A gringo's perspective on Latin American politics, culture and issues.
"I never truckled. I never took of the hat to fashion and held it out for pennies. I told them the truth. They liked it or they didn't like it. What had that to do with me? I told them the truth. I knew it for the truth then and I know it for the truth now!" - Frank Norris
My name: Randy Paul
Tuesday, December 31, 2002
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
This is my last post for the year, unless someone or something really irritates me.
My best wishes to everyone for peace, justice and a much better world for ALL of us in 2003.
MORALITY IN FOREIGN POLICY: LEARNING FROM MISTAKES
Kevin Drum has an interesting post in response to an Oxblog post discussing some US foreign policy disasters from the past. Kevin ends his post with this comment:
When a person shows bad judgment about something, we watch them carefully and demand consistent evidence that they have reformed before we trust them again. The same is true of countries. It may be that we have it right now, but we should hardly be surprised that the rest of the world does not simply take our word for it.
David Adesnik posted this comment in his post in Oxblog:
But the fact is, the US has learned from its mistakes. For all Bush Sr. and Clinton did wrong when it came to foreign affairs, they did uphold a moral standard higher than any of their predecessors since Harry Truman. (Yes, including Jimmy Carter.)
If Bush 43 learned from his father's mistakes and if the last sentence of Kevin Drum's comment above is accurate (and I believe it is), Otto Reich, Elliott Abrams and John Poindexter should be looking for jobs right now.
MORE ON GILBERTO GIL
There's an interesting article by Larry Rohter in today's New York Times about Gilberto Gil's appointment as Culture Minster which I blogged about here. One small quibble with the accuracy of the article: Gil did not win the Grammy for the Quanta disc, but for the Quanta Live! disc. In any event, any pop music star who can write songs about quantum physics is to be treasured.
One important point that Rohter brought up was this one:
As a native of the state of Bahia and a black man, Mr. Gil may also be the victim of a regional prejudice with a certain racial subtext. Other Brazilians tend to regard people from that northeastern state as disorganized and indolent, to the point that one slang term for a midafternoon siesta is "bahiano."
Indeed. I have often heard much worse including a major mistake referred to as a "baianada" and calling someone a "baiano" is to call them lazy. This may harken back to this issue. The state of Bahia is the breathtakingly beautiful and fascinating centerpiece of Afro-Brazilian culture and I cannot believe that these comments have no basis in that fact.
Xu Wenli has a touching seasonal message. I especially like this part:
Only when people respect freedom, human rights and the many things that make them different, only when they realize that democracy is as essential as bread, air and water -- only then has constitutional democracy truly planted its roots.[my emphasis]
Perhaps we as a nation can keep this in mind as we flail about for easy solutions to serious problems.
PERSPECTIVE FROM A YOUNG MAN
Hesiod has a post about a young man made wise beyond his years.
ATRIOS ON CONSUMER CONFIDENCE
This says it all.
ON THE MARK
Richard Reeves has an excellent column on issues that need to be addressed in the year ahead. Check his site out for other columns.
Monday, December 30, 2002
A MODEST PROPOSAL
[Note to Glenn Reynolds and Kathryn Jean Lopez should you read this. THE PART DEALING WITH PUNISHMENT IS SATIRE]
The murder rate in 2002 is at a forty year low here in New York. Despite all of the difficulties going on in terms of the city budget situation, unemployment, etc. New York City has become probably - at least for now - the safest big city in the USA.
Now is the time to address some quality of life issues. I just went out for a walk and as usual lately, when I walk around my neighborhood in Queens, I risk soiling my shoes if I don't walk with my eyes scanning the sidewalk constantly. Dog owners, under the law are supposed to pick up their dog's deposits and dispose of them properly. FYI disposing of them properly does not mean leaving them where your dog left them.
Lest anyone think that I don't like dogs, I do like dogs. My dad raised collies and we also had a kuvasz, probably one of the most intelligent breeds I have ever known. One thing we always learned as kids was that owning a dog was a privilege, not a right. Part of enjoying that privilege is cleaning up after the dog. In New York City and in many other cities there are such ordinances. A search on Google found 710 hits for the phrase "pooper scooper law." Fines in New York City are $50 to $100. Apparently the threat of a fine is not doing the job. Several years ago when I lived in San Francisco before they had such a law, a man went and put whipped cream and cherries on the piles to at least make them look better. While that may be aesthetically pleasing to some, it will not solve the problem. Accordingly, here is my proposal [SATIRE ALERT]: if you fail to clean up after your dog, you will not have to pay a fine. Instead, you will be required to promptly dispose of your dog's waste by promptly consuming it orally. You will not be allowed to put any flavorings on it: no clarified butter, no tarragon, no balsamic vinegar, no salt, no pepper, nothing. Although I doubt if this would pass constitutional muster (there are some clear Eighth Amendment issues), those who have been lax in cleaning up would certainly be deterred (pun intended).
I don't know if anyone has ever posited such an idea before. Perhaps someone will drop me a note about that, but I just had to rant. On my recent errand within the past hour, without even having to cross a street, there must have been at least 50 piles on the sidewalk of 87th Street between 34th Avenue and Northern Boulevard, hereinafter referred to as Rua de Merda. For the libertarians out there, if you want to see a textbook example of your rights ending where mine begin, this is it.
FERNANDO HENRIQUE CARDOSO
As Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Brazil's outgoing President takes his place in history this week, Larry Rohter has a fair and judicious appraisal of his adminstration in yesterday's New York Times.
Since 1998, every time I have visited Brazil I have heard vigorous criticism of Cardoso, some of it well-founded and some of it, in my opinion, unfair. I do think that he expended a great deal of political capital and time on changing the law so that he could run for reëlection, but Rohter's article makes some excellent points:
Mr. Cardoso's other historic achievement is taming inflation, which for decades had eroded the standard of living here, acting as a hidden tax whose cost was borne primarily by the poor. Since 1995, total inflation is 70 percent, or about the same as the figure recorded during one particularly bad month in the early 1990's, before Mr. Cardoso oversaw creation of a new currency and imposed fiscal discipline.
"He didn't just carry out a policy, he confronted and changed an entire culture" based on expectations of rising prices, said Candido Mendes, one of Brazil's leading social scientists. "Brazilians can now save money or spend their salaries on the assumption that prices won't change during the month, and the impact in terms of financial planning, quality of life and the ability to purchase consumer goods on the installment plan has been tremendous."
These are also very impressive accomplishments:
Despite budget restrictions, imposed to meet deficit targets demanded by the International Monetary Fund, Mr. Cardoso's government has invested extensively in education. High school enrollments in this nation of 175 million have expanded by more than a third, the number of students entering college each year has doubled, and the number of Brazilian children not attending school at all has dropped to 3 percent, compared with about 20 percent a decade ago.
Similar gains have been recorded in health statistics. Although residents of urban areas complain that medical care is still inadequate, the Cardoso administration made the poorest rural areas its priority, opening clinics, training doctors and nurses and making more drugs available at lower prices.
The result has been a 25 percent decrease in infant mortality rates. In addition, deaths from AIDS have been reduced by two-thirds, the United Nations noted in its citation for Mr. Cardoso, because of extensive preventive campaigns and free medicine distribution that resulted from a confrontation in which Brazil threatened to break patents on expensive drugs and manufacture its own generic versions.
Not that he needs me or anyone else to tell him this, but Cardoso can leave the Palácio do Planalto on Wednesday with his head held high.
THE QUALITY OF DISCOURSE IS TOO OFTEN STRAINED
I was reading an extremely right-wing blog site (no cocooning here, people) and I was struck by this statement in a post on Venezuela:
The economies in Brazil (now led by another Communist like Chavez)
It reminds me of one of my ex-brothers-in-law's parents from Haleyville, AL. Any political figure they didn't like was a "commonist." When asked what made this person a communist, it was explained that "he doesn't think like us." Lula is clearly a leftist and is unabashed about that, but he's also a pragmatist.
As I noted here, Lula has not just appointed his cronies, but among others he's appointed a prominent business leader, Luiz Fernando Furlan as trade minister, and former FleetBoston executive Henrique Meirelles as Central Bank president.
All she had to do is look just a little deeper and she'd discover that the world is just not as simple as she'd like it to be.
There is a long and detailed article on Colonia Dignidad in today's New York Times. Colonia Dignidad has been accused of being a haven for at least one pedophile as well as a torture center and location for the disappeared during Chile's military dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet.
Mention is made in the article of General Manuel Contreras. Contreras was the head of La DINA, Pinochet's secret police and source of state-sponsored terrorism, one example of which took place in Washington, DC on September 21, 1976 and is detailed here.
I wonder if Margaret Thatcher, Henry Kissinger or George H.W. Bush give any thought to the fact that they have supported and defended a man whose government has protected accused pedophiles and committed an act of state-sponsored terrorism on US soil . . .
One of the problems that continues to plague Chile is the constitution that Pinochet effectively rammed through. Aside from the fact that the president does not the power to remove commanders of the various branches of the military and the Carabineiros (national police force) and thus, there is no civilian control of the military, any attempt to change the constitution to favor civilian rule is effectively thwarted by nine senators who are appointed by a combination of officials and ex-officials that includes Supreme Court Justices (most of whom are Pinochet-era holdovers) and ex-military men. For example, the current President, Ricardo Lagos, a Socialist, wants to privatize CODELCO, the state-run copper company that was initially nationalized by Allende and kept nationalized by Pinochet. 10% of CODELCO's earnings are earmarked for the military and there is a lot of good that could be done by the proceeds from such a sale. As long as the status quo remains, however, any change seems less and less likely.
Sunday, December 29, 2002
GOOD NEWS FROM GUATEMALA, A BIT OF PEACE IN COLOMBIA
This can't help but be good news; this certainly seems like an oasis.
OPPENHEIMER ON CHÁVEZ
Andres Oppenheimer's column in today's Miami Herald is a fairly judicious treatment of the situation in Venezuela. While I don't agree with everything he wrote, these two points are undeniably, for me, accurate:
Conclusion: Venezuelan opposition leaders who want to oust Chávez by circumventing Venezuela's laws should be condemned by the international community.
But Venezuelan opposition leaders who are pursuing constitutional ways to vote the region's most incompetent president out of office should be applauded.
It's like he read my mind.
I recently used the words "typically thoughtful" to describe one of Kevin Drum's posts and this one is no exception. This part in particular nails it for me:
A foreign policy built on the premise of showing that we're the toughest kid on the block will not work in the long run. In fact, it is probably the most dangerous possible path for ourselves and our children that we could follow: it won't reduce the threat but it will make us a bigger target. It's time to tone down the rhetoric.
I will never forgot listening to The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC here in New York in those indescribably bleak days right after 9/11. Someone called in and suggested dropping a nuclear bomb on Afghanistan. Lehrer, in his accustomed role of playing respectful Devil's advocate (and no one in my book does it any better), commented that such a response seemed disproportional at best and potentially dangerous (apparently the caller didn't consider the geopolitical impact of fallout landing on China and Russia among other countries). The caller responded by using the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as having "made that problem go away." Lehrer put Hiroshima and Nagasaki in historical context, to which the caller responded, Well at least we'd get more respect." Lehrer ended the call by commenting drily, "I guess that depends on what you mean by respect."
That, in turn, reminded me of Ronald Reagan's ads when he ran against Carter. Reagan commented regarding Carter's foreign policy that "It's nice to be liked, but it's better to be respected." I remember thinking to myself how thoroughly stupid that statement was. Who on earth respects someone that they don't like? We will never achieve respect by being perceived as a bully. Let's hope it's not a lesson to late for the learning.
BRAZIL'S OUTGOING PRESIDENT
I agree with 100% of this article about Brazil's outgoing President, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. It gives credit where credit is due, but makes this excellent point:
But even if there was greater stability and the lives of the middle class improved, average economic growth was little more than 2 percent a year during Cardoso's rule and poverty remained largely unchanged, with about 55 million people below the poverty line.
Lula certainly deserves credit for recognizing that this is his greatest challenge as this article so convincingly demostrates. As always, the devil is in the details.
Saturday, December 28, 2002
Light to moderate blogging for the rest of the weekend. Tomorrow's my birthday and a luz da minha vida is having a party for me tonight.
MORE PORTUGUESE TRIVIA
X is probably the trickiest consonant to pronounce in Portuguese. The letter itself is pronounced "shiz" (rhymes with whiz), but in usage it is capable of having at least five pronunciations.
About four years ago we were in my wife's hometown at a hamburger place and I was puzzled by the menu. "Why did everything say X-Burger?," I asked my wife. She laughed and suggested that I say the letter x out loud in Portuguese and the word burger, also out loud. I said "Shizburger" (try it out loud yourself) and alternately laughed at my own hardheadedness and winced at the worldwide influence of my mother tongue.
LULA AND CHÁVEZ
The Times reports that the Brazilian Government is sending gasoline to Venezuela and I'm really torn on this issue. Although Lula has not taken office yet and it's the current government sending the gasoline, Lula has made no secret of his admiration for Chávez.
My gut reaction to both Chávez and the strikers is a plague on both of their houses. Chávez, in my opinion, has dictatorial aspirations. The idea that he could, with Castro involved, create an "Axis of Good" as he has claimed is so offensive that it borders on parody. Perhaps Chávez should read this book or this book before he praises Castro. Somehow I have my doubts.
By the same token, I am a firm believer that nothing occurs in a vacuum. If Chávez has been elected overwhelmingly, then he is probably speaking to a large, disaffected segment of the population. Venezuela should not have the levels of poverty and the class structure that it has. The elite in Venezuela would be well-advised to consider this as they seek a solution for the current crisis and Venezuela's future.
There is a solution for this, however: elections in August. It's what is called for in the constitution and it's the law.
A LESSON IN CIVICS HERE AND THERE
In August 1999 I was visiting Brazil by myself and staying with my sister-in-law in Belo Horizonte and my brother-in-law in Vitória. I was at the bus station in Vitória getting my ticket back to Belo Horizonte when I had the following intriguing chat with the ticket agent while my ticket was being printed:
Agent: "So, are you American or British?
Me: "I'm American."
Agent: "What state?"
Me: "New York"
Agent: "New York City?"
Agent: "So, do you think that Hillary is going to run for Senate?"
Me (alternately impressed and taken aback): "It looks that way."
Agent (as my ticket spits out of the printer): "Well, she's going to have a tough time with Giuliani. Have a nice trip!"
Three years later I still love this story. I'll leave it to you to interpret it as you see fit.
A LITTLE MORE ON TORTURE
I don't want to be a one note, one issue poster, but I did want to call attention to some more bloggers posting on this issue. Tom Spencer has this post as well as this one, I have referenced Jeralyn Merritt's post plus a new one as well as Lisa English and Kevin Drum has one of his typically thoughtful posts on the subject. I urge anyone concerned about this issue to blog about it or address it to bloggers.
I also received a very thoguhtful and genuinely concerned e-mail in response to my post on the subject. The writer put forth the idea that the Convention Against Torture (CAT) applied to criminal acts and did not apply in war. The text is clear and explicit. The CAT outlaws torture under all circumstances and in fact Article II, Paragraph 2 addresses war as follows:
"No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."
There is no equivocation or qualification there, period. I suggested that the writer ask himself this: If torture is an acceptable activity under certain circumstances, why if it is being done, it is being done in secret? I do appreciate the thoughtfulness and courtesy the writer showed in his e-mail despite my disagreement with his position. May they all be like his.
I know Justice Jackson said that the Constitution was not a suicide pact. He also didn't say it was something to be stuffed into a drawer and ignored when inconvenient.
Friday, December 27, 2002
One of my favorite electronics, computer, camera, small appliance, CD and DVD stores is J & R in downtown Manhattan close to Ground Zero. Their selection is impressive, their salespeople are knowledgeable and respectful and you get the pleasure of shopping at a place that is literally a mom and pop operation, albeit on a grand scale.
As I mentioned, J & R is near Ground Zero and was closed for six weeks after the attacks. Their lobby was used as a triage center and their stock was destroyed. But unlike so many businesses these days when facing hard times, they kept all of their employees on payroll. Granted, they shifted some of them to their large mail/phone/internet order area, but everyone kept their job. So if you want to spend some money, perhaps a good location would be a business that appreciates their employees in good times and bad times.
Thursday, December 26, 2002
RACE IN LATIN AMERICA
Matthew Yglesias linked to this article about how many Latino immigrants are surprised to find out that in the USA they are considered to be black.
Based on my experience, race in Latin America is a truly difficult subject to understand and describe. History always seems to throw up another interesting fact. For example, according to Aline Helg, in an article titled Race in Argentina and Cuba 1880-1930: Theory, Policies and Popular Reaction in the book titled The Idea of Race in Latin America, 1870-1940 edited by Richard Graham, I read recently that the population of Buenos Aires in 1838 was 25% Afro-Argentinean. By 1887 it was down to 2%. Argentina is now generally regarded as the most European of South American countries. What happened to the Afro-Argentinean population?
Brazil is a bundle of contradictions on the race issue. It has the largest African population outside of Africa. It also was the last nation in the Americas to ban slavery. After slavery was outlawed, the government encouraged immigration, especially from Europe. Italians, Poles, Ukrainians, Spaniards, and Germans changed much of the ethnic makeup of Brazil, especially in the South and Southeast. Japanese immigrated primarily to São Paulo and Paraná, while an Arab immigrant community began to develop in Paraná, São Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul. Many believe that the government was trying to encourage the "whitening" of the population.
As mentioned in the article, the Brazilian immigrants interviewed considered themselves to be moreno. The number of different groupings and terms can be staggering. Pardo was used as a general term for mixed race in the last census, but terms such as cafuzo (mixed African and Amerindian), mameluco (mixed Caucasian and Amerindian), and crioulo (Afro-Brazilian), mulato (mixed African and Caucasian) and pardo itself is a synonym for mulato.
Some personal observations. We were at a friend's house in Brasília and I was alternately horrified and embarrassed when our friend - who I always believed was a tolerant and progressive person - called her maid "Neguinha", which would be about like me calling mine (if I had one) "Blackie." My usually voluble self was struck dumb. It was explained to me that in Brazil making reference to someone's race is often a term of endearment. I didn't ask her how often her maid called her "Whitey." Class plays a role in this of course, but race has an even greater role. In Brazil I have seen white families with white maids, I have seen white families with black maids, I have seen black families with black maids, but I have never seen a black family with a white maid. It's also a little disconcerting when the outgoing President (a sociologist, no less) commenting about his own bit of African ancestry comments that he has "one foot in the kitchen."
Nevertheless, there is a different sense that you can feel if you spend enough time among different ethnic groups in Brazil. I'm not certain how to describe it, but there are several social traditions that break down a lot of the walls that you just don't quite see in the US: Carnaval, samba, soccer, etc. As Pollyanaish as it may sound, it's hard not to dream of a world where none of this focus on race matters.
BRAZIL'S BAROQUE BIJOU
No, it's not a movie theater (although a major movie was filmed there), but a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the centerpiece of Brazil's Baroque Heritage in the state of Minas Gerais: Ouro Preto.
I've been there a couple of times and have found it fascinating: everywhere you turn there is a beautiful baroque church nestled on top of a hill or down in a valley. The San Francisco-esque streets are lined with 18th and 19th Century buildings well-preserved facing out on the cobblestones. The air and the light are a photographer's delight and although I've never been there for Holy Week, my Brazilian family tell me that it's not to be missed.
Unfortunately, like so many popular destinations, Ouro Preto is becoming a victim of its own popularity, at least according to today's New York Times. I agree with many of those interviewed there that something has to be done about the traffic. The bus station is well away from the center, but the streets are filled with cars and minibuses. Let's all hope for the best.
TORTURE IS A CRIME
One would think that the above was obvious, but this article is very disturbing.
It's disturbing because the USA ratified the Convention Against Torture (CAT) [the link I posted for the text does not indicate that the USA has ratified the CAT. This one from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights shows the date I cite] and is thus obligated to adhere to the terms of the CAT.
This violates the CAT and is illegal:
Although no direct evidence of mistreatment of prisoners in U.S. custody has come to light, the prisoners are denied access to lawyers or organizations, such as the Red Cross, that could independently assess their treatment. Even their names are secret.
Each State Party shall ensure that any individual who alleges he has been subjected to torture in any territory under its jurisdiction has the right to complain to and to have his case promptly and impartially examined its competent authorities. Steps shall be taken to ensure that the complainant and witnesses are protected against all ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of his complaint or any evidence given.
This violates the CAT and is illegal:
According to one official who has been directly involved in rendering captives into foreign hands, the understanding is, "We don't kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them." Some countries are known to use mind-altering drugs such as sodium pentathol, said other officials involved in the process.
This is why:
1. No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.
This backs up the above statement of mine:
The State Department's human rights report says Moroccan law "prohibits torture, and the government claims that the use of torture has been discontinued; however, some members of the security forces still tortured or otherwise abused detainees."
This statement is simply wrong:
"Based largely on the Central American human rights experience," said Fred Hitz, former CIA inspector general, "we don't do torture, and we can't countenance torture in terms of we can't know of it." But if a country offers information gleaned from interrogations, "we can use the fruits of it."
Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made.
Before anyone starts criticizing me and starts assembling straw men to attack me as being soft on terrorists, I happen to live in New York. I lost a colleague who was on United Airlines Flight 175. A close friend at work lost her brother-in-law. Two days after the attacks I smelled the burning WTC in my apartment in Queens. I ache for the loss that the victims' survivors feel. I have defended this country against those who make the utterly odious, indefensible and ultimately risible argument that this is payback and will continue to do so.
Terrorism is a crime. It is a crime against humanity. So is torture and it should never be used under any circumstances. Not even under the silly circumstances dreamed up by a certain Harvard Law School professor.
Thanks to Jeryalyn Merritt and Lisa English for bringing this to my attention.
I'll write more in the near future on the ineffectiveness of torture.
Wednesday, December 25, 2002
PEACE ON EARTH?
There's a great cartoon by Jim Morin in today's Miami Herald.
Mark Kleiman has a cogent post regarding perspective and priorities, important things to keep in as we come to the end of a most difficult year for some and are on the cusp of a new one.
I just wanted to post good news today, so here is some regarding an endangered bird species in Brazil.
One of my brothers-in-law is a game warden and he has told me that it is illegal to have macaws as pets in Brazil. I like birds as much as the next person, perhaps even more so. My favorite place to see them is in the wild. If you're considering getting a pet bird, I urge you to research as thoroughly as possible in order to assure that the bird you have bought has not been smuggled into the country nor bred from a bird smuggled in. If anyone has any information on reliable websites or other sources that can verify the provenance of a bird please e-mail me and I'll be happy to post it.
Tuesday, December 24, 2002
A SWEET NOTE: ICE CREAM TO DIE FOR
I always surprise people when I tell them that my favorite food in Brazil is ice cream (sorvete in Portuguese) and my favorite drink is fruit juice.
The ice cream flavors are usually very exotic and unlikely to be found in the US: açaí, cajá (my personal favorite), cupuaçu, carambola (star fruit), goiaba (guava), graviola (soursop), jabuticaba, mamão (papaya), manga (mango), mangaba, maracujá (passion fruit), pinha (aka fruta de conde (fruit of the count)), pitanga (Surinam cherry), and umbu.
It's worth noting that all of the above names with the exceptions of manga and pinha almost certainly have indigenous origins from the Tupi-Guarani family. On my last trip I discovered my favorite place: Sorveteria São Domingos in Belo Horizonte. Great flavor selection (I had pineapple with peppermint and jabuticaba) and a non-greasy texture more like sorbet, perfect for quenching the thirst after a day spent hiking in the hills of the historic city of Sabará.
More on the historic cities another time. We have a house full of Brazilian cousins visiting New York from Boston and Ft. Lauderdale and as Christmas Eve is the prime time for celebrating Christmas in Brazil, I'm going to take a break. Let me wish all you Merry Christmas, Feliz Natal, Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noël, Fröhliche Weihnachten or whatever greeting is appropriate in your language.
Peace on Earth, now more than ever.
UPDATE TO THIS POST
Ernestina Herrera de Noble has been freed from detention pending investigation of the matter. The fact that Horácio Verbitsky is involved is encouraging.
A note on updates. I will try to include updates to previous postings as a new listing with a link to the original posting as exemplified in this post. I find it easier than trying to find the prior post and read the update there.
Ampersand has probably the most pithy analysis of the situation in Venezuela, especially this comment:
But as non-Venezuelans, our priority ought to be strongly supporting Constitutional, representative democracy. If Venezuelans object to the course the government is taking, do they create change through the elections described in the Constitution, or through non-Constitutional means?
As I posted here this is the absolute heart of the argument. To agree with this is not an endorsement of Chavez; it's the law.
Before I go further, first a big thanks, muito obrigado, muchas gracias to Kevin Drum, Lisa English (especially), Jeralyn Merritt and Glenn Reynolds for advice and for linking to me in their blogs. If my blog can have a combination of Kevin's thoughtfulness, Lisa's passion, Jeralyn's attention to detail and Glenn's productivity, I will consider it to be an unqualified success. It's a big universe out there and I appreciate all the help I can get.
Monday, December 23, 2002
Interesting bit about Victor Jara by Larry Rohter in today's Times. It certainly explains why a number of the recordings of Jara I have heard sound so poor.
I really wish those who admired Pinochet like Kissinger, Thatcher, Milton Friedman, Bob Novak, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, etc. could explain how the world is a better place because Pinochet's troops tortured Jara, broke his hands, gave him his guitar and told him to play and then shot him.
LULA COMPLETES CABINET
Lula, Brazil's President-elect has finished selecting his cabinet and from the looks of things, he's certainly doesn't appear to be all hat and no cattle on the subject of bi-partisanship, unlike someone else you might have heard of . . .
BRAZIL WINS TRADE DISPUTE WITH CANADA
I happen to love Canada. Two of the nicest people I have ever known live in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. At the risk of overkill, I should say I also happen to love Brazil. If I were the sort of person who could spend the northern hemisphere winter in Brazil and southern hemisphere winter in Vancouver, I would have no need to contemplate going to heaven.
There has been a festering trade dispute between Canada and Brazil and it appears that Brazil has won in an arbitration panel conducted by the WTO. The issue was over subsidies provided by Canada to Bombardier, an aircraft (and unless I miss my guess subway cars as well) manufacturer. Brazil's Embraer also manufactures small jet aircraft that are used by such carriers as American Eagle. If you have flown them recently and were on a jet instead of a turboprop, you've experienced their ride and it is quite comfortable as well as profitable for short hops. American is now using them for their newly instituted New York-Boston and New York-Washington, DC shuttles.
I'm citing this from memory so please don't hold my feet too firmly to the fire, but I have read that the Embraer Regional Jet costs about US$1 million less than the commensurate Bombardier Canadaair Regional Jet. I also remember reading that Embraer at the end of 2000 accounted for 25% of the value of all Brazilian exports. Obviously a lot was riding on this for Brazil.
DEALING WITH THE INS
With all of the criticism about the INS in the news recently, I thought I'd give an account of my experiences dealing with them as a US citizen on behalf of my immigrant wife.
When we met, my wife was here legally with a work permit, but did not have permanent resident status and had enlisted the services of an attorney in the hope of attaining her green card. Obviously things were expedited when we got married and she was granted a conditional green card, good for two years as all green cards are when first granted as the result of marriage to a US citizen per the Immigration Act of 1986. Ninety days before her green card expired, I was able to apply to have the condition removed. During the time between when we married and the time I made the application to have the condition removed, I saved every telephone bill, every health and dental insurance explanation of benefits form, every bank statement on our joint account, copies of airline tickets for every trip we took together, copies and translations of marriage certificates from our church wedding in Brazil as well as the announcement of the wedding in her hometown's local newspaper, eventually resulting in one pound of paper to send to the INS as proof of the validity of our marriage. Two weeks later we received the letter that removed her condition.
Here's where matters get complicated. On February 27, 1998, we filed her application for naturalization. The check for the fee cleared our account about ten business days later. On June 30, 1999, we received her appointment for her fingerprints to be made in early August. On October 6, 1999, we received the appointment date for her naturalization interview: January 3, 2000. We had already planned (and, in fact already had tickets) for a trip to Brazil during that time. On the note notifying us of this date, they also indicated that if we could not keep this appointment to notify them by mail immediately. The next day I sent a letter requesting a rescheduling of the appointment. I sent the letter as I have sent everything to the INS certified mail return receipt requested (to do otherwise is to invite problems) with copies to both the regional office and the location of the naturalization interviews in Garden City on Long Island. As we had not heard anything shortly before we left for Brazil, I sent another letter enclosing a copy of the previous letter as well as a copy of the return receipts.
Nine months go by and still no response. Finally, I contact Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney's office with all of my documentation. She responds immediately and sends a letter to the District Director with my documentation. A form response is sent to her and subsequently to us, to the effect that they were investigating the matter, but it appears that my wife did not show up for her appointment. Apparently they didn't read any of the correspondence that was sent to them. In any event, they scheduled her for her interview on December 27, 2000, giving us approximately three weeks notice. They asked her to bring certain items including copies of tax returns for the previous three years. I am not able to find copies of the returns for the first two years, but a close friend who is an immigration attorney advises me that she has used tax return transcripts which are stamped as certified by the IRS and that they will suffice.
This is when the payback starts. We got up early to go to the INS office in Garden City for a 10:20 a.m. appointment. I am not allowed to go to the second floor with her for the interview, but I give her all the paperwork and wait downstairs with plenty of reading material, a necessity when dealing with the INS. Two and a half hours later she returns and advises me that her case is still pending and shows me the paperwork from the INS examiner who conducted the interview. He insists on actual copies of the tax returns and additional proof "as to the validity of the marriage" to be submitted by February 1. In talking with my wife, something begins to really smell rank. When she showed him the tax return transcripts he acknowledged that these were obtained from the IRS, but insisted to her that he needed to see the returns themselves. Apparently a certified copy of a government document from a co-equal branch of the same government would not suffice. Regarding the validity of the marriage issue (none of which was mentioned in the notice scheduling the interview), he suggested proof of a joint bank account (which the INS already had). She told him that I was downstairs waiting for her and that I had the checkbook with me, so she could get it from me quickly and settle that issue. His response was that it would be better (?!?!) if we mailed it to him.
This comment of his, however, is the most convincing reason for me why I think that this examiner was engaging in payback. When he first started talking with her, he pointed out to my wife that her appointment had been moved ahead. She pointed out that it had been rescheduled, to which he said that she missed her first appointment. She said that she had contacted the office to reschedule when the original date posed a conflict. He then said, "I see your Congresswoman helped you out." I wish I had been in there. I would have asked him how that comment was relevant.
In any event, I sent "additional proof as to the validity of the marriage" and a letter explaining why I had not been able to get the original tax returns for the interview and asked why the tax return transcripts would not suffice. I received a letter back from the INS examiner without the courtesy of an explanation or response to my question, simply requesting the tax returns by March 1. I finally decided that her naturalization was more important than trying to win this battle. I hoped to win the war, but for now I decided to jump through the INS examiner's hoops. I sent a completed Form 4506 to the IRS along with my payment via Express Mail and upon receiving the copies, I sent them on to the examiner, by March 1, also via Express Mail. Two weeks later her swearing in ceremony was scheduled.
If the INS had employed the same sort of diligence for visa applications for flight schools that they did for my wife's naturalization, the world would be a much safer place. As for this INS examiner, I hope that they transfer him to the State Department and his next job is stamping visa applications in Ulan Bator. The best part of her being a US citizen is that the only time we will ever have to deal with the INS is when we reënter the US.
Sunday, December 22, 2002
BIAS OR BUSINESS AS USUAL?
Juan Forero reports on the Venezuelan media and what certainly appears to be their unqualified support of the anti-Chávez opposition.
This is not unusual. Roberto Marinho, the founder of the newspaper O Globo and The Globo Network and for all intents and purposes the Rupert Murdoch of Brazil was an unstinting supporter of the military government that overthrew the civilian government in 1964 . Augustín Edwards, the founder of the newspaper El Mercúrio in Chile was one of the Pinochet government's biggest fans and when he had financial problems even secured a US$53 million loan from the Pinochet government.
It's not unusual, but you don't have to like Chávez to find it disturbing.
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE?
There's a thoughtful article by Larry Rohter in the Times regarding Lula's cabinet appointments. This part is disturbing:
In addition, Mr. da Silva's running mate, Vice President-elect José Alencar, has acknowledged that his textile company, the country's second largest, is being investigated on charges of fraud in connection with cotton acquisitions at government-sponsored auctions. Mr. Alencar's son, who now runs the company, has admitted manipulating cotton prices to qualify for government subsidies but denies that the action was illegal.
How about heaping every other opprobrious word on it then: insensitive, dishonest, self-serving, unseemly, contemptible, sleazy, greedy? If the Brazilian government's budget resources were a bottomless pit or a constantly regenerating spring of no-strings-attached cash, then as they say there tudo bem. It's a zero sum matter, however, Mr. Alencar, so, while you were lying perhaps someone who wasn't lying - and possibly more deserving - was missing out.
Business leaders in the past have praised the level of cooperation of governments in states and cities that are run by the Workers' Party (the party that Lula founded) elected officials, primarily because there has been significantly less corruption in PT (that's the Portuguese acronym) governments. I hope Lula keeps that in mind when he makes subsequent appointments.
A PORTRAIT OF ABSOLUTELY NAKED AMBITION
Alberto Fujimori is planning his political comeback in Peru while exiled in Japan. Is it any wonder that the greatest and most enduring threat to justice in Latin America is impunity?
THE DEFINITION OF A TIN EAR
They just don't get it do they. Courtesy of Josh Marshall.
Andres Oppenheimer is another effective and thoughtful commentator on Latin America in the Miami Herald. I don't always agree with him, but I find much of what he says to be very thoughtfully considered and evenhanded. Today his piece argues that Chile has become the "Ireland of the Americas" and he makes some good points.
It's worth noting that the President of Chile, Ricardo Lagos, selected Trade Leader of the Year this year by Latin Trade magazine is a member of the Socialist Party in Chile. The Duke University graduate also says about himself, "I am what you would call, in the United States, a liberal." The knee-jerk right might be gagging on that statement. Imagine that, a liberal whose policies have helped in the creation of the most successful economy on the continent. Although he ran for president as the representative of the Concertacion, this group was formed as a united front to defeat Pinochet in the 1988 plebiscite that eventually returned democracy and freedom to Chile. Despite the claims from the right that Pinochet and the Chicago Boys aided Chile's economy, the fact is that Chile's growth and development has improved greatly since Pinochet was defeated.
One of the many reasons I like Oppenheimer is this statement:
Latin America's critics of free trade are right in demanding changes to help protect the poor. But until somebody comes up with an example of an inward-looking country that has prospered in recent years, there will be little question that economic isolationism is a recipe for failure.
Is the IMF listening to both parts of that statement or only the second part?
ANOTHER THOUGHT ABOUT LANGUAGE
When I was starting to learn about the different states in Brazil I was struck by one similarity with the states in the US: most of the names in both countries have an indigenous origin. In Brazil, most of these names are of Tupi-Guarani origin and while the state names are pretty easy (Paraná, Pernambuco, Ceará) , many of the names of specific, towns, etc. are very challenging and often polysyllabic with the accent on the vowel at the ed of the word (Itamaricá, Maceió, Sabará).
My dear departed and sadly missed friend, Kimson Plaut's favorite place in Brazil was Ubatuba (Tupi for "where the canoes meet"), a beach town in São Paulo state that he loved so much, he named his CD after it.
My father-in-law has a farm in a town in the north of Minas Gerais called Araçuaí which means place of the large macaws. It's near the Rio Jequitinhonha (pronounced jay key chin nyo nha). A lot of these names must have been a real challenge to transliterate. Next time I write on this subject I'll talk about fruits and animal names.
Saturday, December 21, 2002
BACK TO THE SUBLIME
When one thinks about natural beauty in Brazil, one usually thinks of rainforests and beaches. Not a bad place to start, but there are plenty of gloriously beautiful sights in the mountains and hills.
This place is called Pedra Azul (blue rock) in what is known as the Serra Capixaba in the state of Espírito Santo, the state just north of Rio de Janeiro state, east of Minas Gerais and south of Bahia. That, by the way, is me and my better half in the foreground.
FROM THE SUBLIME TO THE RIDICULOUS
Gloria Trevi has gone back to Mexico. She gives new meaning to the expletive "Puta que pariu!"
PORTUGUESE VS. SPANISH
When I mentioned to friends and colleagues that I was going to Brazil for the first time, they asked me if I spoke Spanish. I said I did, but it wouldn't do me much good in Brazil.
When I first met my wife I was teaching myself Porutuguese and taking Spanish at Berlitz. Not a good idea. I began mixing the two languages too often and finally dumped serious study of Spanish for the time being although I revisit on occasion to keep up a passable level of proficiency. It's worth noting that Portuguese speakers have no problem understanding Spanish, but the reverse is not often the case. I have been told that all of the phonemes in Spanish also exist in Portuguese, but that Portuguese has phonemes that do not exist in Spanish. About a year ago I was in Ohio on business and spent a couple of days visiting my friend Karen who lives in Dayton. Karen is from Belize and grew up speaking English and Spanish. She uses Spanish professionally and I was in her office and heard her speaking to one of her clients on the phone in Spanish. I had no problem understanding her end of the conversation. I decided to test this theory about Portuguese speakers v. Spanish speakers, so when I called my wife that night, I spoke to her in Portuguese and invited Karen to listen in. She told me that she could not understand what I was saying, except the occasional bits and pieces.
Peter Mathiessen, in his book The Cloud Forest, commented that Portuguese sounded like Spanish being spoken with a mouthful of macaroons. I have to disagree. I am not a linguist, but linguists have told me that Portuguese is probably closer to Latin than Spanish. Spanish, of course, was heavily influenced by Arabic as a result of the Moor's conquest(s), but Portuguese seemed to have escaped most of this influence. There are certain elements and words that are reminiscient of French (rua in Portuguese and rue in French have the same meaning) and the nasalization of a and o when the tilde (~) is over either of these letters is another reminder. Thus São Paulo is not pronounced Sow Paulo, but more like Sooooooooooown Paulo, although that still doesn't do it justice.
Improper nasalization (that may be the first and only time you ever see that phrase!) can lead to embarassment. The day before we returned from our first trip to Brazil together, they had a barbecue for us. I put some hot peppers on my rice and everyone who saw me was aghast. In seeking to calm people, I only served to embarass myself. I intended to point out to them that I put the hot peppers on pão (bread) and ate it. Instead, I didn't nasalize the ao dipthong and in effect said pau. Pau literally means stick, but it has at least one primary slang meaning and you can only imagine that when I realized what I had said, it was not the peppers that made my face red.
WHITHER OR WITHER ARGENTINA'S ECONOMY
The two economics courses I took in college illustrated for me why the subject is called the dismal science. The present situation in Argentina is especially disturbing when one considers that from the 1860's to 1914 Argentina's GDP grew at an average annual rate of at least 5%. This is considered to be one of the highest sustained rates for any country ever.
If you want to get a detailed understanding of the intertwining of Argentina's economic and political history this is a good place start. For more recent developments, read this article by Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, especially this point:
Besides providing the assistance to do this, there is another way the United States can help: On an "emergency" basis, we should open our markets to Argentine goods. More than anything else, it was trade with the United States that brought Mexico out of its crisis. This is a form of assistance that would cost us nothing -- Americans as consumers would be better off.
I'm sure that I will get flamed for this, but give me a grass-fed free-range Argentine steak any day. It has as much cholesterol as chicken.
Marcela Sanchez writes among the best commentary on Latin America for a US newspaper and her current column on the Bush administration and the situation in Venezuela is illustrative of this.
Late Monday night, after nearly 30 hours of debate, the OAS issued a resolution backing Chavez only by inference. It called for supporting democracy in Venezuela, "whose government is headed by ... Chavez." With that oblique endorsement of Chavez as the coincidental status quo, the organization seemed to be hoping that neither side in Venezuela would interpret the resolution as a victory and use it against the other. Indeed, the risks were so high that for some time during the deliberations, some advocated that the organization say nothing rather than something it later would regret.
At the end of the debate, Washington advised Venezuela to look to others in the region for guidance. The exact reference was unmentioned but obvious: Argentina. Faced earlier this year with the prospect of an increasingly violent situation getting completely out of hand, Argentinian President Eduardo Duhalde turned to an electoral solution. That move, perfectly legal under Argentina's constitution, helped reduce tension in that financially, politically and socially strapped nation, many here this week said.
There is a key difference in these two cases. Duhalde's call in Argentina came from someone who had no direct stake in the election outcome, since he is not a candidate. The U.S. call echoed the position of Chavez's opponents, whose open agenda is to oust him. The Bush administration was harshly criticized for a nearly identical mistake eight months ago. Sometimes even the mighty fail to learn from the stick.
Indeed. The Inter-American Democratic Charter forbids anything other than democratic means to change governments as it forbids anything other than democratic means to maintain your office. Chavez, his supporters and the opposition and their supporters have to keep that in mind. So does the Bush administration. The source of democracy is the constitution after all.
No one said it better than Colin Powell:
In a democracy, no one can be above, or outside of, the rule of law. Democracies do not remain democracies for long if elected leaders use undemocratic methods. And defending democracy by resorting to undemocratic means destroys democracy.
Indeed, yet again.
Friday, December 20, 2002
One of the most impressive, well-organized and thoughtful approaches to preservation of an endangered species is Projeto Tamar, a program dedicated to the protection and preservation of sea turtles off the Brazilian coast.
The turtles had been endangered for a variety of reasons, but one of the primary ones seemed to be people harvesting and eating the eggs. Projeto Tamar approached these same people and offered them jobs as guards or in the organization's shops where souvenirs are sold and the factories where these souvenirs are made. The success of Projeto Tamar relies heavily on community involvement. They are a model for other such projects.
Four years ago I had the opportunity to participate in a release of turtle hatchlings into the ocean at Mucuri in the state of Bahia. There were children and adults all of whom were captivated. Check 'em out.
THIS NONSENSE AGAIN
Can someone please tell the con men and scammers that everyone knows that this is nonsense and they need to come up with something new. This was one I got yesterday:
With warm heart I offer my friendship, and greetings, and I hope this mail meets you in good time. However strange or surprising this contact might seem to you, as we have not met personally or had any dealings in the past, I humbly ask that you take due consideration of its importance and immense benefit. I also sincerely seek your confidence in this transaction, which I propose to you as a person of integrity.
First and foremost I wish to introduce myself properly to you. My name is Oliveira Chuli Savimbi, I am a nephew and Personal Assistant to Late Jonas Malheiro Savimbi, leader of UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola). As led by my instinct, I selected your email address from an internet directory, in my search for a partner, hence this proposal.
My Uncle(Mentor) was killed in a battle with government forces of Angola, led by President Dos Santos, on Friday 22nd February 2002. After his death, Mr. Antonio Dembo who was his second in command, assumed office as leader of UNITA, due to lack of the Charisma my Uncle had carried the party with in Dembo, there was chaos and struggle for leadership. Prominent members like Carlos Morgado lobbied to depose him and assume office as leader to enrich themselves and some of them who saw me as a threat to their ambitions, including Mr.Dembo, planned to kill me. The tension and confusion in UNITA become uncontrollable when Mr. Dembo died 10days after my Uncle's death. As I lost my mentor in this struggle which has been on for three decades now, not so much of this struggle interests me anymore, as there is now no sense of direction. I now desire a peaceful life, as I am no more interested in conflicts and wars. For this reason, I secretly left Angola and came here (Holland) to seek!
I am sincerely proposing to you to render me your highly needed assistance in respect to safekeeping of some of my Uncle's money that arose from Diamonds sales. This money (US$18.5million), which was already on its way to my Uncle's Swiss Bank account, through the Diplomatic means we use to move money abroad, and was on transit with a private safe deposit security company here in Amsterdam, Holland in February when the tragic incident of my Uncle's death occurred. I then instructed the company to secure the consignment containing the money pending on further instructions from me. I have waited for sometime now for security reasons, and have now deicded to act with your reliable assistance. As a matter of fact, the reason I came to Holland and sought for political asylum here is the safe deposit.
President Dos Santos has lobbied the International Community to freeze my Uncle's assets and accounts abroad, to ground UNITA, and has already done this in Angola. Hence I cannot lodge the funds in my name. Also I did not declare the funds to the here.
I plan to use this money to safeguard my future. It is very essential that you understand that the kind of trust and confidence I want to put in you is extraordinary, and an act of desperation on my part, in order not to lose this money. Also, ensure that this contact with you should be treated with utmost secrecy.
Your role in this project, is clearing the safety deposit containing the money which is deposited in my name, from the Security company, after which, the money will lodged into an account preferably a new account you should open for this transaction. My share of the money will be returned to me when my asylum application in this country is granted, and I have permission to do business and open an account here.
For your reliable assistance, I will reward you with 15%($2,775,000) of the money.
I have with me, the Certificate of Deposit for the consignment containing the funds, which will be used for claim from the security company, and the release codes of the vaults. Also, everything will be legally processed for transfer of ownership to you, and this transaction should be completed immediately depending on your prompt response.
I thank you in advance as I anticipate your assistance in enabling me achieve this goal.
Please contact me whether or not you are interested in assisting me. This will enable me scout for another partner in the event of non-interest on your part.
To know more about the struggle by UNITA to liberate Angola, click on the link below and read.
To begin with, why would I help anyone related to Jonas Savimbi? This was a man who agreed to order his rebels to stop fighting the government of Angola and accept the results of an election. Well he lost the election (which was regarded by international observers as fair), so he went back into the countryside and resumed his war. Savimbi then decided to fund his war via the blood diamond trade. I think even Jesse Helms had to ditch his support at that point.
I hold no brief for José Eduardo dos Santos, the President of Angola. He was elected, but he has been president since 1979. There's an argument for term limits . . .
He and Savimbi, in their desperate lust to maintain their grip on the rich natural resources in the parts of the country that they controlled, have turned much of the nation into an economic wasteland. The land is rich in petroleum, diamonds, iron ore, phosphates, feldspar, bauxite, uranium, and gold, but unemployment and underemployment is so extensive that more than half the population is affected. One of my wife's cousins served in the UN Peacekeeping forces there. When I first met him he had been in the Amazon at a place called Tefé. I asked him how he liked Tefé and he said it had a lot of mosquitoes and a lot of malaria. After he came back from Angola, I asked him to compare the two places. He said Tefé was a paradise and he was visibly shaken.
Yet great art often manages to emerge from great suffering and this is a fine example. Click on the song titled "Sofrimento" and tell me you're not moved. I just wish great art could emerge from Angola being a prosperous and just country. This is one of the best books on Angola. If you've ever read anything by Ryszard Kapuscinski that should come as no surprise.
So my advice to scammers is this: I know you're casting a wide net, but perhaps you could vet your intended victims a little better and stay the hell out of my inbox, okay?
RACISM AND POVERTY
I really wanted to be the only blogger not to post about Trent Lott as I think this affair has been extraordinarily well covered by Atrios and Josh Marshall among others, but there was something nagging me about the whole incident and I realized what it was: the psychological impact of growing up in desperate poverty.
What struck me about Lott was the fact that growing up the son of a sharecropper, from a purely economic standpoint he probably had much more in common with many of the African-American families in and around Pascagoula than many of the white families in Mississippi with whom he associates now.
My biological father died when I was very young. I eventually went to live with my aunt and uncle (my biological mother's sister) and I have considered them to be my parents ever since. Dad was also born and grew up under desperately poor circumstances in the South, including Mississippi. Dad always worried about money. He was a civilian employee of the US Army and worked in such a way as to shatter the stereotypes of government employees. When he retired he returned to the government more than a year's worth of unused accumulated sick leave. He was a man of very few words, but if you knew how he grew up and you knew how he grew silent when he worried, you knew his greatest fear - rational or irrational - was to slid back into the sort of poverty with which he was raised.
Nevertheless, he was one of the most generous people I have ever known. The fact that he took me in to raise me exemplifies this. When he was assigned to Germany and we lived there, every hitchhiker could count on his wait for a ride ending when Dad pulled up.
One example of his generosity stands out and I mentioned it when I gave a eulogy for him this year. We were living just outside of Huntsville, AL on Alabama Highway 53. We had seen a young black man walking along the highway from the point where it was called Jordan Lane in Huntsville, past our house and two days later, along Interstate 65 when we were going to visit my sister in Nashville. Dad stopped and turned around at the nearest exit going about twenty miles for the round trip out of his way and caught up to the young man. He stopped the car and started talking to him. It turned out that the young man had been picking citrus fruit in Florida and when the season was over, his uncle had managed to contact him about a job in Lewisburg, TN working on a horse farm. he had walked from approximately Orlando to this point using interstates as his compass. At that point, Lewisburg was about forty miles away, so Dad bought him breakfast, gave him twenty dollars, gave him a lift and dropped him off at the Lewisburg exit.
I have no doubt that Dad always worried about being poor again. I'm sure Trent Lott has as well, but he just handled it differently. Escaping the unpleasant aspects of your past is understandable. I think that the way Trent Lott decided to do so speaks volumes about him and I suppose that a sense of shame about his humble origins motivated some of Lott's racism. Dad also had humble origins. He just didn't think that hating someone because of the color of their skin was an appropriate way to deal with that sense of shame and so, growing up in the same era and roughly the same time as Trent Lott, Dad did not become a racist. It just makes you wonder what Trent Lott heard at home growing up and what Dad heard.
Thursday, December 19, 2002
NATURE AT HER BEST
Last January we spent four days at the Parque Natural do Caraça, about 70 kilometers from Belo Horizonte. This is as the crow flies as nothing in hilly Minas Gerais in terms of distances is easy. It's kind of late at the moment, so I'll go into more details later, but in the meantime read this article from the New York Times. The part with the priests feeding the wolves is fascinating . . .
Boa noite, buenas noches.
Ernestina Herrera de Noble, the President of the Clarin Group, Argentina's largest media group has been detained on suspicion that two of our adopted children may have been children of desaparecidos from Argentina's "Dirty War."
As the article indicates, this was the only way for the military to face justice for their crimes. Any port in a storm, I suppose.
I am extremely conflicted by this issue, however. I have always wondered what it would be like to grow up thinking that your parents were decent, honest people, only to find out that they had adopted you from the people who had murdered your biological parents and these strangers coming into your life were your actual aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins who had suffered so greatly from the actions of those who had helped your adoptive parents. How can anyone not be traumatized by this?
THOUGHTS ON LULA AND DEMOCRACY
I had some free time last August, so I went to Brazil by myself again. I spent a week in Belo Horizonte and then flew to Vitória, near where we are building our beachside retirement home.
My brothers-in-law Márcio and Marcos met me at the airport along with Márcio's son, Vinícius. On the way from the airport, I was reminded yet again of the ongoing presidential campaign. Billboards for the four major contenders, Lula, Antônio Garotinho, Ciro Gomes and José Serra lined the highway. At that time, Lula was still in the lead, but Ciro was closing fast and was only about seven points behind in the latest polls.
I asked them who they were supporting. Marcos said he was squarely behnd Lula, while Márcio said he was going to vote for Ciro Gomes. I thought Gomes was a cinch to make the runoff against Lula and would probably beat Lula in the runoff. It was Lula's fourth time running for President and, despite the utter lack of confidence by much of Brazil in the current government, I was convinced that fear - rational or irrational - of Lula would again make hima second place finisher.
Well, Ciro Gomes had a major meltdown, exacerbated by his calling a woman who asked him a question at a debate "stupid" and commenting that the main purpose in his life of his girlfriend, the actress Patrícia Pilar, was to sleep with him. All the fine work Gomes had done as Governor of Ceará flew out the window like so much confetti.
I had to disagree strongly with one comment that Márcio made. He felt that Lula, if elected, would be another Hugo Chavez. I may not see eye to eye with Lula on some or perhaps many things, but one thing that I think demands our admiration is the fact that Lula has always, always sought to achieve his goals through democratic means. He is to be commended for that. Chavez cannot make that claim.
Wednesday, December 18, 2002
TAKING THE EASY WAY OUT
Ronaldo was chosen FIFA World Player of the Year for essentially having a great World Cup. His club record speaks for itself this year: a few games with Inter Milan and then after the WC, fleeing the team that stood by him through three years of injuries to join the stable of stars at Real Madrid.
One of his teammates on Real Madrid and the Seleção Brasileira was more deserving in my opinion: Roberto Carlos. The tireless attacking runs down the left side of the pitch and the fleet tracking back as well as the devastating free kicks make him the best lateral izquerdo in the world - and I'm a Barcelona fan!
Brazil's President-elect, Lula has appointed Gilberto Gil to be Minister of Culture and it's a good news/bad news announcement. Gil unquestionably has the qualifications, but the bad news is that he will have less time to devote to his music. If you're not familiar with Gil, click here and listen to any of the Real Audio samples. If I've had a difficult day, this disc - and most of Gil's music (even if you don't know a word of Portuguese) puts a smile on my face. He's almost sixty and nearly as lively as ever. I may have hope after all!
DIGGING UP SKELETONS
This is the kind of thing that makes me apoplectic. This part is especially galling:
Castro's junta informants had told him that at least two of the leaders attending his weekly meetings were infiltrators from the government, but he kept their secret. "I had to proceed with caution," he said.
I would love to hear Jimmy Carter's explanation for this:
In the months after the murders, the Carter administration authorized $120 million in military sales to the junta, and approved more than 30 training slots for Argentine officers at U.S. military installations.
I wonder if the Nobel Committee knew about this . . .
What I find compelling also is the different ways wire service stories are run. I linked to the Washington Post version of the story because it seemed longer than the version I read in the Miami Herald. The Herald has great coverage of Latin America, which should come as no surprise and, while their strengths are Cuba and Haiti, Miami (my old hometown) has a much more diverse Latin community than when I grew up there. This paragraph was in the Herald version, but not the Post version:
Patt Derian, who was undersecretary of state for human rights under the Carter administration, said the State Department's Latin America and Caribbean bureau was opposed to the administration's human rights policy and wanted to continue its ``pandering efforts to legitimize U.S. government inaction with the idea that the junta should be mollified.''
I'm not sure that this lets Carter off the hook, but I think in any case, he owes Las Madres an explanation.
I guess "Liberté Égalité et Fraternité" are all right as long as they don't interfere with commerce:
On March 20, 1978, Castro cabled his Carter administration bosses that a number of bodies "beached by unusual strong winds" in southern Argentina included seven women from the group - among them, two French nuns - and that an Argentine official confirmed that the seven had been imprisoned "under their broad mandate against terrorists and subversives."
That prompted a single, strong protest by Castro to junta leader Gen. Jorge Videla. In his cables, Castro said the French discouraged further protests, believing they harmed trade with Argentina.
Perhaps Valery Giscard d'Estaing has some explaining to do as well.
Tuesday, December 17, 2002
AND AWAY WE GO
There is a dearth of information about Latin America and the Caribbean in most of the media in the United States and it's really a shame. Most of the attention in the media usually arises from crises: natural disasters, coups, and other political shenanigans.
What I would like to do is share some of my experiences in travel and exposure to the culture and politics of this region. I'd like to focus on the arts (especially Brazilian music), the environment, human rights and issues of development and justice. I do not purport to be an expert, but I have a pretty good knowledge of the history, politics and culture of the region as well as the difficult relationship that much of Latin America has with the USA. I speak, read and write Portuguese fairly fluently and am relatively competent in Spanish.
The name "Beautiful Horizons" is inspired by my wife. She comes from Brazil, specifically the state of Minas Gerais, the capital of which is named Belo Horizonte which, of course, means beautiful horizon in Portuguese. It is my hope that there are beautiful horizons in the very near future for this part of the world. Horizons, however, are always in the distance; a point towards which you are constantly moving, but never seeming to arrive.
While I want to focus on Latin America, my concerns will not be limited to this area. I have a strong and abiding interest in human rights issues all over the world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa in addition to Latin America. I happen to think that English is a beautiful language and doesn't need neologisms, so don't count on seeing such terms as "fisk" or "idiotarian" here. I get as angry as the next person, but I really want to avoid the ad hominem style of discussion. If I slip, please call me on it. I have a smartass sense of humor and sometimes can't help myself.
I sincerely value maintaining the quality of discourse. I don't believe anyone has a monopoly on the moral high ground. I know I don't.