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Economists Shaohua Chen and Martin Ravallion have studied “The Impact of the Global Financial Crisis on the World’s Poorest”. Their analysis shows that the world poverty rate keeps declining despite the crisis:

“The same (post-crisis) growth projections imply that the aggregate $1.25 a day poverty rate will fall from 21% in the “pre-crisis” year of 2008 to 18% (1040 million people) in 2009; the pre-crisis growth rate for 2009 would have instead brought the poverty rate down to 17% (987 million). Using the $2 a day line, the poverty rate falls from 42% in 2008 to 39% (2,232 million) in 2009 under the lower expected growth rate, while the pre-crisis trajectory would have brought the poverty rate down to 38% (2,169 million).”

Dissidents and human rights activists from China, Tibet, Vietnam, Burma, North Korea, Indonesia, Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Cuba and Venezuela gathered in Geneva, Switzerland on March 8-9, 2010 for the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy.
Here you can watch videos of all the debates and speeches.

I believe, there are three main reasons for this terrible tragedy: Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. Haiti is a very undemocratic country. And, well… there was an earthquake of major proportions.

Why do I believe that? Because it is common sense – and because of this impressive scientific study, which shows that there are far fewer deaths from natural disasters in rich and democratic societies:

Democracy, GDP and Natural Disasters
Gregory E. van der Vink and co-authors

When poor, desperate and uneducated peasants or slum dwellers fall for authoritarian populists like Hugo Chavez, it’s a tragedy, because they have to pay a terrible price for it. But when Western intellectuals romanticise violent revolution without even trying to check the facts, it’s a shame.

Watch or listen to María Corina Machado, President of Súmate, a leading pro-democracy NGO, discuss the Failure of Social Policy in Venezuela at the Cato Institute.

Also watch this impressing PBS-Frontline documentary about the Hugo Chavez Show

Watch this impressive and uplifting documentary by Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto and the Institute for Liberty and Democracy:

The Mystery of Capital among the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon

“A documentary of significance with findings from indigenous communities in Alaska, Canada and the Peruvian jungle.”

Watch Larry Diamond, co-director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies and founding co-editor of the Journal of Democracy, explain why he believes it can at the New York Democracy Forum:

Larry Diamond – “Can the Whole World Become Democratic?”

…and there is only one way: you let them do it themselves! Watch Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto explain at the Heritage Foundation how we can integrate the poor into the world economy:

Is Economic Freedom For Everyone?

“Based on his groundbreaking research, renowned economist Hernando de Soto concludes that disorder and political instability, growing terrorist and criminal networks, and grinding poverty in many non-Western countries are due in large part to the fact that many of the world’s most fragile and dangerous states lack critical legal tools required to process information, identify opportunities, reduce risks, and bring people and assets together.”

Watch Ted Galen Carpenter and Ian Vásquez of the Cato Institute explain why we should end the international War on Drugs as soon as possible:

Is It Time to End the International War on Drugs?

“Since President Nixon launched the War on Drugs in 1971, its escalating direct and indirect costs have become increasingly apparent. As we have seen over the decades in Colombia, Mexico, Afghanistan, and other drug-source countries, banning the drug trade creates economic distortions and an opportunity for some of the most unsavory elements to gain tenacious footholds. Drug prohibition inevitably leads to an orgy of corruption and violence.”

Paul Collier is Professor of Economics at Oxford University and Department Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies.

Watch him speak about his book “The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It”, in which he “outlines four traps that the poorest countries in the world can find themselves in: the trap of civil war, the trap of being landlocked, the trap of having abundant natural resouces, and the trap of having a bad government” and explains how they can escape these traps:

Foreign Policy Magazine – Paul Collier

Even though they try hard to kill it – as the Economist reports:

Gorky Aguila, Cuban punk rocker – No Comandante!

Watch Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and co-editor of the Journal of Democracy, debate his book The Spirit of Democracy – The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World, which I very strongly recommend to anyone interested in the science of democracy and democracy movements, with some researchers from Freedom House at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs:

The Spirit of Democracy – Carnegie Council, New York

6,800 drug-war related deaths in Mexico since January 2007 – What is happening? Why is it happening? And how can it ever be stopped?

Watch or listen to a Cato Policy Forum on Mexico’s Drug War: The Growing Crisis on Our Southern Border

Mr. Cardoso is a former president of Brazil. Mr. Gaviria is a former president of Colombia. Mr. Zedillo is a former president of Mexico.
They don’t take drugs. But they all agree that we should stop waging a war against them and the people who use or sell them.

In the Wall Street Journal they explain why: The War on Drugs Is a FailureWe should focus instead on reducing harm to users and on tackling organized crime

…even in Cuba! May this new year bring democracy for its people.

Cuba’s communist dictators celebrate the 50th anniversary of their brutal revolution – and millions of useful idiots around the world with them. It is just disgusting!

Humberto Fontova examines the 4 most prominent clichés about Castro’s rule:

The American Thinker: Cuban Stalinism at 50–and the Media Lies Continue

Also watch him speak about his book Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant:

Humberto Fontova at the Miami Book Fair

“Che hated artists, so how is it possible that artists still today support the image of Che Guevara?”, Paquito D’Rivera, who had to flee Guevara’s Cuba, wants to know.

Watch Reason TV on Hollywood’s Sick Love Affair with Che Guevara

“‘Che was an inspiration for me,’ D’Rivera tells reason.tv. ‘I thought I have to get out of this island as soon as I can, because I am in the wrong place at the wrong time!’ D’Rivera did escape Cuba, and so far he’s won nine Grammy awards playing the kind of music Che tried to silence. But D’Rivera says Che’s crimes didn’t end with censorship. ‘He ordered the execution of many people with no trial.’ Che served as Castro’s chief executioner, presiding over the infamous La Cabana prison. D’Rivera says Che’s policy of killing innocents earned him the nickname—the Butcher of La Cabana.'”

Everyone knows Ernesto Guevara… the myth. Almost no one knows Ernesto Guevara… the real man. The real “Ché” never was a freedom fighter. He was a totalitarian, a fanatic, a stalinist, a dogmatist, a mass murderer, a homophobe, a sadist, a militarist, a war monger…

Watch Humberto Fontova speak about his book “Exposing the Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him” at the Freedom Center or on C-Span.

“Fontova gets right to the work of debunking familiar notions of Argentinan revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevera; by the end of the preface, he’s pinned 14,000 executions on Guevera and credited positive portrayals to the public relations work of Castro and the laziness of biographers. The critical attack continues throughout, combining the testimonies of former revolutionaries and Cuban refugees to assemble a damning portrait of a man lauded by everyone from Jean-Paul Sartre to Jon Lee Anderson.”

Watch Benjamin Powell, Alvaro Vargas Llosa and George Ayittey talk about their book, Making Poor Nations Rich: Entrepreneurship and the Process of Economic Development, at the Independent Institute :

C-Span : Making Poor Nations Rich 

“Why do some nations become rich while others remain poor? Traditional mainstream economic growth theory has done little to answer this question—during most of the twentieth century the theory focused on models that assumed growth was a simple function of labor, capital, and technology. Through a collection of case studies from Asia and Africa to Latin America and Europe, Making Poor Nations Rich argues for examining the critical role entrepreneurs and the institutional environment of private property rights and economic freedom play in economic development.”

Watch this short documentary on slave labor, which is still widespread in rural Brazil, despite some government efforts to eradicate it:

The Hub – Bound by Promises: Contemporary Slavery in Rural Brazil

“Every year, more than 25,000 workers are enslaved by landowners in rural Brazil, mostly in the Amazon region. This video tells the story of men who set out in search of work and are taken to isolated ranches, only to find that they have been lured into debt bondage. Forced to do backbreaking work and to live in overcrowded shacks with no running water, they are treated like animals. ‘A bullet from my shotgun is what you have a right to here’, one worker was told. With no way out, they toil in the hope of buying back their freedom.”

Freedom House has talked to ordinary Cubans from all around the island about how they have been affected by the latest changes:

Change in Cuba: How Citizens View Their Country’s Future

“This report is based on in-depth interviews conducted in April 2008 with nearly 180 Cubans in five provinces. These interviews sought to assess how Cubans are coping with the recent transfer of presidential power and subsequent dynamics on the island.

The study indicates that recent reforms in Cuba have done little to improve the lives of ordinary citizens. Cubans still struggle to survive day to day-to feed their families and to find adequate housing. Moreover, recent reforms announced by Raul Castro have generated little enthusiasm or hope for structural change in Cuba.”

Alvaro Vargas Llosa explains in Barron’s what the rich can learn from the poor about how to get rich:

Lessons From the Poor

“…something many people in rich countries have lost sight of, perhaps because they started their successful journeys so long ago: Free-enterprise capitalism, embodied in entrepreneurialism, is all about the little guy. Big companies exist because some little guys some time in the past beat the odds.”

Peruvian Hernando de Soto studied economics because he wanted to figure out why there are still so many desperately poor in an ever richer world. He didn’t agree with the right that it was a matter of backward and unproductive cultures, the poor around him working very hard every day. And he didn’t agree with the left that it was a result of capitalist exploitation – there just weren’t any greedy multinational corporations in the favelas. So what was the problem? And what was the solution?

The answer he came up with is so simple it might disappoint you at first. In two words: property rights. In the West, we take it for granted that the government secures private property and enforces contracts. In the developing world, however, huge parts of the population live and work outside what de Soto calls the property system – and this is why they can’t benefit from it.

If you are looking for ways to help reduce poverty, the first step is to get a better understanding of its root causes. I highly recommend de Soto’s major publication, The Mystery of Capital, it’s an easy and fascinating read. I can only agree with this review on Amazon.com: “Peruvian economist de Soto sets out to do nothing less than explain why capitalism has worked in the West and been more or less a total disaster in the Third World and former Communist states. This has long been a pivotal question for anyone interested in the world beyond their own back yard, and there have been plenty of attempts to explain it before (often in terms of history, geography, culture, race, etc.). However, de Soto’s is the most compelling and logically argued answer I’ve come across.”

Watch de Soto explain his main thesis in easy words and introduce to you the Oliver Twists of his home country Peru:

Capitalism at the Crossroads

“Capitalism can be the engine by which the poor, set free in an open marketplace, can raise themselves from poverty. We must give them the tools. We ignore them at our peril.”

Watch him talk about his life and work on Al Jazeera’s One on One.

Watch him talk about his book to Charlie Rose.

Watch him talk about “The Future of Democracy in Latin America” on the CIPE-Forum.

Human Rights Watch is not known to be led by right-wing hawks. So when they are seriously concerned about the human rights situation in Venezuela, it’s time to listen up – not just for… well… right-wing hawks.

Their new 230-page report “examines the impact of the Chávez presidency on institutions that are essential for ensuring respect for human rights and the rule of law: the courts, the media, organized labor, and civil society.”

Venezuela: Rights Suffer Under Chávez

And if you are still not convinced that his 21st century socialism looks pretty much like the old fashioned 20th century kind, the Venezuelan government’s reaction to the report may be of interest to you:

Venezuela: Human Rights Watch Delegation Expelled

“The government expelled José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, and Americas deputy director Daniel Wilkinson on September 18, 2008, hours after they held a news conference in Caracas to present a report that describes how the government of President Hugo Chávez has weakened democratic institutions and human rights guarantees in Venezuela.”

Three latin words come to mind: Quod erat demonstrandum.

Latin America has it all: democracy and dictatorship, wealth and poverty, markets and socialism, hope and despair. Whatever kind of progress you are looking for, Latin America ranks somewhere in between Asia and Africa.

Obviously, there are no easy answers. But Peruvian Alvaro Vargas Llosa has some ideas well worth considering. Watch him talk about his book, “Liberty for Latin America: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of State Oppression”, at the World Affairs Council.