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Friday, June 30, 2006

COLUMN: CALDERON WOULD BE PRO-AMERICAN - BUT TO A POINT

MEXICO CITY -- If conservative governing party candidate Felipe Calderón wins Sunday's presidential elections - a big if - he may turn out to be somewhat less pro-business -- and pro-American -- than his current image suggests. The reason: Calderón has vowed to form a coalition government to break this country's congressional deadlock, which has stalled much-needed economic and political reform for a decade. If he hands over Cabinet jobs to left-of-center opposition parties, he most likely would have to make policy concessions to his outside partners. Read the full column here.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

FROM A BREAKFAST WITH MEXICO'S TOP ELECTION OFFICIAL

MEXICO CITY - Judging from what I heard over breakfast with Luis Carlos Ugalde, the head of the Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE,) the vote of the young will decide this Sunday's presidential elections. There will be 13 million new registered voters in this election, of which 12 million will be aged between 18 and 23, he said. People aged 18-34 will make up 45 percent of the 71.3 million registered voters. Ugalde said that, traditionally, only 30 percent of young voters go to the polls. Who will benefit from the young vote? Some answers in the comments section.

COLUMN: MEXICO'S LEFTIST CANDIDATE WOULD NOT BE A CHAVEZ

MEXICO CITY -- If left-of-center candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador wins Sunday's presidential election, as several polls suggest, Mexico may put a halt to its two-decade-old process of halfhearted economic reforms, and could revert to a milder version of its 20th century populist nationalism. Judging from what I heard when I interviewed him at length more than a year ago, López Obrador is not likely to join the Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia bloc of radical leftist regimes, although he would upgrade Mexico's strained relations with these countries. Read the full column here.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

MY FIRST (TOTALLY UNSCIENTIFIC) MEXICO ELECTION POLL

MEXICO CITY -- My totally unscientific survey of the first people I talked to after arriving in Mexico City last night (the taxi driver, the four employees at the hotel counter, and the hotel bus boy) shows that left-of-center former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has the best chance of winning Sunday's presidential elections. Three people told me they will vote for AMLO, and one for Felipe Calderon. My poll has a margin of error of about 100 percent. But my first impression is that if all people who say they will vote for AMLO turn out to vote Sunday -- a big if -- the election is for him to lose.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

COLUMN: FLORIDA BAN ON BOOKS AND TRAVEL WILL MOST LIKELY BACKFIRE

Just when growing numbers of international organizations are stepping up their criticism of Cuba's decades-old ban on freedom of expression, a series of thoughtless measures in Florida -- Gov. Jeb Bush's ban on funds for academic travel to Cuba, and Miami-Dade County's School Board ban on the children's book "Vamos a Cuba" -- are giving the Cuban dictatorship new ammunition to shift attention away from its medieval censorship practices. Read the full column.

Friday, June 23, 2006

U.S. SENATE HOLDS HEARING ON ENERGY SECURITY IN LATIN AMERICA

Members of the US Senate held a June 22 hearing on energy issue in Latin America. Several senators and energy experts talked about the decline of US influence in the hemisphere, the strategic importance of oil reserves and oil refineries, and the importance of a regional energy diplomacy to ensure long-term energy supplies to the U.S.A. Read more about it here.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

VENEZUELA'S ELUSIVE POVERTY FIGURES

The Center for Economic and Policy Research, a Washington D.C. think tank that often defends Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s policies, has written a letter complaining about a side-remark on Venezuela’s poverty rates I made in a March 9th column. The CEPR objects the fact that “Mr. Oppenheimer has repeatedly claimed that poverty has risen in Venezuela,” which it says is not true. I have looked into this, and you can find my preliminary conclusions in the comments section. I will write a column on this closer to Venezuela’s December elections.

COLUMN: VENEZUELA'S OIL PRODUCTION IS A BIG QUESTION MARK

Judging from an internal U.S. Southern Command report on long-term oil production in Latin America, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is unlikely to meet his promises of energy assistance to neighboring countries and could even find himself with problems to keep production up at home. Read the full column in The Miami Herald, as well as the entire response to my questions from Venezuela's Ambassador to the United States, Bernardo Alvarez, in the comments section.
See GAO draft on Venezuelan oil production here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

ANDRES OPPENHEIMER RESPONDS

On the question of how dare I question the credibility of Venezuela's National Electoral Commission (CNE,) there are good reasons to be skeptical about it. First, the studies I mentioned in the column, showing that the voting registry in the state of Zulia showed nearly 2,000 people named Gonzalez, born in the same day of the same year, who happened to register to vote on the same day in 2004. Hmmm! Then, El Nuevo Herald reported today that the national voting register includes 39,000 people aged over 100, including one Josefina Molina Lantz, who is 175 years old.

ROBERT ZOELLICK'S DEPARTURE FROM STATE DEPARTMENT IS BAD NEWS FOR LATIN AMERICA

Robert Zoellick's departure as the No. 2 highest-ranking official from the State Department to join Wall Street's Goldman Sachs is bad news for Latin America. Zoellick, a former head of the U.S. Trade Representative's Office who had negotiated trade deals with several Latin countries, was the only top-level official who - despite not speaking Spanish - could be considered a Latin America expert. Latin American newspapers are taking notice, as shown in this story in Argentina's La Nacion.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

COLUMN: GLOBALIZATION WORKS -- ON THE SOCCER FIELD

Critics of globalization should take a close look at the World Cup soccer games in Germany: They may be the best example of how an increasingly open world economy is helping emerging countries become stronger and more competitive. Small countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, Ecuador, and Ghana are doing well in the tournament, largely thanks to the fact that their team members are playing in Europe. Read the full column in The Miami Herald.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

COLUMN: VENEZUELANS SHOULD VOTE - WITH THEIR HANDS TIED

Venezuela's Dec. 3 presidential election looks increasingly flawed: Opposition leaders threaten to boycott it unless President Hugo Chávez allows some minimal fairness guarantees. If the rules of the game are not equitable, anti-Chavez voters should go to the polls with their hands tied, and turn the occasion into an international propaganda victory. Read the full column in The Miami Herald.

Monday, June 12, 2006

ALAN GARCIA ON CHAVEZ'S ''AUTHORITARIAN'' MODEL, AND ON FREE TRADE WITH U.S.

Read the full transcript of the interview Peru's president-elect Alan Garcia gave me at his office in Lima on June 8th. The interview was conducted in Spanish.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

COLUMN: IN AN INTERVIEW, PERU'S ALAN GARCIA TELLS ME HE WILL SUPPORT FREE TRADE

LIMA, Peru -- Judging from what President-elect Alan García told me in a one-hour interview last week, he will not be the radical leftist populist he was during his first term in the late '80s: On the contrary, he says he wants to go ahead with a free-trade deal with the United States and follow Chile's example in actively seeking new investments. Read the column. I will post the Spanish-language transcript of the interview separately.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

COLUMN: WILL ECUADOR JOIN THE VENEZUELA-CUBA-BOLIVIA "PEOPLE'S TRADE AGREEMENT"?

GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador -- When I interviewed President Alfredo Palacio earlier this week, the big question in this country was whether Ecuador would move toward Venezuelan radical leftist leader Hugo Chávez's camp. Ecuador's relations with Washington have nose-dived in recent weeks, and Chávez has invited Ecuador to join a ''People's Trade Agreement'' recently signed by Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia. Read the full column on my interview with Palacio here.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

U.S. PRESENCE - OR ABSENCE - AT OAS MEETING WILL SURELY BE NOTICED

Despite repeated claims by the Bush Administration that the 34-country Organization of American States is a top priority, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is not planning to attend this week's OAS annual meeting of foreign ministers in the Dominican Republic. She's too busy with Iran, U.S. officials say. Tom Shannon, head of Western Hemisphere affairs at the State Department, may not attend either, because of his son's high-school graduation. The U.S. will be represented by Assistant Secretary of State Bob Zoellick. He's highly respected in the region since his days as trade negotiator, but Rice and (if he doesn't attend) Shannon's absences will not go unnoticed at the meeting.

COLUMN: LATIN AMERICA'S ECONOMY PROJECTED TO SLOW DOWN IN 2007

The party is coming to an end. After three years of healthy economic growth, Latin American economies -- including Venezuela and Argentina -- will start losing steam in 2007, according to new projections from the World Bank, the United Nations and Wall Street economists. The new figures seem to confirm what many have long suspected: Latin America's recent export-led growth was largely due to external factors -- such as high commodity prices, low interest rates and a growing world economy -- and that this environment would not last forever. Read the full column in The Miami Herald.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

COLUMN: THE DANGER OF URIBE'S LANDSLIDE VICTORY

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the biggest threat to U.S.-backed Colombian President Alvaro Uribe following his landslide reelection Sunday will not be his country's Marxist guerrillas but the temptation to seek a third term in office. Uribe, who was reelected by a 40-point margin over his closest rival, will control nearly 80 percent of Congress. He will have a hard time resisting claims by his most fervent followers that he is ''el hombre indispensable'' (the indispensable man) to get Colombia out of its historic quagmire. Read the full column in The Miami Herald.