No son tiempos fáciles para Venezuela. En el tercer trimestre del año, la escasez de productos básicos continúa siendo una piedra en el zapato del Gobierno, el dólar paralelo—que inició 2012 cotizando en 17BsF—pasó la línea de 40BsF, la inflación se ubicó en 42,5 por ciento para agosto pasado, y la inversión extranjera fue de -15 por ciento, uno de los índices más bajos de la región. Con la debacle económica marcando la opinión pública y, peor aún, la calidad de vida de los ciudadanos, el presidente Nicolás Maduro tomó un avión para China la semana pasada.
La primera visita oficial del heredero político de Hugo Chávez se produce antes de completar un semestre en el Palacio de Gobierno. Fue un viaje expreso, pero con los resultados esperados: en tres días, el mandatario cerró un nuevo préstamo de 5 mil millones de dólares, y la promesa de inversiones por 14 mil millones de dólares en el área petrolera.
Con esta inyección de dinero, Venezuela suma 43 mil millons de dólares en préstamos de China en apenas seis años. El esquema, establecido en 2007 a través de la creación del Fondo Mixto Chino Venezolano, se centra en blindar créditos con la entrega de petróleo a precio fijo por un plazo determinado de años. Fue la fórmula que el entonces presidente Hugo Chávez encontró para materializar su interés por China. Desde el comienzo de su gestión el mandatario buscó caminos para sustentar su retórica anti americana, y una China en plena ebullición parecía, sin duda, la más atractiva de las alternativas.
Asia era un destino tan poco considerado por Venezuela, que cuando Chávez fue electo en 1999 la balanza comercial entre ambos países sumaba 1,9 mil millones de dólares. En la primera década de la revolución bolivariana, el intercambio creció 10 veces, alcanzando los 10,3 mil millones de dólares en 2010. Ese año fue significativo para la relación binacional: China autorizó un préstamo de 20,8 mil millones de dólares, el mayor concedido por autoridades bancarias chinas a un único deudor.
El dinero chino motorizó la economía venezolana. En teoría, debía ser destinado a proyectos de infraestructura nacional, agricultura y a la construcción de dos satélites, sin embargo, la ausencia de una contraloría real en el país dificulta discriminar cuánto se invirtió en proyectos a largo plazo, y cuánto sirvió para sostener el sistema populista y paternalista de Chávez, ratificado en trece elecciones consecutivas. La negociación no sólo ofrecía un atractivo en materia de política externa para alguien necesitado de antagonizar con Washington, sino que también representaba ventajas a lo interno. El dinero entraba rápidamente, sin condiciones que exigieran ajustes económicos inmediatos, y si los venezolanos durante años han dilapidado parte de su presupuesto subvencionando gasolina para consumo interno, ¿por qué iban a cuestionar al Gobierno por comprometer, por lo menos, 11 por ciento de la producción petrolera a varios años?
Next up on the world’s stage of Theater of the Absurd: Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro. Like his predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, Maduro has as his mentors—in things big and small—Fidel and Raul Castro of Cuba. Always the masters of deception, the Castro brothers were caught red-handed this summer trying to ship weapons to North Korea. Now it is Maduro whom might have been caught red-handed, or should we say “red-faced,” trying to sneak Cuban intelligence agents into the United States.
Maduro had planned a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He never made it. Traveling on Cubana Airlines with a Venezuelan delegation that included his wife, son and daughter-in-law, a hair dresser and a bevy of Cuban security experts carrying Venezuelan passports, his plane landed in Canada for refueling, on a return flight from China. ABC, Madrid’s daily broke the story reporting that the United States denied visas to the Cubans, part of Maduro’s entourage. But according to U.S. government sources, what happened was that Maduro ordered his aircraft “to turn away when the US wouldn’t give them assurances that they would not be denied entry.” The State Department spokesman said that “No visas have been denied for the Venezuelan delegation to this year’s UN General Assembly.”
Maduro left in a fury vowing retaliation and “drastic actions.” Caracas’ El Universal quoted Maduro saying that “he dropped his trip to New York in order to safeguard his physical integrity.” El Universal also reported that the Venezuelan president “fingered former US officials Roger Noriega and Otto Reich for allegedly planning ‘a provocation’”. The possibility of Noriega and Reich, two Republican political appointees, directing any initiative of any kind by the Obama administration is zilch.
There was also some speculation that the Venezuelans feared the Cuban 767 would be seized, as Cuban vessels have been detained in various foreign countries in the past due to Havana’s failures to fulfill financial obligations.
Leaders from throughout the hemisphere will convene in New York City today for the opening of the sixty-eight session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). For the third year in a row, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will deliver the first address. In her speech, she is expected to propose global measures against cyber-espionage—a practice considered by Rousseff as a violation of human rights—following recent revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) monitored e-mails and phone calls of the presidential team and of Brazilian oil company Petrobras.
In addition to President Rousseff, other heads of state from the Americas that will be addressing the General Assembly today include U.S. President Barack Obama, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes, Uruguayan President José Mujica and Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala have also confirmed their attendance.
A number of high-level meetings will take place throughout the week, covering topics that range from updates in the sustainable development agenda to more pressing political issues such as the crisis in Syria, U.S. diplomatic relations with Iran and the future of Israel-Palestine peace talks. The schedules and speakers for the following days of the General Debate will be announced on the night before of each daily session.
Likely top stories this week: the UN General Assembly kicks off in New York; Peru’s minister of mines is optimistic about controversial projects; Mexico assesses damage from Tropical Storm Manuel and Hurricane Ingrid; Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro travels to China after sparring with the U.S.; a Brazilian rancher is sentenced in the murder of American nun and activist Dorothy Stang.
Latin American Leaders Attend UN General Assembly: On Tuesday, at least eleven Latin American heads of state are expected to attend the 68th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. As of Sunday, the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay had officially confirmed attendance. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who will arrive in New York City on Monday, will open Tuesday’s general debate. Rousseff is expected to propose global measures against cyber-espionage after recent revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) monitored the e-mails and phone calls of Rousseff and Brazilian state oil company Petrobras.
Peruvian Mining Projects Expected to Resume: Peruvian Minister of Energy and Mines Jorge Merino said at a conference in Arequipa last week that Newmont Mining's $4.8 billion Conga copper and gold mine and Southern Copper's $1 billion Tia Maria copper project should be able to overcome community opposition and resume operation. Peruvian President Ollanta Humala suspended Tia Maria in 2011 and Conga in 2012 due to deadly mining protests. Protesters were concerned that the mining would impact the local water supply. The next large-scale mining project expected to start production is Minera Chinalco, Peru’s Toromocho copper project, which should begin before the end of the year.
Mexican Storm Death Toll Rises as Cleanup Begins: Mexican authorities said that approximately 115 people had died in from widespread flooding and mudslides in the wake of Tropical Storm Manuel and Hurricane Ingrid, which struck both sides of the country last week. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said on Sunday that the Mexican Congress will be forced to revise its 2014 budget to deal with the catastrophic damage. A mudslide in the town of La Pintada likely killed all 68 of the residents who remain missing.
U.S.-Venezuela Plane Incident Heightens Tensions: After the U.S. hesitated to grant Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro permission to fly through U.S. airspace on his way to China last Thursday, Maduro called the move a "serious offense" and Bolivian President Evo Morales said he would sue the United States for "crimes against humanity." Roberta S. Jacobson, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs said Friday that the U.S. had granted permission for Maduro's plane to fly over Puerto Rico after only one day, when it usually requires advance notice of three days for diplomatic flight requests. On Sunday, Maduro met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and signed 12 agreements to strengthen economic ties.
Mastermind of Amazon Murder Sentenced to 30 Years: A rancher who ordered the murder of American nun and longtime Amazon protection advocate Dorothy Stang was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Thursday night. Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura had already been tried three times and his last sentence was annulled by the Supreme Court. His lawyers plan to appeal the latest conviction. Of five people charged with involvement in the crime, only Bastos and another man are currently in prison.
General debate of the 67th Session of the UN General Assembly began today with presidents from across the region scheduled to address world leaders. A number of high-level meetings will also take place throughout the week, covering topics like the rule of law, sustainable energy, nutrition, countering nuclear terrorism, and the chemical weapons convention.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff delivered the first address this morning for the second year in a row. In her speech, she addressed poverty and gender equality as well as security in Syria and the rest of the Middle East. She also defended policies to protect domestic industries, emphasizing that it unfair for “legitimate trade defense initiatives by developing countries to be unfairly classified as protectionism.”
On Thursday, Paraguayan President Federico Franco will speak out against Paraguay’s suspension from Mercosur and condemn Venezuela’s incorporation into the trade bloc—decisions which he called “illegitimate and illegal.” Franco also plans to defend the nearly unanimous congressional impeachment process that ousted former President Fernando Lugo in January.
In addition to President Rousseff, other Latin American heads of state that are addressing the General Assembly today include President Danilo Medina of the Dominican Republic, President Porfirio Lobo of Honduras, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina, and President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador. On Wednesday President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, President Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala, President Michel Martelly of Haiti, and President Evo Morales of Bolivia will address the body. Mexican President Felipe Calderón will give his final address. President Ollanta Humala will join President Franco in speaking on Thursday, while Chilean President Sebastian Piñera and Uruguyan President José Mujica will speak Friday and Saturday respectively. On the final day of general debate Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa will end the session.
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Dilma First Woman Ever to Open UNGA
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff became the first woman in history to open the UN General Assembly. “It is with personal humility, but with my justified pride as a woman, that I meet this historic moment,” said Rousseff as she opened the general debate. “I share this feeling with over half of the human beings on this planet who, like myself, were born women and who, with tenacity, are occupying the place they deserve in the world. I am certain that this will be the century of women.” Rousseff can also be found on the cover of this week’s Newsweek, with a profile by Mac Margolis.
In conjunction with the opening of the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly, Americas Society and Council of the Americas are hosting multiple Latin American heads of state. Go to AS/COA Online for livestreams and a schedule of events.
LatAm Countries to Join U.S.-Brazilian Governance Partnership
Presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Barack Obama of the United States officially launched the Open Government Partnership (OGP) while in New York on Tuesday. The OGP’s goal is to give citizens tools to monitor elected leaders and achieve more transparent governance. Mexico is one of the six founding members and other Latin American countries that have pledged to sign on to the partnership are: Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, and Uruguay. “This is a smart program for U.S. policy in the hemisphere and a great leadership role for Brazil to play,” reports Bloggings by Boz, who links to commitments and plans from Brazil, Mexico, and the United States.
Palestine Can Expect Heavy LatAm Support at UN
Nearly every country in Latin America is set to support a vote for Palestinian statehood, which is anticipated at this week’s UN General Assembly. The only holdouts appear to be Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Panama. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas toured Latin America in 2009.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.