Americas / Global
The rise of the left in Bogotá, Obama stirs up controversy over Cuba, and rebuilding a Chilean icon.
My morning media menu
Professor of Law, Harvard Law School and Adjunct Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations
Where do you turn to first for your news? The New York Times, NPR and BBC. The web is a godsend for comparative analysis. I love getting multiple perspectives fast.
What about the quality of today’s media? I do know that cuts to foreign coverage at many papers have been devastating – and TV is simply not going to take up the slack. Eventually we are going to get some costly mistakes in important news in some hard-to-reach place, and we’re going to ask, surprised, ‘Why has the free market failed us in delivering this public good?’ You have to admire the reporters and stringers in the field who take the risks, especially in Iraq over the last few years.
What media trends do you see? The move towards opinion and analysis is nearing its limit. We can’t all be at our screens 24 hours a day; someone needs to give us our daily briefings so we can spend the rest of the time doing our jobs.
Out of the ashes
Last year a fire in Santiago gutted the Edificio Diego Portales, the landmark building designed by Juan Echeñique and Miguel Lawner and completed in 1972. Under Pinochet it became an opaque symbol of dictatorship, housing the military and the national police.
Now Chile’s president Michelle Bachelet wants to transform Diego Portales into a cultural space, but many in Santiago claim she is only out to enhance her legacy. The project is aesthetically controversial too, with architects describing the original building as everything from interesting to ugly. Regardless of her motives, this competition will raise the design quotient in Chile.
Bogotá has come a long way in the past decade. Deft urban planning by a string of successful mayors has filled the city’s coffers, eased choking traffic and spruced up business and cultural districts. But as residents head to the polls on 28 October in the hardest-fought mayoral election in decades, there’s concern that its revival may be losing steam. That’s because one of its architects, former mayor Enrique Peñalosa, is in a dogfight to regain his old job and repel a surprise surge by the left.
On the eve of elections, the Duke University economist was in a neck-to-neck race with Samuel Moreno. Unlike the independent Peñalosa, who keeps an arm’s length from party politics but is cosy with conservative President Álvaro Uribe, the unproven Moreno has leapt to the political foreground on the coattails of the left-wing Independent Democratic Pole party which came second in the 2006 presidential race.
The left’s growing base nationally ahead of the 2010 presidential race has diverted attention away from Peñalosa’s achievements. As Bogotá’s mayor from 1998 to 2001, he single-handedly revolutionised rapid transit by building 300km of bike paths and creating the TransMilenio bus system with its bus lanes and subsidy-free finance model.
Under Moreno, some fear for the future of the urban blueprint. “The whole concept of building upon what’s already been built is in jeopardy,” says former mayor Antanas Mockus.
US presidential election watch
How Cubans became an election issue
The US hasn’t shifted its isolationist policy toward Cuba much in the past 40 years, so when Democratic presidential frontrunner Barack Obama recently advocated easing the economic embargo against the Communist state, Cuba suddenly became a central theme in the race. In response Obama’s main Democratic rival Hillary Clinton continued her attack on Obama’s perceived foreign policy inexperience, reiterating her support for the current policy towards Cuba. Republican candidate Mitt Romney questioned Obama’s resolve to confront America’s enemies, and Fred Thompson, another Republican hopeful, vowed to uphold the embargo, though when asked about his fondness for Cuban cigars, said he “doesn’t check the heritage” of every stogie he smokes.
Political analysts say Obama may have been trying to appeal to younger Cuban-American voters in Florida who have broken with the community’s hardline Republican stance toward Fidel Castro. “More recent immigrants and younger people have more moderate views when it comes to the sanctions,” says Phil Peters, a Cuba analyst at the Lexington Institute think tank outside Washington. “Obama is trying to get those moderates to vote for him. It’s smart.” While their numbers may not be large, every vote counts in Florida, a key primary state. “For Democrats, this is the one opportunity they have, and Obama’s seized it,” says Peters.
Castro has even weighed in, but he doesn’t seem to differentiate between the Democrats’ positions, predicting that a ticket with Clinton as president and Obama as vice president will be the winner.