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Daily Headlines – November 8, 2012 Print
Written by Jake Johnston   
Thursday, 08 November 2012 11:40

An Argentine judge ordered Chevron’s assets embargoed in an effort to enforce an Ecuadorean court ruling, reports the Associated Press. Plaintiffs, who have waged a decades long legal battle against Chevron, have taken their fight outside the country to wherever Chevron has assets. Enrique Bruchou, the Argentina lawyer on the case, told reporters, “This is a ruling that sets an example. What we're telling the world is that in Latin America we want to demand that whoever comes to exploit does it following the same health an environmental standards as they do in their countries of origin.” Other than Argentina, the plaintiffs have filed suit in Canada, Brazil and Colombia.

State legislation legalizing recreational marijuana use in Washington and Colorado may impact Latin American countries drug war policies, reports McClatchy. The legislation, which the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness found would significantly reduce drug cartel profits, is a “game-changer”, according to Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, the director of the global drug-policy program of the Open Society Foundation. Alejandro Hope, who co-authored the study, noted that, “Politically and symbolically, this is really powerful. My guess is that this will accelerate some countries’ efforts to have a legal marijuana regime.” The head of incoming president Enrique Pena-Nieto’s transition team told the AP: "Obviously we can't handle a product that is illegal in Mexico, trying to stop its transfer to the United States, when in the United States, at least in part of the United States, it now has a different status…These important modifications change somewhat the rules of the game in the relationship with the United States…I think that we have to carry out a review of our joint policies in regards to drug trafficking and security in general."

Three laborers were killed in Honduras this past week over a land conflict in the Bajo Aguan region, reports EFE. A 2011 report by the International Federation for Human Rights noted that the “The government has converted the area of these agrarian conflicts in Bajo Aguán into a war zone.” EFE points out that some 70 peasants have been killed in the past few years in fights with security personnel and guards from wealthy landowners. Last year an agreement was reached to give some 4,000 hectares of land to the landless families in the region, yet the agreement has yet to be implemented. MUCA, an organization representing the rural workers, released a statement:  “MUCA repudiates ... these cowardly acts of intimidation against the peasants and calls on the regime of (President Porfirio) Lobo to stop this violence against the laborers of Bajo Aguan.” Professor Dana Frank has written extensively about the conflict previously.



The South American Way: U.S. Presidential Campaign Unprecedented in its Populist Appeal Print
Written by Mark Weisbrot   
Wednesday, 07 November 2012 15:49

President Obama won reelection largely because of an economic populist appeal, especially to crucial white working-class voters in battleground states, as I described here. The message got through: an MSNBC exit poll showed that 53 percent of voters thought that Romney favored the rich (as opposed to the middle class or poor) and only 10 percent thought that of Obama. 

U.S. politics are getting a bit more like South America’s in other ways, as the right-wing media creates and maintains a bubble world for Republicans.  A big difference though is that the “bubble media” in South America, in most countries, is much bigger and more influential in countries like Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and even Brazil.  Paul Krugman and others have commented on the expansion of right-wing bubble influence here, e.g.  how the right-wing media questioned the aggregation of polling data (e.g. by Nate Silver), which turned out to be extremely accurate; and also attacked the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for its September unemployment report.

But the economic populism of Obama’s successful campaign was really the big story that most of the pundits seem to have missed (other than right-wingers accusing him of class warfare).  Most pundits didn’t notice how unprecedented this is for the U.S. :  no prior presidential nominee in at least the past half-century had anywhere near as much an economic populist campaign as Obama’s.  It was also vastly different from his own general election campaign in 2008.  Part of this is because the country has changed in recent years:  the long-term failure of our own neoliberalism finally provoked a turning point in the 2006 and 2008 elections.  This is another similarity to South America, which moved left after its longest period of economic failure in more than a century (1980 – 2003).  Our economic failure was different, in that it was not so much a collapse of economic growth as in South America, but a massive upward redistribution of income.  But it was a colossal setback for the majority of Americans, who joined their counterparts from the South in a revolt at the ballot box.  And then the Occupy movement put the issue of income and wealth inequality on the political agenda as it has not been since the Great Depression.

Another difference:  South Americans (in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Uruguay) got more changes for their votes than we have so far.  That will take a bit longer.

Policies to Match the Rhetoric: Buen Vivir in Ecuador Print
Written by Tara Ruttenberg   
Tuesday, 06 November 2012 15:00

A guest post by former CEPR intern Tara Ruttenberg.

Ecuador made international headlines this week, first for plaintiffs taking their fight to Argentina and Colombia to hold Chevron accountable for decades of toxic pollution, and secondly as a result of the government’s recent decision to tax bank profits as a way to increase state revenue for social spending on poverty alleviation. As Ecuador celebrated the fourth anniversary of its relatively new citizen’s constitution last month, news agencies and policy analysts have made note of the successes of the many changes taking place under President Correa, particularly related to social policies targeting poverty reduction through increased public social expenditure and cash transfers to the poor. These and other reforms embody Correa’s proclaimed commitment to 21st century socialism and an inverted juxtaposition of traditional power relations, placing people and the environment above the market economy and the formerly unbridled reign of the private sector. Ecuador’s social and economic policy platform and successful poverty reduction experience are a strong reflection of wider regional trends in countries governed by left-of-center leaders now nearly a decade into Latin America’s post-neoliberal era.

While analysts continue to draw due attention to Ecuador’s success in reducing poverty and improving socioeconomic indicators by balancing strong economic growth with policies geared toward greater income redistribution (see CEPR publication on Ecuador’s economy since 2007), many have neglected the wider paradigmatic framework within which Ecuador’s new constitution thrives; that is, the indigenous-born and politically articulated concept of ‘buen vivir’ (living well). Buen vivir as a social paradigm incorporated into Ecuador’s constitution seeks to “better the quality of life of the population, develop their capacities and potential; rely on an economic system that promotes equality through social and territorial redistribution of the benefits of development; ….establish a harmonious coexistence with nature… promote Latin American integration; and protect and promote cultural diversity” (Article 276 of the Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador). Refreshingly, we see Ecuadoran policies living up to these ambitious constitutional aims based on buen vivir, with Correa continuing to focus on income redistribution, as demonstrated by the most recent tax on banks.



Daily Headlines – November 5, 2012 Print
Written by Jake Johnston   
Monday, 05 November 2012 14:23

Before hitting the U.S.’ east coast last week, Sandy wreaked havoc on Haiti leading many to fear a food security crisis, reports the Miami Herald. Coming just nine weeks after Tropical Storm Isaac devastated agricultural crops throughout the country, Sandy inflicted an estimated $70 million in agricultural damages, mostly in the South department. An analysis done by the Haitian government following Isaac found that changing weather patterns were negatively effecting food security in almost every region of the country. Writing in NACLA, Kevin Edmonds discusses how climate change will affect Caribbean countries. Edmonds speaks with University of the West Indies professor Norman Girvan, “30 years ago, one expected to deal with major disasters of this kind, say, once every ten years. Nowadays, most islands expect at least one, and possibly two or three, every year. In other words this now has to be seen as a permanent, recurring phenomenon or integral feature of Caribbean development.” Edmonds notes that despite climate change presenting a significant threat to the Caribbean, the countries lack the power to address to the problem on a global scale.

Speaking at the G-20 summit in Mexico City, Argentina’s Economy Minister called on advanced countries to place restrictions on vulture funds, reports Bloomberg. The call comes after a U.S. court ruled that Argentina must pay vulture funds with the same priority that they pay holders of their restructured bonds, which some 93 percent of creditors accepted following Argentina’s default in 2001.  The court ruling, which has been called a huge win for vulture funds, could impact other sovereign debt restructurings. Economy Minister Lorenzino told his fellow ministers, “We hope that G-20 nations understand that the latest developments could affect any future restructuring process of sovereign debt…All nations should be on alert.” Meanwhile, Argentine and South African officials met to discuss NML Capital’s attempts to detain an Argentina ship docked in South Africa. The move by NML Capital, run by billionaire Republican donor Paul Singer, comes after they successfully detained an Argentina naval vessel in Ghana last month.

The Peruvian government is moving forward with plans to pay back billions of dollars in 40 year-old land bonds, reports Reuters. General Juan Velasco issued the bonds as compensation during a land redistribution program started in the 1970s. In 2001, the Constitutional Court ruled that the government should repay the bonds, yet a string of government’s since then have punted on the issue. Now, the payment is becoming more pressing as the U.S.-Peru Free Trade agreement comes into force. Over the years, many of the bonds have been bought by investors on a secondary market. With the “free trade” agreement, the funds which hold the bonds could sue in U.S. courts to seek payment, a similar strategy as vulture funds have employed in Argentina. Constitutional Court president Ernesto Alvarez told Reuters, “There is a worry among some authorities in the executive branch ... that Peru could find itself hurt if complaints were lodged in courts under clauses in the free-trade pact with the United States.” If Peru pays back the bonds, they could be on the hook for up to $8 billion, or 4 percent of GDP.



Broken Anvil: The Story of Operation Anvil Print
Written by Dan Beeton   
Friday, 02 November 2012 10:57

Like 80s-style heavy metal, the U.S. “war on drugs” and intervention in Central America just never goes out of fashion. Or does it? Two new reports from journalist Kaelyn Forde for The Real News examine how Operation Anvil, so recently described in New York Times feature articles and CNN puff pieces as an important new offensive in the U.S.’ spreading “war on drugs,” has become highly controversial and – for now, at least – suspended. The reasons, of course, are the May 11 shooting deaths of four local villagers under circumstances that remain cloudy, and the downing of two planes by Honduran forces. Both of these led to outrage from members of the U.S. Congress [PDF] and the suspension of both radar support to the Honduran government and of Operation Anvil. (See our investigative report, co-authored with Rights Action, on the May 11 incident, and our related previous blog posts here, here, and here.)

But while Operation Anvil may be on hold for the time being, Forde’s interviews with experts such as American University professor David Vine, COFADEH’s Berta Oliva and Rights Action’s Annie Bird describe a growing, more permanent U.S. presence in Honduras:

HONDURAN ARMY COLONEL RONALD RIVERA (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Here we have the Caratasca Naval Base, and they are working in an almost permanent way with the North American navy, engaging in operations and exercises.

FORDE: It’s one of three forward operating bases the U.S. has constructed in la Moskitia since the 2009 military coup.

DAVID VINE, AUTHOR AND PROFESSOR: They have been constructed in a number of places, especially on the Northern coast, especially in la Moskitia, in areas that have become the center of growing conflict, growing drug trafficking and growing interest from business interests as well.

Vine goes on to describe how:

The 2009 Wikileaks cable from the U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa talked about a large scale project, an unprecedented project, for la Moskitia. A public-private partnership that the United States military was really leading, but in coalition with a range of other U.S. government agencies for la Moskitia, to bring together public--meaning U.S. government and Honduran government--and private entities, mostly for profit companies. Like General Electric, and a large real estate development firm.

(The cable to which Vine refers is available here.)

Forde, it is worth noting, is one of the only journalists to file investigative video reports from the Moskitia region since a joint DEA-Honduran Tactical Response Team operation killed four people, injured several others, and terrorized a village. (See Kaelyn’s earlier report on that incident here.)

President Obama, the 80s called. They want their drug policy back.

U.S. Election Monitors Comment on Venezuela’s October 7 Elections Print
Written by Alex Main   
Thursday, 01 November 2012 13:04

Most of the news and opinion pieces about Venezuela that appear in the U.S. press paint an overwhelmingly negative picture of the country’s political landscape.  But Venezuela’s October 7 presidential elections have generated a flurry of articles with a different take on the situation there, such as this piece in the Guardian, this one in the Independent, and this previously referenced New York Times/ International Herald Tribune op-ed penned by CEPR co-director Mark Weisbrot. More recently, a few high profile individuals from the U.S., who monitored these and past elections in Venezuela, shared their impressions of Venezuela’s electoral process, and the implications of Chávez’s victory. 

On Tuesday, a lengthy piece by Danny Glover, called “Why Chavez Won Again”, appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus.  Glover, who worked in community development before becoming an actor, was an electoral monitor on the day of the elections and describes how he was “greatly moved by the extraordinary civility and enthusiasm of voters from across the political spectrum.” But, he says:

the most important moment of my trip was the day after the election when I met with local leaders and activists from the Afro-Venezuelan community of San Jose in Barlovento (…)Youth leaders described the educational missions and government programs that provided them with unprecedented access to higher education. Members of workers' cooperatives discussed new state cacao processing factories co-managed by managers and workers that had helped lift the local economy and offered fair prices and social support to poor farmers. Other representatives of the community explained how new health and education missions were addressing the needs of communities that had had little or no access to basic services.

According to Glover, the Venezuelan government’s social development agenda, and its “proactive effort to promote democratic engagement and citizen control over local conditions and possibilities” explain in part why Chávez was re-elected with an 11-point lead over his opponent.  He noted that

Venezuela’s Afro-descendents – among the most under-educated, marginalized, and impoverished people in the country – were becoming pro-active citizens under the Chavez government, increasingly participating in political decision-making at the local level and claiming a voice in regional, national, and even international affairs.

Citing social and economic indicators that point to significant progress under the Chávez administration, Glover admonishes the coverage of Venezuela in much of the foreign media, which, he says, “gives the impression that Chavez’s social and economic policies are incoherent, unsustainable, and based on short-term electoral considerations.” Glover adds:

The press also often vilifies Chavez and portrays his supporters—a strong majority of the country—as poor, reverent masses who are blindly manipulated by populist rhetoric and occasional cash handouts. This portrayal is not only false, it is denigrating and injurious to the basic workings of democracy: ordinary people expressing their desires with visions of an improved quality of life, development projects, and a choice of political stewards to achieve their goals. Yet, nearly 14 years after Chávez was first elected, misrepresentations and outright fabrications still prevail in mainstream U.S. papers, television news programs, and in the statements of politicians from both major parties.

On the same day that Glover’s piece appeared, the Boston Globe published an op-ed by former Congressman Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts.  Delahunt, who retired from Congress in early 2009, began traveling with congressional delegations to Venezuela in the early 2000s and played a central role in creating the “Boston Group” that brought together U.S. members of Congress and members of the Venezuelan National Assembly from both pro-government and opposition parties.  His goal today is to encourage dialogue between opposing political factions in Venezuela and between the U.S. and Venezuelan governments, as his op-ed, entitled “A New Role for the US and Venezuela”, demonstrates. 



Daily Headlines – November 1, 2012 Print
Written by Jake Johnston   
Thursday, 01 November 2012 11:19

The Associated Press takes a look at Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa’s plan to tax banks to pay for an increased subsidy to poor families and for other “wealth redistribution activities." The measure, which would increase taxes on bank’s assets abroad among other changes, is estimated to raise $200-$300 million per year. The AP notes that Correa has doubled social spending and that “Ecuador now devotes a greater share of its economy, 10 percent of gross domestic product, to public investment in infrastructure, education and other purposes than any other nation in Latin America and the Caribbean.” Speaking over the weekend at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Correa said “This is the challenge the world over: beating poverty, which for the first time in history is not the result of scarce resources or natural factors, but of perverse and exclusive systems.  For this to happen, changes are required in power relations and political processes".

A U.S. free trade agreement with Panama, negotiated during the Bush administration, went into effect yesterday reports Reuters. The agreement, the third along with Colombia and South Korea, to be finalized in the past year, was praised by business groups and senior lawmakers. Yet others, such as Lori Wallach of Public Citizen, criticized the deal. Wallach told The Hill, “The presidential candidates are sparring over who would best crack down on offshore tax evasion and reduce our budget deficit, so it’s a sorry statement about the power of corporate campaign money that both candidates support a pact with the hemisphere’s leading tax haven.” Wallach has previously pointed out that since the FTAs with South Korea and Colombia, imports from those countries have outpaced exports, implying an estimated loss of 15,000 jobs.

Ecuadorean plaintiffs, who have waged a long legal battle with Chevron over pollution in the Amazon, will sue the company in Argentina and Colombia to try and enforce a $19 billion court ruling, reports Dow Jones. Pablo Fajardo, an Ecuadorean attorney representing the plaintiffs said, “We're going after Chevron wherever in the world it has assets.” The suits in Colombia and Argentina follow similar moves in Brazil and Canada. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked Chevron’s attempt to prevent the plaintiffs from enforcing the judgment. Luis Yanza, another representative of the Amazonian groups suing Chevron, told Dow Jones that the pollution has directly affected 30,000 people, raising cancer rates and causing other problems. "For us, what Texaco [later acquired by Chevron] did is a crime against nature and against humanity," Yanza said.

Honduras' second-ever openly gay man to run for national political office, Erick Vidal Martinez, was in San Francisco last week as part of a ten-day California tour, reports the San Francisco Reporter. Martinez has worked for the past three years for a Honduran human rights group, recording human rights violations against members of the LGBT community. After the coup in June 2009, violence against the LGBT community has increased. The Reporter notes, “During the first six months of the coup, nine gay men and 12 transsexual women were murdered. Since then five lesbians, 42 gay men, 28 transsexual women, and an unknown number of bisexuals have been murdered.” Martinez is running on the Libre ticket, a political movement borne out of the resistance to the 2009 coup. Martinez was originally on the ticket as a substitute candidate for Erick Martinez Avila, but Avila was killed just two weeks after accepting his nomination. 

Daily Headlines – October 29, 2012 Print
Written by Jake Johnston   
Monday, 29 October 2012 11:48

As Hurricane Sandy approaches the northeastern shore of the United States, Caribbean countries began cleaning up after the storm left over 60 dead throughout the region. The AP reports that 51 of the 65 deaths reported were in Haiti, where the nation’s Prime Minister declared, “This is a disaster of major proportions.” The Southern region was the worst hit, with large scale flooding causing damage to homes as well as crops. Haiti, which has been grappling with a cholera epidemic for two years, could see increased cases over the next few weeks as the rising water levels facilitate the disease’s spread. For more information on cholera in Haiti, see CEPR’s Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch blog. Cuba, Jamaica, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico all reported deaths as well.

The governing coalition led by President Sebastian Pinera took a hit at the polls this weekend in Chile, reports the AP. Parties from the left took roughly 43 percent of seats as compared to 37 percent for the governing right-wing alliance. The left’s largest victory was in central Santiago where Carolina Tohá, who has supported student protests for education reform, defeated the incumbent, “ultra-conservative” Pablo Zalaquett. Former president Salvador Allende’s daughter also won her first major political race, whereas Pinochet’s former intelligence director lost his 16-year hold on the mayor’s office in the upper-class district Providencia. As the BBC notes, the election was marked by low turnout. It was the first election where voting was not mandatory, and abstention was over 60 percent. For more analysis, see the Pan-American Post.

A U.S. appeals court ruled against Argentina in a long running dispute with hold-out bondholders, reports Bloomberg. Argentina appealed a lower court ruling that it must repay the vulture funds before making payments to those bondholders who accepted a restructuring. The ruling comes as a huge victory to NML Capital, a unit of billionaire Paul Singer’s Elliot Management Corp, which has spent millions lobbying against Argentina through the American Task Force Argentina. It was a surprise to many as the United States government had come down on Argentina’s side, having argued to the lower court that their ruling “could enable a single creditor to thwart the implementation of an internationally supported restructuring plan, and thereby undermine the decades of effort the United States has expended to encourage a system of cooperative resolution of sovereign debt crises.” Felix Salmon, writing on the ruling, states, “I've been writing about holdouts, or vultures, or whatever you want to call them, for a good dozen years now, and although they've had victories here and there, there's been nothing remotely as big or precedent-setting as this.”

Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa is pushing a bill that would increase the taxes charged to banks to pay for increased social welfare programs, reports Reuters. The bill, which was submitted to Congress last week, will introduce a 3 percent charge on banks’ income and scrap the exception lowering income taxes for banks to 15 percent, compared to 25 percent for others. The extra revenue would help raise the monthly payments under the government’s Human Development payment from $35 to $50 a month. As Reuters notes, Correa has pushed for significant financial reforms over the last few years, preventing banks from investing in other sectors of the economy, banning some service charges on credit cards, and allowing borrowers to default on loans by giving back the houses or cars to the banks that lent them the money. The government has also mandated that banks repatriate assets that are held abroad so that they can be more productively invested in Ecuador.  Correa, who is widely expected to win another term as President in February when elections are held, has greatly increased social spending during his time in office. For more on changes to the Ecuadorian economy and the government’s social policy, see this recent paper by CEPR researchers Rebecca Ray and Sara Kozameh.

To get all of the day’s headlines straight to your inbox, sign up for the Latin America News Round-up here. You can also view the archives of past round-ups here.

What’s driving incumbent reelections in Latin America? Print
Written by Sara Kozameh   
Thursday, 25 October 2012 15:09

AP published an article yesterday on the recent electoral success of incumbents in Latin America. Though the article focuses on the advantages of incumbency and the concentration of power in the presidency, there is another far more compelling reason for their success. A quick mention of the “decade of economic growth” in the article gives us a clue that something different may, in fact, have been occurring.

As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot pointed out in the New York Times, the reelection of incumbents and their political parties has more to do with increasing living standards than anything else. Following a twenty-year economic growth failure associated with neoliberalism, a new wave of leaders campaigned against these policies and for a greater distribution of wealth, and have largely backed up those campaign pledges.

At this point, it might prove fruitful to dig a little deeper into the recent economic context of Latin America, and as it just so happens, CEPR has been doing exactly that for many years now.

A few examples indicate that policies leading to significant economic and social advances are likely playing a strong role in countries where the reelection of incumbents has occurred:

  • Under the consecutive governments of Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández, Argentina’s economy grew more than 85 percent from its collapse in 2002 to 2011, one of the highest economic growth rates in the world. Poverty, income inequality and unemployment have fallen by two-thirds, one-half and more than one-half, respectively, since their peaks after the 2001 crisis. In 2010 poverty had fallen to fourteen percent of the population and unemployment to 8 percent. Cristina Fernández won reelection easily in 2011.
  • In Venezuela, Chávez has presided over a 49.7 decline in the poverty rate. Extreme poverty declined 70 percent from 2004-2011. At 26.7 and 7.0 percent, respectively in 2011, both poverty and extreme poverty have reached historic lows for the country.  From 1980-1998 Venezuela’s GDP per capita actually declined by 14 percent, while it has increased by 2.5 percentage points annually since 2004 once the economy had recovered from the devastating opposition oil strike of 2002-2003. (Of course it grew even faster if measured from 2002). Hugo Chávez was most recently re-elected two weeks ago on a platform of continuing the economic and social gains that his country has seen in the last decade, and which has resulted in the largest decrease in inequality in the hemisphere.
  • Since Rafael Correa became president of Ecuador in 2007, large increases in social spending have led to significant improvements in health and education and have led to substantial and consistent reductions in poverty and unemployment rates. Rafael Correa was reelected by a wide margin in 2009.
  • Bolivia’s economic growth under Evo Morales was also higher than at any other time in the previous 30 years. Morales was reelected under a new constitution in 2009 after his country regained control over their natural resources and used the funds to increase public investment and social spending.
Daily Headlines – October 25, 2012 Print
Written by Jake Johnston   
Thursday, 25 October 2012 11:20

Following a week of protests which resulted in the deaths of three people, President Martinelli of Panama said he is willing to cancel plans to sell land in the duty-free zone in Colon. The protests were in response to the passing of a law last Friday which would allow the selling of land to companies which are currently leasing land in Latin America’s largest duty-free zone. Protestors contend that the millions of dollars in leasing fees go to the capital and don’t help provide needed services in Colon. Political Analyst Joe Blandon told the Associated Press, “In Colon, there is an economic system that clearly shows its injustice…On one side is the canal, the duty-free zone, and on the other is the city where half of the population lives in poverty."

Bolivia is breaking the mold in the “war on drugs” in their efforts to contain the cultivation of coca, reports Deutsche Welle. The coca leaf has been used for centuries in Bolivia as a mild stimulant and Bolivia withdrew from a UN convention that labels the coca leaf in its natural state as a narcotic substance. That move, together with expelling the DEA in 2008 angered Washington, which has included Bolivia on a list of countries “failing demonstrably” in the war on drugs. Nevertheless, while previous efforts at crop replacement were failures, a new “social control” policy is proving effective. The program, which began in 2008 with financial support from the European Union, aims to work with the powerful coca growers unions to limit each registered grower to a small plot of coca. Coca planted outside permitted zones is still targeted for destruction, but the unions now support those efforts.  These new programs seem to be effective as the UN recently found that coca cultivation in Bolivia fell 12 percent in 2011.

Venezuelan finance minister Jorge Giordani presented the 2013 budget to national assembly this week, reports Reuters. The budget forecasts economic growth of 6 percent in 2013 with inflation falling to a range between 14-16 percent. While many financial analysts have predicted a sharp slowdown in Venezuelan growth after increased spending in the year before the election falls off, CEPR research has shown that Venezuela’s growth is sustainable. Venezuelanalysis, looks at the budget in terms of social spending, noting that it will make up over 37 percent of the budget. Education receives over 11 percent of the budget, while social security and health are set to receive 10 percent and 8 percent, respectively. As Venezuelanalysis notes, the regular budget doesn’t include all social spending as PDVSA and Fonden also contribute to social investment.

The crew from Argentina’s naval vessel returned from Ghana today, as the ship remains detained by the vulture fund NML Capital, reports the AP. Many members of the crew expressed frustration and dismay at returning to Argentina without the flagship vessel. Nevertheless, President Kirchner has refused to negotiate with the vulture fund, “As long as I am president, they can keep the frigate, but no one will take the liberty, sovereignty and dignity of this country - not a vulture fund, not anyone." Meanwhile, another Argentine vessel, which was forced to dock in South Africa for repairs, is being targeted by NML capital, reports Mercopress. The Argentine embassy is ready to respond should legal efforts to detain the ship go forward, however the news report notes some key differences with the situation in Ghana. For one, Elliot Capital, the parent company of NML, tried buying South African company bonds for cents on the dollar and suing for full value plus interest but has yet to win a court case in South Africa. For more on NML and the other vulture funds lobbying against Argentina, see here and here.

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