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

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My name: Randy Paul
email: randinho@yahoo.com

Beautiful Horizons
Monday, March 31, 2003  

The Washington Post has a fascinating article about voter apathy in Argentina. Who can blame them when one of the candidates bears a great deal of responsibility for the current state of affairs and another served as president for a whopping seven days:

"Who will I vote for?" Alberto Dima repeats the question with a tone of bemusement as he sits in the barber's chair. "I am torn," he says, "between Shaquille O'Neal and Homer Simpson."

"No, no," Omar Menendez says as he trims Dima's thick beard. "Bart Simpson. I like Bart Simpson for president." Menendez lifts the scissors for a moment and turns to his partner, Guillermo Fonzi, awaiting customers in the chair next to him. "Guillermo, who will you vote for for president?"

"You are both crazy," replies Fonzi without lifting his gaze from a magazine. "I am voting for Clemente," referring to a popular cartoon character here.

"Ah, this country," he adds with disgust. "We have this horrible economic crisis and our politicians give us nothing but clowns and crooks to choose from for our next president."

I can certainly empathize . . .

This, however, is the most tragic aspect of the situation:

Some say that the leadership crisis is a product of Argentina's history. Democracy returned only 20 years ago, following a brutal military dictatorship that came to power in a 1976 coup that created a vacuum in the development of democratic institutions.

Human rights groups have said as many as 20,000 people were killed in the "dirty war" of the 1970s, when the Argentine military abducted university students, teachers, intellectuals and labor organizers, all of whom became known as the disappeared.

"There is an entire class of our potential leaders gone," said Abramovich. "It is impossible to replace them, and so the consequence is a greatly diminished political body."

The impact of the dirty war has not been forgotten.

"We're essentially missing an entire generation of our best and brightest," said Menendez, the barber. "The bill has to come due sooner or later. Who can say how many people were among those . . . who disappeared who could have actually inspired Argentines?"

I wonder what Jeane Kirkpatrick would have to do say about the long term effects of her support of the murderous, savage generals who used their brutal suppression of dissent to crush freedom in Argentina.

9:46 PM


Reuters is reporting more apparently organized violence in Rio de Janeiro. Homemade bombs were thrown at the Hotel Meridien on Avenida Atlántica in Copacabana, the site of the New Year's Eve Fireworks Cascade which I had the pleasure to see on New Year's Eve 1999. I mention that to show how far things have fallen. on that night no arrests were reported in Copacabana. This seems like the likely cause:

Brazil's most notorious drug lord, Luiz Fernando da Costa, or Fernandinho Beira-Mar (Freddy Seashore), suspected of organizing February's wave of violence, was transferred from a jail in Rio to another state, prompting concerns of more violence.

This is truly a tragedy. It doesn't seem like there is any end to this and one wonders what Lula can do to help given how drained of resources the Treasury is. Ending hunger is clearly important; so is feeling safe in one's home, on the streets, and in the city.

9:31 PM

Sunday, March 30, 2003  

Luiz Fernando da Costa, commonly known as Fernandinho Beir-Mar (which the English language press seems determined to translate as "Little Freddy Seashore", blissfully unaware of Brazil's love of the diminutive) has been transfered from the prison in São Paulo where he was being held after being transfered from the prison in Rio where he was being held until it became clear that a great deal of the violence plaguing Rio, including criminals effectively shutting the city down were likely to have been executed on his orders.

Brazil's most notorious drug lord was transferred Thursday under extreme security precautions from a Sao Paulo prison to another penitentiary in the northeastern state of Alagoas.

The plane carrying Luiz Fernando da Costa, otherwise known as Fernandinho Beira-Mar, was loaded with federal and military police that guarded the manacled, high-ranking leader of the Red Command criminal gang.

Throughout the day, the exact destination of the plane remained a closely guarded secret until Beira-Mar was remanded into custody. He is scheduled to stay in Alagoas for 40 days until he is shipped to another facility in the impoverished, northern state of Piaui.

Piauí is indeed a desperately poor state in the poorest and one of the loveliest sections of Brazil, the Northeast. The state has the smallest coastline of any of the states in that region. i truly hope that federal authorities maintain control over his incarceration. I don't know how corrupt - if at all - the authorites in Paiuí may be, nor would I be willing to rush to judgment, but Piauí's poverty and the tradtional low pay that a lot of these officials receive are not an encouraging combination in my opinion.

1:38 PM


Josh Marshall shares an e-mail he received from a former career diplomat who used to be US ambassador to a muslim country. He presents a very depressing set of options as the endgame to this war and none of which are easy to stomach. To me, however, the most compelling comment is this one:

As for GWB, he is not given to self-doubts, second thoughts, or self-reflection.

Indeed. After the pained and ultimately unsuccessful attempts to provide a direct link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein (hatred of America doesn't qualify as a direct link, by the way), after the forged documents alleging attempts to buy uranium from Niger (leaving the CIA with the choice of pleading incompetence or outright deceit), after flying to the Azores to meet with your friends instead of making any efforts to persuade those who disagree with you, after pumping your fist and saying "Feels good!" moments before you are about to address the nation that people will probably die upon your orders, including the sons and daughters of those watching, can anyone make the argument that this President does any self-reflection?

We have a Toastmasters club where I work and I gave a speech on Friday titled "Unexamined Lives, Reckless Lives", in which I accused the President of much of the same thinking that the retired diplomat in Josh Marshall's post mentioned. There is no one who is immune from the need for self-examination. Why? Because we are not perfect. Because our actions have consequences and when one is President of the United States, one's actions have even greater consequences. One hopes that this is not a lesson to late for the learning.

1:17 PM


Former President of Peru, Alberto Fujimori has vowed to return to Peru some day. My response: how about now? You could face the accusations against you without having to be subjected to the kangaroo courts you established.

12:48 PM


I had a post here about the reaction of the Portuguese Men's National Soccer Team to the addition of Deco a Brazilian-born naturalized Portuguese player who was just added to the team by the Brazilian coach, Luis Felipe Scolari. Luis Figo, former FIFA player of the year made the following idiotic comment:

Former FIFA Player of the Year Luis Figo told O Jogo on Tuesday that he opposed allowing naturalised players into the national team as "national anthems can be learned but they aren't felt"

and Rui Costa chimed in:

"They're called national sides for a reason. If our federations begin to accept naturalised players, some day there won't be national sides and we'll just have club championships again," he said.

Well, yesterday Portugal beat Brazil 2-1 in a close match for the first time in 37 years and guess who scored the winning goal? Deco did. That goal, by the way, is as many goals as Rui Costa scored in three games during last year's World Cup and one more than Luis Figo did (who didn't play yesterday due to an injury). How about the two of you shut up, cut the nationalistic crap and extend a warm welcome to your new teammate, okay?

12:35 PM


Andres Oppenheimer writes again in The Miami Herald about concerns that the Bush administration plans on some form of payback to Latin American governments that do not support the war against Iraq. Oppenheimer frames much of the debate as a battle between hardliners in the White House and the more conciliatory side in the State Department and that the hard-liners are winning:

The hard-liners, most of whom dwell in the White House, are pressing for clear signals of U.S. displeasure with Mexico and Chile. The doves, mostly located in the State Department, argue that any real or perceived U.S. retaliation would do nothing but add fuel to worldwide assertions of U.S. arrogance and imperial attitudes.

The first signs that White House hawks were beginning to prevail came on March 17 after the United States failed to win a nine-vote Security Council majority for an ultimatum on Iraq to meet U.N. disarmament resolutions.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said hours later that the United States was ''disappointed'' by Mexico and Chile's positions, although officials insisted that there would be no U.S. government reprisals.

After the war began March 19, the Bush administration's signs of displeasure became more overt.

It was no coincidence that U.S. officials leaked to The Herald last week the news that President Bush had waited four days before returning a call from Mexican President Vicente Fox. Or that, in case Fox had missed the message, a U.S. official said that the four-day delay should have made Fox realize that ``the relationship has been affected.''

Oppenheimer predicts the following outcome:

My bet: If the United States finds weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, you will see France, Canada and Latin America making a political U-turn and rushing to Bush's side.

If it doesn't, and if the Iraq conflict drags on, the planned hemispheric free trade agenda will be drowned in a worldwide wave of anti-Americanism.

I have to disagree on the first part. If the weapons of mass destruction are found and significant civilian casualties also occur, I think that question will be if these weapons could have been found with UN weapons inspectors or with coercive inspections as described by Jessica Matthews, the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace here, and why the war had to take place now.

12:10 PM

Saturday, March 29, 2003  

The National Security Archive, a potential, if not actual, bete noire of John Ashcroft and anyone who adores government secrecy has released a report of declassification efforts of documents relating to US relations with Argentina during the Junta that controlled Argentina in the 1970's and early 1980's. I had mentioned some of the internecine struggles in the State Department over this issue here, but the NSA a, as usual provides a stunning level of detail, especially with the experiences of Patricia Derian who was Undersecretary of State for Human Rights during the Carter administration:

"The [Argentine] government method is to pick people up and take them to military installations. There the detainees are tortured with water, electricity and psychological disintegration methods. Those thought to be salvageable are sent to regular jails and prisons where the psychological process is continued on a more subtle level. Those found to be incorrigible are murdered and dumped on garbage heaps or street corners, but more often are given arms with live ammunition, grenades, bombs and put into automobiles and sent out of the compound to be killed on the road in what is then reported publicly to be a shootout or response to an attack on some military installation.


Through these agencies the United States government is sending a dangerous and double message. If this continues, it will subvert our entire human rights policy.

It is widely believed by our military and intelligence services that the human rights policy emanates only from the Department of State, is a political device and one with a short life due to its wide impracticality, the naiveté and ignorance of individuals in the Administration and to the irresponsible headline grabbing of members of Congress.

This is the signal problem our government has in human rights. The only hope we have to gain support for our initiatives and to advance the cause of human rights is to make sure that governments understand that we are serious, and committed to our human rights policies.

If they believe and are told by U.S. government officials that we are not serious and committed, they are going to try to wait us out.
1- That the President as Commander in Chief send a message to all branches of the armed forces stating unequivocally the human rights policy of the U.S. government, which outlines the duty of the military in this regard.

2-That the President instruct the C.I.A., the F.B.I, and all other intelligence agencies on the human rights policy of the U.S. government.

3-That courses in Human Rights be designed and implemented at once in all service academies, military training institutes and intelligence schools, including all purely domestic as well as those with international participants.

4-That those members of the armed forces and intelligence services who cannot comply with U.S. government policies on human rights be immediately separated from their services.”

It appears that much of the Carter adminstration policy towards human rights was being subverted by a desire to mollify the junta. Nevertheless, one wonders why, in her ostensibly high profile position why someone like Derian was not able to make a stronger case for her side? It really begs the question as to who had President Carter's ear on this matter.

That being said, the Reagan administration was a welcome change to the junta. This administration, after all, was the one that suggested that critics of the junta should "spend a day in the generals' shoes" and who appointed a man for the position Patricia Derian held (Ernest Lefevre) who commented that the torture taking place in Chile, Argentina and the other Southern Cone countries was a "continuation of Iberian traditions." I have often wondered how long the Reagan White House would have supported the junta if they had not decided to invade the Falkland Islands as a distraction from Argentina's economic and othe domestic problems

Check out the archive and throw them some support if you can. Where else can you find such an extensive collection of photos of Nixon and Elvis.

12:03 PM


Marcela Sanchez makes a good argument that the rest of Latin America should step up and find the middle ground between the US and Castro in response to the recent arrests of a number of dissidents in Cuba.

Forceful condemnation of the arrests in Cuba by a united regional front would help counter those who say Latin America lost relevance in the world last week. It also would make the case for the effectiveness of multilateral action toward Cuba, as opposed to the unilateral U.S. approach, which has been largely ineffective, when not counterproductive.

So far I haven't read any reaction from Lula regarding the arrests in Cuba. Having been a political prisoner himself, one would hope that his silence is the result of shock that will soon be transmuted into action. He and Vicente Fox could strengthen their profile in world affairs by encouraging support for bringing this before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and working hard to find a middle ground between the US and Cuba on the future of Cuba.

12:12 AM

Friday, March 28, 2003  

Glenn Reynolds links to the Steven den Beste comment:

Russian President Putin says that the war in Iraq has pushed the world into its most serious post-Cold-War crisis.

I think that it was the attacks on Washington and New York in September of 2001 which pushed the world into crisis. The only difference is that the US recognized that fact. Most of the rest of the world have been in denial about it ever since.

To which Glenn in characteristic terseness responds "Yep."

In about five minutes (without any brain strain) I came up with some of the following examples that contradict this presumption and that have happened subsequent to 9/11:

1.) France thwarts a plot to bomb the US Embassy in Paris

2.) Judge Garzon issues indictments and effects arrests of several alleged Al Qaeda members in Spain

3.) Germany accomplishes the first successful prosecution of an Al Qaeda member tied to the 9/11 attacks

4.) Russia experiences the Moscow Theater Hostage taking

5.) According to Tom Friedman, citizens in Teheran lead a candlelight procession to honor the victims of the 9/11 attacks

6.) The OAS invoked the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (commonly known as the Rio Treaty)

"In the resolution, the states party to the Rio Treaty "reiterate their willingness to provide additional assistance and support to the United States and to one another, as appropriate, taking into consideration all the provisions of the Rio Treaty in connection with to the attacks of September 11 and to prevent and avoid future armed attacks by terrorists."

7.) NATO invoked Article 5 of The North Atlantic Treaty for the first time:

"The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

"Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security ."

A far better issue to concern oneself with would be what happened to all the good will directed to the US after 9/11? Of course that would take some self-examination and I just don't think neither Reynolds nor den Beste are skilled at that.

Who's really in denial here?

11:44 PM

Thursday, March 27, 2003  

Andres Oppenheimer writes about the continued cold shoulder that the Bush Administration is giving to his former buddy Vicente Fox, the President of Mexico. Is this more payback as in the case of Chile that I described here? Decide for yourselves:

In sharp contrast to their much-publicized friendship two years ago, when they bragged about being on the phone constantly to consult on major issues, President Bush waited four days before returning a call from the Mexican president, senior U.S. officials told me.

''Fox wanted to test the waters, to see how the relationship was,'' says one U.S. official familiar with the conversation. ``He should realize that the relationship has been affected.''

In Monday's telephone conversation, both presidents said they would work hard to make sure that their differences over Iraq do not hurt U.S.-Mexico relations, and called each other a friend. But ''Fox could most likely tell right away that Bush was not the same person'' with whom he had spent many friendly meetings in the past, one U.S. official told me.

Oppenheimer also provides an interesting postscript:

Postscript: Get ready for an announcement as early as next week about an extraordinary summit of Bush with the leaders of 33 Western Hemisphere countries in Mexico in late September.

Well-placed sources tell me that Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was reluctant to accept a Canadian proposal for an emergency summit to address Latin America's crises, gave his green light in a letter to Canada's Prime Minister Jean Chrétien last Friday.

Marc Lortie, Canada's top diplomat in charge of Latin American affairs, confirmed that ``now that Brazil is on board, the summit is 95 percent sure to happen.''

The pendulum of influence in the Americas may be moving much further south as President Bush continues to pay for his arrogance.

9:12 PM


The Brazilian public is outraged by the recent murders of two judges, one in São Paulo and the other, more recently in the state of Espírito Santo where we are building our beachside retirement home.

Indeed, the level of outrage seems to have been boosted by the murder in Espírito Santo:

The nation was shocked by the gangland-style killing of judge Alexandre Martins de Castro Filho on Monday. Castro Filho, a member of the Organized Crime Repression Unit in Espirito Santo state, was shot by two men on a motorcycle as he left a gym on the outskirts of Vitoria, 250 miles northeast of Rio.

Espírito Santo is a lovely state and is arguably one of the most corrupt in Brazil, if not the most corrupt. Read this to find out what the judges in Espírito Santo had to face:

In early December 2001, an anonymous source sent judges Alexandre Martins de Castro Filho, Carlos Eduardo Ribeiro Lemos and Rubens José da Cruz of the Fifth Criminal Division of Vitória a copy of a document that authorized the unlawful release of two prisoners sentenced to lengthy prison terms for murder and drug trafficking, respectively. In a document dated November 30, 2001, Military Police Cpt. Romildo Silva authorized the prisoners to work at his fishery in Vila Velha during business hours.

On December 10, 2001, judges Ribeiro Lemos and da Cruz informed the Secretary of Justice and the Office of the Public Prosecutor of Espírito Santo that the prisoners might flee and advised the two entities to be ready to take punitive measures.13 Both the Undersecretary of Justice and Silva—who also serves as the director of the Institute for Social Re-adaptation (IRS)—acknowledged irregularities in the prisoners’ grants of leave, yet Silva continued to authorize the release of dangerous prisoners unescorted to work in his fishery. In February 2001, an additional five prisoners convicted of homicide were allowed to leave the prison for five days during business hours. One of the prisoners permitted to leave, Alexandre ("Xandinho") had been linked to a death squad operating in Espírito Santo.

In April 2002, the judges discovered that an additional eleven prisoners had been authorized to work at the fishery between April 22 and 26. As suspected, the judges did not find the prisoners at the IRS when they went to visit on April 24.

Unable to rely on the Military Police due to Silva’s affiliation with the agency, the judges authorized the Federal Highway Police to apprehend and bring back the prisoners from the fishery. The federal police found Silva at the fishery with the five prisoners. Upon questioning the prisoners, the police discovered that two of them had worked at the fishery for over two years doing handyman work, while the other three had worked for ten months, five months and one week respectively. Silva ordered the prisoners not to cooperate with the attempted arrests and called the federal police officers "a bunch of clowns." Shortly after the Federal Police arrived, Cpt. Abreu, commander of the Fourth Military Police Battalion arrived with two other officers. The federal police took the prisoners into custody only after speaking with judge Ribeiro Lemos. On April 26, 2002, the judges briefed the governor of Espírito Santo and the President of the Espírito Santo State Supreme Court on the releases but these officials failed to take action. Instead, the Secretary of Justice promoted Silva to coordinator of the prison at Vila Velha.

Unable to rely on the Military Police due to Silva's affiliation with the agency, the judges authorized the Federal Highway Police to apprehend and bring back the prisoners from the fishery. The federal police found Silva at the fishery with the five prisoners. Upon questioning the prisoners, the police discovered that two of them had worked
at the fishery for over two years doing handyman work, while the other three had worked for ten months, five months and one week respectively. Silva ordered the prisoners not to cooperate with the attempted arrests and called the federal police officers “a bunch of clowns.” Shortly after the Federal Police arrived, Cpt. Abreu, commander of
the Fourth Military Police Battalion arrived with two other officers. The federal police took the prisoners into custody only after speaking with judge Ribeiro Lemos. On April 26, 2002, the judges briefed the governor of Espírito Santo and the President of the Espírito Santo State Supreme Court on the releases but these officials failed to take action. Instead, the Secretary of Justice promoted Silva to coordinator of the prison at Vila Velha. [my emphasis]

In case you needed proof as to the level of corruption in Espírito Santo that last sentence should clinch it.

According to statements from prisoners held at the IRS facility, Silva encouraged the prison population to take measures against the judges and blamed them for not allowing more prisoners to leave. Silva encouraged the prisoners to file and sign a petition calling for the removal of the judges and also urged the prisoners to organize a hunger strike on June 17, 2002 to protest the judges' actions. On June 13, one of the prisoners informed the judges that Silva had sent prisoners who had passed information to the judges to a punishment cell. The judges reported the threats and potential hunger strike to the Secretary of Justice and the Secretary of Public Safety and asked for protection for the informants and themselves. However, the two secretaries did not believe the judges' reports, affirmed that Silva was their personal friend, and failed to authorize protection.

Now these men have Judge Castro's blood on their hands. This report also seems to indicate how deeply rooted the corruption in Espírito Santo is and how corruption and impunity work hand in hand:

Organized-crime Judge Alexandre Martins de Castro Filho was ambushed in the capital of the eastern Brazilian state. Four suspects are in custody for the killing of the 32-year-old judge. Their names have not been released, but authorities in the state say they are being interrogated by the police. A Brazilian news source reported that one of the suspects is a federal policeman from Sao Paulo state.

Ths is a good sign:

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Marcio Thomaz de Bastos made an emergency trip to Espírito Santo to personally oversee the investigation into the judge's death, Brazilian officials said, and met with Vitória's mayor to discuss the case.

This was an issue with the Cardoso administration. The Justice Minister under Cardoso resigned when Cardoso appeared to renege on stronger measures on the criminals in positions of authority in Espírito Santo.

"He just did what he had to to. He fought organized crime. He didn't bow to corruption," said his father, lawyer Alexandre Martins de Castro. "If we all did a little bit, (he) wouldn't be in a coffin now."

Indeed. One hopes that the level of outrage doesn't subside and will lead to a major housecleaning in this state.

8:53 PM

Wednesday, March 26, 2003  

The International Criminal Court has selected Argentine lawyer Luis Moreno Ocampo to be its first chief prosecutor.

Ocampo is a solid choice with extensive credentials and a great deal of prosecutorial experience:

He was the assistant prosecutor in the trials against the military junta (1985), and in the trials against the chief of the Buenos Aires Police (1986). When he served as District Attorney for the Federal Circuit of the City of Buenos Aires from 1987 to 1992, he was in charge of the trials against the military responsible for the Falklands [Malvinas] war (1988), those who headed the military rebellions in 1988, and prosecuted many large public corruption cases. He has worked with both the Inter-American Development Bank and the United Nations, aiding governments to establish systems to control corruption. He was the co-founder of Poder Ciudadano, a non-governmental organization which promotes citizen responsibility and participation. Mr. Moreno Ocampo is a member of the Advisory Committee of Transparency International, a world-wide organization that reduces corruption in international business transactions; in addition he serves as its President for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Let's all hope that the need for his job disappears quickly.

9:50 PM


Also concerning Peru, Interpol has placed former Peru President Alberto Fujimori on it's most wanted list.

Fujimori gained Japanese citizenship in exile from Peru and the Japanese government has refused to extradite him because of his status in Japan. This may be bad news for Fujimori, however:

Since then, however, Tokyo has requested a Japanese translation of the Peruvian criminal charges and other documents from Lima as a condition for considering the request. Peru has not yet provided the paperwork.

At least Montesinos will have a familiar face with him in jail if all goes well.

9:39 PM


Alberto Fujimori's right-hand man,Vladimiro Montesinos has been convicted again. This time he's been sentenced to five years for influence pedalling. The court found Montesinos guilty of helping his former mistress' brother get out of jail. He was also fined $143,000. This is relatively minor compared to what awaits him:

The offense was minor compared to the other charges he faces that range from corruption to drug trafficking, arms dealing and directing a death squad.

Only 59 more trials to go.

9:32 PM


Metalworkers have gone on strike in Brazil. The irony for Lula is the fact that he was once head of the metalworkers' union in São Paulo. Unfortunately for the nation, his job keeps getting harder and harder.

9:25 PM

Tuesday, March 25, 2003  
Anyone know what's going on with Richard Jahnk'es blog, El Sur? It's been nearly two months without a post. Although I rarely agree with him, I want to keep him on the blogroll. but only if he's actually posting. If you know anything drop me line.
11:13 PM

Sorry for the light posting today, but we have visitors: Mércia's cousin Dalva Simões and her daughter, our lovely niece Fernanda Simões who in two days in New York, has already received a marriage proposal from a police officer and would probably be piling up a small mountain of broken hearts if she wasn't returning to Brazil tomorrow night.
9:54 PM


I grew up in Miami during the 1960's and during the major Cuban refugee influx. I took Spanish in grade school, but honestly didn't learn much of anything. At the time it seemed that the method for teaching Spanish to children was to have them learn songs. The kids on the block who picked on me would end most of their Spanish sentences with "tu madre." Even at that tender age I never thought they were extending warm regards to my mom.

The first other language I learned with any seriousness was German when I lived there in the '70's. My accent always gave me away as an American and given the level of English fluency in the Rheinland Pfalz, I often ended speaking a bilingual conversation: me speaking German and the German with whom I am speaking, speaking English.

I also took German in college and then gave up language learning for a number of years. In 1993, shortly before Mércia and I met, I bought some tapes to learn Portuguese in anticipation of a trip to Brazil some day. I practiced at it a little and spoke a little with some Brazilian friends (through whom I eventually met Mércia). I then enrolled in a couple of Berlitz Spanish courses, eventually taking ten weeks worth of classes. What I found with Berlitz that was so effective is their emphasis on conversation. After ten weeks I was joking and being my usual smartass self in Spanish.

During the middle of the Spanish courses, I met Mércia and quickly began to improve my Portuguese. I also gave up Spanish, for the most part, but still try to keep my hand in and work on it now and then. Considering the neighborhood in which I live (Jackson Heights, NY) I have plenty of opportunities to ractice my Spanish.

In any case, my Portuguese improved rapidly and I really made an effort to speak it, even if I didn't do so correctly. Knowing that we would be visiting Brazil regularly, I didn't want to be in the position of making Mércia my de facto translator. She helped me when I got stuck, but for the most part I had to get by. We had our church wedding in Brazil in 1995 and I had to speak in Portuguese during the reception in front of about 400 guests.

Since that first visit, I've really made an effort to speak the language as much as I can. I really believe that concentrating on conversation has given me the confidence to improve my skills in the language. I write it and read it fairly well, but my conversational level is my greatest skill. Not being afraid to say something incorrectly has also been a big help. I love it when people correct me; it really helps me improve. I'm at the point now that I think and even dream in Portuguese, and I only took one course in the language, being placed at level 4 out of 6.

It has its benefits, aside from the obvious ones. I am a big fan of the Brazilian singer, Elis Regina, who is arguably the greatest (and any host of superlatives you care to use) in the history of popular music in Brazil. I had CD's of hers for several years for which I never really understood the lyrics, but enjoyed the songs and the sound of her voice. One day while waiting for a return flight to New York at O'Hare Airport, I put one of the CD's that I had not listened to for a long time and sat waiting for my flight. I was stunned by the following lyrics in the song Beguine Dodoi:

"Espremo cravos de frente de espelho, lembrando você."

"Squeezing blackheads in front of the mirror, remembering you."

I was quite a sight, laughing till the tears ran down my face in the departure lounge with headphones on in my own private world.

9:49 PM

Sunday, March 23, 2003  
I've been angry today and perhaps a bit over the top and I apologize for that. There are a couple issues I'm compelled to address, however.

I'm tired of having my patriotism questioned. I'm tired of being accused of being anti-liberation or being objectively pro-Saddam, simply because I disagree with your methods. What particularly offends me about this is the fact that when several members of the current administration were busy coddling Saddam Hussein, many of us were busy attempting to call attention to the man's crimes twenty years ago through our efforts in organizations such as Amnesty International which a certain law professor seems hell bent on trashing. Please excuse me for being exasperated because of this, but the sense of self-righteous indignation that he thumps his chest with doesn't impress me. The learning curve on Saddam's atrocities wasn't that big. If I could figure it out twenty years ago when I was twenty-six (the secret's out now!), surely Donald Rumsfeld, George Shultz, George H. W. Bush, Alan Simpson, Bob Dole and Ronald Reagan, among numerous others could have done the same earlier. Welcome aboard. If you'd expressed the same outrage say twenty years ago, many of the atrocities that the Hussein regime committed might never have happened.

Please understand how repellent and offended I might be when I read that the President during his Wednesday night declaration of war, [is]pumping his fist, smiling, and saying "Feels good", knowing full well that many will die upon his orders.

I think that rushing to judgment is reckless and irresponsible. In the instance I linked to, it's truly odious and contemptible and, in my opinion (please note the qualification here) has much more in common with Osama bin Laden than with our founding fathers.

I remember the morning of September 12, 2001, I was in the Times Square subway station waiting to catch the 1 train uptown to see about donating blood at the Red Cross facilities at Amsterdam Avenue and 67th street. I simply remember feeling numb and useless at that moment and not wanting to feel that way. I had spent the night before calming and reassuring my in-laws, my wife and my family, none of whom live in New York. I hadn't even had a chance to reassure myself.

Waiting on the platform with me were a middle-aged muslim couple who looked absolutely terrified. I hoped that they were terrified for the same reasons I was, but I remember feeling so angry, I just remember silently defying anyone to lay a hand on these people; I was prepared to flatten anyone who did. Hate was at the root of 9/11 and I can't imagine how more hate would remedy the situation.

If you feel like making Kumbayah jokes, have at it. After you get done laughing at me, please ask yourself this: how does mocking me advance the cause of justice in the world?

One final thing to ask yourselves (and you know who you are): if you are so confident of the rightness of your beliefs, why, then, do you feel the need to exaggerate, to smear with guilt by the most tenuous of associations, to impugn the motives of others who may very well share some of your goals, but object strongly to your methods?

I urge you to disabuse yourselves of the belief that you and those who share your beliefs hold a monopoly on the moral high ground.

11:40 PM


While I would never presume to speak for them, I would imagine that this, this, this and this are the Peace movement's worst nightmare.

This ought to be yours.

Got it?

2:59 PM


Caetano Veloso, one of Brazil's great musicians and songwriters will be performing tonight on the Academy Awards Show. He sang the song Burn it Blue over the closing credits of Frida. Check him out.

11:52 AM


Larry Rohter reports in today's Times that Lula's long time supporters are not happy with his turn to the center. There's clearly a world of difference between what being on the outside and being on the inside is like.

Most recently, Mr. da Silva has announced his intention to reform the tax, pension and labor codes much along the lines favored by his predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and which his party had long opposed. That switch of position has alienated the unions that responded enthusiastically to Mr. da Silva's pledges of a big increase in the minimum wage, salary increases for civil servants and no erosion of retirement benefits.

"When we were in the opposition, we did not help to approve those reforms, and we were wrong," Aloizio Mercadante, the party's Senate floor leader, said earlier this month. "Certainly the previous government made a great contribution to the national agenda" by proposing the reforms, he added.

At least they are acknowledging the need to accomplish this. That being said, I hope that everyone regardless of their political leanings hopes he succeeds. Brazil will be better for it.

11:46 AM


The New York Times has an article in today's Travel section about the town of Parati in Rio de Janeiro state. It's one of my favorite places in Brazil, with an old city with cobblestone streets and beautiful baroque churches that line the waterfront. The cobblestone streets are washed by the oceean at high tide and it's really something to see. If you go there take a day trip on a boat offered by one of the many operators there. You'll see plenty of dolphins splashing alongside the boat, be taken to quiet, secluded coves with translucent water and tranquil beaches. Don't miss it if you go to Brazil.

11:38 AM


Andres Oppenheimer is balanced and sensible as usual today, on the subject of the information divide between the US and much of the rest of the world. His closing remarks underscore his argument most effectively:

For the record, I think claims of U.S. censorship and McCarthyism are widely exaggerated. They look especially silly when they come from opinion makers who have never criticized medieval dictatorships such as those in Iraq or, closer to home, Cuba, where having a copying machine is a state crime.

But if the United States wants to narrow the news divide and prove the majority public opinion in the world is wrong, it should open the doors to even more criticism, skepticism and, yes, antiwar protests. Critics such as Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle should not clam up. [my emphasis]

Freedom of speech -- not military might -- is what makes America different. And it is what the United States will need more than anything to win the uphill battle of regaining the admiration of the rest of the world.

Are you listening Dennis Hastert, et al.?

11:26 AM

Jim Morin's cartoon in today's Miami Herald is quite good today.
11:21 AM

Saturday, March 22, 2003  
I'm done for the night. I just read the comments section of Little Green Footballs for the first time. I think I need to vomit and take a shower.
10:29 PM


Juan Forero and Larry Rohter have a have a fascinating article about the rising political power of the modern day indigenous peoples of Latin America. The trend is not just limited to the indigenous peoples, however:

Whether filled with Indians in the Andes, blacks and mixed-race "caboclos" and "mulatos" in Brazil or the poor of Argentina's outlying provinces, the ranks of these new political movements are united by the dark color of their skin and their low economic station.

With popular protests and new political parties, they are challenging the orthodoxy of market reforms as the region faces its worst economic crisis in decades. In the process, Latin America's political landscape is being redrawn. Parties that have been the pillars of governments from Caracas to Quito to Buenos Aires are collapsing or fast losing influence.

Much of the movement is also a relatively firm rejection of neoliberalism:

What they have in common is the promise to replace the policies pushed by the International Monetary Fund with a return to a system of state-owned companies and protected markets.

"It is not very well thought out, but it is the opposite of the status quo," said Amy Chua, author of a new book, "The World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability." "The problem with these policies is they are more anti- than affirmative anything."

This is a major problem and as Lula has found out, is mucheasier said than done:

In Brazil and Ecuador, the new governments have leaned toward fiscal prudence rather than following through immediately on promises to redistribute wealth. Disappointed followers are already criticizing both Mr. Gutiérrez and Mr. da Silva, who assumed Brazil's presidency on Jan. 1.

This was the most fascinating fact in the article:

In Argentina, the Peronists, long the country's dominant party, have split into three warring factions, and their rivals in the Radical Party have been equally discredited by the worst economic crisis in the country's history.

None of the five leading candidates in the presidential election on April 27 have been able to win the support of more than 19 percent of voters. But a recent poll showed that if Brazil's president, Mr. da Silva, were allowed to run, more than 50 percent of Argentines would vote for him.

One thing that can be said about Lula as opposed to some of the other new populist leaders in Latin America (I'm thinking of Chávez in particular) is that he is not a demagogue. That will probably help him in the long run, but a lot of people are expecting him to deliver a lot and it will be difficult for him to do so with Brazil's debt, current obligations and a congress that his party doesn't control.

Regarding Bolivia, I wonder if Bolivia will ever be able to recover from its loss of the War of the Pacific. Bolivia used to have a coastline (Antofagasta, Chile used to be Antofagasta, Bolivia and Arica, Chile used to be Arica, Peru) and still harbors (no pun intended) a desire to have one again. The Bolivian Navy awaits patiently patrolling Lake Titicaca.

Read the Times article if you get the chance. It's intriguing to say the least.

8:03 PM


The totalitarian leader of Cuba has now rounded up at least 72 dissidents. The world is paying attention:

The crackdown alarmed international rights and press advocates, including former President Jimmy Carter, who called on Cuban authorities to respect human rights and "refrain from detaining or harassing citizens who are expressing their views peacefully."

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders accused the government of taking advantage of the world's preoccupation with the U.S.-led war in Iraq to carry out the roundup.

"Human rights in Cuba can therefore be viewed as one of the first cases of collateral damage in the second Gulf war," said Robert Menard, the group's secretary general.

"The only crime committed by these prisoners is the promotion of ideas that are forbidden in Cuba," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch.

The leadership of the Inter-American Press Association, currently meeting in San Salvador, El Salvador, expressed concerns about the arrest of contributors to De Cuba, a new monthly magazine with articles by independent reporters.

The American Society of Newspaper Editors sent a letter to Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque urging the release of those detained.

This bit of news is encouraging, however,:

Meanwhile, some of the island's best-known critics remained free, including veteran rights activist Elizardo Sanchez; Oswaldo Paya, organizer of the Varela Project reform movement; and Vladimiro Roca, son of the late Cuban Communist Party founder Blas Roca.

Paya and other Varela Project activists collected more than 11,000 signatures of Cubans asking Fidel Castro's government for a referendum on new laws guaranteeing civil rights such as free expression and private business ownership.

The fact that Payá especially remains free demonstrates the value of the attention that international human rights NGO's has given to the Varela Project, With a megalomaniac like Castro in power, one can never assume that Payá would be untouchable, but like Andrei Sakharov, Payá could be the shining example of support for change in Cuba.

Castro's "revolution" has consistently demonstrated the fact that it is a sham. In my opinion, the fact that the greatest impetus for change is coming from within Cuba now is why he is so nervous.

12:15 PM


I can't wait to hear what Karl Rove and the President will say to this father mourning the death of his only son:

[Kendall Damon] Watersbey's father angrily blamed President Bush for his son's death.

"George Bush, take a good look at this man, cause you took my only son away from me," Michael Watersbey said, holding up a picture of his son.

The elder Watersbey said he was told his son's mission was canceled due to bad weather.

"The helicopter was on its way up to Iraq, and it was a bad storm so they had to turn back around, and that's when the helicopter went down," he said.

Do you think that this father is objectively pro-Saddam, Glenn?

11:40 AM


Go read Ted Barlow here and if you agree with him let him know how important it is for him to keep blogging.

Mark Kleiman comments on megalomania here.

Kevin Drum reliably cuts through the nonsense here. I especially liked this section:

The increasing shrillness of the pro-war folks. I know, you'd hardly think it could get worse, and since they've finally gotten the war they've been campaigning for you'd think maybe they could calm down a bit and take the few remaining anti-war protests with a shrug of the shoulders. But no. Ted Barlow does a pretty good job of summing up their real-life reaction, and Digby pointedly reminds us that, peculiarly, Republicans "become enraged when they find that winning didn't result in unconditional surrender by the political opposition." The war party, unfortunately, will seemingly not be satisfied until both the UN and NATO are demolished, trade with France is prohibited by law, and the entire Middle East is under U.S. occupation. Unlike the few lonely "direct action" anti-war protesters in San Francisco, these aren't fringe views, either, they are the opinions of national columnists, congressmen, defense analysts, and other pillars of the conservative community.

Don't believe it? Try reading this Weekly Standard piece.

The petty, petulant, puerile behavior of some of the warbloggers like Glenn Reynolds here reminds me of an old New Yorker cartoon. It showed a couple of dogs and one was saying "It's not enough that we win; cats must also lose!"

11:21 AM


Marcela Sanchez writes on Chile and whether or not there will be payback for Chile's compromise offer on the Security Council last Friday that Washington dismissed almost immediately.

Chile's offer was an expression of its independence, a well-earned right by a nation that became a regional model for economic stability precisely because it insisted on a little freethinking along the way. Now the question is whether Chile violated the "with us or against us" mandate of current U.S. foreign policy.

It is still too early to know the answer. But unfortunately for Chile, what comes next in Washington may come uncomfortably too soon. As early as May the U.S. Congress may be asked to ratify the U.S.-Chile free-trade agreement finally struck last December.

With its actions Chile may have jeopardized the good will of some members of Congress who would otherwise have had no objections to the pact. In a letter to Lagos last week, the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, Henry J. Hyde, implied that with the trade agreement pending, "strong and unequivocal support on this upcoming vote" at the U.N. was in order.

Hmmm . . .sounds like a threat to me, or at least a shot across the bow.

Let's see if Bush will remember that he said this:

"If we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us. If we're a humble nation but strong, they'll welcome us.

And our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power. And that's why we've got to be humble and yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom.

So I don't think they ought to look at us in any other than what we are. We're a freedom loving nation. And if we're an arrogant nation, they'll view us that way. But if we're a humble nation, they'll respect us as an honorable nation."

I think that he forgot this on January 20, 2001, not September 11 of that same year. Sanchez phrases the argument cogently:

What happens next is up to Washington. It can approve the trade pact and in so doing, bless the example Chile has set. Or it can reject the accord, and punish Chile for demonstrating the same freedoms and independence that Washington goes to such great lengths to defend.


12:03 AM

Friday, March 21, 2003  

As I mentioned here, I am neither Francophile nor Francophobe. I was furious with France during the 1980's and 1990's when they were detonating nuclear devices in the Tuamotu Archipelago and few things made me angrier than the Rainbow Warrior bombing.

That being said, in all the breastbeating and silliness taking place against the French by those who seem to believe that they hold a monopoly on the moral high ground, it's worth remembering that shortly after September 11, 2001, many Americans working at the US Embassy in Paris had good reason to be grateful to the French.

11:42 PM

Thursday, March 20, 2003  

Speaking of former President Carter, the Carter Center is currently sponsoring a conference on campaign finance in the Americas, which certainly seems like a good step toward fighting corruption.

Andres Oppenheimer reports on the concerns of current and former Latin American leaders with regard to the effects of the war on their nations.

''The war will put us further on the margins,'' Bolivia's vice president, Carlos Mesa, told me. ``If we were relatively unimportant for the United States before the war, we will be even more unimportant from now on.''

Even if the war is short and Saddam Hussein is deposed in one month, the United States would have to lead a reconstruction process, which would probably take at least six months to put in place.

Then, as part of its postwar diplomatic damage control efforts, the Bush administration would most likely call a Middle East conference to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in early 2004.

By then, Washington would be fully immersed in the 2004 presidential elections, and most foreign policy initiatives would be put off. Which means that, whether Bush is reelected or not, the United States might not resurrect its Latin America agenda -- an expansion of free trade and U.S. incentives for democratic countries -- until 2005.

This is certainly no surprise. As I mentioned here, here, and here, the attitude of this administration towards its nearest neighbors seems to be characterized by self-perceived benign neglect and no one with any authority seems to care.

11:48 PM


Glenn Reynolds notes the recent dissident arrests in Cuba, but then just decides to use Castro's vile suppression of dissent as an excuse to bash Hollywood. Glenn also thinks that Castro is "suddenly so nervous."

This isn't sudden. This fits a pattern that Castro has exhibited for a long time. If you're trying to make the argument that Castro fears a US invasion because of the Iraq Invasion, then get over yourself. One of the agreements in resolving the Cuban Missile Crisis was that the US would not invade or sponsor an invasion of Cuba again.

That being said, Castro's actions are disturbing (as usual) to put it mildly. I think, however, this was the reason why the arrests took place:

Most of those arrested have participated in activities organized by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, including a gathering last week at the home of James Cason, the principal U.S. diplomat in Cuba.

''People are scared,'' prominent dissident Vladimiro Roca, who was released from jail last year after serving nearly five years on charges of sedition, said Wednesday by phone. ``I see this as an act to terrify the people and dissidents who are trying to find a solution to this situation through peaceful means.''

The good news, however, is that Oswaldo Payá, the coordinator of the Varela Project was not arrested. The Varela Project essentially hoists Castro by his own petard. A great deal of attention was brought to the Varela Project by former President Jimmy Carter (another one of Glenn's bete noires) who spoke about the Varela Project in a nationally televised speech when he visited Cuba last year. He continues to defend Payá's effort:

Referring to the Cuban government's claims that it could not consider the referendum request because it allegedly demanded constitutional changes, which would require a different procedure under Cuban laws, Carter said, ``I read the Varela petition very carefully, and I read the Cuban Constitution. In my opinion, the Varela petition does not call for constitutional changes. It calls for changes in statutory laws.''

The best thing about Payá and the project is the amount of attention it is getting outside the country. Payá has already received the European Parliament's Human Rights Award and should certainly be a potential candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. If he were to win it, then he would become an even bigger force for democracy in Cuba and another in the line of worthy Nobel Peace Prize recipients who have added so much credibility to their cause when the cause so desparetly needs it: Andrei Sakharov, Ang San Suu Kyi, Bishop Belo and José Ramos Horta and Lech Walesa, among others. Could Payá be Cuba's Sakharov? A peaceful dissident whose visibility gives Castro fits? One can only hope.

10:23 PM


Reuters reports that Carlos Fernandez, the businessman leader of the failed strike in Venezuela has been freed from house arrest. Although my attitude toward Chávez and the opposition has been a plague on both of their houses, I think that releasing Fernandez is a positive move. Too bad it was a court that did it and not Chávez.

The opposition played a rather reckless game in my opinion with regard to the strike. After the failed coup in April 2002, they thought they could force Chávez out of office via the strike. Chávez, however, with the military on his side, wasa able to wait them out. The opposition now has to be content with waiting for what they should have focused their energy on in the first place: seeking a constitutionally authorized recall vote in August. By not learning from their experience in April 2002, they have added to the chaos in the country.

Chávez, for his part, is showing himself to be a bombastic petty little tyrant wannabe. By attempting to jail the strike leaders, he is showing a vindictive side and fueling the preconceptions of those who have been his critics from day one. He would be advised tp consider the experience and behavior of Nelson Mandela. Say what you will about Mandela (I happen to admire him), the fact is that once he was elected President of South Africa, he did not engage in a pattern of payback against those who had made life miserable for black South Africans. He was enlightened enough to see that his country needed a sense of unity and identity regardless of the color of their skin (are you listening Robert Mugabe? Didn't think so). One of my fondest memories in recent years was to see black and white South African rugby players singing the portion of the new South African Anthem that includes N'kosi Sikelel'l-Afrika, the anthem of the ANC.

10:14 PM

Wednesday, March 19, 2003  
I promise to be a little more animado (as they say in Brazil) tomorrow. Cross your fingers, say your prayers and keep good thoughts in your head. This is the source of all my joy. Until tomorrow.
9:24 PM

I guess these guys weren't coming from Guantanamo.
9:18 PM

This will ruin the day for Ronald Reagan, Ollie North, Elliot Abrams, John Negroponte, Otto Reich, Jeane Kirkpatrick and Alexander Haig among others.
9:15 PM

This will get Hugo Chávez ranting.
9:10 PM

This will make Jeb Bush's financial backers happy.
9:04 PM

This will raise the blood pressure of the Pinochetistas.
9:01 PM

This is a big surprise.
9:00 PM

Okay, today, starting with my next post, I'm going to post one sentence posts with no titles. I'm annoyed, angry and pooped. I've had to spend a sizable chunk of my free time calming in-laws and other family members south of the equator.
8:59 PM

Tuesday, March 18, 2003  

Evan Garcia links to this disturbing LA Times article about recklessness and the deaths of Colombian civilians in our reckless "War on Drugs."

Be sure to read the entire article if your rage doesn't raise your blood pressure. Check out Evan's blog. He's a soccer fan (even though he pulls for Manchester United) and we soccer fans have got to stick together!

9:36 PM


At long last, officials from Cambodia and the UN have agreed on a framework to try the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge for crimes against humanity.

After five years of ups and downs since talks began, diplomats and other analysts cautioned that there would still be many hurdles and that it is not yet assured that a trial will be convened.

Hans Corell, who negotiated on behalf of the United Nations, offered his own words of caution, saying, even if the United Nations and Cambodia approve the agreement, "this is only the beginning."

Nevertheless, it's an important step.

At a luncheon, Mr. Corell raised a toast together with the chief Cambodian negotiator, Sok An, who said the agreement "reflects our efforts and consensus on the project to render justice to the Cambodian people, to prevent crimes of this scale against humanity."

Mr. Corell said Mr. Hun Sen had told him that the world must remain unswerving in the search for justice for the victims of the Khmer Rouge.

"And I couldn't agree more," he said, raising his glass.

Neither could I. Quite an accomplishment for an organization that "is a purely political body with no moral component whatsoever."

9:29 PM


Speaking of Brazil and football, Brazil did play host for the World Cup in 1950 and was certain of winning. They polished off much of the competition leading up to the Championship game in the famous Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Under the scoring system in effect then, all Brazil had to do was to tie Uruguay in the championship game and the title would be Brazil's

In what turned out to be one of the most shocking upsets in World Cup history, Brazil lost 2-1. A major Rio daily paper on the day of the championship had a headline that said "Let's Congratulate Our Champions." When the coach for Uruguay saw the paper, he bought some 30 copies. Before the game, the coach assembled the players, the assistants and trainers and asked them to stand up. He put a copy of the paper in front of each one of them on the floor. He asked them to read the headline. He then proceeded to lead all in a mass urination on the copies of the paper. They then went out and won the game.

I'm a huge fan of Brazilian football. I'm not a big fan of the Uruguayan game. I find a lot of their play to be very thuggish, despite having some gifted players like Alvaro Recoba and Dário Silva. Nevertheless, this is an object lesson in the pitfalls of arrogance. Often times there is no greater motivation for one's enemies than one's own arrogance.

9:09 PM


I'm in such a dyspeptic (to put it mildly) mood right now, I'm going to make an honest effort just to post good news. Here goes:

Sometimes your dreams do come true. I had posted here that I hoped, since South America had been granted the 2014 World Cup finals, that it would be held in Brazil where I plan to retire by then. The South American Football Confederation unanimously voted to back Brazil as the sole candidate.

Ricardo Teixeira, the President of The Brazilian Football Confederation made the following comments that certainly seem to strengthen Brazil's selection:

"Brazil is up to the task even if there are 36 teams. We have excellent stadia and airports. Normally, countries are only awarded the World Cup six years in advance and this gives us a big advantage."

Indeed. Brazil is the only to have won the World Cup (and with five wins has won it more than any other country) that has never won it on its own soil. I hope that will change in 2014.

8:49 PM

Sunday, March 16, 2003  

Arthur Silber has a brilliant post on the torture question which brought me back to Elaine Scarry's book The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World.

Much of what she argues is that torture is a way to substitute the torturer's world for the torture victim's world. Scarry addresses torture in the first chapter of the book and states the following on the subject:

What assists the absolute conversion of absolute pain in the fiction of absolute power is an obsessive, self-conscious display of agency. On the simplest level, the agent displayed is the weapon. Testimony given by torture victims from many different countries almost inevitably includes descriptions of the weapons with which they were about to be hurt: prisoners of the Greek Junta (1967-71), for example, were made to contemplate a wall arrangement of whips, canes, clubs and rods, were made to examine the size of the torturer's fist and the monogrammed ring which "he wore and which made his blows more painful," or were compelled to look at a bull's pizzle [the penis bone] coated with the dried blood of a fellow prisoner . . .

Torture is in its largest outlines the invariable and simultaneous occurrence of three phenomena which, if isolated into separate and sequential steps would occur in the following order. First, pain is inflicted on a person in ever-intensifying ways. Second, the pain, continually amplified within the person's body, is also amplified in the sense that it is objectified, made visible to those outside the person's body. Third, the objectified pain is denied as pain, and read as power, a translation made possible by the obsessive mediation of agency.

This also speaks to the effect that torture has on the torturer. Surely dehumanizing someone dehumanizes the perpetrator. It's worth noting that one of La DINA's (Pinochet's secret police in Chile) most brutal torturers was Osvaldo Romo Mena, a leftist who La DINA managed to make defect, probably through torture.

If I may quote Arthur's final comment:

The fact that we have been having this discussion at all is the most disturbing aspect of this entire matter to me, particularly in light of the lessons of the twentieth century and its almost nonstop train of horrors -- lessons which we appear to be in peril of forgetting, if indeed we ever learned them at all. And it suggests to me that we may be in even greater danger than I had thought.

But I still hope to be proven wrong, with every atom of my being.

Me, too.

8:44 PM


Larry Rohter reports also in the Times about new roles for Brazil's military. Richard Millett, the editor of the excellent Beyond Praetorianism: The Latin American Military in Transition addressed the situation thusly:

Mr. da Silva [Lula, Brazil's President] "made lots of promises, and the military are one of the few resources he has available," said Richard Millett, an American expert on the Latin American military. "They're already on the payroll, they're already in the places they need to be, and they've got discipline. They may not be the first choice, but there is no second choice."

The transformation isn't without risk, however:

But others have begun warning of the dangers of an expanded role for the military, some of them already made manifest. During Carnival, an army unit shot and killed a 51-year-old teacher when his car ran a late night roadblock in a dangerous neighborhood. His family is considering legal action, contending that the soldiers should have shot out the tires of his car instead.

Many of the men in Mércia's family are or have been career military officers and non-commissioned officers. One of them served with the UN Peacekeeping Forces in Angola. He subjected himself to the risk of mines, rebel attacks, and malaria, among other threats in order to make life a little better for Angolans. Fine work for an organization that "is a purely political body with no moral component whatsoever".

7:32 PM


Marlise Simons in today's New York Times reports that the new International Criminal Court, is busy looking for a chief prosecutor:

In private, a court official elaborated: "He or she must be solid on substance, skillful at handling the press, and be politically savvy. It has to be someone who can instill confidence, especially among countries that are not yet members, not least the United States." It is not easy to find all of those qualities in one person, who is also willing to give up a private life, he said.

Some diplomats and legal experts here have speculated that an ideal prosecutor, in fact, would be an American, but they agree this seems unlikely because of the Bush administration's hostility to the court.

"Americans are terrific prosecutors - they have a very fine tradition," said Geoffrey Robertson, who has just been named president of the international war crimes court for Sierra Leone. "Having a top-flight American would clearly help reconcile Washington to the court."

My suggestion: George Mitchell, the former senator and former Senate Majority Leader. He's politically savvy, a former judge and a skilled negotiator as his efforts in Northern Ireland indicate. I think that he could instill confidence, but the republicans would probably be furious. Frankly, though, I wouldn't know why. Their consistent trashing of the court as well as Clinton's equivocation on signing it, have for the most part, resulted in the US forfeiting any right to complain about the process involved in the inauguaration of the court.

5:57 PM

Saturday, March 15, 2003  
Well I've had three attempted posts lost due to Blogger crashes, so I know when it's time to take a break. Perhaps I'll post something later. As for me it's going to get close to 50 degrees F today and that is certainly cause for celebration. Later, people.
10:36 AM


Several media outlets have reported of Brazilian President Lula's recent announcement of a plan to crack down on slave labor in Brazil. Efforts in the past have been largely stymied, but if he can accomplish the following, these laws may have finally have some teeth in them:

But the government said it would also seek passage of a constitutional amendment that would allow the seizure of businesses and properties found to employ slave labor and to turn those assets over to the former slaves to run.

That's going to be the proverbial tough row to hoe. This is a serious problem, that also speaks to the issue of impunity in Brazil:

But government inspectors complained that their efforts were hampered by weaknesses in Brazil's legal code. While they have the authority to force employers to pay back wages to enslaved workers, criminal charges have to be referred to the court system, where they are often ignored by apathetic prosecutors or shelved by judges sympathetic to business interests. . . .In some cases, inspectors have raided the same ranch many times, freeing workers, only to return and find that others have been enslaved.

The unspoken phrase here is also the very real possibility of corruption in the judiciary. Some of these ideas may work, however:

The government intends to discourage that behavior by publishing a list of offenders, who will be denied access to any form of government loans, credits, subsidies or tax benefits, and by prohibiting those found guilty from appealing their convictions while out on bail.

One can only hope that this cycle of impunity will end and soon.

10:34 AM

Friday, March 14, 2003  

Jim Capozzola has an interesting post regarding language and the level of non-immigrant family bilingualism in the US. I have some similar experiences and my own take on the matter.

On Easter Sunday, 1974, when I was living in Germany, a friend of mine and I went from Kaiserslautern to Ludwigshafen by train to see Yes at the Friedrich Ebert Halle. My friend was taking Spanish, while living in Germany and spoke very little German. I was in my second year of German and could speak and understand it will enough to get around, order in a restaurant and carry on an extremely mundane conversation. As we were walking to the concert, I was the one who asked directions. I was using the proper grammar and the proper form of address: Sie, which in German is the formal version of you, like usted in Spanish and O Senhor/A Senhora in Portuguese.

I went up to a man on the street and asked him, "Können Sie mir sagen wo die Friedrich Ubert [sic] Halle ist?" ("Can you tell me where the Friedrich Ubert [sic] Halle is?)

His response was "Friedrich Ebert Halle. Du bist ganz falsch!", ("Friedrich Ebert Hall. You are quite wrong!") Aside from correcting me, he also engaged in a little bit of a putdown by using the familiar (du) form of address. It is acceptable for adults to use that with children, but at that time I was 6' 2" and in my last two months of high school. Needless to say, I have never mispronounced the name of a Weimar Republic figure again.

About six years ago, Mércia and I were in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba. We took a lovely train trip from Curitiba to Morretes, a trip which meanders through probably one of the loveliest and best preserved sections of Brazil's Atlantic Forest. We had lunch in Morretes and returned via a pre-arranged van ride. In the group having lunch with us was a family of Americans from Dallas, originally from New Jersey: the parents and their two college-age daughters. None of them spoke a word of Portuguese and during lunch, they really embarrased us. For some bizarre reason they insisted on speaking in English to the restaurant staff who looked quizically at them. Eventually Mércia and I became their interpreters, primarily for the benefit of the restaurant staff. Their litany of complaints was, frankly, asinine: "Is the flour they used on the fried shrimp whole wheat flour? I can't eat bleached flour. Why do they have hot pepper here? Everything here looks different from the restaurants I'm used to. Is the food safe here [No, the tour company decided to send you to a restaurant to pick up salmonella as a souvenir]?" They hadn't even bothered to learn so much as yes, no, thank you or please in Portuguese. Would that have been so hard?

In summer of 1997 we took a trip to Montreal and Quebec City. Mércia had a few years of French in Brazil and I had never taken a class. In Montreal this was not an issue. If you entered a shop or restaurant there, you were usually greeted with "bon jour" and "hello." In Quebec City, however, outside of the walled section of the city, you were greeted with "bon jour" only. I had been told - and don't know whether it is true or not - that often, especially in Quebec City, the Quebecois can be a little resentful of Anglo-Canadians who speak no French. Accordingly, Quebec may be the one place where Americans - or at least those who don't speak French - don't want to be mistaken for Canadians. Whenever we went to a shop or restaurant, I would say "Je suis americain. Je no parle français. Parlez vous anglais? (I'm an American. I don't speak French. Do you speak English?)" I always received a helpful response by making this small effort. I would like to think it showed some respect to the Quebecois. It's also certainly possible that the advice I had been given about the Quebecois was wrong. Nevertheless it took virtually no effort on my part to show some respect for these people in their own country.

While I agree with Capozzola that Elizabeth Armstrong, the writer of the original article to which he referred went overboard and while my experiences show both annoyance (the experience in Ludwigshafen) and satisfaction (the Quebec experience) with my attempts to use the local language, it would certainly not hurt to attempt to do so, if for no other reason as a sign of respect.

More about my own experiences with Portuguese later.

10:23 PM


Very light blogging tonight as The Travel Channel is providing the (so they say) first English-language Carnaval in Rio coverage.

While you're watching, be aware that while the scantily clad women are an eyeful, there's a whole lot more to it: the music, the costumes, etc. Don't miss it.

8:34 PM

Thursday, March 13, 2003  
Sorry for the light blogging recently. I've had a lot of projects at work to complete and it's tax time. I'm still not sold on electronic filing. It's been a real headache.
11:20 PM


An Indonesian Army General has been convicted and the process seems like a sham. As the article notes

Like most of the officers on trial, the general has remained in the service. He now teaches a human rights course at the military's academy.

I think this is a legitimate complaint:

Human rights activists have criticized the trials, saying they are intended to defuse an international drive to set up a United Nations war crimes trial for East Timor.

If they wanted to really get the man responsible for a lot of the atrocities in East Timor, they should give some serious thought to this man.

11:17 PM


During the run up to the World Cup last year, Luis Felipe Scolari, the coach of Brazil's national team received a lot of heat for not including Romario, the star of the Cup winning 1994 team, on the roster. I guess a fifth World Cup silenced the critics sufficiently.

Scolari is now coaching the Portuguese National Team and is facing the same criticism. A player, who in that Brazilian tradition of assigning one name to players, named Deco has been chosen by Scolari for the team. Deco has just been naturalized and Luis Figo makes this truly asinine comment:

Former FIFA Player of the Year Luis Figo told O Jogo on Tuesday that he opposed allowing naturalised players into the national team as "national anthems can be learned but they aren't felt".

"By the same token, I don't think public opinion would favour my naturalisation as a Spaniard," he said, adding that allowing foreign-born players into the side helped kill off talent and development.

Considering the quality of his play during the recent World Cup, I don't think that the Spaniards would necessarily want you on the team. That being said, Portugal has qualified for the World Cup a total of three teams. Although they fielded the excellent team (including Figo and Costa, among others) that won the World Youth Championship some 10-12 years ago, they have not had a great deal of success recently. The article describes Deco thusly:

Porto playmaker Deco's lethal free kicks and dismantling of opponents' defences have guided his side to a runaway lead in the Portuguese premiership and to the UEFA Cup quarter-finals.

Rui Costa's comment are just pure hyperbole:

"They're called national sides for a reason. If our federations begin to accept naturalised players, some day there won't be national sides and we'll just have club championships again," he said.

Considering the feckless play of many of the Portuguese players, including red cards to Beto and João Pinto in the game against South Korea, including João Pinto's subsequent suspension for slugging a referee, it certainly seems to me like Deco could only be an improvement. Scolari led three teams to the Copa Libertadores title and lead a frayed Brazilian team to the most powerful World Cup Championship in history. I think they would be well-advised to defer to his judgment. In any event, he makes these excellent points:

"I'm the one in charge of picking the national team, not them," Scolari, who led Brazil to win the World Cup for an unprecedented fifth time in 2002, told TSF radio.

"Let me say again: whoever wants to can play. If anyone doesn't, the door is open.

"Any quality player is important for the team. Deco is a quality player. If that's fine with Deco, it's fine for the team," added Scolari, given the job in January of making Portugal shine as hosts in Euro 2004.

Deco was one of 31 residents granted Portuguese citizenship recently, including people born in other former Portuguese colonies such as Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique. This speaks to a larger issue. Eusebio is generally regarded as Portugal's finest player ever. Eusebio was born and grew up in Mozambique. If he were playing these days, he would not have been playing for Portugal, unless of course, he was naturalized.

11:08 PM

Wednesday, March 12, 2003  

I am neither Francophobe nor Francophile. I have Huguenot ancestors who fled the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre and eventually settled in England. I am not overwhelmed by French food, but I do like their films. So I really think that much of this nonsense about "freedom" fries and "freedom" toast truly borders on the moronic.

That being said, Nick Denton brings up an excellent idea here:

But here's an idea: dismantle the French empire in Africa. France has long supported African dictators who rob their own people to go on shopping sprees in the Rue de la Paix. The US should support the democratic opposition to every French client across the continent.

Man am I all for that. While we're at it let's call French Guiana by what it really is. It's a colony - the only one in South America - not an "overseas department."

11:38 PM


Argentinian Judge Juan José Galeano issuance of arrest warrants for four Iranian diplomats in the bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Aid Association in 1994 has rattled diplomatic cages between Iran and Argentina to which I say: terrific! This act of terrorism has gone on for a long time with very little progress in finding those responsible. Judge Galeano deserves credit for his persistence.

The indictment culminates a long and sometimes halting investigation in which key witnesses have disappeared. Government officials initially blamed Muslim extremists connected to the Lebanese organization Hezbollah.

But a defector from Iran's intelligence agency provided the key information against the accused. The defector, Abdolghassem Mesbahi, told Argentine investigators in 2000 and 2001 that high-ranking Iranian officials, including Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and then-President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani ordered the attack and financed it with nearly $20 million from Swiss bank accounts

It's also worth calling attention to the bravery of some of the judges in Latin America. In addition to Judge Galeano, Judge Juan Guzmán Tapia who effectively sacrificed his career (he was widely regarded as a given to make it on Chile's Supreme Court) in his pursuit of Augusto Pinochet, having Pinochet stripped of parliamentary immunity and finally deemed incompetent to stand trial and in effect ending his career as senator for life. In addition, there was another judge in Argentina (her name escapes me at the moment) who vigorously attempted to question Pinochet in the car bombing of general Prats and his wife Sofia in Buenos Aires in 1974.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Judge Baltazar Garzón, the Spanish judge who nearly got Pinochet into the dock and whose groundwork laid much of the foundation for Judge Guzmán's efforts in Chile. I remember when Pinochet was arrested how so many of Pinochet's supporters commented that Judge Garzón was a tool of the leftists. Apparently they chose to ignore the fact that Judge Garzón has pursued cases against ETA terrorists as well as allegations that the Spanish Socialist party had death squads to commit extrajudicial executions against these same ETA terrorists. Most recently he has been responsible for breaking up Al Qaeda cells in Spain. His desire for justice certainly seems to be anything but politically motivated.

That goes to the heart of the matter. Much of the efforts of these judges seems to be much more dedicated to justice than the political leaders of many of these nations. They have done far more to break the cycle of impunity than any politician I can think of in Latin America. Why does this not surprise me?

11:25 PM


Glenn Reynolds points to this post by James Morrow who wonders why

Liberals who hate George W. Bush and the idea of war on Iraq (to say nothing of self-defence), and who love to complain about Texas' death penalty as evidence of the president's bloodlust, are at the same time prepared to surrender American foreign policy to the whims of UNSC veto-wielding members like China, which has just quite literally institutionalized drive-bys?

I agree that what China is doing is outrageous and contemptible and I think that people should be outraged by this. China at one point (and may still do so) use to charge the families of those who were executed the cost of the bullets used by the firing squad. I am clear and unequivocal in my opposition to the death penalty. So are these people. I also understand and respect the opinion of those who advocate the death penalty. I just don't happen to agree with it. I certainly don't believe, however, we are surrendering our foreign policy to the whims of nations like China. France, which also has veto power and has made a greater push against the war than China, has banned the death penalty.

I would make the argument, however, that we have surrendered our foreign policy to the monomania of a man who mocks a woman who is about to be executed (Karla Faye Tucker), who doesn't seem to be bothered by defense lawyers falling asleep during capital murder trials, who, in a presidential debate grins eagerly when he announces that someone has been sentenced to death (James Byrd's killers), who while he was governor, consistently underfunded public defenders, who presided over more executions than any other governor in my memory (earning the sobriquet the Texecutioner) and whose attorney general is so fixated on demanding the death penalty from all US Attorneys throughout the country that he has overruled one of them here in New York and demanded that this US Attorney seek the death penalty for a defendant who had cooperated with authorities. Seems to me that on the subject of executions, the Chinese and President Bush are almost like peas in a pod.

As far as self-defense goes, I'm far more worried about a nation that has been launching missile over Japan than I am of a drone that looks like an oversized model.

10:57 PM

Monday, March 10, 2003  

I am so weary of all the misery in the world I really need a mental health day. So today I'm just going to be posting about the real football which most of us refer to as soccer.

All too often you'll find sappy writers concocting syrupy prose about the more exalted aspects of camraderie in sport to the point of running the risk of inducing diabetes. I just think so much of it is silly. I have noticed, however, that no matter where I go in the world I can engage someone in a discussion about football.

It all started when I lived in Kaiserslautern Germany in the early 1970's. My dad was a civilian employee of the US Army and was stationed there at that time. I was there in 1974 when the World Cup took place with Germany winning. I was hooked from then on.

I cannot remember how many times I have been able to break the ice with a complete stranger with a discussion of the world's sport. In Sevilla Spain a couple of years ago, I asked our cab driver if he was "Betico", a fan of Real Betis or a fan of FC Sevilla. All he had to was pull up his green and white scarf on the seat next to him to answer. He was a Betico.

A couple of weeks ago I was at this Argentine restaurant and I asked our waiter this question: Boca or River Plate? He said Boca, which meant he was a fan of Boca Juniors, the club that gave rise to Diego Maradona among many others. I will never forget the smiles I got from the Senegalese vendors during last years' world cup when I praised them on their team's performance.

As for me, this may surprise you, but I don't pull for any teams in Brazil. Hal of Mércia's family pulls for Cruzeiro and the other half pulls for Atletico Mineiro. I vow to maintain my neutrality.

I do pull for several teams in Europe. I pull for two each in England, Holland, Germany, Spain and Italy. I also specifically do not pull for the rivhest or most powerful teams in the country, which in these countries would probably be considered to be Manchester United, Ajax, Bayern München, Real Madrid and either AC Milan or Juventus, respectively. Instead I pull for Arsenal (ever read Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby?) and Blackburn Rovers (the team of Brad Friedel, the US National team's star goalkeeper) in England, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord in Holland, Kaiserlautern (of course) and Bayer Leverkusen in Germany, FC Barcelona and Deportivo La Coruña in Spain and Inter Milan and AS Roma in Italy. In my opinion, no other sport comes close to the real football for sheer passion.

10:27 PM

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