Private Banks reject the use of electronic currency in Ecuador

Ecuador’s Association of Private Banks (Asobanca) presented a constitutional action to protect themselves against the resolution imposed by the Market Control Superintendence (SPM), with regards to electronic currency (El Universo, 20 December 2016). On 14 December 2016, the Market Control Superintendence (SPM) issued a resolution that within 30 days, fourteen private banks cannot reject the use electronic currency, and must be willing to open bank accounts with this new currency, if a customer desires. Through a press release, Asobanca explained this precautionary measure is to preserve constitutional rights to freedom of speech, due process, and judiciary rights (El Comercio).

BNDES, IDB set up US$2.4 billion line of credit, offer US$750 million for clean energy projects

The Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) announced a US$2.4 billion joint line of credit to finance sustainability projects in Brazil on 16 December 2016 (Valor, BNDES). The first operation will be a sustainable energy financing program of US$750 million from BNDES to Brazilian companies, with the Brazilian federal government as a guarantor. These energy infrastructure funds will focus on increasing the share of alternative renewable energy in the national energy matrix and energy efficiency. The funds will have a four-year term and an interest rate determined by the IDB’s ordinary loans. BNDES emphasized that the energy projects stemming from this financing will help Brazil to reach its greenhouse gas reduction goals laid out by the U.N.'s Paris Accord on Climate Change. Between January and October 2016, BNDES had already disbursed US$20.6 billion in financing.

Uruguay exported the largest volume of beef within the last decade in 2016

Uruguay beef exports in 2016 increased from 387,000 tons in 2015 to 440,000 tons. According to Meat Institute (INAC) President Federico Stanham, it is the largest volume produced in a decade (La Republica, 21 December 2016). INAC projected prices will close 2016 with an average price close to $3,400; a 10 percent decrease from 2015. The decrease in price is due to fifteen years of fluctuating prices. China is the primary destination for beef exports. The European Union only accounts for 12 percent of total beef volume exports (second largest market). The third largest market is NAFTA (Mexico, USA and Canada) with 23 percent (El Pais, 21 December 2016).

Honduran coffee sector seeks foreign labor for harvest

Members of the Honduran coffee sector predict a need for more than 60,000 seasonal workers for the 2016-2017 coffee harvest, which began on 1 October (Prensa Latina, 19 December 2016). Instituto Hondureño del Café (Ihcafé) President Asterio Reyes explained that last year between 35,000 – 40,000 workers from Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador came to Honduras to harvest coffee, and he expected that number to be closer to 60,000 in 2016 (La Tribuna). According to La Tribuna, the coffee sector generates up to 1 million direct and indirect jobs throughout the season. 

Brazilian economy contracts 0.48 percent in October 2016

According to data from the Brazilian Central Bank disclosed on 15 December 2016, the Brazilian economy contracted 0.48 percent in October 2016 (Valor, UOL). The drop comes after a milder contraction of 0.08 percent in September 2016. The IBC-Br, an index of economic activity that estimates Brazilian GDP growth by taxes from the agricultural, industrial, and service sectors, has registered a 4.82 percent contraction since the beginning of 2016 and a 5.09 percent contraction in the past twelve months (both ended October 2016). Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles noted on 14 December 2016 that the economic situation remains difficult, but that he is not disappointed by the pace of economic recovery. 

Petrobras confirms US$5 billion loan from China Development Bank

The state oil firm Petrobras reported on 16 December 2016 that it signed a financing agreement with the China Development Bank (CDB) for a ten year loan of US$5 billion (Valor, Globo G1). The financing is the result of a US$10 billion agreement announced on 26 February 2016 between Petrobras and CDB. Per the agreement, Petrobras will provide a total volume of 100,000 barrels of oil per day to China National United Oil Corporation, China Zhenhua Oil, and Chemchina Petrochemical over the term of the loan, in lieu of making interest and principal payments. The company also signed agreements with these three firms.

 

The agreement is questionable on Petrobras’ end. At an average price of US$50 per barrel of crude oil, Petrobras would effectively pay a 36.5 percent interest rate based on economic cost. However, Petrobras is the most indebted company in the world, with over US$100 billion in long-term debt as of 30 September 2016 and scaling efforts to shed non-core assets to reduce its leverage (Globo G1). As such, their credit options were limited in February 2016, and the US$10 billion agreement with CDB enabled them to raise funds in February without issuing equity, when their stock price was at its nadir (Globo G1). Shares of the firm rebounded in 2016, increasing 266 percent from a low of US$2.71 in February to US$9.91 on 20 December 2016, as the Brazilian stock market rallied in anticipation of Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment and the price of Brent crude oil rebounded from a low of around US$35 in February to the mid-US$50s in December 2016 (Google Finance).

Mexican President meets with business leaders to discuss 2030 agenda

Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto met with the Executive Board of Global Enterprises (CEEG) on 19 December 2016 and received the Mexico Agenda 2030: Proposals for Inclusive Growth before the Fourth Industrial Revolution (El Economista). The agenda contains approaches to achieve economic growth with greater productivity and social inclusion, and CEEG President Frédéric García claimed the document laid the foundation for Mexico to become the world’s fifth largest exporter by 2030 (El Economista and SIPSE). Peña Nieto said the proposal matched his administration’s vision of improving society through the transformation of productive sectors. The meeting was moderated by Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal and addressed a variety of topics, including development of value chains, special economic zones, and research and development among others. The CEEG includes 50 multinational companies which together represent 10 percent of the Mexico’s GDP, 11 percent exports, and 40 percent of the country’s total foreign direct investment (SIPSE). 

Pemex gasoline production reaches lowest level since 1992

El Economista reported on 19 December 2016 gasoline production from Pemex has reached its lowest levels since 1992. Gasoline production reached an average of 341,023 barrels per day (bpd) from January to October 2016 (El Economista). Production of premium gasoline from January to October 2016 stood at an average of just 9,700 bpd, a 45.8 percent decrease from the same period of 2015 when the company produced 17,900 bpd (América Economía). Gas shortages across Mexico have recently caused concern and Pemex clarified the shortages were due to bad weather issues which have prevented ships from unloading supplies in Tuxpan, Veracruz. Although Mexican refineries have experienced operational issues which have led to decreased production, Pemex insisted it was not the cause of gasoline any shortages (América Economía).

Chinese government requests protection for citizens in Venezuela

The Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry shared on 19 December 2016 that the Chinese Government requested protection for its citizens residing in Venezuela, following recent episodes of violence and looting due to cash shortages. According to Fernando Cepeda, the President of the Bolívar state Chamber of Commerce, hundreds of businesses were looted in Ciudad Bolívar, and many were Chinese-owned (Efecto Cocuyo). Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying stated the Chinese Embassy in Caracas activated an emergency mechanism to issue security warnings to Chinese residents in Venezuela and urged the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry to take measures to protect Chinese citizens (La Patilla).

Venezuela-Colombia border to gradually reopen

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on 19 December 2016 agreed to gradually reopen the frontier beginning on 20 December. Maduro first shut down the border on 13 December for a 72-hour period to prevent alleged economic attacks from Colombia, and had stated the border would be closed until 2 January 2017. However, Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López announced via Twitter that the pedestrian crossing, the Simón Bolívar International Bridge between San Antonio del Táchira in Venezuela and Cúcuta, Norte de Santander province, would reopen, followed by the eventual normalization of all border crossings (Efecto Cocuyo). Colombian Communication and Information Minister Ernesto Villegas also took to Twitter to report that the president instructed the Banco Central de Venezuela and Colombia's Banco de la República to discuss a solution to the problem of instability in Venezuela's money supply (Panorama). 

The border reopened after the Colombian Foreign Relations Ministry announced on 19 December it summoned Iván Rincón, the Venezuelan Ambassador to Colombia, to Bogotá to hand Rincón a statement. The declaration expressed the Colombian Government's disagreement with Venezuela's accusations that Colombia has caused economic instability in Venezuela (El Nacional). Santos commented on 19 December that Venezuela's economic problems are not on the Colombian border, and stated he would travel to Cúcuta on 20 December to speak with local authorities (El Nacional). Maduro's decision to blame "cash mafias" and currency exchange houses in Colombian border cities such as Cúcuta for soaring inflation and currency hoarding have led to strained relations with Colombia since 11 December, when Maduro announced that all 100-bolivar notes would be removed from circulation. Maduro has since reversed the policy, and the decision to gradually reopen Venezuela's border with Colombia could help to repair relations with its neighbor and ensure Venezuelans can cross into Colombia for much-needed supplies of food and medicine. 

Turkish Airlines inaugurates Istanbul-Havana-Caracas route

Turkish Airlines began running its new Istanbul-Havana-Caracas route on 20 December 2016. The route is set to operate three times per week, with additional flights planned for the near future (Globovisión). During the inauguration ceremony in Caracas, Venezuelan Industry and Commerce Secretary Jesús Faría noted the rapid launch of the route following an accord signed at a 10 October summit between the Venezuelan and Turkish presidents. According to Sule Oztunc, the Turkish Ambassador to Venezuela, the route is part of Turkey's plans to expand its presence in Latin America (El Nacional).

UN gives Venezuela and Guyana one year to resolve border dispute

United Nations spokesman Stéphane Dujaric announced on 16 December 2016 that the U.N. has given Venezuela and Guyana a one-year deadline to resolve their border dispute. If significant progress is not made by the end of 2017, the new Secretary General António Guterres will send the case to the U.N.'s International Court of Justice (El Universal). Current Secretary General Ban Ki-moon decided to continue the Good Offices process, which began in 1990, for another year, and Guterres is set to elect a new Good Offices envoy to mediate in the dispute shortly after taking office in 2017. Tal Cual noted the territorial dispute intensified in 2015 after ExxonMobil discovered oil fields in the waters off the coast of Guyana.

Ford suspends auto production in Venezuela until April 2017

Ford Motor Company announced on 20 December 2016 it suspended its automobile production in Venezuela and will not resume operations until April 2017. Lyle Watters, Ford's President for South America, stated the measure would adjust production to demand in the country, and added the shutdown of Ford's plant would affect 2,000 employees (La Patilla). Ford is the only auto company that still mass produces cars in Venezuela, albeit at the rate of fewer than eight vehicles per day, according to figures from the Venezuelan auto producers' association Cavenez. Panorama noted Ford produced 2,253 of the national total of 2,758 cars between January 2016 and November 2016.

Authorities dismantle criminal group linked to Sinaloa Cartel in Guatemala

Guatemalan security and police forces captured thirteen people, including a Chief Commissioner and an Assistant Attorney for the Public Prosecutor (MP), on 18 December 2016 for the crimes of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, passive bribery, obstruction of justice, and abuse of authority (El Periodicio, Emisoras Unidas). According to El Periodico, the group, led by Mynor Fabricio Oajaca Quiroa, is part of an investigation implicating them in customs contraband as well as arms and drug trafficking. El Periodico linked the group to the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico and reported they orchestrated the arrival and departure of drug shipments along the Pacific Coast from the beaches of Mazatenango. Interior Minister Franciso Rivas said the group terrorized the western part of the country through drug trafficking, extortion, contract killings and kidnapping (El Periodico).

Public Ministry denounces Lula, others in Operação Lava Jato

The Brazilian Federal Public Ministry on 15 December 2016 denounced former President Lula on corruption and money laundering charges related to the Petrobras corruption scandal (Folha de S. Paulo, Valor). The crimes involve US$22.4 million in eight contracts between the state oil firm and Odebrecht, a major construction firm that has admitted to its involvement regarding bribes and cartel activity in the scandal. Lula stands accused of accepting US$3.7 million worth of land, used for the headquarters of his Instituto Lula in São Paulo, and a penthouse addition to his apartment in São Bernardo do Campo (SP) valued at US$150,000. The Ministry also cited Marcelo Odebrecht, Lula’s wife, and others on money laundering.

Mexico among most dangerous countries in the world for the press

The organization of Reporters Without Borders (RWB) released its annual report on 19 December 2016 and found Mexico to be the third deadliest country in the world for journalists during 2016 (Zócalo Saltillo). In 2016, there were nine reported murders of journalists in Mexico, only behind Syria (19) and Afghanistan (10) (Zócalo Saltillo). The organization listed Mexico as the most lethal country for journalists in Latin America as well as the deadliest among countries not at war (Veracruzanos and La Vanguardia). RWB accused the criminal organization Los Zetas for using violence to dissuade journalists from meddling in their affairs. RWB also pointed to corrupt police and judicial authorities who turn a blind eye to the repression of reporters when not involved in direct violence against journalists themselves (La Vanguardia).

Mexican interior secretary urges states to strengthen police forces

Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong requested that Mexican states and municipalities to strengthen their police forces on 20 December 2016, and suggested the army would not be used as a long term solution (Milenio). The Interior Secretary commented on security issues during the 41st Session of the National Public Security Council which also featured President Enrique Peña Nieto and other government officials (La Jornada and Milenio). Osorio Chong warned the armed forces should be used as a last resort in emergency situations and said the accusations of excessive force and a lack of legal framework have lowered morale in the military (Milenio). The Interior Secretary also highlighted the establishment of special anti-kidnapping units in every state and reported the Security Cabinet authorized the arrangement of operations in 50 of Mexico’s most problematic municipalities (La Jornada).

Venezuelan legislature to investigate Maduro and Merentes over paper money shortage

Venezuela's Asamblea Nacional (AN) on 19 December 2016 agreed to investigate President Nicolás Maduro and Central Bank President Nelson Merentes to determine their responsibility for violence that broke out following the paper money shortages since 16 December. Opposition Deputy Freddy Guevara noted Article 294 of the Constitution provides for jail sentences in connection with destruction and looting, and stated Maduro should be imprisoned (Tal Cual). The legislative accord demanded the Government to extend the validity of the current money supply, and to take an inventory of damages caused to businesses and residents and send humanitarian aid to Bolívar state, the area of the country that experienced the highest level of looting and violence related to cash shortages (Efecto Cocuyo).

Currency shortage in Venezuela causes protests, looting and violence

Thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets on 16 December 2016 to protest cash shortages after the government announced the 100-bolívar bill would no longer serve as legal tender. Although President Nicolás Maduro on 17 December postponed the date by which the 100-bolívar note would be valid until 2 January 2017, citizens have already deposited or exchanged the notes and a new set higher-denomination bills had not yet arrived in Venezuela. Maduro stated on 18 December that his government had arrested over 300 people for causing violence in recent days (Panorama). The southern state of Bolívar experienced a high level of violent incidents, and the city of El Callao Mayor Coromoto Lugo reported 40 injuries and one firearm-related death (La Patilla). In Ciudad Bolívar, approximately 600 businesses were looted, 90 percent of food purveyors were robbed or destroyed, and over 3,000 state security officials were deployed (Efecto Cocuyo).

Brazil sends committee to assist 37 citizens trapped at Venezuelan border

A delegation from the Brazilian state of Roraima was sent to the Venezuelan border on 19 December 2016 to assist 37 Brazilian citizens who were trapped in Venezuela. The Brazilians, the majority of whom hailed from Roraima and Amazonas states, were stuck at the border city of Santa Elena de Uiarén following President Nicolás Maduro's extension of the border closure between Venezuela and Brazil until 2 January 2017 (El Nacional). According to Claudio Bezerra, Brazilian Vice Consul in Santa Elena de Uiarén, the Brazilians requested help due to cash and food shortages after Maduro ordered the 100-bolívar bill taken out of circulation (El Universal). The Brazilian Foreign Relations Ministry announced later on 19 December that the Venezuela-Brazil border will be opened once per day for Brazilians to cross back into Brazil, but did not state how long the border would stay open per day (O Globo).