April 19, 2010
It's time to get caught up on recent news from Latin America. On the eve of Earth Day 2010, an alternative "People's World Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth" is about to get underway in Bolivia. For President Evo Morales, the summit in Copenhagen was not nearly radical enough, and he is trying to forge an alliance of countries that demand rapid action. Among other things, they are demanding that rich countries pay for the damages caused to Bolivia's glaciers, which are apparently melting due to global warming. See BBC. This would seem to validate the widely-held impression that the global environmental movement is to a large extent a smokescreen being used to advance a Marxist agenda of wealth redistribution.
The long-dormant dispute over control of the Falklands (Malvinas) Islands resurfaced in February, when British oil workers started to drill off near those islands. Argentina was angry that its protests were ignored, and the government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner engaged in a bit of saber-ratting. See CNN.com. Preliminary results from the test drill indicate that there isn't enough oil down there to be worth drilling, but there will probably be follow-up test drills nearby.
The president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, obliged his counterpart in Buenos Aires by issuing a mildly supportive statement, but otherwise the effort by Argentina to rally diplomatic support for its claims against Britain did not bear much fruit. Indeed, it may have backfired. The BBC reported that Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez called on the Queen of England to promptly return the Malvinas (Falklands) Islands to Argentina. (The chances that the Queen actually responded are close to zero.) Chavez said it is not 1982 any more, referring to the year that Argentine armed forces were defeated by Great Britain, and even declared that the "Argentine fatherland is our fatherland as well." I wonder if Argentina agrees with that?
It seems that the government of Argentina may have some of the same motivations it did in early 1982, when the generals were running things. Back then, the economy was a mess, and the easiest way to reduce public discontent was to stir up nationalistic passions. Of course, it backfired, thus leading to a democratic transition less than a year later. The Economist had a report on Argentina's economic deficiencies, "Socialism for foes, capitalism for friends," back in in February.
One big difference between 1982 and now is that Britain no longer enjoys close support and cooperation from the United States. The London Times Online reported that the U.S. government refused to endorse British sovereignty in the Falklands. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for talks in March, but nothing much has come of it since then. So much for the "special relationship" that used to exist between Washington and London!
At least 229 people in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil have been killed by mudslides caused by recent heavy rains. The problem is that millions of people in that city live in slums built along steep hillsides, and the coastal region of Brazil is subject to tropical rainstorms. When you compare that death toll to that of Chile, which suffered a devastating earthquake that killed fewer than 600 people, you can see how important well-build housing is. See CNN.com.
In Peru earlier this month, the archeological wonder known as Machu Picchu reopened for the first time since late January, when floods washed away the railroad tracks that provide the only land access to the site. The workers and engineers who undertook the emergency reconstruction deserve a lot of credit for that. About 2,000 tourists who visit Machu Picchu every day, and Peru depends heavily on tourist dollars (and Euros). See BBC.
The Presidents of Colombia and Venezuela engaged in a petty squabble over who was manlier than the other. Hugo Chavez issued one of his usual schoolboy taunts, and his counterpart Alvaro Uribe upped the ante, calling Chavez a coward and daring him to meet him face to face. In the end, tempers cooled. See La Republica of Peru (in Spanish).