Monthly Archives: March 2013

Promising steps on the Brazil-Australia Strategic Partnership

ANCLAS’s Zuleika Arashiro writes:

On 20-21 March, the University of Melbourne and the Australian Embassy in Brazil, together with the Universidade de Sao Paulo (USP), held the first Brazil-Australia Dialogue in Sao Paulo. The Dialogue occurred a few months after Brazilian president Dilma Roussef and Prime Minister Julia Gillard signed the Brazil-Australia Strategic Partnership in June 2012. While there are undoubtedly challenges ahead to translate those official statements into concrete collaboration, the Dialogue marked the first concrete step towards a better mutual understanding of the two countries and, particularly, for research and policy collaboration.

With the financial support from the Australian Government’s Council on Australian Latin American Relations (COALAR), the Dialogue brought together high-level government representatives, business leaders and academics from Brazil and Australia for an intensive discussion day in which the main common theme driving various panel sessions was the challenge of conciliating economic growth with sustainability.

But what made the Dialogue a unique event was that it went beyond the usual gatherings for exchange of ideas to mark a formal commitment to build research collaboration between the two countries. The University of Melbourne signed Australia’s first agreement with the State of Sao Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), the leading research funding body in Sao Paulo (see the agreement text here). Through this agreement, the two institutions committed to an initial 5-year collaboration under which each side will contribute up to $ 100,000/year each to promote joint research projects and exchange. At the same occasion, the University of Melbourne also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Universidade de Sao Paulo. With around 100,000 students, USP is the leading academic institution in Latin America and responds for the largest share of academic publications in the region.

This initiative captures well the still unexplored potential for engaging with Brazil as an equal partner. With the focus of the Brazilian Government on the internationalisation of its tertiary education and development of sciences and technology, there is now a large amount of government-funded scholarships for students and scholars, from undergraduate to postgraduate training, and academic international exchange. In addition to the most well-known program ‘Sciences without Borders’, which covers mainly scientific areas, institutions such as CAPES at the federal level, and FAPESP, at the state level in Sao Paulo, have been keen to promote research collaboration with funding reaching social sciences, applied research and policy issues.

One noticeable gap in the Dialogue was the lack of attention to social and political understanding between the two countries. Since much of the discussions passed through policy making, this was a critical gap. Still, the fact that there is a small window of opportunity open means that these areas too can come to the agenda. The question now is to know whether we are ready for a new level of partnership.

–Zuleika Arashiro

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Call for Brazilian leadership on small arms trafficking in South America

Professor Matias Spektor, Director of the International Relations Program at the Rio de Janeiro campus of the Fundação Getúlio Vargas University and current Rio Branco Visiting Chair at King’s College, University of London, has put forward a very interesting idea in his regular column in the leading Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo. You can find the original column in Portuguese here. A quick Google translation is below. Bottom line — Spektor wants Brazil to step up and take leadership for controlling small arms trafficking in the region and end the ongoing civil war-like bloodbath caused by these illegally traded weapons. He’s got a point, and the Brazilian people might push the idea as we move to a presidential election in 2014 — a few years back Brazilians voted down a referendum proposal banning handguns precisely because they were terrified of the illegal weapons rife in certain areas of major cities.


Anti-Bullet (anti-ballistic) Diplomacy
Prof. Matias Spektor
Brazil had more homicides by firearms than Iraq or Afghanistan, Colombia or the United States, India or Pakistan. The data refers to 2010 show an average of four deaths per hour, or 108 per day. Victims have low education, are young and darker than white.

Works such as the Violence Map, Julio Jacobo Waiselfisz, publications and the Small Arms Survey, Viva Rio and Sou da Paz show that the problem has no easy solution because it is associated with the most stubborn dramas Brazilian inequality.

To reverse this ominous dynamic that resembles a civil war, foreign policy can make all the difference.

Over half of the 16 million firearms circulating in the country are not properly registered because they object to theft, diversion or smuggling. This illegal trade is regionalized, linking the Brazilian market weapons to neighboring Paraguay, Bolivia, Uruguay and Argentina.

Despite a modest recent progress, coordination between these countries is meager.

Only Brasília has a diplomatic force to discipline the region under the auspices of a project of collective responsibility.

Moreover, Brazil shares the rank of champion homicides by firearms in Central America and the Caribbean region where has enough clout to launch high-impact initiatives.

Firearms not just shred thousands of Brazilian families. Also hinder the ascension process of the country. After all, arguing that we have something useful to say about peace and stability in the world when statistics show that between 2004 and 2007, there were more Brazilian citizens shot dead than the sum of all 12 victims of the bloodiest conflicts of the world ? Here’s a radical idea.

Imagine if the President of the Republic created a task force with Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Defence and Federal Police to deal with the international dimensions of the problem.

The Brazilian ambassadors in South America would offer hefty packages of technical cooperation to local governments. Mercosur and Unasur would consequently training and standardization of procedures, especially in border areas. The BNDES continue helping the Brazilian industry of firearms to regionalize, but in exchange for broader and intelligent controls of which she would also benefit.

Dilma announce the initiative during the passing of Pope Francisco by Brazil, next June. Passionate about regional integration and obsessed with the eradication of poverty, the Pope would be a powerful and faithful ally of the cause.

When you do something, the Brazilian foreign policy would be acting in self-interest (unlocking the ascension process and building an environment of peace) and moral imperative (facing a horror in everyday life for the majority).

The current reality demands nothing less than a true ballistic diplomacy.

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2013 UNDP Human Development Report

Last week, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) administrator Helen Clark and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto launched the 2013 Human Development Report “The rise of the South: human progress in a diverse World”, during the visit of the Ms. Clark to Mexico.  It is not surprising that this announcement took place in the Mexican capital, since the report is particularly relevant to developing countries and especially to Latin American.

The study highlights the increasing participation of developing countries in trade and investment, and in consequence, the changes inflicted in the global economy, geopolitics and society. It also points out that the shift in the World’s balance of power has not been fully reflected in the current structure of international organisations.

According to the Report, the Human Development Index (HDI) for Latin America presents a general rising trend. Most of the countries in the region, with the exception of Haiti, are considered as medium income countries or above, as a result of better performance in life expectancy, education and GDI (gross domestic income) per capita (the three parameters measured by UNDP HDI). In the case of Mexico, its HDI rose from 0.605 in 1980 to 0.758 in 2012*, which takes the country to position 61 out of 183 countries, clearly above the average index for the region and only behind South Korea and Russia between the MIST (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey) and BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries (

In general terms, the standard of life of Latin-Americans seems to have increased in the last 20 years.  However, these results are misleading by the fact that the index does not take into account the distribution of human development among the population and, especially when the concentration of income is in the hands of a very small group. For instance, 30% of the 100 top richest people in 2013 Forbes list come from developing countries ( and from that proportion, one third comes from Latin America.

Developing countries have created new models and strategies to overcome underdevelopment, by targeting inequality and improving the standard of life of populations. Examples of these are the Mexican program, under its current denomination, Oportunidades and its Brazilian version Bolsa familia, as well as, cash transfers and subsidies schemes such as the ones implemented by the Indian and the Indonesian government. Nevertheless, these strategies take time to harvest and therefore it is important to continue that tendency and reinforce social investment, particularly in education, health and infrastructure.

“The South is driving global economic growth and societal change for the first time in centuries,” says the Report. But developed and developing governments must ensure that such economic growth spills over and aims to a more equally social and geographical distribution.

–Carmen Robledo-Lopez

*GDI per capita of USD$12,947, life expectancy of 77 years and a mean of 8.5 years of schooling (

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In the year 2000, the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) lost the Mexican presidential election for the first time in 70 years. After 12 years of PAN (National Action Party) ruling, Enrique Peña Nieto, from PRI, was sworn as President of Mexico last December.


After the 100 days in power, the Peña Nieto government just launched a series of public consultations on the five axes of the National Development Plan 2013-2018: 1) Mexico in peace; 2) social inclusion; 3) education with quality; 4) economic prosperity; and 5) Mexico as a responsible global actor.


The first forum to take place was on Mexico as a global actor. It was held earlier this week at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and had the participation of diplomats, academics, civil society and business representatives. President Peña Nieto outlined the main objectives of the foreign policy of the country for the following years: to strengthen the presence of Mexico in the World, to increase the international cooperation, to promote the values, heritage, history and culture of Mexico and to protect the interest of Mexican citizens overseas.


President Peña Nieto highlighted the large potential of Mexico to contribute in favour of global peace and prosperity. “There should not be distant countries for Mexico, we have to interact with all, we have so much to offer to them and we can also learn a lot from their experiences… We must build a model of international cooperation. This is the moment for our country to become a responsible global actor”, indicated the Mexican President.


Traditionally, Mexico has been a very active country in multilateral fora and also has a reputation of mediator and conciliator, for instance in the Central America peace process and Grupo Contadora. Despite the fact that international cooperation is one of the nine constitutional principles of foreign policy, the size and potential of the country is not fully reflected in its international cooperation policy.


Since the 70s Mexico has participated in several projects of international cooperation, both as a donor and a recipient. In 1998 the Mexican Institute for International Cooperation (IMEXCI, Instituto Mexicano de Cooperación Internacional) was established, under the umbrella of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. IMEXCI had a very short life, in 2000 it was dissolved and its functions were absorbed by other divisions within the Ministry. But it was until 2011 that the Mexican Congress approved the International Cooperation Law which ordered the creation of AMEXCID (Mexican Agency for International Cooperation) and the establishment of an international cooperation program, database and fund.

–Carmen Robledo-Lopez (ANU/ANCLAS PhD Candidate)

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Has Brazil cracked the solar power nut?

Well, not completely, but an IPS story suggests that have come really close with a new form of solar cell that is printed on plastic and not silicon. This makes it much cheaper to produce, easier to use, and easier to deploy. The full story is linked HERE.

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Hard questions from the new Pope’s past

The Guardian newspaper is reporting that Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, newly elected as the Catholic Church’s new Pope, Francis, has some hard questions to and answer over his conduct during Argentina’s military dictatorship. Writing in The Guardian, Hugh O’Shaugnessy refers to Argentine journalist Horacio Verbitsky’s book El Silencio, and notes:

[Verbitsky] recounts how the Argentine navy with the connivance of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now the Jesuit archbishop of Buenos Aires, hid from a visiting delegation of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission the dictatorship’s political prisoners. Bergoglio was hiding them in nothing less than his holiday home in an island called El Silencio in the River Plate. The most shaming thing for the church is that in such circumstances Bergoglio’s name was allowed to go forward in the ballot to chose the successor of John Paul II. What scandal would not have ensued if the first pope ever to be elected from the continent of America had been revealed as an accessory to murder and false imprisonment.

While undoubtedly a triumph for the Catholic faithful in Latin America and, as Rogelio Núñez has written, a canny geopolitical choice that moves the centre of gravity of the Church away from secular Europe to the more devout and socially stable Latin America, there are now almost certainly going to be questions asked about where the Vatican stands on questions of fundamental human rights and how the new Pope’s past fits into this tradition. That the Vatican has itself made choices that open up these questions is somewhat remarkable given the pro-democracy and human rights legacy of Pope John Paul II.

You can find Verbitsky’s most recent writings and thoughts on the subject HERE.

Update… this story keeps getting deeper, now in Buenos Aires paper Pagina 12.

The BBC Español has now come out with a bit of a counter-story giving some more background and context.

And now the New York Times has weighed in on the debate.

A controversial figure, and one that seems set to create a bit of a tussle between some competing news outlets, too.

Evidence out of Paraguay that the new Pope was protecting people from dictatorships in the region — regional dictators cooperated in their persecution through Operation Condor.


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Raúl Castro has business to do before he retires

Adrian H. Hearn is an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow at the University of Sydney China Studies Centre, and Chair of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) Section for Asia and the Americas.

 Raúl Castro’s decision to retire as Cuba’s leader in 2018 comes as internal pressure mounts on the island’s Communist government to ensure a viable path for business development.  The controlled opening of the Cuban economy constitutes Raúl’s most prominent achievement since he replaced Fidel Castro six years ago.  This week Cuba’s former Minister of Education, 52-year old Miguel Díaz-Canel, has been named as the successor to safeguard this legacy.

According to a report presented to the Cuban National Assembly, 365,000 jobs were cut from the state payroll in 2011 and2012, and the number of non-state workers grew by 23 percent.  “Self-employed” workers now number around 400,000, but their commercial viability is far from secure.  There are two reasons for this: one ideologicaland one practical, and the Castro/ Díaz team will need to deal with both.

First, the government’s 2011 Social and Economic Policy Guidelines offer the following caution to budding entrepreneurs: “in the non-state system, the concentration of property will not be permitted.”  This commitment to egalitarianism will probably diminish over time.  Political bureau member Esteban Lazo Hernández predicts that by 2017 the growth of the private sector will see the state’s share of GDP fall from 95 percent to around 40 percent.  

A more practical obstacle to small business development is Cuba’s incoherent wholesale supply chain.  New entrepreneurs must rely on finances and inputs acquired either from family overseas or illegally from socios (well-placed business partners) in state factories.  Legalization of a wider range of private occupations—a move often advocated by foreign commentators—will only deepen the black market if the supply problem is not dealt with first.  Establishing robust supply chains to support small business development, diminish the black market, and reduce corruption will be critical both to the health of the Cuban economy and the credibility of the state over the next five years.

It is worth noting that across the Pacific, on a grander scale, China faces comparable challenges.  Like Díaz-Canel, Xi Jinping has recently been selected by the internal mechanisms of his nation’s Communist Party as the new President.  His acceptance speech may just as well have been delivered in Havana, calling for “reform and opening up,” the reduction of “undue emphasis on formality and bureaucracy,” and the eradication of “corruption and bribe-taking.”  That China has become Cuba’s second-largest trade partner and recognizes the island as a “fraternal brother” is a telling recognition of shared heritage, and perhaps a common future.

Please Note: an earlier version of this piece appeared on

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No middle ground on Chávez legacy

John Minns posted this from Buenos Aires

In death, Hugo Chávez has as much capacity to stir passions as in life. On the first day after the death the press in Argentina, as in much of Latin America, mostly adopted a respectful tone, often noting “problems” and “differences”, but reserving harsher criticism. Within 24 hours, the divisions over the appropriate economic and political model for Latin America – debates at  which Venezuela under Chávez was at the heart – re-emerged.
The conservative press – in Argentina led by the viciously anti-government Clarin – returned to strong criticism of his record – especically on questions of democracy. This is not surprising since it has been warning constantly that Argentina under Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is actually becoming Venezuela and headed towards dictatorship.
The pro-government press – such as the completely uncritical Página 12 – has concentrated on the positive achievements of Chávez in reducing poverty and improving education for the masses.
The government itself declared three days of national mourning.
Professor Steve Ellner writing from Venezuela will be an ANCLAS Visiting Fellow in Second Semester of 2013. In this article he has produced a balanced summary of the Chávez years and the likely possibilities for Venezuela after his passing.
The website:

John Minns

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Captain Pantoja and instrumental rationality: a feminist critique

(On the occasion of the International Day of Women, March 8th)
By Eugenia Demuro
This text represents the views of the individual author, and not of ANCLAS

On 28 of February 2013, ANCLAS, along with the Embassy of the Republic of Peru, screened the first film of the Peruvian Film Festival. The Festival was organised to commemorate 50 years of Diplomatic Relations between Australia and Peru. The film screened was Lombardi’s Captain Pantoja and The Special Services (Pantaleón y las visitadoras, 2000), based on the homologous novel by the Nobel Prize laureate Mario Vargas Llosa.  I must admit that I have not read Vargas Llosa’s novel and therefore will limit my reflections to Lombardi’s film. These reflections, however, also serve as a platform to think about the role of art, and more precisely, to think about art as representative of a particular reality. Second, and no less important, is the question about by whom, and for whom, does a particular representation speak to. I am in this way grateful to the efforts of ANCLAS, and of the Embassy of Peru, for providing a context to engage these questions.

The film tells the story of a ‘straight-laced’ captain of Peru’s army, Pantaleón Pantoja, who is given the task of putting together a force of sex-workers, las visitadoras (or the special service) to ‘service’ the military posts stationed within the Amazonian jungle. Part comedy, and part drama, the story follows the precise militaristic approach of Captain Pantoja as he executes the task given. The film reaches moments of high irony and absurdity as a result of the quantitative and precise management of Captain Pantoja in his endeavour to fulfil the high demand of sexual encounters (or renditions, as termed in the film).

The film’s success rests on carrying out, principally and convincingly, a critique of the Peruvian Military, including some of its key organisational structures such as authority, efficiency ‘at all costs and under all circumstances’ and Machismo. Even when this is so, as I will argue here, the film’s critique is still carried out within a male-centric optic. To be blunt, the film is based, exclusively, on a patriarchal and sexist representation of women. The two options of female identities available to the female viewer are either as a saint (as in the case of the Captain’s wife, a ‘decent’ woman), or as sex-workers, whose only concern is to provide sexual gratification to men, at a price. There is a complete omission of the female experience, of the problematic of becoming a visitadora and working within a corrupt, male-dominated environment. There is no treatment of the motives, frustrations and aspirations of women as full-fledged social actors who possess agency.

I’ve asked myself several times if I am not simply reacting to the very element that the film is attempting to critique, that is, the patriarchal structure of the military, the hypocritical approach to prostitution, and the idea that women’s roles function exclusively (in the film) to service men. I’ve pondered, as well, on whether this is the actual critique that the film enacts. This is the point where, for me at least, we need to be critical of the text itself, or at least to posit the question: at what point does the critique of sexism become the reification of sexist practices through representation? What I am trying to get at is that a radical critique actually requires embodiment and performance. The critique of the military, for example, is embodied in the character of Pantoja himself, and accordingly, it is ‘performed’ throughout the entirety of the film in his detailed approach to making the sex-industry efficient and ‘militaristic’. In fact, the final note of the film, sees Pantoja (and his wife) stationed in a remote desert, where Pantoja applies his characteristic rationalising principle to a literacy program he’s been given command of. The critique of military authority and efficiency, and its reductionist logic, is thus embodied in the main character of the film. In the case of the critique to patriarchal and sexist attitudes within the military, however, there is no female character that embodies or performs resistance in any critical way. Women are mere by-products or bystanders in the culture of the military, and not just that, they are very ‘attractive’, naked, and ‘willing’ participants. If the film Captain Pantoja and The Special Services is in fact a critique, it is a critique from a male-oriented perspective, where women (and their needs, aspirations, motivations, etc.) continue to be consigned to a second plane. The film proves lacking in its capacity to give any kind of visibility to the agency of women, that is: to the representation of women as actors within a social, cultural and historical context. The only point at which the female characters take a stand is towards the film’s end, as they are attacked, and at risk of being raped by the ‘local native’ populations who also want their sexual ‘needs’ to be met. I will leave to one side the representation of the ‘natives’, although this is another completely problematic representation. If the women only react when they are under the threat of rape and violence, what does it say about them? And what does it say about the women’s attitudes towards the sexist environment in which they are contained? Does this in any way diminish the film’s critical acclaims?

While I appreciate, and share, the critique of the military, as a woman (and as a Latin American woman) I cannot find, in this film, a female character with which to identify. I am therefore forced, if I am to engage the film’s critical message, to assume a sexist male-oriented optic. Any film that demands this of its female viewers cannot be considered as a radical appraisal of a reality. This is where the force of the critique to militaristic practices, and to instrumental rationality, comes to a halting stop. The film is a critique from within a naturalised male perspective, what it lacks, is any true account of the female experience.

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ANCLAS’s Tom Chodor on Post-Chavez Venezuela

The Future of Chavismo Will be Decided in the Barrios as Much as in Miraflores

With the passing of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez, debate has erupted on the future of ‘Chavismo’ – the political project that Chávez himself referred to as the ‘Bolivarian Revolution.’ Much of this debate has focused, understandably, on the successor to Chávez, the Vice-President Nicolás Maduro, and his ability to hold together the ruling coalition without the charisma and considerable political skill that Chávez possessed. Maduro, of course, still needs to win the upcoming election, but for many that seems a foregone conclusion, given the recent triumph of Chávez and the ruling party, PSUV in national and regional elections, and the goodwill that Maduro is likely to garner as the ‘Chávez candidate.’ This analysis is probably a fair scenario, though, of course, one can never have complete certainty in democratic elections.

Nevertheless, with Maduro assumed be the next resident in the presidential palace at Miraflores, questions are being posed about his ability to preserve Chavismo, given the cleavages in his own party, economic issues like inflation and dwindling private sector investment and the continuing polarisation of the country. Undoubtedly these are important issues that will play a large role in determining the future of Chavismo. However, one important aspect missing from the analysis, is the role of ordinary Venezuelans themselves – the people in the shanty towns (barrios) who constantly voted Chávez into power, and whose loyalty he repaid not only through the delivery of social services like health, education, housing and subsidised food, but also by facilitating and supporting a number of grassroots institutions through which their self-government could be fostered. These institutions – the communal councils, cooperatives or local communes – mushroomed in Venezuela under Chávez, and form part of the ‘participatory democracy’ model at the core of Chavismo.

Not much attention is usually paid to these institutions, primarily because they fall outside of the traditional institutional framework of representative democracy, leading many critics to decry them as clientelist mechanisms of distributing patronage. While there are undoubtedly problems with some of them – including corruption, waste and political subservience – (problems, incidentally, which the government did acknowledge and try to alleviate), it is also true that a lot of them have worked very well and have led to a flourishing of self-government and democracy at the grassroots level. Contrary to conventional analyses, the citizens organised through these institutions, were not always subservient to Chávez, as evidenced by the failure of the 2007 referendum on constitutional change. If anything, Chávez was reliant on this diverse and amorphous base, as it served as the force that pushed his government further towards reform and experimentation. The political awakening of this previously excluded section of the population could yet be the most significant legacy of Chávez’s time in power.

Now, however, with Chávez gone, the question is whether this experience has left a lasting impression, or whether the critics were right, and that these institutions were no more than structures of patronage. Thus, what happens in the barrios – within the communal councils, cooperatives and communes – is as vital to the future of Chavismo as what happens in Miraflores under Maduro. Will the social movements located there continue to be engaged in the political process? Will they continue to put effective pressure on the government to continue experimenting with social, political and economic structures? Will they continue to demand the further democratisation of the state bureaucracy and party structures in PSUV? Will they be listened to if they do?

These are all important questions to which we may get some partial answers in the coming months and years. There’s no doubt that there are countless obstacles in the way. But for years, Chávez’s supporters and detractors have argued over whether Chavismo is too reliant on one man, or whether it has unleashed something bigger than just the President. The latter view was expressed eloquently by one Chávez’s supporters during his funeral procession on Wednesday, when he declared to The Guardian that ‘the comandante is not dead, no, not dead. He has sowed something in us, the people, and that way he will live.’ In the near future we may get an indication just to what extent these words hold true.

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