Posts Tagged ‘Latin America’


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Liveable v lovable

The FT asks a very good question, Why is it no one really wants to live in the most liveable cities? 

…The polls underlines the fundamental fault that lies at the heart of the idea of measuring cities by their “liveability.The most recent surveys, from Monocle magazine, Forbes, Mercer and The Economist, concur: Vancouver, Vienna, Zurich, Geneva, Copenhagen and Munich dominate the top. What, you might ask, no New York? No London? No LA or HK? None of the cities that people seem to actually want to emigrate to, to set up businesses in? To be in? None of the wealthiest, flashiest, fastest or most beautiful cities

“These surveys always come up with a list where no one would want to live. One wants to live in places which are large and complex, where you don’t know everyone and you don’t always know what’s going to happen next. Cities are places of opportunity but also of conflict, but where you can find safety in a crowd.
“We also have to acknowledge that these cities that come top of the polls also don’t have any poor people…” 

Liveable usually does not mean the most dynamic…

… can someone coming from somewhere else improve themselves, reinvent themselves? Is there upward mobility? The top cities score badly again. London and New York are magnets for immigrants precisely because they allow those kinds of new beginnings

The common criteria of What makes a city great for all these surveys are:

Blend of beauty and ugliness – beauty to lift the soul, ugliness to ensure there are parts of the fabric of the city that can accommodate change.

Diversity – if lots of people are wanting to come to a city, there must be something there. 

Tolerance – the only way diversity works but also an accommodating attitude to sexuality (gay communities are famously successful inner-city regenerators) and religion (there are signs of increasing intolerance towards religious minorities all over the world). 

Density – density of habitation is crucial in ensuring density of activity, a vibrancy of commerce, residential and cultural activity. 

Social mix – the close proximity of social and economic classes keeps a city lively. 

Civility – impossible to measure and slightly against my stated notions about the benefits of friction but critical nevertheless. I once criticised the ingratiating politeness in the US and was told by an American who used to live in Paris that “it’s better to be told to have a nice day by someone who doesn’t mean it than to be told to go f*** yourself by someone who does”. Discounts any Israeli or Russian city from ever getting on the listEH

Read the whole article here 

Liveable v lovable 

By Edwin Heathcote FT.com

Published: May 6 2011 17:52 | Last updated: May 6 2011 17:52
A collage of city monuments and landmarks
Vancouver is Hollywood’s urban body double. It is famously the stand-in for New York, LA, Seattle and Chicago, employed when those cities just get too tough, too traffic-clogged, too murderous or too bureaucratic to film in. It is almost never filmed as itself. That is because, lovely as it is, it is also, well … a little dull. Who would want to watch a film set in Vancouver? To see its skyscrapers destroyed by aliens or tidal waves, its streets populated by cops and junkies, its public buildings hosting romantic reunions? Yet Vancouver (original name, Gastown) has also spent more than a decade at the very top of the charts of the best city to live in the world. Can that really be right?
The big cities it seems, the established megacities of the US, Europe and Asia are just too big, too dangerous, too inefficient. So what do these top cities have in common? How exactly do you measure “liveability”?No. Not at all. In fact, Vancouver’s boringly consistent topping of the polls underlines the fundamental fault that lies at the heart of the idea of measuring cities by their “liveability”. The most recent surveys, from Monocle magazine, Forbes, Mercer and The Economist, concur: Vancouver, Vienna, Zurich, Geneva, Copenhagen and Munich dominate the top. What, you might ask, no New York? No London? No LA or HK? None of the cities that people seem to actually want to emigrate to, to set up businesses in? To be in? None of the wealthiest, flashiest, fastest or most beautiful cities? Nope. Americans in particular seem to get wound up by the lack of US cities in the top tier. The one that does make it is Pittsburgh. Which winds them up even more.
So that’s the mountains, lakes and huge cups of generic coffee accounted for. Then there’s efficient public transport (that faint whoosh is the sound of London, NY and LA disappearing). There are also cultural institutions, global connectivity, green urban policies, well-designed housing within an easy commute, and so on. Each determinant on its own seems an indisputably good thing. But what do they mean together? Can Munich (Monocle’s Number 1) really be one of the best places in the world to live? On a Sunday afternoon?All the surveys use an index. But what is on it? “There’s always proximity to nature,” says Tyler Brûlé (editor of Monocle and patron saint of liveable cities and airport lounges, whose column appears weekly in the FT’s Life & Arts section). “Global connectivity is important, education and we’ve recently added chain store metrics – is there a Starbucks or a Zara?” he says.
To even begin to understand how these slightly unsettling results are arrived at, we need to understand who compiles them and who they are for. The lists are made by well-travelled academics, researchers and journalists for corporate, media and creative executives on generous expense accounts as well as other academics enjoying grants and stipends. And, of course, by Tyler Brûlé.
Most of these people are profoundly concerned with things like well-designed street furniture, a proliferation of eye-wateringly expensive artisanal retail, boutique hotels with good (English-speaking) service and environmentally friendly mayoral policies. Certainly these are all things which help but they skew the polls to a particular type of European or marginal Pacific city. What they also do is to strip out all the complexity, all the friction and buzz that make big cities what they are.
I spoke to Joel Kotkin, a professor of urban development, and asked him about these surveys. “I’ve been to Copenhagen,” (Monocle’s Number 2) he tells me “and it’s cute. But frankly, on the second day, I was wondering what to do.” So, if the results aren’t to his liking, what does he suggest? “We need to ask, what makes a city great? If your idea of a great city is restful, orderly, clean, then that’s fine. You can go live in a gated community. These kinds of cities are what is called ‘productive resorts’. Descartes, writing about 17th-century Amsterdam, said that a great city should be ‘an inventory of the possible’. I like that description.”
Joel Garreau, the US urban academic and author, agrees. “These lists are journalistic catnip. Fun to read and look at the pictures but I find the liveable cities lists intellectually on a par with People magazine’s ‘sexiest people’ lists.”
Ricky Burdett, who founded the London School of Economics’ Cities Programme, says: “These surveys always come up with a list where no one would want to live. One wants to live in places which are large and complex, where you don’t know everyone and you don’t always know what’s going to happen next. Cities are places of opportunity but also of conflict, but where you can find safety in a crowd.
“We also have to acknowledge that these cities that come top of the polls also don’t have any poor people,” he adds. And that, it seems to me, touches on the big issue. Richard G Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s hugely influential book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (2009) seems to present an obvious truth – that places where the differential in income between the wealthiest and the poorest is smallest tend to engender a sense of satisfaction and well-being. But while it may be socially desirable, that kind of comfort doesn’t necessarily make for vibrancy or dynamism. If everybody is where they want to be, no one is going anywhere.
“Sure, Vancouver is beautiful,” says Kotkin, “but it’s also unaffordable unless you’re on an expense account and your company is paying your rent.” Burdett agrees: “Economically all these cities at the top of the polls are also in the top league.” In fact, it can often be exactly the juxtaposition of wealth and relative poverty that makes a city vibrant, the collision between the two worlds. Where parts of big cities have declined, through the collapse of industries or the fears about immigration that led to what urbanists have termed the “donut effect” (in which white populations flee to the suburbs, leaving minorities in the centres), there is space to be filled by artists and architects, by poorer immigrants arriving with a drive to make money and by the proliferation of food outlets, studios and galleries. These, in turn, attract the wealthy back to the centre, at first to consume, and then to gentrify. Whether in New York’s SoHo, Chelsea or Brooklyn, in Berlin’s Mitte or London’s Shoreditch, Hoxton and now Peckham, it is at these moments of radical change that cities begin to show potential for real transformation of lives, or for the creation of new ideas, culture, cuisine and wealth. Once gentrification has occurred, bohemians may whinge about being priced out, as they always have done but, in a big enough city they are able to move on and find the next spot.
In a strange way the everyday conflict with the (unliveable) city can also become part of the attraction. Professor Tony Travers of the LSE says, “At one level the kind of urban sophisticates who live in these areas, in Hoxton or Brooklyn, want to fight the city. The urban struggle is part of the self-image of living on the edge.”
If the relative poverty of newcomers to the city distorts income equality in one direction, then the arrival of the super-wealthy does the same from the other end. The recent turmoil in the Middle East has led to a huge wave of investment in London property, one of the traditional safe havens for foreign money. London, unlike many cities that appear high on liveability lists, has few controls on property ownership. “If cities are any good,” says Travers, “they’ll attract a footloose international crowd who bring wealth.” And so the gap gets bigger.
He adds: “But they also come because of stability. If they buy something, they’ll be able to get their money back.” Which explains why New York and London remain popular, desirable and hugely expensive, despite never appearing on the lists.
The big cities also suffer from size. It’s true that Tokyo (Monocle’s Number 4) occasionally makes it on to these lists but metropolises like London, New York, Paris and Istanbul struggle with aged infrastructure and vast, sprawling transport systems. They are penalised in surveys for their inefficiency compared to, say, a small Scandinavian city. But it’s easy to be efficient when you’re small and when you have a highly taxed, wealthy population. It is also easy to initiate green measures, from recycling to cycling, which prove far more challenging in a proper metropolis with its problems of crumbling infrastructure and mobile population.
Yet it is proven again and again that the biggest cities are in fact the greenest. Their density, the close proximity in which people live and the minimal amount of land they occupy – compared with largely suburban Vancouver, for example, makes for a far smaller carbon footprint. Mumbai is probably the greenest big city there is – slums like the million-strong Dharavi use minimal land, energy and water. And, of course, without wishing to patronise, it is undeniable that there are happy people living surrounded by their families in Brazil’s favelas and millions living lives of drudgery and lonely despair beneath northern Europe’s leaden skies. The world’s most liveable informal cities lists have yet to be pioneered.
There is one criterion which throws up shockingly counter-intuitive results – beauty. On this criterion alone, almost any Tuscan hill town, perhaps Venice, perhaps Paris, would come out on top, yet none of these are there. Most of the beauty in the cities which occupy the tops of the leagues seem to ghettoise their beauty outside the city. They have convenient escapes, though the most beautiful and enjoyable – Rio, San Francisco and others – are curiously absent from the lists. The problem is that beauty doesn’t do you any good at all. It’s not a factor for the efficient, mid-sized chart toppers – though places such as Zurich certainly have their lovely bits. But it also damages your chances of making it into the disaffected megacities mentioned at the start of this article. The most beautiful cities become monuments to their own elegance, immobile and unchangeable. They cannot accommodate the kind of dynamic change and churn that keeps cities alive. In London, New York and Berlin, it is their very ugliness which keeps them flexible.
“The other big question,” says Kotkin, “is can someone coming from somewhere else improve themselves, reinvent themselves? Is there upward mobility?” The top cities score badly again. London and New York are magnets for immigrants precisely because they allow those kinds of new beginnings. They do have class structures but they are increasingly malleable.
There is one problem, though, that remains hard to ignore – violence. Johannesburg may be beautiful but its per capita homicide rates are astronomical; Los Angeles and New York are held back for the same reason. Washington DC’s per capita homicide rate, for example, is more than 30 times that of London and this continues to hold US cities down in the rankings. Urban guru Richard Florida remarks that the key to liveability is to “ensure that a city can guarantee the safety of all its residents”.
Of course, the ultimate difficulty with these surveys is that tastes are individual. I find London infuriating but –with the possible exception of New York – couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather live. “The city is a unique and private reality,” wrote Jonathan Raban, author of Soft City. He proposed that his London was a “soft city”, a place that everyone remakes in their own manner, in which every place evokes a personal memory or connection and which we navigate through our own unique mental maps. Our cities are our own – we make them inside us. No city means the same to two people so how on earth can we measure them?
Edwin Heathcote is the FT’s architecture critic
…………………………………………..
Rankings: the best and the worst
New York
The only city that gives me a thrill every single time I walk through it. Fast, furious, brash, cosmopolitan yet completely self-absorbed, it is the perfect big city.
Rio de Janeiro
An extraordinary cocktail of pleasure and pain, beaches and favelas, condos and shacks, Rio is one of the most beautiful, most tolerant and most varied cities on earth. Unfortunately, its high murder rate discounts it from traditional best cities lists. But what a cityscape.
Istanbul
Istanbul
Istanbul

The fulcrum of the delicate balance between Europe and Asia, Christianity, secularism and Islam, Istanbul manages to be both one of the most beautiful cities on earth and yet accommodating to huge and constant change. It is a young, international, wildly commercial city with an extraordinarily vibrant street scene, open 24 hours and genuinely alive.

London
London seems to have the ability to reinvent itself. It has been a magnet for immigrants for centuries and remains a place where the poor can make something of themselves and the wealthy can enjoy their money. Its infrastructure is crumbling, its property overpriced and its weather dull but London’s cultural life is astonishing and most of its museums are free.
Rome
It might be more than 1,500 years since Rome was a proper world city but its allure lies in a blend of history, chaos, beauty and infinite layers of culture.
A few that don’t make the grade
Moscow
Impossible to traverse on foot, infinitely rude, corrupt, understandably alcoholic and seriously traffic-clogged, Moscow needs work. It does have some beautiful bits, from the Kremlin through to the masterworks of revolutionary modernism but the legacy of the communist police state hangs heavy.
Dubai
Everything that could go wrong with a city does here. It is, in fact, a place with no “here”. A succession of malls, highways, hotels and hideous towers, it has spent its history announcing its arrival but hasn’t a clue what to do when it gets there.
Birmingham
Once it was the workshop of the world, an astonishing morass of industry that somehow threw up a powerful, elegant Victorian city, which has been completely destroyed. Its decline has been less complete than that of, say, Detroit or Flint but it manages to be uglier nevertheless.
Jerusalem
I know, I know – beautiful, holy, history lingers in its every shady corner. Yet the treatment of Arabs as second-class citizens, the ghastly security wall smashing through its edges and the omnipresent guns have spoilt it. Jerusalem is the perfect example of why tolerance is so critical to a city.

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>Asado Negro in the NY Times!!!

The Cheat: Dark Arts

This week’s recipe is a raggedy Christmas number out of Venezuela called asado negro. It requires a fat roast of beef that is simmered for a long time in dark caramel, its sweetness tempered by vinegar. The result is sticky and unctuous beneath a cloak of peppers, onions and leeks. It looks mysterious and bold on the plate and at the start of a New York winter can conjure some degree of Latin American humidity and joy.
Asado negro has its primary home in Caracas, where it is often served during the holidays, alongside fried sweet plantains and white rice, with perhaps a tart green salad for contrast. The meat is napped in blackness that comes not from fire or smoke but from the absorption of all colors into one, a color as deep as space itself.
It is beef the color of a velvet dinner jacket seen across a dark lawn at midnight. It makes mockery of pot roast. And, as we shall see, it is exceedingly simple to make.
Hold on: blackened beef? I first had the dish at a restaurant called Mohedano, a flash place in Chacao, the relatively prosperous part of Caracas that is a stronghold of opposition to Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez. The neighborhood supports restaurants and shopping centers and has plenty of gated parking lots guarded by men with guns. It recalls Miami crossed with the Upper East Side of Manhattan, with a few blocks of London and Mexico City thrown in for good measure.
Mohedano’s chef, Edgar Leal, runs the restaurant with his wife, Mariana Montero de Castro, with whom he has also had a restaurant in the United States. They served asado negro as part of a tasting menu designed to highlight the traditional flavors of cosmopolitan Venezuela.
Leal is an irrepressible figure in his restaurant, a ham who cooks with grace and precision, a character out of Stoppard, the gourmand existing within the privation of a repressive state. “It looks burned,” he said of his asado negro, laughing as he often does, as he placed the plate on a table. “But you see what you think.” Then he put on a stage whisper: “It’s not burned at all!”
The beef was cut thin, against the grain, and it glistened with moisture. The sauce cloaking it was dark and deep in flavor — with a strong, nutty sweetness, yes, but a bracing sort, far from cloying and leading only to the desire for more.
Leal cooks his asado negro with papelón, the solid block of unrefined cane sugar that is known by various names across Latin America (boiled sugar-cane pulp, essentially, formed into small blocks that can be broken into shards or grated into drinks or sauce). Papelón makes for excellent asado negro, and if you can find some at your local market — where you’ll most likely discover it listed as panela or piloncillo — go ahead and use it for your own.
But you can also cheat, which, as Chávez might say, is the way of our nation. Norman Van Aken, the Miami chef and restaurateur who has done much to bring the flavors of the Caribbean and South America to the United States, and who included a recipe for asado negro in his excellent 2003 cookbook, “New World Kitchen,” said in a telephone interview that the home cook could replicate some of the complexity of papelón by making a dark caramel out of plain white sugar and water, then adding a few teaspoons of brown sugar at the end.
“Asado negro is not a dish that’s centuries old,” Van Aken said. “As near as we could figure it in our research for the book, it goes back to the 1960s or ’70s. You can definitely mess around with it a little and make it your own.”
And so we begin with caramel, a chemistry-class lesson for the home. Sugar is dissolved in water and heated until the water evaporates and the sugar molecules break down, turning heavy and dark. Add to this sticky pool some vinegar and dry red wine, which impart savory, acidic notes to what will amount to a braising liquid, as well as some brown sugar for rustic depth. Pour the liquids carefully, for the caramel will spatter and hiss. Then allow the sauce to become whole again, stirring occasionally.
Now we sear the beef, creating a crust on the bottom of the pan that will add heft to our meal, a beefy intensity to counter the sugars and acids. Removing the meat from the pot for a moment, we sauté a great deal of garlic and onion, celery and leeks, then combine these with the seared beef and the caramel sauce under a swirl of sliced bell peppers, and push the covered whole into the oven for a few hours. Some crazy magic happens in there.
Plain white rice dressed only with a pat of butter is the best starch with which to pair this meal. You might try to locate some ripe plantains as well, to slice into coins and fry gently in oil until they turn the same golden brown as the caramel you started with. (In a pinch, you can use bananas, though they are a great deal more fragile and sweet than a ripe plantain, and require close attention in the pan, lest they turn to mush.)
Leal adds a rustic Venezuelan salad to the plate, with fresh hearts of palm, avocado and diced tomato. You might do the same, but at this time of the year, you would most likely disappoint yourself: December tomatoes in the United States are generally a grim affair, to say nothing of our canned hearts of palm and rock-hard avocados. Better to find some hothouse lettuces — Van Aken suggests something peppery in the area of watercress or arugula — and to dress these in a lime vinaigrette.
There’s a new Paul Simon song out, “Getting Ready for Christmas Day.” It’s all strummy guitar and thumping Delta blues, Simon’s muted trumpet of a voice singing about money and war, the pain of family and the release that comes to all of us somehow, religious or not, on Christmas Day. This would make a fine final accompaniment to the dinner itself, along with some dark beer or a strong zinfandel, slightly chilled.

The Dark Art of Beef – NYTimes.com

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Venezuela: Overcoming an Election Setback
October 24, 2010 | 1357 GMT

Summary
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has until mid-December to push through a series of laws designed to strengthen the executive’s power after his ruling Partido Socialista Unido party lost its parliamentary supermajority in September. These laws also seek to endow the thousands of communal councils loyal to the president with greater funding at the expense of state governments, undercutting his opposition. Passage of these laws will give Chavez better control of foreign assets in Venezuela and put him in a better position to stifle opposition supporters.

Analysis
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may have suffered a slight setback Sept. 26 when his ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) lost its two-thirds supermajority in the Venezuelan parliament, but he has options to try to maintain his political authority. Chavez and his allies have until Dec. 15 to push through a series of legislation before members of the opposition claim their seats in January 2011, when the next National Assembly session begins. Even then, the PSUV will still have 98 seats (compared to its previous 137 seats) in the 165-seat National Assembly with which to influence the legislative agenda. The various pieces of legislation currently making their way through parliament share the common purpose of augmenting the power of executive authority and the thousands of communal councils loyal to the president. If they make it through the National Assembly by year’s end, Chavez will be able more effectively to control foreign assets in the country and to sideline problematic legislators, mayors and governors who have sided with the opposition. A summary of the most critical legislation currently under review follows below.

Enabling Law for Special Presidential Powers


Summary: The details of this legislation have not been released, but it would likely contain provisions for the president to enact legislation by executive decree. Given the sensitivity of the legislation and the controversy that it would produce, the government appears to be keeping this proposal under wraps for now.

Status: This law was proposed by PSUV legislators Mario Isea and Iris Varela on Sept. 28, but has not been presented to the national assembly.

Oil Service Company Regulation Law
Summary:
This law would enable the government to bypass parliament when it wishes to nationalize the assets of oil and natural gas firms. According to the draft text, “… oil and gas operation assets can be subjected to measures of protection, insurance, requisition and expropriation when the continuity of work is affected …” The law would also allow the government to set tariffs for companies, prohibit the relocation of assets outside the country without state permission and prevent recourse to international arbitration in disputes. This is a reminder to firms like Halliburton, Schlumberger and Baker Hughes that watched nervously as the Venezuelan government nationalized 11 oil drilling rigs belonging to U.S. firm Helmerich & Payne in late June, which had halted production in protest of state-run Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA)’s failure to pay the company for its services. The legislative proposal also comes at a time when Venezuela is earnestly seeking foreign investors to develop its extra-heavy oil reserves in the Orinoco fields. Foreign firms are growing skittish over the regime’s intentions toward their assets, however. Even so, Venezuela’s deepening relationship with China to develop Orinoco in exchange for much-needed investment in state-owned sectors may be giving Caracas the extra boost of confidence to see this type of legislation through.

Status: A draft of the law has been completed and is supposed to be presented to parliament by the end of the year.

Communal Economic System Law
Summary:
This law is part of a package of “Popular Power” legislation designed to empower thousands of local communes comprised of mostly PSUV sympathizers. By devolving power to the local level and increasing their funding at the expense of state governors and municipal officials, Chavez aims to undercut his opposition and widen the number of Venezuelans dependent on him for their livelihood. This law on the economic system of the communes details how the executive authority will be able to directly transfer funds to the communes for local projects. It also attempts to stem rampant money laundering rackets that have debilitated state firms <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20100803_special_report_venezuelas_unsustainable_economic_paradigm>  by promoting non-monetary trading through an exchange, which allows for the bartering of goods. However, such a system is unlikely to resolve Venezuela’s corruption <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20100927_venezuelas_elections_and_devolving_state_power>  ailments.

Status: This law is currently being debated in the National Assembly. PSUV legislator Dario Vivas has said that Popular Power laws, including the Communal Economic System Law, will be given priority during this legislative period.

National Arms Control Law
Summary:
The disarmament law aims to give the government the sole authority to issue weapons licenses and to import and sell firearms. It would establish specific punishments for the use of firearms deemed illegal and involve a national survey to confiscate any such illegal arms. The law is being presented as a way to bring down the high level of violent crime in Venezuela, but has been criticized by the opposition for aiming to keep most Venezuelan arms in the hands of state security <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20100927_venezuelas_elections_and_devolving_state_power>  organizations, such as the growing National Bolivarian Militia <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20100430_special_report_venezuelas_control_armed_forces> .

Status: This law is still under debate in the National Assembly.

Banking Activity Regulation Law
Summary:
As part of the Organic National Financial System Law, this law is intended to give the state more authority in directing bank financing toward economic projects prioritized by the state, to include state-owned firms and communal council activities. State authority within the banking system has also greatly facilitated corruption among state-owned firms in the food, electricity, metals and energy sectors.

Status: This law has been discussed in the National Assembly Finances Commission and has been listed as a priority for approval, but has not yet been presented to the National Assembly.

Emergency Urban Land Regularization Law
Summary:
This law is intended to allow the government to reclaim land in urban spaces for residence construction and to nationalize private housing projects that have been halted. Under deteriorating economic conditions, a number of housing projects have stalled and have thus threatened to undermine Chavez’s popularity among Venezuela’s poor. It is probably not a coincidence that Chavez is also in the process of making deals with Iran, Russia and Belarus for large-scale housing projects. Such projects not only allow the president to boost his image among his constituency, they can be used for money laundering.

Status: This law is being debated in the National Assembly.

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Reviving Codelco

“During last year’s election campaign, Sebastián Piñera, who became Chile’s president in March, often criticised Codelco, the country’s state-owned copper company, for its inefficiency, griping over its stagnant output and climbing costs.

Yet it was engineers from Codelco who stood beside him this month as the 33 miners trapped since August 5th in the privately […]

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I think you will enjoy this intelligence report from STRATFOR.

Cuban entrepreneurs who hire employees will have to pay a 25 percent payroll tax on their salaries, and all Cubans who are self-employed must put 25 percent of their income into a social security system from which they will eventually draw a pension, according to new economic regulations published by the Cuban government, AP reported Oct. 25. The law also establishes many deductions for raw materials, transportation and other business expenses. The new regulations will allow any permanent resident of Cuba over the age of 17 to start their own business and citizens can also apply for licenses for more than one business.

https://www.stratfor.com/sitrep/20101025_cuba_more_new_economic_regulations

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October 25, 2010

Rare earth metals draw attention

By RICHARD BLACKWELL
From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail

The elements required in many technologies face a supply crunch as China – the world’s main producer – cuts back exports

Among the hottest commodities these days are the rare earth elements – obscure metals used widely in key technologies such as smart phones, televisions, hybrid cars, lasers and military equipment.

These elements aren’t actually rare, or earths, for that matter. They are metals that are found readily on Earth’s crust, but not in concentrations that make them easy to mine.

Geopolitical trade issues have shone a light on them in recent months. More than 90 per cent of rare earths are produced in China, and there are worries the country will cut back exports to ensure it has enough domestic supply, leaving technology producers in Japan and the West in the lurch. Those concerns were heightened last month when it was reported that Chinese rare earth exports to Japan might be trimmed after a diplomatic incident in which the captain of a Chinese trawler was detained by the Japanese in disputed waters.

Worries about the security of supply has boosted the prices of rare earth metals, and lit a fire under producing companies or those exploring for new mines. But the possibility of an investment “bubble” is itself a concern, as some institutional investors are retreating from the sector.

It takes years to get a new mine up and running, so even if the flurry of activity results in new production in the West, there could still be short-term shortages.

What they are

Of the 17 most commonly used rare earth metals, 14 appear on one of the lower rows on the periodic table – the part you probably paid no attention to in high-school chemistry class.

Many have unpronounceable names, such as dysprosium, praseodymium, ytterbium, and neodymium.

In combination with other elements, they form compounds that are highly useful as pigments for glass and ceramics, or as components in electronic products that require high heat resistance.

Where they are used

Hybrid cars: In batteries, catalytic converters, electric motors and LCD screens.

Miniature electronics: In the batteries that make devices such as iPods and Blackberrys work, and in the tiny magnets needed for mini-motors and speakers.

Wind power: Used in the magnets that are key components of wind turbine generators.

Television screens: They provide a bright red phosphor that helps make television pictures sharp.

Canadian players

Quest Rare Minerals Ltd., Montreal: Exploration projects in Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick;

Avalon Rare Metals Inc., Toronto: The Nechalacho project in the Northwest Territories is set to begin production in 2014.

Great Western Minerals Group Ltd., Saskatoon: Properties in Canada, the U.S. and South Africa

Neo Material Technologies Inc., Toronto: Production in China, Thailand, North America.

Rare earth metals draw attention – The Globe and Mail

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Demolition in El Frío Ranch

It was seized by the government of President Hugo Chávez in March 2009 upon the grounds of environmental protection


The Páez House, the emblem and centerpiece of El Frío Ranch, before the seizure Dossier
The house that once belonged to General José Antonio Páez, a hero of the Venezuelan independence; the core of El Frío Ranch and preserved for almost 150 years, is nowadays dilapidated after its premises were seized by the government of President Hugo Chávez. The image of two times dramatically shows the mood of a revolution.


Located in western Apure state, El Frío was not only one of the major cattle raising centers in the country, with 20,000 heads of cattle, but also among the most specialized natural biodiversity reservoirs in the Western Hemisphere, as well as a research center into ecological cattle raising and a renowned conservation center both inside and outside Venezuela.


The Páez House was the main house in the ranch. It accommodated the corporate administrative and professional staff. It had two big dining rooms, two kitchens and two living rooms. The gardens of the house, nowadays unroofed and in ruins, are being used as parking lot for incoming and outgoing official vehicles. The former hustle and bustle of a productive business was replaced with military officers who guard the ranch with AK-103 slung across their backs and staff in red T-shirts attending the courses of political ideology given by Cubans.


Decree on expropriation
In March 2008, the National Lands Institute declared the exceptional recovery of the plot of land called El Frío Ranch. According to Desirée Rodríguez, the corporate legal counsel, the action started in the absence of the due administrative procedure concerning land recovery. The ranch of 64,000 hectares belonged for more than a century to the Maldonados; it was incorporated as Invega in 1948 and its ownership chain comes from colonial times.


In January 2005, the local chapter of the National Lands Institute in Apure state commenced an administrative proceeding for wastelands against El Frío. In early 2009, after a request made by folk music singer Cristóbal Jiménez in the Sunday TV and radio show Aló Presidente (Hello, President!), the government resumed the confiscatory process. On March 31, seizure was carried out.


The results
The government presently has the whole property of El Frío Ranch without having paid one single bolivar. It is known that part of the 20,000 animals that used to graze in the wetlands have been killed for provision of beef, but nobody knows about the recipient of the sale proceeds.


Rodríguez claimed that the reservation areas include Guariquito ravine, where fishing is banned, but practiced now. A river port was built there and vessels come to get fish.


In addition to cattle, the reservation is the refuge of 7,000 deers, thousand capybaras, the giant nutria, the anteater, the puma, the freshwater dolphin, anacondas and small alligators. One of the most noteworthy projects was preservation and reproduction of the endangered Orinoco caiman. The project started in 1996 and managed by the local biological station succeeded in the reproduction of 2,500 caimans that were released in Guairuito ravine. In 2008, the ranch had the third largest population of reptiles in the country, particularly in Macanillal ravine. In its wetlands cattle breeding remained low to favor the best environmental conditions.


Journalist Ramón Hernández tells in his book “Story of dispossession,” next to be released that each year, near 300 undergraduate and graduate students from all universities and colleges across the nation would visit the site to complete their studies in ecology, animal protection and environment. Also, Carolina Foundation and the Spanish government implemented a master course in Management of Biodiversity in the Tropic. Latin American students used to explore at El Frío Ranch environmentally friendly cattle breeding, reintroduction of endangered species and recovery of native horses.


Today, there is glaring abandonment of farms and biological stations. Attorney Rodríguez complained that high-ranking government officers and persons of the ruling party surreptitiously engage in illegal hunting there.


The agricultural failure
Not knowing about the issue, after the seizure of El Frío Ranch, President Chávez heralded at the seized premises that Apure state would become a rice-growing superpower. Taking issue with experts, who said that the soil is V and VI class with few nutrients and able for large-scale cattle breeding, Chinese and Vietnamese were brought there to sow rice. The crop was a total failure. The delusive estimates of Elías Jaua, then Minister of Agriculture and Lands, never accomplished. Today, Venezuela needs to import 450,000 tons of rice, accounting for 40 percent of the domestic consumption. To the contrary, until 2004, Venezuela had been self-sufficient in that item and exported 120,000 tons.


While no numbers on production and profitability are known of the ranch, now managed by the socialist company Marisela, the payroll rose by 234 versus 140 workers during the previous administration. Most of the payroll was dismissed shortly after the seizure. Workers are still waiting for collection of their severance payment. Interestingly, Hernández said: “In order to bolster self-government and people’s self-defense among workers and communities for food sovereignty and integral defense of the nation, the company (Marisela) trains 1,000 militiamen with the help of the armed forces.”
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Translated by Conchita Delgado

Francisco Olivares
EL UNIVERSAL

Demolition in El Frío Ranch – Daily News – EL UNIVERSAL

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