Friday, August 27, 2010

Argentina: The Kirchners & Their Abuse of Powers

(Buenos Aires) -- What would you think if your President went on national television to accuse your country's two leading newspapers of "crimes against humanity"?

My first thought would be "What kind of drugs is the President on?"

Well that very thing has just happened here in Argentina, where the ruling power couple has a embarked upon a very dangerous vendetta against their critics.

President Cristina Kirchner is leading the public charge, with her husband -- and former President, Nestor -- pulling the strings behind the scenes.

Their target is the media, specifically Grupo Clarin, one of the major media outlets in the country, and publisher of one of the country's most influential newspapers, El Clarin.

The Kirchners have decided to seize a private company that is jointly-owned by Grupo Clarin and La Nacion, the other top paper in the country.

They're taking Papel Prensa, the papers' newsprint division, claiming that the two newspapers illegally "stole" the company from its owners in 1977.

Never mind that the Kirchners' so-called "evidence" has been refuted by the family that sold the company back then.

So the government has seized the newsprint operations of the top two newspapers in the country.

If this happened in Cuba or Venezuela, it would not be a surprise. But this is Argentina, a nation that now enjoys freedom of the press, and where it's been 27 years since the end of the last dictatorship.

At the same time as the Kirchners are seizing Papel Prensa, they're also taking another bold and dangerous move -- they're ordering the shut-down of one of Argentina's three internet providers, Fibertel.

Why? Well, because they didn't comply with regulations, say government officials.

Or could it be because Fibertel is owned by Grupo Clarin?

This move, even more than the Papel Prensa stunt, has drawn significant opposition amongst the public.

Basically, the ruling power couple is abusing their powers to silence critics. And it's a message to any other critics: If you value being in business, you better shut up, or we'll get you next.

Yes, Cristina Kirchner has an oversized ego, but perhaps it would suit her better to put less emphasis on trying to look good in public, and actually do things that will encourage a prosperous and thriving economy.

But apparently Cristina has been taking notes from her pal, Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.

And that's the road to economic disaster.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Andrés Carne de Res: Dining Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

The moment I got out of the taxi and was greeted by a plastic cow, I knew my visit to Andrés Carne de Res would be a memorable one.

I was told by a number of acquaintances that no visit to Bogotá would be complete without a visit to this place.  But the famed establishment is more than just a steakhouse -- it's a dining experience.

First off, Andrés is simply THEEEE place to go in the Colombian capital.  The movers and shakers of the city all frequent this joint.  Politicians, celebrities, business people, and tourists alike flock here.

Andrés first opened in 1982 just north of Bogotá.  More recently, they added a much more convenient location in the city's upscale Zona Rosa district.

The Atmosphere

As I said, the plastic cow at the main entrance is a tip-off that you're in for a treat at this restaurant.  Andres offers live music and a dance floor.  And the band that played was not just a house band -- they were genuinely good.  The foursome played a mix of jazz type music, mixed with covers of some classic rock tunes.  Good stuff.

The decor, mixed with the entertainment may confuse the first-time visitor.  It's an eclectic mix -- and I think it works precisely because it IS unexpected.

The Menu

Before you begin your journey through the drinks and food at Andres, you must first navigate through their unique menu.  What do I mean by unique?  It's in a giant metal box, that's hard to describe.  It contains pages that you scroll through to navigate through the infinite offerings.  Thankfully, our server for the evening, Monica, gave us plenty of time to peruse the choices.


If there's ever been a drink invented in the history of mankind, Andres serves it.  Just name it -- you got it.

But if the price of the drinks seems steep, just wait until your beverage arrives.  My mojito cubano arrived in a wooden container that I cannot accurately describe (just check out the accompanying photo).  The size is immense.  And the presentation is something else.


If Andres offers a billion different drinks, they match that when it comes to the starters you can choose from.

We opted for three choices: Yucca sticks, plantains with cheese, and arepas with guacamole.

It was unanimous at our table that the yucca sticks were the best.  Topped with one of the accompanying salsas, you almost wanted a plate of them just as an entree.  In fact, one of my dining companions did just that.

Main Courses

Now, to the really good stuff.  If you love a good steak, this is the place for you.

I went for a 12 oz. lomo sellado cut, accompanied by mashed potatoes (served inside a hollowed-out tomato) and arepas.

Your meal arrives on a sizzling platter, not unlike the kind you get when getting an order of fajitas at Chili's.  But this seems way cooler.

The beef was excellent, and it was a struggle to finish it all, after all that we had already consumed with the starters.

In Summary

I have to concur ... when you visit Bogota, this is a "can't miss" experience.  Our experience lasted nearly four hours. 

Andrés Carne de Res is not just about the food -- although that's reason enough to go.  It's also about the atmosphere and sharing an experience that is as enjoyed by locals as it is by visitors to the city.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Random Observations About Cartagena

(Rafael Núñez International Airport - Cartagena) -- A few random observations from my four days in this Colombian city:

Oddly, the worst time of day, weather-wise, seems to be 8-10 am.  The sun is intense, and the humidity matches. Bad combination.  The situation improves in the afternoons, when you get some cloud cover and/or rain.  That said, we saw showers in the morning yesterday ...

For a country with some of the unfortunate history it's had in recent decades, I was pleasantly surprised at the friendliness experienced among police, military, immigration and customs officials I've encountered.  Oh, and if you ask nicely, the military guys will even pose for pictures with you ...

Still, in an interesting contrast with Mexico, I see relatively little security as you go about your everyday business.  Every Mexican business has security guards that treat you like you're a criminal, and search any type of bag you're carrying.  Here, it's a much more relaxed atmosphere ...

Cartagena is crawling with tourists.  Unfortunately, that leads to an insane number of street vendors, hawking all kinds of merchandise.  They often start speaking to you in English, assuming you're a tourist.  Don't encourage them!  They're like those awful time-share resort salesmen -- they won't leave you alone.

On a similar note, you won't be able to enjoy the beach here in peace.  The vendors will harass you too much.  A popular thing to do is to take a day trip to Playa Blanca, but beware -- the vendors flock there along with you, and will bother you until you leave.  And when the boats leave in the late afternoon, so do they ...

Finding free Wi-Fi is a bit harder here.  If your hotel doesn't have it, then you've got your work cut our for you.  That said, the Juan Valdez Cafe offers 30 minutes off free Wi-Fi per purchase, and the McDonalds in Boca Grande also offers free service (albeit very slow ....).  The Hard Rock Cafe has it too, but the prices are sky high just to dine or drink there.  A number of other restaurants do offer service.

And yes, there's free Wi-Fi where I am right now -- at the airport.