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Latin America

All articles with the "Latin America" tag.

Published: Thu, 26 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Thu, 26 Apr 2018 08:51:09 -0400


Will El Chapo’s Arrest Make the Drug Trade More Deadly?

Thu, 19 Apr 2018 12:55:00 -0400

Mexico's most notorious drug kingpin, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, has been awaiting trial in the United States since his dramatic capture in 2016. Federal prosecutors have filed charges of drug trafficking, murder, money laundering, and kidnapping against Guzmán, who ran the notorious Sinaloa cartel for more than 40 years. El Chapo gained notoriety for his daring prison escapes, and for his controversial 2016 interview with Hollywood star Sean Penn while hiding as a fugitive from the law. The U.S. and Mexican governments have declared Guzmán's capture a major win in the drug war. Harvard economics professor Jeffrey Miron thinks his story better demonstrates the folly of prohibition. "When we interfere on the supply side with the drug trade by taking out kingpins and other ways, we tend to lower the prices partially because we're making the market more competitive," says Miron, who's also the head of economic studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. "Where there's demand, there's going to be supply." The capture of kingpins doesn't just tend to make cartels more competitive in the marketplace. It can also increase violence as rival factions battle to fill the power vacuum. A 2015 research brief conducted by Miron and his Cato colleagues Jason Lindo and Maria Padilla-Romo shows that capturing a leading drug trafficker "in a municipality increases its homicide rate by 80 percent" over a 12-month period. In neighboring municipalities, the homicide rate rises 30 percent in the six-month period after a kingpin's capture. Over the last decade, the United States has contributed over $2 billion in money and intelligence resources to aid the Mexican government with their counternarcotics efforts, which focus on the elimination of drug cartel kingpins. In 2012, Gen. Charles Jacoby, who led the U.S. Northern Command from 2011 to 2014, admitted to Congress that removing kingpins did not have "an appreciable, positive effect" in limiting the operations and reach of Mexican drug cartels. "In my view the best policy is to legalize everything," says Miron. "The harms come almost entirely from the prohibitions, not from the properties of the substance." Reason spoke to Miron about the lessons to be learned from El Chapo's capture and if the Trump administration's latest calls for tougher punishment for drug dealers to combat the "terrible crisis of opioid and drug addiction" is opening a new front in the drug war. Produced by Alexis Garcia. Cameras by Todd Krainin and Mark McDaniel. "Cutting to the Chase" by Kai Engel is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License ( Source: Artist: "Forgotten Marches" by Kai Engel is licensed under an Attribution-NonCommercial License ( Source: Artist: "Seeger" by John Deley and the 41 Players. Source: Photo Credits: Mario Guzmán/EFE/Newscom—Mexican Attorney General's Office—Pgr/Ho/Prensa International/Zuma Press/Newscom—Str/picture alliance/dpa/Newscom—José Menéndez/EFE/Newscom—Henry Romero/REUTERS/Newscom—Edgard Garrido/REUTERS/Newscom—Shawn Thew/Pool/CNP/MEGA/Newscom—Kyle Mazza/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/Newscom Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.[...]

Jeff Sessions Says MS-13 Is a Major Player in the Narcotics Trade. The DEA Disagrees.

Wed, 25 Oct 2017 17:25:00 -0400

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that a gang called La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, will now be "a priority" for the Justice Department's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces. These inter-agency task forces "all have one mission," Sessions said this week at a gathering of the International Association of Chiefs of Police this week. "To go after drug criminals and traffickers at the highest levels." Historically, MS-13 has not trafficked drugs at the "highest levels." Founded in the 1980s by El Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles, the group's original purpose was to protect other El Salvadoran refugees of the country's 1980s civil war (in which the U.S. played an ugly role) from Southern California street gangs. It has since evolved into a more sinister and violent organization. But according to the Drug Enforcement Administration and other groups, MS-13 is still a small fry in the drug trafficking business. In a post pushing back against Sessions' remarks, Sarah Kinosian of the human rights group Washington Office on Latin America writes that MS-13 focuses mostly on extortion, street-level drug sales, and inter-gang violence in El Salvador and in the U.S. Federal indictments of MS-13 members reflect that claim. The State Department's 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy report, released in March of this year, says that "[c]riminal street gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and 18th Street [another El Salvadoran gang with an American presence, and the sworn enemies of MS-13] do not yet appear to be a formal part of the transnational drug logistics chain, except as facilitators of trafficking through Honduras." The DEA, meanwhile, says in its 2017 Threat Assessment—which the agency released on the same day that Sessions announced MS-13 was now drug enemy number one—that Mexico's Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) "remain the greatest criminal drug threat to the United States; no other group is currently positioned to challenge them." (If that sounds familiar, recall that a DEA spokesperson said this to the Post in August: "Mexican cartels, Mexican transnational organizations are the greatest criminal threat to the United States. There's no other group currently positioned to challenge them. Whenever drug investigations that we do involve MS-13, we respond, but right now the No. 1 drug threat in the U.S. is the Mexican cartels.'') MS-13 not harmless, in other words, but they also aren't driving the heroin and fentanyl crises. We've known for several months now that the DEA and Sessions are at odds about which transnational drug groups to prioritize. In August, the Washington Post reported that acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg and Sessions went head to head over the focus on MS-13 "despite warnings from Rosenberg and others at the DEA that the gang, which draws Central American teenagers for most of its recruits, is not one of the biggest players when it comes to distributing and selling narcotics." (Though Rosenberg left the DEA earlier this month, he wrote the 2017 Threat Assessment introduction.) Why does any of this matter? Because Mexican CTOs are somehow stronger now than ever before. After two decades of splitting the U.S. heroin market with Colombia—Mexico used trucks to get black tar heroin to the west coast, Colombia used planes and boats to get white powder heroin to the eastern seaboard—the DEA says Mexico is now the dominant supplier to the eastern U.S.: Mexico also sends us a substantial amount of fentanyl, which it obtains from China. It also matters because more than 80,000 people have died in Mexico since 2006, when then-newly elected Mexico President Felipe Calderon kicked off a U.S.-funded offensive against his country's drug lords. In the decade since then, the U.S. has spent tens of billions of dollars on the Merida Initiative while also doubling the number of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents. The most notable result of all this spilled blood and spent treasure is that Mexico's cartels are now doing business wit[...]

As Food Crisis Continues, Venezuelans Turn to American Friends and Relatives for Help

Tue, 24 Oct 2017 13:15:00 -0400

With the economy in freefall and hunger widespread, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has vowed to wage an "economic war" on the enemies of his country's socialist experiment. "If the bourgeoisie hide the food, I myself will bring it to your house," Maduro said in March. It hasn't worked out that way. Hungry Venezuelans are now depending on relatives and friends in other countries to send food. "People are dying of hunger now," Tere Caicedo, a Venezuelan immigrant to Los Angeles, recently told The Los Angeles Times. Caicedo has been sending rice, beans and sugar to the country when possible. "Before it was out of enjoyment, a Christmas gift," Caicedo recalled. "Now it's necessity." For years, Venezuela's economy was propped up by high oil prices. Now oil is selling at $50 per barrel, and inflation has soared to more than 700 percent. Food and other basic goods have become scarce. Many Venezuelans in the U.S. are scrambling to send aid to their friends and family back home. Venezuelan schools have shortened their hours because so many children are malnourished that they struggle to go through a full school day, and many people have resorted to scavenging for food in dumpsters. Several charity organizations have stepped in to help too, including the South Florida–based Humanitarian Aid for Venezuela Program, which has donated 450,000 pounds of supplies in the last couple of years. Caritas Internationalis, a Catholic poverty relief organization, has detailed the damage the food shortages have done. According to Caritas' surveys, one in 10 Venezuelan children under the age of 5 currently suffers from malnutrition. "So what has happened is that lots of children get to school practically fainting, because they haven't eaten anything all day," Jesi Urbano, a Venezuelan mother, told The New York Times. Venezuelan children have missed an average of 40 percent of their usual class time, according to the Associated Press. And even when students are fed, their teachers often cancel classes to wait in line for food rations. Over 10 million Venezuelan parents skip at least one meal so that their children can get the nutrition they need, according to a survey conducted by several Venezuelan universities. The same study found that 75 percent of Venezuelans lost an average of 19 pounds in 2016. The government is now encouraging citizens to raise rabbit livestock. Some people have started stealing zoo animals for food. According to Caritas, one in 12 Venezuelans survive by scavenging for leftover food in the garbage bins outside restaurants and grocery stores. The New York Times documented such a case in a recent video, where a Venezuelan mother goes through a supermarket's trash in order to feed her family. Susana Raffalli, a humanitarian specialist in Venezuela, talked with Caritas this past April, detailing the inequities she's witnessed while working in the capital city of Caracas. "You still see fancy restaurants and people living a normal life in the capital," she says. "But even in those areas, in the early morning, you see people going through trash bins looking for food."[...]

Students Are Bringing Capitalism to Latin America

Sat, 21 Oct 2017 12:21:00 -0400

President Trump's move to raise "barriers to people, to goods, to services," says Gabriel Calzada Alvarez, executive president of Guatemala's Universidad Francisco Marroquín (UFM), "is a danger not just for Central America [but] for the U.S. and for the world." The great irony, Calzada says, is that the U.S. has benefited immensely from free trade and immigration and "now wants to raise barriers." Calzada sat down with Reason's Nick Gillespie at Freedom Fest 2017 to talk about the impact of trade restrictions on Latin America, the changing role of higher education, and how students are bringing capitalism to the region. UFM, a private, secular university in Guatemala City, teaches free market economics and emphasizes the importance of intellectual debate on campus. "Being uncomfortable because of the ideas of others is one of the experiences you have to have," says Calzada. Edited by Paul Detrick. Shot by Justin Monticello and Meredith Bragg. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript. Check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: You run a university in Guatemala that was established in 1971, and it's rare there because it's a private university. What is the essential mission of higher education in the 21st century? Gabriel Calzada: Well, I think in the 21st century, since you have basically all the content in your mobile device, universities have to move the focus from giving content–they have been doing this for many years–to creating experiences, interactions. We will see a shift from grades, from having focus in the grades, to have a focus in a portfolio of experiences that you can show. The universities that will survive are universities that will create safe space, but not safe space in the sense that we usually hear, that are places where you have the right not to be offended or bothered, but the safe places in the sense that you create a space where students can commit errors and can learn from those errors without the problems of these errors in real life. Gillespie: In the United States, a lot of the discussion and discourse about higher education has to do with this encroachment of safe spaces, of political correctness, of speech codes, and the inability of faculty and students and outside speakers who come to enrich the environment are not allowed to speak freely. Is that also a problem in Guatemala, or does it take a different form there? Calzada: Not at all. In Guatemala, students speak freely. We try to foster debate. We think that being uncomfortable because of the ideas of others is one of the experiences you have to have at the university. Gillespie: You're opening a campus in Spain. How will that help fulfill the vision that you were talking about, about having a portfolio of experiences? What will be going on there? Calzada: Going to a different culture is already a great experience, but fundamentally, going to a place where regulation has been going so far, so that the students can learn what are the results of big government. Then, of course, we want to offer the European public an opportunity to have a classical liberal, libertarian education that is currently very difficult in the European space. I think with the UFM experience, we can offer new programs that will be very original, very different from the type of programs that Spaniards and Europeans are used to. Gillespie: Does it make sense to talk about a direction for Latin America, and is that direction going in the right way or the wrong way? I mean, there seem to be so many different things. There's your experiences in Guatemala. There are certain countries that are liberalizing. Then there are countries like Venezuela, which seems to really be in very- Calzada: Collapsing. Gillespie: ... deep threat. Yeah. Then also in Brazil, as well as elsewhere, you see both good things and bad things happening at the same time. What is your sense? Is La[...]

Venezuela: At the Edge of a Deeper Chasm

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 05:00:00 -0400

Guayana City, Venezuela—Once the Latin American country with the highest growth rate, now the poorest in the hemisphere, Venezuela is in free fall. Hundreds are dying from diseases, some of them all but eradicated, because of a shortage of medicines and vaccines. According to the consultancy firm Econometrica, 2.1 million Venezuelans are now eating from the garbage. Its citizens are at war with the military. The situation has so deteriorated U.S. President Donald Trump surprised Latin American leaders this past Friday when he said, "We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary." Trump later added, "Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering and they're dying." The real enemy responsible for this lethal landscape is not foreign. This destruction has come from within. For almost two decades, Venezuela's socialist government has managed to undermine every institution that kept the country afloat. When Hugo Chavez ascended to the presidency in 1998, he had an agenda: Bring socialism to Venezuela, then export it to the rest of Latin America. His successor, Nicolas Maduro, has continued the country's hurtle down a slope paved by the total destruction of the means of production. Indeed, he has managed to sharpen the slope. On May 29, the Supreme Court of Justice declared the National Assembly in contempt and usurped its functions. That unleashed a series of protests, which in turn generated a wave of repression that has so far killed more than 130 people and imprisoned nearly 1,400. Maduro declared victory at the end of July with an illegal election. The company that provided the voting system alleges that the results were tampered with. Sixteen people died violently on polling day. The violence, the repression, the assault on fundamental human rights, and the rupture of the constitutional order have prompted opposition leaders to defend two critical articles in the Constitution: Article 333: This Constitution shall not cease to be in effect if it ceases to be observed due to acts of force or because or repeal in any manner other than as provided for herein. In such eventuality, every citizen, whether or not vested with official authority, has a duty to assist in bringing it back into actual effect. Article 350: The people of Venezuela, true to their republican tradition and their struggle for independence, peace and freedom, shall disown any regime, legislation or authority that violates democratic values, principles and guarantees or encroaches upon human rights. T-shirt Soldiers The resistance is mainly composed of teens and young adults born under socialism, fighting to defend the country from what they believe will be the deeper abyss of communism. T-shirt soldiers, they call them. "Bubble" is a 23-year-old journalism student who set aside his studies for a "greater good." Raised in a leftist household, he grew tired of watching poverty take over everything, including his own home. Bubble and some 20 other resistance members call the place where they are entrenched "Mangokistan." Los Mangos—a residential area in the port city of Guayana, in Bolívar State, in the eastern part of the country—has become a place of perpetual war. The Bolivarian Intelligence Service has the area under surveillance. It seizes people on any pretense. Walking down the street can get you arrested. The area was recently attacked for more than 20 hours, just because the resistance blocked the streets. What they mostly resisted was the constant tear gas and rubber bullets fired at them by the National Guard. "I left my home because my parents support the government, when sometimes we didn't have enough to buy groceries," Bubble tells me. "Now I live in the different places of those who back us. The truth is that we are doing this because we are tired of seeing people starving and dying of the lack of medicine. Living under these conditions is feeling helpless, like we have no f[...]

Venezuela Reminds Us That Socialism Frequently Leads to Dictatorship

Tue, 04 Apr 2017 07:00:00 -0400

On March 29, the Supreme Court of Venezuela dissolved the country's elected legislature, allowing Venezuela's top court to write future laws. The court is filled with allies of Venezuela's socialist president, Nicolas Maduro, while the legislature is dominated by Maduro's opponents, and the court's ruling was seen as the latest step on Venezuela's descent into a full-fledged dictatorship. But following international outcry—as well as the appearance of cracks within Maduro's own party—the court reversed itself just a few days later, on April 1. Thus, the uneasy standoff between Venezeula's legislature and executive is set to continue. Last week's episode is only the latest reminder of the tendency of socialism to lead to dictatorship, as identified by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek in The Road to Serfdom. In 1944, when he wrote his book, Hayek noted that the crimes of the German National Socialists and Soviet Communists were, in great part, the result of growing state control over the economy. As he explained, growing state interference in the economy leads to massive inefficiencies and long queues outside empty shops. A state of perpetual economic crisis then leads to calls for more planning. But economic planning is inimical to freedom. As there can be no agreement on a single plan in a free society, the centralization of economic decision-making has to be accompanied by centralization of political power in the hands of a small elite. When, in the end, the failure of central planning becomes undeniable, totalitarian regimes tend to silence the dissenters—sometimes through mass murder. Hayek was fortunate enough to live to see the defeat of both the Nazi and Soviet totalitarian regimes. Unfortunately, there are still places where Hayek's most dire warnings remain relevant. Nicolas Maduro's Venezuela is one such place. Beginning in 1999, when Maduro's predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, became President, the government has played an ever-increasing role in the Venezuelan economy. Price and wage controls were put in place, trade was restricted, and private property was expropriated—often without compensation. Partly as a result of those economically illiterate actions (the fall in the price of oil, which Venezuela depends on, did not have such dire consequences in any other oil-rich country), Venezuela's economy tanked and public opposition to the ruling regime increased. Thus, the 2015 parliamentary election saw the opposition to Maduro's leftist policies capture a super-majority in the country's National Assembly. Unfortunately, socialism, in spite of its manifest failings and Hayek's warnings, refuses to go away. Wannabe socialists are thus destined to learn not from history, but from their own mistakes. In the meantime, ordinary people suffer. To give just one example, between 1999, when Hugo Chavez took over as President, and 2016, average per capita income in Venezuela rose by 2 percent. In the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, it rose by 41 percent. A similar story can be observed in Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe, Chavez's erstwhile friend, has been in charge of his unfortunate country since 1980. Since then, Africa's income per person rose by 48 percent. In Zimbabwe, a socialist dictatorship, it has declined by 25 percent. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. [...]

Colombia's President Urges Drug Peace While Accepting Nobel Peace Prize

Mon, 12 Dec 2016 09:30:00 -0500

(image) When he was head of the U.S. Southern Command, Gen. John F. Kelly, Donald Trump's pick to run the Department of Homeland Security, complained that marijuana legalization in states such as Colorado and Washington had made Latin American officials less inclined to participate in the war on drugs. But open disenchantment with the drug war among foreign allies predates the first votes to legalize marijuana in the United States. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, for instance, has been calling for a different approach since 2011. Santos, formerly a hardline drug warrior, reiterated his readiness for drug peace on Saturday, when he picked up a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the Colombian government's long-running conflict with the rebel group FARC:

We have moral authority to state that, after decades of fighting against drug trafficking, the world has still been unable to control this scourge that fuels violence and corruption throughout our global community.

It makes no sense to imprison a peasant who grows marijuana, when nowadays, for example, its cultivation and use are legal in eight states of the United States.

The manner in which this war against drugs is being waged is equally or perhaps even more harmful than all the wars the world is fighting today, combined.

Saying Colombia has "paid the highest cost in deaths and sacrifices" to enforce America's pharmacological taboos, Santos argued that it is "time to change our strategy." He previously said, "I would talk about legalizing marijuana and more than just marijuana." Similar sentiments have been voiced in recent years by other Latin American leaders, including Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, Uruguayan President José Mujica, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and former Mexican presidents Ernesto Zedillo and Vicente Fox.

How Bitcoin Is Undermining Socialism in Latin America

Wed, 30 Nov 2016 18:00:00 -0500

"People are driven by their self-interest [which is why] they're always going to use the best tool [at their disposal]," says bitcoin entrepreneur Rodrigo Souza. "And that's why I think technology is going to drive us to a freer society."

Souza has played an important role in the growing popularity of bitcoin in Latin America. In addition to being an outspoken libertarian and a popular YouTube personality, he's the founder and CEO of BlinkTrade, which operates the largest bitcoin exchanges in Vietnam, Pakistan, Venezuela, Brazil, and the second largest in Chile.

In the U.S., bitcoin is used mainly by libertarians and tech geeks, but, as Souza explains, it's catching on in Latin America solely for practical reasons. Venezuelans are using bitcoins to buy food and medicine from abroad, routing around the government capital controls that make it virtually impossible to spend government-issued bolivars outside the country. In Brazil, bitcoin users are escaping tariffs that can run as high as 60 percent.

In our latest podcast, Souza and I discuss how bitcoin is being used in Venezuela and Brazil, Souza's personal experience with inflation in Latin America, his libertarianism, and more.

Souza is also featured in my recent article, "The Secret, Dangerous World of Venezuelan Bitcoin Mining" from our January 2017 issue, and the video, "3 Ways Bitcoin Is Promoting Freedom in Latin America."

Click below to listen to that conversation—or subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.

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3 Ways Bitcoin Is Promoting Freedom in Latin America

Tue, 29 Nov 2016 15:03:00 -0500

In Venezuela's capital city of Caracas, a hungry mob recently broke into a zoo to eat a horse. One cause of the food crisis is government currency controls that make it very expensive to buy goods from other countries. But Venezuelans are bypassing these restrictions using the internet-based currency bitcoin. And there are similar phenomena in neighboring countries. Bitcoin is catching on especially fast in Latin America because it gives individuals a way around protectionism and other destructive government policies that are common in the region. Here are three ways that bitcoin is promoting economic freedom in Latin America. 1. Bypassing Monetary Controls Rodrigo Souza is a U.S.-based entrepreneur and the founder of BlinkTrade, which operates the exchange for SurBitcoin, an online marketplace where Venezuelans buy and sell government-issued bolivars for bitcoins. SurBitcoin's monthly trade volume has tripled in the last year alone as more and more Venezuelans have started using bitcoin. An advantage of bitcoin is that while the government regulates and restricts the flow of money in and out of the country through the banking system, bitcoin circumvents the banks because it's an internet based currency. And now a growing community of Venezuelans are using their bitcoins to buy food from e-commerce sites like Amazon and The packages are routed to one of a handful of Miami-based courier services and then shipped to Venezuela, where they're delivered to the homes of people trapped in this starving nation. 2. Bypassing Tariffs When the iPhone 6 went on sale in Brazil last year, the price was so absurdly high that it became became a punchline on late night talk shows. The explanation for the high price is that the country charges an import tariff on foreign goods that runs as high as 60 percent. But again the government enforces this policy through the banking system. Today, a growing number of Brazilians are getting around import tax by going around the banking system to purchase products like iPhones. This way the government simply has no way of tracking how much Brazilians are spending when buying goods from abroad. Bitcoin is also an effective tool for avoiding taxes when moving investment capital into Brazil. Thiago Cesar is the founder and CEO of BitOne. The company helps clients get around a 27.5 percent foreign exchange tax when bringing money into the country by using bitcoin. And circumventing protectionist tariffs isn't just for investors. Average Brazilians traveling abroad will find that they're atomically hit with a 6.38 percent levy everytime they swipe a debit or credit card. Many have realized that if they use a bitcoin credit card from Xapo or Advcash, they can escape the tax altogether. 3. Cutting Red Tape Starting a new business in Brazil takes about 14 times as long as it does in the United States. And in the 2016 Index of Economic Freedom, the country ranked a dismal 122nd. Brazilian entrepreneur Edilson Osório believes that bitcoin can help solve this problem—not the currency itself, but rather the database file where transactions are recorded in the bitcoin network. That database is known as the blockchain, and it's a computer file with a unique architecture that means that it can never be altered or tampered with. Writing information to the blockchain is like inscribing a message in wet cement. This incorruptible file, enthusiasts believe, has the potential to fill the void left by Latin America's weak government institutions. For example, in Honduras, one company has explored moving land titles from ancient paper volumes to the bitcoin blockchain where citizens of the country can verify that they haven't been secretly altered. (The project later stalled.) Osório has a similar vision for how the blockchain can provide the trust that's sometimes missing from Brazil's go[...]

Giancarlo Ibarguen, R.I.P.

Wed, 09 Mar 2016 14:08:00 -0500

Giancarlo Ibarguen, leader of the Guatemalan Universidad Francisco Marroquin, has died.


Ivan Osorio of the Competitive Enterprise Institute writes on Ibarguen's contributions to the cause of liberty:

He helped build UFM into a major institution dedicated to the ideas of liberty...[UFM is] A full-fledged university, since its founding in 1971, UFM sought not only to eschew the Marxist economic theories that were in fashion then (even more than today, and especially in Latin America), but to revive the study of the great classical liberal thinkers.

In addition to his pioneering work in higher education, Giancarlo also played a critical role in advancing liberalization in telecommunications in Guatemala, helping to create a dynamic competitive telecom market.

Michael Strong, an activist in the "startup cities" movement that Ibarguen was a big player in (he co-founded the Startup Cities Institute), eulogizes him on Strong's Facebook:

While being a quiet, honest, doer he was also an amazing intellect, an engineer who had read as widely as anyone I know. I would mention relatively esoteric corners of the world of thought (e.g. the intersection of the work of Donald T. Campbell and that of Hayek), and Gianca was one of the very few people who, of course, had already read the relevant thinkers and thought about these connections himself.

I have known a dozen Nobel laureates, a dozen billionaires, dozens of CEOs, a couple of MacArthur "Genius" Award winners, and more. While not as high profile as many of these people, as a great human being, Gianca is in a class of his own. Beyond all of his worldly achievements, he was a warm, attentive, compassionate, human being with a sparkle in his eye and love for all that represented the true, the good, and the beautiful. He invariably took action to support and promote every human being who could contribute to the greater good.

On a personal note, Ibarguen was very helpful to me in guiding my understanding of the ideas and processes behind the idea of "startup cities" under whatever rubric, and the particulars of the efforts to launch such in Honduras, as detailed in my May 2013 Reason feature "The Blank Slate State."

Reason TV interviewed Ibarguen in 2011 on the drug war in Guatemala:

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How to Run a Drug Cartel

Thu, 03 Mar 2016 09:00:00 -0500

To understand how drug cartels work, we should consider the industry as we would any other that has to deal with regular business problems–how to hire the best personnel, how to handle the competition, how to deliver product to customers, and so on. That is what Tom Wainwright sets out to do in his new book, Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel. "Regulatory approaches that in the ordinary business world would be discarded for their ineffectiveness have been allowed to endure for years in the world of counternarcotics," says the author, a former correspondent in Mexico for The Economist. He cites an example from the Andean countries to illustrate how the supply-side fight to reduce drug consumption is absolutely useless. The cost of the coca leaf is so low compared to the high price of cocaine in consumer countries that even if intervention in South America were to double the price of coca, it would have only a negligible impact on consumers in the United States or in Europe. While travelling two weeks ago in the Mexican state of Sonora, local businessmen told me several people were recently executed in the nearby city of Ciudad Obregón–allegedly, a settling of scores between drug dealers. They confirmed what Wainwright observes: Violence in Mexico tends to be higher in those states bordering the United States and in those with major ports. Drug dealers fight to control these few points of entry and exit. Since supply-side restrictions have almost no impact on drug consumption, the author recommends opening more points of entry on the northern border. At least that would reduce the violence considerably.  In an illicit industry, recruiting low-skilled workers is challenging because the jobs require discipline and a high level of trust. Prisons in Latin America have made drug traffickers' lives easier, since these have turned into virtual business schools, where the most experienced people in the business are put in touch with those interested in illegal activities. This is also where gangs gain strength, among other ways by requiring their members to get conspicuous tattoos to reduce the dangerous possibility of them leaving the organization. More than a decade ago, the Dominican Republic implemented a penitentiary reform recommended by Wainwright. The country has jails where gang leaders are separated from the rest of the inmates, fewer criminals are imprisoned, and real jobs are given to inmates, who are also allowed to keep a percentage of the earnings to share with their families. All of this reduces the convicts' dependence on gangs and helps them maintain contact with the legitimate outside world. Under the new system, only 3 percent of those who are released from prison are likely to commit another crime in the following three years, whereas there was a 50 percent recidivism rate under the old system. Wainwright describes how the homicide rate dropped by two thirds in El Salvador when the maras (gangs) reached a truce in 2012 so as to be able to collude in the domestic marketsomething that was undone when the next president withdrew his support, thus increasing violence once again. He also describes how drug cartels practice corporate social responsibility (church charity, providing public services, etc.) to maintain a certain level of support among the local population, and how the new competition resulting from marijuana legalization in parts of the United States is already taking away a significant amount of business (up to three quarters of the their current revenues, according to Mexican experts the author cites). Wainwright also predicts that when fully legalized, American marijuana companies will move to Mexico to export their products to the United States. That would be a more civilized world.[...]

Mexican Libertarians Use Social Media to Build Movement of Millennial Activists

Tue, 12 Jan 2016 10:35:00 -0500

A burgeoning libertarian movement is making its way across Latin America and Mexico is no exception, according to the PanAm Post, which recently interviewed Mexican Libertarian Party spokesman Francisco Javier Combaluzier. Although the party has not yet gained official recognition, said Combaluzier, "many citizens"—especially those in the younger generations—are getting involved nonetheless.  Asked about the "biggest challenges" for libertarians in Mexican society, Combaluzier responded:  There are very few of us who call ourselves [classical] liberals or libertarians, primarily because we are not taught to identify with these labels. There is little time devoted in schools to studying libertarian thinkers, philosophers, or economists. However, after talking to people on social media, we have realized that many agree with our views, despite not being able to identify them as libertarian. In that sense, one of our most important goals is to make people aware that their intuition of how things should be is actually rooted in libertarian principles. That way, they will understand why they shouldn’t be voting for collectivist candidates. Combaluzier said he's been inspired by the rise of classically liberal thought, activism, and even electoral successes in places such as Costa Rica, Colombia, Panama, and Argentina. In Costa Rica, the Libertarian Movement Party—established in 1994—currently holds four of 57 spots in the country's Legislative Assembly. Combaluzier's emphasis on electoral politics in Mexico, however, puts him at odds with the Mexican Libertarian Movement, which seeks "to spontaneously bring about anarchism" and focuses efforts outside the electoral process, he said. And then we have libertarians like myself who believe we need to get in elections to achieve a peaceful change. We can’t wait for it to happen spontaneously, or by giving lectures that people may or may not attend. We think that in the next five years we can organize a critical mass of young people who are savvy social-media users, and create a movement that can draw considerable support. Read the whole interview here.  In America, Hispanic voters tend to poll almost as high as whites when it comes to libertarian leanings. In a Pew Hispanic Center poll from 2014, for instance, about 11 percent of all Hispanics, 12 percent of whites, and three percent of blacks identified as libertarian. There's some evidence this trend may be driven by millennials. Other recent polls found that while Hispanic Americans overall lean more Democrat than Republican, Hispanic millennials are much more likely than older counterparts to identify as independent (53 percent) and less likely to identify as particularly religious.[...]

Peace City

Tue, 01 Dec 2015 12:00:00 -0500

(image) In 1997, battered by their country's civil war, approximately 1,500 campesinos from San José, Colombia, established a zone they called the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartada. Henceforth, no armed groups would be welcome in their territory, be they leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, or soldiers and police.

In The Power of Staying Put, a monograph published by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, Juan Masullo Jimenéz notes that 210 community members were assassinated in the ensuing years. But the villagers dug in, grew stronger, recovered a lot of the land they'd lost to the paramilitaries, and created a neutral, autonomous island in a civil war. Along the way, he adds, they created a self-managed community capable of "carrying out several state-like activities and building institutions...from which the state was left out." These functions include education, conflict resolution, building trails, keeping common areas clean, and running the local cacao operation.

Friday A/V Club: Advertisers Against Augusto Pinochet

Fri, 04 Sep 2015 10:50:00 -0400

(image) In 1988, Chile held a plebiscite on whether to extend the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The dictatorship lost. Pinochet reportedly didn't take that very well: According to Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall's book A Force More Powerful, he reacted by ordering his armed forces to impose martial law. But they refused to obey him, and he then agreed to step down.

The "no" campaign—that is, the campaign to vote against the dictatorship—was the subject of a feature film a few years ago, Pablo Larraín's No. I haven't seen that, so I can't speak to how good it is. (For an interesting critique of it, go here.) But I've seen some of the no team's TV ads, thanks to the fact that I was taking Spanish as an undergrad at the University of Michigan when the plebiscite took place. And they're probably not the sort of things that come to mind when you hear the phrase "protesting a right-wing Latin American dictatorship."

There were, to be sure, overtly political spots that highlighted the human rights abuses of the Pinochet regime. But the most iconic ads looked like this:

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If you told your friends that was a Chilean coffee commercial, they'd probably believe you. Compare it to other short films of the late '80s and early '90s, and you might get the impression there was some sort of global House Style that everyone felt the need to follow, whether they were promoting Soviet nostalgia or an American steakhouse. But there's a more direct reason why the spot looks like that: Some consultants from the U.S. helped with the campaign.

Twenty-seven years later, that ad doesn't evoke We're about to oust a brutal dictator so much as it says This is a transmission from the year 1-9-8-8. But it did help oust the dictator, so I'm not gonna knock it. Even though I've got that goddamn jingle stuck in my head now.

(For past installments of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)

In Colombia's Civil War, Peasants Try to Build an Island of Peace

Thu, 03 Sep 2015 12:55:00 -0400

In 1997, battered by their country's civil war, around 800 peasants from northwestern Colombia "decided to protest in front of the government building and demand protection." And so they

(image) marched from San José to the city of Apartadó and established a temporary refuge in the city's coliseum. After some negotiations with a government-sponsored commission, they went back home and, upon their return, some leaders were assassinated. In view of this response, a group of about 1,500 San José villagers opted instead for self-organization in order to find a collective, campesino-based solution to the problem. After discussing possible courses of action, the villagers sought the support of external actors, stating their determination not to leave the village while, at the same time, opting out of war.

Inspired by a proposal by Monsignor Isaías Duarte Cancino, the then-Bishop of the Dioceses of Apartadó, San José villagers decided to formally declare themselves neutral to the conflict and establish a Peace Community. In doing so, they pledged not to participate in any possible way in the war and disavow any form of cooperation with all armed groups, including the national army and the police. In addition, with flags, symbols, billboards and fences, they explicitly delineated and designated physical areas where Community members stayed, while armed groups, without distinction, could not enter or pass through.

That's Juan Masullo Jiménez writing in The Power of Staying Put, a new monograph from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. The reaction to the peasants' project—dubbed the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó—was violent and sometimes lethal: 210 of the community's members would be assassinated in the ensuing years. But the villagers dug in, grew stronger, recovered a lot of the land they'd lost to paramilitary groups, and generally succeeded in creating a neutral and autonomous island in a civil war. Along the way, Masullo writes, they built a voluntary, self-managed community capable of "carrying out several state-like activities and building institutions...from which the state was left out." These functions include education, conflict resolution, building trails, keeping common areas clean, and running the local cacao operation, among other activities.

It's an interesting study, well worth a look. You can read a pdf of it here.

Bonus link: nonviolent resistance to the mob.