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Latin America & Caribbean

Just Because It's Legal Doesn't Make It (a) Right: Citizen Access to Information in Latin America - PART 2

Antonio Lambino's picture

A follow-up to an earlier post on Toby Mendel’s new book The Right to Information in Latin America: A Comparative Legal Survey.  11 country cases and a comparative analysis chapter are organized around the following categories: definition of access to information (“The Right of Access”); rules for processing of information requests (“Procedural Guarantees” ); public authorities responsible for disclosure (“Duty to Publish”); grounds for refusal to disclose (“Exceptions”); complaint mechanisms for refusal of access (“Appeals”); punishment for obstructing access (“Sanctions and Protections”); and public engagement and education (“Promotional Measures”).  

The systematic manner in which Mendel breaks down each country analysis gives the reader a comparative sense of the 11 Latin American countries covered.  As I continued going through the country chapters, I gained an appreciation for the various dimensions of how the “right to information” has been institutionalized to varying degrees in different countries in the region.  It became clear to me that all these categories are important in getting a sense of whether the “right to information” is indeed a right since, as we know, when it comes to law, the devil lurks in the details.

Business as Usual in Guatemala

Sanket Mohapatra's picture

Santa Catalina Arch, Antigua, Guatemala. Photo © Sanket Mohapatra/World Bank
I recently made a presentation on the impact of the financial crisis and our outlook for remittances in 2009-10 at a conference on improving central bank measurement and procedures on remittances organized by CEMLA and the Banco de Guatemala on September 8-10. My colleague Jacqueline Irving presented on a global survey of central banks.The sessions and interactions with the participants made me aware that central bankers are not just interested in measuring remittances accurately, but are thinking about a range of issues that affect both remittances and migration—ranging from how exchange rate movements can create incentives to send remittances for investment motives, to intra-regional and bilateral migration flows.
 

Just Because It's Legal Doesn't Make It (a) Right: Citizen Access to Information in Latin America - PART 1

Antonio Lambino's picture

UNESCO recently published Toby Mendel’s The Right to Information in Latin America: A Comparative Legal Survey.  The book is organized around the following sections: international standards and trends; features of a Right to Information Regime; 11 Latin American country chapters; and a comparative analysis on the legal and regulatory aspects of the issue.  While Mendel’s new volume is a significant and substantial addition to the policy scholarship on this topic, what struck me initially is the boldness of the book’s title.

The title audaciously starts with “The Right to Information…”, in stark contrast with an earlier major publication on the same topic by the same author entitled Freedom of Information: A Comparative Legal Survey, first published by UNESCO in 2003 with a revised edition released in 2008.  As I started reading the chapter on international standards, I found that Mendel explicitly states the reason for this:

Putting Ideals to the Test: Health Councils in Brazil

Darshana Patel's picture

My last post on this blog discussed public deliberation as a political ideal and what happens when that ideal is tested in an actual decision-making space.   In a paper about municipal health councils in Brazil, Andrea Cornwall gives a blow-by-blow description of what happens when deliberative spaces stop being polite and start getting real.  

Health councils were established in Brazil’s 1988 ‘Citizens’ Constitution’ and empowered citizens with the right to review and approve executive-level budgets, accounts and spending plans on health programs. Although overshadowed by the participatory budgeting process, Brazilian health councils can also provide some important lessons on how to deepen citizen engagement and decision-making.   Through the example of these health councils, Cornwall argues that three elements in particular are often “under-theorized” by deliberative democratic theorists.  First, understanding political culture is important. Second, how do party politics infiltrate and impact these spaces?  And last, how is power challenged in these spaces?  (She describes discussions in this deliberative space more as confrontational rather than reasonable.)

The Public and Its Pundits

Antonio Lambino's picture

The public needs its pundits.  Those with expertise on various topics, ranging from financial derivates to pop psychology, serve as “opinion leaders” on the important and not-so-important issues of the day.  From personal experience -- talking to family, friends, and colleagues -- I notice that we tend to repeat what we hear from them on various topics, whether consciously or not. 

We know from applied communication research that, over time, people tend to retain bits and pieces of information while forgetting their sources.  How many times have we made authoritative statements and when asked where we got the information, say something like “I don’t remember from where exactly but I’m pretty sure that… “  This is normal because we can’t be expected to keep track of each and every information source.  And we can’t be expected to come up with our own erudite analysis of each and every public issue either.  Hence, we need pundits.  But we should also keep in mind that not all of these experts on all things public are created equal.  We could very well be mouthing off as hard fact something a pundit shared as her or his own misinformed opinion. 

Climate Change and indigenous people: Local actions, global benefits

Guillermo Recio Guajardo's picture

The author, Guillermo Recio Guajardo, won second place in an international youth essay competition sponsored by the World Bank and other partners. He answered the question “How can you tackle climate change through youth-led solutions?” The awards were announced in Seoul in June, 2009.

The Sierra Tarahumara in Chihuahua, Mexico
   Photo by Guillermo Recio Guajardo

Over the years, several multinational companies and global groups have entered the ancestral territories of indigenous communities in Mexico, and the process of modernization has often damaged the environment.

For example, both legal and illegal logging are now common in the Sierra Tarahumara in Mexico’s Chihuahua state. This territory is home to about 84,000 Rarámuris or Tarahumara Indians who depend on forest conservation for their livelihood and preservation of their culture. But deforestation and loss of biodiversity are a severe threat—with almost 90 percent of the wood for the forest industry in Chihuahua coming from the Sierra Tarahumara—and are increasing an irreversible ecological imbalance.

Illegal logging has also been causing upheaval in Mexico’s climate system. Without enough trees in our tropical and temperate forests, it is impossible to capture carbon dioxide. According to recent research, "Mexico has deforested more than one-third of its forests and jungles, thereby reducing its original woodland area of 52 percent of the country to 33 percent in the year 2000."1

Why Uruguay?

Silvio Waisbord's picture

Again, Uruguay shows that when civil society intelligently promotes coalition-building and finds sympathetic allies in government, media reform is possible. On June 10, the Congress passed a bill to reform the Penal Code and the Press Law. The new law will abolish libel laws and subject national legislation on communication issues to criteria enforced by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. The bill is likely to be approved by the Executive.

This achievement is another landmark of recent efforts towards media democracy in Uruguay. During the past two years, legislation on community broadcasting, access to public information, and national archiving of information was approved. The passing of community broadcasting law in December 2007 represented a major success. The law assigns one-third of radio frequencies to community, non-profit stations. It defines community stations in terms of the nature of their goals (“social mission”) and ownership (“collective properties”) rather in terms of reach or geographical location. It stipulates the existence of the Consejo Honorario Asesor de Radiodifusión Comunitaria, a multi-sectoral committee with significant representation from civil society that oversees the bidding process and monitors the performance of stations to ensure that they meet social goals. The passing of the “freedom of information” law in October 2008, and the elimination of libel and contempt laws are other positive advances. This is encouraging if we consider that, like in the rest of the region, the dominant media system historically conformed with the norm of media policies in Latin America: state patrimonialism and collusion between governments and large business.

Bank to give Mexico $205 million for swine flu

Nina Vucenik's picture

Augustin Carstens, Development Committee Chair, Finance Minister, MexicoAt the Development Committee closing press conference, Bank President Bob Zoellick together with Agustín Carstens, who is Mexico's Finance Minister as well as Development Committee Chair, announced that the Bank is giving Mexico more than $205 million to help the country fight the Swine Flu virus.

According to news reports, the virus has killed up to 81 people in Mexico city and a sickened more than a thousand people since the outbreak began.

“We're extremely grateful for the prompt response by the World Bank -- such promptness is always very, very appreciated,” said Carstens. “But beyond resources, what is also important is all the experience that the World Bank has accumulated in precisely having assisted other countries in this type of situation."

The project will be fast-tracked so that funds can be disbursed within 3-5 weeks.

Development banks join together to provide funding for Latin America and the Caribbean

Sameer Vasta's picture

Pouring and weighing fresh milk. Colombia. Photo: © Edwin Huffman / World BankThis past Wednesday, leading development banks joined efforts to provide as much as US$90 billion during the next two years in a joint effort to spur economic growth in the Latin America and Caribbean region.

The Inter-American Development Bank and the Inter-American Investment Corporation, the World Bank Group (IBRD, IFC and MIGA), Corporacion Andina de Fomento, the Caribbean Development Bank and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration are all working together to explore new opportunities to protect the economic and social gains achieved in the region during the last five years.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick spoke about the importance of this joint effort:

"Latin America and the Caribbean have achieved substantial economic and social progress over the last five years and we must ensure that this is not lost because of the external shock of the global crisis. We need to avoid a social and human crisis."

For more information:

Critical investments in safety nets to rise

Sameer Vasta's picture

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, World Bank Group Managing DirectorIn light of the global economic crisis, the World Bank announced today that its investments in safety nets and other social protection programs in health and education are projected to triple to $12 billion over the next two years.

Additionally, the Bank also increased its fast track facility for the food price crisis to US$2 billion from US$1.2 billion. As World Bank Group Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala explains:

"The continuing risky economic environment, combined with continuing volatility for food prices, means for poor people the food crisis is far from over. Many poor countries have not benefitted from some moderation of food price spikes in global markets. The decision to expand the facility will help ensure fast track measures are in place for continued rapid response to help countries."

More information about today's announcements:


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