lunes, 27 de agosto de 2007

Latin American Axis of Evil

George W Bush's infamous axis of evil is quite a paradox. Certainly, Irak, Iran and North Korea are not beacons of democracy and individual freedom. In that sense, Bush was right. The fundamental contradiction is that American heavy-handed foreign policy has exacerbated the problem, being Bush himself an active part of an axis of evil. We could regard the Bush Administration, the Religious Right, the Republican Party and Fox News (we report, you decide) as a pivotal devilish and corrosive force.

During the cold-war years, Latin Americans experienced the constant political intervention by the URSS and the US, flaring up conflicts and armed struggles in every single country. It is not fair to put all the blame on the US alone. Soviet communism was equally pervasive. But the cold war is over. Former fledgling democratic projects have stregthened. State-owned companies are being privatised and, more importantly, the electorate seem to understand why it is better to pay for a service rather than expect fiscal support (and Central Banks stopped issuing crisps bank notes displaying astronomical figures). In other words, Latin Americans learned that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Even more interesting, most left-wingers are coming to terms with the benefits of free market. The results are evident, as reported in Adiós to poverty, hola to consumption by The Economist Newspaper. The graphic below is eloquent.

For once, governments are keeping the lid on inflation and are less worried about job creation. Fiscally-conservative and free-market policies are finally paying off. I cannot help but saying 'I told you so'. Back in the mid-80s, Chileans complained over privatisaton of telephone services. A couple of years later, every one could have one: it was not a prerogative of the rich anymore. Same with electricity, and most public services. At the time, a few of us thought it was the right thing to do. But we were thought to be fascsists at worse, and not having social conscience at best. Perhaps the latter is true. Social conscience, and everything social, has a bad ring to it, and for a very simple reason: on behalf of the people all sorts of atrocities are committed, and even justified. It is a lot harder to excuse bad policies in the name of individual freedom than for the people (see article on Chile).

Less than two decades later, we find that the left is in charge, but ruling under a new economic framework. I cannot help but remark that more often than not, these new breed of free-market leftists are only paying lip service to the market economy. Michelle Bachelet, Chile's president, epitomises this anomaly. One of yesterday's free-marketeers main achievement, the Chielan private pensions system (AFP), now —according to the government— needs to be transferred back to the state. The source of Chile's main income, cooper-mining, is seen by most as a very efficient state-owned company... what an oxymoronic statment. Not even General Pinochet himself wanted to privatise it. After all, a genuine free economy is dreaded by the right and also the left.

Today, most voters seem to get the virtuosity of free-market mechanisms. But only few are willing to apply them. But others have come up with idiotic ideas such as 21st-century socialism. This is not only the new awkward squad, insetad they are Latin America's Axis of Evil.

The Devil Inside: Chávez, Castro, Morales... and counting
We have all heard of the antics of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez (remember that great spiritual clown Pat Robertson who called to assassinate Chavez?). Sadly, there is yet a lot to hear from him. He is not only a friend at personal and government level with the rulers of Iran, Russia, Libya and even North Korea. Oil companies are again back in the hands of bureaucrats. Extravagant speeches are every day broadcast through the governemnt-controlled media. He has tweaked the country's constution to appointing himself a president for life. And all this is done not only in the name of the Bolivarian Revolution (whatever that is), but on behalf of the people. I wonder if you can ever shut down a TV station on behalf of individual freedom.

Chávez is not alone. In Bolivia, Evo Morales is the president of Latin America's poorest country, which means that it is a really really poor country. Instead of opening up its underperforming economy for the much needed foreign direct investment, he insists on state-controlled developments for the country's huge hydrocarbons reservoirs. The results is bolivians sitting on the world's largest natural gas reserves unable to translate all that into wealth, whilst their Chileans neighbours do not have energy supplies to meet the needs of its fast-growing economy. Bolivia's aversion to foreign capital is fuelled by the socialist speech of president Morales, another self-styled defender of the people.

The third member of the Latin Axis of Evil is Cuba. The vicious man who has been in charge of the Cuba over the last four decades took office, also, on behalf of the people in order to stop the island being the brothel of America. Ironically, today's Cuban women do not charge money in exchange for sexual services. Now they need soap, shampoo and shoes. Let's not forget that Morales and Chávez are admirers of the Cuban model. Apparently, they have found the way to upgrade the old-school socialism to answer the challenges of the new centuries.

Someone has got to stop this madness. The continent is waking up to a new reality and we have a lot of catching up to do. Schools need to be fixed, and the best way is by adopting the school vouchers. Rotten and useless ministries of education are part of the problem, not the solution. We must shut them down. Universities need academic excellence: they also have to be fully privatised. Let people educate themselves, and they will learn to choose better rulers.

We'll Get By With a Little Help from our American Friends
The free-market principles were introduced to the continent via Chile, where a number of American-educated economists applied the teachings of liberal-economics policies taught mainly at the University of Chicago. There were massive blunders, but the errors were outwighed by the positive results. Latin America now needs more free exchange of ideas, capitals and free movement of people. More free-market agreements and more technological transfer. More hispanic professionals should be offered the chance of development in the US, and universities have to deepen their exhange programmes. It benefits all parties involved. And the result will be the defeat of populism.

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