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Monday:  October 6, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in Felipe Calderon (3)

Monday
May142012

Historic Brazil, Mexico Droughts Cause Distress, Economic Conflict (REPORT) 

(Video IBNTimes)

(HN, 5/14/12) - In Brazil the worst drought in 30 years is underway in the country's  poor north-eastern region, destroying crops and prompting officials to limit water use in the 266 districts that have declared a state of emergency.  Lakes have dried up, forcing thousands of families who live in remote areas to walk miles in order to pick up water.

The agriculture secretary in the town of Maracas, Gilmar Rocha, said the drought problems have become constant in the region.  "The local neighborhood of Porto Alegre, is located close to the Contas' river, and we use the river's water in our homes. But the river is drying up and the problems are constant now," he said.

As a result of the drought, ranchers have been struggling to feed and water cattle while farmers have been left to watch their crops shrivel into the dusty soil.  Forty-two-year-old Jose Oliveira de Sousa, who works at a raft station in the district of Maracas, said many of his colleagues have been left unemployed as a result of the drought.

"Everyone is going through a big crisis because of the drought. Our jobs have been taken away from us, from the fishermen to the farmers to the boat and raft operators," he said.

According to weather experts, the drought may last up to October. The drought in the Southern hemisphere is caused by La Nina, which is cooling equatorial Pacific waters.

- By Marisa Krystian originally for IBNTimes

(PHOTO: A northern Mexico river location/El Universal) In Mexico a cold and dry winter in the north of the country has exacerbated conditions there with reports of widespread famine, escalating food prices and extreme dry conditions that have forced the Mexican government to truck drinking water to nearly a half million residents in remote villages across six northern states where lakes and ground wells have run dry.

In addition, Mexican aid workers have been offering food rations throughout the winter to more than 2 million residents who are desperately clinging to life in a region that is experiencing its driest period on record. 

The drought is credited with destroying some 7.5 million acres of cultivable land in 2011 and is responsible for $1.18 billion in lost harvests and has destroyed about 60,000 head of cattle and weakened 2 million more causing a substantial spike in food prices.

Officials say acute food and grain shortages caused Mexico’s imports to soar 35% last year and they could go even higher in 2012 as conditions worsen.

Dr. Mark Welch, grain marketing economist with Texas AgriLife Extension in College Station, says while Texas is not a big corn producing state, he thinks shortages for grain and food corn will cause many US growers to look hard at market potential in Mexico in the months ahead.

“We have been watching corn imports trend higher in Mexico over the last 25 years, but the recent spike related to the drought there is significant as it is not just yellow corn that is in demand, but white corn for food,” Welch says.

In Mexico the shortage of white corn is marked by higher food prices and a shortage in tortillas, a food staple for Mexican families.

(MAP: El Universal) “And this is not the first time we have seen an extreme shortage. The last time was in 2008 when corn shortages caused a tortilla crisis that resulted in riots and price limit controls by federal authorities,” he added.

Welch says even if drought conditions improve in Northern Mexico over the summer months, the trend for white corn imports are expected to trend upward.

“The demand for grain corn may be directly associated with the drought in Northern Mexico. Once conditions improve there we will see Mexican grain corn imports leveling off. But white corn imports have been trending up for several years, and it could be that a growing population base is driving demand - and I expect that to continue,” he says.

Meanwhile, Mexico continues to struggle with more than just grain shortages as a result of dry conditions. The 2011 price of beans has doubled in just over a year, and consumers are feeling the pinch in other food staples. On a whole, prices for basic foods—including beans, tortillas, vegetable oil, meat and dairy - rose 45% in 2011, and since October last year prices have exploded another 35%.

While the situation is most dire in the impoverished areas of the north, metropolitan areas including highly industrialized Monterrey are also feeling the squeeze. Recently the Mexican Red Cross estimated that some two million people are chronically hungry in the state of Nuevo Leon.

The crisis is becoming a political thorn in the side of Mexican President Felipe Calderon. While Mexico grows substantial food crops for export to the US - some $21 billion last year - it is struggling to grow enough for its resident population, a problem some argue is being driven by greed from Mexico’s upper class.

Economists say Mexico will continue to struggle with becoming more sustainable and self-sufficient, but drought conditions will continue to complicate those efforts until substantial rains fall.

-- A version of this article by Logan Hawkes appeared in the Southwest Farm Press

Tuesday
Sep272011

Drug War: Faster and More Furious (COMMENTARY) 

By Tania Arroyo

Jean Baptiste KingeryIn early September, Mexican authorities arrested a U.S. citizen, Jean Batiste Kingery, for smuggling grenades across the border for the Sinaloa cartel. Astonishingly, U.S. agents had released Kingery a year before when he was captured for the same offense. U.S. law enforcement officials reportedly wanted to use him in a sting operation.

The Kingery case is only the most recent scandal involving the flow of weapons from the United States to Mexico. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) recently sent a letter asking the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for a hearing on the controversial federal operation “Fast and Furious,” which in 2009 allowed 2,000 high-powered weapons from the United States to reach Mexico as part of an alleged effort to go after drug cartel leaders. According to McCain, the hearing's purpose is to “ensure further damage from this operation does not persist.”

But the real problem at the border goes beyond the Kingery case and the Fast and Furious fiasco, which are just one small part of the flow of arms into Mexico for use in drug war that has claimed more than 50,000 victims during the tenure of Mexican President Felipe Calderon. Although Calderon will leave the presidency next year, the war will not likely end with his term of office.

The Merida Frame

On September 6, diplomat John Wayne formally assumed the post of U.S. ambassador to Mexico, replacing former Ambassador Carlos Pascual. In March, Pascual resigned after the Mexican government expressed its concern over the ambassador's doubts, revealed in WikiLeaks cables, about Mexico’s capacity to conduct the fight against drug trafficking.

This replacement, however, doesn’t bring anything new to the bilateral relationship between Mexico and the United States. In his statement to Congressin July, Wayne said, referring to the Merida Initiative, “one of my principal objectives, if confirmed, will be to work with my Mexican and U.S. colleagues to accelerate the implementation of the activities and to assure that we are achieving our Merida objectives.”

The Obama administration has done a great deal to support Calderon’s fight against Mexican drug trafficking through the Merida Initiative, the 2008 bilateral agreement of cooperation between Mexico and the United States to combat drug trafficking, organized crime, and money laundering. Yet Obama has done little to strengthen arms control on the U.S. side of the border. In March, during a joint press conference with President Calderon, Obama stated that "I believe in the Second Amendment. It does provide for Americans the right to bear arms for their protection, for their safety, for hunting, for a wide range of uses.” Although he went on to state that “that does not mean that we cannot constrain gun runners from shipping guns into Mexico,” he has not managed to reduce the arms trade.

On the other side, President Calderon demands more funds from the United States and insists that the war on drug mafias is a shared responsibility that must continue. Following the Zetas’ attack on a casino in the northern city of Monterrey last August, which claimed at least 52 lives, Calderon said that “the economic power and firepower of the criminal organizations operating in Mexico and Latin America come from this endless demand for drugs in the United States.” He stressed the need to continue this fight against “criminals” and “terrorists.”

Although the two governments disagree on small details, like the performance of former Ambassador Carlos Pascual, they are of one mind on the importance of the “war on drugs” and the Merida Initiative, which has proven to be a profitable business for arms manufacturers and dealers.

Good for the Arms Business

The Merida Initiative has been roundly criticized, even by those affiliated with the U.S. military. Paul Rexton, associate professor of national security studies at the U.S. Army War College, has suggested that this initiative has not led to substantial reductions in violence in Mexico or in drug smuggling to the United States. “In fact,” he writes, “the current policy has led to what can be described, at best, as a stalemate between Mexican state authorities and the cartels”.

The U.S. government has provided nearly $1.3 billion to the Mexican government to confront the drug cartels. Meanwhile with operations like Fast and Furious, it has fed weapons to the narcotraffickers. This apparent paradox can be explained by the different objectives of the state and the market, the former focused on security and the latter fixated on profit.

For the arms lobby, operations like Fast and Furious are always welcome: the more weapons that can be purchased, the more money arm dealers will get. There are cases in which one person has come to buy up to 190 guns a month in armories near the border, supposedly to ensure his personal safety under the Second Amendment. According to the owner of one of these stores: "In Arizona it is more difficult to get credit for a car than to buy 10 rifles. My business is the sale of weapons and to sell them under the law. Honestly, I don’t care where they will end up.”

Members of the arms lobby want Mexicans, too, to arm themselves in response to violence by drug cartels. More armed Mexicans translates into more arms sales. Drug cartels already get their supplies of lethal weapons manufactured and distributed by the U.S. arms industry through an “ant trail” across the border, like the one that Kingery followed.

Recent revelations of money laundering suggest that the United States is not really serious about the fight against drug trafficking. According to The Observer, banking giant Wachovia "paid federal authorities $110 million in forfeiture for allowing transactions later proved to be connected to drug smuggling, and incurred a $50 million fine for failing to monitor cash used to ship 22 tons of cocaine." The sum that Wachovia paid for these omissions, $160 million, pales in comparison to the overall volume of money, $378.4 billion, to which the bank failed to apply proper anti-laundering regulations. In a real war on drugs this should have been a sufficient reason to close that bank. However, Wachovia continues to operate normally (now as part of Wells Fargo) and may be able to continue laundering money, since the sanctions are affordable in relation to the gains.

Finally, Mexicans have been privatizing the drug war in Mexico much as Colombia has already done. The United States spends nearly $550 million per year on Plan Colombia (and spent an average of $700 million per year before 2009), and more than 50 percent of that sum has reached private contractors operating as mercenaries in the South American country. According to the State Department, since 2007 Lockheed Martin, DynCorp International, and ARINC, Inc., among other companies in the industry, have been the major beneficiaries of Plan Colombia.

Mexico is not far behind. According to one of the representatives on the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, Jose Gomez del Prado, in 2006 instructors from the company Global Risk Solutions Inc. trained Mexican federal agents in torture techniques. Once the drug war becomes a lucrative business, the conflict becomes potentially endless.

For the two governments, the Kingery case and Fast Furious represent only small miscalculations in the grand strategy of the Merida Initiative, which continues unabated. The Secretary of Defense in Mexico (SEDENA) recently purchased $4 billion worth of weapons for "operations of internal order and national security contingent emergency" through the Trust for Military Equipment.

A Bleak Balance

The Mexican and U.S. governments are duty-bound to guarantee human rights and preserve the lives of their citizens. The actions of organized crime, from the distribution of arms and drugs to kidnapping, murder, and human trafficking, are reprehensible. But so is the double standard of the Mexican and U.S. governments, which have been jointly responsible for the escalation of violence on both sides of the border in their effort to defeat the mafias.

For President Calderon this is even more outrageous because, under the Merida Initiative, he has given Washington the authorization to act with the freedom and discretion it wants, further undermining Mexico’s national sovereignty. But the actions taken by U.S. law enforcement in connection with arms trafficking and the failed Fast and Furious operation are only partially responsible for the escalation of violence in Mexico. The real culprits are the Mexican and U.S. governments and their bilateral agreements concerning the war against drugs.

It’s long past time to look at the failures of the overall war and not just the debacles of particular battles.

- Tania Arroyo is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus a project of the Institute for Policy Studies. 

Commentary originally published by the Institute for Policy Studies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Commentrary published and distributed by HUMNEWS represents the views of the author(s) and does not necessarily represent the views of the board members or staff of HUMNEWS or of the HUMNEWS editors.

Wednesday
Aug172011

Legalising drugs a solution to the violence? (REPORT/VIDEO)

By Lucia Newman 

Almost five years ago, Mexicans watched their President Felipe Calderon send soldiers out onto the streets of cities like Ciudad Juarez, announcing an unprecedented frontal attack on the country’s drug cartels.

Then, they saw the death toll rise year by year, from around under 3,000 in 2007 to almost 20, 000 in 2010. This year could be even higher.

When I went to Cancun for the Climate Summit in late November, a taxi driver told me that the leve of violence was seriously disrupting the economy - especially tourism - and that he hoped the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) , which ruled Mexico for 70 years, would be brought back to power in the next presidential elections.

“Before, during the PRI governments , we didn’t have this problem with the drug traffickers . They minded their business and we minded ours. Why should we do the dirty work for the Americans, who are the ones who consume the drugs?“ the man asked point blank.

I was amazed that anyone could articulate what seemed like such a short-sighted point of view. Didn’t he realise that sooner or later the traffickers would become so powerful that they would become everyone’s problem in Mexico?

Eight months later, I find that it is not just the taxi driver who believes that it is time to go back to a policy of peaceful co-existence with the cartels, but also some politicians and opinion makers, including former Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda, who served under previous President Vicente Fox.

“Call off the war. Take the army back to the barracks and say enough of this business. Let’s concentrate our efforts, our army and navy on reducing violence against society, kidnapping, extortion, etc," he said.

"And frankly, let the cartels do pretty much what they want as long as they don’t get involved in these things. Now since we don’t want to encourage a culture of illegality, we’re going to try to begin the process of legalisation." 

What legalisation? I asked.

"In a perfect world, all drugs, all over, everywhere,” Castaneda told me.

Was he really proposing an accommodation with the cartels, I enquired.

“Isn’t that what the Americans are doing in Afghanistan with the poppy growers who are producing heroin? Nobody complains about that!”

Even Castaneda recognises that what he suggests is politically incorrect, but with drug trafficking violence getting worse, and the amount of drugs crossing the border into the United States undiminished, many Mexicans I talked to are demanding a Plan B, which some say should include less confrontation with the traffickers.

The Mayor of Ciudad Juarez, from the opposition PRI , supports Calderon’s policy and insists that the government must keep the pressure on.

But many people I spoke to - including a respected community leader, Protestant Pastor Alfonso Murguia, say that “it is time for the army to leave. They had already been corrupted by traffickers and they are committing abuses against the population. We need to do something else. “

Everyone agrees that if Mexico is serious about dealing with the cartels, it needs to dramatically reduce poverty , corruption and impunity, an elusive goal since independence.

And as long as millions of Mexicans cannot make a decent living legally, the cartels will always have an army of willing foot soldiers.

“So many young people tell me they would rather have a couple of good years on the street, than a lifetime on their knees living in poverty,” Pastor Murguia told me, shrugging his shoulders.

Originally published by Al Jazeera on August 17, 2011 under Creative Commons Licensing