Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Lenin's Ecuador victory lifts the Leftist spirit in Latin America

Lenin Moreno (popularly called as Lenin), the leftist candidate has won the Presidential run-off elections of Ecuador on 2 April, beating his rightist rival Guillermo Lasso, a wealthy banker.

Moreno's victory is being celebrated by the Latin American Left which had lost power to the right in Argentina and Peru in the recent elections. In Brazil and Paraguay, the rightists have brought down the leftist Presidents through constitutional coups. There is talk of 'retreat of the left' and 'fading of the pink tide' in the region. Against this background, the victory in Ecuador has come as a moral boost to the Left in the region. Moreno is the hand-picked candidate of the leftist President Rafael Correa, who has ruled the country since 2007. The outspoken Correa is known for his fierce crusade against neoliberalism and Washington Consensus. He had refused to sign FTA with US and pulled out of the negotiations even when the other neighbours Colombia and Peru went ahead. He closed the American airbase in Ecuador when the lease expired in 2009. In a bold move, he gave asylum to Julian Assange who is wanted by US prosecutors after he had published secret American documents in 'wikileaks'. Assange is still staying in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June 2012. Lasso threatened to evict him if he won the election.


The victory of the Left in Ecuador comes as a relief and hope for those frustrated with the rise of the right-wing extremism in Europe, US and some other parts of the world. It should not be forgotten that the Left continues to rule in Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay and Venezuela. Ex-President Lula is still rated as a potential winner in the next elections in Brazil, if he is not banned by right-wing conspiracy. The chances of Lopez Obrador, the Mexican Leftist candidate, has become brighter in the elections next year, as a reaction against the anti-Mexican diatribes of Trump. 

The credit for the victory of the Left in Ecuador goes to the the exemplary performance of Rafael Correa's government in the last ten years. Correa has pulled the country out of its economic mess of the past when it had suffered one crisis after another. He has reduced the poverty rate from 40% in 2006 to 23% in 2016. He has doubled the social spending and improved the living standards, infrastructure and public services. He has included native Indians and other marginalized groups in the political and economic development. He achieved all these without stoking inflation, which stood at 1.3% in 2016. Under his government, economic growth increased steadily while unemployment decreased. He redrew the unequal oil and mining contracts of the multinational corporations and made them pay more. He used the additional revenue for education and healthcare. Alarmed by the fact that 38% the government revenue went to service external debt, he cut it down by aggressive and compulsory restructuring and by standing up to IMF and World Bank and the western creditor mafia. While his close friend Chavez ruined the Venezuelan economy with disastrous policies in the name of 'Twenty first century socialism', Correa, who got his economics Masters and PhD from a US university, showed pragmatism. For example, he continued the policy of his predecessors in keeping US dollar as the country's currency as part of the economic stabilization, despite his anti-US rhetoric and his own criticism of dollarisation when it was introduced in 2000. 

More importantly, Correa gave political stability to the country which was notorious for chronic political instability. It had seen eight presidents in the previous ten years and witnessed military coups and congressional impeachment of Presidents before Correa came to power in 2007.  Three of his predecessors in the previous ten years were forced out of office before completing their terms. Correa was the first Ecuadorian President elected to serve a third consecutive term in the last hundred years of Ecuador's history. After his first election in 2006, Correa got a new constitution approved in 2008 under which he won the elections in 2009 and 2013. Correa is leaving the Presidency honorably with his head high and a respectable approval rating of 44% after ten years in power. He has announced that he would pursue academic work in Belgium, where he had done university studies and married a Belgian student.

Moreno, who had served as Vice President during Correa's first term (2007-13), has promised continuation of Correa's inclusive agenda of development. He is more moderate and conciliatory than his sharp-tongued and thin-skinned combative predecessor who was intolerant of criticism. Moreno is a paraplegic and uses wheel chair, after he was shot in a robbery attempt in 1998. He had used 'laughter therapy' as part of his recovery process and has created a foundation "Eventa" to promote humor and joy as a way of life. He is the author of numerous books on his theory of humor.

Lasso, who lost narrowly with 48.83% of votes as against Moreno's 51.17 %, is contesting the results claiming irregularities. He has asked  his supporters to protest peacefully but forcefully. But he has not come out with solid evidence to substantiate his allegations. The external missions of observers sent by the Organisation of American States (OAS) and UNASUR (the South American community of States) have not reported any adverse observations on the polls. In fact, the Secretary General of OAS has already congratulated Moreno for his victory. It may be noted that Lasso  got 10% less votes than Moreno's 39.36 in the first round of elections held in February. His party CREO got just 34 seats while Moreno's Alliance Pais (Country Alliance) party has got 74 and secured a majority in the 137- member National Assembly in the February elections. Lasso had lost to Correa in the 2013 Presidential election getting  just 22.7% vis-a vis Correas's 57%.

Ecuador, a small country with a population of 16.4 million and 100 billion US dollars of GDP, depends largely on oil exports for its revenues. With the drastic decline in oil prices in the last two years, the country faces problems of budget deficit, foreign exchange shortage and austerity. The GDP growth in 2017 is projected to be just 0.3% after the contraction of 2% in 2016. The country is in deep debt to China which has given a cumulative credit of 17.4 billion dollars. The Chinese are taking oil against repayment and are dominating in the oil, mining and infrastructure sectors of Ecuador.The excessive dependence on China for credit and investment is the price Correa had to pay in view of the hostile and high-handed approach of western cartel of financial institutions.


India's trade with Ecuador was 378 million US dollars in 2016 (January-December) of which exports were 165 million and imports 213 m. India's imports have fallen drastically from 987 m in 2014, due to the fall in price of crude, the main import of India. Ecuador is an OPEC member with an estimated 8 billion barrels of proven reserves and daily production of 540,000 barrels. TCS has implemented a 150 million dollar IT project for Banco Pichincha of Ecuador. This is one of their largest contracts in the region. India had exported seven Dhruv helicopters to Ecuador but four of them have crashed. The delay in amicable resolution of this issue has caused some strain in bilateral relations. In spite of this, Ecuador is keen to strengthen trade with India and attract Indian investment. It had sent a large business and government delegation headed by their Vice President to the Indo-LAC Business Conclave organized by CII in December 2013. PetroEcuador has signed a MOU with ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) for cooperation in hydrocarbons. Ecuador has established a consulate in Mumbai besides an embassy in New Delhi. This is noteworthy given the fact that only Brazil and Argentina are the other Latin American countries with consulates in Mumbai. It is time for India to consider opening an embassy in Quito. Ecuador is more important than Iceland where India has an embassy for unknown reasons. India's exports to Iceland are less than 20 million dollars and imports below 5 million. The cold and barren Iceland, with a tiny population of 330,000 and an insignificant GDP, does not have oil, minerals or opportunities like Ecuador has.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cinco Esquinas - the latest novel of Mario Vargas Llosa

Cinco Esquinas (five corners) is the latest novel of my favorite Latin American writer Mario Vargas Llosa. It is a story about the times of Peru during the worst authoritarian rule of Alberto Fujimori, the criminal and corrupt activities of his Intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos, the intimidation of political opponents by slander through yellow journalism, the terrorism, kidnappings and extortions of Sendero Luminoso (Shining light), Tupac Amaro and other extremist groups.



Llosa has contrasted the struggle of the poor people to survive in the violent neighborhood of of Cinco Esquinas with the hedonistic lives of the elites from the affluent Miraflores area of Lima, the capital city. While the poor face violence, crime and drug trafficking in their streets every day, the rich take off during weekend to Miami for shopping and vacation. Cinco Esquinas is part of the historic and colonial Barrio Alto section of the capital which had seen glory, decadence and revival epitomising the ups and downs of Peru.

Here is the picture of Cinco Esquinas..


Rolando Garro, the editor of a tabloid blackmails Enrique Cardenas, a mining baron with the photos of the latter's orgy. When Cardenas refuses to give in, Garro publishes the photos but is killed afterwards. Cardenas is accused of the murder and is detained briefly. La Retaquita, the editorial assistant of Garro is summoned by El Doctor, the chief of the intelligence agency. El Doctor is none other than the real Vladimiro Montesinos who was Director of Intelligence during the Alberto Fujimori regime. The chief tells Retaquita that it was he who got Garro killed after the latter went beyond his control.  He asks her to continue to run the tabloid and be part of his campaign to slander and discredit the opponents of Fujimori government. El Doctor gets Juan Peineta, an innocent reciter of poems, blamed and forces him to confess as the killer of Garro.  But La Retaquita gathers courage and exposes the intelligence chief as the real culprit and brings him down. 


There are some steamy erotic scenes in the Llosa's signature style. The story starts with the discovery of Lesbian love between Marisa, the wife of Cardenas and Chabela, the wife of Luciano, the lawyer and ends with a threesome at the end of the novel when the ladies get Cardenas to join them. In his interview at the launching event of the book, Llosa says that "sex and exploration of variety in sex had become provocation and consequence of the tensions caused by the uncertain, insecure and curfew times of the country"

In his novel "La fiesta del chivo"(The feast of the goat) Llosa has given a poignant portrayal of the Trujillo dictatorship of Dominican Republic. I had been expecting a similar Llosa novel about the Fujimori dictatorship and the excesses of Montesinos both of whom are in jail for their crimes. Llosa has also a personal agenda against the Fujimoris after he lost to Alberto Fujimori in the presidential elections of 1990. Llosa had campaigned strongly against Keiko's (the daughter of Fujimori) candidature in the 2016 elections. With these experience, Llosa has much to tell about the Fujimori period. But I was disappointed that Llosa has not done so in Cinco Esquinas. He has given only a superficial sketch of the use and manipulation of yellow journalism by Montesinos and has not mentioned Fujimori at all. The actual story of Fujimori is adequate material for several novels. He started off as an agricultural engineer,became a Maths professor and turned a politician. He won the presidential elections unexpectedly as a last minute dark horse. In his first term as President, he put an end to the guerrilla violence with a strong hand and turned around the economy. But later he became autocratic and messed up the country. He is the first President in world history to resign by fax while he was on an official visit to another country. He got asylum in Japan on the basis of his Japanese nationality. He could have continued the rest of his life peacefully in Japan but he came back to Peru with bravado. The peruvian authorities simply tried him in the court  and punished him with long imprisonment. The story of Fujimori is distinctly colorful even for Latin America which has seen all kinds of politicians and dictators. It is remarkable that his daughter Keiko who functioned as First Lady in the Presidential house of her father, has got over the legacy and is now the leader of the party which has majority in the Peruvian Congress. She lost the Presidential elections narrowly in 2016. 

Cinco Esquinas, like other Llosa's novels, has interesting characters such as La Retaquita and Juan Peineta (with his cat Serrafin) among others. But Llosa has not developed them as memorable as he has done in his other novels. I am even more disappointed that Llosa has not gone the full length in portraying El Doctor, the evil director of intelligence. 

Cinco Esquinas has the usual formula of Llosa with ingredients of special characters, suspenseful storyline and eroticism. But these are cursory and underdeveloped and without depth and elaboration. Could my disappointment be attributed the fact that Llosa wrote Cinco Esquinas close to his eightieth birthday in 2016?  Has senility set in? No.. No.. Look at his smile in the picture below…



Llosa has been rejuvenated by his latest love seen in the picture. Age has not reduced the flow of testosterone in the Latino Macho. In 2015, he announced his relationship with Isabel Preysler, a Phillippino celebrity and has sought divorce from his second wife. Isabel is the ex-wife of Julo Iglesias and the mother of Enrique Iglesias. She was married three times earlier.

This is the second book of Llosa, I have read in Spanish. The English translation of this book has not been published yet. I had read in Spanish  El sueƱo del Celta ( The dream of the Celt) but it took too long a time to complete. Because of this reason, I have read all the other books of Llosa in English translation. But I was able to finish Cinco Esquinas within three days, thanks to the embedded Spanish-English dictionary in the kindle version. Encouraged by this experience, I plan to read more books in Spanish in future. English is inadequate and no match for the distinctive and colorful Latino Spanish to express Latin American emotions, excitement and effervescence. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

From Brahma beer to Prem Baba

Brahma, the Indian god of creation is not a popularly worshipped deity unlike Shiva and Vishnu the other two gods of the trinity. But Brahma is popular among the Brazilians. Hmm..Not as a god but as a brand of beer. Brahma is advertised in posters, bill boards and media all over Brazil. The company which produces this beer was established in 1888 with the name Companhia Cervejaria  Brahma (Brahma beer company). Brahma beer is an essential ingredient for the spirit of Brazilians, known as 'happy go lucky', 'beach-loving', 'football-crazy', 'samba-singing' and 'carnival-parading' colorful, cheerful and playful people.

Most Brazilians who imbibe Brahma beer do not know that Brahma is the name of an Indian God. It was also true of Janderson Fernandes de Oliveira from Sao Paulo. After the age of thirty three years, Janderson has stopped drinking Brahma beer and opted for Ganga Jal (Ganges water) chanting the name of Brahma and other gods. He came to India for honeymoon but ended up embracing celibacy. He has taken to Indian spiritualism and become a Guru in the spiritual capital Rishikesh with the name Sri Prem Baba. He says, "One does not choose to become a Guru. One is chosen". He was, indeed, chosen as the successor by Hans Raj Maharajji Sachcha Baba, head of the Sachcha Dham ashram in Rishikesh in 2011. Maharajji declared," A new saint brings a new message". Prem Baba is proud to be a son of the Sachcha lineage.

Janderson visited India for the first time in 1999 with his wife for honeymoon. They travelled to many touristic and spiritual places. But the young couple got a cultural shock, like most other western tourists. The poverty, unhygienic conditions, dust, noise and crowds made India as an uncomfortable and strange world for the newly married couple. They even thought of cutting short the trip and getting back to Brazil. But someone suggested a visit to Rishikesh. While travelling from Haridwar to Rishikesh in an old Ambassador car, Janderson got a new sensation. A wave of divine love and light flooded him. Filled with an intense happiness, he began singing. He had a premonition that he was finally in the right road to fulfill the mission of his life. He had audience with Sri Hans Raj Maharajji of the Sachcha Dam ashram in Rishikesh. He realized that the old man with the white beard who had invited him to Rishikesh in his recurrent dreams since adolescence was none other than Maharajji himself.  He fell on the Indian Guru's feet and surrendered himself.  Maharajji smiled and said that he was expecting this moment. Janderson wanted to ask him many questions but the questions disappeared overcome by a profound silence and a new energy. He felt as though his search was over and had received answers to all his questions about life. After three years of learning and apprenticeship in the ashram, he reached ' self-realisation about his purpose in life', got 'illumination' and had experienced 'communion with God'.  He went to Ganges river, dipped his feet in the water, meditated and prayed. He heard Mother Ganges saying to him, "See how free I am and unattached to anything ". He felt an ecstasy again. When he went back,  Maharajji told him, ' Now you are a Guru. You are free to teach as you like" and named him Prem Baba. Just before his death in October 2011, Hans Raj Maharajji nominated Prem Baba as his successor in the line of the Sachcha ashram tradition and passed on the 'Gurumantra' to him.

Prem Baba has given a Brazilian touch to Indian spiritualism with emphasis on 'love' to resonate with his name Prem which means love. The Brazilians are curious and excited with the 'Brasileiro que virou Guru' (the Brazilian who has turned into a Guru) and who can teach the Indian wisdom through their own language and with a Brazilian perspective. In his lectures in Brazil, Prem Baba goes beyond the spiritual and refers to the political, economic, environmental and social issues and the recent crisis of Brazil. He has established two large Sachcha mission ashrams in Brazil. One is located in Nazare Paulista, a small town about 80 km from Sao Paulo city. The other one is near Alto Paraiso, 200 km from Brasilia. There are other centres in Rio de Janeiro, Fortaleza and other parts of Brazil. The Baba has many celebrity followers in Brazil. Prem Baba's rise as a Guru has taken Brazilian interest in Indian spiritualism to a new level. Thanks to him, Rishikesh is receiving more Brazilian and Latin American visitors. 

Prem Baba spends two or three months every year during winter months in India mainly in Rishikesh. In 2017, he will be there from 2 February to 15 March. His daily programme includes meditation, chanting of mantras, yoga and sat sang. Many Indians throng to Prem Baba, curious about the Brazilian way of interpreting Indian Sachcha (truth).


The Baba has gone global and joined the jet-set Guru circuit, supported by wealthy people around the world. His Awaken Love Movement and Path of the Heart Institutes have centres in fourteen countries which include US, Israel, Netherlands, Norway, Argentina and Spain.  It is a new experience for non-Brazilian foreigners to be taught Indian spiritualism through Portuguese language spoken by a Brazilian Baba. He speaks only in Portuguese and his speeches are translated into English and other languages. 

Prem Baba's teachings include 'may love awaken in everyone', 'reconnecting with yourself', 'ABC of spirituality' and 'experiencing your truth'. He has his own brand 'Path of the Heart' method of self-knowledge, in which he gives courses. He combines Indian spiritualism with western psychology. Besides explaining the mysteries of existence, he gives advice for day to day life such as how to control anger and envy, how to develop one's talents and maintain relationships. He supports the Clean Ganga project and Clean Rio Tiete ( Tiete river going through Sao paulo city also needs cleaning up) and other environmental and educational projects.

He has authored three books: 'Love and be free', ' From suffering to joy', 'purpose: the courage to be who we are'. He has a blog, twitter account, facebook page, youtube, Instagram and websites sriprembaba.org and pathheart.org. 

Janderson was born in 1965 in Sao Paulo city in a lower middle class family. Even as a child, he started having visions and profound thoughts. At the age of fourteen, he went to yoga classes where he heard Indian prayer songs in Sanskrit. He used to get dreams in which a wise old white bearded man from the Himalayas telling him,' when you reach the age of thirty three, come to India, to Rishikesh'. He took up a job as office boy in a slaughter house from the age of 14 to 19. Therafter he started a yoga school and practiced alternative therapies. In 2003, he got a degree in clinical psychology from the University of Sao Paulo. At this time he had many students and followers but still felt as though he was a blind person guiding other blind people. He had studied many spiritual schools of thought including shamanism from the Brazilian jungles but did not get the answers to his questions. When he was 33, he went through an existential crisis. In 1999, he married Mara Regina Caccia from Sao Paulo city. He changed her name to Prem Mukti Mayi and named his daughter as Nuyth Ananda. Prem Baba is now separated from his wife and is a celibate.

Brazil, the largest catholic country in the world, has several thousands of followers of Sai Baba, Art of Living, Hare Krishna, Brahma Kumaris and other major and minor Indian spiritual groups. There is an active Ramakrishna vedanta mission centre in Sao Paulo city (with branches in other parts of Brazil) which is headed by a Tamil-speaking Swami Nirmalatmananda, who gives discourses in fluent Portuguese. The Hare Krishna temple in the Novo Gokula community near Pindamonhangaba ( 150 km from Sao Paulo city towards Rio de Janeiro) has one of the most beautiful settings  in the world,  similar to the pastoral scenery depicted in the Krishna tales of India. It is located in the midst of a forest and on the side of a stream with hills around. It is a perfect spot for meditation; serene and quiet except for the sounds of water rushing through the pebbles, the chirping of birds and the rustling of the leaves in the breeze. Yoga and meditation have become mainstream activities even among young Brazilians. Ayurveda is also becoming popular in Brazil as an alternative medical treatment. Palas Atena, a reputed NGO in Sao Paulo offers courses in Indian philosophy besides propagating Gandhian thoughts and methods of non-violence. There are a few Brazilians who perform and teach Indian music and dance. There is a Catholic priest (of Indian origin) Father Joachim Andrade who dances and teaches Bharatha Natyam in Curitiba city.

Prem Baba is the first Brazilian and Latin American to become an Indian Guru. Although many Latin Americans have become teachers of Indian spiritualism, no one has reached the highest level as Sri Prem Baba who is building a fascinating bridge between the spiritual Rishikesh and the sensual Rio de Janeiro.