South America is fascinating. Neither poor not rich; neither western nor exotic; near yet distant. To avoid sounding too much like a travel guide, I’ll elaborate on what I mean.
Here in the United Kingdom we rarely hear about news from South America. Foreign news is often about Europe, the USA and the Middle East – I suppose these are areas where we have an interest. African countries often make the news after all-too-often national crises, and the media watches China and India closely. Yet to a large extent South America evades our television screens and newspaper news pages. It is telling that the biggest news story from the continent over the last few years was that of miners trapped underground in Chile. This was in the same year as the February 2010 earthquake in Chile, which at 8.8 on the Richter scale is the sixth largest ever recorded by a seismograph. Yet this received significantly less attention. Whilst the miners were trapped underground, there was an attempted coup in Ecuador which also received little media coverage here. It sometimes feels like South America remains a distant and mysterious place for us in the West, not dissimilar to the setting of Gabriel García Márquez’s books.
I write all this because I am currently in Argentina. I hope to write some posts to go on here about observations I have, but I can’t promise to post regularly. It is an interesting time to be Argentinean. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who in a similar style to a certain London Mayor I saw referred to as ‘Cristina’ on news channel TN today, is the President (and her late husband was her predecessor) and has attracted international controversy, much like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Tensions have resurfaced over the Falkland Islands, with the 30th anniversary of the end of the war next month. Argentina also nationalised just over half of its biggest oil company, YPF, leading to Spanish threats. In domestic politics, there are worries about press freedom and Kirchner has been accused of denying independence to Argentina’s Central Bank and manipulating official statistics. Is all the criticism of her justified or partly opportunist attacks by those opposed to a left-wing government in Argentina?