Friday, December 31, 2010


The dispute between Venezuela and the United States over ambassadors borders on childish.  Larry Palmer made disparaging comments about Venezuelan politics, which included asserting a link between the Venezuelan government and the FARC.  It should be obvious to everyone that someone who made such comments publicly would never be able to work with the Venezuelan government, and therefore should not be ambassador.  But once that poor choice was made, the Obama administration does not want to look like it is backing down, and so instead has upped the ante by taking away the Venezuelan ambassador's visa.  But let's face it, you cannot cram an unwanted ambassador down a country's throat.

Now the Venezuelan government says the whole thing is about imperialism and aggression, with typical bluster.  I would argue that it is more about hegemony and exceptionalism than anything else.  Being the predominant power for so long has fostered the pervasive belief that our decisions are best, and that the views of Latin American governments are unimportant.  Take our chosen ambassador and shut up.

But this needs to get sorted out.  Larry Palmer is not going to work, while in my opinion Bernardo Alvarez Herrera has been a good ambassador (and for quite a long time), articulate and measured.  The Obama administration will take a political hit from Republicans who will say he is caving in to their second favorite hemispheric nemesis.  That result is far better than needlessly escalating a conflict that originated in Washington.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gasolinazo part 2

Some prominent Bolivian labor and environmental activists have written a highly critical open letter to Evo Morales and Alvaro García.  From Narco News:

Did the people send you to impose such a brutal, irrational, arrogant and neoliberal “gasolinazo” (an 82 percent hike in gasoline prices) that will make the people, who barely survive if they have the luck to have a stall in the market or a job, even poorer?
You always said that neoliberalism has failed. Is the gasolinazo a revolutionary and popular measure? Or is it that your economic model has failed?

Evo Morales decreed a 20% wage hike in the areas of health, education, police, and the armed forces (of course!) as a cushion.  But still, at least some Bolivians are getting nervous, and lines at banks are getting longer.  However, the wage hikes go into effect in 2011, i.e. a few days, so will that calm things?

My previous post on the topic (with the government's rationale) here.  Boz speculates on how Evo Morales might well get through it based on past experience.


States and immigration

The National Immigration Forum just published a report on the potential copying of Arizona's SB 1070.  It is aimed at state legislators who are contemplating such a law, with detailed discussion of several states.  It is hard to argue with the following conclusion:

Thus, Republicans are presented with a choice: Will they use their newfound political clout to pursue harsh immigration enforcement legislation that is prohibitively expensive, endangers public safety, will result in costly lawsuits, undermines local economies, and turns off a key and growing voting demographic? Or, will they use their new power to lead states to practical solutions, court a powerful new Latino and immigrant electorate and pave a way for their party to make even more gains in 2012?


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Latin America and Palestinians

Ecuador and Bolivia have joined the swelling ranks of Latin American government that are recognizing the Palestinian state (here is my previous post on the topic).  Brazil is already at work constructing a Palestinian embassy. Latin American support will not be decisive, but this will give the Palestinians a bit more diplomatic momentum as they seek to a) halt Israeli settlements; and b) get UN recognition of a state.

Meanwhile, the Israeli response really continues to boggle the mind for how consciously insulting and demeaning it is.  From the Deputy Foreign Minister:

"Facebook is the 'like' state, and so is the Palestinian state recognized in Brasilia and Buenos Aires," said Ayalon. "Irresponsible governments are quick to 'like' the Palestinian state without actually checking out its profile: an authority without sovereignty, with no borders or territorial continuity, no economic ability or democratic culture."


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Judging Obama policy

Andres Oppenheimer writes about President Obama's promises to Hispanics and to Latin America.  With regard to Latin America, his analysis is generally solid but I disagree on two points: one, the Obama administration did not "stand up for democracy" in Honduras; and two, Latin America is not waiting with bated breath for more FTAs.

But I agree completely with his assessment about immigration policy, as I have been making the same point over and over:

He may be right in thinking that Hispanics will not migrate to the Republican Party, which over the past two years has increasingly come across as the party of Hispanic-allergic, anti-immigration zealots. But Obama may be forgetting that Latino voters may do something just as harmful to his re-election chances in 2012 – stay at home.


Monday, December 27, 2010


We had the first white Christmas in Charlotte since 1947, and it continued to snow yesterday.  Though it will be gone soon it has been fun.



The Bolivian government drastically increased taxes on fuel, by over 70%.  It did so for rational capitalist reasons, namely that higher prices in neighboring countries had fostered a thriving black market.  However, the official reasoning leaves something to be desired:

"We can no longer subsidize either smugglers or the powerful who have five or six cars.  What we want to do is to use the money for fuel subsidy for the benefit of the Bolivians, for the neediest," he argued.

It is hard to justify a regressive tax by explaining how it will help the poor.  Bolivians themselves know a regressive tax when they see one, and are protesting the "gasolinazo."

It is good that the Bolivian government recognizes the negative consequences of a well-intentioned law and does not simply stick to it.  Nonetheless, without some sort of cushion the tax hike will hurt the poor the hardest, and Evo Morales will take a political hit (though he was conveniently in Venezuela at the time of the announcement).  The "powerful who have five or six cars" will still do just fine.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

My holiday book pick has to be Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Yes, I am late to this fictional fad, but I loved it.  An old man in Sweden wants to find out what happened to his brother's granddaughter, who disappeared in 1966, which has haunted him ever since.  He hires a financial reporter who edits a magazine and who has recently been prosecuted for libel (that fact also becomes central to the story).  Soon he is joined by a unique young woman (with a dragon tattoo on her shoulder) with a talent for computers.

I was absolutely sucked into this novel, and remained so when the story become even darker than I had realized it would be.  This is not a story for the faint hearted.  But it is an intricate, fast paced narrative that not only comes to a satisfying conclusion but also leaves some threads open for its sequels.

P.S. Here is a question that only people who have read the book will understand.  Do they really drink that much coffee in Sweden?


Friday, December 24, 2010

Chewing gum has nutritional value

Why don't U.S.-imposed sanctions work?  In part, because we don't respect our own sanctions.  This New York Times article is hilarious for the hypocrisy it reveals about U.S. trade with Cuba and other "state sponsors of terrorism."  Click here for more details on all the companies and products that U.S. companies are selling under the category of humanitarian exemption.

This is the best quote:

Take, for instance, chewing gum, sold in a number of blacklisted countries by Mars Inc., which owns Wrigley’s. “We debated that one for a month. Was it food? Did it have nutritional value? We concluded it did,"

Willy Wonka would be proud!  A skim through the products shows we sold essential items like croutons, NutraSweet, mircrowave popcorn, weight-lifting supplements, hot sauce, Coca Cola, Pepsi, weight loss supplements, mayonnaise, cigarettes, and food coloring.

Also hypocritical is the fact that Fidel Castro rails on the evils of capitalism, yet seems to be perfectly content with the massive business presence of Bank of America, Citigroup, Bank of New York, JP Morgan Chase, etc. that finance all of these transactions.  Viva la revolución!


Thursday, December 23, 2010

China and Latin America

R. Evan Ellis, a professor at CHDS, just published a level-headed and interesting article on Chinese soft power in Latin America in Joint Forces Quarterly (he also published a book on China in Latin America).*  The intriguing part is how Latin American countries and China court each other.  China is careful not to antagonize the United States, but lets Latin American governments view it as a development model, a market, a source of investment, and/or as an anti-imperialist ally.  China can be anything you want, and so its influence has grown.

Yet Ellis also addresses what is always missing from more shrill op-eds on the topic, namely that there are limits to Chinese soft power.  Unlike the United States, China is viewed as an outsider, with a completely different culture; few people speak Chinese; there is little expertise in China on Latin America, and they are seen as poor corporate citizens, which is really saying something because labor conditions in Latin America were never great.

This means China is not a threat, but obviously the regional context is changing:

For analysts focused on the "rise" of China in Latin America and elsewhere, the issue is not whether China is a threat, or whether it has the right to pursue its national interests in Latin America and other parts of the world. Rather, it is important to recognize the dynamics that this reemergence creates in a region with close human, geographical, and economic ties to the United States, and to prepare to mitigate the risks, meet the challenges, and rise to the opportunities that China's entry into Latin America makes possible.

* It is worth noting that after many years of reading DoD-funded journals, I often find them more level-headed than others.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Obama and Latin America

Jaime Daremblum at the Hudson Institute lays out a conservative agenda for U.S. policy toward Latin America.  It is deeply flawed for two reasons.  First:

Nearly two years have passed since his inauguration, and President Barack Obama has yet to unveil a major policy initiative for Latin America. Regional officials are hoping Obama ends this neglect in 2011 and increases U.S. engagement.

Some flowery policy initiative is most certainly not necessary, and the "Regional officials" are conspicuously left unnamed.  It has really struck me how so many people seem to think that big announcements are the only way to engage.

Second, the overall thrust of the proposals are copies of the 1980s.  In short, be more aggressive and attack perceived enemies as much as possible, without any thought to the potential consequences.  He even wants a new Kissinger Commission, which in the 1980s justified U.S. military intervention.  We definitely do not want to copy anything Henry Kissinger did, and in any case the Council on Foreign Relations already wrote a report that, if imperfect, would do the job.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Latinos and the South

The Census is already confirming what we know about Latinos and the South.  The mention of Charlotte, of course, is no coincidence!

The U.S. Hispanic minority is rapidly expanding across the country from its traditional base around the Mexican border region and will nearly triple to about 130 million by mid-century, census data shows.
"For a long time Latinos were a fact of life in the American Southwest, and that was it," said John Weeks, a professor of geography and director of the International Population Center at San Diego State University.
"But over the last 20 years, there has been just a mushrooming of migrants into places like Charlotte (North Carolina), originally brought there to do construction."


Monday, December 20, 2010


For some entertainment, I recommend EcuRed, the Cuban government's alternative to Wikipedia.

There is, for example, an entire article on what a great athlete Fidel Castro is.  And on how the Soviet Union pushed humanity closer to more just forms of social organization.  And you don't scare me, you nasty OAS!


Sunday, December 19, 2010

DREAM Act and Republicans

Senate supporters for the DREAM Act could not get the necessary 60 votes to invoke cloture, so once again it has to wait.

Matt Barreto (and anyone interested in Latino politics should look at the Latino Decisions blog) argues that immigration is so important to Latinos that this will definitely hurt Republicans who voted no, given 1) the fact that they need Latino votes to win elections; and 2) that immigration--and the DREAM Act in particular--is extremely important to Latino voters:

While much of the last two years was spent addressing the issues of health care reform, and the economy, to Latino voters a third issue loomed as being equally important for the President and Congress to address – immigration reform.

I am not entirely convinced.  An October Pew Hispanic poll (which I discussed here) had Latino registered voters ranking immigration as only the fifth most important issue for the 2010 congressional elections.

I would also argue that an entirely likely scenario is that Latino voters will stay home rather than punish Republicans.  After all, plenty of Democrats are also voting against immigration reform, and the Obama administration is showing itself as incapable of doing much beyond enforcement.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ley Habilitante

Hugo Chávez got the Enabling Law he wanted, which allows broad decree power for 18 months, and thereby reduced horizontal accountability in Venezuela even further.  He even claims that initially he only wanted 12 months, but the people affected by the floods wanted more.  Of course, this law is only intended to help those affected by the rain, and so are limited to...well, actually there is basically no limit.  Here are the nine areas where Chávez will have the power to ignore the new legislature.  Altogether they comprise everything, the world we live in, and life in general:

*Atención a las necesidades vitales que se han generado por las lluvias: Modos de proceder de entes públicos y privados ante desastres naturales, con la participación de las organizaciones populares.
*Infraestructura, transporte y servicios públicos: Dictar o reformar normas que regulen la actuación de entes públicos y privados en la construcción y optimización de obras de infraestructura. Igualmente, legislar en torno al sector de telecomunicaciones.
*Vivienda y hábitat: Construcción de viviendas en general y acceso de las familias a mecanismos que faciliten adquisición, ampliación y remodelación.
*Ordenación territorial, desarrollo integral y uso de la tierra urbana y rural: Diseñar una nueva regionalización geográfica del país, con la finalidad de reducir los altos niveles de concentración demográfica en algunas zonas del territorio nacional. Dictar o reformar normas para regular la creación de nuevas comunidades y la conformación de comunas, atendiendo la realidad de cada espacio, especialmente en los territorios habitados por pueblos indígenas.
*Financiero y tributario: Creación de fuentes y fondos especiales, a fin de atender la contingencia por las lluvias. Modernizar el marco regulatorio de los sectores tributario, impositivo, monetario y crediticio del mercado de valores, de la banca y los seguros.
*Seguridad ciudadana y jurídica: Habla de los sistemas de seguridad ciudadana, policial y de protección civil, además de los procedimientos relativos a identificación y control migratorio.
*Seguridad y defensa integral de la Nación: Normas relativas a la Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana (FANB) y al sistema de protección civil; disciplina y carrera militar y atención integral a las fronteras.
*Cooperación internacional: Competencias del Ejecutivo Nacional para la celebración de contratos de interés público de carácter bilateral o multilateral, destinados a desarrollar sectores estratégicos y a atender las consecuencias de desastres naturales.
*Sistema socieconómico: Todo lo relativo al título VI de la Constitución (sistema socioeconómico, fiscal, monetario y presupuestario). Menciona el interés por erradicar desigualdades que se derivan de la especulación, usura, acumulación de capital, monopolios, oligopolios y latifundios.

Even Al Jazeera is skeptical, and sums up the situation well:

With Chavez able to make laws without opposition approval, opposition plans to put a check on the president's powers now lie in tatters.
The move comes as polls show support for the former paratrooper slipping, and critics have expressed fears that he could use the new powers to marginalise opposition parties ahead of the election.
Lucia Newman, Al Jazeera's Latin America editor, said that the timing of the decision was telling.
"The justification for being able to rule by decree is that it will allow the president to quickly pass new laws to deal with the emergency that the country is facing because of weeks of floods," she said. "But clearly the timing here is very suspect. In three weeks he will no longer have a two-thirds majority, and now he will be able to pass by decree laws dealing with just about everything."


Friday, December 17, 2010

The politics of FTAs

There is an editorial in The Wall Street Journal about the ATPDEA, which then leads to what is really the main argument about Colombia:

Of course none of this would be happening if the Colombian free trade agreement had been ratified in 2008. But Democrats have been instructed by their union supporters that FTAs are off limits.

If this argument were valid, then it would mean no FTAs could be advanced under the Obama administration.  Oh wait, it already did push for one, and some unions supported it!  It is true that union leaders in the U.S. are not particularly happy that their Colombian counterparts so often end up dead, but bashing unions is a simplistic and sometimes fact-free enterprise.  So, oddly enough, the unions are blamed for the fact that three Republican senators are intentionally holding up the ATPDEA.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wikileaks and authoritarianism

There is quite a lot about the response to Wikileaks that annoys me.  One example is when the most closed governments are the ones applauding it the most.  This struck me as I read Fidel Castro criticizing the U.S. government reaction to the leaks.  I think a debate in the U.S. about what constitutes espionage (or even what should be classified) and what to do about it would be beneficial.  However, it is hypocritical for dictatorships to make such criticisms.

You tell me how Raúl Castro would respond if a member of the Cuban army leaked classified documents and then handed them off to a foreigner.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Latin America and commodities

Much has been made of the UN's (or, more precisely, ECLAC's) prediction that Latin American economies will grow next year by 6 percent.  But tucked toward the end of the press release is this little nugget:

According to Alicia Bárcena "The region's main challenge is to rebuild its capacity to implement countercyclical actions and to create the conditions for productive development not based solely on the export of commodities".

I find myself coming back to this quite a bit recently.  These economic numbers are great, but when "based solely on the export of commodities" they should point toward desperate need for diversification rather than self-congratulation.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Presidents and parties

This post at Tim's El Salvador blog about Mauricio Funes' popularity and the parties' lack of popularity looked so much like Chile.  The two countries obviously are different in many ways, but in both a situation is developing where presidents can enjoy quite high approval ratings while long-standing political parties are well below 50 percent approval.  In both countries many people (in Chile a majority, in El Salvador almost a majority) do not identify with any party at all.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Wikileaks Chile

With virtually all of the cables on Latin America, we learn relatively little but get a fairly discouraging confirmation of what we already know.  In this 2007 cable from then Ambassador Craig Kelly in Santiago (the specific Chile connection was his suggestion to push Chile into being the anti-Chávez model for the region), he argues that the U.S. can work to isolate Hugo Chávez by emphasizing the great things the U.S. does, having U.S. officials meet with marginalized groups, and advocating for free trade.  There's nothing shady or nefarious; instead, the overall effect is one of cluelessness.

The specific recommendations:

A more muscular USG presence in the region that builds on high-level visits, underscores the strengths of viable, successful alternatives (i.e., Brazil and Chile) to Chavez's brand of socialism, targets enhanced resources to regions and populations beyond the elites, and which uses public diplomacy to make our message loud and clear - democracy, freer trade and investment, work and that along with that come active and effective programs to address social ills and the needs of the region's youthful population. Enough said.

This is the type of argument that the Bush administration made many times--we just need to improve our message and let markets work, then people will automatically like us.  Even the mentions of anti-poverty programs seem aimed primarily at promoting the message.  It is just vague and empty, with the unfounded notion that we can so easily drive public opinion.  I always think of the article by William LeoGrande on the Bush administration's policy toward Latin America, entitled "A Poverty of Imagination."  To quote Kelly, "Enough said."


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Santiago Roncagliolo's Red April

Santiago Roncagliolo's Red April: A Novel is a creepy yet engrossing mystery set in Peru in March-April 2000.  It focuses on the fight against Sendero Luminoso in Ayacucho.

Félix Chacaltana Saldívar is a prosecutor put in charge of investigating a particularly grisly murder he thinks should be attributed to Sendero, and he starts to unravel a series of killings for which he ultimately starts to feel responsible, because all the people he talks to end up dead.  Chacaltana himself is really odd, a combination of Norman Bates and Inspector Clouseau, fastidious but often clueless and with skeletons in his own closet.

The narrative takes place just before and during Holy Week, obviously a time of death and resurrection (and there are interesting points made about the intersection of Catholicism and indigenous beliefs).  Within that, Sendero and the military's fight against it engulfed everyone in death, even while the presence of violence is denied:

"You think too much Chacaltana.  Get one thing into your head: in this country there is no terrorism, by orders from the top.  Is that clear?

Everyone is focused on trying to make sure that as few people as possible know that any violence is occurring at all, or that Sendero still exists.  That gets more difficult--though not impossible--as the number of dead increases.  From the perspective of plot, the book keeps you guessing until the end.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Playing with immigration numbers

Although I share his indignation, I disagree with Mike Munger's conclusion here and my indignation is a bit different.  The story is that ICE officials used very dubious means (just read the Washington Post article, which is depressing) to reach "record" numbers of deportations.*

But each successive revelation about how ICE "broke" the record is more preposterous and outrageous. Have we completely lost respect for the basic rule of law? And then to have these bureaucrats just LIE....Wow. I mean, the guy who outed the administration's fibs is the head of their own union. The admin lied about changing the rules, and artificially decreed that the year would be longer, on both ends. Good lord.

WaPo is hardly some right wing blogger. There actually appears to be something moving, where fair-minded people on the left are sick and tired of the Obama shenanigans.

But here is the point I think Mike misses.  Even without the fake counting, the Obama administration is deporting people in truly massive numbers, with a commitment that exceeds the Bush administration even if a "record" is not achieved, which in any case was very close.  The tinkering is therefore at the margins.  That deportation commitment--which is very expensive but very easy to get funding for--greatly exceeds its own professed commitment to immigration reform.

In other words, I think it is fair to say that many people, myself included, are tired not so much of shenanigans, but of policy.

* Obsession with records is a pet peeve of mine.  I've written before about how how pervasive that has been in drug interdictions.  Trying to reach artificial record numbers also helped create the false positives scandal in Colombia.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Latin America links to look at

I try to remember and do this every so often, as my blog roll had major problems and ultimately seemed rather long and unwieldy anyway.

--Pablo at The Cross Culturalist on the Republican DREAM Act defectors

--Aguachile on the latest poll for Mexico 2012

--Americas Quarterly on the poor (read, U.S.) Chilean diet

--Boz on Latinobarómetro and the relevance of crime

--Francisco Toro at Caracas Chronicles on potential crackdown on the internet in Venezuela

--Mike Allison has a series of posts on El Salvador Wikileaks

--RNS at Honduras Culture and Politics on militarization in Honduras


Disappeared in Colombia

Vanessa Kritzer at the Latin America Working Group called my attention to their new report, Breaking the Silence: In Search of Colombia's Disappeared.

As of November 2010, Colombia’s official government statistics list over 51,000 disappearances, a figure that includes missing persons who may be alive, while the Attorney General’s office speaks of over 32,000 “forced disappearances.” More than 1130 new cases of forced disappearance have been officially registered in the last three years. However, the full total remains unknown. Many cases have yet to be entered in the database, and many disappearances are not registered at all. Earlier claims by associations of families of the disappeared of some 15,000 forced disappearances, far from being an overestimation, now look to have vastly undercounted the tragedy’s enormous scope.

It is entirely positive that the government is taking the issue seriously, though obviously sobering that doing so actually reveals the problems to be even worse than previously believed.  Even knowing how violent Colombian has been, those numbers are staggering--similar to Argentina's Dirty War.

As the report notes, one of the key problems now is that it is extremely difficult to prosecute anyone, and many family members are stigmatized as FARC sympathizers.  Plus, many cases end up in military courts.

The report concludes with specific recommendations for both the Colombian and U.S. governments, and is well worth a look.


Thursday, December 09, 2010

DREAMing in the House

So the DREAM Act passed the House (216-198), but as everyone notes, it is hard to see how it could pass the Senate.  Senate Republicans have already indicated they won't allow it to come to a vote.

Since the DREAM Act is one of the least controversial elements of immigration reform, the response (and resistance in the Senate) emphasizes two points.

First, the Obama administration's dramatic increase in enforcement measures will not translate into votes for immigration reform.

Second, the status quo is becoming more and more attractive to many people, which makes mustering votes for reform even more difficult.  For example:

Many of the House Republicans who condemned the bill most forcefully Wednesday referred to the act as a nightmare, not a dream, and argued it would unfairly harm U.S. citizens who would face more competition from newly legalized immigrants in college admissions, federal loans, work-study programs and the workforce.

In other words, it is preferable to keep people in the illegal economy without higher education, where they can continue to provide the rest of us with cash-based services for low wages.  To be fair, these arguments are coming from members of the House who would never vote for reform anyway, but I can see this type of logic appealing to others.


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Presidential approval in Chile

I've written before about presidential approval in Chile, and UDI Senator Pablo Longueira is also trying to figure it out.  He criticizes the way in which Sebastián Piñera has handled his image.

“Porque la forma en que trabaja el gobierno es en torno a una figura personal, individual, no ha habido ningún cambio por hacer algo más institucional que finalmente haga que esto tenga una estabilidad en el tiempo”, indicó Longueira.

The problem with this argument is that there is an increasingly strong incentive for presidents not to identify with institutions, by which he means party coalitions.  The two main coalitions in Chile are extremely unpopular, whereas presidents have achieved high levels of personal approval even in times of economic downturn.  Piñera has every incentive to 1) emphasize his individual achievements; and 2) blame institutions for any failures.


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Latin America and a Palestinian state

Argentina has joined Brazil and Uruguay in recognizing a Palestinian state (and thanks to J.F. String in comments to a recent post for noting that Uruguay had preceded Brazil).  The Israeli response is striking, particularly because it unwittingly shows in part why Latin American countries are doing so in the first place.

"Such a declaration today only harms the peace process, because it merely encourages the Palestinians to keep digging in and hoping the miracle will somehow descend from the heavens or from the international community, that will impose some kind of accord on Israel," Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said.

"And what is important is that the Americans don't accept this either," he told Israel's Army Radio.

First, I think it is fair to say that these Latin American governments do precisely want to be part of an accord forged by the international community, but obviously they do not consider that harmful to the peace process.

Second, emphasizing what the U.S. wants will virtually always have the opposite effect of that desired.  If anything, berating Latin America in that regard will encourage more countries to follow suit.  And anyway, Brazil's position is intended to be a counterpoint to the U.S.


Monday, December 06, 2010

Latin America and debt

The Wall Street Journal takes a look at economic problems in Europe and examines how Latin America provides lessons, particularly in terms of restructuring debt.  Two thoughts:

First, the article dances around but does not focus on the fact that it is helpful if you sell commodities that China, India, and other major countries are currently paying a premium for.  If you don't, the recovery may will be more difficult.

Second, it is interesting to see how Argentina's default and then Néstor Kirchner's debt strategy in 2005 are getting some respect, whereas at the time both received quite a lot of criticism.  But now:

Argentina's debt load shrank by one-third after the default, and it shifted into high growth. Part of the reason for that is the surge in demand for Argentine wheat, meat and other commodities, thanks to China. But partly, it's because the economy's growth wasn't stalled by overly burdensome debt payments.
"Aggressive debt defaults mean you'll be classified as a rogue debtor, you'll be excluded from capital markets—but there's the possibility you might solve your problems more quickly," says Mr. Powell.


Sunday, December 05, 2010

Venezuela documents

Boz pointed out on Twitter that the State Department has declassified a bunch of documents related to Venezuela.  Interesting stuff to look through, and there are lots of them.  The very first document was the emphatic statement by the Defense Minister in February 1992 that there was no coup attempt.  No one really believed that, and there are tons of documents showing how the U.S. was trying to figure out what was going on (and seemingly doing a pretty good job of doing so).  Then there are more going all the way up to 2004, and you can see what I would call cautious alarm turn to more pointed criticism over time.


Saturday, December 04, 2010

Brazil and the Middle East

Brazil has recognized the Palestinian state, based on the borders right before the 1967 Six Day War.  A quick search suggests that in Latin America only Cuba and Nicaragua recognize the Palestinian state (though I am happy to be corrected if that is wrong).

This is all part of Brazil's (and especially Lula's) effort to be a player in the Middle East.  The last effort (with Turkey) did not work out so well, but Brazil is placing itself in counterpoint to the United States because it wants to mediate but from a more pro-Palestinian perspective.  At the very least, whatever one thinks of it, Brazil is harder and harder to ignore in the Middle East.

Aside from the diplomatic questions, there is also the unknown of whether Dilma Rousseff has the same level of interest as Lula in the Middle East.


Friday, December 03, 2010

Mexico Wikileaks

Malcolm Beith has a take on the Mexico Wikileaks that is worth reading.  I agree with his assessment that the media portrayal is overblown, with headlines about "lost faith" or "fear."  There is certainly concern, but I would be much more alarmed if there was no concern. Corruption, bureaucratic infighting, connections to narcotraffickers, and an army ill-equipped to fight a domestic enemy are all serious--and well known--problems.   I am glad U.S. officials are talking about it openly, and I doubt this will have much of a negative impact on Mexican officials, who are even more acutely aware of those problems.


Thursday, December 02, 2010

Miner crisis is fully milked

From Adimark: remember that approval bump Sebastián Piñera got from the miner crisis?  Poof, it is gone, and he is back to where he was prior.  His November approval was 50%, down from 63% last month.  Conventional wisdom is that he fell because of a scandal regarding his intervention in the election of the president of the National Association of Professional Football (ANFP).

Approval of the coalitions are still low, though the Coalition for Change (center-right and right) is at 43%, which is not too bad given the numbers in recent years.  The Concertación is at 31%.

Understanding presidential approval in Chile is difficult, in large part because it does not follow the economy in the ways predicted by the academic literature.


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Wikileaks Argentina

Is it just me, or is the quality of cables to and from Buenos Aires particularly erratic, which is ironic because some of the cables discuss the erratic nature of the Kirchners?  The State Department wants to know about Néstor Kirchner's gastrointestinal problems, and the embassy writes about how the government is going to fall (even before Kirchner's death).  The embassy also writes a gossipy note with a misspelled title.  Then we get a balanced, detailed discussion of Cristina Fernández's view of the economy.

What struck me about these cables as well is that they provide almost no context.  They cite people with very clear political agendas without making them explicit, which will only confuse those who are trying to make sense of them.  From an academic point of view, I also wish there was some--even just a tiny bit--of national context in terms of, say, polling data.  So a former ally of the Kirchners makes a prediction, but does that jibe with current polls?


Wikileaks Venezuela

From the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, a great quote:

A plain-spoken nuclear physicist told 
Econoff that those spreading rumors that Venezuela is helping 
third countries (i.e. Iran) develop atomic bombs "are full of 
(expletive)." He said Venezuela is currently unable to 
provide such assistance particularly as the Chavez 
administration "does not trust scientists."

Interestingly, this is rather like the long cable on Honduras, where diplomats contradict extravagant claims yet are mostly ignored.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wikileaks Bolivia

"Instead of weakening themselves by domestic dissensions the Spanish race in these Republics have every motive for union and harmony.  They nearly all have an enemy within their own bosoms burning for vengeance on account of the supposed wrong of centuries, and ever ready, when a favorable opportunity may offer, to expel or exterminate the descendants of their conquerors...In Bolivia it is understood that three fourths of the inhabitants belong to the Indian race.  How unfortunate it is that, under these circumstances, the Spanish race there should be weakening themselves by warring with each other."

Secretary of State James Buchanan to U.S. Chargé John Appleton, June 1, 1848

Quoted in William R. Manning, Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Inter-American Affairs, 1831-1860 (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1932): p. 4.

How different will a 2009 cable be?


Venezuela and Mercosur

Venezuela reportedly will now get admittance to Mercosur, after waiting four years for member legislatures to approve it.  Brazil had been a hold out until recently, and the last is now Paraguay.  A few thoughts:

First, wow.  Has horse trading ever been this open?  The Liberal Party crows about the ambassadorial, etc. positions it gets in return.  You don't see that in public too often, though obviously it still happens.

Second, this sentence really sums up one of Fernando Lugo's problems, particularly in a system as oligarchic as Paraguay's: "Lugo has three votes that respond to him."  That is out of 45 in the Senate.

Third, although Hugo Chávez has been wanting this for quite some time, I don't think it gives him any more of a platform than he already has.

Fourth, there is a pot/kettle dynamic with some Colorado senators saying Chávez is too anti-democratic to join.


Blame for economic crisis

From the Latin American Public Opinion Project, some curious numbers.  The global economic crisis came as a result of serious problems in the developed world, particularly the United States.  But Latin Americans who believe there is a crisis tend to look inward.

Attributions of Blame for the Crisis, Among Those Perceiving a Crisis

Previous administration: 21.5%
Current administration: 18.9%
Country's economic system: 13.3%
Ourselves, citizens of this country: 12.7%
Do not know: 11.5%
Rich countries: 7.8%
Rich people of our country: 7.4%
Problems of democracy: 4.3%
Other: 2.6%

Looking inward is a natural instinct, though no Latin American government created the crisis, and certainly the citizens of a particular country did not either.  Governments may be praised or blamed for their responses, but may be getting unfair criticism in terms of creating the crisis in the first place.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Honduras Wikileak

From Wikileaks, here is a July 24, 2009 cable from Ambassador Hugo Llorens in Honduras to Washington with an outline of the developing coup.  I think it is a good analysis, looking at both sides and concluding without a doubt that Mel Zelaya's removal was both illegitimate and illegal.  (I wonder, though, why it took almost a month to write the report--why not just read my blog?)

No matter what the merits of the case against Zelaya, his forced removal by the military was clearly illegal, and Micheletti's ascendance as "interim president" was totally illegitimate.

This only reinforces what we already knew.  The Obama administration believed there was a coup and it was totally illegitimate, but chose not to press the issue too hard and to remain publicly vague about its interpretation of the facts.


Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars

I read Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars.  I am a sucker for this type of light, insider scoop book (e.g. see Game Change) but this one was disappointing even for the genre.  It can be summed up as follows: there were meetings, lots of meetings, with lots of arguing about troop numbers and periodic leaking.  Quite often, these meetings were long and dull.  After months of such meetings, President Obama decided on the troop levels.

I should note, though, that in a way Woodward has done the public a service in the sense of showing that policy making is not always an exciting West Wing experience.  Instead, it is a grinding experience with major players elbowing each other for influence.  Some of the more human interest stuff was already evident in places like the Rolling Stone interview with Stanley McChrystal so I didn't feel I learned much new about the internal divisions in the White House.  Now the Wikileaks cables will be even juicier about the diplomatic side.

Interestingly, my impression is that the book is the most positive about Joe Biden, who was always skeptical about questionable claims (such as the ability to quickly train 400,000 Afghan security forces) and willing to do so openly, then offer alternate suggestions.  On the other hand, the broad wlllingness by everyone to stand by goals that everyone seemed to know were unrealistic is a depressing reality.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Peru and sadness

From Peruvian President Alan García, the strangest argument yet about why a president might be unpopular:

Garcia tells Radioprogramas that an inbred national melancholy must be to blame for his low approval ratings at a time when the economy is booming.
Garcia tells the radio station Saturday that "We are what we are: sad, distrustful ... We have a natural lack of trust." He says that in contrast, Brazilians "have another sort of nature, joyful and sunny." 

The idea that the positive effects of economic growth in Peru are not felt much by a majority seems not to occur to him.  Conversely, Chileans loved Michelle Bachelet even as the economic tanked, but I don't think many Chileans would ascribe that to their innate national bounciness.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Americans and DREAM

There are a number of issues I come back to over and over again.  One of them is that Americans do not care as much about immigration as politicians and the media claim (also discussed in my forthcoming at any second book, Irresistible Forces).  Right now the DREAM Act is being debated, and through CNN we have this nugget from a Gallup poll:

Similarly, the country is less concerned with Congress acting on the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. who were brought to the country as children. Thirty-eight percent say it is not too/not at all important.

Immigration restrictionism is not as popular as it appears, or at least it does not rile people up quite as much as portrayed.  That increases--albeit minimally--the chances of passage.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Electoral reform in Chile

A new poll in Chile shows support for some electoral reform, particularly for voting to be voluntary (77%).  Meanwhile, 60% support making registration automatic once you become 18 years old.  The same percentage supports allowing Chileans to vote from abroad.  These are all reforms currently under discussion, though voting abroad has been opposed by the right, on the assumption that a majority of Chileans living in other countries fled the military government and therefore would vote for the Concertación.

Unfortunately, the poll does not seem to specifically address the binomial system, which as I've noted before seems more open to discussion than in the past.  It is not at all clear to me that Chileans have a strong preference about it.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Obama interview

The Spanish paper El País interviewed Barack Obama, and there was a Latin America question that he proceeded to dodge, though the interviewer blew it by asking two questions at once.  Obama apparently didn't want to talk about Cuba.

P. Desde su perspectiva, ¿qué papel le ve a España en el futuro de Cuba y, en general, en las relaciones de Estados Unidos con América Latina?
R. Dados los profundos lazos históricos, culturales, económicos y familiares que tanto Estados Unidos como España tienen con los países de América, existe una amplia gama de oportunidades de que nuestros dos países trabajen juntos en objetivos compartidos. España es un aliado valioso en asuntos fundamentales de América Latina, como la defensa los valores democráticos, el diseño de un futuro de energías limpias o la seguridad de los ciudadanos en su día a día. Hemos trabajado con el presidente Zapatero en estos asuntos y esperamos seguir haciéndolo.

And how is Spain involved in the "day to day security" of Latin Americans?  If anything, it shows he is barely thinking about the region.


Friday, November 19, 2010

I was only DREAMing

Harry Reid wants to force a vote on the DREAM Act, so that either a) it will pass; or b) Republicans will have to be on record again as defeating it.  Two thoughts:

First, a pet peeve of mine.  Senator John Cornyn complained that Reid was "playing politics."  I always get annoyed when I read that, because politicians are elected precisely to play politics.  We have certain goals, and we elect them to achieve those goals.  Someone who refused to play politics would not get much done.

Second, I see this as potentially more harmful for Democrats than Republicans.  As I've written over and over, there are only so many times Democrats can introduce losing immigration bills before people lose faith in their willingness to push successfully for passage.  The stance of Republicans is clear, to the point that another vote on the DREAM Act won't make them look worse.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Arizona and Latin America

An article in USA Today highlights a certain of confusion about immigration and federalism.  In this case, the main argument is that the Arizona immigration law is straining U.S.-Latin American relations.  But a closer look suggests that countries with already strained relations (quoting an official from Ecuador) feel that way, while countries with smoother relations (a Brazilian is quoted) disagree.

A senior official with the Brazilian Embassy who was not authorized to be quoted by name said that country's relationship with the United States has not been harmed because the Obama administration has not only spoken out against the law but initiated the lawsuit that halted its implementation.

The Obama administration has fought the Arizona law, so it is hard to see a country changing its position vis-a-vis the administration as a result.  What would more likely fall into that category is continued unwillingness to push for immigration reform.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mexico and the military

In March I wrote I was feeling optimistic because the U.S. and Mexican governments were accepting the fact that a military-centric approach to the drug war was not working very well, and so they needed a broader policy that included strengthening civilian law enforcement.  Now the Mexican government is doing an about face and is going to deploy the army again in Ciudad Juárez, while the police will merely do "some things" (algunas cosas).

Since the government already conceded that using the army did not work well before, it is not surprising that thus far it has offered no real justification.  If it did not work as intended before, why would it do so now?


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Colombia and Venezuela

President Juan Manuel Santos has a drug trafficker, Walid García, wanted both by Venezuela and the United States, and is extraditing him to Venezuela.  Fascinating move, and obviously he feels convinced that he will face justice there.

Also of note is the fact that the drug trafficker himself, as well as many opponents of the Chávez government, argues that Chávez is by extension tied to drugs.

On my payroll I had [government] ministers, the siblings of ministers, generals, admirals, rear admirals, colonels and five deputies from the National Assembly, each of whom I gave a late-model car to," the newspaper quoted him as saying.
"If I am a narcotrafficker, the whole Chavez government is a narcotrafficker.
Makled also has said he contributed $2 million to Chavez for a political campaign.

True, drug-related corruption is deeply entrenched in a number of Latin American countries.  Extrapolating to the entire government, and to the administration itself, is not nearly so clear.  Few, for example, would accuse Felipe Calderón (or Alvaro Uribe, for that matter) of complicity.  The overall point, though, is that clearly Santos feels comfortable, and that is a very different turn for Venezuelan-Colombian relations.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Rox Ghosh's Nineteenth Street NW

I read Rex Ghosh's Nineteenth Street NW, which is a financial thriller and perfect for a long trip.  The plot revolves around a group of people from an unnamed developing country who use both violence and a sophisticated plan to bring down the economies of the developed world.  Ghosh himself has an Economics Ph.D. from Harvard and has worked with international financial institutions.

The plot is very well paced, but the book has the added benefit of going into issues like how economists at the IMF view countries as sources of analysis, unconcerned about the effects their policies have on average people.  They disguise the policies with terms like "fiscal retrenchment" and "labor market flexibility," and are concerned mainly with academic publications.  On the flip side, he also examines the mindset of terrorists who are fighting against those policies, but with similar disregard for human life.  The main character wants to use economics rather than bombs because she does not want to kill anyone, but ultimately it is clear this is a cop out.

The book also has an afterword where Ghosh explains the economics behind the action in the book, and how the economies of developed countries are very vulnerable in a number of different ways.  Attacking the economy can actually be far more devastating than a bomb.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Paper presentation

Today I will be presenting my paper, "Consensus with Conflict: The Rise of President Bachelet and the Fall of the Concertación," co-authored with Silvia Borzutzky.  This is currently a topic of much debate in Chile, as everyone tries to figure out exactly why the 2009 election turned out the way it did.  Along these lines I recommend a brand new edited volume by Mauricio Morales and Patricio Navia, El sismo electoral de 2009: Cambio y continuidad de las preferencias políticas de los chileno (Santiago: Ediciones Universidad Diego Portales, 2010).  The last chapter in particular discusses how Chileans like individual candidates but not parties.

Thus, we end up with a political context in which electoral laws require parties to form coalitions and stay together, but people don't like them.  One lesson from Bachelet is that no matter how popular Sebastián Piñera gets, that will not necessarily translate into momentum for the presidential candidate of the right.

On a related point, I have heard multiple times here about how the Concertación's leadership simply doesn't know what to do next.  Strangely enough, that doesn't mean they can't win the next election.  The right was similarly clueless but Piñera won.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Chilean political science

At the ACCP, I attended an interesting round table on the state of Chilean political science.  One of the most interesting points coincides with the ongoing academic debate in the U.S. about what political scientists should be doing.  In the past because of the dictatorship, Chilean political scientists were activists, almost by definition.  They had particular political points to make.  Now, the model has changed dramatically, so for example when there are presidential commissions to examine certain political issues, very few members are political scientists.  They are increasingly being seen as too narrowly focused to contribute to debates on public policy.  They are "professional" rather than "political."

This issue has been raised so many times with regard to the United States, but this is the first time I've seen it elsewhere.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Chile and globalization

When I first came to Chile fourteen years ago, I was struck by the number of American chain restaurants and businesses in the middle class area where I lived (Nuñoa).  In the past, say, 5-7 years, however, I have not noticed any more growth in that respect but rather a drastic increase in the number of Asian restaurants, particularly sushi but also Chinese.  Some are hole in the wall places, not just high-end.

I admit freely that this is a Thomas Friedamesque post in the worst sense, where I generalize from observations based on chatting with friends, taking long walks, and/or riding in taxis.  But I am not aware of an increase of migration from Asia, so it would seem more related to the concerted efforts the Lagos and Bachelet governments made to connect economically and diplomatically to Asia.  Chile and China even recently had high level naval talks.  Globalization in Chile is not just about Big Macs and Pizza Hut.


Tuesday, November 09, 2010


I leave later today for the Chilean Political Science Association conference, where I will be presenting a paper on, surprisingly enough, Chilean politics.  I will ponder important questions such as, "Do they still play muzak in the pedestrian shopping area downtown?"


Monday, November 08, 2010

Civil-military relations in Venezuela

A Major General in the Venezuelan army says the institution will not accept the victory of an opposition candidate in the next presidential election.  It is the sort of statement that should immediately result in the forced retirement of the officer.  It is, in fact, a statement that goes contrary to the Venezuelan constitution.  From article 328 about the military's role:

En el cumplimiento de sus funciones, está al servicio exclusivo de la Nación y en ningún caso al de persona o parcialidad política alguna.

It should go without saying that the job of the armed forces is not to pick and choose what president its leadership wants (though, depending on the country, they may cast their own individual vote for whomever they want).  It most certainly should not be issuing threats about refusing to accept the results of democratic elections.


Immigration backlog

I bring this up periodically, and wish the debate on immigration enforcement addressed it, but it so rarely does.  There is currently a backlog of 261,083 cases.  The Las Vegas court alone has a 2,080 case backlog, and a case right now would not come before a judge until around July 2011.  Anecdotally, I know that the Charlotte immigration court has a very similar situation.

From a normative perspective, this is cruel.  Even people who feel their case is very strong must have this hanging over their heads for months and months, causing tremendous stress on them and everyone they know.

From an enforcement perspective, this is a disaster.  The system is simply not currently constructed to handle it.

From an economic perspective, a well-functioning system will cost a lot.  A lot.

From a policy perspective, "enforcement" is a deceptive term.  Policy makers seem unwilling to acknowledge the fact that an expanded ICE presence means more removal proceedings.  The public has the false idea that undocumented immigrants are simply picked up and shipped off.


Sunday, November 07, 2010


Language matters in politics.  In particular, it is useful from a strategic point of view to connect policies or people with demonized words.  If you make that connection well enough, then you can start changing public perceptions.  That came to mind when I saw this op-ed in the Houston Chronicle calling on Latin America to legalize drugs--or at least marijuana--as a way to reduce violence.  The very first sentence uses the word "prohibitionist" and then uses term two more times in a short article.

Prohibition, of course, refers to the period between 1920 and 1933 when alcohol was made illegal in the United States.  The term is now pejorative and conjures up images of expanded criminal activity and widespread flouting of the law.  So it is useful for those who want legalization of drugs to try and connect current laws with prohibition.  You thereby pave the way to make such a policy seem less shocking.

Popular support, both in the United States and Latin America, remains weak.  But I do not remember any time when the issue was discussed this widely.


Saturday, November 06, 2010

Immigration in the new House

This could get ugly quickly.  It may serve to start answering the question of whether Republicans care about the Latino vote.

A newly empowered House GOP lawmaker said he hopes to advance legislation to end the right of U.S. citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants who are born in the United States. 
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a staunch opponent of illegal immigration who will become chairman of a key subcommittee handling immigration rules, said that he thinks he'll be able to pass a bill out of the House to end the Constitution's birthright citizenship for U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.
This is unlikely to play well to the non-Latino general public, which is generally not eager to mess with the constitution, and since this issue is tangential to issues that polls show are of most concern.


Friday, November 05, 2010

To golf or not to golf?

The Cuban government decided over two years ago that it wanted more golf courses, then offered up 99 year leases for luxury golf development.  The idea was to bring in revenue and provide security for foreign investors.  So it is interesting that now, Hugo Chávez wants to seize golf courses in Venezuela because of their association with the rich, then build public housing on them.

Sport has so often been connected to ideology.  In these particular cases, golf is really symbolic of the divergent paths Cuba and Venezuela are taking.


Thursday, November 04, 2010

Approving of Piñera

This is why Sebastián Piñera milked the mining disaster.  Adimark has his approval rating jumping from 53 to 63 percent, while disapproval fell from 32 to 26 percent.  The days of talking about his stagnant numbers are over, at least for now.  Plus, 64 percent approve of the way he is handling the economy, though numbers are much lower for crime and health care.

What the mining crisis also did was drastically increase public recognition of cabinet members.  This could bode well for the right as it can use the rest of Piñera's term to groom potential new candidates.  The Concertación really stumbled in that regard when it put Eduardo Frei up as a candidate.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The midterm elections and Latin America

Current numbers for Congress show a Republican majority in the House and a Democratic majority in the Senate.  Here are some initial thoughts on how this may affect Latin America.

First, U.S.-Latin American relations won't change drastically.  Many issues, such as Cuba or immigration, were not being reformed by Democrats even when they had the majority.

Second, immigration reform faces a very uphill battle for the next two years.  Success hinges largely on Republican perceptions of the long-term impact of anti-immigrant rhetoric on current and future Latino voters.

Third, the Colombia and Panama free trade agreements will possibly get new life.  The Obama administration has shown signs it is willing to sign them, and this could be a carrot the administration could use to gain Republican support for other issues.

Fourth, Venezuela is a wild card.  Particularly with its relationship with Iran, there are hawks in the House that would like sanctions of some sort.  It seems unlikely they would pass, and in fact our main regional ally, Colombian President Santos, is moving in the exact opposite direction.


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Arizona and immigration myths

The Arizona law is being heard in a San Francisco federal appeals court.  I repeat myself endlessly about immigration myths, but they are so pervasive.

From the Los Angeles Times:

John J. Bouma, who represented Arizona in the case, told the court that the border state was suffering from serious crimes committed by illegal immigrants who, once in the country, are never sent back.

Wrong on both counts.  First, research shows that undocumented immigrants commit fewer crimes.  Second, deportations are at an all time high.  So they don't commit crimes, but are still deported.


Monday, November 01, 2010

Calderón's drug policies

In my post from Friday, Pablo from The Cross Culturalist pointed to this poll in Milenio to counter the argument that Felipe Calderón's anti-drug policies are unpopular.  Here is the relevant question:

Aprueba o desaprueba la lucha contra el narcotráfico que se está dando ahora en el país?

My translation: Do you approve or disapprove of the fight against narcotrafficking that the country is currently undergoing?

With that question, 69.3 percent approve and 24.7 disapprove.  So if 69.3 percent approve, why is the Calderón administration so concerned that no one approves?  At least for this particular poll, I would argue that the question is too vague to tell us much.  That an overwhelming percentage believe "the fight" is a good thing is not necessarily an indicator that "the specific measures of the Calderón administration" are equally popular.

Otherwise we have a situation where a president grossly underestimates the popularity of one of his major policies. That, as you might guess, is not very common.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Shoot the messenger

From the NYT: when things go bad, just claim that your message is not being sent correctly.  Felipe Calderón perhaps learned that from George W. Bush and now Barack Obama as well.  It's not that people don't like your policies, it's that they don't understand them well enough:

The administration of President Felipe Calderón has not shown signs of shifting tactics. Rather, his aides believe the problem is that his message — that the violence is a sign that progress is being made — has not been delivered well. There has been a shake-up in his communication staff to improve it.

Shoot your messenger, and all will be well.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Succession suppression

The death of former president Néstor Kirchner is setting off a political earthquake in Argentina.  InfoLatam has a rundown on the power vacuum that Kirchner's death created, and there is no doubt that similar such analyses will be proliferating quickly.  Kirchner was such a force that questions will be raised not only about the leadership of the Partido Justicialista but also the 2011 presidential election.  He was widely seen as the future candidate, and now presumably Cristina Fernández will run for re-election.

A September poll had President Fernández with improved approval ratings, but still under 40 percent, whereas Kirchner's were routinely high.  She has simply never reached the levels of popularity that Kirchner enjoyed.  She has also faced the constant nuisance of a vice president who casts tie breaking votes against her.  From a strictly political perspective (not even taking into consideration the terrible personal toll this will take on her) she faces an even more difficult political context without his support.

As Steven Levitsky has argued, the reason the party has endured is because it is incredibly flexible, without a rigid hierarchy.  So the party structure is strong, but allows for movement within it.  And really, Kirchner was a relative unknown and became a political powerhouse, displacing Carlos Menem (who had pretty well self-destructed by that time) so someone else may well step into the vacuum and displace the Fernández-Kirchner machine.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Corruption perception in Latin America

Transparency International released its annual Corruption Perception Index.  Of interest is the fact that Chile is perceived as less corrupt than the United States (though both are within a similar "confidence range" so the ranking is not as precise as it appears).  The Latin American Herald Tribune also notes that despite all its problems, Ecuador has improved significantly.  Meanwhile, Venezuela is near the bottom of the list again, though I must say that regardless of how corrupt the public sector is, I have a hard time believing it is more corrupt than the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and virtually the same as Sudan.

With all the error that can be introduced into them, such surveys do of course need to be taken with a grain of salt.  In fact, the regional director for the Americas said the following:

For its part, Cuba, which historically has been among the least corrupt nations in Latin America, fell from its 4.4 points last year to 3.7, and dropped eight places to No. 69.
In that regard, Salas urged a certain caution, since the sources consulted provide contradictory figures and the result could be due to a “technical” matter.

That could apply to any country, so an unspecified "technical" matter could move countries up and down.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cuba lobby

Changes in attitude of the Cuban-American community in Miami has been evident for some time, and during the 2008 campaign I noted how the Cuban American National Foundation welcomed Barack Obama's moderate message.  Nicky Pear at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs has a good summary of these changes, pointing to a number of specific events that pushed CANF in new directions.

All sides of the three-way relationship seem to be accepting the need for at least an element of pragmatism. It is surely time for the U.S. to continue down this path and make the long overdue steps necessary to put an end to its counterproductive and highly damaging isolationist policy towards Cuba.

Yet it is also true that once in office, Obama has done very little to change U.S. policy, and he recently argued that the U.S. would not change anything unless Cuba liberalized its economy.  So even though support for the embargo has dwindled, we have yet to see much evidence that it will be dismantled.  And, of course, it is worth noting yet again that the Helms-Burton Act puts much of that power in the hands of Congress anyway (see section 204 of the law).


Monday, October 25, 2010

More on moving immigration goalposts

Yet another example of something I've been repeating for a while--it is impossible to increase deportations to a level high enough to satisfy those who are already skeptical of immigration reform.  A letter from Senator John Cornyn and signed by six other senators questions Immigration and Customs Enforcement's commitment to enforcing immigration laws.  We know, of course, that the U.S. government deported more people in the past year than ever before.

The result?  More bad midterm news for the Obama administration.  Reform advocates do not like the deportations, and reform opponents still don't think the administration is really committed to enforcement.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Barriers to business in Latin America

Gallup has an interesting poll on perceived barriers to business in Latin America, where the belief that paperwork is too onerous is higher than anywhere else in the world.  What I find particularly notable is that within Latin America this does not correlate to ideology.  For example, Venezuela ranks very high, second only to Uruguay in positive terms of whether governments make paperwork and permits easy enough.  Venezuelans also feel very confident that their government will allow them to make a lot of money.  Argentines, meanwhile, have almost no such confidence at all.

Strangely, though, the Gallup report comes to the following illogical conclusion:

In Latin America, the relatively high "no" percentages may reflect a broad set of issues that the public may perceive as tension between government and private businesses, including the wave of company nationalizations, tougher labor regulations, and even business confiscations in recent years.

But this makes no sense.  If it were true, then Mexico and Venezuela should be inverted.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

4.Niner K

We ran the 4.9K on campus today, which funds need-based scholarships.  I love races at the university, and now there are two a year.  It was much better than last year's inaugural race, because it was sunny and they switched the course to be a downhill finish rather than a steep uphill.  My 8 year old son ran with me.


Latin American democracies

Sara Miller Llana at the Christian Science Monitor has an article about the endurance of democracy in Latin America.  I agree with the following, to a degree:

In many countries in Latin America, the transformation from military rule and dictatorship to democracy in the 1980s and '90s has sealed a democratic tradition. The expectation of free and fair elections and that the democratically elected leader finish his or her term is resounding across the region.

My quibble is that this is a bit over triumphant.  As I've written about, a recent poll showed 22 percent of all Latin Americans believed a coup was likely or very likely in the next twelve months.  Democracy is persisting, but it is by no means "sealed," while the democratic tradition is riddled with setbacks.  Yet the absence of military rule is notable, as is the transfer of power from left to right, or right to left, in many countries.


Thursday, October 21, 2010


I am heading to Washington later today to give a talk tomorrow at the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, where Latin American military officers take various courses on civil-military relations and democracy.  The title of my talk will be "Civilian Expertise and Civil-Military Relations in Latin America."  This is a topic I've been interested in for some time, and I really look forward to hearing feedback from the officers themselves since of course my audience is usually academic.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Still embargoed after all these years

Matthew Yglesias quotes a blog post by Ian Vásquez at the Cato Institute about the Cuban embargo as it turns 50.

Keeping the sanctions will only further allow the dictatorship and its sympathizers to explain away the regime’s own failings. It would be better for Cubans and the world to see the unraveling of Cuban communism without U.S. intervention.

There just isn't any intellectual defense of the embargo anymore.  It is not the cause of Cuba's economic woes--Fidel Castro himself has said the economic model is broken--though it has made the lives of the average Cuban more difficult.  It has not led to the ouster of the Castro regime.  It represents limitation of the freedoms of U.S. citizens.  It creates global sympathy for a small country perpetually bullied by Goliath.

None of these outcomes are good for the Cuban people, for U.S. national security or for the U.S. economy.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

More on the binomial system

Mariano Montes at Artepolítica has a good discussion of the binomial electoral system in Chile (it is in Spanish). He is optimistic about its reform, since the Concertación has always pushed to eliminate it and Sebastián Piñera has publicly called for the same.  I would also add that Piñera is in a very strong political position at the moment, so it is entirely possible--though by no means guaranteed--that we could see a change.


Latin American Immigration call for papers

The December 2011 issue of The Latin Americanist will be a special issue focused on Latin American immigration.  Please check out the call for papers here and pass the info along to anyone who might be interested.


Drug bust

Is it just me, or does drug trafficking seem more brazen when it involves a convoy in Tijuana?  In general, drugs are hidden: in people, in cars, in submarines, in planes, boats, etc.  A heavily armed convoy suggests less concern about hiding and more interest in sheer bulk.  It also suggests a striking lack of concern about being discovered.  That is the bad news, though at least the good news is that the government had gathered intelligence to intercept it.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Reconstructing events in Ecuador

Here are two good reconstructions of the September 30 crisis in Ecuador:

Adam Isacson blogging at Just the Facts focuses on the delay between the onset of the crisis and the army's announcement of support for Rafael Correa, positing it as a squeeze to get the bonus law changed.

Sandra Edwards at the Washington Office on Latin America offers a very balanced view, seeing the events from both sides, emphasizing the proximate cause as the policy protest and Correa's surprise arrival.

The trials currently going on should also shed a lot of light.  The essential question is what the goals were of those who started the crisis.  Virtually all accounts focus on the policy, but of course behind that is the issue of what went on behind the scenes between the army and the Correa administration (meaning mostly Correa himself and his Defense Minister) and between the army and the police.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Piñera wanted to jump the shark

Sebastián Piñera apparently thought about being lowered down into the mine.  Of course, he only wanted to show symbolically that he represented all of Chile and so should join his compatriots.  He had no intention of milking it to a degree so extreme that I believe we can refer to it as jumping the shark.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Political Science and blogging

Henry Farrell and John Sides, "Building a Political Science Public Sphere With Blogs," The Forum 8, 3 (2010: Article 10.  Ungated link here, though you need to register.


We argue that political science blogs can link conversations among political scientists with broader public debates about contemporary issues. Political science blogs do this by identifying relevant research, explaining its findings, and articulating its applicability. We identify strategies besides blogging that individual scholars and the discipline could undertake to enhance its public profile.

It's good to keep discussions like this going, though my guess is that many political scientist bloggers feel rather talked out about it at this point.  As always, I would add my two cents that most political scientist bloggers focus on American politics or U.S foreign policy, so as I wrote last month all examples used in arguments about blogging ignore comparative politics.  So if I added anything to this article, I would encourage more comparativists--and of course more Latin Americanists--to start blogging.


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