Posts Tagged ‘Latin America’

Argentina expands China currency swap as Beijing eyes Latin America

November 9, 2018

Argentina’s central bank said on Thursday it would nearly double its currency swap deal with China, bringing the total to 130 billion yuan ($18.7 billion), as Beijing looks to expand its influence in the recession-struck Latin American country.

China has used currency deals, financing for infrastructure projects and other investments to expand its influence in Argentina and across Latin America. (File/AP)

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Central Bank President Guido Sandleris, who was in China finalizing the agreement, said that the deal for 70 billion yuan would be expanded by 60 billion yuan, according to a bank spokesman.

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“The agreement is practically done, minus some formal details to finalize the process,” Sandleris said.

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Argentina and China first agreed to a currency swap program to boost its dwindling reserves in 2009 under former President Cristina Fernandez. Last year, under President Mauricio Macri, they agreed to extend the program for three more years.

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China has used currency deals, financing for infrastructure projects and other investments to expand its influence in Argentina and across Latin America.

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“As the US is looking inward, China is continuing to invest in the region. Between currency swaps and tech investments, China is filling the gap in Latin America,” said Nathan Lustig, managing partner at Magma Partners, a Chilean-based startup investment firm.

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The swap agreement comes ahead of the high-profile G20 summit of the world’s major economies to be held in Buenos Aires at the end of November, which Argentina will host.

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Argentina’s central bank has approximately $54.25 billion in reserves, after the country firmed up a financing agreement with the International Monetary Fund last month.

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Argentina turned to external sources of financing after a bad drought and a run on the peso currency earlier this year sparked investor jitters over whether the country could service its international debts in 2019.

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Sandleris assumed the role of central bank president in September after his predecessor unexpectedly resigned amid negotiations to expand the IMF agreement to $56.3 billion, the largest in the fund’s history.

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Under Sandleris, the peso has stabilized after the central bank initiated a policy to limit growth in the country’s monetary base. The policy aims to control inflation as the country struggles to pull itself out of recession.

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“During the first month of our new monetary policy, we met the goal of zero growth in the monetary base, and we will continue to meet that goal in the coming months,” Sandleris said.

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Sandleris added that the impact of the policy on inflation would not be immediate.

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Argentina’s inflation in 2018 is forecast at 47.5 percent, according to the latest central bank poll.

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The peso has lost almost half of its value against the dollar so far this year.

Reuters

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1401756/business-economy

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Trump Threatens to ‘Call Up the U.S. Military’ If Mexico Doesn’t Stop Migrants

October 18, 2018

President asks southern neighbor ‘in the strongest terms’ to ‘stop the onslaught’ of Latin American migrants heading to U.S.

Image result for Photos, Honduran migrants march, photos

A “caravan” of Honduran migrants crossing into Guatemala on their march to the United States, on October 17, 2018. AFP photo

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Thousands of Honduran migrants move north after crossing the border from Honduras into Guatemala on October 15, 2018, in Esquipulas, Guatemala.
Photo: John Moore/Getty Images
Honduran immigrants, some of more than 1,500 people in a migrant caravan, travel north on Tuesday near Quezaltepeque, Guatemala. A caravan of Central Americans, the second of its kind in 2018, began in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with plans to march north through Guatemala and Mexico to the U.S.
Honduran immigrants, some of more than 1,500 people in a migrant caravan, travel north on Tuesday near Quezaltepeque, Guatemala. A caravan of Central Americans, the second of its kind in 2018, began in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with plans to march north through Guatemala and Mexico to the U.S. PHOTO: JOHN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES
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WASHINGTON—President Trump on Thursday threatened to deploy the military and close the southern border if Mexico doesn’t stop an “onslaught” of Latin American migrants passing through its country from reaching the U.S.

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

I am watching the Democrat Party led (because they want Open Borders and existing weak laws) assault on our country by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, whose leaders are doing little to stop this large flow of people, INCLUDING MANY CRIMINALS, from entering Mexico to U.S…..

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

….In addition to stopping all payments to these countries, which seem to have almost no control over their population, I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught – and if unable to do so I will call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!..

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

….The assault on our country at our Southern Border, including the Criminal elements and DRUGS pouring in, is far more important to me, as President, than Trade or the USMCA. Hopefully Mexico will stop this onslaught at their Northern Border. All Democrats fault for weak laws!

On Twitter, the president blamed Democrats for what he described as “weak” immigration laws that have allowed undocumented migrants to enter the U.S. The Republican-controlled Senate and House this year rejected multiple immigration bills, including one backed by the president that would have combined border-security funding with other measures sought by the Democrats.

“I am watching the Democrat Party led (because they want Open Borders and existing weak laws) assault on our country by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, whose leaders are doing little to stop this large flow of people, INCLUDING MANY CRIMINALS, from entering Mexico to U.S,” the president wrote in his three-part tweet.

“In addition to stopping all payments to these countries, which seem to have almost no control over their population, I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught – and if unable to do so I will call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!”

The president added that border security is “far more important” to him than the recently concluded new North American trade deal.

A spending package passed by Congress last month postponed a debate over funding for the Department of Homeland Security into December, effectively pushing back fights that Republicans want to avoid before the midterms, including the president’s demand for funding for a border wall with Mexico.

A record number of asylum-seeking families from Latin America have recently overwhelmed border agents and immigration authorities. Border Patrol facilities are crowded with newly arrived families, bed space at family detention centers in Texas is at a premium, and immigration-court backlogs are growing.

On Saturday, Mr. Trump advocated for the policy of separating families who cross into the U.S. illegally, saying that fear of being separated from children deters some immigrants.

“If they feel there will be separation, they don’t come,” he told reporters at the White House. “You’ve got some really bad people out there.”

Mr. Trump warned the Honduras government on Tuesday that the U.S. would cut off aid to the country if a caravan of Honduran migrants headed for the U.S. wasn’t stopped, as Mexican authorities took measures to prevent the caravan from marching north.

Write to Vivian Salama at vivian.salama@wsj.com

Related:

NYT: Facebook Identifies Campaign to Sow “Global Discord” — “Facebook’s use as a vessel for disinformation is spreading.” — “Manipulation machine”

August 22, 2018

Anger makes us see less clearly and act too quickly. Neuroscience may help explain a current lack of social and emotional skills, impulse driven decision making and mob-like behavior in society…

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From The New York Times:

Facebook said on Tuesday that it had identified multiple new influence campaigns that were aimed at misleading people around the world, with the company finding and removing 652 fake accounts, pages and groups that were trying to sow misinformation.

The activity originated in Iran and Russia, Facebook said. Unlike past influence operations on the social network, which largely targeted Americans, the fake accounts, pages and groups were this time also aimed at people in Latin America, Britain and the Middle East, the company said.

Some of the activity was still focused on Americans, but the campaigns were not specifically intended to disrupt the midterm elections in the United States, said FireEye, a cybersecurity firm that worked with Facebook on investigating the fake pages and accounts. The operations “extend well beyond U.S. audiences and U.S. politics,” FireEye said in a preliminary report.

The global scale of what was uncovered far exceeded that of an influence operation that Facebook revealed last month, in which the company said it detected and removed 32 pages and fake accounts that had engaged in divisive social issues ahead of the midterms.

But the aims of the latest campaigns appeared to be similar to those of past operations on the social network: to distribute false news that might cause confusion among people, and to alter people’s thinking to become more partisan or pro-government on various issues.

“We believe these pages, groups and accounts were part of two sets of campaigns,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, said in a conference call late Tuesday about the activities. “One from Iran, with ties to state-owned media. The other came from a set of people the U.S. government and others have linked to Russia.”

The revelations highlight how Facebook’s use as a vessel for disinformation is spreading. After the 2016 United States presidential election, the company revealed that its site was used to amplify divisive messages to voters on issues including race, gun control and the environment. The Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-linked group, was at the center of an indictment this year that alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The influence operation that Facebook disclosed last month included one page that was joined by nearly 140,000 people, who believed they were fighting racism in the United States, while another set up dozens of events aimed at stirring up opposition among left-wing activists. Facebook did not definitively link last month’s campaign to Russia, but it said some of the tools and techniques used by the accounts were similar to those used by the Internet Research Agency.

Now, those same social media influence tactics that were used in 2016 and last month appear to have been adopted by operatives in other countries as well.

Read the rest:

NTY:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/21/technology/facebook-political-influence-midterms.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

The face of the Big Data backlash? Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg—pilloried here at a protest in Washington, D.C., earlier this year— is the most visible tech executive to grapple with fallout from a data scandal.
The face of the Big Data backlash? Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg—pilloried here at a protest in Washington, D.C., earlier this year— is the most visible tech executive to grapple with fallout from a data scandal. PHOTO: SAUL LOEB/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Related:

Social Media messes with your ability to think independently (10 Weird ways)

https://www.rd.com/health/wellness/negative-effects-of-social-media/

See also:

Social media manipulation rising globally, new report warns

https://phys.org/news/2018-07-social-media-globally.html

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Neuroscience may help explain a current lack of social and emotional skills, impulse driven decision making and mob-like behavior in society…

Chinese police officer strikes a pose (Getty Images/AFP)

 

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Social media is making children regress to mentality of three-year-olds, says top brain scientist

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker Ready For Trump Trade Talks — Says he is “cheerful and relaxed” ahead of the big meeting

July 25, 2018

Economic policy watchers expect the Europeans to make an offer for tariff-free trade.

    
Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Trump (Getty Images/AFP/M. Schreiber)

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is not shy when it comes to being friendly to people he needs to negotiate with. In Brussels, he is known for hugging, kissing and cuddling almost everyone if it serves the cause, namely a relaxed mood. It remains to be seen how US President Donald Trump will react to the Commission president’s body language during one-on-one talks in the Oval Office on Wednesday.

At the G7 summit in Canada in June, Trump, referring to trade, called Juncker a “real killer.” At the time, the Luxembourgish politician was not quite sure whether this was meant as a compliment. For the experienced negotiator, however, there’s no doubt: “I’m heading over, cheerful and relaxed.”

Competitor, opponent, enemy

Trump has imposed punitive duties on steel and aluminum imports from the EU. The bloc responded with retaliatory duties on US goods. Both sides have filed complaints against each other with the World Trade Organization (WTO). Trump has been threatening customs duties on European cars for months, a move that could hit the German automotive industry particularly hard.

Ten days ago, the mercurial president declared the EU a competitor, an opponent, even an enemy. “The European Union is a foe. What they do to us in trade. Now you wouldn’t think of the European Union, but they’re a foe,” Trump said in an interview with CBS.

Read more: In the era of Trump, can the concept of ‘free trade’ survive?

Whiskey bottles (picture-alliance/dpa/C. Charisius)The EU’s reciprocal tariffs were targeted at quintessentially American goods — including bourbon whiskey, peanut butter, corn, cranberries, blue jeans, and Harley-Davidsons

Trade offer from Brussels?

The president’s chief economic policy advisor expects Europeans to make an offer for tariff-free trade. “Jean-Claude Juncker is coming to Washington next week, possibly with a significant trade offer,” Larry Kudlow told CNBC last week. A few days later, the EU Commission announced that no offers were being put on the table in Washington.

Kudlow also said Chancellor Angela Merkel is behind the EU’s alleged offer, a statement that has little to do with the reality of EU trade policy. Juncker rejects all attempts at bilateral deals between EU states and Donald Trump. “The EU Commission alone is responsible for formulating the European Union’s trade policy,” he says, adding that all attempts to divide Europeans are in vain.

Juncker presents facts

The fact that EU trade policy is pursued by all 28 EU states together does not seem to make sense to Trump.

“The EU is very difficult. I have to tell you. Perhaps the most difficult thing ever,” Trump complained in the interview with CBS.

So once again, Juncker plans to show the US president the EU’s positions and the advantages of trade across the Atlantic that is as free as possible.

Juncker argues he made his approach clear at the G7 meeting in Canada, where he repeated the EU arguments to Trump. “And I’ll do it again and again. It’s not about ‘fake news,’ it’s about objective facts.”

Read more: German politicians allied against Steve Bannon

EU seeks ‘de-escalation’

If the tariff dispute were to include cars that would be a “disaster,” says EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who is accompanying Juncker to Washington. She says it is important to make Trump understand that production chains are so interwoven that jobs in the US, too, are at risk from new customs duties. “We want to diffuse the situation as soon as possible, to de-escalate this before it blows up in our faces, doing harm to the trans-Atlantic relationship, our economies and the global order,” said Malmstrom in Brussels before departing for Washington.

So far, these well-known arguments have not impressed Trump. Instead, he likes to mix trade policy with security and defense policy. Trump told CBS that when it comes to trade, the EU has “really taken advantage of us. Many of these countries are in NATO and they weren’t paying their bills.”

Linking trade issues and the military alliance is wrong, says Malmstrom, who argues that trade is between companies and people, not between states. The citizens, she says, would end up paying the price for the quarrel.

Is TTIP light a solution?

In his meeting with Trump, Juncker will likely make an effort to act self-confident; the EU is after all the largest US trading partner and the most important export market for US companies.

The EU has just signed a free trade agreement with Japan, and is currently ratifying a similar accord with Canada. Negotiations are underway with Latin America and China.

At the G20 meeting in Argentina, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin again brought up a completely tariff-free trade in goods between the US and the EU.

Could that be a solution?

Tariff-free trade would have been part of the comprehensive TTIP agreement between the EU and the US, on hold since Trump took office. Negotiations on TTIP could be resumed. Let’s call it “Trump-TIP” or “Tremendous Trump-TIP” if that serves the cause, Daniel Caspary, a member of the European Parliament and trade expert, suggested in June. Trump could probably sell that as his great success.

EU Trade Commissioner Malmstrom dares not predict what will emerge from the talks in Washington on Wednesday between the “difficult” EU and the self-proclaimed “dealmaker.”

She is convinced of the importance of getting together and discussing the issues. “It’s an effort which we should try to do, but we’ll see. Maybe there will be no outcome at all, and then we will have to discuss what to do.”

https://www.dw.com/en/tough-trade-talks-ahead-for-eus-jean-claude-juncker-in-washington/a-44796514

New Zealand privacy watchdog seeks greater power over Facebook — Where GDPR doesn’t go…

May 31, 2018

New Zealand Privacy Commissioner John Edwards said he was seeking new enforcement provisions as part of an overhaul of privacy laws now being considered by parliament — New Zealand’s privacy laws, created in 1993, are currently being rewritten

In April, Facebook said that it was changing its terms of service agreements so that its 1.5 billion members in Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America would not fall under the European Union’s strict General Data Protection Regulation, which took effect on May 25. (Reuters)
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New Zealand’s top privacy enforcer is seeking greater powers to regulate Facebook as the social media giant grapples with a tough new privacy regime in Europe and investigations around the globe over its handling of personal data.
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New Zealand Privacy Commissioner John Edwards said he was seeking new enforcement provisions as part of an overhaul of privacy laws now being considered by parliament.
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Edwards and Facebook have been at loggerheads over whether the tech giant was bound by New Zealand law since March, when Edwards asserted the US company had broken local rules by refusing a request by a New Zealand citizen to access personal information held on the accounts of other users.
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“What we did with Facebook is issue a legally binding demand and they just ignored and thumbed their nose at it and refused to comply,” Edwards said in an interview this week.
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Facebook declined to comment. In March it said it was disappointed in the decision and that the commissioner had made a “broad and intrusive request for private data.”
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Facebook had argued that customers in New Zealand were governed by Irish privacy law, along with most other non-US users.
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But in April Facebook confirmed that it was changing its terms of service agreements so that its 1.5 billion members in Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America would not fall under the European Union’s strict General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which took effect on May 25.
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Instead, Facebook now specifies that international users are subject to US privacy laws. There are 2.5 million Facebook account holders in New Zealand, according to the privacy commissioner out of a population of around 4.5 million.
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The question of how local laws apply to multinational Internet companies with large numbers of customers in scores of countries is an increasingly fraught topic as governments seek greater control on issues ranging from privacy to hate .
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New Zealand’s privacy laws, created in 1993, are currently being rewritten.
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Edwards was expected this week to ask parliament to grant hspeechis office powers similar to that of other regulators, including the ability to take companies to court and seek fines.
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He said he was watching the outcome of international regulators’ investigations into the scandal involving Facebook and the now-defunct political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, before deciding whether to open his own inquiry.
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But, in the meantime, Edwards said he had deleted his personal Facebook account, concerned that the terms of agreement had changed so many times that he no longer had control of a “reservoir” of personal information and wanted a “re-set.”
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He detailed the process on popular news website The Spinoff.
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“I just wanted to explain to people how they could re-assert their autonomy and their control over their own personal information,” he said.
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Reuters
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“Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” – Pope John Paul II.
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See:
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The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Problem with Data Privacy in Tech By Jude McColgan
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Huawei’s R&D budget hits $14bn as next-generation networks arrive — Budget will rise as much as $20bn each year

March 30, 2018

Group’s fast-rising research spending feeds into US fears of Chinese 5G dominance
 
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Louise Lucas in Shenzhen
FT (Financial Times)


Huawei spent a record $13.8bn on research and development last year, ranking the Chinese tech giant among the world’s top spenders, and projects its budget will rise to as much as $20bn each year.

The beefed-up spending is likely to fuel fears in the US administration that Chinese companies will spearhead standard-setting in next generation technologies, including networks. US concerns of snooping and state support — denied by Huawei — have seen the Shenzhen-based company effectively frozen out of the US market, unable to sell either telecoms kit or even handsets at any scale.

Ken Hu, Huawei’s deputy chairman and rotating chief executive, said the challenges in the US would make the company work “even harder in other markets around the world”.

As a commercial company, Huawei sought to earn profits globally, he said. “But for one reason or another unfortunately we are not able to do business over there [North America] and we feel sorry for it,” he said.

The R&D budget, which equates to 15 per cent of sales, ranks the Chinese tech giant third among groups globally, just behind Alphabet, according to research group statista.

The news comes amid fears within the White House of Chinese advancement in fifth generation (5G) high-speed data networks. This has prompted US President Donald Trump to block Broadcom’s acquisition of Qualcomm, fearing the deal would mean cost cuts and undermine the US chipmaker’s ability to compete with Huawei in 5G.

In a letter earlier this month, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, an inter-agency body that vets takeovers, said Qualcomm owed its “technological success and innovation” to its R&D spending, which typically ranked it second among chipmakers only to Intel.

“This expertise and R&D expenditure in turn drive US leadership in key standard-setting bodies, and Qualcomm has been a leading participant in standards setting for 3G and 4G,” wrote Aimen Mir, the US Treasury department’s deputy assistant secretary for investment security.

A reduced role for the US company would open the door for China, he added, naming Huawei as one contender. “Huawei has increased its R&D expenditure and owns about 10 per cent of 5G essential payments,” he wrote.

Mr Hu said R&D spending would be directed at talent, technology, equipment and partnerships. “The goal of these investments is to help us overcome challenges we still face in technology innovation,” he said.

The ramped up R&D spending emerged as Huawei, which is owned by employees, announced net profits of Rmb47.4bn ($7.6bn) last year, up 7.9 per cent year-on-year, on the back of revenues of Rmb603.6bn.

Sabrina Meng, chief financial officer and daughter of founder Ren Zhengfei, attributed the growth to improved financial discipline in the handset division. The unit, which accounts for 39 per cent of group revenues, saw margins pummelled in 2016 by big spending on marketing and other costs.

The backbone carrier business, which accounts for half of revenues, grew sales just 2 per cent as telecoms operators’ capital expenditure cycle slowed after the 4G upgrade and ahead of the 5G ramp-up. The Americas — virtually all Latin America — was especially badly hit, with revenues down 11 per cent year on year.

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https://www.ft.com/content/7abddaca-33dc-11e8-a3ae-fd3fd4564aa6

 

Trump to attend Summit of the Americas meeting in Peru

March 10, 2018

AFP and AP

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© Mandel Ngan, AFP | US President Donald Trump will attend the upcoming Summit of the Americas, officials said Friday.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2018-03-10

U.S. President Donald Trump will attend the upcoming Summit of the Americas, officials said Friday, putting him face-to-face with Western Hemisphere leaders, many of whom are upset by his policies and rhetoric toward the region.

The regional summit next month in Peru is seen as the leading forum for projecting U.S. leadership in Latin America and the Caribbean. U.S. presidents have participated in all seven previous gatherings, but with Trump’s anti-immigrant statements, proposal to build a wall on the Mexican border and stance on trade stirring anger throughout the region, many wondered if he would attend.

“There will be some very uncomfortable meetings there,” said Christopher Sabatini, a lecturer in international relations at Columbia University.

A high-ranking Peruvian official confirmed Trump’s visit to Lima for the summit. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss details of the April event. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders later said Trump will visit Colombia after Peru.

In recent years, U.S. leaders have faced sharp rebukes from leftist Latin Americans at the periodic gathering and this year’s event is likely to be no different. But the upcoming summit is also generating controversy because of a leader at the other end of the political spectrum: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Peruvian leaders have repeatedly said Maduro isn’t invited to attend as international criticism grows over Venezuela‘s human rights record and the nation’s increasingly autocratic government. But Maduro recently said he is determined to attend, “rain, shine or lightning.”

“By air, land or sea – I will get to the Summit of the Americas to tell the truth of this country,” he vowed at a news conference for international journalists.

Mercedes Araoz, the chief of Peru’s Cabinet of Ministers, later quipped back that Maduro cannot come by “land nor Peruvian airspace because he is not welcome.”

Peru and the United States have emerged as two of the most outspoken nations in voicing their objections to Maduro’s rule as Venezuela struggles with hyperinflation, food and medical shortages, and a growing exodus of its citizens fleeing to other parts of the region. Both have also criticized snap presidential elections being held in April that key opposition leaders are boycotting.

Peruvian Foreign Minister Cayetana Aljovin reiterated Friday that Maduro is not invited, saying only presidents committed to “governability, democracy and fighting corruption” can attend.

“There’s a real risk of a very undiplomatic showdown that could occur,” Sabatini said of the ongoing squabble with Maduro. “He’s already been disinvited. It would be strange, odd to have him re-invited. And if he should just show up, can Peru deny him entry?”

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton first invited all hemispheric leaders except Cuba’s Fidel Castro to gather in Miami in 1994 to promote a free trade zone ranging from Alaska to the tip of South America. U.S. leaders have gotten an earful from their Latin American counterparts in more recent years.

Protesters led by soccer legend Diego Maradona burned an effigy of President George W. Bush to protest the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq at the 2005 summit in Argentina. Four years later, the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez famously gave then President Barack Obama a copy of a classic leftist book, “The Open Veins of Latin America,” detailing the history of U.S. military interventions in the region.

The theme of this year’s summit is “democratic governance against corruption,” a topic that has embroiled nearly every country in the region. Peru’s own president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, was nearly impeached in December after an opposition-led investigation revealed his private consulting firm had received payments from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht over a decade before.

Odebrecht admitted in a 2016 U.S. Justice Department agreement to paying nearly $800 million in kickbacks to politicians, their campaigns and political parties to secure lucrative public works contracts.

Sabatini said it was a “positive” development that Trump would have face-to-face meetings with regional leaders, but added there are a range of topics likely to be raised that may make the U.S. president uncomfortable. Aside from immigration and the Mexico border wall, his administration’s partial rollback of Obama’s Cuba policy and new, steep tariffs he recently ordered against steel and aluminum imports to the U.S. are almost certain to come up in the discussions.

“There are a lot of open questions and a lot of points of friction,” Sabatini said.

(AP)

The power of China’s checkbook diplomacy

September 10, 2017

There are many ways a government can assert its interests on the international stage. Some use military muscle. Others use subversion or bluster. In Asia, Africa, Latin America, and even in Europe, China is using investment to get what it wants from countries and governments in need.

The most obvious examples are in Asia. Pakistan’s relations with the United States have deteriorated sharply in recent years for many reasons, and President Donald Trump’s warmer ties with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have given Pakistan’s government and military good reason to invest more deeply in strong relations with China. In turn, Beijing’s investment in Pakistan has gathered momentum. An infrastructure development project, the US$55 billion (S$73.6 billion) China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, part of China’s broader One Belt, One Road Initiative, is generating growth and creating much-needed jobs in Pakistan. In return, China is developing the port of Gwadar, which will provide China a stronger presence in the Indian Ocean.

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte does not like criticism from the US and Europe, and Beijing has pledged to help him improve his country’s underdeveloped infrastructure. So far, China hasn’t delivered much, but the promise alone has persuaded the Philippine President not to push hard against China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea. He has also added the Philippines’ voice to a more pro-China stance from the 10-member Asean. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has also added to Asean’s tilt towards China and likewise backed off rival claims in the South China Sea because his country also needs investment in roads, bridges and especially rail lines – and because the scandal involving misappropriation of funds from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a sovereign wealth fund, has left Mr Najib and his government short of cash.

China’s deep pockets have long bought influence in Africa, where President Xi Jinping has pledged billions more in investment in coming years. China is also amplifying its voice across Africa via StarTimes, a state-backed, though privately owned, Chinese media and telecoms firm that beams Chinese content – and a Chinese worldview – via subsidiaries in 30 African countries into African households.

As a member of the Brics group since 2010, South Africa has given China a gateway into the Southern African Development Community, which provides access to natural resources that support China’s growth and boosts its political influence across the region. China is South Africa’s largest trade partner, and the two countries signed commercial deals in 2015 worth US$6.5 billion. South Africa’s government has rewarded China’s willingness to invest by denying Tibet’s Dalai Lama, who is persona non grata in China, entry into South Africa on three separate occasions since 2009, though South African officials deny this.

Chinese trucks at Pakistan’s Gwadar port in Pakistan. Beijing’s investments in the South Asian nation has grown, with China developing the port and the $73.6 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. PHOTO: DAWN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta was one of just two African leaders offered a seat at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing earlier this year, and Kenya can expect to be a major recipient of Chinese infrastructure investment as part of the maritime route of the One Belt, One Road project. China has already built a high-speed rail connection between the Kenyan cities of Nairobi and Mombasa, and Kenya’s government has expressed thanks with support for China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and for Beijing’s bid to persuade the International Monetary Fund to add China’s currency to its Special Drawing Rights basket.

China has also spent considerable time and money building its influence in Latin America. China has become the largest export market for Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Peru, and Uruguay. But this is no longer simply a story of China buying commodities. These same countries, plus Bolivia, now import more from China than from anywhere else. Panama has also become part of the story, in part because China’s investment in the expansion of the Panama Canal has allowed Chinese mega-freighters to reach the Atlantic and eastern seaboard of the US. Earlier this year, Panama announced it would no longer recognise Taiwan, providing China with another diplomatic victory.

Beijing has even extended this strategy into Europe, where leaders still act as though the world is hoping to follow their lead. The most recent Chinese investment is in cash-strapped Greece, a country fed up with imposed austerity and bitter criticism from the European Union. Greece has won Chinese investment through the One Belt, One Road project. In particular, a Chinese state-owned firm now operates the Greek commercial port at Piraeus, the busiest in the Mediterranean. Earlier this year, Greece blocked an EU statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council that criticised Mr Xi’s crackdown on domestic political dissent and joined Hungary to support China’s South China Sea territorial claims at The Hague.

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A senior Greek official last month said: “While the Europeans are acting towards Greece like mediaeval leeches, the Chinese keep bringing money.”

There is a lesson here for the US, the EU and any other international player that would condition badly needed investment on domestic political behaviour. Mr Trump boasts of American power, but he has made clear he has no interest in writing large cheques. Now look at China from the recipient’s point of view. China offers good deals for governments and countries that need them – and it does not demand risk and sacrifice in return.

The only question about this strategy’s future is where it will succeed next.

http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/the-power-of-chinas-chequebook-diplomacy

The writer is the president of Eurasia Group and author of Superpower: Three Choices For America’s Role In The World.

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Shiite corridor from Tehran to Damascus)

 (John Bolton)

(Includes John Bolton’s Plan for Iran and the Nuclear Deal)

In Latin America, VP Pence Threads Needle on Venezuela

August 14, 2017

CARTAGENA, Colombia — Vice President Mike Pence is demonstrating the delicate balancing act that has thus far defined his term, walking a line during a trip to Latin America between the region’s opposition to possible U.S. military intervention in Venezuela, and President Donald Trump’s surprising refusal to rule out that option.

Speaking during a joint news conference with Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos shortly after his arrival Sunday, Pence also declined to rule out possible military action against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, whose efforts to consolidate power in the country have drawn alarm. Still, Pence stressed the U.S. would much prefer what he called a “peaceable” solution to the growing political and humanitarian crisis.

“President Trump is a leader who says what he means and means what he says,” Pence said. “But the president sent me here to continue to marshal the unprecedented support of countries across Latin America to achieve by peaceable means the restoration of democracy in Venezuela, and we believe it is achievable by those means.”

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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence listens to Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos during a joint press conference at the presidential guesthouse in Cartagena, Colombia, Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017. Cartagena is the first stop of Pence’s weeklong trip to Latin America, that will also take him to Argentina, Chile and Panama. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara).

Trump’s startling comments Friday sparked backlash across the region, including from Venezuela’s chief opposition coalition and the Colombian government.

Standing at Pence’s side in Cartagena after the two met, Santos said he had repeatedly told Pence in no uncertain terms that the U.S. must not even consider military action in response to Venezuela’s crisis.

The two countries are important allies, Santos said. “But since friends have to tell each other the truth, I have told Vice President Pence that the possibility of a military intervention shouldn’t even be considered, neither in Colombia nor in Latin America,” Santos said through a translator. “America is a continent of peace. It is the land of peace. Let us preserve it as such.”

Analysists said Trump’s comments played into Maduro’s hands by awakening dark memories of U.S. intervention in the region and making it harder for other Latin American countries to join the anti-Maduro coalition. “The phantom of military interventions in Latin America disappeared a long time ago, and we don’t want it to return,” Santos said.

Pence emphasized the U.S. will work together with many nations in Venezuela’s “neighborhood” to pressure Maduro so that democracy can be restored. “We simply will not accept the emergence of a dictatorship in our hemisphere,” he said, continuing the tough talk that has been Trump’s approach to Maduro. “The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles,” he said.

Pence also addressed the deadly violence that broke out Saturday during a march by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, using words the president would not. “We have no tolerance for hate and violence, white supremacists or neo-Nazis or the KKK,” Pence said. “These dangerous fringe groups have no place in American public life and in the American debate, and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms.”

Trump has been criticized by both Democrats and Republicans for not singling out those groups directly in a lengthy Saturday statement and instead blaming “many sides” for the violence.

Pence also addressed a spike in coca production in Colombia, saying the worsening crisis required “swift action to protect the people of both our countries.” A July report from the United Nations showed that coca production in Colombia had reached levels not seen in two decades, complicating Colombia’s efforts to make its vast, lawless countryside more secure.

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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, right, and Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos, arrive to give a joint press conference at the presidential guesthouse in Cartagena, Colombia, Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017. Cartagena is the first stop of Pence’s weeklong trip to Latin America, that will also take him to Argentina, Chile and Panama. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara).

Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami lashed out at Pence, rejecting what he called “interventionist” comments intended to hide the failure of US anti-narcotics policies in Colombia. He dismissed Pence’s meeting with Santos as “an encounter between the world’s largest producer of drugs and the nation with the most consumers.”

El Aissami was sanctioned by the Trump administration in February for allegedly running a drug trafficking network of corrupt officials in Venezuela.

Pence and his wife, Karen, arrived Sunday in Colombia for a six-day, four-country trip through the region. Pence has other stops scheduled in Argentina, Chile and Panama, giving speeches and meeting with leaders.

White House officials tried Sunday to explain Trump’s decision to raise the prospect of possible military action in Venezuela. CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Trump was trying “to give the Venezuelan people hope and opportunity to create a situation where democracy can be restored.” Pompeo told “Fox News Sunday” that Venezuela “could very much become a risk” to the U.S. if it descended into further chaos.

Yet a Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee who calls himself “a pretty hawkish guy” expressed skepticism about the idea of American troops in Caracas.

“I have no idea why we would use military force in Venezuela. I’m open-minded to a reason, but at the end of the day, our military should be deployed when there’s a national security interest that can be articulated to the American people,” South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham told “‘Fox News Sunday.”

Trump’s national security adviser, who has previously warned against military talk, said the Trump administration wants to get a handle on the current situation under Maduro’s embattled government and “understand better how this crisis might evolve.”

“The president never takes options off the table in any of these situations and what we owe him are options,” H.R. McMaster told ABC’s “This Week.”

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Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.

US Vice President Mike Pence Starts Latin American “Reassurance Tour” — Following President Donald Trump’s threat of a possible “military option” against Venezuela

August 13, 2017

AFP

© GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File | US Vice President Mike Pence’s tour would be dominated by the crisis in Venezuela and how US “partners and friends” were looking to the “future” regarding that country, while others were stuck in the “past,” a senior US administration official said

BOGOTA (AFP) – US Vice President Mike Pence launches a Latin America tour Sunday that has taken on new significance following President Donald Trump’s threat of a possible “military option” against Venezuela.

The weeklong trip, aimed at coordinating a regional diplomatic action to the political crisis in Caracas, begins in Colombia, a strong US ally that takes hundreds of millions of dollars a year in funding from Washington and which has little liking for leftist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The other stops were Argentina, Chile and Panama.

The tour would be dominated by the crisis in Venezuela and how US “partners and friends” were looking to the “future” regarding that country, while others were stuck in the “past,” a senior US administration official said.

“We’ve been firm in both word and deed against the Maduro regime, and it’s important to get others in the region. And these four countries have, but we want to continue to put the pressure on the Maduro regime,” he told reporters on condition of anonymity.

“We’ll talk to economic options, diplomatic options — every tool that’s available. It’s not only the United States putting forth pressure on Maduro, but that he’s getting it from all sides of the region as well.”

But, thanks to Trump’s warning on Friday that he was considering various measures to tackle Venezuela “including a possible military option if necessary,” Latin American nations — including those who are scolding Caracas for “breaking democratic rule” — are united against the use of American force.

Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru all issued messages rejecting such a step.

– Bitter memories –

For many Latin American countries, bitter memories of past US military adventures in the region have resurfaced as a result — including the 1989 invasion of Panama to topple and capture its leader, Manuel Noriega — as well as CIA involvement in bloody guerrilla and counter-guerrilla campaigns, and Washington’s propping up of military dictators.

The United States has slapped sanctions on Maduro — an extremely rare punishment against a head of state — as well as two dozen of his officials.

The measures were for the establishment of a new assembly of Maduro loyalists that bypasses the legislature controlled by opposition. The body, which started work this month, has set about clamping down on dissent and opposition politicians.

With Trump’s threat of possible military action, Maduro’s regime has intensified arguments that the United States is plotting with the opposition to oust the president and grab Venezuela’s oil reserves, the largest in the world.

It also said the threat was not just against it, but against all of Latin America.

“The reckless threat by President Donald Trump aims to drag Latin America and the Caribbean into a conflict that would permanently alter stability, peace and security in our region,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told a news conference on Saturday.

The defense minister, General Vladimir Padrino, called Trump’s talk “craziness.”

– Force rejected –

Leftist allies Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua have backed Venezuela in a confrontation against its “imperialist” foe.

Other Latin American nations strongly opposed to Venezuela’s political move have also condemned the prospect of the US military being deployed to impose Washington’s will.

“The repudiation of violence and whatever option involving the use of force is resolute and constitutes a fundamental basis of democratic cohabitation, both in domestic contexts as well as in international relations,” Brazil’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

“The crisis in Venezuela can’t be resolved through military actions, internally or externally,” Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray wrote on Twitter.