Economist, North America

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Who governs Peru?

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 06:43

TO LOSE a minister to congressional censure is a normal hazard of democratic life. For a government to lose four in its first year, including the ministers of finance and the interior, on spurious grounds smacks of a parliamentary conspiracy. That is the drama that may soon face Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Peru’s president.

A year ago Mr Kuczynski, a former investment banker, narrowly won a run-off election because slightly more Peruvians abhorred his opponent, Keiko Fujimori, than supported her. In an election for congress two months before, his political group had won just 18 of the 130 seats while Ms Fujimori’s Popular Force won 73 (partly because less populated regions are over-represented).

Popular Force, helped by opportunistic allies, has made its majority felt with spoiling operations. In December congress censured Jaime Saavedra, the capable education minister, who was promptly hired to run the World Bank’s global education division. Last month the transport...

Donald Trump closes the door to Cuba—a bit

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 06:43

IT WAS typical Trumpian pageantry. On a bunting-trimmed stage at the Manuel Artime theatre in Miami’s Little Havana neighbourhood, the president of the United States declared on June 16th that he was “cancelling” the “completely one-sided deal with Cuba” made by his predecessor, Barack Obama. There is much less to this than Donald Trump’s pugnacious rhetoric suggests. But the new policy will still hurt Cuba’s fledgling private sector, discourage economic reform and damage Uncle Sam’s prestige in Latin America.

The deal struck in 2014 by Mr Obama and Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro, restored diplomatic relations after an interruption of 54 years, softened the United States’ trade embargo, eased travel between the countries and removed Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Much of that will not change. Mr Trump’s main innovation is to make tourism harder, supposedly to deny income to Cuba’s armed forces. Commercial flights and cruises, though, will continue. He thus hopes...

Is Mexico’s government spying on its critics?

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 06:43

MEXICANS do not trust their government. Just 29% have some confidence in the institution, according to Latinobarómetro, a polling firm. A report in the New York Times on June 19th, widely broadcast by the Mexican media, must have reduced that number. It said that software sold to the government to spy on suspected criminals had turned up on the mobile phones of journalists and human-rights campaigners who criticise the government perfectly legally.

Investigations by the Times, Citizen Lab (a research centre in Toronto) and three NGOs named 15 people, most of them critics of the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose phones were found to have the spyware. They include Carmen Aristegui, a journalist who helped uncover a controversial purchase of a house by Mr Peña’s wife from a government contractor. Another target was employees of Centro Prodh, a human-rights group that represents the families of 43 students who...

How to protect offshore oil platforms from roaming icebergs

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 06:43

RICK DURNFORD lassoes icebergs for a living. The ship he captains, the Maersk Detector, unspools thick polypropylene rope, circles around a floating island of ice to form a loop, tows the berg away and releases it onto a new course. It is a tricky process. In the patch of the North Atlantic where Captain Durnford operates, not far from where the Titanic sank, waves can reach 30 metres (100 feet) in height and fog blinds him 40% of the time in the clearest months. Icebergs can break apart or roll without warning. But the biggest risk is that the rope will get entangled in the ship’s propellers in high seas. “There is a little bit of skill involved,” he says.

The Detector mainly diverts icebergs not to protect shipping but to shield five offshore oil platforms on the Grand Banks, 300km (200 miles) east of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The threat can come from icebergs that rise above the water to the height of office blocks, one of which ran aground off Ferryland in April, or from growlers, the size of cars above the water’s surface. These can be blasted with a water cannon.


A battle for supremacy in the lithium triangle

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 07:54

THE Olaroz salt flat sits nearly 4,000 metres (13,000 feet) above sea level at the end of a road that snakes through the Andes mountains. The loudest sound in the featureless expanse is a mechanical one, made by untended pumps. They extract lithium-bearing brine from wells sunk deep below the salt crust and deposit it in evaporation pools. The concentrate will be taken to a nearby plant for processing into lithium carbonate. The operation in Argentina’s Jujuy state, an Argentine-Australian-Japanese joint venture, is one of the country’s two working lithium mines. Last year it produced 11,845 tonnes of lithium carbonate, about 6% of the world’s output. This year Sales de Jujuy plans to make 17,500 tonnes.


Who will survive Brazil’s political cull?

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 07:54

KNOWN, like Donald Trump, as the presenter of a local version of “The Apprentice”, a reality-television show, João Doria entered Brazil’s political firmament last year when he was elected mayor of São Paulo by a huge margin over his nearest rival.

He has the smooth charm of a professional communicator and, with his lithe build and V-necked navy-blue cashmere sweater, a metrosexual air. He is a workaholic who sleeps little. He recently received Bello at the city hall at 8.15pm, with two further meetings ahead.

“I am in politics, but not of politics,” he says. “I am a manager.” In his first five months in office he cut waiting lists at hospitals by persuading them to schedule tests and operations around the clock. His education policy consists of putting computers in schools by cadging donations from tech firms. He sent demolition teams to clear out Cracolândia, an area where drug addicts lived on the street. Critics say he merely dispersed the problem.

At best,...

A possible future for Haiti

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 07:46

SWIVEL, clank, scoop, dump. On the outskirts of Desdunes, a town in Haiti’s fertile Artibonite valley, three enormous excavators sink claws into the banks of the muddy Duclos canal. Arching across it, their slender hydraulic arms uproot small trees and drag them through the clay-coloured water as they gouge out mud from the canal bed. They deposit the glistening sludge, mixed with tall grasses, on their side of the channel, forming a neat ridge. Bored-looking policemen lounge in the shade of palm trees, ostensibly to deter thieves from stealing the machines’ batteries. Blue-grey herons stand to attention; cows and horses graze. Ahead of the excavators, the canal is a mere incision through the fens. Behind lies the result of their work: the canal looks wide enough to accommodate a battleship. Naked boys dive in, seeking respite from the Caribbean sun.

The Artibonite is Haiti’s rice basket, capable of producing enough grain for the whole country. The rice grows in standing water,...

The bogeyman of Mexico

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 07:46

IN RECENT months the fluctuation of the Mexican peso against the dollar has resembled an electrocardiogram during a panic attack. The currency fell some 15% after the victory of Donald Trump, who promised to scrap the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) linking Mexico, the United States and Canada. The peso has since recovered, on mounting hopes that Mr Trump’s administration will recognise the mutual benefit in NAFTA. But there is another nightmare troubling the currency markets: the notion that Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a left-wing populist who in some ways resembles Mr Trump, will win a presidential election a year from now.

After wobbling in May when polls suggested that Mr López Obrador’s candidate might win the governorship of the State of Mexico, the biggest of four states to hold elections on June 4th, the peso gained 2.5% when preliminary results signalled a narrow victory for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) of President Enrique Peña Nieto....

A Mexican vote with big consequences

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 07:45

THE wood-panelled walls of Rodrigo Moya Torres’s study are decorated with hunting knives. On his desk lies a pistol; underneath is a rifle. Mr Moya, who wears a black Stetson and monogrammed cowboy boots, grew up on a ranch. But he has spent the past 31 years publishing a weekly newspaper in the town of Ecatepec, just north of Mexico City.

The firearms are for self-defence. The opinion pages of his newspaper, Morelos de Ecatepec, fulminate against corruption at all levels of government. Mr Moya has received death threats; a local politician tried to kidnap him, he says. No politician merits his respect. “They treat people badly and they don’t look after them,” he fumes.

Ecatepec is a violent part of the State of Mexico, which encircles the country’s capital city almost fully and provides a home to many people who work there. Many of its inhabitants seem to share Mr Moya’s contempt for politicians, which suggests that turnout in a...

Latin America’s campus revolution

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 07:45

HE LIVES in a house of cardboard and tin in Puente Piedra, a sprawling poor district on Lima’s northern fringe. His mother sells cooked food in the street; his father is a mechanic. Yet César Huamán is studying architecture at a new private university. To pay the fees of $137 a month he works on building sites during the holidays. His parents and six siblings chip in. “We all want to have a professional in the family, even if it’s only one,” says Inés, his mother.

Mr Huamán is part of a revolution in higher education in Latin America. The region has some 20m students, more than double the number at the turn of the century. The gross enrolment rate, meaning the proportion of 18- to 24-year-olds in higher education, surged from 21% in 2000 to 43% in 2013, a faster expansion than in any other region in this period, according to a new report from the World Bank. Many of the new students are, like Mr Huamán, from hard-up families. While students from the poorer half of the population...

The miracle of marabú, Cuba’s wonderful weed

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 07:45

From bouquets to briquettes

THE peskiest weed in Cuba sprouts a charming flower. Pink and wispy, with a bushy yellow tail, it looks like a cross between a Chinese lantern and a Muppet. Marabú, as Cubans call the leguminous tree, covers 2m hectares, about 18% of the country’s territory. It spread unchecked during the “special period” of the 1990s, when the Soviet Union stopped subsidising Cuba and farms fell into disuse. Uprooting it is time-consuming and labour-intensive.

Recently, though, Cubans have begun to view marabú as an asset rather than an irritant. Since 2009 Cuba has exported 40,000-80,000 tonnes a year of “artisanal charcoal” made from marabú, which is used for firing up hookahs in the Middle East and pizza ovens in Italy. That could rise after the United States in January approved marabú as the first legal import from Cuba in more than 50 years....

The cheery new leader of Canada’s Conservatives

Mon, 05/29/2017 - 08:49

WHEN Stephen Harper stepped down as leader of Canada’s Conservative Party after losing a national election in October 2015, it looked as if the party he had created might come apart. That 13 candidates came forward to succeed him was an indication of how many ideologies he had knitted together. Among them were three anti-abortion social conservatives, a libertarian and a Trumpian populist. Any one of these might have unravelled Mr Harper’s coalition.

In an election on May 27th to choose his successor, the 140,000 party members who voted stayed with what they knew. Andrew Scheer, a genial, 38-year-old father of five from the western province of Saskatchewan, spent his 13-year political career under the leadership of Mr Harper, who was prime minister for nearly ten years. Mr Scheer shares his predecessor’s enthusiasm for smaller government and lower taxes. Like Mr Harper he opposes carbon taxes and emphasises the need to go after “radical Islamic terrorists”. The media...

Canada’s war over “cultural appropriation”

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 07:49

Appropriately dressed

ANYONE, anywhere “should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities”, wrote Hal Niedzviecki in the spring issue of Write, an obscure Canadian literary magazine. For that apparently innocuous observation, he lost his job as the publication’s editor. Mr Niedzviecki was defending “cultural appropriation”, the use by artists and writers of motifs and ideas from other cultures. He suggested an “appropriation prize” for creators who carry out such cross-cultural raids. In a special issue of the magazine dedicated to indigenous writers, that was offensive, his critics said.

Mr Niedzviecki’s supporters were also made to suffer. A journalist at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was demoted after he offered on Twitter to help finance the prize. The editor of Walrus, a better-known magazine, decried “political correctness, tokenism and hypersensitivity” in...

Argentina’s new, honest inflation statistics

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 07:49

SOME readers of The Economist may be numbed by statistics. To many others, they are the water of cognitive life. Each week at the back of this newspaper we publish official data on 42 of the largest economies in the world—with one exception. Five years ago we stopped publishing the inflation figure for Argentina produced by the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner because we, and many others, thought it was bogus. We substituted an inflation number drawn up by PriceStats, an international data service. A year later the IMF followed our lead, formally censuring Argentina for “inaccuracy” in its data.

This week we are delighted to resume publication of the official inflation number for Argentina. One of the first things that Mauricio Macri did after he was elected as the country’s president in November 2015, defeating Ms Fernández’s candidate, was to restore the professional independence of INDEC, the statistical office. He charged it with...

The fate of Brazil’s president hangs in the balance

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 07:49

“IF THEY want, let them bring me down!” So declared Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, in a newspaper interview on May 22nd. He is the second president in the space of a year who is fighting to stay in office in the face of allegations of wrongdoing and dismal poll ratings. His predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached in 2016 on a technical violation of public-accounting law. The allegations against Mr Temer are far graver, but his chances of remaining president may be brighter. Whether he stays or goes, the accusations against him are momentous. The blow to his prestige and influence will delay, and might destroy, vital reforms to Brazil’s economy, which is only beginning to emerge from its worst-ever recession.

Mr Temer’s woes began on May 17th when O Globo, a newspaper, reported that, on a tape recorded by Joesley Batista, a billionaire businessman, he is heard endorsing payment of hush money to a politician jailed for his role in the Petrobras scandal....

Brazil’s fabulous Batista boys

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 07:49

JOSÉ BATISTA SOBRINHO helped build Brasília. In 1957 his meat business supplied canteens that fed workers constructing Brazil’s modernist capital. Now his two youngest sons, Wesley and Joesley, are bringing the place down. As the bosses of the company their father founded, renamed JBS in his honour, they are at the centre of a scandal that may force a president out of office for the second time in a year (see article).

JBS is the world’s biggest beef exporter. Its revenues rose from 3.9bn reais ($1.8bn) in 2006 to 170bn reais last year, helped by China’s appetite and Brazil’s enthusiasm for national champions. From 2007 to 2015 the development bank, BNDES, injected into Batista enterprises more than 8bn reais in capital and loans. Most of it was to help JBS buy rivals, including American brands like Swift and Pilgrim’s Pride. J...

Ecuador waits for Lenín Moreno

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 07:46

IN A burst of hyperbole and historical confusion, Rafael Correa compared the run-off election in Ecuador last month to “the battle of Stalingrad” in which his left-wing government was “fighting against the global right wing”. Yet the outcome was far from the rout achieved on the Russian steppes: rather, Mr Correa’s candidate, Lenín Moreno, achieved a narrow victory, by 51% to 49% over Guillermo Lasso, a conservative banker. Even so, the result interrupted the recent ebbing of the “pink tide” in South America that has seen several electoral victories for the centre-right.

The prospects for Mr Moreno’s presidency, which begins on May 24th, are unusually uncertain. His first task is to establish his legitimacy in practice. Some in the opposition question his victory. The electoral authority’s computers briefly shut down with Mr Lasso in an early lead. The police raided Cedatos, Ecuador’s most reliable polling firm, confiscating its computers, after it published an exit poll giving Mr...

A journalist slain

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 07:46

At least four Mexican journalists have been killed this year for their reporting, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Since 2007 66 have died violently. On May 15th unknown assassins murdered one of the finest, Javier Valdez, in the state of Sinaloa. Mr Valdez was a co-founder of Ríodoce, a weekly publication that covers corruption and the bloody wars between drug-trafficking gangs. The CPJ says he “combined the grit of the most battle-hardened reporter with the elegiac soul of a 19th-century Romantic poet”. The death toll is so high that earlier this month the attorney-general’s office replaced the chief of its division for “crimes against freedom of expression”.

Deadline pressure for Colombia’s peace agreement

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 07:46

THE Tierra Grata encampment in the foothills of the Perijá mountains overlooks vast cattle ranches around the city of Valledupar. If the FARC guerrillas were still waging war on the government of Colombia, it would be the perfect spot from which to dominate this north-eastern area. But the 160 members of the FARC’s 41st and 19th fronts who occupy the hillside camp spent a recent Sunday preparing not for battle but for a football tournament with teams from nearby towns. They are among nearly 7,000 guerrillas in 26 camps across the country who are waiting to disarm and become civilians under a peace deal, ratified last December, that ends the group’s 52-year-long war against the state.

But even as the FARC footballers warmed up, there were signs that not everything was going to plan. The camp is still under construction, which should have finished last year. The FARC’s ammunition and 7,000 firearms should have been deposited in shipping containers secured by the UN by the end of April...

Leaked recordings are trouble for Michel Temer

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 04:03

UNTIL now, Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, has personally avoided the scandals that have engulfed his administration. The supreme court has authorised investigations into eight members of his cabinet, as well as 24 senators and 39 lower-house deputies for allegations related to the vast scandal centred on Petrobras, the state-controlled oil company. However, the president was not a target of the inquiries. And no one had suggested that he had committed any crimes during his term of office, which could lead to impeachment.

That changed with sickening suddenness on May 17th, when O Globo, a newspaper, reported that Mr Temer had been caught on tape endorsing the payment of hush money to a politician convicted of taking bribes. According to the newspaper, in March the president met Joesley Batista, a businessman whose family controls JBS, the world’s biggest beef exporter. The firm is being investigated over accusations of paying kickbacks to...