Thursday, August 15, 2019

Sandra Torres, the Hillary and Evita of Guatemala, defeated again in the Presidential elections

Alejandro Giammattei has been elected as the president of Guatemala in the second round of elections held on 11 August.

Giammettei’s victory is seen more as a defeat of Sandra Torres, the other candidate who lost the elections getting 42% votes as against 58% of the winner. She was perceived as the Hillary Clinton of Guatemala. Sandra was the wife of Alvaro Colom when he was President in the period 2008-12. She manipulated and intervened in the administration to raise her profile and image. She was seen as the real power in the presidential palace. Colom was arrested on corruption charges in 2018. Hatred for Sandra  made more people to vote for her opponent.  .

When her husband was president,  Sandra acted like Evita of Argentina. She became head of a charity organization and got plenty of government funds to distribute to poor people, as Evita did. Sandra wanted to be seen as protector of the poor with her leftist agenda.

But there was a constituitional obstacle to Sandra’s dream to become President after her husband. The Guatemalan constituition prohibits immediate family members of sitting president from contesting presidential elections. So what did Sandra do? She tried Magical Realism. She divorced her husband a few months before the election and proclaimed that she was “ the first woman to divorce husband to marry the country”. Hmm..she was already divorced before marrying Colom for whom she became the third wife.

But some judges in the constituitional court had the courage to reject her claim saying that her candidature was a violation of the spirit of the constituition even if she was technically correct. This reminds one of a Guatemalan joke. When a macho was accused of ‘sleeping with many women”, he objected saying that he “slept only with his wife but was awake with other women”. 

After the disqualification of her candidature in 2011, Sandra waited four years and contested against Jimmy Morales in 2015. She was beaten by the comedian Morales. She tried again in 2019 and got 25% votes as against 13% of Giammattei in the first round. But in the second round, she was defeated. 

Giammattei, a conservative, had contested the presidential elections three times earlier. He is part of the traditional Guatemalan oligarchy and military elite.

The new president who will take over in January has the reputation of a strong man. He had faced charges of extra judicial killings when he was the chief of prisons. He might now realise that it was easier to deal with the violent criminal gangs of Guatemala. In the future he has to face a more cruel and crude external white nationalist gang leader in US. Trump had forced the current Guatemalan president Morales to sign an agreement to halt the Central American asylum seekers in Guatemala pending processing of asylum claims. Morales wanted to please Trump administration since he was facing corruption accusation and other domestic challenges. But Giammattei has expressed reservations about the capacity of Guatemala to take on the larger responsibility of giving asylum to seekers from other Central American countries.

Guatemala faces many fundamental challenges such as mass poverty, corruption, crime and violence. The country suffered more during the civil war and the crack down on leftists by the right wing military dictatorship in the eighties when hundreds of thousands of people got killed. Most of the poor are the indigenous communities which form over fifty percent of the total population of  17 million.

Guatemala was the first country in Latin America to be destabilized by US in the so called war against Communism after the second world war. In 1954, the CIA orchestrated a coup against the democratically elected leftist president Jacobo Arbanz and installed a military dictatorship. While the coup was carried out in the name of the war on Communism, the real reason was to protect the United Fruit Company which owned  hundreds of thousands of hectares of agricultural land. The company was likely to lose some land to the land reforms initiated by Arbanz government. It had absolute monopoly in banana plantation and trade and pursued exploitative labour policies with impunity. Its revenue was bigger than that of the government of Guatemala. John Foster Dulles, the CIA chief, had close business ties with the company. When the rightist military dictatorship was resisted by the leftist political movements, the regime unleashed a wave of terror, with the support and encouragement of US. The civil war continued till 1996 in which over two hundred thousand people were killed. In March 1999, President Clinton made a formal apology for the sufferings inflicted on the people of Guatemala by the US-backed military dictatorship. But those who got US weapons to fight communism took to gangsterism and criminality after the end of the civil war. To escape this US-supported violence and crime, Guatemalans started emigrating to US, which has a moral responsibility to give asylum to the victims of its past sins.

It was in Guatemala that Che Guevara got to see first hand the excesses of the empire and became an anti-imperial leftist guerrilla crusader. Thereafter he joined Fidel Castro and succeeded in liberating Cuba from another military dictatorship supported by US.

Guatemala is the largest country and market in Central America. It is famous for Coffee and Cardamom exports.

India’s exports to Guatemala have been increasing steadily reaching 305 million dollars in 2018-19. 

The small Guatemala has beaten the big India to become the largest exporter of Cardamom. While India has been a cardamom exporter for several hundred years, Guatemala started production after the first world war when a German coffee planter brought the Indian seeds to Guatemala. The Guatemalans export almost all their cardamom production since the local consumption is insignificant, unlike India which consumes a major part of the production.

India, the land of many political dynasties, could learn from the young Guatemalan democracy.  Article 186 of the Guatemalan constitution prohibits the President's relatives ' within four degrees of consanguinity and second degree in-laws' from contesting for Presidential post immediately after his or her term. The Indian democracy would certainly become more inclusive and better if the constitution is amended to include this article.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Venezuelans have started eating mangoes.. good sign !

Mangoes used to define people in Venezuela
If you eat it, you are a caddy
If you walk over it, you are a player. 

But now the Bolivarian revolution has levelled the playing field with mangoes. 
The rich have been made poor..
The Country Club gentry have been impoverished to the level of eating mangoes

There are lot of mango trees in Venezuelan streets, backyards of houses and public places. I used to pick up and eat in the golf courses. But the oil-spoiled Venezuelans would not touch the mangoes. It was below their level. They would just let most of the mangos fall on the ground and rot..Now because of the crisis, food shortage and poverty increase, they have started eating the mangoes..for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The country has substantial fertile arable land and abundant water resources. But they have neglected agriculture and become dependant on imports of food products.
The Venezuelan cacao is said to be the best in the world for making chocolate..But again neglect..
Venezuela had the world's largest dam and hydroelectric station at Guri with capacity of over 10 GW, before being over taken by the Brazilian Itaipu and Chinese Three Gorges dams. There is plenty of more potential for more dams and more power generation. This means plenty of inexpensive power for industries and manufacturing especially Aluminium, steel etc.
Venezuelan engineers and executives are one of the best in oil production and business. They helped the Middle Eastern countries with technical and management expertise in the early years.
The Venezuelans were ahead in the global oil game and were one of the cofounders of OPEC. Now many oil experts have moved to Colombia and US besides other Latin American countries.
The Venezuelan beauty industry was formidable, producing many Miss Worlds and Miss Universes.

Venezuela can prosper easily with just agriculture, minerals and other resources even without oil income.. oil has become a curse and spoiled the mindset of people. pity..
Of course, Venezuela has the world's largest oil reserves with 292 billion barrels. This is more than the Saudi reserves of 262 billion barrels.
Unlike the hot deserts of Saudi Arabia,the climate of Venezuela is pleasant .. neither hot nor cold..Caracas is known is the City of Eternal Spring..
The country has lovely beaches and lot of tourist attractions too..
With a small population of just 32 million but plenty of resources, Venezuela could be one of the richest countries in the world..
Over a million Colombians and a number of other South Americans used to work in Venezuela. But now the Venezuelans are fleeing to other countries for livelihood.
Here is a mango story.. In 2015, a woman threw a mango at President Maduro in Aragua. When Maduro looked at the mango, there was a message pasted on it “ Please help me. I need a house- Marleny Olivo with her phone number”. Maduro ate the fruit and approved an apartment to her. The episode was telecast as part of the Bolivarian socialist message. Now the Venezuelans who are going hungry cannot afford to throw mangoes.
Hope the Venezuelans learn from the crisis and start taking advantage of what they are blessed with, besides oil.
Eating mangoes is a positive sign that they are indeed learning..

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Brazilian documentary film" The edge of democracy"

The documentary film “ The edge of democracy”, which is streamed in Netflix, is the Brazilian story of the end of military dictatorship in 1985, the climax of democratic maturity with the election of a lathe worker Lula as President, the fall of democracy with the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff through legislative coup in 2016 and the imprisonment of Lula to prevent his contesting in the elections by a judicial coup in 2018. It is a poignant and powerful narrative which starts with the people’s celebration of rebirth of democracy in 1985 and ends with Bolsonaro celebrating dictatorship in 2018.

For those of us who followed with admiration Brazil’s rise in the first decade of this century and saddened with the quick fall in the second decade, the film is just a visual summary of the facts. The fall of admirable Lula and the rise of despicable Bolsonaro is a horror story. The film highlights the fact that this would not have happened but for the political incompetence of President Dilma Rouseff, who did not know how to handle the Congress and the crooked leaders like Eduardo Cunha and Michel Temer. Cunha was against impeachment in the beginning, as seen from his statement.  But when Dilma refused to rescue him after he was caught red handed with swiss bank accounts, he took up impeachment as a revenge. No Brazilian president can get bills passed in the fractious Congress of over twenty political parties without appeasing the congressional leaders overtly or covertly. That’s why President Lula had to set up Mensalao scheme in which monthly payments were made to members of the Congress to consider and pass bills. But Dilma was politically aloof and indifferent. The film shows a Congressman complaining that she would not even do the traditional Brazilian hugging of colleagues. She became opinionated and arrogant while at the same time being na├»ve and let herself be played by the veterans of the political games. 

Dilma should have, of course, resigned on her own admitting moral responsibility for the massive and systematic corruption in Petrobras which went on even when she was minister of energy. The Workers Party and Lula also got carried away by hubris and deserved an electoral defeat but not a overthrow by constitutional coup.

Sergio Moro, the inquisitorial judge and prosecutor had gone out of his way in witch hunt against Lula by using even illegal and unethical methods to frame Lula. He abused his judicial authority by sentencing Lula to disproportionately long imprisonment even when there was no solid evidence. He used every trick in the book to prevent Lula from contesting the elections and to damage the image of the leftist Workers Party. Lula would have won the elections against Bolsonaro undoubtedly. But Moro had created a vacuum by keeping Lula out of the elections and had helped in the election of Bolsonaro, who has rewarded him with ministership. The illegal methods used by Moro has come out in the recently leaked phone conversations between him and others.

Brazil was emerging as a regional and global power around 2010 under Lula’s visionary leadership. His Inclusive policies emancipated millions from poverty and injustice. Lula’s pragmatic and balanced mix of pro-poor and business-friendly policies became the role model for Latin America and as an alternative to the Washington Consensus, which had ruined the region in the eighties. 

The only missing part in the film is the role of US which targeted Lula and Brazil to contain the rise of the Left in the region. The US is believed to have played a role with its espionage including inside Petrobras and the office of President Dilma Rouseff . There is speculation about possible link between the US agencies and the US-trained Sergio Moro who had imported the US system of plea bargaining to implicate Lula. The Petrobras corruption was an institutional one shared by all the political parties and leaders. But Moro and company focused only on Lula. When the others including Temer were implicated with solid evidence, the Congress and judiciary moved to save him and stop further investigations. When Cunha threatened to spill the beans against Temer, he too was jailed to silence him.

The director of the film Petra Costa has given a personal touch by weaving the story of her own family with that of the country. She has narrated the story with her own melancholic voice in first person. Her grandfather was a founder of the construction firm Andrade Gutierrez, which was one of the contractors involved in the building of Brasilia city and flourished during military dictatorship as well as during the Workers Party rule. It was also one of those firms disgraced for corruption in the 'car wash scandals'. But Petra’s parents went the other way and became leftist revolutionaries fighting for democracy and justice. Her parents suffered imprisonment and exile. Her mother was put in the same jail where Dilma Rouseff was also kept. Petra was born in 1983 at the time of transition from dictatorship to democracy. One of her earliest memories was sitting on the shoulders of her mother watching a sea of people protesting for end of military dictatorship. She grew up in a vibrant democracy which matured and flourished. Costa recalls her mother’s first impression of Lula as “the embodiment of all she had longed for: workers becoming political actors, opening the way towards a democratic path.”She thought a New Brazil was born with her. But her hope turns to disillusionment by the derailment of democracy in 2016 by the corrupt congress leaders and crooked judiciary. She becomes cynical saying, " our country is a republic of families; some controlling land, others controlling media, some others banks, sand, rock and mines. These families sometimes get tired of democracy".  

So one should see the “Edge of Democracy’ just as a short film about the Big Brazil in its  passing phase of a promising future. Even more mature and established democracies such as the US have suffered damage with Trump, a much worse monster than Bolsonaro. One should see the larger picture of the long term potential of Brazil, beyond Bolsonaro. Petra Costa says in her narrative,” Our democracy was built on forgetting”. Bolsonaro will be yet another forgettable phase of Brazil’s history.

What next for Brazil? The film has not given any clues. But my take is that Brazil had come out of bigger crisis in the past. President Janio Quadros banned " Bikini" in 1961. This was the most fundamental and civilisational challenge to Brazil. Quadros resigned in eight months but Bikinis continue..keeping the Girls from Ipanema tanned and adorable..

An edited version of the blog was published in The Wire

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Trump loses interest in Venezuela issue - good news

"Trump is giving up on regime change in Venezuela because it's complicated and he got bored.
Trump had always thought of Venezuela as "low-hanging fruit" on which he "could get a win and tout it as a major foreign policy victory.
He had viewed the prospect of a US-backed toppling of Maduro as an "easy win," at a time when other foreign policy initiatives had stalled.
He reportedly "chewed out" his national security adviser John Bolton and Latin America policy director Mauricio Claver-Carone as Maduro clung to power".
These are the reports of Washington Post.
Trump has moved on to other big-ticket issues such as Iran.
This explains the surprising silence on Venezuela issue these days in Washington where Bolton and company were screaming loud and threatening invasion in May leading up and after the failed coup attempt on 30 April.
The Washington silence is good news. There is no more threat of US military intervention. Atleast for the moment.. Latin Americans get a chance to resolve their problems by themselves instead of imposition under Monroe doctrine. This is the time to try diplomacy and support the negotiations initiated by Norway .

The statements by Guaido about meetings with US Southern Command and Pentagon had alarmed even the Latin American countries which had recognised him. Guaido is seen by these countries as immature, reckless and dangerous. The Brazilian Generals were outraged and they forced Bolsonaro government to cancel the presentation of credentials of Guaido's ambassador although Brazil has recognized Guaido as the legitimate President. 
So now there is stalemate.
But the bad news is that the Chavista regime of Maduro will continue to make Venezuelans suffer with mismanagement of the economy and impoverishing the people. The situation is going to get worse with the US sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports.
Venezuela needs a political change to come out of the crisis. Maduro needs some external pressure besides internal political opposition. The Latin American countries need to put constructive and effective pressure on Maduro and make him hold elections soon. 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The land of Libertador of South America (Simon Bolivar) does not need external liberation.

Juan Guaido, the self proclaimed President of Venezuela, is openly establishing contact with Pentagon and reaching out to US Southern Command for intervention. This is an invitation for US military intervention.

This is an unwise and dangerous move, since it will harden the stand of Chavistas and military people who distrust the US military role in Venezuela. Guaido will be seen as an American puppet. Even the Americans will kick him around since they see him as their own creation. 

Guaido is more of a creation of US, unlike his other opposition colleagues who are veterans in the last fifteen years fighting the Chavista dictatorship. His claim to Presidency is as dubious as Maduro’s. He was never elected as President. He claims that Maduro’s election in May 2018 was rigged and therefore he got the right to become President.
Latin America has seen many such dramas in its history. The most recent example was in Mexico in 2006. After Felipe Calderon was elected as President with a very narrow margin, the loser Obrador refused to accept the result claiming irregularities in the election process. He had declared himself as the legitimate President and caused all kinds of problems for Calderon for the next six months. His supporters stopped the formal ceremony of Presidential assumption of power which had to be done privately. Obrador’s followers blocked traffic in the main roads of Mexico city and paralysed the government and normal life for several weeks.
Maduro’s regime would have imploded sooner or later due to the grave economic and social crisis which got worsened with the US sanctions. But the entry of Bolton in the issue with his arrogant and crude bravado has caused complication. He has freightened the thousands of Chavistas and military people who would have otherwise changed sides. They do not trust Bolton who has a history of sabotaging negotiations and favouring a shock and awe war or something equally brutal.

Guaido should learn from US military interventions in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. 
Since Bolton’s threats and bluffs have failed, he is now going after Cuba with more sanctions and lifting of the ban on law suits against Cuba for reclamation of confiscated assets. This has hurt the European companies which do lot of business with Cuba, free of any competition from US companies. So the Europeans have woken up. The Spanish foreign minister called Trump's policy on Cuba and Venezuela as " acting like a cowboy" and criticised Washington's lifting of the ban on law suits against Cuba as " abuse of power". Till this, the Spanish blindly followed Trump's abuse of power to try for regime change in Venezuela and joined the European chorus of recognition of Maduro. The Spanish and the Europeans thought it was a cost-free way to please Trump by recognising Guaido. In any case, Maduro was not defensible. But now that the Cuba suits are going to hurt Spanish and European business interests, they are calling for negotiations to resolve the Venezuelan crisis. Mexico and Uruguay had been advocating this course from the beginning. The head of foreign relations of EU is now talking to some Latin American countries in the Lima group to advance the idea of negotiated solution for the Venezuelan issue.
Besides squeezing Cuba, Bolton is threatening with the military option. But Trump does not want to risk his run for second time by the shedding of American blood in Venezuela. The well armed and corrupt Chavistas and military people will fight for their life and to protect their ill gotten wealth and status. Even the Brazilian Vice President who represents the voice of the military has spoken against US invasion of Venezuela. Most other Latin American as well as European countries would also disapprove of US military boots in Venezuelan soil.
So there is no other option now but to make the two Venezuelan sides to negotiate and find an internal solution. It is interesting to see that the Trump officials have started talking to Cuba and Russia about the Venezuela issue. This is a come down from their earlier warnings to Russia and Cuba to keep their hands off from Venezuela.
Guaido should stop his open invitation to US SouthCom and Pentagon and focus on the Venezuelan military and Chavistas. He should persuade them to collaborate with him in rescuing Venezuela from the disastrous mismanagement of the country. He needs to try harder instead of running to Uncle Unreliable all the time. The land of Libertador of South America (Simon Bolivar) does not need external liberation.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Why there will not be a coup in Venezuela now?

 Because, there is no American embassy in Caracas now. 

According to a statement attributed to former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, there is no coup in US because there is no American embassy in Washington DC.

In 2002, when there was a coup in which President Chavez was overthrown, there was American embassy in Caracas. Not only that. The office of the US Defence Attache was located within the Venezuelan military headquarters. After the coup, Chavez threw them out. 

Today 11 April is the anniversary of the 2002 Coup. 

I was in Caracas as Indian ambassador on 11 April 2002. Before the coup, there were demonstrations in front of the embassy and the residence of the ambassador when a few free lance Indian technicians were hired by PDVSA to run some essential technical operations. The Venezuelans wrote on the walls of the embassy, " How can the country of Gandhi support Chavez's dictatorship". But when I told the demonstrators that the technicians were not sent by the Indian government and that they were recruited by PDVSA directly through their own channels, the crowd dispersed peacefully.

The coup succeeded because the opposition and the Big brother were able to persuade some Generals to change sides. Before that, the pro-opposition and pro-US oil company (PDVSA) executives went on a strike stopping the production and exports of oil and prepared the ground for the coup. The generals who ditched Chavez were promised share in the power, amnesty to collaborators and an orderly transition. But as soon as Pedro Carmona, the US-backed businessman took over as interim President, he abolished the constituition, dissolved the legimately elected assembly and unleashed persecution of Chavistas. Carmona went back on the promise of sharing power to the military. This made the generals angry and they were afraid of mistreatment by the new regime. So, the Generals brought Chavez back in 48 hours and detained Carmona. It was all over in two days.

Initially, Chavez was repentant, introspective and even forgiving. But the opposition, having failed to unseat Chavez democratically or otherwise, went back to their Northern Patron and continued their conspiracies. Chavez wanted to teach a lesson to those oligarchic political and business leaders as well as the PDVSA executives and middle class which supported them. He sacked 15000 employees of PDVSA and filled the company with Chavistas who were incompetent and corrupt. He started systematic and ruthless destruction of the business, industry, economy and the society. When he died in Havana, the Cubans advised him to nominate Maduro as his successor. Maduro does not have the smartness, grassroot support, charisma and leadership quality. The Cubans preferred the manageable and incompetent Maduro over the clever Diosdado Cabello, the strongest leader after Chavez even now. 

The only point of interest for Indians is that Maduro is a Sai Baba follower. He has been to Puttaparthi a few times. 

Maduro is not running the country like Chavez, Saddam Hussain, Qaddafi or Noriega. He is just a figure head. The country is run by a collective of Chavistas and Military people. Most of them are corrupt. They realise that they would be punished if the opposition comes to power. They remember the 2002 experience. The only way to get them out of power is to offer general amnesty to all of them (several thousands) in the same way as Pinochet and the military dictatorship in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay got away with their atrocious crimes against their own people. The crimes of Maduro regime are much smaller in comparison to what the Chilean, Argentine and Brazilian dictators did.

If the US invades, the armed Chavistas and many military people will put up a fierce fight and cause bloodshed including those of the invaders. Even if Maduro is kidnapped from his palace as done in the case of Noriega, the others will fight. That’s why the Iraq, Libya and Panama model of regime change will not work in Venezuela.

Yesterday, the US Vice President Mike Pence spoke in the UN Security Council seeking UN recognition of Guaido and derecognition of Maduro. This is a clear indication that the US has not been able to do the regime change unilaterally or with its 'coalition of the willing'. US goes to UN only when it realises its limitation.

The attempt of US to get UN recognition of Guaido will fail because China and Russia will veto in UNSC in favour of Venezuela. And in the UN general Assembly, not many countries will support Guaido.

And there was Raul Castro who addressed the same UNSC meeting asking US to keep its hands off Venezuela. It is a powerful message from a country which has survived US invasion, many CIA plots and odious sanctions. In fact it is the Cubans who have been advising Maduro how to survive, based on their own remarkable and courageous experience.

Despite all the bravado of Trump, Marco Rubio and Elliot Abrams who threatened even military invasion, Guaido remains as the paper president while Maduro has checkmated him and his external supporters.

China made a mockery of Guaido recognition by InterAmerican development bank by refusing visa for Guaido nominee to IADB. OAS has given recognition because of the secretary general Luis Almagro, the Uruguayan who has sold his soul to Uncle Sam and has been taking blatantly partisan approach to Maduro regime. The Uruguayan government has disowned him. although he was a respected foreign minister during the government of President Mujica.

Putin's despatch of military advisors to Venezuela has emboldened the Maduro regime and surprised the US, complicating the American calculations.

But the US can strangle the Venezuelan economy and worsen the misery for the government and people by its ongoing and future sanctions on oil production and exports as well as other clandestine sabotage. The Maduro regime has no clues as to how to stop the hyper inflation (running in 5-6 digits), increase oil production and exports, stabilise the exchange rate and reset the economy. Those around Maduro are intensifying their stealing government money left and right, since they do not know how long the regime would last.

The only solution is to bring Maduro and the Opposition to the negotiating table and put pressure on them to reach an agreement for holding an internationally supervised election. Mexico and Uruguay advocate this course. But Maduro will come to the table only after iron-clad amnesty to all the military and Chavistas.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Indio meets Indiano.

Indio meets Indiano.

First civilisational and historic encounter between a native Latin American Indian President and the original Indian President.

When I met Evo in La Paz on 10 August 2006, he embraced me saying, " tambien Indio" ( brother I am also an Indian)

Evo Morales is the first native Indian in South America to become President. Under his presidency since 2006, Bolivia has achieved unprecedented democratic stability, economic growth, poverty alleviation and social equality. His priority agenda has been emancipation and empowerment of the native Indians who were discriminated ruthlessly for five hundred years. Native Indians form 60 percent of the population.

In the Bolivian history, Evo Morales is the longest serving President for three terms since 2006. Bolivia has never had such a long period of political stability as it has experienced in the last thirteen years. Bolivia had been notorious for coups and political instability. 36 of the 83 governments in the past had lasted a year or less. Between 2001 and 2005 there were five Presidents.

Evo won the elections despite the overt preventive intervention and conspiracies of US and its oligarchic allies in Bolivia. He stood upto even his friend President Lula and got a better price for the gas exports to Brazil. 

Although the west has labelled him as a radical leftist, Morales has managed the economy prudently, pragmatically and successfully. A report of UNDP has put Bolivia as the most successful in reducing poverty in the last decade in Latin America.He has financed his pro-poor programmes with the increase in revenue from exports, taxes and better financial management. He has ensured fiscal surplus every year since 2006. The GDP of Bolivia has grown an average of five percent since he assumed presidency in 2006. In 2018, the growth rate was 4.4% and it is projected at 4.3% in 2019. This is much higher than the average growth of Latin America at 1.1% in 2018 and forecast of 1.7% in 2019.The foreign exchange reserves are comfortable at 8.5 billion dollars. External debt is reasonable at 12.8 billion. Exchange rate is stable and predictable. The inflation of the country which in the eighties had touched five digits has been brought down to single digit under the presidency of Morales. Inflation in 2018 was a commendable 1.3%. Financial Times has said, ' Mr Morales may well be Latin America's most successful socialist presidents ever'.

Evo lives a simple life without any ostentation. He has not enriched himself with properties or business. He is a bachelor and dedicates his full energy and time for the country. Coming from a poor Aymara Indian family, he could not afford college education. He started off his political career as a coca leaf workers trade unionist. He loves playing football even as President.

During the visit of the Indian President 28-30 March, the two governments signed a number of agreements for cooperation. India has announced a credit of 100 million dollars.

India-Bolivia bilateral trade in 2018 was an impressive 863 million dollars. India's exports were 100 million dollars and imports 763 million. Bolivia has emerged as the seventh largest supplier of gold with 760 million dollars out of the total Indian global imports of 32 billion dollars.

A Telugu film " Sarrainodu" starring Allu Arjun was shot in Bolivia (salar de uyuni) in March 2016.

The only regrettable episode in Indo-Bolivian reactions was the failed investment project by Navin Jindal in the Mutun iron mining project in Bolivia. He had announced plan to invest 2 billion dollars in the iron ore mining and in a steel plant. He had spent about 20 million dollars. But when the Bolivian government realised that Jindal had no intention to invest in the steel plant, they cancelled the contract and encashed the guarantee. The case is before arbitration for release of the guarantee money. More information on this in

Bolivia has one of the largest Lithium reserves in the world. Indian companies and government have shown interest in Lithium mining.

The only problem with Evo is that he has not groomed any native Indian successor. He plans to contest for the fourth term in the October 2019 elections. The Constitution framed by Evo Morales himself had imposed term limits. He tried a referendum in 2016 asking the voters if he could run for a fourth term. The voters rejected it. Later, the Supreme Court has overruled the constitution allowing unlimited presidential terms. 

Evo is leading in the opinion polls and could win. But this will cause a dent in his democratic credentials. In any case, it is a slippery road to hubris and disaster as seen in the cases of   Chavez and Ortega. 

Hope Panchamama, the Andean goddess, guides Evo Morales in the right direction..

Friday, March 22, 2019

US- China games in the Inter American Development Bank

In 2008, US tried to block the entry of China in Inter American Development Bank and blackballed for over a year. But China succeeded in forcing its way by rallying the Latin Americans behind and became member in 2009. This was mainly due to Lula, Cristina, Chavez and other leftist presidents who had swept to power in the region in the first decade of this century and defied US successfully many times.
China has started using the IADB funds for its project contracts in the region over and above its own direct investment and credit.

Last year, when the Chinese requested the Bank to to hold its 2019 annual meeting in Chengdu, US tried again its best to stop this. The Chinese won this round too and the meeting is to be held next week. This was possible because the Latinos realised that China has given 150 billion dollars of credit to Latin America in the last decade. This is more than the combined credit of IADB, World bank and US Eximbank together.
Earlier this month, the US had forced the Bank to recognise the so-called Guaido's presidency. Guaido does not have a government, central bank or finance ministry. Recognition of his presidency is not legal according to the charter of the Bank. But US bullied and broke the rule and got the bank to recognise Guaido.
Now the US is trying to sabotage the meeting in China by insisting that the Guaido presidency should be represented in the meeting and not the Maduro government. Logical..since Guaido has got the Bank recognition.
But China has given over 50 bilion dollars of credit to Maduro's regime and need to protect its interests.
This time there is no Lula or Chavez who could stand upto US and support China.
Will China lose this round? China is trying a smart argument that the Bank meeting should not be politicised. They propose that neither Maduro nor Guaido should be invited. But Bolsonaro is more anti-Maduro than Trump and does not mind even military intervention of US. He even made an unprecedented visit to CIA heaquarters during his visit to US last week.
Finally, the US- China match in InterAmerican development bank has ended in a 1-1 draw. US scored one goal cancelling the China meeting. China scored by rejecting Guaido representation. on.. to the next round...

Venezuela beats Messi's Argentine team by 3-1.. Bravo... something to celebrate ..amidst the Venezulean misery and chaos for my pobrecitos amigos Venezuelanos..

Monday, February 04, 2019

Can the new President be a Salvador (saviour) of El Salvador ?

Nayib Bukele has won the presidential elections held last Sunday in El Salvador. Bukele is the first outsider who does not belong to either of the established ARENA (right wing) or FMLN ( left wing) parties which dominated the politics of the country in the last two decades. He got around 54% of the votes which was more than the combined total percentage of the votes obtained by the candidates of the two main parties.  The ARENA candidate got 32% while the ruling party FMLN’s got only 14%. With his impressive victory of getting more than fifty percent of votes, Bukele has avoided a second round of elections. He was the candidate of an alliance of smaller parties called as GANA. 

The young ( 37 years old) Bukele has earned his reputation as an able and visionary administrator as the mayor of the capital city San Salvador from 2015 to 2018. He is a social media star who used tools such as Twitter and Facebook effectively reaching out to millions of voters directly. He announced his candidature and manifesto through Facebook Live. This  had appealed to the young generation disillusioned with the traditional parties. Supremely confident of the social media strength, he refused to participate in the traditional debate with the other presidential candidates. Nor did he hold any press conferences. 

Bukele has kept away from the ideological polarisation of the country and promises to govern pragmatically. The voters liked his quote, I don’t talk about left or right anymore, this is outdated in the modern era.” Although his alliance includes right wing elements, he had started off his political career as member of the left wing FMLN party, which expelled him when he questioned the party’s leadership. Bukele is of Palestine origin.

El Salvador, the smallest country (in area) in Central America with 6.5 million people, has huge problems. The main issue is the ongoing gang violence and crime. The country has become notorious with one of the highest murder rates in the world. Mara Salvatrucha, popularly known as MS-13 and the Barrio 18 (18thstreet gang) are the two dominant gangs which hold the country to ransom with killings, crimes and drug trafficking. The rivalry between these two became so violent at one stage in 2012, the government intervened and brokered a ceasefire between MS 13 and the Barrio 18. In order to bring the two sides to the negotiating table, the government relaxed conditions in the prisons in which the members of the two gangs were held. Following this peace deal, the murder rate had dropped immediately. But this truce broke down in 2014 and crime has gone up again.

The origin of these two gangs is Los Angeles.  During the civil war in Central America in the eighties, several hundred thousands had fled to US to escape the violence. The US had destabilised El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras during the cold war and Contra War and had subverted democracy by supporting right wing military dictatorship. The Americans had armed and trained right wing militias which killed thousands of people including the famous Archbishop Romero in 1980.  Many of those who wanted to escape the civil war went to Los Angeles. In the nineties, the US authorities cracked down on the gangs and deported thousands of the gang members to El Salvador. But many of the deported, who were born or brought up in US, found it difficult to adjust in Central America and continued with their LA gang culture. They regrouped themselves locally with guns smuggled from US and scaled up their crimes, taking advantage of the weak law enforcement and justice system of El Salvador. The gangs have evolved a culture of tattoos, brutal rites of initiation, extortion and crime. 

The Salvadoreans are again fleeing to escape the violence of the gang wars. This is the reason for the caravans trying to enter US for seeking asylum.The US which is responsible for the violence has a moral duty to accept the victims of their destructive policies and guns. In this context it is worth noting that the remittances of Salvadoreans in US is a major source of foreign exchange for the country.

The second major problem of El Salvador is the rampant corruption. Some of the previous presidents of the country have been accused and convicted of massive corruption. Bukele’s campaign slogan was,“There’s enough money when no one steals.” He has promised to establish an international anti-corruption agency, as it was done in Guatemala.  

Of course, the most fundamental problem is poverty. The country needs poverty alleviation and job creation programmes. 

The Salvadoreans are praying that Bukele turn out to be the saviour of the country which needs rescue from its acute problems and suffering. 

India’s exports to El Salvador were 70 million dollars in 2017-18. There is scope to increase the exports to 200 million if Indian companies explore the opportunities seriously. El Salvador has established an embassy in New Delhi and is seeking Indian investment and development assistance.

While the two biggest democracies of the Americas chose to elect crazy, polarising and right wing extremists Trump and Bolsonaro and that too after so much controversies and hoopla, the little El Salvador has elected a young, sensible, balanced and pragmatic outsider Nayib Bukele as President. The clean election and the decisive victory of an outsider and social media star is a sign of the growing maturity of the young democracy of El Salvador and is an inspiration for the hemisphere.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Creation of poverty out of prosperity: the magical realism of Venezuela

Nicolas Maduro started his second term for six years as President of Venezuela on 10 January. But the political drama of his rigged re-election, the economic collapse of the country and the traumatisation of the society resemble the story of “one hundred years of solitude” by the Colombian Nobel prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The Venezuelan reality is even more bizarre than the magical fiction of Marquez in which the people of Macondo are cursed to suffer one disaster after another. Creation of poverty in Venezuela which was the richest Latin American country in the recent past, is pure Magical Realism.

Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, more than that of Saudi Arabia. Besides oil, the country is blessed with minerals, hydroelectric potential, arable land, pleasant climate, beautiful beaches and many Miss World and Universe titles. In the sixties, the per capita GDP of Venezuela was many times bigger than that of Brazil and Colombia. Caracas was only destination for Concorde flights in Latin America. The Venezuelan middle class people used to go to Miami for shopping during weekend. The country had a vibrant democracy while many countries in Latin America went under military dictatorship during the cold war. 

But today, Latin America has progressed and moved on to the twenty first century with a new paradigm of democratic maturity and economic growth. But Venezuela has gone backwards with a toxic combination of authoritarianism, political chaos, economic disaster, hyperinflation, shortage of food and medicine, rampant crime and corruption.  The Chavistas have given a bad name to socialism which had seen resurgence in the region in the last two decades.

The GDP of Venezuela has contracted consecutively for the last five years to over fifty percent. It is forecast to shrink by another ten percent in 2019. The country has the highest inflation in the world running into six digits. The government has stopped publishing inflation and other economic statistics. Since most of the domestic manufacturing industry and agriculture have been destroyed, the country has become desperately dependent on imports. But there is severe shortage of foreign exchange reserves which are inadequate to cover even essential imports. The Venezuelan currency Bolivar has lost 99.9% of its value and has become worthless. The government keeps changing currencies and exchange rates, which has given rise to huge black market for dollars and goods, run by those with Chavista connections. 

Poor people scavenge for food in the rubbish bins. Soviet-Cuban style queues are common in front of super markets and shops which are often empty and running short of medicines,food and essential items such as toilet paper and soap. There are frequent power cuts and shortage of water. Most international airlines have stopped flights to Venezuela due to payment issues.

Crime and violence is rampant in Caracas which has one of the highest murder rates in the region. The city has become unsafe even for diplomats who need to use bullet proof cars. The happy-go-lucky party-loving people of Caracas have stopped going out in the night.   

According to UNHCR, three million Venezuelans (ten percent of the total population) have fled to other countries to escape the poverty, misery and persecution. This has become the biggest migration and humanitarian crisis in the history of Latin America. This is disgraceful, given the fact that over a million South Americans used to work in Venezuela which offered better prospects than their countries. 

The country’s oil production has come down from 3 million barrels per day to 1.5 mbpd due to mismanagement and lack of investment. PDVSA, the state oil company, which had the best oil experts and managers in the region, is run these days by unprofessional Chavistas. Neither the company nor the government  publish figures of oil exports and revenue which are kept as secrets. A significant part of oil is sent to China as barter payment for the 50 billion dollar plus debt.

The people of Venezuela, subjected to the worst suffering, are seething with frustration and outrage. Chavez himself was a product of such a public anger against the two establishment political parties which plundered the country and got the country into a mess in the nineties. Hugo Chavez asked, “ Venezuela is a rich country. Why are you people poor?”. The masses voted for him overwhelmingly in 1998 and the two traditional parties were completely discredited and decimated. Chavez started off as a real revolutionary who wanted to uplift the poor with sincere commitment. But later his agenda got totally lost in hubris and anger against the opposition which overthrew him (for 48 hours) in the 2002 coup. Chavez went on a ruthless revenge against the political and business oligarchs as well as the middle class with a series of destructive measures such as currency, import and price controls and systematic dismantling of checks and balances of democratic instituitions. He squandered the windfall oil profits in wasteful and fancy projects.

Maduro’s re-election in May 2018 has been called as illegitimate and  has not been recognised by the Venezuelan opposition parties. The Maduro government had banned opposition parties and imprisoned or exiled many leaders preventing participation in the elections on trumped up charges. The snap election itself was called prematurely by an illegal Constituent Assembly which usurped the powers of the legitimate Congress in which the opposition has the majority. If a proper election is held, the opposition would come to power undoubtedly as they won in the Congressional elections in 2015.

The Venezuelan opposition, which used to organise vigorous protests in the past has now run out of steam and is divided. They tried dialogue with the government through the mediation of Vatican. This too failed. People fear coming out for protests after violent crackdown in which over one hundred protestors were killed in police shootings in 2017.
Clearly, the country is crying out for liberation from the hopeless mess. There is no possibility of economic recovery or correction of political course under President Maduro who is simply incompetent and impotent. His rivals are waiting to stab him in the back at the first opportunity. He has ensured the support of the military by giving them control of lucrative businesses such as food distribution and the petroleum sector. The Chavistas and their military collaborators plunder the country with impunity and in a hurry since they do not know how long the regime would last.
Chavez, a long time admirer of Fidel Castro sought the “merger of the two revolutions. He nominated Maduro as successor from his deathbed in Havana, on the advice of the Castros. The Cubans have been helping the Chavista regimes with intelligence through their advisors in Venezuela. They guide Maduro how to survive American conspiracies and sanctions, based on their long experience. The thousands of Cuban doctors who work in the slums and rural areas of Venezuela are the eyes and ears of the Chavista government. In return, Cuba gets Venezuelan oil on generous terms. 

Venezuela has become like a Cuba with shortage of essential items, long queues and citizen controls. But there is a big difference. The Cuban people, although denied freedom, do not go hungry. They have the best healthcare and education. They are optimistic that life could become only better in the future. The Cubans have a joke, ‘It is only the first hundred years of the revolution which are difficult, before the socialist paradise’. But the Venezuelans suffering under the Chavista regime for the last twenty years are wondering if they are in for “One Hundred years of Suffering”.  

The twelve Latin American countries of the Lima Group (including Brazil, Argentina and Colombia) as well as the European Union, Canada and USA have  condemned the rigged re-election of Maduro and refused recognition. They have threatened sanctions and restrictions to further isolate Venezuela which has already been suspended from Mercosur. But Venezuela receives some limited support from China, Russia and Turkey as well as from Bolivia, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Mexico in Latin America.

The Maduro regime would collapse if the US imposes oil sanctions against Venezuela, as it did in the case of Iran. US, the largest importer of Venezuelan oil, can afford to forego since it has become much less dependent on imported oil thanks to the shale revolution which has made US as the largest oil producer in the world again. Although the US has imposed some cosmetic sanctions against Venezuelan bonds and leaders, the Administration does not want to cause losses to the few American refineries which use exclusively Venezuelan crude. In any case, the US is not in a hurry to stop the bleeding of Venezuela since it is enjoying the spectacle of the Venezuelan misery as a scarecrow deterring the spread of socialism in the region. Along with Venezuela, Ortega’s authoritarianism in Nicaragua and the traditional bogey of Cuba have given a new agenda to fight against the “ Troika of Tyranny and Triangle of Terror” for the neo-cold war warrior National Security Advisor John Bolton who is eager to repeat interventions in the ‘backyard’ since the days of the Monroe Doctrine.

India is the second largest importer of Venezuelan oil, importing around 350,000 barrels per day annually. In 2017-18 imports were 5.85 billion dollars. In the first six months of 2018-19 (April-October), the imports increased to 4.6 billion dollars due to the rise in oil prices. These imports are part of the strategic energy policy of India to reduce overdependence on the Middle East and to diversify sources of imports. ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) has invested over a billion dollars in the Venezuelan oil fields. Although India’s exports are not high, there is potential for growth. With these interests, India does not comment on Venezuelan domestic affairs and maintains relations with the government in power pragmatically.