La Señal Informativa de América Latina <![CDATA[Uruguay Government Defends Legal Cannabis as Bankers Boycott Distributors]]> Mon, 21 Aug 2017 18:59:00 -0400 Uruguay's President Tabare Vazquez has reiterated his government's commitment to continue the legalized sale of recreational cannabis in pharmacies, despite protests by banks worried about running afoul of international regulations.

Mujica Battles Banks Over Legal Cannabis Sales in Uruguay

The country's ruling party, the Broad Front, has been dealing with controversy after popular former President Jose “Pepe” Mujica denounced the country's banking industry for refusing to work with pharmacies who legally sell cannabis. Vazquez has sought to quell the debate about the future of the law, ruling out any return to policies of prohibition.

"He's completely right to defend this law ... We will continue taking the necessary steps to ensure this law can be applied correctly, without damaging the country's economy or investments," said Vazquez, according to El Observador.

Banks have complained that any involvement in the country's cannabis industry would prevent them from carrying out transactions with their international counterparts due to regulations outlawing the acceptance of money tied to drugs, leading to the financial isolation of their clients.

"As a global bank with clients in various countries, we have to observe the various norms in force in those places," a source with Banco Santander of Spain said.

In response, pharmacies are warning that they may need to cease cannabis sales due to the banking restrictions.

"The truth is we did not know ... that this could happen," Economy Minister Danilo Astori was quoted as saying by La Republica newspaper. "A way will have to be found and we are looking for one."

California's Cannabis 'Sanctuary' Bill Could Blaze New Trails

The anti-prohibition law was introduced by Mujica and went into effect in 2013. The former president argued that legalization would stem violence and crime by undermining illegal drugs trafficking and organized crime while also promoting education on the substance, which would result in its responsible usage.

The law gave Uruguayans above the age of 18 three options for obtaining cannabis. Users could either grow the plant at home, form cannabis clubs or collectives to produce and distribute the bud among members, or directly purchase it from pharmacies.

Two state-directed private companies also produce cannabis, which is sold to customers limited to the purchase of 40 grams per month. Two varieties are available for customers in a smokeable form, who can buy five-gram packages at a rate of US$1.30 per gram. Cannabis-infused products commonly known as edibles, which are popular among medical users, are not widely available.

While reform advocates and social movements greeted the law as progressive and innovative, the law remains unpopular among most Uruguayans. Out of 3.4 million citizens, only 12,000 people are registered users.

"If this gets blocked, then the whole Parliament will be blocked," warned Mujica, now a senator, whose Broad Front party has a majority in the legislature.

Julio Calzada, an architect of the law, said the country must reach out to financial institutions in the U.S. states like Colorado and Washington, where recreational cannabis is legal, to find ways to circumvent the international legal restrictions.

"There are alternatives," Calzada said, "but not in Uruguay."

Similar issues have arisen in the U.S., where state laws regulating cannabis sales conflict with federal laws. In Uruguay, however, businesses are reliant on their banks due to laws requiring that all employees be paid by direct deposit.

<![CDATA[Trump OKs Sending 4,000 More Troops to Afghanistan: Fox News]]> Mon, 21 Aug 2017 18:52:00 -0400 President Donald Trump has signed off on sending 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan, Fox News reported on Monday, citing a senior U.S. official.

Concern Trump Will Continue Afghan War to Exploit Minerals

The report comes before Trump addresses the nation on his strategy for Afghanistan at 9:00 p.m. local time.

Trump has long been skeptical of how the United States is fighting the war in Afghanistan, which was launched by President George W. Bush in October 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Trump announced a strategic review soon after taking office in January and has privately questioned whether sending more troops is wise, U.S. officials said.

"We're not winning," he told advisers in a July meeting, questioning whether U.S. Army General John Nicholson, who leads U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, should be fired, an official said.

But Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has argued that a U.S. military presence is needed to protect against a continuing threat from Islamist militants.

Current U.S. troop numbers are about 8,400.

In April, the U.S. military dropped its biggest non-nuclear bomb in the Achin district of the Nangarhar province in Afghanistan.


<![CDATA[Temer Government Reveals Plan to Sell Off Part of Eletrobras]]> Mon, 21 Aug 2017 18:37:00 -0400 The Brazilian goverment is aiming to sell off part of its stake in Eletrobras, the hydroelectric power generation company that produces 40 percent of Brazil's electricity. The Ministry of Mines and Energy justified the plan by saying that "democratizing" the company on the stock exchange would make it "more competitive and agile."

Brazil Prepares $28B Privatization Plan as Social Cuts Continue

Critics immediately denounced the move as another part of the government's attempt to tackle its public spending deficit of almost US$50 billion by cutting social welfare and privatizing public assets. The leader of the opposition Workers' Party, or PT, in the senate, Lindbergh Farias, denounced the sale of Eletrobras as "a crime against the nation."

Eletrobras is the biggest electricity utility company in Latin America and the tenth biggest in the world. Through its subsidiaries it owns almost half of Brazil's generation capacity, most of it from hydrolectric power plants, and it controls 69 percent of the country's electricity distribution. The company was set up by the left leaning president, Joao Goulart, in 1962. The Brazilian state currently owns, directly and indirectly, just over 56 percent of its shares. The rest are traded on the Sao Paulo stock exchange, as well as on the New York and Madrid stock exchanges.

Brazil's Government Tries to Reduce Amazon Protection Zone

The Ministry of Energy has not said how much of the government's stake it wants to sell. It did say the sale would follow the pattern set in selling state shares in Brazil's leading aircraft manufacturer, Embraer, and the iron mining giant, Vale. It insisted the government would retain some shares and a power of veto over strategic decisions.

According to the ministry, the problems at Eletrobras result from 15 years of inefficiency, and "have cost society almost a quarter of a trillion dollars."

After winning a vote in Congress early this month to block corrruption charges against him, Brazil's president, Michel Temer, promised to accelerate his programme of reforms. These include reductions in labor and pension rights, cuts to anti-poverty programs, and the rolling back of land rights for Brazil's Indigenous and Afro-Brazilian communities.


<![CDATA[Maduro Marks 12th Anniversary of Medical Cooperation with Cuba ]]> Mon, 21 Aug 2017 18:21:00 -0400 Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro has commemorated the 12th anniversary of the Sandino Commitment, an agreement which led to the Cuban visual health care program, Miracle Mission.

Venezuelan-Cuban Mission Prevents Blindness for 13 Years

On Aug. 21, 2005, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez signed the historic Sandino Commitment, a plan which pledged to help vulnerable communities access to affordable eye care and surgery through the Miracle Mission program.

Since then, nearly 6 million people across Latin American have benefited from the program, leading to significant reduction in preventable blindness in the last decade.

In a Facebook post in tribute to the agreement, President Maduro wrote, "this agreement was aimed at proving visual health care to the Venezuelan people ... but it wasn't limited to our country, it is a plan of international cooperation that reached poor people across Latin America and the Caribbean."

"That's why the Bolivarian Revolution and the Cuban Revolution are the most important expressions of humanism and brotherhood in Latin America," the message ended.

Since it began, the program expanded to poor communities in at least 21 Latin American countries and 14 Caribbean countries.

Some of the most common eye ailments treated surgically under the program are pterygium, cataracts, glaucoma, and strabismus. Free corrective eyeglasses have also been provided as part of the program.

World Health Organization has also commended the program's efforts to make visual health care affordable for people suffering from blindness or corrective visual deficiency.

<![CDATA[Parlasur Rejects Intervention in Venezuela]]> Mon, 21 Aug 2017 18:10:00 -0400 The Parliament of the South American economic bloc Mercosur has issued a statement rejecting interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela.

American Council of Social Sciences Supports Venezuela

"We defend the inalienable right of the Venezuelan people to decide their own destiny. Any threat to the sovereignty of Venezuela or any other Latin American country is unacceptable," the statement read.

"Respect for sovereignty, the principle of self-determination and non-intervention of the countries of the bloc are fundamental values," it added. 

In the statement, the Parliament reiterated calls for a political solution to the crisis in Venezuela.

"Only the people of Venezuela, through dialogue and peaceful means, within their Constitution, can find a solution to their problems," the declaration continued.

The statement was approved at the XLIX ordinary session of the Mercosur Parliament in Montevideo, Uruguay.


<![CDATA[Cuba and Nicaragua Sign Sports Cooperation Deal]]> Mayor of Managua Fidel Moreno said Cuba's assistance in sports fills the country "with extraordinary pride."

Mon, 21 Aug 2017 15:57:00 -0400 Nicaraguan and Cuban sports authorities signed an agreement today to expand athletic cooperation. The aim is to produce quality athletes for the XI Central American Games, which will be hosted in Managua from Dec. 3 to 17.

Nicaragua to Inaugurate Sports Center Honoring Hugo Chavez

Gladys Becquer, vice president of the Cuban Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation stated," The main objective is to accompany Nicaragua in the organization of these games." Her statements came during a meeting with Nicaraguan sports authorities.

She went on to acknowledge all of the efforts made by the Central American nation to host the regional event for the first time and also assured that Cuba's involvement will be help "Nicaragua to shine and further enhance the achievements of the Sandinista Revolution in recent years.”

For his part, Mayor of Managua Fidel Moreno emphasized the importance of the agreement between the two countries.

"It's extraordinary pride for us to be able to organize an event of this magnitude and, logically, could not dismiss the unconditional support of the Cuban people and government," he said. In the same vein, Moreno indicated that a group of Cuban coaches is already training Nicaraguan athletes.

Nicaragua has invested more than US$75 million in high-level infrastructure to ensure the quality of the XI Central American Games. It's the first time Nicaragua will host the sporting event since it began in 1973.

Some 5,600 athletes, including coaches, referees and other athletic representatives from seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama will take part in the event.

<![CDATA[Chile Top Court Rules in Favor of Abortion in Certain Cases]]> The ruling ended what was a series of over two years of lawsuits and controversy, giving women's rights groups a sound victory.

Mon, 21 Aug 2017 15:49:00 -0400 After a long battle, women will have the right to abortion for therapeutic reasons as Chile’s Constitutional Court announced the approval of the bill, despite pressure from conservative right-wing forces.

Chile's Supreme Court to Rule on Abortion Bill Next Monday

In a vote of six to four, the court ruled in favor of the three cases in which abortion would be permitted: in the case of rape, if the mother's life is endangered, or if the fetus is malformed.

The ruling ended what was a series of over two years of lawsuits and controversy, giving women's rights groups a sound victory.

"The agreement of the Court ... adopted in a special session consisted in rejecting the constitutionality challenge of the three grounds for termination of pregnancy," said the body's secretary Rodrigo Pica.

"Today we women conquer new spaces of dignity, freedom, autonomy, and equality, because the total penalization of abortion and the stigma and unjust and inhumane sanctions that weighed on women seeking to terminate their pregnancy has been lifted," a statement from the Corporation for Secuela Reproductive Rights said.

"We are very pleased with this ruling ... this ruling takes Chile off of the list of the shameful group that still criminalizes abortion without exception," said Ana Piquer, executive director of Amnesty International, referring to the other 18 countries which prohibit any form of abortion.

Pro-choice groups faced off against anti-abortion forces outside of the court as the justices heard the case.

El Salvador Scraps ‘Patrimonial’ Teen Pregnancy Marriage Law

The abortion law is part of a package of social reforms led by President Michelle Bachelet, who had promised to decriminalize abortion when she took office for her second term in 2014, but has faced heavy pushback from the conservative opposition.

A ban on abortion was put in place during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, which lasted from 1973 until 1990.

<![CDATA[Venezuelan Foreign Minister: Colombia's Offer of Protection to Former Attorney General is Cynical]]> Mon, 21 Aug 2017 15:20:00 -0400 Venezuela's foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, has denounced the Colombian government for offering protection to Venezuela's suspended attorney general, Luisa Ortega Diaz. In a series of tweets, he said that the decision by the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, to offer asylum to Ortega and her husband if she requested it, amounted to a cynical protection of corruption and crime.

Former Venezuelan Attorney-General Ortega Diaz Is in Colombia

"Bogota has become the center of the conspiracy against democracy and peace in Venezuela," Arreaza wrote. He added, "What can be expected of the government that has welcomed the head of the 2002 coup" against Hugo Chavez? 

Ortega was temporarily removed from office by Venezuela's Supreme Court on August 5, while it investigates her over accusations of "grave breaches of the law."

Claiming that she was the victim of “political persecution,” Ortega fled Venezuela on Friday. She reportedly travelled by boat to Aruba and then took a private flight to Colombia, accompanied by her husband, German Ferrer, and at least one of her aides.

Following President Santos' confirmation that Ortega Diaz is currently “under the protection of the Colombian government,” the president of the Colombian Senate, Efrain Cepeda, also expressed support for any political asylum claim Ortega Diaz may present.

“I support asylum for prosecutor Luisa Ortega, her husband and close advisers. We shall reach out to the defenders of democracy," Cepeda tweeted. Cepeda said he was inviting the suspended attorney general to attend a session of the Colombian senate on Tuesday.

Last week, Venezuela's acting attorney general, Tarek William Saab, opened a parallel investigation into a alleged network of extorsion at the public prosecution service, which he said involved Ortega's husband, who is a ruling party member of parliament, and a number of prosecutors, as well as one of Ortega's top aides.

Why Does Venezuela Have a National Constituent Assembly?

Speaking to reporters during a news conference at the Public Ministry headquarters in Caracas, Saab said “We've authorized two district attorneys to investigate these grave crimes and they are working on the case immediately.”

Once viewed as a staunch supporter of the Bolivarian Revolution and former President Hugo Chavez, Ortega Diaz began to distance herself from the government earlier this year. She criticized the call for an ANC and unsuccessfully filed several petitions to have it blocked.

<![CDATA[Ecuador's Vice President Rejects New Corruption Case]]> Mon, 21 Aug 2017 14:53:00 -0400 Ecuadorean Vice President Jorge Glas has maintained his innocence after Ecuadorean Attorney General Carlos Baca Mancheno announced his office had sent a request to the National Court of Justice to hold a formal hearing against him.

Calls for Unity After Ecuador's Vice President Is Sidelined

"I have never allowed corruption, I have never been part of it," said Glas at a press conference. "They have not been able to find proof in two years and they won’t find any."

"The fight continues, this new chapter is just another opportunity to prove my innocence," he added.

In a brief press conference, Baca said the request was based on information gathered by the prosecutor's office for "the crime of unlawful association."

But according to El Comercio, Baca had stated last week in an interview that allegations connecting Glas to the Odebrecht case alone was not sufficient enough to link the official to the large-scale scandal which shook Latin America in 2016.

"Allegations are not evidence, it is only an indication, it is not proof. I'm not saying it's not useful. Yes, it is useful, but it is not the only element on which an accusation can be based," the prosecutor told the Ecuadorian newspaper.

Colombian Senator Jailed for Accepting Odebrecht Bribes

The hearing can only proceed with the approval of the National Assembly and if authorized, the court will move to schedule a date and time for the hearing.

Glas was previously accused by a fugitive former oil minister, Carlos Pareja Yanuzzelli, also known as Capaya, for his alleged involvement in the international corruption scandal involving Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction firm accused of offering bribes in exchange for government contracts.

Glas has denied the allegations, claiming they are part of a smear campaign orchestrated by the media and the opposition.

"The enormous media pressure has had an effect ... I have already been judged by the media," he said at the press conference.

Glas was stripped of his duties by a presidential decree that stopped short of firing him earlier this month.

In June, several companies were raided and five individuals were arrested, including Glas' uncle, as part of the ongoing investigation into the Odebrecht corruption scandal.

<![CDATA[Quebec Police Protect Far Right Group Against Anti-Fascists]]> Mon, 21 Aug 2017 13:06:00 -0400 Stunned anti-fascists protesters, having been hustled aside by police after authorities declared their protest to be illegal, looked on as far-right La Meute, or Wolf Pack, members emerged from a parking garage in Quebec City, Canada, and were allowed to march and freely spread their anti-immigrant message through the streets.

Hate Crimes Soar in Wake of Quebec City Terror Attack on Mosque

"We are demonstrating an islamophobic, racist group called La Meute, less than 7 months after the Quebec City massacre," said Jaggi Singh, one of the organizers of the counter-demonstration. "One of the principal groups that increased the climate of fear against the Muslims is attempting to demonstrate."

Police in riot gear pushed back counter-protesters who'd gathered to demonstrate against Le Meute's rally behind Quebec's National Assembly, with Singh being arrested according to reports. Authorities had furnished Le Meute with a permit to march, according to CTV News.

The right-wing group met in an underground parking garage for their march. But anti-fascist counter-demonstrators moved to block the entrances to keep the racists from taking the street, but police moved in to allow the group to march.

Le Meute, which recently allegedly suspended one of its members for his involvement in deadly protests in Charlottesville are fiercely against what they deem as being illegal immigration, according to CTV News.

Their sentiment coincides with a staunch Quebec nationalism that harbors decades of anti-Haitian immigration and, more recently, anti-Muslim sentiment. As recent as October 2016, Quebec's parliament renewed debate about imposing a burqa ban, which would have also denied public services to anyone wearing a face covering, according to the Guardian.

In late January 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year old Laval University student, stormed into the Islamic Cultural Center of Quebec City and opened fire on worshipers. Six people were killed and 19 others were injured.

Fascism is Undeniably American

Between Aug. 1 and 15, the Royal Canadian Mountain Police indicate that 3,800 asylum seekers were intercepted at the Quebec border.

Sylvain Brouillette, Le Meute's chief spokesperson, stated, “We think the RCMP should be upholding the law, not carrying the suitcases of illegal immigrants.”

The sudden upsurge in asylum seekers fleeing anti-immigration policies in the United States and arriving at Quebec's border has prompted what used to be Le Meute's mainly online presence to real-world demonstrations.

<![CDATA[Striking Teachers and Peruvian Government Close to Reaching Agreement]]> Mon, 21 Aug 2017 13:05:00 -0400 A group of Peruvian Congress members have informed the ministry of education that the pre-agreement to the resolution of the teacher’s strike is still being reviewed by the union and its base.

Peru's President Agrees to Talks After Teachers Continue Strike

Congressperson Cesar Villanueva from the Alliance for Progress said the teachers' union requested more time to complete their analyses of the pre-agreement reached by government officials and strike leaders.

The final signing which would end the teacher’s strike after a month of protests was scheduled for 5 p.m. Sunday, according to the Minister of Education Marilu Martens. However, per the wishes of the organizations and unions involved, the time was pushed back to 7:45 p.m., and then finally changed to Monday.

“At the request of the representatives of the teachers, in agreement with congressmen and Minedu, the meeting will be tomorrow (Monday, August 21) at 6 a.m.," confirmed the ministry via Twitter.

There is no word on the meeting or its results.

The congressional members reported that if no agreement is reached Monday, the resumption of classes would have to be postponed.

The pre-agreement outlined a salary increase for teachers to be introduced in November and December, allowing teachers to see the fruits of their labor prior to the year’s end.

Among the topics agreed upon is the increase in the minimum wage to 2,000 soles ($620) by the end of the year. This after teachers demanded an increase to 1,200 and 1,300 soles to reach 4,000 soles (US$1,233) by 2021.

Additionally, requirements regarding evaluations and benefits for the hiring and appointment of teachers would be determined by a point system as well as adherence to school principles.

<![CDATA[Spanish Police Shoot Suspected Barcelona Attacker]]> Mon, 21 Aug 2017 12:36:00 -0400 Spanish police have shot a man who local media identified as the suspect who drove a van into a Barcelona crowd last week, killing 13 people.

‘Not in Our Name!’: Barcelona Muslims Denounce Attacks

Police did not immediately give the man's identity, saying only that he had appeared to be wearing an explosive belt in the "incident" in Subirats, a town near Barcelona. They said only that a bomb squad was using a robot to approach the man's body.

"The suspect wore what appeared to be an explosive belt. He has been shot down," police said in an official tweet that did not make it unequivocally clear that he had been killed.

Local media said the man was spotted by a woman in the early afternoon and then fled through vineyards but police managed to find and shoot him on a road near a sewage treatment plant.

Police had asked the rest of Europe to join the manhunt for the man, saying he fled Las Ramblas on foot amid the chaos of the attack then hijacked a car, stabbing the driver to death, before crashing through a police checkpoint.

Some Spanish media, citing investigative sources, said the man was Younes Abouyaaqoub, who had been the only one of 12 accomplices still at large.

Four people have been arrested so far in connection with the attacks. They will be taken to the high court in Madrid, which has jurisdiction over terrorism matters.

Barcelona Riot Police Break up Far-Right Protest

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Barcelona attack as well as a separate deadly assault hours later in the coastal resort town of Cambrils, south of Barcelona.

In Cambrils, a car crashed into passersby and its occupants got out and tried to stab people. Five suspects were shot dead by police, while a Spanish woman died in the attack.

In the roughly seven hours of violence that followed the van's entry into the pedestrian boulevard of Las Ramblas Thursday, attackers killed 15 people: 13 in Las Ramblas, the Cambrils victim and the man in the hijacked car.

Of the 120 injured on Las Ramblas, nine remain in a critical condition in hospital.

<![CDATA[Venezuela's Maduro Set to Announce Actions Against Speculation]]> Mon, 21 Aug 2017 12:05:00 -0400 Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Sunday that in the coming days actions will be announced to combat speculation in the country, in order to "respect the maximum price of products."

Future of Venezuela Rests in the Hands of the People: Maduro

The president spoke with reporter Jose Vicente Rangel Sunday during a broadcast of "Jose Vicente Hoy" on Televen, explaining that he is working with a special committee within the National Constituent Assembly to address the inflation rate affected by the fluctuating exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and Venezuela’s bolivar.

"When I take actions of this type I do not tremble because I do not depend on anyone, only the people. We have to beat the criminal dollar and I ask for the support of all of Venezuela," he said adding that the ANC plans to announce a maximum price for products.

Maduro stressed that the actions are sure to shake society. The president went on to explain that for a nation, understanding inflation is not only the most important but also the most difficult.

“It does not depend on factors of the real economy, but is an induced criminal inflation that has shot through an illegal dollar, whose fixing depends on a political decision of groups conspiring from Miami and adopted by unscrupulous traders," he said.

According to the president, the destabilization of Venezuela’s economy during his tenure has been a three-part process: the breakdown of the oil rentier model, the international financial war and finally the internal economic war.

Latin American Council of Social Sciences Supports Venezuela

Despite the limitations, Maduro stressed that Venezuela has continued with social investment plans and honored all its external commitments.

The president stated that he still maintains a firm belief that the country will turn itself around and gain financial stability once more.

“I ask all sectors to help (defend) the law and to review product by product,” he said adding that in order for the new legislation to be successful, it will need the support of the people to ensure that it is observed.

Maduro concluded that it was Venezuelans — working in community, driven by love and loyalty to their homeland — which would turn the country around.

<![CDATA[Barbados Union Ready to Boycott Union-Busting Companies]]> Mon, 21 Aug 2017 11:06:00 -0400 Union-busting companies in Barbados have been put on notice by the Barbados Workers' Union. Toni Moore, BWU's general secretary has vowed that not only will such businesses be named and shamed, but union members will be encouraged to boycott the company's services and products, according to CaribFlame.

Caribbean Region to Work Together on Sustainable Tourism

“Believe it or not we still have to be dealing with the age-old challenge of some companies refusing the union recognition, refusing any attempt by the union to speak on behalf of people who are registered members of this union, refusing any attempts by the Ministry of Labor to conciliate,” said Moore.

Speaking at a press conference introducing the union's 76th annual delegates conference, she also noted that “it is our intention to expose these challenges to our conference and to take decisions up to, and including, a national promotion for a boycott of our members from purchasing from that company.”

Moore stressed that nobody should expect BWU to have knowledge of any company that implements practices detrimental to workers' rights and “not expose it to the public.”

She added that “while people will want to suggest that the militants of the union and certain approaches of the union are no longer necessary, we recognize that we cannot behave in the same old way to all situations.

St. Lucia Introduces Graphic Warnings on Cigarette Labels

"But if people are bringing old tactics and schemes in our labor market interaction then we must be able to confront these in the way that we have always confronted them,” she concluded.

Three weeks ago a company called the police after a union representative called into question corporate policies that contradicted union negotiated agreements Moore revealed.

In the past decade, BWU has engaged in contentious labor disputes with companies such as Sandy Lane and Royal Shop.

<![CDATA[US-South Korea Military Drills Begin]]> Mon, 21 Aug 2017 10:06:00 -0400 The United States and South Korea have begun the first of their joint military drills on the Korea Peninsula in bi-annual exercises the Democratic People's Republic of Korea condemned as adding fuel to the fire, viewing the move as preparation for war.

US, South Korea Gear Up for War Games, Threatening Pyongyang

Around 17,500 U.S. troops and 50,000 South Korean soldiers will participate in the exercises, an increase over the last exercises. The military event, known as Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, involves land, sea, and air exercises as well as computer simulations and will continue until Aug. 31.

Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command Harry Harris and Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command John Hyten are both in South Korea, the first time such high-level military leaders are on the peninsula during the exercises.

DPRK media outlet Korean Central News Agency warned in a brief statement that the exercises would "further drive the situation on the Korean Peninsula into a catastrophe."

Both China and Russia have tried to stop the U.S. and South Korea from proceeding with the military exercises, but to no avail.

North Korean Ambassador says Self-Defense is Non-Negotiable

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, "We think that South Korea and the United States holding joint drills is not beneficial to easing current tensions or efforts by all sides to promote talks."

A few weeks ago, U.S. President Donald Trump warned that the DPRK would face "fire and fury" if it threatened the United States.

Since they began, the exercises have always been a source of tension between the two sister nations. Despite this, South Korean President Moon Jae-in told cabinet ministers, "There is no intent at all to heighten military tension on the Korean peninsula as these drills are held annually and are of a defensive nature."

<![CDATA['Unacceptable' for Trump to Threaten Venezuela Says Lula]]> Mon, 21 Aug 2017 10:03:00 -0400 Still on the first leg of his “Caravan of Hope” tour, which will take him through nine Brazilian states in the northeast of the country, Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has denounced military threats made by U.S. President Donald Trump against Venezuela.

'Brazil Needs Credible Government': Lula on Presidential Tour

In defense of Venezuela's sovereignty and the right of its people to determine their country's fate, Lula stated, "It's unacceptable that Donald Trump makes military threats on Venezuela or any country, anywhere in the world," according to Brasil de Fato.

He added that if the country finds itself amid an "institutional crisis, they should seek to overcome it through dialogue and political negotiation, always respecting the officials who were elected by popular vote, within democratic rules, as was the case of President Hugo Chavez and President Nicolas Maduro."

Lula recalled similar incidents in Venezuela in 2003, during his first term as president of Brazil. To help resolve the crisis, Lula proposed the formation of a group of countries that held the best interest of Venezuela's sovereignty to help negotiate a peaceful solution.

However, the former head of state admitted that, as of today, Brazil is in no moral position to offer any such assistance to Venezuela's internal affairs.

"How ridiculous it is for an illegitimate coup government, enemy of its own people, to want to school Venezuela on the terms of democracy,” Lula said, referring the unelected government of Michel Temer.

He said that only when Brazil itself, with democratic participation from all sectors of society, elects a president will it be able to collaborate with countries such as Venezuela to help restore peace and stability.

Future of Venezuela Rests in the Hands of the People: Maduro

Meanwhile, Temer has met with Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes and both men have reaffirmed that they do not recognize the ANC in Venezuela, which was elected by over eight million Venezuelans on July 30 as a means to achieving peace in the country and intensifying citizen participation.

In a joint communique issued after their meeting, Temer and Cartes also reiterated their support for both the decision of the Mercosur trade bloc to suspend Venezuela and the so-called "Lima Declaration" that twelve regional countries signed on Aug. 8, condemning what they called "the rupture of the Venezuelan democratic order." These are the same right-wing countries that, led by the United States, were unable to have Venezuela censured in the Organization of American States.

According to Folha de Sao Paulo, Temer's administration was considering sanctions on the import of Venezuelan oil derivatives of over US$220 million, which constituted more than half of Brazilian imports from Venezuela in 2016. However, the idea has been scrapped due to worries of the adverse effects it will have on the population.

<![CDATA[Pro-Brexit Economists: Exit Could Boost Economy by £135 Billion]]> Mon, 21 Aug 2017 07:46:00 -0400 The United Kingdom is pressuring the European Union (EU) to shift the focus of Brexit negotiations to future partnerships.

Brexit: UK, EU Fail to Agree on Major Disputes

On Sunday, pro-Brexit economists estimated that leaving the EU single market could boost the economy by £135 billion ($173 billion) and lower prices by opening up global free trade.

The group, Economists for Free Trade, estimates comes ahead of International Trade Secretary Liam Fox heads to Panama and Colombia.

The Times reported that pro-Brexit Fox has written to cabinet members suggesting that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland not be given veto powers on future post-Brexit trade deals.

The Scottish National Party retorted that his recommendation would mark a “dangerous precedent,” giving the central government absolute power to overrule decisions by the semi-autonomous Scottish and Welsh governments to, for example, ban genetically modified foods.

Salmon, whiskey set export record for Britain

The UK has experienced a trade boost, according to the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which reports that Britain hit record numbers in export during the first half of 2017 increasing by 8.5 percent for the same period in 2016.

A spokesman for the FDF said, "While the fall in the price of the pound had helped to boost UK export competitiveness, this currency weakness has also led to an increase in the cost of many essential imported ingredients and raw materials."

"This has resulted in the UK's food and drink trade deficit increasing by 16 percent to $16 billion during the review period," he added.

Whiskey, salmon and beer were the three top products, while the major countries were South Korea (+77 percent), China (+35 percent) and Belgium (+39 percent).Exports to the other 27 EU member states grew at a faster rate than to non-EU markets.

Theresa May: Freedom of Movement Will Change Post-Brexit​​​​​​​

Ian Wright, FDF director general, said, "We want to work with the government to take advantage of increased demand for UK products overseas and the opportunities that leaving the EU is expected to create."

The study identified China, India and the United Arab Emirates as being potential target markets for food and drink companies.

British Food Minister George Eustice said, "We have ambitious plans to produce and export more of our fabulous foods around the world and more businesses are trying exporting for the first time."

<![CDATA[Nestle Sued for Bottling 'Fake' Spring Water]]> Mon, 21 Aug 2017 06:52:00 -0400 A lawsuit accuses Nestle's Poland Spring Water unit of deceiving American consumers into paying premium prices for ordinary ground water.

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The water, the suit says, is allegedly pumped from some of Maine’s most populated areas and not from natural springs as the company advertises.

The complaint also claims that Nestle Waters North America has bottled well-water – which, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules, can not be defined as spring water.

Poland Springs, on the other hand, says its bottled water is “100 percent natural spring water” from a source deep in Maine’s woods. But, research proved that none of Poland Spring Water’s eight sites had a genuine spring.

“One or more” of the company’s largest volume groundwater collection sites – which the suit says supplies up to 99 percent of the company's products – is near a current or former refuse pit, landfill or petroleum dump site.

“To consumers, ‘spring water’ from a naturally occurring spring signifies purity and high quality and commands a premium price compared to defendant’s non-spring drinking water products or filtered tap water,” according to the class-action suit filed on behalf of consumers.

“To illicitly capture that premium, defendant, since it began selling the Poland Spring brand in 1993, has bottled common groundwater and illegally mislabeled it as ‘100 percent Natural Spring Water.’”

Poland Spring water products have not been reported as being contaminated because the company disinfects and in some cases purifies the groundwater it collects, however, the suit maintains that their claims are misleading because the water comes from wells in low-lying populated areas near potential points of contamination.

Nestle Waters released the following statement in response to the suit:

“The claims made in the lawsuit are without merit and an obvious attempt to manipulate the legal system for personal gain,” according to a statement the company issued Saturday. “Poland Spring is 100% spring water. It meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations defining spring water, all state regulations governing spring classification for standards of identity, as well as all federal and state regulations governing spring water collection, good manufacturing practices, product quality and labeling. We remain highly confident in our legal position.”

The lawsuit is claiming for breach of contract and fraud as well as unspecified damages for violations of New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts state laws.

<![CDATA[74 Percent of Trump's Defense Positions Remain Unfilled]]> Mon, 21 Aug 2017 05:57:00 -0400 The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed 65 of U.S. President Donald Trump's Defense Department nominees, including former Textron CEO Ellen Lord to be undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics and investment banker Richard Spencer to be Navy secretary, Defense News reported on Sunday.

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But, the administration has come under fire for dragging its feet regarding appointing staff to key federal government positions, specifically the Defense Department in which 74 percent remain unfilled.

The spots include army secretary, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and undersecretary of defense for policy still require Senate confirmation before they can be filled.

Former Senate Armed Services Committee Staff Director and former Marine Corps General Arnold Punaro defended the administration and blamed confirmation delays on Senate Democrats.

"These are national security nominees, and you're talking about the most dangerous time here, worse than the Cold War," Punaro expressed. "These people don't deserve to be dying on the vine on the Senate calendar."

Several defense companies expressed that the delay has negatively impacted their businesses.

General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic explained that the company's second-quarter earnings have been impacted. "Without these appointments, it is difficult to process contracts and get authorized and appropriated funds obligated to contracts," Novakovic told Defense News. "At this juncture, both are proceeding more slowly than we thought would happen. Nevertheless, we remain confident in the direction of defense spending," she added.

Chief Executive of Leidos Holdings Inc. Roger Krone and Defense Consultant Loren Thompson also expressed their concerns. "The still-high number of unfilled leadership appointments and the approaching government physical year-end continue to serve as headwinds," he said. "Most of the top jobs at the Pentagon have taken way too long to fill in the new administration, and the military will need to play catch-up for the next two years," Thompson told CNBC.

At least one important role at the Pentagon was filled last month when Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan was confirmed, by the Senate, as deputy defense secretary.

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A recent Vanity Fair article reported that the U.S. State Department is also understaffed, with many key ambassadorial and undersecretary posts still empty. The Scientific American pointed out that top science advisor posts were also vacant.

Additionally, four Pentagon nominees – David Joel Trachtenberg for principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, Charles Stimson for Navy general counsel, Owen West for assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, and John H. Gibson II for the Defense Department's deputy chief management officer – were omitted from the pre-recess confirmation vote before Congress went on summer vacation.

<![CDATA[Rwanda Seeks to Grow Links as China Looks to Curb Spending]]> Mon, 21 Aug 2017 05:11:00 -0400 On Sunday, Rwanda President Paul Kagame said his country is open to deepening friendly cooperation with China.

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Kagame made the remarks during an exchange with a special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Liu Xiaofeng, in the capital. The envoy was in attendance at the Rwandan head of state's inauguration ceremony, where he was being sworn in for a third term on Friday.

Kagame expressed a desire to fortify bonds “in all areas” as well as push for greater bilateral relations between the two countries.

He pointed out that “China and Rwanda enjoy a long history of friendship and fruitful cooperation in various fields” and added that “China has been offering support to Rwanda and other African nations for a long time and is a sincere partner for Africa's development.”

Liu, who is also the vice chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, explained that since the establishment of diplomatic relations 46 years ago, bilateral relations between the two countries have been developing steadily and healthily.

“China is ready to join hands with Rwanda to further enhance political mutual trust, expand economic and trade cooperation, consolidate friendship of the two peoples,” said Liu. “China is also willing to turn friendship between the two countries into real results that benefit the two peoples and realize mutual benefits and mutual development,” he said.

China moves to curb overseas acquisitions

But, contrastingly, the Chinese government is also making moves to decrease certain foreign investments by local firms. The Asian superpower is looking to plug these expenditures, which has – in the past – included areas such as hotels, cinemas, the entertainment industry, real estate and sports clubs.

Excessive global purchases involving Chinese firms and business tycoons include acquiring stakes in Legendary Entertainment – producer of Jurassic World and Warcraft films, London's famous Cheesegrater building, and English football clubs Southhampton and Aston Villa.

The Chinese government had previously flagged hotels as an area of concern, reportedly asked the insurance group Anbang to sell the swanky Waldorf Astoria in New York.

Earlier this year, the Wanda Group caved to pressure when it halted the purchase of Dick Clark Productions for $1bn (£780m).

The state council, on Friday, announced the impending restrictions, stating “There are great opportunities for our nation’s companies to embark on foreign investment, but they also face numerous risks and challenges.”

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The document also stated that, through guidance, the government hopes to promote the “rational, orderly and healthy development of foreign investment while effectively guarding against risks.”

Outright bans on financing enterprises related to gambling and the sex industry are being reviewed.

The document encourages companies to invest in projects related to the Belt and Road project, President Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy initiative – which aims to link China with other parts of Asia and eastern Europe through multibillion-dollar investments in ports, highways, railways, power plants and other infrastructure.

This week, in a strongly worded release, the International Monetary Fund described China’s credit-fuelled economic strategy as dangerous, warning that the country’s approach could lead to severe financial fallout.