Are Latin American cities more forward thinking than the rest of the world when it comes to the consequences of global warming?
That's what a new report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) says, showing that 95 percent of cities in the region are well aware of and planning for the negative effects of climate change. (That compares to just 59 percent of US cities.)
This doesn't mean Latin American countries are actually making concrete plans, but they are doing their homework: meeting with local government environmental offices, conducting research on consequences, and forming task forces and partnerships with NGOs and other local entities.
This flurry of action may not be propelled by a commitment to preparation, but instead by the fact that Latin America is under more pressure than other regions.
Another new report, this one from the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) in partnership with other organizations like the World Wildlife Fund, shows that Latin America is among the most vulnerable regions in the world when it comes to climate change: It could cost the region $100 billion a year by 2050 if current warming trends hold, the report says.
We recently wrote about the challenges of sustainability for megacities ahead of the UN's Conference on Sustainable Development, for the Rio+20 conference underway until June 22, looking specifically at Mexico City, Mumbai, and Lagos, Nigeria.
In Latin America, which accounts for only 11 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, the challenges of sustainable development expand beyond the metropolis. The IADB report details the consequences of retreating glaciers, smaller agricultural yields, and natural disasters such as floods and droughts.
From the coral biome in the Caribbean, to glaciers in the Andes, to the forests of the Amazon basin, the region is dependent on natural resources under threat. And the region's financial loss due to the impact of weather changes on agricultural exports alone could measure in at between $30 billion and $52 billion in 2050.
Already, cities say they are feeling the heat. The MIT report, called “Progress and Challenges in Urban Climate Adaptation,” looked at 468 cities across the globe, and shows that cities are already feeling the consequences, from an increased frequency of extreme weather events, to storm surges and coastal erosion. Mexico has been amid one of its worst droughts in decades, there have been deadly landslides from El Salvador to Brazil, and unprecedented rising water levels at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.
Overall, 79 percent of cities worldwide report that in the past five years, they perceived changes in temperature, precipitation, sea level, or natural hazards that they attribute to climate change. Among cities that completed assessments, increased storm water runoff is the issue that most anticipate they will need to address in the near term (65 percent), with storm water management (61 percent) ranked close behind.
Some cities have taken action, and Mexico City is a clear example. Its ambitious 15-year "Plan Verde," or green plan, promises to reduce vehicle emissions by 7 million metric tons before 2012 by investing in alternative energy, more green zones, and public transport such as electric buses. "This is very exciting for a city that used to be one of the most polluted in the world," Martha Delgado, the city's environmental secretary, told me on the heels of the World Mayors Summit on Climate (WMSC) in Mexico City in November 2010, held as the UN climate talks got underway in Cancun.
There Mexico City signed a voluntary pact – together with 137 other cities worldwide – to establish a monitoring and verification mechanism to track emissions.
But as the MIT report shows, the challenges of turning pledges into concrete action are many. The top-three challenges listed, according to the survey, include funding, communicating the needs for adaptation to local officials, and gaining commitment from national governments to implement the realities on the ground.
The Rio+20 summit could, optimists say, cover some important ground in alleviating these setbacks.
As the Falkland islanders celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the June 14 end to the war between Argentina and Great Britain, the dispute is far from settled. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is expected to argue her country's claim of sovereignty over the South Atlantic islands, which they call the Malvinas, before the United Nations today, the latest move in the continuing diplomatic dust-up between the two countries.
It’s a long-standing problem that might need an innovative solution. Think about it: The Borges proposal of a Bolivian Falklands should gratify Argentines and Britons because it would mean one less nationalist cause that their politicians could use to distract them from more important matters. It would finally give the impoverished and land-locked Bolivia an answer to its historical call for access to the sea. And it would provide excellent material for followers of the Latin American surrealist literary tradition.
But, alas, it wouldn’t resolve the issue at the heart of the conflict, which is the freedom to self-determination of 3,000 Falkland islanders, known as kelpers – a decision they will make in an early 2013 referendum, announced on Tuesday by Gavin Short, chairman of the Falklands Legislative Assembly. British leaders have maintained they will not negotiate over island sovereignty unless residents express a desire to do so.
And Mr. Short was clear: “I have no doubt that the people of the Falklands wish for the islands to remain a self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom,” he said in a statement. “We certainly have no desire to be ruled by the government in Buenos Aires, a fact that is immediately obvious to anyone who has visited the islands and heard our views.”
While the referendum will likely bolster the British side of the dispute, President Fernandez claims that the Falklands are an “absurd” relic of a colonial past, and has pursued a multi-pronged diplomatic and legal effort to pressure the UK into negotiations, including the banning of British ships in the region, and filing a suit against firms exploring for offshore oil. She’s expected to raise the issue on Thursday in New York for the annual UN decolonization committee hearings.
Thirty years ago, the Argentine military government invaded the islands as part of an effort to galvanize waning support for its rule. A 74-day war ensued, ending the lives of 649 Argentine and 255 British soldiers. The British military presence left behind allowed Falkland authorities to update its infrastructure, and collect fees from the international boats that fish its rich waters, turning the islands from a sheep-farming economic backwater into one of the richest territories (per capita) in the Western Hemisphere. Kelpers were given full citizenship and representative government under British protection, forging even stronger ties between Great Britain and the islanders, who speak British English, watch the BBC, and send their kids to university in Britain.
Meanwhile, children in Argentina learn in school – and Argentines preserve the widely held conviction – that the "Malvinas are Argentine." Authorities say the territory was inherited from Spain upon independence in 1816, but historical documents show that no nation had undisputed control of the islands when they were claimed by the British in 1833. Argentina’s bid for a share of expected oil wealth has been abandoned, and they're instead trying to isolate the Falklands by blocking ships, and pursuing diplomatic efforts to get other Latin American countries to do the same. And the demand for revenue sharing, if it ends there, is disingenuous: Argentina's constitution was reformed in the 1990s, and calls for full sovereignty over the islands.
The Argentine cause, then, if it continues to be used as a cudgel for heavy-handed nationalism, and views the islands only as a physical space without recognizing the wishes of the kelpers, would be just as fanciful as Borges’s.
A new Senate report highlights how prescription drug abuse is now one of the biggest health and security problems facing the US, casting doubt on the conventional wisdom that Latin American cartels still present the biggest risk to the US in terms of drug policy
The latest briefing by the US Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control calls attention to a shift in drug consumption trends observed for several years now. While use of [...] cocaine and marijuana appears stable, if not decreasing, prescription drugs are now the second most common form of drug abuse in the US. The White House previously called it the “the Nation’s fastest-growing drug problem.” And as the Senate briefing points out, prescription drugs are now responsible for the majority of overdose deaths in the US, outnumbering deaths involving heroin and cocaine combined. Meanwhile the number of people seeking treatment for addiction to legal opiates increased 400 percent between 2004 and 2008, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Rising prescription drug abuse has also led to increased violent robberies of pharmacies, up 82 percent between 2006 and 2011, the Senate briefing notes. The implication is that not only is prescription drug abuse leading to serious health problems across the US, but it is becoming a security issue as well. From Florida to New England, local law enforcement is reporting a rise in violent crime and theft linked to prescription drugs.
Such findings are further indication that the major drug policy challenges facing the US increasingly have less to do with the illegal drugs traditionally supplied by Latin American criminal organizations. Latin America-based cartels are hardly the main suppliers when it comes the prescription drug epidemic: according to a 2009 government survey on drug use in the US, 70 percent of prescription drug abusers in the US were supplied their pills by a friend or a relative. The epidemic raises the tricky question of just how many resources the US should continue putting into international drug enforcement in Latin America, when it’s clear that the more pressing challenges facing the country lie within its own borders and its domestic laws regarding pharmaceutical drugs.
Shifting drug consumption habits in the US also call into question repeated claims by Latin American countries that their struggle against organized crime is primarily driven by US consumers of cocaine and marijuana. The Senate Caucas report acknowledges the US’s shared responsibility in this problem, stating, “Ultimately, it is drug consumption in the United States that fuels violence throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.”
While it is important for the US to emphasize this, it shouldn’t distract from the evidence showing that much of the violence afflicting places like Colombia, Mexico, and the Northern Triangle [El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras] is partly driven by growing domestic consumption in those countries. According to the Organization of American States’ (OAS) first ever report on drug consumption trends in the Americas, cocaine and crack use is rising across Latin America. The United Nations International Narcotics Control Board observed a similar trend in their 2011 survey of drug use dynamics in the hemisphere. As cocaine use goes down and prescription drug use goes up in the US, it appears that Latin America is compensating in terms of supplying its own cocaine and crack users.
This year has seen plenty of cries from Latin American leaders for a more nuanced debate on drug policy. One of the fundamental problems is that the US’s traditional focus on Latin America-sourced cocaine, marijuana, and heroin is outdated. Prescription and synthetic drugs – such as the “bath salts” that are reportedly becoming more widely available in Latin America, and which supposedly drove the “Miami cannibal” incident – may turn out to be the more significant drug policy challenges in the 21st century.
The US has already rung plenty of alarm bells that the prescription drug epidemic needs plenty of attention from policymakers. And if there are new drugs besides cocaine and marijuana that are causing the most significant health and security problems in the US, policymakers would do well to apply a new drug policy strategy that would have ramifications for Latin America as well. Especially if the new White House drug control strategy is supposed to emphasize drug use prevention and treatment, it would be a lost opportunity not to encourage the same approach south of the border.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Riogringa. The views expressed are the author's own.
One of the most controversial environmental issues, the Forest Code, was passed by the president and seems to be plowing ahead. [President] Dilma [Rousseff] made a number of modifications and vetos, and after she sent the bill back to Congress, it received over 600 amendments. (Given how contentious the bill became, Dilma herself didn't actually announce the changes she made; she sent her ministers to do it.) With Dilma's changes, the bill is still fairly ambiguous and left both environmentalists and agribusiness interests unhappy. One of the biggest points of contention dealt with amnesty for deforesters; while she vetoed amnesty for large deforesters, amnesty for small-scale deforesters remained in the bill. Things took another strange turn today when some of the ruralistas tried to get the Supreme Court to block Dilma's changes to the law. Now, Congress says it won't have a final vote on the final changes until July. But some question whether the changes to the law will matter in the long run, given that the parts of the country most affected by deforestation are areas with weak rule of law where many already ignore the rules.
Given that the Forest Code has gained a lot of negative attention both in Brazil and beyond, the government has made some last-ditch efforts to produce some environmentally friendly news. This week, the government announced that according to the state-run agency INPE, the Amazon has seen the lowest deforestation rates since 1988 and that over 81 percent of the original forest has been preserved. The time period in question is between August 2010 and July 2011, but deforestation also reportedly fell between August 2011 and May 2012. The crux of the announcement – about the 2010-11 numbers – were actually just a rehash of an announcement already made last year. But Dilma also took the opportunity to announce the creation of two new nature reserves (in Paraná and Rio Grande do Norte) and seven new indigenous reserves in the Amazon.
But as the hosts of one of the most important global environmental events, what do Brazilians think about the environment, the Amazon, and deforestation?
- Knowledge about the environment is on the rise in Brazil. Over the past 20 years, consciousness about deforestation, environmental protection, and other issues have steadily grown, as more and more Brazilians believe a healthy environment is good for the country. According to a survey released today, though only 22 percent of Brazilians know what Rio+20 is, more Brazilians are concerned about the environment. The study showed that Brazilians listed the environment as the number 6 concern for the country; in a similar study in 1992, the environment didn't even appear on the list. Interestingly, of those who said they were "very proud" of the country, most listed the environment as the number one reason for feeling proud of the country, above socioeconomic development and the Brazilian people. Also, 65 percent said it is important to protect the environment for "survival." It's also interesting to note that in 1992, 47 percent did not know or didn't give an opinion on Brazil's main environmental problems; in 2012, it decreased to 10 percent.
- More Brazilians are taking action about the environment. Though only an estimated 2 percent of household trash is recycled in Brazil, the environment survey released today indicated that 48 percent of Brazilians separate their trash for recycling. One in five Brazilians have taken environmental action, including separating the trash, planting trees, and group clean-ups. Around 76 percent of those who live in cities trying to reduce plastic bag use said they have committed themselves to the campaign. Brazilians also mobilized against the Forest Code. A petition signed by nearly 2 million people--of which 1.5 million were Brazilian--was delivered to Dilma asking her to veto the entire bill. A number of high-profile celebrities ranging from Gisele to Rodrigo Santoro to Fernando Meirelles mobilized support among Brazilians to protest the law both on the streets and on the web.
- The Amazon is ours, Brazilians sometimes say when asked about who is responsible for one of the world's largest rainforests. But for many Brazilians who live in the country's largest cities, the Amazon is something of a faraway concept, even though the Amazon rainforest accounts for between 40 and 50 percent of Brazil's total area. Still, the rallying cry of maintaining sovereignty over the Amazon--a Amazônia é nossa--may not take into complete account the fact that the Amazon basin is spread over nine countries, and around 40 percent of the total area is located in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. There's also a lot of sensitivity around criticism and pressure from abroad to protect the Amazon, and some believe that foreigners should have no say in Amazonian protection efforts.
- Brazilians are very protective of the Amazon, and beyond sensitivity to outside influence, some are even suspicious of foreign intervention there. There's a long-running urban myth that foreigners are trying to take over the Amazon, a conspiracy theory that has persisted to this day. While a number of experts have tried to debunk this myth, there is evidence that foreigners support stronger restrictions on Amazon deforestation. A January 2012 survey of foreigners from 18 countries asked about their perceptions of Brazil showed that 40 percent believe the Amazon should be administered according to international law rather than Brazilian law. Plus, 65 percent said they'd be willing to donate money to help preserve the Amazon. But since Brazilians are wary of foreigners' involvement with the Amazon, would those unaware of the event--around 80 percent of the population--support Rio+20 if they knew what it was? In the end, it may not matter, since setting legally binding targets seems very unlikely. The good news is that more and more Brazilians are becoming more invested in the environment, which will hopefully mean that more people willl seek to hold leaders accountable for environmental protection and sustainability.
There is already ample evidence of how Mexican traffickers have infiltrated American cities. The Department of Justice says Mexican drug trafficking organizations were operating in more than 1,000 of them as of 2010.
And now, according to an investigative piece by The New York Times, they are on the nation's racetracks too. Ginger Thompson of the Times writes about the Treviño family, which is accused of establishing a notable horse breeding operation in the US called Tremor Enterprises, through which they have allegedly laundered millions of dollars.
And the man behind the operation? Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, a key figure in the Zetas drug gang, the most ruthless of the ruthless trafficking organizations in Mexico. Ms. Thompson describes him as such: “Thin with a furrowed brow, he has become the organization’s lead enforcer – infamous for dismembering his victims while they are still alive.”
RELATED: Who are the Zetas?
The face of the breeding and racing operation was Mr. Treviño's US-based brother, Jose, though Treviño is believed to be behind the funding of the operation.
According to US officials, Treviño used cash from drug profits to help establish the operation, including a ranch in Oklahoma with 300 stallions and mares, often paid for in cash. Tremor obviously had a knack for the work: Its horses won three of the biggest industry races in the past three years.
Yesterday federal agents raided the ranch and stables in Oklahoma, charging 15 people with money laundering. Miguel Treviño is still at large, believed to be in Mexico.
"This case is a prime example of the ability of Mexican drug cartels to establish footholds in legitimate US industries and highlights the serious threat money laundering causes to our financial system," Richard Weber, chief of the Internal Revenue Service's criminal investigation unit, told Associated Press.
The Zetas are one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in Mexico and widely considered its most brutal. They are accused of being the masterminds behind Mexico's most gruesome violence in recent years, including arson at a casino in Monterrey in the middle of the day and the massacre of 72 migrants heading to the US.
The case is also a prime example of the convergence of two cultures, steeped in custom and mythology. Thompson's piece is worth a read. She begins:
Newcomers rarely make it into the winner’s circle at the All American Futurity, considered the Kentucky Derby of quarter horse racing.
Leading the revelry at the track was Mr. Piloto’s owner, José Treviño Morales, 45, a self-described brick mason who had grown up poor in Mexico. Across the border, Ramiro Villarreal, an affable associate who had helped acquire the winning colt, celebrated at a bar with friends.
As for the man who made the whole day possible, Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, he was living on the run, one of the most wanted drug traffickers in the world.
The circles of American horse breeding seem an unlikely conduit for drug trafficking funds. But that may have been why it was chosen – that and the love that the Treviños allegedly had for the trade. Questions had already started to emerge, especially over the origins of Jose's money. One of his horses was named Number One Cartel. The AP notes that workers in New Mexico stables called them the "Zetas stables." But in the struggling industry, few were asking questions. Today, however, many might be wondering: What industry is next?
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog. The views expressed are the author's own.
One year ago, I was writing about Decree 743, a law signed by President Mauricio Funes, that tried to change the rules for El Salvador's Constitutional Court to require unanimous decisions rather than majority decisions. After considerable public opposition, the legislature and president Funes backed down and repealed Decree 743. Now that same court has made a unanimous ruling which has precipitated another constitutional clash among El Salvador's branches of government. (El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Tribunal (TSJ) has different wings which rule on different areas of law like criminal law, constitutional law, etc. The " Sala de lo Constitucional" or Constitutional Court rules on whether laws passed by the National Assembly and acts of the executive branch are unconstitutional).
The Constitutional Court ruled that votes by the National Assembly to appoint judges to the TSJ in 2006 and 2012 were unconstitutional. The Court ruled that the constitution requires that one third of the court be elected every three years. The three year cycle matches up to the three year cycle on which deputies to the National Assembly are elected. The Court decided that for every three year term of the National Assembly, that group of legislators can only vote once. In both 2006 and 2012, the legislature had voted twice to change the make-up of the TSJ's judges. In this way, citizens' votes are taken into consideration (theoretically, at least) because they can alter the make-up of the National Assembly and hence alter the votes for judges of the TSJ.
The Court ordered the National Assembly to take up a new election of the two-thirds of judges who had been named by the legislature in 2006 and 2012. In the meantime, the work for the TSJ has ground to a halt as the judges whose elections have been challenged, are declining to sign any more orders. Now the National Assembly is refusing to go along with the Constitutional Court's rulings. The National Assembly instead is consulting with legal experts, and is talking about asking the Central America Court of Justice to rule on this conflict between El Salvador's legislative and judicial branches. Like the dispute in 2011, this is another test of which branch of government in El Salvador is supreme. Having the rule of law be respected requires a national consensus that the highest court in the country has the final say and requires a court with judicial independence. The Constitutional Court has shown itself to be independent, but El Salvador still lacks the national consensus that the decisions of these independent judges are the ultimate authority.
A movie rehashing one of the most controversial events in Mexico’s modern election history – likened to the country's equivalent of JFK's assassination in the US – debuted here to packed theaters just three weeks ahead of presidential elections.
Colosio, the Assassination tells the story of the March 1994 killing of Luis Donaldo Colosio, the presidential candidate of the semi-authoritarian Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. It’s a fictional account of real events that all but confirms what Mexicans have long believed.
“It’s the same story: that it had to have been a crime of the state,” said Rafael Muñez after seeing the movie.
On the campaign trail in a tough Tijuana neighborhood, Colosio was shot twice – once in the head, once in the side – while making his way through a crowd of supporters. The authorities presented a man, Mario Aburto, as the shooter. A federal investigation determined he acted alone.
But the Aburto presented to media as the culprit bore little resemblance to the man captured at the scene of the crime, whose face had been caught on television. And the questions and conspiracy theories began to fly.
Directed by Carlos Bolado and based on official documents declassified in 2000, the movie makes no direct accusations of guilt but details how evidence was tampered with or disappeared, how key suspects were inexplicably let free, and how witnesses or potential informants – at least 15 of them – were methodically killed in the wake of the assassination.
Colosio, the Assassination reveals the deep fissures that divided the long-governing PRI in 1994 and pitted the standing president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, against the candidate whom he had chosen as his successor. Just days before his death, Colosio gave a speech in Mexico City denouncing official corruption and promising to push the country toward a more open democracy. Had he threatened official interests?
That this movie could even be made is a testament to how far Mexico has come from the days of government censorship, wrote Carlos Bonfil in Mexico’s La Jornada newspaper.
“One of the most perceptible effects of the downfall of political authoritarianism in Mexico has been the disappearance or total inefficacy of cinematographic censorship,” Mr. Bonfil said.
Movies including Herod’s Law (Luis Estrada, 1999) and The Crime of Father Amaro (Carlos Carrera, 2002) have explored previously untouchable topics: the corruptibility of Mexican politicians in the first, and the clergy in the second.
The debut of Colosio, the Assassination coincided this weekend with another morbid historical memory: the halconazo of June 10, 1971, when an iron-fisted PRI sent in armed paramilitaries to attack students demanding the liberation of political prisoners. Dozens of students were killed, but no official count of the dead and missing was ever released. This past weekend, thousands of students marched in the capital to commemorate the massacre and demand justice.
Many of the marchers carried the placards of the #YoSoy132 student movement, which largely opposes the return of the PRI to power.
PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto holds onto a substantial lead in the polls leading up to the July 1 election.
As the credits rolled at the movie’s end, a woman leaned into the man to her right and asked, “After seeing this movie, who can vote for the PRI?”
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog. The views expressed are the author's own
This is Venezuela: A somewhat dysfunctional country in South America led by a religious-like leader known as Hugo Chavez, who leads a "cult" called Bolivarianism. His tribe is called PSUV. Now, Hugo likes to make people believe that Venezuela has a fair Government and is a democracy. Many locals, as well as some foreigners who obviously would not be caught dead living in Venezuela, defend the cult and its “fairness.”
Now, the picture below (see original post) shows the southern part of the US, including Miami, Fla. and New Orleans, La.. There are a lot of Venezuelans living in the southern part of Florida. In fact, 26,000 of them are registered to vote in the Venezuelan Consulate in Miami. Some come form Georgia, but the large majority are near Miami. The right to vote for president, even if you live abroad, is supposed to be a Constitutional guarantee [for Venezuelans]. Over 90 percent of them do not vote for President Hugo Chavez.
The Venezuelan Consul in Miami, was caught in a video earlier this year, conspiring on how to start a cyber attack on US Government computers. This led the US Government to kick her out. The cult leader, Hugo Chavez, decided then to shut down the Consulate in Miami.
This week, the Electoral Board decided that these 26,000 people would have to go and vote in New Orleans, La., which is an 867 mile drive from Miami (as shown in the map) or 651 miles away as the crow flies.
Let’s try to put this in proper perspective: A coach bus fits 53 people. Thus, it would require 490 buses to take them to New Orleans to vote. The line of buses would be about three miles long. The cheapest one way fare I could find costs $107 per person and takes one day, one hour and fifteen minutes to get there. Double that to return.
But there is a better perspective. Suppose that you picked a voter in Maracaibo, Zulia State, a large Western city of Venezuela, and moved him to a voting center 651 miles away. The result would be this (please visit original post for maps).
– Miguel Octavio, a Venezuelan, is not a fan of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. You can read his blog here.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Caracas Chronicles. The views expressed are the author's own.
Valencia has seen its share of troubles lately: The construction of their subway is paralyzed, their drinking water is contaminated with aluminum, their streets are filled with garbage, and the local government is facing a lengthy budget crisis. Could things get even worse for Venezuela’s third city?
Yes. Four City Treasury check books, with 110 signed checks, just went “missing.”
Though the criminal police are already on the case, there are doubts that the checkbooks (worth a million of Bs.F or a “milliardo” in the old currency) will ever be found, given the fact that the city council refused to discuss the case early on. The public pressure forced them to create a investigative commission. However the president of the council thinks this is only a case of “bank fraud.”
What’s really going on over there? Is this a streak of bad luck or a small part of a vast Imperialist conspiracy? No. In the end, it’s in part just another example of bad governance, personified in part by current mayor of Valencia, Edgardo Parra. After his unexpected victory in the 2008 election (thanks to an opposition split), he has devoted his time more to harassing local journalists than to solving the problems of the city.
But not all the blame falls on Mr. Parra’s shoulders. Valencia, like other municipalities around the country, is just another victim of a longrunning campaign taken by the central government to drastically curtail their sources of income and their capacity to get things done. The new reform to the Law of the Federal Council of Government (passed by decree, through the Enabling Law) allows the president to create new legal structures and bypass governors and mayors.
In the meantime, Mr. Parra got into a new conflict with the public transportation sector, just to back down days later. But even if he’s defeated at the polls in April of 2013, his successor and the people of Valencia will still face difficult times ahead.
– Gustavo Hernandez Acevedo is a writer for Caracas Chronicles, the place for opposition-leaning-but-not-insane analysis of the Venezuelan political scene since 2002.
The drums were beating for a week leading up to the "Homenaje a Pinochet" – homage to Augusto Pinochet. It would be hard to come up with three words likely to provoke more intense emotions in Chile. The feelings overflowed Sunday as demonstrators let loose insults and even physical blows against attendees at the premiere of "Pinochet," a documentary remembering the positive side of the dictator who ran Chile from 1973 to 1990.
The long-running grudge by the left against Pinochet and by the right against his predecessor, Salvador Allende, has played out in every medium. Street marches, books, articles, and now documentaries. The most damning film made in opposition to Pinochet was probably "The Battle of Chile" (1978), which portrays the Chilean right as an irrational beast, organized by US intelligence and driven by hatred for the poor. And now comes "Pinochet," portraying him as someone who struggled to improve his country, who rescued it from the ostensibly dreadful fate of communism, who expanded state services to underserved areas, and who peacefully handed over power. Chile has a long way to go before these two images of the ex-dictator can be reconciled.
Part of the problem is that Pinochet has been portrayed for decades as the epitome of an evil dictator. This was, in part, because he was an evil dictator. He really did kill thousands of political opponents, create torture centers along the length of the country, and generally terrorize his population. Over 1,200 people remain "disappeared." But it was also partly about propaganda. Unlike the orders-of-magnitude-more-violent dictators of Guatemala, for example, Chile sent thousands of its most talented, smartest leftists into exile. When they settled in Canada, Sweden, Australia, and other countries, their messages were promptly broadcast to a global audience.
Beyond the image of Pinochet, the reality has always been more complex. When leftist filmmaker Miguel Littín visited the country incognito during Pinochet's reign, he was depressed to see that daily life in Chile was much better than what he had heard abroad. He tells the story in Gabriel Garcia Marquéz's "Clandestine in Chile": "Contrary to what we heard in exile, Santiago was a radiant city, its venerable monuments splendidly illuminated, its streets spotlessly clean and orderly. If anything, armed policemen were more in evidence on the streets of Paris or New York than here … Even the wan little streetwalkers did not seem as destitute and sad to me as they used to." (That impression didn't last. Littín quickly noticed the East German-style fear in everyone's face, the fact that no one would look at anything in particular, that they were all rushing home before curfew.)
After 15 years in power, Pinochet's government fulfilled its long-standing promise to hold a referendum to decide whether to retain him as president. He got 44 percent of the vote. Even if that election was influenced by well founded fear of Pinochet's legions of informers and thugs, there is no doubt that a chunk of the Chilean public supported him to the end. It has long been taboo to recall the dictator fondly. Walmart Chile had a brass plaque of Pinochet in its lobby, inscribed "patriotic soldier and visionary statesman." A visitor snapped a photo that got published in the Village Voice-esque weekly "The Clinic," January 3.
On January 4, Walmart said it had removed the plaque. Similarly, one of the few public memorials to Pinochet is a street named for the day of his coup d'etat, September 11. The signs marking that avenue are frequently covered with stickers that say "Bad Day" and "Terrible." The long-time leader has no sculptures dedicated to him in the capital. His right-hand man, Jaime Guzmán, has been honored with a plaza and a memorial in the largely conservative eastern boroughs of the capital. Someone left a bomb at the memorial last year.
The people who held an all-night vigil against the positive memorial to Pinochet have every right to be frustrated. Policies he put in place continue, and a constitution designed to create political gridlock make major changes difficult to impossible. But it was ironic to see some people call for the film's presentation to be forbidden by the state, and others to physically attack the moviegoers. Pinochet's government censored documentaries and physically attacked opponents. Is censorship and physical attack a way to purge his memory? Or is such acts, in fact, exactly the kind of homage he would have liked?
Editor's note: the original post misspelled the name of Chile's former dictator.