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Around Latin America

December 4, 2013 Comments off

-Peru has launched its biggest exhumation ever, as it tries to find victims from the violence between the Shining Path and the Peruvian state between 1980 and 2000.

-Peru is not the only country exhuming victims of violence. In an attempt to find two missing police officers, forensic scientists in Mexico got more than they expected when their search led to the discovery of 64 bodies buried in mass graves in Jalisco and Michoacán, with the bodies showing signs of torture and indicating they are the victims of ongoing violence between cartels. In spite of the discovery, the two police officers remain missing.

-In the wake of a close election and allegations of electoral fraud, Honduras will hold a recount after thousands took to the streets in support of Xiomara Castro, who allegedly lost the election to conservative candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez (who got 37% of the total vote)  and whose husband, former president Manuel Zelaya, was removed from office in a coup d’etat in 2009. The recount comes amidst outsiders’ observations allegations of chicanery and after Honduras’s electoral council was very slow to issue the data from the November 24 election, adding to suspicions of fraud.

-Rio de Janeiro governor Sérgio Cabral announced that he will leave office 9 months early after seeing his popularity plummet in the midst and wake of protests last June, when millions of Brazilians took to the streets to protest a number of causes, including political elites’ disconnect and corruption. Cabral himself became a particular target of that anger in Rio de Janeiro.

-The bad news for governors is not limited to Brazil. In Mexico, former governor of Tamaulipas Tomás Yarrington faces charges in the US of having ties to the drug cartels while he was in office during his 1999-2004 governorship.

-Costa Rica closed a probe into the 1984 bombing that killed 7 journalists and Nicaraguan Contras and wounded 20 more people, after forensics revealed that the attacker died in the late-1980s.

-Mexico’s Senate has approved electoral reform that would allow reelection and would strengthen Congressional power in the face of executive power even while approving President Enrique Peña’s efforts to increasingly privatize the state-run PEMEX oil company in Mexico.

-Francisco Flores, the former president of El Salvador for the conservative ARENA party, is under investigation for the misuse of upwards of $10 million that Taiwan donated to El Salvador during his presidency, money that apparently never made it to its intended institutional destinations.

-Finally, in Brazil, Guaraní indigenous leader Ambrosio Vilhava, whose struggle to help protect Guaraní land was documented in the 2008 film Birdwatchers, was found stabbed to death after his father-in-law allegedly killed him. While the circumstances around his death remain unclear, the fact remains that his death marks the loss of an important activist and leader in Brazilian indigenous mobilization.

Remembering Tlatelolco

October 2, 2013 Comments off

Around Latin America

August 25, 2013 Comments off

-In spite of a recent attack that left 13 Colombian soldiers dead, peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC continue, in an attempt to end civil war and conflict that has lasted nearly 50 years and left tens (if not hundreds) of thousands dead and millions displaced.

-Although Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto managed to remove powerful union leader Elba Ester Gordillo earlier this year, her absence has not prevented broader teacher mobilization against unpopular education reforms that Peña NIeto has pushed through. Thousands of teachers and their supporters have taken to the streets in Mexico City, protesting against an evaluation system they say is designed to fire teachers.

-Speaking of protests, in Colombia, thousands of farmers have mobilized, protesting against the government’s economic policies and issuing a wide number of demands, including access to potable water and lower taxes on agricultural goods.

-In Brazil, plans for a highway through the Iguaçu Falls National Park have prompted protests and intensified struggles between environmentalists and government officials.

-And in yet one more example of popular demonstrations in Latin America in the last few weeks, in Ecuador, protesters expressed anger at President Rafael Correa’s decision to open parts of the Yasuni National Park to oil exploration. Anger is understandable, given the ongoing effects of decades of toxic spills, pollution, environmental degradation, and health crises that resulted from oil production in Ecuador’s Amazonian basin.

-Chilean General Juan Emilio Cheyre has stepped down from his post as the head of Chile’s national electoral service after revelations that he was involved in the Chilean military regime’s practice of taking children of arrested and murdered activists.

-Meanwhile, in other episodes involving the legacies of the PInochet regime and the ongoing quest for justice, a judge has ruled that there is not sufficient evidence to try former dictator Augusto Pinochet’s family members for embezzlement and corruption, while another judge rejected a legal request to try former General Fernando Matthei for the murder of General Alberto Bachelet, an officer who opposed the 1973 coup. Bachelet was the father of former president (and current candidate) Michelle Bachelet.

-Twenty-two soccer players in El Salvador have been suspended amidst allegations of match-fixing.

-I previously commented on the non-military ways in which drones could be deployed in Latin America. Peru is adding to that list, now using drones to protect and further learn about archaeological ruins, simultaneously combating the effects of illegal mining, squatting, and scavenging at sites even while learning more about what these sites hold.

-A battle between rival gangs at a Bolivian prison has left at least 31 people dead, including an 18-month old child who was living with a parent in the prison, a practice allowed in Bolivia if children six years old or younger have no other living relative with whom they can live.

-Finally, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff signed into law new provisions designed to protect and aid rape victims, including guaranteeing medical treatment and providing emergency contraception to those who have been raped. The new provisions are part of a broader effort to combat rape in Brazil, where recent data suggest it is a broad and, for far too long, unaddressed problem.

Today in Dubious Interpretations of History

July 15, 2013 Comments off

Former President of Mexico Vicente Fox (2000-2006) has said he is the best president of Mexico. Ever. As in, in all of Mexican history.

Suffice to say, this is a rather self-serving interpretation of history, and one that grossly diminishes the achievements of some of Mexico’s past presidents while inflating Fox’s own achievements. Not to dive into all of Mexican history, but if nothing else, Benito Juárez’s own accomplishments in state-building alone are incredible, as he in many ways finally built a strong, stable state apparatus after dealing with the impact of over 30 years of domestic political and military turmoil (including the US’s seizure of well over 1/3 of Mexico in 1848) and economic instability, an occupation by French forces, and constant conflicts both with local oligarchical elites and the Church. Then there is Álvaro Obregón, whose presidency (1920-1924) helped Mexico take the steps to recover from a ten-year revolution that had left well over one million people dead, again providing strong leadership and policy-making in a period and context that saw far greater challenges and uncertainties than anything Fox confronted. And Lázaro Cárdenas’ (1934-1940) status as a reformer who tried to address the social inequalities that had their roots in hierarchical power structures that dated back to the 1800s (and earlier), while perhaps incomplete, still helped improve the lives of millions of Mexicans, leading many to see him as the country’s last “great” president. And that’s just three presidents whose accomplishments at their best far outweigh what modest accomplishments and even failures Fox managed (pledging 7% annual growth for Mexico but only managing to achieve 1% growth; economic policies that led to more unequally distributed wealth in Mexico). Fox pales in comparison to previous presidents even in the limited areas where we can concretely evaluate what his administration actually accomplished.

Which leads to a second problem – that of temporal perspective. Though he’s been out of office seven years, many of the social, economic, political, and cultural processes that began or transformed under his PAN government have yet to play out in a way where we can fully understand his legacy, whereas the legacies of Juárez, Obregón, Cárdenas, and other past presidents (both good and bad) are clearer. Indeed, while we can perhaps say that Fox wasn’t as personally corrupt or repressive as some of the PRI presidents of the latter part of the 20th century (though new documents and information can always change the historical record on Fox’s own qualities), it’s simply far too soon to be able to fully and definitively evaluate his overall successes.

For both of these differing reasons, Fox’s statements really are absurd. Even if we take what he did accomplish and toss out his shortcomings, his positive impact on Mexican society, state-building, diplomacy, economics, and culture pale to the records of some of his predecessors, even with their own warts (after all, though it shouldn’t be necessary, it helps to remind ourselves that nobody’s perfect – not even presidents). Indeed, given his attempt to make such claims and shape the narrative positively so early on, it seems Fox either is really out of touch with the historical record, or so self-absorbed and arrogant as to see himself as Mexico’s greatest political hero. Either way, making such comments strongly undermines the actual argument of those comments themselves.

Around Latin America

May 30, 2013 Comments off

-Two former executives from Ford in Argentina have been charged (among other things) with having ties to the abduction of 24 workers for Ford during the military regime of 1976-1983.

-El Salvador’s presidential election is shaping up to be a close three-way race, according to new polls.

-Mexico’s government says it will release a report that finds the number of disappeared in Mexico is “much lower” than an initial report that claimed that tens of thousands have been disappeared as part of the violence that has defined part of the drug trade in Mexico. Nonetheless, Mexico’s government has created a special unit to investigate and try to track down the fates of the tens of thousands of “disappeared” caught up in the drug trade and violence in Mexico.

-In what is perhaps curious timing, even while Efraín Ríos Montt’s conviction for genocide has been annulled, former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo was extradited to the US, where he will face charges of corruption and money laundering. As Mike Allison points out, the trial in the US provides another reminder that, although Guatemala’s courts are not as corrupt as they once were, they still have a long way to go, a fact that the recent decision on Ríos Montt all too tragically demonstrated.

-Speaking of institutional failures and undoing justice, a Brazilian court has overturned the 2010 conviction of landowner Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura for his role in the murder of land activist Dorothy Stang in 2005. It is the second time a conviction of Bastos de Moura has been overturned, though he will remain in jail while a third trial takes place. Meanwhile, three other, poorer men hired to murder Stang remain in prison without having access to multiple trials and a court system favorable to their cause the way it is to the wealthier and more powerful Bastos de Moura.

-Chile has fined Canadian mining company Barrick Gold and suspended all operations at the Pascua-Lama mine after environmental degradation, water contamination, and other environmental issues. Though seemingly large, the fine represents only %0.1 of the cost of operating the mine.

-Rio de Janeiro mayor Eduardo Paes is facing criticism for his inability to deal with criticisms after he punched a man in the face while out to dinner last Saturday.

-Following the footsteps of gangs in El Salvador, the MS-13 and Calle 18 gangs in Honduras have agreed to a truce that may reduce (but won’t eliminate) all gang violence and rivalries.

-Ten years since the rise of “Kirchnerism” in Argentina, poverty has declined, though to what degree and by what metrics are apparently up for debate.

-Efforts to reforest and aid the environment in Latin America have slowed to a crawl, caught in bureaucratic red tape, political fear of social movements, and a slowness (or unwillingness) of governments to help environmental causes in the region.

-Digital currency business owner Arthur Budovsky, whose company, Liberty Reserve, operates in Costa Rica, was arrested in Spain this week on charges of money laundering.

Around Latin America

May 29, 2013 Comments off

-30,000: that is the number of families who have been relocated as Brazil has prepared for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

-New Paraguayan President and wealthy businessman Horacio Cartes is set to reform social aid to the poor, saying the program that provides aid to 88,000 impoverished families did not “create results.”

-Joe Biden is on a quick tour of Latin America, with stops in Colombia, Trinidad & Tobago, and Brazil. In Colombia, he said that economics, and not security issues, would now be the top priority in US-Colombia relations, an important declaration in a country where the US has provided billions of dollars in military aid over the years. Meanwhile, as the peace talks between FARC and the Santos administration continue, a United Nations rep has said the UN will not support amnesty for crimes against humanity for participants in the peace process.

-After Brazil’s court system opened the path towards marriage equality throughout the country, perhaps as many as 100,000 evangelical Brazilians recently took to the streets to protest against marriage equality.

-An Argentine suspected of crimes committed during the military regime of 1976-1983 was arrested in Uruguay.

-Overcrowding and poor conditions in prisons are a common, if tragic, feature of Brazil’s prison system (and of many prison systems in South America). Another problem? Ten percent of the Nigerians (500) who live in Brazil are in those prisons, a rather alarming and high rate for any social group, even given the relatively small sample size.

-There have been a number of stories on indigenous struggles throughout the hemisphere.

-Finally, will the 2014 World Cup take place without any games in São Paulo?

 

Today in Flawed Neoliberal Biases

May 14, 2013 Comments off

Last week ushered in a new era at the World Trade Organization, as Brazilian Roberto Azevedo won the post as the WTO’s next director-general. With the election, Azevedo became the first Latin American to serve in that post [though no matter the outcome of the election, a Latin American would have held that distinction: Azevedo won out over Mexican Hermínio Blanco, who had the support of the US and the European Union]. As Boz points out, the selection of Azevedo is generally controversy-free among member nations.

That said, that does not mean the selection of Azevedo has not raised the ire of some free-trade disciples:

Are you kidding me?  A Brazilian to lead the body ostensibly responsible for fostering freer trade?  In the real world, this would be a cruel joke.  But in the Wonderland of the WTO, this isn’t really all that surprising.  Now, I like Brazil.  I have traveled there many times and the people, food, and culture are wonderful.  But in terms of being a beacon of free trade it is not.

Hudson proceeds to damn the move based on Brazil’s objections to unfettered free trade in the past, its regulatory government, and its willingness to stand up to the US on cotton subsidies that the WTO itself ultimately ruled were unfair. Even beyond the patronizing “I like Brazil’s food, and they’re nice people and all” tenor there, there are several problems with the criticisms Hudson raises. First, the presumption that free trade is the only path to economic development is enormously flawed. As Latin America in the latter half of the 20th century repeatedly demonstrated, free trade and neoliberalism replicate the exploitative structures of international trade that date back to the colonial era, concentrating wealth in the hands of the few and overseas without creating actual development for the citizens more broadly.  Indeed, Latin America has been a textbook laboratory case in demonstrating the negative impacts of increasingly-unfettered liberalization. Philosophically, the system Hudson is advocating here has a long track record of opening up Latin American countries to exploitation of resources and the extraction of wealth to other countries. 

A second problem here is the presumption that free trade is the only commercial system worth pursuing. This mindset is not surprising; the neoliberalism of Friedman has come to dominate economics schools in the US to a dangerous degree. Though the crisis of 2008-2009 has led to a mild resurgence in considering alternatives to neoliberalism, it has not destroyed the hegemony of neoliberal discourse. Hudson seems upset that an individual from a country that has not uncritically embraced free trade at every opportunity spells doom. Yet he fails to explain why this is so horrible; he just takes it as a given. Nonetheless, it is not clear that Brazilian at WTO or a reduction in free trade is automatically mean a bad thing. If one takes the WTO as a useful institution or the spurring of international capital trade (and to be clear, that’s not really the purpose of this post), then perhaps innovating in global trade beyond highly exploitative free trade agreements and seeking alternatives that create greater opportunities for all is not a bad approach. Again, drawing on the lessons of 2008-2009, finding alternatives (like more bilateral and regional trade agreements) to the system and economic ideologies and models that created greater international stability than the deregulation that led to the events of 2008-2009 does not seem like such a terrible idea.

This is not to say the WTO’s agenda is appropriate or good, but it’s hard to argue against diversifying trade models and economic relations in ways that prevent the domination of a single neoliberal system that has repeatedly demonstrated how it relies on repression and creates greater inequalities both within individual countries and within the global economy more generally. Indeed, that Hudson thinks a Brazilian in charge of WTO equals no free trade agreements that open up other countries to US/European/multinational exploitation says far more about his own neoliberal agenda than it does about the actual quality of new head of WTO.

Around Latin America

May 13, 2013 Comments off

 

-Though the higher-profile case, the conviction of Guatemala’s Efraín Ríos Montt was not the only triumph for human rights and justice last week. In Uruguay, General Miguel Dalmao was sentenced to 28 years in prison for his role in the murder of a professor during Uruguay’s military dictatorship (1973-1985).

-Brazilian indigenous peoples have once again occupied the site of the Belo Monte Dam to protest the impact it would have on their lands and on the environment, even while government officials accused the indigenous people of being tied to illegal gold-mining. Though failing to provide any actual evidence of mining among indigenous peoples, the government’s charge is discursively not-insignificant; illegal gold mining takes a significant toll on the environment, while arguments against the dam are often predicated upon the negative impact it will have on the environment. By leveling such accusations, the government seems to be trying to delegitimize indigenous claims by portraying them (again, without offering any actual evidence) as hypocrites who protest environmental damage even while enriching themselves through other forms of environmental degradation.

-In another reminder of the detrimental impacts of liberalization of markets and free trade agreements on local economies, over one hundred thousand Colombian farmers have gone on strike in protest over the weakening of the Colombian agricultural sector, as cheaper products from North America and elsewhere flood the Colombian market, destroying the livelihoods and jobs of Colombian farmers.

-In a powerful reminder that in military dictatorships, members of the military can and do also suffer repression, sixteen Brazilian soldiers spoke before the Brazilian Truth Commission, testifying about the persecution and torture they suffered when they remained loyal to the government of João Goulart, whom the military overthrew in a coup in 1964.

-Pope Francis proclaimed sainthood status for hundreds this past weekend. Included on the list were Mexican María Guadalupe García Zavala and Colombian Laura Montoya, the first saint from Colombia. However, not all popular saints (those whom people praise as saints but who lack official canonization from the Church) received the Pope’s endorsement, as the Vatican recently declared Mexico’s Santa Muerte, or “Holy Death,” to be “blasphemous.”

-Hundreds of Cubans, led by Mariela Castro, marched against homophobia in Cuba, seeking to further equal rights and treatment for members of the LGBT who have faced cultural, social, and political repression over the years.

-Speaking of homophobia and hatred, homophobic Brazilian congressman Marco Feliciano (who is currently the head of Congress’s human rights commission, offering a sad commentary on the nature of Brazilian congressional politics), cancelled a hearing on a homophobic project to find a “cure” for homosexuality after having earlier taken to Twitter to defend his project.

-After months of relative silence, former Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide has recently begun speaking out about the challenges facing Haiti and offering some criticisms of the current government of Michel Martelly.

-Finally, Brazil has announced a plan to bring thousands of Cuban doctors to Brazil to help in Brazil’s underserved areas.  Greg Weeks does a great job unpacking the various aspects of the story, including how the plan reflects ongoing inequalities in Brazil (a sample take-away point: “When asked if any doctor was better than no doctor, CFM President Carlos Vital responded in the negative. “Pseudo treatment is worse than no treatment,” he said. “If you don’t have a doctor in your city, you can go to the next city and have a quality doctor.” Sure, just go 100 miles to the next city if you don’t have a doctor. Nothing to see here!”)

Around Latin America

-Still dealing with the loss to Chile of its only route to the Pacific 140 years ago, Bolivia is set to take its case to the International Court of Justice, a move that Chilean President Sebastián Piñera has said would open a “Pandora’s Box” of territorial issues in the Americas (including the territory the US took from Mexico in the wake of the Mexican-American War).

-US President Barack Obama is set this week to make his first trip to Latin America since winning re-election last November, with stops in Mexico and Costa Rica planned. Prior to the trip, he met with Latino leaders in the US, with whom he discussed socioeconomic issues.

-Peruvian President Ollanata Humala may be preparing to pardon former president Alberto Fujimori, who is serving jail time after his conviction for human rights violations that Fujimori oversaw during his 1990-2000 presidency.

-Evo Morales is set to run for a third term as president after Bolivia’s constitutional court ruled in favor of presidents serving three consecutive terms.

-Chilean Laurence Golborne, seen as the frontrunner among conservative candidates to challenge former president Michelle Bachelet in next year’s election, has removed himself from the race amidst allegations of shady business practices.

-Cuban gay rights activist Mariela Castro will travel to the US to receive an award in Philadelphia next week. Castro had initially been denied a visa to the US, due primarily to the fact that she is the daughter of Raul Castro.

-Colombia is set to resume peace talks with the FARC after a month-long break in the peace process.

-The Catholic Church has excommunicated Brazilian priest Roberto Francisco Daniel (known colloquially as Padre Beto) for his defense of open marriages and his defense of same-sex love. More than a symbolic move, the excommunication marks a split between official church hierarchy and a growing strain of moderate and even progressive Catholicism among some parishioners in Brazil.

-A new scientific study suggests that Latin America is facing a “cancer epidemic” due to challenges in diagnosing and treating cancer, as well as to increasingly unhealthy diets, higher levels of tobacco-smoking and alcohol consumption, and an increasingly inactive lifestyle.

-In what is an important step in addressing impunity (albeit a significant issue in its own right), sixty officers in Rio de Janeiro have been arrested on charges of corruption, even while another five officers were arrested for the murders of a journalist and a photographer who were working on a story on militias in Brazil’s interior state of Minas Gerais.

-The next president of the World Trade Organization will be from Latin America, as the remaining to candidates for the position are Mexico’s Herminio Blanco and Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo.

-Finally, when I studied in Costa Rica about a decade ago, the “best” beer one could find was Heineken, so this is excellent news for Costa Rica.

Using Social Media to Call Out Abuses of Power

April 30, 2013 Comments off

This is beyond outstanding:

Andrea Benítez simply did what many rich, connected Mexicans have always done: she used her influence to step on the lower born. Witnesses said that when she was not given the table she wanted on Friday at Maximo Bistrot, a popular Mexico City restaurant, she called in inspectors who worked for her father at the country’s main consumer protection agency to shut it down.

“Dreadful service,” she wrote on Twitter, before announcing she had arrived at the agency to complain. “They have no manners.”

What followed, however, caught much of Mexico by surprise. Instead of enjoying the perks of privilege, Ms. Benítez and her father have become the targets of a broad and swift social media campaign — with tens of thousands of Tweets condemning them — that led the president’s office on Monday to announce a formal investigation into allegations of abuse of power. [...]

Twitter users immediately gave Ms. Benítez a hashtag: #LadyProfeco. Profeco is the abbreviated version of the office that her father directs, and “Lady” referred back to another recent incident labeled #LadiesDePolanco — when some drunken young women in the posh neighborhood of Polanco were caught on video berating police officers for being “salary men.”

As of Sunday evening, Twitter had logged around 42,000 messages referring to #LadyProfeco in every manner of vulgar insult.

Certainly, that is an amusing story. But it is also actually an important reminder of the ways in which social media can empower people. Certainly, we saw the utility of social media platforms like Twitter in the events of the “Arab Spring” in 2011. Yet the importance in providing people with a new voice and a new method to challenge the powerful is not limited to overthrowing governments. While the article suggests that an actual investigation into abuse of power is unlikely, that may be beside the point. The  fact is that one’s abusive flaunting of power and connections in public can lead to this kind of public embarrassment, social backlash, and governmental involvement in ways it did not want to be involved. The use of social media for public and widespread shaming for shameful arrogance and favoritism is a not-insignificant way in which people can cause real problems for governments, and that is not nothing.

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