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Energy & Economics
Curitiba, Paraná, Brasilien, Bolsonaro gadgets in Independent Day in Curitiba, 09.07.2022

The Bolsonarism could return to power

by Valerio Arcary

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском Political loyalty to PT-led governments has garnered support among the poorest. However, the Brazilian center-left has lost its hegemony over its social base. Can Bolsonaro return to power in 2026? Yes, he could. We must consider the existence of powerful objective and subjective factors to explain the resilience of the far right, even after the defeat of the semi-insurrection in January 2023. But, first of all, it is wise to recognize the international context of the phenomenon, in which the far right plays an instrumental role: (a) the turbulence in the system of states with the strengthening of China and the strategy of U.S. imperialism to preserve the supremacy of the Troika, for which a tougher protectionist orientation is useful; (b) the disputes caused by the emergence of the environmental crisis and the energy transition, which temporarily disadvantage those who decarbonize more quickly; (c) the shift of bourgeois factions towards the defense of authoritarian regimes that face popular protest and embrace a national-imperialist line; (d) the trend towards economic stagnation and the impoverishment and rightward shift of the middle classes; (e) the faltering crisis of the left, among others. But there are Brazilian peculiarities in the political fragmentation of the country. These are essentially five: (i) the hegemony among the military and the police; (ii) the gravitation of the vast majority of Pentecostal evangelicals towards the far right; (iii) the weight of the Bolsonarism in the most developed regions, the Southeast and South of the country, especially among the new middle-class property owners, or those with very high levels of education who hold executive positions in the private and public sectors; (iv) the leadership of the neo-fascist current within the far right; (v) the support base of the far right among the salaried middle classes with wages between three and five or even up to seven minimum wages. The first four peculiarities have been widely researched, but the last one less so. Studying it is strategic because it may be the only one possible to reverse in the context of a very unfavorable situation of still reactionary social power relations. There are objective factors that explain the distancing, division, or political separation between parts of the working class and the poorest, such as the inflation of private education and health plans, and the increase in income tax, which are threats to a model of consumption and living standard, and subjective factors, such as social resentment and moral-ideological rancor. Both are intertwined and may even be indivisible. But that was not the case when the final phase of the struggle against the dictatorship began, forty-five years ago. The PT was born, supported by metalworkers, public school teachers, oil workers, bankers, and other categories who, compared to the reality of the masses, had more education and better salaries. Lulism, or political loyalty to the experience of PT-led governments, allowed for support among the poorest. However, the left, although it maintains its positions, has lost hegemony over its original mass social base. This tragic reality, due to the fracture of the working class, requires that we analyze it from a historical perspective. The post-war period (1945-1981) of intense growth, during which GDP doubled every decade, and which favored absolute social mobility in Brazil, accompanying accelerated urbanization, seems to have irretrievably passed. Full employment and increased schooling, in a country where half of the active population was illiterate, were the two key factors in improving the lives of this layer of workers. But they no longer exert the same pressure as in the past. It is clear that in the last decade, Brazilian capitalism has lost momentum. It lost 7% of its GDP between 2015/17 and, after the Covid pandemic in 2020/21, it took three years to return to the 2019 levels. Despite all the anti-social counter-reforms - labor, social security - aimed at reducing production costs, the investment rate did not exceed 18% of GDP in 2023, despite the authorization of the Transitional Proposed Constitutional Amendment (PEC) to breach the Public Spending Ceiling. Brazil, the largest industrial park, and consumer market for durable goods in the periphery, has become a nation of slow growth. The increase in schooling has ceased to be such a powerful driving factor. Improving life has become much more difficult. The Brazil of 2024 is a less poor country than in the 20th century, but not less unjust. Of course, there is still a lot of poverty: tens of millions or even more continue suffering from food insecurity, despite the ‘Bolsa Familia’, depending on the economic cycle. But there has been a reduction in extreme poverty without a qualitative reduction in social inequality. The functional distribution of income between capital and labor has experienced variations in the margin. The personal income distribution improved between 2003 and 2014, but it has increased again since 2015/16, following the institutional coup against Dilma Rousseff's government. Extreme poverty has decreased, but half of the economically active population earns no more than two minimum wages. A third of wage earners earn between three and five minimum wages. Inequality has remained almost intact because, among other reasons, the position of middle-income wage earners with higher levels of education has stagnated with a downward bias. Numerous studies confirm that the increase in average schooling is not related to employability, and IBGE surveys paradoxically confirm that unemployment is higher as schooling increases. Most of the millions of jobs created since the end of the pandemic have been for people earning up to two minimum wages, with very low educational requirements. To assess the greater or lesser social cohesion of a country, two mobility rates are considered: absolute and relative. The absolute rate compares the occupation of the parent and the child, or the first activity of each one with their last job. The relative mobility rate checks to what extent the obstacles to accessing jobs - or opportunities for study - that favor social advancement could or could not be overcome by those in a lower social position. In Brazil, both the absolute and relative mobility rates were positive until the 1980s, but the former was more intense than the latter. In other words, we experienced intense social mobility in the post-war period due to the pressure of urbanization and internal migration, from the Northeast to the Southeast, and from the South to the Midwest. But this is no longer the case. This historical stage ended in the 1990s when the flow from the agrarian world was exhausted. Since then, poverty has decreased, but middle-class workers have experienced a more hostile reality. What explains this process is that the social mobility trajectories of the last twenty years have benefited millions of people who lived in extreme poverty, but very few have ascended significantly. Many have improved their lives, but they have only ascended to the step immediately above to the one occupied by their parents. Relative social mobility has remained very low because the material incentives to increase schooling have been lower in the last forty years than they were for the generation that reached adulthood in the fifties or sixties. The rewards that families receive for keeping their children out of work for at least twelve years until they finish high school have decreased compared to the previous generation, despite the greater ease of access. A country may start from a situation of great social inequality, but if social mobility is intense, social inequality should decrease, increasing social cohesion, as happened in post-war Italy. Conversely, a country that had low social inequality compared to its neighbors occupying a similar position in the world may see its situation deteriorate if social mobility becomes regressive, as is evident in present-day France. In Brazil, contrary to what is commonly thought, most of the new jobs in the last ten years have not benefited the most educated sector of the population. Studying more has not reduced the risk of unemployment. In the forty-five years since 1979, average schooling has increased from three to over eight years. But two transformations have occurred that have had a lasting impact on the consciousness of the working youth. The first is that Brazilian capitalism is no longer a society of full employment, as it had been for half a century. The second is that, even with the sacrifices made by families to keep their children studying and delaying their entry into the labor market, employability has concentrated in activities that require little schooling and offer low wages. For the first time in history, children have lost hope of living better than their parents. Unemployment among those with higher education is proportionally higher than among those with lower education, and if the inequality of personal incomes has decreased in the last fifteen years, it is because the average salary of those with middle and higher education has been decreasing. The dizzying expansion of uberization is not surprising. The monthly employment surveys by IBGE in the São Paulo metropolitan region indicate a very slow evolution that, at best, only approximates the recovery of inflation. Nearly forty years after the end of the military dictatorship, the economic and social balance of the liberal democracy regime is discouraging. The reforms carried out by the regime, such as expanding access to public education, implementing the SUS (Unified Health System), the ‘Bolsa Familia’ for the extremely poor, among others, were progressive but insufficient to reduce social inequality. The hypothesis that a more educated population would gradually change the political reality of the country, driving a sustainable cycle of economic growth and income distribution, has not been confirmed. One form of gradualist illusion in the perspective of social justice within the limits of capitalism was the hope that a more educated population would gradually change the social reality of the country. This brings us to the limits of the coalition governments led by the PT, which bet on conciliation with the ruling class to regulate “wild" capitalism. Although there are long-term correlations between schooling and economic growth, no direct effects that are incontrovertible have been identified, even less so if we include the variable of reducing social inequality, as confirmed by South Korea What is incontrovertible is that the Brazilian bourgeoisie was united in 2016 to overthrow the government of Dilma Rousseff, despite the moderation of the reforms carried out. It should not surprise us that the ruling class had no qualms about going to the extreme of manipulating the impeachment, subverting the rules of the regime to take power for their direct representatives, such as Michel Temer. The challenge is to explain why the working class was not willing to fight to defend it. At the beginning of the 1990s, wages represented more than half of the national wealth, and in the last thirty years, they fell to just over 40% in 1999. Despite the recovery between 2004 and 2010, they still remain below the 50% level of 2014. This variable is significant for an assessment of the evolution of social inequality because Brazil in 2024 is a society that has already completed the historical transition from rural to urban (86% of the population lives in cities), and the majority of those under contract, 38 million with labor contracts and 13 million civil servants, receive salaries. Another ten million have an employer but no contract. It is true that there are still 25 million Brazilians who live off self-employment, but they proportionally fewer than in the past [ii]. In summary, the functional distribution of income between capital and labor has not improved. The bourgeoisie has no reason to complain about the liberal regime. Nevertheless, a fraction of the bourgeoisie, such as agroindustry and others, supports neo-fascism and its authoritarian strategy. The data indicating that social inequality has decreased among wage earners is convincing. But not because injustice has decreased, although misery has. This process has occurred because there have been two opposing trends in the labor market. One is relatively new, and the other is older. The first was the rise in wage floors for less skilled and less organized sectors. The minimum wage has been increasing above devaluation slowly but steadily since 1994 with the introduction of the real, accelerating during the years of the Lula and Dilma Rousseff governments. This is a new phenomenon, as the opposite had occurred in the previous fifteen years. The minimum wage is a key economic variable because it is the floor for INSS pensions, which is why the bourgeoisie demands it to be delinked. The economic recovery favored by the global cycle of increased demand for commodities allowed unemployment to fall from the second half of 2005, culminating in 2014 in a situation of almost full employment. The widespread distribution of the ‘Bolsa Familia’ also appears to have exerted pressure on the remuneration of manual labor, especially in less industrialized regions. The second trend was the continued decline in the remuneration of jobs that require middle and higher education, a process that had been occurring since the 1980s. In conclusion, the available data suggest that increasing schooling is no longer a significant factor in social upward mobility, as it was in the past. The political loyalty of the popular masses to Lulism is an expression of the first phenomenon. The lives of the poorest improved during the years of PT governments. The division among wage earners earning more than two minimum wages expresses a social resentment that has been manipulated by Bolsonarism. If the left does not regain confidence in this sector of the workforce, the danger for 2026 is significant. Jacobinlat The article was translated and licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 ES (Atribución-NoComercial-CompartirIgual 3.0 España).

Energy & Economics
Chinese Yuan on the map of South America. Trade between China and Latin American countries, economy and investment

Ahead of the curve: Why the EU and US risk falling behind China in Latin America

by Ángel Melguizo , Margaret Myers

한국어로 읽기 Leer en español In Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Читать на русском As Beijing’s investment approach to Latin America focuses on industries of strategic importance, the EU and US will need to contend with growing Chinese competition China is pouring less foreign direct investment (FDI) into Latin America. But while this may seem like a sign of Beijing’s disinterest in the region, data suggests that Chinese companies are simply recalibrating, not retreating. In doing so, they are becoming important players in sectors key to Western interests: critical minerals, fintech, electric vehicles, and green energy. While the European Union and the United States have long been top investors in Latin America, increased competition with Chinese investment now jeopardises their interests in the Latin American industries that will become most crucial to the digital and green transitions. The number of Chinese projects in Latin America grew by 33 per cent from 2018-2023, compared with the previous five-year period of 2013-2017, even as the total value declined. In other words, Chinese companies are making more investments in the region but are pursuing smaller-scale projects on average. These investments are also more focused on what China calls “new infrastructure“ (新基建), a term which encompasses telecommunications, fintech, renewable energy, and other innovation-related industries. In 2022, 60 per cent of China’s investments were in these frontier sectors, a key economic priority for the country. Beijing also views smaller projects in these industries as incurring less operational and reputational risk, especially compared to some of the large-scale infrastructure investment projects often associated with the Belt and Road initiative. Like China, the investment priorities of the G7 grouping – particularly the US and the EU – are centring on critical minerals, fintech, electric vehicles, and green energy as they aim to grow and reinforce existing economic and political partnerships in Latin America. However, both the US and the EU risk falling short of China’s investment strategy in the region. The US has signalled want for greater economic engagement with the region, especially in sectors of strategic interest. However, to date, US efforts to compete with China remain largely focused on building US domestic capacity in these strategic sectors, even as some US companies, such as Intel, are increasingly focused on including regional partners in their supply chains. Some see opportunity for Latin America in Joe Biden’s landmark legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which is aimed at incentivising the energy transition while also de-risking critical supply chains. For example, certain countries in the region may benefit from preferential market access for their lithium or other key inputs to new energy and technology supply chains. However, the reach of the IRA – which remains a largely domestic policy – does not stretch as far as China’s current investment reshuffle. The Americas Act, announced by members of Congress in March could generate promising new investment opportunities for the region, as it encourages US companies and others to move their operations out of China, to which Latin America stands as a promising replacement. But Americas Act reshoring would primarily incentivise textiles and potentially medical equipment manufacturing, with less overall focus on the range of “new infrastructure” industries that China is prioritising. Chinese interests in information and communication technologies reveal a similar story. While the US has focused its policy on 5G equipment sales, China is undertaking a process of vertical integration in Latin American tech sectors that will dramatically boost its competitiveness. For instance, Chinese company Huawei is rapidly expanding its focus to include data centres, cloud computing, cybersecurity, and other services, especially in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. (Computing accounted for a sizable 41 per cent of total Chinese information technology investment in the region between 2018 and the first half of 2023.) At the same time, Global Gateway, the EU’s proposal for a global investment initiative is yet to reach its potential in the region. Brussels is looking to be Latin America’s partner of choice by building local capacity for making batteries and final products like electric vehicles, as European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen noted last year. Yet even as the EU signals renewed commitment, China is becoming increasingly dominant in the electric vehicle market in Latin America and other regions. China surpassed the US in electric vehicle sales in 2023, with Chinese companies accounting for 45 per cent of total global sales and three times that of Germany’s. What is more, China has invested $11 billion in lithium extraction in the region since 2018, as part of a bid to control a third of global lithium-mine production capacity. Meanwhile the EU has secured some access to lithium as part of trade deals with Chile, alongside other nations, but this pales in comparison to what will be required to fuel the future of EU battery production. Latin America as a whole accounts for an estimated 60 per cent of the world’s lithium reserves. Based on its current levels of engagement in the region, the EU risks falling short of lithium, stalling its battery production and subsequently, its electric vehicle sales, just as China advances in this field. The window is closing for the EU, the US, and other partners looking to both maintain market share and compete with China in these Latin American industries, despite still-high rates of US and EU investment in and trade with the region. Indeed, US automakers increasingly see Chinese competition across the globe as an “extinction-level event.” Ensuring competitiveness in “new infrastructure” and related sectors will require a continuous commitment by partners to building and supporting project pipelines, and to delivering products and services at price points that can compete with China’s subsidised offerings. Both the EU and the US remain critical economic partners for Latin America and are contributing in ways that China is not. Still, complacency risks allowing China to take the lead in emerging industries in the region, some of which weigh heavily in the EU’s green and digital transformation. To protect their own future industries, the EU and the US need to first take a longer look at Latin America’s – especially as China vies for a dominant position.

Energy & Economics
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Libertarian supporters at the inauguration of the new Argentine President Javier Milei

Remarks by the President of the Nation, Javier Milei, at the Economic Forum of the Americas (IEFA), at the Four Seasons, CABA

by Javier Milei

Good afternoon everyone, if we’re talking about exploring opportunities, clearly one would have to address growth issues. The problem is that, when one encounters a deeply unbalanced macro situation, growing becomes very difficult, almost I would say impossible. And especially when for many years, relative prices have been distorted and the economy has been put in an imbalanced situation, trying to live in a sort of permanent boom, when the boom comes it’s much more violent. That is why when the correction of relative prices is carried out, it generates a contraction of activity and employment, and the more violent and prolonged the process of overstimulating the economy, the stronger the contraction becomes. In that sense, Argentina has lived – for more than 20 years – under a wild populist regime, which has led to the destruction of capital, the destruction of productivity, which is why we are in an absolute miserable situation. Yes, because populism is not free; wages, in dollars, on average, in the 1990s, were $1,800 and if you adjusted for American inflation that would imply that Argentinian wages, on average, should be $3,000, something like 3 million pesos. And today, luckily, if we exaggerate and become very optimistic, we could say they are $600, which is false because they are lower. This means that Argentinians in this populist adventure have lost 80% of our income, that is the real catastrophe. The consequence of this is that we have more than 50% in poverty and 10% in extreme poverty, or a little more as well. This means that the country, which produces food for 400 million people and has a tax burden on the food production sector of 70%, meaning that the State takes the food from 280 million people, and has 5,000,000 Argentinians who do not have enough to eat, which is the real catastrophe. But it is not only a catastrophe in terms of growth, well-being, employment, and wages, but the inheritance was very complicated, the inheritance we received. I am going to describe the inheritance we received and the measures we have been taking during these first 100 days of government, and it’s not to mourn it, because the reality is that if there was something that became clear with “the Chief”is that we truly managed to win the elections it was because we were truly in a disastrous situation, because for a libertarian liberal, who openly says it, to come to power, it is precisely because the situation was not going to be an easy one. That means they were going to leave us in a very, very difficult situation, because otherwise the populists would continue to win. And for people to wake up the way they are doing, evidently it had to be a very complicated situation. So, I would almost say, we were always prepared to receive this hot potato, and you can see that, because if we hadn’t taken quick measures, we would have blown up several times already. Specifically, when studying, you review the literature on early crisis indicators, when you have twin deficits, by 4 points of GDP, it's a yellow alert; if you have 8 points of GDP it's not only a red alert, but you're going to take a significant hit. We inherited twin deficits of 17 points of GDP, just to give you an idea of the magnitude of the disaster we received. In other words, the size of the hit was going to be colossal; basically, the inheritance had the worst of the three worst crises in Argentina. It had a monetary imbalance worse than what we had before the "Rodrigazo" in 1975; we had an imbalance in the Central Bank's balance worse than what Alfonsín had at the beginning of 1989, which ended in hyperinflation, and worse social indicators than in 2001, that is, before the crisis of 2002. In other words, literally, it was the sum of all evils. In that sense, that twin deficit, of 7 points of GDP, was composed mainly of a 15-point consolidated fiscal deficit. Of those 15 points, 5 corresponded to the Treasury and 10 corresponded to the Central Bank. Furthermore, to give you an idea of the magnitude of the disaster we received, basically, although during the entire previous government, monetary issuance was used to finance the fiscal imbalance, by 28 points of GDP. Of those 28 points, 13 took place in the last year; not a minor issue if you think about it because the monetary base is already - today - 2.6 of GDP, meaning they left behind a quintupling of prices, and if you also look at the Central Bank's balance sheet having holdings in Leliqs, ranging from 30 to 90 days, meaning 30, 60, and 90 days, all converted into overnight loans, which means there was the possibility of multiplying the money supply by 4 in a day. In that context, moreover, during the first week of December, prices were rising by 1% daily, which means that in annual terms, it is 3700% inflation. If it stopped in the first two weeks, that would be 7500% annually, and if you look at what wholesale inflation was in December, which was 54%, that annualized is 17,000%. So, facing hyperinflation, if the economy had already entered a recessionary path in the second and third quarters last year but was fueled by a lot of monetary issuances to try to force an electoral outcome that did not happen, and in that context, it was essential to avoid hyperinflation. But to avoid hyperinflation, it was necessary to implement a very tough stabilization program, a program that we had and that we were only able to announce on the third day, basically because we had the issue of appointments at the Central Bank. And basically, it had the three fundamental elements that any stabilization program has, which were fiscal adjustment, exchange rate correction, and the definition of a new monetary policy. In that sense, for us, the key was to end monetary issuance so that there would be no monetary validation of the price increases, and that it would not escalate and generate hyperinflation. In that sense, along with the devaluation, which was made because basically all we did was bring the exchange rate to the market exchange rate, adjusted by the PAIS Tax, and in that context, on the fiscal front, we decided to adopt what is called a zero-deficit policy. But a true zero deficit, not a lie, meaning a zero deficit in the line of financial result, that is, after paying interests. This is very important because if we achieve a zero deficit in the financial line, it means that the debt no longer grows. And if the debt does not grow anymore, the debt-to-GDP ratio does not increase more, and therefore one becomes temporarily solvent, and the consequence of this is that the PAIS Tax begins to fall, and the interest rate will decrease. Thus, the interest rate regains its essential function, which is to be a mechanism of inter-temporal coordination and for the growth process to be related precisely to the interest rate, the natural interest rate, that is, the market rate, not the rate that a bureaucrat comes up with by meddling from the Central Bank. I clarify to make it clear, this idea of being tinkering... Once, I remember telling someone: "you are worse than Moreno" because Moreno controlled the prices of today, but you want to control the interest rate, which means you want to control the prices of today and the future. Why? Because the interest rate is the relative price of present goods over future goods. So, this would be much more complicated. So, we also began a process of cleaning up the Central Bank's balance sheet, and the reality is that we believed and aimed to achieve a zero deficit by 2024, and we were truly and absolutely committed to carrying out a fiscal adjustment, which obviously involves a lot of chainsaw and a lot of blender, and if we wanted to do it quickly, we had to use both. There is a lot of blender and much more, actually, of chainsaw because we eliminated public works outright, something of which I am deeply proud, considering that public works are a major source of corruption and theft, which I imagine all decent people should oppose. (APPLAUSE). On the other hand, we also completely eliminated discretionary transfers to the provinces; we also laid off 50,000 public employees, not only that but we also terminated contracts, and you see, now, more contracts are being terminated, and 70,000 contracts will be terminated. We also eliminated 200,000 social programs, irregularly delivered, and at no time did we neglect social policy because – in the midst of it all – we doubled the AUH; we doubled the Food Card; we tripled assistance in the One Thousand Days Plan, that is, for pregnant women, and not only that, but we also quadrupled assistance for school supplies and created a mechanism for middle-income families, who attend low-cost private schools, to have a support mechanism so that the children wouldn't drop out of school, which they attended, and not have to suffer the shock of changing schools, that is, we also had a strong social perspective in what we were doing, and we also did something that, at the time, when Minister Pettovello designed it, the red circle, which is increasingly analog and doesn't understand anything we do, because the digital era has already passed us by, but the interesting thing is that, at one point, Minister Pettovello announced that social programs didn't have to be verified as working, that is, social programs are given and they were required to provide work in return, and obviously, let's say, no one explained how the whole situation was, and then we, knowing how tough the first months were going to be, while the adjustment took place, because apart from when you generate an increase in savings and there is no counterpart of investments, it generates a drop in activity and that makes employment fall and/or real wages fall and that could lead to social tension, which we wanted to cushion. And in that sense, it's very interesting because Minister Pettovello removed the need for them to verify that they had worked. Obviously, the large number of monkeys, and I apologize to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for insulting the monkeys, who look at Argentinian politics, where some obviously respond that they are very angry because they don't have a guideline, but let's say those monkeys – sorry to the monkeys, again – strongly criticized Minister Pettovello for this. What they didn't realize is that it was a way to end intermediaries, where all governments wanted to end intermediaries, but this government did it. So, basically, the people who receive social programs obviously receive a card and that goes to an account. So, they thought that with that they ensured that they would not be extorted, what they didn't know is that you must go to verify if they were working and there, when you were going to receive the verification that they had been working, the Bellibonis of life appeared, taking half of people's income. And they only validated it if you brought them the pretty ones, where they must validate that they were at the rallies. I mean, in reality, they stole half of the money and not only that, but they also had to go and work as picketers, so what you were doing was finance criminals and also ruining the functioning of the streets. In that sense, by eliminating the need for a counteroffer, until April, what happened, well, those criminals could not take away the money that people received from the social program. Therefore, without spending a penny more, this implied doubling the assistance and at the same time, we set up a phone line to report the pressures and extortions of these criminals and we have received close to 300,000 reports and today there are 18,000 cases in the courts. In other words, they are going to pay for having pressured people to go to the rallies. And furthermore, Belliboni threatened us that he was going to gather 50,000 people in the Plaza, so evidently, he planned to bring 100,000. From the Nation, we contributed with 12,000 officers, I don't remember the number that the City contributed, but it was tremendous because there were more police officers than people, as only 3,000 showed up, so it was a resounding success, coordinated at that moment between Minister Bullrich, Pettovello, and the Minister of Infrastructure. Additionally, in the public transportation, there was the announcement that fare-dodging wouldn't be penalized, and the lines for making complaints, and there we also started to organize the streets. In other words, we took away their firepower because now they can't extort people to do this, and we also started to enforce order. Therefore, one of the demands we received as a government, which was to put the streets in order, we are doing it. Because now, whoever blocks the streets doesn't get paid. And moreover, whoever does it... pays for it. And that is working perfectly. Not only that, but while we expected to achieve financial balance over the course of the year, the hard work of each minister allowed us to achieve that financial surplus in the month of January. And obviously, the "red circle" – it was logical – began to predict that we would have very strong deficits in February. And to the dismay of those who live betting against those of us who want to change, we again had a financial surplus in the month of February. Specifically, what we are doing is obtaining a result that, if you take the first two months, equivalent to half a percentage point of GDP, of primary surplus, that annualized would be 6 points. Therefore, we have over-adjusted what we needed, because we only needed to make an adjustment of 5 points of GDP. It's very funny because there are many who say that this is not sustainable, that this, that, when they said that the only thing that could be done was to adjust 1 percentage point of GDP, well, we adjusted 5 percentage points, but of course, that requires a dose of courage that others do not have. But that's not all because there's also the issue of the adjustment we made within the balance of the Central Bank, which generated a 10-point fiscal deficit, quasi-fiscal, and today that number is already 4. That is, with which there is no historical record – worldwide – of a government making an adjustment of 11 points of GDP in three months. And to the dismay of the "Helicopter Club" and all those who wish us ill, especially those whose schemes we've disrupted – which are quite evident, as you'll see them complaining. There's a saying that goes, "where there's a Kirchnerist kicking, there's a scheme that's been cut off," well, it's true. And not just Kirchnerists, but also, look at some other important economic groups. You can imagine who I'm talking about. Aside from that, they're very angry because Elon Musk has arrived. The important thing about this is that faced with the inflation disaster we had when we took office, in three weeks, inflation was at 30 percent, the retail figure, and it was expected to close the month at around 45 percent. I remember one weekend, journalist Gabriel Anello, a great journalist, and an even better person, asked me about inflation, and I told him the truth, that if it stayed at 30, it was a great number because it meant that by the fourth week, prices had stopped rising. And we found that it was 25, meaning there was a retraction in prices that had been fixed from the third week to the second. Then, in January, inflation was 20 percent, and in February, it was 13 percent. Now, when you strip out the statistical carryover effects related to one-time increases, like the tariff adjustments and prepaid health plans, that's equivalent to 6 points, so the true inflation rate for February was around 7%. In other words, we're bringing the inflation rate down to single digits. Furthermore, even if you were to include all these elements in the index, but somehow capture the effect of promotions, which can't be captured by the price index because it's a non-linear pricing scheme and depends on each citizen's consumption, then it's impossible to capture through the CPI due to the effects of "two for one," "three for two," and all those things. So, there's a sort of estimation of how much that weighs, but it can't be documented, and if that effect were considered, despite the previous factors, we would still be in single digits. Furthermore, in the third week of March, the price increase came to a halt, meaning we are moving in the right direction regarding anti-inflationary policy. In fact, some of the criticisms we receive are quite peculiar because, for example, if you look at the evolution of the inflation rate, the speed of the decline is stronger than what occurred during the convertibility period. When you examine the effects of stabilization during convertibility, prices are falling much faster today, or the inflation rate is declining much faster. This also makes sense, and what happens is that during convertibility, the money supply was endogenous, meaning that when there was an increase in the demand for money, the way to validate it was to bring in dollars and sell them to the Central Bank, which implied an expansion of the money supply and allowed for the re-adjustment of relative prices to occur with upward pressure on prices. Notice that since we took office, the monetary base has practically not changed, despite buying $11.5 billion in the market. Not only that, but we also had an expansion of the money supply due to the PUCs that the previous Central Bank administration used to try to control the exchange rate, and there was also expansion due to interest-bearing liabilities. However, the contraction due to BOPREAL has been so significant that the monetary base has barely changed or changed very little. So, we still have the same monetary base of $10 billion, but now on the asset side, we have $11.5 billion more in reserves. Therefore, we are undergoing a very strong process of balancing the Central Bank's balance sheet, and soon we will have net reserves close to zero, whereas the previous government left us with $11.5 billion in negative reserves. Not only are we achieving that, but also when the demand for money is restored, since the nominal money supply is fixed, this implies that to rebuild monetary holdings, people have to sell goods. Therefore, the deceleration of price growth is much more severe than in the convertible scheme because in the convertible scheme, the money supply expanded according to the demand for money and did not conflict with the goods market, which is what causes the inflation rate to fall much faster. I also find it very amusing to those who demand changing the pace of the exchange rate evaluation, which is ridiculous because today the free exchange rate shows no gap. If I take the reference exchange rate from the Central Bank and multiply it by 1.175, which is the PAIS Tax, it would be around 1,060. Therefore, I don't have a gap; I have a negative gap. So, if the market doesn't put it elsewhere, why would I arbitrarily modify it? Based on what? On a calculation made by clueless economists because they make that calculation of the real exchange rate, and the question is, have they never seen that during crisis periods, the real exchange rate is very high, and during boom periods, it is very low? Have they not seen the trend? Have the supply and demand conditions for all goods in the Argentinian and global economy not changed? How can they pretend to be so arrogant as to determine the price of something? Moreover, they average the average. Of what? If with the standard deviation they have, that average is ridiculous. I have an article about that, which says that the real exchange rate is when economists are part of the problem. Moreover, it implies a problem of fatal arrogance or rudeness because it would imply knowing the preferences, technology, and endowments, not only of our economy but also of the rest of the world. It seems quite pathetic to believe that they can have all that information to make all those decisions. Unfortunately, in Argentina, public education - because it's all public, it can be privately managed or state-managed - has done a lot of harm by brainwashing people and leading them to read authors who have truly been disastrous for human history and especially for Argentina. I always joke that if you go to the University of Buenos Aires, to the Faculty of Economics, and ask, "Who is Ludwig von Mises?" They will tell you he's the 9th of Holland, while for others, he's the greatest economist of all time alongside Murray Newton Rothbard. But, of course, they know the bearded one, the German impoverisher Marx, they know him. But beyond this situation, the other funny thing is that if I have the future dollar curve aligned with the Crawling Peg that the Central Bank is implementing, why would I need to devalue? It's incredible, it's ridiculous. They're looking at market data and no. The whole market is wrong, they resemble James. It's incredible because when Keynesians talk about what a great investor James was... He was involved in finance and went bankrupt like a rat and the argument... if you look at Damodaran's Valuation book, there's James’s quote saying he was so arrogant that he said, "It's no use being right when the whole market is wrong. You'll lose anyway." So, everyone was wrong except him, but when they all turned against him, he lost money and went bankrupt. He had to go ask his father, who was friends with Marshall, for help, took a 6-month course, and then got into Cambridge. And when they say he was a great investor, it was all a lie because in reality, as a person with a lot of influence in English politics, he was on both sides of the counter during the War and the Great Depression. I mean, he was in both England and the United States, and Mr. James, the fortune he made, he made through what today would put him in jail, which is the inside trading. That is, he would take information from the American government, which he would use on certain things, and trade with it. It's like the movie Wall Street, Gordon Gekko was a choirboy compared to James. So, it's also another myth that he was a great investor; the guy played with classified information. I mean, nobody else thought of it, but he did. That's why all the regulations on Wall Street came afterward. So, it seems quite comical that we have to change the crawling peg when the entire futures curve is aligned with monetary policy. And in this whole context, given the commitment we have to the deficit zero policy, I often say that I've been tied to the deficit zero policy like Ulysses to the main mast, with the advantage that I have my ministers shooting at the sirens. So, we're going, and we're doing it well. So, from receiving an economy that had a PAIS risk of 2,900 points, today it's already reaching 2,400. Analysts are seeing that we're heading towards 1,000. That's not insignificant because it opens up possibilities for us to enter the capital markets. Our credit rating has been raised, bonds that used to cost $18 are now worth $54, and Argentinian assets have appreciated significantly. When you look at the GDP data today, it's true that it fell in the first quarter, by about 4.5-points, but it's also true that analysts were expecting a 6-point drop. So, we're making a much stronger adjustment than analysts anticipated, and we're falling less. And that also encourages the idea of a "V-shaped" recovery. A very interesting piece of data from the Orlando Ferreres Consultancy emerged, which is that the seasonally adjusted figure for February was positive, just a little bit. So, we're not getting excited about that number, but at least it seems that we'll be finding the bottom at some point in the near future, and many analysts are already talking about a "V-shaped" recovery, which is understandable when you look at how quickly the PAIS risk is falling. At the same time, we are working on the issue of lifting currency controls, and as soon as we manage to clean up the Central Bank's balance sheet, when we can get rid of all the interest-bearing liabilities and put an end to this nefarious practice of remunerating liabilities, what this will imply is that the issuance of money through interest-bearing liabilities will be halted. Simultaneously, another thing we are working on is a reform of the financial system to move towards an integrated system with the capital market and build a banking system that is anti-runs. The truth is, that wouldn't be a problem today because credit to the non-financial private sector is 4-points of GDP, meaning we don't have a financial system; there is no financial system. Therefore, it's interesting that we start building a financial system that doesn't require a lender of last resort. So, if that reform includes integrating the format of banks with a format of the capital market so that we can move towards a system of free banking, that will allow us, when we have that reform, to open the financial system, lift currency controls, and in that context also pass the law against monetary issuance, where basically we consider seigniorage a crime, it's theft, it's counterfeiting, it's fraud. Issuing money is a scam. And in that sense, if there were to be monetary issuance, the President of the Central Bank, the board, the President of the Nation, the Minister of Economy, and deputies and senators who have approved budgets with fiscal deficits would go to jail. Obviously, you might say to me, "But this is Argentina," and surely another criminal will come along and change things and overturn that law. But we will give it the category of non-prescriptible, as if it were a crime against humanity. Therefore, yes, another criminal may come and change these conditions and return to the practice of issuing money, but then another may come and say, "You are a criminal, you did that," and put them in jail. So, we are going for a solution of these characteristics to end this scam of monetary issuance in Argentina. And obviously, as we can continue advancing in this system of free banking, of deep capital markets moving towards a complete system, and we have stopped issuance through rediscounts, issuance through remunerated liabilities, issuance to finance the treasury, we will have a free exchange rate, with the money supply fixed, and if it is necessary for more money to enter the system, it will be entered by the agents themselves. For example, they will open their mattress and start making transactions. Therefore, the monetization of the economy will be done by individuals themselves with the currencies they want to transact. Currency competition has a very interesting consequence. For example, if you're in the oil sector like Alejandro, you can transact with your peers in WTI, or if you're in the gas business, you can transact with others in BTU. If you're in the agriculture sector, you can transact with others using soybeans in Chicago, and so on. Each will have its own currency. This is equivalent to having a basket of currencies where the weights are determined endogenously by the people, instead of being determined by a bureaucrat at their discretion, which they will always get wrong. Even if they did it right, it would have to be this result, and that's what the agents do, so we don't need a bureaucrat sticking their finger in anywhere because they already know where the finger ends up, and often, it ends up being the arm, not the finger, where they stick it. If they had a vaseline business, they would be happier celebrating. So, once we achieve this, we'll be able to lift the currency controls. Currently, we have excess demand in the Foreign Exchange Market and excess supply in the rest of the economy, resulting in low bond prices, high interest rates, and high PAIS Tax. It also means oversupply in the goods market, leading to economic activity deterioration. In fact, our per capita GDP is 15% lower than in 2011, and we have the same number of jobs in the private sector as in 2011. This implies an increase in the number of poor and indigent people, leading to social pressure for support. Naturally, when we close this excess demand in the Foreign Exchange Market, all other excess supplies will close as well. This will result in higher bond prices, lower interest rates, closing the imbalance in the goods market, economic expansion, improvements in real wages, employment, and reduction in poverty and indigence. Then, the economy will start to rebound, despite the corrupt institutions we have and the economy's deep capitalization due to over 20 years of populism. Nonetheless, we can grow and generate genuine economic growth without inflation. And we can do all of this despite the politics, despite all the obstacles, and despite all the garbage they throw at us. But you know what? There's something wonderful, something that even the analog red circle doesn't see. Every DNU issued in Argentina, all of them were aimed at generating regulations, in other words, reducing market freedom, making markets more concentrated, giving businesses to cronies, huge scams, and above all, encroaching on individual freedoms. Remember what they did during the pandemic, this gang of criminals, and yet there were people applauding them for locking us up. No one opposed that deluge of DNUs. Our DNU is the first in history to restore individual freedoms, making markets more competitive. Look at the wonderful thing in the issue of rentals; you couldn't find a property. The number of rental properties doubled, prices in real terms dropped, and the real estate market expanded strongly during the month of February. Look at the interesting things the DNU achieved, which is still in effect, but had a setback in the Senate, which, by the way, isn't so bad because if we only have seven senators and we got 25 votes, it wasn't so bad, there's improvement, there are people betting on change. But obviously, since this also touches on political scams, evidently, since politicians don't want to give up their scams, don't want to lose their privileges, don't want to give up anything, they'd rather sink Argentinians into misery to maintain their caste privileges, that's why they overturned the DNU. And this is very interesting because if I had told you that in two or three months, we were going to be able to order the Argentine ideological spectrum, you would have said I was crazy. And after what happened with the Basic Law and what happened with the DNU, it's wonderful in terms of the principle of revelation; they left all their fingers dirty. On one side, there are the orcs, who are orcs and can't be expected to behave differently because they are orcs. Then there are the people who truly want change, and there are the fraudulent criminals who say they want change, but in reality, they disguise themselves as wanting change but are just as criminal as the orcs, but they are ashamed to be associated with them. So, they hide behind formalities and all those issues, but deep down, they are the same garbage as the orcs. It was very interesting because it became evident, both in the voting in the House, particularly on the articles, and in the Senate the other day, they were exposed. Today, with the vote, it became clear who is against progress, who the criminals are, who are in favor of scams and theft, and who are against returning freedom to the people, against competitive markets, and against letting go of the scams so that people can get their money back. So, it's wonderful because in three months, we ended up unmasking these criminals. And that's also very interesting because it won't come for free in the midterm election; they will pay with their votes, and those criminals will be left out. That will allow us to have a much better midterm election than the one we had last year. That's interesting because we'll have another composition of Congress, and all the reforms that we couldn't push through now, we'll do it at that time, starting on December 11th, 2025. Furthermore, we'll push through the 3,000 pending reforms that we couldn't pass because of this group of criminals who are the obstruction machine, who want the status quo to continue, where you pay the bill, and they benefit. Therefore, I am very optimistic about the future because we are achieving a lot of things despite politics, and people are seeing that. It's very interesting because even though we are facing the largest adjustment in the history of humanity, with 70% of Argentinians acknowledging that they are worse off... There are some very important data points. The first one is that when we took office, only 20% of Argentinians believed they would be better off in a year's time, but in January, that number rose to 30%, in February it climbed to 42%, and today it stands at 50%. This means that despite being worse off in the present, 50% of Argentinians are convinced that we will be better off from now on. Not only that, but 70% of Argentinians are convinced that we will defeat inflation, with 50% of them believing we will do it in the first year and 20% believing we will do it in the second year. When you look at what's happening in terms of a word that represents the sentiment of Argentinians, the word that appears most strongly and fundamentally dominates is "Hope". Yes, people have "Hope", people see that we are going to make it. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and people are seeing it, even though they are going through a tough time now. They've realized that populism leads nowhere, they've realized that the solution lies in embracing the ideas of Liberty, and that's no small feat. If today were the elections in a runoff, we would be getting 58%, that is, it would be 58, 42. Instead of +2, we are +16, and when you ask that group: Who would you vote for in the first round? They would vote for ‘Libertad Avanza’ with 48%, that is, we improved the voting strength by 60% compared to what we obtained. This means that with that alone, we would already win in the first round because the second person in voting intention is Mrs. Cristina Fernández Kirchner with 20%. But not only that, there are 10 points, which if we go for the most rudimentary case, half and half, 48 and 5 = 53. Therefore, what I want to tell you is that there is hope. Do you know why there is hope? Because people woke up, they decided to stop being sheep and decided to be Lions now. Therefore, there is hope because Argentinians are embracing the ideas of freedom, not only that I'm going to tell them that we're going to be better, but they also already know that we're going to be better. Therefore, Argentina does have a future because that future is liberal. Thank you very much.

Energy & Economics
Argentine President Javier Milei takes the stage to speak during the 2024 CPAC Conference at the Gaylord National Resort Convention Center in Washington DC on February 24, 2024

Javier Milei ended a DC - sized deficit in... nine weeks

by Peter St. Onge

Argentina’s Javier Milei is racking up some solid wins, with the fiscal basket case seeing its first monthly budget surplus in 12 years. Apparently, it took Milei just nine and a half weeks to balance a budget that was projected at 5% of GDP under the previous government. In US terms, he turned a 1.2 trillion-dollar annual deficit into a 400 billion surplus. In 9 and a half weeks. How did he do it? Easy: he cut a host of central government agency budgets by 50% while slashing crony contracts and activist handouts. For perspective, if you cut the entirety of Washington's budget by 50%, you'd save a fast 3 trillion dollars and start paying off the national debt. It turns out it can be done, and the world doesn't collapse into chaos.    Milei Making Fast Progress Deficits aren’t the only win Milei's logged. He’s slashed crony regulation, got rid of currency controls, and recently slashed rent prices by removing controls — that actually led to a doubling of apartments for rent in Buenos Aires, slashing rent costs. Unfortunately, it's not all smooth sailing: a bill to privatize corrupt state-owned companies — to effectively de-Soviet the Argentine economy — was blocked by the socialist opposition who serve the government unions who would lose their jobs. Meanwhile, a major Milei reform to make it a lot easier to hire people but would hurt unions was struck down by the high court, which said it must go through Congress. Having said that, for the average Argentinian, these are deckchairs on the Titanic compared to the elephant in the economy: Argentina's hyperinflation. Just last week, the monthly inflation figure came in at 20.6% — on the month. That was a lot better than the outgoing government, but it still left year-on-year inflation at 254%. Why so high? Partly because Milei had to free up the exchange rate to smooth the path to dollarization — for Argentina adopting the US dollar instead of the local confetti. But mostly because the rivers of money printed by the previous socialists continue to run through the battered ruins they left of Argentina's economy. After all, Milei's only been in office for two months.  Argentina’s Dollarization Milei's reforms will continue to be trench warfare. But his inflation progress is going to be key to retaining support. He just notched a big win with the deficit, but it only stops the bleeding — the patient is still on life support. To fully kill Argentina's hyperinflation, Milei would need to make real progress on the dollarization — or, dare we dream, a gold standard. On dollarization, that would involve announcing a months-long window for peso assets to be revalued in dollars. He's been preparing the groundwork so far — the currency controls and deficits are a big help. And he's surely motivated to do it since dollarization in other countries like did it like Ecuador has 90% public support. But it is a complicated process, and if done badly, he'll be dead in the water. The stakes are high. And not just for Argentina: If Milei succeeds, he'll be a model for radically shrinking government in other countries in Latin America, in the rest of the world, and even for our spineless goblins in Washington. Originally published at

Energy & Economics
Picture of Javier Milei

Javier Milei Understands the Road to Serfdom

by Augusto Bottari

Each week we encounter mouthwatering policies implemented by the newly elected libertarian president of Argentina Javier Milei. He has the libertarian community in awe. His arrival to politics with an openly antisystem discourse shook not only the local scene in Argentina but also the rest of the world. But how? The respective libertarian parties in each country barely get enough votes to even appear on the main grid on election night! There are numerous reasons as to why this may be. We libertarians know ourselves well and no one with a minimum of self-criticism is surprised that our current situation in party politics is such. While political culture differs by country, our internal ideological discussions as libertarians are the same. While there’s no formula for liberty, one may find Milei’s Rothbardian pattern interesting. In a world sunk in destructionist trends, many voices of reason emerge. Are any of them following these same steps? Let’s now look at some factors that led Javier Milei to the presidency. Understanding of the Market Economics has been the main problem in Argentina for almost its entire history. Crisis after crisis has kept the country stagnant, and the application of different recipes, even with new parties in power, didn’t seem to produce any results. That is why the public interest has gradually turned to economists for answers. Javier Milei understood that need. He published successful books, articles, and even had his own comedic theatrical play on economic affairs. His repeated appearances on television since 2015 were because he knew how to have channels make money. Whenever he popped up at a talk show, there was a peak in ratings. Everybody wanted him! Despite his eccentric appearance, yelling, and proliferated insults, he exuded a magnetism that filled the viewer with curiosity. Although other valuable libertarian economists were gaining prominence, no one equaled him. Without understanding everything he said, the public still perceived he wasn’t talking nonsense—his speech and arguments were logical and made sense. For instance, on his explanation on the illegitimacy of taxes, he immortalized the phrase, “Are you in favor of stealing?” And he proceeded to explain how taxes were forcibly extracted, just like in a robbery. He’d even conclude by referring to Lysander Spooner’s analogy: “At least the robber has more honor than the politician; he shows his face and risks his life!” Education As Murray Rothbard says in the last chapter of For a New Liberty, A prime and necessary condition for libertarian victory . . . is education: the persuasion and conversion of large numbers of people to the cause. Libertarians must, therefore, engage in hard thinking and scholarship, put forth theoretical and systematic books, articles, and journals, and engage in conferences and seminars. On the other hand, a mere elaboration of the theory will get nowhere if no one has ever heard of the books and articles; hence the need for publicity, slogans, student activism, lectures, radio, and TV spots, etc. Milei’s simplicity in explaining the libertarian philosophy and economic principles from an Austrian perspective made people learn. Watching the night talk show with Milei’s presence wasn’t just another moment of mind-numbing TV garbage: it became an eye-opening experience. Moreover, he used to always carry a book with him. Whether it was one of his own or Economics in One Lesson or The Fatal Conceit. At times he’s been seen with Chaos Theory or Defending the Undefendable. In each of his appearances one could write down several authors or book titles, which he’d also often share in social media. The mention of names such as Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, or Friedrich Hayek on prime time was not in vain. Genuine Followers Young people composed his main harvest of followers. Accustomed to growing up seeing the same people in power, and a not-so-different opposition, they found in Milei’s speech a flame of hope which illuminated a possible future with features similar to wealthy countries. Followers began to mention Milei in conversations with their peers, behaving like someone newly converted to a religion and wanting everyone to know. Countless users began to create content on libertarianism, from quotes, infographics, and videos spreading the ideas, which soon became very popular. That is how the demonization of the ideas of liberty and capitalism was lifted. Social Media These mentioned followers became key, especially during the elections. Their exceptional communication and research skills served to unmask, expose, and humiliate politicians and supporters 24/7. The tireless work was impressive. It took the form of memes, slogans, or trending topics. X’s importance as a free-speech platform was extraordinary, unlike during Milei’s 2021 campaign for Congress where his main supporters were banned on Twitter and came back each time with a new account. The political class had fallen behind. It had no chance in the virtual world, which had been taken over years ago by libertarians while they neglected the people. Despite Milei’s opposition using public funds to plaster the streets with their faces and paying for highly invasive and disturbing ads against him on social media, his organic and decentralized activists communicated his message unceasingly, resisted endless attacks, and discredited operations. Paradigm Shift The then-current government, whose banners were “the people” and the working class, in practice dedicated itself to multiplying poverty. They themselves lived like kings in total dissonance with the needs of the common people. Their main followers are composed of themselves and people who benefit from the state’s parasitism machinery: union leaders, government employees, corporate media, “artists” and “intellectuals.” The working people, increasingly distanced from those who claim to represent them, resonated with Milei’s ideas. Why? Because they carry civilization and progress upon their shoulders. The political class was losing credibility, and with it the elections, for not seeing this change replicating all over the world. Today the political class at a global level is using different motives to drive the structure of systematic stealing. Race, immigration, climate change, digital currency—you name it. These ideas have been implanted by the elites through prominent figures and the media, financed by public funds. The more radical their attempts, the more they demonstrate their desperation. We have the opportunity for what seems to be a new beginning in the world with a subtle comeback of the ideas upon which civilization rests. If Mises called the twentieth century the century of socialism, may we be able to call the twenty-first century the century of libertarianism.

Energy & Economics
Paper based election process in Guatemala

Can Regional Governance Help Safeguard Guatemala’s Democracy?

by Tiziano Breda

Guatemala’s politics has recently been shaken by the victory of anti-corruption crusader Bernardo Arévalo de León, which has brought fresh air of hope in a country ridden by high levels of poverty, corruption and criminal violence. The result fits with the wave of anti-incumbent victories in Latin America: it is the 16th country in the region where an opposition candidate has been elected president in the past five years, out of 17 elections. But like or even more than in other countries, the electoral results are being contested by an astounded political and economic establishment unwilling to give its power away. Vicious attempts by judicial authorities to prevent Arévalo and his party’s congressmembers from taking office have raised domestic and international concerns that Guatemala may also join the growing list of Latin American countries experiencing setbacks in their democratic standards. The Organization of American States (OAS), a virtually moribund regional body that has proven unable to solve political crises and has at times even exacerbated them, has come back to the fore as the political forum where to coordinate a regional response. Will the Guatemalan case revive the fortunes of the OAS and will international accompaniment be enough to safeguard democracy in the country?  An impunity-prone status quo Guatemala is the biggest country in Central America and with the largest economy. It is also, however, among the most unequal, with around half of the population below the poverty line and suffering from high rates of malnutrition, especially among indigenous people, which account for 40 per cent of its population. It also hosted one of the most successful anti-corruption experiments in Latin America – the United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG, 2007–2019) – which contributed to dismantling over 70 criminal networks encrusted in the country’s institutions involved in violence, drug trafficking and extortion activities. The zenith of this sweeping anti-corruption crusade was reached in 2015, when then-President Otto Pérez Molina eventually heeded the calls to resign by thousands of Guatemalans who protested in front of the presidential palace for months, after a CICIG-led investigation found him and his vice president involved in a large-scale corruption scheme involving the state customs. The lull, however, did not last long. Pérez Molina’s successor, Jimmy Morales, a former comedian, turned his back on the CICIG after the latter started investigating his brother and his son, and eventually shut it down in 2019. Since then, the country has experienced serious setbacks in its democratic institutions, as a coalition of political, economic and military elites (commonly dubbed as the Pact of Corrupts) scorched by CICIG-led investigations strived to re-establish an environment of impunity through the co-optation of the judiciary. The Attorney General Consuelo Porras, appointed by Morales and confirmed by his successor, the incumbent Alejandro Giammattei, turned out to be the most strenuous defender of these interests. Her office buried investigations into the president’s alleged acceptance of bribes by Russian contractors, and instead persecuted prosecutors, judges and journalists who had championed anti-corruption efforts, leading more than 30 of them to flee the country and jailing others on abuses of power charges. The boomerang effect of a tilted electoral game In the run-up to the 2023 election, growing popular disenchantment with the political class morphed into an anti-system sentiment. Authorities reacted by excluding from the race a number of well-polling candidates for alleged irregularities in their or their parties’ enrolment. However, this strategy boomeranged, and channelled the protest vote to the only remaining candidate that was perceived as external to the system: Bernardo Arévalo de León, running on an anti-corruption ticket for a tiny party called Semilla. Arévalo, who was polling below 3 per cent before the first electoral round, not only made it to the second round, but then obliterated the other run-off contender, former first-lady Sandra Torres from the UNE party, in a landslide victory on 20 August with an over 20 points lead. Arévalo’s party also obtained 23 seats in the upcoming legislature, more than three times its 2019 performance. Overall, the Guatemalan election results align with a regional trend of anti-incumbent victories in recent years, although in this case the winner is a progressive champion of democracy, instead of an anti-system populist, as had happened in El Salvador, Costa Rica and elsewhere in the region. The legal fightback against change Semilla’s unexpected result prompted the reaction of those same forces that had tried to channel the vote toward less dangerous candidates and that now put up a number of legal challenges to undermine the credibility of the election and disqualify the president-elect’s party. This strategy pivots around accusations of wrongdoings in the creation of Semilla that would erase its status as a legitimate party, and claims of fraud. Right after the first round, the Attorney General’s office opened investigations into alleged irregularities (fake signatures) upon Semilla’s creation, aiming to strip it of its legal status; this was coupled with accusations of abuse of power directed to Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s magistrates that certified the results. As a result, while Arévalo has been confirmed as president-elect, the Congress has already proceeded to strip the Semilla deputies elected in the 2019 elections – including Arévalo himself – of their seats. In parallel, nine parties obtained by the Supreme Court, allegedly close to the incumbent executive, a ruling in favour of a recount of the votes of the first round, questioning the findings of national and international observation missions, which did not report any broad irregularities. The recount ended with the officialisation of the results in mid-July, eventually assigning a few more votes to Semilla than originally reported. Yet, after the second round, Torres refused to concede and denounced a supposed fraud, despite the unequivocal margin separating her from Arévalo. Recently, the Attorney General’s office prosecutors even stormed the facilities where ballot boxes where stored, opening 160 of them, a move that electoral authorities considered illegal. After the prosecutors’ raid, Arévalo has eventually decided to halt the transition until the Attorney General resigns and ceases the political persecution. Domestic and international outcry The legal attempts to dismiss the will of change of Guatemalan voters have sparked a wave of public outcry in the country. It has also not gone unnoticed in the international arena. The electoral observation missions of the OAS and the European Union repeatedly expressed their rejection of any attempt to defy the electorate’s choice. The OAS Permanent Council discussed the situation in Guatemala and mandated the Secretary General to monitor the situation closely during the transition. The latter warned that the suspension of Semilla is a violation of the due process that Guatemala, being part of the Inter-American system, is mandated to respect. Strong public messaging also came from the US: government representatives, from President Biden to a bipartisan group of Congress members, have reiterated both privately and publicly their concerns and called on Guatemalan judicial authorities to stop undermining the country’s democracy. These domestic and international pressures may have contributed, together with the blatant arbitrariness of the judicial measures taken so far, to creating some fissures in the establishment. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal, an accomplice in the run-up to the election with the disqualification of candidates, has now turned into a strenuous defender of the election results and proceeded to officialise them despite the legal challenges and Torres’s party’s refusal to concede. At the political level, two ministers (Economy and Energy and Mining) resigned from their posts, while a few politicians from across the spectrum decried the obstructionism against Semilla. Most notably, a few private sector chambers and even the country’s largest business confederation, known as CACIF, issued public statements in defence of the integrity of the vote and calling on institutions to let the electoral process come to completion. Against this backdrop, President Giammattei is believed to be playing a double game. In public, he has opened the door to Arévalo for an orderly transition, inviting OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro to oversee the process. At the same time, however, he has remained silent on the apparent political persecution of Semilla by the judiciary and legislature. The need to keep Guatemala in the spotlight Notwithstanding, the remnants of the current political establishment appear to be eager to defy the public outcry within and without the country. The fate of Consuelo Porras, in particular, seems intrinsically linked to the preservation of the status quo by reducing as much as possible Arévalo’s margin of action. While Arévalo’s victory seems hard to overturn at this stage, this cannot be ruled out completely until all claims of fraud are dismissed and the transition to the new administration is completed in January 2024. This would be a dismal scenario, which would likely lead Guatemala into the abyss of a full-blown coup d’état, with unpredictable consequences in terms of social turmoil and international isolation. At the same time, however, the legal cases against Semilla are likely to advance, unless they are denounced as political persecution by the widest array of sectors in the country. The suspension of the party would affect Arévalo’s ability to set the legislative agenda, already quite limited from the start, having Semilla won only 23 out of the 160 seats. Constant engagement of regional governments and statements from political and economic sectors should help prevent this. The task is particularly delicate for the OAS, whose legitimacy has been tainted by its inability to craft a coordinated, principle-based response to some of the political and electoral crises that have affected the region in recent years, particularly Nicaragua, Venezuela and Bolivia. Critics have accused the body of approaching crises with an ideological bias: it has occasionally dismissed complaints of undemocratic moves in such countries as Brazil, El Salvador and Honduras when they were under conservative rule, while advancing allegations of fraud without solid evidence, which in turn fuelled tensions in Bolivia in 2019. Guatemala offers an opportunity for the OAS to wash away the perception of being politically biased and reposition itself as the most suitable regional forum to handle the crises arising from violations of the principles enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter. To do so, however, concrete results are needed. Regional governments will have to agree on the reputational and diplomatic costs that the actors trying to overturn the election may encounter, and be prepared to enforce them. These may include scaling down cooperation with judicial authorities and, if Arévalo were eventually prevented from taking office, the activation of the democratic clause of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which may lead to the suspension of Guatemala from the OAS. Additionally, they should coordinate closely with the EU and other partners to maintain Guatemala in the spotlight and engage regularly with Guatemalan authorities to convey their commitment to the cause for democracy in the country. Intermittently monitoring the situation or simply paying lip service may not only keep judicial actions unscathed, thus setting a dangerous precedent in Guatemala’s hardly-fought democracy, but also embolden corrupt actors across the Western Hemisphere to follow Porras’s footsteps.

Energy & Economics
President of France Emmanuel Macron

A north-south lifeline: What Macron hopes to accomplish with the Summit for a New Global Financing Pact

by Dr. Célia Belin , Lauriane Devoize

France is looking to give political impetus to reform of the global financial architecture. Others should swing in behind its gambit  Almost 500 days into the war in Ukraine, Europeans and Americans are anxious about their relationship with the global south. While the transatlantic allies are united, they have been left perplexed by the often tepid reaction of third countries to Russia’s aggression. And the gap between north and south appears only to be growing. The global crises of the last five years – covid-19, Russia’s war on Ukraine, inflation, climate change – have pushed Europeans’ focus inward, while these challenges have plunged much of the developing world into economic decline alongside exacerbating energy and food insecurity. Worse, some of the solutions put in place to overcome these crises – border closures, sanctions, re-shoring – have had major negative impacts on the global south. Meanwhile, the multilateral system has spiralled further into crisis, accelerated by the effects of the US-China rivalry, and has failed to provide relief to developing and vulnerable countries. More deeply affected by this ‘polycrisis’ than the global north, they have much less resource to tackle its consequences: dozens of low-income and medium-income countries now face crippling debt. To start to address these problems, President Emmanuel Macron is holding an ambitious event that seeks to focus political attention on the injustices and inequities of the current global financial architecture. Hurriedly decided on after last year’s COP27 in Egypt, his Summit for a New Global Financing Pact will bring leaders, civil society advocates, private actors, and international financial institutions together in Paris. The gathering’s goal is to find ways to build a more inclusive and equitable financial system, one that enables the climate transition and promotes biodiversity without jeopardising development. From its colonial and post-colonial history, and with its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, France maintains many close relationships on other continents. In response to brewing discontent and despair, Macron has stressed the need to address global south grievances, using frequent speeches to do so, whether in New York, Washington, or Bratislava. He is now once again engaged in an ambitious yet hasty endeavour: inspired by COP21 in Paris in 2015, the president believes diplomatic elbow grease goes a long way in mobilising around global issues, and he has made good use of it. As early in his first presidency as 2018, he launched the Paris Peace Forum, an annual event bringing together leaders and civil society to work towards a revived and innovative multilateral order. After President Donald Trump rescinded the Paris Agreement on climate change, Macron launched summit after summit on aspects of the issue (One Planet, One Ocean, and One Forest). To tackle the impact of covid-19 on Africa, in May 2021 France hosted the summit on the financing of African economies. This time, the goal is to reinvent the global financial architecture. Ever since the paradigm shift brought about by the pandemic, Macron has argued for a new approach – a “Paris consensus,” in a reference to the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change – to replace the market-orientated Washington consensus with net zero, sustainable economic development goals. In his view, the metrics used in the past are “not valid any more to fight against poverty, for the decarbonisation of our economy, and for biodiversity”. He is therefore pushing to reform the global architecture to incentivise net zero investments for a sustainable future. Macron’s idea behind the new summit is to give a political boost to an issue all too often discussed only on a technical level, and in silos. No one expects an actual “pact” to be signed, but France – along with the summit’s steering committee, which is composed of states and international organisations – is aiming for a political declaration that would muster firm commitments from world leaders, and force consequences down the line. And world leaders are indeed showing up: the secretary general of the United Nations, the new president of the World Bank, the president of the European Commission, the US Treasury secretary, the president of Brazil, the German chancellor, and the Chinese prime minister are all expected to attend, along with 40 heads of state, one-third of whom will be from Africa. As so often before, Macron hopes to be transformational in record time. The summit planning started with high ambitions, but sources say it has had to adapt due to a lack of time and focus. Initially launched around the Bridgetown initiative of Barbados prime minister Mia Mottley, France had aimed to include topics other than climate, such as health and poverty, and sought a G20 presidency endorsement by India. Unfortunately, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi will be in Washington during the summit and, despite the fact that India is co-chairing the summit’s steering committee and the expected presence of Lula and Li Qiang, the event may not in the end be a show of force for the global south. NGOs have been privately critical of the lack of inclusivity and transparency of the working groups, and disillusionment is running high. Some concrete results could still emerge from the four working groups, if negotiations are successful. Among the ambitions floated are debt suspension clauses for natural disasters, reallocation of special drawing rights, scaling up private capital flows through improved de-risking instruments, freeing up more concessional resources from multilateral development banks, and new international taxes (such as a levy on maritime transport). In an increasingly fragmented world, a united political declaration in support of these changes at the conclusion of the summit would be a win for everyone. However, a more modest but attainable goal from the summit would be the emergence of a “coalition of ambition,” in which a number of committed countries, or “champions,” take on specific challenges and sustain the diplomatic effort beyond the summit in Paris. Many other opportunities to build on momentum created in Paris will shortly follow: the African Climate Action Summit, the SDG summit, the New Delhi G20 Leaders Summit, and COP28 in Dubai. Since this summit has no mandate, it can only be a success if it is able to agree actions that then endure. For global south countries, the gathering should in turn create opportunities to strengthen support for their demands in all these upcoming forums. The success of the Paris summit will also depend on the capacity of states and other major players to take on the challenge – including Europeans. Germany is backing France in this effort, but most Europeans have yet to show their commitment to the process. Thirteen world leaders have penned a declaration of good will in an op-ed ahead of the summit, although without offering specific pledges or a timeframe for results. Unfortunately, the American president will not attend the summit, nor will the Italian, Canadian, or British prime ministers. The choice to stay away may stem from irritation at yet another grandiose French summit. But rich industrialised countries have no excuse for lacking interest in the dire situation of developing and vulnerable countries. It also puts responsibility on France to continue to move the ball forward after the summit – and not be content with the impression that it tried. Even if France may indulge in summit-mania, and however imperfect the event will inevitably turn out to be, Europeans and Americans must realise that France’s solo act is worth supporting. With clear steps taken by France ahead of the summit, such as the reallocation of 30 per cent of its special drawing rights (about €7.8 billion), Macron is defending his concept of an effective multilateralism in action, one that delivers. With Russia seeking to peel global south states away from the West, Europeans and the United States need to take up concrete actions that correct the imbalances of the current system and offer developing countries greater voice and power. By finally accepting that the institutions set up after the second world war must change, they would enhance their own credibility among global south states while escaping multilateralism limbo. The only way to salvage international cooperation – and to push back against the narrative of an inevitable north-south polarisation – is to demonstrate that it bears fruit for all.

Energy & Economics
round icons with European Union and Venezuela flag exchange rate concept

A Critical Juncture: EU’s Venezuela Policy Following the War in Ukraine

by Anna Ayuso , Tiziano Breda , Elsa Lilja Gunnarsdottir , Marianne Riddervold

The war in Ukraine accelerated a global energy crisis just as the world was beginning to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Venezuela has the largest crude oil and the eighth largest gas reserves in the world and can therefore offer an alternative for Europe to replace its fossil fuels imports from Russia. The problem is, of course, that EU–Venezuela relations have been in a sorry state since the EU denounced President Nicolás Maduro’s re-election in 2018 as neither free nor fair. Since then, the EU has adopted targeted sanctions against the Venezuelan government, thus adding to the maximum economic pressure that former US President Donald Trump imposed on Caracas in an attempt to fatally weaken Maduro. This approach has yielded no result in that respect, and the war in Ukraine, and its energy security implications for the EU, creates the occasion for a revision of EU and US strategies. The hope is that a “more carrots, less sticks” approach could convince Maduro to engage in meaningful dialogue with the opposition. The EU must seize this opportunity of rapprochement and readiness and push forward the recommendations put forth in its electoral observation mission’s report of 2021, reconcile internal disputes to focus on the big picture, give momentum to dialogue efforts, consolidate support among regional allies and rekindle its efforts towards humanitarian relief.A failed pressure strategyVenezuela used to be among the most prosperous countries in Latin America, but is now home to one of the largest external displacement crises in the world next to Syria and Ukraine, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. When he came into power in 2013, President Maduro inherited from his predecessor Hugo Chávez a country in economic turmoil, high in debt and on an increasingly authoritarian track. The slump in oil prices in 2014 added fuel to the fire, prompting a wave of unrest to which Maduro responded with repression. He then tried to replace the democratically elected National Assembly, which had an opposition majority, with a loyalist Constituent Assembly in 2017. But it was after the 2018 presidential election, when Maduro secured a second term in what are widely considered rigged elections, that Venezuela descended into a full-blown political crisis. Juan Guaidó, speaker of the National Assembly, used a constitutional clause to declare himself interim president until new elections could be held, backed by more than 60 countries worldwide. In the following years, various negotiations attempts between Maduro and the opposition failed to solve the country’s political dispute, prompting fatigue in the opposition ranks while eventually consolidating Maduro’s authoritarian grip. As the political crisis unfolded, the EU and the United States responded with sanctions against the Maduro regime, although with different goals. The Trump administration pursued regime change through a maximum pressure strategy. Instead, the EU combined targeted restrictive measures with humanitarian aid and support for dialogue and mediation efforts. EU efforts have been hampered by: internal divergences, especially on the recognition of Guaidó as interim president; multipolar competition and the perceived excessive proximity with the United States; and regional fragmentation and polarisation. Sanctions have failed to produce substantial change as Russia and China, and to some degree Iran and Turkey, have continued trade (including in oil) and strengthened economic ties with the Maduro regimeHow has the EU mitigated constraining factors on its policy?There have been two issues over which the EU struggled, even failed, to reach consensus. The first was the recognition of Guaidó as interim president. While most member states eventually did so, Italy and Cyprus dragged their feet, until the issue became irrelevant in early 2021 when the term of the National Assembly of which Guaidó was speaker expired. EU divergences stemmed from the political composition of member state governments and their view of the EU’s role in the world. Left-leaning governments in the EU tended to frame the recognition of Guaidó as a US-led, “interventionist” initiative, while right-leaning governments advocated a confrontational approach to Maduro, including through the recognition of Guaidó. It was a missed opportunity to show EU unity and put the spotlight on the EU’s difficulty to reach agreement over its foreign policy. Second, internal disagreements within EU institutions and member states revolved around the opportunity to send an electoral observation mission to local and regional elections in November 2021, out of fear that this could whitewash the Maduro regime. The mission eventually garnered enough support to be deployed and was later largely perceived as a success by EU member states. The EU electoral observation mission (EOM) produced a report with recommendations that have become the benchmark for the conditions for a free and fair election in the agenda of the Mexico-based talks between the government and the opposition. The region’s fragmented and polarised approach to the Venezuelan crisis has been another factor hampering EU efforts. Trump’s push for regime change, embraced by most Latin American countries led by right-wing governments in 2019–20 (crystallised by the creation of the so-called Lima Group) exacerbated geopolitical tensions in the region. The EU-backed creation of the International Contact Group (ICG) in 2019, which aimed to promote dialogue but did not bear fruit because it coincided with the recognition of Guaidó and the EU's rapprochement with the Lima Group. Regional polarisation was epitomised by the appointment of a Guaidó representative in the Organization of American States, despite Maduro’s decision to withdraw from the pan-American body, and the prolonged stalemate in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean states (CELAC). The EU was dragged into a polarisation spiral where its policies were associated with those of the Trump administration, even though they had different objectives. Besides, Trump’s policy of maximum pressure as an instrument for democratisation proven ineffective in a context of geopolitical competition with China and Russia. Their support for the Maduro regime allowed it to survive, even though at the cost of the country’s descent into economic disaster. Russia in particular also invested political capital by participating in the Mexico talks as the government’s accompanying country.A changed scenario, a new strategy?President Biden’s election and Latin America’s shift towards the left created openings for a more constructive international engagement with Venezuela, which have further widened after the outbreak of the Ukraine war, providing the EU with a new set of foreign policy options. The EU and the US, together with Canada and the United Kingdom, have signalled a willingness to agree to conditional sanctions relief. The Biden administration has permitted American oil company Chevron to resume limited oil operations in Venezuela in exchange for an agreement by Maduro and the opposition to continue dialogue after a year of stalemate. The talks have made no progress other than an agreement to turn up to 3 billion US dollars of frozen government fund into aid to be distributed by the UN and the International Red Cross to alleviate the domestic humanitarian predicament. Although a more concessions-based foreign policy towards Venezuela may not lead to the regime change some have hoped for, it could still make Maduro willing to allow for fairly free and democratic elections in 2024, when his second term comes to an end. However, it is clear that the humanitarian crisis will not be over shortly, and the implementation of the 2022 agreement between government and opposition is proceeding slowly. Increased EU humanitarian aid could help promote goodwill in Venezuela and in the region, and thus is not solely to be considered an altruistic gift, but an important part of the EU’s foreign policy arsenal. Finally, Venezuela and the broader region of Latin America and the Caribbean is not only important due to its natural resources, but an important political partner for the EU in its bid to defend a rule-based global order. This has become ever more evident since the war on Ukraine, which has seen some Latin American countries refusing to pick sides. Over the last few years the political landscape in Latin America changed with the election of leftist presidents in almost all countries in the region, with interest in seeking a negotiated response to the crisis in Venezuela. The International Conference on Venezuela convened by Colombian President Gustavo Petro in Bogotá in April 2023 is an illustration of the region’s renewed engagement on the issue. The upcoming EU–CELAC summit in July, the first in eight years, is an opportunity to engage with regional partners to foster political cooperation on global and regional issues, including Venezuela. The EU’s pragmatic rapprochement with Venezuela offers the prospect for some progress in the negotiations between government and opposition, but it should not be perceived as a relegation of EU’s commitment to democratic norms. The EU should not waste the opportunity to step up its diplomatic engagement with the region and coordination with the US and like-minded countries to ensure that Maduro concedes a real level playing field for the 2024 elections while at the same time pursuing its strategic goal of diversifying energy supplies. This article is brief published under JOINT, a project which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 959143.

Energy & Economics
Logo of Global Gateway Project

Digital diplomacy: How to unlock the Global Gateway’s potential in Latin America and the Caribbean

by Angel Melguizo , José Ignacio Torreblanca

If the Global Gateway is to compete with the Belt and Road Initiative, it must go big, green, digital, and ethical. And it can prove it in Latin America The European Union launched its Global Gateway initiative in December 2021, but its results have not yet matched the expectations it raised. If it is to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Global Gateway must be bold, green, digital, and ethical. The digital alliance that the EU is setting up in Latin America and the Caribbean provides an opportunity for the EU to put its money where its mouth is. On 14 March, the executive vice-president of the European Commission, Margrethe Vestager, and several ICT ministers from Latin America and the Caribbean established the EU – Latin America and Caribbean (EU-LAC) Digital Alliance – one of the European Commission’s initiatives launched in the framework of the Global Gateway programme. The alliance will focus on three pillars: investments in connectivity, aimed at closing the gap in internet access between the region and the EU, and within and between the countries of the region; cybersecurity, where despite the great progress made by the region, significant gaps remain that threaten citizens, businesses, and sovereign states alike; and digital rights, a field of enormous potential, as both regions share a human-centric approach to digital transformation. The project is of major strategic importance and potential for the EU. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has given new prominence to the EU’s relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean. The region comprises 33 countries which are key to sustaining a rules-based multilateral order and whose votes China and Russia have courted in the United Nations General Assembly. There are also massive investment opportunities in the green and digital sectors in Latin America and the Caribbean, making it an important region in the EU’s search for strategic autonomy. However, relations between the two regions have gone through numerous ups and downs since leaders first spoke of a “strategic association” at an EU-LAC summit in Rio in 1999. In recent years, the EU financial crisis, the United States’ lack of interest in the region, and the covid-19 pandemic have allowed China and, to a lesser extent, Russia to expand their presence in the region: while EU trade with the region doubled between 2008 and 2018, China’s trade multiplied tenfold thanks to its strategic approach through the BRI, which has added to China’s already significant foreign direct investment flows and loans to the region. The EU is seeking to revitalise this relationship. But for the EU-LAC partnership to be successful, it is essential that these political agreements and declarations are accompanied by a meaningful investment agenda and package, as well as a clear roadmap for implementation. So far, the EU’s approach to the region has focused on programmes such as the Bella submarine cable connecting Europe and the region and the Copernicus Earth observation satellite system, which lack the scale to change perceptions of the EU. For its part, the Global Gateway programme is far from mobilising the €300 billion in investments initially announced, and the €3.5 billion  earmarked for investment in Latin America is insufficient to alter the strategic balance in a region where the required investment just for connectivity is estimated at $51 billion. The digital transition that the EU and the countries of the region want to promote could be the catalyst for a change of step in relations The digital transition that the EU and the countries of the region want to promote could be the catalyst for a change of step in relations. But for this to be feasible, certain conditions must be met. Firstly, if the Global Gateway is to be attractive for the region and effectively compete with the BRI, it must rebalance its geographical focus to pay more attention to the region. At present, 60 per cent of projects are focused on sub-Saharan Africa, while only 20 per cent are devoted to Latin America, and another 20 per cent to Asia. It should then focus more efforts on digital initiatives: currently, energy and green transition initiatives make up 80 per cent of projects, while digital initiatives account for 15 per cent and social initiatives for 5 per cent. The projects identified in the digital field are almost exclusively focused on connectivity issues, such as financing fibre, cable, satellite, and 5G investments. Closing connectivity gaps is urgent. Currently, over 35 per cent of Latin Americans still do not have access to a fixed broadband internet connection, and 20 per cent do not have mobile broadband access  – twice the average for OECD countries – concentrated in the lowest income quintile and rural and remote areas. However, the digital agenda in 2023 must be one of transformation, not just connectivity. It should therefore include issues such as cybersecurity, the digitisation of public administrations and services (including health, migration, justice, and taxation), training and education in key skills, the regulation of artificial intelligence, and data governance. Alongside the deployment of 5G and investment in digital, technical, and soft skills, this would bring the financing requirements for the region closer to $300 billion, which is 3 per cent of regional GDP. To address these geographical and thematic imbalances, the region therefore requires a more intensive European investment plan. The Global Gateway envisages mobilising private financial resources by setting up co-financing mechanisms from development banks, in particular the European Investment Bank, the CAF bank, Central American Bank for Economic Integration, and the Inter-American Development Bank. Despite the current meagre projections, it should be possible to mobilise the funding. After all, the EU is the leading foreign direct investor in Latin America, its telecom companies are global players, it plays a pioneering role in digitalisation in banking, insurance, infrastructure, energy, public services, industry, agriculture, and mining, and it holds first-class cybersecurity and hybrid threats capabilities. The launch of the digital alliance is expected to be accompanied by a business meeting of key Euro-Latin American companies, which, if confirmed at high-level, is a promising sign.   The EU’s digital agenda is attractive to third parties compared to China’s BRI because it includes green, social, and ethical components, making it an ally of the green transition, not a competitor. Many of its initiatives contribute to both digital and green goals, including the development of the ‘internet of things’ for the design of smart cities, the use of big data and cloud data to monitor the temperature of the oceans, and artificial intelligence applied to the protection of biodiversity. Europe’s rights-based, human-centric approach to digitalisation should also appeal to Latin America and the Caribbean. The region is seeking to align its approach with that of the EU, with a special focus on social, gender, and territorial inequalities and inclusiveness, which are not Chinese priorities. The cost of these inequalities is huge: achieving full gender parity in Latin America would expand the region’s GDP by $2.6 trillion – the equivalent of Brazil’s economy. Closing the internet access gap and investing in skills will help reduce these inequalities in the region, especially among women and in rural areas, and help younger generations. The Global Gateway has been criticised for over-promising and under-delivering. The EU-LAC Digital Alliance offers an opportunity for the EU to show the worth of the Global Gateway and demonstrate that it can offer an alternative to the Chinese Digital Silk Road.

Energy & Economics
Protesters in Honduras filing the streets calling for president's resignation

This Time, Try Supporting Honduran Democracy

by Mark L. Schneider , Aaron Schneider

Imagine a future in which countries desperate for investment give up a patch of their territory and subcontract governance to a board chosen by a foreign corporation. Sound like the East India Company of the past? Until the 2021 election of Honduran president Xiomara Castro, the past was now—Zones for Employment and Economic Development (Zonas de Empleo y Desarrollo Económico in Spanish, or ZEDEs) had been permitted to establish their own near-tax-free paradises in company-governed territorial fiefdoms. The investor-governed territories include one that accepts its own cryptocurrency and allegedly tramples rights of indigenous and Afro-Caribbean populations, another where small farmers were forced to sell their land—all were criticized by the United Nations as threatening basic human rights and criticized by Honduran civil society for worsening problems of tax evasion and narcotrafficking. What is clear is that they violated basic democratic principles of representative government and undermined national sovereignty, including denying the validity of international labor and environmental treaty obligations agreed by the Honduran state.   It all began when a 2009 Honduran military coup ousted a democratically elected president. The next Honduran president and the Congress passed a law to cede portions of its territory to corporate investors as “charter cities” but were blocked by the Supreme Court. In response, Congress impeached the judges, packed the court, and engineered a new law to create ZEDEs. According to a study published in Central American Journals Online, ZEDEs are comparable to the Spanish colonial model, creating foreign-controlled economic zones on Honduran territory. The president of the Congress, Juan Orlando Hernández, went on to be the next president, governing two terms after his handpicked Supreme Court-sanctioned reelection. Eight years later, Hernández now sits in a U.S. jail awaiting trial for narco-trafficking, the same charges on which his brother was sentenced to life in a U.S. prison. Last year, the first opposition government elected since the coup made doing away with ZEDEs part of its electoral campaign, and among the first laws passed by the new Congress was ZEDEs elimination. The law passed unanimously, including votes from the very party that had put the ZEDEs in place. The reversal was the culmination of a broad civil society movement that brought together women, indigenous, Afro-Honduran, labor, and local business interests. Predictably, only the foreign investors want the paradises to remain. It is worthwhile to look at the record of the ZEDEs. They found resonance among conservative Honduran economists and were championed by Paul Romer, an economist who extrapolated from the experience of places like Singapore and Hong Kong to presume that cities could carve out independent regulatory regimes to promote development in the midst of poorly governed areas. Originally part of an oversight board to the charter cities, Romer resigned in response to Honduran government evasion of oversight processes and lack of “transparency.” Romer’s fears appear to have been well-founded, as the oversight board established for the ZEDEs is now a self-perpetuating body that even a think tank founded to support charter cities views skeptically for including "Ronald Reagan’s son (a conservative media personality), anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, and a member of the Habsburg dynasty.” It goes on to say that “the ZEDEs were clearly more of an ideological exercise than a practical exercise to generate development.” Romer may have gotten out just in time for additional reasons, as the record of the ZEDEs has been poor in terms of economic, environmental, and democratic impacts. Compared to what Honduras would have collected otherwise, even conservative estimates suggest the tax exemptions offered to the ZEDEs would cost equal to almost half of current sales taxes by 2025 and a value equal to all current import taxes by 2026. Worse, some of the ZEDEs build investor paradise workplaces and residences but appear to provide almost no public services, except their private police, even as they deny the Honduran state sufficient tax revenue to provide schools, health clinics, and courts. Pitched as model cities, ZEDEs are actually far from that, including one that offered preferential treatment for agricultural investments and mining concessions, evading existing environmental and other regulations on decidedly nonurban activities. In the face of social opposition to the ZEDEs, the Honduran Congress had toughened punishments for blocking property or businesses, making it easier for ZEDEs private security forces to repress protesters. Private security force and paramilitary violence against opponents of megaprojects like ZEDEs is common in Honduras—and in one case a lawyer representing indigenous communities opposed to the original charter cities law was murdered, sparking condemnation from the State Department, but impunity for the killers meant there was no proven link to his political work. In spite of this poor record, most of those who want to preserve the ZEDEs point to potential benefits without any evidence. Supporters claim ZEDEs will be a boon to employment, but rates of unemployment have remained unchanged since ZEDEs began, estimates of the actual number of ZEDEs jobs created hover around 15,000 in the eight years ZEDEs have been on the books, and ZEDEs undermine and evade existing labor legislation. Supporters present ZEDEs as complementary to U.S. nearshoring, but estimates of benefits to Honduras from nearshoring lag behind eight other Latin American countries, none of which have ZEDEs. Supporters argue ZEDEs will head off growing Chinese influence, but China is one of the countries interested in investing in ZEDEs. Supporters suggest ZEDEs will address problems of corruption, but the director of the ZEDE oversight board was secretary of the presidency to the jailed former president and has continued to draw a salary even after fleeing to neighboring Nicaragua to escape his own corruption and narcotrafficking investigations. Supporters argue ZEDEs will generate trade, investment, and growth, but since the ZEDEs law was passed in 2013, trade as a percentage of GDP dropped in five of eight years and is now lower than it was before, foreign direct investment decreased as a percentage of GDP every year except 2018, and GDP growth was below 4 percent in six of the eight years. Overblown aspirations have two main problems: first, they violate basic democratic principles of citizen representation, adherence to rule of law, and international treaty obligations; and second, in the eight years since ZEDEs were allowed, none of these promises have been fulfilled. Why the sudden kerfuffle about an obscure scheme abandoned by its founder, instituted by a corrupt politician now in jail in the United States, revoked by the country that adopted it, and that showed minimal actual impact? Perhaps because one ZEDE investor has provided grants to think tanks to start a dialogue on the issue, the results of which may have convinced some in the State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Honduras, and a few members of Congress, even threatening the newly elected Honduran government with reprisals such as withdrawal of aid, forced restitution payments, or limiting the Honduran share of the Partnership for Central America, the private sector investment plan led by Vice President Kamala Harris. For the richest country in the hemisphere to threaten to withhold or extract resources from the third-poorest country lends credence to the critiques of those who viewed the ZEDEs as colonial. Worse, withholding funds or forcing restitution would undermine the core intent of the Harris plan—invest in Honduras to stem outmigration, address low growth, and improve governance. Instead of listening to those who are advocating for a few private corporations’ desire to cash in on their fiefdoms, the United States should be supporting stronger Honduran institutions, starting with respecting the democratic will of the Honduran people.