Commentary on the economic , geopolitical and simply fascinating things going on. Served occasionally with a side of snark.
Monday, February 17, 2014
Latin America watch February17 , 2014 -- Venezuela expels 3 US diplomats ; President Nicolas Maduro issued the order after Obama administration sided with opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez ; Relatively large student-led opposition protests convened in Caracas, Valencia, Maracaibo and many other cities throughout the country ; the turnout ( 15 , 000 - 20 ,0000 ) and widespread geographic distribution of this week's protests indicate that the movement may be gaining traction. ...... Argentina Fines Walmart For Violating "Fair Price" Pact, Urges Citizens To Denounce "Evil" Retailers
Maduro didn't identify the consular officials, but said intelligence officials who tailed them for the past two months found evidence they were trying to infiltrate Venezuelan universities, a hotbed of recent unrest, under the cover of doing visa outreach. Foreign Minister Elias Jaua is scheduled to provide more details Monday.
Triggering the expulsion was the Obama administration's siding with opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who is being hunted by police as Maduro accuses him of leading a "fascist" plot to oust the socialist government two months after it won mayoral elections by a landslide.
Maduro said State Department official Alex Lee, in a phone conversation with Venezuela's ambassador to the Washington-based Organization of American States, warned that arresting Lopez would bring serious negative consequences with international ramifications.
"These are unacceptable, insolent demands," Maduro said during a televised address Sunday night. "I don't take orders from anyone in the world."
There was no immediate reaction from the U.S. government, which has denied the accusations that it is plotting with the opposition against him. The U.S. hasn't had an ambassador in Caracas since 2010.
The Venezuelan government blamed him for the mayhem that erupted after the rally ended when a group of students battled with security forces and armed pro-government militias, leaving three dead.
In his TV speech, Maduro called for a march by oil workers Tuesday beginning at the same central plaza in Caracas where Lopez said he would rally with supporters dressed in white the same day, setting up the potential for clashes between the opposing forces.
Lopez announced his plans in a video a few hours before Maduro's speech, saying he didn't fear arrest but accusing authorities of trying to violate his constitutional right to protest Maduro's government.
Lopez's comments came after security forces raided his home and that of his parents over the weekend, seeking to serve an arrest order. Lopez wasn't at either residence when the officials arrived around midnight to the sound of banging pots and pans by neighbors protesting what they consider an arbitrary detention order.
Lopez is the most prominent of a group of opposition hard-liners who are challenging two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles for leadership of the anti-government movement.
Maduro considers him a puppet of U.S. ambitions to regain dominance over South America's largest oil-producing economy.
Sunday's expulsion of U.S. diplomats was the third by Maduro.
In March, hours before announcing the death of President Hugo Chavez, he expelled two U.S. diplomats while suggesting the United States might have been behind the leader's cancer. Then in a fiery speech last September, he ordered the most senior U.S. official in Venezuela and two others to leave, for allegedly helping opponents sabotage the electrical grid.
Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday expressed concern over the violence surrounding Venezuela's protests, the detention of dozens of demonstrators and the arrest order for Lopez.
"These actions have a chilling effect on citizens' rights to express their grievances peacefully," Kerry said in a statement.
Protests in Venezuela continue (despite President Maduro's proclamation that the nation is in "absolute calm"), with both the government and the opposition holding rallies, leaving several streets and subway stations in Caracas closed. 10 students who were arrested amid violent protests last week have been released, though 6 students remain in custody. Demonstrators do not yet have the numbers or support base to unseat President Nicolas Maduro's administration, but as Stratfor notes,these protests could mark a turning point as the economic situation deteriorates there is a chance that protests like this could begin to generate additional social momentum in rejection of the status quo.
Relatively large student-led opposition protests convened in Caracas, Valencia, Maracaibo and many other cities throughout the country. Rough Stratfor estimates put the crowd in Caracas at between 15,000-20,000 people based on aerial photos posted on social media. Venezuela's students are very politically active and protests are frequent. However, the relatively large turnout and widespread geographic distribution of this week's protests indicate that the movement may be gaining traction.
The challenge that the student movement will face is in finding a way to include Venezuela's laboring class, which for the most part still supports the government, and relies on its redistributive policies. Their inability to rouse broad support across Venezuela's social and economic classes was in part why previous student uprisings, including significant protests in 2007, failed to generate enough momentum to trigger a significant political shift.
But the situation has changed in Venezuela, and as the economic situation deteriorates there is a chance that protests like this could begin to generate additional social momentum in rejection of the status quo.President Nicolas Maduro has been in office for less than a year, and in that time the inflation rate has surged to over 50 percent and food shortages are a daily problem. Though firmly in power, the Chavista government is still struggling to address massive social and economic challenges. Massive government spending, years of nationalization and an overreliance on imports for basic consumer goods have radically deteriorated inflation levels, and undermined industrial production.
How the government responds will play a key role in the development of these protests going forward. The government cannot afford to crack down too hard without risking even worse unrest in the future. For its part, the mainstream opposition must walk a careful line between supporting the sentiment behind open unrest and being seen as destabilizing the country. Maduro retains the power to punish opposition politicians, and reaffirmed that Feb. 11 when he stated on national television that he intends to renew the law allowing him to outlaw political candidates who threaten the peace of the country. The statement was a clear shot over the bow of opposition leaders, and may foreshadow a more aggressive government policy designed to limit political opposition.
Venezuela certainly does not appear the "absolute calm" the President described it as...
Peak Stupidity: Argentina Fines Walmart For Violating "Fair Price" Pact, Urges Citizens To Denounce "Evil" Retailers
We take certain liberties with this title: we realize that since one is dealing with human individuals, particularly human individuals stuck in an insolvent, soon to re-default nation, stupidity can never peak per se, as the next day will without doubt bring some peak-er instance of even more profound idiocy. However, at thisparticular moment, this may be it.
What happened is that on Friday, Argentina fined supermarket chains including Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, and Carrefour for "failing to maintain adequate stocks of price-controlled goods." This happened after the country shocked everyone in late January by devaluing the peso by 18 percent, effectively wiping out the purchasing power of its population by the same amount and forcing a mad scramble by the population into retail outlets, such as Wal-Mart, where the people were desperate to convert their increasingly more worthless pieces of paper for tangible goods resulting in a "run on the Wal-Mart" and depleting store shelves of virtually all goods, price-controlled or otherwise.
Also, in a press conference on Friday, trade secretary Augusto Costa said that the government has opened 141 investigations from consumer complaints on pricing and shortage issues that would violate "fair price" agreement signed with state since Jan. 27.
In other words, it is not the government's fault that it has unleashed soaring inflation courtesy of yet another major currency devaluation, andin addition, quietly admitting several days laterthat it had been lying all along about its soaring rate of inflation over the past decade in order to keep the popular mood jovial (even though said population had every clue just what the true inflation rate of goods and services in Argentina was... the same as in the US).
No: it was Wal-Mart's grave error for not stockpiling enough key products which the population would scramble to procure upon this (and all future) instance of currency devaluation.
Carrefour will be fined 1.3 million pesos ($166,462) and Wal-Mart was ordered to pay 604,000 pesos for violations detected through complaints by consumers, Trade Secretary Augusto Costa said at a news conference today in Buenos Aires. The other companies were Chilean retailer Cencosud SA’s local unit, Vea, Spanish supermarket chain Dia SA and local companies Coto and Chango Mas.
“The goal isn’t to hand out fines, it’s to comply with the price agreement on 194 basic goods,” Costa said. “But if there are violations we’ll continue to implement the law.”
Actually, the goal is to hand out fines, considering the "law" is about the dumbest thing one could conceive. And remember: price controls in insolvent socialist paradises always work (at this point Venezuela now, and soon France, and the US are free to chime in):
The Argentine government has moved to control price increases after President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner let the peso tumble the most since 2002 in January to stem a fall in international reserves and make the South American nation’s exports more competitive.Consumer prices rose 3.7 percent in January from a month earlier, the government said in its first measure of a national inflation index. That would be the highest monthly figure in more than a decade, based on the Greater Buenos Aires index, which was the previous gauge.
You mean to say that when inflation is "suddenly" revealed to be borderline flirting with the "hyper-" prefix, that people will rush to empty out one and all retailers of whatever goods are in inventory? Unpossible.
But while all of the above in itself is certainly grounds for today's instance of "peak stupidity", what really takes the cake is the following:
Fernandez has called on Argentines to use consumer hotlines to denounce retailers that charge excessive prices or fail to properly stock shelves.
At this point it is unclear who is spinning faster in their grave: Lenin, Goebbels or Joe McCarthy.