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, January 14, 2003
COULD LULA'S PLANS WORK?
The Guardian reports that Lula's reforms may succeed despite the naysayers. I have read and have been told that states and cities where other PT (Worker's Party) officials are mayors or governors, business men acknowledge that there is little or no corruption in these governments. In a country where corruption among elected officials can be so commonplace that Paulo Maluf, the former mayor of São Paulo ran for office with the slogan "Ele rouba, mas ele faz" (He steals, but he gets things done), this is definitely a plus.
It's also worth pointing out to the alarmists on the right that Lula, who often gets lumped together with Chávez and Castro is very different. He ran four times for president and finished second three of them, thus he has solid democratic credentials. Also, unlike Chávez and Castro, he was imprisoned for the non-violent expression of his beliefs when the military was in power in Brazil. When I first met my wife, Lula was running for president against Cardoso in 1994. When I asked them what they thought of Lula, she and her family usually crossed themselves and shook their head no. Now they feel optimistic. So much has changed in just eight years.
A reader took issue with my comments here, so I will write yet again, that it is entirely possible to find fault with both Chávez and the opposition in Venezuela and it is entirely possible to find Mark Weisbrot's comments to be credible, while disagreeing with some of his positions. It is possible to feel that Chávez is a demagogue, while feeling that the behavior of the private media in Venezuela has crossed the line. As for the latter comment, why take my word for it? Here's a link to a post on the blog of a pro-opposition journalist in Caracas that speaks to that issue. So while the opposition media continues not to report, but to advocate, Chávez plays into their hands by stupidly threatening to revoke their licenses, just as stupidly as he threatens to call for martial law and as stupidly as Carlos Ortega, the opposition strike leader seditiously calls for the military to join in the strike. A double plague on all of their houses.
I'll be doing very light blogging today. I'm very tired, have a cold and I'm going to Brazil on Friday. One out of three, if you know what I mean . . .
I envy Brazilians if for no other reason than the fact that when they return from vacation in the US this time of year, they stash their coats for an indefinite period, whereas I'll be doing just the opposite on February 1.
ANSWER TO THE POST BELOW
The answer to the question I posed in the previous post was Rudy Giuliani.
Sunday, January 12, 2003
HAITIAN ASYLUM SEEKERS
Talk Left has a post that follows up on the situation regarding the 200+ Haitians whose freighter ran aground in Biscayne Bay in October. A whopping two of them have been granted political asylum, while the rest remain detained.
One of the earlier defenders of the policy that treated Haitians differently than say, Cuban refugees was a certain former Assistant Attorney General in the Reagan administration, who when he held elective office later, extolled the virtues of immigrants to his community which included a number of Haitians. Anyone want to e-mail with the answer? Click here.
THE VENEZULEAN OPPOSITION
When one is far away from a conflict and one routinely hears conflicting accounts of what is taking place, it certainly seems to me that the best way to determine the accuracy of the information is to consider the source. That's why I find this article by Mark Weisbrot in today's Washington Post to be so compelling. Weisbrot is a co-director of The Center for Economic and Policy Research and his commentaries have always struck me as being judicious. He makes note of the private media's shameless support of the opposition (as I did here):
The opposition controls the private media, and to watch TV in Caracas is truly an Orwellian experience. The five private TV stations (there is one state-owned channel) that reach most Venezuelans play continuous anti-Chavez propaganda. But it is worse than that: They are also shamelessly dishonest. For example, on Dec. 6 an apparently deranged gunman fired on a crowd of opposition demonstrators, killing three and injuring dozens. Although there was no evidence linking the government to the crime, the television news creators -- armed with footage of bloody bodies and grieving relatives -- went to work immediately to convince the public that Chavez was responsible. Soon after the shooting, they were broadcasting grainy video clips allegedly showing the assailant attending a pro-Chavez rally.
If this is not sedition, then the entire concept doesn't exist:
Military officers stand in Altamira Plaza and openly call for another coup. . . .This threat is very real. Opposition leaders have made no apologies for the April coup, nor for the arrest and killing of scores of civilians during the two days of illegal government. They continue to stand up on television and appeal for another coup -- which, given the depth of Chavez's support, would have to be bloody in order to hold power.
I still do not like Chavez. He has been investing much of his energy in fiery, demagogic rhetoric and apparently doesn't seem to realize that he is President of all the citizens of Venezuela. A little humility can build a lot of good will. If he has any doubts he just needs to ask his friend Lula.
Nevertheless, the behavior of the opposition as described in Weisbrot's article as well as here, here and here is indefensible and beneath contempt.
Thanks to Max Sawicky for calling attention to this.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
"Oil kindles extraordinary emotions and hopes, since oil is above all a great temptation. It is the temptation of ease, wealth, strength, fortune, power. It is a filthy, foul-smelling liquid that squirts obligingly up into the air and falls back to earth as a rustling shower of money. . . .Oil creates the illusion of a completely changed life, life without work, life for free. Oil is a resource that anesthetizes thought, blurs vision, corrupts."
- Ryszard Kapuscinski, Shah of Shahs.
Saturday, January 11, 2003
What drew me to Brazilian culture initially was the music. What keeps me intrigued is much more complex than that, but the music still draws me in.
Brazilian Percussion is a seller of percussion instruments in Brazil that ships worldwide. They have a great website with sound samples to hear the many, many different instruments. My favorite is the cuíca. I like it so much I bought one on my first trip to Brazil. Go to their site, listen to the samples and have some fun!
UPDATE TO THIS POST
The New York Times had an editorial today about the resignation of Jorge Castañeda. One point that I neglected to mention in my post was brought up in the Times editorial:
He ended Mexico's tradition of warm ties with Cuba in order to back American denunciations of Fidel Castro's human rights record.
I have to disagree with the second part of that statement. What I have read of Castañeda's writing has always been very pro-democratic and the fact that he, as a man of the left would join with Vicente Fox to help break the vise-like hold that the PRI had on Mexican politics speaks to that issue. I believed he cooled to Castro's Cuba because he saw it for what it was: a totalitarian state that oppressed its citizens lives. The Mexican Foreign Ministry's loss is academia's gain.
POWELL MEETS WITH PAYÁ
Andres Oppenheimer writes about Colin Powell meeting with Oswaldo Payá , the Cuban dissident who won the Sakharov Prize joining the ranks of Ang San Suu Kyi, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Nelson Mandela and Wei Jingsheng.
'This is a reaffirmation that change will come from inside Cuba,'' one well-placed Bush administration official told me after the Powell-Payá meeting. ``It is a visible sign of support for people in Cuba who are working for rapid, peaceful change for democracy on the island.''
Another official, State Department spokesman Charles Barclay, told me: ``There has been a change in the political landscape in Cuba. We are seeing the emergence of a civil society that is finding expression in initiatives such as the Varela Project as well as the work of other Cuban dissidents.''
What is particularly striking about this acknowledgment is that Payá opposes the embargo. Now if they would only get rid of the embargo, something that has been little more, in my opinion, than an excuse for Castro to shift responsibility for Cuba's problems away from him, they might actually make some progress toward freedom in Cuba.
VENEZUELAN CHILDREN AS STRIKERS?
Can someone explain what this accomplishes and how Venezuela will be better for it?
LULA AND HIS CABINET VISIT A FAVELA
Lula and has cabinet visited a favela (shantytown) in Teresina, the capital of the state of Piauí in the Northeast region of Brazil. This was a good choice to illustrate the severity of the problem as the Northeast has some areas of brutal poverty and Teresina in particular is the only state capital of the nine states that make up the Northeast that is not on the coast. Teresina, in fact has an average temperature of 40 Celsius or 104 Fahrenheit. I can only imagine how harsh life must be in a favela there.
I honestly do not see how anyone can regard this statement as unreasonable:
"I cannot promise that all your problems will be solved from one day to the next," Silva told a crowd of about 5,000 residents of the favela, as shantytowns are known here. "But I do promise that a lot can and will be done."
A lot should be done. For far too long favela residents have had to rely on themselves and only themselves for help. Some have been creative, but all too often they are locations of high crime and forgotten hope. Rocinha, the largest favela in Latin America has developed a number of projects to help it's residents (including a website, but unfortunately the English language link is not working), but it's in an otherwise comparatively well to do region of Brazil (Rio de Janeiro state) as opposed to the Northeast. I wish Lula the best of luck. He's going to need all he can get.
SQUEEZING IT DRY
Hêlo Pinheiro, we're at 14 minutes and 59 seconds.
THIS IS A RELIEF!
As an update to this post, this is a relief, especially these comments:
"The Ministry of Science and Technology emphatically manifests its position against any activity related to the production of nuclear arms," the ministry said in a statement. "We are committed to scientific and technological development in all areas of knowledge, and placing that knowledge at the service of human progress and the construction of a more just society."
Who can argue with that?
Thursday, January 09, 2003
TRADE TALKS START WITH CENTRAL AMERICA
Elizabeth Becker reports in the Times that the Bush administration is starting talks with five of the seven Central American nations on a trade pact. Suspicions are already rising:
"I think this is tactical," said Mario Mugnaini, vice president for international affairs at the Federation of Industries in São Paulo. "If there are too many bilateral accords made around the region, then Brazil would ultimately favor closing the F.T.A.A. negotiations, but I don't think that's what the United States wants."
I'm not a trade expert, but I think that’s a good point. If you're seriously considering a hemisphere-wide Free Trade Association of the Americas, it seems to me that having several such bi-lateral agreements already would undermine the larger plan.
As I've said before, however, the focus on trade seems to be very one-dimensional and illustrates the Bush Administration lack on focus in its own back yard:
But some of the praise for Mr. Zoellick's efforts today was laced with criticism of the administration for relying on trade to solve a myriad of crises in Latin America. "Zoellick is doing a wonderful job, but it's extremely unfortunate that he is carrying the water for the whole administration," said Julia Sweig, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. The region, she said, "deserves more senior attention."
It sure does.
THE VALUE OF LAND TITLES
Land reform is a constant source of debate in Latin America as I discussed here. Alan B. Krueger reports in today’s New York Times about a study (which is available on line) that speaks to the issue of letting squatters have title to their land, though not necessarily for the reasons the proponents have assumed in the past.
CASTAÑEDA TO QUIT
No sooner do I mention Jorge Castañeda, then he announces that he’s leaving. As I mentioned, Castañeda did not believe in business as usual in Mexican politics, and these comments illustrate that:
"Castañeda gave Mexico its first high-profile and ambitious foreign policy," said Rolando Cordera, a political analyst in Mexico City. "But after Sept. 11, because the United States decided that the world had to change, Mexico faced a hostile situation."
"He is an anomaly in Mexican politics," said the historian Carlos Monsiváis. "He comes from the left. He speaks directly. And he does not worry about the personal consequences of his acts."
Mexican politics will not be better for this.
JUST WHAT THE WORLD DOESN'T NEED
This is just stupid and I can't make it any more clear than that. This comment, from an expert, does a better job than I do:
Luiz Pinguelli Rosa, Brazil's most prominent nuclear physicist and the newly appointed head of the state electrical power utility Eletrobrás, said today: "Brazil does not have, does not need and should not obtain the knowledge of this technology. The bomb is a plague of mankind."
This is what you need to continue focusing on, Lula.
Wednesday, January 08, 2003
BREEDING GROUND FOR GRIEF
Ta-Nehisi Coates reports in The Village Voice that Sub-Saharan Africa runs a very realistic risk of becoming a major breeding ground for terrrorism and that while religious fanaticism may be part of the picture, underdevelopment, corruption, demagoguery and impunity seem to be even greater contributing forces. I'm inclined to agree. Is anyone in the White House or State Department taking a truly serious look at the development question? It would be a great opportunity to build some good will.
JUSTICE IN MOZAMBIQUE
The Times also has a great story about the trial of those accused of killing Carlos Cardoso, a crusading journalist from Mozambique. Mozambique, as the article notes, has struggled to develop itself after a merciless civil war ended in 1992 and has been one of Sub-Saharan Africa's causes for optimism.
As Cardoso's companion, Nina Berg said so accurately
"I'm still doubtful that I will ever know the full truth behind the killing," said Ms. Berg, who is the mother of Mr. Cardoso's two children. "But this trial has sent a signal that people in this country wants an end to corruption and impunity."
This really goes to the heart of the matter. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard from Latin Americans and Africans that corruption and impunity are probably the two greatest impediments to justice and progress in those parts of the world.
THE MARKETS LOVE LULA
The Times reports that, contrary to the hysteria that surrounded his campaign and election, the markets seem to be liking Lula.
Obviously it's still very, very early, but I was speaking with my sister-in-law in Brazil tonight and she was telling me that she has never seen such optimism accompanying a politician. I hope it lasts.
OTTO REICH YET AGAIN
Although there are a lot of issues that I don't agree with Vicente Fox about, one thing that I really admire that he did - aside from breaking the group of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (one of history's great oxymorons) on Mexico's presidency - was appointing Jorge Castaneda, a man with impeccable credentials, a reputation for transparency and a leftist to be this conservative President's Foreign Minister. Putting the obvious symbolic value aside, this appointment clearly showed that Fox was determined not to appoint the same old tired faces to these positions.
So when George Bush could not get Otto Reich confirmed as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, he just created a position of Special Envoy for the Western Hemisphere, he has yet again demonstrated his complete and utter tin ear as discussed here and as Marcela Sanchez discussed in the Washington Post here, here, here, and here and As Andres Oppenheimer discussed in the Miami Herald here, here, here, here and here, this administration is truly at sea in its own back yard.
Creating a position for someone with Reich's recalcitrant Cold Warrior reputation in this day and age is a slap in the face to those leaders like Ricardo Lagos and other reasonable leaders who are trying to show that there is indeed a third way to approach development, justice and human rights issues in Latin America that simply doesn't rely on the tired formulas of the past. As Sanchez put it so well:
Reich seems at best to be offering the same old prescriptions, or at worst to be even more out of touch with the times--times that cry out for a new approach
I couldn't agree more.
Tuesday, January 07, 2003
MORGAN STANLEY ON LATAM
Sean-Paul of The Agonist put me onto this balanced and carefully considered economic appraisal of Latin America in 2003 from Morgan Stanley.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL ON TORTURE
AI's web page has several important resources to learn more about why torture is wrong. There is a Torture Test, an interview with Dianna Ortiz, an Ursuline nun who was raped and tortured in Guatemala, is director of the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International and the author of The Blindfold's Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth and some other resources here.
There's also an action in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Get involved!
MORE ON VENEZUELA
The New York Times has a couple of articles about Venezuela. Ginger Thompson about Chávez's government's intention to split PDVSA, the state-owned oil company into two entities and allegations of inflated oil production figures. It certainly seems like both sides have a scorched earth policy:
"Clearly, by inflating production figures, his game plan is to psychologically wear down the workers," said Michael Shifter at the Inter-American Dialogue, referring to President Chávez. "As time passes, he believes, the workers will get fatigued and come back to their jobs, before they lose them forever."
But, he said, exaggerated rhetoric runs both ways. Every day, the opposition issues oil industry reports promising that President Chávez is close to running out of gas - literally and politically.
"They are desperate," Mr. Shifter said of the opposition. "They feel this is their last battle, and that if they lose, there will be no way to get Chavez out."
Industry experts concur that "the longer the strike goes on, the more problems Venezuela will have in reactivating their wells," said George Beranek, manager of market analysis at the Petroleum Finance Company, a Washington consulting group.
At the end of the day it doesn't seem like there will be any winners here.
Amy Chua has an op-ed piece that proposes a reasonable solution:
What should the United States do now about Venezuela? Candor would be a good start. If we genuinely support democracy in developing countries, we cannot endorse coups, even pro-capitalist ones, against democratically elected presidents. Moreover, if global markets are to be sustainable, ways must be found to spread their benefits beyond a handful of market-dominant minorities and their foreign investor partners. Otherwise, markets and democracy will continue to clash, destabilizing economies and exacerbating ethnic conflict throughout the world.
What has stunned me in so many countries with huge socio-economic disparities among the upper and lower classes is the utter lack of enlightened self-interest among the elite.
OBVIOUSLY A SLOW NEWS DAY
Richard Jahnke of El Sur and Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit seem to think that this silly prank is funny. I just think it's puerile. What's next? Calling Chávez and asking "Is your pipeline running? Well you'd better catch it!"
Lest you think I'm just another humorless lefty, Glenn, I thought that placing a collect call from Raoul Wallenberg to the Kremlin was clever and hysterical - and I was sober when I read it.
Monday, January 06, 2003
GOOD NEWS & LOWERED EXPECTATIONS
The Committee to Protect Journalists reported some promising news that seemed to go largely unnoticed (at least by me) in the various blogs and much of the conventional media. "Only" nineteen journalists were killed in calendar year 2002, the lowest number since the CPJ has been keeping records starting in 1985.
I don't mean to make light of this, but it speaks to the larger issue of good news versus bad news. This being the lowest number recorded by the CPJ is promising, but it's hardly good news. Why would something be good news when, in fact, the reason why it is good news is because it had the potential to be so much worse? What does that say about complacency and lowered expectations?
The American Prospect has an engrossing and on-target comparison of Lula and FDR by Benjamin Lessing.
CHILE'S ROLE ON THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL
The Santiago Times has an interesting article translated from El Mostrador regarding the role Chile should play as one of the new, non-permanent members of the UN Security Council. The author, Jorge Garreton makes a compelling case for Chile's independence on foreign affairs:
Our country should make use of the stature it enjoys at an international level; moral capital earned through years of struggle against dictatorship. The international community was horrified by the violent coup in 1973, especially its human rights violations, and reacted positively when Chile made an orderly return to democracy. But Chile has not been able to take advantage of its moral stature to deliver to the world a vision of what we want for the region and for the rest of the globe.
This is our opportunity to distance ourselves from Washington's foreign policy and work towards an independent international politics that values democratic principles, respect for human rights and a commitment to the multilateral bodies and international agreements that we have signed.
Is anyone north of the Tropic of Cancer listening? I sure hope so, but I have my doubts.
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE OP-ED ON TORTURE
The anger and outrage continues. Jeralyn Merritt of Talk Left links to this article in yesterday's Chronicle that reiterates much of what has been said in the past by me and by others. Let's keep the outrage flowing.
Sunday, January 05, 2003
APOLOGIZING FOR PINOCHET, APOLOGIZING FOR CASTRO
I recently tangled with a blogger in the comments section of her strongly left-wing blog on the subject of Chávez, Castro and the role of the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America. In the interests of full disclosure, I am Roman Catholic, though like many here in the USA, I'm a bit of a rebellious one. I also consider my politics to be left of center, although I am not knee-jerk.
In any event, I was commenting on my dislike and distrust of Chávez as I have commented here. Although I dislike Chávez and consider him to be a demagogue, I do not support the opposition as I have blogged here, here, here, here and here, among other places. What really became a bone of contention was Chavez's support of and my opposition to the rule of Fidel Castro and my support for Oswaldo Payá, the Cuban dissident who has been a leading force behind the Varela Project in Cuba. I was accused - in absurdly hyperbolic fashion - of supporting a theocracy, presumably because the Varela Project is named after a Catholic priest from the 19th century.
I was quick to point out that during the 1970's and 1980's many Catholic priests and nuns protected human rights in Latin America, often at great personal risk. I pointed out the Vicariate of Solidarity in Chile during the brutal Pinochet years and the Brazil, Never Again project. I have no illusions about the Catholic Church in Latin America. I know its history has not always been pleasant, and in fact, has often been troubled, but I also believe in giving credit where credit is due. By stating that I objected to Castro, I was accused of having a "violent hatred" for him and my objection to Chávez having attempted a coup was dismissed as "his attempt to overthrow a tyrant. The point that I really found risible was the idea that "you don't seem to care that Cuba has a long history of providing food and medical assistance to the war torn public in these [Latin American] regions." This, of course begs the question as to whether or not it is necessary to be a totalitarian dictator in order to accomplish these goals.
This is the same sort of argument I saw by the defenders of Augusto Pinochet when he was arrested. "Whatever Pinochet did, Allende would have done much worse" (begging the question that in Allende's three years in office, people weren't being disappeared or tortured in Chile), "Pinochet helped establish a free market in Chile", [insert disingenuous defense here]. If someone can show me that establishing a free market, that providing medical care and improving illiteracy is an affirmative defense against crimes against humanity, I urge them to do so, showing chapter and verse. Apologists for Pinochet and Castro who make such statements to minimize these indefensible acts have as much credence to me as someone who states that Norman Bates was a skilled taxidermist and was fond of his mother.
Let's be clear: to simply object to Castro and his rule is not necessarily to support the Cuban American National Foundation, to object to Chávez and his rule is not necessarily to support the opposition and in neither case does it make you a fascist or pro-military coup. To simply object to Pinochet and his rule does not necessarily make one a Marxist or an Allende supporter. If only the world were that simple. What is the common thread here is that those who support extremists seem to speak the same language regardless of political leanings.
OPPENHEIMER ON BUSH LATIN AMERICA POLICY
Andres Oppenheimer has a fair and accurate criticism of the Bush Adminstration's neglect of Latin America and the ineptitude of their policy toward our closest neighbors.
Consider: Last week, the Bush administration failed to send Secretary of State Colin Powell or a team of big-name Cabinet members to the inauguration of Brazil's leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who will lead Latin America's biggest country for the next four years.
While da Silva's inauguration was attended by 15 heads of state -- including Cuba's dictator Fidel Castro, Venezuela's populist President Hugo Chávez and the leaders of Argentina, Chile, Peru, Portugal and South Africa -- the U.S. delegation was headed by Trade Representative Robert Zoellick.
Zoellick is highly respected in Latin America, but his presence was eclipsed by the visiting heads of state. Because of their rank, they were received separately by da Silva, while the U.S. trade representative had to confine himself to meetings with Brazilian Cabinet ministers.
''Zoellick is an important player, but the U.S. representation does not reflect the importance that Brazil has for the region, and for the United States,'' said Peter Romero, who headed the State Department's Latin American affairs department during the Clinton administration.
From a protocol position it borders on being a slap in the face. Bernard Aronson sums it up well:
''The recent stumble on Venezuela suggests that the White House and the State Department are not coordinating well,'' said Bernard Aronson, another former chief of the State Department's Latin American affairs department.
Perhaps Aronson is being generous. As I posted here, if this were the case, Colin Powell wouldn't have had to do the administration's backpedalling on the attempted coup in Venezuela .
WASHINGTON POST OP-ED ON TORTURE
Jeralyn Merrit in Talk Left mentions this op-ed by Holly Burkhalter, the U.S. policy director of Physicians for Human Rights. It's a compelling piece that addresses the backsliding on this issue recently.
I have always argued that if we expect US soldiers rights to be respected, we have to be willing to respect the rights of those who we have detained. When I make that argument, I often hear that there it is doubtful that Iraqis and Al Qaeda forces won't observe the law on this. I usually respond by simply saying that two wrongs don't make a right. Burkhalter does it much better:
The second casualty of such practices is U.S. prestige and leadership internationally. If the Bush administration does not immediately investigate these practices, stop them and prosecute those involved, it invites the revulsion of the entire world and exacerbates the fury of those who wish our country ill. Moreover, the practices that U.S. interrogators and their allies engage in are those our government has inveighed against in many countries. Few will listen now.
The third cost is the grave risk such disregard for prisoners invites for U.S. military personnel. If enemy powers adopt these practices, we may expect that American prisoners of war will be held in secret locations, beaten, starved and disoriented. We can expect that hundreds will, like those combatants in Afghanistan, be killed after surrender, and thousands packed into a prison where death from exposure and dysentery are common.
Of course, U.S. compliance with Geneva Convention standards does not ensure reciprocity by grossly abusive, irregular fighters such as al Qaeda terrorists. But it does give the United States the moral and political platform to engage other governments in denouncing abuses against imprisoned Americans.[my emphasis]
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
The subject of the "Historic Parallel" piece that I blogged about below was also mentioned in Avram Grumer's blog in November 2001.
Saturday, January 04, 2003
LIVING WELL IS THE BEST REVENGE
Larry Rohter has a profile of Dr. Michelle Bachelet, Chile's Minister of Defense, and the first woman to hold that title in Latin America. The irony here is the fact that Dr. Bachelet's father, a Chilean general, was tortured to death by the government headed by Margaret Thatcher's Tea Time friend and that same government exiled her and her mother. She now reviews the troops that Pinochet reviewed.
A TURN FOR THE WORSE?
This can't be good news. Both sides should ratchet down the rhetoric, stop the ultimatums, take deep breaths and try to talk. The future of your nation depends on this.
Shawn McHale, a history professor at George Washington University has an op-ed piece about heretofore unknown to me incident in World War II that has some uneasy parallels with today.
Friday, January 03, 2003
GOOD NEWS IN AMAZONIA
One thing I like about Latin Trade magazine is that much of its writing is carefully considered and focuses not just on business, but also covers environmental, development and human rights issues. In fact, in 1999 they gave their Humanitarian of the Year Award to Baltazar Garzón, the Spanish judge who attempted to prosecute the Chilean ex-Dictator, Augusto Pinochet.
One of their regular columnists is Jack Epstein who goes by the nom de plume of Silicon Jack. His columns also challenge the orthodoxy of typical business writing and in the current issue he writes about Jorge Viana, the governor of the state of Acre (pronounced Ahhcray), which is where Chico Mendes lived, worked, helped the environment and was cravenly murdered.
Latin Trade magazine has an article on one of Brazil's gems: Saquarema, a small town in the area of Rio de Janeiro state known as the Região dos Lagos (Region of the Lakes) and hometown of our good friend, Débora Santos-Watts.
Saquarema is dwarfed in terms of popularity by nearby Búzios and Cabo Frio, but it's much easier to get to than Búzios and not as touristy as Cabo Frio. Saquarema's greatest appeal, however, is for surfers. Praia de Itaúna is a long stretch of beach with lively and constantly shifting surf. If you go, just be sure to wear some neoprene; for a tropical location, the water is very cold.
SEDITION IN VENEZUELA?
Apparently Carlos Ortega, the union leader who is the de facto leader of the opposition strike in Venezuela wants another coup. In this article by Ginger Thompson in today's New York Times Ortega is reported to have a seditious streak about him:
The top leader of Venezuela's strike on Thursday urged members of the armed forces to join the opposition against Mr. Chávez.
"What are you waiting for to accompany us?" asked one unionist, Carlos Ortega. "We understand the obedience you owe to the president of the republic, but obedience is one thing, being submissive is another."
If they "accompany" the strikers, they are effectively engaging in a military coup. He needs to read this and realize that he will receive no support from other governments in the OAS and understand that what he is suggesting is illegal. One would think that the opposition would have learned from what happened in April. One wonders, in fact, if the opposition has crossed their Rubicon:
Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, said the opposition's strategy might backfire.
"The opposition was counting on people getting tired of President Chávez," he said. "But the opposition caused this crisis, and Chávez has every right to try to go out and fix it."
I do not like Chávez. I think he has a dictatorial bent and I don't much care for at least one of his friends, but the clear, indisputable fact is that he is the elected leader of Venezuela. Not liking Chávez also does not mean embracing the opposition (more on that issue later), but in attempting to see things clearly, one needs to realize that those who oppose Chávez have only the constitutional option to hold a referendum which may result in his removal. It is a tough standard to meet and if the opposition does not win the referendum (assuming it is held), then they had better find a way to live amicably with Chávez. One cannot help but think that they don't have a Plan B.
CUBAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
According to an Associated Press article in the Miami Herald, a group of Cuban dissidents plan to monitor parliamentary elections in Cuba later this month.
The group calling itself the Assembly for Promotion of Civil Society told a news conference it will try to ensure that election workers don't inflate the number of voters or count ballots that have been purposefully annulled as a form of protest.
"This does not mean we want to legitimize the elections," said well-known dissident Marta Beatriz Roque. "It is important that the dissident is there ... whether the government wants him there or not."
"'It is important that every compatriot who opposes the regime ... has, during the so-called elections, the possibility to express himself without breaking any law."
This is terrific. In any event, it seems a lot more effective than buzzing Havana in a Cessna and dropping leaflets, then hustling back to Miami . . .
Thursday, January 02, 2003
LULA'S INAUGURATION PART II
The other part of Jahnke's post that annoyed me was this statement:
Agrarian reform is a perennial panacea that never pans out. At best it creates a permanent class of rural poor, trying to eke out a living on a too small holding; at worst--if the farmers are put in co-ops or barred from selling their land--it creates a kind of rural peonage. If the land to be redistributed is purchased at market from current owners it's costly; if confiscated, it sends investors--urban and rural--packing.
Better to develop a modern industrial and economy, capable of usefully employing the excess rural population, and a free market in agricultural products, letting rural Brazil find its own balance. That's also the way to end hunger.
Land reform in Brazil has been a component of Brazilian law since at least 1964 when Army Marshall Humberto Castelo Branco, the first President under the right-wing military dictatorship that ruled Brazil developed a land law that called for the expropriation of unused and underused properties. The measure failed, however, as the landowners had the political muscle to stifle it and the supporters, in the context of a military dictatorship, had no way to support it. Nevertheless land reform law was codified and became a part of Brazil's Constitution in 1988.
Even President Cardoso, as I pointed out here made some significant strides in land reform:
"Since 1995, about 588,000 landless peasant families — compared with less than half that number during the previous three decades — have been resettled on homesteads."
As for the statement about creating a "permanent class of rural poor", such a class already exists. My father-in-law has a farm in the north of the state of Minas Gerais in an area known as the Jequitinhonha Valley, not far from the state line with Bahia. When I visited there, there was a kind man working for him who was thirty-two years old, married with six children. He was also illiterate and his only way to feed his family was to work for my father-in-law who provided housing, a plot of land and a salary. Perhaps with enough land to feed his family, and perhaps sell some of his crops, he might have been able to send his children to school, thus breaking the cycle of poverty.
Here's a far more grim, but all too common example of someone who left the countryside to attempt life in the city:
There are over sixty families camping in huts made of wooden stakes and plastic just outside of João Pessoa. They have been there for over three months now with no end to the encampment in sight. Why are they there, you ask? They are poor families trying to improve their lives by claiming a piece of land for themselves to build a house, plant crops and raise animals.
A number of the families used to live in the city dump of João Pessoa and survived by picking out plastic, paper, cardboard, aluminum and tin to sell to be recycled. Many of these families from the dump were originally from the interior and used to be farmers. They rarely had their own land however, and were only able to farm on other's land by paying a large percentage to the owner or working in the sugar cane fields cutting down tons of sugar cane every day. They came to João Pessoa, "the big city", hoping for a better, easier life. Instead, they found no work or support and ended up at the dump trying to scrape out a living.
Even the World Bank has endorsed land reform in Brazil.
As far as developing a modern industrial economy, Brazil has one. Cars and numerous other products are manufactured, and as I pointed out here Embraer is one of the top four aircraft manufacturers in the world. People need to be trained to do this work and they need to eat while they are being trained. In addition, much of Brazil's manufacturing takes place in the Southeast which comprises the states of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo. The capital cities of these states, especially São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are overwhelmed with residents, many of whom cannot afford to rent or own their own residence and shantytowns known as favelas spring up without basic services such as plumbing or electricity. This perpetuates poverty in Brazil and often is a breeding ground for crime. With a minimum wage of about US$100 per month (and I'm probably being generous) that should come as no surprise.
Regarding a free market in agricultural products, I'm sure that Brazilians would be all for that, but as a Norteamericano, I hasten to remind Mr. Jahnke that the USA has to do more on this subject than pay lip service to it. Brazil is a major sugar and orange juice exporter, and although I do not know the tariff for imported sugar in the USA, I do know that there is a 100% tariff on imported orange juice. Considering who is governor of Florida I don't expect that to change, especially if Bush is trying to court senators like Mary Landrieu who used sugar import scare tactics as a centerpiece to her election victory. Brazil is also a major exporter of steel. Minas Gerais - whose name means General Mines - has among the world's largest reserves of iron ore. This "free-marketer" in the White House raised the steel tariffs last year.
If you want to read about the history of land reform in Brazil, this is a good and brief place to start. As for me, my better half is flying to Brazil as I write this and I'm pooped, so I'll wish everyone a good night.
LULA'S INAUGURATION PART I
This post by Richard Jahnke on El Sur really annoyed me and I'd like to say exactly why. Jahnke cites one exceedingly brief blurb to come to the conclusion that "Lula promises the moon." I decided to see what some of the other media said about his speech.
Kevin G. Hall in the Miami Herald wrote that
Brazil's new president promised his government would create a new path to development that would serve as a model for the Americas. But he also promised ''courage and care'' in leading the nation of 174 million people toward gradual change that would not upset Brazil's fragile economy.
''Facing the social, economic and moral impasse of the country, Brazilian society chose to change and they themselves began to promote this necessary change,'' he said, but cautioned that change would be gradual.
Andres Oppenheimer, also in the Herald wrote
The bulk of his 42-minute inaugural address was focused on domestic issues, and the foreign policy section of his speech was a continuation of Brazil's current policies.
Among his top priorities: eradicating hunger and reducing unemployment, which he said will be his ''obsession.'' There's nothing wrong with that.
On his foreign-policy plans, he repeated his campaign pledge to make Mercosur -- the ailing common market made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay -- his top priority.
In addition, he pledged to ''fight protectionism'' and ''scandalous'' trade barriers in rich countries -- a probable reference to the United States -- that are hurting Brazilian exports. There's nothing wrong with that either: He explained that Brazil, much like the United States, will try to get the best deal possible in the upcoming free-trade talks.
Alan Clendenning , in an Associated Press story reported that
Choking back tears as he spoke to an estimated 200,000 supporters, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said there was no excuse for hunger among any of Brazil's estimated 50 million poor. "If at the end of my mandate all Brazilians have the possibility to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, I will have fulfilled the mission of my life," the former union leader and head of the Workers Party said.
Lula warned, however, that the task would be difficult. Brazil's weakened economy has produced double-digit inflation and a 35 percent loss in the value of its currency last year. "No one can reap the fruit before planting the trees," Lula said.[my emphasis]
In the New York Times Larry Rohter quoted Lula as follows:
"The time has come to tread a new path," Mr. da Silva declared in his inaugural address, arguing that Brazil's progress had been stalled by what he called the "economic, social and moral impasse" of a system based on self-interest.
"Yes, we are going to change things, with courage and care, humility and daring," he added.
I'm still waiting to see where Lula promised the world or even something as outrageous as reducing inflation, while cutting taxes for the very rich, increasing defense spending and balancing the budget.
Wednesday, January 01, 2003
TRAVEL TO CUBA
Growing up in Miami, I was always intrigued by Cuba, but like so many of my fellow Americans, I have never been able to legally satisfy that curiousity. Max Castro, himself a Cuban-American and a professor at the North-South Center at the University of Miami has written an eloquent op-ed piece in today's Miami Herald why the travel ban should end.
TOURISM IN BRAZIL
Tony Smith has an interesting article in the Times today about tourism in Brazil. This part speaks to a long-standing beef I have with how Embratur, the government tourism agency is run:
Strapped for cash, Brazil's government is slashing spending on tourism promotion. The advertising budget for the government agency Embratur has slipped from $10 million in 1997 to $3.5 million in 2002. Tiny Panama, by comparison, is spending $15 million a year on promotion in the United States alone.
I do not understand why Brazil does not attempt to attract more North Americans to visit. It would be an excellent way to bring foreign currency into the country, and, if they promote the smaller, independently owned Brazilian hotels, pousadas, tour operators, the money could very well stay in Brazil. This part of the article was certainly good news:
While President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has promised to give the tourism industry its own ministry, the Bahian group is not waiting for government help. It plans an international campaign for Bahia in 2003, and Costa do Sauípe itself has contracted with T.H.R., the agency behind Spain's acclaimed strategic marketing for tourism, to pinpoint its best international markets.
"Bahia is going to communicate aggressively all its products to specific target markets for the first time ever," Mr. Veciana said. "We hope it will bear fruit soon."
Me too. I paid a visit to Salvador four years ago and I can't wait to return. The northeast of Brazil is gloriously beautiful with stunning beaches, warm and gracious residents, historic cities like Olinda, João Pessoa and Ilheus, Jorge Amado's hometown. Look at the beaches at the João Pessoa link and tell me as the rain or snow comes down and as your radiator cranks up that you wouldn't rather be there.
As for the hotel complex cited in the article, I really don't much care for this sort of place. Indeed, the best places I have stayed in Brazil have been the smaller hotels and pousadas where you get much more of a personal touch and less of a corporate, business traveler feeling. In Olinda, we stayed at an exquisite pousada called Pousada do Amparo. Constructed from two buildings, it features spacious rooms, with jacaranda floors, some of which have balconies and is just down the street from the restaurant where I've had the best meal ever in Brazil: Oficina do Sabor.
I WAS WRONG
Atrios has pointed out that I'm wrong about this. Read the comments section here.
VIOLENCE IN VENEZUELA
This certainly seems like inciting a riot to me.
Atrios has unmasked!!
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.