Tuesday, September 25, 2012


UPDATED: Fresh Produce Import Alliance established ...

09/11/2012 10:57:00 AM
Tom Karst

(UPDATED COVERAGE, Sept. 13) A new nonprofit organization aims to represent the interests of importers and distributors of fresh produce.

Called the Fresh Produce Import Alliance, the group was formally established the first week of August, according to a news release. 

The group includes importers, custom brokers, exporters, grower-shippers, ocean carriers, freight haulers and cold storage facilitates, according to the release.

The release said the alliance board of directors is comprised of industry professionals who are volunteering their time a diversified group of industry professionals who will work to help federal agencies in achieving their goals while also reducing import costs and increasing efficiencies so that the perishable cargo can be cleared for import soon.

Risks to importing fresh produce must be contained or there will be a significant reduction in import volumes at major ports, according to the release.

Sandy Marujo, grower liaison with Seven Seas Fruit, Woodbridge, N.J., said the alliance has no paid staff.

Most of the members are located in the Philadelphia region but the group aspires to be national in scope, she said.

Custom brokers are the core of the group currently, she said.

“If we are all on the same page and have strength in numbers, we can approach the government agencies and their regulations and maybe get some answers and not so much the run-around,” she said.

Nelly Yunta, vice president, Customized Brokers, a Crowley Maritime Corporation Subsidiary. Jacksonville, Fla., said the alliance will aim to address issues related to perishables imported through Northeast ports.

"We hope to be able to contribute to this group and the trade by bringing awareness to the trade and government about issues directly affecting imports, and also actively assist in solving those problems," Yunta said. 

 "In our most recent efforts, we visited U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Washington to discuss the Centralized Examination Station (CES) process and the increased costs and additional delays incurred in the New York and New Jersey ports."

All industry members who might be interested in being a part of the group are encouraged to attend the next general open meeting of the alliance, set for Oct. 22 at 3 p.m. at the Wyndham hotel in Mount Laurel, N.J. 

For more information e-mail the FPIA organization at:

EURO MARKET:Super-Mario's new dawn ...


by Martin Walker

Zurich, Switzerland (UPI) Sep 24, 2012

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

It may be the darkest hour before the dawn but the economic news from Europe could hardly be more depressing for Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank.

He has thrown $1.3 trillion incredit at Europe's stricken banks, launched an "unlimited" program of buying euro government bonds in secondary markets and now has a $650 billion war chest to bail out the euro weaklings. 

That is why he has been dubbed Super-Mario.

But Super Mario has been mugged by reality. Spain has just reported that its deficit for the first half of this year is running at an annual rate of 8.56 percent of  gross domestic product

The original deficit target for this year was 4.4 percent, then revised to 5 percent, then up again to 5.3 percent and then to 6.3 percent.

Small wonder, therefore, that the Financial Times is reporting secret talks between the Spanish finance minister and the ECB. This week, the results are expected of the long-awaited independent audit into the funding needs of Spanish banks, which is expected to exceed $80 billion. Some analysts like Nomura think it might exceed $4.12 trillion -- and that is without allowing for this summer's alarming levels of capital flight.

And now come new leaks of a second haircut being negotiated on Greekdebt. This is for the $70 billion of Greece's first eurozone loan facility, the bilateral bailout program that ran from May 2010 to the end of last year. So far nothing has been officially confirmed but reports say that Greece's eurozone partners are facing a sharp modification of the loan terms.

Martin Blessing, chairman of Germany's second-largest bank, Commerzbank, warned last week that he sees a second debt haircut as inevitable.

"In the end we will see another debt haircut for Greece, in which all creditors  will take part," he said publicly Thursday in Frankfurt.

Six months ago, Greece was relieved of $130 billion in debt through the first haircut for its private lenders. This second haircut will hit the other eurozone members directly, since neither the International Monetary Fund nor the ECB is willing (and may not be legally able) to take a cut on their loans. The IMF is also pushing for a further haircut on the remainder of Greece's sovereign debt that is held by private lenders.

By any logical standards, Greece is bankrupt, with its economy shrinking and quite unable to pay the interest on its debt without borrowing more money. The private debt markets are closed to it, so even to pay interest it will need more money from its eurozone partners , the ECB or the IMF.

The wider European context could hardly be more gloomy. 

The latest Markit index of purchasing managers across the eurozone is the worst since the spring and summer of 2009, at the depth of the recession. Both the composite and services indexes reached 39-month lows. 

This suggests that the private sector economy shrank for the 12th time in the past 13 months, with the pace of decline picking up speed to reach the most pessimistic level since June 2009.

Markit senior economist Chris Williamson said he had hoped that the purchasing managers would have been more encouraged by the ECB's latest moves but saw no sign of it and ominously also saw unemployment gaining.

"We had hoped that the news regarding the ECB's intervention to alleviate the debt crisis would have lifted business confidence but instead sentiment appears to have taken a turn for the worse, with businesses the most gloomy since early-2009 due to ongoing headwinds from slower global growth. This gloom is clearly reflected in headcounts falling at the fastest rate since January 2010 as companies seek to adjust to weaker demand," he said.

He also saw France, the eurozone's second-largest economy with a $2.6 trillion GDP, sinking deeper into trouble. France has seen no growth at this year and looks to contract 0.5-0.6 percent in the third quarter.

"France is really starting to struggle quite substantially now," Williamson said. "Its economy is suffering as its neighbors are seeing demand weaken and ... there are few signs of demand to stimulate growth in France."

French President Francois Hollande has already cut next year's target from 1.2 percent growth to 0.8 percent. It looks more likely that France will be in recession next year. That is alarming because no matter what kind of rescue is patched together for Greece and Spain, the markets already know that a new crisis looms next spring in Italy, when the unelected technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti is due to step down and the countryfaces new elections.

There are, however, hints of a new dawn breaking. 

Unit labor costs in Greece have dropped way below German levels and in Spain, Portugal and Ireland they have dropped to less than the eurozone average. 

Only in France and Italy do unit labor costs continue to rise faster than those in Germany.

But with Italy moving into crisis and France looking as if it could be next, a dismayingly bumpy road map now looms ahead for Europe. 

And thanks to the "thus far and no further" verdict of Germany's supreme court, Super Mario is running out of ammunition to take advantage of that new dawn if and when it comes.

Discount grocer ALDI opening 3 new stores across Michigan ...


on September 24, 2012 at 5:00 PM

                                                   Courtesy photo
Crews are finishing up work on ALDI store in Traverse City that will open in December.

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Discount grocer ALDI is looking for 20 workers for its first Traverse City store.

The store, which will open in December, is part of the Batavia, Ill-based retailer's effort to move its expanding footprint into northern Michigan.

“We are seeing some big opportunity in northern Michigan,” said J.T. Branneman, director of operations for the Michigan region. “In the next few years, we are looking (at opening stores) in the Cadillac and Big Rapids area.”

Branneman first spoke to MLive about the retailer’s plans for northern Michiganlast year during the opening of a Holland Township store.

More immediately, ALDI will open locations in Mount Pleasant, at 4512 E. Bluegrass Road on Nov. 1 , Traverse City, at 3123 W. South Airport Road on Dec. 3, and in Brighton, at 8345 W. Grand River Ave. in January. In total, those new stores will generate about 60 new Michigan jobs.

Selecting locations is based on a formula that factors in population and income levels, said Branneman said.

“We will spread beyond the broad range because customers in rural areas tend to travel a little farther for their shopping needs,” he said.

Branneman said he can’t say how many more stores the retailer plans to open in Michigan. 

“We’re just exploring all our opportunities,” said Branneman. “Michigan has been a great market and we are expanding rapidly.”

While Michigan's economy has been hit harder than other states by the recession, it has proven a strong market for the no-frills grocery chain that operates smaller stores with lean staffing. 

Customers bag their own groceries and pay a 25-cent deposit to rent grocery carts, which helps keep overhead low for the retailer that offers its own line of 1,400 products for up to 50 percent off similar products sold in other stores.

ALDI has 55 stores in Michigan, with 26 in metro Detroit. There are seven stores in Grand Rapids, two each in Kalamazoo and Lansing, and one in Muskegon. 

“We are growing very rapidly,” Branneman said.

ALDI operates more than 1,200 U.S. stores in 32 states, primarily from Kansas to the East Coast.

The retailer was conducting interviews for the Traverse City store at the Hagerty Center, at 715 East Front St., today through 7 p.m. Michigan Works is also accepting applications for the positions, Branneman said. 

Pay begins at $10.50 an hour for cashiers and $14.50 for shift managers. 

The retailer is looking for applicants who are 18 years or older, have a high school diploma or GED, and can lift 45 pounds. Applicants must be available to work anytime between 6 a.m. – 10 p.m., and to travel during the months of October and November for training. Retail experience is preferred.

Part-time employees who work at least 20 hours a week are eligible for full health insurance, dental coverage and 401K.

Email Shandra Martinez or follow her on Twitter

STRATFOR: Understanding the China-Japan Island Conflict ...

September 25, 2012 | 0902 GMT


By Rodger Baker
Vice President of East Asia Analysis

Sept. 29 will mark 40 years of normalized diplomatic relations between China and Japan, two countries that spent much of the 20th century in mutual enmity if not at outright war. The anniversary comes at a low point in Sino-Japanese relations amid a dispute over an island chain in the East China Sea known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and Diaoyu Islands in China.

These islands, which are little more than uninhabited rocks, are not particularly valuable on their own. 

However, nationalist factions in both countries have used them to enflame old animosities; in China, the government has even helped organize the protests over Japan's plan to purchase and nationalize the islands from their private owner. But China's increased assertiveness is not limited only to this issue. 

Beijing has undertaken a high-profile expansion and improvement of its navy as a way to help safeguard its maritime interests, which Japan -- an island nation necessarily dependent on access to sea-lanes -- naturally views as a threat.

 Driven by its economic and political needs, China's expanded military activity may awaken Japan from the pacifist slumber that has characterized it since the end of World War II.

An Old Conflict's New Prominence

The current tensions surrounding the disputed islands began in April. During a visit to the United States, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, a hard-line nationalist known for his 1989 book The Japan That Can Say No, which advocated for a stronger international role for Japan not tied to U.S. interests or influence, said that the Tokyo municipal government was planning to buy three of the five Senkaku/Diaoyu islands from their private Japanese owner.

 Ishihara's comments did little to stir up tensions at the time, but subsequent efforts to raise funds and press forward with the plan drew the attention and ultimately the involvement of the Japanese central government. The efforts also gave China a way to distract from its military and political standoff with the Philippines over control of parts of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

For decades, Tokyo and Beijing generally abided by a tacit agreement to keep the islands dispute quiet. Japan agreed not to carry out any new construction or let anyone land on the islands; China agreed to delay assertion of any claim to the islands and not let the dispute interfere with trade and political relations. Although flare-ups occurred, usually triggered by some altercation between the Japanese coast guard and Chinese fishing vessels or by nationalist Japanese or Chinese activists trying to land on the islands, the lingering territorial dispute played only a minor role in bilateral relations.

However, Ishihara's plans for the Tokyo municipal government to take over the islands and eventually build security outposts there forced the Japanese government's hand. Facing domestic political pressure to secure Japan's claim to the islands, the government determined that the "nationalization" of the islands was the least contentious option. By keeping control over construction and landings, the central government would be able to keep up its side of the tacit agreement with China on managing the islands.

China saw Japan's proposed nationalization as an opportunity to exploit. 

Even as Japan was debating what action to take, China began stirring up anti-Japanese sentiment and Beijing tacitly backed the move by a group of Hong Kong activists in August to sail to and land on the disputed islands.

 At the same time, Beijing prevented a Chinese-based fishing vessel from attempting the same thing, using Hong Kong's semi-autonomous status as a way to distance itself from the action and retain greater flexibility in dealing with Japan.

As expected, the Japanese coast guard arrested the Hong Kong activists and impounded their ship, but Tokyo also swiftly released them to avoid escalating tensions. Less than a month later, after Japan's final decision to purchase the islands from their private Japanese owner, anti-Japanese protests swept China, in many places devolving into riots and vandalism targeting Japanese products and companies. 

Although many of these protests were stage-managed by the government, the Chinese began to clamp down when some demonstrations got out of control. While still exploiting the anti-Japanese rhetoric, Chinese state-run media outlets have highlighted local governments' efforts to identify and punish protesters who turned violent and warn that nationalist pride is no excuse for destructive behavior.

Presently, both China and Japan are working to keep the dispute within manageable parameters after a month of heightened tensions. 

China has shifted to disrupting trade with Japan on a local level, with some Japanese products reportedly taking much longer to clear customs, while Japan has dispatched a deputy foreign minister for discussions with Beijing. 

Chinese maritime surveillance ships continue to make incursions into the area around the disputed islands, and there are reports of hundreds or even thousands of Chinese fishing vessels in the East China Sea gathered near the waters around the islands, but both Japan and China appear to be controlling their actions. 

Neither side can publicly give in on its territorial stance, and both are looking for ways to gain politically without allowing the situation to degrade further.

Political Dilemmas in Beijing and Tokyo

The islands dispute is occurring as China and Japan, the world's second- and third-largest economies, are both experiencing political crises at home and facing uncertain economic paths forward. But the dispute also reflects the very different positions of the two countries in their developmental history and in East Asia's balance of power.

China, the emerging power in Asia, has seen decades of rapid economic growth but is now confronted with a systemic crisis, one already experienced by Japan in the early 1990s and by South Korea and the other Asian tigers later in the decade. China is reaching the limits of the debt-financed, export-driven economic model and must now deal with the economic and social consequences of this change. 

That this comes amid a once-in-a-decade leadership transition only exacerbates China's political unease as it debates options for transitioning to a more sustainable economic model. But while China's economic expansion may have plateaued, its military development is still growing.

The Chinese military is becoming a more modern fighting force, more active in influencing Chinese foreign policy and more assertive of its role regionally. The People's Liberation Army Navy on Sept. 23 accepted the delivery of China's first aircraft carrier, and the ship serves as a symbol of the country's military expansion. 

While Beijing views the carrier as a tool to assert Chinese interests regionally (and perhaps around the globe over the longer term) in the same manner that the United States uses its carrier fleet, for now China has only one, and the country is new to carrier fleet and aviation operations. Having a single carrier offers perhaps more limitations than opportunities for its use, all while raising the concerns and inviting reaction from neighboring states.

Japan, by contrast, has seen two decades of economic malaise characterized by a general stagnation in growth, though not necessarily a devolution of overall economic power. Still, it took those two decades for the Chinese economy, growing at double-digit rates, to even catch the Japanese economy. 

Despite the malaise, there is plenty of latent strength in the Japanese economy. Japan's main problem is its lack of economic dynamism, a concern that is beginning to be reflected in Japanese politics, where new forces are rising to challenge the political status quo. The long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party lost power to the opposition Democratic Party of Japan in 2009, and both mainstream parties are facing new challenges from independents, non-traditional candidates and the emerging regionalist parties, which espouse nationalism and call for a more aggressive foreign policy.

Even before the rise of the regionalist parties, Japan had begun moving slowly but inexorably from its post-World War II military constraints. 

With China's growing military strength, North Korea's nuclear weapons program and even South Korean military expansion, Japan has cautiously watched as the potential threats to its maritime interests have emerged, and it has begun to take action. 

The United States, in part because it wants to share the burden of maintaining security with its allies, has encouraged Tokyo's efforts to take a more active role in regional and international security, commensurate with Japan's overall economic influence.

Concurrent with Japan's economic stagnation, the past two decades have seen the country quietly reform its Self-Defense Forces, expanding the allowable missions as it re-interprets the country's constitutionally mandated restrictions on offensive activity. 

For example, Japan has raised the status of the defense agency to the defense ministry, expanded joint training operations within its armed forces and with their civilian counterparts, shifted its views on the joint development and sale of weapons systems, integrated more heavily with U.S. anti-missile systems and begun deploying its own helicopter carriers.

Contest for East Asian Supremacy

China is struggling with the new role of the military in its foreign relations, while Japan is seeing a slow re-emergence of the military as a tool of its foreign relations. China's two-decade-plus surge in economic growth is reaching its logical limit, yet given the sheer size of China's population and its lack of progress switching to a more consumption-based economy, Beijing still has a long way to go before it achieves any sort of equitable distribution of resources and benefits. 

This leaves China's leaders facing rising social tensions with fewer new resources at their disposal. Japan, after two decades of society effectively agreeing to preserve social stability at the cost of economic restructuring and upheaval, is now reaching the limits of its patience with a bureaucratic system that is best known for its inertia.

Both countries are seeing a rise in the acceptability of nationalism, both are envisioning an increasingly active role for their militaries, and both occupy the same strategic space.

 With Washington increasing its focus on the Asia-Pacific region, Beijing is worried that a resurgent Japan could assist the United States on constraining China in an echo of the Cold War containment strategy.

We are now seeing the early stage of another shift in Asian power. 

It is perhaps no coincidence that the 1972 re-establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Japan followed U.S. President Richard Nixon's historic visit to China. 

The Senkaku/Diaoyu islands were not even an issue at the time, since they were still under U.S. administration. Japan's defense was largely subsumed by the United States, and Japan had long ago traded away its military rights for easy access to U.S. markets and U.S. protection. The shift in U.S.-China relations opened the way for the rapid development of China-Japan relations.

The United States' underlying interest is maintaining a perpetual balance between Asia's two key powers so neither is able to challenging Washington's own primacy in the Pacific. 

During World War II, this led the United States to lend support to China in its struggle against imperial Japan. The United States' current role backing a Japanese military resurgence against China's growing power falls along the same line. 

As China lurches into a new economic cycle, one that will very likely force deep shifts in the country's internal political economy, it is not hard to imagine China and Japan's underlying geopolitical balance shifting again. And when that happens, so too could the role of the United States.

Costa Rica: ‘Narco-families’ are emerging as major traffickers ...

Of the 619 drug-distribution cells dismantled nationwide since 2006, 27.5% are family clans, with children, parents and grandparents distributing narcotics.

By Clayton R. Norman for – 21/09/2012

Costa Rican Drug Control Police dismantled a family-based drug distribution network in the Pacific port city of Puntarenas on Sept 13. (Courtesy of the Ministry of Public Security)

SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica – Costa Rican authorities are noticing a disturbing trend in the country’s fight against narco-traffickers.

The Costa Rican Drug Control Police (PCD) has dismantled 619 drug-distribution cells nationwide since 2006. 

Alarmingly, 170 (27.5%) of those organizations were so-called “narco-families,” entire family units, including children, parents and grandparents, who distributed narcotics.

In 2011, the PCD broke up 129 narco-trafficking groups, including 105 solely domestic operations and 24 that had international connections. Thirty were family clans.

This year, the PCD has busted 71 narco-trafficking groups, including 65 operating domestically, six with international ties and 10 “narco-families.” Costa Rican authorities have seized 12,661.4 pounds (5,743.1 kilograms) of cocaine and 83,000 doses of crack this year, according to the Public Security Ministry.

One of the most recent busts involving a “narco-family” occurred on Sept. 13 in the port town of Puntarenas, on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Authorities took a suspect into custody with the last names Sandi Mora, who recruited his mistress, his cousin and his cousin’s sons to traffic cocaine and marijuana, according to a PCD report, which didn’t make the man’s first name public.

“They are the killers of dreams and families, and they have no respect for anything or anyone,” said Mauricio Boraschi, Costa Rica’s national anti-drug commissioner. “Many of them, once in business, try to involve their children, their wives and the rest of the family to distribute narcotics.”

Boraschi added there are cases “where grandfathers and fathers are in prison and the rest of the family continue in the [narco-trafficking] business.”

What’s happening in Costa Rica is mirroring what’s occurred in Mexico, said Eric L. Olson, associate director of the Mexico Institute at The Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington D.C.-based think tank.

“You see the Arellano-Félix family, in Tijuana, and the Beltrán-Leyva family who has been devastated but had been a big player in Mexico,” he said. “Each one of these cartels at some point in its origins was basically built around a family unit of some kind. And that’s even true in Colombia. If you think about the days of Pablo Escobar, he built his empire around some close associates, but he also included family members.”

Olson said the loyalty among family members is a major reason why relatives start narco-trafficking operations. After all, family members tend to look after their relatives more than an outsider would.

“If you’re in this impersonal network and if somebody you don’t know gets in trouble, it’s less problematic, but if it’s your cousin, brother, father or mother, it’s more of a problem because they are part of your family,” he said.

The rise of “narco-families” in Costa Rica has contributed to the Central American nation’s emergence as a transit country for narcotics coming from Colombia en route to the United States. It’s estimated that 900 tons of cocaine move through Central America toward the U.S. annually, Costa Rican Public Security Minister Mario Zamora said.

The drug trade also has been behind the country’s escalating homicide rate, Zamora said. Costa Rica’s homicide rate is 11.3 per 100,000 residents – more than double the rate in 1997 – according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s Global Study on Homicide.

Boraschi said entire families often get sucked into narco-trafficking when one member begins dealing drugs and recruits family members so more money can be made.

“It’s common for someone to say ‘Here’s a kilogram of cocaine: Go sell it and keep a percentage for yourself,’” Olson added. “Before, narco-traffickers might just pay someone US$100 to transport a kilogram of drugs.”

“Narco-families” primarily do business in their own country so they don’t have to worry about converting foreign currency. This practice leads to more family members’ becoming involved in local narco-trafficking so the family can increase its profits.

Now, instead of working for Colombia and Mexico-based cartels by transporting drugs, Costa Rican families are going into business for themselves.

These families are not “card-carrying” members of the Sinaloa or Los Zetas cartels, two of the most powerful narco-trafficking groups in Mexico and Central America, Olson said.

Olson’s point is shared by Boraschi, who added that it’s common for authorities to find cocaine and crack-producing laboratories and places where marijuana is packaged in the residences of “narco-families” in Costa Rica.

Unlikely Joint Effort by U.S. and Venezuela Leads to a Drug Lord’s Arrest ...

Venezuela's Ministry of Justice, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Daniel Barrera, known as El Loco, was arrested in Venezuela on Tuesday.

Published: September 22, 2012

CARACAS, Venezuela — To President Hugo Chávez, the United States has long been The Enemy, the imperialist power that seeks to undermine his Socialist-inspired revolution, that plots to oust him from office — and that he loves to taunt.

Colombian Police, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In recent weeks Mr. Barrera burned his fingertips in an attempt to make it impossible to identify him.

That is what made it so surprising when Venezuela’s national drug police took part in an unlikely international operation this week to capture one of South America’s most wanted drug lords, on Venezuelan soil. 

Not only did it involve American drug agents and the Central Intelligence Agency, but it was directed from Washington.

The arrest of the drug lord, Daniel Barrera, known as El Loco, was the result of a complex four-nation endeavor. 

Colombian police and intelligence officials camped out in a Washington hotel room with their American counterparts, monitoring electronic surveillance of South American phone calls. 

The C.I.A., the Drug Enforcement Administration and the British intelligence agency MI6 contributed expertise.

The officials in the hotel room were in contact with agents in Venezuela, who swooped in to arrest Mr. Barrera as he chatted on a pay phone in front of a church in the city of San Cristóbal, near the border with Colombia.

But while Venezuelan officials boasted of having caught the man President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia called “the last of the great kingpins,” they were not exactly predicting a new era of cooperation with Washington.

“Venezuela is no longer a colony of the United States,” Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said on Wednesday at a news conference in Caracas that was partly an announcement of the arrest of the accused trafficker and partly an occasion to lash out at the United States.

Mr. El Aissami was piqued because just a week earlier the White House had declared, as it has for several years in a row, that Venezuela had failed to effectively combat drug trafficking.

He said that “unquestionable results” like the arrest of Mr. Barrera proved the White House wrong. He made no mention of the central role played by American agencies in Mr. Barrera’s capture.

It was not clear how much the Venezuelans knew about the role of the United States in the operation. 

Gen. José Roberto León, the director of Colombia’s National Police, who helped direct the operation from Washington, said that the Colombians had handled all contact with the Venezuelans, suggesting that there might have been no direct communication between Venezuelan and American officials.

Venezuela and the United States have a complex relationship. 

They have strong trade ties: the United States is the largest buyer of Venezuelan oil, and goods from the United States made up a quarter of all Venezuelan imports last year.

But politically the two countries have long been at odds, with Mr. Chávez, a socialist, frequently accusing the United States of infringing on Venezuela’s sovereignty and, at times, of seeking to overthrow his government.

In 2005, he accused the D.E.A. of spying and suspended cooperation with the agency.

Since then, Venezuela has increasingly become a transit point for drugs heading from South America to the rest of the world — a situation that Mr. Barrera had a large hand in developing. 

He operated in the plains of eastern Colombia and is accused of moving drugs across the border into Venezuela, where they were loaded onto airplanes at clandestine landing strips to be flown to Central America and the Caribbean on their way to the United States. 

Mr. Barrera also controlled important drug routes to Europe, according to the authorities.

Experts in drug trafficking say that drug movements through Venezuela are aided by corruption and that in many cases government officials and members of the armed forces have gone beyond taking bribes to become directly involved in trafficking.

Mr. El Aissami said that Venezuela has had more success fighting drug traffickers now than it did when it worked closely with the D.E.A. He pointed to the arrest of several other major Colombian traffickers in his country in recent months.

But the presence of so many traffickers in Venezuela can also be seen as evidence that the country has become a haven for traffickers.

According to one theory, “one of the reasons that the Venezuelans are able to identify these people and are prepared to give them up is because they’ve been bled dry and that corrupt elements in Venezuela are taking over these routes,” said Jeremy McDermott, a co-director of InSight Crime, a research organization based in Colombia.

Some analysts said the recent high-profile arrests of traffickers may aid Mr. Chávez in his bid for re-election Oct. 7, helping ward off accusations that his government has done little to bring down the country’s exceptionally high crime rate. They also polish his image internationally and help defend him from charges that his government harbors traffickers, including Colombian guerrilla forces involved in the drug trade.

Mr. Barrera lived in Venezuela since 2008, Mr. León said. Officials said he had plastic surgery to change his appearance, kept a low profile and frequently changed where he slept. In recent weeks, officials said, he burned his fingertips in an attempt to make it impossible to identify him. Versions differed as to whether he used acid or a hot frying pan.

As a further precaution, Mr. Barrera made calls only from public phones, officials said. But those phone calls were what led to his undoing.

Mr. El Aissami said that in early August, Colombian authorities informed their Venezuelan counterparts that they were tracking Mr. Barrera. They identified 69 public telephones he was suspected of using in several states and in Caracas, the capital, and began surveillance of those locations, he said.

Investigators began listening to the calls and in recent days Mr. Barrera told an associate on the phone that he would call again soon, according to news reports. It was the break that the authorities were waiting for.

Mr. El Aissami said that on Tuesday evening, when the call went through, “we immediately identified which of the 69 public telephones that we were monitoring” was being used by Mr. Barrera, and agents made the arrest.

Mr. El Aissami said that Mr. Barrera was to be transported to Caracas for questioning. He is wanted on drug charges in the United States and Colombia, and Colombian officials said they expected him to be extradited to one of those countries.

In a federal indictment filed in the Southern District of New York in 2010, Mr. Barrera was accused of producing up to 400 tons of cocaine a year. It said he did business with other trafficking organizations, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country’s largest rebel group.

William Neuman reported from Caracas, and Jenny Carolina González from Bogotá, Colombia. María Eugenia Díaz contributed reporting from Caracas.

A version of this article appeared in print on September 23, 2012, on page A14 of the New York edition with the headline: Unlikely Joint Effort by U.S. and Venezuela Leads to a Drug Lord’s Arrest.

Brazil now consumes 18% of the world’s cocaine ...


Brazil’s growing middle class has poured money into the trappings of wealth and recreation: flat-screen TVs, get-away vacations, and, now, lots of cocaine.
The country today consumes 18% of the world’s yearly supply of the drug, with 2.8 million Brazilians, or 1.4% of the population, snorting or smoking a combined 92,000 kilograms in 2010, according to estimates provided to us by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Brazil’s coke explosion has been called “the most worrying side-effect of the country’s recent consumer boom,” with use spreading not only across slums, dubbed “Cracolândias,” but also among the swelling middle class, who now comprise more than half of the population. Tax breaks and steep interest rate cuts have kept consumer confidence high and fueled continued retail spending, despite warnings of a broader economic slowdown.
“Drugs follow money,” Ronaldo Laranjeira, coordinator of the Brazilian institute’s study, told local media this month. “The countries that consume most drugs are the ones that have the most money.” Yet while Brazilian consumers may today have more disposable income to spend, the country has not yet invested extensively in addiction treatment.
A report from Brazil’s National Institute of Science and Technology for Public Alcohol and Drug Policy put the country’s consumption even higher than the UN, with 2.6 million users. It called Brazil the world’s top crack market and the second biggest destination for powdered cocaine.
Four in five Brazilian users preferred more expensive cocaine powder over crack and its local variant “oxi,” although use of that cheap, smokeable form of the drug – cooked with gasoline, battery fluid or other chemicals – has continued to spread from Amazon outposts into poor urban areas.
Most of the world’s cocaine originates in Brazil’s Andean neighbors, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia, which produce but don’t consume as much of the drug, according the UN. It’s then smuggled through the Amazon to Brazil’s wealthier southeastern cities, which as a region account for nearly half of Brazilian consumption. More then travels east to Africa and north from there to European markets, where a quarter of the global supply is consumed.

Esta foto tiene más de 2 millones de visitas y 22 mil comentarios en Facebook ...

agosto 9, 2012 1:51 pm

Dicen que el perro es el mejor amigo del hombre, pero para el estadounidense John Unger su mascota Schoep lo es todo.

En el estado de Wisconsin, al norte de Estados Unidos, la historia de Unger es conocida por la increíble atención a su perro de 19 años con quien pasó difíciles momentos, como la depresión por la ruptura con su novia y tentativas de suicidio.

Como informó Huffington Post, el animal sufre de artritis y no puede dormir plácidamente por el dolor, así que diariamente Unger lo lleva al Lago Superior para que el agua relaje el cuerpo de su mascota.

La fotografía cuenta con más de dos millones de vistas y 22 mil comentarios en Facebook. / Publimetro

FDA Vows to Work Together With Food Industry on PTI Integration ....


Such a shame that the Mango Industry did not make this a priority...I hope you weren't waiting for the National Mango Board (NMB) to "Lead" you!!!

May 17, 2011


The Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) Leadership Council met earlier this month to present an update on how well the fresh produce industry is doing when it comes to having our ducks in a row prior to implementation of the initiative in 2012. 

The May 2 meeting also featured an update on pilot projects that are currently underway and being conducted by PTI working groups.

But the highlight of the one-day session came in the form of some positive feedback from the Food & Drug Administration, which lauded the industry for moving full steam ahead in its understanding of traceability, and in its efforts to make progress toward PTI implementation by working earnestly and open-mindedly with the federal agency.

In that regard, Michael Taylor, who is the FDA administrative deputy commissioner for foods, told the leadership council in a presentation via telephone that his agency remains very interested in working hand-in-hand with the food industry as the feds begin to implement this year’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), including the traceability segment.

Praising the industry panel for taking the lead on traceability accountability, Taylor said a joint effort toward PTI implementation would be a major factor in its future success, emphasizing that his agency encourages progress and does not want to become an obstacle to that progress. A senior advisor to the FDA added that the produce industry is proving itself to be the model traceability leader in the food industry.

Such comments should help dispel fears by many in the industry that the FDA’s involvement in the initiative will bring progress to a standstill or worse, resulting in a negative solution to the problem. Taylor’s commentary about joint cooperation should go a long way toward quashing such negative scenarios and will hopefully prompt some companies to climb off the fence and join the effort for reasonable traceability regulations.

In addition, the PTI Leadership Council announced the results of a survey it conducted involving leadership council member companies regarding each firm’s state of readiness for PTI implementation. The results showed 79 percent of those surveyed claim they’re at an overall state of readiness. 

Broken down, the survey results show that of those on the leadership committee, growers, packers and shipper members are at a 94 percent state of readiness, while 82 percent of retail members say they’re on track for the 2012 deadline. Seventy-one percent of wholesalers and broker members, and 70 percent of food service members say they expect to meet the PTI deadline.

 While this is welcome news, it should be made clear that companies on the leadership panel are highly vested in the success of the initiative. It is the industry as a whole that is lagging in progress toward a reasonable and workable traceability initiative.

Finally, the council heard updates by two-dozen companies that are participating in 18 pilot PTI projects. 

These projects are exploring the costs and benefits of implementation, the time required to complete a trace, and identifying and documenting best practices. 

Among the pilot tests underway involving produce commodities are apples, bananas, berries, citrus, tomatoes, celery, radishes, peppers, leafy greens, melons, potatoes, onions, sweet corn and table grapes. Results of the pilot projects will be made public soon, according to Cathy Green Burns, the council’s chairwoman and president of Food Lion.

If you’re interested in participating in the PTI pilot projects, we here at TRUETRAC can help, but we suggest you first contact Ed Treacy, Vice President of Supply Chain Efficiencies, Produce Marketing Association (PMA) at or call him at (302) 607-2118.