Tag Archives: colombia

Observations of an expat: Latin Fandango

South America is in a mess. The problems stretch from Patagonia to Cartagena and further north into Central America and Mexico.

Almost everywhere there is violence, political instability and economic problems.

The main spotlight has been shone on Brazil. The Portuguese-speaking nation is the economic giant of South America. Its GDP is four times the next largest Latin economy and the eighth largest in the world. Brazil has tremendous potential and political problems.

It is deeply divided after left-winger Luiz Inacio da Silva (aka Lula) narrowly defeated right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro in October elections.

Bolsonaro and his supporters has claimed the elections were rigged and demanded a re-run. Thousands of Bolsonaristas (as they are called) stormed government offices in the capital Brasilia including Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidential palace. 1,200 have been arrested.

But the real problem is not the validity of the elections but the deep divide between Brazil’s political left and right. Conservatives, which include the military, police, middle classes and growing Christian evangelical movement, view Lula as a crypto-communist set on destroying Brazilian democracy and taking their country down the path of Cuba or Venezuela. Bolsonaro’s opponents worry that he will return Brazil to a military dictatorship.

To the south, Argentina is suffering another bout of Peronism and a division at the top of the country’s political structure. President Alberto Fernandez and Vice-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner simply don’t speak to each other. On top of that, Ms Kirchner has been convicted of fraud totalling $1 billion.

The resultant political vacuum and distractions at the top of the Argentine political tree, coupled with Peronism’s irresponsible spending has left the country with a crippling debt and 100 percent inflation rate. Thirty-seven percent of the country live below the poverty line.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Nine weeks. This is how much time – according to the International Grain Council – that the world has before the Ukraine War sets the world on an unalterable course towards world famine. This is because in nine weeks Ukrainian farmers will start harvesting the winter grain crop and start moving it to portside harbours to be shipped out via the Black Sea. The problem is that those silos are already filled with 200 million tons of grain from the previous harvest because of the Russian naval blockade and destruction of Mariupol. If that grain is not moved – and moved quickly – the winter harvest will simply rot in the fields and the same fate awaits the Ukrainian autumn harvest and every subsequent harvest until the silos are emptied and the blockade lifted.

On top of that, Western sanctions are blocking the export of Russian grain. Between them, Ukraine and Russia, account for 20 percent of the world’s grain production. They also contribute mightily to the global stores of rapeseed oil, sunflower seeds and oil, barley and (with Belarus) potash for fertiliser. Africa and the Middle East obtain 40 percent of their grain from Ukraine and Russia – 95 percent of it shipped via the Black Sea.  The UN is desperately trying to negotiate a naval corridor to rescue the grain. Turkey is also trying to mediate and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was in Ankara this week to discuss the problem. But a diplomatic solution seems unlikely. Russia refuses to cooperate until Western sanctions are lifted. Ukraine accuses Moscow of stealing its grain and Moscow says the responsibility for clearing the mines it laid blocking the harbours is Ukraine’s responsibility. Until those issues are resolved the grain stays in the silos and the harvest in the fields.

During Cold War One the US and Soviet Union flexed their economic muscle to compete for economic influence in the developing world. America – with its deeper pockets – won. Now the battle is between Washington and Beijing and the economically powerful Chinese are pulling ahead. They are now the number one trading partner for most countries in Africa and Asia. But most worrying for the US is the growth of Chinese investment and trade in what it regards as its backyard – Latin America. Between 2002 and 2019, China’s trade with Latin America and the Caribbean grew from $18 billion to $316 billion. China is now the number one trading partner with every major Latin American country except Mexico. With this trade comes political power and influence.

Chinese success was the driving force behind President Joe Biden’s decision to call this week’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles but the gathering was not the success he had hoped for. Various initiatives were discussed: a new development bank, training for 500,000 health workers; a food security programme and a “climate partnership.” But the US only invited what it regarded as democratic governments to the summit which excluded Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. This angered many of the other attendees (including neighbouring Mexico) who registered their displeasure by sending their foreign ministers instead of the head of government as requested. As the US Congress pores over the details of any Latin American programme there will doubtless be strings attached to any trade or aid deals. This is in stark contrast with the Chinese. They are interested in only in the money, markets and access to strategic raw materials. The governments with which they deal are free to champion or suppress human rights without comment or interference from Beijing – for now.

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Observations of an ex pat: Colombia on the brink

Tejo is the Colombian version of horse shoes. It is also a reflection of the national psyche.  The target is packed with gunpowder. When it is hit, it explodes with a loud and violent bang.

The game was adapted by the Spanish from a gentler pre-Columbian version. Their conquest was cruel, violent and involved large quantities of gunpowder.  Colombia has followed that route ever since. It is now trying to change.  It will be difficult. It is not impossible.

Its history has been one civil war after another.   In 1948 the murder of reforming presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan sparked off the ten-year La Violencia.

The civil war that cost 200,000 lives also spawned the guerrilla organisation FARC.  Its end in 1958 failed to address the country’s underlying social problems, leaving it ripe for a Castro-inspired guerrilla movement.

FARC needed money. So it developed the cocaine business and dabbled in extortion and kidnapping.  An estimated 250,000 people died between 1958 and 2016. Five million were made homeless.

In 2002 Alvaro Uribe was elected president on a tough anti-FARC ticket.  Uribe made good on his campaign pledges.  President Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize, but inside Colombia, Uribe is credited with driving the guerrillas to the negotiating table.  He is the most respected and popular politician in Colombia.

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