Argentine judge denies Maduro government’s request to be a party in the case of the seized plane

Latin America

The Argentine federal judge Federico Villena rejected the request of the firm of lawyers Gabriel Palmeiro and Maximiliano Rusconi to act as legal representative of the government of the questioned president of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro, as well as the company Emtrasur, in the case of the Venezuelan plane held at the Ezeiza airport, according to the decision to which CNN had access.

The brief states that “neither the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela nor the Emtrasur company is a party to these actions.”

CNN contacted Palmeiro and Rusconi’s law firm to find out their reaction, but they assure that they will not comment on the case for the time being.

CNN also contacted the Maduro government and has not received a response so far.

The Government of Venezuela had appeared last week before the Argentine Justice to formally oppose the seizure of the Boeing 747 cargo, belonging to the state-owned Emtrasur, which Judge Villena ordered last week at the request of a United States court, according to the ruling obtained by CNN.

Palmeiro, a partner in Rusconi’s firm, acts by virtue of a power conferred on him by the president of Emtrasur in Venezuela and the attorney general of that country, Reinaldo Muñoz. According to the request signed by the lawyer, the retention of the aircraft “would represent an arbitrary interference in the public assets of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and in the rights that concern its sovereignty.”

That was the first formal demonstration of the government of Nicolás Maduro before the Argentine Justice to try to reverse the judicial decision that provoked the anger of the Venezuelan ruling party.

Rusconi visited Venezuela this month, and held a meeting with Vice President Delcy Rodríguez and Foreign Minister Carlos Faría to advise the Maduro government on the cargo plane case, a source from the Argentine government and another close to Defense told CNN.

The Boeing, model B747-3B3, registration YV3531, has been held since June at the Ezeiza international airport, province of Buenos Aires, while it is being investigated whether the crew has links to possible Iranian terrorist activities in the country.

The aircraft was subject to a routine inspection by the FBI , under the supervision of the Argentine Federal Police.

Palmeiro had told the judge that he would state that “the Treaty of Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters with the government of the United States of America is not applicable.”

According to the lawyer’s argument, in reference to the legal argument cited by Judge Villena to authorize the seizure of the plane, the treaty “is exclusively applicable in procedures related to criminal matters. While the pretension that the government of the United States of America intends to channel in proceedings is of a different nature (commercial), an issue that, in addition, deprives it of active legitimacy in these actions.”

The request, now rejected, is added to that made by another Argentine lawyer, Daniel Ramón Trava, who represents Emtrasur in the file and who has already appealed the decision to seize the plane at the disposal of Washington. This under the argument that “an irreparable tax is taking place,” according to another document accessed by CNN.

Currently, the court case on the plane is divided into two files in charge of Judge Villena.

The original cause investigates the crew and the destination of the Emtrasur flight to Argentina.

In addition, there is another process in development due to the request of the United States Justice.

Peru to sue Repsol for $4.5bn over oil spill

Latin America

Peru’s consumer protection agency is suing Spanish oil firm Repsol over a huge oil spill which blackened beaches off the coast of Lima in January.

The spill, which Peru called the worst ecological disaster around Lima in recent memory, leaked more than 10,000 barrels into the Pacific Ocean.

The civil lawsuit seeks $3bn (£2.54bn) for environmental damage and $1.5bn (£1.27bn) for damages to locals.

Repsol has denied responsibility.

The company initially said the spill was caused by “sudden and extraordinary anomalous waves produced by the volcanic eruption in Tonga”. However, it later blamed the oil tanker.

On Tuesday, a Peruvian judge admitted the $4.5bn lawsuit by Indecopi against Repsol, meaning the case will go to court.

An underwater oil pipeline owned by the company caused a spill on 15 January. It happened when an Italian-flagged tanker, Mare Doricum, was unloading at Repsol’s La Pampilla refinery.

Repsol has denied responsibility for the spill and said that it sees the claim as “baseless, inadmissible, and inconsistent”.

“We have not yet been notified of the court’s acceptance of the complaint, and we do not know the details of the acceptance,” a spokesperson for the firm told the BBC.

“We reiterate that the causes are still under investigation, but that the preliminary findings indicate that it was caused by an uncontrolled movement by the Mare Doricum vessel while it was unloading crude at the terminal.”

“Even so, Repsol has used all means at its disposal to contain, clean, and remediate the coastline, assist the communities in the area, and rescue and attend to the fauna affected by the oil spill,” the spokesperson added.

Earlier this year, President Pedro Castillo described the spill as “one of the biggest ecocides ever on our coasts and seas”.

Hundreds of fishermen and hospitality workers also lost income due to the disaster, according to the Peruvian environment ministry.

Local fisherman staged protests because they were unable to go out to sea and work because of the spill.

Indecopi has alleged that the ecological damage is continuing to affect fishermen and the environment.

“We are looking to get compensation for the affected population… that lives within 150km of contaminated coast,” said Julian Palacin, the head of Indecopi, in a statement.

In January, prosecutors also opened a criminal investigation into Repsol’s role in the incident. Four executives from the firm were barred from leaving the country for 18 months amid the ongoing probe.

In May, Repsol said the clean-up would cost the firm $150m (£127m).

Repsol posted a net income of €2.499bn (£2.11bn) last year – sixteen times the clean-up cost.

Professor in geosciences at the University of Edinburgh, Stuart Haszeldine said that communities and countries “have a right to expect safe transport of oil and gas”.

“There is no established market to buy a clean beach or a seabird colony – inevitably large and financially well-resourced oil companies can deploy cash, lobbyists and legal teams to delay and defocus the blame game away from their responsibility,” he said.

“This will be a contest on the strength of Peru’s legal system to enforce environmental justice onto an unwilling and well-resourced multinational.”

“The final settlement may be influenced as much by Repsol’s valuation of its own reputation and future permissions to operate globally,” he added.

Melissa Moore, head of UK policy at Oceana, a charity campaigning for ocean protection, said she was pleased to hear the case would go to court.

“This damaging oil spill wreaked havoc on two protected biodiversity areas: the Ancón Reserved Zone and the Pescadores Islets – home to iconic and legally protected species such as the Humboldt penguin and sea otter,” she said.

“Countries globally such as Peru, as well as the UK, need to end our reliance on offshore oil drilling, which has destructive impacts on the ocean, including accelerating climate change.”

Cryptocurrencies stumble, but in Argentina they are still a safer bet

Latin America

Amid inflation and the collapse of the peso, many Argentines find cryptocurrencies a less risky option, even despite their recent difficulties.

BUENOS AIRES — Romina Sejas’ entry into the world of cryptocurrencies — in a country where the popularity of digital currencies has skyrocketed despite their volatility — began with a pizza.

A few years ago, I was helping to prepare pizza dough at a friend’s house on the outskirts of Mendoza, a medium-sized city in western Argentina. The friend suggested fermenting the dough in his mine. “He reconfused Me,” Sejas said. “I thought of mining and I imagined men with helmets and pickaxes.”

Instead, he opened a door that led into a room stacked with shelves of buzzing computers. Known as miners in tech parlance, computers work nonstop, verifying cryptocurrency transactions and rewarding their owners in digital currency. They consume so much energy that the room was a functional oven.

Sejas’ friend explained that entering the world of cryptocurrencies had increased his monthly salary by almost 40 percent, going from $800 doing odd jobs to $1,100.

Sejas soon became a believer in cryptocurrencies, joining a wave of Argentines turning to digital currencies as a way to earn more, increase their savings and even do business.

Although the cryptocurrency market has crumbled in recent months, many Argentines see it as a safe haven in a country where rising inflation and economic crisis have hit the national currency, the peso, and the bank accounts of the people.

“Money here is like ice cream,” said Marcos Buscaglia, an economist in Buenos Aires, the capital. “If you keep a peso for a long time, it melts away as far as what you can buy with it.”

Because so few Argentines trust the peso, they prefer to save in other currencies, including dollars.

About a third of Argentines believe savings kept in pesos at a local bank will hold their value for two years, the lowest percentage among respondents from 15 countries interviewed in June by Morning Consult, a Washington-based data firm. .

Almost 60 percent of Argentines believed that bitcoin, one of the most popular cryptocurrencies, would maintain the value of their savings during that same period, according to the survey.

With inflation expected to hit 90 percent in December, the value of the peso continues to fall, driving up the prices of everyday products, from toilet paper to tuna, making it virtually impossible to save.

Current global supply chain problems and the war in Ukraine have contributed to rising prices, but many economists blame Argentina’s woes on years of excessive government spending. Since the government does not collect enough to make up the deficit, the central bank prints pesos, causing inflation to rise even more.

Now, many Argentines are turning to cryptocurrencies as a way to escape the peso. About a third of Argentines said they bought or sold cryptocurrency at least once a month, twice as many as in the United States, according to an independent survey by Morning Consult.

But cryptocurrency, given its instability, also carries risks.

Vicente Cappelletti, 26, said he had lost about $1,000, about 10 percent of his savings, when TerraUSD, one of the so-called stablecoins — a type of cryptocurrency that can be pegged to government currencies such as the dollar — crashed in May.

Cappelletti, an industrial engineer, said it was easy to lose money “if you are not in this all the time and updated with information.” He sold all the savings he had in cryptocurrencies for pesos and put them in a traditional investment fund.

Pablo Sabatella, who runs an organization in Buenos Aires that offers cryptocurrency classes, said he had been contacted by hundreds of people in the days after Terra imploded, desperate to get their money back.

“Most don’t know what they’re doing,” he said.

Bitcoin’s value has fallen from $65,000 in November to around $24,000 today, almost double the drop in the value of the peso. But many Argentines believe that, unlike the peso, cryptocurrencies will recover.

For others, however, cryptocurrencies have brought financial benefits that come in handy.

Sejas, who has worked as a waitress and in telemarketing, makes a living as a cryptocurrency consultant and teaching workshops on digital currencies. She runs an online marketplace with 7,000 members who can use crypto to buy almost anything from hiking boots to a house.

Sejas grew up in a working-class family with no internet access. Her parents did not finish high school nor did they have bank accounts. “We measured even the toilet paper we had because we had very little back then,” she says.

The money he has earned from cryptocurrencies has transformed his life. “I am studying law at a private university,” she said. “I’ve done all the medical checkups I never did as a kid.”

Around the world, people in emerging and low-income countries have become the largest users of cryptocurrencies, according to various reports, surpassing the United States and Europe.

Digital currencies are appreciated in countries where local money is volatile and where governments have made it difficult for citizens to purchase foreign currency.

Two poor countries, El Salvador and the Central African Republic, have gone even further: they adopted Bitcoin as another official national currency, although the bet has not paid off in El Salvador, and it is too early to tell if it will in the Central African Republic. .

Argentina offers some clues about the appeal of cryptocurrencies.

Argentines have long turned to the dollar as a safe haven. Saving in dollars “is engraved in our DNA,” said Daniel Convertini, 34, who works in communications for a transportation company. “I learned it from my dad and my grandfather, not because I read it in a financial newspaper.”

Argentines are believed to have more dollars in cash or in foreign financial institutions than almost any other population apart from Americans, said Gian Maria Milesi-Ferretti, an economist at the Brookings Institution.

But three years ago, the Argentine government made it difficult to buy US currency. Argentines can only legally buy $200 a month and have to pay heavy taxes on each transaction.

Instead, many people have turned to the black market for dollars, and the streets of downtown Buenos Aires are full of moneychangers whispering their conversion rates to passersby.

But digital currencies offer the advantage of not having to lug around large banknote reserves.

“We offered a hack to the stocks by selling crypto dollars,” said Julián Fraiese, one of the founders of Buenbit, an Argentine cryptocurrency exchange that focuses on dollar -pegged stablecoins . The company said it had added 200,000 users in the seven months after government controls on dollars tightened in 2019.

Ismael Loyo, a 34-year-old taxi driver who moved from Venezuela to Argentina in 2018, turned to cryptocurrency after seeing the peso rapidly devalued, a repeat of what he had experienced back home. As soon as he gets paid, he connects to an online exchange and buys cryptocurrencies.

Aware of the ups and downs of the digital currency market, he explains that he is leaving a currency “that only devalues” and entering a currency that, although volatile, “allows the value to be maintained over time and increased.”

To people like Loyo, who has lived in two countries plagued by high inflation, bitcoin seems less like a speculative gamble than a necessity. “Maybe, being in another country, I wouldn’t have had the need to investigate why to do this,” he said.

Still, the decline in the value of cryptocurrencies has wreaked havoc, and concerns about its risks prompted increased regulatory scrutiny.

Buenbit recently laid off almost half of its employees, and days after two Argentine banks began giving their customers the option to buy and sell cryptocurrencies, the country’s Central Bank banned such services.

But since many Argentines have so little faith in their government’s management of the economy, cryptocurrencies, despite their turmoil, remain in high demand.

More workers in Argentina than in any other country, including many freelancers in jobs like software development and translation, choose to receive part of their pay in cryptocurrency, according to Deel, a payroll company employed by 100,000 freelancers in 150 nations.

“Technology is the language of the world to come,” said Fabián Báez, a priest who helps organize technology classes in a popular neighborhood in Buenos Aires, teaching, among other things, how to open a digital wallet. to start collecting cryptocurrencies.

In Buenos Aires, public bus billboards entice people with promises of high returns in stablecoins . Inside a busy subway station, an ad promotes: “Beat inflation. Buy bitcoin.”

“I prefer to take the risk of crypto,” said Convertini, an employee of the transportation company, “rather than the risk of the Argentine state.”

Mexico bets its energy future on oil, not on renewable energies

Latin America

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s effort to bring the energy sector under state control has put obstacles in the way of renewable energy and sidelined Mexico’s climate goals.

MEXICO CITY — On a sweltering afternoon in his home state of Tabasco recently, Mexico’s president celebrated his administration’s latest triumph: a new refinery .

Although not yet operational, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador hailed the project as the centerpiece of his grand campaign to ensure Mexico’s energy independence.

“We ignored the song of the sirens, the voices of those who predicted, in good faith, perhaps, the end of the oil era and the massive arrival of electric cars and renewable energies,” he told a enthusiastic crowd.

At a time when scientists are sounding the alarm about the need to move away from fossil fuels that contribute to catastrophic global warming, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has ignited a global movement in the opposite direction: the United States and European countries are taking measures to increase oil and gas production to counter Russian energy bans.

But Mexico is going further.

Driven by López Obrador’s historic goal of withdrawing control of the energy sector from private companies so that state-owned companies dominate the market, the government is undermining efforts to expand renewable energy and betting the country’s future on fossil fuels. .

The policy is key to López Obrador’s ambition to reverse what he sees as a corrupt privatization of the industry, guarantee Mexico’s energy sovereignty and return the country to the glory days when oil created thousands of jobs and helped fuel the economy. economy.

To this end, Mexican authorities are using the might of their regulatory agencies to keep renewable companies out of the market, blocking the operation of their power plants and instead propping up hydrocarbon plants that the state owns or operates, according to interviews. with more than a dozen former government officials, analysts and executives from the energy sector.

As a result, analysts say, Mexico will almost certainly fail to deliver on its promise to the world to reduce its carbon output. The country may also have put billions of dollars of investments in renewables at risk and created another source of tension with the Joe Biden administration, which has made combating climate change a pillar of its foreign policy agenda.

“People say, ‘how are you going to meet your climate change commitments?’ And I always tell people, ‘well, he doesn’t care,’” said Tony Payan, a Mexico expert at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, referring to López Obrador. “He is an oil man.”

The presidential press office, Mexico’s energy ministry and the state power company did not respond to requests for comment.

But López Obrador has argued that while the transition to renewable energy will happen at some point, Mexico is simply not ready.

“That technological advance will sooner rather than later become a reality,” he said at the refinery’s inauguration. “It is clear that, to get there, there is still time.”

The government has not completely abandoned renewable energy. He plans to spend some $1.6 billion to build a massive solar plant in northern Mexico, as well as retrofit more than a dozen state-owned hydroelectric plants.