Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Chile and Russia

Russia's presence in Latin America continues to generate interesting tidbits. In a previous post, a commenter (O Iconoclasta) mentioned the regional interest in Russian weapons. Now J.C. Arancibia at Chile's Defense and Military notes that the Chilean military, which has never sought deals with Russia, is close to buying helicopters.

They are for air force search and rescue missions, so won't be viewed as threatening by neighboring countries. In general, however, having a new weapons supplier potentially means even more money shifted to defense purchases at a time when most governments can ill afford to do so.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Jorge Castañeda Op-Ed

Jorge Castañeda's New York Times Op-Ed is worth reading--he outlines the need for immigration reform. He sums up the border wall nicely:

Money has been appropriated for the construction of a border wall that has become a symbol throughout Latin America of this hateful stance. Environmental and local objections have been shunted aside, even though everyone knows the wall is not really being built, would not be effective if it were, and contradicts everything the United States stands for.

The overall point, however, is that executive order can make a major difference right away, even without wrangling with Congress:

By taking these actions, Mr. Obama would send three powerful messages. First, he would signal his gratitude to the nearly 70 percent of the Latino electorate who voted for him. Second, he would indicate his desire for improved relations with the nations of Latin America, who joyfully welcomed his election and for whom the Bush administration has made the United States more unpopular than at any time in recent memory.

And he would say to the rest of the world that, on his watch, the United States will not build fences, deport mothers without their children, nor persecute foreigners. He can do all this with just a stroke of his pen.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Building a Bush memory

Yet another example of the administration making a concerted effort to get out the right message about the Bush legacy. This time from Condoleezza Rice:

And I am quite certain that when the final chapters are written and it's clear that Saddam Hussein's Iraq is gone in favor of an Iraq that is favorable to the future of the Middle East; when the history is written of a U.S.-China relationship that is better than it's ever been; an India relationship that is deeper and better than it's ever been; a relationship with Brazil and other countries of the left of Latin America, better than it's ever been ...

I won't get into the Iraq debate, but the idea that our relationship with the Latin American left is "better than ever" cannot stand up to any scrutiny, even with regard to Brazil. A better assessment is "things are better once Thomas Shannon helped clean up the horrible mess left by his predecessors."


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Obama and Cuba

According to the Telegraph, an unnamed Latin America adviser to Obama says that travel restrictions to Cuba will be lifted "fairly quickly."

An adviser to Mr Obama said: "Cubans will be less dependent on the state for money and they will have greater contact with their relatives in the US. That can only aid understanding." Those changes require only a presidential order. The adviser said: "He could do it on day one. Obama has a lot on his plate with the economy so Cuba will not be top of his list but I'd expect it to happen fairly quickly."

Remember that this is not related to the laws that govern the embargo, which requires congressional action. Nonetheless, it would be a step in the right direction.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Russia in Latin America

Andres Oppenheimer interviewed Thomas Shannon, and I was particularly struck by the following:

''The Russian thing needs to be understood more broadly,'' said Shannon, who is to visit Moscow this week. ``The presence of Russian warships has allowed some people, especially the Venezuelans, to try to project the Russian presence as aimed at the United States. But in a strategic sense, the Russian presence may really be an effort to match China's presence in the region.''

Analyses of the Russian presence in Latin America have not focused on China. I have to say that I am unconvinced. No doubt that Russia always keeps an eye on China, and is paying attention to China's growing ties to Latin American countries. However, I don't think we can understand the entire warship exercise without focusing squarely on Russia's desire to make a statement about U.S. policy. I see that more as Occam's Razor than as some Venezuelan "projection."


Friday, December 26, 2008

More evidence of no exodus

Diego Graglia at Feet in 2 Worlds has more evidence that an immigrant exodus back to Mexico is not occurring. As I mentioned earlier today, this issue needs to be examined in a more detailed manner. It is entirely possible, probably even likely, that immigrants are leaving parts of the U.S. that are being hit the hardest in particular sectors of the economy. However, it is not obvious that they are leaving the United States, and in fact there are parts of the country where unemployment remains low enough--particularly in sectors where immigrants most often work--to ensure a steady income.

These conditions can change, but the message that "the U.S. as a whole is suffering economically so people are leaving" is less and less convincing.


Latino immigration and the South

I've been noting all the reporting on the supposed mass movement of Latin Americans back to their country of origin from the United States. Last week I noted some reasons to doubt this for North Carolina, and I happened to talk to a reporter about how conventional wisdom ignores both sectoral and regional nuances.

This led me to wonder about the differing regional unemployment rates, and the nice thing about being related to a co-author is that sometimes when you mention something that piques your interest, they come up with data, in this case unemployment numbers for males aged 18+ calculated from the Current Population Survey:

Northeast: Hispanics 9.8% unemployed; non-Hispanic 5.9%
Midwest: Hispanics 7.9% unemployed; non-H 5.6%
South: Hispanics 6.9%; non-H 6.1%
West: Hispanics 9.4%; non-H 5.8%

There are a number of different stories in here. Clearly the Latino population suffers from greater unemployment than non-Latinos. However, the regional differences are striking. The South has had the greatest percentage increase in Latinos for the past decade or so, and despite the economic crisis is still absorbing workers to a much greater degree than other parts of the country. This suggests that if there is some sort of exodus, it is not coming from the South. In fact, we may well see increased movements away from the west and northeast, toward the less traditional destinations like North Carolina, Tennessee, Nebraska, Iowa, etc.

One important point to make is that the Census Bureau does not count who is a resident or citizen and who is not. However, that is true for all regions so any distortion should be roughly equal for all regions.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Lula in the sky with diamonds

A new poll has Lula with 80% approval, this just a few weeks after a different poll had him at 70%. I don't think there is any doubt that for 2008 he is the Latin American president most on the rise, especially given the stumbling of both Uribe and Chávez, not to mention Fernández.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fernando Ignacio Leiva's Latin American Neostructuralism

I read Fernando Ignacio Leiva's Latin American Neostructuralism: The Contradictions of Post-Neoliberal Development. It is certainly worth a read, so I added it to the side bar, but it is also frustrating in some ways.

The basic argument is that the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC in English) created "neostructuralism," which successfully replaced dogmatic neoliberalism in Latin America in the 1990s. However, despite its pretensions at being an updated version of Raúl Prebisch's ideas, it really is too oriented toward transnational capital and therefore does not challenge existing power structures. As such, it falls fall short of expectations, especially in terms of being truly inclusionary. It is, he says, simply "an enlightened version of modernization theory" (p. 31).

It offers an excellent analysis of ECLAC's intellectual development, and the ways in which the organization struggled to learn from the failures of ISI and thereby to challenge neoliberalism. It also has a very keen critique of the model ECLAC ultimately produced, and what its limitations are, in terms of reducing poverty and inequality, effects of more flexible labor markets, and general protection for the workforce from the whims of the market.

I had two main questions about the book:

First, there are case studies of Brazil and Chile, which are useful. However, the book concludes with the argument that Venezuela and Bolivia offer solid developmental alternatives (particularly in terms of uprooting existing power structures) yet does not discuss either case in detail. I want to see how the Venezuelan case in particular offers a concrete model that non-petroleum exporting countries can follow. There are also many differences between Bolivia and Venezuela that aren't explored. In sum, what concrete "model" is there in counterpoint to neostructuralism?

Second, Leiva acknowledges that he focuses only on ECLAC, and that the "evident risk has been neglecting important undercurrents, nuances, and debates gathering momentum in the periphery of the institution" (p. xxxiii). The problem is that ECLAC's influence can vary greatly, and not every policy paper will get a high-level audience. So the book is limited solely to ECLAC's version of neostructuralism. He makes a good argument for the connection between Chilean policy makers and ECLAC, but the Chilean case often defies easy generalizing.

Nonetheless, the book is useful for a better understanding of the debate about development, and it is a very incisive criticism of the status quo. I recommend the tables, which complement the text well for outlining the key aspects of economic policy in Latin America. They could actually be good for classroom use.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Salvadoran dreamin, on such a winter's day

Sometimes it's nice to have a good laugh on a Monday morning, and so I felt lucky that Mary Anastasia O'Grady had a column published. It's about El Salvador, and has two main points:

First, "many Salvadorans are worried" that the FMLN will come to power and become radical. It is not hard to guess which "many Salvadorans" she has spoken to.

Second, the Salvadoran economy would improve greatly if it allowed much expanded foreign access to mining. Here is the really funny part--she cites Chile as an example of how mining can transform a country, ignoring the fact that it is mostly in the hands of the Chilean state. Not even Pinochet wanted to privatize.

And she has a special bonus observation: remember the Salvadoran civil war? It was the FMLN's fault.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Chávez poll

Hinterlaces shows 61% of Venezuelans opposed to the constitutional reform allowing indefinite re-election, 31% in favor, and 8% undecided. The percentage in favor is very close to a poll Boz linked to a week ago.

There is, however, still a long time to go--about two months. Chávez has proposed that the vote coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Caracazo (February 27), which was the beginning of the end of the puntofijista era.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Nicaragua canal

Nicaragua has wanted a canal since the 19th century, and off and on has talked about building its own. The latest twist is that the Russians claim to be interested in helping. In the era of $100+ per barrel oil prices, Russia (not to mention Venezuela) made a wide range of promises to other countries. Now that it's low, these promises are even less likely to be kept. I guess the Russians figure a symbolic gesture never hurt anyone, but I'd be surprised if they put any significant amount into the project.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Verbal inflection of a pluperfect participle

Yep, that's how crazy the debate in Colombia has become over the wording of the petition to allow for a third presidential term. The question revolves around the words "has held" to determine whether it means Uribe can run again immediately in 2010 or must wait out one term and try again in 2014. Some argue that to "have held" an office, you must finish the current term before running again, which means he could not run until after this term was already over.

As I mentioned yesterday, this is the type of politicized wrangling that Uribe doesn't want. He wanted to sweep right in without having to fight for it.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Exactly what Uribe didn't want

To get yet another constitutional amendment for yet another term, Alvaro Uribe stayed coy so it would look more like the will of the people (Hugo Chávez didn't bother, and really, who is it fooling?) and wanted to make sure it didn't get hung up in Congress, where there was a risk of it getting bogged down.

Now Congress voted to allow him to run in 2014, but not 2010, and his supporters are reduced to talking about modifying it and saying that Colombians who signed a re-election petition thought they meant immediate re-election even if apparently that apparently wasn't made specific. He even called a special session of Congress so they couldn't go home until figuring all this out. Now Reuters has gone so far as to publish a list of who might replace him, which is just adding insult to injury.

This is, quite obviously, not where Uribe wanted to be. I think he had a solid shot at getting the constitutional amendment, but he needed to push it from a position of strength, and he waited too long. Openly pushing the legislature around is bad form. Uribe is still very popular, but a bruising fight to keep himself in power will likely force those numbers downward. He is inching closer toward Pyrrhic Victory.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Anecdotal accounts of return migration

A week ago I wrote about anecdotal accounts of immigrants leaving the U.S., but then also possibly staying. A statement by Mexico's Undersecretary for North Affairs Affairs points in the latter direction, as he says that there is no major return of Mexican migrants.

It's all guesswork--it is good not to be too lulled into conventional wisdom (namely, that people are leaving because of the economy and enforcement) based on scattered news stories.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Reading the tea leaves on immigration Part 3

I've mostly been writing about the signs that immigration reform will not be a priority for the Obama administration. Wendy Sefsaf at the Immigration Policy Center's blog offers clues in the opposite direction, focusing particularly on statements key policy makers have made and Obama's nominations (such as Napolitano at DHS) in addition to the GOP's sense that it will suffer badly if it continues to alienate Latino voters with anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies.

I'm not convinced, but I also sometimes wonder whether I am dubious mostly because so many statements have been made in the past while nothing of note has happened. Given the immediate need to pass legislation on the economy and to change course in Iraq and Afghanistan, my own prediction is that in 2009 Obama will end unpopular measures like workplace raids and ignoring environmental laws to build fences, but won't yet push for reform. I am perfectly happy to be wrong.


Obstacles to Latin American unity

Yesterday I wrote about the lefts in Latin America, and here a story that shows a) how hard it is to lump "leftist" countries together; and b) how hard it is to achieve unity (not to mention integration) in Latin America. The Uruguayan government says it will bail on UNASUR if Néstor Kirchner is made its Secretary-General during the current summit taking place in Brazil. The Secretary-General must receive unanimous approval, but apparently there was a move by Argentina to get those rules changed.

Bold move by Uruguay. It might just work, since no one wants UNASUR to flounder out of the gates. On top of the entire pulp mill saga, I can only imagine what the Kirchners are saying about Uruguay these days.

Update: Alex Sanchez and Andrea Moretti at The Council on Hemispheric Affairs have an interesting take on the issue, arguing that Kirchner is facing resistance elsewhere as well.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Bad news for Padres fans

We are coming off a 99 loss season and are currently trimming payroll in a big way (though we have not yet been able to shop Jake Peavy). Now it seems John Moores is looking to sell the team, which is even messier than normal because he is in the midst of a divorce and his wife has to approve any sale (though he says this part of the divorce should not create problems). I assume 2009 is totally shot, though that might have been a foregone conclusion anyway.


The lefts in Latin America

Ignacio Walker has a very worthwhile article in Dissent about the Latin American lefts. He is a Chilean Christian Democrat who served as Foreign Minister under Ricardo Lagos. Popular accounts generally congeal the lefts into two--pro-U.S. vs. anti-U.S., undemocratic vs. democratic, or other similar unsatisfying simplifications. Walker sees three: Marxist, populist, and social democratic. Of particular utility is how he places current politics into the Latin American historical context, e.g. "In significant ways, the history of Latin America in the last century can be described as a search for responses to the crisis of oligarchic rule that took place in the 1920s and 1930s." He has a great quote from a letter that Juan Perón sent to Carlos Ibáñez in Chile:

My dear friend: Give the people, especially the workers, all that is possible. When it seems to you that already you are giving them too much, give them more. You will see the results. Everybody will try to frighten you with the specter of an economic collapse. But all of this is a lie. There is nothing more elastic than the economy, which everyone fears so much because no one understands it.

He then discusses the ways in which populism has re-emerged in Latin America, first as neoliberal (e.g. Fujimori, often called neopopulist) and then leftist. One major point he makes is that the current strand of leftist populism came into being at a time when democracy was taking root, so is actually less authoritarian than its predecessors. Nonetheless, there is always a tension between the personalization of populist rule and representative democracy.

At the same time, however, his focus on populism means that he does not discuss his "Marxist" category adequately. He views Chávez as both populist and Marxist, but it's not clear whether he would label anyone else (except the obvious example of the Castros) in that manner. Regardless, given how much latitude Chávez gives capitalism, I'm not sure Marxist is a good way to describe him. He mentions factions of the FSLN, FMLN, and the PT but the dominant tendencies of these parties are no longer Marxist.

At the very least, it is a step forward from the "bad left" vs. "good left" that we normally see.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

More voices against current Cuba policy

An Op-Ed by Lawrence Wilkerson and Patrick Doherty. Wilkerson was Colin Powell's Chief of Staff and became a critic of the Bush administration after the infamous Colin Powell moment at the UN. They are at the New America Foundation. They argue that our Cuba policy is an obstacle to normal relations with Latin America more generally, and offer three ambitious and specific proposals:

  • End the travel ban
  • Convince Congress to amend Helms-Burton to put decisions back into the executive branch
  • Sign an executive order to help Cubans hit by hurricanes
There is a major shift underway on Cuba policy that is quite remarkable to watch. We are getting close to a point where the need for an overhaul is close to conventional wisdom. I've never seen so many Op-Eds and columns like this, which may serve as a foundation for the Obama administration to get things through Congress.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

A creepy Mount Rushmore

From the newly opened Pinochet Museum. If it really aims to "burnish the image of a man reviled by much of the world," then it should do something less scary.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Most popular Latin American president

Alvaro Uribe may not be as popular as he once was, and now the title for "most popular Latin American president" may be shifting to Lula, whose November approval rating was 70%. It's a title Uribe has enjoyed for some time--we'll have to see how he weathers the pyramid scandal.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Reviewing academic journal articles

For all you readers in academia, there is an interesting discussion at Political Science Job Rumors about reviewing journal articles. It is especially relevant for me because I am a journal editor, albeit of a small area studies journal as opposed to a larger political science journal. But I agree with many of the commenters that it can be hard at times getting reviewers, and that sometimes they take a terribly long time even when reminded. This is unfortunate because it is a central part of our profession and, at least in my opinion, can be done well in a relatively short amount of time once you sit down and focus on the manuscript. It can also be a problem because authors want (and deserve) quick turnaround--indeed, more than once an author has requested I send an email or letter to their university immediately after they got word of acceptance because they wanted to make sure it was in their file.

On the flip side, I was surprised to read that some people do 20-30 reviews a year, which is amazingly high. I'd say I do 2-3 a year, plus maybe 1-3 book manuscripts (and/or book proposals). Doing an article review every other week would be rough, and I have to commend anyone who does it.

I've written numerous times about how I believe Ph.D. programs need some sort of class or workshop specifically about the profession, and this issue should be part of it. We talk constantly about how critical it is to get published, yet not about how no one can get published if no one reviews the manuscripts. A serious obstacle, though, is that you get a ton of credit (i.e. tenure, promotion, and/or raises) for publishing, and not much for reviewing.


U.S.-Bolivian relations

Stephen Kaufman at interviewed Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemispheric Affairs Christopher McMullen about Bolivia. His comments highlight how difficult it is to move beyond rhetoric about mutual respect and really put it into action. I think it tells us something about what conversations are like behind closed doors between U.S. diplomats and Bolivian officials.

The entire tone of the interview is that Evo Morales is clueless and needs the U.S. to explain everything to him. He was "warned" about coca cultivation and told "they had to take this issue seriously." Further, "I think it is going to be a lot more difficult for Morales to control this process than he really understands."

Moving on to governing, Morales does not "govern in the interests of all Bolivians" so the U.S. wants to see him do things differently.

Finally, the U.S. wants Bolivian rhetoric to be "toned down." Dialogue must include has "a purpose in advancing the democratic process in Bolivia," presumably defined by the United States.

This gets back to a point I made a few weeks ago about putting Latin American leaders into unnecessarily defensive positions. Having a high level diplomat talk about Morales publicly in such paternalistic terms will only fan the flames. It certainly will not advance any U.S. interest, but it seems to be a habit that is very hard to break.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Immigration, emigration, and North Carolina

Anecdotal accounts (here for example) have immigrants leaving the United States because of enforcement and the economy.

Yet other anecdotal accounts discuss incentives for more migrants to come. I recently noted how the U.S. dollar is worth more now abroad. Perhaps also because there are still many job seekers in countries like Mexico but the job market there is also sagging, so the economic dynamic may work in two directions depending on the individual's location and skills.

I had these conflicting accounts in my mind when I saw a story in this morning's Charlotte Observer about job losses in North Carolina. Every year John Connaughton, an economist here at UNC Charlotte, presents an economic forecast that includes specific numbers on jobs. He sees big hits to manufacturing, insurance, and mining. But the areas where Latino immigrants are most likely to seek jobs--in service and construction--are stable.

From that perspective, at least in North Carolina we would not expect to see large numbers of immigrants leaving the state. We would, however, expect to see fewer people come because those sectors of the economy cannot absorb more workers.

Again, this is anecdotal. Future updates of the American Community Survey will tell us more as time goes on.


Low cost back scratching

President Fernández is now in Russia, talking trade. According to La Nación, the two governments will release a statement praising the Russia for its actions in Georgia, which "prevented more violence in the region." The text will also apparently criticize the idea of a missile defense shield. In exchange, the Russians will support Argentina's claim on the Falklands/Malvinas. Since neither side needs to go any further than symbolic statements, and neither side has any interest in doing so, it is a low cost way to publicly assert long-standing national issues. Given the drop in oil prices, Argentina might as well milk whatever the Russian cash cow still has left before it is gone.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Is the mighty falling?

Support for Alvaro Uribe getting a third presidential term has plummeted, from 74% in July to 54% now. Disapproval of the idea shot up from 22% to 41%. He has always remained cagey about the possibility, but this doesn't help.

The fallout from the pyramid scheme collapse is hurting him badly, a situation that includes violence, corruption, billions of lost dollars, and even his sons. The main criticism aimed at Uribe is that he responded to the disaster too slowly (perhaps hanging around George W. Bush too much?). The most recent approval rating I see is at 66%, which is obviously still very high but a drop for Uribe. Reuters has a good summary of the situation, which includes the latest joke:

Now the initiative languishes in Congress, inspiring a recent newspaper cartoon picturing Uribe in a coffin labeled "reelection". "What happened?" one character asks. "A pyramid fell on him," says another.


Monday, December 08, 2008

Kudos to Thomas Shannon

For this quote:

[T]his is an enormously dynamic period of time. This is a region that’s changing. As it changes, we have to understand that the nature of our influence changes. We are operating in a much more competitive environment than we have in the past. The impact of globalization, democratization of Latin America and its openness to trade and to connecting to trading partners and political partners beyond the Americas has really created, I think, a rich and important environment in which Latin America is really connecting to the rest of the world in a way that it has historically never connected.

This is a good way for the U.S. government to view its relationship with countries in the region. For a variety of reasons, Latin America is indeed connecting more to the rest of the world. The United States needs to compete for influence, and demonstrate why its policies, goals, programs, etc. are preferable to others.


Colombia Drug War: Failure or Best Kept Secret?

Foreign Policy magazine lists its "Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2008." Number 2 is "Colombian Coca Production Increases."

Coca is a serious destabilizer—keeping Colombia’s rebels armed and the country’s progress in check. But after almost a decade, U.S.-assisted efforts to reduce the crop’s production in Colombia haven’t just failed; they’ve been downright counterproductive. Plan Colombia was meant to improve security, stamp out drug cultivation, and improve law and order after a decades-long conflict with leftist militants. But coca cultivation rose 15 percent between 2000 and 2006, an October 2008 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found. A separate U.N. study found that in 2007 alone, the area of land hosting coca crops rose 27 percent. To put it mildly, something is not working.

Coca, the base crop for cocaine, has funded the operations of various paramilitaries and the rebel group FARC for decades. Although Colombian military operations have severely hampered FARC’s activities during the last several years, the drug trade continues apace. Aerial spraying and manual eradication have had temporary effects, but coca farmers tend to grow the lucrative crop again because there’s rarely an equally profitable alternative. The GAO reckons that many farmers have moved to more remote areas to avoid the eradication efforts. Meanwhile, the market value of coca rose by roughly $450 per kilogram in 2007 to more than $2,000.

The United States has spent $6 billion on Plan Colombia, but Colombia still supplies 90 percent of U.S. cocaine. Time for a rethink on the drug war?

Hard to argue with. Unless you are drug czar John Walters, who writes, "Our policy has been a success -- although that success is one of Washington's best kept secrets."


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Obama's options for Cuba

At IPS, there is a very good review of Obama's likely options with regard to Cuba policy. Key points:

  • There is growing and vocal business support for ending the embargo. However, it is not clear how much that translates into lobbying Congress. Those heavyweights are needed behind Obama to make the case.
  • Helms-Burton gave Congress significant power over wholesale changes in policy, but Bush made a lot of executive decisions that Obama can repeal.
  • Using executive power is an easy and largely cost-free way to appeal to the changing demographics of Florida (and Obama made compaign promises in this regard) so we will likely see such changes before long.


The Chávez message

On Monday the PSUV will start the process of getting signatures for the constitutional amendment eliminating presidential term limits. A member of the legislature, Carlos Escarrá, had a two-pronged message:

First, if Chávez were no longer in power, it would spark political and social crisis. Second, the municipal elections demonstrated that even the elected opposition was fascist.

So will the crisis message resonate? This is going to be fascinating process and, by all indications, it will also be a very rapid one.


Saturday, December 06, 2008

Institute for Emerging Issues

I am pleased to announce that for 2009 I will be a GlaxoSmithKline Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State University (though I will remain here in Charlotte). The idea is to use academic expertise to educate policy makers and influence public policy. I will be focusing on immigration, and I am really looking forward to the experience.


Blogging in Cuba

Yoani Sánchez, the best known blogger in Cuba, was not allowed to travel to a blogger workshop elsewhere on the island. The problem, of course, is that the blog questions authority, meaning that its "content is contrary to social interests, morals or good custom, as well as the use of applications that affect the integrity or security of the State."

"We want to warn you that you have transgressed all the limits of tolerance with your closeness and contact with elements of the counterrevolution." That just sounds like a bad movie, but is sadly the message brought by the Cuban authorities. Here is the original.


Friday, December 05, 2008

Castro and Obama

Fidel Castro says talks with Obama "could happen anywhere he wants." Really? I'm not so sure this should be considered news. Other possible headlines:

"Castro Says Cuba Will Accept More Remittances"

"Cuba Interested in Receiving More Tourists"

"Castro Open to the Idea of Not Being Assassinated"


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Latin America legacy

Previously I joked that there must be a memo somewhere outlining the strategy of saying President Bush did a great job in Latin America, with the hope that repetition alone will make the message stick. Now I'm not sure it's a joke. Different officials have made public comments that are almost identical, and spaced out so they have time to sink in. They all have the same basic message. The latest is Thomas Shannon, who argues that Bush has created a “very strong and enduring base that will really allow the United States to enhance our relationship in the Americas.”

Let's see if, in a week or two, we have a different administration official repeat the same message.


Professors are the enemy

At least according to Richard Nixon, in newly released White House tapes. Ironically, he was talking to Professor Kissinger at the time. Even told him to "write it on the blackboard 100 times."

Steven Taylor at Poliblog has other examples.


Bachelet numbers: a broken record

According to Adimark, Michelle Bachelet's approval rating was 45.6% for November, barely down from 45.6% in October. She seems to have stabilized, because November was a terrible month politically--strikes, AIDS scandal, resignation of a cabinet minister, among others--yet her numbers held steady. But now with only a year before the presidential election, she has not been able to rally support, and lame duck status is an obvious political problem. Odds are not good for getting those numbers over 50% and generating excitement for a Concertación candidate.

A plurality (42.9%) believe the Alianza benefited most from the municipal elections, while 52% believe that Sebastián Piñera was the individual who benefited most. All indications continue to show momentum for the Alianza. None of this is new. The big question for 2009 is whether Chile will see any major political shifts or whether Piñera will glide into the presidency. As we all know, a year is a long time in politics.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Latin America and Obama

Christopher Sabatini at the Americas Quarterly blog discusses the U.S. media hype about the left in Latin America:

Now journalists and bloggers are talking about a shift to the center. But much of this was evident in public opinion polls a few years ago. In countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia—the supposed bastions of extreme leftism in the region—the majority continues to support the fundamentals of "neo-liberalism," such as free trade and markets. The reasons are not difficult to discern: neither of these countries truly experienced open, free and fair markets. So while some leaders would rail against imperialism and neo-liberalism, for many of the voters in the countries those terms had become synonymous with privilege, exclusion and monopoly. But their inverse didn’t mean Bolivarianism.

Indeed, in the 2008 Latinobarómetro poll, 54 percent of Venezuelans and 54 percent of Bolivians agreed that the market was the "only system for a country to become developed" (p. 35).

I don't know if he chose his own headline, because although the post was interesting it never addressed the headline's point: "How the Media Oversold the Shift to the Left in the Americas, and How this is Good News for the Obama Admininstration." It didn't really address exactly how this was "good news," though I take it he means that there will be fewer ideological battles than the media tends to portray.


Junot Díaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Junot Díaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao has received universal accolades, including the Pulitzer Prize. I was attracted to it in particular because of the immigrant theme (of Dominicans in New York) but it is so much more than that. All wrapped into one is the theme of immigration and "home," politics and culture of the Dominican Republic (including several lengthy footnotes!), coming-of-age, and J.R.R. Tolkien (along with role-playing games, Japanese animation, the Matrix, and a footnote about The Fantastic Four). They are bound together by a colloquial (often profane) and sometimes extremely funny narrator. I have not read many books that are both so funny and so sad.

It centers on Oscar, a young Dominican-American who is obese and heavily into fantasy and sci fi, and who is always falling hopelessly and fruitlessly in love, all the while writing fantasy stories and novels he does not complete. The narration also shifts to his family members, and the ways in which they all deal with the Dominican fukú, or curse. It goes back and forth between New York/New Jersey and the Dominican Republic.

The discussions of the DR are filled with ambivalence, with its irresistible pull yet also its corruption and extreme violence. Trujillo ("the Dictatingest Dictator who ever Dictated") and his henchmen play prominent roles. Even this is intertwined with Tolkien: "he was also a flunky for the Trujillato, and not a minor one. Don't misunderstand: our boy was no ringwraith, but he wasn't no orc either". Trujillo is also deemed worse than Sauron because at least Sauron truly disappeared when the ring was destroyed, whereas Trujillo's legacy has hung over the DR.

All these pop culture references make the book universal despite its Dominican focus. Interestingly, one of the problems Oscar and his family have is that they are not quite in tune with Dominican culture, which sometimes leads to disaster (I won't say anything more as not to ruin the plot).


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Remittances and exchange rates

There is more or less constant news about how the dollar amount of remittances going from the U.S. to Latin America is declining, which of course affects Latin American economies. This AP article, however, makes an excellent point. The dollar is getting stronger, so it is buying more in Mexico. As a result, the drop in remittance dollars may not be as dire as generally viewed:

The U.S. dollar has gained 34 percent against the peso since Aug. 1 as investors shed developing world assets and fled to the relative safety of the greenback. That stronger dollar means money sent home buys much more in Mexico -- a wage hike of sorts for the relatives of migrants lucky enough to still find jobs in the U.S. or for migrants using U.S. earnings to buy property back in Mexico.

In addition, the Mexican Central Bank estimates that remittances from the U.S. to Mexico actually increased 13% when comparing October 2007 to October. Essentially, once migrants began to see how much the dollar could buy, they had renewed incentive to go to the U.S. or stay in the U.S. and continue sending money back.


David Fitzgerald's A Nation of Emigrants

I read David Fitzgerald's A Nation of Emigrants: How Mexico Manages its Migration. Fitzgerald uses an in-depth study of the municipality of Arandas (in Jalisco) to make a broader argument about Mexico and its emigrants. It has several interrelated goals:

First, demonstrate that for many years the Mexican government has attempted, albeit often unsuccessfully, to influence migration patterns. Those efforts have evolved over time. In fact, in recent years they have followed the Catholic Church's strategies to maintain contacts with Mexican Catholics abroad. The church and the state have very similar interests, especially in terms of encouraging continued economic participation in Mexico.

The key here is policy evolution. Both the state and the church changed their views of emigrants, who for years were viewed with suspicion (even open dislike) by both sides. But over time they acceded to the inevitable and started to make a virtue out of necessity.

Second, challenge the common argument that immigration weakens sovereignty. Many have argued that nation-states, particularly in the developing world, lose control when large numbers of citizens emigrate and/or take on dual nationality. Fitzgerald notes that a deterritorialized world is really nothing new (just as dual citizenship is not new, though it has accelerated in recent years). States simply have become more creative in staying connected to citizens abroad, often in ways that can be beneficial to the state.

Individuals do, however, have greater leverage in what Fitzgerald calls "citizenship a la carte." They have more leeway to pick and choose: "Emigrants can enjoy the substance of their homeland citizenship a la carte from a menu of rights and obligations, whereas residents must take the rights and obligations together at a relatively fixed price" (p. 176).

Third, while the immigration debate in the United States often centers on assimilation, in Mexico there is much greater concern (especially, but certainly not exclusively, from the church) about dissimilation, i.e. Mexicans abroad becoming less "Mexican." The most prominent example is losing Spanish, but it can also refer to choice of clothing, music, greater use of drugs and alcohol, or in some cases mythical ideas that to obtain U.S. citizenship you are required to stomp on the Mexican flag.

The book offers a very fresh perspective on immigration--namely a close look at sending country policies--and is worthwhile for that alone. My only criticism is that I didn't come away feeling that there was any sort of general argument, hypothesis, or model that could be applied to other Latin American countries. To be fair, that was not a stated aim of the book. Perhaps, however, it can become something of a springboard for similar studies of other countries.


Monday, December 01, 2008

Hillary Clinton and Latin America: status, meet quo

Although Hillary Clinton as secretary of state has been considered a lock for some time, I figured I wouldn't comment until it was official, perhaps hoping it would change. In short, with regard to Latin America policy I believe this is a poor choice. (Whether the reasoning holds for other parts of the world is open to debate).

My main concerns are twofold. First, in general she is hawkish. Second, for Latin America specifically she is staunchly status quo. In these ways she is similar to Joe Biden.

This combination does not suggest forging the kind of change we need for Latin America policy. Instead, it suggests continued baiting of Hugo Chávez, resistance to ending the Cuba embargo, continued push for militarized supply-side drug policy, and the "us vs. them" mentality that seems to permeate everything these days.

The main exceptions are that both she and Obama are in favor of immigration reform, and both are flexible on free trade rather than taking rigid blanket positions.

Overall, however, I don't see much change coming, though I do want to see who goes into the Latin America-specific posts. Every recent analysis of U.S.-Latin American relations emphasizes the current window of opportunity. At the risk of sounding too melodramatic, I think I am hearing the thump of it closing.

With any luck, I am wrong, or at least exaggerating.


Chávez's problems

Nikolas Kozloff published an interesting article in NACLA Report on the Americas detailing the political problems that Chávez faces. Though obviously written before his announcement, it bears directly on the uphill battle he will have to win a referendum extending presidential terms. Dropping oil prices, Obama's election, and inability to export his vision all contribute.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Chavez and no term limits

So not long after I criticize a media article for jumping to conclusions about Chávez wanting the chance at indefinite terms, he says he is now pushing for the reform. He announced it very quickly after local elections that produced mixed results for both sides, but by no means an electoral shift that promises a better outcome than the last time. This is especially true because now the only issue would be term limits, as opposed to including other issues that make it more palatable.

I am trying to think of any scenario that does not include desperation on his part, but none come to mind.


More Latin America Op-Eding

There has been a surge of published advice for Obama with regard to Latin America policy. Today's version comes from the San Francisco Chronicle, and mostly follows the main points of the Brookings Institution study.

I am repeating myself, but it is noteworthy how similar they all are. You must make reference to an "opportunity," in this particular case an "enormous" opportunity. Then you list some specific policy choices. Sometimes the policy choices are ridiculous (e.g. the NYT calling to bring the IMF into Latin America more deeply). Sometimes, as in this particular article, the policy choices are OK but the language is revealing for its assumptions about the dominant role the U.S. should play.

  • We want "cooperation" but this is our "traditional backyard" and so if China or Russia seeks trading partners, it represents "prowling" regardless of what Latin American leaders think.
  • The way to send a regional message of "cooperation" is to sign an FTA with Colombia, because it is critical for Obama to "morph" into a free trade advocate. Whether Latin American leaders believe Colombia to be the test case for cooperation is not explored.
  • Overall, we want "cooperation" but policy changes toward Cuba will create a "quiet storm of U.S. influence." How or why this is the case is not explained.
I will repeat myself some more, but it's important. In general, these opinions do indeed offer some useful policy prescriptions, and I hope many of them are pursued (especially with regard to Cuba, the drug war, and immigration). But if we truly have an "enormous opportunity" then let's be more bold, and rethink our relationship with the region as a whole. I have yet to see anyone suggest that.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

The War of the Pacific continues

Every so often, a news story pops up to remind us that the War of the Pacific, which officially concluded well over 100 years ago, simmers on. Last year it was Peru's effort to change the maritime border with Chile. Now we have a war of words:

In a video circulated by Chilean media this week, Peruvian army chief Edwin Donayre tells a social gathering: "The Chilean that enters doesn't leave or he leaves in a coffin; if there aren't enough coffins, they'll leave in plastic bags."

Foreign minister Jose Antonio Belaunde said Wednesday the government rejects Donayre's "verbal excesses."

It reminded of Mario Vargas Llosa's The Time of the Hero, as Peruvian military cadets were in a training exercise:

And the cadets of the first company would race forward like meteors, their fixed bayonets jabbing at the sky and their hearts filled with a tremendous rage as they trampled down the plants in the furrows--if only the plants were the heads of Chileans or Ecuadoreans, if only the blood would spurt out from under their boots, if only their enemies would die...


Friday, November 28, 2008

About Latin America

There has been a flurry of policy papers, reports, and editorials with suggestions for Latin America policy (just a few days ago, I took a look at the Brookings Institution). Today it is the New York Times' turn, with an editorial.

This editorial, like all the rest, emphasizes our "unique opportunity" to improve relations. But none of them offer much beyond bromides and well-worn policy recommendations. Yes, I agree that the embargo doesn't work, and I am very glad that this is now finally becoming conventional wisdom*. But we need to step back and really rethink relations.

From the NYT:

For starters, the Obama administration could gain a lot of good will by supporting more aid, mostly from the International Monetary Fund, for Latin American countries sideswiped by the financial meltdown.

I don't get it. We have a "unique opportunity" and start by inserting the IMF, which is ridiculously unpopular in Latin America? It moves on to "dialogue" and free trade. Worst of all, it spends several paragraphs on Hugo Chávez, evincing the same obsession with the Bush administration.

Any serious effort to take advantage of this "unique opportunity" should make sure it doesn't mention Hugo Chávez, who as an individual is irrelevant to a broad vision for Latin America policy. He is only relevant to the degree that he reflects divisions within the region that the United States government steadfastly refuses to acknowledge.

This refusal means that we continue to have blanket policies (especially free trade) that may or may not be appropriate in any given circumstance. If anything, we need to inject a more flexible mindset into policy making that recognizes difference. Our current stance immediately forces leaders into unnecessary defensive positions when they disagree on particular issues.

* Incidentally, studying how it became CW would be a fascinating research topic.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bush and Latin America: The Search for a Fake Legacy

I assume there was a meeting at some point recently, where it was decided that everyone in the Bush administration should take every opportunity to explain how the president's Latin America policy is, well, amazing. There might even be a memo that says "Don't be shy about making the most ludicrous claims imaginable because someone might just believe it if we keep repeating it." (My last installment is here.) Now we have Condoleezza Rice, who makes two claims:

First, Bush "has helped countries in the region adopt more pragmatic policies."

Second, Bush "has broken through an age-old struggle about ideology in Latin America."

The sheer audacity of these claims is awe inspiring, as they come from one of the most ideological and unpragmatic administrations in the history of this country. I eagerly await the next claims.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Boring academic books

Maybe it's just me, but this made me laugh out loud (h/t Mr. Trend).


Venezuelan elections: news we can't use

Preoccupied by other things, I haven't bothered to post about the Venezuelan elections. It had occurred to me, though, that despite all the rhetoric leading up to the elections, the U.S. media seemed bored. State and local elections without violence aren't very exciting, and Hugo Chávez didn't say anything inflammatory. Ultimately, these elections don't change the political map of Venezuela much.

So this morning's piece from McClatchy caught my eye for its impressively hyperbolic perspective. These elections, we learn, are in fact the sign of "another titanic battle" as Chávez seeks a new referendum to get another presidential term. The evidence? "Analysts said Monday." It seems he quoted two analysts, one of them pollster and often Chávez critic Luis Vicente León.

Much of the rest of the article quotes opposition Venezuelan politicians, who argue that Chávez will be weakened politically because he will have to negotiate more and the drop in oil prices will slow his projects, neither of which offer support for the article's hypothesis. The only evidence presented is that Chávez candidates won more votes than Chávez did in the failed referendum, but that is apples and oranges from an electoral perspective. A vote for mayor doesn't translate into a vote for a national referendum on Chávez.

Does Chávez want another term? Yes. Will he push for a new referendum next year? Maybe. This article, however, doesn't help us understand the likelihood.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Rethinking U.S.-Latin American Relations

Today the Brookings Institution released a new report entitled, "Rethinking U.S.-Latin American Relations." The commission that put it together was co-chaired by Ernesto Zedillo and Thomas Pickering. It contains a variety of policy recommendations, though most (like stripping away restrictions against Cuba, albeit not the entire embargo) have been voiced quite a bit recently.

I must say that I agree with many of the report's recommendations. However, I find it lacking in imagination (I hate to say "vision" but that is what first came to mind). The prologue notes that the report is based on the following two propositions.

The countries of the hemisphere share common interests; and the United States should engage its hemispheric neighbors on issues where shared interests, objections, and solutions are easiest to identify and can serve as a basis for an effective partnership.

We have now reached Platitude Central.

In a 36 page document, the word "dialogue" came up 9 times. I didn't even bother counting "partnership" because there were too many. Given the recommendations, the general idea seems to be generating a lot of commissions, task forces, etc. to facilitate dialogue and partnership.

If it means to be serious about its goals, then this and related reports must first explicitly address the issue of difference. For example, the report pushes hemispheric economic integration. How do we achieve "dialogue" and "partnership" if other countries view this as contrary to their own economic interests?

Along similar lines, the report does not address what I consider a critical element in improving hemispheric relations: the acknowledgment of a massive gap between rhetoric and reality with regard to the state's role in the economy. "Partnership" must begin with the recognition that leadership is not based on talking market while nationalizing or partially nationalizing your own industries.

In other words, I don't see this study as "rethinking" much at all.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

President Bush hearts Latin America

Well, at least according to Dan Fisk, the National Security Council Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs. The administration's overall message is one I've mentioned a number of times, namely that the Bush administration has had an incredibly positive relationship with Latin America but that it gets no credit.

So the gist of this particular press briefing is that the administration has been at the forefront of improving Latin American economies, pursuing social justice, improving security, and that Bush had a total of 350 phone calls and meetings (is this the diplomatic equivalent to a body count?). In sum:

So again, in terms of the President's record in the hemisphere, this is, again, I think, a good opportunity to remind people of that.

Let me just highlight some very specific areas where I do think that this administration has not only improved the relationship with the hemisphere, but has laid a very solid foundation that the new President can build upon.

This is, we can safely say, the core belief of the administration as it leaves office. We did a great job, and nobody gives us any credit. We honestly have no idea why no one likes us.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Journalists in Ciudad Juárez

I heard this story about the murder of journalists in Ciudad Juárez on NPR this morning, and recommend it (looks like the audio isn't available for a few hours). Aside from the very sobering issue of journalist intimidation, there is the unfortunate reality that it is increasingly viewed as commonplace. Vendors arrive at murder scenes and make good money, while the atmosphere is almost festive.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Reading the tea leaves on immigration Part 2

I've been arguing that it is unlikely immigration reform will get tackled in the first year of the new administration. Here is some more support for that belief--Rahm Emanuel says that the administration will "throw long and deep," and go for "wholesale changes in health care, taxes, financial re-regulation and energy." Immigration is not in that list.

h/t King Politics


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Refreshing to hear

Tony Garza, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, said the following in a speech:

"Mexico would not be the center of the cartel's activities, nor would it be experiencing these levels of violence, if it wasn't for the United States -- the major consumer of illegal drugs and the principal supplier of arms to the cartels."

The quicker we integrate that reality into our policies, the better. I do wish we had heard it more earlier.


U.S.-Bolivian relations

During his trip to the U.S., Evo Morales met with Dick Lugar, who released a statement that included:

We hope to renew our relationship with Bolivia, and to develop a rapport grounded on respect and transparency. In this regard, after appropriate and constructive official contacts, I hope that we will have a U.S. Ambassador in La Paz soon, and that we will look forward to having a Bolivian Ambassador here in Washington, D.C.,” Lugar said.
In the meeting, Lugar and President Morales also discussed the importance of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) which was suspended by President Bush.
“Lifting the suspension on the ATPDEA with Bolivia will strengthen the growing political and economic relationship between our nations and help bring new jobs and good will to the region,” Lugar said. Bolivians are concerned about the possibility of losing a market of $400 million dollars of manufactured Bolivian products that generate a significant number of jobs in Bolivia.

All to the good. The timing of a new administration is perfect for mending fences. Bad relations hurt Bolivia considerably, and so Morales should grab onto these kinds of statements to figure out a new relationship that asserts Bolivian sovereignty without shooting the country in the foot.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The center in Latin America

Following up on my post about Latinobarómetro, Sara Miller Llana at the Christian Science Monitor quotes me in an article about how the poll shows the strength of the center in Latin America. The headline "Quiet Rise of Latin America's Center" hits the nail on the head. In the U.S., mostly what we hear about is conflict. We get juicy quotes from Hugo Chávez, see a diplomat expelled from Bolivia, etc., and so we get the impression that the region is falling apart. Yet in fact more and more Latin Americans believe their democracies are working well, and that the future looks brighter than it used to.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Immigrants and the left in Latin America

The Miami Herald has an article about Mission Identity, the Venezuelan government's effort to expedite citizenship for immigrants, many of them poor (particularly from Colombia) and generally sympathetic to Hugo Chávez. At least according to Chávez opponents, the idea is to pack the upcoming municipal elections with pro-Chávez voters.

This made me think about how in Latin America the majority of immigrants are viewed as a problem for the right, regardless of where they are. In Chile, there is resistance from the right to allowing Chileans abroad to vote, because it is assumed they fled Pinochet and therefore will vote Concertación.

Even in the United States, Mexican immigrants vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party, which contributes even more to Republican restrictionism.

The Chilean case aside, most immigrants are moving to find better economic opportunities, and therefore are most open to political parties that are viewed as more attuned to the disadvantaged, which is far more likely to come from the left. This is a generalization (i.e. some people may well vote for other reasons) but I think it holds pretty well. There are plenty of right-leaning expats, but their relative numbers are much smaller. Governments tap them more for their resources than their votes.

Are there exceptions? A small plurality of Mexicans in the U.S. favored the PAN in the 2006 presidential election, but 40% favored no party, so I would argue this tells us more about apathy than real support for the right. For Mexico, allowing expats to vote has more to do with maintaining economic contacts--regardless of which party is in control--than with domestic partisan politics. Cuba is another exception because the legacies of the Castro dictatorship loom over everything else.

But is there a large immigrant community somewhere associated with the right?


Monday, November 17, 2008

Reading the tea leaves on immigration

There is a good analysis at New America Media about the prospects for immigration reform. Whether or not the Obama administration pursues reform may well hinge to a large degree on whether it can get the economy back on track, though it will also depend upon how much pressure comes up from civil society.

My hunch is that Obama will put the issue off, and that we won't see a legislative push in 2009. He does, however, need to look like he is taking action, so perhaps he will appoint a commission or something along those lines.

As the analysis notes, there are still actions he can take immediately. The most prominent is to end workplace raids, which he has called "publicity stunts." I expect them to stop, and given his past statements I also expect there will be a complete reappraisal of the border fence.


Latin American politics blogs

So it appears that Blogrolling is dead, victim of some hacker. Therefore at some point I will have to manually switch all the links to Blogger's new blogroll feature. I am not sure when I will make the time to do so. In the meantime, here are some blogs you might like.

My friend Claudio Fuentes at Flacso-Chile writes about generational change and politics in Chile (in Spanish).

At Latin American Thought they're talking about the Venezuelan municipal elections.

Lillie at Memory in Latin America discusses the amnesty idea floating around Peru.

Security in Latin America has a provocative map of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Thomas at The Latin American Post examines Bolivian politics.

Benjamin Gedan at Small State looks at the embrace of U.S. culture versus U.S. foreign policy in Latin America.

Richard Grabman at The Mex Files talks about the Mérida Initiative.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Latinobarómetro 2008

If you haven't already, take a few minutes to look at the Latinobarómetro 2008. It is chock full of info. Much of it, in fact, speaks well of the state of democracy in the region these days.

I will take just one example--the growth of the center in Latin America. The percentage of people who self-identify as centrist is 42%, which has been growing steadily over the past 5-6 years. Meanwhile, the percentage that self-identify as "left" has remained steady and is currently at 17%. The growth of the center has come at the expense of the right (which is at 22%, versus 31% in 2001) and those who in the past either did not respond or said "don't know" or "none," which fell from 30% in 2002 to 19% now.

The right has clearly fallen from its heyday in the 1990s, particularly as disillusionment with economic reforms grew. The left took no such hit. There was, in fact, a shift to the left, but it really meant from the right to the center. The Latinobarómetro analysis is that the center is voting for candidates of the left, and consequently keeping those elected leaders relatively moderate. There is some really interesting research to be done on the erosion of the right.

Trivia: which country had the fewest to self-identify as "right"? Chile at 11%. Colombia, not surprisingly, had the highest (33%).


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Immigration and the media

The Brookings Institution has released an interesting study entitled, "A Report on the Media and the Immigration Debate." Its core finding is that the media, but especially new media, has been a major contributor to policy stalemate. Some key conclusions:

  • The media is crisis-driven, so the bulk of the attention is negative
  • Especially with the rise of talk radio, bloggers, etc. the opposing sides are very loud, while the middle (which favors a mix of policy options) has little voice. Part of their conclusion is that traditional newspapers handled the issue better, so that in the past compromise was more possible. I'm not sure I buy this causality, but it's an argument worth contemplating.
  • Thus, the public debate centers on extreme policy options (e.g. kicking out all undocumented immigrants) that will never be enacted
  • The narrative focuses on immigrants themselves, and very rarely the broader forces that bring them to the United States, so the bigger picture is rarely presented
Money quote: "The breathless, on-and-off coverage--more opera than ooze--has mischaracterized a massive demographic event that has developed over decades and mostly through legal channels. And at the same time, it has helped create contours in public opinion that have rendered the enactment of new immigration policies ever more elusive" (p. ix).


Friday, November 14, 2008

Noticias del sur

I've been meaning to point out an interesting site: Noticias del Sur. It links to a ton of articles on Latin American politics in addition to original articles, all of which are left of center. They are all in Spanish.

I've also been meaning to update my blogroll and call attention to a number of newer blogs on Latin American politics. I plan on doing that soon.


The hoax: Sarah Palin and NAFTA

It was a well-conceived hoax, just outrageous enough but just possibly believable enough: the idea that Sarah Palin did not know Africa was a continent and that she could not name the member countries of NAFTA. Credibility was enhanced by the fact that it was reported by Fox News.

But it is all untrue. The McCain adviser is in fact fake, a fictional creation of a blogger, who also created a fake think tank the "adviser" belonged to. It seems all he did was email reporters, who then passed along what he wrote. It was then spread virally and mentioned by people like me further down the blog chain.

So my apologies to Sarah Palin, and to my readers. Even worse than being duped, now we once again know even less about her views on Latin America. I suppose that it doesn't matter much, or at least not for another 3-4 years.


Russell Crandall's The United States and Latin America after the Cold War

I read Russell Crandall's The United States and Latin America after the Cold War, which takes a novel approach. It begins with the idea that the Cold War is over, but many people--particularly policy makers--continue to view Latin America within its antiquated framework, especially in terms of emphasizing security to an exaggerated degree over other factors like domestic politics in the United States. He examines U.S.-Latin Americans from the dual lenses of "Anti-imperialists" and those from the "Establishment," and the novelty is Crandall's goal of explaining the arguments of the opposing sides at the same time. There are fourteen chapters, each taking a look at different general topics (democracy, security, etc.) and specific countries.

The distinction between the two viewpoints is not always quite so simple, which he acknowledges, but it is a reasonable point of departure. The chapters then explain a wide variety of agreements, disputes, interventions, diplomatic overtures, etc. while showing what sorts of argument (usually in counterpoise) each side offered in support or opposition. The focus on balance could make it useful for the classroom, though given how many issues it raises, one would need to fill in knowledge that is taken for granted or mentioned rather briefly.

He argues that especially in the post Cold War era, the realist school just cannot explain the mix of policy players and the influence of domestic concerns. With this I have no argument (I note the shortcoming of realism in my own book) but I did feel like the theme of power really kept popping up throughout the narrative (for example, multiple times he cites U.S. Ambassadors in different countries making threats about what will happen if the "wrong" candidate is elected--sometimes it backfired, but the threats were based on everyone knowing what the U.S. was capable of doing). Even though it is certainly true that the old style "Big Stick" is not always apparent, the imbalance of power is very often central to understanding U.S.-Latin American relations.

So then what is the next step conceptually? To my mind, an important question is how to address Crandall's main point about intermestic policy without rejecting the relevance of power. I don't have a great answer, but I would definitely like to see more conceptual development in the analysis of U.S.-Latin American relations that could provide a framework for explaining policy dynamics. Cuba is a perfect example--U.S. use of power is integral to understanding the relationship, yet Obama's change of tone has much more to do with evolving domestic constituencies than anything else.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fidel Castro and his legacy

Fidel has written a book: La Paz en Colombia (Peace in Colombia). It will apparently be available for download, but I don't see it anywhere yet.

As a hilariously approving review in Granma attests, the book has three objectives. The first is to examine Tirofijo, the second is to look at the role of the U.S., and the third is to discuss "the real nature of Cuba’s links with the Latin American revolutionary movements and its long and sustained contribution to the search for a just, realistic and humanitarian solution to the armed conflict that is bleeding Colombia." The Granma article suggests this will go beyond Colombia to include Nicaragua, Grenada, etc. In other words, to provide Fidel's own spin before he dies.

His spin, though, might well be a fascinating one. Of course, retired politicians usually pump out memoirs to get their story out--heck, even Fulgencio Batista did.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Venezuela and Russia

Mercopress discusses the latest on Russia and Venezuela, as they sign 15 cooperative agreements in a variety of industries. Dmitry Medvedev is expected to visit later this month. There are two things that really caught my attention:

First, one of the agreements is to set up a $4 billion development bank to finance projects in the two countries. The Bank of the South barely exists yet, and we need yet another development bank?

Second, Chávez said, "We have freed ourselves from Yankee imperialism" and then promptly seized a Canadian gold mining operation to transform it into a Russian joint venture. Since when are Canadians also Yankees?


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The embargo and the Caribbean

The Financial Times has a story that comes up every once in a while, but is worth keeping in mind. There is much anticipation that Obama will liberalize relations with Cuba, and if he allows U.S. tourists to travel there, then the rest of the Caribbean will be hurt. Before Castro, Cuba was a very popular destination, and there is considerable pent-up demand. In short, people will go to Cuba rather than to other places.

About 1.4m people visit Cuba each year– compared with 1.5m for the Bahamas, 2m for Cancún, 2.3m for the Dominican Republic, 1.3m for Jamaica and 2.9m for Puerto Rico.

But Cuba is expected to receive as many as 3.5m American visitors alone if the US changes its policy.

John Rapley, of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute based in Jamaica, said that since Cuban tourism was mostly directed towards the lower end of the market, one solution was for other islands to develop a higher end product.


Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman

I read Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman because it was mentioned approvingly in Amman Shea's Reading the OED and it intrigued me. The upshot is that one of the major contributors to the original Oxford English Dictionary, Dr. W.C. Minor, was a brilliant medical doctor who also happened to be a paranoid schizophrenic and was therefore locked up in an insane asylum in England for murder. The book is primarily his story.

It is a fun and easy read, and so I've put it on the side bar. And as I read, it began to dawn on me that the OED was very much like an old version of Wikipedia. I never gave dictionaries much thought before, but obviously constructing one is a massive job. So what the editor--James Murray at Oxford--did was to advertise for volunteers. You would learn what particular needs the editors had in terms of quoting words in context (especially finding the first written use of a word) and then send in slips of paper: "The more quotation slips that came in to the iron shed he had built in Mill Hill, the better: He assured readers that he had an ample supply of assistants to sort them, and that his floors had been especially strengthened to hold them" (p. 135).

So what we now see as a venerable institution was in fact the result of thousands of people sending in quotations that they believed best fit a word. Since it was all by mail, they were as anonymous as they wished to be--in fact, Murray did not know for years that one of his most prolific contributors was locked up, believed people entered his room at night through spaces in the floor, and eventually even castrated himself.

Not that the comparison should be taken too far, because unlike Wikipedia the OED did have an editor with the final say on everything. Yet there is something to be said for the collaborative nature of both projects, and how very large public interest and participation made them possible.


Monday, November 10, 2008

The never-ending saga of the border fence

The Department of Homeland Security has stopped bothering to pretend it is building the border fence in Texas, instead handing off the issue to the Obama administration. Only 3.3 miles out of 110 planned for Texas had even been built up to this point. With any luck, the same will play out along the rest of the border.

Obama has said some fence might be necessary, but that it would only be built after consultation and agreement with local authorities, which are most often against it. So hopefully some common sense will be injected into the situation.

However, this does not necessarily mean reform. Tom Barry at The Center for International Policy (who writes the blog Border Lines) notes that Rahm Emmanuel supports reform in principle, but deems it a "third rail" and so will likely try to convince Obama not to pursue it. I would also add that immigration is never listed as higher than third or fourth in a list of issues voters are most concerned about--the economy and Iraq dominate the agenda.


Saturday, November 08, 2008

Inflation in Latin America

Two days ago I mentioned the rise of inflation in Chile, and now we have news that Mexico's inflation has reached a 7 year high (though 5.8% is no crisis). Brazil is at a three year high. In the Chile post, I brought up the point that especially given a drop in oil prices and slowing consumer demand, inflation was not likely to continue rising. On the other hand, we don't want it to drop too much.

In fact, the buzzword for Europe and Japan is deflation, and it is causing great concern because it means there is little money in the economy and consumers just aren't buying.

We therefore have a situation where, given the global outlook, Latin America's mild inflation might be enviable, at least for now. However, we need to emphasize mild, because Venezuela's inflation rate is about 25%, and 35% in Caracas, and that will cause problems.


Friday, November 07, 2008

Obama and policy toward Venezuela

I highly recommend reading the memo Francisco Toro and Juan Cristobal Nagel (at Caracas Chronicles) wrote to Obama about Venezuela policy options.


"Only" in America?

As I've watched and listened to U.S. media commentary, especially after the election, something has nagged at me. This has indeed been an historic election, but in the United States we try to claim that we are the first to have historic elections. It can happen, we say, "only in America." I don't have links, but heard it from both Chris Matthews and Chris Wallace--if you google "obama only in america," you can get a feel for how broad the sentiment is.

In Latin America, I think of Evo Morales' impressively large victory in Bolivia in 2005, followed shortly by Michelle Bachelet's in Chile (remember that the U.S. has not yet elected a woman, unlike many other countries). What of Alberto Fujimori's 1990 election in Peru (will we see an Asian elected president of the United States?)? Or if we look at class, rather than race, there is no doubt that Lula's election in Brazil changed history--imagine an uneducated union activist running for president here.

It is truly remarkable that our president-elect is African American, and it says a lot about the progress being made in this country. But let us savor it without pretending that we're the only ones who have made such progress.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Another election post-mortem: Sarah Palin and NAFTA

In August, I wrote a post about how no one knew anything about Sarah Palin's views on Latin America. Our ignorance on the topic is reflected in the fact that my two posts about her are the first to come up when googling "sarah palin latin america," and all I wrote was that we knew nothing.

Now we have a little more info. According to Fox News (via Foreign Policy's blog), Palin could not name the countries in NAFTA. She also apparently believed that Africa was a country.


Inflation in Chile

Chile's rate of inflation rose to the highest level in 14 years, so that in October consumer prices were 9.9% higher than in October 2007. We've often heard that the price of oil is a critical (though certainly not the only) factor in inflation across Latin America, as transportation costs grew dramatically. Yet currently oil prices have fallen to just over $60 a barrel.

An obvious question, then, is how long it will take for consumer prices to reflect at least some of that drop. Plus, consumer demand in Chile is also slowing, so something has to give. I would assume a similar dynamic is playing out across the region.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama and Latin America: election post mortem

Barack Obama ran on a platform of change, and so in the coming weeks we'll see if there is any sign of change in U.S. policies toward Latin America. For example, appointments to key Latin America posts will be indicative. However, the president-elect has truly massive problems on his plate, and thus it is doubtful that Latin America will occupy much of his time (which, indeed, raises the importance of those appointees, because they will wield even more clout).

Once he takes office, I hope that he meets immediately with Mexican President Felipe Calderón. The Bush administration had slowly thawed relations after the disastrous decision to ice both Chile and Mexico for voting against use of force in Iraq in the UN, but we need more. I hope Obama shows commitment both to immigration reform and to addressing the drug-fuelled violence that is poisoning both sides of the border. Both issues require close coordination and as much trust as possible between the two governments.

There are, of course, many other challenges, and there is an opportunity for real change. Relations with Latin America have nowhere to go but up.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Elizabeth Dole

Fox News and NBC have called Elizabeth Dole's loss to Kay Hagan in the Senate. I hope that is true, given how horribly low Dole's ad campaign went, particularly against undocumented immigrants, not to mention the "godless" ad.


Trusting political parties

On this election day, it seems appropriate to discuss the relationship between the public and political parties. The Latin American Public Opinion Project at Vanderbilt University has published a new study entitled, "(Mis)Trust in Political Parties in Latin America." The upshot is that there isn't much trust. There is a lot of interesting stuff (such as the fact that the young, urban population is the least trusting) but given today I will highlight the comparative angle.

In the United States, we need to ask ourselves hard questions about our own democracy when only 32.4% of the population trusts political parties, which ranks us 14 out of 22 countries surveyed. In Venezuela, where Chávez has railed against parties for years, and which of course is usually labeled a dictatorship by U.S. politicians, the number is still higher (37.2%). In Mexico, it is higher yet (41.5%).

In the U.S., one result has been a rising number of independents/unaffiliated, as people lean in one ideological direction or another, but feel little connection to specific parties. Maybe U.S. parties ought to go talk to their counterparts in places like Chile and Uruguay (each at 41%), and ask how they maintain the trust of their citizens.


Monday, November 03, 2008

Obama at UNC Charlotte

I went to see Obama speak this evening at UNC Charlotte, along with 10,000-12,000 other people in rainy weather (though, fortunately, it stopped before he arrived). So it is exciting not only to have NC in play for the election, but also to have Obama come to my own university.

It was an upbeat crowd (even with the weather) and an upbeat speech, I assume the normal stump speech, though he noted the death of his grandmother, which happened early this morning. The positive tone was noticeable, as in fact he praised John McCain several times.

What's amazing is that 2.5 million people have voted in NC, so turnout is already 41 percent.


Obama and Chávez

Hugo Chávez says he is willing to meet Obama if he wins the election, which for Obama is dicey timing. Given the incessantly repeated "no preconditions" message from McCain, Obama's campaign issued a strongly worded statement in response:

Hugo Chavez does not govern democratically and relations between our countries will not improve unless Venezuela respects democracy and the rule of law. That is the clear message that Barack Obama will deliver to Venezuela as president.

I am not at all sure how an Obama administration would deal with Venezuela. However, these types of statements come up a lot, and always raise the same question--if democracy is the key precondition to good relations with the U.S., then how will we deal with China, Saudi Arabia, etc.? The answer, of course, is that democracy isn't the litmus test for anything.


Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Latin America paranoia round-up

I had happened to see various news stories recently, and realized they fit a pattern. Or is it paranoia if it happens to be true?

  • Alvaro Uribe says there are terrorists in his military
  • The Ecuadorian government says the CIA has infiltrated its military
  • The Nicaraguan government says some EU ambassadors want to overthrow Daniel Ortega
  • Hugo Chávez says Manuel Rosales is plotting to kill him
  • An official from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security says Latin America is chock full of Islamic extremists
  • Along the same lines, the U.S. and Colombian governments say Colombian narco-traffickers are funding Hizbullah (with the hilarious sentence, "Hizbullah officials were unavailable for comment.")
  • Evo Morales says the DEA is spying on him


Saturday, November 01, 2008

Violence and the U.S.-Mexico border

On October 14, the State Department issued a travel advisory for Mexico because of murders associated with drug cartels. It simply asked people to be aware and take common sense precautions. Now, however, my dad forwarded an advisory sent out by the administration of San Diego State University, the likes of which I don't ever remember seeing, given its specificity. It is aimed at people connected to the military (which in San Diego is a lot of people). Caps are in the original.


It is incredibly sad how drug-related violence has been sweeping through border towns. We need a binational solution that does not limit itself only to arming Mexican law enforcement.


Friday, October 31, 2008

The Bush administration and Latin America

I'm glad I have Condoleezza Rice to set me straight, because I was under the impression that the Bush administration was unpopular in Latin America. From a Televisa interview:

You know, I think this President has really changed our approach to Latin America, which, quite frankly and sadly, for a while was seen through a Cold War prism. If you were from the left, you were against us, because that was associated somehow with the Cold War. We’ve wiped that away. And we have excellent relations with governments of the left and with governments of the right. The only thing in common is that they govern democratically, they’re trying to invest in their people, they are accountable to their people, they’re fighting corruption. And I think the United States has been a really good partner in Latin America (inaudible).

I wonder what that "inaudible" was all about. Perhaps coughing to suppress laughter. The same day (October 23) she had a press conference with Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Patricia Espinosa, where we learned the Bush administration is also totally uninterested in anyone's ideology.

The governments of Latin America come from a wide range along the ideological spectrum, and President Bush has made very clear that there is no ideological test for cooperation and friendship with the United States. We have excellent relations with governments from the left, we have excellent relations with governments from the right, we have excellent relations with the center. Whether you’re talking about Brazil or Chile or Uruguay, or you’re talking about Colombia or – we have a broad range. There is no ideological test.

She ran out of time, but had planned to discuss how strong the U.S. economy is, how McCain will win in a landslide, and how she wishes she had been governor of Alaska because that's how you get the best foreign policy experience.


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