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Alidad Vassigh

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Photo of Cilia Flores (left) and her husband Nicolás Maduro (middle)
Geopolitics

Cilia Flores de Maduro, How Venezuela's First Lady Wields A Corrupt "Flower Shop" Of Power

Venezuela's first lady, Cilia Flores, is one of the country's chief power brokers and a consummate wheeler-dealer who, with the help of relatives, runs a voracious enterprise dubbed the Flower Shop.

-OpEd-

One of the clearest signs of tyranny in Venezuela has to be the pervasive nepotism and behind-the-scenes power enjoyed by President Nicolás Maduro's wife, Cilia Flores de Maduro.

In Venezuela, it's said that Flores works in the shadows but is somehow "always in the right place," with one commentator observing that she is constantly "surrounded by an extensive web of collaborators" — including relatives, with whom she has forged a clique often dubbed the floristería, or the "Flower Shop," which is thought to control every facet of Venezuelan politics.

She is certainly Venezuela's most powerful woman.

From modest origins, Flores is 68 years old and a lawyer by training. She began her ascent as defense attorney for the then lieutenant-colonel Hugo Chávez, who was jailed after his failed attempt at a coup d'état in 1992. She offered him her services and obtained his release, which won her his unstinting support for the rest of his life.

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Photo of dozens of crab traps
Green Or Gone

Tracking The Asian Fishing "Armada" That Sucks Up Tons Of Seafood Off Argentina's Coast

A brightly-lit flotilla of fishing ships has reappeared in international waters off the southern coast of Argentina as it has annually in recent years for an "industrial harvest" of thousands of tons of fish and shellfish.

BUENOS AIRES — The 'floating city' of industrial fishing boats has returned, lighting up a long stretch of the South Atlantic.

Recently visible off the coast of southern Argentina, aerial photographs showed the well-lit armada of some 500 vessels, parked 201 miles offshore from Comodoro Rivadavia in the province of Chubut. The fleet had arrived for its vast seasonal haul of sea 'products,' confirming its annual return to harvest squid, cod and shellfish on a scale that activists have called an environmental blitzkrieg.

In principle the ships are fishing just outside Argentina's exclusive Economic Zone, though it's widely known that this kind of apparent "industrial harvest" does not respect the territorial line, entering Argentine waters for one reason or another.

For some years now, activists and organizations like Greenpeace have repeatedly denounced industrial-style fishing as exhausting marine resources worldwide and badly affecting regional fauna, even if the fishing outfits technically manage to evade any crackdown by staying in or near international waters.

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Photo of women in traditional clothes at a market in Cartagena, Colombia
Society

"Splendid" Colonialism? Time To Change How We Talk About Fashion And Culture

A lavish book to celebrate Cartagena, Colombia's most prized travel destination, will perpetuate clichéd views of a city inextricably linked with European exploitation.

-Analysis-

BOGOTÁ — The Colombian designer Johanna Ortiz is celebrating the historic port of Cartagena de Indias, in Colombia, in a new book, Cartagena Grace, published by Assouline. The European publisher specializes in luxury art and travel books, or those weighty, costly coffee table books filled with dreamy pictures. If you never opened the book, you could still admire it as a beautiful object in a lobby or on a center table.

Ortiz produced the book in collaboration with Lauren Santo Domingo, an American model (née Davis, in Connecticut) who married into one of Colombia's wealthiest families. Assouline is promoting it as a celebration of the city's "colonial splendor, Caribbean soul and unfaltering pride," while the Bogotá weekly Semana has welcomed an international publisher's focus on one of the country's emblematic cities and tourist spots.

And yet, use of terms like colonial "splendor" is not just inappropriate, but unacceptable.

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Two supporters of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro dressed in Brazilian flags during a demonstration in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Geopolitics

The Trumpian Virus Undermining Democracy Is Now Spreading Through South America

Taking inspiration from events in the United States over the past four years, rejection of election results and established state institutions is on the rise in Latin America.

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — South Africa's Nelson Mandela used to say it was "so easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build."

Intolerance toward those who think differently, even inside the same political space, is corroding the bases of representative democracy, which is the only system we know that allows us to live and grow in freedom, in spite of its flaws.

Recent events in South America and elsewhere are precisely alerting us to that danger. The most explosive example was in Brazil, where a crowd of thousands managed to storm key institutional premises like the presidential palace, parliament and the Supreme Court.

In Peru, the country's Marxist (now former) president, Pedro Castillo, sought to use the armed and security forces to shut down parliament and halt the Supreme Court and state prosecutors from investigating corruption allegations against him.

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Close up photo of a somber-looking flag of the U.S.
eyes on the U.S.

Eyes On U.S. – American Diplomacy Is Unable (Or Unwilling) To Adapt To A New World

Crises worldwide mean we need less nationalism and more cooperation, but the U.S., a weakened superpower, won't accept its diminished status.

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — There is widespread international consensus that the post-Cold War period, which began around 1990, is over. Initially, it heralded a "new order" under the guidance of the United States, which promised stability, justice and equity but became instead a run of crises, challenges, conflicts and failures.

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Photo of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro at Mar a Lago resort in Florida on March 7, 2020​
Geopolitics

Have No Doubt: Bolsonaro's Fingerprints Are All Over The Brasilia Assault

Emulating the Trump-inspired attack on the U.S. Capitol, the assault of a right-wing mob on government buildings in Brasilia took its cue from former president Bolsonaro's longstanding contempt for democratic institutions.

-Editorial-

In defeat, authoritarianism is unable to reflect, let alone peacefully hand over power. In Brazil, we have just seen the sadly predictable consequences of years of questioning the legitimacy of elections and their institutional guarantors by the departing right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro.

In an echo of events in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, thousands of Bolsonaro's supporters stormed the premises of Brazil's Congress, Supreme Court and the offices of his duly-elected successor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The similarity with the assault on the U.S. Capitol after the Trump presidency is no coincidence.

Fascist-style regimes copy each other's clumsy, violent and painful methods.

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photo of a metal statue of Franz Kafka in Prague
Society

Kafka And Dostoevsky: Was 'The Trial' A Hidden Rewriting Of 'Crime And Punishment'?

A Colombian student of Franz Kafka insists works by the 20th century Czech author, like The Trial, are so close to Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment as to be versions of it — creating potential trouble for European publishing houses.

BOGOTÁ After years of scrutiny and research, a Colombian mathematician armed with with tables and calculations has made what he says is a shocking literary discovery: The Trial, Franz Kafka's celebrated 1915 depiction of a nonsensical trial for an unspecified crime, is a rewritten version of Fyodor Dostoevsky's classic Crime and Punishment.

A Medellín-born teacher and fan of detective stories, Guillermo Sánchez Trujillo believes he has solved one of the great literary mysteries of modern times, both in identifying the source of The Trial and the order of its chapters, which seemed to have evaded Kafka students for a century.

The Trial, he says, is a palimpsest, or a "hidden rewriting," of Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky's 1866 story of a murder investigation set in late imperial Russia.

This astounding conclusion has earned Sánchez a not small amount of disapproval, and even obstruction, from the literary and publishing realms. In 2005, he published "a critical edition" of The Trial (in Spanish), in the order he believed was intended by its author.

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Photo of a woman carrying a flag of Peru at a protest celebrating the removal of President Pedro Castillo in Lima, Peru, on Dec. 7
Geopolitics

Adiós Castillo: Why Latin America Is Ready To Close The Era Of "Cheap Populism"

The impeachment and arrest of Peru's Leftist president can be taken as perhaps a conclusive signal to the region that populism — from the Left and Right — may have run out of gas.

Modern populism, or "neo-populism," began in Peru with the election in 1990 of President Alberto Fujimori. The notorious arch-conservative leader, who smashed a Maoist rebellion, was a pioneer of the pseudo-arguments one hears to this day within the anti-political circles of populism. He wanted to forge a direct link with "the people" by simplified policy proposals, whipping up emotions and sidelining public institutions. He promised firm government and an end to corruption, only to turn into another violent and corrupt strongman.

Others of his type — in Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador — sought to keep power with the help of favorable economic winds, but eventually (virtually) all fell in the same way, like dominos. And now, we've seen it again in Peru, with the ouster and arrest of former President Pedro Castillo.

It's worth recalling that in the first decade of this century, all South American countries of the Andean region were dominated by the populist phenomenon, whether from the Left or Right. Peru and Venezuela succumbed to blatant authoritarianism though Venezuela's Hugo Chávez was the only one to entirely subdue the country's institutions.

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Photo of ​Chiara Torruella, 19, sleeping in a store
Society

Dream Job: Buenos Aires Experiment Puts Sleeping Skills On Display

An experiment in the Argentine capital sought to find out why some people sleep so well. Two young people stood out from the rest thanks to a certain inner tranquility and routines that get them in the snoozy mode. Next thing you know, they're out...

BUENOS AIRES — Chiara and Kevin have an unusual, and occasionally very useful, talent: the ability to doze off at the drop of a hat. Their enviable ability even earned them a little job consisting of, well, sleeping.

I watched them sleeping in two large beds inside a shop front on Godoy Cruz, in the Palermo Hollywood district of Buenos Aires. Chiara Torruella (19) and Kevin Raud (27), both about to graduate as systems engineers, were asked to take a nap there at exactly half-past-three in the afternoon.

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Watching China, And The Western Trap Of Wishful Thinking
Geopolitics

Watching China, And The Western Trap Of Wishful Thinking

While many Chinese citizens are indeed fed up with the government’s Zero-COVID policy, predicting that a mass revolt is ready to overturn Communist rule is the latest sign of our deep misunderstanding of the Asian superpower. A view from Bogotá of a former Beijing correspondent.

-Analysis-

BOGOTÁ — It isn’t easy to gauge the scope of the protests in China on the basis of Western media reports. Beyond the correspondents present on the ground, those running news operations in Europe and especially the United States have tended to overestimate the public discontent, exaggerate economic problems and project a greater desire for freedoms and democracy than really exists in China.

Meanwhile here in Latin America, the editorial tendency has instead been to highlight the 'eccentric' aspects of modern Chinese culture, which has strengthened some existing myths and misperceptions. Coverage of politics was always cautious and reporting on the regional characteristics of China's economic progression hardly a top item on our weekend news bulletins. When I was a freelance journalist in China, it was always easier for me to sell articles on, say, types of firearms you could buy there on Taobao, a Chinese equivalent of Amazon.

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Photo of a street in Doha, Qatar, with a building displaying a giant ad for the 2022 World Cup
Society

Let's Not Forget The Original Sin Of The Qatar World Cup: Greed

Soccer is a useful political tool for dictatorships. But Qatar is able to milk the World Cup as much as possible because the sport is infected by unbridled capitalistic greed.

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — Soccer lost its innocence years ago. Its history of spectacular feats and heart-wrenching moments contain a catalogue of outrages. Beyond the miracles and goals, the "beautiful game" must face up to its own infection by capitalism and greed for profits.

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How U.S. Airlines Are Doing Cuba's Dirty Work On American Soil
Ideas

How U.S. Airlines Are Doing Cuba's Dirty Work On American Soil

American and Southwest Airlines have been refusing to allow Cubans on board flights if they've been blacklisted by the government in Havana.

On Sunday, American Airlines refused to let Cuban writer Carlos Manuel Álvarez board a Miami flight bound for Havana. It was at least the third time this year that a U.S. airline refused to let Cubans on board to return to their homeland after Havana circulated a government "blacklist" of critics of the regime. Clearly undemocratic and possibly illegal under U.S. law, the airlines want to make sure to cash in on a lucrative travel route, writes Colombian journalist Santiago Villa:

-OpEd-

Imagine for a moment that you left your home country years ago because you couldn't properly pursue your chosen career there. It wasn't easy, of course: Your profession is not just singularly demanding, but even at the top of the game you might not be assured a stable or sufficient income, and you've had to take on second jobs, working in bars and restaurants.

This chosen vocation is that of a writer or journalist, or perhaps an artist, which has kept you tied to your homeland, often the subject of your work, even if you don't live there anymore.

Since leaving, you've been back home several times, though not so much for work. Because if you did, you would be followed in cars and receive phone calls to let you know you are being watched.

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