Monthly Archives: April 2013

A report from the April election in Venezuela

Prof Julia Buxton is a long-time leading expert on Venezuelan politics and highly respected UK academic. She has an interesting article giving a snapshot of events during the April 2013 presidential election in Venezuela for those trying to sort out what took place.

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Call for papers on China from top Brazilian IR Journal

The Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, one of the top IR journals in Latin America (and indexed in Scopus, for the NPM metric trackers out there), is calling for submissions for a special issue on China’s rise. More details can be found here:

Papers are to be in English; distribution is quite wide and the journal is read by a large number of people.


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Insightful article on US-Mexico anti-drug cooperation

The Wasington Post has an article well worth reading if you are interested in US-Mexico anti-narcotics cooperation. The links are deep and command and control structures not always what you’d expect. Definitely space here for some interesting thinking on how to set up transnationalized responses to things like drug trafficking.

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Excellent working paper on Brazilian foreign policy from Oxford’s Latin American Centre

Leticia Pinheiro and Gabrieli Gaio have an excellent occasional paper on Brazilian foreign policy out through the Brazilian Studies Program at the University of Oxford’s Latin American Centre. Entitled, “The role of South-South Cooperation on Brazilian Regional Leadership and Global Protagonism”, the paper takes a careful look at the interplay between Brazil’s South American and South-South leadership activities, offering some very insightful analysis and one of the more penetrating and fruitful theoretical critiques to date. The abstract is below and the paper itself very much worth reading:

This paper seeks to discuss Brazilian regional policy by assessing what kind of leadership Brazil has been playing and the role played by the policy of South-South cooperation for development on the former. Our main argument is that although Brazil does play the role of a regional leader, a difference between regional leadership for matters of regional governance and regional leadership for global matters should be done. Besides we argue that, although not being necessary to be a representative of its own region to play a relevant role on the international scenario, being a Development Regional Leader, helps Brazilian global protagomism.

Leticia Pinheiro IRI/PUC-RioGabrieli Gaio
Occasional Paper No BSP-11-13

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After three rounds of voting the Mexican and the Brazilian candidates are the only ones still contending for Pascal Lamy’s chair, whose term as Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will end next August.

Nine candidates were put forward by their respective countries to contend for the position: Brazil, Costa Rica, Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand and South Korea ( The array of candidates, most of them from developing countries, reflects the shift in the international order and the interest of developing countries to be in the table of negotiations.

One of the favourites was Mari Pangestu, former Minister of Trade and current Minister of Tourism and Creative Industry of Indonesia, who retreated from the race in the last round of voting. Ms. Pangestu not only has experience as trade negotiator, cabinet member and in academia, but also an Indonesian candidate would have the advantage to easily build bridges with developing Asia and with the Muslim world.

Herminio Blanco was Minister of Trade and Industry from 1994 to 2000. He was chief negotiator for Mexico during NAFTA talks, the Uruguay Round and other trade agreements. Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo is a career diplomat who has represented Brazil in several trade negotiations, including the Doha Round. He has been appointed as Brazil’s Permanent Representative to the WTO and other international organisations.

In this last stage of the election process, the finalists seem to be focusing in African votes. Both have visited several countries in the continent and have met African leaders in multilateral fora. Some African countries have expressed their fears to abrupt trade liberalization and would prefer a more cautious candidate.

One of the main challenges for the future Director-General is to restore the trust of the international community on the multilateral economic system. Without the support and the trust of the members, it would be very difficult for the new head of the WTO to break the impasse and move forward the Doha Round negotiations. Moreover, Lamy’s successor will have to fight protectionist measures that have (re)emerged under arguments of national interest or disguised behind regional free trade initiatives.

More than ever the WTO requires strategic and effective leadership. While some developing countries would support the Brazilian candidate because they would prefer diplomatic activism or have similar trade interests, others would consider as a better option, the fresh blood that an outsider like Blanco could bring to the organisation.

Despite rivalries and personal preferences, no matter who the winner is, both candidates have excellent credentials to fulfill the position. Both understand the concerns of developing countries and have a broad and solid knowledge of the international trade system. The question is would they be able to modernize the WTO and bring it back to the core of the international economic system?

It is Brazil against Mexico… but at the end, it is Latin America and the developing world who wins.

¡Suerte, qué gane el mejor!

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WEF Latin America 2013


Since yesterday, more than 400 personalities, including heads of states and representatives from the private sector, academia and civil society, are gathered in the Peruvian capital, Lima, to participate in the 2013 World Economic Forum (WEF) Latin America. They will  discuss about challenges and  opportunities around the topic of “delivering growth and strengthening societies”.  Latin America has registered constant rates of economic growth in recent years.  However, there are big challenges ahead in terms of inequality and exclusion, and especially insecurity.

The program of the  event is organised around the following three pillars:

1) Modernizing economies for growth.

2) Strengthening society through innovation.

3) Building resilience for sustainable development.

Follow live panel discussions on:


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Venezuelan campaign lessons for Australian politicians?

The New York Times has a nifty little piece on a new salsa hit from Puerto Rican Willie Colón entitled Mentira Fresca (free online listen/download). As the Times points out, Venezuelan campaign stops are often a fiesta of food and fun to music to breath a bit of life into the politics. Colón’s song is a devastatingly direct attack on the failures of the Chávez regime, all set to a peppy salsa beat. Whether you agree or not with the message, at least you can dance to it, which breathes a certain extra element of life into an election. Salsa, rumba and meringue are the big flavours in the current Venezuelan campaign. What might Australia’s political parties choose to keep our feet taping through the winter? Colón’s snappy number has been downloaded over 670,000 times.

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Analysis — News Limited’s Steve Lewis missed half of Gillard’s Brazil story

Steve Lewis’s story today on the News Limited website bemoans the AUD$900,000 that Prime Minister Julia Gillard ‘wasted’ by taking a substantial delegation to last year’s Rio environment summit in Brazil. While he’s right to question the ultimate impact of the summit itself, he completely misses the larger foreign policy gains that Gillard’s attendance won for Australia.

To put it bluntly, Brazil is very important for Australia. Trade is relatively small, but there are major Australian foreign direct investments in Brazil, not least of which is the rapidly growing presence of Pacific Hydro. More to the point, thanks to its leadership position in the global South and large domestic economy, Brazil has a much weightier voice than Australia in global governance forums, including groupings such as the UN, WTO and G20. Good ties and positive working relationships with Brazil are going to be critical if Australia wants to successfully advance its international agenda in the future. This will matter tremendously when it comes to issues such as environmental standards, agricultural trade rules, and innovations in international legal frameworks.

Brazil’s government and foreign ministry were in a great state of concern immediately before the summit that they would hold a party and nobody would come. The large delegation that Gillard took to the 2012 environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro thus stands as more of an investment in what will hopefully become an important strategic partnership than the immediately obvious search for global climate conventions. In this context Australia’s active participation became an important statement of confidence in the summit’s emerging power host.

The importance of Australia’s recognition of Brazil was effectively codified by the signing of the Brazil-Australia Strategic Partnership on the margins of the environment summit. Brazil has a long line of suitors and has become adept at politely, but firmly deflecting efforts for such agreements from many of those would-be partners. Simply put, if it cost Australia $900,000 to secure a regularly scheduled opportunity to consult, plan and coordinate positions that will be taken to the various global governance bodies, then it was cheap at the price — much cheaper than purchasing squadrons of latest generation advanced fighter jets, for example.

To be fair to Lewis, it is not entirely surprising that he missed this critical element of the story. Just as some Australian government officials (like those in a number of other OECD countries) are still working to come to terms with the rise of Brazil in the global system, the media is also playing a game of catch-up. More detailed contextual knowledge is needed. Indeed, if Lewis had this knowledge he might not have been quite so disgusted at the cost of the accommodations for the Australian delegation. (You should hear what staff from the Brazilian Senate have to say about the cost of their deeply sub-standard accommodation at the Summit.)

What is the bottom line? Matters of State operate on multiple levels, which requires a sophisticated analysis that goes past sensationalist rhetoric and cheap point scoring. A lot happens on the margins of a Summit such as the Rio+20 meeting, which is why such large delegations are sent by participating countries. Despite a general benign neglect of Brazil and Latin America,  Australia nevertheless came away from Rio with some fairly substantial and concrete deliverables that will serve the country well over the medium and long term. Not a bad achievement at the price.

–Sean Burges

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Is a new ‘Superbloc’ emerging in Latin America?


By Carmen Robledo-Lopez

The Pacific Alliance was established in April 2011 by four like-minded Latin-American economies: Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico. The grouping aims to promote economic integration in Latin America and to establish a platform to enhance links with Asian partners.

The bloc is relatively new but the members have already taken steps to integrate their economies. The four countries have started strategies to facilitate free circulation of goods, services and people, such as, abolition of visa requirements and tariffs in 90% of merchandises. Furthermore, Chile, Colombia and Peru have integrated their stock exchange markets and created MILA (Mercado Integrado Lationamericano); it is expected that Mexico will eventually join MILA too.

Several other countries have already expressed their interest in the Alliance and requested to be accepted either as full members or as observers. Costa Rica, Guatemala Panamá and Uruguay, as well, as non-Latin American countries such as Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Spain are observers of the Alliance.

Why has a small four-country alliance created such expectations? In 2012, the trade between the four members was equivalent to 48% of total Latin-American trade, while their combined GDP (gross domestic product) represented 39% of total of the region; both larger than Brazil’s. Additionally, the four countries have sound macroeconomic performances, healthy public finances and large young skilled populations. The Alliance seems to differentiate itself from other integration mechanisms, by the fact that the four members strongly oppose protectionism; as a result, they all have established many free trade agreements not only with Latin American neighbours, but also with other countries around the World.

The Pacific Alliance has real chances to rival the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) and create solid links in the Pacific Rim; the lack of a dominant self-driven economy might be one of the bigger virtues of the group. The Alliance is not wasting any time; the first contacts with members of ASEAN (Association of South East Asia Nations) have already been started.

The VII Summit of the Pacific Alliance will take place in Cali, Colombia, this coming May.

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And another quirky story on Venezuela from El Pais… be concerned

Apparently Hugo Chávez has risen and is talking to Nicolas Maduro. Or at least this is what the Spanish daily El Pais (never a chavista fan) is reporting. The latest incarnation of the former president, according to Maduro is “en forma de pajarito chiquito or as a little bird that speaks to the presidential candidate. Not even in his wildest moments did Chávez engage in such magic realist (or is it realist magic) flights of fancy.

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