Monday, December 19, 2016

Cash shortages provoke riots and looting in Venezuela (Dec. 20, 2016)

On Friday Venezuela's move to withdraw its largest denomination bill -- with banks out of cash to replace them -- caused protests and outbreaks of looting in several cities, reports the New York Times. The government sent troops to control rioting, according to the Associated Press. And hundreds were arrested, reports the Guardian. Over 400 establishments were looted in Ciudad Bolivar over the weekend, leaving 1,200 people without work, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

The cash crisis and delays in delivery of new, higher denomination bills, led the government to postpone the withdrawal of the notes, worth about 4 U.S. cents, reports the Financial Times. (See last Monday's post.) President Nicolás Maduro accused saboteurs of preventing the delivery of new bills needed to replace the old ones.

Yet rioting continued over the weekend, and some business are reportedly refusing the bill, though it now remains legal tender, according to BBC.

Over the past few days, many business had already stopped accepting the bills, leaving Venezuelans without bank accounts scrambling to pay for food. (See Friday's post.) ATM's continued to dispense 100 bolivar bills, creating a scarcity of cash that affected transportation use and street sales, reports Efecto Cocuyo. And the lack of cash hit especially hard in the lead up to Christmas, fomenting popular anger, reports the Wall Street Journal.

And about 40 percent of citizens don't have bank accounts and cannot use electronic transactions to replace scarce cash, reports Reuters.

The sudden cash shortage is an abrupt change in Venezuela, where rampant inflation had rendered the bills almost worthless anyway, notes the Washington Post. In fact, the bid raised the black market rate by 40 percent. Experts say it's not really a viable way to control inflation, however.

Yet, for Maduro the policy has been an economic triumph over the country's enemies, reports the AP.

News Briefs
  • Gang extortion of bus companies around El Salvador tally up to annual payments of around $26 million a year, according to an industry estimate. Usually it's directly charged to the driver by gang members, but Revista Factum profiles one company which pays off the gang and deducts it from drivers' payrolls with the label "Extortion Mara 18." (InSight has the English translation.) A counterpoint piece in El Faro recently profiled a Salvadoran transportation businessman who refuses to pay off gangs -- though it's cost several of his employees their lives. (See Dec. 9's briefsInSight Crime has the English translation.)
  • Last year the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that restricting marriage to heterosexual couples was discriminatory. But gay rights activists find themselves fighting back against well funded Christian groups determined to rollback gains, reports the Guardian. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's support for a nationwide equal marriage law has led to backlash from evangelical Christian and Catholic to mobilize in "defense of the family."
  • Ten years after then Mexican President Felipe Calderón declared a war on drug traffickers, the costs have been enormous and the gains few: more than 186,000 homicides, 35,000 displaced by violence, and about 30,000 disappeared, argues a Daily Beast piece. The piece explores U.S. support for the decade long militarized effort as well as the impact of illicit flows of U.S. weapons south across the border.
  • Mexico's experience should serve as a cautionary tale for Argentine President Mauricio Macri, according to InSight Crime. The president's militarized approach to citizen security has had some payoff: official homicide statistics across the country went down by 19 percent in the first half of the year, and the gains were even more pronounced in the Province of Buenos Aires and the capital city. "Packing drug offenders into jails may make for good headlines, but such practices can exacerbate the underlying incentives pushing people into the drug trade, and thereby increasing the scope of the challenge. Similarly, militarized federal police units may seem like a welcome departure from ineffectual and corrupt local police, but high-impact tactics may only encourage gangs to be more aggressive, thereby encouraging violence."
  • Haiti will be a top development aid priority for France, promised Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, reports the Associated Press. France has donated about $1.1 million since Hurricane Matthew ravaged parts of the island -- the U.S. has donated about $81 million of the $130 million total, according to U.N. data.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales said he may seek a fourth term, though earlier this year voters nixed a constitutional reform that would have permitted him to run again, reports Reuters. His Movement for Socialism party proclaimed Morales its candidate for the 2019 elections. Possibilities to enable him to seek another term include changing the constitution through the legislative assembly or a signature-collection drive or having Morales step down six months early, reports the Associated Press. The decision is sure to set off political polarization and fears that Morales is following the path of Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, according to the Financial Times. Nonetheless, he has the support of about half the population.
  • Mexican indigenous Huichol communities and ranchers are "locked in tense confrontation" over how to exploit land in the country's western Sierra Madre mountains, reports Reuters.
  • Cuernavaca mayor Cuauhtemoc Blanco ended a hunger strike in defense of his position after the Mexican Supreme Court issued a stay against impeachment efforts against him, reports the Associated Press. The state congress has accused the former soccer star of violating election procedures and accepting irregular donations. But the city government argued the impeachment process was unconstitutional.
  • Former Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva was indicted on Friday on  of money laundering and influence peddling reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Brazil's Minas Gerais region is slowly losing its traditional mining industries, leading some to worry one day resemble the U.S. Rust Belt or Appalachian coal country, reports the Financial Times.
  • The Financial Times profiles Argentine Education Minister Esteban Bullrich and lauds his Kellog MBA "human focus" for improved test results in the city of Buenos Aires. (The previous administration's Minister of Education, along with education union leaders have denounced that the government requested improved PISA results for the rest of the country be discarded, reports Página 12.)
  • The Obama administration quietly celebrated the two year anniversary of rapprochement efforts with Cuba. What was to be a signature foreign policy is now in doubt due to U.S. president-elect Donald Trump's opposition. Obama plans to remain involved in Cuba matters as a private citizen, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Yet one of the most significant effects of the détente has not been the warming of relations between the two countries, but rather stopping the "pink tide" in the rest of Latin America. That is the message the White House is pushing anyway in an attempt to convince Trump against rolling back executive orders relaxing regulations on trade with Cuba, according to another Miami Herald piece.
  • Over 90 Cuban migrants landed in the Florida Keys over the past week, reports Reuters. Over the past year there has already been a surge in migration from the island, as Cubans are concerned that warming relations between the two countries will lead to the end of favorable U.S. policies allowing them to stay if they reach U.S. territory. Now there is added uncertainty over what approach will be adopted by Trump. (See Aug. 31's post, for example.)
  • A U.S. human rights lawyer representing dissident artist Danilo "El Sexto" Maldonado was arrested in Havana, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Turcs and Caicos will be led by its first female premier, reports the Miami Herald, after an opposition party electoral win.

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