Category Archives: Latin America

BRIC City

My new favorite news source, Global Post, has an interesting story about the rising economic powers, the BRICs.  (That stands for Brazil, Russia, India and China for those of you who don’t care for the kinds of silly acronyms to which comparative politics professors and Thomas Friedman are prone.)

So despite the ongoing global financial crisis — which, to be sure, has damaged these high-flyers too — the BRICs have most definitely arrived. And, yes, they are here to stay.

That point has been reinforced again and again in recent days and weeks. And one thing is clear whether it’s spoken in Mandarin, Russian, Hindi or Portuguese: the BRICs want a bigger say in how to manage the global economy.

Two weeks ago at the G20 finance minister’s meeting in Horsham, England the BRIC countries — for the first time — released their own communique on how the global economic crisis should be managed. In it, they called for a bigger voice.

It makes sense that these countries want a bigger role in the global economy.  They are important.  Then, later today, I saw a headline on Drudge Report that said “Brazil president blames white people for economic crisis…

President Lula:

“This crisis was caused by the irrational behaviour of white people with blue eyes, who before the crisis appeared to know everything and now demonstrate that they know nothing.”

He added: “I do not know any black or indigenous bankers so I can only say [it is wrong] that this part of mankind which is victimised more than any other should pay for the crisis.”

You know, you can’t argue with facts.

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Filed under Asia, Economy, Latin America

Constitutional conventions

Did it ever occur to you that there are people whose job it is to write constitutions?  Well such a thing exists.  According to the Washington Post, a group of Spanish constitutional scholars have been instrumental in the latest round of constitutional referendums taking place in Latin America.

In all three cases, from the Venezuelan charter in 1999 to the new constitutions in Ecuador last year and Bolivia last month, a team of Spanish legal scholars influenced the conception, drafting or implementation of the documents, which have stirred domestic class tensions and harmed relations with the U.S. government. The leader is Roberto Viciano Pastor, an author and constitutional law professor at the University of Valencia whose technical, and some say ideological, assistance in writing the constitutions is generating new scrutiny across South America.

It makes sense in a certain way.  Because of poor education and troubled history, there is probably a paucity of constitutional scholars in most Latin American countries.  I know that after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 the Department of State imported a bunch of American PhDs to write the Iraqi constitution.  But that doesn’t mean its as it should be.  Bringing in scholars from the West to make your law for you seems to me like a challenge to national sovereignty.  The Post describes the Spanish legal community this way: “But an air of mystery still clings to the work of the group, which operates largely beyond the scope of the public debate, according to assembly members in Ecuador and Bolivia.”

Furthermore, for Chavez or Morales to bring in guys like these–and pay them up to $120,000–helps the Latin American leaders to monopolize the political/legal conversation.  But at the same time, they have written extensively liberal constitutions:

The final products are sprawling documents. While the U.S. Constitution has seven articles and 27 amendments, Venezuela’s constitution has 350 articles, Bolivia’s has 411, and Ecuador taps out at 444. Each document spells out a lengthy list of rights. The Bolivian constitution, for example, guarantees rights to food, water, free education and health care, sewer service, electricity, gas, mail and telephones, cultural self-identification, privacy, honor, dignity and a life free from torture and physical, psychological or sexual violence. There are special rights for children, old people, families and the disabled and 18 different rights for indigenous groups.

Ah, the complexities of populism!

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Filed under Democracy, Latin America

Change Brazil Believed In

My dad sent me this story the other day with a note attached saying that he hopes Obama will be the North American Lula.  I’m not exactly sure what he meant by that because I don’t think my dad is quite the Leftist that Lula is, and I am almost certain that no one expects Obama to be.  But what I’m going to glean from his short email is that he hopes that Obama can change the United States as drastically and to as much benefit as Lula changed Brazil.

President Lula’s main legacy will be the proof that a responsible left is possible in the continent. In many ways, his administration is a step towards political maturity in Latin America. Left-leaning political parties across the land, from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) in El Salvador, to the Democratic Independent Pole (PDI) in Colombia, to the Movement to Socialism (MAS) in Bolivia must feel both inspired and challenged by the PT’s success under Lula’s headship.

Lula has over a year left to complete his legacy. With his popularity hovering around the 80 per cent mark, he still has much political capital to push for further reforms and introduce new policy. His successor will either be the PT’s Dilma Rousseff, his current chief of staff, or Jose Serra of the opposition Brazilian Party of Social Democracy (PSDB). As Lula said in a recent interview, either one of them will have a high standard to maintain, and hopefully to rise even further. That, he says, makes him feel that he has done a good job.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from the World Economic Forums’s Flickr page

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Filed under American Politics, Latin America