March, 2016

 

Ricardo Blackman’s Caribbean Headlines News 03/31

By Ricardo Blackman | CDN Barbados

Dateline Bridgetown, BARBADOS;

Details are beginning to emerge of the stunning impact on the financial services sector of the de-risking strategy being employed by global banks.  A leading international tax negotiator yesterday revealed that eight (8) financial institutions in Barbados had lost accounts in the on-going termination of correspondent banking relations by the international banks.  In addition, the Organisation of American States (OAS)  said Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries stood to, lose up to US $10 Billion in remittances each year as a result of the practice.

Dateline Castries, ST. LUCIA:

Digicel Business has announced a partnership with Tata Communications. Operator of the world’s largest wholly-owned subsea-cable network, to deliver world-class connectivity to enterprise customers in the region.

As a result, Caribbean enterprises will benefit from greater speeds, reliability and security so they can be more competitive.  The partnership with Tata Communications means that Global Business will extend its fibre services to more than 200 countries and territories worldwide to offer a wide-ranging set of services including Global Network, Value Added Services, Unified Communications and Security Services, as well as several industry-specific solutions.

Dateline St. John’s, ANTIGUA:

Antiguan farmers have impressed the British market with their pumpkins, hot peppers and sweet potatoes, and a veteran farmer leading the charge for greater collaboration has said local farmers are one step closer to becoming a supplier to the British market.  Fifty pounds of pumpkins, 50 pounds of sweet potatoes and 20 pounds of sweet peppers,  were exported as sample product to London, and farmer Caudley George said the products received high marks.

Caribbean governments are being urged to make smart choices when it comes to attracting foreign direct investment.  The advice is coming from, Dr. Isaac Newton, executive leadership adviser.  A number of OECS countries, including Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica and Grenada, are using economic citizenship investment programmes to tap in to foreign investment opportunities.  Antigua and Barbuda has opened its CIP to Iraq nationals once again, and Dr,. Newton agrees with the Opposition in that country and other countries who argue that this could pose a threat to the Caribbean if ISIS terrorists and up with Antigua and Barbuda passports.

Dateline Kingston, JAMAICA:

China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) will begin the construction of its regional Headquarters in New Kingston later this year, signaling its confidence in Jamaica and its interest in remaining in  the region and to continue to invest in the country.


FBI’s secret method of unlocking iPhone may never reach Apple

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The FBI may be allowed to withhold information about how it broke into an iPhone belonging to a gunman in the December San Bernardino shootings, despite a U.S. government policy of disclosing technology security flaws discovered by federal agencies.

Under the U.S. vulnerabilities equities process, the government is supposed to err in favor of disclosing security issues so companies can devise fixes to protect data. The policy has exceptions for law enforcement, and there are no hard rules about when and how it must be applied.

Apple Inc has said it would like the government to share how it cracked the iPhone security protections. But the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has been frustrated by its inability to access data on encrypted phones belonging to criminal suspects, might prefer to keep secret the technique it used to gain access to gunman Syed Farook’s phone.

The referee is likely to be a White House group formed during the Obama administration to review computer security flaws discovered by federal agencies and decide whether they should be disclosed.

Experts said government policy on such reviews was not clear-cut, so it was hard to predict whether a review would be required. “There are no hard and fast rules,” said White House cybersecurity coordinator Michael Daniel, in a 2014 blog post about the process.

If a review is conducted, many security researchers expect that the White House group will not require the FBI to disclose the vulnerability it exploited.

Some experts said the FBI might be able to avoid a review entirely if, for instance, it got past the phone’s encryption using a contractor’s proprietary technology.

Explaining the policy in 2014, the Office of the Director of National Security said the government should disclose vulnerabilities “unless there is a clear national security or law enforcement need.”

The interagency review process also considers whether others are likely to find the vulnerability. It tends to focus on flaws in major networks and software, rather than individual devices.

During a press call, a senior Justice Department official declined to disclose whether the method used on Farook’s phone would work on other phones or would be shared with state and local law enforcement.

Apple declined to comment beyond saying it would like the government to provide information about the technique used.

PROTECTING “CRUCIAL INTELLIGENCE”

The government reorganized the review process roughly two years ago and has not disclosed which agencies regularly participate other than the Department of Homeland Security and at least one intelligence agency. A National Security Council spokesman did not respond to a request for comment about agency participation.

In his April 2014 blog post, White House cybersecurity coordinator Daniel, who chairs the review group, said secrecy was sometimes justified.

“Disclosing a vulnerability can mean that we forego an opportunity to collect crucial intelligence that could thwart a terrorist attack stop the theft of our nation’s intellectual property,” Daniel wrote.

On Tuesday, a senior administration official said the vulnerability review process generally applies to flaws detected by any federal agency.

Paul Rosenzweig, a former deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, said he would be “shocked” if the Apple vulnerability is not considered by the group.

“I can’t imagine that on one of this significance that the FBI, even if it tried to, would succeed in avoiding the review process,” said Rosenzweig, founder of Red Branch Consulting, a homeland security consulting firm.

He predicted the FBI would not be forced to disclose the vulnerability because it appears to require physical possession of a targeted phone and therefore poses minimal threat to Internet security more broadly.

Many security researchers have suggested that the phone’s content was probably retrieved after mirroring the device’s storage chip to allow data duplication onto other chips, effectively bypassing limitations on the number of passcode guesses.

Kevin Bankston, director of the think tank Open Technology Institute, said there is no public documentation of how the review process has worked in recent years. He said Congress should consider legislation to codify and clarify the rules.

Stewart Baker, former general counsel of the NSA and now a lawyer with Steptoe & Johnson, said the review process could be complicated if the cracking method is considered proprietary by the third party that assisted the FBI.

Several security researchers have pointed to the Israel-based mobile forensics firm Cellebrite as the likely third party that helped the FBI. That company has repeatedly declined comment.

If the FBI is not required to disclose information about the vulnerability, Apple might still have a way to pursue details about the iPhone hack.

The Justice Department has asked a New York court to force Apple to unlock an iPhone related to a drug investigation. If the government continues to pursue that case, the technology company could potentially use legal discovery to force the FBI to reveal what technique it used, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters.

At least one expert thinks a government review could require disclosure. Peter Swire, a professor of law at the Georgia Institute of Technology who served on the presidential intelligence review group that recommended the administration disclose most flaws, said there is “a strong case” for informing Apple about the vulnerability under the announced guidelines.

“The process emphasizes the importance of defense for widely used, commercial software,” he said.

(Reporting by Dustin Volz in Washington; Additional reporting by Dan Levine and Joseph Menn in San Francisco; Editing by Sue Horton, Peter Henderson and David Gregorio)


El Salvador plans ‘extraordinary’ moves to fight violence

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) – El Salvador plans to boost prison security and deploy more troops in the streets to battle a rising wave of gang violence that has pushed murder rates to record levels, President Salvador Sanchez Ceren said on Wednesday.

The government has declared a state of emergency in seven prisons, limiting gang leaders’ movements inside and prohibiting visitors and outside communication for 15 days.

Officials also plan to contract a thousand reserve soldiers to reinforce existing troops in controlling chunks of territory taken over by gangs, known as maras.

The small, impoverished Central American state ranks among the world’s most violent. Murders jumped almost 120 percent in the first two months of this year compared to 2015.

“Faced with this irrational violence, we are forced to take urgent measures, of an extraordinary character, in order to guarantee security (and) peace for all Salvadorans,” Sanchez Ceren said in a national broadcast.

The government also plans to ask Congress to approve 14 measures to increase prison controls, as incarcerated leaders are still able to order killings and extortions.

El Salvador this month considered declaring a nationwide state of emergency to combat gang violence, including suspension of some constitutional rights.

Spokesmen for the two major gangs, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and its rival Barrio 18, promised to reduce murders if the government halted its plans, but authorities refused.

The president also plans to ask legislators for a $1.2-billion loan to reinforce security measures.

(Reporting by Nelson Renteria Writing by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)


Argentine Senate approves deal to end debt dispute, re-enter markets

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentina’s Senate gave the green light to a landmark deal to repay creditors holding defaulted debt in the early hours of Thursday, marking the end of a 14-year legal battle that had made the country a global financial pariah.

The deal, which had already been approved by the lower house of Congress, is the cornerstone of new President Mauricio Macri’s plan for revitalizing an economy hobbled by low investment, high inflation and precarious central bank reserves.

Senators across the political divide voted by a 54 to 16 margin in favor of the deal after a 14-hour-long debate that dragged on beyond midnight.

Cash-strapped provincial governors who see it as key to regaining access to financing had lobbied hard in favour of the package. Now, Macri must simply sign the deal into law.

“What we are doing is resolving the topic of debt, we are not increasing debt, we are closing a judicial question,” said Miguel Pichetto, head of the opposition Victory Front party in the Senate, who voted in favour of the deal despite coming under attack from some members of his own party.

The country has until April 14 to pay $4.65 billion to the main hedge funds that fought for and won an advantageous settlement after balking at steep payment reductions offered in Argentina’s 2005 and 2010 bond revamps.

A U.S. court ordered Argentina to negotiate a settlement, which should set the stage for the country to once again issue global bonds.

Locked out of the capital markets since its 2002 default, Argentina needs international financing to close its wide fiscal deficits, improve infrastructure and start rebuilding investor confidence.

The deal allows Argentina to issue up to $12.5 billion in new bonds. Smaller funds have also joined the suit over the years and the final tally for settling the dispute is unknown.

Appeals being heard in U.S. federal courts could push back the April 14 deadline for payment to the funds, but are not expected to derail the process.

Money left over from the bond issuance would give financial breathing room to Macri as he carries out free-market reforms and starts paying down deficits run up by previous Argentine leader Cristina Fernandez, who left office in December after eight years of free-spending populist rule.

(Additional reporting by Gabriel Burin and Sarah Marsh; Editing by Fiona Ortiz)


Rousseff cancels Washington trip to avoid Temer from becoming acting president

President Dilma Rousseff decided on Tuesday to cancel her planned trip to the United States next Thursday to participate in the 4th Nuclear Security Summit, to be held in Washington.

(Merco Press) – The decision was taken following on PMDB’s withdrawal from the federal government’s coalition, as the political crisis faced by Rousseff intensified with the possibility that other allied parties will also leave the government coalition.

The cancellation of the trip also prevents Vice President Michel Temer, national president of the PMDB and the main articulator of the party’s withdrawal from the government’s coalition, from becoming acting president of Brazil for two days.

According to the Brazilian Constitution, the Vice President takes the President’s position when the holder leaves the national territory.


Nuclear terrorism fears loom over Obama’s final atomic summit

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Just as fears of nuclear terrorism are rising, U.S. President Barack Obama’s drive to lock down vulnerable atomic materials worldwide seems to have lost momentum and could slow further.

With less than 10 months left in office to follow through on one of his signature foreign policy initiatives, Obama will convene leaders from more than 50 countries in Washington this week for his fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit, a high-level diplomatic process that started and will end on his watch.

A boycott by Russian President Vladimir Putin, apparently unwilling to join in a U.S.-dominated gathering at a time of increased tensions between Washington and Moscow, adds to doubts that the meeting will yield major results.

The recent deadly militant attacks in Brussels have fueled concern that Islamic State could eventually target nuclear plants and develop radioactive “dirty bombs,” a topic that may well be uppermost in leaders’ minds as they meet.

Despite significant progress by Obama in persuading dozens of countries to rid themselves of bomb-making materials or reduce and safeguard stockpiles, much of the world’s plutonium and enriched uranium remains vulnerable to theft.

FROM RUSSIA, NO LOVE

The absence of Russia, one of the biggest atomic powers, could detract from decisions reached in Washington this week.

Obama, in an opinion piece in The Washington Post, said, “Our massive Cold War nuclear arsenal is poorly suited to today’s threats. The United States and Russia – which together hold more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons – should negotiate to reduce our stockpiles further.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday Russia was skipping the summit because of a ”shortage of mutual cooperation” in working out the agenda.

While noting that Moscow had continued joint work on nuclear security, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Russia was going to “miss out on an opportunity” and that its no-show illustrated the “degree to which Russia is isolated.” Russia has chafed over U.S.-led sanctions over the Ukraine conflict.

Efforts to make the world safer have also been complicated by North Korea’s nuclear weapons advance and Pakistan’s move toward smaller, tactical nuclear weapons, which Washington fears may further destabilize an already volatile region.

All of this weighs on Obama’s agenda as he prepares to host world leaders on Thursday and Friday. He inaugurated the event nearly six years ago, after using a landmark speech in Prague in 2009 to lay out the goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons as a central theme of his presidency.

There is no guarantee that once Obama, the driving force behind the initiative, leaves office in January his successor will keep the issue a high priority.

WHITE HOUSE TOUTS ACHIEVEMENTS BUT PROGRESS SLOWER

The White House previewed the summit by touting a list of achievements in the U.S.-led effort to tie down loose bomb-grade materials, and arms control advocates commend Obama for galvanizing an international response to the problem.

However, many say progress has slowed since the last summit in 2014 and countries such as Japan, India and Pakistan are preparing activities that could increase stockpiles of nuclear materials.

“The Nuclear Security Summits have had a positive effect, but the strategic goal of developing an effective global nuclear security system remains unachieved,” the Nuclear Threat Initiative, an anti-proliferation watchdog, said in a report this month.

According to the group’s Nuclear Security Index, which tracks the safety of weapons-usable nuclear materials, the past two years have brought no improvement in a range of measures, including on-site physical protection, security during transport and the ability to recover lost radioactive materials.

The report also said many countries’ nuclear reactors were vulnerable to online attacks. Seven of 24 countries with weapons-grade material, including China and Belgium, received the lowest possible score for their facilities’ cyber security.

Other critics point to a lack of an agreed-upon set of international standards for nuclear security or a mechanism for keeping tabs on common sources of radioactive material often found in hospitals and medical labs.

However, Laura Holgate, Obama’s adviser on weapons of mass destruction, cited commitments from 30 countries at the 2014 summit to secure their most dangerous material.

“The international community has made it harder than ever for terrorists to acquire nuclear weapons, and that has made us all more secure,” she told reporters before the summit.

“DIRTY BOMB” FEARS

Two of the Brussels suicide bombers secretly filmed the daily routine of the head of Belgium’s nuclear research and development program and considered an attack on a nuclear site in the country, according to Belgian media.

U.S. experts are less concerned about militants obtaining nuclear weapon components than about thefts of ingredients for a low-tech dirty bomb that would use conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material and sow panic.

U.S. officials said they had no doubt that Islamic State, which controls swaths of Syria and Iraq, was interested in obtaining such materials, but Holgate said U.S. authorities had no “explicit indications” that the group had tried to do so.

More commitments from world leaders to enhance nuclear security are expected at the summit but anti-proliferation groups worry that without further meetings at the highest levels, interest could wane and improvements could backslide.

(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball and Roberta Rampton in Washington and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Editing by Don Durfee, James Dalgleish and Leslie Adler)


Islamic State urges attacks on German chancellery, Bonn airport: SITE group

BERLIN (Reuters) – Islamic State posted pictures on the Internet calling on German Muslims to carry out Brussels-style attacks in Germany, singling out Chancellor Angela Merkel’s offices and the Cologne-Bonn airport as targets, the SITE intelligence group reported.

Western Europe is on high security alert after last week’s Islamic State suicide bombings in the Belgian capital that killed 32 people at its airport and in a metro station. On Wednesday, France said it was investigating a man on suspicion of planning an imminent act of “extreme violence”.

The Islamic State images and graphics, widely published by German media on Thursday, included slogans in German inciting Muslims to commit violence against the “enemy of Allah.”

Germany’s BKA federal police, who monitor suspected militants with German passports returning from stints fighting in Syria and Iraq, said it knew of the images but that their publication did not necessitate extra security measures.

“We are aware of this material and our experts are checking it,” a BKA spokeswoman said. “It is clear that Germany is the focus of international terrorism and that attacks could happen, but this material doesn’t change our security assessment.”

Federal police chief Holger Muench said after the March 22 attacks in Brussels that Islamic State appeared eager to carry out further “spectacular” attacks in Europe as it was suffering setbacks on battlefields in Iraq and Syria.

One of the disseminated Islamic State images features a militant in combat fatigues standing in a field and gazing at Cologne-Bonn airport with a caption reading: “What your brothers in Belgium were able to do, you can do too.”

Another shows the German chancellery building in Berlin on fire with an Islamic State fighter and a tank standing outside the structure. The headline reads: “Germany is a battlefield.”

Germany joined the U.S.-led air strike campaign against Islamic State in Syria last year, though limiting its role to reconnaissance and refueling missions, after the jihadist group killed 130 people in shooting and bombing attacks in Paris.

A third graphic featured a military jet, which German media identified as a Tornado used by the German air force, against the backdrop of a mountainous area juxtaposed with the bloodied faces of women and children – apparently meant to represent civilians who Islamic State says have been killed by air strikes on areas it controls.

The caption under this image says: “Will you continue to grieve or will you finally act?”

All five pictures circulated on social media on Wednesday bore the logo of Furat Media, an Islamic State affiliate, according to SITE.

German media also published an Islamic State video celebrating the attacks in Brussels that featured a three-second shot of Frankfurt Airport, apparently taken from German television news footage.

The BKA spokeswoman said police were aware of that video as well and current security measures were sufficient.

(Reporting by Joseph Nasr and Tina Bellon; Editing by Mark Heinrich)


Kremlin denies report of Russia-U.S. deal on Assad’s future

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Thursday that a report by the al-Hayat newspaper on an agreement between Russia and the United States on the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was not true.

The newspaper reported that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had told several Arab countries that Russia and the U.S. reached an understanding on the future of Syria’s peace process, including Assad’s departure to another country at some unspecified stage.

“Al-Hayat published information which does not correspond to reality,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with journalists.

“Russia is advantageously different from other nations because it does not discuss the issue of the self-determination of third countries either through diplomatic or other channels.”

(Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Christian Lowe)


Ricardo Blackman’s Caribbean Headlines News 03/30

By Ricardo Blackman | CDN Barbados

Dateline Bridgetown, BARBADOS:

Brazilian Beer giant, Ambev, has started re-shaping Banks Holdings Limited (BHL) in its own image, cutting three members of its top executive management team in the process.

Dateline Basseterre, ST. KITTS:

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is getting an additional $3 Million from Germany to boost the region’s renewable energy thrust.  The German government  and representatives of CARICOM earlier this month agreed to extend their joint programme: Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Technical Assistance.  St. Kitts & Nevis is among regional states expected to benefit.  The programme aims at strengthening, at the regional and national level, sustainable development within the Caribbean Community.

Dateline St. John’s, ANTIGUA:

As Caribbean tourism rebounds, tourism practitioners within the region are making their next strategic move by focusing on enhancing the quality of their product and developing a strong culture of service excellence.    The Secretary-General of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, Hugh Riley and other Caribbean Tourism officials, will meet in Antigua and Barbuda, May 11 – 13, to address the theme:”Making Excellence a Habit: Service Loyalty and Profitability in Caribbean Tourism”.

Dateline Kingston, JAMAICA:

Finance Minister Audley Shaw yesterday disclosed that the previous government’s PetroCaribe debt buyback will cost the country US $110 million (J$13.4 Billion) annually for a six percent increase interest rate on the new agreement.  In addition, Shaw told the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica’s President’s Forum at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel, that after taking office, the new administration found that the estimated J$9.5 billion that should have been set aside from the forward purchase of oil had been included in the Consolidated Fund.

Dateline BELIZE:

The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has concluded the Article 1V Consultation with Belize.  Real GDP growth reached 3.6 per cent in 2014, up from 1.5 per cent in 2013 and well above the five-year average of 2.9 per cent.  A rebound in agriculture, strong performances in tourism, electricity construction and services, offset the significant decline in oil-related activities.  The fall in international oil and food prices pushed headline inflation (y/y) to -0.2 percent as of December 14.


Former Canadian Cabinet minister killed in plane crash

MONTREAL (Reuters) – Former Canadian Cabinet minister Jean Lapierre died on Tuesday in a plane crash that also killed his wife and three of his siblings on the way to his father’s funeral in eastern Quebec.

The provincial coroner said in a statement all seven people on board the aircraft were killed in the crash, including Lapierre’s wife, two of his brothers and a sister. The other two people killed were crew members, the statement said.

The TVA network, for which Lapierre worked as a political commentator, said his twin-engined chartered aircraft crashed in bad weather as it was coming in to land on the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

Lapierre, 59, had been traveling to the Iles de la Madeleine for the funeral of his 83-year-old father, it said.

Photos from the scene showed the Mitsubishi plane lying in several pieces in a snow-covered field.

Canada’s Transportation Safety Board said it was investigating the crash but that, due to the bad weather, its team of experts would not reach the site until Wednesday.

The ebullient Lapierre, known for his good humor and animated style on air, made a second career in the media after serving as transport minister in Prime Minister Paul Martin’s Liberal government from July 2004 to February 2006.

He also acted as Martin’s lieutenant in the mostly French-speaking province.

“We’re going to miss him terribly,” a visibly upset Martin told CTV television.

“He was a very good political analyst, he was one of the best, but he was also a superb political figure in this country and it was a great privilege to work with him,” he said.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who was in the Liberal caucus with Lapierre from 2004 to 2006, said his former colleague was a natural communicator and a good listener who loved politics.

“He didn’t leave anyone indifferent … everyone will want to pay tribute to him,” Coderre told reporters in Montreal.

Lapierre – praised by media colleagues for his generosity and advice – was a Liberal legislator in the federal Parliament from 1979 to 1990.

He later briefly joined the separatist Bloc Quebecois amid a dispute over Quebec rights before retiring from politics for the first time in 1992 and working for a radio station.

He rejoined the Liberals after Martin became prime minister in late 2003.

(Writing by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Additional reporting by Alastair Sharp and Jeffrey Hodgson in Toronto; Editing by Sandra Maler and Bernard Orr)