A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘latin america

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

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  • blogTO announces the impending opening of Toronto’s first cat café.
  • Centauri Dreams shares sharper images of Ceres from New Horizons.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes the discovery of very distant Neptune-mass planet OGLE-2005-BLG-169b.
  • The Dragon’s Tales reports on the latest from the Donbas.
  • Far Outliers notes the spike in surrenders on Okinawa in June 1945.
  • Geocurrents maps the relatively balanced oil-based economic development of Colombia.
  • Marginal Revolution notes the use of the smartphone by refugees.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer observes the surprising casualty-heavy intensity of Russia’s war in the Donbas.
  • Torontoist explains the import of the City of Toronto’s budget surplus.
  • Towleroad notes how a fugitive priest is defending his rape of an altar boy.
  • Window on Eurasia notes one moment when Russia could have prevented the fall in oil prices.

[LINK] “Here’s How Brazil Is Giving Every Citizen Free Mobile Data”

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The title of Ian King and Christiana Sciaudone’s Bloomberg article is slightly misleading, in that the free data access being considered is limited in scope. This might well expand in the future, at least based on precedents elsewhere in the world.

Once considered the next great growth engine for the smartphone industry, Brazil is on the decline. With its economy shrinking and unemployment on the rise, many Brazilians are making do with dumb phones. They find the cost of an Internet-connected device prohibitive, particularly when they factor in mobile data fees.

One possible solution borrows from a technical breakthrough made by AT&T half a century ago. The Brazilian government is working with local companies and Qualcomm, the world’s largest mobile phone chipmaker, on a modern version of toll-free calling. A new 1-800 system for mobile data allows Brazilians to access their bank accounts for free on smartphones without incurring data costs. The government of São Paulo plans to extend free data services to some official websites by the end of the year.

Banco Bradesco, one of the country’s biggest banks, began exploring a free data program after observing that many customers had stopped using the company’s app and were switching back to such traditional banking services as phone calls and visits to the teller. A survey of those customers found that they couldn’t afford data plans and didn’t have access to Wi-Fi during work hours, when banks are open. Bradesco teamed up with technology giant Qualcomm, and together they spent a year negotiating with Brazil’s four main phone-service providers. The bank purchased data packages wholesale and started rolling out the program in 2014. Bradesco customers can check account balances, transfer money, and pay bills without buying a data plan. “The response was excellent,” says Mauricio Minas, a vice president at the bank.

[. . .]

Sponsored data has been tested in other emerging markets, with some success. Internet.org, a pet project of Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, provides free access to a limited group of websites—Facebook being one—in Colombia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia. Two of China’s largest mobile operators began offering one-day free access to Alibaba’s Taobao Marketplace in 2013 to get people hooked on the shopping site and to encourage data use.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 18, 2015 at 9:05 pm

[LINK] “Some Isolated Tribes in the Amazon Are Initiating Contact”

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National Geographic‘s Scott Wallace describes the various concerns in South America, specifically Peru and Brazil, relating to indigenous peoples’ initiation of contact with the outside world. How can this be done in as non-exploitative a way as possible?

Isolated indigenous groups in the western Amazon are under mounting pressure. The noose is gradually tightening around the last stretches of rainforest that remain free from the whine of chainsaws, the crack of rifles, the rumble of machinery. But in this instance, Peruvian officials doubt the Mashco-Piro are fleeing drug traffickers, loggers, or oil exploration crews. They believe the Indians are simply seeking more of the goods they have come to know through raids on settlements and encounters with strangers.

Trade goods have long exercised a powerful attraction for isolated tribes. For most of the 20th century, Brazilian wilderness scouts showered so-called “wild Indians” with such gifts to seduce them into accepting contact. That practice came to an end when Brazil adopted its “no contact” policy to respect the right of the isolated tribes to remain in seclusion if they so desired. After that, government agents would only seek out tribes that were in imminent peril from disease or genocidal violence. Indian rights officials assumed that the tribes would choose isolation over contact.

Recent events are challenging that assumption. Last year, a group of about 30 Indians emerged from the jungles around the native Ashaninka settlement of Simpatia on Brazil’s Xinane River, just across the border from Peru. According to Carlos Travassos, director of the Department of Isolated and Recently Contacted Indians, they melted back into the forest but emerged again days later, sick and exhausted, just as an emergency response team arrived. Speaking through interpreters, the Indians described a harrowing ordeal in the jungle across the border in Peru, where their people had suffered bloodshed at the hands of intruders, presumably illegal loggers or drug traffickers.

“We can’t say for sure that any single thing led them to make contact,” Travassos wrote in an email from Brasilia, “but it’s clear that the violence and attendant exhaustion they suffered cleared the way for contact.” The entire group received inoculations against the flu before returning to the forest. Thanks to the efforts of the team, Travassos continued, “the impacts of contact were kept to a minimum.”

Brazilian officials who helped formulate the “no contact” policy years ago are rethinking their strategy. “There’s something called self-determination,” Indian protection agent Meirelles told National Geographic by phone from his home in the Amazonian port city of Rio Branco. Having devoted decades to working along the Xinane River where last year’s contact occurred, Meirelles was recently invited to Peru to advise Torres and his superiors at the Ministry of Culture on the Mashco-Piro contact.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 14, 2015 at 7:11 pm

[LINK] Bloomberg on the Venezuela-Guyana border dispute

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Bloomberg’s Andrew Rosati describes how Venezuela’s claim to most of Guyana has been energized by the discovery of offshore oil, and perhaps also by Venezuela’s economic issues.

For generations, Venezuela has formally laid claim to most of its tiny neighbor, Guyana. Many dismissed the case, given Venezuela’s oil wealth and Guyana’s penury. Hugo Chavez, longstanding president of Venezuela, even let it slide, referring to the Guyanese as his brothers.

Then in May, Exxon Mobil Corp. revealed that under contract from Guyana it had found massive offshore oil and gas deposits. Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro, demanded that the drilling stop because the area was Venezuela’s. He dismissed Guyana’s president as a tool of Big Oil, declared his statements “nauseating” and Guyana’s actions likely to “bring war to our border.” He withdrew his ambassador, and Guyana announced the end to a long-time rice-for-oil deal.

For Guyana — which produces no oil and whose 800,000 inhabitants live with unpaved flooded roads and power outages — the estimated offshore find of 700 million barrels promises a revolution, a shift from negligible food exporter to global energy dealer. The combined oil and natural-gas deposits appear to be worth $40 billion, at least 10 times the country’s gross domestic product.

“We’ve gone through suffering for many decades and our time is due,” Raphael Trotman, minister of governance, said in an interview in his office on an unassuming road in the capital, Georgetown. The discovery is “transformational,” he said. “For us, there is no going back.”

Written by Randy McDonald

August 13, 2015 at 7:37 pm

[LINK] “Advocates say EU loophole leaves Latin American workers in legal limbo”

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Al Jazeera America’s Maggy Donaldson reports on the precarity of Latin American agricultural workers in the European Union.

Along the banks of the Rhône river, just off of France’s “highway of the sun” that runs past legendary expanses of grape and lavender fields, a parade of battered vans pulls up to a gated campground obscured by pine trees. Dozens of Latin Americans pile out, back from another long day sorting fruit harvested from the many orchards that dot the southern region’s rolling landscape.

Marcia Fiel perches on a boulder near the camp entrance, rapidly texting friends in her native Ecuador and talking with coworkers to debrief after spending the day inside Métral Fruits, the distribution facility that employs her and another hundred Latin American migrants who also call this campground home. Behind her, cars head up the hill into the sleepy French village Chanas, about an hour south of Lyon.

Though they work in France, the Spanish company Terra Fecundis employs Fiel and her colleagues. The temporary contract agency delivers on-demand migrant labor, mostly from Latin America, to farmers throughout Spain and France. The nearby vans shuttle workers like Fiel into Chanas, home to approximately 2,300 people, six days a week to sort fruit for 10 to 12 hours a day. “Sometimes we only have a 15-minute break when we’ve worked all day,” Fiel said.

And coming home to the campground isn’t exactly relaxing: “There’s a lot of people living together in a small space, and that’s difficult,” Fiel said. She and her colleagues live, quite literally, in the middle of a forest. “The worst is that we don’t have water,” Fiel said as a group of several women walk up the hill to the hamlet, toting empty plastic jugs.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 12, 2015 at 7:35 pm

[LINK] “Humanitarian Crisis Looming Over Venezuela, Says ICG”

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The Inter Press Service’s Jaya Ramachandran writes about fears Venezuela might become a failed state.

A Brussels-based think-tank has warned Venezuela of an impending humanitarian calamity in tandem with growing political instability.

While the accelerating deterioration of the South American country’s political crisis is cause for growing concern, says the International Crisis Group, there is a less widely appreciated side of the dramatic situation: “A sharp fall in real incomes, major shortages of essential foods, medicines and other basic goods and breakdown of the health service are elements of a looming social crisis.”

In a recent briefing, the Crisis Group says: “If not tackled decisively and soon, it will become a humanitarian disaster with a seismic impact on domestic politics and society, and on Venezuela’s neighbours. This situation results from poor policy choices, incompetence and corruption.”

The Group points to another aspect of the impending humanitarian crisis: “Those with ailments such as cancer, HIV-AIDS or cardiovascular disease can go months without medicines they require to survive. Hospitals and even private clinics cannot maintain stocks of medicines and other basic supplies, including spare parts to repair equipment.”

The think-tank headed by Jean-Marie Guéhenno, a former French diplomat, refers to “some economists” who predict a sudden collapse in food consumption and widespread hunger. It adds: “Public health specialists already say that some surveys are showing chronic malnutrition, although the country is not yet on the verge of famine.

The collapse of the health service, however, can have pernicious short-term effects, including uncontrolled spread of communicable diseases and thousands of preventable deaths, warns the Crisis Group.

However, it adds, the severest consequences can be avoided by ending the political deadlock since 2014 between the government and opposition, which in turn would require “strong engagement of foreign governments and multilateral bodies”.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 7, 2015 at 10:56 pm

[LINK] “Venezuela’s Giant Lake of Endless Oil Is a Filthy, Lawless Mess”

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Bloomberg’s Pietro Pitts reports on the parlous state of Venezuela’s Lago Maracaibo, a brackish bay that hosts much of the country’s oil industry.

From the moment the diver in red nylon coveralls and blue Chuck Taylor sneakers resurfaces after replacing rusted pipeline on the bed of South America’s largest lake, it’s a race against time. Coated head to toe in dark-black oil, he clambers aboard the service boat, rips off his makeshift uniform and scrambles to hose himself down with a special compound to wash away the contaminants.

For nearly a century, the petroleum deposits beneath giant Lake Maracaibo served as a cash cow for successive Venezuelan governments. In return, especially in the years since the industry was brought fully under state control by former President Hugo Chavez, it has received little back but neglect.

The Maracaibo basin is where Venezuela’s enormous energy bounty, including oil reserves that dwarf even those of Saudi Arabia, smacks up against the diminished capacity of the state-owned monopoly producer, Petroleos de Venezuela SA, to manage the twin demands of increased production and environmental protection.

[. . .]

The economy began slowing well before the oil price rout of the past year. Growth now is solidly in negative territory, inflation is running above 80 percent a year, the highest in the world, according to Bloomberg News consensus forecasts, and the country’s benchmark bonds trade at about 41 cents on the dollar — giving them a yield over 20 percent — compared with a peak price of 129 cents on the dollar back in 2006. Venezuela is more reliant than ever on petroleum revenues, which account for 95 percent of export earnings and nearly half of government revenues, according to the country’s foreign ministry.

Even by the standards of a country as blessed with resource wealth as Venezuela, the Maracaibo basin is a marvel. It has been producing oil for a century, ponying up nearly 43 billion barrels so far. With 19 billion barrels of proven reserves remaining — more than the total proven reserves for either Brazil or Mexico — the lake could be providing greater relief if troubled Venezuela was more receptive to outside capital and expertise beyond China and Russia, Antero Alvardo and Carlos Rossi, analysts from Gas Energy Latin America and EnergyNomics, said in separate interviews.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 5, 2015 at 5:16 pm

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