In farm-rich Argentina, hunger cries ring in leaders’ ears amid crisis

In farm-rich Argentina, hunger cries ring in leaders’ ears amid crisis
By Nicolás Misculin and Miguel Lobianco

CLAYPOLE, Argentina (Reuters) – In the hard-up neighborhood of Claypole on the outskirts of Argentine capital Buenos Aires, Elena Escobar makes her way to the local Caritas Felices soup kitchen to serve food to street children who scrape by from meal to meal.

Escobar, 53, says the volunteer-run kitchen has seen a surge of kids and families seeking help over the last few months, amid a biting recession and fast-rising prices that have pushed millions of people into poverty.

“There are many children in need, many malnourished, with kids that get to dinner time and don’t have any food,” said Escobar. The kitchen receives over 100 children each week, up from around 20-30 when it opened its doors in April.

The rise in hunger and poverty creates a complex backdrop for the leaders of Latin America’s no. 3 economy, who are in knife-edge talks with creditors to avoid default on billions of dollars of debt amid economic and political upheaval.

Ahead of a presidential election on Oct. 27, officials will head to Washington this month to meet with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a major backer that struck a $57 billion funding deal with the country last year.

Those talks are likely to weigh on the current administration of President Mauricio Macri and the next one, likely led by left-leaning Peronist Alberto Fernandez, the front-runner to win the vote.

The Claypole kitchen is far from alone in witnessing rising hardship, with government data showing poverty rates jumped to 35% in the first half of 2019 amid recession and steep inflation, from 27.3% a year earlier.

‘A SCOURGE’

Around 13% of children and adolescents went hungry in 2018, according to data from the Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina, and rising food prices have become a regular target of popular anger in street protests around the country.

Political leaders know something must be done, but face a complex juggling act: bolstering growth and spending to ease issues such as hunger, while cutting debt and averting a damaging default that would shut off access to global markets.

“We can’t live in peace with such a scourge,” left-leaning Fernandez said in a speech on Monday in reference to hunger, which he described as Argentina’s “greatest shame.”

Fernandez, who has been buoyed by support for populist running mate Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, blames Macri and austerity measures agreed with the International Monetary Fund for the rise in poverty and hunger.

Macri’s running mate, Miguel Pichetto, meanwhile, said on Monday the way to eradicate hunger was to generate employment and attract “big global companies” to Argentina.

Both sides have said they would honor the country’s debts with creditors, including the IMF, though neither has laid out a clear plan for how to do so while boosting spending at home.

Most investors expect some sort of losses.

Indeed, Moody’s Investors Service anticipates holders of Argentina dollar bonds will need to write off  10% to 20% of their investments, while Fitch Ratings believes the government will write down local and dollar debt.

‘JUST NO WORK’

Hunger and poverty are not new in Argentina, but have risen abruptly over the past two years amid a series of economic shocks that have rattled the grain-exporting nation, famed for its rich arable land and cattle.

The issues have become a lightning rod for anti-government protests and marches, with the hardships of the poor brought into sharp focus as the government has been locked in talks with creditors about repayments on around $100 billion in debts.

Driving the problem is stubborn inflation, a tumbling peso and a slump in domestic production and consumption, which have hurt spending power, incomes and jobs.

“There is just no work,” said 46-year-old Isabel Britez, a volunteer at the Los Piletones dining room in Buenos Aires, who said that was the main message she heard from people eating at the kitchen, which serves around 2,000 meals a day.

Macri, looking to revive his election hopes, has rolled out plans to bolster jobs, including tax cuts for employers. He also announced a freeze on some food prices earlier this year.

Sergio Chouza, an economist at the University of Avellaneda in Buenos Aires, said food prices have rocketed nearly 60% over the past year, with basics such as dairy up as much as 90%.

“That results in a deterioration of diets and pushes many people below the poverty line,” he said.

MORE NOODLES, LESS MEAT

Poverty is a key reason for Macri’s fall from grace. His economic austerity, part of the $57 billion funding deal agreed with the IMF last year, reined in deficits but hit growth and voters’ wallets.

Macri was defeated heavily in a primary election in August. Since then, he has announced lower taxes for the middle class and higher subsidies for the poor along with food aid. The Senate approved an emergency food law last month.

“Perhaps we underestimated the impact of the economic situation on the elections. (The poverty issue) affected the vote for Mauricio,” Eduardo Amadeo, a Macri ally and member of Argentina’s house of deputies, told Reuters.

“The reforms we launched have stabilized the economy and we have tried to reduce the impact from the devaluation in August on people’s wallets,” Amadeo said.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Health and Social Development listed official measures to deal with the crisis, but declined to comment further on poverty rates.

In the meantime, even as soup kitchens flourish, some volunteers say meals are getting more meager amid tight funding conditions and as food donations dry up.

“Previously, people donated some meat and chicken; now we only get noodles and rice,” said Lorena Nievas, who works at the Abrazando Hogares soup kitchen in the southern Patagonian city of Puerto Madryn.

For many residents, however, there is no choice.

“I have people from the street who come in for their lunch and snacks here. It’s all the food they get,” she said.

(Reporting by Nicolas Misculin and Miguel Lobianco; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Bernadette Baum)

Trump-Xi meet, a turning point in global trade war?

FILE PHOTOS: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump (L) holds a rally with supporters in Council Bluffs, Iowa, September 28, 2016 and Chinese President Xi Jinping waits for leaders to arrive at a summit in Shanghai May 21, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Aly Song/File Photos

By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Will U.S. President Donald Trump’s much-heralded meeting with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Argentina on Saturday lead to an easing of the Sino-U.S. trade conflict?

That has been the main question of financial and commodity markets leading up to the G20 summit in Buenos Aires. The answer is likely to steer investors at the start of the coming week.

Signals leading up to the meeting were at best mixed.

“I think we’re very close to doing something with China, but I don’t know that I want to do it,” Trump said as he set out on his journey from the White House.

The state-run China Daily newspaper said any deal was unlikely to be a comprehensive solution to the impasse due to “diverging demands and agendas”.

Economists at UBS expressed hope that a positive message could at least emerge, with a path towards resolution sometime next year, but that recent U.S. actions and statements had tempered their optimism.

ING was downbeat on a breakthrough coming soon, adding that two sides remained far apart on the extent to which China’s trade surplus with the United States could be reduced.

ING Bank forecasts that global trade growth will slow from 2.6 percent this year to 1.3 percent in 2019, the weakest rate since 2009, when the global financial crisis was at its height.

The estimate is based on an intensified U.S.-China trade war in which Washington increases tariffs on $200 billion of products to 25 percent in January from 10 percent now and then targets the $267 billion of Chinese exports not already subject to measures.

Without that, global trade growth could be unchanged at 2.6 percent. However, if Trump also decides to hike import duties on cars, that growth would slump to 0.5 percent next year, ING says.

Trump has threatened for months to impose auto tariffs, notably those made in Europe, although he has pledged to refrain from doing so for the European Union and Japan as long as it makes constructive progress in trade talks with the pair.

However, Trump reignited speculation on Wednesday by saying new auto tariffs were “being studied” and asserting they could prevent jobs cuts such as the layoffs and plant closures announced by General Motors Co.

Economists at Citi believe any tariffs would apply to finished vehicles but not to auto parts and the principal question is not if, but when, they will be unveiled.

As speculation has intensified, top executives from German carmakers Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler, previous targets of Trump’s criticism, are set to visit the White House next week.

OPEC CUTS, U.S. JOBS SPIKE?

Once markets have absorbed the fruits of the Trump-Xi exchange, investors may shift focus to at least two events at the end of the week.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies meet on Dec. 6-7 and are expected to discuss a possible production cut. Oil prices have fallen by more than 20 percent in November, to make it the biggest monthly drop in a decade.

The United States will also report its widely watched monthly jobs report on Friday.

Economists polled by Reuters forecast that the unemployment rate will hold at a 49-year low of 3.7 percent and that year-on-year wage growth will also match the 3.1 percent of October, itself a nine-and-a-half-year high.

The figures, if confirmed, should make it a near-certainty that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates for a fourth time this year at its Dec. 18-19 meeting, even as its chairman Jerome Powell signals a more cautious approach on future rate hikes next year.

“While sentiment may be a bit gloomy after the fallout from G20 meeting the more positive tone to the U.S. macro story could improve spirits as we move through the week,” said James Knightley, chief international economist at ING.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

U.S.-China dispute casts shadow as world leaders gather in Argentina

U.S. President Donald Trump and Argentina's President Mauricio Macri meet before the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Scott Squires and Daniel Flynn

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – The leaders of the world’s top economies gathered in Argentina on Friday for talks overshadowed by a U.S.-China trade war that has roiled global markets, bracing for the kind of geopolitical drama U.S. President Donald Trump often brings to the international stage.

The two-day annual gathering will be a major test for the Group of 20 industrialized nations, whose leaders first met in 2008 to help rescue the global economy from the worst financial crisis in seven decades. With a rise in nationalist sentiment in many countries, the group faces questions over its ability to deal with the latest round of crises.

Overhanging the summit in Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital, is a trade dispute between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, which have imposed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other’s imports.

All eyes will be on a planned dinner between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday to see whether they can make progress toward resolving differences threatening the global economy.

Beijing hopes to persuade Trump to abandon plans to hike tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods to 25 percent in January, from 10 percent at present.

“We hope the U.S. can show sincerity and meet China halfway, to promote a proposal that both countries can accept,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a briefing in Beijing.

Speaking in Buenos Aires, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he would be surprised if the dinner was not a success, but it would depend entirely on the two presidents.

On the eve of the summit, G20 member nations were still trying to reach agreement on major issues including trade, migration and climate change that in past years have been worked out well in advance.

Trump’s skepticism that global warming is caused by human activity has raised questions about whether the countries will be able to reach enough consensus on climate change to include it in the summit’s final communique.

Earlier this month, officials from countries attending a major Asia-Pacific summit failed to issue a joint statement for the first time after the U.S. delegation clashed with China over trade and security.

However, delegates to the talks in Buenos Aires said good progress had been made on economic sections of the statement overnight. Argentina’s presidency voiced optimism consensus would be reached on a draft.

“As this is a difficult moment for international cooperation, I would like to appeal to the leaders to use this summit … to seriously discuss real issues such as trade wars, the tragic situation in Syria and Yemen and the Russian aggression in Ukraine,” European Council President Donald Tusk told a news conference in Buenos Aires.

Highlighting the deep rifts within the G20, Tusk said the European Union would extend its economic sanctions on Moscow next month, after Russian ships fired on Ukrainian ones in the Sea of Azov last week, seizing the boats and sailors.

Trump cited Russia’s seizure of the ships as the reason he canceled a planned bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where they had been expected to discuss the U.S. leader’s threat to withdraw from the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.

However, Moscow said U.S. domestic politics may have been the real reason behind the cancellation after Michael Cohen, Trump’s former longtime personal lawyer, pleaded guilty on Thursday to lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Organization skyscraper in Moscow.

The presence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the summit also raised an awkward dilemma for leaders. Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler arrived under swirling controversy over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said she would be robust when she talks to Prince Mohammed, urging him to hold a full and credible investigation into Khashoggi’s killing and hold those responsible to account.

TRUMP AND TRADE

Uncertainty prevailed about how Trump, known for his unpredictability, would behave at what was shaping up as one of the group’s most consequential summits.

Trump rejected a statement by fellow leaders of the G7 industrialized economies at a summit in May after a tense gathering ended in acrimony, again over tariffs and trade.

Before heading for Buenos Aires on Thursday, Trump said he was open to a trade deal with China, but added, “I don’t know that I want to do it.”

Global financial markets will take their lead on Monday from the outcome of the Xi-Trump meeting, having seesawed in recent days on concerns trade tensions could escalate.

Oil markets will also be closely watching a bilateral meeting between Putin and Crown Prince Mohammed on Saturday afternoon for any sign of a breakthrough in a deal for Russia to participate in a production cut by the OPEC oil cartel next month.

In another bilateral meeting on Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron will discuss the Renault-Nissan alliance’s future with Japanese Prime minister Shinzo Abe, seeking to defuse a brewing diplomatic row over the balance of power inside the partnership.

NEW-LOOK NAFTA

One bright spot in Buenos Aires on Friday before the summit opened was the signing of a revised U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade pact to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Signing the agreement alongside Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, Trump said he looked forward to working with the U.S. Congress to complete the terms of the deal and did not anticipate problems in passing it.

The three countries agreed a deal in principle to govern their trillion dollars of mutual trade after a year and a half of contentious talks concluded with a late-night bargain just an hour before a deadline on Sept. 30.

However, Trudeau took advantage of the signing ceremony to say the partners needed to keep working to lift tariffs on steel and aluminum.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke in Berlin, Jeff Mason, Roberta Rampton and Makini Brice in Washington; Yawen Chen and Ryan Woo in Beijing and Cassandra Garrison, Daniel Flynn and Pablo Garibian in Buenos Aires; Writing by Matt Spetalnick and Daniel Flynn; Editing by Ross Colvin and Frances Kerry)

Frost thaws in U.S.-China ties ahead of G20 meeting

FILE PHOTO: U.S. and Chinese flags are placed for a joint news conference by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China June 14, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

By David Brunnstrom and John Geddie

WASHINGTON/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The United States and China will hold a delayed top-level security dialogue on Friday, the latest sign of a thaw in relations, as China’s vice president said Beijing was willing to talk with Washington to resolve their bitter trade dispute.

The resumption of high-level dialogue, marked by a phone call last week between Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, comes ahead of an expected meeting between the two at the G20 summit in Argentina starting in late November.

It follows months of recriminations spanning trade, U.S. accusations of Chinese political interference, the disputed South China Sea and self-ruled Taiwan.

China and the United States have both described last week’s telephone call between Xi and Trump as positive. Trump predicted he’d be able to make a deal with China on trade.

In a concrete sign of the unfreezing, the U.S. State Department said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Chinese politburo member Yang Jiechi and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe will take part in diplomatic and security talks later this week in Washington.

China said last month the two sides had initially agreed “in principle” to hold the second round of diplomatic security talks in October but they were postponed at Washington’s request amid rising tensions over trade, Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Mattis had been due to hold talks with Wei in Beijing in October, but those plans were upended after Washington imposed sanctions on China’s People’s Liberation Army for buying weapons from Russia.

Mattis did meet Wei in Singapore on Oct. 18 and told him that the world’s two largest economies needed to deepen high-level ties to reduce the risk of conflict.

Speaking in Singapore on Tuesday, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan, who is close to Xi, reiterated China’s readiness to hold discussions and work with the United States to resolve trade disputes as the world’s two largest economies stand to lose from confrontation.

“Both China and the U.S. would love to see greater trade and economic cooperation,” Wang told the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore.

“The Chinese side is ready to have discussions with the U.S. on issues of mutual concern and work for a solution on trade acceptable to both sides,” he said.

“The world today faces many major problems that require close co-operation between China and the United States,” Wang said.

Wang echoed comments made by Xi on Monday at a major import fair in Shanghai that Beijing will embrace greater openness.

Trump has railed against China over intellectual property theft, entry barriers to U.S. business and a gaping trade deficit, which U.S. data showed reached a record $40.2 billion in September.

The trade war, which has seen both sides impose tariffs on billions of dollars worth of the other’s imports, is beginning to hurt China’s economy and has battered Chinese shares and the yuan currency.

It has also brought purchases of U.S. soybeans by China to a virtual standstill. Soybeans are the largest U.S. agricultural export to China.

Jim Sutter, CEO of the U.S. Soybean Export Council, told Reuters on the sidelines of the Shanghai import fair that both countries understood the need to maintain their relationship.

“I think both sides are optimistic … more optimistic after the call last week that took place, that some kind of a solution can be reached,” he said.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and John Geddie; Additional reporting by Tom Daly and Michael Martina in Shanghai; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Tony Munroe and Neil Fullick)

Global wheat supply to crisis levels; big China stocks won’t provide relief

FILE PHOTO: Arnaud Caron, a French farmer drives an old Mc Cormick F8-413 combine as he harvests his last field of wheat, in Vauvillers, northern France, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

By Nigel Hunt

LONDON (Reuters) – A scorching hot, dry summer has ended five years of plenty in many wheat producing countries and drawn down the reserves of major exporters to their lowest level since 2007/08, when low grain stocks contributed to food riots across Africa and Asia.

Although global stocks are expected to hit an all-time high of 273 million tonnes at the start of the 2018/19 grain marketing season, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, the problem is nearly half of it is in China, which is not likely to release any onto global markets.

Experts predict that by the end of the season, the eight major exporters will be left with 20 percent of world stocks – just 26 days of cover – down from one-third a decade ago.

The USDA estimates that China, which consumes 16 percent of the world’s wheat, will hold 46 percent of its stocks at the beginning of the season, which starts around now, and more than half by the end.

The 126.8 million tonnes China is estimated to hold is up 135 percent from 54 million five years earlier.

“People need to get rid of China stocks (in their calculations) … if you do that, it’s just exceptionally tight,” said Dan Basse, president of AgResource Co in Chicago.

A repeat of the 2007/2008 crisis, which forced many countries to limit or ban exports, is unlikely in the absence of other drivers at the time, including $150-per-barrel crude oil.

The recent three-year high for wheat prices of $5.93 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade pales in comparison to the high of $13.34-1/2 a bushel in February 2008.

Importers in North Africa also appear to be better placed this time, with higher stocks of their own.

“It could have an impact on food inflation but in North African countries they have a good crop this year, fortunately, so their reliance is not as big as in the past years,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, chief economist at the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

“I don’t think we want to be alarmist in terms of consequences,” he added.

China started stockpiling wheat in 2006, setting a guaranteed floor price to ensure food security and stability.

At around $9.75 a bushel as of last week, Chinese prices are now so high that they cannot sell internationally without incurring a major loss.

Rabobank analyst Charles Clack said he expected China to continue to build stocks into next year but in the long-term, it would look to reduce reserves by curbing domestic production, reducing imports or conducting internal auctions.

“It will be a slow process … I wouldn’t expect exports to come flying out anytime soon,” he said.

Government wheat reserves now total nearly 74 million tonnes, according to Shanghai JC Intelligence Co Ltd, most of it from 2014-2017 but a small amount as old as 2013.

Sylvia Shi, analyst at JC Intelligence, said China would continue to import wheat it cannot produce in sufficient volumes to help meet a growing appetite for high-protein varieties for products like bread and other baked products as diets become Westernised.

DROUGHT

The wheat crop in several of the world’s biggest exporters – Argentina, Australia, Canada, the European Union, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and the United States – has suffered this year.

A spring drought in the Black Sea bread baskets Russia and Ukraine was swiftly followed by a summer heatwave in the European Union. Dry weather now also threatens crops in another important exporter, Australia.

Evidence of the serious harm done has grown as harvesting progresses.

Forecasts for the 28-member European Union have repeatedly been cut, with Germany set for its lowest grain harvest in 24 years after crops wilted under the highest summer temperatures since records began in 1881.

Russia’s agriculture ministry held a meeting with grain traders on Friday to discuss export volumes.

The ministry denied export limits were discussed but traders, some of whom were at the meeting, said curbs might be imposed later in the season following complaints from domestic meat producers about the rising cost of animal feed.

The United States is best placed to capitalize on a shortfall in global supply, with much higher stocks than rival exporters and rising production.

The outlook provides a much-needed boost for U.S. farmers caught in the crossfire of a trade war with China, a huge importer of U.S. soybeans and corn, as well as Mexico and Japan, two of the top buyers of U.S. wheat.

“The winner in the long term is the U.S. as they should get some demand flow back to them. It has been several years since we have seen the U.S. be in a position to get demand,” said Matt Ammermann, a commodity risk manager with INTL FCStone.

The Black Sea and Europe look set to lose market share, Ammermann said.

Canada, one of the world’s biggest high-quality wheat exporters, is expected to enjoy bigger yields than last year, according to a recent crop tour. But patchy rains have left crops highly variable across the western provinces.

“We don’t have a bin-buster coming. I just don’t see how we can push exports too much higher,” said Paterson Grain trader Rhyl Doyle.

SOUTHERN RESPONSE

The two major wheat exporters in the southern hemisphere, Argentina and Australia, are still months away from harvest.

A record crop is forecast in Argentina but production in Australia is expected to fall to the lowest level in more than a decade due to drought across the east coast.

Francisco Abello, who manages 7,000 hectares of land in western and north-central Buenos Aires province, said he and other growers are out to take advantage of high prices by investing in fertilizers to increase yields.

“We are having a great start to the season,” Abello said. “The ground was moist at planting time. Then it was cold and dry, which are the best conditions for the early wheat growing season.”

The Buenos Aires Grains Exchange has a preliminary wheat harvest estimate of 19 million tonnes, above what it says is the current record of 17.75 million tonnes.

In Australia, the outlook is less rosy. Analysts said production could fall below 20 million tonnes for the first time since 2008, although it is still likely to be well in excess of that year’s crop of just 13 million tonnes.

“The west of the country is looking good so the largest producing region could produce a crop in excess of 9 million tonnes alone. That may keep the headline number up,” said Phin Ziebell, an agribusiness economist at the National Australia Bank. “But with dry weather reducing output on the east, it could reduce exports nationally.”

(Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen in Chicago, Dominique Patton and Hallie Gu in Beijing, Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Sybille de La Hamaide and Valerie Parent in Paris, Hugh Bronstein in Buenos Aires and Colin Packham in Sydney; Graphics by Amanda Cooper; Editing by Veronica Brown and Sonya Hepinstall)

800 Venezuelans flee to Brazil daily to escape insecurity, hunger: UNHCR

Venezuelans line up to cross into Colombia at the border in Paraguachon, Colombia, Feb. 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) – More than 800 Venezuelans stream into northern Brazil each day, the United Nations said on Friday, citing Brazilian government statistics on people fleeing the worsening crisis in the economically crippled nation.

More than 52,000 Venezuelans have arrived in Brazil since the start of 2017, including an estimated 40,000 living in Boa Vista, capital of Roraima state, it said.

About 25,000 of the migrants are asylum seekers while 10,000 have obtained temporary resident visas and the rest are seeking to regularize their status, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

“We are stepping up our response in Brazil as the number of Venezuelan arrivals grows,” UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told a news briefing. “According to the government’s latest estimates, more than 800 Venezuelans are entering Brazil each day.”

Venezuelans have also fled to Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Panama, Argentina and Peru, while others have sought refugee status in the United States, Spain, Mexico and Costa Rica, according to the UNHCR.

President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas is faced with widespread discontent over hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicines during a fifth year of recession that he blames on Western hostility and the fall of oil prices.

Venezuelans report they are fleeing insecurity, violence and often a loss of income, Spindler said. Many are in desperate need of food, shelter and health care.

UNHCR is working with Brazilian authorities to register Venezuelans to ensure they have proper documentation that entitles them to work and access services, Spindler said.

Ten shelters have been opened in Boa Vista, each with 500 people, but some Venezuelans are living on the streets, he said.

Venezuelans willing to relocate from Roraima to other parts of Brazil are being flown to Sao Paulo and Cuiaba this week, as communities and services in Boa Vista are over-stretched, he said.

UNHCR’s $46 million appeal to help Venezuelans across the region is only 4 percent funded, Spindler said, and he called for more donations.

Within Venezuela, the economic crisis has limited people’s access to health services and medicines, World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said.

“WHO is working closely with the health authorities in order to fill those shortages. We are providing medicines for malaria and anti-retrovirals. We are equipping maternal hospitals with supplies that are needed for pregnant women and babies.”

Venezuela’s crisis has posed major challenges for governments in the region, who also worry that assistance to Venezuelans could increase the number of people leaving their country.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Water entered missing Argentine sub’s snorkel, causing short circuit

People stand next to a bouquet of flowers and banners in support of the 44 crew members of the missing at sea ARA San Juan submarine, outside an Argentine naval base in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 25, 2017.

By Hugh Bronstein

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Water entered the snorkel of the Argentine submarine ARA San Juan, causing its battery to short-circuit before it went missing on Nov. 15, a navy spokesman said on Monday as hope dwindled among some families of the 44-member crew.

The San Juan had only a seven-day oxygen supply when it lost contact, and a sudden noise was detected that the navy says could have been the implosion of the vessel. Ships with rescue equipment from countries including the United States and Russia were nonetheless rushing to join the search.

Before its disappearance, the submarine had been ordered back to its Mar del Plata base after it reported water had entered the vessel through its snorkel, causing a battery short circuit, navy spokesman Enrique Balbi told a news conference.

“They had to isolate the battery and continue to sail underwater toward Mar del Plata, using another battery,” Balbi said.

After contact with the San Juan was lost, the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization, an international body that runs a global network of listening posts designed to check for secret atomic blasts, detected a noise the navy said could have been the submarine’s implosion.

The search for the 65-meter (213-foot) diesel-electric submarine is concentrated in an area some 430 km (267 miles) off Argentina’s southern coast. The effort includes ships and planes manned by 4,000 personnel from 13 countries, including Brazil, Chile and Great Britain.

Among the crew’s family members, fissures started appearing on Monday between those who refuse to give up hope and those who say it is time to accept that their loved ones will not come back alive.

Some relatives have said they are focusing on the lack of physical evidence of an implosion and the possibility that the submarine might have risen close enough to the ocean surface to replenish its oxygen supply after it went missing.

But Itati Leguizamon said she believed her husband, crew member German Suarez, had died.

“There is no way they are alive,” she told reporters, her voice shaking and eyes welling with tears. “It is not that I want this. I love him. I adore him. He left his mother and sister behind, but there is no sense in being stubborn.

“The other families are attacking me for what I am saying,” she said, “but why have they not found it yet? Why don’t they tell us the truth?”

 

(Additional reporting by Eliana Raszewski; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

 

Hope fades as search for Argentine submarine enters ninth day

By Walter Bianchi

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina (Reuters) – Hopes diminished that the 44 crew members on a Argentine submarine missing for nine days would be found alive after evidence pointed to the possibility that it had exploded and because it only had a seven-day supply of oxygen.

Crew members’ relatives who had been waiting for news at the submarine’s base in the city of Mar del Plata started going home late on Thursday, while the navy vowed to keep searching.

“At this point, the truth is I have no hope that they will come back,” Maria Villareal, mother of one crew member, told local television on Friday morning.

Some family members accused the navy of putting their loved ones at unnecessary risk by sending them out in a more than 30-year-old vessel that they suspected was not properly maintained, an accusation the navy has denied.

“They killed my brother,” a man leaving the base in a car shouted out to reporters. The older man driving the car was crying.

The submarine, called the San Juan, was launched in 1983 and underwent maintenance in 2008 in Argentina. The armed forces have had to face dwindling resources and lack of training since the end of a military dictatorship in the early 1980s.

“They did not tell us they were dead, but that is the logical conclusion,” Itati Leguizamon, wife of one of the missing crew members, told reporters.

A sound detected underwater on the morning of Nov. 15, around the time the San Juan sent its last signal and in the same area, was “consistent with an explosion,” navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said on Thursday.

The information about the possible explosion came from the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization, an international body that runs a global network of listening posts designed to check for secret atomic blasts.

(Writing and additional reporting by Hugh Bronstein in Buenos Aires; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

Missing Argentine submarine had reported electrical malfunction

A car enters the Argentine Naval Base where the missing at sea ARA San Juan submarine sailed from as a picture of it hangs on a fence in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 19, 2017.

By Walter Bianchi

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina (Reuters) – An Argentine military submarine reported a malfunction and was headed back to base when it went missing last week in the South Atlantic, a naval spokesman said on Monday, while storms complicated efforts to find the vessel and its 44-member crew.

Hopes for a successful search for the ARA San Juan submarine, which went missing last Wednesday off the Argentine coast, waned on Monday when the navy said satellite calls detected over the weekend did not in fact come from the vessel.

More than a dozen boats and aircraft from Argentina, the United States, Britain, Chile and Brazil joined the search effort. Authorities have mainly been scanning the sea from above, as storms have made it difficult for boats.

Gabriel Galeazzi, a naval commander, told reporters that the submarine had surfaced and reported an electrical problem before it disappeared 268 miles (432 km) off the coast.

“The submarine surfaced and reported a malfunction, which is why its ground command ordered it to return to its naval base at Mar del Plata,” he said.

Galeazzi said it is normal for submarines to suffer system malfunctions. “A warship has a lot of backup systems, to allow it to move from one to another when there is a breakdown,” he said.

Crew members’ relatives gathered at the Mar del Plata naval base, waiting for news.

Intermittent satellite communications had been detected on Saturday and the navy had said they were likely to have come from the submarine. But the ARA San Juan in fact sent its last signal on Wednesday, navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said.

The calls that were detected “did not correspond to the satellite phone of the submarine San Juan,” he said on Monday.

The ARA San Juan was inaugurated in 1983, making it the newest of the three submarines in the navy’s fleet. Built in Germany, it underwent maintenance in 2008 in Argentina.

That maintenance included the replacement of its four diesel engines and its electric propeller engines, according to specialist publication Jane’s Sentinel.

 

(Additional reporting by Maximiliano Rizzi; Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Alistair Bell)

 

Argentine survivor of New York attack pleads for justice, love

The flag hangs at half mast at the Argentine Consulate, in honour of the five Argentine citizens who were killed in the truck attack in New York on October 31, in New York City, U.S., November 2, 2017.

(Reuters) – “What has the world turned in to?” a friend of the five Argentines killed in the New York attack this week asked at a news conference on Friday, alongside three other surviving members of a group of former classmates.

Guillermo Banchini, an architect, and friends were cycling in New York during a 30-year high school reunion trip on Tuesday when a driver of a pickup truck plowed down a bike path.

“How could someone think of, plan and do something like this? We cannot get our heads around it,” Banchini said at the Argentine consulate in New York.

“Let there be justice. Let this not be repeated, not here nor anywhere in the world.”

Eight people, including a Belgian woman, a New Yorker and a New Jersey man, were killed and 11 injured in lower Manhattan in the attack along the Hudson River.

The suspect, 29-year-old Uzbek immigrant Sayfullo Saipov, was charged with acting on behalf of Islamic State, whose followers have carried out vehicle attacks in several cities, mostly in Europe.

The five deceased Argentines, businessmen and architects aged 48 to 49, were all alums of a polytechnic high school in Rosario, Argentina’s third-largest city.

Another member of the group, Martin Ludovico Marro, was injured and hospitalized in Manhattan and did not attend the televised news conference.

Banchini, speaking on behalf of the other Argentine survivors, said the pain they were feeling would always endure, but they would move forward the way they had learned as close knit childhood friends.

“In the name of those values, and a way of life, we want to make a bet – love conquers hate,” he said.

 

(Reporting by Maximilian Heath and Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Andrew Hay)