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Kathleen O'Toole, News Service (650) 725-1939; e-mail:

Officials of Chile, Ecuador, Spain lecture on campus

Language departments frequently have a great divide -- between those students learning the language, and advanced students and professors studying the literature, politics and culture of the countries where the language is used.

With that divide in mind, the Department of Spanish and Portuguese invited the consuls general of Chile, Ecuador and Spain to campus for a two-hour symposium followed by a reception on Monday, April 10. "We wanted the consuls to give us basic information about their governments' point of view in order to put these three countries on the map for all of us," said Fernando Gomez-Herrero, an assistant professor of Spanish history, literature and politics who organized the event. Gomez, who hails from Spain, worked through the Spanish Consulate in San Francisco to arrange the event, which was videotaped for future use in classes. The Institute for International Studies and the Center for Latin American Studies helped sponsor the event.

A standing-room-only crowd of about 80 heard very different styles of presentation from the three countries' representatives. Fernando Flores of Ecuador gave a mostly economic reading of his country. Carefully avoiding mention that Ecuador's worst recession in a generation had led to a popular uprising and the ouster of the president in January -- the first coup in South America in two decades -- Flores instead focused on the benefits the country's leaders hope to get from replacing their national currency with the U.S. dollar.

Most of the audience's questions were directed to Carlos Lopez of Chile and Lorenzo Gonzalez Alonso of Spain, who disagreed on the issue of state sovereignty when it clashes with human rights. Their two countries have had an uncomfortable relationship for about two years, since a Spanish prosecutor attempted to extradite Chile's former dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, from the United Kingdom on charges that he had violated international human rights law. The United Kingdom eventually decided Pinochet was too ill to extradite and instead sent him home to Chile, where he faces 83 charges of Chilean legal violations.

Lopez, a professor of Latin American history at Menlo College, was a last-minute stand-in for the Chilean consul general. Having served as Chile's consular agent for the San Francisco-based consul general for some 30 years, Lopez said he had been to Stanford and other campuses "many times to defend Allende, then Pinochet and now Lagos." Defend he did, telling American students that "General Pinochet is our problem. We're going to solve it our own way and we don't need your interference or the interference of anybody else." He offered his personal opinion that "none of the charges against him are going to stick." More than 40 percent of Chileans voted for Pinochet, he said, and they did not believe they had been wrong.

Gonzalez, Spain's consul general, quickly objected. "International law is a problem of the global village," he said. He then unknotted his tie and opened his shirt collar to signal his wish to speak as "just a witness, not a general consul." Guatemalan author Rigoberta Menchu has filed a complaint in Spain alleging human rights violations by former officials of Guatemala, he said, and other human rights cases are "looming on the horizon. My opinion as a lawyer is that cases like genocide and human rights violations are no longer local. The cat is out of the cage."

Flores listed the benefits of dollarization for Ecuador as reduced inflation, elimination of exchange rate risk and increased productivity. The new policy already has brought bank interest rates down to 8 to 11 percent, he said. Flores did not mention any of the risks that have stopped other countries from taking similar steps. If Ecuador's economy falls out of step with that of the United States, it won't be able to act independently to raise or lower monetary supply. Economists have said that dollarization could bring a wave of failed, uncompetitive businesses and higher unemployment rates while forcing the country to be more competitive in the long run. Recent opinion polls suggest that support for dollarization has declined in Ecuador to 38 percent. Flores would say only that government officials were meeting with indigenous populations and poverty-stricken groups to explain the policy.

Chile is often seen as the economic success story of Latin America, but Lopez said his country still faces serious problems of environmental degradation, a short energy supply and an overly centralized government. It is attempting to develop hydroelectric power to replace its dependence on coal. The new socialist president also plans to outline a decentralization plan on May 1, he said.

For Spain, "the primary challenge is reducing our technological gap with the United States," Gonzalez said. Improving Spanish universities has become a key issue, he said.

Asked about reports of crowds attacking Moroccan laborers in southeastern Spain last month, Gomez said, "We have to learn to live with people of different colors and different religions because we need immigration for economic growth." Spain has the lowest birth rate in the European Union and faces increasing problems of an inadequate labor supply.


By Kathleen O'Toole

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