Monday, April 23, 2012

Fallout Continues from Argentina Nationalization, as Spain Fights for Compensation

Spain is working to impose sanctions against Argentina in retaliation for Buenos Aires’ expropriation of oil and gas company YPF, owned by Spanish company Repsol.


Madrid has imposed a rule that all biodiesel mixed into its fuel must come from within the EU, cutting imports from Argentina, which were worth $991 million in 2011. Argentine President Cristina Kirchner was defiant, however, saying "If Spain's government wants its own businesses to pay more for biodiesel, that's a sovereign decision," reports the WSJ. Last year, Spanish imports from Argentina stood at $2.7 billion, while Argentina’s imports from Spain were $1.31 billion.

A week ago, President Cristina Kirchner revealed plans to take a 51 percent stake in YPF, which had been controlled by Repsol, leaving the Spanish company with only a 6.4 percent share. Spain has strongly protested the move, and is trying to force the government to give Repsol proper compensation.

Spain’s foreign minister said Sunday that the government would press the EU to impose trade sanctions on Argentina, and would call on bodies like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization to help pressure the country to pay proper compensation, reports the newspaper.

However, as Reuters points out, “tough action is difficult against a country that has been shut out of world debt markets and has ignored international fines in previous disputes.” A piece in the WSJ says that even if Repsol wins compensation in the World Bank’s arbitration center it could have trouble collecting its payment. Argentina has more pending cases against it in center than any other country, but has not delivered compensation in any case it has lost, requiring companies to collect through an Argentine court. Last month, the US suspended the country’s trade benefits as a sanction for this failure to pay up.

According to Spain’s foreign minister, the two governments have not had contact since YPF was seized. The AP says that the spat could cause lasting damage to traditionally strong ties between the two countries.

The Washington Post says that Argentina’s move underscores the “gulf that exists between a group of nationalist countries led by charismatic populists and the economic centrists who govern much of the rest of the region, most notably in Brazil.” It says that the Argentine government now appears closer to those of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua, all of whom are consolidating the power of the executive over markets and the press, rather than to neighboring Brazil.

Another piece in the WP says that Argentina was prepared to draw international outrage for the expropriation, as the move could solve its money problems, giving it access to billions of dollars worth of cash. Venezuela’s government backed the move, with the oil and mining minister telling reporters that;

You cannot permit that a country with important internal consumption and with Argentina’s growth projections watches as transnational companies exploit and take away oil while not investing to increase production capacities.
Mary Anastasia O’Grady at the WSJ takes a different view of the motivations behind the nationalization, saying that the expropriation “demonstrate the special nature of kirchnerismo, an economic model that enriches friends of the government while driving the nation toward poverty.”


News Briefs

  • The New York Times breaks the story that Wal-Mart’s Mexican branch paid bribes to public officials in that country on a massive scale to obtain permits for their stores, and that the company then tried to hush up the case. No Mexico-based executives were disciplined, and Wal-Mart did not report the matter to law enforcement even though its internal investigation found evidence of the bribe-paying. “Confronted with evidence of corruption in Mexico, top Wal-Mart executives focused more on damage control than on rooting out wrongdoing,” says the newspaper. After the publication of the NYT report, the head of Mexican NGO Transparencia Mexicana called on the government to open an investigation into the claims, reports the AP, while government officials declined to comment.
  • The NYT reports on food shortages in Venezuela, where some residents line up before dawn to buy goods on days when subsidized government stores have had their once-a-week delivery. The report blames the Chavez government’s price controls, which are meant to make basic goods more affordable, but often have the opposite effect, meaning that products like milk, chicken, vegetable oil and sugar are often hard to come by. When prices are set artificially low, suppliers cannot make a profit, and so farmers, manufacturers and retailers cut back on production at all levels of the supply chain.
  • Three more Secret Service agents have quit over the scandal about a group using prostitutes while in Cartagena, Colombia, for the Americas Summit. This brings the number who have left the agency over the case to six, reports the NYT. The Miami Herald and the Washington Post are among the newspapers that have sent reporters to Cartagena to investigate the prostitution scene. TheWP reports that the city is “swimming in prostitutes,” calling it an embarrassing but very real part of the country’s tourism industry. The women at the center of the case, whose dispute with a client brought media attention to the agents’ transgressions, has left her home after pictures of her were published by a US paper, says the report. The Miami Herald says that most residents see the agent in question as a “villain” for trying to get out of paying the sex worker, a single mother, the agreed fee after spending the night with her. The AP reportson the media frenzy in the Caribbean port, saying that “With no other decent leads locally, scoop-hungry journalists fought all week” to talk to the taxi driver who drove home the woman and her friend after their encounter with the US agents. He has now apparently gone into hiding.
  • The Miami Herald calls for Haitian authorities to crack down on illicit armed groups who are calling for the restitution of the disbanded army. The groups, which the newspaper refers to as "paramilitaries," are thought to have 2,000-3,500 members, led by former army officers. The Miami Herald says that both the government and the UN forces in the country have failed to take a strong enough stand against the force or disarm them, noting that this “poses a threat to the government because no one knows who’s behind them or what their intentions are.”
  • The LA Times reports on the case of former Juarez Cartel leader Jesus Audel Miramontes-Varela, who became one of the FBI’s biggest informants after his arrest in Colorado in 2010. The Mexican gang boss handed over detailed information about drug smuggling routes, and gave the location of a mass grave containing 20 bodies -- “Then he disappeared, almost certainly into the federal witness protection program.”
  • A retired Mexican army general has been shot dead in the capital city, in the second assassination of a former general in the last year. The LA Times blog notes that Mario Acosta Chaparro had been accused of ties to the Juarez Cartel, though he was later cleared. The blog also reports on the massacre of 15 people in a bar in the north Mexican state of Chihuahua on Friday night.
  • Bloggings by Boz notes that the approval ratings of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos have dropped to 57 percent, down from 73 in November 2010, even as he has garnered praise on the international stage for his handling of the Summit of the Americas. The main thing hurting the president is domestic concerns about unemployment, while fewer Colombians now express confidence in his security policy. Meanwhile, El Tiempo report that allies of former President Alvaro Uribe, now a bitter opponent of Santos, are urging the ex-leader to seek election as vice president in the 2014 election, in order to overcome the ban on him standing for another term.
  • Americas Quarterly reports on a mass demonstration of indigenous people in Paraguay, who traveled from across the country to the capital Asuncion to demand rights to their ancestral lands.
  • In Los Angeles, residents with Salvadoran roots attended a ceremony to name an intersection after Archbishop Oscar A. Romero, murdered during the civil war in 1980, reports the LA Times.
  • The AP has a piece on actor Sean Penn’s humanitarian work in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, reporting that he has now become part of “what passes for Haiti’s establishment,” appointed as ambassador-at-large by President Michael Martelly.