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.

images.jpg trabajo

anti-corruption protest 2013

Brazil – A country divided by the World Cup.

Brazil is nowadays the centre of the world; the South American country, which is the biggest and both most populated and important of the area, hosts the FIFA 2014 World Cup for the second time in its history after organizing the 1950 tournament. It is also the first time in the area since 1978, when it took place in the neighbouring country of Argentina. The World Cup is the most important football competition in the world and will face 32 national teams from 5 different continents, which will fight to get to the final at Rio de Janeiro.

The reality is that Brazil does not appear on worldwide news because of a brilliant organization or because of the enthusiasm and acceptance of Brazilians, despite the country is worldwide known as “the land of football”. It is on the news mostly because of the opposite: there are numerous antigovernment protests and strikes almost every day in all the largest cities of the country, mainly in Rio and Sao Paulo, demanding so many different things.

Because of this worldwide attention that both the event and the hosting country are receiving, I decided to focus on its society and the division of opinions regarding the World Cup for this interview, so someone better than a Brazilian who has experienced the protests on his own city? The person in question was Thiago Lopes, a 22 years old student of International Relations, as me, at the Brazilian north-eastern city of Natal, which is one of the twelve hosting cities of the tournament.

Thiago

Thiago at the “Christ the Redeemer”, which has become an icon of Brazil.

I started asking him about the opinion of the society regarding the World Cup. He told me that at the beginning, when Brazil was elected to host the event in 2007 everyone was extremely happy about it, but of course things have changed; “All my friends are now against it. I honestly think there are more people hating it than liking it but after the World Cup really starts, people will be happier and will accept it because of our passion for football.”

But the truth is that the World Cup has started and there are still lots of people on the streets. That was our next step on the interview; the protests. “In 2013, with the Confederations Cup, we had the biggest protests in Brazil. In my city, Natal, people took control of various kilometres of streets until the end of the day – literally the whole city was there, screaming and complaining about several things at once: the World Cup, the politicians, the hospitals, the education… But after that, the protests decreased day by day because it began to be just a mess.” And that’s the truth, it became a completely mess because of the huge amount of things people started to complain about, as Thiago told me later: “Everybody protest together: I’m protesting against the World Cup, the person next to me is protesting for a better minimum salary, another one against politicians or improvements in hospitals and schools…That’s why it doesn’t work, they don’t focus on one aspect.”

Then we moved to the organization of the World Cup and the role played by both the FIFA (International Federation of Association Football in English) and the Government leaded by Dilma Rousseff. “Who does the World Cup benefit?” That’s the question many Brazilians ask themselves, so I did it to Thiago and he told me that three were the most favoured by the event: “it benefits politicians, FIFA and the tourism sector. The first one stole a lot of money during those days as it is a very corrupted state. FIFA is taking the control of the country without paying anything because we the Brazilians put the money. At the same time they are constantly making requirements that the country has to follow or they will cancel the whole thing, they are even closing some streets and of course they are the ones taking most of the money from tickets and merchandising. The last one, the tourism sector is taking advantage of it by disproportionately rising prices during the World Cup.”

So, those three were the ones pointed out by protesters, but mainly the Government of the country, that made lots of promises to Brazilians which most of them haven’t turned into reality, because as Thiago pointed out, they are still building many of the infrastructures, even the inaugural stadium at Sao Paulo; “they have built giant stadiums and airports, but honestly after the World Cup we won’t have a reason to use them. In my city, Natal, we used to have an airport just 15 minutes by driving and the new one is one hour away and located in an unsafe place. They even promised metros in every capital hosting the event but of course, that never happened.”

I wanted to finish the interview by asking about the repercussion of protests surrounding the World Cup on the image of Brazil, because at least before matches started it didn’t seem to lead to a positive one. Thiago consulted one of his economy teachers and they both thought that “Brazil is probably going to break this year because of the World Cup, we spent a lot of money and now everything is more expensive in comparison to last year: food, gas, public transport… Even my rent has increased and when I asked why so, the answer I got was – it is because of the World Cup.

The interview made me better realize how difficult is to organize a huge event like this one in a divided country as Brazil; but will the passion of Brazilians for football, almost considered a religion, make the World Cup a success for the country? To the contrary, will the huge protests of last year be repeated in an even bigger dimension? Just time will tell, but for sure, the whole world will centre its attention on one place, and that place is Brazil.

-Of course, I thank Thiago again for the interview–

Gonzalo Miró Martín

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).

trabajo

“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.