Slate has a nice, little piece about how wonderful Peru’s economy is weathering the downturn. Reading the piece, I kept waiting for the mention of how Peru’s neighbor to the south, Bolivia, is also an economic bright spot in the hemisphere. The article never mentions Bolivia but has this description:
In the Western Hemisphere, one small country has outperformed its larger, richer, neighbors to the north. Its export-dependent economy has weathered the global credit tsunami in good shape . . . Its public finances seem to be sound, and the authorities appear to be making the right countercyclical moves. What’s the name of this mystery country that finds itself on an economic shining path?
Actually, Peru isn’t by it lonesome self, and the description could apply equally to Bolivia. Bolivia is expected to grow at least 2% this year, and has the largest currency reserves in relation to GDP of any country in Latin America. Bolivia is also moving ahead with infrastructure investment around the country. Pretty much Bolivia is doing all the things the article praises Peru for doing.
Although I could speculate why this article sings the high praise of Peru’s economy, while ignoring the nearly equal performance of the Bolivian economy, I don’t know if it’s really worth it. I was pondering a more complex analysis of the underlying dynamic here but then I saw that Newsweek has this out today:
These people have an almost comical inability to understand international relations and complex foreign societies. It’s doubtful these people have the ability to make nuanced judgments about the policies and ideologies of Latin American governments. And compared to this headline, a certain political ignorance of small Andean countries doesn’t seem so bad.
It appears that the FARC, the famous guerillas and paramilitaries that control parts of Colombia’s countryside, have obtained AT-4 anti-tank weapons. The weapons were made in Sweden and purchased by the Venezuelan government during the 1980s.
For years, there’s been whispers that Chavez has been supplying the FARC with weapons. These whispers are only going to grow louder. Semana magazine links the AT-4s to two military officers with connections to Chavez. Venezuela denies that it supplied the weapons to the Farc. The political fallout from this all depends on how high up any weapons smuggling corruption goes. I doubt this will damage Chavez’s presidency in anyway, as well. None the less, this won’t help defuse the tensions between Colombia and Venezuela.
Venezuela has recalled their ambassador from Colombia. There’s also some discussion here of how this affects US-Colombian relations, specifically, how this helps move forward the US plans for military bases in Colombia.
It snowed the other night in the hills around Cochabamba, and the mountains now look beautiful on my walk to work. It also snowed near La Paz, and, though I’m sure the mountains look nice and get a skier like me excited, the snow has shut down the highways connecting La Paz with Cochabamba and Oruro. This exemplifies one of the biggest hurdles in the development of Bolivia: keeping the country connected.
The country is largely in the Andes, where roads twist and turn, and it generally takes a long time to get from point A to point B. And then it snows and the capital is cut off from much of the rest of the big economic centers of the country. This hurts the ability to move things around Bolivia and generally keep the economic wheel turning. And there’s no quick solution.
That’s why projects such as this highway to connect the Cochabamba department and the eastern part of the country to Brazil are really important. They will open up new possibilities of commerce and roads that stay open even when La Paz can’t be reach.
A Gallup Poll looked at people’s views on the stability of their governments in Latin America in 2008. In particular, it looked at if people expected a military coup. Honduras had the second highest percentage in the region of people who expected a coup, and, unfortunately, they were vindicated in their fear of a coup.
The country with the highest percentage of respondents expecting a coup was Bolivia. This isn’t exactly irrational or unexpected. Considering the level of state violence, whether it be at the national or department level, the idea that a group might succeed in a coup attempt is not out of the picture.
What’s also interesting is the sizable groups of people in all Latin America that fear a coup. 11% of Costa Ricans expected a coup in the future. This is a country that disbanded its military in 1955 and has been a relative oasis of governing calm in Central America. The fear in Costa Rica underlines the dangers of pretending that the coup in Honduras is not a coup. This region is incredibly sensitive to military interference in politics and a policy denouncing all such actions is the surest way to safeguard democracy.
(Hat tip: Greg Weeks)
The UN report on Bolivia’s indigenous communities can be found here. It provides a good overview of the opposition in the eastern part of Bolivia to efforts to strengthen indigenous rights, as well as the major policy initiatives of the Morales government to protect indigenous communities.
Last weekend I went with a bunch of people from Sustainable Bolivia to the Torotoro National Park. It’s in the northern part of the Potosí department but only accessible via a cobblestone/dirt road from Cochabamba. The main draws are dinosaur tracks, which are everywhere around the town, and the local caves. In three days, we got in two climbs through the caves, some hiking, a ton of dinosaur tracks and fossils (they’re just sitting on the ground), and a couple of local ghost stories from our Torotoreño (person from Torotoro) guide. It’s hard to explain what’s beautiful about this place and I don’t think the pictures do it justice. There are strange rock hills that puncture the earth on one side of the park, canyons which cut deep scares into rolling open plains, and mountains and hills all around. Throw in a bunch of dinosaur tracks, and some rural campesinos, and you have the Torotoro park.
A beautiful canyon. Around the opening to the left is a waterfall and swimming hole we hiked down to.
Burros (donkeys) with the weird rock hills that lined the one side of the park in the background
Traditional adobe houses
Riding out to a cave on the roof
Pigs strolling down the main street in Torotoro