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, June 30, 2003  

Boy is this the third rail of Brazilian politics. I can see compassionate arguments to be made on behalf of the MST (Movimento Sem Terra). These people are desperately poor and have little in the way of education, marketable skills and very dim prospects. All they seem to want is enough land to subsist on, but they don't help their cause with statements like this:

Landowners say they favor land distribution but fear the MST wants more than agrarian reform.

"Its ultimate goal is the establishment of a socialist regime," said Marcos Prochet, a leader of the Democratic Ruralist Union, which represents the landowners.

The MST's Mendes readily agrees. "Agrarian reform is just the first step toward socialism," he said.

The government is making an effort . . .

Since [Luiz Inacio Lula da] Silva took office, 593,000 acres of unproductive land have been confiscated for redistribution to landless farmers, said Gercino Jose da Silva, the government's agrarian ombudsman. [ed. note Silva or da Silva is probably one of the lost common Brazilian surnames]

He would not say how much more would be seized by the end of the year, when the government expects to have settled 60,000 families on their own plots. So far, 6,000 families have received land.

. .but there does appear to be some inconsistency in their recordkeeping:

Etuino Luiz Mendes, one of the MST leaders of the Tres Marias invasion, said the farm was targeted because it was idle and had produced not one pound of soybeans, beans or other crop in five years.

The owner, Maria Faria de Lacerda, is now living in her home in Guarapuava, a small town some 70 miles away, according to ranchers and the MST. She could not be reached for comment.

Under Brazilian law, nonproducing property can be seized for agrarian reform purposes. But the government's latest official survey does not list Tres Marias as unproductive.

It seems to me that there needs to be an active negotiator making an effort to work out a compromise here. If a landowner is concerned about a land invasion by the MST, and the MST is frustrated by the glacial pace of land reform in Brazil, then it certainly seems to be incumbent upon the Federal government to address the situation, keep both sides cool and find a way to get both sides some of what they want. The alternative, could be another Corumbiara or Eldorado de Carajas.

10:06 PM


Seth Green has an article in The American Prospect about the benefits that could emerge from the Bush Adminstration if a consistent policy against human rights abuses was implemented. One way would be to allow cases against human rights abusers to proceed in Federal Court:

Indeed, the Bush administration has repeatedly made the mistake of appeasing governments with poor human rights records, all in the name of building anti-terrorism alliances. Since September 11, the United States has embraced Indonesian and Saudi leaders, despite their abysmal human rights records, in exchange for promises to crackdown on Islamic fundamentalism. As the bombings in Bali and Riyadh illustrate, this policy has worked about as well in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia as Neville Chamberlain's 1938 strategy worked in Germany.

As U.S. News noted, in the case of Indonesia, the State Department in August 2002 specifically asked a federal judge to dismiss a human rights lawsuit brought against Exxon Mobil for allegedly turning a blind eye to the Indonesian military's murder and rape of civilians. According to the State Department, the war on terrorism could be "imperiled in numerous ways if Indonesia and its officials curtailed cooperation in response to perceived disrespect for its sovereign interests." Two months after the State Department's announcement, terrorist bombs exploded at two Bali nightclubs, killing more than 200 people. And yesterday's Washington Post reported that the Indonesian military -- apparently without fear of U.S. reproach -- is rapidly broadening its influence over civilians at the expense of democracy. (Back in February, TAP Online contributor Jonathan Goldberg wrote on how newly declassified records from the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet demonstrate just how sensitive developing-world dictatorships can be to U.S. pressure on human rights -- and just how emboldened they often feel when they think America is looking the other way.)

That last parenthesized phrase goes to the heart of the matter for me. It is also, unfortunately a consistent pattern in several administrations on both sides of the aisle in addressing human rights abuses.

9:40 PM


One thing that consistently annoys me is the lumping together of several distinct styles in the arts - especially music - by an intellectually lazy journalist. Reuters has a fine example with this story about Gilberto Gil, Brazil's Minister of Culture, and one of the true icons of Brazilian popular music and his recent visit to Angola, a country with which Brazil has much in common, in terms of history and culture. Many of the slaves whose descendants make Brazil the largest African country outside of Africa came from what is now Angola and the Congo.

What has me so peeved about this article are a couple of casually tossed out phrases starting with the headline: Bossa Nova Beat Helps Foster Brazil-Angola Ties and the following comment in the body of the story:

Even Angolans without access to television can swing to the Bossa Nova beat thanks to the Brazilian music played on local radio stations.

Gee, I've been listening intently to Brazilian music for nearly thirty years and all those different genres such as Samba, Bossa Nova, Forr?, MPB (M?sica Popular Brasileira), Axé, Pagode, Choro and all those rhythms such as toada, xote, samba, maracatu, frevo, bai?o, etc. were really all just Bossa Nova! At least according to a lazy journalist who would rather toss something off than stretch her mind a little. What's worse is that bossa nova arguably has the least African influence of any genre unique to Brazil.

Brazilian music is as rich and diverse (arguably more so) as any other music in Latin America. Gilberto Gil embodies that diversity thoroughly, playing a panoply of styles many of which are carefully tuned into Brazil's African heritage. He even recorded a Bob Marley tribute that's not to be missed.

If you want to keep up with the latest in Brazilian music, you can do no better than my buddy, Eg?dio Leit?o's Musica Brasileira site.

8:59 PM

Sunday, June 29, 2003  

Speaking of Pinochet and Argentina, Judge Baltazar Garzon, the judge who tried unsuccessfully to extradite Augusto Pinochet to Spain to face charges of torture and murder, has had a successful extradition in his efforts to address the crimes against humanity that took place in Argentina during the 1970's. Ricardo Cavallo was extradited from Mexico to Spain seemingly without objection from Nestor Kirchner's government in Argentina.

Accusers say Cavallo served at the Navy Mechanical School, one of the most notorious centers of repression during the 1976-83 dictatorship, during which at least 9,000 Argentines vanished - presumably killed, often after torture. Human rights groups put the figure closer to 30,000.

Cavallo has said that he was in Argentina's military, but he has denied involvement in torture.

Cavallo was director of Mexico's private National Registry of Motor Vehicles, when Interpol arrested him in 2000 after five former political prisoners alleged he had tortured them in Argentina.

Cavallo could not be tried in Argentina because of an amnesty. This will be a case worth following.

9:47 PM


The New York Times has a fairly judicious look at Nestor Kirchner's accomplishments thus far in Argentina. It's definitely worth reading; check it out.

9:41 PM


Just a few short posts as I've been really busy this weekend.

Someone has finally fessed up from the Pinochet era Chilean military about what happened to some of Allende's aides shortly after the coup in 1973:

In an interview in the influential El Mercurio newspaper, Eliseo Cornejo said he was a low-ranking officer following orders and that he did not play a direct role in the killings, and later exhumation of the bodies.

He said he drove the vehicle that escorted a group of men, arrested at the presidential palace during the 1973 coup two days earlier, to a military base where he witnessed their execution and burial in a mass grave.

Five years later, in 1978, his commanders ordered him to identify the burial spot. Officials then dug up the rotting bodies and loaded them onto a military helicopter, which flew off to an unknown destination, he said.


Human rights lawyers were not immediately available to comment on the implications of Cornejo's statements. But they say recent evidence suggests the military systematically exhumed mass graves, leading to fears the whereabouts of victims' remains will never be known.

"The evidence is clear that wherever the courts have gone to burial sites, there have been remains of remains. It's very macabre," lawyer Jose Zalaquett told Reuters this week.

Of course if you believe Pinochet and his supporters, he never knew any of this was going on . . .

9:35 PM


Argentine footballer, Ariel Ortega (often accurately referred to as El Burrito) has been fined a stupendous US$11 million for leaving his Turkish team Fenerbahce and returning to his old club, River Plate in Argentina. He also has been banned from playing professionally until December 30.

Ortega, who you may remember as the player who, after getting a yellow card for diving in a quarter-final game against Holland in the 1998 World Cup, got a second yellow card almost immediately thereafter (resulting in a red card) for headbutting Dutch goalkeeper, Edwin Van der Saar. Seconds later, Holland scored the winning goal and went to the semi-finals while Argentina went home.

Ortega has vowed to appeal the fine. No kidding.

1:12 AM


. . . and having a positive impact (one can only hope) is what Nestor Kirchner appears to be doing in Argentina:

President Néstor Kirchner has signed a decree ordering agents and the former director of the state intelligence agency to testify at the trial of a score of police officers and criminals charged with involvement in the bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994.

Also, Carlos Menem's lackey Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Julio Nazareno, has stepped down at the start of his impeachment trial.

1:05 AM


Those two words will all too often be followed by exasperated sighs, especially when you are talking to a Brazilian (something I have the pleasure to do every day).

The New York Times has an article in Saturday's paperthat details the balancing act that Lula has been doing between satisfying the fears of inflation and spurring the economy by lowering interest rates.

There are already signs that the tough anti-inflation stance is working. A broad consumer price index rose just 0.22 percent in the four weeks to mid-June, well off the 0.61 percent rise in the previous month. Brazil's country risk, measured by the spread over United States Treasury bonds that the government must pay for credit, is now below 800 basis points, compared with over 2,400 just before last year's elections. That allowed the central bank to lower rates by half a percentage point last week.

"There is no doubt the government is having success on the financial side," said Alexandre Schwartsman, chief economist at Unibanco, a major Brazilian bank based in São Paulo. "But while the financial sector is happy, the real economy is suffering."

Interest rates are so high — Brazil's 26 percent overnight rate is still more than four times Mexico's benchmark 5.5 percent rate and far exceeds the 1 percent United States federal funds rate — that they are virtually strangling economic activity.

Industrial production in April was down 4 percent from a year earlier. The economy contracted 0.1 percent in the first quarter, and most economists predict that it will have shrunk in the second quarter as well, theoretically pushing Brazil into recession.

Inflation is a palpable fear in Brazil and the type of inflation that existed in the early 1990's effectively becomes a defacto tax on the poorest members of society. With the controlling of inflation that started in 1994, people who otherwise had no hope of really participating in the economy where able to buy items such as microwave ovens in installments. Even with inflation under control, many stores still offer purchases of clothing, for example in installments or with postdated checks, which I would imagine is convenient for those who might not otherwise be able to obtain credit.

Nevertheless, there is some potential good news according to the article:

Announcing a seven-point plan to divert $500 million worth of banks' reserve requirements on cash deposits to help finance loans for low-income earners, the finance minister, Antonio Palocci, said Wednesday that Brazil was "out of intensive care." Mr. Palocci said he was raising next year's inflation target from 3.75 percent to 5.5 percent, giving the central bank more leeway to cut interest rates.

There's still a long, long way to go.

12:58 AM


I haven't posted lately because I have been a little angry, and I just find it better to step back and cool my jets when that happens. With all the armchair trashing of the UN Peacekeeping efforts by those whose greatest risk is sunburn from grilling steaks on their deck, I thought I should write about my cousin (by marriage), Luis.

Luis is now a lieutenant colonel in the Brazilian Army. When I first met him in 1995, he was posted to Tefé, a town in the Amazon region that is reachable only by boat or plane. When I asked him how he liked Tefé, he said it had a lot of mosquitos and a lot of malaria. In 1997, Luis was assigned to Angola as part of the UN Peacekeeping Mission there. He spent about six months there and the experience moved him. When I saw him a couple of months after his return, I asked him how he liked Angola compared to Tefé. He said that Tefé was a paradise compared to Angola.

He told me that he thought he had seen suffering before, but he had never seen it like he had seen it in Angola. He and his colleagues faced the following risks every day in descending order: 1.) land mines; 2.) malaria; 3.) rebels. He told me that he felt that his and his colleagues' presence made some of the average citizens in Angola feel safer and that perhaps their lives were a little better and for those reasons, whatever discomfort or difficulties he faced, it was worth it. He appreciated the fact that he had the luxury of leaving Angola, but that he would never forget his experience there.

So, if you feel like trashing the UN and engaging in character assassination of the peacekeepers because you don't like the fact that they are French, go ahead if it makes you feel better. Perhaps you should talk to someone like Luis before you do so.

12:31 AM

Saturday, June 28, 2003  

Further proof that we are living in Bizarro World:

  • Two weeks ago I went to an upscale store to buy a unique product only they sell. They had two examples of the product on display at the first store I went to, but were sold out of the product itself. At the second store they had four on display, but none for sale. Are we living in the age of retail museums now?

  • I am supplied with natural gas by a company called Keyspan Energy Delivery. I have been paying my bill almost exclusively on line since I opened the account. I recently receive an e-mail advising me that my current bill was now available to view and pay. When I tried to log in I received nothing but text with html tags; no links and no way to pay my bill. I emailed their customer service department and received the following answer:

  • KeySpan Energy Delivery Website has been undergoing construction in order to make your online experience more user friendly. However Customers using Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer Version over 6.0 will not be able to view our site. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.

    What's next? "We've improved the highway, but cars with rubber tires will not be able to drive on these roads."

    11:45 PM

    Thursday, June 26, 2003  

    Unfortunately as the Big Apple is right now the Baked Apple and the hottest room in our apartment is the room where the computer is, I'm just going to make this one post today.

    I'm in the midst of reading Samantha Power's brillaint Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. She covers the US reaction to acts of genocide in places such as Iraq, Bosnia, Armenia, Rwanda, etc. The villains and good guys are bipartisan. For example, on the Iraq side regarding the Kurds, among the good guys were Senators William Proxmire, Claiborne Pell and [cognitive dissonance alert] Jesse Helms. The real force for good at that time was Peter Galbraith who was a staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and made several trips to the Kurdish area of Iraq at great personal risk. Among the villains, some for their sheer fecklessness are Ronald Reagan (whose administration seemed hell-bent on issuing credits to Iraq through the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC)), Senator John Breaux, Congressman Dan Rostenkowski (no surprise) and George H. W. Bush (who doubled the CCC credits amount after the chemical attacks against the Kurds in Halabja).

    In any event, the book is well documented, crisply written and ultimately, fair. If you are interested in human rights issues at all you should read it.

    I'll be back with more posts tomorrow or Saturday.

    9:41 PM

    Tuesday, June 24, 2003  

    There are some things in life you can count on: the changing of the seasons, Brazilian soccer fans cursing their coach after a mediocre performance, Glenn Reynolds having an incredibly tin ear.

    Courtesy of The Mighty Reason Man via Ted Barlow:

    It Must Be Nice To Be The InstaPundit

    Calling the French troops in the Congo cowards on his deck via wireless, while sipping a Redhook IPA and grilling steaks.[my emphasis]

    While I would not use the seven letter epithet that the Mighty Reason Man used to describe Glenn, I think an appropriate description may be what a judge once said about Spiro Agnew: "morally obtuse." If you read this Glenn, here's your Armchair Valor Medal. If some fat from those steaks bubbles on to your arm or if you get a splinter from your deck, you'll be eligible for the Armchair Valor Purple Heart.

    Implying, inferring, insinuating or calling someone a coward - who is in one of the most dangerous places in the world - while you sit in the comfort of your home is beneath contempt.

    10:51 PM


    Celso Amorim, the Brazilian Foreign Minister thinks that the UN Security Council permanent membership should be expanded and I'm inclined to agree:

    Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, in Cairo after attending the World Economic Forum in Jordan, also suggested that Brazil might join forces with regional powerhouses India and South Africa to press for permanent council slots for all three.

    Brazil has been pushing for years to expand the Security Council beyond the current five permanent members - the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China.

    While we're at it, let's get rid of the veto power for the permanent members.

    10:17 PM


    I would suggest maybe another course of action to the woman who tried to slap Pinochet. The ex-dictator whose secret police committed this act of state-sponsored terrorism in Washington, DC nearly 27 years ago was vacationing in the northern Chilean town of Iquique.

    Perhaps she could have politely asked him where his thugs put her brother's body and the thousands of others. Or, perhaps how he can be deemed physically and mentally unfit to stand trial for his crimes despite the fact that according to the article, "He was limping but relaxed in recent television shots from Iquique, showing him shopping and visiting military friends."

    10:06 PM

    Monday, June 23, 2003  

    Evidently not, according to this news from Human Rights Watch:

    On June 17, chief editor Sayeed Mir Hussein Mahdavi and deputy editor Ali Reza Payam Sistany of Aftab (The Sun) were arrested on the orders of Afghanistan's chief justice with the approval of President Karzai. The editors' arrests come as Afghanistan undertakes the vital public process of debating its future constitution.


    According to government officials familiar with the case, Afghanistan's chief justice, Fazl Hadi Shinwari, a cleric allied with the ultra-conservative mujahidin leader Abdul-Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, a powerful political leader in Kabul, ordered the arrests and the closure of the paper with the approval of President Karzai. Aftab had recently published two articles raising questions about Islam's place in politics and methods of interpreting religious texts, and criticizing Afghan religious leaders.

    The Supreme Court charged Mahdavi and Sistany with the crime of "insulting Islam," or blasphemy. The existing penal code of Afghanistan does not define blasphemy, but provides that certain crimes relating to Islam are punishable under shari'a (Islamic law). Crimes under shari'a are not codified or defined under Afghan law, but under most interpretations of shari'a, blasphemy is a serious offense sometimes punishable by death.

    The deputy chief justice, Fazel Ahmad Manawi, said in an interview with Radio Liberty on June 19 that Mahdavi and Sistany would be tried on the "allegation of insulting Islam," and that international pressure could do nothing to stop the government from pursuing the case. The two are currently being held in a Kabul jail.

    This incident is neither isolated nor new:

    Amniat-e Melli agents have staked out journalists' homes, followed them on the street, and visited their offices. Security officials have warned journalists to stop publishing critical articles, delivering warnings such as, "The day is not far off when you will be killed," or "We could kill you easily." Some journalists have been arrested by police forces and detained in Kabul's jails.

    Military commanders outside of Kabul have threatened journalists as well. In recent months, Human Rights Watch has documented how commanders in Jalalabad and Gardez - places where the U.S.-led coalition continues to cooperate and work with local military forces - have threatened journalists with death for publishing candid reports about local security problems.

    Ismail Khan, the governor of the western province of Herat, has continued to stifle local media. Last month, his security personnel arrested and beat a radio journalist during the opening ceremony for the new office of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, prompting most Herat-based radio journalists to leave the city in protest.

    Just what the region needs: another repressive theocracy. The silence from the Bush administration is deafening.

    11:07 PM


    Some Cuba analysts seem to think so, according to this article in the Miami Herald:

    ''His behavior since the March crackdown has been abominable on a moral level, and more recently against the Europeans, inexplicable,'' said Brian Latell, a retired CIA top analyst on Cuba and Castro.


    Latell blamed Castro's behavior more on his age, 76, and signs of deteriorating health such as a fainting episode two years ago in Havana and another reported -- but never confirmed -- brief collapse last month during a visit to Argentina.

    ''He's clearly physically and mentally impaired,'' Latell said, adding that other incidents such as losing his train of thought or becoming incoherent during long speeches ``leads to very informed, appropriate speculation about the current quality of his leadership.''

    I'm more inclined to believe this :

    ''I guess that the Cuban government has concluded that the best response to dissidents is forceful defense of its sovereignty,'' said Geoff Thale, a Cuba specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America, a liberal think tank.

    ''Clearly, they are in a battle of public opinion. They have raised the specter of U.S. aggression to change the subject, to shift the focus back to U.S. aggression instead of internal behavior,'' Thale added.

    Well, it wouldn't be the first time that a nation's leader has exaggerated a threat to keep the public distracted from a poor economy, but I digress . . .

    Oswaldo Payá, the founder of the Varela Project has not been jailed and I think that this is largely because Castro still realizes that he cannot continue to offend and outrage everyone. Payá won the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize last year and seems to be untouchable. Clearly Castro is nervous, but I don't think that he is being anything other than his typical demagogic self.

    10:32 PM


    Imagine if you will, Lyndon LaRouche lowering his sights a little, running for Congress instead of the presidency and finding a constituency that managed in some congressional district to give him enough votes to get him elected. What you would have then is someone like Eneas Carneiro who has been a bit of a Brazilian version of wacky extremism in politics. Among other things, he has advocated that Brazil expend valuable resources developing an atomic bomb in order to "gain respect in the world."

    I first saw him on television during elections for mayors and city council (which are conducted nationwide in Brazil at the same time) in 1996. Free airtime for candidates is mandatory, so Eneas managed to get himself on the air and I remember seeing someone who looked the Tom Hanks character in Castaway just before he was rescued (although with a little less hair), coke bottle lenses on his glasses and a ranting tone that would make Chris Matthews seem like the epitome of calm, reasoned judgment. My father=in=law told me that he was just some kook who runs all the time, but will never get elected. Well, it appears that he was half right.

    Eneas may have found a constituency, but they have already become disenchanted:

    With such faith, Carneiro's recent silence has disappointed 21-year-old Luciano Oliveira Lima who voted for him because he liked his nationalist tone.

    "I voted for him because I thought he was different, that he would try to put into practice his projects," said Lima.

    Carneiro urges the faithful to be patient. "If a strong call comes at the right time, even a stone will respond," said Carneiro.

    God help Brazil if he does.

    10:11 PM

    Saturday, June 21, 2003  

    Yet another reason why Nestor Kirchner may very well be just what Argentina needs:

    Congress took a first step toward impeaching Julio Nazareno, left, chief justice of the Supreme Court, with the judicial affairs committee of the lower house's unanimous approval of 15 accusations of wrongdoing against him. The action came as President Néstor Kirchner, a critic of the court, moved to limit his own power to appoint justices by allowing civic groups to file objections to his candidates.[my emphasis]

    Yet another step towards more open government in Argentina. Everyone who cares about fairness and justice in Argentina should support this. Kudos to Kirchner!

    2:25 PM


    President Bush and President da Silva of Brazil met yesterday in Washington and have put a happy face on the meeting:

    ''Brazil is an incredibly important part of a peaceful and prosperous North and South America,'' Bush said as he welcomed da Silva to the White House. ``This relationship is a vital and important and growing relationship.''

    Da Silva also touted the importance of a solid partnership, but stressed that it ''should be on the basis of sincerity'' and not ``just build up a spectacle for the press and for the public.''

    ''I believe that Brazil is and can continue to be a good partner of the United States,'' da Silva said. ``Without any question, I believe that we can surprise the world in terms of the relationship.''

    The gathering was more than just a cordial exchange between two leaders. It involved high-ranking Cabinet members from both governments, and by the end of the day they had committed to a series of joint initiatives, ranging from agriculture to energy to health programs for combating AIDS in Portuguese-speaking parts of Africa.

    Marcela Sanchez is not quite so sanguine, especially on the benefits of "free" trade:

    For all the talk of the failures and achievements of free trade with the United States, there still exists only one relevant example for Latin America: the North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada. Yet today, 10 years after its inception, to call NAFTA a success story for Mexico would be to utter a half-truth that overlooks the still very poor and isolated regions of that country.

    Clearly, the Mexican experience confirms that free trade of goods and services does not guarantee development and prosperity in areas that have yet to become accessible or competitive. Such regions will always need investment first to build the infrastructure necessary to attract trade.

    Over the last few years, however, many private investors have fled Latin America as economies there began to falter. For three years running, foreign direct investment (FDI) into the region fell, declining last year by exactly one-third, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America.

    In theory, global economic forces were supposed to drive investment into a region full of low-cost opportunities and potentially high returns. Financial crises turned that prediction into an espejismo [Spanish for mirage. Why not use the Portuguese for this article: miragem (pl. miragens)?] Yet nothing governments could do--short of imposing controls against capital flight--seemed able to retain investment. Even Mexico witnessed a 50 percent drop in its FDI last year despite NAFTA's generous provisions to boost investors' confidence.

    As I have mentioned from day one, the big issues - especially where they relate to Brazil - will be the orange juice, steel and sugar tariffs. Until such time as Wyoming or Alaska with three electoral votes each become major sugar and orange juice producers outpacing Florida with its 26 or so electoral votes, I just don't see anyone, regardless of their political affiliation, eliminating these tariffs, especially not if their brother is the governor of Florida . . .

    Many have been prasing Lula for his pragmatism in office . . .

    "He has shown the right kind of priorities and is exhibiting real negotiating skills with the other parties,'' said Thomas Skidmore, a Brazil expert at Brown University's Watson Institute of International Affairs in Providence, R.I [Skidmore, by the way, has been published extensively on Brazil. His Black Into White may be one of the best analyses on race in Brazil and his Brazil: Five Centuries of Change is a fine introduction to Brazil and why it is so different than much of Latin America.].

    . . .but he still has a difficult road ahead:

    He is under fire for high interest rates that slow growth and have drawn criticism from former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and even from da Silva's vice president, business tycoon Jose Alencar.

    Support may wane as da Silva pushes an overhaul of the bankrupt social security system, because he will have to take on civil servants who make up a large base in his party. As a labor leader, he helped create the welfare benefits, including generous payments to government workers who retire early. The system has a projected deficit this year of $24 billion.

    ''Why must a sugar-cane cutter work until he is 60 while a university professor can retire at 53?'' da Silva asked Tuesday in a spirited defense of his proposed pension changes.

    The interest rate was recently lowered, but it is still an investment crushing 26%. On the other hand, if he can effect some changes on the social security front, one would think that reducing the government deficit would be followed by a reduction in interest rates. Nevertheless, none of this will be easy.

    2:06 PM

    Thursday, June 19, 2003  

    Apparently they both think that they are art critics. As Jesse Helms railed against public funding of controversial art, Chávez has done him one better: he has managed to have a controversial work of art eliminated from the Venezuela pavilion at the Venice Biennale, effectively shutting the pavilion down:

    But the real heat was provided by Venezuela, which has had a coveted pavilion at the park since 1954, yet wasn't even in the running for an award this year. In May, the Venezuelan government censored the art chosen for its own exhibit, an interactive digital work, CityRooms, by Pedro Morales.

    Stirring controversy were the work's caricature images of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and scenes showing the country degenerating into a ramshackle mass of shanties.

    Morales defended his work:

    Two weeks ago, Morales said he received a statement from the Venezuelan government claiming that his art ''was disrespectful of the images in my country. I think the real thing is that they don't understand my proposal,'' he said. ``They say my work has a political view only, but that's not true. There's sex, humor, and violence. It's an extensive work of interactive art.''

    ''It's unacceptable that a country censors art,'' said Irma Arestizábal, an Argentine curator of Latin American art at the Biennale. ``It's a sin for Venezuela, because every country in the world wants a pavilion [here].''

    If you want to judge for yourself, go to Morales' website and take a look at City Rooms.

    9:38 PM


    This was moronic with Chávez and it's moronic with Castro. Has this sophomoric prank helped the cause of freedom and democracy in Cuba at all? Of course not. Grow up already!

    Damian Fernandez, professor of international relations at Florida International University, called the prank ``silly.''

    ''It's not a very good image for Miami,'' he said.

    No, it's not. I'm sure Castro will probably rail about this in a seven-hour speech and use it as more fuel for his rants against the US. Perhaps these puerile young men would consider reading over the air some of the profiles of those dissidents Castro recently jailed or perhaps something, I don't know, . . .constructive? That would require a little sound judgment and that certainly appears to be lacking here.

    9:25 PM

    Wednesday, June 18, 2003  

    I have often argued that impunity and corruption are Latin America's two greatest problems and they are inextricably tied; if one knows that one will not face the consequences of one's actions, it is entirely conceivable that some people will interpret this as an invitation for criminal acts.

    Today's New York Times has a terrific article on the motivations behind Nestor Kirchner, the new president of Argentina and his determination to end the cycle:

    But Mr. Kirchner seems to be responding to a growing clamor for what is known here as "an end to impunity." That means honesty, accountability and transparency in government and the liquidation of a system of privileges and corruption that has allowed the relatives, friends and political associates of those in power to steal and even kill without fearing the consequences.


    "This is not just any generation" that is coming to power for the first time in the person of Mr. Kirchner, said Horacio Verbitsky, a prominent writer and human rights campaigner here. "It is one that wanted to change this country, rebelled against what was rotten, made mistakes, paid dearly for them and after all that still wants to govern on an ethical basis."

    The devastation inflicted on that generation, and on Argentina, by the dirty war is hard to overstate. A large proportion of the 30,000 who "disappeared" were bright and idealistic young people who were often singled out because they were leaders, and therefore the most threatening.

    As a result, the long-term damage done to Argentina far surpassed that in neighboring countries like Brazil, Uruguay and even Chile. Argentines complain of a lack of fresh and capable leaders in their country and look enviously at the new government in Brazil. But the harsh reality is that Brazil's left-leaning president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and his advisers would probably have been killed had they lived here.

    I really cannot imagine how anyone could argue that Argentina would not be better off if Kirchner succeeds in this area.

    11:05 PM


    The Washington Post has this lengthy, but interesting article about attempts to establish a sort of affirmative action program in a state university in Rio de Janeiro.

    As I posted here in my experience, the subject of race in Brazil is made up of equal parts of denial and, well, frankly, denial. I do not believe the often-hyped notion that the country is a racial paradise. As the article notes, the official dicing into incredibly fine categories of the different racial categories seems to me to underscore the tension simmering under the surface:

    The result is a country in which census forms contain more than 100 classifications focused on skin color; one category is "coffee with cream." Only 6 percent of the population chooses the darkest classification, "black," but nearly half of all Brazilians identify themselves as either black or pardo, the term used here for mixed race.

    Even former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, by all appearances a white man, boasted of having a "foot in the kitchen," a Brazilian colloquialism for mixed ancestry and a subtle reference to the proliferation of black maids in white households.

    When I read that quote from Cardoso a couple of years ago, I winced, but I suppose it was my gringo background. I could not imagine any politician making a similar statement here (and believe me, there are such similar statements here) in the US unless he or she wanted to commit political suicide. Yet there is much to convince that the idea of Brazil being a racial paradise is a myth:

    The unemployment rate for Brazilians considered either black or mixed race is twice that of whites, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, a government agency known by its Portuguese acronym, IBGE. White Brazilians generally earn 57 percent more than black Brazilians working in the same field, and a white Brazilian without a high school diploma earns more, on average, than a black Brazilian with a college degree.

    Blacks in Brazil die younger, are more likely both to be arrested and to be convicted of crimes, and are half as likely as whites to have running water or a working toilet in their homes, according to IBGE. And of the 1.4 million students admitted to universities in Brazil each year, only 3 percent identify themselves as black or mixed race; only 18 percent come from the public schools, where most black Brazilians study.

    "People here say that it's impossible to say who is white and who is black," said Jocelino Freitas, 25, a first-year law student at the State University of Rio who was admitted under the quota system and considers himself pardo. "Really? Ask the police. I bet they can tell you who is black. Ask any doorman who can go through the front door and who goes through the service entrance. I bet they can tell you who is black. What color is the maid? We may not spend a lot of time talking about who is black and who is white, but we live in color every day."

    Elza Soares, a singer who I'm not a big fan of perhaps has the best take on things:

    Elza Soares, a popular singer here who is black and outspoken on racial issues, says quotas are not the problem. "We need to improve the schools at every level. We need jobs. We need to make sure kids get three meals a day."

    I certainly agree with every word of that quote.

    10:38 PM


    The en banc hearing on the Unocal case involving the Alien Torts Claims Act took place yesterday in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. Based on this report from the Los Angeles Times, it doesn't seem that the judges are buying the amicus brief filed by the Department of Justice that I mentioned here:

    Unocal's lawyer, Randy Oppenheimer, argued that the questions were moot because the plaintiffs had no right to a trial over abuses alleged to have occurred in another country.

    But Judges A. Wallace Tashima and M. Margaret McKeown prodded Oppenheimer to drop that argument, pointing out that the 9th Circuit this month upheld a foreigner's right to bring suit in the U.S. over alleged human rights abuses. That case, involving a doctor allegedly kidnapped in Mexico at the behest of U.S. drug agents, was at least the third that the 9th Circuit has approved under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows foreigners to sue in U.S. courts for human rights abuses abroad.

    Howard Bashman's blog, How Appealing, has had a great deal of coverage on the case with a number of posts and related links. My advice: when you get to his main page do a word search in your browser for "Unocal."

    9:52 PM

    Monday, June 16, 2003  

    What is it about soccer that makes otherwise sensible people in the USA feel a need to put it down? The latest culprit is Matthew Yglesias, someone for whom I otherwise have immense respect. He comments on an editorial in today's New York Times about the David Beckham saga:

    I understand that the Times is trying to position itself as a national newspaper, but the nation it's a national newspaper of is still the United States of America where no one cares about soccer.

    As I posted in his comments section, here are a few facts:

  • The US Soccer Federation is older than Brazil's Soccer Federation.

  • The US made it to the semi-finals of the inaugural World Cup in 1930.

  • The single largest attendance for an event at Giants Stadium in New Jersey was a soccer doubleheader: the first MLS All-Star Game and an exhibition between the Brazilian Olympic Team and a World All-Star team. The date was July 14, 1996.

  • Brad Friedel, a star goalkeeper for the US National Team and the star of Blackburn Rovers in the English Premier League was voted goalkeeper of the year in the English Premier League this past year.

  • Adam Gopnik wrote an excellent analysis of the subject in the New Yorker last year, and while I don't have a link to it, I do have a great section from it here:

    Yet two things haunt us as we watch. First, it is not merely that our games are better spectacles; it is that they are only, or primarily, spectacles. Few Americans who watch these games play them. We play specially designed, domesticated versions—softball, touch football. Baseball—real hardball—is rarely played by people past the age of twelve; tackle football is the memory of a hobbled minority; and ice hockey remains, at best, the pastime of a frostbitten few. Among our sports, only basketball is a true game and a big game—and the big game is different from the true game, chiefly because to play it you have to be very, very big. We have chosen games that are uniquely well adapted to spectacle and, perhaps as a consequence, maladapted to participation.

    For the rest of the world, part of the pleasure of watching soccer, or world football, as we should call it, is knowing there is a parabola that takes in the kids in the dusty barrio right through to Ronaldo and Ronaldinho: it is the same game, cheap and easy to play, whether you are playing it poorly or sublimely well. A parabola connects American dads and sons playing catch in the back yard to Barry Bonds—but it is an American arc, with money, glamour, and lots of high-tech gear transforming it along the way, until the colors at the end of the rainbow bear little resemblance to those at the beginning.

    Mércia tells me that in her hometown in Brazil, if the kids didn't have a ball, they would go to the butcher shop and ask the butcher for a pig's bladder, which, cleaned (of course!) and inflated, sufficed to kick around for a day. I gladly spent the month of June last year bleary eyed because of the World Cup and would do it again.

    But don't just take my word for it, Matt. Here's a link to an article in your new employer's magazine on this very same subject and how conservative critics of the game have gotten it wrong. Come on, Matt, surely you were just joking!

    10:04 PM


    This may be one of the most - if not the most - thoroughly detestable things I have ever read in a blog. If you agree, please consider posting a comment, but above all, unlike some of the commenters BE POLITE!!! It is far too easy to sink to that same level.

    Courtesy of the always classy Ted Barlow.

    9:40 PM

    Sunday, June 15, 2003  

    He just doesn't get it, does he?

    Fidel Castro's communist government took the first major step in its anti-Europe campaign Saturday, taking control of the Spanish Embassy's cultural center -- a showcase of Iberian tradition that Havana says was used to nurture the opposition.

    One wonders if it's his intention to alienate everyone. The EU's declaration to review its relationship with Cuba was a unanimous vote. Just as Rios Montt should remember that nothing occurs in a vacuum, perhaps Castro should consider doing the same. I don't intend to hold my breath, however.

    10:09 PM


    As much as I detest Efraín Rios Montt, this is indefensible. His daughter reacted angrily:

    ''What happened is a violation of human rights because we were engaged in a peaceful act,'' said Ríos Montt's daughter, Zury Ríos Sosa, a sitting lawmaker who also traveled to Rabinal.

    Perhaps someone needs to remind her that nothing occurs in a vacuum:

    Many of those protesting Ríos Montt on Saturday had been planning to bury the remains of 66 people killed by state forces during the height of Guatemala's 36-year civil war.

    Ríos Montt took power in a coup in March 1982 but was himself deposed in a military uprising 18 months later.

    While in office, he began a scorched-earth campaign that killed thousands of civilians suspected of aiding rebels in Rabinal and other largely Mayan communities.

    Again, I do not condone what happened to him yesterday, but for someone in his entourage to claim the moral high ground on the subject of human rights is risible, to put it mildly.

    10:06 PM


    Andrés Oppenheimer discusses it as part of a larger commentary on Argentina and Brazil forming even stronger ties to strengthen Mercosur, their common market that also includes Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile and Bolivia as associate members:

    I had been somewhat skeptical about Argentine President Néstor Kirchner and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's enthusiastic vows at their meeting in Brasilia last week to resurrect the ailing South American common market known as Mercosur, made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

    At the meeting, Kirchner and Lula signed a 31-point agreement that includes a commitment to jointly negotiate the planned hemisphere-wide Free Trade Agreement of the Americas with the United States, create a Mercosur Parliament, launch a Monetary Institute to study the viability of a common currency and extend the teaching of Portuguese and Spanish in both countries' public schools.

    Not included in the official document, but agreed to in private talks between Argentine Foreign Minister Rafael Bielsa and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, was a plan to hold a Mercosur-European Union soccer game later this year, senior officials told me.

    Oppenheimer is skeptical, but keeping an open mind. As for the unified soccer team, my favorite Brazilian was less than enthusiastic, to put it mildly. I'm kind of inclined to agree. Last year, the night before the World Cup Championship game, we went to an excellent Uruguayan bakery near us to get some pastries for breakfast the next morning for our friends coming over to watch the game. Mércia was wearing her official Brazilian team jersey (which she graciously declined to wear at the Argentine restaurant where we had dinner that same evening). As we crossed the street, two Argentine men started in with the catcalls in Spanish: "Ronaldo's going to break his leg. You guys are going to lose 5-0!" We both launched into a chorus of "Don't Cry For Me Argentina."

    I happen to prefer the response of Mario Zagallo, the great player and coach and contemporary of Pelé. In 1998 Brazil was playing El Salvador in the CONCACAF Gold Up (the North American regional championship to which Brazil had been invited) in Los Angeles. Several Argentine fans were making catcalls to Zagallo. He finally turned around, pointed to the four stars representing the four World Cup Championships (at that time) above the logo for the Brazilian Football Confederation on his shirt, held up four fingers, turned around and refocused on the game.

    If there are any Argentines reading this, please don't be offended. I have an immense amount of respect for a number of the Argentine players out there and I respect your great tradition in this game. I always pull for Brazil except when they are playing the US. I don't like sleeping on the couch. :-)

    10:00 PM


    I have often taken the Bush Administration to task for what I feel to be their neglect of and their retrograde attitude toward Latin America, but revoking the visa of former General Enrique Medina was a step in the right direction and helps to send the message that the administration will respect the Inter-American Democratic Charter (Adobe Acrobat Reader required) and not support - neither tacitly nor directly - undemocratic methods to achieve change in the Americas.

    9:20 PM

    Saturday, June 14, 2003  

    Guatemala's Supreme Electoral Tribunal has also rejected Rios Montt's petition to run for president, but he could still appeal.

    Marcela Sanchez has a cogent analysis of the situation and feels that the US should be doing more and changing our tack on this subject:

    A Rios Montt candidacy in Guatemala--like Carlos Menem's in Argentina or Daniel Ortega's in Nicaragua--should do more than spur sporadic, unsolicited advice from Washington. Rather, it should prompt U.S. officials to look in the mirror and seriously evaluate the tools at hand to help struggling democracies become more representative.

    For starters, this includes encouraging better choices at the ballot box. And it should continue with the kind of follow-through support to elected officeholders so they can make their country a democracy in practice and not merely in name.

    [edit]Now Washington must find ways to goad regional leaders into delivering more for all their people, rather than resorting to telling those same people who not to vote for.

    In other words, come up with some fresh ideas. That's a tall task for this administration.

    11:33 AM


    In response to some of the furor over Burma and my post here regarding the friend of the court brief filed by the Ashcroft Department of Justice in the case involving Unocal and allegations of forced labor in Burma. Some legal bloggers have denounced this effort by claiming that the Alien Torts Claims Act (ATCA) does not itself provide a cause of action. [ed.note: For the record, I would take with a grain of salt any legal blogger who links to the Unocal's statement on their website as "the facts" as the blogger in the link highlighted by the statement above "denounced this effort."]

    I am not a lawyer, but I do know a little about the law. I also know that three Circuit Courts (the 2nd, the 9th and the 11th) have all ruled in favor of plaintiffs suing under the ATCA. Here's a link to the Department of Justice brief in PDF file format as well as a link to the opposing brief in Word document format. Stuart Buck, the first legal blogger cited above, to his credit and sense of fairness (which I unequivocally salute) has read the opposition brief and made the following comment here:

    In sum, while I still lean towards DOJ's position, I'm less convinced than I was before. It seems plain that the ATCA does allow suits based on the "law of nations," but even after reading both briefs I have no idea what that term really means and where one would go to find causes of action in the "law of nations."

    Read his analysis, the briefs and make your own decision.

    Unlearned Hand also has a link to a Law.com article that seems to indicate that the DOJ's argument will not prevail in the 9th Circuit. Another blogger on the Winds of Change comment section to their post on the subject provides a link to this article in Forbes that is worth reading (registration required).

    11:19 AM

    Thursday, June 12, 2003  

    The OAS voted to exclude the US candidate from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, making this the first time that the US is not being represented on the IACHR according to this article in today's New York Times. The administration's response was fairly muted, though I feel certain that some on the right will lodge complaints. As the article indicates, however, the candidate seemed to be rather weak and did not seem to reflect much of a background on the subject:

    But the negative vote also appeared to reflect widespread doubts about the qualifications of the American candidate, Rafael E. Martinez. Born in Cuba, Mr. Martinez is an Orlando, Fla., lawyer best known for his expertise in medical malpractice and health law. He is a brother of Melquiades R. Martinez, the secretary of housing and urban development and a leading fund-raiser for the presidential campaign of George W. Bush among Cuban-Americans in Florida.

    "Clearly, the person they put forward, whatever his merits, did not have a very impressive background in human rights," said Michael Shifter, vice president for policy at Inter-American Dialogue, a research group in Washington. Mr. Martinez's nomination, he added "showed not just a sort of indifference to a major regional political organization on the part of the administration, but also the growing distrust on the other side about what the U.S. agenda and motives are."

    I don't think that I could agree with Shifter more. He would have been a better choice, as would he for example. They still don't get it.

    10:13 PM


    Andrés Oppenheimer reports on an interview that he had with former Spanish Prime Minster, Felipe González, which left Oppenheimer feeling optimistic and showed González strongly critical of Castro:

    On Cuba, González, who recently traded unusually harsh words with Fidel Castro over Cuba's executions of three people who had hijacked a boat to flee the island, said he suspects there may be political tensions behind the security breaches that allowed the recent hijackings in Cuba.

    ''Something strange is going on in Cuba,'' said González, who last talked with Castro in 2002. ``One hijacking is possible, but three or four such actions in a few days suggests that there was either a failure in the security apparatus that is inconceivable for those who know Cuba, or that there was an internal element that created a difficult situation.''

    Referring to Castro's recent actions and speeches, González said, ``Castro is pathetic. He looks like Franco when he was dying.''

    Meanwhile, Castro vented his spleen at the EU:

    Castro called Aznar "a little Fuehrer with a mustache and Nazi-fascist ideology." He said Aznar wanted to lead the EU into an alliance with the United States against Cuba as a key player in U.S. "fascist" plans to dominate the world.

    Castro also accused Italy, which has suspended cooperation programs with Cuba, of joining the plan and dubbed Berlusconi a "clown" a "fascist" and a "burlesconi" -- a Spanish-language pun on the Italian's name suggesting a fool.

    There were no reports of someone with a trap set doing rimshots and Castro was not quoted as saying "thanks, I'll be here all week!" :-) González must be getting the last laugh. Meanwhile, Fidel seems determined to lose friends and alienate people:

    In Rome, the Italian Foreign Ministry said in a statement it summoned the Cuban ambassador to complain about Castro's comments and the march in front of the Italian Embassy.

    The secretary-general at the Italian Foreign Ministry, Giuseppe Baldocci, expressed his "deep indignation" over Castro's "offensive statements," the ministry said.

    Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said in a television interview he would raise the issue with other EU foreign ministers next week and did not rule out the possibility of recalling Italy's ambassador to Cuba.

    In Madrid, the Foreign Ministry quoted Foreign Minister Ana Palacio as saying Spain would not be provoked into a war of words with Castro. It noted the move to take steps against Cuba was taken unanimously by EU members after Cuba's crackdown on dissidents.

    In the Americas, however, Colin Powell's attempt to press the OAS member nations on Cuba seems to have been largely ignored or met with annoyance at the ongoing US embargo:

    Mr. Powell also met little enthusiasm for his strong condemnation of recent human rights abuses in Cuba. He challenged the foreign ministers to work with the United States to "hasten the inevitable democratic transition in Cuba." He also reminded them that the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which the group approved in 2001, "declares that the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy," adding, "It does not say the peoples of the Americas except Cubans have the right to democracy."

    Canada's foreign affairs minister, Bill Graham, said that " many of my colleagues do not believe that this O.A.S. of ours is the appropriate forum to discuss this" because Cuba does not have a chance to defend itself and is seen as a victim of the longstanding American embargo.

    Powell is right, of course, but the issue of the embargo is perceived by the other member nations of the OAS as bullying and ineffective bullying at that. The skepticism lives on, exacerbated by the fact that upon taking office, President Bush stated his intent to make the Americas a priority, and in fact, hasn't done so , for some reasons that are certainly understandable (9/11), some that reek of vindictiveness and some that remain a mystery. Despite the talk of "free" trade, Lula is not fooled:

    "They're not going to eliminate agricultural subsidies, and the reason is very simple," the Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said in a speech last week, referring to Washington's position on the export sector in which Latin America is most competitive. "Bush is seeking re-election in 2004."

    He's right. I don't see the president doing anything to alienate sugar and orange juice producers in Florida.

    7:44 PM

    Wednesday, June 11, 2003  

    The media was hot on the report that José Alencar, Brazil's Vice-President was vocally annoyed with Lula's focus on fighting inflation by keeping interest rates high:

    Alencar, a right-of-center politician who made much of his fortune selling cheap apparel to Wal-Mart, launched his broadside three weeks ago when Brazil's central bank made a controversial decision to keep the benchmark interest rate at 26.5 percent.

    Ridiculing the bank's directors as "incompetent," the 72-year-old Alencar said the decision is stifling anemic growth in South America's largest economy and preventing millions from finding work.

    When Alencar was left in charge of Brazil while Silva went to Europe, the vice president grabbed nationwide headlines by complaining that high interest rates "are killing the economy."

    The following day it was announced industrial output fell in April for the first time in 11 months "after the highest interest rates in four years discouraged expansions and made it more onerous for businesses to hold inventories." I'm sure Alencar takes no joy in his being vindicated.

    11:13 PM


    The always interesting National Security Archives has just published an electronic briefing book on the Corpus Christi Massacre in Mexico in 1971 in which demonstrating students were attacked by state-sponsored thugs, leaving twenty-five dead. The NSA obtains documents through the Freedom of Information Act and shows the actual documents in their reports. I haven't read it yet, but I would urge you to take a look at it. It's another fine example of the moral corruption in the PRI at that time.

    11:03 PM


    I haven't posted much on Mexico since I started this blog and I had intended to post about this article in Monday's Washington Post, but it was eaten with the Blogger crash of Monday night. It deals with hunger in the poorest regions of Mexico and, to no one's surprise, the victims are, in fact, the usual victims:

    Xochitl Galvez, the government's first cabinet official in charge of indigenous affairs, said communities like Tehuipango have also been ignored and abused because Indians live here.

    "The indigenous have suffered from the enormous amount of discrimination and racism that exists in Mexico," Galvez said, noting that 90 percent of the country's 12 million indigenous people live in poverty. Most of the nearly 700 municipalities identified by the federal government as "high risk" areas for malnutrition are largely indigenous.

    Much of the blame for the lack of effort in addition to the racism is the pernicious rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (one of history's great oxymorons):

    Under the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled Mexico from 1929 to 2000, the government frequently focused its resources not on the neediest but on those who could guarantee votes, according to political analysts. [Dr. Abelardo] Avila said the PRI, as the party is known, also suppressed information on malnourished children because it wasn't good for the country's image.

    "It was absurd repression. It was considered an attack on the government to say that there were so many malnourished kids. It was politically incorrect to talk about it," said Avila, who has worked at the government institute for 17 years. "We have long known exactly where the problems were but we have lost many opportunities to solve it."

    This is heart-wrenching:

    "I will tell you what malnutrition is -- you go into a town and you cannot find a smile on a child's face," said Jose Ignacio Avalos, the founder of Un Kilo de Ayuda (A Kilo of Help), a nonprofit group distributing subsidized food throughout Mexico.

    Avalos recalled meeting a 6-year-old named Pablo, who was eating ants crawling over a rotten pumpkin. "I asked him why he didn't eat the pumpkin," Avalos said. "And he said if he did, the ants would go away and he would have nothing."

    Can anyone really wonder why people will walk across a desert and enter this country illegally just for the opportunity to escape such suffering?

    10:39 PM

    Tuesday, June 10, 2003  

    I'm done for today as I'm celebrating nine years of marriage to this glorious woman. Type to you tomorrow.

    9:29 PM


    I am also posting on the blog Winds of Change a once a month Latin American Briefing. My first posting is this one and I hope you all will read it.

    I don't always agree with the posts and positions on Winds of Change, but it's a blog that is class all the way with interesting content. They write in the intro to my post "You'll notice Randy leans leftward; we think diversity of opinion makes for better briefings." I cannot deliver a more heartfelt salute as an acknowledgment of that sentiment. The public sphere is in desperate need of more open dialogue and Joe Katzman and the rest of the Winds of Change folks deserve all the credit in the world for walking the walk as well as talking the talk. If you agree with me, I urge you to visit their site, read their content and express yourself in their comments section.

    9:21 PM

    Monday, June 09, 2003  

    David Adesnik's recent post on Burma has generated a lot of responses. Winds of Change addresses the issue of the Bush Administration and the Alien Torts Claim Act which I referenced before. David Adesnik has an important update with some good resources and ways to stay informed, including a link to the Free Burma Coalition.

    Jeanne D'Arc has really been all over this issue, however. Click on the previous sentence and you'll be taken to her site with a terrific op-ed from the LA Times as well as link to the NGO Earth Rights International.

    9:21 PM

    Saturday, June 07, 2003  

    With all the difficulties in the world, with all the sadness and suffering, it sure is inspiring to see Pelé show up for the opening of the soccer specific stadium at the new Home Depot Center and watch him greeted with a standing ovation by the sold out crowd.

    6:43 PM


    Efraín Rios Montt was arguably one of the most brutal dictators in Guatemala's history. Jeanne D'Arc carefully dissects his record here and explains why, if as State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says ""Realistically, in light of Mr. Rios Montt's background, it would be difficult to have the kinds of relationship that we would prefer," so much more has to be done:

    Bill Clinton "damn near" apologized for America's role in the atrocities, although he had to pretend that it was all in the past and should be forgotten. At least he gave the necessary historical records to the truth commission. George W. Bush has added records of that period to the long list of things he's covering up.

    In order to move forward, George Bush, or someone speaking for him, would have to say, "You know what -- Reagan was wrong. Horribly wrong. But we are not going to continue doing what he did." To suggest, as Richard Boucher did, that we just couldn't bring ourselves to deal with a criminal like Rios Montt, that somehow we are far too noble to do so, without acknowledging that we did in fact have genocidal relations with that man, is morally obtuse. It's an attempt to claim credit for high human rights standards without admitting past sins and resolving to abstain from committing the same sins in the future.

    I touched on that issue here and here. It could go a long way toward establishing credibility in our dealings with these governments.

    Rios Montt is not eligible to run for president as the result of a constitutional ban on former dictators serving as president. Nevertheless, that has not prevented him from attempting to run twice before and being disqualified both times. Although the electoral registrar has rejected his petition again, he will persist. His daughter's comments are mind-numbingly offensive:

    Zury Ríos, Ríos Montt's daughter and vice president of Congress, said the ban is also a violation of her father's human rights and those of all Guatemalans.

    ''If the universal declaration of human rights says that everyone has the right to elect and be elected, who can say he can't?'' she asked.

    His allies' appeal to human rights principles doesn't impress his critics. La Rue's Center for Legal Action on Human Rights estimates that about 60,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed as a result of a scorched-earth campaign against leftist guerrillas during Ríos Montt's rule.

    If he's able to run again and, God forbid, elected, the inmates will definitely be running the asylum in Guatemala.

    6:20 PM


    Just when you think or hope that things may be getting a little better in Venezuela, Hugo Chávez reveals his demagogic side yet again:

    Meeting in a downtown park to avoid their rivals, lawmakers loyal to President Hugo Chavez adopted parliamentary procedures that allow them to swiftly pass several new laws, including one that would tighten restrictions on the media.

    The lawmakers, gathering in tents in a poor neighborhood of hard-core Chavez supporters, adopted new debate rules intended to make it more difficult to block legislation supported by the president. Opposition members of Congress said they did not recognize the legitimacy of the vote.

    I wonder how they would feel if the opposition decided to meet in the most exclsuive neighborhood in Caracas. They would be outraged, as would I, as I am now.

    One thinks that John Ashcroft would be very comfortable with the new media law:

    The new media law would ban "rude" or "vulgar" language, prohibit depiction of sex or alcohol or drug use, and ban violence during daytime.

    but not perhaps this part:

    It would also require that 60 percent of programming be produced within Venezuela, half of which would have to be created by "independent producers" approved by the government.

    Does anyone still believe that Chávez has a democratic bone in his body?

    5:29 PM


    After the EU decided to implement diplomatic sanctions against Cuba in response to Castro's recent crackdown, El Jefe has responded in typical fashion:

    "We must all remain calm, because a gang, a mafia, has joined the Yankee imperialists ... disgracefully serving the Nazi-fascist government of the United States," he told some 7,000 people in a rally in a working-class suburb of Havana.

    Oh really? Someone in a position of authority begs to differ:

    But Diego Ojeda, spokesman for European External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten, denied that the EU had been influenced by Washington and said that the Commission was just as critical of the United States for using the death penalty.

    "The decision-making process is completely autonomous," he said. "When we sense a marked deterioration of the situation, we react accordingly."

    On Castro's language, Ojeda said: "Those words speak for themselves."

    Boy do they ever. There must be some serious cognitive dissonance issues for Castro here. The EU is taking him to task in part for something that it takes the USA to task for: capital punishment.

    5:12 PM


    David Adesnik of Oxblog laments what he believes to be a lack of attention being given to Burma's current situation by bloggers. While I think that he has a point, I have been doing what I can here, here and here and Jeanne D'Arc has been on the issue here, here and here.

    All the attention that can be focused on this issue the better. I urge everybody blogging to post on Burma and everyone reading to take an interest in the issue and do what you can. I certainly will keep up the pressure and the attention.

    Just for the record, the SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council, the old name of the junta in Burma) changed its name a few years ago to the "State Peace and Development Council."

    4:49 PM


    Although she probably doesn't know it, Marcela Sanchez is much less sanguine about Nestor Kirchner's revamping of the Argentine military than I was here:

    Such transitions into traditionally civilian government functions are not without risk. Those who applauded Kirchner's move as progressive, or criticized it for politicizing the armed forces, would probably agree that a plan to call up military support with no clear strategy to call it off would be troublesome. Soldiers trained to kill are not ideal conscripts for civic duties--duties that, by the way, make them more vulnerable to patronage and corruption.

    What's more, drafting them for non-military functions could detract from their primary security mission. Some U.S. military analysts say that is already happening in Venezuela where Chavez, a former army colonel, has practically turned the military into an all-purpose institution at the service of his government, while leaving Venezuela's borders susceptible to incursions by Colombian guerrillas and paramilitaries.

    In a country with Argentina's history, any proposed change in the role of the military mandates serious public debate, especially at a time when economic woes are likely to make labor unions and private businesses wary of potential jobs and opportunities lost under such an arrangement.

    I don't think that the comparison with Venezuela is apt in this case. Argentina's prior disputes with Chile have long been settled and the only frontier area of concern appears to be the triple frontier with Brazil and Paraguay and concerns about terrorist ties among the community there as well as the area being a drug transhipment point. The issue of patronage and corruption though, is a legitimate concern and is deeply rooted in Peronism. Nevertheless, I sincerely hope that this is the promary motivation for Kirchner's moves:

    Kirchner, a little-known provincial governor from the south, was not seeking break from that past or even bring it back. His speeches last week suggest instead a plan to build a new military for the future. He seems to envision a military with civic roles in ways comparable to those of the U.S. National Guard or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

    Kirchner arguably faces the most daunting reconstruction task of any Latin American leader. He may be joining the ranks of cash-strapped counterparts who have found in the military the only cheap, quick and obedient institution at hand to help implement urgent development priorities.

    Vamos a ver.

    4:29 PM

    Thursday, June 05, 2003  

    Speaking of Kirchner, Colin Powell will be meeting with Kirchner this Tuesday on his way back from an OAS meeting. I think that's a good idea and Powell's presence may be the start of some good will in an area where the US could use it. In any event, it's a better move than sending Clay Johnson III.

    11:07 PM


    Nestor Kirchner, Argentina's new president, continues to surprise with bold acts that certainly seem to indicate greater transparency and less corruption. After asserting civilian control of the military and reorganizing the police in recognition of the public's concern about lawlessness, he has now announced the release of secret government files on the bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in 1994. Hizbollah and Iran have long been suspected of being behind this act and, as I mentioned here, an Argentine judge has issued arrest warrants for four Iranian diplomats regarding this attack.

    I would not be surprised if this was being done with an eye toward embarrassing Carlos Menem. I also wouldn't be bothered by it. Menem's fecklessness in this investigation is inexecusable. If this release of files drives another nail into his political coffin, so be it. Few will complain.

    11:01 PM


    Josh Chafetz on Oxblog has an excellent post on Charles Taylor the monstrous dictator of Liberia, about whom I posted yesterday. Taylor makes Hannibal Lecter seem like Jimmy Stewart. He exemplifies the notion that truth is stranger (or at least more horrific) than fiction.

    10:37 PM

    Light blogging today and tomorrow, especially tomorrow. I have an eye exam with my opthalmalogist late tomorrow afternoon and with pupils dilated fully, I imagine much of the rest of my day will be blown.
    10:24 PM

    Wednesday, June 04, 2003  

    Congratulations to Akaky Bashmachkin of The View From Mount Beacon for getting the correct answer to my question in the post about the Indian government retaining and promoting the Portuguese influence in the state of Goa:

    Can anyone name all eight nations that have Portuguese as their official language?

    The answer in alphabetical order: Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal and São Tome e Príncipe.

    I specifically meant independent nations, so neither Macao nor Goa would count.

    9:31 PM


    Charles Taylor, the brutal dictator of Liberia and one of the key players in the fomenting of suffering in Sierra Leone has been indicted by the UN supported Sierra Leone Special Court :

    The indictment alleges that Taylor provided training and helped finance the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), led by Foday Sankoh, in preparation for RUF armed action in Sierra Leone and during the subsequent armed conflict in Sierra Leone. It also alleges that Taylor acted in concert with members of the RUF/Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) rebel alliance who are accused of horrific crimes.

    Rebel leaders who have been supported by Taylor, including RUF leader Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie, have also been linked to recent abuses against civilians in western Côte d'Ivoire. Bockarie was reportedly killed by Taylor last month. The last indicted individual who remains at large, Johnny Paul Koroma, is believed to be still in Liberia despite calls for Taylor to turn him over to the Special Court.

    Taylor beat a hasty retreat back to Monrovia from peace talks in Ghana. He has said that he will step down if it will help bring peace to Liberia:

    "I will strongly consider a process of transition that will not include me," said Taylor, looking relaxed sitting next to Mbeki in a cream suit and sunglasses.

    "If President Taylor removes himself for the Liberians will that bring peace? If so, I will remove myself," Taylor said to loud applause, before being driven away by aides.

    Actually, what would probably be an even more effective way to bring long-lasting peace to West Africa would be the end of impunity. This court seems to be on the right track:

    My office was given an international mandate by the United Nations and the Republic of Sierra Leone to follow the evidence impartially wherever it leads. It has led us unequivocally to Taylor," U.S. prosecutor David Crane said in a statement.

    Crane said he had issued an arrest warrant to the Ghanaian government, but some African diplomats questioned the wisdom of calling for Taylor's arrest at this delicate stage in the Liberian peace process.

    "If you arrest Charles Taylor now, who will run Liberia? It will be either those in Taylor's government or Liberia will become a free-for-all-to-fight country," said a Freetown-based diplomat, who asked not to be named.

    I hate to answer a question with a question, but perhaps the larger question to be answered is this: if the status quo remains and impunity for these crimes remains, when the next Charles Taylor assists another group of rebels such as those led by Foday Sankoh who mutilated children by amputating their arms, whose modus operandi involved sexual slavery, rape, forced pregnancies, targeting very young girls for rape and numerous other abominations how do they plan to respond? It's time to stop the free ride for dictators in West Africa NOW.

    By the way, apparently Taylor received diamonds in exchange for his help. Consider buying a ruby or emerald instead. Diamonds are not really rare, just a product of good marketing. Rubies and emeralds are genuinely rare and at least the red in the ruby doesn't come from blood.

    9:18 PM

    Tuesday, June 03, 2003  

    The Miami Herald reports that Jack Kemp is a "key figure" in a deal brokered by an American company to supply the US with 50,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Venezuela for the next three years to top off the strategic petroleum reserves:

    The deal would allow Free Market Petroleum, which has Kemp on its board of directors, to supply 50,000 barrels of crude a day for three years to the U.S. government oil reserves in Texas and Louisiana.

    If the deal goes through, which is still uncertain, it could bring Free Market Petroleum business of more than $1 million a day or as much as $1 billion over a three-year period.

    Does this pass the smell test?

    Several facets of the deal are unusual.

    Free Market Petroleum is a new company with no presence on the Internet and few known business deals under its belt. Its president, William Hickman, said in a brief telephone interview that the company is a year old and has offices in New York and London.

    ''We're a subsidiary of a larger company about which I can't go into,'' Hickman said.

    The deal between Free Market Petroleum and the Venezuelan government has set off sparks in Caracas as well, for reasons unrelated to the U.S. firm.

    The state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., ''traditionally never has sold petroleum through intermediaries -- not only because it loses a margin through intermediation but also because the practice opens all sorts of doors to corruption,'' a newsletter last Friday by the Veneconomia consulting group said.

    Money and power remain the universal languages, don't they?

    11:30 PM


    Amnesty International has just released an extensive and comprehensive report (91 pages as a PDF file) that also discusses the impact of the US embargo on economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights.

    What distinguishes the report, however, are the profiles of the 75 dissidents recently arrested, tried and summarily convicted. This, in my experience is where Amnesty International has excelled. These are not abstractions, but real people fighting for their freedom with their ideas.. I haven't had a chance to read the entire report and have, in fact only been able to skim so far, but it certainly seems like compelling reading. I urge you to read it.

    10:58 PM


    The New York Times has a fascinating article about the state of Goa in India promoting its Portuguese past. The Portuguese left Goa in 1961 when Indian troops entered the region, but much of the Lusitanian influence remains, partly due to enlightened leadership:

    The highlighting of Goa's Portuguese history does not necessarily reflect the taste of its politicians. Almost three years ago, Manohar Parrikar, the standard-bearer here for the Bhartiya Janata Party, India's governing Hindu nationalist party, became Goa's chief minister, or governor, and vowed to block "foreign" foundations from financing such projects as church restorations here.

    Within months, however, he quietly dropped this stance.

    "When they came to power, they tried to downplay the Portuguese colonial thing, to cut off money to the foundations," said Dean D'Cruz, a local architect. "Then they realized it was a selling point. That they were killing the goose that laid the golden egg." At least a quarter of a million European tourists visit every winter.

    When the Hindu nationalists won power here, some demanded the destruction of several Catholic churches built during the 17th- and 18th-century Inquisition on the foundations of Hindu temples. But Mr. Parrikar, the state governor, shied away from culture wars, devoting most of his time to cutting corruption, improving roads and luring high technology companies. In late May, India Today, a newsweekly, studied a host of indicators, including income, literacy levels and investment climate, and then ranked Goa as "India's Best State."

    India is not one of my areas of expertise, but it certainly seems to me that Parrikar has the right mixture of intelligence and pragmatism. By the way, can anyone name all eight nations that have Portuguese as their official language? E-mail me with the answer.

    10:33 PM

    Monday, June 02, 2003  

    Kevin Drum has a post on Zimbabwe that is full of links. Check it out, and take action. If you feel that it won't do any good, please read my post in the comments section.

    11:15 PM


    The Miami Herald has an on-point editorial on Cuba's efforts to deny consultive status to Reporters Without Borders because of their work on Cuba:

    The watchdog group known by its French acronym, RSF, aggressively has condemned the regime's crackdown on independent journalists locked up for doing nothing more than expressing their views.

    In Paris, RSF protesters turned a Cuba tourism office into a mock prison in April by taping photos of jailed Cuban journalists in the storefront window. Among those featured was Ricardo González, sentenced to 20 years for being the RSF Havana correspondent and other allegedly seditious acts. When RSF later staged a protest outside Cuba's embassy in Paris, Cuban ''diplomats'' beat up a dozen demonstrators.

    In another attack, the regime complained that RSF had ''disrupted'' the U.N. Human Rights Commission's opening session this year. What RSF did was drop leaflets protesting the choice of Libya as commission chair. The commission should be ashamed to have Libya, a serial human-rights abuser, at its helm.

    Without giving RSF a chance to respond, the U.N. Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations voted to suspend RSF's status for a year. No wonder. The countries that voted against RSF are a rogues' gallery: China, Cuba, Iran, Ivory Coast, Pakistan, Russia, Sudan, Turkey and Zimbabwe. The inmates, indeed, have taken charge of the asylum.

    Click here to see some of what RSF has done on Cuba. While we're at it, a few months ago I responded to an Instapundit post, criticizing Reporters Without Borders which showed his usual mix of tenditiousness and lack of desire to dig a little deeper to get the facts for fear that they might contradict his presumption, I hope he reads this and maybe acknowledges just how hard RSF is working. Indeed. Heh.

    11:11 PM

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