June 2, 2006
To no one's surprise, Hugo Chavez used the first meeting of OPEC oil ministers as a platform on which to draw public attention to himself, criticizing U.S. policy in Iraq and Iran. His proposal to reduce oil production quotas was rebuffed by other OPEC members, however. See CNN.com. Given the windfall revenues that oil exporters are getting at the moment, the idea of reducing output is not very popular, and runs counter to market logic. Chavez wants OPEC to establish a $50 per barrel minimum price of oil, but says the price ceiling should be "infinity." Just like Exxon/Mobil! Well, perhaps he is not completely opposed to capitalist economics, after all.
President Evo Morales says his government intends to expropriate 77,000 square miles of farm land, for redistribution to peasants, and land owners have begun to organize to resist any such takeover. Supposedly, this only applies to "land that was not being tilled, land that was obtained illegally or land used for speculation." See CNN.com. As anyone familiar with agriculture knows, however, "unused" is a rather subjective term when it comes to land. Depending on the soil type, cropland usually needs to lie fallow every few years or so. A big part of the problem is Bolivia's history of corruption and weak legal system; in many cases there is simply no solid proof of land ownership. Peasants have already begun occupying land on their own initiative in some areas, and the police are not doing anything to stop them. This is setting the stage for a violent social confrontation much like Zimbabwe, where President Mugabe encouraged land seizures that had a devastating effect on the economy. In the 1950s, the Bolivian government undertook a land reform program, but as often happens, many of the beneficiaries eventually lost control of their land through debt foreclosures.
It appears that Alan Garcia is headed toward election as president on Sunday, 16 years after leaving office in utter disgrace as Peru was plunging into total chaos, with hyperinflation and rampant terrorism. Presumably, Garcia has learned something in the mean time, and will avoid the reckless policies of his first administration. He would do well to heed the lessons of Victor Raul Haya de la Torre, the philosophical yet pragmatic founder of his party, APRA . The "House of the People," as the party headquarters is called, is a beehive of activity these days, as the party faithful prepare to relaunch their old careers in government. Working people can get cheap dental and medical care there, as well as classes in vocational arts. APRA is not just a party, however, it is an international movement aiming to unite Latin American countries, or "Indo-American," as Haya de la Torre used to call the region.