EU: Spain could get more time to reduce deficit


The European Union's economic and monetary affairs commissioner said Spain may be given more time to reduce its budget deficit if it is shown to have fulfilled its structural fiscal obligations.

Provided the 2012 figures assure the European Union that Spain's structural effort is being implemented, the budget strategy could be adapted to reflect that this consolidation process will take more effort and more time, Olli Rehn said in presenting the 27-nation bloc's macroeconomic forecast for 2013 and 2014.

He said that "in the case of Spain, it seems that the structural fiscal effort has been undertaken and there has been also an unexpected shortfall of growth," meaning the Iberian nation meets both of the European Commission's conditions for allowing countries more time to cut their budget gap.

Unemployment in Spain topped 26 percent at the end of 2012 and the jobless rate among people under 25 stood at 55.1 percent.




Unfavorable outlook for Chavez's respiratory insufficiency


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez continues his treatment in Caracas for the respiratory insufficiency that began after his Dec. 11 cancer surgery, but the outlook "has not been favorable," the government said.

"The respiratory insufficiency that came during his postoperative period persists and its outlook has not been favorable, so treatment for it continues," Communication Minister Ernesto Villegas said Thursday.

"On the contrary, the medical treatment for the basic illness (cancer) continues without presenting any significantly adverse effects up to now," the minister said.

Chavez, who has been in the Dr. Carlos Arvelo Military Hospital since he arrived in the wee hours Monday in Caracas, underwent in Cuba his fourth operation since being diagnosed with cancer in June 2011.




Colombian rebels question Santos' commitment to peace


FARC rebels slammed Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for remarks made during this week's handover to peasants of land allegedly seized from them by the guerrillas, questioning his commitment to achieving peace.

"We thought Santos was sincere in saying he dreamed of going down in history as the president who achieved peace ... His behavior and words in San Vicente del Caguan have left us perplexed," the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said in a statement.

The message was read in Havana, where the FARC and the Colombian government have been holding peace talks since November.

Santos devoted his speech in San Vicente to "insulting" the FARC and its "most beloved commanders," without ever referring to the ongoing peace talks, the message said.




Strike shuts down 36 Brazilian ports


A strike to protest the Brazilian government's plan to privatize several ports shut down at least 36 terminals for six hours, union spokespersons said.

Stevedores did not show up for work on Friday's first shift as part of a bid to pressure the government to modify the port-overhaul plan.

The strike affected several of the country's main ports - including Santos, Latin America's largest - Paulo Pereira da Silva, a lawmaker and president of the Força Sindical trade union, said.

The dockworkers had planned to hold other demonstrations, including a second work stoppage on Tuesday afternoon, but those planned job actions have been put on hold following an agreement with the government.




South African track star Oscar Pistorius granted bail


The judge at the Pretoria Magistrates' Court granted the bail application of South African track star Oscar Pistorius, who is accused of murdering his girlfriend.

In his ruling following a week-long hearing, Judge Desmond Nair found that the disabled athlete was not a flight risk and that the prosecution had not shown that the defendant has a propensity for violence, among other reasons.

He fixed bail for the 26-year-old Olympic and Paralympic sprinter, known as the "Blade Runner" because of the high-tech, carbon-fiber prosthetics he wears on both legs during his races, at 1 million rand (roughly $113,000).

The athlete was freed under a set of conditions, including the surrender of his passport and his firearms.




Mexican governor says $151 mn missing from state coffers


The governor of the southern Mexican state of Tabasco said Friday that an audit of his predecessor's administration detected 1.9 billion pesos ($151 million) in missing funds.

State officials are preparing to file criminal complaints against the responsible parties, Gov. Arturo Nuñez told MVS radio.

The money disappeared during Andres Granier's 2007-2012 tenure as governor of Tabasco, Nuñez said. The missing funds were transferred from the federal government to the state, but never reached the agencies for which they were intended, the incumbent governor said.

Moreover, Nuñez said, the debt of the state government stands at 17.7 billion pesos ($1.39 billion), not the 10 billion pesos listed on the accounts of the Granier administration when it left office Dec. 31.