Tag: latin america

Argentina Sets an Example of Equality Before the Law for Latin America

Nowadays, it’s hard to find an instance where Argentina sets a positive example for the rest of Latin America. However, last night’s vote in that country’s Senate that legalizes same-sex marriages must be praised as that. Argentina has now become the first country in Latin America to recognize marriage equality for all couples.

The fight for marriage equality is just beginning in Latin America. Outside of Argentina, only Mexico City grants gay couples the right to marriage. Uruguay has granted civil union rights to same-sex couples since 2008, and last year in Colombia the Constitutional Court ruled that same-sex couples can be recognized as de facto unions, which enjoy all the rights of marriage. In December, Costa Rica might hold a referendum on this issue. While the referendum is promoted by opponents of gay civil unions, the vote could end up in a big upset victory for the gay community.

Latin America, with its deep-seated conservative Catholic tradition, is not fertile soil for the cause of gay equality. That is one more reason to applaud last night’s brave vote in Buenos Aires.

Misguided Fears of Crime Fuel Arizona Immigration Law

Arizona’s harsh new law against illegal immigration is being justified in part as a measure to combat crime. The murder of an Arizona rancher in March, allegedly by somebody in the country without documentation, galvanized support for the bill.

The death of the rancher was a tragedy, and drug-related violence along the border is a real problem, but it is a smear to blame low-skilled immigrant workers from Latin America for creating a crime problem in Arizona.

The crime rate in Arizona in 2008 was the lowest it has been in four decades. In the past decade, as the number of illegal immigrants in the state grew rapidly, the violent crime rate dropped by 23 percent, the property crime rate by 28 percent. (You can check out the DoJ figures here.)

Census data show that immigrants are actually less likely to commit crimes than their native-born counterparts, as I unpacked a few months ago in an article for Commentary magazine titled, “Higher Immigration, Lower Crime.”

A Disappointing Start in Piñera’s Chile

The presidential election in Chile that brought Sebastián Piñera to power last month was good news for Chile and the region. It confirmed once again that Chile is Latin America’s most modern country, one in which Chileans chose a center-right candidate to lead the country after 20 years of center-left governments that by and large stuck to the free-market model set in place in the 1970s and 1980s and that has made the country one of the most economically free in the world. In Chile, what’s at stake in presidential contests is not a radical change of the rules of the game, but rather policies that build on or depend on high growth. Chile’s mature democracy and economy serve as a model for Latin America.

But in just over a month of being in office, Piñera has made two decisions that disappointed his supporters both inside and outside of Chile who believed that he would reinvigorate the Chilean economy and stand firmly against the populist-authoritarian model that Hugo Chávez has exported to the region. Piñera backed the re-election of José Miguel Insulza to head the Organization of American States and has proposed a tax increase on large companies. Insulza and the OAS are widely and correctly viewed as having been silent, incompetent or complicit in the face of repeated violations of basic democratic and civil rights by populist governments in the region. Whatever the domestic political reasons for Piñera’s decision, countless Latin Americans who cherish their rights—not the least of whom are Venezuelans, Hondurans, Bolivians and Ecuadoreans—were disillusioned by the endorsement of Insulza.

On Friday, Piñera proposed to “temporarily” raise taxes on large companies from 17% to 20% (and to increase mining royalties and to permanently increase tobacco taxes) to finance Chile’s post-earthquake reconstruction needs. But a number of Chile’s leading economists are criticizing the tax increase and point to other sources of revenue that would be less damaging to growth. Hernán Büchi, a finance minister in the 1980s, and Luis Larraín, head of Chile’s free-market think tank, Libertad y Desarrollo, have both written op-eds in recent weeks pointing out that one of the country’s main problems has been the steady drop in productivity in recent years. Piñera was elected on a platform to increase productivity. A tax increase would aggravate the problem. According to Büchi, 20 years of center-left governments reduced Chile’s ability to eliminate poverty and followed a path that was politically easy and consistent with their ideology: “It would be a bad omen if the first measures of a government that should represent change in this regard, went down the same path.” Larraín adds that the tax decision will reveal Piñera’s governing approach, in which there is a real danger of avoiding necessary reforms and a president content with simply being a better administrator. We shall see.

A Glance into Costa Rica’s Health Care System

Costa Rica – my home country – has suddenly become part of the health care debate after celebrity radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh said that he would move to Costa Rica go to Costa Rica for health care if  ObamaCare were approved by Congress the federal government gets too involved in health care in the next few years.

Soon after Sunday’s vote in the House of Representatives, a website was set up to buy Limbaugh a one-way, first-class ticket to Costa Rica. Liberals were quick to point out that my country has a socialized health care system that is among the best in Latin America.

People claim that in Costa Rica health care is a right, not a commodity. The problem surfaces when you actually need to exercise your “right.”

Last July, La Nación newspaper carried a report about one hospital that had 5,000 people on a waiting list for surgery, some waiting up to a year. Among those on the list, 900 patients waited months to have possible cancerous tumors extracted. According to the head of the Oncology Department, “We know that 85% to 90% will be cancer cases based on previous medical tests.” For many of these patients, the wait is the equivalent of a death sentence.

Stories like this are common in the Costa Rican press.

Unfortunately, the current nationalized health care system and the state-owned monopoly in health insurance stifle the development of a viable, dynamic private health care system. Thus, many Costa Ricans can’t imagine life without “free” health care. That’s too bad since there’s nothing free about mandatory monthly contributions from workers and nothing just about being forced to pay for deadly delays in health care attention.

The Violation of Human Rights in Venezuela and Cuba

A report (PDF) released today by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemns in well documented form the growing violation of human rights under the regime of Hugo Chavez. The 302-page study is yet another confirmation of the multitude of ways in which individuals, NGOs, union leaders, politicians, activists, businessmen, students, judges, the media and others who disagree with Venezuelan government policies are targeted by the government and its supporters through intimidation, arbitrary use of administrative and criminal law, and sometimes violence and homicide.

Among the many cases it documents, the report describes how the government last year shut down a publicity campaign in defense of private property run by our colleagues at the free-market think tank CEDICE. The government claimed that it did so to safeguard public order and the mental health of the population.

Particularly interesting is that the commission issuing this report (produced in December but for some reason only made public today) is part of the Organization of American States, which has proven itself useless at best and counterproductive at worst, in the face of blatant rights violations by the Venezuelan and other populist Latin American governments in the last decade. Will the same OAS that invited Cuba to rejoin the organization last year now debate the new report or will it and its head, Mr. Insulza, remain silent as they have for so many years?

Meanwhile in Cuba, the country Chavez holds as a model, political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died yesterday after going on a hunger strike, suffering beatings and having been denied water by prison authorities for 18 days. The mistreatment led to kidney failure. According to Cuba Archive, an NGO that documents deaths attributable to the Cuban regime, Zapata “was then held naked over a powerful air conditioner and developed pneumonia.” What will the Permanent Council of the OAS have to say about that?

What Does the State Department Not Want Us to Know about Honduras?

Senator Jim DeMint from South Carolina recently traveled to Honduras and found—no surprise—a peaceful country and broad support for the ouster of President Zelaya among members of civil society, the supreme court, political parties and others. In an op-ed in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, DeMint describes his trip in light of Washington’s continuing support of Zelaya and its condemnation of what it calls a “coup.” U.S. policy is mystifying since the ousted president’s removal from office was a rare example in Latin America of an institutional defense of democracy as envisioned by the constitution and interpreted by the Supreme Court that ruled that the president be removed. (For independent opinions on the case, see here and here.)

However, the Senator reports a legal analysis at the State Department prepared by its top lawyer that apparently has informed Washington’s policy but that has not been made public nor even released to DeMint despite his repeated requests. In the interest of democracy and transparency, the State Department should immediately release its legal report. Maybe then we (which includes much of the hemisphere) will be less mystified about what is driving Washington policy toward Honduras. Or at least we’ll have a better insight on the administration’s understanding of democracy.

Political Prisoners in Venezuela: Where Is the Organization of American States?

The Washington Post has a great story today on the swelling number of political prisoners in Venezuela. As the story points out, the government of Hugo Chávez is increasingly targeting university students who have been active in the opposition movement. They are jailed under bogus charges of “destabilizing the government,” or “inciting civil war.”

Unfortunately, despite stories and numerous reports from international media outlets and human rights groups, the Organization of American States—which has been very active in trying to reinstall Manuel Zelaya to the Honduran presidency—has remained silent on this issue. Last week, dozens of students went on a hunger strike in front of the OAS headquarters in Caracas, but no official from that organization came out to meet them. After several days some students were allowed to talk with the OAS ambassador in Caracas, who put them in touch with the director of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Jose Manuel Insulza, secretary general of the OAS, then asked the Venezuelan government to authorize the visit of a delegation of the IACHR, a request that hasn’t been granted. Judging by the lack of follow up efforts, the OAS, made up of a majority of countries that receive Venezuelan largesse of some form, seems mostly uninterested in pressing this issue.

The OAS seems ready to help deposed would-be autocrats in Latin America. Where is it when it comes to defending the rights of political prisoners in Venezuela?