Tag: latin america

Brazil’s Drug Czar: Let’s Look at Portugal’s Experience with Decriminalization

In yesterday’s Brazilian daily, O Globo, Pedro Abramovay, the drug czar of the new Brazilian administration, said that Portugal’s experience with drug decriminalization should be considered as an alternative to Brazil’s current anti-narcotics policy. This comes on top of Rio Governor Sergio Cabral’s call for drug legalization and of former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s criticism, along with other prominent Latin Americans, of drug prohibition. By officially weighing in on the side of harm reduction, Latin America’s giant can have a significant effect on the debate over this hemisphere’s drug war.

Let’s Open a Wireless Window to Cuba

Three of the world’s largest companies involved in wireless telecommunications—Nokia, AT&T, and Verizon—this week asked the Obama administration to further loosen the U.S. embargo against Cuba. According to a Bloomberg News story this morning:

Nokia, the world’s biggest mobile-phone maker, is urging the U.S. to ease its 47-year-old trade embargo so it can sell handsets to Cuba. AT&T and Verizon, the largest U.S. wireless providers, urged regulators to make it easier for U.S. companies to directly connect calls to and from Cuba.

The almost half-century-old embargo no longer serves any legitimate national security purpose, as I’ve argued before. The remaining restrictions on providing wireless communication services only demonstrate how the embargo actually undermines our stated goal of bringing more freedom to the long-suffering people of Cuba.

To President Obama’s credit, he has done more than most presidents to ease the embargo, including modest steps such as easing travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans and authorizing telecommunications firms to offer limited service in Cuba. In practice, however, President Obama’s efforts have had little effect, and they have not gone far enough.

If the basis of current U.S. policy toward Cuba is democratic empowerment of its people, then removing telecommunications restrictions would be a logical and healthy next step. According to the Bloomberg story, Cuba still has the lowest mobile-phone penetration rate in Latin America. What better way to empower nearly eleven and a half million people than by easing restrictions on their communications with free residents of the democratic United States?

President Obama himself argued in a White House statement in April 2009 that two of the best ways to promote Cuban democratization were by “facilitating greater contact between separated family members in the United States and Cuba” and “increasing the flow of … information to the Cuban people.”

Here is an opportunity to translate those sound words into action.

‘Border Enforcement’ Bill Driven by Election-Year Politics

A $600-million bill to enhance border enforcement has hit a temporary snag in the Senate, but it is almost inevitable, with an election only a few months away, that Congress and the president will spend yet more money trying to enforce our unworkable immigration laws.

“Getting control of the border” is the buzz phrase of the day for politicians in both parties, from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Never mind that apprehensions are down sharply along our Southwest border with Mexico, mostly I suspect because of the lack of robust job creation in the unstimulated Obama economy.

Meanwhile, since the early 1990s, spending on border enforcement has increased more than 700 percent, and the number of agents along the border has increased five-fold, from 3,500 to more than 17.000. (See pages 3-4 of a January 2010 report from the Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Center.) Yet the population of illegal immigrants in America tripled during that period. If this were a federal education program, conservatives would rightly accuse the big spenders of merely throwing more money at a problem without result.

To pay for this politically driven expenditure, Congress plans to nearly double fees charged for H1-B and L visas used by foreign high-tech firms to staff their operations in the United States. The increased visa tax will fall especially hard on companies such as the Indian high-tech leaders Wipro, Infosys, and Tata.

This all has the ring of election-year populism. Congress pretends to move us closer to solving the problem of illegal immigrants entering from Latin America by raising barriers to skilled professionals coming to the United States from India and elsewhere to help us maintain our edge in competitive global technology markets.

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.