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Top Argentine labor group pickets over wages, challenging Macri

Workers represented by Argentina's main labor federation, the CGT, gathered in Buenos Aires on Tuesday to protest job cuts and pay raises that have not kept up with inflation, challenging the government seven months ahead of key congressional elections.

The one-day picket, which attracted tens of thousands of workers, was the first march by the CGT labor federation this year. It came amid a two-day teachers' strike that on Monday delayed the opening of school after the Southern Hemisphere summer holidays.

Mauricio Macri became Argentina's president in late 2015, vowing to jump-start the economy through fiscal reforms aimed at attracting sorely-needed investment. But the promised wave of foreign direct investment has instead resulted in a 50% plunge in same, as inflation doubled from 23% as of November 2015 to 45% a year later and budget deficits - despite austerity measures that have led to massive utility rate and fare hikes - jumped by 62%.

While now moderating, inflation remained at 38% as of January. The Central Bank hopes to cut that rate to 17%; private economists, however, project a rate of around 25%.

Employers meanwhile have been hard-pressed to raise pay packages in line with inflation while Macri's push to cut business costs has prompted layoffs in the public and private sectors totaling around 200,000 in 2016 alone. "The layoffs have continued and deepened since January," CGT spokesman Julio Piumato told Reuters. "There has been a big loss in wages. We hope the government changes its policies, which are creating poverty."

The discontent comes at a bad time for Macri, who needs his right-wing Cambiemos ('Let's Change') political coalition to do well in October's mid-term elections in order to keep pushing his economic reforms through Congress and position himself for re-election in 2019.

Teachers, some of whom joined Tuesday's CGT march, demand salary increases to make up for the purchasing power lost to inflation last year; the SUTEBA Buenos Aires Province teachers' union, the nation's largest, want a 35% pay hike for 2017. Governor María Eugenia Vidal, a close Macri ally, has offered them an 18% raise.

The dispute took a sinister turn on Saturday when SUTEBA leader Roberto Baradel received detailed death threats against his children, followed by the controversial decision by right-wing talk host Eduardo Feinmann to display photos of Baradel's daughter and two sons. Baradel called this a "mafia-like message."

At: http://www.nasdaq.com/article/top-argentine-labor-group-pickets-over-wages-challenging-macri-20170307-01163#ixzz4afv2y8on

Debate erupts in Uruguay after court ruling blocks woman's abortion at ex-boyfriend's request

Public debate in Uruguay centered around the divisive issue of abortion this week following a court ruling that blocked a woman from terminating her pregnancy after her former partner appealed to the courts to block the procedure.

According to local news reports, the unnamed 24-year-old woman was ordered last week not to carry out the procedure because the father, her former boyfriend, wants to keep the baby and raise it on his own. The mother, however, said this week that she is suffering from a medical condition that may prevent her from bringing the baby to term.

Uruguayan law gives her until the 12th week of pregnancy to obtain the procedure.

Judge Pura Concepción Book, of the western city of Mercedes, ruled that the abortion contravened rights under international child-protection treaties and the Uruguayan Constitution, as well as infringing on the rights of the father. Judge Book also concluded that the woman had not “respected” the terms of the 2012 law that legalized abortion.

The Legal Abortion in Uruguay group issued a statement calling the order “abhorrent” and arguing that such decisions should be made by the woman in question alone. The country’s Constitution, they pointed out, extends no protection to unborn children.

“I feel violated, insulted,” the woman told the Montevideo news daily El País. “It’s like nobody cares about your life, your decision, what happens to you, what you feel, your condition, and you have to see from the outside how other people, who only care to make a profit, make a decision about your life,” she added, noting that her relationship with the man requesting the injunction was casual and that “at no time” had they ever discussed becoming parents.

Her ex-boyfriend said that whatever the outcome of the case, he intends to take the case to the nation’s Constitutional Court to obtain a ruling on whether fathers have rights over an unborn child.

Uruguay is the only country in South America where abortion is legal. There were 9,362 registered abortions there in 2015, compared to around 48,000 live births.

Abortion was legalized by President José “Pepe” Mujica after it passed Congress by a razor-thin margin in 2012.

At: http://www.buenosairesherald.com/article/224866/abortion-debate-erupts-in-uruguay-after-controversial-court-ruling

New York gallery owner denied entry to US

Source: CNN

An Argentine art gallery owner based in New York will miss the opening of his institution's newest show because he was denied entry to the United States.

Juan García Mosqueda, founder and owner of Chamber Gallery in New York City, claimed in an open letter that he was detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport after returning from a visit to Argentina. García Mosqueda says he was held for 14 hours without access to legal counsel. He was allegedly ushered by armed officers onto a return flight to Buenos Aires later in the day.

"During the following fourteen excruciating hours, I was prohibited from the use of any means of communication and had no access to any of my belongings, which were ferociously examined without any warrant whatsoever," García Mosqueda wrote in his letter. "I was deprived of food. I was frisked three times in order to go to the bathroom, where I had no privacy and was under the constant surveillance of an officer."

In a statement, US Customs and Border Protection said that while they wouldn't comment on individual cases because of the Privacy Act, "CBP not only protects U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents but also ensures the safety of international travelers who come to our country to visit, study and conduct legitimate business."

Chamber, located in New York's art gallery-filled Chelsea neighborhood, is described as a "21st century cabinet of curiosities for one-of-a-kind, rare and limited edition objects of design and art." García Mosqueda, who was born in Argentina and educated in the United States, where he has lived for 10 years, opened the gallery in 2014.

Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/01/us/gallery-owner-detained-argentina-trnd/


Bad hombre: Chelsea art gallery owner Juan García Mosqueda[/center]

Argentina's Macri pledges transparency as prosecutors probe family ties

Speaking to a joint session of Argentina's Congress, President Mauricio Macri announced on Wednesday he would issue decrees aimed at cracking down on conflicts of interest in Argentina's politics, as prosecutors pushed to investigate more of his family's business ties.

"I want everything to be transparent and open, and for nobody to doubt the decisions this president makes," said Macri, son of one of Argentina's richest men, Francesco "Franco" Macri.

Federal prosecutors have brought cases against the president and his family over allegations of various conflicts of interest, putting political pressure on his right-wing "Let's Change" coalition before legislative elections in October.

Last month, Macri was criticized over a deal his government reached on a 15-year old debt the Argentine Postal Service incurred when it was owned by Macri's father between 1997 and 2003. Prosecutors claim the deal, which writes off up to 98% of a $270 million tax debt, improperly benefits his family.

Macri said at the time the deal had been handled legally; but apologized for a lack of transparency and revoked the agreement.

On Wednesday, a federal prosecutor asked a judge for permission to investigate Macri and other officials over allegations they favored Colombian airline Avianca in a plan to open more domestic air routes in Argentina. Avianca was given access to Argentina's domestic air traffic market two months after the Macri family conglomerate, SOCMA, sold a small charter airline, MacAir, to Avianca Holdings last April.

Members of Macri's administration and his family have also come under scrutiny over a bribery scandal involving Brazil's largest builder Odebrecht, which has admitted to paying nearly $800 million in bribes across Latin America.

Prosecutors announced in January they were investigating whether Macri's spy chief, Gustavo Arribas, received a $600,000 bribe from Odebrecht - a charge Arribas has denied despite proof Odebrecht wired the funds to his Swiss bank account.

Brazilian newspaper Estadào reported on Monday that Odebrecht e-mails from 2010 revealed that at least $20 million in bribes were arranged jointly with Argentine builder IECSA, owned by the president's cousin, in a scheme to win a contract for a rail project during the previous government.

The $3 billion Sarmiento rail tunnel project, awarded to a consortium led by Odebrecht and IECSA, was green-lighted by Macri last June.

At: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-argentina-politics-idUSKBN1685GS?il=0

Full Democratic response from former Gov. Steve Beshear

Bernie Sanders' response to President Trump's address to Congress

Lava Jato scandal: Odebrecht e-mails show $20 million in bribes involving key Macri rail project

The São Paulo-based news daily Estadão reported that the Brazilian bribery investigation known as Lava Jato (Car Wash) identified five e-mails in which $20 million in bribes were agreed upon between Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction giant at the heart of the scandal, and IECSA - the construction firm controlled by the family of Argentine President Mauricio Macri.

The e-mails, dating from 2010, were between Mauricio Couri Ribeiro, an Odebrecht executive in Argentina, and a IECSA representative, Javier Sánchez Caballero. Lourenço Ghella, of the Italian construction firm Ghella, is also mentioned.

Their exchanges detail a scheme to funnel some $20 million in bribes, in three tranches, to secure a lucrative rail tunnel contract in Argentina. Couri Ribeiro confirmed to Brazilian Federal Police that the terminology used in the e-mails - "DGI-Direct Contact" - referred specifically to bribes.

The controversial $3 billion project to convert the Sarmiento commuter rail line, which connects Buenos Aires to its western suburbs, into an underground line, was awarded in June to the IECSA-Odebrecht-Ghella consortium, and is the centerpiece of Macri's $7 billion federal public works program.

IECSA, Argentina's third largest public contractor, was founded and is owned by the Argentine president's father, Francesco Macri, and has since 2007 been led by the president's first cousin Ángelo Calcaterra.

Odebrecht CEO Marcelo Odebrecht was sentenced in March to a 19-year prison term for paying nearly $800 million in bribes in 12 countries since 2001 to secure contracts.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=es&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.politicargentina.com%2Fnotas%2F201702%2F19632-correos-de-odebrecht-involucran-al-primo-de-macri-en-la-corrupcion-de-la-empresa-brasilena.html&edit-text=

Pope Francis suggests its better to be an atheist than a hypocritical Catholic

Source: Washington Post

On a typically busy morning at the Vatican, Pope Francis spoke at least twice on Thursday in ways that recognized the values of other religious outlooks while he promoted the faithful practice of Catholicism.

The subject of Francis’s homily at the daily Mass was hypocrisy. He criticized the “scandal” of “saying one thing and doing another.”

“A totally double life: ‘I am very Catholic, I always go to Mass, I belong to this association and that one; but my life is not Christian, I don’t pay my workers a just wage, I exploit people, I am dirty in my business, I launder money …’ A double life. And so many Christians are like this, and these people scandalize others.”

He then quoted a sentiment that he said he has heard expressed repeatedly: “But to be a Catholic like that, it’s better to be an atheist.”

Francis has surprised Catholics before with his warmth toward atheists. He remarked soon after becoming pope that even atheists can go to heaven thanks to the redemption of Jesus. He granted an interview to an atheist journalist, and told the reporter that efforts to convert people to Christianity are “solemn nonsense” and each person “must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them.”

He has also been friendly toward Jews, particularly through his longtime friend, Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka. On Thursday, Skorka led a group of rabbis to the Vatican, where they gave Francis a new edition of the Torah.

Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/02/23/pope-francis-praises-the-torah-and-suggests-its-better-to-be-an-atheist-than-a-bad-catholic/?utm_term=.904bc8804d0e

Spanish parliamentarian Inigo Errejon denounces Prime Minister Rajoy for being "Trump's errand boy"

Speaking in Spain's national assembly, the Chamber of Deputies, Íñigo Errejón of the progressive Podemos caucus criticized Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy for subordinating the country's foreign policy to an "ideological affinity" for right-wing governments in Brazil and Argentina and for becoming "Trump's errand boy."

The remarks were made during a state visit by Argentine President Mauricio Macri, who, like Rajoy, enjoys the support of conservative Catholics and right-wingers generally; but whose austerity policies and authoritarian measures have reaped criticism both at home and abroad.

Errejón was especially critical of Rajoy's foreign policy.

"This administration doesn't view Latin America as the crucial geopolitical partner it is," Errejón said. "On the contrary: it's viewed as something to be kept in a drawer and pulled out during electoral campaigns - the use of Venezuela as a straw man when you have no real arguments, for example."

"Its foreign policy is part and parcel with its party's policy, which is to serve as Trump's errand boy."

Referring to Argentina, Errejón described its right-wing president as similar to Rajoy on a number of points:

"Macri's obviously like you when he enacts sharp utility rate hikes; or when his policies have resulted in over 200,000 layoffs in his first year alone; or whenever his name comes up in the Panama Papers - like some in this administration have."

"He's like you as well in that instead of fighting poverty he fights the poor, which is why Milagro Sala is still in jail."

Sala, an indigenous activist, was incarcerated without charges 13 months ago on orders from a governor closely allied with Macri; the UN, the OAS, Amnesty International, and others have for months called for her immediate release.

"Like yourselves, he rationalizes human rights atrocities during (Argentina's) last dictatorship," Errejón added, "just as you've done with the many victims of Franco's regime here at home - something you still refuse to prosecute."

Errejón nevertheless agreed with the importance of maintaining close ties with Argentina.

"We are not going to ask him (Rajoy) not to get along with Mr. Macri," he said; "but to the Argentine people, the majority of whom are suffering abuse and cutbacks, we say one thing: stay strong - we're coming back."

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=es&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.politicargentina.com%2Fnotas%2F201702%2F19536-nigo-errejon-macri-en-vez-de-combatir-la-pobreza-decidio-combatir-a-los-pobres.html&edit-text=


Íñigo Errejón[/center]

Colombia death toll rises as gangs fill vacuum left by FARC rebels

After a 64-year-old activist, Porofirio Jaramillo, was dragged from his home and murdered by four men on motorbikes, the head of the Colombian government’s victims unit did not mince his words. The country was facing a massacre in slow motion, he warned.

The attack on Jaramillo was the 17th murder of a community leader since Colombia signed a peace deal with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebels last December. The agreement won President Juan Manuel Santos a Nobel Peace Prize, for offering a country racked by half a century of war the prospect of security again. But for many activists, politicians and campaigners seeking to shape the new Colombia, peace has proved more dangerous than war, as they have been picked off by assassinations.

The killings grew more frequent even as the government and guerrillas lurched slowly towards a deal, with about 100 murdered last year as the final negotiations were hammered out.

“We are extremely worried about these acts, because the truth is that social leaders are being massacred,” said Alan Jara, who heads the Victims Unit seeking reparations for the eight million people caught up in the war.

Violence is spreading particularly fast in areas abandoned by guerrillas under the peace deal because the promised state security forces have not arrived. There is little clarity about who is behind the killings; but areas once held by guerrillas are often places where illegal mining or farming of coca – the raw ingredient for cocaine – make a tempting target for armed gangs or dissident rebels who refused to hand in their guns.

And the pace of the killings is feeding fears here that a government which battled long and hard for a peace deal is being dangerously lax about making paper plans a reality.

“They are leaving a power vacuum, even though this was anticipated. The government said they were going to move the armed forces into these zones and they haven’t. And the people in these areas are very concerned,” said Marc Chernick, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University in Washington.

At: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/19/colombia-farc-activist-killings
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