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April 12, 2006 [LINK]
Counting votes in Peru
With 88 percent of the votes counted, Humala has 31.0 percent, Garcia has 24.4 percent, and Flores has 23.3 percent. Only eight percent of the overseas votes have been counted, however, and the lead of Flores among expatriate Peruvians has climbed to 72 percent. APRA is seeking to nullify ballots cast in several overseas cities, including New York, Miami, Milan, and others. Jorge del Castillo charged that campaign activities on behalf of Lourdes Flores were taking place right outside voting places, contrary to law. Of course, it is difficult to enforce Peruvian law in other countries. Whoever wins second place, Humala says he will not be part of any political alliance in the second round election campaign. See CNN.com and El Comerico of Peru (in Spanish).
While the votes were being counted, President Alejandro Toledo traveled to Washington to witness the signing of the free trade treaty with the United States. Peru's minister of foreign trade and tourism, Alfredo Ferrero, and the U.S. special trade representative, Rob Portman, signed the document. If either Humala or Garcia takes office on July 28, however, the agreement might end up being nullified. Both men are strongly against free trade with the United States.
Spanish arm sale to Venezuela
In spite of U.S. objections, the government of Spain is going ahead with the sale of ten military transport planes and eight patrol boats to Venezuela. The deal is worth $2 billion, the biggest military sale in Spain's history; negotiations on it began in November. The CASA CN-235 planes normally contain U.S.-made parts, but because of U.S. restrictions on sale of military technology to hostile countries, the Spanish company EADS-Casa will have to find substitute parts from some other supplier. See CNN.com. It is hard to remember the last time that a country that was recently a close ally of the United States took such an abrupt turn and began providing strategic assets to a country that is an avowed enemy. One can only imagine the consternation in the State Department, and the icy personal relationships with the diplomatic representatives of Spain in Washington.
April 11, 2006 [LINK]
Flores' only hope: expat votes
As of dawn Tuesday, Alan Garcia's lead over Lourdes Flores is now nearly a full percentage point, with 80 percent of the votes counted. Flores cannot be counted out, however: So far she has received 62.2 percent of the votes cast by Peruvians living abroad, of whom nearly a half million are eligible to vote, and only 3.8 percent of those votes have been tabulated so far. Garcia has received only 8.5 percent of those votes, and Humala only 8.0 percent. Voters residing in foreign countries comprise 2.8 percent of the Peruvian electorate. See El Comercio of Peru (in Spanish). If those trends continue, an admittedly big if, Flores would prevail over Garcia by a comfortable margin in the race for the number two spot. In any case, it will take several days or even weeks to finish the vote counting, and there are likely to be a lot of heated arguments over alleged irregularities. This situation is reminiscent of the controversy over handling ballots cast by U.S. servicemen overseas in recent presidential elections. The possibility that overseas votes might tip the balance toward Flores constitutes Peru's only real hope for the future at this point, which would provide an entirely new aspect to weighing the pros and cons of undocumented immigration into the United States, where most Peruvian expatriates live. Living in the Land of Liberty, where contrasting ideas are openly debated in public forums and no one is afraid to express their opinion, gives one a new perspective on social and economic issues.
NOON UPDATE: With 84 percent of the votes counted, Flores continues to slip further behind Garcia, who has 24.7 percent to her 23.6 percent.
UPDATE: Annex Mexico??
That's what Glenn Reynolds suggests, and he is not being entirely facetious. The point is, as I have argued over and over again, is that job-seekers leave Mexico and other Third World countries because their corrupt political systems stifle opportunities for their own people. Therefore, any concessions by the United States on immigration must be matched by reciprocity in terms of economic policy by countries that have gotten used to "exporting" workers rather than face up to the need for reform. ¡No más!
At some point, the United States will have to confront the ugly question of what to do about countries whose governments are so irresponsible that there is no hope for poor people to ever make a decent living in their own country. Imperialism is often regarded as a thing of the past, just as sovereignty is. As those of us who follow politics in the Third World know, however, sovereignty is at the top of the list of the national agenda. This asymmetry cannot go on for long. Either they let in our "exploiting" investors to hire people in their own countries, or we shut the door to further immigration. The question is whether this could be done on a selective basis, targetting the countries with the worst government, like Haiti, Venezuela, or ... Cuba. Therein lies the big irony in all this, folks: Our historical practice of favoring the victims of economic oppression in Castro's hell hole has created an ironic incentive for other countries in Latin America to follow in Cuba's footsteps. It's time to exert the potential leverage we have had and insist that the principles of NAFTA (and now CAFTA) be carried out.
April 10, 2006 [LINK]
Garcia pulls ahead of Flores
All day long today, the voting tabulations in Peru showed that Lourdes Flores' margin over Alan Garcia [in the race for second place] was shrinking, and by the evening he had grabbed a slight lead. According to the latest figures, with 79 percent* of the ballots counted, Garcia has 24.9 percent to 24.3 percent for Flores. At this point it would take a huge swing in the late-counted districts for Flores to make up that difference, so it looks like Garcia will face the front-runner Ollanta Humala in Round Two. Because of widespread fears of what Humala might do if he wins in the second round, either Garcia or Lourdes would probably pick up a large portion of the votes cast for each other in the first round and stand a very good chance to defeat Humala. For those who are familiar with Garcia's disastrous first term as president, from 1985 to 1990, the idea that he would be considered the mature, responsible alternative in the upcoming election is almost too ironic to believe.
It is especially ironic that this apparent devastating setback for the cause of economic freedom and opportunity in Peru coincides with the mass protests by immigrants-rights advocates in the United States. Another catastrophe in Peru like what happened in the 1980s would add huge pressure for more immigration to the U.S.A.
* I apparently misinterpreted the election returns reported in the late update yesterday when I wrote that 83 percent of the votes had been counted as of 9:00 P.M.
April 9, 2006 [LINK]
Humala leads Garcia and Flores
According to exit polls conducted by four different organizations in Peru, Ollanta Humala has won about 30 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential elections, while his rivals Alan Garcia and Lourdes Flores won about 25 percent each. The consistency of the preliminary soundings is striking. There were some noisy protesters at the voting station in San Borja (on the east side of Lima) where he and his wife Nadine cast their votes, requiring police protection for the candidate. Vague accusations of fraud were made, but so far there are no serious irregularities other than normal delays and long lines. See CNN.com and El Comercio of Peru (in Spanish).
UPDATE: As of 9:00,
83 percent of the votes had been counted in Peru, and Lourdes Flores is in second place, with 24.9 percent, while Alan Garcia trails with 23.5 percent. Ollanta Humala is holding steady in first place at about 30 percent. Unless there are a lot of uncounted precincts in Trujillo and other northern cities where APRA is known to be strong, it would appear that Flores is in good shape to go to the second round.
Chavez warns U.S. ambassador
After another incident in which Venezuelan mobs assaulted U.S. ambassador William Brownfield, hitting his car with eggs and tomatoes, Hugo Chavez blamed the victim. He said, "I'm going to throw you out of Venezuela if you continue provoking the Venezuelan people." Preoccupied with the far more menacing rogue regime in Iran, the State Department is in no mood to play games with clownish wanna-be's. See CNN.com.
April 8, 2006 [LINK]
It's a three-way race in Peru
As voters are about to begin Phase One of the presidential elections tomorrow, the latest polls indicate that radical populist Ollanta Humala has lost considerable support, as people start to take seriously the extreme rhetoric he and his brother Antauro have been spouting. Mainstream populist and former president Alan Garcia (of APRA) has pulled some support from Humala, while conservative Lourdes Flores Nano is either in the lead or close to it.
I don't recall another election in Peruvian history with such an even three-way split. [2001!] So now the real question is not who will win the greatest number of votes, but who will finish third and be eliminated. If Garcia overtakes Flores in the race to see who will make it to the next round, I would expect a massive sell-off by investors in Peru, as all hope for future stability and development would be lost. CNN.com
April 7, 2006 [LINK]
Sandinistas on the comeback trail
Remember the Cold War? Remember the Iran-Contra scandal and protests against the Reagan administration's policies in Central America? Well, I do. It would seem, however, that a large number of people in Nicaragua have forgotten the disasters inflicted upon them by the Sandinista government, if the leader of that party, Daniel Ortega, continues his recent climb in the polls. As George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." On the other hand, perhaps Ortega himself has learned something from his past mistakes: He declared that he "welcomes U.S. investment and tourism." Dissident Sandinista Herty Lewites will run against Ortega in the November elections. The conservative candidate is Eduardo Montealegre. See CNN.com. It so happened that the Sandinistas broke into separate factions just as I was visiting Nicaragua a little over a year ago (Feb. 27, 2005). Ortega has been using the residual power wielded by the Sandinistas in the courts, bureaucracy, and military forces to subvert democratic institutions. Does Hugo Chavez have anything to do with this?
Wedding vows exchanged
As he had promised, former President-for-life Alberto Fujimori (who is still incarcerated in Chile) married his wealthy girlfriend Satomi Kataoka just before the Peruvian elections on Sunday. Apparently, the only "ceremony" was when she filed the necessary papers in Japan before flying to Peru. In a campaign rally for her new husband's party in San Juan de Lurigancho (site of an infamous prison), she spoke in Japanese. It makes you wonder what kind of first lady she would have been if Fujimori had succeeded in running for president again. Santiago Fujimori, the former president's brother and a vice presidential candidate, translated her words into Spanish. See CNN.com.
April 5, 2006 [LINK]
Humala warns of uprising
The populist candidate in the upcoming elections in Peru, Ollanta Humala, uttered more menacing words in an interview with the Argentine newspaper Pagina 12 (in Spanish). He warned that if conservative Lourdes Flores Nano is elected, the same thing would happen in Peru as elsewhere in Latin America: a popular uprising by poor people to forcibly overthrow the president. It is a possible outcome, but everything I remain convinced that Peruvian state institutions are more solid than those in Bolivia and Ecuador, and respect for authority is correspondingly much stronger. Perhaps to allay fears that his implied threat might prompt, Humala identified himself as a nationalist, like Charles DeGaulle (!), disavowing any ideological inclination toward either the Left or the Right, but of course, that's what they all say. He made it clear that he looks forward to working with the "progressive" (leftist) leaders that have come to power elsewhere in South American in recent years. He also denied having taken part in any torture or human rights violations when he was a military commander during the war against the Shining Path in the early 1990s, while downplaying the need for amnesty. In addition, he declared his intention to review the environmentally controversial Camisea natural gas pipeline contract, in which Argentine firms have invested. Finally, he said he aspires to good relations with the United States, but insists that there be a distinction between growing coca leaves and producing cocaine. That, of course, echoes the policy of President Evo Morales in Bolivia.
Debt relief for Bolivia?
As the Inter-American Development Bank holds its annual meeting in Brazil, Evo Morales is proposing that Bolivia's debt to that bank be wiped off the books, along with the debts of the other poor countries in Latin America: Haiti, Honduras, Guyana, and Nicaragua. Bolivia is the biggest debtor to the IADB. See BBC. Since the late 1970s, Bolivia has ranked among the most deeply indebted countries in the world, and its aggregate debt burden is often more than half of its entire gross domestic product. Substantial progress was made in reducing that burden during the 1990s, as the country's economy enjoyed a boom thanks to sound monetary and fiscal policies as well open trade policies. There was lingering resentment over the distribution of those benefits, however, eventually exploding into the populist backlash that brought Evo Morales to power. Unless Morales changes course and becomes more pragmatic as Jaime Paz and other left-of-center leaders in Bolivia, there is a great risk that all of the sacrifices endured by Bolivian people during the years of stabilization and adjustment will have been utterly wasted. Back to the drawing board...
My basic position on Third World debt relief is that any such campaign should be at the grass-roots level, not involving sovereign governments. If you want U.S. banks to forgive debts to poor countries, tell your own bank that you will be glad to absorb your share of the loss if they agree to do so. It may seem like a trivial gesture, but it carries a lot more meaning than some protest sign.
Mexican elections & Venezuela
In the New York Post, former Clinton adviser Dick Morris claims that Hugo Chavez is pouring millions of dollars into the campaign of leftist candidate Angel Manuel Lopez Obrador. Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) recently informed Mexican legislators about intelligence reports he received to that effect. Given the clear ambitions of Chavez to lead a continent-wide bloc against the United States, it would be surprising if he were not providing financial support to the Mexican Left. If Chavez doesn't start showing some restraint, he is going to offend the otherwise friendly nationalistic leaders in Brazil and Argentina, which because of their great size and stage of economic development, regard themselves as the "proper" leaders of the region. The same is true of Mexico, but it is less involved in South American affairs.
According to the pro-democracy blog Publius Pundit Felipe Calderón (of the conservative PAN) is four percentage points ahead of "AMLO" (of the PRD) in the latest polls, for whatever that's worth.
April 1, 2006 [LINK]
Irredentists* on the march in L.A.
Unless someone has been very busy with Photoshop, this gallery of photos of the march in Los Angeles at mexica-movement.org is not an April fool's joke. With slogans like "Stolen continent," "Indigenous people against white racists," "All Europeans are illegal," and the like, it is clear that these people would not be content just to gain legal immigration status, via amnesty or "guest worker" visas. They want to undo the results of the Mexican War and have the southwestern U.S.A. returned to Mexico! Don't laugh, it might just happen within our lifetime. How many Latino immigrants truly share such extreme sentiments? How many of them would openly admit it? Perhaps my humorous, offhand reference to reexamining the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (March 29) was closer to the mark than I thought. (Link via Instapundit, who also wonders "Why so little immigration protest in South Florida?" -- [link added])
What this means is that a polarizing dynamic has begun that will almost certainly lead to increasing violence and decreasing trust among immigrants and native-born Americans. For those of us who have tried for years to build bridges of understanding between cultures, it is all an enormous pity.
Interestingly, many of the protesters were holding American flags, apparently aware of the hostility they had incited among otherwise sympathetic folks when they waved Mexican flags. Most of the protesters are apparently oblivious to the fact that Mexico has at least as bad a historical record in treating true indigneous people as the United States. The vast majority of Mexicans and Latinos are mixed blooded, which gives rise to deep anxiety about their ethnic identity. Protesting can be a good way to vent such internal conflicts.
* For you folks in Rio Linda, "irredentism" is a movement demanding the transfer of land from one country to another on the basis of historical claims. Examples would be Germany against Poland during the 1930s, or Ecuador against Peru from the 1940s until the 1990s.
March 30, 2006 [LINK]
Brazil's first astronaut
Lt. Col. Marcos Pontes became the first Brazilian to go into space today, riding a Russian Soyuz rocket headed toward the International Space Station. He was joined by American astronaut Jeffrey Williams and a Russian on a mission that will last nine days. Brazil's space program suffered a big setback three years ago when one of their rockets exploded on the launch pad. See CNN.com and Correio do Brasil.
Costa Rican scientist Franklin Chang-Diaz became the first Latin American to go into space in 1986, and ultimately completed seven missions aboard the space shuttles Columbia, Atlantis, Endeavor, and Discovery. He retired as an astronaut in 2002. See nasa.gov.
March 29, 2006 [LINK]
Mexico's view on emigration
That was quite a display of national pride by the flag-waving immigrants-rights protesters in Los Angeles and other cities, wasn't it? There is certainly no question as to which country their loyalty is owed. The Mexican government had a full-page ad in the Washington Post last week, [outlining] their general position on the immigration problem. Much of it consisted of bland euphemisms that were too vague to discern specific intentions with regard to policy, but there were a few notable points:
- Migration should be a shared responsibility, in the spirit of international cooperation.
- Mexico's migration policy must be evaluated and updated within 15 to 20 years. (no hurry)
- Mexico must strengthen the fight against smuggling of humans and document forgery.
- Mexico's north and south (!) borders should be secured and fortified.
- Each country has sovereign right to regulate entry, but the U.S. should fully incorporate existing undocumented persons into their communities.
- A guest worker program is a necessary part of solution; Mexico should participate in it.
- Guest workers should be encouraged to return home by tax breaks on construction of homes in Mexico, and by allowing U.S. pension benefits to be paid to retirees in Mexico.
Details are spelled out in a special report: Mexico and the Migration Phenomenon, from the Secretary of Foreign Relations. As for their southern border, the rigid policy of Mexico in resisting immigrants from Guatemala is well known to those who follow events in Mexico, but perhaps not to most Americans. "Do as we say, not as we do!" What is most distressing about the message from Mexico is the absence of any acknowledgment that the lack of job opportunities in Mexico results from public policies that discourage capital formation. To Mexico's credit, there was no hint that the terms of the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo (1848) should be reexamined. In all seriousness, I look forward to a series of frank, candid dialogues on how to address the immigration crisis. I do recognize that Mexico's political system is even more stagnated and resistant to reform than ours is, but that does not excuse inaction on either side of the border.
Financial scandal in Brazil
After an ugly scandal involving sex and violations of banking secrecy laws, Antonio Palocci resigned as Brazilian finance minister, and has been replaced by Guido Mantega. Palocci was considered a moderate who had the confidence of investors in Brazil, and his departure sparked a sell-off of the national currency, the real. President "Lula" da Silva is running for another four-year term in October, and his popularity has eroded because of the scandals over the past year, but no serious challengers are yet on the horizon. See washingtonpost.com.
Spring break in Cancun
Did any president ever need a Spring break more than George W. Bush? He left Washington and headed for Cancun this afternoon to meet with Mexico's lame-duck President Fox and with Canada's new Prime Minister Stephen Harper. This is the first time in nearly a century that all three countries have been led by conservatives* at the same time, and given the low prospects for President Fox's National Action Party in the upcoming elections, it may be a long time before a similar all-conservative summit happens again.
* Some conservative pundits such as George Will and Andrew Sullivan would question whether "W" is a genuine conservative.
March 28, 2006 [LINK]
Lethal vengeance in Peru?
As the pivotal election in Peru approaches, the rhetoric is getting more heated all the time. Antauro Humala, the retired military officer and brother of presidential candidate Ollanta Humala, with whom he has plotted armed insurrections in recent years, declared that there should be a "historical lesson to the corrupt politicians and traitors," calling for President Alejandro Toledo, his wife Eliane Karp, former Economy Minister Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, and others to be executed by a rifle squad. He is currently serving time at the Piedras Gordas prison, which may explain his bitterness. See Peru.com.
Monday's Washington Post has a background article that reminds me why the ironic phrase I use for Latin America -- "Land of Eternal Eternity" -- is often quite apt. Argentina and several other countries are reversing the trend of the 1990s whereby water, telephone, and electrical utilities were privatized and sold to foreign investors, usually French or Spanish conglomerates. It was a very sensible, expedient way for the government to liquidate hopelessly inefficient enterprises and allow a whole new team to come in and get things working again. Of course, that meant that many non-productive people were fired, and most people's utility bills went way up, since the government was no longer subsidizing those services. There were bitter complaints, but there was no real alternative, and gradually most residential customers enjoyed a much better level of service. I can attest to that from seeing Peru in 1994, 1996-1997, and 2004. As part of the general political trend toward nationalism and populism in recent years, however, many governments are reversing course, as if the lessons of the past about how inefficient the government was in providing utility services had been completely forgotten. It is truly tragic.
March 26, 2006 [LINK]
No cash prize for Cuba
Fidel Castro will not be able to carry out his pledge to donate the 2nd-place prize money from the World Baseball Championship to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, because Cuba will not get any of the money. The first place team (Japan) is supposed to get nine percent of the net proceeds (if any), and the runner-up gets seven percent. As a condition for participating in the WBC, however, the Cuban government had previously agreed not to accept any money. Otherwise, it would have been a violation of U.S. laws. (See CNN.com) That's funny, I could have sworn the Cold War was over... Castro insisted that such a donation would not be "wasteful extravagance," but rather an "investment in humanity." (Whether the gesture might have been influenced in some small way by Cuban propaganda objectives is another question, however.) See the Granma Web site for the official Cuban version of these events (en español).
In Cuba's defense, it should be noted that not one Cuban player defected, quite a contrast to the Atlanta 1996 Olympics.
March 23, 2006 [LINK]
Mob threatens U.S ambassador
U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield protested that pro-Chavez mobs prevented him from entering a social club outside of Caracas earlier this week. He noted that many of the protesters arrived in buses and were provided with meals, which are obvious signs that their actions were state-sponsored. (CNN.com) Perhaps this was in retaliation for the ambassador's recent comment that "The United States could survive with its economy intact without Venezuela as an oil supplier." (So we're not "addicted to oil"?) For his part, Chavez has not let up in his series of childish insults and taunts of President Bush ("Mr. Danger") and the U.S. government. Chavez may be stirring up trouble as a means to squelch a nascent secessionist movement by Chavez opponents in the oil-rich region of Zulia in western Venezuela. It's probably not serious, but the mere possibility is too much to tolerate.
Campaign in Peru gets rough
With the election less than three weeks away, populist former military officer Ollanta Humala holds a slight lead over the conservative candidate, Lourdes Flores Nano, according to the latest polls. APRA leader and ex-President Alan Garcia is in third place. During a recent campaign stop in the highland city of Huancavelica, some of Humala's supporters threw rocks at Flores, but she was not hurt. Humala has been whipping up resentment among the poor (mostly Indian) people of Peru during his campaign appearances, and the political and economic establishment in Peru are becoming fearful of what might happen if he wins the election. Since it will probably go to a second round, the main question is whether APRA would throw its support to an even more dangerous demagogue than Alan Garcia or put the interests of Peru first by supporting the conservative Flores. (Caretas)
The news chronologies on the Peru and Ecuador pages have been updated, and both now have relatively complete coverage of the news in those countries since the turn of the millenium.
March 22, 2006 [LINK]
Argentina - Uruguay tensions ease
It appears that Argentina and Uruguay have reached an understanding over two controversial pulp mills that are under construction along the east (Uruguayan) side of the Uruguay River. Presidents Nestor Kirchner and Tabare Vazquez agreed to commission an independent environment study before any construction is resumed. In response, Argentines have called off a blockade that had stymied river ferry traffic for the last two months. See BBC. This situation first came to light in November. Anyone who has driven through the south side of Baltimore knows the awful stench given off by pulp mills, even in modern plants operating under strong environmental laws.
Bomb blasts in La Paz
Two bombs wrecked hotels in La Paz last night, killing at least two people. A Uruguayan woman and an American man have been arrested, but the motives for the attacks are not yet clear.
UPDATE: The American is believed to be mentally disturbed, giving various accounts of his identity and activities. He has been offering explosives and liquor for sale in Bolivia, but police discount any political or terrorist aims. Nevertheless, President Evo Morales took the opportunity to portray the bomb blasts as an attack on Bolivia's democracy, implying it was orchestrated by the U.S. government. See CNN.com.
Martial law in Ecuador
After several days of economic strangulation brought on by anti-free trade protesters, the government of Ecuador declared a state of emergency in five provinces. Army units have forcibly removed roadblocks. Free trade negotiations involving the Andean countries are about to begin in Washington. See BBC
UPDATE: Inmates set fire to a prison in Quito, and one of them died because fire fighters had to dodge bullets. The 900 prisoners are being transfered elsewhere, but conditions are already very crowded and out of control. See CNN.com.
March 16, 2006 [LINK]
Chinese military training
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner expressed concern about the fact that China is taking the place of the United States in some Latin American countries, as far as military training. This is a truly ominous trend, from the perspective of U.S. foreign policy, at least. "At issue is a U.S. law that mandates an end to military training in countries that refuse to exempt U.S. citizens overseas from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court." See CNN.com.
That law is no doubt the precipitating factor behind this trend, but there is more to it. Ever since the Reagan Era, protests against the School of the Americas and its successor, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (which has either drastically curtailed its activities or else shut down completely, from what I can tell) have seriously damaged U.S. relations with Latin American armed forces. Politics hates a void as much as Nature does, so it is only natural that a rival geopolitical force would fill the void created by our absence.
More protests in Ecuador
President Alfredo Palacios appealed for calm as protests against the pending free trade negotiations have resumed after a brief respite. The interior minister resigned after failing to quell the disturbance. The The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador began blockading roads on Monday. See CNN.com. The rise of indigenous / Indian political power over the last ten years has revolutionized politics in Ecuador. Last week oil workers staged a protest strike, voicing the same general grievances.
Bachelet inaugurated in Chile
Michelle Bachelet was inaugurated as president of Chile on Sunday, pledging "development for everyone, equally" as her government's first priority. Her first major official act was to decree automatic free medical care to all Chilean people over the age of 60. See Washington Post. This breathtakingly generous new entitlement rivals the social safety nets in the European welfare states. Can a country that is still Third World in many respects sustain such a program without ruining the economic success they have enjoyed until now?
Beisbol y política
At the World Baseball Championship last week, there was a confrontation in Hiram Bithorn Stadium (San Juan, Puerto Rico) when a Cuban official objected to the protest sign held up by a fan: "Abajo con Fidel!" (Down with Fidel!) See CNN.com.
Nuptials for Fujimori?
Wedding bells may soon ring in the Santiago academy for corrections officers where ex-president of Peru Alberto Fujimori remains incarcerated. He announced that will get married to his girlfriend, Satomi Kataoka, before the upcoming elections on April 9, in an apparent attempt to bolster his party's candidates, most notably Martha Chavez. Ms. Kataoka is the owner of several luxury-class Japanese hotels, and is campaigning for Fujimori in Lima. See CNN.com. He became estranged from his first wife, Susana Higuchi, just before I went to Peru for the first time in 1994. She created quite a scandal, accusing him of various misdeeds, and even organized a political party to run against her husband.
March 9, 2006 [LINK]
Constituent assembly in Bolivia
In Bolivia, new President Evo Morales is following through on his promise to convene a constituent assembly to rewrite the country's constitution. One of the leaders of his "Movement Toward Socialism" (MAS) proposed changing the name of the country to "Tawantinsuyo" (Quechua for "Four Corners," the name of the ancient Inca Empire) or "Kollasuyo." Morales also signed a law authorizing a referendum on regional autonomy. See BBC. It is almost as though he were trying to bring about the breakup of Bolivia. The sharp cultural divides within the mountainous country make this a very real prospect. The flat southeastern region around Santa Cruz, where most of the country's oil and natural gas are produced, tends to resent the highlands. It is too small to become an independent country, however, and the option of joining with neighboring Paraguay is almost unthinkable, because the two countries fought each other in the Chaco War in the 1930s. For a more thorough analysis of this situation, see Miguel Centellas.
Unusually heavy rains caused heavy flooding in La Paz last month. The capital city is located in a canyon that funnels water into a narrow channel leading toward the Amazon Basin.
Strike by Ecuador oil workers
Army troops in Ecuador used tear gas to disperse striking petroleum workers and restore the country's oil output, which had been severely curtailed since the strike began on Monday. One of their main demands is to be employed directly by the state-owned PetroEcuador company, rather than subcontractors. See BBC. Given that national elections are scheduled for October, political agendas are likely as well.
March 6, 2006 [LINK]
Gutierrez freed from jail
In countries in which obeying the law is the exception not the rule, the mere act of challenging the legality of an abrupt change of government (or even coup d'etat) is considered subversive. That is the situation in Ecuador, where former President Lucio Gutierrez was just set free by a judge after almost five months of incarceration. He was removed from office by Congress last April after a brief period of street violence that escalated into an insurrection, [and was jailed in October as punishment for having disputed the procedure by which he was removed from office]. See CNN.com. Ironically, he led an insurrection in 1997, and was then elected president, following in the footsteps of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. To the surprise of many people, he began cooperating with the United States after his inauguration. The leftist Democratic Alliance suspects that the (conservative) Social Christian Party led by former president Leon Febres Cordero was behind his release from jail, according to El Comercio of Quito. Interim President Palacio, who will serve until a new president is elected in October, just returned from a visit to the United States.
Mexican mine disaster aftermath
Workers have resumed digging through the rubble of the collapsed coal mine in northern Mexico where 65 miners died two weeks ago. They had to stop for a couple days because of toxic gas emissions. Miners and steel workers in Mexico used the opportunity of public attention to go on strike as a protest against poor safety conditions. There are complicating factors, however. The Labor Department in Mexico recognized a dissident union leader who is challenging the leadership of the old union boss. Most unions is Mexico are as corrupt as the government and business, part of the decrepit "corporatist" socio-economic system put in place in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). See CNN.com. Ironically, many if not most workers in Mexico remain opposed to NAFTA even though it includes provisions to improve labor and environmental standards in their country.
There was more gripping testimony on Capitol Hill last week about recent incursions by Mexican drug runners and (possibly) rogue soldiers or police officers on the southern U.S. border. It was cablecast on C-SPAN, but somehow, it didn't get as much coverage in the mainstream media as I would have expected. Is someone trying to hush this up?
Arias wins Costa Rica recount
Oscar Arias, who served as president from 1986 to 1990, has been declared the winner of the presidential election in Costa Rica. Losing candidate Ottón Solís pledged to carry out his campaign promises in the role of opposition leader, in a spirit of dialogue and respect. See Tico Times. Solís had opposed CAFTA, so this outcome is a good sign for free trade in the hemisphere. As in Honduras, however, the general public in Costa Rica is leery of free trade agreements with the United States, fearing economic dislocation, which raises awkward questions about the relationship between free trade and democracy.
March 3, 2006 [LINK]
Election truce in Colombia?
The "Army of National Liberation" (ELN), the second-ranking guerrilla force in Colombia (motto: "¡Nosotros ponemos más esfuerzo!") has pledged not to make any attacks during the March 12 congressional elections. The presidential elections will be held in May. Government mediators and rebel repesentatives recently held talks in Havana, and will do so again in April. See CNN.com. This truce offer shows there is still hope for a possible disarmament accord, such as was reached with two other Colombian guerrilla movements over a decade ago. Only 3,500 ELN insurgents remain active, thanks to the counteroffensive campaign waged by President Uribe. Unfortunately, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, with about 12,000 effectives) remain grimly committed to inflicting mayhem as a tool for reaping a large share of profits from the narcotics trade. The right-wing militias are almost as dangerous and drug-corrupted as the left-wing rebels.
More delays in Haiti
The inauguration of president-elect Rene Preval, previously scheduled for March 29, has been delayed because it is contingent upon holding legislative elections, which have been postponed until complaints over last month's presidential elections are resolved. In the mean time, Preval is visiting the Dominican Republic, the neighbor with which relations have been chilly in recent months because of the alleged mistreatment of Haitians there. See BBC.
No bail for Fujimori
A judge in Chile has denied the petition for bail made by the former president of Peru, Alberto Fujimori, so he will remain in jail pending a decision on extraditing him to Peru. See CNN.com.