In a memo last Thursday, Barack Obama declared that Venezuela and Bolivia “have failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotic agreements.”  His argument rests upon their expulsion of DEA operatives.

To the contrary, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports that from 2010 to 2011, Bolivia’s production of coca declined by 12 percent.  Eradication efforts were also up by 25 percent.  Moreover, Morales’ government has confiscated over three and a half times the amount of coca intercepted by the previous administration.  Though Venezuela has struggled to curtail rising violence from a spike in drug trafficking directed towards the growing European market for cocaine, Bolivia has been successful at containing the reach of organized crime and the proliferation of coca production.

Bolivia and Venezuela responded to US accusations with passion, but equally false claims.  Morales correctly countered that the US was the principle source country for cocaine, but failed to relate the historical trend of falling cocaine consumption in the US.

Morales challenged, “they should tell us by what percentage they have reduced the internal (drug) market. The internal market keeps growing and in some states of the United States they’re even legalizing the sale of cocaine under medical control.”

He pointed out “that since 1961, when the first international anti-drug agreements were signed, drug trafficking has grown rather than declined.”

Beside the erroneous claims of statewide cocaine legalization, what he failed to mention was that since 1989, the US market for cocaine has declined by over 360 percent.  The once enormous US market is set to be eclipsed by Europe over the next few years.

Though both sides in this squabble are rightfully upset over the actions and accusations, their conceptions of the issue are skewed by their position.


So mid-2000s

An elusive MIST hangs over the soggy BRIC.  The darlings of the developing world – Brazil, Russia, China and India – have been outshined by new kids on the economic bloc.  Once again, Goldman Sachs has coined another global acronym, this time to classify a group of second tier, but more agile rising powers.  With the stroke of four keys, Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey became the MIST.

But, their ascension into the world of invented global acronyms has irked many other countries eager to gain notoriety in the international arena.  The creation of the BRIC generated hype for these rising powers, leading other enterprising nations to petition for their very own acronyms.

Many have tried combinations that help dispel stereotypes and negative perceptions about their countries.  LUCKY, is a federation formed by the often less fortunate Libya, Uganda, Cambodia, Kosovo and Yemen.  With headquarters in beautiful Benghazi, LUCKY hopes for a radical rebranding.  Meanwhile, Somalia and Iraq have sought to shed their chaotic image by partnering with the uneventful countries of Kazakhstan, Canada, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Suriname.  Together they form KICKASS.

Others – Gautemala, Ecuador, Tanzania, Jordan, Israel, Greece, Ghana and Yemen – just want to GETJIGGY with it.  The delegation is in talks for the creation of a super coalition with the PARTYHARD nations of Poland, Australia, Republic of the Congo, Turkey, Yemen, Honduras, Algeria, Russia, and Denmark.  However, controversy shrouds the latter group over a disagreement with North Korea, which claims that its country, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), puts the Democratic Peoples Republic in PARTYHARD.

To show solidarity and perhaps gain some residual stardom from global pop sensation and heartthrob Justin Bieber, Bolivia, Iran, Ecuador, Brazil, Ethiopia, Russia, Finland, Eritrea, Venezuela, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of the Congo, have come to represent BIEBERFEVER.  In a recent conference, they agreed upon a platform for global change and released this video as a teaser.

Meanwhile, Weakleaks, the less famous cousin of Wikileaks, has caused a row in Washington’s diplomatic circles after leaked cables showed the designation of troubled countries into an unsavory acronym.  PROBLEMS, composed of Paraguay, Russia, Oman, Bosnia, Libya, El Salvador, Myanmar and Somalia, began as a cheap joke, but evolved into a minor security commission.  Stable and wealthy Oman was most offended by the designation.  A hacked email from a US official revealed that the oil rich Mideast country was merely filler to complete the word. Both Oman and its neighbor Yemen are in high demand, for they control access to the only O and Y.

But, others have taken the acronym craze with a grain of salt.  As one Libyan scholar of international relations put it, “Hey, if you are LUCKY enough to KICKASS at your PROBLEMS, then PARTYHARD and GETJIGGY with BIEBERFEVER.”  None-the-less, it will be interesting to see the evolution of these blocs as the balance of world power continues to shift.

On Tuesday, Hugo Chavez announced he would consider efforts to end the Syrian conflict through collaboration with the global Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). “[H]opefully we can somehow help to achieve peace in Syria, whose people are being run over by this imperialist, violent politics,” he announced during a recent press conference. With action to resolve the political crisis stalled in the UN, this group of 120 countries seeks to take the reins.

History and Revival

The Non-Alignment Movement began in 1961 as an alternative to the spheres of influence dominated by the US and USSR.  Founded by Sukarno of Indonesia, Nehru of India, Nasser of Egypt, Nakruma of Ghana, and Tito of Yugoslavia, the movement represented the rising powers of the developing world. From the end of the Cold War until 2003, the movement ceased to its hold summits.  But since then, the last few summits have revived the movement and membership has increased and now includes China as an observer.

Notable attendance at this year’s conference in Tehran included:

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, North Korea’s parliamentary chairman Kim Yong-nam, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Cuba’s Raul Castro,  Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

During the conference, leaders condemned unilateral sanctions, backed the right of Iran and other states to peaceful nuclear energy and supported the creation of a Palestinian state. They also advocated for nuclear disarmament and “human rights free from political agendas.”

Non-Aligned Interventionism

In considering NAM’s desire to resolve the situation in Syria, many questions arise.  How does a movement championed most strongly by leaders without a good sense for human rights, stand to effectively fix a massive humanitarian catastrophe?  And moreover, how does a non-aligned movement, opposed to intervention, plan on intervening and aligning itself with one side of the conflict?

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) will not lay down its weapons until Bashar and his government resigns, making an effective solution to the conflict hinge upon the triumph of one side over the other.  Attempts by the NAM to keep Bashar in power while simultaneously ending the violence, would require the complete annihilation of the FSA.   But even the extermination of an insurgency will not end the root of discontent that originally created it.  The domination of Syria’s politics by a single dynasty must end before long-term peace can be achieved.

Additionally, division within NAM hinders efforts to draft a unified approach for conflict resolution.   Mohammad Morsi of Egypt strongly criticized Bashar’s delegation for its disregard for basic human rights and called on the leader to step down.  Meanwhile, Venezuela and Iran continue to support the continuation of Bashar’s regime.

Noble Intentions

Despite the dubious human rights credentials among many of the movement’s champions and the contradictory nature of their Syria proposal, NAM’s stance against dominant world interests interfering in domestic politics, is not without merit.

George Washington was one of the first to warn against the pitfalls of US interventionism.  In his 1793 farewell address, he spoke strongly against the formation of global spheres of influence:

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all…

The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest…

[H]istory and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.

Over the next two centuries, the US became a dominant global power through projecting its economic and security interests abroad.  What began as a response to two global crises – namely WWI and WWII – became a trap of perpetual foreign involvement.  The more that the US involved itself in the affairs of other countries, the greater its stake in a favorable outcome became.

NAM’s fundamental problem, is that it cannot be both a champion for non-intervention, while seeking to involve itself.  Involvement in the Syrian case requires an interest in the triumph of one faction over another, but non-alignment opposes favoring a specific political position.

The value of such a movement rests on its resistance to interfering in the sovereignty of nations and its opposition to the division of the world into blocs of interest led by a few powerful states.  NAM defends self-interest from the interests of others. As it is the responsibility of the UN to alleviate humanitarian catastrophe; perhaps, NAM will help ensure that such efforts exclude the use of military force.

The October 7, Face Off

Average of two major opposing polls:

Chavez +5.4*

Hugo Chavez 46.4%

United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) 

Henrique Carpiles 41%

Democratic Unity Coalition (MUD)

*Average reflects sum of percent support for each candidate in polls conducted by Datanlysis and Consultores21

If the elections are decided purely upon campaign videos, then Chavez maintains an advantage.

“Mi Comandante” – Chavez’s Official Campaign Song

“Hay un Camino” – Capriles Campaign Video

Datanalysis: Chavez +12.5

Hugo Chavez 46.8%

Henrique Capriles 34.3%

“The socialist’s advantage narrowed to 12.5 points in a Datanalisis poll in August from 15.3 percentage points in June.”

Consultores21: Capriles +1.8

Henrique Capriles 47.7%

Hugo Chavez 45.9%

Survey of 1,000 people had a margin or error of 3.2 percentage points.

“A poll taken between June 15 and June 26 showed the president with 45.9 percent support against 45.8 percent for Capriles. The Caracas-based pollster correctly predicted that Chavez’s opponents would win a slender majority in the popular vote in legislative elections in September 2010.”

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff riding towards a future of better infrastructure

As developed nations continue to stagnate and Asian tigers appear to be slowing down, Latin American countries remain resilient.  Brazil launched a campaign for competitiveness, Argentina’s trade surplus soars and Mexico’s middle class remains.  Even Haiti received praise for measures to improve its business environment.

Through a new campaign for competitiveness, President Dilma Rousseff is determined to reduce the business killing deficiencies in infrastructure and tax structure, known as the “Brazil Cost.”  She plans to continue reducing interest rates, below the historic low of 7.5 percent, while cutting certain taxes, increasing the rate of loan disbursements by 8 percent, and reducing electricity costs by 16.2 percent for consumers and 28 percent for industry.  Additionally, she has vowed more stimulus amid a 26 percent drop in job growth in the first half of 2012, as well as massive improvements in transportation infrastructure to break the ‘logistical bottlenecks’ that contribute to the “Brazil Cost.”

Moreover, her agenda includes an historic affirmative action law, which seeks to ensure that half of all students at Brazil’s 59 federal universities come from public schools.  The new bill, known as the Law of Social Quotas, was approved 80-1 by the Brazilian Senate in early August.  Officials expect the number of black students at these universities to rise from 8,700 to 56,000, a small step in the right direction in a country where 51 percent of citizens identify as black or mixed-race.

Further south, Argentina’s protectionist trade policy contributes to a growing trade surplus, while foreign investment continues.  President Cristina Fernandez has been widely criticized for her restrictions on imports, expropriation of foreign corporations and measures to ban the purchase of US dollars.  While she might have angered her trading partners – Japan, EU, and US filed complaints to WTO – her policies have not scared away all foreign investment and the nation’s trade surplus has doubled to $1.64 billion in August.   Procter and Gamble has agreed to invest $120 million in a new packaging plant, Monsanto will invest $329 million in a corn seed factory, and Russia’s state-owned Gazprom has agreed to supply liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Argentina’s YPF.

In 1960, eighty percent of Mexico’s population lived in poverty; today 62 percent identify as middle class and extreme poverty now effects less than a quarter of the population.  The change manifests most strongly in immigration, which reached net zero for the first time in 2011.  Though the recession lowered Mexico’s per capita income by 9.3 percent, economic opportunities and more stable employment at home have continued to outcompete with US alternatives.

Meanwhile, as Caribbean economies struggle to grow, Haiti received praise for new measures, which seek to improve the country’s business environment.  The government reduced the time it takes to acquire a construction permit from 1,110 days to 60 days and lowered the registry time for new businesses from 180 days to 10.  Another $300 million industrial park, funded by the US government and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), is set to create 60,000 jobs.

~~~~ Snip ~~~~

Follow Up

Tiny Uruguay outshines neighbor Argentina with investors

A tale of two neighboring leftists

9 September, 2012

McClatchy Media

[Uruguay], the long-overlooked South American nation, which lacks Argentina’s flair for political melodrama and Brazil’s clout and ambition, finally is emerging from their shadows, becoming a darling among investors and even a model for democracy.

Uruguay was the only South American country in the “Full Democracy” category.  Its overall 17th rank was even ahead of the United States, at 19, and the United Kingdom, at 18.

Uruguay surpassed the United States in the index in civil liberties, functioning of government, and electoral process and pluralism.

Alberto Bernal, with Miami-based Bulltick Capital said, “[In Uruguay], It is not a question of ideology. You can be as much of a leftist as you want, but don’t change the rules of the game. If you say you are going to respect laws, then respect them.” By contrast, with Uruguay’s neighbor, “There is no certainty in Argentina, because you know the rules of the game could change.”

Those with power often stand at the mercy of powerful information.  Leaders sculpt the world with their actions, but mass media paints a portrait of their work for all to see.   The freedom of the media to paint the portrait it sees in the world can be both toxic and beneficial to those in charge. Three cases of extradition reveal a triangle of powerful information and its powerful enemies.

Over the last few months, Ecuador has granted asylum to two oppenents of political hegemony.  In July, President Rafael Correa accepted a request by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange who is seeking refuge from allegations of sexual assault in Sweden.  Assange fears that such an extradition would provide the US with an opportunity to seize and prosecute him for publicizing state secrets.

Later in August, an Ecuadorian court protected Aliaksandr Barankov, a Belarusian dissident from being extradited back to his home country, where President Alexander Lukashenko has dominated politics for the last 18 years.  Barankov, a former police officer had fled the country after uncovering an oil smuggling ring led by top government officials.

Meanwhile, the US has granted political asylum to an Ecuadorian journalist convicted of libel against the country’s president.  Columnist Emilio Palacio has been in the US for a year, escaping a three year sentence and a $40 million fine, for publishing an article that described President Correa as “the dictator” and accused the leftist leader of ordering soldiers to open fire on a hospital, during a brief coup attempt by members of the national police force.

These three extradition cases reflect foreign policy disputes.  The small Andean nation of Ecuador is standing up for an opponent of US power in the world, while the US is protecting a dissenter to the Ecuadorian government.   Though both these countries boast democratic values and a respect for human rights, they are more motivated by political priorities than humanitarian ones.  The US protects press freedom when it serves to undermine an opponent, but curses international transparency when the release of state secrets threatens diplomatic objectives.  Similarly, Ecuador praises the freedom of information when it damages the stature of a major world power and an oppressive regime, yet raises its own fist to squash dissent at home.

Despite rhetorical justifications, the powerful will always prioritize power over principles.

~~~~ Snip ~~~~

Follow Up

America’s refusal to extradite Bolivia’s ex-president to face genocide charges

Another politically motivated extradition dispute from the Hemisphere

9 September, 2012

The Guardian

The view that [Ex-President] Sánchez de Lozada must be extradited from the US to stand trial is a political consensus in Bolivia, shared by the government and the main opposition party alike.

In October 2003, the intensely pro-US president of Bolivia, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, sent his security forces to suppress growing popular protests against the government’s energy and globalization policies. Using high-powered rifles and machine guns, his military forces killed 67 men, women and children, and injured 400 more, almost all of whom were poor and from the nation’s indigenous Aymara communities.

Reduvid bug

One night you are sleeping peacefully, when suddenly a small bug drops down from the rafters above and decides to feed on your face.  After sucking your blood to its heart’s content, the bug proceeds to defecate in the same space it had just enjoyed a meal.  You awake the next morning with a swollen bite and scratch away to relieve the itch.  In a few days you develop flu like symptoms – headache, diarrhea, fever, the works.  A few weeks later, you have conquered the sickness.  Years pass and the incident seems nothing more than the distant haze of a memory.  Then one day, 20 years into the future, your heart stops working and you die.  An autopsy reveals a megacolon (enlarged colon) and a megaesophagus (enlarged esophagus).

This story is repeated 20,000 times every year throughout the Americas.  Chagas: a parasitic infection passed through the fecal matter of reduvid bugs, is the disease behind the mystery.  Health services estimate eight to 11 million people carry the disease in the western hemisphere.  Though early treatment of the disease can prevent its delayed chronic symptoms, the majority of carriers do not know they have been infected.

T. cruzi

Chagas is caused by Trypanosoma cruzi, a unicellular flagellar protozoa, resembling a microscopic flat worm.  Once inside the blood, the parasite replicates itself by asexual binary fission and begins a long process of colonization throughout the tissues of the colon, nerves, esophagus, and heart.

Besides transmission via the reduvid bug, commonly referred to as the “kissing bug” for its habit of sucking faces, Chagas can also be spread through blood transfusions, organ transplantations, breast milk, and across the placenta.   Fourteen thousand infants are born with congenital Chagas every year and 13 percent of all still births in Brazil can be attributed to the disease.

The disease was first discovered in 1909, by Brazilian immunologist Carlos Chagas.  Though a major Chagas outbreak hit the country in the 1920s, it did not become an internationally accepted public health concern until the 1960s. Before discovery and treatment, the parasite went completely unchecked.  In fact, some evidence suggests that Charles Darwin had contracted Chagas during a stopover in Chile.  He described feeling ill for six months in the port of Valparaiso, but quickly recovered afterward to resume his travels.  A year after returning to England he developed mysterious symptoms, which debilitated him for the rest of his life.

The bug that causes the disease has a variety of different names, including vinchuca in Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay, bareiro or “barber” in Brazil, pito in Colombia, chinche in Central America, and chipo in Venezuela.  It is mostly found in rural areas, hiding in thatched roofs and other organic house materials.  Modern efforts to reduce the 40,000 cases occurring every year focus on spraying insecticide, raising awareness of bites, and encouraging testing and treatment.

On the bright side, once the initial acute symptoms of the disease have been identified, treatment is 60-90 percent effective in preventing the development of the chronic symptoms, down the road.  So if you fall asleep under a roof made of straw and palm fronds, check your face in the morning, do not scratch, and wash bug droppings from the bite.  Everything will be alright in a Chagas free future.

Chagas bite causes initial swelling of eye

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