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By Beverly M. Goldstein

A Bend in the River

“A Bend in the River” is set in an East African country, which was left unnamed, but finally Naipaul’s own turf. Independence has been won and civil war ended. “The Big Man,” president for life, rules using rhetoric, guile, sorcery and much terror. There is a new dispensation running “black men assuming the lies of white men.”

At the novel’s center is Salim, a Muslim of Indian family whose people have lived in a coastal town for several generations, engaging in quiet trade and immersed in traditionalism. Both the narrative voice and dominant consciousness, Salim is a good guy, impressionable, thoughtful, but not at all intellectual. “Our way of life,” Salim tells himself about the Indian settlement in Africa, “was antiquated and almost at an end.” He is an outsider who watches everything taking place with the outsider’s nervousness.

The country, presumably Salim’s too, has now entered modern history, or at least a parody of it. Impressive buildings go up, for no clear purpose; local men are forced to join the army; young people attent schools and universities elsewhere; the population listens to three-hour radio speeches by the Big Man. For the blacks in the bush, for the Indians on the coast, even for the trembling elite, which is supposed to run the country, everything is unsettled, dependent on the whim of the Big Man. We can call it a country but hardly a coherent society. The fading of the tribes, the weakness of all social classes in the towns, the absence of a self-assured intelligentsia: they all lead to making the army the single source of power, and within and over the army, the Big Man.

Naipaul renders everything mentioned above in exact, vibrant detail. When Salim travels inland, to a town on the bend of the river, with the aim to set up a little shop selling cloth and linoleum, he is faced with the first wave of “African rage,” as if in answer to decades of imperial humiliation. “The big lawns and gardens had returned to bush; the streets had disappeared; vines and creepers had grown over broken, bleached walls of concrete or hollow clay brick.” It’s a ghost town, but the ghosts soon come back. Rebuilding starts up, and Salim finds his modest niche where he cam fit in.

The two main lines of event–meditation and narrative–form a shadowy parallel. Salim’s consciousness occupies the space in the foreground, struggling conscientiously to grasp the new Africa; just behind happen the often capricious and fearful political acts set in motion by the Big Man. These acts are not rendered in detail: Naipaul contents himself with a few morbid touches. An order of town disinfection transforms every official into a “disinfector. . .playing hide and seek with taxis and trucks among the hills of rubbish.” A local official has an ominous dream in which the Big Man gathers his subordinates to an early-morning execution at which only one of them will die–but no one knows which it will be. On the surface, “A Bend in the River” emerges mostly as a web of bitter observation. However, in this novel Naipaul demonstrates his gift of creating an aura of psychic and moral tension even as, seemingly, very little happens.

I agree that Naipaul is very negative concerning life in sub-Saharan Africa. In his novel he tells about it in a gloomy and pessimistic way making bitter remarks about the way sub-Saharan inhabitants live. Naipaul describes people’s helplessness, lost hopes and apathy. He strives to show everything as it is, and the reality is negative as much as we can see it through his novel “A Bend in the River”.

Works Cited

1. Naipaul, V.S., 1989. A Bend in the River. Vintage, Reissue edition.

Argentina’s Dollarization

Fixed exchange rates are a constant source of credibility problems and are subject to self-fulfilled speculative attacks. The reason is that if investors think that the central bank will devalue the currency, they will want to exchange their peso assets into dollars, which will reduce the reserves of the central bank. If, for some reason, everybody thinks that a devaluation will take place, the reserves of the central bank could be emptied, forcing it to devalue the peso. The advantage of having a currency board is that investors have a guarantee that the central bank will never run out of reserves (since its reserves exceed the currency in circulation). In spite of the fact that Argentina has been under a currency board since 1991, fears of devaluation are still present, as the Tequila and Vodka–Caipirinha effects have demonstrated. Obviously, what investors are afraid of is that the Argentine government will not be willing to lose all its reserves to sustain the convertibility of the peso, and that it will devalue if the run against the peso is significant enough. At first glance, these fears seem unwarranted since the currency board has been actually created by law, and it would take another law approved by both houses of Congress to repeal it. However, the Argentine executive does have emergency powers that allowing it to suspend convertibility immediately by decree, which is subject to ratification by Congress after the fact. Going to the extreme, one can always imagine that a dishonest central bank may disobey the law, or that a coup may take place. (In fact, Argentina had coups in 1930, 1943, 1946, 1951, 1966, and 1976.) Certainly a currency board provides a stronger commitment device than having the government promise that it will never devalue the peso, but it is not ideal. Dollarization can provide a much stronger commitment device, especially if it were carried out through a bilateral arrangement. If Argentina proceeded unilaterally, one can imagine that the Argentine government could find ways of introducing a national currency in the future again. But it would be very difficult for Argentina to do so if an international treaty espressly prohibited it. In this sense, a bilateral agreement would make Argentina’s commitment more credible than unilateral dollarization. In any case, even if dollarization were done in a unilateral way, it would be difficult for Argentina to reintroduce a national currency in a hidden manner. It should make foreign investors feel safer about the returns of their investments.

Debt crises can be considered as situations in which the repayment prospects of a country’s sovereign debt (or its private sector debt) are significantly downgraded by international capital markets. In other words, the default risk is evaluated again. A debt crisis can happen because of objective, “fundamental” reasons, such as a radical modification of the components of the government’s budget constraint: growth in spending (either present, or in the form of future liabilities) or diminished revenues (because of a recession or internal turmoil). Alternatively, a debt crisis can be driven purely by expectations on the part of international markets that the government of said country is about to default, which results in a drying up of lending to that country. The country’s government is then faced with the choice of repaying the maturing debt (and thereby leaving some hope of convincing lenders to return in the future) or simply defaulting and sparing itself the trouble of repaying the existing loans.

In my opinion, the process of dollarization carried out by the United States in a proper way can only benefit both countries. Argentina will acquire stability and the United States will cooperate with this country in a more fruitful manner.

Works Cited

1. Mundell, Robert A., 1961, “A theory of optimal currency areas,” American Economic Review, Vol. 51, September, pp. 657–665.

Bush and Calderon Solving Immigration Issues

President Bush concluded his Latin America tour with a meeting in Mexico with President Felipe Calderon, which was their first meeting since Calderon took office in December.  Bush has been the target of demonstrations during his trip, and many in Mexico are disappointed in the Bush Administration’s policies, particularly in the relation to immigration, as well as its perceived lack of engagement in the region.

Migration and drug trafficking topped the agenda for Bush and Calderon during their meeting on the Yucatan peninsula. Calderon said that he understood that the attacks of September 11th greatly changed Bush’s foreign policy agenda, but challenged Bush on his pledge to make Latin America a priority for his administration.  Calderon also expressed his hopes of establishing better jobs and creating more opportunity at home, so fewer Mexicans will feel the need to try to cross the border. He said of the American proposal to build a 700-mile fence along its southern border that “migration cannot be stopped and certainly not by decree,” but rather by investment and new jobs in Mexico. Calderon stressed that money for just one kilometer of road in Mexico would do more to lessen illegal immigration than 10 kilometers of a border fence.

President Bush expressed his commitment to passing comprehensive immigration reform and said he hopes to convince Congress to make immigration laws less strict and allow for a guest worker program. Bush’s efforts to pass such a program, along with a path to citizenship, were blocked in the House of Representatives last year by members of the President’s own party, whom he might have been talking about when he commented, “I remind my fellow citizens that family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande River, that there are decent, hard-working honorable citizens of Mexico who want to make a living for their families.” The new Democratic majority in Congress would support an immigration overhaul, according to reports, and Senators Edward Kennedy and John McCain are supporting Bush’s desire to pass a reform bill.

Calderon, a pro-business conservative, did not seem to have particularly high hopes for any major changes coming from the Bush visit and, interestingly, expressed his desire for Mexico to develop closer relations with Cuba.

He and other Mexican officials have compared the fence, which will be built in major smuggling corridors, to the European Berlin Wall. But the legislation still enjoys widespread support in the United States, having passed both the House and Senate easily and winning an approval rate of more than 80 percent in some polls.

Mr. Calderon at the same time is dealing with political upheaval and violence in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, a cause taken up by demonstrators who marched on Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House, when the leaders were meeting. At his Spanish press conference, Mr. Calderon put some of the burden on the United States, saying that Mexico’s southern regions need more investment and that the U.S. needs to do its part to fight crime and drug-trafficking, “particularly in the reduction of the demand for drugs.”  Both at his press conference and with the president, Mr. Calderon asserted the U.S.-Mexico relationship includes more than just immigration and border issues.  “We want to foster our trade relationship, our economic relationship even more,” he said. “We both understand that the only solution to many of the problems that we have is to create well-paid jobs in Mexico.”

In conclusion, I would like to say that softening immigration laws for Mexicans will be a benefit to both countries. It will mean more jobs for the workforce and better relations with a neighboring country.

Sustainable development for LDCs

Concrete steps should be taken that will allow least developed countries (LDCs) to reverse their slide into marginalization and extreme poverty.

The subjects of discussion are:  Governance, Peace and Social Stability; Enhancing Productive Capacities — the Agricultural Sector and Food Security; Intellectual Property and Development — an instrument for wealth creation; Enhancing Productive Capacities — the Role of Health; Education; International Trade, Commodities and Services/Tourism; Energy; Enhancing Productive Capacities  — The Role of Investment and Enterprise Development; Human Resources Development and Employment; Infrastructure Development; Transport; and Financing Growth and Development.

The sessions organized by the competent United Nations specialized agencies, strive to produce concrete commitments concerning resources, programmes and initiatives.  For example, during the discussion on governance, national plans will be devised based on reciprocal commitments by both LDCs and their development partners.  These plans will take into account several components of good governance, such as the institutional, participatory and economic.  Target actions include: strengthening independence among the executive, judicial and legislative branches; decentralizing decision-making; and reinforcing the role of local civil societies.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which is the principal organ of the General Assembly dealing with trade, investment and development is the United Nations focal point for LDCs and has played a major role in discussing LDC matters.

UNCTAD stresses the call for a “New Deal” to help get LDCs out of their situation and the importance of enhanced international development cooperation. The UNCTAD, headed by Secretary-General Rubens Ricupero, also annually publishes the Trade and Development Report and World Investment Report.

At the first conference on LDCs, held in Paris in 1981, the international community adopted unanimously the Substantial New Programme of Action for the 1980s for the Least Developed Countries, which contained guidelines for domestic action by the LDCs, which were to be implemented with the help of international support measures.  However, according to UNCTAD, in spite of major policy reforms started by many of these countries, and supportive measures taken by a number of donors in the areas of aid, debt relief and trade, the economic situation of the LDCs as a whole worsened during that decade.

Therefore, a second conference was held in Paris, from 3 to 14 September 1990, to review the socio-economic progress in those countries, as well as progress in the abovementioned international support measures. The outcome of the Conference was embodied in the Paris Declaration and the Program of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the 1990s, in which the international community decided to act urgently to arrest and reverse the deterioration in the least developed countries and revitalize their growth and development.

In my opinion, sustainable development is a choice for these countries. The guidelines of sustainable development explicitly indicate what kind of problems need to be abatted for the betterment of situation in the country, such as fighting diseases, poverty in corruption. However, it should also be noted that many LDCs are not able to do it without respective investment from donor countries and it is also the task of donors to see to the fact that all these investments go towards country development.