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Why Juan Rulfo’s fiction of fear is still revered in Latin America

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 08:50

FOR a writer, he was a man of extraordinarily few words. Juan Rulfo produced only one short novel, “Pedro Páramo”, and a collection of short stories, “El Llano en Llamas” (translated as “The Burning Plain”). Together they comprise fewer than 300 pages. And that, apart from a couple of fragments and a few film scripts, was it. Yet not only does Rulfo enjoy a towering reputation in Spanish-language letters. In addition, as has become clear during the commemorations this year marking the centenary of his birth, his work has at least as much relevance for many young Latin American writers as that of successors such as Gabriel García Márquez or Mario Vargas Llosa, who are far better known to English-speaking readers.

Rulfo was marked indelibly by his childhood. He was born into a family of landowners in the western Mexican state of Jalisco. They lost their lands in the turmoil of the Mexican revolution (1910-17) and the counter-revolutionary Cristero war of the late 1920s. His father was...

How young Brazilians hope to clean up politics

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 08:50

WITH his reversed baseball cap and facial fuzz, the style of 29-year-old Daniel José Oliveira (pictured) is hardly typical for a Brazilian politician. Nor is his background: he was one of 11 siblings brought up in a small town by a domestic servant and an office porter. After winning a scholarship to a Catholic school, he studied economics at a fine São Paulo campus. That led to a job at J.P. Morgan, a scholarship to study at Yale University and a job offer from another American investment firm.

But in 2015, with Brazil’s economy crashing and its politics mired in scandals, he instead came home. Inspired by En Marche!, the French liberal party which propelled Emmanuel Macron to the presidency, he hopes to be elected next October as a federal deputy for São Paulo state.

Until recently, politics was a turn-off for his generation. The average age of lower-house deputies elected in 2014 was 50, 19 years above the national mean. Brazil’s old-timers...

In the name of democracy, Venezuela bans the opposition

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 08:50

“LET us get ready for 2018,” boomed Nicolás Maduro as he hailed the “third great victory of the Venezuelan people”. The president was gloating over a vote on December 10th, in which his United Socialist Party, which has looted and misgoverned the country into economic ruin, bagged more than 90% of the country’s mayoral contests.

It was a hollow triumph. The three main opposition parties fielded no candidates, having reasonably called the voting a sham. (The other “victories” were equally flawed: the creation in July of a rubber-stamp “constituent assembly” to replace an elected legislature, and a ballot for governors in October.)

Dizzy with these dubious successes, Mr Maduro’s eye is now on a bigger contest, next year’s presidential poll. He has not formally declared, but Tareck El Aissami, the vice-president, says his boss hopes for another six-year term.

With that in mind, the regime is now determined to knock out rivals. Mr Maduro has declared...

Caribbean sugar is close to a sticky end

Thu, 12/14/2017 - 08:50

Why cut cane when you can print passports?

IN ITS 18th-century heyday cane grown in the Caribbean and cut by African slaves provided Britain with nearly all its sugar. The masters of this brutal trade made enormous fortunes. But it has seen 200 years of decline, accelerating after slavery ended in 1838. Now the region is wondering how it will cope after a policy change by the European Union which could finally bring down the curtain.

Today, the English-speaking Caribbean produces under 0.3% of the world’s sugar; Brazil grows nearly a quarter. Many islands have abandoned cane for more profitable activities. Trinidad closed its last sugar factory in 2007, and a gas-related boom took up the slack. St Kitts shut its last factory two years earlier, after the debts of its state-owned managers approached a third of GDP. A railway that trundled cane now carries tourists. St Kitts’s new staple is passports for foreigners, sales of which finance an opaque...

Justin Trudeau searches in vain for new free-trade partners

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 08:57

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, Canada’s prime minister, set off for China on December 2nd amid speculation that the two countries would start free-trade talks. Canada needs new markets because the United States is turning inward. China wants to gain better access to Canada’s commodities and technology and to set a precedent for talks with other G7 countries. Although they have been talking about trade for more than a year, Mr Trudeau will return with no agreement to start negotiations.

Mr Trudeau’s Liberal government has suffered other recent setbacks on trade. At a meeting in Danang, Vietnam, last month, Japan blamed Canada for delaying a new version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement from which Donald Trump withdrew the United States. The snag was Canada’s request for protection of its culture. Renegotiation of the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the United States and Mexico is going badly. For a country whose trade is the equivalent of 64% of GDP, that...

Cuba’s leaders are trapped between the need for change and the fear of it

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 08:57

FOR decades Cuban exiles in Miami dreamed of the day that Fidel Castro would die. They imagined that Cubans would then rise up against the communist dictatorship that he imposed. Yet when, a year ago this week, Castro’s ashes were interred in his mausoleum, it was an anticlimax. His brother, Raúl, who is now 86, has been in charge since 2006. For a while, he seemed to offer the prospect of far-reaching economic reform. Now, as he prepares to step down as Cuba’s president in February, he is bequeathing merely stability and quiescence.

Raúl’s planned retirement is not total—he will stay on as first secretary of the ruling Communist Party for a further three years. He is due to leave the presidency as Cuba is grappling with two new problems. The first is the partial reversal by Donald Trump of Barack Obama’s historic diplomatic and commercial opening to the island, which will cut tourist revenues. The second is the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which in September devastated much of the...

Honduras’s political crisis takes an unexpected turn

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 08:57

FOR a few days, Honduras felt like a country on the brink of chaos. People queued for hours at banks, supermarkets and petrol stations, as they had before a hurricane in 1998 and a coup in 2009. Shopkeepers shut early to prepare for looting. Thousands of people took to the streets in protest; some banged pots, burned tires and hurled Molotov cocktails. Security forces killed a dozen people; the government imposed a curfew. On December 4th two elite police units denounced “repression” by the government and disobeyed orders to enforce the curfew.

The trigger for the turmoil was a general election held on November 26th, and the drawn-out, erratic vote count that followed (see article). With all the votes tallied by December 5th, Juan Orlando Hernández appeared to win re-election as Honduras’s president. The opposition refuses to accept...

What the data say about the integrity of Honduras’s election

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 08:57

THE electoral commission of Honduras (TSE) will not declare a winner in the presidential election, held on November 26th, until after a recount of some kind. The first count suggests that Juan Orlando Hernández won re-election. He beat Salvador Nasralla, a sports broadcaster, by 42.98% to 41.38%.

Mr Nasralla charges that the result is fraudulent. A weird and chaotic vote-counting process has strengthened that suspicion. After releasing preliminary results from 57% of ballot boxes, which showed Mr Nasralla with a lead of five percentage points, the TSE stopped reporting on November 27th without explanation. After publication of results resumed on the afternoon of November 28th, Mr Nasralla’s lead disappeared. That looks fishy.

The Economist has analysed the results to figure out whether someone falsified the count. Our findings are not conclusive, but they suggest there are reasons to worry.

If the results released by the TSE at each stage of the count were a representative sample of the country, the odds of the shift it reported from Mr Nasralla in early results to Mr Hernández in later ones would be close to zero. Mr Hernández has explained his luck by saying that the later ballots come from rural areas, where his National Party is stronger.

To test this theory, The Economist...

José Antonio Meade is the PRI’s candidate for Mexico’s presidency

Thu, 11/30/2017 - 08:56

ONE custom in Mexico’s era of one-party rule was the dedazo (big finger), the president’s choice of his successor, who would inevitably be elected to a single six-year term. The authoritarian rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) ended in 2000, but the dedazo returned on November 27th this year, when Enrique Peña Nieto, the president, chose his finance secretary, José Antonio Meade, as the PRI’s candidate in the presidential election to be held in July. This time, though, the dedazo that counts belongs to the voters.

Mr Meade’s selection begins a seven-month race for a tough job. The next president will have to deal with a soaring crime rate, anger about corruption, a weak economy and Donald Trump, who may by then have decided to tear up or drastically change the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Mexico, the United States and Canada. Mr Peña’s successor will also have to decide...

New thinking on the armed forces after Argentina loses a submarine

Thu, 11/30/2017 - 08:56

ARGENTINES have given up hope of finding alive the 44 crew aboard the ARA San Juan, the most modern of the navy’s three submarines, which disappeared on November 15th. On November 23rd the navy said an explosion had been detected in the area where the submarine is thought to have been.

The apparent tragedy has started a debate about the role of Argentina’s 105,000-strong armed forces and the money spent on them. Since the end of the military dictatorship in 1983, a year after Argentina’s failed attempt to wrest the Falkland Islands from Britain by force, successive governments have reduced military spending. It has dropped from 3.5% of GDP in 1978 to less than 1% last year. Argentina spends a lower share of GDP than any of its neighbours on its armed forces (see chart).


Despotism and default in Venezuela

Thu, 11/30/2017 - 08:56

BACK in July, Nicolás Maduro’s big problem was an opposition-backed rebellion against his plan to replace Venezuela’s elected parliament with a hand-picked constituent assembly. More than 120 people died in mass protests and the armed forces briefly seemed to waver in their support for the government. Now Venezuela’s dictator-president has his new assembly in place and the opposition where he wants it—divided and debilitated. But he has another problem: he is running out of cash.

After years of mismanagement, Venezuela’s all-important oil industry is listing like a shipwrecked tanker. According to data provided by the government to OPEC, oil production in October averaged 1.96m barrels per day (b/d), down 130,000 b/d from September (and 361,000 b/d from October 2016). Subtract oil supplied for almost nothing to Venezuelans and to Cuba, and shipments to repay loans from China and Russia, and only around 750,000 b/d are sold for cash, according to Francisco Monaldi, a Venezuelan...

Honduras’s disputed election provokes a crisis

Thu, 11/30/2017 - 04:33

JUAN ORLANDO HERNÁNDEZ (pictured), Honduras’s president, boasts that he has brought stability and security, but his run for re-election has caused turmoil. As The Economist went to press on November 30th it was unclear who had won the election held four days before. After Mr Hernández’s rival, Salvador Nasralla, posted an early lead, vote-counting slowed to a crawl and the incumbent closed the gap. With 89% of the vote counted, Mr Hernández led by 0.8 percentage points.

If the electoral tribunal (TSE) proclaims him the winner, that will not settle the matter. Mr Nasralla told The Economist there will be protests. The tension evokes the mood after a coup in 2009 against then-president Manuel Zelaya, after he tried to scrap presidential term limits. He now backs Mr Nasralla. University classes have been cancelled, probably to keep Mr Nasralla’s young supporters at home. On the night of November 29th police fired tear gas at rock-throwing protesters near a building where ballots were...

Cuba’s Communists bar “alternative” candidates from local elections

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 08:52

IF CUBA were a democracy, the municipal elections that start on November 26th would open a season of participatory politics, culminating in the choosing of a new president next February. This year more than 200 people, a record number, put themselves forward as “alternative” candidates for local office, contesting the hegemony of the Communist Party. The government put a quick stop to that.

Local elections, held every two years, are Cuba’s most democratic. All Cubans older than 16, except felons and the mentally ill, can run for 12,515 council seats. The job of those who are elected is to coax local governments to fix potholes, supply water and the like. Nominees, chosen in meetings of their neighbours, appear on paper ballots; citizens decide among them in secret voting. Membership of the Communist Party is not a requirement.

Shutting up about political pluralism apparently is. The government found “wildly creative and sometimes even comical” ways to keep alternative candidates off the ballot, says Manuel Cuesta...

Juan Orlando Hernández looks headed for re-election in Honduras

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 08:52

JUAN ORLANDO HERNÁNDEZ is the first presidential candidate in Honduras’s recent history to run for re-election as an incumbent. He is making the most of it. Last month he took a sledgehammer to the masonry of a notoriously permissive prison due for demolition. A brand-new landing craft, commissioned to repel drug-traffickers from the northern coast, is distributing food to the poor. The media gave both events flattering coverage.

With days to go before elections on November 26th, he is the firm favourite to win the presidency (congressional elections also take place on that day). The latest poll puts him 15 percentage points ahead of his main rival, Salvador Nasralla, a sports broadcaster. Mr Hernández’s approval rating is 56%. He is reaping the benefit of a tough-on-crime policy, which helped reduce Honduras’s murder rate (it had been the world’s highest when he became president in 2014). But he has also been tough on institutions like the judiciary and congress, which are supposed to be independent of the presidency. His re-...

Why Latin America has no serious separatist movements

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 08:52

LATIN AMERICA is linked to Spain and Portugal by language, culture and ancestry as well as by investment and the shared project of democracy. So it is not surprising that Latin Americans have been gripped by the conflict over Catalonia’s future. Se rompe España? (Is Spain breaking up?), asked the cover of Semana, Colombia’s leading news magazine.

For most Latin Americans it goes without saying that Catalonia is part of Spain. While the Spanish empire was at first a Castilian venture, Catalonia, too, provided viceroys and the forebears of presidents. In recent decades many Latin American writers have made Barcelona, with its literary agents and publishing houses, a temporary or permanent home. Having lived in Barcelona for 12 years until 2012, Juan Gabriel Vásquez, one of Colombia’s leading novelists, wrote last month in El País, a Spanish newspaper, of his “astonishment and melancholy” at the drive for Catalan...

Wanting to ban the veil, Quebec bans sunglasses, too

Thu, 11/23/2017 - 08:52

IN QUEBEC, Canada’s French-speaking province, it is illegal to talk to a librarian while wearing sunglasses. So is using a bus pass while shrouded in a scarf, no matter how bitter the weather. These prohibitions are the consequence of a law enacted in October whose real purpose is to ban Muslim women from wearing niqabs, or face veils, when they provide or receive public services. By widening the ban to all sorts of face covering it seeks to deflect the charge that it is based on religious animus. It does the job as well as a see-through burqa.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the National Council of Canadian Muslims challenged the law in Quebec’s superior court on November 7th, saying it violates rights to sexual equality and religious freedom. The court is expected to rule soon on whether to suspend the prohibition on face coverings while it deliberates.

Quebec’s Liberal government, led by Philippe Couillard, is not the first to try to strip people of...

Latin America’s voteathon

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 08:58

IN THE annals of Latin American democracy, Marcelo Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction magnate, will occupy a place of unique infamy. From Mexico to Argentina and many places in between, his Brazilian construction company bribed presidents, ministers and candidates to win public contracts, setting a nefarious example that other firms followed. The damage to the public purses in padded contracts ran to over $3bn. The intangible cost to the credibility and prestige of democratic politics in Latin America is incalculable.

The reverberations from the Odebrecht scandal come at the worst possible time. Starting with Chile on November 19th, seven Latin American countries will choose presidents over the next 12 months. They include the two regional giants, Brazil and Mexico. An eighth, Venezuela, is due to vote by December 2018, though its dictator, Nicolás Maduro, is unlikely to allow a fair contest. A further six presidential ballots are due in 2019, not least in Argentina. The region’s...

Explaining turnout in Latin American elections

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 08:58

THE flurry of elections coming up in Latin America will not only choose new leaders. It will also provide a check-up on the health of democracy itself, which in most countries on the continent has been in place for only a few decades. Latin Americans appear to be losing some of their enthusiasm for it. In the latest edition of the region-wide survey conducted annually by Latinobarómetro, a pollster based in Chile, the share of respondents saying democracy is the best form of government hit its lowest level in a decade, at 53% (in 2010 it was 61%). The proportion saying they had no preference for democracy over other systems reached an all-time high of 25%, up from 16% in 2010.

How worrying is this for Latin American democracy? One indicator will be voter turnout. Participation is only a rough proxy for political vibrancy. Some citizens might stay home because they are satisfied with their government and confident that its policies will continue. Others might vote because they expect that a clientelistic government will reward...

Chile’s voters are in no mood for reckless radicalism

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 08:58

A WEEK before national elections, Chileans would normally be cursing the billboards and posters cluttering up their cities. On the eve of this year’s presidential and congressional elections, scheduled for November 19th, there is much less to complain about. Restrictions on campaign spending imposed in 2016 after a party-financing scandal have kept much of the pesky propaganda off the streets.

This has not cheered up voters. “People are very disappointed with politicians,” says Beatriz Díaz, a teacher of English in Pirque, on the outskirts of Santiago. “They keep stealing.” The crackdown on campaign hoopla, meant to curb such behaviour, may deepen voters’ apathy. Pollsters expect turnout to be low.

Yet voters are likely to endorse the political establishment that has governed since the 17-year dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet ended in 1990. The strong favourite to win the presidency is Sebastián Piñera (pictured left), a billionaire businessman who was president from...

The FARC is now a political party. Get used to it

Thu, 11/09/2017 - 08:48

A STORM that filled Bogotá’s streets with ice on November 1st was the second freakish event of the day in Colombia’s capital. The first took place in a hotel conference room, where the FARC, a guerrilla army turned political party, announced its candidates for presidential and congressional elections to be held in 2018. Before a screen emblazoned with the FARC’s pacific new logo—a rose with a red star at its centre—its leaders did their best to sound like normal politicians. Imelda Daza, the vice-presidential candidate, promised a “more inclusive model” of government that would overcome poverty, hunger and barriers to education.

Most Colombians know the FARC as a lawless army whose 52-year war against the state was at the centre of a conflict that caused more than 200,000 deaths and displaced 7m people. The party is not trying hard to disguise its origins. Its new name, the People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force, uses the old bloodstained acronym. Its presidential candidate, Rodrigo Londoño, aka Timochenko, has led the FARC...