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.