Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

Education in Chile: We want the world

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on August 11, 2011

by Patricia Navia for The Economist, August 11th, 2011.

A trial of strength between students and the government.

It began on August 4th with the metallic clink of a few pots and pans. By nightfall, thousands of people were on the streets of Santiago banging kitchenware, a form of protest last heard under the dictatorship of General Pinochet. This time the cacerolazos, as they are called, are being staged in the name of educational Utopia—and in response to a cack-handed government ban on marches.

Chile’s school system is the least bad in Latin America, according to the OECD’s PISA tests, which compare educational attainment across countries. But that does not make it good. And the overall performance hides huge disparities. Analysis done in Chile of the test results in the 65 countries that took part finds that it ranked 64th in terms of the variance of the results according to social class. Rich pupils get good private education; poor ones are condemned to underfunded, dilapidated state-funded schools.

This “educational apartheid” as Mario Waissbluth, a campaigner, puts it, is widely blamed for the fact that Chile remains a highly unequal society, despite its dramatic progress over the past quarter of a century in reducing poverty. “The kids from the posh suburbs study in those suburbs, go to university in those suburbs, get jobs as company executives in those suburbs and employ friends from the schools they went to themselves,” says Mr Waissbluth.

The centre-right government of President Sebastián Piñera agrees. Chile inherited from the dictatorship a voucher system under which the government pays money to the school of the parents’ choice. In November the government unveiled a plan to increase the value of the voucher, especially for the poorest children. As well as trying to attract better teachers to state schools, the government will set up 60 lycée-style “schools of excellence” aimed at bright children from poor families.

Students and teachers responded by demanding the abolition of all for-profit education. After they staged big marches along the Alameda, Santiago’s main thoroughfare, Mr Piñera last month sacked his unpopular education minister. The government also said it would draw some $4 billion from its reserve fund of windfall copper revenue to pay for better schools. (continue reading… )



How Successful Was Obama’s Trip to Latin America?

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on March 31, 2011

by Peter Hakim, Patricio Navia, Cynthia Arnson for Inter-American Dialogue, March 30, 2011.

Originally published in the Dialogue’s daily Latin America Advisor

Q: U.S. President Barack Obama visited Brazil, Chile and El Salvador on a five-day tour of the region last week, signing a variety of agreements on security, energy, education and trade. Which aspects of the trip were a success and which were disappointments? What could Obama have done better? How did Obama’s agenda and speeches during the trip reflect changing political and economic dynamics in the region and what do they indicate for future U.S.-Latin American relations?

A: Peter Hakim, member of the Advisor board and president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue: “Although overshadowed by events in Libya and only superficially reported in the United States, Barack Obama’s trip to Latin America last week was, by all accounts, a clear success. He vividly demonstrated his own personal popularity and surely raised U.S. standing in the region as well. The president’s repeated call for equal partnerships with the countries of Latin America was particularly well received-although many in Latin America have since expressed skepticism about the United States’ readiness for partnership. What the United States has to do now is show it can be a reliable partner and ally. Some things that would help are (1) opening U.S. highways to Mexican trucks in accord with NAFTA obligations, (2) presenting the long-deferred Colombia and Panama free trade agreements to Congress for approval, (3) easing the tariffs, subsidies and quotas that protect U.S. agriculture from competition and block economic cooperation with Brazil, (4) pressing forward with some, even modest, reform of immigration policies, and, as repeatedly promised, (5) beginning minimally to curb the flow of assault weapons southward and take serious steps to deal with drug use as a health problem. Even two or three of these would be a good start.”

A: Patricio Navia, master teacher of global studies at New York University: “There is a clear lesson from Obama’s trip to Latin America. U.S. presidents should refrain in the future from traveling to the region as a whole-unless they attend a regional summit-and instead should focus on traveling to individual countries within the region. Latin America has grown very diverse in terms of economic and social development. The political evolution of the region’s democracies-or absence thereof in Cuba-has also taken on different paths depending on the specific countries. Relations with the United States have also evolved differently depending on the bilateral agenda items. Some countries are more concerned with immigration; others worry more about trade or drug policies. Thus, U.S. presidents should accept that Latin America is no longer a homogenous region and they should refrain from seeking to send the same message to all countries. Different agenda items require different messages. Different priorities necessitate designing and implementing different policies. President Obama’s trip to Brazil was successful because he focused on bilateral U.S.-Brazilian issues. The visits to Chile and El Salvador were less so because Obama brought a message to the entire region and did not pay sufficient attention to the bilateral issues those two countries have with the United States. Had Obama sought to reach more narrow objectives in his trip, addressing issues that concerned Chile and El Salvador, he would have sent a clearer invitation to other Latin American countries to engage bilaterally with Washington to advance their own agendas.”

A: Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars:“From a symbolic point of view, and as a way of demonstrating a changed U.S. attitude toward the countries of the region, the president’s trip was a great success. Even before he left Washington, the choice of countries indicated that the Obama administration stood ready to embrace the politically and economically successful, if ideologically diverse, democracies of South America while not overlooking Central America’s ongoing economic and security problems. There were very few surprises during the trip, although the president and his family were warmly received and no doubt solidified the overwhelmingly positive views of the United States that have characterized the region since Obama’s election. As he did at the April 2009 Summit of the Americas, the president focused on partnerships and set out a framework for bilateral cooperation in each of the three countries. The size and stature of the U.S. delegation in Brazil indicated a U.S. recognition of Brazil’s rise as a regional and global power, even if Obama was less categorical than some would have liked regarding U.S. support for a Brazilian seat on the U.N. Security Council. In El Salvador, the visit to the grave of Archbishop Romero, whose warnings about U.S. military assistance to El Salvador had been ignored by previous U.S. administrations, was a particularly poignant way to emphasize the importance of human rights and the overcoming of Cold War divisiveness. Unfortunately, the trip did little to raise the profile of Latin America in the United States, as newspaper headlines focused overwhelmingly on events in Libya and Japan. Ultimately, it remains unclear whether the trip will result in any greater willingness on the part of the administration to expend political capital on resolving complicated and conflictive issues of importance to the region, such as immigration reform, agricultural subsidies, import tariffs and the free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. In others, the messaging is spot on, but the domestic political climate poses formidable obstacles to substantive changes in U.S. policy toward the region.”

To view the full PDF edition, click here.

Nuclear Energy, Japan and the Implications for Obama’s Visit to Chile

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on March 17, 2011

by Patricio Navia for Americas Quarterly, March 17th, 2011.

The earthquake in Japan and the emergency in the nuclear plant of Fukushima have had an unprecedented effect in Chile on the upcoming visit by President Barack Obama next Monday.

Weeks before the visit, the Sebastián Piñera administration had announced that a cooperation agreement on nuclear energy would be signed during the visit. After the nuclear crisis in Japan, that agreement has become a contentious topic of debate in Chile. Some environmental organizations and the center-left Concertación opposition have seized the opportunity to criticize the government.

Though the treaty will only allow for the preliminary steps toward the possible adoption of nuclear energy in several years from now, like Japan, Chile is also vulnerable to powerful earthquakes. The government has now tried to downplay the importance of the nuclear energy cooperation agreement, but until last week it had highlighted this agreement over dozens of others that will also be signed.  As an inevitable result, the Japanese nuclear emergency has produced aftershocks in the political arena in Chile. (continue reading… )


Obama’s Latin American Trip

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on March 15, 2011

by Patricio Navia for The Buenos Aires Herald, March 15th, 2011.

When President Obama arrives in Latin America on March 19, the world attention will lay elsewhere. News of the visit will find it difficult to compete with the aftermath of the earthquake in Japan and the ongoing developments of the nuclear crisis. If the potentially destabilizing crisis in Libya, with its worldwide impact, is already struggling to remain atop the world news section, it will be difficult for the expectedly uneventful Obama visit to capture media attention beyond the region.

Even within the United States, the ongoing debate on budget cuts will divert attention. The American reporters travelling with the President will be more concerned with the negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in Congress to avert a government shutdown than with the progress El Salvador, Chile and Brazil have made in consolidating their democracies and achieving sustained economic growth. The problems within the region, like the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican border dispute, the Kirchner government feuds with Washington, and the ongoing tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela, seem unimportant and almost irrelevant when compared with the potential ramifications of the Libya and Japan crises

If the world will not be paying much attention to the U.S. President’s visit to Latin America, many in Latin American will also be more concerned with the impact the earthquake in Japan will have over economic development in Asia and over the demand for Latin American export commodities. After all, increasing exports to Asia is the main force behind the rapid economic growth in most of Latin America in the last few years. (continue reading… )


Midterm elections: the Latin- americanization of US politics?

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on November 3, 2010

by Patricio Navia for The Buenos Aires Herald, November 3rd, 2010.

In the 2010 midterm elections in the US, those familiar with Latin American politics found a recognizable flavour of political polarization, anti-establishment rhetoric and populist leaders who build support on the frustrations and dissatisfaction of a population that perceives tough times ahead.

The 2008 economic crisis, with its legacy of high unemployment and decreased middle class purchasing power, has left a deep wound in the trust the US electorate has in their government and political class. Though not fully articulated in these terms, the Tea Party movement rejects the establishment and the two political parties that have dominated US politics for a century. Tea Party’s references to the Founding Fathers as precursors of their movement are as historically inaccurate as those that Hugo Chávez makes to Simón Bolívar in Venezuela. In rejecting the established political party system and calling for the restoration of a (mythical) foundational republic, the Tea Party has employed a populist discourse (defined as policy recommendations that go against well established economic theory) to advocate for a cure to the United States economic stagnation.

As populism has emerged in Latin American in contexts of high inequality and economic stagnation, Tea Party conservative populism has risen in the United States. Tea Party populism does not call for nationalization or a big state sector as Latin American leftwing populists. Instead, it calls for tax cuts, but not equally sizable spending cuts. The end result is the same, fiscal deficits that undermine future economic growth. (continue reading… )