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.