Everyone seems to agree that the economies of Latin America are experiencing a nice little recovery. The IMF, for example, just raised its forecasts for the region and is now projecting 4.1% GDP growth for the region, with 4.2% growth for Mexico and 5.5% for Brazil. Oh boy, numbers.

But here’s something interesting.

In an analysis of the region’s sovereign debt prospects (PDF), Fitch Ratings divides the region’s economies into three “camps.” One camp includes countries like Venezuela, Argentina, and Ecuador, whose recovery will be slower than that of the rest of the world for reasons that should surprise no one (high inflation, weak institutions, poor fiscal discipline, if you must know).

In a second camp are countries like Chile, Peru, and Brazil, whose good fiscal discipline, low political risk, and safe investment environments mean their economies will be growing like weeds this year and next.

Then we have the middle camp, which is basically countries that cast their development lot with the United States: Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador. And here’s the interesting part. Fitch projects this group will see only a moderately-paced recovery specifically because they’re tied to the US.

Meanwhile, Fitch says the Chile/Peru/Brazil group is doing particularly well partly because it does more business with China.

So I ask you: At what other point in recent history has easy access and close ties to the US economy been seen as a disadvantage?

(Original image courtesy H. Langos via Wikimedia Commons.)

Posted in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Economy, El Salvador, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela | Tagged | Leave a comment

Evo has a theory

Evo Morales has figured out where homosexuals and baldness come from: The “female” growth hormones used to make poultry freakishly gigantic:

The chicken we eat is full of female hormones. That’s why when men eat these chickens, they experience deviations in their behavior as men.

And for good measure:

Baldness, which seems normal, is a sickness in Europe. Almost everyone is bald. And it’s because of what they eat. Meanwhile, among the indigenous peoples, there are no bald people because we eat something else.

While I admire Evo’s support of organic, hormone-free poultry, I’m not sure falling back on machista bigotry and crack-pot theories is the best way to make one’s case. That said, I can definitely support his claims that Coca-Cola is better used for cleaning drains.

Will have to try that later.

(Original image courtesy Agencia Brasil via Wikimedia Commons.)

Posted in Bolivia, Odd | Tagged , | 3 Comments

New kind of NIMBY

Mining is a nasty activity, one that inevitably preys on countries with weak institutions and desperate populations, and with predictable results: environmental devastation, child labor, corruption, increased crime and prostitution, etc.

This advertisement, aired in Argentina, sums it up nicely.

Problem is, by my count, about half the people in this video are wearing jewelry. It’s black-and-white, so it’s difficult to tell exactly what variety – but my guess is that at least some of it is gold. These are movie stars, after all.

Countries like Argentina and the United States, with largely educated populations, relative wealth and abundant natural resources, are most prone to this kind of behavior. It’s a mutation of NIMBY-ism (Not-in-my-backyard) and not a particularly flattering one. You see, if we rich white folk (and anyone in the middle and upper classes of the very countries where such projects are proposed), are going to insist on wearing flashy jewelry, then we damn well better find aA�sustainable, socially-just way to mine precious metals in our own backyards, where we can keep a close eye on it.

Simply saying no to resource extraction in our home countries yet continuing to use them wastefully (Exhibit A:A�Petroleum), punts the problem to a less-developed country, where the very same issues take place withA�virtually no oversight and more extreme impacts (just a few examplesA�here). We’ll give Argentina, and the folks in this video, the benefit of the doubt (Technically, it’s a developing country). But the United States, for example, sits atop the world’s largest gold reserves, yet in 2004,A�consumed 5 million ounces more than it produced.

What’s their excuse?

Posted in Argentina, Economy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Another Google product still in beta

Google appears to be rather proud of its new-found freedom of expression spine. It just released a snazzy new product mapping out the countries in the world whose governments have requested information be removed from one of the company’s products (Blogger, YouTube, etc.).

Unfortunately, in order for numbers to be useful, you need some sort of baseline, and Google’s map doesn’t give us one. Maybe if you combine it with data on the number of people in each country who use the internet?

For example, Argentina has a population of about 40 million, only 28% of whom are connected to the internet. Google in Argentina has received 42 requests to remove information from one of its products, which breaks down to about 0.38 complaints per 100,000 internet users.

Though the raw numbers make it look worse, Brazil is about the same as Argentina, with 0.40 complaints per 100,000 internet users. But Germany beats everyone, with 3.1 removal requests per 100,000 users.

In the end, I’m not really clear on what Google’s trying to tell us. That Germany has greater internet restrictions than Cuba? Or that Brazil’s government is the only one in the world that gives enough of a damn about Google to file legal challenges against it?

The power of interactive mappy-thingies for promoting human rights causes is indeed great, but this is where the engineers should have maybe consulted with a social scientist.

Posted in Argentina, Brazil, Human Rights | Tagged , | Leave a comment


Alamar, a Mexican film about a father and son that is supposedly some kind of documentary/feature film hybrid, won best picture at the Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente.

What a pretty-looking movie.

Posted in Arts and Culture, Mexico | Tagged , | Leave a comment

And still they won’t shut up


In addition to being placed on the IACHR’s blacklist of the region’s worst human rights violators (a nice ideologically-diverse group that also includes Venezuela, Honduras, Haiti, and Cuba), Colombia is a place where “you can barely say that there is freedom of expression,” according to the IACHR’s free speech rapporteur, Catalina Botero:

It is difficult to to say that there is freedom of expression in a country where the state intelligence agency has a few officials who systematically conduct espionage, stigmatization, and issue death threats against the people who are performing the heroic labor of informing the public what is going on in the country.

And with new revelations indicating that Uribe himself was in on the illegal wiretapping of Supreme Court judges, journalists, and human rights defenders, the creepy feeling intensifies.

That said, I am pretty consistently amazed at the kinds of things the Colombian press pulls off. It’s damn good journalism, even by U.S. standards, and even if some of it is tainted by politics (what journalism isn’t?).

Maybe facing down decades of terrorism and violence breeds a particularly hard-bitten variety ofA� journalist.

Posted in Colombia, Human Rights | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Crucitas: Loss or opportunity?


Crucitas, a controversial gold mine proposed for a desperately poor region of Costa Rica that is also home to the critically endangered green macaw (why does that always happen?), has hopped theA�obligatory Supreme Court hurdle.

So what’s next?

The environmental lobby will keep pushing back, as it should, but it must be careful not to lose the forest for the trees. In the grand scheme, it’s not Crucitas that’s the problem. It’s Costa Rica’s mining policy and flimsy regulatory institutions. Win or lose, now is the time to reform, and force the government to stick to its supposed commitment to sustainable development. (Right, Dr. Arias?)

That’s not to say the environmental groups should just let the mining company plant “trees” to “replace” the complex green macaw ecosystem and call it a day. (Nice try, Crucitas.) What they should do is redirect their budgets and energy to lobbying for a serious review of the country’s mining laws, an increase in regulation and enforcement, and stipulations that ensure net environmental and social benefits to the country in the long-term.

There’s a reason Infinito Gold Ltd., the company in question, operates in such upstanding nations asA�Venezuela andA�Guyana, and it’s not because they have effective regulatory structures. Since this isn’t theA�first or the last time Costa Rica will face a proposal like this, dusting off the law book and pumping up Costa Rica’s wimpy Geology and Mines department is urgent.

This is not an endorsement of the political party in powerA�or of gold mining, both of which areA�proven losers when it comes to the environment. Even Ortega’s ‘anything-goes’ Nicaragua isA�against mining, and there are plenty of good reasons not to mine gold here, despite the court’s insistence otherwise (No negative environmental impact? Did the judges reallyA�write that?).

But as with oil drilling and mining in the more heavily-regulated United States and Canada, the balance can be tipped towards sustainability, just at a much higher cost. And the corporation should be made to bear the brunt of that cost, or get out.

There is some credence to the argument that the wheels of capitalism will keep on turning, and sometimes it’s best to A�re-align the spokes rather than derail the thing. There is a lot of poverty in the swampy backwater where the Crucitas mine is located, a real need for jobs in a place where eco-tourism is unlikely to take hold and, according to the Supreme Court, more societal pluses than environmental minuses (the Costa Rican definition of public interest).

Tico’s have proudly and deservedlyA�led the world in innovative ideas that temper business with environmental and social consciousness, and here they have an opportunity to do so again. If Crucitas goes forward, local environmentalists should look to the root of the problem, push for tough regulations, and help ensure they’re enforced. A�In doing so, it’ll send a clear message to Infinito Gold, Ltd. and set a precedent for everyone else.

(Original image courtesy Tony Hisgett, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Posted in Costa Rica, Environment | Tagged , | 3 Comments

The new guy

David Sherwood is an environmental journalist, fishing enthusiast, photographer, boat captain, and a pretty damn good shot. He’s traveled throughout Latin America and currently lives in Costa Rica. He’s joining Lat/Am Daily to write about environmental issues and whatever else crosses his mind.

His excellent photography can be enjoyed at his web site, and his writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Miami Herald, and the Christian Science Monitor.

Posted in Housekeeping | Leave a comment

Rolling southward

Last week I laughed when I read a comment from a Mexican health insurance executive blaming a 16% increase in the cost of health insurance last year on “people getting sick more.” Then my wife said, “Diet?” and I said, hm. And now I read this great post from Structurally Maladjusted on The NAFTA Diet.

Apparently Mexico is very fat, and has become so recently:

About 70 percent of Mexican adults are now overweight, according to government estimates, more than triple the number of three decades ago. Also, about a third of the country’s schoolchildren and teenagers are overweight, making Mexicans the second-heaviest people on the planet, gaining quickly on their American neighbors.

I don’t know of any easy way to figure out what proportion of food people eat is over-processed crap, and anyway, as SM points out, correlation is not causation. Common sense tells us, however, that a free trade agreement with a country whose government-subsidized food industry is killing its customers will not be good for you.

Indeed, living as I do in a country that recently ratified CAFTA and has for the last couple decades been rushing to adopt the American way of life, I’ve seen the food culture change in only the few years I’ve been here. Grocery stores have more (and cheaper) chips and crackers and string cheese and dips and all the other fun stuff you could nominally associate with a Super Bowl party.

Also, fast food is ever-cheaper and quickly becoming competitive with more traditional rice-and-beans-based options. Costa Ricans, like Mexicans, are putting on the pounds: Only 22% of men were overweight in 1982. Now, it’s 62%.

One thing countries like Costa Rica and Mexico do have going for them is healthier distrust of the companies whose terrible products make them fat. Just try unanimously passing a federal law in the US banning junk food from public schools and you’ll note the contrast.

Even so, I have no doubt that the globalization of the American diet will someday (if not already) be seen as one of the greatest cultural and public health travesties in history.

(Original image courtesy Enrico via Wikimedia Commons.)

Posted in Arts and Culture, Costa Rica, Mexico, Trade | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Christ the Redeemer tagged

Rio’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue was vandalized by intrepid ne’er-do-wells who scaled scaffolding that was in place for cleaning the statue. Rio’s mayor called the vandalism of the 120-foot statue “a crime against the nation” and promised the vandals “will go to jail.”

Posted in Arts and Culture, Brazil, Odd, Travel | Tagged | 1 Comment

    • 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 vacA�o, 75 of colita de cuadril, 150 of ojo de bife and 50 kg of picaA�a."A�[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]