New president but same economy in Brazil

 

 

(My new American Thinker post)

Adios Dilma, Hello Economy!

Brazil has a new president and the economy is now what everybody is talking about, as Simon Romero reports:

The biggest challenge facing Mr. Temer, who largely operated in the shadows as Ms. Rousseff’s vice president before breaking with her earlier this year, is evident: the economy.

Brazil’s gross domestic product has plunged 9.7 percent on a per-capita basis in the last nine quarters. The downturn, which Goldman Sachs likens to a depression, has even exceeded the 7.6 percent decline during the so-called lost decade of the 1980s, when Brazil fought hyperinflation.

Broad swaths of the population are angry with the entire political establishment, especially now that unemployment has surged to 11.6 percent, from 6.5 percent at the end of 2014. More than 1.7 million Brazilians have lost their jobs in the last year while politicians like Mr. Temer have been battling for power.

New president Michel Temer has his own ethical challenges, too. He does have a window of opportunity to win some goodwill from a nation tired of scandals. At the same time, the challenges facing Brazil are more than just economic cycles or a drop in prices for Brazilian commodities such as oil, iron ore and soya.

There is a lot more that Mr. Temer will have to tackle than a very bad case of crony capitalism, as Lauren Weiner wrote:

The country’s economic difficulties and its racial and social stratification rest upon a flawed foundation that can be summed up in a phrase he uses: “state capitalism.” The entwining of political power with economic power is an ill against which every modern democracy fights. Brazilians, though, have not waged the fight effectively.

So time will tell whether Mr. Temer is Pinochet, the man who saved Chile, or Gorbachev, the man who tried to reform communism. Brazil could really use a version of Pinochet and those Chicago boys. Otherwise, Mr. Temer’s presidency will be short and very difficult.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

A victory for the rule of law in Brazil

Dilma Rousseff

 

(My new American Thinker post)

We just learned that President Dilma Rouseff has been ousted from the presidency:

Brazil’s Senate ousted Dilma Rousseff as president Wednesday, voting overwhelmingly to impeach the leftist leader in the culmination of a protracted process that has divided the country.

The vote to impeach Rousseff was 61 to 20. Two-thirds of senators — 54 out of 81 — were needed for impeachment to pass.

Senators broke into cheering and applause after the electronic voting was announced, concluding a process that was given the go-head in December.

My guess is that her mentor Lula will be next. It has not been a good 12 months for the left!

This is a great victory for the rule of law in Latin America, although we warn you that crony capitalism is not going away overnight. Nevertheless, the ousting of Rouseff confirms that corruption has its limits even in a country where people looked the other way as long the economy was booming.

It is a great victory for those of us who see signs in Latin America, from Argentina to Chile to Colombia to Mexico, that a middle class is rejecting the taxes that feed administrative bureaucracies unaccountable to no one.

It will take a while to cleanse Latin America of this chronic corruption. However, this is a step in the right direction for those of who believe that corruption (i.e. crony capitalism) is holding back so much of this region.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

Prague 1968 and memories of something called communism

 

(My new American Thinker post)

We read about Putin and Russian troops threatening neighbors.   It’s enough to remind us of another time when the then USSR invaded the then country of Czechoslovakia.   It happened this weekend in 1968:

On the night of August 20, 1968, approximately 200,000 Warsaw Pact troops and 5,000 tanks invade Czechoslovakia to crush the “Prague Spring”–a brief period of liberalization in the communist country. Czechoslovakians protested the invasion with public demonstrations and other non-violent tactics, but they were no match for the Soviet tanks. The liberal reforms of First Secretary Alexander Dubcek were repealed and “normalization” began under his successor Gustav Husak.

It was the second time that USSR tanks under the banner of The Warsaw Pact had crushed democratic impulses in Eastern Europe.    It also happened in Hungary in 1956 when Soviet tanks actually fought with people in the streets.
As a kid, we heard the stories of Cuban political prisoners.  Our family dinner table was a classroom with my parents telling us about communism or reading the latest letter from Cuba.

I grew up admiring the men and women who risked their lives to fight for freedom. Some of these men were Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary, those who tried to cross the Berlin Wall, the guerrillas who fought Castro in The Escambray Mountains and those who tried reforms inside the Soviet bloc.

On August 21, 1968, the Rascals were riding high with a song called “People got to be free“.

It was a pop hit in the US.  It was reality in the streets of Prague.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

August 1968: The week that Soviet tanks crushed the Prague Spring

(My new American Thinker post)

As a kid, we heard the stories of Cuban political prisoners.  Our family dinner table was a classroom with my parents telling us about communism or reading the latest letter from Cuba.

I grew up admiring the men and women who risked their lives to fight for freedom. Some of these men were Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary, those who tried to cross the Berlin Wall, the guerrillas who fought Castro in The Escambray Mountains and those who tried reforms inside the Soviet bloc.

On August 21, 1968, the Rascals were riding high with a song called “People got to be free”.

It was a pop hit in the US.  It was reality in the streets of Prague:

“On August 21, 1968, more than 200,000 troops of the Warsaw Pact crossed into Czechoslovakia in response to democratic and free market reforms being instituted by Czech Communist Party General Secretary Alexander Dubcek. Negotiations between Dubcek and Soviet bloc leaders failed to convince the Czech leader to back away from his reformist platform. The military intervention on August 21 indicated that the Soviets believed that Dubcek was going too far and needed to be restrained. On August 22, thousands of Czechs gathered in central Prague to protest the Soviet action and demand the withdrawal of foreign troops. Although it was designed to be a peaceful protest, violence often flared and several protesters were killed on August 22 and in the days to come.”

Alexander Dubcek’s mistake is that he called for reforms:

“On January 5th 1968, the party’s central committee nominated Dub?ek to succeed Novotný after the Czechoslovak Party Central Committee passed a vote of no confidence in Novotný.

What happened next must have come as a great surprise to the communist leaders in Moscow. Dub?ek announced that he wanted the Czech Communist Party to remain the predominant party in Czechoslovakia, but that he wanted the totalitarian aspects of the party to be reduced. Communist Party members in Czechoslovakia were given the right to challenge party policy as opposed to the traditional acceptance of all government policy. Party members were given the right to act “according to their conscience”. In what became known as the ‘Prague Spring’, he also announced the end of censorship and the right of Czech citizens to criticise the government. Newspapers took the opportunity to produce scathing reports about government incompetence and corruption.

Dub?ek also announced that farmers would have the right to form independent co-operatives and that trade unions would have increased rights to bargain for their members. Crucially, however, Dub?ek stated that Czechoslovakia had no intention of leaving the Warsaw Pact. Between July and August 1968, he met senior Moscow politicians on the Slovakian-Ukraine border to reassure them that they had nothing to worry about and that what he was trying to achieve would have no bearing on the Warsaw Pact and its ability to compete with NATO. He repeated the same message to all members of the Warsaw Pact on August 3rd 1968.

However, Dub?ek was informed by Moscow that they had discovered evidence that West Germany was planning to invade the Sudetenland and that the Soviet Union would provide Czechoslovakia with the troops needed to protect her from invasion. Dub?ek refused the offer but he must have known that this would count for nothing.

His reassurances about not leaving the Warsaw Pact were ignored and on August 20th/21st Soviet troops (with token forces from other members of the Warsaw Pact) invaded Czechoslovakia. Dub?ek was arrested by released after talks in Moscow. Dub?ek claimed that the talks had been “comradely” and that he was abandoning his reform programme. As a result, Dub?ek remained as First Secretary until April 1969 when he was appointed Speaker of the Federal Assembly until he was expelled from the Communist Party in 1970. Following his expulsion, he was banished to Bratislava where he worked in a timber yard.”

 

Prague ’68 followed Hungary ’56.  It was another signal by the Kremlin that it would not tolerate dissent in any of its satellites.

The Soviet control over Eastern Europe began to crumble in the 1980s.

First, the USSR economy fell apart and no doses of Perestroika did anything to fix it.   You can’t be an economic superpower if your tractors don’t work.

Second, the West stood strong led by every US president from Truman to the first Bush.   It was a good example of bipartisanship and serious leadership.

Third, the Poles in the 1980s completed what the Hungarians and Czechs started.  They revolted and succeeded in bringing down the Soviet empire.

Ironically, it was workers who brought down the “workers’ paradise.

It was many years ago and there are other issues on the table.

Nevertheless, it’s important to remember today Alexander Dubcek and all of the men and women who stood up to Soviet tanks.

Rio and the poor side of town

 

(My new American Thinker post)

As the world celebrates some rather amazing athletic skills, Rio’s slums are war zones where drug cartels fight for territory and profits.

This is from Simon Romero, who’s spending some time reporting  from the poor side of town:

But in the shadow of the Olympics, a slow-burning war between drug gangs and the nation’s security forces is taking place. As the casualties mount in the favela where Richard lives with his family, the Games seem — to them and thousands of others in some of Rio’s poorest areas — like they are taking place in some distant city.

In a flare-up of fighting over the last week, more than 200 police officers stormed into Alemão’s labyrinth of alleyways. Calling their operation Germânia, the European region of warring tribes that was once largely subdued by the Roman Empire, the police fatally shot two men, while a top counternarcotics official was wounded…

Some of the 70,000 people who live in Alemão, outside the gaze of the television crews focusing on Rio’s wonders, nurtured hopes of a calm as the Summer Games got underway. But then came the gunfire on Tuesday, followed by more battles on Wednesday and an outpouring of desperation and rage.

Am I the only one who sees a little bit of Chicago in all of this? I mean the helplessness of people living in areas without investment, growth, or opportunity.

Brazil is frustrating to watch for a couple of reasons:

a) This is one of the top 10 GDPs in the world. It’s hard to believe that you can see this poverty in a country that manufactures aircrafts and has done a masterful job in using ethanol to move cars; and,

b) Most of the nation’s problems are a tribute to crony capitalism. In the end, it does not create prosperity but it sure makes a few people really rich.

The world will say goodbye to Rio soon. The slums will go back to being Rio’s poor side of town.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

Venezuela: Food on one side and shortages on the other

 

 

(My new American Thinker post)

Like me, my friend Jose Nino was brought by his parents to the U.S. to live in freedom. He was born in Venezuela and me in Cuba. He came in the 1990s and I came in the 1960s. I guess that people who escape socialist nightmares have a lot of memories in common, from empty shelves to repression to the fear that the knock on the door means that your father is headed to a political prison.

Jose updated us this week about the plight of people in Venezuela. This is what he wrote:

Nearly 2 million Venezuelans have left the country since Hugo Chavez assumed power in 1999. Naturally, their common places of destination — Colombia, Panama, Spain, United States —  enjoy significantly higher degrees of economic freedom than Venezuela currently does.

It is small wonder why socialist countries are marked by large diasporas.

As the economist Milton Friedman sagaciously observed, people “vote with their feet” when government policy becomes too oppressive and makes earning a living next to impossible in their country of origin.

The 35,000 Venezuelans that made their way over to Colombia effectively casted a vote of no confidence in Venezuela’s irrational, political system. Instead of waiting in an endless line to buy goods or rely on a black market that has become increasingly co-opted by the government, these brave individuals decided to exercise their liberty as consumers and go to a country with a modicum of economic freedom.

More than just a series of economic transactions, the aforementioned movement of people is a veritable form of civil disobedience. Tyrannical regimes despise a citizenry that votes with its feet and take its talents and purchasing power abroad.

Many seem to overlook that the fall of Berlin Wall was not so much a top-down decision made by political elites, but rather an organic uprising spurred by individuals that were frustrated with the totalitarian status quo. It was the determination of the countless individuals who saw through the illusion of socialism that led to the ultimate collapse of one of the most totalitarian systems that the world has ever seen.

Now it’s Venezuela’s turn to knock down its proverbial Berlin Wall and let economic freedom and the rule of law be the order of the day.

We know that people are seriously lacking food in Venezuela. They rush over to Colombia to look for the basic foodstuffs, from milk to cereals. There are scenes of people confronting soldiers screaming “we want food“.

As this human tragedy unfolds, the world watches. Leaders look at each other wondering who will take the lead and call for some multinational action. Where is the OAS or the UN when we really need them?

Of course, the world looks to Washington and they see a president obsessed with calling Trump “unfit”, releasing Gitmo detainees or issuing memos on transgender bathrooms.

Wonder if Venezuelans think that the detached Obama is fit to be the leader of the free world?

We are not suggesting a U.S. intervention but something has to be done to save the people of Venezuela from this misery. The U.S. could play a huge positive role but it takes leadership, or exactly the ingredient lacking at the moment.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

Down in Brasilia, not far from Rio

(My new American Thinker post)

As the readers may know, Brasilia is the capital city of Brazil. It was a city literally built to avoid conflicts of jealousy between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the two monster metropolitan areas.   The idea was finally turned into reality in 1956, although construction began many years before.

As athletes win medals in Rio, Brazil’s politicians in Brasilia have been engaged in their own contests in the form of the corruption trial of President Dilma Rousseff.   Yesterday, the Brazilian Congress voted to impeach the leftist president and begin a full trial.

This is from Reuters:

With the eyes of the world on the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, senators in the capital Brasilia voted 59-21 against the suspended leftist leader in a raucous, 20-hour session presided over by Chief Justice Ricardo Lewandowski.

A conviction would definitively remove Rousseff from office, ending 13 years of leftist rule by her Workers Party, and confirm that interim President Michel Temer will serve out the rest of her term through 2018.

Rousseff’s opponents needed only a simple majority in the 81-seat Senate to put her on trial for manipulating government accounts and spending without congressional approval, which they say helped her win re-election in 2014.

A verdict is expected at the end of the month and will need the votes of two-thirds of the Senate to convict Rousseff, five votes less than her opponents mustered on Wednesday.

Acting President Michel Temer will serve out the rest of President Rouseff’s term if she is convicted.

Beyond the dramatics of a corruption trail, there is some economic reality to deal with. Mr. Temer is hoping for a conviction so that he can formally take over and address the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

Temer wants the trial behind him so that he can address public spending and reform a very generous pension system. Temer, who is well liked by the business sector in contrast to the leftist Rouseff, wants to restore confidence in the world’s 8th largest GDP.

So there are two major events going on down in Brazil: Rio and the medals plus an unprecedented political crisis in the federal government.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

Olympics? Brazilians are busy with politics!

 

 

(My new American Thinker post)

The Olympics start next Friday.  We trust that everything goes well, although there are many reasons to worry, from crime to infrastructure to even terrorism.  Let’s hope that the accomplishments of the athletes, and nothing else, is the big story from Rio.

On the political front, Brazilians are watching one amazing telenovela.  The latest is about Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former president of Brazil who is now a target of the investigation over bribery at Petrobras, the oil monopoly.

This is from The New York Times:

Lawyers for Mr. da Silva said in a statement that he was innocent of the obstruction charges, saying that he had “never interfered” in the Petrobras investigation.
The charges stem from testimony by Delcídio do Amaral, a former senator in the Workers’ Party who was arrested in November after he was heard in a secret recording describing an elaborate plan for Nestor Cerveró, a former Petrobras executive ensnared in the scandal, to flee Brazil on a private plane.

We will follow the events and see where the trial goes.  In the short run, there are a couple of problems:

1) Lula, as he is known by supporters, was planning to run for president in 2018.  Obviously, his plans will have to wait for the determination of this trial.

2) Brazil’s political system has been exposed as one gigantic case of crony capitalism.

3) All of this political bickering is making Brazilians even more cynical about their politicians.  After all, it wasn’t long ago that Lula was the darling of most citizens, in part because of the economic boom that coincided with his two terms.  Like President Clinton, President Lula had some rather amazing good timing when it came to economic growth.

Lula’s out of luck.  He now faces real charges of corruption, as well as a public furious with the economic slowdown.

So let’s hope the Olympics goes well, because politics isn’t!

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

ISIS and the missing Gitmo guy targeting Rio Olympics for terror?

(My new American Thinker post)

Brazil has enough problems these days, from a lousy economy to a political crisis to zika and a “futbol” team that can’t win anymore.

Let’s add another one and this one (via Fausta’s Blog) may be the most unpleasant of all:

A new Telegram channel, Ansar al-Khilafah Brazil, appeared today, declaring itself an ISIS cell in Brazil that had pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. “If French police couldn’t stop France attacks, then their training Brazil’s police will serve no use,” said a message on the new channel. But the administrator later posted that it was just a messaging channel with one person reposting ISIS news in several languages.
ISIS has been offering its regular propaganda channel in Portuguese along with English, French, German, Russian and other languages in target areas.


We add the crazy story of the GITMO alumnus living in Uruguay who is suddenly missing.  It is believed that he crossed illegally into Brazil.  We don’t believe that he went to Rio to learn how to “samba” or to tell Sergio Mendes that he loved his “Fool on the Hill” arrangement.

Let’s safely assume that he is up to no good with thousands coming to Rio for the Olympics.  After all, he is a terrorist!

In the past, we may have overlooked these threats, but you can’t anymore, after Nice, Orlando, San Bernardino and Paris.

Brazilian authorities assure us that there is no specific threat.   Frankly, I can understand that they may be trying to downplay it.    At the same time, the aforementioned article reminds us that French ISIS fighter Maxime Hauchard tweeted, “Brazil, you are our next target.”

We know that ISIS loves soft targets.   What could be “softer” than thousands of people moving around a major city during an Olympic event?  It’s scary!

So let’s hope that the entire world has their eyes open because these threats have to be taken very seriously.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

Meet Hugo’s daughter (‘La chica rica’)

maria-money chavez daughter
Maria Chavez

(My new American Thinker post)

Let me introduce you to the richest young woman in Venezuela, or “la chica rica”, i.e. the rich girl.

Her name is María Gabriela Chávez, or the daughter of the socialist Hugo Chavez.

According to Ezequiel Spector, a lawyer, PhD candidate, professor at the University Torcuato Di Tella and contributor at PanAm Post, this is one lucky Maria:

The alleged fortune of María Gabriela Chávez, daughter of the late Hugo Chávez, has recently stirred up controversy in Venezuela. Media reports suggest that Chávez’s daughter has US$4.2 billion stored in bank accounts in the United States and Andorra, which might make her the wealthiest person in Venezuela.

Critics have pointed to a supposed inconsistency: how can one support the so-called Bolivarian Revolution while enjoying such enormous riches? However, the premise of this critique is flawed, because it assumes that Chavismo emerged to uphold rights and equality.

How did the Chavez family get so filthy rich? Did they create great industries and hire thousands of people?   Did they contribute to the economy?    They did it because they stole it in the name of income inequality:

They are rich because the government has awarded them privileges and subsidies, at the expense of the average citizen. That’s 21st-century socialism’s social mobility. They don’t want capitalism, since their socialist system has already made them quite comfortable.

They also do it because the Western media doesn’t ask them about their wealth.

For example, Raul Castro’s daughter, Mariela, recently visited the US.   She was given a total pass by US journalists who were fascinated by the Cuban health care system rather than Castro, Inc, the empire that has made her family fifthly rich too.

Maria Gabriela in Caracas and Mariela in Havana, a couple of lucky girls who preach socialism and live like Maria Antoniette!

As Hall & Oates sang many years ago:

“You can rely on the old man’s money

You can rely on the old man’s money….”

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.