Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Venezuelan coffee through Citgo Stations

I love venezuelan coffee.
vdebate reporter
PhillyDeals: Venezuela marketing coffee through Citgo stations
By Joseph DiStefano
Inquirer Staff Writer

The chief executive officer of Citgo Petroleum Corp. and the Venezuelan ambassador to the United States were in Brookhaven yesterday at a Citgo gas station and convenience store just north of the Chester city line, to launch what they hope is a lucrative new trade relationship based, not on fuel, but on stimulants.
Venezuela is better known for oil than for coffee. But the South American nation has decided to copy its neighbor, Colombia, and retail its aromatic caffeinate directly to North Americans - using Venezuelan-owned Citgo local gas stations and convenience stores as a distribution network. So, appreciable corporate and diplomatic firepower gathered at a suburban gas station on a sweltering midsummer afternoon to discuss coffee.
"This was an initiative of Venezuela's president," said Citgo CEO Alejandro Granado, who came up from Citgo headquarters in Houston for the occasion.
"He asked us two or three years ago on behalf of the cooperative coffee growers if we could do something to benefit the market, with our network of thousands of service stations. We said we'd look into it, and we made it happen."
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is known for his socialist policies at home and his confrontational diplomacy abroad, much of it directed at President Bush and what Chavez calls American imperialism.
In Brookhaven, Chavez's U.S. ambassador, Bernardo Alvarez, was all about conciliation and co-prosperity. "It will be another way of connecting our two peoples," he told the crowd. "We already export oil, baseball players, and now, well, coffee."
Venezuela wants to diversify its exports so it's not so dependent on oil, Granado said. Venezuela says it once produced almost as much coffee as Colombia, but farm exports dropped as oil became dominant in the last half-century. "Now, the perverse impact of oil monoculture is being reversed by new development policies," Granado said.
That includes coming to grips with capitalist marketing. "Formerly, it was very hard to be competitive in the U.S. market," said Alida Moreno, president of Cafe Venezuela, a group of 3,000 growers that provided the first seven-ton shipment of coffee to Citgo and is using the Citgo relationship to add more growers.
Colombian coffee cooperatives already reach U.S. markets through a chain of Juan Valdez-brand coffee bars in places such as Suburban Station and the shops just east of City Hall.
Alvarez said Venezuela required the cooperatives to guarantee a portion of profits to fund clinics, schools and roads in Venezuela's coffee regions.
We'd have to go to Venezuela to know how that's working.
Former Wawa Inc. executive John Sacharok has visited the country's Andean growing regions and the cooperatives' refurbished roasting plant at Pampan Trujillo, and he said he was impressed by improvements to the industry in recent years.
"They know they had great product. They just needed a vehicle for getting it to market," said Sacharok, who now heads Golden Valley Farms, the West Chester company that distributes Venezuelan coffee in the United States.
"Starbucks showed us customers are willing to pay $3 a cup," Sacharok said. Citgo's Venezuelan coffee and cappuccino starts at $1.09.
Citgo couldn't force its store operators to carry the coffee, company officials said.
"It's a good taste. That's the only reason I'm doing it," said Boris Berdichevsky, who runs the Brookhaven Citgo franchise and several others. "I think it's better than Colombian."
Bankruptcy bargains
When I worked in New York last year, the big payout for my basketball-playing sons was the cool, colorful $15 Starbury basketball sneakers I used to buy at the Steve & Barry's store in the Mall of Manhattan across from Penn Station. You couldn't get those at Payless back home.
Last week, after Steve & Barry's declared bankruptcy 23 years after its first outlet opened at Penn's West Philly campus, I took five of my children to Steve & Barry's at the Valley Forge Shopping Center - that's the neighborhood-friendly mall up Route 202 from the King of Prussia shopping complex.
We spent $150 - huge sum on any DiStefano shopping expedition - buying a half-dozen jackets, 11 pairs of Starbury basketball and skater-dude shoes, a couple of hats, and a goofy T-shirt. In short, they're having a big sale and are not out of business.
The hardworking clerk told my wife that staffers assume they're keeping their jobs; they hadn't been told otherwise.
And that's the first thing to remember about companies that file for bankruptcy protection from their creditors: Suppliers, customers and creditors often have an interest in keeping them open.
We're not sure what's going to happen to all of Metromedia Group's Bennigan's and Steak & Ale restaurants after the chain declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy yesterday in its native Texas. Some will close; others run by franchisees will likely stay open. At least one Philadelphia-area investor, we hear, is looking at acquiring some of the assets.
A visit to federal Bankruptcy Court may be bad news for creditors, investors and mall owners. They'll share the pain, which could spread through the economy if it gets a lot worse.
But consumers, tenants and others in the market will find some bargains before the weakest chains are done reorganizing.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Miss Venezuela wins Miss Universe pageant in Vietnam

Miss Venezuela wins Miss Universe pageant in Vietnam
NHA TRANG, Vietnam (AFP) — Miss Venezuela, 22-year-old Dayana Mendoza, won the Miss Universe pageant held in Vietnam on Monday, beating runners-up from three other Latin American countries and Russia.

Mendoza, who had been the favourite of many pageant watchers and online bookmakers, clinched the diamond-studded gold crown after answering a question on the difference between men and women.

"Men think that the fastest way to go to a point is to go straight," explained the trilingual beauty from Amazonas state. "Women know that the faster way to go to a point is to go to the curves."

Wearing a yellow evening gown, she burst into tears of joy when the presenter, US talkshow host Jerry Springer, announced she had won, beating runners-up up from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Russia and Mexico.

Her prize package includes cash, a year-long contract promoting Miss Universe, world travel, a rent-free New York City luxury apartment and a giftbag stuffed with free designer shoes, dresses and beauty products.

In the world of beauty contests, Venezuela -- where beauty contests are held in schools, villages and even prisons -- is considered a "pageant superpower" with four previous Miss Universe and five Miss World winners.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

They are not a revolutionary group. They are terrorists -- terrorists with a capital T

Marc Gonsalves is completly right FARC is a TERRORIST group.
vdebate reporter

They are not a revolutionary group. They are terrorists -- terrorists with a capital T

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (CNN) -- One of three American hostages rescued last week from Colombian rebels said Monday he believes his former captors will retaliate against those still being held.

Marc Gonsalves says FARC, which held him captive, uses revolutionary claims to cover criminal aims.

"Right now, they're being punished because we got rescued," Marc Gonsalves said at San Antonio's Brooke Army Medical Center, where he and fellow ex-hostages Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell have been treated for days.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had held the three U.S. government contractors since February 2003, after their plane crashed in a remote region of the South American country.
The three were among 15 people -- including Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and 11 Colombian national police and military men -- who were rescued Wednesday by the Colombian military.

On Monday, the Americans spoke publicly for the first time since their rescue. Gonsalves, who called his rescuers "heroes," said he fears for the hostages who remain with FARC.
"They're going to get up early tomorrow morning, they're going to put a heavy backpack on their backs, and they're going to be forced to march with [a] chain around their neck while a guerrilla with an automatic weapon is holding the other end of [the] chain like a dog," Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves blasted the leftist rebel group, calling them "terrorists" who pretended to be fighting for the poor of Colombia so they could engage in crimes such as drug trafficking and extortion.
"They say they want equality; they say they just want to make Colombia a better place," Gonsalves said. "That's all a lie ... to justify their criminal activity."
Don't Miss
He said the rebels deprive their captives of basic human rights, adding that hostages were often chained at their necks and held at gunpoint, and that he once saw the rebels keep a newborn in captivity even though the infant was ill. Watch Gonsalves describe hostages' treatment »
"They are not a revolutionary group. They are terrorists -- terrorists with a capital T," said Gonsalves, a Florida resident and Connecticut native.
He said FARC claims it is not a terrorist group, but he said it should prove that claim by freeing its remaining hostages. FARC is believed to hold more than 700 hostages in camps scattered throughout the jungle.
"Don't tell us that you're not terrorists. Show us that you're not terrorists," he said.
He said the majority of FARC forces were poor children or young adults tricked into thinking they were joining a just, revolutionary cause. Later, he said, some would regret their decision to join, but they knew they would be killed if they tried to leave.
"I've seen how their own guerillas commit suicide

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Friday, July 4, 2008

Audacious rescue deals FARC a blow

We are so happy for this........... To see all these 15 hostages alive....... Ingrid is FREE!!!!!!
vdebate reporter

Audacious rescue deals Farc a blow
By Jeremy McDermott BBC News, Medellin
Ms Betancourt said her rescue was a "perfect operation"
In an operation of unprecedented audacity, the Colombian security forces have rescued 15 hostages from the hands of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).
The initiative has dealt a mortal blow to the left-wing guerrillas' plans to secure the release of hundreds of rebels in prison.
"Thank you to the army, from my country of Colombia, thank you for your impeccable operation," said Ingrid Betancourt, the most famous of the hostages in guerrilla hands, as she landed in the capital Bogota to be greeted by her mother and husband.
"The operation was perfect."
Not a shot was fired by the Colombian security forces as they managed to free the most closely-protected hostages, guarded by the cream of Farc rebels.
'You are free'
The military operation, codenamed Check - as in "checkmate" - was the result of high level infiltration of the guerrilla army.
Farc have now lost, in one fell swoop, all the trump cards for their negotiations for a prisoner exchange and their principal diplomatic weapon to force the government into making concessions
"This operation... is without precedent and shows the high quality and professionalism of the Colombian armed forces," said Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos.
Somehow, double agents managed to persuade Farc's feared First Front leader, alias "Cesar", to put the hostages onto a helicopter, saying that they were to be taken to the guerrillas' top leader "Alfonso Cano".
It was only when the helicopter was in the air that the soldiers revealed their identity and overpowered the rebels on board.
"I did not realise what was going on until 'Cesar' was tied up on the floor, naked and one of the men said: 'We are from the army and you are free,'" said Ms Betancourt as she described the rescue mission.
Farc have now lost, in one fell swoop, all the trump cards for their negotiations for a prisoner exchange and their principal diplomatic weapon to force the government into making concessions.
President Alvaro Uribe, who has always refused to grant the guerrillas their precondition for talks, a large demilitarised zone in the south-west of the country, now has no reason to cede anything.
Farc in disarray
The international pressure which he endured, principally from presidents Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, is likely to melt away.
The rescue also vindicates his tough policy against the guerrillas who killed his father, and it will allow him to continue unhindered in his plans to defeat Farc militarily and force them to the negotiating table.
This latest incident shows, yet again, that Farc are in disarray, reeling after a series of blows.
In March this year one of their top commanders, "Raul Reyes" was killed when the Colombian air force bombed a rebel camp within Ecuador, sparking an international row that has still not been resolved.
A week later another leader, "Ivan Rios", was murdered by one of his bodyguards, who collected the bounty offered by the government.
Then the most serious of all, the death from a heart attack of Farc's 78-year-old founder and leader, "Manuel Marulanda".

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Rescue boosts Uribe's standing

Good for Uribe. He has been intelligent enough not negotiating with the terrorist of Las FARCs. Congratulations President Uribe and Colombian people for this rescue....... was perfect.
vdebate reporter
Rescue boosts Uribe's standing
By Jeremy McDermott BBC News, Medellin

Ms Betancourt described her treatment in the jungle as cruel
The successful rescue of 15 hostages from the clutches of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) has had a massive political impact, nationally and internationally.
It has boosted President Alvaro Uribe and his tough stance against the Marxist rebels and silenced demands that the government make concessions to the guerrillas.
Now the perception is that the military defeat of the Farc is not only possible but inevitable, something that seven years ago would have been unthinkable, when the guerrilla army numbered more than 16,000 fighters and held sway in over a third of the country.
"We are at the end of the end of the Farc," said Admiral Guillermo Barrera, the head of the Colombian Navy.
Praise for president
The latest operation has shown what total disarray the Farc are in and how there appears to be little, if any, reliable contact between the ruling body and the commanders on the ground.
The rescue has vindicated Mr Uribe's uncompromising position with respect to negotiating with the Farc and justified his refusal to make concessions in order to gain the release of hostages.
He had been under pressure from French President Nicolas Sarkozy to secure the release of Ingrid Betancourt - and in a rather more outspoken manner by Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who called Mr Uribe, among others things, a "mafioso" and a "warmonger" for his refusal to sit down with the guerrillas.

Two Farc rebels were captured by soldiers during the hostage release
Now both leaders have softened their positions. The French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, who accompanied Ms Betancourt's children as they travelled from Paris to meet up with their mother, spoke for President Sarkozy and said that France "admired what had been done".
President Chavez said he was "delighted" and "jubilant" at the successful rescue and was looking forward to welcoming Mr Uribe for a planned visit in the near future admitting that "we said some hard things. Between brothers such things happen".
In January, the Venezuelan leader called for the Farc to be taken off international terrorist lists and insisted the rebels be recognised as a legitimate belligerent force.
He has since backtracked on that, condemning the guerrillas for their policy of kidnapping and telling them that it was time to end the fighting.
Consummate politician
The successful rescue of the hostages will no doubt boost Mr Uribe's already staggering approval ratings, which hover at around 80%.
It will also perhaps secure any re-election plans he might have. President Uribe has already changed the constitution once, which allowed him to stand again as a candidate in the 2006 elections.
He has not ruled out tampering with the constitution once more and indeed one of the political parties that support him, Partido de la U, is currently working on collecting enough signatures to trigger a referendum on the matter.
Ms Betancourt also supported any potential re-election bid by Mr Uribe, when she said that the 2006 re-election of Mr Uribe, with his hard-line policies, was seen by the guerrillas as a great blow. When asked about a third Uribe term she said:

Ms Betancourt will fight for the liberation of the remaining hostages
"Why not? It is interesting. That does not mean to say that I would necessarily vote for him as perhaps I have more affinity with other candidates."
And what now for Ingrid Betancourt?
She looks set to pick up where she left off in February 2002 when she was kidnapped by the Farc at a rebel road block.
Then, she was campaigning for the Colombian presidency and since her release she has acted like the consummate politician she is, talking exhaustively with the media, praising the military, the government and the foreign nations that worked so hard on behalf of the kidnap victims.
She already has her new mission mapped out, fighting for the liberation of the hostages still in Farc hands.
"We need to fight for the freedom of the others, who are still in the jungle, still held by Farc," she said.
"There are a lot of people round the world who want to help us - fighting for the liberty of other Colombians."
The former presidential candidate, now with a profile and status the envy of politicians the world over, is in a very strong position to act as ambassador and activist for the release of the remaining hostages and the search for an end to the country's 44-year civil conflict.
Ingrid Betancourt will now no doubt be a permanent fixture on Colombia's political stage.

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