Two flawed analogies are trotted out: comparing the eurozone to Argentina's 1990s dollar-pegging, and the EU to the US
A true giant of modern thought, Ludwig Wittgenstein believed that all problems in philosophy arise from the misguided use of language. Although this opinion, put forward in his early writings, seems far-fetched nowadays, Wittgenstein had a point.
Since the start of the sovereign debt crisis, two false analogies have prevailed in the public dialogue regarding Europe: the first draws parallels between the present situation in the eurozone periphery with the crisis in Argentina in 2001, while the second, especially popular in the British press, compares the European unification process with the federalisation of the United States of America.
Starting with the first analogy, it is almost impossible to follow the debate on the euro crisis for a week without bumping into an article that likens Greece and the rest of the European south to Argentina. The most recent example I saw, is by Thomas Catan and Marcus Walker, published in the Wall Street Journal, on 19 May: "Like countries that joined the eurozone, Argentina in the 1990s gave up control over its own currency, fixing it 1-to-1 to the US dollar? Like euro members today, Argentina had to grin and bear it until wages and prices fell far enough for the country to become competitive again," reads the article. The authors claim that Argentina should be "a cautionary tale" for leaders in Europe, because Argentineans, like Greeks or Spaniards, supported the peso's peg to the dollar, until they suddenly stopped.
The analogy is outrageous. Argentina, like dozens of countries before and after it, had opted to peg its currency to another, namely the dollar. In fact, this is not unusual in international economics. The 17 members of the eurozone, on the other hand, have chosen to denounce their own currencies and "irrevocably" adopt another. I sometimes wonder how the hell people cannot see the difference here: the drachma, the lira, the deutsche mark, simply do not exist today. Hence, no one can unpeg them from the euro or the dollar. Let me put it another way: Argentina devalued its own currency; Greece will have to introduce another one. The new currency will not be the drachma of the 1990s. It will just have the same name as the drachma.
True, no decision in politics is truly irrevocable. So the Cypriots or the Greeks, for example, could choose to ignore the logistical chaos of abandoning the euro and print a new currency. But will the new currency, which will be issued by effectively bankrupt states, have any exchange value whatsoever? Will the Russians accept it in exchange for oil, and the Americans in exchange for medicines? Especially Greece, which, unlike Argentina, is not a net exporter of raw materials (or any materials for that matter), will have no means to support the new currency. Greeks can print as much as they like of it, but will they be able to buy electrical appliances, cars or even foods produced abroad with it? The answer is no. Sure, they will be holding real money in their hands, but they will still be "poor", probably much poorer than they are now.
There is another, even more obvious difference between the eurozone and Argentina. The government of Buenos Aires chose to unpeg its currency from the currency of a foreign nation. In the case of eurozone, the single currency is the most crucial part of an immensely complicated structure of unified decision-making we came to call the European Union. Like the euro, the EU is also a unique construct in modern history and all analogies drawn between it and other cases of economic crises are unfounded. The EU is based on the premise of an "ever closer union". Sure, you can slow down the whole process and even bring it to a halt, as the British government demands. But if you put it in reverse gear by dissolving the euro, this will trigger a chain reaction of "renationalising" that will bring the EU to an end. And that is only the best-case scenario. In fact, the most likely scenario is that the chaos that would ensue immediately after the dissolution of the euro would lead to the sudden death of the EU. It doesn't take a genius to understand that the economic, political and geostrategic stakes are immensely higher for the eurozone member states than they were for Argentina in 2001. I am not arguing that such an eventuality is impossible, but it will be like nothing we have seen before, just as the EU is like nothing we have seen before.
And that brings us to my second point. The term "United States of Europe," which is so often used in the British press, mistakenly likens the EU to the USA and implies that Brussels is (or soon will be) the capital of a federal state. Nothing could be further from the truth. In every single federal state in the world, the central government is responsible for "high politics", most notably defence, foreign policy and budget. Local governments, in turn, are relatively free to decide on "low politics" issues, like schools, healthcare, etc. What happens in the EU is exactly the opposite. Its member states are close allies (most are members of Nato anyway), but they do not have a common defence policy. There is some degree of coordination in foreign affairs, but rarely unanimity, let alone central planning. And the central budget of the EU is just 1% of the region's total GDP. The nation states collect taxes and decide where and how they will spend most of their money. The fiscal pact, which was voluntarily signed between sovereign EU governments, just puts a limit on how much they are allowed to spend.
Unlike federal states, the EU is responsible for the micromanagement in "low politics" fields. It is obviously annoying for some of us to have Brussels decide on trivial things, but it is also the only way for a single market to function. Someone needs to draw and enforce the rules for competition, trade, patents, recognition of professional qualifications, etc. Otherwise, the free movement of goods, capital, services and people that makes the EU by far the largest market in the world would be impossible. In fact, it is the member states and the representatives of national governments who decide most of these rules, in the Council of Ministers' meetings. The EU commission largely suggests directives to member states, implements their decisions and acts as the guardian of the treaties as national governments have agreed. Even for the eurozone member states, the most powerful decision-making body is not the commission, but the Eurogroup, which comprises of the finance ministers of member states.
In other words, both the EU and the eurozone are unique structures. Analogies with the US, Argentina or other places in the world, are erroneous and only confuse the issue. So please, colleagues, just stop it, if for no other reason than that Wittgenstein would be furious with you.
Argentinian dictator infamous for torture, murder and the abduction of children of his opponents
The former Argentinian dictator Jorge Rafaél Videla was a prominent member of the group of uniformed tyrants who in the 1970s seized power in Latin America and turned "disappear" into a transitive verb. If he never achieved the worldwide notoriety of his contemporary Augusto Pinochet, in Chile, it was not for want of trying. He has died aged 87 while in prison.
"As many people as is necessary will die in Argentina," Videla told the region's army commanders, gathered in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1975, "to protect the hemisphere from the international communist conspiracy." He was true to his word. Months later, on 24 March 1976, the armed forces overthrew the inept and chaotic government of María Estela Martínez ("Isabelita"), the widow of Juan Domingo Perón.
They installed a ferocious military regime. During the next six years, it murdered up to 30,000 people in the name of "national reorganisation" and western, Christian civilisation.
For Videla, who as army commander was chosen to head the junta, the decision to "disappear" the victims was purely pragmatic. "Argentinian society would not have tolerated firing squads," he told a journalist many years later. "Yesterday two in Buenos Aires, today six in Córdoba, tomorrow four in Rosario ? There was no other way. We all agreed on that."
Videla was a methodical, introverted man from a provincial military family. Born in Mercedes, to the west of the capital, he was brought up beside the Buenos Aires barracks where his father, a colonel, was serving. The family were strict Catholics. When sentenced to house arrest in later life, his greatest regret, he said, was that he could not attend mass. Other than that, his social life was almost nonexistent.
Like Pinochet's, his military career was a largely routine affair ? a steady climb up the ranks until he reached the top. In 1975, after the death of Perón, Isabelita appointed him army commander, under pressure from the military hierarchy. It was a decision she would live to regret. Videla had been a convinced anti-Perónist for at least 20 years, and he proceeded to purge the caudillo's followers from positions of command.
The country was in the grip of political violence. Leftist guerrillas battled the government, while rightwing death squads cruised the streets, murdering with impunity. Many ordinary citizens sighed with relief when the military stepped in, and looked the other way as it installed an unprecedented system of repression.
Not just guerrillas, but trade unionists, journalists and dissidents of all kinds were kidnapped, tortured and killed. Thousands were thrown from planes over the river Plate, in a usually successful bid to "disappear" their bodies for ever.
The brutal repression of all opposition facilitated an economic policy, run by José Martínez de Hoz, which dismantled Perón's pro-labour laws, opened up the economy to foreign capital and vastly increased the country's external debt. Many years later, it was revealed that the coup had been planned by business interests allied with hardliners in the armed forces. Videla presided over this butchery until his retirement in 1981, although for the last year ? having reached the end of his military career ? he was formally subordinate to the junta. A morale-raising interlude came in 1978 with the holding of the football World Cup, which the hosts won.
In 1985, after the Falklands debacle brought the military regime to an end, Videla and the other junta members were tried for human-rights violations. He received a life sentence for multiple murder, kidnap, torture and theft, but was pardoned, with the others, by President Carlos Menem five years later.
Videla did his best to sink into quiet obscurity, leading an austere existence marred only by occasional outbursts against him by enraged passersby who recognised him in the street. But it was not to last. An investigation sparked by a demand from the "Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo" into the systematic theft of babies born to political prisoners led to court rulings that put an end to his immunity.
In 1998, a federal judge ordered him to stand trial for the illegal "appropriation of minors", a crime not subject to a statute of limitations, and excluded from amnesty laws. He went briefly to prison and was then placed under house arrest on account of his age. It is estimated that more than 500 young children and babies were illegally adopted, and their identities changed, during the so-called "dirty war". Many were taken by the families of the military themselves.
In March 2004, the German government said it had requested the extradition of Videla and two other leading figures in the dictatorship, in a case involving the disappearance of around 100 German citizens. Six months later, the former dictator was one of 18 retired officers charged in connection with the Condor Plan, a joint intelligence operation by South American dictatorships to kidnap and murder their opponents whichever country they might be in.
As he had done ever since the human-rights trials began in 1985, Videla refused to recognise the legitimacy of the court proceedings and declined to testify. It took till March 2013 for the trial to start, with the former president one of 25 defendants.
In 2007, a court threw out the amnesty granted by Menem, and in 2010 Videla received a life sentence for the torture and murder of 31 prisoners "shot while trying to escape" after the 1976 coup. In July last year, he received a 50-year sentence for masterminding the stealing of the newborn children from political opponents, and the killing of their mothers, now seen as a deliberate policy of the regime.
Paradoxically, he was a man who liked nothing better than to follow rules and routines. Although he had no scruples about violating the right to life, he was a fanatic about regulations. During his five years of military detention, it is said, he had in his possession the key to the door, and freedom. Yet he never used it.
He and his wife, Alicia Hartridge, had seven children.
? Jorge Rafaél Videla Almorozo, junta leader, born 2 August 1925; died 17 May 2013
Former army commander who became first head of junta that 'disappeared' thousands of leftists dies in jail, aged 87
Jorge Rafael Videla, a former army commander who led Argentina during the bloodiest days of its "dirty war" dictatorship and was unrepentant about kidnappings and murders ordered by the state, has died. He was 87.
The first president to head the military junta that "disappeared" thousands of leftists from 1976 to 1983, Videla spent his final years behind bars for human rights crimes, including the systematic theft of babies born to political prisoners in secret torture centres.
He died of natural causes in his cell in a prison outside the capital, Buenos Aires, where he was serving a life sentence, a government spokesman said on Friday.
"He spent his life doing great damage, which left a mark on the life of the country," Argentinian human rights activist and Nobel prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel said. "His death ended his physical presence but not what he did to the country."
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Guatemala. It is a very long and difficult fight and it will need the support and cooperation of all political parties, the private sector and civil society sectors.
The first steps the Government has taken on the 19th of August 2008, was to institute The Vice- Ministry of Transparency in the Ministry of Public Finance. The second step is the creation of the Commission for Transparency.
The Commission for Transparency is headed by Vice-President Rafael Espada and represents government and civil society sectors. This Commission will be conformed by Álvaro Mayorga and Armando Boesch, representatives of the Private -Industrial Sector, (CACIF), Comité Coordinador de Asociaciones Agrícolas, Comerciales, Industriales y Financieras.
2008 Olympic Games, Beijing. Guatemala?s Jose Amado García managed to obtain a very good 35th position out of 98 runners that participated in the marathon. Alfredo Arevalo obtained position 63. Both athletes did improve their performance from the previous Olympic Games in Athen, in time and positions.
Women of Virtue is an award presented to ten outstanding women from South Florida every year by LATINBIZ. Among the 2008 honorees is Ms. Ruby Ortiz, Guatemalan. She has been serving the South Florida business community for more than 10 years in management development, business consulting and Coaching. More than 1,000 managers from Florida and Latin America have benefitted from her professional consulting and training.
Ruby Ortiz is a member of the advisory board and professor at Florida International University -MTI-, she is Director of the new Florida Institute of Management and she is also Senior Consultant of RO International Inc.
Guatemala, Antigua - Cultural event at Centro de Formación de la Cooperación Española en Antigua Guatemala.
Invitation for next Saturday, November 22 at 18:00 pm. Play: "Women forging Dreams," Mujeres fraguando sueños, by the theater company Abrego (Cantabria / Spain). The entrance to the event is free. It will be held at Centro de Formación de la Cooperación Española en Antigua Guatemala.
"Women forging dreams", Mujeres fraguando sueños, is a show with an ethic committed to a social reality that requires all our efforts to make a forceful denunciation and a sober reflection on domestic violence. It is a contemporary piece that keeps a distance to the complex elaborations exclusive to intellectuals.
Majestic World Travelers Joseph and Farideh Ross went from Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Their exiting journey continues and they saw beautifull places and shared them with us.
Drake Bay, Costa Rica, on the Pacific Ocean near Corcovado National Park and Cano Island is a dream. It is a rare thing to have reality exceed your expectations, but Drake Bay is one of those places. Drake Bay will surely make any traveler's short list of the most beautiful destinations on the planet.
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Having recently slipped into third place in the polls, Josefina Vazquez Mota of the ruling National Action Party (PAN) came out swinging in Mexico?s second presidential debate at the Expo Guadalajara on Sunday.
U.S. financial services company Standard & Poor?s (S&P) lowered Guadalajara?s credit rating this week, the result of the municipal government having overspent and burdened the city with debt.
Although this week saw the beginning of the wet season in Jalisco, below average rainfall is forecast for northern Mexico throughout the summer months, according to the National Water Commission (Conagua).
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