Sunday, September 28, 2008

Peruvians to Get New Zealand Working Holiday Visa

Peruvians between the ages of 18 and 30 will soon be able to apply for a one-year New Zealand Working Holiday Visa, according to representatives from the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and the Peruvian Embassy in New Zealand. Sources say that a formal agreement is likely to be signed by New Zealand and Peruvian government representatives at the APEC meeting in Lima in November.

The Working Holiday visa allows young people one year in which they can combine travel in New Zealand with part-time work. New Zealand has extended access to this visa to most European and other OECD countries, as well as other Asian and Latin American countries including Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay and Brazil. The number of places available for each country has typically been 200, but may be increased depending on demand. Chile is now allocated 1,000 places, after the number of applicants consistently exceeded the available visas.

In order to obtain the visa, applicants have to show evidence of sufficient funds (currently $4,200 NZD), a return ticket or funds to purchase one, travel insurance, and medical clearance (specifically a TB-free certificate). They are also not allowed to bring dependent children with them and are only allowed to use the visa once.

People with Working Holiday visas in New Zealand often end up fruit picking or working in the hospitality industry. This may mean some hard work, but wages are usually high enough to save money to travel further, and most Latin American backpackers say they have a good time in New Zealand.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Does Land Reform = Socialism?

Some of the bloggers I've been reading from Bolivia say that the coverage from Reuters on the situation there has been reasonably balanced. Overall I suppose they're not doing a bad job by not making the expulsion of the American ambassador the only or the most crucial news.

However, it's annoying that most mainstream news sources see the need to mention Bolivia's 'leftist' or 'socialist' government, about four times more than they describe the regional governors as 'rightist'. And nowhere in the international media can we find any mention that the Union Juvenil Cruceñista, the Santa Cruz 'youth organisation' involved in the attacks on national government property, is described by independent parties as a neo-fascist group.

The article I linked to also contains subtle dog whistles such as describing Brazilian president Luiz Ignacio 'Lula da Silva as a 'moderate leftist' (with the implication that Evo Morales and the Bolivian government are 'extreme'?).

One throwaway phrase describes Evo Morales as advocating 'deeply socialist policies such as land reform'. This refers to Morales' aim to redistribute idle land from farms larger than 10,000 hectares to poor landless peasants. The paper I previously linked to from Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval makes the case for why such reform might be needed; Bolivia has close to the most concentrated land ownership in the world.

But regardless of arguments about inequality, is it true that land reform is 'deeply socialist'?

Land reform was indeed a key policy of socialist governments in Cuba, Chile and Nicaragua. But breaking up estates and redistributing land has a long history in many countries, and has been carried out by administrations across the political spectrum, including nationalist military administrations in South Korea, Taiwan and Peru.

In fact, in a number of places land reform has been seen as a key step in capitalist development. There is evidence, argued by Amartya Sen and others, that small farms are more efficient, at least in the developing world. Small farmers need less incentive to become more productive compared to landlords with large holdings. The surplus generated by argiculture can be used for investment in industrial development. The distribution of land also equalises income and creates a larger internal market for the rest of the economy, further stimulating industry.

Renowned Latin America scholar Cristobal Kay argues that the comprehensive agrarian reforms, in South Korea and Taiwan, and agriculture's synergistic relationship with industry, were key reasons for the startling success of industrial development in those countries, while the half-hearted reforms in Latin America were too late and limited to have a similar effect (and in the case of Chile and Guatemala were almost entirely reversed).

We also shouldn't forget our part of the world, where in New Zealand the first Liberal goverment broke up large estates and distributed property to smallholders in the nineteenth century, and land reform began in Victoria from about 1860. These early reforms were instrumental in New Zealand and Australia becoming the relatively egalitarian countries of today rather than ending up more like Argentina.

It's worth drawing a comparison between Bolivia, and another land reform that is currently being pushed by a Latin American government that no one would accuse of being socialist. In Peru, Alan Garcia has argued stridently that large areas of communal land in the sierra and jungle regions are 'idle' and should be 'put into value' by being sold to investors.

Taking advantage of its powers to issue decrees granted by Congress to 'ready' the country for the implementation of the FTA with the US, the Peruvian government decreed that communal land in the sierra and jungle regions could be alienated if 50% of the community voted in favour. This sparked such vehement protests that Peru's usually-supine congress drafted a draw to repeal these provisions.

Like Evo Morales, Alan Garcia and his government are also pushing for the redistribution of land, only into fewer hands rather than more. He has described those who oppose such moves as 'dogs in the manger' for holding back the more intensive exploitation promised by outside investment in agribusiness, forestry and petroleum.

But if this is the description applied to impoverished communities in the sierra and jungle resisting the loss of what little they have, what should we then say about the rich landlords of Santa Cruz?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Unrest in Bolivia, Latin American Problem

The current unrest and violence in Bolivia is another reminder of just how difficult social and economic reform is in Latin America. In some ways Bolivia is a special case. It is deeply divided, not only socially, but also geographically, between the impoverished, indigenous altiplano of the northwest, and the 'half moon' of mestizo-dominated provinces in the southeastern lowlands which have wealth from gas fields and agribusiness.

Yet, throughout the region the problems of redressing the 500 year-old imbalances of wealth, power and resources continue to to seem intractable.

On the one hand, left-wing governments often seem over-eager to write new constitutions and strengthen presidential power, opening themselves to accusations of authoritarianism. On the other, the reluctance of wealthy elites to support an orderly process of reform (eg, by giving up some land and paying more taxes) give credence to arguments that change can't happen through existing processes and institutions. The frustrated expectations in Brazil and the apparent abandonment of reformist policies in Peru are examples of why more radical approaches start to seem attractive.

This paper from Mark Weisbrot and Jorge Sandoval at the Center of Economic Policy Research is a good summation of the current distribution of land, natural gas resources and revenue in Bolivia. It provides a reasonable case for the need of the central government to push through land reform and gain a greater share of taxes from gas production. Weisbrot and Sandoval point out that in Bolivia a much greater share of these revenues go to the regions than in most parts of the word, and that the 'autonomy' demanded by provincial leaders in Santa Cruz and Tarija would be regressive:

In most developing countries, it is assumed that these valuable resources belong to the nation
as a whole, not to the particular region in which happens to be underground. This is especially important for developing countries, since their development strategy – the means by which they can eliminate extreme poverty and reduce overall poverty – is based on using the rents from their mineral wealth to diversify away from hydrocarbons, as well as investing in economic and social infrastructure.

In the media, much of the international attention has focussed on the expulsion of the US ambassador from Bolivia, and the frankly uncouth 'show of solidarity' from grandstanding Hugo Chavez in also expelling the American ambassador to Venezuela. It's disappointing that there can't be more civility at the highest political levels as an exmaple to people who take their cues from national leaders. However, whether US agencies have had any role in fomenting the current discord in Bolivia is an open question; Weisbrot et al point out that the US government has refused to release information on who it gives funds to in Bolivia.

Reports of 17 deaths have been mixed up with discussion of the overall struggle between the government and the eastern provinces. But in fact the worst violence has been in the backwater region of Pando, which has a total population of 70,000 and is hardly a front line of the struggles over land and gas. Radio interviews claim that a group of peasants intent on marching to the provincial capital of Cobija were intercepted and fired on by a group of 'paramilitaries' with machine guns, who included employees of the provincial government and Brazilian mercenaries. The reports blame Pando governor Leopoldo Fernandez for the 'massacre', and government sources have said he will be arrested.

The ten presidents of the Union of South American Nations are meeting in Santiago on Monday to discuss the situation in Bolivia, and according to Bolivian-based blogger Jim Shultz, it will require leadership from outside -- perhaps from Brazil and Argentina -- to broker a political solution between Evo Morales government and the political oppostion from the 'half moon' provinces of Santa Cruz and Tarija. But while there's hope for compromise and a sort-term restoration of stability, the ongoing conflicts over land, power and resources will take more than diplomacy to resolve.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

On the Road to South Africa 2010

The Olympics were definitely an exciting sportswatching dalliance. But as someone with a long-term relationship with international football, it's good to see the thrills of Euro 2008 be followed in pretty short order by the qualifying rounds for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa

As always, I have a series of allegiances and favourites as the qualifying drama unfolds across the different continents.

My greatest interest is perhaps in South America, where Peru remains as enigmatic as ever. In the first few rounds, the team seemed hellbent on creating ever-greater national embarassment, with five-goal thrashings by the likes of Ecuador and Uruguay. Just when it seemed like they were angling for a demotion to another continent, the Peruvians have dragged themselves off the floor with a 1-0 home win against Venezuela, and today, a thrilling last-minute 1-1 draw with Argentina, an epochal run down the left by Juan Vargas providing a sliding tap-in for Johan Fano and sending the Lima crowd into delirium.

Unfortunately, Colombia are going in the other direction. Having been in the top three and unbeaten after the first five rounds (including a 2-1 home win against Argentina), they have now slipped to sixth, with a home loss to Uruguay and a 4-0 thrashing from Chile. All the Andean teams have slipped off the pace, with Paraguay four points clear on 17 points, and the Southern Cone (Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay) threatening to monopolize the potential qualifying spots.

But the South American campaign is always long, tough, and full of reversals and surprises -- and surely at some stage a Latin American team other than Brazil or Argentina will prove the depth of the continent's football by matching the feats of non-giants like Poland, Sweden, Bulgaria, Croatia and South Korea, and making it to at least the semi-final stage of a World Cup.

In the North American zone, perennial qualifiers the United States, Mexico and Costa Rica are looking good to go through to the final group of six that will decide the candidates for 2010. My hopes are with Guatemala, who holds a slight edge over Trinidad & Tobago in the battle to take second place in the US group and also go to the final six.

If the South American qualifiers (18 games) reward perseverance and adaptability, the European groups, with strength in depth, are a cutthroat affair where a couple of slipups can leave even the bigger teams struggling for survival. There's already been a couple of those, with France going down 3-1 to lowly Austria in the first game, while today Switzerland were stunned 2-1 at home to Luxembourg. Portugal will be wondering what hit them, after somehow letting Denmark score three goals in the last ten minutes to lose 3-2. For Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands there have been few problems so far, while the much-maligned English surpised with a dynamic 4-1 win over the overconfident Croatians in Zagreb.

If I could pick a dark horse in Europe, Israel may have its best chance ever of qualifying. They're in Switzerland's group, with the only other major candidate being Greece (whose unlikely Euro 2004 triumph has made it a 'seeded' team for subsequent tournaments).

Then of course there's our little corner of the world. Say what you like about FIFA, they really seem to be sincere about having a 'world' cup. Cynics have long argued that the disproportionate number of places for North America and Asia has more to do with money-spinning tourists and television audiences than the desire for a quality global competition. But the recent changes which make it easier than ever for a team to qualify from Oceania can surely not be based on any potential for profit.

In the past, the Oceania winner -- usually Australia -- had to face a playoff against the fifth qualifier from South America. Having finally managed this task in 2006, the Australian federation then announced it was shifting its allegiance to Asia, where it thought it could qualify more easily. The joke is on the Australians, however, because although they will still probably get through without too much trouble, FIFA has changed the rules and the Oceania winner now only needs to win a playoff against the fifth-best Asian team in order to make to South Africa

Therefore, remarkably, after home-and-away rounds against Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia, a workmanlike New Zealand team only has to get a couple of good results next year to reach its second world cup. In reality, this will still probably be a bridge too far -- but likely opponents such as Saudi Arabia or Uzbekistan, though superior, are not unbeatable.

It seems a little unfair when New Zealand is probably a notch below even traditional European minnows like Cyprus -- whose performance against Italy in the first European qualifying round deserved better than a last minute 1-2 loss. With all our limitations, we have a better chance of qulaifying for the world cup than they ever will.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Ghost Stories of the Sierra IV: Isabel and the Duendes

Another story of Lizbeth's from her youth in the sierra. To the village of Cabanaconde, where her family live, a few men would occasionally arrive with a llama train from a remote settlement two days walk into the mountains, on the border between Arequipa and Cuzco. They walked without shoes, having rubbed alpaca fat into their feet to harden the soles. In their community they ate only charqui (dried llama meat) and chuño (dehydrated potato), so would bring salt and firewood to Cabanaconde to exchange for maize and other provisions.

One day, a man from this settlement brought with him a girl of about ten or eleven, who was his daughter, and left her with Lizbeth's mother. The girl's name was Isabel. Lizbeth's mother sent her to live with her sister in Lima, and when Lizbeth went to stay there when she was studying, Isabel would comb her hair and tell her stories about life in the mountains (years later, I myself would meet Isabel in a crowded, friendly house in the barrio of San Juan de Miraflores).

One story that Isabel told Lizbeth was of an incident that happened when she was about seven years old. At around 5:00 in the evening her mother had sent her home alone from the fields with her baby sister. She went into the family's little shack and prepared alpaca milk for the baby. Then she went down to the river to wash her hands and go to the bathroom. While she was occupied, she heard the baby crying nearby. She found it at the water's edge, without any clothes. Frightened, she picked up the baby and went back to the shack. Through a crack in the wall, she saw two duendes, laughing, down by the river. These are little creatures, old, with pale skins but with normal clothes, that appear around sundown, when the souls go to rest.

Isabel heard the alpacas running around nervously outside. A puma was nearby, causing the alpacas to take fright. She went outside and began to gather firewood, to light a fire and scare away the cat. When she went back into the shack, the baby was no longer there. She found it down by the river, half in the water, stone cold.

The duendes were responsible. They are old and malicious, and need to tap the strength of humans to maintain their life force. To try and make themselves younger, they had taken over the soul of the baby.