Monday, December 12, 2016

Venezuelan gov't to pull largest denomination bill (Dec. 12, 2016)

The Venezuelan government will pull the 100 bolivar bill -- the country's highest denomination banknote, worth about 2 dollar cents -- out of circulation within 72 hours, reports the BBC. Citizens will have ten days to exchange the bills, either for 50 bolivar bills or for the new, larger denomination bills that will be coming out later this week, explains Efecto Cocuyo.

In his Sunday television show, President Nicolás Maduro said the move is aimed at fighting back against gangs hoarding the bills, which make up about half of the currency. Maduro said Colombian mafias seeking to "destabilize the economy" are holding more than 300bn bolivares worth of currency abroad, reports Efecto Cocuyo

However experts predict the switch will cause the collapse of the payments system, according to another Efecto Cocuyo piece. A currency change in 2008 allowed for a six month changeover period, for example. Critics also note that the change happens in the midst of holiday season, and could cause major disruption, reports the Guardian.

In the meantime, Venezuelans are rushing to spend their 100 bolivar notes, reports the Associated Press.

The BBC and the Guardian note that a similar move in India last month was problematic, causing massive lines at banks.

Venezuela briefs
  • Venezuela's Supreme Court nixed a new National Assembly bill that would reform the national police force. The changes aimed " to decentralize and depoliticize the police, but also increase the availability of heavy arms and special tactical units," explains Rebecca Hanson in Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.
  • Speaking of Christmas: the government seized about 4 million toys from a large distributor it accuses of hoarding to drive up prices, reports NPR. They will be distributed to the poor or sold at sharply discounted prices, depending on the version you read. Two toy company execs were also arrested, with government authorities accusing them of reselling toys at a 50,000 percent margin, reports the BBC. Critics are calling the consumer protection agency behind the seizure, "the Grinch that stole Christmas" because many families won't be able to buy the confiscated toys for the holiday, reports CNN.
  • The dialogue between the government and the opposition has initially favored Maduro, but that doesn't mean MUD leaders were hoodwinked, writes Andrés Cañizález in the Christian Science Monitor. "they made a calculated political decision: They bet on a slow motion transition. They decided to reach an agreement with Maduro and the chavistas, with negotiated solutions in different fields, instead of pushing the regime and to try to corner it." However, elections in the next year seem unlikely he said. Rather a possible compromise position would be for Maduro to step down next year and an interim chavista to take his place until the 2018 elections.
News Briefs
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer and his allies bungled their reaction to what Brazilians took as a national tragedy: a plane crash that killed 71 people, including most of the Chapecoense soccer team. Temer publicly wavered whether to attend the memorial service (he eventually did), while his allies gutted anti-corruption legislation and pushed austerity measures in late night sessions that same day. The episode is feeding into popular rejection of politicians, and accusations that they're out of touch, reports the Associated Press
  • Just six months after taking office, Temer is facing a similar panorama to that led to his predecessor's ouster: " a widening corruption scandal that is paralysing Brazil’s politics and an economy that remains deeply in recession," reports the Financial Times.
  • In a poll published yesterday, 63 percent of Brazilians said they wanted Temer to resign for new elections, reports the Guardian. Temer is accused of soliciting $2.9 million in illegal campaign donations. Former Odebrecht director Claudio Melo Filho cited Brazilian President Michel Temer 44 times during testimony to federal prosecutors in a corruption probe, reports the Associated Press, based on 82 pages of documents. His accusations of illegal campaign financing put Temer's government at risk of ending early.
  • Brazil's attorney general filed new corruption charges against Senate President Renan Calheiros today. Along with another congressman, he is accused of corruption and money laundering for allegedly accepting a total of $240,000 from a construction company, reports the Wall Street Journal. The accusations come as the Senate is set to vote on several key Temer administration bills, which were almost jeopardized last week by Calheiros' legal troubles.
  • Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso ruled out the possibility of his candidacy in a hypothetical early election to replace the Temer administration, reports Reuters. In an interview carried out with Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, Cardoso said politicians needed to take action to address voters' anger over corruption scandals and a struggling economy, but that holding elections before the end of the current mandate in Dec. 2018 "would do no good for the country."
  • A former Odebrecht SA exec told prosecutors that the company made illegal payments to Rio mayor Eduardo Paes' 2012 campaign, reports Reuters.
  • Last week a state judge froze Paes' assets in a separate case connected with an Olympics golf course, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Environmental activism is the "new battleground for human rights," according to U.K. watchdog Global Witness, which documented 185 murders of land rights defenders in 16 countries last year. Advocacy group PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) tallied 171 deaths: in Latin America, Honduras, Bolivia and Peru had the highest concentration of victims, reports Reuters.
  • The U.S. congress passed a bill calling for a top-to-bottom evaluation of U.S. drug policy in the Americas. The new legislation, once signed by the president, will create the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission, an independent U.S. government commission that will evaluate American drug policies and programs in Latin America and the Caribbean, assess which efforts are succeeding and which are not and make recommendations to the President and Congress on future counternarcotics policies, reports the House of Representative's Committee on Foreign Affairs.
  • The allure of Cuba's revolution survived an improbably long time thanks to Cuba's physical and informational isolation, but also it's anti-americanism, Castro's charisma, and its social achievements, writes Enrique Krauze in a New York Times Español op-ed. And now his legacy might well be helped along by U.S. president-elect Donald Trump, who "favors Castro in his contrasts and similarities."
  • Google has reached a deal with the Cuban government to extend its services on the island, reports Bloomberg. The internet giant will instal servers in Cuba storing the company's most popular content in order to provide faster access to its data, reports the Associated Press.
  • U.S. president-elect Donald Trump's threats to deport Latin American immigrants and tear up trade treaties could benefit China, which is seeking closer relations with the region, even as its demand for commodities slows and left-wing political allies face setbacks in the region, reports Bloomberg. China is signaling that it will capitalize on regional fears of new U.S. policy, reports the Miami Herald. The government released an 11-page policy paper on the “new era” of Chinese-Latin American relations following a South American tour by its president, Xi Jinping, last month.
  • d more here:
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on Saturday, honoring his efforts to broker a deal with the country's FARC guerilla, reports CNN. Santos said he hopes the award will help push the peace deal towards implementation in Colombia, where it was narrowly rejected by voters in October and approved by legislators two weeks ago. (See Nov. 30's post.) Today the country's constitutional court is set to decide whether congress can "fast track" reforms required by the pact, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The FARC is trying to show their humanity to average Colombians, and are experimenting with social media -- a YouTube channel and Twitter. Last week members of a guerrilla camp even participated in the "mannequin challenge," reports El País.
  • Argentina's farmers are planting at a record pace, taking advantage of the Macri administration's clearing of hurdles such as currency controls and export limitations imposed by the previous government, reports the Wall Street Journal
  • However it's mostly bad economic news out of Argentina, reports the Financial Times. Last week President Mauricio Macri said he had generated unrealistic expectations of change after his election last year. "If you want to see a magician, go and see [David] Copperfield," he said.
  • Unfavorable work policies are pushing Buenos Aires working mothers into black market businesses, according to the Guardian. Nonetheless, they face a significant gender wage gap and lack access to healthcare, social security and retirement.

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