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Around Latin America

June 12, 2013 Comments off

-Nicaragua and China have entered into an agreement through which China could help build a canal through Nicaragua that would rival the Panama canal. Of course, Nicaragua has long been seen as a potential site for a canal; even in the 1800s, the US and European powers considered the possibility of building one. As it stands right now, the canal would take eleven years to construct and would cost $40 billion, but there is nothing to yet indicate that the construction would start soon or that it would be brought to completion.

-An audit of the April elections in Venezuela has confirmed that Nicolas Maduro defeated opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in a very close election. Meanwhile, the economic and political instability that has been a significant problem in Maduro’s still-young administration (a problem that Maduro’s own policies and rhetoric have not helped) is hitting society hard: in addition to reports of shortages in basic goods like toilet paper, it appears beer prices have gone up 92% in Venezuela as well.

-An oil-spill in Ecuador now threatens both the Peruvian and Brazilian environment as it flows into the Amazonian basin, threatening river communities and riparian ecosystems. The spill began after a landslide damaged an oil pipeline, providing another reminder of the predictably-unpredictable nature of environmental processes and the risks of pipelines in dynamic ecosystems.

-Peace talks between Colombia’s government and the FARC have resumed after a brief break. The ongoing talks are the first significant talks between the two sides since the 1990s, as the two sides try to bring an end to a civil war that has lasted nearly 50 years. Prior to the talks, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to Israel, where he signed a free trade agreement between Colombia and Israel.

-In a tragic example of the ways in which women in Nicaragua continue to be treated as second class citizens, conservative activists and politicians are seeking to create a law that would require abused women to negotiate with their abusers.

-In the wake of an AP report that found that Brazilian car designs facilitate deaths from crashes, Brazil has begun plans to create its first-ever crash test facility.

-In dual cases of justice in Peru, President Ollanta Humala (who is currently on his first official state visit to the US) denied a pardon to former president Alberto Fujimori, who had been convicted for his role in state repression and human rights violations during his 1990-2000 administration. And on the other end of the spectrum, a court sentenced former guerrilla leader and Shining Path leader Comrade Artemio (Florinda Flores) to a life sentence for his role in guerrilla violence, drug trafficking, and money laundering.

-Speaking of the Shining Path, though a tiny number continue to fight for revolution ostensibly in the name of the movement, a new political arm of the movement, the Movimiento Por Amnistia y Derechos Fundamentales (Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights; MOVADEF) is increasingly gaining support among some in Peru and beyond, prompting further reevaluations and considerations of the legacies of the Shining Path, state violence, and social divisions in Peruvian memory.

-Even while stories of government surveillance have occupied headlines in the US, it appears that secrecy at Guantanamo has only intensified, where a government ruling has gone into effect, and “those who’ve read it can’t say what it’s about, and those who haven’t don’t have a clue. Not even the accused, who, unless the judge rules for the defense, is not allowed to get an unclassified explanation of it – and cannot sit in on the court session when it’s argued in secret.”

-In another reminder of the gross socioeconomic inequalities in Brazil’s legal system, Thor Batista, the son of Brazilian billionaire who hit and killed a bicyclist while driving his car avoided jail time for the death. Instead, a judge ordered Batista to pay a R$1 million fine and serve two years of community service. In spite of the relatively lenient sentence for killing another person, Batista still plans on appealing the sentence.

-Finally, more than ten years after Brazil enacted affirmative action laws that created quotas for university admission, it appears the law has gone a long way in addressing inequalities, if a report on the University of Brasilia is representative. The study finds that there would be 71.5% fewer Afro-Brazilians in the school without the law, and that students admitted under quotas have outperformed non-quota students. [English version available here.]

Around Latin America [Updated]

January 27, 2013 Comments off

-Early reports are saying 245 232 people died in a nightclub fire last night in Santa Maria, a city in Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul. Somewhere between 300 and 400 people were reportedly at the event, a party for university students. Apparently, the fire’s source was a live band’s pyrotechnics. [UPDATE: The Guardian has photos from the scene last night, some of which are fairly graphic.]

-In Venezuela, prison violence between prisoners and the Venezuelan National Guard at a prison in Barquisimeto left sixty-one dead and around 120 wounded.

-El Salvador will be holding presidential elections next year, and Salvador Sánchez Cerén, the candidate for the incumbent-party FSLN, has said he will seek a repeal of the 1993 amnesty law that has protected war criminals and human rights violators, mostly in the military and governments between 1980 and 1992, from prosecution for their crimes.

-Cícero Guedes, an important figure in Brazil’s Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Workers’ Movement; MST), was shot dead as he returned home from an area near a sugar plantation MST members had recently occupied.

-Guatemala’s recent efforts to militarize public institutions, including those not directly connected to security forces, have created concerns over the potential stability of democratic institutions.

-In Bolivia, activists and feminists are demanding prosecution of provincial representative Domingo Alcibia, who was caught on security video apparently raping a drunk woman while she was unconscious.

-Brazil is set to launch a massive four-year study of the Amazonian rainforest that will detail the tree-count, biodiversity, and animal life in the region. The study is the first of its kind conducted since the late-1970s, when the military dictatorship conducted a similar study.

-In both Peru and Argentina, recent struggles over mining continue to shape social and political struggles, as people in Peru continue to protest the environmental consequences of mining, while in Argentina, powerful mining companies are using their economic influence and political ties to try to silence local journalists who seek to report on the environmental consequences of the mining activity in the northwestern parts of the country.

-While forty companies, including the massive Grupo Clarín (which has recently butted heads with President Cristina Kirchner) tend to dominate the market, a recent study found that alternative press in Argentina is also thriving.

-In a boon to historians of the Southern Cone (or Great Britain), last week Uruguay declassified archives on the Malvinas War, providing access to new diplomatic and previously-unknown materials on the war and its regional impact.

-Are China’s ties to Mexico fading?

-Finally, in a unique mixture of 21st technology and urban history, Rio de Janeiro has begun incorporating QR codes into the city’s sidewalks to aid tourists, melding the codes into the city’s traditional mosaic sidewalks.

Around Latin America

October 1, 2012 Comments off

-Former president and convicted human rights violator Alberto Fujimori is planning on asking for a pardon from his prison sentence due to health issues in a move that would undo years of efforts for justice for the victims of his regime. Meanwhile, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights requested Peru annul a Supreme Court ruling from this past summer that could lead to Fujimori’s early release from the 2009 conviction that found him guilty of ordering death-squad killings.

-An alleged leader of the Paraguayan Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (Army of the Paraguayan People; EPP) released a series of videos that called for the elimination of private property in the name of Paraguay’s poor, highlighting the ongoing social and economic inequalities and ongoing social dissatisfaction and unrest over land distribution in one of Latin America’s two landlocked countries.

-In a move to streamline urban planning and familiarity, San José, Costa Rica, home to 1.5 million of the country’s residents, is finally installing street signs in the city. Prior to this, all addresses were based on landmarks (I don’t remember the exact address of where I lived in Costa Rica 11 years ago, but part of that address was “100 meters north of the school, on the right”). While this seems like a good idea for those visiting such a large city, cab drivers familiar with the old system are among those critical of the decision.

-With student protests and educational reforms causing serious problems for his government, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced his 2013 budget, with increased spending on education making up 20% of the budget. Although the move is no doubt likely designed at least in part to address criticisms Piñera has faced over education, it is unlikely to satisfy a student movement that wants institutional reforms and free public education for all.

-In Honduras, rights activist Antonio Trejo, who represented peasants in their struggles against wealthy landowners and who was opposed to recent plans to privatize three cities, was assassinated while attending a wedding last week.

-In a decision that should have happened decades ago, Brazil has formally outlawed the formation of and participation in militias and paramilitary organizations. While the law is an important one to have on the books, it certainly seems like a case of “too little, too late” in a country where police militias have resorted to extrajudicial executions of children, the poor, and others in Brazil’s cities since the 1980s, and the 4- to 8-year sentencing seems light for what is a very real security problem in Brazil. Meanwhile, a former officer who served over 25 years in prison for his role in leading a death squad that killed more than 50 people was himself gunned down in the state of São Paulo last week.

-With one week to go before national elections in Venezuela, a suspect has been arrested in the murder of three opposition activists at a rally last week. Though the suspect’s identity has not been released, opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles spoke out against the killings and the violent climate in Venezuela that they say allowed the killings to take place.

-Thousands of Haitians took to the street to protest against President Michel Martelly’s government, blaming it for rising food prices and the cost of living and accusing it of corruption.

-Bolivian miners who had been in conflict with each other over possession of a mine have agreed to end their conflict, with both sides having access to the Colquiri mine. Earlier struggles had led to months of protests and strikes and even turned violent, with one miner dying in clashes last month.

-In a macabre landmark, a new report says that landmines have killed or maimed 10,000 Colombians in the last 22 years. Leftist guerrillas are responsible for a majority of the mines, a defense mechanism they’ve employed during Colombia’s 48-year (and counting) civil war.

-Speaking of mines, Chile is set to de-mine a path leading to the Torres del Paine National Park, on the Chilean-Argentine border. Both countries heavily mined their respective territories in 1977-1978 when a maritime border dispute over some islands at the southern tip of the continent nearly led to war, with ultranationalists in Argentina particularly aggressive in their declarations. The conflict revealed that, while the dictatorships of South American countries collaborated on human rights abuses via Operation Condor, not all relations between the dictatorships were cordial.

-Margaret Myers has another edition of her “Chinese News Coverage of Latin America” posts up, with Chinese headlines reflecting a preoccupation with eco-tourism, diplomatic ties with the Pacific Alliance, and tariffs, among other items.

-At the UN meetings last week, Argentina and Iran met and agreed to begin talks over prosecutions for those connected to the 1994 bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina, which left 85 dead and to which Iran had been connected.

-Uruguay claimed to have deactivated a bomb placed at the Venezuelan embassy in Montevideo. Though pamphlets claiming ties to a left-wing group were found near the bomb, it is unclear who actually planted the bomb or the pamphlets – though it may have been leftists, it could also have been from the right in an attempt to discredit the Chávez government, if not something altogether different.

-Finally, Curação’s ex-Prime Minister, Gerrit Schotte is saying he has been removed in a bloodless coup. Schotte accused governor Adeel van der Pluijm-Vrede of illegally swearing in a new government, though the Dutch government, whose kingdom Curação is still a part of, has said the interim government is legal.

Around Latin America

September 13, 2012 Comments off

-In Chile, protests erupted as the country commemorated the 39th anniversary of the military coup that overthrew democratically-elected president Salvador Allende. The protests turned violent, however, leaving one officer dead and at least 255 people under arrest.

-After conflicting reports of an alleged massacre of Yanomani people in Venezuela and subsequent government findings that encountered no evidence of such a massacre, right group Survival International has backtracked, withdrawing a report on the massacre and concluding no such massacre took place.

-This week has brought mixed news for embattled Chilean President Sebastián Piñera. Congress passed a tax reform that will close loopholes for businesses and increase tax revenues for the state, money which can theoretically be used for education. Of course, increased public spending on education has been one of the main demands of the Chilean student movement, so the bill is a small victory for Piñera. However, his government also faces allegations that he has distorted numbers in claims that poverty rates have declined under his watch, adding to the already-substantial criticisms of his government. Thus, Pinera’s poll numbers remain very low, with only a 29% approval rating and with 30% of people who voted for him expressing regret for their decision. [h/t to Greg Weeks for the poll numbers]

-In Brazil, military police have occupied a favela after suspected drug lords murdered seven people, including six youth and a police cadet. While the occupation does not undo Rio’s efforts at more peaceful pacification programs in the favelas, it does raise questions about the limits or long-term potential of these pacification projetcs.

-Miners in Bolivia have blocked one of the main roads into the capital of La Paz as part of a protest that reflects increasing tension and competition among different miners’ organizations.

-Meanwhile, in a different story, after months of protests, Peru’s government announced it will work with indigenous groups on future mining projects. The move could be significant, providing indigenous peoples with an opportunity to finally have the government listen to their concerns and issues and perhaps shaping mining projects and environmental preservation in Peru.

-Margaret Myers has another update on recent Chinese headlines & stories on Latin America, including China’s takes on the middle classes in Latin America, comparisons & contrasts between the Chinese Communist Party and political parties in Latin America, and other stories.

-Bolivia is set to apply to become a full member of Mercosur, the trading bloc made up of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and, as of this summer, Venezuela (with Paraguay being suspended in the wake of the removal of President Fernando Lugo. The move makes sense for geographic and economic reasons, and Bolivia is already an associate member, so it will be interesting to see if its application faces the same resistance among some politicians of member countries that Venezuela’s application did. Meanwhile, Paraguay plans to appeal its suspension to the International Tribunal in the Hague

-The body of a mutilated and tortured corpse that washed up on Argentina’s shores in 1976 has finally been identified as that of a Chilean Luis Guillermo Vega Ceballos, a leftist who had fled his own country after the September 11, 1973 coup and who became an early victim of the Argentine military dictatorship of 1976-1983.

-In a country that already faces regular allegations of police abuse, Jamaica is again in the international eye after a policeman shot and murdered a pregnant woman, sparking protests on the Caribbean island.

-Finally, a Colombian woman was murdered and publicly burned after community members accused her of practicing witchcraft in the state of Antioquia.

 

Economic Dependence in Latin America

July 12, 2012 Comments off

Around Latin America

July 11, 2012 Comments off

-An editorial in the New York Times makes the compelling (and correct) case for compensating Guatemalans whom the US infected with STDs without their consent in the 1940s.

-As another reminder of the shifting context of hemispheric geopolitics, Argentina signed a defense agreement with China, even while Caribbean countries debate between alliances with Taiwan or with China. Meanwhile, Margaret Myers provides yet another excellent summary of Chinese headlines on Latin America from the past month, including a unique take on the Paraguayan removal of President Fernando Lugo.

-Add Bolivia’s textile industry to the ever-growing list of “victims of globalization.”

-Is a Chilean bill proposing an increase in minimum wage at risk?

-Nobel laureate Gabriel García Marquez is suffering from dementia, according to his brother.

-The US government has confirmed that a DEA agent killed another alleged drug trafficker in Honduras last week. This is the second incident involving DEA agents in Honduras in less than a month; A DEA agent shot and killed another alleged trafficker at the end of June.

-A new report says that Benoni Alberaz, the army officer responsible for torturing Dilma Rousseff and many others, the current President of Brazil and an anti-dictatorship activist in the late-1960s, died twenty years ago (even while security apparatuses were continuing to report on Rousseff and other former activists) meaning he never had to answer for his crimes.

-Peruvian troops managed to free ten child hostages and captured the eleven members of the Shining Path movement that had taken the children. The capture and rescue provided Peruvian President Ollanta Humala with a brief bit of good news as he faces growing criticism for the ongoing and increasingly violent protests against mining projects in the northern part of Peru.

-Meanwhile, in Bolivia, protests against a Canadian mine left at least one farmer dead amidst conflicting reports. Some accounts say police clashed with protesters, while the Bolivian government countered that the farmer “died in a dynamite accident” (though those two explanations are not mutually exclusive). However, the ongoing protests have led the government to consider nationalizing the Canadian mining company’s claimed property.

-Ecuador’s dependence on oil revenues is revealing its shortcomings, as the country had to seek out a $515 million loan from the Latin American Reserve Fund in order to counter a global drop in oil prices.

-In more depressing animal news, workers in Trinidad trying to divert a river in order to protect a hotel ended up crushing tens of thousands of sea turtle eggs.

Around Latin America

June 29, 2012 Comments off

-The latest polls suggest that on Sunday, barring some extreme occurrence, Enrique Peña Nieto will indeed become the next president of Mexico, marking the return of the PRI to power 12 years after Vicente Fox broke the party’s 70+ year hold on the government.

-China Premier Wen Jibao wrapped up his trip to South America with a bang, pledging $15 billion in investments and loans in order to boost development and infrastructure in the region.

-Questions on the US’s presence in Honduras again boiled to the surface after a DEA agent killed a Honduran man this week. While the US said the victim was tied to the drug trade and that the agent acted in “self-defense,” the fact that it was a US agent has again raised questions over sovereignty and the US’s role in Honduras specifically and in combating the drug trade in the region more generally.

-Bolivia’s police force ended their strike, agreeing to a pay raise of 20%. The strike had led to the government deploying the military to patrol the streets and raised the specter of a possible violent clash between police and military similar to that in 2003 that left 19 people dead. However, the end of the strike did not bring an end to social unrest, as the first action the police had to do was to contain another indigenous protest against the planned road through the Amazon that President Evo Morales supports but that has met indigenous opposition since last year.

-A series of attacks on buses and on police in São Paulo has left authorities suggesting that the criminal group Primeiro Comando da Capital (First Command of the Capital), a group originally formed in the early1990s and made up of prison inmates and associates, has made a return.

-Based on rates up through the first six months of this year, 2012 is heading towards being one of the worst years for the murder of journalists worldwide, with Latin America tragically contributing plenty to the attacks on journalists.

-Ecuador has announced that it will no longer send military officers to the former School of the Americas in Georgia. As I wrote at my old haunt, the School of the Americas is one of the more infamous examples of US policies during the Cold War, providing training to such infamous figures as Efraín Ríos Montt, Manuel Noriega, and numerous other officials involved with military coups, dictatorships, and human rights violations throughout the region in latter half of the twentieth century.

-Tens of thousands of Chilean high school and college students again took to the streets, continuing to demand broad reforms to the education system. Students have periodically demonstrated since last year, gaining broad support, challenging the neoliberal policies of President Sebastián Piñera and leading to declining popularity for Chile’s right-wing president.

-Speaking of Piñera, he walked out of an interview after a journalist brought up the controversial pro-Pinochet documentary that has recently aired in Chile.

-Former Argentine dictator Jorge Videla denied that the military regime of 1976-1983 ever kidnapped any children, in spite of at least 500 documented cases that continue to galvanize and unearth traumas and pain (past and present) in Argentina.

-And speaking of military regimes, in Brazil, a court has ordered former colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra to pay $25,000 to both the wife and the sister of late journalist Luiz Eduardo da Rocha Merlino, who died after being tortured in a prison run by Ustra in 1971.

-Although it has been nearly two and a half years since an earthquake devastated Haiti, there are still more than 300,000 people who remain displaced from the disaster.

-An Argentine bishop has resigned after it became clear he had “amorous ties” with a woman. I genuinely feel bad for the man, and his case serves as yet another reminder of how absurd and archaic the Catholic Church’s ongoing insistence on celibacy in the 21st century is.

Around Latin America

June 18, 2012 Comments off

-In Mexico’s presidential race, a new poll shows PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto’s support staying steady at 42%, with PAN candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota at 29% and Manuel Lopez Obrador at 27% heading into the July 1 election. Unlike elections in other Latin American countries, a candidate only needs a plurality of the vote to win the presidency in Mexico, so there will be no run-off should Peña Nieto not receive 50% of the vote.

-Shell subsidiary Raizen, which produces ethanol for Shell, has announced it will not purchase sugar from farmers who grow sugarcane on indigenous lands that non-indigenous farmers encroach upon. The decision is an important victory for indigenous activists in Brazil.

-Chile’s House of Deputies has unanimously passed a bill that would change the country’s notorious “copper law,” a law on the books since 1958 that guarantees 10% of the nation’s income from copper go directly to the military. However, as Greg points out, the bill has angered some former government officials who point out that it still fails to allow flexibility and greater civilian control over defense spending or to allow more money to go to other social programs.

-Colombia has passed a law that establishes guidelines for peace talks between the government and leftist guerrillas. While the bill is an important step towards ending the 48-year-old civil war, there are still many places where plans for talks could break down, so while this is an encouraging first step, there is still a long way to go towards peace in Colombia.

-While many have lauded to Brazil’s economic successes in the first two decades of the 21st century, there are constant reminders of the ongoing inequalities millions of Brazilians still confront every day. A new report only reinforces how far the country is from socio-economic equality, as the Instituto Brasileiro  de Geografia e Estatísticas (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics; IGBE) reports that 19 million urban Brazilians (or 10% of the country’s entire population) still live without access to drinking water or sewage systems.

-A new survey claims that corruption in Latin America is dropping (though report certainly has its methodological issues – for starters, having only 439 respondents for 1 and 1/3 continents certainly raises flags about “representation”).

-Paraguay has sent its army into the northern part of the country after fights between police and landless farmers have left 17 people dead. This is not the first time in the past several months that the social struggle for access to the land for the poor has led to violence, as similar conflicts have taken place in the eastern part of the country.

-After mounting pressure from environmental groups and an increasing expenses, Mexico has cancelled plans for a massive resort near the only coral reef in Baja California.

-In the past several years, China has increasingly become involved in trade and finance in Latin America, and in that context, Margaret Myers has another excellent post up that looks at recent Chinese headlines on Latin America, providing some small insight into the issues that Chinese media focuses on.

-While many Latin American countries have done a good job in diversifying their trade partners and moving away from a reliance on Europe and the US in the last 15 years, that does not mean that they are completely unaffected by financial problems in the so-called “developed world”; at least one new report suggests that the growth prospects for the region may drop by 40%, showing how globalized economies can still slow down (though not yet shrink) Latin American economies.

Security in the Americas

May 2, 2012 Comments off

There are several posts/articles on security and international relations in the Americas that are very much worth checking out.

  • Adam Isaacson has a brief-but-important observation on distinguishing the tone/words of different US officials who recently spoke out about Iran’s relations with Latin America.
  • Finally, the Inter-American Dialogue recently held a working group on “China in Latin America: Unitary actor or ‘fragmented authoritarian’ state?” with a focus on how Chinese commercial interests are operating in Latin America and what that might mean for both China and Latin America going forward.

The Future of Brazilian-Chinese Relations

March 2, 2012 5 comments

To those who follow international relations, China’s growing economic influence in the world is no secret, and that includes many types of partnerships, trade agreements, and military agreements between China and various Latin American countries. However, Americas Quarterly recently ran a great article that analyzes in-depth the nature of Chinese-Brazilian relations, including the ways that the two countries’ “new ties are also leading to increased wariness by the Brazilians.” Of particular concern to the Brazilians is the lopsided nature of trade agreements, in which Brazil is exporting primary resources to China but importing more expensive Chinese products and the uneven rate at which Brazilian companies are able to enter Chinese markets compared to their Chinese counterparts in Brazilian markets. The article is very thorough, but I had a few historical observations I wanted to add.

First, in discussing the similarities between the two countries’ macroeconomic policies, authors Lawrence Brainard and John H. Welch point to the state-centered developmental model as evidence that “developmentalist romanticism still holds sway in Brasilia.” I wouldn’t necessarily disagree (though given the successes of the state-centric economy in Brazil in the last 10 years, I wouldn’t really call it “romanticism” either), but instead observe that this type of developmentalist model goes back not just a few years, or even a few decades, but in various guises, back to the 1950s.  Upon election in 1955, President Juscelino Kubitschek (1955-1960) launched his “Fifty Years in Five” program that was going to turn Brazil from “the country of tomorrow” into “the country of today.” While the creation of the new capital of Brasília in what had previously been unoccupied land in the interior became the biggest symbol of this type of modernization under the Kubitschek administration, his efforts went far beyond the high modernism of the city and included increases in industrial production, plans to reform the university system to create a new class of white-collar technocrats and scientists to foment development, and other state-centered programs intended to rapidly modernize Brazil. While the costs of these efforts played a part in the growing inflation of the early-1960s that ultimately led to the 1964 military overthrow of president João Goulart and the creation of a 21-year-long military regime, this type of state-controlled developmentalism continued under the right-wing dictatorship, which used to projects like the Rio-Niterói bridge and the Transamazonian highway as physical symbols of the broader economic modernization and developmentalism of the governments. While the privatization efforts during the 1990s marked a slight shift away from this type of statist economic policy, it continues to the present, and so the historical legacy of current state-centered macroeconomic approaches goes back decades in Brazil.

On that last point, I’d also add that, while I appreciate the macroeconomic approach of the article, it smooths over the vast differences between the rightist governments of Fernando Collor (1990-1992) and Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1994-2002) and Luis Inácio “Lula” da Silva (2002-2010) and Dilma Rousseff(2010-present). To lump privatization efforts, partial opening of the economy, into one big-picture analysis makes sense on one hand, but also fails to consider more important macroeconomic shifts between one government and the next. These transformations in administration are important; though presidents since 1990 have emphasized market-friendly policies in general, Collor and Cardoso really focused on privatization and neoliberal policies, while Lula and Rousseff have moved away from privatization and created programs to address issues of social justice, including education, income inequalities, etc., in ways that Collor and Cardoso never did. These shifts, with a greater emphasis on social programs for better distribution of wealth/opportunities under PT, are important, but invisible in this type of macroeconomic approach. That’s not to say the latter should be tossed out, but rather to suggest it is important to keep in mind these very real differences between one president and the next in order to avoid a totalizing, linear understanding of economic change over time.

Understanding these differences between governments is particularly important when considering the disparities in savings in China vs. Brazil. As the authors point out, savings rates in Brazil are relatively low compared to China, something which the authors suggest could have a very real impact on future development in Brazil. However, historical context helps understand the difference between the two countries. In the 1990s, Cardoso created a tax that the government levied on those who had a basic checking/savings account. The tax was significant enough that it made banking not just impractical but extremely burdensome to the majority of Brazilians, in turn limiting such accounts to the minority of the middle class and the elites who could afford it. Only with direct government support during the Lula administration did the Brazilian postal service begin providing inexpensive banking opportunities that most Brazilians could afford. This isn’t the type of savings the article is directly referring to, but it plays into it. In an attempt to create programs like the Correiso Banking, as well as other social programs such as Bolsa Familia and Bolsa Escolar, the federal government had to spend money to address real, present social inequalities in order to create better, more stable, and larger base for economy in future. Thus, the lack of savings in Brazil is not necessarily an indicator of poor strategies, but of different ones; in order to plan for future consumer and market stability, Brazil’s government invested in social programs in the present designed to protect Brazil’s economic future.

Finally, a comment on the trade relationship between Brazil and China. As the authors note, although the two countries are closely tied in a number of trade agreements, they are assymetric, with Brazil exporting primary resources like wood, iron, oil, and food at lower prices, and importing more expensive Chinese manufactured goods. This is intriguing because, in spite of all of its efforts to join the global market as a major power, Brazil still faces very real challenges in the nature of its economy. This trade relationship with China in many ways resembles the “imperialism” of colonial society up through neo-imperialist era of 20th century, in which one country extracts its natural resources and is forced to import manufactured goods. Brazil did try to address this imbalance in the 1930s-1950s, when it employed the model of Import-Substitution Industrialization that tried to spur national manufacturing to replace dependencies on foreign producers, but by the 1960s, the weaknesses of the model as it was implemented led to its abandonment. This isn’t to say ISI is on its way in a new guise, but it will be curious to see just how Brazil tries to address an old problem in a new guise in which it is China, and not the US or Europe, who benefits from this trade imbalance.

All of that said, it is important not to let trade strictly define prognostications for the Brazil-China relationship. Certainly, trade is an important part of the equation, but so too are other agreements, including military agreements; indeed,  China recently had to turn to Brazil for training in the use of aircraft carriers, as Brazil was one of only four countries with one (along with Russia, the US, and France), and China’s need for many of the goods it imports from Brazil gives the South American power a not-insignificant amount of leverage. Still, there is certainly room for growing uncertainties, and even tensions, between two of the four members of the BRIC, and it will be worth watching going forward to see how two increasingly important world powers work with one another.

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