Following a week of protests which resulted in the deaths of three people, President Martinelli of Panama said he is willing to cancel plans to sell land in the duty-free zone in Colon. The protests were in response to the passing of a law last Friday which would allow the selling of land to companies which are currently leasing land in Latin America’s largest duty-free zone. Protestors contend that the millions of dollars in leasing fees go to the capital and don’t help provide needed services in Colon. Political Analyst Joe Blandon told the Associated Press, “In Colon, there is an economic system that clearly shows its injustice…On one side is the canal, the duty-free zone, and on the other is the city where half of the population lives in poverty."
Bolivia is breaking the mold in the “war on drugs” in their efforts to contain the cultivation of coca, reports Deutsche Welle. The coca leaf has been used for centuries in Bolivia as a mild stimulant and Bolivia withdrew from a UN convention that labels the coca leaf in its natural state as a narcotic substance. That move, together with expelling the DEA in 2008 angered Washington, which has included Bolivia on a list of countries “failing demonstrably” in the war on drugs. Nevertheless, while previous efforts at crop replacement were failures, a new “social control” policy is proving effective. The program, which began in 2008 with financial support from the European Union, aims to work with the powerful coca growers unions to limit each registered grower to a small plot of coca. Coca planted outside permitted zones is still targeted for destruction, but the unions now support those efforts. These new programs seem to be effective as the UN recently found that coca cultivation in Bolivia fell 12 percent in 2011.
Venezuelan finance minister Jorge Giordani presented the 2013 budget to national assembly this week, reports Reuters. The budget forecasts economic growth of 6 percent in 2013 with inflation falling to a range between 14-16 percent. While many financial analysts have predicted a sharp slowdown in Venezuelan growth after increased spending in the year before the election falls off, CEPR research has shown that Venezuela’s growth is sustainable. Venezuelanalysis, looks at the budget in terms of social spending, noting that it will make up over 37 percent of the budget. Education receives over 11 percent of the budget, while social security and health are set to receive 10 percent and 8 percent, respectively. As Venezuelanalysis notes, the regular budget doesn’t include all social spending as PDVSA and Fonden also contribute to social investment.
The crew from Argentina’s naval vessel returned from Ghana today, as the ship remains detained by the vulture fund NML Capital, reports the AP. Many members of the crew expressed frustration and dismay at returning to Argentina without the flagship vessel. Nevertheless, President Kirchner has refused to negotiate with the vulture fund, “As long as I am president, they can keep the frigate, but no one will take the liberty, sovereignty and dignity of this country - not a vulture fund, not anyone." Meanwhile, another Argentine vessel, which was forced to dock in South Africa for repairs, is being targeted by NML capital, reports Mercopress. The Argentine embassy is ready to respond should legal efforts to detain the ship go forward, however the news report notes some key differences with the situation in Ghana. For one, Elliot Capital, the parent company of NML, tried buying South African company bonds for cents on the dollar and suing for full value plus interest but has yet to win a court case in South Africa. For more on NML and the other vulture funds lobbying against Argentina, see here and here.