Sunday, May 27, 2007

El Rey ( the King ) - Colombian film

This movie is a fictionalised account of how the drug trafficking started in Colombia, based on the life of the first drug lord Jaime Caicedo from Cali. The ordinarly life of Pedro Rey, a bar owner changes dramatically when he meets an American Peace Corps volunteer, who introduces him to the drug trafficking business. Rey realises the vast market of USA offering billions of dollars of quick profit, or what we are told as the "market-driven" trade. He goes on to make money, elevates his status and corrupts the police and society. Eventually he succumbs to the bullets of the same policeman who was in his payroll.

The movie, made in 2004, was directed by Antonio Dorado, who had said in an interview, " This movie is an answer to all the movies made by North America about the Colombian drug issue.

Fernando Solorzano has acted as the drug lord and Cristina Umana as his wife Blanca. Colombian family life, music and society are portrayed vividly and authentically in the film. Although the film is about drugs and violence it does not leave a horrifying feeling. The way the story evolves and the acting by the talented stars makes the watching of the film as a pleasant experience.

When the film roll was sent from Colombia for inclusion in a Paris film festival in Madrid, the film reels were searched thoroughly to ensure that drugs were not hidden in them !

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Where the air is clear - novel by Carlos Fuentes

This is the first-ever novel of Fuentes, written in 1958.
In this book, the main character is the Mexico city itself. Fuentes takes the readers through the streets of Mexico and pages of history. He does his typical incisive analysis of the inhabitants of the city. He has chosen a banker ( Federico Robles ), a society lady (Norma), a rich family impoverished after the revolution (Ovando family ), Rodrigo Pola, a writer whose father was executed during the revolution and Ixca Cienfuegos an observer and critic of the system.

Fuentes takes the readers through the labyrinth of the Mexican solitude and identity. In no other latin american country, there is this obsessive search for identity, going back and forth in history and caught between the mother continent and the adopted one. Almost every character makes a reference to Mexican history, revolution and politics. Fuentes asks, "does such a thing as original blood exist?" and answers "no; every pure element grows and is consumed in its own purity,does not develop; the original is the impure, the mixed, the mulatto and the mestizo, as i am, as all Mexico is. Which is to say originality supposes a mixing, a creation, not a purity previous to our experience. Rather than born original , we come to be original; origin is creation. mexico must find her origin by looking ahead, not behind". This passage reminded me of Octavio Paz's analysis in his " labyrinth of solitude"

I liked these pearls of wisdom:

- It is all a question of wings, my love. With wings, a butterfly. Without wings, a caterpillar.

- All depends on the state of the soul and that depends upon external impulses. It is enough to control the external impulses to arrive at the state of the soul and personality which are desired.

I was moved and absorbed by the powerful and memorable characters in this book and the profound intellectual deabte about identity. Carlos Fuentes continues to stay as my number one favourite at this time. I have just purchased two more books of Fuentes and am looking forward to reading them.

Carlos Fuentes was from a diplomatic family and had lived in many countries. Later, he also became a diplomat and served in various capitals.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The political economy of emerging markets- book by Javier Santiso

The full title of the book is "The political economy of emerging markets- actors, instituitions and financial crises in Latin America"

This is the second book of Santiso I have read. I liked this book as well as the previous one on the political economy of the possible. my blog on the previous book on 3 september 2006

Perhaps another reason I like his analysis and conclusions is that they coincide with mine. While my conclusions are amateurish, based on my limited knowledge and intuition, Santiso's are those of a solid professional economist based on theories as well as practical experience.

His main conclusion in this book is that the latin american markets alongwith other emerging markets is a "confidence game" played by fund managers and Wall Street. He has described how the fund managers encouraged everyone to invest in Argentina despite the obvious and risky flaws of the argentinian ecnomic and financial structure before 2001. The main motive of the managers was to get fat bonus in the transactions. Ironically some of the same banks which mislead the investors became consultants to the Argentinian government when they wanted to restructure the debt after the crisis. So the bankers made their commission both ways, in the building up of the crisis and in the resolution. The losers are the thousands of bondholders and the Argentinian government and people. I had come to the same conclusion in my article published in Financial Express of 31 December 2005

Other interesting observations and conclusions of Santiso, based on his research and interviews with the players of the Latin America game:

- Latin American countries have been among the most dependent on international bond markets. In mid 2001 bonds represented 70 percent of Argentinian public debt.
- Crisis in latin America had occurred coinciding with the aftermath of the end of the year bonus time of the fund managers. Also the crises coincided with the election times. The governments dont want to spoil their chances by devaluation or some such unpopular measure before elections but do so after the elections.
-Argentina is the only case of a developed country which has gone down into the developing category because of man-made disasters.
-Some of the American academics who advised the Latin American governments were also making money through their interests in funds which played the investment game in those countries.
-many latin american finance and trade ministers and even presidents had studied economics and got even PhDs in American universities and were obviously influenced by the different schools of thought.
- Financial Times is more popularly read than Wall Street Journal by latinamerica fund managers
- Boston has more action than New York in investment in Latin America
- Latin American crises had been triggered or caused by capital flows. Asian countries such as China and India have not faced such crisis since they are integrated globally only through current account trade and services and have controls over capital movements. It would be worthwhile for the the Indian policy makers to keep this in mind and learn from latin america while opening the capital market in india.

Besides analysing the latin american crises, he has gone deep into the evolution of emerging market funds, fund management and the psychology of the fund managers.

Javier Santiso is a politcal economist and is currently working with OECD.

I find him as objective, neutral and balanced in his views.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

book on the third wave of democratisation in Latin America

The title of the book is " The third wave of democratization in Latin America- advances and challenges"
edited by Frances Hagopian and Scott Mainwaring

It starts with the third wave of democratisation since 1978 and analyses the transition upto 2005, when the book was published. It has concluded that the Latin American democracies have become stable,durable and sustainable. It has pointed out the challenges to some of the democracies by some demogogic leaders, who use the tools and framework of democracy to impose their authoritarianism. But these setbacks are temporary, since even these leaders have to go back to the electorate which has the ultimate power to change their rulers.

The authors have identified three kinds of democratic trends and made individual analysis of sample countries. These are: (1) democratic giants with authoritarian past - Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, (2) unexpected democracies in unlikely countries -Guatemala, El salvador and Bolivia and (3) Democratic erosion in the third wave in Venezuela, Peru and Colombia.

The point which comes across clearly is that in most cases, democracies were disrupted in the past by the oligarchs, whenever their interests were challenged or affected by the rules of the democratic game. The generals and colonels were just the instruments of the elite. The second point is the loss of credibility of the traditional political parties and the entry of outsiders like Fujimori and others. But this did not happen in Argentina despite the call " se vayan los todos" ( out with everyone- meaning all political leaders ) by the people of Argentina at the height of the political and economic crisis which touched a historical low point in 2001. The civil war in El Salvador and Guatemala had devastated the societies but they have made a remarkable transition to democracy after the peace accords.

The authors have brought out the complications of the ethnic factor in countries such as Bolivia and Guatemala. But the Bolivian anamoly has been corrected with the election of native Indian Evo morales for the first time in the history of Bolivia. There could be a similiar historical change if Rigoberta Menchu also become President of Guatemala.

The approach of the authors in the book becomes very academic and theoretical sometimes. But overall they have given a sense of the political transition and process of the selected countries and the trends in the region.

But the classification and some theories need review after the elctions in 2006, which have brought to power more outsiders and leftist Presidents.