Thursday March 8: Latin America News Briefing

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Every morning the PanAm Post gives you a briefing on the most important news from the Americas.

These are the top stories this morning:

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Breaking news

Colombia: Left presidential candidate Gustavo Petro attacked

Or so he claims. Problem is that he was under police escort the entire time and authorities have yet to corroborate his story. The Colombian version of the CSI claims the “bullet holes” did not even originate from a gun. Why make it up? The election in Colombia remains extremely close, a little pity for the attempted assassination might go a long way to cementing a stronger lead for Petro. He claims the now-jailed ex-mayor of Cucuta is trying to kill him.

Faulty bugging devices may have caused mysterious diplomat illness in Cuba

The Daily Beast reports that faulty bugging devices used by Cuban spies on the American embassy in Havana are to blame for the brain damages suffered by the staff there. A group of researchers from the University of Michigan claims that the Cuban’s faulty surveillance equipment may have gotten its transmission tangled, creating the ‘sonic attack’ that victims reported hearing.

The State Department said they have no evidence of attacks or soundwaves being responsible for the brain damages suffered by the 24 Americans working in Havana. Senator Marco Rubio has called for closing the embay because of the ‘attacks’.

Ex-Bolivian, Colombian presidents say denied entry to Cuba

Former Colombian President Andres Pastrana and ex-Bolivian President Jorge Quiroga were briefly detained and then deported from Cuba when they tried to travel to the country to receive an award from a dissident group.

Jared Kushner, top Trump aide, visits Mexico amid tensions between two countries

Jared met with Luis Videgaray, Mexican foreign minister, in Mexico City on Wednesday morning. They talked trade, security, and immigration at the meeting. Jared’s visit is seen as crucial for the Trumps team, who just last week lost career diplomat and longtime U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson. But sending Jared to Mexico is sending something of a mixed signal. He just lost his security clearance due to shady dealing inside the WH. If Trump is using the trip to signal confidence in Jared he’s also chosen a poor country to do it in. Recently the Washington Post revealed Mexico to be among the countries that sought for ways to manipulate the son in law.

Of course, it’s still a welcome change in the way Washington handles Latin America. It’s been over twenty years since the United States has been this hands-on, something that, of course, the New York Times laments as a “de=professionalization”. They can call it what they like, but an involved U.S. can only be good for a region in need of support against authoritarianism.

Killed Salvadorean archbishop Romero to be made a saint

Pope Francis declared he would declare Oscar Romero a saint, a Salvadorian Archbishop. The Archbishop was killed while giving mass in El Salvador in the 80s. The Archbishop is seen in the country as one of the key denouncers of repression at the time as a result of the civil war. He was virulently against the US-backed Salvadorian army, which was accused of using death squads to squash the violent leftist revolutionaries.

“Weak flesh” reignites in Brazil’s major food processor and world’s largest poultry exporter

One of Brazil’s largest companies stands accused of engaging in fraud to avoid food safety checks. The country’s police arrested the former CEO of BRF SA and Helio dos Santos Junior, their ex-VP of global operations. The Brazilian police said that up to five labs in the Agricultural Ministry colluded with the executives.

Reuters adds the despite the arrests, there is “no risk” of new bans on Brazilian meat. The “Weak Flesh” investigation, the country’s Agriculture Minister clarified, deals with allegations dating back to 2014 and 2015.

U.N. seeks inquiry into killings in Venezuela, says poll not credible

Reuters reports that the United Nations human rights chief wants to investigate if crimes against humanity were committed in the country by security forces. About time. There have been hundreds of extrajudicial killings, arrests, beatings, and straight up executions in recent years. The execution of Oscar Perez recently alongside the sudden call for presidential elections, which no one expects to be fair, probably proved to be too much for the international body.

Chile deports hundreds of Haitians

Chile is cracking down on Haitian immigration. Nearly 150,000 Haitians since 2016 have moved to the country after entering for ‘tourism’ purposes. Now those flying from Haiti are asked for hotel and financial information, which has made it easier for authorities to deny entry to those seeking to abuse their visa-free travel to Chile. The country has seen an influx of over 500,000 immigrants in the last year alone.

Brazil Senate approves Open Skies agreement with the U.S.

Reuters Staff | 1 MIN READ

The agreement paves the way for a surge in flights to the Latin American country and will allow for an alliance between American Airlines and LATAM Airlines.

Colombia Hosts Ibero-American Event on Transnational Crime

Despite being a more boring news item for the day, this event does have one notable factoid; Venezuela is not invited to attend. While this should surprise no one, the fact that Colombian government is now (finally) at all levels recognizes the threat the totalitarian regime next door poses to security is a welcome sign.

 

Markets

Amazon.com readies move to sell electronics directly in Brazil – sources

Reuters has a noteworthy scoop on Amazon’s plans in Brazil. Mello claims that the company is gearing up to stock and sell electronics directly inside the country, which has massive tariffs on imported electronics. This would mean Amazon would no longer operate as just a third party seller in Brazil.

Brazil’s Bond Bonanza May Be Over

By Aline Oyamada | March 7, 2018, 6:00 AM EST

“A growing chorus of investors is saying the best of the bull run in Brazilian bonds may be over,” says Bloomberg. Aside from the upcoming elections, investors fear the failure to reform the pension system and a possibility of lower rates on the horizon.

Latin American equities down as tariff fears heat up

Latin American markets were not immune to Trump’s tariff comments, both stocks and currencies were down across the board. Gary Cohen’s departure from the White House only accelerated the selloff.

Stock indexes           Latest    daily % change   YTD % change
                                                   
 MSCI Emerging           1189.20             -0.4           2.65
 Markets                                           
 MSCI LatAm              3085.38            -0.61            9.1
                                                   
 Brazil Bovespa         85483.55             -0.2          11.89
                                                   
 Mexico IPC             47662.12            -0.46          -3.43
                                                   
 Chile IPSA              5549.64             0.03          -0.27
                                                   
 Chile IGPA             27802.34             0.01          -0.64
                                                   
 Argentina MerVal       32743.55            -0.37           8.91
                                                   
 Colombia IGBC          11395.11            -0.31           0.22
                                                   
 Venezuela IBC           4868.07              2.7         285.39
                                                   
                                                                
 Currencies              Latest    daily % change   YTD % change
                                                   
                                                   
                                                   
 Brazil real              3.2444            -0.05           2.12
                                                   
 Mexico peso             18.7135             0.15           5.27
                                                   
 Chile peso                602.6            -0.46           2.00
                                                   
 Colombia peso            2865.5            -0.44           4.07
                                                   
 Peru sol                  3.253            -0.09          -0.49
                                                   
 Argentina peso          20.3950            -0.27          -8.80
 (interbank)                                       
                                                   
 Argentina peso            20.45            -0.10          -5.97
 (parallel)                        


data from Reuters.com                

Mexico rushes to add heavy oil auction to 2018 calendar: official

The country is in a rush to try and hold a fifth oil auction, no doubt trying to avoid what will be a return to nationalization if the favorite candidate for President, Lopez Obrador, gets to office by the end of the year. The country’s most under-exploited oil reserves are in the hands of the government, and this auction might be a precursor to trying to find a way to offload them all at once.

Chile’s top court upholds $2m fine on DIRECTV

Direct TV lost its Supreme Court Case in Chile to the tune of 1.3b CLP, or $2m. The case dealt with an incident back in 2015 when a DirectTV unit led to a fire in the city of Talcahuano. The authorities discovered that over 1m boxes didn’t comply with Chilean safety regulations.

Movistar vs Netflix in Latin America

The telephone company recently launched Movistar Series to challenge the American streaming giant for dominance in the content market in Latin America. The service now streams in three countries – Chile, Colombia, and Peru- and is planned to expand to 14 more. The company is expected to release a dozen shows this year. This would be a major bump on the road for Netflix, which saw an increase in profits in recent years thanks in large part to its overseas growth in subscribers.

Exxon-Mobil hits oil jackpot offshore Guyana: future production of 500.000 bpd

The discovery in the Parcora Well of Guyana will bring in over 500,000 barrels a day for ExxonMobile. This is a continuation of the country’s aggressive exploration push, of which Exxon has been a central partner. The Staborek Block is projected to be one of the region’s largest oil reserves.

 

Argentina inflicts yet more woe on Aggreko

The world’s largest temporary power provider is having something a day of reckoning. After years of high margin deals with corrupt authoritarians in Latin America, they are finally being forced to renegotiate. Argentina is the latest country to impose stricter deals on the company, contributing to its 12 tumble in profits for 2017.

Argentina: Time To Rain On The Parade

Mar. 7.18

Writing for Seeking Alpha, Ian Bezek says he’s not buying into the bullish “hype” that suggests Argentina might soon see a surge in foreign investments. Among his concerns are the country’s worst drought in 30 years and savers habits of pulling funds from the country’s banks. The six-page takedown of bullish firm’s reports is worth a read.

 

South American Airlines Start Bid for Second Flight to Falkland (Malvinas) Islands

March 7, 2018 | Pablo Diaz

It’s the first time a Latin American airline is bidding on the rights to fly to and from the island since LAN Chile in 1997. Argentina’s airlines, of course, are prohibited from bidding. But the route will perform a monthly stop in the country. Island natives are wary of fomenting any ties with Argentina, but they welcome the prospect of increased tourism. Flights will start by the end of the year.

Drummond hires Goldman to float possible Colombia sale to investors: sources

Reuters Staff | 2 MIN READ

Reuters reports that Alabama coal miner Drummond Co. Inc. is looking to sell part of its holdings in its Colombia operations. Colombia is the world’s fifth largest exporter of coal and Drummond is the country’s largest thermal coal producer and exporter. This is an interesting sale when you consider the electoral battle taking place in Colombia. The far-left candidate leads the polls there and has threatened to move the country away from “dependency” on coal and towards “renewables”. In this context, the sale appears to be a vote of no confidence in the country’s conservative party’s electoral chances.

Columns

The End of Mexican Democracy?

By ENRIQUE KRAUZE | MARCH 7, 2018

Krauze writes an insightful column on the stakes for Mexico’s upcoming election. Rather than the PRI to PAN party ping pong game that’s been played with the Presidency over the last now almost 20 years, there’s a real possibility of a radical leftist outsider reaching the office, Lopez Obrador.

“He does not believe in Mexican democracy,” the column says, and “has shown unbending interlace toward criticism from the media”. ALMO and his party, Morena’s, victory would spell doom for Mexican democracy according to Krauze, “his government could call for a Constituent Assembly, and move toward annulling the division of powers and subordinating the Supreme Court and other autonomous institutions after restricting the freedom of the media and silencing any dissenting voices”

From Rio to Bangui: Brazil’s Armed Forces Face Toughest Challenge Yet

BY OLIVER STUENKEL | MARCH 7, 2018

Brazil’s military is poised to send hundreds of troops to a peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic headed by the U.N. pending congressional approval. Americas Quarterly writes a neat explainer on why that decision is advantageous for President Temer, despite the risks. Among other things, it would be a great image boost abroad for the administration.

Furthermore, “Not only do Brazilian troops possess better equipment than many other developing countries that send peacekeepers to conflict regions, they would also help reduce a widespread perception among the local population that the UN force in the CAR is pro-Muslim,” says Stuenkel.

Brazil: natural disasters and large-scale construction forced millions from homes

Dom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro

Large-scale natural disasters, such as flooding and droughts, have forced over 6.4 million Brazilians to move since 2000, says The Guardian. The article details that collecting this data from government sources has been impossible thanks to a “code of silence” that permeates the culture in local authorities. Among other reasons for the reasons for the displacement is the rise in violent crime, which is far from politically expedient to admit for Brazil’s lawmakers.

Maduro and the Future of Venezuela

By Frank Simon | March 6, 2018

“Two more “revolutions” like the Venezuelan one and Latin America will go back to having the quality of life of many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa,” says Frank Simon in his excellent column for the Havana Times on the future of Venezuela. His refreshingly Cuban-centric perspective on the crisis is well worth a read.

The Surprising Politics Behind Argentina’s Abortion Debate

BY LUCIA HE | MARCH 7, 2018

Americas Quarterly says Macri’s motivation for suggesting he’s open to a referendum on abortion stem from a need to soften his image after dropping about 6% in his approval ratings. The periodical suggests the move would be a step forward for the country. This piece also fails to address the concerns of Argentina’s conservatives. Will they not demand some concessions in the face of such a drastic change in the overwhelmingly Catholic country? I would doubt that Macri has such a tight hold on the legislature as to force them to accept the move.

Someone is wrong on the internet: Banks regulating guns edition

MARCH 1, 2018 By Alexandra Scaggs

This is something of an oldie (March 1st) but still extremely relevant. Scagg’s column goes a long way to destroy the argument that private financial institutions should regulate the purchase and the sale of firearms. Citizens, she says at one point “cannot vote out CEOs” like they can councilmen, representatives, and Senators. The article is beautifully written and insightful. I highly recommend it.

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