Insulza is not the issue

With its typically retrograde, myopic, Inside-the-Beltway perspective on Latin America, The Washington Post lobbed a grenade a couple weeks ago when it strenuously objected to a second six-year term for JosAi?? Miguel Insulza as secretary general of the Organization of American States, implying that the U.S. should “press for change,” whatever that means.

Others much smarter and better-looking than myself have since weighed in to challenge the piece’s logic. Increasingly, it’s looking to be a moot point. So far, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, Brazil, Guatemala, and probably a few countries I’ve missed have already come out in support of Insulza’s reelection next month, and anyway, he’s thus far running unopposed.

That doesn’t change how lots of Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, and perhaps Bolivians on the wrong end of certain political winds feel about an Insulza-led OAS:

I think they have a legitimate complaint. Democracy isn’t only about the vote. It’s also about having autonomous ombudsmen, due process, freedom of expression, and an independent judiciary, all of which have been weakened or eliminated in many of the ALBA countries. Meantime, the OAS has been busy carefully avoiding eye contact.

But OAS critics are wrong when they assume ideology is to blame. As far as I’ve seen, the OAS is an equal-opportunity ignorer of outrageousness when the outrageousness is perpetrated by larger countries like Mexico, Venezuela, and Colombia. This is just politics, folks, and it’s the way international organizations will always deal with their most powerful members.

That’s definitely not desirable, but it certainly won’t change if you replace the executive secretary.

Posted in Human Rights, Nicaragua, Politics, Venezuela | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Tiff over a swastika

(Via PA?gina/12)

A curious corner of South American history is bulging into something of an international diplomatic tiff. In 1939, after a sea battle with the British, Nazi battleship SMS Graf Spee limped up RAi??o de la Plata to Montevideo and scuttled itself. There it sat, at the bottom of the bay just off shore from the capital of Uruguay, for almost 70 years.

Recently, however, some divers have hauled up a huge brass insignia from the wreck, featuring an eagle and aAi??swastika. And Germany is pissed. They don’t want the piece sold or displayed because of its swastika.

As this blog post points out, that’s a little weird, considering the Germans fund World War II exhibits in other parts of the world. It almost sounds like they’re trying to extend their own laws prohibiting Holocaust denial and the display of National Socialist images to the rest of the world.

The ball is now in Uruguayan President Mujica’s court.

Here’s a short British propaganda video about the scuttling of the Graf Spee.

And here’s a longer documentary about the Graf Spee, if you’ve got an hour to kill. Good stuff.

Posted in History, Uruguay | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Prepare for landing crashing

Popular Mechanics has published a list of the world’s 18 strangest airports, and to no one’s surprise, Honduras’ Toncontin International makes the list. Nestled among mountains and smack in the middleAi??of Tegucigalpa, Toncontin has only one 7,000-foot runway, which is awfully stubby for 747s and 757s.

Maybe “strange” isn’t quite the right word. How about “crazy-dangerous”?

I actually know someone who survived a plane crash there in 2008, and everyone else I know who’s flown in there says it’s scary as hell. Planes have to drop in between the mountains, then bank hard and nail the postage-stamp runway right at its start to take advantage of the full length. Here’s a video of the maneuver that makes me never want to fly into Honduras, ever.

Posted in Honduras, Odd | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Good start

Chinchilla and the Communists. (Via La Nacion.)

Governing Costa Rica is hard. With only one four year term, presidents have little time to advance their agendas. The unicameral legislature, meanwhile, is fractured and sluggish. Representatives are also limited to a single four-year term, and minority parties can (and do) gum up legislation they don’t like with endless procedural motions.

Governing Costa Rica is also tricky. Pretty much everyone who’s anyone makes their money off the government, directly or indirectly. Try to reform anything – anything – and you’re bound to step on some powerful, well-entrenched toes. A White Knight approach to governance in Costa Rica will get you politically assassinated.

So maybe, just maybe, a woman’s touch is needed.

In the last few days, President-elect Laura Chinchilla (PLN) has paraded across the cover of La NaciA?n in the company of some odd folks. First she appeared with Libertarian ex-candidate Ai??tto Guevara, promising to back the Libertarians’ security initiatives. Then she met with Citizen Action’s OttA?n SolAi??s, who later promised to back the PLN’s social initiatives. Now this morning, she’s appearing with extreme-left-wing Frente Amplio, promising to support that party’s environmental initiatives.

One could make an argument that Chinchilla is only doing all this glad-handing because her party lacks a majority in the 57-seat National Legislature, so she needs a coalition to govern. But that wouldn’t explain why she’s making nice with Frente Amplio, a party with only one seat, and a party that PLN allies viciously smeared during the 2007 CAFTA referendum.

An optimist might get the impression that Chinchilla actually intends to lead the country somewhere – gently, all-inclusively, forward. Stroking egos and compromising would be more or less the only way to do so in Costa Rica. It will, of course, remain to be seen if she intends to follow through on this early alliance-building, and (more importantly) if her fellow liberacionistas can manage to be as gracious.

For the moment, however, the lack of machismo is refreshing.

Posted in Costa Rica, Politics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Why is ChA?vez picking a fight with Polar?

First, last week, ChA?vez ordered food company Polar – which most famously produces beer and arepa flour – to move its brewery in Barquisimeto, as the government is going to use the land for a public housing project. Polar protested, and now ChA?vez has issued a threat: “If you keep on like this, I can make a decision that you will not like with respect to all of Polar.”

What’s he up to?

Posted in Politics, Venezuela | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Business is business

Beggars can’t be choosers. Faced with an electricity crisis that’s forcing rolling blackouts during peak use hours, Venezuela is considering Colombia’s offer to sell it some juice. Initially, Vice President ElAi??as Jaua had said Venezuela would not buy electricity from Colombia, as relations between the two countries have been “frozen” since the middle of last year.

Now, ChA?vez himself is saying Venezuela will look at all offers, including Colombia’s, basically because business is business.

It’s a nice excuse, but the fact that ChA?vez is suspending international mudslinging (normally one of his favorite sports) illustrates the seriousness of this crisis. The shortages might be just a temporary situation brought on by droughts, but they still highlight the fact that Venezuela has become very bad at producing anything other than petroleum, even electricity for domestic consumption.

Posted in Colombia, Politics, Venezuela | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

INDEC cruisin’ for a bruisin’

It’s not much use having a national census and statistics institute if you can’t believe its numbers. Such is the case in Argentina, where the Instituto Nacional de Estadisticas y Census (INDEC) is widely assumed to be under the thumb of the Kirchners. For just one recent example, INDEC reported that wholesale beef prices rose 4% in January, while the beef wholesale market itself reported a 26.9% jump.

Citing this manipulation of inflationary and other data, a group of 37 opposition lawmakers is pushing a bill to “normalize” INDEC. They held hearings yesterday on the Senate floor, hearing testimony from economists, academics, and individuals who had been fired from INDEC.

Manuel Garrido, former head of the Administrative Investigations Public Prosecutor, opined that INDEC’s problem is not one of methodology but of “fraud and adulteration of the data.”

The lawmakers say they’ll be presenting the bill in early March.

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Justice with a gun

Via Caretas magazine

Judges in Peru are apparently extremely hardcore. The Honorable RaA?l Rosales Mora didn’t like that Carlos Saavedra, a photographer for Caretas magazine, was snapping photos of him for a scandalous article, so he made the article a little more scandalous by whipping out a handgun.

“Don’t you know what you’re doing, pointing that gun at me?” Saavedra said, as he snapped pictures of the psycho. “You should also be careful with what you’re doing,” the judge replied, before driving away.

The magazine went ahead and published the long, damning article, and for good measure is calling for the judge to be dismissed.

Posted in Odd, Peru | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Tough life

Being a left-wing revolutionary terrorist isn’t all fun and games. Someone’s got to dig the latrines and carry firewood, and a notebook kept by a FARC leader shows those tasks often meted out as punishment:

Liliana GB for having incurred subparagraph “E” of first level violations by losing a Handy radio and two antennae.
Make 50 trips for firewood
5 1×1 holes for garbage
40 mts of 60×25 latrines
clean up 2 butchered animals

Anyway, it could have been worse. The notebook also indicated that other FARC members were executed for things like stealing cigarettes and talking in formation.

Posted in Colombia, Odd | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Marching in

Art ants

"Ants" by artist Rafael Gomez Barros

Spotted on the facade of the National Congress, in Bogota, Colombia

Posted in Arts and Culture, Colombia | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment
  • DAILY LINKS

    • The Nation has a long, wonky, wonderful article on Mexican maize cultivation, the effects of NAFTA, and the dangers of genetically-modified seeds. Author Peter Canby backs up his excellent writing with piles and piles of meticulous research. Not to be missed. [link, via SM] (Image from Joel Penner.)

    • Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas ended his hunger strike yesterday after 134 days. Farinas decided to end his strike after the Cuban government said it would release political prisoners rounded up in the "Black Spring" crackdown of 2003. Get well soon. [link]

    • The Uruguayan selection, which has made it to the quarter finals of the World Cup, just received a shipment of half a ton of fine cuts of beef for the mother of all asados in preparation for a contest against Ghana on Friday: "450 kilos of lomo, 200 of entrecot, 75 of vacAi??o, 75 of colita de cuadril, 150 of ojo de bife and 50 kg of picaAi??a."Ai??[link]

    • Hitmen have assassinated the PRI candidate for governor of Tamaulipas State, Rodolfo Torre CantA?. Torre was gunned down along with six others at about 10:30 this morning on a highway on the way to a campaign event. Drug mafias are assumed to be responsible. [link]

    • From the days when coups were something of a regional sport, new documents detail a famous British ballerina's role in a plot to topple the government of Panama. The plan was to use her yacht to gather men and arms, then "land somewhere and collect in the hills." It didn't work. [link]

    • Mexico's Attorney General's Office has posted on its web site irrefutable evidence that gold-plated AR-15s and diamond-studded pistol grips are not nearly as cool-looking as they sound. The deadly knick-knack collection is said to belong to Valencia Cartel leader El Lobo. [link]

    • Two Brazilian ranchers were sentenced to 30 years in prison apiece for ordering the killing of an environmentalist nun: "Prosecutors said the pair offered to pay a gunman $25,000 to kill the 73-year-old [Dorothy] Stang because she had prevented them from stealing a piece of land that the government had granted to a group of poor farmers." [link]


    • This video of a kidnapping and car chase in Mexico is notable mainly for the bad-assitude of the TV journalists who were on this like white on rice. Well done, gentlemen.

    • The Economist takes a peak at the Mockus phenomenon in Colombia: "His moustacheless beard gives him the air of a Baltic pastor... He is financing his campaign with a bank overdraft. His supporters rely on Facebook and make their own posters; street vendors sell unofficial campaign T-shirts." [link]

    • Some cruise lines will cease traveling to Antarctica after this cruise season, as a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil goes into effect next year. The ban came after a 2007 incident when a Gap Adventures ship got punctured by ice and sank, causing a mess. [link]