Quotulatiousness

April 10, 2014

Chiles, peppers, and world trade before globalization

Filed under: Americas, Economics, History, India — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:53

ESR linked to an interesting discussion of the spread of chile peppers and other exotic spices from the Roman empire onwards:

Can you imagine a world without salsa? Or Tabasco sauce, harissa, sriracha, paprika or chili powder?

I asked myself that question after I found a 700-year-old recipe for one of my favorite foods, merguez — North Africa’s beloved lamb sausage that is positively crimson with chiles. The medieval version was softly seasoned with such warm spices as black pepper, coriander and cinnamon instead of the brash heat of capsicum chile peppers — the signature flavor of the dish today.

The cuisines of China, Indonesia, India, Bhutan, Korea, Hungary and much of Africa and the Middle East would be radically different from what they are today if chiles hadn’t returned across the ocean with Columbus. Barely 50 years after the discovery of the New World, chiles were warming much of the Old World. How did they spread so far, so fast? The answers may surprise you — they did me!

I learned that Mamluk and Ottoman Muslims were nearly as responsible for the discovery of New World peppers as Columbus — but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The global pepper saga begins in the first millennium bce with the combustible career of another pepper — black pepper (Piper nigrum) and its cousins, Indian long pepper and Javanese cubeb. Although Piper nigrum was first grown on the Malabar Coast in India, the taste for it enflamed the ancient world: No matter what the cost — and it was very high — people were mad for pepper. The Romans, for example, first tasted it in Egypt, and the demand for it drove them to sail to India to buy it. In the first century, Pliny complained about the cost: “There is no year in which India does not drain the Roman Empire of fifty million sesterces.”

In one sense, the whole global system of trade — the sea and land routes throughout the known world that spread culture and cuisine through commerce — was engaged with the appetite for pepper, in its growth, distribution and consumption.

Dried chiles shipped well worldwide. From top-left: New World Capsicum annuum varieties include guajillo, ancho and New Mexico; a smaller Capsicum frutescens variety called “birdseye” chiles spread wild in Africa after birds spread their seeds from early gardens, and they are now common also in Southeast Asia; “Indian” chiles are among the most common varieties in India, which today grows and exports more chiles than any other nation. Bottom-left: Three popular capsicum peppers that took root in the Middle East—Maraş, Urfa and Aleppo, shown below in their flaked form—are used in dishes throughout the region. Bottom-right: Fresh serrano, poblano and ripe jalapeño peppers.

Dried chiles shipped well worldwide. From top-left: New World Capsicum annuum varieties include guajillo, ancho and New Mexico; a smaller Capsicum frutescens variety called “birdseye” chiles spread wild in Africa after birds spread their seeds from early gardens, and they are now common also in Southeast Asia; “Indian” chiles are among the most common varieties in India, which today grows and exports more chiles than any other nation. Bottom-left: Three popular capsicum peppers that took root in the Middle East — Maraş, Urfa and Aleppo, shown below in their flaked form — are used in dishes throughout the region. Bottom-right: Fresh serrano, poblano and ripe jalapeño peppers.

ESR said in his brief G+ posting:

More about the early and very rapid spread of capsicum peppers in the Old World than I’ve ever seen in one place before.

I also didn’t know they were such a nutritional boon. It appears one reason they became so entrenched is they’re a good source of Vitamin C in peasant cuisines centered around a starch like rice. My thought is that moderns may tend to miss this point because we have so much better access to citrus fruits and other very high-quality C sources.

The bit about paprika having been introduced to Hungary by the Ottomans was also particularly interesting to me. This was less than 30 years after they had reached the Old World.

February 24, 2014

Argentina reported to be increasing military spending

Filed under: Americas, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:09

The Argentine government has announced it will be increasing spending on their armed forces by a third in the coming year. While this report in the Daily Express takes it seriously, it fails to account for the overall sorry state of the Argentinian economy … it’s not clear if there’s any actual money to be allocated to the military:

Buenos Aires will acquire military hardware including fighter aircraft, ­anti-aircraft weapons and specialised radar, as well as beefing up its special forces.

The news comes months before drilling for oil ­begins in earnest off the Falkland Islands, provoking ­Argentina’s struggling President Cristina ­Fernandez de ­Kirchner.

Last month she created a new cabinet post of Secretary for the Malvinas, her country’s name for the Falklands.

Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has refused to confirm that Britain would retake the Falklands if they were overrun by enemy forces.

The extra cash means Argentina will ­increase defence spending by 33.4 per cent this year, the biggest rise in its history. It will include £750million for 32 ­procurement and modernisation programmes.

They will include medium tanks and transport aircraft and the refurbishment of warships and submarines. The shopping list also ­includes Israeli air ­defence systems, naval assault craft, rocket systems, helicopters and a drone project.

As reported earlier this month, the economy is suffering from an inflation rate estimated to be in the 70% range, the government has expropriated private pensions and foreign-owned companies, and is unable to borrow significant amounts of money internationally due to their 2002 debt default. Announcing extra money for the military may well be the economic version of Baghdad Bob’s sabre-rattling press conferences … just for show.

On the other hand, military adventurism is a hallowed tradition for authoritarian regimes to tamp down domestic criticism and rally public opinion. Being seen to threaten the British in the Falkland Islands still polls well in Buenos Aires.

February 22, 2014

Venezuela’s crisis

Filed under: Americas, Government, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:10

With all the attention being on Ukraine’s political upheaval, there’s another political crisis happening in South America:

How is Venezuela doing? Well, tens of thousands of protesters are in the streets, the army’s been sent to crush revolt, an opposition leader has been arrested and supporters of the government just shot dead a former beauty queen. It’s going to hell in a handcart, that’s how it’s doing.

After Hugo Chavez died he was replaced by Nicolas Maduro, a man of considerably less talent who bears a striking resemblance to an obese Burt Reynolds. A Venezuelan friend explains that Chavez’s titanic personality held his revolution together, reconciling its various contradictions with his charismatic nationalism. By contrast, “Maduro has let the worst people take over” — surrendering authority to radical mobs and corrupt officials in a bid to keep them all on side. The result? Bad economic management, inflation at 56 per cent, rising unemployment, food shortages, shocking levels of crime and an increasing reliance on government control of the press.

The Left always insisted under Chavez that some meddling in the media was necessary because it was otherwise controlled by dark, foreign forces (read: people who disagreed with Chavez). But Maduro is now threatening to expel CNN, which is about the fairest and most balanced news source on the planet. CNN’s crime was to report on the recent protests that have engulfed the capital. And good for CNN. Coverage on what’s happening in Venezuela has been eclipsed by events in Ukraine, so for those who don’t know here’s what’s happening on the ground.

  • On February 12, the opposition held a massive rally that resulted in bloodshed. Three people were killed, including two opposition protesters and one pro-government activist. The National Guard was dispatched to prevent further rallies.
  • Violence quickly spread out across the country. Some 3,000 troops were sent to pacify the city of San Cristobal, where the government also cut off transport links and the internet.
  • Opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, was forced to hand himself over to the National Guard on charges of inciting violence.
  • The President blamed America for starting the conflict and has expelled US officials.
  • Local TV stations have gone into lockdown and simply aren’t reporting the fighting. Venezuelans are relying on social media, which includes some false reporting. The opposition lack a single national TV outlet to be heard on.

February 1, 2014

Argentina’s economic end-game

Filed under: Americas, Economics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:19

In Forbes, Ian Vasquez looks at the plight of the Argentine economy:

Argentina’s luck is finally starting to run out. It devalued its currency by 15 percent last week, marking the beginning of a possible economic crisis of the kind Argentina has become known for. Argentina’s problem is that it has followed the logic of populism for more than a decade and President Cristina Kirchner is showing no interest in changing course.

In the 1990s Argentina combined far-reaching but sometimes flawed market-reforms with irresponsible fiscal policies, culminating in its 2002 default on $81 billion in debt — the largest sovereign default in history. The country delinked its currency from the dollar, experienced a severe economic crisis, and initiated its current period of populist politics.

Those policies included price controls on domestic energy, reneging on contracts with foreign companies, export taxes, more pubic sector employment and vastly increased spending. When you don’t pay massive debts, you get temporary breathing room, so growth resumed. High commodity prices and low global interest rates that lifted demand for Argentine exports also helped produce Argentine growth.

But the government’s appetite has consistently grown faster, and, with little ability to borrow abroad, it has turned to other sources of finance. In 2008, Kirchner nationalized private pension funds worth some $30 billion, and has since nationalized an airline and a major oil company. As it drew down reserves, the government turned to printing money to finance itself, falsifying the inflation rate it says is about 11 percent, but which independent analysts put at about 28 percent. Economist Steve Hanke estimates it is much higher at 74 percent

January 15, 2014

QotD: Early 20th century American imperialism

Filed under: Americas, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.

Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, USMC (1881–1940), War is a racket, 1935.

December 20, 2013

Why we know so little about the Maya

Filed under: Americas, History, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:56

David Friedman is running a seminar called “Legal Systems Very Different from Ours” and one of the students in the seminar chose to do her paper on the Mayan legal system … or at least what we can deduce from the various sources. We don’t have a coherent view on many aspects of the Mayan culture, but he identifies the key sources that can be drawn from:

1. Modern Archeology.

The advantage is that one can dig up ruins, artifacts, other physical remains of a civilization and date them. Physical objects, unlike written texts or oral tradition, can’t lie or be mistaken.

The disadvantage is the problem of interpreting what you find — which may well depend in part on what you expect to find. As Chesterton pointed out, future archaeologists might conclude that the 19th century English believed the dead could smell things, as shown by the evidence of flowers in grave sites.

2: The oral traditions and current practices of the descendants of the Maya civilization.

The advantage of that source of information is that there are lots of people who are bilingual in one of the Maya languages and a modern language, so anthropologists who interview them can avoid the problem of making sense of an ancient language and an extinct system of writing.

The disadvantage is that we do not know how much of what current Maya believe about events in the distant past is true, nor to what degree current institutions preserve the institutions of the distant past.

3. A book written in Spanish by a 16th century Spanish Bishop describing his observations shortly after the conquest.

The advantage is that it is written in a language we can read, using a writing system we can read, based on first hand observation.

The disadvantages are, first, that it is first hand observation by a single observer of a society very different from his own, and second that the observer had serious biases that may well have affected what he observed and recorded. [...]

October 31, 2013

The drug-running submarine squadron

Filed under: Americas, Law, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:25

Strategy Page reports that the set of almost-complete submarines built by a drug cartel in Colombia were much more sophisticated and capable than first thought:

The leader (Mauner Mahecha) of the project was a guy in his early 30s with no boat building experience but excellent organizational and leadership skills.

Mahecha had a huge budget and used it to find and hire men with the needed skills or experience with submarines. Mahecha also quickly recruited additional specialists as needed and obtained whatever materials the builders called for. His project built three submarines, and the project was shut down because one of the men recruited (an experienced engine mechanic working for the Colombian Navy) managed to tip off the Colombian Navy intelligence and then the U.S. about the project.

[...]

The Mahecha submarines, when closely examined by experts, turned out to be more sophisticated than first thought. The outer hull was made out of strong, lightweight, Kevlar/carbon fiber that was sturdy enough to keep the sub intact but very difficult to detect with most sensors. The hull could not survive deep dives but this boat didn’t have to go deep to get the job done. The diesel-electric power supply (up to two-hundred and forty-nine lead-acid batteries), diving and surfacing system, and navigational systems of captured subs were all in working order. Those who built these boats apparently borrowed much from recreational subs. The sub builders also had impressive knowledge of the latest materials used to build exotic boats.

The three fiberglass/Kevlar submarines were obviously built to transport cocaine to North America and the existence of a building effort had been detected by intel agencies. For several years before the submarine boat yard was discovered the U.S. Navy, in cooperation with some Central and South American navies, have been looking for these subs, at sea and on land. While these submarines didn’t run very deep (less than twenty meters/sixty-two feet), they are invisible to most sensors when completely submerged. These subs were designed to run on batteries for up to eighteen hours, before having to surface and recharge. When they are at sea, they usually operate their diesel engines. These are noisy. Sonar can pick up this noise over a long distance. By capturing these subs it was possible to run the engines and get a sound profile of this type of boat and equip American sonar systems with this data. These subs had a range (on internal fuel) of about twelve-thousand kilometers. Thus, the boat could get from Colombia to southern California and back. These drug gangs spent over two million on each of these subs.

The most potent weapon the U.S. Navy has against these tiny (less than thirty-four meters/one-hundred foot long) subs is heat sensors, but even that may have had limited effectiveness. That’s because one of the subs captured had a snorkel type device (a tall structure extending from the conning tower, which contained pipes allowing diesel exhaust to escape and fresh air to be brought into the submerged boat.) It’s this heat that airborne sensors can detect. All surface (or semi-submerged) ships at sea display this kind of “heat signature”, and capturing working examples of these cocaine smuggling subs makes it possible to get a better idea of what the airborne heat sensors should be looking for. A snorkel, however, puts out less heat that a sub running on the surface would and is harder to detect. When running on batteries there is no heat to detect.

October 7, 2013

CSEC’s sudden media prominence … in Brazil

Filed under: Americas, Cancon, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:50

If you haven’t heard of CSEC before, you’re certainly not alone. The signals intelligence service known as Communications Security Establishment Canada has been eager not to be in the public eye, but allegations are being made that CSEC has been spying on the Brazilian government’s mining and energy ministry:

The impact for Canada of these revelations could be equally grave: they come at a time when Brazil has become a top destination for Canadian exports, when a stream of delegations from the oil and gas industries are making pilgrimages to Rio de Janeiro to try to get a piece of the booming offshore oil industry, and when the Canadian government is eager to burnish ties with Brasilia. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird visited Brazil in August, and spoke repeatedly about the country as a critical partner for Canadian business.

[...]

While CSEC’s role in conducting economic espionage has been alluded to before, how it does this job has not. The significance of the documents obtained by Globo in Brazil is that they speak to how “metadata” analysis by CSEC can be used to exploit a rival country’s computer systems.

The CSEC-labeled slides about the “Olympia” program describe the “Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy” as a “new target to develop” despite “limited access/target knowledge.”

The presentation goes on to map out how an individual’s smartphone — “target’s handset” — can be discerned by analysis, including by cross-referencing the smartphone’s Sim card with the network telephone number assigned to it and also to the handset’s unique number (IMEI).

The “top secret” presentation also refers to attacks on email servers.

“I have identified MX [email] servers which have been targeted to passive collection by the Intel analysts,” one slide says, without explaining who the speaker is.

September 3, 2013

The market for civilian armoured vehicles

Filed under: Americas — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:33

Strategy Page on the growing demand in some areas of the world for protected civilian vehicles:

Since September 11, 2001 there has been a sharp increase in the use of such bullet proof automobiles. The wealthy are buying most of them, but government has become a major customer as well, accounting for about a third of sales. The biggest markets are those suffering from lots of kidnapping and seemingly random violence. Mexico, Colombia and many Middle Eastern countries are the main markets for these expensive vehicles.

[...]

Because of the cartel wars in Mexico, over 2,500 armored sedans, SUVs and light trucks are now produced each year in Mexico alone. The violence down there has been horrendous. The government believes about a thousand people a month are dying from drug cartel related violence. This puts Mexico ahead of the recently increased terrorist violence in Iraq and where Syria was earlier this year. Some 70,000 have died in the Mexican cartel war since 2007, compared to over 100,000 in two years of Syrian violence and 120,000 Iraqi dead in a decade of religious violence. Since the 1970s there have been similar internal conflicts in Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey. Mexico is a bit of Middle East style civil violence in North America. This is not the first time the Americas have suffered this. Leftist and drug gang violence in Colombia have left over 220,000 dead in the last 60 years. That’s for a country with only about 40 percent as many people as Mexico. This war in Colombia in finally winding down, but is shows you how long and bloody such conflicts can be. Some 20,800 people have disappeared in Mexico since 2006, including 1,200 children under the age of 11. Another estimate holds that that 24,000 people were missing since 2000, and that around 16,000 bodies have been discovered but not identified.

The armored vehicles must, at a minimum, be protected against pistol bullets. But most now are resistant to sniper and assault rifles. Some manufacturers will also build vehicles that provide some protection from roadside bombs. Turning a civilian sedan or SUV into an armored vehicle is a labor-intensive job. First, you have to strip the vehicle down to the bare frame. Then you install Kevlar and steel plate armor and bullet-proof glass. The standard tires are replaced with run-flat models. The additional weight (up to a ton or more) requires the installation of enhanced shocks and a more powerful engine. It takes a few hundred pounds of armor to provide protection from pistol bullets. Protection from rifle bullets requires half a ton. For protection against heavy machine-gun (12.7mm) and bombs, you need a ton or more. The first armor kits for military vehicles, like the hummer, weighed a ton. Soon that was up to two tons. The additional load on high-end vehicles 1.5 tons, which is enough armor to stop heavy machine-gun bullets.

August 28, 2013

Hurricane and cyclone paths since 1842

Filed under: Americas, Environment, Pacific, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:59

Wired‘s MapLab has a lovely visualization of both hurricane and cyclone tracks starting with the earliest records in 1842:

Historical Hurricane and Cyclone paths since 1842

This map shows the paths of every hurricane and cyclone detected since 1842. Nearly 12,000 tropical cyclones have been tracked and recorded, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration keeps them all in a single database. Long-term datasets can be really interesting and scientifically valuable, and this one is undoubtedly both.

In the image above, you can clearly see that more storm tracks have overlapped in the western Pacific ocean and northern Indian ocean. This is largely because of the length of the typhoon season, which basically never stops in the warmer waters there.

The tracks of the earliest storms are based on mariner’s logs and storm records, collected from various countries, agencies and other sources. Reconciling data from these different entities was tough. Most international agencies had their own set of codes for cyclone intensity, and only recorded this information once per day. India was even using different wind thresholds to designate cyclone stages.

August 15, 2013

Argentinian primary results may signal the end of Cristina Kirchner’s presidency

Filed under: Americas, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:26

In The Beacon, Alvaro Vargas Llosa explains why the odd primary system in Argentina may have created an impossible situation for President Cristina Kirchner:

Argentina held open primaries last Sunday whose ostensible purpose was to pick the candidates that will compete in October’s midterm elections. But Argentineans saw them as a major test of Cristina Kirchner’s increasingly corrupt, authoritarian presidency — and she was badly humiliated.

The rules make these primary elections a foretaste of the real race, which means that the president will be roundly defeated in October. More importantly, this spells the end of Cristina’s attempt to change the constitution so she can run for a third consecutive term. (Since she succeeded her own husband, who was president between 2003 and 2007, it would actually amount to a fourth Kirchner term.)

The beauty of Argentina’s political underdevelopment, if one can put it that way, is that, unlike what happens in Venezuela, where the competing factions of the dictatorship have been able to keep their differences from bringing the government down, Peronismo has a kind of built-in system of checks and balances that ensures no autocrat can rule forever. As soon as one Peronista smells electoral blood, he goes after the governing Peronista with gusto, with the result that the president is eventually brought down in large part due to internecine fighting.

This is what happened in Sunday’s primary election. A former Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers who used to be a loyal Kirchner underling, Sergio Massa, turned on her at the last moment and ran against her chosen candidate in the province of Buenos Aires, which accounts for a bit less than 40 percent of the national vote. Not to speak of several Peronista dissidents who have been in opposition for a while and also ran against her candidates in several other districts. Over all, seventy percent of the country voted for anti-Kirchner candidates, while only twenty-six percent voted for the government. Kirchner, who was reelected with 54 percent of the ballots just two years ago, has lost half of her supporters.

July 4, 2013

“Buenos Aires [...] is the headquarters for the central planning bad idea bus”

Filed under: Americas, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:32

At the Sovereign Man blog, Simon Black discusses Argentina’s sad history of central planning failures:

The more interesting part about Buenos Aires, though, is that this place is the headquarters for the central planning bad idea bus.

Argentina’s President, Cristina Fernandez, continues to tighten her stranglehold over the nation’s economy and society.

This country is so abundant with natural resources, it should be immensely wealthy. And it was. At the turn of the 20th century, Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world.

Yet rather than adopting the market-oriented approaches taken by, say, Colombia and Chile, Argentina is following the model of Venezuela.

Cristina rules by decree here; there is very little legislative power. She may as well start wearing a crown.

Just in the last few years, she’s imposed capital controls. Media controls. Price controls. Export controls.

She’s seized pension funds. She fired a central banker who didn’t bend to her ‘print more money’ directives. She even filed criminal charges against economists who publish credible inflation figures, as opposed to the lies that her government releases.

Inflation here is completely out of control. The government figures say 10%, but the street level is several times that.

[. . .]

Being here in this laboratory of central planning makes a few things abundantly clear:

1) Printing money does not create wealth. If it did, Argentina would be one of the richest places in the world again.

2) All of these policies that are ‘for the benefit of the people’ almost universally and up screwing the people they claim to help.

Printing money creates nasty inflation. If you’re wealthy, it leads to asset bubbles, which can make you even wealthier. If you’re poor, you just get crushed by rising prices. Or worse – shortages (remember the recent Venezuelan toilet paper crisis?)

3) Desperation leads to even more desperation. The worse things get, the tighter government controls become… which makes things even worse. It’s a classic negative feedback loop.

Both the United States and pan-European governments are varying degrees of this model, with only a flimsy layer of international credibility separating them from the regime of Cristina.

So Argentina is really a perfect case study in things to come.

June 28, 2013

Ecuador responds to US diplomatic pressure by abandoning trade agreement

Filed under: Americas, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:17

This is either political grandstanding for foreign audiences or a shrewd attempt to gain some positive domestic points:

One of the points that many people have made concerning most countries in the world is that they’re loathe to challenge the US on many things, even when they’re in the right, because they’re so reliant on the US for trade. The US regularly lords this fact over countries in seeking to get its way. In fact, US officials had been very strongly suggesting to Ecuador that if it decides to take in Ed Snowden and grant him asylum, that there could be consequences for trade under the Andean Trade Preference Act that both countries are signed to, but which needs to be renewed next month. Specifically, US politicians suggested that they might not allow the renewal if Ecuador granted asylum.

In response, Ecuador has taken a stand: saying that it’s breaking the trade agreement upfront as it doesn’t appreciate the attempt by the US to blackmail it in this matter.

[. . .]

As the article notes, some of this is surely political. It is a bit of a populist move by the government, and many suspected that the trade agreement was unlikely to be renewed anyway by the US, so in some ways this is an attempt to get out in front of that story and pull something of a “you can’t fire me, I quit!” move. Still, it highlights, once again, the way the US bullies smaller countries, and how that can backfire.

June 23, 2013

Ecuador press law to mandate coverage of government propaganda items

Filed under: Americas, Law, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:28

Ecuador has a new law on the books that may force the media to carry government propaganda or risk prosecution:

Under Ecuador’s new Communications Law, however, journalists may have to pay far more attention to ribbon-cutting ceremonies and other government PR events. Article 18 of the law forbids the “deliberate omission of … topics of public interest.” But this wording is so vague that nearly any action by local, state, or national government official could be considered of public interest.

“Newspapers don’t have enough journalists or space to cover all these events. Radio programs don’t have enough air time,” Paúl Mena, president of the Ecuadoran Journalists’ Forum, told CPJ. “If the government starts demanding coverage, there are going to be problems.”

More conflict between the media and the Correa government seems inevitable under the Communications Law, which was approved by the National Assembly on June 14 and will go into effect next month. Not only does the law create a state watchdog entity to regulate media content, but it is filled with ambiguous language demanding that journalists provide accurate and balanced information or face civil or criminal penalties. “This is completely crazy,” Monica Almeida, an editor at the Guayaquil daily El Universo, told CPJ. “The law is designed to regulate everything we do.”

[. . .]

The 44-page law contains 119 articles. In interviews with CPJ, Ecuadoran journalists were at a loss to pick out the worst provisions since they view nearly all of them as serious violations of press freedom.

For example, under the law reporters are now required to earn a journalism degree. Rather than serving as a neutral referee, the Superintendence of Information and Communication — the government’s new watchdog agency — could be used by Correa to simply bash the press. And reporters are especially incensed by Article 26 that prohibits “media lynching.” This is defined as “the dissemination of concerted and reiterative information … with the purpose of undermining the prestige” of a person or legal entity. Media outlets found violating this provision could be ordered to issue public apologies and would be subject to criminal and civil sanctions that are not specified in the legislation.

One magazine editor in Quito, who asked to remain anonymous, said the article seems designed to thwart investigations. That’s because such in-depth reporting often requires publishing a series of stories over several days or weeks that could be construed as harassment.

Brazilian protests were triggered by bus fare hike, but sustained by many more grievances

Filed under: Americas, Government, Soccer — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:09

In the Independent, James Young reports from Rio de Janeiro:

The most recent wave of protests began at the beginning of the month in Sao Paulo over what may seem an insignificant 20 centavo (7p) bus-fare hike. But the level of the increase was less important than what it represented. Once again, Brazilians felt they were being asked to pay an onerous price for a shoddy service. Buses in big cities are overcrowded, infrequent and journeys can take hours.

Now the leaderless, non-politically affiliated protest movement has a variety of goals. Better public healthcare is one. “I recently spent eight hours in a hospital waiting room with dengue,” says Lee, a bank worker protesting on Friday. “People were sleeping on the floor.” Another is an improved education system. “We work hard and pay high taxes. And we get nothing in return,” he continues.

Frustration over the country’s institutionalised corruption has attracted many to the protests. Influence-peddling scandals such as 2005′s Mensalao (“big monthly allowance”) affair and, more recently, the saga of Carlinhos Cachoeira, accused of running a political bribery network, have left many desperate for change.

Some protesters have focused on the £8bn spent on stadium and infrastructure work for next year’s World Cup, seen as indefensible in a country with so many more pressing needs. The brutal tactics employed by the police have added to the indignation. Rubber bullets and tear gas have been used, often indiscriminately and at close range.

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