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Squeezing the turnip: Argentines protest IMF, austerity measures

Argentina appears to be on the road to getting the IMF treatment 2.0, and the people are taking to the streets over it.. 

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Argentina appears to be on the road to getting the IMF treatment 2.0, and the people are taking to the streets over it..Radio Havanna reports:

Thousands of Argentineans marched in Buenos Aires on Thursday against the economic policies of the administration of Mauricio Macri and an announced deal with the IMF, the International Monetary Fund. Organizers of the protest said that the government will undoubtedly worsen the economic situation in the country and put in danger Argentina’s peso currency.

Under a driving rain, protesters from progressive organizations and unions carried banners and waved flags. Secretary-General of the Association of State Workers, Hugo Godoy, sounded defiant as he spoke out against the government policies. He said: “To the workers: they will not stop us, nor the storm and because we workers are not going to to permit this Congress to accept the interference of the International Monetary Fund, the increase of tariffs or the labor reform. We are going to fight until the end so that those infamous resolutions of the government of Macri are turned back. The workers have a memory. We know that policies like these led us to hell and we will not allow it.”
Macri and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde announced on Tuesday they were opening talks for a financing deal after Argentina’s peso currency touched a new low of 23.5 to the dollar, despite tighter fiscal measures and hiking interest rates up to 40 percent in Latin America’s third-largest economy.

On Wednesday, the Treasury Ministry announced it would seek a “stand-by deal” from the IMF, a type of financing that would likely require more conditions and orthodox policy reforms than a Flexible Credit Line (FCL), such as the more so-called stable economies of Mexico and Colombia have.

Argentines remember the last the time the IMF ‘helped’ them. Last time, measures adopted in connection with assuming a loan from the International Monetary Fund resulted in 1 in 5 joblessness, millions of people plunged into poverty, and strict austerity measures. Right now, history appears to be repeating itself, as President Macri has announced that he is seeking credit from the international lender. The AP reports:

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — It seemed like a collective moan could be heard across Argentina as President Mauricio Macri uttered three words that many in this country associate with the worst of times: International Monetary Fund.

Macri surprised Argentina by announcing this week that he will seek a financing deal with the IMF following a sharp devaluation of its currency and a tough global outlook. The move has brought back bad memories for Argentines who blame the IMF for encouraging free-market policies that led to the country’s worst economic crisis in 2001.

“Historically, the image of the IMF has been something very traumatic for us Argentines,” Jorge Fidler, a 72-year-old accountant, said of the economic crunch, which included government turmoil with five presidents in just two weeks. “This really is a bitter pill to swallow.”

The crisis 17 years ago resulted in one of every five Argentines being jobless, millions sliding into poverty and some reporting going hungry. The peso, which had been tied to the dollar, lost nearly 70 percent of its value.

Banks froze deposits and put up sheet metal barricades as thousands of protesters unsuccessfully tried to withdraw savings. At least 27 people died in protests and looting in December 2001 as South America’s second-largest economy unraveled.

Blame has been heaped since then on the IMF for its role in Argentina’s debt default of more than $100 billion. A survey by Argentine pollsters D’Alessio Irol/Berensztein said 75 percent of Argentines feel that seeking assistance from the IMF is a bad move. The survey of 1,077 people in early May had a margin of error of three percentage points.

“The IMF is the last instance lender. It’s a quasi-toxic word here,” Sergio Berensztein, a political analyst and co-author of the poll, told The Associated Press. “It’s like when you go to the dentist. You might need it, but you don’t want to go.”

In a nationally televised address, Macri said he had begun talks with the IMF as a way to combat economic woes at home and a complex situation worldwide, including rising interest rates, higher oil prices and a depreciation of emerging market currencies. A week earlier, the Argentine peso hit a historic low against the U.S. dollar and prices for Argentina’s bonds sank.

Still, the decision to reach out to the IMF for loans to shore up government reserves and dampen currency pressures caught many off guard. Just a year ago, Argentina was still a darling among investors. The government sold out an issue of 100-year bonds taking advantage of a low interest rate.

Many people spoke then of an economic miracle and said Macri was practically guaranteed re-election after his coalition scored a decisive victory in congressional elections. Now, the opposition has been emboldened and Macri’s political future seems more unsettled than ever.

What happened?

“There was a lot of optimism and financial markets were looking for any kind of yield anywhere. And any country which looked on the right path, and Argentina certainly did, was attracting a lot of attention and money,” said Monica de Bolle, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

She said that after Macri took office in 2015, he was able to accomplish a lot quickly. He resolved a longstanding legal dispute with creditors that returned Argentina to the global credit markets for the first time since its record default during the 2001 disaster. He removed currency controls and other economic distortions, and he ordered the government to publish credible statistics, which had been disputed by the IMF and local analysts under his predecessors.

“It helped to give the sense that Argentina is moving forward,” De Bolle said. “I don’t think markets were wrong — they might have been overly optimistic, but so was the government.”

Macri’s government said from the start that gradual austerity measures were needed to revive Argentina’s struggling economy. He cut red tape and tried to reduce the government’s budget deficit by ordering job cuts and cutting utility subsidies, which sparked labor unrest.

When his Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition scored a triumph in the midterm elections, Macri said he would seek even deeper changes in tax and labor rules. But Argentines continued to lose purchasing power from high inflation and many were frustrated with rises in fuel and transportation costs.

Argentina has long had one of the world’s highest inflation rates. Macri, a pro-business conservative, had promised to curb consumer prices, which estimates say rose up to 30 percent a year in 2015 under his left-of-center predecessor, Cristina Fernandez.

Then in December, officials announced a rise in the inflation target, causing investors to begin doubting Macri’s commitment to taming price rises.

Meanwhile, the peso slumped against the dollar as rising U.S. interest rates lured investors to pull money out of Argentina and put it in the U.S. That caused jitters among Argentines, who are used to stashing away dollars as a cushion since the 2001 crisis. Macri’s government was forced to impose three interest rate hikes and tighten the fiscal deficit target.

Despite central bank intervention and talks between Argentina and IMF officials that opened Thursday in Washington, the peso hit a new all-time low of 24.50 on Friday afternoon. Argentina’s treasury says it is seeking a stand-by deal, but the amount and terms have not been disclosed.

David Malpass, the U.S. treasury undersecretary for international affairs, said Thursday that he welcomed the talks to promote “growth and market reforms” in Argentina.

But for many Argentines, it spells the contrary. A local TV channel ran a banner this week reading: “Back to the future.” In Congress, opposition lawmakers protested by putting large signs on their desks proclaiming: “Out with the IMF!”

The international lender has admitted that it had a made a string of mistakes that contributed to Argentina’s economic implosion. A 2004 report by the IMF’s internal audit unit concluded it failed to provide enough oversight, overestimated growth and the success of economic reforms, while it continued to lend Argentina money when its debt burden had turned unsustainable.

“The IMF did not press the authorities for a fundamental change in the policy regime and in December 2001 effectively cut off financial support to Argentina,” the report said.

Without further IMF support, the government was forced to declare the largest sovereign debt default in history.

Many Argentines still blame the IMF for permissive and heavy lending that led to devaluation of the peso and the debt default.

“It’s very sad,” said Soledad Patane, 29, a university student in Buenos Aires. “What they do is indebt a country until that country can no longer pay the debt and it becomes an indirect colony of those countries that continue to lend us money.”

De Bolle, who worked at the IMF in the early 2000s, finds such sentiments understandable, but she says the international lender has changed radically since Argentina’s crisis. She said it has loosened policy prescriptions that forced austerity on borrowing nations and now puts more focus on inequality and social issues.

“It was nearly 20 years since the fund was involved with Argentina,” she said. “That’s a long time. It’s now a different institution.”

The government’s action comes after a protest of massively increased utility tariffs of over 500%, which was protested by a popular blackout, and a 40% interest rate jump.

These austerity measures intend to squeeze more money out of the economy while the government contributes less, which invariably means that consumer activity will slow down, leading to less received in taxes and more people losing jobs as the economy adjusts to less consumer spending in compensation for higher bills.

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Major Syrian Army Assault On Southeast Idlib As Sochi Deal Unravels

Though the Syrian war has grown cold in terms of international spotlight and media interest since September, it is likely again going to ramp up dramatically over the next few months. 

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Via Zerohedge


The Syrian Army unleashed a major assault across the southeastern part of Idlib province on Saturday, a military source told Middle East news site Al-Masdar in a breaking report. According to the source, government forces pounded jihadist defenses across the southeast Idlib axis with a plethora of artillery shells and surface-to-surface missiles.

This latest exchange between the Syrian military and jihadist rebels comes as the Sochi Agreement falls apart in northwestern Syria, and in response to a Friday attack by jihadists which killed 22 Syrian soldiers near a planned buffer zone around the country’s last major anti-Assad and al-Qaeda held region. The jihadist strikes resulted in the highest number of casualties for the army since the Sochi Agreement was established on September 17th.

Though the Syrian war has grown cold in terms of international spotlight and media interest since September, it is likely again going to ramp up dramatically over the next few months.

The Al-Masdar source said the primary targets for the Syrian Army were the trenches and military posts for Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham in the towns of Al-Taman’ah, Khuwayn, Babulin, Haish, Jarjanaz, Um Jalal, and Mashirfah Shmaliyah. In retaliation for the Syrian Army assault, the jihadist rebels began shelling the government towns of Ma’an, Um Hariteen, and ‘Atshan.

Damascus has been critical of the Sochi deal from the start as it’s criticized Turkey’s role in the Russian-brokered ceasefire plan, especially as a proposed ‘de-militarized’ zone has failed due to jihadist insurgents still holding around 70% of the planned buffer area which they were supposed to withdraw from by mid-October. Sporadic clashes have rocked the “buffer zone” since.

Russia itself recently acknowledged the on the ground failure of the Sochi agreement even as parties officially cling to it. During a Thursday press briefing by Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova admitted the following:

We have to state that the real disengagement in Idlib has not been achieved despite Turkey’s continuing efforts to live up to its commitments under the Russian-Turkish Memorandum of September 17.

This followed Russia also recently condemning  “sporadic clashes” and “provocations” by the jihadist group HTS (the main al-Qaeda presence) in Idlib.

Likely due to Moscow seeing the writing on the wall that all-out fighting and a full assault by government forces on Idlib will soon resume, Russian naval forces continued a show of force in the Mediterranean this week.

Russian military and naval officials announced Friday that its warships held extensive anti-submarine warfare drills in the Mediterranean. Specifically the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s frigates Admiral Makarov and Admiral Essen conducted the exercise in tandem with deck-based helicopters near Syrian coastal waters.

Notably, according to TASS, the warships central to the drill are “armed with eight launchers of Kalibr-NK cruise missiles that are capable of striking surface, coastal and underwater targets at a distance of up to 2,600 km.”

Since September when what was gearing up to be a major Syrian-Russian assault on Idlib was called off through the Russian-Turkish ceasefire agreement, possibly in avoidance of the stated threat that American forces would intervene in defense of the al-Qaeda insurgent held province (also claiming to have intelligence of an impending government “chemical attack”), the war has largely taken a back-burner in the media and public consciousness.

But as sporadic fighting between jihadists and Syrian government forces is reignited and fast turning into major offensive operations by government forces, the war could once again be thrust back into the media spotlight as ground zero for a great power confrontation between Moscow and Washington.

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Trump Quietly Orders Elimination of Assange

The destruction of Assange has clearly been arranged for, at the highest levels of the U.S. Government, just as the destruction of Jamal Khashoggi was by Saudi Arabia’s Government.

Eric Zuesse

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On June 28th, the Washington Examiner headlined “Pence pressed Ecuadorian president on country’s protection of Julian Assange” and reported that “Vice President Mike Pence discussed the asylum status of Julian Assange during a meeting with Ecuador’s leader on Thursday, following pressure from Senate Democrats who have voiced concerns over the country’s protection of the WikiLeaks founder.” Pence had been given this assignment by U.S. President Donald Trump. The following day, the Examiner bannered “Mike Pence raises Julian Assange case with Ecuadorean president, White House confirms” and reported that the White House had told the newspaper, “They agreed to remain in close coordination on potential next steps going forward.”

On August 24th, a court-filing by Kellen S. Dwyer, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Alexandria Division of the Eastern District of Virginia, stated: “Due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure [than sealing the case, hiding it from the public] is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged. … This motion and the proposed order would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.” That filing was discovered by Seamus Hughes, a terrorism expert at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. On November 15th, he posted an excerpt of it on Twitter, just hours after the Wall Street Journal had reported on the same day that the Justice Department was preparing to prosecute Assange. However, now that we know “the fact that Assange has been charged” and that the U.S. Government is simply waiting “until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter,” it is clear and public that the arrangements which were secretly made between Trump’s agent Pence and the current President of Ecuador are expected to deliver Assange into U.S. custody for criminal prosecution, if Assange doesn’t die at the Ecuadorean Embassy first.

On November 3rd (which, of course, preceded the disclosures on November 15th), Julian Assange’s mother, Christine Ann Hawkins, described in detail what has happened to her son since the time of Pence’s meeting with Ecuador’s President. She said:

He is, right now, alone, sick, in pain, silenced in solitary confinement, cut off from all contact, and being tortured in the heart of London. … He has been detained nearly eight years, without trial, without charge. For the past six years, the UK Government has refused his requests to exit for basic health needs, … [even for] vitamin D. … As a result, his health has seriously deteriorated. … A slow and cruel assassination is taking place before our very eyes. … They will stop at nothing. … When U.S. Vice President Mike Pence recently visited Ecuador, a deal was done to hand Julian over to the U.S. He said that because the political cost of expelling Julian from the Embassy was too high, the plan was to break him down mentally…   to such a point that he will break and be forced to leave. … The extradition warrant is held in secret, four prosecutors but no defense, and no judge, … without a prima-facie case. [Under the U.S. system, the result nonetheless can be] indefinite detention without trial. Julian could be held in Guantanamo Bay and tortured, sentenced to 45 years in a maximum security prison, or face the death penalty,” for “espionage,” in such secret proceedings.

Her phrase, “because the political cost of expelling Julian from the Embassy was too high” refers to the worry that this new President of Ecuador has, of his cooperating with the U.S. regime’s demands and thereby basically ceding sovereignty to those foreigners (the rulers of the U.S.), regarding the Ecuadorian citizen, Assange.

This conservative new President of Ecuador, who has replaced the progressive President who had granted Assange protection, is obviously doing all that he can to comply with U.S. President Trump and the U.S. Congress’s demand for Assange either to die soon inside the Embassy or else be transferred to the U.S. and basically just disappear, at Guantanamo or elsewhere. Ecuador’s President wants to do this in such a way that Ecuador’s voters won’t blame him for it, and that he’ll thus be able to be re-elected. This is the type of deal he apparently has reached with Trump’s agent, Pence. It’s all secret, but the evidence on this much of what was secretly agreed-to seems clear. There are likely other details of the agreement that cannot, as yet, be conclusively inferred from the subsequent events, but this much can.

Basically, Trump has arranged for Assange to be eliminated either by illness that’s imposed by his Ecuadorean agent, or else by Assange’s own suicide resulting from that “torture,” or else by America’s own criminal-justice system. If this elimination happens inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, then that would be optimal for America’s President and Congress; but, if it instead happens on U.S. soil, then that would be optimal for Ecuador’s President. Apparently, America’s President thinks that his subjects, the American people, will become sufficiently hostile toward Assange so that even if Assange disappears or is executed inside the United States, this President will be able to retain his supporters. Trump, of course, needs his supporters, but this is a gamble that he has now clearly taken. This much is clear, even though the rest of the secret agreement that was reached between Pence and Ecuador’s President is not.

Scooter Libby, who had arranged for the smearing of Valerie Plame who had tried to prevent the illegal and deceit-based 2003 invasion of Iraq, was sentenced to 30 months but never spent even a day in prison, and U.S. President Trump finally went so far as to grant him a complete pardon, on 13 April 2018. (The carefully researched docudrama “Fair Game” covered well the Plame-incident.) Libby had overseen the career-destruction of a courageous CIA agent, Plame, who had done the right thing and gotten fired for it; and Trump pardoned Libby, thus retroactively endorsing the lie-based invasion of Iraq in 2003. By contrast, Trump is determined to get Julian Assange killed or otherwise eliminated, and even Democrats in Congress are pushing for him to get that done. The new President of Ecuador is doing their bidding. Without pressure from the U.S. Government, Assange would already be a free man. Thus, either Assange will die (be murdered) soon inside the Embassy, or else he will disappear and be smeared in the press under U.S. control. And, of course, this is being done in such a way that no one will be prosecuted for the murder or false-imprisonment. Trump had promised to “clean the swamp,” but as soon as he was elected, he abandoned that pretense; and, as President, he has been bipartisan on that matter, to hide the crimes of the bipartisan U.S. Government, and he is remarkably similar in policy to his immediate predecessors, whom he had severely criticized while he was running for the Presidency.

In any event, the destruction of Assange has clearly been arranged for, at the highest levels of the U.S. Government, just as the destruction of Jamal Khashoggi was by Saudi Arabia’s Government; and, just like in Khashoggi’s case, the nation’s ruler controls the prosecutors and can therefore do whatever he chooses to do that the rest of the nation’s aristocracy consider to be acceptable.

The assault against truth isn’t only against Assange, but it is instead also closing down many of the best, most courageous, independent news sites, such as washingtonsblog. However, in Assange’s case, the penalty for having a firm commitment to truth has been especially excruciating and will almost certainly end in his premature death. This is simply the reality. Because of the system under which we live, a 100% commitment to truth is now a clear pathway to oblivion. Assange is experiencing this reality to the fullest. That’s what’s happening here.

—————

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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Libya’s Peace Process Dies in Palermo

The best the Palermo negotiators could come up with at the end was a bland statement declaring their hope that sometime in the future all the Libyan forces will meet to sort out their differences.

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Authored by Richard Galustian for the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity:


“Resounding flop” was the verdict of Italy’s former prime minister Matteo Renzi on this week’s Libya peace conference held in Palermo. He’s not wrong. The conference hosted by Italy’s new government achieved the remarkable feat of making Libya’s tensions worse, not better. Acrimony broke out between the parties, and Turkey’s delegation walked out, its vice president Fuat Oktay accusing unnamed States of trying to “hijack the process.”

Some sources in Palermo suggested, yet to be verified, that the US thought the Conference was not too bad: a joke if true.

Moreover the mystery we might ask is what “process” is there to hijack? Because the truth is, the peace plan the conference was supporting is already dead.

That plan was the brainchild of the United Nations, launched more than a year ago with the aim of ending Libya’s split between warring Eastern and Western governments with elections in December.

Even before the first delegates set foot in the pleasant Sicilian city of Palermo this week, the UN admitted the election date of December 10 they had decided to scrap.

The eastern government, led by the parliament in Tobruk, had made moves in the summer to organize a referendum on a new constitution which would govern the elections. But no referendum was held, and most Libyans agree it would be pointless because Tripoli, home to a third of the country’s population, is under the iron grip of multiple warring militias who have the firepower to defy any new elected government. Hours after the delegates left Palermo, those militias began a new bout of fighting in the Tripoli suburbs.

The best the Palermo negotiators could come up with at the end of the talks was a bland statement declaring their hope that sometime in the future all the Libyan forces will meet in a grand conference to sort out their differences – and this after four years of civil war. To say that chances of this are slim is an understatement.

Dominating the Palermo talks, and indeed Libya’s political landscape, was and is Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army, the country’s most powerful formation. In four years, the LNA has secured Libya’s key oil fields and Benghazi, its second city, ridding most of the east Libya of Islamist militias.

Haftar met reluctantly negotiators in Palermo, but insisted he was not part of the talks process. The Italian government press office said Haftar was not having dinner with the other participants nor joining them for talks. Haftar specifically opposed the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood champion, Qatar, at the event along with Turkey.

Haftar clearly only attended because he had a few days before visiting Moscow – which sent to Sicily Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev – and because also of Egyptian President Sisi’s presence along with his allies.

Possibly Haftar was simply fed up. Twice in the past two years he has attended previous peace talks, hosted each time in Paris, giving the nod to declarations that Libya’s militias would dissolve. Yet the militias remain as strong as ever in Tripoli.

Haftar is detested by the militias and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) but supported by a large segment of the population – 68 percent, according to an opinion poll by America’s USAID. His popularity is based on a single policy – his demand that security be in the hands of regular police and military, not the militias.

Not everyone is happy, certainly not Turkey, which is backing Islamist, MB and Misratan forces in western Libya who detest Haftar. Yet Turkey’s greatest statesman, the great Kamal Ataturk, was a champion of secularism: After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War One Turkey faced the prospect of utter disintegration, and it was Attaturk who rose to the challenge, defending the country’s borders, while ordering that the mullahs, while responsible for spiritual welfare, have no political power.

Political Islam is not popular in Libya either. Libya is a Muslim country, its people know their faith, and most want government to be decided through the ballot box.

The problem for Libya is what happens next with the peace process broken. Haftar has in the past threatened to move on Tripoli and rid the militias by force if they refuse to dissolve, and it may come to that – a fierce escalation of the civil war.

The second possibility is that Libya will split. The east is, thanks to the LNA, militarily secure. It also controls two thirds of the country’s oil and operates as a separate entity, down to it banknotes, which are printed in Russia while the Tripoli government’s are printed in Britain. A formal split would be an economic boon for the lightly populated east, but a disaster for Tripolitania, its population losing most of the oil, its only source of export income.

Yet with the failure of peace talks, and no sign of Tripoli militias dissolving, military escalation or breakup seem more likely than ever.

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