The World-View 18/04/11

An unlikely trio meet to discuss the Honduran question, while worries are voiced about Colombia’s English teaching and the whisky industry looks to a thirsty Latin America.

In a busy week for international diplomacy in Latin America, most notable by far was the meeting between Presidents Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and Porfirio Lobo of Honduras on 9 April.

Remarkable not only for the fact that, as one newspaper pointed out, the preceding marathon bilateral session with Santos forced Chávez to cancel his weekly television show Aló, Presidente, the summit also brought together a hitherto highly unlikely group of leaders.

The well‑documented poor state of Chávez’s relations with the last Colombian president, Álvaro Uribe, makes his rapprochement with Santos all the more remarkable.  Moreover, while Colombia is one of few countries in the region to recognise the legitimacy of Lobo’s government, Venezuelan policy continues to reflect the fact that it was in part former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya’s relationship with Chávez that prompted his 2009 ousting and Lobo’s eventual election.

The fact that Lobo and Chávez agreed to meet is being seen by some as a precursor to Honduras’s re-admittance into the Organisation of American States (OAS), from which it was banished following the coup against Zelaya—pictured above in his trademark Stetson, shaking the hand of Lobo.

There remains, however, an obstacle in the shape of that country’s judiciary, which until now has refused to grant Zelaya immunity from prosecution, a fact which is likely to prevent his return from exile and thus ensure that a key demand of Chávez’s remains unmet.

Elsewhere, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff paid a visit to her country’s biggest trading partner, China.  Aside from the trade deals agreed in bilateral meetings, Rousseff attended a summit of the leaders of the BRIC countries—whose original members Brazil, Russia, India and China have now been joined by South Africa.

The summit heard calls for reform of the United Nations Security Council, which, as Pulsamérica has reported in the past, is a key tenet of Brazil’s foreign policy.

In a joint statement, the two BRICs that already enjoy permanent member status on the Security Council said, ‘China and Russia reiterate the importance they attach to the status of India, Brazil and South Africa in international affairs and understand and support their aspiration to play a greater role in the United Nations’.

Looking out from Latin America this week, in a mirror image of a refrain that will be familiar to many in English-speaking countries, the Colombian daily El Tiempo fretted about its country’s foreign language abilities.

Citing the apparent economic benefits of bilingualism both to individuals and the country at large, the newspaper lamented the ‘archaic methods, poorly qualified teachers, scarce official help and wrong approaches’ that, it believes, characterise English teaching in the country.

Highlighting a disparity between teaching in public and private schools, El Tiempo envisaged ‘a new factor of economic discrimination’ in a world in which ‘fluency in English is essential in modern life’.

The subject of English language ability in the region was also broached, albeit from a rather different perspective, by the Economist in its discussion of the problems facing Central America.

Noting that the average Guatemalan has only 4.1 years of any schooling whatsoever, the newspaper suggested that Costa Rica’s shortage of English speakers is ‘a problem of success’.

The final word, and the view from abroad this week, goes to the Guardian, whose inevitable report about Chávez’s Venezuela focused on his compatriots’ taste for Scotch whisky.

While Chávez himself has railed against the drink, grouping it alongside the Hummer as a luxury item and introducing currency reforms that threaten the continued viability of imports, Venezuela represents one of the largest whisky markets in the world [PDF].

In 2009, Venezuelans spent £116 million on importing whisky and their taste for the drink, according to the newspaper, renders other popular spirits as ‘exotic curiosities that tend to gather dust on liquor-store shelves’.

Indeed, Latin America as a whole is a booming market for whisky, which in 2010 contributed £3.45 billion to the value of UK exports; the year on year value of exports to Central and South America in 2009 was up by 18%.