Teachers' unions go out on strike.
Mar 8th 2014 | BUENOS AIRES | From the print edition
“IT CAN’T be that every annual salary negotiation makes it a strain just to begin the school year,” said President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner during a speech to Congress on March 1st. Yes it can.
There are lessons for many governments from one country’s 100 years of decline
February 15th 2014 | From the print edition
A CENTURY ago, when Harrods decided to set up its first overseas emporium, it chose Buenos Aires. In 1914 Argentina stood out as the country of the future. Its economy had grown faster than America’s over the previous four decades. Its GDP per head was higher than Germany’s, France’s or Italy’s. It boasted wonderfully fertile agricultural land, a sunny climate, a new democracy (universal male suffrage was introduced in 1912), an educated population and the world’s most erotic dance. Immigrants tangoed in from everywhere. For the young and ambitious, the choice between Argentina and California was a hard one.
A deal with Repsol is a small step towards reversing an energy deficit
Nov 30th 2013 | BUENOS AIRES | From the print edition
HAVING been an exporter of hydrocarbons not long ago, Argentina now imports natural gas from Bolivia and oil from Venezuela—even though it is sitting on what is probably one of the world’s biggest shale oil-and-gas fields, Vaca Muerta in Patagonia. When President Cristina Fernández last year ordered the expropriation of Repsol’s controlling stake in YPF, the country’s main oil company, she saw this as a way of ensuring Vaca Muerta would be developed by Argentines, not Spaniards. But the nationalisation placed YPF at the centre of an international legal dispute.
Nov 22nd 2013, 16:21 by H.C. | BUENOS AIRES
WITH its extensive network in Argentina the Catholic Church is arguably the non-governmental organisation with its ear closest to the ground. Its priests work even in areas so precarious that ambulances and police avoid them. That makes its report on the spread of drug consumption and trafficking, released earlier this month, all the more disturbing. Argentina, it warns, is “entering a situation from which it could be difficult to return”.
Nov 20th 2013, 12:33 by H.C. | BUENOS AIRES
TO HERALD her return to work on November 19th after surgical treatment for a hematoma put her out of action for five weeks, Cristina Fernández, Argentina's president, released a folksy home video by her 23-year-old daughter. In it she thanked those who had supported her during the convalescence. She singled out two well-wishers (a young fan and the brother of the late Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez) and their gifts (a stuffed penguin, the symbol of Ms Fernández’s home province in Patagonia, and a fleece puppy Simón, named after the South American independence leader and Chávez's hero Simón Bolívar). Puppies, penguins and progeny to one side, the president proceeded to announce, through her spokesman, the evening’s real news: important cabinet changes.
Mar 1st 2014 | São Paulo | From the print editionA CURB on masks is an odd thing for Brazilians to be contemplating just days before Carnival gets cracking. The justice minister, José Eduardo Cardozo, insists that the prop, as integral a part of the festival as scantily clad sambistas, will not vanish from Carnival parades or other “cultural, historical and folkloric events”. But a bill he is about to send to Congress aims to restrict the use of masks in political protests.
Feb 22nd 2014 | SÃO PAULO | From the print edition
DURING his stratospheric rise Eike Batista became a symbol of Brazil’s economic virility, extolled by politicians and lionised by fellow businessmen. He was the world’s seventh-richest person, with a fortune put at around $30 billion. His interlinked businesses included six listed commodities and logistics companies—each with an X in its name, signifying the multiplication of wealth—plus a handful of private firms such as a property developer and a gold-miner. But OGX, the oil and gas firm at the heart of his empire, proved not to be the gusher he had promised. Investors lost faith in him and his devalued assets, and his empire crumbled.
Some serious private money for airports and roads
Nov 30th 2013 | SÃO PAULO | From the print edition
ALTHOUGH not a fan of privatisation, since she became Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff has accepted that the state alone cannot fix Brazil’s long-neglected infrastructure. Hitherto her government has talked much of bringing in private capital to do the job, but fluffed this in practice.
A landmark for justice
Nov 23rd 2013 | SÃO PAULO |From the print edition
AS CHIEF of staff to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2003-05, José Dirceu was the second most powerful man in Brazil. Then claims surfaced that he and other leaders of the ruling Workers’ Party (PT) were orchestrating a scheme to bribe allies in return for congressional support. Few Brazilians believed that Mr Dirceu, who resigned, would be charged, let alone convicted or jailed in a country where impunity for politicians has long been the norm. But on November 15th the supreme-court president, Joaquim Barbosa, issued warrants for the arrest of Mr Dirceu and 11 others among the 25 found guilty last year of, variously, bribery, money-laundering, misuse of public funds and conspiracy, in a case known to Brazilians as the mensalão (big monthly stipend).
Nov 14th 2013, 11:50 by J.P.
EDUARDO CAMPOS is both modern manager and old-fashioned political boss. As governor of the poor, north-eastern state of Pernambuco, he has attracted private investment, brought private managers into state hospitals, introduced elements of performance-based pay for teachers and made some schools operate a full eight-hour day, rather than the four-hour shifts common in Brazil.
Bachelet on the brink
Nov 23rd 2013 | SANTIAGO |From the print edition
“WE THOUGHT this would be an eight-month pregnancy but in the end it’s going to the full term,” joked Michelle Bachelet, a paediatrician, on November 17th as she celebrated a bittersweet triumph that took her centre-left New Majority coalition tantalisingly close to the presidency. Having won 47% of the vote, nearly twice as much as her closest rival, Evelyn Matthei of the ruling centre-right Alliance (25%), she now faces a run-off on December 15th.
A more left-wing Michelle Bachelet is set to win on a tide of social discontent
Nov 9th 2013 | SANTIAGO |From the print edition
ON OCTOBER 27th, as Michelle Bachelet, clad in a shawl of green and gold, took the stage in a belle-époque theatre in a suburb of Santiago to launch her manifesto, the announcer introduced her as “the future president of Chile”. For once, the campaign triumphalism did not seem misplaced. Everything suggests that Ms Bachelet, a Socialist paediatrician, is heading back to La Moneda, the presidential palace, only four years after she left it. One question is whether she will win outright on November 17th, or be taken to a run-off a month later. The other, more important one is just how far she proposes to steer Chile to the left.
Oct 29th 2013, 10:56 by G.L. | SANTIAGO
EVERY now and then a society is confronted by a crime so horrific that it prompts profound reflection and, eventually, change. Among such crimes was the murder in Chile last year of Daniel Zamudio. On October 28th a court sentenced one of his tormentors to life in prison. Two of the others got 15 years each; the fourth got seven years.
An arbitrary administrative lynching of a bad mayor
Dec 14th 2013 | BOGOTÁ | From the print edition
ANYONE who happened to be in Colombia’s capital a year ago saw three days of chaos. Mounds of rubbish piled up on street corners as a municipal agency struggled to implement a new waste-management system after Gustavo Petro, Bogotá’s left-wing mayor, allowed the contracts of private firms that had been providing the service to lapse. Faced with a public outcry, Mr Petro called the private firms back.
Just as an agreement is reached, news of an assassination plot highlights the risks to the peace negotiations
Nov 16th 2013 | BOGOTÁ |From the print edition
WHEN President Juan Manuel Santos began peace talks with Colombia’s FARC guerrillas last November, he promised that the negotiations would take “months, not years”. As well as seeking to reassure voters that the rebels would not be allowed to spin out the process as cover for their own regrouping, Mr Santos had the country’s political calendar in mind. Congressional and presidential elections are due in March and May of next year. He had hoped to do a deal to end the country’s half-century of conflict in time for the launch of his re-election bid, which has a deadline of November 25th.
Nov 7th 2013, 11:28 by S.B. | BOGOTÁ
MANY Colombians are repulsed by the notion that top FARC rebel commanders could end up taking seats in Congress, become mayors or win governorships. But that is precisely what the year-old talks to end a half-century of conflict are all about: getting the rebels to give up arms for a chance to govern. Both sides announced a draft agreement November 6th that lays out a framework for how the FARC, which have been fighting the Colombian state since 1964, can turn into to a political party. Though the accord would take effect only once a broader agreement is reached, it marks a turning point for the process.
Oct 23rd 2013, 13:23 by Economist.com
"ONE country, two currencies" is one of Cuba's more peculiar idiosyncrasies. The Cuban peso (CUP) and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) are both legal tender on the island, though neither is exchangeable in foreign markets. The CUC is pegged to the dollar and worth 25 times as much as the CUP. But whereas most Cubans are paid in CUP, nearly all consumer goods are priced in CUC. The system, which highlights divisions between those with access to hard currency and those without, has proved unpopular. On October 22nd state media published an official announcement that it is finally going to be scrapped. Cuba’s Council of Ministers, it said, had approved a timetable for implementing “measures that will lead to monetary and exchange unification”.
Nov 15th 2013, 15:02 by S.K. | QUITO
THE 20-year legal battle over the environmental legacy of Texaco in Ecuador has ended—or so Ecuador would like to think. On November 12th the National Court of Justice (CNJ), its highest court, cut the fine a lower court in Lago Agrio, an Amazon town, imposed on Chevron, the Amercian oil giant which bought Texaco in 2001, from $19 billion to a still mammoth $9.5 billion. Lawyers for the 47 plaintiffs reluctantly swallowed the huge cut. They hope that the ruling will make it easier to go after Chervon's assets outside Ecuador (it has hardly any in the country). Chevron has decried the decision and says it will continue to battle it internationally.
Nov 8th 2013, 11:03 by S.K. | QUITO
MINUTES before its planned release on September 25th a judge in Ecuador blocked the distribution of “A Tragedy Hidden Away”, a book detailing a massacre of 20-odd members of one indigenous Amazonian tribe, the Taromenane, by another, the Waorani. The authors, Miguel Ángel Cabodevilla, a Capuchin missionary, and Milagros Aguirre, a journalist, promptly distributed it via the internet. Faced with a public outcry over the censorship, the judge reversed her decision two days later.
The new president of a violent country will have a weak mandate but threatens to brandish a big fist
Nov 30th 2013 | TEGUCIGALPA | From the print edition
WHEN Juan Orlando Hernández (pictured), the winner of Honduras’s presidential election of November 24th, was involved in a minor helicopter crash eight days before, he clambered out, fell to his knees and thanked God for saving his life. Since then, the 45-year-old right-winger who grew up in a rural family of 17 children has done his best to show that he is the chosen one. “The voice of the people is God’s voice,” he claimed, defending a victory his main opponent disputed.
Nov 25th 2013, 8:24 by H.T. | TEGUCIGALPA
JUAN ORLANDO HERNÁNDEZ, a right-winger who invokes God’s help to govern Latin America’s most violent country, appeared headed for victory in Honduras’s presidential elections, according to preliminary results on November 24th. But his main rival, the wife of a former left-wing president deposed in a 2009 coup, insists she has won and called out her supporters to contest the results.
Oct 28th 2013, 18:42 by H.T. | TEGUCIGALPA
XIOMARA CASTRO walks into a crowded conference room with a red sash draped over her shoulders and kisses everyone she encounters, including your startled correspondent. At 54, she has a vivid presence, made all the more notable because she is running neck-and-neck in the opinion polls to be the next president of Honduras.
Feb 15th 2014 | APATZINGÁN | From the print edition
THREE brotherhoods are struggling for control of Apatzingán, a dusty town in the south-western Mexican state of Michoacán. One is deadly: the Knights Templar drug gang. One espouses vigilantism: the armed “self-defence” militias who on February 8th helped drive the Templars out of their stronghold. The third is the most powerful: a young and preppy group of federal-government employees sent in by President Enrique Peña Nieto to retake control of Michoacán after tension between Knights Templars and vigilantes threatened to spin out of control.
A bumpy year ends on a high note
Dec 14th 2013 | MEXICO CITY | From the print edition
IN A “Three Stooges” episode, a bungled attempt to find uranium ends with Joe merrily sitting on top of a gushing oil well shouting “Oil’s well that ends well.” President Enrique Peña Nieto must be feeling the same way.
The proof of a breathless programme of reform aimed at trustbusting will be in the fine print and the robustness of its implementation
Nov 23rd 2013 | MEXICO CITY |From the print edition
WHEN Enrique Peña Nieto spoke at an Economist conference this month, he was reminded that this newspaper had cautiously endorsed him for president last year as the “least bad” of the candidates. The audience laughed nervously; easy-going in person, the president is rarely exposed to such public leg-pulling. But though his first year in office has had downs, it has had more ups. If he can bring home the raft of reforms that he has launched, he could transform Mexico.
The Sandinistas propose re-election without end for Daniel Ortega
Nov 9th 2013 |From the print edition
ON THE face of it, Nicaragua’s former Marxist revolutionaries are now a pious bunch. The sweeping legal reforms proposed by the ruling Sandinistas on October 31st start by raising the Christian injunction to “love thy neighbour” to constitutional status. Colombians might say that rings a bit hollow: they hotly contest a part of the reform that extends Nicaragua’s maritime border by 200 nautical miles (370km) at Colombia’s expense. But it is not just the country that will grow bigger if the proposed constitutional amendments go through. So will the power of its already mighty president, Daniel Ortega.
Feb 28th 2014, 9:59 by M.W.| PORT OF SPAIN
THE wrangling between the Panama Canal Authority and a Spanish-led consortium may soon be settled. Work on the project to expand the canal began again on February 20th, after rows about cost overruns had stalled construction since the start of the year. A preliminary accord between the two parties, reached on February 27th, now sets an end-2015 deadline for completion of the work. For some in the Caribbean, further delays would suit their purposes.
Trickle-down economics in one of South America’s poorest countries
Dec 21st 2013 | ASUNCIÓN | From the print edition
IN OCTOBER claims surfaced that Victor Bogado, a Paraguayan senator, had arranged two lucrative public jobs for his children’s nanny. A few weeks later 23 of his peers—a majority—voted against stripping him of the immunity from criminal proceedings that Paraguayan legislators enjoy. Instead of going unnoticed in a country where political clientelism has long been the norm, the story sparked outrage. Restaurants, petrol stations and beauty salons in the capital, Asunción, put up signs naming the “23 shameless rats”, and barring them as customers. Two weeks later a senate committee overruled the vote for immunity.
The case of the “golden nanny” is part of a wider citizen revolt against political corruption. In October the Supreme Court ruled that Daniel Vargas, a radio host, had the right to know the names and salaries of municipal employees. Six years earlier listeners had asked him to investigate; he went to court after being stonewalled. Without public pressure the Supreme Court would never have dared to move against Congress, says his lawyer, Benjamín Fernández. Rather than obliging citizens to seek the information piecemeal, Paraguay’s new president, Horacio Cartes (pictured above), told public bodies to publish it, though many are dragging their feet.
A spy casts a shadow on the president
Nov 30th 2013 | LIMA | From the print edition
WHY were up to ten police patrol cars and dozens of officers providing round-the-clock protection at a house belonging to a convicted criminal? That is a question to which Peru’s president, Ollanta Humala, has so far been unable to provide a coherent answer. And it is one that threatens further damage to Mr Humala’s deteriorating reputation.
The debt crisis has not stopped Puerto Ricans from shopping
Nov 23rd 2013 | SAN JUAN | From the print edition
MOST Latin American capitals are centred around a plaza de armas, a square flanked by a church and government offices. But when Puerto Ricans say they’re going to the plaza, they mean Plaza las Américas, a giant mall that will draw 26m shoppers in 2013—even as the island faces a brutal fiscal squeeze in its seventh straight year of recession. The macroeconomic situation in Puerto Rico is strikingly similar to that of Greece in 2010. It uses an expensive currency it cannot control. Its citizens eagerly dodge paying taxes to a bloated public sector. And its officials protest too much that default is unthinkable. However, there have been no riots or calls for a change of government. Boricuas, as the islanders are known, are too busy spending to take to the streets: since 2006 personal consumption has crept up 2%, while real GNP has fallen by 12%. And local analysts stress that Puerto Rico’s close ties with the United States (it is an unincorporated territory, called a Commonwealth) provide numerous “escape valves”.
Dec 11th 2013, 15:36 by H.C. | BUENOS AIRES
“A CRITICAL turning point in the failed war against drugs,” is the verdict of Martin Jelsma of the Drugs and Democracy Programme at the Transnational Institute, an Amsterdam-based think-tank. On December 10th Uruguay’s Senate approved a law that not only legalised marijuana use but also regulated its production and sale. Others have gone down this route before: the American states of Colorado and Washington legalised marijuana for recreational use in 2012. But Uruguay is the first country to do so.
Dialogue, not repression, is the way for Nicolás Maduro to save his government and his country
Mar 1st 2014 | From the print edition
THE echoes are striking: division, a government combining a democratic mandate with thuggery, and an opposition that is increasingly radicalised. The parallels between Venezuela and Ukraine are not exact: the fractures in Venezuela are based largely on class, and those in Ukraine partly on geography. But both are caught in a spiral of protest and violent response.
The regime’s brutal response to opposition protests fuels greater radicalism
Mar 1st 2014 | CARACAS | From the print edition
THE sound of banging pots began well before dawn. Out on the streets on February 24th the barricades were going up across the south and east of Caracas, the capital city. Tree-trunks, blocks of concrete, burning tyres and smouldering rubbish brought traffic to a halt. In some areas demonstrators slicked the road surface with oil or spread spikes to keep government forces away.
Dec 9th 2013, 16:12 by P.G. | CARACAS
NO ONE can really feel satisfied after Venezuela's municipal elections on December 8th. Urban Venezuela is turning its back on the ‘socialist revolution’ of the late Hugo Chávez and his successor, President Nicolás Maduro (pictured). But polls that the opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance had sought to turn into a plebiscite against the eight-month-old Maduro government have, in the short term at least, consolidated his grip on political power.
The difficulty of being an opposition governor
Nov 30th 2013 | PUERTO AYACUCHO | From the print edition
THE gaudily painted perimeter wall of the army barracks in Puerto Ayacucho, the capital of Amazonas state, leaves no doubt as to the political sympathies of its commanding general. “The 52nd Jungle Infantry Brigade is Chavista Too”, it proclaims, in defiance of constitutional strictures about military neutrality. The slogan—a reference to Venezuela’s late president Hugo Chávez and the regime he founded—is a daily slap in the face for the state governor, Liborio Guarulla.
…except the president, at least for the time being
Nov 16th 2013 | CARACAS |From the print edition
AS A solution to rampant inflation, banning price rises and jailing shopkeepers has limited potential. But President Nicolás Maduro is undaunted. In the past year Venezuela’s consumer-price index has risen by more than 50%, one of the world’s fastest rates. Basic goods such as milk, rice, cooking oil and toilet paper are rarely found on supermarket shelves. With support for the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) crumbling ahead of local elections due next month, Mr Maduro decreed on November 8th that as part of an “economic war” with unscrupulous businessmen, prices of electrical appliances were to be cut to their level of a month earlier. For good measure he had a couple of dozen shopowners and managers arrested for “usury."