Is it possible that there was a drug free Colombia?

On Thursday the seventeenth round of talks will be held with the FARC, which has as main objective to get a “no cocaine Colombia”. The chief negotiator of the Colombian government in Cuba, Humberto de la Calle, quotes the following sentence “We want a field without coke. We want our farmers to leave behind  these crops because the only thing left in these regions is violence, poverty and marginalization. We also want to put on the table the topic of processing and marketing  drugs, because is the fuel that creates conflict and crime in our country”.


Humberto de la Calle

The Government’s aim is definitely to end marijuana plantations and laboratories  specialized in the creation of illegal substances such as cocaine. Colombia is one of the major operators and exporters of these substances to the outside, and besides, this business has an important role in the economy of inside the country. The main areas where it is grown and created this kind of substances is within the country where the crime rate is higher and illiteracy is something normal for the population. According to what De la Calle says, thinking of a country at peace without conflict leads people to attack the issue of drugs and illicit fields. “There would be no end of this real conflict without attacking  this phenomenon,” and added that “we want to find new ways to strengthen public health programs and drug production and consume.” One of the members of the delegation of the goverment, Maria Paulina Riveros, also expressed her dissatisfaction with this situation and this vicious circle that will not allow the country to progress and says that all it does is to sink more and more the public image of Colombia. “We want to get deep and improve programs of crop substitution in accordance with what has been agreed at the point of comprehensive agricultural development. (…) We wouldnt  make the whole task of comprehensive agricultural development without a solution to the problem of illicit drugs, ” she said.


Campo de marihuana en Colombia


Cocaína incautada en Colombia

Achieving an agreement will be important not only for the country itself, as it ensures the government, but will also be extremely important in the international area. The government ensures that they are going to the meeting with good intentions and that they are  willing to sit down and to talk about it until they get a solution that benefits the country and the people. The main goal, aside from ending the trafficking of illegal substances and illegal plantations, is to end the conflict and violence that constantly generates this market. Of course, this would be a step for the authorities to end with the terrorism of the FARC in the territory.  The government delegation will be in the city of  Barranquilla this afternoon before traveling to Havana to meet with  some important employers and to plan their stategy.

Venezuelan President proposes new measures to stop inflation

Venezuela’s President, Nicolás Maduro. Photo by Xinhua News Agency.

The president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, tries to legally end and eradicate inflation in the country. This aims to ban and even use judicial force to end the massive price increase experienced by the Venezuelan market. The president even encourages people and opts for a popular revolt and looting establishments that, in a country with a strong social crisis and a very weak economic program, raise prices of food and basic resources offered in their stores. These establishments are facing 30 years in prison for this massive price increase, even if the origin of this surprising inflation does not come from here.

The causes are varied and its origin dates back from the political and economic agenda of the deceased former president Hugo Chavez. One of the many reasons is that the government has given business to people and workers that, instead of producing, they appropriate the benefits achieved and the Capital allegedly invested. But the main cause is an economic model that has failed due to the insistent control by the President of the economy and public life in Venezuela.

The new plan of the government  to deal with this situation is similar to the adopted  in 2007 by the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, who tried to decree down inflation when prices took 15 hours to double in that southern African nation. 48 hours after the Central Bank of Venezuela reported that in the month of October, prices increased by 5% over the previous month (total inflation in the year: +54%) the trustee decided to take action.

Inflation rates in Venezuela since 2000.

Inflation rates in Venezuela since February 2013. By Trading Economics.

What is the solution proposed by the government? The president says he “wants to protect the people of bourgeois parasites, profiteers and looters” and accuses them of raising prices without justification, as well as a try to harm the country and his government.

Maduro called special legislative powers to Congress, in order to create laws that determine “minimum and maximum margins of profit” on all goods and domestic services. The state will take the contol of all prices of both goods and services and will aim to reduce these prices. Maduro says that this hard “price control campaign” will be extended to all types of establishments, such as the textile, automotive and food sector. For now the government has sent both inspectors  soldiers to many chains and stores to control speculative prices. The people’s reaction has been mixed, both for and against. Since the announcement of the discount of appliance stores, thousands of people have rebelled trying to take advantage of these discounts, which has risen this inflation. In cities like Valencia there were detected lynchings, looting of shops and clashes between citizens. The opposition accuses Maduro of forming chaos instead of defending the poor and denounced that economic problems are due to excessive state control, the persecution of the private sector, corruption and the failure of domestic firms. The general perception is that neither mature nor the opposition leader, Enrique Capriles, are favored by this situation.


Hong Kong Protesters Demanding Transparency

Last week, China’s government promised to improve information transparency within the nation.  This would have meant that accurate information would be more easily accessible to the people of China in a timelier manner.  According to an article posted by Xinhuanet (the online official news agency of China), the office of the Premier of China recommended that all governments at all levels throughout the nation “adopt various new media channels to release information and interact with the public.”

Prompted by The State Council’s recommendation, a startup news operator in Hong Kong, Hong Kong Television Network (HKTV), put in a bid for a free-to-air license.  However, Hong Kong’s government declined the bid from HKTV and, according to South China Morning Post, approved two bids from PCCW and I-Cable.  This decision to grant free-to-air programming licenses to two agencies controlled by billionaires over a startup agency, “reflects concerns that Hong Kong’s policies favor big business, lack accountability and may undermine freedom of speech in the semi-autonomous Chinese city” (Bloomberg).

The government and their affiliated news source, Xinhuanet, have declined to release a statement to detail the reasoning behind their decision on denying HKTV’s free-to-air license.  However, according to Channel News Asia, “authorities had on Saturday reiterated that ‘political considerations’ played no part in their decision to deny HKTV a broadcast licence, pointing out that the decision-making process was ‘fair and followed proper procedure.'”


Protesters in Hong Kong carrying banners and chanting. Photographer: Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images (Bloomberg)

In response to the decision made by Hong Kong’s government, many citizens have become outraged, resulting in a mass protest with reports of 20,000 to 120,000 participants, although no official count was taken (BBC, SCMP, Channel News Asia).  This protest is an expression of the people of Hong Kong’s distrust and frustration with their government.  According to the chairman of HKTV, Ricky Wong Wai-Kay, people wanted HKTV to obtain the free-to-air license to give viewers more choice, but that the protest was not sparked by this, but instead by “whether the authorities respected people’s needs and whether Hong Kong was still governed by the rule of law” (SCMP).  He also stated that he believes the decision was “unreasonable, unfair and lacks transparency” (Bloomberg Businessweek).

1.  Video:  Live Coverage            2. Video: Thousands Protest HKTV License Refusal (Bloomberg TV)

Employees and supporters of HKTV seen outside the government offices in Admiralty for the second day. Photo: Dickson Lee (SCMP)

Employees and supporters of HKTV seen outside the government offices in Admiralty for the second day. Photo: Dickson Lee (SCMP)

In addition to the tens of thousands of protesters responding to the decision of Hong Kong’s government to deny HKTV a free-to-air programming license,  Hong Kong Television Network has formally announced that they plan to seek judicial review of this decision (TheStandard Hong Kong).  According to Jayne Stars Hong Kong, Chairman Ricky Wong stated that the Hong Kong Broadcasting Authority had originally suggested that three new free-to-air programming licenses would be granted, and he “claimed that the government had violated procedural justice, as HKTV was rejected although it was not the weakest applicant” (Jayne Stars).  Protests and demonstrations, including personnel of HKTV camping out in front of the government building, are believed to continue as well as additional demonstrations believed to begin until an explanation is given, or a recant of the decision is announced (Jayne Stars).

Public opinion on the negotiations between Colombian government and FARC

After many years of fights and violence, the negotiations between the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) finally started. The peace discussions, taking place in La Havana, Cuba, started the 18th of October 2012. This is the fourth attempt to conclude peace since the early 1960s.

The FARC is a Marxist-Leninist movement, born 50 years ago with the goal to change Colombia. The rebels considered Colombia as a very unfair country: in fact, there were a lot of inequalities between the different classes. The FARC started to act in a peaceful way, but soon they turned into a terrorist movement: murders, kidnappings, bomb attacks etc. All the country was suffering because of these fights, and too many innocent people were killed (police, lawyers, senators, journalists). The most important action of the FARC is “intercambio humanitario”: this means that many kidnappings were made to guarantee the liberation of members of the FARC, earlier captured by the government. The government denies negotiating with terrorists; many people are still in custody after 10 years.

At the beginning, the public opinion was enthusiastic about the idea of the end of violence. People thought that this could help the economy and the international image of the country. They also hoped that justice could be improved to guarantee citizens’ life. They talk about the possibility of social cohesion and about a progressive equality between classes. The government ensured that the past mistakes would not be repeated again.

Recently, the BBC realized a new interview to the Colombians, and their opinion radically changed. In fact, the two parts reached a partial agreement, solving just a point out of five.

The population is skeptical about this “fake peace”, because the FARC continues to realize armed attacks and to kill people. So far it sees no results.

The main problem is that the two parts can’t reach a final agreement and the discussion is still in progress. This is why the FARC realized other attacks. For example, on July 2013 the FARC organized an attack against the police station of El Charco, putting a bomb in a dog. Fortunately, there were no deaths but just two wounded. Another attack was made the 15th of October with a car bomb: 9 people were hurt.


Graphic based on information obtained from El País

With these recent facts, people lost hope in this peaceful treaty and think that it will all finish in nothing. Moreover, the President was supposed to continue Uribe’s politic towards the FARC, but with time his actions shows that he seems incompetent to fight the rebels’ power. He even admits that the peace process will not be accomplished by November 2013.

The measures that the government is taking to deal with the FARC are not getting any result. It should look for other ways to reach peace before this will all end in another armed solution.

Interview with Mahnaz Hamesh, an Iranian woman who lives in Abu Dhabi, on her experience living in another country and how this has changed her.

Isabel Esteban:  How was it living in Iran?


Mahnaz Hamesh:

I had a lot of fun as well as difficult times. I enjoyed my childhood and teen age as well as college years more or less like any other person on the other side of the world. But the war (Iran/Iraq) and the sanctions had made our lives difficult at some point. Besides, the current regime has made some rules and regulations, which to my opinion are not fair. Dealing with those obstacles is sometimes hectic.


Isabel Esteban:  As a woman in Iran, was it difficult to go to college and to be taken seriously in your area of study?


Mahnaz Hamesh:

Not at all! Iran is very open about women education and career. We have the same number of female students as male. Iranians are not like some Arab countries in which women they don’t have some basic rights!


Isabel Esteban:  Why did you want to go to Abu Dhabi?


Mahnaz Hamesh:

I would love to experience the life away from my country. Besides there are so many social and political corruptions going on in Iran, would not allow me to live the life I want.


Isabel Esteban: How different is Iran and Abu Dhabi?


Mahnaz Hamesh:

UAE is a very small, usually warm and humid country, with less population. Iran is a big country, with very different climates and is very populated. Tehran (the capital, where I used to live) is a big city full of life and of course traffic and pollution is the side effect of it. Abu Dhabi is a small city, much calmer.


Isabel Esteban: Since you left Iran, in your point of view, has it changed in any way the roll of women in society?


Mahnaz Hamesh:

I think women are getting to know better how to ask for their rights all over the world these days and my country is not an exception. In terms of career, they have always been allowed to work outside of the house, obviously with the difficult economic situation more women tend to work outside the house these days to help the family.


Isabel Esteban: If you had a chance to live in Iran would you go?


Mahnaz Hamesh:




Isbael Esteban: Has it been difficult to live in Abu Dhabi?


Mahnaz Hamesh:

Yes, I have been through a lot of ups and downs here.


Isabel Esteban: If you had a chance to live in any part of the world where would it be? Why?


Mahnaz Hamesh:

UAE is a very nice place to live in for so many reasons, but there is always a huge discrimination in terms of social or career opportunities among different nationalities. Besides, as an expat you never get a permanent residency or nationality here even if you lived all your life here. If I had a stronger passport I would have loved to live here for good.



Isabel Esteban: What difference can you see between living in Iran and living in Abu Dhabi?


Mahnaz Hamesh:

There is more social freedom here. Life is not as hectic as Tehran as here is a more quiet, relaxed country.  But Tehran is a four-season city; we see proper spring, summer, and fall and winter weather. Here it hardly rains and it is hot and humid for most of the year. In Iran, you have more options of travelling and doing lots of outdoor recreation. This is very limited in the UAE.


by: Isabel Elena Esteban

Portuguese Prime Minister resigns after facing with parliamentarian defeat to his adjustment plan

Portugal has entered into a labyrinth. Since a few months ago Lisbon demands a quick politic answer from her European partners that ends up with the doubts of the markets.

The Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates Carvalho, after presenting his fourth Economic Stability Program (PEC) 2011-2014, which was based in major budget cuts, suffered a massive rejection from most of the Parliament representatives.

This response triggered the demission of the socialist Sócrates to the President of the Republic Aníbal Cavaco Silva, leaving a deep political economic injury in the country, which is getting closer to the rescue edge. Aníbal Cavaco will call anticipated elections in a maxim period of 55 days.

The Prime Minister ratified that he doesn’t give up trying and he will be present in the following elections.  This politic crisis has happened just before the European Council’s decision was announced, which has to approve the new mechanisms of financial stability in the euro zone.

José Sócrates affirmed that «I have been fighting against an aim that I consider absolutely fundamental: to protect the country from its need to an external aid program for Portugal not to reduce as the Greece and Ireland».

The Finance Minister Fernando Teixeira dos Santos, after the PEC’s rejection has advertised about the risk of receiving help from overseas, though the Recovering Fund of the European Union and the WMF.

The conservative Partido Social Demócrata (PSD) which is the main opposition party that has supported the socialist Government.

Portugal’s national debt stands at 83% of GDP. The budget deficit hit 9.3% of GDP in 2009, but was lowered to 7.3% in 2010 and Sócrates had wanted it to remain at 4.6% by the end of this year.

Even before Wednesday’s events, Portugal’s economy had been expected to shrink by 1.3% this year.

By the way, the Brazilian president Dilma Roussef has said that her country could come to the financial aid of the old metropolis, acquiring part of his debt and rebuying Brazilian Treasury bonds currently in Lisbon’s hands. Portugal could follow Ireland and Greece in the demand of international help to avoid bankruptcy.

This could be a great gesture between two very historically-linked countries.

“Forming a government” for dummies

Today, we are close to form a government in Belgium. Maybe close isn’t the right word, but we are heading the right direction. So what is the problem then?

From now on, the Belgian political leaders are talking about going into the ‘final round’ of forming a government. It took them almost a full year to get this far.

The next step in the process is finding someone who wants to lead the formation and a prime minister. The Dutch Nationalist side wants the French socialist side to take responsibility but they don’t really want to. This makes the Dutch side quite annoyed. So not taking responsibility or trying to ignore it makes Standard & Poor think about declining the rating about Belgium. They set the deadline at mid-2011. S&P think a financial crisis is not that far away.

So far the political parties only spoke about the reformation of the state. In other words, changing some fundamental things. Next step is forming the actual government. Is it going to be national minded government with a liberal or more social partner. In the French part the socialist party will have to choose a partner as well. They have the same choice as the national party in Flanders. The most important thing are the subject that are going to be handled. Financial laws for the regions, job market, healthcare, all very critical subjects that need to be controlled in a good way.

When the formation is complete and the parties agree on all the subjects, Belgium has a new government. Hopefully they try to find a compromise instead of blowing up the government and organise new elections. Belgium has fundamental problems that need to be solved. The two options are clear. We could reunite with the French part or we could split up even more. For the moment, both choices seem quite impossible.

What doesn’t seem impossible right is the fact that we could have a new government who manage our country again. On short term that sounds a plan, but on long term there is much work to be done.