- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

CANADA

Martin's wealth seen bar to political hopes

OTTAWA Former Finance Minister Paul Martin, front-runner in the race to become Canada's next prime minister, hit his first major roadblock last week with charges that his lucrative business interests will make it almost impossible for him to do the top job in the land.

Mr. Martin says he could run Canada without selling off his empire, which includes a shipping company, a farm, office buildings and cinemas. But critics fear he could end up with massive conflicts of interest, and some openly mock his offer to absent himself whenever the government reviews sensitive matters.

Noting that Mr. Martin owns a fleet of ships, some of which haul coal, they say he would not be able to take part in Cabinet discussions on the Kyoto protocol on global warming nor any matter linked to the North American Free Trade Agreement.


BRAZIL

U.S. electricity firm faces state takeover

RIO DE JANEIRO The national development bank BNDES is likely to take control of a U.S.-owned utility that failed to meet its debt payments, according to local news reports.

The bank has refused to roll over a $329 million debt payment owed by a subsidiary of Virginia-based AES Corp., the U.S. electricity company. BNDES had already rolled over an $85 million payment owed by AES in January. The firm owes BNDES about $1.2 billion it borrowed in the 1990s.

Foreign investors have been keeping a close eye on the situation, as many fear it could signal the renationalization of privatized companies under new President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a former union leader.


MEXICO

Chiapas peasants seize U.S.-owned ranch

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS Dozens of Indian peasants sympathetic to Zapatista rebels took over a hotel and ranch owned by a U.S. couple on Friday as part of a campaign to forcibly redistribute land in the southern state of Chiapas, local authorities said.

Rock-wielding villagers had blockaded Rancho Esmeralda since December, prompting the owners, former Peace Corps volunteers Glen Wersch, 49, and Ellen Jones, 55, to move to a nearby town. On Friday, the peasants moved in.

"Around 80 Zapatista followers entered the ranch installations while another 50 are staying outside," Emilio Zebadua, Chiapas assistant governor, told reporters.


Weekly notes …

Cuban President Fidel Castro's "passions and dreams" allowed him to lead his country through more than four turbulent decades, the 76-year-old strongman told Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in Tokyo on Sunday on the second day of a three-day visit. Mr. Koizumi, whose popularity has plunged since he took office two years ago promising political reforms, asked Mr. Castro to tell him the secret of his political longevity. … Guatemalan Rigoberta Menchu, winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize, was vindicated yesterday when Spain's high court ruled that Spanish courts are competent to try cases of purported crimes by past Guatemalan military regimes against Spanish citizens. A Spanish superior court ruled last year that it was not competent to investigate Miss Menchu's charge of genocide against eight former senior Guatemalan officers. In yesterday's ruling, seven of the eight justices endorsed the principle of universal legal competence that Miss Menchu had invoked.

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