Friday, 25 April 2008

The Pink Tide Continues - in Paraguay

Whilst the future US presidential election campaign will yet again paint US states in shades of either blue or red, head south and you will see a distinct shade of pink - 'socialism light - slowly covering the Latin American continent. Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela are all currently led by left-of-centre presidents. This week it is now possible to add Paraguay to the list. Former bishop Fernando Lugo and his leftist alliance won a resounding victory in presidential elections in Paraguay, dealing a crushing blow to the world’s longest ruling party and ushering in a new era, after 61 years of one-party government.

Commentators have sought to divide this movement into a 'good Left' (Lula's Brazil, and Bachelet's Chile) and a bad left (Chazez's Venezuela and Morales' Bolivia). For a detailed account of this debate read Jorge Castenada's "Latin America's Left Turn". That this divide has real relevance in Latin America is obvious when Fernando Lugo quickly sought to play down comparisons with the likes of Chavez and Morales. This was in no doubt in a need to calm any future investors in the country. Something Paraguay is in need of, if it is to transform its development from an agricultural-export model to an agricultural-industrial model.

To attract investors he's announced that he would offer them free energy from the huge energy reserves Paraguay has access to from the Itaipú hydroelectric dam situated on the Brazilian-Paraguayan. Given the current commodity boom Fernando Lugo will probably looking to Paraguay substantial soya produce and trying to put in place industries that add value to these exports by means of processing the soya into pellets and oil.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Tragedy in the Andes

The Sunday press here in the UK have all been leading with the tragic news of five young Britons who were killed in a horrific bus crash in Ecuador. Five young gap-year students all on the so-called 'trip of a lifetime'.

It is quite stereotypical to paint Latin America as some dark continent with unknown dangers at every turn. It some ways it's true and I for one am surprised as to how my own parents were seemingly so calm in letting head off into the Latin American hinterland at the mere age of 17.

But what must the parents of those 5 young Britons being going through right now? The morning phone-in on BBC Radio 5 Live this morning followed up on the tragedy talking and it seems this particular has incident has touched upon a particular nerve. How meaningless for such young people to die in such a meaningless way.

Yes there are inherent dangers to travelling in Latin America. Thankfully I've 'only' experienced a single mugging (La Boca, Buenos Aires) plus a series of pick-pocket episodes. Honestly though it's travelling on the roads that is the single most dangerous thing anyone can do whilst traversing the Latin American continent. Dodgy buses, overtired/intoxicated drivers, bad roads, perilous mountain tracks and a general reckless attitude to driving all make road accidents probably the number one cause of accidental deaths.

My Bolivian host-Dad once gave me a sound piece of advice when taking buses. Always take a seat on the right-hand side of the bus and preferably as far back in the bus as possible. Bus collisions almost always affect those at the front and those situated on the left-hand side (i.e. the side facing the traffic). Look at the graphic images of the bus crash in Ecuador and you'll see his point.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

More Reforms in Cuba

It really does seem as if Fidel Castro's Cuban Revolution is more likely to go out with a whimper rather than a bang. Since Raul Castro officially took over as President he has set in motion a number of reforms that may in future may lead Cuba down a path that seemed almost impossible when under the helm of Fidel.

Simple market principals are creeping up here and there. Most recently such measures as the ability for state workers to own their homes and pass them on to their children and wage limits being removed so as to allow more incentives.

Not so long ago the bans on purchasing electrical goods such as DVD players, mobile phones and microwave ovens were lifted. Not that I can see how the ability to purchase a microwave oven in the past could have in anyway undermined the Cuban Revolution and brought into danger.

Officially this step-by-step relaxing of the strict social economy is seen as a way to improve Cuban Socialism and by no means as an opening of the floodgates to full-flung ferocity of capitalism.

Despite these reforms supposedly being initiated by Fidel himself, Fidel has criticised what he terms people who worship selfishness. Referring to a report on wealth disparities in Romania - a former Communist country - he warns of the dangers of easy access to consumer goods.