Chinese Fishing Fleet Near The Galapagos Islands Causing Concern

A fleet of 260 Chinese fishing vessels approaching the exclusive economic zone around the Galapagos Islands is attracting a considerable amount of attention from Ecuador, as well as neighboring nations.  Ecuador has increased surveillance of the Chinese fleet, and is conducting patrols to ensure that the Chinese ships do not enter the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the islands. This is not the first instance of Chinese fishing ships operating around, and inside of the Galapagos EEZ. In the past there were incidents, such as in 2017 when a Chinese ship was caught operating in the EEZ. Ecuadorian naval personnel boarded the boat and found 300 tons of marine wildlife taken from the Marine Reserve. The size of the Chinese fleet is the most significant concern for Ecuador because of the damage it can potentially do to the fragile marine ecosystem around the islands. Chinese ships come to the area around the Galapagos, however this fleet is the largest that has been seen in years, prompting Ecuador to sound the alarm even though the ships are in international waters for the moment.

The appearance of the Chinese fishing fleet is prompting Ecuador to examine ways to strengthen security for marine wildlife in the Galapagos. One potential measure is to extend the EEZ and combine it with the Ecuadorian mainland’s own economic zone. Quito is also working with other Pacific-facing nations in Latin America to establish a corridor of marine reserves and seal off a significant area of marine diversity.

More Political Instability in South America

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Political instability has reared its head in another South American nation this week. On Tuesday, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno announced a multi-billion dollar fiscal reform package which would eliminate fuel subsidies. This would raise the price of gasoline and diesel dramatically, perhaps even doubling it in some instances. Yesterday, as soon as the new fuel prices went into effect, the protests began in Ecuador’s capital city Quito, and its largest city of Guayaquil. A nationwide transportation strike was also called. Protesters blocked streets, burned tires and fought with police through the day. Moreno declared a state of emergency to ‘avoid chaos,’ and it went into effect last night.

He added that there is no chance his government will change policies now, “especially those related to a perverse subsidy that was causing harm to the country.” Government sources claim 275 protesters were arrested and 28 police officers suffered injuries.

Ecuador is currently struggling with a high level of public debt. The fiscal reform package is part of Moreno’s austerity policies. Many Ecuadorians believe the policies are the result of a $4 Billion loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund. Moreno has also announced that Ecuador will be leaving OPEC in January, 2020. This move allows the nation to increase its oil production and exports beyond the cartel’s imposed limits. Ecuador’s exit will not cause a shakeup in the world oil market given that it is OPEC’s smallest member in terms of oil production.

Saturday 25 August, 2018 Update: Venezuelan Migrant Crisis Is Exploding

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South American nations are tightening their border controls, and immigration restrictions as the exodus of refugees from Venezuela grows larger. Along with the economic crisis, and the ongoing political unrest around the country, the regime of President Nicolas Maduro now has to contend with regional tensions brought on by a migrant crisis. With chronic shortages of food and medicine now a seemingly permanent facet of daily life for Venezuelan citizens, tens of thousands are fleeing the country in the hopes of finding a better life elsewhere. These departures are not a new development. Since 2014 over two million citizens have left Venezuela.

Neighboring countries are having an increasingly difficult time accommodating them. In Brazil’s northern state of Rorima, violence has erupted when Brazilians attacked the ramshackle camps constructed by Venezuelan refugees, forcing them to flee back across the border. An attempt by Rorima to close the border was thrown out by a judge, leaving the situation unsettled and extremely volatile.  Ecuador, and Peru have taken steps designed to create breathing room, and buy time for a more permanent solution to be found. Both nations have revised their passport rules and border controls. Peru will no longer admit Venezuelans with only an identity card.  Ecuador, on the other hand, has opened a ‘humanitarian corridor’ from its northern border with Colombia to Peru. Venezuelans entering Ecuador will no longer need a passport, and the Ecuadorian government has provided buses for some of the thousands of Venezuelans heading south to find opportunities in Peru, Chile, and beyond.

The Venezuelan government took measures last week to stabilize the economy and eventually lure some citizens back. There is a new currency, the “sovereign bolivar”, which removed five zeroes from banknotes. It is backed by a cryptocurrency, the Petro, which is tied to oil prices. It’s unlikely that the “sovereign bolivar” and Petro will rescue Venezuela from further economic ruin. Oil production is declining, and the government is unable to pay its debts, or obtain more financing.

Until the economy begins to rebound significantly and the country is stabilized, Caracas should not expect the waves of Venezuelans who have left to change direction and return home. At the rate things are going, it will be a very long time before that happens.