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Guatemala: Extradition Of Drug Lord “El Patriarca” To US Approved

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21:23, March 7, 2014

Guatemalan President Otto Perez has approved the extradition to the United States of Waldemar Lorenzana, alias “El Patriarca” (The Patriarch), who was arrested in 2011 on drug trafficking charges.

Police say he is the boss of the Guatemalan cartel Los Lorenzana, believed to have ties with the Mexican Sinaloa cartel. Sinaloa’s leader, Joaquin “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzman, was recently captured.

Judge Saul Alvarez told the press that Lorenzana, 72, will be extradited for trafficking drugs into the United States.

The New Herald Latin Americareports that Lorenzana’s extradition was ratified by the court in August 2012, but was stalled pending the president’s approval.

Country branding: New York-based company working on Armenia’s new image

February 26, 2014 Armenia, South America, Turkey No Comments
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If you think Armenia’s brands are ancient khachkars (stone crosses), the biblical mount of Ararat, which is technically situated in modern-day Turkey, apricots, pomegranates, duduk or lavash, well, the company tasked with developing Armenia’s new country branding thinks you may be not quite right.

These are beautiful symbols, but hardly the best means to present the country to the world in the 21st century, thinks Vasken Kalayjian, director of New York-based Brand, a company engaged in country branding.

Still, the answer to the main question – and what is Armenia’s national brand? – has not been found yet. Kalayjian says he gives this question to everyone he talks to in Armenia.

Italy: 24 Arrested On Drug Charges In TransAtlantic Mafia Venture

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00:05, February 14, 2014

Italian police and the FBI have arrested 17 people in Italy and seven in the United States during an operation that authorities say dismantled a drug-trafficking group. The operation, dubbed New Bridge, involved collaboration between the Italian crime syndicate ‘Ndrangheta and the New York- based Gambino family of the Mafia.

Among those arrested Tuesday were Francesco Ursino and Giovanni Morabito, two leading figures of the ‘Ndrangheta, a crime family based in Calabria, which is located in the toe of the Italian boot. Police also arrested Frank Lupoi, an Italian-American they say represented the Gambino family.

Investigators say the two crime groups worked together to move heroin by boat from Italy to the United States and cocaine from South America to Italy.

An Ancient Art: Century-Old Carpet Manufacturer Uses Natural Dyes and Armenian Designs

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12:47, February 11, 2014

A successful century-old rug manufacturer, Megerian Carpets uses natural dyes and ancient Armenian designs to produce its rugs in Armenia, exporting them all over the world.

Of its 22 factories in Armenia, however, only 3 remain — in Yerevan, Abovyan, and Hrazdan.

The Armenian carpet manufacturers’ remaining factories were temporarily closed because of the global economic crisis, says Production Director Leonid Andreasyan, adding that 90% of their rugs were exported to the US, but after the economic crisis, this figure drastically reduced. Now primary consumption occurs in the domestic market, and the majority are tourists. However, Megerian Carpets continue to receive orders from different countries around the world — Equatorial Guinea, Australia, China, and countries from South America, to name a few.

Customs Union Consequences: Prices Will Rise in Armenia Absent a Market Reorientation

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18:01, February 6, 2014

When the Customs Union was formed, everyone in Kazakhstan was surprised when prices for foodstuffs, cars and fuel immediately increased. The same situation awaits Armenia.

According to Armenia’s Ministry of the Economy, this situation will push up the overall inflation rate by 1.5%. This might well be the case, but certain commodities will see price rises of between 10 to 15%; these include dairy products, meat and sugar.

Italy: Police Seize US $3.4 Million Of Cocaine In Operation ‘White Sugar’

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23:01, January 30, 2014

On Jan. 27, the Turin financial police issued 14 arrest warrants for members of “one of the largest drug-trafficking gangs in Italy,” authorities say.

Operation “White Sugar” targeted a transcontinental criminal operation that authorities say was headed by Giuseppe Modica and his son Gianluca, who owned property in the Dominican Republic and may have provided the group with contacts in South America.

Police said the criminals purchased Colombian cocaine in the Dominican Republic and shipped it to Europe by plane.

Italian police seized 32 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated street value of US$ 3.4 million. Authorities say the gang would buy the cocaine at US $6,800 and mark it up to US $54,000 per kilogram, or sell it for US$ 110 per gram on the streets.

Americas: InSight Crime’s Predictions For 2014

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19:46, January 6, 2014

We can already identify some of the trends that are likely to mark the evolution of organized crime in 2014. One is the issue of criminal migration, as organized crime in Mexico and Colombia, under increasing security force pressure, follows the path of least resistance, and sets itself up in other countries.

As we have seen with the collateral damage of nations that act as drug transshipment points, the trends of increasing violence, the growth of local organized crime groups and surges in domestic consumption of drugs are likely to follow, as transnational crime, be it Colombian or Mexican, establishes a presence in these foreign nations. The Mexicans already have outposts throughout the Northern Triangle countries, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and continue to push down into Central America. Colombian organized crime syndicates have been seen in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and as far afield as Spain.

OCCRP announces 2013 Organized Crime and Corruption “Person of the Year” Award

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15:54, December 23, 2013

OCCRP award acknowledges those who promote Uncivil Society 

Extortion and smuggling. Counterfeiting, fraud, and money laundering. Hacking and bribery. Organized crime groups and corrupt persons have been wildly successful in 2013. They have trafficked and enslaved millions of people around the globe, hustled hundreds of billions of dollars through drug sales, corrupted countless persons and further cemented partnerships at the nexus of crime and politics. 

Every year, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) acknowledges the efforts of those who work tirelessly to promote crime and corruption. For 2013, we give this dubious distinction to the Romanian parliament. 

Honorable mentions go to Serbian drug trafficker Darko Šarić and to Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the president of Uzbekistan. 

Insect outbreak threatens global banana supply

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The world’s supply of banana is said to be under attack.Citing Scientific American, the Huffington Post reports that strains of a particular soil fungus -Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense, or Foc -have struck a key variety of banana grown for export in Mozambique and Jordan. Scientists fear that if the banana fungus spreads further, the popular Cavendish banana could become critically threatened.
The fungus, which has been found on several plantations, causes the incurablePanama disease, or Fusarium wilt, that rots bananas. In the 1950s, another strain of the banana fungus nearly wiped out the Gros Michel cultivar, once as common as the Cavendish variety. After the fungus decimated banana populations in Central and South America, producers switched to the Cavendish, which was resistant to the strain of fungus at the time.
But scientists have long feared that the Tropical Race 4 strain of the fungus – previously confined to areas of Asia and Australia – would eventually spread around the world and wipe out the Cavendish supply, just as a previous strain did to the Gros Michel banana.
“Given today’s modes of travel, there’s almost no doubt that it will hit the major Cavendish crops,” Randy Ploetz, a plant pathologist at the University of Florida who studied the new strain of fungus, told Popular Science back in 2008.
With instances of the banana fungus recently popping up in the Middle East and southeast Africa, it seems it may not be long before Foc overtakes plantations in Latin America.For his book Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World, author Dan Koeppel spoke to several banana researchers who agreed it was only a matter of “when” bananas would be destroyed by this fungus.
“It only takes a single clump of contaminated dirt, literally, to get this thing rampaging across entire continents,” Koeppel said in an interview with NPR.
However, the fungus is not the only threat to the world’s supply of bananas. Last week, Costa Rica declared a “banana emergency” due to an outbreak of insects that feed on the fruit and leave unsightly blemishes. Though the attacked bananas are still edible, they are not aesthetically suitable for export, which is a major cash cow for the Latin American country.
Magda González, director of the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry’s State Phytosanitary Services, blames climate change for the country’s pest problem.“Climate change, by affecting temperature, favors the conditions under which [the insects] reproduce,” González recently told The Tico Times.
To combat the mealybugs and scale insects, banana producers in Costa Rica will be allowed to use pesticides and biological control agents on their crops. However, to fend off the possible fungal attack on Cavendish populations, the answer may be to use a method that’s worked in the past: Find a fungus-resistant banana variety to replace the vulnerable crop.

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Featured Books

Book Reviews

John Balian’s “Novel Approach” Brings the Armenian Saga to the Masses – An interview with John Balian by Lucine Kasbarian

Gray Wolves and White Doves cover art

Armenians often wish for a tale about the Armenian Genocide and its aftermath that would make a blockbuster film and draw attention to their cause. John Balian’s new book, Gray Wolves and White Doves (CreateSpace/Amazon.com), may be that tale.

 Largely autobiographical, this atmospheric novel is presented through the eyes of an innocent young boy trying to make sense of the world as he grows up amid repressive conditions in Western Armenia/Eastern Turkey during the 1960s and 70s.

 This fast-paced, multi-layered narrative takes readers from Hanna Ibelin’s (a.k.a. Jonah Ibelinian’s) close-knit family life in the perilous Asia Minor region of Palu to terror and tragedy while en route to Syria’s Kamishli, to a bleak existence on the mean streets of Istanbul.

New Children’s Picture Book From Armenian Folklore

Teaneck, N.J. and Belmont, Mass. –  An Armenian folktale retold by Armenian-American writer Lucine Kasbarian and illustrated by Moscow-based artist Maria Zaikina debuts with Marshall Cavendish Children’s Publishers in April 2011.

The Greedy Sparrow: An Armenian Tale is from the ancient Armenian oral tradition and culture, which was nearly obliterated during the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks in 1915. The author learned the tale from her father, editor and columnist C.K. Garabed, who would recite it to her at bedtime. He had learned it from his own grandmother, a celebrated storyteller from the Old Country.  The tale was first put to paper by Armenian poet Hovhannes Toumanian at the turn of the 20th century.

“We Need To Lift The Armenian Taboo”

Turkish writer and publicist Ahmet Insel labels the initiative of the Turkish Nationalist Movement Party to pray namaz on the ruins of Ani as provocation.

In an interview with “A1+,” the publicist said the initiative was supported only by a small percentage of Turks.

“They offered namaz in Ani in protest against Christian rites carried out in Trabzon and Akhtamar. The leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, Devlet Bahceli said if Christians are allowed to pray inside museums, similarly he can pray namaz in Armenian churches,” said Ahmet Insel.

The Turkish writer arrived in Armenia to participate in a book festival. Presentation of Armenian version of Dialogue sur le tabou arménien (Dialogue about the Armenian Tabou) co-authored by Ahmet Insel and Michel Marian was held during the festival.

US Media Discusses The Armenian Genocide

BURBANK, CALIFORNIA –  KFI 640, a popular news/talk radio station hosted by Bill Handel on September 23 aired a live interview with Michael Bobelian, the writer of a new book titled  Children of Armenia: A Forgotten Genocide and the Century-long Struggle for Justice

The book chronicles the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, and recounts a people’s struggle for justice in the face of a century of silence and denial.

During the interview, which was aired during the prime morning time slot, Bill Handel addressed both the efforts within the United States to ensure that the US government appropriately acknowledges the Armenian Genocide and Turkey’s ongoing denial.

Handel, a well known and nationally syndicated radio talk show host, has discussed the Armenian Genocide during past shows.

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10:24, March 14, 2014

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Write to me with your ideas and story suggestions.

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For Better or For Worse: Nature Protection Ministry Proposes Amendments to Water Use Laws

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16:44, February 14, 2014

With the goal of providing a systematic solution to issues of effective use of water resources in Ararat valley, the Ministry of Nature Protection of the Republic of Armenia (RA) is proposing amendments and additions to the RA Water Code, and the RA laws on the Republic of Armenia’s National Water Program, on Licensing, and on State Tax.

The proposed legislative package has been sent to the relevant state agencies for their input.

Head of the Ministry of Nature Protection’s Water Resources Management Agency Volodya Narimanyan told Hetq, said that with this amendment package his ministry is attempting to clarify the ideas and the ambiguous commentary, as well as introduce new requirements. For example, one of the main points of the proposed amendments is if water use permit conditions are not met, the water use permit might be annulled.

2013 in Civil Society: Protests and more protests

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The struggle of civil movements this year has been comprehensive and diverse with limited success in certain fields due to unified efforts and active involvement of the civil society.

Despite the rather passive start of the year in terms of civil movements, the second half of 2013 turned out to be tense with active developments.

Some analysts believe that especially after the February 18 presidential ballot, when current president Serzh Sargsyan won a decisive victory over his opponents and was re-elected for a second term, despite the widespread poverty and atmosphere of injustice in the country, people became even more aware of the fact that is it impossible to achieve changes via elections and started practicing their constitutional rights to civil protest and disobedience more frequently.

Armenian Foreign Policies 2013: Customs Union, U-turn on EU accord, Karabakh, Turkey, regional developments

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2013 became a milestone year for Armenia not only in its foreign, but also domestic politics. After nearly four years of negotiations with the European Union over the signing of an association agreement on September 3 Armenia unexpectedly announced its intention to join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

This decision has had its influence not only on Armenia proper, but also on the processes elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Inspired by Armenia’s decision, Russia stepped up its pressure on Ukraine, which suspended the process of signing of the Association Agreement with the EU one week before the Vilnius summit of Eastern Partnership. As a result, on November 29 such agreements were initialed only by Moldova and Georgia.

Heritage reshuffle: Postanjyan becomes new leader of parliamentary faction

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Zaruhi Postanjyan has been elected new head of the opposition Heritage faction in parliament. The change comes after Ruben Hakobyan announced his decision to resign as faction leader earlier today.

Talking to media in parliament Hakobyan said Heritage Party leader Raffi Hovannisian had been notified about his move well in advance. He left questions about reasons for his step without commentary, only saying that he had decided to step down as faction leader before the recent scandal around Postanjyan in the wake of her controversial question to President Serzh Sargsyan about his gambling habit at the PACE plenary session in Strasbourg on October 2.