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
Thursday, February 27, 2003
A BRIEF BREAK
I'll be gone for the weekend and probably won't be posting again until Sunday night at the earliest. Thanks to everyone for visiting and reading and I hope you'll come back when I do. Have a good weekend to everyone!
RIO AND AN ANXIOUS CARNAVAL
Lula approved the sending in of troops to Rio de Janeiro. It's very unfortunate that things have come to this, but it obviously had to be done.
I have never been to Brazil during Carnaval and unlike many of my friends who travel often to Brazil, my time in Rio has been very limited: only two visits. On my most recent trip I was at the celebration for New Year's Eve, (1999 to 2000) in Copacabana near the cascading fireworks at the Hotel Meridian. What struck me about that evening was that no one was arrested and everything was peaceful. The streets were closed off and we walked through the tunnel from Botafogo to Copacabana and back along with thousands of others without incident.
Of course the violence being inflicted upon Rio now is calculated and vicious. Bringing in the troops is certainly a good idea under the circumstances, but I can't help but think that it is truly sad that it has come to that.
GOOD NEWS FROM IRAN
The New York Times reports that Iran is being cooperative with a UN team investigating the human rights situation in Iran. They also report that this was the first time in seven years that Iran allowed a UN team in to investigate.
While this is a legitimate concern:
The Iran researcher for Human Rights Watch, Elaheh Sharifpour, who is based in New York, voiced concern that the team did not meet with people who had been arbitrarily arrested in the past and were out of prison now or inspect underground detention centers.
This is certainly good news:
Despite his criticisms, Mr. [Louis] Joinet praised the "unprecedented cooperation" the team had received from the authorities. He said the team had chosen the prisons and detention centers it inspected and the more than 100 prisoners it interviewed. The team picked the locations for interviews inside prisons without the presence of minders and "frequently changed position to make sure they were away from cameras," Mr. Joinet said.
The team was even allowed to visit the notorious Block 209 in the Evin prison, which Mr. Joinet described as a prison within a prison that was controlled by the Ministry of Information.
The observers were also permitted to enter a military prison in the city of Shiraz after they made a last-minute decision to inspect the place.
In 1987 I participated in an Amnesty International Campaign on allegations of torture and efforts that brought to mind an assembly line version of "justice" and punishment for the mullahs interpretations of violations of Islamic Law. There were machines developed to speed limb amputations of lombs from convicted thieves, for example.
We received responses back from government officials claiming that nothing like this had ever occurred in Iran, that Iran was a merciful country under the rule of Khomeini. Their responses were so all-inclusive in terms of time periods that they inadvertently let Shah Reza Pahlavi and his secret police, Savak off the hook. I mention this to point out that the naysayers who seem intent on trashing human rights organizations as ineffective tend to speak, in my experience, from a position of ignorance. The very fact that government officials were responding at all showed that AI was having an impact. Of course, that was shortly after this problem became a matter of public record and people began to wonder why the Reagan administration was busy exchanging arms to a terrorist state for hostages and using the profits to fund an illegal resistance in Central America.
RESIGNATION IN PROTEST
A profile in courage, via Atrios.
WHEN HE'S RIGHT, HE'S RIGHT
Glenn Reynolds on something so many more should be doing.
Wednesday, February 26, 2003
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL ON TURKEY
I just got an action from Amnesty International about sexual abuse of women in police custody in Turkey:
S.Y.1 was detained at Istanbul Police Headquarters between 24 and 27 September 2002. She was reportedly blindfolded and tortured including by being sexually assaulted. One police officer reportedly made her open her mouth and spat in it. She was also reportedly grabbed by the hair and thrown to the ground, beaten, insulted and deprived of sleep, food and drink. She was reportedly made to strip and put on the ground. A police officer then also stripped and rubbed his hands and penis against her. After this procedure S.Y was allegedly taken naked to the toilet and sprayed with cold pressurized water. On the last day S.Y. was in custody, she was reportedly stripped naked and sexually assaulted again. She alleged that she was threatened with anal rape using the hose from the pressurized water, and that police attempted to insert the hose into her anus.
The report and suggested actions are available here and the quicker action is available here.
Maybe some of that $26,000,000,000 in baksheesh could be earmarked for sensitivity training.
LATE THOUGHTS ON THE GRAMMIES
While channel surfing on Sunday, I came across an HBO presentation of Smokey Joe's Cafe, specifically a taping of the last Broadway performance of this shoe. One thing that struck me was just how much the songs of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller endure. A few hours later while watching the Grammies, this point was brought home so vividly.
I'm not a musical Luddite, but I cannot imagine any of the current songs during the Grammy broadcast sticking in anyone's memory like Stand by Me, Searchin', Spanish Harlem, Kansas City, or even Hound Dog.
EMMA ON FIDEL
Emma of Late Night Thoughts is one of the best writers and keenest observers in the world of blogging. Her post Fidel and Me is a fine example of why she's at the top of her game. Besides, she lives in my old hometown, Miami! Be sure to read it.
MY FIRST TROLL!!!
I got my first e-mail troll today! I guess that must mean I'm doing the right thing. So, Mr. Troll, if you're wondering why you haven't been responded to, you've been blocked. Sending me several messages in response to one e-mail constitutes spam in my book. Plenty of people have addressed me courteously and reasonably and I have responded to them in kind. You might want to consider learning how to do the same. Tchau!! [Portuguese spelling]
Tuesday, February 25, 2003
SCAMMER WITH A SENSE OF HUMOR
Well after getting my blood pressure up over that last post, here's something quite amusing.
I got two more of those Nigerian scam e-mails, one from someone named Howgulu Abul with the e-mail adress: firstname.lastname@example.org My response, not very, but I appreciated the laugh.
The other one is from "BARRISTER SAMUEL BASSEY" who needs to fix his Caps Lock key.
Shirley, you jest! ;-)
MASTER OF ELISION
Glenn Reynolds responds to an e-mail I sent him regarding this post, which, frankly slurred those of us who disagree with him. He then goes to on to cite an op-ed piece in today's New York Times by José Ramos Horta, the co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996. Glenn left out this part of Ramos Horta's piece:
I agree that the Bush administration must give more time to the weapons inspectors to fulfill their mandate. The United States is an unchallenged world power and will survive its enemies. It can afford to be a little more patient. Kofi Annan, the secretary general of the United Nations, has proved himself to be a strong mediator and no friend of dictators. He and a group of world leaders should use this time to persuade Saddam Hussein to resign and go into exile. In turn, Saddam Hussein could be credited with preventing another war and sparing his people. But even this approach will not work without the continued threat of force.[my emphasis]
Remember, Glenn, this is the same UN you've accused of being irrelevant.
Let's also be clear on the facts. East Timor, as Ramos Horta notes was helped by a global peacekeeping force under the auspices of the UN. There was no war that liberated East Timor. It was the confluence of several factors: international pressure, chiefly through the UN, the economic crisis that resulted in Suharto's resignation, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Ramos Horta and Bishop Belo, the work of Senators Feingold and Leahy who had pressured the James Riady-beset-Clinton administration to ban the sales of light arms to the Indonesian military as these same arms could be used in crowd control in East Timor. The greatest champions of East Timor in Congress were former Congressman Tony Hall of Ohio and current Congressman Frank Wolf who nominated Bishop Belo for the Nobel Peace Prize. (Congressman Wolf, by the way, has been a leading figure in calling attention to the current famine in Ethiopia.)
The work of international human rights organizations such Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in calling attention to the human rights abuses also played a major role in the liberation of East Timor. Indeed, I participated in Amnesty International's East Timor Campaign in 1984, two years before Ronald Reagan embarked on his self-described "Winds of Freedom" tour of Asia, which featured a stop in Indonesia. According to the Washington Post at that time Reagan agreed not to raise "the even more sensitive question of East Timor" with President Suharto. Kind of surprising coming from "The Great Communicator." In short, East Timor was not liberated with cruise missiles, A-6 Warthogs, F-18's, smart bombs, etc.
I would be interested in hearing Bishop Belo's position on the war. I urge you to read this book for background on East Timor, Glenn.
What I resent is the presumption on your part that those of us who oppose this war, also oppose the liberation of Iraq. I worked on behalf of human rights issues in Iraq when Don Rumsfeld was having photo ops with Saddam. It's a shame my own government was looking the other way until August 2, 1990.
As I wrote to you, reasonable people can disagree about methods and motives. Accusing those who disagree with your methods of being whatever you wish to call it ("objectively pro-Saddam", "anti-liberation, etc.) is a slur.
As for me, I've always been pro liberation. I just don't feel the need to slur others to prove it.
COMMERCIALIZATION OF CARNAVAL
The New York Times has an article about the continued commercialization of Rio's Carnaval. One of the major complaints is articulated as follows:
Tourists as far away as Japan or Scandinavia can now buy package tours that include the right to parade with a samba school, wearing a tailored costume at a cost of an additional $300 or so.
"Those people can't sing, they can't dance, and they don't even bother to learn the lyrics to the theme song of the samba school they are parading with," said Dulce Tupi, a scholar who has written on the history of Carnival and served on the official parade jury. "All they do is detract from the beauty of the show and damage the performance of the samba school."
It was one of my dreams when I retire to participate with one of the samba schools. Mércia has a cousin in Rio who has been involved for a few years with Mocidade Independente de Padre Miguel one of the major Samba Schools and if I were to get involved I would want to do it correctly. This article has sapped much of my interest, however. If anyone with enough money can do this on a one or two week trip to Rio, why bother learning all the songs, or otherwise participating?
This seems more my speed:
Others in search of the true Carnival spirit are abandoning Rio altogether in favor of cities like Recife and Salvador. There, traditional musical forms associated with Carnival, like the frevo and maracatu in Recife and the ear-splitting electric trios that play atop [flatbed] trucks cruising the streets of Salvador, have largely pushed aside Rio's
commercialized samba as favorites.
On my first trip to Brazil, we were traveling from Vitória in Espírito Santo to Porto Seguro in Bahia in an overnight bus. It was during a celebration known as Festas Juninas which celebrates the Feast Days of St. Anthony, St. Peter and St. John. The bus pulled into the town of Itabela in Bahia at 5:15 a.m. The streets were filled with people dancing to the trio elétrico set up in the main square and I'm sure they'd been doing just that all night. It seemed that the entire town had emptied their houses and apartments for the celebration. It was at that moment that Brazilian culture and music had completely seduced me.
A FINE EXAMPLE OF IMPUNITY
The Times has also has an article about corruption in Central America. Impunity exacerbatescorruption and in Guatemala, it may be at its worst. Here's a compelling example:
Guatemala presents a special challenge. By most measures it has not only the region's widest gap between rich and poor, but an everyday tolerance for corruption at almost all levels of government and business.
Carlos González, a law student here, learned just how ingrained it had become when a police officer stopped him one night for no apparent reason, frisked him and asked about the cellphone he was carrying.
"He asked where the receipt was," Mr. González recalled. "Of course, I didn't have it. So he told me the phone was stolen and was staying with him. Where can you go to complain about something like this ? to the police?"
Not exactly. Byron Barrientos, the former minister of governance who oversaw the police, is himself facing allegations of having embezzled as much as $13 million. Though no longer in office, he remains in government, as a member of Congress, joining some 20 other lawmakers embroiled in scandals.
Here's a major reason why:
The big money, diplomats and human rights advocates say, is being made by a shadowy smuggling network of former military officers.
The group is a holdover from Guatemala's 36-year civil war with leftist guerrillas, when regional military commanders controlled lucrative businesses in illegal logging or amassed sprawling properties.
As I mentioned here this is one of the consequences of ignoring human rights abuses
simply because it's politically expedient. I really wish those on the right would stop blaming Frank Church and the Church Committee for what happened on September 11, 2001. If you make a pact with evil simply because it's advantageous for
the moment, it can be very, well, uh embarrassing, to say the least. No, I'm not speaking of moral equivalence. I don't accept that argument. I'm speaking of being consistent and honest in addressing human rights abuses. I'm speaking of those who have been rightfully quick to condemn torture and human rights abuses in Cuba and Libya, while ignoring extrajudicial executions in El Salvador and Guatemala. In case you have any doubt that this has happened, read this.
I will never forget when Ernest Lefevre was nominated by President Reagan to be the Undersecretary of State for Human Rights. During his confirmation hearings he commented that acts of torture committed in Pinochet's Chile and Videla's Argentina were just a continuation of "Iberian traditions." So much for "moral clarity."
BLOGS AND RESOURCES
In addition to the blogs listed on my blogroll, I've also included some good resources for information on human rights issues and Latin America. Among them are the Organization of American States, the Latin American Information Center at the University of Texas and old favorites such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Check them out.
KIDNAPPINGS IN COLOMBIA
I live in a community with a significant Colombian immigrant population. I know several Colombian-Americans and a couple who have lost family members as a result of the violence that has ravaged that country off and on since 1948. I detest FARC and the ELN as well as the right-wing paramilitaries that have made the lives of average citizens in Colombia miserable.
That being said, I'm somewhat relieved to hear that those Americans who were kidnapped when their plane crashed are being considered to be prisoners of war and not "unlawful combatants." I also hope that they get released soon and are safe and healthy. While I am not in the least enthusiastic about "Plan Colombia." the FARC and ELN (if either of them are responsible for this) are only really interested in squeezing out a ransom from whomever they kidnap. They're indefensible.
Sunday, February 23, 2003
Light to intermittent blogging today and tomorrow as it's Mércia's birthday tomorrow and this wonderful woman deserves 100% of my attention. As for me, I'm fortunate enough to be able to bask in the glow of her smile and that is my life's sweetest blessing.
My visitors have increased lately and I'm very appreciative of all my readers. I don't expect all of you to agree with me, but if I get you to think about the issues I bring up or develop a little more interest in travel to Latin America or further exploration of its culture and history, I'm immensely flattered and I thank you in advance.
UPDATE TO THIS POST
Glenn Reynolds updates his post regarding Mark Steyn's comments about East Timor. He links to a couple of posts in Tim Blair's blog concerning the elision of references to East Timor in interviews and reports by some members of the Australian left.
I don't think that it let's Steyn off the hook, however, and this why: if Steyn meant these examples, he should have cited them specifically and taken those specific people to task for it. I probably would have agreed with him or at least have been less eager to condemn his remarks. Steyn did not do that, however. he used a broad brush to trash a number of people and we wll know what happens when one uses a broad brush to make a fine point; you smear (see definition #3) and that's what Steyn did.
I also remember hearing about bin Laden's rage concerning East Timor within weeks after 9/11. We had a Portuguese friend to whom I pointed that out in November 2001. This same (former) Portuguese friend also seemed bent on castigating the US for every ill in the world. He expressed outrage at the treatment of Native Americans in the 19th Century and the treatment of African-Americans. He accused me of being brainwashed. I don't subscribe to the "Blame America First", point of view, but I also don't subscribe to the USA has always done what's right, my country right or wrong point of view. In both cases, I certainly believe history bears me out.
Nevertheless, I suggested to this Portuguese former friend that he return for dinner and we could discuss Portugal's role in the refinement of the slave trade, the genocidal aspects of their colonization of Brazil and the wholesale looting of the riches of their former colonies in Africa, Asia and South America. I guess he wanted to stay in his glass house. I bear him no ill will, however. I didn't even gloat about this. A little humility is important. There's two important sayings in Brazil that are good rules to live by:
1.) Quem nunca comeu melado, cuando come, se lambuza. (Whoever has never eaten molasses, when they do eat it, they smear it)
2.) A lingua é o chicote na bunda. (The tongue is the whip on the ass.)
Saturday, February 22, 2003
DONE FOR THE DAY
I'm going to call it a day early today. I plan to take the light of my life out for dinner tonight in advance of her birthday at The Chimichurri Grill, a great Argentinean restaurant with fine, free range beef. Check it out if you're in La Manzana Grande.
Glenn Reynolds wrote here:
If the complaint is that Steyn paints the entire antiwar left as stupid and dishonest, well, that's a pretty broad brush, and I'm certainly willing to agree that there are plenty of exceptions.
That's part of the complaint, Glenn, and I'm glad that you acknowledge that we are a diverse bunch. Please don't assume in the future that any one person or persons speaks for all of us. As I have pointed out, I've been very tough on Chávez, Castro, Ramsey Clark (most recently) and even Jimmy Carter in my second post on this blog. If you're looking for moral relativism, especially on the subject of human rights, please don't look here. You'll be disappointed.
Regarding this statement:
But I have to say that those Australians worrying that Osama will make them targets because of Iraq do seem uninterested in mentioning that one of his big complaints was the liberation of East Timor.
I don't buy the idea that Steyn was making that argument. He mentioned the "peace crowd" in general and it still strikes me as an effort to smear the left as cowards. It's also incorrect as I explained before.
Reader Michelle Dulak commented that Steyn was arguing the following as a disconnect:
"They" are supposed to "hate us" because we do bad things. In this case "they" apparently hate us because "we" undid a bad thing. The annexation of East Timor was a bad thing -- unless you're a fanatical Muslim. The liberation of East Timor was a good thing -- unless ditto. So here is a case where the "root cause" is that "The West" -- mainly Australia as I understand it, but the US too -- righted a wrong. "They" just happened to like the wrong. "They hate us" because we belatedly did the right thing.
As I wrote her, I think that a far greater disconnect for bin Laden would be the efforts to save Muslim lives in Bosnia and Kosovo. For Steyn to acknowledge that, however, he would also have to acknowledge that much of the right (Bob Novak, Kate O'Beirne, Condeleeza Rice, Colin Powell) disparaged these efforts.
The Miami Herald has an article about Jonathan Demme's new documentary, The Agronomist, about the life and death of Jean Leopold Dominique, the founder of Radio Haiti. I hope it gets a wide enough release to give enough of us a chance to see it. Demme's name should help that cause.
The Miami International Film Festival website has some great films listed and is worth a visit. Check it out.
CHILE CHEERS POWELL REMARKS ON 1973 COUP
Reuters reports that Colin Powell's remarks in an interview on BET on Thursday that "about Chile in the 1970s and what happened with Mr. Allende, it is not a part of American history that we're proud of," have been the talk of Santiago and pretty much all of Chile. I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop from the rightwingers. Bob Novak said as recently as 2001 that "in many ways he [Pinochet] was a great man" and when Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998 Bush #41 commented that this was "a travesty of justice." Kissinger, to no one's surprise, condemned Pinochet's arrest and has argued that what happened under Pinochet's needs to be understodd in the context of the times. As Kevin Drum mentioned here "if in hindsight something was wrong 60 years ago, it's also wrong today", so Dr. Kissinger, allow me to remind you that torture was wrong at the time of the Roman Empire and nothing has changed subsequently to make torture acceptable.
Also, in these days of "moral clarity" and concern about prosecuting those responsible for terrorism, why is there no outcry to prosecute the man who gave the orders to commit this act of state-sponsored terrorism in Washington, DC, September 21, 1976 which resulted in the death of a US citizen and man who had sought asylum from one of the most brutal regimes in Latin America in the 1970's and 1980's?
After all, if acts of terrorism against civilians are wrong now (and they most certainly are), they were also wrong in 1976.
Friday, February 21, 2003
LONG TERM IMPACT OF A TRAGEDY
This is an incredibly poignant article. It's doubly tragic as Senegal, despite its poverty has been one of the more peaceful countries in West Africa.
There are many Senegalese immigrants here in New York. I remember last summer during the World Cup, how, even on the worst days I could count on a warm smile from the Senegalese street merchants here, when I would compliment them on the success of their Men's Soccer team. So many dreams of an entire generation sinking swiftly beneath the waves. Describing it as tragic doesn't do the situation justice.
JUSTICE IN RWANDA
Doesn't Ramsey Clark have better things to do with his time?
CHÁVEZ DIGS AN EVEN DEEPER HOLE
If anyone needed any further proof that Hugo Chávez is a demagogue, then they should read this. He's on his way to becoming one of a long line of monstrous leaders in Latin America's history: Rios Montt, Fujimori, Salinas, Castro, Pinochet, Videla, Stroessner and both Trujillos.
Thursday, February 20, 2003
OPPENHEIMER ON LULA
Andres Oppenheimer has a thoughtful anaysis of Lula's time in office so far. Even the US Ambassador is pulling for Lula:
Ambassador Hrinak is optimistic that da Silva will do well. The success or failure of the da Silva presidency will have major repercussions in all of Latin America, she says.
''If he can combine sound economic management, with effective attention to social programs, this sends a powerful message to the hemisphere,'' she said. ``And if he can't do it, then what does it say to other progressive parties about waiting 22 years to come to power? Will they actually do that?''
I have always defended Lula against some of the more hysterical conservatives by pointing out the fact that he has always pursued his goals through democratic means. That cannot be stressed enough.
On the domestic front, da Silva is facing growing opposition from the radical wing of his party. Still, he seems to be gaining more support in Congress from centrist parties than he may lose in the event of a break with the Workers Party's ultra-leftist wing.
''The fight with the radicals is excellent for Lula,'' said Fatima P. Jordao, a sociologist and consultant to several polling firms. ``It places him at the center of the political spectrum.''
vindicates this post of mine. Much of the continued progress in Latin America hinges on Brazil. I may not see eye to eye with Lula on everything, but I hope he succeeds. The road will be tough.
I'LL TRY TO BE EVEN-HANDED
I have been taking both Chávez and the opposition to task from the beginning. This is beyond the pale:
Shots were fired in the air as armed Venezuelan police entered a restaurant at midnight and hauled away a business chief who led a strike against President Hugo Chavez, opposition leaders said on Thursday.
This is the sort of thing that Augusto Pinochet and the Argentine Junta did in the 1970's and 1980's. In all instances it's unacceptable. In all instances it's dictatorial.
A couple of months ago I tangled with Natasha of The Watch regarding Chávez in her comments section. She had been busy defending Chávez against the opposition in a very black and white fashion. She even set up an archive for her Venezuela posts. Not a word after February 5. Go figure.
REYNOLDS ON VENEZUELA
Glenn Reynolds decides to post about Venezuela and then decides to make a baseless attack against human rights organizations:
And where are the "human rights" groups? Not making the kind of noise they'd make if a U.S. ally were involved, that's for sure.
Are you now clairvoyant, Glenn?
ANOTHER UPDATE: Randy Paul points out that human rights groups have complained. But, as I say, it's not the kind of noise they'd make in other circumstances. Compare the attention to this with the attention that Guantanamo got, for example, or the complaints about Israel.
As I explained to Reynolds, this is a developing story. On a related subject, have law schools stopped using Socratic dialogue as a way of getting at the truth and replaced it with ranting and ad hominem attacks? Just wondering . . .
Wouldn't it be better to try to get as many of the facts as possible before leaping to conclusions and castigating those who do not share your level of outrage on the subject at this moment? Let me give you an object lesson in why sometimes restraint is called for. Do you remember the claims of babies been taken out of incubators in occupied Kuwait and tossed the ground? Remember when it was proven to be a lie? Amnesty International reported on the claims and was put in the position of having to acknowledge that it was made up out of whole cloth. Not a wise course to have to take when you're trying to get the FACTS.
But here, via Randy, is a link to Human Rights watch's comments. Not bad -- but after the way the various human rights groups postured prior to the Afghanistan invasion and over Gitmo, it's going to take a lot to impress me with their evenhandedness.
In the interest of full disclosure, from 1983 to 1997, I was a very heavily involved volunteer with Amnesty International. I did new member orientations at the AIUSA National Headquarters, worked in an adoption group, did training, volunteer and group organization, assisted with event coordination and did public speaking for AI. I still do letter writing and whatever other urgent actions get sent to me. If you have the second edition of this book, you'll see me mentioned in the section on Amnesty International on page 969. Please don't call the number listed; I've moved twice since then.
Through my adoption group I was heavily involved in the efforts to persuade the Senate to ratify important human rights conventions such as the Convention Against Torture, the Convention Against Genocide and persuading both houses of Congress to pass such legislation as the Torture Victims Protection Act. I have read these laws thoroughly and none of them include any section that states that human rights organizations must prove their evenhandedness to Glenn Reynolds.
Two of the major efforts in addressing human rights abuses in the past five years were
1.) The incarceration of Augusto Pinochet in London and the Law Lords decision that the offenses Pinochet was accused of were extraditable to Spain.
2.) The decision awarding damages against the Salvadoran ex-generals José Guillermo García and Carlos Eugenio Vides last year.
Not a peep out of Glenn in either case. Not a word about allegations of torture against detainees as I mentioned here. Put down the stone. You're in a glass house.
Wednesday, February 19, 2003
A TURN FOR THE WORSE IN VENEZUELA
It certainly appears that things are getting worse in Venezuela. I really think that the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an arm of the OAS needs to be the one to investigate this. They have a mandate for such an investigation and instructions on presenting a petition can be found here.
A BLOW TO IMPUNITY?
Vladimiro Montesinos, former drug kingpin lawyer and Alberto Fujimori henchman had his trial start today. Whether he is convicted and actually does time remains to be seen, but the fact that the case against him has gotten this far is a blow against impunity.
INTEREST RATES RISE AGAIN IN BRAZIL
The Associated Press reports that Brazil's Central Bank has raised the benchmark interest rate from 25.5% to 26.5% in an effort to slow down inflation whic has shot up recently.
Analysts had been expecting the move because Brazil's annual inflation rate has surged to 14.5 percent, driven higher in part because of rising oil prices that have increased over fears of a U.S.-led war against Iraq.
This, along with Brazil's debt load is one of the greatest problems holding back Brazil's development. Businesses need credit to expand and start, but who can possibly grow a business with an interest of 26.5% or out of control inflation?
UPDATE TO THIS POST
Todd Morman of Monkey Time posted this post also in response to Glenn Reynolds' link to Mark Steyn's baseless, error filled, anti-leftist diatribe. Todd specifically points to the East Timor Action Network which completely and utterly refutes that portion of Steyn's argument, showing it for at best, lazy journalism and at worst, absolute lie that it is. As for the rest of it, well it's just more of Steyn's flatulent, anti-leftist bilge and ad hominem attacks. [BIG YAWN]
As for Reynolds, well I've sent him a couple of e-mails today refuting Steyn's points and pointing out my post of yesterday. I can only imagine that he gets a huge volume of e-mail and has rightfully complained recently about hatemail, but let's be absolutely clear about a couple of things:
1.) I have never sent you any hatemail. Not even when I've rolled my eyes and shaken my head at some of your posts. This post of yours underscores that point. Maybe you should consider rewarding those who address you civilly with a response.
2.) A little humility goes a long way in strengthening your credibility. When I make a factual error, I truly hope that someone will point it out to me so that I will have the opportunity to acknowledge my mistake and correct it. I seem to remember you saying that you do the same - and saying so on national television no less. Perhaps it's time to do more than pay lip service to that claim.
Tuesday, February 18, 2003
VISCA EL BARÇA!
That may be the only time I use my extremely limited Catalan, but I experienced today one of the true benefits of a snow day: I got to see the UEFA Champion's League match between my beloved FC Barcelona and Internazionale de Milan. The game proved to be a solid thrashing by the Catalan giants, who have this season been playing the worst football in the team's hostory in La Liga in Spain while at the same time setting a record for eleven consecutive wins in the Champion's League. Go figure. Nevertheless, I remain a fan of the Blau Grana (the team colors, okay a little more Catalan) since my visit there a couple of years ago and getting the opportunity to see a game at the Nou Camp stadium, Europe's largest soccer stadium. Thank you again to our friend Maria Quiroga. It was one of the higlights of our trip.
With the exception of the goalkeeper, Roberto Bonano, the entire team seemed to play very well and Carles Puyol, Javier Saviola and Patrick Kluivert all performed spectacularly. Saviola in particular, played like a man possessed. I bet Marcelo Bielsa wants to kick himself every time he sees Saviola play. I still don't understand why he didn't put Saviola on the World Cup team.
If you want to read more about FC Barcelona and life in Catalonia read Iberian Notes.
STEAM IS COMING OUT OF MY EARS!!!
Glenn Reynolds posted this post with a link to an op-ed piece by Mark Steyn. The relevant section of Steyn's piece that Glenn quoted is as follows:
How far are the "peace" crowd prepared to go? Well, they've stopped talking about their little pet cause of the Nineties, East Timor, ever since the guys who blew up that Bali nightclub and whoever's putting together those "Osama" audio tapes started listing support for East Timor's independence as one of the Islamist grievances against the West. But why be surprised? In fall 2001, being pro-gay and pro-feminist didn't stop the left defending an Afghan regime that disenfranchised women and executed homosexuals. Yet these are the same fellows who insist that a secular regime like Iraq's would never make common cause with Islamic fundamentalists, apparently requiring a higher degree of intellectual coherence of Saddam than of themselves.
I am virtually apoplectic upon reading this nonsense. Allow me to address the myths in this post.
Reynolds and Steyn would have you believe that the left is a monolithic movement and that everyone on the left moves in lockstep and thinks exactly alike.
Wrong. There are people on the left who support Fidel Castro blindly. There are many others, such as myself who see him for the tinhorn dictator and human rights abuser that he is and believe that Cuba would be much better off if it was a democracy. If I have not made myself clear before, please read or reread this, this, this, this, this, this, and this to remove all doubt.
There is no monolithic, knee-jerk, lockstep left. Disabuse yourself of that notion.
Glenn has posted an update since I started this response:
UPDATE: A couple of people have emailed me to point out that the left opposed the Taliban in the 1990s. But -- as I think the paragraph above makes clear -- that's not Steyn's point. His point is that the left largely stopped being exercised about the Taliban once it looked as if the United States was going to war against them.
Perhaps because there was no need to worry about them when they were getting bombed out of power. This is what is known as a distinction without a difference. Steyn accused "the left" (whatever that may be) of defending the Taliban. That's a lie. Glenn, if you want to pull out Harold Pinter, Oliver Stone, Robert Fisk and Noam Chomsky, go ahead. I must have missed the meeting of All People of the Left when it was determined that the aforementioned individuals were going to speak for every single one of us on the left. They don't speak for me and I am sure there are many others on the left for whom they do not speak. Many of us on the left were happy to see the Taliban go. Our only regret was that the rest of you didn't tumble to the fact that they were vile people long before terrorists given aid and comfort by the Taliban decided to fly planes into buildings in the city in which I have lived for the past twenty two and a half years.
On the subject of East Timor, Steyn's comments are a complete non-sequitor. East Timor became free of Indonesian occupation and regained its independence on May 20, 2002, five months before the Bali bombing. The reason why Islamic fanatics take issue with East Timor (which is lingually (Portuguese is the official language) and religiously different (majority Roman Catholic)) is because Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world and they are outraged that a nation of "infidels" is among them. Does Steyn believe that its better for the Timorese to suffer another twenty-five years of torture and extrajudicial executions simply for him to gain some momentary glee at mocking the "'peace' crowd? East Timor was annexed illegally by the Indonesians. The only ones supporting this outside of Indonesia (and perhaps other Islamic fanatics) - as Christopher Hitchens has demonstrated - were the Ford Administration and Henry Kissinger. Even the Freepers were happy that East Timor got its independence. The reason why the "'peace' crowd" has stopped talking about East Timor is because its independence is a fait accompli. I'm sure that I'll get flamed now for using a French term. By the way, I started my first Amnesty International action on East Timor in 1984, one year after this picture was taken.
I'll make a deal with you Glenn and Mark Steyn: I won't accuse Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson of speaking for you if you'll afford me the simple courtesy of acknowledging that everyone on the left doesn't share the same exact positions on every single subject. Deal?
Oh and if you want to acquaint yourselves with East Timor, here's a good place to start.
Monday, February 17, 2003
In my very first post on this blog I wrote the following:
"I happen to think that English is a beautiful language and doesn't need neologisms, so don't count on seeing such terms as 'fisk' or 'idiotarian' here. I get as angry as the next person, but I really want to avoid the ad hominem style of discussion. If I slip, please call me on it. I have a smartass sense of humor and sometimes can't help myself. I sincerely value maintaining the quality of discourse. I don't believe anyone has a monopoly on the moral high ground. I know I don't."
I still feel that way. I happen to be a big fan of Atrios, but I think that this post was off-base, ad hominem and simply wrong. I have and probably will continue to disagree with "Jane Galt" about 99.99% of the time and I thought that her original comments were ad hominem. After 46 years on the planet, I also know that two wrongs do not make a right. There's a way to discuss matters, there's a way to address things without sinking into the mire. Let's hope that's not a lesson too late for the learning.
Thanks to Mark Kleiman and Ted Barlow for beating me to the punch.
UPDATE TO THIS POST
Andrés Oppenheimer shares my optimism about the recent poll in Miami among Cuban-American exiles and how to effect change in Cuba:
But the new polls, if followed by smart policies by Cuban exile groups, could turn Castro's propaganda machine on its head. It will be much harder for Cuba's president-for-life to keep justifying 44 years without allowing political parties, elections or freedom of expression for the sake of the defense of the fatherland, if the fatherland's enemies are preaching forgiveness and reconciliation.
Indeed! It also appears that many in the exile community have learned from other peaceful examples in bringing about change from repressive governments:
Fortunately, growing numbers of Cuban exile leaders are not only reading the polls, but are also learning some lessons from Latin America's recent history. As shown in the 1988 referendum against Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and the 1990 elections that toppled Nicaragua's Sandinista regime, hard-liners are often wrong. It was moderate pro-democracy activists within those countries who, with their strategy of taking advantage of whatever legal avenues they had at their disposal, succeeded in toppling oppressive regimes.
This is clearly the most effective way, in my opinion, to bring about lasting, peaceful and progressive change in Cuba.
GUATEMALAN GOVERNMENT OWNS UP TO VICIOUS MURDER
The Guatemalan government has finally acknowledged its "institutional responsibility" in the vicious murder of Myrna Mack in 1990.
Mack was stabbed 27 times outside her downtown Guatemala City office on Sept. 11, 1990. The 39-year-old anthropologist allegedly angered the military when she wrote a groundbreaking report blaming state anti-insurgency campaigns for killing Mayan Indians during the country's 1960-1996 civil war.
After the 1954 US-supported United Fruit Company coup, then Vice-President Richard Nixon commented that "This is the first instance in history where a Communist government has been replaced by a free one. The whole world is watching to see which one does the better job." You can say what you will about the government of Jacobo Arbenz, and, while it was certainly a leftist government, it was democratically elected and only the most reactionary person would refer to it as a "communist" government.
History has provided an answer to Nixon. From 1960 to 1996 some 100,000 people were murdered, mostly by government forces and some 1,000,000 became refugees during that time.
As part of the peace agreement that ended this civil war, an "Historical Clarification Commission" was established and, after 18 months of investigation involving 42,000 victims of human rights violations, the Commission reported that the military and its civilian adjuncts accounted for 93% of the atrocities committed during the years of civil war. The Commission also concluded that the army's counter-insurgency campaign had perpetrated genocide against indigenous people, who made up 83 per cent of the victims. The Commission also pointed to the role played by the CIA in these atrocities. Information obtained in 1999 by human rights groups under the Freedom of Information Act disclosed that as early as the 1960s, the CIA had formulated, encouraged and helped implement a counter-insurgency strategy which relied on clandestine actions by "death squads", made up of police and military agents but wearing plain clothes in order to maintain "government deniability", to eliminate suspected "subversives".
When will the recalcitrant cold "warriors" acknowledge that this sort of behavior is a disgrace and completely and utterly indefensible? Is the fact that Bill Clinton apologized for it too painful for them to bear?
BRAZIL'S NATIONAL DRINK
By drink, I of course mean alcoholic drink and that drink is, of course, cachaça. The Brazilmax site recently had an article about cachaça that is a good introduction to the drink. I was surprised to read that "One observer points out a vast difference in prices, with Ypíoca retail prices usually four times what other brands are." Ypióca sells for US$3 a bottle at the Duty-Free store at the São Paulo Airport, whereas Germana sells for US$7 and other brands even more.
In any event, at the risk of sounding chauvinistic (or as chauvinistic as a gringo can sound), the best cachaça is cachaça mineira, i.e., cachaça from the state of Minas Gerais. AMPAQ is an association of cachaça producers from Minas Gerais dedicated to improving and maintaining the quality of cachaça and enhance the reputation of the product. This site has some good recommendations for determining the quality of a good cachaça as well as some locations for places in the US where you can indulge your taste for a caipirinha or a batida. If you can find a place that makes batidas de cajá, consider yourself blessed.
MORE BAD NEWS FOR NEO-LIBERALISM
The New York Times has a cogent analysis of the recent violence in Bolivia and what that portends for neoliberal efforts in Latin America and the continued imposition of IMF mandated economic models in return for assistance in debt reduction and economic aid. Some three years ago there were similar violent protests when efforts were made to privatize the water supply in Cochabamba, which led one protest leader to refer to the company buying the water rights as trying to "own the rain."
President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada is in an untenable position: having to adhere to IMF mandated austerity measures in a nation in which more than 80% of the population is below the poverty line. There is absolutely no popular support for these austerity measures, especially not from a president who was elected with only 22.5% of the vote according to the Times. The riots also don't bode well for the future of democracy in the region:
Though Bolivia is isolated and poor, with just 8.3 million people, the ramifications are enormous if Mr. Sánchez de Lozada is forced out, because he is not the only president in Latin America facing politically destabilizing streets protests.
"I think this sets a very disturbing precedent," said Michael Shifter, who tracks Latin American politics for the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue. "It is disturbing that when you have this kind of protest and violence that people can call for a president to step down. I don't think that's very helpful for democracy."
On the other hand Sanchez Losada is still early in his term:
"He's got a big, serious problem," said Eduardo Gamarra, an expert on Bolivia at Miami's Florida International University who recently spoke with the president. "He has four and a half years left in his term. How is he going to last four and a half years?"
That's a good question without an easy answer. Clearly neo-liberal reforms are taking a beating: in Argentina and Brazil the two largest countries in South America, the election of Lula and the governmental and economic turmoil in Argentina clearly show the unpopularity of neoliberalism.
SERENDIPITIOUS BAD WEATHER
Mércia arrived back in New York yesterday after six weeks in Brazil and I am, of course, thrilled that my wife is back home. I'm especially glad that she arrived back yesterday as this blizzard would have certainly kept her in Brazil. Instead, she arrived safely and the blizzard has kept us home today. Who could ask for more?
Saturday, February 15, 2003
Marcela Sanchez has an interesting report on the new Ecuadorian President, Lucio Gutiérrez's recent meeting with Bush. The two presidents seemed to hit it off, although I can't help wondering if some of this was an effort on Bush's part to mend fences for thoughtless gaffes such as this.
Sanchez seems to encapsulate much of the (hopefully) changing face of Latin American political leadership with this comment:
Gutiérrez says there are ``fresh, gentle and positive'' winds of change pushing leaders to restore faith in the democratic system. It is not a matter of whether they come from the left or the right, but whether they will be able to address the growing needs of their people. Washington can choose to help, or turn its back. Right now it seems to be giving Gutiérrez the benefit of the doubt.
It's worth noting that the currency of Ecuador for the past few years has been the US dollar. Who knows how much, if any that fact accounted for Gutiérrez's deference to Bush? I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was truly trying to be simpático.
I am feeling incredibly lethargic today, so I'll attribute it to the enervating effect of this hideous cold here in New York.
Thursday, February 13, 2003
Andres Oppenheimer is making an argument that Hugo Chávez is on his way to becoming an "elected" dictator. While that may be open to debate, his attempts to silence the opposition media are disturbing:
Eduardo Bertoni, who monitors freedom of expression for the 34-country Organization of American States, agrees. ''If these measures are carried out, it will mean the end of freedom of expression in Venezuela,'' he told me.
You don't have to be a fan of Gustavo Cisneros (I'm certainly not) to find Chávez's behavior to be disturbing, to say the least. I consider my politics to be moderately left of center, but I cannot imagine anyone who respects an open marketplace of ideas and freedom of expression defending these actions.
ARE THE HARD-LINERS LOSING STRENGTH IN MIAMI?
The Miami Herald reports today on two polls of Cuban-Americans in Broward and Miami-Dade counties and it appears that a major shift in attitude towards bringing democracy to their homeland has taken place:
More than half of South Florida's Cubans support recent efforts at dialogue between exiles and Cuban government officials, according to a poll commissioned by The Herald.
And nearly 70 percent of Cuban Americans believe dissidents in Cuba play a more important role in a democratic transition than exile leaders, according to another, unrelated survey conducted for the Cuba Study Group, an organization of prominent Cuban Americans.
This is certainly an encouraging trend:
''Cuban Americans in South Florida have reached the point of exhaustion at railing against the dictator and now maybe they're willing to do something differently,'' said pollster Rob Schroth, whose company, Schroth & Associates, conducted The Herald's survey. ``These numbers indicate that a significant number of Cuban Americans have clearly decided that ousting the dictator is not as realistic as dialogue with a democratic purpose.''
You can download the poll in PDF format here.
CONSIDER CHOCOLATES OR ANOTHER FLOWER INSTEAD
The New York Times had a very poignant article on the export trade in roses in Ecuador, which is fast becoming one of that nation's biggest industries. Most of the people picking these roses, are desperately poor Indians who have little choice but to work the farms under dangerous conditions.
Doctors and scientists who have worked here say serious health problems have resulted for many of the industry's 50,000 workers, more than 70 percent of them women. Researchers say their work is hampered by lack of access to flower farms because of reluctant growers. But studies that the International Labor Organization published in 1999 and the Catholic University issued here last year showed that women in the industry had more miscarriages than average and that more than 60 percent of all workers suffered headaches, nausea, blurred vision or fatigue.
Obviously it's not only the insects who suffer from the fumigation. Even some of the growers acknowledge this:
"There are still farms that do not respect fumigation limits or give workers proper training and equipment for handling chemicals," said Gonzalo Luzuriaga, chief executive officer of BellaRosa, another flower grower here. "But many of the farmers are very conscientious about these issues, and we are working to make improvements."
While that may be true, this comment is extraordinarily odious:
In Miami, James Pagano, chief marketing officer of Calyx & Corolla, said he had not been to Ecuador and did not want to comment on environmental or worker conditions.
"We buy what we think consumers will perceive to be a high quality rose at a competitive price," he said. The environment "is not an issue we have any business being in."
Fine. Calyx and Carolla will never see a penny of my money and if this article angers you as much as it angers me, I'd urge you to consider buying flowers from someone else. Better yet, consider chocolates or another flower like anemones or tulips. I always like to give my wife carnations. They're lovely, colorful and like true love they last a lot longer than roses.
Wednesday, February 12, 2003
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
The President has got his war;
No one knows just what it's for.
No one gives us a rhyme or reason.
Have one doubt, they call it treason.
from the song Compared to What composed by Gene McDaniels featured on the Les McCann and Eddie Harris recording, Swiss Movement, recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, June 1969.
DUMB, DUMB, DUMB
Boy is this a stupid idea. So much for uniting the nation.
The US Men's Soccer team has drawn a tough group in The Confederations Cup in France this summer. They are in the group with Brazil, Turkey and Cameroon, challenging to say the least. Bruce Arena is going to need to have the team in top shape for this.
THE SCAM THAT WON'T GO AWAY
This must be a record: four of these type of scam letters in 24 hours.
Now they even know it's a scam:
YOU MAY HAVE RECEIVE SIMILAR MAILS OF THIS NATURE AND SEE IT AS A SCAM
MAIL, BUT I WANT YOU TO CONSIDER THIS MAIL TO BE TRUE AND REAL FOR
EVERYTHING THAT HAS REAL MUST ALSO HAVE FAKE,I PRAYED FOR FOURTEEN DAYS AND
BELIEVE YOU WILL HONOUR MY PROPOSAL FOR I AM DUE FOR RETIREMENT AND
HOPE TO FALL BACK ON MY OWN SHARE OF THIS DEAL,MEANWHILE I HAVE MANDATED
TO REACH YOU AND SOLICITATE YOUR ASSISTANCE.
Attention scammers: if you want to get someone's attention, please turn off the caps lock, okay?
BORDER WARS IN LATIN AMERICA
Silicon Jack of Latin Trade magazine has a typically thoughtful article on the futility of border wars in Latin America.
This goes to the heart of the matter:
As a young reporter in the early 1980s, I toured the frigid waters of the Beagle Channel as a guest of the Chilean Navy, which took me to a couple of small, sparsely populated islands at the center of a dispute with Argentina.
The growing conflict nearly ended in war before a 1985 treaty awarded the islands to Chile. Still today, I can’t fathom why anybody would kill over a piece of land where even sheep were miserable, if not for simple, ugly nationalism.
Although that was not a border war, I think that his opinion is also relevant regarding the Falklands War. There you had a military junta desperately attempting to remain in power by diverting the public's attention from a sour economy and repression by appealing to nationalist sentiments and starting a war without any regard to the loss of young lives.
I'm straying a little far afield here, but I lived in Germany for three years; two in the 1970's and one in the 1960's. I've seen Dachau and in Kaiserslautern, the town in which I lived, you the air raid shelters from World War II still rose up out of the ground as vivid reminders of the destruction. Why, then, given Germany's history over the last century, is it at all bad that Germany opposes war?
A Texas and Brazil-sized thanks to Sean-Paul Kelley of The Agonist for that lovely new title on the blog!
ELECTRONIC VOTING IN BRAZIL
There's been a great deal of discussion here and especially here on the dangers of electronic voting. None of these discussions seemed to have addressed the hugely successful electronic vote that elected Lula President of Brazil and the final results were very much in keeping with pre-election polls, bot for the first round of voting and the run-off between José Serra and Lula. In the comments section on Atrios' blog someone suggested that I do a Google search for information on the electronic vote in Brazil.
Well I did just that. This article goes over much of the technical aspects of the procedure and this one, written by a professor of computer science in Brazil is critical of Brazil's system. This article gives a more recent accounting of the procedure in Brazil and this link will take you to the Florida Supreme Court remand opinion in which the Brazilian voting machines are mentioned.
The most significant differences between Brazil and the US are:
1.) Voting is mandatory in Brazil, even if you're living out of the country.
2.) Brazil has a much stronger central government than local government. In the USA we are well acquainted with the 10th Amendment.
The Bradenton Herald article addresses the issue accurately:
"We don't have what you would call a U.S. system. We have 50 systems," said Bill Frenzel, a former U.S. congressman and visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution, a Washington policy research organization that backs election reforms.
The U.S. Constitution determines that states and not the federal government are responsible for election rules, Frenzel said. And, election officials in 28 U.S. states have kept the controversial punch-card system that resulted in the embarrassing legal battle for the presidency in 2000.
Indeed in Brazil, all mayors and city council members are elected nationwide at the same time and all governors, senators, deputies (equivalent to US House of Representatives) and the president are elected at the same time.
I hold no brief for electronic voting. I simply find it very interesting that it has worked so well in Brazil.
Monday, February 10, 2003
BY BUS IN BRAZIL
In 1998 we had a great trip to Brazil. We had Brazil Airpasses through Varig and for $540 we were able to fly from Belo Horizonte to Brasília, Brasília to Recife, Recife to Salvador, Salvador to Vitória and Vitória back to Belo Horizonte. It was a huge time and comfort saver, but if you want to see Brazil like a Brazilian, you have to take the bus at least once.
Nothing gives you the sense of the vastness of Brazil than traveling by bus. The buses in Brazil are very comfortable and well appointed, some known as leitos have seats that fold back into small beds. Buses in Brazil are a great social equalizer: virtually everyone rides them at some time regardless of means. The scenery is distracting enough to keep you away from that well-thumbed paperback.
Some routes are obviously better than other: Belo Horizonte to São Paulo; Rio de Janeiro to Belo Horizonte (the ascent into the mountains around Petropolis is not to be missed); Porto Seguro to Vitória (Monte Pascoal will leave you speechless) and Curitiba to São Paulo. Some routes while beautiful, also are treacherous. Belo Horizonte to Vitória comes to mind. The road involves a constant series of switchbacks as you climb and descend into the mountains. Even if you wanted to sleep, the constant thud of the luggage below you being slung from side to side as the bus tackles the curves will keep you awake. This is one route that is best taken by train. This is also one of the few passenger train lines in Brazil and like the best scenic train routes, very slow moving.
If you have kids traveling with you and they get bored tell them to count the termite mounds on the hills around you. They won't get bored.
MORE ON BRAZILIAN BARBECUE
There's nothing like barbecue to send the e-mail flying my way. Merrijane Rice of Salt Lake City and John Collins of Denver alerted me to Rodizio Grill which has branches in Denver, Orem, UT, Salt Lake City and Houston, TX. Thomas Lackner of Miami pointed out Porcão to me, which is also owned by the same people who own the famous Porcão in Rio de Janeiro. Michael Nutt recommended Malibu Grill in suburban Washington, DC.
My advice: be sure to save room for dessert. The Mousse de Maracujá (Passion Fruit Mouse) is good for digestion.
Sunday, February 09, 2003
Glenn Reynolds has commented here, here, and here about barbecue and Kevin Drum has commented on the subject here and here. Neither of them mentioned one of the fastest growing barbecue trends in the US (Perhaps they haven't tried one yet): the Brazilian Churrascaria.
The concept is very simple: no set menu, no fancy sauces, just endless skewers of freshly grilled meat - usually only seasoned with sea salt or garlic - brought to your table and sliced for you, some side dishes, a diverse salad bar and it's best washed down with a caipirinha. You'll receive a coaster-sized card with red on one side and green on the other. When you want the meat to come, leave the green side up.
There are a couple of chains in the US: Fogo de Chão which has branches in Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and Chicago and Texas de Brazil with branches in Dallas, Addison and Fort Worth, Texas as well as Memphis and Miami. I haven't eaten there, but I know people who have and they haven't been disappointed. If you come to New York, Churrascaria Plataforma is the best one.
Glenn could probably visit the Atlanta and Memphis restaurants, although I would imagine Atlanta may be a little closer to Knoxville, but the only churrascaria I know of anywhere near Orange County is one very good I tried a couple of years ago in the Gas Lamp section of San Diego called Rei do Gado. Here's a review, Kevin.
If you give them a try, report back to us!
OPPENHEIMER ON THE MILLENIUM FUND ACCOUNT
Andrés Oppenheimer writes about the Millenium Fund Account in his column today and he makes an important point:
Under the proposed legislation, the aid package -- known under the pompous title of Millennium Challenge Account -- would go to ''very poor countries'' with per capita incomes below $1,435 a year. In the second year, the list of eligible countries would be expanded to those with per capita incomes of up to $2,975 a year.
That would automatically exclude Latin America's middle-income countries. Brazil's per capita income, for instance, is $7,625 a year. Mexico's is $9,023, according to the United Nations.
The US Ambassador agrees with Oppenheimer:
In an interview days before the bill was submitted to Congress, U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Donna Hrinak told me she was among those advocating that the aid go to regions in addition to countries. ''There are people in Brazil's northeast living on $70 a year. That's unacceptable in our hemisphere,'' she said. ``That's going to come back and bite us.''
If northeastern Brazil were considered as a region, and one were to take into account the 50 million people living in poverty there, it would certainly qualify for the U.S. aid, she said. Brazil is a democratic country, which respects free-market policies, and whose ''Zero Hunger'' program would be perfectly suited to channel some of the U.S. funds, Hrinak said.
This illustrates the futility of relying upon nationwide per capita income as the primary factor in determining where this aid goes. Brazilians have been known to refer to Brazil as "Belindia," meaning that some of the country is developed like Belgium and some of it is developed like India. Aid to the Northeast of Brazil would go a long way towards building goodwill in a part of the world that this administration has long neglected. Bush should listen to his ambassador.
SPLIT AMONG THE PERONISTS
The New York Times has an article in today's about a significant schism among the Peronists in Argentina.
Former President Carlos Menem is also running for president and refers to his one of his chief opponents, Néstor Kirchner as having "neither competence nor charisma." While competence is certainly an importtant quality for a leader (although with Menem as the source for this comment, I wouldn't put much stock in it. If Menem told me the sky was blue, I'd look out the window), charisma has to be the single most overrated quality of a political leader and I really am inclined to question its importance in getting things done. We have had leaders who have been charismatic, but incompetent: Ronald Reagan (who had a scheme hatched in his administration to sell weapons to a terrorist state and use the profits to fund an illegal war while claiming to know nothing about it, to say nothing of policies that devastated hundreds of thousands in Central America), Lyndon Johnson (who let his profound achievements in the area of civil rights be engulfed by his hubris when it came to Vietnam) and we have had leaders such as Hubert Humphrey who have been short on charisma, but long on competence, dedication and idealism. Indeed, my respect from Humphrey only increased recently when I read about his single-minded dedication to civil rights when he first came to the Senate in the 1950's and the resistance he faced.
Nevertheless, the article states about Kirchner that
For more than a decade, Mr. Kirchner, 52, has been governor of Santa Cruz, a Patagonian province rich in oil, where he earned a reputation as both a skilled political operator and an efficient administrator. But Mr. Kirchner's province, with fewer than 200,000 residents, does not provide him with much of a power base, and no Patagonia native has ever been elected president.
Indeed with more than one third of the nation's population in or near Buenos Aires, it is tough to get elected without a political base there. That is where the other shoe is about to drop:
Mr. [Acting President Eduardo] Duhalde, however, has the means to remedy that situation and to leave Mr. Kirchner in his debt.
The prospect of Menem returning to La Casa Rosada is too awful to bear. Duhalde should support Kirchner without any quid pro quo, and maybe, just maybe he'll be remembered for putting Argentina first and not his own interests.
Saturday, February 08, 2003
MORE FALLOUT FROM DUBYA'S LATAM NEGLECT
Andres Oppenheimer writes about what appears to be Brazil's turn away from the US and toward the EU.
Oppenheimer is not entirely convinced, however:
The European Union is expanding from 15 to 25 member countries, and many of the newcomers -- such as Poland and Hungary -- are agricultural powerhouses that compete directly with South American countries. With the expansion, the number of European Union farmers will grow from six million to 16 million, while the group's subsidies budget will remain virtually the same.
It's hard to imagine European Union farmers allowing Europe to reduce its agricultural subsidies in order to buy South American farm goods. Brazil may dream with Europe, but its future may lie in free trade with the United States.
I'm not so sure. While Poland and Hungary export a great deal of wheat and potatoes and Hungary produces a lot of corn and beef, which may put them in trade conflict with some countries in South America, there are plenty of other products that could be exported (assuming that the EU doesn't want a report of the problems with British and French colonies exporting bananas that conflicted with Central American countries): soybeans (Brazil is a major producer), oranges, orange juice and other citrus and tropical fruit products as well as Argentine and Brazilian beef, blessedly free of Mad Cow Disease.
The fact that Brazil in particular is looking towards the EU is further proof as to the continued bungling of the Bush Administration in Latin America.
POTENTIAL GOOD NEWS FROM CUBA
The Miami Herald reports that Cuba may be relaxing its entry and exit permit requirements. According to the article
Cuba is among a limited number of nations that requires its citizens to apply and pay for permits for leaving or visiting the island. The departure papers cost about $300. Cubans living abroad must pay entry fees of more than $100 each time they return to the island.
Considering the Castro regime's desperation for hard currency, this is surprising, but encouraging nevertheless.
Juan Forero has a fairly judicious analysis as to why the strike failed to dislodge Chávez in Venezuela.
This is more or less what I had been saying all along:
“If only the strike had focused solely on an electoral solution,” lamented Felipe Mujica, president of an opposition party, Movement Toward Socialism. “The opposition thought that it would lead to Chavez’s resignation and that was a mistake.”
That certainly would have been better than openly calling for sedition as I mentioned some among the opposition were doing here. Chávez, obviously feeling his oats, cannot restrain his own rhetoric:
Earlier this week in a speech to supporters he signaled more retribution for his political enemies, telling them:
"The coup-mongering, fascist opposition had their turn with the bat and they have struck out three times. Now it's our turn to bat."
Somehow hearing Chávez accuse people of being coup-mongerers - regardless of how accurate the accusation may be - is tantamount to John Ashcroft referring to someone as holier than thou.
I think that a little humility on both sides would go a long way towards helping Venezuela.
Friday, February 07, 2003
DIAMANTINA PART III
Our pousada has afternoon tea at 6:00 p.m. and it is just one of the traditions that makes our stay so pleasant. Lemon grass tea and peppermint tea is served along with some small cookies. The staff rings a bell to let the guests know it's tea time.
One of the great features of Brazilian hotels and inns is that breakfast is virtually always included. At our pousada it is an extraordinarily sumptuous breakfast: fresh papaya halves, bananas (with a creamy, sweet flavor that will make you forget your average, bland banana you find in supermarkets), homemade jabuticaba and mangaba jelly, Brazilian style cheese rolls (pão de queijo), a hot corn meal dish (kind of like sweet polenta) warm rice pudding, several different types of bread, ham, luscious regional cheeses, hot coffee, acerola and guava juice. Just what you need to fortify you for the walks around the historic district.
One of Diamantina's most famous former residents was Xica da Silva, who was also the subject of this film. Her house is a museum and is worth a visit, with some of the best views of the region and the Serra do Espinhaço from the second floor.
Another former resident of Diamantina is Juscelino Kubitschek who was President of Brazil during the construction of Brasília. His childhood home is a museum. I do not mean to offend anyone from Brasília (I have several friends who live there), but I cannot fathom how someone who grew up in a town as charming and warm as Diamantina could be behind the construction of such a monstrously impersonal and cold city like Brasília.
As with so many vacations, in the short time we were there in Diamantina, there were so many attractions we missed: the festival known as Vesperata, hearing the serestas (serenades) on the weekend, visiting nearby Biri-Biri, Curralinho, and the waterfalls, caves and the Caminho dos Escravos; a pathway constructed by the slaves that led to the diamond mines.
This last issue is something that has gnawed at my conscience since my first visit to a colonial city. Much of the beauty of these cities was achieved as the result of slavery and, as much as I enjoy seeing the sites and the history, I cannot help but feeled pained and guilty as I enjoy the beauty. I suppose it's enough in this day and age to be aware of the history and consider that as part of the perspective while I wander through the past. The fact that so much enforced suffering had to take place to create so much beauty is brutally and cruelly ironic.
If you are interested in reading a great contemporary accounting of Diamantina in the 19th Century, you can do no better than this book.
DIAMANTINA PART II
We exit the bus, get our bags and purchase our return tickets for the day after tomorrow. We get a cab to our pousada (inn), Pousada Relíquias do Tempo (Relics of the Time). As the link describes, it's a colonial mansion from about 1850 in Diamantina's historic center. It's beautifully decorated with colonial era furniture, jacaranda floors and folk art from the region, much of which consists of ceramics and weavings. I feel my blood pressure lower as we walk into our room and gaze through the open window past the shutters to the plaza across the street, the baroque church on the hill and the dizzyingly steep street that reminded me of my college years in San Francisco.
We waste no time and go for a walk with a map and guidance from the front desk. The streets are surfaced not with asphalt, but with iregular stones wedged randomly into the road bed in a style known as pé de moleque (feet of the street urchin). Pé de moleque is also a kind of sweet, like a softer and chewier version of peanut brittle. The level of the roads are fairly even, but the combination of the steep streets and the road surface make the auto traffic blessedly slow and makes for safe walking, although knowing where to step on the street is an acquired art. The streets are filled with pedestrians walking up and down the near-perpendicular roads. I comment to Mércia that the richest guy in town fixes shock absorbers and clutches, the next richest is the orthopedist who treats the tourists' sprained ankles and the poorest is the one who owns the gym.
There are some ten baroque and rococo churches (igrejas) in Diamantina. One which stood out for me was the Igreja do Rosário. This was the church built by the slaves at night in 1728 and it has a certain uneven beauty about it. The acoustics are reputed to be extraordinary; Milton Nascimento and Martinho da Vila have recorded inside the church.
Wednesday, February 05, 2003
DIAMANTINA PART I
One of the most consistently rewarding tourism adventures in Brazil I have had in all of my trips to Brazil have been the historic colonial cities of Minas Gerais.
On my first trip to Brazil, I visited Ouro Preto, unquestionably the most famous of these cities. Subsequent visits led me to explore Sabará, São João del Rei, Tiradentes (probably the city that exudes the most charm), Congonhas and Mariana. Most of the cities are situated fairly closely to Belo Horizonte and to each other, making it easy for day trips or a simple overnight trip from Belo Horizonte.
Consequently, I had never been able to make time to visit Diamantina until this last visit. Diamantina is in the opposite direction of the other colonial cities; a five hour bus ride from Belo Horizonte. The change in the scenery during the ride is very dramatic.
As you break free of the traffic and congestion of Belo Horizonte, you pass through an area called the Cavern Circuit. This is the location of approximately five caves, including Maquiné, Rei do Mato and Lapinha. Passing through farmland wedged between the highway and the undulating mountains in the distance, the road soon becomes lined with Acacia trees and their yellow blossoms as well as Ipê Amarelo trees that, as you can see, virtually explode in yellow. The roads are fairly straight at this point and if the scenery were not so lovely, the rocking of the bus would make you drowsy.
Gradually and subtly, the terrain changes. The low hills adjacent to the highway become pockmarked with gray stone among the greenery and the vegetation in patches begins to resemble the Brazilian scrubland known as caatinga. The road begins to wind a little more and the undulating hills that you have been admiring in the distance have taken over the road. The air becomes a little warmer, you tend to go a lot further between residential areas, and you see a few more urubus dotting the sky. The people getting on the bus seem a little more weary, indeed a lot more weary than you as they are not tourists, but have to rely on this bus to get around. Finally, you see the city in the distance, pass a restaurant with the curious name "Raimundo Sem Braços" (Raymond Without Arms - begging the question, according to my wife, "How does he cook?") and pull into the bus station on the street of irregular stones.
Part II tomorrow or Friday.
Tuesday, February 04, 2003
THE VALUE OF CULTURE AND THE ARTS IN SOCIETY
As I mentioned here, we spent some time in Poços de Caldas in the south of Minas Gerais. It's one of the largest cities in an area known as the Circuito das Águas, an area famous for natural mineral baths and the heart of the coffee growing region of Brazil. It's also near Três Corações, the birthplace of Pelé.
The city has about 140,000 residents and has many of the sorts of attractions one would expect to see in a tourist oriented city: waterfalls, carriage rides, beautiful mountain views, streets filled with flowers, a monorail (currently undergoing repairs) and of course, the usual restaurants, hotels, etc. What really impressed me about the city was how peaceful it seemed to be and how safe and secure it was. It reminded me very much of Curitiba, the capital of the state of Paraná. Both cities have much in common: a great deal of greenery and perhaps, most important, the value of public culture and the arts in making a city safe and involving the citizens in the quotidian aspects of life in the city.
When I visited Curitiba at the end of 1996 and beginning of 1997, I was struck by how many people were out walking in the evening. The streets were filled with pedestrians and one stretch of pedestrian promenade, popularly known as Rua de Flores (Street of the Flowers) extended for several blocks free of cars. I don't think I had ever felt any safer walking the streets at night in any city anywhere.
This same feeling came over me in Poços de Caldas. When Mércia and I went there last month, there was a festival taking place called "Music in the Mountains." Free classical music concerts were held every night and the streets were filled with people. Impromptu dance bands were playing at gazebos in parks and the benches were filled with couples of all ages enjoying the summer air and the night-blooming jasmine. Near the old casino where the concerts were taking place, a park was lined with fast food stands offering delicacies as diverse as chocolate filled churros and the famous "X-Burgers".
This demonstrates to me the value of culture and the arts in adding to the quality of life in a city and not just for the typical reasons. Poços de Caldas has a very small jail and significantly lower crime rates than other cities its size in Brazil. I cannot help but feel that the fact that there are so many people out on the streets at night enjoying the cultural life of the city rather than huddling at home in front of their televisions that contributes to the quality of life in this town and, like Curitiba, invests each resident with a personal sense of value about their community.
Monday, February 03, 2003
THE FACE OF HUNGER
We were sitting on a low brick wall in the lovely colonial city of Diamantina. It was hot and about four in the afternoon and we were admiring the baroque façade of a government building and the spray of bougainvillea that arched triumphantly over the fence in front of us.
He was very old and painfully thin. He walked with great care and deliberation over the pé-de-moleque (irregular stone) streets and eased himself onto the same brick wall a few feet away. Mércia immediately turned to me and said "He looks so hungry. Do you have five reais? I want to get him something."
I reached into my wallet, pulled a five reais bill and handed it to her. She walked over to him and asked him "Would you like a cafezinho and some bread or something else to eat?" He nodded shyly and said "Okay. I haven't had lunch [the main meal of the day in Brazil] yet today." She went with him to a small bakery and sandwich shop and got him something.
I suppose if she were an economist or had an MBA she could have lectured him on the need to plan properly for his retirement. Instead, she stepped outside of herself, looked unflinchingly into the face of hunger and offered a compassionate hand to a stranger. That's one of the reasons why I love this woman so much and think that she has the most generous heart I have ever encountered.
Sunday, February 02, 2003
KNEE-JERK RIGHT-WING BIAS
Richard Jahnke posted this post in his El Sur blog regarding a schism between the far left and the more moderate left elements in Lula's Workers Party.
I don't want to try to nitpick too much with what Jahnke has to say in his blog as we cover the same beat and, while I don't have any dispute with the factual substance of his post, this statement is ridiculous:
Here is a classic problem for leftist parties that come into power.
No, it's a classic problem for any political party with a diverse membership. Is Jahnke not aware of the 1992 Republican National Convention in the USA when Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson alienated many voters and helped send Bill Clinton to the White House? By attributing this as a "classic problem for leftist parties that come into power," Jahnke ignores history and seems determined to perpetuate the myth that all virtue and good organization emanates from the right and all evil and incompetence emanates from the left. What nonsense!