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November 29 2016


The TPP Is Changing Vietnam's Economy, No Matter What Trump Does

As Donald Trump prepares to kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 12-nation trade pact is helping to spur the biggest overhaul of Vietnams economy in decades.

The Communist government in Hanoi plans to push ahead with more than 30 separate pieces of legislation proposed to comply with the trade deal, including rules on labor, business, foreign trade, and small-and-medium enterprises. Since a new Constitution was adopted in 2013, Vietnams lawmakers have passed more than 100 laws -- a scale of change unseen since the nation introduced the market-oriented doi moi reforms in the 1980s.

We will continue carrying out what weve planned to do," Nguyen Duc Kien, deputy head of the Vietnam National Assemblys economic committee, said in an interview in Hanoi last week. Its the technologies and corporate governance that we need to improve. Its crucial.

Vietnam has long been seen as one of the biggest potential winners from the TPP, with increased market access for everything from clothing to electronics to footwear. The deal also stood to complement a growing strategic relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam, which opposes Chinas territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Yet all isnt lost: The TPP also helped serve as an impetus for long-needed structural changes in a nation with 90 million people thats forecast to grow more than 6 percent this year -- one of the fastest rates in Asia. While Vietnam first announced plans to reform its state-owned enterprises in 2011, progress has been slow, with the stakes sold often too small and many companies pulling back on plans to list on exchanges.

Good Preparation

We wanted to have good preparation, with or without TPP, saidVu Thi Thuan, chairwoman ofTraphaco JSC, Vietnams second-largest listed pharmaceutical company. We still have to make sure we are able to compete with foreign rivals because Vietnam is more and more integrating into the global economy, she said.

Thuan said Traphaco has spent heavily to increase its competitiveness, including the construction of $22 million factory to prepare for the expected rise in foreign medicines entering Vietnam if TPP came into effect. Other companies in export industries such as textiles and garment, footwear, seafood, wood furniture and agricultural products have also made investments, according to Nghia Trong Pham, deputy director general of the Department of Laws at Vietnams National Assembly Office.

This preparation contributes to improve their competitiveness even if the TPP is not taking effect, Nghia said in an e-mail. It is reasonable to conclude that the period of 2011-2016 is the biggest reforms in Vietnam since Doi Moi. TPP is one of the important actors for this process.

Reform Momentum

Nghia said TPP has also helped raise awareness among key stakeholders including state officials, employers, trade unions, workers and the general public on the implications of free trade. Vietnamese business leaders also appear keen to maintain the reform momentum generated by TPP.

Alan Pham, chief economist at Vietnams largest fund manager VinaCapital Group, says TPP is a kind of roadmap for Vietnam as it integrates further into the global economy.

Whether we have TPP or not, Vietnam will still have to reform, Pham said. The trade pact is really useful for the government and for Vietnamese business to know what are the steps they will need to take to really become part of the global economy.

Last month, the ruling Communist Party adopted a resolution on International Economic Integration that confirmed Vietnams commitment to further opening up the economy. The Finance Ministry has recommended moves to support start-up companies, including cutting the corporate income-tax rate for small and medium-sized enterprises to as low as 15 percent from the current 20 percent.

China Pact

The TPP includes Japan, Malaysia, Australia and Canada -- but excludes China -- and would represent nearly 40 percent of global economic output worth $30 trillion if it came into force. The World Bank estimates the pact could raise gross domestic product by an average 1.1 percent in member countries by 2030.

China is now pushing a separate 16-nation agreement called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. That would include Vietnam along with the rest of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, as well as Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said last month that Vietnam would pursue greater international integration through 12 other free trade agreements it had already signed even if the TPP falls through.

So itll be very good to have TPP, but if not, we still have other integration plans to go with, Phuc said.

Read more: Free trade and the Trump fueled backlash

Those agreements, including with the European Union and China, are enough for an economy with nominal gross domestic product of roughly $200 billion to capture growth opportunities in the years to come, Saigon Securities JSC, the countrys biggest brokerage, said in a Nov. 11 note to investors.

Vu Tu Thanh, chief Vietnam representative of the U.S.-Asean Business Council, said that while the TPPs collapse isnt good its also not very bad because the Southeast Asian nation will have more time to prepare.

TPP is a game for big players, while most of Vietnamese companies are small and medium sized, he said. TPP is just part of the reform -- if theres no TPP, the reforming process will still happen in Vietnam.

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September 19 2016


Trump calls for profiling in wake of attack

Donald Trump appears at a campaign event Sept. 17,

Donald Trump appears at a campaign event Sept. 17, 2016, in Colorado Springs, Colo.(Photo: Evan Vucci, AP)

Following the bombings in New York and New Jersey over the weekend, Donald Trump praised Israel's use of profiling and said the U.S. needed to do it as well.

In Israel they profile. Theyve done an unbelievable job as good as you can do and theyll profile. They see somebody thats suspicious they will profile. They will take that person and theyll check them, Trump said.Dowe have a choice? Look whats going on. Do we really have a choice? Were trying to be so politically correct in our country and this is only going to get worse. This isnt going to get better. And Ive been talking to you guys for years, and Ive been saying it.

On Fox & Friends Monday morning Trump was asked to react to the bombings that had occurred inover the weekend. In New York, 29 people were injured from the blast but none were life-threatening. Other bombs went off in New Jersey but no injuries have been reported.

The Republican nominee said Monday he expects attacks are something that will happen perhaps, more and more all over the country.

[embedded content]

When asked repeatedly what his plan would be to stop future attacks, he was vague on details.

Were going to have to do something extremely tough over there, Trump said.

Like knock the hell out of them. And we have to get everybody together and we have to lead for a change, Trump said. Were going to have to be very tough and you have other countries over there that we are getting devastated far more than we are. And you have to get them together. Its called leadership. And they have to fight. You know, they have to fight the battle. The battle is over there. And we have to fight the battle and we cant let any more people come into this country and when we have bad ones you know, we have people going over fighting for ISIS and coming back and we know they are fighting for ISIS and we take them. Once you leave this country, you fight for ISIS, you never come back.

Trump also brushed off criticism for calling the explosion in New York a bombing before it was confirmed by officials.

"I should be a newscaster because I called it before the news. But what I said was exactly correct and everybody says while he was right, he called it too soon. OK, give me a break, Trump said.

Terrorism will likely be a topic when Trumps meets Monday with the leader of Egypt.

Egyptian state media reports that the Republican nominee will speak with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Clinton, the Democratic nominee, announced last week that she would meet with Sisi as well as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, among other foreign leaders, during the annual U.N. gathering.

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June 22 2016


Car Quality Improves Even as New Technology Is Introduced - ABC News

Despite adding sophisticated electronic safety features and touch screens that once were prone to glitches, most automakers improved their reliability scores this year in an annual survey of new-car buyers.

The latest survey by the J.D. Power consulting firm determined that quality improved for 21 of 33 auto brands in the survey. This year's scores improved 6 percent over 2015, double last year's increase and the biggest jump in seven years. And for the first time in 27 years, a brand for the masses led the pack as Kia edged out Porsche as the automaker with the fewest problems.

"It has become clear that automakers are listening to the customer, identifying pain points and are focused on continuous improvement," said Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. auto quality at J.D. Power.

Touch screens, voice recognition and Bluetooth technology have long been bugaboos for automakers, and for years they have brought down scores in the surveys. But last year automakers turned a corner, and this year they improved even more, Stephens said. The improvement in part is due to people getting used to new technology, but automakers also are simplifying the devices, taking out screens that seemed cool but were hard for users to grasp, she said.

The study also found that U.S. nameplates collectively scored better than foreign-based competitors for just the second time in the survey's 30-year history. And for the first time since 2006, mainstream brands had fewer problems than more expensive premium brands.

The 2016 survey of more than 80,000 car buyers from February through May found that Korea's Kia had the fewest problems per 100 vehicles at 83. It was closely followed by Porsche at 84, Hyundai at 92, Toyota wit 93 and BMW with 94. The survey asked owners about problems in the first 90 days of ownership.

The worst-performing brands were smart, Fiat, Volvo, Land Rover and Mini, according to the survey.

The average score for all brands was 105, seven problems fewer than last year. The Chrysler and Jeep brands, which for many years have been toward the bottom of the survey, showed the most improvement. Chrysler's problems fell from 143 to 114, boosting the brand from 31st place in 2015 to 20th this year. Jeep rose from 29th place to 18th, improving its problems per 100 vehicles from 141 to 113.

General Motors led all manufacturers with seven top finishers by segment, followed by Toyota with six.

GM's Chevrolet Spark led the city car segment, and the Buick Cascada convertible tied with the Scion tC for top sporty car. GM's Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain tied for top compact SUV, and the Chevy Tahoe was the most reliable large SUV. Chevrolet's Silverado won in both the light duty and heavy duty large pickup categories.

The survey is the first major assessment of quality for 2016 vehicles, and it's closely watched by car shoppers. Consumer Reports magazine's influential quality study comes out in October and includes other years.

Among the findings from J.D. Power this year:

WINNERS AND LOSERS: Kia, which took top honors, had only 83 problems per 100 vehicles. Mercedes' smart minicar brand was last with 216 problems.

MOST IMPROVED: Chrysler and Jeep climbed 11 places each. Jeep finished 18th with 113 problems, while Chrysler finished 20th with 115 problems.

BIGGEST SLIDE: The Jaguar luxury brand plummeted 24 spots to 27th with 127 problems.

Stephens said that brands with the most revamped models tend to score lower, while those with older vehicles that were carried over into the new model year score higher.

This story has been corrected to show that General Motors had the highest number of segment winners instead of Toyota.


April 19 2016


Eradication of Zika-spreading mosquito in Brazil unlikely - Fox News

FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2016 file photo, a researcher holds a container with female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes at the Biomedical Sciences Institute in the Sao Paulo's University in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The spread of the Zika virus in Latin America is giving a boost to a British biotech firms proposal to try reducing the threat by deploying a genetically modified version of the mosquito that transmits the disease.  (AP Photo/Andre Penner, File) FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2016 file photo, a researcher holds a container with female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes at the Biomedical Sciences Institute in the Sao Paulo's University in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The spread of the Zika virus in Latin America is giving a boost to a British biotech firms proposal to try reducing the threat by deploying a genetically modified version of the mosquito that transmits the disease. (AP Photo/Andre Penner, File)

RECIFE, Brazil (AP) -- In the 1940s and 1950s, Brazilian authorities made such a ferocious assault on Aedes aegypti - the mosquito that spreads the Zika virus - that it was eradicated from Latin America's largest country by 1958.

But Aedes aegypti returned, and now Brazil has launched another offensive against the pest, employing hundreds of thousands of troops to fumigate and educate people about how to eliminate its habitats. The assault is part of President Dilma Rousseff's "war" on the Zika virus, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says can cause devastating birth defects.

But eradication experts say there is little chance Brazil can come anywhere near stamping out the pest like it did a half century ago. The world is different, with globalization bringing more travelers and trade across borders. And Brazil is different; its resources are limited as the country suffers through its worst recession in decades and its president is focused on battling impeachment for allegedly breaking fiscal rules in managing government funds.

Eradication efforts so far have been disjointed and more public relations than substance, critics say.

"Just sprinkling insecticide here and there is not enough," said Rodrigo Cesar Magalhaes, a Brazilian historian and expert on the previous eradication campaigns. "Brazil must fully integrate all its actions (against mosquitoes) and control its borders."

Even before the virus reached crisis levels early this year, Brazil had trouble maintaining routine eradication efforts. An Associated Press investigation found that cities and states in Brazil's northeast ran out of larvicide for several months last year.

Health Minister Marcelo Castro said shipments have since been restored. He has repeatedly defended the government's efforts, arguing the most effective way to fight mosquitoes isn't with chemicals but rather by eliminating breeding sites.

In the decades before 1958, the driving force for the campaigns was yellow fever, also transmitted by the Aedes aegypti. Periodic outbreaks in Brazil and in cities across the Americas, including the United States, took tens of thousands of lives throughout much of the early 20th century.

"Mata Mosquito," or "Mosquito Killer," brigades would sweep across neighborhoods, going door-to-door, sometimes entering by force, to hunt mosquitoes and squish their larvae. People who lived through the campaigns say the brigades, made up largely of municipal workers, were a year-round presence.

Rolando Saba, an 84-year-old retired engineer, said the brigades were ubiquitous but kept a low profile, in sharp contrast to what he considers the flash efforts today.

Saba said he was put off when, during a much-publicized recent weekend of spraying, ministers and the president of the central bank were among those going door to door.

"Does that make any sense?" Saba asked. "It's just propaganda."

The World Health Organization has deemed Zika an "international emergency" and its global nature could hurt Brazil's fight against it.

Indeed, many scientists believe Zika was introduced to Brazil during the 2013 Confederations Cup soccer tournament. And larvae of disease-carrying Aedes aegypti can last up to a year, meaning eradication efforts are threatened by every international traveler and every import - unavoidable risks in a country that is visited by millions of tourists and is also among the world's most important emerging economies.

More on this...

A population boom and mass migration to cities are also potential game-changers in the anti-Zika fight. Take Recife, the capital of the impoverished northeast state of Pernambuco, one of the areas hit hardest by Zika. In 1940, the population was just under 350,000. Today it's nearly 4 million. Teeming slums, a byproduct of mass migration to Brazilian cities in the 1960s and 1970s, are a mosquito's paradise.

"Beyond the Mata Mosquito, in those days education (about mosquitoes) was much better and there were not so many favelas," said 75-year-old Isaura Martinez, who lives in a Rio retirement home.

Mosquito-eradication efforts have taken on new urgency in Brazil with the Olympic Games set for August. But a look back at eradication efforts after 1958 serve as a cautionary tale, especially when it comes to getting neighboring countries to participate.

In 1963, when the mosquito started returning to Brazil, a WHO council meeting resolution urged "the governments of the countries and territories that are still infested with Aedes aegypti to give the eradication campaign the necessary priority so that the entire hemisphere may be freed of this vector as soon as possible."

Jose Carvalheiro, professor of the University of Sao Paulo who was part of campaigns in the 1950s to eradicate Chagas disease, spread by insects known as "kissing bugs," said the military government that came to power in a 1964 coup had other priorities. While eradication campaigns continued, they never reached the intensity of the previous decades.

"When the Aedes returned, the sensation at the time was that it was inevitable," he said.


Associated Press writer Peter Prengaman reported this story from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and AP writer Mauricio Savarese reported in Recife, Brazil. AP writer Bruce Douglas in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.

January 24 2016


No More Struggle - HVAC Success Is Yours! - HVAC

HVAC will be helpful to obtain your property working once again. Hiring an HVAC professional to either replace old cooling and heating equipment or install a brand new unit is something with which not every homeowner is entirely comfortable. The best way to confront this type of challenge is to gain some great tricks and tips. The article below should serve that purpose quite nicely.

What system do you have? You need this information to tell your contractor. Learn themodel and brand, and if you have it, the maintenance history. This will facilitate the process when your contractor asks for this information.

Be sure to get a written estimate which has itemized costs listed on it, before you hire anyone to do any work on your HVAC. This will ensure that comparing one contractor to another will be simple as you can see what one offers that another doesn't. Alternatively, what price they're charging for the same items.

Be sure to get every quote or estimate in written form. You have no recourse on a verbal agreement, so a written contract is a must. This will allow you to follow up if something goes wrong or you don't get what you were promised, protecting you from shady contractors.

Be sure to check your evaporator coil drains frequently when your air conditioner is running. You can find water damage to your walls, ceilings and floors, if this tube backs up. If you end up with mold just use a solution of water and bleach to clean out the tube.

Be sure to get every quote or estimate in written form. You have no recourse on a verbal agreement, so a written contract is a must. If something goes wrong or you don't get what you were promised, protecting you from shady contractors, this will allow you to follow up.

Be sure to check your evaporator coil drains frequently when your air conditioner is running. You can find water damage to your walls, ceilings and floors, if this tube backs up. If you end up with mold just use a solution of water and bleach to clean out the tube.

Use double-paned windows instead of single-paned ones if you can. Because the cool air is kept inside the home, having double pane windows allows your air conditioning unit to be run much less during the summer. This also helps retain heated air during the colder months.

Do not close your vents. Keep air vents open and unblocked at all times. Many people believe that closing off a vent will save them money on cooling costs. This is not true. It can actually damage your HVAC system. Closing vents can cause your cooling coil to freeze and damage the compressor.

Use plants to increase your air conditioner's effectiveness. An AC unit fully shaded by trees and shrubbery can operate up to 10 percent more efficiently. Do keep spacing in mind, however. Air flow must not be constricted, and technicians need room to work when they come out to service your unit.

As well as cut down your overall power bill, install ceiling fans in commonly used warm season rooms, if you want to seriously extend the life of your HVAC system. Energy-star certified ceiling fans can sometimes cut your HVAC use in half. However, you won't physically notice a difference in temperature.

Use your HVAC system to heat your water for free! In the hvac contractors nj summer, residual heat pulled out of your house is used to heat water through a geothermal system. This will cool your home while allowing you to save a ton on hot water costs, plus it's environmentally friendly to boot!

Before installing a central air conditioner, consider all of your alternatives. You can only cool certain rooms, use whole-house fans, or even make use of a geothermal system. The more efficient the system you set up, the less you'll spend on utility bills over time as you use it.

Consider painting the outside of your home in a light color to reflect heat if you live in a hot climate. Use a dark color to instead heat up your home in the winter if your summers are cool. This simple change can end up saving you a lot on your utility bills.

Consider painting the outside of your home in a light color to reflect heat if you live in a hot climate. Use a dark color to instead heat up your home in the winter if your summers are cool. This simple change can end up saving you a lot on your utility bills.

Consider building a shade over it if your outdoor compressor unit sits in the sun. Air in the shade is about 5 degrees cooler than air in the sun. This can have a significant impact on your cooling bill. When done properly, you could see up to a 10 percent savings over the season.

When you hire a contractor to do a job, be sure to listen to what they tell you. For example, they can give you advice on how to keep your HVAC in working order. Ask about maintenance tips and how often you should be cleaning or servicing the unit.

Ask a contractor to come up to size up your home and tell you what options you have if you want to buy a new HVAC unit or system. They'll have the best advice as they know what sort of systems work in your area or in a home like yours.

Do not forget to check the references of a HVAC contractor. Lots of folks take them at face value, but that is not always smart. It only takes a few minutes out of your busy schedule to check a contractor out, so don't risk it.

Never hire anyone to work on your HVAC system unless they are bonded and licensed. This industry is one where mistakes happen often and you want to make sure that you are protected. You do not want to be stuck paying for medical bills that are more expensive than the work you were having done.

A great HVAC can truly keep your home the best place to be year round. These tips have shown you have to maintain that system so that you are always comfortable. Be sure to make use of what you have learned so that you can enjoy your home every single day.

December 04 2015


German Parliament Votes to Send Military Assistance to Fight ISIS - New York Times

BERLIN The German Parliament voted overwhelmingly on Friday to send reconnaissance planes, a frigate and midair fueling capacity to the Middle East to support the campaign against the Islamic State in Syria, although German forces will not be involved in direct combat like airstrikes.

The vote with 445 in favor, 146 against, and seven abstentions was expected, given the large parliamentary majority commanded by Chancellor Angela Merkels grand coalition government of center-right and center-left.

Twenty-eight Social Democrats and just two Christian Democrats joined the opposition the Greens and the Left party in opposing the deployment. Three Greens voted for the military action.

Even 70 years after World War II, Germany remains wary of using its military outside the NATO alliance, and such missions require parliamentary approval.

The government said action was essential because the turmoil in the Middle East was increasingly affecting events at home, from the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees to terrorist alerts and risky missions overseas for Germanys all-volunteer armed forces.

The vote came only eight days after the government first pledged to meet requests from Germanys closest European ally, France, for assistance in targeting the Islamic State in Syria after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks that killed 130 people in and around Paris.

The Paris attacks have forced us in Europe to realize that the Middle East is not somewhere distant like South America, said Norbert Rttgen, head of Parliaments foreign affairs committee.

It is our neighbor, he added, and we Europeans must take responsibility for this region.

Thomas Oppermann, the Social Democrats leader in Parliament, noted that the government had been compelled to move swiftly because France had asked for help. We can act quickly when that is needed, yet with sufficient debate to enable a responsible decision, he said.

The opposition attacked the government for its rapid response, however, and it charged that Berlin was relying solely on what it described as an ill-considered military action to combat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

War is terror that breeds more terror, Sahra Wagenknecht, co-leader of the Left party, told Parliament.

Part of the reason the government moved so quickly was that both major parties in the coalition will have annual congresses starting in a week, and that they apparently wanted the military deployment question settled beforehand.

Lawmakers from both parties cited the deployment in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as a precedent; the opposition called that comparison unfortunate, noting the continuing turmoil and insecurity in Afghanistan 14 years later.

The government also moved quickly to capitalize on public outrage over the attacks in Paris, said Henning Riecke, trans-Atlantic director at the German Council on Foreign Relations.

The parliamentary vote came as a new national opinion poll indicated solid support for military action.

The poll showed that 59 percent of respondents supported the plan for limited deployment that the government had proposed, and that 34 percent would back airstrikes in Syria; 22 percent would even be prepared to deploy ground troops.

The poll for public service broadcaster ARD and the daily Die Welt was conducted from Nov. 30 to Dec. 1, with 1,003 respondents and a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points, according to the pollster Infratest Dimap.

The same poll also showed that Ms. Merkel, whose personal popularity ratings slipped recently during the refugee crisis, had recovered five percentage points in the past month, putting her at 54 percent.

In the past two years, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a Christian Democrat, and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, have been among the strongest advocates of more robust German leadership in global affairs, including military action if necessary.

Both, however, have taken care to cast the relatively modest assistance for France as part of a broader strategy to end Syrias four-and-a-half-year war.

The deployment of six Tornado reconnaissance planes, satellite radar, the frigate to support a French aircraft carrier, and the midair fueling capacity is part of a policy, Mr. Steinmeier told Parliament this week during the three-day debate on deployment. It is not a substitute for policy.

We are going to need patience, Ms. von der Leyen said, emphasizing that lasting success against the Islamic State would require local ground forces who knew the terrain and would fight for their home.

The Germans hope that some of the hundreds of militias fighting in Syria will negotiate local cease-fires and then turn collectively against the Islamic State, she said on Thursday.

The deployment will probably involve about 1,200 members of the German armed forces, in addition to 650 who will be sent to Mali in the coming weeks to relieve French troops battling Islamic extremists in the former French colony.

Dr. Riecke noted that the dangers to soldiers in Mali might well prove greater than to those armed forces members involved in the limited Middle East mission.

Germany clearly wants to be able to play a role as mediator, or enabler, of talks, Dr. Riecke added. While Chancellor Angela Merkel has been a strong voice on the need to take in refugees, she has not been prominent in the debate on deployment. Instead, the foreign and defense ministers have been in the public eye.

On Thursday, Ms. von der Leyen appeared to concede to critics who have questioned whether Germanys military has the bandwidth for these deployments have a legitimate argument. In recent weeks, the army has undertaken increased duties at home as the country accommodates the newly arrived refugees.

Further questions about Germanys military capacity arose this week when the Defense Ministry made clear that only 30 of about 60 aging Tornado planes were ready for deployment. The youngest of the aircraft have been in service for almost 25 years, with the oldest planes already in use for 35 years.

Germanys policy over all in the Middle East also came under fire when the government on Thursday rebuked its own foreign intelligence agency for publishing a memo that depicted Saudi Arabia as a force playing an increasingly destabilizing role in the region.

November 29 2015


At least 14 dead as storms and ice hammer Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas - USA TODAY

UP NEXT03 A Garland, Texas man called for help before his car was flooded with water. He wasn't rescued in time. Those who were know they could have just as easily lost their lives.

October 05 2015


In Remote Colombia, Prospects For Peace Are Clouded By Corruption

A worker collects dried coffee beans at a plantation in Pueblo Bello. The remote town, tucked in Colombia's Sierra Nevada, could be one of many where local elections determine the outcome of a possible peace. Jose Miguel Gomez/Reuters/Landov hide caption

itoggle caption Jose Miguel Gomez/Reuters/Landov A worker collects dried coffee beans at a plantation in Pueblo Bello. The remote town, tucked in Colombia's Sierra Nevada, could be one of many where local elections determine the outcome of a possible peace. A worker collects dried coffee beans at a plantation in Pueblo Bello. The remote town, tucked in Colombia's Sierra Nevada, could be one of many where local elections determine the outcome of a possible peace.

Jose Miguel Gomez/Reuters/Landov

Saul Mindiola is running for mayor of Pueblo Bello a farm town of 16,000 residents tucked in Colombia's snow-capped Sierra Nevada. The view makes it clear how the place got its its name, which means "beautiful village" in Spanish.

Mindiola, who grew up in these mountains, is a member of the Arhuaco indigenous group. He's the first-ever mayoral candidate fielded by the group, which has long distrusted Colombian politics. Mindiola wears the Arhuaco's traditional robes and woven white hat; in speeches he uses the Arhuaco language. Even while addressing voters he constantly chews coca leaves. But he also has a college degree in business administration.

On the campaign stump, he speaks earnestly about women's rights and the environment. But Mindiola fears he will lose due to electoral fraud. He claims his main rival is illegally busing in people from other towns and paying them to register as voters in Pueblo Bello.

"It's not the residents of Pueblo Bello who will elect the mayor, but the people who are brought in from the outside," he says.

Watchdog groups say widespread vote-buying and voter registration fraud could affect the outcome of elections in nearly half of Colombia's towns and cities. Many are remote, making the electoral processes difficult to monitor. What's more, impoverished residents often sell their votes for cash or favors.

"You vote for whoever gives you a little bit of groceries, a little construction materials, a little bit of money but you don't vote for the best person that benefits the community," says Andres Ceballos, who works for the Bogota-based Electoral Observation Mission. "That's just insane. Unfortunately that's been the logic here."

Cuba's President Raul Castro (center) encourages Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (left) and the commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC, known as Timochenko, to shake hands, in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday.

Ceballos says it's vital for voters to choose wisely. Colombia's president and Marxist guerrillas with help from Pope Francis have pledged to sign a peace treaty within six months, potentially bringing to an end the longest-running conflict in the Americas. Under the peace treaty between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the new crop of mayors will be involved in disarming the guerrillas and undertaking other key programs.

"This is what's going to define especially now that we're in peace talks who is going to implement at the local level whatever is agreed to," Ceballos says.

But in Pueblo Bello, which has been free from rebel attacks for the past decade, voters have more immediate concerns like recent storm damage to their homes. One woman, for instance, tells Mindiola that she and her friends will vote for him if he gives them roofing materials. Mindiola turns them down.

Such favors, however, are common from electoral fixers like David Hernandez, who works for a rival candidate. He says he was hired by Francisco Villazon to scour nearby towns and find people willing to vote for Villazon. Each recruit, he says, will receive about $30 plus lunch on Election Day.

He admits corruption like this has helped produce a string of terrible mayors in Pueblo Bello. Still, Hernandez says he needed the $200 that he was paid to buy food for his 11 children.

A spokesman for Villazon denied that his campaign was engaged in electoral fraud.

But poll-watcher Andres Ceballos has documented irregularities in plenty of towns. At a time when Colombia is trying to put a peace treaty into place, he finds this worrying.

"Many people concentrate on national elections because it's the big-picture thing," he says. "But I think it's locally where elections can be decided and affect where the country is going."

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