Alan Garcia must go!

If you’ve been reading this blog for some time you know I love Peru. However, the government of Alan Garcia and its implementation of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA/TLC) between Peru and the US has put Peru on the brink of becoming a Police State:

All this because of years of neglect (NY Times) of the indigenous people in Peru combined with Free Trade policies that have zoned 72% of the Peruvian Amazon for development and exploration (Duke University).

Alan Garcia cartoon, protest in Cusco

Alan Garcia cartoon, protest in Cusco

At the Corpus Christi celebrations in Cusco this week we saw this poster as one of many expressions of solidarity with the people of the Amazon. Unfortunately US and European media and governments have been largely quiet on the troubling developments in Peru. I’m convinced if the same kind of things took place in Ecuador, Venezuela or Bolivia – countries with left wing governments – there would be widespread media coverage and political condemnation.

People with different points of view may blame political opposition or foreign influence, but even if only 10% of the independent and eyewitness reports are true, the events at Bagua are still enough to demand Alan Garcia’s resignation.

It’s time to put ideologies aside and demand that Alan Garcia and his entire government resign!

How to bring a dictator to justice – or not?

My good friends at CIP are participating in a presentation on the successful extradition of Alberto Fujimori.

“The recent conviction and sentencing of former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori have been widely applauded as a remarkable achievement in transitional justice. Thorough, transparent, and impartial, this historic trial marks the first instance of a national court bringing an elected head of state to justice. Much of the success of the trial proceedings relied on groundwork and actions initiated by the Ad Hoc Solicitor’s Office, established in 2000 by the Peruvian government to build criminal cases against Fujimori and his associates. In his role as Ad Hoc Solicitor, Mr. Antonio Maldonado capitalized on Fujimori’s ill-considered decision to travel to Chile in 2005 and led efforts to marshal evidence and extradite the former president. Critical to the success of the extradition was the use of the precedent-setting “autor mediato” (indirect-author) theory, a legal instrument which held Fujimori criminally liable for human rights violations committed by his network. In his presentation, Mr. Maldonado will explain the extradition process and examine the significance of this paradigmatic example of international cooperation in the pursuit of justice. His presentation will be followed by comments by Dr. Cynthia McClintock and Dr. Jo-Marie Burt and will be moderated by Dr. Diego Abente Brun.”

I don’t mean to be insensitive to anyone who suffered from abuses under the Fujimori regime, but I have to disagree with the folks at CIP on this:

The Fujimori verdict and the “autor-mediato” principle give everyone in Peru who was complicit in the abuses of his regime a way to escape responsibility, and that is bad for Peru.

After the bloodbath in Bagua last week, you have to ask how the country is any better now than a decade ago, and how can a government that kills its own citizens and manipulates the media possibly have any credibility bringing their predecessors to justice?

Look, I love Peru but I’m not naive, there are a lot of issues. I worry that saying “justice has been done”, now that Fujimori is in jail, puts a false stamp of approval on the Peru of today. But the problems in Peru don’t begin or end with Alberto Fujimori or even Alan Garcia, just changing the puppet master at the top without changing the culture only gives us a false sense of improvement and a convenient excuse to escape accountability.

I’ve seen nothing but apathy here in Cusco around the Fujimori verdict, perhaps because many people remember how Peru was before Fujimori.

US – Cuba policy

President Obama has relaxed restrictions on travel and money transfers to Cuba.

Guess what? Peruvians don’t care. I don’t care. In fact, no one outside Miami or Washington DC cares.

Other than the US, practically the entire world has normal relations with Cuba. People here in Latin America travel freely to Cuba and have otherwise normal relations with Cuba. Many Latin American countries currently have democratically elected, yet left-leaning regimes (Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, …) and people still admire Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, evidenced by posters, shirts and hats with his name or semblance. For anyone who has lived in the poverty that still exists in Latin America, the US brand of capitalism and phobia of anything socialist is simply absurd.

I believe history won’t be kind to US politicians unless they normalize relations with Cuba immediately. The Cuba embargo hasn’t changed the Castro regime in nearly half a century, it’s become nothing but a distraction to many better causes our elected officials could spend their energy (and our tax dollars) on.

AIG bailout politics

The political posturing around the AIG bailout back home in the US almost makes Peruvian politicians look sincere…

Remember when former NY Attorney General Elliot Spitzer – not exactly the poster boy for ethics himself – keelhauled then-CEO Maurice “Hank” Greenberg in 2005? Here’s what Greenberg recently said about credit default swaps at AIG:

“However, he said AIG’s sales of credit default swaps “exploded” after he left the company in March 2005. He said AIGFP reportedly wrote as many credit default swaps in the nine months after he left than it did during the previous seven years combined and, he maintained, too much of its new business was tied to the subprime market.”

Instead of all the posturing, let AIG fail. It was just a house of cards. AIG’s business model of insuring investments only created a false illusion of security. Letting AIG fail would be a good first step to cleaning up both the financial system and ethics in business.

Bailouts and political posturing don’t change the fact that money is just a funny printed paper. Real productivity, what we contribute to society in tangible terms, and the tangible things you expect to get in return, is what matters. Just printing up more money so old guys in suits can continue to get ridiculously rich doesn’t seem like the solution to me.

If you enjoy living in Latin America… Thank Ambassador Bob White.

Life in Peru has been good to me. I don’t regret for a minute leaving corporate America to spend time with Patricia here in Cusco. I’ve been able to travel, meet a lot of great people, learn a new culture and work on things I enjoy.

There are many sides to Peru and the country still faces a lot of difficult issues, such as poverty, corporate culture and environmental protections. That said, the country is safe, has a free and open society and a generally functional democracy. Today there are great opportunities in Peru, both in life and business.

Life in Peru hasn’t always been this good. In the decades of the Cold War most of Latin America was governed by ruthless dictators and torn by civil war. Basic human rights were violated by security forces, guerillas and paramilitaries alike.

I had the good fortune of meeting one man who dedicated his life and career to promoting human rights and a de-militarization of foreign policy in Latin America, Ambassador Bob White. I met Ambassador White at a conference on Cuba policy when I was in the air cargo business in Florida – thinking at the time at some point the US would normalize relations with Cuba and we could fly there.

It’s certainly not my place to tell Ambassador White’s story, but here are some links that are worth visiting:

The ambassador’s tale
Center for International Policy

During his work in foreign service, Ambassador White was one of the first to question US ties to Operation Condor and he worked tirelessly to bring to justice Salvadoran soldiers who murdered four American clergywomen in El Salvador in 1980. The women were killed only a day after being Ambassador White’s dinner guests at his residence.

Site where Northamerican churchwomen were dumped in El Salvador

Site where Northamerican churchwomen were dumped in El Salvador

Today half of Peru’s population is less than 26 years old and I am often surprised that many of them seem unaware or indifferent to Latin America’s recent history. I teach kids who have no bigger worry than getting a new cellphone or MP3 player. Yet were it not for people like Ambassador White who took a principled stand, life in Latin America today would not be what it is. While there is still a lot of work to be done, I am thankful Peru has great opportunities going forward.

Ambassador Robert White

Ambassador Robert White

NB: Since 1990 Ambassador White has been President of the Center for International Policy, which advocates a responsible foreign policy and supports many Latin American causes.

NB: See the original photo used above on Flickr.

Ward Welvaert