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U.S. Jewish Group Calls on Bolivia President To Curb Attacks

President Evo Morales’ “vitriol” toward Israel spurred attacks on Jewish religious sites, says American Jewish Committee.

Published by Anadolu Agency 20 Sept.

Lima, PERU (AA) — A Jewish advocacy group criticized Bolivian President Evo Morales for not curbing a so-called rise in anti-Semitism and made calls Friday for intervention, after a Jewish cemetery was vandalized in central Bolivia.

The American Jewish Committee, a prominent Jewish-affairs group based in New York, called on Morales to protect the Andean country’s several hundred Jews, after Saturday’s dynamite attack in Cochabamba. There were two other attacks on the city’s synagogue earlier this year. Molotov cocktails and stones were thrown at the city’s synagogue in April and July.

“Since Evo Morales came to power, we had not seen this level of vitriol that we see in his expressions, which then of course translated into attacks on the Jewish community, as we did this time,” Dina Siegel Vann, AJC Director of Latino and American Affairs told The Anadolu Agency on Friday.

“Because of the Gaza crisis, the whole issue of anti-semitism has become very mainstream in countries in Latin America, due to the importation of the Middle East conflict as part of the domestic or regional agenda. This is a very dangerous trend that only the government can and should vigorously turn back and end.”

The Bolivian government broke diplomatic ties with Israel in January 2009 during Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, which Morales at the time called “genocide.”

In July, Morales condemned Israel as “a terrorist state” during that country’s most recent military operation in Gaza, and filed a request with the United Nations’ High Commissioners for Human Rights to charge Israel with “crimes against humanity.”

The military offensive showed that “Israel is not a guarantor of the principles of respect for life and the elementary precepts of rights that govern the peaceful and harmonious coexistence of our international community,” said the 54-year-old socialist leader who also voided a long-standing agreement that allowed Israelis’ to travel to Bolivia without a visa.

Siegel Vann said before Morales’ election in 2006, Bolivia had been a “friend of Israel” and “one of the first and only Latin American countries to open its door to Jewish refugees in the Holocaust.”

The AJC also said the president of the Jewish Community of Bolivia is pressing the government to investigate the latest incidents.

“If these attacks continue to increase we are going to have problems to regret,” said Ricardo Udler. “Now is the time to open the doors to ensure that this does not get out of hand and leave us lamenting the consequences.”

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Peru Replaces Finance Minister With Top Economic Adviser

Published by Anadolu Agency September 15.

President Ollanta Humala has swapped his prominent finance minister with the ministry’s key adviser, in an unexpected move as the economy showed its slowest growth in five years.

Newly sworn-in Alonso Segura vowed to shore up recently launched reforms and kickstart economic growth.

Segura takes over as the Andean country’s mineral exporting economy expanded just 0.3 percent in June compared to a year earlier, amid slumping copper exports and weakening private investment.

He said the economy could grow 4 percent this year, lower than the central bank’s latest forecast of 4.2 percent, and below the 6.4 percent annual rate that made it South America’s best performer durring the last decade.

But the former International Monetary Fund economist said that the “worst is over” and would evaluate different methods to revive growth.

“Growth figures from July to September should gradually regain dynamism,” he told state television on Sunday.

Unclear exit

Departing Finance Minister Luis Miguel Castilla (pictured) was regarded as the most influential member of Humala’s Cabinet as well as its longest-serving, surviving a revolving door of Cabinet chiefs since Humala swept to power in July 2011.

The reason for Castilla’s sudden exit is still unclear, though he cited family commitments.

“It’s time to take a step aside to dedicate myself to my family, but my departure doesn’t mean my distancing from government,” Castilla said in a statement.

“I will continue to support the president,” he added.

Pension law

A fall in private investment, and a dispute over a controversial pension law that raises contributions for self-employed workers, however, last month heightened pressure on the technocrat that joined the government as deputy Finance Minister in the Alan Garcia administration in 2009.

Opposition in Congress to Castilla’s key reforms saw the law sacrificed in order to guarantee enough votes to win a vote of confidence for the ruling party’s sixth Cabinet, which holds no majority in Congress.

“Castilla has fallen because of the pension fund contributors,” opposition congressman Victor Andres Garcia Belaunde said in a radio interview Sunday.

Growth outlook 

The outlook for South America’s sixth-largest economy had been improving before Castilla’s exit, with the minister last week predicting 5 percent growth in the second half of 2014.

In July, Segura was named head of a committee to “unleash” foreign investment.

The government expects 6 percent growth for 2015 with several large mining and infrastructure projects set to get underway.

Morgan Stanley and Banco Credito de Peru forecast 5.3 percent, and between 5 percent and 5.5 percent respectively.

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Peru Plans to Catch Public Transport Gropers With Undercover Female Cops as ‘Bait’

Originally published on Global Voices August 12.

Peru and Colombia’s 930-mile long border running deep through the Amazon often sees the Andean neighbours collaborate. That could now extend to sexual molesters.

To stem a rise in harassment of women on its packed bus services, Peru’s government is mooting plans to put up an elite force of undercover female cops as ‘bait’ to catch offenders.

It follows a successful pilot program in Colombia, where a team of women wearing “tight trousers, miniskirts and low-cut tops” and operating with concealed radio devices has caught 129 men this year, according to a Colombian police deputy in Peru’s El Comercio newspaper on Aug. 6.

“Sexual harassment has always existed. Today the technology exists to record such cases,” Interior Minister Daniel Urresti told reporters. “It’s possible we could be doing it soon.”

The move comes after Peru’s dire harassment record was propelled to national front pages in June, after a famous Academy Award-nominated actress caught a man masturbating behind her on Lima’s metropolitan bus line. A senior female minister said at the time that women should carry scissors and needles to use in self-defense if “authorities are slow to react” to such incidents.

A woman (Photo: Gaia Saviotti (CC))
(Photo: Gaia Saviotti (CC))

Only half of the 40 registered cases on Lima’s Metropolitan bus line this year resulted in victims pressing charges, women’s rights organisation Warma Wasi said. “It was like a superhero film,” was how one Colombian woman described the intervention of one of the so-called “angels of the Transmilenio”, the Colombian capital, Bogota’s public transport network, in the newspaper report.

“I felt someone touch my bum and began to insult the aggressor. Nobody defended me, in fact people began to move away […]. Suddenly a girl arrived and went for the guy that was touching me, she pulled him to the ground and held him there until we arrived at the next station were the police took him away. When we realised she was a policewoman, everyone clapped.”

The women are highly-trained in self-defense and carry electric shock devices, the police deputy said.

Peruvian legislators passed a law this week making sexual harassment in the street a crime. Though public attitudes may be lagging.

According to a survey by Peru’s Insitute of Public Opinion, 77 percent of men and 74 percent of women believe that “women who dress provocatively expose themselves to a lack of respect in the streets.”

Some reactions can be found on Twitter also:

Authorities mount this tactic to stop women being groped on public transport

Beautiful, well-trained women are bait. 120 pigs have already fallen.

In response to the new law against street harassment, some feared it could lead to complaints at any opportunity:

Yesterday on the bus a girl grazed her chest on my shoulder, looked at me and smiled. Should I report her for harassment?

Ridiculous…  you can go to jail for looking at a woman for too long, better to be a terrorist, then they’ll free you.

This refers to the release without charge this week of six linked to the political wing of the Shining Path terrorist group. Peru President Ollanta Humala criticised the judges’ decision, which released the lawyer of former Shining Path leader, Abimael Guzman.

This is good news. Peru’s cabinet agrees to make sexual harassment on the street a crime.

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Latin America Media Concentration on Rise, UNESCO Warns

Latin America’s media has become clustered in the hands of fewer owners, damaging freedom of expression despite key advances by governments in freedom of information laws, according to a United Nations study. 

A consolidation in media outlets defended political and economic interests, and was against the public good, warned the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development report.

UNESCO identified four countries in the Mercosur trade bloc (excluding Brazil) that had four daily newspapers with more than 60 percent of the market — a move that stifles pluralism and had anti-democratic implications.

“International standards certify that democratic principles in the world regulate the concentration of media ownership,” Guilherme Canela, head of Communication and Information for UNESCO in South America, told La Republica newspaper.

Mixed assessment

UNESCO viewed the region in mixed terms, writing Latin America “continued to comply with the basic conditions that guarantee freedom of expression and media freedom, although […] even where strong legislation has existed, implementation remained a challenge.”

The report formed a study of comparison with its previous edition in 2007.

It also stood out rising state harassment of journalists and drug-related deaths, as well as the observations on the digital revolution in the study report, presented in Lima last week.

In the last six years, six more countries have passed freedom of information laws – a “dominant trend towards greater transparency in the region”– bringing bringing the total to 18 in Latin America and the Caribbean, though application has been uneven.

Journalist violence

But it faced other setbacks with numbers of journalist deaths growing steadily, linked overwhelmingly to organized crime, corruption and drug trafficking.

Mexico passed a constitutional amendment in 2012 to afford greater rights to journalists, while in Colombia the lack of unresolved cases has fallen since 2008 after prosecutors began to reopen cases involving journalists.

However, UNESCO figures show just one in ten crimes committed against journalists result in prosecution.

“The number one issue for the CPJ is violence against journalists,” said Sara Rafksy, researcher for the Americas in the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists in response to the report.

The CPJ has documented the murder or disappearance of more than 50 journalists in Mexico since 2007, when the then-President Felipe Calderon started his offensive against drug cartels.

“Throughout the region, most of these crimes are never solved and the cycle of impunity means those would seek to silence journalists through violence need not fear punishment, and the press is even more at risk,” Rafsky added.

Amnesty International declared 400 threats or attacks on journalists in Latin America in 2010, UNESCO said.

A shortage of imported newsprint imposed by Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela and punitive criminal defamation cases against journalists by President Rafeal Correa in Ecuador have too pared freedom of expression, as mentioned in the report.

Argentina’s Kirchner government’s declaration of the production of newsprint in 2011 as in the public interest, in addition to its attempts at partial censorship of El Clarín were further unsettling events, UNESCO said.

Peru preoccupation 

In Peru, concerns about concentration in media ownership were accentuated when El Comercio media group bought a majority stake in the Epensa group this year.

It made it the country’s largest, capturing an almost four-fifths share of Peru’s print media market, expressed in advertising and overall sales.

Eight journalists unsuccessfully contested the move in the courts.

Nobel prize winner and prominent political figure, Mario Vargas Llosa described media concentration as a “potential threat against freedom of expression” and “could arrive at total imposition” at election time, in remarks to Canal N in January.

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Call to Oust Israeli Envoy in Peru

A senior government politician has said Israel’s ambassador should be “kicked out” of Peru, in response to comments made by the diplomat after it withdrew its envoy from Israel last week.

Congressman Daniel Abugattas (pictured) made the remarks after Israel’s ambassador, Modi Ephraim, said the politician of Palestinian descent’s presence in the Peruvian government was key in the recall of Jose Luis Salinas from Tel Aviv on July 29.

The episode further strains the two countries’ relations, after Peru and four Latin American states – Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and El Salvador – pulled top diplomats in protest this month at the escalating crisis in Gaza.

“I won’t allow Zionism to use my presence to brush aside the general indignation that the massacre in Gaza has caused,” Abugattas declared before Congress on Thursday.

Abugattas, a former president of Peru’s Congress, denied he had consulted with the President or Foreign minister, and said the comments were “offensive”.

Modi Ephraim said Peru "rewarded terrorism" (photo: Peru.21)
Modi Ephraim said Peru “rewarded terrorism” (photo: Peru.21)

Ephraim told Peru. 21 newspaper on Aug 1.: “It’s not the first time that we have heard very strong declarations against Israel by the nationalist congressman, Daniel Abugattas, who has not only applied pressure in these matters, but in commercial agreements.”

Ephraim also said Peru’s actions “rewarded terrorism” and added there were Peruvians that didn’t support the decision.

During an emotive intervention in Congress, Abugattas said: “This man should be kicked out of the country. Peru doesn’t have to tolerate the insolence of any rude character, in any way.”

In a statement to the Anadolu Agency, Peru’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs denied that Peru rewarded terrorism and declared the ambassador’s suggestions as “unacceptable”.

“On Friday 1st August the Asia and Middle East director of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs summoned the Israel ambassador to formally express to him our displeasure for the expressions he used,” a ministry spokesperson said.

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Latin America Growth Forecast Cut For 2014

Originally published by World Bulletin Aug. 6

A United Nations body revised Latin America’s 2014 growth downwards for the second time yesterday, as the region slows on tough external conditions and reduced consumption.

The region’s 20 countries will grow 2.2 percent this year, cutting by half the 4.5 percent figure forecast for 2014 last December, said the Chile-based Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

It outlined a difficult trade environment on slumped metal prices, falling domestic consumption, and weaker private investment as reasons for the downgrade, despite economic recovery in key trading partner, the United States.

Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina, the region’s leading three economies had their forecasts lowered, while Colombia and Bolivia were rare bright spots, set to expand more than 5 percent.

Brazil is expected to grow 1.4 percent, down from 2.6 percent predicted for 2014 last year and lower than the 1.8 percent its government predicts.

While Mexico is seen rebounding from being the region’s smallest grower last year with 1.1 percent growth, its 2.5 percent forecast for 2014 is 1 percent less than ECLAC predicted.

Sagging prices

Argentina was due to achieve 2.6 percent growth this year, but that was slashed to 0.2 percent after its peso devalued 21 percent this year and its outlook darkened on entering a “technical default” on its debt.

Colombia, the region’s fourth economy, will grow 5 percent, up from 4.7 percent, on boosted oil and coal exports, and is only bettered regionally by Panama and Bolivia with rates of 6.7 percent and 5.5 percent respectively.

Chile and Peru’s growth was downgraded as the world’s first and third copper producers are hit by sagging prices. Chile will expand 3 percent down from 4 percent in 2014, while Peru was revised downwards from 5.5 percent to 4.8 percent.

Venezuela is the only country to experience negative growth, seen contracting by 0.5 percent, revised from a 1 percent expansion in the respected commission’s estimates last December.

“It is important in all cases to increase investment and productivity to guarantee structural change with equality in the medium term,” said ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, Alicia Barcena, at the press conference in Santiago.

This should come through infrastructure projects and support for small business, and not through lowering workers’ salaries, Barcena added.

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First Lady’s Plans for 2016 Peru Presidency Denied

Peru’s First Lady, Nadine Heredia, will not run for president its cabinet chief has affirmed, amid renewed speculation she may circumvent rules that bar her from succeeding her husband.

Opposition lawmakers allege the ruling party has consulted lawyers to find ways for her to overturn the constitution, and say her candidacy poses a threat to democracy.

Heredia (pictured right) is considered a lone candidate in the fragmented Nationalist party to replace President Ollanta Humala in 2016, and may be its best shot at winning back-to-back elections – something three successive governments have failed to do.

“The law is extremely clear: Nadine will not put herself forward in 2016,” cabinet chief, Ana Jara told El Comercio newspaper on Sunday.

Growing influence

The telegenic mother-of-three, 38, denied harboring presidential ambitions last year, though analysts say her influence has grown after appointing allies to top Congress positions last month.

Government congressman, Omar Chehade, said there were no obstacles preventing Heredia from running, while opposition politician, Javier Bedoya, said the government consulted lawyers to explore a bid for Peru’s highest office.

“When a government has two different messages, the doubt still remains,” said Juan Carlos Eguren, a member of the opposition Alliance for Progress bloc.

The so-called “marital reelection” is a major point of discussion in the Peruvian press and circumventing rules would constitute an abuse of power by the Executive.

Heredia, 38
Heredia is a lone candidate in the divided ruling party to replace Humala  (cc)

Important project

Heredia remains consistently more popular than her former military officer husband, though the couple’s approval ratings have slid to 28 and 25 per cent respectively, according to an Ipsos Peru poll in July.

That’s down from 38 and 33 per cent on a year earlier.

Citigroup economist Jorge Pastrana said Heredia’s election was the Humala governent’s “most important political project” in a note to clients in June, as reported by Bloomberg.

Heredia’s selection of Ana Maria Solorzano as the government’s successful candidate for Congress president and the backing of Ana Jara as cabinet chief last month saw the splintering of the ruling party of which she has been president since December.

Six lawmakers resigned in protest and formed a new coalition, leaving the ruling with one more congressman than the largest opposition bloc.

“It has debilitated its strength in Congress,” said Henry Pease, a former president of Congress who is the head of the school of government and public policy at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru in Lima.

Former first ladies

Heredia has been often vocal in government policy, breaking protocol to oust the fourth cabinet chief of Humala’s government in March. But she is not the first Peruvian president’s spouse to make headlines.

Former President Alberto Fujimori’s ex-wife Susana Higuchi vied to run against him in the 1995 election before being disqualified for faking signatures supporting her candidacy.

Elsewhere on the continent, Cristina Fernandez succeeded her husband, Nestor Kirchner as president of Argentina in 2007, and Eva Peron ran political organisations during her husband Juan Peron’s government.

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