Last week, the debate was whether a great artist should be forgiven for his great sins.
This week the question is whether or not to allow artists to portray sin. Plans for a film version of Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez's book "Memories of my Melancholy Whores" were scrapped after an NGO director said she would sue the author and producers for attempting to justify pedophilia.The movie had financial backing from the Danish and Spanish governments, as well as the Mexican state of Puebla where it would be filmed. The movie would poetically portray child prostitution as natural "which would lead to the normalization of the phenomenon," argued the director of The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The story, of a 90-year-old man who decides to treat himself to a 14-year-old virgin as a birthday present, does not precisely argue that this would be a healthy relationship, however, and fellow Nobel literature prize winner J.M. Coetzee finds a redemptive aspect to the novella.
But, what with Scotland Yard descending into the Tate Modern last week to urge the removal of a Richard Prince piece showing a nude 10-year-old Brooke Shields, perhaps the backlash of Polanski's case means we can no longer explore the evils of desire, even in art. Even if he were alive then, Nabokov would have no hope of winning the Swedish prize this Thursday.
IVAN GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images
The Anti-Defamation League has raised the alarm over the use of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric by supporters of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya:
These statements include Zelaya's unsubstantiated claim that Israeli mercenaries were attacking the Brazilian embassy where he has taken refuge. Venezuelan Hugo Chavez has also falsely claimed that Israeli is the only country that has recognized the coup government. More disturbing was a rant from David Romero, news director of the pro-Zelaya Radio Globo, who described Jews as "people that do damage in this country" and mused, "After what I have learned, I ask myself why, why didn't we let Hitler carry out his historic mission?"
"From President Zelaya himself down to media pundits and political activists, there has been a troubling undercurrent of anti-Semitism in the situation in
," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "We know from history that at times of turmoil and unrest, Jews are a convenient scapegoat, and that is happening now in Honduras , a country that has only a small Jewish minority." Honduras
So, Rio de Janeiro has won the 2016 summer Olympics, dashing the hopes of Chicagoans, including President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, adviser Valerie Jarrett, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and, to boot, Oprah Winfrey.
I'm sanguine. Chicago is one of my favorite cities in the United States, and would have been a great host. Fabulous food, plenty of space, beautiful scenery. It's hard to see it lose, but I'd rather visit without all the hubbub.
But, on the other hand, I'd love to go to Rio. And, just saying, any Foreign Policy poohbahs who might be reading, I think this site could use some hard-hitting ground truth on the policy implications of heated Olympic competition. I'm available, and hear there's one coming up!
This week, I took a look at how Olympic preparations are faring in my hometown of London. The answer? Not great, per se. The city will spend billions and billions of pounds (money it doesn't have) on infrastructure it doesn't really need. London's got plenty of stadiums. It could use certain transport investments, but it seems those aren't happening. And the price tag will likely hit $40 billion. That's as much as Beijing spent. It's more than Britain's stimulus, enacted last fall to ward off economic contraction. It's a lot of money, and means London might end up with a lot of debt.
All of which has convinced me that the only countries which should really want the Olympics in these economic dark days are big emerging economies. Why? Well, developed economies tend to have plenty of infrastructure in the type of major cities which host Olympics. They also tend to have high labor costs. Often, they don't need the Olympics to attract more tourists, either.
But big emerging economies -- like the BRICs -- often need serious infrastructure investment. They have higher GDP growth rates, which helps with legacy debt. They have also been hit less-hard by the recession (a generalization, of course, but mostly true).
It seems that this is being born out, too...BRIC countries have won three of the five most recently announced Olympics. We have Beijing 2008, Vancouver 2010, London 2012, Sochi 2014, and Rio de Janeiro 2016.
I'm putting my money down for New Delhi 2020!
VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images
Now that it seems Costa Rican President Oscar Arias' mediation has been de facto rejected by Honduras' de facto government, everybody seems to be proposing their own creative solutions.
South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who has already contributed to the situation by holding up the Senate confirmation for proposed assistant secretary of state for the region, Arturo Valenzuela, is travelling to Tegucigalpa Friday -- skillfully avoiding maneuvers by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry to keep him in the United States, and blithely side-stepping the question of legitimacy altogether -- in order to lend his support to the coup government and express his belief that "Hondurans should be able to choose their own future."
They'll do so to the tune of Caribbean music and announcements of curfew times, about the only thing currently transmitted by obedient television channels, fearful of the repression suffered by intransigent media outlets earlier this week. This as deposed President Manuel Zelaya continues to be holed up in the Brazilian embassy, along with a shrinking number of family members, supporters and his cowboy hat.
Is compromise possible? Honduran business leaders, horrified by the revenue loss provoked by the curfews imposed by the coup government -- or perhaps more disturbed by the loss of their U.S. visas -- suggested a multi-party interim presidency until the Nov. 29 elections, after which point Zelaya would stand trial and face house arrest. The plan also calls for tossing coup president Roberto Micheletti a congressman-for-life position as a sop and bringing neighboring countries troops in to keep order. Faced with an array of unappealing options, others are turning to higher powers, in the form of the Virgin of Suyapaor.
So best of luck to DeMint, but if he fails, his colleague Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will get a chance during her visit next week -- also to support the coup government of course.
"It's war!" cries Brazilian newspaper O Globo, lamenting an article in the latest New Yorker on gang violence in Rio de Janeiro, which comes out mere days before the International Olympic Committee decides the location of the 2016 summer games.
The article, by journalist Jon Lee Anderson, describes the fighting between gangs in Rio's favelas, which he says are spread everywhere in the city: "there is no way to completely escape Rio's misery." O Globo, which has a section online dedicated specifically to the city's Olympic bid, notes that Anderson said the timing of the article is a coincidence, and that he believes Rio is fully capable of hosting the games.
The paper couldn't help but notice the "sad coincidence" that this same week, Chicago -- Rio's main competitor -- faced its own shocking gang violence moment, with widespread circulation of a cell-phone video footage showing the fatal beating of 16-year-old Derrion Albert.
As Chicago booster Michelle Obama said herself, "the gloves are off".
ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/Getty Images
Venezuela banned an airing of Family Guy last week after Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami took offense to one episode in which the family dog, Brian, leads a movement to legalize marijuana. (Whole episode here.)
Stations that still air canine-cannabis propaganda will be fined, according to El Aissami. Hugo Chávez's government doesn't have much of a taste for U.S. cartoons. Last year The Simpsons was also deemed unsuitable.
"The government considers it to be a series that isn't appropriate for that time [11 am] because it isn't appropriate for children," said Elba Guillen a spokeswoman for the privately-owned Venezuelan station Televen.
The station avoided getting fined for airing The Simpsons by replacing it with a much more family-friendly show.
Mark Davis/Getty Images
Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has returned to his country and sought refuge inside the Brazilian embassy. The BBC reports:
"[We travelled] for more than 15 hours... through rivers and mountains until we reached the capital of Honduras, which we reached in the early hours of the morning," he said.
"We overtook military and police obstacles, all those on the highways here, because this country has been kidnapped by the military forces."
He said he was consulting with sectors of Honduran society and the international community in order "to start the dialogue for the reconstruction of the Honduran democracy".
Mr Zelaya's supporters have gathered outside UN buildings in Tegucigalpa, after initial reports suggested he was there.
Interestingly, Zelaya is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday. The official schedule, which still lists him as "President of the Republic of Honduras," has him speaking between Alvaro Uribe and Dmitry Medvedev some time after 3 p.m. Guess he's probably not making that engagement.
The increasingly friendly relationship between Iran and Venezuela is hardly a secret. Just yesterday, Venezuela announced that it will begin exporting 20,000 barrels of gasoline per day to the Islamic Republic. This followed a meeting on Saturday between Presidents Ahmadinejad and Chavez during which the two leaders promised to stand together to defeat imperialist foes.
Legendary New York District Attorney Robert Morganthau explained his concerns about the link in a talk at the Brookings Institution today, sponsored by the the American Interest magazine and Global Financial Integrity. According to Morganthau, some of the most dangerous aspects of the relationship take place far from the cameras, in the shadowy world of illicit finance:
The ostensible reason the the Iranian owned Banco International de Desarrollo (BID) was opened in Caracas was to expand economic ties with Venezuela. Our sources and experiences lead me to suspet an ulterior motive. A foothold into the Venezuelan banking system is a perfect "sanctions-busting" method -- the main motivator for Iran in its banking relationship with Venezuela. Despite being designated by OFAC we believe that BID has several correspondent banking relationships with both Venezuelan banks and banks in Panama, anation with a long-standing reputation as a money laundering safe-haven.
This scheme is known as "nesting." Nested accounts occur when a foreign financial institution gains access to the U.S. financial system by operating through a U.S. correspondent account belonging to another foreign financial institution. For example, BID who is prohibited from establishing a relationship with a U.S. bank could instead establish a relationship with a Venezuelan or Panamanian bank that has a relationship with a U.S. bank. If the U.S. bank is unaware that its foreign correspondent financial institution customer is providing such access to a sanctioned third-party foreign financial institution, this third-party financial institution can effectively gain anonymous access to the U.S. financial system. [...]
There is little reason to doubt Venezuela's support for Ahmadinejad's most important agenda, the development of a nuclear program and long-range missiles, and the destabilization of the region. For Iran, the lifeblood of their nuclear and weapons programs is the ability to use the international banking system and to make payments for banned missile and nuclear materials. The opening of Venezuela's banks to the Iranians guarantees the continued development of nuclear technology and long-range missiles.
Morganthau's office recently prosecuted British bank Lloyds for helping Iran move money through the U.S. financial system by stripping identifying information from wire transfers. He believes the cozy Chavez-Ahmadinejad relationship will only make such operations easier for the Iranians.
Morganthau stopped short of announcing specific prosecutions, but from the sound of it, some new revelations may be forthcoming.
Photo by David Shankbone. Used under Creative Commons license.
Even as it has become clear that the swine flu pandemic (at least in its current mutation) isn't much more serious or deadly than normal flu, stories of prominent people getting infected with it continue to be covered as if they had contracted bubonic plague.
Probably the best way to put swine flu stories in perspective is to just remove the words "swine" or "H1N1" from before the words "flu" and "virus." For instance:
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has contracted the [...] flu virus and is being treated by doctors while continuing to work from his residence, government spokesman Cesar Velasquez said on Sunday.
That doesn't sound so bad, now does it?
I'm sorry for sounding flip. H1N1 is a legitimate public health concern that continues to claim lives around the globe. But still, when I see headlines like "Bangladesh reports first H1N1 flu death," I have to wonder how many how many people in that country have died of normal flu (or any number of other diseases) this year without it warranting international media attention.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
I must say, this is pretty ballsy:
Police in the Mexican border city of Tijuana say they have arrested six men for stealing pieces of the U.S. border fence to sell as scrap metal. [...]
The first two men caught cutting into the fence on Monday. An alleged accomplice was detained Tuesday with 11 pieces of fencing. The U.S. Border Patrol alerted police to three more suspects.
Police said Wednesday in a statement that the men may face federal charges because the fence area is considered federal property.
There really wasn't a less guarded fence in all of Tijuana?
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
A year after violent crime became a top issue in Venezuela's regional elections, the country's legislature has a new plan to improve security: ban violent video games and equally aggressive toys. The law, if passed and signed, would ban the making, importing, distibuting, selling, renting, and using of videogames, local media reports.
It's certainly not the first time that videogames have been blamed for ruining young minds. But I have to wonder if this law is an idea they got from newfound friends in China, where just a few weeks ago, the Minister of Culture banned online games that simulate mafia activity. Both countries have an interest in maintaining social stability amid potentially turbulent times -- in Venezuela's case, as oil revenues slip and as relations with nearby Colombia could see imports from that country (many of which include crucial food and other supplies) blocked.
Or, it could just be another downer in a place that seems to take sport from banning all the fun. Earlier this month, Hugo Chávez shut down some of the country's most renowned golf courses. This law, proposed by a member of an opposition party, could well up the ante.
In the Guardian, Jonathan Franklin provides a first-hand look at "cocaine tourism" in Bolivia:
"Tonight we have two types of cocaine; normal for 100 Bolivianos a gram, and strong cocaine for 150 [Bolivianos] a gram." The waiter has just finished taking our drink order of two rum-and-Cokes here in La Paz, Bolivia, and as everybody in this bar knows, he is now offering the main course. The bottled water is on the house.The waiter arrives at the table, lowers the tray and places an empty black CD case in the middle of the table. Next to the CD case are two straws and two little black packets. He is so casual he might as well be delivering a sandwich and fries. And he has seen it all. "We had some Australians; they stayed here for four days. They would take turns sleeping and the only time they left was to go to the ATM," says Roberto, who has worked at Route 36 (in its various locations) for the last six months.
Franklin reports that in addition to the low prices a number of reasons conspire to make Bolivia the perfect location:
This new trend of 'cocaine tourism' can be put down to a combination of Bolivia's notoriously corrupt public officials, the chaotic "anything goes" attitude of La Paz, and the national example of President Evo Morales, himself a coca grower.
While the rest of the article is great, I'm not sure about the "national example" factor of Morales. I'm pretty sure the president is not selling his crops for processed cocaine. Morales did want to destigmatize coca crops when he won the presidency, but it was to restore the leaf's role in Bolivia's cultural heritage, not to give the thumbs up to full scale cocaine production.
Obviously more coca crops make more cocaine much easier, but I wouldn't quite say Morales is explicilty in approval.
AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images
The New York Times's Simon Romero reports that Hugo Chávez really doesn't like golf, which means no one else in Venezuela is allowed to:
After a brief tirade against the sport by the president on national television last month, pro-Chávez officials have moved in recent weeks to shut down two of the country’s best-known golf courses, in Maracay, a city of military garrisons near here, and in the coastal city of Caraballeda.
“Let’s leave this clear,” Mr. Chávez said during a live broadcast of his Sunday television program. “Golf is a bourgeois sport,” he said, repeating the word “bourgeois” as if he were swallowing castor oil. Then he went on, mocking the use of golf carts as a practice illustrating the sport’s laziness.[...]
A housing shortage has also pushed the government’s hand, Mr. Chávez said last month, when he questioned why Maracay had so many slums while the golf course and the grounds of the state-owned Hotel Maracay, a decaying modernist gem built in the 1950s, stretch over about 74 acres of coveted real estate.
“Just so some little group of the bourgeois and the petit-bourgeois can go and play golf,” he said during his television program.[...]
“I respect all sports,” he said. “But there are sports and there are sports. Do you mean to tell me this is a people’s sport?”
He then answered the question: “It is not.”
I'm generally not a big fan of Chávez's politics or economic policies, but I'm with him on this one. Golfers require entirely too much space to play their maddeningly boring sport. On the other hand, as Times blogger Robert Mackey points out, some of Chávez's heroes might not like his principled anti-golf stance.
Flickr user: R'eyes
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced yesterday that he will purchase dozens more tanks in response to the new U.S.-Colombian leasing agreement:
"We're going to buy several battalions of Russian tanks," Chavez said at a news conference, saying the deal is among accords he hopes to conclude during a visit to Russia in September.
Chavez's government has already bought more than $4 billion worth of Russian arms since 2005, including helicopters, fighter jets and Kalashnikov assault rifles.
The socialist leader called Colombia's plan to host more U.S. soldiers a "hostile act" and a "true threat" to Venezuela and its leftist allies. He warned that a possible U.S. buildup could lead to the "start of a war in South America," but gave no indication that Venezuela's military is mobilizing in preparation for any conflict.
Chavez's old friend Fidel Castro also chimed in, writing that, "Venezuela isn't arming itself against the sister nation of Colombia, it's arming itself against the (U.S.) empire."
I doubt it. No matter how big his ego, I doubt that Chavez believes he has a chance against the U.S. military in a conventional war, no matter how many tanks he buys. Even if Venezuela increased its current tank force by 20 times, it would still have fewer than Iraq did before the first Gulf War. Bringing a bigger knife to a gunfight doesn't really shift the odds in your favor.
The rising tensions do give Chavez political cover for a military buildup during a time of economic stagnation and an opportunity to prepare in case of a confrontation with enemies closer to home.
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
In June, I wrote about how many of the world's biggest soccer clubs are facing crippling debt. Over the summer, several individual clubs have faced disbandment over their debts, and now an entire league is facing a season being postponed, as Argentina's Football Association has been forced to suspend the beginning of its fall season. Many of the top division's clubs are have very large debts, including its most famous clubs, Buenos Aires-based River Plate and Boca Juniors.
Latin American football is a tenuous financial affair at the best of times; club directors are hired and fired by a club's members (anyone can pay a membership fee), encouraging lavish promises to the membership, and there is little regulation of financial practices. Furthermore, the die-hard fan clubs known as "Barra Bravas" have become more assertive and violent in recent years, leading to falling attendances (the AFA president's office was attacked within two hours of the postponement, with about 100 people throwing stones and breaking windows). With the global recession pushing down revenues even further, all that the AFA can do is try negotiating a larger TV rights payment, and it's unclear at this point how long that will take.
If the season is delayed for too long, the damage to the league's talent level could be critical: while the Argentine league is no longer among the world's best, like many South American leagues it remains a key breeding ground for top talent (big stars who got their start in Argentina include Diego Milito, Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano, Diego Forlan and Sergio Agüero). But a long delay could lead to many top prospects moving to leagues in Mexico, Brazil, and the United States, where they could continue developing while actually getting paid. Still, those angry supporters shouldn't worry too much - as a new book points out, 97 percent of the 88 clubs that started England's football league in 1923 still exist today, whereas less than the world's biggest companies then have survived that long.
ALEJANDRO PAGNI/AFP/Getty Images
In an interview with Der Spiegel over the weekend, ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya suggested that he had gained the support of a number of sportswear companies who manufacture their products in Honduras:
SPIEGEL: Do you see an opportunity for dialogue with the new regime?
Zelaya: International pressure would have to be increased for that to happen. It affected the coup leaders when Washington suspended their diplomatic visas, and the sanctions are also taking effect. In many ports, goods coming from Honduras are no longer being unloaded. The German firm Adidas, along with Nike and clothing manufacturer Gap, have announced that they will cancel orders from Honduran factories unless democracy is restored. [Emphasis mine.]
Zelaya seems to be embellishing to say the least. He is likely referring to a letter the companies wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week urging her to seek a negotiated compromise to the crisis in Honduras. Here's an excerpt:
While we do not and will not support or endorse the position of any party in this internal dispute, we feel it is necessary in this case to join with the President of the United States, the governments of countries throughout the Americas, the Organization of American States, the UN General Assembly and the European Union in calling for the restoration of democracy in Honduras.
The letter doesn't say anything about canceling orders. And while the organizations mentioned in the above paragraph all support Zelaya's reinstatement, it's hardly a ringing endorsement for his position.
I called Nike's media relations department today and spokesperson Kate Meyers denied that there were any plans to cancel orders:
We have no plans to alter our supply orders from Honduras, whatsoever. One of the aims of the letter is to support workers’ rights and civil liberties. Canceling our orders wouldn’t be the way to go about that.
LA Times' blogger Catherine Lyons has some useful background on why the apparel companies are getting involved with the situation in the first place.
ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images
In his most recent newspaper column, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro blasts Nobel laureate Oscar Arias's mediation efforts in Honduras and sarcastically proposes giving Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a prize for her contributions on behalf of yanki imperialism:
Seen from another angle and returning to things prevailing in the real world, where the dominant empire exists and close to 200 sovereign states are having to battle with all kinds of conflicts and political, economic, environmental, religious and other interests, it only remains to give a prize to the brilliant yanki idea of thinking of Oscar Arias in order to gain time, consolidate the coup and demoralize the international agencies that supported Zelaya. [...]
Now the coup leaders are already moving within Latin America’s oligarchic circles, some of which, in their high state positions, no longer blush when speaking of their sympathies toward the coup, and imperialism is fishing in the troubled waters of Latin America. Exactly what the United States wanted with the peace initiative, while it accelerated negotiations to surround the homeland of Bolívar with military bases.
One must be fair, and while we are waiting for the last word of the people of Honduras, we should demand a Nobel Prize for Mrs. Clinton.
Perhaps Fidel has been reading Ronald Krebs.
Also on the Cuba front, the Spanish newspaper El Mundo sees Raul Castro's recent statements as evidence that he's interested in Chinese style reforms:
[E]verything indicates that Fidel's brother wants to promote reforms in the Chinese style that involve an opening in the economy without changing the political structure. In other words, Castro is willing to institute a free market and private property, but not to hold democratic elections or foster freedom of expression.
When Honduras's minister of communications, Enrique Reina, learned that his president had been ousted in a coup, he immediately tried to get to the state television station to send the people a message. He never made it -- but he did make it to the United States, where I spoke to him tonight, and where he has just been nominated to be ambassador of Honduras here in Washington. His predecessor's visa was revoked by the State Department today, due to his having supported the coup.
It's the latest intrigue in a story that is becoming increasingly complicated and increasingly dangerous -- both for Honduras and for the region. Reina expressed concern that tensions were rising back at home. His family, for example is still there. And being members of the old government, their water and electricity has been cut. The press has been silenced and a curfew has been imposed. The de facto government is digging its heels in, refusing to allow ousted President Manuel Zelaya back into the country.
Both sides are escalating the situation. Zelaya is parked on the border between Honduras and Nicaragua, rallying support. He's not ready to cross back into the country, Reina said, because he is trying first to contact supporters. For now, Reina says that Zelaya is waiting for his family to join him in Nicaragua. It's a détente that has everyone wondering how long the tense calm can really last. And both sides seem way too nonchalant about what might happen if things turn sour.
From Reina's public comments tonight, where he spoke at a gathering of more than a dozen ambassadors, and a handful more diplomats, scholars, and journalists, it looks like both sides are prepared to stand firm for now. Reina said the de facto regime was trying to pull any cards they could, for example portraying themselves as opponents of some of the leftist governments in Latin America that have been met with U.S. opposition in recent years (read: Hugo Chávez, first and foremost). It's a "Cold War" type of conspiracy theory, he said. "We might expect that this military regime, in their despair, and as a product of their lack of international recognition, might try to link President Zelaya to al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, just to justify their actions."
So who might be able to break the deadlock? Many attending tonight's gathering seemed to think the answer is simple: the United States -- and Congress in particular. There, the debate seems to be split between those who condemned the coup and those who worry that Zelaya's government had taken a dangerous turn to the left -- warranting the military's actions. Both sides of the Honduran political system are working hard to win that debate: the de facto government through three Washington lobby groups, for example, and Zelaya through meetings with Reps. Barbara Lee and Eliot Engel and Senator Richard Lugar. Zelaya wants targeted sanctions, threats to remove or reduce U.S. aid to the country, and diplomatic intervention: "We thank and forsee more sanctions, like the ones taken by the World Bank, the IMF, the EU and MERCOSUR, the United States," Reina said in his remarks.
It has the makings of a political mess. But let's not forget the stakes: Honduras is a country of people -- people whose lives will be lived under one of several governments, all of which are likely to be dysfunctional in providing services until the business of who's in charge gets sorted. And that's assuming that tensions that are rising on ground fall before they rise much further.
Some go around in Mercedes, some in Ladas, but the system forces almost everyone to hitch rides.
In 2006 Castro retaliated by erecting hundreds of 100-foot-high flag poles in the "Anti-Imperialist Plaza" opposite the Interests Section, meant to symbolize the Cuban people's struggle -- and conveniently obstructing view of the ticker.
For a few weeks now the messages have stopped flashing high above the streets of Havana, and although U.S. diplomats initially cited "technical difficulties" as the cause, they say they have no plans to turn it back on. It is a small, but symbolic, gesture as the Obama administration continues to ease hard-line policies against Cuba, and promises a normalization of relations between the two countries in the seemingly not-so-distant future.
The hottest commodity in Cuba, the Miami Herald reveals, is the mattress.
A severe shortage in mattresses across the country has encouraged a thriving black market of threadbare, stolen and straw alternatives. "Freelance merchants" improvise springs, covers and fillings out of any easily-available materials, and the government's official factory is victim to "constant" theft.
Like the majority of local businesses, the nation's sole mattress-making outfit Dujo Copo Flex, is under exclusive contract with the government. But the 60,000 or so mattresses made annually do not come close to meeting the gapping demand for decent bedding, with most of the factory's productions going straight to hotels, the armed forces and even exported to Italy and Venezuela. The remaining few that can be sold to Cuban consumers are done so at a premium, costing upwards of 5,352 pesos -- much more than the average annual salary. Consequently, mattresses are now passed down within families like precious heirlooms.
But finding refurbished bedding, or anything else you'd like (a fake marriage and ticket to America, anyone?), on the island may be getting easier with the launch of Revolico.com, the Cuban answer to Craigslist and a godsend for illegal entrepreneurs hawking their wares. It's nice to see that the black market can find its way online everywhere.
A supporter of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya lies on the highway in Ojo de Agua, some 70 km from Tegucigalpa, in front of soldiers blocking the road to Las Manos border post between Honduras and Nicaragua on July 24, 2009. Honduras's de facto government shut down its southern frontier region bordering Nicaragua Friday, hoping to block Zelaya's bid to return home a month after he was ousted in a coup.
YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images
Honduras's interim government has sent a lobbying team to Washington to try to talk the Obama adminsitration out of its pledge to impose sanctions if ousted President Manuel Zelaya is not returned to power. I can't help thinking they don't quite understand the new U.S. president's priorities:
Appealing to free trade supporters, they hope to nudge the Obama administration away from its threat to impose sanctions on the impoverished country, where export-assembly factories are dominated by U.S. firms and investors.
"I imagine there would be some reaction from them" to trade sanctions, Amilcar Bulnes, head of the Honduran Council of Private Business, said Monday.
Zelaya's foes appear to hope President Barack Obama doesn't have the time or energy for this battle when he has weightier problems like his push to reform the U.S. health care system and turn around the economy.
"Honduras is a small, poor country," Bulnes said. "The world would look very bad if it takes out its wrath on this country."
Obama has never been much of a free trader, particularly when it conflicts with a political principle, and as for looking like a bully, the U.S. position on this issue puts it on the same side as the OAS and the EU, neither of whom have recognized the new government. In fact, the U.S. would more likely be accused of meddling if it didn't oppose the coup. It shouldn't be a surprise that the U.S. cares more about it's overall standing in the region (particularly with powerful regional players like Brazil) than it does about its relationship with Honduras.
This also seems ill advised:
Micheletti vowed not to back down - and implied that Washington is betraying a staunch ally, one that let its territory be used as a staging area for U.S.-backed Contra rebels battling Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government during the 1980s and more recently sent troops to Iraq.
Touting your country's role in two of the most controversial Republican foreign policy ventures of the last quarter century is not really the best way to win over a Democratic president who (I'm just assuming with Nicaragua.) opposed both of them.
U.S. ambassador Hugo Llorens claims that the Obama administration had tried to talk the parliament and military out of the coup, but the interim government still seems genuinely shocked that the U.S. has not backed them up. Micheletti and co. may have assumed that when push came to shove, the U.S. was not going to stand up for Zelaya, a power-hungry, leftist who also happened to be backed by Hugo Chavez. They seem to have profoundly misjudged the degree to which the new administration values international public opinion over regime type.
Still, speaking of Sandinistas, I think Daniel Ortega may be pushing his luck.
YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Image
The U.S. military has revealed some details of a joint training excercise with their Cuban couterparts at Guantanamo Bay:
A Cuban Army helicopter flew over this Navy base and dropped 500 gallons of saltwater on burning plywood to extinguish a simulated raging wildfire. American sailors crossed into Cuban-controlled turf to set up a mock triage center run by both nations' militaries, should catastrophe strike.
What may be more surprising is that the drill has been conducted every since the mid-'90s, though this is the first time it has been oficially acknowledged.
The world media has been full of accounts and opinions about the ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. But inside his own country, it's a different story.
In Honduras, some of the most popular and influential television stations and radio networks blacked out coverage or adhered to the de facto government's line that Manuel Zelaya's overthrow was not a coup but a legal "constitutional substitution," press freedom advocates and Honduran journalists said.
Meanwhile, soldiers raided the offices of radio and TV stations loyal to Zelaya, shutting down their signals. Alejandro Villatoro, 52, the owner of Radio Globo, said soldiers broke down doors and dismantled video surveillance cameras.
"They grabbed me and put me face down and put six rifles on me, with a foot on my back holding me down," he said. "It was like I was a common criminal."
Such allegations underscore the one-sided nature of the news that has been served up to Hondurans during the crisis. According to results of a Gallup poll published here Thursday, 41 percent of Hondurans think the ouster was justified, with 28 opposed to it.
Global Post's Ioan Grillo was on top of this story earlier this week, and also notes that some of the biggest commercial networks didn't need any help dumping on Zelaya, as they have been at war with him for a long time. In addition:
[T]he media battle over the Honduras coup also reflects larger news-related issues as leftist governments have risen to power in the region.
Longstanding commercial networks controlled by wealthy families have often had head-on collisions with leftist leaders, who accuse them of undermining their governments.
In reaction, business interests accuse stations controlled by leftist presidents of demonizing the rich and dividing nations along class lines.
“The media across Latin America has become much more polarized in recent years. There is more of an atmosphere of saying, “You have to be with us or against us,” said Elan Reyes, president of Honduras’ journalist association.
ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images
As I wrote yesterday, one of the nice things about the post-Cold War era is that the leaders of military coups can no longer count on U.S. or Soviet support purely on the basis of ideology, and therefore, even in the rare instance that they do still succeed, have less of a chance of establishing dictatorships. Evidently, however, however, coup-plotters can still count on Charles Krauthammer's support.
The Washington Post columnist and Fox News commentator attacks the Obama administration in the above clip for taking the side of ousted leftist leader Manuel Zelaya and reccomends the following bizarre rule of thumb for U.S. Latin America policy:
Whenever you find yourself on the side of Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega and the Castro twins, you ought to reexamine your assumptions.
Well, ok. But what if you also find yourself on the side of reliably pro-American conservatives like Colombia's Alvaro Uribe and Mexico's Felipe Calderon as well as influential moderate leftist leaders like Brazil's Lula Inacio da Silva, Argentina's Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Chile's Michelle Bachelet? Perhaps then you might come to the conclusion that the U.S. position on the events in Honduras should be decided not on where the players involved fall in the zero-sum, dialectical struggle for Latin America's soul, but whether this is really the best way to protect the country's democracy and the stability of the region.
Brooking Institution scholar and former Costa Rican minister of planning Kevin Casas Zamora, no fan of Zelaya, came to this conclusion in a piece for FP yesterday:
An illegal referendum has met an illegal military intervention, with the avowed intention of protecting the Constitution. Zelaya's civilian opponents, meanwhile, are celebrating. For the past week, the Honduran Congress has waxed lyrical about the armed forces as the guarantors of the Constitution, a disturbing notion for Latin Americans. At the very least, we are witnessing in Honduras the return of the unfortunate role of the military as the ultimate referee in political conflicts among civilian leaders, a huge step back in the region's consolidation of democracy.
That's why Zelaya, though he bears by far the greater responsibility for this crisis, must be reinstated in his position as the legitimate president of Honduras. The Organization of American States, the neighboring countries, and the U.S. government (which is still enormously influential in Honduras) should demand no less. They should also call upon all political actors in Honduras to take a deep breath and do what mature democracies do: allow the law to deal with those who try to step outside it. If Zelaya must be prosecuted for his harebrained attempt to subvert the Honduran Constitution, then let the courts proceed as rigorously as possible. And the same applies to the coup perpetrators. If Honduras is to have a decent future, its politicians and soldiers, in equal measure, must learn that the road to democracy and development runs through the rule of law.
Or you could just keep pretending that the Soviets are on the verge of taking over Latin America.
The Wall Street Journal's Mary O'Grady argues that the ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was not in fact a coup, since the president was himself holding a referendum in violation of an order by the country's supreme court. But I don't think one need defend Zelaya to argue that sending troops to break into a president's house and put him on a plane out of the country is generally not the best way to protect "the independence of institutions that keep presidents from becoming dictators."
If this weekend's coup seems like a bit of a throwback to the Cold War era, that's because it is. Research by political scientists Nikolay Marinov and Hein Goemans, which I wrote about in the May/June print issue of FP shows the number of coups has declined significantly since the fall of the Berlin wall:
And it's not just the number of coups that has changed. Those who seize power are now far more likely to give it up. Since 1990, two-thirds of governments resulting from coups allowed elections in less than five years. The end of the zero-sum competition of the cold war probably has a lot to do with it:
Since the end of Cold War rivalry for spheres of influence, Western powers have become less willing to tolerate dictatorships—and more likely to make aid contingent upon holding elections.
This does seem to be playing out in the Honduran case, with the Obama administration demanding the reinstatement of Zelaya, an ally of Hugo Chavez and frequent critic of U.S. policy. A few decades ago, it's doubtful that the White House would have acted so quickly to condemn the overthrow of an unfriendly leftist leader.
Central America's first coup in 16 years is certainly bad news (as it should be noted, was Zelaya's increasingly authoritarian behavior) but these events are becoming increasingly rare, and once the dust settles, Honduras has a greater chance at returning to democracy than ever before.
Chart: Goemans and Marinov
During the ongoing political crisis in Iran, another less noticed "revolution" has been going on in Peru with relatively little international attention, but potentially with lasting consequences for both the country and its role in the global economy.
Over the past two weeks, indigenous protesters have successfully forced the Peruvian protesters have successfully forced the government to reverse planned land reforms that would have opened their traditional land to investment and exploration by international energy companies.
The demonstrations against the reform turned violent earlier this month in a confrontation that left 50 dead, including 23 police officers. Peru's prime minister offered to resign over the controversy after the government caved to the Indians demands. The leader of the protest movement has fled into exile in Nicaragua after being charged with inciting the violence.
President Alan Garcia has come under fire for his insensitivity to the violence and for comparing the protesters to "garden watchdogs" protecting their food. Garcia had framed the new development as both an economic opportunity for the region, a way of clamping down on illegal logging, and a way to combat drug trafficking by increasing government presence.
Granted, the news has been dominated by Iran this month for good reason, but protests leading to the killing of 23 police officers, the reversal of a major government decisions affecting multinational corporations, and the resignation of a head of government, seems like a pretty big deal. I think it's safe to say that if this had happened in Asia or the Middle East it would have been front page news in the United States.
Consider how intertwined it is with U.S. foreign policy, it's always surprising how little discussion Latin American affairs (unless Hugo or Fidel are talking) merits in the United States. Peru's largely ignored situation is a perect example. Since when are race, money, violence, and drugs not interesting topics?
Last Thursday, Mark Sanford, the governor of the U.S. state of South Carolina, just disappeared. No one -- not his bodyguards, his wife, his staff -- knew where on Earth he was.
On Monday, his staff told reporters that the idiosyncratic governor had gone for a quick solo jaunt on the Appalachian Trail. (Even though it was father's day weekend. And, a special Nude Hiking Day on the trail, natch.)
Well, Sanford's back. It turns out the governor was in Argentina for the week. The Wall Street Journal reports:
He said it was a stressful legislative session and he wanted a break. He had considered – but vetoed – the idea of hiking the trail. “But I said ‘no’ I wanted to do something exotic,” Sanford said “… It’s a great city.”
He didn’t give many details about the trip, but said he was alone and drove along the coast.
Sanford said he cut the trip short by a day after being told by his chief of staff that he was getting lots of media attention. “I don’t know how this thing got blown out of proportion,” Sanford told the newspaper.
To be honest, this story is so bizarre I don't quite know what to say about it. Heading to Argentina for a week sounds delightful. But to run off without telling anyone? (The last time I considered doing that, I was in the fourth grade and had just tried putting my brother down the laundry chute.)
It's so vastly irresponsible -- not just weird, but irresponsible -- for a major public official to do that, in my mind, it disqualifies him for the job. Taxpayers pay to ensure the safety of their governors -- who knows how much money South Carolina spent looking for the guy? That's just for starters.
And so, bewildered, I turn it over to you, readers. What was he doing in Argentina? Any good theories?
Update: Sanford was in Argentina with another woman, who he's known for eight years and been engaged in an affair with for the last year or so. He's resigned as the head of the Republican Governors' Association; my guess is that he'll ultimately resign as the governor of South Carolina as well.
And, what a strange, weirdly touching press conference. Key quote: "Oddly enough, I spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina."
The only useful definition of human rights is one where a human rights crusader could identify WHOSE rights are being violated and WHO is the violator. That is what historically has led to progress on human rights...Poverty does not fit this definition of rights. Who is depriving the poor of their right to an adequate income? There are many theories of poverty, but few of them lead to a clear identification of the Violator of this right.He writes in part to criticize Amnesty International's 2009 report (pictured at right) for its inclusion of poverty as a rights violation. In a following post he then publishes a response from Sameer Dossani of Amnesty:
It's true that lack of income, in and of itself, isn't a human rights violation. But poverty is about a lot more than just income. As Easterly knows, those who live on less than a dollar a day are poor not just because they lack income; the lack of income implies lack of access to services, clean drinking water, adequate education, housing, employment and so on. All of these are violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights. To give just one of many possible examples, estimates indicate that as many as 8,000 children die daily in Africa alone from preventable diseases such as cholera and dysentery. It's certainly true to say that these are diseases of poverty - the rich can ensure that their water is not contaminated and can seek treatment at private hospitals as opposed to understaffed government clinics - but they are more than that. They are violations of the right to health and the right to clean water.
Is this more than a semantic debate? Both agree poverty ought to be alleviated and that poverty is connected to actual human rights violations. Easterly calls it "disappointing" that Amnesty is "blurring its previous clear focus on human rights." Is it?
SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images
In the latest Newsweek, FP Editor in Chief Moises Naim ponders why we spend so much time thinking and talking talking about a not particularly important country:
Bill Clinton and George W. Bush recently had a face-to-face debate in Canada to discuss current affairs. The only Latin American nation mentioned in their conversation? Cuba. In April the heads of state of the Americas met in Trinidad. The central theme? Cuba—the only country not invited to the summit. Last week the Organization of American States (OAS) had a summit in Honduras. What thorny problem dominated the discussions of the -foreign-affairs ministers, including Hillary Clinton, who had to divert her attention from the North Korean nuclear test and the crises in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan to travel to the summit of the OAS? Cuba, of course. A few months ago, the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, convened a meeting to discuss the situation in Cuba. The room was overflowing. A few days later it held a far-less-attended meeting. The subject? Brazil.
The obsession with Cuba is not exclusively American. It is as intense in Europe. It would be natural to conclude, there-fore, that no other Latin American country matters more to the rest of the hemisphere, or indeed to the rest of the world, than Cuba. Unless, of course, one looks at a map—or at some statistics. Brazil occupies almost half of South America's land mass and is the fifth largest country in the world. Its territory is nearly 80 times larger than that of Cuba. More people live in just one Brazilian city, São Paolo, than in all of Cuba. Brazil's economy is the ninth largest in the world and one of the most dynamic—it is also 31 times larger than that of Cuba. Trade between Brazil and the rest of the world is 25 times that of Cuba. There are 10 times as many Brazilians in the military as there are Cubans in the island's armed forces. In global negotiations on the environment, trade, nuclear proliferation, financial regulation, energy and poverty alleviation, Brazil is a major player.
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