Archive for the ‘South America’ Category

Brazil’s great achievement must survive

By Jonathan Power

April 12th, 2016

If worst comes to worst and Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff is deposed and her widely beloved predecessor, Luiz “Lula” da Silva, is discredited they will long be remembered for the “Bolsa Familia”. This is a government program that has cut Brazil’s once appalling poverty rate by half and reduced the number of poor very sharply to 3% of the population. It reaches 55 million people and 36 million have been lifted out of poverty. It has been such a winner that around sixty countries have sent their experts to study it. Indeed, it has been so successful politically that we shouldn’t be surprised that if Rousseff is felled by the shenanigans of Congress masses will go out on the street and riot.

Before the Bolsa Familia program was put into effect by Lula, Brazil had many welfare and food subsidy programs. Like in most developing countries the benefits didn’t reach the poor in the way that was intended. Middle men, black marketeers, corrupt officials and politicians skimmed and diverted much of them.

Bolsa Familia absorbed these into one direct cash payment. If you were a poor mother of a family- women were more trusted than men- you received an electronic card which you could slip into a bank cash dispenser and immediately get your monthly allowance, often doubling your cash income. There would be no intermediaries and no skims and no scams.

There were some conditions. Her children had to go to school, be immunized and have regular health check ups. She herself, if pregnant again, had to go to the maternity clinic. So not only were incomes being raised above the poverty line but infant and maternal mortality rates fell fast.

The income of the poorest 20% of Brazilians rose by 6.2% between 2002 and 2013, while that of the country’s richest 20% rose by only 2.6%. (In the US in the same time period the income of the richest 10% rose by 2.6% and that of the poorest 10% shrank by 8.6%.)

Innoculations reached 99% of the population. Deaths from malnutrition fell by 58%. Longevity steadily increased. Literacy became almost universal and education gave young people a better chance in life. The number of children forced to work instead of attending school dropped by 14%.

I’ve been out to the villages in the North East and seen with my own eyes the visible and dramatic improvements. I’ve been visiting Read the rest of this entry »

Brazil must not fire its president

By Jonathan Power

The Brazilians have an elected president. They must keep her. If Dilma Rosseff is pushed to resign democracy has failed.

Two years ago she won re-election handsomely. That is the source of her mandate. From that she derives her legitimacy. The only thing that could topple her is if hard evidence emerges that she is crook- in her case supposedly stole millions of dollars from the Brazilian oil giant, Petrobras, of which she was once head of the board. Then Congress would be within its rights to discuss her impeachment.

But there is no evidence of her personal corruption- although there is evidence aplenty that her party, The Workers’ Party, has received a lot of black money, not just from Petrobras.

Brazil is not a parliamentary democracy. It is not necessary for her to have a majority in parliament to rule, anymore than Barack Obama does in the US Congress. Unlike in, say the UK or Denmark, if members of parliament withdraw support for a head of government he/she does not fall.

Nevertheless, the Economist, a long-time supporter of democracy, argues in its latest issue she should resign, ignoring the rules of democracy, even though it admits impeachment would be wrong and even though her only “crime” is to have mishandled the economy. Read the rest of this entry »

In Brazil the future can work

By Jonathan Power

“Brazil has a great future, and always will”, said Charles de Gaulle, the president of France in the 1960s. In truth it is not difficult to be cynical about Brazil. It is a large land of both great potential and many lost opportunities- and yet whenever I visit it, as I have regularly over 40 years, I find the positive changes are immense.

In my time I have seen growth rates year after year of 10% or more. I have seen the transformation of favelas- shanty towns- into solid working class housing. I have seen infant mortality rates plummet. (To capture the flavor of the lives of the poor a must read is the new top prize-winning novel, “Quarenta Dias” (Forty Days), written by Valeria Rezende, a nun.) And under Brazil’s last president, Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, leader of the Workers’ Party I have seen the almost unbelievable- capitalist economic progress and socialist social progress storming ahead hand in hand.

Right now Brazil is in the middle of the kind of economic crisis profligacy, bad economic management, a sudden loss of export markets for its commodities and inflation have brought a number of times before. But this is perhaps the worse fall in economic progress since the 1930s. To compound Brazil’s problems is the Zika virus, which is spreading at a fast rate. Read the rest of this entry »

Good economic news amid the gloom

By Jonathan Power

Monday’s news was that China’s annual growth rate has dropped below the red line of 7%. It is 6.9% and probably falling.

These figures were published shortly after the IMF said that sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing “solid growth”. Last week the World Bank released its new average annual growth estimates for black Africa. It was 4.5% last year but this year it is going up to 4.6% and by 2017 it will be 5.1%. This is less than the 5.3% before the great recession (precipitated by American banks), but considering all its recent knocks, not least China buying less raw materials, Africa is holding up pretty well.

In fact what we used to call the “Third World” is a mixed bag of good and bad news. Which would you like to read about first?

More bad news? Here it is:

Emerging markets for the sixth consecutive year face falling growth rates. Currencies have hit 15-year lows. Stocks, once soaring ahead of developed countries, have been flat for the last 6 years. Private sector debt has been increasing fast. The outflow of funds has accelerated and in the last year was over one trillion US dollars. Stock market and currency turbulence have raised questions about where China is going. The late president of France, Charles de Gaulle, once quipped about Brazil, “Brazil has a great future, and always will”. Maybe he should have said that about China.

In Brazil a big corruption scandal, including allegations that the government has illegally manipulated its fiscal accounts, has helped stall the economy.

In India, despite many campaign promises, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not succeeded in opening the economic spigot. In fact the present day rise in growth owes itself largely to measures put in place by the previous government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

In Indonesia, the economy Read the rest of this entry »

The Columbia Peace Accords

By Johan Galtung

Bogotá, 30 Sep 2015

The accords were signed a week ago with still much work to do this coming half a year. 23 March 2016 is the deadline.

However, are they peace accords? Or absence of violence eliminating “that other army”, for Weber’s state monopoly on ultima ratio regis, even strengthening the government’s army? That Western concept of peace practiced recently in Sri Lanka and Nepal, against LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) and Maoists? Leaving untouched the problems that brought them into being unsolved?

And the word “peace” violated, as “conflict”, saying “post-conflict”, as if nothing more to solve. Words matter; handle them with care.

In all the Colombian conflict complexity, the focus is on only one conflict, between the violent parties: Read the rest of this entry »

Guatemala, country of evil

By Jonathan Power

September 8th 2015.

Guatemala on Sunday held a reasonably honest presidential election.

But it is probably not the end of the brutal saga of the country- 36 years of continuous murder, mayhem, abductions, disappearances, rapes and genocide that have kept on rolling, chapter after chapter. Labour leaders, villagers and peasants, students and churchmen, journalists and human rights activists have been killed by death squads. This is a Harry Potter saga with bullets.

Few countries have suffered as much as Guatemala. More people were killed in the 36 years of civil war than in all of the rest Latin America put together, more than in the civil wars in Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru and the bloody coup d’etats in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.

A UN investigation in Guatemala reported that far more guerrillas had died than government forces, by a factor of 9. The Commission estimated that the number of persons killed or disappeared “as a result of fratricidal confrontation” reached a total of 200,000. The State, it concluded, “deliberately magnified the military threat of the insurgency. The vast majority of the victims were not combatants, but civilians. A quarter of all victims were women”.

Most of the weaponry and political support for the government came from the US. When Congress cut off military aid in the 1980s President Ronald Reagan asked Israel to take over. During the most intense period of the civil war, Guatemalan soldiers dropped into Indian villages on Israeli-made Arava Transports and did their killing with Uzi rifles.

As Stephen Kinzer, a former New York Times journalist and author of a seminal book on the United Fruit Company, wrote last week, “Guatemala was horrifically brutalized by Spanish conquerors. It became a nation dominated by rich landowners who continued oppressing the Indian majority. Early in the 20th century the Boston-based United Fruit Company became the country’s most powerful force. Read the rest of this entry »

The year 2015: First third report

By Johan Galtung

In my columns, “The Year 2015-What Are We in For?”, I identified four unfolding, dramatic processes: the West will continue fighting unsuccessfully and violently to keep their world grip; Eurasia will expand and consolidate successfully and nonviolently; Islam will expand and consolidate partly violently; Latin America and Africa will expand and consolidate, spearheaded by Brazil, South Africa, BRICS.

A third of the year 2015 has now passed; let us take stock.

Headlines in the International New York Times tell the story:

18-19 April 2015: “U.S. is said to risk losing economic leadership”; “–a divided nation shedding hard-won clout”, “We’re withdrawing from the central place we had on the world stage”.

And for the UK: 29 April: “Britain’s drift from the world stage looms over the vote”.

These are statements about leadership, about being the center as a model to emulate; controlling world stage politics; not about economic growth. Losing leadership and drifting away may actually increase growth: control is a costly, non-productive endeavor for most businesses. Sensing that may accelerate the decline as world power. Read the rest of this entry »

From Third World to First World – Brazil’s election

By Jonathan Power

Brazil has long lived out its personal fantasy as the archetypal relaxed, tolerant and gregarious country with Copacabana beach, the samba, the carnival and a great deal of sexual freedom. It is now living out in real time its almost forgotten societal dream, an economic-cum-social revolution.

The retired president, Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, bequeathed the nation a vibrant capitalist economy with a human face – an economy that has raised income per head quite substantially (it is now four times that of China), has almost abolished daily hunger and given the large majority of the poor an income supplement in return for families sending their children to school.

Still, after 8 years of Lula and 4 years of his hand-picked successor, Dilma Rousseff, the country struggles to stay ahead of its burgeoning population, the inequities of the feudal land system that cast millions into shanty towns and a murder rate in the slum favelas that is more akin to a war zone than a normal society.

Brazil remains one of the most Read the rest of this entry »

BRIC(K)S for a New World Economic Order!

By Johan Galtung
28 Jul 2014 – Kuala Lumpur

Johan Galtung

They made it, with constructive alternatives – the New Development Bank and the Contingency Reserve Agreement–to the US-dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Those two parts of Bretton Woods were basic pillars in the economic infra-structure of the US Empire in the hands of the US Congress. Loans were disbursed in return for “structural adjustment” –privatization, budget cuts, devaluation, repatriation of profit, also against BRICS countries. US companies were commissioned for huge jobs serving local elites. Untold damage was done in spite of some recent changes in rhetoric.

The USA used them to export the US economic–and with it the social, political, cultural, military–order through loans, grafting it upon social bodies that after some time rejected the implants as foreign and incompatible. Even a decaying order however brilliant it may have looked to the untrained eye as late as the 1990s.

What remains today of that US “order” is the military part Read the rest of this entry »

The world right now: A Mid-Year Report

By Johan Galtung

Time to take stock. The shot in Sarajevo 100 years ago inspires narratives of 19-year old Gavrilo Princip killing the successor to the throne of an empire and his pregnant wife as the event unleashing mutual mass murder (INYT, FAZ 28-29 June 2014). Not the empire annexing Bosnia-Herzegovina on October 6, 1908 (Art. 25 of the 1878 Berlin Congress of “great powers”).

Maybe the inhabitants did not like it?

Moral of that stock-taking: watch out for terrorism, not for empires and occupation-colonialism; and protect leaders, not people.

ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, alternatively translated as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) comes up. TIME 30 June: The End of Iraq. Maybe Iraq – that highly artificial English colonial entity encasing Shia Arabs, Sunni Arabs and Sunni Kurds–never started?

Like its French colonial neighbor Syria – adding Alawite Arabs, Christians, Jews and others? Ever heard about Sykes-Picot and their czarist Russian allies?

Can such crimes just pass, with no counter-forces?

Watch out, a key point about ISIS – now comprising a major part of IS – is as a bridge over the English-French colonial divide, in favor of a Sunni Arab caliphate. Like it or not, these are very strong forces from the past in the daylight of the present. Read the rest of this entry »


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