La Cátedra Vargas Llosa estudiará el futuro de la escritura en español

El periodista y escritor español Juan José Armas Marcelo, determinó que uno de los objetivos de la cátedra creada con el nombre del premio Nobel de Literatura Mario Vargas Llosa, es provocar una discusión profunda acerca del futuro de la escritura. La Cátedra será presentada oficialmente el próximo día cuatro de octubre. La Fundación Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes informó en junio del propósito de crear la cátedra con el nombre de su presidente y de la Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, un proyecto abierto a la participación de otras universidades, como las once que le honraron con su doctorado honoris causa, instituciones culturales, y dirigido a empresas españolas y americanas. La cátedra tendrá un espacio en la red que ofrecerá información sobre todas sus actividades. Armas Marcelo adelantó que entre otras actividades figura una “gran exposición” sobre Vargas Llosa y celebrar, en 2012, un “foro internacional” de escritores iberoamericanos con ocasión de cumplirse el 50 aniversario de la publicación de “La ciudad y los perros”. Entre los escritores que pueden ser invitados a este encuentro, que se celebraría entre Madrid y Alicante, según Armas Marcelo, están el colombiano Héctor Abad Faciolince, el mexicano Jorge Volpi, los peruanos Ivan Thays y Alonso Cueto, el argentino César Aira y los chilenos Carlos Franz y Alberto Fuguet. La Fundación, que preside el Nobel peruano, es una institución sin ánimo de lucro de ámbito internacional que desarrolla un ambicioso proyecto de digitalización a través de la Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, creada en 1999 por la Universidad de Alicante, la Fundación Botín y el Banco Santander. Su objetivo es la difusión internacional de la literatura y las letras iberoamericanas, con mas de 130.000 registros bibliográficos de libre acceso a través de la red. (Fuente: Infolatam – 31/08/2011)



Argentina´s Turnaround Tango

Argentina may seem like one of the last countries on earth to offer lessons for dealing with economic malaise. Once the eighth-largest economy in the world, it steadily slid through the 20th decade, thanks to decades of repressive dictatorships and inconsistent market experiments. This ended ignominiously in 2001, when it defaulted on $100 billion in sovereign debt, plunging over half its 35 million people into poverty. That, at least, is the Argentina people know. Since then, it has performed an economic U-turn, an achievement largely unnoticed outside Latin America, but one that President Obama and Congress should look to for inspiration. (source: by Ian Mount – NYTimes – 01/09/2011)

Argentina is not without problems, but its recent economic record speaks for itself: the economy has grown by over 6 percent a year for seven of the last eight years, unemployment has been cut to under 8 percent today from over 20 percent in 2002, and the poverty level has fallen by almost half over the last decade. The streets of Buenos Aires are choked with cars as Argentines are on track to buy some 800,000 new vehicles this year; the wine mecca of Mendoza is full of high-end tasting rooms, hotels and restaurants offering regional haute cuisine; and plasma TVs and BlackBerrys have become household staples among the urban middle class.

Argentina has regained its prosperity partly out of dumb luck: a commodity price boom has vastly benefitted this soy, corn and wheat producer. But it has also prospered thanks to smart economic measures. The government intervened to keep the value of its currency low, which boosts local industry by making Argentina’s exports cheaper abroad while keeping foreign imports expensive. It then taxed those imports and exports, using the money to pay for a New Deal-like public works binge, increasing government spending to 25 percent of G.D.P. today from 14 percent in 2003. As a result, the country has 400,000 new low-income housing units, as well as a long-delayed, 235-mile highway between the northern cities of Rosario and Córdoba. It has also strengthened its social safety net: the Universal Child Allowance, started in 2009 with support from both the ruling party and the opposition, gives 1.9 million low-income families a monthly stipend of about $42 per child, which helps increase consumption. Because the amount depends in part on how often the child attends school, it is also likely to improve the country’s long-term educational performance. The results have also paid off politically: President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner recently won about 50 percent of the vote in an open primary against nine other presidential candidates.

Why have Argentines embraced bigger government? In part because the preceding era showed how poorly austerity measures — the sort now being pushed by conservatives in the United States — promote growth. In the late 1990s, Argentina cut government spending drastically on the order of its lenders at the International Monetary Fund. Predictably, between 1998 and 2002, Argentina’s economy shrank by almost 20 percent. It was only after Argentina turned its back on these austerity demands, and defaulted on its debt, that it began to recover. Of course, Argentina is far from perfect: the import and export taxes have scared away some foreign investment, while high spending has pushed inflation well over 20 percent. There are also problems with the way Argentina is run: corruption, government opacity, authoritarian tendencies, confiscatory taxes and a temptation to tweak unpleasant inflation statistics. And it would be laughable to suggest that the United States follow its lead and default on its debt. But Argentina still offers valuable lessons. For one thing, extreme cost-cutting during a stagnant economic period will only inhibit growth. And government spending to promote local industry, pro-job infrastructure programs and unemployment benefits does not turn a country into a kind of Soviet parody. It puts money in the pockets of average citizens, who then spend it and spur the economy. Spending cuts need to be made when times improve — an imperative Argentina is struggling with now — but not before. Argentina is hardly a perfect parallel for the United States. But the stark difference between its austere policies and low growth of the late 1990s and the pro-government, high-growth 2000s offers a test case for how to get an economy moving again. Washington would do well to pay attention. 

How Saudi Arabia Can Contain Iran — and Other Benefits From Syria’s Turmoil

All of a sudden, Saudi Arabia finds itself facing a historic opportunity to greatly enhance its strategic position in the Middle East and perhaps even assume an undisputed leadership role in Arab politics. And this is hardly just an internal Saudi matter. The regional status of the kingdom is a matter of some importance to the United States and its policies in the Middle East. Given the (still solid) strategic alliance between the US and Saudi Arabia, it goes without saying that a more influential and assertive Riyadh helps Washington achieve its overall foreign policy goals in the region, most urgent of which is checking Iran’s power and preventing it from becoming a nuclear power state. (source: AINA Agency – 31/08/2011)

So what is this new Saudi opportunity all about? It starts in Syria. Earlier this month, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia issued a strongly worded statement against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad for his brutal crackdown against Syrian protestors, asking him to stop the “killing machine and end the bloodshed.” He also pulled his ambassador to Syria out of Damascus. Mr. Abdullah’s statement is worth paying close attention to because it reflects not only the kingdom’s foreign policy shift toward relations with Syria but also its new regional approach toward this period of uncertainty and upheaval that has been rocking the Middle East.

Since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, Saudi Arabia has focused all its efforts on fulfilling a single task in foreign policy: the containment of Tehran’s power and influence in the region. Saudi Arabia’s rulers saw (and continue to see) the world, almost exclusively, from the prism of the “Shiite octopus.” Always reacting to Iranian moves, Saudi Arabia seemed behind, trying to limit Iranian advances and minimize costs as much as possible. Containing Iran was never easy because Tehran had done a masterful job projecting its power onto the Levant and Arab Gulf where the kingdom had vital political and security interests. After the 2003 Iraq War, containing Iran became much more difficult because the elimination of late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, a longtime foe of the Iranians, offered Tehran a huge opportunity to dominate the politics and security of oil-rich Iraq. Iran’s rise after the fall of Baghdad prompted leaders in the region, including King Abdullah II of Jordan, to speak of a “Shiite Crescent.” The Saudis looked at their relations with Syria as a means to slow down, or perhaps more realistically, manage Iran’s rise and growing influence. They needed someone that could carry their messages and concerns to the Iranians. Yes, Syria had harassed and often eliminated the kingdom’s allies in Lebanon, and yes, it had armed and offered political backing to pro-Iranian Hezbollah, but the thinking inside the kingdom was that this was no time for payback. Indeed, the House of Saud calculated that a rupture in relations between them and the Syrians would most likely turn the job of containing Iran from difficult to impossible. Therefore, the decision was to turn a blind eye (at least temporarily) to Syrian mischief in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and Iraq — even if it came at the cost of important Saudi interests — on the condition that the Syrians show good faith and gradually distance themselves from Iran. While Abdullah never expected Mr. Assad to break completely with Iran, he wanted to see the Syrian leader cooperate on sensitive matters and give more priority to Arab affairs.

What Riyadh had not realized (until now) was that the very network of relations it enjoyed in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Iraq, that was being constantly undermined by Syria, was in fact the very tool that was necessary to successfully implement the Iran-containment policy. Here’s one example: when Saudi Arabia sought several understandings with Syria on Lebanon during the 2009 to 2010 period, it was, in effect, hurting its chances of containing Iran because these deals ended up bolstering the strength of Iranian-backed Hezbollah. At the same time, these deals ended up weakening Saudi Arabia’s allies in Lebanon, including Saad Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, son of Rafik whom Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran are suspected of killing in February 2005. Abdullah’s recent statement suggests that Saudi Arabia is no longer viewing its relations with Syria in the same light. The House of Saud has finally decided instead to take advantage of the vulnerability of the Syrian regime and grab the great opportunities presented by the crisis it is facing: First, with Assad potentially gone (or with his role transformed), Saudi Arabia could find a “natural” ally in a new, Sunni-dominated government in Damascus, and consequently extend its influence in the Levant. Equally, if not more, important, with a new Syrian political order that is friendly to the Saudis, Iran will lose a gigantic gateway to the Arab world and therefore find it much harder to fulfill its goals in the Middle East. This will allow the kingdom’s Lebanese allies to breathe again. Second, Saudi Arabia could assume an undisputed leadership role in the Arab world and the region, now that Syria is facing an existential crisis, Egypt is in what could be a lengthy transitional stage in its politics, and Iraq’s politics are dangerously paralyzing and unstable. But the kingdom knows very well that if the Syrian regime falls, there will be inherent risks during the transition, all of which will require prudent but also forward-looking Saudi statesmanship and crisis management. On the security front, things could (but not necessarily) turn ugly if Assad goes, with sectarian fighting inside Syria spilling over to Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East.

At home, the Saudi leadership cannot pressure the Syrian regime too much because it knows that it is in an awkward, hypocritical position (the kingdom is second to none when it comes to denial of political rights and freedoms, especially to women, in the Middle East). Its vocal opposition could awaken a so-far relatively dormant Saudi population, especially its Shiite part in the Eastern province. Because of the risks and uncertainties of the Syrian crisis, Saudi Arabia is aware that it has to engage in a very delicate balancing act. Too much pressure could backfire. Too little could see the opportunity for greater regional leadership and containment of Iranian influence slip away. In its place, Turkey could step in as a major power broker and manage Syria’s political future. The current upheaval in Syria and shifting sands in the greater Middle East is one of the most challenging foreign policy tasks that Saudi Arabia has had to deal with since its creation in 1932 — and it’s one whose completion is of great concern to the US as well. If it succeeds in setting itself up for leadership in Syria, the kingdom could become a revived, major player on the regional scene, and Washington could rejoice for finally having an ally that is capable of confronting Iran. If Saudi Arabia fails in this balancing act, it risks becoming far less relevant and falling well behind nations such as up-and-coming Egypt and rising Turkey. And then Tehran would rejoice.