June 10, 2006
President-for-life Hugo Chavez ordered Venezuelan civilians and [armed forces to prepare] for invasion by the North American aggressors, and a mock battle exercise was staged this week on the beaches of Guaira, just north of Caracas. Some residents were upset by the explosions and live ammunition, mostly blanks. Chavez claims the U.S. is planning to seize control of Venezuela's oil reserves, not bothering to provide any evidence for this. It's hard to see how he can keep up the anti-gringo hysteria much longer without some major reaction taking place. See CNN.com.
Former President Luis Gonzalez Macchi was sentenced to six years in prison on embezzlement charges, but he says the whole thing was a big misunderstanding. See CNN.com. He succeeded to the presidency under unusual circumstances in 1999: President Raul Cubas was forced to resign after his involvement in the plot to assassinate the vice president was revealed, and Gonzalez Macchi, the leader of the Senate, was next in line. Paraguay remains a den of corruption and contraband, but there has been a recent reform movement to change things.
Even though President Michelle Bachelet gave in to all of their demands last week, students in Chile continued their strike this week, raising their demands. Once they realized they weren't going to get anything more, they gave up and went back to their classes. [See BBC.] The Washington Post had a feature on President Bachelet, who took time from her official trip to visit a public school she had attended in Bethesda, Maryland in 1963, when her father was stationed in Washington as a military attache. I happened to see an interview of her on one of the Washington TV stations, and she came across as very nice and sincere. [Her command of English is excellent.]
Jacqueline and I recently rented the 2004 movie The Motorcycle Diaries (see imdb.com), about the journey across South America made by Ernesto "Che" Guevara and a teacher-friend in 1952. It's a vivid portrayal of the beautiful, varied landscape of the continent, and of the social injustice that instilled a revolutionary conscience into the young doctor. The scene when they arrived at Machu Picchu was especially moving for us, having been there ourselves not so long ago. I highly recommend the movie to anyone who wants a deeper understanding of Latin American society, and I would probably require it of students next time I teach a Latin American politics class. A partial text of Guevara's original book can be found at: marxists.org.
The soundtrack music (mostly composed by Gustavo Santaolalla) was enchanting, adding a lot to the "atmosphere" of the movie. So, I went to check Apple's Music Store to buy the main theme song, which is titled "De Usuahia a la Quiaca." (Usuahia is a town in Tierra del Fuego, and Quiaca is on the northern border of Argentina, near Bolivia.) The song is played on a charango, and its haunting melody reminds me a little of Led Zeppelin's "Battle of Evermore." Unfortunately, it is one of the "Album Only" songs, meaning you can't buy it separately. Drat.
President-elect Alan Garcia announced that he will cut in half the number of staff people working in the executive mansion ("Palacio del Gobierno"), as an economy measure. Whether that means a genuine net reduction in staff or just a relocation to some other building is not clear. What is clear is that Garcia is well aware of the huge amount of suspicion that he must overcome in order to govern the country. As part of that initiative, he plans to deactivate the office of the First Lady. (His wife, Pilar Nores, says she doesn't like that term.) Garcia also intends to reactivate the position of "anti-corruption czar," and has appealed for a dialogue with his defeated rival Ollanta Humala. See El Comercio (in Spanish).