Tuesday, August 5, 2014

WNU #1229: 3 More Nations Recall Israel Envoys

Issue #1229, August 3, 2014

1. Latin America: 3 More Nations Recall Israel Envoys
2. Argentina: US Hedge Funds Force Bond Default
3. Mexico: Maya Campesinos Beat Monsanto in Court
4. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, US/policy, US/immigration

ISSN#: 1084 922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com. For a subscription, write to weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WeeklyNewsUpdat.

*1. Latin America: 3 More Nations Recall Israel Envoys
A total of five Latin American governments had recalled their ambassadors to Israel as of July 29 in an escalation of diplomatic protests against an operation the Israeli military had been carrying out in the Palestinian territory of Gaza since July 8 [see Update #1228]. With the Palestinian death toll passing 1,500—including more than 300 children--centrist and even rightwing Latin American governments started joining left and center-left government in distancing themselves from the main US ally in the Middle East.

Chile, El Salvador and Peru called their ambassadors home for consultations on July 29; Ecuador had already recalled its ambassador on July 17, followed by Brazil on July 24. While it condemned the firing of rockets into Israel by the Gaza-based Hamas organization, the center-left government of Chilean president Michelle Bachelet denounced Israeli attacks on the Palestinians as “collective punishment,” saying they “violate the principle of proportionality in the use of force, an indispensable requirement for the justification of legitimate defense.” El Salvador’s center-left government said it was responding to “the serious escalation in violence and the realization of indiscriminate bombing from Israel into the Gaza Strip,” while the centrist Peruvian government charged that Israel’s actions “constitute a new and reiterated violation of the basic norms of international humanitarian law.”

Also on July 29, four of the five members of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur)--Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela—issued a joint statement during a summit held in Caracas saying they “energetically condemn the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip, which in the majority affects civilians, including children and women.” Argentina and Uruguay didn’t recall their ambassadors, but the left-leaning government of Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner issued a statement expressing concern over the safety of an Argentine priest working in Gaza and that of 30 disabled children, nine elderly people and six nuns in his care. Venezuela broke off relations with Israel over a similar Israeli operation in Gaza in 2009; it is planning to send humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territory now.

On July 30 the rightwing government of Paraguay, the one Mercosur member that didn’t join in the statement, called for “an immediate end to aggression and hostilities” in the Gaza Strip. The center-right government of Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos also seemed to be moving away from support of Israel. In a July 10 press release Colombia had condemned “acts of violence and terrorism against Israel,” without mentioning Israeli operations, but a July 22 statement from the Foreign Ministry said Colombia “rejects the military offensive by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip” and expresses condolences for “victims of Israel’s retaliatory actions.”

The harshest condemnation of Israel’s actions came from center-left Bolivian president Evo Morales, who on July 30 described Israel as a “terrorist state.” He announced that his government was cancelling an agreement that had been in effect since 1972 allowing Israelis to visit without a visa requirement. Bolivia has had limited diplomatic ties with Israel since 2009, when Morales’ government restricted relations to protest the Gaza operation then.

With the strong statements from its governments, Latin America “has set itself apart from other regional blocs,” according to Michael Shifter, the president of the centrist Washington, DC-based think tank Inter-American Dialogue. The “emerging consensus condemning Israel for its military actions in Gaza is not surprising,” he said, given that 11 Latin American governments had recognized Palestine as a state by 2011 [see Update #1153]. Farid Kahhat, a political scientist and Middle East expert with the Catholic University of Peru, noted that now “[i]t isn’t only the nations with left-leaning governments that have recalled their ambassadors… This transcends ideologies.”

The Israeli government continued to react angrily to the protests from Latin America. “Israel expresses its deep disappointment with the hasty decision of the governments of El Salvador, Peru and Chile to recall their ambassadors for consultations,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor said on July 30. “This step constitutes encouragement for Hamas, a group recognized as a terror organization by many countries around the world.” The statement was more moderate than Palmor’s dismissal of Brazil a week earlier as a “diplomatic dwarf,” a remark that led the Brazilian Jewish Confederation (CONIB), an umbrella body of Brazilian Jewish groups, to apologize to the government of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff on July 24. CONIB itself had charged that Rousseff’s administration had “a one-sided attitude to the conflict in Gaza in which the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticizes Israel and ignores the actions of the terrorist group Hamas,” but CONIB president Claudio Lottenberg called Palmor’s comments, which included a sneer at the Brazilian soccer team, “very unfortunate.” “Brazil has the right to express its point of view,” Lottenberg said. (Haaretz (Israel) 7/24/14 from Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 7/30/14 from staff; Wall Street Journal 7/30/14; Latin American Herald Tribune 7/30/14 from EFE; The Americas Blog 7/31/14)

*2. Argentina: US Hedge Funds Force Bond Default
The US financial services company Standard & Poor’s Ratings (S&P) declared Argentina in default the afternoon of July 30 after last-minute negotiations failed to produce an agreement between the country and a group of creditors who insisted that they be paid in full for the $1.5 billion in Argentine bonds they own. This was Argentina’s second default since an economic collapse in December 2001 brought on by a decade of extreme neoliberal austerity and privatization measures [see Update #621]. Opinions were divided on how the new default would affect the country, which was already entering a recession. “The ordinary Argentine citizen will be the real and ultimate victim,” Daniel Pollack, the mediator appointed by a US federal court in New York, said in a statement. But Argentine Economy Minister Axel Kicillof was defiant. “We aren't going to sign any agreement that would jeopardize the future of Argentines,” he said at a news conference after the negotiations ended on July 30.

The holdout creditors were led by US billionaire Paul Singer; two of his companies, Elliott Management and a subsidiary, NML Capital; and Aurelius Capital Management. NML and Aurelius are hedge funds of the type known as “vulture funds” for their practice of investing in weak debt that the debtors are likely to default on. These hedge funds bought up cheap Argentine bonds after the 2001 collapse. From 2005 to 2010 Argentina’s government negotiated settlements with the other bondholders, who agreed to accept exchange bonds at a 70% discount for the debt they were holding; this is a fairly standard arrangement for defaults by countries, like bankruptcy proceedings for a company or an individual. But Singer and his associates held out for full payment and took the case to a US federal court. In 2012 New York District judge Thomas Griesa ruled in Singer’s favor. He held that when Argentina paid the discounted exchange bonds, it also had to pay the holdouts in full. Argentina tried make a payment to the holders of the exchange bonds this June, placing $539 million in the Bank of New York Mellon, but the bank couldn’t pay out the money: Judge Griesa had ruled that any financial firm that distributed payments to the bondholders would be in contempt of court. Argentina turned to the US Supreme Court, but the justices rejected the appeal.

Estanislao Malic, an economist at the Scalabrini Ortiz Center for Economic and Social Studies in Buenos Aires, told the New York Times that the “default is not a drastic change.” “Argentina has been living in a default reality for over 10 years” since the earlier default, he explained. But there are implications for the global financial system, where exchange bonds have been a mechanism for resolving financial crises in the absence of any international bankruptcy procedures. “The danger here is all too easy to see,” British journalist Larry Elliott wrote on July 31. “The legacy of the financial crisis of 2007-08 is that many countries find themselves saddled with big budget deficits. In the event of another financial crisis, something that seems all too likely, there would be a wave of sovereign debt defaults.” The administration of US president Barack Obama appeared to agree on the seriousness of the threat: the US attorney general in New York, Preet Bharara, filed a brief in an appeals court in 2012 supporting Argentina against Judge Griesa.

Joseph Stiglitz, a former World Bank chief economist and now a Columbia University professor, called the US courts’ decisions in the case “America throwing a bomb into the global economic system.” “We don't know how big the explosion will be--and it’s not just about Argentina,” he said. (New York Times 7/30/14; McClatchy DC 7/31/14; BBC News 7/31/14; The Guardian (UK) 7/31/14)

*3. Mexico: Maya Campesinos Beat Monsanto in Court
A district court judge in the eastern Mexican state of Yucatán ruled in July against a license that the federal Agriculture Secretariat (Sagarpa) had granted the Missouri-based multinational Monsanto Company in 2012 for sowing 253,500 hectares with genetically modified (GM) soy in Yucatán and six other states. A group of campesinos from the Maya indigenous group filed a suit charging that the license endangered the traditional production of organic honey in a region including the Yucatán communities of Ticul, Santa Elena, Oxkutzcab, Tzucacab, Tekax, Peto and Tizimin. The judge’s ruling was “a great achievement because there is recognition of our legitimate right to make decisions about our territory and our livelihood,” Maya farmer Lorenzo Itzá Ek said. “[B]eekeeping is the main traditional economic activity we carry out, and we don’t want our honey contaminated with transgenics or with toxic products like agrochemicals that kill our bees.”

This was the third defeat for GM soy in eastern Mexico this year. In March and April a court in Campeche ruled in favor of two suits brought by Maya beekeepers from the Hopelchén and Pac-Chen communities in Campeche’s Cancabchen municipality. The decisions on GM soy follow a ruling in October 2013 by a federal judge that restrained Sagarpa and the Environment Secretariat (Semarnat) from granting further licenses for planting GM corn in Mexico [see Update #1195]. But Ximena Ramos, an adviser for the Litiga OLE legal assistance group, said the July ruling in Yucatán was especially important because the judge ordered a public consultation with the affected indigenous communities before any resolution could be made about the sowing of GM soy. This enforces “the multicultural principle in the Constitution, along with the human rights implied in the right to prior consultation with the Maya,” she said. (Terra Mexico 7/22/14; El Ciudadano (Chile) 7/30/14)

In related news, Brazilian farmers are calling on four multinational seed manufacturers to reimburse them for pesticide they used on GM corn they planted this year. According to Ricardo Tomczyk, president of the Aprosoja farm lobbying group in the southern state of Mato Grosso do Sul, the Spodoptera frugiperda (also known as the “corn leafworm” or “southern grassworm”) has developed a resistance to the poisonous protein in the type of GM corn known as “Bt corn.” The result is that farmers had to spend an average of 120 reais (about US$54) per hectare on pesticide to protect their crop, he said. The seed’s manufacturers are the US-based companies Monsanto, Dow Chemical Co and DuPont, and Syngenta AG, which is based in Switzerland. (Reuters 7/28/14)

*4. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, US/policy, US/immigration

Update on Latin American Responses to Israel's Siege on Gaza

What the NML vs Argentina case means for the world

The World Cup Has Come and Gone and Brazil Didn’t Crash and Burn

Gunmen threaten to assassinate Yanomami leader (Brazil)

Medellín kingpin busted in Spain (Colombia)

Obama Throws Another Bone to the Right on Venezuela

Inside Venezuela's "Proceso"

Venezuela to Send Aid to Gaza, Welcome Refugees, as Regional Leaders Condemn Assault

US Policies Exacerbate Migration Crisis in Guatemala

Guatemalan Court Rules in Favor of Indigenous People Over Goldcorp Mining in Sipacapa

Laws That Kill Protesters in Mexico

Defending Communication Rights: “We will not remain silent” (Mexico)

Understanding and Countering Corruption and Migrant Abuse by Mexico’s National Migration Institute

Reconstruction or Haiti's Latest Disaster? Tourism Development on Île-à-Vache Island

US Congress Passes Aid Accountability Legislation as Local Procurement Falls in Haiti

Police Should Not Be Managing the Drug Problem. Doctors Should Be. (US/policy)

We Reap What We Sow: The Link between Child Migrants and US Policy (US/immigration)

The Central American Child Refugee Crisis: Made in U.S.A. (US/immigration)

New Senate Bill Fails To Address Root Causes of Central American Migration (US/immigration)

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Feel free to reproduce these updates, or reprint or re-post any information from them, but please credit us as “Weekly News Update on the Americas” and include a link.

Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

No comments: