Sunday, June 26, 2011

What's Happening in Football

The European club season and the Champions League are over (maybe some thoughts on those in another post), but football has far from shut down for the northern summer / southern winter, as now the international game takes centre stage.

There was a round of Euro 2012 qualifiers in June with another in September. Spain, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands are already almost guaranteed qualification.

The UEFA U-21 European Championships have just concluded in Denmark, with a dominant Spain beating Switzerland 2-0 in the final, becoming first team to be World, European and European u-21 champions at the same time.

The CONCACAF Gold Cup (North American, Central American and Caribbean championship) has been played over the last couple of weeks. Predictably, the United States and Mexico have reached the final, to be played today.

The U-17 World Cup is being played at the moment in Mexico. After a 4-1 win over Uzbekistan in the opening game and a 0-1 loss to the Czech Republic, New Zealand have just played out a cagey 0-0 draw with the United States to go through to the last 16 for the second consecutive tournament. Unfortanately, in the second round they are likely to play Germany, who have scored 9 goals so far and must be one of the favourites for the whole tournament.

Next week, the Copa America (South American championship) begins in Argentina. Can the home team take its first senior trophy since 1993, to break the dominance of Brazil who have won four out of the past five tournament?

Finally, on 29 July the U-20 World Cup gets underway in Colombia. New Zealand is drawn in a tough group with Uruguay, Portugal and Cameroon. The 2015 U-20 World Cup will be held in New Zealand.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

RIP Big Man

It was sad to hear yesterday that Clarence Clemons, best known as the saxophone player in Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band, had passed away following a stroke, aged 69. Dubbed the "Big Man" by Springsteen, Clemons was the soul of the band, his powerful solos giving another dimension to songs such as "Thunder Road" (listen to the lead out at the end), "Rosalita", and of course "Jungleland".

There's a nice tribute on Salon from Wallace Stroby. The title of his piece is from the song "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out", where Springsteen describes how "the Big Man joined the band".

Monday, June 20, 2011

Will to Power

My current TV addiction now that House, as one wit said, "has the shark swimming around in its tank", is The Good Wife (TV3, Sundays 10:25 pm). I've no idea how close it is to the reality of a large corporate law firm (though it must be closer than Boston Legal) or whether the election of state's attorney is really as big a deal as they make out. What I enjoy are the intricate webs of conflict, as every single character struggles to gain and consolidate status and power.

As a cronic conflict-avoider myself, I watch in a kind of fascinated horror as the power plays and one-upmanship unfold, even between characters that are broadly speaking friends or allies. One thing I've learned later in life is that conflict is unavoidably woven into the tapestry of human existence -- and that this isn't even necessarily all bad. But I guess I get a kind of carthasis watching a depiction of American big city law and politics, much more highly-charged than anything I'll have to deal with (I hope).

My guess at a general theme would be something like: even those who want to be moral, must also learn how to be ruthless.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"Parapolitics" in Colombia

Hat-tip to Terence Wood for this must-read piece on Colombia from the New York Review of Books. The article, which reviews And They Refounded the Nation…: How Mafiosi and Politicians Reconfigured the Colombian State, edited by Claudia López Hernández, sums up what has emerged about the relationships between the political allies of former president Alvaro Uribe and right-wing paramilitary groups. It explains how the "justice and peace" process to demobilise paramilitaries under Uribe was a fraud, bearing most resemblance to the deal that drug lord Pablo Escobar tried to strike for himself in the 1990s. It documents the close links between Uribe's coalition and the paramilitaries, whose political and economic objectives were thoroughly interlinked with drug trafficking:

The paramilitary bosses who founded the AUC just over three years later were mostly former associates of Escobar. They had gotten their start as leaders of vigilante groups set up in the 1980s to deter guerrillas from kidnapping drug traffickers. These groups had joined forces with large landholders and, with the military’s support, expanded their operations from targeted retaliations to more widespread violence against suspected guerrilla allies, including leftist politicians and trade unionists.

By the 2000s, they had more systematic ambitions:

The paramilitaries had driven more than one million poor farmers off their lands, preparing the way for what the authors refer to as a “counter-agrarian reform.” Large landholders and investors—including paramilitaries and other traffickers—acquired the land, and corrupt officials helped them obtain title. As one former paramilitary put it: “We went in killing, others followed buying, and the third group legalized.”

Gradually emerging evidence has undermined the "democratic" credentials of Uribe, from revelations about the collaboration of members of his congressional allies with paramilitaries in rigging elections, to evidence of illegal bugging and threats by the national intelligence aganecy against judges and journalists investigating the allegations.

The review also mentions the somewhat surprising changes that have happened under Uribe's handpicked successor, former Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos. Santos has promised to respect judicial independence and has promoted a "Victim's Law" which would return stolen lands to displaced people and also make monetary reparations to victims of violence.

As I'm sure I will be reminded, none of this is new to Colombians, even if they're only following it from afar through their national media. But it's important that these kind of accounts be available in English, given the poor and unbalanced information that predominates in the international press.

Word Ex-Pressing Myself

In a fit of belated getting with the play, I've moved all the historical content of this blog to a Word Press format, which I integrated with my self-hosted Andean Observer site. At the moment, it's at but I'm thinking of making it the home page of the Andean Observer eventually. Due to importing issues, the posts before about November 2005 have lost their category tags, but I'm fixing that.

Word Press provides a very powerful and easy-to-use content management system, which you can not only use with your own domain but also import into your own hosted site. They let you generate a (seemingly) unlimited number of fixed pages; they don't insist that you put a logo anywhere; and they even let you keep your AdSense banners if you have your own hosting and can figure out where to paste the code. The templates aren't quite as easily modifiable as I'd like, but the one I've chosen is better than anything my limited design and layout skills could put together anyway.

One motivation for this change was that the Andean Observer site was getting many more page views than this site despite not having any activity for a while, and the blog part being dead since Blogger stopped allowing FTP posting to external sites in around March 2010. But really, it was well past time. I finally have a site in line with the minimum modern requirements in terms of organisation and presentation. It's hard to believe I've had a blog since late 2003 (where did nearly eight years go?), but although I was reasonably up with the first wave of Web 2.0, I've kind of drifted behind since.

For the forseeable future I'll still keep posting at the Blogspot address. However, regular readers might want to update their RSS feeds (I know there's at least two or three of you out there).

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Development Impact of Rural Tourism in Peru's Colca Valley

That was the title of my Master's thesis, which I handed in this January. I still haven't got it back but my academic supervisor seems to be confident enough that it will be acceptable that he's got me to work on an article based on the thesis.

Last year I also received a scholarship from the NewZealand Agency for International Development (NZAID) to assist with some of the costs involved in doing field research overseas. One of the things I had to do in return was to write a brief report on my research findings, placing particular emphasis on anything relevant to development practice and policy. As advised, I wrote a 3-page report and sent it to them a month or two ago. Although I haven't received an acknowledgement yet, I'm assuming there's no obstacle to publishing this elsewhere.

So, I have made a pdf copy and uploaded it to Scribd, while there is also a direct link here. It's not the best written piece in the world, and I'm not sure that it is even the best summary of the themes in my thesis, but it is only a couple of pages. So, for anybody with an interest in my thesis topic but who doesn't want to delve into the thesis itself, there is is.

I will eventually upload the thesis itself, but will wait until I get it back marked and make nay final changes.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Crafts of Sibayo and Callalli: A Nice Story from the Colca Valley

When I was doing field research in Peru for my Master's thesis last year, I spent some time in a little village called Sibayo in the upper Colca Valley. Sibayo sits at 3,800 metres above sea level, but most of the surrounding district is above 4,000 metres, and, with a climate too harsh for agriculture, livelihoods are based on herding alpacas and llamas. There's a long tradition of weaving in alpaca fibre, which has recently seen a renaissance under the influence of NGOs and an unusually active municipal government. The local artisans have formed an association called Sumac Pallay (based on my intepretation of Quechua, this means something like "fine collection"). The association is in charge of quality control, sales and marketing of its members' products, which include fine hand-made scarves, gloves, and chullos (the classic "Andean" hat with ear covers).

Forty minutes walk away across the river from Sibayo, the more populous district of Callalli has its own artisans collective that has also received assistance from NGOs and has a wider range of products, extending to sweaters as well as scarves and hats in more mainstream styles that are made on small machines. The micro-industrial character of the craft association's commercial outlet has seen it dubbed the "Maquicentro" (from the Spanish maquina for machine).

Last year, I bought a few things in Sibayo as presents for people back home, including a hand-made scarf that delighted my mother. When visiting Callalli's maquicentro with an NGO from Chivay, I was unable to resist getting myself one of their premium double-layered chullos: warm and beautifully designed with a soft inner lining of baby alpaca.

Although both Sibayo and Callalli have had intermittent success selling to tourists and have even filled some export orders, they struggle to maintain links to markets and obtain the value their products merit. This is partly because their high-quality, hand made crafts get drowned in the sea of cheap mass-produced "alpaca" items sold in thousands of stores and galleries throughout Peru. A shop in the provincial capital of Chivay which the Sibayo municipality subsidized for the craft association proved a disappointment: in addition to its low visibility at the back of a narrow gallery, it was surrounded by numerous other stalls selling hats and gloves, mostly made in Puno factories and any alpaca blended with synthetic fabric, llama and sheep's wool. Casual tourists mostly aren't able to tell the difference.

As reported previously on this blog, this February I climbed Cerro Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Andes. Included in my extensive gear collection were two warm hats: a fleece North Face beanie, and my Callalli-sourced alpaca chullo. Beyond about base camp, I found the alpaca hat to be much warmer than the fleece beanie, and as we progressed towards the summit I barely took it off. It was also so comfortable and breathed so well that I found I was still wearing it on the way out on the other side of the mountain, as the temperature ticked back up towards 20 degrees Celsis.

As we rode out the snowstorms while heading up the mountain, it occurred to me that I ought to see if I could generate some free publicity for the artisans of the Colca Valley. Not that I'm making myself out as a model, but a gringo swearing by their product as he tackled the continent's highest mountain might be worth something. In a spare moment at Camp 1, I got my tent mate to shoot a few photos (there's a whole other amusing story about what's going on the background).

After the mountain climbing was over, I headed from Argentina back to Peru for about three weeks. One of my first tasks on arriving in Arequipa was to visit Geovanna, the co-ordinator of the rural community tourism programme in the regional government's tourism office. As well as providing an overview of my thesis, I explained about my endorsement of Colca Valley headwear and gave her copies of the photos.

From there, I spent a couple of weeks in the Colca Valley, trekking, visiting NGO contacts, reporting back on my thesis findings and doing a bit of additional research. On the last Wednesday before I had to go back to Arequipa, I made a day trip from Chivay to Sibayo to catch up with some people and see how the tourism project had advanced since last year. I also wanted to buy some things from the crafts shop to take back to New Zealand. With not a tourist seen since the start of the year, the shop was closed, and it took a while to track down someone to open it up. In the end, I left with a decent haul of chullos and some excellent hand made scarves.

Later I walked the half hour or so across to Callalli and found my way to the Maquicentro. It was closed, and deserted apart from an NGO worker from Arequipa occupying an adjacent office. He was more than happy to find someone to open the Maquicentro, but it took us a few trips around the block before we found someone who had a key (my image from this: the traditionally-dressed señora in sombrero and skirts standing in a muddy corral conversing into a late-model cell phone as she tracked down her comadre). Eventually another señora appeared and opened up the shop for me. She explained about the trials of the wet season looking after the alpacas up in the estancia as I picked out another haul of items to complement the ones I had bought in Sibayo. Among them were another couple of versions of the hat I wore on Aconcagua, which I have officially dubbed the super-chullo.

I returned to Chivay in the usual dilapidated overcrowded minivan with my overflowing backpack squashed between my knees. After a couple more days there, I headed back to Arequipa for my last weekend before returning to New Zealand. On Monday I went to make my final reports and say farewell to Geovanna. She told me she had been in Callalli the previous Friday -- two days after me -- and had given a presentation to the artisans association. In one of her Powerpoint slides she included one of the photos I had given her of the Callalli chullo on Aconcagua. She explained that the photo had been provided by a foreign traveller who had found the hat to be exceptionally warm and comfortable in extreme conditions.

From the audience a woman got to her feet excitedly. "I sold to him!", she announced. (Nice to know she recognised me even though all gringos look alike and I had definitely shaved since that photo was taken).

Geovanna said that the artisans were thrilled with the feedback and it seemed to help drive home to them that they really do have premium products capable of being a hit in international markets. So, even if my academic research is of no practical use to people in the Colca Valley, maybe I've at least provided some useful encouragement.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Peru's New Minister of Tourism

Given that it was sent to everyone on his mailing list, I don't think my friend Hugo would mind me reposting this photo with the same title as the subject heading in his email. It gave me a good couple of minutes of chortles.

Exit Polls Showing Humala Win: Reuters Grumpy

Slightly behind in most opinion polls until a couple of days ago, Ollanta Humala appears to be holding a roughly 4 percentage point lead over Keiko Fujimori in exit polls following today's presidential runoff in Peru.

The elections have even made top spot on Stuff's World News page. But let's look at some of the subtle inaccuracies and biases in the Reuters article pasted there.

Humala, 48, has moderated his anti-capitalist views since narrowly losing the 2006 election, and most polls in the run up to the vote had the two candidates in a statistical tie.

Humala was never an anti-capitalist. His 2006 platform had a strong nationalist emphasis, with favourable references to the State-led capitalism of Juan Velasco Alvarado, but I doubt there was ever the slightest mention of Marx.

The elder Fujimori also defeated a Maoist rebel army but fled into exile in 2000 as his government was hit by corruption allegations, and he is now serving a 25-year prison sentence for graft and using death squads against suspected leftists.

Did Fujimori defeat a Maoist rebel army (the Shining Path)? That's what his apologists like to say, but the truth is that it was ingenious police work that tracked down the Lima hiding place of leader Abimael Guzman, after which the Shining Path promptly belied its supposed anti-individualist Maoism and to all intents and purposes, collapsed.

"Corruption allegations" is interesting shorthand for "leaked videos showing incidents of blatant and undeniable corruption for all the world to see".

Still, investors are wary of Humala. Peru's currency and stock market weakened whenever opinion polls showed him gaining ground. The stock market lost $14 billion in the weeks after Humala won the first-round vote, before recovering as Fujimori caught up with him in polls.

If the election is too close to call, there will be a recount, causing even more market volatility.

A paragraph on the stockmarket. Not until late in the article, in a sentence tag-on, is it mentioned that despite the "booming economy", 35 percent of Peruvians still live in poverty.

He promises to respect Peru's many free trade pacts and central bank independence, and to run a balanced budget. But he also favors policies that would increase state control over natural resources in one of the world's top mineral exporters.

For context, it could be mentioned that Peru has the least state control over natural resources of any large Latin American country, particularly compared with "free-market" Chile, where 60 percent a significant proportion of copper production is controlled by the State. An alternative -- and possibly more accurate -- sentence could read: "Humala promises to impose windfall taxes on mining companies that have benefited from unprecedented rises in mineral prices".

Critics say Humala has not abandoned the hard-line ideology instilled in him by his father, a prominent radical. They warn he would take over private firms and change the constitution to allow himself to run for consecutive terms like his one-time political mentor, Venezuelan socialist President Hugo Chavez.

Who are these critics? Do they have any credibility? Should the article not mention that Humala has disavowed these claims?

"Humala's policies are statist and totalitarian," said Rosa Tolentina, a 60-year-old housewife in Lima. "We're going to end up like Venezuela: without freedoms, and poor."

Well yes, it's understandable that a housewife would say something like this, given what the corporate media have been saying. But again, is this credible? Is this an appropriate, balanced way to finish the article?

Finally: nowhere is there mention of facts that would appear to be of interest to an international audience, such as that prominent centre-right democrats including Nobel Prize Winner Mario Vargas Llosa, his son Alvaro Vargas Llosa, and former president and first-round presidential candidate Alejandro Toledo have all endorsed Humala.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Important Stuff Out There

Just links today, but on some matters that I think are pretty important:

Gordon Campbell has a typically excellent post on the Government's decision to consider implementation of the Welfare Working Group's recommendations.

Terence Wood describes NZAID's rapid move away from international best practice under Murray McCully.

The Auckland Transport Blog assesses the Government-commissioned Ministry of Transport review of Auckland's proposed inner-city rail loop, and the Auckland Council's commissioned review of its own business case.

David Haywood proposes the "Copenhagenization" of Christchurch, in the sense of making it live up to its bicycle-friendly potential in the post-reconstruction period.