Photo Jonathan Blair

Monday, January 18, 2010

Canada in Haiti: The US connection

Chantal Hebert suggests that Canada should take a central role in Haiti's reconstruction. She lists a series of arguments: long involvement in the country, in all fields, tight social links through the large Haitian community in Montreal, significant expertise into Haiti's dreadful problems, at CIDA, but also in the various layers of the country's aid industry, from NGOs to consulting and engineering firms. The fit would be better than Afghanistan, where Canada is a true foreigner, lost in a losing cause, and from where it is about to take its troops out. And the humanitarian and development challenges are not less great.

What Hebert leaves out, however, is at least as important. She says at one point that Canada will still be there when the others have left. This is mostly true, with one huge exception: the US, which has always been there and which, in the relief and reconstruction effort, is taking the lead. This could seen as a problem for her proposal, but in fact, it is an opportunity, and a big one: Haiti matters for the US because of security and migration issues. At the same time, it is also a development quagmire into which it has invested hundreds of millions of dollars. A much-enhanced Canadian security and development involvement could very well substitute for the large --and now huge- US presence. And it could be sold as a kind of compensation for our retreat from Afghanistan.

This would suit everybody: Washington, which has enough on its hands in Iraq and Afghanistan; the Haitians, who have had enough of Washington since their Independence; and the Canadians electorate, who could at last feel that we are doing good, without collateral damages.

Bye, bye Pink Wave. Hello boring alternance?

Sebastián Piñera will be Chile's next president. He has won a clear victory over Eduardo Frei, who was unable to build on the performance of his predecessor Michelle Bachelet and her government, whose popularity hovers around 80%.

Don't expect big changes in the country's policy, however. Chile has become dreadfully serious over the last two decades, which means that its domestic and international policies hover around centrist policies, just as they do in most developed democracies. This makes for boring politics, with marginally meaningful party alternance the only game in town. But boring politics is the privilege of the wealthy. Think of Canada...

In the region as a whole, there is more in the offing. Next month, Costa Rica will have elections that no one will talk about, because they will largely be inconsequential. If Uribe does not run in the May elections in Colombia (and time is running out to change the constitution and enable him to do it), a less conservative politician take could well take over the country's presidency, with not much of a change in public policy, even on security. While nothing is settled yet, Brazil will probably also elect a more liberal president than Lula next October, once again with few substantive policy changes in sight. In all those countries, the economy is stable, inflation is low, poverty is declining, as are homicides and kidnappings.

Compare this with the recent referendums and elections in Honduras, Nicaragua (municipal) or Venezuela (on the Constitution) where politics is indeed most interesting, where inflation is high, growth prospects are bad, crime is rising and poverty increasing. Compare this also to Argentina, which is teetering on the brink of a constitutional crisis and where a lot of nasty things could happen between now and 2011, when the term of Cristina Fernandes de Kirchner ends.

The big division of the continent is not between Right and Left, but between boring but serious regimes, and lively but irresponsible ones, where wild things can happen at any time.

My hunch is, most Latin Americans would take the bore...

[I just found out that Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue, in DC, has a similar take on the meaning of that election and those that are coming up.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Honduras-type crisis in Argentina?

A Constitutional crisis appears to be in the making in Argentina. President Cristina Kirchner is meeting resistance from Congress, where her Peronista party has lost its majority, from the Central Bank, whose President has refused Kirchner's request to use reserves to pay external debt, and from the Judiciary, with a judge putting the Bank's President back in charge after he was demoted by Kirchner for refusing to abide by her request.

We thus have an interesting situation, very similar to the beginnings of the crisis in Honduras: The Kirchner --Cristina and her husband, former president Nestor- want to stay in power, but there is growing resistance in the political class and in the electorate. In fact, Julio Cobos, the country's vice-president who broke with the Kirchner and has been voting regularly against the government in Congress, is the most popular politician in Argentina right now. By using the country's reserves, the Kirchner appear to be trying to free resources for domestic spending, the only way for them to secure a victory in the coming election. For obvious reasons, however, their plan is opposed by Congress, the Central Bank, and now the Judiciary. To push the parallel even further, Martin Redrado, the President of the Central Bank, just like Cobos, are former supporters of the Kirchner

What is next? Well, either the couple retreats and regroup for a counter-attack a few years down the road, OR they try to get through the street what they cannot get through normal --some say legal-- means.

This is very precisely what Zelaya did...