As we noted in September (when the price had just dipped below $100 a barrel), after an initial price shock when ISIS seized northern Iraq, the world oil price has since slumped. It now stands at around $60 a barrel. Recall that way back in late 2001, when the US was invading Afghanistan, it stood at a lowly $11. At that time, we predicted an imminent price shock to jump-start the planned industry expansion—both in the Caspian Basin and here at home, overcoming environmental concerns. Boy, were we right. The price of a barrel first broke the $100 mark in 2008, and has frequently crossed it in the years since then, although it never quite hit the much-feared $200-a-barrel. But now the petro-oligarchs are talking like $100 may be the new $200. Saudi Arabia's oil minister Ali al-Naimi last month answered "we may not" when asked if markets would ever lift prices to $100 again. (CNN, Dec. 23) How much of this are we to believe, and what is really behind the slump?
On Dec. 12 a federal judge in Mexico City acquitted Raúl Salinas de Gortari, brother of former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994), of corruption charges in a case that has been argued in the courts since 1996. The Federal Attorney General's Office (PGR) charged Raúl Salinas with unlawful enrichment involving some 224 million pesos—about US$14.7 million at the time—that had gone missing from a secret presidential discretionary fund between 1990 and 1994. Salinas was cleared by a federal court on July 31, 2013, but the PGR appealed that decision. The Dec. 12 ruling, which is final, concludes that the PGR failed to prove the charges, bringing the high-profile case to a conclusion after nearly 19 years. Once he had delivered his verdict, the judge left for a vacation.
Three leaders of Peru's Shining Path guerrilla movement were indicted July 1 in US District Court for the Southern District of New York. Those charged are Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala, who was captured by Peruvian security forces in February 2012; and the brothers Victor and Jorge Quispe Palomino, who remain at large. The charges include conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization; narco-terrorism conspiracy; and two counts of use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. (Newsweek, July 2)
The Peruvian blogosphere is abuzz with rumors of an imminent coup d'etat against President Ollanta Humala, fomented by elements of the opposition APRA party. Humala has reportedly put off all travel abroad and is limiting his trips into the interior of the country, staying close to Lima for fear of a move against his government if he leaves the capital. The National Intelligence Directorate (DINI) has reportedly warned that elements of the National Police are discussing a strike over various greivances, actually aimed at causing an explosion of chaos and debilitating the government—following the model of the right-wing coup of Feb. 5, 1975, that brought Francisco Morales Bermúdez to power. Humala is said to have lost the confidence of the Armed Forces Joint Command, which is unhappy with his execution of the counter-insurgency program in Apurímac-Ene River Valley (VRAE), where a remnant faction of the Sendero Luminoso guerillas remains active. (Raúl Weiner in La Mula, Dec. 23)
Mexico's most notorious kingpin, Rafael Caro Quintero, was released Aug. 9 from Puente Grande federal prison in Jalisco where he had been incarcerated for the past 28 years. He left the facility at dawn, several hours before the release order was made public. The First Appellate Tribunal in Guadalajara found in March that Caro Quintero was improperly tried for the 1985 torture-killing of DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, and that charges should have been brought at the state rather than federal level. Federal prosecutors immediately appealed to the Supreme Justice Court of the Nation, which refused to rescind the lower court's decision. The Third Circuit Tribunal, also in Guadalajara, has now followed through by issuing Caro Quintero an amparo—a judicial order barring any federal action against him.
Peru's National Penal Chamber on June 7 sentenced one of the last "historic" leaders of the Shining Path guerilla movement to life in prison on terrorism, drug trafficking and money laundering charges. Florencio Flores Hala AKA "Comrade Artemio" raised his fist in defiance as the sentence was read at a naval base in Callao, where the trial was carried out under tight security. He said that he preferred the death penalty over life imprisonment, adding: "I have nothing to ask forgiveness for, I have nothing to regret." "Artemio," 51, was also fined 500 million soles ($183 million) in damages. Attorney Alfredo Crespo called the sentence a "political statement," and his client a "political prisoner." After the guerilla movement was crushed in the 1990s, "Artemio" retreated to the high jungles of the Upper Huallaga Valley, where he led remnant Sendero Luminoso forces in a local insurgency.
At least one suspected drug trafficker was killed Jan. 16 in the first US-supported drug raid in Honduras following a five-month suspension in radar intelligence sharing between the countries, authorities said. The Honduran navy said that one of three Jamaican men on a speedboat carrying 350 kilograms of cocaine died when a Honduran coast guard vessel rammed the craft before dawn about four kilometers off the country's north coast. A contingent of DEA agents was apparently on board the Honduran naval craft. Rear Adm. Rigoberto Espinal said one of the Jamaicans jumped into the sea and disappeared, and his fate had not been confirmed. The third man was detained, and interrogated by the DEA. The radar cooperation was halted after the Honduran air force shot down two suspected drug planes in violation of agreements with Washington designed to prevent deaths in such operations. (AP, Jan. 17; NYT, Sept. 7)
Félix Becerra, a leader of the Aymara indigenous organization CONAMAQ, has called upon Bolivia's judicial authorities to widen the investigation of the current corruption scandal to include Presidency Minister Juan Ramón Quintana, Government Minister Carlos Romero and UN Ambassador Sacha Llorenti. Noting longstanding CONAMAQ claims that the Evo Morales government is setting up state-controlled "parallel" organizations to divide the indigenous movement, Becerra implied that the same cabinet figures who have pursued this strategy could be involved in the scandal. "We have seen that Ramón Quintana, Carlos Romero and Sacha Llorenti have always been preparing to armar paralelos, and these maximum authorities should be investigated to see if they are implicated in acts of corruption," he said. A total of 10 officials have been detained in the case so far, although none at the cabinet level. (Erbol, Dec. 21; ANF, Dec. 17)