The gated community motto: Come and live in a lie while ignoring life!

The papers, books and studies related to the urban development of gated communities in the Global South have provided lots of information by problematizing the history and politics behind the imaginary of these projects. Urban developers all over Latin America, Africa and Asia are building hundreds of communities and apartment buildings that imitate European and Western Styles of construction, lifestyle, norms and regulations. This morning I got my hands in one more of these advertisements for a housing project located in a recently developed dormitory city near Guatemala City, Guatemala.

The community is called “Residenciales Pasaje Español” and the development aims at replicating the lifestyle of a Spaniard ideal of a community  (while, of course, ignoring reality about Spain’s complexities).  The advertisements are all directed at the appeals of the growing middle-class market in Guatemala which is backed by a search for: affordable housing, accesible parks, gated walls around the housing project, 24/7 private police service, white houses that offer access to parking spaces for family-sized cars.  All of this providing a “theme-park” feeling that enables you to transport yourself from the violent and insecure life outside of the gates.

plano del proyecto

Guatemala City and the dormitory cities around it are inhabited by aprox. 3.5 million people with more than 1 million cars and the figures are quickly rising. Many of the gated communities are 1 or 1.5 hours away from most of the office and industrial areas and traffic jam is a constant worry for this people. Alienated from crime and lack of rule of law, these gated-communities offer an escape from public worries to taxpayers and an excuse to ignore the country’s multiple problems.

torres de luz

But as any other theme-park there are many flaws and dangers in the aim to replicate the “ideal society”.  The complex is located straight next to a line of huge power towers that represent a health menace to the people that will live in the houses. Also, the gated-community is surrounded by hundreds of new houses and dozens of new gated-communities that once completed and sold will represent an increase in the traffic jam outside of the “housing dream”.

Perhaps it is still time to Rethink the future of our cities. We still have time to further problematize our development model and think about the contradictions behind these city-building dystopias. And bring to light more information regarding how these gated-communities further weaken collaboration, cooperation and citizenship in our societies…

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Chavez is dead

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”
—Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125, tr. Walter Kaufmann

 

Overcoming the goods and bads of Mr. Chavez will not be any easy.  Eliminating redistribution of wealth programs will be almost impossible and the surrender of greater virtues like rationality, honesty, integrity, productivity and justice will be most surely sacrificed by the ruling leader for the sake of his reelection.  Even now that Mr. Chavez died, the Venezuelan Welfare State supports millions of its voters.  Just last year,  Venezuela added more than 800,000 people to the rolls of the state welfare system and  the number of pensioners reaches nearly 2.5 million, an increase of over 600 percent since 1999 in total pensions paid by the state, all of which are indexed to the national minimum wage (via venezuelanalysis.com).  Though he died, his party continues living and his ideas will continue been fostered in the form of more programs in the Venezuelan welfare state.  For this and many more reasons I say: Chavez is dead.

In a global scale the death of former President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez Frías, will be very limited but noticeable for countries like China and Russia who benefited after Mr. Chavez expelled Western oil companies operating in the country and replaced them with Chinese and Russian state owned companies.  This oil companies were the most important strongholds of this two powerful countries in Latin America.

In a regional perspective the disappearance of this controversial figure will have important effects in Latin America as well.  Specially, around the league of the group ALBA (Spanish Acronyms for the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas) in which he played an important role as its founder and main speaker against the North American interventionist policy.  Without Mr. Chavez the possibility of a halt of the oil donations to the member countries of this alliance could have an important significance as well. Venezuela donated millions of barrels of oil to needy Caribbean states, particularly Cuba, but also countries like Trinidad and Tobago and this countries in exchange commissioned their doctors to help in the most needed areas of Venezuela.  This symbolic gesture has been a constant diplomatic activity of the poor Caribbean states.

Also, Nicaragua benefited from Mr. Chavez anti-American policy.  The government of the former guerrilla leader Daniel Ortega and his party’s politburo have been recipient of more than $2.2 billion in Venezuelan petrodollars since 2007.  To them, the election of a member of the Chavez regime is fundamental to continue holding control of elections in the next term.  Further, the Pulitzer Center reports that “Since Ortega returned to power democratically in 2007, the wellspring of aid from ALBA — a bloc of eight left-leaning Latin American countries underwritten by Chavez — has provided the Sandinista government with an average of $500 million a year in loans, donations and oil credit. In 2011, Ortega’s ALBA allowance jumped to $609 million during his own re-election campaign.”  Showing how Venezuelan interventionism in the region was in occasions more powerful than the interventions of the United States of America that are historically hated and protested by leftists demagogues.

Venezuela has been officially (though in contravention to its Constitution) under the rule of the Vicepresident Nicolás Maduro since the death of Mr. Chavez.  He is now the interim President of Venezuelafollowing the death of Hugo Chávez.  Mr. Maduro will most probably run for the elections with very high chances of winning.  Before dying, Hugo Chavez ran for reelection in 2012 and got the vote of 55% of the voters.  His approval ratings among the poorest of the voters is very high and his main opponent, Henrique Capriles Radonski, will have it very difficult to win.  More important to note is the fact that Mr. Capriles is mentioned as being part of the Centre-Right of the country.  However, if elected his main policies may end up been very similar to the ones that gave popularity to Mr. Chavez.  He may thus be a centre-right from hand-to-mouth and a centre-left activist in practice.

Mr. Chavez ruled the country since February 2 1999 until 5 March 2013.  During his 14 years in power he reformed to his convenience the Venezuelan Constitution several times, created dozens of agencies formed by members of his party, formed hundreds of thousands of state-owned cooperatives, fuelled billions of dollars in his stated goal to lower inequality in the access to basic nutrition, and to achieve food sovereignty for Venezuela.  Further, he placed Venezuela at the centre of the regional foreign policy with states in Africa, Asia and Europe.

Gun control, school massacres and state-failure

The article “More Guns = More Killing” By came to my attention as a good reference of how sometimes more “global approaches” to what we could explain as “local problems” results in sophistic arguments that are of no use.

The article is astonishingly confusing and misleading because the author arguments that it is more/less guns what results in more/less deaths.  And as such, that only by decreasing the amount of available guns the deaths can be reduced.  In order to defend this position she tries to defend her position by bringing a sometimes useful comparison of explaining local problems (those of the U.S.) by comparison to more global regions (in this case, Latin America).

Rosenthal does not propose a better solution than the one she is trying to question and which was proposed by the NRA (National Rifle Association) to President Obama.  Truth, “A society that is relying on guys with guns to stop violence is a sign of a society where institutions have broken down”. Why? Because the bureaucrats and the NRA consider as she does that it are guns the ones that “kill” and as such, it are guns the ones that “give life“.  Neither of the cases can be more false.
The parallels between the Latin American countries with high homicide rates and the US Massacre of schools kids cannot be correctly understood behind the “more guns/less-more deaths” causal relationship.

Then, how? As usual in this times of miss-integration of concepts.  The events in Latin American countries with high homicide rates and the US Massacre of schools kids have no parallels.  The high homicide rates in Latin America are the result of a failed War on Drugs and the institutional decay caused by corruption, state failure in providing rule of law and the reconfiguration of power relations amongst many other causes.  In this case the guns are not a cause nor a solution.  The massacres in U.S. schools are in my opinion the result of a decay of family values and a philosophical problem of identity that can only be solved behind an urgently much needed moral revolution.  In this last case it is not guns or the state which can do much about to change things.

Future massacres in schools can only by stopped from happening when the roots of family decomposition are diminished (divorces, unemployment, family violence, alcoholism, drug addiction, among many others).  The murderers in these schools were seeking for revenge from society and saw that killing kids was the perfect way of enacting revenge on those he was angry with.   Until we understand this things I see no probable hope for future improvement of any of the cases. As well, for as long we have journalists with a philosophy of life that relies on the State as the “giver” or “healer” of society’s problems things are also going to continue going in the wrong direction…

Discourse: Nationalization, Private Companies and Crony Capitalism

The neoliberal (a.k.a. crony capitalism) ruling of the world during the last 50 years is usually generalized as a “big fish eats small fish” relationship. The story continues, with the big fish in Washington, Brussels and Moscow fed themselves with the riches of the world and profited from globalization.  Meanwhile, the small fish continued breeding and feeding the always hungry lords.  This general discourse is repeated in most if not all the academic papers dealing with postcoloniality and globalization.

The impact of the ideas of these intellectuals is widespread and not easily observable for the ignorant masses.  As such, when you read the newspapers in Latin America or Africa in regard to the “new” nationalizations being undertaken by the “new” socialist/anti-neoliberal governments in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Greece, Lithuania, and Sri Lanka since 2011 people usually ignores that there is nothing “new” in these actions.

These nationalizations of privately owned assets have been in many of the cases actual renationalizations of companies that were not owned by the principles of free market ideas, but that had been privatized by corrupt social democratic governments 50, 40 or 10 years before and who created new privately owned privileged companies.  As a result of these social democrat and socialist governments many privately owned companies emerged as the bastions of crony capitalism, inefficiency and corruption.  The previous, generally increased as closer the national industries were owned by crony private companies that owned single-crop cultive exports and resource rich regions.

To mention short examples of the previous, recently in Argentina Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF; English: “Treasury Petroleum Fields”) was renationalized (not nationalized) by the government under claims of corruption, inefficiency and negative benefits to their national interests.  In Bolivia, Transportadora de Electricidad (TDE) was nationalized by Evo Morales government.  However, TDE was also a fruit of the neoliberal and crony capitalist deals established in 1952 after a coup d’état that established a military socialist democracy with the party  Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR) which allied into a military-nationalist clique that lasted for 50 years.

Privately owned companies produce always more efficient and better products than state-owned companies.  However, privately owned companies that have benefited from government granted privileges for decades not necessarily will produce more and better services and products than state-owned companies.  The previous is something that few of us dare to identify and explain with a non-contradictory historical and philosophical background.  Meanwhile, the great majority of academics influenced by collectivist philosophies will start writing articles and books applauding the “successful” renationalizations and condemning those free-market authors who will write back and fight.

Indeed, there is a difficult road in defending private property and privately owned businesses in the context of countries and regions that lack respect for individual rights and the rule of law.  As such, to defend the private vs collective in those circles it is necessary that first we identify how the societies are currently organized around the collective inefficient systems of social and economic organization.  In the case of Bolivia and Argentina it is necessary for us to identify how these business and societies are not structured and organized around the principles of free market and individual rights.  By understanding and explaining this clearly there will be a chance to change the discourse of discussion from “why is renationalization good?” to “why laissez faire capitalism is better than the privately owned business of crony capitalism?”

China & Global Oil

I am currently enrolled in the course “Oil, Power and Climate – A Global Perspective” with Dr. habil. Peter Gärtner who is an specialist in Global Studies, North-South relations, democratization, development theory and policy, law and globalization with a regional focus in Latin America.

As part of our initial discussions we were required to present a review of the current status of the main importers and exporters of oil.  My selection was China and its raising demand of energy resources in order to continue providing for the world the largest amount of goods ever made in history.  Indeed, the numbers I found of China were astounding and the forecast of its increase for the next ten years is even more astonishing.    As forecasts show, the United States is soon to lose its hegemonic position in the world as the largest economy due to the fact that since 2010 it was China the world’s largest energy consumer (and its growth continues to further grow).

For the last six months I have been paying much attention to literature in the Asia region and I have started to draw a new world map that has South East Asia and the Pacific at its core. I foresee a semester full of Asia related topics and I will most certainly enjoy focusing in that area.

I share with you the handout with the latest figures and updates on China that I prepared for a discussion.  The file is accessible online and can be downloaded as a PDF: http://issuu.com/condottiero/docs/oil-china-lgpr

Drugs: A Legal Market is not a Free Market

English: Flower of a Opium Poppy
Image via Wikipedia

A couple days ago, Otto Perez Molina, recently elected as President of Guatemala; announced that he was willing to decriminalize the commercialization of drugs. According to U.S. authorities, Guatemala has became the transshipment point for more than 75 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States since 2005.  Along with this, the Opium poppy cultivation is already done in large parts of the countryside making the production of Guatemalan heroin a greater and the newest worry for the United States. The country’s elites are already part of this business and the paranoia of crimes that used be a remembrance from Colombia‘s 1990s history seems to be repeating in these Central American countries.

What impresses me the most now is how this news has started spreading around my Facebook contacts (mostly libertarians and liberals). Both groups seem to be happy to hear this announcement by Guatemala’s President.  However, both groups applaud the news for different reasons.  The legalization/decriminalization of drugs will not be the panacea we all are hoping for.  Specially not if started by any of the Central American governments.  The reasons are many and I will begin by listing some of them to open the discussion,

  • Corruption, lax enforcement, and judicial impunity levels in Central America are among the highest of the world.
  • Drug lords and their new and powerful money have been mentioned by many analysts to be already part of the politic and economic elites of these countries.
  • The Central American countries in which this drugs are produced and transported are inhabited by a large majority of people living in the lowest leves of Human Development.
  • If legalized, the trade, production and commercialization of drugs (cocaine and heroine mainly) will be regulated by these governments.
  • Without any doubt, this regulations will enable and create legalized monopolies ruled with the partnership of previous drug lords and government officials.
  • It has not been advocated by any of the political leaders which road would take the legalization of drugs. This is important, because under current legalization procedures it is not the same to get the approval for a new medicine in the market as to get the approval for a new liquor, a new energizing drink or of a new edible product.

The history of the legalization (production, trade and commercialization) of items considered by many as drugs and for others as commodities has shown that for as long as a government elite hold the power to legalize it; it was in their power to take the first steps into the acquisition of a monopoly of its trade and production.

If legalized, the emergence of a coercive monopoly would be inevitable. As noted by Ayn Rand, the governments and their partners in these coercive monopolies “will be able of setting the initial prices and production policies independently of the market, with immunity from competition, from the law of supply and demand. An economy dominated by such monopolies would be rigid and stagnant.”

If we support the complete and absolute free trade of all commodities it is necessary that we do not grant to government an intrinsic right to regulate it.  No compromise should ever be done with a government that requires regulation in order to give us legalization.  Legalization should result in freedom and not in regulation.  The drug trade should be opened to businessmen and entrepreneurs in the freest way possible. The freest way is that of requiring the traders to inform their buyers about all the necessary information about the products they are offering.

We may be taking part in a historical moment in which the most important thing are principles.  Let us remember that one of the most valuable principles of trade is Freedom; and that one of the most valuable principles of government is to seek that i will Protect Individual Rights and not to regulate their lives.

Note: To understand more which are the principles that really matter in this discussion, I invite you to take a look to the video titled: The Drug War in Guatemala: A Conversation with Giancarlo Ibarguen.

Milton Friedman and Social Security Taxes

Agreeing with the economist Milton Friedman,

“one of the things that have always shocked me is how people, whom I would have trust with my pocket book in their private capacity and of whom I would never question their integrity, will in their public capacity -because they believe it is in the best interest of other people- lie to the American People.”

And this is exactly what happens with Social Security in the U.S. and with the immense Nanny State in Europe and with the corrupt welfare systems of Latin America; all of which I have been able of knowing.  I invite you to take a look to this short video of Milton Friedman (1975) explaining how the Social Security taxes are fundamentally a lose-lose option for employees, employers and society.