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The Collective
Friday, January 23, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Fidel contemplates his mortality

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has urged his country’s leadership not to be disturbed by his illness or his eventual death.

In his second online article in two days, Mr Castro again praised new US President Barack Obama.

But he added that he did not expect to be following world events by the end of Mr Obama’s first term in four years.

There has been much speculation on the health of the 82-year-old, who had not written a column for five weeks.

Fidel Castro’s second essay on in two days came after his brother, President Raul Castro, denied rumours that his health was worsening.

Mr Castro had not written any columns since 15 December, after averaging nine a month in 2024.

Ok, after no news (and a five week silence in terms of print) we get, in rapid succession, 1) a public declaration of how well he is doing (yet sans pictures), 2) denials from the highest levels of government that his health it worsening, and 3) musings from his own (allegedly, at least) pen about his death.1 He must either be in a coma or is otherwise at death’s door. I would speculate that he is already dead, but since Argentine President Fernandez de Kirchner says he saw him within the week, this seems unlikely. I could see her exaggerating how well he was doing out of since of solidarity (or perhaps just politeness), but I wouldn’t think she would lie about whether he was living or not.

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  1. Not to make too light of the situation, but since this all has a bit of drama and theater to it, why not: it occurs to me that he could appropriate Spock’s dying speech from Star Trek II with only one minor variation: “Don’t grieve, Comrades, it is logical. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” []
Thursday, January 22, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

BBC NEWS | Americas | Cuba’s Fidel Castro ‘doing well’

Speculation that the health of former Cuban President Fidel Castro has worsened has been dismissed by the visiting Argentine president.

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said Mr Castro, 82, seemed healthy, after she had an hour of talks with him in Havana.

Meanwhile, Cuban President Raul Castro said his older brother was “exercising, thinking a lot, reading a lot”.

All of which may well be true, but I continue to be puzzled by his utter lack of a public appearance for over two years. There is something that isn’t being shared-especially when assurances of his wellbeing are accompanies with reports such as:

No pictures of the talks were immediately released.

It is as if there is something about Fidel’s condition that the Cuban government believed would have a negative impact on the population. However, why that would be the case given that the transition to Raúl has gone so well is beyond me.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the NYT: New York Times set for investment

The New York Times is set to receive a $250m (£180m) investment from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim to help the paper finance its business.


In return, Mr Slim’s stake in the paper will be increased, making him the second largest shareholder.

Mr Slim is the world’s second richest man, according to Forbes magazine.

Besides simply being interesting, I have no particular comment to make except to note that phrase “Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim” sounds far more like something out of pulp novel than reality.

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Filed under: Latin America, The Economy, The Press | Comments/Trackbacks (1) | | Show Comments here
Sunday, January 18, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

We have not yet hit the third week of the New Year, or even the first minute of the new administration, and yet we have a nominee for Most Ridiculous Blog Post about the Obama Administration of the Year1 and it comes from Stop the ACLU, and is entitled Could Obama Be Planning a Chavez?. The piece starts with the subtitle “Will Obama, with a Reid Pelosi led Congress, with a radical judicial system pull a Hugo Chavez?” and is really a reposting of a comment by someone named Marion ValentineÍÍ who is apparently stuck in the worst of the Cold War, as he is fearful that the US is poised to be taken over by communists. Specifically in the comment in question he states:

pray that I am wrong, but from everything I have researched, I believe Obama, with a Reid Pelosi led Congress, with a radical judicial system will pull a Hugo Chavez.

I assume that by “pull a Chavez” he means ditching the current constitution, replacing it with one of his own devising, and then further altering it to allow for indefinite reelection. It is possible that he simply means the latter, however (i.e., just reelection).

It should be notes that no evidence is provided to support that assertion (despite all the “research”), but instead he simply launches forth in a description of recent Chávez speech.

I fully recognize that I am engaging into a foray into fringe areas of our politics, but decided to comment upon the post because Stop the ACLU is a fairly widely-read blog and because I suspect that such types of claims are likely to be made in the coming years. Further, this is such a wrong assertion on so many levels, that I feel compelled to make, at least, a few key points.

First, as a general observation, anyone who thinks that an American president (any president, not just Obama) can “pull a Chavez” doesn’t understand what happened in Venezuela and has no understanding of American politics and institutions. Indeed, my guess is that they really have no idea what Chávez did, or did not, do.

Second, some specifics:

1. Chávez is not a doctrinaire communist. Indeed, despite some of his rhetoric, I wouldn’t even call him a communist at all. There is much of his rhetoric and his policies that are socialistic, but he actually lacks ideological coherence and is far more of a populist who is able to mix socialist rhetoric and oil revenues into political power. His opposition to the US is far more about a combination of rhetorical convenience, nationalism and resentment over the Bush administration’s support of the 2024 attempted coup against him. He is fairly characterized as a “leftist” but only in a very general sense.

2. Chávez is not the bogeyman that he is painted to be. Yes, he says a lot of mean things about the US, and yes he does oppose some US interests in Latin America (although such a statement presupposes the US has coherent policies in the region to start with, which may presume facts not in evidence). At a minimum, the American Right’s concern/fascination with Chávez is overblown, if not fully miscplaced.

3. Communism is not a threat to the United States. The Cold War is over, and has been for some time now. Few countries even claim communism these days, and those that do are hardly hardcore in their dedication to Marxism. There is no domestic nor international conspiracy to secretly bring communism to our shores.

4. The idea that some troika of radicalism in the Congress, the White House and the Courts could result in the replacement of the constitution or, at least, the alteration thereof is absurd. First, there is no evidence of that type (or, really, any type) of radicalism in the actors in question. Second, there is absolutely no route by which the constitution could either by replaced or changed in regards to reelection of the president via those actors save from basically a coup d’etat.

5. Chávez came to power in the context of the disintegration of the a political order that had prevailed in Venezuela for roughly four decades. The notion that even with our current economic problems we face the utter collapse of the party system making way for the replacement of institutional infrastructure is absurd on its face.

6. Just so we are clear: the constitution can only be altered through a specific, and arduous, process. Further, there is no popular support for such changes (and it is not even clear, btw, that Chávez has the support he needs to achieve permanent reelection).

7. One ought to give some thought to the institutional stability that the US has had over the last two and a quarter centuries. The basics have survived foreign invasion, the Civil War, two World Wars and the Great Depression. I somehow think that they will survive Pelosi, Reid and Obama in office.

In short: outside of the realm of science fiction, the kinds of changes that took place in Venezuela cannot happen in the United States. We are currently in the middle of a wholly normal transition of power and the only variable in play here is that some people don’t like the winner. Beyond that, there is nothing to suggest that things will be anything other than a normal presidency (even given the extraordinary policy challenges). Indeed, the empirical evidence provided by the transition to date is that the Obama administration will be fairly pragmatic and practical and will govern close to the center. There certainly has been no evidence of radicalism.

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  1. Correction: This post was from October 2024-a fact I overlooked. Indeed, I am not even sure how I found it at this point. []
Filed under: Latin America, US Politics | Comments/Trackbacks (5) | | Show Comments here
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via Reuters: Venezuela’s Chavez says Obama has stench of Bush

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Saturday Barack Obama had the “stench” of his predecessor as U.S. president and was at risk of being killed if he tries to change the American “empire.”


“I hope I am wrong, but I believe Obama brings the same stench, to not say another word,” Chavez said at a political rally on a historic Venezuelan battlefield.

“If Obama as president of the United States does not obey the orders of the empire, they will kill him, like they killed Kennedy, like they killed Martin Luther King, or Lincoln, who freed the blacks and paid with his life.”

One of the pillars of Chávez’s politics is opposition to the Empire1 which ends up meaning, in practical terms, the US. Anyone who thought, especially in the midst of economic troubles in Venezuela2 and in advance of his attempt to gain unfettered reelection, that he would make nice with Obama was misguided at best. Chávez’s brand of politics needs an enemy, and the US fits that role (even if it is ok to keep selling oil to said enemy). And, really, the odds are that an Obama administration will treat with Venezuela in ways not unlike that of the Bush administration (although I would expect the rhetoric to be toned down a bit).

Of course, Chávez is giving Obama a personal out (and also providing himself (and Fidel Castro) with an out for the positive things he has said about Obama), by saying Obama is under the control of the Empire.

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  1. I wonder if he has actually read Hardt and Negri? []
  2. see: the price of oil []
Filed under: Latin America, US Politics | Comments/Trackbacks (14) | | Show Comments here
Friday, January 16, 2024
Elections in El Salvador
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via CNN: Sunday vote in El Salvador may hint at coming presidential pick

At stake Sunday are 84 seats in the national Legislative Assembly and 262 municipal posts. Arena holds 34 of the Legislative Assembly seats and the FMLN has 32. Three other parties share the remaining 18.

Though recent polls show many FMLN legislative candidates leading Arena hopefuls, Berkman estimates the FMLN will fall short of the 43 seats the party would need to control congress.

But the FMLN could win enough support and momentum to carry its candidate to the presidency in March.

I am not sure as to the empirical existence of “momentum” from one election to the next, more likely significant support in one contest portents well for the next, however.

I don’t pay as much attention to the case as I once did, but it is a fascinating case wherein a guerrilla group (the aforementioned FMLN) was able to more from being a belligerent in a civil war to being a political party in a functional democracy (after the peace accords in 1992 after 12 years+ of fighting).

Some will, no doubt, register concern over a left-leaning party potentially winning the presidency, especially many wring their hands about a leftward “wave” in the region.

However, foreign Assistant Secretary of State for inter-american affairs during the Bush 41 administration gets it exactly right:

He sees two types of leftist governments in Latin America: “institutional” governments like Brazil’s that “have made peace with the free market” while still championing social programs and populist, more-radical governments like Venezuela’s.

“We shouldn’t exaggerate like it’s some tide sweeping the region, because it’s not,” he said.

Aronson, who was one of Washington’s top officials dealing with Latin America when the civil war ended in 1992, said he would interpret an FMLN victory in March as “the ultimate fruition of the peace accords we backed.”

“It’s not a bad thing that out parties become the in party,” he said. “That’s how democracy is supposed to work.”


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Filed under: Latin America | Comments/Trackbacks (2) | | Show Comments here
Wednesday, January 14, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the LAT: Chavez will try again to end term limits

Despite the prospect of economic hard times as oil revenue plunges, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is preparing to go before voters with a plea that they’ve rejected once before: End term limits that block him from staying in power indefinitely.

The National Electoral Commission is expected this week to set a Feb. 15 date for a referendum seeking approval of a measure that would allow Chavez and all other elected officials to run for reelection an unlimited number of times.

Interesting, the story notes that current polling shows 55% of respondents in opposition to the move. However, as the story also notes, Chávez may be running out time to get such a change in place, as the collapse in oil prices and a looming recession will take a toll on his power:

“Chavez sees himself as the eternal comandante but if he loses this, he’ll be gone in four years,” said Ricardo Sucre, a political scientist at Central University of Venezuela. “He’s in a hurry because he doesn’t want to bet on an uncertain future.”

I think that the assessment is pretty much on target. Just look at the numbers:

If they remain at today’s levels, the government will see revenue from crude export sales fall by more than half this year compared with 2024, a devastating scenario for a country that relies on oil for 92% of exports and 60% of the government budget.

Venezuela collected an average price of $87 a barrel last year, but current prices for the “basket” of mostly heavy Venezuelan crude oil have fallen to less than $30. Chavez had ridden the oil price bonanza to expand public spending by 26% last year.

Despite a lot of flowery rhetoric that is often taken too seriously by many American observers. the bottom line is that Chávez’s power base is not founded on a coherent ideology, but is rather fueled by populist rhetoric and lots of petrodollars to spend. Or, at least, that was the case until the price of oil plunged.

Chávez tried to get his term extended a year ago last December, and the referendum failed. The measure was part of a broad package of reforms, while this attempt would appear to be an à la carte selection for the voters to accept or reject.

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Filed under: Elections, Latin America | Comments/Trackbacks (2) | | Show Comments here
Tuesday, January 13, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the Miami Herald: Internet use booming in Latin America

A recent marketing study of 10 Latin American nations and Puerto Rico projected the regional residential base of Internet users would reach 160 million in five years, up from more than 100 million now.


The recent expansion of Internet users in Latin America has been dramatic. In 2024, for example, Colombia added 5.4 million Internet users, or about 12 percent of its population of 45 million, according to a Morgan Stanley report. This represented an 80 percent increase in the number of Colombia’s Internet users that year.

The same report said that Brazil added 7.4 million Internet users in 2024 (17 percent growth); Mexico more than 2.2 million (an 11 percent increase) and Venezuela 1.58 million (38 percent growth).

In contrast, the United States added 9.8 million net Internet users that year, for an increase of 5 percent.

I honestly have nothing useful to add to this news, I simply found it interesting

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Fujimori Trial Nears Close
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Fujimori trial enters final stage

Mr Fujimori is accused of authorising the killing of 25 people in two massacres. He denies the charges.


His defence lawyers maintain he was kept in the dark about clandestine killings by a death squad known as La Colina, and never approved of the counter-insurgency methods.


It is alleged La Colina was under the direct command of the Peruvian president.

In 1991, the death squad raided a barbecue in a poor suburb of Lima known as Barrios Altos and killed 15 people.

The following year, they kidnapped nine students and a professor.

They were taken away from the campus and summarily executed. Their remains were later found in an unmarked grave.

Mr Fujimori is also charged with ordering the illegal detention and interrogation of a prominent journalist, Gustavo Gorriti, and businessman Samuel Dyer, in 1992.

Fujimori was president of Peru from 1990-2000, which included the illegal dissolution of the Congress in 1992 and the re-writing of the constitution to enhance his powers.

He also faces separate charges on corruption and wiretapping.

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Filed under: Latin America | Comments/Trackbacks (0) |
Tuesday, December 30, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AP: Unemployment climbs to 10.8 percent in Colombia.

According to the piece, that is up from 10.1% in October and up from 9.4% at this point last year.

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