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Bulletin 1 March 2010



Chile: Army controls devastated areas – rescue efforts start – Why Chile coped better than Haiti

altThe government of outgoing President Michelle Bachelet has ordered the army to take control of the devastated city of Concepción. The mayor of Concepción, Jacqueline Van Rysselberghe, had earlier asked the central government to send in the army after hundreds of people had looted supermarkets and shops.

The government has confirmed that around 700 people have died, some two million people have been affected one way or another and at least one million have lost their homes. Many people remain unaccounted for and emergency teams have started to move rubble to try and find survivors.

Under Chile’s democratic rule, certain constitutional conditions must be met by the government before the armed forces can take control of populations where civilian,elected administrations are in power. It was for this reason President Bachelet held a meeting of the government’s emergency committee and declared a “state of exception”. The government then declared a curfew in the worse affected areas where law and order had partially collapsed. More than 10,000 soldiers were deployed to the regions of Biobio and Maule, south of the capital, Santiago, to distribute aid and to gain control over the situation.

In the meantime, emergency teams have started to reach remote communities to start rescue operations. In the first instance, the government asked the international community to put its aid on hold until the government had been able to evaluate the damages and needs of the population. Finally, late on Sunday, President Bachelet requested international emergency aid.

The first convoy arrived from Argentina, which sent three mobile hospitals. The same kind of hospitals has been offered by the USA and the government is currently assessing which areas have been worse affected areas in order to decide where to send them.

Local television is showing dramatic pictures of houses destroyed by the earthquake or swept out to see by the tsunami. Many communities are appealing for urgent help.

Despite the fact that the Chilean earthquake was one of the strongest in the history of the country and, indeed, ever experienced in Latin America, it has not caused the same number of victims as the one in Haiti. Nature, economy and politics all help to explain why this is the case.

In Haiti, the epicentre ran right under the capital, Port-au-Prince, so the earthquake was concentrated in a small, heavily populated area. In Chile, the epicentre was under the sea so the “waves” rippled out over a vast region, weakening as they did so. The earthquake also hit depopulated desert regions.

Whereas in Haiti the earthquake was the first in 200 years and the population was not expecting it, Chileans are not only used to strong tremors but also were expecting a strong earthquake because they hadn’t had one for many years.

Houses in Haiti are not built to withstand earthquakes. In contrast, construction companies in Chile have to comply with strict rules to make their buildings strong enough to deal with a tremor. (It is, however, interesting to note that these regulations were weakened during the Pinochet government: the houses, roads and buildings that collapsed were either very old or built under the new regulations passed by Pinochet. While 20 new buildings collapsed and approximately the same number of new bridges, no buildings or bridges built between 1962 and 1982 – before the regulations were changed – suffered any damage).

In Haiti, the Presidential Palace and the seat of government was destroyed by the tremor and many members of the cabinet lost relatives. This made it very difficult for the government to react quickly and efficiently. President Rene Preval himself was criticised by many people and indeed the media for not reacting quickly to the needs of the survivors. In contrast, minutes after the earthquake hit Chile, President Michelle Bachelet took control of the situation, appearing live on television to reassure the population.

Haiti is the poorest country of Latin America and the northern hemisphere. It did not have resources to help its people. In contrast, Chile is one of the strongest economies in Latin America and the state has the means to deal with an emergency.


El Mercurio (Chile, Spanish){438A4E09-5276-48DE-8923-C69737D21D88}

La Tercera (Chile, Spanish)

La Cuarta (Chile, Spanish)

Colombia: the end of the Uribe adventure, for now

altUntil a few weeks ago, the supporters of President Alvaro Uribe thought that the referendum to decide if he could stand for a third term was in the bag. Most judges in the Constitutional Court, which had to decide if the referendum was legal, were known to support the measure. But then along came Judge Humberto Sierra, who spoilt things by discovering that the way the campaign had been funded and the way signatures had been collected infringed electoral rules.

By the time the court met last Friday, the uribistas knew that they were losing the battle. Rumours that the judges who had earlier favoured the referendum had changed their minds started to leak in the media. By the time the final decision was announced, with seven against and two in favour of the referendum, the game was over.

President Uribe, who until some days ago has maintained a prudent distance from the debate, then openly criticised Judge Sierra, saying that people had the right to decide if they wanted him to stand again.

The uribistas have spent an agonising weekend: what to do now? Former Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos (pictured left) is widely tipped as the uribista candidate. He will try to convince the population that he is the heir-apparent of the popular Alvaro Uribe and will continue with both the tough military offensive against the guerrillas and the strong links with the USA.

“I want to be the President of all Colombians to defend Uribe’s legacy”, said Santos in Cartagena. Santos spoke about the creation of a right-wing coalition ready to continue Uribe’s policies.

Uribe met Santos on Saturday to discuss future actions. According to the former Defence Minister, both agreed that he can only win if Uribe offers him very strong support. What the uribistas need to avoid at all costs is the implosion of the informal coalition – made up of the Conservative Party, members of the Liberal Party (Uribe’s party) and the Radical Change Party – that has supported Uribe all these years.

Santos fears that the Conservative Party may decide to go it alone and put forward their own candidate, taking away votes that would go to him if it decided to remain in the coalition. And it is not only a question of electing an uribistas president but also of getting the support of at least 50% of deputies and senators.

Uribe’s attempts to get a third mandate were criticised not only by the Colombian opposition but also by some of his international sympathisers. Alvaro Vargas Llosa, the right-wing son of the right-wing Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, urged Uribe not to stand again. He believed, like many of his friends, that Uribe’s legacy would suffer if he decided to stay in power any longer. They feared that Uribe could become another Fujimori.

In any case, Uribe can stand for the Presidency after the next administration and many believe that, if Santos gets elected and continues with Uribe’s legacy, he may be back. In any case, many people want Uribe around even if he’s not President. The former Colombian Ambassador in South Africa, Carlos Moreno De Caro, wants Uribe to stand in the elections for mayor of Bogotá. It may not be the presidency, but the mayor’s palace is only a short distance from the Nariño Palace, where the President lives.


El Tiempo (Colombia, Spanish)

El Espectador (Colombia, Spanish)


Argentina: politics makes inflation go up

altSome analysts are warning that the decision taken by the government of President Cristina Fernández to take US$6.4 billion from the Central Bank reserves to pay off part of the country’s fiscal debt could spark off inflation. Fernandez wants to avoid public service cuts before next year’s general election.

According to RBS Securities Inc, Argentina’s budget deficit for the current year will be 1.2% of the country’s GDP and the state will need to raise resources to cover the shortfall.

Boris Segura, from RBS Securities told Bloomberg: “The government’s strategy of promoting economic growth in the short-term comes at a very high price in terms of inflation. It will backfire.”



Meeting to prepare COP16

altThe Informal Meeting on New Actions on Climate Change, led by Brazil and Japan, is meeting today in Tokyo to exchange points of view about the Copenhagen summit.

Akihiko Furuya, Japan’s Environmental Minister, said that he had “mixed” feeling about the Copenhagen summit and that its limited achievements “must not be underestimated”.

The environmental director of the Brazilian Foreign Ministry, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, said that the meeting in Tokyo “should take into account the needs, requests and demands that were not heard in Copenhagen”. Delegates from the European Union, the UN, United States, India, South Africa, China and Mexico are attending the meeting.

Yahoo (Spanish)

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