May, 2016


Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Microsoft back EU hate speech rules

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Facebook (FB.O), Twitter (TWTR.N), Google’s (GOOGL.O) YouTube and Microsoft (MSFT.O) on Tuesday agreed to an EU code of conduct to tackle online hate speech within 24 hours in Europe.

EU governments have been trying in recent months to get social platforms to crack down on rising online racism following the refugee crisis and terror attacks, with some even threatening action against the companies.

As part of the pledge agreed with the European Commission, the web giants will review the majority of valid requests for removal of illegal hate speech in less than 24 hours and remove or disable access to the content if necessary.

They will also strengthen their cooperation with civil society organizations who help flag hateful content when it goes online and promote “counter-narratives” to hate speech.

“The recent terror attacks have reminded us of the urgent need to address illegal online hate speech. Social media is unfortunately one of the tools that terrorist groups use to radicalize young people,” EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said.

Germany got Google, Facebook and Twitter to agree to delete hate speech from their websites within 24 hours last year and even launched an investigation into the European head of Facebook over its alleged failure to remove racist hate speech.

“There’s no place for hate speech on Facebook,” said Monika Bickert, Head of Global Policy Management at Facebook.

“With a global community of 1.6 billion people we work hard to balance giving people the power to express themselves whilst ensuring we provide a respectful environment.”

The code of conduct is largely a continuation of efforts that the companies already take to counter hate speech on their websites, such as developing tools for people to report hateful content and training staff to handle such requests.

Twitter has suspended over 125,000 accounts since the middle of 2015 for threatening or promoting terror acts, primarily related to Islamic State.

The United States has undertaken similar efforts to entice the cooperation of tech companies in combating online radicalization, focusing on promoting “counter-narratives” to extremist content.

EU ministers had called for cooperation with tech companies to be stepped up after the Brussels attacks in March.

Jewish lobbyists, frequently the target of hate speech, welcomed the code of conduct.

“This a historic agreement that could not arrive at a better time,” said Dr. Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress.

(Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

Marketing in Communist-ruled Cuba: from guerrilla to mainstream?

HAVANA (Reuters) – For half a century after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, Cuba’s marketing was limited to patriotic propaganda and its most ubiquitous brand was not Coca-Cola but late revolutionary hero Ernesto “Che” Guevara, daubed on walls across the island.

Now, market-style reforms to expand the private sector mean a blossoming of small businesses from cobblers to barbers and bars seeking to haul in customers.

Havana streets that used to be pitch dark at night are lit up by neon signs advertising restaurants or spare rooms in private homes.

“It was unknown territory, going through the steps of opening up a business, where promotion is key,” said Erick Carballo, 26, who opened a beauty salon in Havana last August.

Outside, a sign reads “Kerabana” in blue and the walls inside are painted cheerful orange. Mirrors create an airy feel while flyers list the prices of manicures and waxes.

In a stark sign of the change, Martin Sorrell, the fast-talking boss of the world’s biggest advertising group WPP, gave aspiring creatives a master class on the industry and how they can develop it on the communist-run island.

He brandished data, graphs and drawings of wine labels to explain the value of brands to a rapt audience that grew up insulated from the 20th century’s branding revolution.

“Cuba has amazing beaches, and produces excellent rum. But many other countries have beaches and make rum. So the question is ‘why Cuban?'” asked Sorrell. “The answer, again, is investment in the brand.”

But tourists who see the absence of gaudy hoardings as boosting the appeal of its graceful cities and rolling countryside should not worry just yet.

Local firms’ tight budgets and a lingering distrust of capitalist consumerism in Cuba means agencies such as WPP, which last year became the first global communications group to set up shop here, are unlikely to make big money any time soon.

Businesses can only advertise on their own premises and Havana’s handsome architecture is still free of billboards. Along roads, pictures of Castro or “Che” and slogans like “Homeland or death” remain the norm.

Newspapers and broadcast media are state-controlled and do not run commercial spots. Only the state and its joint ventures with foreign firms like Havana Club rum are running integrated advertising campaigns, mainly abroad.

Restricted and expensive Internet access means few businesses, even those in the tourism sector generating dollar revenue, can afford to advertise on the web.

So, young Cuban designers are coming up with “guerrilla” means of promotion, like offline apps, tee-shirt branding and commercials on El Paquete, a package of often-pirated media delivered across Cuba on USB sticks.

In one video, surgeons wearing face masks lean over, apparently operating on a client. Yet the patient is a broken phone, not a human, and the ad is for the “Cellphone Clinic”.


All areas of marketing here are new. Before the reforms, businesses like Carballo’s beauty parlor existed but were illegal, so they did not market themselves and hid in shabby living rooms.

State-run restaurants and shops faced no competition so made little effort to differentiate.

“Marketing is tricky for us in Cuba because we did not grow up in a world of supply and demand,” Carballo said.

Cuba will likely try to keep advertising low-key and consumerism in check.

“The most important thing is that marketing does not invade our daily space,” said Sergio Pena Martinez, head of the Institute of Design that teaches marketing, Cuban-style. He compared ads in the United States to a “virus.”

Cubans need information to make informed decisions about what restaurant to go to for example but they do not need adverts interrupting television or radio, endlessly generating more consumer wants, he said.

Some of the old guard already feel things have gone too far.

“Our country has turned into a store of adverts and signs,” grumbled Roberto Gomez, a 78-year old Communist Party member. “I would never have imagined this.”

So far, several global communications agencies have assigned teams to Cuba but only WPP has opened up. It has yet to announce any business deals.

Experts say there is scope for the big agencies to step up marketing of Cuban-foreign joint ventures in rum, cigars and tourism. The government will also likely need market research as it seeks to boost exports and foreign investment to revitalize the moribund economy.

“The pace is set by the government, we can’t really take many initiatives on our own,” Sorrell said in an interview, adding that talks with Havana were “very constructive”.

Marketing may itself become a revenue earner in a country with a highly educated workforce and low salaries. Freelance designer Fidel Lezcano, 28, said around 60 percent of his business came from abroad. Most recently, he designed a website for a Mexican craft store.

Still, designers face challenges, such as Internet access. A decent connection at home costs as much as $500 a month, so Lezcano works on his laptop at an open-air Wi-Fi hotspot.

But in a country that some believe has the highest number of artists per capita in the world, they hold an ace card.

“Expressiveness, creativity is intrinsic to Cuban culture,” said Lezcano. “That’s our strength.”

(Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Kieran Murray)

Keiko Fujimori seems set to become Peru’s next president on June 5 runoff

Presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori built a significant lead over Pedro Pablo Kuczynski just one week ahead of Peru’s runoff election on June 5. The latest Ipsos poll shows 43% of Peru’s voters support Fujimori, compared to 38% for Kuczynski. Fujimori’s five-point lead reflects political momentum in her favor since the same poll a week ago gave her a three-point advantage.

(Merco Press) – In an election simulation in which respondents cast their vote in secret, Fujimori obtained 53.1% of valid votes compared to Kuczynski’s 46.9%, which reflects a 0.5% gain for Fujimori since the same simulation in the previous poll.

The poll was taken before news reports of Fujimori’s running mate Jose Chlimper was the source of an edited audio recording which looked to discredit a previous story about the DEA investigation into Popular Force chairman Joaquín Ramírez for money laundering

Given his position in the polls and Fujimori’s aggressive posture in the first debate, Kuczynski immediately went on the attack in his opening statements last Sunday. He highlighted the allegations against Fujimori’s party leaders as a threat to Peru’s democracy.

But Fujimori had prepared responses for most of Kuczynski’s attacks. She even won some exchanges with counterattacks, including one in which she deflected the criticism of her 50% absentee rate during her term in Congress into a vow to champion women’s right to maternity leave.

Meanwhile Fujimori repeated her points that Kuczynski would advocate for big business at the expense of small and medium-sized companies. At one point she pointedly asked why Kuczynski had “given away” Peru’s natural gas in licensing the exploitation of the Camisea gas fields.

As in the first debate, Fujimori’s superior oratory skills and populist rhetoric were too much for the 77-year-old economist to overcome. Kuczysnki certainly landed some big punches, but Fujimori won the fight.

Many analysts saw the debate as Kuczynski’s last stand to turn the tables on Fujimori’s momentum. Now only external forces can stop Fujimori’s election to the presidency.

“There is a statistically significant difference in favor of the Popular Force candidate,” Ipsos pollster Alfred Torres writes in El Comercio. “Consequently, the most likely outcome of the election on June 5 is that Keiko Fujimori will be elected president of the republic.”


Iraqi army pause at southern edge of Falluja as IS fights back

CAMP TARIQ, IRAQ (Reuters) – Islamic State militants fought back vigorously overnight and parried an onslaught by the Iraqi army on a southern district of the city of Falluja, the group’s bastion near Baghdad, officers said on Tuesday.

An aid official warned of a “human catastrophe” unfolding in the city, with residents unable to escape.

Soldiers from the elite Rapid Response Team stopped their advance overnight about 500 meters (yards) from the al-Shuhada district, the southeastern part of city’s main built-up area, an army commander and a police officer said.

“Our forces came under heavy fire, they are well dug in trenches and tunnels,” said the commander speaking in Camp Tariq, the rear army base south of Falluja, 50 km (30 miles) west of Baghdad.

A staff member of Falluja’s main hospital said they received reports of 32 civilians killed on Monday. Medical sources had reported that the death toll in the city stood at about 50, 30 civilians and 20 militants, during the first week the offensive which started on May 23.

Falluja has been under siege for more than six months. Foreign aid organization are not present in the city, but are providing help to those who manage to exit and reach refugee camps.

The latest offensive is causing alarm among these organizations as more than 50,000 civilians remain trapped with limited access to water, food and health care.


“A human catastrophe is unfolding in Fallujah. Families are caught in the crossfire with no safe way out,” said Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, one of the organizations helping families displaced form the city.

“For nine days we have heard of only one single family managing to escape from inside the town,” he said in a statement on Tuesday. `Warring parties must guarantee civilians safe exit now, before it’s too late and more lives are lost.”

Falluja is the second-largest Iraqi city still under control of the militants, after Mosul, their de facto capital in the north that had a pre-war population of about 2 million.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the assault on Falluja on May 22 after a spate of bombings that killed more than 150 people in one week in Baghdad, the worst death toll so far this year. A series of bombings claimed by Islamic State also hit Baghdad on Monday, killing over 20 people.

Falluja has been a bastion of the Sunni insurgency that fought both the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the Shi’ite-led Baghdad government that took over after the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, in 2003.

It was the first city to fall under Islamic State control, in January 2014.

It would be the third major city in Iraq recaptured by the government after Saddam’s home town Tikrit and Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s vast western Anbar province.

Falluja is also in Anbar, located between Ramadi and Baghdad. Capturing it would give the government control of the major population centers of the Euphrates River valley west of the capital for the first time in more than two years.

(Reporting by Maher Nazeh and Saif Hameed; Writing by Maher Chmaytelli; editing by Ralph Boulton)

Latam is suspending flights to Venezuela because of the government’s mounting debts

The largest airline in Latin America, Latam, (Lan Chile and Brazil’s TAM) announced it is suspending its flights to Venezuela because of the worsening economic situation. The suspension came a day after Germany’s Lufthansa said it would suspend its services to the country.

(Merco Press) – The German company said Venezuela owed it millions in ticket revenues. Alitalia and Air Canada have adopted similar suspensions, since it is estimated the Venezuelan government owes airlines almost 3.6 billion dollars.

Oil-rich Venezuela has been hit hard by the global drop in oil prices and suffers from high inflation and a chronic shortage of basic goods.

Several airline companies have said that currency controls in Venezuela made it impossible for airlines to convert their earnings into dollars and send the money abroad.

In a statement, Latam airlines said it would suspend its operations to Caracas airport “temporarily and for an unspecified time”.

It said flights on its Sao Paulo to Caracas route would end first, within days, and the other routes it runs to Caracas from Lima and Santiago would be halted by the end of July.

Strict currency controls were first imposed in Venezuela in 2003 by late President Hugo Chavez.

The restrictions were further tightened two years ago, forcing several airlines to reduce their operations in the country as they struggled to repatriate billions of dollars in revenue held in the local currency – the Bolivar.

Some airlines are now requiring passengers to pay their fares in dollars. While the official rate ranges between 10 and 30 Bolivar to the US dollar, in the black market it is traded at 1.000 Bolivar.

Venezuela’s government says it is using its foreign reserves – which are now scarce – to pay for essential items such as medicines and industrial machinery.

Recently Coca-Cola said it would be halting production of some of its soft drinks because of a lack of sugar while the tyre and rubber products company Bridgestone also ended its more than 60-year relationship with the country.

Macri pledges to repatriate overseas savings in Bahamas and buy Argentine bonds

President Mauricio Macri said Monday that he will repatriate $1.3 million in savings from the Bahamas and use the money to buy Argentine treasury bonds because he is confident the struggling economy will recover and thrive.

(Merco Press) – Macri said the money was deposited in Merrill Lynch accounts in Switzerland and the U.S., but it was transferred to the Bahamas after Swiss private bank Julius Baer Group bought the Merrill Lynch overseas wealth management unit from Bank of America.

Macri, who was Buenos Aires mayor, won the presidency last year on a promise to jumpstart Argentina’s economy and root out endemic corruption.

He recently set up a blind trust to handle his financial holdings in response to criticism over his role in two offshore companies that emerged in the “Panama Papers” leak. Macri, the son of one of Argentina’s wealthiest families, said the companies were family businesses and he was a figurehead without compensation.

A federal prosecutor has requested authorization to investigate whether Macri “maliciously” omitted his role in the offshore companies in his annual tax declarations. Macri said he is open to being investigated and has nothing to hide.

Brazil’s posts a primary budget surplus in April, because of annual income tax collection

The Brazilian government posted a primary budget surplus in April well above market expectations due to a seasonal increase in tax revenues and a drop in subsidies, a senior official said on Monday. The government, which is struggling to lift the economy out of a deep recession, posted a primary budget surplus of 9.751 billion reais (US$2.72 billion) in April.

(Merco Press) – Treasury chief Otavio Ladeira said the steep surplus was due to an increase in the collection of the annual income tax due in April and a drop in expenditures with subsidies after the government adopted new payment guidelines.

Ladeira told journalists the April surplus does not change the government’s outlook for a primary deficit of 170.5 billion reais this year, equal to about 2.75% of GDP.

In March, the central government, which includes federal ministries, the central bank and social security administration, recorded a deficit of 7.9 billion reais, a record shortfall for that month, due to a decline in tax revenues.

The primary balance of payments, or the difference between revenues and expenditures prior to interest debt payments, is a key gauge of a country’s capacity to honor its debt.

Interim President Michel Temer, who has replaced President Dilma Rousseff as she faces an impeachment trial, announced a series of measures aimed at closing a budget deficit including debt payments that could top 11% of GDP for the second straight year.

His government will propose legislation to cap public spending and agreed with state development bank BNDES for the early repayment of 100 billion reais in debt.

The record deficit forecast reflects the dire state of government finances after years of heavy spending and steep tax breaks under the Rousseff administration that cost Brazil its coveted investment-grade credit rating last year.

But some economists say the sheer size of the deficit estimate could pave the way for more public spending ahead of mayoral elections in October.

Brazil’s economy probably shrank for a fifth straight quarter in early 2016 as the impeachment process against Rousseff paralyzed investment and pushed the country closer to its worst economic downturn on record.

Ricardo Blackman’s Caribbean Headlines News 05/31

By Ricardo Blackman | CDN Barbados

Dateline St. John’s, ANTIGUA:

Both the government’s Chief of Staff, Lionel “Max” Hurst and the man at the centre of the knighthood controversy, Sir Anthony Bailey, have strongly denied claims that the knighthoods conferred on the members of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St. George in 2014, were in exchange for money.

Dateline Castries, ST. LUCIA:

Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony announced that St. Lucians will go to the polls on June 6th and naturally, there has been considerable interest generated in the likely outcome.  Against this background, Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES) conducted a public opinion poll which is representative of the views and opinions of St. Lucians across all 17 constituencies.  One of the most critical findings of the survey is the fact that there is at this time a statistical dead heat between the governing St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) and the Opposition United Workers Party (UWP) with the SLP recording 34% and the UWP securing 33% of the committed vote share.  Some 3% of the respondents promised to support independent candidates.  Thirty per cent (30%) of the respondents were categorized as “uncertain voters.”

Dateline Kingstown, ST. VINCENT:

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonzalves has put the nation on alert that they may hear one day of the news that he has dissolved parliament and called fresh elections.  Gonzalves Unity Labour Party (ULP) was re-elected to a fourth consecutive term in office last December in elections that observers say were free and fair but which the Opposition said the party stole.

Dateline Basseterre:

The government of St. Kitts and Nevis moved swiftly Monday to revoke the passports of David B. Kaplan and his wife Lisa Kaplan, both of whom are named in a recent US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing alleging a fraudulent scheme that raised $15.8 million, of which approximately $385,000 was sent to St. kitts & Nevis to obtain citizenship for Kaplan and his wife.

Dateline Belize City, BELIZE:

Caribbean countries are poised to benefit from a region-wide initiative to expand seafood market share through the implementation of food safety measures to enable countries to get a bigger piece of the global pie, worth an estimated US$130 billion annually.   Caribbean countries, including The Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago arte now capitalizing on a co-ordinated approach to broaden the gateway to the growing market.  CARIFORUM (CARICOM and the Dominican Republic) now exports about US$400 million worth of fish and seafood annually.

Dateline Port of Spain, TRINIDAD:

After four nights in custody, the 46 year old man detained for questioning over a bomb threat called in to Trincity Mall, has been released.  This occurred yesterday after a team of Police  officers visited the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Dateline Kingston, JAMAICA:

Jamaicans are looking on at developments in Trinidad and Tobago with more than passing interest.  Assistant Commissioner of Police, Devon Watkis told the Daily Gleaner that while local law enforcement officials had no information on a possible terrorist plot in Jamaica, they were treating the matter seriously.  He said the threat against Trinidad and Tobago has to be viewed as an issue for the entire region.  “Any indication of threat to any vulnerable infrastructure such as plazas or our official assets and facilities has to be viewed as a regional issue” said Watkis.

Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett and Tourism Director Paul Pennicock, will meet with several tourism stakeholders in Japan as part of efforts to re-engage the market and grow visitor traffic to Jamaica.  Bartlett left the island on Sunday, May 29 and returns on June 6.

Between 700-900 migrants may have died at sea this week: NGOs

(Reuters) – At least 700 migrants may have died at sea this past week in the busiest week of migrant crossings from Libya towards Italy this year, Medecins San Frontieres and the U.N. Refugee agency said on Sunday.

About 14,000 have been rescued since Monday amid calm seas, and there have been at least three confirmed instances of boats sinking. But the number of dead can only be estimated based on survivor testimony, which is still being collected.

“We will never know exact numbers,” Medecins San Frontieres said in a Tweet after estimating that 900 had died during the week. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said more than 700 had drowned.

Migrants interviewed on Saturday in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo told of a large fishing boat that overturned and sank on Thursday with many women and children on board.

Initial estimates were that 400 people died, but the UN Refugee agency said on Sunday there may have been about 670 passengers on board.

According to testimony collected by EU border agency Frontex, when the motorless fishing boat capsized, 25 swam to the boat that had been towing it, while 79-89 others were saved by rescuers and 15 bodies were recovered. This meant more than 550 died, the UNHCR said.

The migrants — fleeing wars, oppression and poverty — often do not know how to swim and do not have life jackets. They pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to make the crossing from Libya to Italy, by far the most dangerous border passage for migrants in the world.

This week’s arrivals included Eritreans, Sudanese, Nigerians and many other West Africans, humanitarian groups say. Despite the surge this week, as of Friday 40,660 arrivals had been counted, 2 percent fewer than the same period of last year, the Interior Ministry said.

Most of the boats this week appear to have left from Sabratha, Libya, where many said smugglers had beaten them and women said they had been raped, said MSF, which has three rescue boats in the area.

The migrants are piled onto flimsy rubber boats or old fishing vessels which can toss their occupants into the sea in a matter of seconds.

About 100 are thought to have either been trapped in the hull or to have drowned after tumbling into the sea on Wednesday.

On Friday, the Italian Navy ship Vega collected 45 bodies and rescued 135 from a “half submerged” rubber boat. It is not yet known exactly how many were on board, but the rubber boats normally carry about 300.

“Some were more shaken than others because they had lost their loved ones,” Raffaele Martino, commander of the Vega, told Reuters on Sunday in the southern port of Reggio Calabria, where the Vega docked with the survivors and corpses, including those of three infants.

“It’s time that Europe had the courage to offer safe alternatives that allow these people to come without putting their own lives or those of their children in danger,” Tommaso Fabri of MSF Italy said.

(This refiled version of the story adds byline)

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Additional reporting by Reuters TV in Reggio Calabria; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

French finance minister rules out Google tax deal, more firms could be targeted

PARIS (Reuters) – France will “go all the way” to ensure that multinationals operating on its soil pay their taxes and more cases could follow after Google and McDonald’s were targeted by tax raids, Finance Minister Michel Sapin said.

Sapin, speaking in an interview with Reuters and three European newspapers, ruled out negotiating any deal with Google on back taxes, as Britain did in January.

Dozens of French police raided Google’s Paris headquarters on Tuesday, escalating an investigation on suspicions of tax evasion. Investigators searched McDonald’s French headquarters on May 18 in another tax probe.

“We’ll go all the way. There could be other cases,” Sapin said.

Raids this month by police and justice investigators build on the work started by tax authorities three or four years ago, when they transferred tax data to judicial authorities that look into any possible criminal angle, Sapin said.

Google, McDonald’s and other multinational firms such as Starbucks are under increasing pressure in Europe from public opinion and governments angry at the way businesses exploit their presence around the world to minimize the tax they pay.

Google says it is fully complying with French law and McDonald’s declined to comment on the search, referring back to past comments that it is proud to be one of the biggest tax payers in France.

Sapin said he could not discuss what sums were at stake because of the confidentiality of tax matters.

A source in his ministry had said in February that French tax authorities were seeking some 1.6 billion euros ($1.78 billion) in back taxes from Google.


Asked if tax authorities could strike a deal with the tech giant, he said: “We don’t do deals like Britain, we apply the law.”

Google agreed in January to pay 130 million pounds ($190 million) in back taxes to Britain, prompting criticism from opposition lawmakers and campaigners that the sum was too low.

“There won’t be negotiations,” Sapin said, adding that there was always the possibility of some marginal adjustments “but that’s not the logic we’re in.”

Google, now part of Alphabet Inc, pays little tax in most European countries because it reports almost all sales in Ireland. This is possible thanks to a loophole in international tax law but it hinges on staff in Dublin concluding all sales contracts.

This week’s police raid is part of a separate judicial investigation into aggravated tax fraud and the organized laundering of the proceeds of tax fraud.

Should it be found guilty of that, Google faces either up to 10 million euros ($11 million) in fines or a fine of half of the value of the laundered amount involved.

A preliminary inquiry into McDonald’s was opened early this year after former investigating magistrate and politician Eva Joly filed a lawsuit in December on behalf of an employee committee, a judicial source said.

French business magazine L’Expansion reported last month that authorities had sent McDonald’s France a 300 million euro bill for unpaid taxes on profits believed to have been funneled through Luxembourg and Switzerland.

It said tax officials had accused the giant U.S. burger chain of using a Luxembourg-based entity, McD Europe Franchising, to shift profits to lower-tax jurisdictions by billing the French division excessively for use of the company brand and other services.

The judicial source confirmed the investigation was looking into this.

The government said this week that it had raked in 3.3 billion euros in back taxes and penalties from just five multinationals in 2015.

“Nothing prevents big groups from coming to us and declaring their taxes,” Sapin said.

($1 = 0.6839 pounds)

($1 = 0.8998 euros)

(Reporting by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Tom Heneghan)