Venezuela and the Politics of the Absurd

So it sounds like Hugo Chavez has finally returned to Venezuela (New York Times), which will hopefully mean that the last couple of months of political chaos and absurdity that the country has been living through has finally come to an end. For almost 2 months, and shortly after wining reelection to the presidency, Chavez had been under secretive treatment for unspecified cancer in Cuba. What was amazing is that for more than 2 months Chavez was sequestered in Cuba with absolutely no information available to anyone in the country to the status of his health, or proof that he was still alive. After  more than a month of total silence a few pictures were released by the government, but this caused almost more confusion and skepticism to Chavez’s true status (First Pictures of Chavez). He was physically incapable of being sworn in, and this created a near constitutional emergency. Political ally tried to rally people and accused the opposition of disloyally using the circumstances for  political gains and did all sorts of ridiculous stunts to try to rally political opinion to the pro-government cause (Who cares about real problems when there are baseball caps). All of this of course has been taking place while the country has been in dire economic straits, with major shortages being reported in super markets, massive inflation, high levels of crime and violence in Caracas (the capital), diminishing oil exports due to poor management of the state oil company, and mounting state debt. The problems are so serious the government has had to act before Chavez’s return with Venezuela devaluing the Bolivar. There is so much about this story that just boggles my mind.

  1. First, how on earth did the acting president of a country spend 2 months in a foreign country for treatment of cancer (potentially terminal) without anyone in the country knowing what was going.
  2. How is it that no leader in Latin America has anything to say about this? When presidents in Honduras and Paraguay were overthrown in less than normal circumstances, outcries were heard about how democracy was being trampled. And yet while Chavez laid in a bed in Cuba, not a single word was uttered about how democracy was being threatened. I find this very disturbing. Leaders in Latin America’s left leaning parties are far too ready to attack neo-conservatives and Yankee threats to democracy, but are far too often willing to ignore the same actions that would drive them crazy if they were being done at the behest of the U.S. or of the right. Can you imagine what would happen if a president of a Latin American country spent 2 months in total media silence in a secret government hospital in the U.S.? I am pretty certain it wouldn’t be silence.

I just hope that in the not too distance future, that leaders in Latin America will be able to move forward and call out any threat to peace, prosperity, and democracy and not just those convenient times when the threats are being perpetuated by members on the other side of the political spectrum.


FAO Food Waste Statistics

FAO Food Waste Statistics

This is an interesting set of statistics, a little too clean for me to accept blindly but interesting nevertheless.

I don’t doubt there is a great deal of waste in the global food chain, I am just curious how some of these statistics were collected. I can’t imagine there is good data on harvest lost at the farm in much of the developing world. I also wonder how they have defined waste when putting together this list of numbers. Does food that is starting to go to waste and is fed to animals considered waste, how about compost? While it is true that these uses may be sub-optimal  they are also not complete losses for the farmer.

The other thing that I found interesting from this page is that waste in the developing world and the developed world are remarkably similar in terms of total food waste. The difference is where the waste is occurring. In the developing world waste occurs primarily at the farm-level and in transportation to the market. Clear symptoms of poor infrastructure and access to technologies like cold storage, and good roads. In the developed world the waste occurs mostly on the tail end of the food production chain with food going to waste in consumers homes or at supermarkets due to food standards that are focused on aesthetics. While both are food waste, the causes are very different as are the consequences to society from this waste.

  • Waste at the farm level hurts farmers who lose potential food and revenue. Without the security of selling all of ones harvest due to waste creates major disincentives to investing in farm productivity (irrigation, weeding, fertilizer, etc), as the farmer can’t be sure these off, as the harvest may end up spoiling in bags while waiting to reach the market. In many ways, the worst losses from post harvest loss comes from missed economic opportunities.
  • Waste at the end of the production chain is perhaps less visibly damaging, because it disappears once people have had their opportunity to eat what they want. However, in many ways it is more wasteful than waste after post-harvest. Why? Think about all the steps that are taken to getting food from the farm to our tables. There is harvest, transportation to a processing center, processing and converting primary goods into market ready goods, packaging, transportation to super market, and then transportation to your home. Waste at the end of the chain means that all of the work, and energy required to move harvested goods all the way through the chain has also been wasted when we throw away unconsumed food.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Annals of Misleading Statistics: Literacy 83

Amen David McKenzie. In the field of International Development the availability of good data is frustratingly awful, which makes it difficult to identify let alone pursue good policy. There is no need to compound this problem by misrepresenting and oversimplifying what limited data we have. I applaud any attempt to communicate the real problems that exist in the world, and increasing awareness, but the KISS (keep it simple stupid) principle is often not the best way forward if we are concerned about real long term changes. Instead building capacity to understand and interpret more complex situations and numbers should be the goal, and refrain from “Fox-Newsifying” everything in the attempt to quickly reach people and avoid having to do the hard and long work of educating people on the issues.

Does Gender Matter in Migration

Does Gender Matter in Migration

An excellent short blog post by David McKenzie at the World Bank, which illustrates the difficulty in untangling causation in gender related issues. I wish more people would follow his skepticism and caution when trying to make causative assumptions on complex social issues like gender and development.

Identity: Nationality, Race, and Language

Self identity is a complex concept that is difficult to summarize in simple generalities. This reality is especially true when we start thinking about how we self identify, and which communities we believe we belong to. We draw many of our values and traditions from our peers and the communities that we are born into and/or chose to join. Some of these communities are chosen for us. For example, one cannot choose our biological parents, or what country we are born and raised in, and yet these circumstances play a vital role in an individual’s formation. Other communities we are born into, but can change, such as religion, socio-economic class, nationality, and to a certain extent race/ethnicity. Each person is a layered combination of these different communities, and depending on specific circumstances, which of these characteristics we highlight can change dramatically.

For example, I was born in Colombia, but was raised mostly in the US. Although, I grew up in a multicultural and multilingual household with direct familial ties to both countries. Since I can remember, Spanish and English have played a role in my life, but in very partitioned ways. English has for most of my life been  my primary language. I used it both in private and in public, whereas Spanish was at least until my early 20s a private language, which I would use only with family and for my own personal pleasure (reading literature, watching movies, maintaining cultural ties). While I have always identified myself as bilingual, with few exceptions the people I speak English with do not overlap with those I speak Spanish with, even when they too are bilingual, which means my bilingual relationships are fairly limited. This feeling of being a bridge between different communities is undoubtedly a common thing and I’m sure that just about everyone can think examples of where they are the only bridge between 2 different sets of friends/acquaintances. But I find it interesting in the moment, how very different parts of who we are can come out in interactions with different communities.

So what got me thinking about this? A couple of blog posts that I’ve read this past week. The first is a short, but interesting blog post by David McKenzie looking at some of the issues in international politics with dual citizenship (Dual Citizenship and Development). The second is an blog post on the Economist looking at the role of language in immigrant groups (Economist: Immigration and Language).

McKenzie’s piece I think speaks directly to some of my musings about issues of identity. It is easy to feel at home within different identities, and while we share loyalties with different communities this really isn’t a zero-sum game, and nationality is one of many communities within which we can belong.

The post on the Economist I thought was interesting, in that it tries to shine some light on some common misconceptions with respect to language and immigration. I think it is fascinating how generation after generation seem to react to new immigrant groups in almost the same xenophobic way. Afraid that this new incursion will somehow upset an idyllic past that didn’t used to include whatever new group is entering the picture. Of course what is amusing is that each generation glosses over the fact that the current idyllic past was once one considered an unacceptable future by many who did not want to allow the previous wave of immigrants in. Currently, there are many who fear the new Latin invasion and what it would do to the US. There is fear that the US identity will be changed. And there is truth to this fear. The US identity will undoubtedly change, but this change is inevitable. Cultures are fluid and constantly changing as new problems and ideas arise, societies adapt and evolve. I don’t believe there is much concern for the U.S. becoming a permanently bilingual country, as I expect that over a couple generations Latin immigrants like immigrant groups before them will try to maintain cultural ties to their past, but will adopt English for most of their needs. While I don’t think that the US is in any risk of becoming a dual language nation, I do wonder if that is such a great thing. Wouldn’t it be a competitive advantage for the country as a whole to be multilingual. In a world that is becoming more connected, I would think that speaking multiple languages would something to strive for and not reject out of hand.