Could Chile's political right return to power after two decades in the wilderness?
That's the question hanging over Santiago, the capital, as Chileans head to the polls today to vote in a runoff presidential election between Eduardo Frei, the moderate former president backed by the ruling center-left coalition, and Sebastian Piñera (left), the billionaire businessman backed by the right. Piñera won the first round with 44 percent of the vote to Frei's 30 percent, but the latest poll shows the race tightening in recent weeks. It's now a tossup, and nobody can say for sure who's going to win.
The New York Times has a good primer on the election here, but I think it doesn't quite capture one intriguing aspect of the campaign -- for a country that has only recently emerged from dictatorship, it's a surprisingly low-key contest. You don't see many signs for the candidates on the streets, and coverage in the newspapers has been overshadowed by the crisis in Haiti, where Chile has a few hundred peacekeeping troops. One obvious reason is Frei, who isn't exactly the most inspirational figure and is best remembered here for presiding over a nasty economic downturn when the Asian crisis struck Chile in the late 1990s. But another reason is that the candidates aren't as different as you might think.
In Frei's last campaign rally in La Granja, a lower-class neighborhood to the south of Santiago, he spoke obliquely, but at length about his coalition's role in ousting Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the rightist dictator who ruled Chile with an iron fist for 17 years after overthrowing Marxist President Salvador Allende in a military coup on Sept. 11, 1973. Last Monday, current president and Socialist Party leader Michelle Bachelet opened the Museum of Memory, a monument to the more than 3,000 people killed, and the nearly 30,000 tortured during Pinochet's regime. Many on the right -- a significant chunk of which still supports Pinochet -- saw the timing of the museum's opening as politically motivated. But just how much Chileans are still voting with Pinochet in mind is an open question.
My hunch is that Piñera -- who is running on the slogan "participate in change" -- has the better instincts here, but he carries some baggage of his own. His brother José was Pinochet's labor minister and led the neoliberal reform of Chile's pension system. In 2004, José, now a fellow at Washington's libertarian Cato Institute, penned a New York Times op-ed supporting George W. Bush's efforts to privatize Social Security, touting Chile as a model; two years later, his brother, running in 2006 against Bachelet, vowed to overhaul the pension system and said it required "deep reforms in all sectors."
For all the seeming drama of a rightist return to power, I suspect there's less room for radical change than many Piñera opponents here fear. After all, the four center-left governments that succeeded Pinochet never really overhauled his free-market economic program, choosing instead to tinker around the margins and focusing on infrastructure development and expanding social welfare programs. This blend of left and right is clearly working; last week, Chile became the first South American nation to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, marking the country's arrival as a developed state. And the country has weathered the economic crisis better than most, with a projected GDP growth rate of 4 percent in 2010 after a mild downturn in 2009. If something's not broken, why fix it?
UPDATE: Pinera wins. More in a bit...
Why is Haiti so poor? Well, it has a history of oppression, slavery and colonialism. But so does Barbados, and Barbados is doing pretty well. Haiti has endured ruthless dictators, corruption and foreign invasions. But so has the Dominican Republic, and the D.R. is in much better shape. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island and the same basic environment, yet the border between the two societies offers one of the starkest contrasts on earth — with trees and progress on one side, and deforestation and poverty and early death on the other.
As Lawrence E. Harrison explained in his book “The Central Liberal Truth,” Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.
We’re all supposed to politely respect each other’s cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them.
"Dictators, corruption and foreign invasions," it seems to me, vastly understates the political turmoil of Haitian history. Haiti has experienced 34 coups in its history -- an average of one every six years. There's simply no way to develop institutions under those conditions.
Brooks' analysis also seems to assume that all dictators are created equal. While the Dominican Republic's late 20th century dictators Rafael Trujillo (who played a not insignificant role in Haiti's tragic history) and Joaquín Balaguer were certainly brutal, they did at least demonstrate some interest in building that coutry's infrastructure, unlike the Duvaliers whose most lasting contribution to Haiti's infrastructure was probably the 98 percent deforestation that makes Haiti's hurricanes so deadly.
Unlike Haiti, he Dominican Republic has also had a continuous, if flawed, democracy for the last three decades. Haiti's 2004 Hurricane hit just a month after the coup at Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the interim government was in no position to govern under the best of circumstances. Food riots and the four hurricanes of 2008 followed before the earthquake delivered the knockout punch. Skipping immediately to culture and religion while skipping over other factors, particularly political turmoil, seems far too simplistic.
As for why Haiti has never had good governance, there's certainly no simple answer, and I think Tyler Cowen is right to ask, "Is it asking too much to wish for an economics [or political science, or journalism] profession that is obsessed with such a question?"
THONY BELIZAIRE/AFP/Getty Images
Countries around the world are frantically searching for their citizens in Haiti, but this week's events have been particularly hard on Brazil, which had a big footprint in the country before the quake. At least 14 Brazilian troops were killed in the quake with four more still missing. Brazil is the leader and largest troop contributor to the UN's MINUSTAH peacekeeping force. The famous Brazilian doctor Zilda Arns Neumann -- sometimes called Brazil's Mother Teresa -- was also killed.
But Brazil has also been on the frontlines of the response. In a telling sign of the priority the country is giving the disaster, Brazilian defense minister Nelson Jobim is on the ground in Haiti with a delegation to assess the situation and devise a recovery strategy. President da Silva has been in communication with President Obama and former President Clinton to coordinate the aid effort. The Brazilian government has pledged $15 million in aid and its military cargo planes are flying in supplies. Additionally, Foreign Minsiter Ceslo Anorim is arguing that MINUSTAH's mandate be expanded to assist with the recovery effort.
With the already rickety Haitian state essentially dealt a knockout punch this week, the country is going to need an unprecedented level of international assistance in the years to come. The United States is understandably taking the lead in the immediate rescue effort, but given its nation-building commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan and history of frequently occupying Haiti, the U.S. may not be the best candidate for the long-term stabilization effort.
Brazil, on the other hand, is already involved Haitian security, and as others on this site have written, has been increasingly looking to act as a global player. The Haitian crisis is an opportunity for the rising superpower to take a leadership role in regional security. And lord knows Haiti will need the help.
ADRIANO MACHADO/AFP/Getty Images
Very troubling reports out of Haiti this morning. The earthquake struck near the country's main population center, Port-au-Prince, and its surrounding suburbs and slums. Elisabeth Debrosse Delatour, the first lady, said much of Port-au-Prince is destroyed. Cell phone service is available on just one of the major networks; the other remains out, as do landlines and electricity. Hospitals, including the Doctors Without Borders surgical center and many other medical facilities, and essential-service plants were severely damaged in the quake.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon calls it a "humanitarian emergency," and countries around the world are racing to deploy emergency aid to the estimated 3 million impacted by the quake -- a 7.0 on the Richter scale, with 13 serious aftershocks (the largest of which was a 5.8).
The quake also reportedly severely damaged the five-story U.N. mission headquarters in Port-au-Prince. As of this morning, there are reports of five U.N. staff dead and more than one hundred missing, many presumed dead, as the quake struck during the workday. Hedi Annabi, the U.N. Haiti chief, a Tunisian, is feared dead. The hotel in which much of the U.N. staff lived was also destroyed.
Update: I've seen this misreported in a few places, so just to clarify. The U.N.'s peacekeeping chief on Haiti, Alain Le Roy, is safe and speaking with the press. The U.N.'s mission chief, Hedi Annabi, has died.
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Early this evening, a massive earthquake rocked Haiti, the United States' island neighbor to the south and, by far, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. The earthquake measured a 7.0 on the Richter scale and occurred close to the densely populated capital of Port-au-Prince. Initial reports indicate massive building damage, including to hospitals and water and electricity plants. Casualties are expected to number in the thousands. The United States and other nations have started to deploy emergency aid; U.N. envoys Paul Farmer and former president Bill Clinton are rallying aid as well.
We'll know more tomorrow. In the meantime, aid organizations accepting donations to help Haiti include: the American Red Cross; the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund; Mercy Corps; Partners In Heath; and UNICEF.
Update: Mark Goldberg at U.N. Dispatch flags a worrying story. The earthquake has reportedly destroyed the U.N. peacekeeping mission's headquarters in Haiti; the U.N. keeps around 7000 troops in the country. Mark worries about the U.N. peacekeepers' capacity to act as first responders. The quake has also destroyed at least part of the country's presidential palace.
Also: the L.A. Times has a good list of Twitter users to follow in Haiti. Electricity, landline, and cell phone service appears to be out in much of the country.
Not sure if Florida Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Connie Mack's proposal to add Venezuela to the list of countries whose travelers will require extra scrutiny to enter the United States will go anywhere, but I was interested to see the FARC-al Qaeda alliance meme (I've been recently informed that the proper term is "El Qaeda") being used in Congress:
For her part, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen cited DEA reports that demonstrate a Venezuelan connection in a new alliance formed between the FARC and al Qaeda, in which the oil producing nation plays the part of a ``massive airport for the use of the traffickers.''
``It is no surprise that Hugo Chávez allows Venezuela to serve as a massive airport for the use of traffickers. In fact the DEA has said that all the planes captured in West Africa left from Venezuela,'' Ros-Lehtinen said.
She explained that the recent arrest of three African agents of al Qaeda after a drug smuggling operation showed a new panorama of cooperation between Islamic extremist groups and those of South American narco-guerrillas.
``Groups like the FARC are finding new ways to sell drugs in Europe by means of al Qaeda in Africa. And al Qaeda is more than willing to use the drug trade to help finance its extremist agenda,'' Ros-Lehtinen said.
As I wrote earlier this week, the arrest of the three Africans, whose relationship to al Qaeda is still somewhat unclear, did not show a "new panorama" of anything. The men were arrested for making a deal with a DEA agent who was posing as a representative of FARC. Unless there's some unreported evidence, it's far from clear the al Qaeda and FARC are actually in cahoots.
Again, I'm not saying that the potential for such a partnership isn't there, but I wish that lawmakers would stop viewing this arrest as proof of a grand trans-Atlantic axis of evil.
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The tone of U.S.-Cuban relations have taken a number of turns for the worse in recent days. The largest of these may be the arrest of an American contractor for distributing laptops on the island. Christopher Sabatini explains the significance of this for U.S. policy on Foreign Policy today:
Ultimately, though, last month's arrest of the USAID contractor demonstrates the ineffectiveness of Obama's much-heralded April announcement of opening up telecommunications with Cuba. In his speech, Obama called for a change in U.S. policy, allowing private companies to develop direct contacts with the Cuban people. It sounded nice, but unfortunately something got lost in the translation from presidential directive to governmental regulation to reality.
The final regulations that resulted and were released in September did little to advance any of Obama's lofty rhetoric. The sale or construction of telecommunications infrastructure to Cuba by U.S companies -- necessary to allow the famously antiquated island to have digital contact with the rest of the world -- is forbidden. Instead, what is allowed are donations, something Cuba already permits.
Simply put, Obama's plan is not enough to unleash the initiative and potential of private businesses to open up the island.
Also this week, Cuba bitterly protested their inclusion on a list of countries whose citizens will receive increased scrutiny when traveling into the United States in the wake of the Christmas bombing attempt.
The chances of rapproachement also took a hit from the U.S. side with the resignations of Senators Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan. Dodd, in particular, was an outspoken advocate of easing the embargo.
Thanks largely to the Castro brothers' increasingly bellicose anti-Obama rhetoric, a parade of recent articles. But how much of the honeymoon was just hype. I suspect that blogger Fidel's early praise of Obama's election led many to think that there was more potential for change than there actually was. (After all, Ahmadinejad once said nice things about Obama, as well.)
Now that it's fairly clear the Castro's have little intention of enacting political or economic reform, and, John Kerry notwithstanding, there's little congressional momentum to normalize relations for their own sake, Obama is left with relatively few options for changing the policy beyond relatively unconrtoversial steps like lifting the travel ban for Cuban-Americans, and moral-support gestures like agreeing to be interviewed by Cuban bloggers.
Perhaps it was unrealistic to expect anything more.
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Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva can hold his own in a trash-talking battle with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez -- no mean feat:
Chavez on Sunday accused the United States of violating Venezuela's airspace with an unmanned spy plane and ordered his military to be on alert and shoot down any such aircraft. [...]
"Colombia doesn't have that capability," said Silva. He quipped that perhaps "Venezuelan soldiers mistook Father Christmas' sleigh for a spy plane."
The bill passed the capital's local assembly 39-20 to the cheers of supporters who yelled, "Yes, we could! Yes, we could!"
Leftist Mayor Marcelo Ebrard of the Democratic Revolution Party is widely expected to sign the measure into law.
The bill calls for changing the definition of marriage in the city's civil code. Marriage is currently defined as the union of a man and a woman. The new definition will be "the free uniting of two people."
In recent years, Mexican politics have increasingly been defined by the kind of social and cultural disputes that the U.S. has long wrestled with. Alexis Okeowo profiled the country's ongoing abortion war for FP last week.
ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images
I can only imagine how bizarre it would be to have Fidel Castro show up at your door in the morning without warning, but that's apprently what happened to Hugo Chavez yesterday. Via Cuba Colada:
Fidel Castro paid Hugo Chávez "the visit of the century" when he showed up Tuesday morning, unannounced, at the guest house in Havana where the Venezuelan president was preparing to travel to Denmark for the summit on world climate.
"Yesterday, Fidel arrived at the house where we were preparing the trip to Copenhagen. I had neither had breakfast nor showered," said Chávez in a phone call Wednesday to a Venezuelan radio station.
Chávez said he "flew" into the shower, dressed "in one minute" and then shared breakfast with Castro. The topic of the conversation was the summit in Denmark, he said.
Was he just in the neighborhood?
It's not clear what Hillary Clinton was aiming for exactly last Friday, when she warned Latin American countries "that if people want to flirt with Iran, they should take a look at what the consequences might well be for them." If she expected South American leaders to suddenly about-face, she got it really really wrong.
Clinton carefully avoided mentioning Brazil when she listed countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia accepting Iranian overtures. Given Brazilian President Lula's recent high-profile meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it's hard to believe they weren't being alluded to. The only response has been from Lula's special advisor for international affairs, Marco Aurélio Garcia, who said "It was not a message for Brazil. If it was, it was the wrong message."
But actions speak louder than words, Clinton's assistant secretary for western hemisphere affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, is in Brazil now, and has not been granted a meeting with Lula or his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Celso Amorim. He is pictured above meeting with Garcia instead.
The ham-handed "warning," combines with regional anger at the US accepting (with weak caveats) the results of the Honduran election -- Brazil and other Latin American leaders are still saying Zelaya must be reinstated -- and ill-will towards the American bases in Colombia.
In the context of Honduras, Clinton's pedantic explanation of democracy in her speech --
we do worry about leaders who get elected and get elected fairly and freely and legitimately, but then, upon being elected, begin to undermine the constitutional and democratic order, the private sector, the rights of people to be free from harassment, depression, to be able to participate fully in their societies"
-- is offensive, and does nothing to reverse the feeling that the U.S. only notices the region as its backyard. Not a great way to woo allies.
In that vein, Valenzuela is scheduled to be similarly rebuffed when he goes to Argentina tomorrow. While as a victim of Iranian sponsored terrorism the country won't be bonding with Ahmadinejad, the administration seems annoyed at Washington's stance in the region, and officials are whispering to the press that Obama has not lived up to the change he promised.
EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images
Things got a little out of hand in a legislative session in Argentina's Chaco province when the governing party tried to keep opposition lawmakers out of the room during while they were choosing a new president:
In September, FP looked a five of the world's most unruly parliaments. The Taiwanese and the South Koreans could give these guys some tips on legislative brawling technique.
This weekend, Honduran citizens voted Porfirio Lobo president, months after a coup ousted Manuel Zelaya. Here, Foreign Policy contributor and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Otto J. Reich replies to criticism of his FP article on the coup.
How does one rebut so many errors and distortions as those in Christopher Sabatini and Daniel Altshuler's response ("Calling a Coup a Coup," from Nov. 2) to my Foreign Policy article on Honduras ("Honduras is an Opportunity," from Oct. 27). Let us deal with just some of them.
By my count, Sabatini and Altshuler (hereafter, "SA") repeat the term "coup" 11 times, an incantation designed to cast a spell over the reader. But no matter how many times the liberal duo recite the mantra to misidentify the events that removed Manuel Zelaya from office, it was not a coup. Since the entire letter is based on that false premise, its conclusions are equally false.
SA accuse me of "ideological revisionism," for saying the U.S. should recognize the transitional government that is based on Honduran law, while they insist on calling a constitutional removal of a law-breaking president by a unanimous vote of a nation's Supreme Court, a "coup." Curiously, SA dismiss the Supreme Court action by citing two obscure U.S. academics' papers which portend to rebut a U.S. Law Library of Congress report that supported the legality of Zelaya's ouster. Is that ideological on their part, or just plain confused?
The ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, had violated several articles of the Honduran Constitution (as documented in the aforementioned Supreme Court decision), and therefore according to Honduran law (not my opinion) he was no longer president of Honduras when he was deported (the deportation was not legal, but it occurred after the legal removal from office). Further evidence that Zelaya's removal was not a coup was the ratification of his removal by a nearly unanimous vote of the Honduran Congress. SA gloss over Zelaya's violations of the law and focus instead on his subsequent -- and inexcusable -- deportation.
SA claim that "Reich vigorously defended Micheletti's assumption of power as the victory of the rule of law and a stand against Latin American leftists." False. I not only did not defend (or condemn) Micheletti, I mention Micheletti only once in my article, in passing, acknowledging that he replaced Zelaya. This is only one example of the paucity of facts in SA's article. I am not sure whose article they were rebutting, but I don't think it was mine. Their allegations are directed at "conservatives," "Micheletti apologists," and others -- people I know did not write my FP article.
Attacking "conservatives" put SA in a bind. They charge that "U.S. conservatives have argued that Barack Obama's administration should recognize the Nov. 29 elections in Honduras as a way out of the political crisis." Actually, it is not only U.S. conservatives, but also the Obama administration that has come to that conclusion, as evidenced in the agreement brokered by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon in late October. It was Zelaya who renounced the agreement just days after he had signed it. Shannon then said the U.S. would recognize the winner of the Nov. 29 elections as the legitimate head of the next Honduran government.
In their letter to FP, SA praise the U.S.-brokered accord as follows: "[Most] importantly, the prospective settlement sets the stage for internationally recognized elections that will transfer power to a new president and help the country move forward." I agree. And contrary to SA's implication, I support that accord and think it is the best way out of the current crisis. I would hope that Zelaya's retreat from it has not caused SA to reverse course.
Although most of their letter can be dismissed as confused and self-contradictory, Sabatini-Altshuler's ideological motivation in attacking "U.S. conservatives'" position on the Honduras electoral crisis (as embodied by me, I assume) is serious. In concluding, SA claim that the "conservative" posture on Honduras they have attacked in their letter "would have mirrored the United States' foreign-policy blunders in Central America in the 1970s and 1980s. During this period, the United States supported façade democracies -- deadly authoritarian regimes that held civilian elections to legitimize their rule -- to pursue questionable geopolitical aims. This position cheapened elections and weakened nascent democracies."
This not only reveals a clear leftist ideological direction by SA, but also a revisionism resulting in crass historical distortion. This is a contemptible and ignorant slap at Ronald Reagan, the president in "the 1980s," under whom unprecedented progress was made in hemispheric democracy. When Reagan took office in 1981, a majority of Latin Americans lived under military dictatorships. When the conservative Reagan left office eight years later, the situation had been reversed: An overwhelming majority of our neighboring countries had transitioned to democracy after long and brutal dictatorships, such as Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Guatemala, Uruguay, and Chile. Which of those governments were "façade regimes," as in SA's accusation? Which were U.S. policy blunders? In which of those countries did the U.S. weaken "nascent democracy"?
As someone who worked for Ronald Reagan for those eight years, I can attest that democratic progress was no accident. It was the result of a policy designed and implemented to bring freedom and democracy to our hemisphere. That two American liberals attempt to re-write history and thus demean the U.S. role in the advance of freedom in this region, imperfect as it was but one that came at a high cost in lives and treasure, is an obvious illustration of the moral bankruptcy of American liberalism today.
But SA are not satisfied with running down their country: Their despicable and rude anti-Reagan screed reaches another ridiculous nadir with the statement that those (1980s) U.S. policies were based on "the pursuit of questionable geopolitical aims." Really? What aims were those? The main geopolitical aim of Ronald Reagan, as I remember, was the defeat of communism. The policy succeeded. And with it came an unprecedented global spread of freedom, human rights and prosperity. By whose standards was this policy "questionable?" I do recall it was questionable to the Kremlin, many western Marxist "intellectuals," and most Third World socialist despots and guerrilla leaders. It was not questionable to the hundreds of millions of people of Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union whom it helped to liberate from oppression. We now know they supported Reagan. As did the other hundreds of millions people who benefitted from the end of the Cold War and from the ensuing prosperity resulting from the "peace dividend".
Why does U.S. Cold War policy appear to be a "blunder" to Sabatini-Altshuler? For the same reason they cannot see why the U.S. should support free elections in Honduras. Historical ignorance and political ideology blinds them.
In a new Financial Times column, FP Editor in Chief Moisés Naím looks at the Brazil-Mexico power shift:
The political and economic reforms in Mexico in the 1990s were exemplary. Suddenly the country shed its prickly nationalism and jumped into the international arena with talent and verve, successfully negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with the US and Canada and joining the rich countries’ club, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. With a remarkable lack of violence, the party ruling the country for seven decades left power through competitive elections. Mexico’s rapid recovery from the 1994 financial crash, the subsequent economic stability, its oil potential, its tourist attractions, and its size (Mexico is the world’s 11th largest economy) made Mexico the promise of Latin America and a model for other underdeveloped countries.
Meanwhile Brazil was bogged down in political scandals, with a bloated government, a frail economy, a lousy business environment and far too much violence and extreme poverty.
Today their fortunes have reversed. Last year the Brazilian economy grew 5 per cent, while Mexico grew a paltry 1 per cent. Brazil is, together with China and India, one of the countries least battered by the global economic crisis. Mexico is one of its main victims. In Brazil, employment has already grown back to pre-crisis levels. Its finances are also stunning: this year Brazilian banks provided 60 per cent of loans made in Latin America, and its stock market has soared. The financial magnetism of Brazil is such that the government, seeking to stem the tide of capital flowing into the country, has levied a tax on foreign investment.
If all goes according to plan this weekend, the Honduran leaders who ousted President Manuel Zelaya in the face of nearly unanimous international opposition, will hand power to a new government:
The months of turmoil as Zelaya pressed for his reinstatement, the negotiation and U.S. shuttle diplomacy are about to be overtaken by business as usual — Honduran style.
Even many of the poor who supported Zelaya as he aligned himself with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Latin America's new left say they will vote for conservative front-runner Porfirio Lobo, a 61-year-old wealthy businessman who is ahead by double digits in the polls.
"I will vote for the one who can fix this and give us work right now, because those suffering are the poor," said Reina Gomez, 53, a single mother who washes clothes for a living and who supported Zelaya in 2005.
Time's Tim Padgett writes that "the international community is poised to brand the vote illegitimate," but, with the possible exception of Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega, the outrage is likely to be pretty short lived. With a (somewhat) democratically elected leader back in power, most of the countries that condemned Zelaya's removal (and got stuck in the position of advocating for the increasingly erratic leader) will likely quietly resume relations with Honduras's new government after a cooling-off period.
So what did we learn from all of this? Padgett says the affair shows "how little progress Central America has made since the coups, civil wars, and corruption of the past." This seems a little unfair. During the Cold War era, U.S. or Soviet backing allowed coup governments to simply remain in power, becoming military dictatorships. The international condemnation of the Honduran coup forced the government to quickly hold elections to hand off control to a more legitimate leader. This has been a consistent pattern in recent coups.
If anything, the Honduras crisisis a demonstration that the United States and international organizations simply don't have as much power to influence a country's internal politics as they commonly assume.
The brunt of yesterday's hearing in the House committee about lifting the U.S. travel ban on Cuba came down the following: will allowing American visitors spread word of democracy, or will tourist dollars will just prop up the Castro regime? That is the wrong question according to a a Human Rights Watch report out this week, which documents how the Cuban government uses Orwellian laws to silence dissent and has become more abusive in recent years.
Other governments must also revise their stance towards Cuba with the aim of fomenting human rights, said the report.
Not only have all of these policies -- US, European, Canadian, and Latin American -- failed individually to improve human rights in Cuba, but their divided and even contradictory nature has allowed the Cuban government to evade effective pressure and deflect criticism of its practices."
The report lambasts the United States for allowing Cuba to play David to its Goliath, but it also critiques the ineffective Candian and European policies, and the pedestal/blind eye attitude of Latin American countries, whose silence:
[C]ondones Cuba's abusive behavior, and perpetuates a climate of impunity that allows repression to continue. This is particularly troubling coming from a region in which many countries have learned firsthand the high cost of international indifference to state-sponsored repression."
The ambivalence and outright support for Castro coming from Latin America speaks to the curious distinction people in the region often make between undemocratic regimes of the right and those of the left: those who support the coup in Honduras are the same ones who scream about Castro, whereas those who tolerate Castro are apoplectic about Honduras.
The idea then, as a European Union official said earlier this month, should not be regime change, but rather human rights. Jorge Castañeda, former Mexican foreign minister, urges a similar policy, calling on the U.S., Europe and Canada to work together. In short: the United States must back down and lift the embargo not only to help Cubans directly, but also to uncouple support of human rights from regime change, thus enabling the strong multilateral approach called for by Human Rights Watch.
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images
Peru is starting to remind me of a character in a Latin American soap opera. A wife who has grown to hate her husband, Chile, after a near divorce (the 19th century war) followed by decades of perceived slights. She sits at home, stewing and seeing infidelities everywhere (accusations that Chile and Bolivia are making a secret deal, that Chile is preparing for war, that Chile is taking parts of the coastline). She frequently confronts him hysterically, and then they fight. This, of course, doesn't mean he isn't cheating.
If it were really a soap, Chile would obviously have planted spies in the Peruvian military, as the latter's government is alleging. The spy was apparently sending information south about an ongoing border dispute case in the International Court of Justice. As of last count, Peruvian officials were talking about six supposed spies, some of whom are already on the lam; Peruvian president Alan Garcia called Chile a tinpot republic; Chilean President Michelle Bachelet responded to these "offensive" and "pompous" statements with cool denials; in the meantime her minister of foreign relations assured Chile that "derogatory accusations" do not affect them.
As if all this weren't enough, as in any soap opera, there are ambiguous minor characters in both countries: the legislators in Chile who accuse Peru of orchestrating a hostile communication strategy, and the original alleged spy, Víctor Ariza, whose mother cries and threatens to cut off her hands.
The madness doesn't go as far as war, the Peruvian authorities are attempting to avoid accusing Bachelet herself of involvement, and most analysts agree trade relations should continue uninterrupted. It's part of what diplomats there call a two strands approach: political relations on one side, trade on the other.
As interesting as it is, the analysis is thin on what is really going on. There are many serious stakes in all this, after all. Can it really be chalked up to the long-standing rivalry between the two countries dating back to the 1883 War of the Pacific?
One article in an Argentine paper questions the timing of the story -- which broke when Garcia and Bachelet were at a summit together -- and points out that it serves as a distracting and unifying issue for Garcia, at a time when he faces unrest and unpopularity at home. His approval ratings are at 26 percent, dropping to 14 percent in many areas of the country.
In the next nail-biting episode: If Peru presents Chile with proof, how will Chile respond?
ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP/Getty Images
Some of the world's remaining communist countries (plus former Soviet Russia) are preparing to control the weather. Indeed, China, Russia, Venezuela, and Cuba are preparing ways to control precipitation -- hearkening back to something the X-Men guys thought up during the Cold War (see: Storm).
Last a summer, Chinese government officials worried that it might rain on their parade, literally, during the Olympics. They fired rockets filled with dry ice and silver iodide into the clouds, to make them cough up any raindrops before Beijing. The process might have backfired, causing two fierce snowstorms. But Moscow's mayor seems undeterred by the weather -- he is using the same technology to deflect snowfall from his city, having military planes spray iodide clouds.
Venezuela isn't as concerned with deflecting precipitation. Chavez is trying to increase rainfall on parched areas of his country. And rather than simply ordering the cloud seeding to take place, he is going to do it himself, going airborne with a group of Cuban scientists.
"I'm going in a plane. Any cloud that crosses me, I'll zap it so that it rains," Chavez said.
JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images
Thankfully, beyond a few muggings, last night's massive Brazilian blackout seems to have caused little lasting damage. But the international coverage of the event is probably a good preview for the Olympic host country's next six years:
Questions remained about what happened and what the fallout would be in Brazil, a nation seen as an ascending economic and political power.
"The image of Brazil, of Rio, is bad enough with all the violence," said 35-year-old graphic designer Paulo Viera, as he sat in a restaurant a block from the sandy arc of Copacabana.
Standing in an open-air restaurant where patrons were drinking quickly warming beer, Viera said he worried about how the outage might look for a city that last month was picked to host the Olympics and will be the showcase city for soccer's World Cup in 2014. "We don't need this to happen. I don't know how it could get worse."
The blackout comes on the heels of a wave of gang fighting in Rio's slums that led to violence fears ahead of the games.
"It's sad to see such a beautiful city with such a precarious infrastructure," 22-year-old law student Igor Fernandes said. "This shouldn't happen in a city that is going to host the Olympic Games."
This is a little unfair. Even Rio's mayor acknowledges that the city has a long way to go in terms of safety and infrastructure before the games, but they do have another six years, and the IOC knew what they were getting when they awarded Brazil the games.
The problem with developing coutries hosting events like the Olympics is that while the intention is to highlight the enormous progress they've made, they're just as likely to highlight the shortcomings. . Every crime wave or infrastructure failure, or corruption scandal Rio suffers in the next six years will now be covered in the context of whether the city is ready for the games.
This Wall Street Journal article is trying really hard to find something sinister in the story of a recently constructed mosque in Nicaragua. The piece leads by reporting that the "ever-present Managua rumor mill" is suggesting that the Iranian government may have paid for it, since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a close ally of President Daniel Ortega.
On the other hand, no one is able to corroborate these rumors, no evidence is presented to suggest that they are true, and the reporter finds a Pakistani businessman in Honduras who says he paid for it. About the only shady dealing the article reports is a dispute with the contractor over pay, which proves that it is... a construction project.
The Berlin Wall fell twenty years ago, and the Cold War itself ended soon after, but if you're feeling nostalgic, tune into the Cold War of the Andes: somewhat more farcical and definitely less likely to end in nuclear annihilation, but riveting nonetheless.
With Venezuelan troops lining up on the Colombian border, Peruvian officials' urging fellow South American countries to reduce military spending arms purchasing, in addition to creating a regional security force, is making a lot more sense. Peruvian officials indicated that Brazilian President Lula was receptive to the proposal in a recent meeting, and will be meeting with Colombian and Paraguayan presidents in the next week.
Although the campaign should be seen in light of Peruvian suspicion of neighboring Chile, military spending in many South American countries has increased in recent years. Some estimates place 2008 spending at $60 billion, which would be well over double the amounts spent in 2003. According to American calculations, Brazil, Venezuela, Chile and Colombia account for 80 percent of arms purchases. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also urged caution in purchases, warning against entering a race.
Of course, experts have pointed out in past years that the main concern is probably not war between countries, no matter what Venezuela says, but rather resource related violence. Even Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oscar Arias of Costa Rica warned against buying more arms, while noting that the region has never been so peaceful.
YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images
Zelaya's supporters say that failure to approve the deal in the next few days would kill the final opportunity to legitimize this month's presidential elections by keeping a government in power that no foreign leaders have recognized. They warn there could be more of the street protests and repressive government countermoves that have sunk the country's economy.
However, Honduras' congressional leadership has postponed the crucial vote by asking the country's Supreme Court, attorney general and human rights ombudsman to give nonbinding opinions on the legality of Zelaya's return.
One sign that this is far from over is that Zelaya still won't leave the Brazilian embassy -- where he has been hold up since sneaking back into Honduras in September -- for fear of arrest. Something tells me that Zelaya has spent all this time sleeping on an aerobed having music blasted at him at 2 a.m. just to finish off the last few weeks of his term. That's why Micheletti's supporters aren't likely to let him anywhere near the presidency before the elction -- which most countries have promised not to recognize.
So essentially, we're back where we started.
When you think about communist propaganda, you might think of Stalin glaring down at you from a wall, happy workers singing in strangely clean factories and well-thumbed copies of Mao's little red book.
But it's the twenty-first century, and even commies must keep up with the times. A dissident faction of Peru's Shining Path -- VRAE -- is now making its case online, with a website and You Tube uploads of revolutionarily inspiring songs.
The songs performed by a VRAE leader in the Andean musical style of Huayño assure the listener that:
Imperialism will be defeated/socialism will flower the world/ imperialism, mainly genocidal Yankees, sucks the blood of the millions of poor around the world/to combat them, to defeat them, is our task/to annihilate them with our forces is our obligation."
But, the political analysis on their website is even better. They tear apart the jailed Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman, labeling him a "revisionist" and a terrorist, and criticize governments such as Nepal, Hamas and Bolivia for practicing pseudo-socialism.
The tract reads like a blast from the past, as if the Amazon fosters active denial of lost battles (many Japanese immigrants in Brazil famously denied their emperor's defeat for nearly a decade). In a shout out to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, they call him the natural leader of socialism, upon whom it is incumbent to lead the armed fight against Yankee imperialism. They urge unity in this:
We must put to one side the narrow nationalism which is very noxious and damaging ... [and which is] parasitically fomented by Yankee imperialism and its lackeys."
Extra points for their genious use of the word lackey together with Yankee imperialism-- when's the last time you heard that one?
While it's all song and talk -- and assurances of democratic intentions -- on the internet, Peruvian authorities are somewhat concerned about the possibility of the narco-terrorist group recruiting more followers. Leaders from the main Shining Path group, which put down arms a decade ago, are contemplating running for office in upcoming Peruvian elections.
I cannot think of another example of a country in Latin America that having suffered a rupture of its democratic and constitutional order overcame such a crisis through negotiation and dialogue.
In a press release, Sen. John Kerry also praised the agreement:
“I welcome the agreement ending the crisis in Honduras. The restoration of democracy is an historic accomplishment for the Honduran people. The accord provides a roadmap for elections on November 29, but success will depend on rigorous international monitoring of the accord’s implementation.
I would say that success depends more on both sides sticking to the agreement. Before he can return for to serve out his last month as president, Zelaya still has to win a vote in a Congress controlled by his opponents. Then there's an imminent election. It would be hard for any country to shift seamlessly from military standoff to democratic election mode in time to hold an a credible election in less than a month.
Yes, Zelaya is constitutionally barred from running but the inevitable chaos of the next few weeks could give him the opportunity to delay the vote or justify his own candidacy as a bid to restore national unity. Zelaya's desire to run again was, after all, what set this crisis in motion.
In other words, there are plenty of opportunities for shenanigans on both sides in the coming weeks. Last night's agreement is certainly welcome progress, but I think international observers should probably take a little more time to observe the situation and make sure it's not still Groundhog Day.
ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images
I'm not surprised by conservative Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer's negative comments about President Obama in an interview with Der Spiegel, but what's his problem with Brazil?
Krauthammer: He is a man of perpetual promise. There used to be a cruel joke that said Brazil is the country of the future, and always will be; Obama is the Brazil of today's politicians. He has obviously achieved nothing. And in the American context, to be the hero of five Norwegian leftists, is not exactly politically positive.
Brazil has "obviously achieved nothing"? The country has pulled off a veritable economic miracle in recent years, maintaining impressive growth rates and accumulating enough cash reserves to become a net creditor, all while expanding social programs. It's weathered the global economic downturn surprisingly well and along with East Asia, seems to be leading the pack in recovery. It's a global leader in investment in alternative energy. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his foreign minsiter Ceslo Amorim have become ubiquitous and influential participants at global summits -- and as my boss recently argued, have shown the Latin American left an alternative to Hugo Chavez's confrontational populism. Brazil recently beat the U.S. for the right to host the 2016 Olympics. (Krauthammer may remember that one.)
I'd say calling someone the "Brazil of politicians" should be a compliment.
It seems that even socialists are getting sick of Michael Moore.
Moore recently went on Jimmy Kimmel Live and made a joke about getting drunk with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and helping him write his speeches to the United Nations. Well the Chavistas were having none of that.
Take this paragraph from Eva Golinger, one of Chavez's most prominent defenders:
Moore is exceptionally full of himself towards the end of the interview with Jimmy Kimmel. He says Chávez asked him for advice about his upcoming United Nations speech. Moore sternly told the South American president to "say sorry for calling Bush the devil, "el diablo"" during his last UN intervention. And to say this time around it's all about the "hope"! Way to defend Bush, Michael! Wait, didn't you write, direct and film Fahrenheit 9/11? Right, but when someone "non-US" tells it like it is, you get way patriotic. I get it.
Other outrage followed suit. They lambasted Moore for saying that Chavez drinks, even worse that he drinks tequila. They also got unusually offended at the idea that Chavez would use speechwriters, or for that matter, Teleprompters. The exclamation-point-happy Golinger said, "We know that nobody writes his speeches, not even him! He speaks from his heart, and not from a teleprompter!"
Michael Moore has been called many things in his career, but a supporter of George W. Bush? This has to be a first.
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images
I don't quite understand the point of this:
U.S. President Barack Obama asked Spain to pass Cuba a message on the need for democratic reform when he met Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero earlier this month, according to a U.S. official....
"When (Obama) learned that Foreign Minister Moratinos was about to go to Havana, he suggested that Moratinos urge the Castro regime to take steps to reform and improve human rights," the U.S. official said on Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity....
The U.S. request to deliver a message to Cuba was first reported by Spain's El Pais newspaper, which said Obama talked of a potential turning point in the relationship with Havana, but said it was important for Cuba take some steps.
"Have (Moratinos) tell the Cuban authorities we understand that change can't happen overnight, but down the road, when we look back at this time, it should be clear that now is when those changes began," Obama told Zapatero, according to diplomatic sources quoted by El Pais.
I have a feeling that after half a century, the Castro brothers probably realize that the U.S. doesn't much like the way they run their country and don't need the Spanish foreign minister to tell them. And if Obama has something new to say to the Cuban regime, why can't he say it himself, if not through his own envoy than through a letter.
It sends a pretty strange message that the administration is unwilling to have any direct contact with the Cuban regime, even just to admonish them, but seems to have no problem with other countries doing it.
Followers of Latin American politics awoke in June to a familiar, if long-absent, nightmare: A president forced out of his house in pyjamas and onto a plane into exile. Yet, despite the death of 19-year-old-protestor Isis Obed soon after, the Honduras coup did not follow the region's old pattern of terror and disappearances.
Instead, human rights groups report a low, but constant level of violence towards protestors, which seems to be having a demoralizing effect without raising terribly strong reactions from the internal and international communities. A member of the Organization of American States' human rights group explained:
We did not find people disappeared like you'd have seen 20 years ago ... [The de facto government will] detain 100, 150, 200 people at a march and put them in a detention facility. They will only beat up a dozen of them. In the meantime, it's enough to break up the demonstration and make people a little more careful about going out next time.''
Nonetheless, the human rights situation is far from innocuous. Human rights groups in Honduras claim that between 10 and 15 people have died as a result from run-ins with the armed forces, several bodies have been found under suspicious circumstances. The most recent death is that of union leader Jaire Sanchez, who died this weekend from a bullet wound received at a protest. Dozens of other defenders of Zelaya claim to have been threatened.
The de facto government has been blocking investigations into abuses, making corroboration more difficult, according to Human Rights Watch, which has urged the international community to reject any deal that involves amnesty for human rights violations. Here's how the OAS mission describe the situation back in August:
[A] pattern of disproportionate use of public force on the part of police and military forces, arbitrary detentions, and the control of information aimed at limiting political participation by a sector of the citizenry. This resulted in the deaths of at least four persons [at that time], dozens of injuries, thousands of arbitrary detentions, the temporary shutdown of television channels, and threats and assaults against journalists."
In the face of an OAS delegation to investigate possible violations, de facto President Roberto Micheletti finally made good yesterday on a promise to reopen two opposition broadcasters shut down 22 days ago.
It has become a nightmare of a different sort, the negotiators probably feel it's the kind where you're running but just can't seem to stop going in circles, as the clock ticks down to the Nov. 29 elections, scheduled before the coup and which many countries have promised not to recognize if an agreement between ousted President Zelaya and Micheletti is not reached soon.
YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images
Argentine President Cristina Kirchner probably still can't believe she signed a newly minted media law on on Saturday, after a hot-blooded 20 hour debate in the Senate that ended with an early morning street party outside Congress. The law, which passed 44-24 effectively limits media monopolies, replacing an archaic law passed by a military dictatorship government in 1980.
But every fairy-tale has to have an evil monster, in this case the media conglomerate Grupo Clarín, which has fiercely opposed the Kirchner government and which, under the new law's rules, will now have to sell off radio stations and television channels:
"The government is going after the media with all its remaining power," Clarín Editor Ricardo Roa wrote Saturday. "It has rushed through a misleading law that seems to be progressive but in reality only sets us back: it will promote a press that is weaker and more docile."
Clarín, of course, has advocates. They question the one year limit to sell assets that the law imposes, and whether this will not drive prices down, allowing pro-government buyers to snap up the stations.
Offsetting these questions is the glowing support of varied sectors of Argentine society and the international, like United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression Frank La Rue, who called the new law "an example for other countries."
Perhaps the most interesting reaction was that of the opposition leader, Mauricio Macri, mayor of Buenos Aires, whose party has now proposed a law giving them regulation power over the city's cable TV.
History repeats: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.
Photo: JUAN MABROMAT/AFP
The provisional office of deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya at the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa October 9, 2009. Negotiators with deposed Zeyala insisted Thursday that an October 15 deadline was in place to reach an agreement to resolve the months-old political impasse. The Central American country has been paralyzed since a June 28 coup by now de facto leader Roberto Micheletti, who has said he was prepared to leave office, but only if Zelaya ended his demands of being reinstated.
Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images
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