Archive for the ‘latin america’ Category

Colombia as Israel and the Andes as the Middle East?

March 9, 2008

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“The Crisis Has Been Overcome”?

March 9, 2008


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Civil Society Reacts in Latin America

March 7, 2008

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Raúl Reyes 1948-2008: Internal and Regional Implications

March 3, 2008

raul reyes

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February 4 vs. March 6: Moving Toward Peace or Creating Divisions?

February 18, 2008

Anti March image from Facebook group

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Cristina, the Church, and Ciudad Juárez: A Survey of Women’s Issues in Latin America

February 12, 2008

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Forgotten Continent?

February 11, 2008

I agree with Current History magazine’s assessment of Michael Reid’s new book, Forgotten Continent: The Battle of Latin America’s Soul (see William Finan’s review). The sensationalist title borders on ridiculous. Forgotten continent? Hardly. Africa, or even Antarctica, clearly claim that title. “Remembered in the wrong way” would be more accurate. With the immigration debate in the U.S. reaching new lows, distorted visions of the region and its impoverished migrant invaders have never been more at the forefront of the American pysche.

forgotten-continent.jpg

Title aside, this book is a useful primer for those interested in getting an efficient but thorough summary of the major dynamics influencing the region during the past 50 years.

Like most books meant for the “current affairs” table at Barnes and Noble, there is a certain inevitable bias and tendency toward generalization here – and in this case, the bias is unsurprising. Editor of the Americas section of The Economist, Reid upholds many of the values that that magazine promotes – free trade, free markets, and an open favoritism for socialy-minded democrats commited to sound fiscal policy rather than populism. As a result, he perhaps tends to skirt too quickly over the social havoc caused by some Washington-consensus era reforms and is dismissive of Hugo Chavez in particular, overlooking the importance of his international appeal and the (dare I say it)positive short-term impact of some of his social reforms on the country’s most impoverished. To be fair, despite these limitations, the conclusions Reid draws are nearly always sound and persuasively argued. In Venezuela’s case, there is no doubt that Chavez’s fiscal profilgacy cannot continue unabated without serious consequences. Inflation is already on the rise, and as we know, this phenomenon taxes the income of the poor more than the rich.

To Reid’s credit, the book does not fully mirror Jorge Castañeda’s rather simplistic division between Latin America’s “radical populist left” and its more-enlighted “social-democratic left.” Indeed, the author seems to understand quite clearly that Venezuela and Bolivia, to mention one example, are in fact quite different countries, and Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales are leaders acting in far different domestic political contexts. Still, Reid’s narrative does tend to highlight a more generalized difference between those countries in which democratic institutions have become consolidated, and those in which governance remains threatened by continued violence, autocratic sensibilities, and the pressures for social change brought by extreme poverty.

Yet here one must be careful. Brazil, toted as an example of a country in which democracy has in fact deepened its reach, is still home to 50% of Latin America’s poor. And just because Brazil’s domestic political scene is not dominated by movements pressing radical demands for social change (Lula’s Worker’s Party has come to the center in recent years) does not necessarily mean that the country’s poor are any better off or less deserving of swift action than impoverished citizens in Peru, Ecuador, or Bolivia.

Reid is an optimist. Where other commentators would bemoan the region’s “turn to the left,” he highlights signs of progress toward stable democracies in which the social agenda has properly become an important priority. Unfortunately, in the case of U.S. relations with the region, Reid’s penchant for optimism overlooks the real damage that has been done by the Bush administration to U.S. credibility, as well as the limited ability of the United States to encourage many of the trends he hopes will continue within the Western Hemisphere.

With our resources and attention consumed by crises elsewhere in the world for the forseeable future, and in an international economic environment that has bred domestic insecurity, decreased support for free trade, and cast suspicion (often tinged with racism) on many of the region’s emigrees within our borders, Latin America may become even more misunderstood than it was in previous eras.

(Check out these additional reviews: NY Times, SF Chronicle)

Should Politicians Boast About Supporting the Peru FTA?

January 31, 2008

In the South Carolina Democratic primary debate held in late January, former Senator John Edwards tried to take his competitor, Senator Barack Obama, to task for voting in favor of a recently-approved free trade agreement with Peru; Edwards condemned the Peru FTA as part of his condemnation of free trade agreements in general, dismissing both the Peruvian agreement and NAFTA(the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed in 1994 under President Bill Clinton, which created a free trade zone from the North Pole to the Mexican border with Guatemala). Obama fought back, arguing that NAFTA and the Peru FTA were distinct agreements and that while he agreed with Edwards that NAFTA was a failure, he was proud to support the Peru agreement. Should he be? Peruvian agricultural workers

The Peru FTA, originally envisioned by the Bush administration as an extension of the NAFTA model into continental Latin America, was first proposed in 2003 as part of a whole slate of agreements with the region – Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, and Bolivia, along with Central American nations, were to be brought to the negotiating table as well. In the summer of 2005, the Bush administration secured the approval of a Central American Free Trade Agreement, which also included the Dominican Republic. But after failing to garner sufficient support for a hemispheric-wide Free Trade Agreement of the Americas – demonstrated most clearly at the Mar del Plata Summit in November 2005 – a country-to-country trade approach was adopted as a last hope for expanding the trade agenda in the Americas. Although deals with Colombia and Panama have been negotiated, they have been stalled in the American Congress. Ecuador and Bolivia, having elected populist presidents in recent years, have expressed little interest in negotiating. Thus far, since the passage of CAFTA-DR, only an agreement with Peru has been brought to a vote in the Congress, which accounts for Edwards’ particular (if somewhat odd, given the breathtaking range of issues facing the American public, and thus the next American president, in 2008) focus on this particular agreement.

The Peru agreement initially faced the same Congressional obstacles that the Panamanian and Colombian deals have failed to overcome; in December 2007, however, Congressional leaders reached a compromise with the White House, and the bill was passed. Barack Obama supported the compromise and voted for the agreement, as Edwards repeatedly pointed out. Specifically, Democratic congressional negotiators demanded changes to the labor and environmental standards included in the agreement, provisions which were initially nearly identical to NAFTA labor and environmental standards (despite being nearly 14 years old). It was to these changes that Obama pointed in justifying his support for the trade agreement.

Frankly, these changes do not seem particularly substantial or innovative. One should assume that environmental standards would be improved since the early 1990s, what with the technological innovation, corporate support, and consumer concern that has become increasingly central in the American political arena. One would similarly hope that labor standards would have been tailored to and strengthened on behalf of Peruvian workers.

Furthermore, while there is absolutely no argument to be made against protecting workers’ rights anywhere in the world, the provisions that Obama mentioned do not address the larger labor-related issues inherent in deals like these – namely, that there may be a net loss in American jobs, particularly in industries that are already struggling, such as heavy manufacturing and small agriculture, and that American wages are driven down (and wages in the other country stay down) as this outsourcing takes place.

In fairness, it should be mentioned that Senator Hillary Clinton also supports the Peru FTA, for many of the same reasons that Senator Obama does, and that she was not similarly pressed to explain her views for political reasons, not because they were substantively different. John Edwards was conveniently not a member of the United States Senate to cast a vote on NAFTA or the Peru FTA.

Should Obama have been so proud of this vote, on balance? It is certainly a start that the troubling parts of NAFTA were not allowed to be replicted unchanged, but this cannot be enough. For the United States, as well as for her trading partners in Latin America, a new model for free – and fair – trade must be constructed.

Arming the Colombia-Venezuela Border

January 22, 2008

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First post coming soon…

January 6, 2008

This blog is a space for young professionals researching and analyzing current events in Latin America to share news and their own analysis about the region. It is a venue for thoughtful exchange and innovative ideas. First post coming soon…