Posts Tagged ‘Latin America’

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.


Uribe and Chavez. Embracing, or going in for the strangle?

The possibility of war in Latin America looms large as Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez has called for troops to prepare themselves for war against Colombia. Venezuela feels that a deal signed between the U.S. and Colombia to allow U.S. soldiers to occupy more bases in Colombia is an act of war. “Generals of the armed forces, the best way to avoid a war is to prepare for one,” Chavez said in comments on state television during his “Alo Presidente” program over the weekend. “Colombia handed over their country and is now another state of the union. Don’t make the mistake of attacking: Venezuela is willing to do anything.” Colombia’s President, Alavaro Uribe, has appealed to the United Nations and the Organization of American States to for help.

“Faced with these threats of war by the government of Venezuela, the government of Colombia is weighing heading to the Organization of American States and UN Security Council,” said a statement from President Alvaro Uribe, read out by his spokesman Cesar Velasquez. “Colombia has not made nor will it make any bellicose move toward the international community, (and) even less so toward fellow Latin American nations.”

Tensions have always existed between Colombia and Venezuela, despite the fact that trade between the countries rose to $7 billion in 2008. In March of 2008 Venezuela lead troops to the Colombian border after Colombia soldiers lead a raid into Ecuador to retrieve information about the FARC, Colombia’s violent domestic terrorist group.

This summer, President Uribe signed an agreement to allow the United States to increase its military presence in Colombia in exchange for aid in its battle against the FARC.  South American leaders were very concerned about more American troops in the region, none so much as President Chavez, who is filmed discussing the troop surge below.

Latin American leaders have reacted differently to Venezuela’s hawkish statements. Chavez ally and President of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega has said that Latin American countries are locked in struggle to “make disappear once and for all … the military bases that threaten the sovereignty, integrity and peace of our people.” Such bases, he said, were  “symbols of war” and Colombia was a “traitor” for creating more of them. Brazil’s President, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, offered to broker a meeting between Uribe and Chavez. He is focused on Barack Obama’s promise to increase U.S. diplomatic interest in the region. “I consider it of importance that the United States show more interest in Latin America so that we can devote ourselves to a momentum of peace and bonding within the continent,” said Lula.

The FDIC may tap healthy banks for billions of dollars to restore the depleted fund safeguarding, well, bank deposits. (NYT)

Honduras’ ousted President Zelaya returns home after over two months of exile. (BBC)

Oil trading company Trafigura pays $50 million to 31,000 people in the Ivory Coast over toxic waste settlement — victims agree death & disease has ‘no link’ to waste exposure. (Al Jazeera)

According to the U.S. Census, the number of  immigrant residents in the country declined for the first time in about 40 years, as economic downturn soils the country’s rep as land-of-opportunity for the foreign-born. (WSJ)

China appeals a recent WTO ruling that the state violates its free-trade agreements by requiring its importers to channel foreign publications and audiovisual products — including music sold on the internet — through government-run entities. (Bloomberg)

Busy Japanese couples pay actors to play their friends. (Telegraph)

From Afghanistan, Gen. McChrystal: Certain Pakistani and Iranian spy services aiding the Taliban. (Los Angeles Times)

New species of fish discovered off the coast of Bahia, Brazil. No, you can’t eat it but yes, it looks totally awesome.  (NatGeo)

Scientific advances find new a way to tap into natural gas resources- by extracting it from shale rock. (NPR)

China’s recent influx of aid to African nations — drawn from its pool of foreign currency savings — risks fostering corruption, rather than correction. (NYT)