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MONDAY, APRIL 23, 2012


Walmart STRATEGY SHIFT hushed up Changing gears, Obama team attacks Romney from the left vast Mexican bribery case Romney’s overheard remarks at a fundraiser in Florida on Sunday night that, if elected, he planned to slash government programs (although he has not spelled that out for the voters) gave backers of President Barack Obama the perfect opening, and they jumped on it. “Mitt Romney Tells Rich Voters His Secret Plan to Cut Housing Assistance,” said a headline from ThinkProgress, a blog put out by the left-leaning Center for American Progress. Democratic officials followed that up with a call to reporters Thursday charging that Romney’s proposal would “cut critical funds for homeless veterans.” On Tuesday, Obama’s advisors saw another chance, and they were all over that, too. Just hours after Romney accepted


New York Times Service


WASHINGTON — So long, flip-flopper. Hello, right-wing extremist. Mitt Romney may be inclined to start moving to the political center now that he’s practically got the Republican nomination won and done, but the Obama campaign would much rather keep him right where he’s been for the past few months: in the conservative territory he staked out while battling for Republican primary voters. After months of depicting Romney as the ultimate squishy, double-talking, nocore soul, Team Obama is shifting gears. Senior administration officials, along with Democratic and campaign officials, all say their strategy moving forward will be to tell the world that Romney has • TURN TO ROMNEY, 2A a core after all — and it’s deep red.

Chavez’s weeklong silence spurs uncertainty tion in October. But he has seldom Friday that Chavez is expected to mentioned his cancer treatment. return to Venezuela soon. CARACAS — Venezuela’s PresNational Assembly President “God willing, next week he’ll be ident Hugo Chavez has been out Diosdado Cabello reiterated on here again with us once he has finof sight for a week, speaking only through Twitter messages and written statements while undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba. The lack of any appearances on television has Venezuelans wondering about what his unusual silence might say about his struggle with cancer, and whether Chavez may be coping with a particularly tough phase of radiation therapy. More than two dozen messages have appeared on Chavez’s Twitter account since he left for Cuba on April 14. He has cheered on his supporters with slogans such as, “Let’s continue building socialism!” In other messages, he has praised his military commanders, ARIANA CUBILLOS/AP announced funding for local governments and vowed to win reelec- People walk by a mural of Hugo Chavez in Caracas. BY JORGE RUEDA

Associated Press

Hollande, Sarkozy head to runoff in French race BY ANGELA CHARLTON Associated Press

high, projected by polling agencies at about 80 percent, despite concern that a campaign lacking a single overarching theme had failed to inspire voters. Hollande, a 57-year-old who has worried investors with his pledges to boost government spending, pledged to cut France’s huge debts, boost growth and unite the French after Sarkozy’s divisive first term. “Tonight I become the candidate of all the forces who want to turn one page and turn another,” Hollande, with a confidence and stately air he has often lacked during the campaign, told an exuberant crowd in his hometown of Tulle in southern France. Sarkozy said he recognized voters’ concerns about jobs and immigration, and “the concern of our compatriots to preserve their way of life,” he told supporters at his campaign headquarters in Paris’ Left Bank. Ten candidates faced off for Sunday’s first round of voting, a referendum on Sarkozy at a time when many French voters are worried about high joblessness and weak economic prospects and

PARIS — Socialist Francois Hollande and conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy headed for a runoff election in their race for France’s presidency, according to partial official results in a vote that could alter the European political and economic landscape. French voters defied expectations and handed a surprisingly strong third-place showing to farright candidate Marine Le Pen, who has run on an anti-immigrant platform aimed largely at Muslims. That could boost her influence on the French political scene, hand her party seats in Parliament and affect relations with minorities. With 75 percent of the vote counted, Hollande had 27.9 percent of ballots cast and Sarkozy 26.7 percent, according to figures released by the Interior Ministry after final polls closed. Le Pen was in third with 19.2 percent of the vote so far. In fourth place was leftist firebrand JeanLuc Melenchon with 10.8 percent, followed by centrist Francois Bayrou with 9.2 percent and five other candidates with minimal support. Turnout was also surprisingly • TURN TO FRANCE, 2A


ished the treatment,” Cabello said in a televised speech. He insisted that even when Chavez is away in Cuba, “he leads just the same as if he were here in Venezuela.” But even some of Chavez’s supporters have been saying recently that they wonder what’s really going on with his health. “It makes me sad, but my Comandante must not be as well as they say,” said Guillermo Suarez, a street vendor selling sunglasses. “It’s already been many days that we haven’t seen him, heard him.” Chavez had said he expected his final rounds of radiation treatments, which began last month, to be rough. He has said the treatments have diminished his physical strength. Last weekend, he decided not to attend the Summit of the Americas in Colombia, the sort of high-profile event where he would previously have taken center stage.


New York Times Service

MEXICO CITY — In September 2005, a senior Walmart lawyer received an alarming e-mail from a former executive at the company’s largest foreign subsidiary, Walmart de Mexico. In the e-mail and follow-up conversations, the former executive described how Walmart de Mexico had orchestrated a campaign of bribery to win market dominance. In its rush to build stores, he said, the company had paid bribes to obtain permits in virtually every corner of the country. The former executive gave names, dates and bribe amounts. He knew so much, he explained, because for years he had been the lawyer in charge of obtaining construction permits for Walmart de Mexico. Walmart dispatched investigators to Mexico City, and within days they unearthed evidence of widespread bribery. They found a paper trail of hundreds of suspect payments totaling more than $24 million. They also found documents showing that Walmart de Mexico’s top executives not only knew about the payments, but had taken steps to conceal them from Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. In a confidential report to his superiors, Walmart’s lead investigator, a former FBI special agent, summed up their initial findings this way: “There is reasonable suspicion to believe that Mexican and USA laws have been violated.” The lead investigator recommended that Walmart expand the investigation. Instead, an examination by The New York Times found, Walmart’s leaders shut it down. Neither U.S. nor Mexican law enforcement officials were notified. None of Walmart de Mexico’s leaders were disciplined. Indeed, its chief executive, Eduardo CastroWright, identified by the former executive as the driving force behind years of bribery, was promoted to vice chairman of Walmart in 2008. Until this article, the allegations and Walmart’s investigation had never been publicly disclosed. • TURN TO WALMART, 2A

Syria hotspot enjoys lull with monitors present BY KARIN LAUB

Associated Press

BEIRUT — The deployment of U.N. truce monitors brought a lull in shelling of the Syrian opposition stronghold of Homs for a second day Sunday while President Bashar al Assad’s troops kept up heavy attacks on other areas where observers were not present. International envoy Kofi Annan expressed hope that despite continued violations of the ceasefire he brokered, an expanded team of up to 300 observers — up from eight now on the ground — can help end 13 months of violence and lead to talks between Assad and the opposition. Assad has used heavy weapons to try crush the uprising against him, prompting some of his opponents to switch from peaceful protests to attacks on soldiers. The violence has left more than 9,000 people dead, according to the United Nations. At least 12 civilians and five soldiers were killed on Sunday, activists and state media said. The U.N. Security Council approved on Saturday a larger observer mission than the 250 initially envisioned. The mission was set for at least 90 days, but the Council left it up to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon to decide when it will be



Residents talk to Moroccan U.N. observers in the restive city of Homs, Syria. safe enough to deploy it. It’s the first time the United Nations is sending an unarmed mission into a conflict zone, and Western diplomats warned the team will likely fail unless the Assad regime complies with the ceasefire. The Syrian opposition and its Western supporters suspect the regime is largely paying lip service to Annan’s truce plan, in part to appease allies Russia and China while trying to dodge truce provi-


sions that could threaten its grip, such as pulling tanks and troops from towns and allowing peaceful protests. The Syrian government hasn’t complied with those terms, prompting bitter complaints from the U.N. chief last week. Some Syria activists were skeptical about the U.N. mission, based on the performance of the advance team that arrived last week. • TURN TO SYRIA, 2A


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