Monthly Archives: April 2012

For many years Latin America complained the United States never paid it much attention. Worse, when it did, it never cared for long. Instead, Latin America suffered the respect usually devoted to a “back yard”; at best, benign neglect.

Today the boot is on the other foot. Latin America, which over the past decade has enjoyed its best economic performance in a generation, no longer seems to care much about the US. When Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff’s travelled to Washington to meet US president Barack Obama this week, the tone of her remarks were cordial but aloof.

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Statues of North Korea's founding president Kim Il-sung (L) and his son Kim Jong-il are unveiled during a ceremony in Pyongyang on April 13 (Getty)

North Korea likes to celebrate on a monumental scale and the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s founder, was supposed to be no different. But the long-range Eunha-3 rocket launched on Friday blew apart about 90 seconds into its flight.

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What to do in a race without Rick

After only one day without Rich Santorum, Mitt Romney started measuring the drapes in the White House. Meanwhile, Barack Obama solidified a key campaign issue. Read more

North Korea’s missile politics

Governments in Seoul, Tokyo and Washington reacted angrily to the announcement last month of North Korea’s impending rocket launch. But what are they really concerned about? Geoff Dyer, US diplomatic correspondent, and Christian Oliver, Seoul correspondent join Shawn Donnan to discuss Pyongyang’s missile politics.

Bo Xilai with his wife Gu Kailai

Not so long ago, Bo Xilai was one of China’s “princelings”, a charismatic, high-flying politician who was apparently destined for its top leadership. From his power base in Chongqing he became known for smashing organised crime, increasing foreign investment and running “revolutionary” campaigns involving singing contests and the revival of Maoist symbols.

But when in February a mafia-busting former police chief called Wang Lijun walked into the US consulate in the western city of Chengdu, he set in train a series of events that brought scandal and infighting out of the secret confines of Chinese party politics and into the public eye. The result was Mr Bo’s spectacular fall from grace and the arrest of his wife Gu Kailai – herself the daughter of a top general – on suspicion of murdering the British citizen Neil Heywood. Read more

Cuba's one-time richest man, Julio Lobo, wearing a bow tie and guayabera. Havana c.1955

Cuba's one-time richest man, Julio Lobo, wearing a bow tie and guayabera. Havana c.1955

Fidel Castro may be old and infirm, but he hasn’t lost his ability to provoke and amuse. The Cuban caudillo’s latest sally is against Barack Obama and his plans to wear a guayabera – a tropical shirt that is Cuba’s official garment – during this weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Colombia. The irony is that the Communist-ruled island will not be represented at the meeting as it does not meet the democratic requirements of the Organisation of American States. Ecuador is skipping the meeting in protest.

“The curious thing, dear readers, is that Cuba is prohibited in that meeting; but the guayaberas, no. Who can stop laughing?” the 85-year old former president wrote in the latest of his rambling “Reflections”, which are published in Cuba’s official media.

The item has been picked up by several news wires. What none of them mention however (although it may be implicit) is that this time the joke is on Mr Castro. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

“We have made Italy, now we must make Italians.” So said Massimo d’Azeglio, an Italian intellectual, just after his country’s unification in 1861. The current generation of EU politicians face a modern version of the d’Azeglio dilemma: They have made a European Union, now they must make Europeans.

It’s hard to see why a Shakespearean play about a Scottish king should be controversial in Thailand. Nevertheless, the Thai film board has seen fit to ban a local film version of Macbeth.

One of the producers says the film board obviously thinks the story of Scottish regicide retold in the film, Shakespeare Must Die, is an allegory about Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister. Mr Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup, is disliked by many Thai royalists for allegedly challenging the authority of the king, something he has always denied. Read more

I am currently in Washington, DC. I packed two books to read on the flight over: “Russia, China and Global Governance” by Charles Grant (actually a long think-tank pamphlet, published by the Centre for European Reform) and “Every Nation For Itself, Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World” by Ian Bremmer.

Once in Washington, I passed by the Brookings Institution and bought three more books: “Deadly Embrace, Pakistan, America and The Future of Global Jihad” by Bruce Riedel; “Bending History – Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy” by Indyk, Lieberthal and O’Hanlon; and “Obama and China’s Rise” by Jeffrey Bader, who should know what he’s on about, since he was head of the Asia desk at the NSC in the Obama White House.

All of these books look excellent. But I’m afraid “look” is the operative word, since I haven’t actually got round to opening any of them. Instead I have been reading the collected essays of Christopher Hitchens, published under the title, “Arguably”. And a slim volume, I picked up in a second-hand bookshop on Dupont Circle, Richard Overy’s “1939, Countdown to War.” Read more

The World Bank presidency and Iraq’s impact on global oil markets

Alan Beattie, Xan Rice, Michael Peel and Guy Chazan join Gideon Rachman to discuss the battle for the presidency of the World Bank and the state of Iraq and its impact on the global oil market

One thing that Pakistani officials particularly hate is when their double-dealing over terrorism is put under the spotlight. That was one of the reasons they were so acutely embarrassed by the killing of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani (the other was the US’s flagrant and humiliating violation of Pakistani sovereignty). Now, the US decision to offer a $10m bounty leading to the arrest of Hafiz Saeed, the founder of a Pakistani militant group blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, will further irritate the Pakistanis. It highlights the extent to which Saeed – far from being a fugitive – is a player on the Pakistani political scene. Read more

More words have been written about the Falklands/Malvinas than the islands probably deserve. Sadly, almost a thousand service personnel died there too, in the months after Argentina invaded 30 years ago this week. Why is the problem so intractable? The answer to that question can perhaps be boiled down to less than 70 words. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

This should be a great time to be a eurosceptic. The sceptics predicted the single currency would not work. They would love to gloat. Instead, they face a dilemma. For now the sceptics are being told that they must do everything possible to keep the euro together – or risk economic Armageddon.