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Sunday, July 30, 2006

COLUMN: CHINA-LATIN AMERICA TRADE IS BEGINNING TO FAVOR CHINA

When I visited China last year, I came back with the impression that the Chinese will soon switch from exporting T-shirts and toys to more sophisticated products, such as cars and trucks. Well, it's already happening in Latin America, and it will have a big -- not necessarily good -- impact on the region. Last week, the Dow Jones wire reported that two Chinese car makers have begun selling vehicles in Venezuela. And the news coincided with new trade figures showing that the China-Latin America trade balance is beginning to change in China's favor. You can read the full column here.

Friday, July 28, 2006

COLUMN: A BIG IRONY OF OUR TIMES - FIDEL CASTRO'S IMAGE OF BRAVERY

MADRID -- Watching Cuban president-for-life Fidel Castro's visit to Argentina while on vacation here last week, I couldn't help thinking about one of the greatest ironies of our time: The 79-year-old leader is still regarded by many as an icon of courage, when in fact he is the biggest coward among Latin American leaders. Fidel Castro a coward? You bet! Consider the reasons cited in the column.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

NEW ECONOMIC FIGURES FOR LATIN AMERICA LOOK GOOD --- BUT ARE THEY GOOD?

The U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC, or CEPAL in Spanish) has just put out its mid-year figures, projecting a 5 percent economic growth for the region in 2006, the fourth consecutive year of continuous expansion. That's the good news. But the (somewhat disguised) bad news is that, despite its best performance in the past 25 years, Latin America is the slowest-growing region in the developing world. Read the full press release and country-by-country figures at this site.

Friday, July 21, 2006

I'M ON VACATION IN SPAIN (BUT CAN'T RESIST COMMENTING ON TODAY'S MERCOSUR MEETING)

I'm on a working vacation in Spain, where I presented my latest book Cuentos Chinos yesterday at Casa de America. But reading that Fidel Castro is getting a hero's welcome at the MERCOSUR meeting in Argentina, I can't resist making this comment: MERCOSUR's 1991 constitution has a "Democratic Clause" that specifically bars any government that does not allow fundamental freedoms and free elections to come even close to MERCOSUR. Did something happen in Cuba that I'm not aware of, or is MERCOSUR making a mockery of its own statutes?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

COLUMN: MY INTERVIEW WITH MEXICO'S FELIPE CALDERON

Will Felipe Calderón, the official winner of Mexico's contested July 2 elections, be a champion of globalization, human rights and closer ties with Washington if he becomes president? Or will Mexico's political reality force him to leave these campaign promises behind? When I interviewed Calderón at length on foreign policy issues last week, these were key questions I wanted to find out. Read the full column, with Calderon's statements, and my own conclusions.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A PREVIEW OF MY COLUMN ON AN INTERVIEW WITH MEXICO'S FELIPE CALDERON

Here's a preview of my Sunday column on my interview last week with Mexico's official winner of the July 2 election, Felipe Calderon. Asked about how he would handle Cuba and Venezuela, he said, “Obviously, we will defend human rights anywhere in the world, including in the United States....This must be done without affecting (the principle) that there must be a new constructive relation of cooperation with all countries. I can have a specific opinion of Fidel Castro, for instance, but this should not get in the way of a constructive relationship that must be established between Mexico and Cuba for the benefit of citizens of both countries.”

Thursday, July 13, 2006

COLUMN: DOES IT PAY TO BE A U.S. ALLY? VOTE ON PERU WILL GIVE US A CLUE

Latin American politicians have long said -- only half-jokingly -- that if you want to get attention and help from Washington, it often pays more to be hostile to the United States than to be its friend. Over the next two weeks, the old saying will be put to a big test. Judging from what Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo told me in an interview, if President Bush fails to get congressional approval of a recently signed U.S.-Peru free-trade agreement before Congress goes on its summer recess July 28, it will be a case study proving that the United States does not reward its friends. Read the full column here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

VENEZUELA: IF TRUE, THIS WILL BE A FIRST

A story reportedly carried by the Venezuelan daily El Mundo on July 6 quotes an opposition electoral expert as saying that the voting registry in the state of Miranda lists 1.834.000 people living in the same home address. Must be a pretty crowded place! We are checking out the story, which you can read in the comments section.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

COLUMN: IS LATIN AMERICA SHIFTING TO THE RIGHT?

MEXICO CITY - If center-right candidate Felipe Calderon's victory in Mexico's July 2 presidential elections is confirmed by the electoral tribunal, political analysts' contentions that a leftist wave is sweeping the hemisphere may have to be revised. In the latest elections in Mexico, Canada, Peru, Colombia and Costa Rica, the winners were the most pro-free trade candidates. Is the leftist tsunami over in Latin America? Read the full column I wrote after Mexico's presidential vote.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

CNN's LOU DOBBS: FAIR-MINDED DEBATE OR HATE-MONGERING?

From an Inter Presss Service news story: "Over the past several months -- perhaps as a response to a series of massive pro-immigrant demonstrations held in dozens of cities across the United States -- critics say that Dobbs has repeatedly crossed the line between fair-minded debate and fear-mongering. "The problem with Lou Dobbs isn't so much that he puts people with connections to hate groups on his show without revealing those ties, or even that he seems to endorse racist conspiracy theories and describes anti-immigration vigilantes as 'great Americans,'" Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Centre told IPS. Here is the link to the IPS site.

COLUMN: ODD THING IN MEXICO - THE YOUTH VOTED FOR THE STATUS QUO

MEXICO CITY -- What surprised me the most about Mexico's presidential elections Sunday was not the razor-thin preliminary victory of center-right candidate Felipe Calderon, but the fact that so many young people voted for the candidate of continuity, globalization and closer ties with the United States. The vote of the young was pivotal: Of the 13 million registered new voters, 12 million were ages 18 to 23. And most young people voted for Calderón. Read the full column here.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

MEXICO ELECTION: JULY 5, 5:30 PM REPORT

I just interviewed Miguel Angel Solis, o top official of Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) and two well-known pollsters (Cesar Ortega of Ipsos-Bimsa and Francisco Abundis, of Parametria) to find out what’s likely to happen with Mexico’s electoral tie. In a nutshell, there are about 3 million votes with “inconsistencies” that – under a previous agreement of all parties – were never supposed to be included in the preliminary vote estimate released by the IFE on Monday. But the IFE apparently screwed up in saying its PREP results giving Felipe Calderon a lead of more than 1 percent lead over Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador were based on 98 percent of the voting tallies (in fact, it was based on 86 percent of the tallies, since the ones with “inconsistencies” or “irregularities” were not supposed to be counted,) which gave leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador a chance to cry foul play. I'll expand in the comments section.

Monday, July 03, 2006

MEXICO CONFIRMS THE TREND - TIED ELECTIONS

MEXICO CITY - Mexico's election results confirm a growing trend: tied elections. Not only does it bring back memories of the USA in 2000, but of the November 2005 presidential election in Honduras, the February, 2006, election in Costa Rica, and the April presidential election in Peru (not to mention the March mayoral election in San Salvador, El Salvador, which was won by 44 votes.) Why is this happening? I welcome your comments for a future column.

MY BET ON MEXICO’S ELECTION – AS OF MONDAY, 10:30 AM

MEXICO CITY – With the latest preliminary tally from the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) showing government-backed candidate Felipe Calderon ahead by 1 percent of the vote with 96.6 % of the voting tables counted as of 10;30 am Monday, most pollsters say Calderon is the most likely winner of Sunday’s vote. Left-of-center candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador would have to win the entire remaining 3.4 percent of the voting tables – something very unlikely, given that many of the still-to-be-counted voting places are in pro-Calderon states such as Jalisco. It now looks like the IFE will declare Calderon the winner later this week, Lopez Obrador will demand a recount and contest several polling sites results, and the issue will go to the electoral tribunal. This could take several days, or several weeks, to be resolved. I will update this later in the comments section.

COLUMN: MEXICO'S ELECTION RESULT IS THE WORST POSSIBLE SCENARIO

MEXICO CITY -- The virtual tie among Mexico's top presidential candidates in Sunday's election is one of the worst possible scenarios for this country: it creates new political tensions and the prospect that whoever wins will be politically weak, with no working majority in Congress. While President Vicente Fox won the 2000 election with 42 percent of the votes, the new president will win with only 36 percent of the votes. Read the full column here.