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Indian Tractors, Cuban Cigars

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Chavez nationalizations, infrastructure interest, Indian-Argentine business and Cuban golf and cigars this week's TradeTalk.

BY CHRONICLE STAFF

Chavez is Back. Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez is back to his old self, expropriating foreign and local companies. This week saw the nationalization of plants belonging to U.S.-based Cargill, Ireland-based Smurfit Kappa Group and local food and beverage company Polar.  The moves come after further price controls on food in an effort to slow sky-high inflation. The moves come as the economy keeps slowing down, hit by low oil prices and falling oil production. “It's a heck of a lousy long term policy," Sidney Weintraub, senior economist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told Reuters yesterday.

Crisis? What crisis? Despite - or perhaps because of -- the growing economic crisis, developers and investors in infrastructure projects in Latin America are more eager than ever to make deals. Case in point:  This year's Latin American Leadership Forum has 45 percent more registered attendees than last year, according to CG/LA Infrastructure, the event's organizer. "This giant jump in a down period shows the tremendous promise of counter-cyclical programs throughout Latin America," the consulting firm said in a statement this week. This year's event will be held in Houston and is cosponsored by Latin Business Chronicle.

Crisis? What crisis? India’s economy is slated to grow by 6 percent this year and Indian companies are eager to do business in Latin America, especially Argentina. “Indian companies aren’t stopping their business with Argentine [but] want to grow them,” India’s ambassador to Argentina R. Viswanathan said in a statement. Among those that want to boost ties are tractor manufacturer Mahindra, which promoted several of its models at Expoagro in Theobald near Rosario this week.

See you in Medellin. That's where Intel Chairman Craig Barret, Nobel Prize winner Robert Merton, French sociologist Alain Touraine and former Argentina finance minister Roberto Lavagna will be during the Inter-American Development Bank's 50th anniversary meeting March 27-31. 

Habanos S.A. (a joint venture of the Cuban government and Altadis) plans to hold the Montecristo Cup Charity Pro-Am golf championship in Varadero in May, Spanish news agency EFE reports.  The goal is to boost wealthy tourism to Cuba while providing a venue for cigar-smoking golfers frustrated with the prohibitions in Europe.

A solution for Latin America’s corruption? Police officials in Peru recently decided that all traffic cops in Lima and Callao be women, El Comercio reports. Female cops are less corrupt than their male counterparts, officials say.  

Panama has been named the hottest property spot in 2009 by UK-based Property Frontiers. "Panama, the Central American republic tops the list due to a strong economy, a favorable tax regime and offshore banking attracting businesses from across the globe," it said in a recent statement. "Investors can choose a variety of different options, from hotels enjoying high occupancy rates, to offices, and beachside resorts. The expansion of the Panama Canal looks set to underpin future economic growth." However, in a blog on the International Herald Tribune, Property Frontiers sourcing manager Ben Jefferis emphasized that Panama's top spot was due to its potential in hospitality rather than residential real estate.  "It is the hotel sector that offers the exceptional returns and yields, with a vast shortage of supply," he writes. "We have grave concerns over the state of the condo market. Over-speculation and a lack of genuine Panamanian local affordability [are] likely to create a sharp oversupply in the next 18 month’s possibly causing falls similar to that seen in Dubai."

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