Chavez Letter — Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez has sent a letter from his sickbed in Cuba, reports Reuters. The 58-year-old Chavez, who has not been seen in public since undergoing cancer surgery in Cuba in mid-December, called for Latin American unity in the lengthy, typed letter laced with literary refernces. The missive was read by Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who Chavez has named as his preferred successor, to heads of state gathered at a regional summit in Chile. Television images showed Chavez’s signature in red ink at the bottom of the letter, reports the AP.
Arms Trade Corruption — An international study reveals that most countries, including most of the world’s biggest weapons importers, do little to combat corruption in the arms trade, notes the Guardian. Transparency International’s report indicates that some 70% of the 82 nations surveyed “leave the door open to waste and security threats as they lack the tools to prevent corruption in the defense sector,” writes the daily. Only in two countries — Australia and Germany — is the risk of corruption considered “very low” thanks to strong parliamentary oversight of defense policy. According to the report, the global cost of corruption in the defense sector costs at least $20 billion annually — the total sum pledged by the G8 countries in 2009 to combat world hunger.
Deadly Corruption — Bloomberg Businessweek reports that politically well-connected industrial companies in China have higher worker death rates because they can get away with poor working conditions. On average, politically connected firms have five times as many deaths as similar unconnected firms, revealed a study by Columbia University economist Ray Fisman and University of Southern California finance professor Yongxiang Wang. Fisman and Wang write that “more politically connected executives might be able to grease the wheels for lower compliance with health and safety regulations, through personal connections or outright bribes,” according to the weekly.
Secret Prisons — It’s claimed that a criminal investigation into secret CIA jails in Poland is being stalled due to concerns it will embarrass the Polish state, reports the Independent. Polish prosecutors are investigating the country’s role in a U.S. secret service operation a decade ago to transport suspected al-Qaeda members to “black sites” where they could be held and interrogated without the restrictions of U.S. law, notes the daily. But the lawyer for a Saudi national, who alleges he was held illegally by the CIA on Polish soil, said the trial is “under political control.” There are also suggestions that the case could implicate some of Poland’s most senior politicians in illegal detentions, notes the Independent.
Fais Gaffe — A French government minister has described his country as “totally bankrupt,” reports the Daily Telegraph. Labour minister Michel Sapin’s made the faux pas during a radio interview, saying, “There is a state but it is a totally bankrupt state. That is why we had to put a deficit reduction plan in place, and nothing should make us turn away from that objective.” President François Hollande is currently attempting to improve the health of the French economy, pledging to reduce the country’s deficit by cutting spending by €60bn ($80.5bn) over the next five years and increasing taxes by €20bn ($27bn), according to the Telegraph.