Friday, July 24, 2009

Around Latin America

-It's been a really busy week. For starters, Manuel Zelaya has apparently returned to Honduras, but what's going to happen next is anybody's guess.

...UPDATE: Apparently he entered briefly, but has returned to Nicaragua to avoid arrest. We'll see what follows...

-Brazil has agreed to allow Paraguay to sell its surplus energy from the Itaipu dam to Brazilian companies other than the state-run Eletrobras. The Itaipu issue has been a stickler for years - Brazil needs more energy as it grows, and Paraguay has had a surplus thanks to the agreement to share power from the dam between the two countries when it was built back in the 1970s. Although Lula had originally said he would not review the contract from the 1970s when Lugo won election, he has since taken a more diplomatic stance (as is characteristic of his administration), and it now seems I was correct in suggesting that this would not be nearly the diplomatic crisis between the two countries that some scholars thought it would be.

-There's also great news on how Brazil has stemmed the spread of AIDS:

Two decades ago, it would have been hard to imagine finding an upside to an HIV crisis of the scope that Brazil had on its hands. The World Bank estimated that 1.2 million Brazilians would be infected by the turn of the century — by far the highest number of any country in the region. But today, there is plenty of good news to go around. Thanks to aggressive intervention, Brazil has only about half as many HIV cases as predicted. And the country's popular President Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva, or Lula for short, has taken the show on the road: HIV/AIDS assistance is becoming a powerful tool in the president's growing diplomatic chest.
The article traces how Brazil's government offered free antiretroviral medicine to victims beginning in 1996 and aggressively launching both treatment and prevention programs (in what is simultaneously a reminder that government health programs can and do work, and that even Fernando Henrique Cardoso got some things right in his administration). It also links those efforts to Brazil's broader diplomatic accomplishments since Lula took office in 2002, and is well worth reading in its (relatively brief) entirety.

-I've commented before on Brazil's efforts to build alliances with African countries. Those efforts have not gone unnoticed, as Mozambique President Armando Guebuza this week called Lula's government "a true ally and partner in the fight against poverty." I've said it before, and I'll say it again: when discussing Brazil's ascendance as a global economic and political actor, one cannot overstate the strides made via Lula's insistence on negotiating with any legitimate government, regardless of ideology, if the other governments had things to offer Brazil and vice versa. By refusing to exclude countries like Venezuela or China or the U.S. over ideological issues, Brazil has greatly strengthened its presence globally, and has made many friends where other countries and regions like the U.S., the EU, and others have been alienating countries. And Lula's focus on Africa has seemed genuine and useful for both Brazil and Africa, and I can only hope (though with baited breath) that the next Brazilian president will continue this trend.

-While things are goign smoothly between Brazil and Paraguay, the same cannot be said for Brazil and Budweiser's owning company, AmBev - the anti-trust organs in Brazil are hitting AmBev with a record-setting fine of $150 million reais ($79 million dollars US) for "anti-competitive practices" dating back to 2004 in Brazil. Although the fine only marked 1% of AmBev's 2003 income, the announcement was enough to make stocks drop in Brazil Wednesday.

-In broader economic terms, Latin America may have gotten some good news this week, as Nouriel Roubini, known as "Dr. Doom" for his depressing-but-ultimately-accurate prediction of the economic crisis the world began to face last year, offered some rare optimism in discussing Latin America's outlook:
Major emerging powers such as China, India and Brazil are among nations that may recover fastest once the global economy picks up, Roubini told reporters at the conference. He also mentioned Chile, Uruguay, Colombia and Peru as countries better- positioned to grow. Countries facing the biggest challenges include emerging markets in Eastern Europe, such as Hungary, Bulgaria and Ukraine, he said.
-In a stomach-churning story of despicable actions, a jury is considering a lawsuit against a Florida hospital that deported a brain-injured illegal immigrant back to Guatemala in 2003.

The lawsuit seeks nearly $1 million to cover the estimated lifetime costs of his care in Guatemala, as well as damages for the hospital's alleged "false imprisonment" and punitive damages to discourage other medical centers from taking similar action.

Jimenez was a Mayan Indian who was sending money home to his wife and young sons when in 2000, a drunken driver plowed into a van he was riding in, leaving him a paraplegic with the mental capability of a fourth grader. Because of his brain injury, his cousin Montejo Gaspar was made his legal guardian.

Jimenez spent nearly three years at Martin Memorial before the hospital, backed by a letter from the Guatemalan government, got a Florida judge to OK the transfer to a facility in that country. Gaspar appealed.

But without telling Jimenez's family - and the day after Gaspar filed an emergency request to stop the hospital's plan - Martin Memorial put Jimenez on a $30,000 charter flight home early on July 10, 2003.

The outcome of the case could play a major role in how hospitals deal with illegal immigrants in the future, making the case of major importance not just to health-care, but to immigration issues, as well as the basic decency of treating any person, regardless of nation, race, or creed, respectfully and tenderly.

-Many people are aware that the Atacama Desert is the driest place on earth; some parts of the desert in Northern Chile have never seen recorded rainfall. It is, suffice to say, extremely dry, and any rainfall can cause major problems. And I mean any rainfall, as this week, .001 inches of rain led to a state of emergency that led to power outages and school closings.

-In the "politically-charged pension awards" category, Argentina is giving a "special pension" to 18 individuals who hijacked a plane with the hopes of gaining control of the Malvinas/Falkland Islands back in 1966. "will grant a special pension to the nationalist group of 18 civilians who in 1966 took command of a commercial flight to Rio Gallegos and had it re-routed to the Falkland Islands with the purpose of taking over the Malvinas for Argentina."

-In the "racial stereotype? or just not funny?" department, apparently the "Yo quiero Taco Bell" chihuaha died this week at the age of 15. And in the funniest pet-news I've heard since learning that the lady-magnet Spuds Mackenzie was female, it turns out that that male-voiced symbol was "Gidget".

-Extinction of any species sucks. Here's hoping that the 90-something year old Galapagos giant tortoise "Lonesome George" is rescuing his breed from the brink of extinction.

-Finally, in touching and sad news, a woman has been arrested for killing twin Mexican midget wrestlers. El Espectrito II and La Parkita, 35, were found dead in a hotel room. Prosecutors suspect the anonymous, 65-year-old suspect and a friend posed as prostitutes and planned to poison the wrestlers to unconsciousness and rob them as part of a broader wave of female gangs robbing men. Unfortunately, the normal dosage of drugs to knock a man unconscious was enough to kill the two wrestlers. The memorials (fans showing up at the funeral in masks) have been touching, and for all the senselessness in so many violent acts, this one seems particularly senseless.