Posts Tagged ‘Brazil’

Lula da Silva and Chavez: Are these two on the same team but playing different games?

Hugo Chavez’s “revolutionary” economic and political policies may be alienating his neighbors and greatest political allies. As U.S. attention turns further toward the Middle East, Latin American countries are looking elsewhere for world trading partners, and its leaders are emerging with potential to take the region to a different version of the Left.

Venezuela is still waiting to be incorporated into Mercosur, the South American trading bloc that includes Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador. After Chavez’s most recent bellicose threats against Colombia, the legislatures of Brazil and Paraguay have stalled or tossed out provisions that would bring Venezuela’s entry to a vote.

“President Chavez with his statements is not helping; sometimes it seems he is not interested in Venezuela’s integration to Mercosur given his repeated contentious attitude”, said Paraguayan Senator Alberto Grillon vice president of the Foreign Affairs Upper House committee.

Earlier this week Mercosur officials headed to the EU, where Chavez has few friends, on a mission to increase trade and technical meetings between the two economic bodies. On Saturday, they signed a measure creating Econormas, a program designed to promote economic integration and sustainable development in Mercosur member nations. The $27 million plan is comprised of $18 million from the EU and $9 million from Brazil Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

Elsewhere in Latin America, both leaders and country residents have been speaking out against Chavez and his version of populism, but not against the political and economic left. Last week former Mexican President Vicente Fox told Latin American and European leaders that Chavez’s influence and increasing authoritarianism was a danger to the region. Also in the week, Uruguay‘s former leftist guerilla Jose Mujica won the presidency by moving away from Chavez. He dismissed Chavez’s regime and claimed to have a deeper connection to South American golden boy, President Lula da Silva, of Brazil.

“[Voters] were afraid of the guerrilla past and the identification with Chávez,” says Oscar Bottinelli, a political analyst and head of the Factum polling group in Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo. “They were afraid he will affect liberty and be repressive… It’s the model of Lula,” says Mr. Garcé. “To win the elections [in Brazil] he put on an Armani suit and said he wanted a government of the left but moderate to permit a political economy respectful of capitalism.”

Brazil’s boom and Lula’s capitalist-loving left can’t help but look attractive compared to Chavez’s handling of the Venezuelan economy. The country has fallen captive to lower oil prices, the global recession, and now is in recession itself. Its GDP, an indicator Chavez dismissed as an instrument of capitalism, contracted by 4.6% in the 3rd quarter. Private investment shrank as Chavez expanded the public sector under his state-driven economic model. By this week the government will have taken control of 7 small, private banks to be “rehabilitated” by the state. Possibly most damning for Chavez’s regime is the fact that the price of a common Venezuelan food basket is steadily increasing, by 1.6 percent in the last month and by over 20 percent in the last year.

Now, more than ever, Venezuela could use friends, but it seems the country’s losing them faster than its gaining them. Porfirio Lobo, the new and controversial President of Honduras, has announced he won’t let Venezuela meddle in the country’s internal affairs as Manuel Zelaya, his ousted predecessor, did. Chavez has been increasingly hostile to Colombia — its main trading partner. As a result, analysts project that trade between the two countries will be down 36 percent by the end of 2009. At the request of Colombia’s President, Alvaro Uribe, Dominican President Leonel Fernandez has offered to mediate between Venezuela and Colombia. According to Fernandez, the DR, “given its geographic position and friendly relations with its neighbors, has had other opportunities to mediate in regional conflicts and seek solutions to these differences.” Chavez should be hoping Fernandez is correct.


Times of Earth coverage of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s inauguration. Correspondent discusses Karzai’s lack of domestic and international legitimacy and security the surrounding the ceremony.

In his inaugural speech, Karzai committed to making Afghan forces in charge of security, fighting corruption, and holding a Loya Jirga, grand assembly, to speak with the Taliban.

Hillary Clinton hailed the speech as a new beginning for Afghanistan. “He was particularly strong on the steps that he intends to take regarding corruption,” she told reporters after the ceremony, adding it “set forth an agenda for change and reform”.

Abdullah Abdullah, his former rival for the Presidency, is not impressed-speech is “more of the same.”

“The United States of America … came into this crisis without anything like the basic tools countries need to contain financial panics,” he said. “Coming into AIG, we had basically duct tape and string.”

That is how Timothy Geithner defended the U.S. bailout of insurance giant AIG today in a hearing in front of Congress’ Joint Economic Committee. He also recommended that one regulatory body patrol large banks and that Congress pass regulatory legislation. Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) is currently working on such a bill but, during the hearing, Republican Senator Richard Shelby said that it needed a  “complete rewrite.”

→ Republicans also called for Geithner’s resignation because of the slow speed of recovery. Democrats like Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) pressed Geithner to investigate the possible manipulation of the Chinese yuan. (Bloomberg)

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will host Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to talk about peace in the Middle East. Brazil has a history of remaining silent about abuses of human rights or power in other countries, but now that it is becoming a world economic power it is trying to show it can wield power diplomatically as well. (Reuters)

Two safe picks for Europe. Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy and British Trade Commissioner Baroness Ashton have been named the European Union’s new president and foreign minister. The choice indicates that countries may not want stars leading the newly strengthened European Union. Baroness Ashton has garnered the fiercest criticism because she has no diplomatic experience. (Telegraph)

White House strategist David Axelrod reminds us that Rome wasn’t built in a day after Obama’s lack luster China trip. (LA Times)
A letter written by FT Hood shooting suspect Nadal Hassan’s supervisor in 2007 shows that there were the faculty had “…serious concerns about CPT Hasan’s professionalism and work ethic. … He demonstrates a pattern of poor judgment and a lack of professionalism.” It is signed by the chief of psychiatric residents at Walter Reed, Maj. Scott Moran. Hassan didn’t answer his phone while on call, proselytized to his patients, and missed an important exam. (NPR)

Famed public artist Jeanne-Claude passed away from a brain aneyurism at the age of 74. In collaborating with her husband Christo, Jeanne-Claude leaves a legacy of challenging, temporary and “etherial” public works, most notably “The Gates” in New York City’s Central Park.  (ArtInfo)

"The Gates"

"The Gates." Christo and Jeanne-Claude. 2005. Image courtesy: ArtInfo