Category Archives: South America


This will be my last scheduled post on Latin America for a while. I am shifting my gaze towards Asia where most of the action of my second book, Chita Quest, takes place. In passing I want to mention that Venezuelan President Maduro continues his search for a scapegoat for his country’s economic woes. Today he launched an attack on the national television stations, saying that the telenovellas so dear to the hearts of Venezuelans were eroding the country’s moral fiber.  No mention was made of his destructive economic policies.

Brazil. Roughly the same size as the continental United States, Brazil has a population of some 200 million people, about half of whom are classified as middle class.

A few decades ago, Brazil did some smart things and conquered hyperinflation. For more than twenty years, Brazil’s economy sizzled, reducing poverty by two thirds and virtually creating a huge middle class. Then government largess inflated the public debt with a large public sector and the accompanying large pension requirements. The increased bureaucracy had to justify its existence so spun out all sorts of business-unfriendly regulations. The tax system became byzantine and taxes soared. Infrastructure issues were not addressed. For example, air travel has doubled in the past two decades but airports have not kept pace—something that will bite the country in the butt during the upcoming FIFA World Cup this summer followed by the Summer Olympics in 2016. Productivity has suffered. Unit costs have doubled due to raising the minimum wage—in dollar terms, they have tripled, making it difficult to export manufactured goods. The education system is terrible—most spending is on university-level schools. The internal transportation system is shaky. And there are still millions of really poor people dragging down the social services.

The discovery of tremendous deep-water offshore oil reserves could bail Brazil out if managed properly. Already politicians are screaming to increase spending on social programs. Brazil needs to refocus public spending on infrastructure, education, public health and to reduce its tax structure. The question is whether Brazil will follow in the footsteps of Norway and, to a lesser extent, the U.K., or will it fritter away its oil opportunity like Mexico.

I used to fly to the Bolivian city of Puerto Suarez on business with the Bolivian Air Force. Puerto Suarez is right on the border with Brazil. We would stay in Corumba, Brazil where the food was wonderful and the night life extraordinary. John Grisham captured the essence of rural Brazil in his novel The Testament. Brazilians are fun-loving and semi-crazy. Great people and lots of fun to be around. I hope Brazil works out its problems and regains its economic momentum.

As always, here’s a different view from across the pond. Amazing how stories involving World Cup preparations dominate the British press…just sayin’…

For those of you who prefer their news delivered via video, here is a brilliant discussion the state of the economy and future opportunities from The Economist magazine:

The CIA World Book points out that brazil is the fifth largest country in the world and borders every country in South America except Ecuador and Chile.

Edward Snowden has made quite a splash in Brazil. He has recently requested asylum there. The Brazilian president is particularly incensed at his revelations. Don’t be surprised if he ends up in Brazil, a major improvement to living conditions and life style–compared to chilly Russia.

Here’s the latest summary of the preparations for the World Cup:

Here is an update about the situation with the creaky Brazilian air traffic system:

Many of you probably remember this disaster last November when a crane collapsed onto a stadium being built for the World Cup.

For more news about the Brazilian sports scene, try

And just for grins, here’s a recent Op-Ed on the economies of the BRIC countries vis-à-vis the United States which paints a brighter picture for the U.S. and a bleaker one for the BRICs.


Latin America continued–El Salvador

I had not planned on writing about El Salvador since I have only passed through the airport one time. But an opinion piece by the El Salvadoran ambassador to the United States in the Christian Science Monitor this morning caught my eye. I thought I would do a bit of research then comment on the article.

First, some background:

Here is a good overview, courtesy of the BBC.

El Salvador contains more than twenty active volcanoes which cause all sorts of misery in this Massachusetts-sized country.

Here’s a synopsis of recent stories and details from the New York Times, InfoPlease and, of course, the all-encompassing CIA Factbook. Please note that El Salvador is the only country in Central America with no outlet to the Caribbean/Atlantic, exports electricity, is a drug transshipment point, and is a refiner of petroleum products which it then exports:

Ambassador Zamora lays out the problem of gang-related violence, then proceeds to propose his opinion of what needs to be done in a country that was until recently one of the murder capitals in the world. In a nutshell, he says that past attempts to curb violence have been military and police hard-line crackdowns which are violent in themselves.

As the above articles have pointed out for you, violence in El Salvador has been greatly reduced recently due primarily to a truce with the gangs– not a continuing war with the gangs.

He sees the need for a regional approach which would, of course, involve the United States. Here is where I see some difficulty for the good ambassador. The United States government has, in my not-so-humble opinion, dealt with drugs with the same hard-line military and police approach rather than attempt to attack the reasons people use drugs. Trying to ameliorate the miserable conditions in the barrios/ghettos/ public housing blocks and youth-marginalization in our respective countries seem a more positive way of dealing with drugs, the drug trade and the associated drug-related crime. This would better benefit our citizens instead of filling prisons and shooting people.

See what you think. Is there a lesson to be learned for the United States?

An End of the Year Overview of Latin America

Latin America continues to be in the news– from the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Brazil to the train-wreck that is Venezuela’s economy. I have a strong interest in Latin America, having lived there and through multiple visits around the region. I will write a post for each of the more interesting countries over the next two weeks.

Then I will shift my gaze to the west and start writing about Asia. My second novel, Chita Quest, which should be available in late February, takes place mostly in Asia. Doing the research for the book gave me a new appreciation for Asia and highlighted how little I knew/know about the region.

Colombia. Things are improving rapidly in Colombia. When I was working in Bolivia in the early 1990s, Colombia was a mess. Once, my flight to Panama was cancelled– the airline offered me an alternative fight that meant changing planes in Medellin. I said “no thanks, I’ll fly tomorrow.” No way was I  going to transit the dangerous Medellin alone. Now, Medellin is featured in magazines like International Living and shows like House Hunters International as a wonderful, inexpensive and peaceful place with much to offer as a retirement destination for Americans.

Progress against the FARC– the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia– continues. It looks as if the FARC will be brought into the political process. According to this report in the Washington Post, the defeat of FARC was not an accident– the US government played a substantial part. The real credit, in my opinion, should go to the Colombian government and military for their dedication and professionalism. By not taking the easy way out and continuing with repressive and arbitrary policies, the government/military actions have been (mostly) restrained. Compared to neighboring Venezuela, Colombia looks positively progressive.

A good summary of a wide-ranging subjects is at territories/colombia/

For a peek at the effect of climate change on the famous Colombian coffee crop, try this…

Test yourself– Most Americans have a hard time with Latin American geography and history. See how you measure up. (I managed an 83%– while the average was 73%…shoulda done better though).

Venezuela Goes To The Polls

Life in Venezuela continues to be turbulent. President Maduro won a small majority in elections last Sunday. His last-minute attacks on the opposition seem to have paid off at the polls. Maduro used the state-controlled media to paint the economic woes of his country as the result of an economic war waged by the United States against Venezuela.

And this is what 50 + per cent inflation does to your economy

This is a late addition to the post– updated June 9, 2014…which shows how entrepreneurial Venezuelans would be if government restrictions and crazy economic policies would allow them…

This is yet another update — February 2015…things continue to get more desperate in Venezuela:

La Carretera de la Muerte–The Highway of Death

As I have pointed out in other blog posts, Bolivia is a wonderful, gorgeous country. I will post a slide show in the future. In the meantime, I will show you another facet of Bolivia– beauty sometimes comes at a cost.

Bolivia has three main geographical divisions– the tropics to the east, the high mountains (and I mean high–over 20,000 feet!) that run through the middle, and the massive altiplano in the west which averages around 14,000 feet above sea level. To get from the altiplano down to the tropics is a major logistical feat.

Here is a video of one of the few highways available. I drove this a couple times. It was hair-raising. The Inter-American Development Bank declared this the most dangerous road in the world. The narrow road is dangerous enough by itself but the Bolivian drivers, most of whom have no licenses, driver training, insurance or sense of “share the road,” complicate the transit. Huge busses and large trucks take the right-of-way no matter which direction they are headed, crowding to the inside of the turn and forcing smaller vehicles to the outside edge of the road where there is often a sheer drop of a thousand feet. No kidding…watch the video. You will be astounded.

Another one of these highways, the one from La Paz/El Alto to Cochabamba is described in some detail in the Cochabamba Conspiracy. It would take no less than five hours on a good day to drive…I could fly to Cochabamba in forty-five minutes in the C-12.