Monday, 8 December 2008

Blue Gold: World Water Wars

A couple of weeks back I wrote a post that questioned the plausibility of the plot behind the new James Bond film – “James Bond to the Rescue in Bolivia”. The plot hinging on the Bond-villain taking charge over Bolivian water supplies and attempting to pull-off some elaborate coup d’état. The plot may have been elaborate but that is not to say that the control and access to water is not a serious issue in the developing world – indeed it was Bolivian campesinos who gained almost overnight recognition in their fight against the water companies. In response the post I was, rightly, pointed in the direction of the documentary film: “Blue Gold: World Water Wars.”

Here is a trailer for the film - with street battling scenes from Bolivia included. I would like to say would it'll will be coming soon to your nearest cinema, but I'm afraid I don't think it's the type of mainstream documentary that's going to be troubling the Quantum of Solace anytime soon.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

No Surprises: Highest Murder Rates in the World

Latin America has the highest murder rates for young people in the world, according to a recently published study by the Brazilian research group - the Latin American Technological Information Network, Ritla

For youngsters growing up in crime-ridden countries like El Salvador, Colombia or Venezuela the chances of being murdered are almost 30 times higher than in Europe. The study looked at 83 countries across the world and depressingly Latin America came out as the region with most youth killings in proportion to its population. And the readings become even more depressing if you choose to include Caribbean nations - as this grim top 10 list of youth killings per 100.000 indicates:
  1. El Salvador: 48.8
  2. Colombia: 43.8
  3. Venezuela: 29.5
  4. Guatemala: 28.5
  5. The Virgin Islands: 28.4
  6. Brazil: 25.2
  7. Santa Lucia: 24.5
  8. Puerto Rico: 19.1
  9. Guyana: 18.0
  10. Ecuador: 18.0
A news article of this story can be found on the BBC website: "Latin America tops murder tables",

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Venezuealan Regional Elections

The media spotlight was again on Venezuela this last weekend as regional elections were held. Would President Chavez consolidate power, would the opposition make significant gains, and would the perceived under-attack democratic norms be upheld?

In the end it was a case of both sides being able to claim some form of victory - Chavistas won the popular vote (53.5%) and 17 of the 22 states; the main opposition group won 5 states, amongst which were Miranda and Zulia, the country's two most populous states. The opposition was also able to win the mayoral elections in Caracas. As the map below shows, support for president Chavez remains on the face of it pretty solid throughout the country. However the fact that the opposition gained support in the highly populous and electorally crucial "coastal corridor", seems to suggest that the large sway of red Chavista support marginally overstates the extent of Chavez's popularity.

All in all these elections haven't told us anything that we didn't know before. Yes, Chavez remains popular throughout much of Venezuela. But also, the opposition support is gaining momentum, bouyed by the victory in the last referendum alongside good mobilisation of supporters in the country's larger cities. And of course the substantial downturn in oil prices has its effects on which way the votes swing. Drop any further and Chavez will be unlikey to dare push for a referendum that would allow him to run for re-election (again) in 2012.

As far as democratic norms are concerned the electoral commission described the conduct of voters as exemplary, and Hugo Chavez was almost magnamonious in defeat:

"We lost the governorship of Miranda and we recognise the triumph of our adversaries," he said. "How can anyone say there is a dictatorship in Venezuela? I, as head of state, recognise their triumphs and I hope that they'll recognise the head of state."

For a detailed, though slight pro-government, review of the election try the Venezualan Information Centre (VIC) Bloggers at Caracas Chronicles also have detailed reports, graphs and opinions on the outcome of the elections.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

James Bond to the Bolivia!

A whole series of predominantly negative reviews have meant that I have yet to see the new James Bond film, the Quantum of Solace. Nevertheless I have to admit to being mildly tempted to see how the Bond series could possibly include a storyline that references the struggling campesinos of the Bolivian Altiplano and their fight against Western multinationals:

Bond is on a mission to stop a faux-environmentalist billionaire from secretly appropriating all of Bolivia’s water supply by replacing its left of centre president with a handpicked despot, in a coup which the USA blithely ignores

Having done the Cold War, terrorist and media mogul villains to death I guess it was time for Bond to move on to tackle the perceived villains of the 21st century. But are we honestly meant to believe that theses battles can ever be won by action-man bravado alone?

As this article in The New Statesman, "007 Bolivian socialist?", points out, the Bond story writers have obviously scant regard for the capabilities of Bolivian social uprising in the face of corrupt governments and grasping multinationals – Bolivia needs not the intervention of some dinner jacket-clad action hero, but has been able to succeed over the years with more simpler means, such as demonstrations, road blockades and even the ballot box. Hmm...I think the New Statesman article does take the Bond film a tad too seriously - I don't think they've ever been held as depicting a realistic political commentary on the pressing security issues of the day.
Still, it's a shame the film was never actually filmed in Bolivia. Indeed I'm sure the fact that they used Chile as a stand-in for Bolivia, is hardly to endear Bolivians to film.

Friday, 14 November 2008

The Demise of Regional Division in Bolivia?

The rise of Santa Cruz as the political and economic hegemonic power has been evident the last many decades in Bolivia. Under President Evo Morales however, it has seen its ability to frame the shape of the country undermined. This has resulted in clashes, both in Congress, the constituent assembly and in the streets of Santa Cruz and other ‘media luna’ towns. The media in its typical simplistic terms depicting the struggle as one of poor, indigenous, ardent Morales supporters of the Western Highlands up against the rich, white, land-rich Eastern Provinces of Santa Cruz et al.

Where do these regional clashes leave Bolivia and what is the future of Santa Cruz’s political and economic power base? These were some of the questions the Bolivian academic, George Grey Molina, tried to answer in a brief talk he gave at the Institute for the Study of the Americas here in London this week. After weeks and months of bad news and confrontation coming out of Bolivia, George Molina’s hypotheses had a surprisingly upbeat tone about them.

He began his talk by going over recent events since the violent clashes that erupted across Bolivia, and most notably in Pando - the remote northern department. See "State of siege, more violence in Bolivian province Pando (Roundup)"

Essentially, the out-of-control violence that threatened to escalate across the nation forced Morales supporters and opponents to sit down and set out a timeline for an upcoming constitutional referendum. A constitution that now includes enough amendments to keep the majority of Morales’ opponents content for the time being. It has also given it the necessary nationwide legitimacy that makes it likely to pass when it’s put to a referendum early next year.

George Molina was at pains to point out that Morales had emerged from these agreements with his power consolidated , whilst the power of Santa Cruz had been severely constrained. Santa Cruz’s power has traditionally stemmed from its economic power ( i.e. it’s ownership of the wealthy soya- exporting lands of the East) and its ability to transfer this economic leverage into political power through an increased presence on the national political stage and in its move towards greater regional autonomy. However for a number of reasons these foundations seem to be slowly crumbling:

  1. National Politics: the national political stage has been transformed under Morales’ presidency with the old Santa Cruz elite having been usurped by a Morales elite that has consolidated itself after this summers’ national recall referendum.

  2. Santa Cruz Economy: The Cruceño economy is perhaps not as strong as it once was. Commodity prices, on which it heavily depends, haven fallen through the floor. Vast tracts of arable land are no longer the most country’s most important asset – there will a transfer of economic power to those actors in the economy who can process the country’s resources, i.e. those who can produce value-added goods.

  3. Demographics: Santa Cruz is no longer predominantly made up of the white European decedents, who in their day were able to create a unique Cruceño identity – migration to the region from across Bolivia has meant that it is taking on other characteristics that are…more Bolivian.

  4. Did Not Create a Viable National Politics: Whilst Santa Cruz was on the ascendency it showed little in its politics that it could become the vessel of change that Bolivia so badly needs. It did little to diversify its economy from primary resources and next to nothing in cooperating with neighboring countries. Instead it promoted a politics that retained the status quo and essentially the privilege of the few over the masses.

  5. Natural Gas Capital has moved to Tarija: Unlike Santa Cruz, Tarija has no history of separatist ambitions and looks unlikely to spear-head a new regional hegemony.

As far as George Molina is concerned the above arguments point towards a situation in Bolivia where regional politics no longer plays the same divisive role as it has done in the past and with so much intensity during Morales’ presidency until now.

Of course that is not to say that this will mark an end to all regional disputes. Indeed it is now up to Morales and his grand goals of moving the Bolivian economy beyond commodity-led growth; towards an economy that creates industrialists and deep linkages within the economy and between regions. Only if this is achieved will regionalist movements, like the ones in Santa Cruz, cease to have the influence that they have had for the last many decades.

Friday, 24 October 2008

South Park does Peruvian Panpipe Music

This is for everyone who has pondered over why there always seems to be a travelling Peruvian panpipe band doing your local High Street. All that was missing was that they started up playing "El Condor Pasa".

Thanks to "The Latin Americanist" for finding this.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Financial & Economic Crisis hits Latin America

It was the turn of Latin America's stock market to take a nose dive this Wednesday - "Dark day for faltering LatAm stocks" . In Chile they dropped 6.3%, in Mexico by 7 %, in Brazil by 10%, and last but by no means least Argentina, where they dropped by 18%.

The magnitude of the drop in Argentina was provoked when President Cristina Fernandez announced plans to nationalise the private pension funds.

She said the nationalisation would protect retirement funds from the global financial crisis, but analysts said the move would drain company access to private capital. Argentina's Congress is expected to approve the proposal within weeks. BBC News: "Turmoil in Latin American Markets".

Privare investors have been upin arms, not least a Merrill Lynch executive who stated bluntly that his bank had now written off any investment plans in Argentina "for at least the next half decade." - AFP, "Latin America in Jaws of Global Crisis"

As I mentioned in an earlier post - "Global Depression: So What About Latin America" - much of the worry in Latin America on the back of the current world financial crisis, stems not so much from the so-called credit crunch, but rather the sharp recession that's meant to hit the world's major markets in the Northern hemisphere, and the decline in commodity prices that it will entail.

Correspondents say international demand is declining for many of Latin America's commodity exports, including oil, copper, iron ore and soy as global growth slows amid the current financial global crisis BBC News, "Turmoil in Latin American Markets".

Whilst demand may be faltering in the US and Europe, demand from the likes of China is still bouyant.
This is not to say that all is as gloomy as one could fear. Precious global recessions have tended to hit Latin America harder than most. The analogy of "when the US economy sneezes, the rest of the world cathces a cold, but Latin America catches phnuemonia" having proven to be quite fitting in th past. This time round things may be slightly different. According to former Mexican foreign minister, Jorge Castañeda:

the region would be largely impervious to the recent crisis. Mexico, Chile, Brazil and Uruguay should manage just fine, emerging with only bruises and scrapes, he argued. Colombia and Peru would weather the storm, though suffering greater harm. But he warned of "severe damage" for Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Central America and the Caribbean. BBC News, "Brazil squares up to an economic storm"

The severe damage awaiting Venezuela has much to do with the sudden drop in oil prices. Overdependent on oil revenues, Venezuela's extensive public spending could be seriouly affected if oil prices continue on this downward trend. It is therefore no surprise that Venezuela qill be pushing for oil output cuts at this week's hastily convened OPEC gathering in Vienna.

Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael D. Ramirez said the OPEC members "have to take some action now, now," adding that Friday's meeting will reach "consensus to take a very, very, very fast action." Xinhua, "OPEC members divided over oilput cut"

Last week I attended a public meeting at the Houses of Parliament here in London, where Venezuelan ambassador to the UK, Samuel Moncada, whilst almost gleeful in his depiction of the collapse of the world's financial system, had to admit that Venezuela faced difficult times ahead. So what about all the windfall funds from record-high oil prices that the Venezuelan had been meant to have store away for precisely those times when the oil prices were on the fall? Well, according to the ambassador this would only cover Venezuela's problems for a mere 2-3 months.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Is Obama right to object to Colombian FTA?

In my previous post, I mentioned how US Presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain had a relatively heated exchange on the pros and cons of a free trade agreement with Colombia. McCain came out in favour of it, with Obama arguing against it due to Colombia’s problematic human rights record, especially with regard to trade union members.

The Wall Street Journal published an editorial - "Obama makes it up" - strongly criticizing Obama’s stand and eluded to the fact that he is backed by the very same US trade unions that are perhaps not to keen to see a FTA with Colombia. Here is a video excerpt that shows columnist Mary O’Grady explaining why Obama’s objection to the FTA is nonsensical and based on facts that just don’t add up.

To counter her argument Benjamin Gaden on notes:

Neither O'Grady nor the WSJ editorial make note of a new 140-page report from Human Rights Watch, released last Thursday, that accuses Uribe of "jeopardizing efforts to secure justice for crimes committed by paramilitaries and their accomplices in Colombia." The report also points out that international pressure, such as delays in passing the Free Trade Agreement, "has in some cases prevented the government from trying to let paramilitaries’ accomplices off the hook." "Colombia’s justice institutions have made enormous progress in investigating paramilitaries and their powerful friends," José Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said in a press release announcing the report. "But the Uribe administration keeps taking steps that could sabotage these investigations."

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Latin America Debated in the US Presidential Debates

Latin America has been notable only its absent from the US Presidential debates.

In the first two debates between Barack Obama and John McCain and the VP debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin Latin America was mentioned fleetingly, Hugo Chávez denounced as a demagogue and Palin accusing Obama of wanting to have sit down in direct talks with the ‘Castro Brothers’. Nothing very substantial at all.

To everyone’s relief the 3rd debate proved a whole lot more invigorating and most noteworthy, for this blog, a couple of important issues relating to Latin America were discussed - dependency on Venezuelan oil, NAFTA, FTAs with Peru and Colombia.

Here is a transcript excerpt from the debate:

SCHIEFFER: All right. Can we reduce our dependence on foreign oil and by how much in the first term, in four years?

MCCAIN: I think we can, for all intents and purposes, eliminate our dependence on Middle Eastern oil and Venezuelan oil. Canadian oil is fine. By the way, when Senator Obama said he would unilaterally renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Canadians said, "Yes, and we'll sell our oil to China." You don't tell countries you're going to unilaterally renegotiate agreements with them.


OBAMA: I think that in ten years, we can reduce our dependence so that we no longer have to import oil from the Middle East or Venezuela. I think that's about a realistic timeframe. Now I just want to make one last point because Senator McCain mentioned NAFTA and the issue of trade and that actually bears on this issue. I believe in free trade. But I also believe that for far too long, certainly during the course of the Bush administration with the support of Senator McCain, the attitude has been that any trade agreement is a good trade agreement. And NAFTA doesn't have -- did not have enforceable labor agreements and environmental agreements.


MCCAIN: Now, on the subject of free trade agreements. I am a free trader. And I need -- we need to have education and training programs for displaced workers that work, going to our community colleges. But let me give you another example of a free trade agreement that Senator Obama opposes. Right now, because of previous agreements, some made by President Clinton, the goods and products that we send to Colombia, which is our largest agricultural importer of our products, is -- there's a billion dollars that we -- our businesses have paid so far in order to get our goods in there. Because of previous agreements, their goods and products come into our country for free. So Senator Obama, who has never traveled south of our border, opposes the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The same country that's helping us try to stop the flow of drugs into our country that's killing young Americans. And also the country that just freed three Americans that will help us create jobs in America because they will be a market for our goods and products without having to pay -- without us having to pay the billions of dollars -- the billion dollars and more that we've already paid.Free trade with Colombia is something that's a no-brainer. But maybe you ought to travel down there and visit them and maybe you could understand it a lot better.

OBAMA: Let me respond. Actually, I understand it pretty well. The history in Colombia right now is that labor leaders have been targeted for assassination on a fairly consistent basis and there have not been prosecutions. And what I have said, because the free trade -- the trade agreement itself does have labor and environmental protections, but we have to stand for human rights and we have to make sure that violence isn't being perpetrated against workers who are just trying to organize for their rights, which is why, for example, I supported the Peruvian Free Trade Agreement which was a well-structured agreement. But I think that the important point is we've got to have a president who understands the benefits of free trade but also is going to enforce unfair trade agreements and is going to stand up to other countries.

And here's a video excerpt from the debate that highlights Obama's and McCain's differences regarding a possible FTA with Colombia:

Monday, 20 October 2008

South American World Cup Qualification - 10th Round

In a brief post here are the results from matchday 10 of South American qualifying competition for the World Cup.

  • Chile vs. Argentina: 1-0
  • Bolivia vs. Uruguay: 2-2
  • Paraguay vs. Peru: 1-0
  • Brazil vs. Colombia: 0-0
  • Venezuela vs. Ecuador: 3-1

These results leaving the qualifying table looking like this:

  1. Paraguay: 23 pts.
  2. Brazil: 17 pts
  3. Argentina 17 pts.
  4. Chile 16 pts.
  5. Uruguay 13 pts.
  6. Ecuador 12 pts.
  7. Colombia 11 pts.
  8. Venezuela 10 pts.
  9. Bolivia 9 pts.
  10. Peru 7 pts.

Paraguay are seemingly running away with the qualification campaign leaving the region's giants - Brazil and Argentina - to fumble about, scrapping points against teams they should normally be able to put away with ease. For Argentina, their defeat away to Chile, the first time this has happened in absolute eons, marked the end for Argentine coach Alfio Basile. The writing had supposedly been on the wall for a good few months now. Lacklustre performances, an endless procession of drab draws in recent matches was not want the Argentine public were demanding. Especailly since Argentina stormed to a gold medal at the Olympics, sweeping aside Brazil along the way. But, this under the guidance of the younger a more attack-minded Sergio Batista - Basile having opted of a leading the young Argentine squad at the Olympics.

Here is what BBC's Latin American football specialist Tim Vickery of Basile's legacy:

But as Basile leaves the scene, he deserves to be remembered. He is one of the game's romantics, for whom the joy of expression speaks louder than the fear of defeat - a philosophy that might be old fashioned, but which should never be out of date.

He remains the last Argentina coach to win a title at senior level - the 1991 and 93 Copa America triumphs from his first spell in charge, which ended with one of the great World Cup matches of recent times, the 3-2 defeat to Romania in 1994. It was a classic tie of attack versus counter-attack, made attractive by the fact that Argentina accepted the risks of taking the game to their opponents.

The highlight of his second spell, before the breakdown in relationships started corroding performance, came last year in the Copa America.It ended in tears, stiffled and picked off by Brazil in the final. But the previous matches were an exhibition of passing football, patient and audacious, hypnotic and dazzling. Being there in Venezuela to watch Alfio Basile's side in action was an immense privilege

Qualification games take a bit of a break for the next few months, with the next not taking place until late March. Plenty of time I'm sure for the Argentine media to get hyped up about the return of the prodigal son, Maradonna, as a possible successor.

The Freezing of US-Bolivian Relations

Before the world financial crisis enveloped the world's news media and when news from Latin American actually made it across the Atlantic, there was the episode of diplomatic tit-for-tat tussling that involved the expulsion of US ambassadors from Bolivia, Venezuela and Honduras. Media outlets jumping naturally at the chance to picture yet another fiery anti-imperialist outburst by demagogue Hugo Chávez.

That the flurry of departing ambassadors had its origin in Bolivia is now long forgotten. With the US having retaliated by expelling Bolivia’s ambassador to Washington I would have that would have been that…just let the simmering US-Bolivian hostilities be. Let's just wait until a new US administration can come into the White House and proclaim their ‘good neighbourliness’ towards the region it sort out the mess – but that’s a topic to be discussed in another post further down the line.
But no... George Bush has taken it upon himself to ensure that Bolivia realizes the errors of their ways. Since 1991, Bolivia has benefited from the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPDEA) that allowed certain Bolivian exporters favourable access to the US market. This in exchange for Bolivian cooperation in tackling illegal coca production. Overriding Congress and their decision two weeks ago to extend the agreement, Bush has chosen in a single stroke threaten the livelihood of thousands of Bolivians, by suspending the agreement. A possible 20,000 Bolivians may lose their jobs as companies face closure without access to the lucrative US market.

Here is a video the Bolivian-based NGO, The Democracy Center posted showing the plight of a number of workers face in light of this decision by the Bush administration.

As much as I can sympathise with those who point to Morales' lack of diplomatic finesse in throwing out the US ambassador, I find it hard to agree that this justifies the decision by Bush to, in a single stroke, threaten the livelihood of thousands of Bolivians, especially in the midst of world financial crisis where it will be the Bolivias of the world that will face the direst of consequences. Besides, won't this only legitimise his anti-American stance and worsen legitimate US attempts to tackle coca production?

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

The Once Glorious Uruguayan World Cup Winners

In the wake of the weekend's South American world cup qualifiers, The Times, had a great piece on the River Plate derby, Argentina vs. Uruguay - Past masters Uruguay burdened by the weight of history.

On Saturday, Uruguay succumbed to a 2-1 defeat away to Argentina and will need a win away to Bolivia this Wednesday if they are to get back into the automatic qualifying places for the World Cup.

Scrapping to get into the World Cup, and then failing to make it pass the group stages seems to be the perennial outcome of every Uruguayan World Cup campaign. Never likely to reach the lofty heights they once achieved back in the first half of the 20th century when they lifted the World Cup trophy in 1930 and 1950.

Watching Uruguay play is a bit like driving past the boarded-up shop-fronts of a once-thriving city centre. The phantasms of a glorious past haunt you. Occasionally you see flashes of pride and quality, more often you see a rage against the dying of the light. Except, whereas a depressed city centre might hold out hope to be regenerated, Uruguay will probably never regain its footballing greatness

To read about plight of Uruguayan football and their resignation to being a mere Latin American football minnow, do check out this article. Past masters Uruguay burdened by the weight of history.

South American World Cup Qualification: Round #9

Here are the results and standings from the weekend's South American Qualification games:

  • Bolivia vs Peru 3-0
  • Argentina vs. Uruguay 2-1
  • Colombia vs. Paraguay 0-1
  • Venezuela vs. Brazil 0-4
  • Ecuador vs. Chile: 1-0
  1. Paraguay 20 pts.
  2. Brazil 16 pts.
  3. Argentina 16 pts.
  4. Chile 13 pts.
  5. Uruguay 12 pts
  6. Ecuador 12 pts
  7. Colombia 12 pts
  8. Bolivia 8 pts
  9. Venezuela 7 pts
  10. Peru 7 pts

Paraguay remain on course for World Cup 2010 qualification and with a home game coming up against Peru this Wednesday should be able to consolidate their standing at the top of the South American group. Any doubts that Brazil would be struggling in this qualification group are being slowly laid to rest as they notched up another victory, albeit against minnows footballing minnows Venezuela.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Global Depression: So What about Latin America?

In the midst of the financial turmoil that has swept ominously across North America and Europe, news how this may affect Latin American economies – traditionally so dependent upon the state of the U.S economy – has been somewhat hard to come by in the British press.

Nevertheless, last week’s The Economist did have an article highlighting the numerous pessimistic scenarios that may be played out in Latin America as a result of the financial turmoil in the world’s credit markets – “Keeping their fingers crossed”. True to its right-of-centre, pro-market editorial line it predicted that the “badly behaved” economies (i.e. overly statist and anti-neoliberal), such as those in Venezuela and Argentina, are the one that are most vulnerable.

Their vulnerability stems not so much from the lack of credit available to them, but their overreliance on commodities: Venezuela on oil, Argentina on agricultural produce. The belief being that a downturn in the world economy would naturally lead to a slump in commodity prices.

Other Latin American countries look set to be hit by a decline in commodity prices as they have fallen to the age-old temptation of overspending when times have been good and consequently saving little for when times worsen. Bucking the trend, as is so often the case when it comes to perceived sound economic management, is Chile where its copper stabilization fund should insolate the economy from a slump in copper prices.

Fortunately for the likes of Brazil, Colombia and Peru – “the well-behaved countries” in The Economist’s tinted eyes – their trade surpluses and balanced budgets, records of year-on-year growth, and lack of dependency on the increasingly limited sources of foreign credit should offer their respective economies the means to avoid the recession that has so often followed in the wake of U.S. downturns.

But all isn’t rosy in the case of Mexico, and indeed with most Central American and Caribbean nations. By remaining so dependent on US markets and remittances from relatives working in the US, the severity of the economic crisis facing the US will have the inevitable effect of casting a long murky shadow over their economies. Perhaps this will nail home the argument that despite the lure of the US market Latin American nations can only benefit from diversifying trading partners, increasing regional trade and so on.

In the aftermath of all this financial mess it seems likely – especially if the Democrats retake the White House – that all proposed free trade agreements with Latin America are to be put firmly on hold; furthering the need for Latin America to look towards China and the rest of Asia.

Despite the relative upbeat tones, The Economist makes sure to hammer home that it will be the Bolivarian following of Chavéz et al and their economic populist policies that have most to fear from the global credit crunch.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Will the Brazilian Police be Taking Note?

Three years on, and the inquest into the fatal police shooting of Brazilian, Jean Charles de Menezes, remains ongoing.

Today on the TV news we could watch judge, jury, lawyers and de Menezes’ family being shown around the underground passages of Stockwell tube station, re-enacting Jean Charles’ final movements, before he was shot at point blank range by anti-terrorist police officers.

Tragic as the whole incident is, I can’t help but at least commend the British judicial system in assuring that this horrific accidence is understood and the surveillance system that failed so horribly is brought to account. The question that lingers at the back of my mind is, whether the same level of insistence to come to the bottom of such a police error would be taking place, had this happened in Jean Charles’ native Brazil? A flicker through any of the cop-films coming out of Brazil, such as “Elite Squad”, and you get a picture of the extreme use of violence by the Brazilian police force, and their perceived immunity in the face of any misuse of power. I wonder what attention the inquest into de Menezes’ death is getting back in Brazil and whether or not the Brazilian police are taking notice...

Monday, 22 September 2008

Anti-Americanism Alive and Well in Latin America

An e-mail in my inbox asked me to part with a few hours of my time last Wednesday, standing outside in the Autumn cold and picketing the US embassy here in London. US ambassadors to Bolivia and Venezuela were in the space of a couple of days sent packing amidst accusations of fomenting regional violence in Bolivia and plotting to overthrow Chávez. According to the protesters:

US President George W Bush has made it his top priority to overthrow the new left-wing governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and others before he leaves office at the end of the year (

Whilst I have no doubt that the US would shed no tears if either Evo Morales or Hugo Chávez were finally toppled, the recent expulsions of the respective US ambassadors has far more to do with Morales' and Chávez's populist support to a large extent consolidated by their anti-US positions.

With Russian battleships on course for Venezuelan waters for joint exercises, US may indeed have cause for concern regarding Chávez's strategic alliances - "Russian navy sails to Venezuela." Is this yet more evidence of yesteryear's Cold War battle lines being redrawn as Russia strengthens its ties in and increases its presence in Latin America - just as it did in Cuba in the 1960s? And then there are continuing anti-democratic measures taken by Chávez; the most recent being the expelling of human rights activists after having accused Chávez's government of "openly endors[ing] acts of discrimination" - "Venezuela expels two human rights activist" But are these legitimate causes for concern enough for the US to reattempt its misguided foray into overthrowing democratically elected leaders?

And what does the US gain from further destabilising Bolivia? Aside from the issue of Morales' government not doing enough to cut down on coca production, there is very little his government can be accused of that directly goes against US interests. The US has little interest in Bolivian gas reserves and their recent nationalisation. And surely they must realise that the toppling of a President that only weeks was strengthened his mandate with 67% of the popular vote in the recall referendum.
The history of US interventionism etched into the Latin American psyche, the extent to which it imbues populist rhetoric, ultimately renders the need for sound reasoning behind these anti-US conspiracies completely unnecessary. Even with George Bush at the helm, this mode of politics should not play a central role in any Latin American nations' foreign policy. Yes, the USA is by no means the 'Good Neighbour' it had once set itself up to be. But far more stands to be lost in the long-term by doing your utmost to strain relations with USA, merely for the purpose of short-term populist/nationalist gains.
This is not to say that the US are wholeheartedly innocent either. Failing to show strong enough support for the democratically-elected leaders of both countries is seen as a green light for opposition movements in Venezuela and Bolivia to challenge their Presidents in any way they see fit - as was the case with the failed coup in Venezuela in 2002 and with the violence in Bolivia right now.
Needless to say I did not spend last Wednesday afternoon picketing the US embassy.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Bolivia Election: Post-Mortem

It's been almost two weeks since the recall referendum took place in Bolivia. I have been wanting to comment on it for a while now, but a mixture of being stuck with my dissertation, transfixed to the TV watching the Olympics, working 9-5 as in intern with, and last but not least, without Internet connection has meant that I've been somewhat incapable of posting anything of relevance of late.

So anyway it was meant to be ‘make or break’ time for President Evo Morales. I for one harboured doubts as to whether he would be able to win over the electorate given that Bolivia seems to be on the brink of internal collapse.
Opposition leaders in Santa Cruz et.el (or the "Media Luna" as the best known by) have been relentless in their critique of Evo Morales, and the international media has been quick to catch onto images of protests, blockades and violent skirmishes.
However, the fact that Morales won a resounding 67% of the vote and even encroaching upon the popularity of the “Media Luna” regional leaders (whose leadership was also up for re-election), shows that underneath the surface, the Bolivian majority still believe in giving Morales and his indigenous/socialist/resource-nationalist experiment a chance.

Anyway for a far better analysis of where the recall referendum leaves Bolivia, there is no one better than Jim Shultz (head of the NGO 'The Democracy Centre') and his “Blog from Bolivia” and his post, "Bolivia Election: Post Mortem"

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Violent Outbreaks in Santa Cruz

The Bolivian government seeks to charge opposition prefect Ruben Costas for stirring up violence over the weekend in Santa Cruz as rifts between the government and the “media luna” department heighten.

Santa Cruz’s chief of police, Wilge Obleas, has been forced to stand down on medical grounds, after having suffered injuries in the violent attacks that marred Santa Cruz this weekend. In the wake of the police forcefully removing protestors from a YPFB installation, disturbances broke out between the police force and radical autonomists, including the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista (UJC), resulting in more than 20 people being wounded. The government has since accused Rúben Costas and president of the civic committee Branco Marincovik for the subsequent attacks on the police headquarters in Santa Cruz, in what it sees as calculated attempt to provoke increasing levels of violence in the opposition-led department and undermine the national police force. Santa Cruz prefect Rubén Costas, however, lays the blame at the government’s feet and is now demanding that any future police chief be accountable to him and not the national governemt. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how any judicial proceedings will brought against the Costas and Marincovik given the legal vacuum at the top of Bolivia’s judiciary due to vacancies in key judicial institutions, or whether this is an conscious attempt by the government to isolate Rúben Costas after “media luna’s” disappointing results in the recall referendum.

In the aftermath of last week’s recall referendum, which resulted in Evo Morles having secured more than 67% of the vote, there has been a move by the Bolivian government to increase the dialogue with the “media luna” departments. The fact that Evo Morales was able to increase his vote in all four of the opposition-held departments, with a majority of Bolivians supporting him in previously hostile departments of Tarija and Pando, has weakened the mandate of the “media luna” in their bid for increased autonomy.

The rift between the central government and the “media luna” is set to deepen with opposition leaders in the 5 departments planning general strikes for next Tuesday. The regional opposition leaders are demanding that the government retract the move to redirect the IDH revenues that previously went to the regions themselves. The government uses this additional tax revenue to fund a nation-wide pension plan. The gas rich department, on the hand, believe that the loss of revenue will limit their ability to carry out important regional projects.

Monday, 4 August 2008

History Repeating Itself?

Here are a few exercts from an article I found in the International Herald Tribune. Of course there is nothing to worry about, but isn't this all so reminsicent of the early 1960s and the run-up to the Cuban Missile Crisis?

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is calling for Russia to regain its influence with Cuba, a former Cold War ally of the Soviet Union, Russian news reports said Monday.

The statement was made amid persistent speculation about whether Russia was seeking a military presence in a country just 150 kilometers, or 90 miles, from the United States in response to U.S. plans to place parts of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. It is not a secret that the West is creating a 'buffer zone' around Russia, involving countries in central Europe, the Caucasus, the Baltic states and Ukraine," the agency quoted Leonid Ivashov, the head of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, as saying. "In response, we may expand our military presence abroad, including in Cuba."Russia opposes U.S. plans to put missile-defense elements in eastern Europe, saying the facilities are aimed at undermining Russia's missile potential. Russia has threatened an unspecified "military technical" response if the plans go through.

Last month, the Defense Ministry denied a major Russian newspaper's report that the country was considering placing nuclear-capable bombers in Cuba - a move that would have echoed the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Argentina's National Airline Renationalised

Any general overview of Latin American economic history will show you how attitudes for or against nationalisations and privatisations swing back and forth over time with a pendulum-like consistency.

The 1980s and 1990s saw the pendulum of state vs. private debate swing back in favour of privatisation after the presumed overreach, corruption and mismanagement of the state-owned enterprises of the mid-20th century. SOEs were meant to have fuelled economic development in many a Latin American country. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it wasn’t long before the pendulum swung back the other way and privatisation became a word that any politician sought to distance themselves from as far as humanly possible. Of course this didn't always stop them from implementing privatisation. In Bolivia during the 1990s, President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada was somehow able to hood-wink the Bolivian people into believing that when he was selling off the rights of the country’s natural resources to foreign multinationals, it wasn’t so much 'privatisation' but rather 'capitalisation'. Yes, there is a difference, but it’s a slight one at best. And it ultimately left the Bolivian government unable to benefit from the huge windfalls that were soon to be made from Bolivia's recently discovered huge natural gas reserves. But more on that in my dissertation paper...

Anyway what drew my attention today through my daily trawl through the BBC website was the news that the Argentine government is to renationalise its floundering airline, Aerolineas Argentinas - Argentine Airline Set For Bumpy Ride. The national airline was one of many companies to been sold off rapidly when Carlos Menem was Argentine President back in the 1990s. Now with the left-of-centre and so-called ‘back-to-the-roots populist Peronism’ of the Kirchner's in hold of the Casa Rosada (Buenos Aires's answer to the White House) a number of the sectors once privatised by Menem have been renationalised.
It seems pretty obvious that it’s going to be hard, if not impossible to bring Aerolineas Argentinas back into profit. Then this nationalisation isn’t just about making a profit. Okay there is the nationalistic sentiment – something Argentines have in bucket loads - that goes hand-in-hand with having a national airline. And with a majority of Argentines actually favouring the government taking control of the airline, it would make political sense for under-pressure President Cristina Kirchner to do something that for once wouldn’t have half the nation up in arms. However I think in a country like Argentina, a country that is so immense in its geographic dimensions, with numerous far-away provinces that depend upon a direct link to the capital, needs a national airline. An airline that is more concerned with servicing these far-away communities than with make a profit at the end of the year.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Bolivia in the National Geographic

Whilst Bolivian politics takes yet another ugly turn - Evo Morales in a recall referendum and further clamouring from the Eastern provinces - photos from a recent National Geographic article reminds us of the natural wonders that have been endowed upon this troubles Andean nation. For some truly great photos from Bolivia's vast Altiplano region check out this interactive map "Photography Map: Altiplano"

Of course the articles that go along with dazzling photos (Bolivia's New Order & Riding with Evo) try hard to give an accessible account of the rise of Bolivia's new order,"the ascent to power of a new elite of militant indigenous people." And along the way you do get the feeling that they've been carried away slightly by this over-romanticised indigenous uprising and fail to question the viability of the country's current direction. But hey it's the National Geographic for goodness sake, not The Economist. So hats off for them for that, and besides who honestly can't get slightly carried away by this astonishing rise from rural serfdom to the Presidential Palace, which the indigenous people have undertaken in recent decades...I was.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

“¡El Gas Nos Pertenece Por Derecho!”: The Nationalisation Of Bolivian Gas As A Viable Means To Development?

Given that I’ll be spending the next 2 months of my life frantically putting together my Master’s dissertation I guess I will be giving the general Latin American news stuff a bit of a rest. However, I do still intend to keep posting, though I’m afraid that you’ll have to make do with all things Bolivian, especially if they relate to Evo Morales’ attempts at renationalizing the hydrocarbon sector.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Stockhom Syndrome Anyone?

It’s not an unusual occurrence for hostages after their release to show signs of loyalty or compassion toward their hostage-takers - the psychological response more famously known as the Stockholm syndrome.

It can’t have escaped the attention of anyone the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other hostages from the grips of the Colombian FARC after countless years of captivity in the jungle. Now that they are free, the question remains…any signs of the mysterious Stockholm syndrome emerging?

One could begin to point that finger at Ingrid Betancourt who, in a recent interview, came out urging Colombian President Alvaro Uribe should soften his towards her ex-captors, the FARC.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe should soften his tone when dealing with the Marxist FARC guerrillas, freed hostage Ingrid Betancourt said on Monday, urging him to break with the language of "hatred".Betancourt was rescued last week after more than six years in the jungle as a captive of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in an operation that was widely seen as a vindication of Uribe's hardline stance against the guerrillas.The FARC is still holding hundreds of captives and Betancourt, who flew to Paris within 48 hours of her release, said Uribe should change tack to help secure their freedom."President Uribe, and not just President Uribe but Colombia as a whole, should change some things," Betancourt told RFI radio, making her first public criticism of her one-time political rival since her liberation."I think the time has come to change the language of radicalism, extremism and hatred, the very strong words that cause deep hurt to a human being," she said, adding that tolerance and respect were needed."There comes a timewhen one has to agree to talk to the people you hate," she said. (source Reuters 07/07/2008)

Interesting comments and ones that definitely keep open any future desires she may have to use her ordeal to further her political career. And perhaps more importantly, it would allow her to become a key negotiator with FARC in her endeavor to free the remaining political prisoners. So anyone pointing the ‘Stockholm syndrome’ finger at her would be mistaken.

Also freed in the same daring rescue mission were 3 US defence contractors, who spoke out yesterday about their ordeal. Unsurprisingly, given their jobs, they came out with some pretty harsh language against the FARC…along with a fair share of American patriotic flag waving.

I want to tell you about the FARC, a guerrilla group that claim to be revolutionaries, fighting for the poor people of Colombia. They say that they want equality, they say they just want to make Colombia a better place. But that's all a lie. It's a cover story and they hide behind it, and they use it to jusitfy their criminal activity. The FARC are not a revolutionary group, they are not a revolutionary group. They are terrorists…terrorists with a capital T…bad people.

Definitely no sign of Stockholm syndrome there.

So what’s next for Ingrid Betancourt…? As much as she must thank Uribe for enabling this rescue mission, she is unlikely to find him in much of a mood to listen to her conciliatory tone. He has the bit between his teeth with his hard-line approach, which over the last few months has delivered a whole host of impressive successes. Successes which have lead many commentators to talk of the eventual demise of FARC. Only time will tell...

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

The President's League Table

Nothing beats the clarity of good old-fashioned list...

So here's an interesting one I stumbled across recently - by means of Greg Week's Latin American blog, 'Two Weeks Notice'. It lists the current popularity ratings amongst Latin American Presidents.

  1. 84% Álvaro Uribe, Colombia (3/08)

  2. 61% Felipe Calderón, Mexico (5/08)

  3. 55% Antonio Saca, El Salvador (5/08)

  4. 55% Evo Morales, Bolivia (5/08)

  5. 55% Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil (3/08)

  6. 54% Hugo Chávez, Venezuela (4/08)

  7. 53% Rafael Correa, Ecuador (6/08)

  8. 51% Martín Torrijos, Panama (4/08)

  9. 49% Álvaro Colom, Guatemala (3/08)

  10. 45% Tabaré Vázquez, Uruguay (3/08)

  11. 44% Oscar Arias, Costa Rica (4/08)

  12. 44% Michelle Bachelet, Chile (6/08)

  13. 38% Manuel Zelaya, Honduras (2/08)

  14. 34% Stephen Harper, Canada (3/08)

  15. 32% Alan García, Peru (6/08)

  16. 30% George W. Bush, United States (6/08)

  17. 26% Cristina Fernández, Argentina (5/08)

  18. 21% Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua (2/08)
  19. 5% Nicanor Duarte, Paraguay (3/08)

I'm not too sure as to how much we can read into this. I guess it's no surprise that Colombia's Uribe tops the list. I was chatting with a Colombian guy the other week, and having asked him whether he thought Uribe was good or bad for the country he responded, "he's neither good nor bad...he's AMAZING!" His effectiveness in tackling the FARC guerillas, keeping the economy relatively stable and taking head-on the likes of Chavez and Correa, no doubt playing a part in his popularity. Still I'm not to sure international human rights groups will be to keen in praising his presidency.

Other than that, the Presidents of the "New Left" (Chavez, Correa, Lula, Morales) all seem to be doing alright, though I'm sure they must be down from where they would have been this time last year. And then there's poor old Cristina Fernandez who really is making a dog's dinner out of the popularity she had inherited over from her husband, Nestor Kirchner.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Putting Those 1978 Ghosts to Bed

Whilst the Spaniards were ending 44 years of hurt with their victory over Germany in the Euro 2008 final this past Sunday, a different kind of ‘hurt’ was being put to bed in Buenos Aires.

30 years had passed since the Argentine national team lifted their first ever World Cup trophy. It was a tournament they hosted and should have gone down as a glorified moment in Argentine folklore. However it remains forever blighted by the dark military dictatorship and the so-called “Dirty War” it inflicted upon its people. The way in which the regime purposefully used the staging of the World Cup as propaganda tool, à la Hitler’s 1936 Olympics, and as to distract a population’s worries about the continuous desaparecidos has cast a black shadow over what was at the time Argentina’s greatest ever sporting triumph. Moreover, though slight in comparison, the military have been accused of bribing the Peruvian national side to lose heavily to Argentina, when the Argentines needed at least a 4-0 victory to guarantee their place in the final (they beat Peru 6-0).

This Sunday ex-members of the World Cup winning team, human rights activists took part in a memorial match - "La otra final: el partido por la vida y los derechos humanos" - for the 30,000 Argentines who lost their lives during this dark chapter of Argentine history. Many of the ex-players had wanted to put to bed once and for all that they in someway had been used by the military regime. As young football players they had little idea of the horrors being perpetrated by their leaders and little understanding of how their success was being manipulated to make a population turn a blind eye towards the atrocities.

Perhaps most chilling of all is the stories of the imprisoned opponents in the military detention and torture that was situated only a short distance from the main stadium in Buenos Aires during the World Cup. Here prisoners told how, chained to their beds, they could hear their guards listening to the game on the radio and the crowds celebrate as the goals went in. The 1980 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, who was imprisoned at the time recalls how

En la prisión, cuando ponían el partido en los altoparlantes, era muy contradictorio. Porque los ejecutores, aquellos que nos torturaban, y nosotros, las víctimas, gritábamos juntosGol de Argentina!'. Y sabemos que sacaban afuera a prisioneros cuando había distracciones por la Copa Mundial y les disparaban (source BBC Mundo "A 30 años de un triunfo empañado" 30/06/2008)

When they played a game over the speakers, it was very contradictory - because the executioners, those who tortured us, and us the victims both cried 'Goal Argentina!' And we know that they took prisoners out when there were distractions caused by the World Cup and shot them (source BBC News, "Football match evokes Dirty War", 30/06/2008)

Thankfully for Argentine and Argentine football only a few years would have to pass before the dictatorship crumbled and Maradona could restore national pride with the his glorious one-man show in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

CUBA: The Socialist vs. Capitalist debate

In the past weeks and months people have been trying to work out how far exactly Raúl Castro has been willing to push through reforms. Since he officially took over from his older brother Fidel, certain parts of the economy have been relaxed as to allow Cubans to purchase a whole host of consumer goods along with other small economic liberalizing steps (see "More reforms in Cuba")

Anyway does all this account to the “death knell” of socialist Cuba as we know it and the emergence of a new capitalist state, or rather as rational steps to perfect Cuba’s statist economy. This is the debate that’s been played out in a number of opinion pieces I’ve stumbled across in the British Press of late.

Rory Carroll in his piece highlights the recent abandonment of Cuba’s egalitarian wage system - the idea that a taxi driver should in theory earn as much as say a doctor, or as Marx’s famous maxim goes, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” In the future pay rewards will be based on productivity and efficiency – from each according to his ability to each according to his work - thus curbing the inherent inertia of the Cuban economy. By emphasising continual poverty on the island seeing the Cuban economy as moribund he hints at the dire need of some form rejuvenation of the economy through liberalisation; something he likes to call “perestroikita” in reference to the liberalizing reforms undertaken by Gorbachev in the USSR

Dr. Helen Yeffe is quick to rebuke the perceived notion that Cuba is somehow on the long but inevitable path towards full-flung capitalism. The idea that everyone in Cuba has been paid the same is a myth, with pay rewards and wages dependent on your skills having been in place for decades. She then takes to task the idea that the Cuban economy is in some form of dire straits, showing off various statistics that highlight the impressive growth the Cuban economy has witnessed in the last few years. Of course this is then followed by the age-old pro-Castro argument that stresses the country’s impressive health, education and equality levels as to counteract the poverty levels in Cuba. The new salary incentives have little to with rejuvenating the economy but more as a means to reduce their vulnerability to the global food price crisis.

Finally the Financial Times comes with its own interpretation of recent reforms. All the reforms come under the banner of what is being coined perfeccionamiento empresarial – perfecting the state company system.

Perfeccionamiento empresarial is based on adopting modern management and accounting practices, often gleaned from the study of private corporations, for state-run companies. It grants management more authority over day-to-day decisions and imposes more discipline on workers while also increasing their participation in decisions and incentives for labour.

What this means in practice is hard to glean, but as far as the FT is concerned the debate as to whether Cuba is eschewing socialism in favour of capitalism has been decided.

A debate fostered by Raúl Castro has for now been settled in favour of those who want to improve one of the world’s most statist economies – not dismantle it.

And why should they abandon in a single sweep the foundations of modern day economy. Especially when the FT confirms that the Cuban economy is in such a healthy state.

Foreign exchange earnings are relatively strong due to the export of medical and other professional services – mainly to Venezuela – as well as tourism, high nickel prices and soft Chinese loans.

However we may wish to coin the policy directions of the Cuban economy, and trumpet them as evidence of socialism or capitalism surely this must be secondary to realizing that there never needs to be a one-size-fits-all solution to everything. In reality it is of little importance whether Cuba clings onto socialism, incorporates capitalism or finds some other middle way; as long as it works. I don't know to be quite honest, I just find it increasingly unproducutve for people to always to pigeon-hole things, be it socialism vs capitalism, left-wing vs. right-wing, or other such false dichtomies. Latin America has been awash with the by-products of this, be it Guatemala under Arbenz, Chile under Allende, and now the rise of the 'new Left' throughout much of Latin America. Why waste blood (literally), sweat and tears over labelling such governments one way or the other?

Is Brazil Part of Latin America?

There has never been any contestation that Brazil is somewhat unique amongst the assemblage of Latin American states:
  • It’s Portuguese heritage
  • It’s ability to remain united – rather than splinter into numerous squabbling territories, as happened with the Spanish empire
  • It’s sheer size – population, economy, territory is as large as that of all the other South American countries put together.
So the differences between Brazil and the rest of the Latin American nations are obvious. However, it would be impossible to see Brazil as anything else but an integral part of any study of Latin America? Well so we thought... Leslie Bethell of Oxford University gave a talk the other week at the Institute for the Study of the Americas entitled “Is Brazil part of Latin America?” Well he would say that given that he was director of the Centre for Brazilian Studies - when it is normally commonplace just to lump Brazil in under Latin America.

Simon Bolivar was supposed to be the great instigator for Latin American unity, However his grand vision had nothing to do with Latin American unity as we know it, but rather of a confederación hispanoamericana – a Hispanic confederation that excluded Brazil. Brazil was not Hispanic and seen as intrinsically different from the rest of the Americas:
  • It wasn’t a republic, but a monarchy
  • It still permitted slavery
  • It has closer ties with Europe, something the new Hispanic American republics were at pains to distance themselves from.
Not that Brazil really cared about not being part of this Hispanic American club. It’s Portuguese heritage meant that it was naturally imbued with a hostile attitude towards anything related to Spain. This along with a sense of superiority meant that Brazilians were quite happy to be excluded.

In the late 19th century, with the dreams of a unified Hispanic Americas long gone, the notion of Latin America did grow as an idea, especially amongst Latin American intellectuals. They sought to focus on the similarities across the Latin American continent as a counterweight to the increasing dominance and interventionism of the US and its of ides of American (North + South) unity through the a US-led Panamericansim.

However well up into the 20th century Brazil was still seen as a non-integral part of Latin America. In an era of fervent anti-Americanism in Latin America, Brazil persistently remained less critical of the US and was of the US’s more reliable allies. Furthermore Brazil continued to perceive itself unique and indeed superior from the rest of Latin America.

Arguably Leslie Bethall had indeed made a persuasive historical argument as to how Brazil had differentiated itself from the rest of Latin America. However he continued to argue that still today Brazil is markedly different from the rest of Latin America, is still perceived so by Brazilians themselves and that it ultimately deserves to be studied as a completely different entity in exclusion from Latin America. I think this was the point at which most people in the audience would have started to take issue with him.

The interconnectedness of Latin American countries – Brazil included – is plain to see. Brazil borders almost all South American nations, and in today’s world can’t not be influenced, culturally, economically, politically by the rest of Latin America and vice versa. Aside from a difference in language, there is no doubt in my mind, that Brazil is an integral part of Latin America. Yes there are many things which are unique to Brazil, and yes Brazilians will no doubt from time to time see themselves as unique and superior to the rest of the neighbours. But you need just to take a trip over the river Plate to realize that the Argentineans are just as capable, if not more so, in espousing a sense of difference and a superiority with the rest of the continent. Brazil’s leadership in MERCOSUR and the recently unveiled Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) only highlights its attempt to place itself, if not at the centre of Latin America, then at least South America – Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean already seem locked into the US sphere of dominance.

Critics may well turn around and say – and Leslie Bethall would be one of them – that Brazilian leadership is not much wanted amongst South American nations, who view these attempts of regional unity with Brazil at their helm as merely a means to help Brazil to propel itself onto the world stage…

This has been quote a long post…thank you if you’ve managed to get this far. I’ll finish with a few comments by former Brazilian President on this very issue - “Brazil: A Latin American Nation?” - that seem to underscore my point of view as well.

Despite differing colonial histories, languages and state institutions, Brazil does indeed share a relation with Latin America. […] Along with some cultural, geographical, and ideological traits, Brazil and other Latin American nations share a position on the “periphery” of the modern globalized world. […] We belong to Latin America […] We feel at ease in Latin America. (The Washington Institute for International Studies, 14/03/2007)

Friday, 20 June 2008

South American World Cup Qualification - 6th Round

Whilst Brazil's former coach was getting knocked out of Euro 2008 with Portugal, his former side weren't making much progress back in South America. Brazil played out a dreary 0-0 draw against arch-rivals Argentina in the so-called clásico. A result that now leaves them in 5th place in the South American qualification table for the 2010 World Cup. Of course the Brazilian press were quick to pile the criticism on Brazil's coach Dunga

The Brazilian media were in no doubt as to who was responsible for the Canarinha's unsatisfactory showing. The harshest criticism came from Lance!, which ran with a cover featuring Dunga's head inside a noose and topped by the headline "Hung". "Brazil draw with Argentina as the fans vent their fury on coach - Zico now the popular choice," fumed the sports daily.O'Globo also registered its displeasure on its website. "Dunga gets the donkey treatment as off-key Brazil draw 0-0 with Argentina," ran the merciless headline. Publishing a photo of Ronaldinho in the stands at the Estadio Mineirao, the website added that the Barcelona man and Kaka were sorely missed, stating that "without them the future looks bleak". With Brazil's other stars having another off day, O'Globo also remarked on the warm applause Lionel Messi received when he was substituted.Running with a front page photo of a closely marked Adriano trapping the ball on his chest, Jornal do Brasil opted for a short but no less powerful headline: "270 minutes without a goal". The online version of the paper was just as critical: "Even with the Mineirao right behind them, Brazil were incapable of beating Argentina. To cap it all, the fans chanted 'Dunga out' as he made his way off the pitch. All in all, a sad goodbye for a coach who had stakedeverything on this game."Joining in the chorus of disapproval was Folha de Sao Paulo. "What a miserable clásico", it complained before highlighting the fans' displeasure: "The crowd whistled the team and demanded Dunga's sacking." (source:

Otherwise results of note included group leaders Paraguay losing 4-2 to Bolivia. Bottom spot in the group now belongs to Peru after being 6-0 thumping by Uruguay. And Chile have now displaced Brazil from the important 4th place spot - the top 4 teams qualify for the World Cup -with an exciting 3-2 away win to Venezuela.

  • Brazil vs Argentina: 0-0
  • Venezuela vs Chile: 2-3
  • Ecuador vs Colombia: 0-0
  • Uruguay vs Peru: 6-0
  • Bolivia vs Paraguay 4-2


  1. Paraguay.....13 pts
  2. Argentina....11 pts
  3. Colombia.....10 pts
  4. Chile.............10 pts
  5. Brazil.............9 pts
  6. Uruguay........8 pts
  7. Venezuela.....7 pts
  8. Ecuador.........5 pts
  9. Bolivia............4 pts
  10. Peru...............3 pts

Here is a good youtube video with all the highligts from this weeks' games. Disfrutenlo!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Latin America Pays for the Price for Fuel Subsidy

Before sitting down in the library, to get on with my dissertation reading, I quickly paged through the Financial Times – one of the few, if only, British newspapers that tends to print interesting Latin American politics/economic articles. Today there was an interesting analysis piece about how Latin American governments are facing increasing pressures to cut fuel subsidies in the face of the ever-increasing oil prices. “Latin America pays the Price for Fuel Subsidy.”

Here in the U.K. a day doesn’t go by without further doom and gloom reports about the negative effects oil price increases are having on the average Brit, especially as they go to fill-up at the petrol station. A news story that is being played out across much of the world.

However in Latin America - as had been the case, up until recently, in Asia – governments have been subsidising petrol prices to tune of some ridiculously large billion-dollar sum. In this way Latin American motorists can still enjoy petrol prices a little as 5p a litre, whilst the rest of the world’s motorists have to dig deeper and deeper into their pockets to fill up their cars.

source: The Financial Times 17/06/2008

Why are they doing this? Perhaps Latin American governments are aware of the vital importance access to cheap petrol is for so many of their citizens. Any sudden increase in prices will surely effect these nations in more ominous ways than we in the West would be effected by such price changes. The FT rarely does economics with a ‘human face’ so these issues don’t get much of a mention in the FT piece. However what they do focus on are the possible consequences a sudden increase in petrol prices may have on inflation.

The reason for the lack of reform is pretty clear. Of all regions in the world, Latin America has most reason to fear the effects of inflation. During the 1970s, 80s and early 90s the pace and scale of price rises corroded the social fabric of many countries. Inflation rates of 100 per cent a year were commonplace, wrecking the ability of governments and businesses to plan for the future. As Guillermo Ortiz, the governor of the Mexican Central Bank, said: “Latin America has gone through high inflation for so long. Lowering the rate has been a cherished achievement.” In Chile, which imports almost all of its fuel needs and where annual inflation was running at 8.9 per cent in May – three times the central bank’s target – the new price subsidies will cut that rate by 0.3 percentage points, according to Angel Cabrera, a local consultant.

An interesting point.

However as the price for oil rises, the subsidies have to increase, and are subsequentlybecoming a conseiderable fiscal burden, which in itself may well curtail government spending in other important areas. The question is whether this outweighs the threat of higher inflation and the problems that would arise from that?

The FT ends by highlighting how cheap access to petrol does little to motivate a lower use of petrol in the long-run, something which mus be a desirable end in itself - be it to combat climate change, to free up some of Latin America’s clogged up innercity roads etc.

More seriously, the subsidies are distorting incentives. While higher oil prices have stimulated many developed countries to save energy and make more efficient use of resources, there has been no sign yet of this happening in Latin America. In Venezuela, for example, domestic petrol consumption is estimated to have doubled over the last five years to around 600,000 barrels a day. The low cost also creates incentives for smugglers, who sell petrol across the border in Colombia, where fuel is much more expensive.

Monday, 16 June 2008

South American World Cup Qualification - 5th Round

So whilst the major European soccer power (minus England, I guess) slug it out for the European championship this summer, South American nations took another step in their long and arduous qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup. Up until now, after 4 games, the story had been of Paraguay leading the way with 10 points, and I guess of Brazil still not having started to fire on all cylinders, with only 2 wins from 4 games.

Well yesterday’s 5th round of qualifying matches emphasised those points with Paraguay stunning the Brazilians with a 2-0 victory in Asuncion. With plenty of games still to go and the first 4 teams guaranteed qualification there is no need to push the Brazilian panic button quite yet, but still…

Otherwise it’s a case of ‘as you were’ with all 3 of the ties ending in draws and Bolivia predictably losing to their age-old enemies Chile in La Paz – so much for the advantage of altitude. And also of note is Venezuela's progress. They're normally the team cemented to the bottom, given how Baseball probably overrides football as their national sport.

Bolivia vs. Chile 0-2
Argentina vs. Ecuador 1-1
Peru vs. Colombia 1-1
Uruguay vs. Venezuela 1-1
Paraguay vs. Brazil 2-0
The table now looks a bit like this:
1. Paraguay 13 pts
2. Argentina 10 pts
3. Colombia 9 pts
4. Brazil 8 pts
5. Venzuela 7 pts
6. Chile 7 pts
7. Uruguay 5 pts
8. Ecuador 4 pts
9. Peru 3 pts
10. Bolivia 1 pt
Below are a few youtube video highligths of the differetn games. The quailty isn't great but the audio commentary is as outrageously South American as one could hope for. Enjoy...
Paraguay vs. Brazil: 2-0

Argentina vs. Ecuador: 1-1

Bolivia vs. Chile: 0-2

Peru vs. Colombia: 1-1

Uruguay vs. Venezuela: 1-1

The next round of games take place later this week with the obvious highlight being the battle of the titans- Brazil vs Argentina. Paraguay should also be looking to consolidate thier lead at the top of the table with a relatively easy game against the Bolivians. But I'll make sure to let you all know how they got on.