Wednesday, July 26, 2006

South American Union

I have been telling some of you about the Union South American and a few other places...(CUBA) are trying to form... here is some more info incase you were curious...

South America: towards union or disintegration?
Justin Vogler 20 - 7 - 2006
The Mercosur summit in Cordoba, Argentina, on 20-21 July comes at a key moment in South America's integration process. To understand its significance, Justin Vogler talks to the leading Brazilian historian, Luiz Alberto Moniz Bandeira.

The knife-edge - and still contested - win for the conservative Partido de Acción Nacional candidate, Felipe Calderón, in the Mexican elections on 2 July 2006 is yet another sign that two political spheres exist in Latin America. In Mexico, Central America and Colombia, Washington's hegemony remains strong and the region's politics align accordingly. Meanwhile, in South America increasing autonomy is leading to the formation of a political community based loosely around a Brazilian-Argentinean axis.
Formed in 1991, Mercosur (Mercado Común del Sur; in Portuguese, Mercosul / Mercado Comum do Sul) is one of two long-standing "southern common market" integration projects on the sub-continent. It now has five permanent members – Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and, from July 2006, Venezuela – and represents 75% of South America's GDP. The other bloc, the Andean Community, includes Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, with Venezuela in the process of leaving in protest at Bogotá and Lima signing bilateral free-trade agreements with Washington. A Brazilian plan to fuse Mercosur and the Andean community, to form the South American Community of Nations, has yet to get off the ground.
A third group, the Alternativa Bolivariana para las Américas (Alba), was launched by Venezuela and Cuba in 2005, with Bolivia joining earlier this year. This is not technically a South American project, as its stated aim is to unify the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean in opposition to Washington's proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. While the interchange of Cuban medics for Venezuelan oil is undeniable attractive, most conventional governments are put off the Alba by the pervasive revolutionary and anti-American rhetoric.
The limited appeal of the Alba and the apparent crumbling of the Andean Community leaves Mercosur as the only serious framework for South American integration. But there is dispute as to how solid Mercosur is. While advocates see a nascent common market and political alliance, most western analysts describe Mercosur as, at best, an imperfect customs union and free-trade zone. Two internal disputes since the most recent presidential summit, in Montevideo in December 2005, have not helped the bloc's image.
First, Argentina and Uruguay have been involved in a protracted quarrel over the construction of two pulp mills in the Uruguayan city of Fray Bentos on the Uruguay river which separates the two countries. Argentina – claiming that the mills will pollute the common waterway and damage the area's tourism and agriculture – has filed against Uruguay in the international court of justice in The Hague.
A second front opened on 1 May, when the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, nationalised the country's gas reserves to the detriment of Brazil's Petrobras which controlled around 40% of Bolivia's gasfields. The technical and financial support lent to Morales by Venezuela's Hugo Chávez angered many Brazilians and led to charges in the region's conservative press that Chávez was challenging Brazil's regional leadership.
Justin Vogler works as a freelance journalist in Chile. He writes regularly in the Santiago Times.
Also by Justin Vogler in openDemocracy:
"Michelle Bachelet's triumph" (January 2006)
"Small-country power: Chile and the Iraq war" (January 2006)
"Latin America: woman's hour" (March 2006)
"Ollanta Humala: a Peruvian gamble" (April 2006)
"Mapuche: the other Chile" (June 2006)
Indeed, press coverage of Mercosur has become almost universally negative, particularly since Venezuela's membership was confirmed. In a widely circulated newspaper column that reflected the dominant line, the Peruvian author and political commentator Mario Vargas Llosa wrote: "Chávez, having scuppered the Andean Community, is now set to wreak Mercosur".
Despite such dire predictions, there is a positive mood ahead of the summit, which marks the handover of Mercosur's six-month rotating presidency from Buenos Aires to Brasilia. Relations between the senior partners, Brazil and Argentina, are said to be in excellent shape with Argentina's President Kirchner openly backing Lula da Silva's re-election in Brazil in October 2006, and both men intent on deepening the integration process. All the full member-states and most of the associate members – Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia – have confirmed their leaders' attendance. Fidel Castro is also expected to make a guest appearance.
The agenda is busy. It includes:
fixing a common position on the WTO's Doha round negotiations
the formal launch of a Mercosur parliament
the adoption of a new common customs code
the finalisation of two, somewhat controversial, free-trade agreements with Cuba and Israel
Venezuela's accession, with full voting rights by 2010.
An official parallel summit – a "meeting for a social and productive Mercosur" – will be held by Somos Mercosur (we are Mercosur) an umbrella coalition of unions, small businesses, farmers, universities and NGOs, whose aim is to promote citizen participation in the integration project.
A historical perspective
So is South American integration doomed, as much of the press reports? Or is there steady progress towards wider and deeper union, as the agenda of the Cordoba summit suggests? I put these questions to one of Brazil's leading historians and political scientists, Luiz Alberto Moniz Bandeira. Author of over twenty books, Moniz Bandeira was named Brazilian intellectual of 2005 for his book Formação do Império Americano – Da Guerra contra a Espanha à Guerra no Iraque. He is widely regarded as a foremost authority on Brazilian and South American diplomatic relations, as well as being a contributor to openDemocracy (see "Brazil and the United States: from dependency to equality", 20 November 2003).
I first asked whether Venezuela's withdrawal from the Andean Community was a step forwards or backwards on the path to regional union. "I think it's a positive move. The free-trade treaties Columbia and Peru are signing with the US basically annul the bloc", replied the 70-year-old professor. "Furthermore, Venezuela's admittance into Mercosur is strategically important due to its position between the Amazon basin and the Caribbean and its huge reserves of oil and gas. Any viable integration project must revolve around Brazil and Argentina, that's to say, Mercosur."
But wasn't there a risk that the outspoken Hugo Chávez, and his apparent challenge to Lula da Silva's authority, will be a destabilising factor within the bloc? "There is no rivalry between Lula and Chávez", was the categorical reply. "Brazil is territorially, economically, industrially, and demographically the major power in the region. Chávez can conduct his own foreign policy and lead the more radical left, that's fine. Lula doesn't need to exert authority; Brazil's regional leadership is a fact due to her size and power."
Describing western media representation of South America as often "distorted, stereotypical and biased", Moniz Bandeira says the coverage given to the Uruguay-Argentina feud and the hullabaloo over Bolivia's gas nationalisation has been disproportionate. "The problems over the pulp mills in Uruguay and the nationalisation of Bolivia's gas are not going to cause war", he says wearily. "On the contrary, the two disputes are being resolved diplomatically (…). The media, both nationally and internationally, likes these kinds of conflicts because they make good headlines, sell newspapers and boost television ratings."
Okay, I couldn't argue with that, but wasn't he being unduly sanguine about Mercosur's prospects? The Uruguay and Bolivian issues aside, the bloc shows little signs of moving towards macroeconomic convergence, and intra-bloc trade has actually fallen following the 2001 Argentinean crisis. I reminded the professor of an interview he gave in 2004 when he said that Mercosur was moving towards a common currency and the free movement of goods, services and labour within a supranational framework. He had concluded saying: "We will get to our own Maastricht treaty, and soon." Given all the problems facing Mercosur today, wasn't this overly optimistic?
"It's not about optimism", Moniz Bandeira replied. "Integration is a historic process and it will not be achieved quickly or easily. Look at the process of European unification which began in 1948-49. Look how many decades it took to get to Maastricht. Look at all the fights there were between France and Germany; the "empty chair" crisis in the 1960s; the row over Iraq; the constitutional crisis; the Kosovo war; the Basque and Northern Ireland questions; and to this day countries like Britain, Denmark and Sweden still haven't joined the common currency.
"To understand contemporary South America, and above all the moves towards greater union, you have to study the region's historic processes in perspective and not just focus on the day to day politics", he concluded.
I conceded the point; the European integration process has rarely been smooth or predictable. But then Europe never had the convergence of progressive governments that appears to exist in South America today.
"The emergence of progressive governments in South America was inevitable after the failure of the Washington Consensus", says the professor. "But the region is not uniform and there are diverse, and often contradictory, interests. Many of the region's leaders don't have a strategic vision and often follow their short term interests and pamper their own national interest groups."
Integrating a region with dire income inequality, poor internal infrastructure, widespread corruption and shaky political institutions, is clearly a challenge. But Moniz Bandeira is confident that the region's leading power, Brazil, remains focused on greater union as a strategic objective.
"The Itamaraty (Brazil's foreign office) is very aware of the need to form a Community of South American Nations, and follow a similar path to that of the European Union", he says. "It's not about transforming Brazil, it's about transforming the whole of South America into a political and economic world power."

opendemocracy.netThis article originally appeared on openDemocracy.net under a Creative Commons licence. To view the original article, please click here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

just so you know...

I realized today: I am a year and a month into my service here and people still don't have a clue what I am saying. I know I am speaking perfectly clear, using the right words (ok maybe not the correct verb tenses) and all that, and still they just look at me and say...what is it that you want?

I don't know what to do about it. I needed some things done by today and nobody had a clue what I was talking about or else they just plain ignored me?

This is a clear sign to me I need to start hitting the books.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

History lesson

El Salvador’s long walk to democracy Victor Valle
26 - 5 - 2006

El Salvador's political stalemate reflects a social divide rooted in a bitter history, reflects Victor Valle. The armed conflict in El Salvador in the 1980s made this small central American country the focus of international political and media attention. Today, Salvadorans are grappling with new social and political problems, but the legacy of this painful past is far from overcome.

This is evident in the results of the legislative and municipal elections on 12 March 2006. The results were both clear and instructive: the ruling rightist Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (Nationalist Republic Alliance / Arena) received 39.4% of the votes, the leftist political party the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front / FMLN) won 39.1%, while three smaller parties or alliances shared the remaining 20%.

The divide between the two main blocs is rooted in El Salvador's modern history. The country's internal armed conflict was fuelled by late cold-war geopolitical concerns, but it also had indigenous roots: poverty, political repression, and social exclusion. Alfredo Cristiani, the rightist president (1989-94) who persuaded his government to seek a political settlement of the armed conflict, was one who recognised – in speaking in January 1992 at Chapultepec, Mexic0 ceremony where the United Nations-mediated peace accords were signed – the deep problems within Salvadorean society that had nurtured the violence.

The origin of these developments long predates the establishment of the Soviet Union, and lies more in the period when Lenin was a student in Russia. The key period was the leadership of Rafael Zaldivar (president 1876-85), who enforced radical changes in land tenure which had the effect of expropriating the lands of indigenous communities and peasants and transferring them to the new coffee-planters. The effect was to insert El Salvador into the global economy.

The land reform was accompanied by laws and institutions that inaugurated the new patterns of control over communities needed to ensure order and organise economic production. An authoritarian regime emerged, and in response so did the early struggles for democracy.

In 1932, a rebellion of peasants and workers exploded in El Salvador. The rebellion's immediate causes included the influence of the international communist movement and the world economic crisis following the great crash of 1929; but its deeper sources lay in the establishment of the late-19th century authoritarian regime. The 1932 revolt, crushed by government forces amid the massacre of around 30,000 Salvadorans, was in turn the trigger of a new form of rule: a repressive military dictatorship. This lasted until 1979, when a tumultuous period of political mobilisation and violence (including the murder of Archbishop Romero in San Salvador in March 1980) issued into the long civil war of the 1980s.

A military order

The military regime in El Salvador of 1932-79 was of a very peculiar type. Apart from its first thirteen years under General Hernandez Martínez (president 1931-44), it did not rest upon a single strongman like Nicaragua's Anastasio Somoza or the Dominican Republic's Rafael Trujillo. During most of the period, the president was a military figure who ruled for five or six year-terms; meanwhile, the nature of the regime itself remained intact – a hardline, rightist military government that performed as a loyal warden of the local economic elite and a staunch ally of the United States government in its global contest with international communism.

In this system, regular elections provided a democratic veneer that could never conceal the true power-relationships beneath. Sometimes indeed, as in 1962, the farce was evident. The presidential election of that year saw (as usual) a military officer being proposed as candidate by a military assembly. The problem was that no one could be found to stand against him; so for the purpose of El Salvador's external image, constitutional procedures were observed that quietly allowed the serving leader, Lieutenant-Colonel Julio Rivera (president 1962-67), to continue in the job. In this case, the charade had its positive aspects: Rivera opened El Salvador's political space by pioneering an amendment of the electoral law that allowed proportional representation in congress and opposition parties to govern in some local municipalities.

In the 1970s, several fraudulent elections were held. In both 1972 and 1977 a broad coalition of Christian Democrats, social democrats and communists won the presidential elections, but the regime's manoeuvres deprived it of electoral victory. These frauds caused many young people to become pessimistic about any possibility of peaceful, democratic change in El Salvador; some of them chose to join the leftist guerrilla movement.

Amid the civil war of the 1980s, elections actually became cleaner and more democratic; however, the FMLN – a major player in the armed conflict – did not participate, as they regarded the elections as part of a US-inspired and US-funded counter-insurgency strategy to defeat the revolutionary forces.

Ten years of bloody civil war, during which the world's geopolitical circumstances were transformed by the end of the cold war, gradually reshaped the outlooks of El Salvador's political foes. As both parties realised that a military victory was unfeasible, the United Nations secretary-general was empowered by a security-council mandate to facilitate a process of negotiations (starting in April 1990) to find a political settlement to the conflict.

Among the issues the FMLN put on the negotiation agenda was electoral reform that, it hoped, could guarantee free and democratic elections. By that stage, such elections were badly needed: to improve El Salvador's political culture, to eliminate the factors that generated conflict, and to avoid the recurrence of violence in the future.

A political stalemate

A generation after the beginning of El Salvador's civil war, the 12 March 2006 elections – free, democratic, and mostly untainted – were waged between basically the same forces that have shaped political affairs in El Salvador for a century. On one side are the inheritors of the elites benefited from the land seizures of the late 19th century, and the ideological descendants of the regime that destroyed the 1932 revolt; on the other, the political inheritors of the revolutionary fighters led by Farabundo Martí and his university and trade-union comrades whose late-1920s and early-1930s campaign ended in that historic defeat.

Those same currents were, more or less, the major protagonists in the conflicts of the 1980s. More than two decades later, they still confront each other across a great Salvadorean divide. Arena (though itself founded only in 1980) is the continuation of the political regime founded at the end of the 19th century, and the FMLN is the direct descendant of the leftist fighters who seek a revolutionary change in Salvadorean society from the standpoint of the poor, the indigenous, and the landless.

The negotiations in the early 1990s were possible because of a military stalemate between these blocs; the result of the 12 March elections reveals that El Salvador's situation today is a political stalemate.

Salvadorean society faces huge social problems. The long-term consequences of the civil war include widespread social violence still causes many casualties. El Salvador, despite some excellent macro-economic indicators and pockets of development in its territory, still has poor social and economic indicators. The human-development index prescribed by the UN system that combines education records, life expectancy and per-capita income is among the lowest in Latin America; the quality of the environment is near the bottom of the scale while the murder rate is near the top.

Moreover, the issue of the youth gangs or maras – which, in the connection to movement of young people to and from the United States epitomises the complexity of El Salvador's modern history – is becoming a question of national security, even one that threatens the integrity of the Salvadorean state. Perhaps, as the new government addresses this issue in the election aftermath, conditions are ripe to instil in the political leadership of both the government and the FMLN the guiding idea of negotiating new rules of the game.

Such a "historic compromise" is all the more needed in a political environment where the opposition remains a significant entity. After all, El Salvador is the only Latin American country where the political left – ideologically orthodox, admirers of Cuba, nostalgic for Che Guevara and the Soviet Union – has a reliable bloc of around 40% of votes.

The March 2006 results can be seen as the latest stage in El Salvador's long, unfinished walk to democracy. They also reveal the hard challenge for the country's politicians: can they avoid simple recipes for very complex problems?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Completely Overwhelmed

So there is a lot going on right now.
Work is crazy and leaves me no freetime. I don't even know what I am doing. You mention a word like Microcredit and everyone thinks you are an expert and can help them start small businesses! I don't have a clue! The rainy season is starting so I am trying to prepare them (or make them start thinking in preparing) for the worst. but of course they don't do anythign in advance. This rainy season is suppose to be 25% worse than last year and last year we had over 1000 people who were living in schools because their houses were flooded. People lost crops and are just starting to get back to normal and now the rain is here again. PLUS when the schools are occupied by people displaced from their homes school can't take place! So there is a definite need to plan and prepare for this. But no... the three day seminar to help them prepare which I am going to is too long for anyone else to go to. UGH!

Also its that time of the year when old Munis are leaving So sad!...the new ones are coming and I have to help plan and participate in parts of their training. We are all excited they are coming but that means that my group has been here a year already and we only have a little over a year left!! How sad!

So I am feeling so many emotions all at once. I am exhausted.(well maybe thats cuz i was partying to much this weekend?) Thank god for my mini vacation back to the states in june! It can't come soon enough! However trips back home are also very stressful cuz of course EVERYONE wants to see you so you feel pulled in every direction and there is never enough time. But I am excited to eat!

Thank god it is hump day! This weekend I am just gonna stay in bed all day and read some books! Oh wait I can't... i have to work Saturday all day! And Sunday I will have to do laundry before the rain starts so my clothes will dry and head off to San Sal for that seminar. So forget it...no sleeping in!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

To Do List...

Just thought I would give you guys and idea of the work I do... here is my to do list

Computer Stuff
1) Get to Canton El Congo to get the Presdident of the ADESCO to sign the check we need for the five computers I have arranged for the School to get
2) bring all three checks to the bank and deposit them TODAY!
3) find a ride to the bank (since the alcaldia's truck broke down this is hard than expected)
4) make sure I get a deposit slip and give them and the recibos to the Presdients of all three ADESCOS (make copies)
5) Get the Carta de Compromiso from C.E. El Congo
6) Give all the Directors of the schools the contact info for the Ministerio de Educacion (try to get them to give us a carta de compromiso of what exactly their responsibilities are)

Defensoria:
1) Call and cancel the "most important meeting of the year"
2) Invite all members to the meeting we will have tuesday the 2nd of may to plan the celebration of la Dia de la Madre. We need musical acts, food, local, etc.
3) Reschedule "the most important meeting of the year" make invitations and agenda to be handed out to each member (which means we need transport to get to all their houses) Can't be on the regular meeting days of tuesday because in may I have another meeting every tuesday.
4) find money for lunch and refreshments for this meeting since it will probably take all day we will be developing the themes of charlas, reorganizing comisiones, deciding how to include children so they aren't so bored in meetings, etc.

Women's group:
1) Follow up on requisites for applying for micro credit. Have it prepared for Thursdays (the 4th) meeting
2) Restructure the Colectiva (because many of the junta directiva have gone to the states)
3) design and get a seal to stamp all important legal documents
4) determine the dates for the rest of the Medical Brigadas (we added one more) and have the women fill out the data sheet and give the packet to the Doctors

Concejal (the new governing board of the town May 1st is their first day)
1) find a date for my concejal trainigs (2)
2) plan the second concejal training on muicipalismo
3) go to the INSAFORP trainings (every tuesday in May) to make sure I don't repeat any information in my trainings
3) teach some of the employees how to use Powerpoint to do their presentation to the Concejales

Random:
1) get the bulletin board up and post things
2) finish the calendar of events
3) Start developing the website (ive been putting this one off for a long time)
4) decide what information is needed in a database and create the databases
5) get the information on maltrato de la nin@s from Unicef.
6) take pictures of the some of the roofs of houses we are donating lamina to to include in the final report
7) Research WorldVision which has offered to help out our town


I should probably include studying spanish in there too huh?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

live simply

So my dad and my brother are in Ireland this week for my cousin's wedding. Mom is home alone. (someone had to feed the cows!) I asked her if she was lonely she said no. She liked not having to think of anyone but herself for a week. She could come and go as she pleased and she has been. This past weekend she went out and came back at 11:30 at night! I told her she was a party animal just like her daughter. She laughed at me of course.

Being able to come and go as I please is what I miss most about the states. I could go out at 10pm and come home at 10am and not have to report in to anyone. I had freedom (and a car). In El Salvador my trade off for living with cable, internet, a washing machine, and a real shower is living with a family. Which means if i don't come home I have to call. If I don't want to eat dinner I get a guilt trip. If I sleep in late I again feel guilty. and I am NEVER alone! It kinda wears me out! I got to bed at like 8 or 9ish and wake up at 6:45am cuz i am always so tired! There goes the party animal in me! Hopefully I can get back to her when I get back to the states but at that time will I be too old to go out like I use to?

Many people talk about their lives before Peace Corps and how they were so different. You change so much so quickly here. I remember the first night I slept in my current house and heard the rats in the ceiling. PETRIFIED! I was so disgusted and scared they were going to come down on me in the middle of the night. Now I talk to the damn things. Seeing a tarantula or scorpion or cockroach is now common and I pay no mind to it. (granted a beneift of living with a family means all i have to do is shout and someone else comes and kills it!) So I got over my phobias of creatures.

More than anything though, I have learned to live simply and slow down (way down).
Jumping back into that fast paced lifestyle is going to be the hardest adjustment when I go home. So I keep wondering...will i fall right into being the old me or will I have changed?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Why are you here?

I am suppose to have an answer to that question... But I don't. Well at least not anymore.
I joined Peace Corps with the plan to join the UN or Foreign Service.

You know the type of job where you pick up and move every two years to find a new adventure in another country. Learn a new language every time. Meet interesting people.

That plan quickly changed when I got here and realized I don't ever want to leave home again!! I wanted to settle down and have a social life and a secure job where I could make actual money. That was during my intial homesickness stage which ebbs and flows still. And now after 10 months of service I am still left torn. I love the work I do so I would love to continue working in an International Organization continue learning spanish possibly a few other languages.

I think that if I were in any other town I wouldn't love my job so much. For example this coming week I will be assisting in the development of a policy protecting the rights of children, running a training on how to create a business plan for the women in my women's group so they an start small businesses in their communities, creating a work plan for the Defensoria, and planning a training for the new concejal members who come into office on May 1st, as well as finalizing the 1st medical brigade I have organized to come to one of the cantons on the 28th. The people I work with respect me and my opinions and yet I still feel like I have very little to offer these people.

The nice part is they just like seeing me at their meetings. I wouldn't really have to do anything to be loved by these people. But for my own personal sanity at the end of my service I need to see that I have done something for these people. Maybe thats where the trouble is with most Volunteers. They get to the end of their service and they want to leave something tangible for people in their town to remember them by. I don't feel like I have to leave something tangible I just want to see that I have helped someone.

So why am I here? Why do I stay after all the strange rashes, ameobas, parasites, vomiting, shitting, awful food, getting robbed, having no social life, having to travel hours on a overcrowded bus to visit a friend, missing my friends and family...

Well I guess it is just the hope that I will do something for these people. Even if it is small like teachcing them to not throw their trash on the ground (well no i can't call that small becuase it is a HUGE problem) or something big like teaching them they can't get something for nothing (so they should pay their taxes!!!)

17 months left... wish me luck.