Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Around Latin America

-In a particularly tragic story, sixteen teenagers were shot and killed in Juarez this past week. The news has barely made a ripple in the United States, even though the casualties are greater than, say, Bloody Sunday, serving as a sad reminder not only of how horrible the violence in Juarez has gotten, but how immune the United States seems to be to what is going on just south of it's border.

-Rightist billionaire and Chilean president-elect Sebastian Piñera won the presidential run-off in mid-January. While he doesn't take office until March 11, some of his suggested policies and decisions are already raising eyebrows. As Greg points out, Piñera's desire to redirect money from copper away from the military budget indicates a growing willingness not just on the left, but on the right, to use Chile's income from copper in other ways, and the fact that a right-wing politician sympathetic to the economic policies of Pinochet has adopted this stance may mean the military will have to "come around" to the reality that it won't be getting as much funding from Chile's copper industry as it has grown accustomed to receiving. More troubling to many inside and outside of Chile, Piñera has also refused to divest of some of his financial properties while in office, leading some to ask if he isn't exposing himself to a conflict of interests between his financial holdings and his duties as president. This, on top of his profession that he thought the neoliberal policies under the Pinochet regime were the type of policies he would pursue, have many worried about his economic impact on Chile even before he takes office. Beyond that, it's worth noting that his brother appears to be the Chilean version of Billy Carter (and yes, that cake does look like what you think it looks like).

-In Peru, 41 military officers and soldiers have gone on trial for human rights violations for their roles in the murder of eight civilians in 1989. Although the trial is important for bringing justice, it also has become of political importance, as president Alan Garcia (who was also president from 1985-1990) tried to remove one of the officers from beyond the court's reach by giving him high-end political appointments. The trial, its timing (during Garcia's first administration), and Garcia's efforts to gain impunity for at least some of the officers raises important questions about Garcia's role in the violation of human rights during his administration, questions that are not and should not go away any time soon.

-Among the many victims of Colombia's never-ending civil war, the displaced are oft-forgotten. Many poor and small-landholders have lost their homes and lands, and wealthy families have swooped in to take it and then receive farm subsidies from the Uribe administration, serving as a powerful reminder of the fact that gross social inequalities and questionable political alliances are one of the biggest travesties of the Uribe administration.

-Lula continues to rely on hydroelectric dams for Brazil's future power sources. It just allowed the controversial Belo Monte dam on the Amazon river to proceed, in spite of opposition from environmentalists and residents in the Amazonian basin. With his term coming to an end this year, there will be many reasons to look back on Lula's administration and point at the positive things he accomplished; however, it already seems that his environmental policy may be one of the blackest marks on his administration, and the Belo Monte serves as just another strike against Lula on the environmental front.

-A European spaceport in French Guiana may be "booming," but it's isolating and alienating many French Guianans.

-Speaking of Europeans' presence in Latin America, though it seems unlikely to come to fruition this time, Russia has begun exploring the possibility of helping construct a canal through Nicaragua to connect the Atlantic and Pacific. Nicaragua has been the center of such talks since the early-1800s, so it's not clear why this time it will come to fruition. Nonetheless, it makes an interesting story, and if Russia goes through with helping Nicaragua finally construct a canal, there will probably be all kinds of hand-wringing among politicians in the United States.

-Evo Morales is not only interested in creating greater socio-economic and ethnic equality in Bolivia; he's also interested in opening up opportunities for women, a fact recently demonstrated in his appointments for cabinet: 10 of the 20 positions were filled by women, a first for Bolivia (and for many other countries in the world).