Saturday, August 30, 2008

Report on Latin American economic situation

The economic survey of 28 August 2008 issued by the Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean ( ECLAC) is positive and optimistic about the prospects of the region. Highlights as follows

- the growth of the region in 2008 is estimated to be 4.7 %, making this year as the sixth consecutive year of growth, a record in the last forty years. Although the growth has come down from 5.7 % in 2007 and is expected to decline to 4% in 2009, the growth figures are good considering the current global scenario of slower world growth and increased volatility and incertainty in the financial markets.
- Brazil´s growth in 2008 is projected as 4.8% in 2008 and 4% in 2009; Mexico´s growth 2.5 % in 2008 and in 2009; Argentina´s 7% in 2008 and 5% in 2009; Colombia´s 5.3% in 2008 and 4.5% in 2009. Peru will have the highest growth in the region with 8.3% in 2008 and 7% in 2009.
- For the fifth consecutive year, the region showed current account surplus which stood at 0.5% of GDP in 2007.
- One of the outstanding points of the region´s macroeconomic performance in 2007 was strong growth in investment, which stood at 21.1% of the GDP.
- External debt dropped to 19.9% of GDP in 2007 from 21.8% in 2006. The total external debt of the region was 720 billion dollars in December 207. The governments have paid off their debt and restructured and improved the terms of their debt with better rates and currency composition.
- Average inflation increased to 8.4% in 2008 from 6.4% in 2007.
- The region has developed greater capacity to withstand external shocks due to its strong macroeconomic fundamentals, fiscal solvency and external surplus.
- Foreign exchange reserves increased by 43% to 460 billion dollars in December 2007.
- Foreign Direct Investment increased by 46% in 2007 reaching a record 106 billion dollars.
- Unemployment has been steadily decreasing since 2003 reaching 8% in 2007 and is expected to go down to 7.5% in 2008.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Santa Evita - Argentine novel by Tomas Eloy Martinez

This is the story of Eva Peron after her death. Yes, it is about the life-story of her corpse. The embalmed body of Evita had an eventful journey for 22 years as she had in her real life journey of 33 years. She was a political figure for six years as the wife of Peron but her corpse had influenced Argentine politics for over two decades and created a bizarre history, becoming part of the Argentine mythology. Evita died in 1952 but her body was kept waiting for three years for the construction of a monument, which was never built. In 1955 the military overthrew Peron and hid the body for ninteen years. It was brought back from a cemetry in Milan for proper burial in Recoleta cemetry in Buenos Aires in 1974.

The military dictatorship tried to hide the embalmed body to prevent it from becoming a rallying point against the regime. Col Moori Koenig from the military intelligence service is given the responsibility. He moves it from one hiding place to another in Buenos Aires city. But he and his colleagues involved in this venture, as well as their families meet with one disaster after another. He, as well his accomplices, who hated Evita when she was with Peron , are hipnotised by the body and become obsessed with it. They get emotionally attached to the corpse and reach a stage when they cannot live without the body.

The Spanish embalmer Dr Ara, who is contracted to embalm the body of Evita is also obesessed with the body in another sense. He considers the embalmed corpse as his master piece of art and is more possessive of it than the family of Evita. He makes some extra copies of the wax body to mislead others. This was the first challenge for col Koenig to identify the correct one.

The miltary dictatorship forbade any public reference to Peron or Evita. How did they call Evita´s corpse and refer to her in their internal conversations and correspondence.. mare, the person, deceased, that woman...

At the same time, fanatic supporters of Evita, calling themselves as the Commando of Vengence, manage to track down the hiding points and put flowers and candles next to the coffin, despite the extraordinary security cordon.

Finally the body is sent out of the country to a cemetry in Milan, while copies of the body are sent to other European cities to mislead those trying to track it.

The author Tomas Eloy Martinez has used ¨magical realism¨to tell the story. He weaves facts and fiction in and out and one does not know what is real and what is imagined. In any case, the way Evita´s body was dealt with by her supporters and opponents is like a mystery thriller fiction. Martinez has added more mystery by his story-telling. Sometimes it reads like the compilation of his own real efforts to uncover the secrets of disappearance of the body. Besides the corpse story, the author has also brought out excerpts from the life of Evita based on interviews with her butler, hair dresser and others associated with her closely. But one is not sure whether these were factual or fictional.

The author, like many other Argentine and Latin American writers, was forced to exile in 1975. He lives in USA.

Does the story of the afterlife of Evita sound like the incarnation belief in India ? Sure.. there is as much mystery and magic in this real life story as in the Indian mythologies. No wonder there are thousands of Argentines who are followers of Indian Gurus and spiritualism. I do not get surprised when some of them tell me seriously that perhaps their last incarnation was in India !

Tomas Eloy Martinez has revived my interest in Argentine literature. My experience with the other Argentine authors is mixed. Or to put it more candidly, I got confused after reading some of the works of Borges, Julio Cortazar and Luisa Valenzuela and could not finish some of them.

Now, for the real story of Evita´s corpse, the readers can see my 2006 blog entry,

Saturday, August 16, 2008

un novio para mi mujer - Argentine film

I saw today the film ¨Un novio para mi mujer ¨- a boyfriend for my wife, which was released on 14 august.

This is the story of the misery of the married life of a young couple in their thirties. El Tenso, the man is trying to cope with his wife La Tana who cannot stop talking, complaining and grumbling. She finds fault with the newspaper headlines, government, weather, friends of Tenso, party life and everything in general. She rains down the choicest abusive words to criticise and make cynical comments. El Tenso pays a radio station to hire her for the talk show. Her non-stop critical comments on everything and everybody becomes a hit.

Tenso wants separation but does not have the courage to tell her. He hires a man El Cuervo Flores to seduce her and make it as an excuse for seeking divorce. It works. She falls for the charm of the seducer and enjoys his company. She changes her attitude and starts to appreciate the good things of life. While Tenso is happy with the changes in Tana, he becomes jealous and asks Flores to stop the seduction. Tana becomes depressed and Tenso confesses to her that he was the one who hired Flores. She explodes and seeks separation. Both go to the shrink and fight there also. They go to the court for divorce. When the court delays their case for an hour, they go to a cafe separately. There they rediscover each other and reunite.

Valeria Bertuccelli has brilliantly acted as Tana while Adrián Suar has also fit in well as Tenso. The movie was directed by Juan Taratuto. This is the third film of this young director who started his directorial career in 2004.

The dialogue between the husband and wife, or more precisely the monologue of the wife has been animated with lot of humour. These hilarious dialogues are the best part of the film. A delightful romantic comedy ..with a typical Argentine psychiatric touch....

The Sandal Revolution of Paraguay

Fernando Lugo wore sandals and a simple white shirt and trouser for the ceremony of his inaguration as President of Paraguay on 15 August, which I attended. Somebody called it as Revolucion Sandalia- Sandal Revolution !

Lugo said he would forego the presidential salary of 40,000 dollars per year. He would continue to live in his own modest house during his presidential tenure. His sister will be the official hostess in his household.

Lugo, popularly called as the Bishop of the Poor, had worked as priest in the poor parts of Paraguay and Ecuador. After initial hesitation, Vatican let him leave the church to pursue his political career in 2007. Many priests in Latin America had embraced Liberation Theology and had fought on the side of the poor against repressive regimes and sacrified their lives in some cases. Lugo is the first priest to get a chance as president to practise Liberation Theology.

Lugo has created history in Paraguay by singlehandedly defeating the Colorado party which had ruled the country for the last sixty years ! He entered politics only in 2006 and got himself supported by a coalition of leftist and liberal parties. Pitted against almost impossible barriers, he got elected with an overwhelming majority.

In his emotional inagural address, he outlined his Agenda for Change. He promised to change not only the politics of the country but also the culture of the society. Change is not going to be easy...but it is not impossible, he said. This was reflected in the song of the Sembrador group, which followed the oath-taking ceremony. Here is part of the lyric..

la lluvia y el viento
me llaman amigo
la noche y la luna
me quiren besar

Despiertate hermano
ya llega la aurora

(the rain and the wind
call me as friend
the night and the moon
want to kiss me

wake up my brother
the dawn has come)

Poverty alleviation, land reforms, education and health would be his priorities. He made part of his speech in Guarani, the native tongue of the indigenous people and paid tribute to them. Paraguay is the only Latin American country where the indigenous language is spoken by the settlers and the whole population.

While the world media is obsessed with labelling him and making comparisons with others, Lugo said he will go his own pragmatic way. He has no revolution to export nor agenda to change the world. He has a limited domestic agenda to change the lives of the poor and the excluded. This is obvious from the fact that he did not make any reference to foreign policy or regional affairs in his hour-long speech.

It is not only the politics of Latin America which is changing.. the Presidential attire too is undergoing a revolution. While Lugo is on the top of this change with his sandals and whiteshirt, suits and tie have been discarded by the presidents of Bolivia and Ecuador. Both were wearing colourful traditional shirts without tie. While Correa had put on a jacket over his shirt, Evo Morales had his trade-mark casual jacket on.

During my call on Lugo on 17 July, I gifted to him Mahatma Gandhi´s autobiography in spanish. And Gandhi too wore sandals....Gandhi went further by foregoing even the shirt...and achieving independance for India. Lugo´s assumption of power on 15 August coincides with the Independence Day of India on the same day.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

skiing in Bariloche

I skiied in Bariloche last weekend. The Catedral mountain ski resort of Bariloche is a different experience from Las Lenas, where i had gone last month.

Here in Bariloche, the scenery is breath-taking. The Nahuel Huappi Lake contrasts the shining white snow of the slopes with its distant,and deep, mystical and magical blue waters. The bushes and trees onthe slopes catch the fresh snow and offers you like flowers, as seen from the picture below...

Some of the slopes are somewhat narrow but are thrilling as one goes gliding on the shoulders of the mountain with snow-clad bushes and trees on both sides as in the picture below..

The other difference is that Bariloche is for families and even non-skiers. Those who do not ski can go up in the chairlifts to the top of the slopes, enjoy the view, walk and play around in the snow, have lunch in the restaurants on top and watch their friends and families skiing down.

The last difference is that the ski resort is part of the charming city of Bariloche, which has many attractions. There is plenty to see, feel and experience.
Hmm.. one can also here a lot of the Brazilian expressions.. cafezinho, amorzinho ..There are hordes of brazilians descending on the slopes here. It is, of course, a different experience to see the Brazilian garotas fully clothed.. unlike in Copacabana.

We went for dinner to a resturant called as Naan- which means Indian bread. When we reached there, the door was opened by the 5 year- old Uma, the daughter of the owner Erika, who makes the guests feel homely with her cooking and serving. They play Indian fusion music in the restaurant. Oops.. there is no indian food there.. just the names ...

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Olga - Brazilian film

I saw this 2004 release yesterday. This film is based on the real-life story of Olga Benário, a German whose destiny is linked to Brazil.

Olga, born in a bourgeois German Jewish family becomes a revolutionary and goes to Soviet Union, where she is given army training. In 1935, she is assigned to protect the Brazilian communist leader Luis Carlos Prestes, who is returning to Brazil to raise a revolutionary movement against the dictator Getúlio Vargas. They travel to Brazil, pretending to be a married couple but during the long journey fall in love with each other. The Communist upraising fails and both are arrested and put in jail. As an act of personal vengeance against Prestes, Vargas deports Olga, seven months pregnant, to Nazi Germany, as a gift to Hitler. The Nazis put her in a Gestapo women's prison, where she gives birth to Anita, who is given back to the mother of Prestes. Later, Benario is taken to a Nazi concentration camp where she is killed in a gas chamber in 1942.

The movie is about politics, war, persecution and revolutionary spirit. It gives a glimpse of the communist movement and its repression by the military dictatorship in Brazil. The Nazi atrocities are portrayed graphically.

The movie is also about love which blossoms between the ideologically strong and disciplined Olga and the idealistic but sensitive and fragile Prestes, who knits a dress for Olga.

Camila Morgado has excelled in her role as Olga while Caco Ciocler has tried to be like Prestes.

Although one does not see much of Brazil in the film, it is one of the best to come out of the Brazilian cinema, which produces occasional hits. Jayme Monjardim, the director has done a good job although the critics have not been very generous to him on this film.