Laureates have grave concerns about Trump's anti-science agenda as well as his recent rhetoric on nuclear war by Julia Conley   Trump's brand of populism was named as a major threat to scientific advances in a survey of 50 Nobel Laureates. (Photo: Michael Vadon/Flickr/cc)   Along with nuclear war and climate change, President Donald Trump has made the list of what Nobel Laureates consider to be major risks to the world population. In a survey of 50 Nobel Prize winners in the sciences, medicine, and economics, more than a third of the respondents said damage to the environment brought about by issues like over-population and climate change, was the biggest threat to mankind. Twenty-three percent said nuclear war was their top concern, while six percent said theirs was "the ignorance of political leaders"—with two of the winners naming Trump specifically. Peter Agre, winner of the chemistry Prize in 2003, told the Times Higher Education, which conducted the poll and released the results Thursday, that "Trump could play a villain in a Batman movie—everything he does is wicked or selfish." He also called the president "extraordinarily uninformed." The survey also found serious concerns among the respondents about the brand of populism pushed by Trump as well as right-wing European leaders. Forty percent of the Nobel winners called Trump-style populism, characterized by his distrust of climate science and the media, and political polarization "a grave threat to scientific progress, while 30 percent say that they are a serious threat." "Today, facts seem to be questioned by many people who prefer to believe rumors rather than well-established scientific facts," said Jean-Pierre Sauvage, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry last year. Another laureate added, "it is a disaster when people start believing things that are false and, even worse, when governments induce them to believe facts that are evidently wrong and ignore all evidence-based, scientifically proven data." The Times Higher Education noted that "Agre is particularly worried by how Trump 'flaunts his ignorance' to appeal to a group of Americans who are happy to dismiss the opinions of scientists." It's not the first time some of the world's top scientists and doctors have publicly expressed disapproval of the president. Earlier this year, 62 Nobel Laureates signed a petition denouncing Trump's executive order directing U.S. agencies to ban travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.     Source: Common Dream

A son's journey into his father's dark past to find out why he had to flee Chile during the military dictatorship. by Loes Witschge @loeswitschge Loes Witschge is a journalist and producer at Al Jazeera English online.   "I won't tell in this letter what happened to me during the training sessions, what they did to me, or what they made me watch.  What I can say is that the human being is a beast. The training led to the systematic removal of all human functions of an individual and the destruction of their personality.  I witnessed terrible cruelties. I got to know hidden prisons, prisoners in a state of madness, including ex-military staff. My life became a hell."  Jorge Lubbert was only 22 years old when he wrote these words. He had fled from his native Chile to Germany months before in September 1978 and he was asking the German secretary of Amnesty International, Helmut Frenz, for help - the Chilean secret services had found him in Berlin and he was no longer safe. What happened in the months before Lubbert's escape from Chile had traumatised him. Not long after reaching out to Frenz he found himself in the care of Jorge Barudy, a psychotherapist based in Leuven, Belgium. Barudy was part of a collective that helped refugees from Latin America who had been subjected to torture.  "Doctor Barudy believed that people who are traumatised have to vomit their trauma out in a way," explains Andres Lubbert, 32, Jorge's son. "They have to get it all out in order to move on."  Throughout his therapy sessions, Lubbert systematically told his story, which was recorded on audio tapes. Jorge's brother, Orlando - also in exile - typed the testimony out on 40 pages.  Jorge, who is now 61 years old, stuck around in Leuven. He married a Belgian woman and had two sons with her. Filmmaker Andres is the youngest.  The relationship between him and his father was strained. Jorge became a cameraman who often travelled to conflict zones, leaving his family behind for extended periods of time. He suffered from insomnia and, at times, struggled with addiction.  Andres never knew what had scarred his father. At age 19, he set out to investigate Jorge's history, travelling to Chile at least 20 times and documenting his findings in a series of films over the course of more than 10 years. Initially, his father wouldn't talk. Then, on a visit to Chile, Orlando gave a copy of Jorge's testimony to Andres.  "Up until then, I thought his experience was similar to that of other Chilean exiles, that he had been part of the resistance, a revolutionary, someone who was politically engaged and had to flee because of that," Andres told Al Jazeera.  "Reading [the testimony] was shocking, there are so many horrific things in there. It's a miracle he survived. I don't think many people would be able to live with a trauma like that."  The first page of Jorge Lubbert's 40-page testimony to Jorge Barudy on his horrific last months in Chile [Image taken from film] Enlistment From the testimony of Jorge Lubbert: "He presented me to a Mr Cano, a tall, burly guy. This person took me directly to the boss, called Jaime Letelier … 'We need you to work for us.' 'OK,' I said. 'Fine. As a draftsman, no problem.' He threatened me, using my father, my brother, who was abroad.  He told me that if I didn't sign, there would be no way out. That if I left then, I would not be safe anymore. 'Anything can happen to you.' I said no. No, I insisted, and he carried on in an aggressive, abrupt tone, insulting me.  He grabbed me by my jacket, shook me a bit and said, 'Sign!' They told me, 'You have all the skills we need and we will have them.' They told me not to resist, I had to sign. I had no way out and eventually, they made me give in, the pressure was too great. I signed the paper, the contents of which were covered up."  Augusto Pinochet came to power in Chile after he overthrew the incumbent Salvador Allende in a military coup on September 11, 1973. His 17-year rule was characterised by forceful repression of any opposition to his right-wing agenda. Around 3,200 people were executed or disappeared and about 28,000 people were tortured.  Many of the human rights violations that were committed during the dictatorship were perpetrated by the secret police, the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) which in 1977 was replaced by the National Information Centre (CNI).  Jorge Lubbert had just started working at the Chilean Telephone Company when he was introduced to Jaime Letelier and made to sign a document that enlisted him in a CNI training designed to turn him into a state agent. It was the start of a four-month long horrific ordeal.  Learn more about the torture methods used against political prisoners in Chile during the Pinochet regime. During his training, Jorge Lubbert learned skills including how to wiretap phones [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]  Kidnapped From the testimony of Jorge Lubbert: "One Thursday, I arrived at my house, it was late. There was a vehicle, a new Chevy Nova, two guys quickly got out, grabbed me violently and tried to get me into the car. "F**k," I thought. They were abducting me.  I screamed, I kicked, I kicked furiously. They got me into the vehicle. I didn't understand what was happening, then something unusual occurred. Behind the wheel was a person I knew, he was the brother of a friend of mine. He's called Jose Pavez, and I knew him as a tank lieutenant stationed in Antofagasta."  "I have Jose Pavez's military record here," Andres tells his father. It's December 2015 and the two are standing in the hallway of a building in Barrio Olimpico, Santiago de Chile, the neighbourhood where Jose Pavez lived back in the 1970s.  "Where did you get it from?" Jorge responds. He reaches out to the blue folder and nervously pulls it from Andres's hands. "If he finds out we're investigating him and his accomplices from the secret service… I'm sure he still has contacts, he can find me in five minutes. Me, you, my brother Orlando - all of us," Jorge says. Throughout his four months of training by the CNI, Jorge Lubbert would routinely get abducted, blindfolded and taken to secret locations. "He lived in constant paranoia that they could take him at any moment," Andres tells Al Jazeera.  Jorge's fear persisted in Belgium, and even today. Andres remembers how his father would hide in the toilet when someone knocked on the door. He still doesn't open letters.  Like most of the people Jorge identifies in his testimony, Jose Pavez Ahumada was never charged with violating human rights during Chile's military dictatorship. Only one of the men mentioned by Jorge, Rosauro Martinez Labbe, is currently under investigation for his alleged responsibility in the killing of a group of leftist activists in 1981.  More than 27 years after Pinochet's rule came to an end on March 11, 1990, the process of bringing human rights abusers to justice is still ongoing. Between 1998 and 2015, 344 former agents of the state were sentenced for human rights violations, with another 1,048 under investigation as of December 2015. On June 2, 2017, 106 former DINA agents received prison sentences in the biggest mass sentence to date for human rights abuses committed under Pinochet.  Find out more about ex-Chile spy chief, Manuel Contreras, reviled for his role in kidnapping and killing thousands during General Pinochet's rule, who died while serving 500-year sentence Jorge Lubbert in Barrio Olimpico, Santiago de Chile, holding a photo of Jose Pavez Ahumada [Screengrab/Al Jazeera] Tortured From the testimony of Jorge Lubbert: "A very tall guy came, a commando with a rubber apron and rubber gloves. He made us enter a large room with tiles and a rather unpleasant chemical odour.  There were three corpses. Without warning, the guy with the scalpel took hold of the corpse's testicles and cut them off. My stomach started churning, I went very pale. The guy approached me and gave me a piece. He put the jaw into my hands and I just fainted.  When he woke me up he said I needed to get used to being around death. You have to know about these things. He furiously grabbed a piece of flesh and rubbed it in my face. He went wild, he was mad at me."  "What did this have to do with me?" Jorge Lubbert asks himself. He is standing in front of what is now an amphitheatre in the Legal Medical Institute of Santiago de Chile. Nowadays, medical students study corpses here. Back in the late 1970s, the venue was controlled by the CNI.  "It was to dehumanise you, to rid you of all emotion regarding the human body. So you saw no difference between dead and alive," Jorge continues. "When you get used to seeing a corpse, it's like seeing an animal. This is actually very much like a slaughter house."  It is still unclear why the CNI singled Jorge out for their experiment to turn a 21-year-old youth into an instrument of the secret police - someone who could kill for them.  "He had technical skills, was easy to like and had a leftist group of friends without being politically engaged himself," says Andres. "But we'll never know for sure why he was chosen - the people who participated are now part of silence pacts." As far as Andres knows, his father's case is the only one of its kind that has been recorded.  Despite the unspeakable cruelties which have come to light since the end of the military dictatorship, like the ones inflicted on Jorge Lubbert, the Pinochet era is still a cause of division in Chilean society.  A study conducted by CeRC-Mori in July 2015 found that 15 percent of Chileans still view Pinochet as "one of the best rulers Chile has had", while slightly over a fifth of those polled said the military coup was justified.  "There are two levels of support for Pinochet," says Javier Rebolledo, a journalist who specialises in investigating human rights violations perpetrated by the military government. "The people who would jump up and shout for Pinochet, give thanks to their general - there are very few of them left, at least those who dare to show themselves that way," he tells Al Jazeera.  "But there's another group of people who are still Pinochetistas, but in a hidden way. They know it's politically incorrect to support Pinochet but they do, in silence. For them, there is almost a separation between what he did for the country economically and in terms of human rights violations."  Read this related article to find out more about how Pinochet-era crimes still haunt Chile Jorge Lubbert at the Legal Medical Institute in Santiago de Chile [Screengrab/Al Jazeera] Escape From the testimony of Jorge Lubbert: "I realised I was slowly being drawn deeper into it. Sometimes, I felt like one of them. I could not accept that. I couldn't imagine working with someone who I'd see kill another person.  I felt guilty. I felt like an accomplice for being there. What saved me is that I never lost touch with my family."  On September 2, 1978, Jorge Lubbert escaped to Germany with the help of his father, before the CNI's training was completed.  "What saved my father was his upbringing. He was raised with a lot of love. He was his mother's favourite. He could never betray his family and be transformed in what the secret police wanted him to become," says Andres. Throughout Andres's investigation into his father's past, talking about what had happened was difficult for Jorge - and he has now reverted to not broaching the topic at all. "He recently told me this is now over for him," Andres says.  Still, he hopes that his most recent film about his father's story, The Colour of the Chameleon, will encourage a transgenerational debate in Chilean society.  "What I've learned is that when traumas are ignored, they are passed on from generation to generation," he says. "Parents try to protect their sons and daughters from trauma by not discussing it, but that only makes the problem bigger and deeper. The only way to heal a society is by starting a dialogue."  Watch more from Andres and Jorge Lubbert's journey into Chile's dark past in The Colour of the Chameleon on Witness.  Source: Al Jazeera

BY SIMEON TEGEL | AUGUST 28, 2017 Warmer temperatures damage the environment, destabilize Lima’s water supply – and cost billions to mitigate. Simeon Tegel MAPARAJU, Peru – Standing on a rocky outcrop some 16,000 feet above sea level, mountain ecologist John All stares intensely at the glacier that leads up to the summit of Mount Maparaju, another 1,500 feet above us.  It should form a gentle convex arc from where we stand all the way up to the peak, perhaps half a mile away. For an experienced mountaineer like him, heading to the summit ought to be nothing more than a 90-minute stroll.  Instead, the glacier surface, ravaged by climate change, has sunk so dramatically that going straight up now would entail a technical climb up a 70 degree slab of ice.  All, who since 2011 has been conducting annual surveys of the effects of global warming here in Huascaran National Park, in the heart of the Peruvian Andes, estimates that the glacier surface has dropped around 170 feet just since he was last here 12 months ago.  In other words, the volume of ice lost just over the last year would be more than enough to fill an NFL Stadium.   “What is surprising is that the rate of melting is changing so quickly,” said All, a research professor at Western Washington University and head of the American Climber Science Program. “We always knew it was not going to be linear but now it feels exponential.”  Peru is home to some 70 percent of the world’s tropical glaciers but has lost between one third and half of its mountain ice in recent years, with the high Andes experiencing outlier temperature rises similar to those of the Polar regions.  That is having serious consequences for many communities downstream that rely on the glaciers for their water.  A healthy glacier melts steadily throughout the year, providing a constant supply, while also maintaining an equilibrium between the rates of melting and of new ice forming from compacted snow. But now mountain runoff has gone haywire.   In the dry season, with much of the mountain ice gone, the streams tail off. Meanwhile, the wet season flow has increased, with precipitation that previously fell as snow instead appearing as rain – to the point where most of the water cannot be captured and is wasted. That is creating a particular headache for SEDAPAL, Lima’s municipal water authority. With nine million inhabitants, the Peruvian capital is the world’s second most populous desert city, after Cairo. Even before climate change, it was severely hydrologically challenged and utterly dependent on Andean runoff.  Now Lima’s average current demand is 27 cubic meters of water per second, yet SEDAPAL is only supplying 23 cubic meters per second. Part of the problem is that the dry season flow of the Rimac, the city’s largest river, has dropped around 40 percent to eight cubic meters per second.  With SEDAPAL still scrambling to connect the nearly one million locals, mainly living in shantytowns on the dusty margins of the city, with running water for the first time, vanishing glacier ice was the last thing it needed.   As a result, the agency is planning to invest 22 billion Peruvian soles (nearly $7 billion) in infrastructure over the next four years to extend its system of reservoirs in the mountains high above the city.  “It is difficult, tough and very expensive to supply Lima with water. Those who have water have to show solidarity with those who don't," SEDAPAL President Rudecindo Vega told AQ, repeating the agency’s mantra of calling on customers to use water as efficiently as possible.  Back on Maparajau, the glacier resembles, in All’s words, a “terminal cancer patient.”  As we inspect it up close, we see rivulets running down the surface. This is in the southern winter, on an overcast day straight after a snowstorm that had us trapped in our tents all morning.  Then there are the large hollow sections as the glacier melts from within. Ice caves are common in some glaciers, but not usually here. As the bottom of the glacier melts where it rests on the rock, hollows are created that are then rapidly opened up by the wind.  The snowstorm and unusually balmy temperatures make the glacier surface soft and sticky enough that crampons are not even necessary as we explore this vast frozen river.  It is also strewn with blocks of ice, some of which All estimates at up to 15,000 years old. These have broken off from another glacier, just above our high camp, crumpled and serrated by climate change into enormous daggers of ice pointing upwards at weird angles.  All chips away at one of the blocks, the size of a fridge. It has a black line cutting evenly through it, a telltale sign of some prehistoric volcanic eruption.  One of the ironies is that as the ice melts we are also losing valuable climate data stretching back over geological and evolutionary time.  Tiny air bubbles provide irreplaceable time capsules of the earth’s atmosphere from the moment they were trapped in the ice. The evidence they contain includes oxygen isotopes, dust, methane and carbon dioxide; all vital clues to allow scientists to establish baselines for the earth’s climate   The melting is also having some unexpected impacts on local communities. Peru is a global mining power for good reason: its mountains are laden with metals. Now, vast swathes of newly exposed rock are leaching their naturally occurring but toxic minerals into mountain streams, poisoning water sources thousands of feet lower down.  Rivers that should be either crystal clear or dark with benign sediment have been turned ochre red by iron, lead, aluminum, manganese, arsenic, boron and nickel, among other heavy metals.    Stones dyed red by the river in the village of Cordillera Blanca In the village of Cordillera Blanca, far below Maparaju, the community has had to build a bioremediation plant to treat the water it uses to water fields. The system includes several pools that allow the metals to sink to the bottom and then three small wetlands packed with reeds.  The project was funded with $15,000, some of that from USAID, and has stopped local crops, including alfalfa used to feed guinea pigs, a local staple, and potatoes, from being poisoned by the minerals.  Locals now use wells for their own potable water but some, especially kids, still drink from the red stream churning past their village, suffering fever, diarrhea, headaches and vomiting as a result.  One person concerned that climate change’s impacts will only intensify is Fructosa Cruz, 63, a local grandmother of nine. “The pachamama is changing," she said, using the Quechua word for “mother earth." “I pray it doesn’t get worse. If it does, I don’t know how we will survive.”  -- Tegel is a journailst based in Lima, Peru

PING JIANG     @DRPINGJIANG     AUGUST 26, 2017 10:25 AM Image Credit: fredex/Shutterstock Brazil’s been in the news lately, and not always for the most positive reasons. Amidst news of recession, resulting austerity measures, and a successive series of large-scale corruption scandals, the developments from this previously booming emerging market seem grim. But as an emerging-markets expert, I’ve been watching Brazil very closely, and it’s clear there is a bright spot in all this doom-and-gloom coverage. Brazilian cities consistently make top 10 lists for digital entrepreneurs — as I’ve previously written. In fact, I would go so far as to say that no list of emerging startup cities would be complete without a mention of Brazil’s Sao Paulo, which is a fantastic startup environment. The evidence for this tech renaissance is plain as day: Multinational and regional tech powerhouses have graced Brazilian cities with their approval. For instance, Google, Airbnb, and Uber have built offices in Sao Paulo; in Google’s case, its Sao Paulo campus is a cross between a coworking space, accelerator, and networking center – a sort of comprehensive, all-inclusive startup factory. Yet this strength in technology stems from a series of complex, sometimes contradictory factors. Seen from above, Brazil’s tech scene is undoubtedly impressive — a marked contrast to other ailing sectors of the nation’s economy. Upon closer look, however, the nation splits into a varied, patchwork landscape of scrappy entrepreneurs, motivated techies, and government officials who alternate between supportive intervention and bureaucratic sluggishness. In short: It’s complicated. The mixed role of government Brazil is infamous for its bureaucracy. A 2015 study by the World Bank estimated that Brazilian businesses spent a staggering 2,600 hours on filing taxes — some three times more than Venezuela (not exactly known for its streamlined government), and 15 times the average in European countries. In a similar vein, Brazilian companies spent 15 more days to export a product than most other nations. For all this hassle, Brazil ranks 123 of 190 nations in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Database, though there have been some minor improvements in areas like contracts, property registration, and cross-border trade. Yet in spite of this bureaucratic stagnation, Brazilian states are taking the initiative, competing with one another to provide the best incentives and attract the most entrepreneurs. Artur Sousa, founder of Adopets, a digital animal adoption platform, notes that improvements in business regulation are often driven by individual Brazilian states, rather than the federal government at large. “States like Minas Gerais have developed incubation programs,” Sousa explains, citing MG’s Seed program. Created by the state government in 2013, Seed is a six-month program that is equal parts accelerator, startup ecosystem, coworking space, and angel investor (albeit without the equity requirement). In fact, Minas Digital, the state’s digital development authority, isn’t alone: similar programs exist around the country, from Sao Paulo to smaller cities like Porto Alegre and Recife. People power So what gives? On the one hand, strategic government intervention has spawned a thriving tech ecosystem, home to a rich range of venture capital firms, incubators, and a deep, vibrant community of talented founders and workers. On the other hand, government red tape remains a very real hindrance to entrepreneurs, with lingering problems in several areas of business, especially taxes. If anything, solutions seem piecemeal — invite entrepreneurs to the city, build incubators, and offer funding — and don’t necessarily address the deep-rooted dysfunction of business legislation. One reason for the tech sector’s success in pushing back against bureaucracy is its human capital, specifically the well-organized, welcoming entrepreneurial ecosystems. In Sousa’s view, digital workers, founders, and investors drove the change, taking matters into their own hands rather than waiting for the government to catch up. “To be an entrepreneur in a country like Brazil is inherently an act of resilience,” Sousa says. Though judging by his words, Brazilian entrepreneurialism is also a crash course in autonomy and taking initiative. “We did not have incentives or community. … Entrepreneurs got together, made things happen, attracted interest, and from there, started building out the ecosystem from the inside out.” All this is to say that success brings with it a sort of power and influence. And in an otherwise dismal economic landscape, few sectors are more successful than startups. From 2011-2016, Brazil’s startup sector was estimated to have grown by 30 percent per year, even as the rest of the country deals with political crisesand an unemployment rate of 13.6 percent (or 14 million people). Overall recovery has also been slow: While the S&P Global believes Brazil has stabilized, the economy is only expected to grow at around two percent through 2017. In contrast, the impact of these feisty, never-give-up entrepreneurs is plain as day, attracting investment and collaboration from sources near and far, though many of the most significant projects are entirely (or largely) private ventures. For instance, Brazil’s largest bank, Sao Paulo-based entrepreneurs, and California-based VC firm Redpoint joined together to launch Cubo, a massive, 50,000 square foot coworking space. In addition, venture capital is also on the rise. Softbank also invested $100 million in 99, a Brazilian ride-sharing company. At the same time, Argentina-based Kaszek Ventures created a $200 million fund in May 2017, alongside other stalwarts of capital like Sequoia, the Pennsylvania-based Dietrich Foundation, and Accel. Tech has also made more of an impact in some cities than others. For instance, Sao Paulo is ranked 12th for startup innovation worldwide, home to more than 2,700 active startups. More impressively, Sao Paulo’s startup scene has weathered the latest political and social upheavals very successfully, from a harsh austerity program to a presidential impeachment. According to one State Department report, the continued strong performance of the technology sector may be related to the recession: Brazil, famous for high prices even before the recession, has seen costs skyrocket because of a weaker dollar. As a result, consumers are increasingly turning to e-commerce, which offers lower prices and more convenient experiences than brick-and-mortar retailers. If anything, tech (and mobile apps in particular) is poised to continue its dominance of the Brazilian economy. After all, smartphones are widespread: In 2015, there were an estimated 89.5 million smartphone users throughout the country out of a total population of 200 million. Despite taking heavy losses during the 2016 recession, the smartphone market is in the middle of a strong recovery and is projected to grow further, fueled primarily by inexpensive (under $100) LTE-enabled devices. Ultimately, when it comes to startups, Brazil is a dynamic, people-powered paradox. Even as tech is the nation’s most profitable, best-resourced sector, it is successful despite some fairly significant obstacles. In fact, tech may well be Brazil’s last, and best, hope. Ping Jiang is an investor specializing in emerging markets and undervalued investment vehicles. As part of his specialization, he often writes on trends in emerging markets, from technology to infrastructure. Source: VentureBeat

"The arms industry is a global business which manufactures weapons and military technology and equipment. It consists of commercial industry involved in research, development, production, and service of military material, equipment and facilities. Arms producing companies, also referred to as defense contractors or military industry, produce arms mainly for the armed forces of states.” – Wikipedia. In the days following the Cold War, the arms industry saw a historic slump. The first decade of the 21st century though has seen an incredible boom in arms trade across the world.   Global Defense Spending 2012 Arms procurement forms a considerable part of the defense or military budgets of the countries of the world. The total military expenditure of the world in 2012 was about $1.75 trillion. This adds up to almost to 2.5% of global GDP. While the expenditure is a 0.5% reduction in the global defense spends since 2011, the ever first decline since 1998, it is higher than the expenditure incurred by the nations of the world at the end of the Cold War. This data on the defense spending of 172 states was published in the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Military Expenditure Database in April 2013. The top 15 countries in 2012 in terms of their defense spending are Country                                Defense Expenditure                               % of GDP USA                                       $682 Billion                                                    4.4 China                                     $166 Billion                                                   2.0 Russia                                   $90.7 Billion                                                   4.4 United Kingdom                     $60.8 Billion                                                   2.5 Japan                                    $59.3 Billion                                                   1.0 France                                   $58.9 Billion                                                   2.3 Saudi Arabia                          $56.7 Billion                                                   8.9 India                                       $46.1 Billion                                                   2.5 Germany                               $45.8 Billion                                                    1.4 Italy                                        $34 Billion                                                      1.7 Brazil                                     $33.1 Billion                                                    1.5 South Korea                          $31.7 Billion                                                    2.7 Australia                                $26.2 Billion                                                    1.7 Canada                                 $22.5 Billion                                                    1.3 Turkey                                   $18.2 Billion                                                    2.3   The military spends of the US in 2012 were more than four times those of China, despite having fallen by about 6% in 2011. The expenditure was over 69% higher than the spends in 2001. China’s defense expenditure in 2012 rose by about 7.8% over the previous year. Of the five nations with the highest defense spending, four are also permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.   Top Ordnance Manufacturers Company Country Sales Profits Production Employees EADS Netherlands $59.47 billion $769 million aircrafts, electronics, missiles 119,510 United Technologies US $52.92 billion $4.17 billion aircrafts, electronics, engineering 206,700 Lockheed Martin US $45.18 billion $3.02 billion aircrafts, electronics, missiles 140,000 BAE Systems UK $34.91 billion $70 million artillery, aircrafts, ammunition, electronics, missiles, military vehicles, small arms, ships 98,000 Northrop Grumman US $33.75 billion $1.68 billion aircrafts, electronics, missiles, and ships 120,700 Boeing US $32.30 billion $1.31 billion aircrafts, electronics, missiles 157,000 General Dynamics US $31.98 billion $2.39 billion ammunition, artillery, electronics, military vehicles, ships, small arms 91,700 Raytheon US $24.88 billion $1.97 billion electronics, missiles 75,000 Finmeccanica Italy $25.24 billion $997 million aircrafts, artillery, ammunition, electronics, military vehicles, missiles, small arms 73,060 L-3 Communications US $15.61 billion $901 million electronics 67,000   According to Richard F. Grimmett's CRS Report for Congress, titled "Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2004-2011", submitted on August 24, 2012, US topped the arms sales between 2004 and 2011 in billions (US dollars). Sales to developing nations far exceeded sales to industrialized countries. Country Total Sales (in Bn $) Sales To Developing Countries (in Bn $) Sales To Industrialized Countries (in Bn $) Percent of Total World Arms Sales United States 220.608 151.4 68.9 44% Russia 83.323 79 4.2 17% France 41.96 27.4 14.4 8% United Kingdom 27.037 25.8 1.1 5% China 17.808 17.6 0.2 4% Germany 22.068 11 11 4% Italy 14.278 8.6 5.6 3% Other European Nations 48.259 26.9 21.2 10% Others 27.109 19.8 7.2 5% Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2004-11   Top Importers And Exporters Of Arms The United States, Russia, and China are among the top arms exporters of the 21st century. The following table shows the value of arms exports of the top countries in millions of USD, in 1990 prices. Supplier (Country) 2001 2005 2010 2012 United States 5908 6700 8641 8760 Russia 5896 5134 6039 8003 China 499 303 1423 1783 Ukraine 700 290 201 1344 Germany 850 2080 2340 1193 France 1297 1724 1834 1139 United Kingdom 1368 1039 1054 863 Italy 880 538 806 847 Spain 7 108 513 720 Israel 203 583 503 533 Sweden 216 774 806 496 Canada 129 226 258 276 Switzerland 193 246 137 210 South Korea 165 48 95 183   The top importers between 2001 and 2010 (in millions USD) were Importer (Countries) 2001 2005 2010 India 1242 1036 3337 Australia 1191 470 1677 South Korea 623 686 1131 Singapore 220 543 1078 United States 449 501 893 Algeria 553 156 791 Saudi Arabia 397 332 2580 Greece 725 389 703 China 3366 3511 559 United Arab Emirates 186 2198 493 Pakistan 59 148 787 Turkey 553 1005 468 Malaysia 26 51 411 Norway 148 14 205 Indonesia 27 31 198   Influence Of The US Arms Industry The arms industry has historically formed a rather influential lobby and has been known to influence American politics considerably. A World Policy Special Report by William D. Hartung and Michelle Ciarrocca, published in October 2004 found that there was a strong interest of the arms industry in the outcome of the 2004 presidential election. William D. Hartung says "These have been boom years for the arms industry, with contracts for the top ten weapons contractors up 75% in the first three years of the Bush administration alone ... While some of this funding is related to the war in Iraq or the campaign against terrorism, much of it relates to Cold War relics like the F-22 combat aircraft or nuclear attack submarines that have little or no application to the threats we now face or the wars we are now fighting". In the course of their 2004 election campaigns, George W. Bush and John Kerry were the top recipients of contributions from Political Action Committees (PAC) and individuals associated with the arms industry. The candidates received $766,355 and $399,000 respectively. The arms industry as a whole contributed over $13 million in 2004. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2011-12, the top contributors to election campaigns from the arms industry were Northrop Grumman $3,092,373 Lockheed Martin $3,045,123 Boeing Co $2,844,669 Raytheon Co $2,631,809 General Dynamics $1,830,358 United Technologies $1,423,149 BAE Systems $1,101,821 SAIC Inc $1,000,595 Finmeccanica SpA $582,746 Honeywell International $548,804 Harris Corp $546,974 L-3 Communications $446,643 Emergent BioSolutions $326,474 Alliant Techsystems $311,475 EADS North America $298,762 DynCorp International $273,736 General Electric $252,400 Mantech International $248,526 Ameriqual Group $245,712 Sierra Nevada Corp $245,251   The center further says that the annual lobbying on defense comes up to an expenditure of $130,545,396 in 2012. There were 259 clients and 900 lobbyists in all. Broken down by industry, the spending on Defense Aerospace was about $58 million and on defense electronics and on other defense areas were $36 million each. According to data released by the Federal Election Commission in late March, 2013, contributions from the arms industry to the 2014 election campaign stands at $3,243,869. Republicans formed the major recipients, receiving over $1,942,820 while Democrats received $1,299,299 making it a 60-40 ratio. In 2011-2012, 185 Democratic candidates from the US House of Representatives received a total contribution of $5,835,524 from PACs and individuals giving $200 or more. The 238 Republican representatives received $9,738,269. Among the senators, 46 Democrats received $1,694,714 and 42 Republicans received $1,367,813 contributions from the industry. While contributions of the arms or defense industry to the Democrat representatives have taken a dip since 2008, they seem to have risen consistently for the Republicans. Contributions to the Senate peaked in 2008 and have seen a steady decline ever since. The influence of the arms or the defense lobby, though not as full of impact as many others still remains a salient influence in indigenous politics, also influencing foreign relations and decisions to go to war.   The Costs Of War When the costs of war are considered, arms manufacturers seem to be the only beneficiaries. The total cost of the Iraq war to the US is estimated to be $4.4 trillion. In 2012 alone, the US government budgeted $1.38 trillion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The postwar costs, including healthcare of the veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been estimated to be about $2.6 trillion. At the time of initiation, President Barack Obama had referred to the estimated cost of war as about $1trillion. A study by the Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies says that the real costs exceed this estimate by over 4 times. According to the study, the government estimates overlook a number of pertinent expenditures including long-term payments and healthcare costs of veterans and wounded soldiers, interests, and other incalculable costs. The United Kingdom has similarly made an estimate of its costs towards the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And these are predictably quite as high. According to The Telegraph, as of June 2010, UK has incurred a cost of about £18 billion ($31.5 billion USD) on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Are these costs worth the war is the question raised by the Watson Institute. Do the wars benefit any group apart from the arms and defense industry?   Defense Or Poverty? The huge military budget of countries stands out in perspective if we look at the poverty in the world. According to economists, a marked improvement in the poverty situation of the 20 poorest countries would cost about 0.5 billion – almost about the same as the defense spends of a country such as Uruguay. A significant reduction in the debts of the world’s most indebted nations is likely to cost between 0.5 and 7.5 billion USD. A B-2 stealth bomber costs the US Air Force about $1.5 billion. The costs of ending extreme poverty in the world are likely to be about $175 billion per year for 20 years, according to the estimates of Goldman Sachs. This represents just a little over the military budgets of the top five world spenders for the next three years at current levels. It is also only about 1% of the combined income of the richest countries in the world. In 2005, when Sachs formulated the theory ‘The End of Poverty’, this cost represented about 0.7% of the total income of the 30 countries who were members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). As of 2013, the military spends are much higher for these member nations and the cost of ending poverty not much different in proportion. Is The Arms Trade Recession Free? In February 2011, The Guardian ran a news article based on the SIPRI report. The report showed how the world’s largest arms manufacturing companies managed to increase their sales significantly even as the world was negotiating its way through an exceptionally hard recession. According to the SIPRI, the 100 largest arms manufacturers around the world increased their sales by about 8% in 2009. That year their sales rose by $14.8 billion to a total of $400 billion. According to the SIPRI arms industry expert, Susan Jackson, the "key factor in arms sales increases for US arms-producing and military services companies and for western European companies with a foothold in the US arms and military services market". In February 2013, Middle East's biggest arms show took off at the International Defence Exhibition (IDEX), in Abu Dhabi. Over 80 arms manufacturing companies from 15 countries put up their products. At the time, Richard Weitz, the director of Hudson Institute's Center for Political-Military Analysis remarked that the estimates of China's contribution to arms sales across the world have been mostly excluded, which that could be the reason arms sales seem to be dropping, despite the industry being as robust as ever.   Sources   Source: Maps of World  

By Jana Kasperkevic   Activists protest against Goldman Sach's purchase of $2.8 billion worth of Venezuela bonds outside Goldman Sachs' New York headquarters on Tuesday. - Bryan R. Smith/Getty Images Why are people mad at Goldman Sachs this time? Last week, Goldman Sachs purchased about $2.8 billion worth of Venezuelan bonds. According to reports by the Wall Street Journal, the company paid 31 cents on the dollar, or about $865 million, for bonds issued by state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA. The bonds were issued in 2014 and are set to mature in 2022. Since the purchase became public, Goldman has been subject to criticism for funding a dictatorship that has let its own people starve. How bad are things in Venezuela? Venezuela is currently dealing with critical food and medicine shortages. Since 2013, its economy has shrunk 27 percent and its food imports have dropped by 70 percent, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year. About 75 percent of Venezuelans lost an average of 19 pounds last year, according to the National Poll of Living Conditions. Furthermore, Venezuela is likely to see an inflation rate of 720 percent this year, according to estimates by the International Monetary Fund. What do the bonds have to do with this? According to the two dozen protesters who gathered outside the bank’s headquarters in New York, by purchasing the bonds, Goldman is supporting the current government led by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. "By giving $900 million to a dictatorship, they are funding a systematic human rights violator, they are funding immorality and for Maduro to stay in power while he keeps killing people," Eduardo Lugo, 23, a Venezuelan attending college in New York and a leader of the protest, told Reuters. The protesters chanted “Shame on you, Goldman Sachs" and “No more hunger bonds, Goldman Sachs." Goldman Sachs has pointed out that the bonds it has purchased were bought on a secondary market and not from the government. Its critics say that makes little to no difference. “The bondholders know that they’re being paid at the expense of the country’s hunger,” Jorge Botti, a Venezuelan businessman, told Bloomberg. According the Bloomberg report, Botti was the one who originally described the Venezuelan bonds as “hunger bonds” in a tweet sent last year. “A lot of people tell me that the bonds don’t have anything to do with people, but I tell them it’s a moral issue.” If Venezuela is not doing well economically, why is Goldman Sachs buying its bonds? After its bond purchase became public, Goldman issued the following statement: "We recognize that the situation is complex and evolving and that Venezuela is in crisis. We agree that life there has to get better, and we made the investment in part because we believe it will." There is another reason such bonds are attractive: They tend to come with a government guarantee, and the bondholders who are playing the long game could make significant profit on their investment. “As unpalatable as holding Venezuela risk may seem, this is precisely the type of time that long-term investors typically want to accumulate exposure,” Mike Conelius, portfolio manager for the T. Rowe Price Emerging Markets Bond Fund, told the Wall Street Journal. According to him, the country is likely to go through a regime change that would result in an economic recovery. That’s not to say that Goldman’s investment is without a risk. Such as? Members of the opposition party have threatened not to honor the bonds or do business with Goldman Sachs if they do come into power. “It is apparent Goldman Sachs decided to make a quick buck off the suffering of the Venezuelan people,” Julio Borges, head of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress, wrote in a public letter to Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. “I also intend to recommend to any future democratic government of Venezuela not to recognize or pay on these bonds.” Angel Alvarado, another opposition lawmaker who is a member of the country’s congressional finance committee, said that Goldman was making “a grave reputational error.” “This is a bad decision not just from the ethical, but also from the business perspective,” he told the Wall Street Journal.   Source: Marketplace

By Sabrina Martín   A self-proclaimed defender of the poor, Venezuelan ruler Nicolás Maduro is actually taking advantage of shortages across the country by marking up goods for his own profit through a company involved in the sale of the country’s subsidized food program, CLAP. In August, Mexican newspaper Excelsior published a report claiming Maduro sold food in Venezuela with a surcharge of up to 112 percent. According to the Mexican Tariff Information System, the Venezuelan government paid companies that operate in Mexico US $16 for 11 basic products that were later resold in packages for $34. Between January and May, Venezuela purchased over 414 billion tons of vegetable oil, rice, canned tuna, sugar, black beans, lentils, white corn, mayonnaise, pasta and tomato sauce from Mexico for the CLAP food program. Among the companies chosen by Maduro’s regime to import food from Mexico were Postar Intertrade Limited, whose owner is Samark López Bello, a figurehead working under Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami. Group Grand Limited has also been accused of selling products at a premium. Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz said Maduro is the owner of the company, which serves as an intermediary for buying food in Mexico and selling it in Venezuela. According to Excelsior, cross-referencing the price invoices revealed that a CLAP food box is worth half what Venezuela charges for it. The only products that Venezuelans pay a fair price for are milk powder, sugar and vegetable oil, according to the report. On Wednesday, August 23, Ortega Díaz, who fled Venezuela after the regime raided her home, said that though Rodolfo, Reyes, Álvaro Pulido Vargas and Alex Saab are listed as owners of some companies serving CLAP, the company really belongs to Maduro. Journalist Roberto Deniz said the Mexican state of Táchira is supplying the food boxes, but that the prices don’t add up. Receipts indicate that the Táchira government bought food from Group Grand Limited, a group that LOD claims belongs to Maduro.  “In October of last year, the President of the Republic approved a $340 million budget for to the Táchira government to buy 10 million food orders. Once the resources are approved, the food goes out, but this company from the Government of Táchira … has bought directly from not only Mexico, but also through the company we are talking about today,” he said.   Source: Armando

By Tamara Pearson   The time has come for rural communities, whom are organized and producing food for their own consumption, to play an important role in the country, reports Tamara Pearson. Community members working in the La Columna community garden, Merida, Venezuela. by Tamara Pearson It's been three years now of food shortages, inflation, and queues in Venezuela, and the millions of people involved in community and movement organizing have been the most affected. But they've also defied right-wing and general expectations, and even perhaps the expectations of the Maduro government, and have become stronger and better organized as a result of the hardships. ‘We can feel the difference between the quality of life we had four years ago – when things had improved so much. Everything is extremely expensive. You go out to buy a kilo of rice, and four days later the price has gone up, and it's hard to deal with because our salaries don't go up every four days,’ Jose Loaiza told me. A worker in charge of sustainable development for the mountain town of Los Nevados for Merida's Teleferico (cable car) and a member of an urban agriculture organization, La Minga, Loaiza was one of four people I interviewed to get a sense of how the grassroots have been affected by these difficult times – times that have been utterly sensationalised and lied about by the mainstream media. ‘When Chavez came to power, 80 per cent of people were poor. We drank milk once a fortnight and ate meat once a week. Most people didn't have access to proteins,’ Joel Linares, a Caracas based community organizer who also works with rural workers' councils, explained. He described the current crisis as a result of politics, and ‘consumerism that isn't working’ in an oil based, urban-centric economy where people don't produce what they consume. Vegetables and fish are available, but they are expensive, and the basic goods that people are used to like rice, beans, and milk can only be obtained on the black market, or by queueing outside a supermarket from 4 am. But businesses seem to have no problem getting hold of those products, and it’s easy to get a pizza, coffee, or bread if you can afford it. Advert ‘It's not that these things don't exist, but the mechanism of distribution is still controlled by the private sector,’ Rachael Boothroyd Rojas, a Caracas community council representative and journalist with said. And that is a private sector which has profited greatly from the crisis, and which has an interest is bringing down Chavismo. Community members working in the La Columna community garden, Merida, Venezuela. Tamara Pearson A boom in urban agriculture But the food situation has led to changes in how people get food, and in the types of food they consume. More people are growing their own food, and the traditional Venezuelan diet heavy on deep fried carbs is being challenged, with oil and cornflour hard to come by. Loaiza described a community meeting he attended recently where people growing food on their windowsills and patios and in public parks came together to collectivize their experiences. ‘People have realised that they have to take advantage of what space they have. Before, no one used the green spaces in housing complexes, and now they are growing food there. Colonial culture forced habits of buying everything on us, and now we're breaking with that,’ he said. ‘Five years ago I knew perhaps eight people doing urban agriculture, but now I know about 500 people,’ he said. Advert ‘Our community garden is still active, even though it was affected by the drought,’ Eliodina Villareal, a communal council spokesperson in an opposition-dominated part of Merida, explained. Further, food exchange, with neighbours swapping goods like pasta for margarine, has become common. ‘People are starting to understand how food works. There is no way to move forward until communities become involved in food and production. And that means that the communal councils and communes are less abstract now,’ Boothroyd Rojas said. Where community organizations were previously focused on holding cultural events and fixing a road hole, for example, now many urban communes are trying to produce at least half their vegetables in urban gardens, and are buying the rest directly from rural producers. Members of the Merida communal council distributing food. Tamara Pearson The complexities of community organized food distribution My own communal council, La Columna, covering four blocks of central Merida, has gone from meetings of five to 12 people in 2012, to around 90. Others testify that their community organization has been strengthened, that they are holding more and bigger meetings, and working more with other councils. ‘People are coming on their own accord, seeking support and organization to solve the situation. Through the government initiative, the CLAP (Local Committee of Supply and Production), we've sold bags of basic foods at very cheap prices. So people want to be included, but now the issue is how to meet the needs of all the families, and guaranteeing that they get the food, and not the bachaqueros (food speculators),’ Villareal said. The CLAP are facing a range of obstacles. Organizers are leaving meetings to be in food queues, and they are exhausted with the work involved in obtaining basic resources like ink or paper for their communal work, or the days spent in organizing a truck for food. Food arrives to communities through the CLAP once a month, but Linares said that wasn't often enough. Also, he said sometimes the CLAP face stigmatisation for not completely solving the food problems people are facing. ‘The people's hunger is a battle weapon,’ Linares said, as he talked about the right-wing generated violence, combined with the politics of shortages, aimed at bringing about a sense of desperation. At the same time, people are having to combat corruption at various levels and are pushing for more control over production and distribution in order to guarantee efficiency of government. ‘A social and solidarity economy’ is the solution to such problems, and an alternative to wasteful consumerism, Linares argued. When the communities get their food directly from farmers, they are attacking the insane speculation that happens through middlemen. ‘In our communal council we organized a vegetable market. We paid for the transport to bring the vegetables from the countryside. And it makes you wonder, if they sold us tomatoes at 450 bolivars ($.45) a kilo, and the people in the markets are selling them for thousands of bolivars, they must be making so much profit,’ Boothroyd Rojas said. She described a further difficulty that some communities have faced, with the army sometimes stopping these food shipments. It has meant that some councils have had to use militia to protect their food from the army. The government appears to be losing complete control over its security forces, as they sense that the political forces have changed, with a right-wing parliament. ‘The right wing wants to revoke communal land rights, and some security forces are carrying out a dirty war in response to this dynamic,’ she explained. Rural communities face some big hurdles too, but also have some advantages. Far from urban centres, it is even harder for them to access basic products, or to request funding. Loaiza said that with a return trip from Los Nevados to Merida costing 3,000 bolivars ($30.00), amounting to 20 per cent of a monthly wage, any paper work is difficult. On the other hand, rural communities have been producing food for their own consumption for a long time. For those rural movements and groups who have also been organizing, their time to play an important role in Venezuela has come. Eliodina Villareal (on the right) speaking at a communal council meeting. Tamara Pearson Better and worse human beings ‘To grow hurts, and Venezuelans are growing,’ Linares said. ‘The crisis has made us stronger,’ Loaiza argued. And even in Villareal's opposition dominated area, there is empathy among neighbours ‘without political stripes being important’. ‘People are learning to be more solidarious, to be mindful of the elderly adults who live alone and need our support. We're very motivated to keep fighting,’ she said. But Loaiza also identified ‘two Venezuelas’. He described a ‘revolution that tries to get positive things out of everything and is dedicated to building’ and on the other hand, people who are gravely affected by the problems, but aren't doing much about them and are affected by ‘anti-values’ such as individualism and selfishness. The first group, he explained, have spent years in collectives and ‘feel the solidarity’, so they don't easily fall for the anti-values. On the other hand, Boothroyd Rojas described the ruthlessness of people trying to make money out of the shortages. ‘There are a lot of scams. You feel under attack because every time you go to buy something, you are up against this battle. It makes people aggressive, and it’s exhausting. In 2012, for example, the empanadas were great, full to the brim with meat. And now people are charging for basically an empty empanada. You're being scammed and people are making money – there's no solidarity between the market sellers and the people.’ She also noted how tense it is, not just because of the food, but an overwhelmed health system. ‘The two hospitals I've been to aren't like how the media portrays, with floors covered in blood, it's not that bad, but going to crowded hospitals is stressful.’ Community members working in the La Columna community garden, Merida, Venezuela. Tamara Pearson Grassroots and the national government The people I talked to differed in their analysis of the effectiveness of government initiatives in light of the food problems. Most people are frustrated with the national government's response, but they have different ways of framing it. For some, the ‘economic war’ waged by the right-wing has made it difficult for the government to do much, while for others, the government has less connection now with the social movements and organizations and is too dependent on a stalling strategy. ‘The only solutions that are being developed at the moment is from the grassroots, but they are slow to have fruition as well,’ Boothroyd Rojas said. ‘I don't think we can rely on the CLAP and the state for food, we need to change the structures that mean people are being charged too much, in a way that we would be protected if the opposition were to get into government, because they wouldn't maintain any state involvement in food distribution.’ ‘The government is responding to problem after problem, but the long term plans are coming from the communities. The CLAP are great, but the government isn't organized enough to bring food to the whole country, and it's very top down,’ she said. For example, the government stipulated that the CLAP must have a member from the Francisco de Miranda Front and from Inamujer, but those organizations aren't present in all communities. She said the grassroots don't feel like they have much influence over the government or over the ‘course of things coming in the next few months’. Meanwhile, grassroots initiatives are also somewhat fragmented, with a lack of ‘national expression of people's politics’, but there's still a lot of room to make that happen. 'Less consumerism, more consciousness' reads the placard of a young protestor outside a supermarket queue. Tamara Pearson Looking to the future The current situation in Venezuela is unsustainable. ‘The future doesn't look good,’ Villareal said. Communities are worried about what the right-wing could do in the national assembly, that it might eliminate the communal council and commune laws. However, even with a majority in the assembly, the right-wing is still acting like an opposition: more focused on delegitimising the ideas of Chavismo than on policy making. ‘It's questionable if the right-wing even want a recall referendum to remove the sitting president, Nicolas Maduro, and if they really want to take power, as power means responsibility for sorting out this situation, and it would be clear they don't really have any solutions,’ Boothroyd Rojas said. ‘But we are changing the way we consume, we're learning to value what we have and to think and create, so we know that we'll overcome this,’ Villareal concluded.   Source: The New Internationalist

By ERNESTO LONDOÑO AUG. 16, 2017 Vice President Mike Pence and President Michelle Bachelet of Chile during a news conference on Wednesday at the presidential palace in Santiago, Chile. CreditPool photo by Martin Bernetti RIO DE JANEIRO — During a whirlwind trip to four Latin American countries this week, Vice President Mike Pence sought to soften the edges of the ‘America first’ worldview — the administration’s first major effort to mend fences with a region rattled by President Trump’s election. “Under President Donald Trump, the United States will always put the security and prosperity of America first,” Mr. Pence said Wednesday in Chile during the third leg of a trip that began in Colombia and included stops in Argentina and Panama. “But as I hope my presence today demonstrates, ‘America first’ does not mean America alone.” Yet Mr. Pence’s hopeful message of expanded economic and diplomatic cooperation did little to assuage fears among the region’s leaders, who have been furiously planning for an era of diminishing returns in Washington by deepening regional trade relations and pursuing expanded commercial ties with Europe and China. Mr. Trump is widely loathed in Latin America, where his early moves have been interpreted as a return to an overbearing, security-obsessed American foreign policy. The contrast has been sharp with President Barack Obama’s administration, when Latin Americans felt they were treated with an unusual degree of deference and respect. “We went from being recognized as a strategic ally to being regarded as part of their backyard,” said María Jimena Duzán, an influential Colombian columnist at the weekly magazine Semana, echoing a view several Latin American officials have shared privately. The trip, which Mr. Pence cut short by a day to attend a national security meeting at home, was the latest example of the daunting task Mr. Trump’s surrogates face as they set out to modulate and interpret the president’s bellicose and impulsive remarks. In stop after stop, Mr. Pence found himself in damage-control mode, fielding questions about Mr. Trump’s response to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., that turned violent, and about the president’s threat to use military force in Venezuela. During joint appearances with Mr. Pence, Presidents Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Mauricio Macri of Argentina and Michelle Bachelet of Chile firmly opposed the prospect of an American military intervention in response to Venezuela’s political and humanitarian crisis. “Chile will not support coups or military interventions,” Ms. Bachelet said pointedly on Wednesday. While the Obama administration built considerable good will in the region by restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba and showing greater flexibility on counternarcotics policy, America’s standing and influence in the region have cratered under Mr. Trump. “If I put myself in the shoes of an American citizen, I understand the appeal of trying to prioritize your national interests,” said Camila Capriglioni, 21, a medical student in Buenos Aires. “But I really dislike everything he represents,” she added, referring to Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump’s insistence that he will find a way to get Mexico to pay for a border wall, his crackdown on unauthorized immigrants and his return to a confrontational stance with Cuba are among the main reasons the president is reviled in Latin America, analysts say. “Latin America is in a situation where the United States has absolutely no interest in soft power,” said Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, an international relations professor at the Torcuato Di Tella University in Buenos Aires. “The only thing he talks about are sticks,” Mr. Tokatlian said, “of being hard with Mexico, with Venezuela and that will only accelerate the process of countries moving away from Washington.” Demonstrators burning an American flag on Wednesday during a protest against the visit of Mr. Pence in Santiago. CreditLeo Oyarzo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images During his stop in Chile, Mr. Pence proclaimed that “this is a new era in the new world” as he vowed to find ways to build on strong commercial relations in the region. Yet he had little in the way of concrete measures to announce, except for deals to open the American market to Colombian avocados and for the United States to export rice to Colombia. As they warily watch the chaos in Washington, several governments in Latin America are hedging their bets. Brazil and Mexico, which have the region’s largest economies, are aiming to expand trade to wean their dependence on American consumers. The Mercosur trade bloc in South America jump-started long-stalled negotiations for a free trade deal with the European Union. Latin American parties to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal championed by the Obama administration, are considering ways to refashion it without the United States. Earlier this year, Argentina and Chile joined China’s development bank, and Chile said it intended to serve as a “bridge” for increased Chinese investment in the region. Mr. Trump “has put the commercial ties to the region in doubt by questioning trade deals and promoting ‘America first,’ ” said Raúl Sorh, an international relations analyst in Santiago. “That raises huge questions regarding how commerce with the United States could be affected.” Members of Congress who have worked to build robust partnerships in the region say the new administration has done severe damage in a short time. “While President Obama worked over eight years to build partnerships based on respect and common interests, in a mere six months, President Trump has jammed the policy into reverse,” Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said in an emailed statement. “The Latin countries, like many of our other friends and allies, are unsure of what the White House’s intentions are and fear either a return to the days of U.S. arrogance and bullying or, at best, benign neglect,” the statement said. Mari Carmen Aponte, who was Mr. Obama’s top diplomat for Latin America, told her counterparts in the region to brace for change. “I told them that they had to be realistic, that things were about to become more transactional,” Ms. Aponte recalled. If they wanted to get on Washington’s good side, she advised, “they had to emphasize not only what they could do with the United States, but what they could do for the United States.” Several have followed that advice. Mr. Santos and Mr. Macri were among the first world leaders to travel to Washington after Mr. Trump’s election. Mr. Santos, seeking continued foreign aid for Colombia’s peace process, praised Mr. Trump as a leader who “knows a good deal when he sees one.” Other governments, including Brazil’s, have opted to lie low, said Oliver Stuenkel, a professor of international relations at Fundação Getúlio Vargas in São Paulo. “I think there’s a notion among some of South America’s elites that the best thing to do these four, eight years is not to raise your head much and stay off the radar,” he said. Sergio Riveros, 35, a computer scientist in Santiago, Chile, said that a low profile might not help. “What we worry about the most is the conflicts he has, like with North Korea,” Mr. Riveros said of Mr. Trump. A rash decision “could spark a war that affects us all.” Follow Ernesto Londoño on Twitter @londonoe. Pascale Bonnefoy contributed reporting from Santiago, Chile, and Daniel Politi from Buenos Aires.

Venezuela is running out of food. Hospitals are overcrowded with sick children while doctors don't have enough medicine or X-ray machines. Electricity isn't guaranteed. About the only thing Venezuela has in abundance is chaos. The economy has spiraled toward collapse, and a humanitarian crisis has plunged hordes into needless sickness and starvation. The country is also in the grip of a political crisis. The referendum on Sunday called by President Nicolas Maduro could erode the last vestiges of democracy. The vote would allow him to rewrite the constitution and replace the National Assembly, which is controlled by the opposition, with an entirely new legislative body filled with his hand-picked nominees. Venezuela was once the richest country in Latin America. Here's how it fell apart. Venezuela's economy: 'It's at the point of no return' Venezuela holds the world's largest supply of crude oil -- what once seemed like an endless gusher of cash. Now the government is running out of money, prices are soaring, and nobody knows how much worse it will get. Venezuela was a powerhouse of South America in the 1990s. Former President Bill Clinton made it his first stop on a trip to the region in 1997. But inequality grew extreme. A small elite class controlled everything while the increasingly impoverished masses fumed. The country turned toward socialism in 1999 and elected Hugo Chavez president. He championed populism, cut ties with the United States and cozied up to China and Russia, both of which loaned Venezuela billions. Chavez ruled until his death in 2013, and is still seen today as a hero for the poor. But his government far overspent on welfare programs, and it fixed prices for everything. It declared farmlands state property and then abandoned them, and instead made the nation dependent on selling its oil abroad. Before he died, Chavez picked Maduro to succeed him, and Maduro kept up the regime's practices. His administration also stopped publishing any reliable statistics, including on economic growth and inflation. It accepted millions in bribes for construction projects and racked up debts that it is still struggling to pay. Meanwhile, the only commodity Venezuela had left began to plunge in value. In 2014, the price of oil was about $100 a barrel. Then several countries started to pump too much oil as previously inaccessible oil could be dredged up with new drilling technology. At the same time, businesses globally weren't buying more gasoline. Too much oil caused the global price to drop to $26 in 2016. Today it hovers around $50, which means Venezuela's income has been cut in half.     With oil prices low and the government's cash dwindling, price controls have become a huge problem. The state still subsidizes food far below normal prices to appease the poor. Maduro has printed money at breakneck speed, and the bolivar has plunged in value, wiping out jobs and income. At the same time, Maduro's hostility to foreign business has created a corporate exodus. Pepsi(PEP), General Motors (GM)and United (UAL) are just some of the companies that have cut back or left entirely. Unemployment in Venezuela this year could reach 25%, according to the International Monetary Fund. Inflation is only getting worse. In 2010, one American dollar was worth about eight bolivars. Today it's worth over 8,000 bolivars, according to the unofficial exchange rate, which many Venezuelans use because government rates are considered far overvalued. Prices could rise an astounding 2,000% next year. To keep up, Maduro has raised the minimum wage three times this year. That has provided a little short-term relief to the poor, but experts say it creates long-term pain in the form of a worthless currency. "The economy is really chaotic. It's totally collapsed. It's at the point of no return," says Alberto Ramos, an economist who heads Latin America research at Goldman Sachs. Maduro blames his opponents for Venezuela's economic woes and says U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan leaders are proof the United States is waging an "economic war." Regardless of where the blame lies, humanitarian misery has followed the economic plunge.   Children dying from lack of medicine, food in Venezuela 'There are people in Venezuela who are literally starving. This is apocalyptic stuff' For several years, Maduro has had a stark choice: Pay down debts to China, Russia and foreign investors -- or buy food and medicine from abroad. He has chosen to pay the bills. The result: Starving Venezuelans and soaring deaths in hospitals. Food shortages are so severe that the average Venezuelan living in extreme poverty lost 19 pounds last year, according to a national poll. "There are people in Venezuela who are literally starving. This is apocalyptic stuff," says Eric Farnsworth, vice president at the Council of the Americas, a business organization. "I would call Venezuela a failing state." Venezuela ships in food primarily from Brazil, Colombia and Mexico because the government stopped cultivating its rich farmland years ago. For the first five months of this year, food exports from those countries to Venezuela were down 61% from the same period in 2015, according to Panjiva, a research firm. Medical shortages are worse: 756 women died during and shortly after childbirth last year, a 76% increase from 2015, according to a rare release of government records that Maduro condemned. Nearly 11,500 infants died in 2016, a 30% rise from the prior year. Malaria cases jumped to 240,000, a 76% rise from 2015. "Even at the hospital there is still no food for the patients," says Dr. Huniades Urbina-Medina, head of pediatrics at Hospital de Niños J.M. de los Rios, a children's hospital in Caracas. "We still don't have medicines, X-rays, CT scans -- nothing." It's not just food and medicine. Venezuelans sometimes must ration electricity and water during droughts. The crises have literally pushed Venezuela's upper and middle classes out, creating a severe brain drain. Nearly 2 million Venezuelans have left the country since 1999, according to research by Tomas Paez, a sociology professor at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas. Venezuela is a country of only 30 million people. Venezuela's opposition claims victory Political turmoil has brewed for years It seemed like a potential political turning point in 2015 when opposition leaders won a majority of seats in the National Assembly, dealing a blow to Maduro. But gridlock was the result. Early in 2016, Maduro stacked the Supreme Court with his supporters to block the National Assembly from impeaching him. Then, in March, the Supreme Court attempted to dissolve the National Assembly altogether, leading to months of protests that have left nearly 100 dead. Sunday's vote brings the turmoil to a head. As Venezuela lurches into chaos, Maduro acts as if the opposite is true. He recently tweeted a video of himself driving through Caracas on streets tightly controlled by the police. On camera, Maduro insists the streets are safe, and that people are working and living ordinary lives. But just a few miles away, off camera, young Venezuelans clashed with riot police as fires burned in the streets. Source: CNNMoney (Caracas)

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