Little solace to be found

At the weekend I went to see the latest James Bond flick. Having read a number of reviews, I was prepared for the worst; it was an average movie at best. Daniel Craig has reinvigorated the franchise but he needs stronger scripts if he is to maintain its momentum.

I am always intrigued by commercial movies set in Latin America. This one was full of stereotypes that, if not altogether untrue, do not do the region justice. Vile dictators manipulated by nasty crooks and CIA agents and poverty all around. I don’t imagine Bolivia was very happy about the way it was portrayed in the film. It is close to a failed state, but a small one that is not very important in geopolitical terms. Quite how much water it has I’m not sure but I hardly think it could hold the world to ransom for its water reserves as the Arabs do with their oil.

The scenes set in Haiti – a country that is definitely a failed state and, therefore, regarded as fair game – were actually filmed in Panama (some of the scenes set in Bolivia may have been shot there too). Some members of the Panamanian media were indignant. Obviously, they would have preferred to have seen shots of the skyscrapers in Panama City and the Canal, instead of the terrible slums of Colón, on the Caribbean coast. In fact, the media were less aggrieved by the Tailor of Panama, which to some extent showed the good, the bad and the ugly.

In the Bond film, the Latin American countries were depicted simply as banana republics. Perhaps small countries are chosen in order to avoid offending large ones, where movies can actually make money. Of course, the countries don’t do much to help their own image. Panama recently revealed its uglier side by electing a leader of congress who is accused of murdering an American citizen and has never been brought to justice.

Costa Rica did its best to humiliate itself only yesterday. For economic reasons, the country recently switched its allegiance form Taiwan to mainland China. It established relations with communist China in return for a number of goodies, including a new national stadium. The Chinese leader was in San José yesterday and the President gave government workers the day off so that Hu Jintao’s cavalcade could pass through the city (otherwise the gridlock could have been an embarrassment). Schoolchildren were wheeled out to greet the visitor and his entourage.

Other countries have taken similar courses of action but I find the attitude of Costa Rica’s President Arias particularly hypocritical. This is the Nobel Peace Laureate, Mr. Squeaky Clean, the man who has always defended human rights. Now he intends to fast-track a free trade agreement with China before he leaves office.

The problems of Latin America as a whole seem to be magnified in the smaller countries, where tiny oligarchies have held sway for generations. UN agency ECLAC recently published its annual report on Latin America and the Caribbean. Once again, it confirmed that the region is the most inequitable in the world – the area where the gap between rich and poor is widest.

The big losers amidst all these sterereotypes and poverty are the ordinary people. The fusion of Hispanic and African cultures created a particularly rich hybrid that has since received injections from other parts of the world. Natural resources notwithstanding, the region’s biggest asset is its warm and friendly people. Unfortunately, thanks to their leaders they have rarely enjoyed the reputation they deserve and are usually depicted as little more than caricatures in the movies.

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