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SOURCE: (more links)
February 21, 2006 [LINK]
Chavez: cry of the loon
Hugo Chavez's latest verbal outburst -- a childish taunt to Condoleezza Rice (see CNN.com) -- simply does not merit repeating; doing so would only encourage him. It fits the recent pattern, making it clear that he is either a borderline mental case or wants us to think that he is. There is something familiar about his clownish posturing, and I just realized which historical leader Chavez reminds me of: Benito Mussolini, Il Duce. The same vain boasting and silly faces, pandering to the uneducated masses while dragging his country down to ruins. Apologists for such farcical despots always have some lame excuse in terms of practical action: "He made sure the trains ran on time" or "He provides food and health care to the poor people." It must be terribly embarrassing and depressing for educated Venezuelans. If Hugo were not an elected head of state, I would put him in the unmentionable wacko category. Nevertheless, I remain convinced that the United States must back off and avoid doing anything that would provide Chavez with an excuse to call us imperialists. Keeping tabs on any contacts between his regime and terrorist groups, via passive espionage, should be the extent of our intervention in Venezuela.
Peruvian rebel leader killed
One of the few leaders of the Sendero Luminoso ("Shining Path") terrorist movement who remains at large was killed by Peruvian police on Sunday. Hector Aponte, a.k.a "Comrade Clay," was killed in the Huallaga Valley, the main coca-producing region of Peru. He led the rebel unit that had killed eight police in December. It is believed that a about 150 rebels are operating under "Comrade Artemio" in the jungles around Tingo Maria, and about 300 are further south, in the Apurimac and Ene river valleys. That area is close to Ayacucho, the original "heartland" of the Senderistas. (See map of Peru.) See CNN.com. I see no signs that the terrorist remnants in Peru are gathering significant momentum, but their activities are cause for some worry nonetheless.
It so happens that Jacqueline is in Peru right now, visiting her family and old friends. Unlike our hurried "touristy" vacation to Peru two years ago, when we went to Cuzco and Machu Picchu, this time she is going to relax.
Web site touchups
I have turned my Web site enhancement attention to the Latin America section. I have made some organizational and aesthetic changes, and updating the chronologies on the country pages comes next.
February 18, 2006 [LINK]
Preval declared winner in Haiti
After several days of riots by poor people complaining that their votes had been stolen, election officials in Haiti changed their rules and declared former President Rene Preval to be the winner. By excluding blank ballots (which are a common sign of protest in Latin American countries, where voting is mandatory), Preval received 51.5 percent of the votes counted, meaning that no second round is necessary. It was an expedient decision, but it also gives the distinct impression of caving in to mob violence. See CNN.com.
Stones rock Rio
The Rolling Stones performed a free concert at the Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro this evening, and about two million cariocas (residents of Rio) showed up. This is part of the buildup to Carnival, the world class hedonistic celebration that gives Brazil its very identity. See the BBC.
February 14, 2006 [LINK]
Post-election chaos in Haiti
The vote counting process in Haiti is not having the intended effect of building trust among social factions, to put it mildly. Even though the favored candidate of most poor Haitians, Rene Preval, is far ahead of his rivals in the vote tabulations thus far, his supporters are angry that he has not already been officially declared the winner. Preval had urged his supporters to remain calm, but he also accused the electoral commission of "stealing" votes, almost inviting the violent response. If he does not reach the fifty percent threshold, there will be a second round election, but no one seriously doubts that Preval will be the ultimate winner. See Washington Post. The foreign minister Brazil, Celso Amorim, wants the UN Security Council to get more involved in the Haitian situation. Brazil has more peacekeeping troops there than any other country, so this crisis is of urgent concern to Brazilians, if not to most Americans. See BBC.
The impatience of Preval's supporters, and their quick resort to violence before the vote counting is even finished, makes it clear how far Haiti has to go before anything resembling a stable democratic regime emerges. The United States can do very little in these kinds of situations (much like Iraq), beyond encouraging moderation and avoiding any contact with anti-democratic forces such as the warlords who toppled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide two years ago. The ultimate outcome will depend more on him and other leaders in Haiti than anything else.
Evo remains cocaleros' chief
The newly inaugurated president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, has been chosen by his colleagues in the coca-growing business to continue serving as their leader. He has pledged to fight narcotraffickers, but it will be hard to sustain such an effort given the fact that a large majority of coca revenue in Bolivia comes from illegal markets. The fact that he addressed the mass meeting in front of a banner reading "Long live coca, Death to Yankees" is not encouraging, but it may just be ritualistic defiance. See CNN.com.
From the agricultural sampler souvenir I purchased in Peru two years ago. See PHOTO of me with the kids who sold it to me. They are the kind of people Morales says he is fighting for. I hope so.
February 10, 2006 [LINK]
Mixed messages from Chavez
Hugo Chavez continues to raise hell in Venezuela, trying desperately to get the world to take him seriously. Yesterday, he called heaped insults upon Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had criticized Chavez in Parliament this week, and called on Great Britain to hand over control of the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands to Argentina. He also repeated his past derisive denunciations of President Bush, calling him a "nut case" for -- he says -- planning to invade Iran and Venezuela. Earlier this week, he ordered American missionaries to leave the remote Indian villages where they were working, accusing them of "espionage." See CNN.com. On the same day, however, Venezuela's ambassador in Washington, Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, expressed a desire to maintain "mature and rational relations" and to continue trade ties. See Washington Post. Such ritualistic defiant posturing is normal for many Third World governments, but in Venezuela's case the rhetoric is really getting out of hand. The problem is that people grow weary of harsh talk with no action to back it up, and there is a temptation to escalate tensions just to maintain the public's attention. Unless cooler heads prevail, this practice either leads to an unintended international crisis, or else a humiliating retreat.
Votes counted in Haiti
The ballots are slowly being tabulated in Haiti, and the lead of the presumed victor, Rene Preval, is narrowing. If he receives less than 50 percent of the total, there will be a runoff election on March 19. See CNN.com.
February 7, 2006 [LINK]
Morales mobilizes for revolution
The new president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, is wasting no time in showing to the world that his radical agenda is more than just tough talk. Yesterday he warned that foreign corporations are "conspiring" against his government, and the new vice president, Alvaro Garcia Linera (a former guerrilla), urged that preemptive action against the foreign interests be taken before the "gringos" can "do us damage." Last week "Morales threatened to mobilize Bolivia's social movements if Congress refuses to approve his call for a constituent assembly to rewrite Bolivia's constitution." See CNN.com. Morales met with Bolivia's high military command, or what is left of it, rather. He fired all generals after taking office, so the ones who are left are probably rather timid. He is also appealing to the peasants of Bolivia to prepare to take up arms in defense of his revolution. See Bolivia.com (in Spanish). Well, it's only natural for a person to use the techniques in which he or she has specialized experience, and Morales is certainly better suited to conducting roadblocks and strikes than he is to govern. That's what you call an illiberal democracy, or "mob rule," in the vernacular.
Will the new Jacobins in La Paz get totally carried away with themselves and ruin the economic progress Bolivia achieved at such high cost over the past twenty years? Perhaps a more urgent question is, What will it take to provoke Bolivia's armed forces, who used to intervene in national politics at the drop of the hat, into launching an old-fashioned golpe de estado? If it does come to that, let's just hope that the Bush administration reacts in a more prudent fashion than it did during the attempted coup against Hugo Chavez in May 2003. (Some believe that that coup may have been a bogus ruse aimed at smoking out opponents of Chavez in the high command.) La Paz is no doubt full of such intrigues right now.
Election SNAFUs in Haiti
Not unexpectedly, voters in Haiti are extremely frustrated with long lines, delays, and even closed polling stations in some of the poorer neighborhoods. There was a vicious cycle stemming from mutual distrust, as protests over late openings impeded efforts by election officials to open some of those polling stations. "[Former President Rene] Preval's supporters were among the most outraged voters..." See washingtonpost.com.
February 6, 2006 [LINK]
Costa Rican election: razor thin
To most people's surprise, the election in Costa Rica is too close to call. With 89 percent of the votes counted, former President Oscar Arias, who belongs to the long-dominant National Liberation Party, has a lead of 40.5 percent to 40.3 percent over Ottón Solís, of the Citizen Action Party. Solís has called for a renegotiation of the terms of CAFTA, which could be tricky given the large number of countries that signed it. Voter turnout was unusually low, reflecting popular disillusionment from all the recent corruption scandals in the country. It's an odd situation, because two candidates have exceeded the 40 percent minimum threshold to win the presidency. There will be a manual recount, and the official results will be annouced within two weeks. See Tico Times and La Nación (Spanish).
Coincidentally, Nicaragua today brought to the Interamerican Court of Human Rights (ICHR) a formal grievance over the case of Nicaraguan citizens who were mistreated in Costa Rica. It so happens that the ICHR is headquartered in Costa Rica.
Venezuela deports U.S. diplomat
U.S. naval Capt. John Correa has been declared persona non grata by the government of Venezuela, accusing him of spying and making contacts with Venezuelan military officers who may be against the regime of Hugo Chavez. The State Department denied the espionage charges and responded in kind by expelling a Venezuelan diplomat. CNN.com Given that the United States is preoccupied with the crisis over Iran's nuclear program, and the fact that Hugo Chavez has been consciously inflaming U.S.-Venezuelan tensions to bolster domestic popular support, it seems far more likely that the impetus behind this diplomatic spat originated with Caracas.
Haiti election is on
In spite of continued turmoil, Haitian officials have decided to go ahead with the election on Tuesday. The favorite to win is Rene Preval, who belongs to the party of ousted President Aristide and who also served as president (as a stand-in) from 1996 to 2001. Preval did try to calm the nerves of property-owning Haitians, many of whom are more inclined to rely upon warlords for security than the official police. See CNN.com. Unless Aristide, who is in exile, makes some kind of conciliatory gesture to his opponents, it is doubtful that the elections will serve to overcome the enormous social distrust that plagues Haiti.
February 3, 2006 [LINK]
Campaign ends in Costa Rica
Voters in Costa Rica are going to choose a new president on Sunday, and the favorite to win is Oscar Arias, who served in that office from 1986 to 1990. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987. His center-left National Liberation Party has dominated Costa Rican politics since the civil war of 1948, but has been tarnished in recent years by corruption scandals. Widespread suspicion of politicians have made it more difficult for the Congress to ratify the Central America Free Trade Agreement; Costa Rica is the only nation in the region that has not yet ratified CAFTA, which also includes the Dominican Republic. Arias supports CAFTA as being necessary for a country that depends so heavily on tourism and exports. Much like Europe, there is a high unemployment rate (20 percent) and a problem with illegal immigration (from Nicaragua); this paradoxical market distortion stems from the country's generous welfare state benefits. Unlike most Latin American countries, where an absolute majority of votes is required to be elected, which usually means the race goes to a second round, in Costa Rica 40 percent is sufficient to win in the first round. See Washington Post. While in Costa Rica last year, I saw some graffitti indicating deep anger with corrupt politicians. There is a private foundation honoring Arias and his efforts on behalf of peace in San José, but it happened to be closed on the day when I came across it.
February 1, 2006 [LINK]
More incidents on Mexico border
Police discovered a half-mile long tunnel from Tijuana to San Diego last week, seizing over two tons of marijuana. Also, a Mexican official was arrested near Alamogordo, New Mexico helping to smuggle people into the United States.See CNN.com. From their point of view, entering "New Mexico" is not really a crime. What if one of the states of Mexican was called "New America"? Wouldn't we feel like we had some right to be there?
This issue is obviously escalating toward a genuine crisis in U.S.-Mexican relations. Belatedly trying to avoid further insults toward their northern neighbor, the Mexican government halted the program of handing out maps to folks planning to sneak across the border. Mexican police arrested four Iraqis trying to cross into the United States. CNN.com Was this just a coincidence? It makes you wonder how much of the news on both sides of the border is being staged for public consumption.
Fujimori is questioned in Chile
Chilean judge Orlando Alvarez in questioned Alberto Fujimori, who has been incarcerated since returning from exile in Japan last November, as a possible step toward extraditing the former President back to Peru. See BBC.com. I was amused by the end of this story:
The former president is a divisive figure in Peruvian society.
To some he is a saviour of a country on the verge of economic collapse and racked by political violence.
Others see him as a corrupt authoritarian strongman who rode roughshod over Peru's democratic institutions.
What about the possibility that he was both things?! Does anyone think about that? I'm inclined to think the judge will take his time in sifting through all of the documents, so that the question of whether Fujimori would be allowed to run for president this year would be moot.
January 28, 2006 [LINK]
Inauguration Day in Honduras
Manuel Zelaya was inaugurated as president of Honduras yesterday. It was a hotly contested, very close election, but it was hard to find major differences over policy between the two candidates. Zelaya pledged to help small business, and reaffirmed his support for the Central American Free trade Agreement. Many question whether he will maintain former president Ricardo Maduro's tough stance against criminal gangs. See CNN.com.
Cabinet in Bolivia
Early signs are that Evo Morales is pushing his country toward the far left, based on who he has named to his cabinet. He has abruptly dismissed all 28 of Bolivia's generals, and the ones getting promotions know where their loyalties lie. Cuban security agents are reportedly working in the presidential detail, as well, much like Venezuela. Not a good sign.
Two more photos!
I came across two more photos from Peru today, one of which -- shown in this new montage -- provides a much better view of Machu Picchu than the previous ones. (Click on it to see the full-size image.) I put it and the one of fog-shrouded Urubamba Valley on the Peru, 2004 - Cuzco Part I page, because it was scanned from prints (rather than taken from a video clip) and therefore belongs with the rest of the higher resolution photos on that page.
January 27, 2006 [LINK]
"World Social Forum" opens
The 2006 "World Social Forum" has just commenced in Caracas, Venezuela. Hugo Chavez has allocated many millions of dollars (thanks in part to you, if you buy gasoline from CITGO) to support the protests against U.S. capitalist "imperialism." Cindy Sheehan, whose 15 minutes of fame already expired back home, declared that President Bush "is really waging a war of terrorism against the world." See CNN.com. That's not very nice; Cindy has just qualified for my List of Unmentionable Wackos! I learned from the folks at indymedia, however, that there are actually three separate "World Social Forums" this year, the other two being in Bamako, Mali and Karachi, Pakistan. This/these event/events is/are an alternative to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Ironically, I share the lefty folks' belief that "Another World is Possible," but my imagined utopia is one of freedom from the soul-crushing bonds of statism.
"New" photos from Peru
Following up on my recent work in assembling photographic images from video clips taken during our trip to Costa Rica last year (see Jan. 24), I have done likewise with video clips from our trip to Peru, which was two years ago! As a result of my labors, there are two brand new pages:
Cuzco and countryside Part II and
Lima & Ventanilla Part II,
with a total of 19 images. As with the video freeze frames from Costa Rica, there are many dramatic scenes of the varied countryside -- ranging from lush and green to completely barren -- as well as some interesting photos of everyday life in Peru. To keep all that under some semblance of order, I created a new central page (Peru, 2004) to access any of the five photo gallery pages from our 2004 Peru vacation. It includes those two new thumbnail montages, plus a new one for the reorganized Peru wild birds page.
Photos from Mexico
But that's not all! While I was at it, I also reorganized the photo gallery pages from our trip to Mexico three years ago. That was before we had a digital camera, and I was inconsistent in the way I scanned all the photo prints. There are no new photos, but I have edited quite a number of them to enhance clarity. I have likewise put them in a more logical order among the three photo gallery pages, all of which can be accessed from the new Mexico, 2003 page.
January 25, 2006 [LINK]
While our attention was directed toward the north over the past few days, there was a serious breach of our southern border. It sounds like the kind of farcical stunt from a Pink Panther movie, but the incident on the Rio Grande seems to be dead serious. Last Friday, deputies from the Hudspeth County Sheriff's Department confronted a group of Mexicans whose dump truck had gotten stuck while trying to ford the river, and seized nearly a ton of marijuana. Before they could finish unloading the bales, however, the truck crew returned with a squad wearing uniforms of the Mexican Army. They forced the deputies to retreat and proceeded to retrieve the truck and the rest of its cargo. See El Paso Times, via freerepublic.com
Another incursion happened on Monday, and there is a photo of the bad guys unloading an SUV at washingtonpost.com. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff downplayed the reports, saying the incidents were just isolated mistakes. The Mexican government claimed that the intruders were drug smugglers, not real Army troops. Probably so, but I wish I were more confident. According to a report cited by Michelle Malkin, however, Mexican military patrols have been crossing the border hundreds of times years, escorting emigrants or drug shipments, but no one wants to raise a fuss over it. American border patrol officers say they are extremely reluctant to do anything that would create an international incident, hoping things will just die down on their own. The absence of reporting on these events by the mainstream media is disturbing, to say the least.
This is the sort of delicate situation that requires alert, effective response without panicking. Congressmen Jim Sensenbrenner and J. D. Hayworth will no doubt get a lot of political mileage from this latest example of failed immigration policy. Will they refrain from inciting xenophobia, or helping recruit for the "Minutemen"? The failure by the Bush administration to face up to the crumbling of our southern frontier risks widespread defections by conservative activists, and it may even provide an opening in national security policy for the Democrats to exploit. Wouldn't that be ironic? Perhaps all this should not be too surprising. As I learned from Abelardo Rodriguez at the 2005 APSA annual meeting (scroll to end) last September, there is a wall map in Mexico's Colegio Nacional de Defensa (like West Point) that shows the pre-1848 U.S.-Mexico border. Yikes. Can you say "irredentism"? Can you say it in Spanish??
In a case of very bad timing, the Mexican government announced on Tuesday that it will distribute maps to prospective illegal emigrants showing highways, rescue beacons and water tanks in Arizona. See CNN.com. From Mexico's perspective, this is a human rights issue, and nothing more. Protecting one's own sovereignty is a "one-way street," it would seem. I hope American diplomats are up to the task of making it clear that the attitude of impunity among many Mexicans cannot be tolerated any longer.
January 24, 2006 [LINK]
Evo Morales is inaugurated
The inauguration of Evo Morales was a joyous occasion for the millions of indigenous people in Bolivia. He put a high emphasis on remaining independent from the United States. See Washington Post. Surprisingly, however, Evo Morales voiced positive words about free trade with the U.S. See CNN.com. Lacking experience in actually running a government, he is bound to say contradictory things for the foreseeable future.
For a country that is so far off the radar screen of most American people and businesses, it always seemed strange to me that many Bolivians are so sensitive to perceived North American dominance. Let us hope that Morales does not disappoint his followers by promising too much or by indulging in too much demagoguery. There remains the broader issue of exactly what role capitalist "neoliberal" economic policies have had in Bolivia's economic successes and failures. The angst-filled recent writings of Jeffrey Sachs, the economist who advised Bolivia and helped defeat the hyperinflationary catastrophe of the mid-1980s, make me wonder...
UPDATE: Bolivian-born blogger Miguel Centellas found the inaugural address to be "rambling," and noted that Morales had to read from a script the portion that was in the indigenous (Aymara) language. His awkward delivery might raise questions about the authenticity of his Indian cultural roots. Miguel, who hasn't been posting much lately because he is about to tackle his dissertation (obviously a higher priority; I can relate to that!) is willing to give Morales a chance, nonetheless, which is a good attitude.
Costa Rica photos
I found three more video freeze frames that are worthy of inclusion on the Costa Rica part III page: a shade-grown coffee field (good for birds!), a sugar cane field (not!), and this close-up of an Iguana.
UPDATE: Realizing that that page was getting overloaded, I separated the wildlife photos (Costa Rica part III) and the scenic photos Costa Rica part IV. I also redid the thumbnail montages for those pages, and the one for Costa Rica part II. Hopefully, that will be that.
January 18, 2006 [LINK]
The emigration issue in Mexico
CNN.com has a good background article on how the issue of emigration (as opposed to immigration on this side of the border) is playing out in Mexico's presidential campaign. The election will be [on July 2]. The three major candidates differ sharply about how to address the problem, but they all agree that any move by the United States to restrict immigration would be an intolerable outrage. Hardly anyone in Mexico dares to suggest that the scarcity of jobs in Mexico might be rooted in the the country's terribly wasteful state-dominated economy. Just as our political discourse is constrained by "political correctness," there are certain touchy subjects that simply cannot be debated openly in Mexico. Those who hoped that NAFTA would spur a wave of liberalization in the domestic market have been sorely disappointed, as the incestuous ties between big business and big government continue pretty much as they have always been. Fox, Fox, Fox... Anyway, the three main candidates are:
- Roberto Madrazo, Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)
- Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Democratic Revolution Party (PRD)
- Felipe Calderon, National Action Party (PAN)
This will be a busy year in Latin American politics. Besides Mexico, Haiti, Costa Rica, Colombia, Peru, and Brazil are scheduled to hold presidential elections.
Las Presidentas in Latin America
Robert Book brought to my attention the fact that the first woman to be elected president in Latin America without her husband having served in that office first was Violeta Chamorro, who was elected in Nicaragua in 1990. True, but Chamorro would never have won had she not been married to a man who had been a major opposition leader under the Somoza dictatorship; her husband Pedro was murdered in 1978. Mrs. Chamorro's case is perhaps a middle category between the truly "self-made women" presidents Moscoso of Panama and Bachelet of Chile, on one hand, and the "pretender" Isabel Perón, who suceeded her husband Juan as president upon his death in 1974. In addition, Lydia Gueiler briefly served as president of Bolivia on an interim basis in 1979, and Rosalia Arteaga briefly claimed to be president of Ecuador during the chaos of February 1997. See the Latin American Presidents page, which has new table rows for 2006. I've also corrected and clarified the Jan. 16 blog post. Thank you, Mr. Book.
More photos from Costa Rica
There are two new photo gallery pages from our vacation last year: Costa Rica, Part III (), which features
various rural scenes and exotic wildlife, most of which are "freeze frame" images extracted from video clips, and Costa Rica & Nicaragua, 2005 (), which contains no new photos, but simply makes it easier to navigate from one page in that group to another.
UPDATE: I had meant to explain why I am adding new photos so many months after the fact; it's because I felt that the existing still image photos did not convey a good enough sense of what the countryside in Costa Rica looks like. I continue to work on my video project, which will end up as a DVD or two for public (classroom) viewing, and a separate version for "family" audiences. Also, I added this montage after I made the original post.
2nd UPDATE: This montage was subsequently modified on Jan. 24.
3rd UPDATE: I forgot to note that the rural scenes photos from which the adjacent montage was taken are now at: Costa Rica, Part IV. ()
January 16, 2006 [LINK]
Michelle Bachelet wins in Chile
As expected, Socialist Michelle Bachelet won the second-round presidential election in Chile, and will become the second woman ever elected to that post in Latin America whose
husband did not precede her [accession to office had nothing to do with marital ties. Violeta Chamorro was elected president of Nicaragua in 1990 largely as a gesture of support for her martyred husband Pedro. (See correction note on Jan. 18.)] (The first was Mireyra Moscoso, president of Panama from 1999 to 2004.) As soon it became clear that Bachelet had received about 53 percent of the vote, conservative Sebastian Piñera conceded defeat. He picked up most of the votes that had gone to conservative Joaquin Lavin, in the first round, but he would have needed almost all of them to gain an absolute majority. She has served as minister of health and minister of defense under the Lagos government, and seems well qualified. See BBC This historic event sparked euphoric street celebrations in Santiago.
The conservatives in Chile seem to have accepted yet another defeat, some more gracefully than others. Piñera congratulated Bachelet for her triumph, and pledged that his party coalition will adopt a stance of "firm and constructive opposition" toward the new government. One of the conservative parties, the Independent Democratic Union, blamed Piñera's defeat in part on the "abuse of power" and "disinformation campaign" waged by the incumbent government of Ricardo Lagos. See El Mercurio Online (Spanish). Why do the right-leaning parties keep losing in a country that has been such a showcase for capitalist success? To a large extent, it's the legacy of General Pinochet, who has never expressed remorse for the murders, torture, and disappearances that his government carried out. Most Chileans are probably deeply torn over the meaning of the Pinochet Era. They recognize that his policies set the stage for a remarkable era of prosperity, at least by Latin American standards, and yet the sensibilities of the large, well-educated middle class are deeply hostile to the authoritarian values he imposed. It's much like Spain, where the legacy of Franco taints anyone who openly espouses conservative values and principles. It is better to keep such thoughts to one's self. That is why in practice, Socialists in Spain and Chile tend to govern very pragmatically, knowing that they must not kill the market-economics "goose" that laid the "golden egg" of prosperity.
What about the future? Since Chile has had Socialist or left-leaning presidents for the last sixteen years, ever since the Pinochet dictatorship ended, I don't foresee any major policy changes after Bachelet takes office. There will almost certainly be sharp tensions surrounding cultural issues, however. Having an agnostic like her serve as president will no doubt deeply offend many Catholics in Chile, and her professed "belief in the state" will no doubt cause high anxiety for many free-market liberals -- the "Chicago boys" and [folks like] them; see Dec. 10 post.
Here's a linguistic conundrum: should Bachelet be called Señorita or Señora? She is an unmarried mother, a situation that the Spanish language does not accommodate.
UPDATE: In her first detailed comments about her future policy plans since her election victory, Ms. Bachelet declared that her cabinet will consist of an equal number of men and women, as the first step toward creating a "more equitable society." Hopefully Chile will avoid the pitfall of affirmative action quotas that have paradoxically slowed progress toward social equity in this country, and which remain a source of social distrust. She also expressed a desire to improve relations with Peru and Bolivia, and voiced conditional support for the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, which is rather remarkable for a socialist. See BBC.
January 12, 2006 [LINK]
Venezuelan arms purchases
Hugo Chavez criticized the U.S. government for, he says, blocking a sale of EMBRAER military aircraft made in Brazil. He elaborated:
It's the same with the F-16s; they deny us maintenance to improve them, delay the spare parts. But we are not worried. We've sent a commission to Moscow, and if we have to replace the F-16 fleet with a fleet of new MiGs, then we will. SOURCE: CNN.com
That's the same song and dance Peru went through in the 1970s, when a leftist military government ruled there. The generals bought hundreds of Soviet T-55 tanks, armored troop carriers, and dozens of Su-22 supersonic attack jets, among other goodies. Result: Increased regional tensions with Chile and Ecuador, depleted regular armed forces that might have fought the then-nascent Shining Path terrorist group, and billions of dollars of increased foreign debt that Peru could not afford, and which were ultimately defaulted.
Morales plans oil & gas takeover
While in South Africa, having completed his tour of European capitals, President-elect Evo Morales declared that his government will buy out foreign shares of Bolivia's petroleum and natural gas reserves. Pipelines and refineries would remain in foreign hands, however. See Washington Post. We should expect more such mixed messages as the new leader tries to balance living up to his campaign pledges against the realities of world markets.
Nationalizing the oil industry is the same song and dance Peru went through in the [late 1960s], when a leftist military government [began ruling] there. The attempt to minimize economic (trade) dependency on the outside world backfired, as the financing required to make the purchase saddled Peru with billions of dollars of increased foreign debt that Peru could not afford, and which were ultimately defaulted. (Sound familiar?)
Is it any wonder I call Latin America "The Land of Eternal Eternity"? It often seems that nothing much really changes.
January 11, 2006 [LINK]
Fujimori candidacy is rejected
The national elections board in Peru rejected the bid by Alberto Fujimori to run for president this year. Martha Chavez, one of Fujimori's closest political allies during the 1990s, is leading the effort on behalf of [the controversial former president, who was recently arrested in Chile, and who had lived in exile in Japan since he resigned in October 2000.] See Washington Post. In the unlikely event that Fujimori is allowed to run, it might take votes away from front-runner Lourdes [Flores Nano of the conservative Popular Christian Party], which would increase the likelihood that the populist Ollanta Humala might win. He is a populist former Army officer of Indian descent who led a mutiny last year, and whose brother led a coup attempt a few years ago.
U.S.-Mexico border tensions
Violence in Mexico is spilling across the border, as U.S. border patrol agents based in Brownsville, Texas came under fire twice in the past week. The lower Rio Grande valley happens to be premier bird-watching territory, where many tropical species abound. Could this rash of narcoterrorism escalate to the point where the U.S. government is forced to consider unilateral action, as when General Pershing led an expedition against Pancho Villa in 1916? No responsible policy maker in Washington would even dare acknowledge such a possibility, which is admittedly low, but the security situation is likely to deteriorate until the two countries engage in a frank dialogue aimed at addressing problems of mutual interest. See CNN.com.
No elections in Haiti
Still no word on when the elections will be held. Yesterday a general strike was held to protest violence perpetrated by warlords and their gangs who are jockeying for position. A Brazilian officer in command of peacekeeping forces recently committed suicide, which does not bode well for pacification. See cnn.com.
Situation map update
The Latin America Current overview page has been updated.
January 4, 2006 [LINK]
Venezuela pledges aid to Bolivia
Even before President-elect Evo Morales has been inaugurated, he has reached an agreement with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez by which Venezuela will transfer cash and petroleum fuel for the benefit of poor Bolivians. Morales' first stop on his world tour was Cuba, and Chavez called the three leftist leaders "an axis of good." See CNN.com. Morales is now in Spain, visiting Prime Minister Zapatero, a Socialist who sympathizes with Morales' radical reform agenda. See BBC.
Zapatistas adopt peaceful means
Zapatista rebel leader Marcos, who had been a fugitive from the law for years, is now particpating in open politics. He received a warm welcome during a "campaign stop" in Palenque, near one of Mexico's finest Mayan ruins. See Miami Herald (collaboration with El Universal, in English). Although this is a clear step toward more peaceful style of politics, it also represents the underlying tide of left-wing populist politics that is affecting several countries in South America. It remains to be seen whether the leftist leaders are fully committed to abiding by democratic, constitutional norms. Meanwhile, drug-related violence continues in Nuevo Laredo and other towns along the Rio Grande.
Peru seeks Fujimori's extradition
The request by the Peruvian government that Chile hand over former President Alberto Fujimori to stand trial in Peru, was widely anticipated, really just a formality. See CNN.com. It will be interesting to see if Chile's outgoing leftist government of Ricardo Lagos takes this opportunity to build relations with Peru, which have deteriorated in recent months. He and his likely successor, Michelle Bachelet, have no love lost for Fujimori, a right-wing authoritarian who is often compared to Pinochet.
Brazil prison riot
About 200 visitors to a prison in the Brazilian state of Rondonia, located on the edge of the Amazon jungle, were freed after spending five days as hostages of inmates last week. The riot was to back up the prisoners' demands that their leader, Ednildo Paula Souza, be returned to the Urso Branco (White Bear) penitentiary, which is reputedly among the most violent of Brazil's prisons. He had escaped from that prison two weeks earlier, was caught, and then transfered to a different prison. See CNN.com.
Haiti still turbulent
Two officials of the Organization of American States who had been kidnapped in Haiti were freed, along with the wife of one of them. For the third or fourth time, the elections there have been postponed because the security situation is still so poor that it is impossible to distribute ballots to all polling places on time. No word on when the new election day will be. See BBC.