Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Are We Heading For Banana Republicanization?

Just back from Ecuador, which just happens to have been the world's largest exporter of bananas since the late 1940s, although oil has been ahead of that popular fruit since the late 60s in export earnings (mangoes, shrimp, flowers, and Panama hats [originally from Ecuador] are other biggies). Since full independence in 1830, the country has had 22 constitutions, the most recent apopted in 2006, and numerous military coups. Between 1997 and 2006, the place had seven presidents and a major financial crash that led to dollarization of the economy (although the coins continue to have Ecuadorian figures on them, except for the popular use of the Sacajewea US dollar coin).

In 2006, charismatic economist, Rafael Correa, was elected president and has been reelected since. He has recently been having referenda on allowing him greater control over the media and judiciary and had Hugo Chavez in the week prior to my being there. He claims to chart a course between Chavez and Brazil's Lula, but has made no moves to de-dollarize and is reportedly close to the Catholic Church.

However, the military remains the most powerful entity in the country, reputedly owning many businesses and prior to 1995 receiving half the oil revenues directly. On this past September 30, police were demonstrating against budget cuts proposed by Correa. He went to speak with them, but ended up confined in a hospital by demonstrating police. The military came in and fought with the police, resulting in nine dead and many more injured. The military is now more openly calling the shots.

Many have commented that the US has two paths it can go: more in a European direction or more in a Latin American direction. With our accelerating inequality, our increasing partisanship leading to a breakdown of the ability of established institutions to make decisions (will the Congress really raise the debt ceiling while cutting $2 trillion in spending without raising taxes or will we just default as many seem to want?), the longer term trends in the US may well be leading us to a point where many may despair of democratic decisionmaking processes and long for a "strong hand" to fix up our messes for us. This was the sort of thing that went on in the 30s, and if things do not pick up reasonably soon, the more unpleasant voices may gain strength.


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