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
Friday, January 24, 2003
TRULY GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL
On my first day in Brazil this time, I went with my wife´s cousin´s husband, Roger and his son Rodrigo to their country house. All night long I heard frogs croaking and during the day, I had the pleasure of seeing hundreds of birds such as the Maritaca, a green parakeet species, João de Barro the Oven-Bird who makes his nest from mud and several hummingbird species. I also enjoyed the sound of a monkey called a Mico in the distance.
It certainly made it easier to forget so much of the ugliness in the world.
Thursday, January 23, 2003
CHÁVEZ ON GLOBO
I saw Chávez being interviewed on the biggest network in Brazil, Globo. He said some things that frankly did not make any sense. For example, he commented that most economies in South America had years similar to Venezuela´s last year, but the interviewer was quick to point out that the Brazilian economy grew, while Venezuela`s did not. Nevertheless, he made one important point and it is a point I have echoed. How can Venezuela with all it´s riches still have such desperate poverty? If the opposition could answer that and solve that problem and if the elite cared enough about the matter to show a little more enlightened self-interest, Chávez would have been a retired general all these years.
POÇOS DE CALDAS
A brief breaking of the silence. I am in the lovely city of Poços de Caldas in the state of Minas Gerais. It is a tranquil, safe and secure city famous for tourism and for the aguas termicas (naturally heated waters). Unfortunately, steady rainfall has limited my fun here, but tomorrow we are going to the baths and try to relax. In a couple of days we are going to go to the lovely colonial city of Diamantina, the only historic city in Minas Gerais I have yet to see.
Friday, January 17, 2003
No time for blogging. I will attempt to make some posts while in Brazil for the next two weeks, but it's dependent on family and cybercafes. In the meantime, please check out this article and this article by Marcela Sanchez.
Be good everyone and I will be back on February 1.
Thursday, January 16, 2003
ALRIGHT, ONE MORE
For this who seem bent on making knee-jerk criticism of land reform in Brazil, here's a good argument for it.
OKAY, ONE POST
Sometimes something happens or you read about something that you just feel obliged to comment on. This commentary by Andres Oppenheimer in The Miami Herald is a perfect example of this.
Guess who Bush sent as the head of the delegation for the inauguration of the new President of Ecuador? Clay Johnson, III, Bush's assistant for personnel issues and deputy chief of staff, who was just appointed deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget earlier this week . As I commented here, here, here and here, the Bush administration seems to be determined to show as much disrespect for Latin America as he possibly can. He's already damaged his relationship with Vicente Fox and as Oppenheimer noted he'd already insulted Lula this year and disappointed the new President of Bolivia last year.
Last year, the Bush administration sent drug czar John Walters to Bolivia for the Aug. 6 inauguration of President Gonzalo Sánchez de Losada. It was tantamount to telling the Bolivians that, despite Bolivia's 65 percent poverty rate, the only thing Washington cares about is stopping the country's coca exports.
The Bolivian president did not hide his disappointment. He told me in an interview at the time that ``I would have preferred that [Walters] came together with [U.S. Trade Representative Robert] Zoellick -- because they deal with the two biggest problems we have.''
The Bush Administration tries to excuse this latest snub, but Oppenheimer isn't buying it:
Another U.S. official told me that the United States rarely sends Cabinet members to foreign presidential inaugurations. Other countries know this, and understand it, he added.
Baloney. In December 2000, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright headed the U.S. delegation to the inauguration of Mexico's President Vicente Fox. In August 2000, former Attorney General Janet Reno headed the U.S. delegation to the inauguration of Dominican Republic President Hipólito Mejía. In March that year, Reno led the U.S. delegation to the inauguration of Chilean President Ricardo Lagos.
Someday, Bush may very well need the support of Latin America, but his arrogance appears to run so deeply that he probably won't understand why these nations he has made a practice of alienating will be less than enthusiastic to give that support.
Wednesday, January 15, 2003
No blogging tomorrow, just packing for BRAZIL!!!
EXPAND YOUR CHOICE OF SOURCES
Richard Jahnke in his El Sur refers to Lula as a "newly minted meddler" in this post. Alliteration is cute, but Reuters reports that the US is also in the coalition with Brazil and quotes State Department spokesman Lou Fintor as saying "This is an important step that underscores widespread concern in the hemisphere with the urgency of Venezuela's situation" and OAS head César Gaviria as saying "We're looking for solution that is peaceful, constitutional, democratic." Why would anyone find this objectionable?
Shame on Lula for caring about domestic unrest in a country with which he shares a border! Perhaps Jahnke might want to expand his choice of sources to go beyond Bloomberg.com (7 links on El Sur's opening page) and Freerepublic.com (3 links on opening page). And yes, I know I use the Miami Herald a lot as well as the New York Times and The Washington Post. I'm working on expanding my sources and, in any event The Herald has arguably the best Latin American coverage of any daily newspaper in the US and the Times and the Post probably have the best international coverage in the US.
REACTION TO OSWALDO PAYÁ'S MIAMI VISIT
The Herald also reported on Oswaldo Payá's visit to Miami and the reaction of the Cuban-American community to him and The Varela Project. As could be expected there was a panoply of reactions:
Some callers to Spanish-language radio denounced Payá as ''an agent of Fidel.'' Others questioned why Castro's communist government would allow Payá to travel if he was truly a threat to the state.
Andres Lopez, 61, ripped Payá while shopping at Walgreens in Biscayne Shores near North Miami.
''I, like many Cubans, do not trust him,'' Lopez said. ``He has been too soft on people who have been murderous and assassins, and you can't work with Fidel. I am one who believes there are only two sides -- against Castro or with Castro.''
America Pruneda, who left Cuba in 1960, also expressed distrust for Payá as she walked out of Versailles Restaurant in Miami after lunch Tuesday.
''I think he comes with an agenda a bit in favor of Fidel,'' she said. ``I'd like to see a free Cuba, but not like this. I've waited 42 years in exile. I'll wait a bit longer for someone with the right ideology.''
They might want to review their history and give some thought as to how Chile got Pinochet out of La Moneda. They used his call for a binding plebiscite to defeat him. What could possibly be wrong with seeing Castro hoist on his own petard? Talk about foolish consistency being the hobgoblin of small minds!
There were some more measured voices:
Aida Fernandez, who left Cuba seven years ago, commended Payá as she left Navarro Discount store on Calle Ocho on Tuesday.
''He is asking for things that no one has ever had the courage to ask for on the island,'' she said.
``He has accomplished what no one has accomplished. I'm hoping he brings some positive change to Cuba.''
Marianne Salazar, a Cuban-American attorney who lives in Palmetto Bay, said she is frustrated by aggressive policies and approaches that have done little to accomplish Democratic change on the island. She called Payá a renaissance man with great courage and vision.
''I think that the bottom line here is the embargo hasn't worked, and Mr. Payá truly understands democracy. If someone truly wants to be a communist, they should be able to be a communist,'' said Salazar, 49.
``He's subjecting himself and his family to repercussions, and I admire him, and he should have the support of all Cuban exiles.''
GOOD ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS
The Miami Herald reported some good news about the manatee population in Florida today. As I have mentioned before, I grew up in Miami and my most fond memories were of the indigenous wildlife: a wide variety of birds, the native animals you'd see in the Everglades, etc.
I only saw manatees in the wild once and that was in a trip to Belize I took ten years ago. It's very encouraging to see them coming back.
G-7 GROUP IS OPTIMISTIC ABOUT LULA
Brad DeLong posted a report from the G7 Group about Lula. They certainly seem encouraging and if it does lead to a "virtuous cycle of falling interest rates", that bodes well for the investment area for Brazilian businesses. Interest rates for the past several years have been excruciatingly high, chiefly to prop up the currency, but it has been an anchor around the necks of businesses that needed affordable credit to expand.
Yet today this happened. It could be a potential setback or perhaps only a bump in the road. In any event, the many naysayers about Lula may want to start sauteing their words.
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!!