Monday, 13 February 2017

Restrengthening the Irish-Latino links

For a small country without a history of conquest, the Irish do certainly get around. Of course the chief reason most left and still leave the island was and is for economic reasons. Ireland has only ever been able to sustain a certain number; whether it could or should be able for a greater population doesn't concern us here for now.

Understandably enough, other English-speaking countries such as Britain, Canada, the USA and Australia are the popular go-to locations. Yet, 'Paddy' doesn't limit himself to just those places; it seems there aren't many spots on the globe where he hasn't set foot.

President Higgins: "Ireland a bridge to Europe for Colombians." Um, there are easier routes at present ...
President Michael D. Higgins arrives in Colombia.
In terms of Latin America, the Irish links here are relatively strong, as we've written about on previous occasions (see With O'Leary in Bogotá and Remembering Casement's Colombian connection). What's more, it has been said that the Irish are (or at least were) the Latinos of Europe, be that good, bad or indifferent (somewhat disorganised, left-leaning, former colonies with a happy-go-lucky disposition, something along those lines).

However, it could be argued, anecdotally if in no other way, that these ties have weakened somewhat. Or at least the Irish blood hasn't been as prominent in Latin affairs as it was previously.

Thus, President Michael D. Higgins' historic state visits to Colombia, Cuba and Peru are an opportunity to restrengthen those links.

For one, during his stay in Peru it was announced that Lima is to open an embassy in Ireland (no word on Dublin returning the 'favour', though).

Here in Colombia, where official relations between the two countries have been almost non-existent through the years,(*footnote) foreign minister María Ángela Holguín will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Ireland to foster political consultation between both states. According to an official statement from the Colombian president's office, this memorandum will act as a declaration to set in motion a cultural and sporting exchange as a way to contribute to social cohesion and to consolidate peace. It sounds like a good idea, in theory anyway.

Alongside this, both Michael D. and his counterpart Juan Manuel Santos are to discuss potential investment opportunities, as well as business and tourism promotion. As part of the latter, perhaps the Irish delegation will consider removing the tedious tourist visa requirement for Colombians who want to visit Ireland?

On that front, President Higgins spoke about Ireland being "a bridge to Europe for Colombians", during his keynote address in Bogotá on Monday. Eh, Colombians can rightly question, why bother to attempt to cross a dodgy 'bridge' when there's an easier direct route?

We can also ask the question, bearing in mind Colombia's strategic location and the fact that Buenos Aires and Mexico City are the only cities in Latin America where Ireland has embassies, is it time one was opened here?

That aside, expect similar political announcements of greater official cooperation to come from Cuba, where the Irish president finishes up this three-country trip.

It's all diplomatic manoeuvring of course. The success or otherwise of such things depends on the people on the ground; or getting the actual people on the ground as the case may be.

From an investment-in-Colombia perspective, now might be as good a time as ever to strike. For those of us who have called the place home for a while but are still somewhat doubting our futures here, the words of one Irish long-termer are worth noting: 'If you can't make it here, you can't make it anywhere.' Perhaps. This does beg the question, however: 'Do we want to make it here?' It might not be time to run just yet.

*Footnote : Diplomatic relations between Colombia and the Republic of Ireland have only been in place since November 1999.
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Thursday, 9 February 2017

All hail the TV gods

Wanted: Enthusiastic people to take anything from six to 24 hours out of their day (with the 'promise' of more days to come), be ordered around like dogs when needed, virtually walked over when not. Food may or may not be included, it depends on how the employers feel. Same goes for payment.

Some productions pay a fair wage, but unfortunately too few of them it seems ...
It should be a case of 'show me the money' when you get miked up.
'Any takers? Eh, no thank you! But it's for television.' 'Me!' 'Me!' 'Me!' 'Me!' 'Me!'

Ah yes, what some of us 'little people' will put ourselves through just to get on television. The lure of the camera makes certain folk lose all perspective.

Some are what we call 'media whores', those who stop at nothing to get a bit of exposure. It's a tad off the mark to actually call them 'whores', as a lot of the time they're happy to prostitute themselves out to the media lords for free.

The thinking behind this is that the 'nobody' will become a 'somebody', thereby reaching a position where they can demand payment (for example, Bart Simpson, accidental as it was, as the 'I didn't do it kid' and more recently all those seeking fame and 'recognition' via YouTube).

Others aren't quite as, um, 'in your face' or driven as the above, but they still get weak at the knees when the chance to be on TV comes along.

Thus, with an amount of people acting in such a subservient manner towards the TV gods, it's little wonder that the industry's powers-that-be take advantage of the situation. Why pay people for something that they'll willingly do for free, or practically for free anyway?

In countries such as Colombia, this mentality appears worse than in more, let's say affluent places. There are a number of factors at play in this.

Firstly, for outside productions, which predominantly come from the USA, the costs of filming here are generally cheaper. Wage demands for personnel hired on location, those used both on and off screen, are much lower than the country of origin. No big surprise there, the cost of living in Colombia is lower (for most) after all.

Then we've locals with next to nothing in terms of income and future prospects, so any sort of 'easy money' they can make is taken, understandably, without question. There's also the steady stream of backpackers passing through the country who jump at the chance to do some 'glamorous' extras work, regardless of pay.

On top of all this you've a host of greedy agents, all trying to pocket as much as they can from the people they send to film.

Now the argument can be made that the payments offered are fine in a Colombian context. Again, it depends on how you look at it, where you come from and what exactly you're being asked to do. For one, in terms of basic extra work, foreigners tend to be paid better than locals, receiving up to five times more.

When it comes to landing speaking parts, some agencies pay little better than what they give extras. The problem here is that landing even just a small role can rule you out of working on that production again, unlike being a standard extra. What's more, you generally have to go to castings and learn lines for these more prominent parts.

For example, I was paid 180,000 Colombian pesos (less than 60 euros) for my little speaking part in Narcos II, practically the same as extras pay. It now appears I can't be in Narcos again, so from a monetary point of view I was robbed (for the record, other agencies offer at least 500,000 Colombian pesos for speaking parts).

Considering the amount of money the likes of Fox, Netflix and Univsion -- to name but a few of the companies that film in Colombia -- have in their coffers, there's no reason why they can't be more financially generous to those at the bottom rung.

That they're not may be more to do with the agencies on the ground than the production companies themselves. The former are doing their bit in maintaining and deepening the gap between rich and poor. They're certainly not doing us any favours, despite what they might like us to think.

Some of us poorer folk are not only happy to let all this happen, we help them along the way as well. Hey, it's all-powerful TV after all; thou shalt not question its wisdom.
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