A Review of the Year: Latin America in 2011

Latin America

Latin America’s 2011 is dominated by drug abuse, conspiracy and power politics as the drug cartels increase their stranglehold on the Central American supply routes in North America leaving a trail of blood and destruction in their wake, cultural clashes between the rich and the poor, the majority and the minority and politics gets a shake up from democratic and non-democratic sources shaking up the received wisdom about Latin American political elites.

The War on Drugs: The US government’s funding of the ‘Merida Initiative’ launched in 2007 to provide financial backing to police forces in Central America to crush the drug cartels operating in the area, drew fresh criticism in a peaceful march from the border city of Ciudad Juarez to a rally in El Paso, Texas to highlight the thousands of Latin America lives already lost. Javier Sicilia, a Mexican poet who led the march said ‘Americans have to realise that behind every puff of pot, every line of coke, there is death, there are shattered families’ and the UN published a report in the same month concluding that the ‘war on drugs’ had failed as battling dug cartels in one area simply means they move to another. Whilst the USA continues its ‘Just Say No’ policies, Central America is increasingly being overrun by criminal gangs who infiltrate politics, the police force and the judiciary. They also silence journalists through fear and intimidation, Reporters Without Borders calls Central America one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist.

Political Shake-up In Peru: Every now and then, power politics in Latin America will surprise you. Normally when the son or daughter of a previous president runs for office, they will get it no matter whether or not their father was indicted for corruption. Sucession is seemingly just the done thing a lot of the time. However this year that theory backfired for Keiko Fujimori after she narrowly lost the Peruvian presidential election to Ollanta Humala, the former army office who attempted a coup to throw her father Alberto out of office in the first place. What was not so new was Humala’s position as a populist, left-wing firebrand who promised the usual redistribution of wealth, an end to corruption and cronyism and an end to drug cartel influence in Peru. After he was sworn in this summer he began to his campaign to rid the police force of corrupt officers, forcing 30 out of 45 police generals in retirement in October. However critics say this was a tactical move to get rid of his enemies and stuff the force with his allies. Peru retains the highest perception of crime against its actual crime rate than in any other Latin American country, it is also the world’s second largest producer of cocaine after Colombia but its detection and eradication rates are much lower. Humala also invested in another 5000 troops to create what he claims will be a stable and reliable police force. However, he now faces a new challenge as he tries to meet the mining and gas interests in his country while still placating the thousands of protests against the projects which are swarming around Peru. He pushed through a law meaning companies have to consult local communities before developing and imposed a $3 billion mining tax but he is currently walking a tightrope between his countries interests and their finances.

Chavez’ Cancer Plot: Despite strenuous denials, Venezula’s Hugo Chavez finally announced what the world already guessed back in July; that the reason he was going to Cuba was to seek medical treatment for an unspecified form of cancer. This comes a huge setback to the leader who needs to be filled with his usual amount of energy to get through the upcoming election in 2012. Instead of putting this done to misfortune, Chavez publicly speculated whether it could have anything to do with US dislike for his socialist self-styled ‘revolutionary’ politics that are at odds with American foreign policy in the region. He claimed in December, whilst at pains to stress that it was not an accusation, that the USA may have engineered a plot to infect Latin America leaders with cancer in light of the news that Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will undergo treatment for thyroid cancer in January. He said he was not making an accusation but noted that the evidence that the USA infected over 2500 Guatemalans with STDs during medical experiments in the 1940s and warned Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, to ‘be careful’.

Haiti’s Reconstruction: After the devastation of the Haiti earthquake in January 2010 there was an outpouring of aid and sympathy from the Western world as money and help was pledged to get Haiti back on its feet again. Already one of the world’s poorest countries, the small Caribbean island struggled to get back on its feet and the world’s news cameras drifted away to other disasters such as the Pakistan floods. A year later the cameras return to document what progress had been made and then promptly left again. The Haiti Reconstruction Fund has been set up by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the United Nations (UN) and the World Bank and other donors to provide aid indefinitely to finance Haiti’s reconstruction. There has been some progress but there are still 600,000 people living in tents in the capital, Port-Au-Prince. In September 2011, the UN announced they were scaling back the number of peacekeepers in the country. Reconstruction has been hampered by the lack of authentic land ownership documentation and it is proving impossible to determine who owns what. The new President, Michel Martelly, a popular singer, was sworn in March 2011 and he has vowed to reform agriculture, streamlining the delivery of humanitarian aid and restoring law and order by bringing back the military disbanded a decade ago over human rights abuses.

Brazil’s ‘pacification’ of its slums: The residents of a sprawling slum, Rocinha, in Rio de Janiero woke up to the sounds of seven helicopters, 24 armoured vehicles and at least 3000 police officers in the early hours of a Sunday morning in November as Brazilian authorities started clearing the city of drug lords in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics being held in the city. Police Special Operations Unit (BOPE) carried out the removal of approximately 10,000 people from the hillside slum home to some of the city’s poorest inhabitants but situated next to one of the country’s most luxurious beach resorts. The slum, Rio’s largest, is said to be its largest drug provider and the aim of the operation was to root out drug gangs as part of the wider operation that has already hunted down 18 drug gangs.

Chile Protests: Much like in the rest of the world, for Chile 2011 was a year of protest. The biggest movement of the year as been the ongoing Education Protest with its supposed leader, Camilla Vallejo, becoming an internationally lauded figure in a way a British student protester could only dream of. There has been little investment in public education since the fall of the Pinochet dictatorship in the early nineties, although university student numbers have swelled, private universities take most students. Due to public support for the movement, 72 to 81 per cent of Chileans polled in August said they supported their demands down to a still impressive two-thirds in November contrasted with failing approval ratings for President Sebastián Piñera down to 26-30 per cent, the government has been forced to make concessions by sacking their Education Minister (twice) and passing a bill that would end ‘for-profit’ education. So far one protester has been killed in violent clashes with hundreds of students being injured or arrested. The movement has inspired another, more peaceful protests from other disenfranchised groups in Chilean society.

A Review of the Year: Europe in 2011

Unlike Africa, which often seems to be forgotten about, Europe and its many, many crises never seem to be far from the headlines. 2011 was no exception with the trials and tribulations never far from the headlines. From electoral crises in Russia to media crises in Britain to financial crises everywhere, European affairs never seemed to slow down. Here is a rundown of the most important in case you miss anything:

Eurozone: If you were to explain the European debt crisis to an idoit you’re best bet would probably be along the lines of ‘Euro go BOOM’. Truth is there are probably few people who really understand the ins and outs of it. Regardless, the EU is up shit creek with its only paddle being an extremely reluctant Angela Merkel. First Greece realised that it was unable to pay the interest on its domestic debts and was about to default and take every economy in the Eurozone with it. Then Ireland and Portugal jumped in on the action with Spain and Italy teetering on the edge eventually cost the heads of the Socialist Party of Spain, which lost an election in November and the Carry On Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi who was forced to resign in December. This lead to frantic discussions between Merkozy- or Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, Europe’s second weirdest power couple after Cameron and Clegg- over ‘what to do about the debt’ that Cameron dipped in and out of before causing another crisis by dropping out of the treaty they eventually drew up. The soap opera continues.

Greece: Poor Greece. You make the tiniest alteration to your fiscal health reports to get you into an exclusive fiscal club and then find yourself dealing with dire consequences eight years later and all the doctors helping you can say is ‘its your own fault’ and ‘you should have known better’. A series of economic reforms in Greece in the early part of last decade that meant they were able to borrow more easily and as a result they were forced to go to the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to borrow a ‘international rescue package’ to the tune of £111bn. In order to ensure there would be no further bailouts the Greek parliament introduced a number of austerity measures that led to rioting on the streets and the resignation of the Greek Prime Minister over giving the people a referendum on the measures.

Italy: Next up to have their own meltdown was Italy who were suffering from the onset of ‘a liquidty’ crisis as there were no bankers to buy the fancy cars and other luxury items the Italian economy rests on. Furthermore the ongoing structural problems such as corruption continued to rackle. Italy is a country were approximately 0.17 per cent of the population pay tax and most young people go abroad to find work as there are few jobs avaliable to those without connections in any particualr industry. Silvio Berlusconi provided light relief for the most of the year before the sex scandals, the gaffes and the cronyism got too much and Berlusconi was booted out to stand trial for sex with an underage prostitute.

Britain: The British economy did not default in 2011 but judging by the behaviour of its citizens you would not be surprised. There were protests about public sector pensions, tuition fee rises, cuts to public services, closing libraries. It would seem anything and everything made people take to the streets in protest. In August, they even took to the streets to loot their local Adidas. Then from October onwards they took up residence in St Paul’s Cathedral to protest against the entire financial and social system of Britain. The government’s plans to counter this was to stick their fingers in their ears, lock them up and wave a shiny, expensive distraction in their face. An outside observer commenting on Britain would say the country seemed to be in chaos and there was little organised or harmonious political process to be had this year as the British public no longer trusted their government, their media or even each other. Oooh, but wasn’t the wedding lovely?

Russia: Another country, another protest. The Economist review of the year confidently predicted that Vladmir Putin would win the Presidental election planned for 2012. However, recent protests across Russia have made the previously rock solid Putin regime seem rocky for the first time. Russia has never had a long and illustrious track record when it comes to democracy but the continued efforts of thousands of people in Moscow, St Petersburg and other cities in Russia show signs that Putin made not be able to make these allegations of election fraud ‘disappear’.

Norway: The world was reminded that terroism doesn’t just come in Muslim shaped packages this summer as Anders Behring Breivik went on a shooting spree killing 37 teenagers at a political camp on the island of Uteya this July, hours after detonating a bomb that killed seven in the national capital, Oslo. Breivik has subsequently been declared criminally insane and will probably spend the rest of his life in a mental institution. The shocking nature of his crime however, exposed the hitherto unremarked but sizable presence of a Neo-Nazi movement in Scandinavina and the national- and international- tragedy has reminded people not to become to complacent and there are evil people do unimaginably evil deeds all the time and they do not fit into easily recognisable boxes.