Professor Abraham Lowenthal on democratic transitions and political leadership

We were lucky enough to have Professor Abraham Lowenthal as a visitor at ANU this week. ANCLAS’s Sean Burges was asked to do a short interview with him about his next book, which is a series of interviews with key political leaders in democratic transitions in Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia.

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AFTER THE SECOND YEAR…. #Mexicoenmovimiento



Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto presented his second State of Union earlier this week. Despite the tradition to address Federal Congress at the Palacio Legislativo de San Lázaro, Peña Nieto’s statement took place at the Palacio Nacional in front of almost 1000 guests, including 400 media representatives.

The expectation was for Peña Nieto to praise his government and the Federal Congress for achieving the so awaited structural reforms and especially to highlight the political collaboration of all major forces in both chambers thanks to the famous Pacto por México. For the first time the President of Mexico was welcomed and accompanied by the president of the Senate (Senator Miguel Barbosa) and the president of the Chamber of deputies (Silvano Aureoles MP), who are both from a major opposition party, PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática). Yet Peña Nieto chose to underline the future projects that his administration will undertake.

The first one is the construction of a new international airport in Mexico City, which will be located not far from the current one. It will have six air strips with annual capacity for 120 million passengers, becoming one of the largest airports in the world. In the voice of Peña Nieto the new airport will become a ‘landmark of modern Mexico’. The second project is to extend Mexico City’s public transport system. The expansion of four metro lines represents 43.5 kilometers more of network and 20% of additional capacity.

And finally, the transformation of the social program Oportunidades into PROSPERA.* This new face of social assistance will maintain the current support provided by Oportunidades but will also offer further coverage for vulnerable social sectors. PROSPERA seeks to create alternatives to incorporate citizens into economic activities and at the same time will enhance the government’s poverty alleviation efforts.

While previous versions of PROSPERA had been quite successful in attacking poverty in the country, inequality is still quite pronounced. Once beneficiaries reached a set level of wellbeing they lost certain entitlements to social support and slipped down back. PROSPERA will try to address this withdraw by supporting the incorporation of vulnerable populations into the productive activity. Some of the main measures of this program are financial inclusion, tertiary training, rural development and especial attention for indigenous populations,

It seems that Peña Nieto has been able to create a political consensus around his initiatives. Although the reforms have been approved and as EPN mentioned “reforming is transforming… the reforms were easy, but transformation must follow its course…” Implementation and the long term outcomes are the difficult part, which are still to come. But beyond the support of the political class, does Peña Nieto have the support of the population? Recent polls show that more than half of the population disagrees with EPN’s administration.

EPN and his government appear to realise the changes of Mexico’s socio-economic landscape and intend to address the increasing demands of the population. On the one hand, PROSPERA targets lower and rural classes and on the other hand the infrastructure projects target urban middle classes. Some political experts believe that this is only part of an electoral strategy to gain support for next year’s middle-term election from growing middle-classes living in the capital of the country. Mexico City is in fact PRD’s main political bastion and it turns out that PRD has two serious contenders to the 2018 presidential election, Marcelo Ebrard and Miguel Mancera, the former and the current governors of Mexico City….

Whatever the reading of the second State of the Union is, “Mexico is in movement” as the President himself mentioned on his speech. The issue now is how to maintain the pace and to ensure that both the Mexican government and the society keep up with the transformation that has started…

To read the executive summary of the second State of the Union click here, for the statistical data appendix click here and for the full version and broadcasting video click here.



* This social program was created in the late 1980s by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari under the name of Solidaridad. Then it was change to Pogresa by President Ernesto Zedillo and finally into Oportunidades under PAN governments. .

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by | September 5, 2014 · 2:07 pm

ANCLAS Business briefing in Melbourne, 12 September 2014

The Australian National Centre for Latin American Studies at the Australian National University and the State Government of Victoria proudly invite you to:


Latin America Business Briefing


A unique opportunity for Australian business to learn more about conditions, opportunities and risks for business in Latin America.


Welcome by: Mr Julian Hill.   Acting Deputy Secretary, Trade, Manufacturing, Aviation & Employment, State Government of Victoria


Our distinguished speakers over lunch will be:


Juan MendozaThe controversies and challenges of mining in Latin America

Professor Mendoza is Director of the Master of Arts in Economics at Universidad del Pacífico in Lima and a member of the University´s Research Center since 2010. He holds a Doctorate and a Master of Arts in Economics from Brown University and a Bachelor of Arts from Universidad del Pacífico. He has been a lecturer at Brown University and a Visiting Professor at Peru´s Central Bank and at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia. He was a Professor of Economics at the State University of New York. He was member of the board of directors of several Peruvian mining companies between 2006 and 2010.


Robert Funk “Recent political change in Latin America: the case of Chile”

Robert Funk is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Institute for Public Affairs of the University of Chile and Director of the Institute’s Centre for the Study of Public Opinion. Robert is Executive Director of Plural, a public policy think tank. He obtained his PhD in Government at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Dr. Funk has consulted on Latin American issues for a variety of government and private sector institutions.


Enrique Dussel Peters “Latin America’s engagement with the Asia-Pacific”

Enrique Dussel Peters is a Professor of Economics at the National Autonomous University in Mexico (UNAM) where he directs the China-Mexico Institute. He is the leading expert on Chinese connections with Latin America.


Supported by Dr John Minns, Director, Australian National Centre for Latin American Studies (ANCLAS) at the Australian National University and Dr Sean Burges, Senior Associate at ANCLAS.


Lunch provided.


Where: the Sir Redmond Barry Room, Victorian Government’s Investment Centre,

Level 46, 55 Collins Street, Melbourne


When: 12.30pm – 2.30pm Friday, 12 September


There is no charge however

RSVPs are essential by Friday 5 September:

For more information please contact: or phone +61 2 6125 4697


ANU logo     ANCLAS picture    Victoria


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Registration open — 2014 ANCLAS Conferece — The Asia Pacific-Latin America Nexus

Exploring the Latin America-Asia Pacific Nexus

All day event
9:00am – 5:00pm

The Haydon-Allan Lecture Theatre (The Tank)

The 2014 Latin American and the Shifting Sands of Global Power Conference held by the Australian National Centre for Latin American Studies (ANCLAS) at the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia will explore the extent and nature of the Latin America-Asia Pacific nexus, focusing on the areas of economics, international relations and corruption and governance.

Latin America and the Asia-Pacific have rediscovered each other. In the wake of the global financial crisis, both regions have thrived while traditional economic centres have struggled. This has created a shift in focus, with Latin American businesses and policy makers looking beyond China to include other countries in the Asia-Pacific and vice versa. This growing mutual awareness is reflected in trade, investment and tourism, leading to an enhanced sense of trans-Pacific opportunities.

Conference fee:

            Earlybird (16 August 2014)            Full-time employed: AUD$100
                                                                               Student: AUD$20
            After 16 August 2014                     Full-time employed: AUD$120
                                                                                 Student: AUD$20

For registration and payment via MasterCard and Visa, please follow the link below:
Conference email:

Further details and the program will be posted on the ANCLAS website and the ANCLAS blog as they become available.



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Dollarization days numbered in Ecuador?

In January 2000 Ecuador adopted the US dollar as the national currency in a bid to bring fiscal policy and inflation under control. The country has been coming under increasing balance of payments pressures and is looking for some way to manage the challenge — the problem with dollarization is that you can’t just ‘print’ more dollars if you run short, unless you are the US. Bloomberg wire is reporting that President Rafael Correa has just won approval from Congress for the creation of a type of ‘electronic’ money that can be used for making payments within Ecuador. There is uncertainty about what exactly this means and if it will be used, but one interpretation is that it is the first possible step in a de-dollarization of the Ecuadorian economy.


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Ecuador-Indonesia links to grow?

A report in the Jakarta Post suggests that some specific attention is being given by the Indonesian government to boosting trade and investment ties with Ecuador. Trade is still low, but there seems to be interest in investment and further trade in the energy sector. The story, in English, is here:

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Mexicox telecom


Last week, the House of Representatives approved the last set of regulations of the telecommunications reform launched by President Enrique Peña Nieto. This law is only part of structural changes that the current administration started in 2013. In recent visits to Mexico, the Managing Director of the IMF, Ms Christine Lagarde and the Secretary General of the OECD, Mr. Jose Angel Gurria praised the initiatives started by President Peña Nieto, with the support of the Pacto por México coalition (see previous post). Both representatives agreed that this will transform Mexico’s economy and will improve living standards in the medium term.

The main objective of the reform is to foster fair competition and to increase the productivity of the Mexican industry, especially of micro, small and medium enterprises (SMEs). According to the 2009 economic census (INEGI), SMEs represent 98% of the economic units, produce 52% of GDP and employ 72% of labour force in the country. This means that SMEs are the corner stone of the Mexican economy and therefore it is vital for the country to create conducive conditions for SMEs to flourish. In practical terms, the telecommunications reforms seeks to lower prices and increase quality and coverage of services.

The Senate passed the bill on the 4 July, while the House of Representatives ratified it on the 8 of July. In both chambers, PRD vote against it. Critics argue that there was not any real debate and that there are major gaps in the regulation. It is believed that major corporations were able to protect their interests and that is why the law took more than eight months to be finalised. However, the strength of the reform is that it is embedded article 6 of the National Constitution, which related to the freedom of speech.

While there are many other elements that can be highlighted, for those who have lived in Mexico would agree that these are significant steps that if fully implemented will bring large benefits to telecommunications users. So here are only a few of the practical aspects of the reform, but as experts would notice the extent and technical details of the reform are far beyond the scope of this post. To start the law establishes the Federal Institute of Telecommunications (Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones or IFETEL), replacing the old Federal Commission. IFETEL is an autonomous government body that will function as an anti-trust agency in the sector.

Regarding phone and mobile phone services we can underline the elimination of long distance call and roaming charges, refund of fees for early termination of contracts, mobile devices will be sold unlocked, possibility for mobile phone users to transfer their number across to the carrier of their choice. As for television and radio broadcasting, there will be two new national open television broadcasters and a new state radio and television broadcaster with national coverage and private televisions (pay TV) will be able to telecast free-to-air television for free. Moreover, parental services will be implemented to restrict adult content to young users, any discrimination based on gender or race will be monitored and sanctioned, access to people with disabilities will be enhanced and illegal use of personal data will be strictly penalised. For further details see here.

The success of the reform is still to be seen. Mexico’s telecommunication sector is dominated by few powerful actors, so the challenge for Peña Nieto administration is to actually ensure that the telecoms law is fully implemented and that hegemonic competitors are dismantled to allow fair competition in the sector. Nevertheless, right after the approval, telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim, unexpectedly announced that he will sell part of its business. It seems perhaps that dominant players are one step ahead of the game. Will the new IFETEL (and  Peña Nieto’s government) be up to the test?

The full text of the telecoms reform can be accessed here (Spanish version only).

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