Geopolitics

Trump's Policy Toward Latin America Is Worse Than Just A Wall

Gazing through the border wall in Tijuana
Gazing through the border wall in Tijuana
Danilo Arbilla

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ –– For some time now, Latin America has not figured on the U.S. State Department's agenda. If the continent did appear, it was at the bottom of the government's list. This indifference has only grown starker since Donald J. Trump moved into the White House.

This state of affairs is neither good nor bad. Close ties with the U.S. have resulted in many ugly experiences and memories. Hence the common anti-American graffiti on the streets of Latin America — "Yankee go home"; politicians from Fidel Castro to more recent leftist governments have postured themselves as "anti-imperialist."

For these regimes, which are now in free-fall, blaming the U.S. and the rightwing for all their ills is the last plank they can desperately cling to. They even make solemn vows to unite to confront invasions by "gringos' and right-wing "oligarchs' (as if there aren't any left-wing oligarchs.) Despite more than a dozen warnings by Venezuelan presidents both current (Nicolás Maduro) and former (Hugo Chávez) over the years, these invasions have yet to materialize.

Inventing foreign enemies is an old recourse to invigorate nationalism at home. If that ploy fails, these countries justify "exceptional" measures like curbing rights and liberties. The thing is, nobody believes them anymore. If an invasion did occur, it would certainly come as a surprise.

In Latin America, there isn't a "nuclear bomb" — not even Chávez tried that trick. We also don't field a global terrorist group. It's just as well considering the drama Castro provoked when he tried to host Soviet missiles.

The result is that we're increasingly slipping into oblivion. Consequently, small dictatorships proliferate, like those we see so often in other ignored continents.

Trump, notoriously, has no Latin American "policy." This contrasts with the frivolous policy of his predecessor Barack Obama, which only served to chase away America's last remaining friends, many of whom were admittedly rough. Obama, who happens to have deported more migrants than ever before in U.S. history, was like the proverbial church dove –– a pretty bird that defecates on the faithful who enter a place of worship.

Trump, on the other hand, has not even cast a glance this way, save for a couple of phone calls. He has only cited themes of passing relevance to us, which he sees as domestic issues. Take Cuba, for instance. You would have expected some news by now about U.S.-Cuba relations. There is talk of a new policy but we will need to wait — you never know with Trump.

The change in trade policies, migration and the proposed wall on the Mexican border all relate to Trump's domestic agenda and follow his dramatic vows to make changes inside America. But the issues he says are internal will directly affect many countries on this continent. Persecuting migrants will lead to injustice. Subsequent deportations signify a serious problem, almost a tragedy, for each person affected but also for every country receiving them "back."

The border wall is simply pathetic. It will not be practical and it will prove to be only symbolic. It will not just be a long wall between Mexico and the United States; it will be a demarcation separating the United States and Latin America.

For now, everything appears erratic. Recently, the U.S. ambassador to Uruguay, Kelly Keiderling, said there was no dictatorship in Venezuela. The former U.S. ambassador in Venezuela, who was expelled from Caracas in 2013, said the U.S. did not see the present situation as a dictatorship but rather as a dysfunctional separation of powers.

What does all this mean? Anything can happen now, so we must wait.

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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