A Spanish Venezuelan Professional Globe trotter story

I have chosen to interview one of my teachers whose career has impressed me a lot. I want to talk with him because his experience and his history have lots of interests for me that I want to share you and  I will explain to you at the end of this interview. He is my teacher of Managerial skills and you can find out his profile.

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Miguel Varela Vázquez. I am 48 years old. I was born in Caracas. I am married and I have two children. I am Industrial Engineer (Simón Bolívar University). I have studied a MBA in the Metropolitan University of Caracas (Partnership with Harvard University). Now, I’m the Human Resources Manager in Lafarge Spain.

Your parents are from Spain and, you were born and have grown in Venezuela. Have you got the double nationality?

Yes, I have both nationalities in fact I have to use my Venezuelan passport each time I want to enter to Venezuela. The European passport is a big advantage specially when I want to travel around Europe or I need to enter in USA.

How do you feel as a Venezuelan with Spanish origins?

I feel some kind of proud. It is very interesting to have both cultures into my mindset. I can think as Venezuelan citizen (happy, creative, time in not a problem, etc) and imaging the reactions of the Spanish people and vice versa. This allows me to consider more alternatives to face any situation.

You told in class that you worked everywhere in the world. Was it a choice or was it intruded to you?

It was my choice. I have asked for the opportunity to work in some different places. I have dreamed about how to obtain as much knowledge as possible from other cultures and lifestyles.

What have you given all these experiences?

I have lived in Buenos Aires, Sao Pablo, Mexico City, Paris, London and Madrid and I have learnt a lot from all the people that I have met. I have specially enjoyed understand people reactions and habits. Also, it is very interesting to know the social differences between cities. Concepts as richness or poorness are very different in each country.

What do you think about the economical, social and political situation of the Latin American region?

It is very different from a country to another. There are very rich countries with a large amount of poor people due to lack of good systems and processes to provide to the people opportunities to succeed. (Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico). There are poor countries with very low support from international community (Haiti, Jamaica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala).And there are some countries that are doing good things. They are trying to provide their people with the adequate level of education and preparation to have better opportunities. (Chile, Colombia, Equator)

Which are the possible improvements and opportunities?

As I have mentioned in the last question, EDUCATION is the key element to change the history in Latin-America. Most of the countries have lots of natural resources (Oil, Iron, Uranium, Gas, etc) but most of them do not have enough capable people to manage public administration and to avoid corruption.

I want to work in multinational companies and to get a lot of international experience. What can you advise me?

It is a very good idea. I recommend you to define your favorite type of job. In order to do this, it is not enough to say; I like this or that. You have to know very well yourself. You need to understand your strengths and weaknesses and then decide what you want to do in your professional life.

At the beginning of this article, I have told that his experience and history have a double interest for me and I hope that you find some in it .

First of all, he has got a double culture. This side  of  life concerns me because even if I’m French, I’m from a big melting pot which helps me to adapt myself  to  lots of situations. This  factor can help us to understand better how to react face to people from other cultures.

Secondly, he was born, grew up and studied in Latin America, thus, it can light us with  his  point of view, this of someone who has travelled  all around  South America. His opinion gives us a subjective general vision of the situation in Latin America and of the points of  improvement

Lastly, he gives us some advice to work abroad and to fix ourselves on how we can take advantage of the opportunities that we have.

By Théodora NERAL

Personal interview :dominican republic tourism office for spain.

Mary de Soto is the vicedirector of the DR tourism for Spain and Portugal. By Samuel Rius

-How is the economic situation in the country?

The dominican republic economy is seen as a reliable one and enjoys the trust of foreing investors because of its political and economic stability.
However the DR is still a not so developed and rich country and its gdp and income is still low compared to other countries in the region.

-Which economic sectors are the important ones?
Well, the DR is very famous for the tourism sector. Almost all the attention and efforts made by the government are related to tourism industries and sectors. Its economy is based almost entirely in the tourism sector.
There are other fields like agriculture in which they are able to be self sufficiency with a little margin export oriented. Its famous the tobacco and cacao cash crops.

-Could you give some percentages related to tourism economy?
Well, its hard to tell numbers but I can tell you that we have around 3.340 million euro last 2011

-how is the economic crisis affecting RD tourism?
Surprisingly the economic crisis is not harming the tourism sector. The increase of money spending has grown 3.5 % in 2011 and the number of tourist is growing around 5,2 %. The key of this success is the diversification of markets and the growing demand from russia, china and latin america.

-What kind of tourism exists in the country?
Beach, golf cruise ships, gastronomic, religious, adventures, eco tourism, scuba diving.

-Which one is the most important and the most attention receiver.?

Beach tourism is actually the most important. Then golf and cruise but we are trying to improve the adventures eco tourism and gastronomy as they are more environmentally friendly and high percentage of money spend remains in national hands.

-How is the quality of the infrastructures in the dominican republic?

The quality of the roads and airports is improving mainly in the eastern part of the country due to tourism investment and the necesite to hand the big flow of tourist and working personnel.
The money is coming mainly from private investors however this is influencing the conditions of the locals.
There  is a spanish founded hospital in punta cana that deals with many of the tourist problems and diseases.

-After having investigating a little I have found that DR is a hub for drug trafficking and smuggling. What can you tell me about this?

All the countries in the world have problems dealing with border control, however the DR has established several covenants to patrol alongside USA, UK, France and other caribbean countries to hold more control. However the western part of the sea around cuba is somehow less enforced.

-It is also true that a big part of the investment is holded by foreign actors. Could you explain the positive effects and the negative ones?

We are interested and we need foreign investment as we lack of own resources to create new tourist industries. However this is carried away by a contract in which after years of private property the state gets the whole property back. Then we can decide if they want to take control over it or let the company operate the resort. We also give attractive offers like tax exemption in the first years and several others.

We haven’t experienced bad effects yet.

-How are the conditions of the workers? It is positive to them so many tourism?

The workers in the tourism sector are in general in better condition than the rest of the country. They enjoy long term employment, food and bed included so they can send the money to their families. There is social security but it doesn’t cover so many things so many of the population have their own private insurances.

-There is a complicated issue about prostitution in the DR? What can you tell me about this?

Prostitution within the resorts is strictly prohibited. to get into the resorts You must have a bracelet in your wrist. Persons without it are not allowed at all. Outside the resort the tourist is responsible for his behaviour.

-What about environmental pressure?

There is a lot of pressure however.The different government agencies are collaborating hard to analyse and fix the problems. However the are a lot of issues still to improve.

-Does the government have any kind of intention to change the situation?

Well the government has plans to even go further in the tourism sector and try to make the profits stay in the country as much as possible.

-What are you doing to improve the conditions of the locals?

we are trying to improve the education of the workers and have more control over the laboral conditions of the workers (minimum wages, worked hours..)

-How is the relation with other neighbours?

Well actually we work together in the tourism sector. There are associations to cooperate in this field lile the caribbean tourism association. There are joint plans related to tourism. For example there are holiday offers in which you can visit more than one country so at least you can have a glimpse of the region.
They go all together to international congresses like one block. However our first concern or major preoccupation is haití. Is one of the poorest countries in the world and we are also poor but comparatively richer. We can not afford to help the country economically.  there is some international pressure towards us to finance them. There is also a lot of uncontrolled immigration because the border with them is very permeable so is quite difficult to control. We think there is at least 2 million working in our country without permission. 

Reform of the Security Council?

The debate if Brazil should have a permanent seat in the Security Council nowadays is an issue that is receiving more and more attention from the international media. Brazil is part of a branch of countries that are named BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China). These countries are major powers that are becoming more and more important and influential in the international panorama. Of these three countries, Russia and China are already part of the Security Council as permanent members with veto right.

In the last couple of years there has been talks and discussion about adding more members to the permanent council. There is a sensitive issue due to the importance of being part of this council. The resolutions are law abiding and their effects are really important. Well, the international relations trend suggests that in case of enlarging the members they should be Germany, Brazil, India and Japan. In 2004, these four countries, also known as the G4, claimed that the Security Council has to be reformed. They suggested that the Security Council should be extended from five permanent seats up to eleven. The six new seats should belong to the G4 states as well as to two African countries. Moreover, they want to dispose the veto right.

But does Brazil deserve the responsibility of being member of the council? Let’s have a look deeper into the country. With a population of almost 200 million and the biggest economy in Latin America, is the most influential country of South America. It has a lot of resources and despite of its poverty, the policies from the state are beginning to be appreciated in the general improvement of the conditions. Furthermore, Brazil had an impressive growth of its economy despite the global crises. However, it has a less power and influence in the military aspect. Although being the second biggest country in the whole continent after US, they lack of nuclear powers and they fall behind other countries such as Germany, Turkey or Israel.

But should the military aspect decide if I country can have a permanent seat? And why do the five permanent member still have the veto right?

In my opinion, I think that the structure of the Security Council is not up to date anymore as it was constructed after World War II. Nowadays, the world has changed and more countries became more important. Even though they have also ten members which are not permanent, the five permanent’s power and influence is too high. Moreover, I think that the veto right is a big problem, because it delays or even stops resolutions. But it also has to be considered that the Security Council probably would not exist without it as the political situation was not stable enough when the council was formed. Although there are several reasons against a reform, I support the idea of Brazil and the other G4 countries as it would help to improve the security in the world.

Interviewing Felipe Andrade da Silva

By Andreas Stoffel

Felipe Andrade da Silva, was born in 1988 in Salvador da Bahia in the North-East of Brazil. After finishing high school, he lived one year in Oxford, England for studying English. Back in Brazil, he started studying medicine at the University of Sao Paulo. At the moment, Andrade da Silva is doing an internship at the Hospital Universitario de Getafe in Spain and will graduate in 2014. After graduating, Andrade da Silva would like to work as a sergeant in a hospital in Sao Paulo. I talked with him about current topics in South America’s biggest country.

Stoffel: As you live in Sao Paulo, I wanted to ask you about the situation there as the city is considered as dangerous. What are your experiences?

Andrade da Silva: Well, as every big city, you might have problems. For example, if you go to New York City, you probably enjoy the time in Manhattan whereas life in Brooklyn can be tough and dangerous. So, the same happens in Sao Paulo where you have very nice and safe areas. Actually, I have never been robbed or kidnapped since I live there.

Stoffel: Is that because you are a local and not a tourist?

Andrade da Silva: No, I don’t think so. I had lots of friends from all over the world visiting me in Sao Paulo and no one had any problems at all. In my opinion, the problem the city has is that because of media, the reputation is much worse than it actually is. But of course, you have to be as careful as in every other big city.

Stoffel: What about the smaller cities and the countryside, what are your experiences?

Andrade da Silva: Because Brazil is a very big country, there are many different areas and cultures. So if you are going to the countryside, the people are very friendly and sympathetic and you will not have problems at all. There are also no favelas like in the big cities and therefore, it is even safer there.

Stoffel: That’s interesting! So, you have been travelling to many places in the world. What are the differences between Brazil and let’s say Europe?

Andrade da Silva: The social gap is much bigger in Brazil. It means that the differences between rich and poor people are higher. Of course, there is poverty in Europe as well as but we have misery at the same time. But I also have to say that over the last few years the middle class became stronger and as a result, the state became more solid. One reason for this development was that our economy was growing steadily and now is one of the top six in the world. Another reason was Lula da Silva, our former president, who tried to make Brazil more competitive and attractive for investments as well as more equal. That was the reason why he was and still is so popular even though he is not in charge anymore.

Stoffel: Now, Brazil is organising the two biggest sports events in the next two years, the FIFA World Cup 2014 and the Olympic Games 2016. Did you already notice improvements in the Infrastructe for example?

Andrade da Silva: As usual in Brazil, they are very late and have problems with the time schedule. It is the way how they make money as corruption is a very big problem of my country. They try to delay and then they have to rush and as a result no one takes a look on the bill. The government is not very reliable on those kinds of things and last year, our minister of sports had to resign after he was involved in a corruption scandal.

Stoffel: What is your personal opinion about these events? Do you think it will help your country or is it just too expensive?

Andrade da Silva: In my opinion, it is a great opportunity to improve our image and to show the world what a fantastic country Brazil is. Moreover, I am sure that we will do a good job as Brazilians are famous in organising big parties! On the other hand, I have to say that there is often no money for new hospitals or schools and suddenly, out of nothing, they have millions of dollar to build up new football stadiums. Another problem is that those stadiums are, compared to other countries, much more expensive even though the wage levels are much lower. Also bothers me that a big organisation like FIFA, which earns billions of dollars, does not have to pay taxes and benefit from governmental money. FIFA also have a big problem with corruption as no one can see how they are organised and where the money comes from. I think that they have to change their structure to become m0re trustful.

Stoffel: Thank you very much for this interview.


The interview of Laura Vanninen

I wanted to interview Laura Vanninen, my mother’s cousin and an English entrepreneur from the Caribbean island of Antigua and Barbuda. I thought it would be a great opportunity to hear opinions and thoughts from a local person who could also view the island’s situation as an outsider and as an immigrant with her own business. It was also fascinating to know if there were any signs of the shared colonial history of the islanders and the westerners. My hopes became true as Laura told me about life on the island passionately and professionally. Laura, who was born in Finland, is now living on the island with her two children, Alexander and Lucas and their father Sam.

Laura smiles on the other side of the screen as I ask her on Skype how on earth she ended up in Antigua. She met Sam, a boat captain, on her holidays in Antigua and after the holiday romance she returned to London. However Sam sent her a request for help and she wound up as a chef on a megayacht. “My one week of cooking on the boat turned into a full time job for two years”, she recalls.

After dating offshore, as Sam was the captain of the same boat, they decided to settle down on the shore and start a family. Antigua felt the best option due to the expat British community, British schooling opportunities and Sam’s father, who had retired to the island. During a yard period in Antigua Laura met Janie Easton, an English lady who had run the same boutique for the last 40 years and was now about to sell it away. After buying the shop from her, Laura moved permanently to Antigua in May 2008. Ever since, she has been the owner of the Galley Boutique in Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour selling swimwear and resortwear for women but also having a small selection for men and children.

She describes her customers consisting of the passing tourists, the customers in terms of crew, owners and guests from the yachts but also the second home owners and the local expat market. When it comes to the recession she tells me that her sales are nowadays only half what they used to be five years ago. “We have to work hard to make sales, whereas in the past the clothes just sold themselves”, she continues. At the peak they could sell three to four garments at the time for the wealthy second home owners who now leave the boutique with only one swimsuit in their shopping bag.

When we start discussing about the government and how easy it was for her to start with the business, Laura sighs. “It is incredibly difficult and frustrating trying to do business anywhere in the Caribbean. In Antigua a large per cent of the population is employed by the government and dealings with government departments are made difficult by petty bureaucracy. There are few set rules and the rules will change depending on which official is on duty at the time”, she continues. “It really depends on who you know and who can pull strings to get things done.” She is also chagrined while telling that it isn’t generally applauded when foreigners set up their businesses to the island bringing money in as any other locals.

What about the lamentable past and can it still be seen in the everyday life? It isn’t easy for Laura to talk about it but she mentions that there is still some resentment at having to serve the white tourists coming in. This is very unfortunate but everybody in the island knows how crucial the tourism is for them to survive. Over half of the island’s GDP comes from the tourism sector and there doesn’t seem to be another considerable option besides it.

There is no industry on the island and the dry land and the reluctance of the islanders to work on the land because of their past prevent the chances of any agriculture. Laura thinks that one of the best solutions the government could do is to make the island duty free. That would not only boom the tourism even more but also making business would become more efficient. She also wants to emphasize the importance of protecting the island’s natural assets for the sake of everyone.

In terms of her future on the island, she is still a bit uncertain how things will eventually end up. It depends on how her family enjoys their life on the small island and how well she is able to earn a living despite the tough past few years. She still seems determined and sincerely happy on her home island and ends our discussion with summarizing her feelings: “I really would like to see a more equal society, a fairer society, but it is a beautiful country with a great climate and some wonderful people. I am glad it is my home and happy to raise my boys here, in a safer, freer environment than in London.”

Laura with her family in Antigua

Anna Railio

TWO OF THE WORLD’S MOST VIOLENT GANGS HAVING A TRUCE IN EL SALVADOR

The smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America, the six million people El Salvador, has a long time endured of the reputation of one of the most violent countries in the world. The country’s two main gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha and the Mara 18, have commanded the streets of El Salvador with their violate confrontations and extortions for the last two decades.

Nevertheless, there has been a significant change in the country’s high homicide rate which has normally been from 13 to 15 people on average per day. This is due to the truce which the two main gangs declared in March to decrease the killings on the streets. The murder rate shrank two-thirds overnight and according to the local police May has been even calmer.

Besides the truce the gangs promised on the 2nd of March to stop recruiting kids and teenagers as new gang members from schools. Five days later prisoners at La Esperanza, San Salvador, assured not to extort people using jail phones. There are still a lot of doubts concerning the truce and its durability.

“People are breathing easier. But there is a feeling it could be the lull before the storm,” states a local priest, David Blanchard, whose church lies right in the middle of the gang scenes in San Salvador. There are some speculations that the Maras are doing all this just to let the local businesses recover and afterwards force the people to pay them even more. The gangs have been compelling the vendors to pay them “rent” of 5-15 dollars per day and this has led to many store closures in the area.

We can also doubt about the fact that this truce will settle the situation in El Salvador. In this country, the government don’t receive enough money in order to struggle effectively against these powerful gangs. For instance, in Belize last year, there was the same truce situation which stopped in March 2012. There are some old events that remember the development of the Salvadorian gangs has its origins in a superpower: United States.

Twenty  years ago, they didn’t succeed to resolve the raise in gangs . Then, the  U.S Government decided to displace the gang and violence problem to Central America with all the convicts from here. Now, the FBI help the Salvadorian government to train an anti-gang special unit. All these facts make us wonder how a big country as United States settled a problem moving it in other places and,now it has to help them to settle it with U.S institutions. We can think it’s fair to help the Salvadorian people  to live more peaceful and to take care of the future of their children in their own country.

But at the same time, it’s really controversial to be confident with two of the most violent gangs  and to believe that all things will be better thanks to some negotiations with them. At the moment, Salvadorian people want to take advantage of all that the Maras promised to improve their situation.

They are not too optimistic neither pessimistic and us too.

Argentina´s national revival

This last months we have been witnesses of a new wave of political game and diplomatic movements from the Casa Rosada (Argentina’s version of the white house)  in an effort to obtain some international attention and good critics and opinion within its borders.

First of all started with a renovated campaign against Uk sovereignty over the islands. In early 2012 and because of the presence of one of the members of the British royal family (Prince William) with the army and the arrival of a British navy vessel the Argentine government started and offensive in the media. They reopened old wounds and claimed the devolution of falklands at once. This led to several responses and critics from the international community and a wave of support to Cristina Kirchner from its fellow citizens. This overreaction may be understood in a climate of national criticism because of the international economic crisis and the lack of good national policies that are eroding its popularity.

But after this point we just realise that it was the tip of the iceberg. Without expectation the Argentinian government made an announcement: they would retake YPF (Argentina´s petrol company under control by Spanish REPSOL) to national control because as they said “ petrol resources from Argentina should be Argentinian”.  Repsol had a contract in which he owned YPF in condition of providing a series of energetic infrastructure to make the possible future investment in the newly discovered oil wells profitable and worthy. However the government alleged that Repsol didn’t accomplished with these conditions and they would take control over YPF without economic compensation. Repsol answered back saying that they truly invested over 11 billion euro but these statement has not been taken into account by the country officials. Behind these political movement against repsol lies a complex workout to win national support back with the awakening of the national feeling within argentinians and also achieve a better deal with chinese enterprises as rumors are spreading. However argentina cannot miss follow the international rules about trade and in case a of a possible future sell the new owner would have to pay the compensation to repsol.

In any case the first answer by the spanish international company was to stop the supply of liquid natural gas to argentina rising the price about 21 to 40 percent. The Argentine officials are complaining about the decision of the company however this can interprete as a lack of morality by the government.

Along with these the argentine olympic team has done a video about an athlete training in falkland island with a clear subjacent message: falklands is theirs and they won’t give up fighting. This video is in the line with the actions that they are taking about repsol and others showing wounds of old times are not yet healed.

One thing is very clear: the government of Cristina Kirchner is waking up again national feeling and winning support but at the price of international and economical distrust.

“YPF oil tanks in Argentina”