Economist, North America

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Updated: 6 hours 59 min ago

As Venezuelans go hungry, their government holds a farcical election

Thu, 05/17/2018 - 07:51

IF VENEZUELA were a democracy, President Nicolás Maduro’s bid to win re-election would certainly fail. He leads a regime that has been in power for 19 years. Its economic policies have made life intolerable for most of the country’s 34m citizens. Food is in short supply, and nearly 90% of Venezuelans say they do not have enough money to eat properly. The contraction of the economy is the biggest in the history of Latin America. Prices are doubling nearly every month. At least a million people have left the country in the past four years.

Yet almost nobody thinks the president, who looks as well fed as ever, will lose the one-round election scheduled for May 20th. At rallies of loyalists and dragooned state workers held in barricaded streets, Mr Maduro talks of getting 12m votes, even more than Hugo Chávez, the charismatic founder of Venezuela’s “Bolivarian revolution”, who died in 2013. To suffering voters he promises relief. “I am ready to make a change,” he said on May 11th.

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Why Argentines are wrong to scapegoat the IMF

Thu, 05/17/2018 - 07:51

IN THE early months of 2002 Argentines were gripped by rage, fear and a deep sense of loss. They had suffered years of austerity and slump and finally the corralito, in which the government halted a run on the banks by barring savers from withdrawing their money. None of this could save “convertibility”, as Argentines called an arrangement under which the peso had been pegged at par to the dollar since 1991. As four presidents came and went in a week over Christmas 2001, Argentina devalued and defaulted on $82bn of bonds, the largest sovereign default in history. Incomes plunged, unemployment soared and the poverty rate rose to 56% in a country that a century before had been one of the ten richest in the world.

These events seared the Argentine soul. Many blame the IMF for them. That is why the decision by Mauricio Macri, Argentina’s president since 2015, to counter a run on the peso this month by seeking a standby loan from the IMF, though economically sensible, is...

Peru’s new president, Martín Vizcarra, explains his plans

Thu, 05/17/2018 - 07:51

Martín’s dream: a cleaner Lima

THE narrow streets of San José de Lourdes, on Peru’s border with Ecuador, were jammed on May 10th for a once-in-a-lifetime event. Martín Vizcarra (pictured) was the first president of Peru to visit the sweltering town, which was founded nearly 75 years ago and then, it seems, promptly forgotten. “We are taking a look at the entire country, focusing attention right now on areas that have been abandoned by the state,” he told The Economist in his first interview with a foreign newspaper. “This zone fits that description.”

Schools in San José de Lourdes lack windows and running water. No doctor has visited the health clinic in three years. The poverty rate of around 60% is nearly three times the national average. Cars cross the Chinchipe river on a pulley-drawn platform, sometimes waiting days for passage. The town’s previous mayor is in prison on corruption charges.

Mr Vizcarra’s visit is part of a...

Canada qualifies its welcome to asylum-seekers

Thu, 05/10/2018 - 07:54

“TO THOSE fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith.” Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, sent that tweet in January 2017, after President Donald Trump temporarily barred refugees from the United States. Now Canada is sending a cooler message. “There are no guarantees you can stay in Canada,” tweeted the immigration department last month.

The tone changed because too many migrants interpreted Mr Trudeau’s welcome as unconditional. Some 20,000 asylum-seekers walked over the border from the United States last year, a nearly tenfold rise from 2016. About 7,500 came in the first four months of 2018.

Under a “safe third country” agreement between Canada and the United States, implemented in 2004, Canada should turn back asylum-seekers crossing over from its southern neighbour. It requires them to seek asylum in the first safe country they reach. But recent border-crossers are taking advantage of a loophole: the agreement applies to...

Canada qualifies its welcome to asylum-seekers

Thu, 05/10/2018 - 07:54

“TO THOSE fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith.” Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, sent that tweet in January 2017, after President Donald Trump temporarily barred refugees from the United States. Now Canada is sending a cooler message. “There are no guarantees you can stay in Canada,” tweeted the immigration department last month.

The tone changed because too many migrants interpreted Mr Trudeau’s welcome as unconditional. Some 20,000 asylum-seekers walked over the border from the United States last year, a nearly tenfold rise from 2016. About 7,500 came in the first four months of 2018.

Under a “safe third country” agreement between Canada and the United States, implemented in 2004, Canada should turn back asylum-seekers crossing over from its southern neighbour. It requires them to seek asylum in the first safe country they reach. But recent border-crossers are taking advantage of a loophole: the agreement applies to...

The threat to Central America’s prosecutors

Thu, 05/10/2018 - 07:54

ON MAY 7th hundreds of officials gathered in the ballroom of the Camino Real hotel in Guatemala City to pay tribute to Thelma Aldana, who was stepping down at the end of her four-year term as the country’s attorney-general. A Powerpoint presentation touted her prosecutorial feats. They included jailing the country’s president, Otto Pérez Molina (pictured) in 2015, and the vice-president, Roxana Baldetti. Last year she began an investigation of the current president, Jimmy Morales, on suspicions that he had paid for his campaign illegally. The front-row seat intended for him was empty.

The corruption that Ms Aldana pursued is not new. In Guatemala, as in the other countries in Central America’s “northern triangle”, El Salvador and Honduras, it infects the highest levels of government. Attorneys-general have mostly ignored the crimes of the politicians who appoint them. This contributes to the lawlessness and violence that impel people to flee the region and go to the United States.

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How chavismo makes the taps run dry in Venezuela

Thu, 05/10/2018 - 07:54

IT IS the rainy season in Caracas and the reservoirs are full. But most of the 5.3m people who live in and near the city have not had regular running water for at least a month. Venezuela is an oil-rich country that cannot pay for food and medicines. Now its autocratic regime is showing that it can create shortages even when nature provides abundance. “I’ve forgotten what it is like to bathe in running water,” says Soledad Rodríguez, a graphic designer.

Supplying Caracas with water is not easy. The city is 1,000 metres (3,300 feet) above sea level. The nearest big river, the Tuy, flows on the other side of a mountain range. Earlier governments had cracked these problems. Marcos Pérez Jiménez, a dictator in the 1950s, oversaw construction of a system of pumps and reservoirs that kept up with the city’s fast growth.

Hugo Chávez, whose election as president began Venezuela’s “Bolivarian revolution” in 1999, improved water supply to poor areas but did not upgrade...

A warning on poverty from Peru

Thu, 05/10/2018 - 07:54

WHAT is it to be poor in Peru? Gonzalo Sánchez, a single father with health problems who is a part-time lecturer at a public university with a son studying to be a designer, often can’t afford an evening meal. Manuela Cuevas makes ends meet thanks to her retired husband’s odd jobs and her live-in son-in-law’s income as a manager at a security firm. Gina Palomino, her husband and their three children scrape by on his income from occasional building work and her street-corner sales of fruit, interrupted now that she is pregnant. Their names are not real, but their situations are. So are the tens of thousands of farmers whose crops were not insured and were lost to flooding last year. As these cases show, crossing the poverty line in either direction depends on countless details of circumstance.

In this century, Peru has been spectacularly successful in reducing poverty, more so than any other country in Latin America, according to the UN. The share of the population that is poor fell from 55% in...

The crisis of Argentine gradualism

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 07:49

WHEN he was unexpectedly elected Argentina’s president in 2015 Mauricio Macri faced a task that was about as simple as walking a tightrope across the Iguazú falls while grilling a steak. His predecessor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, had bequeathed a make-believe economy. Inflation of 30-40% a year was officially covered up. The peso was wildly overvalued, exports were taxed and many imports were banned. The government provided energy and transport almost free. The resulting fiscal deficit was financed by the central bank, which printed money to the tune of 5% of GDP. In a country traumatised by past economic shocks, Mr Macri promised to straighten all this out gradually.

He has done a pretty good job. The economy has grown at an annual rate of around 3% for the past 18 months, even while the government has ended most of Ms Fernández’s distortions. It has gradually trimmed the fiscal deficit, partly by raising energy and transport prices. The central bank now only hands over money worth 1% of...

Why being a mayor in Mexico is so dangerous

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 07:49

ON A sunny day in Oaxaca, the capital of a southern Mexican state with the same name, the mayor of a nearby village was due to meet The Economist to talk about doing the job after his predecessor was murdered. He did not show up. The night before a bullet had smashed a window of his house. “I’m scared,” he said in a message.

Between 2010 and 2017, 42 mayors were murdered in Mexico (see chart), 12 of them in the state of Oaxaca. A further ten mayors or ex-mayors have been killed this year. A mayor is 11 times more likely than an ordinary citizen to be a murder victim, says David Shirk of the University of San Diego in California.

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Mexico’s murder rate heads for a new record

Thu, 05/03/2018 - 07:49

IN APASEO EL GRANDE, a town in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, the bodies are stacking up. In February gangsters killed a local politician. The remains of another victim were found in four bags scattered across town. Police made a similar discovery in April. In the first three months of this year the municipality of 85,000 people had 43 murders, up from 20 in all of 2016. That is about the same as London, a city 100 times larger and currently panicking about its high murder rate.

A visitor might not notice anything amiss. Shiny cars made in nearby factories cruise the streets and children play in the main square. But residents are frightened. Bouncing a child on his knee in his living room, Efraín Rico Rubio, a former city councillor, now an administrative worker at a university, describes the violence. “Three blocks down they killed someone,” he says, “and three blocks in the other direction.” He sees little prospect of improvement. Schoolchildren “all want to be El Chapo”, a drug...

Mario Vargas Llosa explains why his politics changed

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 07:50

IT IS not every novelist who sits down to write a serious work of political philosophy. But Mario Vargas Llosa has always been as much a political as a literary animal. He describes “La Llamada de la Tribu” (“The Call of the Tribe”), published in February as its author turned 82, as an account of his own intellectual history. That is a journey from youthful flirtation with communism and existentialism; enthusiasm for and then disenchantment with the Cuban revolution; followed by a conversion to liberalism in the British sense. This stance makes him exceptional among Latin American intellectuals, many of whom are still bewitched by anti-imperialism and socialism.

The book is an account of the lives and thought of seven liberal philosophers. Apart from Adam Smith, they include Karl Popper and Isaiah Berlin, both of whom the author met (as he did Margaret Thatcher, who impressed him too) while living in London in the 1970s. Also on the list are France’s Raymond Aron and José Ortega y Gasset of...

The son of an ex-dictator’s secretary is elected president of Paraguay

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 07:50

Now it’s my turn

OPINION polls gave Mario Abdo Benítez a lead of 10-25 percentage points ahead of Paraguay’s presidential election on April 22nd. So it was no surprise when Mr Abdo Benítez, the son of the private secretary to Alfredo Stroessner, Paraguay’s dictator from 1954-89, was declared the winner. However, his margin of victory was much smaller than predicted: under 4% on a turnout of 61%. Both figures were the lowest since the return to democracy in 1989.

The president-elect’s Colorado Party has now won six of the seven elections since Stroessner’s fall. By 2023, it will have ruled for 70 of the past 75 years. The party closed ranks after a bitter primary in December, when Mr Abdo Benítez defeated Santiago Peña, the dauphin of the outgoing president, Horacio Cartes.

The main opposition, an awkward coalition of the conservative Liberal Party and the left-wing Frente Guasú, ran a ragged campaign. Its presidential candidate, Efraín Alegre, proposed...

A corruption spat in Russia endangers crime-fighters in Central America

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 07:50

IN A region where the rule of law is shaky, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) has become something of a beacon. Set up in 2006 to aid the country’s weak prosecutors, the UN-backed body has aided investigations that led to the removal and jailing of a president, and the dismantling of death squads and drug-trafficking rings. These successes have earned it enemies—including the current president, Jimmy Morales, who tried to get its head fired last year after it accused him of accepting illegal campaign funding. On April 20th, following a public apology by a group of businessmen who made the contributions, the president demanded that CICIG’s founding agreement be investigated. Guatemala’s “net centres”, groups of online trolls paid to smear opponents of the powerful, have raised their output.

With one in five members of congress under investigation, Mr Morales is not the only powerful Guatemalan who would like to see CICIG go. Yet every time its mandate...

An involuntary celibate goes on a killing spree in Canada

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 07:50

The Incel Rebellion’s grim toll

HIS classmates thought he was harmless. But on the afternoon of April 23rd Alek Minassian, a 25-year-old computer programmer from Toronto, drove a van into lunchtime strollers, careering along for more than a kilometre, killing ten and injuring 14 others. His aim, apparently, was to murder women, because women would not have sex with him.

Beforehand, Mr Minassian posted a message on Facebook proclaiming: “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all Chads and Stacys! All hail Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!” Canadians googled furiously to find out what this might mean.

They found that “incel” is short for involuntarily celibate. Members of this movement are furious that women (sometimes referred to as “Stacys”) won’t sleep with them. They also resent “Chads” (men who find it easy to get sex). They mostly confine themselves to grumbling in online chat-rooms. Some swap alarming fantasies of “revenge”...

The violent end of Daniel Ortega’s decade of quiet

Thu, 04/26/2018 - 07:50

RARELY has a political movement so young been blessed with a symbol so potent. In 2013 the Nicaraguan government began installing garishly coloured metal “trees of life” around Managua, the capital. Advertised as a gift to the people from Rosario Murillo, the first lady, the 140 sculptures cost $25,000 each to install. They consume $1m worth of electricity a year. The contract for maintaining them belongs to a company owned by a relative of the president, Daniel Ortega. So when demonstrators began thronging the city’s streets on April 18th, they were surrounded by fitting targets for their ire. Banding together, they tugged on chains to uproot Ms Murillo’s beloved trees (see picture)—and perhaps the country’s political future too.

Days after the protests began, one of the trees was still lying atop a roundabout. Passing cars honked in satisfaction at the subversive sight. Several young Nicaraguans sat on it as though it were a sofa; others scavenged along the ground for light bulbs to take as...

The Colombian guerrillas who won’t give up their guns

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 07:48

JUAN MANUEL SANTOS chose his words carefully after signing a peace deal with Colombia’s FARC guerrillas in 2016, officially ending a 50-year-long conflict. “Today marks the beginning of the end of the suffering, the pain and the tragedy of the war,” the president said, well aware that reintegrating the FARC into society would bring its own travails. Overall, the peace process has succeeded; the Colombian countryside is safer than it has been in generations. But a few holdouts still trouble Mr Santos, whose presidency ends on August 7th, and will test his successor as well.

On April 13th Lenín Moreno, the president of Ecuador, announced that two of his country’s journalists and a driver had been killed near the Colombian border. They had been kidnapped on March 26th by the Oliver Sinisterra Front, a gang of 70-80 former FARC guerrillas who refused to demobilise and broke off from the organisation. Led by an Ecuadorean named Walter “Guacho” Artízala, the...

Anti-elitist politicians in Canada are courting immigrants

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 07:48

EVER since Doug Ford became the leader of Ontario’s centre-right Progressive Conservative Party on March 10th, he has been asked if he is Canada’s Donald Trump. The two have much in common. Big, beefy and blond, Mr Ford inherited a large product-labelling company, yet campaigns against elites who “drink champagne with their pinkies in the air”. He loathes regulation and taxes, and vows to repeal Ontario’s carbon cap-and-trade system. Two books about his late brother Rob, Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor, paint the surviving Ford as impulsive, undisciplined, indiscreet and a bully.

However, the comparison falls apart when it comes to immigration. Mr Ford bemoans the loss of 300,000 manufacturing jobs from Ontario, but blames an incompetent Liberal Party, not foreigners. Far from bashing immigrants, he aims to woo socially conservative ones. For example, he wants to repeal a sex-education curriculum for primary schools that lists six genders and four sexual orientations. Many immigrant parents...

Guatemala votes to demand 53% of its neighbour’s territory

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 07:48

IT SOUNDS like an outrageous act of provocation. In a referendum on April 15th, Guatemalan voters chose to file a claim at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) demanding sovereignty over 53% of Belize, their eastern neighbour. The Belizean government, however, responded with congratulations, saying the result “contributes further to the strengthening of democracy, peace and security”. It had reason to be sanguine: the most likely outcome is that nothing will happen.

Guatemala’s demand for a bigger chunk of Central America’s Caribbean coast is far older than Belize itself. In the 1700s Spain agreed to let Britain cut timber in the northern half of modern Belize. Britons searching for mahogany crept southwards. After Spain retreated from Latin America in the 1800s, Britain formally took over the entire territory, naming it British Honduras. The new state of Guatemala said it had “inherited” the region from Spain. Guatemala gave up its claim in 1859, in exchange for Britain...

How long will Latin America support “American values”?

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 07:48

THE last time the leaders of 30-odd countries from the Americas met, in Panama in 2015, the presidents of the United States and Cuba, longtime enemies, shook hands. When the group reconvened in Lima this month, the bonhomie was gone. Raúl Castro, who is due to step down as Cuba’s president on April 19th, did not come. His foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, attended in his stead and lambasted “United States imperialism”. Donald Trump, who ended the detente with Cuba, stayed home too. He sent his vice-president, Mike Pence, to denounce Cuba’s “despotic regime”. The stand-ins blasted each other with quotations from Latin America’s liberator, Simón Bolívar. Mr Pence: “A people that loves freedom will in the end be free.” Mr Rodríguez: “The United States seems destined by Providence to plague America with torments in the name of freedom.”

Mr Pence probably thought he had won the duel. On the biggest question facing the summiteers—addressing tyranny and hunger in Venezuela—the big countries agreed...

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