The biggest problem: CORRUPTION

The largest remaining natural resource is the Amazon forest, and the largest salt lake in the world is located in Bolivia. Argentina’s Patagonia has one of the highest wind energy potential on earth. The first drug that was used to prevent and treat malaria, the quinine, is obtained from the bark of a tree that grows in Ecuador, and the 20% of plants that have anti-cancer properties are found only in the great rainforest of this region. As you probably know, I am talking about South America, that area which has nearly 26% of the world’s renewable sources of freshwater and major resources as gold, silver, tin and petroleum.

Despite these impressive facts, it has one of the highest percentages of poverty compared with the rest of the continents. How can be possible that this paradise of natural resources is actually one of the poorest regions of the world?

First of all, it is necessary to understand that South America’s economy is centered on the export of natural resources, not on its exploitation.

We absolutely believe that the main factor of poverty in South America is corruption: a study demonstrated that corruption tends to be higher in countries at lower levels of economic and human development, with lower levels of education, limited political rights, weak or non-existent. Why is corruption the one to blame? Easy. Corruption lowers the rate of economic growth and investment, distorts public spending by diverting funds to sectors where the collection of bribes is easier such as physical public investments and military spending, weakens programs designed to help the poor and reduce inequality apart from the government revenue through tax evasion and improper tax exceptions, lowers foreign aid and influences the structure of trading partners. Politically, corruption reduces the public’s trust in politicians and civil servants, their faith in public institutions, evaluations of government performance and regime legitimacy.

A daily and terrible example is what happened in Bogota where the government, with an enormous quantity of subsidies started to distribute to the proletarian families Cocinol, which is a gasoline product, it was reduced so those families could cook with it. 300.000 families have to live with this kind of miserable life conditions. But these corrupt practices in which not only the politicians make themselves richer but also to private businessman, this is a dramatic punishment for the lower classes that are disadvantage: kids from the proletarian sector are the principal victims of this hateful corruption which is subsidized by their own government.

There are presidents as Alan Garcia,  Jaime Paz, Carlos A. Perez, Salinas de Gortari and the Mexican PRI, the best world example of the “perfect dictatorship”(Vargas Llosa) blamed for Colosio’s and Ruiz Massieu’s murder, also linked with barracks Golf mafia and for the just Chiapa’s Indian uprising.

So after analyzing this I correct myself. How could I say that is not only corruption’s fault? It is also the problem of how democracy is perceived in South America, where most of the power is in the government. Politicians get to presidential office with the idea of making a change for the people. However, while they are gaining power they start to forget about population demands, just thinking on their benefits.

Democracy is defined as “a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives”

This is the best recipe for achieving consolidation and sustained regional development, which is extremely necessary in the region.

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anti-corruption protest 2013

When the issue is not only compliance – The reality of human rights in Ecuador

As Europeans, we tend to undermine the issues of developing countries and their difficulties with social and political obstacles they have to deal with every day. South America and especially small countries such as Ecuador seem to be stuck in transitional periods for almost over fifty years. In order to find out more about human rights in this country, I had the great opportunity to interview Andrea Balda Aspiazu.

She has been studying in the US and working when she was there in the Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, researching about the development of human rights education in Nicaragua, Mexico and Brazil. Then she came back to Ecuador to work at the School of Administration and Political Science of the Universidad de Casa Grande, but she used to work at JUCONI too, a foundation that develops, implements and shares effective solutions for socially excluded children, young people and families affected by violence that has improved the quality of the services of thousands of children in South America and South Africa.

As I had read in the official website, this NGO has been internationally recognized by UNESCO for its innovative approach and more recently by UNICEF, for offering Mexico’s “Best Practice” for its family work and strong commitment to child rights, so I asked her what she thinks that makes this NGO different from the others and its main purposes. As she has explained to me, what makes Juconi different from all the other organizations is its methodology. It seeks to improve family relations basing the work it does with the family as a unit on attachment parenting techniques. The program has a four step system, recruiting the families by first recruiting the children in the streets of Guayaquil (in the case of Ecuador) Child psychologists visit the children at their usual street corners for around two months; once trust has been gained it is the children who give us access to their real identities and families. Once this is achieved, the organization has to gain the parents’ trust, visits are paid at each home and the relationship between the psychologist and the family starts.

I told her that I would like to know how the situation of children in Ecuador is, and if she thinks that the system provides them a good education and respects their rights. She said that it is slowly improving, “the goal is to have universal national education, and however, the quality of that education is also important. In the rush to achieve this goal, the government may be ignoring the most important aspect of education. The system tries, that cannot be denied, and this government has invested more in education than any other government the past 50 years, maybe more… but what does that matter if the quality of the education is not up to the task? What does it matter if education is supposed to be free is in practice there is no effective supervision over the administration of schools in the marginal sectors of the city and corruption runs rampant? There is still a lot of work to do…”

To continue talking about Human Right issues in Ecuador we commented that, according to Human Rights Watch  “After being re-elected to a third term in February 2013, President Rafael Correa promulgated a sweeping new Communications Law in June regulating broadcast and print media, which undercuts press freedom.” I asked her about the population reaction regarding this law, and if she would say that there is a real freedom of expression in Ecuador. Her answer was really interesting, she began saying the quality of local media and press is VERY BAD. Andrea gave me some ridiculous examples such as critics that were denounced and publicly humiliated in the President’s famous “sabatinas”, his own TV show.

She explained that you cannot defend yourself against that “media machine” which is constantly imposed on you. The government owns TV channels and newspapers so the actual quality of journalism since the Communications Law has really declined.

On a question does she really believes that the free media in Ecuador exists, she noted that media is strictly related to commercial obligations, and that they are seemingly to be the only resource of funds and incomes.

We also talked about the Annual Report: Ecuador 2013 made by Amnesty International, which denounces the fact that indigenous and community leaders faced spurious criminal charges aimed at restricting their freedom of assembly. She told me that the freedom of association is being respected there, but this is related to many things, indigenous communities oppose the laws trying to regulate water and the exploitation of the Yasuni National Reserve so they have become a political target, but since they control a big political sector, the government can’t really part ways with these communities.

To conclude, I asked her if she would say that Human Rights are being duly respected in her country and what she thinks the government should improve. She answered me that this was a very hard question, “at first glance, you might say yes… rights are being respected, they literally are being complied with… but the issue is not only compliance… there is a lot more to be achieved and political polarization and omnipotence is not really the way to do it. We are talking about a country that needs to get used to democracy and it doesn’t know how so whatever stability it enjoys it will take, no matter the price. Thing is though… the price in the end might be too steep. Correa and his government have many achievements that need to be recognized and applauded but you can’t use achievements to excuse other violations. The ideas are all good, putting these in practice is where it falls short…”

Belén González-Puelles Laso

Amado Boudou: guilty or innocent?

A judge called on Friday the Argentinian Vice President to testify as a suspect. He is accused of using his influence as a political authority to help a money printing company to go out of bankruptcy a few years ago.

Amado Boudou is the current Vice President of Argentina since December 2011. He has held other public office such as office’s general manager of the National Social Security Administration in February 2001, Finance Secretary (2003-2005) and Minister of Economy (2009-2011).

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“Amado Boudou giving a speech” /AFP (2014)

The company that the vice President helped, “Ciccone Calcografia”, at the moment known as “Compañía de Valores Sudamericano”, was as said before a printing company mostly specialized in money (the Argentinean Peso) that had by the period between 2010 and 2012 a debt with the Argentinean Federal Agency of more than 200 million pesos, which is 30 million dollars approximately. It is on this period when Boudou used his influence as a minister to help the company, even selling it to a friend’s company, who renamed it.

After this, the “Companía de Valores Sudamericano” was assigned to print more money and different types of documents of the government.

How has he taken the whole process? Amado Boudou has absolutely denied all the charges against him and declares himself innocent. The punishment would be of 6 years in prison and further prohibition of holding any public position. However, he is still going through investigation because there are not enough evidences to prove his guilt.

Argentina’s government has demonstrated their support to him several times. Recently, the 25th of May on the event of the National Party, the government saved him a seat as vice-president just behind the president seat.

“Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Amado Boudou” /Infolatam

“Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Amado Boudou” /Infolatam (2013)

“I will prove my innocence” said Amado Boudou, who has not resigned yet, on an Argentinean television channel.

But this is not the only case of Latin American politicians involved in corruption: Fernando Collor de Mello, ex-president of Brazil, probably the most important country of South America, renounced after massive protests because of corruption, or Alberto Fujimori, ex-president of Peru who left the country before his accusations of corruption were judged.

If Amadou Boudou went to jail. In Argentina´s image would be even more ruined after years of social and political decadence. What was in the past the “Europe in South America” is now proving to be much less than the others. Nowadays, Argentina have become the fourth economy in South America as Colombia overtook its place by surprisingly getting the third place after Brazil and Chile.

The issues about corruption just keep emerging in the continent and most parts of the world, as in Spain. Latin America, as one of the richest continents with huge amount of resources, is the one that has more inequality due to corruption that affects almost every single country.

“Amado Boudou’s tweet about its innocence”

“Amado Boudou’s tweet about its innocence” (2014)

Venezuelan local women elected to office

After more than 100 days of repression, two women decided to be the change that they wish for their respective Venezuelan country by running for office.

“Venezuela seems to be on the brink of ruin” affirmed the Human Rights organization Amnesty International. Since February, opponents and supporters of Maduro’s government have confronted in the streets. The result of strikes and barricades are over 2.000 detentions, 650 injured and 41 deaths.

The 25th of May were the elections of San Cristobal’s and San Diego’s mayors.  As former San Cristobal’s mayor, Daniel Ceballos was being  convicted for contempt to the court  to 12 months in jail; his wife was winning the elections with 73.2 per cent of the votes, more votes than himself.  Enzo Scarano’s case was similar, he was sentenced with Ceballos and they shared a cell in jail. He was declared guilty for contempt to the authority and sentenced to 10 months and 15 days in jail. Enzo’s wife, Rosa Scarano, realizing that someone needed to do something to put an end to these unfair events, decided to step in into politics, winning this Monday the elections for mayor with 87.68 per cent of the votes. These two wife’s are expecting to make a change in politics and to end with what they call “Maduro’s dictatorship” not letting him ruin those two cities as he has done with the rest of the country.

It is necessary to take into account that the representation of women as a conflict and consensus figure arouses more sympathy and works better in order to develop a favorable public opinion regarding the changes of the government. This has spent years operating in the case of Cuba and more recently also for the processes of destabilization in Venezuela.

There are three obvious reasons to explain what ahs created this political environment in Venezuela. The first one is the economy, because the South American country registered last year one of the highest inflation rates in the world (61.5%), and the situation has not improved in the last months, even though they’ve got the largest oil reserves in the globe. The second factor is both the murder and violence rates registered in the country: since Maduro predecessor, President Chavez, took the power, those rates have increased constantly (approximately 24,700 people killed in 2013). And the last one were the Presidential elections held in 2013 after the death of Hugo Chavez, in which Maduro’s victory was strongly questioned and he didn’t accept a recount demanded by Henrique Capriles, opposition leader.

Has this political “chaos” in Venezuela deteriorated its foreign relations? Well, most of all it has changed the image that some people had on Venezuela, if it was in some cases negative with Chavez it just became worse with Maduro. The main deteriorated relation was the one with its neighbouring country, Colombia. Colombia in protest of the violation of human rights cut the supply of gas to Venezuela. The gas represents a total of 70% of Venezuelan gas.

Speech of Paula Gutierrez de Ceballos, Daniel Ceballo’s wife.

 

Government agrees peace treaty with FARC.

Colombia’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC -the Marxist Colombian military organization established in 1964 whose purpose was “to conquer political power for govern in benefit of the Colombian people”- have recently reached an agreement about how to deal with the illegal production and trade of drugs in the country. “How can it be possible?” It is the question many Colombians ask themselves after being informed about it. It is not a stupid one: the government of Colombia and the military organization has been confronted (and they remain so) since the conflict began in the 1960’s, resulting in 200000 casualties and more than 40 years of negotiations.

-FARC negotiator Ivan Marquez says the agreement includes reparations for victims of coca plantation spraying http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-27451784

After years of confrontation, Pastrana’s government tried a peace treaty with FARC in the 90’s. It was a failed attempt which intensified the conflict until the Santos government came up in 2012 with Peace negotiations.  They would involve the Government of the Republic of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The peace talks would take place in La Havana and Oslo, so it would be in “neutral” location. Also two Latin American countries would be “accompanying” the negotiation, those are Venezuela and Chile. Six points are to be discussed and agreed on in order to achieve a permanent peace.

– 1. Agrarian integral development policies.
– 2. Political participation (for FARC)
– 3. End of the Conflict.
– 4. Solution to the problem of illegal drugs.
– 5. Victims (in the sense of the truth recognition of the casualties.)
– 6. The implementation and verification of the previous points.

Up to today, points one to four have been agreed by both sides and points 5 and 6 are being discussed at the moment. The whole process seems to have had an acceleration due to the upcoming presidential elections
But why now? Why just some days before the general elections which are going to be held on 25th May?
The peaceful agreement declared by the FARC and the ELM has being highly critized by the opposition, who consider this action might help to the reelection of Juan Manuel Santos as president. “It is a way to make Santos being re-elected on the general elections” said Marta Lucia Ramirez, candidate for the Conservative Party, at a meeting in Bogotá.
Also former President Alvaro Uribe, replaced by Santos in 2010, has compared the situation to what happened in 1992 with Pablo Escobar, who escaped the “prison” he was in when he knew that was going to be moved to another one, describing it as “a monument to impunity”.
Other experts just criticize it mainly because FARC has been involved in cocaine trafficking since the 1980’s and it is clearly and important way of financing themselves. Inevitably, the question is: why do they accept to leave it now? When, for example, the demand of cocaine in Europe and other South American countries as Brazil has increased dramatically in the last years. Maybe they are asking for other conditions as technical assistance or development programs.

2014 World Cup: An opportunity or an absurdity for Brazil?

Since the organization of the Pan-American games celebrated in Rio de Janeiro back in 2009, aside from being elected as the host city for both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic games, the city has gone through major changes in many ways, mainly infrastructure and security-wise.

 

Brazilian population. In terms of infrastructure, some of the stadiums are surrounded by humble neighborhoods that have been literally swiped away by the government in an attempt to make the surrounding areas “good looking” for the event. It has also been done with people.  In a desperate attempt to make the country safer for tourists, they have been sending the army to the Favelas. It has resulted in the deaths of civilian population, as well as with the police, military and the militants.

Brazilians have also felt this in their pockets as around 66% of the money wasted on the “preparation” for the World Cup came from state budget and not private investment. And to mention as well that workers have died in the stadium reforms or constructions due to lack of safety measures which have been skipped in an attempt to reach the time deadline.

Overall, the World Cup has generated lots of different opinions in Brazilian society, fact that can be evidenced due to the high number of protests this year, and especially last summer during the Confederations cup. “FIFA go home” or “We don’t need the World Cup” are some of their slogans as part of their “Operation Stop the World Cup” campaign. These kinds of events were largely peaceful but police later clashed with some protesters. This is the case of the clashes that occurred in the Rio de Janeiro beachside neighborhood of Copacabana on  April 22nd, where protesters burned barricades and police blocked streets. One person was killed as a result.

“By rights we mean the people’s right to decent public services,” said university student Leonardo Pelegrini dos Santos. “We are against the millions and millions of dollars being spent for the Cup. It is money that should be invested in better health and education services and better transportation and housing.”

Misfortunes are not only happening outside of stadiums. Since 2012, a total of 8 laborers between 21 and 55 years old have died for different circumstances. The deadlines for constructions are provoking more pressure and less safety for workers: exhaustion, falls from scaffolding over 30 meters high, heart attacks or electric shocks are some of the gut wrenching conditions that workers deal with daily.

Moreover, some stadiums like “Arena Pantanal” in Cuiabá or “Arena Amazonia” in Manaus are considered “white elephants” as they are expensive and useless structures for those cities with few local teams and a scant population in comparison with other Brazilian cities.