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.