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
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Beautiful Horizons
 
Wednesday, April 30, 2003  
CUBA ON THE UNHRC

Very little blogging for the next couple of days. I have a speech to give on Friday and Brazil is playing Mexico tonight in the real football. So, please bear with me and I'll have much more later. Thanks for reading; you all make this worthwhile.

So as noted in this fine article in the Miami Herald, Cuba is back on the UN Human Rights Commission and read closely as this will probably be the first and last time you will ever see me write this, but Ari Fleischer is 100% right:

''Having Cuba serve again on the Human Rights Commission is like putting Al Capone in charge of bank security,'' White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. ``Cuba does not deserve a seat on the Human Rights Commission. Cuba deserves to be investigated by the Human Rights Commission.''

This goes to the solution to this problem as I noted here quoting Andres Oppenheim quoting Amnesty International's Diana Colucci:

At the very least, membership should be limited to countries that submit themselves to the committee's scrutiny. ''That includes being open to visits and ratifying key international human rights treaties,'' says Diana Colucci, an Amnesty International program director.

No equivocation, no exceptions, no exemptions. It doesn't matter whether you're the USA, France, Syria, Libya, Spain, Cuba or the UK. If you don't meet these minimum criteria, you don't get on the commission.

Many of the rest of Latin America's leaders should be ashamed of themselves:

Advocacy group Human Rights Watch said Latin American nations should be ''ashamed'' for letting Cuba take the seat. Some of the governments had been concerned about letting nations with poor human rights records serve on the panel, said Joanna Weschler, the group's representative to the United Nations.

''Yet when they could do something about it other than moaning and groaning, they didn't do anything,'' Weschler said.


Maybe it might be worthwhile for the US to step back a little from the issue. There is a strong history of distrust among much of Latin America and the US, some of it is understandable, some of it is more reactive than rational, but it is a fact. Most of these nations do not want to be perceived as knuckling under to the US against one of their own, even when the issues are as clear cut as these, so as Marcela Sanchez suggested here, perhaps it would be an idea worth exploring to let moderate voices in Latin America take the lead on Cuban human rights issues. Tough talk and a forty year embargo haven't accomplished much. It's certainly worth a try.


9:08 PM

Monday, April 28, 2003  
MUSIC THAT LITERALLY CHANGED MY LIFE

In 1976, I had started to develop a strong interest in jazz. That year I heard an LP that literally changed my life: Native Dancer by Wayne Shorter. I had long been a fan of Shorter's music, but his contribution was significantly less important to me than his guest artist, Milton Nascimento.

From the opening cut of the album, the haunting Ponta de Areia, which tells the story of an impoverished town whose resident's looked forward to the train that visited from out of town and how the town withered away after the train stopped visiting, I was taken in. I had never heard a lovelier voice and had never heard anything as distinctive. Unfortunatley, at that time, I had been unable to find anything else, except a few cover versions of Nascimento's songs: "Bridges" ("Travessia" in Portuguese), "Outubro" by Mark Murphy, etc. One day I was in a record store and heard "Travessia" sung by Milton Nascimento, dropped everything and bought the greatest hits LP that it was on. I soon started sucking up every one of his recordings I could find. It wasn't easy. Much of my spare time was consumed with visiting record stores and leafing through street vendors and garage sale bins. Say what you will about the advent of the CD, but it saved me a lot of time and effort. When CD's started coming out, Milton's music started being reissued and I was very fortunate to be the beneficiary.

In 1986, I went with my girlfriend at the time to the Beacon Theater here in New York to see Milton for the first time. I was in heaven: Pat Metheny (a huge fan of his) sat in on a couple of songs, and all of Milton's songs that I was hoping to hear were played with one exception. When Milton and the band came out for their encore, all the Brazilians in the audience were screaming "Travessia, Travessia" and the band obliged. As the opening four or so bars of the song started, I smiled to myself that the evening was complete. I have seen Milton in New York eight more times in venues as diverse as Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, the Blue Note and Radio City Music Hall. I have yet to be disappointed.

Milton's music is unique in Brazil. It combines a love of the Beatles and older Miles Davis with the choral, traditional and religious music of Minas Gerais (his home). His voice will leave you transfixed: a range from a moving tenor to a heart-stopping falsetto. It's not merely memorable; it's hypnotic. My recommendations of his CD's?

My personal favorites of his discs are Clube da Esquina, Miltons, Caçador de Mim, Clube da Esquina II, Minas, Gerães, Anima, Missa dos Quilombos (an extraordinary recording of a mass in memory of the slaves recorded live in a church in Minas Gerais) and if you want an excellent live recording, I recommend Tambores de Minas. The energy doesn't flag in that CD.

Why did this music change my lefe? It sparked my interest in Brazilian culture, language and music. Prior to that, my interest had been very dilettantish, but this started the seduction. I've been hooked on the country and the culture ever since.

10:37 PM

 
LULA SEEKS ECONOMICALLY UNIFIED LATIN AMERICA

The AP reports that Lula has started making a push for an economically unified Latin America. This is major news, especially before the meeting with the US on the Free Trade Association of the Americas (FTAA). Lula's efforts could strengthen the bargaining positions of all of South America as this is his goal:

Silva, a former union leader known for his negotiating skills with multinational firms, wants to set up a merger by December of two current Latin trading blocs - Mercosur and the Andean Community.

Mercosur is made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay as members. Bolivia and Chile are associate members. The Andean grouping is made up of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.


That is all of Iberoamerican South America. As Guyana and Suriname are members of Caricom, the Caribbean Community organization, if Lula succeeds at uniting the Andean and Mercosur groups, then Caricom might look to South America as an alternative to the north. I wonder if the president remembers the words he said when he was a candidate:

"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."


Probably not.

9:15 PM

Sunday, April 27, 2003  
ARGENTINA ELECTION RESULTS

According to the Associated Press, it appears that the election in Argentina is heading for a runoff, with former president Carlos Menem having slight plurality over Nestor Kirchner.

The Washington Post also has an article about how anti-Americanism in Argentina will probably beat Menem at the runoff - and it's not just because of the war:

"There is this creeping anti-Americanism at play here," said Graciela Coatz-Romer Gil, a pollster and political consultant. "Our research shows that it's everywhere in Latin America but it's particularly strong here in Argentina. It's not only because of the war in Iraq but there is also this disappointment that the policies promoted by the United States since the end of the Cold War -- privatization, an open economy -- didn't produce here, and in fact, for the middle class . . . had disastrous consequences. They're the ones who lost their jobs."

I do not know enough about Kirchner to form a strong opinion about him. He's a Peronist and that is a negative in my opinion, but the fact that he is not from Buenos Aires, but from Santa Cruz may be a plus.

11:00 PM

 
FRANK RICH ON LOOTING IN IRAQ

Frank Rich hands Donald Rumsfeld his head on the looting of Iraq. Rich persuasively makes the argument that the problem was a command lack of follow through:

In fact, we did. The Pentagon held a late January meeting with American experts on Iraq's cultural bounty, opening a conversation that continued in the weeks before the war. "I had thought they were aware of the importance of the museum," said McGuire Gibson, of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, who was among the Pentagon meeting participants I interviewed last week. Last Sunday The Washington Times uncovered the smoking gun proving that Professor Gibson was right and that General Brooks's claim of ignorance was (at best) misinformed: a March 26 Pentagon memo to the coalition command listing, in order of importance, 16 sites that were crucial to protect in Baghdad. No. 2 on the list was the Baghdad museum.

Is it so hard for them to say simply that they screwed up, rather than for Rumsfeld defining deviancy down?

10:51 PM

 
OPPENHEIMER'S ADVICE TO COLIN POWELL

Andrés Oppenheimer's column today is a letter that he imagines he would write if he were a US Ambassador in Latin America and was being solicited by the Secretary of State for advice on his speech tomorrow before The Council of the Americas. Oppenheimer echoes a few sentiments I have stated:

• First, we should reaffirm in the strongest terms that we remain committed to democracy and human rights. Many Latin Americans think that we invaded Iraq because of oil and that our defense of democracy and human rights over the past two decades was just a parenthesis in a long history of U.S. interventions in the region.

A mea culpa for the pre-Jimmy Carter days during which we often sided with Latin American dictators would be a great step forward. Your recent comment that the alleged U.S. endorsement of the 1973 military coup in Chile ''is not a part of American history that we're proud of'' was right on the mark. We may want to extend that statement to the U.S. intervention in Guatemala (1954) and the Dominican Republic (1965).


I mentioned much of the same here.

Oppenheimer also makes the case for being open about free trade which I alluded to here:

• Second, we should give a new push to the negotiations for the hemisphere-wide Free Trade Agreement of the Americas by signaling that we are prepared to discuss agricultural tariffs.

Our current stand that agricultural products are beyond the hemispheric trade talks makes us look like hypocrites: We are demanding that Latin Americans open their markets to our computer and service industries, but at the same time we are telling them that we won't open our markets to their agricultural goods.

We cannot claim to be the champions of free trade while closing our markets to their biggest exports. Argentina depends on agriculture for 52 percent of its export income, Brazil for 33 percent, Uruguay for 55 percent.


Oppenheimer's P.S. is also on target:

P.S.: Incidentally, it would be of great help if we found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

That's an excellent point and one that cannot be stressed enough. In any event, I would have also included that free trade should not be used as a cudgel.

10:35 PM

Saturday, April 26, 2003  
UPDATE TO THIS POST

The third part of Jonathan Goldberg's fine series on tomorrow's election in Argentina is now available. I really urge you to read this; Goldberg's reporting is a microcosm of Argentina's ongoing political problems. He concludes solidly with this comment:

Even if an independent candidate could win the presidency, the pyramid of clientelism will not simply collapse because its pinnacle has been displaced. One by one, Argentina's brokers -- politicians such as Manolo -- will need to be replaced by true policy-makers. That task will have to fall to a new nationwide political party that reaches into crowded shantytowns and remote villages, and offers residents something other than bribes for their support. It is a nationwide political party that does not yet exist.

Marcela Sanchez also points out that in addition to elections in Argentina tomorrow, there are also elections scheduled in Paraguay. Her article points to many similarities between the two neighbors, but one major difference:

The twin democracies are not identical. Paraguay has been much slower than Argentina in adopting structural reforms and developing democratic institutions. Its mission is more to build than to rebuild. Lacking Argentina's natural and human resources, Paraguay's prospects for recovery are weaker.

Where Argentina has the plague of the Peronists, Paraguay has the Colorado Party, another firmly entenched party more interested in self-perpetuation than in making for a better, more just and prosperous nation. Forecasters are expecting the Colorado party candidate, Nicanor Duarte Frutos is expected to win. The losers are most likely to be the citizens of Paraguay.

7:53 PM

 
PAULO LINS AND THE VALUE OF A LOVE OF READING

The New York Times has an article about Paulo Lins, the writer of the novel City of God, which was the subject of a recent film released by Miramax.

His love of books is obviously the path Paulo Lins found to escape the hard and dangerous life in the City of God development and it speaks to an ongoing problem in Brazil, It's not just the level of literacy, but also the lack of interest in reading in Brazil. A Brazilian friend of ours told me that a recent survey in Brazil disclosed that an average Brazilian reads about two books a year. I would not be surprised as my personal experience indicates that reading books is not a popular pasttime in Brazil. It's a solitary activity and in my experience, Brazilians are a more gregarious people than Americans. I don't want to generalize here, but this is what I have witnessed. If anyone has a different experience, I would love to hear from them.

I remarked to this friend of mine who mentioned the above survey that the one large publicly held company that I wish would expand extensively into Brazil is Barnes and Noble. He agreed. I really wish that people would focus more on the fact that some of Brazil's most glorious figures are writers such as Machado de Assis, Jorge Amado, Clarice Lispector, Graciliano Ramos, João Guimarães Rosa (He's virtually untranslatable. Rosa, by the way is the word for pink in Portuguese which is why the translation bot for the preceding link calls him "Pink Guimarães) and Euclides da Cunha, the author of Os Sertões. translated brilliantly as Rebellion in the Backlands.

The Brazilian Academy of Letters refers to those who hold chairs in the academy as The Immortals. I just wish that the rest of the country had as much pride in them as they do in the Men's National Soccer Team. I also wish I had the means to start a huge library in Brazil. Maybe then one of my nieces there would tell me she loved to read instead of telling me she hated to read.

7:34 PM

Thursday, April 24, 2003  
OSCAR ARIAS SANCHEZ ON CASTRO

Also in The Miami Herald, there's an excellent opinion piece on Castro by Oscar Arias Sanchez, the former president of Costa Rica and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his negotiating efforts that led to the peace accords signed in Guatemala in August 1987, ending much of the strife that had plagued Central America in the 1980's. Sanchez does not pull his punches:

Castro is cut from the same cloth as Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein, two of his less-notable contemporaries, or Paraguay's Alfredo Stroessner and the Somoza clan, all of them fully deserving members of the Hall of Shame.

The sentences handed down two weeks ago by the Cuban ''courts of justice'' confirm the illegitimacy of this regime.

• Castro's government fears the opposition and represses the dissident expressions of those who struggle for a system open to pluralism and for the unrestricted exercise of freedom of thought and expression, within the framework of a true system of political parties and citizen participation.

Only tyrannies experience such fears.

• When Oswaldo Payá steps forward with his Varela Project to call for a series of referendums on the nation's political system and manages to collect thousands of signatures from Cuban citizens hungry for freedom, how does the regime respond? With prison sentences, ignoring the terms of its own political Constitution, which provides access to the mechanism for that type of referendum.

Only tyrannies fear their own constitutional order.


It's worth reading and saving. He ends on a cautionary note:

The international community must deal at once with the Cuban situation, using the tools of diplomacy -- lest the emboldened hawks in Washington decide to include Cuba in the axis of evil.

Lest the reactionaries consider such a statement anti-American, consider the fact that Sanchez's efforts went a great deal further than President Reagan's proxy wars in Central America in terms of bringing justice, albeit in fits and starts, to that region. Consider also that he was president of an oasis of peace in a region that was immolating all around him in the 1980's. As he states so eloquently in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

Five presidents in Central America have signed an accord to seek a firm and lasting peace. We want arms to fall silent and men to speak. Our sons are being killed by conventional weapons. Our youths are being killed by conventional weapons.

Fear of nuclear war, the horrors of what we have heard about the nuclear end of the world, seems to have made us uncaring about conventional war. Memories of Hiroshima are stronger than memories of Vietnam! How welcome it would be if conventional weapons were treated with the same awe as the atom bomb! How welcome it would be if the killing of many little by little, everyday, was considered just as outrageous as the killing of many all at once! Do we really live in such an irrational world that we would be more reluctant to use conventional weapons if every country had the bomb, and the fate of the world depended on a single madman? Would that make universal peace more secure? Have we any right to forget the 78 million human beings killed in the wars of this twentieth century?

The world today is divided between those who live in fear of being destroyed in nuclear war, and those who are dying day by day in wars fought with conventional weapons. This terror of the final war is so great that it has spread the most frightening insensibility towards the arms race and the use of non-nuclear weapons. We need most urgently - our intelligence requires us, our pity enjoins us - to struggle with equal intensity to ensure that neither Hiroshima nor Vietnam is repeated.

Weapons do not fire on their own. Those who have lost hope fire them. Those who are controlled by dogmas fire them. We must fight for peace undismayed, and fearlessly accept these challenges from those without hope and from the threats of fanatics.


It's a memorable speech from a memorable man who was an eyewitness to suffering in his backyard. I urge you to read the entire speech.

10:54 PM

 
CUBA POLICY FOUNDATION

The entire board of the Cuba Policy Foundation resigned en masse yesterday. While I understand and share their frustration and anger, I cannot help but believe that Castro is breathing a sigh of relief. I'm not alone.

Elena Freyre, a longtime Miami advocate of lifting the embargo, was saddened to learn of the foundation's resignations.

Freyre, now with the Cuban-American Defense League, a First Amendment group against trade restrictions, said her group won't change its views, or give up, despite the odds of changing policy at this point. The embargo hurts the Cuban people and should be lifted, she said.

''I understand their frustration, but anybody that goes into this anti-embargo fight has to go into it with their eyes wide open. It's a 40-year-old policy that is not going to be changed in a day. There are going to be ups and downs, and you have to be ready for that,'' Freyre said.


Can someone please tell the other nations of the OAS about the Inter-American Human Rights Commission? Do they not know that it's part of the OAS?

And also on Wednesday, for the first time in 23 years, the Organization of American States attempted to debate human rights in Cuba, but in the end couldn't agree on whether it had the authority. A resolution sponsored by Nicaragua, the United States and Costa Rica, which ''deplored'' recent events on the island, however, was sent to committee for review.

This is disgraceful, period.

10:10 PM

 
ARGENTINA ELECTIONS

A presidential election is scheduled for Argentina this Sunday and no matter who wins it certainly appears that the losers will be the citizens of Argentina. The first of three cogent articles by Jonathan Goldberg in The American Prospect focuses on the machinations behind how the different candidates marshal support from the poorest citizens: clientelism that is often coercive. Considering that it is based on meeting a few of the most basic needs of the desperately poor in Argentina I would consider it coercive by its very nature. It's Peronism at its most rank. Part two of the series can be found here.

If you want a brief, but very serviceable look at Peronism, Larry Rohter has this article in yesterday's New York Times.

Andres Oppenheimer blames caretaker President Eduardo Duhalde for meddling in this election and describes persuasively how this is damaging Argentina's extraordinarily fragile democracy:

The country has had five presidents over the past two years, and disillusionment with politicians runs so high that the most popular slogan in street protests last year was ''Que se vayan todos'' -- ``Let them all go.''

As I posted here, apathy is extraordinarily high among the electorate. Also, as I posted here, the New York Times reported that in a recent poll more than fifty percent of the voters said that they would vote for Brazil's president, Lula if he were eligible to run.

If you want to find any good news here, it's the recent poll in which fifty-seven percent of the voters said that they would not vote for Carlos Menem no matter what. It's a disgrace that a nation that has so many resources, so much potential and probably one of the best economies in Latin America in its past, has such a bleak future.

9:57 PM

Tuesday, April 22, 2003  
I've got to make an early night of it. I've got a busy day tomorrow and I'm a little short of inspiration at the moment. Type to you later.
9:39 PM

 
SIMON WIESENTHAL

Barely touched upon in the news and barely mentioned among bloggers (Lisa English being her typical shining exception), Simon Wiesenthal is closing his files. His work is done. God bless him for his perseverence and for never forgetting those who could not speak for themselves.

About twenty-one years ago I worked for a lecture agency that represented Mr. Wiesenthal. It was an extremely unpleasant work experience, but one of the brightest moments was accompanying Simon Wiesenthal to a lecture at C W Post College on Long Island. I met him with my boss and my boss's wife at the Doral on Park Avenue. I rode in the back seat with Mr. Wiesenthal, my twenty-four year old's mind in awe of the man. He spent the trip cracking jokes and putting us at ease. When Mr. Wiesenthal took the stage he was greeted with a ten minute standing ovation whereupon he mesmerized the crowd and left them squarely on the double-edged sword of sorrow, despair and rage for man's inhumanity to man and hope and relief that Mr. Wiesenthal would most assuredly stand on its head the timeworn, but valid concept that evil occurs when good men do nothing by devoting his life as a good man to doing something about evil. He never gave up hope, he never quit, he never forgot, he never shirked the obligations he felt.

Having had the distinct pleasure of meeting him on three occasions, I also had the pleasure of experiencing the warmth of his personality, his humbleness and his subtly ribald sense of humor. He remembered the names of all the staff in the office and always greeted us with a smile. Put your feet up now, Mr. Wiesenthal, you've more than earned it. God bless you for all you've done. Let's hope that your work will never have to be repeated.

8:58 PM

Monday, April 21, 2003  
BLOGROLL POLICY

I'm flattered that I've been blogrolled by some of you. I have now moved from being an insignificant microbe to slithering reptile and as some of you have linked to me to get me there, I'm profoundly grateful. I would appreciate it if you blogroll my blog, just let me know so that I may reciprocate. I'm receptive to just about everyone except the supporters of the Baby-Eating Aliens Party :-)

More tomorrow, sweet dreams to everyone.

10:12 PM

 
WHY MY HAIR IS GRAYING

I guess I just haven't learned my lesson about arguing with the hopelessly disingenuous. When I read this post by Kevin Drum with a quote from the comments section of the post he linked to, I felt compelled to set the record straight:

This inability (or unwillingness) to make moral distinctions seems to me to be peculiarly unique to the port side of the political spectrum. To be sure, the Right overlooked or excused the excesses of the Pinochets, the Somozas, the Marcoses; but never to the extent, it seems to me, that the Left has done for Castro.

But they did this as well for Mao and Stalin and various other brutal rulers as well....


Go to the comments section of this post by Matt Welch to get an object lesson in right-wing sophistry, conclusions unsupported by facts and general self-serving windiness. I felt like I was in Bizarro World. Kevin said it best and I should have just left it at that:

This is tiresome. The only people on the left who have defended Castro are the Gilligan's Island crowd (you know, professors and movie stars), never anyone to my knowledge who is even remotely in the mainstream of liberal thought. Ditto for Stalin and Mao, who were vigorously denounced by Truman, JFK, Johnson, Humphrey, and virtually every other Democrat who occupied a prominent spot in the real world during the Cold War.

If the only examples of an inability to make "moral distinctions" that you can find are radical academics, ditzy movie stars, and student protesters, then what's the point? Sure, go ahead and denounce the "extreme left" for their views if you must, but leave the rest of us liberals out of it, OK?

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, as long as we're on the subject can anyone explain to me what the difference is supposed to be between a "left wing" dictatorship and a "right wing" dictatorship? They sure all look the same to me.


That goes to the heart of the matter. I salute you Kevin and defer to your patience. Thanks for setting fire to that strawman.

9:42 PM

 
MÉRCIA'S COUSIN THEREZA WILL BE HAPPY ABOUT THIS

One of the last of Rio de Janeiro's clean city beaches at Barra da Tijuca will be spared having raw sewage dumped into it. Mércia's cousin lives there and I'm sure she'll be happy about this news.

Barra is a very strange neighborhood. Although quite lovely, it's much more like being in Miami Beach than in Rio as these pictures will indicate. Give me Botafogo, Laranjeiras or Jardim Botánico any day.

9:18 PM

Sunday, April 20, 2003  
READ EMMA. NOW!

If anyone can explain the complexities of the left and right and Castro, Emma can. She does so brilliantly here and here.

10:07 PM

 
MORE "FREE TRADE" HYPOCRISY

Marcela Sanchez brings a much needed perspective to the continued payback to Chile and payoff to Central America that the Bush administration is engaging in:

The elimination of corruption and the enhancing of economic freedom, keys to any trade agreement, continue to elude several of the Central American countries. Levels of corruption in Guatemala and Nicaragua are among the highest in the world, with Honduras and El Salvador not far behind, according to watchdog group Transparency International. And while El Salvador, Costa Rica and Guatemala rank as moderately free economies, according to the latest index by the conservative Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, those of Nicaragua and Honduras are mostly controlled by the state.

According to Transparency International, Chile has less corruption than many Western European countries. God forbid they should be allowed to think independently. Sanchez quotes US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick to underscore her points:

"America's trade leadership can build a coalition of countries that cherish liberty in all its aspects,'' he wrote on the opinion page of The Washington Post. "Other nations are more likely to work with us to improve local standards if our approach is positive, not intimidating.''

I guess he forgot about that. Chile deserves approval of the trade pact. Now.

9:55 PM

 
OPPENHEIMER ON THE UNHRC

Andres Oppenheimer is absolutely right in comments about the United Nations Human Rights Commissions. The major human rights NGO's also agree:

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and several other monitoring groups agree that it's time to end this charade and have asked the U.N. body to reform itself. U.N. officials say they will debate the issue this week at the close of this year's commission session.

The commission's membership should be limited to countries that follow fundamental human rights rules, human rights groups say. No country in the world has a perfect human rights record, but even a visitor from outer space could tell in little time which are the most repressive regimes.


This part seems to be absolutely key:

At the very least, membership should be limited to countries that submit themselves to the committee's scrutiny. ''That includes being open to visits and ratifying key international human rights treaties,'' says Diana Colucci, an Amnesty International program director..

If it is to have any credibility, the UNHRC must at minimum require that. Anything less in my mind is totally unacceptable.

9:31 PM

 
MORE DESTRUCTION IN OURO PRETO

As I posted here, Ouro Preto is one of Brazil's loveliest locations, but the local government doesn't seem to be as concerned about preserving it as they should:

Blackened rubble and ash-covered wrought iron railings are all that remain of a two-century-old building in the center of this historic gold mining city. The destruction left a gaping architectural hole in what many consider to be the cradle of Brazil's national identity.

It also happened during Holy Week which is probably the biggest most heavily tourist-filled times of the year for this town. This is shocking news:

Just before the fire, UNESCO sent an architect to compile a report on its problems. When the report is completed later this year, it's possible that Ouro Preto could be put on a list of "endangered" World Heritage sites.

This may be a major part of the problem:

Preservationists in Ouro Preto blame Mayor Marisa Xavier, a former elementary school teacher elected two years ago. They claim she cares little about tourism, in part because much of her support is from outlying areas rarely visited by tourists.

Xavier didn't respond to requests for interviews. But spokesman Antonio Ximenes said the mayor knows the "future of the city is tourism" and has a master plan in the works that includes replacing large buses with minibuses. The city also has requested federal aid to fix the fire department's water pressure problems.


The preservation of this city is essential to Brazil's baroque past. Something needs to be done now.

9:19 PM

 
I GUESS THAT'S WHY THEY CALL IT DIPLOMACY

Go pay a visit to Kevin Drum at his new site and read this post in which he and I connect the diplomatic dots.

Thanks, Kevin. Best wishes for your blog in its new home. I hope to move to Movable Type in the not too distant future.

9:06 PM

 
HUMAN RIGHTS AND MILITARY INTERVENTION PART II

What I intend to recommend are soem specific recommendations that deal with a sample of some of the events that have given the U.S. a reputation of having two standards in the area of human rights, that involve the embracing of extraordinarily vile dictators and human rights abusers to serve a narrow self-interest. I believe that if we acknowledge and provide for a full and accurate accounting of these instances, and forbid the practice of such activities, we will enhance our credibility. The keys are accurate and complete accountings and a clear message that support of torturers and human rights abusers stops. Isn't that what moral clarity is all about?

1.) A complete accounting and acknowledgment of US support for and/or involvement in the Greek "Colonels" Coup of 1967. This military government institutionalized torture in Greece. US relations with Greece have been strained for some time largely because of this and the limp response to Turkey's annexation of Northern Cyprus in 1974. This can only help.

2.) Be unequivocal about what happened in the Massacre at El Mozote, especially as to who knew what. Ronald Reagan denied that it took place and by the time the bodies started being recovered there, Reagan was out of office. It was savage, it was indefensible and our tax dollars trained the men who did it.

3.) Abolish the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas. This has been a training ground for such illustrious characters as Roberto D'Aubuisson, Manuel Noriega, one out of every seven of Pinochet's secret police, La DINA, and Leopoldo Galtieri among numerous other human rights abusers, for which you can find out more information here. The name was changed in 2001, but the name change hasn't changed history. Get rid of it. I for one am fed up with taxpayer money going to train torturers and murderers.

4.) Get Elliott Abrams, Otto Reich, John Negroponte and John Poindexter into another line of work, preferably in the private sector in positions where they are not making policy. In my mind there is little more that makes the case that this adminstration has such contempt for history as the appointment of these four. They just don't get it.

5.) Acknowledge in detail our involvement in the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh, the Prime Minister of Iran in 1953 and the resinstallation of the Shah as well as the US support for the 1954 coup in Guatemala and whatever other such involvements took place in the twentieth century. Make an absolutely clean breast of it.

I know that President Clinton apologized to Guatemala for the 1954, coup and agreed to the release of documents relating to Chile, but the current president doesn't seem so inclined. Remember Executive Order 13233 - Further Implementation of the Presidential Records Act? As Richard Reeves put it:

With a stroke of the pen on Nov. 1, President Bush stabbed history in the back and blocked Americans' "right to know" how presidents actually make decisions. A five-page executive order released by the White House the next day ended more than 30 years of movement toward openness in government and re-established the old standard of "need to know."

From now on, scholars, journalists and any other citizens will have to show "a demonstrated, specific need to know" even to ask to see documents and records from the Reagan, Clinton and two Bush presidencies -- and all others to come. And if an individual or institution asks to see records never made public during a presidency but later deposited in the National Archives by former presidents, the requester seeking documents will now have to receive the permission of both the former president and the incumbent.

The wording of the Bush order puts it this way: "The Archivist shall not permit access to these records by a requester unless and until the incumbent President advises the Archivist that the former President and the incumbent President agree to authorize access to the records or until so ordered by a final and nonappealable court."


One would think that a President who thumps his chest with God on his side would acknowledge the parable of the woman about to be stoned for adultery and Jesus' final words to her: "Go and sin no more." I cannot help but feel that the "sin no more" part is why this administration would never make such acknowledgments; that and what appears to be the President's being convinced of his own infallibility.

Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge the past and to refute what happened then while promising that it will never happen again. It is our greatest hope for reestablishing credibility in the human rights sphere. It will also neutralize the arguments of those who criticize the US Government for its all too often double standard on human rights.

11:49 AM

Wednesday, April 16, 2003  
HUMAN RIGHTS AND MILITARY INTERVENTION

Kevin Drum links to Mickey Kaus piece on a human rights exemption for preventative war that clearly demonstrates the difference between someone glibly glossing over an issue and someone addressing it in depth within the limitations of a blog post. The advantage doesn't go to the professional journalist here.

In any event, Kevin brings up a point that goes to the heart of the matter:

The obvious question, of course, is: who gets to decide when a regime is bad enough that it ought to be forcibly removed and replaced by something (hopefully) better?

If the outrage to oust Saddam Hussein came from human rights concern, then the question becomes, why not say invade Tibet to toss out China? Throw the repressive Islam Kerimov out of Uzbekistan? Obviously not, as the consequences would be catastrophic and the effort would be herculean. In addition, Russia would no doubt take the side of China or Uzbekistan in either instance. We might also lose. One picks one's battles carefully . . .

I'm bringing this argument to it's reductio ad absurdum point to make a larger point. Military might cannot address all of the human rights concerns. Diplomacy and non-governmental organizations (NGO's) can have a positive impact upon this issue. In the diplomatic sphere, one must argue one's position with the strength of credibility and in our nation's history, all too often we have supported human rights abusers because narrow, short term interests or special interests have ruled the day. One cannot relive the past in an effort to right wrongs, but one can acknowledge the past. By acknowledge, I do not mean to equivocate as is being done here, nor to rely on weasel words or self-serving justifications such as "we were in the middle of the Cold War" or "things were different then." By acknowledge I do not mean to make unsupportable statements such as he would have been worse than him. History is what actually happened not what might have happened. Don't forget that the subjunctive is a conditional case.

By so acknowledging, the slate can be cleaned and a fresh start made. Tomorrow I'll make some specific recommendations.

9:08 PM

Tuesday, April 15, 2003  
MORE JAIL TIME FOR MANUEL CONTRERAS

The Associated Press reports that Manuel Contreras, the head of Pinochet's secret police, La DINA, has been sentenced to fifteen years along with five subordinates for the disappearance of Carlos Sandoval.

Contreras was behind this act of state-sponsored terrorism that took place in Washington, DC in 1976 (for which he served time in Chile) as well as the craven attempt to murder Bernardo Leighton on the streets of Rome in 1975 and is widely regarded to be behind the murder of General Carlos Prats in Buenos Aires in 1974. What would you call someone who sends his operatives around the world killing his political enemies? I'd call him a terrorist. Margaret Thatcher called him a good friend.

I, for one, am hoping that Contreras is finally fed up enough to see Pinochet slip off into a quiet dottage while he (Contreras) does time again that he finally decides to roll on Pinochet, tell what Pinochet was really behind and drag him down into the pit of ignominy with him. One can only hope!

11:33 PM

 
I've had yet another busy day today and I don't want to do a bunch of posts that simply link to other posts. I started working on a post involving credibility in the human rights area and I hope to have it finished for posting tomorrow. Thanks again for reading.
10:29 PM

Monday, April 14, 2003  
Another long day means lighter posting. I'll be back tomorrow; thanks again for reading.
11:16 PM

 
THE DEMOCRATS ON THE CHILE "FREE TRADE" PACT

Democrat lawmakers are urging President Bush to sign the US-Chile trade agreement.

Rep. Cal Dooley, a California Democrat, said pro-trade Democrats and other supporters of the Chile agreement would press the Bush administration to sign the pact quickly.

Although some lawmakers want retribution for Chile's decision not to back the United States in the Security Council, Dooley said that was short-sighted because delaying the agreement would harm U.S. businesses that stand to benefit from increased access to Chile's market.

"A lot of my colleagues unfortunately are a little too cavalier in how they're looking at the repercussions of delaying on the Chilean agreement," he said.


I still don't understand what they think they will gain by engaging in payback other than a little vicarious and selfish self-satisfaction as well as making the US seem like a petulant bully yet again to another Latin American nation.

11:13 PM

 
CUBA SUMMARY

Attention is shifting to Cuba now and that's good. There's a lot of media attention about it from some of the usual and not so usual quarters.

The Miami Herald has an article today about a movement in Spain linked to a quarterly magazine on Cuban affairs. The ourage from the left is palpable. José Saramago, a Portuguese Nobel Prize winner for literature (living in Spain) and an avowed, unrepentant communist stated the following:

Cuba 'ha dañado mis esperanzas, ha defraudado mis ilusiones' [Cuba has damaged my hopes, has defrauded my illusions}

"Disentir es un derecho que se encuentra y se encontrará inscrito con tinta invisible en todas las declaraciones de derechos humanos pasadas, presentes y futuras. Disentir es un acto irrenunciable de conciencia. Puede que disentir conduzca a la traición, pero eso siempre tiene que ser demostrado con pruebas irrefutables", dice el escritor y califica las condenas a los opositores de "desproporcionadas".

["Dissent is a right that has been and will be written in invisible ink in all the human rights declarations past, present and future. Dissent is an irrevocable act of conscience. Dissent can lead to treason, but this must always be demonstrated with irrefutable proof", said the writer who described the sentences of the dissidents as "disproportionate."]


In yesterday's New York Times there was an excellent op-ed piece by Ann Bardach, the author of the book Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana
. The gist of her article makes perfect sense to me: Castro's greatest friend is the embargo and when it appears that there is a thaw in the relations between Cuba and the US, Castro deliberately does something reckless to keep the well poisoned:

Indeed, whenever it looked as if Cuba was on the path to rejoining the world, Mr. Castro has done something to derail its progress. Recall that he relentlessly battled Mikhail Gorbachev over perestroika and glasnost. Mr. Castro warned that these changes would be the Soviet Union's downfall � evidently missing the point. In a new, flattering documentary about Cuba's leader by Oliver Stone, "Comandante," Mr. Castro dismisses Mr. Gorbachev as a man "who destroyed his country."

Or consider what happened in 1996, after the Clinton administration and Cuba had settled on migration and drug interdiction accords. Mr. Castro (after months of warnings) shot down two planes operated by the exile group Brothers to the Rescue, killing four people. The result was the signing of the Helms-Burton Act, which tightened the embargo. Did Mr. Castro know that Congress would react this way? Of course he did.

In 1980 President Jimmy Carter opened the United States Interests Sections, the de facto embassies in Havana and Washington. Mr. Castro responded by sending 125,000 refugees into Florida in the Mariel boatlift. Likewise, in the mid-70's Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and his aide for Latin America, William Rogers, conducted secret negotiations with the Cubans over ending the embargo. Just as they believed they were closing in on a deal, Mr. Castro sent troops into Angola, scuttling the talks.


Bardach certainly seems to be on the right track. There is most assuredly method to his madness.

11:04 PM

Sunday, April 13, 2003  
Sorry for the lack of posting today. We have been besieged by guests (nice people, but I can't sit at the computer when guests are here!) and I haven't had a moments' peace. I will be back posting tomorrow. In the meantime, please allow me to thank all my readers. I know I won't set the world on fire in terms of the number of visitors, but I appreciate everyone who comes by to read my posts.


11:23 PM

Saturday, April 12, 2003  
FAR AFIELD

If you didn't happen to see Frontline the other night, you should at least watch the program when it goes online on April 14. It was titled Kim's Nuclear Gamble. The interview with William Perry is especially compelling as this excerpt underscores the present dilemma we're in:

Frontline: Why? Why not show that you're tough, that you're not going to be the appeasers that the Clinton administration was? They say, "Look, we had to make an impression on the North that the jig was up, that we were going to be tough, that they weren't going to be able to blackmail us anymore."

Perry
: Yes, I've heard that language. As I mentioned before, I had already gone through, as thoughtfully as I know how, what the alternatives were. I'd thought very seriously about the "Let's talk tough and let's act tough" alternative. Let's put pressure on North Korea. Had I believed that that policy could get anywhere, I might have been more sympathetic towards it.

My reaction now is the same as my reaction at the time we did the study, which is that talking tough and acting tough and putting pressure on North Korea is not an effective policy. It may be therapeutic for us to talk that way, but does not accomplish our objectives, and does not enhance our security.

Ultimately, the bottom line of our policy has to be: Does it increase the security of Americans, or does it not? It seemed to me then -- and it seems to me now -- that simply talking tough and putting on pressure does not enhance our security. Indeed, as it's turning out, I think it's putting it in some danger.


No desire for bilateral negotiations, and an invasion is out of the question. What to do, what to do . . .

4:59 PM

 
OPPENHEIMER ON LATAM SILENCE

Andres Oppenheimer has a devastating and on target response to Castro's recent jailing of several dissidents:

Germany, Spain, Canada, human rights groups such as Amnesty International, and even France's Communist Party have issued statements ''strongly condemning'' Cuba's wave of repression, I told the foreign ministers and their top aides. Are you ''condemning'' these sentences as well, or are you reacting with blander statements ''lamenting'' these events, or -- even worse -- expressing ''concern'' about them?, I asked.

The answers are indefensible:

Reached in Madrid, Mexico's Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez told me through his spokesman that Mexico ''laments'' the prison sentences, and that it will take them into account in the April 16 vote on Cuba's human rights conditions at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, whose country had not said anything about the Cuban crackdown on peaceful dissidents, responded, ``We are always worried about the human rights situation in any country, but the most strident actions are not always the most effective ones.''

Foreign Minister Allan Wagner of Peru, whose country is cosponsoring a mild resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Commission asking that Cuba allow a human rights monitor to visit the island, told me that his country ''expresses its concern'' over the fate of the jailed dissidents, intellectuals and independent journalists in Cuba.

Argentine Foreign Minister Carlos Ruckauf told me that ''the Cuban dictatorship has committed another crime against freedom of expression.'' But his boss, President Eduardo Duhalde, was at the same time evading any strong criticism of Cuba.

Insiders say Duhalde is under pressure from his hand-picked presidential candidate, Néstor Kirchner, to vote in support of Cuba at the United Nations, as part of his efforts to capitalize on Argentina's escalating anti-American sentiment in the wake of the war in Iraq.


Amorim's statements are pure equivocation. What does he think? Is doing nothing going to help matters? If Kirchner is so determined to gain anti-American "street cred" that he ignores the plight of those jailed for the non-violent expression for their beliefs, how can possibly complain if it were to happen again in Argentina?

Oppenheimer offers a solution:

There are three things Latin American presidents should do. First, they should follow Germany, Spain and Canada's examples, and freeze cooperation plans with Cuba. Second, they should issue a strong condemnation of Cuba at the U.N. in Geneva. And they should block Cuba's reelection to a new term on the Human Rights Commission. The vote comes up in late April.

One would expect this sort of behavior from Hugo Chávez, not these leaders.


3:55 PM

 
CHANGES TO THE BLOGROLL

There is a common saying in Brazil: "Tudo tem limites" ("everything has its limits") and I've really reached me with the gloating, self-satisfied tone of a certain very famous blogger. I simply grew tired of the arrogance, condescension and general level of contempt I repeatedly found in his posts.

Accordingly, I have updated my blogroll, removing him and adding three conservative blogs. I realize that this will have probably have the same effect as the old saying about urinating while wearing a blue serge suit ("It leaves you with a warm feeling, but nobody notices"), but I cannot in good conscience link to someone whose tendentiousness and visceral bile is so offensive to someone like Ted Barlow (arguably one of the more reasonable voices in the world of blogging) and who seems to be gifted with an ability to write in such a fashion as to trash entire organizations or schools of thought by engaging in ad hominem attacks, resorting to glittering generalities and/or simply ignoring points of view that made reasonable arguments in response to his own. I attempted to appeal to his fairness and decency when in fact, I was simply being foolish for assuming that he had one. This post to me was so offensive that I simply had enough. Reasonable people can have reasonable differences about policy without vilifying those who don't share their views. Just a thought.

I have added Tacitus, Charles Murtaugh and Arthur Silber. I don't always agree with them, but I have immense respect for the tone and quality of the posts on their site. I urge you to go read them along with Oxblog and Iberian Notes if you want a more conservative perspective.

Finally, I deleted El Sur and added The National Security Archive, an excellent source of information about US foreign policy history and pictures of Nixon with Elvis. I regret deleting El Sur, but the last post on that blog was January 30, 2003. I will be checking it periodically and if it resumes, I'll relink.

3:37 PM

Thursday, April 10, 2003  
CARAÇA PART III

The day after the amazing wolf experience, the morning started out drizzly and cool. When the sun knifed through the clouds I went to the garden where we saw the jacus the day before. I had my 75-300mm zoom on my camera and was hoping to get some photos of some hummingbirds among the flowers. There were plenty of lovely hummingbirds, but they were camera shy. Among the many hiking paths is a challenging path that leads to a lighted cross on top of a rock which is on top of a steep hill. Mércia didn't feel like going, so I proceeded on my own, The termite mounds were ubiquitous; I seemed to see them about every hundred yards. Leaf cutter ants crossed my path without much concern as to my presence. They were definitely on a mission. Several types of what I believed to be gnatcatchers could be seen skimming along the clearings and the ceaseless chattering of the maritacas kept me company as I walked by myself.

When I finally arrived by the stone on which the cross stood, I had to proceed up a ladder on my hands and knees and another rickety ladder to make it to the top where I had a dramatic vista of the seminary, church and grounds with the mountains in the background. As I proceeded cautiously down the ladders, I realized how foolish I was to go by myself. If I broke an arm or leg in a fall how long would it take for me to be found?

After lunch we set out on the most difficult hike of the trip. We proceeded to the edge of the mountain to the ruins of a chapel that seemed so distant from the hotel. The walk took us through cool, forested trails and blazing, unshaded rock paths, the most treacherous of which required us to climb a vertiginous rock route while holding on to a steel cable anchored into the rock. When we got to the top the view was worth it. We could see the entire valley below us including all of the park grounds. The descent may have been more challenging, but we made it with several bottles of water to refresh us at the hotel snack bar. There were more wolf visits that night and as we waited for Lúcio's uncle to take us to nearby Santa Bárbara to get our bus to Ouro Preto, I knew that I would be returning. I still had to see the ice on the reservoir.

If you ever have the pleasure of going to Minas Gerais, don't pass up Caraça. It's like being in a canoe, kayak or on a sailboat; you'll feel your blood pressure drop and your smile wending its way back.

11:07 PM

Wednesday, April 09, 2003  
CARAÇA PART II

After we showered and had dinner, we went to the grounds of the seminary adjacent to the church. The priests (who are St. Vincent De Paul Brothers) had spread bread upon the walls of the garden and soon we were treated to a vist by a colony of jacus, a large fruiteating bird that makes its home in the forest canopy and certainly seems to be a very social bird. I never saw more than ten feet from another. Some local squirrels made off with the rest of the bread. In the distance we could hear the sound of what someone later told us was the difficult to see and endangered titi monkey. If you do not have an experienced guide with you, most wild primates in the Atlantic Forest are incredibly difficult to locate.

As darkness fell everyone gathered on the steps of the church for the premiere event of the evening. One of the priest brought out a plate of raw chicken and started calling "vem ca guará!" (come here guará). After about twenty minutes we saw the first lobo guará slowly and cautiously walk up the stairs toward the plate of raw chicken, it's large ears twitching at the slightest rustling sound.. The priest assumed a submissive position and carefully threw a piece of raw chicken toward the wolf (ed.note: this is a type of wild dog, but it is not strictly a wolf, although it is coloquially referred to as a wolf. Genus and species is Chrysocyon brachyurus). She cautiously snapped up the meat and retreated to the safety of the bottom of the stairs. After her mate joined her and they each ate a few pieces, they grabbed even larger pieces in their mouths and retreated to the two sets of tiny eyes lying in wait at the edge of the parking lot. They were the next generation of churchgoing wolves.

I'm really of two minds on this issue. It is unfortunate that this endangered animal relies on handouts from humans to survive and the fact that the handouts are chicken is also unfortunate. The lobo guará (maned wolf in English) is endangered not solely because of the destruction and diminution of its habitat, but also for its love of chicken, a habit that the local chicken farmers are not particularly fond of. On the other hand, if people are exposed to this animal then perhaps they will be motivated to take an active role in protecting it. One can only hope.

More on Caraça tomorrow.

10:56 PM

 
CARAÇA PART I

One of my first posts on this weblog was about the Parque Natural do Caraça in Minas Gerais some fifty miles from Belo Horizonte near the town of Catas Altas.

In January 2002 Mércia and I went with her sister Rosa and Rosa's husband Lúcio. The ride is breathtaking, with dramatic vistas of the mountains festooned with a major intact portion of the Mata Atlántica (Atlantic Forest) along the serpentine roads. We passed by a stream that gracously dispensed fresh, clean, potable water and eventually made it to the park entrance and proceeded another twenty kilometers to the hotel.

It was a Sunday, so Rosa and Lúcio were not staying for the night but they joined us for lunch and dinner. Daytrippers have to exit the park by 9 p.m. or they must spend the night regardless of whether that was their intention. The accommodations are in a former seminary the grounds of which make up the park. The rooms are beautiful with each one set off dorm room style (which is what they were) along a long hallway. The decorations are spartan, but eminently comfortable. I may have taken the hottest bath of my life here. The meals were hearty, which is appropriate as you will be doing a great deal of walking. It consists of comida mineira, the regional cuisine of Minas Gerais with an emphasis on pork, beef, kale or collard greens, chicken with okra, rice and beans either whole or mashed into a delicious past reminiscient of refried beans only MUCH tastier served buffet style. Breakfast was a typical Brazilian breakfast buffet with terrific coffee, fresh homemade Brazilian cheese bread and lots of tropical fruit. Despite it being in the middle of summer, mornings were quite cool. For the two nights we stayed there, the accommodations including all three meals totaled about US$60.

After lunch, being well-fortified we went for our first hike to the "Big Tank" reservoir which still supplies water to the park. Lúcio, who grew up nearby told me that during winter the surface of the water would often have a thin coating of ice and a layer of fog above the ice. Several oropendola nests hung from the trees along the pathways. We then took a long walk to one of the waterfalls in the park. It was terrific to finally arrive and take advantage of the cool, ice tea colored water. The water comes down from the surrounding mountains heavily laden with iron, which makes up much of the backbone of Minas Gerais' mineral riches and gives the water that slightly rusty color. It's 100% potable, however. In fact, I think you would be hard-pressed to find cleaner water in the country. The return hike back to the hotel just made us hungry for more comida mineira. The real treat was to come at night.

10:13 PM

Tuesday, April 08, 2003  
I'm sorry, but both yesterday and today were long days, and I'm running on fumes at the moment. I will be back tomorrow feeling a bit more animated. In the meantime go read this fascinating post by Kevin Drum about his father, Carl Theodore Dreyer and only one degree of separation.
10:03 PM

 
FUJIMORI WEBSITE

Not his website of course, but a website calling for his extradition. I've only given it a cursory look, but it appears to be extensive with an emphasis on specific cases and documentation of corruption as well as Fujimori's ties with Vladimor Montesinos. Go take a look!

9:59 PM

Monday, April 07, 2003  
RACIAL QUOTAS IN BRAZIL

As I discussed here, race in Brazil is an issue composed of equal parts denial and parsing to the point of reductio ad absurdum, with the occasional examples of hypocrisy, but it is an important part of everyday life in most of the country.

The New York Times on Sunday had an article on Saturday about attempts to establish some sort of affirmative action program in Brazil. The article is well worth reading and I encourage you to do so soon, before it's archived and only available for pay. In Brazil, as opposed to the US, the toughest universities to gain admission to are the system of state and federal universities throughout the country. The main reason being is that these schools are free to all. As I referred to the recent Economist analysis of Brazil, they had an excellent recommendation for these universities: means testing for tuition payment. It makes absolutely no sense to me that a rich child who has been to private schools all their lives with all the inherent educational advantages should pay no tuition because they have to ability to pay for pre-vestibular courses (a veritable industry of test preparation for college admissions in Brazil), while a poor or middle class child who has been only to public schools and cannot afford to take the pre-vesitbular courses must be exceptionally brilliant or just good at test taking to get into a school he can afford or be faced with not being able to afford college at all. That's one way to maintain a significant underclass.

11:24 PM

 
ICE CREAM

Kevin Drum has a post about one of my favorite subjects: ice cream. He reviews the Häagen Dazs Rocky Road, but I have one flavor he should try: Dulce de Leche. Even better, if any of you go to Brazil read this post about ice cream in Brazil. It's essential travel planning.

11:04 PM

 
HOW QUICKLY CAN SHORT-TERM MEMORY LOSS STRIKE?

In at least two hours and twenty-five minutes as evidenced by this:

"Yes, this does seem to be the strategy, and I think it's a good one. But after reflecting on how well things are going, he also offers this appropriate cautionary note:"

Don't get cocky.

That's good advice, too."

posted at 11:54 AM by Glenn Reynolds

AND this:

"Heh. Wake up and smell the coffee, guys. You've been lied to by yet another tinpot savage, spouting pathetically transparent pan-Arab propaganda because he knows you'll fall for it.

How many times does it have to happen before you wake up?

But we'll remember who you were pulling for, and file it for future reference."

posted at 02:13 PM by Glenn Reynolds

No.that's not cocky; arrogant and imperious maybe, but not cocky. That'll get them on our side.

10:55 PM

 
CORRECTION TO THIS POST

We were having guests over last night, so in my eagerness to post the post referenced above I requoted a something which ultimately didn't make sense. I have since corrected the post and hope you all will reread it.

UPDATE:

Well I made a hash of the original correction, effectively turning two posts into non-sequiturs. I've got them fixed now. My advice: don't attempt blogging, correcting the grammar of your wife's friend's grad school paper and listening to your wife's distraught cousin on the phone at the same time.

8:42 PM

Sunday, April 06, 2003  
NOT YOUR GRANDFATHER'S COLOMBIAN NOVELISTS

The New York Times has an article about a new generation of Colombian novelists who have deliberately left behind the magical realism of that nation's literary godfather, Gabriel Garcia Marquez for a very grimly realistic view of life. Who can blame them considering what has been happening in Colombia over the past several years?

Jorge Franco is a Colombian novelist who loved reading this country's most famous writer, Gabriel García Márquez, the whimsical chronicler of small-town life and 1982 Nobel laureate.

But Mr. Franco's two latest novels contain no hint of magical realism, the style of outlandish imagery that Mr. García Márquez made famous. Instead, Mr. Franco deals with a female assassin in a drug-fueled world in "Rosario Tijeras," and the struggles of Colombian immigrants in New York in "Paraiso Travel."

Some are gritty tales that evoke Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles. Others are character-driven, quirky stories like the New York tales of Paul Auster. But whatever the style, the works are a break with a fantastical past that has brought this new generation of writers growing market success and important critical acclaim, both here and in Europe.


The article also points out that one of Franco's novels ("Rosario Tijeras") is being translated in to English by Gregory Rabassa, who is arguably the greatest translator of Ibero-American literature ever. I would love to read "Paraíso Travel" as the neighborhood where I live, Jackson Heights, NY has a significant Colombian emigre population. It's encouraging that these writers are not slaves to the magical realism tradition. Obviously their lives demand a new way of addressing their world through their art.


8:03 PM

 
CITY OF GOD

We finally saw the not-so-new-anymore Brazilian film City of God. If you ever saw the film Pixote this is far more brutal, though significantly less poignant. City of God also displays an MTV level of technical slickness that is quite impressive and, in some cases effectively underscores the action and storytelling.

What I found interesting is how the film was translated. One example: there is a character named "Paraíba" whose name is translated as "Shorty" in the subtitles. Paraíba is the name of a state in the Northeast of Brazil. There is a stereotype that people from Paraíba are exceptionally short and while this character is short, one wonders if he was called Paraíba because of his stature or because he was genuinely from Paraíba. It certainly seems to me that this translation was done for an English-speaking audience as the number of viewers who would know that the favelas (shantytowns) of Rio de Janeiro are filled with many of the poor who have emigrated from the Northeast of Brazil seeking a better life for themselves is probably fairly small.

In any event, the film is well worth seeing precisely because of the grim and balanced picture it paints of life in the underclass of Rio de Janeiro.

7:48 PM

 
WELL, AT LEAST THEY TRIED

The British Ambassador and the US Ambassador to Brazil appeared before the Brazilian Senate to attempt to explain their side regarding the war. US Ambassador, Donna Hrinak at least made an attempt to understand Brazil's point of view:

Hrinak also appeared to also strike a conciliatory note with the committee saying that in conversations with U.S. officials and the media she has attempted to better explain Brazil's opposition to Operation Iraqi Freedom, now in its 14th day.

"During the previous weeks I have been explaining to my bosses, to the Congress and the U.S. media why Brazil, our essential partner in the hemisphere, is not on our side in the conflict in Iraq," Hrinak said.

"I explained the firm belief of this country in working with the scope of multilateral institutions to solve problems," she said, adding that she had also expressed on Brazil's behalf its concerns about the possible economic impact a prolonged war would have on South America's largest nation and economy.


I hope someone in Washington is listening.

7:25 PM

 
THE LATIN AMERICAN STREET ON THE WAR

Also in The Miami Herald is an article on how the public in Latin American countries feel about the Iraq war.

''Pubic opinion is very much critical of the way the United States used its power,'' said Michael Shifter, an analyst with the InterAmerican Dialogue in Washington. ``Power is something Latin Americans, more than anyone else, are very sensitive to. There's a sense that they're next.'' . . .

''The impression in Latin America is of a big guy attacking a little guy,'' said Ecuadorean pollster Santiago Nieto.


In Latin America, when the big guy is the USA, all of the instances of Latin America's - in some cases literally - tortured history with its neighbor to the north comes to the surface:

1.) Support for a coup in Guatemala in 1954

2.) Support for a coup in Chile in 1973

3.) Support for military dictatorships in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Panama, Bolivia et al. ikn the 1960's, 1970's and 1980's

4.) Soft-pedaling human rights abuses by friendly dictators

I could go on, but what would be the point? When denial and/or deliberate ignorance of history is the modus operandi of so many presidencies - and the present one being one of the worst - is it any wonder that the Latin American public responds like this:

A recent Gallup International poll of 41 countries around the world found that Argentina was most opposed to the U.S. military role, with neighboring Uruguay a close second.

In Chile, 98 percent oppose the U.S. invasion of Iraq, according to a recent opinion poll published in the newspaper El Mercurio. In another survey released by the polling group Apoyo Opinion, only 4 percent of Peruvians were in favor of a unilateral U.S. attack on Baghdad.


They still don't get it:

Otto Reich, presidential envoy to the Western Hemisphere, said there could be consequences for nations whose opposition is vocal.

''The U.S. would appreciate a little support from its friends, or at least not to be criticized in public,'' he said recently.


I'm sure that most of the rest of the Western Hemisphere would appreciate some respect for their right to think freely, including the right to disagree without facing retaliation. I guess Barbara Bush either didn't give or George W. didn't take the lesson about attracting more flies with honey than vinegar.

7:13 PM

 
NOT JUST PAYBACK, BUT REWARDS

Andres Oppenheimer has an analysis in today's Miami Herald about the possibilty of rewards for the Latin American countries that joined the "Coalition of the Willing": Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

Then, one pro-Bush Latin American official says, the countries that have been most vocal in their opposition to the war will find that they have hurt the well-being of millions of their citizens, whose livelihoods depend on trade and investment from the United States, Spain, Italy, Japan and other countries that have supported the war.

Is the coalition of the hopeful trying to inject some logic into what critics call checkbook diplomacy? Are they trying to retaliate against those who accuse them of being U.S. puppets?

Probably. As someone who has written that Bush should not have launched the war before getting support from a nine-member U.N. Security Council majority, I find it hard to criticize some of the bigger Latin American countries that were pressing for a U.N.-sanctioned military offensive. Had Bush supported Canadian and British-proposed resolutions giving Iraq an extra three week ultimatum, world public opinion would most likely be talking about Hussein's noncompliance, instead of Bush's ``aggression.''


I think that Bush will have a tough time ignoring Mexico, Brazil and Chile, as I posted here. It also appears that the Bush administration wants to punish Chile:

Bush also ''decoupled'' a bill that would have asked Congress to simultaneously approve free-trade agreements with Chile and Singapore. Now, the two bills will go separately to Congress, in effect allowing U.S. legislators to vote against Chile.

I can't help but harken back to Marcela Sanchez's words:

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.

With the US recently losing the steel tariffs decision in the WTO, the president may not find it so easy to engage in payback. I'm certain that he's arrogant enough to try in any event. I also think that he's blinded enough by his own ego to not understand why these same nations he may snub might not be so sanguine about helping him out when he needs them. He may very well find out that "You're either with us or against us" cuts both ways.

11:52 AM

Saturday, April 05, 2003  
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH REPORT ON UN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION

Those who feel compelled to trash Human Rights Watch and the United Nations must really be on the horns of a dilemma today. HRW has issued a report critical of the potential members of the UN Human Rights Commission:

Human Rights Watch advocates minimum criteria for membership in the Commission, such as:

* ratification of the main human rights treaties;
* prompt reporting to U.N. human rights bodies;
* issuing open invitations to U.N. human rights investigators.

Countries should be disqualified from membership if they have been condemned by the Commission for serious human rights violations in the recent past, Human Rights Watch said.


Indeed. Among the countries highlighted are Russia, Cuba, North Korea, and Egypt.

HRW also has some recommendations and criticisms of some who are not the usual suspects:

Human Rights Watch called on the five regional groups to remove from their endorsed lists any candidates who have poor human rights records and who fail to cooperate with the Commission. It urged governments with positive human rights credentials to stand for election and help to restore the integrity of the Commission.

Human Rights Watch also warned that many western governments currently serving on the Commission need to lift their own standards. For instance, the United States has not ratified all the key conventions and Australia has refused to cooperate with U.N. treaty bodies. Twenty-one members of the western group have issued standing invitations to U.N. human rights experts.


Read the whole report. I just wish I knew how to express my outrage on this issue.

3:35 PM

 
Another casualty of Castro's arrest of dissidents.
3:06 PM

 
THE IMPORTANT ASPECTS ABOUT THE MONTESINOS TRIAL

Scott Wilson reports in the Washington Post that because of Vladimiro Montesinos' silence during his trial in Peru, the media have not been really focusing on the important issues:

Montesinos has refused to testify in his own defense at any of a number of ongoing trials and Peruvians have turned to parsing his wardrobe rather than his words.

"It's hard to take seriously," said a diplomat here who enjoyed a good laugh over the proceedings. "In his funny shirts, he really is at this moment in a kind of public pillory."

So far, however, there have been only a few soap-opera moments as prosecutors warm up on minor charges. Through two weeks of testimony, Montesinos sat mute next to Jacqueline Beltran, the former mistress whose brother he allegedly helped get out of jail after a conviction for drug trafficking.

Not to be outdone by Montesinos' lively wardrobe, Beltran appeared in things tight, short and leopard-patterned as she cast herself as one in a long line of his victims. During one fit of pique, she turned to her silent co-defendant and implored him to "act like a man" by proclaiming her innocence. She was sentenced to a four-year prison term.

"Her lawyer had been telling us that she would unveil something big at the end, something that would change the whole course of the proceeding," said Norka Peralta, who covers the trial for Lima's El Comercio newspaper. "But she just cried."


How about we focus on this:

Montesinos fled the country in September 2000, and Fujimori followed two months later. Since then, Peruvian investigators have discovered more than $210 million in overseas accounts linked to Montesinos, who was arrested in Caracas, Venezuela in June 2001 after an eight-month manhunt. About $100 million of the seized assets have been returned to the Peruvian government, and prosecutors say Montesinos is seeking funds from Peruvian businessmen with whom he may have been associated to defray legal costs so as not to reveal his unfound overseas accounts.

"He was the most powerful man in Peru, and he is using that influence against people right now," said Ronald Gamarra, the lead human rights prosecutor on the case. There is also a possibility that in a small percentage of cases, the judges themselves may be compromised." [my emphasis]

Gamarra said two of the six major human rights cases against Montesinos would go to trial in the next three months. One of them involves the massacre of 15 civilians in Lima's Barrios Altos neighborhood in November 1991 by a death squad allegedly controlled by Montesinos.


One would consider this to be a lot more important than Montesinos' and Beltran's sartorial ineptitude.

2:54 PM

 
FINALLY!!!

Fifteen years after its theatrical release, Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" has finally been released in Chile. While one would think that this was a holdover from the Pinochet era, that's not entirely true.

Chile has some of the most socially conservative laws in the region, despite having a modern, open economy and an influential liberal elite. It is the only Western democracy apart from tiny Malta, that still outlaws divorce.

For those who feel compelled to criticize international organizations, consider this:

Finally, two law students took the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights [IACHR], which ruled in 2001 that Chile must show the movie by the end of March 2003.

"If Chile doesn't show the movie, it would be very badly looked upon internationally," said Alex Munoz, one of the former students and lawyer representing the case.

The ban was lifted when Chile introduced new laws last January that allow previously banned movies to be shown with age restrictions. The laws also removed members of the military from sitting on the government film board, a hangover from the Pinochet years.


The IACHR and the corresponding Inter-American Commission on Human Rights are arms of the Organization of American States and provide for a way for people to petition the court independently to seek redress.

2:45 PM

Friday, April 04, 2003  
MICHAEL KELLY

I was not a fan of Michael Kelly. I found his column to be full of vitriol, rancor and a level of smugness that made me shake my head, primarily in order to keep my gorge from rising. Like many on the right, he selectively assumed the mantle of George Orwell while ignoring the fact that Orwell later recanted these same statements. I thought this attack on Al Gore was odious to the point of being ad hominem, especially when he accused Gore of "mendacity, viciousness and smarm", traits all too often displayed by Kelly in his most tendentious moments. I was also not pleased with the direction in which he was leading the Atlantic Monthly.

That being said, I am still shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the news of his death. He was a father and a husband and as someone who lost his biological father at an early age, I grieve for the loss his sons must feel or will feel when they are old enough to appreciate fully that loss. Although there was very little common ground between us, I do respect the fact that, unlike many on the right end of the political spectrum who support the war (and you know who you are), he at least had the courage to risk his life in an attempt to report on the conflict. The incredible irony is that he met his fate in such a mundane fashion that could have happened in his hometown. One example of common ground that I could find is in this piece from The Boston Phoenix from 1999. You'll have to scroll down to find his comments, but it encapsulates quite well what I, as someone on the left, found so aggravating about Bill Clinton.

Max Sawicky has an appreciation of Kelly from the left here and here. They're both well worth reading.

For those in the comments section of the IndyMedia and Democratic Underground websites who feel a need to trash this man now, go ahead it's a free country. You and Ann Coulter are just two sides of the same coin.

8:06 PM

Thursday, April 03, 2003  
BUSH ON A MISSION FROM GOD - OR SO HE THINKS

There is a great discussion going at the comments section of this post in Matthew Yglesias' blog about the president believing he's on a mission from God, much in the same vein as I posted here. Read it and add your two cents.

10:07 PM

 
IN CASE ANYONE WAS WONDERING WHY I FIND FIDEL CONTEMPTIBLE . . .

This is why.

Prosecutors are seeking life sentences for 12 of the dissidents and 10 to 30-year prison terms for the rest, many of them supporters of a signature campaign for democratic reforms called the Varela Project.

"The government has never before tried so many people for their political beliefs or sought such draconian sentences," said Elizardo Sanchez, president of the non-governmental Cuban Human Rights Commission.

Among those facing life sentences are dissident economist Martha Beatriz Roque; poet and journalist Raul Rivero; opposition labor activist Pedro Pablo Alvarez; civil disobedience advocate Oscar Elias Biscet and Ricardo Gonzalez, editor of Cuba's only dissident magazine.


Keep living that fiction Fidel that because you provide good quality health care and improved the literacy of your citizens that you are the leader of a just society. This will probably be the only time you will read me quoting William Safire in this blog, but several years ago in writing about China he commented that "The safety, security and future well being of a nation can be measured by its tolerance of peaceful dissent." Are you listening, Fidel? I didn't think so.

By the way, for those who are bent on trashing Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch because they do not adhere to your agenda (and you know who you are), they have reported here and here on this subject.

10:00 PM

 
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