Thursday, July 09, 2009

Around Latin America (Now With Suriname!)

-For all the talk about the (il)legality of Manuel Zelaya trying to get a vote on whether or not Honduras should have two-term presidencies or not, Colombia has fallen by the wayside a bit. Nonetheless, efforts to amend the Colombian constitution to allow Alvaro Uribe to run for a third term continue, and the issue continues to cause some civil-but-intense debate in Colombia. The Catholic Church in Colombia has finally come out strongly against a third consecutive term for Uribe (though it seems open to the possibility of Uribe leaving after two terms and returning for a third later). I find it interesting that people who are so outraged at Zelaya simply trying to get a vote on whether Honduras should have two terms (even if it doesn't include him) are for whatever reason very quiet on the situation in Colombia. I think Lula put it best: "One re-election is understandable but two is monarchy." (And you'd think that, with comments like that, the right in Brazil would stop freaking out about Lula trying for a third term, but they haven't.)

-It happened awhile ago, but I was unable to get to it due to travels and then hosting travelers. The Peruvian Congress overturned President Alan Garcia's decree that would have opened the Peruvian Amazon (including large portions of indigenous reserves) to logging, oil drilling, and the construction of dams. The congressional vote was an overwhelming repudiation of Garcia's move, garnering an 82-14 vote in favor of overtuning the decree. The decree led to protests from Peru's indigenous groups, protests that escalated to violence and the deaths of upwards of 30 people, and even racist charges from within Garcia's administration that the killed Indians were not "victims". Not surprisingly, these events have led to Garcia "enjoying" the lowest poll ratings of his administration and one of the lowest in the world, as only 21% of Peruvians had a "favorable opinion" of Garcia after the clashes and the congressional vote.

-Yesterday, I commented on prosecutors going after human rights abuses within the Military Police in Brazil. Gancho has a similar report for abuses within the Mexican military and the challenges in effecting reform institutionally.

-There is good news on human rights abuses in Argentina, though, as the highest criminal court ruled that Carlos Menem's disgraceful 1990 pardon of the junta leaders during Argentina's "Dirty War" (during which the military government murdered as many as 30,000 civilians) was unconstitutional, and that the life-sentences for Gen. Jorge Videla and Admiral Emilio Massera should stand.

-Speaking of Argentina: Buenos Aires is commonly tourists' (especially European tourists') favorite stops when they go to Latin America. Gringos love it for a number of reasons, and while I'm perhaps too harsh or general in my assessment, those reasons usually have to do with the fact that Buenos Aires is "European," and so it feels more "civilized" (and my charges against tourists aren't baseless: I've honestly heard Europeans (and, to a lesser extent, Americans) describe Buenos Aires as "just like home," "more civilized," "better-built," and "cleaner." Really). I also know some portenos who hate how much Buenos Aires has basically become a playground for European and American tourists, leading to skyrocketing prices that make many of the "finer" parts of Buenos Aires inaccessible to Argentines. Well, a recent study reveals the very ugly side of Buenos Aires, the side tourists don't see/look for: four million people in Buenos Aires live in poverty, with 1.2 million classified as "indigent." Buenos Aires is a complicated place, and there are legitimate reasons to enjoy it and to dislike it. However, I've never seen anywhere that so successfully tried to conceal its racism and poverty so strongly while catering to Europeans. It's definitely one of the most disgusting aspects both of the global tourism industry (including the tourists) and of Buenos Aires itself.

-Just north of Argentina, there is an interesting effort in Brazil to create a second state-owned oil company. The proposed company, Petrosal, would "manage sub-salt oil assets," while Petrobras remained focused more on regular petroleum deposits, supply and demand, and regulation. I don't know if it would radically alter the structure or functioning of Brazil's largest state-owned company, but it is an interesting proposal as much from an infrastructural and developmental standpoint as from an economic standpoint.

-Also in regards to Brazil: in one of the fascinating vagaries of the globalized world, Indian companies are looking to outsource some of their IT centers to Brazil. Who knows - maybe down the line, tech calls for computer help will involve a Brazilian accent.

-I've written before about lawsuits involving banana companies and workers in Latin America before. While it's practically history now (it happened back in 2007), Suriname entered the fray, as former workers who lost their jobs in 2002 when the state-owned banana company Surland closed filed a lawsuit against Suriname's government, alleging they were underpaid on their back-wages. The lawsuit also alleged that the government (which restarted banana production in 2004) was firing employees who are trying to organize a union in the industry. I have no idea how this turned out. But we need more news from Suriname. (Seriously).

-Finally, a belated R.I.P. for Hortensia Bussi, the widow of Salvador Allende, who passed away on June 18 at the age of 94. Far from being a quiet victim, Ms. Bussi had been heavily involved in social justice before Allende's 1970 election, and continued fighting for human rights and social aid after his death.