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Latin America: Protests Break Out over Signing of TPP

Protests have broken out in Peru, Chile, and Mexico since last week’s signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.

Around 1,500 people from Colectivo Dignidad, a youth moment concerned with defending human rights and creating spaces for personal, intellectual and social reflections, took to the streets of Lima on Thursday to demonstrate their discontent against Peruvian president, Ollanta Humala, who signed the agreement.

Students and members of other social movements moved along the main avenues of Lima with the aim of reaching Congress. However, police blocked the protesters and fired tear gas into the crowd during a series of clashes.

In Chile, one of the movements involved, Chile Better Without TPP (CMSTPP) said that the TPP “threatens human rights”. Many of the protesters voiced concern over the use of seeds, definitions of water, land, and national rights, and indigenous groups.

One of the coordinators of CMSTPP, Paulina Acevedo, spoke to TelesurTv to voice her concerns. “I want a country where our sovereignty and the sovereign rights of our population are protected, and not violated by corporations.” She went on to highlight concerns about “commercially secret treaties” in which information isn’t readily made available.

Mexico’s National Worker’s Union (SNTE) and other socialist movements have fervently shunned the agreement, citing there was little consultation with workers and spoke of how lives of people in the countryside will be affected.

SNTE is against the treaty as it was “negotiated without consultation, but also because it will bring serious consequences for Mexico, United States, Chile, Canada and Peru,” said one of the SNTE leaders in Mexico City’s iconic Zocalo.

In addition, further concerns were raised by Mexican Network of Action Against Free Trade (RMALC). They state the TPP deepens “food dependency, inequality, poverty, malnutrition, environmental degradation, and rural migration caused by NAFTA and government policies in favor of large agribusiness corporations and the green revolution model. Likewise, it would represent a serious threat to the rights of farmers to exchange their own seeds and grow their own food.”.

In summary RMALC concludes the real existence of the agreement is for the US to maintain its “hegemony” against the rise of the Chinese superpower.

 

TPP countries. In dark green: currently in negotiations; in light green: announced interest (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

TPP countries. In dark green: the current signees; in light green: announced interest (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Controversial Deal

The TPP is one of the world’s biggest multinational trade pacts, accounting for around 40% of the global economy. The agreement was signed on 4th February by ministers from the 12 participating nations in Auckland, New Zealand. Each participating nation now has two years to ratify the accord.

The stated focus of the pact lies in strengthening economic ties between the member states by reducing tariffs and thereby creating economic development within these new regulations.

Beyond tariff controls, the pact covers a range of issues, from workers’ rights to intellectual property protection in the 12 Pacific nations.

These far-reaching regulations have been at the heart of criticism of the trade deal, which many say will favour corporate interests over society, the environment, and even democracy.

In a publication by Alfred de Zayas, first independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order of the Human Rights Council for the UN, prior to the signing of the agreement, several pertinent questions were raised.

De Zayas affirmed that “trade is not an end in itself, but must be seen in the context of the international human rights regime, which imposes binding legal obligations on States. Trade agreements are not ‘stand-alone’ legal regimes, but must conform with fundamental principles of international law, including transparency and accountability. They must not delay, circumvent, undermine or make impossible the fulfilment of human rights treaty obligations.”

The Latin American representation comes from Chile, Mexico, and Peru.

Despite the controversy, President of the Council of Ministers of Peru, Pedro Catering, still believes “this is a great step forward for the economic development of Peru”.

Foreign Minister to Chile, Heraldo Munoz previously predicted “robust democratic discussion” in his South American nation, whilst interior minister, Jorge Burgos, defended the treaty, assuring that commercial agreements were “approved by the majority”.

 

 

However, economists and Nobel Prize laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman deem the trade agreement to be be detrimental to people’s quality of life, given the negations weren’t openly transparent.

 

The world health organisation expressed concern how the TPP could potentially limit the availability of accessible medicines in order to protect the patents of pharmaceutical companies.

This would potentially medicines involved with cancer treatment, medicines affecting HIV/AIDS cures. This lead Javier Llamoza from International Action for Heath (AISREDGE) to assert that the “TPP doesn’t respect human rights”.

 

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

Boudou Prosecuted for Illegally Accepting Gifts in Office

This afternoon, Federal Judge Norberto Oyarbide prosecuted the former vice president, Amado Boudou, for receiving gifts more than four years ago.

The formal accusation comes, now, at the request of prosecutor Carlos Rivolo in relation to complimentary helicopter and plane rides that the former official had taken during a visit to the city of Necochea in December 2011. As the transport was not billed for, the prosecution alleges that is qualifies as an unlawful gift for the then vice president to accept.

Former vice president, Amado Boudou (Photo: Itupictures)

Former vice president, Amado Boudou (Photo: Itupictures)

Boudou has been indicted along with the former mayor of Necochea, Horacio Tellechea, who invited the former vice president to the city in order to perform public acts; Nazareno Natale, who owns Alas del Fin del Mundo, the aviation company that provided the plane from Buenos Aires to Necochea; and Marcelo Scaramellini from Ecodyma, the company that provided the helicopter used to transport Boudou to the park in which he performed the public act.

In requesting the indictment, Rivolo stated that is was “incomprehensible” that Boudou would have used transportation provided by the two private companies while state aircraft was available.

The former vice president’s career has been subject to a number of accusations of corruption and misuse of public funds. Most recently, Boudou was indicted in June 2014 in relation to a contract purchasing scandal with the printing company, Ciccone Calcografica, which is being investigated in the court of Federal Judge Ariel Lijo.

While Boudou is currently on vacation in Mexico, he has promised to return today and notify Lijo of his return. Due to the Carnaval holiday, Boudou will notify the judge on Wednesday 10th February.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

Government to Call Extraordinary Congress Sessions Next Week

The Government will hold extraordinary sessions in Congress next week to debate the appointment of new Supreme Court judges, military chiefs and ambassadors.

Macri may still face stiff opposition in Congress (Photo: Pedro-Ignacio-Guridi)

Macri may still face stiff opposition in Congress (Photo: Pedro-Ignacio-Guridi)

Local media revealed that the decision was made after a meeting was held this afternoon between Vice President Gabriela Michetti and provisional president of the senate, Federico Pinedo. The move is set to be made official later today.

One of the topics expected to be up for debate in commission is the government’s nominations to fill two vacancies in the Supreme Court, Horacio Rosatti and Carlos Rosenkrantz. President Macri originally designated the two by decree just a week after coming into office, but later backtracked amid fierce criticism and legal challenges.

The Congressional year formally opens on 1st March. The opposition has been critical of Macri’s liberal use of emergency decrees (DNUs) during the summer months, saying that he should summon Congress to deal with sensitive issues.

Some of the controversial decrees include the so-called ‘Public Security Emergency’, which was declared in order to combat complex and organised crime, and authorises the armed forces to shoot down any aircraft potentially posing a threat.

Macri also pushed through changes to the 2009 Media Law by decree, first placing The Federal Authority for Audiovisual Communication Service (AFSCA) media watchdog under control of the Communications Ministry and then dissolving it to create the National Authority for Communications (ENACOM).

The decision to call for extraordinary sessions comes just two days after a group of legislators split from the main opposition block, Frente para la Victoria, the party led by ex president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

On Now at MACBA: Oscar Bony and the Act of Shooting

On Now at MACBA: Oscar Bony and the Act of Shooting

The Buenos Aires Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) is currently hosting an exhibition by artist Andrés Denegri and curated by Rodrigo Alonso, Instant Bony (Instante Bony): a homage to the legendary Argentine artist Oscar Bony (1941-2002). The exhibition will run until 28th February.

A small display on the sixth floor, the exhibit explores Bony’s artistic identity from one central perspective: the act of shooting.

Instante Bony (Photo courtesy of MACBA)

Instante Bony (Photo courtesy of MACBA)

In contorted poses, lying on the stairs or indifferent to the possibility of death, Bony positioned himself for the camera. The “instant” the exhibition seeks to capture is precisely the fleeting moment in which the bullet leaves Bony’s 9mm gun to shoot himself in these photographic self-portraits, leaving behind perforated glass and a symbolic act of suicide.

This paradox of the coexistence of life and death in one same moment is the essence of the resulting photographic series, ‘Shootings and Suicides’ (Fusilamientos y Suicidios) and ‘The Triumph of Death’ (El Triunfo de la Muerte).

The question that remains is: why did Andrés Denegri choose the short life of a bullet to remember Bony’s lasting body of work?

Because it is in the act of shooting that opposites meet: life becomes death, everything becomes nothing. And it’s the instant –the limit– between opposites that best embodies Bony’s creative drive.

The minimalist Instante Bony exhibition (Photo: Erika Teichart)

The minimalist Instante Bony exhibition (Photo: Erika Teichart)

Bony’s disquieting work, ‘The Working Class Family’ (La Familia Obrera), is perhaps one of the best examples of the daring liminality Bony exercised. As part of the Experiences 68 exhibition at the Instituto Torcauto Di Tella, he used the budget to pay a working class family –Luis Ricardo Rodríguez, his wife and son– to sit on a plinth for eight hours a day. Ricardo, a die-caster, was getting paid twice as much as he made in his job to sit at the exhibition.

Bony hit both boundaries and nerves with this piece. He was at once making evident the consequences of devastating economic policies and low wages while also exposing the obvious advantages and comforts of gallery- and museum-goers. He was extending the definition of art while at the same time questioning its public and its very essence.

Oscar Bony's 1968 exhibit: 'Working Class Family'.

Oscar Bony’s 1968 exhibit: ‘Working Class Family’.

Bony’s work is a double-faced mirror where opposites are forced to meet and reflect on each other. The poignancy of Denegri’s homage to Bony lies in freezing this instant when the clash happens, and with that, immortalising the very essence of Bony’s art.

Artist and filmmaker Denegri was living with Bony in San Telmo at the time that he was working on his holed photographic self-portraits. Denegri filmed the whole sequence: Bony and his gun. Steady. Aiming. Concentration. Determination. He shoots. An impact. And the instant is over.

Denegri took this instant and immortalised it in photographs and films for all of us to see. And as fate would have it, his seems to be the only footage there is of Bony’s instant.

Once again, between opposites of lost and found, preserved and endangered, Bony’s work resurfaces one more time.

You can visit the exhibition until February 28th 2016 at the The Buenos Aires Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) on Av. San Juan 328. Mondays to Fridays from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. Weekends from 11 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. Tuesdays closed. Last entry 30 minutes before closing.

Posted in Art, TOP STORY0 Comments

Ecuador Demands Freedom for Assange After UN Ruling

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Ecuador has called for Julian Assange to be allowed to go free after a UN panel said his time in the country’s London embassy amounted to an “arbitrary detention.”

In a live press conference this morning from Quito, Ecuadorian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ricardo Pitaño, responded to a decision adopted by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) that considered that Julian Assange’s three-and-a-half year asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy to the UK in violation of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The group also considered that the Australian journalist and founder of WikiLeaks should be afforded the right to compensation.

Pitaño heralded the decision as “gratifying,” stressing that the “arbitrary detention” since 2012 has violated some of the “most important of human rights on the planet.”

Likening the situation to political persecution, the minister chided the “reproachable conduct” of both the UK and Sweden, saying “[i]t is time for both governments to correct their mistake and allow for the release of Julian Assange.”

The official document released by the Working Group this morning requested that both Sweden and the UK “assess the situation of Mr. Assange to ensure his safety and physical integrity, to facilitate the exercise of his right to freedom of movement in an expedient manner, and to ensure the full enjoyment of his rights guaranteed by the international norms on detention.”

While Ecuador hailed the decision, reached by three of the five independent members of the WGAD panel, the UK Foreign Office vowed to formally contest the opinion, with Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond calling it “ridiculous.”

The government also maintained that it has a legal obligation to extradite Assange, as a European Arrest Warrant is still in place, and the panel’s consideration is not legally binding in the UK.

Ecuador granted Assange asylum in August 2012 after the WikiLeaks founder was accused of sexually assaulting two women in Sweden. Assange was unable to obtain guarantees from either the UK or Sweden that he would not be extradited to the US, where he is wanted for revealing sensitive information via Wikileaks. He has since been unable to leave the embassy in London without fear of immediate arrest.

Julian Assange speaking from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London (Photo via Wikipedia)

Julian Assange speaking from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London (Photo via Wikipedia)

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

Police Violence: Argentina’s Other Security Emergency

Police Violence: Argentina’s Other Security Emergency

Since taking office on 10th December, crime and security has been at the forefront of President Mauricio Macri’s presidency.

Barely two months into his term, Macri has already decreed a national public security emergency and authorised the transfer of thousands of Federal Police officers under the orbit of the Buenos Aires government’s Metropolitan Police force.

The measures fit with Macri’s ‘tough on crime’ campaign promises, but have drawn criticism from those concerned about handing more power to security forces tainted by a history of brutality and repression.

It is not hard to find examples of what some see as a culture of police violence that continues to plague Argentina. Instances over the past six months include mounted police using brutal force against unarmed protestors in San Miguel de Tucumán (August), police firing rubber bullets against dismissed workers protesting in La

Some of the members of the murga who were shot by gendarmerie officers, including eight-year-old Carlos Ariel Sulca (top left and right), and murga director Gustavo González (Photo via Garganta Poderosa)

Murga members from Villa 1-11-14 were shot by gendarmerie officers last week, including eight-year-old Carlos Ariel Sulca (top left and right), and murga director Gustavo González (Photo via Garganta Poderosa)

Plata (January), and just last week, gendarmerie officers shooting at children in a murga dance group in Buenos Aires. Meanwhile, in November, a Metropolitan police officer in La Boca shot an unarmed 20-year old man, Lucas Cabello, in the throat, abdomen, and testicles after a verbal confrontation.

Each time an episode of police violence occurs there is a public outcry, justification from some quarters, and then the media moves on and nothing is done to change the system of abuse.

The Numbers

“There is a historical tradition of confrontation and violence between civil society and the police,” explains Dr. Maria Victoria Pita, anthropology professor at the University of Buenos Aires and expert on police violence and human rights. “It is a very complicated issue because it has to deal with the basis of cultural development and political conditions.”

One of the most difficult factors in confronting police violence and highlighting state security abuses is a general lack of documentation available to the public.

Manuel Tufró, coordinator of the democratic security and institutional violence team at the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), says that there is “no official data” from the Argentine government about human rights abuses such as police violence and deaths.

The international organisation, Human Rights Watch, also noted in their 2015 world report that Argentina does not have a national law ensuring public access to information held by government bodies, and that “high fines and criminal prosecution in specific cases have undermined the right to freely publish information of public interest.”

Two human rights groups in Argentina, CELS and CORREPI, have stepped in to fill the void and document human rights abuses. Groups such as these have been fundamental in shedding light on state security malpractices after the last dictatorship, and particularly from the late 1980’s to the present.

These human rights groups, and others like them, forced government action by consolidating methods to highlight institutional abuse. Cumulatively, they have helped push human rights issues into the political agenda and called on the government to address them.

“From the end of the 1980s to the present day a lot changed in the perception of police violence,” says Pita. “There is a greater visibility of police violence as a problem.”

Data provided by CELS, which is widely accepted as the perennial source for police violence and human rights statistics, indicated that police violence seems to follow general economic trends.

A graph provided by CELS highlighting the number of civilian deaths in Buenos Aires caused by state security forces showed that deaths peaked in 2001/2002 during the economic crisis, before dropping greatly in the general calm between 2004 and 2007. Deaths again rose during the 2009 global crisis and again in 2014, the last year data is available for.

When looked at from a greater historical perspective, then, police violence in Argentina is at a generally low point in a complicated narrative of state repression. In the span of 30 odd years, Argentina transitioned from a brutal military dictatorship to a functioning and relatively free democracy.

The culture of police violence, however, lives on and serves as a constant reminder of the countries past and where it needs to go in the future.

Mounted police patrol Avenida de Mayo.

Mounted police patrol Avenida de Mayo on December 2001 (photo: Patricio Murphy)

Police Violence Today

Although greater focus on state security forces have contributed to lower instances of violence, police repression and human rights abuses continue to be an enormous issue in Argentina.

The Human Rights Watch report on Argentina for 2015 concluded that “police abuse remains a serious problem” in the country, while Gerardo Netche, Argentine lawyer and researcher for CORREPI, claims that “there is almost one case of police violence every day” in Argentina.

Luis Tibiletti, former interior minister and an advisor to the defense ministry for over 20 years, explained that the last dictatorship created a mindset among security forces that they could do just about anything they wanted. This mentality continues among police officers, he says, and is extremely hard to break.

“It is very hard to disarm institutional practices that have been consolidated over such a long time,” adds Pita.

Reform is a very general term and is hard to apply to such a broad and complex thing such as policing. Factor in compounded issues with the judiciary system, political oversight, and the multifaceted levels of Argentine security forces, and the entire notion becomes very daunting.

“Of course there needs to be reform,” said Tibiletti. “The whole institution needs to think in ways of reform.”

The clearest examples of recent attempts to change the security apparatus came in the Kirchnerist years, especially under ex-president Néstor Kirchner.

Pushed by human rights activist groups and increased social violence after the 2001/2002 crash – especially the police killing of Dario Santillán and Maximiliano Kosteki in June 2002 – Kirchner instituted major reforms to the security system, including a new law that prohibited security forces from policing protests or manifestations with guns and live ammunition.

“During the Kirchner administration the government took on human rights abuse as a problem, and viewed police brutality as a violation of these human rights and as an issue that needed to be resolved,” explained Pita. “They decided that institutional violence could not be accepted as a necessity for public security.”

While Kirchner’s efforts did lead to a decrease in deaths and instances of police violence in the short term, the larger problem of institutional violence proved harder to solve, and death tolls again rose after the 2009 global crash.

Furthermore, reducing violent police action at mass protests did not address other types of abuse, such as involvement in organised crime or cases of gatillo facil (trigger happy killings). This latter example is typical in marginalised neighbourhoods, where police can usually bank on limited supervision and social prejudices to ensure impunity.

The officer who shot Cabello in La Boca claimed self defense against an armed suspect, while Buenos Aires province governor Maria Eugenia Vidal (then deputy mayor of the city of Buenos Aires) said he was responding to a report of gender violence. But eye-witnesses testimonies and material evidence contradicted the officer’s account, and he was eventually charged with attempted murder, aggravated due to his role as a police officer.

 

Police Argentina Buenos Aires

Polices officers stand to attention in Plaza de Mayo (photo by Azzura Lalani)

Re-thinking Security

Experts in the field of security and police repression have mixed ideas on tackling the tough challenge of reforming the policing system. Many argue that police forces need to re-evaluate long held notions of security.

Pita breaks it down in to two distinct notions of “security”: public versus individual. “The notion of public security assumes that the state’s purpose is to limit the source of conflict in society,” she explains. “Citizen security, on the other hand, imagines security based on human rights and seeks to guarantee a way of living with as little violence as possible.”

Pita argues that both ideologies are in play in Argentina, and that police address security in drastically different ways based on the area and socioeconomic considerations. This often leads towards prejudices against impoverished areas and directly correlates to higher instances of police violence.

Manuel Tufró, coordinator of the democratic security and institutional violence team at CELS, mirrored calls for a shift in police officer mentality. He argued that officers should view themselves as workers within general society, instead of forming part of the military apparatus, removed from the public.

Tufró cited CELS data demonstrating that 66% percent of civilian deaths in Buenos Aires in 2015 due to encounters with the police involved off-duty officers. Tufró argued that police officers see themselves as separate from the rest of society, even when they are not working. They therefore conduct themselves as police officers 24 hours a day, often inserting themselves in situations they shouldn’t be involved in, with sometimes drastic results.

Pita, Tufró, and Tibiletti all called for greater democratisation in the police system. In many regards, police forces function with autonomy and have little political or judicial oversight. They all agree that police forces need to be reigned in with greater political control that rests outside of the security hierarchy.

Within this framework, Tibiletti argues that Argentina needs a concrete set of police officer rights that dictates what security forces can and cannot do. This would set explicit boundaries for police officers, and give the government power to directly enforce these mandates.

The Macri Era

Though it is still early days for Macri’s presidency, his initial measures and track record as head of the Buenos Aires city government for eight years do not bode well for police reform.

While serving as mayor, Macri facilitated the formation of the Metropolitan Police force in 2009. While he promised that the new security force would lead to an evolved and modern style of policing – and during the recent campaign promised to spread this around the country as president – the Metropolitan police have followed a similar course of violence and corruption as other forces.

 

Mayor Macri welcomes new police officers to the Metropolitan Police Force (Photo: Silvina Arrastía-gv/GCBA)

Mayor Macri welcomes new police officers to the Metropolitan Police Force (Photo: Silvina Arrastía-gv/GCBA)

Pita comments that the Metropolitan Police has a “history that has a lot to be improved upon,” and that in its short lifespan “has demonstrated definite patterns of high violence in their past performance.” Some of the major examples include actions at the Parque Indoamericano (in conjuction with Federal Police) in 2010, the Sala Alberdi cultural centre, and the Borda mental health hospital (both in 2013).

The new mayor of Buenos Aires, PRO member Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, is already acting to increase the size of the Metropolitan Police force and realise Macri’s vision of more ‘boots on the ground’.

Earlier this month, Macri and Rodríguez Larretta announced the transfer of thousands of federal police officers under the orbit of the Metropolitan force. “We have to put more officers on the street. The fusion of the two forces is the first step to improve security,” Rodríguez Larreta told Clarín in an interview.

The Public Security Emergency announced earlier in January also allows for the reincorporation of retired police officers, provided they have not been charged with any crime. And the government has pledged to reform police forces around the country.

“The Ministry of Security will seek police models that are increasingly compatible with absolute respect to federalism,” Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said during meetings to discuss the new emergency decree. She also stressed the “need for crime statistics and models to help properly educate police forces and public safety programmes.”

However, the public security emergency decree has been criticised by the Acuerdo de Seguridad Democrática (ASD), a group of academics, politicians, and security and human rights experts. In a recent statement, the ASD said that in the face of legitimate social demands the decree was “sensationalist but ineffective… putting into motion measures that exacerbate the worst tendencies of security policy.”

“The emergency does not acknowledge the main deficiencies of the security system, such as a lack of professionalism and a reform of police forces so that they stop forming a key part of illegal markets… Instead it provides a number of exception procedures to increase police numbers and provide them with greater firepower. These police bodies, which maintain problems of violence and corruption, are then sent to impoverished neighbourhoods, adding another problem to the daily violence seen in some of those places.”

Improving security is a legitimate demand for all of Argentine society. But this must also include protection against police brutality for all citizens, as well as stamping out corruption and severing links between police and organised crime gangs. With its lofty goals and explicit focus on crime, all eyes will be on Macri’s administration and the way it controls the behavior of security forces in the coming months and years.

Posted in Analysis, TOP STORY, Urban Life2 Comments

Colombia Introduces Year-Long Ban on Carrying Firearms

A nationwide ban on bearing firearms came into force this week in Colombia, as part of the government’s efforts to reduce violent crime.

In January, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos signed a decree prohibiting the carrying of guns until the end of 2016. This is an extension of an earlier decree which was signed just before Christmas and in force for a month.

Photo courtesy of  Public domain images

Photo courtesy of Public domain images

“On 23rd December we took a decision to ban the carrying of firearms,” said Santos on 19th January. “The results in terms of lives saved are positive and for that reason I’ve made the decision to extend this country-wide firearms ban from 31st January to 31st December.”

According to figures from the Defense Ministry, there was a 13% fall in the number of violent murders between 23rd December and 20th January, compared to the same period a year earlier.

Santos, who said that Colombia’s murder rate was at its lowest for 40 years, said the measure “should contribute to a further decrease in crime”.

The mayor of Bogota, Enrique Peñalosa, spoke of how the measure will help to reduce murder rates in the city, by talking of the “quantity of lives which have been saved by this decision”.

Bogota previously banned guns in public places for three months in 2012, later extending the ban through until February 2013.

The capital city has also been operating an initiative called ‘Por Amor a Bogotá me desarmo’, in which 25,000 illegal firearms have been voluntarily handed in. The programme also provides social conscious to school in what it calls “Cultural democracy” in terms of music, art, theatre with the hope of imparting a wilder social conscientiousness regarding the perils of firearm usage.

The decree makes concessions for public and private security firms and also for some citizens, who are able demonstrate it to be a necessity to carry firearms.

However, the president of the Colombian Federation of Farmers (FCG), José Félix Lafaurie, took to Twitter to speak of his fears for “people who work in red zones (with much violence),” who he said are the ones being made to be punished while the “bandits” can act as they please.

Last year Colombia was deemed the forth most violent country in Latin America and the Caribbean by the Global peace index. The city of Cali was ranked as the 10th most violent in the world in a recent index.

Gun Control

The gun possession law was limited through the constitution of 1991, whereby citizens are permitted the right to bear arms with a governmental permit. Civilians from 18 years of age may carry small pistols and shotguns. Semi-automatic and automatic weapons are prohibited, except for exceptional circumstances. Appeals for this are made to the Arms Committee for the ministry of Defence.

The Defense Ministry said that there were around 900,000 legal firearms registered in the country, with 500,000 licensed to be carried by the owner. However, a report by the Centro de Estudios para Análisis de Conflictos (CEAC) estimated that there could be as many as 2.5 million illegal guns in the country.

In August 2014, Representative Carlos Eduardo Guevara submitted a bill to Congress to impose further restrictions on gun control by placing the responsibility of gun control under the Ministry of the Interior.

The proposal suggests that gun permit renewals take place every two years instead of three. In a similar manner it would require gun owners to submit a training certificate, to prove competency with firearm usage. Those with criminal records and those deemed to be be a risk would be denied permits.

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

Timeline: Argentina, Vulture Funds, and a Never-Ending Debt Saga

Timeline: Argentina, Vulture Funds, and a Never-Ending Debt Saga

When Argentina defaulted on around US$81bn of debt back in 2001 few would have imagined it would still be dealing with debt repayment a decade and a half later. But here we are, still trying to come to an agreement with creditors. With talks between Macri’s economic team and the vulture funds’ legal team resuming this week and a new offer imminent, here’s a helpful guide to bring you up to speed to Argentina’s 15-year battle with its creditors.

Vulture lead

December 2001

The Argentinazo, a period of rioting and civil unrest begins during the ‘Argentine Great Depression’. President Fernando de la Rua is unable to prevent an economic crisis and resigns amid bloody protests on 20th December. In a volatile period, Adolfo Rodriguez Saa takes over for a week and defaults on around $81bn of debt.

2001 – 2003

NML Capital and other hedge funds – or ‘vulture funds’, so named because they exist to buy cheap debt and then litigate until they make money off it – bought some of Argentina’s ‘junk’ debt at a fraction of the face value. The group is led by Paul Singer, a billionaire hedge fund manager.

January 2002

Public debt reaches 166% of the GDP and unemployment climbs to 21%.

May 2003

Néstor Kirchner comes to power at a critical time in Argentina’s history, with the economy sagging under US$178bn in debt. He would go on to repay a large portion of the debt with international organisations like the IMF and launch a bond exchange to restructure public debt.

November 2003

NML Capital files 11 claims against Argentina in New York, demanding to be paid back the defaulted debt in full.

March 2005 (and June 2010)

A majority of Argentina’s creditors accept a one-time deal to receive around 33 cents per dollar of defaulted debt. After the government repeats the offer in 2010, over 92% of debt holders had taken the restructuring deal, but NML Capital and other creditors held out for full repayment.

March 2011

NML Capital files another claim against Argentina in New York, suing the country for breaking the pari passu clause in the bonds. A pari passu clause gives equal treatment and rank to bondholders, so the holdout creditors demanded they be treated equally to the creditors who had accepted the restructuring deal (exchange bondholders) and were receiving payments.

New York Judge Thomas Griesa

New York Judge Thomas Griesa

2012

February 2012

Based on his interpretation of pari passu, New York judge Thomas Griesa rules that Argentina must pay NLM Capital in full, including interest, for the debt it owes. Argentina appeals the verdict.

October 2012

The Frigata Libertad ship is seized in Ghana after the Commercial Court of Accra ruled in favour of NML Capital, allowing them to claim Argentine assets as part of their repayment. Argentina claims diplomatic immunity because it is a military ship, and the Libertad is released 7 days later after a UN tribunal rules in favour the Buenos Aires.

Meanwhile, the Court of Appeals in New York upholds the verdict requiring Argentina pay NLM Capital in full plus interest. Judge Griesa says the bondholders have been “waiting for years to get some money” and that “they’re going to get something.”

November 2012

Griesa orders Argentina to pay NML Capital $1.3bn. He rules that Argentina cannot make payments on some of its restructured bonds (due in December 2012) unless it pays the holdouts, as this would violate the pari passu clause. “After 10 years of litigation this is a just result,” says Griesa.

Argentina appeals and the New York court suspends the ruling that Argentina must pay back the vulture funds by December, so that it does not default while negotiations continue. It gives Argentina and the holdouts until 27th February 2013 to present their arguments.

President Fernández criticises judge Griesa’s ruling at a Unasur summit, calling it “absolutely unequal”.

The lawyers representing Argentina arrive at the court of Judge Griesa for a hearing (photo: AFP/Don Emmert/Télam/dsl)

The lawyers representing Argentina arrive at the court of Judge Griesa for a hearing (photo: AFP/Don Emmert/Télam/dsl)

2013

March 2013

The court asks Argentina to provide a different payment plan before the end of the month. Argentina offers to pay the vulture funds the same deal that the majority (92%) of its creditors had accepted, but they refuse.

April-July 2013

German and French courts side with Argentina as other holdouts seek similar repayment terms to that awarded to NML Capital and the vulture funds look to embargo more Argentine assets abroad.

August 2013

The US Second Circuit Court upholds its initial ruling requiring Argentina to pay back the hedge funds the full amount owed. It says the original ruling “affirms a proposition essential to the integrity of the capital markets” and that borrowers and lenders can negotiate whatever terms they like, but they “will be held to those terms.”

By then, lawyers representing Argentina had already presented an appeal for the US Supreme Court to review the decision.

US Supreme Court (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

US Supreme Court (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

2014

June 2014

The US Supreme Court declines to review Argentina’s appeal, confirming the original ruling. After Judge Griesa refuses a request for another stay, Argentina is required to make a payment to exchange bondholders due on 30th June, while continuing to negotiate with NML Capital.

President Fernández calls the court’s decision “extortion”. Mauricio Macri, then mayor of Buenos Aires and opposition leader, criticises the government, saying: “Now we have to go to Griesa’s court, and do what he says.”

Argentina deposits over US$500m in the Bank of New York Mellon to pay exchange bondholders, but Griesa orders the bank to return the money.

July 2014

After missing the 30th June payment, Argentina enters a 30-day grace period before entering a ‘technical default’. Negotiations between the two parties continue through the month, but no breakthrough emerges. Argentina claims that if it paid NML Capital in full it could trigger a landslide of claims from other holdouts and exchange bondholders that would go far beyond the country’s payment capacity.

Mauricio Macri, then Buenos Aires mayor and opposition leader, says the country has to “do what Griesa says” and he thought the government would comply.

30th July comes and goes without a resolution. As a result, Argentina technically defaults on its debt for the second time in just over a decade.

The government says it is not in another default as it had made the required payment, adding that it will take the case to International Court of Justice at The Hague.

Sept 2014

The Argentine Senate approves a bill to move the payment jurisdiction from the US to Argentina for its outstanding debts. This will allow Argentina to pay its debts through the Banco de la Nación rather than the Bank of New York Mellon, where Judge Griesa has jurisdiction.

Later that month, President Fernández tells the UN Assembly that the vulture funds are like “economic terrorists“.

Oct 2014

The UN creates a new framework for restructuring sovereign debt, with support from over 120 countries. “Today is a special day for all Argentines. We should feel proud,” said President Fernández in support of the resolution. The resolution requires the creation of an international convention to deal with sovereign debt.

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announces new debt swap plan (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announces new debt swap plan (Photo: Presidencia/Télam)

2015

January 2015

The RUFO (right upon future offer) clause, which could have allowed exchange bondholders to claim a better deal if Argentina paid the vulture funds in full, expires at the turn of the year. Still, Argentina does not negotiate with the vulture funds.

February 2015

In February a London judge declares that Argentina was not actually in default because it was the Bank of New York that had not made the bond payments. Justice David Richards said that Argentina’s euro-denominated debt falls under English law, but stopped short of ordering the US bank to distribute the funds it is holding.

April 2015

BONAR 2024 bonds were launched by the former Economy Minister. Since they were technically issued under local law, they don’t count as external debt, and wouldn’t affect the ongoing battle with the holdout creditors. The bonds raise US$1.4bn, and the vulture funds begin legal proceedings to have them included under Griesa’s ruling.

September 2015

The UN overwhelmingly approves a set of “basic principles for sovereign debt restructuring“.

December 2015

Businessman Mauricio Macri took over as president on 10th December. He promised to negotiate with the vulture funds and reach a deal, possibly in 2016. “We don’t want to remain listed as a defaulter, we want to resolve all outstanding issues,” he said in a press conference. “Even though things haven’t been done well in the past, there’s now a change.”

Judge Griesa again urges Argentina to reach a settlement, saying he wanted to put “some emphasis on the need to work on as prompt a resolution to this litigation as possible.”

President Macri greets his supporters from a balcony of the Casa Rosada (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

President Macri greets his supporters from a balcony of the Casa Rosada (Photo: Patricio Murphy)

2016

14th January 2016

The new government’s economic team meets with Judge Griesa and the vulture funds’ legal team. The government also balks at creditors’ requests to keep the negotiations confidential. “It’s better for the whole process to be fully transparent,” said Finance Minister Alfonso Prat-Gay.

Prat-Gay also says that the debt owed has risen from US$2.9bn to US$9.9bn de to interest accrual “as a result of washing our hands of this for more than 10 years”.

20th – 23rd January 2016

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Macri says the negotiations with creditors were “unfortunately” not going so well. “We want to reach a settlement, we want to find a fair agreement,” he says in an interview with Reuters.

Prat-Gay softens his stance on confidentiality, saying “Everything is negotiable, although I don’t understand the logic of negotiating secretly.” He adds that even if the terms of the offer are negotiated secretly, they will still have to go through Congress for approval.

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minsiter Susana Malcorra accuses bondholders of slowing the process to continue making interest on the defaulted debt when the mediator appointed by the court asked Argentina to wait to make a proposal until 1st February.

1st February 2016

Talks between Macri’s economic team and the hold-out creditor’s legal team resumes. Luis Caputo, the finance secretary, says he will submit a new offer to the hold-out creditors this week. Mediator Daniel Pollack adds that: “Ideas were discussed, informally, on settling the demands which add up to approximately US$9bn.”

2nd February 2016

Finance Minsiter Prat-Gay announces a ‘pre-agreement’ with a group of Italian bondholders that had not entered the restructuring deal. The deal will involve a payment of US$1.35bn, representing 150% of the original capital owed (US$0.90bn).

Posted in Analysis, TOP STORY0 Comments

Government Removes Tariff Ceiling on Domestic Flights

The government has removed the maximum limit on fares for domestic flights, paving the way for increased tariffs.

The measure was released by the government under decree number 294/2016, which seeks to compensate “imbalances” in the local airline industry, which it says have “hindered the development of commercial aviation”.

An Aerolineas Argentinas plane (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

An Aerolineas Argentinas plane (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The decree, which comes into effect at midnight, annuls the system of maximum tariffs introduced in 2002 when a Commercial Aviation Emergency was declared.

The tariffs were adjusted on several occasions since then, with a ‘maximum II’ tariff introduced in 2012 to allow airlines to charge extra in the 10 days before a flight’s departure if 30% or fewer seats had been sold.

The new decree means that the state, through the Transport Ministry, will now only determine reference prices for domestic air travel in economy class.

“The state should set policies that help redress imbalances,” the decree reads. In addition, it reads its aim is focused towards “strengthening development in the sector, to encourage the incorporation of new companies, and new sources of employment related to the industry.”

The decree was signed by president Mauricio Macri, the Chief of Staff, Marcos Peña, and Transport Minister Guillermo Dietrich.

It comes as the state-led Aerolíneas Argentinas is set to reduce its operating costs to become self-sufficient.

Earlier this month Isela Costantini, the new president of Aerolíneas Argentinas, said that the airline had a deficit of $15bn, adding that she aimed to eliminate this shortfall entirely in the coming four years.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

The Best Juice Bars in Buenos Aires

The Best Juice Bars in Buenos Aires

Do you have other recommendations for juice bars in Buenos Aires? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

Summer is still gripping the city, and with fresh fruit and veggies in large supply, a refreshing juice can be the answer to the heat of the midday sun. Whether you maintain a healthy juice-filled lifestyle, or desperately need to

replenish your vitamin and antioxidant content after a few too many pints, this list can help you find the juice you’re looking for.

Here are some delicious juice bars for each type of juice enthusiast.

The Connoisseur: Mango Bambo

Arenales 3839, Palermo

Courtesy of Mango Mambo

Courtesy of Mango Mambo

While it’s somewhat non-descript from the outside, Mango Bambo doesn’t need flashy signage. The interior is minimalist with plain white tiles, clear counters, and a mirrored wall that brightens the space. But the real draw is the juice, and this place caters for real enthusiasts.

Mango Bambo boasts a wide range of fresh selections such as orange, apple, papaya, mango, pineapple, carrot, spinach, and cucumber for juices (averaging $45-60) and strawberry, banana, vanilla, coconut, oats and yogurt for smoothies (averaging $55-65). Although one of the more expensive juice bars, the servings are large and the quality is unbeatable, with fresh shipments arriving every other day.

As natural it comes, the drinks have no added sugar, although they offer the option of sweetening with either sugar or honey. Clients can also add shots of ginger or wheatgrass for a low additional cost.

What makes Mango Bambo most appropriate for the juice connoisseur is the flexibility. While the establishment lists several enticing menu options, the staff is more than willing to mix and match substitutions, appealing to the young, hip crowd that can be very particular about what they want from their juices.

The other half of the clients, according to the staff, are Argentines searching for the pride of Mango Bambo: Brazilian açai. The establishment offers smoothies made with the energising fruit, as well as the Açai na tigela, a desert made with the fruit, granola, banana, and honey.

As an added bonus for expats, the small staff speaks excellent English and is more than happy to offer advice on day trips in and around Buenos Aires.

The Newcomer: Be Juice

Barrientos 1586, Recoleta

Courtesy of Be Juice

Courtesy of Be Juice

While Be Juice itself has been around for about a year and a half, the set-up is perfect for a juicing debutant. With a neon sign outside immediately giving it a funky vibe – heightened by the interior of red and yellow tables, and displays of fruit hanging from yellow-metal framing on top of white walls – Be Juice attracts a mixed crowd looking for a good juice.

The menu includes basic ‘natural’ juices with a variety of vegetables and fruits such as apple, grapefruit, pear, carrot, and spinach. With names like ‘Yoga Relax’, ‘Wake Up’, and ‘Vitaminico’, these juices maximize the healing properties of each fruit and vegetable combination. Similarly, the ‘super’ juices mix fruits and vegetables with additions such as protein, matcha, and chia.

The smoothie menu offers detoxing and avocado options – with or without added sugar – carefully tailored to provide an added health boost for those who may not be familiar with the properties of each ingredient.

Finally, for the most adventurous of juice-enthusiasts, the menu offers pure shots of ginger, spinach, or beet. A word of warning: the ginger shot packs a punch.

The prices range from $60 for the ‘natural’ juices and smoothies, to $70 for the ‘super’ menu.
Served in a large jar, the drinks can be sipped in the quiet outdoor space off the main road while perusing the magazines and popular literature available for customers.

The Cleanser: The Factory

El Salvador 4995, Palermo

Courtesy of The Factory

Courtesy of The Factory

Opened in 2013, The Factory has become a local juicing establishment that gives off a distinctly independent vibe. With the slogan “Coffee, Juice & Other Stories,” the small and narrow space with bright pink stucco walls stands out from the neighbours and welcomes interesting exchange and conversation.

The menu focuses on the concept of ‘Jugoterapia’, or Juice Therapy, claiming slimming, diuretic, medicinal, energising, detoxifying, or rejuvenating properties of each juice, and making The Factory the perfect option for the juice cleanse enthusiast.

The juices have no sugar added, and are mainly apple-based – a nice change to many of the orange-based options elsewhere. While the selection of ingredients is more limited, they still offer the basics, including grapefruit, kiwi, strawberry, mint, spinach, pineapple, and avocado as well as shots of our favourite super food, ginger, for an extra $25.

Courtesy of The Factory

Courtesy of The Factory

The outdoor space on a quiet street makes it a nice option for an afternoon to people-watch or chat with the friendly staff eager to converse in English for those whose Spanish fruit vocabulary leaves something to be desired.

And at $40 for a small juice, and $45 for a large, The Factory is the best option for those on a budget who don’t want to sacrifice quality. Hint: the extra $5 for a large is definitely worth it.

The Kale Enthusiast: Harper Juice & Coffee Store

Av. Pueyreddon 1782, Recoleta

Harper Juice & Coffee Store’s modern, Brooklyn-inspired interior of white brick walls adorned with catchphrases like “We Make Fruit Sexy” make it one of the trendiest options for juice in the city. It should come as no surprise, then, that Harper has some of the best options for juice made of the trendiest super-food, kale.

The menu offers no less than three kale juice combinations with apple, pineapple,

Courtesy of Harper Juice & Coffee Store

Courtesy of Harper Juice & Coffee Store

orange, mate, and lemon, as well as other green-juice ingredients like cucumber, celery, mint, avocado, and spinach. While they do offer many fruit options, Harper caters to lovers of greens, and any kale enthusiast should definitely stop by.

Drinks are available sweetened or sugar-free, with an option of a shot of matcha for an additional $5. The shakes and juices themselves run between $50-60.

After ordering at the counter, one of the friendly staff will bring a tray to your table, where you can also enjoy sandwiches, salads, coffee.

To bring some of the flavour home with you, take a look at some of the bags of loose-leaf tea for sale at the counter.

Posted in Food & Drink, TOP STORY0 Comments

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As a possible ‪Grexit‬ looms in the old continent, we revisit Marc Rogers' article comparing Greece's current situation to Argentina's own 2001-2 crisis.

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