PEOPLE Barb Finn new branch manager at The Travel Network

first_img Share Posted by [PEOPLE] Barb Finn new branch manager at The Travel Network Travelweek Group TORONTO — The Travel Network has named Barb Finn as Branch Manager, working directly with Canadian Regional Director, Renata Grant.Finn’s lengthy career in travel includes leisure and corporate travel expertise as well as wholesale, tourism representation and event planning. She was most recently with another Virtuoso agency, New Wave Travel, as Operations Manager.Cheryl Nicholson, EVP Leisure for Worldview Travel, announced Finn’s appointment, along with a new hire for the role of Regional Director, Western Region based in Palo Alto, CA.“I am truly delighted to have both of these talented individuals join our expanding leisure team,” said Nicholson. “With their depth and breadth of experience I am certain that their contributions will be much appreciated and they will assist us with our exciting plans to expand Worldview’s already vast network of ICs and continue to grow our robust sales plan.”With over $550 million in sales, Worldview Travel is the world’s second-largest Virtuoso agency.  Specializing in both corporate and luxury leisure travel, Worldview has offices in Canada, the U.S. and Bermuda. Worldview is rapidly expanding its 550-strong network of ICs and is actively acquiring agencies.center_img << Previous PostNext Post >> Tags: People Tuesday, November 15, 2016 last_img read more

Sunwing slashes prices of Varadero packages adds 2nd destination from MontJoli

first_img TORONTO — Cuba is ready to welcome tourists once again following hurricane season, and to hammer this point home to agents, Sunwing is offering “massive savings” of up to 50% on Varadero resorts, plus double STAR points on all new Cuba bookings.The 50% discount applies to a wide selection of vacation packages to Varadero’s top-rated resorts, if booked by Oct. 13. Double STAR points, which convert to cash, can be earned on Cuba bookings made by Oct. 27.Depending on the resort they select, vacationers can also enjoy a number of exclusive perks, from Kids Stay, Play and Eat FRE deals to spa discounts and unlimited à la carte dining.Popular among families are Grand Memories Varadero, which offers character meet and greets with Toopy and Binoo, Starfish Varadero, located minutes from downtown Varadero, and Iberostar Bella Vista, which boasts an on-site waterpark, extensive pool complex and well-equipped fitness centre.Sunwing has also added a second travel option from Mont-Joli, which comes on the heels of the announcement that it would be introducing flight service from Mont-Joli to Punta Cana. Now, travellers can also take advantage of a convenient weekly flight service to Cancun (connecting in Montreal).More news:  Can you guess the top Instagrammed wedding locations in the world?Both flight options are available weekly from Dec. 21, 2017 until March 22, 2018, inclusive.“Cancun and Punta Cana are two of our most popular vacation destinations, so we are excited to be offering residents in the Bas St-Laurent region both these getaway options during our inaugural season at Mont-Joli,” said Sam Char, Executive Director of Sunwing Vacations Quebec.Travellers that opt for the new Cancun flight service could also be amongst the first guests to experience the new Riu Dunamar when it opens later this year. This family-friendly resort offers a complimentary RiuLand Kids Club, varied gourmet and à la carte dining options, all day entertainment and complimentary watersports.Another popular choice for families is the Grand Sunset Princess All Suites and Spa Resort in Riviera Maya, a beachfront property with luxurious accommodations, complimentary kids club and included activities like archery, kayaking and snorkelling. A week’s stay starts from $1,545 per person, including taxes, based on two people sharing a Junior Suite on an all-inclusive basis, and departing from Mont-Joli on Jan. 11, 2018. Friday, October 6, 2017 Posted by Tags: Cuba, Sunwing Sunwing slashes prices of Varadero packages, adds 2nd destination from Mont-Jolicenter_img Travelweek Group Share << Previous PostNext Post >>last_img read more

Block wants to clear up any confusion about Pearlman hire

first_imgBlock wants to clear up any confusion about Pearlman hire Share TORONTO — The head of Travel Leaders Network has sent out an announcement to TL Network Canada members outlining the duties of new hire Lindsay Pearlman and long-time VP TL Network Canada, Christine James.Travel Leaders Network President Roger E. Block, CTC, wanted to make sure there’s no confusion about Pearlman’s appointment and to confirm James’ position within the company.“Dear Members: This week we welcomed Lindsay Pearlman to Travel Leaders Network as Senior Vice President, International Leisure. “Lindsay will oversee our expansion with leisure-focused markets throughout Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific. “He will work closely with Angeles Yugdar, Senior Vice President of International Markets for Travel Leaders Network.“Christine James, Vice President of TL Network Canada, and her team will continue to do their outstanding work, supporting all operations for TL Network. “Canada remains a part of our North America operations, which is separate from our international division. Through our international expansion, we now have new partner agencies in more than 65 countries. More news:  Direct Travel names Smith as Senior VP, Leisure Marketing, North America“This continued growth enables us to leverage our collective strengths and better serve all of our members through increased buying power and broader international representation.“Please join me in welcoming Lindsay to our Travel Leaders Network family and continue to reach out to Christine and her team for all matters related to Canada.” Posted by Travelweek Group center_img << Previous PostNext Post >> Tags: Travel Leaders Network Thursday, July 11, 2019 last_img read more

American Airlines extends Boeing plane flight cancellations

first_img WASHINGTON — American Airlines said Sunday that it will keep the Boeing 737 Max plane off its schedule until Nov. 3, which is two months longer than it had planned.In a statement, American said the action will result in the cancellation of about 115 flights per day. It said it “remains confident” that the Boeing plane will be recertified this year. But some airline executives are growing doubtful about that timetable.United Airlines announced Friday that it was extending its cancellations until Nov. 3, a month longer than it had planned.United has 14 Max jets while American has 24 of them. Southwest Airlines, which has 34 Max jets – more than any other carrier – is cancelling about 150 flights per day. Air Canada, WestJet and Sunwing have also grounded their Max aircraft and implemented contingency plans.The Boeing 737 Max planes were grounded in March following two deadly crashes.More news:  A new low for no-frills flying: easyJet assigns backless seat to passengerThe announcement Sunday marked the fifth time that American Airlines has pushed back the expected time that the Max would resume flying.“American Airlines remains confident that impending software updates to the Boeing 737 Max, along with the new training elements Boeing is developing in co-ordination with our union partners, will lead to recertification of the aircraft this year,” the airline said.In its previous announcement of further flight cancellations last month, American Airlines had said it had expected the recertification to be accomplished “soon.”In a recent interview Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Airlines, said, “I expect it’s going to take longer than people expect” before the Max is certified to fly again. He said he could not venture a guess as to when that might occur.Delta does not fly the Boeing Max plane and has not had to contend with the flight cancellations faced by other airlines that do fly the Max. In late 2007, Delta was considering ordering the Max plane but ended up ordering 100 Airbus planes with an option to buy 100 more.More news:  Virgin Voyages de-activates Quebec accounts at FirstMates agent portalFederal Aviation Administration has said it is following a thorough process but has no timetable for when the recertification will be completed.The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that fixing the 737 Max’s faulty flight-control software and completing other steps to start carrying passengers will likely stretch into 2020.Unnamed officials at the FAA and pilot-union leaders were quoted as saying that no firm timeline has been established, but one scenario anticipates the plane could return to the air in January 2020. Share Monday, July 15, 2019 American Airlines extends Boeing plane flight cancellations By: The Associated Press Tags: American Airlines, Boeing 737 MAX << Previous PostNext Post >>last_img read more

Costa Rican inflation The 2007 breakthrough

first_imgFrom the print editionOverall inflation in Costa Rica for 2012 has varied from 4.6 to 5.1 percent in April, May and June, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) annual forecast. If there are no extraordinary changes in the economy, inflation should continue in this range for the rest of the year. By comparison, U.S. inflation was at a 1.7 percent annual rate in June. Costa Rica has more than twice the U.S. inflation rate, but the Tico economy should grow more than twice as fast as the U.S. economy this year – a trade-off any entrepreneur will take.On Tuesday, the Central Bank forecast growth for 2012 at 4.8 percent, higher than previous estimates of 3.8 percent.Despite inflation numbers that are high in relation to the U.S. economy, Costa Rica is now operating in an inflation range that was an impossible dream for two generations. Before 2007, the Central Bank would have broken out the champagne if overall price increases could be kept to less than double digits in any given year.In 2007, the Central Bank changed its method for fixing the exchange rate, from a predictable, mini-devaluation scheme to floating the colón and letting private buyers and sellers of dollars determine the exchange rate. To be sure, it’s a “dirty float,” with the Central Bank setting exchange rate floors and ceilings that trigger its intervention if the exchange rate gets too low or too high. But so far, the rate has been more or less stable since 2007, with Central Bank intervention only on the low end of its target range: {500 to the dollar. But at the time the Central Bank made the change to a floating exchange rate, it looked like a gamble – after 24 years, from 1983 to 2007, the economy had become accustomed to the relatively predictable mini-devaluations. During those years, total yearly devaluation averaged 11 percent. What happened to cause the Central Bank to want to fix a system that wasn’t broken? In hindsight, based on success with the floating colón, it would seem that the Central Bank was telling Costa Rica’s exporters that, after 24 years of coddling them with steady devaluation to make exports more competitive, it would now seek to stabilize the exchange rate and concentrate on what should be the No. 1 goal of every central bank: exchange stability with low inflation. In an open economy like Costa Rica’s, where exports and imports total more than 60 percent of gross domestic product, an 11 percent devaluation every year builds a big fraction of that into increased money supply (as exporters change dollars into colones to pay their local production costs), and the full devaluation rate increase into the price of imports. No wonder the country struggled to crack a 10 percent minimum inflation rate in those years when devaluation averaged 11percent.What emboldened the Central Bank to float the colón in 2007? Most likely, the answer is changes in the Costa Rican economy. A generation ago, the big dollar earners for Costa Rica were coffee, sugar, bananas and beef – all agricultural commodities, in which Costa Rica competed on a price-only basis with lower-cost producers all over the world. With those products and that competition, yearly devaluation was necessary to remain competitive. But today, Costa Rica exports mostly services and high-tech goods, and agriculture is only one-sixth of exports. For its modern export product mix, Costa Rica’s educated workforce provides the competitive edge, and the pricing crutch of yearly devaluation is no longer necessary.Rudolf Lucke, a professor at the University of Costa Rica’s Institute for Investigation in Economic Sciences, a think tank, put together the chart pictured above left. Though it starts in 2009, not 2007, the chart shows the Central Bank’s success in bringing down inflation. The graph breaks annualized CPI changes down into component parts: regulated and non-regulated products, and exportable and non-exportable goods and services. In January 2009, the range of inflation components was all over the place, from a low of 11 percent for exportable goods to a high of 17 percent for non-exportable goods. In three years and four months, all the inflation-rate components have converged to between 4-6 percent – a stunning achievement, and the greatest help the government and the Central Bank can give to the poor, who are hardest hit by the inflation tax. Facebook Comments No related posts.last_img read more

Costa Rican jaguarundi get dental checkups

first_imgNo related posts. If you thought trips to the dentist were only for people and house pets, guess again. This week at San José’s Simón Bolívar Zoo, researchers from Costa Rica’s Universidad Latina inspected the teeth of two jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi ), part of a joint annual veterinarian and dental program. (Click here to see more photos.)Marco Masís and students extracted a broken tooth from one of the jaguarundi, and filled a cavity in the other.“These treatments help improve the animals’ quality of life, and in many cases, help extend their lives,” Masís said. “We’re helping them avoid pain in the future.”The jaruarundi is a small wild cat that lives from southern Texas all the way to South America. In Costa Rica, dental treatments for wild animals are fairly new, and Masís is a pioneer in the field, said student Rebeca Phillips.           Also this week, veterinarian Randal Arguedas looked over the animals at Simón Bolívar, located in the northeastern neighborhood of Barrio Amón. Facebook Commentslast_img read more

Harsh storms heavy winds expected to continue in Costa Rica

first_imgExperts from the National Meteorological Institute (IMN) this week predicted that Costa Rica could expect up to 20 percent more rain than normal in coming weeks.Rains during the first two weeks of September already exceeded those registered during the same period last year, but 2012 was considered one of the driest in recent years. This week’s increase in rainfall was caused by a low-pressure system over the country, the IMN reported on Monday.September and October usually are the harshest rainy season months, which in Costa Rica extends from May to November, and most of the rainfall is concentrated in the Central Valley and the Pacific region.The IMN predicted that showers in coming weeks will be accompanied by strong winds and thunderstorms, mainly during afternoon and early evening hours.Although current weather in the Caribbean region is marked by dry and mostly sunny conditions, experts believe the entire country in the next two months could receive the effects of at least six cyclones expected to form in the Caribbean.IMN experts advised people living near rivers prone to flooding to be alert, as is not necessary for cyclones to be close to the country to cause heavy downpours.A flood on Monday evening washed out a Bailey bridge in Vara Blanca, Alajuela, and heavy rains caused flooding in various parts of Costa Rica including Cartago, east of the capital, and Santa María de Dota, south of San José, where a bridge over the Río Blanco also collapsed.Rainy season is expected to end by the second week of November, according to the IMN. Facebook Comments No related posts.last_img read more

This years wars

No related posts. BRUSSELS — Before we dive into next year’s list of conflicts to watch, some thoughts on the year we are about to conclude are in order. In short, 2013 was not a good year for our collective ability to prevent or end conflict. For sure, there were bright moments. Colombia appears closer than ever to ending a civil war which next year will mark its 60th birthday. Myanmar, too, could bring down the curtain on its decades-long internal ethnic conflicts, though many hurdles remain. The deal struck over Iran’s nuclear program was a welcome fillip for diplomacy, even dynamism. The U.N. Security Council finally broke its deadlock over Syria, at least with regards to the regime’s chemical weapons, and committed to more robust interventions in Eastern Congo and the Central African Republic. Turkey’s talks with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) continue in fits and starts, but the ceasefire looks reasonably durable. Pakistan enjoyed its first-ever democratic handover of power.As important as these achievements are, still more important is to keep them in perspective. Colombia’s peace process remains vulnerable to messy domestic politics in the election year ahead. Myanmar’s positive trajectory could derail if the bigotry unleashed on Muslim communities continues unchecked. Moving towards a final settlement with Iran amidst a sea of red lines and potential spoilers – in Washington, Tehran and the region – is undoubtedly a more perilous challenge than reaching the interim deal in Geneva, welcome step though it was. And that Turkey and Pakistan, both entries on last year’s “top 10” list, don’t make it onto this year’s list is hardly a clean bill of health, given the spillover of Syria’s conflict into Turkey, and the ongoing dangers of extremism and urban violence in Pakistan.But it is Syria and the recent muscular interventions in Central Africa that best illustrate alarming deficiencies in our collective ability to manage conflict.In Syria, the speed and decisiveness with which the international community acted to eliminate Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons can’t help but underscore its failure to act with equal determination to end the fighting; even concerted humanitarian action remains elusive. As the conflict in Syria enters its third winter, there is little indication it will stop any time soon, whatever hopes are centered around the Geneva talks scheduled for January. If the Security Council’s role is to maintain international peace and security, then as Syria’s conflict claims ever more lives and threatens to suck in Lebanon and Iraq, how else can one judge its impact than as an abject failure?In the Central African Republic, meanwhile, the international community was apparently taken by surprise by the collapse into violence. There is no excuse for this: Decades of misrule, under-development, and economic mismanagement had left behind a phantom state long before this year’s coup unleashed turmoil and now escalating confessional violence. France’s robust support for the African Union (AU) in a full-fledged humanitarian intervention was commendable. But without concerted, sustained commitment to rebuilding the Central African Republic (CAR), it is unlikely to make much difference in the long run.So how does this list compared with that of last year? Five entries are new: Bangladesh, Central African Republic, Honduras, Libya and North Caucasus. Five remain: Central Asia, Iraq, the Sahel, Sudan and Syria/Lebanon. Of course, by their nature, lists beget lists. It would not have been too difficult to draw up a completely different one. In addition to Pakistan and Turkey, Afghanistan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been omitted, though all could have easily merited a place. Nor did South Sudan, apparently on the cusp of civil war, make it onto this year’s list.In Afghanistan, next year’s elections, coupled with the Taliban’s continued insurgency in the face of unsettled international support for a still nascent national army, make 2014 a crucial year for the country – and a potentially ominous one for Afghan women. In Somalia, despite some gains by an AU mission and a new “provisional” government, al-Shabab militants have shown their continued ability to strike – both at home and abroad – and many of Somalia’s clans remain in conflict with each other. Finally, the sheer absence of the state and the rule of law in the DRC could have justified an entry on this year’s list, despite the recent welcome defeat of the M23 rebel movement and signs that, finally, the international community can no longer ignore the conflict’s regional dimensions.But ultimately, this list seeks to focus not just on crises in the international spotlight – CAR, Syria, the Sahel, and Sudan – but also on some that are less visible or slower-burning. Thus Honduras – estimated to be the world’s most violent country outside those facing conventional conflict – is included, as is Central Asia, which totters ever closer to a political and security implosion.The list illustrates the remarkable range of factors that can cause instability: organized crime in Central America; the stresses of the political competition around elections, as in Bangladesh; the threat of insurgency – in the North Caucasus, for example – or the dangers of regional spillover, as in Lebanon or the Sahel. Then there are the perils of authoritarian rule and an overly securitized response to opposition: in Syria, of course, but also in Iraq and Russia’s North Caucasus. An alarming rise in communal or identity-based violence is likewise contributing to instability in Iraq, Syria and CAR (and Myanmar and Sri Lanka, for that matter). Finally, center/periphery tensions cut across a range of countries on the list. Mali, Libya, Sudan, and Iraq – plus Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and others – all wrestle with notions of strong, centralized governance that appear unworkable, yet struggle to find alternatives that don’t atomize the state or feed secessionism.Above all, however, the list highlights that deadly conflict rarely springs up out of nowhere or is entirely unanticipated. It usually has long roots: in underdevelopment; states’ inability to provide all their citizens with basic public goods; inequality; and divisive or predatory rule. It shows, too, that reducing the fragility of the most vulnerable countries – arguably among the greatest moral and political challenge of our era – takes time, commitment, and resources. Three things that, sadly, too often are lacking.Syria and LebanonThe diplomatic breakthrough in September on Syria’s chemical weapons – and subsequent progress in dismantling them – has had little noticeable impact on the battlefield. Violence continues, with ever-worsening humanitarian consequences. Having avoided a U.S. military intervention, the Bashar al-Assad regime has displayed increasing confidence, re-escalating its campaign to drive rebels from strongholds around the capital, Aleppo, and the Lebanese border. The regime, with some success, has also sought to market itself to Western governments as a counterterrorism partner – ironically so, given that its brutal tactics and reliance on sectarian militias helped fuel the rise of its extremist adversaries in the first place.In part, the regime’s momentum – however limited – can be attributed to disarray among rebel forces. The opposition’s primary political umbrella, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, has no real control of military operations on the ground. The opposition’s regional backers – principally Saudi Arabia and Qatar – support competing blocs within the coalition, as well as separate armed groups outside it, contributing to rifts that jihadi groups have exploited. The al-Qaida-affiliated Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is now the strongest rebel faction in much of the north, but its aggressive tactics have alienated fellow militants and the opposition’s base. In response, other leading rebel groups formed the “Islamic Front,” potentially the largest and most coherent opposition alliance to date. Its Islamist platform, however, has raised concerns among some of the opposition’s external backers, and coordination issues remain a persistent problem.Meanwhile, Syria is slowly but surely dragging Lebanon down with it. Lebanon’s population has swelled by at least 25 percent as a result of Syrian spillover. Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s growing involvement on the regime’s behalf, allegedly in a “pre-emptive war” to keep its jihadist enemies at bay, is in fact luring them to take the fight to the Shiite militant group at home. Other attacks have targeted Sunni mosques in Tripoli, where sectarian strife has pushed the army to take control.International attention is currently focused on the renewed push to hold talks between the regime and opposition, scheduled for Jan. 22 in Geneva. But both sides see it as little more than a venue for the other to formalize its capitulation. The opposition coalition accepts the premise of the talks – the June 2012 Geneva communiqué calling for establishment of a mutually agreed transitional body with full executive authority – but has struggled to make a final decision about whether to participate under current conditions. The regime, by contrast, has readily agreed to join talks, but rejects the ostensible goal of the process: the formation of a transitional government. The positions of each side’s external backers will be critical in bringing the parties toward agreement in any political process, but here, too, signs of willingness to compromise are few, if any.IraqSince April 2013, when Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government intensified its violent crackdown on a peaceful Sunni protest movement, the tide of attacks, arrests, and executions has gradually swelled. Sunni distrust of the central government is greater than ever, providing an opening for al-Qaida in Iraq after years of decline. Over 7,000 civilians have fallen victim to this destructive cycle already this year, but still the government has shown no appetite for compromise. Iraq’s Sunnis, therefore, have turned to Syria, hoping a victory by the opposition there will enable a political comeback at home.The coming year is likely to see further intertwining of the Iraqi and Syrian conflicts. As the Iraqi state weakens, its frontier with Syria erodes. Baghdad, more overtly than ever, is aiding Damascus in order to stave off the Sunni wave it fears at home – though its support for the Syrian regime is encouraging precisely that, as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), an al-Qaida offshoot, has become the biggest player in northern Syria. To halt the violence, the Iraqi government should change its approach radically: It must win Iraqi Sunnis back to its side, re-engage them in the political process and in the fight against al-Qaida, and use its improved domestic support base to secure its own borders. Only an inclusive state can save Iraq from fragmenting.The coming year’s parliamentary elections are unlikely to produce solutions. On the contrary, they risk exacerbating violence and attracting foreign interference. Maliki’s ambition to run for a third term pits his coalition against other Shiite groups, encouraging Iran to weigh in. At the same time, the political scene is fragmenting into a variety of political entities, the culmination of eight years of Maliki’s divide-and-rule strategy. The prime minister’s base has dwindled as well, so absent an unexpectedly dominant candidate or coalition, one can expect the elections to yield an excruciating period of bargaining and political paralysis.LibyaBeset with myriad security concerns and mired in political deadlock, Libya’s post-Qaddafi transition is threatening to go off the rails. The General National Congress’ mandate is set to expire on Feb. 7, 2014, and the formation of a constitution-writing body is already over a year late. Ali Zeidan, the current prime minister, has been the target of several attacks – and a brief kidnapping – and calls for his dismissal are rising. Meanwhile, public confidence in state institutions is fast waning, and with it confidence in a transition process that was supposed to create the framework for a new democracy.Like other Arab countries in transition, Libya has become increasingly divided along several different axes – Islamist vs. liberal, conservative vs. revolutionary, and center vs. periphery – all of which are contributing to instability on the ground. Following the collapse of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, militias largely took over from the official military and police force, and the country is awash in weapons. The coalition that brought Qaddafi’s former allies together with liberal exiles and long-imprisoned Islamists has collapsed, leaving in its wake a fragmented polity. In Libya’s east, almost daily targeted assassinations of security officials – for which residents blame radical Islamists – is fueling belligerent anti-Islamist attitudes.Overwhelmed, the government has been obliged, paradoxically, to bribe and cajole militias in an attempt to rebuild the state’s monopoly on force. So far, it has had little success: Armed groups have blocked gas pipelines and besieged crude oil facilities, reducing exports to around 20 percent of the pre-uprising level. The loss of revenues is crippling the national budget.There are no easy answers to these problems. At a minimum, local militias and the proliferation of small arms will plague Libya (and its neighbors) for years to come, frustrating the government’s efforts to rebuild the country’s security forces and secure its borders. But it remains an open question whether Libya’s leaders can build sufficient consensus to keep the process moving in the right direction.HondurasHonduras is the world’s murder capital, with more than 80 homicides reported for every 100,000 citizens in 2013. A weak, often compromised justice and law enforcement system means that most serious crimes are never prosecuted. One of the two poorest countries in the region – half the population lives in extreme poverty – Honduras is also among the 10 most unequal countries in the world. Much of the country is plagued by criminal violence, and most Hondurans cannot access state services or enjoy the protection of law enforcement. Democracy and rule of law – never strong – were further undermined by a coup in 2009.The United Nations and human rights groups have reported that members of the Honduran National Police have engaged in criminal activity, including murder. Weak, corrupt security forces have turned Honduras into an ideal way-station for drugs heading from the Andes to U.S. markets. An estimated 87 percent of all airborne cocaine headed north stops first in Honduras.Organized criminal activity ranges from drug and human trafficking to kidnapping and extortion. Criminal groups have become strong enough that the state has effectively lost control over parts of the country. Compounding these security threats are street gangs, led by the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 (M18), which together boast an estimated 12,000 members. For the most part, these gangs terrorize the poor, urban neighborhoods in the capital city, Tegucigalpa, and the port of San Pedro Sula.Violence in Honduras spiked upward in 2009, when President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a coup. The International Criminal Court is currently investigating crimes committed in the aftermath of that coup, while an official truth commission revealed that the military killed at least 20 people. Since 2009, 10 human rights activists, 29 journalists, 63 lawyers, and some 20 political candidates have been killed. In almost all of these instances, no one has been held accountable.Newly elected President Juan Orlando Hernandez campaigned on an “iron fist” response to crime, proposing to create a militarized police force. Given ongoing complaints of human rights abuses by security forces – including allegations of involvement in disappearances and kidnappings for ransom – it is little surprise that his proposal has been met with vocal opposition by civil society organizations and the diplomatic community. Such an overly securitized response, built on corrupt or predatory institutions, is unlikely to resolve the problem. Absent concerted efforts to strengthen the rule of law, Honduras’ plight looks set to continue – even intensify – in the coming year.Central African RepublicMonths of deadly clashes in the Central African Republic (CAR) have brought an already perilously weak state to the brink of collapse, with 400,000 people displaced and untold thousands terrorized into hiding. Nearly half of the population is in need of some form of assistance, and state services, including the police and the army, no longer exist.It was just a year ago that a transition of power from then-President François Bozizé appeared to be in on track. But that agreement fell apart and in March, Seleka rebels – a loose alliance of Muslim fighters from the CAR, Chad, and Sudan – staged a coup to oust Bozizé and replace him with their leader, Michel Djotodia. In September, Djotodia disbanded Seleka, triggering a wave of widespread violence with no effective national army in place to stop it.The United Nations and Western powers were slow to respond, in part because they thought Djotodia could control Seleka fighters and that the African Union-led International Support Mission in the CAR (MISCA) could secure the capital, Bangui. They were wrong on both counts. The transitional government and the regional security force have failed to prevent a free fall into chaos. The “wait and see” approach of the United Nations and Western powers now has them breathlessly trying to catch up.The Seleka have since splintered into leaderless factions that clash regularly with armed groups made up of villagers and national security services alike. Eyewitnesses report daily attacks on civilians and massacres carried out with machetes and semi-automatic weapons. More worryingly still, the conflict has taken on a religious undercurrent, with the Seleka pitted against newly formed Christian self-defense groups. The process of radicalization is well underway. If the violence continues and religious tensions escalate, large-scale confessionally-driven violence is frighteningly possible.The conflict could also easily spread to other neighboring countries – insecurity is already rife on the border with Cameroon – although help appears to be belatedly at hand. Following French warnings of potential regional destabilization, the United Nations authorized France to send 1,600 troops to bolster MISCA’s operations and restore law and order. For now, the future of the CAR is in their hands. Challenges ahead include disarming militiamen in Bangui and preventing fighting between Christian and Muslim communities. Only then can the process of state-building begin.SudanA hotbed of instability and violence for years, conditions remain dire across much of Sudan. Political restlessness in Khartoum, economic fragility, and multiple center-periphery tensions all pose major conflict risks for 2014.In November, Sudan’s defense minister announced a new offensive against Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) rebels in South Kordofan, Darfur, and Blue Nile, aimed at “ending the rebellion.” The rebel alliance, which is fighting for a more representative government, responded in kind, leveling attacks against strategic roads and army facilities in North and South Kordofan. Khartoum has since backpedaled, downplaying the significance of the campaign and saying the government is ready to resume talks. But African Union mediators still need Khartoum’s consent to start a comprehensive, national dialogue that includes the SRF.In Darfur, the violence that began a decade ago has now mostly given way to fighting between Arab tribes, once the government’s main proxies against non-Arab rebels and communities. Since the beginning of 2013, inter-tribal violence has displaced an additional 450,000 people. One of the most violent conflicts in the region – involving the Salamat, Missiriya, and Ta’aisha tribes at the Sudan-Chad-CAR tri-border – has forced 50,000 more refugees into Chad. In the east of Sudan, lack of implementation of a 2006 peace deal backed by Eritrea is also threatening to reignite conflict.Poor governance is also inching the country closer to disaster. Nationwide protests in late September against ending fuel subsidies sparked much deeper levels of discontent among urban populations, once reliable government supporters. The growth of militant Islamist groups – independent of the governing National Congress Party or the Islamist Movement – also points to a government losing control on all fronts.The solution to all of these challenges remains the same as ever: The relationship between Khartoum and the rest of the country must be fundamentally redefined. Otherwise, regional grievances will continue to fester, Khartoum will continue to be consumed with crisis management, and the international community will continue to spend billions each year to manage the consequences.One of several obstacles that could stand in the way of reforming Sudan’s center-periphery troubles is President Omar al-Bashir’s indictment for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Without some incentive, Bashir could well block all but cosmetic change for fear of losing power and ending up at the court. But if the international community confirms that credible reform is underway – and that the only thing standing in the way of further, comprehensive progress is the indictment – the Security Council could request that the ICC defer prosecution of Bashir for a year with no obligation to extend.The Sahel and Northern NigeriaThe Sahel region and Northern Nigeria have emerged as major sources of instability for parts of West and Central Africa, as last year’s watchlist foretold. In 2014, expect separatist movements, Islamist terrorism, and north-south tensions to continue to spark violence, which the region’s weak or stressed governments are ill-equipped to address.In Mali, a French military intervention in early 2013 successfully wrested control of northern cities from a coalition of Islamist militant groups. Subsequently, presidential and parliamentary elections were held without major incident. Still, the country is far from stable today. Terror attacks, inter-communal clashes and bouts of fighting between armed Tuareg groups and the Malian army have continued, while representatives of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the primary Tuareg separatist group, have repeatedly threatened to withdraw from peace talks. A U.N. mission has deployed to the country, but still lacks adequate resources and personnel.To escape further conflict, Mali must look beyond immediate security concerns and provide its diverse population with essential services, impartial justice, and inclusive politics. The government in Bamako cannot be seen as imposing its own vision for stability on the north – or the roots of the conflict will remain untouched.Next door, Niger may seem comparatively tranquil, but it is subject to many of the same pressures that tipped Mali into chaos. President Mahamadou Issoufou has pursued a security agenda focused on external threats, while his government is failing to deliver long promised and vital social goods at home. Tensions surrounding a government shuffle last summer revealed how fragile Niger’s democracy remains. Add to the equation suspected criminal infiltration of the state and security services, the acute misery of most of the population, and you have a decidedly combustible mix.Finally, Nigeria’s Boko Haram continues to wage a bloody insurgency in the north of Africa’s most populous country. Despite a year-long and often harsh government campaign, the group still mounts regular attacks on military and police installations, and civilians – often from safe havens in the mountains, as well as from neighboring Niger and Cameroon. Fighting will claim further thousands of lives in 2014 unless the government adopts significant reforms, including addressing impunity, tackling systemic corruption, and promoting development. This will be made even more difficult as the country prepares for what could be fiercely contested general elections in 2015.BangladeshBangladesh enters 2014 amid escalating political violence. Scores of people died and hundreds were injured in clashes between the opposition and security forces ahead of general elections scheduled for January, the former embracing a growing campaign of violent nationwide shutdowns, or hartals. The opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) has said it will boycott the elections, accusing the ruling Awami League (AL) of authoritarian rule and plans to rig the polls.A boycott would deepen the crisis and lead to more deadly violence. Merely postponing polls – as some have suggested – without a roadmap for how to hold credible elections in the future is also not the solution. There is deep animosity between the heads of the AL and BNP, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, who have been swapping power since 1991. A phone call between them in October 2013 – reportedly their first conversation in over a decade – quickly deteriorated into barbs about each other’s mental health.The roots of Bangladeshi political polarization run deep. Over the past two years, a government-appointed tribunal has carried out profoundly flawed trials for war crimes committed during the country’s 1971 war of liberation from Pakistan. To date, everyone on trial is a Bangladeshi citizen. No one from the Pakistani military, the main force resisting the liberation of what was then East Pakistan, has been indicted. Making matters worse, the sentencing to death of six members of the BNP and Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami parties – for allegedly trying to sabotage the country’s formation – has inflated religious-versus-secular social divisions and spawned the radicalization of newer groups like Hefajat-e-Islam.The only way out is via credible elections and a stable, responsive government. For that, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia must overcome their mutual loathing and negotiate an inclusive roadmap. The risks are manifold. Since 1971, the military has attempted some 30 coups, about a fifth of them successful. In two, prime ministers were assassinated, including Sheikh Hasina’s father, Mujibur Rahman. Today, the military remains a risk. Finally, the potential radicalization of Rohingya refugees, human rights concerns, and Bangladesh’s complicated economic trajectory all make for an explosive mix.Central AsiaThe 2014 Afghanistan drawdown is not the only thing to worry about in Central Asia. Most countries in this region are governed by aging leaders and have no succession mechanisms – in itself potentially a recipe for chaos. All have young, alienated populations and decaying infrastructure.Uzbekistan, a perpetually difficult neighbor, squabbles with Kyrgyzstan over borders and with Tajikistan over water. Moscow is warning of a buildup of Central Asian guerrillas on the Afghan side of the border, and is ramping up military assistance. Tajikistan, the main frontline state, is also deeply vulnerable – with low governance capacity, high corruption, barely functional security forces, and limited control over some strategically sensitive regions. It is also a key transit route for opiates destined for Russia and beyond.In Kyrgyzstan, extreme nationalist politics threaten not just the country’s social fabric, but its economy too, as some politicians seek political and possibly financial gain by hounding foreign investors in the crucial mining sector. Crime and corruption are endemic. The harshly authoritarian state of Uzbekistan is Moscow’s biggest irritant and the United States’ closest ally in the region. And yet its president, Islam Karimov, may have lost control over his own family: His eldest daughter, Gulnara, is suspected of having her own presidential ambitions and has lashed out against her mother as well as Uzbekistan’s security chief, probably the country’s second most powerful figure. Neighbors fear post-Karimov instability could trigger waves of refugees, a further pressure on their poorly defined borders.Resource-rich Kazakhstan, meanwhile, has ambitions of regional leadership, but it could just as easily be undone by a host of internal problems. Investors like China worry that the Kazakhs have made heavy weather of handling even very modest insurgency problems. The country also suffers from a serious lack of transparency for foreign investment, enormous income disparities, a poor human rights record, and increasing pressure from Moscow. It also needs to design a smooth transition mechanism for its long-time leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Finally, Turkmenistan, generously endowed with hydrocarbons but weak in governance, hopes to withstand any post Afghanistan spillover by doing a deal with its new leaders. This has worked in the past, but there is no guarantee it will in the future.While Afghanistan will undoubtedly be the focus of the international community again in 2014, Central Asia’s states will continue to grapple with their own individual and unique circumstances in a corner of the world too long cast as a pawn in someone else’s game.North Caucasus (Sochi)This February, Russia will host the Winter Olympics – at $47 billion, the most expensive ever – in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. But security is even more of a problem than cost: Europe’s most active ongoing conflict is taking place nearby in the North Caucasus. If the Olympics motto is “faster, higher, stronger,” Putin’s motto in approaching the North Caucasus insurgency appears to be “meaner, tougher, stronger.”The leader of the North Caucasus Islamist insurgency, Doku Umarov, has threatened to disrupt the Olympics and urged militants to use all available means to commit terrorist attacks across Russia. His efforts appear to have paid off: In 2013, there were at least 30 terrorist attacks in southern Russia, according to independent media sources. Twin bombings on Monday, Dec. 30, that killed dozens in Volgograd – responsibility for which is as yet unclaimed – speak to the nature of the terrorist threat. In response, the Russian government has rolled out unprecedented security measures in Sochi, and strengthened border controls to prevent infiltration of fighters from abroad and minimize the risk emanating from the North Caucasus, especially its most restive republic, Dagestan.Unfortunately, some of these measures could worsen the situation. In Jan. 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin replaced Dagestan’s president and overhauled the republic’s nuanced security strategy, which had been showing signs of success. Along with vigorous anti-corruption measures, the new president, Ramazan Abdulatipov, backed a wave of repression against the Dagestan’s vibrant Salafi community. Security forces conducted mop-up operations in villages, arrested large groups of believers from cafes, madrassas, and homes, and intimidated moderate Salafi leaders, civic organizations, and businesses. Modest initiatives at inter-sectarian dialogue have ceased. Abdulatipov also closed the commission for rehabilitation of fighters and encouraged the creation of people’s militias, supposedly to combat extremism. These, however, have already been involved in intra-confessional violence.Equally troubling was the announcement in September by Yunus-bek Yevkurov, president of another North Caucasus republic, Ingushetia, that the homes of insurgents’ families will be demolished and their land seized. In nearby Kabardino-Balkariya, the civilian president, Arsen Kanokov, was replaced by the former chief of the Interior Ministry’s Department for Combating Extremism – not exactly known for its subtle approach to security.Sochi must be secure for the Games. But the return to harsh and heavy-handed policies is likely to intensify the conflict once the Games have ended, suggesting that 2014 will be another bloody year for southern Russia.Arbour in president of the International Crisis Group.© 2013, Foreign Policy Facebook Comments read more

Deadline to resolve Panama Canal expansion receives extension to Feb 1

first_imgWork onexpanding the Panama Canal will continue through at least next week after the construction consortium officially extended the deadline until Feb. 1 to resolve a dispute over $1.6 billion in cost overruns. The deadline had been set for this past Monday. However, the Panama Canal Authority and the consortium threatening to shut down the project have kept negotiations going.Panama officials said a proposal presented this week by the consortium Grupos Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) could resolve the dispute. The canal expansion already had been delayed from 2014 to the summer of 2015. Reuters reported Thursday that the waterway’s completion could be delayed until 2020 if GUPC, led by the Spanish construction company Sacyr, can’t come to an agreement with the canal authority. The Panama government has guaranteed the ambitious project will be completed by 2015 in spite of the current conflict. The expansion will place a third set of locks on the all-important transportation corridor, allowing for larger ships to pass through. Estimates say Panama could quadruple its $1 billion of annual revenue from toll fees once the expansion is complete. Facebook Comments Related posts:Minister insists that Panama Canal expansion will be completed in 2015 Panama Canal expansion hits $570 million snag New proposal made to break Panama Canal expansion deadlock Work resumes to expand Panama Canallast_img read more

CBS to air documentary questioning Costa Ricas murder conviction of US expat

first_imgRelated posts:Guilty of murder: Costa Rica court convicts expat Ann Patton of killing husband in 2010 Top 6 crime stories of 2014 Following recent crime wave, Solís announces new investment in San Carlos police force Costa Rica police rule out foul play in death of Ann Patton’s boyfriend last week Ann Maxin Patton, 43, cries as a Costa Rica court delivers a guilty verdict in a high-profile murder trial. Patton was convicted on Tuesday, May 27, 2014 of shooting to death her husband, U.S. financier John Felix Bender. The Tico TimesThe conviction by a Costa Rican court of U.S. expat Ann Maxin Patton on charges that she murdered her husband, U.S. financier John Felix Bender, in 2010 continues to be scrutinized, this time by the CBS documentary news series “48 hours.”In a story published Friday, CBS announced it had hired “world-renowned forensics experts” Richard and Selma Eikelenboom to review the Patton case file, including evidence and crime scene photos used by Costa Rican prosecutors to land a 22-year prison sentence for the 43-year-old Brazilian-born Patton.CBS had this to say about the show, which is scheduled to air this fall:In June, we furnished them [the Eikelenbooms] with court documents and police photos for review at their Colorado lab. And we brought them to Costa Rica to conduct tests and reconstruct the shooting in the room where John Bender died.After more than a month of review, the Eikelenbooms identified serious flaws in the initial police investigation. Most importantly, they told us, the documents suggest authorities assumed from the start that Bender had been murdered – and set out to prove it. Investigators also failed to photograph the scene correctly, test the blood stains on the bed sheets or even fingerprint the gun, they said.Patton’s friends, family members and attorney – and even some of Bender’s friends – also strongly believe Patton is innocent, and one of the fundamental questions they raise regarding the police investigation is a lack of fingerprint testing on the weapon that killed Bender. They are convinced Bender committed suicide.Patton was acquitted of the charges last year, but an appeals court ordered a retrial arguing that important evidence had not been heard. Although Patton’s statements to police and to the court have remained consistent in the past four years, a second murder trial was held in May, and  this time, judges found Patton guilty. She was immediately taken into custody.The strange and dramatic tale of Ann Patton and John Bender has been told repeatedly by several media, including in a CNN special documentary that aired last May. Read the transcript of that show here.Patton’s attorney has appealed the homicide conviction, and a ruling on that appeal is pending. Stay tuned for more. Facebook Commentslast_img read more

In this holiday season finding ways to make a difference

first_imgIn the low-income neighborhood of Rincón Grande in western San José, a young woman has finished her last tests of the school year. Instead of hanging out with her friends, though, she’s taking one more, of her own volition: the entrance interview for a vacation English camp in her community. She smiles shyly in the empty classroom, which is actually a store in the strip mall her high school is renting as a makeshift facility. “I really want to learn,” she says. “I really want this opportunity.”In the northwestern province of Guanacaste, a pregnant elementary school teacher is finishing a tiring school year. When January rolls around, along with her well-earned summer break, she has a perfect opportunity to put up her feet before her baby arrives – except that she won’t. Instead, eight months pregnant, she’ll teach and receive hands-on training every day at her local English camp.In the shadow of Turrialba Volcano, parents are organizing movie nights to raise funds for their kids to attend a camp. In La Lucha, in the Southern Zone, community leaders are hard at work raffling off a cow so they can cover basic costs. In the town of La Mansión, a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer is teaching yoga as a fundraising method. In the U.S. state of Oregon, a group of volunteers are meeting to plan their trip to Costa Rica in January to teach. And in Arizona, the parents of three young children just decided to forego printing their annual Christmas card in order to donate to help Costa Rican kids they’ve never met attend an English camp for the first time.These people are just a few examples of the remarkable students, teachers, volunteers, parents and donors who have made JumpStart Costa Rica, an initiative of the nonprofit Costa Rica Multilingüe Foundation in partnership with the Peace Corps, such a success; the completely donation-based initiative, now in the midst of its holiday fundraising campaign, is poised to provide intensive English training for low-income students and hands-on professional development for Costa Rican teachers all over the country during Costa Rica’s school vacations this coming January. These people are expert foragers, turning unused classrooms, time and resources into educational gold. They are a source of daily inspiration for me, as the coordinator of the project.Their determination, commitment and selflessness also represent a broader spirit of giving that we at The Tico Times want to highlight this holiday season, so we are proud to introduce two efforts to continue what has always been a central part of our mission as a newspaper: to shine a light on communities, organizations and individuals doing great things in Costa Rica and connect them with interested readers. Our new monthly column “Changemakers,” by Sylvia Arias Penón, will profile leaders, social entrepreneurs and others around the country and region who are doing great things to improve their communities, nations and world. “Giving Back” is an occasional series featuring nonprofit and other donation-based community initiatives, whether through op-eds such as this one, or feature stories. This country is full of people young and old who are taking innovative and generous steps to improve education, conservation, health care and more. Instead of cursing the Black-Friday-ness of the world today, they’re lighting a candle. And that’s a gift worth passing on.See also: A search for Central America’s own MalalasKatherine Stanley Obando is The Tico Times’ arts and entertainment editor and the author of the twice-monthly Maeology column. She also is a freelance writer, translator, former teacher and academic director of JumpStart Costa Rica. She lives in San José. Nominations for the occasional “Giving Back” series can be sent to her at kstanley@ticotimes.net. For more information on JumpStart Costa Rica or to participate in the initiative’s holiday campaign, visit the project’s website. Facebook Comments Related posts:A search for Central America’s own Malalas Inter-American Dialogue honors Guatemalan businessman, civic activist Salvador Paiz Guanacaste nonprofit celebrates 10 years of support for youth Year-end campaign invites public to share why they love Costa Ricalast_img read more

Experts extend alert for strong waves in Costa Ricas northern Pacific Caribbean

first_imgRelated posts:Big waves expected this weekend on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast Oceanographers forecast strong waves, rip tides along Costa Rica’s Pacific shores starting Thursday Strong gusts, big waves to continue over the weekend Big waves expected at Costa Rica’s northern Pacific, Caribbean beaches Conditions creating tall and powerful waves are expected to intensify again on Wednesday along the northwestern Pacific coast and in the Caribbean province of Limón, the University of Costa Rica’s Center for Research in Marine Sciences and Limnology (CIMAR) reported.The increase in wave force will continue at least until Sunday and is caused by the influence of strong winds driven by high-pressure systems currently affecting the Northern Hemisphere.The CIMAR forecast states that waves with maximum heights of 3.4 meters (11.3 feet) will be present in the northern Pacific region on Wednesday and Thursday, beyond 10 kilometers from the coastline, driven by strong winds that will reach maximum speeds of up to 33 knots.Waves along the coastline will remain under 2 meters (6.7 feet), “but with strong breaks that will generate intense rip currents that are dangerous for swimmers,” the report warns.Winds off the coast will pose dangerous conditions for sailing and small boats at least until Friday along most of the Nicoya Peninsula, but mainly on beaches located from Playa Carrillo to Salinas Bay on the border with Nicaragua.The strongest winds are expected on Wednesday in the Gulf of Nicoya, causing choppy seas both in the gulf  — affecting the San Lucas and Chira islands — and away from the gulf, from Puntarenas to Cabo Blanco. Strong gusts also will affect waves on Lake Arenal in Guanacaste.On the Caribbean coast, waves with maximum heights of up 2.5 meters (8.3 feet) are expected on Wednesday, and CIMAR has issued a preventive alert for small boats and beachgoers at all beaches in Limón through Sunday.High tides and strong waves last weekend flooded 35 homes, several businesses and part of the the municipal market in the community of El Carmen, in downtown Puntarenas. On Monday night, marine officers from Puntarenas’ Fire Department rescued three passengers on a small boat that overturned in an area near Gitana and Cedros islands.“They were in stable condition and told us that a strong wave crashed the boat, overturning it. However, they managed to call rescue services and were evacuated in time,” Fire Department Chief Héctor Cháves said.Here’s the entire CIMAR forecast for this week: (Via CIMAR – UCR) Facebook Commentslast_img read more

Costa Rica ends beach soccer World Cup bid with three defeats

first_imgLISBON, Portugal – Costa Rica, already eliminated when it reached the third and last day in group B of the beach soccer World Cup, said farewell to Espinho, Portugal with a total of three defeats, after losing 7-2 Monday to Oman.The Ticos, who had previously lost to Italy (6-1) and Switzerland (4-3), had honor at risk, but still succumbed to Oman, another team that had already been eliminated and had lost its first two games.The last two Costa Rican goals were scored by Danny Johnson (minutes 19 and 28) in a duel in which coach Franklin Zúñiga’s men never seemed inspired enough to their time at Espinho well.It was the second time Costa Rica contested a FIFA beach soccer World Cup. The first time, in Dubai in 2009, the team was also eliminated during the first phase with three defeats, against Russia (5-1), Argentina (6-0) and Italy (3-1). Facebook Comments Oman overwhelm Ticos for maiden winStoryhttp://t.co/OAAn3DdBbf#BeachWC #MundialFP(Source: http://t.co/K2xZ4Exbz8) pic.twitter.com/guLAZ0mPDg— BeachSoccerWorldwide (@BeachSoccer_WW) July 13, 2015 Related posts:Chile staves off Argentina for first Copa América win Costa Rica beach soccer sele loses 6-1 in World Cup opener WATCH: Costa Rica’s Joel Campbell scores for Arsenal in first Premier League start Copa America in the U.S.: Gaffes expose rushed planning, draw irelast_img read more

US sheriffs are asking for armored trucks to wage war on marijuana

first_imgIf you’re going to wage war on drugs, you need to be outfitted like a warrior.That seems to be the rationale behind hundreds of U.S. police department requests for armored trucks submitted to the Pentagon between 2012 and 2014. The requests, unearthed in a FOIA request by Mother Jones magazine, shed light on how the war on drugs has directly contributed to the militarization of local police forces in the United States in recent years.Police departments can request surplus military gear from the Pentagon through the Department of Defense’s 1033 program, which doles out hundreds of millions of dollars in military goods to cops each year. The equipment includes everything from underwear to office equipment to armored combat vehicles. After Ferguson, when images of local cops training assault rifles on peaceful protestors from atop armored trucks flooded the airwaves, the program has come under increasing scrutiny.The Mother Jones investigation focuses on requests for armored combat vehicles, arguably the most iconic piece of police military equipment in the post-Ferguson era. Among the requests Mother Jones obtained, the most frequently-cited rationale for needing an armored vehicle was drugs: “Fully a quarter of the 465 requests projected using the vehicles for drug enforcement,” the investigation found. By contrast, police departments rarely cited hostage situations, terrorist attacks or armed gunmen as rationale for obtaining the trucks.Related: Duh: DEA finally admits marijuana is safer than heroinAt least seven departments explicitly cited marijuana in their vehicle requests, tying pot with methamphetamines for the drug that shows up most often in the documents. In 2012, Sheriff Tom Bosenko of Shasta County, California, requested two armored tactical vehicles to be “used during apprehension of suspects in both Marijuana eradications and during high risk search warrant service for drug offenders.”In 2013, the Sheriff of Sumter County, Florida, requested one armored vehicle partly because his office had located “several marijuana grows both indoors and outdoors” in Sumter County. Here’s how other departments wanted to wage war on pot from the gun turret of an armored truck:Clearwater County, Idaho, has a population of fewer than 10,000 people. It seems like overkill to keep an armored truck on hand for the purpose of “marijuana eradication.” This is especially true when you consider that in recent years, the number of marijuana grow sites discovered in the entire state of Idaho can be counted on one hand.But overkill has been part of the drug war since Day 1. Experts largely agree that the harms inflicted by the way we wage the war on drugs — incarceration, police killings, gangs fighting over black market turf — far outweigh the costs to society of drug use itself. The Obama administration has been smartly dialing back the rhetoric and policies of the drug war.Earlier this year, the administration even started limiting the types of military equipment that police departments can request through the Pentagon’s 1033 program. But notably, armored vehicles are still available. So for the time being at least, your local police department can still request what amounts to a tank to deal with a marijuana plot.Read more coverage of why the drug war is stupid here© 2015, The Washington Post Facebook Comments Related posts:Global drug policy isn’t working. These 100-plus organizations want that to change. Colombia president supports allowing medical marijuana Drug policy in Central America criminalizes poverty, says Costa Rica Public Security Minister Bob Marley-branded marijuana will soon be available thanks to legalizationlast_img read more

Two exsoldiers tried in Guatemala for sex slavery murder

first_img Facebook Comments GUATEMALA CITY – Two retired soldiers were in court Monday facing charges of murder, forced disappearance, and forcing 11 indigenous women into sexual slavery during Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war.Prosecutors accuse Esteelmer Reyes, a 59-year-old retired colonel, of “authorizing and consenting for soldiers under his command to exercise sexual violence and inhuman, cruel and degrading treatment against Maya-Q’eqchi’ women.”His co-accused was Heriberto Valdéz, a 74-year-old former soldier.The two allegedly carried out the crimes in 1982 and 1983 in the northeastern town of Sepur Zarco, where the military was deployed.Earlier in the trial, indigenous women with their faces and heads covered told the court of what they had suffered as sexual slaves. Former army officer Steelmer Francisco Reyes Girón, right, is accused of keeping 11 indigenous women as sex slaves during the country’s bloody 36-year civil war. Johan Ordóñez/AFPGuatemala’s 36-year civil war left more than 200,000 people dead or missing, according to the United Nations, which cast most of the responsibility for wartime atrocities and excesses on the government forces.More than 40 percent of Guatemala’s population of 16 million is indigenous, and that group was the most affected by human rights violations committed at the time. Related posts:Clash over development plans leaves 8 dead in Guatemala Guatemala’s Otto Pérez Molina dismisses ‘spurious’ corruption case 16 killed in Guatemala prison fight, official says Guatemala convicts 2 ex-soldiers for sex slavery, murder in landmark caselast_img read more

Zika crisis to get worse before it gets better WHO says

first_imgRelated posts:World Bank: Zika will cost Latin America $3.5 billion in 2016 Tire mosquito trap could boost Zika control US details cases of 9 pregnant women with Zika virus Zika: Tragedy or Opportunity? RIO DE JANEIRO,Brazil — The Zika virus, believed to be linked to the serious birth defect microcephaly, presents a “formidable” challenge that will be hard to stamp out, World Health Organization chief Margaret Chan warned Wednesday.Calling mosquito-borne Zika a “bigger menace” than any other recent major health scare in terms of its geographical spread, Chan said tough times lie ahead.The situation “could get worse before it gets better,” she said in Rio de Janeiro after a fact-finding mission to Brazil, the epicenter of the Zika outbreak.Chan said part of the challenge in fighting the virus is that it is so “mysterious.” Even the link to microcephaly remains not fully proven.“We are dealing with a tricky virus, full of uncertainties, so we should be prepared for surprises,” she said.Chan said that up to 46 countries have reported some level of evidence of Zika infections and that 130 countries are home to the Aedis aegypti mosquito that carries the virus, meaning the eventual spread could be enormous.While vastly more lethal, the Ebola virus hit only nine countries, and the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) affected 26 countries, she noted.In nearly all Zika cases, symptoms are mild, resembling those of flu. However, the growing belief that Zika can also trigger microcephaly in babies born to mothers infected while pregnant has spread international alarm.Chan said the WHO, Brazil and other governments in the region hosting the Aedis aegypti mosquito are working on the assumption of a link.“Zika is guilty until proven innocent,” she said.See also: Costa Rica’s tourism sector seeks to calm fears of Zika virus‘Heinous epidemic’International health officials traveling with Chan described the Zika outbreak as especially scary because it is so poorly understood.“You are dealing with an awful disease and awful consequences and awful uncertainty. We are learning as we go,” said Bruce Aylward, head of WHO’s outbreaks and emergencies department.“You are dealing with a threat to the children of the country, to the future potentially, to the economy — and it takes an extraordinary response,” he said.Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), described “a really heinous epidemic, a heinous virus.”But officials praised Brazil for its response, saying that Latin America’s biggest country was providing world leadership on a problem that will only spread.“We have been impressed by what has happened in Brazil,” Etienne said.Despite fears that the Zika virus could disrupt travel plans to the Olympics being staged in Rio in August, Chan said people should still visit, noting the Games will take place in the southern hemisphere’s winter when there are far fewer mosquitoes.“I was invited to come, so I look forward to coming back,” she said.Where next?Brazil is the main focus of the regional outbreak, with 1.5 million people infected, and authorities have also recorded a spike in microcephaly, a congenital condition that causes abnormally small heads and hampers brain development.On Tuesday, Brazil’s health ministry reported 583 confirmed cases of babies with microcephaly since October, compared to an annual average of 150.That was a 14.7 percent rise over the number of confirmed cases the previous week, and authorities were investigating another 4,107 possible cases.An estimated 120 babies have died due to the birth defect, the ministry said.Although most cases have been in the northeast, which Chan visited during her Brazil tour, that could change, she warned.“Don’t be surprised to see microcephaly reported in other parts of Brazil,” she said.And Chan said the next country the WHO is watching “very carefully” is Colombia, where health officials are monitoring to see whether a Zika outbreak will also lead to a Brazil-like surge in microcephaly.Last week, Colombian authorities said they had registered 37,000 Zika infections, including in more than 6,300 pregnant women. Facebook Commentslast_img read more

Cement case detainees await space at San Sebastián prison

first_imgSan Sebastián has been described by inmates as “hell on Earth,” and a judge ordered in  August 2016 that the prison be closed within 18 months. The judge described its living conditions as horrific.Detainees at San Sebastián have complained to The Tico Times of inhumane conditions in overcrowded cells with minimal ventilation and so little sleeping space that some prisoners have to sleep on the floor next to urinals. Judge orders closure of overcrowded San Sebastián prison UPDATED: Court orders three months of prison for cement case detainees The daily La Naciónreported late Sunday that the seven men sentenced to three months’ preventive detention over the weekend in connection to the Chinese cement scandal will head to San Sebastián prison in San José.Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) Director Walter Espinoza told the daily Sunday evening that one of the detainees, suspended Banco de Costa Rica manager Mario Barrenechea, 67, will likely be the first to be transferred to San Sebastián because he is a senior citizen and will therefore enter the prison system in a separate Social Adaption track.The other men arrested, who included cement importer Juan Carlos Bolaños and five other Banco de Costa Rica management-level employees, will have to wait, since the historically overcrowded San Sebastián has a waiting list. A total of 40 prisoners are currently waiting for space at one of the country’s jails, according to La Nación.All of the men were in OIJ holding cells at the time of the report. A court ordered three months’ preventive detention for all seven men following a marathon hearing that began at 1 am Saturday morning.center_img Facebook Comments Related posts:Prosecutors requests six months of prison for seven cement case detainees UPDATED: Court orders three months of prison for cement case detainees Police arrest two key figures in Chinese cement case President Solís: ‘I’ve always told you the truth’last_img read more

Survivor describes new Syria mass killing

first_img Comments   Share   Top Stories “If nobody claims them, we’ll take their photos and put them on our Facebook page so their families can find out that they’re dead,” he said.(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.) Syria’s uprising started in March 2011 with peaceful protests calling for political reforms that were met with a fierce regime crackdown. Government brutality grew as dissent spread, and many in the opposition took up arms as the conflict morphed into a civil war.Aleppo has been a stronghold of government support throughout the uprising, with a wealthy business class and many minority communities who fear they’ll suffer if Assad falls. Until recently, the city of some 4 million people had been spared the violence that has ravaged other Syrian cities.But during the last two weeks, rebels have been pushing into Aleppo’s neighborhoods, clashing with security forces and torching police stations in a push to “liberate” the city. Syrian media has vowed the army is gearing up for a “decisive battle,” while anti-regime activists have reported swelling numbers of troops and tanks on the city’s edges.The Syrian government blames the uprising on armed gangs and terrorists backed by foreign powers that seek to weaken Syria.It was amid these tensions that Mahmoud, a Palestinian resident of Aleppo, had his fateful brush with Syrian security. On Thursday, Mahmoud said, he and a friend went to collect their paychecks from the thread factory where they work and heard clashes nearby. Soon eight men in civilian clothes stopped them and asked for their IDs and cell phones. Reports of such killings have surfaced frequently during the 17 months of deadly violence that activists seeking to topple President Bashar Assad say has killed more than 19,000 people. But details are usually scarce _ no more than activist reports or amateur videos of bloodied bodies or mass graves posted on YouTube.Mahmoud related his grisly ordeal to The Associated Press hours after it happened. Struggling to speak, he lay in a bed in a makeshift rebel-run field hospital set up in a wedding hall in this town 13 miles (20 kilometers) north of Aleppo. Bandages covered his foot, head and chest. Plastic vines and colored lights adorned the walls of the darkened building, and two red velvet chairs once used by brides and grooms sat on a small stage.Mahmoud gave only his first name to protect his family who still live in the area.While his story could not be independently confirmed, Mahmoud’s wounds matched his story and residents who found him and his dead colleagues corroborated certain details.Together, they painted a picture of the summary slaying of 10 men, at least some of whom had only loose links to the armed rebels seeking to topple the regime. That story jibes with activist claims of the increasingly brutal tactics regime forces are using to try to crush the rebellion that has spread to Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. “I breathed, I said the shehada,” he said, referring to the Muslim declaration of faith meant to put him right with God. “I tried to get up then started screaming because blood was coming out of me.”He scraped his face on a rock to remove the blindfold and crawled to where some nearby residents found him.Among them was a 22-year-old electrician who said he heard the gunfire early Monday and worried that people were being killed because he had discovered six bodies in the same spot a day earlier. He showed videos of the victims on his cell phone, their bodies piled atop each other covered in blood, some bearing large bruises that appeared to be from beatings. He said all had been shot dead.He and others asked not to have their names published because they have to pass through government checkpoints to get home.The killings shocked residents of Khaldiyeh, a working-class neighborhood on Aleppo’s northwest side that has seen little violence until now. While many residents support the rebels, they have not established a foothold in the area, and the relative quiet has drawn thousands of people fleeing violence in other Aleppo neighborhoods or nearby villages. Meghan McCain to release audiobook on conservatism, family More Valley freeways to be closed this weekend for improvements Associated PressANADAN, Syria (AP) – The guards pulled him from his cell before dawn on Monday, bound his hands, blindfolded him and drove him to an empty lot in the Syrian city of Aleppo. They sat him in a row with 10 other captives, he said, then cocked their guns and opened fire.“They sprayed us,” recalled 21-year-old Mahmoud, the lone survivor of the latest mass killing of Syria’s civil war. “The first bullet hit my chest, then one hit my foot, then my head. As soon as my head got hit, I thought, `I’m dead.’” On Mahmoud’s phone they found videos of anti-government demonstrations and messages he sent to rebels from the Free Syrian Army, asking God to protect them and make them victorious. The men threw Mahmoud and his friend in the trunk of a car and drove them to a trash dump, where they were blindfolded, bound and beaten with sticks and large rocks before being taken to a security office.Mahmoud was locked in a crowded cell with about a dozen other men, he said. Each day, some were taken out and new ones brought in.“We were there for four days and they only gave us water to drink once. They never fed us,” he said. “They never asked us anything. Every day it was beating, beating, beating.”Before dawn on Monday, guards pulled Mahmoud and 10 others from their cells and told they were going to see a judge. They were bound at the wrists, blindfolded and driven to Aleppo’s Khaldiyeh neighborhood, where they were lined up on a patch of rocky soil.“They sat us all down next to each other, `You here, you here, you here,’” Mahmoud said. “Then each one cocked his weapon and the shooting started.”Mahmoud was shot three times. Bullets pierced his chest and foot and one grazed his skull. Minutes later, silence returned, and he realized he was still alive. 4 sleep positions for men and what they mean New high school in Mesa lets students pick career paths Sponsored Stories Top ways to honor our heroes on Veterans Day Think Tank analyzes the second round of Democratic debates 5 greatest Kentucky Derby finishes As Mahmoud spoke, a white pickup pulled up outside the field hospital with the bodies of nine of the men killed Monday. The body of the tenth victim had been taken away by his family. All still had their hands bound and two still wore blindfolds. Two had bullet wounds to their heads, and others had blood on their faces and chests or coming out of their ears. None wore shoes.Those killings convinced one Khaldiyeh resident who helped collect the bodies that the neighborhood needs arms.“We want the Free Army to come to our neighborhood to protect us,” he said. “If they can’t come, then they need to give us weapons so we can defend ourselves.”The field hospital’s doctor, Mohammed Ajaj, said he is no longer shocked when the dead and wounded pass through town on their way to burial in nearby villages or for treatment across the northern border in Turkey.“We’ve gotten used to it,” he said.An 18-year-old activist who helped collect the bodies said none of them had IDs.“We really know nothing about them,” he said, adding that he would stop in neighboring villages to see if anyone recognized them before delivering them to a morgue further north.last_img

Talk of N Mali intervention grows no action soon

first_imgSekere waits for the day when the Islamists leave Timbuktu, where they recently carried out a public execution in front of 600 people and have banned items ranging from perfume to Nokia ringtones. Sekere’s handicrafts are hidden inside the walls of his home until he, and the tourists, can return“Here I am getting by only on the generosity of my friends,” Sekere told a reporter from the upper level of a mud home in this central Malian town, now home to thousands of displaced northerners. “There at least I have a plot of land that I can work.”Sekere is one of nearly 500,000 people who fled northern Mali since the crisis began earlier this year. Many, like Sekere, who came to the south have found life difficult because unemployment is high. Here the civilian government is trying to exert authority over the military, whose junior officers launched a coup in March right before elections were to have been held. The soldiers still call a lot of the shots, even though they made a show of returning power to the civilians in April.Ordinary Malians and international experts alike are not sure what will reunite and bring back political stability to a country that until recently had a reputation as one of West Africa’s most steady democracies. Top holiday drink recipes Quick workouts for men The U.N. Security Council on Friday unanimously approved a plan to back an African-led military force to help the Malian army oust Islamic militants. But the plan still faces delays: The French-backed resolution gives Mali, the West Africans and the African Union 45 days to develop plans to recover the occupied territory.Representatives of the United Nations, the African Union and ECOWAS are to consider the situation on Oct. 19 in a meeting in Mali’s capital, Bamako. The head of the Germany-based U.S. Africa Command, Gen. Carter Ham, said recently that “a military component” would be a part of an overall solution in northern Mali, but he ruled out an overt U.S. military presence.While diplomats from other countries discuss options, no action on the ground to retake the north appears imminent.“We’re in this period of stagnation, effectively a stalemate in the north,” said Gregory Mann, a history professor at Columbia University who specializes in Mali. “Some form of outside intervention is probably both undesirable, inevitable and necessary.”Mali’s transitional government has accepted in theory the prospect of the regional military intervention, though those involved in the discussions suggest there is a reluctance to allow foreign troops in Mali’s capital in the south. There has been nominal progress toward restoring democracy after the military coup but there is no clear path for holding fresh elections. The possibility of national elections being held within six months is “extremely slim,” according to the International Crisis Group.“All scenarios are still possible, including another military coup and social unrest in the capital, which risk undermining the transitional institutions and creating an even more explosive situation,” said said Gilles Yabi, West Africa project director for the International Crisis Group.Calls for an ECOWAS regional intervention have prompted protests in Mali’s capital in recent weeks, though others have marched in favor of an ECOWAS mission.Korotoumou Diakite, a 22-year-old student who took part in the pro-intervention march in Bamako this week, said: “I have faith that ECOWAS and the international community so that Mali remains one and indivisible.”___Associated Press writer Baba Ahmed in Bamako, Mali contributed to this report.(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.) “This is not only a humanitarian crisis; it is a powder keg that the international community cannot afford to ignore,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said recently.The Obama administration, France and neighboring African countries are all weighing what will be the most effective policies to halt the rapid success of Islamic extremists in Mali. The 15-nation West African regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, has discussed sending 3,000 troops to help oust the Islamist militants from the north.Many, though, question how Mali’s weak military could take the lead on such an intervention.“All the military force in the world cannot put Mali back together and sustain it unless there is a legitimate political process that the majority of Malians will accept,” said J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa program at the Washington-based Atlantic Council.Analysts believe ECOWAS would need to send more soldiers to take and hold the France-sized area of desert now controlled by the militants.“There’s been a serious mismatch between the type of mission that is talked about and the type of resources that anyone is willing to cough up in support of that mission,” noted Pham. Sponsored Stories Mary Coyle ice cream to reopen in central Phoenix Early signs of cataracts in your parents and how to help Comments   Share   Construction begins on Chandler hospital expansion project Associated PressMOPTI, Mali (AP) – Before Islamists seized the northern half of Mali, Mamadou Sekere sold masks and jewelry in Timbuktu to European tourists who rode camels and slept in the desert under the stars.Now, Sekere is in Mopti where one of his wives gathers leaves to feed the family. His other wife, who stayed behind when he fled Timbuktu, calls several times a day. He’s got 10 children with one and eight with the other, but can only shake his head when asked where they all are now. Former Arizona Rep. Don Shooter shows health improvement Top Stories Bottoms up! Enjoy a cold one for International Beer Daylast_img read more