Economist, North America

Subscribe to Economist, North America feed Economist, North America
The Americas
Updated: 1 year 3 months ago

Argentina’s new government gets to grips with the economy

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 09:35

IT IS A MONTH now since Alberto Fernández took over from Mauricio Macri as Argentina’s president and, contrary to some forecasts, the sky over the Pampas has not yet fallen in. Having inherited a dire economic situation, including what Mr Fernández, a Peronist, called a “virtual default” on the country’s debts, his government has begun by doing more or less what he said it would. Adopting almost the opposite approach to its predecessor, it has laid out a tough fiscal policy and a loose monetary policy and has yet to say much about how it will handle the debt. Exchange and price controls, and the southern summer lull, have combined to buy the new team time. But will they use it wisely?

It was trying to buy time to reform a sick economy that got Mr Macri into trouble. A free-market conservative, he ran up debt to finance a gradual fiscal adjustment until investors took fright, prompting a run on the peso and forcing the government into the arms of the IMF. The economy slumped into recession, inflation surged to 54% last year and Mr Macri lost the presidential election. The new team’s first objective, according to Martin Guzmán, the economy minister, is “to halt the fall”.

They have swiftly pushed through an emergency package of mainly fiscal measures. These include tax increases on farm exports and travel abroad, and a...

Baseball-mad Andrés Manuel López Obrador throws money at the game

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 09:35

“TRAITOR. YOU ARE A TRAITOR.” That is how Eduardo Galeano, a leftist writer from Uruguay, greeted Che Guevara in Havana in the early 1960s. The Argentine’s crime had been to abandon Latin America’s favourite pastime, football, for North America’s. A Cuban newspaper had published a photo of him playing baseball. Guevara, who said it was “the first time someone calls me a traitor and keeps living”, learned to play in a Mexican prison while jailed with Fidel Castro in the 1950s. 

He is not the only left-wing leader to have caught the baseball bug in Mexico. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the country’s president, has been a fanatic since childhood. He won the election in 2018 by pledging to go to bat for the poor and vows to “strike out” Mexico’s “mafia of power”.

Under his programme of “republican austerity”, the government has slashed spending on everything from child care to medicines. Baseball is an exception. In March Mr López Obrador opened an Office for the Promotion and Development of Baseball. It got 350m pesos ($19m) to spot and nurture talent. Bureaucrats at non-baseball agencies were enraged. 

Mexico’s constitution tells the government to “promote and stimulate” sport. It does not say which ones. Mr López Obrador has cut funding for Formula 1 and American-football events. Baseball, though, is “...

Jovenel Moïse tries to govern Haiti without a parliament

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 09:35

PETER CONFIDENCE lounges against a broken lamppost in a park in Petionville, a prosperous suburb of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, basking in the afternoon sun. As he rubs a tattooed St Peter on his neck he explains that Jovenel Moïse, Haiti’s president, is the only man strong enough to fix the country. Before he can finish, a passer-by selling food from a large metal pot that he lugs around interjects that the Americans should lock Mr Moïse up. Within seconds, a crowd assembles to discuss the state of the nation and the quality of its leader, nicknamed “Banana Man” because he once helped create a big banana plantation. The conversation pinballs between tirades and black humour.

Though such debate is a feature of Haitian life, the country’s parliament is silent. A new session should have begun on January 13th, the day after the tenth anniversary of a devastating earthquake. But a legislative election, due in October 2019, was never held. In the absence of a functioning legislature, the president will rule by decree. For a country with a history of brutal dictatorship, coups and dodgy elections, the prospect of one-man rule is ominous.

Even before it was dissolved, parliament was dysfunctional and its relationship with the president was broken. The 119-seat lower house was divided among 20-odd parties, which mostly...

A crude attempt to stifle what’s left of Venezuela’s democracy

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 08:50

ON SUNDAY JANUARY 5TH Juan Guaidó found himself perched unsteadily atop the ornate wrought-iron railings outside Venezuela’s national assembly, being pushed back by the riot shields of the National Guard. Since Mr Guaidó is the speaker of the assembly and was due to be re-elected to the post that day, the image said everything about the assault on the last vestiges of Venezuela’s democracy by the regime of Nicolás Maduro, who rules as a dictator. It underlined that a year after Mr Guaidó proclaimed himself “interim president” of the country, on the grounds that Mr Maduro’s election for a second term was fraudulent, he has legitimacy but no power. And it suggested that Mr Maduro has no interest in negotiating a solution for Venezuela’s long agony.

In December 2015 the opposition triumphed in a legislative election, the last fair contest the country has seen. It won 112 of the 167 seats in the assembly, a two-thirds majority and thus enough to change the constitution and appoint new judicial and electoral authorities. Mr Maduro’s regime went into action. The puppet supreme court barred three opposition legislators from taking their seats. In 2017 the regime set up a parallel “constituent assembly” of loyalists, which rubber-stamps its actions. The courts have stripped 29 opposition parliamentarians of their immunity. Two are in jail....

Justin Trudeau’s less ambitious second term as Canada’s prime minister

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 08:50

JUSTIN TRUDEAU returned from his Christmas break in Costa Rica with a new look. Canada’s prime minister has sprouted a salt-and-pepper stubble, making him look slightly less youthful. His makeover hints that he intends to govern differently in his second term, which began late last year. He has plenty of reasons to change his approach. The election on October 21st was a close shave. Mr Trudeau’s Liberal Party won 1m fewer votes than it had four years before and lost its majority in Parliament. He now leads a minority government dependent for support on other parties, especially the left-wing New Democrats (NDP) and the Bloc Québécois, which advocates independence for Quebec. The Liberals won no seats in the western prairie provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Mr Trudeau interprets this setback as a rebuff to his governing style rather than to his policies. He was a global cheerleader for every progressive cause, from welcoming refugees to expanding transgender rights. This grated on some voters. Ethical lapses, especially demoting the justice minister after she refused to help a big engineering firm avoid prosecution for bribery, compounded the damage.

Mr Trudeau’s first-term policies are easier to defend. They included legalising cannabis; a new child benefit, which cut poverty and lifted middle-class incomes; a...

Guatemala’s new president, Alejandro Giammattei, outlines his plans

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 08:50

ALEJANDRO GIAMMATTEI, who will become Guatemala’s president on January 14th, did not have an easy ride to the top. The 63-year-old developed multiple sclerosis in his youth and walks with forearm crutches. His only previous government job was a brief stint a dozen years ago as head of the country’s prisons, which ended in his own incarceration. He spent ten months in jail during the investigation of the killing of seven inmates. Charges were dropped. He has a 20-year record of losing elections to be president and mayor of Guatemala City, the capital. This time, more popular rivals were disqualified.

The country he is about to lead is also bruised. Crime is high, corruption is unchecked and hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans a year seek better lives in the United States. Mr Giammattei’s answer, etched in English on a Guatemala-blue bracelet that he wears, is “hope”.

His predecessor, Jimmy Morales, failed to provide it. A former comedian and political outsider, he won the presidency in 2015 in a protest vote against corruption. But he sent home a UN-backed anti-graft agency, the International Commission against Impunity (CICIG), which had investigated allegations that he had violated campaign-finance laws (which he denies). After handing power to Mr Giammattei, Mr Morales will scurry across town for a same-day swearing-...

Pages