"I return to hell."
Remember the narrative of the nineties? The Olive Tree and the Lexus narrative? The inevitable march of capital over the sullen bodies of obstetric leftists? The final, historic turn to private enterprise all over the third world? Latin America was the happy, happy example for NYT shills of the process like Thomas Friedman, who has turned his supernatural talent for bad advice to Iraq these days – appropriately enough. The war in Iraq can considered, in some ways, the logical extension of the globalization ideology – if you don’t like private enterprise, we’ll kill you.
Two items today should be noted.
One is an old item, from the Guardian, Feb. 12. Go to it. It is a review of a unique document, the diary of a Brazilian woman, Carolina Maria de Jesus, who spent her life in the “insoluble hell” of a Sao Paulo shanty town – Beyond all pity. Maria de Jesus’s money life – our Siamese twin/devil in this life – was spent gathering junk to sell. Especially papers, waste papers, according to the author of the article, Felipe Fortuna:
“De Jesus wrote out of her poverty. By day and by night, waste paper and writing paper were the materials from which she built her life: by day, she made money by gathering and sorting paper, but at night, when she could, she would confront the blank pages of her notebook.
'The diary is not, by definition, a controlled creative process, nor is it a fictional work: it is a text bound by dates, which develops chronologically, without the need for climaxes. Nevertheless, the diary of De Jesus always records her life in the shanty town as an experience of overcoming, to which the succession of days and nights is crucial. All of a sudden, she will record how she doesn't know what the next day will bring, whether there will be any paper to sort, and therefore any food. She is in a constant state of precariousness, like someone who for years experiences work in a hospital, prison or mental asylum. And the life of De Jesus is as surprising as her text, both to her and her readers.”
Maria de Jesus saw the shantytown as the eternal impress of an active degradation which was dragging her to the bottom, and which would drag her children to the bottom, a perspective that might make some purveyors of identity politics nervous. Ourselves, we understand the irritation – living on the edge of your nerves sensitizes you to the trivial, to the neighbors’ disgusting behavior, to the law that rules out all generous gestures as suicidal. Here’s an example of an entry:
“The birthday of my daughter Vera Eunice. I wanted to buy a pair of shoes for her, but the price of food keeps us from realising our desires. Actually we are slaves to the cost of living. I found a pair of shoes in the garbage, washed them, and patched them for her to wear.
I didn't have one cent to buy bread. So I washed three bottles and traded them to Arnaldo. He kept the bottles and gave me bread. Then I went to sell my paper. I received 65 cruzeiros. I spent 20 cruzeiros for meat. I got one kilo of ham and one kilo of sugar and spent six cruzeiros on cheese. And the money was gone.
I was ill all day. I thought I had a cold. At night my chest pained me. I started to cough. I decided not to go out at night to look for paper. I searched for my son Joao. He was at Felisberto de Carvalho Street near the market. A bus had knocked a boy into the sidewalk and a crowd gathered. Joao was in the middle of it all. I poked him a couple of times and within five minutes he was home.”
Another piece of more ephemeral news comes to us via today’s NYT, which reports, unsurprisingly, that privatization is dead in Latin America.
“El Alto, Bolivia -- Piped water, like the runoff from the glaciers above this city, runs tantalizingly close to Remedios Cuyuña's home. But with no way to pay the $450 hookup fee charged by the French-run waterworks, she washes her clothes and bathes her three children in frigid well water beside a fetid creek.
So in January, when legions of angry residents rose up against the company, she eagerly joined in. The fragile government of President Carlos Mesa, hoping to avert the same kind of uprising that toppled his predecessor in 2003, then took a step that proved popular but shook foreign investors to their core. It canceled the contract of Aguas del Illimani, a subsidiary of the $53 billion French giant Suez, effectively tossing it out of the country and leaving the state responsible.”
The swing back is going to be interesting – especially as the ideologues attempt to explain the conjunction of economic recovery and that horrid state, interfering in the economy:
“No companies have been more buffeted than those running public utilities offering water, electrical and telephone services, or those that extract minerals and hydrocarbons, which, like water, are seen as part of a nation's patrimony.
In Peru, despite major economic growth, foreign investment fell to $1.3 billion last year from $2.1 billion in 2002. Ecuador has also seen investments sag, as oil companies that once saw the country as a rosy destination have faced the increasingly determined opposition of Indian tribes and environmental groups.
Argentina, which has taken a decidedly leftist path in the economic recovery following its 2001 collapse, has recouped only a fraction of the investments it attracted just a few years ago.”
Investment from the outside – the dulcet, rustling sounds of dollars coming into a country – was accompanied, throughout the eighties and nineties, by another sound – the sucking sound of capital leaving the country to pay for both an unsustainable boom in imported consumer items and the mausoleum like piles of monstrous, useless debt. We will see if Latin American left leaning governments – even those, like Brazil’s, pursuing right leaning economic policy – start to understand that investment from the outside should come from Latin American countries themselves.