Wednesday, April 27, 2005

South American Updates Section Added to UpsideDownWorld.org

Visitors to the www.UpsideDownWorld.org site will have noticed a few changes. We've added a new section on the front page which includes daily updated news from around the web on South America. The focus of this section is on politics, grassroots projects, activism, social and economic issues.

Though your local US paper may not cover land reform issues in Brazil, the election of a socialist in Uruguay and the worker-takeover of a factory in Buenos Aires, the information and coverage is out there and Upside Down World will work to spread awareness about what is happening in this exciting and hopeful part of the world.

In addition to this section, we'll offer a Watch site for larger stories such as the recent Uprising in Ecuador

Besides the news roundup on South America there are still weekly original articles published on the site as well. This week's pieces include
After the Coup 'Humanitarian Abyss' in Nepal and
Housewives' Union in Venezuela

So stay tuned and regularly check out www.UpsideDownWorld.org

Monday, April 18, 2005

Amazing Writing From Baghdad

Please read this article by Mark Danner entitled Iraq: The Real Election, from the NY Review of Books. It is one of the best I’ve read on the current reality in Iraq, with incredible descriptions of Baghdad. The article is “vital to comprehending the dramatic difference between the encouraging images we are shown and the stubborn and bloody reality on the ground.”

It brings to the forefront the issue of how the war is depicted and broadcasted around the world. For those outside of Iraq looking in, who is in charge of the war? The people dropping the bombs, or the TV networks filtering the war through their own limited lenses?

In an interview Danner did in this article, one military official admitted, "The simple fact is that how things are perceived here is almost as important as how things actually are.”

And then this from the piece:

“The real problem is the story here can't be shown in images," said my friend, the television correspondent who, disgusted with "hotel journalism," left Baghdad before the election. "You can't show the fear here with a television picture. You can't show the atmosphere of paranoia. The story escapes the images -- the tools -- that we have to tell it."

Link to "Iraq: The Real Election": http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17961

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Back in the United States

I have arrived back in the eastern US, strategically missing winter and arriving just as spring begins. The weather is fantastic, the air smells fresh and it's great to be out of loud, polluted cities and back among family, friends and loved ones.

I arrived with bits of memories of the trip floating around in my mind, like the lingering tastes in one's mouth after a big dinner: the NY blizzard which delayed my flight to Buenos Aires, the guitar player in some plaza who played the song that has the phrase, "en Buenos Aires, los zapatos son modernos", the Chileans I met on the bus to the social forum in Brazil who helped me realize I didn't feel North American, the social forum which had everything I loved about "Planeta America Latina" and more, the drunk Uruguayan man on the sidewalk in Montevideo listening to accordion music, the energy and pride at the worker-run factories in Buenos Aires where I realized (again) that capitalism is not a natural economic plan, and that there are alternatives which can work much better, the people of Mendoza, a city where time stands still, where friends helped me slow down and appreciate their company, wine, music and community, listening to cumbia music and drinking soda on the boat back to Uruguay at dawn, the parties in Montevideo welcoming their new president, the late night talks at hostels in Venezuela and the hope and momentum of the country's Bolivarian Revolution.

The greatest and worst thing about traveling is meeting new people and making new friends. It's great to meet them, but difficult to say goodbye so often. A lot of the people I ran into on this trip are like minded, kindred spirits who enjoy traveling, learning about different countries, politics and cultures. It is wonderful to meet these people from around the world and share stories, experiences, opinions and perspectives. The sad thing is that eventually you have to split up and go your separate ways, separate trips, separate lives.

I'd like to mention some people who really helped me get this trip (and others) going. My family, for their endless support and encouragement; my good friend Lucas Palero for introducing me to the hope, devastation and marvels of Latin American politics, history and culture; and my girlfriend, or companera, April "Justicia" Howard, whose advice, spirit, editing skills and company makes food and life taste better.

I'm sure I'll be heading down south again sometime soon. But the trip doesn't end here, so please keep in touch. This blog isn't going any where either. I'd like to keep using the blog as a space for ideas, observations, commentary etc...on this upside down world. The website, www.upsidedownworld.org will be expanding momentarily to include a broader coverage of issues from Latin America, with regularly updates from that region and elsewhere in the world. I will continue to be involved in journalistic endeavors and the like (I am still finishing up some pieces on Venezuela) so keep your eyes on www.upsidedownworld.org for more. Thanks again for reading and please stay tuned.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Petro Populism

Christian Parenti recently published an article in The Nation on the Chavez government. The article does an excellent job of depicting the reality in Caracas, the government's reforms and programs, Chavismo and the precarious situation the government is facing. The piece also includes criticisms of the administration's socialistic political process and dependence on oil. To read this article, entitled Hugo Chavez and Petro Populism, click HERE

Someone emailed me asking what I thought about this piece. Here is my response:

The Chavez government's dependence on high oil prices could very well backfire and create an economic depression and basically stop the momentum the “revolution” has, in the same way the end of Soviet money to Cuba in ’89 stopped a lot of the island’s progress. The fact that the oil could run out in thirty years could cause serious problems for the Venezuelan economy, as would a sudden drop in oil prices. But my guess is that oil prices won’t go down anytime soon, and as many Venezuelans explained to me, the oil should last for hundreds of years more. (They could be wrong…) Venezuela has the largest (extra-heavy crude) oil reserves in the world and is a major exporter to the US; 700,000 barrels of Venezuelan crude are sold to the United States each day through Citgo.

The fact the government has been fighting political battles for most of their time in office is true. But so has the opposition, and as a result they are extremely fragmented and have no leader or candidate. Since they lost the referendum this past August, the opposition has basically been hiding under a rock. Within this scenario, there is a good chance Chavez will win in the next election. Politicians in his party continue to win local and national elections.

What Jorge Giordani said in the article about "development" in Venezuela taking about fifty years could be true. Yet with 60% of Venezuela’s population of 24 million in poverty, any steps in the right direction take time. Will Chile ever be able to eliminate poverty with free market policies? At least Chavez is on the right path. Of all the governments in Latin America, excluding Cuba, I think the Chavez government is doing more to empower the poor than anyone else.

Important questions should be when will the oil run out and how long will it take for Venezuela to “develop”? But also relevant is whether Chavez, or someone with similar politics, will be in office in 2 years, let alone 10-20 years down the road. It is likely that he’ll win the next election, but any opposition candidate who comes into office (by any means) will probably eliminate the advances of the Chavez administration. That and a possible US intervention are equally large threats to the stability of the current political process.

As Giordani mentioned, a great answer to the question raised by “petro-populism” is regional economic integration, which I think is an enormous possibility in Latin America. The Bolivarian Revolution is popular across the continent, and sets a strong example for left leaning politicians all over. Chavez’s globe trotting is already paying off with business deals with India and China, not to mention a whole slew of deals and relations with Latin American countries. A progressive southern trade block could be a way for Latin American countries to remain sovereign from US-European economic domination, and develop egalitarian societies and economies. Such a block could materialize before Venezuela’s oil runs out, or the prices drop.

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On another note, an article of mine on worker cooperatives in Buenos Aires was published in the April print edition of Z Magazine. Pick up a copy if you get a chance, it's a great magazine.