Where Are the Hombres Fuertes?

Today's Wall Street Journal has a great story on the tradition of caudillos in Latin America.

Here's an excerpt:

"Some argue that Latin America’s single most important--and colorful--contribution to political science is the caudillo. A Spanish word, caudillo is derived from the Latin capitellum or small head, and refers to a military or political leader. ...The cast of caudillos in Latin American history includes such characters as Antonio López de Santa Anna, who was Mexico’s president on seven separate occasions in the mid-1800s. He signed away Texas’ independence from Mexico after being captured the day after the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836, and once buried a leg he lost in battle with full military honors. ...(Fidel) Castro, el Comandante or el Caballo (the Horse), has the dubious distinction of being the longest-lived caudillo in Latin American history, owing his record-breaking stretch in power more to caudillismo than Marxismo. He’s passed on the torch to Hugo Chávez, the populist caudillo from Caracas, Venezuela."

Caudillo's rise where there are weak democratic institutions, such as in Honduras or the Dominican Republic under Trujillo, a truly frightening guy who makes for terrific reading.

Puerto Rico bypassed this era of caudillismo--unless you want to call Luis Munoz Marin, the island's first elected governor, a benign caudillo. After all, he ran Puerto Rico for about 40 years without any real opposition.

Read the rest of the Wall Street Journal story.


Down with Dictators

In the ongoing controversy over the leadership in Honduras, the United States is between a pair of pajamas and a hard place.

Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was about to pull off a very undemocratic coup via la cocina by planning a referendum to amend the country’s constitution to give himself more time in office, a move that the Honduran supreme court ruled illegal. It was a classic power grab a la Hugo Chavez, who did the same thing in Venezuela several years ago.

In fact, Zelaya was going to use ballots printed in Venezuela. And after the coup, which came in the dead of night and spirited him out of the country in his pajamas, Zelaya has been flown to the United States and elsewhere on Venezuelan aircraft. Zelaya’s got a friend in Chavez.

On the other hand, the coup that installed Roberto Micheletti as acting president of Honduras is not a democratic or constitutional way of running a country. Constitutions, laws and regulations are in place to keep other branches of government from overstepping their bounds. (However, give credit to the Honduran people for smelling a dirty rat and setting a trap for him.)

Where does this leave the United States?

In a narrow sense, the Obama administration is correct to try to undo the coup and help return things to normal, whatever that is in Honduras. But . . . Zelaya is not somebody you would want to go to bat for. Chavez is Zelaya’s godfather and Cuba’s Raul Castro is a kissing cousin, which is why Obama administration critics are having a field day. So the bottom line is, Zelaya is not exactly George Washington.

To be fair, the United States has intervened in Latin America more than a dozen times over the last 125 years or so to terrible effect. Panama, Cuba, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Dominican Republic . . . It would be a big boost to U.S. credibility if we stopped doing this, which hopefully is the aim of the Obama administration.

What’s going to happen? Appointing Costa Rican president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias as mediator in the dispute is a smart move. He is well respected, and Costa Rica is known as the Switzerland of Central America. It is neutral. (Read Arias' excellent commentary "Stop Feckless Funding of Latin Militaries" in the Miami Herald.)

My best guess about what will happen:

—Zelaya is reinstalled under very tight controls (read little wiggle room for shenanigans) until the next election whose date can be pushed up.

—the negotiations are s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d out (wink-wink, nod-nod), leaving little time in Zelaya’s presidency, which had about six months to go.

—Zelaya and Micheletti share power until the next elections, which will take place sooner than you can say Salvador Allende.


El Yunque Is Semifinalist

Puerto Rico's El Yunque made it into the top 77 contenders for the New 7 Wonders of Nature. The next step is up to the judges, who will whittle down the list to 28 finalists.

After these finalists are chosen, you'll have a chance to vote again for the top 7. Let's hope Puerto Rico clears this hurdle of finalists.

I see a couple of other sites I voted for on the list of 77, including:

Angel Falls in Venezuela
Iguazu Falls in Argentina-Brazil
Platano Forest, Honduras
Sossusvlei, Namibia

Did your nominees make it?


El Yunque Countdown

You have till midnight tonight to vote for El Yunque as one of the 7 New Wonders of Nature. Click on the link at left, which takes you directly to the vote page.

The organization will announce the next round of winners that move onto the next phase of the competition on July 9.


Layoff Lottery

Five people got laid off at my job today. We knew something was coming. Revenue was down, and so something had to give. I did not know all of the people affected well, but I feel for them just the same.

There have been a number of layoffs here, each one hopefully "the last." But there can be no guaranties. No one is immune. Names are bandied about each time the layoff lottery starts spinning, including my own.

I wonder if companies understand that at some point they have to stop--or there will be no company. There will be no one left. If layoffs are the principal way to respond to a downsized economy, at some point companies are going to put themselves out of business. Don't the mucky-mucks see that? Are they smart enough?

It doesn't seem so. Oh, there's been brainstorming about growing the business and new business models, to be sure. But I don't see much difference--at least not yet. Perhaps that comes later, if there is a later.

Are other companies like this? Has this been your experience?

It's hard to rebuild an economy in which the average person--employed or unemployed--feels insecure. Loyalty is nonexistent. Few companies are loyal to their workers and workers are not loyal to the companies they work for. This is not new. It's been happening for decades.

The consequences of this logic are profound. If few companies are loyal to their workers, why should consumers be loyal to their products? After all, that worker could be them.

Of course, expenses have to be adjusted to revenue. That's the way companies work. But beyond that, what does a company stand for? Who are you?

Are you just a company that peddles widgets that most of us probably don't need? Or is there something more behind the fancy logo and letterhead?

Millions of employed and unemployed people are wondering.