Tag Archives: Argentina

Connecting corruption and traffic lights

I really like it when experts (and journalists) take a complicated issue and connect it to something John and Jane Doe on Main Street can understand.

And Alejandro Salas, Regional Director for the Americas at Transparency International, has done just that: CPI 2013: TRAFFIC LIGHTS IN THE AMERICAS – LIFESAVERS OR URBAN DECORATIONS?

Salas notes that in Latin America there are some pretty tough traffic laws and really draconian laws against corrupt practices. And yet in most of Latin America a red light is a suggestion to stop rather than a command. Likewise, business and government officials see the need to engage in corrupt practices because, “it is the way to get things done” thus making the anti-corruption laws suggestions rather than anything that should be enforced.

If you look at the Transparency International Corruption Index for 2013, you can see a correlation between corruption and traffic deaths, granted not a perfect 1:1 but enough to draw some useful conclusions.

Country TI Ranking Deaths per 100,000
Canada 9 6.8
United States 19 11.4
Uruguay 19 21.5
Costa Rica 49 12.7
Brazil 72 22.5
Peru 83 15.9
El Salvador 83 21.9
Ecuador 102 27.0
Argentina 106 12.6
Dominican Republic 123 41.7
Honduras 140 18.8
Venezuela                160 37.2

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Chilean president proposes legislation to ban bad-mouthing cops

The nice thing about Twitter and Tumblr is that you often find interesting things you never knew were out there. (By the way, thank you @adam_wola)

Today (June 3) a columnist in Chile discusses a new proposal by Chilean President Sebastián Piñera to make it a felony to insult a police officer in the performance of his/her job.

The police respect and freedom of expression

(Translation by Google Translate)

Before the announcement of President Sebastián Piñera sent a bill to establish serious offense to insult a police officer in performance of his duties, columnists warn-with practical arguments, legal and political-of the dangers to freedom of expression.

The last public account of the President of the Republic was an announcement that should turn all alarms in a democracy respectful of freedom of expression. In explicit terms, said the government will send a bill ” establishing a new crime as serious insult to a policeman or police in performance of their duties “. The criminalization of such conduct should be criticized arguments based on practical, legal and political.

Full commentary here.

This is something the U.S. should be watching.

The gains made in Chile in terms of human and civic rights since the fall of the dictatorship are important. Chile is a major trading partner with the United States and is becoming a major economic force in the Pacific.

For the business community freedom of speech/expression/press are important to understanding the social, political and economic situation before investing money in a country. Or, knowing when either put more money in or take money out.

Data from countries where the governments control the media (overtly or by proxy) often cannot be trusted. (And I am looking at you Venezuela and Argentina.)

From a basic humanitarian view, freedom of expression is vital for any society to truly thrive.

Chile has developed a strong sense of freedom. It would be a shame to see this piece of legislation go through.

One of the best lines in the article is used as a pull-quote:

One of the central and undisputed content of freedom of expression is political criticism of public authorities.

‘Nuff said.

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Hey Maduro: Asking questions and building sources does not make a person a spy!

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered American film maker Timothy Tracer arrested for espionage and promoting unrest in the country. (Venezuela’s president orders arrest of American filmmaker)

Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez said they had evidence Tracy was promoting dissent and unrest in Venezuela. According to Rodriguez proof was in “the way he acted.” Rodriguez said it was clear Tracey was a spy because “he knows how to infiltrate, how to recruit sources.”

Well, gee, isn’t that what all journalists and documentary filmmakers are supposed to do?

Seeing how the official media from China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela are indeed agents of the security (spy) agencies one can understand how dictators could have a hard time understanding this “independent journalism” thing.

When I lived in China I saw how the government acted as if Western media outlets were part of the Western intelligence services.

In the 1990’s Western media were anxious to have bureaus in Shanghai.  Beijing allocated permission for foreign correspondents to be based in Shanghai based on the media outlet’s country of origin. So that meant if the Associated Press got permission to have a bureau in Shanghai, the New York Times would have to wait until requests from news organizations from other countries were filled one by one.

A Shanghai government official explained that it was the only fair way to make sure that each country was represented by its official media. (Again, missing the point that there is no “official” media in the United States or most of Europe.)

Then, in Iran western journalists are required to be accompanied by “handlers” while also being followed by the secret police.

Do I really need to say anything about North Korea. ‘Nuff said!

And now Maduro confirms that Venezuela has joined this happy band of dictators by equating anyone who asks questions or build sources of information with spies. And they will stretch anything to make their point.

The minister then showed a video, “so the people in the country can see what we are confronting.”

But in the video, purportedly shot by Tracy, young people joke and mug for the camera in a drab room. It is unclear how the video points to a destabilization plan. Nor does it explain Tracy’s role.

I guess mugging for the camera is something that only Maduro and his Chavistas can do.

One thing about the story in the Post…

While it points out the arrest and the accusations of Maduro that the opposition parties are in league with the United States, it does little to discuss the overarching issue that the arrest of Tracy exemplifies: The repression of free media.

Too many apologists for Chavez/Maduro have pointed to private-sector media being used to undermine the government. What these apologists fail to understand — or refuse to accept — is that government control of the media only means that unrest and instability are more likely.

Without independent and competing news organizations — i.e. government-controlled media — the people have no way of getting accurate information. The people pick up on how the media are being used for propaganda purposes pretty quickly and begin to ignore or disbelieve anything in the media.

There is nothing to check corrupt and/or inept leaders. So corruption runs rampant and inept officials get a free pass to keep causing problems because there is no method to peacefully correct the situation.

The only means of transferring information, then becomes word of mouth. (I think I hear someone saying: “Let’s play telephone!”)

When word of mouth — aka – rumors — become the norm for information transfer, societies become more unstable. Unrest grows and dissatisfaction with the ruling elite grows.

You see it in China by the increasing number of people who rely on text messages to get accurate info and in the number of reporters and editors who are constantly pushing against the censors.

We see it in the unrest in Argentina where the government arrests people for publishing the actual numbers related to inflation and national debt.

And we see it in Venezuela where the leadership is so nervous about their precarious position that they arrest an independent film maker for doing what independent film makers do, develop sources, ask questions and present the situation.

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Filed under Censorship, Connections, Press Freedom, South America

Human Rights stories deserving follow ups

Freedom House published its Best and Worst of Human Rights in 2012.

Many of these items got little press coverage — all to the bad in terms of understanding the rest of the world.  And many need regular updates. Here are my suggestions of follow ups:

BEST

LGBTI Victories in the Western Hemisphere

Some of the highlights as noted by Freedom House:

  • President Obama voiced public support for gay marriage for the first time
  • Three states—Washington, Maryland, and Maine—passed laws allowing same-sex marriage.
  • The first openly gay woman was elected to the U.S. Senate.
  • In Argentina the Senate passed legislation that allows gender to be legally changed without medical or judicial approval, and includes sex-change surgery and hormone treatment in government health insurance plans.
  • Chile passed an antidiscrimination law that penalizes all forms of discrimination. Although not specifically written to protect LGTBI rights, the measure was spurred by the brutal killing an openly gay man.
  • Even Cuba has jumped on the bandwagon, electing its first transgender person to municipal office.
  • Same-sex marriage is legal in Canada and some parts of Mexico.

And add that the LGBTI community in Honduras has been getting more vocal and demanding more protection from acts of violence. The community is getting support from a number of government with embassies in Honduras, but the leading force is the U.S. embassy.

Follow up is needed to ensure that newly enacted or proposed laws banning discrimination based on sexual identity or preference are followed. (The law is a fungible commodity in too many countries in the Western Hemisphere.)

The reason the protection of the LGBTI community is of importance to American readers is because how a country treats any minority group — such as this one — tells a lot about the morals and standards of that country and its people.  It also tells a lot about how well received tourists from different groups will be received in that country.

Passage of the Magnitsky Act

The U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in jail after exposing a multimillion-dollar fraud by Russian officials. The law places visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials involved in human rights abuses. President Obama signed the legislation on December 14 despite harsh objections from the Kremlin. This law could set a precedent for how the United States and other free societies address gross human rights violations around the world. The European Parliament has endorsed the adoption of similar legislation.

Reporting on how well this act — and others like it — are enforced is vital to keeping the issue of human rights (including press freedom) in the forefront. How well the law is enforced will also tell a lot about how the U.S. government bureaucracy deals with the thorny issue of human rights.

Survival of the Tunisian Revolution

The country has not yet suffered the fate of many of its neighbors in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring. Varying degrees of instability and repression persist in Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and particularly Syria, but Tunisia has made slow if uneven gains in its democratic transition. The constitutional drafting process is creeping forward without the bitter conflicts seen in Egypt. As the country approaches the two-year anniversary of the revolution, however, economic struggles have led to anti-government protests, one of which left nearly 200 people wounded, and support for the ruling coalition has definitively waned. The constitution is two months overdue, and there have been some concerning violations of press freedom. Despite these challenges, Tunisia continues to provide a positive example to the wider region.

The best way to send a message to the anti-democracy people in Tunisia is to make sure reporting continues. Journalists need to show where progress is being made and where it is being hindered — and by whom.

And this is important to the United States — beyond humanitarian and human rights reasons — because of Tunisia’s  location and the natural resources that are vital to us and our European partners.

WORST

Civil War in Syria

Anyone exposed to even the slightest bit of news knows that the civil war in Syria is the worst human rights and humanitarian catastrophe in the world today. The estimated death toll is at 42,000, with no end in sight. The  Committee to Protect Journalists report an alarming 32 reporters have been killed while covering the conflict.

Continued coverage is necessary to keep pressure on the rest of the world to do something to end the tragedy.

For U.S. readers, the issue is not just human rights but also the instability this war causes in an area vital to U.S. and global geo-political interests.

Devastation in Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the most resource-rich countries on the African continent. And yet it has been gutted by a combination of colonialism, corrupt and ineffective government, ethnic conflict, and a succession of armed militias and rebel groups that have raped and pillaged their way through the countryside, often using conscripted child soldiers. As many as five million people have died since the late 1990s. The international community has largely turned a blind eye to the country’s seemingly endless crisis, perhaps because there does not appear to be an easy solution.

Coup and Extremism in Mali

As in Congo, the horrific human rights situation in Mali was not caused by any single event. Rather it was a cascade of disasters that included a military coup, a reinvigorated Tuareg separatist movement, an influx of hard-line Islamist militants, and the combined effects of long-term drought, poverty, and corruption. There are widespread reports of rape and forced marriage, as well as the recruitment of child soldiers.

Paying attention to Congo and Mali may seem outside the usual assignment areas for U.S. media. Yet, the fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa. These are potential trading partners for America, if we can help the individual countries stabilize and develop viable middle classes.

The natural resources from Africa are badly needed by industrialized countries and industrializing countries. That means to keep out industries growing, the United States needs these items. It also means that other  countries less friendly to us — i.e. China — also need these raw materials.

In the end it comes down to a competition of ideals and principles. China is willing to dump billions of dollars into a country with no strings attached other than being given access to its raw materials. The United States, on the other hand demands transparency and civil rights from aid recipients. It is no wonder that the war lords and thugs prefer doing business with China. It is also no wonder that the people of these war-torn countries prefer U.S. aid

It is vital for U.S. citizens to know how and why the U.S. government spends money on development programs. It is also important to put that expenditure in perspective: Less than one-half of 1% of the federal budget is spent on ALL development programs — that includes the salaries of ALL USAID employees in the United States and around the world. Not the 25% most Americans think.

Russia’s Precipitous Decline

Since Vladimir Putin’s tightly controlled reelection as president in March, the political situation in Russia has become increasingly dismal, with some experts comparing it to the Soviet era. The government has enacted numerous pieces of legislation that have a harmful impact on human rights and the functioning of civil society. Most disturbingly, one new law requires civil society organizations that receive foreign funds to register as “foreign agents” or face possible criminal charges. In a related development, USAID was forced by the Russian government to withdraw from the country. The government re-criminalized libel, curbed internet freedom, outlawed “homosexual propaganda,” and imposed additional restrictions on public gatherings. Independent voices, some within the government, who have tried to speak out against this wave of legislation have been expelled, arrested, or otherwise muzzled.

Russia is a major power and sits on some of the greatest reserves of precious metals and rare earth in the world. It is a player that needs to be explained to the American people. It is not the Soviet Union and it is not THE major geo-political threat to the United States. But it is a great power that is not using that power to the betterment of its people.

There were expectations after the fall of communism that a strong Russian middle class would grow and the democratic instincts of the people would be fulfilled. After years of failed leadership, Putin has returned as a strongman to take away democratic hopes and aspirations. In the process he is also taking away the incentive for a viable middle class to grow and prosper.

Bottom line: Any country that has thousands of missiles aimed at us is one that news organizations should be looking at more closely.

Repression in Bahrain, Other Gulf States

After an independent report commissioned by Bahrain’s King Hamad uncovered widespread human rights abuses committed during the violent suppression of a protest movement in February 2011, the government promised to implement the recommended reforms. Not only has the regime failed to enact anything other than minor cosmetic changes, seemingly designed to mollify the international community, it has also continued on a path of repression. Impunity for the security forces and censorship persist. Journalists and human rights groups, including Freedom House, have been repeatedly denied entry to the country to report on these abuses. (Most recently Nicholas Kristof was seized and deported from Bahrain.) Sadly, Bahrain is not the only Gulf state in decline. A ban on “unlicensed” peaceful demonstrations was passed in Kuwait. And Oman has jailed dozens of people for making critical comments about the regime.

But why worry about repressive actions that only affect the people of those countries? Violent police action against demonstrators leads to more violence by demonstrators which leads to more repressive actions which leads to more violence and societal disruption and so on. The problem is that too few reports from the region make the connection between the violence in a country or region with Main Street USA.

Anything that takes place in the volatile Arab/Persian Gulf should be of interest to the America people. Besides the meme that we need the oil from the region — actually we don’t get that much, but our trading partners do — there is also the fertilizer that comes out of the area. Without Qatari, Kuwaiti, Saudi or Omani urea and ammonia, most of the American crops would fail. And THAT is something worth worrying about.

I would think the fertilizer angle is just one that could be put to better use by people trying to tell the story of repressive regimes in the Gulf region.

The Menace of Blasphemy Laws

The online dissemination of an offensive film that mocked Islam and sparked violent anti-American riots and protests in more than two dozen countries served as a reminder of the pernicious nature of laws that prohibit blasphemy in many parts of the world. These laws have a chilling effect on free expression and are often used to justify violence, repress religious minorities, and settle personal grudges rather than combat intolerance. A Freedom House special report shows there is no evidence that restricting speech reduces religious intolerance. In fact, the evidence shows that prohibitions on blasphemy actually lead to a wide range of human rights abuses. This does not prevent some Islamic leaders from using global bodies like the United Nations to push for international norms that prohibit blasphemy.

This is not the sharia law so feared by the U.S. Tea Party. This is worse because any government dominated by one religion can use laws against bad mouthing the dominate religion to shut down freedom of speech, press and assembly.

Singapore has several examples of how laws to prevent “callous and reckless remarks on racial or religious subjects” can be used to shut down any discussions the government wants shut down. The Vatican has gone to court to fight images that it considered “offensive.” One case involved a German satirical magazine that published a photo-shopped image of the pope’s vestments stained with urine.

So far the U.S. and its democratic allies have been able to hold off a full-court press by Islamic countries to have the United Nations endorse blasphemy laws. What is critical for the American people to know is that this is not just an Islamic/Third-World thing. There are too many religious fanatics around — including in the United States — that would be quite happy with blasphemy laws but only for the protection of their version of their religion.

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Filed under Africa, Censorship, Connections, Freedom of Information, Harassment, International News Coverage, Story Ideas

Argentina update: Cristina dismisses IMF criticism. But the numbers are still wrong.

Responding to IMF President Christine Lagarde using soccer terms to criticize the economic statistics released by Argentina’s government, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner used her speech at the opening of the United Nations’ General Assembly to tell the world her country is not a soccer club.

The president pushed back against the IMF, saying:

“I want to tell the head of the IMF that this is not a soccer game. The (global) economic and political crisis is the most severe on record since the ‘30s.”

The problem Argentina faces, is that no one in the world — except Kirchner — believes the numbers the official statistics agency publishes.

Argentina is the only leading world economy and IMF member whose numbers have been rejected by the Washington-based IMF as unreliable.

Critics of its statistics contend Fernandez’s leftist-oriented government greatly understates inflation. The government’s INDEC statistics agency has reported monthly inflation below 1 percent for more than two years, while Argentines have seen price rises of two or three times higher.

Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Argentina’s risk rating last week, potentially increasing borrowing costs for anyone doing business with the country.

And to repeat what I said earlier this has an impact on U.S companies wanting to do business in Argentina and that means it has an impact on U.S. jobs.

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Argentina: Latest example of why US should care about free press elsewhere

During the past few years the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner government in Argentina has been playing fast and loose with economic reporting in the country. At the same time the government has been attacking the independence of Argentina’s media.

The cooking of the economic books and attacks against free media are linked and have an impact on U.S. jobs.

According to official Argentina government figures, a person can survive on six pesos a day. (US$1.30 on the official rate, US$1 on the black market.) The problem is that six pesos only gets a person a small sweet cookie. A more realistic number, said one university study is 24 pesos.

In addition, private economists say the country’s annual inflation is 24%. The official rates is 10%.

Since 2007 when the Kirchner government has ordered INDEC, the official  statistic agency to fudge the inflation numbers, few people have taken the official numbers seriously. For example, The Economist stopped the INDEC numbers as part of their weekly index on inflation.

Now, the IMF is stepping in. The BBC reports that Argentina  could face sanctions from the IMF unless it starts producing reliable growth and inflation figures. IMF chief Christine Lagarde gave Argentina until 17 December to address the problem.

Using a football (soccer in the US) analogy, Lagarde said the IMF was giving Argentina a “yellow card” but was facing a “red card” if it doesn’t straighten up.

“We had to choose between the yellow card and the red card. We chose the yellow card. If no progress has been made, then the red card will be out,” she said.

But getting the government to stop lying to itself and the rest of the world is only part of the issue.

Along with forcing the once-honored government statistics agency to “fudge” the figures, the Kirchner government has also been harassing the independent media. The same media that dares to report that a person cannot survive on six pesos a day.

The Kirchner government uses tax law, news print supplies, and anti-monopoly legislation to attack its critics. Freedom House ranks the Argentine media as Partly Free. Besides the government actions, there have been physical and other types of attacks on members of the media, including the murder of community journalist Adams Ledesma Valenzuela.

Why is this important to Main Street America?

One word: Jobs.

For businesses to operate reliable and accurate information is necessary. Especially important are accurate reports of inflation and economic growth.

The top five exports to Argentina from the United States (2011) are:

  • Fuel Oil: US$1,300 million
  • Organic Chemicals: US$857 million
  • Petroleum products: US$496 million
  • Plastics: US$478 million
  • Computer Accessories: US$464 million

Other key exports include telecommunications, civilian aircraft, pharmaceuticals and industrial machines.

Predictably, the top-5 states exporting to Argentina reflect where those products are strong (2011):

  • Texas:  US$2,563,263,155
  • Florida: US$1,738,007,600
  • Illinois: $483,396,402
  • California: $443,545,461
  • Louisiana: $411,135,903

Without trade to Argentina, each of those states would be so much weaker economically. (And that has a direct impact on US jobs.)

To sell these items to Argentina, the U.S. companies have to have accurate and reliable economic numbers. Other companies hoping to sell to Argentina need these same accurate and reliable numbers.

But with government manipulation of the official statistics and a campaign to intimidate the independent media, getting accurate and reliable numbers seems far-fetched.

Transparent government policies and independent media in other countries have a direct impact on what happens in the USA.

If U.S. firms cannot rely on the numbers they get from Argentina, they may not consider selling to that market. That could mean fewer new jobs in the American economy.

And fewer jobs means a bleaker Main Street, USA.

For Argentina the pressure is building to at least correct the transparency issue.

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Filed under Censorship, Connections, Freedom of Information, International News Coverage, Jobs, South America, Trade

Chile breaks from Latin America anti-free media trend

The good news is that the government of Chile woke up to the dangers in a piece of legislation it proposed. The bad news is that the rest of Latin America is not so lucky.

Chile retreats on requiring media to inform police

Granted, the Chilean government withdrew the proposed legislation because Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter didn’t want any conflicts with the international press. In addition, aides to Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said seizing journalists’ material would damage Chile’s image internationally. They saw that Reporters Without Borders is getting ready to publish its annual review of threats against the media, including a freedom index that would show a sharp drop in Chile’s reputation.

So the Chilean government corrected a bad plan because of the threat of international retaliation.

And Chile’s neighbors?

A summary paragraph from the AP says it all:

In Ecuador this week, opposition lawmakers failed to block a law barring the news media from broadcasting or publishing any material that could influence opinions about candidates or proposals during election campaigns. In Argentina, the commerce minister was put in charge of managing the nation’s newsprint supply, a tool that opposition media fear could be used to silence criticism.

There is also the massive campaign against free press in Venezuela. And Cuba? Well, Cuba remains Cuba: No free press.

In addition to the government-sanction moves against free press, there is the intimidation of the narcos against journalists in Mexico and Central America. (And, obviously the outright murders of journalists from those same bad guys.)

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