Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Chile’

Brazil’s Crisis: Tragedy or Farce?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 1st April, 2016

Dilma Rousseff 1George HiltonThe resignation of Brazil’s Sports Minister, George Hilton, just four months before the Rio Olympics are due to start, has added another twist to the tortuous political crisis that the country has been suffering in recent months. The government insists his departure will not affect Brazil’s ability to deliver on the Games, but there is growing scepticism abroad about that event given the country’s slow but steady economic decline over the past few years, as well as confrontations between sports authorities, property developers and poor communities who are being evicted to make way for arenas. More seriously, George Hilton may not be the last Minister to quit the current ruling Coalition, as five others who belong to the PMDB party are under pressure to do the same. The Coalition is currently led by the PT’s Dilma Rousseff, who inherited the political capital of her hugely popular predecessor ‘Lula’ da Silva, but she has since been the focus of various corruption allegations, including supposedly massaging the country’s deficit figures to make them seem better than they are. The problem is that in Brazil almost all politicians are assumed by the general public to be corrupt, whethe it is at the municipal, state or federal level. Construction contracts, in particular, are often linked to back-handers to politicians. Similarly, petty bribery is rampant. So why, one might wonder, are so many Brazilians — not just PT members but whole groups of NGOs  and social movements — regularly going out into the streets to demonstrate in favour of Dilma?

Fortaleza demoThe reason basically is to be found in 20th century history, not just of Brazil but of the whole region. Military or other right-wing dictatorships thrived in Latin America until well into the 1980s, often with the covert support of the United States. Indeed, that support was sometimes overt, as with the overthrow of Salvador Allende’s Marxist government in Chile by General Pinochet. Socialists and other leftist groups in Brazil are terrified that the move to impeach their soul-mate Dilma and bring down the current government is just a prelude to a political coup d’état, in which the far right would take over and crack down on dissidents and the marginalised, as happened in the past. The fact that the Military Police (a most alarming section of the security forces during the periods of dictatorship) was flying low overhead in helicopters last night in Fortaleza while a pro-Dilma rally was going on down the road from where I am staying did nothing to calm the nerves of those who fear that the country could suddenly succumb to a right-wing take-over.

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Reaching Out to Latin America

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 26th June, 2012

Latin America has been the Cinderella of British diplomacty in recent decades, though that situation has mercifully been changing since the Coalition Government came into office twp year ago and Liberal Democrat Jeremy Browne took over responsibility as junior Minister for the region (along with East Asia, Australasia and most recently India). Several new British Embassies have been opened in Central and South America — some resuscitating posts the previous Labour government closed down — and staff beefed up at others. There has been a series of new consulates too, one of the latest being in Recife in North East Brazil, which Jeremy recently opened. This evening he came to talk to the International Relations Committee of the Liberal Democrats to explain the thinking in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. There is recognition that as well as the BRIC, Brazil, there are other countries in the region that have been developing economically to a notable degree. Interestingly, he divided the states of Latin America up into three groups, from his point of view: those with liberal economies (the new Pacific Alliance of Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile), the Left-leaning fraternity (Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and to an extent Bolivia) and the rest. Most have undergone profound and in general positive political change over the past three decades, but British companies have by and large not capitalised on new opportunities there. Despite the ongoing difference of views regarding the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands — in which Argentina’s claim to ‘Las Malvinas’ gets widespread support across the region — in general Latin Americans have a fairly positive view of Britain and we are a country that still punches well above our weight. Although Jeremy did not say so, another reason we are liked in Latin America is because Britain is not the United States, though often the British government — of whatever political colour — finds itself in close partnership with Washington.

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Forget the Anti-depressants, Give Us Beer!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 16th September, 2010

Today Chileans are celebrating their country’s bicentenary, though for many the festivities will be tempered by concern about the miners who have been trapped underground for over a month. Mercifully, none of them has died (unlike in China, where mine disasters are often horribly fatal) and they seem to be in remarkably good spirits. Managing to get a video link down to them was certainly good for their morale. There is concern about their mental state, given the length of time that will elapse before their eventual rescue, but when it was suggested that anti-depressants be channeled down to them, they replied with macho forthrightness, ‘No! Give us beer!’ The Chilean Embassy in London has received numerous calls from members of the public here making suggestions of various sorts — including one very useful one that Chile should contact NASA in the United States to find out about nutrition pills used by astronatus, which have indeed been acquired and sent down to the trapped men. Meanwhile, above ground in Chile, the wives and girlfriends of the miners (who will be celebrities once they emerge) have been keeping vigil. Some of the women have lit candles, or made little shrines. I’m told two young ladies were walking round with little statues of the Virgin Mary and a photograph of their loved-one, only to bump into each other and see that their photographs were of the same man. As my Chilean source said to me, ‘Well, you know these miners!’

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