Tuesday, January 21, 2014

News from Around the Hemisphere, Jan 15, 2014 (reposted from original location)

article from January 15, 2014
By Jamie Douglas

First off, an apology to my readers: I have not been writing as often as I would like, as I am not well... but not ill enough to refrain from occasionally spouting my opinions and pointing out interesting facts.

Mexico’s continuing problems

Poor Mexico! After the recent elections, there was hope that the violence would subside somewhat, but it is only getting worse in the states that have been flashpoints in the unfortunate war on drugs, which has cost over 100,000 lives over the past few years – one of which is the state of Michoacán, where I used to reside until I went to buy the newspaper for my morning coffee at Pátzcuaro restaurant where expats, artists and criminals alike would mingle.

Since that morning eight years ago, when I was shocked to see photos of 22 mutilated corpses on the back pages of La Voz de Michoacán, things have gotten progressively worse. In a recent article in Proceso [spanish], it is revealed that the Knights Templar, successors to the Zeta crime syndicate, have now entered politics on behalf of the PRI, the hyper-corrupt Mexican political party that bled the country dry for generations. After a brief respite, the PRI is back in power, with a little help from their usual election fraud along with the Knights Templar, who have become an economic force to contend with, as they have made hundreds of millions of dollars running the port of Lázaro Cárdenas and illegally mining iron ore.

As a result of long-standing collusion between the local, state and federal government and the cartels, Michoacán has come close to being an ungovernable failed state, and the neighboring states up and down the Pacific coast may follow.

When will the powers that be realize that the unfortunate war on drugs had the same results as the prohibition in the United States did? It enabled criminal elements to take over the country with diluted and dangerous unregulated alcohol, corrupting most major police forces by flooding them with money.

Panama and Nicaragua race for a wider canal across the isthmus

In 2006, Panama’s then-president Martin Torrijos announced a plan to expand the Panama Canal so it could accommodate today’s VLCCs. He boldly stated that this project would turn Panama into a first-world country. Perhaps he did not anticipate all of the corruption that would inevitably follow this proposal. Perhaps he underestimated the larceny of the Martinelli administration. But one thing is glaringly obvious: The conglomerate that bid on the work grossly underestimated the cost and time for building this ambitious project – and therein lies the current problem. The Panama Canal Authority is refusing to pay for the cost overruns and has threatened to take over the project by force mejeure.

Regardless of what will happen in this chapter of Panama Canal history, Panama will not be a first-world nation until it rids itself of all the scams that are at home there, including the banking and real estate sectors, much of which is run by American and Canadian expats, con men and women and convicted criminals trying to sell anything they can think of.

Meanwhile, a Chinese investor has put together a consortium of wealthy business people from China to build a canal clear across the isthmus in Nicaragua. This project is slated to begin in December of this year; and if successfully completed, it will be quite a thorn in the side of the Panama Canal Authority. But with the enormous nature of the project, one should not hold their breath. China may be riding high at the moment, but nothing lasts forever. The Chinese economy is already feeling the pain of the costs of their armed forces and high-speed rail networks.

I wonder why Mexico has not pursued the logical choice of building a trans-isthmus canal from Tehuantepec to the Caribbean. Perhaps the cost and logistics are too prohibitive, along with the opposition of the indigenous people.

Venezuela and crime

Venezuela’s sweetheart, actress and former Miss Universe Monica Spear, and her husband, Thomas Berry, were brutally murdered a few days ago when their car broke down. Their little 5-year-old daughter was also shot but survived.

Venezuela is a spectacular nation, blessed with abundant natural resources and stunning beauty. From Angel Falls to the Caribbean islands, nature has blessed this nation with abundant and fertile lands, not to mention the crude oil reserves in Lake Maracaibo and the gold in the ground.

Unfortunately, the riches of the nation have been distributed unequally to the point of forcing many into a life of serious crime. The homicide rate is near the top of world statistics, and the prisons are overflowing. The staggering amount and wide distribution of serious crimes is affecting everyone from the very poor to the very rich. Ironically, Monica Spear and her family moved to Miami out of fear for their safety. Nearing the end of a holiday vacation, fate caught up with them.

If there is one good thing that can be said about it, it is the fact that thousands of people came to her funeral and thousands more protested the senseless violence the Bolivarian nation is confronting.

And now the weather

After an early spring followed by another cold front, the Southern Cone countries of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina have been hit with several waves of severe weather, which included some of the most intense lightning and thunder this observer has ever witnessed.

Torrential rains in Brazil took their toll in human lives, and Uruguay also had several casualties, including a police officer who was killed in downtown Montevideo when hit by a swinging door he was trying to secure during one of the storms, which packed winds of up to 100 km/h.

Argentina also suffered one of the worst heat waves in their recorded history that was compounded by the failure of the electric grid in Buenos Aires, causing brownouts, blackouts and several heat-related casualties. The worst incident happened in the small beach town of Villa Gesell, where four youngsters were killed on the beach by lightning and another 22 injured. The tragedy happened so quickly that the victims never had a chance to escape.

I will not opine on the cause of all this severe weather, from the polar vortex to the unseasonably severe cold in Antarctica that caused an Australian tour boat to get stuck in the pack ice, forcing other important scientific programs to be interrupted when several additional ships had to be sent to their rescue. The Australian organizer of the trip defended his expedition as having valid scientific value by explaining that the lay observers on the ship were qualified to make observations of the current conditions in the region.

Antarctica, being the last frontier on this planet, has been exploited for high-end tourism for several years, and this latest problem is no different from any other for-profit organized tour.

Jamie Douglas
At large in Uruguay

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.