October 24, 2005 [LINK]

Bolivians demand free trade

In one of those unusual twists, thousands of Bolivian workers marched to the U.S. embassy to demand, of all things, a free trade agreement! See the pro-democracy Publius Pundit blog (via Instapundit). The current U.S. law that exempts Andean countries from normal tariffs expires at the end of next year, and that would throw many Bolivians who work in textile and other manufacturing industries out of work. Earlier this month, State Department official Charles Shapiro urged that "Bolivia should resolve its internal problems prior to negotiating a free trade agreement." (See redbolivia.com.) He was referring to the impending elections, which many fear will be won by leftist coca-trafficking booster Evo Morales, who played a leading role in the downfall of the last two presidents of Bolivia. (Shapiro was U.S. ambassador to Venezuela until a year ago, and warned of a coup plot against Hugo Chavez earlier this year.) President Rodriguez declared today that he will not permit the electoral process to fail. The National Electoral Court set this Friday, the 28th, as the deadline for resolving the issue of how many seats each department (province) will have in the constitutional assembly.

Some people argue that the United States should not make domestic stability a condition for a free trade agreement, but should give encouragement to the pro-democracy forces by taking the risk and exhibiting confidence in Bolivia's ability to overcome the current crisis. Others argue that free trade agreements invariably benefit the wealthy, powerful countries more than the poor, weak ones. These two opposing arguments ironically reinforce each other. What very few people understand is that free trade yields the greatest benefits when countries embark upon that path of their own free will. Elections are one of the only means by which such popular will can be manifested, but ironically, foreign monitors aiming to ensure clean voting can undermine the legitimacy of such elections, as seen by populists.

Brazil rejects ban on guns

Brazilian voters decisively defeated a proposed law that would prohibit individuals from carrying firearms. The country has suffered a sharp increase in crime over the past year or two, and just like in the United States, many Brazilians think that restricting access to guns would curtail that trend. Many people have lost confidence that police can protect them. The police forces in Brazil have been overwhelmed by the outlaws, who have used automatic weapons and even rocket launchers in some bold robberies. "About 39,000 people in Brazil are killed by guns each year, compared with about 30,000 people in the United States..." See Washington Post and newsmax.com [updated links]. In most of Brazil's Spanish-speaking neighbors, gun ownership is severely restricted, or banned altogether.

Reelection in Colombia

The Constitutional Court gave preliminary approval to a constitutional amendment that would allow President Uribe to run for reelection next May. One member of that court accused another one of taking money in exchange for a vote of approval, sparking a fierce argument. Another ruling next month may block Uribe's bid for reelection, but he is very popular and is widely expected to sail through to victory. See CNN.com Many Latin American countries have lifted the ban on consecutive presidential terms in the last decade or so, with varying results. In some cases the incumbents abused their power and punished opponents; Argentina's Carlos Menem and Peru's Alberto Fujimori are two prime examples. In Brazil, the two terms of Fernando Henrique Cardoso were relatively free of corruption, and the country's institutons were strengthened.

Arms sales to Venezuela?

The U.S. government pressured Spanish aircraft company into halting the sale of C-295 aircraft to Venezuela, on the grounds that it contained sensitive U.S.-made technology. Recently, the U.S. persuaded Israel to halt the planned upgrading of the electronics in Venezuela's F-16 fighter jets, which are among the most capable in South America. See strategypage.com