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Death toll rises in Venezuela amid roadblocks – Americas – Al Jazeera English

Death toll rises in Venezuela amid roadblocks – Americas – Al Jazeera English.

Consensus and dialogue rare in divided nation as barricades are enforced and fires smoulder around Caracas.

 Last updated: 25 Feb 2014 05:27

Demonstrators say they will not remove roadblocks until public safety improves [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
Caracas, Venezuela – Opposition activists have erected roadblocks across parts of the capital Caracas, halting transportation in an attempt to escalate the ongoing political standoff.

Demonstrators manning barricades in a suburb in eastern Caracas said on Monday they would not end the blockade until safety improved in one of the most violent countries in Latin America.

“We are protecting ourselves from the military and [armed pro-government] collectives who might try and come here,” said a student covering his face beside piles of rubbish and logs at a blocked intersection.

“I have been robbed many times.”

He spoke to Al Jazeera requesting anonymity.

The death toll from the unrest beginning in early February rose to 13, the government announced on Monday.

In Caracas’s business district, more than 1,000 pro-government motorcycle drivers massed outside the presidential palace, criticising what they consider an opposition plot to destabilise the country and topple the elected government of President Nicolas Maduro.

“The opposition are the ones who are causing problems, not us,” Gusmarly Morillo, the wife of a motorcycle taxi driver, told Al Jazeera as she waited to enter the grounds of Miraflores Palace.

“They [opposition partisans] think we are criminals just because we are poor and live in a slum.”

Lighting rod for anger

Motorcycles are the vehicle of choice for members of pro-government collectives – groups which sometimes use force in what they consider defence of the socialist revolution.

The collectives have become a lightening rod for opposition anger recently.

They are dubbed “shock troops” or “paramilitaries” by government critics who accuse them of attacking student protesters and terrorising middle class areas at the government’s behest.

But Katiuska Aponte, vice president of the Bolivarian Motorcycle Association, said those accusations are unfounded.

“The motorcyclists aren’t all collective members; they’re just workers trying to make a living to feed their families,” she told Al Jazeera.

For members of pro-government collectives, motorcycles are the vehicle of choice [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]

“Part of the question of insecurity is coming from groups bent on destabilising the country. They are trying to delegitimise our government. We are here protesting on two wheels in favour of our elected president and in favour of peace.”

Poor communities on the hills around Caracas form the backbone of government support in the capital.

Opposition politicians, including defeated presidential contender Henrique Capriles, have pledged to do more to appeal to lower-class voters.

They want to shake the opposition’s image as representatives of a privileged elites.

But supermarket staff in upscale eastern Caracas did not seem impressed by the roadblocks.

“For us, people who work here but don’t live here, the blockades are a big problem because we can’t get to work easily,” Franklin Moran told Al Jazeera as he and a group of supermarket employees in uniforms watched students guard a barricade.

“If the protests were more symbolic and less disruptive, we would be more likely to support them.”

Students at another blockade nearby claimed they understood the concerns of Caracas’ poor.

“The opposition doesn’t want to take away the missions [centres providing social services] from the poor,” Brian Rubeiro, an opposition protester manning a barricade, told Al Jazeera.

“We want the social programmes, but there needs to be accountability and less corruption.”

Question of collectives

Oil prices rose ten-fold during the socialist period, and the opposition believes much of the massive cash infusion into South America’s largest oil exporter has been squandered.

“In the end, we are all Venezuelans and we want a prosperous future and peace,” Rubeiro said.

Maduro called for a peace dialogue to take place on Wednesday, but students said that could not solve the crisis unless the government starts disarming collectives as a show of good faith.

Capriles refuses to attend talks until Leopoldo Lopez, another opposition politician, is released from jail and the “repression” ends.

There was at least one rare moment of consensus in the deeply divided country on Monday.

Protesters blocking the road near Altamira Square in Caracas let through a group of motorcycle drivers heading to a pro-government rally after the two sides had a discussion.

“Forty Chavistas on motorbikes came through on the way to the demonstration,” Gustavo Ortega, a marketing student and demonstrator, told Al Jazeera.

“We negotiated and let them pass through; it’s the first time I have seen something like this.”

Moments of consensus and dialogue are rare, however, as barricades are enforced and fires smoulder around the city.

Are we trading away our rights and environment? | Science Matters | David Suzuki Foundation

Are we trading away our rights and environment? | Science Matters | David Suzuki Foundation.

Photo: Are we trading away our rights and environment?

(Credit: Gord McKenna via Flickr)

By David Suzuki with contributions from with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Manager Ian Hanington.

Global trade has advantages. For starters, it allows those of us who live through winter to eat fresh produce year-round. And it provides economic benefits to farmers who grow that food. That could change as oil, the world’s main transport fuel, becomes increasingly scarce, hard to obtain and costly, but we’ll be trading with other nations for the foreseeable future.

Because countries often have differing political and economic systems, agreements are needed to protect those invested in trade. Canada has signed numerous deals, from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to several Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (FIPA), and is subject to the rules of global trade bodies, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Treaties, agreements and organizations to help settle disputes may be necessary, but they often favour the interests of business over citizens. With Canada set to sign a 31-year trade deal with China, a repressive and undemocratic country with state-owned corporations, we need to be cautious.

Should we sign agreements if they subject our workers to unfair competition from lower-paid employees from investor nations, hinder our ability to protect the environment or give foreign companies and governments excessive control over local policies and valuable resources? Under some agreements, basics like protecting the air, water and land we all need for survival can become difficult and expensive.

One recent case could put Canada on the hook for $250 million. Quebec has put a hold on fracking pending a study into the environmental impacts of blasting massive amounts of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to fracture rock and release gas deposits. A U.S. resource company plans to sue Canada under Chapter 11 of NAFTA, claiming compensation for the moratorium’s damage to its drilling interests. Similar disputes have already cost Canada millions of dollars.

Ontario also wants assurances that fracking is safe before it allows the practice. That province is facing costs and hurdles because of another conflict between trade and environment. Japan and the European Union filed a complaint with theWTO, claiming a requirement under the Ontario Green Energy Act that wind and solar projects must use a set percentage of local materials is unfair.

Many of the problems arise because of an investor-state arbitration mechanism, which is included in NAFTA, as well as the proposed Canada-China FIPA, Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement and Trans-Pacific Partnership. It allows foreign investors to bring claims before outside arbitrators if they believe their economic interests are being harmed by a nation’s actions or policies. So economics trump national interests.

This has caused many countries, including Australia, South Africa, India and several in Latin America, to avoid signing deals that include the investor-state arbitration mechanism. In Australia’s case, the country recognized the pitfalls when tobacco companies, including Philip Morris, attempted to claim damages under a bilateral investment treaty after the federal government introduced a science-based law requiring cigarettes to be sold in plain, unappealing packages.

According to Australian National University law professor Thomas Faunce, Philip Morris then lobbied the U.S. government to include a similar mechanism in a new trade agreement it was negotiating with Australia. In an article for Troy Media, Faunce wrote that, with such a mechanism, the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes “would, in effect, become the final arbitrators on major Australian public policy questions concerning mineral royalties, fossil fuel and renewable energy, water, telecommunications, banking, agriculture and power.”

The 31-year trade agreement between Canada and China is worrisome, with its 15-year opt-out clause (compared to just six months for NAFTA), but the inclusion of the mechanism in other agreements is also cause for concern. At the very least, we could be on the hook for millions or billions of dollars if our environmental, health, labour or other policies were deemed to harm the interests of those investing in or trading with Canada.

The government’s desire to expand global trade may be understandable, but we mustn’t give away too much. We must tell our elected representatives to at least delay the Canada-China FIPA until it has been examined more thoroughly, and to reconsider the inclusion of investor-state arbitration mechanisms in all trade deals.

Guest Post: Africa – China And Japan’s Next Battleground? | Zero Hedge

Guest Post: Africa – China And Japan’s Next Battleground? | Zero Hedge.

We have long held that Africa is a crucial region of the world in the near future because there is no more incremental debt capacity at any level: sovereign, household, financial or corporate – in any other region. As we noted previously:

without the ability to create debt out of thin air, be it on a secured or unsecured basis, the ability to “create” growth, at least in the current Keynesian paradigm, goes away with it. Yet there is one place where there is untapped credit creation potential, if not on an unsecured (i.e., future cash flow discounting), then certainly on a secured (hard asset collateral) basis. The place is Africa, and according to some estimates the continent, Africa can create between $5 and $10 trillion in secured debt, using its extensive untapped resources as first-lien collateral.

 

Africa is precisely where the smart money (and those who quietly run the above mentioned “power echelons”), namely China and Goldman Sachs, have refocused all their attention in the past year precisely because they both realize that Africa is the last and only bastion of untapped credit growth and capacity.

Africa in geographical perspective…

 

So it is perhaps unsurprising that China’s current arch-enemy Japan – and its apparently bottomless well of printed money – are taking aim also…

Submitted by Shannon Tiezzi, via The Diplomat,

As tensions between China and Japan multiply, there is an increasing battle for influence in other states. For example, in his recent article in The Diplomat, Jin Kai noted China and Japan’s global media war. There has also been an upswing in more traditional diplomatic wrangling, with Japan seeking to increase its influence in ASEAN as an attempt to reduce China’s sway in the region. With both China and Japan seeking to assert their leadership over the Asia-Pacific, it makes sense that both countries would woo ASEAN. It’s a bit more surprisingly to see China-Japan diplomatic competition supposedly pop up in Africa.

Recently, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe both visited the African continent. Abe left on January 9 for a week-long tour of the Ivory Coast, Mozambique, and Ethiopia. Meanwhile, Wang was in Africa from January 7 to January 11, visiting Ethiopia, Djibouti, Ghana, and Senegal. Given the current chill in China-Japan relations (and the tendency for both countries to snipe at each other in the media), the two trips quickly morphed into a sign of ‘competition’ over Africa.

Both countries rejected the idea that they were competing. When Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying was asked to comment on the idea that Wang Yi’s visit to Africa “is directed against Japan,” she responded that anyone harboring this idea “is not so acquainted with the past and present of China-Africa relations.” Indeed, as Hua pointed out, it’s traditional for Chinese Foreign Ministers to visit Africa as their first overseas trip of the new year. Hua praised China “sincere and selfless help” for Africa, and warned that trying to stir up a rivalry in Africa is “a wrong decision which is doomed to fail.” This comment was likely directed at Japan, but could just as easily apply to the United States and other countries seeking to increase their influence in Africa.

Japan also denied that Abe’s visit to Africa had anything to do with China. Hiroshige Seko, a deputy chief cabinet secretary, was quoted in an Associated Press article as saying that competing against China is “not our intention at all.” Seko added, “As far as the African nations are concerned, they are important regardless of China.” African countries are important to Japan for the same reason they are to China — a wealth of natural resources as well as ample opportunity for foreign investment. The New York Times pointed out that increasing ties with Africa is just one aspect of Abe’s diplomatic strategy, all of which is designed to support “Abenomics.”

In a speech in EthiopiaAbe reaffirmed Africa’s importance. “A considerable number of Japanese believe that Africa is the hope for Japan,” he said. His speech focused almost entirely on the potential for a positive relationship between Africans and Japanese companies — including how Japanese management strategies can benefit African people. “When Japanese companies that value each and every individual come to Africa, a win-win relationship in the truest sense can emerge,” Abe said. By contrast, his vision of the Japanese government’s role in Africa seemed like an afterthought. Abe did discuss his wish for more cooperation with the African Union, and offered to increase Japans’ assistance and loans to the continent, but he spent far less time on this point than on extolling the virtues of Japanese businesses.

Japan’s strategy, in other words, is economically focused. It’s clear that Abe’s pursuit of a relationship with Africa is closely connected with Japanese businesses. China, on the other hand, constantly emphasizes the “friendship” between its government and those of African nations. Though Chinese companies do big business in China, Beijing almost never alludes to this fact in its official remarks. When joint projects (such as roads or government buildings) are brought up, these projects are always a sign of China’s friendship towards Africa.

Accordingly, in his speeches Wang Yi focused on the government-to-government relationships between China and  African nationsIn Senegal, Wang called for both countries “to firmly support each other’s core interest[s] and major concerns.” In Ghana, he spoke about the need “to promote practical cooperation through strengthening traditional friendship.” China’s relationships with African countries are focused not just on business opportunities (although of course that’s an important aspect) but also on gaining African diplomatic support for China’s policies.

Whereas Abe seems content to have Japanese businesses make profits, China is actively pursuing soft power on the continent. This is nothing new for China. A 2013 study by Gustavo Flores-Macías and Sarah Kreps of Cornell University found that, since the mid-1990s, China has been quite successful at parlaying its trade relationships in Africa and Latin America into tangible foreign policy support. Japan doesn’t seem to be seeking this sort of influence (at least, not yet). Instead, Abe is more openly concerned with increasing economic interactions. While China and Japan may look like they’re competing in Africa, the two countries are actually playing different games.

Brazil’s Flaws Are Clear… | Zero Hedge

Brazil’s Flaws Are Clear… | Zero Hedge. (source)

While Eike Batista’s collapse from grace may be the poster child for the country, this deep dive into the Latin American economy concludes Brazil’s flaws are clear. Commodity prices have been volatile; global growth has been weak and inconsistent. Brazil can no longer depend on these factors for growth. A closer look reveals that internal conditions are progressively becoming Brazil’s main economic foe. Ironically this is good news as the country is increasingly in a position to take control of its destiny. What is needed is decisive leadership and effective solutions to the long-term problems plaguing the country. Short-term stimulus measures and even supply-side measures such as reduced taxes have clearly not stimulated the economy. Brazil must invest in its own future.

Via Rodrigo Serrano of RCS Investments,

Brazil’s emergence as a significant economic force over the past decade generated noteworthy investor enthusiasm. From 2003 to 2008, an amalgamation of principal factors such as: macroeconomic stability stemming from prior reforms in the country, a recovering U.S. economy from its 2001 recession, historically low global interest rates, appreciating commodity prices, and rising demand from China set the stage for a sustained period of solid economic growth in Brazil.

While most of the aforementioned tailwinds provided a sound incubator for solid economic growth across all BRIC nations during the same period; Russia, India, and China averaged 7.1%, 8.0%, and 11.3% respectably; it was Brazil that more than doubled its rate of growth from 2.0% during 1997-2002 to 4.2% from 2003-2008 according to the World Bank. This improvement was the best among the BRIC nations.

As the 2008 financial crisis approached, many prominent investors and academics, fond of the bullish long-term prospects of the BRIC nations, entertained the decoupling thesis. From the Economist: “Yet recent data suggest decoupling is no myth. Indeed, it may yet save the world economy. Decoupling does not mean that an American recession will have no impact on developing countries… The point is that their GDP-growth rates will slow by much less than in previous American downturns” (Economist: The decoupling debate).

While the American downturn and subsequent financial crisis did precipitate a global recession largely debunking the idea that BRIC nations could step in and save the world economy,investor interest in Brazil only intensified when the event seemed like it would be little more than a slight bump in the road in terms of economic growth. Brazil’s economy registered a scant contraction of 0.3% in 2009, which was then followed the following year by the strongest pace of annual growth in 25 years at 7.5%. Furthermore, Brazil’s Bovespa index rocketed higher from the nadir of its stock market crash in late 2008 by roughly 129% by the end of 2009, the second best performance among BRIC nations over that period after Russia’s MICEX index.

Despite these impressive performance statistics, since peaking in 2010, economic growth has been widely lackluster, souring investor sentiment and bringing into the spotlight the panoply of structural problems facing Latin America’s largest economy. This extensive report covers a brief economic history of Brazil, a focus on the country’s current economic impediments, and steps for positive future development.

Full report below:

RCS Investments: Brazil Special Report

 

Glenn Greenwald: Snowden Documents Could Be ‘Worst Nightmare’ For U.S.

Glenn Greenwald: Snowden Documents Could Be ‘Worst Nightmare’ For U.S..

 

Outrage over Morales’ plane diversion – Americas – Al Jazeera English

Outrage over Morales’ plane diversion – Americas – Al Jazeera English.

 

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