Monday, May 31, 2010

Adimark poll: Piñera's approval rating goes up

Last Friday the Chilean polling company Adimark released its latest monthly government performance poll. It shows Piñera's approval at its highest level since he took office, with 53% up from 50% last month. The overall gov.'s approval rating also went up 4 points, from 51% to 55% after having dropped sharply from 60% in April.

Also, there are no surprises here when it comes to the income demographics of Piñera's approval rating. The highest income groups, "ABC1" below, still supports him the most. And there's a clear downward trend down the income ladder.

Market Reaction to First Round in Colombia

Just a quick look at the market reaction to Sunday's election. There was a lot of talk about how Mockus didn't scare investors, that may be true, but there is a lot of coverage today about how happy the markets are at Santos' big first round. As Marcelo Ballve pointed out, there was some risk surrounding the "unpredictability factor", and so Santos' big win appears to have taken that out of the equation.

First, Reuters:

The peso currency and benchmark TES bonds firmed on Monday, while the country's risk rating on JPMorgan's EMBI Plus index fell 8 points to 231 points.

"Now there is much more certainty about what might happen and what lies in store for the country. As well economic matters, the teams are well regarded. That generates stability and confidence recovers," said Alexander Cardenas, director of economic research at Colombian brokerage Acciones and Valores.

And, from Bloomberg:

The yield on Colombia’s benchmark 11 percent bonds due July 2020 fell three basis points, or 0.03 percentage point, to 8.04 percent at 11:02 a.m. New York time, according to Colombia’s stock exchange. The bond’s price rose 0.207 centavo to 120.003 centavos per peso.

“The market knows Santos,” said Bertrand Delgado, a senior Latin America economist at Roubini Global Economics, a research company in New York.

So Mockus may not have been bad, but the markets have spoke, and they clearly like Sunday's results. At least for now, it appears the country does too (I know polling in Colombia is notoriously bad, but seriously, you gotta wonder about this one, right?).

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Weekend Update

Lets jump right in:

  • Presidential elections in Colombia are headed for a run-off, no surprise there. The margin of victory for Santos in the first round is a shocker though; with 96% of the votes counted, Santos has 46% to Mockus' 21%. Santos is even carrying Bogota. Of course, anything can still happen in the second round. You want coverage on Colombia though, there are better places, check out Colombia Reports or La Silla Vacia. For a nice comment on what the markets are thinking, check out Marcelo Ballve.

  • Also on Colombia, Reports Without Borders released a detailed 9 page report on the DAS. Shit ain't pretty, but it is well worth a read. Most amazing part to me are that targeted journalists are provided with DAS security guards to "keep them safe", but they're really just keeping tabs on them and giving info to the DAS. Lovely organization really.

  • Otto flags the perfect Memorial weekend video. Nestor Kirchner tells Oliver Stone that George Bush told him that "the best way to revitalize the economy is war. And that the United States has grown stronger with war." Again, check out the whole video. The excerpt is from Oliver Stone's new documentary "South of the Border". Check out the website to read all about it.

  • Robert Baird stumbles on some recently declassified documents showing direct US support in the run up to the 1971 coup in Bolivia that brought Hugo Banzer to power: "Min­utes from a July 8, 1971 meet­ing of the 40 Com­mit­tee (an executive- branch group chaired by Henry Kissinger and tasked with over­sight of covert oper­a­tions) included dis­cus­sion of a CIA pro­posal to give $410,000 to a group of oppo­si­tion politi­cians and mil­i­tary lead­ers, money that they knew would be used to over­throw Torres." Read the whole thing, which includes a priceless conversation between Kissinger and Nixon.

  • Money question from above story...will it take 40 years to find out about US support for the recent coup in Honduras? (h/t HV)

  • Speaking of which, another week, more repression in Honduras. The Quixote Center translates a recent alert from Honduran human rights organization COFADEH. The alert reads, in part: "armed men dressed in white shirts, with black pants and caps violently entered STIBYS, and immediately fired on Douglas Gomez who is now in surgery at the Social Security Hospital in San Pedro Sula." STIBYS is one the main unions opposed to the coup. Read the whole alert, this shit isn't stopping.

  • And speaking of recently declassified documents. You may remember the news about the arrest of Gilberto Jordan in the US earlier this month. He was a former Guatemala special forces member who took part in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre. The Guatemala government took resonsibility in 2000, but the irreplaceable National Security Archives has released documents which clearly show the US was aware of the Guatemalan army's role in the massacre right from the get-go.

  • Continuing with this weeks theme of declassified documents, but on a much lighter note, the New York Times reports on a world-renowned British ballerina who was involved in a coup plot against the Panamanian government in the 1950s. British officials, while working to contain the incident, described it as a "slapdash comedy.''

  • Structural Maladjustment alert, via The Monkey Cage: New report finds correlation between IMF agreements and Civil War. From abstract: "Analyzing all data available for the period between 1970 and 1999, we identify an association between the adoption of IMF programs and the onset of civil war. This finding suggests that IMF programs to promote economic openness unintentionally may be creating an environment conducive to domestic conflict."

  • DSK of the IMF is in Latin America, and there have been plenty of articles on his praise of Peru, but a buddy points out that its not just Peru, but Bolivia that is getting praised by the IMF. Best part, Bolivian finance minister Arce, after being told how well the country is being run, says that IMF policies severely fucked things up in the 90s, and it was only when Evo changed things that they got better.

  • Chavez continues to "fail demonstrably" in the war on detaining a top drug trafficker wanted by the US.

Is there more going on? Probably, but it's a holiday. Happy memorial weekend. Hope it's as beautiful wherever you are as it is where I am. And remember, there's nothing like war to revitalize an expect some more wars.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Count: Latin America's infrastructure gap

2... how many percentage points Latin America's average annual growth rate would increase if it achieved the same levels of infrastructure observed in other middle-income countries. Or at least according to a new policy paper by the World Bank.

According to the report, the retreat of the State in Latin America during the 1980s and 1990s has resulted in a significant "infrastructure gap" in relation to other middle-income and newly industrialized countries. As the region rushed to privatize public entities and downsize the State, public investment in infrastructure dropped dramatically. At the same time, increased private participation in infrastructure development became the norm.

And in Latin America, private participation in infrastructure during the 1990s was larger than in any other region of the world. As can be seen below, there was a boom in private infrastructure investment between 1990 and 1998. Investment commitments increased from $10 billion in 1990 to more than $70 billion in 1998. These then crashed after 1998 in the wake of the Asian crisis and failed to recover during the early 2000s (due in part to Argentina's crisis and the completion of initial investments related to utility company privatizations).

[Private participation in infrastructure: investment commitments, millions of dollars]
But it seems that, despite this huge investment boom, when it came to infrastructure the private sector simply wasn't up to the task. To quote the report:
"Because private sector participation was not sufficient to offset the contraction of Latin America's public infrastructure spending, the ensuing fall in total spending resulted in a slowdown in infrastructure development in the region, and a widening gap vis-a-vis other world regions in terms of both infrastructure and growth."
Taking into account access to telecommunications, roads and electricity, the authors of the report put together an "infrastructure quantity" index for all of Latin America. The results: Latin America as a whole gets a low score of 0.88, compared to 1.02 for all other middle-income countries, 1.20 for East Asia and 2.09 for industrial countries.

Within the region, Central America is worse off, scoring 0.57. Chile, Venezuela and Brazil, in order, score the highest, with respective scores of 1.57, 1.37 and 1.12. These are well above the middle-income average and in the case of Chile and Venezuela, above the East Asia average--but nevertheless still far from the industrial average.

The gap is also quite large in terms of infrastructure quality, which is based on a series of polls:

[Overall infrastructure quality]
And now to the punch line. The result of all this is that Latin America would have supposedly been enjoying higher growth rates if it had levels of infrastructure on par with other middle income countries. To estimate this, the paper runs several standard growth regressions but incorporating its infrastructure quantity and quality indexes. It then takes the estimated impact of infrastructure on growth rates and combines it with the size of the gap.

The result is that on average, as the big two above says, annual growth rates would be 2 percentage points higher in Latin America without the infrastructure gap, with most of the increase due to higher quantity rather than quality. Significantly, countries in the Andean region would benefit the most from closing the infrastructure gap, with average growth rates 3.1 percentage points higher.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Full Text of Obama's Letter to Lula on Iran Nuclear Deal

In case you somehow managed to miss the background here; Brazil and Turkey reached a deal with Iran on a nuclear swap, declared victory, only to have the US criticize both the deal and the effort. Then followed a barrage of articles from supposed experts saying how Lula has tarnished his legacy and is coddling dictators. So, understandably pissed, Brazil leaked excerpts of a letter Obama had sent to Lula weeks before the deal that suggested all the major accomplishments of the Brazil/Turkey deal (widely ignored in the US press). But what was really in this mysterious letter? Well, here it is, click it to get a larger view, or click here to view original. Bottom line: Brazil wins and the US needs a towel to get the egg out their eyes.

(h/t to Toma Rosa Bueno who posted a link to a facsimile copy of the original letter in the comments section of Robert Naiman's Huff Post smackdown of Friedman that maladjusted linked to yesterday)

Mockus goes all po-mo

Ok, so we all knew Colombian presidential candidate Antanas Mockus has a background in math and philosophy, but who knew he'd turn out to be an avowed post-modernist too? Yes indeed, in a long interview in Spain's El Pais (spanish only), Mockus goes to great lengths to deconstruct the political dichotomy of "neoliberal" and "leftist," arguing that neither label suits him.

From the interview:
"Maybe I'm a bridge, maybe I'm someone heterodox with a vocation to pull together the fragments of various points of view. I have liquidated public entities, I have privatized, I have fired public officials and have been called a neoliberal. But I have raised taxes to an extent no neoliberal ever would, and I have defended public spending to promote equity. Labels are instructive but they can disguise many things. This might sound pretentious, but the new deserves a new name."
Might sound pretentious? Next thing we know he'll be quoting Derrida during his inauguration speech.

Ok, so it's not like he's the only post-partisan politician out there claiming to transcend ideological divisions. And there's certainly a nice ring to the notion that we should give up old ideological labels in order to simply govern pragmatically. But the belief that one has transcended ideology, to paraphrase the philosoher Slavoj Žižek, is the very imprint of ideological thinking.

Pseudo. Philosophical. Rant. Over.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Thomas Friedman SmackDown

I'm down anytime someone lays the smackdown to Friedman, but this is exceptional, and follows an exceptionally heinous op-ed this morning. Thank god for FAIR:

Thomas Friedman is upset in his New York Times column today (5/26/10) because Brazilian President Lula da Silva negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran. Asks Friedman, "Is there anything uglier than watching democrats sell out other democrats to a Holocaust-denying, vote-stealing Iranian thug just to tweak the U.S. and show that they, too, can play at the big power table?" And he answers himself: "No, that's about as ugly as it gets."

Friedman quotes a source complaining that Iran had just executed "political prisoners who were tortured into confessions," but "didn't mention a word about human rights." Friedman presumably is aware that the U.S., too, has prisoners that it has tortured into confessions, and that it maintains the right to execute such captives. Should Lula have said a word about those human rights issues as well, or would that just be an attempt to "tweak the U.S."?

Friedman has another expert who accuses Lula of "the thwarting of democracy across Latin America." Friedman's evidence: "He regularly praises Venezuela’s strongman Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro, the Cuban dictator...while denouncing Colombia, one of the great democratic success stories, because it let U.S. planes use Colombian airfields to fight narco-traffickers."

Please do click through and read the whole thing, the take town of Colombia as "one of the great democratic success stories" is priceless.

Also, for a more detailed, longer take down, see Robert Naiman in the Huffington Post. You want to see "ugly as it gets", watch this video of Friedman defending the Iraq War. Suck. On. This. Friedman.

Will the Real Dr. Doom Please Stand Up?

...Up stands the plump, marshmallowy, Jackson Peep..more formally known as Jackson Diehl, member of the Washington Post editorial board. For a bit of background, we turn to one of Borev's final posts:

Followers of the Jackson Diehl oeuvre will remember that Chavez was totally on the cusp of being shitcanned two years ago over his economic policies. The polls said so! In November 2007 it was the HUMILIATION following dumb comments from the King of Spain that signaled his impending end. In March of that year the RCTV flap was going to do him in any day now. The polls, the polls! Those glorious/portentous/uncited polls!

Well, today we are treated with the latest installment, a Diehl blog post titled, "Hugo Chavez's implosion continues in Venezuela". It seems like we're back to the argument from two years ago...economic policies. And of course, we get more of "those glorious/portentous/uncited polls!":

The caudillo’s popularity rating around Latin American is now below 40 percent, and his backing in Venezuela has dropped below 50 percent.

Wow, below 50 percent...putting him in illustrious company with...Barack Obama, who we all know is facing his imminent demise!

Maybe next time we hear from Jackson Peep, when he writes the following he'll be referring to maladjusted:

When I pointed out back in January that Chavez’s revolution was collapsing, a chorus of left-wing bloggers rose up in protest.

(image via who else, Borev)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

At Long Last....

...Chavez has his blog. This should make for some fun. I guess the tweeter just wasn't character constraints here:

And so every blogger's dream has come true...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Juan Forero Part II: Redemption

All I've got to say to Forero is, "Just when I think you couldn't possibly be any dumber, you go and do something like this…and totally redeem yourself!"

Well maybe not totally, but it is definitely a start. From today's Post:

Now a former police major, Juan Carlos Meneses, has alleged that Uribe's younger brother, Santiago Uribe, led a fearsome paramilitary group in the 1990s in this northern town that killed petty thieves, guerrilla sympathizers and suspected subversives. In an interview with The Washington Post, Meneses said the group's hit men trained at La Carolina, where the Uribe family ran an agro-business in the early 1990s.

Go read the whole thing as it is well worth your time. You can also read the Q & A with Meneses here.

On a related note, this has got to make Santos cringe, as it is exactly the type of revelation maladjusted previously referred to that could swing the election in favor of Mockus. I think it is still highly unlikely either candidate gets 50% plus 1 in the first round, and maybe this blows over by the second, but it can't possibly help. Not surprising that the Colombian government was quick to call out the Post for running the story so close to the elections.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Weekend Update

Because ya'll don't want to spend your Sunday on the google....

  • The US is looking more and more ridiculous on the Iran sanctions front. After the deal brokered by Brazil and Turkey was announced last week, the US seemed visibly shaken. Ray McGovern, with the quote of the week, "Tellingly, U.S. officials and their acolytes in the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) could not bring themselves to believe that Brazil and Turkey would dare pursue an agreement with Iran after Clinton and President Barack Obama said not to." Perfect example being the "announcement" of a sanctions package with support from China and Russia (unsurprisingly written by cold warrior David Sanger at the Times), which turned out to be mostly bullshit. Then yesterday we get the news from Brazil that the deal "contains “to a great extent” details outlined in a letter Obama sent to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva two weeks ago, a Lula spokesman said, declining to provide any further description," this according to the AFP. This was front page news in Brazil, but barely registered in the English language media, surprise, surprise. Get used to it US, this ain't your daddy's global order.

  • From Colombia, polling is now done, and Otto has the rundown on what the final polls have to tell us. Nice pretty charts, so go check it out. Also, Adriaan Alsema from Colombia Reports has a terrific piece on how the momentum has shifted back to Santos with just one week before the election. Alsema brings up some of the points we did last week, including the over the top criticism of the left from Mockus. Fearless forecast: Santos gets 39% to Mockus' 34%. It all comes down to the run-off, where Mockus and Petro make nice and take Santos down.

  • Abiding in Bolivia seems like they're back for real, giving a nice news round-up on what else, Bolivia. I'd add that earlier in the week Evo reached some agreements with Norway, including a pledge from Norway "to share its expertise in the managing its oil and gas resources, including reducing the environmental impact of hydrocarbon production," according to EFE. Refreshing to see LatAm turn to the Nordic countries for development advice rather than the US.

  • Plan Colombia and Beyond is no more, but Adam Isaacson is over at the Just the Facts blog, and has his own weekend update. Unfortunately he links to the Juan Forero Washington Post article, which maladjusted covered here.

  • Upside Down World has an article from Alex Main on the rise of UNASUR. Key take away: "Though the group remains unknown to most of the US public - and is rarely referred to by US policy makers - it has, in the space of a few years, emerged as one of the Western Hemisphere’s leading multilateral bodies and, in the process, is rapidly undermining the regional clout of the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS)." Truth.

  • In Venezuela, Chavez is saying that the power-rationing that has been necessary for the last few months is coming to an end...but where is Setty to tell us what is really going on??

  • Joe Berlinger at the very least bought himself some time after a judge ruled there would be a hearing on June 8 on turning over the 600 hours of footage that Chevron is asking for. I'm no legal expert, but it seems like a documentary should be as protected as any other journalistic work. Thoughts?

  • Its bicentennial time in Argentina, for those in the DC area the Smithsonian Latino Center has an exhibit on Argentina (pdf) that I haven't checked out, but hope to.

  • Venezuela made some moves in the parallel currency market, media analysis of the Venezuelan economy is generally shit, but this quote from an economist in an AFP article might be right on: "The government is attacking the consequences and not the causes of the problem." Its time to get rid of the fixed exchange rate, period. But as an example of the idiocy of Venezuela "analysts", a few days before the gov announced that the trading band for the Bolivar would not exceed 4.3, Dow Jones wrote "Analysts say the trading band in the unregulated market might stretch between VEF5 and VEF7 for $1 whenever the band is created." So close, yet SO FAR.

  • Two Andean bears at the National Zoo (check out the picture, damn they're cute) were named this week. Venezuela and Peru submitted names that then went to a vote. The female is Chaska, the male is Bernardo....also the name of the Venezuelan ambassador to the US...jus' saying...

  • Justin Delacour is back....sort of...and his recent post on Phil Gunson and the Venezuela coup is good and worth a read. Money line: "Never does it seem to occur to Gunson that to speak of Carmona "as a conciliator, as a man of consensus" immediately after explaining that he had just dissolved the Congress and the Supreme Court is grossly contradictory." Also, if this is what he came across working on his dissertation, then sign me up as someone interested in reading it.

  • I agree with Boz (somewhat surprisingly) that it is a positive that Calderon directly involved himself in US policy while speaking before Congress this week. Boz writes, "The hemisphere needs to get over the "stop interfering in my politics" mentality as a way to dodge criticisms. Many of these "domestic" issues actually have transnational effects and even ones that don't are worth discussing." Certainly immigration, drug reform, and gun laws have DIRECT consequences for Mexico, but when the US threatens TPS status for immigrants to influence elections or cancels climate aid for governments they don't agree with, it most certainly deserves criticism. To be fair, although it is just rhetoric, Chavez's comments on the Colombian election should be criticized as well. Although similar to how US comments during Evo's election only strengthened Evo, Chavez comments probably only helped Santos. On the other hand, given Santos' role in invading a foreign territory he very well might be a threat to the region. Boz may completely agree with all that, but there is a clear difference between the two types of "involvement" that he doesn't address.

  • A bunch on Honduras from the two best sources, Honduras Culture and Politics and Quotha. Something positive from Pepe "reconciliation" lobo, as he acknowledges what happened last June was a coup, and also urged the Supreme Court NOT to fire judges who opposed the coup. Meanwhile, Quotha has the latest on Eduardo Stein's whitewash trip to Washington, and an action alert from Quixote Center on recent death threats to independent presidential candidate and anti-coup bad ass Carlos H. Reyes. If your
    interested in Honduras and your language of choice is English, these blogs are your must reads.

  • Nothing to link to here, but a few weeks back a good friend who is in El Salvador ran into some private military contractors while out on the town in the capital. They are apparently training some elite anti-gang units. They wouldn't say what contractor they worked for. Anybody have more info on this? Want to help find out what is really going on? Let me know in comments or over e-mail.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Count

0... the number of consistent and up to date estimates of social mobility for Latin America. That's right folks, there's a real poverty of information out there and although the Count is an expert counter, he's having a hard time on this one.

Why social mobility you might ask? Well, as I'm sure you all know, Latin America has the worst income distribution in the world and if there's anything liberals like to tout it's that inequality is acceptable so long as there's social mobility. That is, who cares if there are tremendous gaps between the rich and poor so long as people born at the bottom are able to move to the top? (well, I do, but that's a different story)

In any case, last week the Count told us about the state of "human opportunity" in Latin America, showing us that although the region has a long way to go, most countries have made significant progress in achieving universal coverage of the most basic services children need in order to have an opportunity for success. But how does having access to basic services associated with "opportunity" actually translate into upward social mobility? In other words, it is one thing to have access to schooling, clean drinking water, etc. but quite another to actually be born poor and climb up the income ladder.

So instead of measuring access to services that are expected to create equal opportunity and lead to social mobility, as the World Bank's human opportunity index does, why not measure social mobility directly?

Well, because it is extremely difficult to get the data and especially so in developing countries. And even when we have good data, there are several conceptual challenges involved: do we care about intra or inter-generational mobility? (that is, changes in income within one's lifetime or from one generation to the next) Should mobility be defined purely in income terms or should it be defined using softer and often subjective variables like empowerment or self-worth?

On the data front the difficulties are equally large. To measure social mobility you need very detailed data sets that follow individuals through large chunks of time. In other words, you need to survey someone in their youth and follow up on them during their adult life. Any other approach would be a statistical abstraction. Also, to allow international comparisons it would be preferable to have comparable methodologies, something that is rarely the case.

And yet in spite of these tremendous difficulties, there are some estimates out there. The graph below is from a paper published by the World Bank in 2001 by Lykke Andersen. It's one of the few cross-country studies on Latin America out there.
Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Peru come out on top with the highest estimated social mobility, while Guatemala, Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador are at the bottom. Of course, these numbers are based on urban surveys and as such don't capture the whole reality of the countries in question, but they're nevertheless useful for broad comparisons.

But how does Latin America stack up against developed countries and in particular the US? This second graph below combines more recent and country specific estimates from Chile, Brazil and Peru with estimates for some developed countries.
In this case Chile, the UK and the US exhibit comparable levels of social mobility, which is either very flattering for Chile or very, very unflattering for the US and UK, the supposed bastions of liberal democracy and economic opportunity. Of course, note how far off these countries are from the more civilized nordic countries or Canada for that matter.

But it is worth mentioning that these numbers aren't comparable at all to the social mobility index in the previous graph--pointing to the shortcomings of consistent estimates noted above. Also, as someone who's lived in Canada, the US and Chile, I find these results very hard to believe. While the gap between Canada and the US makes perfect sense, such a small gap between Chile and the US is rather hard to swallow given the intense social stratification and pervasive class mentality anyone who's spent any time in Chile could tell you about.

Now, I'm obviously not saying this to defend the US, which clearly has very serious social mobility issues, but if these numbers come close to reality then Chile has made some serious social progress.

News and Notes on the Colombia Election

Always a lot of coverage of the Colombian presidential election, and today is no exception, so here are just a few links to some interesting bits and pieces:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Juan Forero, Chief Propagator

Juan Forero, the Washington Post's resident LatAm ignoramus, goes all in today with his article about Chavez and ties to terrorism. There is really nothing new here; magic laptops, former FARC rebels speaking anonymously, and of course "Colombian government documents". No surprise that the article got Ray Walser's panties in a bunch.

A couple points though; first and foremost, why the fuck would anybody trust anything from the Colombian government? On the same day as Forero's article, Latin America News Dispatch has a terrific rundown on Colombia during the Uribe years and specifically the intelligence agency, DAS. One of the many issues raised being that "documents surfaced indicating that the DAS coordinated “political warfare” against government critics, by disseminating false rumors accusing them of connections with leftist guerrillas." And it gets even better, the article quotes from some files that were released recently, outlining how DAS planned on linking a certain group they didn't like to rebels:

The mission’s objective was to “establish ties” between the collective and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN), a guerrilla group. “STRATEGIES: Sabotage. ACTION: Exchange message with ELN leader, which will be found during a search of the premises.”

So it is public knowledge that the DAS actually tries to plant evidence, and then find it during raids on the camps. Sound familiar? It should, since it's the basis for almost all the allegations against Venezuela and Chavez.

So there are also former FARC rebels who spoke anonymously to Forero. But if this is such conclusive evidence of anything then why hasn't Forero written about the former DAS member Rafael Garcia who outlined how DAS coordinated with the Venezuelan opposition and Colombian paramilitary forces to assassinate Chavez. Or the former Army major who said there were some 2000 Colombian paramilitaries in Venezuela trying to topple the government.

Now, I'm not saying all these allegations are true, but that's exactly the point. Former members of DAS, just like former members of the FARC have plenty of reasons to say plenty of different things. But you'd never see the MSM air these types of allegations against Colombia, only if they fit the narrative of evil, terrorist supporting Venezuela. But maladjusted is hardly the first to notice this, just the most recent to point it out. For a much deeper look at the hypocritical coverage of Colombia vs. Venezuela, check out this FAIR study, or Kevin Young's take for Media Accuracy on Latin America. Young looks at how MSM coverage fits the Edward Herman/Noam Chomsky propaganda model, put simply:

The model predicts that the news media will look favorably upon the Colombian government of Álvaro Uribe, a close U.S. ally, while consistently vilifying the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chávez, whom the U.S. government frequently identifies as an antagonist. If the model holds, U.S. media outlets will be found to portray the Uribe government as relatively democratic, progressive, and peaceful, while casting the Chávez government as authoritarian, regressive, and militaristic.

Well, the model holds, and Forero is the chief propagator.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Where is Lat/Am Daily?

That's what maladjusted would like to know. After triumphantly announcing his return, Lat/Am Daily's Peter Krupa seems to have, errr, disappeared again.

ECLAC: new report calls for pro-equality agenda

A lot of commentators have said that the global financial crisis marked the end of the neoliberal era and the beginning of a new economic order. But now roughly two years after the onset of the crisis following Lehman's collapse, have any international institutions really started to define what this post-neoliberal economic agenda will look like?

Well, one international institution now seems to be taking the lead.

Yes indeed, maladjusted just so happened to get a sneak peek at a new ECLAC report set to be published during it's 33rd general session at the end of the month. The report, entitled The Time for Equality, is an ambitious document proposing a new economic, social and political agenda to fill the gap left by the collapse of neoliberalism's ideological hegemony.

To paint broad strokes, the report calls for expanding the role and mandate of the State, a return to active industrial policies, increased redistributive social policies and more progressive taxation, among other things.

From the draft report:

"A pro-equality public agenda should not be limited to leveling out opportunities. Rather the role of the State should be broadened to obtain more equal results and levels of well-being. The State and public policies should, therefore, play a decisive role in neutralizing the inertial power of inequality within markets and families."

I can't tell you how refreshing it is to hear an international economic institution break with the liberal discourse of leveled playing fields and social mobility to explicitly address the need for equality--not to mention calling for a concerted and actually substantial regional development agenda.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Weekend Update

A day late, hopefully not a dollar short…on with it!

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Count

24... the average number of years it'll take Latin American and Caribbean countries to achieve universal access to the most basic human services. Or at least according to the World Bank's 2010 Human Opportunity Index Report.

That's right, the new Human Opportunity Index report is out and it's pretty safe to say that it's a development-minded nerd's wet dream. The HOI is essentially a measure of access to basic services, including education, housing, water and electricity, taking into account how equitably or fairly these are distributed. Or, in the words of the World Bank's poverty reduction director, Marcelo Giugale:
"What we are measuring here is: are the doors of development open to all before the game starts?"
Countries get positive scores for higher coverage rates but get penalized for the inequality of coverage. If a country has a decent level of access to education but the bulk of those excluded belong to a particular marginalized social group, the country would earn a lower HOI score than a country with a similar level of access but more equitable distribution.

As can be seen below, the countries in the region with the top HOI are, in order, Chile (95), Uruguay (92), Mexico (90), Costa Rica (89) and Venezuela (89). Honduras is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, scoring a depressing score of 51.

[2010 Human Opportunity Index]
What's more, most countries have seen their HOI score grow significantly. Chile, for instance, went from 83 in 1996 t0 a score of 95 this year. The country with the fastest growing HOI, quite surprisingly, was Mexico, going from a low 65 in 1996 to its impressive 90 this year, an annual rate of 1.74.

Now this takes us to this week's count, 24, at the top. The average annual HOI growth rate for all of Latin America and the Caribbean is .99. At this rate it would take the region 24 years to achieve universal coverage of all the basic necessities, or an HOI score of 100. Put this way, the region still has a long way to go, despite all it's great progress lately (of course, this is based on the rather simple assumption that coverage increases linearly--at a steady rate).

But there's more sobering news in the report. The gap between rural and urban areas remains very large. What's interesting though is that this gap is smaller in countries with higher national HOI scores, suggesting the existence of what one might call an "opportunity spillover." Another thing to keep in mind is that Latin America and the Caribbean are still far from HOI levels observed in developed countries (with the exception of access to uncrowded living conditions in a few cases).

Also, the report decomposes the changes in the national HOI score into "compositional" and "scale" effects--that is, into how much of the change is due to an overall increase in coverage or to a fairer distribution of coverage. To quote the report:
"For all their efforts, LAC governments have, in general, not made much progress improving equity. Only a tenth of the average improvement in HOI is attributable to a fairer allocation of services, that is, to better social targeting of public expenditures."
In other words, most of the improvement in the HOI score is due to increases in the number of people covered, not the fairness of coverage. Moreover, this type of change can be in large part attributed to migration from rural to urban centers.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

No Green Polos in Colombia

Back in early April (when Mockus was polling under 10%), maladjusted pointed out that a recent political alliance between two popular mayors might just shake up Colombia's presidential elections....well that certainly has happened, as Mockus and Santos seem to be just about neck and neck in every poll and Mockus is now the favorite in a possible second round. But another part of the equation was whether or not support from the left was forthcoming, and now we seem to have an answer. After Gustavo Petro of the left-leaning Polo Democratico hinted at a possible second round alliance, Mockus had the cold water ready:

Colombian Green Party presidential candidate Antanas Mockus ruled out any partnership with Polo Democratico leader Gustavo Petro on Monday, saying that the Green's only alliance would be with "the people."

Prompting a Petro response via twitter (god damn the tweeter), "Good bye Mockus, we'll go it alone."

Really, this was probably a bigger deal before Mockus took off in the polls, and he probably is confident that he can win without Polo's support, but recent polling shows that it wouldn't be insignificant. According to the most recent poll from Datexco, Petro is now in third place with 7.5% of the vote, moving ahead of conservative Noemi Sanin. Mockus is no lefty, and he's largely toed the line in terms of backing "democratic security" policies, so maybe the alliance with Petro was never destined to be. But if Mockus does win the election he's not going to find a lot of love in congress, where the Green Party is not well represented, and if your going to reach out to someone it best be Polo over PIN. Of course, regardless of political alliances, left-leaning voters will have to choose between Santos and Mockus in a potential second round...not exactly a hard choice for the left, even if your not a big Mockus fan.

In any case lets take a look in chart form at the most recent polling from Datexco, via the irreplaceable Colombia Reports:

Consequences of default: Baker 1, Reinhart 0

During a question and answer series about the Greek crisis on the New York Times economix blog, economic historian Carmen Reinhart warned about the possible consequences of a Greek default by comparing the situation to Argentina's default back in 2001.

Carmen Reinhart:
"Argentina’s economy contracted 20 percent in 2001 after its default, as it was shut out of international markets for a time."
And now, with Otto's permission, I will cue owly.

But why the owl you might ask? Well, it turns out, courtesy of Dean Baker's Beat the Press, that Reinhart's account of Argentina's foreign debt default might've been slightly off...

Dean Baker:
"Actually, Argentina defaulted at the end of 2001. According to the IMF, it's economy then contracted 10.9 percent in 2002. It then turned around and grew at an average rate of almost 9.0 percent in the next five years. No one has such an optimistic set of projections for the Greek economy right now."
Ouch! That's gotta hurt.

For those of you who don't know Carmen "prodigious data sets" Reinhart, she's an economist from the University of Maryland who's recently become quite famous for her work with Kenneth "obtuse math" Rogoff documenting financial crises. These two literally wrote the book on financial and sovereign debt crises--in their 2009 bestseller, This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, Reinhart and Rogoff put together a data set dissecting crises as old as 800 years ago.

In any case, one of their findings is that throughout history sovereign debt crises usually follow banking crises. And it is no coincidence that Reinhart and Rogoff have been going around warning us that we should all be really, really worried about rising public debts now that the global financial crisis has ended.

Whatever. The point is that I find it surprising and disappointing for such a big name and no doubt an authority on the subject matter to get Argentina's story so wrong; especially since her academic work is usually of such high caliber (Reinhart has also made important contributions to the capital controls literature).

Monday, May 10, 2010

Some Surpringly Rational Thoughts on Bolivia

The sky must be is really the only explanation for what follows, from the BBC:

A senior European Union official has said Bolivia has the right to nationalise companies as long as they are offered "fair compensation".

Kenneth Bell, the head of the EU delegation to Bolivia, said nationalisation was a sovereign right of the Bolivian government.

Whadda ya think? Bell gets canned within a week? Month? In all seriousness though, this is a pretty surprising statement from Bell, not often do you get rational comments like this on Bolivia. While Bolivia has been criticized for years about the nationalization policy, the fact is the country had the best growth in South American this past year, and has been able to use their natural resource wealth to try and better the lives of the many Bolivians who have long been excluded. So props to Kenneth Bell, who also noticed a key fact that those who have been critical of Bolivia often don't mention:

He also said that despite the recent nationalisations, European firms such as Repsol, Total, and British Gas remained active in Bolivia.

That's right, Evo is not scaring off foreign investment, his policies are sound and rational, and the macroeconomic management of the country has been truly remarkable (even the IMF thinks so)....and oh yeah...he thinks the US is a terrorist state and that capitalism is the " worst enemy of humanity". Suck it haters.

(image from

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Weekend Update

Chop, chop:

I'm sure there is plenty more...let me know.

Media ownership concentration in Latin America

The Inter Press Service has a nice interview with Martín Becerra, an Argentina media researcher and co-author of the new book "Master of the Word: Media Access, Structure and Concentration in Latin America in the 21st Century." In the interview Becerra makes some good points on the concentration of ownership in Latin American media, pointing out its right-wing agenda and origins in the region's dictatorial past.

From the interview:
"This has a lot to do with the unequal societies we have built in Latin America, the most inequitable region on the planet. I believe that if control of the media was not so highly concentrated, the situation of inequality in Latin America would be more actively challenged."
Well said.

In any case, maladjusted got a little curious about Becerra's past work and dug up an article of his published through the University of Lima back in January. In the article, Becerra and co-author Guillermo Mastrini offer a quantitative account of media ownership concentration in Latin America. The countries included in the study are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

The study uses the so-called "CR4" (four firm concentration ratio) methodology, a well established index used in competition theory. The index basically adds together the market shares of the top four firms in a given industry, producing a value between 0 and 100. A value of 0 would denote an industry with perfect competition or no ownership concentration while a value of 100 would mean an industry is oligopolistic or extremely concentrated.

[Market share of the top 4 firms by industry, 2000 and 2004]
As can be seen above, the results for Latin America in 2000 and 2004 aren't exactly flattering. As a regional average, virtually every media/communication industry exhibits very high levels of ownership concentration, levels high enough to be considered oligopolistic. What's most disturbing is the huge jump in concentration for the radio industry, increasing from 31% to 70% between 2000 and 2004.

It is somewhat reassuring to see concentration decline in broadcast and cable TV, from 96% to 92% and 96% to 80%, respectively (can't wait to see an updated version of this study to see if the trend continues). However, before we cry from joy we should keep in mind that these numbers are still quite bad.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Judiciary shadiness in Honduras

The AP reports that the Honduran Supreme Court has just dismissed 4 judges and a public defender who were critical of the coup against Zelaya. That's right, this is the same Supreme Court that ruled that storming the presidential palace and kidnapping the president while still in his pajamas constituted a legal constitutional succession.

In any case, head on over to Honduras Culture and Politics for its usual great coverage and analysis of the situation. With no value-added to contribute, I urge you to click on the link.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Count: friday FDI wonkiness

40 to 50... the percentage that foreign direct investment (FDI) to Latin America is expected to grow in 2010. After contracting sharply between 2008 and 2009 during the world financial crisis, FDI is expected to make a big comeback this year due largely to stronger than anticipated recovery across the region. Or at least according to Eclac's new annual report on FDI.

The climate of uncertainty, tight credit conditions, falling commodity prices and recessions across the world that followed Lehman's collapse caused FDI flows to Latin America to shrink a whopping 42% from 2008 to 2009. The biggest contractions, predictably, took place in countries that in the past have attracted the most FDI. For instance, flows to Brazil shrank $19 billion, a 42.4% decline. In Argentina, FDI flows contracted by $4.8 billion or by 49.6%.

But while in almost every country FDI, though slowing significantly, was still coming in, in Venezuela FDI just wanted to get the fuck out. In 2008 FDI inflows to Venezuela were just barely positive. And during 2009, Venezuela experienced net FDI outflows of $3.1 billion, a 990% decline! This was due mostly to the various nationalizations that took place in 2009.

But before we predict doom and gloom for the Venezuelan economy, we should remember that it's not exactly Greece, has plenty of oil cash lying around, and just signed a $20 billion deal with China to develop it's heavy crude refining capacity.

Whatever. In any case, the regional decline is indeed quite impressive. But why don't we put it in perspective? The graph below shows FDI flows to Latin America and the Caribbean between 1990 to 2009 in billions of dollars.

As can be seen, the lead up to the 2009 crisis was nothing short of an FDI bonanza. In fact, 2007 and 2008 were historical records for FDI. And even after its huge decline, FDI inflows in 2009 were still the 5th largest ever recorded. In other words, FDI flows to Latin America have wethered the crisis quite well, all things considered.

On a compositional note, the sharpest decline between 2008 to 2009 was in FDI flows to natural resource extraction. As can be seen below, this surged in 2008 coinciding with the large worldwide rise in commodity prices. The share of the service sector, the largest recipient of FDI, remained more or less at its 2008 level.But while FDI flows to the manufacturing sector retook the second place, its technological content remained weak. Moreover, Eclac notes that the technological content of FDI to Latin America has been low accross the board. This takes us to our final graph:
The graph above divides all announced FDI in Latin America into "low", "medium-low", "medium-high", and "high" technology content. As can be seen, low and medium-low dominate new FDI inflows.

This is a big problem because one of the biggest supposed benefits of FDI in textbook economic theory is that it transfers technology to developing countries, leading to positive "spillovers" into other industries and thus increasing overall productivity. Of course, no one seriously believes that FDI in and of itself leads to technology transfers and productivity growth. Smart developing countries, like China for instance, have always used industrial policy to harness FDI to suit their development strategies. It's a real shame that so many countries in Latin America have abandoned this type of thinking.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Smear Campaign in Colombia

Man, Santos sure is getting desperate. Colombia Reports writes today about the increasing use of smear tactics in the Colombia presidential campaign, "As Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus' popularity increases, so too do the attempts to sully his name." Last week banners started appearing with slogans criticizing Mockus, trying to tie his campaign to Chavez. CR continues:

Votebien political analyist Rodrigo Lozada says that the tactics seen today in Colombia "were copied from the campaigns in the United States. The idea is find the opponents' weak points, exaggerate and distort them, to make them look bad before society."

Maybe not such a surprise, given James Carville's role in the campaign...a smear campaign in Bolivia led to the election of Goni...another one of Carville's campaigns. But there is another political consultant who showed up in Colombia in recent days that probably better explains the situation, CR has the dirt:

Santos has relaunched his campaign strategy with Venezuelan spin doctor J.J. Rendon at the helm. Rendon has been called an "expert in rumorology" and 'the king of 'black' propaganda." In 2007 the Venezuelan publicist was almost deported due to accusations that he had blackmailed Congressman Nicolas Uribe by threatening that he would publish photos of the politician cavorting with prostitutes if Uribe didn't fire a certain employee. Uribe resigned from the Partido de la U campaign in protest when Santos contracted Rendon.

Since Rendon's arrival on the scene, a pro-Santos website has been launched, which attempts to discredit Mockus. The same banners that appeared in Cali are published on the website, along with videos and a cartoon depicting Mockus as Chavez's buddy. Again the inference is that Mockus is pro-Chavez atheist, who plans to extradite President Uribe.

Ah yes, Rendon (the one between Lobo and Uribe in the pic above)...who you might remember led the voter fraud charge in Venezuela in the 2004 referendum. Rendon also ran the campaign of former Venezuela president Carlos Andres Perez (eventually arrested for stealing public money) back in the 1980s, as well as doing PR work for Venezuelan defense ministers....ya know the defense ministers who killed hundreds of civilians during the Caracazo. He is especially notorious in Mexico, where, as Al Giordano pointed out, he was implicated in eight different criminal cases in 2001 for "printing anonymous propaganda… in which the proposals of the PAN party candidate for the mayoralty of Puebla, Luis Paredes Moctezuma, were distorted." Recently, he was seen shaking hands and advising Pepe "reconciliation" Lobo in Honduras. Sure is some good company Santos is keeping these days. Already since he joined the campaign, three of Santos' closest assistants have left the campaign, probably not too excited about cavorting with someone with such a lovely past as Rendon.

I don't think this is going to cut it though. His presence has already gotten a ton of press in Colombia and throughout the region, and its not exactly a secret what a slime ball this guy is. If Mockus is popular because he represents a change from "politics as usual", then a "politics as usual" smear campaign is not going to do the trick. Nice try Santos.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Whitewash Commission

So today Pepe "reconciliation" Lobo and the rest of the golpistas unveiled their latest attempt to whitewash the coup. While the US, UN, and OAS were all holding hands and singing kumbaya, patting themselves on the back for a job well done...Honduran human rights organizations, and South American leaders were taking a stand. Bertha Oliva, head of the prominent rights organization COFADEH, wrote:

Now the Lobo government, in an effort to regain international legitimacy, is creating a Truth Commission, an initiative that is being applauded by the United States administration. Yet COFADEH and the other Honduran human rights defenders who have spent much of our lives calling for a truth commission to investigate past political violence are not applauding. We are protesting.

The fact is, Lobo's proposal in no way resembles our idea of a truth commission, or indeed any other truth commission that has played a role in healing the wounds provoked by repressive regimes, such as those of El Salvador, Argentina or South Africa. If we were not dealing with such a tragic situation, the Lobo proposal could be considered laughable.

To begin with, this so-called Truth Commission has been given no mandate to examine the human rights violations that have taken place since the coup. The presidential decree that establishes the commission does not even recognize that a coup took place on June 28th and makes no mention of the victims of the subsequent repression.

And that's certainly just the surface of it all. Honduras Culture and Politics notes that more so than truth, what it's really about is business; the coup cost Honduras a cool 6.6 percent of GDP. Not exactly disproving the theory, Rights Action reported a few days back that one of the members of the commission is a Canadian lawyer who also represents Canadian mining interests. If you remember, mining companies weren't exactly the biggest "Zelayistas".

Meanwhile, UNASUR was holding a meeting today, where among other things, several countries pledged not to attend the EU-Latin America & the Caribbean Summit in Madrid if Lobo is invited. A pretty clear stand against the US' position, also coming as the regional grouping picked their first Secretary General, Nestor Kirchner. In case you needed more evidence of the waning influence of the US in the region.

Oh and for good measure, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement today about a string of death threats against Honduran journalists...who happened to be reporting on the killings of other journalists...ya know, since there has been at least six of 'em murdered since good ol' Lobo took's that for "reconciliation"?

(photo of May Day celebration in Honduras, via Quotha, via Mario Ardón Mejía...check it out)