Friday, October 9, 2015

What will the economic slowdown do to Latin America's new middle classes? (Oct. 9, 2015)

Writing in The Atlantic, Moisés Naím examines the potential political perils facing Latin America, where a generation of newly empowered middle classes -- a result of an unprecedented period of social spending and reductions in the region's entrenched inequality --  face a period of economic slowdown that threatens their recent gains.

"A larger, politically awoken middle class has far less tolerance for corruption these days, particularly as the deteriorating economy threatens to sabotage their newly attained standard of living, and they have access to new technologies that facilitate the spread of information and lower the costs of political coordination. These dynamics may produce positive outcomes like removing politicians and parties that have been in power for far too long, but they could also result in corrosive social conflict, government paralysis, and political instability."

While most Latin Americans believe the improvements in their lives are permanent, Naím argues that their position is shakier, and that hard work won't be enough to maintain their improved standards of living.

News Briefs

  • The Nicaraguan government announced this week that it will take control of the management and implementation of internationally financed programs, which led to the immediate suspension of at least 7 UNDP programs, reports El Confidencial. It's not immediately clear how it will play out, but the piece says the surprise move is a continuation of a long process of kicking out external agencies and is framed as a sovereignty move. An anonymous diplomatic source quoted in the piece hypothesizes that it's an attempt to avoid a situation like that of Guatemala where an investigation by the U.N. backed anti-corruption commission recently forced out the Pérez Molina administration.
  • Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff had two important legal setbacks this week that furthered the possibility of an eventual impeachment proceeding. The country's top electoral court decided that there are grounds to investigate her 2014 reelection campaign (see Wednesday's briefs) and the court of accounts determined that the administration manipulated the country’s 2014 revenue and spending figures (see yesterday's briefs). But the game is far from over, and a political stalemate in Brazil means the prospects for impeachment remain distant, reports theWall Street Journal.
  • The Brazilian Forum on Public Security says the country has reached a new peak of violence with over 58,000 homicides last year, up nearly five percent from 2013, reports Reuters.
  • It seems everybody on both sides of the Florida Straights -- i.e. Presidents Barak Obama and Raul Casto -- agrees that it's time for the U.S. embargo on Cuba to end. But the question is how, and with no answer in sight, the visit of U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker left from her visit this week with no new agreements or business deals to announce, writes theWashington Post. The White House says there's little it can do after announcing significant loosening of sanctions, now it's the turn of the Castro government to engage with American businesses. But Cuban officials say the sanctions in place are still too high, while U.S. legislators will demand democratic reforms in exchange for getting rid of the embargo.
  • The Washington Post has a piece on indigenous tribe militias in Brazil that have taken arms up against illegal logging. In an area where the government is underfunded and ineffective, their tactics are effective at keeping logging away. Still some fear they're fomenting more violence and creating a dangerous situation. (The Guardian reported on this last month, but it's worth revisiting.)
  • The U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon is recommending that the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti stay for another year in order to help with the final rounds of elections and an orderly transfer of power next year, reports the Associated Press.
  • Haiti's upcoming October 25 presidential elections -- which are also the run-off elections for nearly all the country's legislature and also a host of municipal positions -- are pretty confusing to anybody who hasn't been following closely. The Associated Press has a good round-up looking at the current situation and the front-runners of the 54 candidates looking to fill the executive spot.
  • Newly declassified U.S. intelligence documents show that General Augusto Pinochet directly ordered the 1976 killing of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier in Washington. The documents, which were given to President Michelle Bachelet by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday,  include State Department cables summarizing a series of informant reports, and one contains an assertion by the former head of Chile’s intelligence agency, Manuel Contreras, that "he authorized the assassination of Letelier" on "direct orders from Pinochet," reports theAssociated Press. Letelier, who was killed with a car bomb. The former defense and foreign minister under President Salvador Allende, was tortured and incarcerated after Pinochet’s 1973 coup, reports The Guardian. He later fled to the US and worked at the Institute of Policy Studies in Washington DC.
  • More updates on the Guatemala landslide a week ago (see Monday and Tuesday's briefs): 220 bodies have been recovered and 350 people are still missing, reports Reuters.
  • Argentine authorities are asking Interpol in Washington for the "highest cooperation" in locating former spy Antonio "Jaime" Situso, after confirmation this week that he travelled to Miami back in February. Stiuso is wanted as a witness in the case investigating the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, reports the Buenos Aires Herald.
  • Colombian authorities fined more than two-dozen sugar producing entities a combined total of more than $111.5 million for conspiring to block imports of the product from Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica, reports EFE.
  • The Wall Street Journal profiles one of Colombia's riches families, the Santo Domingos, who are at the center of SABMiller's efforts to get a better deal in Anheuser-Busch InBev NV’s takeover bid.
  • A piece in The Nation argues that the newly accorded Trans-Pacific Partnership will have negative effects for workers in the 12 signatory countries -- responsible for about 40 percent of global commerce. The text of the agreement is not yet public, but Michelle Chen looks at the U.S. - Peru free trade agreement to look at the effects of such agreements on the local labor force.
  • Last week the University of Washington Center for Human Rights (UWCHR) filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the CIA after the agency would neither confirm nor deny the existence of documents surrounding the 1981 Santa Cruz massacre in El Salvador. The episode refers to an eight-day campaign early in the country's civil war, in which an an estimated 1,200 Salvadoran troops in a rural region near the Honduran border allegedly killed dozens, even hundreds, of fleeing civilians, reports Mother Jones. According to UWCHR project coordinator Phil Neff, the massacre was emblematic of the Salvadoran government's scorched-earth campaigns to "cleanse" areas of guerrillas while often claiming the lives of civilians. The group is hoping to use CIA intelligence from the time to move the case against Lt. Colonel Sigifredo Ochoa Pérez who led the troops and was, until recently, protected by immunity as a member of El Salvador's Congress.
  • And back to present day, this year marks a high point in violence in recent years in El Salvador. The number of murders between January and September increased by 71.4 percent compared with the same period last year, according to police figures, reports EFE.
  • Indigenous Guaraní in Bolivia are challenging Evo Morales' administration in court, fighting against government decrees that open up protected areas to oil and gas exploration, reportsThe Guardian.
  • An archeological dig near Mexico City -- the site of a defeat for the Spanish conquistadores in Mexico -- yields some interesting details of what happened when an Aztec-allied town captured a convoy of 15 Spaniards and a few hundred accompanying groups, including women and allied native tribes, reports the Associated Press.
  • A piece in The Guardian looks at how mobile phone money system that allows users to make and receive payments from their phones is making inroads in Peru, where fewer than a third of citizens have formal bank accounts.

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