Thursday, November 14, 2019

The rise and fall of Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia

Evo Morales was elected as the first ever native Indian President of Bolivia in 2006. He is from the indigenous Aymara community. Despite forming 60% of the population, the indigenous were kept away from political and economic power for the last five hundred years by the minority white elite who are less than 15% of the country. So it was a historic turning point in Bolivia. Morales donned the red tunic of indigenous priests and addressed Bolivians from an ancient temple in Tiwanaku, promising to roll back five centuries of discrimination and colonization.

Obviously, the first priority of President Morales was to uplift the Indians from poverty and empower them politically. He changed the constituition of the country in 2009. He cried as he unveiled the new constitution that was inclusive of the indigenous and poor: “Here begins the new Bolivia,” he said. This was also an inspiration for the forty million indigenous people of Latin America who remain mostly poor and marginalized.

Morales was elected with 64% votes in 2009 under the new constitution. He was reelected in 2014  with over 60% of the votes as against his rival’s 25%. His party Movement for Socialism (MAS) got more than two thirds majority in the Congress in 2014

Morales was in power for the last fourteen years. This was an unprecedented long period of political stability in Bolivia which had seen many coups in the past. Before Morales came to power in 2006, there were five presidents in five years. Bolivia has never had such a long period of political stability and economic growth as it has experienced under President Morales.

With his socialist agenda, Morales reduced poverty and brought millions of people into middle class. Bolivia was the most successful in Latin America in poverty reduction. The per capita income of the people tripled to over 3300 dollars in 2018. He built schools, hospitals and infrastructure in the indigenous areas.

He nationalized the oil and gas and other sectors from which he increased state revenue. He got better price for the gas exported to Brazil and he even fought with his idol President Lula for higher prices. The increased revenue was ploughed into welfare projects.

Although he uses radical leftist rhetoric, Morales had managed the economy prudently and pragmatically. He had financed his pro-poor programmes with the increase in revenue from exports, taxes and better financial management. He had ensured fiscal surplus every year since 2006. The GDP of Bolivia has grown an average of five percent during his long 14 years of rule. Bolivia used to have hyper inflation in five digits. He succeesfully tamed the inflation and brought it in single digit. He also stabilized the currency, which had seen devaluation of several thousand percent in the past. He brought down external debt to manageable levels. 

Morales lead a simple and austere life without any personal ostentation. He was free from corruption and did not acquire personal wealth or indulge in any luxuries. He continued as a bachelor and dedicated most of his time for the country, except for his indulgence in playing football and occasional girlfriends. 

Morales was born in a poor peasant family which was growing coca leaves. He came to political limelight as a trade union leader of the coca leaf growers and organizer of protests against the neoliberal policies of the governments which private water and utilities increasing the cost of living for the poor. 
After having been in power for such a long period of 14 years, Morales should have stood down in the 2019 elections, as mandated by the term limit imposed by his own new constituition. This would have safeguarded his great legacy of achievements as the first indigenous president who transformed the country.

But power went to his head and Morales started believing that he was indispensable. He did not groom a successor. He held a referendum in 2016 seeking approval for another term. This was rejected by the people. But he went to the constituitional court and got from friendly judges a verdict approving his reelection, on the spurious ground of his personal human rights. This shocked his own supporters, besides alerting the opposition.

Morales made his worst mistake by indulging in manipulation of the results of 20 October elections. The live counting and telecast was shut down abrupty and mysteriously for almost 24 hours, when the margin between Morales and his nearest rival Carlos Mesa was narrowing. The next day, counting was resumed and it was announced that Morales won with more than ten percent difference in votes. This was a plain fraud. When the opposition and external election observers questioned, Morales agreed to an audit and later to holding a new election. But it was too late. Seeing the best opportunity to bring down Morales, the opposition resorted to protests and clashed with his supporters. The military and police took the side of the protestors and turned against him. Fearing for his personal safety, he took the offer of Mexico for asylum and left the country. 

Many Leftist leaders and countries have expressed moral support for Morales and described his exit as the result of a coup and right wing conspiracy against the Left. It is true that the military had asked him to step down. But this was done at the very last stage when Morales had already dug his own grave. It was not a simple one time mistake. Morales had been making deliberate mistakes one after another since the failure of his Referendum in 2016 to unlawfully extend his term and undermine democracy. This is unpardonable.

Morales deserved a better end after such a glorious legacy. But he is the one responsible for his fate with hundred percent responsibility. Morales failed to obey the rules of democracy, which gave him the opportunity to come to power in the first place. He should have respected the constituitional term limit and left after his term as most Presidents do it routinely in Latin America. Morales thought he could also get away with his crime like President Maduro, late President Chavez and President Ortega of Nicaragua who have vitiated democracy by perpetuating their regimes. 

This is not the end for Bolivia, which has seen many bigger political and economic crisis before Morales. 36 of the 83 governments in the past had lasted a year or less. The country can move on by holding the next elections and choosing another leader. The economy of the country is in fairly good shape. Although Morales failed to groom a successor, he has empowered the masses and inspired them with the message that they could use their democratic power to elect and change governments to make the country better. There are a number of young grass root indigenous leaders who could emerge in the future, like Morales.

Morales should have remembered the fate of the Great Liberator, Simon Bolivar, after whom Bolivia has been named. The Liberator had paid the same price like Morales and was sent into exile when he started putting himself above democracy. 

The article was published in Financial Express on 14 November

Friday, November 08, 2019

Brazil’s credentials as a credible major power, beyond Bolsonaro

 President Bolsonaro is hosting on 13-14 November, the summit of BRICS, a non-western group, which challenges, in principle, the world order dominated by US and its allies. 
This is the second time Brazil is hosting this summit. But the Brazil of today is much different from what it was when the last BRICS summit was held in Brazil in 2014. Bolsonaro, the current President has upended the traditional foreign policy and global profile of the country with his radical right wing personal beliefs and prejudices as well as polarizing rhetoric. This was demonstrated yesterday when Brazil voted against the UN General Assembly resolution condemning the US embargo on Cuba. Going against 187 members of the UN who supported the resolution and joining US ( besides Israel) is unprecedented and shocking even for Brazilians besides the outsiders. 

Naturally, there are lot of question marks about the credentials and credibility of Brazil as a major power. How will the pro-western and Trump-admiring Bolsonaro ( called as Tropical Trump) fit in BRICS? Will he be passive player or will he try to subvert the group from within? Is this a passing and forgettable phase in Brazil’s history?  Is Brazil’s foreign policy embarking on permanent changes? To answer these, one should examine the nature and contents of Brazil’s power package and its long term potential in comparison to the other major powers, both actual and the aspiring.

Brazil has been acknowledged as a "future power" because of its inherent strength and potential. The critics, of course, joke that it has managed to remain and will always continue to be only as a "future" power. Expectations raised during economic booms had crashed during cyclical busts and disruption of democracy by dictatorships in the past. The Brazilians had finally thought that they had "arrived" during the euphoric years of the Presidency of Lula in the period 2003-11. But post-Lula there is nothing but disappointment and disillusion. 

Golden years of Lula

Brazil's global profile reached unprecedented new heights during the Presidency of Lula who pursued proactive and visionary foreign policies. During Lula's term, the economy had high growth and at the same time poverty and inequality were reduced with successful Inclusive Development policies. The country had discovered enormous pre-salt oil reserves and was already a global pioneer in the use of sugar cane ethanol as fuel. In 2010, Petrobras raised  an unprecedented amount of 70 billion dollars through global IPO. President Lula was ecstatic when he said ¨It wasn’t in London, it wasn’t in New York, it was in our Sao Paulo exchange that we carried out the biggest capitalization in the history of capitalism,”.  Petrobras overtook Walmart and Microsoft to become the fourth largest company in the world in terms of market value. 

President Lula took initiatives in the formation of regional groups such as UNASUR and CELAC as part of its regional leadership role besides strengthening Mercosur.  Brazil took over command of the delicate Chapter Seven UN Peacekeeping mission in Haiti in 2004 and spent over a billion dollars in humanitarian assistance and other expenditure. It co-founded IBSA alliance with India and South Africa in which the three aspiring democratic powers from the three continents agreed to work on common agenda. Brazil had joined India, Germany and Japan in the campaign for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. Brazil was active in BRICS alliance. President Lula had even dared  to mediate in the Iranian crisis. Brazil was an active player, mover and shaker in UN and multilateral fora. There was a new confidence and optimism with which Brazil sought its place among the global powers.

Unfortunately, the Car Wash and other corruption scandals have discredited political and business leaders many of whom including Lula are in jail now. The Brazilian economy has slowed down from the " go go" growth period  to the " so so " slow performance these days. The GDP growth has declined to less than one percent in 2018. 

Disruptive and uncertain foreign policy of Bolsonaro
President Bolsonaro has shaken the confidence of the world in Brazil with his extremist and disruptive ideological fights. He is an anti-globalist and considers climate change as a Marxist Cultural Plot. He is a fierce anti-socialist both within and outside Brazil. He has refused to congratulate the leftist Argentine president-elect Alberto Fernandez and is boycotting his inauguration ceremony. This is a serious breach of the post-dictatorship tradition of Brazil-Argentina strategic partnership of the last four decades. Bolsonaro is threatening to disintegrate Mercosur, which has been the main framework of Brazil’s regional integration. His statements on Amazon and climate change has disconcerted the Europeans. He wants to align the foreign policy of Brazil to that of US and seeks closer links with right wing leaders of Israel, Hungary, Poland and Italy. He is influenced by ultra conservative gurus like Steve Bannon and Olavo de Carvalho. 

Ernesto Araujo, Bolsonaro’s foreign minister  and a career diplomat, is even more obscurantist and anachronistic. He is unpopular among his colleagues in Itamaraty, the foreign office.

But the good news is that there are sufficient sensible and pragmatic forces within the administration which have the power to restrain Bolsonaro’s adventurous streaks. The military faction, the neo liberalistic economists and trade lobbies along with the professional diplomats have succeeded in containing damages and changing the direction and discourse of Bolsonaro in some cases. He wanted to shift the Brazilian embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, favoured US military intervention in Venezuela and started off with a strong anti-China stand. But the pragmatists have prevailed on these issues. In October third week President Bolsonaro made a state visit and made the right statements. 

The presidency of Bolsonaro is a passing phase. Bolsonaro is an accidental president who was a beneficiary of the wave of public anger at the Car Wash scandal and the excesses and corruption of the established political leadership. He does not have a large political party nor any positive and consistent political agenda. He has been in nine different political parties in twenty years. None of these is a serious mainstream party. He belongs to a minority fringe group with extremist beliefs not accepted by most Brazilians. He is not an incorrupt angel either. He, his three politician sons and his political party have been accused of corruption and abuse of power. He has not taken any major constructive long term policy initiatives for poverty alleviation, infrastructure development, education, healthcare and other fundamental issues of the country. He does not have a positive, constructive and unfying vision for the country. He plays to his fringe audience just as Trump does going against the feelings of the majority. Brazil will certainly bounce back from the Bolsonaro aberration and become a normal country again after the next elections. 

In the long term, Brazil continues to enjoy many distinct advantages and stronger fundamentals in comparison to the existing global powers as well as the other emerging powers. 

Superpower in soft power

Among the major powers, both existing and aspiring, Brazil  stands out distinctly as a “super power in soft power”. Brazil is the most adorable and attractive, cheerful and colourful, charming and romantic country.

One has only to listen to the song “ Tall and tan, 
                                                                and young and lovely
                                                                the girl from Ipanema goes walking…”

How can one resist this soft power? When the name of Brazil is mentioned it triggers a feeling of “Alegria” (joy), happiness, carnival, bossa nova, Copacabana and Ipanema.

In contrast, 
-US evokes anger with its image of “Uncle Sam”- the Big Bully messing up the world.
-Russia as a Big Bear-carnivorous and hungry, gives rise to fear
-China as a Dragon, breathing fire and making the world afraid and suspicious
-UK and France, the old, tired and stuck in the past imperial glory, evokes disgust
-Germany and Japan, the guilt- ridden, pitiful
-India ‘the big elephant’ moving slowly with its argumentative Indians

Brazil evokes peaceful, positive, pleasant and friendly feelings.

Super power of peace

Some powers such as Germany, Japan, US, UK, France, China and USSR have caused massive death and misery with their  wars. For US, war is business. Very big business for the military-industry complex. The US tries to dominate by dividing the world, creating conflicts and selling arms. The US has invented wars such as the war on communism, war on drugs, war on terrorism and the war for regime change.
Brazil is an authentic ‘ power for peace’ anchored in solid foundation and strong fundamentals of peace, as evident from the following:

-Brazil is the only major power which has not had a war in the last 150 years. This means that Brazil does not have the hubris and hang over of the victors or the grudge and rancor of the vanquished. 

-The Brazilian armed forces have a unique and enviable challenge in their military doctrine. They cannot find any enemy countries to target against, in their military strategy. So they focus on perceived vulnerabilities of the country.

- Brazil is not considered as an enemy by any country or neighbor. Even Argentina looks upon Brazil only as a football rival and at worst tries to put obstacles for Brazil’s ambition to become a  permanent member of the UN Security Council. The Argentine agenda against Brazil does not go beyond these. Thanks to Mercosur, Argentina is fully integrated with Brazil in trade, industry and economy. Today, Argentina exports more to Brazil than to US and China combined together. Brazil has avoided a potential arms race and nuclear rivalry with Argentina through open and transparent defense cooperation and joint projects. 

-Despite having border with ten out of the twelve South American countries, Brazil does not have any territorial disputes with neighbours. They do not face a hostile or unstable neighborhood like what India is burdened with. China and Japan too face threats from neighbourhood.

-Brazil is lucky that it is very far from the global hotspots of conflicts and instability. The region is free from nuclear arms, terrorism and threat of wars unlike in some parts of Asia, Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe.
-Brazil is free from the curse of terrorism. It did not experience a 9/11 or attack on parliament or subway or Marathon. So the country is free from the paranoid mindset of countries such as US, UK, France, Russia, China and India who are victims of terrorism and continue to live in fear of possibilities of terror strikes in the future.

-While Washington DC waged a war against Osama Bin Laden, Rio de Janeiro runs a bar in his name “ Bin Laden Bar”. With his long flowing beard, Araujo, the owner looks like Bin Laden and serves liquor to clients saying “Cheers”.

-Brazil does not face any domestic conflicts or separatist movements arising from religious, ethnic, linguistic divisions. It has one religion and one language.  It has no extremist fundamentalist groups which threaten most of the other major powers.
Food and energy security

Some powers such as  China, India, Japan and Germany face challenges arising from food and energy security concerns and their dependence on imports. But Brazil is not only self sufficient but also has surplus for exports.

Brazil is an agricultural super power. It is the world´s largest exporter of beef, chicken, sugar, soya, orange juice and coffee besides being a significant exporter of soya, maize, cotton, tobacco, bananas, pork and ethanol.  Brazil can increase production and exports and feed several hundred more million people of the world. It has lot of surplus land which could be brought under agriculture without touching Amazon. The Brazilian climate and regional variations make it possible to grow 2-3 crops throughout the year. The country is blessed with abundant ( 20% of global fresh water reserves) water resources. The rainfall is reasonable and most of the agriculture is rain-fed unlike India which depends on irrigation and pumping of ground water. Both China and India have long term water problems. With Embrapa’s advanced research and development, Brazil has brought under cultivation millions of hectares of arid land in Matto Grosso. 

Brazil has emerged as a global player in energy. Like India, Brazil was dependent upon crude oil imports in the seventies. Today India is even more dependent on imports while Brazil has become a net exporter. In 2018, crude oil was the second largest item of exports of Brazil, which has the capacity to produce 5 million barrels per day. The credit goes to Petrobras’s innovative competence in deep sea drilling and production technology with which pre-salt reserves have been discovered. 

Brazil gets nearly two thirds of its electricity from hydro electric projects. Itaipu alone has capacity to generate 14000 MW. There is scope to produce even more hydroelectric power. 

Brazil is a pioneer and global leader in the use of sugar cane ethanol as fuelWith the use of ethanol, Brazil has cut down petrol use by fifty percent and has also reduced pollution. Most of the new vehicles in Brazil have flexifuel engines. Brazil is working with US and a number of Latin American countries to  standardize fuel ethanol production, use and trading globally. Sugar cane ethanol is more fuel efficient and environment-friendly than the corn ethanol used in US. 
Big and Blessed Brazil
Brazil is the fifth biggest country in area and population and the seventh largest economy in the world.  It has a large, diverse and strong base of agriculture, manufacturing, mineral wealth, services and exports. Its survival is not dependent upon any single commodity or just exports. 

Brazil has the world's largest forest cover in Amazon, which contributes twenty percent of earth´s oxygen and has become the lungs of our planet. 

It has abundant mineral wealth and has large reserves of minerals such as iron ore, tin , copper, bauxite, manganese and gold.

Brazil enjoys a moderate and agreeable climate and does not suffer from extreme heat or cold. It has some of the best beaches in the world. 

More importantly, Brazil is not prone to extreme natural calamities such as earthquakes, cyclones, tornados, volcanoes or typhoons. 

Brazilian spirit
Brazilians are so much attached to the Brazilian way of life and feel so self-reliant and confident that they stay in Brazil itself. On the other hand, India and China suffer from Brain Drain since many scientists and high-tech experts emigrate to US and other developed countries for better professional prospects.

Brazil is a country of predominantly young population and does not have the problems of ageing  and decline in skilled human resources faced by countries such as Germany and Japan.

With their blend of "coffee with milk" ( café con leite) complexion and free mix of people of European, African ( the largest outside Africa), Japanese( the largest outside Japan) and Arab origin, Brazil is a true melting pot. The Brazilians mix easily with people around the world and get along happily. 

Some major powers are weighed down by their historical baggage and long traditions. But the Brazilians never look back. They are forward looking and open in their outlook.

Truly Independent foreign policy

China is allergic to D word (democracy), F word (Freedom) and H word ( Human Rights). India is alert for the K word (Kashmir) and is wary of S word ( self determination). But Brazil has no such allergies.

US will never have a neutral policy towards Middle East since the powerful Jewish lobby has taken away policy-making from the State Department. The Cuban emigres have hijacked the US policy towards Cuba. India’s policy towards the Gulf will always have to take into account its large Muslim population. But Brazil does not have such domestic lobbies.

The five Permanent members of the UN Security Council use the United Nations to protect and promote their interests and those of their friends and punish their adversaries. So their policies are always agenda-driven and rarely objective. But Brazil is truly neutral and objective.

Brazil has one of the best diplomatic services in the world, admired and respected for its professionalism and commitment. The Brazilian diplomats in UN, WTO and multilateral fora are known for their proactive, positive and constructive roles. They are seen as bridge builders who inspire confidence and trust to all sides in negotiations. They are different from the aggressive  agenda-pushing and polarizing diplomats of the P-5 in UN Security Council. 

The Brazilians fit naturally with the black Africans and the blonde Europeans. They have the largest African population outside Africa. Political and economic power is wielded by the descendants of European settlers, who are rooted in western values. So the Brazilians feel at home on both sides. They also get along culturally with US which has similar history and forward-looking nature. This fact gives comfort to the western powers who see India, China and Japan whose cultures, histories and mindset are totally different from the western ones.

Brazil has one of the highest wealth disparities in the world with acute poverty and rich people. With this, Brazil qualifies in both the camps of South and North. It fights on both sides. 
As part of the developing world Brazil pursues South-South cooperation and solidarity. As an emerging power, it seeks change in the status quo of the global political and economic power equations. It resents the unilateralism of US and the domination of the western powers. But at the same time it seeks OECD membership, the club of the rich world.
With these unique strengths and credentials  as well as the least constraints on foreign policy, Brazil has the freedom to judge international issues based on pure merit and deal with them objectively. 


Brazil’s long term challenges include poverty, inequality, insecurity, drug trafficking, corruption, infrastructure, health care and education. But the problems of Brazil are solvable in the medium term unlike some of the serious long term developmental problems of huge magnitude faced by India and China. India has the most challenging problem of providing food, education, healthcare and infrastructure for the 15 million additional population every year. Most of India's energy is wasted in firefighting on the day to day issues of conflicts between communities and other such problems arising from the vast diversity of the country with so many languages, religions and castes. Besides the large population, China has an even more fundamental problem on democracy. No one has a clue as to how China is going to come out of its communist dictatorship and become a normal democracy and be part of the contemporary civilized world.

Although race is not an issue in Brazil, it is a fact that most of the poor, less educated and most disadvantaged in Brazil are the Afro-Brazilians. There are very few blacks who are cabinet ministers, business leaders, civil servants or diplomats. The Afro-Brazilians are invariably in the role of domestic servants in the stories of most Brazilian 
TV soap operas. Only now some universities have started affirmative action programmes. But Brazil does not face any major racial tension or issues unlike in the case of US. 

The Brazilians are aware that economic strength alone will not get UNSC permanent membership as Germany and Japan have found out. The Permanent members of the UNSC who are all nuclear powers, have respect only for the hard power. Brazil regrets having signed away its nuclear power status option, although they do not admit it publicly. But it is too late now to change. The Brazilians put on their best smile on the subject joking that if they have a nuclear bomb they would not know against whom to throw it.

Brazil is misaligned with the world by its protectionist and introverted trade policies while most other economic powers are forming, expanding and joining ever more alliances and signing FTAs. The Pacific Alliance shines as an open, dynamic and forward looking trade group in contrast to the inward looking Mercosur struggling with many internal issues. The Mercosur-EU FTA concluded recently risks being torpedoed by Bolsonaro’s climate change policy and his personal attack on President Macron and his wife. 

Brazil has a poor record in development assistance in comparison to other powers. Conscious of this past negligence, President Lula had started providing technical, financial and developmental assistance to the less developed countries especially in Africa. He had written off the debts owed  by some poor countries. He opened more embassies in Africa and provided technical assistance for agricultural development in some countries. But these initiatives have been frozen or reversed by the Bolsonaro government.

The only external challenge to the rise of Brazil as a global power is United States, which does not want a hemispheric rival. The US will not forget how its proposal for a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was killed by President Lula along with Chavez and Kirchner at the Mar del Plata Summit of the Americas in 2005. The US did not like the efforts of Lula to restore President Manuel Zelaya after the latter was overthrown in a US-supported coup in 2009. The US was against President Lula’s efforts for integration of Latin America to make it as a collectively strong entity and resist external intervention. 
Brazil as a global strategic partner of India 
India perceives Brazil as a peaceful and benign power, without past sins or future threats. It appreciates Brazil’s open and pragmatic approach in a non-prescriptive and non-polarising way and its firm belief in a multipolar world and multilateralism. It believes that Brazil could make the UN better and the world safer as a global power and permanent member of the UN Security Council. Both India and Brazil have common worldview and aspirations and face similar challenges. Over the years, India and Brazil have built up rapport in working together in many global fora and multilateral negotiations. They had taken initiatives for UNSC reforms and presented their candidatures to permanent membership along with Germany and Japan.

The Brazil-India strategic partnership flourished during the presidency of Lula, who attached special importance to India. Pity, Lula is no longer the President. Modi and Lula would have formed an unbeatable Dream Team with their global vision and assertive and proactive approaches.  

Brazil used to be the top trading partner of India in Latin America. No longer. Mexico has overtaken Brazil. India’s trade with Brazil in 2018-10 was 8.2 billion dollars of which exports were 3.8 bn and imports 4.4 bn. India’s investment in Brazil is about three billion dollars while Brazilian investment is under 200 million dollars.

India is still committed to its "strategic partnership" with Brazil.  But India is not sure of reciprocity on the part of President Bolsonaro. It seems that India is not in his priorities. But there is some hope that he could change as he has done in the case of China. After his anti-China statements and visit to Taiwan, he has now come around to accept the reality of the importance of China for Brazil under pressure from Brazil’s agribusiness and exporters lobbies. He made a state visit to China in October and made the right statements. It is after seeing this positive Chinese experience that India is said to be inviting Bolsonaro to be the chief guest at the 2020 Republic Day. In any case, India believes in a long term partnership with Brazil as a country, beyond Bolsonaro.

The Wire magazine published an edited version of this

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Left is back in power again in Argentina

The Left is back in power again in Argentina

In the Argentine elections held yesterday, the Leftist Fernandez has beaten the Rightist Macri, the posterboy of Neoliberalism. 

Alberto Fernandez of the Peronist party is the new President. He is a moderate and pragmatic leftist. He believes in dialogue and negotiated solutions. Much different from his Vice President-elect Cristina Kirchner who is ideologically rigid, polarizing and confrontational. But Alberto does not have a charisma of his own and he could not have won without the support of the hardcore Peronists. So he knows the central line he has to follow carefully.

Ex-president Cristina Fernandez and now in her new avtar as Vice President will enjoy Congressional immunity from the many corruption prosecutions against her. While her charismatic Evita-like ego needs to be massaged by Alberto, she is conscious that she could not have won the election on her own. She was the culprit who ruined the economy in her second term for which Peronism was defeated in 2015.

It is not a landslide win for Peronism. Macri managed to get 40% votes as against the 48% of Fernandez. Macri’s party has won with a solid 55% votes and retained Mayorship of Buenos Aires city. Macri himself was a mayor for two terms and the city is under the administration of Macri’s party continuously since 2007.

In the Congressional elections for the Lower House, Peronists have won 120 seats as against the 119 of Macri's party. The Peronists need outside support to pass legislation since 129 votes are needed for majority in the House of 257. In the Senate Peronists have managed to get a simple majority with 37 seats out of a total of 72, while Macri's party has got 29.  The strength of the opposition in the Congress means that Peronists cannot impose their agenda. They would need the support of other parties. 

Argentina will need all the skills of Alberto to face the massive challenges of the 57 billion dollar IMF debt, high inflation, interest rates and currency depreciation, besides poverty and other basic developmental issues. It is not going to be easy. Argentina will have to go through acute pain in the coming months and the next couple of years. The internal pain will be made more acute by the Washington-Wall Street Financial mafia and the vulture funds who will try to take their pound of flesh and bleed Argentina. Fernandez would need the courage and craziness of his former boss Nestor Kirchner who restructured the debt successfully on his own with his unbelievable offer of 30 cents to a dollar. Having been involved in Kirchner’s extraordinary manoeuvers as his chief of staff in 2002, Fernandez knows very well the challenges and the tricks.

The election result is not a surprise. Macri knew what was coming in the last one year. Poverty and inflation had increased in his term and the economy was moving inexorably towards crisis. He could not stop them. But it is not his personal fault. He is sensible and reasonable. It is a systemic flaw. He followed Neoliberalism and kept full faith in the Free Market. But these have no solutions for poverty and underdevelopment. 

Macri’s fellow neoliberal President Pinera of Chile has just been taught a lesson and humbled by the protests in the last week. Pinera has sought forgiveness from those neglected by his free market policies. 

Pity, the Latin American neoliberalists have forgotten the lesson of the eighties when the Washington Consensus resulted in increase of poverty and inequality and the “Lost Decade” for the region.

The leftist coalition candidate has won the maximum number of votes in the Presidential elections in Uruguay held yesterday. It is a reward for the moderate and pragmatic policies of the Left which has been in power continuously in the last two decades.

Also in Bogota, a centre-left Claudia Lopez, who is openly  gay, got elected as mayor in the elections held yesterday.

It is important to note that Left had also made mistakes and lost power to the right in the previous elections in Brazil, Chile and Peru. Chavez and Maduro have ruined Venezuela in the name of socialism. Ortega has perverted democracy in Nicaragua. Morales has created uncertainty for Bolivia. 

Socialism is not a 100% cure either. It inhibits creation of wealth and jobs by private sector. Not only that. The Leftists need moderation and balance. They need to be flexible and have to adopt themselves to the reality in each country.

The victory of the Argentine Left is a challenge to President Bolsonaro who has Peronists in his hatred list. He had made strong statements against them during his visit to Argentina. Bolsonaro had even hinted about possible withdrawal from Mercosur, if the Peronists came to power. Alberto Fernandez greeted ex-President Lula on his birthday yesterday and mentioned that his extraordinary friend has been put in jail unjustly. He has called for the release of Lula. This is red rag to the Bolsonaro bull. Predictably, Bolsonaro has said that the Argentine voters had chosen wrongly and that he would not send congratulatory message to Alberto Fernandez. He described Fernandez's call for release of Lula as an affront to Brazilian justice system. Brazilian Foreign Minister Araujo went further and said "Argentina’s new leaders would usher in an era of “retrograde” economic policies and support for dictatorships. The indications are the worst possible … The forces of evil are celebrating,”

Fernandez had earlier called Bolsonaro as a racist, misogynist and a violent person who favours tortures. But Fernandez needs to be careful with Brazil, the most important trade partner for Argentina. Trade with Brazil is more than the combined trade with China and US. The Argentine industry and economy are deeply integrated with Brazil in the framework of Mercosur.

The election results of Argentina, Uruguay and Bogota are a moral boost for the region’s Left and especially to Presidents Maduro and Morales who remain isolated. In the next elections in Brazil and Chile, the Left has a chance to come back. Mexico has already elected the Lefist Lopez Obrador as President in 2018.

Those right wing pundits, who wrote obituaries of the Left and cheered the return of the Right, need to reexamine the new reality of Latin America which needs centrist solutions. The developing countries including Latin America need a balanced mix of pro-poor and business-friendly policies as practiced by Lula. This mix is called as Lulaism or Brasilia Consensus

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Bolsonaro, the arsonist, is more dangerous than the Amazon fire

Global media, leaders and celebrities have expressed concern on the burning of the Amazon these days. Brazilian President Bolsonaro has responded to these concerns with his characteristic  casual and crude reaction. He has shocked the world with his typically vulgar comments on French President Macron’s wife. 

Brazilian ranchers have always tried to illegally gain more land for agriculture and cattle and resort to burning of forests during dry season. The previous governments had kept this under check to some extent. But Bolsonaro reduced the powers of the authorities for environment, forests and indigenous people and loosened the regulations. This has given the green signal to the ranchers to act with more impunity and fueled the Amazon fires. 

Bolsonaro is a climate denier and blind follower of his role model Trump on this and many other issues. His mindset is too petty to understand or care about the larger interests of Brazil and those of the world. His foreign minister Ernesto Araujo, a pseudo intellectual, has called climate change as a “ cultural Marxist plot”. He claims that climate science is merely  a dogma which has been used to justify increasing the regulatory power of states over the economy and the power of international institutions on the nation states and their populations.

The only thing Bolsonaro understands is what the illegal ranchers tell him in his own crude language. Amazon is ours and we can do what we like. Bolsonaro is against the reservation of land for indigenous communities and protection given to them. In a meeting he held with the governors of Amazonian provinces this week, he did not talk about any strategy to put out the fire. He asked why is 14% of Brazil’s land reserved for the indigenous communities? He probably feels that it was a historical mistake not to have completely eliminated the indigenous tribes. But he was forthright on the issue of killing of leftists by the military dictatorship. He said, “ we should have killed more of them”. Recently when the president of the Bar Council of Brazil criticized some policies of the government, Bolsonaro said,” Do you want to know how your father was killed. Ask me. I know”. The father of the Bar Council President was kidnapped, tortured and killed by the dictatorship. 
Bolsonaro is incapable of understanding the larger implications of his irresponsible policies and statements for the country. The Brazilian agricultural product exporters are worried by the negative image and potential adverse consequences being created by Bolsonaro’s foolishness. The Agriculture Minister is trying her best to put out the fires caused by Bolsonaro and is going around Europe giving assurances.

Brazil, one of the top agroexporters in the world, is dependent on exports for revenue. China is the largest market for Brazilian agro exports. But Bolsonaro visited Taiwan during his election campaign to show off his anti-Chinese bravery. He did not care about the fact that China is the largest market accounting for 63 billion dollars of Brazilian global exports. This is more than double of the exports of 29 billion dollars to USA.  Later, the vice president of the country had to go to Beijing to put out the fire damage caused by Bolsonaro. 

It may be noted here that Brazil already has enough agricultural land to feed not only the 210 million Brazilians but another five hundred million outsiders. So there is no need to produce more food or seek more land for agriculture. 

Brazil is the largest soybean producer in the world with 123 millions harvested last year. But the Brazilians do not eat the soy beans, despite the fact that it is the lowest cost ( per acre) protein. They export it exclusively to China, the only country which benefits from more Brazilian soy production. In 2018, Brazil exported 33 billion dollars of soybean and 13 billion dollars of meat. 

Bolsonaro is now setting fire to Mercosur, the regional group. He has already started viciously attacking Cristina Fernandez and her Peronist  candidate who are expected to come back to power beating the centre-right Macri in the October 2019 elections. This will likely kill Mercosur, which was established by the visionary leaders of South America in the nineties.

Sensible Brazilians are ashamed and see Bolsonaro as an aberration and curse put in the presidential palace after the judicial and legislative coups in which President Dilma was impeached and Lula was put in jail to prevent his contesting the elections. They perceive him as an insult to Brazilian intelligence, decency and culture. They see him as unprepared, unfit and and unwilling to learn to govern the great country with his small mind. In his inaugural speech, he vowed to liberate Brazil from socialism and political correctness. His anti-affirmative action and racist views are a set back for the large poor and marginalised black population of over 80 million out of the total of 210 million. He told a fellow Congress woman that he would not rape her since she was too ugly.

Bolsonaro’s foreign minister is even more obscurantist and anachronistic. Araújo states that his goal is to “help Brazil and the world liberate themselves from globalist ideology”, which he sees as “anti-Christian and anti-human beings”. He claims that the ultimate aim of globalization is to break the link between God and man. He quotes Biblical texts extensively to support his divine views including about Brazil’s place in the Western world in international affairs. Araujo believes that theophobia is a bigger problem than xenophobia.

Bolsonaro’s reaction to the European concerns on Amazon has put in jeopardy the Mercosur-European Union Free Trade Agreement concluded recently after twenty years of negotiations. President Macron has threatened to block its ratification unless Brazil accepts responsibility for climate change. 

The Amazon fire is limited only to the jungle area. But the Bolsonaro fire is destroying the fabric of the country and its essence. 

The forest fire can be put out in a few weeks. But the damage being caused by Bolsonaro to Brazil is going to hurt the country more profoundly.

Given his incendiary provocations, destructive attitude, capacity and track record in harming the internal strength and external relations and image of Brazil, one should expect only more fires in the coming years from Bolsonaro. 

Brazil and the world should be more worried by Bolsonaro the arsonist than the physical fire raging in Amazon. 

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.