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Sparks Fly Between Power Companies and Government

Buenos Aires during a blackout. (photo: Fede Salvo/Flickr)

Buenos Aires during a blackout. (photo: Fede Salvo/Flickr)

After six days of rolling blackouts, power companies have defended themselves in response to Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich’s threat to nationalise them if outages continued.

A spokesperson for energy company Edesur Alejandra Martínez today blamed the national government for discomfort caused by the blackouts, which have affected thousands in recent days, indicating that the current tariff and subsidy policy prevents serious improvement in delivery of electricity.

“The actual rate [charged for power] in Capital Federal and Greater Buenos Aires is the lowest in Latin America, showing there is a difficulty. It is very difficult to be able to provide a quality service and maintain it,” Martínez told Radio 10 this morning.

Martínez confirmed that the subsidies provided by the government to keep the price of utilities low, do not go to the distributors and said Edesur had invested $900m this year in capital.

After meetings with executives from power companies Edesur and Edenor – responsible for providing power to Buenos Aires City and Province – at the Casa Rosada yesterday, Capitanich threatened to nationalise the companies.

“If you are not able to provide the service, then the Government is willing to do so directly and immediately… There are no excuses,” Capitanich said.

Capitanich told the press he anticipated fines would apply for breach of concession contract.

The head of the power workers union, Rafael Mancuso, said he supports nationalisation.

“As a union and philosophically we always think public services should be controlled by the state. If the government decides to nationalise, we will accompany them,” Mancuso told Radio La Red today.

He said there needed to be greater investment and more staff to improve the service and to “sit down to seriously discuss the issue” once the immediate problems have been resolved.

Last night a spokesperson from Edesur said “almost 99% of customers have electricity” and promised by the weekend there would be no costumers without electricity.

Posted in Current Affairs, News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina8 Comments

Bolivia Enters Space Age with Launch of First Satellite

Evo Morales at launch of Tupac Katari (photo courtesy of Bolivian government)

Evo Morales at launch of Tupac Katari (photo courtesy of government of Bolivia)

Bolivia’s first satellite, Tupac Katari, has launched successfully from space station Xichang in the western Chinese province of Sichuan, marking Bolivia’s entry into the space age. Bolivian President Evo Morales flew to China to oversee the launch.

The satellite, currently rising, will orbit 36,000km above earth and will be operated from two control centres. It was launched at 12.42pm, Bolivian time, with the technical assistance of Bolivian and Chinese scientists. It is predicted to take two weeks to reach its position.

Marco Antonio Torrico, engineer in the Bolivian Space Agency, said that specialists had been gathering in the space station for 24 hours to ensure that ”the meteorological conditions are the best they can be”.

The satellite is 2.5 metres in width and 3.6 in height, with a height of 28 metres when the solar panels are extended. It is made of titanium, steel, and aluminium.

Morales said today that the satellite “will be our light”, referring to the Bolivian state, after “so many years of living in darkness, suffering and the domination of empires”.

He went on to say the satellite’s namesake, Tupac Katari, was “An indigenous leader who rebelled against the Spanish Empire in the century 18th century, in whose honour the satellite is baptised – before being dismembered 232 years ago, said ‘I will return and I will be millions’. Now from space Tupac Katari will be our light, he will be like millions.”

The satellite is due to start operating in April 2014 and it will facilitate and improve internet, telephone, television, and radio services. The benefits of the satellite will reach all 337 municipalities of Bolivia.

Posted in Current Affairs, News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America2 Comments

Cuba: Car Import Ban Lifted

Cubans now able to acquire cars built after 1959 without permits (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Cubans now able to acquire cars built after 1959 without permits (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

This week the controversial 50-year car import ban in place in Cuba was lifted, allowing Cubans much more freedom in purchasing vehicles. Cuba’s official government newspaper Granma reported that Cuba’s council of ministers approved the change on Wednesday.

The changes are a part of a series of reforms which has opened up the country to foreign trade and modernised the island’s economy.

Although Wednesday’s reforms are popular with Cubans, they will likely see an end to the tradition of the 1950s vintage cars around Cuba, held up by Cubans and tourists alike as one of the most charming aspects of the country.

Before 2011, Cubans could only trade cars built before the 1959 revolution, as the island does not have any car factories. Since 2011, Cubans could buy and sell used cars freely but needed government permission to trade new, imported cars.

Government permission was granted in the form of permits which were only available after a long, difficult application process and was said to have prioritised those in positions of benefit to the government, such as doctors and politicians.

The text in Granma acknowledged that the so-called “letters of authorisation” had generated “resentment” and “dissatisfaction” and cited them as occasionally “a source of speculation and enrichment”.

Now, Cubans no longer need these permits to buy new, foreign-made cars, although cars will still have to be purchased from state-run sellers. Those with permits will still be given priority.

Granma stated that the new regulations “eliminate existing mechanisms of approval for the purchase of motor vehicles from the state” and as a result “the retail sale of new and used motorcycles, cars, vans, small trucks and mini buses for Cubans and foreign residents, companies and diplomats is freed up”.

Posted in Current Affairs, News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

Complaint Lodged with WTO over EU Biodiesel Dumping Duties

Silos of soy in the fields of Junin. (Photo by Nicolás Lope de Barrios)

Silos of soy in the fields of Junin. (Photo by Nicolás Lope de Barrios)

The Government yesterday presented a claim to the World Trade Organisation to challenge dumping duties imposed on Argentine biodiesel imports by the European Union.

The Foreign Ministry said the decision was “arbitrary” and had threatened to make the formal complaint since the 24.6% tariff on biodiesel produced in Argentina was announced in October.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement released yesterday the duties will “generate a direct and immediate closure of the European market for Argentine biodiesel, affecting exports worth US$1.5bn annually.”

The anti-dumping duties applied by the EU from 27th November 2013 range from €216.64 to €245.67 per tonne and are renewable after five years.

“The manifest illegality of the measure decided by the EU, their clearly protectionist spirit and the economic damage this will cause the Argentine biodiesel industry have mobilised, without delay, appropriate actions in the scope of the WTO that will satisfy the demand of the Argentine government,” the Foreign Ministry said.

The complaint opens a consultation period of 60 days in order to resolve the agreement amicably between the two parties. If an agreement is not reached, “Argentina will be able to request the establishment of a panel of experts to resolve the dispute,” the Foreign Ministry said.

The tariffs were imposed in response to a complaint from the European Biodiesel Board made to the EU arguing that Argentine biodiesel was being sold at ‘dumping’ prices in the European bloc.

The Foreign Ministry claims the European industry is oversized and lacks the abundance of raw materials to be competitive.

“Instead of undertaking reforms to improve its competitiveness, European industry has sought and achieved an administrative measure in Brussels, totally arbitrarily, that closes the European market to competition from efficient producers of biodiesel, as is the case of Argentina,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Since provisional tariffs were introduced in May at a lower rate, Argentine biodiesel exports have dropped dramatically. According to Argentina’s Chamber of Biofuels, in 2012 exports to the EU totalled 1.5m tonnes, but this year the rate was not expected to surpass a total of 500,000 tonnes.

Posted in Current Affairs, News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

First Baby Born to Transgender Couple in Argentina

Karen Bruselario and Alexis Taborda met through the Trans Community in Buenos Aires. (Photo: Beatrice Murch)

Karen Bruselario and Alexis Taborda met through the Trans Community in Buenos Aires. (Photo: Beatrice Murch)

The first baby to be born to transgender parents in Argentina was delivered by cesarean in Entre Ríos on Wednesday night and is in good health, according to reports.

Génesis Evangelina was born in the Hospital Fermín Salaberry in Victoria, the daughter of Karen Bruselario and Alexis Taborda, who were the first transgender couple to be married in Entre Ríos in November 2012.

The couple have both legally changed their genders and identities, made possible by the Gender Identity law, but chose not to undergo gender reassignment surgery, opting to keep their respective genitals.

For this reason, Taborda carried the baby and became the first man in Argentina to give birth.

The couple had requested to to be married in the Catholic Church but were refused by the parish Nuestra Señora de Aranzazú, in Victoria. Despite this refusal the Church reported that the baby could be baptised there if the parents requested it.

Bruselario, who was born male and is one of the figures of carnival in Victoria, achieved notoriety for campaigning against discrimination of two Entre Ríos nightclubs that refused her entry.

The pair met in Buenos Aires when Bruselario participated in meetings in the Trans Community and Alexis was involved in the Trans del Movimiento Evita.

The Gender Identity law allows people to change their registered gender and was passed in May 2012.

Posted in Current Affairs, News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

Chile: State to Pay Damages for Handling of 2010 Earthquake and Tsunami

Chile in the wake of the tsunami (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Chile in the wake of the tsunami (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Chile’s Supreme Court yesterday ordered the State to pay damages for their handling of the February 2010 earthquake. The earthquake, which struck on 27th February, led to a tsunami, and both disasters devastated thousands of homes and killed over 500 people.

The ruling forces the State to pay reparations of US105,000 to the family of one of the victims of the tsunami. Mario Segundo Ovando Garcés died in Talcahuano, a south-eastern Chilean port, due to complications following suffocation after being hit and swept along by a huge wave the day of the disaster.

According to the judges, the State is partially responsible for the death of Garcés as a broadcast they made via television advised citizens of Garcés’ local area that they were not at risk from the tsunami, when in fact, they were. They found the State guilty of divulging incorrect information surrounding the disaster which led to death and destruction.

Garcés’ wife, children and grandchild are to receive the money. The case could set a precedent for hundreds of others to come forward.

Many people filed complaints against the state regarding erroneous information which led to unnecessary losses, but this is the first case in which the State has experienced repercussions for this.

The earthquake and subsequent tsunami resulted in 526 dead, 800,000 injured and over US$30bn in damage to properties.

Posted in Current Affairs, News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

Latin America Shows Little Progress in Reducing Corruption, Index Says

South America as shown on the Corruption Perceptions Index. Darker countries are perceived by experts to be more corrupt.

South America as shown on the Corruption Perceptions Index. Darker countries are perceived by experts to be more corrupt.

According to the Corruption Perceptions Index 2013, published by Transparency International earlier this month, shows that Latin America continues to struggle with corruption.

The index rates countries on a scale of zero to 100, with 100 being very clean and zero being very corrupt. Latin America’s average score is just 39 points, just slightly above that of the Middle East and North Africa (37) and Sub-saharan Africa (33). Two-thirds of the countries in the Americas score below 50.

On a country level, the biggest drop was Guatemala, which fell ten spots in the ranking. The worst performing country in the Americas is Haiti, followed by Venezuela, Paraguay, and Honduras. All four countries have seen considerable levels of protest in the past year against policies considered by many to be corrupt.

Uruguay is the continent’s best performing country and the one least perceived by experts as corrupt. It tied the United States in 19th place with a score of 73. Chile is another high-performer, at 22nd place and a score of 71. From last year, Uruguay improved a point and Chile slipped a point.

Despite a few improvements, the most considerable being a three point improvement from Ecuador, the general picture region-wide is one of little progress in reducing corruption over the past year.

“We can spend a lot of effort building (anti-corruption) infrastructure, but when we have drugs and weapons worth millions of dollars crossing borders every month…corruption remains rampant,” writes Alejandro Salas, regional director for the Americas at Transparency International.

Drugs have been at the centre of Argentina’s own corruption scandals, particularly in the cases of police protection of drug traffickers in Córdoba and Santa Fe provinces. On the index, Argentina’s score improved one point from the prior year, moving from a rating 34 to 35, though when compared to other countries, Argentina’s ranking dropped four spots to 106 out of 177 countries surveyed.

Posted in Current Affairs, News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

Increased Luxury Goods Tax Made Law

Luxury goods tax increases (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Luxury items to be taxed at a higher rate (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

The senate has confirmed the increase in the tax on luxury items such as expensive cars, properties and other high-value items. Some goods will now be taxed at a rate of 50%.

The president of the Budget and Property Commission, Anibal Fernandez, commented on the change. He said its purpose is not ”collection of funds, rather it seeks equity and distribution of income”.

There was already a tax rate of 10% on luxury goods, but the change, which modifies internal tax law 24.674, will see the rate rise by different amounts depending on the value of the item.

Products valued at above $170,000 – or $210,000 for high-value cars and other vehicles – will be affected by the change. Goods between this price range will be taxed at 30% and those valued above $210,000 will be taxed at 50%.

Aircrafts used for sport or recreation will be taxed at 50% if they are valued at above $170,000. Motorbikes will be taxed at 50% if they cost between $22,000 and $40,000.

The change was voted in with 39 votes in favour of it, 18 votes against it and five abstentions. The votes in favour were from the ruling party the Frente para la Victoria and their allies and the votes against were from the opposition.

Posted in Current Affairs, News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina1 Comment

‘Abuela Narco’ Arrested in Quilmes Drug Raid

Paco in the hands of an addict (Photo: Kate Stanworth)

Paco in the hands of an addict (Photo: Kate Stanworth)

After a series of raids, police today disbanded a Quilmes drug ring, which had been based in Villa Eucaliptos and headed by an 82-year-old woman.

The woman, known as ‘Abuela Narco’ – ‘narco grandma’ – was the focus of a three-month long investigation before her arrest.

The woman was arrested in a house in Quilmes, where 2,000 doses of paco, a cheap by-product of cocaine rife in Buenos Aires’ shantytowns, were discovered. Three other women were also arrested, all aged between 30 and 40. In the same house, the police found marijuana, cash, and weapons, all containing traces of paco.

Marcelo Di Rosa, commissioner for the Illicit Drugs Division said: “The grandmother was an integral part of the organisation; she had the role of selling and guarding the drugs. She sold in her home.”

Use of paco has multiplied in the past decade, and it is estimated that around 400,000 doses of the drug are consumed in Argentina on a daily basis. According to Madres de la Lucha, an NGO made up of around 150 women whose children have been affected by the consumption of the drug, two people die each week as a result of negative side effects of the drug.

Posted in Current Affairs, News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

Brazil-sponsored Anti-spying Resolution Approved by UN

UN General Assembly (Photo courtesy of Agencia Brasil through Wikimedia Commons)

UN General Assembly (Photo courtesy of Agencia Brasil through Wikimedia Commons)

The General Assembly of the United Nations approved a resolution Wednesday that calls on member countries to respect the right to Internet privacy. Brazil, which co-sponsored the resolution along with Germany, publicly expressed approval of its passing.

More specifically, the resolution determines that citizens must not “be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference in their families, homes, or in correspondence”. The resolution establishes Internet privacy as essential for the functioning of democracy and for the freedom of expression, although its text does not include any form punishment for non-compliance.

The resolution was approved unanimously in a mostly symbolic vote, with all 193 member states of the UN voting to back the resolution, including its principle target, the United States.

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry of Brazil celebrated the resolution’s passing.

“The unanimous approval of the document by the 193 member states of the United Nations demonstrates a recognition by the international community of universal principles upheld by Brazil, such as the protection of the right to privacy and freedom of expression, especially against the extraterritorial actions by states collecting data, monitoring, and intercepting communications,” the ministry wrote in a press release.

Speaking to reporters, Brazil’s foreign affairs minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo said the resolution “opens the door to new debate” and “recommends measures to put an end to violations which take place in virtual spaces”.

“The fact is that today there is no governance on the web, and this resolution in going to help provide that,” the minister said.

The bill’s cosponsors, Brazil and Germany, are two countries that responded vigorously to revelations earlier this year that they had been targets of US cyber espionage.

In September, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff delayed an official visit to the United States after documents obtained by whistle-blower Edward Snowden revealed both she and Petrobras, Brazil’s largest energy corporation, had been the target of the US’s data collection programmes.

Speaking in front of the UN later that month, Rousseff called the espionage “a violation of human rights” and “a breach of international law”.

Last Tuesday, Snowden sent an “open letter to the Brazilian people”, which was published in the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paulo and over social media. In the letter, Snowden praised Rousseff’s attitude against cyber espionage and offered to assist Brazilian in efforts to investigate such spying, all the while insinuating such help would offered in exchange for political asylum in Brazil.

However, the same newspaper later reported that Brazilian officials had no interest in launching such an investigation or extending Snowden asylum.

Posted in Current Affairs, News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

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