor De Gennaro, the head of the country's third largest union umbrella group.
"They all want to stay in office and we think they all should go," said the union leader.

"If we do not renew all terms, the next president will be overthrown because he will be devoured by the worst social and economic crisis ever in Argentina," said writer Beatriz Sarlo.

The ley de lemas combines the primary and general elections. Essentially, voters vote for a party and an individual within that party, if more than one contends. The winner within the party gets all the votes cast for all the candidates of his party and becomes that party's candidate; the candidate thus chosen of the party that received the most total votes wins the election. A ley de lemas system was under in Uruguay until the mid-1990s. It was proposed for Argentina earlier this month by the camp of former President Carlos Menem.


posted by Richard 6:29 PM
. . .
ARGENTINA
Kids hard hit:
La Nacion reports that 70 per cent of the children of Argentina live in poverty. According to the report, about 4 million of the 5.7 million Argentines below age 14 live in poverty, leaving 1.7 million above. Worse, the number of children living above the poverty level is exceeded by the number classified as "indigent," 2.1 million. Highest poverty is in Formosa (see map, linket at right). The numbers come from the National Institute for Statistics and Census (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos, or INDEC).


posted by Richard 6:28 PM
. . .
VENEZUELA

1. Saúl Ortega, a National Assembly deputy from President Hugo Chávez's Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) released a video to the press allegedly showing paramilitaries receiving training by the government of the state of Carabobo, reports
El Nacional. Unfortunately for Ortega,
Carlos Fermín, security secretary for Carabobo, responded to the accusations and asserted that the images appearing in the tape correspond to a training session that occurred three years ago, when he believed, the rural police held excercises in the state which had been properly authorized and the armament used totally legal.
Carlos Fermín, secretario de seguridad de Carabobo, respondió a las acusaciones y aseveró que las imágenes que se pueden apreciar en la cinta corresponden a un entrenamiento que habría sido realizado hace tres años, cuando se creó en el estado la policía rural, por lo que la realización de los ejercicios había sido debidamente autorizada y el armamento usado totalmente legal.
2. A judge has dismissed rebellion charges against four others for their actions during April 11-15, reports El Nacional.
Carlos Bastidas, defense attorney for Marcelo Sanabria (one of the four), assured that "the decision comes to reaffirm the thesis that here in Venezuela there was not a coup d' etat, not a rebellion, neither civil nor military, what there was the legitimate disobedience against orders of the president that attempted to assault human rights.
Carlos Bastidas, defensor de Marcelo Sanabria, aseguró que "la decisión viene a reafirmar la tesis de que aquí en Venezuela no hubo golpe de Estado, ni hubo rebelión, ni civil, ni militar, lo que hubo fue una desobediencia legítima contra órdenes del presidente que atentaban contra los derechos humanos".


posted by Richard 11:12 AM
. . .
U.S. AND LATIN AMERICA
USA OK: Andres Oppenheimer,
The Miami Herald's Latin America columnist, reports a new poll that says the U.S. is only a bit less liked south of the border than it was one year ago. This despite major irritants between the U.S. and certain Latin governments, all blamed on the U.S. by the media and the governments involved, but apparently not by the people.

The poll says that 65 per cent of South Americans, 85 per cent of Central Americans and 63 per cent of Mexicans have a ''very good'' or ''good'' opinion of the United States. Two years ago--before all the financial turmoil--67 percent of South Americans, 80 percent of Central Americans and 68 percent of Mexicans had positive views of the United States. The most pro-U.S. countries are Panama, Colombia and Chile; the only country in the region where people view the U.S. negatively is Argentina, where 38 per cent see the U.S. positively, down from 50 per cent last year. Says Oppenheimer,
Overall, given the recent downturn in U.S.-Latin American relations, it's amazing that the United States is holding up so well in the eyes of Latin Americans.
Still, Oppenheimer concludes, looking on the dark side,
if I were a Bush administration official, I would not celebrate the new poll as evidence that nothing has changed in the neighborhood.

While the overall approval rate of the United States has only dipped slightly, the negative views have gone up significantly.

About 27 percent of South Americans have a negative view of the United States, up from 18 percent two years ago.

Most likely, the anti-U.S. minority is made up of students, middle-class merchants, professionals and intellectuals, usually the most visible sector in free societies.

Unless the Bush administration returns at least partly to its pre-Sept. 11 focus on Latin America, and, for instance, allows more South American agricultural exports into U.S. markets, the negative views will continue to grow, and may soon tip the balance in much of the region.
Which "for instance" is exactly what the Bush administration is looking to do for Argentina, according to an item cited below in El Sur.

posted by Richard 8:52 AM
. . .
ARGENTINA
The Argentine Way: The blog
El Sur (¿no?) Existe describes the peculiar Argentine way of avoiding reality. The country has an asset tax (on homes, autos, etc.) that kicks in at .5% at 102,000 pesos and rises to .75% at 200,000 pesos. The tax is widely evaded. Since it is levied on the peso value of property, and the peso has fallen relative to the dollar, more and more holders of smaller and smaller properties are supposed to pay the tax, but won't.
To me, it is clear that if I believe that none of these "new contributors" is going to pay the tax, there are two options. We can change the law to adapt it to reality, increasing the tax exempt minimum; or we can change the reality to adapt to the law, assuming the commitment of the AFIP (Administración Federal de Ingresos Públicos--the taxman) to intensely enforce collection. Not to change the minimum and also not to press for payment (presumably because the tax is unjust) is the type of Argentinism that has us where we are. If, as things go, the laws are for decoration, and the government is going to sing this to us, we are going to echo it back because if those who make the rules don't comply, or intend to do so...how to hope that everyone else complies?
Para mí, es claro que si se cree que ninguno de estos "nuevos contribuyentes" va a pagar el impuesto, hay dos opciones. O cambiamos la ley para que se adapte a la realidad, subiendo el mínimo no imponible; o cambiamos la realidad para que se adapte a la ley, asumiendo el compromiso de que la AFIP investigue intensamente para cobrar. No cambiar el mínimo y tampoco presionar para que se pague (presumiblemente, por considerar injusto al impuesto) es el tipo de argentinada que nos tiene como estamos. Si desde el vamos las leyes son de decoración, y el gobierno va a hacer lo que se le cante, sonamos porque si los que hacen las reglas no las cumplen ni intentan hacerlo... ¿cómo esperar que las cumpla el resto?


posted by Richard 7:55 AM
. . .
ARGENTINA
New approach: There are indications that the Bush administration is taking a new approach to helping Argentina out of its crisis. A Reuters story, published yesterday in the
Washington Post (and copied, with brief comment in treasaigh.com), says the Bush administration is considering offering trade benefits that would let Argentine exporters of as many as 200 products more cheaply reach the U.S. market. The action can be taken without congressional action.
The White House has been more reluctant to support a new bailout for Argentina, which defaulted on some of its massive debt and faced rioting and chaotic government changes.

"Argentina is a case in which additional assistances or programs from the IMF could not be useful until Argentina completes economic reforms that would make them useful," Glenn Hubbard, a White House economic adviser, said on Tuesday.
T.L. Wilson (treasign.com comments:
The web of corruption in Argentina is so tightly woven that not even the imminent collapse of the country was enough to put it on the road to reform. Therefore, putting money into the hands of the politicians would serve no end other than to increase their hold over the country. However, Argentines are, for the most part, hard working and industrious people and given the opportunity to build, and the framework in which to do it, they will. Giving Argentine exporters easier acces to US markets will do a lot to help the country get back on its feet. It may also help loosen the hold that corruption has on this country and its institutions.


posted by Richard 7:04 AM
. . .
Tuesday, August 20, 2002
VENEZUELA
Constitutional "reform": President Hugo Chávez told a group or government electrical workers that he wants to revise the constitution next year. Both El Nacional
and El Universal have reports. Chávez said he has asked a team of experts to review the constitition and propose reforms. It appears he has some particular reforms of his own in mind:
The president made the first announcements oriented toward constitutional reform last week, on the evening of the judgement handed down by the Supreme Court about four high officials indicated to be subersives against Chávez.

On this opportunity, the leader expressed that he was disposed to promote a reform of the constitution if some of the public power gives sign of having been "kidnapped" and "not functioning."
El presidente hizo los primeros anuncios orientados a la reforma constitucional la semana pasada, en la víspera a la sentencia que emitiría el Tribunal Supremo de Justicia sobre cuatro altos oficiales señalados de sublevarse contra Chávez.

En esa oportunidad el mandatario expresó que estaba dispuesto a promover una reforma de la constitución si alguno de los poderes públicos da signos de que está "secuestrado" y "no funcionan".
The constitution Chávez wishes to reform is only two years old and is his constitution, written by and for him. Chávez is likely to find that, like his hand-crafted constitution itself, this proposed reform--if serious and not just frustrated bluster, and if he can get it (whatever it turns out to be) enacted--will not guarantee him the policy outcomes he wants, so long as he is politically unpopular and his policies are leading the country into poverty and debt.

Speaking of Venezuela's economic future and debt, in the same speech
He gave assurance that he considered the debt of the labor pensions as "more important that the external debt with international creditors," which is why he proposes to cancel it as soon as possible.
Aseguró que considera la deuda de los pasivos laborales como "más importante que la deuda externa con los acreedores internacionales", por lo que se propone cancelarla lomás pronto posible.


posted by Richard 6:43 PM
. . .
Monday, August 19, 2002
VENEZUELA
Roundup:

1. Defense Minister José Luis Prieto, asserted today that the National Armed Forces (Fuerza Armada Nacional, or FAN) will respect the decision of the Supreme court that halted the case against four high military officers accused of rebellion,
El Universal reports.
With relation to the possibility that the board of investigation would indicate that there had been military rebellion in contradiction to the decision of the Supreme Court, he emphasized that the Ministry of Defense did not have the authority to investigate crimes.
Con relación a la posibilidad de que los consejos de investigación señalen que sí hubo rebelión militar en contradicción a la sentencia del TSJ, destacó que el Ministerio de la Defensa no tiene facultad para conocer sobre los delitos.
2. According to El Universal, Foreign Minister Roy Chaderton accepted today the offer of the Organization of American States to act as facilitator of the national dialog that supposedly has been going on since President Hugo Chávez was returned to power in April. If it actually occurs, OAS participation should make it more difficult for Chávez and his allies to dominate sessiions and more difficult for the opposition to simply boycott them. Whether anything real will come from such meetings is another matter.

3. Vice President José Vicente Rangel denied that the government was considering a state of emergency, reports El Universal. He blamed talk of such an action on the oppostion.

4. Meanwhile, Hugo Chávez began celebrating two years in office with a mass in the Caracas Cathedral, reports El Nacional.
"This is the second anniversary of the revolutionary government," affirmed Chávez while listening to "declamations" of children who, to the rhythm of typical llanera music, sang verses in favor of the administration and against the "coup" of last April 11.
"Este es el segundo aniversario del Gobierno revolucionario", afirmó Chávez al escuchar "declamaciones" de unos niños que al ritmo de la música típica llanera cantaron estrofas a favor de su administración y en contra del "golpe" del pasado 11 de abril.
The opposition reacted negatively to celebrations:
The president of Fedecámaras (the national chamber of commerce), indicated that official management in the last two years has occasioned the closure of 4,600 businesses and fostered the growth of unemployment that currently affects 15 per cent of the population, equivalent to 1.8 million persons.

The business leader said that the poor economic situation can become aggravated in upcoming months. Fernández based his predictions on the fact that, for the year, the bolivar has been devalued 80 per cent against the dollar, inflation threatens to reach 35 per cent and interest rate are at 55 per cent.
El presidente de Fedecámaras, Carlos Fernández, señaló que la gestión oficial en los dos últimos años ocasionó el cierre de 4.600 empresas y potenció el crecimiento del desempleo que actualmente afecta a 15% de la población, equivalente a 1.800.000 personas.

El dirigente empresarial dijo que la mala situación económica puede agravarse en los próximos meses. Fernández basó sus predicciones en el hecho de que, en lo que va de año, el bolívar se devaluó 80% frente al dólar, la inflación amenazó con llegar a 35% y las tasas de interés se situaron en 55%.


posted by Richard 1:14 PM
. . .
ARGENTINA
"Whither Argentina? The Buenos Aires Herald's managing editor, Dan Krishock, asks this question in this weeks
Latin Business Chronicle. One especially telling observation:
The call for elections has raised hopes that new faces can take the place of at least some of the deeply entrenched, thoroughly despised politicians who now dominate public affairs. But achieving a real makeover in the governing class will not be easy. It is still not clear what posts, beyond the presidency and vice-presidency, will be up for grabs. Some politicians and voters believe all of the over 16,000 elective posts in the country, right down to the municipal level, should be contested, but others disagree.

Ground rules for November's primaries and March's elections alike have yet to be defined. Meanwhile, attempts to implement some badly needed reforms in the rules governing political parties and campaign financing have gone nowhere.
An important problem in Argentina--less well known than political corruption or sectoral selfishness, and underrated as a result--appears in these comments. That is the tendency of Argentine political figures to go off half-cocked. What Krishock is saying is that President Eduardo Duhalde called elections without having any idea what rules he wanted them to operate under. What should have happened is that Duhalde should have staffed out and drafted up a set of rules that 1) a chosen successor could live with and 2) he could get past the National Assembly. Then he should have used his willingness to accept early elections as the lever to get his rules through, the alternative being elections on the original schedule under the old rules. That way, he would have kept some control over the process and participants throughout. Instead, he just called early elections, the first round is set for November and, as Krishock points out, everything is up for grabs. Definitely bush league politics.

posted by Richard 12:12 PM
. . .
Sunday, August 18, 2002
ARGENTINA
Hitting bottom? A report prepared by the Bank of the Province of Buenos Aires suggests that Argentina's banking system is beginning to recover, reports Sunday's
La Nacion. The report says that Argentina's financial system lost more than 22 billion pesos in deposits between the first of the year and the middle of July--29 per cent of total deposits in banks at the end of 2001. But, the report says, the banking system has seen deposits increase by 2 billion pesos since. It takes about 3.6 pesos to purchase a dollar today. Yahoo! news - AP also has a story in English.

A story in today's La Nacion, suggests that the prices of office properties in Buenos Aires may also have bottomed out--at the 1989, pre-convertability level. A chart shows that Buenos Aires has fallen from first to 12th place in a ranking of the cost of office space in Latin American cities. Domestic and foreign investors are beginning to shop at these prices, experts have told the paper. But the focus is speculation.
"But the arrival of foreign capital does not indicate that the outside thinks that the worst of the crisis has passed. The operations that come to completion in the market are all of high speculation. What they are looking for is to buy cheaply today in order to hang on for two or three years and after to sell, posting earnings that could be in excess of 50%," explained (Domingo) Speranza, (CEO of Cushma Argentina).
Pero la llegada de capitales del exterior no significa que afuera se piense que lo peor de la crisis ya pasó. Las operaciones que se van a concretar en el mercado son todas de alta especulación. Lo que buscan es comprar hoy barato para aguantar dos o tres años y después vender, apostando a ganancias que pueden ser superiores al 50%", explica Speranza.
This is because
"In order to invest in a country like Argentina what investors want is to obtain a high profitability, close to 20% annually. The greater the risk, the larger the earnings must be, because, if not, it is preferable to invest in more secure markets, such as the Chilean," explained (the real estate investment firm) Jones Lang (LaSalle).
"Para invertir en un país como la Argentina lo que quieren los inversores es obtener una alta rentabilidad, cercana al 20% anual. A mayor riesgo, la ganancia tiene que ser más grande, porque, si no, es preferible invertir en mercados más seguros, como el chileno", explica Jones Lang.
Meanwhile, Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna on Friday submitted a letter to the International Monetary Fund requesting funds sufficient to roll over loans due to be repaid this year. The Wall Street Journal (International section, no link) says that, although details of the request were not released, the country's president, Eduardo Duhalde, has previously said he wants about $7 billion to cover this years debt repayments. It is likely that Argentina will receive funds to cover debt repayment, but no more, not so much because the IMF is pleased with Argentina's progress but because the IMF doesn't want to have to record a loan in default.

posted by Richard 7:59 PM
. . .
ARGENTINA
Presidential poll: Today's
La Nacion publishes a poll of voter preferences for the upcoming presidential election. Leading in the poll are president-for-a-week Adolfo Rodríguez Saá, Justicialist Party (Partido Justicialista, PJ)--Peronist-- party and National Assembly Deputy Elisa Carrió, Alternative for a Republic of Equals (Alternativa por una Republica de Iguales). However, voter preferences are spread out among many candidates and something like 40 per cent of respondents to the poll remain undecided. As a result, the leaders share less than 31 per cent of the vote between them, Rodríguez Saá receiving support of 15.6 per cent of respondents and Carrió support of 15.3 per cent. La Nacion has a chart showing the poll's results for the nine leading candidates.

The poll also contains some bad news for former president Carlos Menem, who is seeking to be come the Peronist candidate once again. The bad news is two fold: First, everyone knows him, as La Nacion's chart of familiarity shows. And, everyone dislikes him, as a second chart showing favorability shows. Indeed, even perceived closeness to Menem is negatively associated with support in the poll:
In the perception of the people, De la Sota is the (Peronist) primary candidate that appears to be closest to Menemism (10.5 per cent say he is very close and 40.3 per cent, close to the president). Conversly, Kirchner is perceived as the primary candidate most distant from from Menemism (45.2 per cent see him as far away and 11.6 per cent, very far away); Rodríguez Saá is in the middle but more associated with anti-Menemism that Menimism.
En la percepción de la gente, De la Sota es el precandidato que aparece como más cercano al menemismo (el 10,5 por ciento lo ve muy cerca y el 40,3 por ciento, cerca del ex presidente).

De manera inversa, Kirchner es el que es percibido como el precandidato más alejado del menemismo (el 45,2 por ciento lo ve lejos y el 11,6 por ciento, muy lejos); Rodríguez Saá está en el medio, pero más asociado al antimenemismo que al menemismo.
Thus, according to the "favorability" chart, linked above, Kirchner (distant from Menem) is viewed negatively or very negatively by only 6.6 per cent of respondents; De la Sota (close to Menem) is viewed negatively or very negatively by 25.9 per cent of respondents.

Carrió's main opponent on the left, with 9.1 per cent in the poll is Luis Zamora. He is a National Assembly Deputy from Self-determination and Freedom (Autodeterminación y Libertad), a socialist party, and represents the federal district. The only apparent "neo-liberal" candidate in the field is ex-Economy Minister Ricardo López Murphy with 2.6 per cent.

The poll was conducted by IBOPE, a Brazilian media ratings and survey research firm, between the 7th and 14th of August by personal interviews with 1,600 respondents in in 56 cities.

posted by Richard 7:44 PM
. . .
COLOMBIA
Would-be assassin caught: Colombian military, police and security forces today announced the capture of the "intellectual author" of the April 14 attack on then presidential candidate Álvaro Uribe Vélez in Barranquilla, reports
El Tiempo. The man captured is Oswaldo Díaz Alfaro (alias 'El Profe'). He was detained with two others in Cartagena.
"We have been able to determine that this is the person responsible for managing the entire operation, specifically obtaining people, material and money used in this offense," Colonel José Toro, chief of the police in the Department of Bolivar, told journalists.
"Hemos podido determinar que esta es la persona responsable de todo el manejo operativo, específicamente de la consecución de las personas, el material y los dineros que se utilizaron en este atentado", dijo a periodistas el coronel José Toro, jefe de la Policía en el departamento de Bolívar.
Díaz is second in command of Front 37 of the FARC communist guerilla illegal army. The other two men arrested, César Alfonso Estrada, alias "Mauro" or "Alfonso", and Zacarías Antonio Jiménez are accused of various terrorist acts in the Cartegena area.

posted by Richard 7:22 PM
. . .
VENEZUELA
Attacking again: President Hugo Chávez again attacked the 11 members of the Supreme Court who last week rejected trying four high-ranking military officers for rebellion for their role in the events of April 11-15. According to
El Nacional,
Chávez insisted on accusing the 11 judges of having satisfied the will of groups outside of the high court. "They put themselves in agreementwith and were manipulated from the outside by business sectors and the old political class. Nevertheless, he reiterated that the Venezuelan people will not accept this decision.
Chávez insistió en acusar a los 11 juristas de haber complacido la voluntad de grupos externos al máximo tribunal. "Se pusieron de acuerdo y fueron manipulados desde afuera por sectores empresariales y de la vieja clase política". No obstante, reiteró que el pueblo venezolano no aceptará esa decisión.


posted by Richard 6:49 PM
. . .
ARGENTINA
Big trouble: Former Peronist President Carlos Menem is running again. He is far behind in the polls, but that doesn't appear to be his biggest problem. His biggest proglem is that investigations are turning up evidence that he--and close allies on his behalf--have stashed millions of dollars corruptly obtained in Swiss bank accounts. Stories appeared Staurday in
La Razón and Clarin, among others.

La Razón reports that Swiss officials on Friday confirmed that Menem's secretary, Ramón Hernández, is the named owner of an account containing some $6 million.
This is not all. The federal judge Norberto Oyarbide did not deny this noon (Saturday) that he intends to call Hernández in the context of a cause for suspected illicit enrichment by the ex-president.
No es todo. El juez federal Norberto Oyarbide no descartó este mediodía que llame a declarar a Hernández en el marco de la causa por supuesto enriquecimiento ilícito del ex presidente.
For his part, Hernández has denied owning any such account. Menem has admitted to having $600,000 in a Swiss bank account, the proceeds (plus subsequent interest) of a lawsuit for unjust imprisonment under the military regime of the late 70s and early 80s. On Friday, Menem called charges of unjust enrichment "totally absurd" ("totalmente absurda"), according to another article in Clarin.

In fact, Clarin's reporting seems skeptical, at least so far. The paper notes (in the article first linked above) that the same judge, Norberto Oyarbide "assured today that for the moment 'the elements are not there' to cite (anyone) in the case he is investigating" ("aseguró hoy que por el momento 'no hay elementos" en la causa que investiga para citar") Hernández.

Meanwhile, according to the government-run press service Télam, opposition deputy Graciela Ocaña, from the Alternative for a Republic of Equals party (Alternativa por una República de Iguales, ARI)
assured this Sunday that the ex-private secretary of Carlos Menem, Ramón Hernández, "has accounts in foreign countries (apart from that already reported in Switzerland) in the names of front men.
aseguró este domingo que el ex secretario privado de Carlos Menem, Ramón Hernández, "tiene cuentas en el exterior (aparte de la que ya fue denunciada en Suiza) a nombre de testaferros".
Ocaña claims that an investigation of government corrupution conducted by ARI leader and National Assembly member Elisa Carrió turned up evidence of such accounts. Polls show Carrió is the left's leading candidate in the current presidential campaign.

Today's English-languare Buenos Aires Herald suggests that Menem's overseas stash could total $33.5 million. The paper says the figure comes from a report by a government anti-corruption office and is based on information provided by the foreign ministry.

Worst of all, $10 million of the money is alleged to have come from a bribe Menem from Iran, in exchange for which Menem helped cover up Iran's involvement in the bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires in 1994.

The Financial Times had an article on this subject in English on Friday.

posted by Richard 5:19 PM
. . .
Saturday, August 17, 2002
VENEZUELA
Attack on Supreme Court:President Hugo Chávez has called for a march against the Supreme Court for next Saturday, reports
El Nacional:
The chief of state came back to express his rejection of the decision of the Supreme court of Justice that exonerated four high military officers accused of attempting a coup d' etat last April 11. "We are not going to stay with this, now what comes is a counterattack of the people and the true institutions," he affirmed during his visit to the San Andrés and El Calvario districts...
El jefe de Estado volvió a expresar su rechazo a la decisión del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia que exoneró de responsabilidad a cuatro altos militares acusados de dar un golpe de Estado el pasado 11 de abril. "Nosotros no nos vamos a quedar con esa, ahora lo que viene es un contraataque del pueblo y de las instituciones verdaderas", afirmó durante su visita a las barriadas San Andrés y El Calvario...
According to El Universal,
Chávez asked "to activate the mechanisms of popular soverignty," in protest of the opinion of the Supreme Court of Justice that stopped the prosecution on Wednesday of four high ranking military officers accused by the Attorney General of rebellion.

The leader proposed that the people create open councils and public deputy assemblies in their home areas in order to defend "the public ethics that has been trampled underfoot."
Chávez pidió "activar los mecanismos de la soberanía popular", en protesta por el dictamen del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia que sobreseyó el miércoles a cuatro militares de alto rango acusados por la Fiscalía de rebelión.

El mandatario propuso al pueblo realizar cabildos abiertos y a los diputados asambleas públicas en sus regiones de origen para defender "la moral pública que ha sido atropellada".


posted by Richard 6:31 PM
. . .
Friday, August 16, 2002
ARGENTINA
Crime wave: The indepsensible T.L. Wilson introduces Argentina's latest cataclysm--crime--in his
treasaigh.com blog:
The topic of the hour in Argentina is INSECURITY.
Yesterday 8 people were killed as a result of criminal mischieve.
Two days ago another policeman was killed. That brings the total to 56 for the year. That's one policeman every 4 days!
The figures for the number of people killed were not readily available...My wife was robbed at gunpoint two days ago, in broad daylight, while waiting for the traffic light to turn green, at a busy intersection in the middle of Buenos Aires.
It affects the psyche of everyone... you don't stop to render assistance on a roadside (especially in the dark)... you don't talk to strangers... you don't give the time of day to anyone (they might be asking so that they can check the make of your watch)... you don't go to restaurants... you don't go to ATM's... you constantly check your six. The worst part is that you can't trust the police either. They are either in cahoots with the crooks or they are the crooks...
Today's Wall Street Journal (International section, no link), also reports this growing crime problem in Buenos Aires, including what the paper calls "petty abductions." These "express kidnappings" target middle class people, who are held for a few hours while they and their families and friends gather whatever cash (and sometimes belongings) they can muster to pay the equivalent of a few hundred dollars ransom.

It appears, according to the police, that the rings that perpetrate these crimes have moved down the food chain, so to speak, from things like bank robbery and truck hijacking, that no longer pay under current economic conditions. Also playing a role is the fact that, with banks barely functioning and not trusted, people are keeping cash at home.
Experts say Argentines are still easy targets because they aren't yet willing to dramatically change their lifestyles, as middle-class residents of many other Latin countries have done....They're still living like they live in Italy," said Frank Holder, Kroll's (a security firm) managing director for Latin America. "They havent realized that they live in southern Brazil."
Police are of little help, in some cases because they are the criminals:
The body of 17-year old Diego Paralta was found floating in a pond Monday, despite efforts by President Eduardo Duhalde to secure his release. Suspecting the police were in cahoots with the kidnappers for profit, and with images of the boy's body broadcast repeatedly on television, furious neighbors torched a nearby police station, chanting "we want justice."
The Journal and treasaigh.com/Wilson both note that officialdom has acknowledged that elements of the police have departed government control. As quoted in La Nacion:
The minister of security and justice for Buenos Aires, Juan Pablo Cafiero, admitted today that "there are political elements" that do not want and "some element of the police" of Buenos Aires that do not respond to his orders and are aligned to political elements that "have an idea of an authoritatian departure" form the insecurity crisis in the province.
El ministro de Seguridad y Justicia bonaerense, Juan Pablo Cafiero, admitió hoy que "hay sectores de la política" que no lo quieren y "algún sector de la policía" bonaerense que no responde a sus órdenes y está alineado a sectores políticos que "tienen una tesis de salida autoritaria" a la crisis de inseguridad en la provincia.
Responding to the problem, the governor of Buenos Aires province, Felipe Solá, met with President Eduardo Duhalde "in order to analyze mesures capable of stopping the rising wave of insecurity in his jurisdiction" ("para analizar medidas destinadas a detener la creciente ola de inseguridad en su jurisdicción"), according to another story in La Nacion. Based on Solá's comments at a press conference afterward, the meeting seems have been less about problem soliving than problem minimization:
"I don't rule out that there are criminals in the police force, I don't rule out that there are criminals in politics, I don't rule out that there are delinquents in the Courts, nor in the armed forces, nor etc. etc," he underlined.
"No descarto que haya delincuentes en la fuerza policial, no descarto que haya delincuentes en la política, no descarto que haya delincuentes en el periodismo ni en la Justicia, ni en las Fuerzas Armadas, ni etcétera, etcétera", subrayó.
.

posted by Richard 11:25 AM
. . .
Thursday, August 15, 2002
ARGENTINA
New suit: German holders of Argentine government debt announced that they are suing Argentina in German and U.S. courts, reports
Bloomberg.com.


posted by Richard 5:44 PM
. . .
VENEZUELA
Special prosecutor: Attorney General (Fiscal General) Isaías Rodríguez is removing himself from cases charging President Hugo Chávez with human rights violations, reports
El Universal. He took the decision because he, along with José Vicente Rangel, is also charged. When the judges of the Supreme Court return from their vacation they will have to designate a speical prosecutor (fiscal ad hoc). The cases are being brought by families of those killed or injured during the demonstrations of April 11. It is widely believed that most of the killings were done by pro-Chávez snipers, possibly under orders. In any case, the complaints allege "'the grave and verifiable omission of the obligations of (presidential, vice-presidential and defense minister's) offices, a fact that gave place to an escalation of violence'" ("'la omisión grave y verificable de las obligaciones inherentes a sus cargos, hecho que dio lugar a una escalada de violencia'").

As expected, Rodríguez also announced that he would ask the court to review yesterdays decision. He said he did not believe the decision precluded other legal actions against the four military officers.

Finally, according to El Nacional, Rodríguez indicated that the court's decision affedted only the four officers who were accused of military rebellion. He said there remain other military officers against whom charges relating to the April period could be brought.

posted by Richard 5:14 PM
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VENEZUELA
Decision delivered II:

1. A story in
El Universal suggests that the Supreme Court's decision to free four officers on charges of military rebellion may pave the way for an indictment of President Hugo Chávez for the deaths and violent events of April. The paper quotes the decision, written by judge Franklin Arrieche Gutiérrez, as holding that
with the pronouncements made in April, the accused high officers did not deny the government, but the order dictated by the president of the republic to apply Plan Avila, because this would have produced a result contrary to the protection of the human rights of the citizens and would mean a massacre.
con los pronunciamientos efectuados en abril, los altos oficiales acusados no desconocieron al Gobierno, sino la orden dictada por el presidente de la República de aplicar el Plan Avila, porque resultaba contraria a la protección de los derechos humanos de la ciudadanía y ello significaría una masacre.
2. Indeed, El Mundo headlines that the "Opposition is beginning a new stage in its fight" ("Oposición comienza una nueva etapa en su lucha"). This stage "will consist in putting all its force behind the complaints pending against the President of the Republic, Hugo Chávez Frías ("consistirá en colocar todo su esfuerzo en las querellas pendientes en contra del Presidente de la República, Hugo Chávez Frías"). Among the complaints now pending against Chávez are: selling oil to Cuba at concessionary rates without legal authority, complicity in violations of human rights during anti-government demonstrations on April 11, including sniper attacks on demonstrators, receiving illegal campaign contributions from the Spanish bank, Banco Bilbao Viscaya, illegally diverting funds from the Macroeconomic Stabilizaton Fund (Fondo de Estabilización Macroeconómica), into which certain oil revenues are supposed to be, but allegedly weren't, deposited.

3. The government remains unreconciled to losing the case, according to another story in El Universal. The paper reports that Attorney General Isaías Rodríguez will seek new charges against four officers. Rodríguez said the government will respect but not agree with the decision. He added that he believes the decision was the result of a "circumstantial majority" on the court, which existed because two regular justices had to recuse themselves and were replaced. He added that he believes the balance on court will change when the two return.

4. Two of the military officers absolved on charges of rebellion are asking the country's highest military authorities to make a decision about their future services, reports El Nacional.
Carlos Bastidas, attorney for Vice Admiral Ramírez, is certain that the officials accused of military rebellion by the Attorney General will be terminated by the minister of defense.

Bastida estimates that, from the legal point of view and as they have been totally absolved of guilt, the military men "ought to be returned to the Navy in an active post." Nevertheless, this decision will remain in the hands of the official in charge of the military portfolio, José Luis Prieto, through whom he predicted "it is not going to succeed."
Carlos Bastidas, abogado del vicealmirante Ramírez Pérez, está seguro de que los oficiales acusados de rebelión militar por el Fiscal serán dados de baja por el ministerio de la Defensa.

Bastidas estima que, desde el punto de vista legal y por haber sido absueltos de toda culpa, los militares "deberían ser retornados a la Fuerza Armada Nacional en un puesto de actividad". Sin embargo, esa decisión quedará en manos del titular de la cartera castrense, José Luis Prieto, por lo que vaticina que "no va a suceder".
Bastidas also said he is preparing to defend his client against further process within the military.
"I am not surprised that this government, with its profound disrespect for institutions and rights, it trying to establish investigative councils against them, but already we are prepared for this and will exercise appropriate actions," he expressed.
"A mi no me sorprende que como es este gobierno, con un profundo desprecio por las instituciones y el derecho, trate de instaurar consejos de investigación contra ellos, pero ya estamos preparados para eso y ejerceremos las acciones que correspondan", expresó.


posted by Richard 8:42 AM
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VENEZUELA
Decision delivered: The Venezuelan Supreme Court delivered its much anticipated decision as to whether the government could try four military officers for rebellion for their actions during April 11-15, when President Hugo Chávez was ousted and then returned to office in about 48 hours. In a sentence,
El Nacional's headline--"Supreme Court ignored Chávez's threats and absolved officers of April 11" ("TSJ ignoró amenazas de Chávez y absolvió a oficiales del 11-A")--sums up the immediate results of the decision: The officers can't be tried and Chávez's threats were without effect. The 20 members of the court decided 11 to 8 (with one absent) to not allow a trial of the officers.

Bloomberg.com and the Financial Times have stories in English.

What does the decision mean?

First, the court was not intimidated, and--though Chávez has repeadedly denied it--he and his supporters have been actively trying to intimidate the court. (See for example, El Sur, here, here and here.) Apparently, the members feel sufficiently protected to defy clear threats from a government that has affiliated with it armed street gangs.

As the The Financial Times explains it:
More importantly, the decision suggests Mr Chávez has lost influence and political control over the supreme court, opening the possibility that it could move against the president on a range of other issues...
Opponents of Mr Chávez in recent weeks have filed cases accusing him of direct political responsibility for the deaths of some of the people killed by gunfire during the April opposition march that led to his ousting. Families of the victims allege they were killed by armed supporters of Mr Chávez and snipers atop the presidential palace.
More generally, The Financial Times says:
Military officers and opposition parties said the court's vote confirmed the independence of the judiciary.
It is true that this decision merely confirms the status quo. On the other hand, a decision in the oppsite direction would have been monumental; it would have meant subordination of the court to the Chávez government.

After the decision, Chávez supporters attacked the Metropolitan Police and National Guard. El Universal has a report.
Government partisans, scarce in number but with a great capacity to generate disturbances, complied with their promise. The decision of the Supreme Court that left free the four high-ranking military men implicated in the events of April 11 unleashed violence in the center of the city... The faces of the agitators, including the indescribable quartet formed of the three legislators (Iris Varela, Juan Barreto and Luis Tascón) and the "commander" Lina Ron, also were as usual...Tascón asserted that those who would promote disturbances were "inflitrators." The rest of the city, meanwhile, remained in a tense calm. In the other extreme of Caracas, en Chuao, meanwhile, the decision of the country's high court was celebrated. Two persons (cameraman from Radio Caracas TV) and a soldier from the National Guard were hurt by gunfire.
Los partidarios del oficialismo, escasos en número pero con gran capacidad de generar disturbios, cumplieron con su promesa. La decisión del Tribunal Supremo que dejó libres a los cuatro militares de alto rango implicados en los sucesos del 11A desató la violencia en el centro de la ciudad...Las caras de los agitadores, incluyendo al inefable cuarteto formado por tres parlamentarios (Iris Varela, Juan Barreto y Luis Tascón) y la 'comandante' Lina Ron, también eran las de siempre...Tascón afirmó que quienes promovían los disturbios eran "infiltrados". El resto de la ciudad, mientras tanto, permaneció en tensa calma. En el otro extremo de Caracas, en Chuao, mientras tanto, se celebraba la decisión del Alto Tribunal del país. Dos personas (un camarógrafo de Radio Caracas TV y un efectivo de la Guardia Nacional) resultaron heridas por disparos de bala.
The Metropolitan Police are under the control of an anti-Chávez mayor. The Guard is not clearly aligned politically. These attacks may prove as damaging to Chávez as the decision itself. They can't help but hurt him with the guard. And regular military officers, not clearly aligned with Chávez, are likely to note the recklessness of the president and his supporters and to draw appropriate conclusions. In past months, high military officers have repeatedly made it clear that they do do not wish to fight civilians. In fact, it was Chávez's unwarranted activation against peaceful demonstrators of Plan Avila--the contingency plan for the military defense of the central government buildings from insurrection--that turned a large section of the military against Chávez on April 11 and 12, leading to his short-lived ouster. No military officer, Chávez partisans aside, can be happy seeing Bolivarian Circle members and other pro-Chávez gunmen attacking uniformed security forces, especially the National Guard.

One more thing: Whatever happens to Chávez--whether he is forced out in some manner or serves out his term--his longest lasting legacy could be a disastrous one, an urban guerilla movement evolved out the Bolivarian Circles. Semi-clandestine, street-fighting organizations are easier to launch than to call off. They get a life of their own, outliving the design--even the life--of their creators. The men who join such organizations learn the techniques of organized thuggery, much like their non-member peers learn a trade or profession, and want to practice it--need to practice it--since they have no other vocation.

(Thus, for example, the violent wing of the Irish Republican Army lives on long after there is need or reason for it. The example of the IRA shows how long and far the influence such an organization can spread. Three of its members were arrested last year in Colombia, having sold their bomb-making expertise to to the communist FARC guerillas. FARC can now threaten Colombia's cities as well as its countryside.)

Most of what Chávez has done and is doing is reparable (though young business and professional Venezuelans will find it hard to view with equanimity a lost decade under an economically stupid regime). His creation and nurturing of the Bolivarian Circles organization, depending on its evolution, could be another matter entirely.

posted by Richard 6:17 AM
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Wednesday, August 14, 2002
VENEZUELA
Decision awaited: Pro-government and opposition supporters have gathered at separate locations in Caracas awaiting the Supreme Court's decision on whether four military officers should be tried for their part in the events of April 11-15, that led to the departure from and quick return to office of President Hugo Chávez. The Caracas police and National Guard are both deployed, ready to prevent possible disorders.
El Mundo (Caracas) says the decision "has converted the high court into a volcano on the point of eruption..." ("ha convertido al máximo tribunal en un volcán a punto de erupción...").


Both El Universal and El Nacional have stories.

Although Chávez has denied threatening the independence of the of the court in recent days, his supporters seem not to have gotten the message, according to a Chavista quoted in El Nacional:
The representative of the National Coordinating Committee of Bolivarian Circles, Ayda Guevara, assured that government sympathizers will only respect the decision of the Supreme Court if it pronounces against the officers and advised that they will remain in the streets while waiting for an adverse decision. "We are not able to respect something that is going against the Venezuelan constitution," he said.
La representante de la Coordinadora Nacional de los Círculos Bolivarianos, Ayda Guevara, aseguró que los simpatizantes del oficialismo sólo respetarán la decisión del TSJ si éste se pronuncia en contra de los oficiales y advirtió que se mantendrán en las calles a la espera de cualquier decisión adversa. “No podemos respetar algo que va en contra de la Constitución venezolana”, dijo.
He emphasized that the official sector hopes that the decision of the Supreme Court "will be for the benefit of the truth" and considered lamentable that "the tribe of Miquilenismo (named for opposition political leader Luis Miquilena, until last winter Chavez's interior minister and once Mr Chavez's key political operative) is still present in the court." "Little by little this institution will be purified," he added.
Destacó que el sector oficialista espera que la decisión del TSJ “sea en beneficio de la verdad” y consideró lamentable que “las tribus del miquilenismo estén todavía presentes en el tribunal”. “Poco a poco se irá depurando esta institución”, agregó.
Meanwhile, in a second report in El Nacional, the attorney for one of the officers the government wishes to try, General Efraín Vásquez Velazco, denounced the explosion of a device near the general's home as a "threatening act" ("acto de amedrentamiento").
(René) Buroz Arismendi said that the Chavista sympathizers' threats of Sunday and yesterday in the National Assembly, transcended words and are converted into concrete facts.
Buroz Arismendi dijo que las amenazas de los simpatizantes chavistas del día domingo y ayer en la Asamblea Nacional, trascendieron de las palabras para convertirse en hechos concretos.
In another story, El Mundo has a brief note on Iris Varela and Cilia Flores, fierce defenders of Hugo Chávez and proponents of the idea that his ouster in April was a coup, who are also, in the paper's words, "chicas lindas" ("pretty girls"). The article has a (too small) picture that proves it.

posted by Richard 12:11 PM
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Tuesday, August 13, 2002
VENEZUELA
Bond bomb: Francisco Rodriguez, the head of the National Assembly's economic advisory office said government spending will have to be cut, if a debt is to be avoided next year, reported
Bloomberg.com, on Friday, Aug. 9. In addition, Rodriguez said inflation will continue and move higher and the currency, the bolivar, will continue to fall, because spending has not been cut.
"Investors know that in 2003 the government is not going to be able to pay and will have to make a very strong adjustment,'' Rodriguez said on Union radio. "This will be the consequence of postponing the necessary measures for so long.''
In the context of a falling economy and and tax receipts, the government has found it difficult to sell bolivar-denominated bonds.
"This year we haven't been able to place long-term debt,'' Finance Minister Tobias Nobrega said in a television interview. "We've placed some short-term, 90-day debt which has had a very high cost.''
Government spending changed little during the first four months of the year, Bloomberg reported.

posted by Richard 7:42 PM
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ARGENTINA
Rural upset: Farmers attending the 116th edition of the traditional Palermo Rural Expo were extremely critical of government economic and agricultural policies, reported
AgReportEnglish on Friday, Aug. 9. Argentine President Duhalde didn't attend the fair--"the causes aren't hard to imagine..."
Dissatisfaction among agricultural producers is generalized. They are surrounded by debt in U.S. dollars, higher taxes, uncontrollable raises in fuel prices, news of having to now take charge of the payment of anti-FMD vaccines, and difficult perspectives for the next campaign, just to mention some points. In such a dramatic situation, empty messages with absolutely no context are at best empty phrases and are closer to being a joke.
The president of the Argentine Rural Society, Enrique Crotto, described a country
"where the state of right is languishing, where the social contract has been broken, where promises go unkept, where savings have been confiscated, where an incredible amount of spurious payment methods circulate, where the real salary has descended to alarming levels, where legal security has been profaned and where the stability obtained with enormous effort has suddenly been dilapidated thanks to those who proclaim themselves pro-production, causing a devaluation with terrible consequences. The culprits look away, and pretend to convince us they had nothing to do with it," explained Crotto, president of one of the strongest union forces of the country since 1994 and who perhaps, distracted, forgot to mention his own mistakes (emphasis added).


posted by Richard 7:40 PM
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VENEZUELA
Cost of living up: The cost of Venezuela's basic market basket of goods and services (canasta básica) increased by 4.7 per cent in July, reports
El Universal. The paper has a graphic (here) showing the increasing cost-of-living and declining percentage of the basic basket that the average family can afford (poder adquisitivo), since the first of the year.

posted by Richard 7:32 PM
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VENEZUELA
Spanish inquisition: Families of the victims of the events of April 11 have taken their case to court--in Spain--reports
El Universal. The families accuse President Hugo Chávez, then-Vice President Diosdado Cabello and then-Defense Minister José Vicente Rangel of "crimes against humanity and violation of human rights" ("crímenes de lesa humanidad y violación a los derechos humanos").

It will be interesting to see whether Spanish justice is interested in investigating alleged offenses allegedly committed recently by a left-populist government whose leader is good buddies with Fidel Castro, or whether the Spanish courts are only interested in 20-year old crimes committed by a rightist government. The Venezuelan victims' families are obviously following the path blazed by families of those allegedly victimized by the Chilean government of General Augosto Pinochet, who was detained in Britain for several months at the request of a Spanish judge, investigating his regime.

One good sign (not to prejudge the outcome of the case): El Universal's story indicates that the action has the support of Spain's leading opposition party, Spanish Workers Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español or PSOE).

posted by Richard 7:04 PM
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