Last week I presented work I’ve been involved with at IFPRI with the IMPACT model. I explained how the model works and how this tool can be used in conjunction with other tools developed at IFPRI can be applied to the Colombian context to analyze complex issues like the effects of climate change on agricultural prices, land-use, and GHG emmissions.
Lots of interesting things have been going on in Latin America the past couple of weeks, and here are a few of the articles that caught my eye.
Brazil supermarkets ‘to avoid Amazon meat’ (BBC) – This is an exciting turn of events for people concerned about deforestation in the Amazon rain forest. While conversion of land from rain forest to pasture for livestock is not the only cause of deforestation it is a major factor. Providing incentives to discourage the expansion of livestock production in the Amazon would definitely help reduce deforestation. The challenge will be on policing this promise. It is easy to say you won’t accept meat from the Amazon, it is a lot harder to track cows from birth to slaughter to ensure they are not coming from the Amazon. Nevertheless, it looks like a promising private sector action that could reduce deforestation in Brazil, and if effective done may serve as a model to other countries.
Peru declares oil contamination emergency in Amazon jungle region (Washington Post) – Peru’s indigenous population in the amazon region have been protesting the deplorable treatment of the environment by the oil industry. It is a sadly common example of what can happen when there are extreme power asymmetries in an economy with poor accountability and government oversight. The government needs to done a better job of regulating the industry to encourage the protection of the environment. This hasn’t happened in the past, and now Peru is in the more difficult position of trying to clean up the mess then preventing the mess from happening.
Peru’s new military draft (Washington Post) – This policy isn’t very fair. It is, however, fairly common in Latin America, where individuals with money are often able to avoid or greatly reduce their military service. In many countries the military does serve a valuable role in providing economic ladders to economically disadvantaged members of society. However, I think Peru is treating the symptom (low enlistment) instead of the cause of the the problem. They should try to understand why people are enlisting less, and correct the cause of the low enlistment. I suspect enlistment is low because people do not find the military experience valuable. Perhaps what they should do is try increasing the payoffs of joining the military. Increasing the criminally low wage, and providing opportunities to gain high quality education would be a good place to start. Increasing the payoffs from the military experience would certainly be fairer than forcing the poorest members of society to partake in an institution, which richer members happily pay to avoid.
Why is less cocaine coming from Colombia (the economist) – An interesting look at the changing dynamics in the cocaine trade in South America’s Andes, and how Colombia has been displaced by Peru and Bolivia as the world largest producers of cocaine. The article does a good job of describing the historical transition of cocaine production between Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru. While the article doesn’t make a specific point about the futility of attacking drug production at the point of supply, it does point to the significant effects that changes in demand have on production. Yes, Colombia has clamped down hard on production, and this has undoubtedly contributed to decreased production. However, long term, continuing to decrease cocaine production will require a global decline in cocaine consumption, or some other dramatic change in the drug trade (legalization, new synthetics that replace cocaine, etc.). Else as we learned from prohibition, if there is a demand someone will figure a way of getting the product to the market, and this short term decline may just be a temporary blip.
Colombian Prosecutor’s Court Challenge Threatens Peace Talks (NY Times) – This court challenge could make the ongoing peace talks in Cuba even more complicated. While I sincerely hope that it doesn’t derail the peace talks, I think there are some very valid points that have been made, and it is important for a pluralistic and democratic society like Colombia to discuss publicly the framework of this peace negotiation. Only by doing this will the end result have long standing legitimacy. The question being raised is definitely a tough one to answer. By giving amnesty to human rights violators there may be many injustices that are never heard in court and victims may be unable to have their moment to say their piece and get valuable closure. However, without the amnesty it may be difficult to get the FARC to the negotiating table, which could lead to the violence lasting longer. With news that Catatumbo, one of the high ranking members of the FARC recently joining the negotiations in Havana, it will be very interesting to see if this challenge is successful, and if it is, what effect it will have on the willingness of the FARC to continue negotiating.
Port strikes halt shipments of copper, fruit in export dependent Chile (Washington Post) and Most Chile Ports to End Strike (NY Times) – This is big news for global copper markets. Chile is one of the world’s largest exporters of copper and over 50% of all copper shipments pass through Chile. Chile’s government also rakes in a substantial portion of its revenue from royalties on this vital metal, and if the tentative settlement falls apart it could threaten vital government services. The strike also wreaks havoc on the overall economy which is heavily dependent on exports not only of minerals but also of horticultural goods like grapes, apples, and wine. On the one hand it is a bit scary that one sector can hold the whole economy hostage, but on the other it seems utterly ridiculous that it got to this point, as the initial strikes appear to have started because the dock workers wanted a 30 minute lunch break. Here is to hoping that a settlement is reached allowing the free flow of trade, and that gives the Chilean dock workers a more hospitable working environment.
Pablo Neruda Exhumed (NY Times) – I didn’t realize there was a possibility Neruda had been poisoned. Poisoning Neruda would have been a petty and detestable act by the Pinochet regime. Neruda was already suffering from terminal stomach cancer, and could not have been much of a threat to him. I’ll be very curious to see what the results of the study of Neruda’s body show,
I was born in Colombia, and have spent more than 5 years living, working, and traveling in Latin America. I find the many cultures, traditions, and histories of this region fascinating. Even though I am currently living in DC, I try to keep myself informed on what is going on in the region, and in the spirit of my weekly development links, I am going to start summarizing the articles and papers I read about the region. Not sure if I’ll do this every week, or make it a bi-weekly thing, guess I’ll play it by ear.
With no further ado, the links:
Mayor of Lima Survives Recall Vote (NY Times) – I am not very knowledgeable about Limeño politics. However, on first glance it seems like a good thing Susana Villaran won her recall vote. She clearly has riled up a lot of animosity from Lima’s traditional powers. Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem she has committed any illegal or corrupt actions. While this is not exactly a ringing endorsement, the recall appears to be a part of a strategy to prevent Villaran from exercising the powers of her office. Considering this, it is probably for the best she will get to finish her term, if only for stability sake or the fact she is Lima’s first female mayor.
Proceso de Paz en Colombia (El Tiempo) – Cool flash application providing a chronology of the peace process and a description of the participants in the peace negotiations ongoing between Colombia and FARC, Colombia’s largest guerrilla group. The application was designed by El Tiempo, Bogota’s main newspaper, and is in Spanish.
In Effort to Try Dictator, Guatemala Shows New Judicial Might (NY Times) – In a major ruling, Guatemala’s supreme court ruled in favor of the prosecution, which will ensure that Efraín Ríos, Guatemala’s former dictator, will be tried for human rights violations committed during his rule in the 1980s. I think this is excellent news. While there are certainly concerns about whether or not Efraín Ríos will get a fair trial, this concern is outweighed by the message it sends: dictators are responsible for the actions done under their rule. The fact it took 30 years to get here does weakens the deterrence capacity of the judgement, it is nevertheless, a positive step. I look forward to seeing how this trial unfolds, and hope the victims in Guatemala get an opportunity to voice their outrage and see some form of justice.
Argentina’s Fernandez Asks Pope to Intervene Over Falklands (Reuters) – Glad to see that Venezuela doesn’t have a monopoly on absurd political theatre in Latin America. Argentina’s use of the Falklands is fairly similar to Chavez’s anti-U.S. rhetoric. It is used as a call to arms for supporters and a smoke-screen to distract from domestic problems. Much like the anti-imperialist claims from Venezuela, the Falklands are rooted in historical events and stories. Just as in Venezuela, the truth of the matter has little to do with the effectiveness of using this political tool. Therefore, it isn’t really worth going through point by point the tenuousness of the Argentine claim to the islands, or the fact a recent referendum had the islanders voting nearly unanimously to remain British. Trying to draw the Pope in on the issue should be interpreted as a cynical attempt to rally nationalist sentiment and boost morale in the face of local economic problems.
Earth to Evo (Project Syndicate) – This article struck me as a bit too negative on Evo Morales. Is there a certain amount of hypocrisy and political self-serving behind the environmental and pro-indigenous mantle that Evo Morales has clothed himself? Sure. However, Evo like national leaders everywhere has to make trade offs, where economic, social, political, and environmental objectives have to be weighed and prioritized. The road represents potential economic development for a country in need of it. Does it threaten the rights of the indigenous people living in the TIPNIS, and potentially the environment? Yes. However, it would potentially open markets for other indigenous groups (cocaleros, quechua, aymara) that are a more powerful voting block. With this in mind is it really a surprise Evo is pushing forward with the project? Disappointing perhaps, but not all that surprising.
Chavez backers clash with protesters in Venezuela (ABCnews) – The situation in Venezuela continues to be volatile, as this article shows, with pro- and anti- Chavistas clashing in the streets of Caracas. I am sympathetic to the student protesters, who are trying to get the supreme court to prevent Maduro from using the full force of the state during the elections. Hopefully, they can get their message across without too many people getting hurt. Representative democracy is best served when the electorate can make decisions based on free and honest information about the candidates.
Autumn of the Patriarchs (Project Syndicate) – An interesting look at the final days of many modern autocrats, and their similarities with what is currently happening in Venezuela. I agree with Ben-Ami that Chavismo is not sustainable over the long run unless major reforms are enacted However, in the short-term I expect that Maduro will win and continue in the same vein as Chavez. What happens from there will depend on Maduro, his desire to maintain a veneer of democratic legitimacy, his ability to control the Chavistas, and how long he can maintain handouts through oil-money.