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Monthly Archives: November 2008

There seems to be a new tendency in traveling: volunteering vacation. I am not quite sure if I like this: an increasing number of travel agencies sell (yes, sell) trips for young people to go to Africa, South America or Asia to take part in “development aid”. This means that the travelers go to a place like Bolivia to build wells. What they need is no experience or skills, not even language proficiency is required. These travelers can actually buy themselves into this.

The question is: who do they help, the people they build these wells for, or just themselves? This new kind of “developmental aid traveling” seems to me more like a way for rich westerners to buy themselves a clearer conscience for the luxury they are living in. But the problem is: third world countries don’t actually need rich westerners with no connection to the country they travel to, to build wells and stuff. There is plenty of workforce in countries like Bolivia, Nicaragua or Ghana. What they lack are certain skilled workers (engineers) and most of all: funds. So to all you people out there who “want to do good”: Remember that you are most likely stealing jobs off people who can find no occupation. If you do not bring any special skills, if you have no connection to the place you will go for this kind of developmental aid and if you don’t plan to stay for an extended period, you won’t do no good at all. You are just trying to buy yourself a clear conscience.

If you really want to visit these developing countries, they will actually be better off if you do so as an ordinary tourist. And if you want to support local development, please do it in other ways. Buy fair trade goods and support proper aids like microcredits, self-enforcing and cooperative development aids. Avoid any organization with ties to governments (especially the US), as these are known to grant help only under restrictions such as economical requirements that harm a majority of the population (mostly the poorest part). You can help much more in that way, than buying a free conscience with something that only hurts the already unprivileged even more. If you were really serious you would donate 10% of your income to charitable organizations! Think about it.

Oh yeah, this is old news now. But no surprise, the Sandinista candidate Alexis Argüello did win the election as mayor of Managua, mentioned in last week’s entry.

The opposition leader Montealegre stated that the vote count has not been done properly and he has won 51 percent of the votes. While the whole election has been shady (no independent election monitors, hardly a chance for the opposition to appear in public), these numbers should be questioned. Daniel Ortega’s propaganda has worked so well that the masses of Managua did seem infiltrated and planning to vote for Argüello.

Hoewever, it was far from being a fair race. And the lack of international observers is a further indicator that the election was, in fact, worthless for the people of Managua.

The opposing party CSE relies on an internet poll, where Argüello has only won 46 percent of the votes. Still, it will take a while until the winner of the election of November 9 will be clear: scheduled for December 5, the municipality will announce the official winner.

What a surprise it would be if his name is not Alexis Argüello…

Read this article on “how to steal an election” (okay, it’s by The Economist, definitively known for bias towards leftist groups… But read with this in mind, it gives interesting insights)

I have a friend who has been working in the tourist industry of Costa Rica for years. He speaks many languages is well-educated and knows how to handle people. For a long time it has clearly been the best employment he could find within the country. But for a couple of years now, there has been an increasing number of callcenters that were established in Costa Rica. Not only has Hewlett Packard decided to move here instead of India. Many sportsbetting and online gambling companies have moved here as well.
While I have to admit that poker, casino and sportsbets are clearly not my cup of tea, it looks like a good thing that my friend is working there now because he gets higher wages (around 700 $/month). But on the other hand, the tourist industry feels the pressure of rising wages due to the existence of these callcenters.

Well-trained Ticos (Costa Ricans) that speak two (or even more) languages no longer confine themselves to the realm of hotels and tourdesks. Instead, they spend their days on the phone, being the bookies for Yanks going after this (illegal) excitement. It’s not the most exciting job in the world, but one of the best paid in Costa Rica so far.

Now, there has also been a long debate between the US-government and the Ticos. The US have already arrested a few CEO’s of sportbets companies operating from Costa Rica, when they were transiting the United States. But this, of course, could not solve the problem. Online gambling is a huge industry with crazy amounts of money being transferred worldwide. This is clearly an attractive business for a country like Costa Rica. (Further famous gambling havens are Antigua and Curacao/Netherland Antilles).

I definitely see it as a good thing for Costa Rica to diversify its economy. I don’t have a moral problem with it either. I’m just hoping that my friend will soon be working for something he likes again and make good money too. There’s nothing worse than sticking to a job you don’t like just because it pays well. And currently, that’s the kind of jobs that sportbets create in Costa Rica.

Looking to the state of affairs in Nicaragua these days, one might wonder what has driven into presidente/comandante Daniel Ortega. Day by day he seems to become more of an authoritarian ruler than the democratically elected president he once was. Opposing parties (such as the split-off Sandinista Renovation Movement MRS) are banned from elections, their offices are searches, and allegations are made against various non-governmental organizations to have accepted bribes. (The MRS split off the traditional Sandinista movement FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional) in 1995).

This is particularly striking of a man who was once the leader of one of the world’s most admired socialist movements who has made a pact in 1998 with Arnoldo Aleman of the liberal PLC to share power: Ever since all important institutions of the state of Nicaragua are controlled either by the notoriously corrupt PLC (former president Arnoldo Aleman was sentenced to 20 years of jail for money laundering…) or by the FSLN – which by now seems to be controlled by one person only: Daniel Ortega.

Visit Nicaragua and you will see countless massive billboards with Daniel Ortega, fist raised, promising to abolish poverty and suppress hunger. The revolutionary colours red and black meanwhile have changed to a strange pink background. At the same time, Ortega is allying with the church and actually managed to introduce the world’s most strict anti-abortion law in Nicaragua. Note that Nicaragua used to be a progressive country in Latin America when it comes to women’s rights. Meanwhile, the Autonomous Women’s Movement (MAM) have strongly criticized this law – which lead to the said allegations of corruption and a razzia of their office.

But MAM are not the only ones to feel the Comandate’s iron fist. In fact, pretty much all political parties and NGO’s daring to criticize Ortega’s egomaniac authoritarian style see themselves confronted with legal consequences and banning from institutions and political activities. The Institute for Development and Democracy (IPADE), for instance is accused of being supported by the CIA because it obains money from USaid (a critical accusation in a country that has been torn by a war mainly financed by the CIA – the famous Iran-Contra affair).

So one would think that Ortegas base of support should be disappearing. But no, the president prohibits virtually all street protests in Managua (by blocking important intersections or putting up his own – probably bought – bogus demonstrators). Political opposition finds it increasingly hard to organize. Furthermore, the poor of Nicaragua (unfortunately, still the vast majority of the population), are bought with “support” from the president. Everyone receiving food aid, agricultural support such as a pig or chickens will be very aware who it came from: the FSLN government. There is just one problem: with its dissolving political base the FSLN as they knew it might still cease to exist (on a national level, mind you; local support is still strong in regions like Matagalpa and Jinotega.

November 9 Managua will elect a new mayor. Due to Ortega’s restrictions it will be a quite vote, with a even more quiet opposition. Odds are that ex-boxing world champion Alexis Argüello, comandante Ortega’s comrade will be elected. If he wins, Ortega might probably interpret this as a carte blanche. Hence, the time after November 9 will be an important day for the future development of democracy in Nicaragua: There will be a vote about a constitutional reform, allowing the president to be reelected after serving his term. This was not allowed up to date in Nicaragua and is clearly a step away from democracy.