links about us archives search home
SustainabiliTankSustainabilitank menu graphic

Follow us on Twitter



Posted on on August 13th, 2009
by Pincas Jawetz (

Bolivian hillside village in Los Yungas, in the tropical Andes. Credit:Diana Cariboni/IPS


ENVIRONMENT-SOUTH AMERICA: Mapping the Riches of the Tropical Andes
By Humberto Márquez*

CARACAS, Aug 8 (Tierramérica) – The Ecosystems Map of the Northern and Central Andes could serve as a guide for environmental conservation of this South American area covering 1.5 million square kilometres and holding the world’s highest concentration of biodiversity.

The tropical Andes, the stretch of the mountain range that includes the Central Andes (Bolivia and Peru) and Northern Andes (Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela), were dubbed the “global epicentre of biodiversity” by British ecologist Norman Myers. 

The zone holds 45,000 types of plants (20,000 of which are endemic) and 3,400 vertebrate animal species (more than 1,500 of which are endemic) on just one percent of the planet’s land surface, according to figures from Conservation International. 

These riches “are distributed among 133 specific ecosystems that we have inventoried for our map of areas at more than 500 metres of altitude, of which 77 are in Peru, 69 in Bolivia, 31 in Ecuador, 22 in Colombia and 21 in Venezuela,” environmentalist Eulogio Chacón-Moreno, head of the project in Venezuela, told Tierramérica. 

The map, initially presented in April, was conceived as a tool to “identify gaps and priorities for conservation in the national agencies for protected areas, and to develop a set of indicators that allows us to assess the state of conservation of the Andean ecosystems,” said Chacón-Moreno. 

Such is the case of the “páramos”, treeless high plateaus “with a high percentage of endemic species, unique diversity for the way the species interrelate, and a highly important source of freshwater,” Vanessa Cartaya, of the regional Andean Páramo Project, sponsored by the Global Environment Facility, told Tierramérica. 

Cartaya underscored that the intensification of land use, expansion of the agricultural frontier, growing urbanisation and increased demand for potable water, as well as climate change, “affect the páramos to a great extent, making it essential to determine which areas are the priority for action.” 

The páramos are situated between 3,000 and 4,500 metres above sea level in the Northern and Central Andes, with temperature, humidity, sunshine, rain and wind factors that make them quite different from the lower altitude tropics that surround them. 

The high altitude flower known in Spanish as “frailejón” (Espeletia neriifolia) is emblematic of this ecosystem. 

“The páramo functions like a sponge, absorbing rainwater before filtering and releasing it” into other ecosystems, states the text that accompanies the map. The mountaintops hold remnants of glaciers and lakes that feed streams and springs. 

The project was based on studies and maps available from national institutes, standardising their data. Some of the maps used are: the Vegetation Map of Bolivia, Map of Ecosystems of the Colombian Andes, Map of Ecuador’s Continental Ecological Systems, Forest Map of Peru, and the Map of Ecological Units of Mérida, Venezuela. 

Plans are in the works to publish an atlas in 2010, with a preliminary version already available on the Internet. 

The mapping effort is a contribution to the Environmental Agenda of the Andean Community trade bloc (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru) as a guide to design and coordinate policies among the national environmental agencies, focusing on three themes: biodiversity, climate change and water resources. 

Backing the project are the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation, Spain’s Ministry of the Environment, and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. The work has been coordinated by NatureServe, a non-profit conservation organisation, and the Consortium for Sustainable Development of the Andean Eco-Region. 

Chacón-Moreno said the mapping will pave the way for studies “to identify ecosystems with more intense dynamics and patterns of fragmentation, which will serve as input to guide conservation policies.” 

Furthermore, experts will be able to “assess the vulnerability of Andean ecosystems through vegetation distribution models in scenarios of climate change and land-use change,” he added. 

For example, the Institute of Environmental and Ecological Sciences at the Venezuelan University of the Andes, led by Chacón-Moreno, has studied the spread of the mountainous cloud forest to the heights of the páramos in the highest sierras of southwest Venezuela, with records from 1952 to 1999 “showing how the páramo area has been reduced with the passing of the decades.” 

“The changes in vegetation cover demonstrate the effects of climate anomalies. In this respect, the map and the studies that support it allow the study across an entire region using a single standardised system of classification,” said the expert. 

A database will be a “planning tool that contains information about biodiversity,” communities and ecosystems, according to Chacón-Moreno. 

Of the 133 ecosystems identified, the most extensive is the High Andean Wet Scrubland (Puna Húmeda), covering nearly 10 million hectares in Peru and Bolivia, just 6.8 percent of which is officially protected. 

“Human use has greatly influenced the structure of these landscapes, subjected over the centuries to tree cutting and cyclical burns, so criteria need to be developed to better evaluate the natural landscapes,” which would lead to better understanding of the conservation of the Central Andes ecosystems, says the report that accompanies the map. 

The Tropical Andes run 4,000 km north-south. Few mountaintops are lower than 2,000 metres in altitude, and most of the landscape is steep inclines, deep gullies, vast valley floors, and sharp peaks. 

In the Central Andes, a vast “altiplano” or high plain is formed at more than 3,500 metres above sea level in southern Peru and western Bolivia. 

The altiplano’s towns and villages are home to more than 40 million people who rely heavily on the natural goods and services of the Andean ecosystems, including grains, fruit and vegetables produced in the area. 

“The map has also been proposed as an information and education tool for communities about the potential of their surroundings and the importance of preserving it, in order to obtain clean water and sustenance, as well as enjoying the beauty of the landscape,” said Cartaya. 

(*This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.) 


Posted on on August 1st, 2009
by Pincas Jawetz (

The following are the top 28 finalists in the Official 2009 New 7 Wonders of Nature competition – nominated from among hundreds of sites around the world that have been proposed.

see please: and you can vote – for up to 7 of the 28 list – at that link.

you can vote for your choice of 7 on line, by phone, or text message. It is expected that one billion people will vote and the winner will be announced in 2011.

A similar effort two years ago elected seven manmade wonders generated considerable publicity. We backed at that time Machu Picchu, Peru

These selections are being organized by a Swiss filmmaker and entrepreneur, Bernard Weber, and the committee that chose the 28 finalists included Federico Mayor, former chief of UNESCO, and Rex Weyler, co-founder of Greenpeace International.

Like everything else that has a UN connection, obviously such selections will be politicized beyond the simple angle of national pride – just see the country called Chinese Taipei for what most call Taiwan.

In this year of climate change we thing the Amazon will get the world’s nod, but watching in Vietnam (it is Halong Bay) how a whole country can get beyond a particular location we would have said that China could muster the vote, but will they do it for Taipei?

From among the many places on the list that we have been to – I am voting as Numero Uno for the Iguazu Falls.






























From the competition on the 7 Man-made wonders – a stamp collection from Gibraltar:

For all media inquiries and interview requests, please contact:

Tia B. Viering, Head of Communications
Mobile: +41 79-762-2784
Phone: +49 89 489 033 58 (Munich office)
Email at


Posted on on July 25th, 2009
by Pincas Jawetz (

Why the Amazon is important

Page last updated: 14 May 2008

By BBC’s Latin America Analyst James Painter

The Amazon Paradox

The rainforests are essential for removing carbon dioxide from the air.

As concerns grow about global warming and the future of the planet, much more international attention is being paid to the Amazon region.

There are three fundamental reasons why the region is important to the rest of the world.

The Amazon and the world’s climate

It is not surprising that the Amazon region is often called the “lungs of the world,” as it plays a critical role in the global carbon cycle that helps to shape the world’s climate.

About 200 billion tonnes of carbon are locked up in tropical vegetation around the world, of which about 70 billion tonnes are estimated to be in Amazon trees.

Rapid rates of deforestation cause more carbon to be converted into carbon dioxide, either when the trees are burnt down or more slowly by the decomposition of unburned wood.

And once the forests are gone, they cannot soak up the carbon from cars, power plants and factories. At the moment the Amazon is thought to absorb about 10 per cent of global fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions.


Burning is leading to a vicious circle of carbon release

The build-up of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is one of the key causes of global warming. About 20 per cent of annual global greenhouse emissions is estimated to come from the clearing of tropical forests around the world.

According to the Stern Report on the economics of climate change, the loss of natural forests around the world contributes more to global emissions each year than the transport sector.

Brazil, for example, is ranked in the top five of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, not because of its high emissions from fossil fuels but because of deforestation.

Tipping Point

A study released in February 2008 by a team of international scientists from Oxford University, the Potsdam Institute and others concluded that the Amazon rainforest was the second most vulnerable area in the world after the Arctic.


The loss of the Amazon is leading to the loss of the Arctic

The essential idea is that the drying of the Amazon and/or increased deforestation could cause what is called “dieback” of the rain forest and a vicious cycle – a large reduction in the area of Amazon rainforest could cause a significant rise in CO2 emissions, which in turn would raise global temperatures – which in turn would cause more drying of the Amazon.

Scientists and climate change modellers disagree how soon a tipping point might happen or how likely it is. But however low the probability, changes to the Amazon are likely to be a “high impact” event on the world’s climate.


The Amazon is the world’s largest tract of tropical rainforest, containing the Earth’s greatest biological reservoir – around 30 percent of all terrestrial species are found there.

The region is the main reason why Brazil is the most bio-diverse country in the world, with more than 50,000 described species of plants, 1,700 species of birds and between 500 and 700 different types each of amphibians, mammals and reptiles.

All this rich biodiversity is now being threatened by the destructive combination of stress from climate change and deforestation. Even though there are many unknowns about the Amazon’s future and its effect on the world’s climate, scientists agree that because of its biodiversity and the crucial role the region plays in shaping the climate, it is a matter of great urgency to find the right policy mix to conserve enough of the forest.



Brazil is also the biggest exporter of soya beans in the world

Who should decide the fate of the Amazon rainforest? The people who live there? The Brazilian government? The international community? Or individuals all over the world?

A remote tribe in the Brazilian Amazon says illegal loggers have already cleared around 40 per cent of their land, while the government has ignored their pleas for help.

The Tembe indians say that as the authorities failed to act, some of their community also became involved in selling wood illegally, but for now this has stopped.

Now they say the authorities should recognise they too have the right to make some money from the wood that surrounds their reserve by providing a plan for sustainable development.

The BBC’s Gary Duffy has been to the state of Para in northern Brazil to meet one of the leaders of the small Tembe indian community: Listen to Gary Duffy’s report (4 mins 13 secs)


The Amazon rainforest is the largest in the world, covering approximately seven million km² (40% of South America). Much of the global carbon cycle that is crucial to the world’s ecology and climate goes through the Amazon, earning it the label “the lungs of the Earth”.

The Amazon is a rich store of biodiversity, containing around a quarter of all terrestrial species. At 6,400km, the Amazon river is the second longest in the world, and accounts for one fifth of all fresh water drained into the world’s oceans.

The Amazon basin is also home to more than 30 million people of nine nations; Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela. Two-thirds of the Amazonian population are Brazilian, and more than half live in urban centres.

The Amazon by country

Explore BBC country briefings, reports, audio, and video using the interactive map.

The Brazil part of the Amazonas is a follows:


Brazilian Amazon surface area: 4,776,980 km²
Estimated deforestation: 700,000 km² since 1970
Brazil Population: 191.8 million (UN, 2007)
Forest cover: 56%

Brazil is South America’s most influential country, an economic giant and one of the world’s biggest democracies.

Brazil also contains 65% of the Amazon, yet it is estimated that 700,000km² has been lost through deforestation since 1970. This is an area larger than Afghanistan, and accounts for 80% of recent deforestation in the whole of the Amazon basin.

Despite the destruction, the Brazilian Amazon remains the largest continuous area of tropical forest in the world.

Cattle ranching accounts for around 70% of all forest loss. Soya production and illegal logging are the other main culprits. The construction of new hydroelectric dams and the building of roads across the region are also blamed for deforestation as they open access to low-cost land and attract new migrants.

Brazil is now the world’s largest exporter of soya and beef, much of it driven by growing demand from the rapidly-expanding Asian economies, particularly China.


Then please the following to the bottom of the piece


One Planet: best of the Amazon Paradox

February saw 200 troops go into Para to crack down on logging

The Amazon Paradox

BBC World Service’s One Planet programme presents a special edition bringing you the very best of the Amazon Paradox.

Listen (27 mins 04 secs)

Download (mp3)
The programme includes:
An in-depth report from the heart of Para, following Operation Arc Of Fire – the major police effort to stop deforestation across three major Amazon states.
A look at how the government of Amazonas State is trying to save its forests by building up other economic institutions, including a free trade zone, industrial capacity, and thriving cultural institutions – with everything from Roger Waters to operettas about chocolate cake.
The factors putting a sustainable Amazon under sustained pressure – the people who say they do not want to log, but cannot survive if they do not; the lobbying of the agriculture ministry and land reform agency; and the sceptics calling for “broader discussion” and more food production.
An exclusive interview with the British Prince Of Wales, calling for a better integrated rural development programme which “makes forests more valuable alive than dead.”
And a look at one beef farmer successfully avoiding impacting on the forest – while at the same time still making a profit.


BBC correspondents’ Amazon reports  The Amazon Paradox

The rainforests are essential for removing carbon dioxide from the air.

As concerns grow about global warming and the future of the planet, much more international attention is being paid to the Amazon region.

There are three fundamental reasons why the region is important to the rest of the world.

The Amazon and the world’s climate

It is not surprising that the Amazon region is often called the “lungs of the world,” as it plays a critical role in the global carbon cycle that helps to shape the world’s climate.

About 200 billion tonnes of carbon are locked up in tropical vegetation around the world, of which about 70 billion tonnes are estimated to be in Amazon trees.

Rapid rates of deforestation cause more carbon to be converted into carbon dioxide, either when the trees are burnt down or more slowly by the decomposition of unburned wood.

And once the forests are gone, they cannot soak up the carbon from cars, power plants and factories. At the moment the Amazon is thought to absorb about 10 per cent of global fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions.


Burning is leading to a vicious circle of carbon release

The build-up of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is one of the key causes of global warming. About 20 per cent of annual global greenhouse emissions is estimated to come from the clearing of tropical forests around the world.

According to the Stern Report on the economics of climate change, the loss of natural forests around the world contributes more to global emissions each year than the transport sector.

Brazil, for example, is ranked in the top five of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, not because of its high emissions from fossil fuels but because of deforestation.

Tipping Point

A study released in February 2008 by a team of international scientists from Oxford University, the Potsdam Institute and others concluded that the Amazon rainforest was the second most vulnerable area in the world after the Arctic.


The loss of the Amazon is leading to the loss of the Arctic

The essential idea is that the drying of the Amazon and/or increased deforestation could cause what is called “dieback” of the rain forest and a vicious cycle – a large reduction in the area of Amazon rainforest could cause a significant rise in CO2 emissions, which in turn would raise global temperatures – which in turn would cause more drying of the Amazon.

Scientists and climate change modellers disagree how soon a tipping point might happen or how likely it is. But however low the probability, changes to the Amazon are likely to be a “high impact” event on the world’s climate.


The Amazon is the world’s largest tract of tropical rainforest, containing the Earth’s greatest biological reservoir – around 30 percent of all terrestrial species are found there.

The region is the main reason why Brazil is the most bio-diverse country in the world, with more than 50,000 described species of plants, 1,700 species of birds and between 500 and 700 different types each of amphibians, mammals and reptiles.

All this rich biodiversity is now being threatened by the destructive combination of stress from climate change and deforestation. Even though there are many unknowns about the Amazon’s future and its effect on the world’s climate, scientists agree that because of its biodiversity and the crucial role the region plays in shaping the climate, it is a matter of great urgency to find the right policy mix to conserve enough of the forest.



Brazil is also the biggest exporter of soya beans in the world

Who should decide the fate of the Amazon rainforest? The people who live there? The Brazilian government? The international community? Or individuals all over the world?

A remote tribe in the Brazilian Amazon says illegal loggers have already cleared around 40 per cent of their land, while the government has ignored their pleas for help.

The Tembe indians say that as the authorities failed to act, some of their community also became involved in selling wood illegally, but for now this has stopped.

Now they say the authorities should recognise they too have the right to make some money from the wood that surrounds their reserve by providing a plan for sustainable development.

The BBC’s Gary Duffy has been to the state of Para in northern Brazil to meet one of the leaders of the small Tembe indian community: Listen to Gary Duffy’s report (4 mins 13 secs)


The Amazon rainforest is the largest in the world, covering approximately seven million km² (40% of South America). Much of the global carbon cycle that is crucial to the world’s ecology and climate goes through the Amazon, earning it the label “the lungs of the Earth”.

The Amazon is a rich store of biodiversity, containing around a quarter of all terrestrial species. At 6,400km, the Amazon river is the second longest in the world, and accounts for one fifth of all fresh water drained into the world’s oceans.

The Amazon basin is also home to more than 30 million people of nine nations; Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela. Two-thirds of the Amazonian population are Brazilian, and more than half live in urban centres.

The Amazon by country

Explore BBC country briefings, reports, audio, and video using the interactive map.

The Brazil part of the Amazonas is a follows:


Brazilian Amazon surface area: 4,776,980 km²
Estimated deforestation: 700,000 km² since 1970
Brazil Population: 191.8 million (UN, 2007)
Forest cover: 56%

Brazil is South America’s most influential country, an economic giant and one of the world’s biggest democracies.

Brazil also contains 65% of the Amazon, yet it is estimated that 700,000km² has been lost through deforestation since 1970. This is an area larger than Afghanistan, and accounts for 80% of recent deforestation in the whole of the Amazon basin.

Despite the destruction, the Brazilian Amazon remains the largest continuous area of tropical forest in the world.

Cattle ranching accounts for around 70% of all forest loss. Soya production and illegal logging are the other main culprits. The construction of new hydroelectric dams and the building of roads across the region are also blamed for deforestation as they open access to low-cost land and attract new migrants.

Brazil is now the world’s largest exporter of soya and beef, much of it driven by growing demand from the rapidly-expanding Asian economies, particularly China.


Then please the following to the bottom of the piece


One Planet: best of the Amazon Paradox

February saw 200 troops go into Para to crack down on logging

The Amazon Paradox

BBC World Service’s One Planet programme presents a special edition bringing you the very best of the Amazon Paradox.

Listen (27 mins 04 secs)

Download (mp3)
The programme includes:
An in-depth report from the heart of Para, following Operation Arc Of Fire – the major police effort to stop deforestation across three major Amazon states.
A look at how the government of Amazonas State is trying to save its forests by building up other economic institutions, including a free trade zone, industrial capacity, and thriving cultural institutions – with everything from Roger Waters to operettas about chocolate cake.
The factors putting a sustainable Amazon under sustained pressure – the people who say they do not want to log, but cannot survive if they do not; the lobbying of the agriculture ministry and land reform agency; and the sceptics calling for “broader discussion” and more food production.
An exclusive interview with the British Prince Of Wales, calling for a better integrated rural development programme which “makes forests more valuable alive than dead.”
And a look at one beef farmer successfully avoiding impacting on the forest – while at the same time still making a profit.


BBC correspondents’ Amazon reports…


Posted on on July 1st, 2009
by Pincas Jawetz (……

Ambassadorial Moves


Last September, in the midst of violence by opposition groups in the Bolivian departments of Santa Cruz and Pando, President Evo Morales accused U.S. Ambassador Phillip Goldberg of having a clandestine hand in that violence and ordered him out of the country.

That set off a chain reaction of diplomatic tit-for-tats. The Bush administration kicked out Bolivia’s ambassador to Washington, Gustavo Guzman, then “decertified” the Morales government’s anti-coca program and based on that cut Bolivia from the ATPDEA trade preference program. Unable to resist a good diplomatic mud-wrestling match with Washington, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez pushed himself into the game and kicked out the U.S. ambassador to his country as well, leading to the Bush administration’s ouster of Venezuela’s ambassador to the U.S.

By the time it was over. this diplomatic version of “screw you, no screw you“, left behind four embassies operating on auto-pilot, a path or torched diplomatic relations, and with the elimination of the trade preferences, thousands of Bolivian workers with their jobs on the line.

Well, this week, as part of the ongoing game of making nice between the Obama administration and the Chavez government, the two countries announced that they are returning their respective ambassadors to Caracas and Washington. U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy and Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez are dusting off their suitcases and getting ready to return to their former diplomatic outposts. This follows Obama’s and Chavez’s “all smiles” visit in April at the Summit of the Americas in Tobago.

So what about the diplomatic rift that started it all, between the Washington and La Paz?

Interestingly, even as Chavez, the supposed “bad boy” among the South American left presidents is rebuilding bridges, Morales’ moves with the U.S. are still sour. At Tobago, while Chavez was handing Obama a book to read, Morales was demanding that the U.S. President declare that his fingerprints weren’t on the alleged assassination conspiracy linked to four men killed by government troops in Santa Cruz.

So, will U.S. and Bolivian ambassadors be returning to their posts anytime soon? Certainly, the same ambassadors won’t be, as in the case of Venezuela.

Former Ambassador Goldberg probably wouldn’t choose to return to La Paz for all the saltenas in Cochabamba, given the constant state of combat between he and Morales. This week Mr. Goldberg was handed his new U.S. diplomatic assignment, leading the U.S. team in charge of implementing sanctions against the government of North Korea over its recent atomic tests. That probably fits Mr. Goldberg better anyway, who in Bolivia seemed much more at ease chastising foreign leaders than forming good relations with them, a task that Morales never made especially easy.

Former Ambassador Guzman, who I visited with a couple of months after his return to La Paz, probably wouldn’t head back to Washington for all the Starbucks coffee in Dupont Circle. He and his family, including a new baby, seemed quite happy to be back home in Bolivia once more.

This past week Secretary of State Clinton sent an emissary to talk with Morales, following up on a high level U.S. diplomatic mission here not long before. Clearly the Obama administration would like to get its Bolivian relations in order. Where Morales is on this is anyone’s guess.

But if an announcement between La Paz and Washington is forthcoming, akin to the one this week between Washington and Caracas, both countries will have to go through the process of nominating and approving a new pair of ambassadors.

In Washington that process will likely go smoothly, with few in the Senate likely to challenge whomever President Obama selects (I am betting on a Latino or Latina). In La Paz the case may be different. The opposition in the Senate already denied, last year, President Morales’ appointment of Pablo Solon as Ambassador to the UN (he now essentially serves in that post, but under a different title). That was pure politics, given the fact that Solon is probably the most able representative Bolivia could have in the U.S.

So watch in the next week or two for signs that Bolivia and the U.S. are ready to follow suit with Venezuela and refill the ambassador positions in their respective capitals. And then watch for it to get weird, as U.S./Bolivia relations just seem to have a tendency to do.


Posted on on April 30th, 2009
by Pincas Jawetz (

Latin America seems to have its own way of seeing things. President Obama may have a hard time making up for the 8 years of neglect during the Cheney/Bush Administration.
————- * * * —————
Iran’s President to Visit Brazil, Venezuela
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran visits Brazil on May 5 and 6 and will likely stop in Venezuela as well. “Many Latin America watchers expect the Brazil visit to represent the first significant advancement of ties between the two countries in the areas of commerce and energy cooperation,” writes Samuel Logan for ISN Security Watch in an analysis of Tehran’s growing ties with Latin America.

The Two Sides of Brazil’s New Energy Policy
IPS News reports on an energy plan unveiled by Brazil’s Environment Minister Carlos Minc at a G8 meeting in Italy. The plan involves greater emphasis on renewable sources (such as hydroelectric power) while pursing expanded production of fossil fuels. The proposal reflects a Summit of the Americas plan for countries in the Western Hemisphere to move toward generating half their energy from renewable sources by 2050.

Peru, Brazil Consider Using Real for Bilateral Trade
Peruvian President Alan García visited his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the two leaders announced their intentions to adopt Brazil’s real as the payment currency for bilateral trade, bypassing the dollar as “an intermediate currency.” During their meeting in Rio they also inaugurated a stretch of a road that will eventually connect Brazil’s Amazon region with Peruvian ports in the Pacific Ocean.

Venezuela-Peru Relations Strained
Caracas recalled its ambassador to Peru on Tuesday after Lima granted political asylum to the former Governor of the Venezuelan state of Zulia Manuel Rosales. Rosales faces corruption charges in Venezuela but he claims that he is victim of “political lynching” because of his opposition to the government of President Hugo Chávez and that attaining a fair trial in Venezuela is impossible. Venezuelan authorities claim that Peru’s decision violates international law and demanded Rosales’ arrest and return. Peruvian Foreign Minister José Antonio García Belaúnde said that Rosales’ political asylum was based on “humanitarian” considerations.

China, Peru Sign Free Trade Agreement
Peruvian Vice President Luis Giamprieti traveled to Beijing to co-sign a bilateral free-trade pact. Trade between the two countries reached $7.5 billion in 2008, reports China Daily. The agreement with Peru is Beijing’s second in Latin America after Chile and will remove tariffs from 90 percent of goods.

COA’s report Building the Hemispheric Growth Agenda: A New Framework for Policy spelled out proposals for energy partnerships in the Americas.



Posted on on February 3rd, 2009
by Pincas Jawetz (

¿Cambio? – “CHANGE?” – Latin America in the Era of Obama ― An Early Reading on the Administration:
– Bush’s legacy leaves an estranged Latin America
– Range of new Latin American issues vie for Washington’s attention
– Conflicting messages from Obama’s diverse cabinet
– Regional leaders express hope, remain cautious

Now that Barack Obama is several weeks into being the 44th President of the United States, expectations are running high in Latin America, where two terms of George Bush’s widely noted indifference to regional affairs have strained hemispheric relations.

Obama now must address a hemisphere that has developed a substantially different profile than existed eight years before when Bush first assumed office. A highly regarded would-be superpower, an impressive collection of left-leaning governments, a concerted attempt at regional integration, and the formation of an entire array of new institutions have emerged in Latin America since Washington’s near abandonment of the region in favor of the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.

Moreover, an intensifying security threat associated with drug trafficking and the demands of other, more clamorous issues have muscled their way to the forefront of the area’s concerns.

If he is to revive any significant U.S. silhouette in the Latin American region, Obama must live up to his oft-repeated but as yet untested campaign rhetoric calling for ‘change.’ Each of the agenda items which his presidency is facing in the region can be addressed with reasonable ease if the Obama administration’s supposed pragmatism prevails over the status quo policies which were a feature of both Clinton’s and Bush’s approach to the region. What is needed is a sense of respect for all of the hemisphere’s players rather than ideological Sturm und Drang or the assumption that augmented trade will provide a universal elixir.

War on drugs
An increasingly high-intensity war is being fought in Mexico between all-powerful drug trade organizations (DTO) and the country’s security forces. President Felipe Calderon deployed Mexico’s army soon after the onset of his presidency in early 2007. His mission was to dismantle the DTOs’ heavily armed networks as well as to attempt to moderate the unprecedented violence that had been growing in the country throughout 2006. Two years since the anti-drug trafficking offensive began, over 8,000 casualties have been violently claimed in cartel hot spots across Mexico. The two bloodiest battlefields have been right along the U.S. border in and around Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana, where DTOs are fiercely fighting over control of drug smuggling routes. Additionally, over 1,000 kidnappings were reported in 2008, exceeding the numbers encountered in Colombia or Iraq.

Early in 2009 the violent trend set in motion during the two previous years has shown no sign of slackening. Officials on both sides of the border only now have begun to give this issue the attention it deserves. Leaders from across the hemisphere have met on a number of occasions to initiate intelligence-sharing programs as well as attempt to jump start cooperative training, tracking and extradition procedures. Recently, President Calderón met with Guatemalan President Colom, Panamanian President Torrijos and Colombian President Uribe in Panama where the leaders underlined the indisputable importance of a coordinated response. Colombia remains the world’s leading cocaine producer despite the U.S.-backed multi-billion dollar anti-narcotics campaign, Plan Colombia. Meanwhile, Guatemala and Panama serve as major hubs in the smuggling chain that leads to the U.S.

The Tactics of a Drug Strategy: Colombia and Mexico
In the U.S., officials from relevant branches of the government have begun to point out the destabilizing effects that a lawless Mexico could have on the southern U.S., let alone the rest of Latin America. Last year, Guatemala suffered at least four grotesque massacres that occurred due to Mexico’s growing DTO influence in the country. Incidents in Honduras and El Salvador tell similar tales. An Afghanistanization of Mexico and Central America becomes a strong possibility, if not a near certainty, claims a report written by ex-Drug Czar General McCaffrey, referring to the specific areas within Mexican territory being wrested from the government’s de facto control by powerful drug lords who would then not hesitate to set up their own shadow authority. Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana immediately come to mind as likely locales when contemplating this scenario’s plausibility. Local police officers and military personnel have only loose control over certain quadrants in the major Mexican cities where they are. The potential for failed cities in such close proximity to the U.S. border could certainly produce a dangerous spillover effect similar to what is happening in the border towns that link Guatemala and Mexico, where a legal boundary exists only in name.

In an event that may have been more ceremonial that substantive, Mexico’s Calderón was the first foreign leader to meet with President Obama. The Mexican leader’s main mission in Washington, besides pushing for immigration reform, was the deadly threat of narcotrafficking and the perils posed to both countries. A harried Calderón strongly made the case for added U.S. cooperation in the anti-drug struggle, when he urged that “the more secure Mexico finds itself, the more secure [the] U.S. will be.” Obama certainly seems to understand the importance this threat represents for U.S.-Mexican security concerns. If this is so, it should be one of the Obama’s administration’s greatest priorities to address the responsibility of his country’s stake in the violence that Mexico is currently facing largely alone.

Assisting the Mexican government with military aid and intelligence will have little effect if the DTOs continue to arm themselves with US-secured weaponry from cross-border sources. Obama and Calderon both understand the need to collaborate on this issue, which carries dire consequences, but a traditional approach, which is the one likely to take place here, will not do the job. Just like Plan Colombia is having only a very limited impact on the drug trade that originates from Colombia, the recently started Merida Initiative is on track to suffer a similar fate. The importance of acknowledging the price that the war on drugs has cost the region, which has been fueled by high levels of US consumption and eager DTOs doing the supplying, must be of more than cosmetic note to the Obama administration.

Trade between the United States and Latin America has grown inexorably over the past decade, with Washington remaining the largest trading partner for many of the countries there, according to latest World Trade Organisation statistics. Even Venezuela – despite Hugo Chávez’s ‘anti-imperial’ rhetoric – relies heavily on U.S. commercial ties, with almost half of the country’s exports in 2007 heading for U.S. shores. The U.S., however, has lost considerable momentum in the area during the eight years of the Bush presidency, with Latin American countries moving increasingly towards a system of trade regionalisation which steadily limits Washington’s presence. A host of bodies like Mercosur and such collective entities as UNASUR, ALBA, and Petrocaribe have emerged promoting strong regional trade links, and largely have focused on South and Central American Basin locations. The prominence of these organisations has represented an implicit rejection of the Bush administration’s attempt to press the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in the region. This continental free trade zone became a major project designed to realize Washington’s vision for hemispheric trade, but Bush’s position was so inflexible that it forced the rest of Latin America into forging ahead with a system of its own choosing, relegating the U.S. a peripheral presence.

Whereas Bush resorted to negotiating bilateral free trade agreements with countries aligned with U.S. interests, Obama would be well advised to remove the blinkers of a specific model of free trade and attempt to engage with Latin America on terms more acceptable to the region as a whole. The newly emerging regional organisations have variously emphasised degrees of political integration and social considerations, like funding poor countries’ development programmes in order to temper the unadulterated free trade which both the Bush and Clinton White Houses envisaged. There is certainly a good deal of reason for Obama to address the issue of the growing isolation of the U.S. from the hemisphere’s main regional bodies. Those that exist form a patchwork meant to deal with specific issues concerned with distinct development models. No single model yet holds a monopoly on the region’s attention. However, any Latin American country keen to assert itself on the world stage as a political entity is now unlikely to submit to trade terms exclusively dictated by the United States. Obama must come to realise this in a way which Bush never did.

The one country which noticeably has moved into the U.S.’ stead in assuming a leading role in Latin America – particularly in this new wave of regional institutionalization – is Brazil. The Brazilian economy has exhibited a degree of resilience in the face of the ongoing global economic downturn and has become the most economically and geo-politically significant presence in the area. The sign to date of this is the nascent relationship between Lula and Obama which is likely to be a very constructive one. Just prior to the latter’s election, Lula described a potential Obama presidency as a representation of major change; adding to the momentum that already had begun in South America: “just as Brazil elected a metal worker, Bolivia elected an Indian, Venezuela elected [socialist leader Hugo] Chávez and Paraguay a bishop, I think that it would be an extraordinary thing if, in the largest economy in the world, a black were elected president of the United States.”

Statements that Lula has made since Obama’s inauguration illustrate that his enthusiasm for the new U.S. president certainly remains undiminished, but it is also tempered by the realistic expectations he has for him. Brazil’s strong voice as South America’s regional hegemon has echoed the expectations that the area has of Obama; asking for mutual respect as the most important guidepost. “Obama should transform that gesture of the U.S. people into a gesture for Latin America … respecting our sovereignty and an equitable coexistence,” explained Lula, particularly regarding leftist countries such as Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia. Nevertheless, after speaking on January 26 over the telephone, the two men spoke highly of the chances of cooperation, particularly on the issue of biofuels, with Lula telling Obama: “Your election transcends the United States.”

Given the current positive standing of Brazil in Latin America, good relations between Washington and Brasilia are vital for the existence of solid U.S. links with the region as a whole. What was once exclusively the U.S.’ backyard is now one which Obama must learn to share with Lula, and later, others. Indeed, Obama may be well advised to invite Brazil to play a more important role on the world stage by supporting its long-held ambition to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and other symbols of tenure in the winner’s circle.

One of the most important indicators of future U.S.-Latin American relations will be what President Obama will do regarding the Cuban embargo and other sanctions considered by Latin American leaders as being onerous and unacceptable. Most South American leaders have come forth with positive remarks about Castro and Cuba, and have strongly expressed their condemnation of U.S.-Cuban policy, which if anything became even more rigid under former President Bush. Sympathy for Cuba’s plight has grown arithmetically in recent years as left-leaning democracies have emerged throughout the region to which Havana is more a hero than a knave.

Guantánamo and Cuba
Obama’s discussion on U.S.-Cuban relations has laid out a welcomed course of possibly reversing President Bush’s restrictions on Cuban-American travel to the island as well as removing caps on financial remittances by family members being sent back to the island. A significant step was taken when President Obama ordered the closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility within a 16-month window due to its notoriety as a known torture center during the ongoing War on Terror. The prospect of shutting down Guantánamo was well received around the world, but most notably by Fidel Castro who cautiously praised Obama. “I expressed that personally I had not the least doubt of the honesty with which Obama, the 11th president since January 1 1959, expressed his ideas, but in spite of his noble intentions there remained many questions to answer,” said Castro in his Reflections column. Here we have an interesting duality being posed. It may well be that U.S. relations with Washington may affect a thaw far more quickly than with Venezuela, because Raúl Castro will be looked upon as an inherently less radical victor than is Chávez. Washington, however, may be mindful of the fact that Fidel Castro administered several generations of the left throughout Latin America – most notably Chile’s Salvador Allende, Grenada’s Maurice Bishop and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez.

Unfortunately, even though significant progress may be in the making regarding U.S.-Cuban relations, Obama has resorted to Cold War-era rhetoric by using the 50 year-old embargo as leverage to promote democratic change. President Lula of Brazil advised Obama to abolish the inflexible blockade as it lacks “any scientific or political explanation.” If Obama were to cease the outdated strategic stalemate with Cuba that has locked U.S. bilateral policy toward the island in an obsolete time capsule, it would help herald a new dawn for U.S.-Latin American relations as well as improving badly frayed hemispheric ties.

Chávez: Lightning Rod & Yolk
For well over a century, the Monroe doctrine dictated U.S. policy towards the rest of the Americas. Since 1823, until recently, Washington basically designated the hemisphere as exclusively an American sphere of influence, and forbade the application of any outside forces to its perceived extended territory. However, the past eight years have seen U.S. influence in Latin America badly erode and progressively usurped by powers from outside the hemisphere. Russia and China in particular have been active in the region, as well as Iran and the European Union, among others, as the continent has diversified its trade links. Hugo Chávez has acted as a ‘lightning rod’ for many of these changes and for attracting the business and political interests of some of these countries to the continent, but their influence is more widespread and variegated than this connection would suggest.

Building New Links
According to Reuters, “Russia and Venezuela have signed 12 arms contracts worth $4.4 billion over the past two years,” and the two countries’ navies recently engaged in joint maneuvers. Russian President Dimitri Medvedev, has visited not just Chávez, but also the Castro brothers in Cuba, and Lula in Brazil, and has received Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega and Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Moscow. On December 23rd 2008, France and Brazil signed a deal worth, according to the New York Times, $12 billion for helicopters and submarines, and China’s trade with the region has risen tenfold during the Bush presidency, according to the Guardian. Moreover, Iran has struck trade deals with Venezuela and presidents Chávez and Ahmadinejad have worked together to revitalize OPEC.

The new Obama administration has issued mixed reactions to this presence of foreign powers in the U.S.’ traditional sphere of influence. Speaking on January 27, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates, one of the few members of the Bush administration to retain his post under President Obama, said: “I’m more concerned about Iranian meddling in the region than I am the Russians.” Gates expressed concern at the “frankly subversive activity that the Iranians are carrying on in a number of places in Latin America,” but made it clear he doesn’t see Russian involvement, not even their recent naval maneuvers with Venezuela, as a threat, a view that Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Tom Shannon has previously voiced.

Obama must not place unquestioning faith in Gates’ recent comments about Iranian influence in Latin America, which have demonstrated that his roots lie firmly in the Bush administration. The White House under Obama already has begun drafting a letter, in a conciliatory gesture, to the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Gates’ view on Iran’s links with Chávez in particular seems not to tally with Obama’s readiness for a de-marche. Instead of firing hostile rhetorical shots, Obama would be prudent to continue on his diplomatic path and remember that Iran’s capabilities and development abilities in the Western hemisphere are limited (particularly now due to their straitened economy); certainly in military terms. Today Tehran poses a far lesser threat to the U.S. than Moscow.

A Mixed Record on Bilateral Trade
In addition to attracting outside influences, it has been Chávez who has been instrumental in spreading a wave of ‘21st Century Socialism’ across the region, influencing countries like Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Honduras. Outside Chávez’s direct sphere of influence lie other centre-left governments, encompassing Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Guatemala. Thus, the dwindling pool of countries which remain truly sympathetic to traditional U.S. goals in the region is limited to no more than Colombia, Peru, El Salvador and sometimes Mexico. In this respect, Obama inherits a region very much different to what his predecessors had to face.

Many of these countries have experienced frosty relations with the U.S. during Bush’s eight years in power. Both Venezuela and Bolivia expelled their U.S. ambassadors in September 2008, and Chávez was famously the subject of a coup in 2002 to which the CIA was allegedly linked. Evo Morales demanded the removal of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) office from Bolivia in November 2008, and Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa elected in October 2007 not to renew the U.S.’ lease on the Manta airbase in the country, forcing U.S. military personnel to leave the area when it expires this year.

The Obama administration’s approach again has been mixed in regard to these countries. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said after the January 25 constitutional referendum in Bolivia: “I don ´t think the results are final at this point, but we look forward to working with the Bolivian government in ways we can to further democracy and, you know, prosperity in the hemisphere,” a comment which drew a warm response from Evo Morales. “If that’s the message I feel it’s a message that is going to be respectful of the decisions of the Bolivian government, because before, with the government of Bush, we had many problems,” he told Mercopress, and Bolivia’s foreign minister David Choquehuanca has subsequently hinted that the countries’ respective ambassadors could soon be reestablished.

With Venezuela, on the other hand, things are far muddier. Both Obama’s cabinet and Chávez have exchanged gestures alternating between confrontational and accommodating in recent weeks. In their initial exchanges of rhetorical salvos, Chávez welcomed Obama’s election as a historic occasion that could potentially lead to an amiable relationship. But while Obama at first may have been demonstrating a new generosity of spirit when it came to unconditional negotiations with Venezuela and Iran – an approach which drew attacks against him from then rival primary candidate Hillary Clinton – he too began to exchange barbs with Washington’s traditional pariahs, attacking Chávez for his alleged links to Colombia’s FARC in the week prior to his inauguration. “Chávez has been a force that has interrupted progress in the region,” Obama said, which prompted the Venezuelan to retort: “hopefully I am wrong, but I think Obama will be the same harmful influence as Bush.”

Since Obama’s inauguration, Washington’s approach towards Venezuela has become even less clear. James Steinberg, the new U.S. Deputy Secretary of State said on January 23: “Our friends and partners in Latin America are looking to the United States to provide strong and sustained leadership in the region, as a counterweight to governments like those currently in power in Venezuela and Bolivia which pursue policies which do not serve the interests of their people or the region.” However, on the same day, Chávez appeared to soften his approach, saying of the new president: “He is a man with good intentions; he has immediately eliminated Guantanamo prison, and that should be applauded … I am very happy and the world is happy that this young president has arrived … [we] welcome the new government and we are filled with hope.” What is alarming when looking upon the whole exchange are the combative words of James Steinberg, who, as Deputy Secretary of State could play a substantial role in formulating a new Latin America policy, despite his professional history not revealing an indication of a weighty background in U.S.-Latin American relations.

As of now, both President Obama and President Chávez appear to be carelessly lobbing condemnations at each other that may come back to bedevil prospects for them to engage in useful talks. Obama may be too hastily dispensing brimstone on Venezuela, a subject in which he is poorly versed, knowing well that Chávez’s sclerotic nature might win him a thunderous response at home while simultaneously alienating him from Washington. Equally, Chávez is now using a campaign rhetoric that has the dangerous potential of becoming a fixed public position. OAS secretary general José Miguel Insulza has expressed the conviction that Caracas should take the vagueness of Obama’s statements with a grain of salt; advice that both sides of this diplomatic spat might want to heed.

There is no need or desire for Obama to reassert U.S. hegemony in Latin America – indeed, the U.S., given the new display of regional standing on the part of Brazil as much as the significant presence of Chávez, almost certainly lacks the ability to do so. Obama must come to recognise that the newly established presence of such non-traditional Latin American players as Iran, China and Russia has come about primarily as a reaction to the U.S.’ post-9/11 neglect of the hemisphere. If he is to halt the growing shadow cast by these countries, and act to secure the fuel and other vital resources and commodities which Washington traditionally has found in Latin America, he must begin to engage constructively with the region at a brisk gait rather than weighing in with Bush-style caudillismo.

Obama’s Cabinet
Having appointed the tough-minded Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State and Ron Kirk as his Trade Representative, Obama has two potentially strong free traders in important cabinet positions. Although this is not the position Clinton took during the campaign, she nevertheless takes a flexible point of view towards various pending free trade pacts. In her confirmation hearing on January 15h, Clinton addressed Latin America as a lesser concern than Australia and South East Asia in discussing her foreign policy priorities, and Latin America is one of the few regions without a special envoy in the State Department. During her own presidential campaign, the future Secretary of State berated Obama’s willingness to engage in dialogue with the Castro brothers “unconditionally,” and also has backed Alvaro Uribe’s Colombia in no uncertain terms in its various confrontations with Venezuela.

However, Clinton has made some promising remarks since assuming her position in the Obama administration. “We will return to a policy of vigorous involvement — partnership even — with Latin America, from the Caribbean, to Central America, to South America,” she said shortly before Obama’s inauguration. Latin America can also hope that Obama feels he owes a ‘debt’ of attention to the U.S.’ Latino population which was instrumental in his election. Indeed, Clinton, in a sign that this may be true of the wider cabinet, has said: “We share common political, economic and strategic interests with our friends to the south, as well as many of our citizens who share ancestral and cultural legacies.”

The position of Commerce Secretary in Obama’s cabinet is on the verge of being filled by Senator Judd Gregg, after the January 4, 2009 withdrawal of Bill Richardson, who is under investigation by the FBI and a federal grand jury for alleged campaign finance irregularities. Richardson, despite being a staunch advocate of free trade, particularly NAFTA himself, would have brought to the administration a wealth of knowledge and experience on Latin American issues. As COHA noted in its original response to his appointment in December, “Richardson is in touch with … hemispheric trends and could be of inestimable value to the new administration, in presenting a new face to the region and a definitive end to the fallow relations that Washington has had towards the region” (‘Is Richardson’s appointment as Secretary of Commerce good news for NAFTA’s revitalization? It certainly is good news for the region’s self-esteem’, December 15 2008).

Stripped of Richardson as one of his point men on trade issues, Obama’s cabinet remains devoid of anyone with a strong focus on Latin America. However, he does have in one of his advisors and White House Counsel someone who COHA has previously lauded as “The right man to revive deeply flawed U.S. – Latin American relations.” Greg Craig has espoused the adoption of a multilateral approach toward Latin America and has spoken out in his calling for respecting sovereign regional governments of varying political orientation, an approach which could prove to be highly promising.


Plus ça change
Barack Obama should not rush to follow a well worn path that his predecessors have lamentably taken by relegating Latin America to a peripheral concern. When seeking first tier U.S. foreign policy goals, second-rate punditry is not good enough. If Obama is to rebuild the shattered U.S. image which is currently being observed from Latin America, he must give the region a sense of priority in recognition of Washington’s longstanding legacy in the area.

One consequence of the diminishing U.S. regional stature has been an encroaching foreign influence which has taken advantage of the vacuum created by Bush’s myopic foreign policy, particularly the distraction provided by Iraq. The effect of this outside influence has been compounded by an emphatic move towards a new conception of regionalism which increasingly excludes United States participation, examples of which include UNASUR, ALBA, the Rio Group, and the Ibero-American summit.

Obama should fulfil his campaign promise to meet unconditionally with the region’s leaders regardless of their political orientation – specifically meaning Raul Castro, Hugo Chávez, and Evo Morales. Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the disaffected South American states reached a low point last year with the reciprocal expulsion of ambassadors involving the U.S., Bolivia and Venezuela. Even though Chávez expressed the hope that Venezuela’s relations with the U.S. could improve under Obama, he has since tempered his enthusiasm following perceived dismissive remarks made by the new U.S. administration, and actions from Washington that were not aimed at winning friends.

Obama: Sticking Together a Viable Latin America Policy
Obama cannot afford to neglect the cordial relationship he has already begun developing with Lula in Brazil. Eight years of ignorance and neglect in Washington has enabled Brazil to emerge as a benign regional semi-superpower. The country has assumed a central role in the various moves toward political and economic autonomy which South America has taken away from the Bush presidency. There is no avoiding the fact that if Washington is to make headway in Latin America today, it must have the blessing of Lula or his successor.

Even though the announced closing of the Guantánamo detention facility and a proposed easing on the remittance and travel ban affecting Cuban Americans has been warmly welcomed, Obama must consider among his immediate priorities a truly significant reassessment of U.S. policy towards Cuba. This might also include another unilateral policy – the return of the base on Guantánamo to Cuba. It is an act of pure colonialism for Washington to continue to hold onto a facility it intentionally obtained through its power rather than through reason, and perpetuates the image of the U.S. as an ‘empire’ in parts of Latin America. The next step should be the lifting (unilaterally, if need be) of the almost five decade-old Cold War-era embargo. This puerile and ineffectual policy has been repeatedly rejected by Latin Americans and its abolition would go a long way towards repairing battered U.S. relations with the region.

Revising the U.S. approach to its 30-year old failed war on drugs, which is now featuring a growing wave of transnational violence, should also be high on Obama’s agenda. Considering that the United States is the world’s largest and most lucrative market for the sale of these illicit substances, creating security pacts with neighbouring countries in order to clamp down on the supply, will continue to have little effect as long as domestic demand remains unimpaired.

The makeup of Obama’s cabinet may point towards the adoption of a policy less bold than Latin America is calling for – even expecting – from the new administration. The implications of Hillary Clinton’s appointment as Secretary of State are hard to escape from; it is her position as Washington’s top diplomat which will dictate the administration’s approach to Latin America, for it is she who will be making most of the appointments of first and second tier personnel who will be exercising their jurisdiction over regional decision making. The loss of a respected Latin Americanist like Bill Richardson over a campaign-donation matter certainly is a grievous blow, and the composition of Obama’s cabinet suggests at first glance that the status quo could very well prevail.

However, the signals that the Obama administration has sent during its few weeks in office have not been enough to evaluate either its innovative nature or its willingness to break with the past; it has not been seated long enough to establish whether it is prepared to embrace Latin America in all of its variegated forms. Since January 20, the administration has issued a series of remarks, both promising and troublesome. The statements made by Steinberg and Gates demonstrate that the old order’s dogma continues to permeate Washington, whereas the approach to date of Clinton, Wood and Shannon, as well as Obama himself, hints that a significant shift could be in the offing when it comes to hemispheric relations. Provided the more progressive wing of the administration prevails, there may still be hope for change in Washington’s stance on Latin America.

This analysis was prepared by Research Associates Tomás Ayuso & Guy Hursthouse
February 3rd, 2009


Posted on on January 28th, 2009
by Pincas Jawetz (


World Social Forum: SOS from the Amazon
Mario Osava

BELEM, Brazil, Jan 27 (IPS) – A human banner made up of more than 1,000 people, seen and photographed from the air, sent the message “SOS Amazon” to the world, in the first action taken by indigenous people hours before the opening in northern Brazil on Tuesday of the 2009 World Social Forum (WSF). The mass message reflects “our concern about global warming, whose impact we will be the first to feel, although we, the peoples of the Amazon, have protected and cared for the forests,” Francisco Avelino Batista, an Apurinan Indian from the Purus river valley in the Brazilian Amazon, told IPS.

“We are raising our voices as a wake-up call to the world, especially the rich countries that are hastening its destruction,” said Edmundo Omore, a member of the Xavante indigenous community from the west-central state of Mato Grosso on the border between the Amazon region and the Cerrado, a vast savannah region in the centre of the country. Both men belong to the Coordinating Committee of Indigenous Organisations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB), which joined the Quito-based Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organisations of the Amazon Basin (COICA) to create their “message from the heart of the Amazon.”

Nearly 1,300 indigenous people from about 50 countries, although mainly from Brazil, plan to raise the issues of their rights as original peoples and environmental preservation at this year’s edition of the WSF, which runs through Sunday in Belém, a city of 1.4 million people and the northeastern gateway to the Amazon.

Indigenous people have participated in the WSF in previous years, but this time a much larger presence was sought. The aim was for 2,000 to take part, but transport costs and financial difficulties prevented many participants from coming from other countries and from remote areas within Brazil itself.

In addition to indigenous groups, original peoples at the WSF include Quilombolas (members of communities of Afro-Brazilian descendants of escaped slaves) and other native peoples.

The key location chosen for the WSF, and the various global crises that are occurring, have created “a special moment” for original peoples to take a leading role, according to Roberto Espinoza, an adviser to the Andean Coordination of Indigenous Organisations (CAOI).

“A crisis of civilisation” is under way, said Espinoza, who described the serious economic, energy and food problems, as well as climate change, as part of the same phenomenon.

In this situation, indigenous people should have political participation as of right, not “as folklore or as a merely cultural contribution,” Espinoza, one of the coordinators of the indigenous peoples’ presence at the WSF, told IPS.

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, approved by the United Nations General Assembly, is of paramount importance here, he said. It should not be seen as a “utopian” document; rather, its provisions should be binding, like those of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169 on indigenous and tribal peoples.

Espinoza said he hoped this WSF would produce an agreement for global demonstrations similar to those held in 2003 against the United States’ invasion of Iraq.

This time around, the goal would be to mobilise “in defence of Mother Earth and against the commercialisation of life,” added to specific causes championed by each nation, such as the fight against hydroelectric power stations in Brazil that flood vast areas of Amazon rainforest and displace riverbank dwellers, he said.

The voices of indigenous people are bound to have a greater impact on environmental matters when “the risk of catastrophic climate change in the near future and disputes over natural resources are threatening the survival not only of indigenous peoples, but of humanity itself,” Espinoza said.
belonging to the Tukano ethnic group.

Indigenous and environmental issues will be even more visible on Wednesday, which is to be dedicated entirely to the Amazon region in an attempt to revitalise the PanAmazon Social Forum, inactive since 2005.

Launching a campaign led by the peoples of the Amazon, who “want a society that values them and understands the value that the land has for them,” is a proposal for discussion at the WSF, according to Miquelina Machado, a COIAB leader belonging to the Tukano ethnic group.

This is necessary for “a greater balance with nature,” at a time when Brazil’s plans for economic growth and the physical integration of South America are fuelling projects which have “strong negative impacts on the Amazon and Andean regions,” she told IPS.

“The hydroelectric dams flood the land and destroy biodiversity,” she said, while lamenting the fact that attempts to block the building of highways, that cause immense deforestation, have been frustrated in the courts, “which have more power.”

The presence at the WSF of presidents of Amazon region countries like Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, as well as Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, should increase the impact of the event, hopefully benefiting the peoples of the Amazon, Machado concluded.

Indigenous peoples’ voices should be heard, because “we are the ones who were born and raised in the middle of the forest, and who lead a lifestyle that contrasts with the ambition of capitalism, which does not bring benefits to all,” said Omoré.

Furthermore, “we are the first to suffer the effects” of climate change. Rich people can cool themselves down with air conditioners and buy food in supermarkets, but “we depend on the fish in the river and the animals in the forest, so we are concerned about the future that belongs to everyone,” added Batista.


Posted on on November 19th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (

 From The washington Center on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA):

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Embark on a Highly Revealing Latin American Journey Sure to Give Washington Heartburn –
•       After attending the APEC Summit in Peru, Russian leader to visit Brazil, Venezuela and Cuba

•       Could a new order for Russian military equipment be placed in Caracas?

•       Russia continues to secure a position as a growing ally of rising-star Brazil

•       First visit of a Russian leader to Cuba in 8 years; $355 million loan to be extended to Havana

•       Medvedev will not visit Cold War-era ally Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and snubs Buenos Aires

•       Russia’s visit should communicate a message to President-elect Barack Obama: do not forget Latin America, because Russia has not

•       Will the Obama administration back up Bush’s decision to re-constitute Fourth Fleet?

After attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Lima on November 21-22, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev will embark on a short regional tour, where he will meet the leaders of Brazil, Venezuela and Cuba, for which Moscow is intensely motivated for different reasons.

The selection of the countries that the Russian leader will visit is not as surprising as those not included in his itinerary. Nevertheless, each country – even host nation Peru – is to some degree an ally of Russia, and a visit by Medvedev will keep the Russian flag flying high in the region. All countries that will be visited by the Russian leader, with the exception of Peru, are currently experiencing somewhat strained relations with Washington, and are advocates of a less dominant American role in the integration of the Western Hemisphere.

Even if no particular agreement is reached with the countries Medvedev is to visit the tour should serve as a reminder to the Bush White House, as well as incoming President Barack Obama, that Russia has not forgotten Latin America, and is now beginning to consider it Moscow’s backyard, just as Washington has regarded the Caucasus as its own fiefdom. The meeting could also result in a new Venezuelan weapons purchase as Medvedev is scheduled to extend the $355 million credit to Havana. Both the U.S. and Russia know that Washington is a wounded regional player and could be surpassed by the Kremlin, unless the former is proposed to constructively engage in a respectful and well-meaning policy to the rest of the hemisphere.
APEC: What Can Be Expected?

The APEC summit follows upon last week’s G-20 meeting, where the major point of discussion was the ongoing world financial crisis. In a telegram sent to Peruvian President Alan Garcia to confirm his attendance, Medvedev wrote that he hoped that the APEC participants “will have a constructive dialogue on the wide range of measures aimed at sustained development of the Asia-Pacific region.” The Russian leader went on to say that “one of the key aspects in this respect is the search for best solutions for such urgent problems as the prices for food and energy resources, the climate change.”

Apart from his APEC meeting commitments, Medvedev will look forward to personal meetings with fellow leaders in attendance. For example, Kyodo reported that a bilateral meeting will take place between Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and Medvedev during the summit. RIA Novosti has mentioned that Medvedev will also meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

The Kremlin leader may also decide to indicate that Moscow is soliciting Russian membership in the World Trade Organization as well as push for greater Russian integration into the APEC economic region. This could be interpreted as part of a continuing initiative in which Moscow will invite the economies of Latin America and the Pacific toward closer ties with Russia as a possible major trading partner. According to a report by RIA Novosti, trade between Russia and Latin America has exhibited an annual growth rate of 25-30% over the past few years, and is expected to hit a record of $15 billion in 2008.

Brazil: A Rising Star
After the APEC meeting, Medvedev will go on to visit Brazil, which is in itself hardly startling. During the Vladimir Putin years, Russia courted Brazil and attempted to strengthen ties with the South American giant by dispatching Russian cabinet ministers to visit the country. For example, Russian Security Council secretary, Nikolai Patruchev, has been quoted by the Russian news agency Pravda as observing that “Brazil is the leader of Latin America and because of that we are interested in creating a strategic relationship.”

Agreements between both countries range from commerce to education, military, and space cooperation. Nevertheless, Russia is seeking greater influence in Brazil along with a number of other countries such as France, China, South Africa, as well as India.


Venezuela: Petrodollars-r-Us
Meetings between high level Russian officials and representatives in Venezuela are nothing new. Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez has visited Russia over half a dozen times since taking power. Meetings by the leaders of both countries often result in a purchase of Russian military equipment in exchange for Venezuelan petro-dollars.

The Russian visit comes on the heels of the visit of two Russian Tu-16 medium-range bombers to Venezuela this past summer. The Russians have also dispatched elements of its fleet led by the guided-missile cruiser Peter the Great to do a port visit as well as carry out war games with their Venezuelan counterparts in the Caribbean. This has raised some Cold War-era alarms in Washington, as it is the first time since the end of the Cold War that the Russian military enters the Western Hemisphere. In mid-October, the Russian news agency Kommersant mentioned that Russian and Venezuelan officials were discussing the Venezuelan purchase of Russian BMP-3 armored vehicles; Medvedev and Chavez are expected to sign the contract during the Russian leader’s upcoming visit. In addition Russia is building a Kalishnikov-assault rifle factory on Venezuelan soil, as well a complimentary one nearby to manufacture the rifles’ ammunition. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has declared that “the weaponry we supply [to Latin America] is not offensive […] these are purely defensive means in their technical specifications.”

Lavrov is scheduled to meet today with conservative Colombian president Alvaro Uribe and foreign minister Jaime Bermudez to discuss possible Russian investment in Colombia. In an attempt to offset Venezuela’s ties to Russia, Colombia has increased its high-level contacts with Moscow this past year. Colombian vice president Francisco Santos traveled to Russia in June to attend the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, and defense minister Juan Manuel Santos attended an Interpol summit held in Moscow in October. Though Colombia is not an APEC member, Uribe’s government has displayed an increasing interest in generating closer economic links with Russia, fearing that it is courting political isolation by having the outgoing Bush administration being one of its few close friends.

Cuba: The Forgotten Ally
Russian-Cuban relations will always be compared to their standing during the height of the Cold War, when the Caribbean island was the Soviet Union’s strongest ally in the Western Hemisphere. The relationship decayed after the dissolution of the USSR. Even after Putin met with Fidel Castro in Cuba in 2000, the resulting rapport did not come close to what it once was.

The meeting will bring together Medvedev and Fidel’s brother, Raul Castro. It is unclear what the delegations will discuss, though they will probably focus on ways to promote greater cooperation. Early in November, Moscow approved a state loan to Cuba for $355 million. The loan’s provisions required that it had to be used to purchase Russian goods and services.

In an interview with COHA, Wayne Smith, former head of the U.S. interests section in Havana and the director of the Cuba Program at the Center for International Policy, explained “I don’t foresee anything major coming out of this meeting, Russia’s interest seems to be centered around Venezuela these days.” Smith went on to mention that “a Russian military delegation visited Havana some months ago, and there was speculation about growing military cooperation between both countries but nothing came out of it.”

The former U.S. diplomat mentioned that when military exercises between Russia and Venezuela take place Cuba is invited to participate, “that would be extremely interesting.” Indeed, such a scenario may add more fuel to the fire of Bush administration officials who promoted the restoration of the Fourth Fleet which had been dismantled in 1950, for the purpose of patrolling Latin American waters when it came to providing medical and humanitarian services, as well as project U.S. power in the Western Hemisphere.


The Other Side of the Coin:
The countries Medvedev chose to visit provide some indication of Russian foreign policy priorities when it comes to the Western Hemisphere. For example, Argentina, which at one point was considered an important regional power and to this day has strong commercial ties with Russia, has been largely ignored. In 2006, there were reports that Russia was attempting to sell military equipment to Argentina; however, nothing materialized. Such rumors have resurfaced again in early November 2008, when a report in the ITAR-TASS Russian state news agency quoted the director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, Mikhail Dmitriyev, as saying that there is a growing trend of military technical cooperation between Russia and Argentina. The article mentions concrete plans for cooperation, including radar stations and a “helicopter programme, including supplies and setting up of centres for servicing helicopter hardware, possibly, not only in Argentina but also at a regional scale.” However, even this possibility for greater cooperation with Argentina is not enough to compel the Russian leader stop over even briefly in the Argentine capital.

Likewise Nicaragua, under the leadership of Daniel Ortega, Moscow’s ally during the Cold War, is being overlooked. Ortega could use some international support, particularly after the controversial results of recent municipal elections, in which the ruling Sandinista party was judged the winner in a close vote. The elections were held almost without international observers and there have been widespread accusations of electoral fraud. The civic group Ethics and Transparency said it had recorded irregularities in 32 percent of the polling places it monitored. An AP report quotes State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood as saying “unfortunately, the [Nicaraguan] Supreme Electoral Council’s decision to not accredit credible domestic and international election observers has made it difficult to […] properly assess the outcome of the elections.” Furthermore, Washington is not amused as Nicaragua has been, so far, the only country (besides Russia) to recognize the independence of Georgia’s breakaway republics, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This past summer, Russia made a military incursion into Georgia and subsequently, to Washington’s anger, recognized both breakaway regions as independent states.

Nevertheless, a RIA Novosti article briefly mentions that the leaders of both of the aforementioned countries, Argentina’s Cristina de Kirchner and Nicaragua’s Ortega, as well as Uruguay’s Tabare Vazquez, are expected to visit Moscow in the coming months.

One should note that Peru itself would not have been on Medvedev’s agenda if it had not been the organizer of the APEC 2008 summit. Lima and Moscow maintained good defense relations during the Soviet era, including major purchases of Soviet warplanes and tanks during that period. In mid-October, Mercopress published a report that Chile is continuing with its aggressive acquisition policy by purchasing F-16 warplanes from Holland, as well as from the U.S. The report explains that “when all [plans] are delivered Chile’s Air Force will have 44 F16, probably the strongest and most modern in the continent [with the probable exception of Venezuela].”

When one contemplates Chilean modernization initiatives, its historically antagonistic relations with Peru come to mind. Peru’s largely hardware is mostly Russian or Soviet-made, including Sukhoi and MiG warplanes, as well as Mi-type helicopters. President Garcia may attempt to arrange a personal meeting with Medvedev to discuss bilateral defense issues and the possible agreements for upgrades of Russian military equipment. Interviewed by COHA, a senior Peruvian army official explained that “Russia may not see Peru as a critical ally, but the Peruvian military certainly regards Russian military equipment as critical to its national defense […] the Garcia administration must safeguard this strategic relationship.”

Medvedev’s abbreviated Latin America tour provides an idea of the key countries that Russian strategic policy sees as being key to its national interests. Since a number of Latin American governments in power are determined to withdraw from any form of dependence on Washington, the Russian leader is likely to seize the opportunity and further develop alliances with nations in the region, other than Brazil and Venezuela.

The incoming Obama administration soon will have to begin assessing its ties to various Latin American nations and the nature of its ties with the region. Policy decisions such as the ongoing and largely ineffective Cuban embargo, and a confrontational stance toward Venezuela (illustrated by the re-establishment of the Fourth Fleet) are likely to be revisited by the new administration and could be rejected. Medvedev’s present round of calls, as well as a growing presence by extra-hemispheric actors like the European Union, China, India and Iran, demonstrate that the region is open to new relationships outside of the hemisphere and is getting noticed.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Fellow Alex Sánchez
November 19th, 2008


Posted on on November 8th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (

World News Desk – November 6, 2008,…
World Reacts to Historic Presidential Win: Celebrations erupted across the world as American citizens elected Barack Obama to be the 44th president of th   United States.

U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) comes out to greet the crowd, along with his wife, Michelle, and children Malia, 10, and Sasha 7, at his Election Night Rally in Grant Park, Chicago, Illinois, Nov. 4, 2008.
Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT

Newspaper headlines from Azerbaijan to Argentina speculated about what kind of changes a presidency under Mr. Obama would bring to the world, who has been viewed as a global denizen and force of international unification.

Chandra Bhan Prasad, a prominent Indian author: “This is America’s second revolution, and Obama’s victory will boost the esteem of the underprivileged social classes and ethnic groups the world over” (Washington Post).

Samir Saadi, a Saudi journalist: “Given Obama’s name, his background, the doubts about his religion, Americans still voted for him and this proved that America is a democracy,’ he said. ‘People here are starting to believe in the U.S. again'” (ibid.).

Viktor Yerofeyev, Russian novelist: “The choice of an African American president in the United States overturns the whole idea of the stiff and conservative America. This means that America did wake up. This means that America is again open for free and democratic values. America has once again become a good model to emulate. It has again become a great country” (ibid.).

Kenya, the nation from where Mr. Obama’s late father was born, even declared a national holiday to celebrate the U.S. senator’s victory to the “most powerful office on earth” (Daily Nation).

Many world leaders were equally optimistic.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd: “Senator Obama’s message of hope is not just for America’s future, it is also a message of hope for the world as well” (Washington Post).

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen: “Barack Obama’s remarkable personal story—allied to his eloquence and his huge political talents—sends a powerful message of hope to America’s friends across the world” (ibid.).

Jose Manuel Barroso, European Commission President: “I sincerely hope that with the leadership of President Obama, the United States of America will join forces with Europe to drive this new deal. For the benefit of our societies, for the benefit of the world” (Jerusalem Post).

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev: “Russian-U.S. relations are historically an important factor of stability in the world. They are of great and sometimes, of key importance for resolving many pressing international and regional problems…We are confident that it is necessary to step-by-step enhance cooperation between our countries on a wide range of issues on the world agenda, but also to really promote bilateral interaction in all areas” (Itar-Tass).

French President Nicolas Sarkozy: “By choosing you, the American people have chosen change, openness and optimism…At a time when all of us must face huge challenges together, your election raises great hope in France, in Europe and elsewhere in the world” (AFP).

Kenyan Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka: “It is exciting for Kenya not only because of continental attachment to President-elect because of his roots in Kenya but because Obama victory is a harbinger of good tidings especially for our tourism sector” (Daily Nation).

Chinese President Hu Jintao: “The Chinese government and I myself have always attached great importance to China-US relations. In the new historic era, I look forward to working together with you to continuously strengthen dialogue and exchanges between our two countries and enhance our mutual trust and cooperation on the basis of the three Sino-US Joint Communiques, with a view to taking our constructive and cooperative relationship to a new high and bringing greater benefits to people of our two countries and the rest of the world” (China Daily).

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “The historical election of an Afro-descendant to rule the most powerful nation of the world is a symptom that the epoch change that has been gestated from the South of America could be knocking the doors of United States” (Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias).

BBC News also outlined the “Top 10 foreign challenges for Obama,” alluding that there could be “problems in new areas of al-Qaeda activity, especially Algeria and Somalia” when he takes office.

Although most government officials were excited about the historic win, several tried to be realistic.

The Jerusalem Post: “‘We are not the first priority,’ one senior diplomatic official said, reflecting the consensus thinking in the Foreign Ministry. According to this thinking, the new president will first need to tackle the economy, the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the tension with Russia and a worsening situation for the U.S. in South America—the U.S.’s ‘own backyard’—before tackling the Middle East conflict.'”

Der Spiegel also featured a series of commentaries from various European leaders about what they want to see under the new president-elect.

Margot Wallström of Sweden, the vice-president of the European Commission: “The U.S. has been particularly successful in creating growth and jobs, and maintaining competitiveness through technological innovation rather than low labor costs. The EU on the other hand has brought forward an ambitious climate change package and works hard to promote social justice. As we have seen in Scandinavia—where the concept of the flexicurity seems to have been born—it is possible to combine economic growth with social justice…I believe the era of U.S. unilateralism is over, and that partnership with Europe has become a central plank of U.S. foreign policy.”

Democrats in the United States were equally elated about Mr. Obama’s win.


Posted on on October 29th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (

Eyes Wide Open.

By Mario Osava from Brazil, October 29, 2008.

RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 28 (IPS) – The reaction by South America’s Mercosur trade bloc to the current global financial crisis is limited for the time being to observing “possible impacts” on stock markets, production and unemployment, and “maintaining fluid and agile communications” regarding any measures taken by each member country. The bloc convened its Common Market Council — composed of the members’ ministers of economy and foreign affairs and their central bank presidents — Monday in the Brazilian capital, to discuss the crisis and how they could act to mitigate its effects. Mercosur (Common Southern Market), South America’s biggest trade bloc, is made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, with Venezuela in the process of becoming the fifth full member. The proposals presented at the Seventh Extraordinary Meeting of the Council will be considered, along with future recommendations, at a new meeting scheduled for Dec. 15, on the eve of the Latin American and Caribbean Summit organised by Brazil for Dec. 16-17 in Salvador, capital of the northeast state of Bahi a.

Brazil suggested calling a ministerial meeting of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which this country’s diplomats are seeking to strengthen, while Venezuela, for its part, proposed a world summit of heads of state and government, according to the joint press release issued by the Common Market Council.

Chilean Foreign Minister Alejandro Foxley was in favour of the Group of Eight (G8) most powerful economies increasing the capital of multilateral development and financial institutions, in particular the Inter-American Development Bank, to provide assistance to Latin America.

With the presence of representatives from the bloc’s full and associate members, in addition to observers from Guyana and Suriname, the meeting included delegates from all of South America.

The consensus expressed in the final statement underlines “the need for an in-depth and comprehensive reform of international financial structures” and “establishing more prudent regulations for capital markets.” The Council also called for a “balanced” conclusion of the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Doha Round of multilateral trade talks, which was suspended indefinitely in July after failing to reconcile differences between negotiators, in particular, India and the United States.

The Mercosur statement admits that today South America is “better prepared than in the past” to face a financial crisis, thanks to its “sound macroeconomic fundamentals.” Strengthening integration, expanding trade and enhancing financial cooperation in the region could prove “crucial” to “preserve and further the economic and social gains made in recent years,” it adds.

“Fortifying our integration will lessen the impact of the crisis” by maintaining trade and capital flows, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said at a press conference after the meeting.

Foxley rejected “protectionist policies” as a way to respond to the crisis, arguing that they would only exacerbate social problems.

Brazilian Senator Aloísio Mercadante, an economist with the governing Workers’ Party (PT), warned against protectionist temptations, arguing that individual solutions are no solution at all.

The statements by the Brazilian and Chilean authorities were aimed at the Argentine government, which tends to respond with tariffs, as it has on several opportunities in the last few years, to defend its market from being flooded by imported goods. One of the proposals put forward by Buenos Aires was an increase in the Mercosur Common External Tariff.

The steep depreciation of the Brazilian real, which has fallen more than 30 percent against the dollar since August, heightened Argentina’s fear that the imbalance in bilateral trade will worsen.

From January to August, Brazil had a 3.6 billion dollar surplus in its trade with Argentina, a 40 percent increase as compared to the same period of 2007, despite the growing overvaluation of Brazil’s local currency, a trend that has been reversed since August.

Mercosur “should adopt common decisions,” but if is unable to, it should at least establish “guidelines” of some sort for the measures implemented by each country to counter the effects of the financial crisis that originated in the United States, Tullo Vigévani, director of the School of Philosophy and Sciences at the Sao Paulo State University, told IPS.

Recalling the “acute crisis” suffered by Mercosur back in 1999, when the Brazilian currency fell sharply and the integration process reached its weakest point, he pointed out that the “bloc did not lose its viability.”

Today the situation is more severe, with the Mercosur integration process largely stagnant, but the member countries now understand that integration is key to achieving individual development and “they must also realise that preventing the weakening of each and every member is in everyone’s interest,” said Vigévani.

The international affairs expert, who closely follows the Latin American integration process, noted that an agreement signed by Mercosur in 2005 stipulates the principle of balanced commercial relations between members of the bloc.

The present crisis and the depreciation of the real could turn out to be an opportunity to set limits for trade imbalances, such as a “band” of tolerance and countervailing measures in favour of the country suffering the deficit, he said.

The greatest obstacle to such a strategy is that an economic slowdown in Brazil, expected to set in next year as a result of the global financial turmoil, will have a brutal effect on neighbouring countries with much smaller economies, while the South American giant will barely feel any repercussions from their troubles, he observed.


Posted on on October 13th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (

Under Bush, US Influence in Latin America Wanes.
Saturday 11 October 2008, by: The Associated Press

From left to right, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva forge alliances at a regional integration meeting in Manaos, Brazil, in early October 2008. (Photo: Antonio Lacerda / EPA)

Quito, Ecuador – In a matter of weeks, a Russian naval squadron will arrive in the waters off Latin America for the first time since the Cold War. It is already getting a warm welcome from some in a region where the influence of the United States is in decline.

“The U.S. Fourth Fleet can come to Latin America but a Russian fleet can’t?” said Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa. “If you ask me, any country and any fleet that wants can visit us. We’re a country of open doors.”

The United States remains the strongest outside power in Latin America by most measures, including trade, military cooperation and the sheer size of its embassies. Yet U.S. clout in what it once considered its backyard has sunk to perhaps the lowest point in decades. As Washington turned its attention to the Middle East, Latin America swung to the left and other powers moved in.

The United States’ financial crisis is not helping. Latin American countries forced by Washington to swallow painful austerity measures in the 1980s and 1990s are aghast at the U.S. failure to police its own markets.

“We did our homework – and they didn’t, they who’ve been telling us for three decades what to do,” the man who presides over Latin America’s largest economy, President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva of Brazil, complained bitterly.

Latin America’s more than 550 million people now “have every reason to view the U.S. as a banana republic,” says analyst Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington. “U.S. lectures to Latin Americans about excess greed and lack of accountability have long rung hollow, but today they sound even more ridiculous.”

From 2002 through 2007, the U.S. image eroded in all six Latin American countries polled by the Pew organization, especially in Venezuela, Argentina and Bolivia. (The others were Brazil, Peru and Mexico.) People surveyed in 18 Latin American countries rated President Bush among the least popular leaders in 2007, along with President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and just ahead of basement-bound Fidel Castro of Cuba, according to the Latinobarometro group of Chile.

In three years of presidential elections ending last year, Latin Americans chose mostly leftist leaders, and only Colombia and El Salvador elected unalloyed pro-U.S. chief executives. In May, the prestigious U.S. Council on Foreign Relations declared the era of U.S. hegemony in the Americas over. And in September, Bolivia and Venezuela both expelled their U.S. ambassadors, accusing them of meddling.

Along with the loss in political standing has come a decline in economic power. U.S. direct investment in Latin America slid from 30 percent to 20 percent of the total from 1998 to 2007, according to the U.N. Economic Commission on Latin American and the Caribbean.

The U.S. still does $560 billion in trade with Latin America, but in the meantime other countries are muscling in. China’s trade with Latin America jumped from $10 billion in 2000 to $102.6 billion last year. In May, a state-owned Chinese company agreed to buy a Peruvian copper mine for $2.1 billion.

Other countries are also biting into U.S. military sales in the region. Boeing Co. is vying with finalists from France and Sweden for the sale of 36 jet fighters to Brazil. Venezuela’s Chavez has committed to buying more than $4 billion in Russian arms, from Sukhoi jet fighters to Kalashnikov assault rifles. In April, Brazil and Russia agreed to jointly design top-line jet fighters and satellite-launch vehicles, and Brazil is getting technology from France to build a submarine.

“Similar deals could have been made with the United States had it been willing to share its technology,” said Geraldo Cavagnari, of the University of Campinas near Sao Paulo.

Last month, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin offered to help Chavez develop nuclear power. Even Colombia, the staunchest U.S. ally in South America, isn’t limiting its options. After expressing alarm about the Russian warships a week ago, its defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, promptly headed for Russia himself to discuss “better relations in defense.” Chavez says he expects to hold joint Russian-Venezuelan naval exercises as early as November.

Bolivia also is looking to deepen ties with Russia and Iran.

Although the Islamic republic’s ambassador has yet to arrive in South America’s poorest country, its top diplomat there announced Friday that Iran will open two low-cost public health clinics.

And while Bolivia’s only announced Russian hardware purchase is five helicopters for civil defense, Moscow’s ambassador told the AP – after Bolivia booted the U.S. ambassador – that Russia has every right to help Latin American nations arm themselves.

“We know of many historical cases of U.S. intervention in Latin American countries,” said the diplomat, Leonid Golubev.

Thomas Shannon, U.S. assistant secretary of state for the hemisphere, wouldn’t comment directly on whether the U.S. has lost influence in Latin America. But he added that there is no doubt that the U.S. still holds most of the military power in the Caribbean, and said it has no interest in reviving “Cold War rhetoric.” Shannon also noted that overall U.S. aid to the region will reach $2.2 billion for 2009, to total more than $14 billion during Bush’s presidency.

However, critics point out that roughly half that aid is for the military or counternarcotics, and that Washington sends more money annually to Israel alone. Even U.S. giving has been dwarfed by Chavez’s checkbook diplomacy, which easily eclipses U.S. aid between outright gifts and discounted oil.

His largesse has lured several longtime U.S. friends. Honduras’ president, Manuel Zelaya, said last month that after pleading with Washington and the World Bank, he accepted $300 million a year from Chavez for agricultural investment to help fight rising food prices.

“Allies, friends, did not help me when I asked,” he said.

Costa Rica’s president, Oscar Arias, says Venezuela offers Latin America about four or five times as much money as the United States. Costa Rica has become the 19th member of Petrocaribe, through which Chavez sells Caribbean and Central American nations cut-rate oil at very low interest.

The diminished profile of the U.S. in Latin America comes after a history of welcomed influence dating back to President Franklin Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor” policy of the 1930s, which emphasized cooperation and trade over military intervention. There have been major bailouts, such as Washington’s $20 billion rescue of Mexico in the 1994 peso devaluation crisis. As former Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich noted, “We are the assistance bureau of first choice for the region.”

But the U.S. has an ugly legacy of covert intervention in countries including Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Cuba. Chile’s center-left president, Michele Bachelet, was jailed and tortured by a U.S.-backed military dictatorship in the 1970s. She recently recalled telling Washington’s ambassador to Chile an old joke: “Some say the only reason there’s never been a coup in the United States is because there’s no U.S. Embassy in the United States.”

The United States has also long served as chief educator to Latin America’s elite. Correa is among its presidents with a U.S. graduate degree – though that didn’t stop him from accusing the CIA of infiltrating his military, or refusing to renew a lease for U.S. counterdrug missions to fly out of Ecuador.

With the U.S. facing its own financial crisis, it’s unlikely to be able to leverage economic influence in Latin America anytime soon. Sen. Barack Obama’s senior adviser on Latin America, Dan Restrepo, acknowledges that his candidate is essentially proposing a symbolic shift in style – albeit adding a special White House envoy for the Americas.

“Barack doesn’t see the United States as the savior of the Americas, but as a constructive partner,” Restrepo told the AP.

Reich, an adviser to Sen. John McCain who served three Republican presidents in the region, put it even more bluntly.

“No matter who is elected in November, there is not going to be any money for Latin America,” he said. “Latin Americans expecting financial resources, any kind of help from the United States, they are barking up the wrong tree.”


Associated Press writers Dan Keane in Bolivia, Eduardo Gallardo in Chile and Stan Lehman in Brazil contributed to this report.


Posted on on September 16th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (

 The original September 15th posting:

Bolivia crisis summit for Latin American leaders:
Deadly violence over nationalisation campaign of Evo Morales brings intervention led by Chile and Brazil., Monday September 15 2008

Latin American leaders are to gather in Chile today in an attempt to end a political crisis in Bolivia that has seen more than a dozen people killed.

Violent clashes between supporters of Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, and his opponents have led to concern among neighbouring countries. Chile’s president, Michelle Bachelet, who is the temporary president of the 12-member Union of South American Nations, called the emergency summit late last week.

The scale of the protests against Morales’s plans to rewrite Bolivia’s constitution and redirect gas revenues has forced the president to declare a state of siege in some opposition-led provinces. Bachelet said: “We can’t remain impassive in the face of a situation that worries us all.”


The violence began two weeks ago. The government says at least 30 people have died in protests in the eastern province of Pando, while local officials put the number at 15.

All the presidents of the continent’s major nations are expected to travel to the summit in Chile today except for Alan García, the president of Peru. He is understood to be sending his foreign minister and has issued a statement supporting the elected Morales government.

Also attending the meeting will be José Miguel Insulza, the secretary general of the Organisation of American States.

The Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, could prove the key mediator. Brazil imports half its natural gas from Bolivia. Lula warned last week that the summit could only be effective if proposals from both the Bolivian government and the opposition were represented.

“If the two sides haven’t asked us to meet and we make a decision that neither side will respect, the meeting will end up being useless,” Lula said.

Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, a close Morales ally, hailed the gathering as an “extraordinary summit”. “Fascism must be stopped in Bolivia. A tragedy must be avoided,” he said.

Chávez has backed Morales in accusing the US of supporting the anti-government protests in Bolivia. Both presidents expelled US ambassadors last week. Washington responded in kind while calling the allegations baseless.

Several other Latin American presidents have defended Morales in the diplomatic spat with America. In a statement published on Sunday in Cuba’s communist youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde, Raúl Castro accused Washington of meddling in Bolivia’s internal affairs.




At least 28 have died in violence. Evo Morales’ government and the opposition accuse each other of arming paramilitaries.
By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 15, 2008

SANTA CRUZ, BOLIVIA — The death toll in last week’s violence in a remote northern province rose to more than two dozen, Bolivia’s government said Sunday, as it held frantic talks with opponents to avert further bloodshed.

Sporadic clashes were reported Sunday on roads outside this eastern city, center of opposition to President Evo Morales. Many Bolivians expressed fears that a tense situation could spin out of control if a deal was not reached.

Venezuela expels U.S. ambassador
Bolivia crisis sparks concern.
Bolivia orders U.S. ambassador expelled.
Each side has accused the other of arming illegal paramilitary groups.


“Better that we take action now, before we have 100 or 1,000 dead,” said Gov. Mario Cossio of Tarija province, designated negotiator for the states opposed to Morales.

There was no immediate word on the outcome of the talks in La Paz, the capital.

Rifts have been widening for two years, with intermittent outbursts of violence, but so far Bolivia has avoided falling into full-fledged civil conflict. However, many analysts call the current crisis the nation’s most perilous point in decades.

“Political, civic and union leaders must know that whatever happens from now on — whether this country becomes a peaceful and harmonious society or a battleground — will be because of their work,” the daily La Razon editorialized Sunday.

The government and the opposition called Sunday for an independent investigation into Thursday’s killings in Pando, a sparsely populated province along the Amazonian frontiers with Brazil and Peru.

In La Paz, Interior Minister Alfredo Rada said 10 more bodies had been found. That would bring the death toll to at least 26 in Thursday’s confrontation. Two more deaths were reported Friday in Pando, when the army retook control of the airport in Cobija, the provincial capital. The army is now patrolling the province, which is under martial law.

Rada labeled Thursday’s killings near the town of Porvenir a genocide organized by Pando Gov. Leopoldo Fernandez, an opponent of Morales.

The government has accused the governor and his allies of importing sicarios, or hired killers, from Peru and Brazil to shoot down defenseless peasants allied with the president. Fernandez has denied provoking the violence and blamed the central government for the clash.

On Saturday, Morales called the killings a massacre and told a crowd in the central city of Cochabamba that a “fascist, racist coup” was being mounted.

The conservative leaders of five of Bolivia’s nine provinces are aligned against Morales and his socialist program of nationalizations, land reform and stiff resistance to what he calls U.S. imperialism.


Critics call Morales a communist tyrant who seeks dictatorial powers. Morales, who won 67% of the vote in a recall election last month, says his policies have benefited the needy masses in South America’s poorest nation.

Foes of Morales are seeking greater autonomy for their provinces and a bigger share of revenue from gas and oil fields, which are concentrated in the dissident regions. Morales says his rivals want to take away funds that aid the poor and put the cash into plans to break away from Bolivia. The opposition denies separatist or violent motivations.

“We want peace, but with dignity,” said Ruben Costas, the governor of Santa Cruz province and a central opposition figure.

The president has frequently accused Washington of collaborating with his enemies and last week expelled U.S. Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg for allegedly fomenting rebellion. In his farewell address Sunday, Greenberg called Morales’ charges against him “false and unjustified,” and said his expulsion would have “serious effects in many forms.”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a close Morales ally, tossed out the U.S. envoy in Caracas, saying he acted in solidarity with the Bolivian president. Washington responded by expelling both the Venezuelan and Bolivian ambassadors.

The Bolivian armed forces chief, Gen. Luis Trigo, has rejected Chavez’s offer to send in help should Morales be ousted.

The deteriorating scenario has alarmed Latin American leaders, who have expressed support for Morales. Several nations, including neighboring Brazil and Argentina, have offered to help mediate, but Morales has not agreed.

Today, South American leaders are to gather in Chile for an emergency session aimed at preventing Bolivia’s slide into civil war. Morales reportedly planned to travel to Santiago. The Bolivian opposition has also asked to attend.

The crisis has strong ethnic and regional roots.

Morales, Bolivia’s first Indian president, enjoys massive support among indigenous peasants from the western highlands, where La Paz is situated. Morales has charged that white and mixed-race “oligarchs” in Bolivia’s lowland provinces are out to get him.

“Their plan is to topple the Indian,” Morales told the crowd in Cochabamba this weekend. “They may topple the Indian, but they won’t topple the Bolivian people.”



A Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) Press Release – September 16th

Bolivia: A Profound Breakdown of Communication with Latin America.
•       Upwards of Thirty Dead in Bolivia
•       The Unforgivable has Again Happened, The Taking of Innocent Life
•       Was the Expulsion of the U.S. Ambassador Inevitable?
•       The import of UNASUR’s Strong but Dignified Role

With UNASUR having just met in Santiago, Chile to discuss the escalating crisis in Bolivia, the stage is set for a huge surge of autonomy for Latin America, owing to a series of newly auto-generated, self-managed and extensive regional initiatives.

In an extraordinary shift from a decades-long hegemonic status-quo during which Washington exercised de facto hemispheric supremacy, the U.S. role has dramatically diminished, at times becoming almost irrelevant.

In fact, even though U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Thomas Shannon, is a relatively enlightened figure who at times has stressed a rational dialogue between Venezuela, Bolivia, and Washington, U.S. attention toward the region, when at all focused, has been willful, narrow-minded, and self-absorbed.

Once installed in office, the Bush administration found itself distracted from Latin American issues by the Iraq war, giving the region the required space to develop its own consensus on regional developments, regardless of Washington’s ululations. This has heightened the ability of hemispheric leaders to halt or reverse some of the most imprudent U.S. policies that had gained ascendancy starting in the Clinton administration, and which then blossomed under Bush. Nevertheless, despite all signs to the contrary, the Bush administration continues to act as if its fiat still is supreme in Latin America, when, in fact, it has rapidly shrunk. An example of this is the revival of the Fourth Fleet as a Washington policy riposte, and with it the pretense of gunboat diplomacy on the ready, after a half-a-century of the fleet being dismasted, and the use of the “terrorism” factor to reassert an authority that is no longer exercisable.

Washington cannot continue to conduct itself as if it had a backyard in which Latin America could be firmly found. The U.S. has been absent from the region for far too long to attempt to roll back the tide of anti-private capital, anti-U.S. sentiment that has swept over much of the region. In its stead, the region yearns for a “third way” and for change. In fact, during this period of unilateral neglect, due to Iraq, the hemispheres started going its own way, coming up with new formulas in its quest to diversify relationships, pluralize its world trade contracts and engage in constructive relations across the board, including forming ties to what Washington, at the time, sees as “rogue” nations. During this period of transition, more left-leaning presidents were being elected president than ever before in the Americas’ history, a raft of regional organizations (which did not include the U.S. as a member) were formed, the region suddenly saw a remarkable rise in its importance on the world stage as its metal and agricultural commodities increased in relevancy and value during the current fuel and food crisis, and new links emerged between Latin America and India, China, Russia, and the EU.


The Breakdown of Bilateral Relations:

The latest U.S. flare-up with Bolivia most likely could have been avoided by a non-pro forma U.S. statement categorically declaring that this country would neither recognize nor have any form of relationship with the Santa Cruz-led breakaway departments in the Europerized, somewhat white and wealthy eastern sector of the country, just as Brazil and the other Latin American nations saw fit to do.

Instead, for a number of months U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg assumed the role of quarterback at meetings with the opposition, discussing strategies with his team.

He did this even though the opposition figures had clearly called for extra-constitutional actions against democratically-elected Evo Morales, even his ouster, and in spite of the fact that his widespread support was affirmed in July’s recall elections. (For more information, see COHA Research Associates Chris Sweeney and Jessica Bryant’s article, “Bolivia in Crisis”).

Washington claims that Goldberg’s meetings with the opposition were protocolic and conducted during routine visits to the secessionist regions.

It also insisted that he categorically denies La Paz’s accusations of his signaling support behind the opposition, let alone any involvement in secret plots against the central government. Yet, complicating matters in the Andean country is the fact that any number of U.S. ambassadors throughout Latin America –particularly dating back to the inauguration of the present U.S. administration– have a lengthy record of intervention in the domestic affairs of the countries to which they have been accredited. It is no secret that the State Department has had a long history of inappropriate and often covert intervention in Latin American internal affairs, often making use of a Reagan-era institutional facility known as the National Endowment for Democracy. Goldberg’s predecessors, Manuel Rocha and David Greenlee, persistently inserted themselves into Bolivian domestic issues. This scenario often involved U.S. ambassadors on station elsewhere in the region, where they openly threatening the end of remittances, trade benefits, or U.S. development assistance to a given country, if a leftist regime was elected to office –El Salvador and Nicaragua would be some examples of these. They also have pressured conservative political parties in such countries as Bolivia, El Salvador and Nicaragua to unite behind one candidate in order not to split the vote, allowing the otherwise weaker leftist candidate to ship into office.

Ultimately, a historical memory was invoked of humiliation, plunder and such transgressions as the Chaco war and a spate of U.S.-backed military Juntas under which the largely aboriginal majority of Bolivians have suffered as a result of self-serving past U.S. policies. Such acts of arrogance and intolerance that Washington recurrently has visited upon the region, served to incite the unbridled passions of a man with the Brobdingnagian temper of Hugo Chávez and even the more self-disciplined Evo Morales.


Washington Diplomacy or Lack of it:
In Washington’s eye, there always has been a distinction to be made between Evo Morales and his Venezuelan counterpart. While they are very different in temperament and style, the two share some major similarities, one of them being a sense of loyalty and solidarity with one another. What has made them into slippery fish for the Bush administration to handle is that no matter how garish may be their personal stylistic flaws, neither Chávez or Morales can in any manner be condemned for any democratic lapses, lack of human rights observance, nor mistreatment nor abuse of their citizens. You may consider them confrontational non-conformists, or condemn them for their non-adherence to traditional codes of diplomatic behavior, but you cannot cite them for being antipathetic in their behavior towards their own people. Surely there was enough here of democratic substance with which the U.S. could do business.

It is clear that the U.S. remains largely oblivious to the multifaceted developments that are taking place in an increasingly self-confident Latin America. Washington would do well to introduce a sense of perspective on Iraq and terrorism, and turn its attention once again to its vital national interests in this hemisphere. These issues go far beyond drugs, terrorism and security concerns. If the U.S. is to play a constructive role there, it must architect a new relationship with the region that can be deemed credible and taken to heart. Its investment must be more than just a Parthian shot aimed at a token act of respect for their sovereignty and must display an earnest concern for the area’s well-being.


UNASUR’s Debuting Role:
If such a re-positioning does not happen soon, it may well be too late for Washington to develop cooperative and mutually beneficial policies. Latin American-led trade agreements such as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) could appear more sensitive and better adapted to regional well-being than any U.S.-crafted free trade agreement with nations that are too weak, like Costa Rica and Panama, to defend their authentic self-interests against subsidized U.S. farm products. Also, the fledgling Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) joins the Organization of American States as a multilateral, democratic body capable of facilitating regional integration and conflict resolution. The difference is, of course, that the former does not include the U.S. as a member. It is this stunning difference that ultimately could lead to the supplanting of the OAS by UNASUR a development that would be sure to lead to the return of Cuba to a major regional body. At its September 15 emergency meeting on the Bolivia crisis in Santiago demonstrates, the leaders of this multilateral organization are capable of engaging in constructive and balanced dialogue that is certain to profoundly affect the separatists. Refusing to fall prey to the mudslinging in which U.S. diplomacy frequently engages, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa dismissed probing by the press into the possibility of covert U.S. intervention in Bolivia, a charge that Correa himself was not making in other contexts, and he reiterated the support of member states to the restoration of order and preservation of unity in Bolivia.


Washington and the Bolivian Blow Up:

The near breakdown of relations between Washington and La Paz in the midst of the Bolivia crisis, perfectly exemplifies the disastrous consequences of the inherent intolerance and disrespect that the U.S. has long exhibited towards the region. Despite La Paz and Washington’s ideological differences, Assistant Secretary Shannon, while being a very significant improvement over his two most recent predecessors, Otto Reich and Roger Noriega, might have used this opportunity to more clearly indicate a U.S. commitment to the spirit as well as the letter of democratically-elected governance in the region, and that any form of separatism would be condemn. More vigorous support of Morales and the central government in the face of the reckless and greedy same plan of the pro-autonomy leaders in Bolivia might have provided a compelling reason for the secessionists to preserve order and avoid the violence which, tragically, has already claimed upwards of thirty lives.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Director Larry Birns and COHA Research Associate Raylsiyaly Rivero
September 16th, 2008


COHA Forthcoming Research

Puerto Rico: Another Lone Star?
By COHA Senior Research Fellow Juan Carlos Toledano

Venezuela’s Military in the Hugo Chávez Era
By COHA Research Fellow Alex Sánchez and COHA Research Associate Raylsiyaly Rivero

A Closer Look at the Violence in Bolivia
By COHA Research Associate Mary Tharin

Raul Castro and the Recent Reforms in Cuba
By COHA Research Associate Melissa Penn

Venezuela: Internal Opposition to Chávez
By COHA Research Associate Ruth Rivero
For full article click here

This analysis was prepared by COHA

Tuesday, September 16, 2008 | Press release 08.96

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being “one of the nation’s most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers.” For more information, please see our web page at; or contact our Washington offices by phone (202) 223-4975, fax (202) 223-4979, or email  coha at


Posted on on September 11th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (

Thirty-five Years Ago, Latin America Experienced Its Own September 11.

by: Teo Ballve, Colombian Writer, The Progressive, September 9, 2008.

In 1970, Salvador Allende became the democratically elected president of Chile. On Sept. 11, 1973, the Chilean military, supported by Washington, overthrew Allende and in his place a US-financed 17-year regime of terror took over. Latin America, which experienced its own September 11 thirty-five years ago, is no longer under Washington’s thumb.

On Sept. 11, 1973, the Chilean military, supported by Washington, overthrew the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende. It was a day that was burned in the memories of millions of people across the continent.

Allende had come to power in 1970 as a democratic socialist, and his victory raised hopes among Latin Americans that peaceful social change was possible.

But three years later, when military tanks and fighter jets blasted the presidential palace where Allende had taken refuge, those hopes were dashed. Allende took his own life during the attack, and in his place a U.S.-financed 17-year regime of terror took over. The junta, led by Augusto Pinochet, murdered more than 3,000 people and tortured and detained thousands more.

Now, 35 years after Allende’s overthrow, a lot has changed in Latin America. For starters, Chile’s current president (Michelle Bachelet) is not only a woman, but also a member of Allende’s Socialist Party.

And Washington, once the unofficial arbiter of the politics and economies of Latin America, has been sidelined, as progressive reformers have claimed victory in an ever-growing number of countries.


The political waters began turning in 1999 in Venezuela. The country’s leftist president, Hugo Chavez, came from the most unlikely of sources: the military.

Today, left-leaning leaders control almost every country of South America. These leaders are by no means a uniform bunch. But they all share the popular mandate of addressing the needs of the most disadvantaged citizens of Latin America, where nearly half the population of 550 million lives in grinding poverty.

Fulfilling campaign promises, many of these leaders have defied Washington’s economic and political strictures – first introduced in post-Sept. 11 Chile – in trying to lift millions out of poverty.

Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa have moved to take a larger share of profits from their nations’ vast oil and gas reserves to reinvest the money in anti-poverty programs.

Morales also plans to use windfall gas profits in Bolivia – the poorest country in South America – to strengthen its faltering social security system.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a former union organizer, has similar plans for the profits expected from newly discovered massive oil reserves.


When Allende made similar reforms in Chile, President Nixon’s National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger famously sneered, “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.” The Nixon administration’s next move was to cut off all multilateral and bilateral foreign aid to Chile, fulfilling Nixon’s order to “make the economy scream.”

Despite persistent U.S. meddling, it’s hard to see how Washington could once again so recklessly block the desperately needed reforms now sweeping Latin America. When it has recently tried to impose its will, Latin American governments have fended off Washington by banding together.

The region’s new leaders finally are implementing policies that make real improvements in people’s lives. Allende tried to do so, but he was not allowed to see them through to fruition.

From his tragedy, new hope has arisen.


Teo Ballve is a freelance journalist and editor based in Colombia. He can be reached at  pmproj at


Posted on on August 19th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (

The article in the New York Sun is based on a posting by Brad Setser on a Council of Foreign Relations (New York City) site that shows that since the 4th quarter of 2004 the autocracies’ wealth increases drastically, and the wealth of the liberal democracies that are dependent on oil imports has actually decreased in the first half of 2008 by 40% compared to the 4th quarter of 2007. The correlation with the price of oil is obvious – so is obvious the future lack of political independence of a country that depends on borrowing money from the rich autocracies that buy into its paper debt. Losing the will to react against its lenders will predictably turn the US into a paper tiger. Is that why those countries continue to invest in its paper debt? I have never seen a better justification for the need of the US to go for an Apollo-type project to beat its addiction on oil imports. The US independence is depending on this!




Posted on on August 3rd, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (

OFFSHORE MAGAZINE, PennWell Corporation, Tulsa, OK – Offshore magazine, first published in 1954, is a monthly publication recognized as the worldwide leader for covering the key issues and trends relative to offshore technology, oil and gas E&P (Exploration and Production) operations. It is the world’s most highly respected magazine dedicated entirely to the offshore industry, and enjoys the highest and most widely read circulation in its class. Since 1910, The PennWell Petroleum Group has been the industry leader for coverage of and service to the worldwide petroleum industry.

Its foundation magazines are Oil & Gas Journal, Offshore, Oil, Gas & Petrochem Equipment, Oil & Gas Financial Journal, LNG Observer and The Petroleum Buyers Guide. The group also produces targeted e-Newsletters, hosts global conferences and exhibitions, seminars and forums, directories and technical books, print and electronic databases, surveys and maps.

We were introduced to because of our interest in the oil finds in Brazil.

Brazil is now at the top of OFFSHORE interest and they plan an upcoming webcast lecture:

(AkerSolutions Technip)

The Petrobras FPSO Experience: Technology Evolution and Application In the US Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 14, 2008
Time: 2:00 PM EDT 11:00 AM PDT 18:00 GMT
Length: Approximately one hour
Speakers: César Palagi, Walker Ridge Production Asset Manager, Petrobras America Inc.


According to Bloomberg data, Petrobras is the fourth-most valuable company in the Western Hemisphere, behind Exxon Mobil Corp., General Electric Co., and Microsoft Corp. “We think this is part of a major transformation of Petrobras, which could lead to it becoming a much larger company in terms of production and reserves over the next five to 10 years,” Merrill Lynch analysts wrote.


Brazil in OPEC?

If confirmed, the Carioca-Sugar Loaf find would vault Brazil into the Top 10 countries for oil reserves, ahead of Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) such as Nigeria and Libya. It also would surpass the US, point out oil analysts.

Director Estrella, who is known for conservative forecasts, told Offshore that: “Considering the geologically provable dimensions of the whole pre-salt reservoirs, including Santos, Campos, and Espírito Santo basins, plus other prospects, such as geologically estimated recoverable oil and natural gas in the Tupi accumulation, we may be dealing with recoverable volumes very much larger than the current Brazilian proven reserves.”

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on several occasions that when Brazil becomes a crude exporter it would like to join OPEC and work to lower oil prices.

Director Estrella pointed to the emergence of a new organization, the National Oil Companies (NOCs), as a forum of exporting and non-exporting countries that meets annually and has a different objective from OPEC: “In my opinion, NOC’s mission, through long-term strategic partnerships, is more interesting for Petrobras and raises the country’s political profile as an uncontestable leader of emerging countries.

I am not in favor of Brazil joining OPEC. New oil producing countries started exporting but did not join OPEC, which in a way is weakening OPEC’s economic and political power.

OPEC is going down the path of political obsolescence.”

While the potential Brazil find could add significant supplies to a global oil market many see as tight, it would likely take the better part of a decade before any of the oil finds its way to consumers. The site will need to be studied further, and many more facilities must be designed, built, and transported before it can start producing oil.


The OFFSHORE Magazine July 2008 issue (July 7, 2008) includes three articles about Brazil. We give here the references and small parts from these articles:

July 7, 2008…

Title: “Pre-salt discoveries continue in Brazil. ” (Above is a 6 page article)

by Peter Howard Wertheim, Contributing Editor

Potential for super-giant fields remains to be confirmed in ultra deepwater.

Deep under the Atlantic Ocean, Brazil’s state-controlled Petrobras has made what could prove to be the largest oil discovery in 30 years, and one that would propel the already prospering country into the major league of oil exporters.

The head of Brazil’s upstream regulatory body National Petroleum and Biofuels Agency (ANP), Haroldo Lima, said in April that the find in the Carioca exploration area could contain 33 Bboe, which would make it the world’s fourth-largest field. Lima did not say whether his unofficial estimate was of recoverable reserves or in-place resources and Petrobras did not comment.

Brazil Energy Minister Edison Lobão was quoted as saying on São Paulo’s Estado newswire that he would neither confirm nor deny Lima’s statements. However, he cautioned that any announcement on the extension of oil fields should only be made once the government is certain about the data.

For context, current Brazilian crude oil proven reserves are at 14.4 Bbbl.

Outstanding sequence of discoveries
“This is one of the most impressive oil finds globally in terms of scale,” says David Riedel of New York-based Riedel Research Inc. The deepwater discovery, coming after a similar find announced last year by Petrobras, suggests that the world still has major pools of oil to be found.

For Brazilian analysts, it also casts new doubts on peak oil theory, which postulates that world oil demand will soon outpace supply.

Riedel says uncertainty remains regarding the size of the Carioca discovery on BM-S-9 block, which lays under 2 km (6,562 ft) of water, plus many more kilometers of sand, hard rock, and another 2 km of salt. The exploration area, also called Carioca-Sugar Loaf, is 275 km (171 mi) off the coast of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

“Petrobras is very good at deepwater drilling but this is going to be very complicated stuff to get out of the ground,” he adds.


July 7, 2008…

Title: “Jubarte field production enhanced with wellbore ESP”. (Above is a 4 page article)

by Marcos Pellegrini, Giovanni Colodette – Petrobras
Ignácio Martinez, Leandro Neves – Baker Hughes Centrilift

1,200-hp subsea system installed.

Through technological advances in ultra deepwater production, the highest horsepower-equipped electric submersible pump (ESP) to date was installed in the 1,400-m (4,593-ft) JUB-6 subsea well in the Jubarte field, offshore Brazil. The system is composed of a 1,200 hp motor and a pump capable of producing over 22,000 b/d of heavy oil (17 º API). High flow rates and a longer subsea step-out were the drivers for selecting an ESP system as the artificial lift method for the project. Reliability is one of the main concerns of ESPs, and proper selection of the system for the application was critical for the run life of the equipment.

Operators and service companies are always searching for most cost-effective methods to produce deepwater reserves over the life of the field. Gas lift traditionally has been the preferred artificial lift method in offshore Brazil subsea applications with relatively short step-outs. But when high-flow production of heavy and viscous oil in a long step-out is needed, gas lift is not efficient. Electrical submersible pumping systems are the best option.

Jubarte field: The Jubarte field, in the northern part of the Campos basin, about 80 km (49.7 mi) offshore from the state of Espírito Santo, was discovered in January 2001. An extended well test was performed to evaluate drilling, completion, artificial lift technology, and to verify reserves. Then, Petrobras started Phase 1 production with FPSO P-34. Four wells were planned to produce around 60,000 b/d of oil. Two of the wells are produced using gas lift, the third one is an ESP installation on the seabed, and the fourth is a subsea ESP wellbore installation.


July 7, 2008…

Drilling zero discharge offshore Brazil in an environmentally sensitive area. (Above is a 3 page article) These drillings are in shallow waters near terrific white sand beaches.

by Perry Morris – El Paso Oil & Gas
Keith Browning, Kevin Redfern – Halliburton

One key element of the El Paso Oil & Gas exploration program offshore Brazil during the recent drilling and completion of the Acai and Cacau exploration wells in the Camamu basin was to ensure compliance with a zero discharge policy. The wells were in a shallow 23 m (75.5 ft) water depth, near shore and 11 km (6.8 mi) from an extremely environmentally sensitive area. Brazilian authorities designated the coastal area as a future recreational development.

Equipment outlay: El Paso contracted Halliburton’s Baroid Surface Solutions services to provide equipment and personnel at the rig site to transport cuttings and drilling waste to a dedicated cuttings barge. To protect the delicate subsea reef environment and the nearby Camamu white sand beaches, El Paso installed booms completely surrounding the Todco 156 rig. The dedicated cuttings barge was moored outside the booms to allow access to the barge for dumping cuttings further out into deepwater. This configuration resulted in a greater distance than normal for cuttings transportation.


The deepwater oil-finds locations towards the the souther part of Brazil’s coast – the Santos Basin and the Caramba, Sugar Loaf, Carioca, Parati, Tupi and Jupiter discoveries.


Location map of the exploration blocks in Santos basin showing the recent giant and super-giant pre-salt oil and gas discoveries.

The shallow water oil-basins that are close to environmentally sensitive coasts. North of Rio de Janeiro – the Espirito Santo and Camamu basins and the Potiguar basin in the northeast.


The Acai and Cacau exploration wells in the Camamu basin are in a shallow 23 m (75.5 ft) water depth near shore.  


Posted on on August 1st, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (

We love, personally, Brazil – and have many friends in this stirring giant of a country. has much to thank to Brazil since our early visits to the country close to 35 years ago. Our Brazil button on this web – shows this only in small part. It was in Brazil we learned about the power Renewable Energy has to free us of all those effects that result from the addiction to petroleum. Furthermore, it was a nuclear physicist, Prof. Jose Goldemberg of Sao Paulo who made it clear to us, already then, that nuclear power is no solution. It was Dr. Jaime Rothstein of Sondotecnica, Rio de Janeiro, who already then showed us how the economy can benefit from moving away from oil imports and grow from local programs. He wrote those ideas up still at the time that Brazil was run by Generals and I witnessed how he presented his ideas to them and they saw the clear National interest in what he was saying.

We also love Fortaleza – the town in the State of Ceara, Northeast of Brazil – pushing 3 million people (in reality nobody knows the exact number of inhabitants – this because of the fact that the boom in the city has attracted additional people from the country-side) and that sits on the “shoulder” of Brazil. We were introduced to this town by Professor Jose Oswaldo Carioca who was the Rapporteur from Brazil, on topics of Biomass, to the preparatory meeting of the UN Conference on New And Renewable Sources of Energy (UNCNRSE – Nairobi, 1981). We have been many times to Fortaleza – and kept up contact with him and his people from the University of Ceara – the last time at the meeting in November 2007 that dealt with Green Chemistry.

Brazil’s secret is that with 185 million people it is dependent on the US only for 2.5 percent of its gross national product, compared with 25 percent of G.N.P. for Mexican exports – so, if the US economy slows down it does not have to have a major impact on Brazil. Brazil has a huge internal market, and the moment former President – Professor Henrique Cardozo – understood this – and made a go for developing this market by helping the poor and not only worry about the rich, and when his successor – “Lula” (Fernando Henrique Cardoso) of labor-leader fame, continued these policies of respecting the conventional economy while at the same time enhancing the social aspects of the country – Brazil started to boom. Brazil today is the Latin progressing giant that did not get stuck in populism rhetoric, but did go directly for fattening up the ranks of its middle class.

We follow on this website the Brazilian effort to open further doors to its economy in the US – as spearheaded by its diplomats and business people at the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce (BACC) headquartered in New York. Today I was full of surprise by the practical recognition of The New York Times – as evidenced by the Center-Front-Page serious reporting on Brazil that originated in Fortaleza. Brazil is following China and India, as third developing country that makes progress by having turned to help its own poor people. Sure, with a population only as big as 1/6.5 as the two larger upstarts, but with a territory their size, and natural riches that are immense, it has the potential to move forefront lined up with these other two giants. As it is becoming also an oil power – the sky is the limit – and the Brazilian diplomacy starts showing its muscle. So, the article’s timing, as a follow up to the crash of the WTO negotiations, should be viewed as a warning to the US that some countries – now led by China, India, and Brazil, will not allow themselves pushed around by a US-EU leadership that thinks very little of the impact of economic decisions on those “others.” China, India, and Mexico will suffer if the US and EU economies falter, but not Brazil. The Brazilians will just simply continue with their “Bolsa Familia” social programs and their successful microcredit programs, spearheaded by government banks like the Bank of the Northeast, and get more and more people to buy refrigerators and TVs. They will expand electricity use, and will drive using biofuels. They seriously develop solar, wind, and sea-wave technologies – and at their own pace the huge oil resource they found off-shore. I said “at their own pace,” because they are in no hurry to deplete those resources because others want to buy the oil. They will release some of this oil to the market – and this as refined products – just about as much as they think that is needed as funds for their national development program. We hope that they will not allow anyone to push them beyond as far as they find it to be to their own interest. Exporting soy beans and products, as well as other agricultural products, and ores, is just fine. They are going also for high-tech and medicines. All what they want is access to markets – like the ethanol market in the US and in Europe. If these are not forthcoming, there is no push to give in to demands by other economic powers. So, please read the following article carefully – so it is getting clear why Brazil can indeed afford to stand up to these other powers.










Strong Economy Propels Brazil to World Stage. Strong Economy Propels Brazil Into Long-Anticipated Global Role.

Published: July 31, 2008, The New York Times – FRONT PAGE MAJOR ARTICLE.

From FORTALEZA, Brazil — Desperate to escape her hand-to-mouth existence in one of Brazil’s poorest regions, Maria Benedita Sousa used a small loan five years ago to buy two sewing machines and start her own business making women’s underwear. Also – Recent oil discoveries off the coast of Rio de Janeiro State have led to a construction boom in the port town of Angra dos Reis.

Riding a Wave of Growth:

Today Ms. Sousa, a mother of three who started out working in a jeans factory making minimum wage, employs 25 people in a modest two-room factory that produces 55,000 pairs of cotton underwear a month. She bought and renovated a house for her family and is now thinking of buying a second car. Her daughter, who is studying to be a pharmacist, could be the first family member to finish college.

“You can’t imagine the happiness I am feeling,” Ms. Sousa, 43, said from the floor of her business, Big Mateus, named after a son. “I am someone who came from the countryside to the city. I battled and battled, and today my children are studying, with one in college and two others in school. It’s a gift from God.”

Today her country is lifting itself up in much the same way. Brazil, South America’s largest economy, is finally poised to realize its long-anticipated potential as a global player, economists say, as the country rides its biggest economic expansion in three decades.

That growth is being felt in nearly all parts of the economy, creating a new class of super rich even as people like Ms. Sousa lift themselves into an expanding middle class.

It has also given Brazil new swagger, providing it, for instance, with greater leverage to push for a tougher bargain with the United States and Europe in global trade talks. After seven years, those negotiations finally broke down this week over demands by India and China for safeguards for their farmers, a clear sign of the rising clout of these emerging economies.

Despite investor fears about the leftist bent of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva when he was elected to lead Brazil in 2002, he has demonstrated a light touch when it comes to economic stewardship, avoiding the populist impulses of leaders in Venezuela and Bolivia.

Instead, he has fueled Brazil’s growth through a deft combination of respect for financial markets and targeted social programs, which are lifting millions out of poverty, said David Fleischer, a political analyst and emeritus professor at the University of Brasília. Ms. Sousa is one such beneficiary.

Long famous for its unequal distribution of wealth, Brazil has shrunk its income gap by six percentage points since 2001, more than any other country in South America this decade, said Francisco Ferreira, a lead economist at the World Bank.

While the top 10 percent of Brazil’s earners saw their cumulative income rise by 7 percent from 2001 to 2006, the bottom 10 percent shot up by 58 percent, according to Marcelo Côrtes Neri, the director of the Center for Social Policies at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Rio de Janeiro.

But Brazil is also outspending most of its neighbors on social programs, and overall public spending continues to be nearly four times as high as what Mexico spends as a percentage of its gross national product, Mr. Ferreira said.

The momentum of its economic expansion is expected to last. As the United States and parts of Europe struggle with recession and the fallout from housing crises, Brazil’s economy shows few of the vulnerabilities of other emerging powers.

It has greatly diversified its industrial base, has huge potential to expand a booming agricultural sector into virgin fields and holds a tremendous pool of untapped natural resources. New oil discoveries will thrust Brazil into the ranks of the global oil powers within the next decade.

Yet while exports of commodities like oil and agricultural goods have driven much of its recent growth, Brazil is less and less dependent on them, economists say, having the advantage of a huge domestic market — 185 million people — that has grown wealthier with the success of people like Ms. Sousa.

In fact, with a stronger currency and inflation mostly in check, Brazilians are on a spending spree that has become a prime motor for the economy, which grew 5.4 percent last year.

They are buying both Brazilian goods and a rising flood of imported products. Many businesses have relaxed credit terms to allow Brazilians to pay for refrigerators, cars and even plastic surgery over years instead of months, despite some of the highest interest rates in the world. In June the country reached 100 million credit cards issued, a 17 percent jump over last year.

At Casas Bahia, a modestly priced Brazilian furniture-store chain, the number of customers buying items on installment nearly tripled to 29.3 million from 2002 to 2007, said Sônia Mitaini, a company spokeswoman.

Riding a Wave of Growth – continued:

Other signs of new wealth abound. In Macaé, an oil boomtown near Rio de Janeiro, contractors are racing to finish new shopping malls and luxury housing to keep up with demand from oil-service firms. At a port in Angra dos Reis, a town known for its spectacular islands, some 25,000 workers have found jobs building oil platforms.

Petrobras, Brazil’s national oil company, shocked the oil world in November when it announced that its Tupi deepwater field offshore of Rio de Janeiro could hold five billion to eight billion barrels of oil. Analysts think there could be billions of barrels more in surrounding areas.

While the oil will be expensive and complicated to extract, Petrobras has said it expects to be producing up to 100,000 barrels a day from Tupi by 2010, and hopes to produce up to a million barrels a day in about a decade.

The new oil plays are setting off an investment boom in Rio de Janeiro, with an estimated $67.6 billion expected to flow into the state by 2010, according to the Rio de Janeiro State Federation of Industries, an industry group. Petrobras alone expects to invest $40.5 billion by 2012.

Some economists say a slowdown in the rest of the world’s economy, especially in Asia, which is soaking up much of Brazil’s exports of soybeans and iron ore, could crimp growth here. “But that probability is small,” said Alfredo Coutiño, the senior economist for Latin America for Moody’s

In fact, because Brazil’s economy has become so diversified in recent years, the country is less susceptible to a hangover from the struggling United States economy.

Brazil’s exports to the United States represent just 2.5 percent of Brazil’s gross national product, compared with 25 percent of G.N.P. for Mexican exports, according to Moody’s.

“What makes Brazil more resilient is that the rest of the world matters less,” said Don Hanna, the head of emerging market economics at Citibank.

The rest of the world certainly has helped. Soaring prices for minerals and other commodities have created a new class of super rich.

The number of Brazilians with liquid fortunes exceeding $1 million grew by 19 percent last year, third behind China and India, according to a survey by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini.

At the same time, President da Silva has deepened many of the social programs begun 10 years ago under Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who as president ushered in many of the structural reforms that laid the foundations of Brazil’s stable growth today.

In Ms. Sousa’s case, for instance, she owes much of the success of her underwear business to loans she has received from the Bank of the Northeast, a government-financed bank that has awarded microloans to 330,000 people to develop businesses in this fast-growing region.

Other programs, like Bolsa Familia, give small subsidies to millions of poor Brazilians to buy food and other essentials. Bolsa Familia, which benefits 45 million people nationwide in distributing an annual budget of about $5.6 billion, has been far more effective at raising per-capita incomes than recent increases in the minimum wage, which has risen 36 percent since 2003.

The bottom-up nature of such social programs has helped expand formal and informal employment as well as the Brazilian middle class. The number of people under the poverty line — defined as those earning less than $80 a month — fell by 32 percent from 2004 to 2006, Mr. Neri said.

The programs have been particularly effective here in Brazil’s northeast, historically one of poorest parts of the country. Residents here have received more than half the $15.6 billion doled out in social programs from 2003 to 2006, according to Empresa de Pesquisa Energetica, an arm of the Energy Ministry.

People here are using that new wealth to buy items like televisions and refrigerators at a faster rate than the rest of the country. The northeast, in fact, passed the country’s south in electricity use this year for the first time, the energy agency said.

Many families have bridged the gap to the middle class by using Bolsa Familia to meet basic needs, and then applying for small loans to start businesses and escape the informal economy. That is what Maria Auxiliadora Sampaio and her husband did in Fortaleza, a coastal city of 2.4 million people. They were receiving Bolsa Familia payments of about $30 a month, which they used to support their three children. Then, two years ago, Ms. Sampaio used a microloan of about $190 to buy nail polish and kick-start her manicure business, which she runs from home.

Today she is making around $70 a day — about four minimum salaries per month, she said. With her next loan she plans to put about $140 toward a stove to sterilize nail clippers, which today she does with hot water.

The fruits of her new business have allowed the couple to retile their house and buy a television and a cellphone. This month her husband, who works at a Cachaça factory, was able to realize a dream: to buy a drum set.

He plans to use it in a band that plays forró, a traditional music in the northeast. “We always ate and paid bills, but he waited and waited,” and finally bought the set for about $780, she said.

“I feel like we are part of this group of people that are coming up in the world,” said Ms. Sampaio, 28. “When you don’t have anything, when you don’t have a profession, don’t have the means to live, you are no one, you are a mosquito. I was nothing. Today, I am in heaven.”…


Posted on on July 25th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (

A Fact of Life: Strategic Alliance for Venezuela and Russia.

Writes for the Center for Hemispheric Affairs – COHA – Research Associate Raylsiyaly Rivero.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez met on July 22, 2008 in Moscow with his Russian counterparts President Dimitri Medvédev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. They seemed to enjoy every moment of the occasion, even though it was rather short when it came to hard developments. The encounter was arranged to formalize a military and defense alliance between the two countries, dubbed the “Alianza Estratégica.” The three leaders placed great stress on the importance of the meeting in which trade deals, arms sales, coordinated energy policies and the expansion of trade and joint financial services were achieved between the two nations.

By 2007, bilateral trade between Russia and Venezuela had reached 1 billion dollars and is now likely to expand exponentially. The Russian and Venezuelan leaders carried out negotiations for the acquisition of a large number of army tanks, which are viewed by the Venezuelan high command as being indispensable to the modernization of the country’s armed forces. Some Washington insiders believe that Caracas might be considering the purchase of the first of what could be several Russian submarines, as well as a number of AN-74 military transport aircrafts, while at the same time continuing with talks about importing a Kalashnikov rapid firing weapons’ assembly factory scheduled to be put into operation in Venezuela.

Moscow’s Challenge to the U.S.

What Washington has to fear is not so much Moscow’s projected arms sales to Venezuela, but that an increasingly sharp-tongued Russia is now planning to give as much as it receives to the U.S. Russia intends to show the U.S. their discontent over Washington desires to build a missile shield in Poland and the Bush administration’s encouragement to Georgia and the Ukraine to sign up with NATO. Meanwhile, Moscow can be expected to express concern for Venezuelan sovereignty and solidarity with Chávez and his populist, nationalist cause, in terms very similar to the bellicose foreign policy being undertaken by the Medvédev-Putin government towards Washington. Furthermore, the Bush administration must realize that it is probably viewing the first round in Russia’s notable reemergence in Latin American political and economic affairs, but this time its policy is fueled not so much by soviet ideology as by a relentless quest for natural resources, and that Moscow is prepared to direct at Washington’s expense, heavy assets as well as the time and attention necessary to elevate its geopolitical silhouette in the region.

Venezuelan-Russian Relationship Thickens
Since 2006, Venezuela and Russia have engaged in arms transactions including Kalishnikov assault rifles, Sukhoi fighter jets and a fleet of helicopters, generating mounting apprehension in Washington. Another tie between both countries has been the constant flow of military and technical personnel, offering and receiving specialized training, such as Russian technicians flying into Venezuela to instruct local mechanics, as well as assigning flight instructors to train Venezuelan pilots so taht they can operate recently acquired equipment.

The military relationship established between Venezuela and Russia raises questions concerning Chávez’s goal of achieving peace throughout Latin America, while he remains quite agitated over what he considers to be Washington’s hostile intentions towards his left-leaning government. The consolidation of the country’s military forces is being pursued relentlessly by Venezuela’s high command, and the process plays an important role in the Venezuelan president’s aspiration to spearhead the regional integration movement of like-minded societies, now being witnessed throughout northern South America.

The Implications of Moscow’s Parachuting into Latin American Diplomacy
The international community has been paying close attention to Chávez’s visit to Russia and Moscow’s impact on Venezuela’s future geopolitical capabilities and ambitions. In addition, the geopolitical situation between these two countries illustrates how Russian relations with Latin America are becoming more important by the day, not only because of its arms sales throughout in the region, but also due to the aggressive “resource diplomacy” that Moscow has been undertaking throughout South America. The continuing chilly relationship between Venezuela and the United States, along with Washington’s increasingly frosting relationship with Moscow, almost certainly will continue to contribute to the substantial strengthening of military and diplomatic connections between Russia and Venezuela. This prospect cannot possibly make the U.S. very happy.

The new fact of life facing Washington is that Russia will be a growing factor when it comes to relating to the left leaning governments in the region, who are seeking autonomy from U.S. policy makers, which Washington is sure to deem dangerous, but which Moscow considers just fine.

July 23, 20


Posted on on July 24th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (

July 23, 2008, The Wall Street Journal reports correctly from Washington DC that in Congressional Hearings in testimony, it became known that The White House, that is President George W. Bush himself, interfered with the decision making process by the Administrator of the EPA when it came to do something about the subject of Climate Change. This by actually stopping him from allowing the State of California to do the right things that the US President refuses to do. This was also accompanied by misrepresentations from the White House and from the Administrator himself, in other Congressional testimonies. It is easy to label this sort of activity – but we will refrain from doing so. Our target in this posting is the WSJ itself.

While the news section of the paper, presented the above information, and it also presented the information that a bill to Curb Energy Speculation is Advancing in the Senate, it was one “Senior Editorial Writer at the WSJ, Based in Washington” by the name of Colin Levy, that went out for a killing job on Former Vice president Al Gore who stated correctly that when you are in a climate hole you stop digging for more oil.

Ms. Levy wants to impress on us that “High Oil Prices Make The Green Agenda Harder To Swallow.” But this is little less then pouring more fuel on the fire – the whole point is that the fact that energy has become more expensive is of help to those that instigate the nee to do something in order to rid the world of its addiction to oil.

Ms. Levy writes the EXTREME STUPIDITY that “Prices Have Fallen Since President Bush Announced His Support For More Drilling.”
Does she really think you can wish the problem away and add to it, as she did – “The Alleged CO2 Problem?”

We think that the WSJ is totally discrediting itself by letting lose this sort of people running lose with political killer hatchets in its editorial room. Who will give any credibility to the paper, even though that it has sometimes good coverage in its News Department. We guess that they understand that news is a competitive business so they better run that function right. But then seemingly they believe that interpreting the news you do on what you think is well;come by this or other political interest – so they shoot themselves in the feet. You see, business people want real predictions of what might happen economically. They like to get something that is more then wishful thinking. So, if this is the case, they are fully right to move over to the Financial Times in order to get interpretations of US news in a global context – plain opinion – no bamboozle.

Other interesting news of the day, dealing with oil and oil-money with impact on what goes on indeed:

In Moscow, Mr. Chavez has just signed agreements with three Russian companies to work on the huge Orinoco belt of heavy crudes. The companies are: Gazprom, Lukoil, and the Anglo-Russian joint venture TNK-BP in which the US Chevron was not able to get a foothold.

Israeli refiners Alon and Delek have moved into the US – specially interesting is Alon USA Energy Inc. that operates now two refineries that will be able to use successfully heavier crudes and produce also asphalt. In effect they fortify their asphalt by incorporating material from ground up old tires. This is a step towards a more environmentally favorable product.

As I said, addressing money issues – look at General Electric entering in an Abu Dhabi partnership for $8 Billion. Now, is Ms. Levy blind to the fact that some in the US will connect this also to the money wasted on oil – the reason for the real US slumping economy? There will be probably more of a reaction to the loss of US assets to the Middle East Oil States then to the red herring of doubt about the CO2 emissions. Let her come to New York and ask what people thought of the sale of the Chrysler building? That was just real estate – now we talk about airplane engines.






OPINION  Permalink | | Email This Article Email This Article
Posted in Israel, New York, Reporting from Washington DC, Russia, UAE, United Kingdom, Venezuela


Posted on on July 21st, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (

Japanese-Venezuelan oil deal expected.

Kyodo News, July 21, 2008, The Japan Times online.
Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. is expected to sign a memorandum of understanding this summer with Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., Venezuela’s state-run oil company, to jointly explore oil deposits near the Orinoco River, sources said Sunday.

The plan is part of the government’s efforts to strengthen Japan’s energy security through the diversification of crude oil suppliers. Japan currently depends on the Middle East for 90 percent of its crude oil imports.

The Orinoco extra heavy oil deposits, known for their tar-like, highly viscous nature, are considered nonconventional deposits, as are oil sands and oil shale.

Although such deposits are much costlier to develop than conventional deposits, recent surges in crude oil prices have made projects of this nature much more attractive.

Senior officials at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will visit Venezuela as early as next month to hold final negotiations with Petroleos de Venezuela, the sources said.

Venezuela has the world’s sixth-largest oil deposits.


We have some special interest in this area as years ago, being part of the UNITAR Center for Heavy Crudes and Tar Sands, we were involved in exchanges between Venezuela, a member of OPEC, and Canada, a country with strong ties to the US, in what regards the development of technology for refining heavy crudes. The most interesting part in this was that the Arab States allowed the UN to enter this partnership under the terms that the heavy crudes are not oil and can be viewed as a new source of energy. this approach allowed the UN to go for the now infamous Nairobi conference of 1981 that was titled the UN Conference on NEW ANS RENEWABLE SOURCES OF ENERGY that could thus deal with heavy crudes, tar sands and oil shales, in addition to the first UN shot at renewables. The conference is considered as infamous because it was not allowed to look at energy needs – so it was quite useless as a development conference and one could try to be kind to the UN by saying it was sort of a science promoting event masquerading as an energy event. As everything else that the UN establishes, this conference left behind a Secretariat that continued to bamboozle the energy topics at the UN for another two decades, before it was retired, but yet no real energy department was created in its place. Energy at the Islamic powered UN is still a main taboo.

We write this, because I was involved in writing the issue pages on oil shales and tar sands for the Nairobi Conference under a UN contract – my actual report was then replaced by a Russian product brought over from Moscow by the Russian member of the conference stirring committee. I found then my usefulness in Nairobi better served by accepting to organize and chair the energy session of the NGOs in the name of the Society for International Development. Oh well – just memories …


Posted on on July 17th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (

Raul Castro seeks alternatives to Venezuela.

By LUIZ ALBERTO MONIZ BANDEIRA, Friday, July 18, 2008, from Brasilia. and posted on The Japan Times.

Raul Castro has begun a gradual process of changing Cuba’s economy and international relations. Within Cuba, he hopes to legitimize his government by improving standards of living. Outside of Cuba, he does not want to be held captive by Cuba’s one international supporter: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Castro believes in giving farm workers greater incentives. He has authorized the sale of farm machinery and tools — centralized until now — directly to farmers, as well as handing over idle land to private cooperatives and other organizations that request them. He also canceled the debts of some small producers and raised the prices paid by the state for milk and meat.

In another measure intended to improve the lives of ordinary Cubans, he has removed restrictions on acquiring computers, microwave ovens and other appliances. Cuban officials stress that the purpose of these changes is to increase efficiency, “not alter the socialist model.”

But, like China and Vietnam, the government will have to embrace the market more openly if it is really to improve living conditions. Only with foreign investment and economic liberalization — a process that has already begun in some measure — can Cuba hope to offer its 11.2 million people more consumer goods and comfort, improve the social welfare system, and rehabilitate the country’s infrastructure.

This is essential not only in order to build a “better socialism,” as Castro has promised, but especially to legitimize the continuity of the regime established by his brother Fidel’s revolution.

For now, Cuba is politically stable. The evolution of its internal situation leaves no doubt about the consolidation of Raul Castro’s authority. There is somewhat greater freedom of expression, with debates and criticism of several aspects of Cuba’s socialist model, such as low salaries and the dual monetary system, which has caused income inequality by favoring those who work in tourism and for foreign companies.

But greater political liberalization is unlikely in the short or medium term. Cuba’s government argues that America’s financial and political support for the opposition impedes that.

Nevertheless, with Felipe Perez Roque as minister of foreign affairs, Cuba continues to conduct a pragmatic foreign policy. Venezuela and China have become Cuba’s main economic and commercial partners, and may continue to be so.

But Raul Castro wants to avoid dependence on one or two countries alone. His objective is to diversify Cuba’s foreign relations and prevent problems that any change in these countries could cause his regime — a constant imperative since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

As a result, relations with Latin America’s giants, Brazil and Mexico, are being put on a more normal footing and relations with Spain are being improved. Moreover, negotiations with the European Union have resumed, greater understanding with the Vatican is being fostered, and Castro himself has publicly suggested the possibility of dialogue with the United States.

Although Venezuela provides between $1.5 and $2 billion annually to Cuba, Castro regards Chavez as something of a headache, owing to his rhetoric and his confrontational attitude with several countries. Chavez is simply not the right person to help Cuba normalize its international relations.

Moreover, Venezuela has its own economic problems, despite its enormous dollar reserves. Shortages of medicines and basic foodstuffs such as milk, sugar, eggs, beef, and chicken abound as a consequence of price controls and mounting inflation. This reminds Castro of the economic dislocations that led the Soviet Union to slash its aid to Cuba in the years before it collapsed.

Venezuela’s problems make collaboration and support from Brazil — the Southern Hemisphere’s largest industrial power — even more important. During President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s visit to Havana in January 2008, Brazil and Cuba signed several economic and commercial agreements.

Indeed, Brazil doubled its loans to Cuba for the purchase of foodstuffs and medicines, to $200 million, and has arranged projects to rehabilitate Cuba’s infrastructure with the participation of Brazilian companies.

Other agreements include a project in which Brazil’s state energy company, Petrobras, and Cuba’s Cupet will extract oil in the Gulf of Mexico, and another that involves technological aid from the Brazilian company Pessquisa Agropecurria for the development of soya production in Cuba.

As these initiatives suggest, rapprochement with Brazil and Mercosur appears to be Cuba’s best international alternative as Raul Castro seeks to avoid falling into America’s economic orbit.

Luiz Alberto Moniz Bandeira, a former professor at the University of Brasilia, is the author of more than 20 books.