- - Monday, January 9, 2012

VENEZUELA

Government won’t recognize arbitration body

CARACAS — President Hugo Chavez said Sunday that his government should pull out of a World Bank-affiliated arbitration body and won’t recognize its decisions.

Exxon Mobil Corp. is one of more than a dozen companies with arbitration cases against Venezuela pending before the World Bank-affiliated International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, or ICSID.

Mr. Chavez announced his decision while referring to a more than $900 million award that Exxon Mobil recently won in another arbitration case before the International Chamber of Commerce.



“Now they’re threatening us in the ICSID,” Mr. Chavez said on his Sunday television show. “We have to get out of that ICSID. And I’ll go ahead and say it: We won’t recognize any of ICSID’s decisions.”

Exxon Mobil sought arbitration after Mr. Chavez’s government nationalized an oil project in the country in 2007. The oil company, based in Irving, Texas, did not immediately respond to Mr. Chavez’s latest announcement.

The ICSID’s website lists 17 pending cases against Venezuela. They include claims by the Houston-based oil company ConocoPhillips Co., the U.S. glass-container manufacturer Owens-Illinois Inc. and Toronto-based mining company Crystallex International Corp.

The Caracas-based consulting firm Ecoanalitica estimated recently, before the latest Exxon Mobil decision, that the bulk of the government’s nationalizations involved more than $33.7 billion in assets, including about $23 billion in outstanding obligations.

Venezuela has reached negotiated agreements after taking over the operations of other companies, such as the Swiss cement maker Holcim and Mexican cement company Cemex SAB.

Decisions in the arbitration cases could put major financial pressures on Mr. Chavez’s government.

GRENADA

Official demands police brutality inquiry

ST. GEORGE’S — A ruling-party lawmaker is calling for Grenada’s prime minister to order an inquiry into all allegations of police brutality in recent years.

National Democratic Congress lawmaker Michael Church made the comments Sunday, nearly two weeks after Oscar Bartholomew, 39, of Toronto, allegedly was beaten to death by five police officers.

Mr. Bartholomew’s relatives say he was beaten after he hugged a plainclothes female officer and lifted her off the ground in front of a police station, apparently confusing her with an old friend.

The five accused officers have been granted bail and are due to appear in court later this month.

Mr. Church says Grenadians can only know the extent of police brutality over the past two to three years when an inquiry is completed.

CHILE

Suspicious fire ruins Indian leader’s home

SANTIAGO — The family home of one of Chile’s top Indian leaders was destroyed Sunday in a suspicious fire.

Hours later, hooded gunmen attacked the home of a retired military official and set it ablaze.

The apparent arsons happened in an area of the Araucania region in southern Chile where Mapuche Indians and Chile’s largest forestry companies have been mired in land conflicts.

The area also is suffering from dozens of wildfires that have broken out as unusually high temperatures and dry weather turn pine forests into tinderbeds.

Seven firefighters employed by the Mininco Forestry company were killed last week fighting one of those wildfires. The cause remains under investigation.

Local officials initially blamed the fire on people burning wood to make charcoal, but Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter accused Mapuche Indian land activists of starting the blaze. Local residents, meanwhile, accused the government of not giving the firefighters enough training and support.

President Sebastian Pinera called it terror and gave authorities more power under Chile’s tough anti-terrorism law to crack down on those responsible.

Jose Santos Millao, director of the National Corporation for Indigenous Development, said invoking Chile’s tough terror law against the Mapuche even before the fires’ causes could be determined amounted to a “declaration of war for our people.”

Then, just as Mr. Millao and his family were attending the firefighters funeral, his parents’ home burned down in a suspicious fire. Hours later, a group of hooded men torched the home of a retired military officer.

Hundreds of police officers then converged on nearby Indian communities on Sunday.

“It is not normal that this is occurring in Chile. Now, why? You have to ask those responsible for these crimes,” said Gen. Ivan Bezmalinovic, the local police chief.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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