Sunday, 23 December 2007

Soda Stereo - Me verás volver

For whatever reason 2007 turned out to be a year that saw countless bands of yesteryear reunite. Led Zeppelin, The Police, The Verve, Spice Girls and numerous others for sure. Nothing to make the blood boil in my musical books.

On the other side of the Atlantic, and south of the Rio Grande the Latin music business had also caught the big-band reuniting bug. What's more it was my #1 Latin rock outfit, Argentine Soda Stereo, that decided to bring themselves together and set out on an extsensive continent-wide tour. Unfortunately, unlike all those wealthy Led Zeppelin fans who seemed to jet into London from all 4 corners of the world the other week for their one-off gig, jetting out to Buenos Aires was unfortunately beyond my limited means. Instead I spent much of yesterday, the day of their final gig in el Estadio River Plate in Buenos Aires, with my mp3 player shuffling out tunes from all the various Soda albums I've managed to get hold over the years.

It's almost 10 years to the day that the went out with a bang on their "El Ultimo Concieto" tour of Latin America, and shockingly almost 10 years now since I stumbled upon an MTV video from those concerts of their hit-song "La Musica Ligera". Given that my entire CD collection to that point was made up of English language albums, it was definitely a minor momentous moment to head up to my local CD store in La Paz and leave with my first ever Rock en Españ ol CD, Soda Stereo's "El Ultimo Concierto". Who would have known, good decent rock does exist in other languages. Now it was just a matter of time before a plethora of other surprisingly good Latin Rock acts would come my way: Lucybell, Cafe Tacuba, La Ley, Cuentos Borgeanos, Attaque 77, Babasonicos, to just name but a few.

Still Soda Stereo tops the lot and it's good to see their popularity across Latin America is a high as ever, with countless record-breaking stadium concerts to their name in almost the countries they've passed through the last couple of months. Unfortunately it'll be futile to expect that they'll hop across the pond and perform here in London despite the ever-increasing ex-pat Latino community here. Nevertheless at least I can take heart from the fact that their lead singer, Gustavo Cerati, ventured here for a solo gig last year which was almost as good as it gets.
So being the end of the year and the season of end of year top-10 lists, I leave you with my own personal top-10 list of favourite Soda hits:

  • En la ciudad de la furia
  • Té para 3
  • Toma la ruta
  • Nada personal
  • Tratame Suavemente
  • Profugos
  • Planeador
  • Cuando Pase el Temblor
  • Ella usó mi cabeza como un revólver
  • Angel Eléctrico

Thursday, 20 December 2007

The Unifying Powers of Football?

It's good to know that despite the recent dire political wranglings in Bolivia that only a matter of days needed to pass before Boliva's other main passion was back to dominate the newspaper front pages. I had gone on to the website of El Diario (Bolivia's oldest and probably most well respected daily newspaper) fully expecting to see large images of more conflictual demonstations or some photo of Evo Morales along wiht his latest tirade of accusations aginst that rebellious lot in the conrty's gas-rich Eastern provinces.

But no, instead the front page was devoted to the news that all Bolivians can rejoice (yes even those of the East) in the news that the Latin American football confederation, CONMEBOL, has refused to follow initial FIFA guidelines by allowing all international games to be played at altitude. This means Bolivia will be allowed the significant of advantage of playing all their home games at the dizzy heights of 3637 meters above sea-level. But in all honesty I don't think have any realistic chance of qualifying for the forthcoming World Cup in South Africa in 2010. Their latest defeat to the minnows of Venezueala proving that they're hardly ever going to world-beaters. Furthermore other domestic temas in Bolivia, ie those from Oruro and Potosi, will also get to play their home games of the Copa Libertadores in their respective high-altitude stadiums. Yes the Eastern lowlands may have all the gas, but when it comes to fútbol the highlanders are forever dominat.

Still it was nice to see that despite all the differences in the country there are still a few things like football that still have the capability of uniting the country. Or is itjust evidence that I obviously haven't been in Bolivia the last few years and that I have no real grasp nor understanding ofthe ever-deepening rifts that have seemingly split the country in two since the election of Evo Morales.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Another President in the Dock

Turn the clock back some 20 years ago and much of Latin America was a murky world of dictatorial, authoritarian regimes where human rights abuses were common place. Military regimes had come to power under the belief that they were legitimately holding back the spread of Communism and the social revolutions that were supposedly threatening to overrun the region.

In Latin American economics we talk of the 1980s as the ‘lost decade’ where economic growth stagnated or went backwards. Along those same lines the late 1970s and much of the 1980s can be looked upon as the decade of the desaparecidos (the ones who disappeared). The hundreds of thousands who literally disappeared in the ‘dirty wars’ fought by military governments against those guerrillas and left-leaning movements that opposed them.

One by one though, many of those political leaders who stood at the forefront of these dirty wars are being brought before national courts and sentenced. The Southern Cone countries of Chile, Uruguay, and most notably Argentina have been, and continue to be, at the forefront of confronting their murky pasts. These weeks though the attention has switched to Peru where its former head of state, Alberto Fujimori, has been put on trial for the supposed massacres he ordered at the height of the war against Sendero Luminoso (The Shining Path) in the early 1990s.

There are some notably differences that make his trial noteworthy. First of all, that he was extradited to Peru from Chile and neighbouring country with whom they have never had the most cordial relations in the world (but then which neighbouring South American countries ever have sincere cordial relations one may ask?). Regional cooperation with regards to dealing with past human rights abuses seems to be an important step forward. Secondly Fujimori must be one of the first democratically elected, civilian Presidents to stand trial for crimes against humanity in South America. Former Presidents in both Argentina and Chile have stood trial but they were both military dictators. So questions may be asked as to which currently elected civilian presidents should be quaking in their boots? Please feel free to nominate any...

At the moment though Fujimori has been found guilty for some relatively minor abuses of power which will see him spend the next years in prison. In the coming months he will face further charges of the more serious accusations with regards to his role in the massacres of civilians in the Peruvian Andes.

Given so many of the problems Latin America faces on a day-to-day basis and how it lags behing the world on so many issues, it is nothing short of impressive how their otherwise weak and seemingly corrupt judiciary systems have been successful in bringing to court some of the most powerful figures of Latin American history. It's perhaps no surprise then that when the International Criminal Court was set up to pursue crimes against humanity on a worldwide basis that they chose Luis Moreno-Ocampo, an Argentine with experience their own dealing with human rights abuses to be the court’s Prosecutor.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

A Surprise Defeat

Perhaps unsurprisingly the first 15 minutes of class this Tuesday was dedicated to discussing the surprising constitutional defeat in Venezuela on Sunday. I don't think anyone really saw that one coming. With the well-oiled voting machine that makes up the Chavista movement, it seemed unfathomable that Chave would, come Monday morning, have to humbley admit defeat and congratulate the oppistion with their 'pyrrhic' victory. Chavez doesn't normally do humble and magnanimous. And I'm sure it's not going to last for no long either.

First of all what was the constitution all about? A series of amendments to the 1999 constitution which was also put forward to referendum by Chavez, but which one he was able to win convincingly. This constituion, through various amendments, was however to further set in stone some of the already highly criticised sections of the 1999 constitution along with further econimc and social reforms. One such amendment, and probably the most controversial, was the Presidents ability to be re-elected an endless amout of times and if that wasn't enough a Presidential term would have been increased from 6 to 7 years. The issue of presidential re-election in Latin America is always a touchy subject. In the acknowledgement of the region's tendency towards authoritarian, caudillo-style leaders in its past, constitutions have formally set to limit any single person's ability to stay in power for more than two terms. In Mexico, Presidents can only serve one term whilst other Latin American states in the belief that their democracies are maturing have allowed Presidents to stand for two terms. This was what Chavez was successful in doing back in 1999. But indefininte re-election? Perhaps this was a move too far by Chavez...

Other amendments included the demise of autonomy of the Central Bank (given the success of the Bank of England's autonomy here in the UK, I can only presume this would be a step in the wrong direction - but then things in Latin America aren't always that clear cut), the extension of social benefits to those who work in the informal sector (with the size of the informal sector being disproportionately large in Latin America this would have been a bold and progressive move), and most bizarrely of all the cut in maximum working hours per day from 8 to 6 hours (not even the French can manage that).

So why did he lose? Well supporters of Chavez are quick to point to the high abstention rate and the unwillingness of Chavez supportes to get out and back their man. Or perhaps it was a lack of urgency and lack of belief behind the sincerity and plausability of the social sweetners that the constitution would have allowed for. Or that despite Chavez's vocal pronouncements for the need of a yes vote to consolidate the "Bolivarian Revolution", supporters believed that the new amendments were mere sweetners as a means for Chavez to consolidate his own personal power.

So whilst the opposition were out on the streets celebrating victory, wasn't the real victor perhaps democracy itself? Whilst we had all been commenting on the gradual erosion of liberties in Venezuela and the move towards a centralisation of power, this vote and its acceptance, for now, by Chavez underlines that democracy has seemingly worked its magic and remains respected and guaranteed by both sides. Or am I just giving it the naive optimistic outlook. The 2002 coup saw how skin-deep the respect for democracy can be when push comes to shove. And perhaps Chavez was merely persuaded not to contest, or indeed fiddle with the numbers by the threat of a new coup by disgruntled military fractions.

So Chavez has no 'only' until 2013 to conclude his time as President. 'Lame Duck' presidency is not a term one could ever place on someone like Chavez even after such a setback. His supporters still control Congress, and many of the amendments will surely still be passed through those channels.

There is never a dull moment in Venezuelan current affairs and I'm sure the upcoming period will be no exception. Still it's very hard here in the UK, and never having been to Venezuela myself, to really be able to grasp what the atmosphere must be like, and how people see the future panning out. If nothing else, they can be sure the world will continue watching closely...hasta el fin.

Friday, 30 November 2007

A Quiet Revolution

"Latin America doesn't matter...People don't give a damn about Latin America"

This was the advice given to Donald Rumsfeld by Richard Nixon back in the days of the Cold War. Strange he would say such a thing, given how his own administration would find it necessary to support the ousting of a democratically elected government just because it was little too left of centre, i.e. the coup against Allende in 1973 Chile.

But this is besides the point as this quote is how Francis Fukuyama chooses to highlight how Latin American affairs has always taken a back seat with regard to other more geo-stragetically important areas, e.g. Middle East, China, Russia, in his review article "A Quiet Revolution" on Michal Reid's "Forgotten Continent: The Battle for Latin America's Soul". Supposedly, as the title of his book suggests, Latin America is a forgotten continent, both in terms of the current US administration's willingness to engage productively with the region and in terms of the space dedicated to Latin America affairs in the mainstream media. Yes the antics of Chavez (and my blog is unfortunately no exception) may capture our attention, and as Fukayama correctly points to "more ink has been spilled on Chavez over the past few years than on the entire rest of the region combined. So whilst mainstream media is quick to highlight the latest violent street protest in Bolivia or latest political gaffe by Chavev, it has become more or less oblivious to the so-called "Quiet Revolution". A revolution of unheralded progress that is seemingly bringing renewed hope to this "forgotten continent". Progress as far as Reid is concerned with a steady deepening of democratic norms, sustained economic growth and reduction in poverty. But perhaps we should also add in my opinion an increasing independce from Washington, its political and financial institutions and actual belief and willingness to etch out for itself its own path in the world. A world that not so long ago, as far as everyone in Latin America was concerned was dominated by the hegemonic neo-liberal ideology and all its trimmings. Some call this the era of the 'post-Washington Consensus' and talk of the 'new-Left Movement' in Latin America

Fukuyama may well have borrowed the title of his article from Duncan Green's now almost seminal anti-neoliberal book, "The Silent Revolution". So can we hope that in contrast to the 'silent revolution' of neoliberalism, which brought increased pains upon the continents that this 'quiet revolution' will bring with it rekindling of hope in Latin America. I don't know... Despite statistics proving positive or negative trends in Latin America (and it's easy to find convincing data for either us optimists or pessimists), or the upbeat or scathing rhetoric played out in journals and academic circles I'm still dubious as to whether Latin America will ever be able to lift itself up to the standards of living that it deserves. But that's a problematique for you Dependency theorists...

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

That'll be a 'Fail' in Latin American Georgraphy

"We have refrained from making public pronouncements about Mr. Chavez... he does not represent the future of Latin America. And the people of Peru (sic), I think deserve better in their leadership."

Good old Dick Cheney. Nice to know that he's not the only member of the White House that could do with a Latin American geography lesson some time soon.

For the record Alan Garcia is the President of Peru, and whether or not the Peruvians deserve better leadership at the moment is highly probable.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Time To Move Beyond The Pointless Rhetoric

I would honestly love to move on from debating Hugo Chavez, or rather the pointless rhetoric and mud-slinging that follows him in his wake. It seems to me that this constant war of words between his supporters and opponents is getting to the extent that it blinds all serious analysis of what is actually going on policy-wise in Venezuela. Whether or not Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” represents a credible, sustainable alternative of development Latin America? Notably last weeks' spat between Chavez and Spain's King Juan Carlos at the Ibero-American Summit in Chile seems to have dominated the news media outlets, much more so than say anything that was actually covered at the Ibero-American summit itself. "Por que no te calles" has seemingly taken on extraordinary levels of popularity, becoming a ring-tone hit alongside becoming the new the unofficial anti-Chavez slogan.

A media-war is brewing, but then again it always has done with regards to Venezuela, ever since the pivotal role the local media had in ousting of Hugo Chavez from power in the 2002 coup d'é·tat. Is their media bias for or against Chavez? Well in response to an earlier post I wrote on the student protests against Chavez I came across a document (student demonstrations in Venezuela) sent out by the Venezuelan Embassy in the US highlighting how those protests had been misrepresented in the press and basically saying how the whole event had been exploited by the mainstream media (as clueless blogger like myself) as evidence of government repression of students opposed to the government. Also that media reports had failed to report the many positive steps the Venezuelan government has taken to increase the level of university education in the country - university students now number 774,000 , an almost doubling of the number of students since 1998.

As I said it's hard to know what to believe really, when all that we hear is the latest Chavez rant. Opinions become so polarized and based on so much senseless rhetoric, all of which does little to defuse the situation and actual attempts to understand what is going on in Venezuela behind the headlines. Hopefully throughout the course of my current Master's degree we'll actually be able to tackle this topic in a seriuos academic way. So I'll keep you posted.

Friday, 9 November 2007

There's Something Rotten in the State of Venezuela

So after yesterdays student protests, Hugo Chavez now slings out almost nonsensical allegations that fascist conspiracies are behind this increase in voiceful protests (Venezuela's Chavez Condemns Opposition). Certainly opposition is mounting against him, but at least these seem to manifest themselves in far more peaceful and lawful ways than when Chavez counters the opposition against him. The recent silencing of a nationwide TV channel that openly opposed him springs to mind. As much as I would like to agree or indeed sympathise with the social changes he is trying to implement, all this may soon come undone by the increasing authoritarian stance his Presidency is starting to take. Yes it may seem very Latin American to be ruled by yet another caudillo clad in a military uniform. But when we yet again have to witness the gradual dismantling of the democratic system and civil liberties one can only fear that in the end this could yet again set Venezuela down a course which it most definintely doesn't deserve. Chavez's goal of social justice is all very well, but not when forced through at the expense of all other civil and political rights. That's my humble opinion for now anway...

Thursday, 8 November 2007

More Protests in Venezuela

It's becoming more and more bemusing how Hugo Chavez seems to be letting things deteriorate in Venezuela. His answer to any unrest or protest now, is to crack down on civil liberties, the very same ones that enabled him to come to power and force the 2002 coup against him to eventually crumble. But perhaps he's finding it worrying that it's university students, the one demographic group you would have thought would be firm supporters of his left-wing, socialist policies, who are suddenly the ones out on the street protesting against him. So whilst this week's violence between gunmen and students was obviously nothing to do with Chavez (Gunmen fire on Venezuela protest), the atmosphere in the country seems to be of one where any protest against Chavez is fair game for any wannabe supporter of Chavez to go out and stop them. But I'm sure, with his controversial constitutional reforms in the works, this is something that will be worth commenting on for weeks & months to come. It could all end in a big mess if he doesn't watch out.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Argentina's Presidential Couple

It’s not often full page newspaper spreads here in the UK are dedicated to Latin American politics. So perhaps it was quite a surprise to find Monday morning's newspapers adorned with the face of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Argentina’s newly elected President. But given the uncanny resemblances between Cristina and the only other Argentine political figure we’ve ever bound to have heard of, Evita, perhaps it shouldn't be too much of a surprise after all.

I don’t think even in Argentina people were able to get too overwhelmed by the whole election. For many the result was a forgone conclusion right from the very outset of the campaign. Was this down to the success of her husband, Nestor Kirchner, in bringing the country back from the economic and political quagmire of 2001/2002? Or was it down to the inability of the opposition forces to unite against a charismatic female leader who was always able to draw on the inevitable Evita undertones and resemblances as a sure means to derive support from the Argentine masses? Furthermore the election campaign was an unorganised affair, with people wondering as to why Nestor Kirchner chose not to stand for re-election, and why it was that Cristina spent much of the campaign abroad and less than willing to participate in debates and unveil concrete policy issues?

So Argentines are yet again left in the dark as to what expect from the future. Whilst the emergence of yet another female as a head of state in Latin America (Michelle Bachelet became the President of Chile last year) in otherwise macho dominated arena can only be a good thing, it still remains unclear as to whether she will be able to do anymore than her husband in redistributing the profits the country seems to be raking in with an annual growth rate of 8%, or be able to anything to dampen the impression of Nestor’s Kirchner’s perceived undermining of democratic processes. And how will she be able to reposition Argentina internationally after Kirchner’s presidency has left Argentina isolated, given his anti-US rhetoric and strong ties with Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela? One thing is for certain, dinner at the Kirchner’s must be quite something if her policies start to deviate considerably from those of her husband’s.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Britain's 'forgotten' invasion of Argentina

Anglo-Argentine relations have always had me slightly perplexed. Being British things naturally become clouded, either by the Falklands or Argentina’s regular ability to knock us out of various football world cups - and I guess Argentina notions of England (though not British) are based upon much the same things. But in reality there’s so much more. Argentina’s fascination with typical British sports such as polo and rugby, the dominance of English-style architecture with regards to train stations and haciendas, to name but a few things. Whilst living in Argentina these things soon made me realize that Anglo-Argentine relations have been about far more than fruitless wars over tiny inconsequential islands and football matches.
Surprisingly perhaps, Britain’s colonial empire never formally penetrated Latin America. Weak South American states were never transformed into yet more British colonial outposts. Instead throughout the 19th century we focused on trade and the (forceful) creation of open Latin American markets, as a means to sell our homemade manufactured goods. An “informal empire” or “business imperialism” of sorts. And it was with Argentina, more than any other Latin American state, that this was evident. But things in Argentina could have been so, so different.

Last Friday’s seminar, an event co-hosted by my institute (the Institute for the Study of the Americas) and the Argentine Embassy, was a commemoration of the bi-centenary anniversary of Britain’s invasion of Buenos Aires in 1806. The auditorium was full with a noticeably large Argentine contingent. What better way to spend a Friday afternoon reliving the accounts of one Argentina’s proud nationalistic moments in history, moreover, one that involved the catastrophic defeat of the British. The Argentine ambassador welcomed the guests, and proceeded in a highly diplomatic fashion to paint a rosy picture of Anglo-Argentine relations, taking an obviously large bypass around the misfortunate events of 1982. Though I’m sure much can be gleaned from his phrasing of how the UK came to acquire the Falkland’s in the first place with the use explicit use of the term “invasion”. Thereafter two prominent Argentine historians gave their impression of the importance of Britain’s invasion of Buenos Aires.

A notable point about the invasion was that it was never officially sanctioned by the British government. It was more of a rogue operation by a couple of maverick British Navy officers. In that sense it resembled the highly successful conquest policy of the Spaniards and its swashbuckling conquistadores. So whilst the venture was initially a success with Buenos Aires being captured, it merely succeeded in stirring a hornet’s nest and an Argentine militia soon had the British forces on the run. Ultimately this set in motion the desire for an independent Argentina in 1816. Strangely though, the whole British invasion is hardly mentioned in our history books, a mere footnote at most.
But I don’t want to bore you any more with too much historical information. Thankfully the talk didn’t linger on for too long, much to the satisfaction, no doubt, for the rest of the audience as well. An extravagant wine reception to be put on by the Embassy awaited and most Argentines were equally itching to find their way to the nearest TV screen to enjoy Argentina’s thumping of France in the rugby world cup (soon we're going to have world cup defeats in rugby to those accumulated in football to our list of grievances).

Monday, 22 October 2007

Yet More Manipulated Figures - this time in Argentina

As mentioned in my previous post, one shouldn't always take at face value economic statistics, especially when they enable the ruling powers of the day to revel in the data's overwhelmingly positive outlooks. Last week Cuban economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago warned us about the significant economic growth figures coming out of Cuba, and suggested the various ways in how they could have been 'manipulated'. Well today I came across the following article, "Will Cristina Head Off Another Crisis?" The articles relates, as in a similar fashion to the reliability of Cuba economic data, to the reliability of Argentina economic statistics and as to whether or not the Argentine government is taking increasing liberties with regards to the compilation of such statistics (

Despite Argentina's impressive growth in the recent years, it can be said that President Kirchner has taken a very hands-on and at times quite unorthodox approaches as a means to boost growth and curb inflation. For instance during my stay in the country, Kirchner encouraged a nation-wide boycott of various international petrol companies (most notably Shell). He saw their price increases as highly detrimental to his own attempts curb to inflation.
Now it seems fiddling with official economic statistics may be his latest of weapons to curb inflation. So whilst 'official' inflation rates stand at 9%, many believe it actually to be as high as 15%-20%. Who to believe? Well according to one economist, "since January, when the government doesn't like what the official figures are telling it - it decided basically to modify those figures." And these can never be too promising when the actual institute for the collection of economic data in Argentina (INDEC) actually start demonstrating themselves protest over this supposed government interference.

Aside from the manipulation of statistics the BBC article quite rightly highlights other pressing issues which can be easily forgotten amidst the figures of seemingly impressive economic growth. Economic growth means little when it's poorly distributed. An example of which can be seen in Argentina's southern oil-rich province of Santa Cruz. Violent labour disputes continue to highlight the disaffection towards the regional government and its ability to distribute the benefits of the oil boom. An in the far north, in the province of Chaco, people continue to be dying of hunger and living in houses made of mud and sticks and without access to running water. Furthermore the article draws or attention to how the sudden rise in genetically modified soya in Chaco, whilst enabling short-term gains, will likely lead to vast tracts of lands being left barren due to the soils' lack of nutrients, something that will prove highly detrimental for the land in the long-term.

So whilst the signs of economic growth may be evident to see for those stuck in the splendour of downtown Buenos Aires, or for those who limit themselves to looking at GDP growth statistics - whether you believe them or not - all isn't as rosy as it seems.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

The Cuban Economy at Crossroads: Fidel's Legacies and Raul's Alternative Paths

Of the many things the Institute for the Study of the Americas highlights as unique is their impressive seminar series. Many an afternoon the institute is visited by top Latin American scholars who are given the chance to spell out their latest theories and consequential musing on developments within evolving areas of study in the region. We students are encouraged to tag along, sit at the back quietly and observe what we one day may wish to be a part of. Today’s afternoon talk was no exception.

Carmelo Mesa-Lago an old hunched Cuban, whose student days in Havana were lived out amidst the actual Cuban Revolution, and whose CV lists 70 odd books and 200 plus articles on Latin American economics gave a talk titled, “The Cuban Economy at Crossroads: Fidel's Legacies and Raul's Alternative Paths”. Of all the seminars I had been attended so far here at the institute this was by far the most well-attended. Unsurpringly I suppose.
Because what is it about Cuba, of all the Latin American countries that constantly brings out the crowds? Go in to your local Waterstones, head towards the Latin American history section - if such a section even exists - and guaranteed 90% of the books on sale will be associated with the now mythical events of the Cuban Revolution or biographies depciting its equally mythical protagonists, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. In Latin American terms, it’s an anomaly, geographically, culturally, historically and most definitely politically. Any study of Cuba does little to enhance our understandings of what may be considered the more typical Latin American states, their societies and their economies. Since the end of the Cold War, Cuba has been of little relevance in the grand scheme of things. Its economy, insignificant; its political weight, equally insignificant. So why should we continue to devote so much attention to Cuba, to continue to want to understand and ultimately to advise as to how this island best can tackle its uncertain future. It would be no revelation to note the leftist leanings amongst many Latin American departments so perhaps therefore it's no surprise that we all like to sit back and admire this plucky little island that took on the giant to the north , politically, militarily and ideologically. This socialist experiment was one that never became mired by the dreary Eastern bloc imagery of grey, uniform populations. No Cuba did socialism in style, under the palm trees, with Cuban cigars and Bacardi all to a Buena Vista Social Club soundtrack…or at least that’s the imagery we wished to bestow upon it. And if nothing else, we can supposedly bang on about its relatively high standards of health and education. But really these excuses and false impressions can only go for so long.

Slight tangent that…..but anyway Carmelo Mesa-Lago did much in his hour long presentation to dispel the myths of the current state of the Cuban economy. When Fidel eventually leaves us all he’ll be leaving behind an economy that is in desperate need of reform. Carmelo’s PowerPoint presentation, whilst low on clear informative bullet points, was high on deep complex economic data graphs (thankfully this week’s class in economics had brought me up to speed on my GDP’s and trade balances). Recent economic data shows that Cuba has seen impressive growth, but as far as Carmelo Mesa-Lago was concerned such data had been ‘manipulated’ by the Cuban government so as to hide its continual sluggish growth. In fact the whole presentation was based around looking behind the raw numbers of Cuba’s economy whilst basically coming to the conclusions that a) Cuba’s economy was not performing very well, b) that much of the Cuban economy was sustained by either unnaturally high commodity prices and Hugo Chavez’s generosity and c) that Cuba would be best off if Fidel finally decided to call it a day, and let his younger brother implement vital decentralizing and liberalizing economic reforms.
Admittedly pages full of confusing numbers and percentage points didn’t leave me nor much of the audience gagging for more. Instead his conclusions were meant by quite skeptical glances and belief that he was yet another of these economists that wished to do away with any form of state involvement in the state, let market forces do their thing. Perhaps audience members were unwilling to do away with the socialist dream, or perhaps they were making valid concerns as to not let Cuba’s admirable ambitions and ideology become swept away in one single stroke.

As far as I’m concerned the jury is still out. Cuba has to move on from what Fidel and all that he stood for, onto a system that is more sustainable and not dependent on the financial hand-outs that Hugo Chavez seems more than happy to continue with. Surely this can be achieved along with equal goals of maintaining a strong health and education system that has won Cuba so many accolades from abroad.